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…”

Nu History Podcast – Episode 3: Historical Videogames

Episode 3 of the podcast!

In this episode Lilly and Alex are joined again by James for a conversation about the crossover of two of their favourite things, Videogames and History!

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

The Struggles With Lesbian History

LGBT history as a whole is difficult to study, with both its legal and societal condemnation historically and today. The first attempts to study the history of homosexuality were not started until the 19th century and these were largely hampered by source scarcity and societal opinion. It was not until the mid 20th century that as a study it became more popular, and until the 1970s that all identities under the LGBT umbrella were included. The last several decades have seen a massive increase in scholarship, especially in gay male history; however other identities have struggled much more. Trans historiography has been hampered by how to define trans historical figures, particularly so in the issue of whether people were trans or if they were passing as another gender for other reasons, such as avoiding being drafted into military service. Bisexual history has languished similarly due to the issue of how to consider historical figures who appeared to be bisexual – were they bisexual or were they gay and their opposite sex relationships a requirement of the society they lived in, or were such relationships genuine? This, of course, has implications for same-sex history: are historical figures being labelled as attracted only to the same sex or could they have been bisexual? While the lack of definitively knowing hampers any study of history, LGBT history particularly struggles.  

Lesbian history has always struggled – even the term ‘lesbian’ to describe history has been considered by some to be a difficult descriptor. Some feel that lesbian refers to an identity that historically women would have not considered themselves to be. Sometimes the phrase ‘women who loved women’ has been used. Scholars such as Cook and Rich argued for the use of the term ‘lesbian’ to describe women who had relationships with other women. However other scholars prefer to avoid the term, arguing that lesbian as a concept did not exist, or that the term does not fit the historical reality of the women they are studying. Others have also argued that this term is too Western-centric. However, others have pointed out that terms such as queer are too broad and erase the specific experience of women. This issue on phrasing symbolises the difficulty that lesbian history has faced. 

While there has been little debate about male homosexual history, lesbian history has been much more problematic. The existence of lesbian history has always been harder to find, just because as the history of women in general has been difficult to source because of the domination of men in the historical written word, lesbians have often been written out of history – even more so than heterosexual women who generally have been only featured when, relevant to men. Lesbian behaviour was less likely to be prosecuted than gay male behaviour (not that lesbians were not prosecuted but they were caught less often or in some cases the sheer idea of lesbianism was so alien that legislation did not exist) which also reduces the amount of source material available, although what does exist is important. Prior to the 19th century lesbian history is fragmented, although some lesbian historians, like Emma Donoghue, have criticised historians for failing to notice mentions of lesbians due their own heterocentrisim. Debates over whether female historical figures had romantic and/or sexual relationships with each other or whether they simply had close platonic friendships plague lesbian history. Many lesbian historians have pointed out that they themselves, and those that came before them who clearly were, and often identified, as lesbian have been described as ‘platonic’ yet that there are often signs of such romantic and/or sexual relationships. Anne Lister’s diaries are an example of this; when her diaries were originally deciphered some declared them a hoax because of their explicitness’ and her frank understanding of her sexuality.  

Most sources we do have on lesbian history focus predominantly on upper class women as they were the most able to record their own experiences. This can be frustrating for two reasons: women in the lower classes made up higher proportions of the general population and therefore are more likely to make up a significant proportion of lesbian women; and also that working class women traditionally had more opportunity to socialise with other women and without as much scrutiny. Upper class women were far more likely to have limited social circles and limited opportunity to be able to conduct affairs privately. Not only does this limit the amount of available knowledge it also means we miss out on knowing about working class lesbian subcultures and communities prior to the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Oral history has been an important part of lesbian history and has provided a significant amount of source material, although this is mostly restricted to post 1920s, as lesbian oral history was not recorded until the 1970s and beyond.  Along with sources such as zines and photography, archive groups in the 1970s and 1980s attempted to construct archives focused on the lesbian experience, such as the Lesbian Archive – now housed at the Glasgow Women’s Library, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Other regional archives exist as does archives holding either LGBT history as whole or feminist/women’s history. 

So why is lesbian history so important to discover? Other than the general desire to uncover the past as much as possible, many lesbians find it important to connect to their forebearers and to demonstrate that their identity is legitimate and has existed for millennia. Lesbian erasure, historically and currently, is a major issue not just in society in general but also in the LGBT and feminist communities that claim to include and represent them. Erasure and ignorance of lesbian history helps exacerbate lesbian erasure. Many lesbians have been outspoken about society’s attempts to erase ‘lesbian’ as an identity, from claiming that ‘lesbian’ is exclusive or to that it doesn’t even exist – the tendency for some historians to deny lesbian history prior to the 19th century does just this.  

LGBT history often focuses on gay men while feminist history often focuses on heterosexual women. The fact that lesbians have often been both at the forefront of social movements is often ignored, even within these movements, and despite their presence they have been later ostracised or written out of these histories. Therefore their lesbian identity has been paramount to them. This importance also highlights the need for lesbian history to be inclusive of all lesbians. Recent scholarship has aimed to not only focus on white middle-class women in western societies but to expand our knowledge of lesbian history and how the diversity of these women are how we can broaden our overall knowledge.  

Hamilton

A History of our time?

The forgotten founding father?

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Legacy, what is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see[1]

 

I honestly could not resist writing a piece about Hamilton. Hamilton is the 2015 musical phenomenon written by Lin Manuel Miranda and inspired by R. Chernow’s 2004 biography titled Alexander Hamilton that has since reached London’s West End as of December 2017.

I have been extremely lucky to have watched the performance twice! Now I feel it would be appropriate to examine the historical significance of the musical about the man who is on the $10 bill and how it resonates to a present-day audience on both sides of the Atlantic. I will focus more on social and political matters as opposed to the economic and military. If you wish to see the musical in the future, please note I will make mention to some elements in the plot.

 

The Backstory

 

Alexander Hamilton’s Early Years

My name is Alexander Hamilton and there’s a million things I haven’t done just you wait, just you wait…[2]

Let’s start with the backstory. Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman who fought numerous battles in the Revolutionary War against Britain and became the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. The story narrates the life of Alexander Hamilton, an unlikely founding father who was born on the British island of Nevis (now St Kitts and Nevis) in January 1757/1755 as there is some debate amongst historians regarding this, although it is widely considered to be 1757. Born outside of wedlock, his father abandoning the family and his mother dying when he was still a child, his prospects on the face of it appeared dire.

Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Fawcett was married to Johann Michael Lavien before she met James Hamilton, the father of Alexander Hamilton. Lavien seized Fawcett’s estate in St Croix (now United States Virgin Islands) in probate court upon her death and sold off a sizeable portion of Fawcett’s items.

Hamilton later became a clerk at Beekman and Crugar, an import and export firm. The firm traded with the colonies of New England and New York. At 14/16, Hamilton was placed in charge of the firm when his employer was away at sea for five months. Hamilton’s cousin, Peter Lytton briefly looked after him and his brother, James Jr Hamilton before he committed suicide. From this point henceforth, the brothers were separated though remained on Nevis.

Hamilton (Alexander) was taken in the custody of Thomas Stevens, a local merchant and the older Hamilton (James Jr) became a Carpenter’s Apprentice. By this point Alexander Hamilton was well read and enjoyed writing in his spare time. In 1772 a devasting Hurricane hit St Croix, in response Hamilton (Alexander) wrote a letter to his father pertaining to the Hurricane in enormous detail and his thoughts on the destruction. The letter gained popularity after it was published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette by Journalist, Hugh Knox. This popularity garnished the attention of community leaders. This was a real turning point for Hamilton, as the news of his letter impressed the leaders so much they collected funds to send Hamilton to study in New York. This proved to be an invaluable opportunity for Hamilton, which no doubt paved the way to his military and to a higher extent, his political pursuits.  Much of these accounts from Hamilton’s early life are touched upon during the musical’s opening number, Alexander Hamilton.[3]

 

The musical synopsis

 

The story develops and looks at how he overcame these difficulties in early life looking at how he established himself in New York City; at King’s College (now Columbia University), his personal life, military /political exploits, his relationships with other founding fathers; John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and not forgetting his relationship with political rival, Aaron Burr, which ended in Hamilton’s death on 12th July 1804 as a result of the famous Burr-Hamilton duel on the day before.

This is all set at a time of revolution and increased animosity towards the British in the colonies, chiefly regarding taxation. This animosity occurred since 1765 and arguably more so after the Boston Massacre of 1770 when a group of American colonists were shot by soldiers who were stationed in Boston to control heighted colonial unrest, the capital of the Provence of Massachusetts Bay.

What Hamilton (the musical) does so well is create a visually stunning performance, amalgamating the history of a nation with the contemporary, a retelling of history, predominately in the form of hip-hop and casting actors from ethnic minority backgrounds in major roles within the production. This invariably is told as a history of our time, in other words to reflect the society of the US and the UK today.

 

The historical legacy

Ethnicity & Immigration in the United States

Let’s start with the casting. A conscious decision was made regarding the casting. The story is told by a diverse group of actors from different backgrounds. This is true in both the US and UK productions. Notably, the roles of the founding fathers; Hamilton, Burr, Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Mulligan/Madison, Lafayette/Jefferson and Washington were played by actors from an ethnic minority. This is also true of the Schuyler sister roles in the musical; Angelica, Elizabeth “Eliza” and Margarita “Peggy”. For reference, the Schuyler family were influential Dutch landowners that held much prominence in New York, Elizabeth Schuyler was a fourth generation American and the wife of Alexander Hamilton. They married in December 1780 and their courtship was acknowledged during the song Helpless.[4]

 

Immigrants we get the job done[5]

 

Essentially what the musical does is it tells the story about an immigrant trying to establish a place for themselves through hard work, grit and determination. These are traits not so different in people today. What Hamilton was doing back in the 1700s, hundreds if not thousands of immigrants since then have aspired to work hard for their livelihoods and prosper in their endeavours. Looking at the United States today many people can trace their ancestry back to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This applies to the original Broadway cast. For instance; the Musical’s creator, Miranda who played Hamilton has Hispanic heritage from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Not to dissimilar from the character he was playing in that respect that they both had a personal connection to the Caribbean as Hamilton was born there. However, he was of Scottish and French Huguenot descent, although there is speculation that Hamilton’s mother was of mixed racial descent there is no substantial evidence to support these claims. Philippa Soo who originated the role of Hamilton’s wife, Eliza is of White European and Chinese descent and lastly another example would be Daveed Diggs who originated the role of Lafayette/ Jefferson whose mother was Jewish and his father, African-American.

These examples really do highlight and bring to prominence what America looks like today, by casting actors from an ethnic minority it really does bring life to the storytelling and above all accessibility. Yes, in real life the founding fathers were of White English, Scottish and Irish descent, yet despite that, the casting of Hamilton brings forth the idea of inclusiveness and allows for a more cathartic experience for audiences that resonate with them. This is a great way to promote history to more people that might otherwise feel alienated from this episode of history.

Looking beyond what race these characters were back then, now in the present day the United States is a melting pot of cultures from across the globe. In a traditional sense it is the primary and secondary source material found in archives, manuscripts and books to name but a few that provide us with the know-how. It is the power of theatre that allows us to look beyond the traditional historiography for a moment and build a bridge taking elements of the past and mixing it with the present to generate interest and come away thinking; it does not matter who you are or where you come from, we all have an opportunity to make a difference.

Consequently, looking at it in this sense, the story of Alexander Hamilton’s journey from orphan, to immigrant, to statesman serves as a timeless inspiration that immigrants past, present and future strive to better themselves and as a result shape society in enterprise, business, education, government, science, healthcare and as the musical reflects, the arts.

Much like analysing the first line in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” as being true to a society where it was acceptable in some states; particularly the south to keep Black African slaves. Looking at this declaration by todays standards, there would be a consensus refuting that declaration. It is how a particular place in time within society can interpret events.

 

But how is this argument historically significant for the UK?

Very much so. The UK very much like the US has been a magnet for settlement throughout history, going further back in time before the formation of the UK some of the earliest setters came from the Roman Empire, Germanic speaking tribes; the Angles, Saxons and Jutes known collectively as the Anglo Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans and French Huguenots.

In more recent history since the 19th century immigration from outside of Europe started to take shape chiefly from British colonies. In the 20th century immigration started to become more pronounced after the decline of the British Empire and many people settled from former colonies and countries making up the Commonwealth from the East, Africa and the West Indes. The imagery used once more in the UK casting reflects the society of the UK today and at the same mirrors Hamilton’s own backstory. Strikingly, Jamael Westman who currently plays the title role of Alexander Hamilton has Irish roots from his maternal side of the family and Afro-Caribbean roots from Jamaica on the paternal side.

Other examples include; Rachel John who currently plays Angelica Schuyler, her mother immigrated to the UK from Trinidad, Michael Jibson who currently plays King George III hails from Yorkshire, Leslie Garcia Bowman who currently plays Charles Lee/Ensemble comes from New Zealand and Rachelle Ann Go who currently plays Eliza Hamilton was born in the Philippines to name but a few. In all essence the full cast does reflect modern British society, just as the Broadway cast does in the US. The subject content is largely on American history and that this episode in history is not as well known in the UK, the idea nonetheless remains the same. By bringing forth historical content to the stage it serves as a virtual source to appeal to those that would not necessarily read about the content. What’s more the diversity of the cast has more of an impact resonating with members of society that are not always included in retellings of history, much like the argument that was put forth previously under Ethnicity & Immigration in the United States.

Knowing Brixton is a short distance from Victoria, the London home for Hamilton, just shy of 37 years the Brixton Riot occurred in April 1981. This was at a time when recession hit, those of Afro-Caribbean descent living in the area were particularly affected by lower job prospects and public services. Hamilton justly serves as a history of our time told by society as it is today, all backgrounds coming together to tell the story of a struggling immigrant intent to shape the future and leave a legacy, two things that are not to dissimilar to the actual narrative.

 

The “forgotten” Hamilton

A wife’s tale

I put myself back in the narrative… I’ll live another fifty years, it’s not enough[6]

 

There is much mention about the roles of women in Hamilton. However, for the purposes of this piece I will examine the role of Eliza Hamilton nee Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife of 21 years before his death. A fundamental conclusion to the musical details a wonderous segment, regarding Eliza Hamilton’s role in preserving the legacy of her husband, Alexander Hamilton. After Hamilton’s death Eliza along with the help of her son John Church Hamilton organised and arranged his political writings in view of publication. This was to ensure his legacy in American politics was not forgotten by the people. What the musical does so well is it attributes Chernow’s school of thought, that Eliza Hamilton’s role was significant in preserving Hamilton’s memory and conveys this with such vigour. This is considering she was left widowed, having to settle Hamilton’s debts and knowing that he had an affair with Maria Reynolds (this was publicly declared by Hamilton himself in the self-published, “The Reynolds Pamphlet” in 1797). The musical suggests Eliza Hamilton, upon hearing the news of Hamilton’s affair burns her correspondence with her husband in the song titled Burn.[7] Although it is not certain Eliza Hamilton burnt her letters, the musical nevertheless supports Chernow’s school of thought that she did destroy her letters but there was no evidence to suggest how.

Her passion and devotion to keeping Hamilton’s memory alive really hits home when her contribution to Hamilton’s legacy is explored in Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story[8], knowing that Eliza Hamilton lived in a male dominated society in commerce, politics and education, she was able to rise above her station and truly make a difference by getting Hamilton’s “story” out there for all to see and hear.

Eliza Hamilton did not stop there, not only did she ensure Hamilton’s writings were preserved, she also ensured to help orphans in New York city. Hamilton himself was an orphan, this in part must have played a large role in Eliza Hamilton’s efforts to help orphaned children. Together Alexander and Eliza Hamilton had eight children and one known foster daughter, having been caring for eight children and bringing in a foster daughter into the Hamilton household, it was apparent Eliza Hamilton cared deeply about children.

Eliza Hamilton helped to establish the first private orphanage in New York city in 1806 along with her friend Joanne Bethune. Eliza Hamilton was the Vice-President of the organisation and continued her support well into her nineties. It was called the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York, this organisation still exists to this very day by helping to care for children ensuring access to education, health care and support. Today it is named Graham Windham. This is where the whole idea of legacy intertwines, by preserving Hamilton’s legacy and crafting a legacy of her own.

Hamilton’s death must have been a horrible prospect for Eliza Hamilton to have dealt with but reviewing her contribution after his death, some goodness has come out of it by helping the next generation of orphans in a city where as a child orphan himself, Alexander Hamilton thrived. Though Hamilton could not live to see his legacy, Eliza Hamilton lived for another 50 years after her husband’s death in that time ensured others could see it.

 

My personal thoughts on Eliza Hamilton’s significance

Writing as a 21st century woman it is incredible to think that Eliza Hamilton achieved a great deal in her own right at a time, considering women’s suffrage was not on the agenda at the time of the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York’s creation and when she was organising Hamilton’s writings for preservation. As with the section on Ethnicity & Immigration, we see many women in professions doing what Eliza Hamilton did; women historians, women social workers and women carers to name but a few. That is another great legacy to add to mix, we see her character in many of the women of today, very much a living history of our time.

To end on, the musical really does highlight Eliza Hamilton’s prominence regarding Hamilton’s legacy. The staging was beautifully crafted, whereby during the first Act Hamilton was centre stage in the story. Eliza Hamilton, on the other hand was not standing on the main stage, she was staged with the characters; Maria Reynolds and Angelica Schuyler, seemingly fighting to declare their love for Hamilton during the musical’s opening number but for it to be bellowed by them at the same time, “I loved him”.[9] However, at the end of the second Act, Hamilton casts himself aside from the spotlight but close to his wife to reveal much of his legacy is owed to Eliza Hamilton, where she is the one standing in front of the legacy she preserved. Alexander Hamilton is often credited as America’s “forgotten” founding father, the end piece almost appears as if there was a forgotten behind the forgotten in the form of Eliza Hamilton.

 

 

 

[1] L. Manuel Miranda, “The World Was Wide Enough” as performed by L. Manuel Miranda & L. Odom Jr. in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[2] L. Manuel Miranda, “Alexander Hamilton” as performed by The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[3] Ibid; “Alexander Hamilton”

[4] L. Manuel Miranda, “Helpless” as performed The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[5] L. Manuel Miranda, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” as quoted by D Diggs and L. Manuel Miranda in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[6] L. Manuel Miranda, “Burn” as performed by P Soo in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[7] Ibid; “Burn”

[8] L. Manuel Miranda, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” as performed by The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[9] Ibid; “Alexander Hamilton”

 

The Kite Runner- Using Literature as a source for recent times

The post will look at the historical significance in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 bestselling novel, The Kite Runner. The novel is a coming of age story focusing on Amir born into a Pashtun family in Afghanistan. Recently, as of Monday 10th July I went to watch the stage adaptation of it with another blogger- lauraljpotter. This got me thinking as there is plenty to right about. Particularly, life in Afghanistan during the 1970s, during the Soviet occupation and the Taliban occupation. I also touch upon Afghans who immigrated to the United States of America during the late 1970s and 1980s, mainly commenting on the accounts in the novel. For starters, I will explain the basic premise of the story and provide a general historical account of the country. Minor spoilers of the plot will be announced to emphasise the historical value of this time period.

The story starts in the mid-seventies focusing on Amir’s friendship with Hassan, who is the son of the family servant and the strained relationship Amir has with his father Baba. The themes Hosseini highlights are the following; friendship, identity, love and redemption, spanning across time from Afghanistan in the mid-seventies towards California in 2001. The modern state of Afghanistan was founded in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Duran but long before this happened the area was conquered numerous times. The earliest account we know was in 330BC, when Alexander the Great conquered it. In the 700s AD, Arab armies invaded the area and the inhabitants of the area converted to Islam. Later in 1218, Genghis Khan’s army penetrated the area. This is interesting to note as it explains the ethnic mix of people that live in Afghanistan and this is still visible today, this will be explained in more thorough detail further on. Conflict did not end there as in the mid-1800s Britain and Russia clashed in order to gain control of Central Asia. There was a power vacuum in Central Asia due to the declining Ottoman Empire, Qajar dynasty and Qing dynasty in the region. This was called “The Great Game” as Britain and Russia vied to occupy these territories. Eventually “The Great Game” led to the First Anglo-Afghan War. By the end of the 1800s, Afghanistan was unwilling to allow British presence in the region and refused a mission to be set up in Kabul. This resulted in the Second Afghan War. At the time Britain acquired an empire that stretched all around the globe, it was coined as “the empire, where the sun never sets”. Before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan was still a part of India and in 1893, the British established an unofficial border to separate Afghanistan and British India. A third war ensued between the Afghans and the British. In 1919 the Third-Anglo War concluded. To summarise, what this short piece does is provide a background account to the complex history of Afghanistan up until when the story starts.

Now we will focus on the country of Afghanistan in the sixties until the seventies. It was a different place to what it became in the early noughties. It was a relatively safe and stable country since 1933 when Zahir Shah quelled unrest by becoming king. Before Zahir Shah, since after the Anglo-Afghan Wars there was always a power struggle in order to establish a long lasting dynasty in Afghanistan. In the twentieth century Emir Amanullah tried to rule and incorporate western influences in Afghanistan, but civil unrest in the country ousted him out. However, from what the background account tells us, this proved to happen throughout the course of history. In particular for those who had money and prominence, life in Afghanistan was very good, full of lavish hill top homes and festivities. Life was full of excitement and opportunities were abundant. This was looked at in Hosseini’s novel. Notably, Baba and Amir’s comfortable home, Amir’s schooling, Amir’s birthday celebrations and the Kite flying competition. This reveals that Amir had a stable and comfortable home life. Expanding on this western travellers often ventured through Afghanistan as a pit stop before moving on to India. This particular route was known as the “hippie trail”.

However, that air of stability soon collapsed when in 1973 King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin. Two ideologies developed during this time in wanting to prevent gradual western ideals that occurred in the royal Afghan court. One ideology supported communism and the Soviets. This group was called the People’s Democratic of Afghanistan. Another ideology advocated for a return of religious values in society. It was the PDPA that ended up being more successful first in 1978, within a year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, plunging Afghanistan into the Cold War as a potential satellite state. They did this to strength the communist ideology of the PDPA in Afghanistan as well as extending their on sphere of influence in Central Asia. However, war ensured as not everyone was happy with the Soviet invasion, in “The Kite Runner”, Babi, Amir’s father did not want the Soviets to take control of Afghanistan. Using Babi as an example, many affluent families in Afghanistan and those who held close ties to royalty were suspected to be reactionaries and many of them like Babi and Amir had to flee to neighbouring Pakistan and as a result became refugees and wait admitted asylum. It was from there that many families moved on to the United States of America, like what Babi and Amir did. Babi and Amir like many Afghans settled in Fremont, California. A majority of Afghans who fled Afghanistan settled in the San Francisco Bay area of California like Fresno, Los Angeles, Virginia and other major areas like Illinois, Florida and Washington. Many Afghan migrants worked in unskilled professions or in the public sector. Some Afghan professions mentioned in “The Kite Runner” were traders, teachers, policeman and gas station attendants. Life was not always easy for any particular new arrivals to the USA but what Hosseini does draw attention to is the fact that it was perhaps easier for some to assimilate into the new American culture, whereas for others it was more difficult. This was looked at in the form of father and son, Babi and Amir. Babi struggled seeing as he had established himself in Afghanistan it was bound to be difficult to pack up and start again, particularly as he was living in a comfortable hill top home in Afghanistan. In Fremont he was living in an apartment block. For Amir, you could argue that it helped him pursue his dreams of becoming a writer as he improved his English, went to college to major in Creative Writing and found love and married Soraya. In essence embracing his new opportunities and attempting to pursue the “American Dream”.

The Soviets tried their best to capture all of Afghanistan, but this did not happen, they found it difficult to penetrate the countryside and this remained relatively untouched. The Soviets eventually realised that they couldn’t continue funding a conquest they knew they could never win. The geography of Afghanistan is testing as it is a heavily mountainous land-locked country. Again, more civil unrest ensued and much of the country was being taken over by mujahedin groups. The capital, Kabul managed to quell this for three years as Najibullah, an ally from Moscow was able to control the area. Eventually, Kabul fell and Najibullah lost control. Even still these rival mujahedin only managed to control the city until 1996, when they were ousted by much younger jihadis. They were known as the Taliban and controlled everyday life in Afghan society from there on in, including the vibrant capital Kabul. Kabul changed drastically under this leadership. Kabul was once a place where men and women could sit in university together and women weren’t told what to wear. This all changed when the Taliban took control and implemented a strict regime on Afghanistan.

In more recent time, in the noughties Afghanistan garnished much negative connotations and further turmoil. Most notably, the War on Terror, Afghanistan was used as a testing ground by British and American forces. After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre all attention went on combating Al Qaeda, the Terrorist group responsible for the heinous act and capturing their ringleader, Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban were told in “The Kite Runner” in the form of one character the antagonist, Assef who frequently tormented Amir and Hassan. He constantly made fun out of Hassan’s ethnicity of being a Hazara. Some people like Assef did not like the Hazara people as they held a belief that they were not true Afghans and how they polluted the country. This was ironic in the story as Assef himself had a Pashtun father and a German mother. Many Hazara people as a result faced widespread discrimination in everyday life. This is something that many Hazara people face even today. Harking back to what I mentioned earlier, there were two different ethnic groups mentioned in the story, one were the Pashtuns and the other group was the Hazaras. The Hazaras were said to be descended from inner Asia and more specifically around Mongolia. This makes sense considering how many times different armies came to conquer and/or settle in Afghanistan. However, this theory is not entirely confirmed and we do not know for sure where they actually descended from.

Afghanistan faced much hardship over the years and history seemingly starting to repeat itself in the form of occupation, then reoccupation, then occupation, then reoccupation an endless cycle it seems over the centuries and something that still lays bare in Afghanistan today; whether that be when Alexander the Great first captured the land or as early in 2009 when Obama increased the number of American troops to arrive in Afghanistan.

Gens Normannorum: What is Norman Identity?

In 1829 Sir Walter Scott delighted his readers with Ivanhoe. The novel for sure was a product of the romantic nationalistic movement that most of Europe was embracing but, possibly without meaning to do so, he also depicted the landscape of England after 1066, and its occupants. The image he provides about the Norman invaders is one of their military and political power, that of those French tyrants ruling over the Saxons with no wish to mix with the native population. This description usually comes to mind when thinking about the Normans and who they were. But the myths create confusion in the understanding of their identity. Perhaps we require some clarification of terminology first of all. Starting with the term ‘Norman’-  this is the modern concept that derives from old French and Latin words like Nordmanni or Normanni, which means men from the north. These would have been used by the Franks and their contemporaries, and not the Normans themselves. Then you will be thinking: what actually is the Gens Normannorum? The word ‘gens’ in Latin can refer to an extended group of people with particular characteristics. As per G.A.Loud definition, “a nation would be made up of several ‘gentes’, usually related to each other, but none the less separate and distinct”, which is precisely the concept around which the Normans build their realm. The Normans were a faction that survived by means of political union, adaptation and strong territorial bonds. Therefore, recognising a Norman identity per se is a difficult task.

Despite the fact that the Normans were a wonderful collage of different people, it is true that they are usually associated with certain features. Some of these were an invention of their own, but some others were the perceptions of their contemporaries, being the most prominent their so feared military skills. Not only Walter Scott portrayed these people as powerful warriors, so did the Greeks when they saw them conquering their lands in the Mediterranean. The same sentiment was shared by multiple Popes. It seems likely that the feudal system they started to follow from their settlement in Normandy provided a good military service in which the aristocracy got involved quite eagerly, turning to be more efficient than anywhere else in Europe. So maybe this was the genesis of this Norman ideal. Living in such a militarised society, discipline and cooperation evolved quickly, which made possible having a single ruler to lead these diverse people. This ruler would the seek support within his lineage, which becomes another important issue in Norman identity: family. William the Conqueror serves us – funny that – as a perfect example here. Just look at his retinue for the conquest in England: half brothers like Odo of Bayeux, cousins and other distant relatives. It was this power and unity, linked with their adaptable Scandinavian mind which allowed them to create great institutions, like their new bodies of law and government.

Moreover, these pretensions took also a tangible form which is very characteristic of the Normans: castles. These could serve as residences, fortresses and symbols of authority. The typical Norman castle would have been the motte and bailey construction, although it is known that in the southern Norman territories they recycled pre-existing Muslim castles that were more elegant and rather appealing to their ‘greedy’ minds. Therefore, castles seem to represent everything the Normans were; a bellicose race with hunger for new lands. But that was not just the point, though, was it? It happened that the Normans were quite good and efficient architects that helped to develop a whole new architectural style: the Romanesque. Furthermore, we have the issue of monastic revival and all that religious work the Normans did…Let’s not forget that their conversion only happened in the 10th century. Just like the Carolingians did before, they promoted Christianity through learning and pious charity, and they embraced their new religion as a vital part of their lives. Many religious buildings were built with the money and patronage of the different noble families, in order to provide for their souls but also to improve their status, and to portray themselves as Norman pious rulers. So, it seems that not only were these Northmen warriors, but people with cultural sensibility and religious devotion. How did they end up being related to such different concepts, and why is the first one the prevailing one?

Sadly, those to blame are the Norman historians from the 11th century, as they built up the Gens Normannorum around the idea of their military prowess. It is likely that the intention was to portray them as tough survivors, particularly considering their Viking origin. Consider that, what Rollo and his companions managed to do by 911 was, in medieval terms, extraordinary and epic. They found themselves a new context in a land whose ancestors had ‘terrorized’ for decades. They managed to grasp power and survive, of which they were obviously be proud, as Dudo of St.Quentin reflects in his text History of the Dukes of the Normans. According to him, the Normans were descendants of the Dacians; the heirs of Antenor, who was known to be a Trojan survivor. Not only was he giving them a legitimate legacy to rule over their new lands by linking them with an ancient culture, he was establishing a bond between them and the Trojans who were warriors and survivors, just like the Vikings. Even more, he was establishing a parallelism: the Aeneid gives the Romans a Trojan background and origin, the same than Dudo is doing to the Normans…What else could the new European power desire that being equal to the Roman Empire? This was all a matter of legitimacy. The Normans were lovers of history; heroic history. And so this historical snowball got bigger and other authors came and  reinforced the ideal. Then with William the Bastard, they just elevated their might to holy standards. His chaplain, William of Poitiers, describes his great religiousness while participating in mass before battle. Furthermore, he is praised and elevated to the level of Christian icons such as David and Salomon, even Jesus or God as “he heals where he wounds…peace and war obey him sympathetically”, like it is stated in the poem Jephthah. So not only the Normans were now warriors: they were crusaders.

And so, from the 12th century onwards the crusader image begun. Figures like Tancred, who managed to get control of the Principality of Antioch that brought more glory to the Southern Normans. But then, there is a sudden twist. The issue of the 12th Century for the Normans and their identity is a problem of generational change.  They had now spent several decades in Normandy, but also in the Mediterranean and England. In England, they tried to suppress the ‘English’ traditions, but it was impossible, as the Saxon customs had been there for a longer period. The Normans assumed an ‘English’ past at the same time that the Norman myth got introduced within the Saxon population; now both the ‘gentes’ Normannnorum and Anglorum were not easy to separate. In addition, there were family crisis shaking the Norman rule: Henry against Robert, then Matilda and Stephen, and even in the South William I had trouble with the Sicilian aristocracy. There are even evidences of decline in Norman art: the further they expanded, the weaker the influence of Romanesque was. In addition, their military prestige disappeared as the age of Conquest came to an end…and considering that in Southern Italy and Sicily they had to deal with the Islamic and Orthodox population, one can even doubt their religious unity.

So, what was in truth Norman identity? It was everything and anything at the same time. It is clear, though, that as Marjorie Chibnall puts it “the Norman people were product, not of blood, but of history”. One could argue that, the only true Normans were those that lived in Normandy – centuries later they would promote their independence. Perhaps, Norman identity was nothing more than a Viking wish of adventure and expansion with a French touch of creativity and piety more appealing to their neighbours, therefore making it easier for them to fulfill their objective. Others might blame the imagery on the 11th Century chronicles that promulgated the Norman pragmatism and opportunism to satisfy their lords and their own minds. Maybe this is hypocritical, and just a pure modernist judgement, from which scholars should try to learn and focus on what the Normans thought of themselves and why. There is still much to consider and revise about the subject. Until then, I am happy to keep in mind, and N.Webber advises that Norman “identity evolved in these years, through changes of patria, of language, of enemy and of religion…’Norman’ was used in Normandy, in England, and in Italy and Sicily, to do so was to assert different claims in different areas, and in different times”.

-Chibnall, M., The Normans (Oxford, 2000)

-Davis, R.H.C., The Normans and Their Myth (London, 1976)

-Dudo of Saint-Quentin, ‘History of the Dukes of the Normans’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

Haskins, C.H., The Normans in European History (New York, 1959)

-Fulcouis of Beauvais, ‘Jephthah Poem’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

-Kennedy, H., Crusader Castles (Cambridge, 1994)

-Loud, G.A., ‘The Gens Normannorum- Myth or Reality?’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies, Vol. IV, (Woodbridge, 1982), pp. 104-116

-Potts, C., ‘Atque unum ex diversis gentibus populum effecit: Historical Tradition and the Norman Identity’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies, Vol. XVIII, (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 139-152

-Searle, E., Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power 840-1066 (Berkeley and London, 1988)

-Ville de Caen, ‘Les Normands, peuple d’Europe’, accessed 20th May 2011,

www.mondes-normands.fr

-Webber, N., The Evolution of Norman Identity (Woodbridge, 2005)

-William of Poitiers, ‘Deeds of Duke William’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

Medieval Warfare Vol. VI, Issue 6 Review – January/February 2017

Late last year I got the opportunity to read an advance issue of Medieval Warfare and since it was a chance to keep up to date with different historical literature since graduation I was delighted. A couple of issues were sent to W.U.HSTRY and Lilly (W.U.HSTRY ruler) sent this one over to me as it kept in line with my interests as a historian including art history, the Hundred Years War, and my curiosity in medieval weaponry. My initial reaction in receiving this issue, which is released in January 2017, was to enjoy how much effort has gone into the layout of the magazine and wishing I had the ability to draw medieval landscapes and images with such skill. The key theme of this issue was the ideology of man, specifically those of the lower orders of society, trying to act like God through violence and war in order to settle their respective scores, and the German Peasants War of the sixteenth century was an apt choice to represent this theme throughout. The editor of Medieval Warfare, Peter Konieczny, gave a short introduction to the theme of this month by identifying the main contributors to January’s edition such as eminent medieval scholars such as Kelly DeVries, some of whose work I enjoyed reading myself during research in my undergraduate History degree. There are heavier analytical aspects to this magazine towards the German Peasants War and this is followed by a lighter hearted tale of a cow stopping a siege.

I could sit here and analyse the whole magazine but I thought it would be more suitable for me to choose the highlights. As expected from the magazine with warfare in the title there is a strong tilt towards weaponry, armour, military tactics and the role the lords and peasants played against each other during the German Rebellion. The first article by Kelly DeVries ‘Lucifer and his Angels’ debates the issue around why would peasants revolt in the first place. The abstract introduces the Marxist opinion that peasant oppression from their lords meant that rebellion was always ‘simmering’. DeVries initially states that peasant revolts were infrequent, of varying size, and never successful. This is a good start to looking into why, how and what caused the sixteenth century German peasants to revolt and why it is particularly interesting to medieval historians. Throughout the article is images of armour worn during the war and maps presenting the breadth of the revolt in the German provinces.

The next couple of articles include text by Erich B.Anderson who looks at an army that swept through Upper Swabia in 1525 and Jean-Claude Brunner’s ‘Siege of Salzburg’. They both look in-depth as specific episodes of German history within the different aspects of the Peasants War. Another interesting part was an excerpt in Sidney E.Dean’s article on ‘Knight of the Iron Hand’ Götz von Berlichingen where Dean looked specifically into the mechanics of Berlichingen’s literal iron hands and whether they were efficient or useless in their role. Each article offers the opportunity to look into further reading which for both amateur and academic historians alike are useful.

The best article available in my opinion would be Iason-Eleftherios Tzouriadis’ ‘Death, Violence and Sex’ which looks into Anti-War propaganda art created during the sixteenth century as a response to the wars encircling Europe during the late middle ages. This is a particular interest to the art geek in me. Art in the military was limited as an aid in studying the military in itself and their equipment. Tzouriadis references Hale’s 1990 work Artists and Warfare in the Renaissance. This offers extra insight into how historians have started to critically analyse illustrations to inform their research. The article shows several examples to back up both Tzouriadis and Hale’s analysis.

It is always good practise as historians to look for parallels between the medieval and modern eras. Dahm looks into the socio-economic and political similarities between medieval Germany and 1850 when an eminent piece of medieval warfare scholarship was published. The last part of the magazine was dedicated towards the Hundred Years War as an increasing interest in the logistics of medieval warfare is appearing in historical literature, and a weapon that never existed.

In all this is a fascinating issue that introduced an element of history I was unfamiliar with and happy to get acquainted. The whole issue is 60 pages and packed with information, illustrations and snippets of relevant information. There is a coherency between the articles with a strand on the role of peasants in history, the logistics of each revolt, war, rebellion, siege or catastrophe and finally their representation in the media. I found nothing to argue with but a lot to research as a new interest to add to my bookshelves and by the end of the magazine you will want to rewatch Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the last article).

Medieval Warfare can be brought at https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/shop/medieval-warfare/subscriptions.html

 

Medieval Childhood

This blog post will be a summary so far of a module I have been studying in my third year at Winchester University. Medieval childhood is described by the historian Gregory Bailey as largely a hidden topic but crucial in understanding what people considered to be the life cycle in this period. Its culture comes through literary and archaeological processes, but rarely were children’s livelihoods fully documented, the exception perhaps being a royal or noble child where adolescence can be traced. Within the Medieval Life Cycle module we discuss whether infancy and adolescence was considered an important stage in the act of growing up. The inclusion of primary sources suggests that ‘childhood’ as we would think of it today existed but came from a decidedly different approach since medieval children were raised to be miniature adults. In order to fully understand this stage in life you have to ascertain whether the stereotypical belief that medieval parents cared little for their children was true. So far with the support of coroner’s records and middle English poetry such as The Pearl, author unknown, the conclusion is that parents cared deeply for their own but considered childhood to be phase that has to pass before a child could become useful within a household.

When flicking through various historiographical sources social rank and gender divides play a huge role in adding discrepancies in research. Male documentation is vastly superior to female due to their lives needing to be traceable in case any issues arose in regards to inheritance or educational training. The assumption was that females were raised to be good wives, unless one was a particularly prominent member of society, or history, even then female childhood is a gap largely unfilled. Of course childhood phases could be tracked by other means such as the taking of religious sacraments. The centrality of religion cannot be underestimated in the medieval period and was part of a child’s life from birth. There was no privacy during childbirth and the infant would have been baptised within a week therefore placing them under the church’s protection, and due to high infant mortality, burial within consecrated grounds. Baptisms were family events that occurred at the same time as church meetings, mass and occasionally family feuds/fights and godparents were expected to invest in the child for life. There are cases of a child being baptised in the mother’s womb if both or either were at risk. As large family numbers were the norm infanticide was common among the poorer societies and was usually conducted within minutes of the birth taking place. Infanticide was not legally outlawed in England until 1643 but abortion was disallowed by the church throughout the middle ages. However nineteenth century historiography has since interfered with the much of the correct ideologies about medieval abortion, therefore stable conclusions cannot be made.

Much of the literature reaffirms that a child remains with their mother or wet-nurses until the age of seven when they are considered old enough for education. For lower society this would be apprenticeships, chores in the household or agricultural training. Noble born children would be sent to another household to learn the tactics of being a courtly knight, if a boy, or a virtuous maiden if a girl. Apprenticeships are good examples for assessing adolescence in the middle ages. An apprentice was usually never within the guild of their own family, but always were apprenticed with a trade family that was socially connected to them. The distance one would travel for training varies from their native village/town to several towns or cities away. Usually parents looked for apprenticeships with families that are of the same social status, Althoff, a social historian, calls this ‘co-operative bonds’. In nearly all apprenticeship contracts, ordinarily called ‘indentures’, it was normally the father that agreed upon the settlement. An example of this would be Giovanni de Cogorno who placed his son with a master notary (secretary) for fifteen years, which is one of the oldest apprentice indentures to survive. It was the adoptive family circle that enables the apprentice to gain moral, religious and secular learning that would be useful once the apprenticeship finished.

People who partake in apprenticeships were usually forbidden to marry until their training ends. However there was several cases brought into the guild where male apprentices have broken their oaths with fellow female apprentices and therefore had to face a charge and give up the girl. Apprenticeships usually had two stages, as a novice you learnt using your masters tools. However if you are promoted to journeyman then you had to provide your own tools and begin work on a masterpiece which would hopefully gain you access into your chosen guild. This took a lot of time since apprentices were forbidden from working on personal work on Sundays. This meant adolescence in the middle ages usually had to contain a lot of education and structure, whether this be at university, apprentice or work. The concept of ‘teenager’ did not exist until the 1950’s therefore from the age of seven, you were considered as a young adult and were expected to behave so.

Medieval childhood tends to be a rigid structure of church practices and life phases that usually either lead to marriage for girls or a public life for boys and choice did not always fall to the child. Much of what happens in a child’s life was chosen by their parents or kin network even down to which career path you chose, whether it be ecclesiastical or secular.

Jane Eyre as a historical source for Tuberculosis? Contains minor spoilers if you still haven’t read Jane Eyre!

Jane Eyre was published in 1847 by Charlotte Bronte and is perhaps one of the most celebrated works in English Literature today. This post will explore the novel Jane Eyre as a historical source, primarily during Jane’s childhood. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the novel towards the beginning Jane is an orphan living with her Aunt and her household in Georgian England. Soon enough Jane was sent to spend a considerable amount of time at Lowood School, a boarding school for orphaned girls. It was at this school that this post will be paying close attention to the conditions of this institution through health, sanctions and general day-to-day activities and its likeness to institutions at the time.

It is interesting to note that although by no means Charlotte Bronte was a historian, as a novelist she did shed light onto these issues. The novel itself can be considered as semi-autobiographical, particularly during Jane’s Lowood years as Charlotte herself was sent by her father to a school, Cowan Bridge. Cowan Bridge was a school that admitted daughters of clergyman. Charlotte herself made frequent comments about her time at the school and the poor conditions she and fellow students had to live with. Her two sisters Maria and Elizabeth Bronte both died at Cowan Bridge in 1825. In actual fact in the Jane Eyre she expressed these similar views within her writing of Lowood School.

In schools like Lowood, all across England disease was evident and became rife. Disease such as; Cholera, Typhoid, Dysentery and Tuberculosis (called Consumption before the 1820s) were common. Firstly I would like to draw attention to the character of Helen Burns, a fellow student at Lowood School who had befriended Jane who contracted Tuberculosis and died as a result. In the novel there was a Tuberculosis break out at Lowood and Helen died as a result of this disease. The conditions at Lowood no doubt help to explain why a disease like this would spread to the pupils so quickly. What do we know about Tuberculosis? We know it is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs and attacks respiratory system, in some cases symptoms are not always present but coughing (sometimes including blood), sneezing fits, fever and sweating. At an institution like Lowood if a disease like Tuberculous affected just one pupil it is easy to see how it would spread and cause death at an alarming rate. The girls were kept in damp, cramp and small rooms after hours with no proper facilities for sanitation. Disease like this thrive on these types of environment.

When applying Charlotte’s writing of disease to reality in nineteenth century Britain, there are many similarities. As with Lowood, Tuberculosis spread very fast in Britain and the death toll was high. In 1815 death due to Tuberculosis affected much of the population. Approximately one in four deaths occurred as a result of Tuberculosis. Again for similar reasons depicted by Charlotte in Jane Eyre the environment that people lived in was not ideal. An environment reminiscent of Lowood School and many cases some were even worse was a major factor as for why Tuberculosis was rife in Britain. The population was rising rapidly in the nineteenth century as living conditions did not. Too many people were living in cramped, poorly sanitised and ventilated conditions.

It is also important to remember that Charlotte Bronte was writing at a time when the spread of Tuberculosis in particular was not fully understood. As modern readers looking over Jane Eyre it is useful to note how accurate her knowledge of spread of disease affected the pupils at Lowood School, perhaps when she did not realise this knowledge herself. This could in a way be applied to what was happening in reality, when in actual fact there was very little understanding over it until later in the century. In a society that was predominately patriarchal it can be argued that Charlotte Bronte was a perceptive and curious woman, when it came to what was happening around her.

A Visigoth Interview: Daniel Gómez Aragonés

I met Daniel some years ago, as my parents were living in Toledo (Spain). He happened to frequent their workplace, and moreover, it would seem we were involved in the same Spanish medieval history magazine! What are the chances? Yet, it happened, and by chance I got to meet a formidable Spanish scholar, who is madly in love with the Visigoths! Daniel’s enthusiasm for the Visigoth culture is fueled with passion, and the fantastic atmosphere from where he lives: Toledo, the ancient Spanish capital. So I dared asked him if he would be so kind of sharing his research and true love with us and- although I had to do some translation- here it is. I hope you enjoy it!!!

Tell us about your Research

I was already interested in the Visigoth Hispanic past by the time I stated university and, in fact, as soon as I finished my degree, I started working towards my PhD in this period of history. So, I began my work for the DEA diploma (diploma of advanced studies) regarding the Visigoth and neo-Visigoth movement in Toledo from the 16th to the 17th Centuries, so I could investigate the actual image there was of the culture of Visigoth Toledo a thousand years after its apogee. This involved working with a lot of historiographical material and the earliest type of local histories produced in Toledo regarding every aspect that had anything to do with its culture, religion, identity and ideology. At the same time I started working in some of my first articles and sharing my knowledge about my specialty.

Once my DEA was approved, I jumped into my thesis, however this is currently work in progress-actually more in stand-by than anything else, as I was given the chance to publish my first book! This one was more focused on the actual Visigoths from a military and political point of view. And once I thought I was done with the book and could get back to the thesis, turns out that the editorial decided they wanted a second book, and then a third book…And so on and so forth until today, where I am in means of producing said third volume. All of this work is on the political/military subject- I do feel pretty confident about it and I do actually enjoy working on this area and sharing it with other people this distant but otherwise deeply fascinating time period. I am of the opinion that the dissemination of history is extremely important and necessary nowadays, so i have decided to follow this path, to provide exceptional and quality research for the public as well as good historiographical work.

So Why the Visigoths?

That’s an excellent question Lillian, and even though some may consider it rude to answer a question with yet another question, I say to you: and why not?! Certainly, this is something a lot of people ask me and have asked in the past when we have been in open discussions, interviews or forums, and my answer is always the same. I am quite fond of epic history (yes, epic), and I quickly found myself all tangled up with everything linked with the Visigoths. So I decided this was going to be my path- Plus, living in Toledo, it seemed natural to pursue this route. After all, it was during the Visigoth period that the pillars of the nation were settled, and I believe in these turbulent times we live in, it is important to know where we come from; return to the roots, to our identity and historic ancestry.

Now, tells us about your book success!

Well, I am obviously very, very happy with the success of my first two books. The first book was only published in 2013 under the title “La invasión bizantina de Hispania 533-625. El Reino Visigodo frente a la expasión imperial” (Ed. Almena) – trans. as The Byzantine invasion of Hispania 533-625. The Visigoth Kingdom against the imperial expansion- and then in 2014 I published “El esplendor del Reino Visigodo de Toledo” (Ed. Covarrubias) – trans. as The Splendour of the Visigoth Kingdom of Toledo. I am always thrilled when I get word that someone has read any of them, as I am aware they talk about subjects not entirely familiar to most. However, my exciting and entertaining way of approaching the time frame is helping to remove this barrier. In addition, the great reception of these two volumes has contributed to further dissemination as I have taken part in radio programs, press publications, all sorts, even activities such as tourism routes in Toledo and surroundings. Now, I am working hard on the third book, which I hope will be just as good as the other two, and I hope the audience enjoys just as much or even more. More importantly, I hope the readers will get my enthusiasm and will get imbued with a deep desire for historic knowledge.

What can you tell us about the current state of this field and its historiography in Spain, as well as in Europe?? I am ware, like you said, that it is not a particularly popular subject.

Hmmm, that is a tricky question. In case you didn’t know, the Visigoth period has suffered, and I think still suffers, from an acute stigma within Spanish culture. I think this is mainly due to the educational system in Spain, and how polarised history is within this system. Effectively, the Goth and Visigoth period of Spanish history is barely mentioned in school texts books, nor even in high-school or college, were the knowledge should be in more depth. And this is very sad, considering that many of the aspects that built our society, sparked from the Visigoth period. On the other hand, we do count with some of the best experts in the subject, such as Garcia Moreno, or Orlandis whose works are simply spectacular. However, in Europe the period of Migration after the fall of the Roman Empire is in good shape. There is a lot of work invested in the Germanic tribes. I think as we are finally moving away from the concept of the Dark Ages, we are eventually obtaining good results regarding this area- although with and after a lot of work and effort, that goes without mention. It is true however, that little by little this discipline is become more widely available in Spain, not only from an academic point of view, but for the everyday consumer too. But there is a lot of work to do, especially in what regards the education of our own youngsters, and within my area of influence- the dissemination press. There is still a long road ahead of the Visigoth Hispania, to put it back in the books and on the spotlight it so well deserves. Therefore, I’ll take this opportunity to invite everyone to have a look and get into our long but interesting Visigoth king list!

Thanks a lot for this opportunity and for your attention.

A Visigoth Hug!

We would like to thank Daniel for a fantastic interview and the best of luck with his next book!!!