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Posts Tagged ‘history’

This interesting article discusses space exploration as an extension of the frontier mentality, how humanity’s complications underly a lot of science fiction, and asks, “Are the stars better off without us?”

Expanding Horizons | Atmos

A few years ago, in an attempt to lose myself in something other than winter lethargy, I became enthralled with The Expanse, a space drama that asks: what if humanity became a multiplanetary species? What would happen next?

“So much of the show is about resources and scarcity and the connection between economics and history”

It’s easy to write off The Expanse as “just” science fiction, but the ideas that the show wrestles with are important. Science fiction both holds a mirror to culture and acts as a source of inspiration. 

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Photo by David Gavi on Unsplash

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Today is (once again) March 14th or Pi Day. For some background, I’ve written about it before:

3.14 a.k.a. Pi Day

No Pie for Pi Day. Books Instead!

Blueberry Orange Pie

Because today is a Monday there will be no pie for me, but it turns out my every waking moment is likely touched by pi. Yours too.

The New York Times has an interesting article on the history of pi and how embedded it’s become in our daily life.*

Pi Day: How One Irrational Number Made Us Modern

In every field of human endeavor, from reconstructive facial surgery to the simulation of air flowing past a jet’s wing, billions of tiny, discrete elements stand in for an inherently smooth and analog reality. It all began with the computation of pi. Pi represents a mathematical limit: an aspiration toward the perfect curve, steady progress toward the unreachable star.

So I will appreciate all the ways the irrational infinite has come to shape our rational, finite experience.

Also maybe later this week, dessert.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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* Here’s a bit more history for those who are interested: Which Came First, The Algorithm or the Pi? – Now I Know.

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Yes, our part of Ontario is expecting freezing rain (thanks climate change!), but there’s still enough snow for that purest of winter joys, a snowball fight!

Snowball fight captured in film for first time 1897 | AccuWeather
The 50-second clip captures a group of people in Lyons, France, playing in snow and the chaos ensuing as a snowball fight between two sides turns into a surprise attack on a bypassing cyclist.

Like in the current day and age, there were many things the Lumière brothers could have filmed as world events brewed and boiled, but instead, they chose to make one of their many short films about people playing in the snow…

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Here it is again in a version has been upscaled and colorized, making it even more relatable.

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“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”

― Markus Zusak

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Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

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I love history. Not the memorization of dates and tests and such, but that moment where you realize in a sudden, visceral way that the past isn’t ever really gone. That the present is built on its bones.

I also like the idea of uncovering that past, either via literal bones or the items that people leave behind. Gold is nice and all (not least because it lasts) but I have a soft spot for the ordinary. What was once worthless, like a broken pot, a used envelope, translucent blue glass jar or a single button, becomes a window into the everyday.

A window in time, if you will.

From museums to restored footage to dragon bones (ok, not exactly but still) and virtual reconstructions, there are a lot of ways to see the past.

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I tend to prefer the more tactile alternatives. 

My mother used to take us out to a friend’s cabin in the woods. In winter we helped her gather sap for maple syrup, but in summer my brother and I would head to the stream at the base of the hill. The water had cut a small cliff into the shale, and if we were lucky and good we could find fossils. 

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Here are two examples of hands-on history I think would be fun to experience.

The fossil hunters of the Jurassic Coast

… with the West Dorset cliffs eroding at such a rapid rate, scientists alone could never hope to save even a fraction of the fossils emerging onto the beaches before they’re swept away by the waves. This has left amateur collectors as key partners in the fight to preserve the area’s extraordinary fossil bounty for study and display, and has, over the past two decades, fuelled a huge rise in the number of people visiting the local beaches in search of prehistoric treasures.

How to Mudlark

… the majority of the things salvaged from the mud are more recent—often medieval or later—and are small, humble reminders of what people used, maybe loved, and eventually discarded. Exploring the shore as a mudlark is like conducting a swift, simple, satisfying archaeological dig, with almost no digging at all.

More fun for the future!

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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I’ve always liked coins. 

Maybe it was my love of fantasy tales where every dragon had a horde and every economic transaction involved coinage (paper bills? what are those and why would I accept them when I could have a lovely gold piece?). Or the fact that coins encapsulate a wealth (see what I did there?) of information about a society’s evolving history, economy and culture. Or it might have had a little to do with my not-entirely-transitory pirate fixation (they were often bad, sometimes misrepresented, always fascinating). 

Regardless, I like coins. Back when we still went out and touched other people’s money, I saved the shiniest examples of each new coin I came across. I have a pressed penny collection. And I love new coin designs. When they have one of my favorite female writers on them? Win!

Maya Angelou becomes the first Black woman to appear on the U.S. quarter

Check out the U.S. Mint site for more on the America Women Quarters program.

And next Christmas, shiny new Maya Angelou quarters will be on my list!

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“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

― Maya Angelou

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Photo by Houcine Ncib on Unsplash

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Today is (probably*) Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthday, and it’s a date I note every year. That’s because it also happens to be my adoption date. 

Like a lot of kids, mini me went through an early phase where I pronounced new words as they were spelled (like “Zay oose,” here’s hoping no Greek gods were paying attention). And so in some corner of my mind this German composer will always remain “Bee Thoven.”

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The 20 greatest Beethoven works of all time – Classic FM

Here’s where I admit that I find a lot of his work a little over the top, like he was angry at the piano or something. As my stepmother has been known to say, “Too many notes!” I still recognize brilliance when I hear it, and his approach is a lesson for creatives of all forms.

“To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.”

― Ludwig van Beethoven

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Bring me my piano! Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash

* Beethoven was baptized on December 17th in Bonn, Germany, making it likely that he was born the day before. Let’s just go with it, shall we?

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Here is a thing that I love, and the one item I requested from my grandmother’s estate: an artichoke plate. 

Artichokes are thorny, tough and difficult to pair with wine. They were at the heart (hehe) of a racketeering scheme in New York in the 1920s and ’30s, which led to a temporary ban and a dramatic upswing in knowledge about, and orders for, the vegetable. They also taste great.

The back of the plate is marked “E & R 0136” but that’s the only information I have. Where was it made, when, and did it come from Ebeling & Reuss or another manufacturer? I don’t know, but I love it anyway.

Disassembling an artichoke flower bud is a messy job, and this plate is the perfect canvas on which to do it. I prefer to serve mine with lemon butter sauce, but there’s also mayonnaise. If you must.

I doubt the dish is valuable from anything other than an emotional standpoint but that’s fine, I won’t be selling it. I have a lot of great memories about artichokes and about my grandmother, and this plate helps me remember both.

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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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