Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I have heard the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine on the Second Crusade, riding with her royal ladies in the guise of Amazons. Now, thanks to Allen and Amt's The Crusades: a reader, I finally see the original source of the story. It's a little vaguer than I expected, but still charming. A Byzantine annalist named Niketas Choniates says:

But while the Emperor governed the empire in this fashion, a cloud of enemies, a dreadful death-dealing pestilence, fell upon the Roman borders. I speak of the campaign of the Germans, joined by other kindred nations. Females were numbered among them riding horseback in the manner of men, not on the coverlets sidesaddle but unashamedly astride, and bearing lances and weapons as men do; dressed in masculine garb they conveyed a wholly martial appearance, more mannish than the Amazons. One stood out from the rest as another Penthesilea and from the embroidered gold which ran around the hem and fringes of her garment was called Goldfoot.
Image: a fantasy portrait of Eleanor, borrowed from here.

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Crusade and Jihad: the preliminaries

Next fall I will be teaching HIST 3116, listed in Nipissing University's calendar as a "topics" course, as a course on crusade and jihad in the medieval Middle East. I bet not one of the 30-some students who are already signed up for this course is thinking about it now, but I have to or there is no course -- I'd never done it before.

I have made a little progress, in that I have finally chosen, after much thought, what books we are going to use. They are now listed at my academic homepage, along with the required books for my other two courses.

I am also searching the web for pictorial resources. I've become quite a fan of visual aids, something than the old days was rather scorned by most humanities teachers, I think. (My feeling is that since pictures were hard to get and inconvenient to organize and project, those of us who were not archaeologists pretended it didn't matter.)

Anyway, in the course of my search, Skip Knox, who has long taught a course on the Crusades, pointed me to his virtual pilgrimage site. If you are a student or just curious about the Crusades, you might take a look.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

More on Saladin and the Arab view of the Crusades

About a year and a half ago, I reproduced an interesting short discussion by Andrew Larsen of Saladin's modern reputation as a hero of anti-crusade resistance. What Andrew said, and he accurately reproduced the scholarly consensus, is that Saladin became an Islamic hero only in recent times. Insofar as there was a popular hero of the Crusades in the Middle East before the 19th or 20th century, it was Baibars, a Mamluk Sultan.

That post has become one of the most popular attractions on this blog, in large part because of the nifty picture I pasted into it. How many read the post, I don't know. At least one person did -- he/she was incensed by the idea that Saladin could ever have been forgotten by the Arabs. Even if he was a Kurd.

Just recently a friend of mine sent me his masters thesis for his degree in Middle Eastern studies. John Chamberlain, a skilled Arab linguist, wrote on the evolution of Arab historiography of the Crusades, with emphasis on printed books written since 1800 (or rather, since about 1850). (In other words, he didn't investigate newspapers or journal articles.) Even with my recent reading on the Islamic views of the Crusades, past and present, I was amazed at how recent most of the Arabic writing on the Crusades has been. The real upswing began in 1947, when Palestine was first slated for partition.

If you want to look for yourself, Chamberlain's conclusions are available in two different forms on the Web. A short version appears in the journal Strategic Insights here.
If you want the whole thing, that's here.

Update: Links now work.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Phil Paine on Canada's self-delusions

He's tired of kicking Americans:

Wake up, Canadians. We have no “image”. The world does not think we are cool. The world does not know, or care, if we exist. Only the Dutch know we exist, and admire us for something we did half a century ago, an amazing case of prolonged gratitude in a world where the cultural memory span is notoriously short. But outside of the Dutch, nobody notices our global presence or status.

More here, under April 27, 2008.

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Some ancient artifacts returned to Baghdad

Thanks to a diary on DailyKos, I was alerted to this story on Yahoo. There is an interesting slideshow at the Yahoo site.

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Were there commercial brands 5000 years ago?

Phil Paine has argued for a long time that many of the economic activities that we think of as characteristically modern -- especially commercial trade networks -- go back much farther in history and are typical of many cultures. Here is an interesting piece of news from the archaeological front. David Wengrow, an archaeologist at University College London, is now arguing that the well-known Mesopotamian bottle stoppers, which bear stamped-clay symbols, were in some cases used as brand logos. Here's the article from the New Scientist.

Image: One of the bottle stoppers in question, or perhaps a seal that produced bottle stoppers.

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How sectarian hatred gets started

When outside news media cover such developments as Albanian-Serbian conflict in Kosovo, or Sunni- Shiite conflict in Iraq, they are often described as the result of centuries-old hatreds, and readers are referred to the ultimate origins long, long ago. But in real life, most of these conflicts are rather irrelevant unless something more recent brings them to life again. Ontario and much of Canada has a long history of Catholic-Protestant conflict over schools and their funding. Unless, however, a school funding issue pops up, that old conflict is completely irrelevant to people's public identities or the way they interact with their neighbors. The number of people who sit around thinking about William of Orange or the Battle of the Boyne is insignificant; indeed, and I know this from personal experience, most people have no idea what what either of these things might be or what kind of influence they had on Canadians of the past. The Glorious 12th of July used to be the biggest public holiday in Ontario -- at least for Protestants -- but no one knows what it is now. But with a lot of bad luck and human perversity, one can imagine a Catholic-Protestant conflict welling up in Ontario in the future, and then if Catholics and Protestants wanted reasons to hate each other, they would find the libraries full of books to tell them why this was appropriate.

How this works in Iraq is well illustrated by this story from Inside Iraq. It illustrates how old hatreds come back to life, when everybody, or most everybody, thought they were dead. The story only makes sense if, when the correspondent's friend got married, she hardly gave a thought to Sunni or Shiite identity. Now, however, she can hardly think of anything else. The harsh reactions that she expects from her new neighbors don't have much to do with what's in Iraq's libraries, directly, but I'm sure that for everyone involved, if this woman's fears are at all realistic, conflicts from the time of Ali and Hussein or even Saddam Hussein are a lot more present than they were in 2003.

I was at a party last evening with some historian colleagues, and we were talking about how the Canadian social history class went this year ( pretty well in many respects). My friend who taught the course said that for our students, most of whom were born sometime in the late 80s, historic Canada is unrecognizable as their country until a point of very few years before their birth.

This is just another illustration of how present concerns have a huge effect on what aspects of the past we choose to think about.

Image: William of Orange. Boo, hiss!

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Friday, April 25, 2008

More on Viking ship burial

Not so long ago, the bodies of two women were found buried at the famous Oseberg ship burial site. Here's the most recent news out of Norway.

Thanks to Dave for this tip.

Image: the discovery of the Oseberg ship in 1904. That guy on the left looks like he's about to start the Russian Revolution.

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How history gets written -- ignore the man at the clavier

As my grading chores wind to an end, I will be able to be a little more timely with my blogging, something I consider to be part of my professional duties, actually. At the moment I'm a little oppressed ( gray day and all) by the fact that I've missed a number of good opportunities.

A couple of posts on other blogs in the past week or so have neatly pointed out how tricky the notion of historical knowledge is. Phil Paine, over at, has an essay called Who Wrote Don Giovanni? (under April 16, 2008) on the long-established historical habit ( or perhaps long-established historical fraud) of attributing the creative output of an era to the rulers of that era; credit the Emperor Josef (Mr. "Too Many Notes") with Don Giovanni rather than that obscure Mozart fellow. (Thus my image for this post, from Amadeus.) Couldn't happen, you say? Read what Phil has to say.

I noted one point of disagreement between us here. Some creations do come from monarchs. Phil says:

If a legal code or a proclamation survives from a monarch’s lifetime, historians are quick to see it as evidence of the workings of his mind, even if common sense tells us that it was probably conceived, devised and written by some nameless clerk, while the monarch was snoring and farting, dead drunk, sprawled on the cushions of the harem. Just because the title “Code of Hammurabi” is poked in cuneiform wedges at the top of the clay tablet doesn’t mean that he either wrote it or thunk it. Yet, even if a historian concedes this in a footnote, it is instantly forgotten, and every word written on the subject belies the footnote, and promotes the fantasy.

Phil has forgotten something that I know he knows. The working laws of Babylonia in Hammurabi's time were indeed written by scribes and jurisprudents, and they still survive on their clay tablets, which sometimes record actual court cases. Hammurabi's laws, however, were carved on an 8 foot stone pillar, imported to the mud flats of Mesopotamia at great expense from some distant rocky place, to show how pious he was, and his "laws" seem never had to have been used in any practical context.

Which kind of makes Phil's point.

Over at the American political blog is another revelatory post on the nature historical memory and its malleability. It is an on-video conversation between Rick Perlstein and David Frum about Perlstein's recent book about Richard Nixon and his behavior in office. David Frum of course is a well-known "conservative" pundit (responsible for that destructive phrase "axis of evil," though he has since denied it) who tries to make the argument here that Nixon was nothing extraordinary, that he did what predecessors had done, and was singled out because the rules had changed. Perlstein does not buy that and, more importantly, thinks that from Frum's arguments in many cases are "not-so's," things that are frankly "not so." Whatever you think of this exchange, surely things like this happen all the time, and affect our historical understanding and the historical record that comes down later generations. Is it in fact true that Richard Nixon wrote all the Lennon and McCartney songs?

I want to note here that I am in awe of how Pearlstein uses a combination of text and video to construct his argument, and then shows you material you have seen before to let you test his argument. And of course the entire interview is available at the originating site,

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More of this, please

Last night at Knox College, Illinois, site of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Ashcroft, former US Attorney General tried to justify his legacy of torture and government spying. The students weren't having any of it. Read all about it at DailyKos.

The Q&A session.

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This is your planet

For an explanation, proper credits and a better view, go here to Astronomy Picture of the Day.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Michael Grant, classicist

One of my students asked about the classicist Michael Grant, what I thought of him and his work. Michael Grant was someone who knew the classical sources extremely well. Any book by him would reflect that knowledge. If you wanted to get trendy new interpretations, however, this is not the guy to go to.

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Job satisfaction

I am now in the home stretch of my grading of winter term final examinations. This is the part of academic life teaching professors hate the most, and it is grueling. It is very difficult to be consistent and fair when you're reading similar material time and again, and there is no mistake so gruesome or flabbergasting that somebody will not eventually make it on the paper you are grading.

But this year, grading exams that are made up of short or long essay questions, I am feeling a good deal of job satisfaction. Grading these essays has assured me that the courses I presented succeeded in inspiring some insight and even passion in some of my students. It's hard to say how much they got from me, or how much is original in their thinking, but actually I don't care what the balance is. Students who never had much reason to think about medieval English or ancient history, I guess, have presented me with evidence that they found things in the course material that they actually cared about.

I've done my job.

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Fox Fur Nebula

Can't pass this one up. As always, click for a larger view, or visit Astronomy Picture of the Day.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Contesting the Crusades, by Norman Housley

Even Web advertising has its place.

I first became aware of this book because it showed up on a regular basis on a friend's blog. It became one of the books I decided to consult early in my preparations for my upcoming Crusade and Jihad course. And I'm glad I did.

Contesting the Crusades is not an attempt at a zippy narrative of the events, but for a professional historian it has zip anyway. If you want to know what questions and aspects of the Crusades people have been debating for the last generation or so, this is a very good place to find out. Even though it is a book that mainly discusses other people's books and articles, it is very well-written. It passed the most relevant test when I found reason to read it out loud. My tongue felt good. Quite a contrast to another recent book which is a zippy narrative but is filled with stylistic errors like dangling participles and uncertain referents so that you have to read a paragraph twice to find out which Baldwin the author is talking about. Given the number of Baldwins that is no trivial matter.

Since I will have no students to talk to or lectures to give until September, you can expect that the number of " book" posts will increase. It's not so much that I will be reading more, but that I will have more time and motive to comment.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chinese troops in Zimbabwe?

What is this and what does it represent?

It's beyond me to explain. Go here, though, and check it out.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

How on earth do you find these things?

I asked that question of Will McLean, author of A Commonplace Book, when he came up with an obscure trove of information about historic archery. He was kind enough to answer the question in this post.

The essence of the post is here:
In trying to recreate the Middle Ages, the 17th and 18th c. are useful places to look for hints if you can't find the information in a medieval source. It’s not perfect, but a lot better than using your enormous 21st c. brain to attempt to deduce things you don’t know from first principles. Diderot’s Encyclopedie was a great help to me in trying to recreate medieval scabbards, for example.

Will knows whereof he speaks. He has seen many enormous re-enacting brains come a-cropper, some as long ago as the 20th century, and has done lots of good work using, you know, scholarship.

A list of some of his favorite resources is here.

Image: Will, in one fabulous suit of armor.

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A simple pleasure

One inobvious pleasure of being a professor is that I am introduced in every year and in every course to a list of student names. I have always loved the variety of names, their history, their idiosyncrasies. And some names are just pleasant.

Some of what I'm talking about is probably pretty obvious. I get to watch the name fads of 20 years ago march across my class lists, climb into prominence, peak, then fade out or perhaps make a comeback. Right now in Ontario the name Kaitlin ( various spellings) is coming on strong, while Jason seems to be less popular in my student cohort than it was a few years ago. I get to note such facts as the astonishing frequency of Francophone surnames among Ontarians people who probably don't think of themselves as Francophones -- at least their French is nonexistent. (And no, few of them are from Northern Ontario, where you might expect this.) Occasionally someone with a fictional or historical name of some fame shows up in my classes.

But the most fun of all is finding beautiful and unusual names in a class list. What I mean is, names that aren't obviously common in any language I know, that to me are just beautiful syllables, about which one can endlessly speculate. Are they in fact names that are common someplace unfamiliar to me, or are they made up by people with a lot of taste?

This year was a good one for the simply beautiful. Unfortunately, I can't share them with you, certainly not in this forum. That would be a terrible abuse of people's privacy. But there is nothing to stop you from looking around your wordy environment for this simple pleasure.

Image: names as inversions by Scott Kim, puzzlemaster.

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You couldn't make up stuff like this

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A night sky over Sweden

From Astronomy Picture of the Day, natch. Click for a better approximation of this glory.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

What I should have talked about in the last World History lecture

I have concluded that I missed an opportunity to discuss two important issues in the last World History lecture last Monday. I blame it on end-of-term fatigue.

The first of these issues is the coming global famine. I walked into the room wanting to say something about this, which reading the Egyptian news at Al-Ahram had alerted me to. Food prices have gone up for a while and now reasonably stable if not very prosperous countries like Egypt are being hit hard. Since Monday, I've read a lot more. Here is a detailed article from the Wall Street Journal, and here are Phil Paine's remarks at his blog (April 13 post). The Journal blames the rise on commodity prices, which is just code for oil; thus the food crisis is another indirect effect of the Iraq war.

The second issue I did mention briefly, in connection with the international criminal court in the Hague. The United States, extremely imperfectly, has provided leadership in the post-World War II world and various public and especially private initiatives originating there have had a positive effect. We cannot depend upon that anymore. Not only has the USA abandoned the multilateral approach to world peace, the need for which was so evident after both world wars, it has become a great danger to that peace, not in just one place or region, but everywhere its influence reaches. This post at the blog Empire Burlesque -- Too Much of Nothing: Crime Without Punishment, War Without End -- pretty much catches my mood. I'm not sure there will be an attack on Iran, but even without that concluding bit, things are quite bad enough as it is.

One of my more attentive students challenged me privately after the last lecture for my doom and gloom view of recent events. Actually, I felt I was softening the blow. I am afraid we will see just how much damage a modern superpower without a moral compass can do, to itself and everyone else.

(Thanks to Atrios at Eschaton for the EB link; that's why I read you, Atrios.)

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Democracy vs. Crime: Phil Paine's Sixth Meditation on Democracy, part one

This is the best of Phil Paine's meditations yet.

Here's the key passage, I think:

Democracy is a mode of human social interaction that can be practiced by any human group, of any size, with any type of technology, and at any time or place.

Democracy is a product of human intelligence and creative imagination, in the same way that technology, art, and music are. These fields of human creativity are the direct consequences of human faculties, not passively determined by environment. In other words, human sculpture in wood comes about because of a built-in need of humans, as conscious, thinking, and self-aware beings, to manipulate physical objects for representational and symbolic purposes. It is not merely a side-effect of the availability of wood. If wood is not available, then the impulse to carve will find another object, such as bone, stone, clay, or even the human body itself. Similarly, democracy is a product of the profoundest creativity in human nature, the ability to grasp that other human beings are not merely external objects, but conscious beings, similar and equal to oneself. Consequently, democracy cannot be explained as the result of temporary conditions, such as population density, climate, resource limits, birthrates, or modes of production, though these variables may influence its application.

The purpose of democracy is to promote and protect the well-being of humans, while its opponent principle, crime (warfare, caste systems, hereditary privilege, tyranny, aristocracy, dictatorship, theocracy, and totalitarian ideology) is pathological. Thus the relationship of democracy to the “political” concepts subsumed in crime is similar to that of the healthy organism to infectious disease. The relationship is one of constant strategy and counter-strategy, innovation and adaptation, with the predators on humanity exploiting every novel condition as an “opening” to establish their infection. Thus, political crime, embodied in caste, aristocracy, or kingship, is “normal” and “natural” to human societies, in the same sense that infectious disease is endemic to it. That “normalcy” does not mean that crime is either desirable, or that we should passively tolerate it. Democratic thought and action constitute the practical strategy for surviving the pathology of tyranny, just as understanding biology and practicing cleanliness are the practical strategy for surviving the ever-variant assaults from disease.

Those of you interested in American politics may want to compare Phil's analysis to this front-page post at Daily Kos.

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The first blackfly of spring!


A late snow has covered everything in white, but the bright sun is bringing out early blackflies ANYWAY!

Image: a T-shirt design from a nearby town.

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Holy Lance Church in Armenia

Many people know that the discovery of the Holy Lance in Antioch saved the First Crusade. Today English Russia posted several pictures of an alternate site for the Holy Lance, at a church in Armenia. I've also heard the Lance was at Constantinople (which led some churchmen at Antioch during the crusade to doubt the reality of the just-discovered one).

This rather odd art looks strangely familiar to me. What am I thinking of? Readers?

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Lies by omission

The Group News Blog says it:

...the most shocking thing this weekend is the complete silence from the corporate media on this. 6 of the top people in the Bush administration were meeting for over a year, in the White House, to discuss torture techniques and the President knew and approved of it.

And the story can barely be found even on Google News.

When people bemoan the Internet-induced death of quality journalism, remember this. The quality journalists, and they exist, are not allowed to do their work if the topic is really vital.

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Cellphone world

Here is an article from the New York Times Magazine that's so interesting I wanted to copy the whole thing into my blog. on one level, it's about Jan Chipchase, has one of the most interesting jobs in the world, and for that alone it's worth reading. more broadly, it's about how the mobile phone, or improved communications, can make a huge difference not only to the global poor, but everybody else as well.

Catch this:

Jan Chipchase and his user-research colleagues at Nokia can rattle off example upon example of the cellphone’s ability to increase people’s productivity and well-being, mostly because of the simple fact that they can be reached. There’s the live-in housekeeper in China who was more or less an indentured servant until she got a cellphone so that new customers could call and book her services. Or the porter who spent his days hanging around outside of department stores and construction sites hoping to be hired to carry other people’s loads but now, with a cellphone, can go only where the jobs are. Having a call-back number, Chipchase likes to say, is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move — displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies — can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool. Over several years, his research team has spoken to rickshaw drivers, prostitutes, shopkeepers, day laborers and farmers, and all of them say more or less the same thing: their income gets a big boost when they have access to a cellphone.
Or this:

Ugandans are using prepaid airtime as a way of transferring money from place to place, something that’s especially important to those who do not use banks. Someone working in Kampala, for instance, who wishes to send the equivalent of $5 back to his mother in a village will buy a $5 prepaid airtime card, but rather than entering the code into his own phone, he will call the village phone operator (“phone ladies” often run their businesses from small kiosks) and read the code to her. She then uses the airtime for her phone and completes the transaction by giving the man’s mother the money, minus a small commission. “It’s a rather ingenious practice,” Chipchase says, “an example of grass-roots innovation, in which people create new uses for technology based on need.”

It’s also the precursor to a potentially widespread formalized system of mobile banking. Already companies like Wizzit, in South Africa, and GCash, in the Philippines, have started programs that allow customers to use their phones to store cash credits transferred from another phone or purchased through a post office, phone-kiosk operator or other licensed operator. With their phones, they can then make purchases and payments or withdraw cash as needed. Hammond of the World Resources Institute predicts that mobile banking will bring huge numbers of previously excluded people into the formal economy quickly, simply because the latent demand for such services is so great, especially among the rural poor. This bodes well for cellphone companies, he says, since owning a phone will suddenly have more value than sharing a village phone. “If you’re in Hanoi after midnight,” Hammond says, “the streets are absolutely clogged with motorbikes piled with produce. They give their produce to the guy who runs a vegetable stall, and they go home. How do they get paid? They get paid the next time they come to town, which could be a month or two later. You have to hope you can find the stall guy again and that he remembers what he sold. But what if you could get paid the next day on your mobile phone? Would you care what that mobile costs? I don’t think so.”

Watch out, banks!

On a day when I'm angry that no one cares about the torture memos or the torture meetings in the White House, it's nice to have some good news.

Image: from Jan Chipchase's blog Future Perfect, from a post on using mobile communications to publicize human rights abuses.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

In Marca Hispanica -- the series

Jonathan Jarrett is the author of a blog called A Corner of 10th-century Europe. Its appeal time for me is that it's an academic blog that is primarily about scholarship but is charming nonetheless. Not to mention well illustrated (see above). The corner of Europe the title refers to is Catalonia in northeastern Spain. The documentation for this corner, as for other areas in this time, is mostly charter evidence for the transfer of property by important people. From this kind of evidence, scholars like Jarrett try to reconstruct the society of the time.

Recently, I'm not sure when, Jarrett traveled through present-day Catalonia to consult archives and see the country. Lots of medieval buildings and street-scapes still exist there. He's been recording the trip on his blog and just recently concluded the series. I like the series well enough that I am putting links to its episodes in the order that the posts were written. The reason? If I said, "go to the blog and read these posts," few would have the patience to go backwards through the blog and find them. This is the disadvantage of the blog format. But if I list the links here maybe a few will actually read the series. If you are a scholar or a fan of scholarship, do not miss the very last episode.

Note: the first In Marca Hispanica post does not tell us when exactly this trip took place. Hey, it began life as a blog entry among other blog entries.

The series:

In Marca Hispanica I: Girona
In Marca Hispanica II: Barcelona from Romans to Gaudí
In Marca Hispanica III: cartoon nationalism
In Marca Hispanica IV: Sacalm and Tona, and nationalist sentiment 889-2008
In Marca Hispanica V: Vic (charters, cathedrals, metal bishops and stone slabs)
In Marca Hispanica VI: Plana de Gurb (but not the castle)
In Marca Hispanica VII: Besalú and its rainy gardens
In Marca Hispanica VIII: pilgrimage to see Emma
In Marca Hispanica IX: actual charter scholarship

Preparing for HIST 3805 -- "History of Islamic Civilization" (Fall-winter 2008-9)

I have this fantasy that some of my students are interested -- or will be, once final exams are over -- in some gentle preparation for fall courses. Bear with me here -- it's a harmless fantasy. It originates in my own work habits. If I don't prepare well in advance for my part in the courses, I know that books won't be ordered in time, handouts won't be finished, and my brain won't be on track. So I've actually been thinking about fall courses, especially my new Crusade and Jihad course (HIST 3116) and a possible restructuring of Islamic Civilization (HIST 3805) for quite a while.

I repeatedly think about the Quran. It certainly would be an advantage to any student in either of those two classes to read the holy book of Islam before they walked into the classroom. But I've only read it straight through myself once because it's long enough and difficult enough that I just can't seem to fit it in.

I have thought yesterday, however. Why not look on the web for a site that leads you through a reading of the Quran day by day? I looked, but found no sites that I liked. However, I did find one that provides a recitation of an English translation of the Quran on a daily basis. There is something very appealing about this approach; after all, the Quran was originally revealed through recitation and was only written down after the Prophet's death.

So, students and other readers, I invite you to join me in listening to the Quran for six minutes every day. Surely, you often find yourself sitting in front of a computer with six extra minutes to waste?

Warning: Don't expect the Quran to be like the Gospels or the historical books of the Old Testament. It's not a story, it's a series of divine revelations, which when they were written down were not arranged in chronological order. if you want a straightforward history of the Prophet and his mission, you need to go elsewhere. What you are getting here is the message of the Messenger. And what you may gain is a feeling for the religion that goes beyond a historical account.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

"History will not judge this kindly."

You bet.

ABC News reports that we now know who in the US government approved torture. Watch this:

I am sorry not to have a more cheerful subject to break my grading-related blogging silence, but some things need to be spoken immediately.

I rather like the statement by Colin Powell that implies he might not be able to remember discussions of the sort reported. You are a real hero, Colin. An example to the children of America. (That link not for those who are creeped out easily.)

Update: For those of you who care about the Constitution, see this (from

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Canals on Mars?

No, runoff in the back field, following paths made by the horses.

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Spring treat

It feels like spring here at last, but it was still possible to skate on a runoff pond this morning. I'll bet the sap is running fast today.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Walking across Mars

According to Astronomy Picture of the Day, if you could stay warm and breathe, it wouldn't take long at all to cross this interesting rock formation on Mars. For a discussion of this landscape, Aureum Chaos, see this page.

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English Russia has some appalling pictures of an abandoned library. I wonder what the story behind this is?


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Checking out the archives of Vic

At any good university the historians insist that students use original sources. But only a few early medieval historians get to use sources like this in their original form:

The archive in question is in Vic, in Catalonia (which may be in Spain, depending on who you ask).

Also in Vic is this modern statue 11th century bishop Oliba, which symbolizes his connection to the Peace and Truce of God, which students in HIST 3116 next fall will be learning about to their complete satisfaction.

Thanks to Jonathan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe who had entirely too much fun in the archives.

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History Club Pub, Thursday April 3, 9 p.m.

It's at the Bull and Quench pub, upstairs.

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Human rights, religious freedom, and tolerance in Canada

Phil Paine has written at an essay on a human rights case in Toronto entitled Distinguishing between real and fake human rights issues. followed the link and page down Wednesday, April 2, 2008.

Although Phil does not have a comment section on his website, he encourages replies from his readers. Drop him a line.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Back in the field, April 2, 2008

I'm pining for some warm weather and some real Spring green, but there is something fascinating about the process of snow melting, forming pools, and then freezing over again. The hollow we use for our Labour Day get-together filled with rain and run-off yesterday and soldified into what looks like a perfect natural rink. (I doubt that it's strong enough to skate on, though.)

The pictures below show the Viking forge, the barrier (at the moment disassembled) for foot combats, and one of our dogs -- or is it a bear? -- in front of same barrier.

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Canada is at war

Canada is at war, and has been for a long time. Like a lot of people, perhaps, I have had a hard time coming to grips with this. In my case, I've been distracted by the rolling catastrophe in Iraq, and in the United States.

Today I came to grips with my "Afghanistan War avoidance syndrome" and started looking at something that's been staring me in the face for days, every time I've gone to the Globe and Mail site. There you and I can find the results of an astonishing journalistic project, especially astonishing in this era where a mostly corrupt and stupid US press sets the tone.

The project is called Talking to the Taliban, and that title describes it well. Reporter Graeme Smith commissioned an unnamed interviewer to put a list of 20 standardized questions to 42 Taliban fighters. As Smith says, not all of the individual answers are very enlightening, but the procedure had the advantage of being an effort to create a systematic picture. People who call themselves "oral historians" do things like this, but journalists?

I'm impressed. My reactions to the content later.

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Resurrection of the Iraqi National Museum

Five years ago, during the invasion, the enormously significant archaeological collection at the Iraqi National Museum was plundered. (I'm sure there is a big story behind that plundering, not that we are likely ever to know it.)

Now, some good news: progress is being made towards restoration. The Globe and Mail has a short video report here.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Don't believe in miraculous visions seen by famous dictators?

Like, say, Constantine?

In addition to the example above, taken from English Russia, see more here.

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