September 5, 2011

Life in Nelson’s Navy was a grim as you thought

…except, perhaps, if you happened to be NAM Rodger. Via The History Blog, evidence from disinterred skeletons tells us that RN recruits of the “Nelsonian” period suffered from scurvy, had peg legs and bad teeth, but were mostly not the urban poor. The last point seems highly interesting, but hard to draw conclusions from.

Link to Channel 4’s own press release.

the C4 TV program – viewable in England, but not alas France or the US.

June 8, 2011

Astonishing set of online resources from Huygens ING for Early Modern History

The thing with this digitizing business, you check in early, there’s nothing there. You forget about it for a year or two and then something prompts you to go back and woah.

INGhist, one of the major Dutch research institution/partnerships, have been busy, and they’ve been smart. They’re putting whole archives up, Old Bailey style, for page-by-page browsing, machine searching, because the whole thing is OCR’d, and pdf dowload (!) of massive scan files.

Of chief interest to me is Stapel’s 1932 edition of Pieter Van Dam’s 1700 magnum opus, Description of the Dutch East India Company (4 vols, but really 7: a state-of-the-company statement for the use of the directors when it was at the height of its power) and the General Missives from the governors-general in the Indies to the Ruling council of the VOC or 17 Gentlemen. But there’s loads more: 17th century Italian sources on the Netherlands, the collected papers of individual East India factories, Pieter Van Os’s “History of The Hague from Adam to 1523“, letters and diaries by folks like Hugo Grotius and this little titbit: the collected papers of two English ambassadors to the Hague at the time Charles II suddenly cozied up to France. Here, I’ll let the original editor explain –

On March 28, 1681, Charles II dissolved, at Oxford, his fifth and last Parliament. This event marked the end of his policy of opposition to France and of his attempts to secure supplies from Parliament. He now turned to the easier, if less honourable, method of securing from Louis XIV the money which was needed to meet the expenses of his government and concluded verbally with Barillon the secret treaty of 1 April 1681 n. s.

This secret change in England’s foreign policy made necessary certain substitutions in the diplomatic service and an alteration in the course of diplomatic negotiations 2). Great care was taken, however, that the secret should not be let out by too sudden a break with the old policy. One by one, during the following year, the English envoys, who in certain Courts of Europe had worked zealously to checkmate the designs of
Louis XIV, ware recalled. Their places were either held vacant or filled by men who, though not cognizant of the strict alliance between their master and the French king, would nevertheless work zealously for the personal interests of Charles II and the Duke of York and would, without question, do their bidding.

May 30, 2011

20,000 leagues in 84 days

Naval History Blog tells us that submarine USS Triton circumnavigated the globe on, or under, Magellan’s route in 84 days in 1960.

Sure, it’s not actually 20,000 leagues. Maybe 9,000. But imagine if they’d found a hole in the mid-Pacific trench and journeyed to the centre of the Earth?

May 30, 2011

Incredible presentation of New York Harbour maritime urbanism

Worth checking out for the slides alone. This, I think, just might be what I do next: from the waterfront urban studies.

Christina Sun’s presentation for Coastlink’s Hamburg conference, on New York and the Hudson. Scroll down for grain elevators, disused factories and overloaded skiffs.

March 21, 2011

The last days of Old Kashgar

Somehow it completely passed me by that in 2009-2010 the Chinese government took a bulldozer to one of its great cultural treasures. Stefan Geens managed to dash in when the job was half done and documented what became of Kashgar.

Other cities across Central Asia have received similar treatment, some before and some after receiving their UNESCO World Heritage status. Kashgar was supposed to be one of the last major, ancient urban centres to retain its domestic architecture and urban fabric, and now it’s gone, erased by the Chinese government just as surely as it could have been by any earthquake or volcano or wave (it’s about as far as you can get from the sea on Earth, BTW).

Here’s his flickr set. One of the crowning ironies for me is that other cities, under Soviet and post-Soviet tutelage, have also erased their fabric, while leaving the big showy mosques intact. And shorn of their context, the mosques seem really strange. The delightful, important thing about a mosque courtyard is its openness in the middle of a teeming city. Take the city away and you have a collection of empty eggshells. Which kinda seem to act as metaphors for Islam under the socialist empires. Bukhara, which I did visit, and Khiva and Samarkand, which I didn’t get to, have suffered museumification of this kind, but those were the lucky cities – Tashkent was torn down by imperial invaders, Ashgabat and Astana were gutted by their post-Soviet dictators to be remade as swagger projects of modernity.  And now there goes another one. And there won’t ever be another of the same scale or antiquity or importance.

So thanks, PRC. You’ve achieved at Kashgar what Genghis Khan did at Merv.

March 2, 2011

New York is a luxury product

This looks set to be a fascinating story in serial blog form: an anthropologist trained in urban planning studied the Bloomberg administration from 2003, watching them treat New York as a business that required design and marketing and management. His biggest surprise: that they actually paid some attention to academics.

I remember the west side was receiving all the attention when I was in NY from roughly 98 to 03, with Hell’s Kitchen being remarketed as Chelsea Clinton and the Meatpacking District being touted as the new hotness; evidently that intensified, as the piers came under ever greater development pressure.

I’m looking forward to hearing how it all went down.

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.