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.