Summertime, and the reading’s easy…

Summertime, and the reading’s easy…

I know summer reading is seen as something of a threat to students yearning for a summer’s respite. Personally, I adore reading in the summer (though I also love reading in the spring, fall, and winter, so I think its a year round affliction more than seasonal.) Our local public library does a summer reading program– one for kids, one for teens, and even one for adults! I do love a good reading challenge.

What is everyone planning to read this summer? My ‘to be read’ list is long, and probably always will be, but I have a few things that look to be good reading in the short term. I’m currently reading Whose Body, the first Lord Peter Whimsy mystery by Dorothy Sayers. I’m enjoying it so far, though I’m coming off a binge through Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries (at least the ones the public library had), and those move a touch quicker.

Beyond that? I’ve had Kristen Lavensdatter staring at me since the spring and I think I’m finally ready to read. I also have Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem waiting. In the lighter, quicker reads department I have books a plenty: Nina George’s The Little French Bistro, Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of AJ Fickery, Annie Burrows and Marie Schaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and Jennifer Ryan’s The Chilbury’s Ladies Choir. I also have a slew of books on housekeeping, homemaking, and hygge that I’m reading on the side.

What do you have lined up for the summer? Are you participating in summer reading program or going it alone?

The Battle of Hastings and the Bayeux Tapestry

The Battle of Hastings and the Bayeux Tapestry

Today marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. To my disappointment, I was obviously not at Battle Abbey to see the reenactment, nor was I in Bayeux looking at the Tapestry. The internet, however, is a magical thing and it can bring a little Hastings into your evening.

Here are some things to know before exploring the links below:

  • The Battle: The Battle of Hastings is considered the decisive victory that allowed William I (also known as the Conqueror, the Norman, the Duke of Normandy, and the Bastard) to claim the throne of England.
  • The Opponent: William’s opponent in the battle was Harold Godwinson. Harold was the Earl of Wessex before ascending the throne. He is the last Anglo Saxon King, and had a short reign. He was crowned in January 1066 and lost that crown in October of the same year
  • The Predecessor: Prior to Harold and William, the throne belonged to St Edward the Confessor– his feast day was yesterday, October 13th. Harold may be the last Anglo Saxon King of England, but Edward is best remembered and considered a successful, strong, energetic king.
  • The Family: Harold’s sister was married to Edward the Confessor. William was a first cousin once removed of Edward’s. So we’re dealing with claims that have to be enforced at the end of a sword, basically.
  • The Tapestry: Almost everyone has seen the Bayeux Tapestry, or at least part of it. They may not know it, however. Ever laugh at one of those medieval memes? Yeah, those are figures from the Bayeux Tapestry. I’ll leave most of the explanations to the link below but suffice to say, you should care about the Bayeux Tapestry even if you aren’t into needlework.

Links for your edification

  • The Bayeux Museum— Located in Bayeux, France the Museum is the home of the Bayeux Tapestry and they have a nice online exhibit regarding the Tapestry, its importance as a historical document, and the history of the piece.
  • Bayeux Tapestry at the Reading Museum— a digital version of the Tapestry, based on a Victorian Reproduction, the Tapestry is available by section. Wikipedia has a single continuous image of the tapestry.
  • Battle Abbey— Run by English Heritage, the site of the Battle of Hastings has information for you to peruse.

Finally for those perusing the collection, you’ll want to head to the stacks. The first two rows hold general history and early English history.

Born on the 4th of July…

Born on the 4th of July…

Happy 4th of July from the 9th state to join the party! New Hampshire takes Independence Day seriously, as one might imagine, and there are parades and games and celebrations all over the state.

The American Founding is one of the eras of history that holds my interest, and has for some time (nearly 20 years at this point!). You can squarely lay the credit/blame at the feet of my mother, who had us reading out of the old school McGuffy’s readers from Kindergarten onward. The older volumes contained heavy amounts of classical works and Founders, though at the time Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington were the major highlights. Adams, Madison, and Hamilton were still awaiting their renaissance (James Wilson is still waiting for his. Ask me about him some time).

Mom gets full credit for bringing 1776 into my life — yes, we’ve had musicals about the founding before Hamilton!

All kidding aside, July 4th presents us with a day every year that we can use to reflect on our origins — on who these men were, what they’re thoughts and writings contain, what they’re hopes and doubts and fears were. The fact of the matter is, while declaring independence was not a compromise, everything else really was. Most have abandoned the view that the Founders were demigods with a divine mandate, but where does that leave us? Have we conceived of our own history as Adams said we might?

The Essence of the whole will be that Dr Franklins electrical Rod, Smote the Earth and out Spring General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his Rod—and thence forward these two conducted all the Policy Negotiations Legislation and War. These underscored Lines contain the whole Fable Plot and Catastrophy. if this Letter should be preserved, and read an hundred Years hence the Reader will say “the Envy of this J.A. could not bear to think of the Truth”! [1}

I hope not. Technology is to our advantage here. When I was working on my Junior Project 9 years ago, there were few online resources to be had. Most were locked behind paywalls when they existed, and poor college students do not have the option or luxury of traveling from historical society to museum to National Archive outpost to the Library of Congress to get all their research together. Some of that is still required for the serious student, but the rest of us are able to learn more these days by taking advantage of digitization

  • The National Archive has put together a digital collection entitled Founders Online. The collection is made up of the papers of Ben Franklin, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Because of the prolific nature of correspondence in those days, every other major and minor Founder makes at least a cameo in the exhibit. Fun note: Abigail Adams has 988 records that she authored housed in the collection. Abigail is pretty much excellent, and you should read her letters as well as those of her husband– theirs is a classic love story.
  • The National Archives also has a Boston location. Check their page for hours and holdings if you’re in the midst of research.
  • The Archives have had an exhibit up for some time entitled “The Charters of Freedom” which provide images and resources for the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
  • The Library of Congress has a number of resources. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: the library was established in 1800 by act of Congress (signed by John Adams, not Jefferson). The original library was burned in 1814 along with most of the rest of Washington DC, and it was at that point that Jefferson donated his library.
  • The Library has online access to the following collections: Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention (1774 – 1789); The George Washington Papers (1741 – 1799); The Thomas Jefferson Papers (1606 – 1827); and the James Madison Papers, 1723 – 1859.
  • Closer to home, the New Hampshire Historical Society has collections related to NH statehood, including the period of the Revolution. Those, for the most part, are not digital but Concord isn’t far from Merrimack!
  • The Massachusetts Historical society has a number of resources available in person in Boston, but there is also a digital exhibit entitled The Coming of the American Revolution which is of interest as well.
  • Also in Boston is the Freedom Trail, full of sites tied to the Revolution, including the Old State House, the Site of the Boston Massacre, the Old North Church, and Old Ironsides — the USS Constitution.
  • Finally, there is the Online Library of Liberty, which has a large collection of works by the Founders, covering the Declaration, the War, and the Constitution.

The Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme

Today marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, considered one of the deadliest battles in human history. The Battle began on July 1, 1916 and did not conclude until November 18. During that time, the British and French saw a combined 794,238 casualties. The Germans saw 537,918 casualties. Those numbers are simply staggering — 1.3 million men dead or wounded in a single (albeit protracted) battle.

British and French forces were able to gain 6 miles during this time. That was with the introduction of the tank and air support. The Battle of the Somme was the second deadliest battle in World War I by casualties, and only two campaigns in World War II were more deadly.

I remember my history classes talking about the deadliest conflicts in American history– Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Appomattox. And those were battles that obviously included American casualties, the Somme did not. For comparison purposes? 310,486 men died in the Battle of the Somme. 204,000 died in the American Civil War. These are deaths, not included casualties, prisoners of war, or those who died in prison. Just take a moment to consider that. 1 battle lasting 4 months saw more death than a war that lasted 4 years.

At the same time that men were losing their lives, limbs, and minds in record numbers, there was a huge volume of poetry produced. The Poetry of World War I generally comes from the British side of things, the doughboys who found ways to record the horror that was unfolding in front of them night and day in trenches that were hardly conducive to, well, anything other than disease.

The Poetry Foundation has a collection of Poetry from the time, organized by year with the major battles noted. The selection includes works from Thomas Hardy, Robert Stevens, Edith Wharton, William Butler Yeats, Siegfried Sasson, Wilfred Owen, Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound, and GK Chesterton. Some served, some watched from home, so there are a variety of view points represented.

Oxford has a Digital Archive of poetry from the First World War. Among the various artifacts that have been made available, I was struck by the revisions of Dulce et Decorum Est. While I’ve linked to one there are several. Wilfred Owen did not survive the war — he died at the age of 25, one week before the Armistice was signed.

There are any number of poems that were written during the War and in the aftermath of the War; written by those at home and on the front. The following have been recommended to me: In Flanders Field by John McCrae, The Shield of Achilles by WH Auden, Prayer of a Solider in France by Joyce Kilmer, The Soldier by Rupert Brooke, and the aforementioned Dulce et Decorum Est.

I know there are a number of JRR Tolkien fans out there, so it bears reminding that Tolkien was in the trenches at the Somme. In interviews later in his life, Tolkien would recall writing first drafts that would become Middle Earth in the trenches of France under shell fire. The New York Times has a good article on the connection between the great evils and battles of Middle Earth and the Somme.

For those who favor historical records, the British National Archives have digitized the British Army War Diaries from 1914 to 1922, covering the entirety of the war. They also have a crowdsourcing project for those interested; Operation War Diary allows anyone to help comb through the 1.5 million pages of unit war diaries from World War 1 and help note and annotate them, pulling out details as you can.

Finally, for those who prefer novels from the time, there are certainly scads of them out there. I highly recommend Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Most will know the author from her Anne of Green Gables books and Emily of New Moon books. Rilla of Ingleside is actually the 8th Anne of Green Gables book, telling the story of Anne and Gilbert’s children — all of them in their teens and 20s at the onset of the War. Montgomery’s novel is World War 1 from the home front, and in fact is the only Canadian novel written about World War 1 by a woman and told from a woman’s perspective. Rilla is also an example of uncomfortable history — the novel had several thousand words trimmed from it, not because they were inaccurate but because of heavy anti-German sentiment. That was the only version available until about 6 years ago, so be on the look out for the edited and unedited versions.

A Glance at Sts Thomas More and John Fisher

A Glance at Sts Thomas More and John Fisher

Today marks the feasts of St Thomas More and St John Fisher, two men linked inextricably with each other, education, the Tudors, and the last days of Catholic England.

Full disclosure time. I am fascinated by English history and most particularly by two families: the Plantagenets and Tudors. Leaving the Plantagenets aside (Becket’s feast day isn’t until December you know!), let us take up the Tudors. I imagine that most of you are familiar with the broad brushstrokes: Henry VII comes out of nowhere at the end of the War of the Roses, the edge of a twig on a dead branch of the house of Lancaster and emerges the victor from a battle that left large chunks of the Houses of York and Lancaster dead and buried. He married Elizabeth of York for good measure, was blessed with 2 sons and 2 daughters that made it to adulthood, and was succeeded to the throne by his son, also Henry. Henry VIII reigned for 38 years, succeeded by his son Edward, then daughters Mary and Elizabeth.

The key points for our story are these. Henry was the 2nd son, the spare heir destined for a life in the Church. He was never truly prepared to rule the country, his lessons in kingship crammed into the space between when his brother and father died. His older brother Arthur married Catherine, the Infanta of Spain, and died shortly thereafter. Catherine’s parents Ferdinand and Isabella secure a dispensation that will allow Catherine to marry Henry regardless of whether the marriage was consummated. Henry and Catherine would remain married for 24 years before all manner of hell broke loose. Most are familiar with the players and events at this point: Henry, Catherine, the Bolyens, the break with the Church, and the executions of Fisher and More. I could go on (and on, and on) about what I think of the players, the events, the interplay, the what-ifs and if you all care then I may. For today, lets take a look at a few resources for you.

The story of the ends of their lives are well known, but what of the remaining balance of their lives? The easiest way to become familiar with these men are through their words. The Luminarium has put together free digital copies of the major works of both St John Fisher and St Thomas More.

Beyond that, some considerations:

  • Fisher was of the merchant class, though he earned degrees at Cambridge and became Master of Michaelhouse and personal confessor & chaplain to Margaret Beaufort (you know, Henry VIII’s grandmother)
  • He acted as a tutor to the future Henry VIII
  • Despite the fact that he was close to Henry he stood by the Queen during the trial over her marriage, acting as her chief counselor and speaking on her behalf. He did not allow his history with Henry nor Henry’s considerable rage dissuade him.
  • He did not shy away from calling out the abuses he saw in the Church. Let’s be honest, how difficult must it be to stand there defending the Church while also clearly calling out excesses and errors that you see? Its a fine line.
  • Fisher had a reputation for being straightforward and ascetic, a quiet dignified presence wherever he went. Contrast that to More, who was known for being lively and merry, with something of a wicked sense of humor.
  • Where Fisher was within the Church, More was firmly in the laity, two sides of the same coin.
  • More attended Oxford, becoming a lawyer. He did not spend all his time on the law, however, as his prolific writing attests. Both Fisher and More maintained a friendship with Erasmus. To have been a fly on the wall if all three were in a room!
  • More progressed up the ranks within the court, having been identified as a talent that Wolsey and Henry simply had to have. He would ascend as high as being the Lord Chancellor of England, the first layman to hold the office.
  • More’s position put him in close proximity to Henry VIII on a daily basis. He had to be close to Henry as well. He wrote, he fought, and he ultimately climbed the scaffold as well.

The links above will provide links to a good portion of the works of both of these men, though you should consider reading Utopia first. Along with being More’s most famous work and famously misunderstood, this year is also the 500th anniversary of the publication of Utopia.

For those looking for more biographical information, see the Catholic Encyclopedia’s articles on St John Fisher and St Thomas More.

Happy Bloomsday!

Happy Bloomsday!

June 16 is probably one of the most famous ‘literary holidays’ out there. For those unaware, June 16 is the day that James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place. Confession time: I haven’t read Ulysses. That isn’t to say I haven’t read Joyce, just being honest that I can’t wax on about the merits of Ulysses, my favorite part, or any of that. I can, however, point you toward several links and articles of note!

Bloomsday certainly has its largest celebrations in Ireland. For those of us not fortunate enough to be in Dublin, there is the Internet! I’ll be updating links throughout the day for you!