A warm welcome to: ‘My favourite wonders of Italy blog!’ During the summer of 2014 I was lucky enough to explore a land renowned for its history and beauty, Italy. This post will count down my favourite wonders of Historical Italy and feature the conventional familiarities of Italy and the added novelty!
The balcony of the Palazzo Venezia-
When I entered the city of Rome aside from wanting to visit the Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps and the famous coliseum I was also particularly interested in seeing the Palazzo Venezia. The Palazzo Venezia was originally a complex that housed the cardinals of the adjoined San Marco church and later became a papal residence to Pope Pius IV. However, as the title suggests I was interested in the balcony. The balcony was a very poignant moment of Italian history as it became synonymous with Mussolini’s most notable speeches. In particular, it was where he declared the formation of the Italian Empire in 1936 and Italy’s entering the Second War as allies to Nazi Germany. I found it was very striking to see a building in Rome, a city famous for the Romans and Michelangelo that gave a different perspective to the History of the city.
Here is the clip of Mussolini’s declaration of war speech on Great Britain and France with English subtitles included- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Vf_gUvPVUU
The Siena Palio is a festival that takes place in the city of Siena, Tuscany at the Piazza del Campo and consists of a horse race that mimics medieval chivalry. Both of the races honour the Madonna of Provenzano and the Assumption of Mary (Mary’s assent to heaven) respectively. The term Palio is meant to represent a banner that each horse rider wears when they race. Seventeen teams compete in order to win the trophy and the teams consist of the different districts of Siena and during the competition banners of the seventeen districts are distributed in the city. The Palio takes place twice a year on 2 July and 16 August. However, not all seventeen horses can take part at any one time, normally ten horses take part at each Palio. The seven that did not take part in the last Palio are instantly included to race for the next year. Similarly a ballot takes place in order to determine which horse would race for each district. Although the origins of the Palio are not exact it is often agreed that they have medieval origin. The Piazza hosted many public events for spectators to watch, some of which include; jousting and bull fighting. In 1590 however bullfighting was outlawed and very soon after races were established whilst still using the bulls to ride on. Eventually the bulls were replaced with horses. Even though I did not visit Siena at the time of the Palio it was a spectacle in itself to stand in the middle of the Piazza del Campo and imagining how lively the atmosphere of race day would be! So, who would you put your money on for 2015? Team Drago (Dragon) or are you more of a wise Team Civetta (Little owl).
Gelato (there was plenty of them)!-
Gelato. It is like the fish to chips or the mayonnaise to Belgian frites? Wherever you go in Italy, it is impossible to not find a Gelato parlour. Riva Del Garda? Gelato. Verona? Gelato. Venice? Gelato. Rome? Gelato. Florence? Gelato. Perugia? Yes the answer is without a doubt, Gelato. Though frozen desert making traces back to outside Italy, the history of the Gelato spans many years with its origins lying back towards Roman times. The Romans had established trade routes between the mountains and distributing the ice to settlements. The shaving of ice added to deserts occurred until Italy adopted a recipe from the Far East, whereby milk was added. During the 15th and 16th centuries the “Italian” Gelato was beginning to take shape, this was mainly due to a better understanding of refrigerating the ice cream. As the years went by and technology improved further through the use of machines making the Gelatos on a larger scale, it reached more and more Italians. This eventually resulted in street vendors selling Gelatos in the 1920s and 1930s, reaching a variety of people on the streets of Italy.
Renaissance Florence, the birthplace of perspective-
Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region and is considered to be where the Renaissance movement was established from the fourteenth century. The Renaissance was a period in history that I did not know much about before visiting Florence and the city ended up being the highlight of my trip. Of course I had heard of Michelangelo’s David and the famous Uffizi art museum, however intrigued as I was I had wished to know more about the origins of the Renaissance and was advised to visit a pair of doors by a local guide. The doors in question were at the north side of Florence Cathedral (originally east side). The guide soon elaborated the background story of how the doors came about and said that a competition was announced by the Wool Guild of Florence in order to design them. It was a twenty one year old by the name of Lorenzo Ghiberti that was chosen to design the doors, although initially another sculptor by the name of Fillipo Brunelleschi aided him. The doors were said to depict the “Gates of Paradise” and were considered to be influential for Renaissance Humanism. However Brunelleschi is remembered for the doors but did not finish the task with him as he left Florence to reside in Rome, but he became most famous for the usage of linear perspective in artwork. This was different to previous art works before this period as he used optical linear perspective for the design of one of the panels for the Florence Cathedral. This technique aided artists to paint three dimensionally. In spite of the panels being lost just looking at the detail on the doors at the north side showed how revolutionary perspective was.
Now that we are in France (at least on the paper) and we have accomplished the first stage of our holidays it is easier to keep on searching for History. Let’s head to the South East from Puy du Fou so we can reach a region where we can travel, in some hours and not that many miles, from the dawn of Mankind to the Hundred Years War via Roma.
Arriving on Perigueux, we have reached our first destination. We are now in Dordogne-Perigord, home of the Cro-Magnon. It has been a long trip from Puy du Fou and now we have to settle for the night. Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day: we will have to cross scores of years from dawn til dusk.We will begin early in the morning here, at Perigueux, visiting Vesunna, the Roman Village. Then we will head East trough Les-Eyzies-de Tayac where the National Archeology Center is awaiting, to Lascaux, where we will have the opportunity to visit the replica cave and admire the paintings. After lunch we will turn South to have a look to the Museum of War in Middle Ages at Castelnaud. And the, full-speed, we will have to hurry to arrive on time to Castillon and watch the Battle Show. What a day! But that will be tomorrow. For now, let’s have some rest.
Well, good morning. Let’s get on the move so we can fulfill our travel planning. First of all, Perigueux. If we did not have so closed a schedule, we could spare some time walking around its medieval quarter and its charming winding little streets, leading to a massive cathedral which was thoroughly renovated in the 19th. The architect was the same one who designed the Sacre Coeur at Paris, so the cathedral has a quite strange look seemingly called “neo-byzantine”. I’d put an “ish” somewhere there. anyway is a beautiful building, solid, hanging over the few stories constructions surrounding it. Very impressive. But we have walked enough for the morning and we are in a little hurry so keep on walking and in just five minutes from the old town we arrive to the oldest town, not that old at all. What a tongue twister!.
Vessuna site is placed on what once was the Roman village of Vésone. The Museum, designed by architectural star Jean Nouvel, consist of a building which in the middle of a park also containing some archaeological remains from the Roman town. This building is made of high crystal walls thus allowing the whole concept to be integrated and the Roman villa inside being well illuminated and even easy to see from the outside. In the inside there lie the remaining of a Roma villa, very well-preserved, three models os the old town and its main monuments like the amphitheater from the late 2nd century, and exhibitions about the old town, full of the foundlings of the archaeological site, and the archaeological work in general.
The main piece, of course, is what remains of a “domus”, found in 1959, richly decorated with paintings on the walls still showing its brilliant colours. Walking on footbridges, one can tour the “domus” with its garden, kitchens, rooms and baths, all heated by hypocaust. Some objects are on display which can connect the now silent floors and walls with the life of their ancient inhabitants. In the outside we can see the massive Vesunna tower, which is believed to have been part of the temple of Vesunna. Some screens show the visitor a representation of the original paintings and how the “domus” developed from 1st to 3rd centuries.
Fortunately for us, we have come early, the site opening at 10 in the morning during the summer season, and not being very big, we are still on time with the plan. Unfortunately we will miss the night shows unless we come on Wednesday or, if we are traveling with children, the workshops. But we are trying to beat time itself in this race so…maybe tomorrow. Now we are again into the car, heading East to Prehistory.
Some half an hour from Perigueux lies Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac, where the Cro-Magnon shelter is located, along with the Font de Paume and other caves and lots of troglodyte sites. A Prehistory paradise on Earth: here, in the Vézère valley, archaeological findings are the usual sight. Good reason to place here the National Prehistory Museum.
Going back from the Romans, we can go as far as 400.000 years in this Museum. The building is hanged on a high cliff over the Vézére, perfectly fit in the troglodyte housing surroundings. In what could be considered a nice attempt (but not completely a success) to integrate classic museum exhibiting with new, more interactive activities, we can contemplate a huge collection of objects from our remote past, from Paleolithic to the end of the Ice Age and up to the Bronze Age. Screens will run films explaining the ancient techniques to spark fire, create tools and weapons. Some diorama will show long gone species. The staircase connecting stages one and two will show us a perfect stratigraphic wall through samples taken from the surrounding area as well as Georgia covering from 1,8 million years to approximately 14000 BC. We could end the visit with a picture with The Primitive Man, a Paul Dardé statue of what could be one of our ancestors, fittingly placed on the complex terrace, close to the cliffs, where you can also have a look at the village below and the junction of the Vézère and Beune rivers.
Hopefully for our tight timetable we won’t be delayed for long, area Museums being more of a Human size, not resembling those larger than life titans we are so used to. So we can follow to Lascaux and put and end to the morning, have a light lunch and get the tickets to Lascaux II, example of the greatness and at the same time shortcomings of Mankind.
After lunch we can drive a short distance to the cave or, to speak properly, the replica. Unfortunately, the actual cave is closed to the public for security reasons. Not that it could be dangerous for people: it is people who turned out to be dangerous for the paintings.
Lascaux shares (or not, it depends on individual opinions) the title of most famous painted cave in the world with the Spanish Altamira. Discovered in 1940, visited since by thousands of tourists with flashes, coughs and smoke, the risk and the actual damage to the awesome paintings became so great and accelerated that after some strong controversy, the cave was finally closed to the public in 1963, to try to preserve what is probably the best testimony of Human creativity and even, according to some experts, the most ancient temple in the world. Hence the existence of the replica at a mere 200 meters from the original site, where painting techniques and materials were faithfully reproduced to create a likeness (even temperature is fresh. Jackets or pullovers recommended even in summer).
The replica copies perfectly the original cave, with measures taken to the inch, every relief, every little spot, every shape in the rock, every tightness of space (seriously, take a light lunch, there is a very dire passage halfway through the cave) has been taken to the replica exactly as it was in the original grotto. Opened 18 July 1983, the installation is visited by some 250000 people every year, with high peaks on summer months. Visit is guided by experts, every half an hour, and so it is strongly recommended to have a reservation in advance.
Lascaux II covers a rough 90 % of the original paintings, those most meaningful (a replica of the other paintings, not so close to the original, could be seen at Le Thot which also encloses a little “prehistorical zoo” and it is not far away. For us, it will have to wait) and more artistic. The guide’s explanations are both entertaining and full of relevant information, in a very accessible way. You’ll get to know everything that can be known ( and something which still lies in the field of theory or speculation) in less than an hour. There you will meet the jumping cow, an astonishing painting of a 1,70 meters cow full of movement and resembling the act of jumping; the Bull’s chamber, with its star, the so-called unicorn and the massive bulls which give the chamber its name. The unicorn is a composite animal, maybe a mythological one or some form of picture rendering of some oral tradition. Or it could be that the would-be horn is in fact the lines of the tail of one of the 3 meter bulls down the wall: in most cave paintings, figures tend to be somewhat crammed in the walls, even mixed or superimposed. Stags, horses, one of them tumbling, bears and also and ibex, the Magdalenian wildlife is depicted there in all its might. The guides will explain to us some theories about why are they there. But you can also make your own.
With any luck, we will emerge from the deep a little wiser, maybe in awe. But there is no time for that, because now, in the early afternoon, we must follow our route to the south, passing near Sarlat-la-Caneda and Beynac to Castelnaud. In fact, there was a raging rivalry between the families owning both castles, Beynac and Castelnaud during the early decades of 20th century which needed the papal intervention to settle. In case you are having a family feud of your own on your holidays, we are afraid that Papacy mediation is not available.
Anyways, now that we are arriving at Castelnaud, the view is certainly imposing. Perched on a high cliff over a bend of the Dordogne river, Castelnaud castle shows the most recognizable features of a Medieval fortress: ramparts, towers, stone and timber hauled together…and looking North downriver, its old rival of Beynac. But let’s have a look at the inside.
Here at Castelnaud, everyone could find something to enjoy. Castles are always fun for kids, walking around the ramparts, playing the knight or the Princess. Here you can find, depending on the time of the year, activities like puppets or workshops. They can play video games or watch some educational cartoons…about 20000 pupils visit the castle every year, gaoled by their teachers. There are exhibitions of weaponry and some films about siege warfare and the Hundred Years War to be seen at the Museum of War in the Middle Ages for the adult audience. A show is running now in the courtyard of the chatêlet with actors, and some volunteers, performing how to handle a sword, or a little cannon called veuglaire. Some steps beyond, a clanking noise catches the ear as the blacksmith opens his workshop and shows us how to make armour, arrow and sword…and if there is the proper day, we can even attend to a demonstration of still working trebuchets, up on the bastion. A hectic evening indeed.
Curiously enough, what stands as the prototypical impregnable castle, was taken quite many times during the Hundred Years war. Just an example: in 1405, Archambaud d’abzac was appointed Captain of the castle after it been taken on behalf of the King of England. Then he sold the castle to the French for 6000 ecus of gold just to take it back for the English in a surprise attack in 1407. The fortress was also taken either by French or English troops or by changes in allegiance in 1415, 1417, 1419, 1420, 1437, 1440 and, finally, 1442. That siege was the last major action seen by the castle as the English leave the place and, eleven years later, after the battle of Castillon, the whole country.
And that was Castelnaud. Easy to do, having time or a looser schedule, is a visit to some of the other fortified or troglodyte villages around: the old rival castle at Beynac, La-Rocque-Gageac, Domme…if the visit to Castelnaud has left spare time in route we can stop at Le-Bouisson-de-Cadouin to see the cloister there as it is in our way, straight West for a couple of hours, leaving the Dordogne region and approaching Bordeaux. There is no need to make a stop for dinner as a whole fair with shows, demonstrations of weaponry, animals, shops and of course food will we available on arriving to the Battle of Castillon.
The show itself begins at 22.30, so there is time enough to enjoy the other attractions:workshops, sword combats, animal farm, all in what it is called “La village d’Alienor”, next to the main stage in a large clearing on the wooded hills surrounding the village of Castillon-la-Bataille, where there is also a big parking lot, so all you have to do is drive, park and enjoy the night. The show is an enormous affaire, with almost a thousand people involved in a space of roughly 20 acres up on the hill, with the old castle in the back. In the stage, during a couple of hours, the story of the last moments of English presence in French soil is revealed, mostly by non-professional actors and pupils from equestrian schools: the life of the commoners and how it was disturbed by the constant passing of the armies; the celebrations, the links with the religious community; weddings, brawls, gossip, everyday life.
And of course, war. After regaining Bordeaux for the English in 1452, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the most famous warriors of the age and his forces had to cope with a new French invasion in 1453. With the French army laying siege to the nearby town of Castillon (then “-sur-Dordogne”, subsequently “-la-Bataille”) Talbot was pressed by the town commanders and left to relieve Castillon instead of waiting for reinforcements. Dettached from the main army with the vanguard, he crushed a minor French force at a priory near Castillon. Then follow suit and try to attack the on-siege forces. Unfortunately for him, who believed that his main army was arriving and the French were retreating, he in fact confronted a huge artillery park, probably with more than 200 and perhaps as much as 300 guns, entrenched and behind high wooden walls, with the guns disposed to enfilade attackers. Thus, his troops were massacred by the French guns, in a somewhat modernised and reversed version of Crecy. And the reinforcements were also crushed as they were joining the fray, until the final route. With both Talbot and his son dead in battle, the will to resist of the army and the Bordeaux population went into decline, with the city surrendering three months later, and so putting and end to the Hundred Years War.
The show is very lively, full of pyrotechnics and a very well staged battle, with a marked contrast with the more light and humorous scenes depicting the villagers’ lives. The text, in French but easy to follow, is consistent with the Historical fact albeit taking some liberties for the sake of theatrical illusion and the need to include different actions and even places in a single, yet big, stage. The night ends with the French victory and the actors giving applause to the audience as the spectators go back to their cars to call it a night.
And now, it is time to go back to Perigueux and have a long, nice rest after the most hectic day of your holidays. Remember to leave some days to recover prior to your journey back home. After all, you have completed a voyage of 400000 years, painting caves, building houses, then castles and having even survived a bloody battle. That is living History. Even when you are not researching for a paper.
Now the summer has come, what could be do to keep contact with History? Because summer is an invitation to mind changing, laziness, joie de vivre, traveling. But it is not written anywhere that means forgetting. Or putting aside. At least no History. It is all right to forget and put aside work and bills and even relations. But no History; anyway, it will keep on happening while we try to forget it, so why the effort? Moreover with this temperatures.
No, what we can do is to embed History in our holiday time. Which could be so easy, given some spare time and not necessarily a big budget. We can even do more or less the exact same thing that everyone else is doing, like going to a theme park. Ah, yes, there are parks not that far away from you where talking rodents or crafty fairies are not the main characters, and there are places where you can also enjoy the day even if you are a worrisome roller-coaster hater. Not that many, but still they exist.
The point is that, when thinking about History oriented theme parks, I have remembered some very revealing pages from J. Barnes “England, England”. This being a novel about a History theme park gone quite out-of-the-way, it seems an appropriate reading at this moment, though some of the opinions there expressed could be highly controversial. Basically, the sense that the average citizen is dumbfounded by the differences between what he thinks about historical facts and the real facts, and on the wrong side besides, being prone to think that popular or modern representations of historical facts are actually more credible than the real thing.
Among the cast we have this cynic (to say the least) Historian, Dr.Max, a TV hardened expert in public History, a man who despises almost everyone else lack of knowledge. A man who thinks people would readily believe anything given that the fact could match their expectations. Expectations usually based on myth, legend, tale or even movie. This is not the place to make an extensive reading of the book, but try to find it and do not miss the passage in which a well-educated man, a man of a position, with a degree, is questioned about 1066. Laughable stock, that. The man thinks Harold was a Norman (as a cousin to William), misses the Hardrada expedition and, of course, he is quite sure about the wound in the eye. After all, the wound IS at the Bayeux Tapestry, isn’t it?
Or that other passage in which Dr. Max discusses gender, race and disability issues among Robin Hood and his Merry Fellows, feeling that, from a modern-day point of view, some of the depicted traits of the characters could well be political correctness-ridden. And adding that it would be very plausible that the real characters would had very little in common with the depictions of them that our societies have created. I mean, Little John could have been actually little, Will Scarlett could have had some skin sickness, Robin could have been not such a good thief and so on. But what would we do if these characters were represented as they really were? Or as we would like them to be according to our XXI century taste?
In the end I guess the question here is: are, or should be, amusement parks good historical sources, or they must be just places for entertainment with some historical background just to create a fashionable environment? (Well, that is in what relates to this article; if you want to know what happened to Dr. Max and England, England, I guess you should read the book).
If you are searching for a place like the above said, I think you should go to France. To a region called La Vendee, close to the Atlantic coast, home to the conservative counter-revolution that shook the French Revolution and, also, to Le Grand Parc du Puy du Fou. Which is, of course, a theme park based in historical events.
Obviously, though, it is not a big lecture on History. It is an amusement park, goes with the name, must be entertaining. But to be true, we must concede there is some History going on there.
The park is organized around four areas or villages: year 1000 stronghold, medieval town, XVIII century village and 1900 borough. Each one has nicely done representations of buildings and crafts as they are thought to be in the age. The older sections allow to visit the inside of buildings and get in touch with what could have been life conditions at the time. The newer are more shopping oriented (this is a running business after all). You could learn something from the visit albeit, of course, as you must pay to enter, the management has taken away all the foul smells, dirt and illness. These would have been some extremely clean and hygienic Middle Ages houses and barns. But that is, again, one of the nuisances of theme parks: they must be comfortable and have a user-friendly environment, so, unfortunately the can only give you some visual grasp of what life in, for instance, Middle Ages, would have been. But, the again, this grasp is well done, with reasonable accuracy, no major mistakes and, above all, the aim to be educational. Given the age of some of the visitors, that is going a step beyond the current Prime Minister.
Then come the shows. Shows, as they are, are not exactly a part of a big-span educational program. But they could be. It is the same point as in “England, England”: should we bore the public to teach them History or should we diminish History to make it acceptable to the masses? There must be, probably, a middle way. And Gran Parc du Put du Fou has made some length on it.
Shows have a historical focus. They try to tell stories about some historical events, though, given the environment and circumstances, and just in the mentioned book, sometimes they choose the myth or legend path instead of the real thing. Which, for me at least, is just as good while they keep close to reality what must be kept. Musketeers show, for example, is no History. Is a History-related show based on what movies and literature have moved us to believe was the life of musketeers: adventure, brawling, love, amazing horse-riding. Quite amazing in this particular case. Anyway, if it moves the kids among the public to know more about the age of musketeers, it is worth the while, even if the misery and boredom of soldiering in the XVII is left apart. Even if the cruelty of war is not there to be shown.
Then, in the other hand, shows about Roman and Dark Ages give us some more historical accuracy and background, depicting the struggle of Christianity under pagan Roman rule and its ultimate triumph (with, of course, a race in the circus and some lions involved). Some useful fact about political entanglement of the Christian elites is offered, albeit in a very schematic way. Ground is open to entertainment more than education, but both can live together. In the Dark Ages section, Vikings will attack a coastal hamlet. There will be room for miracles and bloodshed (overwhelming fx in this one; that Drakkar coming from below the water…), yes, but also for some nice representation of commoners life at the age, like a wedding.
The other medieval show, which focuses on Joan of Arc, is pure entertainment with just the slightest concession to real History in the form of wardrobe and atrezzo. Spectacular and lavish, but not really History; more on the side of Myth (and Magic), thus compelling the audience which is far more interested in the evolutions of daring riders than in getting to know who killed who during the Hundred Years war. Ad there are still some minor shows and exhibitions, about the story of the Vendeé war; about the story of the place itself, Puy du Fou and its castle;even La Fontaine characters. All, as before, more on the side of Myth and legend, which is understandable being so more appealing to great public, but always with strong historical backgrounds and a respectful, yet quite simple approach to real historical fact.
On top of all that, you have two night shows. On of them, albeit brilliant ans enjoyable has nothing to do with our errand. The other one, however, has everything to do with us. The Cinescenie, as it is called, is overwhelming when it comes to figures: one hour and forty minutes show; over 10 million spectators through the years; 1200 actors and dancers; a stage of over 56 acres…and a separate sold ticket. This IS a running business, remember?
This notwithstanding, this is serious stuff. A show which intends to portray the whole History of the Vendeé region from first settlers onwards, with details about how commoners lived their lives, how war and Revolution affected them, up to WWI must be taken seriously, even if some accuracy is lost amidst all the fireworks and stunts. In the best French tradition, as we shall see at Castillon in the course of this series, people proud of their History (even if they have, as everywhere else, a tendency to embellish it, or to substitute here and there fact with legend and hearsay) is set on show it out to fellow countrymen and foreigners alike, teaching something on the way, bringing the past close to our modern eyes, particularly to those of kids, which in turn, hopefully, will develop a strong sense of History awareness and liking. That is the strength of Puy du Fou and other similar places (and not so similar: museums, exhibitions and the likes): the built-in capacity of attracting new recruits to the always ongoing war to not forget our deeds of the past so we can understand them and, maybe, not do the same thing again.
So this is a highly advisable way to keep in touch with History while you relax during your holidays. And, of course, those friends of yours always picking on you and your weird hobbies (like reading, researching and visiting desolated ruins in far away places) would be frustrated when they know that you have been to a theme park. Just like everyone else.
TODAYS IS OUR THIRD BIRTHDAY
From W.U Hstry want to say a very special Thank You! To all of our fans, followers on Twitter and Facebook, and blogger friends that support us and make this worth while!
Also we wanted to thank some of the people who kindly have done some updates for us, such as Kevin Lewis, Stephen Etheridge or Gordon McKelvie. In addition we thank, all of the people who have agreed to have an interview or a quick chat with us so far: Bex Lewis, Ryan Lavelle, David Rymill, Barbara Yorke, Alf Ragnar Nielssen, Siân Hewlett, Eric Lacey, Tom Olding, Julian Humphrys, Peter Konieczny and Sandra Alvarez, Chris Aldous, Elena Woodacre, Emiliano Perra, Mark allen, Michael Hicks, and Simon Sandall.
And finally, I would like to say thanks to Karl, Scott, Alex, Ali, Sam, Tom, Katy, Jess, Matt, Ellie and James for being an excellent team keeping this thing running! (And to those who used to be part of us, thanks for getting us started!).
So, in general, a big, huge and honest THANK YOU!
I believe one of the very first updates of this year was about the Mayans, that wonderful civilization that according to the popular culture paranoia predicted the end of the world in 2012. However, if you are reading this is only because those believes were wrong. So, it makes one wonder, what has been the deal with 2012? Was it all about that prediction? Did people only focus on that? Well, let’s take a look.
Thanks to the Google device known as Zeitgeist, we can tell you the world top search trends related with events that happened this year. I think the words on their own summarise quire well what has been going on, and what has captured the attention of many citizens: the death of Whitney Houston, Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Bopha, Ipad 3, Diablo 3 (which was a total disappointment for most of the geek-gaming culture…just saying…), Kate Middleton, the Presidential debate and US elections, the phenomenon of Gangnam Style (yes, another example of globalisation, Korean music rocking the European and American market, isn’t that exciting?), and finally the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee. Some other issues have been making a big impression on a global or more national level. I do not think anyone has forgotten yet about George Osborne taxation of pasties (…there goes student budget…Again!!…), or the debate around the EU wining the Peace Nobel Prize.
Bad news travel fast, and so we have heard all about the Greek crisis, and the ongoing problems between Israel and Palestine, the several coup d’etat (Mali, Bissau…), the India Blockouts, etc. Nonetheless, as many of you might now already, here in W.U Hstry we do not like to keep in mind those bitter ends. As historians we appreciate the gravity of such matters, but it would not be fair to only think about the “Bad Stuff”. Thankfully, the human race is still capable of doing good things, that most time we forget. Let me give you an example. Have you heard about the wonderful scientific advances we had this year? We have discovered a world with four suns, performed further investigations into DNA studies, and successfully done a twenty-four electrode bionic eye implantation! It is true that some other sad news have shacken the world of science this year. Unfortunately, the last specimen of the Pinta Island Tortoise, known as Lonesome George died, and with him his whole subrace. Bur perhaps knowing these issues are making us more natural-environmental conscious. This whole Cataclysm theory about the end of the world should not pass without reminding us that maybe our fears had a logical basis. For this reason, I wish that the extension to complete the Kyoto Protocol (2020) will work this time.
U.K: the Nation that Rocked 2012
In case you haven’t noticed the U.K has been a cause for news several times this year. Just for that reason, I am going to dedicate the following lines to remark important events in British History (for good or bad). I know we do mention a fair bit of British/English history in here, but that is because there is SO MUCH HISTORY in the U.K. And sometimes, in eras of uncertainty, it is nice to remember those moments. It is not about nationalism, do not mistake my words, rather it is about the collective memory, why these things are important? Why do we remember them? Well, because they had an impact that shaped the British society of the time, and perhaps has a repercussion in current times. So here it is:
-10 years ago the charity Cancer Research UK was founded. On top of that, the Mary Rose was rescued from the sea 30 years ago. Also, it is the 70th anniversary of the premiere of Cassablanca, and curiously enough, the 75th of The Hobbit’s publication! (Tolkien fans, 2012 IS a Great Year!). Finally, it is interesting to know that 80 years ago the BBC Empire Service started broadcasting, and that 2012 is the 90th anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
-Moving into the hundreds anniversaries, a variety of important historical events took place in this time frame. It has been a 100 years since the introduction of U.K miners minimum wage, but about the same time period since the sinking of the Titanic and the tragic outcome of Robert Falcon Scott and his team at the South Pole. But on a lighter note, it was 150 years ago when both the U.K and the U.S agreed to suppress slave trade. Also, it was 200 year ago when the Luddites attacked a wool production factory in Yorkshire. Finally, 2012 would have been the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens.
What Does the Rest of the World Have to Commemorate?
…Probably too many things to be listed in here. However, here is a selection of those facts that have caught my attention.
-It has been 200 years since the Peace of Bucharest, that ended the conflict between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. 1812 was also a very important year for the Spanish as they produced their new constitution (since then symbol of freedom and liberalism) in Cadiz, during the French occupation.
-500 year ago Martin Luther became doctor in theology and joined the theological faculty of Wittemberg. (What came after that you all know). It was as well the first time the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was opened to the public, and the year in which Amerigo Vespucci died.
-It is the 1000th anniversary of Mael Morda rebellion against Brian Boru, and the birth of the Tibetan translator of holy scriptures, Marpa Lotsawa.
-In the year 12 A.D Augustus ordered the invasion of the germanic lands trespassing the Rhine, and a very peculiar figure was born: Caligula. On a final note, I thought it was interesting, considering this whole Mayan prophecy, that in 12 B.C the comet Halley made an appearance…
These are some facts about 2012. For sure there are many more. We hope you will keep in mind the good ones tonight around 23:59 pm and enter the New Year with a smile on you face. We certainly will do. 2012 has been a very interesting year for us (Second birthday and all!), we can only hope you had as much fun as we did, and much more for 2013!
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE
Some websites you might find interesting:
‘Technology review of the year 2012′, The Telegraph
‘2012 in review: an interactive guide to the year that was’, The Guardian
‘Entertainment review of the year: 2012′, BBC News
‘Point of View: Why 2012 is a year to remember’, BBC News
Today, we have a special guest post for you written by Kevin Lewis!!!! The post you will be able to find it right below this announcement. As in previous occasions, we are only transmitting Kevin’s work to you, we have not altered his work, or anything. This is his own paper and contribution, all the merit and grace of this update is owed to him. So if you love it, CONGRATULATE HIM FOR SUCH A BRILLIANT TEXT! (I personally found it very interesting!)***************************************************************************************************************
In the famous Hereford Mappa Mundi, the Tower of Babel of Genesis stands not far from Jerusalem, the very centre of the world. Contemplating this beautiful work, one observes that the Tower is still standing, still stretching upwards for an invasion of Heaven that never came, for God has yet to cast it down in anger, to shatter it and the one language of humankind forever into so many tiny shards. This story of the confusion of tongues has particular relevance for the study of History, especially of the Middle Ages.
Contemporaries were very much aware of the sheer multiplicity of languages in use at the time. The number of divergent languages in Europe came as a particular surprise to Rashid al-Din, writing in Persia in the fourteenth century. Certainly, many more people would have been multilingual than they are today, at least in the Anglophone world. A reasonably educated English priest in 1100 would have known the English of the Anglo-Saxons, the French of the recent conquerors, and the Latin of the Church. Even a peasant is likely to have known a few regional dialects of English – picked up in an age long before such powerful influences as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson inadvertently united and standardised the language – as well as a smattering of French and very likely the Latin Pater Noster, if nothing else of prayer and liturgy. As for highly cosmopolitan regions such as Byzantine Constantinople, Fatimid Alexandria or Crusader Acre, where the merchants of the known world congregated, still more languages were in play.
David Morgan’s standard work, The Mongols (1986), includes a lengthy discussion of the uniquely acute linguistic difficulties encountered when attempting to study the Mongol Empire as a whole: a vast domain stretching from Korea to Poland, recorded primarily in the multiple languages of the conquered peoples of Eurasia, rather than in the language of the conquerors themselves. Not even the most gifted of polyglots can be expected to master Chinese, Arabic, Latin and all the languages in between. This forces any historian seeking to view the Empire as a totality to rely to a great extent upon translations and the secondary literature of others. The key problem is that such modern intermediaries essentially represent yet another degree of separation between the historian and the people and events he or she is striving to understand.
One does not need to study the Mongols to recognise that the study of even the smallest, most geographically specific corner of the Medieval World is dependent upon the acquisition of specialist linguistic skills. Research into early Islamic Egypt is likely to require Coptic, Arabic and Greek. A study of thirteenth century Yorkshire necessitates Latin and Norman French. And of course this is not to mention the various languages required for the ever expanding body of secondary literature. English, French and German are usually indispensable, with others dependent upon the research area itself, be it Italian for Norman Sicily or Spanish for the Reconquista. Unfortunately, linguistic training has never figured anywhere near as prominently in the teaching of Medieval History as in related disciplines such as Classics or Oriental Studies.
As researchers, there is little we can do but to gather as many bricks of Babel as possible in our constant striving for understanding of the texts upon which we base our work. Even then, much research will still be found wanting, lacking the depth of engagement with each and every relevant language: the ability not only to recognise the subjunctive and the ablative absolute when we encounter them in the wild, but also to appreciate more fully the subtleties of each and every language in their diverse ironies, idioms and obscurely humorous turns of phrase.
One practical route worth exploring may be the greater encouragement of collaborative work. In the natural sciences, it is very common for doctoral students to work towards their degrees as part of larger teams working on joint projects, often alongside more senior researchers. This is not entirely alien to Medieval History and the Humanities generally, but it is comparatively rarer. I personally know only one fellow doctoral student engaged in such a project. Certainly, such group work would not be relevant or useful for every researcher or topic, and there is always the risk that the encouragement of such collaborations could discourage individuals from the crucial task of studying languages for themselves, but I cannot help but feel that an increased level of institutional support for such projects could do much to alleviate the curse of Babel.
Hertford College, University of Oxford
12/12/2012, what a wonderful day to celebrate!
Today in W.U Hstry we are all very excited! The reason behind it is that two years ago, a group of enthusiasts, history students from the University of Winchester decided to start this blog you are reading right now as an extra curricular activity. History for the sake of history. History because we love it. History “because it’s there” as George Mallory said about climbing up mount Everest.
So from here, we all wish to THANK YOU! THANK YOU W.U HSTRY FANS! Thank you wonderful people that have seen us grow, that have read our posts, that have commented and share experiences.
Thanks to all the people that have helped us through and give us their support: teachers, fellow historians, members of the public, friends and families. This wouldn’t have been worth it, if it wasn’t because of you!
We hope you have enjoyed our blog so far and that you will carry on following our updates, which will be many more to come!
Kind Regards from everyone!