As part of our FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! we are having some friendly competition!
Below you will find a list of articles from the crew all dated from 2015. The article with the highest number of votes will receive the award of the Most Original W.U Hstry Post of 2015! We will announce the winner following out anniversary :)
What is in it for you? Well, apart from showing recognition to a hard-working team, every voter is encouraged to leave a comment alongside their vote including a challenge topic for the team to write about in 2016 :)
So in essence, you get to contribute to our development and progress :)
And here are the options:
If you cannot remember which are these articles, you will find the links below:
As part of WUHstry’s out of the comfort zone month, I bring to you a post which is, as it says on my tin, out of my comfort zone. Recently I have noticed that the archer as a character has seemed to come back into fashion, becoming more and more popular. In so many films and TV series now, there are famous archers. Oliver Queen in Arrow, Katniss Everdeen in the big film and book franchise The Hunger Games, Hawkeye in the Avengers and the film Thor, Legolas in Lord of the Rings. Even the modern-day adaptations of Robin Hood with Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner highlight that the archer is no longer out of fashion. It is intriguing how a role which many had forgotten and deemed pointless with the introduction of guns has now come into fashion. The roles of the Green Arrow and Hawkeye highlight that even in a world of modern weaponry, the Archer is still a skilful and effective role.
Image of a bow and arrow from the film: The Hunger Games
In the past, the bow and arrow was one of the most useful weapons to have. It served many uses, for hunting, for killing, for archery and to teach patience and skill. It was an extremely important weapon and had been replaced with the introduction of guns and other more effective weapons which can damage more people. But how has a weapon from the Upper Paleolithic (late stone ages to you and me) been able to catch the attention of people worldwide in the modern-day and age, and the characters brought to us through fiction and film. This post will explore some of my favourite characters in modern works which have contributed to keeping the magic alive.
Oliver Queen Arrow/The Hood/The Vigilante/The Green Arrow:
Image of Stephen Amell as DC’s Green Arrow in the 2012-present series of Arrow
My name is Oliver Queen. For five years I was stranded on an island with only one goal – survive. Now I will fulfill my father’s dying wish – to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this, I must become someone else. I must become something else.
A haunting statement which has greeted us since 2012, the CW/Warner Bros series Arrow based upon the DC comics character the Green Arrow is one of the most popular archers in the modern-day media. It excellently portrays the role of the Archer as one who whilst being shipwrecked on an island has to learn the skill of archery in order to survive. It is the first time that the Green Arrow character has been the centre stage, and it puts emphasis on the importance of the archer in the modern-day. In Arrow, the bow and arrow is an awful lot more effective than the gun, and the role of the Arrow puts further emphasis on this: fighting crime in his home, Starling City against criminals and warlords that have failed his city and put a threat to humanity. By having an ordinary bow and then an array of arrows which can provide different uses, some which act as microphones to capture criminals confessions, some which provide explosions which can clear debris, and of course the usual arrow heads which put fear into the enemy. The Arrow does not falter in a world where he is outnumbered, and his archery skill highlight jut how far the archer has come through time. His different techniques poured fear into the enemy, and the character itself will surely have made archery more cool and make people sign up to do it.
Image of Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games portraying Katniss Everdeen
Katniss in the big film franchise The Hunger Games, is a film about how each district from the 12 in the world provide 2 tributes, a boy and a girl, to take part in The Hunger Games tournament. Lawrence’s character is the main one in the trilogy, and experienced in foraging, hunting, wildlife and survival techniques. The weapon of choice for this character is the bow and arrow against the other tributes, showing that the role of the archer is one of skill and knowledge, something highlighted through her ability to win the games. Although this franchise is set in a different type of world, it has made the archer an exciting role, one which many will want to follow. The fact that the archery techniques helped Katniss to win the games highlights just how useful a bow and arrow still is.
Hawkeye- Clint Barton
Image of Hawkeye from the film the Avengers
Hawkeye provides further evidence of how the archer can be interpreted and still be effective in the Modern Day. Although in the Marvel Cinematic universe Hawkeye is overshadowed by some much better heroes :Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow. Yet he still manages to make archery a very useful exciting skill and doesn’t allow himself to be shooed away from a fight. Though he may not be the centre of attention, his quiver holds an exciting array of technology and arrows. He highlights how the archer can be brought into the modern-day, making use of technology to make the shot of an arrow a lot more effective.
Legolas- The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books and Films
Image of Orlando Bloom playing Legolas
Different to the other free, the character of Legolas in the J RR Tolkien Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings, is one of the original cool archers. Though he may not be in a modern setting, rather in Middle Earth helping to aid Frodo to the darkness of Mordor and Mount Doom to destroy the all-powerful ring. What puts Legolas apart from the ones already mentioned is he uses only the bow and arrow, although occasionally donning a white knife. There is no technology needed, and he relies on merely his skill and accuracy to allow him to be such an integral part of The Fellowship. No matter how many Orcs or trolls he came across, he would be able to put them all down through his amazing archery. As a child the character of Legolas really made archery something that you wanted to do, and was an archer you felt you could really look up to.
And the best till last, perhaps one of the most famous legendary Archers that we all know and love:
Robin Hood, in Disney Form and Human, played by Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe
Disney’s Take on Robin Hood
Kevin Costner in the 1991 film version
Russell Crowe in the lead in the 2010 version
And finally, the one archer who is possibly the most famous in the world – Robin Hood. The man who famously stole from the rich to give to the poor, Robin Hood portrayed in Disney form and through Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe made old school archery look a walk in the park, something fun that everybody can enjoy. His well-known green hood and his band of merry men, Robin Hood is archery really. Everybody knows the story of how he fights for Maid Marion against the evil sheriff Of Nottingham and Prince John, and has been played by so many different actors over the years. But Robert whether he be myth or a fake, has for years proven to the world why the bow and arrow will never die. He managed to save his love, and had fun at the same time, in some cases stopping the French from invading, in others stopping the sheriff from using alien robots to use up all the gold and wealth to make a spaceship. In the story of Robin Hood there is an icon that will live on forever and give the bow and arrow meaning.
Thank you for reading my post, I hope you have enjoyed learning on how influential the bow and arrow has become in modern media, and if you have I hope you enjoy furthering your knowledge.
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.
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!