Oh dear. Based on the fantastic assortment of history blogging that was nominated for this August’s History Carnival, I’m afraid there’s not much hope of disproving the cliché that historians are pasty, fidgety creatures who’d much prefer to be huddled in a library or at a computer than out enjoying the summer sunshine. On the other hand, there’s considerable hope for proving that the summer sunshine is highly over-rated, and who needs to pack off to a beach anyway when we can be transported to the amazing worlds revealed by these extremely industrious history blogging goblins? More power to you, fellow creatures of the gloom!
In case you don’t know, the History Carnival is a monthly round-up of the best in history blogging, which has now been running for over a hundred installments. This month, my very first recommendation to you is to check out the Carnival’s web site, which, with its archive of every past Carnival, is a jumping off point to enough historical good stuff to fill a lifetime’s worth of summers.
- If, like me, you spend way too much of your time thinking about being in Paris but way too little actually being there, the first two blogs could be a much needed tonic. Parisian Fields is one of my very favourite blogs on the city for reasons that this post, a great piece of detective work based on a postcard the writers accidentally found, amply demonstrates. Small, seemingly trivial details are spun out bewitchingly into great tapestries that post by post tell the story of the city itself.
A postcard showing a now lost Parisian building – the subject of Parisian Field’s post A palace of commerce and a 1904 rendez-vous.
- While we’re talking about overlooked details, they don’t come much more overlooked than Stephen Sauvestre. Though Gustave Eiffel has gone down in history as the creator of the tower that bears his name, Sauvestre was responsible for adding the beauty and elegance to what had previously been a functional design, without which the Eiffel Tower simply would not be the Eiffel Tower. This terrific post on Invisible Paris examines some of Sauvestre’s other surviving buildings in Paris, which you would probably never connect with the architecture of the tower, but which are nonetheless strikingly individual buildings in a city often denigrated for its uniformity.
- More hidden treasures are unearthed at Madame Guillotine’s saucepot of a blog. Unusually, this post finds her not swishing around Versailles or fan-fluttering through Paris, but at 18 Folgate Street in Spitalfields, London. This house is one of London’s most beguiling oddities: the creation of artist Dennis Severs who set out, as Madame Guillotine puts it, “to transform the house into a living time capsule of various different periods in the district’s history”, with the feeling that its occupants of different eras have simply stepped out of the full-of-life rooms moments before you step into them. I defy you not to want to visit this place after reading this post, and seeing the sumptuous photography.
18 Folgate Street, by Madame Guillotine.
While I’m on hidden London gems, this post from the Two Nerdy History girls on obscure survivors of the once magnificent Northumberland House is typical of their interesting and prodigious output (and they always come up with the historical goods on twitter).
- More insights into the physical world of people from the past come from another of my favourite blogs – Res Obscura. It’s a wonderfully written and insightful site, to be sure, but I’m a sucker for visual aids, and it’s jaw-droppingly fabulous to look at. This post on Renaissance dress is as devilishly handsome as history web sites come, and will no doubt leave a trail of plainer, more homely blogs heartbroken and sobbing in its wake. Damn it.
- Katrina Gulliver’s Notes From the Field blog was inspired in this post by the shoddy history often peddled by ‘On This Day in History’ sites to create some really rather lovely history, starting with the (surprisingly early) invention of the fax machine and blossoming into a wide-ranging meditation on communication in general in the past century.
- There are more goodies from our scientific history chums, including The Renaissance Mathematicus’ account of how the telescope got its name. The alternatives apparently included the far less catchy “a certain device, by means of which all things at a very great distance can be seen as if they were nearby, by looking through glasses…”. Meanwhile, at his blog, Christopher M. Cevasco takes a detailed look at one of the objects telescopes have been most keenly trained upon – Halley’s Comet. Among other things, this interesing series of posts reveals the miraculous effects the comet has had on people throughout history, from inspiring the foundation of the city of Debre Berhan to the wonderful myth (albeit probably false) that Pope Calixtus III was so angered by the comet that he excommunicated it.
- Meanwhile, at the Scientific American blog, Holly Tucker tells us why you wouldn’t want to be an elderly sheep in the vicinity of Medea, and reveals other telling moments and attitudes in the early history of blood transfusion.
- It’s not only sheep who find themselves in mortal danger on history blogs this month. Atlas Obscura (whose wonders I regularly boff on about on this blog), reveals its Guide to Perilous Places around the world, where it’s a miracle human beings have ever eked out an existence. Atlas Obscura aims to be a compendium of the world’s most wondrous, least known places. Everyone with an interest in history should get involved and add to its riches.
Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe, most definitely perilous, by colis via Flickr.
- Those less lucky souls who have found themselves in perilous positions and teetered all the way over the edge are the meat and veg of Executed Today, an expanding online directory of historical executions (and a never less than interesting addition to any history buff’s twitter feed). What prevents the site from being as morbid and one-note as you might expect its sharp sense of humour and the quality of the biographical sketches of the unfortunate victims. This post on Jan Hus, religious renegade and, more surprisingly, crafter of language, is typically excellent.
- The Past Imperfect blog on Smithsonian.com pieces together the fascinating and contested tale of David O’Keefe, the red-haired Irish chancer who came to be known as king of the eastern Pacific island of Yap. This story features shipwrecks, women scorned, bad Burt Lancaster films and sea cucumbers, and makes for a treat every bit as glorious as that ingredient list promises.
- One of the more left-field suggestions this month involved the newish web service, Storify.com. This site offers a way for people to compile narratives from different sources, including social media and photography feeds, and I think has some interesting potential, both as a way of recording current events, and as a means of capturing and conveying the thrill of historical discovery and thought processes – of tracking the flowering of an idea. Declan Fleming’s story about uncovering some great papers on safety in the 50s nicely demonstrates how this site can be used.
- I’m a firm believer in (and, I must admit, less firm adherent to) the importance of not getting too lost in your own historical niches, or becoming too fanboyish about your beloved period. It’s always a good idea to get a taste of something totally unfamiliar every now and again. Zenobia: Empress of the East, as this post on the unique Mani religion shows, is an admirably researched and presented blog about a whole area of history I not only knew nothing about, but had never actually heard of before this site was submitted. Anchora offers similar, extremely detailed insights into the history of the book, and in this instance how Renaissance readers used and annotated books. Go forth and expand your minds.
- And finally, I guiltily enjoyed the shameless presidential tittle-tattle in Winning Her Way to Fame’s piece on Grover Cleveland, the old dog. This post could (and perhaps should) have been titled ‘When Presidents Go Bad’. Come back Bill, all is forgiven.
Thanks to everyone who submitted nominations (and apologies to those whose work I couldn’t include), and to Sharon Howard for passing the hosting mantle on to me – it’s been a hoot!
If you’re interested in the sort of thing you can find here at Culture&Stuff, do check out my recent series on the many treasures of Lost Paris, and leave a comment or two. Oh, and I’m always keen to stay in touch with fellow history lovers on twitter.