Categories
Book review

Can we do History in novels?

This post came to me when I was thinking about films for a previous post. I came to the conclusion that yes we can ‘do history’ by watching films and this leads to my next question, can we ‘do history’ by reading historical novels?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

First a little bit about me. I am dyslexic and I find reading difficult. you might think I have picked the wrong vocation, a historian, because that involves a lot of reading. Well you are right but I did not choose my vocation, its the only thing that I can do. To escape the limitations posed by my disability I have to be humble and wear funny coloured glasses, read very slowly and use audio-books where ever possible. I also use a variety of books which include historical fantasy books.

One of the best authors that I have ever come across is Harry Sidebottom. I have just finished his new book, <a href="http://<a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08GSSS2J3/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=B08GSSS2J3&linkCode=as2&tag=historytalk00-21&linkId=a63d3af91145a0e7ef172cb6ed0a3487">The Burning Road: The scorching new historical thriller from the Sunday Times bestsellerThe Burning Road, which was brilliant. Mr Sidebottom is an academic and a teacher so alongside being an author completes a disgusting holy trinity of over achievement. I first came across his work in <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=historytalk00-21&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=B002RI9JNM&asins=B002RI9JNM&linkId=2910c49317ff956ece4f823102e81966&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff"> Warrior of Rome which I found to be an incredibly haunting novel. I have come to the conclusion that Mr Sidebottoms success lies in his incredibly good writing skills. These allow him to paint such vivid pictures of the ancient world, pictures of semen stained statues, soldiers in the tavern and the scene of the day after the siege failed. Somehow the wordsmith manages to allow you to look into this world and that is the value in my mind.

The power and value of good historical fantasy is that the material is as ‘true’ as a text book but at the same time over painted by false characters who open the doors and allow our imagination to gain access to those facts. For me this has been helpful. As a guide at the Lunt Roman Fort in Coventry I had to create an imaginary image of the fort that I could communicate to visitors and Warrior of Rome certainly had a role in that.

Categories
historicism philosophyofhistory

Can we learn History from Films?

First I have used capitals for both History and Film. This is to mark them out as proper nouns. Can we learn or do History in Film? I think the question is far more complicated than it looks and that the conclusion will surprise you.

First I think that Film is an excellent medium for History. I am firmly in the camp that History is an Art and not a Science. Film is an artistic medium so manifesting an art in an artist medium poses fewer problems than presenting an art in a scientific medium. History as Science is like wearing a stiff collar in Church, uncomfortable, unnecessary and for someone else. That being said all art must guard against being a tool of the propagandist. Good art is didactic and welcomes comment and criticism, the propagandist brooks no contradiction.

Second, and I have experience of this, a Historian in a movie theatre must shut up and let other people enjoy the film when non-professionals are present. The problem with film is that the story must take priority over the facts and ‘authenticity’. Film is not History in the same way an essay or a journal article is History where facts and details are important. The story is the most important element and swords, bluebells or rabbits are much less important. Now where that story reflects the historical reality of events we can learn history. A story about the last hours in Hitlers bunker that draws on diaries and interviews can be a useful history compared to a relentlessly authentic medieval survey drama about the Peasants revolt putting modern Marxist thought into the mouths of 14th century peasants. If a film does not accord to the best possible knowledge of the story then we move from history into fantasy and for some narratives, and valuable stories, fantasy is the best medium.

Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

Finally Film is a historical product and one which is part of our inheritance as citizens of a democracy. These are stories we choose to validate by using our time to watch and our money to buy. As active citizens in our democracy we must know where we have come from to understand why the present is as it is and for many film is how we do that. The importance lies in us choosing to watch and spend money on this because it becomes our product and not a propaganda fostered on us by the elite. Such an elite history you can find in museums and art galleries across Britain and see just how attractive they are to the public.

Photo by Maria Pop on Pexels.com

Ultimately all history is for the public and film is probably the most democratic artistic medium available in the current age. The impact of historical film can be seen particularly well in Scotland where the SNP gained a boost from the Braveheart (yes I know.) film and Scottish democracy has been supercharged. The SNP are enjoying the trade wind of popular nationalism not stirring it up which separates them from other nationalist movements. Talking of Braveheart this is an example of a fantasy film with a glancing relationship with history. Its a film which I have never watched but also one that if I did I would be very quiet and let the non-professionals just enjoy it. Do these films have value? Yes I think that they do and if they perpetuate myths, as long as they are benign myths, then I see no problem. If they are malign, the film should be cast out, but myths can be dealt with in articles and journals by professionals. Scientific and professional history needs to stay in the professional realm and let art flourish in the artistic realm and by accepting the opportunities and limitations of film we can create the conditions for valuable history that engages the active citizen to make our world a better place.

Categories
Anglo Saxon History Romans

Poetry Van at Fargo Village for the BBC Strong Language Event

Today I went to Fargo Village to buy some books for some work I am going to start. When I got there my good friend was busy trying to buy petrol which during the current crisis (not crisis) is difficult. Whilst enjoying a cup of tea and a cake I saw this poetry van. The Poetry Van serves poems whilst you wait. I waited and waited and eventually I was “served”. The poet who wrote for me wrote a poem about the blinding of Vortigern by the Jutes after he betrayed them.

On my other post I have discussed the poem itself and have concluded that it is a very fine poem, written in fifteen minutes by a man who would normally spend days and blood over a single line. In my Jack Russell post I have not discussed the historical elements.

I think that Lewis is a very good man who dealt with an autistic obsessive very well indeed. The first thing he dealt with this morning was me telling him about the Frisken Massacre, the withdrawal of the Roman Legions from Britannia, the civil war between Vortigern and Ambrosias and then Vortigern getting his eyes popped out at a dinner party in vengeance for his betrayal of the Jute leaders.

He stressed that it would not be an authentic account and it would be a poetic representation of my interested in the topic. He asked me my feelings and I am sorry to say that I couldn’t think of any, as I say I am autistic and rarely feel anything. but I am good with poetic licence and a critic of stagnant “authenticity”. Frankly it is a delightful poem that with all the energy of the metaphysical poets tells the story of the coming of the English. I do not particularly care that Lewis has confused Britannia with England, brought in the Goths or has anachronistically used that name or put potatoes in a 5th century feast. I know that when I post this in some groups there will be ‘rivit counters’ who will not be able to get over such details. To such people please retweet the link with your criticism, that will be very useful.

The point that I like about the Coming of the English is that we see that history turns on the decisions of individuals and their actions good or bad. We see a peace treaty destroyed by one unnamed person spilling a drink and not saying sorry which leads to the massacre of the Friskens. We see the Jutish princes return to Jutland and then have to leave to make money and enter the service of the Tyrant Vortigern and we see Vortigern growing concerned about the rise of the Jutes and lashing out only to be betrayed and blinded in revenge.

Thankyou Lewis for my poem.

Categories
Uncategorized

Once and for all, licensing of metal detectorists won’t work — The Heritage Journal

By Nigel Swift .You hear it all the time from archaeologists and some detectorists: licensing will improve behaviour as the official code will be adhered to and finds will be recorded not concealed. I think it’s tripe, whoever proposes it. £100 is well worth paying if you’re minded to conceal finds from a farmer in […]

Once and for all, licensing of metal detectorists won’t work — The Heritage Journal
Categories
Uncategorized

A Cross in Time: The Market Cross at Kells — Archaeo𝔡𝔢𝔞𝔱𝔥

While damaged through constant exposure to the elements and even being once hit by a bus, the Kells Market Cross is a fragile, beautiful yet defiant survivor of over 1,100 years. Dating to the late 9th or perhaps the very early 10th century, the cross has a complex story regarding its art that has yet […]

A Cross in Time: The Market Cross at Kells — Archaeo𝔡𝔢𝔞𝔱𝔥
Categories
concert

Soveida Ensemble Charity Concert in Coventry — Jack Russell

Charity concert from Soveida Ensemble http://www.CharityConcert2020.eventbrite.co.uk

Soveida Ensemble Charity Concert in Coventry — Jack Russell
Categories
Uncategorized

Playing Hnefatafl in the Park (with a pagan)

Today I ticked a point off my bucket list playing two ancient boardgames in the park with a friend. We played about five games of Hnefatafl and one of Fox and Geese in the War Memorial Park in Coventry. Hnefatafl, also known as Kings Table, is a board game popular in the Viking period. Fox and Geese is a similar game but is heavily weighted to the Geese player and so fell out of popularity in the Middle Ages. Both games are asymmetric games with unequal forces and different winning goals. They challenge the player to be competent, keep focus and work towards specific goals in pursuit of the eventual objective of winning.

My friend is called Arron and despite it being his first time playing (and having just come off a long drive from work) did very well indeed. I obviously play these games daily as part of my job and I did not cut him any slack but he soon picked up the rules and the game and after an hour was making it very hard for me to win.

It was a very enjoyable time with lots of good conversation and game play. We got a lot of interest as well from other park users. One boy sent his mother over to ask if he could have a game. In the future I would like to play more in the park so if anyone would like to join me drop me a message in the comments section.

Categories
Uncategorized

Chester, England: A Roman garden — NattyTravels

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you. Please read my Disclosure page for more info Chester’s Roman Garden is located just outside the city walls. It’s a place I would highly recommend visiting. Its made up […]

Chester, England: A Roman garden — NattyTravels
Categories
Uncategorized

Curse tablets in Roman Britain — Notes from the U.K.

Britain enthusiastically adopted the Roman tradition of writing curses on lead (or sometimes pewter) tablets. Maybe that tells us something about the British character. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, because lead doesn’t rust, they left us a record of daily life, or of one odd corner of it anyway, that we can snoop around in. […]

Curse tablets in Roman Britain — Notes from the U.K.
Categories
Events Reenactments Romans

Brough, Petuaria Revisited Show.

At the beginning of August I was privileged to join Britannia, the best Roman Reenactment group in Britain at a site near Hull called Petuaria.

Petuaria is now called Brough, a pretty little village near Hull. The event was a celebration of the excavation of the site, which is ongoing and a chance for reenactors to strut their stuff, see below. I must add to the organisers that it was one of the best and friendliest events that I had ever attended.

What was incredibly surprising was that the archaeologists let me have a go in the trench doing some digging. It was great fun and I found some interested things. But more about that another day.