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
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

#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!

Why kids like knights and soldiers

I’ve got a bit of a drunk groove on at the moment, so I’d like to share that with you while you read this blog. Grab a glass of classy red plonk and listen to the following:


So. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or w/e will know that my avatar is a Lego centurion with specs. I have a cubic brick-shaped place in my heart for the building blocks. I recently went and bought a Lego Star Wars advent calendar (get them now, kids, they’re in high demand) and it was the best £25 I have spent in recent years. The weekend before that I went to the Great Western Brick Show, and hung out with the guys at Brick to the Past, who I have previously interviewed for this very blog. So yeah, that *kids* thing in the title also applies to fully grown people.

Ross Wittenham

One of my strongest memories from childhood is of playing with a set of Playmobil  jousting knights. Which is really meta, if you think about it; a kid playing with toys of men, who are playing at warfare. Just me? Well, anyway, somewhere along the line, I thought it might be an interesting idea to dissect that whole knight-in-shining-armour fascination.

The first topic must, necessarily, be violence. People are obsessed with the thought of damaging one another, even if that only manifests itself very rarely. We are a destructive race, and kids especially. Part of that is simply because it is easier to destroy that it is to create, and the other part is that kids haven’t really developed their creative skills. Seriously, the things I saw at the Great Western Brick Show took serious thought and artistry. More concentration than most kids would be able to muster.

Lego Victorian London
My picture doesn’t do justice to Brick to the Past’s Lego Victorian London

However, you’ll also notice the relative lack of weapons in this picture. In the whole metres-long build there were only five (5) soldiers. So this is definitely something that people (mostly) grow out of.

One definite part of the fascination is all about costumes. Kids have imaginations that can turn a stick into a plethora of things, but the more props you give them, the deeper the fantasy gets. Armoured soldiers have the ultimate combination of costume and accessories, along with a distinctly defined role. You get a sword or an axe and you go out and defend your city. It’s the best thing in the world. Don’t get me wrong, princesses may have better costumes, but their exact function is way more vague. You can’t smite things if you’re a princess, can you? (Can you?)

The other side of things is that soldiery is an active thing. Beyond sportsing, fighting is one of the most active things you can do as a kid. You’re being really active with another person. Not like running, or its ilk. Toys are all well and good, but no self-respecting kid is just gonna build something and then leave it for people to admire. They want to have little people interacting, because that’s what playing is; figuring out how people interact, and why.

The booze seems to be wearing off, so I’ll stop now. Please let me know what your thoughts on the topic are though. Ross out.

A Quiet Word With: Historical Lego Modeller @peggyjdb

I’m a firestarter by James Pegrum

Two weeks ago History Mine featured a blog about Anne Boleyn, and why she is so popular online. That blog featured a picture of a Lego model, which was carefully researched and built by Mr James Pegrum. Mr Pegrum is a true artist with bricks, and a great historian, with an eye for everyday dramas as much as important historical events. I thought it was time we had a proper look at his work.

All In The Past by James Pegrum
All In The Past – courtesy of James Pegrum – Venerable Bede at work on his Ecclesiastical History of the English People

History Mine: What are Lego MOCs, and what is the appeal?

James Pegrum: MOCs are ‘my own creation’; basically something individuals come up with as opposed to a set made by Lego or somebody else. As a kid I never got on too well with Airfix and similar kit models. All that glue got messy and then the painting; oh dear. With Lego I could make a mistake and put it right as many times as I felt necessary.

I could also make my own creations, whether it be a model of something in real life or from my own imagination. My older brother used balsa wood, but I didn’t have the skill to follow him. Having continued the hobby into adulthood it has kept its appeal. It helps me unwind from work, and at the same time is highly rewarding once you have made a model. I’ve also combined it with my interest in history and, at times, architecture, which has influenced quite a few day trips!

HM: With LEGO you have to work with the bricks that are available. You’re doubly limiting yourself by building historically accurate pieces. Do you like to make things hard for yourself?

JP: Yes! For me part of the enjoyment is the challenge of trying to recreate something in Lego and keep it as close as possible to the real scene of building. The number of types of Lego bricks has increased since I was a child, and that has made it a lot easier. At the same time I’ve learnt from other adult fans of Lego (AFOLs) ways of using older bricks in different ways, it’s been amazing how much I use basic old bricks in techniques I never knew as a child. It has helped of course being able to get more bricks as an adult.

From the historical accuracy aspect, I get great enjoyment studying a building, a boat, a plane or whatever it maybe I’m modelling. In my everyday job I work in the construction industry as a surveyor and detailing is a very important part of the job, so I’ve brought that into my modelling. So if you ever see somebody at a castle looking at the stone work in close detail; that could be me!

HM: Which creations are you most proud of?

JP: That is an increasingly hard question! My Great Fire of London scene was very rewarding, from both a model and photography aspect. Lego doesn’t lend its self to wonky leaning buildings and I wanted to try to capture the old timber frame buildings of London, which came out quite well. With the lighting it took a lot of shots, but was fun

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

The Golden Hinde/Pelican is high up there for me. I have always enjoyed building ships and I visited the recreation of this ship in London with my oldest boy a few years. We spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring and taking loads of images of the ship to help me make a model. Sculpting the hull was very draining and I’m happy with how it came out.

The Golden Hind by James Pegrum
The Golden Hinde – courtesy of James Pegrum

In my top three would have to be one of bigger projects; Tigelfah Castle. This isn’t based on a real castle but takes inspiration from many castles around the UK. I tried to capture the stages of castle development is this model and keep it as realistic as possible at the same time. It has features such as working drawbridges, portcullises, toilets, fires and much more. Furthermore it was part of a team build with seven other UK AFOLs, and overall the medieval scene we created was amazing and a great privilege to be part of.

Tigelfáh Castle by James Pegrum and friends
Tigelfáh Castle – courtesy of James Pegrum – and this is only a corner of the whole build

HM: Do they get broken down once you’ve finished with them?

JP: The large majority do. Part of the appeal of Lego is that it’s recyclable (it would have to be to make it economically viable as a hobby!). The models also take up a great deal of space. That said, I have kept the Golden Hinde along with a few other smaller builds.

HM: How much planning goes into a piece?

JP: It varies depending on the size and complexity of the model. A large castle can take over a year of building and planning. With the Tigelfah castle I kept changing the layout as I progressed. A big factor is whether I have an idea/technique to hand, I’ve found as I’ve been making more models the planning is taking less time as I’ve got more techniques developed and ‘filled’ in my technique library. Recently I’ve been doing forestry scenes so have been developing how I do trees and the like.

HM: How do you go about buying the bricks? What about the very specific bricks (I think I saw a ‘dissolution of the monasteries’ that used diving flippers as gargoyle ears)?

JP: There’s a number of sources to get bricks. Going direct to Lego means you can get pretty much anything that’s current, though it does cost more. The Lego stores have a wall of parts, which can be a good source, though there parts are very limited. Other than that I use a website called Bricklink. It’s cheaper, but you can’t get everything, or in the quantity you need.

I used to buy more in bulk, though now I’ve got a good stock (particularly in light bluish grey) so it’s more about getting those few bricks to finish something off. On specific parts, I would use Bricklink, on the flippers that was a friend, Barney, he worked on the Tigelfah project, and I believe he picked them up on Bricklink.

Hot Water by James Pegrum
Hot Water – courtesy of James Pegrum – A Dubunni tribesman gives a sacrifice to the Celtic god Sulis at what is now Bath

HM: If LEGO licensed 3D printers, would you get one?

JP: Interesting idea! As long as the bricks were official Lego and at their high quality, yes! There are a number of other brands out there, but they don’t match Lego’s quality, which is why Lego are the leading brand.

HM: And is this a social activity as well?

JP: Very much so, there’s a lot social interaction done on the internet as well as public shows.  Over the years I have made good friends with other AFOLs and it hasn’t just been limited to doing group projects.  I belong to a couple of Lego user groups (LUGs, as Lego likes to call them) and these vary in social activity.  The London LUG meets in a pub, which raises a few eyebrows!

Thanks to James for sharing your thoughts. If you’d like to see more of his creations, they are available through James’s Flickr page. We’ve now spoken to guys from both sides of the Atlantic, but the rest of the world, not to mention the ladies out there, are still a bit underrepresented here. Please get in touch and help me redress the balance.