Category Archives: History

Books Environmental politics History Science

Notes from The Running Hare: The Secret of Farmland by John Lewis-Stempel

p. 25 All farms used to have an untidy corner where machinery went to die, and where thistles and nettles grew. Intensive farming has all but done away with these little no-man’s-land nature reserves; modern farms are as obsessively tidy as showroom Hygena kitchens.”

p. 26 “The Romans, who may well have introduced the hare to Britain, were keen hare-eaters. … Pliny the Elder advocated a diet of hare as a means of increasing sexual attractiveness…. Pliny’s ther proposition concerning hares was almost entirely contradictory: he declared the animals were hermaphrodites – a belief which eventually got worked into Christianity. Hares are a recurrent motif in British church architecture, standing for reproduction without loss of virginity .. p105 As with many animals sacred to older religions, medieval Christians changed the hair into an animal f ill-omen, saying witches shape-shifted into hare form to suck cows dry. Sailors considered hares so unlucky they could not be mentioned at sea. And not just sailors; country folk refused to call the hare by its name. p. 227 Hares have large hearts to enable them to achieve such speed. Up to 1.8% of body weight, compared to 0.3% for a rabbit.”

p. 56 “how ploughmen used to tell whether the earth was warm enough to sow (they’d drop their trousers and sit on the ground: if the bare bottom could bare the earth it was warm enough.”

p. 84 To walk behind a horse and harrow is to bring one into accord with all the ages. .. In harrowing half an acre Willow [Shetland pony] and I walk five miles. No one except kings and clergy was fat in the time of the horse… I am happy harrowing, an emotional state which may, according to scientists at the University of Bristol, be enhanced by soil itself. A specific soil bacterium, Mycobacteriyum vaccae, activates a set of serotonin-releasing neurons in the dorsal raphe nucles of the brain, the same ones targeted by Prozac. You can get an effective dose of Mycobacterim by walking in the wild, or gardening. “
p. 126 “The first wildflowers in my personal ploughland … are scarlet pimpernel, and common field speedwell, both delicate bejewelled creepers over ground, one red, the other blue. Their seed has been harboured safe in the earth for years: common field speedwell can germinate after 20 years. … as common on roadside verges as it is in arable fields, and travellers in years gone by sewed the flower into the lining of their coats as a charm.”

p. 137 Corn marigold is as old as British agriculture itself, since it was probably brought here by the Neolithic people. Arable farmers, however, have never warmed to its sunny splendour, since the fleshy leaves impeded the harvest reaping. Henry II issued an ordinance against “a certain plant called Gold”, requiring tenants t uproot it, which was probably the earliest enactment demanding the destruction of a weed. In A Boke of Husbandry, 1523, John Fitzherbert included ‘Gouldes’ in his blacklist of plants that ‘doe muche harme’.”
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Books History Women's history

Notes from Women and Political Insurgency: France in the Mid-Nineteenth Century by David Barry

p. 51 “The evidence about women arrested in June 1848 confirms in detail what contemporary writers say in general terms about accessory roles, but also reveals that some female participants plated a determined and assertive role … Forty of the 118 women convicted on the list in register F 2585 are known to have plated what may be termed a primary role in the June Days: specifically they built barricades, appeared armed on them, fired on troops from barricades or windows, sounded the alarm by ringing the local steeple bell, and organised the defence of their own quarter, including inciting men to battle. Undoubtedly some of these militant women were acting on political motives, and a few had a past history of insurgency. A 76-year-old veteran of previous revolutions, Veuve Anne-Marie Henry, a retired dressmaker, led women in the fighting on the barricade of Rue des Trois-Couronnes in Belleville. Described by the historian Pierre Dominique as ‘an old virago’, Veuve Henry demanded arms at the Mairie de Belleville with the dry ‘Kill and assassinate’. She threatened to stab those who dismantled the barricades, exclaiming ‘There they are, the brigands who took down the barricade, kill them.’ And declared that, had she had her knife to hand, she would have plunged it into their stomachs. In particular, she designated the home of a chandler named Lhomme for attack. A wood-carver, Elisabeth Guibal, of the Faubourg St Antoine, who had been wonded in the shooting on the Boulevard des Capucines on 23 February, lost her claim to a state pension when it was discovered that during the June Days she had run around the streets carrying a sabre, smashing gunshop windows in order to steal arms. Arrested on 25 June, Guibal was denounced by her whole neighbourhood for being constantly at the barricades of the Faubourg St Antoine, and attempting to terrorize the tenants of the quarter into joining the rebellion by threatening to set their houses on fire. … Augstine Falaise, a young piano-teacher of the Place des Vosges, (then still referred to as the Place Royale) tore up a pavement in the Rue du Temple with her two cousins, in Febrary 1848, for which action they earned the nickname Depauvesues; in June the three women helped erect barricades in the Rue Jarente and Rue du Val Ste Catherine, their radical affiliations leading many later to testify against them. Another woman with a revolutionary past who may well have participated in the June Days before evading arrest and disappearing for two years was Louise Bretagne, the veteran of 1830 and 1832. In 1848 she was living in the Rue Mouffetard and working as a washerwoman and was reported to be very poor and frequently drunk.
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Books History

Notes from Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings by Jean Manco

p. 129 China also gained domesticated sheep, horses and wheeled vehicles via this trail across the steppe. … A team investigated sheep DNA from four Bronze Age archaeological sites in nothern China. All but one of their camples carried mtDNA A, the most common today in all Chinese sheep and most Mongolian sheep. This haplogroup is found in the Near East and seems to have undergone an expansion around the time of domestication there. It is common in the North Caucasuses and middle Volga region. So it would appear that long-wool sheep arrived in the Far East in the Bronze Age via the nomads of the Eurasian steppe. Wool was to come a staple of nomadic life.”

p. 197 The estimate of the total number of Roman slaves over the 1,000 years of the rise and fall of the empire is over 100 million people. The majority were born into slavery.This limits the use of isotope analysis to identify the origins of Roman slaves, for it can only tell us whether an individual had travelled to the place where they were buried. An isotope study of the cemetery at the imperial estate of Vagnari in Iralty did tease out a few foreigners. Their mtDNA haploagroups were not particularly informative … the sample did contain at least one far-travelled individual from East Asia.”

Books History

Notes from The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010 by Selina Todd

p. 23 “Employers portrayed service as being distinct from other forms of wage labour, though, in reality, servants entered the labour market for the same reason as all other workers; they needed the money. In 1911 The Times published a flurry of letters opposing the Act, penned by such dignitaries as Lady Portsmouth, Lady Stanley and Sir William and Lady Bull. They declared that national insurance would “weaken the kindly ties between masters and servants” yet also that the Act would “place… a premium on malingering.”. They suggested that “the splendid record of health and reluctance to give in which our maidservants have established” was only down to their harsh working conditions and lack of benefits. Give these young working women any licence and they were likely to become feckless and irresponsible… Until 1911 the law agreed that employers’ needs should come first: the only legal obligations that a servant’s employer had to fulfil were the provision ‘of necessary food, clothing’ and lodging’; they were also prohibited from inflicting ‘any bodily harm’ on servants sufficient to endanger life or permanently damage their health. servants’ working hours and conditions were unregulated; many endured 12-hour days and few holidays (typically a Sunday once a week, a half day once a fortnight, and a week’s unpaid annual leave.”

p. 36 “In the month between the fall of Lloyd George’s post-war coalition and the general election, Bonar Law appointed Arthur Griffith-Boascawen, the 57-year-old son of a Denbighshire landowner, as minister of health. His brief included that nagging post-war problem: housing. … Life was hard in [overcrowded] conditions, particularly for women who struggled to keep their homes clean. Winifred Foley gret up in a ‘two-up, two-down miner’s cottage in the Forest of Dean, which housed her family of six until Winifred left to enter service in 1928. In her village, as in many others, overcrowding was made worse by the fact that there were ‘no drains and no dustmen’ and no electricity… Boscawen was … an experienced Conservative politician, well respected in the senior ranks of the party. … Yet he began his new role by refusing to honour the promise of the wartime coalition to build more homes. Boscawen dismissed the notion that working class voters required better housing, and advised young couples to continue sharing their parents’ cottages and tenements rather than seeking a home of their own. “In China and the East generally,” he declared, “they continue tolive under the parental roof quite contentedly.” … Unfortunately for Boscawen, many of his voters disagreed with his assessment. In the general election of November 1922 he lost his seat, after just one month in post.”

p. 48 “At a time when the vast majority of British people were working class, Baldwin’s presentation of trade unionists as a ‘minority’ committed to ‘anarchy was curious to say the last. … Like Baldwin, Britain’s press represented the country’s workers as a stubborn minority whose aims were beyond comprehension. Many liberal and left-leaning middle-class people simply took for granted that they represented the mainstream of British society and that their opinions were common sense, while those of the unionists were either radical or irrational.”

p. 74 (In the early 30s) “Young workers were cheap. Employers justified paying them low wages by claiming that they were ‘pin money workers’, who only worked for spending money. Yet the reality, as Winifred Holtiby observed, was that young wage-earners bore heavy responsibilities. Norman Savage grew up in Manchester. His father’s long-term unemployment led Norman to take casual jobs through his schooldays; he worked in a shop before and after school, and as a delivery boy in the school holidays. When he left school in the early 1930s, he and his oldest sister became responsible for keeping their family of six. … Peggy Few, who grew up in Nottingham, felt fortunate to find work at the city’s Players cigarette factory when she left school in the early 1930s. The factory paid good wages and conditions were reasonable .. in the mid-1930s, hoever, Peggy learned that this could be a mixed blessing. The day after she received a wage rise, her father’s unemployment assistance was stopped: ‘he cried like a baby and so did I’.”

p. 87-91 “In 1938 the work of the Women’s Health Committee culminated in the publication of working Class Wives. Margery Spring wrote up this study, which was based on interviews with 1,250 working-class women. They included the wives of wage-earners as well as women married to unemployed men, and country-dwellers as well as those living in inner-city slums. The voices of such a broad sample helped make Spring Rice’s most powerful argument that a rise in maternal mortality testified to widespread illness caused by poverty.” [Between 1923 nd 1933 the maternal mortality rate rose by 23%.].. She pointed out that a national health service, better unemployment benefit and state intervention to create work would result in ‘an incalculable saving in expenditure in the cure of disease and the tinkering with destitution.’ While voluntary and charitable organisations had done a great deal of good, they necessarily focused on those in most dire need of help; what was required was a new emphasis on prevention.”

p. 93 “The sight of dole queues filled with miners, craftsmen and clerks – the so-called ‘respectable’ working class and even the lower middle class – made many middle-class opinion-formers realise that hardship was arbitrary. Means-testing added to people’s indignities at a time of great stress, and for little gain: punitive welfare did nothing to reduce the number of those who were unemployed, and could severely damage the health of women and children, as well as that of unemployed men. The means test was designed to limit welfare provision but its implementation assisted a campaign to make social welfare a universal entitlement.”

p. 138 IN March 1941, at Bevin’s bequest, the government quietly abolished the household means test.”

p. 142 “Beveridge’s proposals aimed to free all Britons from want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. The state would be responsible for ensuring that its citizens had the basic means to live (a ‘national minimum’) though workers had to contribute to this through insurance payments. This element of the scheme was necessary, he said, so that workers would experience ‘the duty and pleasure of thrift’ underpinning the scheme, he stressed, must be a government commitment to full employment… Beveridge’s stress on self-help and his assumption that ‘free donations’ would lead to idleness indicated that older suspicions about the moral fibre of the working class hadn’t disappeared. Nevertheless, by arguing for universal welfare provision that wasn’t policed by the means test, Beveridge had destroyed the distinction between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ that had penalized so many needy people before the war.”

p. 162 “The government refused to address the needs of women workers both because of the potential expense and because of their short-sighted belief that most working women would eventually be replaced by men… Britain’s economic recovery depended on mass-production and domestic consumption of cars, domestic appliances, electrical goods and clothing … employers in these industries preferred to employ cheap, unskilled and semi-skilled workers, primarily juveniles and women, rather than more expensive adult men. But Attlee’s Cabinet clung to the notion, lond enshrined in the labour movement’s campaigns, that the ideal family was one that could be kept by a single male breadwinner. Women’s pay and conditions were treated as matters of secondary importance. In 1946 the government pleaded financial pressure as a reason to ignore the recommendations of a Royal Commission on Equal Pay, which advocated equal pay for men and women in teaching and the higher grades of the civil services. In 1948 female factory workers eared, on average, 74s 6d a week – about half the average male wage.”

p. 202 “In the late 1850s the number of people with consumer goods like televisions increased, but their insecurity remained, especially in those areas of northern England and Scotland’s industrial belt that had been hardest-hit bay inter-war depression. In the early 1960s sociologists studied 500 households in inner-city Liverpool and a more prosperous southern suburb of Woolton. They found that more than 80 per cent of these families relied on some form of credit. Among them was Joan Hicks, a 41-year-old housewife who lived in Woolton with her husband Bill, an engineer, and their two teenaged children. The Hicks family owned their small terraced house and Bill was in skilled work. Nevertheless, when Joan was asked if she had trouble making ends meet, she answered ‘yes’ without hesitation. ‘Have to go without to keep up mortgage payments and pay for groceries and TV,’ she said.”

Books Early modern history History

From “Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World” by Nicholas Terpstra

p. 140-142 Al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Wazan al-Fasi (c. 1494-1554)
“He was born in Granada shortly after the Spanish conquest, and by some accounts his mother was a Jewish convert to Islam. The family soon joined the diaspora that saw many thousands of Granadan Muslims cross to North Africa. They relocated to Fez, where an uncle served in the sultan’s court. His uncle’s influence secured a university education and a place in court for al-Hasan al-Wazan and when barely a teenager he travelled with the uncle on diplomatic missions into the Maghreb to Timbuktu. At 21 he went on his own to the Ottoman court in Istanbul. He witnessed the Ottoman conquest of Mamluk Egypt in 1517 and travelled further into Egypt in 1517, and into Arabia before returning home in 1518. He never arrived. Catholic corsair pirates working with the crusading order of St John out of the island of Rhodes seized the ship and imprisoned the passengers. When they realised that the 24-year-old boy was a university-educated diplomat from a prominent Moorish family they bundled him off to Rome where, after a short stay in the papal prison of Castel San Angelo he was presented to Pope Leo X… In 1520 al-Hazan al-Wazan converted to Catholicism and was baptized by Pope Leo X himself with the Latin name of Joannes Leo de Medici; most people in Rome referred to him simply as Giovanni Leone… he was a potential intelligence asset at a time when the pope feared the Ottomans would attack Italy from their new territories along the North African coast … He translated the epistles of St Paul into Arabic, in 1521, although his later writings and actions make it clear that his ‘conversion’ was a strategic and not a spiritual act. …It also set the stage for his most famous work, The Description of Africa, whose popularity led many to call him ‘Leo Africanus’. … {he] wrote this after a few years travelling around Italy during which he lived with a family of Jewish Iberian exiles in Bologna and wrote some other works on Arabic medicine and grammar … Al-Hasan al-Wazan disappeared just before some of Charles V’s unpaid and restless Germany mercenaries sacked Rome in 1527 … he most likely returned to Tunis and Islam. He may have journeyed to Fez, although there is no record of him in either place, or anywhere else for that matter. He seems not to have realised his oft-stated goal of writing an account of Europe for Muslims.”

p. 147 “Elizabeth Dirks was a Frisian girl sent to a convent by her noble family. Hearing of the execution of a local Anabaptist, she began studying the Latin New Testament and was drawn to radicalism. A year in convent prison failed to shake her convictions, and she fled disguised as a milkmaid, taking shelter with an Anabaptist family. She worked and taught with Menno Smons, and may have been the first Mennonite deaconess; those who captured her in January 1549 took her to be Menno’s wife. The arrest launched months of investigation. As reported in The Bloody Theater or Martyr’s Mirror (1660) Elizabeth parried firmly and intelligently with her interrogators, and their exchanges show a woman with a sure grasp of scripture ad doctrine, calmly confident, firmly pacifist, and not in the least intimidated by their power and authority. … they turned to torture in order to get the names of her accomplices,… but she never betrayed her faith or fellow believers. After two months she was executed in the fashion that some authorities reserved for these radicals, like Elizabeth, who had been rebaptized; she was sewn alive into a sack and thrown into the river – the so-called third baptism of drowning.”

Books History

Notes from Back to the Garden: Nature and the Mediterranean World from Prehistory to the Present by James H.S. McGregor

p. 25 “In recent decades new research into agricultural history has overturned paradigms that many of us learnt at school. We were taught that large-scale farming began in the Fertile Crescent when Mesopotamian chieftains consolidated their hold over multiple towns and create bureaucracies that coordinated the work of irrigating grain fields. … The theory had its roots in 19th-century concerns … the narrative of state-formation, which was the major political preoccupation of post-Napoleonic Europe, was further linked with the origins of the coercive power of the community – that is to say, the origins of war…. What prehistorians now believe is quite different. The agricultural revolution came about in fits and starts; it was by no means the creation of a single culture. Its great effect was achieved by the combination of scattered discoveries into a readily adaptable package of seeds herds and techniques of cultivation…. Researchers in other fields began to revise long-accepted views of the nutritional soundness of cultivated crops. What for generations had seemed to be a positive, progressive emergence from the dark uncertainties of the Paleolithic period was turned on its head. A utopian view of the Paleolithic is now far more common, along with a nagging sense that a lot of today’s proglems can be traced to the Neolithic Revolution, the beginning of today’s problems.”
p. 17
Jericho … when excavators reached the earliest levels,.. what they found contradicted everything they believed. Pottery had always been seen as a necessary part of the agricultural revolution. Theorists believed that it was re required to store grain and oil and carry water to houses and fields. Yet there was no pottery in the earliest levels at Jericho. The people of Jericho were sedentary and lived in houses surrounded by a high wall, but much of their diet cam from hunting and foraging. … The third feature of Jericho that confounded theory was the importance of trade to a society with no obvious social hierarchy.” Argument that grain at this time rare and precious – being grown on silt deposited by spring floods in an area with little rainfall – so a luxury commodity rather than a staple. They also had naturally occurring bitumen to trade.
p. 18 Catalhoyuk – in the earliest phases of city life the meat of wild aurochs was the mainstay… evidence of widespread and diverse trade. The quantity and quality of the imported goods that the city could afford poses the question of what they had to offer in exchange. Noting that the skulls and bones of aurochs became smaller over time, Sherratt and others have suggested that Catalhoyuk may have been the first place wild aurochs were domesticated. … less robust and less aggressive. … When domestication of cattle became a widespread practice, the city lost its commercial edge and simply vanished.
p. 53 Home ground for the matriarchal view of early societies is a group of farming communities that began to spread through the Danube Valley 7,000 years ago. … recognition of a culture of ‘Old Europe’. This culture flourished in much of the Danube basin from the western coat of the Black Sea eastward into the rich soils of Hungary. The culture was precocious and longlasting. It rested on a Neolithic package that originated in the Levant and reached the region through Greece. Between 5,000 and 3,500 BC the civilization of the Danube valley was one of the largest and most technically proficient in the world… the earth was moist, deep and easy to cultivate… the Danube floodplain covered hundreds of square miles… large expanses of rich soil encouraged housing clusters and the villages of Old Europe could be quite large, certainly bigger than any housing concentrations that had existed before this time….houses were relatively uniform… though plenty of pottery and skilled metalwork have been found in burials throughout the region, the villages had no potters’ or metalworkers quarters, nor any evidence of social hierarchy. There were no obvious headmen’s houses and certainly no palaces. There is no evidence of a priestly caste, and there are no distinct shrines or temples. Religion appears to have been a matter of household practice. … the most common art objects are small, portable figures… by far the greatest number are of women … one obvious characteristic of the figurines is their obesity. Whether that represents an ideal of beauty or even of fecundity, the figurines clearly show the effects of plentiful nourishment. … Female dominance in one sphere did not carry over into another, and contemporary specialists believe that these communities were not strictly matriarchal. Men seem to have controlled external relations involving trade and negotiations with neighbouring chiefs, while the rituals represented by the female figurines seem to have emphasized the dominant role of women inside the house, and perhaps were connected with ancestor cults centred on their mothers and aunts.”
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