Die Like an Egyptian

October 24th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

While it might be more upbeat to “Walk Like An Egyptian,” the British Museum is about to launch a new exhibit exploring how to die like one.  Just in time for Halloween, the exhibit is reportedly the most comprehensive exhibition to be staged on the ancient doctrine of denying death.

Lost Giotto Masterpiece Uncovered

October 24th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

Anna-Marie Hilling, a 33-year old art restorer from Cumbria, recently proved that a massive wooden cross, the Ognissanti Crucifix,  painted during the 1300s, is the work of the early Italian master Giotto.  Check out the story!

The 1641 Rebellion Goes Online

October 23rd, 2010 by De oppresso liber

Irish Catholics rebelled in 1641, launching more than a decade of violence between Protestants and Catholics.  The conflict drew to a close when Oliver Cromwell famously invaded Ireland in 1653, reportedly slaughtering much of the town of Drogheda in the process.

A new archive of testimony related to the rebellion is now online.  It is quite a collection.  According to the Irish Independent newspaper, the archive includes “19,000 pages contained in 31 volumes” and consists of 8,000 depositions given by onlookers in 1641.  (The Guardian newspaper also reports on the new site.)

Irish President Mary McAleese and former Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (who has certainly changed a lot since the bad old days of the Troubles!) unveiled the new collection.

The depositions are available at: http://1641.tcd.ie/.

Save the Cobbles?

October 19th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

We have a tendency to associate cobblestones with the distant past.  In reality, of course, cobblestones were expensive and very few places likely had them before the nineteenth century.  When “heritage” tourism started to rise to global popularity during the 1980s, developers installed cobblestones whenever people (usually tourists) were supposed to think they had entered a heritage zone.

For example, if you should happen to be in Boston and are following the thin red line that is the “Freedom Trail,” notice that cobblestones suddenly appear just outside Paul Revere’s House.  If you look at old photos, the stones are not there at the end of the nineteenth century, nor are they there in the 1950s when the Freedom Trail was developed to help people understand the evils of Communism (it is a long story!).  Nope, somebody evidently installed them somewhat later to show that the area around Paul’s house is just like the midnight rider left it.

Which brings me to this post.  You see, in Dunster, a village in Somerset, England, the cobblestones are proving a bit problematic.  Tourists, it seems, a falling all over them like so many bowling pins.  Fearing lawsuits, the talk is now about removing them and losing the character of the old medieval villagescape.

What to do?  Should they save the cobbles and sacrifice the tourists?  If the cobbles are removed, will the tourists keep coming when this clear marker of age disappears?

Trafalgar from Below Deck

October 19th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

There are few other battles in the whole of British maritime history that hold quite the same resonance as Trafalgar. Fought during the Napoleonic Wars, Trafalgar assured that Britain ruled the waves, significantly limiting Napoleon Bonaparte’s ability to expand beyond Continental Europe or, more importantly, to acquire supplies from abroad. The British forces were led by Admiral Horatio Nelson, perhaps the greatest British naval commander in history—a man so inspiring that British forces often subsequently went into battle with the cry: “Remember Nelson!” You can learn far more about Trafalgar and its place in the larger European struggle against Napoleon by clicking here.

As the 205th anniversary of the battle approaches, archivists at the British Maritime Museum recently attained a rare view of the battle from below deck.  The account, written by a 28-year-old sailmaker named Robert Hope, describes what it was like on the HMS Temeraire—one of Nelson’s ships.  He writes:

“When five more of the enemy’s ships came upon us and engage us upon every quarter, for one hour and sixteen minutes, when one struck but being so closely engaged that we could not take possession of her at that time, two more seemed to be quite satisfied with what they had got so sheered off, but the other two was determined to board us. So with that intent, one dropt on our starboard side called the la Fue and the other dropt on our larboard side called the Doubtable, they kept a very hot fire for some time. But we soon cooled them for in the height of the smoke our men from the upper decks boarded them both at the same time, and soon carried the day.”

Life on English warships was anything but easy.  Voyages were long and cramped.  During battle, the horror was so palpable that the floor of the gun decks was painted red to obscure the gore.

Indeed, Hope notes

“The gun deck would have been a vile place, terrifying, deafening, highly dangerous, with great splinters flying from where the balls hit – we think of a splinter as something under your fingernail, but these could be chunks of wood two feet long that would disembowel a man. . . .

We had forty three Killed and Eighty five wounded, and twenty seven drowned in the Prizes.

Counted when Smoke Cleared away Seventeen Prizes and one all on fire, but we have only got four into Gibraltar, for a Gale of wind came on the day following that we was obliged to scuttle them for they was so very leaky.”

Of course, for many of us, the single most memorable moment in the battle came when Nelson was shot by a sniper.  The bullet, fired from the rigging of an opposing ship, entered his shoulder and then moved downward through vital organs.  Hope does not mention the loss.  The curator of the National Maritime Museum is not surprised by the omission, noting that a sailor’s life was very much limited to his own ship.  The view from below deck was limited.

To learn more about Robert Hope and his account of Trafalgar, check out the Guardian.