abendgules: (editor)
...courtesy of Dan Snow.

HMS Surprise. Built for Master and Commander, now biding her time at the brilliant San Diego Maritime Museum.

A photo posted by Dan Snow (@thehistoryguy) on

abendgules: (self-portrait)
...the only decent afternoon TV for grownups. Time Team, and Antiques Roadshow, are my only mental sustanance when I'm sick.

Today's episode is of a 4th c Roman villa in Somerset, south of Bath, as it happens. Real mosaic just 8" below the surface, painted plaster pieces from walls, that still holds its colour, could be one of the biggest in England. Gorgeous.

In the Oxbow Books catalogue I see a lot of landscape architecture books (almost always in the first pages), and living here it's not hard to see why; so often the history is still visible, just barely under the modern ground surface. For this site, the aerial photo from 30 years ago clearly showed a 3 sided villa shape in the grass colour, if you just looked for it. It's from 1700 years ago but it still dictates the pattern of growing things today.

There's a Stonehenge documentary circulating right now that shows how in a recent dry year when the grass was burned back, you could see the outline of stones that were now buried - that noone had previously really remarked on. Stonehenge has to be one of the most studied archeological sites in the world, though with varying degrees of skill and expertise...but it's still got 'new' stuff.

There's something in Roman decor that really speaks to me; I don't know why, but every time I see examples my heart just turns over. With just 3 or 4 colours they create the most amazing patterns, designs, and effects.

I've long thought that if I ever have a house I'd use a Roman colour palette and design. I don't need to live in a villa, but I'd love to decorate it like one.

I'm not willing to maintain a mosaic floor (unless it's sealed so you can wash it) but I can paint a floorcloth with a mosaic, and have black and white or red and white tiled floors.
abendgules: (Mountjoy)
I'm unlikely to ever do first hand research on theories of medieval history, so I rely on professional historians to explain it to me.

I find it fascinating to hear historians argue about theories. This is a nice summary of ten books, several of which I knew of, particularly Norman Cantor's one at the top - it had come out just as I joined the Society.

I hadn't realised 'the stirrup theory' had been discredited: I thought the stirrup was an important advancement in horseriding, and thus mattered a lot. But perhaps it's the 8th c 'introduction' that's in question, b/c I thought I'd seen a Roman stirrup at the MoL. [livejournal.com profile] jpgsawyer, do you know?
abendgules: (typonerd)
[livejournal.com profile] aryanhwy...who mentioned (sometime in the past year) she'd found her highschool poetry.


This isn't so much my hard drive as my (boxed-up) life.
abendgules: (prickly)
...of course, BBC didn't exist then, so to speak.

BBC is running themed history programmes to cover WWI, from now til 2019. It's the biggest 'season' I've seen on the Beeb - usually a 'season' is six related progarmmes.

If I were more cynical I'd think the corp was trying to dictate the public view of the war - where it belongs in our history, how we should think about it, etc. etc. I don't know if it's actually driven by public demand.

I have noticed that the current programmes are overviews, and about 'how the war started' - an overview of the changes to society over the war, one about life in the year 1913 just before the war, one about the royal cousins (Victoria's descendants who sprawled across the royal families of Europe), a fairly academic discussion of whether the war could be avoided (though didn't have nearly enough time to chew over).

The drama 37 days is a historical drama about the time from Franz Ferdinand's assassination to the start of the war. And propaganda or not, it's historical drama that BBC does so well: costumes, settings, acting talent and tight, intelligent scripting.

It spells out in comprehensible chunks how the conflict escalated from one assassination to a European war, in a way that I might actually remember longer than every previous documentary I've seen about WWI. For the first time it makes sense: honouring past agreements (some dating back to Waterloo and the war of 1870, which was still in living memory); entente cordiale; the war in Ireland that was widely anticipated (something I knew nothing about); the naval agreement renewed in 1912 (something else I knew nothing of).

It pointed out many nuances, to me.

That the German, Austrian and Russian(?) ambassadors were all cousins, part of a class of aristocrat-diplomats.
That everyone was trying to work around their summer holidays so at first the death in Sarajevo wasn't considered a very important assassination.
That many diplomats and officers had agendas, and could use the conflict to pitch their views. (Duh. This happens all the time, but somehow with history where outcome is well known, it doesn't feel that 'varied' in the recounting.)

Robert remarked that it still made the Kaiser Wilhelm out to be an aggressive antagonist, with unrealistic hopes of having a quick clean war before Russia could respond...and getting annoyed with his council for not doing what he asked while he was on holiday.

And it left out the Austro Hungarian emperor almost entirely, like he was just a puppet. It made me wonder if English and German histories are easier to source for BBC researchers and writers than Austrian ones.

The blog, of course, shows the geeks picking apart the details, and includes an explanation of the sources.

My annoyance is the near complete lack of women in the story; that somehow they had no part. I understand that to a certain extent women in 1914 did not have the role in public life that they do now. But it means that a lot of dialogue falls on one female character to pick up as the token woman.

If you have a chance - see it for yourself.
abendgules: (maciejowski)
If you have access, I recommend The Wipers Times, a docu-drama about the satirical journal printed by English soldiers while in the trenches in WWI.

(With anniversary of 1914 coming up, I suspect we'll see a lot of WWI content in the coming year. English are never happier when they're winning wars over again.)

It's on iPlayer, and might be on BBC World (no idea how they choose the content).

I'd heard of the Wipers times in a couple of previous BBC shows, including one by the main writer of this story, Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye, on HIGNFY). A couple of officers found a printing press while scavenging for materiel in Ypres, and started their own satire magazine, poking fun at their situation.

In the film, many jokes are made into small comic sketches like vaudeville shows, to bring them to life, rather than just having the characters read them to each other.

The texts are not high comedy art, but it must have made a change from reading news, letters, and general grimness of living in a hole filled with mud. It was tolerated as 'good for morale' even when it mocked officers and command structure.

The published series is set in context of the mad obsession of fighting for a few yards of ground - the lead characters' orders take them from Ypres to Somme and back, twice in 18 months, gaining only a few yards of territory in that time.

It's a lovely English example of what is now called 'taking the piss'; refusing to speak seriously about serious issues, downplaying injuries deaths and misfortunes, enjoying wordplay and cleverness of language, playing up differences in social status.

The film itself is beautifully crafted, showing a tightly worded script that (I suspect) includes text found in the Wipers Times.

abendgules: (hot choc comfort)
I continue to have a low taste for whodunnits, begun in my yoof - I suspect early exposure to Ellis Peters is to blame for my initially 12th century persona, and my first Society name.

But I've grown pickier of my authors, particularly in historic whodunnits, a genre I think Ms Peters created nearly singlehandedly. There are a handful of writers who predate her, but almost everyone writes in their own time period...and only become period pieces (Poirot, Sherlock, and Lord Peter Wimsey) with passing years.

At any rate, I've grown pickier; if you can simply lift the story and put it in contemporary time period with few changes of clothing, I'm not interested. It's the ones that pick up the period political events, and represent unpopular social opinions convincingly as part of the story that impress me.

So I've really enjoyed Catriona McPhereson's Dandy Gilver stories - I found the first one early this year, when I was headed to Dance Moot in Queensferry. It's set post WWI, when Nothing was Ever the Same Again. And while I don't know much about the period, I'm enjoying her depiction of a gently-bred minor-gentry wife, bored to tears, who uses her slightly clueless society persona to good effect while solving puzzles. Well worth investigating.

abendgules: (Default)
Sadly, my education didn't include much art history. But I do love learning more about art, particularly in the SCA period.

This week I'm enjoying 'Private life of a Christmas Masterpiece', part of an occasional series called 'Private life of a Masterpiece' that examines a single famous work of art, and explaining why it's special. Last night's subject was Pieter Bruegel's 'Census at Bethlehem'; the night before it was Van Eyck's 'Annunciation' (with Bruges streetscapes I recognise! woot)

The series puts the artwork  and the artist in context of time and place; what styles had been common before the work was created, where you can see its influences afterward, and how there are often many layers of meaning 'coded' in the work.

I love love love these art history exposes. It's only by seeing what was 'typical' or 'standard' that I can understand how a given artist distinguished themselves - maybe technically (like Bruegel using a lead white base instead of a more common ochre), or in their choice of subject and their treatment of it (Bruegel fitting Mary and Joseph as tiny bit players into a huge Flemish winter landscape, no more or less important than the rest of the peasant figures).

I was fascinated to learn that Breugel had gone on a sort of Grand Tour to Italy, to see how those shit-hot Italians were painting everything - but he came back via the Alps in winter, and this difficult mountain journey had far more influence on his art than any number of Italian masters. To a guy raised in the flat lands of Flanders, they must have been an amazing revelation.

This is hard to picture for me: I've known about all sorts of landscapes, at least through TV, for as long as I can remember. Imagine never knowing what a mountain was (or even what snow was like!) until you actually had to travel through the Alps on horseback in winter?

Mountainscapes appeared in all his works from then on, rich in detail, dimensions and shading;he paints in Biblical figures as small sideshows to the landscape, when the rest of the painterly world was squeezing landscapes in around the shoulders of their human figures.

I also hadn't realised that his son, Bruegel the Younger, made his name simply by copying his father's works, probably from sketches left behind - a bit like generating a numbered print of a favourite piece. These copies, even though they're not nearly as vibrant, are now as valuable as the originals.
abendgules: (Default)
...from Muhlburger's early history.
I mention it because we'd been discussing Joan of Arc on the pilgrimage, and trying to remember when she died. It was early 15th c, in the end.
It's relevant because one of her prosecutors was the Bishop of Winchester (William Wykeham, I think), who went on to endow Winchester College (a 'public' school for boys), and build the current Bishop's palace, which is next to the ruined Wolvesey castle, a stop on our pilgrimage.

abendgules: (fierce)
Iron Age brain found in skeleton (where else?)

Everyone together now:

All wee wanna do is eat yur brains (braaaainnns!)
We're not unreasonable
Noone's gonna eat your eyes...

abendgules: (pile of pusscat)
A couple of weeks ago my copy of Take V bowes departed arrived, to my great excitement. I'd heard about this book first at a MEDATS conference, when one of the authors spoke. The description is

Tak v bowes departed is an in-depth study of Article 4, British Library Manuscript Harley 2320. This treatise, which dates to the fifteenth century, gives instructions for making forty different braids of varying complexity.

I'm really pleased to have a new resource to draw on, to make authentic bands and laces, and to try out wide decorative bands for purses and other small items.

I'm a bit disappointed in some areas though.

Some observations about trying out the two-person braids, and braids in general:



abendgules: (Default)

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