Archive for the ‘Ex Cathedra’ Category

Another brief interlude

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

I am internetless again, but again it should be a brief lapse. I’ll be up and running with a fresh story tomorrow, Liver of Piacenza willing.

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Technical difficulties

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Due to inclement weather, my Internet is out. If the cable company isn’t lying, I should be back online soon. Don’t panic!

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It’s not over yet, but…

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

I’m relieved to report that the upgrade to the newest version of WordPress went well. So far the only obvious problems are some broken media embeds, but that’s no biggie. The fix is easy; it just takes a little time. The WP upgrade was the most urgent issue because the blog would have gone down tomorrow due a MySQL upgrade on the server that is incompatible with the ancient version of WP I was running.

The installation of the new theme, on the other hand, has been bedevilling me most of the day. I’ll get it in the end, and its little dog too. Thankfully, there is no pressing emergency. In tests, the old theme looked terrible on the new WordPress version, but for some mysterious reason on the live site it looks pretty much the same as it used to with just a few wrinkles here and there. I’m chalking it up to the many ritual sacrifices you performed to all your benign deities and unpronouncable Lovecraftian horrors. Thank you so much.

We’ll be back to your regularly scheduled programming tomorrow, rain or shine.

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Programming Note (of Doom)

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

You know how when Howard Carter made a little hole in the sealed entrance to Tutankhamun’s tomb and peered through it and was struck dumb by all the treasures and Lord Carnarvon was all “Can you see anything?” and Carter replied “Yes, wonderful things”? Well, I can no longer put off the long-delayed software upgrade of the blog, so over the next two days WordPress will leap up like 20 versions and I will replace this sweet old theme with a new one that Google and cellphones won’t hate quite so much. Will you be able to see things? Yes, probably. If all goes well, there shouldn’t be much in the way of downtime. Will they be wonderful things? No. No they will not.

I’ve done this in a testing environment many times and the conversion has always been dark and full of terrors, mainly in the form of seriously messed up comment threads. Major problems that interfere with the rendering of the site will be fixed promptly, and in the long-term I will address the stuff that is functional but hideous. If that means I have to manually reenter every comment from the dawn of time, then that’s what it means.

The changes will make the site much more usable. I’ll be able to do things that were cutting edge a decade ago like automatically link to new posts on my dormant Twitter account and add a donate button which many of you very kind and supportive folks have asked about repeatedly. Most importantly, the blog will be far more secure and it won’t projectile vomit errors every time the server has a MySQL upgrade or a stiff breeze blows past it.

Please keep all your fingers and toes crossed, stroke your fascinus amulets, use the Liver of Piacenza as a guide when scrutinizing your next sheep liver, do whatever ritual you can think of, the more bizarre the better, and send all the good luck this way.

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Well that was horrific

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

You may have noticed your trusty blog about history has not been so trusty the past couple of days. A server update is apparently the culprit. The site went down Thursday afternoon and we’ve been struggling ever since to get it back. Finally the planets aligned and we are back. Buggy and error-riddled, but I’ll take it for now while we iron out the kinks.

The trauma of the last few days has only underscored how desperately important it is that I upgrade the software of this site. It’s ancient and all kinds of features are broken because of it. Perpetually perched on the razor’s edge of functionality, it can fail at the least provocation. That means we’re going to have to say goodbye to my old-fashioned theme and the blog will look completely different. As history nerds tend to like old-fashioned things, I’ve dragged my feet to avoid having to make so big a change. Time to face facts.

I’m so sorry for the outage. Real post coming up.

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The Year in History Blog History

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

This year The History Blog celebrated its 10th anniverary. The Six Million Dollar Man didn’t make an appearance at this party like he did at the Six Millionth View party last year, but we made up for it with a really great comment thread. I love when readers who rarely (or never!) comment mingle with the regular commenters to say nice things about the blog. It’s downright invigorating. (No, that is not a prompt for more of same in the comments on this post. Okay it kind of is. Not that you need prompting.)

It’s the on-topic posts that capture people’s attention on the larger web. The article about the 17th century silk gown found on the Texel shipwreck was the runaway most visited of the year with 11,555 views. The story of the murder of Joe the Quilter and the discovery of the remains of his cottage was the second most popular of the year with 6,276 views. It was also one of my favorites. The tragic story, Joe’s outstanding artisanship, the rare survival of a labourer’s cottage from the 1820s and my first encounter with the Beamish Museum all captivated my attention. Then the modern Joe the Quilter topped it all off by commenting.

That wasn’t the only murderous story of the year. I was particularly interested in the story of Martha Brown, the woman who killed her abusive husband and was hanged for it. Among the thousands of people who attended her execution was a 16-year-old Thomas Hardy. Years later he would write Tess of the d’Urbervilles about a woman who kills her abuser and is hanged for murder. The century-old cold case of the Fontaubert bones only has the legend of a gloriously lurid murder behind it, but maybe the new forensic investigation will turn up something if not equally interesting, at least mildly so. Then there was the first known boomerang victim, killed in the 13th century by a fighting boomerang, a heavy, sharp-edged wood weapon that cut through his bone like metal. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that the remains of the victim of a huge 17th century royal sex scandal have been found, but the odds are slim.

I allowed myself some shameless photographic indulgences this year. The Australian quilts were probably my richest haul in a single post, but in sheer size and beauty, the Dream Garden Tiffany mosaic gets very high ranking in the end of the year summary even though I only just posted it a couple of days ago. Another December entry gave me my greatest source of photographic gluttony, however. It’s the boxwood miniatures. When the Art Gallery of Ontario gave me access to their folder of high resolution photographs, I seriously got a rush. It’s because the carving is so, so small. Having gigantic pictures where the details could be seen in extreme close-up totally made my year.

Along similar lines, I love how high resolution 3D scans of artifacts and remains are becoming more common. This year alone we saw 3D scans of Chinese oracle bones, the Dandaleith Pictish stone, a Pictish cross slab, an Anglo-Saxon name stone found at Lindisfarne, bones and objects from the Tudor flagship Mary Rose, the first church where Norway’s Viking saint king Olaf II was buried and the irrepressible charm of the Skara Brae “Buddo” figurine.

Some of my favorite finds of the year were inscriptions. There was the Etruscan stele found in the foundations of an ancient temple in Tuscany, later found to include the name of the goddess Uni. Newly discovered Etruscan inscriptions are always cause for celebration, and this one is very long and very old. I also loved the two from modern-day Turkey, the 2,000-year-old horse racing rules and the amazing 2,200-year-old lease contract. It’s a contract! Literally carved in stone! And thus metaphor becomes literal.

With no particular thread connecting them other than my personal interest, I got a big kick out of discoveries from all over the world. There was that group of small ceremonial iron weapons found in Oman, the small fragment of 13th century pottery from Teruel, Spain, decorated with a unique depiction of a Jewish man, the Tuscan villa of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, a 4th century senator and one of the last politically prominent adherents of traditional Roman religion to fight for its preservation, that freaking huge gold torc found in Cambridgeshire and the unbearable cuteness of the Canaanite “Thinker” figurine.

In the ephemera category, the only copy of Utrecht’s first newspaper, published in 1623, was found in a hand-bound anthology in the City Archives and Athenaeum Library in Deventer, the Netherlands. The news wasn’t fresh (even our Dutch-speaking readers struggled to follow it), but the history of newspapers was entirely unknown to me before I researched the find. Fascinating subject. The account of another battle of Thermopylae, this one between invading Goths and a combined Roman-Greek force during the 3rd century Gothic wars, discovered in a palimpsest in Vienna is a stand-out of the year. It’s a previously unknown passage in the Scythica, a history of the wars written by Athenian historian P. Herennius Dexippus who lived through them. Only a few fragments from this history survived quoted in later books. The palimpsest gave us by far the longest surviving passage, and a riveting one at that.

Denmark may win the award this year for most exciting finds in one country. There was the wee gold pendant found by a metal detectorist that is the earliest figure of Christ found in Denmark, the lead amulet invoking elves and the Christian Trinity, the rediscovery of the long-lost Ydby Runestone, the stabby beauty of the Viking treasure hoard found in Lille Karleby, the
two pounds of Viking gold bangles, the Viking toolbox unearthed at Borgring, and that amazingly smooth giant Neolithic flint axe. But of all the great and wondrous treasures Denmark has brought us this year, the greatest of them all was the 17th century bishop’s turd. The title alone made me laugh for a solid two days.

The hoards of the Danes had sturdy competition this year from Spain and Switzerland. The sheer quantity, 1,300 pounds of Roman coins, found in Tomares outside Seville, Spain, would have been impressive enough on its own, but they came in custom matching amphorae of a type never seen before. Researchers are still going through the tens of thousands of coins from the late 3rd, early 4th century. It’s not cash or pounds of gold, but the Roman lamp hoard found in Switzerland stands next to these glories with its head held high, just because it’s so pristine and unique.

I think the highlight of the year, maybe the highlight of the first decade of The History Blog history, was the chilling Halloween three-parter about the Harrison Horror (part I, part II, part III). I’d been thinking about writing a serial for years, and a long-form treatment of the body-snatching of John Scott Harrison and Augustus Devin for at least two years. I finally did it and it was so, so worth it. I’m warning you, though, there is no way I’m even trying to top it next year, not for Halloween anyway. Maybe some other theme will inspire me, or maybe it’ll just be something that I randomly stumble across. Stay tuned to find out!

I wish you all the very best of New Years, full of prosperity, peace and nerdery. I will continue to do my utmost to contribute to the last of those.

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Coming attractions

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

I won’t be posting a full article today because I’m working on a special Halloween treat for all you boys and girls. For the first time in The History Blog history, I am writing a multi-part story. It is a macabre tale full of chills, thrills and shocking twists that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hammer Horror movie, only it’s all true.

The first part will go live (or is it? ) at the stroke of midnight tonight.

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The History Blog’s Tin Anniversary

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Ten years ago today, I wrote the first post on The History Blog. It was a more innocent time then, a time when a crappy thumbnail picture was good enough for me, when a post could consist of little more than a link and a blockquote, sometimes two threadbare posts a day, more often with days-long gaps between them, when it hadn’t yet occurred to me that people might actually be interested in reading about the deep background stuff and the leaps and tangents that often sucked up entire weekends of my time. And so, after a grand total of 21 posts including the introduction, I meandered off somewhere and The History Blog fell fallow like so many blogs before and since.

I did have the decency to feel guilty about it, but that only served to keep me away longer because the more time passed, the worse I felt about abandoning the project and the worse I felt, the more I shrank from returning. A year and a half would pass before I finally got my act together and started posting again. This time I told myself I had to post daily, to make a real committment to produce content on a reliable schedule. If I still had readers after so long an absence, then by Odin I was going to give them something to read.

I’ve (almost) held to that committment ever since. There was a little three month radio silence relapse in the Spring of 2009, but other than that, the history nerddom has flowed like wine up in here. Over time I have developed several new obsessions y’all might recognize, most notably an insatiable greed for high resolution images, linking to any relevant source I can find, wandering around to barely related topics, and appreciating the more salacious or disgusting parts of any given story. Also poop. Poop is just the best. Note to self: it’s been way too long since I posted a poop story.

Thank you for bearing with my idiosyncracies all these years. Now onto the next decade!

:thanks: :love: :chicken: :love: :thanks:

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This is not an April Fool’s post

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Seriously. I don’t really do April Fool’s because I can never come up with anything clever. Last year my not even remotely fooling post was dismissed as a joke by one commenter because of the date, but the story was actually released a few days earlier and I just hadn’t gotten to it yet. So yeah, this year I’m holding the place so all y’all know there is no April Fool’s post.

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A Portrait of the Blogger as a Sick Puppy

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

With profuse apologies to James Joyce.

When you sweat the bed first it is warm and then it gets cold. Claaammy, Claaaaamy, Clammy’s in love. Kick them off! Kick them off! Ah, air. No no too cold. Covers. Covers and hot water bottle. Hug hot water bottle. Mmmmm warm… Why do my ribs hurt? I think I smell weird. Yeah, I definitely smell weird. Sweat. Gross. Fluids, fluids, fluids, bed rest. The water’s too cold. The tea is too hot. Oh god not sweat again. I ALREADY SMELL WEIRD.

Warm nourishing broth. I would like it to stay inside this time please. Ohh that’s why my ribs hurt. Sleep, sleep, fitful sleep. Sit up. Turn to side. The other side. Stomach? Nope nope nope nope definitely not stomach. Curled up in fetal. With trusty hot water bottle.

Through swimming eyes, 50 comments. Kind, thoughtful, funny. sweet. Warmer than a hot water bottle. I am suffused with gratitude.

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