It may not have escaped your attention that today was the hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princep, an act that set forth a chain of events that led to the First World War. It certainly didn’t escape the attention of Zack Twamley of the When Diplomacy Fails podcast, and he’s doing a special series of episodes over the next few days on the so-called ‘July Crisis’ – that series of diplomatic actions that filled the period between the assassination and the outbreak of war. I don’t personally have much insight to add, it’s not really an era that I know a lot about, but it’s very topical and there seems to be a lot of interesting discussion about it at the minute.
This podcast at historyofalchemy.com comes from Travis J Dow and Pete Collman, two Americans living in Prague who also work on the Bohemican podcast, documenting life and culture in the Czech Republic. It’s through this history of Prague (and particularly the Emperor Rudolf II, who we shall come back to later) that they developed an interest in Alchemy. This isn’t exactly a narrative podcast, each episode focuses on a single character and works as a stand alone feature, but some of the concepts explained in particular episodes will be recalled in later shows. The topic, the stand alone nature of the episodes and the presentation style help this to stand out from the crowd of podcasts as something that is a little bit different.
The brothers Ashwell, Benjamin and Adam, are a pair of theoretical chemistry PhD students with a passion for history. Inspired by other history podcasts (most notably Mike Duncan, Zack Twamley’s When Diplomacy Fails, and Jamie Redfern’s The History Of) and time spent in Italy, they decided to put together a podcast series on the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century. The topic wasn’t chosen based on any expert knowledge but with a growing interest in the era and spotting a gap in the podcast market, they sketched out an idea. My own background is actually rather similar – as a particle physics DPhil student (recently completed) with an amateur enthusiasm for history, deciding to do a blog on some books and podcasts that I felt hadn’t received that much attention. I also have a twin brother, with whom I once made a student radio show. With these similarities, I feel like I am fairly well placed to judge their efforts.
This book by Michael Scott, published in 2009 by Icon, picks up from where one of my recent reviews, Alciabiades by P.J Rhodes, left off1. In 404 B.C. Sparta, with Persian backing, have triumphed in the Peloponnesian War and Athens was left on its knees, with its unique system of democracy replaced by a set of pro-Sparta oligarchs. Athens will rebound quickly however, and the next century will be filled with even more power struggles between the Greek city states and by the introduction of new major players to this drama. It ends with one of these rising powers, Macedon, uniting Greece and much of the known world under the rule of its warrior kings – Philip and Alexander2.
The Mary Rose Museum
Just a quick post here. I was down at the historic dockyard in Portsmouth at the weekend. They have some great tourist attractions there: HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, The Mary Rose, harbour tours and about half a dozen museums – I got a season ticket and will certainly be back in the future. I just thought I’d post this photo from the Mary Rose Museum.
The History of Byzantium podcast by Robin Pierson is another series in the “History of X” mould that follows the style of Mike Duncan’s History of Rome. Even more than that, it is intended as an unofficial follow up to that series which ended at the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It therefore aims to tell the story of the Eastern Roman Empire from where that left off in 476 A.D to the fall of Constantinople in 1453 A.D (though it is currently paused at 620, so there’s still quite some way to go). A continuation to cover this was much requested from Mike Duncan towards the end of his series, not just for the sake of some more episodes but also because Byzantine history can be pretty awesome in its own right, so it was great to see someone step up to fill in that gap. It’s not an easy task either, the culture, politics, religion and challenges of the Empire are obviously different to those of the old unified Roman empire and will change considerably over the next thousand years. Juggling these different aspects and painting a detailed picture of the world they combine in is essential.
This book by Adrian Tinniswood (published by Vintage in 2010) tells the story of Barbary piracy, drawing heavily from a huge variety of sources. The book does generally follow a historical narrative from the sixteenth century up to the early nineteenth, but it does so as a series of snippets, or vignettes if I’m being fancy, on different topics, events or characters. There is a consistently light, entertaining tone to the book but at times it can also come across as a patchwork of material, loosely connected together. That’s not to say that the book wanders off topic too much – the title promises Barbary pirates and that’s pretty much what you get!
I was walking through Headington in the north east of Oxford the other day, passing some time before the time came for my reservation at the Black Boy gastropub (that makes me sound terribly posh), and came across an old church – St Andrews. The graveyard in front was a bit of a mix of stones, some newer ones from the early twentieth or late nineteenth century at the end and older, lichen covered, barely legible ones closer to the church. One of the gravestones stood out as being a clean, clear carving. Looking at the epitaph, it had the riddle-like one below.
Who to ye king did belong
He lived to be old
And yet dyed young
Obviously London is not short of drinking establishments, but many of these have been refurbished or rebuilt over the years so that it can be difficult to trace their true history. With that in mind, I thought I’d just give a short review of a few pubs with interesting histories.
The White Hart, Drury Lane (1216?)
This has a fair claim to being London’s oldest pub – if you don’t mind it being refounded every few centuries. There’s very little of its age apparent in the modern pub, which is a mixture of traditional counters and low comfortable sofas, but it has been linked to some fairly high profile characters. In the 17th century Drury Lane was pretty fashionable and the likes of Nell Gwynne, The Marquis of Argyll or Oliver Cromwell may have stopped in for a drink at their local. Well … maybe not Oliver. By the 18th century things had went downhill for the area and it was now a slum of ill-repute, but this still had its own fame. The White Hart was commonly used for one last drink by condemned men before their hanging, and indeed Dick Turpin, the famous highwayman, drank here in 1739 before he went off to be hanged (it was the usual spot for condemned men). The area can also linked with The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, and Jack Shepard (the inspiration for MacHeath) and Lavinia Fenton (Polly Peachum) may have also been regulars.
As a follow up to my post on the Viking exhibition at the British Museum – I just saw an article pointing out the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. There, for the measly price of £14,650, you can buy the Trýbekkur – a semi-authentically made ship of your own. Semi-authentic because it uses some genuine Viking tools and techniques, but also some mass production to keep costs affordable for the common Norse raider.