A Student of History

January 30, 2007

Ancient Town Found Near Stonehenge

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 11:53 pm

This has splashed across every major newspaper and website but it is a cool discovery nonetheless.  The link I have here is to Time‘s coverage of it.  I went to Stonehenge in 1997, and loved it.  I was there in late May so the summer tourist crunch was not a problem.  One cannot walk right up to the stones anymore (nor could we in ’97) but you can get close enough by far.

Archaeologists have uncovered what may have been a village for workers or festival-goers near the mysterious stone circle Stonehenge in England. The village was located at Durrington Walls, about two miles from Stonehenge, and is also the location of a wooden version of the stone circle.

Eight houses have been excavated and the researchers believe there were at least 25 of them, archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson said Tuesday at a briefing held by the National Geographic Society.

The village was carbon dated to about 2600 B.C., about the same time Stonehenge was built. 

The small wooden houses had a central hearth, he said, and are almost identical to stone houses built at about the same time in the Orkney Islands.

The researchers speculated that Durrington Walls was a place for the living and Stonehenge — where several cremated remains have been found — was a cemetery and memorial. Both are connected to the Avon River by paths they called avenues.

Between Columbus and Jamestown

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 9:46 pm

This summer in FL will be a most interesting conference:

The Florida Humanities Council invites educators from across the U.S. to join distinguished archaeologists, historians, and other scholars for a weeklong workshop: “Between Columbus and Jamestown: Spanish St. Augustine.” Founded 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, St. Augustine is the oldest permanent European settlement in the U.S. and the place where most Western institutions first took root in America. This Spanish colonial, seaside city is home to some of North America’s oldest houses, churches, government buildings, and democratic institutions. It offers us the perfect vantage point from which to examine another side of America’s colonial experience, while placing Spanish Florida into the larger context of American history.

More info is here.

Toward elections

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 5:30 pm

In a very brief follow up to my post yesterday on the possibly historic events in No. Ireland, the Washington Post reports today that Britain “shut down Northern Ireland’s legislature Tuesday and planned a new election to determine the fate of power-sharing, the central goal of the peace accord for this British territory.”  It goes on to report “The closure of the Northern Ireland Assembly-a 108-member body elected in 2003 but which failed to form an administration-will permit Protestant and Catholic parties to campaign for stronger mandates in a March 7 election.  The governments of Britain and Ireland want the next assembly to form a Catholic-Protestant coalition a week later. Britain would hand over control of most Northern Ireland departments March 26 _ a deadline that both governments insist must be met, otherwise the assembly will be closed again the next day.”

Perhaps even more importantly, as the Post states, “Britain and Ireland also jointly published an experts’ report Tuesday that said the outlawed IRA had kept its July 2005 promise to renounce violence for political purposes.” 

Now what will Ian Paisley say??

Digging in Va. for the 17th Century

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 5:18 pm

In Isle of Wight Couunty, Va., “A Smithsonian Institution scientist shrugged off claustrophobic working conditions Monday to recover the remains of a late-1600s skeleton buried under the floor of America’s oldest standing English church.” 

Historic St. Luke

Here, there is an article on the details and a few photos as well.  The colonist in question is/was Joseph Bridger–one of the 10 wealthiest men in the colony, and richest landholder south of the James River.

Bridger paid for St. Luke’s well-appointed interior woodwork and the third floor of its distinctive bell tower. His generosity is still remembered by a late Victorian stained-glass window installed above the altar space of the church.

But it wasn’t until more than 60 of his descendants began talking about organizing an archaeological study of Whitemarsh – the old family property located about two miles from the church – that Williamsburg-based archaeologist Merry Outlaw saw the potential for adding her prominent ancestor to Owsley’s study.

From the church’s website is some history of the building and parish (although the part about Jefferson kneeling down to worship there may raise an eyebrow):

Venerable Historic St. Luke’s, Mother Church of Warrosquyoake County (later called Isle of Wight) was affectionately known as “Old Brick Church” long before it was given its present name in 1820. It is the oldest existing church of English foundation in America and the nation’s only surviving Gothic building. It forms a unique bridge between the early civilization of our country and the rich culture of Medieval England. Its structure reflects the architectural and spiritual descendents of the great Gothic cathedrals of England.

By tradition and recollection of the first Vestry Book, “Old Brick Church” is dated to 1632. It closely relates to the Tower Church at Jamestown, dated circa 1638/39. As was common at the time, it took four or five years to erect such a church; and the finishing of the interior fittings required an additional number of years, even in this parish, already numbering 522 persons in the year 1634.

In 1640, John Day (direct ancestor of Henry Mason Day, the first President of the foundation) came from England with his own fine household furniture and personal servants.

Colonel Joseph Bridger of “White Marsh” long associated with “Old Brick Church”, a man of significant wealth, and a member of the Council of State to Charles II for Virginia, is known to have settled in the parish at least as early as 1657.

According to tradition, Colonel Bridger brought members of the Driver family from England to do “finish” work on the church. Colonel Bridger was given increasing acknowledgement for the important contributions he made in bringing the church to completion. His remains, relocated to the church in the 1890’s, are in the church’s chancel marked by a marble ledgerstone. By the Order of Assembly issued in March 1623, this parish was one of only four locations, other than Jamestown, where the General Court of the Colony was permitted to convene. Since the Court convened in the church, there was urgency to make it suitably reflect this important function. The “Lord Governour and Captaine Generall” would be present and during their stay attend church service. The high box-pews were designated for their use.

Those who first assembled in “Old Brick Church” knew much of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe and Powhatan, who were still regarded as contemporary figures, and the tragic Indian Massacre of 1622, which wiped out nearly a third of the Virginia settlers. Nathaniel Bacon, the scourge of Governor Berkeley, passed not far from “Old Brick Church” on his way to burn Jamestown in 1676.

In the stirring days before the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and many other of our great patriots must have knelt here before the altar and asked for guidance on their passage to or from Williamsburg, as they slowly shaped the destiny of a nation.

Oxford History of the United States (mostly)

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 2:51 am

At the Boston Globe website there is an interesting column on the Oxford History of the United States series, which the author (Christopher Shea) points out “nearly a half-century later, only five of a projected 11 volumes have been completed.” 

The series was intended “to be…a grand summation of their generation’s understanding of American history, combining high politics with social and cultural history and bridging the widening chasm between professional historians and intelligent lay readers.”  The author is actually reacting to a piece in the Atlantic Monthly by Benjamin Schwartz that takes historians to task for either the inability to tell the American story on this scale, or the lack of desire to do it.

The column also relates that for reasons unknown to many, H. W. Brands’ projected volume in this series (“Leviathan: America Comes of Age, 1865-1900”) will not be published/included in the series. 

The rest of the column is very interesting…..

January 29, 2007

Movie recommendation

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 7:52 pm

I rarely go to the movies since I started grad school (due to time and money limitations) but a friend of mine suggested we go see The Last King of Scotland, now that it has been re-released for a limited time in anticipation of the Oscars.  It came out last year, had a very limited run here in Ohio, and I could not get to it.

I am very glad I went last week, however, as it was one of the best films I have ever seen.  I highly recommend it.  It is based on a 1998 book of the same name by Giles Foden, and is not strictly factual in that sense.  What this means is that there is a character in the movie who we follow in order to see the events of Uganda under Idi Amin, but he’s not actually true to the events. No matter, its an artisitic device that works very, very well, as one sees from the beginning of the film.  The fictional protagonist is the young Nicholas Garrigan, a Scotish doctor out to save the world after graduating from medical school, and gets quickly in over his naive head in Amin’s regime.  He is played very well by James McAvoy, who also has a role in the upcoming film based upon Ian McEwan’s awesome book Atonement. (The female lead is played by Keira Knightly.)

Anyway, the show stealer in TLKoS is by far Forrest Whitaker, who plays Amin flawlessly, and should win every award known to mankind for making this character study absolutely first rate.  he’s already won a Golden Globe for the role.  I found his performance to be spell-binding, along the lines of Robert Duvall in The Apostle (for which he was robbed of the best actor Oscar, but that is another story.)  Both main characters were just plain great, and I also liked how they filmed it in a grainy film to make it look at times like 1970s footage, since the story took place at that time (through Entebe.) 

If you have not seen The Last King of Scotland, you really should…..

Slowly turning the corner…

Filed under: Ireland,The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 4:07 pm

Slowly turning the corner is how I would think one could describe Ireland today.  The prospect of peace is real, and a lasting one at that.  The IRA has within the last several months decommissioned arms, which is an historic milestone on the trail from conflict to peace.  Now, we learn that this week, “a conference of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Provisional IRA, voted to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and to join its governing authority by a lopsided majority of 9-1. ”  This has been a key demand of the ultra-reactionary, hard-core Protestant force in the North, the Democratic Unionist Party headed by Presbyt. minister Ian Paisley (pictured below). 

Ian Paisley

This move by SF is seen by objective observers and commentators as “the final step needed before Sinn Fein could be admitted to the ‘power-sharing’ government of Northern Ireland under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.”  It is a very hopeful sign, which may soon bring cooperation to a land not know for such over the past several centuries.

Now the ball is in Paisley’s court, but unfortunately he has a track record of avoiding compromise and breaking what appear th be promises, mainly to keep his faction in power.  Time will tell if he comes out for peace, or the same old tactics of the past.

SF and Gerry Adams need to shed their unsavory past as well, and to a large extent they have.  Since 9/11, being a terrorist is no longer romantic when it comes to Ireland, as it once was among many Americans of Irish descent who knew little of what is euphemistically labelled “The Troubles.”  The IRA has made some very large steps forward toward peace, but they have not been met with equal strides by the other side. 

For an interesting opinion piece on the matter in the New York Post, click here.

“Bloody Sunday” 1972

New Book on Ancient Ireland

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 3:01 pm

In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers

 OVER five thousand years ago a most sophisticated and enigmatic community of people began to arise on the island of Ireland. They were the megalithic builders of the Stone Age, cunning engineers and master astronomers who systematically assembled a vast calendrical and astronomical scheme which would stand intact over five millennia. Today, the individual monuments which each form a part of that complicated astronomical assembly lie decaying in the landscape, straddling the Boyne river, which in ancient times was named after the Milky Way galaxy and was considered its earthly equivalent. Archaeologists have been probing individual sites over the last fifty years, and have been revealing intriguing information, carvings, artefacts and dating material which, as well as answering many questions, pose even more about the purpose and genesis of these great monuments. Perhaps more importantly, some of the ancient stone sites continue to function more than five millennia after they were constructed, with famous examples, such as Newgrange and Dowth, featuring alignments to the winter solstice sun.

In Island of the Setting Sun a greater story of their genesis can finally be told. As these sites awaken from the slumber of five thousand years, we can more definitively describe their true pur-pose – to track time, vast periods of time, to bring the sky down on to the ground in a grand astronomical scheme. The authors’ exploration of the sky-ground system is taken from an array of perspectives, most notably through the ancient stories about these places – some of which may be as ancient as the sites themselves. Within the complex layers of myth, folklore and placename stories lies a concealed astronomical language. Interpreting these coded cosmological messages, the authors have found that together the landscape, the astronomy and the myth reveal the true intent of the megalithic master builders of a time when giants were said to rule the land.

In this lavishly illustrated book, many disparate ideas and connections are explored, including the invasion myths of Ireland; the link between the ancient astronomers and St Patrick; the “pleasant plain” among the stars; the exciting rediscovery of “Ireland’s Stonehenge”; the true inspiration behind Newgrange’s white quartz façade; the many faces of the “sword-wielding giant” that is Orion; the migratory patterns of whooper swans; the female reproductive system and its importance to the mound-builders; the eight-year moon-Venus cycle; and a plethora of stories about such things as un-derwater spears, giant hounds, tragic drownings, cruel murders, vast battles, strange animals and the Irish cyclops. In short, Island of the Setting Sun provides a revision of how we look at prehistory in Ireland.

The authors:

Anthony Murphy is the editor of the Drogheda Leader. A photographer, graphic artist and avid amateur astronomer, he has almost single-handedly assembled the website http://www.mythicalireland.com, which receives 2,500 unique visitors daily.

Richard Moore is an artist, working mainly in oils and acrylics, who has been painting the ancient sites of the Boyne Valley region for 25 years. He has exhibited at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre and the headquarters of the Department of Heritage in Dublin among other venues. Some of his works are owned by, among others, the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and media magnate Dr A.J.F. O’Reilly.

January 26, 2007

Virginia, Slavery and Saying Sorry

Following up on an earlier post on Lee’s 200th Birthday, in which I mentioned a Va. assemblyman who said that blacks should “get over it” when it comes to slavery, there’s been some more news.  Turns out the delegate, Frank Hargrove of Hanover Co., “had a great-grandfather who owned a slave,” according to a news item in the Richmond Times Dispatch

Is it really “news” that old Virginia families owned slaves?  The RTD seems to want us to think that.  This is not to say that it was OK, good, positive, etc., just that we should be shocked at the notion that we should be surprised that people in Va. owned slaves!  Hargrove’s comments:

Hargrove’s great-grandfather owned a slave. An 1850 slave schedule lists Nathan D. Hargrove, a 22-year-old Henrico County resident, as owning a 60-year-old female slave.

Hargrove previously had said he didn’t know whether any of his ancestors had owned slaves. Yesterday, after asked by Times-Dispatch reporters about the genealogical research, Hargrove said he wasn’t surprised and that there could be others.

“I didn’t know that. I never heard that. That’s probably true,” he said of his great-grandfather.

Hargrove opposes an apology for slavery.  He also said that asking the state to apologize for slavery is akin to asking Jews to apologize for killing Christ. For an opinion piece in today’s RTD, click here.

Military History at Wisconsin

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 2:06 pm

From the National Review, John Miller reports on his blog there of the new position at U of Wisc. in military history.  The story behind this is quite long, and if you wish to learn the tale I’d suggest reading Mark Grimsley’s blog.  Its here.  In fact, I’d start here, in a posting called “Beyond the Culture of Complaint.”  Mark begins by saying that:

On September 26, 2006, National Review Online published an op/ed piece by John J. Miller entitled, “Sounding Taps: Why Military History is Being Retired.” It drew a picture of the field of military history having been hounded almost out of the academy by “tenured radicals.” Although highly tendentious in its portrayal, it drew strength from juicy quotes by a number of military historians, many of them quite distinguished, in support of its basic contention.

Anyway, John Miller at NR reports on the hiring eforts at UW:

This spring, the UW-Madison history department will welcome a new professor. The position is for U.S. military history, a professorship that has been open for 15 years and is being filled just six months after a conservative journal said: “Wisconsin doesn’t actually want a military historian on its faculty.”

The search officially began in November—­six weeks after “Sounding Taps: Why Military History is Being Retired” in the National Review Online claimed “tenured radicals” in departments across the country wanted to shut down military history programs. It also said UW-Madison’s department let the $1.2 million used to hire the professor remain stagnant.

UW-Madison history professor and chair of the hiring committee, John Cooper, was quoted in the article as saying the department had no immediate plans to hire such a professor.

“[The article was] the ill wind that blew some good because it challenged us,” Cooper told The Daily Cardinal last week. “We said, ‘You don’t think we’re serious about it?’”

History department Chair David McDonald said the fact the search was authorized just six weeks after the article is merely coincidence and that he “wouldn’t attribute [the article coming out] as a direct correlation. It focused on an ongoing discussion. There is an undeniable coincidence that these events occurred.”

The article in full is here.  Interestingly, the job in military history was posted at the assistant, associate or full prof level.

January 25, 2007

Nationalism and History

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 1:56 am

Seems like Japan and Turkey are in a contest to outdo one another when it comes to denial and sanitization of their unpleasant pasts.  In this article, we learn that a new film will be made by a “nationalist” Japanese producer which will deny the Rape of Nanking in the 1930s.

The film, to be called “The Truth about Nanking” and completed in August, will be based on testimony from Japanese veterans, archival footage and documents that proponents say prove accounts of the killing are nothing more than Chinese propaganda.

The massacre, brought to a worldwide audience in English by Iris Chang’s book, “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” is widely seen as a gruesome symbol of Japan’s bloody conquest of East Asia in most of the first half of the 1900s.

The massacre is a cause celebre of Japan’s increasingly active nationalist groups, which are pushing to cull references to it in public school textbooks and discredit accounts of the slaughter.

The article appears in International Herald Tribune.

January 24, 2007

Slavery History News bits….

Due to time constraints, I am just posting a brief blurb and a link to some news stories about slavery I saw on the web:

The Virginia lawmaker who caused an uproar last week by questioning the need for a state apology for slavery proposed a measure Monday that would commemorate the freeing of the last U.S. slaves in June 1865.  Article in Wash. Post.

Are slave quilts “a myth, bordering on a hoax,” as David Blight of Yale U. says?  The quilt theory was first published in the 1999 book “Hidden in Plain View,” by Jacqueline Tobin, a journalist and college English instructor from Denver, and Raymond Dobard, a quilting and African textiles expert. These are supposed to be quilts with messages in them to help slaves get to the Underground Railway, but they have come under suspicion.  Click here.

See HNN for a story about Clarksville school officials who say they have ordered teachers to end a role-playing exercise on slavery for elementary students after a teacher complained one student took her role as a slave master too seriously.

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