Thursday, 28 April 2016

History News: 'Lost' Medieval Music Performed for First Time in 1,000 Years

I'm a huge classical and ancient music fan, which is code for geek. Big news then for me is that a lost piece of Medieval music has been reconstructed and performed. After a 20-year reconstruction effort, Sam Barrett, a senior lecturer in music at the University of Cambridge, has brought "lost" songs from the Middle Ages back to life.

Get down, get down, and bring the house down.

Reported by LiveScience writer Kacey Deamer, the "Songs of Consolation" were recently performed at the University of Cambridgein the United Kingdom. Reconstructed from "neumes" (medieval symbols used to represent musical notation), the tunes accompanied poems from Roman philosopher Boethius' magnum opus, "The Consolation of Philosophy."
A millennium ago, music was written in melodic outlines and not the modern "notes" that musicians rely on today. Music in medieval times was then shared through aural traditions and musicians' memories. Since these traditions died out hundreds of years ago, it is nearly impossible to decipher music from this era, because the pitches are unknown, experts have said.
Sam Barrett, a senior lecturer in music at the University of Cambridge, spent the past 20 years painstakingly identifying the musical techniques and melodies for "Songs of Consolation." He then worked with Benjamin Bagby, a member of Sequentia, a group of performers who have built a working memory of medieval song. Together, the two tested theories of the music with practical accompaniment.
"Ben tries out various possibilities, and I react to them — and vice versa," Barrett said in a statement. "When I see him working through the options that an 11th-century person had, it's genuinely sensational; at times you just think, 'that's it!' He brings the human side to the intellectual puzzle I was trying to solve during years of continual frustration."
The researchers faced one major hurdle in their reconstruction project: a missing page from an 11th-century manuscript called "Cambridge Songs," the final part of an anthology of Latin text. The lost page included vital notations used to understand the musical principles of the era.
Barrett said the notations allowed him and Bagby to "achieve a critical mass" that may have been impossible without that puzzle piece. 
"There have been times while I've been working on this that I have thought I'm in the 11th century, when the music has been so close it was almost touchable," Barrett said.

Check out the tune here on You Tube. Beautiful!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

High Plains Drifter: Revisionist History in Wraith Form

I've been so busy with the two theatre companies I'm involved with, that history had taken a back seat. Well, here I am in the saddle again, and what better way than to write on my favourite supernatural western - High Plains Drifter.

High Plains Drifter poster.jpg
And don't forget there is no historical accuracy.

Yep, that's what I said: Supernatural Western. They are rare but this one is the best in my opinion. Eastwood plays a wraith that is looking to payback the townspeople who didn't help him as three men whipped him to death. It's a gritty, dark film that I first saw at the age of 12. Which explains my love of revenge movies and westerns. Even then, I knew this was revisionist history: the real American Western frontier was rough but it was more about colonialism than shoot em ups.

The Real American West

High Plains Drifter is a film about one white town in California sometime around the 1870s. People are still screwed up from the huge changes: completion of the railroads to the West following the Civil War opened up vast areas of the region to settlement and economic development. White settlers from the East poured across the Mississippi to mine, farm, and ranch. African-American settlers also came West from the Deep South, convinced by promoters of all-black Western towns that prosperity could be found there. Chinese railroad workers further added to the diversity of the region's population. These two groups are missing from the film, but some Mexican men who are treated very kindly by Eastwood are present. Their stories, however, are  not explored as they are background characters. 

The Library of Congress says that this time period, while pivotal in the creation of the USA as we now know it,  was not a win-win for everyone:

Settlement from the East transformed the Great Plains. The huge herds of American bison that roamed the plains were virtually wiped out, and farmers plowed the natural grasses to plant wheat and other crops. The cattle industry rose in importance as the railroad provided a practical means for getting the cattle to market. 
The loss of the bison and growth of white settlement drastically affected the lives of the Native Americans living in the West. In the conflicts that resulted, the American Indians, despite occasional victories, seemed doomed to defeat by the greater numbers of settlers and the military force of the U.S. government. By the 1880s, most American Indians had been confined to reservations, often in areas of the West that appeared least desirable to white settlers. 

I Wanna Be A Cowboy

By the middle of the 1870s, the term “cowboy” described the young mounted riders driving cattle out of Texas. This term was originally used east of the Rocky Mountains; the preferred term on the other side of the Great Divide was “buckaroo,” coming from the Spanish word for cowboy, vaquero. But this did not last for long. By the early 1880s, bolstered by the mostly mythical image of the “wild west” portrayed in dime novels, the love affair between the general public of North America and Europe and the “cowboy” had begun.
The cowboy became the symbol for the West of the late 19th century, often depicted in popular culture as a glamorous or heroic figure. The stereotype of the heroic white cowboy is far from true, however. The first cowboys were Spanish vaqueros, who had introduced cattle to Mexico centuries earlier. Black cowboys also rode the range. Furthermore, the life of the cowboy was far from glamorous, involving long, hard hours of labor, poor living conditions, and economic hardship.

And no women to dance with. But I wonder if some didn't mind so much,as the source FairClassrooms points out.

The myth of the cowboy is only one of many myths that have shaped our views of the West in the late 19th century. Recently, some historians have turned away from the traditional view of the West as a frontier, a "meeting point between civilization and savagery" in the words of historian Frederick Jackson Turner. They have begun writing about the West as a crossroads of cultures, where various groups struggled for property, profit, and cultural dominance. 

So, in High Plains Drifter, there is no gay cowboys, no Indians, no Chinese, no African historical accuracy. It's pure fantasy and myth building, and it's fun. Or is it a bad thing? All this violence is very self-indulgent I admit.

In the ongoing historical analysis, the culture of violence in the American West of the late nineteenth century was created almost entirely by the U.S. government’s military interventions, which were primarily a veiled subsidy to the government-subsidized transcontinental railroad corporations. Should we point out the controversial genocide against the American Indians that's happily ignored in every film? (Controversial because was it intentional or just a "happy coincidence?")

But the one part they do get right is the need for a bath. Eastwood's character needs one and a shave. You can just see the stink coming off him. I'm sure the bath scene made my mom swoon though.

I'm a very dirty cowboy...

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Any Excuse: The War of Jenkins' Ear

Today in history, a man lost an ear which started a war.

So lend me an ear and give a listen to my tale of woe...

In April of 1731, British Captain Robert Jenkins loses an ear to a band of Spanish brigands, starting a war between Britain and Spain: The War of Jenkins’ Ear. Asked to appear in Parliament to recount his tale in 1738, he reputedly displayed his ear during his testimony. Yuck: he kept that ear for seven years? In what? A hanky, a box, his coat pocket?

During the war, there was a lot more to worry about then your ear. 

War of Jenkins’ Ear, war between Great Britain and Spain that began in October 1739 and eventually merged into the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). It did not start over an ear, as detailed by Historian Kennedy Hickman:

As part of the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession, Britain received a thirty-year trade agreement (an asiento) from Spain which permitted British merchants to trade up to 500 tons of goods per year in the Spanish colonies as well as sell an unlimited number of slaves. Though the asiento was in effect, its operation was often hindered by military conflicts between the two nations. In the wake of the Anglo-Spanish War (1727-1729), Britain granted Spain the right to stop British ships to ensure that the terms of the agreement were being respected. 
Believing that the British were taking advantage of the agreement and smuggling, Spanish authorities began boarding and seizing British ships, as well as holding and torturing their crews. This led to an increase in tensions and an up swell of anti-Spanish sentiment in Britain. Though wishing to avoid war, First Minister Sir Robert Walpole was pressured into sending additional troops to Gibraltar and dispatching a fleet to the West Indies.In return, King Philip V suspended the asiento and confiscated British ships in Spanish ports.
Wishing to avoid a military conflict, both sides met at Pardo to seek a diplomatic resolution. The resulting Convention of Pardo, which was signed in early 1739, proved unpopular in Britain and the public clamored for war. By October, both sides had repeatedly violated the convention's terms. Though reluctant, Walpole officially declared war on October 23, 1739.
So - in reality - the ear issue really was an excuse or incident that added wax to the drum...ahahahah. No.

Public opinion had already been aroused by other Spanish outrages on British ships, and the Jenkins episode was swiftly exploited by members of Parliament who were in opposition to the government of Robert Walpole. By declaring war, Walpole hoped to appease the public and the opposition.

But here's the shorter version of events.

Monday, 4 April 2016

New Viking Settlement In Canada Located- Pointy helmets not found yet

The internet is exploding with news of a new Viking site in Canada.

Otherwise, it's all about an epic text conversation over boyfriend buying makeup for his girl. ZZZZZZZ

Archaeologists have used satellite imagery to identify a site in Newfoundland that could be the first new Viking site discovered in North America in over 50 years.

Satellite imagery, magnetometer surveys, and a preliminary excavation of the site at Point Rosee in Southern Newfoundland last year could point to a potentially fascinating discovery.

Until now, Newfoundland has the only Viking site in North America, found in the 1960s at L’Anse Aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, about 300 miles from Point Rosee.

Discovery News online reports that the new site was identified by Archaeologist Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, used high-resolution satellite imagery to spot ruins as small as 11 inches buried below the surface:

From Discovery. To the trained eye it still looks like..a mossy bog.

The archaeologists’ investigation will feature in “Vikings Unearthed,” a special of PBS’s NOVA science series, co-produced with the BBC, that premieres online on April 4. The special will air on PBS April 6.
Satellites positioned around 478 miles above the Earth enabled Parcak and her team to scan a vast section of America and Canada’s eastern seaboard.
The satellite images, two magnetometer surveys, and preliminary excavations suggest “sub-surface rectilinear features,” according to the experts, who also identified possible evidence of ironworking in the form of roasted iron ore. Radiocarbon technology has dated the site to between 800 and 1300 AD. 
The project was led by Parcak and co-directed by Gregory Mumford, an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Frederick Schwarz, of Black Spruce Heritage Services. Douglas Bolender, an archaeologist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and historian Dan Snow also participated in the investigation.
Less in the middle of Nowhere, Newfoundland than the other one as the ferry dumps you off in Port-au-Basque.

We all know that the vikings brought the fun in New-Fund-land...ok bad attempt at pun. But the fact that if this data is confirmed as Norse by further research, the site will show that the Vikings travelled much farther in North America than previously known, pushing the boundary of their explorations over 300 miles to the southwest.

And another tourist site for Newfoundland to promote the hell out of.