--> Many eyed bug thing- the diary of a Neighbours addict many eyed bug thing many eyes buggy eyes green thing buggy eyes many buggy eyed thing

Monday, October 24, 2005

Shirley Horn

Shirley Horn, one of the last great jazz divas.

Where are all the dead women? If anything spells out the necessity of feminism it's the fact that at least 90% of the obituaries in the British national press are for men!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dang Thuy Tram's diary

"I had to do an appendix operation without enough medicine. Only a few
tubes of Novocain, but the wounded young soldier never cried out or yelled. He
continued to smile to encourage me. Looking at the forced smile on his dry lips,
knowing his fatigue, I felt so sorry for him...I lightly stroked his hair. I
would like to say to him: 'Patients like you who I cannot cure cause me the most
sorrow, and their memory will not fade.'"

The diary of a Vietnamese doctor who was killed during the Vietnam war at the age of 27 has caused a sensation. It has sold over 300, 000 copies 'generating numerous translations and a television show and sparking a wave of patriotic nostalgia among young Vietnamese.' Read more at Oh My News.

Amnesia, Roman double standards and Rubenesque violence

The moving story (oh dear that sounds like such a cliche) of a 35 year old man who found himself on a train to Coney Island with absolutely no idea who he was.

Tom Holland says that the BBC's latest series about the Romans goes OTT on the sex scenes and misses what was really interesting about Roman life.

Waldemar Januszczak sees Rubens as more than a chocolate box painter of plump ladies. He cites the considerable sexual violence in Rubens' work and describes him as 17th-century Quentin Tarantino. Do you agree?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Female obituaries

Sarah Levi-Tanai, Yemenite Israeli choreographer, composer and performer.
Mildred Shay, actress.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Napoleon and Betsy Balcombe

A delightful drama from Radio 4.
In 1815, a young English girl, Betsy Balcombe, is living with her family on the
island of St Helena . Her life is about to change, as she meets the most
dramatic, glamorous and sinister figure of the age. Julia Blackburn's Betsy and
Napoleon is a true story based on contemporary accounts.

Yorkshire Greats

Bernard Ingham on why he included only five women in his new book, Yorkshire Greats. A sweet little interview with a political dinosaur.

Inspirational women

Vivian Malone Jones died after a stroke in Atlanta at the age of 63. She came to public attention as one of two black students who enrolled at the University of Alabama in 1963.
When, in 1965, she received a degree in business management, she became the first African-American graduate in the university's 134-year history - the first black student had been Autherine Lucy, who, in 1956, sought a master's degree in library science, only to be suspended and later expelled, ostensibly for her own safety, after three days of rioting and threats.
Betty Leslie Melville devoted decades of her life to the protection of a rare species of giraffe.
At the outset of her interest in the early 1970s, there were only about 120, but they now number up to 400 in Kenya and 500 altogether, due to the efforts of her and her third husband Jock Leslie-Melville, the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish earl, who died in 1984.
Helen Cresswell, who has died aged 71, was one of Britain's most prolific children's writers, creating memorable and often funny characters in books and television dramas for more than 45 years. Cresswell was passionate about her role, insisting that children "deserve the best" in novels, and in television adaptations and series created specially for them, as well as introductions to the classics.

Recent additions to Project Gutenberg

I've just been looking at the recent addition on Project Gutenberg. It's amazing really that they are adding so much so quickly. The following texts are written by women:

Corinne or Italy by Madame de Stael (1766-1817)
Skyrider by B.M.Bower (1871-1940) (author of westerns)
The Mayor's Wife and A Strange Disappearance by Anna Katharine Green
May Brooke by Anna H.Dorsey
Greenwich Village by Anna Alice Chapin
Fanny goes to war by Pat Beauchamp

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rivers goes nuts

Joan Rivers goes nuts.

Iceland women's strike of 1974

Fascinating stuff. It makes me want to run around outside waving my spare bra.

Carnival of the feminists

Read it here! It's very good.

Is time travel possible?

It's nerve wracking enough going to live in a foreign country without knowing what it's like. I don't understand why anyone would want to live in the future. How awful must it be to be homesick for a world that no longer exists.

However is time travel theoretically possible?

It's a question that has been seriously considered outside the realms of science fiction. This BBC article discusses one of the paradoxes of time travel. A new model using the laws of quantum physics (I don't even know what that is) suggests that it is possible to go back in time but that we can only observe events, we can't alter them. The fact of the present being the way it is means that anything you do in the past can only lead to the present state of affairs.

Michio Kaku describes the physics behind time travel here. I've never been able to get my head round the fact that time can speed up and slow down. If time were a thing like soup I could imagine it changing in consistency, but isn't time an abstract, an idea? How can it change? I really wish someone would explain that one to me. (Ah, this sort of helps.)
Einstein gave us a much more radical picture. According to Einstein, time was
more like a river, which meandered around stars and galaxies, speeding up and
slowing down as it passed around massive bodies. One second on the earth was Not
one second on Mars. Clocks scattered throughout the universe beat to their own
distant drummer.
Kaku outlines two issues that get in the way of time travel.
  1. A huge amount energy is required. 'One either has to harness the power of a star, or to find something called “exotic” matter (which falls up, rather than down) or find a source of negative energy.'
  2. In principle a worm hole can be used to connect two regions of time but there is no way of knowing if it would be stable.
Stephen Hawkings thinks that time travel may be possible but that there are huge obstacles. He discusses these issues further in this lecture. It made my head hurt reading it but it's worth a look.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The KT Boundary

Across the entire planet, where it hasn't been eroded or destroyed in land movements, there is a thin grey line. In Italy it is 1 cm thick, in America it stretches to three centimetres, but it is all the same thin grey line laid into the rock some 65 million years ago and it bears witness to a cataclysmic event experienced only once in Earth's history. It is called the KT Boundary and geologists believe it is the clue to the death of the dinosaurs and the ultimate reason why mammals and humans inherited the Earth. Find out more here.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Kepler's supernova

More posts later in the week.

Kepler's star

The last supernova to be observed in the Milky Way was spotted by several observers on 9th October 1604. These included John Brunowski in Prague who informed Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), then the Imperial Mathematician to the Habsburg Emperor. Kepler studied the phenomenon so intensively that it was later named Kepler's star. (You can see a photograph of its remnants here. I think it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.)

Kepler's star was the second supernova to be observed in a generation. In 1572 the rather good looking Danish astronomer, astrologer and alchemist Tycho Brahe had discovered one in the constellation of Cassiopeia. He was possibly not the first to see it. Early in his career Kepler had been Tycho's assistant. Incidentally if you've heard the story of an astronomer who died because he was too embarrassed to leave a banquet to go to the toilet, that was Tycho. It may however not be true.

The birth of stars

A star is a body that at some time in its life generates its light and heat by nuclear reactions, specifically by the fusion of hydrogen into helium under conditions of enormous temperature and density. The Sun is powered by hydrogen fusion, as are many of the other stars you see at night. The fusion does not take place throughout the star, but only in its deep interior, in its core, where it is hot enough. To create the conditions for such "thermonuclear fusion," stars must be massive. The Sun has the mass of 333,000 Earths. Stars can range up to about 100 times the mass of the Sun (at which point nature stops making them) down to around 8% that of the Sun, at which point the internal temperature is not high enough to run the full range of nuclear reactions (which requires at least 7 million degrees Kelvin).

The space between the stars is filled with dusty gas. If the gravity in a dust cloud is great enough they can form into one or more stars. Contraction causes more rapid spin, which creates a disk around the birthing star, from which it can draw matter. Further condensation within the disk can create planets (or even stellar companions). The contraction of forming stars raises the internal temperature, finally to the point of ignition of hydrogen fusion. (I haven't written any of this. It's been abridged from here)

Leptons- electrons, muons, tauons and neutrinos

An atom was originally thought to be the smallest particle of matter. However we now know that atoms are made up of other even smaller particles. Most atoms consist of negatively charged electrons, positively charged protons and neutral neutrons. Perhaps an easy way to remember it is that neutrons are obviously neutral, protons are pro-actively positive and electrons have to be negative because there’s nothing else left.

Electrons are thought to be leptons. This means that they can not be broken down into anything smaller. Electrons belong to the lepton family of fermions. The other fermions are muons, tauons and neutrinos. I see from wikipedia that a tauon is ‘a negatively charged elementary particle with a lifetime of 3×10−13 seconds and a high mass of 1777 MeV (compared to 939 MeV for protons and 0.511 MeV for electrons).’ Well that clears that up then. A muon ‘is a semistable fundamental particle with negative electric charge and a spin of 1/2.’ ‘In physics, spin refers to the angular momentum intrinsic to a body, as opposed to orbital angular momentum, which is generated by the motion of its center of mass about an external point.’

Neutrinos can pass through matter unhindered for some reason that I can’t even begin to understand. They are an important product of supernovae. A supernova can be a massive star that collapses inward under the force of its own gravity or a white dwarf star (A white dwarf is an astronomical object which is produced when a low or medium mass star dies) that gathers material from a companion star until it reaches its limit and undergoes a thermonuclear explosion. Protons and electrons combine in the core of supernovae to form neutrinos. (Source: wikipedia)

Now, the Holocene, the Cenozoic

The Cenozoic is the present and most recent of the four geological eras. It was preceded by the Mesozoic era which encompassed the the Triassic, the Jurassic and the Cretaceous periods. The dinosaurs died at the end of the Cretaceous period 65.5 million years ago. The Cenozoic is the age of mammals. In the last 65.5 million years we hairy milk producing beasties have evolved into a diverse collection of land, sea and flying mammals. However our history began long before then as we mammals coexisted with the dinosaurs.The Cenozoic could also be called the age of birds, insects and flowering plants as they have also evolved to the same degree during this time.

The Cenozoic is also divided into subsections. It consists of the Tertiary and the Quaternary. The Tertiary is divided into the Neogene (which covers the Pliocene and the Miocene) and the Paleogene (which covers the Oligocene, Eocene and Paleocene). These terms are as familiar to scientists as phrases like ‘early modern’ or ‘divine right of kings’ are to historians. In the last week I have struggled to learn about natural history because I lacked an understanding of this basic vocabulary. I hope I haven’t made any mistakes in this article because all the new words are a bit confusing.

We live in the Quaternary, which stretches back to about 1.6-1.8 million years ago. Recent changes in international classification have subsumed the Quaternary into the Neogene. Assuming for now that we can still use the term Quaternary, it is itself divided into the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs. The last 10, 000 radiocarbon years (each year equal to 1.3 normal years) have been the Holocene. If I’ve understood it correctly a glacial period divided the Holocene and Pleistocene. A glacial period is not the same thing as an ice age. I think an ice age covers warm and cold periods known as glacial and interglacial. The Holocene is an interglacial period. I’m a little bit confused but I assume the ice age is over and we’re not just in a lull. Are we?

North and South Korea timeline

1945- End of the second world war the USSR occupies the area of Korea north of the 38th parallel and America occupies the south.

1946 - North Korea's Communist Party (Korean Workers' Party - KWP) inaugurated. Soviet-backed leadership installed, including Red Army-trained Kim Il-sung.

1948 - Democratic People's Republic of Korea proclaimed. Soviet troops withdraw.

1950- South Korea declares independence and North Korea invades.

1953- An armistice ends the Korean war. Two million people have been killed.

1960- In South Korea President Syngman Ree steps down after student protests against electoral fraud. New constitution forms Second Republic, but political freedom remains limited.

1960s - In North Korea there is heavy industrial growth.

1961 - In South Korea a military coup puts General Park Chung-hee in power.

1963 - In South Korea General Park restores some political freedom and proclaims Third Republic. Major programme of industrial development begins.

1972 - In South Korea martial law is declared. Park increases his powers with constitutional changes.

After secret North-South talks, both sides seek to develop dialogue aimed at unification.

1979 - In South Korea Park is assassinated. General Chun Doo-hwan assumes power.

1980 - Martial law is declared after student demonstrations. In the city of Kwangju at least 200 killed by the army, causing resentment that has yet to fade. Fifth republic and new constitution.

In North Korea Kim Il-sung's son, Kim Jong-il, moves up party and political ladder.

1981 - In South Korea Chun indirectly elected to a seven year term. Martial law ends, but government continues to have strong powers to prevent dissent.

1986 - In South Korea the constitution is changed to allow direct election of the president.

1980s - In South there is an increasing shift towards high-tech and computer industry.

1987 - In South Korea President Chun is pushed out of office by student unrest and international pressure in the build-up to the Sixth constitution. Roh Tae-woo succeeds Chun, grants greater degree of political liberalisation and launches anti-corruption drive.

1988 - Olympic games in Seoul, South Korea. First free parliamentary elections.

1991 - North and South Korea join the United Nations.

1992 - North Korea agrees to allow inspections by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but over next two years refuses access to sites of suspected nuclear weapons production.

1993 - In South Korea Roh is succeeded by Kim Young Sam, a former opponent of the regime and the first civilian president.

1994 - In North Korea Kim Il-sung dies. Kim Jong-il suceeds him as leader, but doesn't take presidential title. North Korea agrees to freeze nuclear programme in return for $5bn worth of free fuel and two nuclear reactors.

1995 - US formally agrees to help provide North Korea with two modern nuclear reactors designed to produce less weapons-grade plutonium.

1995 - In South Korea corruption and treason charges are brought against Roh Tae-woo and Chun Doo-hwan.

1996- Pyongyang announces it will no longer abide by the armistice that ended the Korean War, and sends troops into the demilitarised zone. A North Korean submarine runs aground in the South, 11 crew found shot dead in apparent mass suicide and 13 killed by South Korean forces during massive search operation.

South Korea admitted to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In North Korea severe famine follows widespread floods.

1998 - In South Korea Kim Dae-jung sworn in as president and pursues "sunshine policy" of offering unconditional economic and humanitarian aid to North Korea.

South Korea captures North Korean mini-submarine in its waters. Nine crew inside found dead.

1998 - In North Korea the late Kim Il-song declared "eternal president", while Kim Jong-il's powers widened to encompass head of state.

UN food aid brought in to help famine victims in North Korea.

North launches rocket which flies over Japan and lands in the Pacific Ocean. Pyongyang insists it fired a satellite, not a missile.

2000 June - Summit in Pyongyang between Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. North stops propaganda broadcasts against South.

2000 August - Border liaison offices re-open at truce village of Panmunjom.

South Korea gives amnesty to more than 3,500 prisoners.

One hundred North Koreans meet their relatives in the South in a highly-charged, emotional reunion.

Kim Dae-jung awarded Nobel Peace Prize.

2001 May - In North Korea a European Union delegation headed by Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson visits to help shore up the fragile reconciliation process with South Korea. The group represents the highest-level Western diplomatic mission ever to travel to North Korea.

2001 June - North Korea says it is grappling with the worst spring drought of its history.

2001 August - Kim Jong Il arrives for his first visit to Moscow after an epic nine-day, 10,000-kilometre train journey from Pyongyang. Kim apparently dislikes flying.

2002 January - US President George W Bush says North Korea is part of an "axis of evil", along with states such as Iraq and Iran. Pyongyang says Mr Bush has not stopped far short of declaring war.

2002 September - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits North Korea, the first Japanese leader to do so. He meets Kim Jong-il who apologises for the abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

2002 March - Group of 25 North Koreans defect to South Korea through Spanish embassy in Beijing, highlighting plight of tens of thousands hiding in China after fleeing famine, repression in North.

2002 June - Battle between South Korean and North Korean naval vessels along their disputed sea border leaves four South Koreans dead and 19 wounded. Thirty North Koreans are thought to have been killed.

2002 December - In South Korea Roh Moo-hyun, from governing Millennium Democratic Party, wins closely-fought presidential elections.

2002 October-December - Nuclear tensions mount. In October the US says North Korea has admitted to having a secret weapons programme. The US decides to halt oil shipments to Pyongyang. In December North Korea begins to reactivate its Yongbyon reactor. International inspectors are thrown out.

2003 January - North Korea withdraws from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a key international agreement aimed at preventing the spread of atomic weapons.

2003 April - Delegations from North Korea, the US and China begin talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the first such discussions since the start of the nuclear crisis.

2003 July - Pyongyang claims that it has produced enough plutonium to start making nuclear bombs.

2003 August - Six-nation talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear programme fail to bridge gap between Washington and Pyongyang.

2003 October - Biggest mass crossing of demilitarised zone since Korean War: Hundreds of South Koreans travel to Pyongyang for opening of gymnasium funded by South's Hyundai conglomerate.

2003 October - Pyongyang says it has finished reprocessing 8,000 nuclear fuel rods, obtaining enough material to make up to six nuclear bombs.

2004 February - South Korean parliament approves controversial dispatch of 3,000 troops to Iraq.

2004 March-May - In South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun suspended after parliament votes to impeach him over breach of election rules and for incompetence. In May the Constitutional Court overturns the move and President Roh is reinstated.

2004 April - More than 160 killed and hundreds more injured when train carrying oil and chemicals hits power line in town of Ryongchon in North Korea.

2004 June - Third round of six-nation talks on nuclear programme ends inconclusively. North Korea pulls out of scheduled September round. In South Korea US proposes to cut by a third its troop presence. Opposition raises security fears over the plan.

2004 August - In South Korea Yeongi-Kongju area selected as site for new capital, to replace Seoul by 2030. (But!)

2004 September - South Korea admits that its scientists carried out an experiment to enrich uranium in 2000. In November the UN's nuclear watchdog rebukes Seoul but decides not to refer the matter to the Security Council.

2004 December - Row with Japan over fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped and trained as spies by North Korea in 70s, 80s. Tokyo says eight victims, said by Pyongyang to be dead, are alive.

Parliament votes to extend the deployment of South Korean troops in Iraq.

2005 February - Pyongyang says it has built nuclear weapons for self-defence.

2005 March - Anger as Japan restates its claim to a small group of islands whose sovereignty is disputed by Seoul and Tokyo. South Korea says the move seriously damages relations.

2005 June - Fugitive former head of Daewoo returns and is arrested for his role in the industrial giant's $70bn-plus collapse.

2005 July - Fourth round of six-nation talks on nuclear programme takes place in Beijing after a 13-month boycott by Pyongyang.

Source: BBC timelines for North and South Korea.

Turn your website into a plant

Paul Robeson

I know almost nothing about Paul Robeson so of course I was surprised to read that he had his son educated in Soviet Russia in order to avoid racial discrimination. I'd like to know more about the black experience in the USSR. Snowball, can you help?

Carnival of the feminists

Send your nominations for carnival of the feminists to Natalie.

The cheondogyo religion

The thirty three independence campaigners who gathered in Tapgol park on 1st March 1919 included Buddhist, Christian and Cheondogyo leaders. I had never heard of Cheondogyo until I stumbled across a temple near the shopping district of Insadong in Seoul.
Chondogyo preaches that there is God and that He resides in each of us -
not in Heaven as Christianity and other religions preach. It strives to convert
our earthly society into a paradise (Heaven) right here on Earth. It attempts to
transform the believers into intelligent moral beings with high social
consciousness. In this respect, it is humanistic socialism.

Cheondogyo, which means 'Heavenly way', originated in the nineteenth-century Donghak movement. If you're imagining a story of straightforward religious awakening then you're mistaken. Donghak emerged from a peasant liberation movement. There's a lot of information about it on wikipedia which I must admit I've only skimmed.

If you go to the Cheondogyo website you can find this slightly rickety English description of the religion. This section might be of interest to anti-evolutionists in America.
The Chondogyo God Hanulnim, as the foundation of all things, is an
ingenious mix of individualist non-conformism, being both transcendent and
innate. That is to say, Hanulnim, as the one absolute entity, is the leader of
creation who brings all things into being. But Hanulnim is also a God who
continuously operates through human beings to create anew and to help them
evolve so that they might achieve the purpose for which they were created. Thus
Hanulnim is the transcendent entity that created the myriad things of the Cosmos
while at the same time, being innate to all things of the universe, Hanulnim is
the limitless material form of the Cosmos, forever changing and creating it.
This work of creation and evolution is the utterly impartial, omniscient, and
omnipotent power that has created and directs all living things in Nature, and
the endless creation and evolution of all things in the Cosmos. Furthermore,
this creation and evolution is not artificially created but is, through change
without action(muwiihwa, 無爲而化), spontaneously created through the providence of Hanulnim. That is to say, it is a wholly autonomous creation and evolution and
not a heteronomous one.

Samil movement and the Gwangju massacre

In Korean il means one and sam means three. The Samil (literally three one) movement took its name from the Korean independence protests of 1st March 1919. On that day at two in the afternoon thirty three campaigners met in Tapgol park in Seoul to read a declaration of independence. The crowds who gathered around them formed into a procession which was then crushed by Japanese police. The figures provided by wikipedia suggest that over seven and half thousand demonstrators were killed and more than sixteen thousand wounded. (source) If such a high mortality figure seems extraordinary it helps to remember the large numbers who took part in the protests over President Noh's impeachment in 2004. You can read more about that here and see a photo if you scroll down.

A large number of people were also killed in the Gwangju massacre. Following a coup on 12th December 1979 martial law was declared on 17th May to suppress student demonstrations. In Gwangju a demonstration by students escalated out of control when armed forces responded with violence.
By May 21, some 300,000 people had joined the protest against the General's power; weapons depots and police stations were looted of their weapons and the civil militias, the Citizen Army, beat back the armed forces. With all routes leading in and out of the city blocked by armed forces, the city effectively became a commune, and
a civilian body was formed to maintain order and conduct negotiations with the
government. Although order was well maintained, a number of negotiations to
resolve the situation made no results. On May 27, airborne and army troops
from five divisions were inserted and defeated the civil militias in the downtown area in only 90 minutes. Up to this day, a total of 20,000 soldiers were located to
Gwangju, where the population was approximately 740,000. Source
To this day the death toll is disputed and it has been suggested that between two hundred to two thousand people were killed. You can read a little bit more on this socialist website.

Natural History Museum website

If you're feeling particularly bored you might enjoy twirling this ammonite around. Or you could make the Martians dizzy by turning their planet in the wrong direction. You can find out more about Mars here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Around Tapgol park

This afternoon I spent 20 minutes in Tapgol park (previously called Pagoda park). It's small but worth a look if you happen to be in central Seoul. When Korea was colonised by Japan the park saw the birth of the March 1st Independence movement. If you want to learn more you should take a few moments to read about teenage independence fighter Yu Kwan Soon (Ryu Gwan Sun). If you visit the park you can see friezes commemorating the protest as well as two Buddhist monuments dating from the 15th century. You can read the account of another blogger's visit here.

If you are in the area you can also visit:

Insadong (Quite a nice shopping district. It's described as traditional by tourist information but it's really quite modern and I don't understand why people rave about it. Shops sell souvenirs ranging from good quality to absolute tat)
Yeung Poong bookstore (Good selection of English and Japanese language books. More books about Korea than the nearby Kyobo bookstore. Food court. Paper etc..)
Cheonggyecheon stream (Just round the corner from Gwanghwamun subway station and the Kyobo bookstore. Recently renovated stream. Very popular at night with local people. If the city council play their cards right this area could become Seoul's equivalent of London's Covent Garden. I'll say that even if the Lost Nomad is not impressed with it.)

Saturday, October 15, 2005


I am currently looking through Nasa's Astrobiology magazine.
Astrobiology rests upon a remarkable confluence of science, technology, and popular culture. This historical juncture invites collaborative and indeed synergistic action on the part of scientists from virtually all disciplines and on the part of the public. Through astrobiology we learn about the boundary conditions surrounding our own existence. Discovering how life begins and develops, finding out whether life exists elsewhere, and determining our future on Earth and beyond will have a profound and fundamental effect on the human species. Astrobiology affects our views of the universe, our science, our culture, and ourselves–in short, every aspect of our existence.

Dust. . .

And now for a bit of popular theology

Complicated things, angels.

The Moa: the world's tallest bird

I would like to blog about science as easily as I do about history but I'm a little shy. The problem is that I don't know anything. I feel stupid. Whenever I post a scientific fact anyone with even an atom of knowledge will be saying 'Duh, we all knew that. Where were you?' Never mind, you will have to bear with me.

I've been listening to In Our Time quite a lot this week and I have particularly enjoyed hearing about the weird creatures that lived in other periods. I've heard about marsupial sabre tooth tigers, rolled up carpets with teeth and other species of human. Back in England I enjoyed those BBC series like Sea Monsters and Walking with Dinosaurs. My enjoyment was always rather spoilt by a geneticist who used to rail about what bad science these shows were. I don't know anything about the quality of popular science on tv. Their history equivalents can be a bit superficial but there's nothing to rail against.

If you're interested in strange creatures you might like this video talk about the Moa, the world's tallest bird. I've never seen a video on a museum website before and I think it's a fantastic idea. The talk is also a fascinating insight into Victorian natural history studies.

Hamster babies

Last night I was thinking that when my two hamsters die I wouldn't get anymore unless they had a tank the size of a small car. Hamsters, gerbils and, I expect, other small rodents, spend a lot of time trying to escape. I think that should tell us something. I forgot about them until it was time for bed and I dropped some seeds into the tank. I noticed that the male was nosing an unusually large pink object.

Oh sh*t!

It's a hamster baby!

We covered the tank with a Ginseng gift set packet and I went to bed worrying that the baby would get eaten. I've heard that hamsters do that sometimes. I also wasn't very pleased with myself because the tank needed cleaning and now I can't touch it for two weeks.

This morning I gingerly peeped in and there was the 'male' hamster running around with what looked like two babies coming out of her bottom.

Oh no! Labour problems! What shall I do?

Then I saw a third and realised that they were suckling milk. It seems very careless of her to run around like that but quite impressive that the babies manage to hold on. I just hope she doesn't go on the wheel with them.

Will someone tell the cat to walk round my laptop and not over the keyboard.

More on the hobbit

I'd be intrigued to know just how weird a species of human can get.
"So we've got the prospect of having other new species of human on various parts of island South-East Asia. Some of them could be really weird, having adapted to specific island environments." BBC

Friday, October 14, 2005

Meet a female thatcher

Meet a female thatcher. Did you know that some English thatches still have medieval straw on them?


This programme is worth listening to just for the marsupial sabre toothed tigers.
The Cenozoic Era of Earth's history began 65 million years ago and runs to
this day. It began with the extraordinary 'KT event', a supposed asteroid impact
that destroyed the dinosaurs, and incorporates the break up of Pangaea, the
enormous landmass that eventually formed the continents we know today. It is
known as the 'Age of the Mammals', and it is the period in which warm-blooded,
lactating, often furry animals diversified rapidly and spread across the globe
on land and in the sea.

On the science blogs today (even a bit of history)

John Hawks finds an article about 4000 year old noodles and continues to discuss the hobbit. Was the hobbit just a microcephalic human?

I particularly enjoyed Razib's question: "What kind of adult spends 70-80 hours breeding flies, running simulations and deriving proofs rather than spending time with their families, watching sports or going to church?" Every researcher can replay that sentence by replacing the science words with those appropriate to their own disciplines. The question popped up in a long and interesting discussion about science. I found it easier to understand than Foucault but I still can't summarise it.

Kerim brings news of the expulsion of the bushmen of the Kalahari after tens of thousands of years of habitation.

Mark thanks his parents for being so supportive of his career as a physicist and says some things about mums and dads that are relevant to all academics.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia Pankhurst: suffragette, socialist, internationalist and African campaigner. (I didn't know that did you?) Listen here.

Asian history carnival

Great blog posts and a very pretty map. Here.

How to find more history blogs

I am completely lacking in blogging inspiration this morning. It's obviously just one of those weeks. So I thought I'd see what everyone else is writing about by searching for history on technorati.

The first blog I came across was Rua da Judiaria by Portuguese writer and historian Nuno Guerreiro. (If you go to the bottom of each post you can find an English translation.) I've never seen his blog before although it's often mentioned on Rhine River. Among many other things Nuno writes about Portuguese and American Jewish history. I particularly like this photo. (I've only just noticed that they're not sunglasses on Nuno's head. It's funny how our minds fill in the blanks with the expected isn't it?)

I also found an Italian blog called Kattoliko Pensiero. If you want to translate any of the posts you'll have to run it through google. I'm not sure why this one was listed under history as it consists entirely of conservative Catholic posts. This article is 'interesting', saying that Catholics are discriminated against in Bosnia by Nato and the EU. I don't know whether they are or not but I feel very uneasy about the inflammatory tone of the language in this post. I hope I'm not doing the wrong thing by linking to it. If you want to read more about Vinko Puljic, the cardinal of Sarajevo, there are some more articles here. You can see a brief wikipedia history of the recent war in Bosnia here. This site contains a number of more detailed links although some are now missing. This text provides a helpful outline of the causes of the break up of Yugoslavia.

I also found Miss Mabrouk of Egypt. I'm not sure why she's listed under history either. She certainly writes a good blog and I found this post particularly amusing.

Ah at last, a normal looking history blog. Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce you to Steve's Famous On This Day in history blog. It is rather good.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Your daily dose of heebie jeebies

I'm listening to Abduction, Alienation and Reason. You can find it on the top of the listen again list here under A and read more here.
Sue Nelson tells the story of John E Mack, an eminent Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University who was also passionately interested in the phenomenon of alien abduction.

Science News from the BBC

There will be as many as 50 million environmental refugees in the world in five years' time. That is the conclusion of experts at the United Nations University, who say that a new definition of "environmental refugee" is urgently needed. More. .

The Velociraptor dinosaur made famous by the Hollywood movie Jurassic Park may not have been quite the super-efficient killer we all thought. More. .

China's second manned space mission is just the latest stage in what is becoming an increasingly ambitious project that may one day see a Chinese astronaut on the moon. More. .

World civilisations

I've just been browsing through one of the sites linked to The Best of History Websites. Washington University has set up a series of internet 'classrooms' for undergraduates studying world civilisations. The texts are written for readers who already have a background knowledge of the events and ideas discussed. There is a heck of a lot on this site and I haven't yet been able to find a comprehensive index. This page gives quite a few details but I don't think it encompasses everything. Modules include ancient Egypt, the Bhagavad Gita, Islam and the Chinese Empire. The site also includes resources like image galleries and primary texts.

We are all here thanks to science

I have just returned from the hospital where I have had a great big lump of green plaster removed from my leg. As I wobbled my way home (if you've never broken a bone you won't believe how weak my muscles feel) I had a bright idea. I should blog about science as well as history! In a roundabout way it's all part of the same field of knowledge. I have just been stealing links from Pharyngula's blogroll for the new science section in my sidebar. My favourite so far is Squidblog (well everyone loves squid don't they?) If you're interested in Homo floresiensis (remember the Hobbit?) John Hawks is going to be writing about the findings in his next blog post. There's also more here on the fantastically well written The Loom . Finally over on Savage Minds there is an interesting post about what we can or can not call science.I quote:
The problem is that to accept all belief systems about the natural world as science makes nonsense of the term science. Whether it is intelligent design or aboriginal knowledge, these forms of knowledge are important to those who embrace them, but why do we need to label them as being “scientific” as well? It is true that many things aborigines know through their traditional forms of knowledge have, in fact, been proven to coincide with scientific knowledge as well. But some have not. This alone shows that traditional forms of knowledge can never be coterminous with science.
On a completely unrelated note I discovered this eighteenth-century cooking blog yesterday.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Diary of a Lady of Quality

I should also point out that the nineteenth-century diary of Miss Frances Williams Wynn is being posted here. If you feel like getting the heebie jeebies read this entry.

Eighteenth-century diaries

Whilst browsing through the links on Early Modern Resources I came across the 1798-99 journal of a Royal Navy seaman in the Caribbean. Old diaries are always fascinating and this one is no exception. Consider this paragraph:

All Northen Physical* men say, that water, & water & Malt Liquiors, is
the best beverage for Youth. Our Doctor Fothergill when he was very young, and
just begun practize, recommended to his Patients Brandy & water, or Gin with
water or Rum. But this great man, when lying on his death bed, said he was very
sorry for his conduct in that particular, and considered it as the very worse
thing, he had done in all his practize; as by his own observation he had learned
unintentionally, many of his patients to be confirmed Drunkards.
I will definitely make time to read the whole journal more carefully in future. By just glancing through it I can see that there's a lot of material for historians of racial attitudes in the West Indies.

Early Modern Resources also links to the diary of Martha Ballard, an eighteenth-century Massachusetts midwife. You can read it both in her handwriting and in a typed transcription. Specific themes and events in the diary are grouped together so that you don't have to read the whole text to follow the story. This page is devoted to entries about the Purrington murders.
Clear and warm. my Husband & I were awake at 3h ys morn by mrss Heartwel and
Gillbard who brot us ye horrible tydings that Capt Purington had murdered all
his famely Except his Son James who must have Shared the Same fate had he not
been So fortunate as to make his Escape after an attempt was made to take his
life. he was wounded with an ax, he fled in his Shirt only and alarmd mr Wiman
of ye horrid Scein, who immediately ran to Son Jonas. they two went to hous
where the horrid Scein was perpetrated. my Son went in and found a Candle which
he lit and to his great Surprise Said Purington, his wife & Six Childn
Corpss and Martha, he perceived had life remaining, who was removd to his house.
Surgical aid was immediately Calld and Shee remains alive as yet. my husband
went and returnd before Sun rise, when after takeing a little food he and I went
on to the hous, there to behold ye most Shocking Scein thal was Ever Seen in
this part of ye world. may an infinitely good God grant that we may all take a
sutable notis of this horrid deed, tearn wisdom there from.
It's sometimes too easy to treat centuries old murders like some kind of historical entertainment. However I think you'll agree that Martha's words press through the reality that this was a horrible thing that happened to real people and not something that we should feel entertained by.


Another piece of the medieval jigsaw

Lynx died out in England 2,500 years later than previously thought. BBC

History blogging

I have got just enough of a sore throat to squash my historical curiosity and there are very noisy builders in the flat just above me. So instead of discovering something new for myself I thought I'd have a look at the latest offerings from the other history bloggers who are linked to Cliopatria and Sharon's blog. There are many different kinds of history blogs. Some are general interest like mine whilst others focus on particular periods or issues. They also vary in tone from cosy chat over a cup of tea to high academic terminology. I hope that you will find one that inspires you to set up a history blog of your own.

In this post Kristine from Earmarks in Early Modern Culture explains why she recently started history blogging. She refers to Ivan Tribble who has been saying that blogging may not be a good idea for young academics who are looking for jobs. Blogging is very popular in the academic world, particularly among postgraduate students and people who have just started climbing up the career ladder. Kristine herself is a PhD student in the Netherlands, across the water in London Masters student Rob has been writing Detrimental Postulation, and veteran blogger Konrad (a Harvard PhD student) has been writing about East Asian history for years. Many young academics strongly believe that blogging is a powerful new tool for information exchange. There is one problem though. Academic careers depend on new research and having it tied to your name rather than claimed by somebody else. This makes many young academics very wary about putting their original research online before it has been published in paper journals. How much of an issue this is depends on the blogger's academic subject area. Some academic work is based around the interpretation of known information and theories. For these researchers blogs are an excellent sounding board for the development of their ideas. Other academics, particularly some historians, work in the archives for months and even years to find hard facts. They very wisely do not share those facts online before they have been able to do what they can with them in their own work. (I'm sorry if my syntax seems to be a bit clumsy here. The builders upstairs are distracting to say the least.)

There is a strong feeling among academic bloggers in North America that their knowledge equips them to comment on contemporary affairs. This is in the tradition of the public intellectual. It's very different in Britain where we tend to laugh hysterically at any academic who sticks his or her head above the parapet. These academic and post-academic bloggers all discuss contemporary events at least sometimes. They're not all North American either.

Now I have drifted away from my original intention which was to highlight recent history postings. I could be lazy and just refer you to Carnivalesque and the History Carnival, which both gather posts on a regular basis. However I have focused too much on academic bloggers and I wouldn't want you to think that they are the only ones who post about history. Natalie is a journalist, David (who I think writes for tv) often posts on historical subjects, this David is an art dealer and collector, Melinama is a musician and Flea (who doesn't write about history very often) sells sex toys. I don't know what Snowball does. It'd be interesting to draw up a list of history bloggers outside academia. I don't know whether it would be seen as divisive, creating a them and us mentality, or if it would be a kind of encouragement. The academic blogosphere is accessible to everybody but it does sometimes focus on specifically academic issues (like Ivan Tribble, how to get funding, how to publish, student plagiarism, the latest academic to disgrace him or herself etc. .) It'd be nice to read about people fitting in historical interests around their jobs in banking, SAHMing etc..I suspect there is already a network of non-academic history blogs out there. Most things seem to be catered for on the blogosphere, it's just a question of finding them.

Well here ends my rambling post. You'll be pleased to hear that the builders have stopped drilling (for now). Oh no, they've started again.

Edited to add:
Via Cliopatria: two more articles on whether blogging damages academic careers.

Monday, October 10, 2005

30,000 killed, 50,000 injured, more than 2.5 million need shelter

"We lost everything we had in just one minute. My shop is done. My house is gone and now we have to wait here without anything," said Mohammed Habib, who was with his five children, sitting on a road above the Jhelum river. Guardian

What compounded the tragedy in Bagh was the number of children and teenagers who perished. At least six educational institutions were destroyed, causing about 2,000 deaths. Mohammed Yousuf, 60, a retired headmaster, sobbed beside the body of his 21-year-old nephew, retrieved from the wreckage of a college. Mohammed Saghir had been sitting an examination when the building collapsed, leaving more than 1,000 students buried inside. Times
Disasters Emergency Committee
International Red Cross/Red Crescent

Saturday, October 08, 2005

African Native Americans

Native Americans in Oklahoma kept black slaves until 1866. After they had gained their freedom they were accepted as full members of the tribe. An error of judgement by the white clerks who registered tribe membership a century ago now means that African Americans with Native American blood are fighting for official recognition of their heritage. Read more here.

(By coincidence this exhibition has the same title as my blog)

In Our Time

This afternoon I'm listening to archived programmes from In Our Time. I started with this excellent exploration of the Cambrian explosion. If you like imagining what sort of weird creatures live on other planets then you'll enjoy this discussion of life on Earth 550 million years ago. I'm now half way through this programme about alchemists.

National biography in Trafalgar square

If you have access to the Oxford DNB have you used the theme biography section? It lists groups of individuals and gives the background to the history that unites them. They range from the members of the amateur athletics association to women members of the British parliament.

One article discusses the men and woman who are depicted in statue form in Trafalgar square. Of course as we all know the man on the column in the middle is Horatio Nelson. The other people are: Sir Charles James Napier, Sir Henry Havelock, King George IV, John Jellicoe, Admiral Sir David Beatty, Andrew Cunningham, Edith Cavell and King Charles I.

Critics have argued that Trafalgar square no longer represents what Britain is today. There's just one woman, and everyone else is white, privileged and a member of the establishment. Napier is sometimes known as the conqueror of Sind. Havelock helped to put down the Indian mutiny. Nelson, Jellicoe, Beatty and Cunningham were admirals. Charles and George were kings. The only politically correct person there is first world war nurse Edith Cavell, who has recently been joined by a sculpture of the naked and pregnant artist Alison Lapper. To those who are ashamed of Britain's imperial past the square is an embarrassment.

Trafalgar square is what Britain thought it was before it became a more inclusive society. Removing any of those statues would be rewriting history. I think as well we should not detract from the achievements of the individuals depicted there. They all did important things. What we need is to balance it out with statues of other British heroes. Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole and Jack Straw (the leader of the peasant's revolt) come to mind. I'd also like to see a sculpture depicting sixteenth-century Catholic and Protestant martyrs. Even something representing the factory workers of the Industrial Revolution would be good.

I think it'd be a mistake to start adding contemporary figures. We don't need Diana or Bob Geldof or whoever some people might have in mind. It would spoil the feel of the square and it's not necessary because there are so many figures from earlier centuries who deserve depiction.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Blasts of air

There's a comedy quiz show on Korean tv where celebrity contestants are blasted with air coming up from their desks. It always happens when one of them has to sit in a tank waiting for things to be dropped on them. A button is pressed and then either the hapless person in the tank gets it or the others have thirty seconds of blasting. I rather like that latter because Koreans spend a lot of time and money on hair care. Some people in Britain imagine that Koreans are either very staid and serious or do perverse things on game shows like putting live frogs in their pants. I have to tell you that it's not like that at all. The Korean comedy scene is very strong and ultra-hip. It is far more physical than British comedy but to western eyes doesn't seem at all strange. A lot of Korean shows remind me of programmes you see on Italian tv (apart from the semi-clad beauties thank god). Like the Italians they're very big on group participation and getting the whole family involved.

Anyway, that isn't the point I wanted to make with this post. I've just been reading a blog that makes me feel as if I've had air blasted in my face. (That's a compliment by the way.) I would like to introduce you to Adventures in Historical Materialism. I haven't given much thought to the forthcoming Trafalgar celebrations but Snowball has. It's refreshing to find a British history blogger with strong opinions because the majority seem to be North American.

Queen Min - links

Queen Min was the most powerful woman in nineteenth-century Korea. She was very anti-Japanese and hoped to use an alliance with Russia against them. She was murdered by the Japanese in 1895.

Japanese documents shed new light on Korean Queen's murder (plus related articles in sidebar)
Queen Min of Korea: Coming to Power
Korea Times article

Korea was occupied by Japan from 1910 to 1945. Before this the Japanese had a long history of interference in the peninsula. Anti-Japanese feeling is an important part of North Korean nationalism and much history teaching in South Korea is also directed against them. The Japanese behaved very badly in Korea so this is hardly surprising.

History teaching in Asia is fraught with difficulties when it comes to Japan's relations with China and Korea. A common complaint is that Japan refuses to recognise the extent of its historical atrocities. I have spoken to Koreans who are bitterly upset about this. I have also spoken to ordinary Japanese people who can't understand what the problem is. As an inexperienced outsider I can't comment on the issue. It does remind me however of my own history education. I went to secondary school in Britain in the early 1990s, and in my history lessons I learnt very little about British interference in Ireland. When I first met Irish teenagers at university I was taken aback by the strength of their feelings and I realised that there was a lot I hadn't been told.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Kharnak

I'm in a Radio 4 linking frenzy this morning. I've just been listening to the 2005 Journey of a lifetime. You can hear it here. The other day I wrote about the challenges that face people who want a career in history. It's a very competitive market and at times getting that position in a museum or university (or wherever) can become an all consuming ambition. I find that thinking about people who live in radically different cultures helps me to keep a sense of perspective. In the programme photographer Chris Brown goes to meet a nomadic Himalyan people called the Kharnak. I can't believe that the jobs I look at mean anything to them at all. When we look at other cultures we see the common bonds that make us human and are the really important things in life. All the other stuff is paraphernalia.


Why do some people find it so hard to believe that Shakespeare was Shakespeare? Honestly I despair sometimes. Read here to find out about another contender for the title of the real Shakespeare.

Arthur C.Clarke

If you are interested in science fiction you'll like The Science and the Fiction, an interview with Arthur C. Clarke. You can find it under Wednesday in the listen again column on the right side of this page.

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton

Over in the US the second monday in October is Columbus day. According to Wikipedia this celebration of Christopher Columbus was first held in New York on 12th October 1792. It was organised by the Tammany society, who were founded in 1786 'as a patriotic fraternal organization whose primary activities were social, with an initial movement within the society to improve the image of Native Americans.' (source)

Aaron Burr led this group from 1797 and was vice president under Thomas Jefferson. He seems to be better remembered however for his duel with his political rival Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was a very important figure in the early history of the United States. During his time as secretary of the treasury he had a significant impact on the country's development. He proposed the establishment of a precursor to the Coast Guard, contributed to the foundation of the Navy, ended a period of bankruptcy by placing the economy on a sound footing and developed the First Bank of the United States. You can read more about his work here.

Hamilton is also remembered for the Maria Reynolds affair. Maria, the wife of an abusive con man James Reynolds, first approached Hamilton in Philadelphia in 1791 asking for help. She said that her husband had abandoned her and that she needed money to go to New York with her daughter. Hamilton delivered the money in person and the two began an illicit affair. When her husband found out he blackmailed Hamilton, who paid him over several years to be allowed to continue sleeping with Maria. At the same time Reynolds became embroiled in a speculation scheme and implicated Hamilton, knowing that the politician would rather reveal his affair than admit to involvement in the scheme.

Hamilton admitted everything to a congressional enquiry, even showing them his love letters. He was cleared of involvement in the speculation but news of his affair with Maria was passed onto his rival Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson used this knowledge to spread rumours about Hamilton's private life. The scandal damaged Hamilton's reputation and probably cost him the presidency in 1800. Maria Reynolds divorced her husband shortly afterwards and ironically her attorney was Aaron Burr. (Source)

Burr and Hamilton fell out after the latter made remarks about Burr during a private conversation. A newspaper picked up the story and Burr demanded an apology. Hamilton said that he could not remember the incident the newspaper described and an exchange of letters followed. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel on 11th July 1804. Hamilton fired away from his opponent but Burr shot him in the abdomen. A letter Hamilton wrote the night before the duel suggests that he deliberately missed Burr. "I have resolved, if our interview is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire." He died the following day and was buried in Manhattan. (Source)

Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey but he never stood trial for it. Instead he fled to his daughter's family in South Carolina. He was able to complete his term as Vice President in Washington D.C. and left office in 1805. He then became involved in an incredible conspiracy. You can read all about it here as I've been slouched over my laptop all morning and my shoulders are hurting.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bill of rights causes headache for Sunderland council

The council's ability to issue parking fines is being challenged as contrary to legislation passed in the late seventeenth century. Listen here. (Can you spot the historical mistakes made by one of the speakers?)

Dr Benjamin Church

Dr Benjamin Church found himself in a rather awkward position during the American revolution. He had strong connections with people who supported British rule and with those who wanted American independence. He was an active polemicist for the supporters of independence but was imprisoned for sending information to the British. Was he really a traitor to the American cause or could it have been a double bluff? Tara Dirst and Allan Kulikoff explore Church's story in this article, which also introduces a new resource for historians of the revolution.

Rough notes on Korean history

The Choson dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910. It replaced the Koryô dynasty of 918-1392. In the Koryô period Buddhism was supported by the royal court. Buddhism had a major impact on the production of art and many new temples were built. The early Choson monarchs distanced themselves from their predecessors by supporting Confucianism.

The Choson monarchs established a new governing elite, the yangban. The yangban remained important throughout this long period.
The term yangban refers to members of the "two orders" of civil or military officialdom. Whether his post was civil or military (the former was considered more prestigious than the latter), a yangban was, essentially, a literati. The yangban was expected to hold public office, follow the Confucian doctrine through study and self-cultivation, and help cultivate the moral standards of Chosôn society. As an elite class, the yangban enjoyed many privileges and actively sought to preserve the purity and exclusivity of their group—for instance, through marriage only among members of the yangban class. It was not a monolithic group, however. There were numerous internal distinctions, and the yangban strove to maintain a hierarchical order among themselves. Source
A wealth of information on Korean history can be found on the various pages of this timeline.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Early modern ghosts

A nice post from Sharon about avenging ghosts.

British Hindu history on Radio 4

Krishnan Guru-Murthy follows the personal stories of three generations of British Hindus to find out how their faith has shaped their identity, the way they live, and the cultural landscape of Britain. Here.

Bound feet

Listen here for an interview with one of the last generation of Chinese women to have bound feet.

Ruby Bridges

In 1954 the US supreme court ordered the end of racially segregated education. Before then white and black children were educated in separate schools. In 1960 five year old Ruby Bridges was chosen to be one of the first four black girls to attend a previously all white school in New Orleans.

On her first day at school she had to be escorted by federal marshalls because there was a crowd of angry white parents at the door. (The bigotry is unbelievable.)
Charles Burks, one of the U.S. Marshals who escorted Ruby Bridges and her mother into the school building, remembers the little girl who became a hero. "She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn't whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier. And we're all very proud of her."

In an act of protest the white parents kept their children out of school for most of the year and Ruby was educated alone. Ruby's father also lost his job and her grandparents their place as tenant farmers. By the start of the next year Ruby's school was fully integrated and she is now remembered in America as a hero. You can read more about her here.

Korea's first period of unification

If you had asked me to guess whether Silla, Baekje or Gogureyo united the Korean peninsula by the end of seventh century I would have said Gogureyo. It was by far the biggest of the three kingdoms. It may surprise you to know that it was actually the significantly smaller Silla. With the aid of the Chinese, Silla conquered first the Gaya federation of chiefdoms in 562, then Baekje in 660 and Gogureyo in 668. I haven't read much about Korea's relations with China over the centuries but I know they have often been allies. During the Silla period trading and diplomatic ties with China were particularly strong.

Confucianism has played a strong role in the shaping of Korean culture and identity. However under the unified Silla dynasty Buddhism was the official state religion. The strong association between Buddhism and the state can be seen in the building of temples and icons paid for by the royal family. Archaeological evidence has also shown that until at least as late as the sixth century rulers attempted to bolster their reputations by associating themselves with Shamanism. (Shamanism is indigenous to Korea and is still going strong today. A friend of mine recently opened a new shop. In the first week she caught a heavy cold and had her purse stolen. She put it down to forgetting to burn money at the river so rushed off to do it at the first available opportunity.) Queen Seondeok was reputed to have the shamanistic ability to see into the future.

I've taken this account from an internet source which I'm not going to reveal just yet because I can still get posts from it. I don't want you reading ahead of me now. ; -) On a completely unrelated note there are ninety-four academic positions available here. I just thought I'd point it out.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea. This fascinating site is dedicated to its metro system. Make sure you take a look at the photographs of communist art on the station platforms. This kind of art is called Socialist Realism and can be found in present and former communist countries across the world. The style idealises the communist way of life. Typical paintings depict happy factory labourers, smiling farmers and rosy cheeked children- all working hard for the good of the state.

Chinese propaganda posters
Soviet Union
Wikipedia article

Beag air Bheag

Gaelic is the native language of Scotland. It is currently spoken by less than 60, 000 people but it is becoming more popular. There are now calls to put the Gaelic word for Scotland - Alba - on the country's football strip. You can read about that here. (I think Alba is such a lovely sounding word I'd be quite happy if they renamed the whole country.)

You can learn more than a little Gaelic on this BBC site. (click on the song book for Gaelic songs)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hagia Sofia

I am now on the way to being owned by a slightly mixed one year old Turkish Angora cat. She was called Hannah but we have renamed her Sofia after the church/mosque of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. This building is nearly fifteen hundred years old and is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. It has served as a Greek Orthodox and Catholic church, becoming an Islamic mosque in the fifteenth century and a museum in 1934. I visited once about ten years ago but I am afraid to say I remember the stray cats outside far better than the ancient mosaics inside. It is supplanted in my memory by the basilica of San Marco in Venice, which is also a great example of Byzantine architecture.

The man who planted trees

In the comments box Tony drew my attention to Jean Giono. I wondered who he was and now I know. You can read The Man Who Planted Trees here. It's a heart warming story that makes me feel good about absolutely everything. I suggest you read it asap.

There is some debate over whether it is fact or fiction. A lot of the sites I've glanced at say that it's fiction. This passage may say that the story is true but seems to conclude that it's not. I'm not sure because I'm not very good at French. Can you tell me what it says?
Elzéard Bouffier a-t-il vraiment existé? On voudrait le croire. Et si c'étaient les
naïfs qui, dans ce cas, avaient raison? En décembre 1982 le magazine Harrowsmith
publiait, sous la signature de Jean Giono, le texte intégral dit par Philippe Noiret dans le film de Back. De nombreux lecteurs en ont conclu que ce personnage avait bel et bien existé, ce qui les a incités davantage à reboiser leur environnement. Une Québécoise, Madame Beverley von Baeyer, s'est même rendue dans le village perdu de Banon, pour y fleurir la tombe d'Elzéard qui, selon Giono, y avait été enterré en 1947. Deux ans plus tard elle racontait son pèlerinage dans Harrowsmith. C'est à la mairie de Banon, après une longue course en taxi vers ce lieu perdu, qu'elle apprit que Giono était un romancier plus connu dans la région qu'Elzéard Bouffier. Elle ne fut pas trop désenchantée: Elzéard Bouffier, avoua-t-elle, rejoignait mes héros:
Robin Hood, Hereward the Wake... Giono avait, sans le savoir, réussi un canulard
international; d'autres Pèlerins étaient venus, d'Allemagne notamment.

Queen Seondeok of Silla

It's not easy to find English language information about Seondeok online. She ruled Silla from 632 to 647, inheriting the throne from her father because he had no sons. She was renowned for her sharp intelligence, which she certainly needed because her reign saw rebellions and war with Baekje. Seondeok sent scholars to China and presided over the building of Buddhist temples. This site suggests why women were able to rule in Silla at that time.

Korea- once three kingdoms

After the war of 1950-1953 Korea was divided into two countries. Today the north is a closed communist state and the south a capitalist democracy. It's not the first time that this land has been under different governments. Korea was once three separate kingdoms. These were Silla, Baekje and Gogureyo. The three kingdoms period lasted from the first century BCE to the mid-seventh century.

Gogureyo was by far the largest of the kingdoms and covered all of present day North Korea, some of modern China and extended below Seoul. In comparison the southern kingdoms of Silla and Baekje were tiny. You can see where they were on this map. You'll note a smaller confederacy of chiefdoms called Kaya or Gaya. I have not yet been able to find out exactly how long it existed for but you can get an idea of the chronology here. In the coming weeks I'll be blogging more about Korean history.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


You know it's autumn in Seoul when middle aged men climb the trees on city streets to pick the nuts off them. I don't think anyone back in Britain would even think to do that. It suggests to me that until relatively recently most Koreans came from a rural background.

Fascinated by recent history?

If you want to find out more about any historic event between June 2003 and the present day visit the Today archive.

Also on Radio 4 you can hear the story of this young Cornish family tragically caught up in the Mexican revolution.

Today's antiques, yesterday's souvenirs

Every artefact tells a story. Just look at this handkerchief produced in 1707. It is printed with a text that describes five British victories in the war of the Spanish succession. It is never possible to know the exact motives of individual consumers. It is likely that many bought the handkerchief because its triumphal message allowed them to show their support for the war. The war was ended by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This bronze medal was made to celebrate this event. It was technically possible to manufacture this medal in large numbers. This suggests that it was sold in shops and could be bought by members of the public.

These two examples show how some of today's antiques were once highly topical objects. Just as you and I would buy mementos of Royal weddings and other events, the people of the early modern period also bought souvenirs when something exciting happened. When Charles II married his Portuguese bride in 1662 a large number of lockets were made. On this silver heart shaped locket you can see Charles' head on one side and Catherine of Braganza's on the other.

A pub near my family home is decorated with porcelain figurines. On the windowsill in the snug stands a nineteenth-century three-figure group representing (if memory serves) Turkey, France and America. My father looked at it and said 'Oh yes that was produced to commemorate the treaty of XXXXX.' (I can't remember what he said.) The point I'm making is that we are surrounded by yesterday's souvenirs. It's worth looking around you to see what's in your neighbourhood.


The 21st October will be the two hundredth anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar. Andrew Lambert writes:
During the engagement at Trafalgar, on 21 October 1805, the Royal Navy annihilated the greatest threat to British security for 200 years, but lost Britain's national hero in the process. Little wonder the battle transcended the mundane calculation of ships and men, victory and defeat. It guaranteed Britain's control of the oceans, the basis of her global power for over a century.
The BBC has set up a related series of articles, timelines and interactive activities here. Nick Slope's piece explores the activities of women in the navy of that time.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle

If you are in London (I am not) you might want to see this Jacobean play at the Barbican.

The rest of us can take consolation in this excellent adaptation of The Professor by Charlotte Brontë.