I’m not saying it was Aliens…

History of the meme along with its place in the historian’s professional landscape

Tabby's Star faded substantially over past century.

Aliens have become somewhat infamous in the world of history writing. Every historian from the armchair variety through to the academic professor has more than likely come across that  one particular meme. The one featuring Giorgio A. Tsoukalos  standing there with his style of hair in its usual kind of crazy way an holding his hands out stating the words “aliens.” And honestly, it doesn’t matter what style or period of history one is exploring. The meme seems to have made its way into all of them. The infamous image itself comes from the 2010 Ancient Aliens TV series that Tsoukalos, himself an Alien expert,  was the host for. Spinning out of the concepts raised in the Ancient Aliens series, one of the key ideas that made this program notable is the wide variety of historical phenomena that it attributes to aliens. That is to say, iconic historical products of civilizations and peoples such as the Nazca Lines or Baalbek become attributed to extraterrestrials instead of the cultures that produced them. This concept is termed conversely “ancient astronauts” and “paleocontact” and can be defined through the attributing of great and sophisticated works of the past to extraterrestrials.

Ancient Astronauts and Colonial Psychology

The concept of ancient astronauts is not dissimilar from the effects of colonial propaganda. Briefly, colonial empires would create and impose an image of inferiority onto the peoples it colonized, and likewise, an image of ascendancy for the colonizing peoples.  From this standpoint, the colonial entity would project outward, through its arts and literature, the idea that its cultural developments were inherently superior to those they colonized.  Concerning notions of cultural works, the concept of superiority shown through technology still exists and is tied to the lingering colonial psychology. Indeed, within the 19th, 20th and continuing into the 21st century, western society underwent a massive degree of technological revolution in a relatively short span of time. That, further, this time period has brought with it unprecedented forms of technology and social issues. While the same could be said to be true of any technological revolution, from the perspective of those within it the past must be, by definition, less capable. For instance, the 20th century has seen technology develop from the assembly line to splitting the Atom, being able to propel humans into space to having wireless communication networks spanning the globe. While the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th centuries certainly had its technological advances (the functional button of the 13th century, for example), there is the mentality that the current developments are more progressive largely because they are more pertinent to us. Outside the sense of temporal pertinence, the past must be lacking the sophistication of technology the contemporary enjoys.

I often argue that western society has lost their colonial empires (to greater or lesser degrees), but has maintained the colonial psychology of perceived and projected inferiority. The current perception of technology as equating with superiority falls into that colonial mentality and for 21st century capitalism, is part of the colony’s legacy.  Yet, there are products of other cultures that present a compliment to or empathize with that sense of pertinence. Items such as the Saqqara Bird, Machu Picchu, the Moai and others are routinely attributed to extra-terrestrials.    As an examples of objects that can be situated into contemporary western perceptions about technology, the ancient astronaut notion offers an easy method of situating the sophistication of past and non-western societies. Thus, lacking the precise same means, the products of another time or culture become attributed to aliens as a source of equivalency of method and psychology. The ancient astronaut, the alien, becomes the appropriate stand in: A technologically advanced helper from somewhere far away, a benevolent invader, a colonist.  

Continue reading “I’m not saying it was Aliens…”

Merry Drinking and Home Food in Lithuania

By popular vote the guys decided July would be themed as “Food Month”. This is to say that we would look at the role food has played in history from different view points. When I came to choose my subject, I realised I had actually written about this previously: Pumpkins. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to revisit some of the areas of the blog we have left for dead. I looked through our tags and discovered that the history of Lithuania only had one update. One of my dear friends, Karolina, happens to be Lithuanian and always tells me wonders about the food from her home. So today I welcome you to embrace the Lithuanian food spirit, and as a congratulations for getting a great grade in her Archaeology Dissertation: this one is for you!

 

Lithuanian cuisine has many elements in common with that of other Eastern European and Baltic countries, particularly Poland-after all they formed a great duchy and alliance since the Middle Ages. This is the reason why there are similar types of dumplings, spurgos and blynai in Lithuanian, Polish and many Jewish recipes. The staple foods from this area are things like barley, rye, berries, potatoes, mushrooms, and certain greens, suited to the climate of the region. However, the nation making and expansionism of certain countries in Europe had great impact in the cultural and collective identity of the country, which did also leave a mark in their culinary heritage. The absorption of Lithuania into the Soviet Union did produce severe changes in the way Lithuanian food was understood- like elsewhere, Soviet product and dishes took prevalence, replacing those of the native population. Nevertheless, the local traditions were kept alive in private garden plots that the Soviet government allowed the people in the region to keep. Families dedicated themselves to the cultivation and care of these plots as a way of keeping their identity and memory alive. Since the independence of Lithuania in 1990, returning to their old dishes and recipes has been an important cultural drive as a way of re-establishing Lithuanian identity.

Now, there is an incredible amount of Lithuanian delicatessen that I could spend hours talking about. Yet, I realised there is something that remarks this revival of cultural identity, and that I am very familiar with, which I believe exemplifies the Lithuanian spirit and identity in a concise way- and without having to induce anyone into a food coma. I believe that Lithuanian brews and drinks show the right amount of tradition and innovation that their entire cuisine represents.

One of the products that is highly celebrated since the Lithuanian independence is Alus -beer. In fact, Lithuanian beer has won several international awards and its finding its own niche within the European supermarkets. (I know this first hand – Karolina knows everything about beer!). They produce this in a traditional farmhouse brewing style. Since their independence, over 200 breweries appeared in the country; many have since closed, and it is acknowledged that perhaps only 70-80 of them are still functioning. In any case, these are local produce, with recipes unknown and dissimilar to other place in Europe and the world. Another traditional Lithuanian drink is Krupnikas (Starka). This is a honey like liqueur and it dates back to the 16th century, during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It is not so popular nowadays, and in fact the beverage has rather derive into a kind of trauktine, which is like an herbal vodka, that also has medicinal properties. Mead, or midus, also has an important place in Lithuanian history. As in the rest of Northern and Baltic Europe, mead was a common drink since ancient times. Experts believe that the Balts drank and produced mead since 1600 BC. The tradition continued and is reflected in the use of this beverage by noble families as a signed of distinction and identity throughout the Middle Ages and into the 16th century. Some academics advise that the Radvila family, one of the most famous aristocratic lineages in Lithuania, used and produced med heavily well into the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 20th century there was a rise in mead production, just like with bear. Beini Šakovas Prienai bier brewery was one of the first companies to start producing four different types of mead that they will let mature for at least five years before consumption. Lithuanian mead reached its peak when Aleksandras Sinkevičius was awarded his own production certificate by the Soviet Union in 1969 as a registered product. Thus the Lietuviškas midus because a honey brew technique recognised by the Soviet power as an achievement and drink innovation. Even though mead is not very common nowadays in Lithuania, its rich history still has a soft spot in the heart of the communities.

 

As an afterword, I think it is interesting to find out that food matters so much in Lithuania that, according to Alexander Belyi and Antanas Astrauskas, national legislation on  traditional culinary tendencies must prove a continuous use and recurrence of at least 100 years. This is heavily overseen by the Culinary Heritage Foundation, created in 2001 by Birutė Imbrasienė, trying to restore some of the traditional Lithuanian recipes of 19th century. As a cultural scholar, I find it fascinating that a nation can have such a deep reflection of their cultural changes and values imbued in their everyday use and consumption: food and drink. This is true of many cultures and communities, and I believe that throughout this month, you will become well acquainted with this phenomenon elsewhere. We usually take food for granted, even though is an intrinsic part of our existence.  As we change, it changes with us. What we drink and what we eat, and how we understand these things, shows our own character, who we are, and where we come from.

Winchester Since the Twentieth Century

For the final post following Winchester throughout the centuries, we’re looking at the twentieth and twenty-first, and what has happened in the past 115 years in what is, compared to most cities, a sleepy little place.

Way back in 1908, Winchester was not so sleepy. Over three days, riots broke out. Known as the Winchester Gun Riots, they were caused by protesters’ discontent with the Mayor’s decision to take down the railings around a Russian cannon won in the Crimean War.  The cannons had originally been presented to the citizens of Winchester and not the council. By taking the railings away, the council were seen as stealing what rightfully belonged to the people of Winchester. According to reports, mobs took to the streets, wrecked shops and homes, and the military was called in three times to sort the situation. Reports were recorded to have been exaggerated, with some claiming that only a few windows and lamps were broken. The riots were partially led by Joe Dumper, who strongly believed the former weapon should remain with the citizens. A play was performed in Winchester by the Peter Symonds College about Dumper’s role in the Riot, but otherwise has not remained in Winchester’s public consciousness. The gun responsible for it all was reportedly melted down to make more weapons in the Second World War.

The Winchester Gun Riot - taken from City of Winchester Trust
The Winchester Gun Riot – taken from City of Winchester Trust

During the Second World War, children from Portsmouth and Southampton were evacuated to Winchester, Andover and Romsey. Winchester were preparing to take in up to one thousand children at the beginning of the war, with the city being divided into different sections to maintain control over how the children were divided and housed. The Peninsula Barracks, which had housed the Rifle Brigade from 1800, including during the Second World War, fought in North Africa and were vital in the invasion of North West Europe and takeover of Hamburg in the mid-1940s.

When the army left the Peninsula Barracks in 1995, it left a space for the Winchester Military Museums. Although the former barracks themselves have become private flats, the buildings surrounding are now museums documenting both World Wars, as well as paying particular attention to the Rifle Brigade who once lived there, with one of their museums named after the Brigade’s nickname: the Green Jackets.

The twentieth century was also a time when Winchester carried out more artistic endeavours, with the implementation of the annual Hat Fair in 1974. Despite its name, it is not a celebration of hats (although that would be quite fun to see down Winchester High Street) but instead celebrates street theatre – every summer dozens of street performances take place, including audience participation and workshops for those who wish to take part. The Hat Fair was inspired by the people and heritage of Winchester, originally starting out as a busking festival. In fact, it is where the title of Hat Fair comes from – the tradition of putting money into the busker’s hat. The ‘hats’ are still the fair’s way of making money, and the event is otherwise completely free to attend. Not a bad way to spend a couple of sunny (or in, Winchester’s case, probably rainy) afternoons next summer!

Also in 1974, a series of medieval mystery plays were staged at Wolvesey Castle, a medieval ruin in the centre of Winchester. The amphitheatre put up for these performances were later used during the remake of Brief Encounter (1974) and is one of many instances in which Winchester has been the filming location for large productions.

Wolvesley Castle
Wolvesey Castle

Winchester has now become one of the main filming locations in Britain for even major Hollywood films, mainly due to its low-cost and picturesque, medieval surroundings. Films such as Pride and Prejudice (2005), The Da Vinci Code (2006), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) and Les Misérables (2012) had parts filmed in Winchester.

As we have just celebrated Christmas, it seems relevant to focus on the beautiful Christmas Market, which started up in Winchester in 2006. It is now recognised as one of the best in Europe, due to its location at Winchester Cathedral, a centrally placed ice rink (only £6 per student!) and an array of various gift stalls full of decorations, presents and (most importantly) food. Although originally planned to perhaps only be a one-off affair, the Christmas Market became so successful it has carried on every year since, bringing over 350,000 visitors each year.

A display at Winchester Cathedral's Christmas Market
A display at Winchester Cathedral’s Christmas Market

It’s no surprise really, as Winchester Cathedral sets up quite an idyllic little area for Winchester’s Christmas Market. It remains, after all these centuries, one of the central points of this little city, from back when it was a small Anglo-Saxon church to one of the most famous cathedrals in the country. It seems fitting then, that this post should end on a song that was quite famous when it was released in 1966, although not directly related to Winchester, a sign of its legacy in the twentieth century.

Further Reading

City of Winchester Trust

The Winchester Riots

Ancestry.com: Joe Dumper

A Brief History of Winchester 

Winchester in the Second World War

http://www.winchester.gov.uk/media/filming-winchester/

American Vampire: 19th Century reality transcribed to comic

2010 saw the release of what, in my personal opinion, was one of the coolest comics of that year. American Vampire, created by Scott Snyder, draw by Rafael Albuquerque- and scripted for 5 volumes by Stephen King- tells an old tale in a new fashion. The comic series explores a new breed of vampires and their evolution in the United States from the 1880s up to current times. Under the label of Vertigo, which is the mature/adult section of DC Comic, the blood and violence feast is guaranteed, yet alongside a wonderful storyline, some fantastic art work- and a great historical setting through the modern history of North America. The premise is simple, like Pearl Jam’s famous song: “It’s Evolution, babe”, and vampires, as all things on this planet, “do the evolution”. Here is the first-born of this breed, Skinner Sweet, a gunslinger outlaw who wakes up after being transform in this better un-dead who is immune to sunlight. The rest of the story follows him through the pass of time, in his fight with the European vampires of old.

American Vampire presents in a nutshell, the struggle of a country with a history of around 300 years, new but yet owing much to the different features that created this pastiche, all combined with the fascination of all times for these mythological creatures. American Vampire is 21st century Americas young generations in paper and colour. But, what if I told you this story is actually related to real life events, prominent in the area of New England at the end of the 19th Century? Well, then let me tell you a little story about a man called Edwin Brown and his family from Exeter (Rhode Island).

The year is 1892, and a brutal outbreak of tuberculosis affects New England. Young Edwin died in march that year as a result of this diseased, commonly known back then as “consumption”. His family had been affected by this malady for quite some time. Since 1883, consumption had taken the lives of his mother and his 2 sisters. Mercy Brown, his younger sibling had only died earlier on January that same year. However, back then this illness, as many others, was still very poorly understood by both practitioners and victims. The doctors were unable to provide the answers the populace was requesting of them, so in an act of what can only be presumed to be good faith, the Edwin’s community decided to exhume the bodies of his deceased relatives. Why? Because they were under the assumption that the young man may have being leached by the undead!

His elderly father, George Brown, reluctantly allowed this otherwise disrespectful even to happen. Anxiety came around when the corpses of Edwin’s mother and older sister were found in their caskets as it would have been expect, but young Mercy would turn the tables. Her body was still in good state of conservation, as her death had only been recent, and reminiscences of blood could be found in her arteries and heart. Superstition then took over science; her heart and lungs were cremated and used for a remedy which was meant to heal Edwin…Nevertheless, he joined his sister only a few weeks later…

Academic Diana Ross Mclain has actually reported in her research at least 18 other instances similar to the tragedy suffered by the Brown family in other towns and villages of New England, between the 18th and 19th century…Perhaps there is more to Snyder’s comic than new media creative ideas and social context. Perhaps American Vampire is a reflection of the never-ending paranoia of a nation that, for only having a few centuries of history, has burnt and persecuted witches, werewolves, Big Foot and even vampires. A nation of outsiders made anew and where outsiders are equally disliked…Just like Skinner Sweet…

Nazarens and drums

Holy Week is supposed to be a religious celebration. And it was. Probably it still is for some people. But in Spain, nowadays, it is more of a cultural manifestation, and a tourist attraction, very popular with nationals and foreigners alike. Each year this week of street demonstrations moves millions of euros; each year it moves less and less consciences into religion.   Though Spain is officially a non-confessional country, and statistics consistently show that religious feeling, and specially Catholic, is constantly declining moreover between the younger population, Catholic presence is still overwhelming in many everyday aspects, from education to holiday, from public ceremony to football. Even in politics and, allegedly, in governmental issues. And, during a whole week, main streets all over the country belong to the quite strange commemoration of a murder.   Most shocking for non accustomed visitants are the Nazarenes. These are the members and associates of “Cofradías”, which are club like institutions, usually focused in the promotion of one specific saint or virgin. Sounds a little strange, but it looks even stranger. Many of them keep company to the images all along the course of the demonstration which, in some cases, can last for more than ten hours.

Penitent in the procession, walking around with the cross as sign of repent.
Penitent in the procession, walking around with the cross as sign of repent.

From an artistic point of view, the most relevant thing of “Semana Santa” is the sublime imagery, which is considered one of the pinnacles of Spanish arts during the Baroque period. Those images, usually made from wood, sculpted and painted to achieve the maximum dramatic effect, are the center of the celebrations, and, although not all are pinnacles of its art, and many are mere copies or inspired by the long-lost originals, are revered in awe and justify by themselves a close look to this celebration. The better sculptures were designed by the likes of Alonso Berruguete and Juan de Juni. These artistic development began as a part of the Catholic Counter-Reform, of which Spain was the greatest defender. As a form of opposing Lutheranism and its despise for religious images, Spanish Catholics developed a fancy for realistic depictions of the life and deeds of Jesus Christ, and preferably of the last night with “Ecce homos” and Crucifixion at the top. Soon Saints, Virgins and scenes of the everyday life of Jesus began to take part in what, from the XVI century onwards, was a Catholic Church sponsored activity which, Spain being the stronger supporter of Catholicism, counted also on the Royal favor: the Spanish Monarchy wanted people showing of their love for God and Christ in the streets, and it was staged as a popular demonstration, state in which it has last.

One of the
One of the “Pasos” during the procession in Santander (Spain). It represents Judas betrayal.

The”Cofradías”, originated in guilds and unions during the Spanish Golden Century, were the center of those devotional celebrations. And they still survive, albeit in a different version, usually related to a specific church or district, otherwise there still are some guild based.   But let’s go back to the “Nazarens”. Clad in their long robes, usually hooded and handling some sort of torch, or light, this ghost-like figures are a constant presence in the Semana Santa. Penitents in the beginning, today most of them take part as a long running family tradition deprived of deepest religious meaning albeit devotion is still strong, mainly in Andalucia, and would probably be described as idolatry in many a culture as the zeal is customarily related only to a particular image and not necessarily as a part of a more complex religious understanding. Lately, the responsibility of increasing the ranks of the “Nazarens” falls mainly in woman and children. Moreover, quite a lot of those kids get involved with “procesiones”, as demonstrations are called, as a school activity as they assist to schools run by religious orders more because of the quality of the education provided than as a result of a strong family involvement with religion.

“Little Nazarene” getting ready for procession with her school’s parish Cofradia.

An act of cultural affiliation, maybe, as Semana Santa and its traditions are considered, at least by a significant share of the locals, as a mains stake of true Spanish culture and way of life. And that extends to music, or some kinds of music at least: it is customary for “Cofradías” to parade along with wind and brass small bands or even to boast their own Nazarene musicians, all clad as their mates but playing the traditional drums and bugles. It is everything but ironic that, for instance, the main “procesión” in the city of Santander is called “Del Silencio” (the Silence) while almost every “Cofradía” plays the drums during the whole parade.   The everyday of a Nazarene during the Passion Week, as it is sometimes called, could be really stressful, because responsibilities with the “Cofradía” must be usually shared with regular life duties, thus creating a very harsh timetable. It depends on the geographical areas and local traditions, and we have to admit that some days are considered Bank Holidays that week, but the fact remains that “procesiones” do start after dusk, and the longest of them end in the morning. And all that could take place after a long day at work or school. When arriving home, the Nazarene must change clothes. Again, there are different local customs, but the customary basic equipment comprises of a large cloak which covers a habit and is held by a soft rope; dark plain shoes, gloves, and the always surprising hood, which sometimes, with newcomers, arise the non too fair and tremendously awkward comparison with KuKluxKlan that so annoys Spaniards.

Different representatives from Spanish Cofradias
Different representatives from Spanish Cofradias

This hood could have a cardboard frame inside to give it a long conical look, and children would not wear it, as is for penitents and sinners and small kids are considered still pure enough. Now clad like an anonymous Templar, you can go out and walk through your town keeping company to a four hundred years old wooden sculpture of Christ in the cross which is considered a masterpiece. And that would last at least four hours. Fortunately, if you are a kid, you’ll probably get some candy for all the effort.

Review: The Almighty Johnsons

So this is my review, or more of an overview, of another TV series; The Almighty Johnsons. The Almighty Johnsons is a New Zealand based fantasy comedy/drama television series, which was created by James Griffin and Rachel Lang and aired from 7 February 2011 to 23 September 2013.

The story revolves around Axl Johnson, a typical university student who has just turned 21 years old—an event which triggers weird signs all over Auckland. Upon turning 21, his brothers tell him that he and his brothers are the living reincarnations of Old Norse gods, although their powers are not at full effect. It took a lightning bolt to make him realize the truth about his godhood, and he discovers that he is the physical incarnation of the Allfather Odin. After a rival goddess shoots an arrow which nearly pierces his heart, fulfilling the prophecy that proves he is Odin, his older brother Mike tells him about his quest: In order to get all their powers back, Axl (Odin) has to find his soul mate, Frigg, (who is Odin’s wife in mythology). If he doesn’t find her before he dies, his whole family dies with him. However, several goddesses have united to prevent him from finding Frigg, including the one who tried to kill him earlier.

https://i2.wp.com/66.49.174.32/site_WPDEMO/wp-content/uploads/TAJ.jpg

The series shows representations of many Norse gods, both major and minor ones, and even shows a couple of giants and a dwarf! I’m going to go through some of the examples and look at what mythological stories are represented involving them in the series:

Axl Johnson – Odin: In the series, Axl is destined to take the form of Odin, The leader of all gods. It’s interesting that in this series it is the youngest and perhaps least wise of the brothers that is Odin, and results in most of the story of the whole series showing Axl’s progression into a man and eventually showing some Odin’s authority and power.

Mike Johnson – Ullr: The oldest of the Johnson brothers, and the one who raised the others after the absence of their parents, is the incarnation of the Norse god of the hunt and games. In the series this is shown by his ability to find anyone he wants, although it may take time, and he is unable to lose at any game he tries. His powers and his responsibility for his family causes him to become very stressed and disliked by people, even when he tries to do the right thing. the result of all this is him becoming more of a rebel towards the end of the series, where he tries to take Axl’s place as Odin by finding Frigg first. This plot point plays upon the historic similarities between the meanings of Odin and Ullr’s names, as well as the myth where Odin’s brothers Vili and Ve have an affair with Odin’s wife Frigg.

Anders Johnson – Bragi: Anders (who we immediately recognized as the same actor who plays Fili in The Hobbit!) is the incarnation of the Norse god Bragi, the god of poetry. While he doesn’t seem to have any skill in poetry, he does have perhaps one of the more powerful powers in the show, with which he can persuade anyone to do or believe anything he tells them. While he uses his power somewhat practically in order to be a successful PR agent, he also uses it in order to get his way in most situations, mostly involving sleeping with any and all women he wants. This gets him in trouble more than a couple of times, however, he still manages to do it in such a cheeky way the he stays a likeable character to the audience, just not by his brothers, or most others for that matter.

Ty Johnson – Hodr: Ty is the gloomy one in the family, and perhaps rightfully so as he is the god of all things dark and cold. This results in his power as being something more of a curse most of the time as it means that he is extremely pale and cold to the touch, and can kill someone if he touches them for long enough, meaning for most of the series he is depressed over how he can’t be with the woman he loves. Despite this, his powers mean that his is an excellent ice sculptor, and quite amusingly, a fridge repairman. His powers are also used quite effectively in some cases to counter Loki’s power of fire.

Olaf Johnson – Baldr: Olaf is the Norse god of rebirth, light and beauty. His power of rebirth is not explicitly shown, but he is said to be the grandfather of the Johnson brothers despite appearing too young, which he explains by being reborn in his current form every morning. his powers related to light and beauty are not really shown, but may have something to do with the fact that he is the typical stoner/surfer dude stereotype, which may also explain his role as ‘the family oracle’, and not a very good one. Also, it may or may not be an excellently bad pun that his Baldr and the only bald character.

Some other important characters include other major gods, one being Loki, who appropriately spends the majority of his time in the series toying with and terrorizing the Johnsons and friends. Another is Thor, who is my favourite god in the series. He is in the form of a large, hairy Kiwi goat farmer named Derrick. He is the one who embraces his godliness the most by far, and shows the more violent and rage driven form of Thor. He always carries a hammer that he says is Mjolnir and is extremely skilled at throwing it. The series shows him doing many things appropriate to Thor such as wanting to kill the giants that show up in the series, and at one point is convinced to wear a wedding dress! Linking to the myth where Thor does the same thing as part of a plan to trick some giants. Another important god character is Heimdall, who is an interesting character in the series because, as the god of all-seeing, all hearing and foreknowledge, he spends the majority of the story in the background, subtly directing Axl’s actions so that he finds Frigg (who happens to be Heimdall’s sister in the series) but only once he has proven himself and become worthy. He also, as the gatekeeper of the Bifrost, the way into and out of Asgard, he is able to walk through doors and turn up in any location he chooses, and inflict this on other people as well.

Other mythological references that appear in the series include Anders journeying to Norway and finding Yggdrasil, the tree of life, and bringing back one of its branches, which apparently can only be used by goddesses, such as Sjofn who uses it to gain healing abilities and even brings people back to life with it. Another reference is when giants and a dwarf make an appearance. one of the giants is Eggther, who in mythology is one of the largest and most powerful, however despite being called the most ferocious hunter of the Giants, Eggther is no more dangerous than a mortal when it comes to brutishness and wants to be himself rather than the killer everyone thinks he is. Axl’s best friend, Zeb, who is a mortal but in on the secret identities of the gods, is captured by him and uses ‘reverse Stockholm syndrome’ to befriend him and gain freedom. Another reference comes from Zeb (who is the best character in my opinion) when, after doing his research on Norse mythology, takes on the nickname ‘Freki’ which is appropriate as the best friend of Axl, and Freki is one of Odin’s wolves.

https://nuhistory.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/d4500-screenshot2012-03-18at12-45-57pm.png

I could write much more about this relatively short-lived series, but this post is too long already, so I’ll end by saying; overall, this series can feel like a slightly silly and cheesy comedy or soap opera at times. If you don’t know a thing about Norse Mythology, then it may just be that. But for nerds of all things Norse, it will certainly be hilarious at times, and you may even be impressed by the way each character shows characteristics of their god at all times and many of the myths play out, but in a modern setting, which makes it even funnier. Not to mention the Kiwi accents… which make everything better!

The Sherpa: victims of their own success?

Today I would like to provide you with some details about the Sherpa, one of the ethnic minorities living in republican China- around 2600 live in the People’s Republic of China, and there is a total of approximately 180.000 Sherpa in the world. The word Sherpa means people from the East, which makes reference to the area they live in. Most of the Sherpa live in the Himalayas, although they are starting to suffer the effects of migration attempting to obtain a better life. The Sherpas are presumed to have originally been a nomadic culture. It seems likely that the left their home lands in the Khan region in the 16th century for the Nepalese area due to warfare, hence why their language, despite being Tibetan, is not like that of the rest of the Nepalese society. The 18th century presence of the British in Daarjelin attracted the attention of many Sherpa, who offered their services to the Empire for seasonal employment and a chance of better income into their households. This was a very important factor in the development of what nowadays is the Sherpas best known activity: professional mountaineering.

Continue reading “The Sherpa: victims of their own success?”

The History of Cameras

The history of the camera is extensive, technical and, at times, obscure; for example there is no one particular person credited with the invention of the camera, it was more of a continual process of progress throughout history. Nevertheless notable names include Johann Heinrich Schulze, Joseph Niépce, Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre and George Eastman.

The camera obscura was known to be the first device that captured an image on-screen. It had been known to scholars as early as the 4th and 5th centuries around the time of Aristotle. However in 1021 AD, Idn al-Haytham was the first man to give a clear and correct description of the camera obscura and the diffraction of light, as well as being recognised as the father of modern optics.

After the analysis of the camera obscura, came the exploration of chemical components needed to create a photograph. In 1727, Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that using silver nitrate could create a black and white image. The chemical reaction of the film to silver nitrate, meant that the covered parts remained white and that which was exposed, turned black. However, over time, everything turned black.

Joseph Niépce, like Schulze, was not involved directly with the invention of the camera, but of what a camera could produce – a photograph. Niépce was able to create a photographic image with camera obscura, but it required 8 hours of light exposure and only lasted a few hours. Niépce described the camera as an ‘artificial eye, which is nothing but a small box six inches square’ and this metaphor is still true today; the camera we know, allows a recreation of the image we see in front of us, artificially creating the human eye.

Over the next 100 years, the camera progressed through shorter development times, the development of the negative-positive process which allowed for multiple copies, the first photograph advertisement in 1843 and forty years later the first Kodak roll-film camera was produced and patented by George Eastman. The camera was developed with a lens and was sold with film in order to appeal to the mass market.

Inventions of new technology allowed the camera to be honed and perfected; this meant that the camera was an invention of its time; being improved upon when technology permitted. Edwin Land marketed the Polaroid camera in 1948; this was followed by the integration of instant colour film in the 60s. After colour, all that was left was to improve upon was the speed in which a camera took a photograph, the digital screen to view photographs, the quality of the picture and the size of the camera. I don’t want this to sound derogatory by using the phrase ‘all that was left’, but these developments, in comparison to the 1800s and the technological hindrances the inventors faced, seemed simple and just needed a team of creative people in order to progress. For instance, in 1985, Pixar were the first company to ever create an animated feature-length film, and they had to invent the digital imaging processor in order to create ‘Toy Story’.

In today’s society, cameras have become an indispensable accessory, whether individually or as part of a computer or phone. We take advantage of the ease in which we can use this technology and it is fascinating to see how much we have progressed from the 18th century, when the interest in capturing an image really started, to the 21st century, when we cannot think about life without capturing parts of it.

[1] http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_invented_the_camera

[2] http://invention.yukozimo.com/who-invented-the-camera/

[3] http://www.photoquotations.com/a/512/Joseph+Nicéphore+Niépce

History through Song Lyrics: Unconventional Sources

I would like to inaugurate this blog (without considering last week welcome post) with my favorite controversial topic in history: Non-academical history. It does not really matter how it is called, but what does matter is that it exists, and it can be use for a better understanding of history, or a more engaging, touching and easier way to get along with history. Usually, this kind of history, popular or public history, is conceived in a variety of ways. The most common are: museums, and in general the heritage industry, tv shows, and books. But today, I would like to talk about one which is not commonly considered and I, personally, think it is rather interesting and useful.

I remember how in my first year of A-levels one of my classmates made up a funny song about the French Revolution, in order to remember the main events and personalities. And thanks to that, I would never ever forget those things. The issue I am presenting here is music as a source in the learning and teaching of history. Music is an art that has been linked with history since ancient times, and it has been developed through it until the present day, and it will most likely continue the process in the future. We know about the role of entertainment of musicians in the past and nowadays…But what about the rest? It is not the most common of the cases but many artists and bands do create material related with history. Although sometimes it is needed to read deeply through the lyrics, the ideas are still there.

My research has brought together material from diverse places and periods, but I would like to focus on the most modern evidences. 1974 was a critical year in the history of Portugal; after years of dictatorship the country was ready to embrace democracy as their political system. The use of music was crucial for the coordination of the whole movement known as ‘Revolução dos Cravos’ (The Carnation revolution). Those songs used during this revolution have prevailed in history. They are a symbol and they are living history, those lyrics portray the spirit and meaning of the whole event. One of the most famous songs used for this event was “Grândola, Vila Morena”, written by Jose ‘Zeca’ Alfonso, a couple of years before this happened. Despite the fact the song was previous to the event, the Portuguese people identify themselves in that circumstances with these lyrics:

”Grândola, vila morena

Terra da fraternidade

O povo é quem mais ordena

Dentro de ti, ó cidade

…Em cada esquina um amigo, em cada rostro igualdade”

(Could be translated as: Granola, dark land, land of fraternity, your population rules within you, oh city…In everycorner, a friend, in every face equality)

The perfect song for a revolution against the fascist regime that was oppressing the population…The song by which this is remembered.

But this is maybe the most evident case. An even more modern example: in 1990, one of the most celebrated german rock band of all times, The Scorpions, released their album Crazy World, in which their famous song ‘Wind of Change’ was included [5]. Just with a quick look to the lyrics and a bit of historical knowledge, the topic can be disguised: The fall of Berlin Wall, in 1989. Such an important event in western modern history immortalised in a radio hit, famous in the whole world. And the list goes on. Published in May, 1983, Iron Maiden’s album Piece of Mind contains their famous song ‘Die with Your Boots On’. “They die with their boots on, yes they die” lyrics in honor of the disastrous and miserable General G.A. Custer’s death at Little Big Horn. The last example is from the album Lost in Space Part II, the third EP of Tobias Sammet’s metal opera project known as Avantasia, published by Nuclear Blast.The following extract is from the song ‘Promised Land’, which embraces a rather historical and religious topic; the Crusades and the Holy Land:

“Like moths to a flame
Driven by vanity
They been off to Jerusalem
Chasing a dream
Calling on me
We re just trading in needs”

The Crusades, the end of fascism in Portugal, the fall of the wall in Berlin and one of the biggest disasters in the history of war, all in music…All historical. And these are just four, rather recent, examples…We  might question now: what can music offer to the study of history for academical historians (and other humanists) but, also, how can these lyrics been used for students (like ourselves) or for lower levels, where history in most of the cases is not a choice but a must.