Monday, June 30, 2008

Mapping the all-too-narrow boundaries of human creativity

From Dr. Nokes.

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More on the state of Canada

This "Focus Forum" is worth the 9 web pages the Globe and Mail devoted to it. Only a little sentimentality and nostalgia; some robust and genuine disagreement.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The most important issue of the 2008 election


At the Onion.

Is this humor?

Image: also from the Onion.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The state of Canada

In the summer of 2006, when Lebanon was being bombed by Israel, those who could get out, did. Among them were a large number of Canadian citizens of Lebanese background. I sat beside some on the plane across the Atlantic -- as I was returning from Latvia at the time. This experience increased my anger with the Prime Minister's lack of concern about this illegal and inhumane bombing campaign and its effect on people he is responsible for and to.

Imagine my astonishment, then, when I was exposed on my return to loud complaints about these refugees when some of them -- I heard -- complained about the lack of response of their government to their urgent plight. It was strongly implied by some people that these were not real Canadians just holders of "passports of convenience." Others expressed the sentiment of "what do you expect, going to live in such a dangerous place?"

As an immigrant myself married to another immigrant, my perspective is quite a bit different, as you can imagine. That incident opens a whole raft load of issues; but at the moment I'd like to raise just one. What kind of country, I ask, is it that does not have a significant number of its citizens living and working elsewhere?

I don't really have to answer that question, because Canada is not an isolated country of that sort. Today, in the lead up to Canada Day on the first, the Globe and Mail is running a series of articles on the state of Canada and its place in the world. It is quite an amazing article and I recommend that you read it all. I will be back Monday for more. Today's installment, by Michael Valpy, has a lot to say about this issue of what makes a real Canadian. Not everyone will agree with this perspective, but it corresponds to many aspects of my own experience.

Here's what caught my eye in the article, with particular passages of importance bolded:
... Canada ... has arrived at multiculturalism Mark II and a generation of new adults who have moved decisively beyond nationalism to embrace a kind of transcendent planetary supranationalism. We are becoming the land of global citizens, by all accounts galloping out ahead of other advanced democracies.

It appears to be occurring within a broad consensus.

University of Montreal political philosopher Daniel Marc Weinstock, who studies globalizing cultures, says there is little evidence to suggest it is causing Canada problems. A recent Environics poll found nearly 70 per cent of respondents thought it was a positive thing for Canada's image that three million Canadians live outside the country.

Canadians comprise 10 per cent of the population of Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, more live as immigrant transnationals: maintaining a cultural and even physical presence in both Canada and the countries that they, or their families, may have left years earlier.

A huge majority of young Canadians - as well as a majority of all adult-age cohorts - say they want to live, study or work abroad, according to the same Environics poll done earlier this year.

Forty per cent of Canadians say they donate money to international charities. Twenty per cent say they send remittances to overseas relatives. An increasing portion of Canada's international trade comprises Canadian Diaspora entrepreneurs doing commerce with their original homelands.

I know that some Canadians, including friends of mine, will be ticked off by the notion of 10% of Hong Kong being "Canadian." "Passports of convenience" indeed! But the story is more complicated than one might imagine:

Queen's University geographer Audrey Kobayashi has studied what are now in some cases three generations of families who have moved back and forth between Hong Kong and Canada, for education, for business, for periods of residence.

They speak with Canadian accents - Prof. Kobayashi talks of being in Hong Kong business offices and hearing nothing but Canadian accents. They have deep emotional feelings for the land, a pride in Canada's public institutions, an engagement in Canadian affairs. Rooted in Canada, but from time to time living elsewhere.

I won't excerpt any more, but I will refer you to two other stories concerning former Chilean refugee Luz Bascunan and second-generation Indo-Canadian Radha Rajagopalan. Ms. Bascunan's story really speaks to me. I didn't come to Canada as a refugee, but I did come for a very specific purpose, to attend the best graduate program in medieval history in North America, and I thought I'd be leaving when that purpose was accomplished. When I was done, however, I found that I'd acquired a family, a family, I'll point out, which was divided between Canada and Latvia. I was living this version of the Canadian dream -- or at least the Canadian reality. (I think Canada's better at realities than dreams.)

I will end this piece by saying something about my own experience Nipissing University. The consensus of world outreach referred to in the article is evident here. The vast majority of our students come from Ontario, many of them from small places in the country or the suburbs. When they come to Nipissing University, the place seems quite diverse to them. I lived in Toronto for 13 years, and I have different standards of what counts as diverse, but I'm happy for these students, especially since they are happy about the diversity! And a great many of them want more: they are taking the opportunity to travel to other countries for study and then making a great success of it. University is supposed to be a gateway to the greater world and I'm glad we are fulfilling our function.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

More on Richard II's golden angel

In an earlier post on Richard II's Golden Angel, perhaps an automaton or even a robot, in any case a showy part of his coronation procession through London in 1377, I included two source excerpts that describe the angel giving Richard a crown. I have now found a third one and have inserted it in the earlier post.

Image:
One of a number of London pubs called the Angel and Crown.

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The not-so-good-old days

Medievalists are are constantly being put in the position of responding to the modern connotations of the word "medieval." For many modern people the Middle Ages acts as a dumping ground for every nightmare that can be attributed to humanity. The great witchhunt of European history took place after the Middle Ages; the purges and holocausts of the 20th century put most medieval slaughters, ruthless and cruel as they may have been, in the shade. We often find ourselves pointing out such things to people who carelessly use "medieval" to mean "bad." (Indeed, my dictation software heard that last usage of medieval as "and evil" so we are seemingly in the position of fighting the machines, too.)

But we must face the fact that most of history, including the Middle Ages, were not exactly the good old days. Some scholarly blogging posts of the last week or so underline this.

Jonathan Jarrett, I believe, started the ball rolling with a post on Sex slaves in the early Middle Ages: what’s the evidence? over at his blog A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. his point was that he didn't know what the evidence for sex slavery might be and he hoped someone would enlighten him. Soon after, he found himself shocked by reflecting on well-known evidence about the prominent monastery of Cluny in eastern France. As he put it, "slaves are all through the material from Cluny [in the tenth century]." that reflection, and chance meeting with another medievalist blogger, Magistra et Mater, went into this post on trading "ancillae [slave women]."

At the same time Magistra et Mater has been writing about some subjects that might excite prurient interest, but deserve serious thought, too. For instance, how exactly were disobedient monks flogged in the time of the Carolingian kings? And somewhat less grim, were families about the same time somewhat reluctant to write off their daughters as ruined if they indulged in a little premarital sexual activity? Maybe for good practical reasons the Carolingian Franks were a little less likely to condemn such girls than some other cultures. These are all isolated points perhaps, but important for visualizing how things actually worked for individual people, like a monk about to be flogged, or the teenager worried about how dad is going to react to her little adventure.

Finally, the subject of slavery (mostly later than medieval) is discussed by Phil Paine in this post, inspired by a book on 18th century Moroccan slavery (item 16305). Conclusion: there is no "nice slavery," ancient, medieval, early modern, or current

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Monday, June 23, 2008

IT'S BACK! The Scramble for Africa returns

This alarming development noted here at Dymaxion World.
Image: Yinka Shonibare's sculpture "Scramble for Africa."

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Big Picture


is a photojournalism blog by Alan Taylor. Here's a sample: The Sky from Above (one of a series of 15 stunning photos. Thanks to Nicholas Tayor at Rough Type for the link.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer arrives


at the Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion, Greece. From Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Crusade pageants in New Spain


Note this from Tyerman's God's War, pp. 672-3.

In faraway Central America, local allies in the conquistadors that Tlaxcala, a state city state east of Mexico, marked the Treaty of Aigues Mortes between Charles V and the French king Francis I in 1538 at the lavish pageant showing the anticipated conquest of Jerusalem by the King of Spain. On Corpus Christi Day 1539 in the presence of the consecrated host, the lavish display included two Christian armies laying siege to the holy city, 11 compromising Europeans, the other commanded by the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza with the Tlaxcalans and other "New Spaniards" in their own war costumes, complete with "feathers, devices and shields." Seemingly a good time was had by all. A few weeks earlier, the Mexicans to the east had laid on a similar show depicting the Turkish siege of Rhodes. Through these traditional images of past future crusading, New Spain was being assimilated into the culture of the old.


Tyerman calls these "bizarre consequences" of the appropriation of crusading as an element in national identity and imperialism (Spanish). But how is this any more bizarre than other aspects of crusading?

It is pretty colorful, though.

Image: Cortez and Dona Marina negotiate with the Tlaxcalans.

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Life -- and corruption -- in the imperial capital

From a Washington Post Q&A today:

Raleigh, N.C.: What has Dana Perino [White House Press Secretary] had to say about the McClatchy series on torture? Which administration officials have legal protection from war crimes charges, and what are those protections?

Dan Froomkin: You seem to assume that someone [in the White House Press Corps] has asked her about it. As far as I know, no one has.

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Geevor


One of the most impressive sites I saw in Cornwall sits right between early and more modern history. Cornwall for over 2000 years -- less the last decade or so -- has been characterized as much as anything by hard rock mining for tin and other base metals. Much of the country is covered with old mine works built out of Cornwall rock (see top picture), generally the remains of a smokestack associated with the steam engines used to pump the mines out and power the processing machinery. In Cornwall the ruined mine works are a well-known symbol, to the rather humorous extent that "pure Cornwall spring water" is marketed in bottles marked with the silhouette of abandoned mines. (Think about it!) But those mine works are impressive. I have to I admit that it never occurred to me before the trip that I would be walking in the footsteps of Newcomen and Watt. Nor did I know the steam engine made possible undersea mining. Some of the old mines began on a headland and followed the ore where it led, to places where miners could hear the sea water surging overhead. Brr!

Much as I admire the pioneers of the steam engine, it isn't really them that I think about when my mind goes back to Cornish mines I saw this month. It's the ordinary miners. They have monument of their own in Geevor, picture above, a modern if now closed mine that dates to the 20th century. Opened up, just after the First World War, in an area previously mined no one knows how many times, Geevor was a productive mine until the 1980s, when tin prices collapsed. The last working shift took place in 1990. But that is not the end of the story: Geevor has been preserved as a museum to its own history and the history of mining in Cornwall. Visitors can see well-constructed displays showing the technical and social history of mining, old workings that they can barely walk through ( perfectly safe -- it's hard rock tunneling), and a fair selection of the machinery that existed there late in Geevor's life. People who worked there 20 years ago are still there maintaining the site -- in hopes, I think, that rising commodity prices will bring mining back to Cornwall.

Two overwhelming impressions : First the overwhelming amount of labor that went into this industry over the millennia, labor that has had a very important impact on the history of the entire world (Geevor rightly is a World Heritage site); Second, the pride that people, perhaps I should say men, so often put into backbreaking labor. When they closed Geevor, the miners' locker room was left exactly as it was. The clothes and boots and other items they used are still there, covered in iron oxide stains. And to make it even more personal, the corridor to that locker room is lined with photographs of strong smiling men who used to work there.

I am pleased that so much care has been taken to preserve this heritage. Go here for more. Below, I hope to post a picture that will mean something to some of my fellow historians at Nipissing University. I'm glad the story has been told, and is still being told.

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Isolated China

It has been a while since I posted any links to the site Strange Maps. I've neglected Strange Maps mainly because it is too interesting: if every good map there was reposted here, I'd have a mirror site. So I restrain myself and only mention those with a particular relevance to the purposes of this site.

Today's map addresses a theme that any world history students I've had in the last few years will recognize from the textbook we've been using: the uniqueness of China and the special importance of China in the development of human history. The map and the Strange Maps commentary is drawn from an article by John Mauldin at the site InvestorsInsight;
both commentaries are worth a look.

The point of the map is that China as defined by its internationally recognized boundaries, is not identical to the area inhabited by the Han Chinese (who some of us call the "ethnic Chinese"), all one billion of them plus. Further, the one billion Han who live in one of the most intensively agricultural areas of the world are somewhat isolated from other rich agricultural areas, the kind that can support the rich cultures that in any era are usually called civilized. On one hand there are seas that most Han or and their governments have been traditionally reluctant to sail; on the other, deserts and jungles and mountains separate them from the Indian subcontinent and other populous regions. From this situation follow a couple of others: in search of trade, security or expansion, China can turn to inland empire or overseas contacts, or resistance to outside interference in either direction. It is however hard to do both. A commitment to expansion or outside interaction puts stress on the unity of the Han Chinese homeland. If you want unity and internal peace, isolation is the best strategy. But then the outsiders have the initiative, whether they are pirates or nomad raiders or more up-to-date challengers.

But perhaps more important is the Chinese self-image that results from this semi-isolation. From the inside, Chinese culture is a huge continuum where many basic factors are very similar. It's not that China doesn't have its internal variations, even if we are talking only about the central Han-dominated area. It's that the variations between Island China and the rest of the world are so much bigger. And Island China has few direct boundaries with other heavily inhabited and otherwise comparable cultural regions. Is it surprising then that many Chinese have and have had a very strong notion of their own uniqueness?

Such an analysis could be applied to other major cultures. How about Island USA? How about Island Russia? Food for thought.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Murton a prizewinner!

I have mentioned James Murton's book, Creating a Modern Countryside, here before (see label below). It's an account of an episode in the environmental history of the British Columbia. It was published recently by the University of British Columbia Press. Now we hear that it has won the K.D. Srivastava Prize given by the University for making "a very significant contribution to environmental history, BC history, and intellectual history."

James Murton is just one of the smart, productive scholars we have here at Nipissing University. Congratulations!

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Memories of Cornwall

For those Canadians who think "President's Choice foods" when you hear the phrase "memories
of..." associated with a place name, yes, my memories of my first trip to Cornwall, now two weeks in the past, includes important food and drink elements. Cornish pasties made in Cornwall by people who care and don't want to disgrace themselves in front of their neighbors -- such Cornish pasties are extremely good. Food in restaurants and pubs was generally very good. I drank Zennor Mermaid Ale and the first mild ale that I've had in decades. Cider on tap in a place where they care about cider was excellent.

And unspeakably beyond excellent was the first "cream tea" of my life, in a farmhouse tea shop somewhere near Land's End. There may be better cream teas somewhere, but I cannot imagine them.

But my actual memories of the trip are dominated by a big surprise, which ambushed me despite the fact I had looked at pictures and maps and read about Cornwall in preparation for the trip. The landscape by turns green and rocky and never flat, especially the seascape where we were walking on the coastal path around the entire Duchy, is impossible to catch at second hand. Go ahead, use Google Image search: you will find many fine photographs of dramatic views, but if you've never been to Cornwall I will bet the reality will surprise you as much as it did me. Despite the fact that you can describe the Cornish coast very simply, as a series of coves and headlands and cliffs plunging into the sea, not one of those coves or headlands looks like any other. The colors, too, were constantly shifting and always new.

Walking the coast of Cornwall is something a lot of people do. Indeed, I ran into a fellow medievalist at Kalamazoo in May who has done the entire trip, which takes about seven weeks. But it is not for the faint of heart. Fit-looking pensioners and little kids with their parents tread the path without noticeable unease. Here in North America, there would probably be barriers to keep people away from the cliffs, for fear of lawsuits. In Cornwall, the only dangers marked off and walled or fenced off were old mine shafts; if you fall off a cliff, presumably you knew what you were getting into. The one time I saw a rope barrier by the side of the path, it was to keep people from treading on rare plants. Only at Tintagel, where busloads of people are brought in from all over Europe, were there a couple of signs that said "Danger -- Cliffs." That was our last day of cliff-walking and the sign inspired hilarity. We'd been past a hundred more perilous places by that time.

Did I mention that I'm afraid of heights? Fortunately not terrified of heights, but scared enough that there was an additional psychological challenge on top of a very real physical one. Because of my late illness I am still easily tired, and one 6-mile day's walk rated "severe" was pretty taxing, to the point that I walked a lot less the next two days.

It was however worth it and I hope someday to take a similar walk, just one with fewer precipices. A river walk?

I expect to Cornwall feel different from England, and it did. I could mention many things but as a medievalist and historian the odd names of villages and the saints who founded them, saints unknown outside of Cornwall and known mainly for their names inside it, struck my eye. St. Senara, for instance, founded the fishing/farming village now called "Zennor," which has a famous legend about a mermaid; thus the ale named after said mermaid. The parish associated with Tintagel is dedicated to St. Materiana. These are not big-name international saints, these are Irish immigrants of the dark age who converted the Cornish.

The most famous at the moment, perhaps, is St. Piran whose flag (above) is just about everywhere. To the outsider, St. Piran is a vaguely comical early saint with an odd legend: an Irish king him into the sea with a millstone around his neck, to end his pesky preaching of the Gospel. By a miracle, Piran floated on that millstone all the way to Cornwall, where he found a more receptive audience. We had to wonder, however, whether he brought the snakes from Ireland with him. Anyway his unrecognized-in-the-Union-Jack flag makes him a symbol of Cornish national feeling. (See this article from last year's Guardian.) The Cornish language, effectively dead from about the 18th century, is making a bit of a comeback. We were entertained in one restaurant by musicians who had translated Beatles songs into Cornish. This may seem less peculiar when I say that the translator was young enough that independent Cornwall and Beatlemania were equally part of the distant past.

One of the most impressive things I saw on the trip however besides the millions of flowers was the remains on Cornish tin mining. I think I will reserve that for another post.

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Go read McClatchy

McClatchy (sometime back known as Knight-Ridder), of all the American-based news services, strikes me as the most interested in news and news analysis. I have long been reading and recommending the blog Inside Iraq, written by McClatchy's Iraqi correspondents; but there are more McClatchy blogs and they seem of comparable quality. Go to McClatchy's home page and find the box called "McClatchy's blogs."

While you are there you can read this week's series on Guantanamo.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

What the sources say about the golden angel

With help from Will McLean and Google I am able to post what contemporary writers said about the golden angel which took part in Richard II's coronation.

First, the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, with what is supposed to be straight reportage:

The city was in every way most richly adorned, and the conduits ran with wine for three hours. In the upper end of the Cheap was erected a castle with four towers ; on two sides of which ran forth wine abundantly. In the towers were placed four beautiful virgins, of stature and age like to the King, apparelled in white vestures; these damsels, on the King's approach, blew in his face leaves of gold, and threw on him and his horse counterfeit golden florins. When he was come before the castle, they took cups of gold, and filling them with wine at the spouts of the castle, presented the same to the King and his nobles. On the top of the castle, betwixt the towers, stood a golden angel, holding a crown in his hands ; and so contrived, that, when the King came, he bowed down and offered him the crown.

William Langland, a poet, seems to include this scene (argues Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels) in an allegorical/fantastic view of the kingdom in Piers Ploughman,:

Then looked up a lunatic · a lean thing withal,
And kneeling before the king well speaking said:
`Christ keep thee sir King · and thy kingdom,
And grant thee to rule the realm · so Loyalty may love thee,
And for thy rightful ruling · be rewarded in heaven.'
Then in the air on high · an angel of heaven
Stooped and spoke in Latin · for simple men could not
Discuss nor judge · that which should justify them,
But should suffer and serve · therefore said the angel:

`Sum Rex, sum Princeps: neutram fortasse deinceps;
O qui jura regis Christi specialia regis, hoc quod agas melius Justus es,
esto pius!
Nudum jus a te vestiri vult pietate; qualia vis metere talia grand sere.
Si jus nudatur nudo de jure metatur; si seritur pietas de pietate
metas.'
Then an angry buffoon · a glutton of words,
To the angel on high · answered after:
`Dum rex a regere dicatur nomen habere,
Nomen habet sine re nisi studet jura tenere.'
Then began all the commons · to cry out in Latin,
For counsel of the king · construe how-so he would:
`Praecepta regis sunt nobis vincula legis.

I am not feeling confident enough in my Latin at the moment to translate those passages in their entirety, but it seems that this passage pits the angel and the rich commons of the kingdom (or the parliamentary Commons), who are anxious to give a pious king divine power, against buffoons and lunatics who say "Since the king (rex) gets his name from guiding (regere), he has that name to no purpose unless he strives to keep the law."

Hardly relevant to today's concerns, eh?

Update: Thanks to Scott Lightsey's book (p. 46), I can now include what the Anonimalle Chronicle says:

Set up in the middle of the Cheap stood tower of painted canvas, curiously constructed, over timber support-beams; about the tower were four turrets, in which stood four damsels, exceedingly lovely and beautifully arrayed, and these said damsels threw gold coins in the direction of the prince's coming. Within the said tower had also been built a small belfry, and on the belfry stood an angel bearing a golden crown holding it out towards the said prince, to do him comfort.

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The golden angel and 14th-century robots


Given his other interests, it was perhaps predictable that Will McLean would reply to my previous post on 14th-century robots. And I'm glad he did.

First, I promote his reply to my post:

The mechanical angel at the coronation is described in Thomas Walsingham's history. I think Lightsey is assuming that Langland's angel is a reference to that, and Langland would expect his audience to make the connection.

Then he opined in a post at his own blog, A Commonplace Book:

Much as I’d like to imagine the Tik-Tok Angel of London, clockwork seems unlikely in the context. The contrivance had to perform on cue and the moment of Richard’s arrival was unpredictable, so a puppet seems more likely a clockwork automaton.

Then he tries to avoid speculating further on the blockbuster SF hit that will never be:

Evangelion Genesis Ricardus, in which a team of moody dysfunctional anime adolescents, led by young Richard II, pilot giant clockwork automata...

even though one of his commenters rightly says:

Evangelion Genesis Ricardus would be the BEST THING EVER.

But then he does something less geeky and perhaps infinitely cooler, lead us to real manifestations of 14th century SF and SF fandom:

Instead I will cherish Froissart’s Horloge Amoureuse, in which a ticking clock becomes an extended metaphor for measured and enduring love. There’s something tremendously sweet about how Froissart handled this: first the wide-eyed curiosity at the wheels and foliot and whole complex mechanism, then the immediate impulse to turn it into a love-allegory.

And he includes a translation.

Last, so far, he brings us back to the potential 14th-century audience for Evangelion Genesis Richardus, alas for their loss of what never will be, at least for them.

If you like 14th c. robots (and who doesn’t?) Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale gives us not only a brass robot horse controlled by turning a pin in its ear, but both a satire of the kind of SF where the cool technology and sense-of-wonder marvels completely overwhelm the thin plot and weak characters and of the kind of fanboy who thinks it’s like the coolest story ever, dude.

It's enough to make you intellectually drunk, really, this subject and the spin-off around it. Good as Will's contributions are, the key fact is this:

If you saw a movie in which a robot/puppet/automaton offered a crown to the boy Richard II during his coronation procession, you'd think it was some kind of ironic commentary by a hip (in his own estimation) film-maker. But no, it actually happened, and I at least must work very hard, even though (because?) I know the 14th century tolerably well, to integrate it into my picture of the actual past.

Image: a conservative choice from Google Images and Flickr. Plenty of anime/new age possibilities: search "golden angel."

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Welcome back" -- wonders never cease


That's what a Canadian border official said to us yesterday after checking our documents. And he wasn't even a particularly cheerful fellow.

The country itself greeted us with a huge double rainbow.

Good grief, after Cornwall and Latvia, this is a big country. And we were only crossing the inhabited part of the most populous province.

Image: part of the rainbow as seen from a bus window.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

14th-century robots


In a book review by Aleks Pluskowski of Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels in Medieval Culture and Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2007), sent me free by the TMR service , I read the following:


Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels is a remarkable and unique work on a neglected aspect of late-medieval society. Lightsey reveals a world of artificers and technologists, of complex clockwork devices and colourful automata: a
world where supernatural, fantastic and exotic mirabilia were pulled from the imaginary realms of romance, and--literally--brought to life for the entertainment and exultation of war-fatigued courts.Since surviving examples of these machines are incredibly rare, Lightsey draws on literary and documentary sources, complemented bya range of artistic representations.



...His first case study of automata draws on the prologue to Piers Ploughman, which describes a mechanical angel that crowns Richard II during his public coronation in London. Here, Lightsey situates this marvel within a newly established culture of aristocratic visual display; a growing tendency towards luxurious ceremonial which would come to define the Ricardian court. Indeed, this clockwork coronation is seen as nothing less than formative for Richard's own attitude to the calculated display of
majesty.

I looked at a modern version of PP and I must admit that I can't see how the reader is supposed to know that it is a mechanical angel. I'll follow it up.

However, I have no doubt that this robotic messenger was possible, because as an undergraduate I read Huizinga's classic early-20th-century book, The Waning of the Middle Ages, where he talks about a lot of clockwork figures used in princely ceremonies. Yet I
must admit that despite my early exposure to this fact, I've never integrated "mechanical men" into my visualization of the Middle Ages. I suspect that few of my readers have thought about Richard II as King of the Robots (a kind of dressier Dr. Doom?).

For years I've teased friends who think that the 14th century is the bee's knees of medieval history by saying, half-seriously, that the 14th century isn't the Middle Ages at all. Now I can say, "Dude, what about all those robots?"


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Friday, June 06, 2008

Latvia again

Latvia is warm and green and sunny, which is fine for a short-term visitor like me. Local people worry about the lack of rain in the growing season.

The first time I visited Latvia was in 1995, which is my earliest standard of comparison. Eleven years later, two years ago, Latvia looked much more cheerful and prosperous. Today, I see noticeable signs of further progress. In a smallish town, Valmiera (above), up to date appliances are for sale, there are more new cars, and lots of roads, sidewalks and bridges have been repaired.

The big news on last evening`s TV news was that because summer is here, more kids are hurting themselves in playgrounds. Well, there was also news about government corruption, but the news was that people wanted to do something about it.

The Latvians are still a slim and tall people, by and large.

Oh, yes, because this is a much higher latitude than North Bay, and it is June, I am getting a taste of the White Nights. The sky is bright at midnight; at 3:56 in the morning I woke to daylight.

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Why American politics scare me

Once again, Driftglass points us in the right direction.

As I told my World History class, the communists always have the best posters, full of beautiful lying imagery.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Still travelling...

I survived scrambling along cliffs like this in Cornwall and am now in a flatter country, Latvia. What a relief.
More later...

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