26 February, 2010

History of the world in 100 objects - early modern bits

A History of the World in 100 objects is a joint venture between BBC Radio and the British Museum. It is written and presented by Neil Macgregor, Director of the BM and cleverly focusses on a single object from the Museum's collection for each 15 minute radio program. The programs are aired 3 times a day (ze nation vill be educated!), Monday to Friday, and if you miss all of these are also on the BBC iPlayer....

The official website is a confusion of whirling graphics and whoever designed it should have their head chopped off, or at the very least put in the stocks for a day. Objects submitted by the general public (this is a participative exercise) mingle with the "official" objects, and I got lost in the navigation. One minute you are looking at a Chinese bronze bell from 500BC, the next at a Sutton's Seeds catalogue (albeit an old one). It's all rather confusing. At least the radio shows are available on the website permanently.

Hurray for the Radio Times, which has published a nice simple list of the 100 objects, or rather 99. The last one has yet to be revealed. According to the RT, there are 4 European objects from the 1500-1800 period in the list:

75 Dürer's Rhinoceros - 1515 (pictured above)
"A woodcut made by the German painter, said to be based on a sketch of an Indian rhino that had arrived in Lisbon that year. Described by the British Museum as one of the great images of European art."

76 The mechanical galleon - 1585 AD
"The Nef Galleon, an intricate mechanical "toy" that demonstrates the importance that ships had for Europeans."

80 Pieces of eight - 1589–1598
"Made for the Spanish empire from silver mined in the Peruvian Andes, these coins became the world's first global currency."

85 Reformation centenary broadsheet - 1617
"Produced in Leipzig to mark the centenary of the start of the Reformation. The woodblock print of Protestant propaganda is seen as a forerunner of the print media."

An interesting selection...

10 February, 2010

Trees Lounge: The Great Oak at the Gates of the Dead

The Great Oak at the Gates of the Dead is a 1,200-year old oak near Wrexham on the English/Welsh border. It marks the site of the battle of Crogen, 1165, when Owain Gwynedd defeated Henry II's force.

The BBC site has news that ice has caused the great oak to split down the middle, with more background and links .

More ancient trees in this previous post.

photo credit: thetreehunter via flickr.

07 February, 2010

Admiral Byng.....it's not over

As mentioned in a previous post, Dan Snow's recent BBC series Empire of the Seas mentioned the unfortunate fate of Admiral John Byng, executed on his own ship for "failing to engage the enemy" off Minorca.

Snow didn't question the verdict of 1757, and this has prompted Byng's family (who have been running a campaign to clear his name) to pen this letter to the Daily Telegraph:

TV unjust to Admiral Byng

SIR – We are collateral descendants of Admiral Byng, and have reacted to the BBC 2 programme Empire of the Seas in a similar way. While it is excellent to capture the imagination of the public, it is wrong to repeat historical inaccuracies.

Admiral Byng did not “retreat” from Minorca having failed to engage the enemy. After initially engaging with the French, he withdrew to Gibraltar when the enemy had disappeared, in order to mend his battered ships and to tend to his wounded sailors. It was also his duty to defend Gibraltar from the French.

He wrote to the Admiralty asking for reinforcements and stipulated he would then waste no time in attacking the enemy again. This letter was censored by the Admiralty for political reasons. He presented his full-length letter at his court-martial, yet was imprisoned in Greenwich and shot on the Monarch.

What he had written to the Admiralty, on May 25, 1756, was this: “I send their Lordships the resolutions of the council of war, in which there was not the least contention or doubt arose. I hope, indeed, we shall find stores to refit us at Gibraltar; and, if I have any reinforcement, will not lose a moment of time to seek the enemy again, and once more give them battle.”

Thane Byng Nelson
Chris Byng-Maddick
Sarah Saunders-Davies
John Byng-Hall
London NW3

Last year Chris Ware of the University of Greenwich published Admiral Byng : His Rise and Execution which would be a good place to start your own appraisal.

Although unrelated, this reminded me of an entry in the visitors' book at Appomattox: "It's not over".

Sometimes history just won't lie down....

01 February, 2010

Less is more: Cardinal Wolsey's blog stats for January

In spite of only managing one blog post in January, according to the official Court stats there were 1,015 unique visitors to Cardinal Wolsey's Today in History - the fourth highest since launch in 2006. Only 17 were return visitors, which is something to work on.

The average time anyone spent on the site was 53 seconds precisely. Visitors came from 54 countries, with about half from the good old USA, but only a quarter from the UK.....

The most popular page last month was a post from way back in 2006 on Thomas Cromwell's beheading.

Incidentally, plenty of google searchers are still looking for evidence that Cardinal Wolsey either a) was executed or b) committed suicide. Sorry folks he died of natural causes on the way to trial......but then again.....