Wednesday, 26 December 2012

American Slaves and Emancipation

This is a great article examining the history of Emancipation, and how former slaves used photography to emphasise their freedom. Some examples can be seen by following the link:

"If the grand experiment fails"

In 1846, James Macbeth argued that slavery was poisoning the United States, the land of self-professed liberty, and it's such a powerful statement I had to replicate it here. 

“...if the grand experiment of the American republic fails – and through the fierce passions which slavery engenders, it is provoking danger every hour from within and from without – then woe to the cause of liberty over the earth. To save that republic, its slavery must be abolished, and if it be not extricated by the energetic action of its churches – at present so shamefully lethargic – it will not be extricated peacefully and the last lingering tints of the bow of hope on that western sky may soon disappear in a revolutionary storm – in a shower of blood…”

That "shower of blood" would become the Civil War.

(|Macbeth, James, “No Fellowship with slaveholders: a calm review of the debate on slavery in the Free Assembly of 1846, addressed respectfully to the Assembly of 1847, and to the members and kirk sessions of the Free Church”, Glasgow, 1846, pp.3-37.)

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Christmas Truce

A letter has been found recording the famous football game that was held between British and German soldiers during the Christmas Truce of 1914.

In some areas along the Western Front, soldiers from both sides yelled christmas greetings to each other, sang carols, and even walked across No Man's Land to exchange cigarettes.

Sergeant Clement Barker recorded how a game of football started when the British kicked a ball across No Man's Land. The letter is an incredibly important document, especially in the light of the centenary anniversary of the start of the First World War in 1914.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Memorial to Black Soldiers of the Revolution

A memorial to over 5,000 free and enslaved African Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War has been given the go ahead by the Senate. A small section of federal land has been provided for the National Mall Liberty Fund D.C., although federal money will not be used to install the monument. Plans for the memorial have been under construction for thirty years.

It will be interesting to chart the course of this memorial, as with anything to do with public history, it is bound to be controversial. On a separate note, I think Britain should do something about this Revolutionary legacy - I mean, we promised thousands of African Americans freedom and then decided to "conveniently" forget about this.

Americans and their Confederate Heritage

The Confederate flag has always been a controversial symbol, now arguably even more so - and famous figures always receive praise or abuse for flaunting it. Trace Adkins wore a Confederate-styled ear piece to turn on the Christmas lights at the Rockefeller Centre, and he has sparked another debate about its meaning. Racial symbol or a mark of Southern heritage? That's the tricky thing about 'symbols', they mean different things to different people, especially when it is taken out of historical context and used for present (or political) ends. I personally don't agree with it, but tell that to the state of Mississippi - its flag still contains a Confederate cross.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Trench Talk

This article from the Telegraph is really interesting - two historians have been researching words and phrases that originated during World War One. Terms like "pushing up daises", "blighty", "fed up" and  "lousy", all began in the 'war to end all wars.'

Is this the Iceberg that Sank the Titanic?

A photograph taken of a peculiarly shaped iceberg two days before the Titanic sank has surfaced, and some experts believe that this may have been the iceberg that collided with the infamous ship. The unusual shape and its position in the Atlantic offer compelling evidence to suggest it might be...

On the 12 April 1912, Captain W.F Wood took this photograph, printed it, and recorded the coordinates of this huge iceberg. According to some survivors of the Titanic, the iceberg had an interesting elliptical shape, much like the one in the photograph. The size of the iceberg, and the fact that it was roughly ten miles from the Titanic's position have got many Titanic enthusiasts very excited.

The photograph is due to be auctioned next week, and is expected to reach between $8000-10,000.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Native American Headdress...What Does It Mean To You?

The fashion company Victoria Secret have issued an apology after dressing a model in a Native American headdress. Several tribes took offence to this exhibitionism, and have called the display rude and demeaning to their culture. For many tribes, the headdress is not only sacred, but personal - each one shows the bravery and honour that individual has achieved.

Many tribal leaders are disappointed with the show, claiming that it mocks the Native American way of life. Others think it is an overreaction. Last year, Urban Outfitters was criticised for its new range of "Navajo" clothing, so this debate is nothing new.

The headdress is effectively a religious object, and if the model wore a crucifix they would be facing the same kind of criticism (I'm sure this has been done in the fashion world at some point, since much is designed to shock). From this point of view it's easy to blame the people who made this decision, but the Native American headdress has become so integral to Western culture - through Halloween costumes or the age-old story of "Cowboys vs. Indians" - that people don't think twice about using it. Of course, it depends on the context - a public display such as a fashion show is more likely to invite criticism, but I would be interested to see how Native American tribes treat Halloween costumes or the numerous students who dress up as "Indians" for parties. Native Americans believe more education is needed about their culture, how it is treated and how it is perceived, something which I would welcome. But at the same time, if some tribes are trying to eradicate the use of the headdress as a meaningless symbol they are (unfortunately) facing an uphill battle.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

WW1 and PTSD

An interesting but often overlooked episode during the First World War is the treatment of soldiers for 'shell shock', something that was not completely understood at the time. Some of these soldiers were sent to hospitals where, more often than not, 'treatment' consisted of electric shocks and what today we would call downright abuse. (Read Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy for more on this). 

Symptoms of 'shell shock' include shaking, nightmares, convulsions, fits, lack of speech and even loss of memory. Over 80,000 men were diagnosed with some form of 'shell shock', but of course these are only the recorded cases. The famous war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were admitted to the same hospital for a time.

Not all doctors used electric shocks however. In a hospital in Devon, Arthur Hurst used hypnotherapy, as well as encouraging soldiers to remember what happened to them, reconstructing battlefields to prevent any sense of denial. Through this, Hurst managed to help over 90% of his patients. Pathe have just released some disturbing footage of some of these patients from the hospital, follow the link below.

Britain's imperial past...

New research suggests that Britain has invaded nearly 90% of the countries on Earth.

The long list includes Vietnam, Iceland and even Cuba. Interestingly, the list (compiled by Stuart Laycock) is no means conclusive - indeed, Laycock believes there are more countries that could be added, and is encouraging others to come forward to present new research. Laycock, who has written books on Roman history, was sparked into this quest by his son who asked him how many countries Britain had invaded.

The countries that Britain haven't invaded are, to name a few - Andorra, Belarus, Guatemala, Paraguay, Sweden, Vatican City and Monaco.

And the country Britain has invaded the most? France takes first prize. Cue the old French related jokes of poor fighting ability. Ahem.

Anyway. watch out, Luxembourg, we're coming for you.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Lifeboat Legacy

When the Titanic set sail from Southampton on the 10th April 1912, she had 20 lifeboats. This would have saved a third of the passengers and crew on board, something that may strike us as horrifying now but was perfectly natural at the time. Architects were confident in the use of watertight compartments in the design of the ship, believing them to be the epitome of safety. Thus, less lifeboats were needed. If a ship was not built with watertight compartments, more lifeboats were needed. Remarkably, the Titanic sailed with four more lifeboats than what was required by law at the time, and Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic actually requested there should be 64 lifeboats. But White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic, shot this down as they believed too many lifeboats would clutter the deck space. It has since been calculated that 51 lifeboats would have been needed to save every person on board the ship.

Interestingly enough, the civil servant who inspected the Titanic before she sailed, Maurice Clarke, believed there should have been more lifeboats. In some handwritten notes he made on the day of inspection, Clarke clearly stated the ship was not as safe as it could be, but made no mention of this in his official report because his job was on the line - White Star Line was pressurising Clarke's employer for a squeaky clean report. Despite this, he acknowledged that it would have been impossible to increase the lifeboats because of lack of funds and manpower. Regardless, Clarke did not mention his misgivings at the inquiry into the disaster.

Poignantly, Clarke had written "a sufficiency of boats would allay a panic."

These handwritten notes are expected to reach £30,000.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Ice Tribute to Titanic

This is one the of most impressive memorials I have ever seen.

In Belfast, Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo sculpted 1,517 ice figures, representing every victim to the Titanic disaster. It was here that the Titanic was built, and this tribute was organised to coincide with the centenary of the sinking on 15 April 1912. The little figures were 15in high, and gradually, they melted, one after the other...

Check out the beautiful pictures here:

Saturday, 20 October 2012

First Native American saint to be canonised

This weekend, Kateri Tekakwitha, "Lily of the Mohawks" will be the first Native American to be canonised by the Catholic Church. Kateri was born in 1656, in the midst of power struggles between the English, Dutch and French (as well as between Native American tribes) all demanding territory and denomination over the other. Millions of Native Americans were decimated from smallpox and other European diseases - Kateri's parents and brother died from smallpox, and Kateri herself was left physically scarred. "Tekakwitha" is a Mohawk word that translates to "the one who walks groping her way."

The Mohawks blamed the Jesuits for this decimation from smallpox, and they massacred several priests in Kateri's village (three were later canonised.) However, shortly after Kateri was born, the French signed a peace treaty with the Mohawks, and one clause stated that Jesuits could work with the tribe.

On Easter Day pin 1676, Kateri was baptised, and the site is now a shrine visited by hundreds of people every year. Many tribes fused Christianity with their native culture in order to survive in this changing world, but Kateri's decision was not popular with the Mohawks. Her uncle was outraged at her baptism, particularly after she spurned the man he had chosen for her husband. Kateri travelled to a Jesuit village in Montreal, and devoted herself to Christianity, often torturing herself by walking barefoot on ice and hot coals, lying on a bed of thorns, and self-flagellation. Academics think she was influenced by the harsh rituals Mohawk men would undertake before a battle, but even contemporary Jesuits thought she was taking it too far.

Kateri died when she was 24, and ever since, Catholics have prayed to her and many have been convinced she has performed miracles. Immediately after she died, the scars from smallpox disappeared, and the Jesuits claimed they saw visions of her. As late as 2006, it was claimed that a small boy was healed in the US after touching a piece of Kateri's wrist bone. Others have apparently been cured of burns and even kidney disease.

However, some Mohawks today find it hard to identify with a chaste, self-flaggellating convert to Catholicism. She bore no children, and she can be interpreted as a symbol of the struggles between Europeans and the Mohawks...

Regardless, relics, including bits of cloth which have touched the bones of Kateri, are apparently selling fast.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Echoes of 1066

The Battle of Hastings in 1066 is probably a date that 99% of the population know off by heart. But many would probably wonder what the significance of the battle is today.

This battle and subsequent 'fusion' of the Anglo-Saxon and Franco-Latin languages created a wide and rich vocabulary - this is why we have different words for something that means pretty much the same thing (for example, fatherly and paternal). The 100 Years' War (1337-1453) may never have happened, and the relationship between France and England would have been completely different. Close ties between the Scottish Kings and the Normans continued for centuries, meaning that the present royal family would have been very different. Shakespeare's plays would probably have been closer to c16th Dutch or German than what it is today. And without the conquest, would there ever have been a United Kingdom?

Really interesting article in The Telegraph!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

WW1 Commemoration

The history of World War One has always fascinated me, even though my chosen period of study is c.19th America. My ancestors fought in the war, and visiting the battlefields 7 years ago was a wonderful and moving experience, one that I shall never forget. So I was pleased to hear that the government are pledging £50 million to mark the centenary of the war next year. The money will go towards national commemorations, museum exhibitions, and encouraging local communities to get involved in historic projects; the ultimate goal will be to honour those who served. Part of the money will also go to the Imperial War Museum and to schools across the country, who will get to travel to France and Belgium to see the cemeteries, museums and the famous Menin Gate.

"If I should die, think only this of me, that there's some corner of a foreign field, that is forever England."

Assassination Site will become tourist attraction

From 2013, tourists will be allowed to stand on the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated. Apparently, this didn't happen on the steps of the senate but in a theatre - which is fascinating in itself because most history documentaries I have seen, including the recent programme by Andrew Marr depict Caesar being repeatedly stabbed in the Senate.

Today, the area is called Torre Argentina Square and is in the very heart of Rome, but it's also known as the Stray Cat Colony because not many tourists go there. A fact archaeologists are hoping to change. (I'm sure Caesar would probably appreciate a move away from the 'Stray Cat Colony' too.)

Archaeologists report that every year, flowers are left by an unknown person on this ancient site every year on the anniversary of the assassination on March 15, 44BC.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Resurrection of the Pony Express

Cruising along Route 66 this year, I stopped at a small town near the Petrified Forest - Holbrook, Arizona. After making friends with the gun-wielding cowboy who ran the visitor centre (he called me babe), he proceeded to tell me the fascinating history of the Hashknife Pony Express.

The original Pony Express (April 1860 - October 1861) was the mail service organised by William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell and was set up between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, a journey of nearly two thousand miles. Men would ride across the Plains, the Sierra, and the Rockies, stopping at particular relay stations to pick up fresh horses, food and even new riders. This incredible journey would take around ten days, but after the introduction of the telegraph, it was rendered irrelevant.

However, in Holbrook, the Pony Express rides again (ahem). The Hashknife Pony Express, organised in 1958, had its 50th anniversary in 2008. A group of dedicated riders form the "oldest, officially sanctioned Pony Express in the world." From Holbrook, riders travel 200 miles to Scottsdale over three days, delivering 20,000 first class post with the Pony Express stamp on each letter. Rain or shine.

Apparently, the same posse also search for lost tourists in the desert. And whatever the conditions, they don't come back until they find them...

Sunday, 30 September 2012

America DOES have a history

Many people in Britain dismiss American history as 'very young' - I've written on this subject before but it can always be repeated...I've just returned from a three week holiday in Southwestern USA, and visited many sites that attest to America's incredible ancient history. The best site by far was Mesa Verde. There were several ruins of ancient pueblos and villages, remarkably preserved because that particular area of Colorado is very dry. Archaeologists think that the ancient peoples built these villages in the 1100's, but abandoned them three hundred years later  (probably due to lack of resources). There is little record of what happened to them, but the Hopi people tell of a legend that many ancient people joined their ancestors hundreds of years ago. Run by the National Park, Native American tribes including the Hopi and the Navajo regard Mesa Verde as a sacred place and many travel there every year to perform rituals or to recount stories of the ancient peoples. When you visit, rangers take you around several sites, including Cliff Palace (above) - once you climb down several hundred feet and ascend a few ladders you can actually walk among these ruins. At first this struck me as slightly damaging to preservation efforts but the rangers explained their preservation programme and they take great care in protecting the ruins from human harm. (Which was a good thing, as I really enjoyed climbing through a tiny tunnel at one point.) The best thing though, was the ranger pointing out 700 year old fingerprints. WOW. Tell that to anyone who thinks American history 'began' in 1776.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

"How could you go ahead of me?" Love letter from the sixteenth century

This is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever read.

In 1988, a tomb was discovered containing the  remains of a man from South Korea. A letter laid upon his chest was written by his pregnant wife:

"How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, "Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?" How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?"

Read the letter from 'Letters of Note"...

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

"You will play it won't you? I will always be listening"

Everyone should stop what they are doing and read this heartbreaking letter from Milada Horokova, who was arrested by the communist secret police in the Czech Republic on suspicion of attempting to overthrow the regime. The night before she was executed, she wrote a letter to her 16 year old daughter. One of the most inspiring and sad letters I have ever read.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Sesquicentennial of 2nd Manassas

This week marks the sesquicentennial of the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30 1862). Both the First and Second Battles of Bull Run were fought over pretty much the same ground in Manassas, Virginia, ending in victories for the Confederacy. General Robert E. Lee defeated Union General John Pope's forces, allowing the Confederacy to gain a foothold in the East. However, the march into Maryland ended in disaster for Lee. The Second Battle of Bull Run was said to be the catalyst for President Lincoln to plan the Emancipation Proclamation.

Re-enactors demonstrated some of artillery gun fire last saturday. Rob Griesbach, a Confederate re-enactor, stated that "we try to show that the war is [about] more than just slavery. Each soldier had a totally different reason for enlisting. They fought for their kids. They didn't fight for themselves."

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Richard III is buried under a car park...?

Archaeologists believe they have found the burial site of Richard III - located underneath a car park in Leicester. The King (who has survived through history as an evil, ugly character thanks to Shakespeare) died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The site of his grave became forgotten, and throughout the Tudor times he was hailed as a despot and a tyrant. The excavations begin this week, and archaeologists are also hoping to discover the remains of the church that housed the body of the King. The exact location is, naturally, hard to find, and scientists have been studying contemporary and modern maps to try and locate the site. Add this to the rumour that the King's remains were removed from the church in the c16th and thrown into a river further complicates the project. The excavations are supported by Leicester University.

Monday, 20 August 2012

In the shadow of Wounded Knee

This is a really interesting (and heart breaking) story of Native Americans at Wounded Knee - it's worth reading in its entirety, as I could never summarise this. I drove through there a few years ago, and it is one of the most upsetting places I have ever been to, a world away from the projected image of the US as a wealthy and prosperous nation.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The c19th version of "screw you"

J.W. Loguen, a former slave, fled his mistress in Tennessee to a life of freedom. He travelled up North to reside in Syracuse, New York, and sent several letters denouncing slavery that were published in William Lloyd Garrison’s paper, The Liberator. (Garrison was a radical abolitionist operating in Massachusetts). On the 27 April 1860, The Liberator printed a letter from Loguen’s former mistress, and there followed an extremely interesting, and ultimately kick-arse exchange:

Maury County, Tennessee, February 1860.
“To JARM:-  I write you these lines to let you know the situation we are in,- partly in consequence of your running away and stealing Old Rock, our fine mare. Though we got the mare back, she never was worth much after you took her;- and, as I now stand in need of some funds, I have determined to sell you, and I have had an offer for you, but did not see fit to take it. If you will send me one thousand dollars, and pay for the old mare, I will give up all claim I have to you... In consequence of your running away, we had to sell Abe and Ann and twelve acres of land; and I want you to send me the money, that I may be able to redeem the land that you was the cause of our selling, and on receipt of the above-named sum of money, I will send you your bill of sale. If you do not comply with my request, I will sell you to some one else, and you may rest assured that the time is not far distant when things will be changed with you..."
Sarah Logue

Loguen replied a month later.

“...You sold my brother and sister, Abe and Ann, and twelve acres of land, you say, because I ran away. Now you have the un-utterable meanness to ask me to return and be your miserable chattel, or, in lieu thereof, send you $1000 to enable you to redeem the land, but not to redeem my poor brother and sister! If I were to send you money, it would be to get my brother and sister, and not that you should get land...Be it known to you that I value my freedom, to say nothing of my mother, brothers and sisters, more than your whole body; more, indeed, than my own life; more than all the lives of all the slaveholders and tyrants under heaven. You say you have offers to buy me, and that you shall sell me if I do not send you $1000, and in the same breath and almost in the same sentence, you say, 'You know we raised you as we did our own children.' Woman, did you raise your own children for the market? Did you raise them for the whipping-post? Did you raise them to be driven off, bound to a cofflein chains?...But you say I am a thief, because I took the old mare along with me. Have you got to learn that I had a better right to the old mare, as you call her, than [my master] had to me? Is it a greater sin for me to steal his horse, than it was for him to rob my mother's cradle, and steal me? If he and you infer that I forfeit all my rights to you, shall not I infer that you forfeit all your rights to me? ... Did you think to terrify me by presenting the alternative to give my money to you, or give my body to slavery? Then let me say to you, that I meet the proposition with unutterable scorn and contempt. The proposition is an outrage and an insult. I will not budge one hair's breadth. I will not breathe a shorter breath, even to save me from your persecutions. I stand among a free people, who, I thank God, sympathize with my rights, and the rights of mankind; and if your emissaries and venders come here to re-enslave me, and escape the unshrinking vigor of my own right arm, I trust my strong and brave friends, in this city and State, will be my rescuers and avengers.
Yours, &c., J. W. LOGUEN.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

An Olympic Legacy

2012 marks the one hundred year anniversary of (the part-Native American athlete) Jim Thorpe’s performance at the Olympic games. Thorpe won the pentathlon and decathlon in Stockholm in 1912, and on his return to New York, became a household name. Even the King of Sweden called Thorpe the “greatest athlete in the world”, and in the 1950’s Thorpe was rated the top athlete in a nationwide poll, way ahead of Babe Ruth. This is an incredible feat, considering that most Native Americans didn’t have the right to vote until 1924. After the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe became a champion in college football; but devastatingly his Olympic medals were taken from him because he played professional baseball before the international games. Thorpe’s medals were given back to his family posthumously (since his baseball career was not actually filed until a year after the Olympics), but another legal battle over the final resting place of his body is still being debated in court. Two towns in Pennsylvania originally laid claim to his body; these were combined to form the town ‘Jim Thorpe’ (which I went to four years ago). However, Thorpe's descendants from the Sac and Fox nation of Oklahoma are suing the town for refusing to return the body to them. Other family members demand the body stay in Pennsylvania. Currently, Thorpe’s body remains in a mausoleum with soil from his home in Oklahoma and soil sent from the Stockholm Olympics stadium...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A new museum to the American Revolution

Finally, a museum in the US will be dedicated to the American Revolution. I'm surprised there isn't one already, considering there are museums to barbed wire, spam and yo-yos... Perhaps the war is slightly more controversial than spam.

The museum will be built in Philadelphia, opposite Independence Hall, and already, artefacts are being collected from across the country (over 3,000 so far). There is a musket from the battle of Lexington, a soldier's canteen (one of only three surviving) and a powder horn that is inscribed "kill or be killed. Liberty or death". The star piece however is the tent that George Washington used during the entire war - think of the decisions he made under this!

Professor Gordon Wood, a scholar of the American Revolution, said "It's been a long time coming but I'm glad it's here...There have been museums for almost every conceivable event in American history or person in American history. But not for the American Revolution which is extraordinary when you think of the revolution as the most important event in our history."

The museum will open in 2015.


Thursday, 2 August 2012

Racial attitudes and cartoons...

At Hinton Ampner, the National Trust property where I work, there is a small statue of a black servant holding up a small bookcase. It's a caricature of course, but it speaks volumes about racial attitudes in the 1930's. (Typically, this subject is not touched upon in the house, and is a silent reminder of these attitudes.) During research for my dissertation, I came across some racist cartoons, broadcast in the US and the UK - some of them were even shown as late as the 1970's! The site below shows a few clips from these shows. It's uncomfortable viewing, but necessary.

This site is also very interesting - it explains the history of 'blackface', racial stereotypes that were used to mock African Americans. For my undergraduate dissertation, I wrote about the 'mammy' character, which was developed during slavery and is still used today in pancake boxes (I took this photo three months ago in D.C.). Apparently, this image has been 'updated' to show a hard working mother, but it's still pretty shocking. The site gives a really interesting account of the stereotypes and their use in films and television programmes.

The 'other' war in 1860's America

The link below shows a rather over-looked part of American history; while the nation was engaged in a great civil war (echoing Lincoln there), the Eastern Sioux tribe fought an offensive against the US in 1862. (2012 marks the 150th anniversary). The war began after a series of broken treaties with the government, and an enormous influx of white migrants continued to threaten the Sioux way of life. Hundreds were taken prisoner, and were taken to internment camps in Minnesota. Lack of food and warm clothing in these camps led to the deaths of hundreds of women and children. Lincoln oversaw the execution of 38 Sioux leaders, reducing the number from 300. This remains the largest mass execution in American history.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Awesome 1920's pics

When I was meant to be writing my dissertation, I came across this website through a rather long stint of procrastination. It has the best photos EVER. Literally.  THIS IS AMAZING

and this one is definitely going up on my wall...

Monday, 23 July 2012

Gettysburg College and the Civil War...

Interesting research has come to light regarding the role of students at Pennsylvania college during the battle of Gettysburg 1863. Some students immediately left the college to fight for the Unionists at Gettysburg, while several African Americans who worked at the college (like John Hopkins, janitor) fled in case of Confederate invasion. (Hopkins's home was actually taken by the Confederates.) During the battle of Gettysburg, students ran to the battlefield to help Union and Confederate wounded. They were then taken to Penn Hall, which was used as a hospital. Weeks after the battle, the college was used by the Confederates as a hospital and a prison camp.

When students returned to the college, the remains of soldiers could still be seen from the classrooms...

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Remains of the real Mona Lisa found??

According to scientists and historians in Italy, the remains of Mona Lisa have been found, the woman who inspired the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. Her body was found in a crypt in Florence, Italy; it's believed she died in 1542, aged 63. Lisa, real name Lisa Gheradini (married name - Giocondo) became a nun after her husband died. (He was a wealthy silk merchant.) The next step is to employ DNA testing to confirm Lisa's identity, testing it against the remains of her children, who were all buried in the crypt with her. Scientists will then use facial reconstruction to match it to the painting.

According to scientists, small initials could be found in the eyes of Mona Lisa under a microscope...another clue to the mystery?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Argentinians sentenced for war crimes

Two Argentine dictators have been sentenced for the kidnapping of children during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Jorge Videla, was sentenced to 50yrs in prison while Reynaldo Bignone was given a 15yr term. The case against the dictators began in February last year, and human rights groups such as the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have fought tooth and nail to bring them to justice. At least 500 babies were kidnapped from political opponents and given to right-wing supporters. In a number of cases, the mothers were kidnapped, blindfolded while giving birth and then thrown from aeroplanes shortly after. They belonged to the 30,000 "disappeared".

Friday, 6 July 2012

Historical costume design!

As part of the Shakespeare season on BBC, costume designer Eliza Kessler sat down to answer some questions about historical period drama. Kessler explains she immersed herself in paintings, visited buildings, and even studied modern football games to get an idea of 'chivalry'; all to immerse herself in the c.15/16th centuries. Kessler describes that the costumes must not only to look real, but to be versatile so the actors can move around and, to use her phrase, look "sexy." (she's talking about tom hiddleston here i believe.) It's a really interesting interview as it sheds some light on a topic that should get more attention.

Also, I would blatantly fight for tom hiddleston if he gave this speech...just saying.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

World's Oldest Handbag!!

Archaeologists have found the oldest handbag on record! It was discovered in a grave dating back to 2,500 B.C. and is absolutely COVERED in dog teeth. (that was the fashion then, obviously). How incredible is it to imagine someone walking around with this?!

For a pic follow this link -

(getting history info from perez hilton - priceless.)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Britain's Lost Atlantis?

As much as I loathe quoting the Daily Mail, it does have a very interesting article on 'Britain's Lost Atlantis.' Divers have found a lost city in the North Sea that may have been home to tens of thousands of people from 18,000 to 5,000 BC. The area, called Doggerland, stretched from Scotland to Denmark, and has been nicknamed the "heartland of Europe" until it was hit by a tsunami that destroyed the city. The discovery will lead to some fascinating details about climate change, as well as how this ancient population used to live. Exploring the remains can give us a clearer idea of what animals lived there and what the human population ate. An exhibition at the Royal Society in London chronicles the discovery, and provides answers to some of these questions.

(to be fair it does have good pictures.)

Friday, 29 June 2012

Old Shakespeare theatre found!

The remains of the Curtain Theatre, opened in 1577, have been found beneath a pub in Shoreditch. Some of Shakespeare's plays were performed there (including Henry V and Romeo and Juliet), and it is hoped the theatre will be restored and opened to the public. Shakespeare's company, or the Lord Chamberlain's Men, used the Curtain in 1597 for two years until the Globe Theatre opened. According to archaeologists, this is the most important Shakespearean discovery for a number of years!

(the link is a couple of weeks old but the video is worth a watch!)

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Lincoln's Assassination: Doctor's Notes found

At Ford's Theatre, on April 14 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth. Shooting him in the back of the head, Booth jumped down from the President's box, (landing badly) and fled the theatre, with a dagger in his hand. Dr Charles Leale was the first doctor on the scene, and his notes regarding Lincoln's death have been found by a British student in the National Archives.

Initially Leale believed the President had been stabbed, but then found the "large clot of blood" at the back of his head. "His breathing became more regular" once he had removed the clot, and Leale continued his desperate attempts to save Lincoln's life in a house across the street. Leale gave a detailed account of his experience, which was found among the papers of the surgeon-general. Studies will be conducted as to whether the President could have survived.

Why can't I find something like that?!


Friday, 15 June 2012

Buffy is REAL!

Perusing the gossip site Perez Hilton I was surprised to find this little historical gem (yes I realise celebrity websites are not the best source of historical information, but I just saw a trailer for the new film Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter so I think I can be excused...)

An auction house, Tennants Auctioneers, are selling of this AMAZING box of c19th vampire hunting tools. It contains stakes, a gun, holy water, consecrated earth, a crucifix and this psalm from the Bible:

"But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me." (Luke, 20:27).

I think this has got to be one of the best things I have ever seen.

Buffy anyone?

Monday, 11 June 2012

Vampires in Bulgaria?

The current obsession with vampires is no modern invention. Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered several medieval skeletons staked through the chest with iron rods, apparently to prevent them from becoming vampires...

If you were labelled as an evil person in life, you were buried with an iron rod through the heart, as people feared you would return from the dead and ransack villages, murdering the townsfolk. Altogether, over a hundred skeletons buried in this way have been found across Bulgaria. Astonishingly, in some small villages this practice was still carried out until the c20th!!

These burials led Bram Stoker to pen his famous novel, Dracula, published in 1897.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Silence of Prohibition...

I've been spending a bit of time in Winchester Archives for a project on Hinton Ampner House, near Petersfield. Aside from the odd, boring invoice, perusing through the documents has been really interesting - I've found out some great information about the ghost story, and reading a 300 year old account of the disturbances was INCREDIBLE. The last owner of the house, Ralph Dutton (1898-1985) left hundreds of articles, speeches and diaries to the archive, so there was a lot to get through, but something draws me back...

Dutton travelled extensively throughout his life, and his travel diaries are extraordinary windows into twentieth century history. One recounts his memories of communist Berlin, and his experiences with Germans whose families are beyond the wall, fully expecting never to see each other again. Other diaries take him through Tahiti, New Zealand (he wasn't impressed with Maori dancing) and Australia. But it was his diary from the US which I (obviously...) found most interesting. He made his way through D.C., New York and New Orleans in the 1920's, an incredible journey and if there was a time machine going, one that I would sell my soul for. Ralph wasn't fussed about New York, but an entry in 1926 amused me greatly. He alludes to a day spent sight seeing, and then he was taken to a friend's house for a cocktail party (which, again he didn't enjoy and left early). A cocktail party in 1926 - the height of prohibition! And no mention of it whatsoever! I'm not surprised really - the rich had ways of not only getting alcohol but avoiding detection. But this small entry speaks volumes about American society. After all, it's all about who you know...

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

WW2 Tree carvings...

A PhD student has traced love letters carved on trees from soldiers to their sweethearts in WW1 and WW2. Chantel Summerfield has traced hundreds of these carvings, some from Tommies in France who wanted to carve a message somewhere just in case they never returned. Summerfield has tried to contact as many people as possible that may be connected to the carvings, using census records to identify the carved names. She says that "some of them will have given their lives with hardly anyone learning anything about them", and wants to record as many as possible.

Sounds kind of quirky but very interesting...

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Presidential Poetry

This sounds intriguing...

Paul J. Ferlazzo has written a book entitled Poetry and the American Presidency, focusing on American leaders and their love for reading and writing poetry. John Adams never failed to carry a poetry book in his pocket, and told his son, future president John Quincy Adams "you will never be alone with a poet in your pocket." JQA wrote over 350 poems; Abraham Lincoln and Jimmy Carter often penned a short poem, and Woodrow Wilson and George Washington liked to write love poetry. Theodore Roosevelt was so fascinated by American poetry that he raised money to help financially struggling poets. Harry Truman carried a poem in his wallet, and Herbert Hoover declared that "perhaps what this country needs is a great poem - something to lift people out of fear and selfishness." Also, JFK said that "when power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations." Ferlazzo argues that "an appreciation of poetry reveals a love of language...[and] the individual who reads or writes poetry is willing to explore the emotional side of life." Because poetry is so interpretative, it is incredible to study these poems and try to understand the meaning behind them. Who knew poetry was such a massive influence on the American presidency?

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Jack the Ripper - A Woman?

New evidence has been uncovered to suggest that Jack the Ripper may have been a woman. John Morris, author of a new book entitled Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman, argues that the real 'Jack' (who killed at least five prostitutes in 1888) was Lizzie Williams.  Married to physician Sir John Williams (a suspect himself) Lizzie is thought to have killed the women in a jealous rage because she was unable to have children. The murderer had to have medical knowledge, and Lizzie would have been well schooled in anatomy because of husband. Most of the women were mutilated, three of whom had their uteruses ripped out, but there was no evidence that they had been raped. The last victim, Mary Kelly, was 'seen' hours after her death, and some historians have suggested that this was the murderer fleeing the scene in Kelly's clothes. Women's clothing not belonging to the victims was also found near the bodies.

The plot thickens...

Friday, 11 May 2012

Obama 1, North Carolina 0.

It's great news that President Obama has declared his support for gay marriage, particularly after North Carolina has just passed a law to ban it. Before this happened, I had a very interesting/upsetting discussion about gay marriage earlier in the week...

I volunteer at a National Trust property near Winchester, something which I enjoy despite the fact that there are NO PEOPLE MY OWN AGE. (OK that gets tiresome occasionally). At lunch, the subject of gay marriage was touched on - OK I brought it up. I was talking about politicians, and then I dropped the subject of gay marriage into conversation, as I was trying to say I have no respect for politicians who say they are in favour of one thing and then completely reverse their position because of internal, or external, pressures. Before I could carry on I was attacked left, right and centre. To be fair, I should have known not to mention it - I was sat around a table of old and retired people who are set in their ways. Maybe a small part of me hoped they would break the mould - after all, I know several of my older, religious neighbours couldn't give a crap who you marry. But alas. So after they laughed in my face (literally) when I tried to explain gay marriage in the context of civil rights, they protested that marriage was between a man and a woman and it defied everything Christian.

It really pisses me off when people try to invoke religion - if it says somewhere in the bible that homosexuality is a sin, it also says you can't eat shrimp, wear mixed fibre clothing and grow beards. Unfortunately, mainly because of religious reasons, more states in the US allow you to marry your cousin rather than your same-sex partner. And as for the argument that gay people will undermine the 'sanctity' of marriage, sorry but Kim Kardashian anyone?

Being gay is a personal decision that shouldn't have to be debated over. Religion and politics shouldn't mix, but it's unlikely this will change. As Martin Sheen in The West Wing said, "there may be a separation between church and state but that doesn't mean a separation between church and politics."

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

'Academic' vs 'tele-don' historians...OUCH.

Studying Public History has taught me that many historians hate history on television. Or radio. Or on the Internet. Or in fact, anything public at all. Which is a shame - there are a lot of problems with all three mediums, but if written well, there is little need to panic. An article in the Independent (and the comments below) warns of the danger of popular history, as it "risks undermining the status of academic study." If historians are only concerned with a public persona, then yes, that is worrying, but this is about bringing history to the public - we need to democratise history and engage an audience. We don't need to prove to ourselves how interesting history is, we need to prove it to the public.

Thus, a number of "tele-don" historians are deemed 'nonacademic.' Lucy Worsley, chief of Historic Royal Palaces, is attacked for parading around in costume. Is this really a problem? If it makes history more accessible to the public (especially to children), is this not a good thing? I'm not advocating that costume interpretation needs to happen everywhere - far from it - but there is nothing wrong with dressing up in costume; after all this is just one interpretation from the past.

And poor Dan Snow. I've seen a lot of his programmes, and they're really engaging - his series on 'Filthy Cities' was really good. Refusing to call him an 'academic' historian is rather insulting - surely he, like any decent historian, went to the archive and did RESEARCH USING FOOTNOTES to write a book or make a television programme?

Here's a link to the article:

There are many problems with history on the television. Producers are often reluctant to branch further than the c20th, and it is more difficult to check historical sources without footnotes. But if it sparks an interest in that particular period for the viewer, isn't that a good thing? History should not be confined to the ivory tower - where 'traditional' historians debate their findings in articles and conventions. Instead of shouting from the sidelines and bemoaning the lack of 'authenticity' in the public arena, why don't they do something about it? Get involved in the public arena!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Clue to Lost Colony?

Over four hundred years ago, an English settlement at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, was abandoned...and no one knows why. The inhabitants simply disappeared, but new evidence has arisen to suggest that the colony moved from Roanoke Island upward to Albemarle Sound. This was based on a map of Virginia and North Carolina, owned by the British Museum. James Horn, vice president of research at Colonial Williamsburg claims "their intention was to create a settlement. And this is what we believe we are looking at with this symbol - their clear intention, marked on the map..." Historians have made out what appears to be a fort in Northeastern NC on the map, and assume the 95 people in the colony moved to live with the Native Americans.

Unfortunately, the site is on private land, so archaeologists may have to wait a while to excavate it. What an incredible opportunity that would be...

Friday, 4 May 2012

Great Photos of London!

The Telegraph have published an article with some great photos of London - what it used to look like forty years ago compared to today! 

I heart London.

Monday, 30 April 2012

NY in 870,000 Images

The Department of Records in New York have released over 870,000 images of the city on the Internet, some dating from the mid nineteenth century. The variety of photographs are outstanding - from crime scenes and gang murders to the every day, municipal tasks like building bridges or ports. The Department spent four years collecting and digitising the photographs, in order to make them "accessible to everyone." (a great public history quote if ever there was one...!) The number of photos are endless, and if the project is a success, more will be digitised over the next few years.

See some of them here...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Gallipoli, Anzacs and Twitter...

Historians in Australia and Turkey are using Twitter to raise awareness of the Gallipoli campaign (WW1, 1915). @Gallipoli_Live tweets events and soldier's memories at the same time they occurred or were written down, nearly 100 years ago. Bill Sellers, an Australian historian and Sahin Aldogan, a retired Turkish soldier have collected a wealth of information about the campaign, and will be tweeting events as they happened every day until January. Sellers explained that they "use diaries and letters, official histories, often unpublished documents as well as those that are very much in the public domain."

Twitter is an incredible resource, and this is a great way to generate interest in something that is not in public consciousness, outside of Australia and New Zealand of course. It brings history home to us, we can read soldier's memories and understand what they were a part of. Twitter can help democratise history, something that is sorely needed.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Martin Luther King and a KKK Bounty?

According to a new book by historians Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock, Martin Luther King was assassinated as a part of a plot by the KKK. The racist group raised over £62,000 for the bounty, collected by a network of organisations who wished to see King dead. Conspiracy theories have surrounded the assassination since 1968, but the FBI have rigorously denied the KKK's involvement. However, Wexler and Hancock want to reopen the case, particularly in light of some FBI reports that have previously been unpublished. The historians state that James Earl Ray was in prison for arson in Missouri when he heard about the bounty, and plotted to kill MLK. This came to pass on 4 April 1968, and Ray was arrested at Heathrow a few months later. An interesting read perhaps...

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Argentine dictator admits to crimes

Ex-Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla has finally acknowledged the crimes of his regime. In the 1970's, over 30,000 men, women and children were abducted and murdered by the military junta. Thousands were tortured, raped and executed for opposing the dictatorship; babies were kidnapped from political opponents, and given to supporters of the regime who raised them as their own. All became known as the "disappeared". Human rights groups like the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo are still searching for their loved ones, as many of the bodies were never recovered. 

Videla was imprisoned for life in 2010 for torture and kidnapping, but has always maintained his policies were necessary to rid the country of communists and socialists, a defence that stems from the height of the regime. However, this is the first time Videla has admitted to the murder of 8,000 people. He has never admitted to the policy of stealing children, although he claims there were a "few cases" when that happened.

How can a nation move on from such a tragedy? I remember reading a story about a couple who had been kidnapped and brutally tortured by the regime. They survived to see the onset of democracy to the country, but the political change in government did not provide a "stable" solution. One day the couple were heading home on a bus, and at one stop, a man climbed into the seat in front of them. He was the man who had tortured them. There are hundreds of people like him, walking the streets, never punished for their crimes. They are unlikely to be punished now. Argentina may have organised trials, amnesties and other attempts at "healing" the country, but can a wound this deep ever be healed? Will it take the death of the perpetrators and those directly affected by the regime for society to move on? Should society move on? Whether Argentina tries to forget or not, the uncomfortable truth is that the future discoveries of mass graves and torture centres are inevitable, sporadic interruptions to a society that may prefer silence.