Monday, 21 October 2019

History & Future

“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”
(Winnie the Pooh)

I've been feeling a bit like that lately... Lots of thoughts buzzing in my head, but only resulting in writer's block.

One thing causing media discussions in Sweden lately (besides  Brexit and other various international news) is some proposed changes in our common grade school curriculum, from the National Agency for Education. One such suggested change was to completely drop the whole period of history from Antiquity (Greece and Rome and all that) and all the way up to the 18th century. However, that suggestion has already been officially withdrawn; as it caused immediate massive media attention and protests - not only from historians and teachers, but from "ordinary people" as well. 

Myself, I didn't believe my ears when I first heard it. (Had it been around April 1st, I would have taken it for an April Fool's joke.) Yes, I'm sure the way things are taught probably does need adjusting now and then. Of course a lot of things can easily be looked up when needed these days, rather than putting effort into memorizing them (and then forgetting them anyway). But in my experience, you do still need at least some basic idea of context in order to even know what to look up, and also to connect one fact to another...

I understand that similar (i.e. downright stupid) suggestions have also been made for other subjects, like geography and religion. I'm not sure where it will all end up, yet - so I'll keep to history for now (or else I will just get lost in my thoughts again). 

Ironically, with these discussions still going on (in television, radio, papers, internet), Swedish television has been broadcasting some really interesting (British) documentaries about Antiquity and archaeology lately: Greek and Roman mythology, literature and architecture, and also Egyptian pyramids and other burial sites. I've enjoyed watching these. I've always been fascinated by this kind of stuff (even back in my school days) - without in any way being an expert or storing all the details in my memory.

Some of you reading this I'm sure will also be familiar with the British TV show Time Team - also a favourite of mine. Can you imagine Britain - Brexit or no Brexit! - erasing the whole Roman era from the history books? (And, for that matter, king Arthur and Shakespeare as well, if history was not to start until 1700...)
As it happens, I'm also currently listening to an Audible series of lectures about Ancient Civilizations of North America. (Not for any particular reason other than that I suppose I happened to find it at a reasonable price and thought it looked interesting.)

Now this is getting woven into my thoughts on history in general as well - because these lectures are making me realize, that when it comes to North America, my concept of its history really does not go back any further than the European colonization. Of course I've known from childhood that there were "Indians" living there before the Europeans arrived. But it strikes me now that the only ancient American "civilizations" I recall reading or hearing much about have been those in South/Central America (like the Inkas and Mayas). Yes, I also knew (since not-sure-when in my childhood) there were also various "Indian tribes" in North America, and I came across a few of those names through books and films. But my images of "Red Indians" are mostly from old 60s/70s movies and TV-series. 

Of course I know that the historical perspective has changed over the decades since then, and one speaks of Native Americans now. But this series of lectures is still a real revelation to me. (I'm still only like half-way through.) I have to admit I had absolutely no concept of how many ancient civilizations there were in North America, even long before the European colonization. Not just nomads, but ancient cities with hundreds and even thousands of inhabitants; fishing and trading, digging canals and irrigation systems, growing corn, building burial mounds and ritual centers that can be compared to the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge (with perfect geometry and aligned to the sun and the moon etc), and... and... and all without me knowing, until now (when I'm 64)... ;)

So, out of curiosity, I have to ask my American friends: Did you know?? About pre-Columbian North American archaeological periods and cultures, going back many thousands of years??
Of course, if you live elsewhere in the world, your comments are welcome as well. Do you think history is important, or should we just forget about it and move on??

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Skywatch Friday: More Autumn Colours

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Albert Camus 

SkyWatch Friday

Monday, 14 October 2019

The Colours of Autumn

We've had a lot of rain lately - but also awesome autumn colours.
Here are some photos from my walks around town in October.

Through My Lens

Our World Tuesday Graphic

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Inspired Sunday: Maglarp Medieval Church (Skåne, Sweden)

This church at Maglarp (F on the map) in Skåne, Sweden, dates back to around 1190. It was used as a parish church up to the year 1909, when a new church was completed. Between 1909 and 1971 the medieval church was abandoned. Only occasional services were sometimes held there in the summer. But in 1971 the church was restored both as a cultural heritage and to again serve as a parish church. So while on the one hand, electricity etc was installed; they also restored the original medieval characteristics - like old painted details on the vaults (which had in between been whitewashed and hidden).

The original architecture of the church was "Romanesque church with a broad west tower ". Over the years it has been rebuilt and extended.

The baptismal font, made of sandstone, is the oldest piece in the church; from the same time as the oldest parts of the church itself. 

The crucifix in the triumphal arch is from around 1450.

The altar is medieval and has a small built-in space for a relic (today empty). The altarpiece from 1759 was cut by a man who was an innkeeper but in his spare time also worked as a sculptor. 

The pulpit dates from 1568 and is one of the oldest in Sweden. The door to the pulpit was painted in 1639, so probably not added until then. (We found that door rather intriguing: Why a door when the stairs can be seen by those sitting in the pews  anyway?) 

The organ is from 1842 and was built by a well-known master from the city of Lund (whose name was also Lundh). He built around 25 organs; but this is the only one left (restored, and still used). The portraits on the facade of the balcony, by an unnamed artist, represent Christ and his disciples (plus one of Moses, added later).

There is a votive ship in this church as well (I showed another one of those in my post from Skanör church a couple of weeks ago). The brochures from the church do not mention how old the ship is.

(The facts in this post have been picked from brochures I got in the church; but the photos are my own.)

Inspired Sunday #337

InSPIREd Sunday

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Recently Read

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (2019)
Audio narration by Fenella Woolgar (11 h) 

It is the early 1930s, and the losses of the First World War are still keenly felt. Violet Speedwell, mourning for both her fiancé and her brother and regarded by society (and herself) as a ‘surplus woman’ moves to Winchester - a city rather dominated by its great cathedral. There she lives in a boardinghouse and works in an office, but also decides to join a group of women embroidering cushions and kneelers for the cathedral. She also gets fascinated by the intricacies of bell-ringing - and perhaps one bell-ringer in particular...

I did not find this novel quite as fascinating as some of the others by Tracy Chevalier, but enjoyable all the same. (My favourites are probably Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Remarkable Creatures.)

 Silas Marner  (The Weaver of Raveloe)
by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) (1861)

Audio narration by Andrew Sachs (6:45 h)

A classic which I have read before (many years ago) but I wanted to refresh my memories of it, and did so by listening to it narrated by Andrew Sachs; but also having access to the text on Kindle.

Silas Marner, a weaver, is falsely accused of stealing money from the Calvinist congregation he belongs to. He loses not only his friends but also his fiancée and his faith, and moves to a remote village where no one knows him. Here he lives an isolated life and focuses completely on working on his weaving (in his own home), and putting aside (hoarding) the money he earns. When that too gets taken from him, he sinks into deep depression. But then a small orphan girl unexpectedly comes into his life, turning it upside down in a different way... There are more twists and turns to the plot before the story comes to an end though. The outcome may be kind of typical for its time, but at the same time the story is perhaps more intricately woven than one might be tempted to think at times.

The Noble Path by Peter May
(1992/2019) (Read on Kindle) 

This book by Peter May was originally written in 1992 but recently re-edited and re-published. The story is set against the background of the situation of south-east Asia in the 1970s. 

I have to say I found it very "tough" reading... To begin with, I found it a bit hard to get into because of the apparent apathy and callousness of some of the characters (but if you keep reading, you will come to understand that there is a point to that); also followed by too much war and weapons and violence and general misery for my general "taste" in fiction... (I'm glad I decided to buy this one for Kindle rather than audio, because when listening it's harder to "skim" parts that get uncomfortable.)

But: Primarily I think it is tough reading, and "gets under your skin", because you gradually come to recognize that there is much more to it than "just fiction"; and it cannot even be shrugged off as history... Today it may be (partly) different countries and borders and ethnic groups etc involved. But the same kind of things still happen, all the time - and even closer to home than the Far East. (And we know that; but don't really want to know that.)

Quoting what Peter May himself says in his foreword:

"[The story] takes place in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, when the murderous and anarchic regime established by the Khmer Rouge in neighbouring Cambodia systematically annihilated three million people. --- Rereading the book nearly thirty years later, I note with some sadness that one of the primary themes - a refugee crisis caused by the mass migration of people trying to escape war and poverty - is with us every bit as much now as it was then. ---"

So as contrast, absurdly, I felt I had to read/listen to something soothingly whimsical in between, allowing me to pretend there are no worse problems in the world than the kind that may be sorted out by Jeeves (the perfect gentleman's gentleman). (I'm kind of taking for granted that you're acquainted with both him and his employer, Bertie Wooster. If not - look them up!) 

Jeeves & Wooster - The Collected Radio Dramas (BBC) (18 h)

Based on the novels by P.G. Wodehouse   1881-1975
The Inimitable Jeeves
The Code of the Woosters
Right Ho, Jeeves
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit
Jeeves: Joy in the Morning

In between all of the above, I've also been listening to:

Language Families of the World
by Professor John McWhorther, Columbia University
(16 h, 32 lectures)

This is not a book, but a series of lectures. Being generally interested in languages, I found it fascinating and enlightening, even if I quickly forget details. But there are around 7000 languages in the world, and most linguists believe they all originate from one original language (just as it is now generally believed that all the people in the world originate from Africa a long long long time ago). But as we can't trace language changes back all that far, that remains a theory. So for now, languages are (still) classified as belonging to various families and groups, based on things they have in common (or not). Language history also ties in with other parts (and conundrums) of migration history - and theories will no doubt continue to change a bit with every new discovery made in those fields. But one thing I take with me from this series of lectures is that "small" languages tend to have a more complex structure than those spoken by larger populations (like English, or Spanish). The "small" languages are in no way "inferior" to the more widely spread ones; just different, and usually extremely hard to learn if you're not born and raised with them - and especially if they are only spoken, and have no writing system. But there are even languages without any alphabet or documents, which can still be said to have their own literature - for example in the form of complex epic poems (of a specific structure and rhythm etc) passed on orally and memorized from generation to generation. 

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