A Christmas Carol

Just wanted to link to a page about Dicken’s A Christmas Carol with some interesting historical notes about the story.

Uncovering the (very) early Christian church

A quick item of interest: archaeologists have uncovered what might be the earliest Christian church yet discovered in Israel–it apparently predates Constantine by several decades.

Mad Kings and stranger things

Prior to our trip to Germany, everything I knew about “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886, reigning from 1864 until his death) came from two sources: (1) The poster of one of his castles, Neuschwanstein, in the snow which is ubiquitous at all college poster sales; and (2) Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace, in which during Betsy’s stay in Munich just before World War I, a local girl tells her how much the Bavarians had loved their Mad King.

King Ludwig didn’t have any great impact on history, and most Americans probably don’t know much more about him than I did. But it seemed obvious that one of our stops on our trip would have to involve joining the mobs of people who every day queue up to see Ludwig’s two most-visited castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.

Somehow, during our rushed tours through Ludwig’s family home of Hohenschwangau, and his never-finished fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein, I got interested in him. He is one of those figures who doesn’t soon fade into dry obscurity like most other dead kings. One reason are the flamboyant castles he had built which still remain in the landscape; another is his mysterious death, always fodder for later speculation and wild theory.

But I think he’s just one of those historical figures whom everybody wants to love. Historians and laypersons alike are eager to spring to his defense. People see in this wealthy royal wastrel shyness, generosity, and vulnerability that elicits sympathy and liking–or maybe that’s just the way those who profit from Ludwig’s memory find it beneficial to portray him.

Anyway, read and find out if you feel the same. You’ll find a “detailed biography” and pictures, as well as tourist info here, also check out the Wikipedia entry. Also, even though he died over 100 years before the advent of the Internet, King Ludwig has his own website! What an amazing guy.

Finally, here is the Mad King history lesson I imbibed from the Betsy book mentioned above:

The second King Ludwig (a dull Maximilian came in between) had been gloriously mad, Tilda said. He was dark and very handsome. On top of the Royal Residence in Munich he built a winter garden where, clad in silver armor, he used to float in a swan boat like Lohengrin’s. This mad Ludwig was the patron of Wagner.

He built fabulous castles in lonely mountain spots. They often had French salons and gardens, for he was in love with Marie Antoinentte.

“But, Tilda! She was beheaded before he was born.”

“He loffed her,” Tilda declared.

He used to ride through the mountains in a carriage drawn by four white horses. In the winter his golden sleigh was shaped like a swan. He would drive all night through snow and storm. The villagers in their beds would hear him rushing by. Or they caught glimpses of him, his face pale, his eyes blazing under a diamond-studded cap…The peasants loved him, she said, in spite of his extravagances, and when he died…

“What did he die of?” Betsy interrupted.

He drowned himself, Tilda answered, because he was forced to abdicate. The peasants made a hero of him then. To this day young mountaineers wore his picture in their hats.

“England expects that every man will do his duty”

I’m two weeks late in noting this, but October 1805 was a very busy month for a certain one-armed British admiral. On the anniversary of Trafalgar, US News & World Report just ran a good article discussing the battle and its importance in the grand scheme of European history.

Samurai family crests

In depictions of battles in medieval Japan, the beautiful and ornate family crests sported by samurai are sometimes as visually arresting as the actual chaos of battle. These samurai crests can be quite intricate in design, and are often based on specific flower motifs.

Here’s a short essay on the cultural significance of Japanese family crests through the years, and another that focuses on their military and heraldic functions.

Happy Reformation Day!

We visited Wittenberg, the town where Martin Luther lived, taught, and…reformed, I guess, towards the end of our travels through Germany. We visited St. Mary’s Church, where Luther preached; the outside of the Castle Church, where the whole 95 theses thing happened 488 years ago today (though not according to these nay-sayers); and his house, which is now an excellent museum of Luther’s life and times. You can see all this stuff too, and more, at Lutherstadt Wittenberg’s Virtual Tour.

Read more about Martin Luther at this fun PBS site. Lots of documents authored by or about Luther can be found here.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

In Archaeology we learn that the best-preserved ancient towns are those which were destroyed in antiquity and never resettled. The same seems to be true of medieval towns, which is good news for the tourist trade, though not so good for the medieval inhabitants.

In the Middle Ages, Rothenburg was a free imperial city and one of the largest cities in Germany, with a population of around 6000. We took the fun and interesting Night Watchman Tour there. The info from this tour (in German–find info from the tour in English here) provides a colorful summary of Rothenburg’s history, daily town life, and the duties of the night watchman; as well as more recent history, including the town’s fate during World War II.

Rothenburg was finally conquered during the 30 Years’ War, and never regained its former prosperity. But with the rise of Romanticism in the eighteenth century, Rothenburg revived and once again became a properous town due to tourism.

Read more about it!
Photos & comments on medieval Rothenburg
Resources for Germany in the Middle Ages
Wikipedia on the 30 Years’ War: scroll down and check out the “external links” as well.
Wikipedia on Romanticism

A historicity city: Berlin

We recently returned from two weeks in Germany. We had a really good time, and also got some ideas for some Historicity subjects. Since we began and ended our trip in Berlin, I thought I’d begin with it.

We stayed in the Kurf├╝rstendamm neighborhood on the way in and out of the city. Apparently even Germans don’t try to pronounce this; we saw it abbreviated as “Ku’damm” everywhere (though curiously called “Ku’damn” here, maybe Lonely Planet doesn’t like it there). Ku’damm’s main reason for being seems to be the many malls, department stores, and boutiques lining its main drag, and is right across the Tiergarten from a bunch of historical stuff we didn’t see, such as the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.

When I was in England several years ago, the scars of World War II were apparent in the urban landscape–remains of bombed-out buildings and entire towns and neighborhoods consisting of immediate post-war rebuilding. This was no surprise to me; the blitz was familiar to me from literature as well as from history classes. I was less aware of the devastating effect of Allied bombs on Germany in late WWII as well as after the war was over. Everywhere we went in Germany, one of the main points in every town was how much of the town had been destroyed in the war, and how the town had gone about rebuilding.

In the midst of Ku’damm is a bombed-out out church next to a tower built of blue glass blocks. Adjacent to the square in which the church stands is a big mall, the Europacenter, which houses the Tourist Information office. I asked the lady there what this was; she said that it was a church bombed in World War II and left standing as an anti-war monument. We went over and investigated: the church is the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, built by Kaiser Wilhelm II in honor of his grandfather, Wilhelm I, and decorated inside with mosaics pertinent to the Hohenzollern family.

The church’s official site is here, it’s in German only. More on Berlin and the rest of our trip from us, hopefully soon!

Damn the torpedoes! Farragut, Louisiana, and the Civil War

Given the strategic importance of the Mississippi River in the American Civil War, New Orleans was an obvious target for the Union navy. Here’s a good overview of the Civil War in Louisiana. New Orleans itself surrendered in 1862 to Union forces led by David Farragut, who later in the war coined the famous phrase “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” during a dramatic encounter in Mobile Bay:

Aboard Hartford, Farragut entered Mobile Bay, Alabama, 5 August 1864, in two columns, with armored monitors leading and a fleet of wooden ships following. When the lead monitor Tecumseh was demolished by a mine, the wooden ship Brooklyn stopped, and the line drifted in confusion toward Fort Morgan. As disaster seemed imminent, Farragut gave the orders embodied by these famous words. He swung his own ship clear and headed across the mines, which failed to explode. The fleet followed and anchored above the forts, which, now isolated, surrendered one by one. The torpedoes to which Farragut and his contemporaries referred would today be described as tethered mines. –quoted from the Naval Historical Center site

Here’s a more detailed account of New Orleans’ surrender to Farragut. Much later, Farragut’s name was used for a class of destroyers built in the 1930s, as well as several individual ships since then, and even a starship in a Star Trek episode.

women’s right to vote

This evening I decided to work on a post about British suffragettes that I started a long time ago and abandoned, only to discover that it was 85 years ago today that the 19th amendment of the Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote.

While I work on the suffragettes some more, here’s some links on the suffrage movement in the U.S.:

  • “Votes for Women” suffrage pictures from the Library of Congress
  • “Votes for Women” selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Collection, also from the LoC
  • A timeline of the women’s suffrage movement (from the above site)
  • A speech from Susan B. Anthony
  • The 19th Amendment in the context of World War I