Scholarly paper warning.
David H. Caldwell, Mark A. Hall, and Caroline M. Wilkinson have written an interdisciplinary paper on the Lewis chessmen, uncovered in Scotland in 1831. They are centuries-old, walrus ivory chess pieces, 78 in all. The authors suggest the story may have become too streamlined to reveal reality.
Whether kings or princes from the Isle of Man or descended from Somerled, local nobles or high-ranking clerics, there were several men in late Norse Lewis who could have aspired to own the Lewis pieces, and who would have valued them as gaming pieces. Rather than accepting the deus ex machina explanation of a passing merchant losing his stock, it is surely more plausible that the Lewis pieces were found in Lewis because that was where they were intended to end up and be enjoyed.
. . .
There are two final points to make here. First, no matter how or why the Lewis pieces arrived at Uig, it is only a presumption that they were new when buried. If they belonged to a local nobleman or cleric they may have provided many years of enjoyment before they passed out of use. This is a significant point to which we will return after a more detailed analysis of the individual pieces. Second, the circumstances of the hoard’s discovery are so vague that there can be no confidence as to whether it was lost or deliberately hidden.
This isn’t quite the storyline of The Chessmen by Peter May, but you may find it interesting. Abstract to follow. Continue reading Look Again at the Lewis Chessmen
We have many historical re-enactors or living historians where I live. Our neighboring battlefields and monuments need context to understand what happened on this land 150 years ago and more. Just to the north of where I live is a park dedicated to the Cherokee nation and the beginning of the Trail of Tears. A few miles down the road is a national battlefield where the Confederate army won a major battle just before losing a bigger one.
What is the draw and the danger of re-enacting portions of history?
It isn’t only recreational. Craftspeople specialize in creating historical replicas, like the armour that was used in the Marathon re-enactment. Experimental archaeologists test specific hypotheses about aspects of history as a form of academic inquiry. Inevitably, some guesswork is involved; recreating the past means you have to fill in a lot of little gaps in the historical record. . . .
Even within specific groups of re-enactors, people hold a range of views about how closely clothing, items, and activities should mimic the originals. “Some people are button and stitch counters, and they’re not much fun,” says one re-enactor, dressed in wool clothes and standing in a field outside Hamilton, Ontario. (He was taking part in an annual living-history recreation of late medieval Italy, in the spring of 2016.) “They’re so historically correct it becomes ridiculous.”
(via Prufrock News)
In The Social Life of Books, Abigail Williams, a professor of 18th-century studies at Oxford, says . . . the old tradition of reading out loud remained alive and well [during the 18th century contrary to suggestions that reading alone began trending].
She offers many good reasons for reading aloud along with some of the trends and ideas of the day, including this satirical take from An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting:
Should he be a man of genius and should employ his leisure hours in writing; be sure to shew a tasteless indifference to every thing he shews you of his own. The lame indifference, also, may you put on, if he should be a man who loves reading, and is of so communicative a disposition, as to take delight in reading to you any of our best and most entertaining authors. If, for instance, he desires you to hear one of Shakespeare’s plays, you may give him perpetual interruptions, by sometimes going out of the room, sometimes ringing the bell to give orders for what cannot be wanted till the next day; at other times taking notice (if your children are in the room), that Molly’s cap is awry, or that Jackey looks pale ; and then begin questioning the child, whether he has done any thing to make himself sick.
(via Prufrock News)
“On the morning of Thursday, Dec. 6, 1917, the captain and crew of a French munitions ship called Mont-Blanc were eager to reach the safety of Halifax Harbour, and with good reason,” writes John U. Bacon for The Boston Globe. The ship was chock-full of explosives for use against Germany. But before it could reach the harbour, you might say mistakes were made.
The ship exploded at in dock at a force estimated to be one-fifth that of the first atomic bomb.
About two hours after the explosion, Governor Samuel W. McCall sent a telegram to the mayor of Halifax: “Understand your city in danger from explosion and conflagration. Reports only fragmentary. Massachusetts ready to go the limit in rendering every assistance you may be in need of. Wire me immediately.”
Isaac Chotiner interviewed a man who wrote a lot about today’s most prominent villain Harvey Weinstein but not about his actions as a sexual predator.
“The book was not about Harvey per se,” Peter Biskind told him. “It was about the explosion of independent film in the ’90s.”
But Chotiner pressed him on whether he’d heard stories of Weinstein’s (or other people’s) aggressive immorality.
“There was a lot of free sex in the ’70s,” Biskind said. “This was the era of free love, so everybody was stoned all the time. . . . There was a general feeling in the ’70s, and I think it has always been true in Hollywood, all the way back to silent pictures, that rules don’t apply to them, which was the name of Beatty’s last movie. It’s the air they breathe. They are not constrained by civilian morality, put it that way.”
Were the ’70s really as debauched as all that? Ross Douthat thinks so. Continue reading “The ’70s was such a different era.”
Gerald Elias paints a slice of life in 1808 Vienna for someone looking forward to the premiere of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Of course, as a music lover, you sing in your parish choir and play duets and trios at home with the family (you on piano, and assorted family members doing the vocalizing). You are partial to Mozart’s concert arias, though they are the devil to get through unscathed.
The only music that is possible for you, or anyone in the world, to hear is live, face-to-face. That makes life pretty quiet. The cows low in the field on the hill, the goldfinches chirp in the linden tree in front of your house, the easy flow of the brook gurgles behind it. At night, sometimes you can hear loud talk from the tavern on the corner, but otherwise from dusk until dawn life is essentially silent.
While you wait for the performance to begin you wonder why it takes Beethoven so much longer to write a symphony than other composers – a mystery to you because from everything you’ve been told, his symphonies are rough around the edges, disconnected, and make an altogether unpleasant noise. The program, which Beethoven himself is conducting (though it’s well-known he’s hard of hearing), is as crazy as the man himself: the Sixth Symphony, one of his concert arias, the Gloria from his Mass in C, and his Fourth Piano Concerto, which Beethoven will perform himself. That’s the first half.
Another history of the Vikings. This one, by Neil Oliver, a Scottish archaeologist and TV presenter, is more subjective than, say, The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth, which I reviewed recently. I don’t rate The Vikings: A New History as highly as Winroth’s book purely as a scholarly work, but I expect it might be just the gateway book for some readers.
The Vikings: A New History takes a generally chronological approach, which is a useful thing. Books on the Vikings, even histories, tend to separate various geographical spheres of interest into watertight sections. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think there’s also a need for a work that displays the sweep of Viking activity overall, decade by decade. So author Oliver has done a service in that regard.
The execution is a little idiosyncratic. The book begins (apart from personal reminiscences by the author, telling how he came to be interested in the Vikings) with quite a long survey of Scandinavian history beginning in the Ice Age. In compensation, perhaps, it seemed to me the later stages of Viking history got treated in a somewhat perfunctory manner. As if the author was running out of pages and needed to compress. Continue reading ‘The Vikings: A New History,’ by Neil Oliver
A new exhibit at the Getty offers a revealing look at women from the Middle Ages.
With an understandable weariness, the exhibition’s creators acknowledge, both on the introductory museum label and catalogue book jacket, that most people imagine medieval women as damsels in distress, being rescued perhaps by a dragon-hunting St. George. One has to meet the popular mind, fattened by dismissals of the Middle Ages (“a world lit only by fire”), where it unfortunately lags. But to slay this myth as surely as St. George speared his dragon, the curators unfurled manuscripts of a different, lesser known legend, that of St. Margaret. Consumed by a dragon, Margaret ripped her way out of his stomach herself with a crucifix. Like Jesus, it seems, Margaret could be born (from a dragon at least) without the help of a man.
“Americans today,” Ferreiro says, “celebrate the July Fourth holiday under somewhat false pretences.” Yes, the colonial-wide support of Boston in the wake of the Coercive Acts (1774) was a factor in pushing British Americans toward independence. So was the publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. So were the ideas of the founding fathers and the activism of ordinary colonists who destroyed the homes of tax collectors, tarred and feathered loyalists, and burned tea. Yet, as Ferreiro shows us, the men sitting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia during the Second Continental Congress also realized that a declaration of independence was their only real chance of securing the foreign aid necessary to defeat the mighty British army and navy. As Virginian Richard Henry Lee put it in June 1776, “It’s not by choice then, but necessity that calls for independence, as the only means by which foreign alliance can be obtained.”
John Fea draws these ideas from Larrie D. Ferreiro’s Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It. He says French and Spanish diplomats wanted to push back Great Britain’s power (particularly the French after their defeat in the French and Indian War) and exploited ways to encourage our War for Independence. (via Prufrock News)
On March 22, a “Vigilance Committee” in Montgomery . . . burned Spurgeon’s sermons in the public square. A week later Mr. B. B. Davis, a bookstore owner, prepared “a good ore of pine sticks” before reducing about 60 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “to smoke and ashes.” . . .
Anti-Spurgeon bonfires illuminated jail yards, plantations, bookstores, and courthouses throughout the Southern states. In Virginia, Mr. Humphrey H. Kuber, a Baptist preacher and “highly respectable citizen” of Matthews County, burned seven calf-skinned volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “on the head of a flour barrel.”
British newspapers quipped that America had given Spurgeon a warm welcome, “a literally brilliant reception.”
Christian George, head of the C. H. Spurgeon Library, has produced the first volume of lost sermons by the great London preacher. The dark history above comes from the preface of this volume.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of what has become Black History Month, wanted to spotlight the many social and academic achievements of African Americans.
“For serious, solution-oriented black conservatives today,” Chidike Okeem writes, “Woodson provided a model of how one can be enthusiastically pro-market, doggedly anti-Marxist economics, and do so while being unapologetically African. He demonstrated that endorsement of free market economics does not have to coincide with self-hatred and anti-blackness.”
“Black Americans have African ancestors who were marvelously accomplished, built civilizations, and were intrepid innovators. African Americans, despite a history of oppression, have demonstrated that same entrepreneurial spirit throughout American history.”
One of the things I appreciate about the history books we’ve used with our children is their scope. They are world history books and cover more than Western civilization. As a result, we’ve learned about African kingdoms, the ebb and flow of Japanese and Chinese empires, and a bit about missionary efforts along the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if my children knew something about Sundiata Keita and the Mali Empire, one of the greatest kingdoms of ancient Africa.
Philip Perry has a piece on how a Magna Carta-like document may predate the Magna Carta in the oral history of the Mali Empire of 1200-1600 AD, thus making the concept of human rights initially an African idea. Not that the “Manden Charter” was the inspiration for the Magna Carta, but it’s interesting that a similar idea emerged in this other context, showing perhaps the innate longing of the human heart.
I bring this up today because Alex Haley’s Roots points back to the people who lived in this part of the world, as Perry notes. The original mini-series based on that book aired today in 1977. Haley called his book a mixture of facts and fiction, but he may have claimed more facts than he should have.
Many Khmers resisted, to the degree they were able, by shutting down. Do your job; don’t complain; keep your head down; and most important, trust no one. Over time, people’s souls shriveled. In one sense, even the Khmer Rouge themselves were dying on their feet. They were soldiers of socialism for whom murder was not a crime but the prelude to a new society.
Surrounding Radha as he lay on the termite hill were endless stretches of shallow water broken up by dikes and stands of trees. He saw no way out. Lord, he prayed, I really want my rest. Take me home. He waited, and the rain kept falling. If you aren’t going to take me home, I’m going to help you.
So he began to sing in English. With water dripping off the bushes around him, he lifted up his voice and sang, perhaps not as loudly as he could but quite clearly, about how this world was not his home. “I’m just a-passing through / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” It’s a bouncy, country gospel tune called “This World Is Not My Home” that he had learned at Maranatha Church in Phnom Penh. He learned it soon after he became a Christian in 1973. He hummed it to himself in the fields while plodding behind the water buffalo, along with “Call for the Reapers” and “Bringing in the Sheaves.” “Power in the Blood” was one of his favorites.
World Magazine shares the opening of the remarkable story of how a Cambodian Christian survived an evil communist regime.
AP: “A new study published Friday by the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam says despite decades of research there is no conclusive evidence the Jewish diarist and her family were betrayed to the Netherlands’ German occupiers during the second world war, leading to their arrest and deportation.” While it’s still possible they were betrayed, it’s also possible the Nazis were investigating “illegal labor or falsified ration coupons” when the Franks were discovered.
TGC: Robert Barron has produced a documentary on G. K. Chesterton. Treven Wax says, “It dives headlong into two of Chesterton’s greatest works: Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, the latter of which C. S. Lewis called the greatest apologetic for Christianity in English.”