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Posts Tagged ‘history’

Today is Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

It’s good to see at least some progress on long-overdue Indigenous issues, but it also raises a question. How do we deal with difficult topics? Expression, sharing, recognition, and dialog are constructive options, and art plays a fundamental role in each of these elements.

9 Indigenous musicians reflect on what truth and reconciliation means to them | CBC News

This article interviews Indigenous creators, about their art and their thoughts on reconciliation, and also includes links to their work. I particularly like this quote from Inuk singer-songwriter and filmmaker Elisapie:

“Like I always say, this is our story. But this is definitely your story, too. So get on with it and discuss and face those uncomfortable questions and try to find the answers, too, right?”

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I also like this quote from Murray Sinclair:

“I did say … at the end of the TRC report that we will not achieve reconciliation in my lifetime. We will probably not achieve it in the lifetime of my children. We may not even achieve it in the lifetime of my grandchildren,” Sinclair, a former senator and chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), told Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild.

“But if we make a concerted effort … then eventually we will be able, some day, to wake up and, to our surprise, find that we are treating each other in a way that was intended when contact was first made.”

— National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is 1 step on a long journey, says Murray Sinclair | CBC Radio

So here’s to what’s hard getting easier. And to waking up.

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Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

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Note: This post is long but both Ray Bradbury and Jane Austen make an appearance, so there’s that.

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We keep a little pad of paper stuck to the side of the fridge to use as a grocery list. Every couple of weeks I get tired of crossing things out and trying to remember what we actually bought and what I only think we bought, and I start fresh. Yesterday I pulled the latest iteration of the list off the pad and turned to toss it in the recycling bin, when the back of the sheet caught my attention. It was blank.

Not a big surprise there, think of all the Post-its you’ve used one side of in the last decades. But! It struck me how much times have changed. Wealth is a continually moving target, and so are our measures of it. 

I mean you’re warm in winter and cool in summer and can watch the World Series on TV. You can do anything in the world. You literally live better than Rockefeller. His unparalleled fortune couldn’t buy what we now take for granted, whether the field is—to name just a few—transportation, entertainment, communication or medical services. Rockefeller certainly had power and fame; he could not, however, live as well as my neighbors now do.

— Warren Buffett, quoted in Getting the Goalpost to Stop Moving

And I’ve always liked this Ray Bradbury quote:

“To hell with more. I want better.”

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In the case of paper, we’ve got both more and better.

Once upon a time, people had to use both sides of the paper. Heck, once upon a time, people didn’t have paper, and after its invention it took centuries to become what we think of today: cheap, high quality, readily available, reliable information storage, bird cage liner, and paper plane in waiting.

Even after paper became widespread in the Western world, wood pulp paper was terrible. Like, sheets of nasty grey pulp held together with weird glues and chemicals that slowly (or not so slowly) destroyed itself.

“Unfortunately, early wood-based paper deteriorated as time passed, meaning that much of the output of newspapers and books from this period either has disintegrated or is in poor condition; some has been photographed or digitized (scanned). The acid nature of the paper, caused by the use of alum, produced what has been called a slow fire, slowly converting the paper to ash.”

— History of paper – Wikipedia

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Depending on the circumstances, writers also did their best to use every inch of a page. Part of that was the paper itself, and part was the cost of postage. (Insert obligatory statement of love for modern postal services here!) 

Click through to see a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra using cross writing, designed to condense as much information as possible onto a given sheet:

Autograph letter signed, dated Godmersham, 20–22 June 1808, to Cassandra Austen | Jane Austen | The Morgan Library & Museum

Here’s another example from Ontario:

crossed letter written by Mrs. F. L. Bridgeman to Fanny West, December 15, 1837. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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It turns out that paper wasn’t quite as expensive as I’d thought, but the good stuff still wasn’t cheap. 

Based on paper purchases by individuals from the 1570s to the 1640s, paper was “roughly a penny for six sheets… To put this in perspective, the average laborer making 6-12 pence a day could purchase up to 75 sheets of paper with a day’s wages. (Was early modern writing paper expensive? – The Collation)

Later, Regency-ish England did have additional duties that made quality paper, particularly in book-sized quantities, more expensive.

“The excise duty on paper was a frequent problem for all printers and publishers. The reorganisation of the duty in 1794, whereby it was charged by weight rather than ream, had the effect of making the burden heavier”

— Half the cost of a book | OUPblog

So, not prohibitive for a person of good fortune in search of stationery or a good novel, but not nothing.

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

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In researching this I came across a wealth of fascinating economic information. For example, what was one shilling worth in London during the mid-1700s? So many things!

  • Dinner in a steakhouse – beef, bread and beer, plus tip
  • Sign-on bonus for army recruitment: The king’s Shilling
  • Admission to Vauxhall Gardens
  • Admission to Ranelagh Gardens (although it could be as much as 2 guineas on masquerade nights)
  • A dish of beef at Vauxhall
  • 1lb of perfumed soap
  • Postage of a one page letter from London to New York
  • 1lb of Parmesan cheese

— 18th century cost of living – redcoats history

Aaaaand this is where I fell into an internet black hole on commodity pricing vs. real wages in Regency etc. England, and had to take a break. (Step away from the seminal economics investigation of Seven Centuries of Real Income per Wage Earner and Super-cycles of commodity prices since the mid-nineteenth century!)

Photo by David Nitschke on Unsplash

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Since we’re discussing costs, let’s sketch a quick portrait of sample economic expenses for gentlefolk around the time of Jane Austen:

Costs of Living During the Regency Period

  • Silk stockings — 12 shillings (£20.38 or $40.24 in today’s currency!)
  • Woolen stockings — 2 shillings 6 pence (£4.25 or $8.39)
  • A white silk handkerchief — 6 shillings (£10.19 or $20.12)
  • A pair of gloves — 4 shillings (£6.79 or $13.41)
  • A simple white dress — 5 shillings (£8.49 or $16.77)
  • A fan — 5 shillings (£8.49 or $16.77)
  • Simple shoes 6-11 shillings (£10.19-18.68 or $20.12-36.89)
  • Walking boots 2 pounds (£67.92 or $134.12)
  • Cotton fabric — 1 shilling per yard (£1.70 or $3.36)
  • Enough cotton fabric for a dress — 6 shillings ($20.12)
  • Velveteen fabric — 2 shillings 10 pence (£4.81 or $9.50)
  • Enough silk fabric for a dress — 1 pound 6 shillings (£44.15 or $87.18)
  • Shawls — if real silk or Kashmir could run £200-300
  • Shoes — men’s shoes went from 10 /6 to several pounds for boots so I think the ladies shoes will be in the same range.
  • A silk purse– a coin purse sort of thing– 2 s

For more of the nitty gritty, including detailed tables (3 cows equalled a pair of coach horses), see “How Wealthy is Mr. Darcy – Really? Pounds and Dollars in the World of Pride and Prejudice” by James Heldman.

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How did we get here? Right, a grocery list, and my appreciation that so many of us now have access to things like affordable paper, postal service, and oh yes, literacy!

Photo by Nav Rashmi Kalsi on Unsplash

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Dreaming of Winter

It’s hot and sticky, I’m in the middle of several projects but have nothing finished, and I’m short on time because Mr. Man wants me to give him a haircut. What does that mean for this blog post and you, fair readers?

How about something fun and easy, with a bit of history thrown in? I give you the NHL’s oldest recorded footage of hockey:

Safety gear? What safety gear?

Stay cool, friends!

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In the early twentieth century, Dorothy Levitt, née Elizabeth Levi (1882-1922) was “the premier woman motorist and botorist [motorboat driver] of the world”… The Woman and the Car is a practical, how-to guide for those who wanted to take to the roads, but did not quite know how. 

— On the Road: *The Woman and the Car* (1909) – The Public Domain Review

Have times changed since 1909? Obviously, but not everything. “Many of the extensive recommendations regarding mechanics, etiquette, and the temptations of car culture hold true today.” Also, who wouldn’t like to have this much fun going to the grocery store?

I’m off to run an errand, but am I just picking up milk, or am I practicing a little petro-feminism?*

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* And I’m looking forward to the day when I can practice electro-feminism.

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What Was

I’m still thinking about history, and how even when it’s gone it really isn’t.

I came across a series of reconstructions (by a travel insurance company, who knew insurance could be this interesting?), showing a selection of UNESCO heritage sites as they are, and as they were.

Once upon a time.

Reconstructions of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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Palmyra. Budget Direct Travel Insurance via World History Encyclopedia

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More from the olde thyme archives. You may have seen the recent to-do about My Heritage’s Deep Nostalgia:

‘Deep Nostalgia’ AI gives life to old photos through animation – Big Think

#DeepNostalgia – how animating portraits with AI is both bolstering and undoing historic painted lies

Essentially, they are using AI-based technology to animate a static image. Very cool with a side of potentially creepy, but fascinating.

This is my great great great? uncle Walter “The Big Train” Johnson (1887-1946), one of the first inaugural members of the Baseball Hall of Fame:

Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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I love how people are using this technology to animate ancestors, and also add life to historical figures we know only as two-dimensional figures. Here are just a few examples:

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I’m feeling Olden Timey today, so let’s take a trip down memory lane, to 1906 San Francisco. Sure, this video has been posted all over the internet, but this definitive version includes narration and historical details, with a new digital transfer to include the full video, sprockety edges and all.

Plus it’s just cool.

Funny how a simple video conversion can suddenly make the past feel quite present. And really, they were us, and someday we will be them. Let’s do history proud!

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

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Not Fade Away

My father started a friends and family email chain about An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, a window on a history that is both important and difficult. For a bit of balance, here are indigenous students doing something that is both important and uplifting.

Here’s to survival, and to hope.

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Students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Cape Breton sing Paul McCartney’s Blackbird in their native Mi’kmaq language.

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I just learned a new word-related thing and thought I’d share. The correct phrase is “just deserts” not “just desserts.”

Despite its pronunciation, just deserts, with one s, is the proper spelling for the phrase meaning “the punishment that one deserves.” The phrase is even older than dessert, using an older noun version of desert meaning “deserved reward or punishment,” which is spelled like the arid land, but pronounced like the sweet treat.

— ‘Just Deserts’ or ‘Just Desserts’? | Merriam-Webster*

I always thought this term was a food reference. Shows how my mind works.

And now that I know I was wrong, I can start being right. Learning stuff is great.

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* So wait, no “dessert” before the 16th century? Dark ages indeed;)

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Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

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My little brother just got his first shot. I can’t tell you how happy I am that he and his wife are one step closer to full protection.

As discussed in many venues in recent months,* the path to the Covid-19 vaccines has been convoluted. And not only does our health and safety rest on the shoulders of scientists who spent most of their careers in under-rewarded obscurity** but the history of vaccines is even more complicated than it may at first seem.

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The past year has been a nightmare, but I am incredibly grateful that we haven’t had to deal with a disease like, say, smallpox. Wildly contagious with a fatality rate of about thirty percent, for most of human history this disease was unstoppable. It spread within communities and also, devastatingly, between locations (like 17th century Europe and North America).

Thanks to a concerted international effort and global vaccination campaign, by 1980 smallpox was eventually eradicated. Thank you, science! And now we’re tackling our own pandemic with the power of vaccination. How did we get here?

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The history of vaccination usually starts something like this:

One of the first methods for controlling smallpox was variolation, a process named after the virus that causes smallpox (variola virus)… The basis for vaccination began in 1796 when the English doctor Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had gotten cowpox were protected from smallpox. Jenner also knew about variolation and guessed that exposure to cowpox could be used to protect against smallpox.

— History of Smallpox | CDC

What caught my eye about this bit in particular was “variolation.” Who, I wondered, was behind the initial work? I’m always interested in the beginnings of things. Who worked out how to eat a poisonous plant like cassava, for example? In this case, where did the idea of inoculation come from? What of the giants on whose shoulders we stand?

Practitioners in Asia worked out the method, and by the 1700s it had spread to Africa, India and the Ottoman Empire. Next stop, North America, by way of the slave trade.*** Here’s a version of that story in graphic form:

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At the same time, a smallpox epidemic devastated England. An English Lady (yep, capital L), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, brought information about inoculation back with her from the Ottoman Empire, where female medical professionals practiced a variation of the technique:

An Old Effort To Stop The Smallpox Virus Has Lessons For COVID-19 Today

Unfortunately, “European doctors were aware of what the Ottomans and others were doing but they refused to believe it worked. At the time, “Europe was pretty isolated and it was fairly xenophobic”…”

Lady Mary’s efforts came up against (stop me if you’ve heard this one) prejudice, xenophobia, and the perverse financial incentives of the medical profession.

“I am patriot enough to take the pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England.” But in the next breath, she expressed contempt for British doctors, who she believed were too preoccupied with making money: “I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue, for the good of mankind.”

— Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Even so, she had a positive impact, not least on one particular individual:

…the technique she’d borrowed from Ottoman women did take hold in England. Many thousands were inoculated, including a young boy named Edward Jenner. He went on to develop the first vaccine, also against smallpox.

— An Old Effort To Stop The Smallpox Virus Has Lessons For COVID-19 Today

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So here’s to the unsung heroes who took the first steps into the unknown, the practitioners lost to history, and those who passed their knowledge down in the hopes that we would use it to build something better, like the slave who shared what he knew and the aristocrat who used her status for good. 

“One takeaway for everyone, whether it be scientists or nonscientists, is that we’re not nearly as smart as we think we are,” he says. “We have much we can learn from others.”

— An Old Effort To Stop The Smallpox Virus Has Lessons For COVID-19 Today

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* Here are a couple of articles if you’re interested in the background: How mRNA went from a scientific backwater to a pandemic crusher and How mRNA Technology Gave Us the First COVID-19 Vaccines.

** That really should change, and I hope the Nobel Prize Committee agrees with me. Katalin Karikó, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci in particular come to mind.

*** No, I’m not happy about this either, but I am very grateful that Onesimus was willing to share.

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vials of Covid-19 vaccine
Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

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