History

What’s in a Name? Etymology and Names in American Indian Culture
03 January 2014

A quick Google can tell you a lot about yourself – or more specifically, your name. In my case it reveals that my first name is a Hebrew word meaning gracious (naturally), and my surname denotes that one of my ancestors was the son of someone named Philip (thrilling). While the etymology of our own names might be a slightly narcissistic preoccupation, names and naming systems can provide a fascinating insight into cultural history.

Go West, Young Man!
03 January 2014

Martin Prior Boss left home in 1867 aged 22. He left behind a comfortable, established life as a farmer on the east coast of America, to seek his fortune in the mines of Nevada and California. His letters home are part of a collection from the California Historical Society which is being added to our Global Commodities project this year. They’re adorably newsy and affectionate, and my personal favourite is the one he writes with the news that he’s just become engaged and has decided to stay permanently in the West.

The Myth of California
03 January 2014

California! What other state occupies such a mythical space in our imagination? Despite earthquakes that rumble and tech bubbles that burst, California still draws the restless and wild, just as it’s always done.

Knit One, Purl One… Willing Hands and Willing Hearts
03 January 2014

Recently there has been a change in the office. The gentle clicking of needles can now be heard at lunch time and conversations about the Bake Off or weekend plans are interspersed with advice on increasing and decreasing, or deciphering a pattern. Over the last few years knitting has become fashionable once more, with clubs popping up all over the place and celebrities gushing about the craft.

Spanking, Social Control and Souvenirs
03 January 2014

Whilst delving into an intriguing batch of Chinese artwork for our project China America and the Pacific, I was arrested by the sight of a man’s bare buttocks. Said buttocks were receiving a thorough spanking via the medium of a bamboo paddle administered by a law enforcement officer who looked decidedly happy in his work.

It was The Wipers Times
03 January 2014

The BBC’s long-awaited First World War drama ‘The Wipers Times’ airs this week, written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman. Taking its title from the trench journal of the same name, the 90-minute drama is “based on the true story of Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson who, in the bombed-out ruins of Ypres in 1916, discover a printing press and use it to create a satirical newspaper to raise the spirits of the soldiers.”

Happy New Year!
03 January 2014

I don’t tend to make New Year’s Resolutions. I’m never at my best during the cold, post-Christmas months, and thinking positively amidst snow, credit card bills and the pervading smell of Olbas Oil is a difficult business. Instead, I make my resolutions in September. Maybe it’s a throw-over from school days, when autumn meant the start of a brand new school year. True, we’d just had an enormous summer holiday to rejuvenate and inspire us, with plenty of time to spend trolling off to W H Smith for shiny new stationery. If only it was so easy now!

The Sinking of the 'Essex’; or, The Whale
03 January 2014

Last night’s BBC drama ‘The Whale’ told the story of Thomas Nickerson and the crew of the whaling ship Essex. The story of the attack and sinking of the vessel by a sperm whale also inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Reading the original accounts of the crew shows that the true story was more exciting, terrifying and harrowing than any work of fiction.

A Quiet Christmas: Mass Observation and Wartime Festivities
03 January 2014

With shortages in nearly everything considered necessary for a ‘proper’ Christmas, Mass Observers during WW2 needed to balance the traditions of the festive season with the strictures and austerity of wartime. Mass Observation set out in a series of reports to gauge not only the morale of the population, but how war would affect their festivities.

Kung-Fu Monthly and the Felix Dennis Legacy
18 December 2013

On a recent visit to the in-laws’ we passed a verge of trees in Warwickshire just west of Leamington Spa that was pointed out to me as “Felix Dennis’s forest”. Most familiar with Felix Dennis as the creator of the magazine Maxim and the first person to say a certain very bad word on British television, I was surprised. As it turns out, the site belongs to The Heart of England Forest, a charity created to maintain and preserve native...

Lest We Forget. Remembrance Day 2013
18 December 2013

It is that time of year again, when poppy sellers fill the streets and shops and even cars begin sporting the distinctive red flowers. In our First World War resource, the second module of which, Propaganda and Recruitment, has recently been published, there is a wealth of material to be explored regarding the armistice of 11 November 1918, from both the joyful celebrations of peace, to the commemoration of and mourning for those who had...

Who Killed JFK?
18 December 2013

Bowling Green State University At 12.30pm on Friday 22 November 1963, three shots rang out over Dealey Plaza Park in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald had fired three 6.5mm Carcano bullets from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, two of which struck President John F. Kennedy. Thirty minutes later JFK was dead. That’s the official story. The Warren Commission set up to investigate President Kennedy’s death...

Commodities of the China Trade: Bechè de Mer, Shark Fins and Gold
18 December 2013

Below I have shared one of my personal highlights from China, America and the Pacific, which has just been released. This new multi-library collection provides an extensive range of archival material connected to the trading and cultural relationships that emerged between China, America and the Pacific region between the 18th and early 20th centuries. During the eighteenth century American merchants sought to establish trade with China. Their...

'My Leg Has Got to Come Off': Amputations at Sea
18 December 2013

During the many Pacific voyages documented in China, America and the Pacific, a regular feature was death and injury onboard the ship. Crew members shattered their skulls from falls, and had limbs mutilated by breeching whales. Many of these men faced immediate death, however a minority faced a punishment that was arguably far worse, as this extract from The Life of Tristram Coff[y]n shows: In 1800 … in the capture of a large sperm whale, Captain...

Silence is Golden...
18 December 2013

Whilst visiting the big smoke last weekend I witnessed one of cinema’s greatest triumphs – Abel Gance’s thrilling six hour silent epic, Napoleon. Now, I have to admit, I was slightly sceptical. Six hours of silent cinema does not sound like the best use of a frosty Saturday in November, but the 1927 film opened my eyes to the vibrancy and passion of early cinema. Napoleon (played by Albert Dieudonné) tells the story of the first 27 years of...

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