Posts Tagged ‘history’
October 17, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Fact: two hundred years ago today, eight Londoners drowned in a flood of beer.
I don’t know what else to say.
I guess I can tell you a little about it: how it began at the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, where an enormous vat ruptured, unleashing more than a hundred thousand imperial gallons of beer; how the force of that gushing beer apparently caused the brewery’s other vats to rupture, thus sending some 1,470,000 liters of beer into the streets; and how that beer washed through a nearby home, killing a mother and daughter as they took tea. The Times reported that “inhabitants had to save themselves from drowning by mounting their highest pieces of furniture.” And the story goes that that the beer deluged right through a living room where a wake was in progress, killing a few mourners with intoxicating irony.
When I learned of the flood, my first question wasn’t “How many people died?” It was “What kind of beer was it?” And according to no less reputable a source than FunLondonTours.com, the answer is porter. Porters tend to be pretty strong, so anyone who managed to gulp down a few mouthfuls as he or she was enveloped by the beer wave … well, you can see where I’m going with this.
For more on the flood, check out Atlas Obscura.
September 15, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Sometimes power changes hands. Sometimes, perforce, the change is violent. And sometimes, albeit rarely, it involves a Byzantine emperor who’s assassinated in the bathtub, where his servant bashes his brains in with a silver bucket.
Such is the fate, putatively, that befell Constans II on September 15, 668, unless it befell him on July 15, 669, which is also eminently possible. As a historian on Reddit’s AskHistorians recently explained, “there is basically only one source for this, the eighth-century Theophilus of Edessa, who wrote a chronicle whilst serving the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. This work is now lost, but it was used by several later chroniclers, including the more well-known Theophanes from the ninth century.” Said historian goes on to quote an account by the tenth-century historian Agapius:
When Constans was in the bath, one of his attendants took a bucket, mixed in it mallow and soap, and put this on Constans’s head. While the latter’s eyes were filled with the mallow and soap, so that he could not open them, the attendant took the bucket and struck Constans on the head with it, so killing him. He rushed out of the bath to escape and no one heard any more of him. The servants remained outside waiting for the king to come out, but when they had been sitting a long time and it was getting late and he still had not come out, they entered the bath and found him unconscious. They brought him out and he lived for that day, but then died having reigned for twenty-seven years.
August 27, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Disney’s Snow White is an animation classic, and a beautiful one. But if you’re looking for something altogether weirder (albeit shorter) go back four years, and check out the Fleischer Studios’s 1933 Snow White. Technically, this is a Betty Boop short, and it’s true that the iconic flapper does indeed play “the fairest in the land.” But the cartoon is really a showcase for all kinds of wholly unrelated tricks.
Although it’s technically a “Fleischer Brothers” production, in fact Max and Dave Fleischer didn’t have much to do with Snow White, which is considered the masterpiece of animator Roland Crandall. Apparently Crandall was given free rein on this short as a reward for all his work for the studio, and took full advantage. It’s incredibly innovative, and seriously trippy. This isn’t the only Fleischer Brothers cartoon to employ the voice talents of bandleader Cab Calloway, or even his rotoscoped moves (he also cameoed as the Old Man of the Mountain), but it’s the best: as Koko the Clown, and then a ghost, Calloway does a haunting rendition of the “St. James Infirmary Blues,” and then what might be the first recorded instance of the moonwalk. What does any of this have to do with the story of Snow White? Not all that much. But that’s what Disney was for.
(To see the full seven-minute version, click here.)
August 1, 2014 | by James McWilliams
Whither the breadfruit?
There’s such a thing as the Breadfruit Institute, and there should be. Researchers consider the species a “NUS”—“neglected and underutilized species.” But Ian Cole, the Breadfruit Institute’s collection manager, thinks that’s insane. He told me, “If you had a breadfruit tree in your yard, you would have food all year round!”
I don’t have a breadfruit tree in my yard, though, and neither do you, if you live in the lower forty-eight. Cole wants that to change. He wants the world to eat breadfruit.
He may well get his wish. Breadfruit, a starchy fruit that looks like a green pimpled softball, is enjoying a bout of sudden popularity. It’s gluten free, dense with protein, and rich in vitamin B and fiber. It has the mild, earthy flavor of a tuber. And it looks pretty neat: what appears to be a singular globe of fruit is in fact thousands of tiny fruits fused together like a mosaic. The media is in thrall. The Daily Mail calls breadfruit “a wonder food”; the Huffington Post calls it “a wonder food”; and the New Scientist calls it “a wonder food.” The New Zealand Herald asked in a recent news headline, “Is this the new wonder food?” Yes. Yes, it is. Read More »
July 10, 2014 | by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Argentina and the Netherlands played yesterday’s second semifinal. That’s as much as should be said about the match, which forced us to appreciate what this World Cup has been, while remembering what it could have been. Throughout 120 minutes of football, there was first, last, and above all an air of safety that had been refreshingly absent from most of the games thus far—and with that absence came gifts of goals and good play. But yesterday, there was so much at stake: safe passage to a World Cup final. Since both teams are middling, professional, and graced by the presence of once-in-a-lifetime, left-footed talents, they took no risks—no playing the ball patiently through the midfield, no attempts at a tactical surprise. It was a game of chicken, and a penalty kick shoot-out was the inevitable collision.
Or: Argentina and the Netherlands played yesterday’s second semifinal. That’s as much as should be said about the match, which forced us to rue what this World Cup could have been, and to remember it exactly as it was. Throughout 120 minutes of football, there was an air of danger in every movement that put to the sword the careless attacking and defending we’ve seen in all the games thus far—we’ve suffered own gifted goals and poor play for it. But yesterday, there was so much at stake: safe passage to a World Cup final. Since both teams are fairly stout and battle-tested—graced by the presence of not only once-in-a-lifetime, left-footed talents, but a host of other complimentary stars—they went forward intelligently instead of rashly. They avoided over-elaborating in the middle of the pitch and followed their tactical plans to the letter. It was as though the game was played in a labyrinth, and a penalty kick shoot-out was the inevitable way out.
Football games between sides with history between them seem to exist in a multiverse—everything that has happened between them happens here simultaneously. All outcomes exist at once. Hence, Argentina versus the Netherlands in the São Paulo of 2014 is Argentina versus the Netherlands in the Marseille of 1998 is Argentina versus the Netherlands in the Buenos Aires of 1978. The weight of history is in the thickness of the air: young men run into each other with the anxiety and ache of memories that are not theirs, and the colors of their shirts become portals. No competition is barnacled by its past like a World Cup. Two sides significantly better than Brazil—but neither of which had ever defeated Brazil—capitulated in the round of sixteen and in the quarterfinals, more to the canary-yellow shirts than to the players who wore them. (We know what happened afterward.) Read More »
May 21, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Yesterday, the Met released nearly four-hundred thousand images—394,253, if you’re counting—into the public domain. Verily this is a horn of digital plenty, and the museum has made it easy, even fun, to peruse: users can sort the images by artist, maker, culture, method, material, geographical location, date, era, or department. To give you a sense of the collection’s scope, I sorted it, not especially imaginatively, to show only books, which left me with an unwieldy 2,701 results—and then I dove in. Above are a few of the more striking images I found, all of them deeply miscellaneous.
There’s something enjoyable in a stochastic approach to browsing, though you’d be right to call it dilettantish. The pieces I found have nothing in common—no cultural background, no thematic unity, no philosophy or aesthetic, no chronology, not even a shared mode of production—except that they all come from books, and they were all created by, you know, the people of Earth. Imagine wandering a library in complete disarray, with no organizing principle and no particular ambition: all the context disappears, along with most notions of the cumulative, but it’s hard not to come away feeling humbled by the vastness of artistic accomplishment. If this is a cheap kind of awe, it doesn’t feel that way; a few minutes of randomized images did wonders for my sense of humanism, and I saw only an infinitesimal fraction of the collection.
You can peruse the Met’s online collection here, as purposely or as arbitrarily as you’d like. Bookmark it and return whenever you’re feeling misanthropic.