History As Stories

What’s Your Historical Catnip?

What’s Your Historical Catnip?

For the business that I just launched (www.HistoricalResearchUpdate.com), I spend a lot of time looking at titles and abstracts for scholarly journal articles about history.

Not all of them interest me, and the stuff that interests me may not interest others. As with music and movies, we don’t all like the same stuff.

In scouring thousands of articles, I’ve noticed several topics that are my catnip. I will always stop to check these out.

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great (849-ish – 899) was the King of Wessex and then King of the Anglo-Saxons. He was a well-traveled scholarly warrior and I had a huge crush on him when I was young. We know more about Alfred than other

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Let’s Take Another Music Break

Let’s Take Another Music Break

There is a lot going on this week, so I’m doing a birthday music break.

Today in 1950, Lou Gramm, lead singer for Foriegner, was born. For me, their music hasn’t aged well since the 70s, but I still love “Juke Box Hero“.

Today in 1946, Lesley Gore was born. She recorded her first hit at the age of 16 in 1963, the year I was born. Her producer at the time was Quincy Jones. Check out that first hit, “It’s My Party“.

And today in 1936, Engelbert Humperdinck was born. Not his real name, but much more memorable than Arnold George Dorsey. This song, “After the Lovin’” is from 1976, when as a 13 year-old I believed I knew everything. More importantly, Engelbert and I support the same English football team.

If you learn nothing else from me, know that when you have a crazy week, you may simply need to find some music that speaks to you.


Convict Mutiny Meets Samurai

I love breaking news about history. With new technologies like sonar, DNA testing, drones, radar, and chemical analysis, we are resolving historical mysteries faster than ever before.

But sometimes we still find answers through old-fashioned research like poring over primary sources. This is one of those research stories, about Australia during the age of convict ships and Japan during their age of isolation.

In August 1829 the ship Cyprus set sail from a port in Tasmania, heading to the a penal station also in Tasmania. The ship was carrying supplies and 62 people, 31 of whom were convicts. This was a routine trip. Easy.

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Art and Branding Lollipops

Art and Branding Lollipops

Sometimes I learn tidbits of history from the most unexpected places.

I listen to a lot of podcasts on a variety of topics, one of which is Lineker & Baker: Behind Closed Doors. It’s generally about English football and broadcasting, but sometimes goes a bit off topic. It’s great fun.

In one episode, during a story about a footballer who likes Chupa Chups lollipops, one of them mentioned that the logo for Chula Chups was created by Salvador Dali.

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Rock Springs, Wyoming

Rock Springs, Wyoming

Rock Springs is a small town in southern Wyoming with a population of about 23,000. It was created by the coal industry in the 19th century as coal was needed to fuel the trains. Those coal mines largely employed immigrants.

Historic downtown Rock Springs in 2007. Author: Milonica at en.wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

Rock Springs has self-designated as the “Home to 56 Nationalities” due to those immigrants, from Albania to Wales, who came to work in the mines. They have an International Day festival to pay tribute to those immigrants.

Rock Springs Coal sign, 2007. Author: Milonica at en.wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

But those immigrants of 56 nationalities didn’t always party well together. There was a time when, rather than inspiring local pride, this diversity sparked a massacre. read more…

Rerun: 888,246 Stories (With New Foreword)

Rerun: 888,246 Stories (With New Foreword)

I originally posted this story on Veterans Day four years ago. At the time, it was the 100-year anniversary of the year that World War I began, in 1914.

This year is the 100-year anniversary of  the year that World War I ended, so I want to take this full circle. Also, I have some new readers who may not have seen this the first time around.

As a visual person, I still like that this story helps show that 888,246 is not just a really big number, but represents so much more.

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Tomorrow, November 11, is Veterans Day in the United States, and Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in many other countries. In the United States, this is about all veterans and active duty military, whereas in other countries, it’s a memorial for those military members who died in war. No matter where you are on November 11, thank a veteran or active duty service member for their service. I’m pretty sure they don’t suffer from receiving too much gratitude from those they serve.

This observance began after World War I and is held on the day the armistice to end hostilities between the Allied Powers and Germany was signed, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. read more…

It’s Voting Day!

It’s Voting Day!

I love voting day! Ah, the combination of anticipation and concern.

I have been lucky enough to vote in Washington and California. Both have motor voter registration, where you can register to vote when you get your driver’s license. Both have mail-in ballots available so that you don’t have to leave the house if you don’t want to. Both have ample polling places so that you don’t have to spend hours in line to do your civic duty.

I am aware of how lucky I am to have voting be so easy. It’s not that way for all Americans.

Hey, look! No women! A New York polling place, showing booths on the left. Source: Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1912 via Wikimedia Commons.

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One and Done

One and Done

Wisconsin became the 30th state in 1848, twelve years after the U.S. Congress created the Wisconsin Territory in 1836.

On July 23, 1850, an Irish immigrant farmer named John McCaffary, who had arrived from Ireland in 1837, killed his wife, Bridgitt (nee McKean).

They had been married less than two years, but according to their Kenosha neighbors, there was much yelling and broken crockery on a regular basis.

But one night, Bridgett’s screams were terrified rather than angry. read more…

Royal Navy and Novels: Frederick Marryat

Royal Navy and Novels: Frederick Marryat

I remember studying some famous historical figures and thinking that they must have had brilliant public relations teams. It wasn’t that they hadn’t done some good things, but that others had done things that were just as good.

I don’t have an answer, but consider it one of those weird quirks of history.

It’s also fun to learn about someone who appears to be at least a little famous, but is new to me.

In this case, it’s odd that I haven’t heard of this historical figure because he wrote a gothic novel, The Phantom Ship. In my pre-teen years I read every gothic novel I could find at my local libraries. Ok, the reviews said that book was pretty bad, but still…

Frontispiece to the novel The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat. Published by Richard Bentley, London. 1847 edition. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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The News That Was: Krakatoa 1883

One of the most frustrating things about living through current events is that we don’t yet know the final results. Our knowledge builds over time until eventually, sometimes, the whole story is known.

But I’m always interested in what people knew at the beginning of historical “current events”. So I check out old newspapers.

The island and volcano of Krakatoa, Strait of Sunda, submerged during the late eruption Abstract/medium: 1 print : wood engraving. Photo via Wikimedia Commons and the Library of Congress.

Like this story. What we know now, 135 years after the fact, is that in August of 1883 a volcano erupted at Krakatoa over the course of two days, the 26th and 27th. Tens of thousands of people died immediately, some from the heat, ash, and gasses, but most from the tsunamis generated by the blast. Eventually the Dutch authorities estimated the death toll at 36,417. read more…

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