Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Can you copyright ideas about history?

Two of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, who probably made a pretty penny off of their book, are suing the author The Da Vinci Code, who has made a J.K. Rowlingesque mountain of money off his.

The grounds? Brown stole their idea that Jesus and Mary Magdelene were married.

Problem is, that in HBHG the authors claimed this was fact, while Brown says it's fiction.

So if Jesus and Mary M. really were married, how can you copyright that fact? Riddle me that!

A nice short summary in the Guardian.

I have to wonder how this ever got into court.

P.S.: A Guardian Special Report includes a bunch of interesting links on the Da Vinci Code phenom.

Demystifying academic argumentation

I was send this book by a publisher this past week and I'm very impressed by it. It's called "They Say / I Say" The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. Here's what the publisher says about it, which sums up pretty well its attraction for me:

"They Say / I Say" shows that writing well means mastering some key rhetorical moves, the most important of which involves summarizing what others have said ("they say") to set up one’s own argument ("I say").
You can have a look at it here.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Everyone in NE Ontario has a snow story

Mine is that we've had knee-deep snow. On the roof.

(This is not actually my house. Ours was worse before we cleared it.)

Acts of Augustus

The Acts of Augustus, discussed today in class, were published throughout the empire. This wall from the Temple of Augustus in Ankara, Turkey, preserves the text. Here's a description of the site from Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Friday, February 24, 2006

What you need to know about the 19th century

My journey south took me away from a terrific snow storm in my part of Ontario. Nevertheless, even before it hit, I experienced a comfortable but contemplative train ride through a very snowy landscape. And once again I thought -- what the heck were they ever thinking? Those people who left everything to cross the oceans to farm and lumber and mine in this country where -- at least where I live -- we may have snow on the ground five months of the year? They lived here with no electricity.

And all I can figure is: what they left was worse than risking their lives in a harsh climate in an unknown country. Here, there was hope.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

House of Commons, 1808

Today I'm lecturing on the evolution of the English/British constitution after the Glorious Revolution. Looking for some other information (when did the House of Commons burn?) I found a better picture of the early 19th-century House than I found earlier when putting my in-class PowerPoint presentation together. Here it is. If there are earlier pictures I'd love to know about them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Light blogging for the next week

I'll be away from my usual computer and my usual business for the next week. No guarantees I'll be able to contribute much -- or have much to contribute.

No, I will not be sporting in the tropical sea, though I'll be in a no-snow zone.

Habs vs Leafs at Agincourt -- the poster

Here's a copy of the poster I was talking about: Shakespeare's Henry V reinterpreted as the 1967 Stanley Cup series.

For those of you in the North Bay area, it's at Widdifield Secondary School at 8 pm on February16-18, 22-25, with a 2 pm matinee on February 19. Call the "Henry Hotline" at 752-1486 for more info. Cost: $18.00/12.00 (whatever that means).

Thanks to the reader who provided this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The London Gazette

For all you readers who were not in my HIST 2155 class, here's the reading for today, an issue of the London Gazette, a newspaper from the 1690s. This is the era of the great struggle between William of Orange, the Dutch Statholder who became King Billy on his white horse, and Louis XIV, the Sun King. The issue of the Gazette we looked at today is provided thanks to Rochester University in New York State. It's a little tough to get into, with its first paragraph devoted to unexplained royal doings in Vienna, but with a little patience you can begin to see a sketchy portrait of public-minded men of the era. And wait till you get to the unclassified ads!

The Gazette is still published and is still the paper of record for England (Belfast and Edinburgh have Gazettes of their own).

Monday, February 13, 2006

Teaching with the Old Bailey Online

I referred to the Old Bailey Online in a recent post. One person who read that post is a historian at a neighboring university. Her discussion of how she's used this resource in a methods/historiography course is too good not to link to.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Peppercorn rents

In my upcoming lecture on the Gracchi I refer to "peppercorn rents." Tiberius Gracchus, when he became tribune in the 130s BCE wanted to reform the Roman state by distributing state-owned land to poorer Roman citizens, instead of allowing the rich to rent huge estates at "peppercorn rents." A republic with many landowners would be healthier and more military capable than one where poor Romans -- including soldiers and veterans -- were increasingly forced off the land.

I expect I'll have explain the phrase "peppercorn rents" which is rare in Canada but still alive in Britain and elsewhere in the Commonwealth. An online tax guide from South Australia defines "peppercorn rent" as a "nominal rent," i.e. an insignificant sum. The traditional peppercorn rent was "one peppercorn."

If you search the web for examples of "peppercorn rents" you might find some interesting sites. For instance, there is on the British History Online site a Historical gazetteer of London before the Great Fire which has minute details of downtown London properties like St. Pancras Soper Lane 145/27 which once upon a time was let out for an unspecified peppercorn rent.

Of course, there's more recent stuff as well. There's a BBC article for instance on Prince Michael of Kent's "peppercorn rent" for apartments at Kensington Palace
. Price of a peppercorn? 69 British pounds a week. Still, pretty cheap for royal digs in Central London.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

More from Iraq -- via blog

Rather than read it in the Washington Post, you might like to get your reportage straight from Iraq -- via blogs written by Iraqis. There's an extensive list at Iraq Blog Count.

Of course, you get to decide how reliable any of them is. But how does that make them different from anything else?

News from Baghdad

I felt compelled to pass on a link to a Washington Post article on life in a Baghdad neighborhood.

Especially for readers of the Golden Ass

Some of my Ancient Civilization students are writing a paper on Apuleius's Golden Ass. They and other readers might be interested in an article from the L.A. Times on a modern manifestation of veneration of the Divine Feminine. It concerns a woman named Karen Tate whose religious inspiration led her to travel the world to site devoted to goddess worship and run tours for others.

For those who might be interested in some scholarly discussion of goddesses and ancient society, you might give Diotima: Women and Gender in the Ancient World a try. The front page gives little hint of how much material there is on varioius parts of the site. There's a section of original, peer-reviewed essays, a collection of links to other resources, many of them of high quality, and an anthology of primary sources, including a link to a whole site on Apuleius's Apology.

Friday, February 10, 2006

New tomb found in Valley of the Kings!

Not since the 1920s, when King Tutankhamen's dazzling tomb was unearthed, has anyone found another tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

But now, says the Globe and Mail, the curse is broken!

Now that scholars aren't so sure there is nothing to look for, they may look harder...

(Clicking on the picture will show you a bigger image in which old tomb entrances can be seen.)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Crossing the Floor

There is a lot of talk in Canada at the moment about "crossing the floor," due to a couple of high-profile instances in recent politics. Since I'm talking about important developments in the English and British Parliaments in class, I thought a post on this might be relevant, or at least fun.

Here's the background for those who don't know: Back in 2005, after Stephen Harper became leader of the revamped Conservative Party, Belinda Stronach, one of his rivals, left the Conservatives and crossed the floor to the governing Liberals, where she instantly became a cabinet minister. Her vote saved the government from a non-confidence situation soon afterwards.

This week, Stephen Harper and the first Conservative government in 13 years was sworn in. Among the new cabinet ministers was David Emerson, who had just been elected as the Liberal MP for Vancouver-Kingsway. Harper had made an offer to Emerson because the Conservatives had no members in Vancouver (or Toronto or Montreal, for that matter).

There was a big fuss over Stronach's defection last year, but an even bigger one over Emerson's. Emerson's riding (=constituency) has many NDP voters who supported him and the Liberals rather reluctantly, and only to keep the Conservatives out of power. The Liberal constituency organization wants Emerson to return the $100,000 they spent on his election, and individuals who contributed to Emerson's campaign are pretty steamed, too.

The relationship between elected legislators and the people who vote for them is a classic question. In the late 18th century, the English Parliamentarian Edmund Burke told the electors of Bristol that he was not the Member for Bristol but a Member of Parliament and that he would use his judgement, not follow theirs. (They gave him the boot, and Burke got into Parliament in a "pocket borough" or safe seat controlled by a peer.)

A quick look shows that in countries where individual legislators are elected by name and not as part of a party list, the issue is still alive. On the Web I found material on South African developments of a few years back, and an official research piece on Australian floor crossing. CBC News In Depth has a summary of recent Canadian incidents, though it doesn't discuss the recent brouhaha.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Gateway Theatre Guild -- Agincourt as Hockey

Posted at NU, but nowhere on the Web I can find, is an amazing poster advertising a local production of Henry V, with the Hundred Years War reinterpreted as the 1967 Stanley Cup Series between the Leafs and the Habs.

I didn't grow up with hockey, but I have to say this intrigues me.

If anyone has information or better yet the poster in an image file, please send them to me.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bringing two recent themes together...

In my History 2155 class today I expressed the tentative opinion that the Old Bailey, featured in a high quality historical site, might still be the venue for London criminal trials. Then today I saw this on the Guardian site:

"Old Bailey jury finds Muslim cleric Abu Hamza guilty of inciting murder and racial hatred."

I guess I was right!

The story associated with this blurb is here, but it doesn't mention the Old Bailey.

Monday, February 06, 2006


Teaching history means teaching about injustice -- again and again and again. And after a while you think you've got over being angry about it. But tonight, preparing for tomorrow morning's early, early lecture on 17th century imperialism, I was looking at the accompanying PowerPoint presentation and realized that (even though I don't think Europeans, in the Early Modern period or at any other time are uniquely depraved) I'm still angry!

Caricaturing the Prophet

This uproar about caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed may seem more like news than history, but the issues -- whatever your position -- have a long background. I'll look for a good link on that background, but in the meantime, for detailed information on the recent events themselves, have a look at this fact file at Juan Cole's site, Informed Comment. His remarks on the scale, nature and motivation of the angry reactions are also worth a look.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

More early modern than you can shake a stick at!

There are a lot of academic bloggers out there. Most academic blogs include more about the Woes of Academe than I care to read, but being generally smart people the academics also talk about interesting material they have been looking at recently.

One institution that has emerged is the "Carnival," the origin of which is a mystery to me. It appears that bloggers volunteer to post a collection of interesting recent links concerning some wide area of interest. Other bloggers are notified of the upcoming carnival and send their favorite recent reads.

A blogger called Pilgrim/Heretic has just posted up "More early modern than you can shake a stick at" part of a series called Carnivalesque. This edition of Carnivalesque includes a wide variety of material about Early Modern Europe. Have a look.

(The picture above is an 1808 view of the Old Bailey, a law court in London. The complete records of trials there between 1674 and 1834 are available at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/
which I learned about at Pilgrim/Heretic's Carnivalesque. What a find!)

Biblical interpretation

Explorator comes out on Sunday, and this one had, besides links to articles on Superbowl numeration, a link to a National Public Radio (US) interview with a Jewish Biblical scholar on the various approaches to the interpretation of the Bible. There's both print material and an audio file of the interview itself.

Superbowl and Roman numerals

Here it is Superbowl XL and I've never watched one. But there are some historical laughs to be got from it. Not even counting the Rolling Stones.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Worst Britons, by century

A few days ago a friend sent me this BBC list of "Worst Historical Britons," one per century since the 11th c. It includes such famous people as King John, Thomas Becket, Jack the Ripper, and less famous ones, outside of Britain at least, such as Oswald Moseley and the "Butcher" Duke of Cumberland, responsible for the massacre at Culloden.

Some things worth remarking on. This might as well be a list of worst historical Englishmen, since they are all men and none of them came from some other part of Britain. (Whether King John or the Butcher Duke were English instead of Poitevin or Hanoverian might be an interesting debate.) Anyone want to nominate for "worst British or English woman"?

Also, it looks to me like a "people you despise on a visceral level" list. The choice of Jack the Ripper speaks for itself. As a sometime student of the late 14th century, I gave a hearty assent to the choice of Archbishop Thomas Arundel, illustrated above, who was chosen for his 15th century career as a burner of heretics. But he has plenty more on his record. Though he's obscure to most people, to know him is to loathe him, and I know him.

It would also be interesting to see what foreigners (even non-English Britons) might say. The Hammer of the Scots, anyone? Henry V, who massacred prisoners at Agincourt?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bolivian baroque

During the 17th and 18th century, the Jesuits maintained a major missionary effort in central South America (as seen in the 1986 movie, The Mission). Eventually the Crown of Spain decided that this was too much like a state within a state, and the Jesuits were expelled, leaving behind a baroque architectural legacy.

Apparently there was a musical legacy, too. Recently it has emerged that the local people preserved baroque music, which is now being published, performed and recorded.

I heard about this on this morning's 8:00 newscast on CBC Radio One, and there will be more said about it on The World At Six on the same network. Oddly, there's very little on the Web as yet. I only found a brief mention on the BBC 3 site. When I find out more I will post it here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Confronting Tyranny: A new book from N.U.

My colleague at Nipissing University, the political scientist David Tabachnick, has just received copies of the book he co-edited with Toivo Koivukoski. It's a collection of articles on the usefulness of the classical political concept of tyrrany now. As I was talking to David -- in the hallway, where most useful university discussions take place -- I had a quick look at the table of contents, and the articles look quite interesting.

For more information see the website of Rowman and Littlefield, the publishers.