Saturday, July 17, 2004

Resources around the early modern world

I promised I was going to start looking beyond the Anglo-American and European, and this is the first instalment.

Indian History Sourcebook
The Mughals
The Mughal Empire
Shivshahi on the World Wide Web
British India
East India Company Ships
Trading Places: East India Company
Art of Mughal India
Gardens of Mughal India
Mughal India

The Ottomans
History of Turkish Jews
Turkey: History
Ottoman Empire Chronology
Ottoman Website
Harem in the Ottoman Empire

Early Modern Japan bibliographies
Early Modern Japan: course
Tokugawa Japan
Samurai Archives
Early Modern Japan: Politics
Sex in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan
Mining communities in early modern Japan

Qing China Bibliography
Missionaries and Mandarins: the Jesuits in China
Printing and Publishing in late imperial China
Chinese History: Ming Dynasty
Chinese History:Qing Dynasty
Chinese History: Imperial Period
The Peony Pavilion

It's interesting doing this; the most basic things that I'd take for granted normally (such as names for places, regions, dynasties, people) are often unfamiliar, but they're precisely what you need to do Google searches that get beyond general overviews. As a product of the British university system, it also reminds me of the merits of American broad world history survey courses (even if their downsides are that they can seem a bit superficial and conservative). I think quite a few of these resources are aimed at that market; some are really well done, but I'd really like to find more in-depth materials too. But this is enough for one day.

Update: That mischievous man Ralph Luker ;o) has started a conversation at Cliopatria about the question of the relevance of the term 'early modern' beyond the European world.

The first month

Well, if I hadn't been so busy flouncing and massaging my wounded pride yesterday, I'd have had more time to appreciate the first part of that post by Ralph at Cliopatria. (I mean, all I could manage of a bit of praise like 'one of the best history blogs' was that it was 'nice'? No wonder Americans take the piss out of us Brits.) After all, this blog has only been in existence for a month.

Yep, one month old today. I've posted on average about twice a day so far - I don't know how long I can keep that up (especially as I have to get some work done on thesis-book revisions over the next few months, and I wish I could drum up more enthusiasm about it), but when you're drudging in the archives every day this makes a really refreshing change. I think it's fair to say that it's settled in nicely anyway. (Hell, there's that word again.)

No question that I'm outgrowing Blogger. There are certain things I want that Blogger doesn't do, especially categories and recent comments. I know, I keep talking about moving. But then I read the instructions for MT and the like and I get scared. I can write HTML (actually, I dislike WYSIWYG editors, and Blogger's just introduced one); I can use FTP after a fashion. But when it comes to Perl, cgi-bin, MySQL, and the rest... eek. And I'm fairly sure I'd need to upgrade my current web hosting to publish it on Early Modern Resources. So perhaps I should try TypePad? It seems to work for lots of people. Any comments from those with experience of the 'Basic' and 'Plus' options would be particularly appreciated. (I'm slightly concerned that these don't come with a full HTML-editing facility on templates, so how flexible is the interface?) Or from people who have installed MT or Wordpress or similar packages on their servers, and how easy it is for those who are only semi-literate in Computerese.

Who's reading this stuff? The numbers aren't large - they spiked yesterday, mostly first-timers, no doubt because of Ralph! - but they are growing little by little. There's a small cohort of returning regulars, even. I wouldn't expect a blog on this subject - even given my digressions from early modernity - to attract large numbers anyway. But, phew, the main thing is that I'm not just talking to myself. What pleases me isn't so much the numbers as the variety in where visitors have come from: the UK, US, Canada, Australia and NZ, Germany, Czech Republic, Japan, Philippines... I was worrying a bit about not getting many comments (am I boring you? is the Blogger system a bit off-putting?), but I read a thread about this at (I think) Crooked Timber recently and was reassured by someone who said that only a tiny minority of readers will ever leave comments anyway.

It's been a great experience regardless of who bothers to look. When it comes to writing, my tendency is towards the interminably slow pursuit of perfection. I can use blogging to practise a different kind of discipline: write now, write faster, stop picking over every semicolon and every nuance of phrase. Get it down, then bloody well leave it alone. Not to be recommended for scholarly articles, but a good exercise for a chronic fusspot like me. And it's fun finding things to write about, and to put my experience of tracking down online material and building up web resources to a new use. Actually, it can generate some personal insights: what bothers me enough to comment on it? What do I care about? And I can look back and see the recurring themes; no huge surprises, but sort of interesting anyway. (I'm reminded of this essay on the construction of personal identity in personal web pages - it's about static pages, but definitely relevant to blogging).

When I set up the blog, I didn't know what to expect. But it's been really great. I was worried that it would swallow my life (even worse than my usual surfing), and perhaps I'm still spending too much time on it. But the initial level of addiction is wearing off. It's no longer the new album that you have to listen to six times a day.

Three will do.

Urban myths and folklore in Aberystwyth

My talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time persists. How often does Aberystwyth host a conference that I'd really like to go to? But now I'm away in London... Last month it was the Romanticism, history, historicism conference. Now it's folklorists focusing on urban myths and 'contemporary legends'. Papers include campus myths (I'm beginning to wonder just how many universities have sinking libraries? Ours is sliding down the hill, a nice variant); the blood libel and persecution of Jews; folklore in The X-files; Japanese visual story-telling; the banshee; Swedish witchcraft legends...

How Urban Legends Work, 21-24 July 2004

Friday, July 16, 2004

A controversial seventeenth-century shipwreck

The Guardian reports on a British shipwreck believed to contain untold riches, which is about to be excavated by a commercial American company, with the proceeds to be shared between the company, Odyssey, and the British government.

"The Sussex, an 80-gun British warship sank with 12 vessels from its merchant fleet in tumultuous storms in 1694 while on a secret diplomatic mission for King William III." It - sorry, she - sank in the Straits of Gibraltar. If it is the Sussex (even this seems to be a matter of some controversy), it may contain "10 tonnes of bullion and precious coins worth up to £2.4bn today". Wheesh. No wonder little things like archaeologists' worries that the excavation amounts to little more than "looting" and "asset-stripping" aren't going to be allowed to get in the way. (The money, if it is there, was intended to bribe a French ally in Britain's wars against France. The disaster may have been a factor in the establishment of the Bank of England.)

The project's chief archaeologist is (naturally) stoutly defending the professionalism of the project. English Heritage views it as "a test case of how professionally firms like Odyssey can retrieve coins and artefacts". Well, another good test case might be the excavation that the firm is currently carrying out on a nineteenth-century US paddle steamer in Georgia. An American archaeologist commenting on that one points out that it isn't just about the excavation itself: "Field work and recovery are the fun part... It's the years of analysis and conservation and preparation of a detailed report that usually trip people up. It's hard to get the commitment of time and funds to do all those things." Archaeology is destructive by its very nature; it's the careful recording and analysis (of all the little mundane things in their context, not just the glistening valuable ones) that justifies the disruption and destruction. Is that really going to happen here?

There are a few 'ifs' and some 'maybes' in the way: the deal doesn't quite seem to have been finalised, it might not be the Sussex, it might not be that full of gold. Oh, and the Spanish may not be happy about it. But this could be one hell of a story.

Ouch; or, on exposing yourself to ridicule

Early Modern Notes got (as far as I know) its first mention at Cliopatria yesterday. Starts well...

Over at Early Modern Notes, Sharon Haber maintains one of the best history blogs, which I read often, but...

That bit's nice (apart from the fact that the name's Howard, not Haber... probably partly my fault for forgetting to put in an 'about me' after I disabled the Blogger profile because I didn't like the way it looked on the screen).

But that 'but'... Ouch.

... she's apprenticing, too.

So, I'm reading her recommendation of July's Common-Place and her note that Cronaca still holds Common-Place accountable for giving "the infamous Michael Bellesiles a platform in their early issues." And, then, Sharon's Early Modern Notes says – I kid you not: "Who is Michael Bellesiles and what is wrong with him? What have I missed? (Or forgotten ...)" There, there, dear, no one's stolen your automobile. You've left it in the lot over at school. Now, I understand that Sharon is English and that she is one of those unusual people who become Early Modernists, but still ...

Ouch ouch ouch. Now, since those who know are too busy laughing to tell me the answer, I did what I should have done in the first place and googled it. And no, I hadn't forgotten. I didn't know the fraud story. No bells ringing. Nul points for my knowledge of US academic scandal.

I could excuse myself on the grounds that at the time I was completely wrapped up in writing my PhD thesis. But there's another reason, you know. It was reported over here (as was the book that caused the trouble, which I do faintly remember), but not extensively, I think (the Independent and BBC sites turned up no hits). It just did not cause the furore that it obviously did in the US.

Which is, of course, because it's about guns and gun control. I have my doubts that any eighteenth-century subject could cause quite that much of a stink in Britain. A study of gun ownership in probate inventories certainly wouldn't. If we have any debates on the matter, it's always about how we could tighten up our gun laws even further than they have been already, and why they're not policed effectively enough. We simply do not get the Americans on this one. Bowling for Columbine is like some weird alien universe. (Except for the bits about the export industry. We may not like guns, but hey, we're still going to keep selling them to everyone else.) The Bellesiles story, over here, would be just another example of the strangeness of our American cousins. And we've got plenty of those to keep us entertained/distressed/outraged.

So, I plead guilty to not always keeping up with American culture, politics and history. But I don't have to. There's quite a lot going on over here to keep me exercised, you know. And this is, after all, an explicitly British-orientated blog. (I'm pleased that it can nonetheless appeal to American readers.) I asked the question because I suspected it was an American story that had slipped under my British radar and I was genuinely curious.

British readers who think that these are entirely feeble excuses and that I should have known the story may, of course, throw as many rotten eggs at me as they like. But gently, eh?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Lindsey Davis rules

Via Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, an interview with the divine Lindsey Davis. Useless fact of the day (and an excuse for blogging this here)*: she wrote romantic serials set in the Civil Wars period before turning her hand to Ancient Rome. You may wish to vist her 'official' website. The rants page is fun. And the letters. And the FAQ...

*Not that I need one, seeing as this is my blog.

Fulbright funding

To demonstrate that I do know that stuff happens beyond the UK, the Fulbright Scholar Program has sent out a reminder of the deadline (August 1) for their Traditional Scholar Programs (for US citizens only) for 2005/6. There are, for example, two postdoc awards (up to 12 months) to be taken up at the University of Wales, Cardiff, and history is one of the eligible subject areas. I mention this in particular a) because it's in Wales (!) and b) because I'm good friends with Garthine Walker, who teaches in Cardiff's history department and researches early modern crime and gender (her splendid book came out last year). There are of course many more awards around the world, including opportunities for early modernists.

July Common-place

The July issue of Common-place is out (well, it's been out a little while, but I forgot to get my email newsletter renewed last year when I got a new email address...).

I particularly liked the article by Richard J Bell, on his experiences of researching his dissertation - on suicide in post-revolution America. He describes the way that many a research project develops; from the dawning realisation that what he'd rather naively planned just wasn't going to work, to the excitement of tracing new sources to end up with something very different. He also discusses the ways in which internet (and other electronic) resources have impacted on his research, helping him tremendously in his search for elusive needles in haystacks. He learned that while the numbers of recorded suicides may be small (and we'll never really know how many more there were), suicide's cultural significance went far beyond his early questions ("Who?" "how?" and "why?"); he found himself moving on to rather bigger themes ("so what?"): "How Americans in the early republic responded to suicide or the threat of it and what they understood that threat to be".

Also well worth reading is a historian's eye-view of historical reality TV, Is there a historian in the house?. Emerson W Baker worked on the US TV series Colonial House, and writes about his reasons for taking what he knew was a risk, about the "constant balancing act between the ideal and the practical, between the televisual story, the sound bite, and the historical record"; he's honest about his criticisms, but also why he was glad he did it: "I have spent my career as a historian and archaeologist trying to understand what life was like for the inhabitants of early New England. Last fall I had the opportunity to walk into a version of that past, and to share that experience with a few million students of history. Flaws and all, it was the opportunity of a lifetime".

Even if you're not interested in American history, Common-place is well worth bookmarking. It's always readable, enjoyable and stimulating. But one question. Cronaca has also flagged up the magazine, with the aside: "Yes, they did give the infamous Michael Bellesiles a platform in their early issues..." Who is Michael Bellesiles and what's wrong with him? What have I missed? (Or forgotten...)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

George III, insanity and arsenic

At least two bloggers so far (The Little Professor; Gnostical Turpitude) have spotted what may be the final word on The Madness of King George. Dammit, I didn't notice the programme in the TV listings before I left Aberystwyth so that I could set the video to record it.

Celebrating Bastille Day, 14 July 1789

Well, here's one way to celebrate France's big day. (And here's another.)

And if you can still focus after doing that, some links.

Bastille Day: notes from the Guardian

The French Embassy in the US reminds Americans that they used to be real good friends

Absolutism, Ancien Regime and French Revolution, all from the splendid and unflashy Internet Modern History Sourcebook

The Rise and Fall of Absolute Monarchy

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution (fab site)

The French Revolution in British newspapers; the reaction this side of the Channel

There are a few more links over at Early Modern Resources, politics page

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Get out of that study! It's summer time!

Events, museums, exhibitions and the like of particular interest to early modernists. Some of them are even out-of-doors...

Prisoners of the Tower 1100-1941, Tower of London, London, UK. To 5 September.

City Merchants 1670-1720, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, England. To 22 August.

John Milton's Cottage, Buckinghamshire, England.

Kentwell Hall, Suffolk, England.

Gwydir Castle, Conwy, Wales.

Museum of Welsh Life, Cardiff, Wales.

The Word on the Street: Popular Street Literature 1650-1910, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland. To 31 October.

Master and Commander Museum Trail

Spanish Armada Museum Trail

For a wide range of UK museums, galleries and events, see 24 Hour Museum.

A couple beyond the UK...

Rijksmuseum Masterpieces, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts, USA.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Secondhand books online - damaging the publishing industry?

Via Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, this report from the NY Times (registration required, I'm afraid), about the effect of online used book sales (especially through Amazon and e-bay) on new book sales. You hear these sort of complaints about secondhand books from the book industry from time to time, and as a regular buyer of secondhand books in shops and online, my response is not sympathetic. All secondhand books have been new books, and why shouldn't the owners of said books get rid of them when they don't want them any more, so other readers can appreciate them? When I was a student I couldn't afford to buy new books very often at all: secondhand books and their sellers were a lifeline. And, OK, I still don't buy that much new fiction, it has to be said (and hardbacks hardly ever); there have only ever been a handful of authors I'd rush out to buy as soon as their latest offering appears in the shops.

It's possible that Amazon in particular - since you can see the availability of secondhand copies right next to the new ones - is making inroads into new book business. But surely this can only go so far, since there will always tend to be a limited number of secondhand copies available (unless a book is so bad or dull that the buyers of the new copies can't wait to get rid of it, I suppose... in which case the secondhand market is hardly the problem). And I don't know about anyone else, but my secondhand book buying falls into certain patterns that are not exactly the same as my new book habits. When I buy a secondhand book, it is often NOT simply the case that I'd have bought a new copy if the used one hadn't been available. Sometimes it's because a book is out of print. Sometimes, well, it's there on the shelf, I sort of like it, I don't know if I'll ever read it, but at that price it won't matter, will it... Sometimes I just want a cheap trashy book to read on the train. Sometimes I get a duplicate just because I like the cover on an older edition (it's true!). And sometimes it's because I'm trying a new author - and if I like it enough, I may well buy new in future (and similarly with library books, incidentally). But it never seems to occur to the book industry that secondhand book buying could act as a stimulant to new sales.

Have there ever been any studies of secondhand book buying? I'd love to know.

More jobs for early modernists at!

Early Career Fellowship in Early Modern History, Oxford Brookes University. 2 year posts, £22,954 p.a. Deadline 2 August.

Data Converter/text-encoder for the 'Religion and Rebellion' (Carte calendar) project Oxford Bodleian Library. Up to 8 months, £26,327 p.a. Deadline 16 July 2004. (It looks as though this can be done from home, with part-time possibilities - could be ideal for PhD students writing up theses?)

Lecturer in Modern History, University of Dublin Trinity College. Duration not stated, salary from 30,781 euro p.a. Deadline 16 August. ('Modern' here definitely includes 'early modern' - in fact that seems to be the emphasis.)

Research Associate, 'Free-Thinking and Language-Planning in Late 17th-Century England', University of Cambridge. 3 years, £21,852 p.a. Deadline 21 July.

'Teach more about British Empire'

A story noted over the weekend: 'Teach more about British Empire' (also at The Independent). Ofsted (official education standards 'watchdog') argues that the Empire is a key subject that gets too little attention in secondary schools, whilst too much time is spent on certain subjects such as Nazi Germany (the American West is also cited). I'm a little concerned that it is reported as though Ofsted were dismissing these other subjects as insignificant... But even the modern German historians I know agree that the Nazis are over-taught, and that far too many students come to university seemingly knowing - and wanting to know - about little else.

Traditionalists are delighted; someone from 'the Campaign for Real Education' is quoted as saying: "The key point is that the Empire was very beneficial to indigenous populations in many ways, even though it had its faults. The nice thing is that a lot of ex-colonial populations still think quite well of the British". I don't think, however, that what Ofsted has in mind is quite that trite or bland. What they say is that teachers should raise awareness of the Empire's "controversial legacy", and that "Pupils should know about the Empire and that it has been interpreted by historians and others in different ways".

And that would be an important contribution to British children's education and understanding of their history. 'The Empire' is potentially a way into many important issues: modern British history in its relationship to the rest of the world; the colonised as well as the colonisers; comparative perspectives on empires and power; migration and trade; historical debates and controversies...

Defenders of the schools point out that history is such a big subject that inevitably some parts get less coverage than others. So we always come back to the question: what matters most? How do we set priorities? How do we balance breadth and depth, skills and content, our own nations and other parts of the world, the policies of governments and the lives of the governed? However, it strikes me that Ofsted is aiming at the wrong target here. Secondary education, especially at 14+, is very much geared towards exam requirements. So don't blame the schools and the teachers: go and talk to the exam boards.

Update: I wanted to look at the report itself. But I can't find any reference to anything like it on the Ofsted site. Perhaps it takes them a few days to get these things online? Hrrmphh.

Further update: The Guardian has also reported on this, and it emerges that the Ofsted report goes back a few months; I think it's surfaced in the papers now (see also the Telegraph, but I haven't got round to registering to read the actual report) because of a lecture by Ofsted's specialist history inspector at a conference last week (wouldn't mind seeing the text of that, too). But I still can't seem to find anything about it at Ofsted's web site. I've now gone to the lengths of emailing them to find out about the thing - not least because The Guardian's report also comments that the report was, in fact, largely positive about history teaching in schools - it was rated 'as amongst the best of all subjects'... So I was right in my historian's instincts to try to get back to the source.

What I don't miss when I'm away from home

Two things that I shan't be homesick for when I go back to London on Tuesday:

1. The seagulls on the roof. There's some kind of mini-colony up there, and Lord knows what they're getting up to with the banging and the rattling and the general racket. I hadn't quite realised before what a range of noises those birds can make, all of them unpleasant. And they keep crapping on my windows!

2. And then there's the Sunday afternoon 'entertainment' on the seafront, drifting in through the window. Some duo performing 50s- and 60s-lite (I think there might have been the occasional newer song), finishing off with a particularly ghastly, mawkish medley (ie, they don't really know more than the first couple of lines of any of the songs) of material including songs from the two World Wars. And Auld Lang Syne, I think, but I might have been hallucinating by then. It all wouldn't be quite so hideous if it weren't for the female singer, who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near anything remotely pop-like with that high-pitched quavery voice.

And this is supposed to be the Land of Song?!

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The marching bands are coming

Tomorrow is one of those historical anniversaries that does not, to put it mildly, produce universal celebrations. Or, to be precise, it's celebrated and loathed in equal measure. 12 July is the anniversary of the victory of William III at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and it's still causing conflict between Protestants and Catholics. It's instructive to learn that, even now, there are 'more British troops in Northern Ireland during the Protestant marching season than there are in Iraq', for what is 'one of the biggest annual political and cultural street events in Europe'. At least it doesn't seem likely to descend into the violent depths of the late '90s and early '00s (not least, a cynic might argue, because the media post 9/11 lost interest in fanning these particular flames and turned their attention to other conflicts and religious divides). Nonetheless, 'the marching season' does annually reveal the continuing tensions in Northern Ireland, and just how much remains to be done if the peace process is to be a long-term success. It's also a reminder of just how much of today's conflict is rooted in the seventeenth century - however much that legacy has been subsequently reappropriated and reinvented.

Irish History Timeline
William III
Battle of the Boyne
Battle of the Boyne 1690
The Penal Laws

CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet)

Northern Ireland Women's Coalition
Sinn Fein
Social Democratic and Labour Party
Ulster Unionist Party

Sutton Index of Deaths: lest we forget, this is what's at stake in the peace process.


I have installed a trackback facility using Haloscan (since Blogger doesn't offer this). I hope it'll work OK... If I start to get more comments I may well switch to Haloscan's comments service as well, but I'll stick with Blogger's own facility for the time being. But I think I'll be looking around for another host at some point before too long anyway. I'm debating whether to publish the blog on EMR, using Movable Type or something similar. But that's a slightly intimidating step...

Update: Yep, it looks as though this blog will be moving. I finally discovered 20six (I'd heard of it but never visited before) - and it has everything I could possibly want, plus they're about to introduce a bargain basement paid version WITH NO ADVERTS. Even the free version can do much, much more than Blogger. The only downside (I'm assuming) is that I'll lose this template, with which I fell in love the moment I saw it. But I can deal with that, for so many goodies in return. Watch this space...