Things We Did To History In 2014

Dracula Untold

This was the year I started this blog and, looking at how popular it has been, I think it was a good time to do so. 2014 has been a very interesting year for history. We really won’t just let it stay in the past. We insist on bringing it up again and again, and we don’t mind distorting it for our own entertainment. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to run down the top 12 posts of the last year for your consumption.

#12 American food in Lord of the Rings

This February blog argued that, if Middle Earth is supposed to be set in prehistoric Europe, the tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins are completely out of place. What’s more, strictly speaking, it probably should be cannabis they are smoking, not tobacco.

Radagast the Brown gets high
If ‘Old Toby’ was really just tobacco, would it have this affect?

#11 Counterfactual histories are *so* hot right now

When it comes to history in popular culture, counterfactual histories (which did not happen, and would’ve changed the course of history if they had) are pretty damn popular. Don’t be surprised if we revisit this topic later. Hat tip to Alternate History for linking to this article.

Assassin's Creed I's Altair
Assassin’s Creed I’s Altair

#10 Chatting with Brick to the Past

2014 has also been the year of the Lego brick, with the franchise releasing a major blockbuster this year. In much the same spirit, I had a conversation with James Pegrum, who specialises in building historical Lego models. Since that conversation, he has set up a group, called Brick to the Past, and they go from strength to strength.

I’m a firestarter by James Pegrum
I’m a firestarter – courtesy of James Pegrum – the Great Fire of London begins

#9 Interviewing Mr Happle Tea: Scott Maynard

We are very lucky to have spoken to a large number of creative history fans this year. One man who embodies this trait is Scott Maynard, the illustrator behind the Happle Tea web comic. If you’re into crude humour and interesting historical facts, this is the place for you.

Horus gets The Talk
With a back-story like this, who needs childhood trauma?

#8 The time that cinema forgot

As someone who is interested in film and history, I can’t help but notice that some time periods just don’t get the same kind of coverage that others do. In this blog, I got all analytical and worked out exactly *how* neglected those periods are. Verdict? There’s plenty of scope for more films throughout our earlier history, but that imbalance isn’t likely to be fixed any time soon.

graph showing that recent history is far more popular as a film subject than older topics
Prehistory is particularly neglected

#7 Historical Honey tells us what historical figures would be doing now

Bored with modern celebrities? The lovely Historical Honey gave us a guest blog about what the heroes and villains of our past would get up to if they were around today. Would they slink to the shadows? Or are they more likely to grab the limelight, ever the attention grabber? What do you think?

What would Lucezia Borgia be doing now?
Is this what Lucezia Borgia would be doing now?

#6 Anne Boleyn is my spirit animal

One thing that I definitely needed to address this year is just why Anne Boleyn is so popular with the world of web historians. Because she is. If historians anywhere need a figurehead, this woman is, apparently, the one to go for. Thanks again to Historical Honey for the inspiration.

Anne Boleyn
Natalie Portman’s Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl

#5 Profiling the most influential wizard in the modern age

Alan Moore is, primarily, a graphic novelist. But he’s also a wizard, and a cult icon, and he really doesn’t like it when people get taken advantage of. So when he cropped up in the news twice in one week, in historically-related areas, I figured it was only fair we had a look at him, and why he matters.

This is Alan Moore in 2009. He's speaking at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, but I like to think he's rolling his lucky D20. Published under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0, courtesy of Matt Bidulph https://www.flickr.com/people/51035707449@N01
This is Alan Moore in 2009. He’s speaking at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, but I like to think he’s rolling his lucky D20. Published under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0, courtesy of Matt Bidulph https://www.flickr.com/people/51035707449@N01

#4 Vampires; what history wouldn’t say if it could speak

If there’s one vaguely-historical thing the public loves, it’s vampires. They’ve got that whole neck-nibbling thing going on. What with them being immortal, any film, TV series, or game that features them could quite justifiably see itself heading into the past at some point. But how helpful are vampires as a medium for history?

Dracula Untold
Dracula as he probably never looked

#3 That time I interviewed a YouTube sensation

Epic Rap Battles of History is an important part of modern culture, inasmuch as it teaches young people about important historical figures through the medium of confrontational music and aggressive posturing. With that in mind, I felt it was only appropriate to get one of the show’s creators in to discuss the hows and whys of the show.

 

#2 Someone we should all know more about

Janine Spendlove is a high school history teacher/US Marine/pilot/published author/mother/historical cosplayer. While all of those things are pretty impressive, and combined they’re are totally awesome, it was that last one that particularly interested us. We had a chat with the woman behind the outfits to find out how she does it.

Janine's Wonder Woman costume
Janine’s Wonder Woman costume

#1 When feminist satire ruled history

By far my most popular blog this year has been the time I interviewed Erin and Morag from Manfeels Park. The web comic combines quotes from actual comment threads and combines them with art from Jane Austen films, to highlight just how silly they are. Further comment threads ensue.

Mansplaining Manfeels Park
Real-world comments, in the mouths of Jane Austen characters

And that’s about it. It has been a busy first year for History Mine, and of course, we’ll be back next year. I’d like to end by giving further nods to people like Jamie (of History Behind Game of Thrones) and Kelly (of The Archaeology of Tomb Raider) for their support. Happy New Year everybody!

Night at the (British) Museum: fact and fantasy

British Museum blog

Sian Toogood, Broadcast Manager, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, British Museum

In the century or so since the birth of film, the British Museum has had many cameras within its galleries, labs and libraries. For the most part they have been filming documentaries, unravelling mysteries of the Museum’s collection, but every once in a while the Museum gets to participate in the organised chaos that is feature film production. In the past we have had Hitchcock in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery, Merchant Ivory in the Assyrian Galleries and Phaedra in the Parthenon Galleries; we can now add Fox to this pantheon, with their third installment of the hugely popular Night at the Museum series: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.

NATM3_QUAD_544

I was extremely pleased when I was approached by Fox, not because it was a fantastic opportunity to get more people interested in…

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The ‘Romans going beyond the wall’ trope

King Arthur, Rome, and Hadrian's Wall

In the past decade or so Hadrian’s Wall has cropped up a bunch of times in popular culture.

Hell, these films all had the same basic plot:

  • King Arthur
  • The Eagle
  • Centurion

To whit; Roman dude and his buddies go ‘beyond the wall’, do things, several of the gang die, the hero returns home worse off for the experience. If you watch Game of Thrones, Jon Snow’s storyline follows the same plot. The 2008 film Doomsday is a near-future spin on the trope.

This trailer only shows a glimpse of the wall, around the 1:10 mark.

The line ‘Open the gate, soldier’ betrays the fact that those soldiers didn’t want to open the gate. This, in turn, reflects a presumption that has gained and lost popularity over the years; that The Wall was the last bastion of civilisation before venturing into the unknown. After all, only a truly civilised culture could build such an impressive edifice, right?

If that’s the case, why do the heroes hate seeing the wall on their return? To them it, and by extension Rome, is either a symbol of betrayed trust or messed-up priorities.

When I first studied The Wall, my best parallel I came across was with the American border with Mexico. Both are designed to be crossed. The border has passport control areas, and the wall has gates every mile. There may be a power (and prosperity) difference across the wall, but it’s not as black-and-white as ‘civilised one side, barbarian on the other’.

King Arthur, Rome, and Hadrian's Wall

In each story, there is a great deal of ‘going native’: The titular Centurion goes off to shack up with a girl living north of The Wall. The hero of The Eagle turns down Roman glory, frees his slave, and decides to go into farming (actually a pretty Roman notion). And King Arthur? He marries a Briton, and becomes King. For reasons.

The real problem with each of these stories is that they are trying to capture a romantic, emotional snapshot. The reality of life in the Roman Legion, and on Hadrian’s Wall, was an entirely pragmatic one. The Wall was there to control the movement of cattle, not people. The Legions were there to maintain a balance of power.

If you want to read more on the subject, Almost Archaeology does a pretty decent analysis of the whole trope. For my own two pence, I’d like to remind the world that Hadrian’s Wall was less than 10% of a border system that stretched across Europe and Africa. I’m getting bored of misty glens and drenched, desperate Romans. Let’s get them hot and dusty instead!

Europeans reinvent historical art

There have been a few really interesting galleries on viral sites over the last week or so. It seems that photographers from a number of different European nations have been thinking about novel ways to re-imagine historical art. Since there seems to be a bit of a trend going on, I thought it might be interesting to share some of my favourites here:

First up is Swiss Italian, Christian Tagliavini, whose photos recreate the angular weirdness of Renaissance paintings, but with photo-realism.

Christian Tagliavini’s Renaissance portraits in Berlin

Or there’s French photographer, Léo Caillard, who thought that  some of the worlds greatest classical sculptures could use an update for the modern era.

Léo Caillard’s re-imagined Jesus

And finally, there’s French photographer Sacha Goldberger, who felt that Snow White would’ve been better if she’d had bunny familiars with ruffs.

I’m a sucker for a bunny in a ruff.

Of course, if you like it when people put a historical spin on a modern thing, you might like this interview with retro-cosplayer Janine Spendlove, or this one, with ‘Shakespeare’s Star Wars’ writer Ian Doescher.