The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie. No grave site, no photograph. Forget that — no anecdotes. This is what set Geeshie and Elvie apart even from the rest of an innermost group of phantom geniuses of the ’20s and ’30s. Their myth was they didn’t have anything you could so much as hang a myth on.
In the Spanish province of Burgos, Castile y León, about 200 kilometers north of Madrid, is a tiny little village named Castrillo Matajudíos (pop. 60). The village is considering changing its name. [more inside]
101 year old message in a bottle found in the Baltic and that's all there is to it.
The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown is a nine-part series posted by sci-fi author and statistician Michael F. Flynn to his blog last year, covering the historical conflict between heliocentrism and geocentrism, with a special focus on Galileo. They are based on an article (pdf) by Flynn which originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Analog. [more inside]
Game of Thrones: Being A Princess Is A Rough Gig "...The privileges held by princesses came at an enormous price. They were used and valued as diplomatic chess pieces, often sent at a very young age to far away places, often to places where they didn't speak the language to live among people who might not care for them or may even be openly hostile.... Game of Thrones does an extraordinary job of showing what being caught in that particular trap must have looked like and felt like. Some flail, some are lucky, some are doomed, some do their best to turn it to their advantage, some become monsters. In this post, I'm going to take a look at the various Game of Thrones princesses in the context of some possible real life counterparts"
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville is a remarkable 14th Century book which tells the autobiographical story of Sir John Mandeville's travels from England to Jerusalem and beyond to Asia. The only problem is that the book "had been a household word in eleven languages and for five centuries before it was ascertained that Sir John never lived, that his travels never took place, and that his personal experiences, long the test of others' veracity, were compiled out of every possible authority, going back to Pliny, if not further." The book was very popular for many centuries and was illustrated many times. For more about the book there is the introduction to a recent scholarly Middle English version and an illuminating podcast interview [iTunes link] with Professor Anthony Bale, the translator of a new version of the "defective" version of the book, which was the best known version for centuries. The interview goes into the many errors and fantasias of Mandeville but also puts the work in the context of its time and place.
His recipe calls for a bustard stuffed with a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a pheasant stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck stuffed with a guinea fowl stuffed with a teal stuffed with a woodcock stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a plover stuffed with a lapwing stuffed with a quail stuffed with a thrush stuffed with a lark stuffed with an ortolan bunting stuffed with a garden warbler stuffed with an olive stuffed with an anchovy stuffed with a single caper - The Roti Sans Pareil or Roast Without Equal.
Africa Might Not Look Like You Think It Does
There is no such thing as an objective map. This was true of cave paintings, Roman tapestries, and colonialists' charts of Africa. It is also true of Google Maps.
The New York Public Library has released more than 20,000 high resolution cartographic works (maps!) for free, to view and download. "We believe these maps have no known US copyright restrictions." All can be viewed through the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections page and downloaded through their Map Warper. (Via) [more inside]
London to Amsterdam, Saint Petersburg and Tokyo to New York, well known historical paintings of city scenes around the world superimposed on to Google Street View by Halley Docherty (whose username is shystone on Reddit) | Google Street View Paintings by Raul Moyado Sandoval that he calls Metapanoramas | Also Paintings as Google Street View Maps via Lileks' wonderful Lint. [more inside]
If you don't like Marcellus Laroon's pictures of London street life in the late 1600s, perhaps Thomas Rowlandson's "Characteristic Sketches of the Lower Orders" from 1820 are more to your liking. Moving up in society, take a look at what the fat cat bankers of 1824 wore, courtesy of Richard Dighton and contrast them with the costumes of the lower orders as depicted by T. L. Busby in the same year. All found at the Spitalfields Life blog, which has an uncanny knack for finding these extraordinary depictions of London street life in previous centuries.
Coltrane in "A love supreme" sessions. "Whenever photographer Chuck Stewart was hired by a record company to document a recording session, he would shoot during the rehearsal takes. Recently, his son David was browsing through his archives when he found six undeveloped rolls of film from December 1964, 50 years ago.. They portrayed saxophonist John Coltrane . . . with his quartet, making a work that would soon be hailed as a masterpiece and a landmark of 20th-century music: A Love Supreme." [more inside]
Thank Goodness We Don't Have To Do That Anymore: a selection of US social customs and rituals that have mercifully passed on. Spinster Etiquette! Paying Calls! Hand Kissing! Bathing Machines! Wedding Gift Displays!
Filmmaker IQ offers an extensive variety of free online courses, articles and tutorial videos for aspiring filmmakers. Their image gallery is also fun to browse through. [more inside]
In How History Can Be Used in Fiction historian Ada Palmer explores how two TV series about the Borgia family succeed or fail at conveying a period feel, where and why modern sensibilities influence the shows, and how the characterization of a protagonist whose age is historically uncertain can be affected by making him younger or older. It finally concludes with a discussion of why communication can be more important than accuracy and why some changes from historical fact strengthen fiction and others weaken it. [more inside]
From 1851 to 1858, Henry David Thoreau noted a number of natural occurrences in detail, including the first flowering dates for over 500 species of wildflowers in Concord. Additionally, Alfred Hosmer, a botanist in the same area, had recorded the flowering dates of over 600 species of wild plants in 1878 and from 1888 to 1902. With that data, Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University, and fellow researcher Abraham Miller-Rushing spent years aligning old plant names with current names to study the change flowering patterns from the recorded past to present. Their phenological study concluded that plants in Concord, on average, are now flowering 10 days earlier than they were in Thoreau's time (full article for the journal BioScience). [more inside]
Lessons From A Demigod
The Epic of Gilgamesh has been read in the modern world for a little longer than a century, and, in that time, this oldest of stories has become a classic college text. In my own courses on ancient literature and mythology, it is the book I always begin with. But why should a tale whose origins stretch back more than four thousand years draw such attention in an age of genetic engineering and text messaging? The answer I have given to hundreds of students is that almost every joy and sorrow they will face in life was revealed in Gilgamesh millennia before they were born. Reading Gilgamesh will not only teach them to face the challenges that lie ahead, but also give them an appreciation for the idea that no matter how much our modern world might seem different from earlier times, the essence of the human experience remains the same.[more inside]
The Vatican is digitizing its massive trove of ancient documents to make them available to the world for free online. [more inside]
The Murders at The Lake. "In the summer of 1982 the city of Waco was confronted with the most vicious crime it had ever seen: three teenagers were savagely stabbed to death, for no apparent reason, at a park by a lake on the edge of town. Justice was eventually served when four men were found guilty of the crime, and two were sent to death row. In 1991, though, when one of the convicts got a new trial and was then found not guilty, some people wondered, Were these four actually the killers? Several years after that, one of the men was put to death, and the stakes were raised: Had Texas executed an innocent man?" [more inside]
[Paul] De Man may have been a scoundrel who found a career teaching a certain method of reading, but that method of reading does not turn people into scoundrels. Probably ninety-nine per cent of the people who studied with de Man wouldn’t run a red light—forget about altering a transcript or voluntarily collaborating with Nazis. If there is an ethical takeaway from what de Man taught, it would be self-doubt.In The New Yorker Louis Menand attempts to find common ground between Paul De Man's methods of literary criticism and his sordid life in a long review of Evelyn Barish's The Double Life of Paul de Man. The biography has been criticized by Peter Brooks, De Man's former student, and was reviewed unfavorably by Susan Rubin Suleiman in The New York Times.
Each week, the Internet Archive's tumblr account is completely transformed by a digital resident along a theme of their choosing. [more inside]
The infamous, sprawling Winchester Mystery House has plans to allow overnight stays and full onsite alcohol consumption
"I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it many times again, but one of the joys of webcomics is their ability to cover every possible subject and fill every conceivable niche. Say, for example, you’re into early Irish literature and you want to read it in comics form. Webcomics are happy to help you out. At this very moment, in fact, there are at least two ongoing webcomics based on the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or Cattle Raid of Cooley, the central epic of the Ulster cycle: Patrick Brown’s The Cattle Raid of Cooley and M.K. Reed’s About a Bull. Thank you, webcomics! You’ve justified the existence of the Internet yet again!" -- Shaenon Garrity reviews two niche webcomics.
See how close you live to a nuclear power plant on this interactive map featured in Smithsonian. It's created by ESRI, home to all kinds of other maps, like the Battle of the Big Boxes, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the location of uninsured Americans, a Timeline of the UK's Tallest Buildings, and more. [more inside]
"As an important part of daily nourishment, women had always produced beer at home and for their own household. However, in Holland from the beginning of the thirteenth century beer production for the general market commenced. In the developing cities more and more labour was divided among specialised craftsmen. Professional breweries were established and the beer industry became a serious trade." -- female brewers in Holland and England, a paper by Marjolien van Dekken looking at how the brewery industry changed in Early Modern Times from largely homebrewed and controlled by women to a more large scale and male dominated industry. [more inside]
"In 2012, automobile collisions killed more than 34,000 Americans, but unlike our response to foreign wars, the AIDS crisis, or terrorist attacks—all of which inflict fewer fatalities than cars—there’s no widespread public protest or giant memorial to the dead. We fret about drugs and gun safety, but don’t teach children to treat cars as the loaded weapons they are."
"Margery Kempe was a self-proclaimed holy woman, visionary, mystic and medieval pilgrim. She is also unique because although she was not proficient at reading and writing, she was determined to record her visions, journeys and spiritual experiences. She dictated her book to a scribe of which only one copy survives, now housed in the British Library. Nearly everything we know about her comes from her book." -- Susan Abernethy writes about a woman we only know about because she wrote a tell-all autobiography.
The fascinating thing about the sexist Dutch slur kenau -- aimed at women deemed too aggressive or bossy -- is that it originated as the given name of a heroine of the Eighty Years War, Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer who during the 1573 Siege of Haarlem led a monstrous regiment of women in defence of her home town against the Spanish oppressor. Last week a movie was released retelling her legend, which prompted the Haarlem Frans Hals Museum to create a short documentary about her, Kenau: heroine or harridan, looking at the historical truth of Kenau Hasselaer's life, which has been subtitled in English.
Postal History Corner: Canadian Postal and Philatelic History is chock full of fascinating information and high quality images and has been doing so for four years. [more inside]
Each week for a year, the folks in the special collections library at the University of St. Andrews are taking a how-to book from the collection and following its instructions for a project, in order to get a clearer sense of what life was like a century or two ago. Thus far in 52 Weeks of Historical How-Tos, they've learned how to make shoe polish like an 1825 footman, bake mince pie from 10 different recipes dating from 1710-1862, perform parlour tricks to amaze your friends, and take photographs via the wet collodion process.
This book deals with the Dialect of the English Language that is spoken in Ireland. As the Life of a people—according to our motto—is pictured in their speech, our picture ought to be a good one, for two languages were concerned in it—Irish and English. ... Here for the first time—in this little volume of mine—our Anglo-Irish Dialect is subjected to detailed analysis and systematic classification.P.W. Joyce's 1910 work, "English as We Speak it in Ireland," is a fascinating chronicle of a language's life, and no mistake. [more inside]
The Swahili Coast and its culture in the medieval period (roughly the tenth to fifteenth centuries) is relatively little studied, compared with other cultures of its size and influence, though it represents a key node in the development of global trade before the European Age of Discovery. Its history is known in broad strokes, but less is known about how the medieval Swahili lived and how they incorporated influences—from religion to architecture—from across the Indian Ocean world. Fleisher and his codirector, Stephanie Wynne-Jones of the University of York, looked for a site that would allow them to examine such questions in detail. “We had an inkling Songo Mnara would be that site,” he says, “but it has completely exceeded our expectations. --
"The idea that Medieval people drank beer or wine to avoid drinking bad water is so established that even some very serious scholars see no reason to document or defend it; they simply repeat it as a settled truth. In fact, if no one ever documents the idea, it is for a very simple reason: it's not true."
December 7--The war opened with the attack of Japanese aircraft on Oahu. So begins the Command Summary of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, now available online as part of the U.S. Naval War College's Naval Historical Collection, in eight pdf volumes. Downloading is currently a little slow, as demand for site access has been high.
One hundred years ago today, General Joshua L. Chamberlain - the "lion of the union" - linguist, professor, mason, soldier, Medal of Honor winner, public servant, and author -- died at the age of 85, from the lingering wounds he had suffered at the Siege of Petersburg, fifty years earlier.
Winston Churchill famously said, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills". And although Winston never had contend with an invasion force on the streets of London, he was not entirely successful in keeping the Germans from occupying British soil. [more inside]
"In the mid-20th century, in response to the United States’ rapidly expanding telephone network, executives at the Bell System introduced a new way of dialing the phone. Until then, for the most part, it was human operators — mostly women — who had directed calls to their destinations." The new system, which eliminated letters from phone numbers and set the stage for an automated national (and eventually international) dialing system. was met with a minor rebellion against "creeping numeralism." The Atlantic examines "Our Numbered Days: The Evolution of the Area Code." [more inside]
In an ongoing revisionist history effort, Southern schools and churches in the United States still pretend the Civil War wasn't about slavery.
"Nevertheless, one lands the real killer blow against the rather silly ‘what if’ justification for the 'just' Great War by looking at its actual results. The militarist German-dominated Europe envisaged in the counter factual just mentioned would have been worse than the one that did actually eventuate, worse than fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, the Great Depression, the influenza epidemic … how, exactly? Surely a war allegedly fought to prevent one particular outcome but which, even when won, at the cost of millions of dead, produced an even worse situation is the very definition of pointless slaughter." -- In the wake of the Michael Gove led attack on the socalled "Blackadder view" of the First World War as a pointless slaughter, historian Guy Halsall does his best to pour cold war on their idea of WWI as a just war.
Saudi Arabia's royal family are planning to demolish a library sitting on the remains of Prophet Muhammad's birth home to make way for the imam's residence and a presidential palace. The Saudi royal family are adherents of Wahhabism, a radical branch of Islam; by their beliefs, they have destroyed many Islamic heritage sites as they consider the preservation of relics of Muhammad's life to be akin to idolatry.
Jacques-André Istel is the father of American skydiving, Honorary Soviet Master of Sports and French Legionnaire, and the founder, mayor, and only resident (with his wife) of the desert town of Felicity, California. Felicity is a wondrous place. Inspired by a children's book he wrote, Istel managed to have the town officially designated as the Center of the World. It is also the home of the Museum of History in Granite, 431 carved panels of the history of the world, written by Istel and copy-edited by his wife with a modern Rosetta Stone to help people 4,000 years from now interpret it. Seriously, just look at the panel about the moon.
How the north ended up on top of the map is an article by Nick Danforth, author/curator of (The/Mid) Afternoon Map blog, detailing how the north-up orientation came to be the default orientation, looking beyond Eurocentrism to Byzantine monks and Majorcan Jews who set the path for modern cartography. If you want more information, you might enjoy the Wikipedia article on the history of cartography, or you can really dig deep with the three-volume text, The History of Cartography, which is available in full from the University of Chicago Press online, split into individual PDFs for each chapter. [more inside]
Grand by Design is a Centennial Celebration of Grand Central Terminal. It's a looong page with a lot of nice images and facts from the history of the Grand Central Depot/ Station/ Terminal. (Previously)
Gentlemen, Formerly. "A gentleman in 1720 could read Greek while mounting a running horse. Today’s gentleman reads GQ in the bathroom. From rapists to stylists, a history of the American gentleman." [more inside]
The Charles W. Morgan is the world's last remaining wooden whaleship. Her unusually long career included 37 whaling voyages between 1841 and 1921. Over the past few years, she's received a full restoration by the skilled shipwrights at the Mystic Seaport Museum Shipyard, and is in the final stages of outfitting for her 38th voyage, an ambituous plan to make her seaworthy enough to sail her one final time and visit her original homeport of New Bedford, MA, along with many of the ports she frequented in her working days, before she returns to her permanent berth. Among the crew will be one stowaway, a crew member chosen via a selective process including a video application, who'll use video and social media to tell the stories of the voyage, the crew, the accompanying scholars and artists, and what it's like to make amends with whales.