Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

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Thoughts on Women in History

In the U.K., 2018 has been a year of celebration for women. Why might you ask? Well, 2018 is the centenary since women were granted the right to vote in the U.K.

As a side note, it is important to preface that not all women were granted the right to vote at this time, it was mostly wealthy (and let’s face it – white) women, but it was a major step towards universal suffrage.

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Now with all these events happening to celebrate this momentous occasion. I started thinking about women in history and how our perception is really dictated by how books, movies, and TV shows depict them.

I came to this realisation while watching the Netflix Original Series, The Alienist. One of the main characters – Sara Howard, played by Dakota Fanning, is the first woman to be hired by the police department in late 19th century New York. She is an heiress who went to university and has managed to get a job as a secretary for the police commissioner – who just so happens to be Theodore Roosevelt (future President of the United States!).

Although the show isn’t really about her, she allows the plot to address several issues of sexism and misogyny that would have been present during that period. She is unmarried, childless, and makes her job a priority. This alienates (ha!) her from her peers and makes her vulnerable in a male dominated world. The American Suffragettes even make a cameo!

While I was watching her subplot, I came to realise that we don’t really know 100% how women actually lived throughout history. Sure, we have documents and pictures, but most account of daily lives were written by men. This is a common theme due to more men getting educated and having the resources to publish material.

The most prevalent writer of history, the Catholic Church, has a definite spin on the events of history and women’s place in it.

So how do we rectify this? More research needs to be made, of course, but also bringing the stories of women into the media. Real women who take their rightful place in history. Not just as the wives and daughters of men, but their own realised personas. It’s funny how entertainment echoes this problem.

I’d like to participate and help with this problem by telling stories about the women in history, but I don’t know where to start. This is where you come in. Let me know who your favourite women are in history!

History Is Written By The Victors

Have you ever wondered what our world history would look like from the loser’s perspective?

I often wonder what our interpretation of the world would look like now if history had turned out a little differently.

Alternative history TV shows are not new. The Man in the High Castle is the most recent example, with an alternate world where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan win World War 2. Although the concept is not new, there are many aspects of our world history today that has been directly shaped by who has told the story.

Have you ever noticed that the most commonly used world map has Europe at the centre?

This is due to European colonisation and subsequent dominance.

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All Roads Lead to Rome

What’s more, is that a lot of our understanding of world history comes from the writing of mostly western elites. The Ancient Romans are particular perpetrators of this. My favourite example of this is The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, which is a scandalous account of the lives of Rome’s 12 Emperors (starting with Julius Caesar and ending with Domitian).

Ironically, this is where we get most of our most famous Roman Emperor stories:

  • Caligula making his horse a senator
  • Nero playing the lute while Rome burned
  • Domitian’s tyrannical rule

Although it is an amazing source material it’s important to remember that Suetonius was personal secretary to the Emperor Hadrian and had worked for Trajan before that.  This would have been decades after most of these emperors had died and they were probably written with an agenda.

And yet its content is often cited as true fact. Would it have been written differently under Caligula or even Constantine, the last Roman Emperor of the west?

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All credit goes to Twisted Cartoons

Telling a Story

You can also see it in movies and textbooks when a certain re-telling of a historical event can be interpreted in different ways. As an American living abroad, it’s always strange to see what what other countries call the American Revolution.

Here’s an interesting article about how other countries learn about the American Revolution in school if you’re interested.

World War 2 also has a hotly contested narrative. Each country involved tends to tell the outcome differently. A great example of this on the TV show, The Americans (which I LOVE, by the way). There’s a scene between in Episode 5 of Season 6 where the daughter, Paige, is told what World War 2 was like from the perspective of the Soviets. A different image entirely from red, white, and blue patriotic narrative that is often told in the U.S.

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Similarly, I’m sure that schools in Japan tell a much more sobering story on the outcome of the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945 than above.

Alternative history or not, it’s always interesting to think about what might have been!

Bonus video:

I Saw the Assassin’s Creed Movie and Survived…

To say I was disappointed by this movie would be an understatement – not that I had high hopes anyway.

I have been a fan of the video games since I first played it on my housemate’s game console. As a history nerd, being able to run around Renaissance Rome or Crusade era Jerusalem was really appealing. That’s why is seems counter-intuitive to spend the majority of the movie outside of the historical setting. 

As any player of the game knows, no-one wants to leave the Animus. 

If I’m being honest though, if I had managed to get Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, AND Marion Cotillard to join the movie, I would have given them as much screen time as possible too. So I can’t really fault the creatives behind it.

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What bothered me the most, however, was that they turned an epic adventure with an immersive story into a Sci-Fi thriller with no context. Thus leaving most viewers, who are not familiar with the games, confused.

(And those of us who are familiar even more confused…)   

There was a wealth of material available within the AC universe that they could have chosen from. Why the Spanish Inquisition? And why the weird Kanye West music?! They could have chosen a similar time period without necessarily using the original main characters. It would have been a nice way to give a nod to the games without making it a straight copy.

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Personally I would have loved to see it set in Renaissance Rome, but that is just my personal preference… 

We must all face the reality though that this movie would never have pleased everybody. So all I can say is that I survived seeing it and I think I’ll just stick to the games.

Bonus video 

An Ode to Social Media and Museums

As a lover of history and culture, I have never understood those who are completely bored with museums. For the past year, I have been in this educational bubble with like-minded people who are interested in the same things as me. Now that my Masters degree is over, I am faced with the reality that not everyone I meet may be interested in the state of the illicit antiquities trade or the cultural appropriation of a particular genre of shadow puppetry.

Thus I am faced, once again, with the question of why so many people are not interested in Museums? Am I no longer hip?!

The key is to make people excited about going to museums. Social media may be the answer! As we are getting more and more permanently attached to our devices, social media has not only been a vehicle for museums to use, but also a way for the visitor to drive their own visitor experience.

This blog post will illustrate two different ways that, I personally think, are successful uses of social media by museums and individuals:

The Art of the Selfie

The selfie is now a part of our every day vernacular, but would you ever expect to see it used in the signage of a major museum?

No, you wouldn’t.

This is why I was genuinely surprised on a visit to the Grand Palais in Paris, back in 2014, where they encouraged visitors to take selfies with the ancient statues in an exhibit on the Emperor Augustus and Ancient Rome.

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My attempt at joining in on the hashtag “moiempereur.”

This sort of social media encouragement was their valiant effort to make a “boring” topic more engaging. In fact, as you see above, I was so encouraged that I made my own addition to the flurry of Instagram pictures from the exhibit (note the bunny ear shadow).

The great thing about this method is that it can appeal to everyone, including the surly teenagers dragged to the museum by their parents. It made me wonder why there were not more museums trying to do this. It seems like the perfect blend of advertisement and engagement.

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On the other end of the spectrum, this is the Louvre Museum’s attempt to stop flash photos.

Snapchating at the Museum 

The lack of organization use may be because social media is not seen as a useful tool for direct engagement since many museums have their own apps available to download. Museum social media is often carefully regulated and does not include the spontaneity that normally accompanies its use.

The normalisation of social media has therefore lead to the rise of the Art History Snapchat, a great activity for any museum goer where you take a photo of an art work and write a observational caption that is completely out of context. See below for examples.

Next time you are in a museum, try it! It is actually very fun and a creative outlet. It also has the bonus effect of advertising the museum in question. It may even encourage individuals to go seek out these artworks. Nothing can be more thrilling than finding a popular meme in a museum.

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This guy is actually in the Louvre Museum – happy hunting! 

For this reason, it may be useful for museums to incorporate this sort of interaction into their digital portfolio. Organisations like Museum Hack are a prime example of how it could work. The success of Pokemon Go also proves that using an app does not necessarily mean becoming a shut in. In fact, the Canal River Trust in London has been promoting the use of Pokemon Go by encouraging people to share their Poke Trail while they are walking along Regent’s Canal.

It all brings into question where we need to draw the line between something that is innovative and when it becomes a hindrance. The ban of the selfie stick from most museums for safety reasons is but one example of this issue. Although it does not stop celebrities, such as Beyonce, for making museum selfies look cool.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of social media in museums? Can Beyonce change your mind?

Bonus Image 

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Beyonce taking a Selfie in the Louvre Museum

Welcome to my website

ImageWhat do you get when you combine one’s interest in history and all things digital? You get a historical website of course!

As a lover of history, I have yet to see a platform, other than videogames or T.V shows/movies, that makes our past relatable and interesting. Odds being that if you don’t/didn’t like history in school then you probably won’t like it in life unless it’s hidden under a pile of fun.

I’m here to change that!

With my experience in the communications and museum world I hope to transport you to many different times and places through a multimedia time machine.

So, are you ready to begin?

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