Friday, May 22, 2015

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb #37

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb is a round-up of brand spankin' new history articles, selected by yours truly. Click on the link to be directed to the home site where you can read a professional being professional in their entirety.

The only way to avoid the curse is to leave the theatre, walk around it three times, spit over your left shoulder and curse. (seriously)

Documents that were declassified on Wednesday shed new light on the mindset of Al-Qaeda's founder, his debates over tactics, his anxiety over Western spying and his fixation with the group's media image.

A code-cracking botanist claims to have identified this image of a man with “film star good looks” as the only contemporary portrait of the Bard. In a five-year quest with echoes of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, Mark Griffiths is convinced he has made “the literary discovery of the century”.

In 400 words or less, History Extra wants you to tell them about your favorite historical place and why your chosen location is so special. The winner will see their entry published in the December 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine, and a whole lotta other goodies.

The roughly-hewn stones, which are around 3.3 million years old, have been hailed by scientists as a “new beginning to the known archaeological record” and push back the dawn of culture by 700,000 years.

On May 19, 1780, New Englanders awoke to find a murky haze drifting over the morning sun. An early twilight descended over the next few hours, and by noon, the skies had turned as black as midnight. It would be centuries before scientists finally determined the cause of the otherworldly darkness, but at the time, many bewildered Americans feared that nothing less than the biblical “end of days” was at hand.

Much of the world is looking on with horror as ISIS storms the ancient city of Palmyra. Smugglers who trade in the booming black market of Syrian antiquities, though, say they sense a lucrative opportunity. The overrunning of the ancient city has triggered a torrent of lament for its priceless remnants of history.

The intermittent struggle beginning on May 22, 1455 resulted in the capture, disappearance or death of scores of English nobles and would-be kings, and eventually gave rise to a new royal dynasty that ruled for more than a century. Five hundred sixty years after it began, learn nine key facts about the bloody feud that permanently altered the course of British history.

Friday, May 15, 2015

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb #36

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb is a round-up of brand spankin' new history articles, selected by yours truly. Click on the link to be directed to the home site where you can read a professional being professional in their entirety.

In the early part of his career, King played to exclusively black audiences, but his heartfelt vocals and undeniable talent saw him embraced by a much broader fanbase as time went on - touring Europe and topping the charts. King, known for his hits My Lucille, Sweet Little Angel and Rock Me Baby, died in his sleep in Las Vegas.

The new film is squarely in the tradition of apocalyptic literature -- a genre of storytelling which goes back into ancient mythology and religion. Discovery visits a few key moments in the history of the apocalypse story.

The animal mummification industry that thrived in ancient Egypt held a secret which was not revealed for almost 3,000 years: around a third of the carefully wrapped religious offerings are boneless — and, for the most part, empty.

Without Winston Churchill’s leadership, Britain arguably wouldn’t have survived its darkest hour and successfully repelled the Nazi menace. But without his wife, Clementine, Churchill might never have become prime minister. By his own admission, the Second World War would have been “impossible without her.”

The man most closely associated with the foiled 17th-century gunpowder plot to assassinate James VI and I can be likened to a jihadist of today, the head of a counter-extremism think tank has said.

Nikola Tesla was a famed and eccentric inventor, philosopher, and futurist. With nearly 300 patents to his name, Tesla made significant contributions to the study of electricity and radio transmission.
The Greek government has finally acknowledged that the British Museum is the lawful owner of the “Elgin Marbles”. The surprise announcement came only 48 hours after Amal Clooney sent the Greek government a 150-page report admitting that there was only a 15% chance of their success in a British court. However, quite understandably, the Greek government has decided that what Clooney is really saying is that they have no case.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Title: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Author: Erik Larson
Pages: 448 pages
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Crown
Genre: History; Military; Naval
My Rating: 4/5

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. 

Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.

In the early stages of World War I, there were so many precautionary measures taken to prevent such a maritime catastrophe. Germany was warned at taking action against neutral merchant ships to avoid war with the United States. A police detective was put on the Lusitania to keep watch #fail. A new zig-zag method was suggested for ships to better dodge U-boats. You know, like running from an alligator. 

Preventative acts aside, there are so many puzzle pieces that, once put together, culminated in the sinking of the Lusitania. This was the era where the speed of ship seemed to define the ability of a cruise line and of its captain. Cruise lines competed to be on top but also looked at all angles to cut costs. The Lusitania steamed to Britain using three of their four stacks to conserve coal. 

Originally built to accommodate the military if need-be, the Lusitania was built with the hull of a battleship. Also known as a big red fuckin' flag when you are the captain of a German U-boat. Walter Schweiger and his crew had no communication with their military command. Too far away from Germany to have a decent radio signal, they were told upon their departure to cruise around Britain and use their best judgement when deciding to blow stuff up. Schweiger stumbled upon the Lusitania far outside his designated patrol grounds. On his return trip to Germany.

The Lusitania was in the right place at the wrong time. Germany's U-20 submarine was in the wrong place at the right time. The culmination of so many factors was the perfect storm for sinking an ocean liner.

Larson humanizes the story by giving several individual accounts of Lusitania and U-20 passengers. There are some interesting characters here: spiritualists, book collectors, art collectors, rich, poor, young, old, and a Vanderbilt sprinkled in for good measure. It's like James Cameron's Titanic. Sappy love story included. I'm not sure why President Woodrow Wilson and Edith's courtship was frequently touched upon, but Larson did a damn thorough job of painting the complete picture of the world during the war. So much so, that I tended to forget there was a boat at the center of this story.

I have one qualm with this book: the style of it was like a novel. No pictures. Chapters with vague titles like 'Bloody Monkeys' and 'Jump Rope and Caviar'. The density of this history wasn't easily digestible this way. I couldn't make it through the first 13 pages for a very very long time. I rented the audiobook just to give my eyes a rest. But Scott Brick narrated it. And his drawl was agonizing. It took me three weeks to slog through the first 90 pages. And only a week to get through the remainder. Lemme tell you, it gets good.

I highly recommend the audio book. But only if you speed up Brick's narration to at least 1.5x the original pace. The story of the Lusitania is important. And it's the 100th anniversary of the sinking, so educate yo' self.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this honest review.

Additional links

Friday, May 8, 2015

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb #35

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb is a round-up of brand spankin' new history articles, selected by yours truly. Click on the link to be directed to the home site where you can read a professional being professional in their entirety.

It was on 8 May 1945 that Allied forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, marking the end of the war in Europe. But it was not the end of WW2. It would take another three months before Japan surrendered. Events have been held across Europe to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two on the continent.

New study of Iceman reveals oldest known example of red blood cells at
A team of researchers with the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, has found examples of the oldest known samples of red blood cells. The team explains how they found the red blood cells and why they now believe the Iceman died very quickly.

By paying tribute to both sides of the family and promoting the continuity for which the monarchy is so famed, Will and Kate received worldwide praise and resounding public approval for their name selection. Their decision was expected to be a conservative one, but it is one steeped in royal history and family tributes galore.

Biggest Cheats in Sports History at Discovery
The NFL this week released a report following an independent investigation of the New England Patriots' now notorious "Deflategate" incident, in which the eventual Super Bowl champions were accused of deflating balls for the AFC championship game. The conclusion of the latest scandal ensures that the team will join the pantheon of the greatest cheats in sports history. In this slideshow, meet some of the other athletes to hold that inglorious title.

On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat operating off the coast of Ireland fired a torpedo into RMS Lusitania, causing the massive ocean liner to list precariously and then sink in just 18 minutes. The attack, part of Germany’s campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare, killed 1,198 passengers and crewmembers, including 128 Americans.

These History-Making Artifacts Can Only be Found at Presidential Libraries at Smithsonian
From coconut shells to boat cloaks, these mementos tell fascinating tales from American presidential history and are on display at the presidential library museums around the nation.

A 55kg bar of silver found in shallow waters off Saint Marie island may have belonged to the notorious 17th-century Scottish pirate.

As the centenary of Orson Welles is marked, we look at the alleged mass panic he caused with a hoax alien invasion broadcast of The War of the Worlds in 1938.
Mostafa Min, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has reportedly approved an old project to build a replica of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The new lighthouse will be erected near the location of the original, which was damaged by a series of earthquakes, on the island of Pharos.

Friday, May 1, 2015

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb #34

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb is a round-up of brand spankin' new history articles, selected by yours truly. Click on the link to be directed to the home site where you can read a professional being professional in their entirety.

A baby born in India with a parasitic twin last week is being touted as a god. This isn't the first time this has happened.

This Fluffy Little Dinosaur Had Bat-Like Wings at Smithsonian
Best Headline Ever alert.

This is the story of the Sultana, a steamboat that was licensed to carry only 376 passengers. But had 2 thousand fuckin' 400 people on board. The boat sank en route on the Mississippi river. Most of the 1,800 who perished didn't know how to swim.

Queen Mother learned to shoot Buckingham Palace rats in case Nazis tried to kidnap Royal family at Telegraph

WARNING: Gruesome stuff here. Through the 20 years of the war from 1955 until the Fall of Saigon in 1975, hundreds of photojournalists captured unforgettable images of tragedy, compassion and desperation.

Cleopatra. Comin' atcha. She is one of best-known women in history, famed for her supposed beauty and intellect, and her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. But most of what we think we know about Cleopatra is merely the echo of Roman propaganda.
Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, will not attend a celebration in Moscow in May of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. Did anyone think he would?

The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday has so far killed more than 3,600 people, injured at least 6,500 and crushed to the ground hundreds of buildings -- and iconic landmarks. The (few) pics are insane.

Although this article was first published in 2005, Telegraph just put it up on their site this week. Because 2005 was pre-internet or something. Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, the man behind the controversial film about Hitler called Downfall talks about the dangers of portraying him as a human being. "We've internalised a kind of taboo against playing him."

Liquid Mercury Discovered Beneath Teotihuacan Pyramid at Archaeology
“Large quantities” of liquid mercury have been discovered in a chamber at the end of a tunnel located beneath the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan. The mercury could indicate that archaeologists are closing in on the first royal tomb to be found in Teotihuacan. They believe the mercury could have symbolized an underworld river or lake.