Wednesday, 15 April 2015

'Old' Wars vs 'New' Wars?

Hello all! I am currently in the middle of revision season, with my A2 exams coming up in a couple of weeks, which is why I haven't been blogging as much recently. For part of my A2 politics course I am studying war and peace, and one idea which we are learning about is the idea that there is such things as 'new' wars. As a historian, I found this particularly interesting.

'New' wars are often seen to be civil wars instead of inter-state wars (95% of wars since the 1980s have been civil wars rather than between states). This is often attributed to the rise of 'zones of peace', which goes hand in hand with the 'democratic peace thesis', which suggests that the spread of liberal democracy will see the end of warfare (see the 'end of history' thesis by Francis Fukuyama for more on that). 'New' wars also use new technology such as smart weapons and satellite systems to create 'low casualty' warfare (seen in the NATO ariel bombardment of Kosovo in 1999).

'New' wars are also often identity wars. Globalisation has weakened the state leading to declining solidarity based on social class and an increase in ethnic conflict. It is often argued that 'new' wars are asymmetrical (i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan). This means that military strategies and technologies are used that will demoralise the enemy and break its political will, in order to create a more level playing field between opponents. For example guerrilla warfare is used (small-scale raids, ambushes and attacks, roadside bombs and suicide attacks), and a particular effort is made to strengthen links with the civilian population so that war becomes a form of popular resistance or insurgency. This is another component of a 'new' war; the civilian/ military distinction breaks down and war becomes 'war among the people'. Finally, 'new' wars are often said to be more barbaric than 'old' wars, in that they are no longer governed by 'rules of war'; kidnapping, torture, rape and indiscriminate killings are now common in warfare.

However I believe the distinction between 'new' and 'old' wars is misplaced. Inter-communal strife has always existed and there is nothing new about the large scale disruption of civilian life and mass civilian casualty. Additionally, wars have always been asymmetrical, forcing troops to use unconventional tactics such as mass rape. Therefore, whilst clearly the face of war is evolving thanks to new technologies and new ideas about morality, elements of 'new' and 'old' wars often coexist in 'hybrid' conflicts, and they always have done.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Richard III

I know I have blogged about Richard III before, when his remains were found in a car park in Leicester in September 2012, but I think the reburial of the King deserves another blog.

On 26 March, 2015, Richard III was buried at Leicester Cathedral.

Richard III, the final ruler of the Plantagenet dynasty, was killed on 22 August 1485 in the Battle of Bosworth Field, the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses. His body was taken to Greyfriars Friary in Leicester, where it was buried in a crude grave in the friary church. In 1495, ten years after the burial, Henry VII paid for a marble and alabaster monument to mark Richard's grave. Following the friary's dissolution in 1538 and subsequent demolition, Richard's tomb was lost. An account arose that Richard's bones had been thrown into the River Soar at the nearby Bow Bridge.

A search for Richard's body began in August 2012, initiated by the Looking for Richard project with the support of the Richard III Society. The archaeological excavation was led by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, working in partnership with Leicester City Council. On the first day a human skeleton belonging to a man in his thirties was uncovered showing signs of severe injuries. The skeleton, which had several unusual physical features, most notably a severe curvature of the back was exhumed to allow scientific analysis. Examination showed that the man had probably been killed either by a blow from a large bladed weapon, probably a halberd, which cut off the back of his skull and exposed the brain, or by a sword thrust that penetrated all the way through the brain. Other wounds on the skeleton had probably occurred after death as "humiliation injuries", inflicted as a form of posthumous revenge.

The age of the bones at death matched that of Richard when he was killed; they were dated to about the period of his death and were mostly consistent with physical descriptions of the king. Preliminary DNA analysis showed that mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones matched that of two matrilineal descendants, one 17th-generation and the other 19th-generation, of Richard's sister Anne of York. Taking these findings into account along with other historical, scientific and archaeological evidence, the University of Leicester announced on 4 February 2013 that it had concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the skeleton was that of Richard III.

As a condition of being allowed to disinter the skeleton, the archaeologists agreed that, if Richard were found, his remains would be reburied in Leicester Cathedral. A controversy arose as to whether an alternative reburial site, York Minster or Westminster Abbey, would be more suitable.

I watched the ceremony on TV and thought it was fantastic - if you haven't had a chance to watch it yet, check out the highlights online.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Big Breakthroughs In Archaeology

Whilst I am a historian, and mostly tend to blog about history, I recently read a very interesting article on the importance of archaeology for history (and other purposes). Therefore I have decided to blog on a few recent big archaeological discoveries.

2014 saw the completion of an impressive survey to map the hidden landscape of the Salisbury plain. Stonehenge has long been known to be part of a wider complex of monuments, but the area still holds surprises, and this research provides a glimpse into just how intensively that landscape was used over a period of about 11,000 years.

This year archaeologists have discovered a serious shift in climate that happened 2,500 years ago.
Population collapse at the end of the European Bronze Age is thought to have been caused by rapid climate change. However, new research shows that the decline in population began over a century before climate change set in. Researchers now think that it was the increasing demand for iron towards the start of the Iron Age that was to blame, which undermined local economies and disrupted trade.

A new study of 325,000-year-old artefacts has forced archaeologists to re-think the development of very early technologies. A revolutionary stone tool technology called Levallois was thought to have been invented only in Africa, spreading through Europe and Asia as populations expanded. However, archaeologists looking at stone tools from a site in Armenia think that the specialised technology also developed independently there, highlighting the creativity of these early groups.

Another innovation has been uncovered during analysis of the Staffordshire hoard. Anglo Saxon goldsmiths used a sophisticated technique to remove copper and silver from the surfaces of gold objects, making them appear more "golden". Not only did this give the impression that the gold was more valuable than it was, the different colours of gold made the designs more striking.

Further light was shed on medieval skeletons from Poland whose manner of burial - with sickles across their necks, for example - suggest villagers feared they would rise again as vampires. The burials coincide with cholera outbreaks, hinting that they may be victims of the disease. In September, researchers in Siberia reported finding a suit of armour made from animal bones which they believe could date to between 3,500 and 3,900 years ago. The experts believe the armour may have been manufactured for an elite warrior.  Two men whose remains were excavated from graves in western China were buried with the earliest known examples of trousers. With straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch, the Bronze Age slacks resemble those worn today for horse riding.

Links between seafaring nations of the southern hemisphere have been explored this year, with Tonga revealed to be at the centre of an extensive island empire from 1200 AD. Tonga interacted with far groups of islands via long-distance voyages, with stone tools traded over distances of up to 2,500km. Discoveries like this early canoe (below) from New Zealand shed light on the seafaring capabilities of the Polynesians

New genetics research shows just how far this seafaring prowess might have stretched. DNA analysis of Easter Islanders found that they had Native American ancestry as well as Polynesian and European genetic heritage. While the European ancestry dates from the 18th century, the American connection occurred 200-400 years earlier. It is likely that Polynesians made the challenging journey from Easter Island to the South American mainland and back - a round trip of almost 8000km. This might also explain how the sweet potato - native to South America - became established in Polynesia before European contact.

The discovery in New Zealand of a beautifully constructed 15th century canoe, plus details of the prevailing winds that helped them on their way, sheds more light on how Polynesians travelled so widely. Eyes will also be on the replica canoes that set sail on a worldwide voyage with no navigational equipment, to demonstrate the capacity of such vessels to traverse extreme distances over the oceans.

Physicists may have shed light on how the ancient Egyptians shifted such large stone blocks. In another attempt to replicate early engineering, a team of physicists have joined the quest to explain how ancient Egyptians pulled heavy stone blocks on sledges across the desert. They found a simple solution: wetting the sand in front of the sledges can halve the pulling force required - as can be seen in murals on the walls of a 4000-year-old tomb.

Finally, analysis of Richard III's teeth has been able to pinpoint where he lived throughout his childhood. Growing up in the east of England, he moved west by the age of seven. Analysis of his bones also confirmed the kingly lifestyle of his later life, feasting on rich foods and - perhaps unsurprisingly - an increasing amount of wine.


Saturday, 28 February 2015

Is History the Art of Making Things Up?

I recently read a very interesting article entitled "History is the art of making things up. Why pretend otherwise?" by Carola Binney. Below is a summary of the argument.

In a recent interview, the celebrity historian and Tudor expert David Starkey described Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as a ‘deliberate perversion of fact’. The novel, he said, is ‘a magnificent, wonderful fiction’. The author of the article argues that using 'historical imagination' is the way to succeed as a historian. She cites essays she's written where she argued that Martin Luther was a fraud, Second Wave American feminists were profoundly sexist and that King Alfred the Great was a historical irrelevance. She's also argued that the Counter-Reformation was a success because the Catholics were so flexible, tolerant and easy-going — not mentioning the Inquisition at all. Saying it was ‘completely wrong, but a delight to read’, her tutor gave it a First.

The list of historians who’ve been led by their imaginations as much as their sources is distinguished. In the 1960s, John Prebble’s reconstructions of the great disasters of Scottish history were blood-soaked bestsellers. His vivid narratives brought to life first the rainy, desolate moor that staged the Battle of Culloden, then the betrayal, disease and starvation of the Highland Clearances. Prebble was described by the current chair of history at Glasgow University as the man who ‘had interested more people than anyone this century in Scottish history’. But he’s still dismissed by most academics as a glorified historical novelist.

The young Niall Ferguson was the inspiration for Irwin, the provocative history teacher in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys. He taught his pupils to make tutors sit up and take notice by arguing (to use one of Ferguson’s real-life examples) that Britain should have sat out the first world war and left the Germans to battle it out. At the end of Bennett’s play, one of Irwin’s less able students recounts the arguments that got him through his Oxford interview: that ‘Stalin was a sweetie and Wilfred Owen was a wuss’.

Most bestselling history books tend to be one parts fact to two parts fiction, and that may be more because that's what historians have to work with than anything else. Starkey considers himself to be ‘someone who actually knows what happened’ in Henry VIII’s court, but he doesn't. No one does. A scrupulously honest historian has to leave gaps and this does not make for a bestselling history book.

There is a difference between 'historial imagination' and 'historical sins', Binney argues. To speculate is one thing, but to deliberately lie is quite another. Creatively joining the few dots of knowledge we have about the past is the historian’s craft, and it takes skill. Writing something you know to be untrue because it fits your story takes no skill, and is the point where history becomes fiction.

Binney finishes with a quote from Alan Bennett, ‘History nowadays is not a matter of conviction. It’s a performance. It’s entertainment. And if it isn’t, make it so.’

My own opinion on this subject can be found on previous blogs I've done, such as 'Is Historical Fiction More Truthful Than Historical Fact', so please have a look at them if you're interested in my own opinions. 


Friday, 13 February 2015

The Wright Brothers

Orville Wright, in 1901, at the right end of an upended glider.

Wilbur, after an unsuccessful trial, on December 14, 1903.

Over 111 years ago, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright, with the help of his brother Wilbur, piloted the first airplane. The brothers, who began experimenting with flight, in 1896, at their bicycle shop, had experimented with gliders and kites, but only achieved sustained flight once they added a small engine to their machines. (Their first trip lasted just twelve seconds and travelled a hundred and twenty feet.) While many of their competitors focussed on engine strength, the Wright brothers put their efforts into developing three-axis control, a reliable method of piloting that gave them a competitive edge.

Have a look at the link below to see more photographs. These photographs—which the Wright brothers’ estate donated to the Library of Congress after Orville’s death in 1948 (Wilbur died in 1912)—are glass-plate negatives taken mostly by the brothers themselves, who were careful to document their experiments in order to preserve a record for future patent claims. The photograph of their first flight was taken by John T. Daniels, a member of the Kitty Hawk Life-Saving Station, who was recruited by Orville and had never before seen a camera in his life.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Can Economists Learn from History?

Many economists are predicting a huge loss of jobs as humans are increasingly replaced by robots who can perform the same tasks at less cost. This process is already under way. Since 2001, jobs such as clerks, sales assistants, library workers, secretaries and travel agents have fallen by 40 per cent. Increasingly, machines performing tasks it was assumed only humans could do: driving cars, diagnosing illness, processing insurance claims. Robots are replacing postmen, care workers and security guards. China is now the world’s largest buyer of industrial robots.

Jobs requiring judgment, common sense, creativity, adaptability or detection are, for now, safe. The sports trainer, actor, priest, social worker, fireman and MP are unlikely to be replaced any time soon. Robotic journalists may come sooner: last March the Los Angeles Times published the first automatic breaking news story, using an algorithm that writes up a short article when an earthquake occurs.

Few economists dispute that this revolution is under way but they disagree on its implications. Some predict mass unemployment and social dislocation, a strange new world in which machines run themselves. But others point to history as proof that the advance of technology is always a long-term economic blessing, that economies are already adapting and that robots will create more jobs than they destroy.

In 1779 Ned Ludd smashed two stocking frames and became the enduring poster boy for protest against labour-reducing machinery. But the Luddites were wrong: the Industrial Revolution vastly increased productivity, created many more jobs and increased real wages across all classes. The same may be true of the robotic revolution if it prioritises new jobs that value human ingenuity and imagination over monotonous rote work. If robots increase productivity, the reduced costs and increased profits will feed back into the wider economy, benefiting all.

This suggests that it is impossible to predict the outcome of change, economic or otherwise. And whilst history can give us a good indication, it can never provide a definite answer.

Friday, 30 January 2015

How the Tudors Invented Breakfast

England is famous for our 'English breakfast'. Yet in the Middle Ages breakfast in England was a rarity. It was not until 1600 that breakfast become a key part of daily routine.

In historical terms, breakfast is hardly noticeable. Whole books have been written about feasts and banquets, dinners and suppers. This is mostly because feasts and banquets have ritual and theatre, meaning there are hundreds of sources on them. For example a source about the tens of thousands of animals killed for a two-day visit by Queen Elizabeth because accounts had to be compiled to manage the provision of so much meat. Likewise in the medieval royal household, feasts were occasionally described by chroniclers who witnessed the king eating in the company of his courtiers. These sources tell us about seating plans, table arrangements, etiquette and procedure at many formal meals. Cookery books survive to reveal the kind of dishes that were informally served, and poems and stories attest to what poorer folk ate for supper and dinner.

Breakfasts, by comparison, do not have their literature. Chroniclers did not observe monarchs eating breakfast. The first meal of the day is thus one of those features of life that has slipped through the historian’s net.

What historians have known for a long time is that in the late medieval period many people did not eat breakfast. Evidence for this lies in such sources as the household ordinances of the nobility and gentry, which regularly specify who was allowed to eat breakfast and who was not. In 1412–13 only half a dozen of the 20 or so people in the household of Dame Alice de Bryenne were permitted to eat breakfast.

Sixty years later, in the household of Cicely, Duchess of York, the privilege of attending breakfast was extended only “to head officers when they be present, to the ladies and gentlewomen, to the dean and to the chapel, to the almoner and to the gentlemen ushers, to the cofferer, to the clerk of the kitchen and the marshal”. In the ‘Black Book’ of Edward IV, careful attention was paid to the ranks that were allowed to eat breakfast: breakfast was a privilege in the 15th century. Travellers, however, did eat breakfast, but, on the whole, the lack of evidence for breakfasting in the late Middle Ages (by comparison with plentiful references to dining, supping and feasting) leave us with the distinct impression that most people had two means a day; the main meal, dinner, was held at about 10.30 or 11 in the morning, and supper about five hours later.

However this all changed during the Tudor era. In Claudius Hollyband’s book The French Schoolmaster (1573), a maidservant says to a schoolboy: “Ho, Frances, rise and get you to school; you shall be beaten, for it is past seven. Make yourself ready quickly, say your prayers, then you shall have your breakfast.” - i.e. for schoolboys breakfast were now the norm. Thomas More wrote in 1528 “men should go to Mass as well after supper as before breakfast”, and Thomas Elyot recommended eating breakfast four hours before dinner in his popular work The Castell of Health (1539). Lest it be thought that these references only apply to a minority of literate gentlemen, Andrew Boorde in his Dietary of Health (1542) stated that “a labourer may eat three times a day [ie including breakfast] but that two meals are adequate for a rest man”.

Before 1500 non-ceremonial breakfasts were routinely taken by several sections of society. First, breakfast was seen as medicinal: people might be prescribed “a breakfast of…” as a means to sustain them in illness or old age. In 1305, Edward I (then aged 65), employed a cook just to prepare breakfasts. Second, many monks ate breakfast. Old and sick monks, of course, but also some young monks. At Peterborough it was argued that if the young monks did not have a breakfast, they ate so much at dinner they fell asleep in the afternoons.In 1402, Westminster monks having their blood let were provided with breakfasts of bread and ale; and the Norwich jantaculum was traditionally of wine, bread and cheese. Monastic breakfasts are understandable in the context of young men having to get up in the early hours to sing Mass .Labourers working on York Minster in 1352 were permitted to eat their breakfast in part of the building – no doubt due to the long hours they were working.

Manorial tenants were also sometimes entitled to breakfast at harvest time. This was only recorded when the duty for providing the breakfast fell on the lord of the manor, such as at Bicester in 1325, when a customary (written selection of customs) declared the harvest workers should be provided with a breakfast at the expense of the lady of the manor. Some manorial customaries state when the lord was not responsible for paying for a breakfast. On the manor of Chinnor in 1279, for example, all the tenants had to scythe the lord’s fields and cart hay: when carting hay they were provided with a breakfast, but when scything they had to provide their own. 12th and 13th-century manorial breakfasts at harvest time were often bread, cheese and ale.

It seems as if breakfast was often provided for labourers and the gentry in the late 13th and early 14th centuries – but that labourers and men and women of modest means tended to eat breakfast only if they were rising very early, working very long hours, or they were old or sick.

There were also ceremonial breakfasts. For example when Joan de Valence was travelling in 1297, she hosted a jantaculum (breakfast) attended by several noblemen and women and 20 paupers. In 1415 Henry V invited a large number of noblemen to discuss the forthcoming Agincourt campaign with him in a great jantaculum at Westminster. Ceremonial breakfasts were held by a number of guilds and corporations on the admittance of a new member. For example, in 14th-century Reading, new burgesses entering the Guild had to pay 3s 4d for a ceremonial breakfast on top of their entry fee. A similar corporate jantaculum was held at Norwich before the start of the annual procession of St George in the 15th century.

However in the 1600s the idea that breakfast could do you good was no longer considered to apply solely to the sick and old. Indeed, in some quarters, people began to think that the old did not need breakfast at all. In 1602 the physician William Vaughan advised: “Eat three meals a day until you come to the age of 40 years.” The majority of the middle class and many yeomen and labourers were regularly eating breakfast by 1600.

So, why the change? Some historians have attributed the increase in breakfast-eating to the Reformation, or the greater availability of food. However neither of these explanations explain why they affected society’s dining habits as a whole.

The answer is probably due to changing patterns of employment. In the earlier Middle Ages, the majority of people organised their own time. They were not ‘employed’ as such. A manorial tenant had work to do on his lord’s land, but he did not have to get up at the crack of dawn to do it. Only in summer, with haymaking and hay-carting responsibilities to fulfil, did the breakfast become a necessity, because of the long hours in the fields. It was the same for travellers setting off on long journeys: the early start made breakfast a necessity. It was such a long time until dinner at 11am that they needed the sustenance to keep them going. Young monks clearly ate breakfast for the same reason.

What happened in the 16th century was that men increasingly started working for other people, employed for a prescribed set of hours each day. The long hours that employees could be expected to work can be seen in a statute of 1515 which declared that, between mid-March and mid-September, the working day of craftsmen and labourers should begin at 5am and continue to 7 or 8pm with only an hour and a half for dinner.

The consequences are obvious: if a labourer cannot have his supper until 7 or 8pm, he is going to get hungry if he has his dinner at the traditional medieval time of 10.30 or 11am: a nine-hour gap. As mentioned above, Thomas Elyot recommended that dinner and supper be no more than six hours apart. Thomas Cogan echoed this in his 1584 treatise. Thus the old medieval dinner time was pushed back to the later time of luncheon.

Delaying lunch had a knock-on effect on the start of the day. As the time of dinner was pushed back to luncheon, at 12 or 1pm, people needed a solid breakfast to keep them going. As for the gap between breakfast and dinner, Elyot, Cogan and Vaughan all agreed that this should be no more than four hours. Such a shift, based around employment, was thus primarily an urban phenomenon, or one of workers in towns, and areas providing the towns.

The history of breakfasting is thus much more nuanced than the traditional conclusion that, in the Middle Ages, ‘only the rich ate breakfasts’. It is bound up with, and indicative of, our emergence as a people who worked for a living rather than lived off the land.