Geoffrey of Monmouth- History or Fiction?

Geoffrey of Monmouth- History or Fiction?

This summer, I’m researching the ways that history was created and used politically in 12th-century England. Pretty exciting, right? Don’t worry, it’s less dry than it sounds. In this post, I’ll talk a little bit about the main text that I’ve been working with: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Writing sometime between 1136 and 1138, Geoffrey presented his work as a historical account of the lives of ninety-nine British kings, translated from material that he found in an ancient book. Geoffrey tells a very compelling story, and Michael Faletra’s translation is top notch. The problem? Very little of the material in the History is remotely close to what we now consider factual. It reads more like a work of imaginative fantasy than a history book. Inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as Bede, Nennius, and Gildas, Geoffrey creates an elaborate history for the British people (these days we might call them Celtic peoples- the ancestors of the Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons). He begins with the fall of Troy, describing how Aeneas’ grandson, Brutus, brought a group of Trojans to Britain, defeated the giants who lived there, and settled down. From there, the History is a wild ride- there are more wars with giants, magic, prophecies, and multiple British kings who conquer Rome and become emperors. Where Geoffrey really shines is his tale of King Arthur. The History of the Kings of Britain is the first text in which the Arthurian legend really appeared in its present form, and it’s a great account. Arthur unites the Britons, conquers Iceland, Ireland, Denmark, Gaul, and Rome (essentially the known...
Jews and the Civil War

Jews and the Civil War

First, hello! My name is Laura Newman Eckstein (HC ’16), and I am a Hurford Humanities Fellow researching Southern Jews pre-1865 for my senior religion thesis. I am in Cincinnati this summer at the American Jewish Archives, which has one of the best collections of information on American Jewry in the world, particularly Southern Jewry. As we speak I am combing through the file of a Jewish Confederate soldier: his medical passes, his letters home, his vouchers, and his military correspondence. I come to this research through an interest in my own family. I have around six Jewish Confederate ancestors. I often wonder if they knew for what they were fighting. My concepts of  the Confederate position  is veiled in my own notions of history, looking back through the book of memory and time. While today the Confederate army is associated with racism and slavery, for most Jewish Confederates it had nothing to do with slavery in particular. I am finding that very few Jews, pre-Civil War, were plantation owners; they were mostly merchants. Yet they did have a vested interest in the class structure that pervaded the South before the Civil War. Amid planters and non-planters, whites and blacks, slaves and free people, the Jews were able to flourish and seemingly assimilate into their communities in a way they had been unable to do in Europe and the Caribbean. With newfound and welcome prosperity and a sense acceptance, the need to prove themselves, to fight for and demonstrate their position within the larger Southern society, was an obvious reason for their participation in Confederate Army. Reflecting this sentiment twenty years before the...
Museum/Page/Container

Museum/Page/Container

After a few days of travel, I finally arrived at Japanese Seto Inland Sea for a feast of dialogue between artworks and the space in which they are contained, and between human creations and the natural environment. I heard about this Seto art project last year when I was participating Kijimuna Children’s Theater Festival in Okinawa City and while I was doing research on the artworks that remain on the islands, I became increasingly excited about encountering them in person. Naoshima was my first stop. From Yayoi Kusama’s red pumpkin gazing at the islands afar besides Miyanoura port to six House projects sitting quietly among other local houses, I felt that the boundary between space and object, museum and artwork, container and its content starts to fade. The relation between the object and the space makes both of them parts of an integral artwork: the walls and floors of the house become textured canvases, directional narratives or three-dimensional sculptures. The house contains objects of art as it is made of these objects. It pushes me to continue to think the book as a more literal architectural space: the media not only serves or corresponds to the content but becomes an integral part of the work itself. Another piece of House project consists of a newly built wooden house inserted in the middle of reminiscent statues of an ancient shrine and a modern glass ladder in contrasts with the mossy stones coming up from the underground cave that can only be seen at the end of a walk through a narrow tunnel with a flashlight. The art object stands in...
Stonewall, Pride, and Trans Justice

Stonewall, Pride, and Trans Justice

Hi Everyone! Thanks to the HCAH, I’ve spent most of my summer in New York doing research for my Anthropology thesis. At the moment I’m in the final steps of my volunteer-research project with NYC Pride, the official pride organizer for the events in Manhattan, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a trans* and gender non-conforming legal clinic and community organizing collective that focuses on racial and economic justice. For the first month of my project, I was focused on helping NYC Pride with various events for the Stonewall Riots 45th anniversary and conducting a demographic survey for them during the march (which people estimate had 2-3 million people attending this year!). During the Rally, I had the honor of driving Susan Sarandon in a golf cart and meeting Laverne Cox!!! It was awesome–she was really nice and even asked about my project:   That day, I also participated in the 10th Annual Trans Day of Action with the SRLP. That march I had much more time to observe, enjoy, and engage as I wasn’t running around with volunteers in 90 degree weather trying to fill out a 1000 surveys! At both events I  was studying how different queer and trans* groups memorialize and understand the Stonewall Riots, which I’ve learned are much more about myth than they are about definitive history. Check out this awesome poster I saw at the TDOA: Now, I’m finishing up my work at the SRLP and doing some last interviews with volunteers, staff, and board members at NYC Pride. I have three weeks left to finish, and spend some time in the two archives I’m using,...
The Great Central Fair

The Great Central Fair

Every month or two at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a new document display goes up in the lobby. Each display has a theme and contains HSP’s sources that relate to that topic. Currently, there is a WWI display  to commemorate the centennial of the start of the war. Next month, the display theme will be the Great Central Fair, also known as the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair. What is a Sanitary Fair, you ask? What made this fair so “great”?  Well, let me tell you. The U.S. Sanitary Commission was a precursor to the Red Cross and was founded in 1861 to help support the sick and wounded soldiers of the Union army during the Civil War. Their main fundraisers were Sanitary Fairs, public fairs held in major cities that raised money for the soldiers. The fairs were held successfully in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Boston, before it was decided to hold one in Philadelphia in 1864. The buildings of the Fair were constructed in a mere 40 days in what is currently Logan Square. The Fair opened on June 7th, 1864, and closed three weeks later, on June 28th. The Fair included displays of art and historical relics and  vendors selling various items. 9,000 people attended per day, on average. In total, the Fair raised over $1,000,000, an incredible amount of money in 1864. Over the last few weeks, another intern and I have been working on this display. We have looked through HSP’s collections on the Great Central Fair and have pulled items that are important and visually appealing. Looking through all this stuff from the Civil War...
Peanut Oil and The French Empire

Peanut Oil and The French Empire

Working to oil the gears of French North Africa to accept an Anglo-American invasion in late 1941, Robert Murphy was introduced to Jacques Lemaigre-Dubreuil, an edible-oil-man himself. Lemaigre-Dubreuil, a business and newspaper owner, expressed to Murphy an interest in creating a provisional French government in Africa to aid the Allied forces. Murphy, unsure of the trustworthiness of the rightwing, business focused colonizer, expressed his concerns and Lemaigre-Dubreuil’s plan in a Memorandum for the State Department. (First page seen below). One of Lemaigre-Dubreuil’s demands, or suggested ‘necessaries’ for the success of the Allies, was that the United States and Great Britain must “guarantee the complete restoration of all the French Empire to France after the termination of hostilities.” This was not a new idea for Robert Murphy or even the State Department, in fact, it is such a common theme throughout all of Murphy’s letters to State Department officials and vice versa that I can see the phrase “the French Empire must stay fully intact” with my eyes closed. The vision that Lemaigre-Dubreuil expressed and Robert Murphy shared with his fellow diplomats is not short of irony for the French position during the war, or the American position in accordance with after the war. For Lemaigre-Dubreuil French North and West Africa had the potential to become the point of leadership for the Empire, which included in his eyes, Metropolitan France. This role would ironically make Algiers or Dakar more important political cities than Paris. For the Americans, who trumpeted self-determination and anti-colonialism under the banner of Trusteeship for former colonies, the assurance of a lasting French Empire after the “termination...