Archive for February, 2011

February 27, 2011

connected histories meta-database of British history

Lots of resources are being digitized now. This is a clearing house project for centralizing a bunch of them.

The Institute for Historical Research looks like an interesting bunch.

February 22, 2011

roman villa in Shropshire, a reconstruction

So this rebuild of a Roman villa in Shropshire makes me question a bunch of things.

First, it’s really not very appealing. I see what they’re doing, with the various building methods and layers exposed, somewhat a la Knossos, and the (mostly) eschewing flashy tourist-pandering details. There’s no references to gladiators or lion taming here. The “shop” sells candles. But. I have no real desire to visit it. I think I know exactly what I’m going to find when I do, and what I’ll find is a testament to how little we really know about Roman daily life. It does a great job of de-exoticising Rome, but in its place it puts the kinds of timbers you can find at MFI. So it makes me question the place of entertainment, and of Hollywood pizazz, in all this. Should the truth get in the way of good presentation?

Second, they built the house as a standard Mediterranean Roman villa – there’s an intriguing hint that they don’t know how Romans might have adapted to local conditions. Or building methods/materials. So it’s really not a Shropshire house, as such. Makes me question what sort of truth is being preserved here – and whether our ignorance is being accurately modeled after all.

Third, the fabric of the house itself is considered carefully, the furniture not so much. And the paintings on the walls, dear god. The rattan chair may be possible in Rome, but it’s also very clearly post 1930 contract furniture. The 3 sofas of the triclinum are clearly improvised. The candles in the “shop” make it look like a stall at Glastonbury festival. So that makes me question their focus. Because a reconstruction like this is inevitably a gesamtwerk, whether its creators recognise that or not.

Also via history blog.

February 22, 2011

wreck of the whaler Two Brothers found

History Blog precis.


NOAA pictures.

February 22, 2011

Port Cities website

Of course, my favourite building in London is a ghost, and something of a cliche: the shell of Battersea Power Station. But it’s long been stripped of all its glorious industrial age guts and has had an afterlife mostly as a set of fever dreams for urban planners who think “museum” will elevate their shopping mall plans. Greenwich Power Station, on the other hand, is still working. And, although clearly inferior as an icon, is still awkwardly mesmerising.

This post, though, is about the remarkable website I stumbled across while trying to figure out what the building was: Port Cities is the kind of project I love. Deep-time history (though not very deep resources) on Britain’s major ports. I just wish there were more of it.

…although I can’t complain about the 6 page article on London prostitution. Which itself stands as an interesting social document on what we look for out of history.

February 9, 2011

dissertations of interest?

Danielle Bobker: The shape of intimacy: Private space and the British social imagination, 1650–1770 (diss, Rutgers, 2007)
deals with “closets” and carriages in England, development of these intimate spaces beside increasing public space.

Negotiating public landscapes: History, archaeology, and the material culture of colonial Chesapeake towns, 1680 to 1720 (diss, nothing more known right now)

On prisons – Published book: viviane saleh-hanna: Colonial Systems of Control, criminal justice in Nigeria

I’m searching for a good, memorable title. My wife wisely notes that such a title needn’t have a clear relationship to the topic at hand (“Spatial Analysis of VOC Ships” is probably not what I’m looking for). Right now I’m thinking “Worse than Turks,” but my hat’s off to Mark Driscoll for Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895–1945. Really, once you’ve got eroticised undead in there, the form of your title doesn’t matter any more. Maybe I should go with Zombie Perverts of the VOC?

Slightly more seriously, Rediker’s Villains of All Nations is pretty good. Maybe I could use Scum of the Earth (J. P. Coen’s assessment of VOC sailors, though it stands rather in the shadow of Fanon) or Brigands and Gallows-birds (names thrown at some of my mutineers).

February 2, 2011

another turning point in maritime history?

An Indian frigate has sunk after colliding with a merchant ship.

Maybe it’s horribly Eurocentric or just stupidly historicist of me, but I feel that in tussles like this the merchant ship should come off worse. I’m wondering if there’s another decisive moment here in the evolution of ships, toward ever larger scales and proportionally ever more frail hulls. By 1600 a lot of merchant ships had to be beached extremely carefully to avoid breaking. At what point did it become suicidal to knock into another ship without actually intending to ram?

February 2, 2011

Museum virtual tours courtesy of google

The History Blog calls these “the world’s best museums.” Which is just asking for trouble. It’s a very good collection, though, including teasers* of the Rijksmuseum, the Uffizi, the Hermitage(!), the Met, the National Gallery in London, the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin, MoMA, the Tate…

Google art project.

In retrospect it was obvious. Now I want to see all the in-gallery interactives at the museums of natural history and science and the aquaria and imaginaria reproduced on the web.

There’s another thing, though: of course this reminds me of Giordano Bruno‘s memory palaces (and the Frick is a joy in a sea of bare walls, from that perspective), but as a method of library resource navigation (which is really what the web is, right?) it’s downright peculiar. Why would the museum’s collection be arranged in these rooms, if not to aid wandering and casual connection-making? If you know which artwork you want to see, is this a good interface? And it points up the disconnect between virtual touring and actual touring like nothing else. And the metadata, as usual, are troubling: who’s going to look for Rembrandt under “van Rijn, Rembrandt Harmensz.”?

Still, it’s an amazing thing. Thank you, google. Again.

* the Rijksmuseum contains only 9 rooms including the gift shop and 20 works in their “other works in this museum” section, and the collection shown does not include works in the “masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum” show they’ve had up during renovations. To really get a sense of the selection, though, check out the Hermitage floorplan, which includes the Rembrandt hall, mysteriously devoid of Rembrandts.

February 1, 2011

Pokemon as urban top predator

So the next generation of Pokemon games (black and white, US release in March) has a few features that are designed around Japan’s densely populated commuter culture. Actually previous versions had some of these, but I never put it all together before: with Japanese schoolkids spending up to an hour on the train each morning to get to school, suddenly the DS’s proximity features (peer-to-peer wireless communication apart from wifi, onscreen chat with up to 8 other nearby units) make a whole lot more sense. And trains have been getting wifi, so you can also get onto a global net (to trade pokemon asynchronously or do synchronized battling). But the new games’ features are starting to sound like a bldgblog near future post:

the ability to upload Pokémon into a digital cloud called the “Dream World”; and passive wi-fi functionality that allows commuters to peek into other games

Talk of clouds is so last year (though I confess I still don’t really know what the practical implications of the cloud are) and wifi hotspots on trains and planes are hardly news, but then this infrastructural footnote hits:

In addition, a hot spot service might be offered similar to the Poké Power Spot initiative currently in place in numerous Japanese stores and restaurants.

So Geoff Manaugh would say “the really interesting thing is when everyone is networked all the time and the park becomes your office as much as Starbucks, and then we have to redefine home again.” And maybe the smartphone is already that. Kinda. But I’m most interested in the exclusivity of Nintendo’s network. It’s opaque to parents, to users of other games, selectively to wifi. You don’t use it for email or music or youtube (though I guess with the DSi you can get up to phonecam shenanigans – another network I’d been ignoring). It is only for circulating Pokemon in-game tokens and reputation. And it seems to be able to support near ubiquity on that basis.

And it exists because of the infrastructural landscape of Japan, which potentially allows for different groups of kids meeting on the train every day, exchanging game tokens like the infamous azure flute from player to wireless to hotspot to cloud, forming tribes and optimized battlegroups with community-held powered-up Pokemon and taking on the kids of Osaka and building reputation on a national scale. The Pokemon Company’s US spokesman tries to put a brave face on his localization task: he points out that American schoolkids may not ride trains in large numbers but they do ride buses, but the stumbling block for the Pokemon franchise outside Japan is obvious. New York schoolkids on their banana bus might have a couple of wireless battle partners, but they have no chance of happening across power spots or pokemon-dedicated wifi nodes around town. The social opportunities of their pokeworld are comparable to a small suburban cul-de-sac in a desert, while the Tokyo pokekid lives in, well, Tokyo.