Thursday, 21 August 2014

History Making News: Uppity Historians, Heritage Blown, and Dirty Dancing

Historians Against the War

This week, I'd like to round up some cool stories for you where history or historical studies are getting some press.

First, some shit disturbing historians. Historians Against the War are a group started in 2003 at the American Historical Association meeting, as a way for historians to protest against American involvement in Iraq. They are against any American involvement in war. Right now, they are coming out against the ongoing attacks on civilians in Gaza and in Israel. They've created a petition to the president online, and so far have 200 signatures. They fully understand the US's role to play in this:
We also recognize the disproportionate harm that the Israeli military, which the United States has armed and supported for decades, is inflicting on the population of Gaza.We are profoundly disturbed that Israeli forces are killing and wounding so many Palestinian children...we call upon you to demand a cease-fire, the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and a permanent end to the blockade so that its people can resume some semblance of normal life. We urge you to suspend US military aid to Israel, until there is assurance that this aid will no longer be used for the commission of war crimes.
This is a very controversial take on the US support of Israel, and as usual, no one in the media except History News Network will even report on this.

Hatra temples
Your days are numbered, evil UNESCO world heritage site! Hatra temple next on ISIS hit list?

For my second story, let's stay with the dark side of humanity, shall we? ISIS is not just satisfied with killing Christians in Iraq and Syria, because they are insane as hell. No, they want to blow up cultural and historical sites as well, because they know that once you destroy people's culture and history, you destroy their knowledge and spirit, and can bend them to your will.

Islamist militants’ attacks on cultural and historical treasures in Mosul — including a revered tomb of Joshua, has outraged many Muslim residents and stirred what appears to be the first spark of rebellion against the extremists’ harsh rule. ISIS apparently has also been planning the destruction of Christian monuments and relics as well, but so far have only wrecked a statue of the Holy Mary. But archaeologists think that the many Hatra temples in the area controlled by ISIS are next to get the burn and blow up treatment. See what happens when you create a power vacuum guys? Assholes like ISIS show up.And clearly their neighbours like Iran and Turkey could give a crap and help them out. So much for Arab unity.
This is way hotter in Spanish.
Finally, how about something at least to make you smile.This week in 1987 we had the time of our lives. The movie Dirty Dancing opened August 21st. Because it's 25 years old, HuffPost did a five things you don't know bit about it. Pretty cool, since I forgot Dirty Dancing was written and co-produced by a woman. Eleanor Bergstein, based the film loosely on memories of her own life, including the dirty dancing part. Now 70, is busy mounting the stage version of the movie all over the world. But she confessed to the Telegraph that:
"We thought it was one of those movies that would go into the [movie] theatres for a few days and then straight to video, so we made it on a shoestring," she says. "We expected mockery, failure and disaster."

Her failure made an estimated $213 million, and still is a popular film with old folks like me, and the kids.Loved Patrick Swayze: RIP you fabulous man.

Monday, 11 August 2014

And All That Jass? - Questions From the Twitter-verse

This has to be my favourite question ever. I'm a huge fan of Jazz music, and love nothing better than to put on an album, or sing, jazz. A fellow fan, Laurie from Russia, sent me a note on twitter:
I love to play Jazz piano, but I don't know much about the history except the basics. One question I have is why do we call this music Jazz? Where did such a weird name come from? I can see why it's called the blues, but jazz? Thanks!
Hi Laurie! Thanks for the question, because you know how much I love etymology. First, the bad news. There's no consensus among scholars or musicians on who first coined it, when, or how. The good news: it's fuzzy origins makes the story much more interesting.

Sheet music from 1906, thanks to Dr. Lewis Porter for his research
The original spelling was Jass, and can be seen in early pictures of bands at the turn of the 20th century. One story is that it comes from the African languages. In the Congo, certain dances were called jasm or in the language Mandingo, jasi,  Many people reject these stories however. 

Buddy Bolden, with his horn, second from left at the top. He was the first cornetist and gave jazz its real earthy, upbeat and deep sound. He also developed schizophrenia, and was forgotten until historians started giving a crap.
The musical form we now call Jazz began in 1870s, and slowly emerged from blues, work songs, gospel and traditional European music. 'Jass' came from New Orleans, the birthplace of this music, and was a term probably coined by the local Creole musicians. Creoles are descended from White Europeans immigrating to the American South and African American taken as wives or who were slaves. These people had their own mix of European and African music. Jass in their slang meant "strenuous activity", usually of the sexual kind. 

They may have got this from their french ancestry. J. E. Lighter’s monumental Historical Dictionary of American Slang, includes an entry from an 1896 French-English glossary: “Jaser(or Jazer). To copulate.”
If the truth were known about the origin of the word 'Jazz' it would never be mentioned in polite society. - Clay Smith, jazz musician in "Étude," Sept. 1924
Another story, was that Jass was a name of the perfume used by the prostitutes of Storyville in New Orleans. Jazz musicians got their start in Storyville, playing to the whores dancing, because that was where they could get the best tips and get the best views.  But the story related by the great Jazz musician Winston Marsalis in the documentary, Jazz, was that it was about sex. The origins of the word relating to sex ring true to the culture surrounding the music. A great example of the sexual nature of jazz is the story of Creole musician Jelly Roll Morton. People laugh today and wonder why a father of Jazz music would name himself after a sweet roll. Ahem. He's not talking about a pastry, people. Jelly Roll was slang for the best sexual position a man could get with his penis. Typical jazz musician. He was awesome.

When did Jass become Jazz? The spelling seems to have changed very quickly, and by 1910 there change was complete in signs and advertisements used by bands. But many continued to use the old spelling, as seen in the record labels still using Jass.

This is the first jazz band that ever recorded, 1917, and they just didn't care how they spelt it!
The first time the term jazz appears in print was not in reference to music, but baseball. A pitcher for the Portland Beavers, Ben Henderson, was quoted in the Los Angeles times in April 2, 1912: "I got a new curve this year...I call it the jazz ball because it wobbles and you simply can't do anything about it." For Henderson to use the term jazz so casually, means it was already in the local vernacular of where he was from, as well as where he was interviewed. 

My final recommendation to Laurie and to everyone else: Go watch Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns. It is an amazing and important documentary on the history and power of jazz music. I found myself tapping my feet and singing along the whole time.

Monday, 4 August 2014

An Update On My Tumblr Experience...

While trying to figure out the world of the internet, I found out that all the hip young people are NOT on Facebook. Facebook is for us already over the hill in our 40s crowd who still think that the coolest invention is the toaster over. Or it's just me.

Anyhow - I'm on Tumblr and Twitter now too. So I'll be posting more cool historical content I see around the web, links to articles exctra, but writing actual blog content here. Because I tried Tumblr and it seems images work better.


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Learn More! A History Round Up of the Best From the Web

This week, real life too over and killed any interest in writing. Real life and some dodgy medication. But I did do a lot of 'surfing the web' as all the cool kids in my geriatric ward call it. I did discover some amazing historical articles and info from the web, and here's some highlights!

Learn more about...war!


Inventories of War

Photographer Thom Atkinson complied a gallery of what a soldier's kit and equipment for war would look like across time. With help from historians, museums, re-enactment societies, and soldiers, Atkinson laid out and shot pictures of kits from 1066's Warrior outfit to a Sapper's gear in 2014. One of the main things to look for in these pictures is how little the basic need for food and entertainment items has changed.

Obscure Wars

I'm not usually a fan of lists for lists sake, but this Chicago Tribune list of Obscure Wars is a pretty good info dump that you can go bounce off of to google and find out more about these silly wars, including the Jaybird-Woodpecker War of the USA, or the 12-year War of the Oaken Bucket, when thousands of people died because a bucket was stolen. Seriously.
A bucket similar to this one caused a war. No I'm not drunk but those people must have been.

Learn more about...Computers!

The Computer History Museum

I found this gem while I was trying to figure out when ARPANET began (1962). While this site is a gateway to the museum in California, it has some great on-line exhibits on  the first 2000 years of computer history, their PDP-1 restoration project, and a This Day in History section. A very cool site to get your history bytes from. ( so funny.)
Like today - August 3, 1977 - Radio Shack released the TSR-180, their first computer release. I had a Tandy 1000 I still miss...

Learn more about....sports!


The Commonwealth Games

The last ten days I've been following the Glasgow 2014 games, mostly because it was my Great-Grandad's home town, and I like these much better than the overblown Olympics to watch. The first one was held in Hamilton, Ontario in 1930, with only 400 people competing. over 4500 athletes are participating in this year's games. This years were of course declared the best ever, and Canada did well, placing 3rd in the medal standing.

Will we see anymore Tunnock's tea cakes in the closing ceremony?
But I don't think dressing as a shinny donuts or dancing candies is a good way to end it.

And on that note, I'm off to actually write a very overdue article for Eden Keeper, which does not involve the dance of the gum drops.