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Yale Historians Start New Travel Business

In Allgemein by Francesca / 23. Dezember 2014 / 0 Comments

Via Antiqua Travel began as the brainchild of Dr. Anke Tietz and a handful of other alumni from the Yale Classics, Renaissance Studies and Ancient History department. The idea was to bring the best of Mediterranean Antiquity to those holiday-makers who wanted educational growth from their vacations, by way of fine-tuned itineraries, curated by an academic with a passion. The whole thing would be complemented by exclusive socials made possible by the Yale network and on-site lectures in local learned institutions, with a delicious foodie experience thrown in.

Our first appearance at the annual Educational Travel Fair in Orlando, FL in February 2014 was where the harsh realities of running a startup business first kicked in. Alone in a strange town, unable to afford the swanky conference hotel, we followed a flurry of presentations and workshops to understand how the travel business really worked. Everybody was talking about the disappearance of the traditional holiday model.

Our first business partner was Yale. In March 2015, we’ll be taking a group of alumni on one of the classic „Yale Educational Travel“ branded tours, in fact the Masters’ Tour of Italy with Professor Harvey Goldblatt. This week-and-a-half of Italian Renaissance bliss is all about stunning frescoes, paintings, baroque chapels and fantastic Renaissance architecture; it visits Florence, Rome, Perugia, Siena, Pisa and San Gimignano, and we’re sending our own Claudia Portogallo, who is doing her PhD on the Renaissance at Yale right now, as an expert and tour guide, on Professor Goldblatt’s side.

Most recently, we’ve designed an itinerary dedicated to illuminated manuscripts of the Italian Renaissance, a follow-up trip to the Getty Museum’s exhibition on illuminated manuscripts, and are working really hard to make this happen in June. We’ve also created a fabulous new itinerary around Germany’s fairy tale castles, discovering medieval history in the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm; this trip is still up for grabs.

In September, we went to the Adventure Travel Fair in Ireland. Here, we presented an all-new hiking destination in Turkey, known as the Carian Trail. Left abandoned for the last 500 years or so, this ancient footpath has now been re-opened. It’s studded with dreamy ancient monuments awaiting exploration. Passing numerous luscious beach bays, particularly enticing in the high heat of Turkish summer, the hiking experience holds within it all the mystery of the ancient Greeks and their neighboring civilizations, and is punctuated by the charm of forlorn village inns inviting travelers for a break along the way. For this, our own friend authored the very first hiking guide; also our colleague Melanie has written the latest archaeological guide to the Lycian Trail, another ancient hiking trail that tells the fragmented story of the prosperous ancient Lycians, and is enjoying growing popularity in the adventure travel community. We’ll be taking our first adventure-hungry crew here soon.

Here we are hiking amongst the sheep in Ireland. In Ireland also, we met Nicole Wineland-Thompson from America, who impressed us very much. As her family runs the prestigious Thompson Safaris, she herself went ahead and created a new branch of the business dedicated to family travel with children, called Thompson Family Adventures. We’ve been working with her on a new family package for Southern France, incorporating castles, horses, flamingoes, beaches and lavender trails, powered by National Geographic Adventures, the magazine’s popular travel outfit.

Coming back to Yale, and the Classics department where it all began, for the first time this year Yale will offer a travel experience for students who have completed Yale’s online distance learning course in Roman Art and Archaeology. The minute we had uploaded our itinerary for the visit to Rome’s iconic sites and sights, Pompeii and the gulf of Naples, we were booked-out! This trip is also happening in June, with the internationally renowned Professor Diana Kleiner, and we have been working around the clock to piece together the logistics and thinking about special surprises for our guests.

Last but not least, the latest lights on the horizon are in the Balkans, where Anke travelled last week to test out hotels, sightseeing and restaurants together with Kathy Edersheim and Mark Dollhopf of the Yale Alumni Association. We are all extremely taken by the beauty of the Balkans over here, and excited to be offering trips there starting in 2016, when we’ve got a delegation of Yale Alumni Schools Ambassadors (YASA) fellows presenting at a clutch of universities. Here they are:

It’s been a highly productive year, lots of hard work and very upbeat. We wish you the best for festive season, see you soon!

Hiking Trails and Adventurers

In Allgemein by Francesca / 16. Oktober 2014 / 0 Comments

Our time at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Ireland was all it promised to be, and more. We loved our day of adventure, where we went boating to the Skellig islands. We were hoping to be able to get on to the island and visit the grey and taciturn remains of round and beehive-shaped stone buildings that used to be part of a monastery. Here monks would retreat, who thought even the rural and sparsely populated coast of Kerry too much of a distraction. We couldn’t land on the island that day, it was too windy. So perhaps, we got an even better taste of the isolation in which these monks would have lived. Atop some of the most jagged cliffs, into which they had laboriously hewn some slim and winding steps, sitting on an isolated rock and meditating over the sea.

Since it wasn’t possible to land, we made it a big trek along the coast, after a steaming glass of hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows. It was great to get so close to the Irish sheep, as illustrated by our #DoA video. And on the very top of the hill, though we were on the mainland, we were once again on a big jagged cliff with a 360 degree sea view, with only an abandoned house for company.

Our meetings schedule was completely packed, and we both really loved the adventure travel crowd, people were youthful and fun-loving, and there seemed to be an approximately even distribution of men and women in the industry, which is quite a healthy sign! Ireland as a host country made it a wonderful stay for us, with flawless conference logistics and wonderful evening programs. Can’t argue with a night in a medieval castle and trays of Jameson’s at every corner.

We also knew we were in the right place when we saw that the Lycian Way has been a trending destination in the community ever since it was opened a few years back. So our big news was that last year, the Carian Trail opened its gates also, also in Turkey. Hikers can hike several hundreds of km from the Mediterranean to the Aegean, get lost in scented pine forests on the hills, and bathe in secret beaches. All along the way are ruins of the ancient Carian civilization, which have not been sighted since the 1500s – and as with the Lycian way, we know someone who not only knows about the Carians, but has written a whole book about the path, and its history. More soon!


photo: Cnidus in Caria

Via Antiqua to Go to Adventure Travel World Summit 2014!

In Allgemein by Francesca / 2. Oktober 2014 / 0 Comments

Starting a company after years of training as a classical scholar is something of an adventure in itself. This is what Via Antiqua CEO Dr. Anke Tietz decided to do after finishing her Classics PhD at Yale and working in excavations at the Xanthos valley in Turkey for a year. Classical learning has always gone hand in hand with travel. From the days of the Grand Tour, when English gentlemen of the 18th century would go on what can only be described as a high-class gap year to discover the stunning remains of ancient civilizations from Rome, Greece and Turkey, until now that Classics departments the world around put together study trips and treks.

It’s one thing conveying our knowledge about ancient culture through the medium of academic articles and classes. It’s another starting up a tours operator that aims to incorporate high-quality educational offerings into the leisure and excitement of vacation trips! It’s been a huge learning curve full of entrepreneurial seminars and industry mentoring sessions, drawing up a team of media wizzards, business experts and hospitality contacts as well as, of course, historians and classicists, out of a big handful of Classical Studies alumni.

Melanie Heinle, an archaeologist from our team, has written a brand new guide book for the Lycian Way, an ancient hiking trail in Turkey, and we based our tour schedule on her incredibly detailed knowledge. And then, thanks to the Yale connections, we have many learned friends in museums, academies and historical sites around the world whom we work with to open doors that would normally stay closed to the public.

But we were wary of those run-of-the-mill sightseeing tours offered to most people, and wanted to build something immersive and challenging, like a grand-scale treasure hunt for travelers unafraid of clambering down age-old, forlorn grave shafts with a torch in hand, and find art works that haven’t been sighted since they were last described in an out-of-print book in the early 1900s – travelers who can find their way out of fabled mazes, and who want to see mysterious sculptures in the middle of nowhere, that even historians can’t quite explain. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. We really think it’s about time that historical travel was shaken up and mixed with psychological time-travel, adventure feelings, and outdoor sports!

We’re brimming with ideas, and can’t wait to be inspired and learn lots of new things from our time at the Adventure Travel World Summit next week, where we’ve also booked in to a magical boating trip to the Skellig Islands.

Between Fiction and History : Senate House

In Allgemein by Francesca / 19. September 2014 / 0 Comments

Senate House, Front Entrance

Senate House, which houses the University of London library and administration offices, is an intriguing-looking, 19-storey art-deco colossus in the middle of Bloomsbury, between the British Museum and Russell Square. When it was unveiled in 1937, it was one of London’s earliest skyscrapers. At 210 feet (64m) high, when it was completed, it was the second tallest building in London (after St Paul’s Cathedral).

Until then, the tallest office building in London had been 55 Broadway, unveiled in 1929, by the same architect, Holden. Designed at the behest of the London Electronic Railways, a precursor to the London Underground, the Headquarters building on 55 Broadway impressed the University Planning Commission. For the London University, a new institution compared to Oxford and Cambridge, an entirely modern design was desired, rather than anything that would appear to imitate the appearance of the older colleges.

55 Broadway made the case beautifully, so much a work of architectural modernism that it roused the ire of many critics and patrons.

55 Broadway

Holden was a supporter and enabler of avant-garde and controversial sculptors of his day, for example Jacob Epstein. At 55 Broadway, he incorporated reliefs by eight avant-garde sculptors of the day, as well as a matched pair of sculptures, Day and Night, by Jacob Epstein.

„West Wind“ by Samuel Rabinovich

Predictably, a public outrage followed the unveiling of these naked, modernist beauties. But modernity was just what the University of London committee wanted. In 1921, with a donation from the Rockefeller Foundation, the government bought a plot of land in Bloomsbury from Herbrand Russell, 11th Duke of Bedford. On 26 June 1933, King George V laid the foundation stone for Senate House. Construction works stalled various times after funding cuts in the mid- to late 1930s, and at the outbreak of World War II, the building temporarily became home to the Ministry of Information.

The creation and existence of an Information Ministry and its history have been steeped in controversy ever since, not least because the only historical counterpart from which it might have been inspired, was Goebbels‘ Ministry of Propaganda. As a place of history, this ministry is curiously located somewhere between history and fiction. One of the reasons it is at all still remembered might be that George Orwell’s wife worked in it, in the Censorship Department, from 1939 to ’42. When George Orwell wrote about a “Ministry of Truth” in his novel 1984, it was all too apposite to think that this fictional state department was inspired from the Ministry of Information in Senate House.

Four buildings towered vast and white above the grimy landscape. They were startingly different from any other objects in sight. They were enormous pyramidical structures of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. So completely did they dwarf the surrounding architecture that from the roof of Victory Mansions you could see all four of them simultaneously… The Ministry of Truth, Winston’s place of work, contained, it was said, three thousand rooms above ground level, and corresponding ramifications below.

Senate House, Entrance

Not as adventurously ornamented and avowedly modernist as 55 Broadway, the Senate House building style was described by its critics as totalitarian or even stalinist. With a sculptureless, semi-neoclassical and imposing modernist feel, it emanates an air of authoritarianism which has drawn many Hollywood and British Film producers to the site. In Batman Begins, the Gotham Court of Justice lobby is filmed on the Senate House premises, for grimly imposing effect. Others in turn believe that Senate House owes its design to the American skyscraper. Clearly the producers of James Bond : The World is Not Enough thought so.

As a library user, I regularly get the chance to enjoy the precious and elegant interior designs, which are far more refined and add, as I think, a whole second layer of thought into the design of this one-time giant, which has meanwhile been dwarfed by the City of London’s all-new fashion for 100-storey skyscrapers.

From the Cradle to the Coalmine : Book Review

In Allgemein by Francesca / 10. September 2014 / 0 Comments

Image : girl pulling a coaltub, mid 19th century. Click to read Last week’s introduction to this post

Mining in Wales was the proverbial fuel for Britain’s industrial revolution. The Big Pit Museum, amongst other places in Wales, is there to commemorate, document and visualize the extravagance. It can’t be denied the industrial revolution brought progress and prosperity to the -henceforth- industrialized nations of 19th century Europe. But anyone who has read a bit of Zola, or Browning, has an idea already of the child labor that also helped fuel it.

From the Cradle to the Coalmine : The Story of Children in Welsh Mines by Ceri Thompson is a short, impactful and richly illustrated book published by the National Museum of Wales and Cardiff University press earlier this year. It is illustrated by photographs and other pictures, testimonials from interviews and historical documents such as diaries and reports, as well as lines from popular rhymes and songs. A timeline of historical events in the beginning of the book chronicles the years 1833-1972, from “Factory Act introduced to regulate the labour of children and young persons in the mills and factories of Great Britain. The act does not cover coal mines” (1833), via an 1860 “Coal Mines Regulations Act: minimum age for employment underground was raised to twelve years old”, the introduction of the eight hour working day in 1909, free health checks for new employees in 1947, free helmets supplied in 1956, to the 1972 “Wilberforce Award: adult wages to be paid at eighteen years old in the mining industry. School leaving age was raised to sixteen years”, the short timeline on p. XIV traces the history of dire working conditions worthy of press scandals and outrage.

Indeed, the book delves into the importance of press coverage – and the struggle for press coverage to be permitted – for the introduction of controlling bodies and investigative commissions which took baby steps over a period of more than a century, in their attempts to improve safety at work, recognize health risks, and develop social policies that gave children from poor families a chance of going to school instead of being put into work at a very early age. In the light of how long it took to achieve how little, by contrast with how effectively the industry produced goods and grew, one cannot but realise that these efforts were false.

As the author points out in the beginning, children have always worked, usually to aid the household of their own family and/or family production, for example in farms. But by comparison to these traditional rural jobs of the feudal age, in the 19th century, with the emergence of factory work and industrial mining, workplaces and children at work took on a markedly different look. And in the 19th century, the public opinion began to be polarized on the issue of children at work. Whilst factory owners would often argue that their factories helped families stay out of poverty by creating jobs, and that many a small child’s income made the crucial difference to whether or not a family could survive,
many others were strongly discomforted by the appearance of child laborers in industrial work places. The high accident rate in coal mines, and the spread of work-related pulmonary, skin and other diseases would not have painted a very comforting picture at all. It has to be said, as the author also writes, that many work-related diseases were not immediately understood to be work-related, and rather thought of as diseases relating to poverty more generally. It also took many decades, as the author explains, for it to be understood that a first-aid qualified individual (or preferably more than that) should be present in situ, in the event of accidents. And it also took a long time to convince the owners of coal mines that providing a certain amount of training for their new young employees would significantly reduce the risk of accidents and deaths. It is only in the 1950s that a clear rule was established as to how many hours of training an employee should have. In the 19th century for the first time, it became a prevalent view that children should not be working, and that special care should be taken to ensure the protection of children in work and to ensure they completed a minimum of school education.

The book presents a polyphonic body of evidence which gives personal voices to the drawn-out struggles between coal mine owners, workers, and social reformers. In part, it uncovers what should surprise no-one, that with every child protection act introduced, with every work safety regulation, whilst coal mines certainly pretended to accept and enforce the rules, they did not. Thus, even in the 1920s, twelve-year-olds are entering employment in coal mines – often without the parents‘ permission, indeed without their knowledge.

By the early 1980s, the entire coal mining industry ground to a halt – a mixed blessing, as many still argue today. What doesn’t go unnoticed with the ending of this book is that, though the mining industry was shrunk and shut down, most of the problems associated with child labor were simply left unsolved. The book ends with a note on child labor in mines and factories today, by no means a phantom of the past.

Classics, Colonialism, and 19th Century Social History – A Trio Infernale…

In Allgemein by Francesca / 5. September 2014 / 0 Comments

When I started to contemplate the ways in which classical antiquity is mediated to us today through a number of traditional educational and cultural channels, I didn’t fancy it but always inevitably found myself pondering the influence of 19th century ideas, and evaluating the work of 19th century scholars and thinkers. The great museums of classical antiquities, for instance, were developed, expanded and feted in the era, and in the scholarly study of classical texts, reference works of encyclopedic dimensions were launched, such as the Cambridge Ancient HIstory. These works continue to be educational tools in the present day, although mindsets have shifted and the world has changed.

Despite a sense of having a reasonable idea of the 19th century’s historical turning points and of the ideas that accompanied these, its social history often remains outside the view of a classicist’s contemplations. Part of the reason for this is that classical study in the 19th century was, all things considered, a preoccupation reserved to the cream of society, so that few echoes of social diversity would be found in the scholarship itself. The socio-political rhetoric couching classical study in the 19th century is by most accounts one of civilization and its satisfactions, its refinements, British society having reached an all-time peak of cultural efflorescence, prosperity, industrial superiority, and intellectual advancement. The missionary ideology of colonialism, which in the 19th century was in full swing, paints an image of the European home country and its awe-inspiring metropolis as a marvel of luxury and comfort.

Very little is said, by contrast, about the dire struggles of the working class at the same time, the so-called diseases of civilization, child labour in British factories and coal mines.In a recent book, Sarah Butler throws light on how the British working classes in the colonial era fell victim, in the scholarly literature, to an anthropological classification that sought scientifically to define their nature as lower-than-human, un-English, much in the same way as the imperial anthropology sought to conceptualize the people of other continents as sub-civilized in their development.

In a different post, I briefly traced the architecture of British workhouses. That the workhouse was a pillar of Victorian society as much as was the police or the crown court, might have been known to classical scholars, but none the less, its image was perpetually eclipsed from serious reflection. Functioning as a prison-like home for destitute individuals and families, the homeless, the sick poor, the elderly poor, as well as to unmarried pregnant women and many illegitimate children, this institution is estimated to have had a grand total of 14 million residents in Britain over the decades of its existence. But just as the architectural structures have been destroyed in large parts, the workhouse was a place of national embarrassment already in its day, and the moral and socio-political tenets which it embodied are quickly glossed over with a veneer of industrial progress and economical prosperity.

Nonetheless, these social structures and establishments — the workhouse, the tenements of the working class, rampant poverty in the 19th century, child labour, child mortality, and the laws legislating the employment of children which developed in sync with casualties and bouts of public outrage at the time — were a reality visible on a large scale. As such, the thought of it was latent in the cultural perception of scholars, who are the mediators of classical learning to us today. Perhaps this is the case more so now that the digital renaissance is bringing back to life many scholarly works from the Victorian period. Despite their many critics, and despite the re-structured understanding of a modernist sensitivity and beyond, the 19th century roots of many cultural appraisals appear and re-appear in a reflection upon classical antiquity, and it is important to study not only the colonial, but also the domestic social policies and the assumptions which underlie them. I have just finished reading a brand new book sent to me for review, about child labourers in Welsh coalmines in the 19th century. I will post my review here next week.


The image shows a cover of a phrenology journal. Phrenology, a now defunct science, developed and gained momentum in Victorian Britain and beyond (especially in Edinburgh), with the aim to divine a person’s moral disposition, character traits and talents, through the medium of examining their head.

Canaletto, Somerset House, and Victoria Embankment

In Allgemein by Francesca / 27. August 2014 / 0 Comments

I arrived at Yale graduate school, having just graduated from King’s College London. Not surprisingly then, when I discovered the Yale Center for British Art building, I immediately went in for a wander.  Intrigued to find a 1750 painting of Somerset House hanging on its walls, signed by none other than the acclaimed „vedutista“ (a painter of panoramic views) Canaletto, I decided to try and understand more about Somerset House, this geometric and palatial 16th century building in London, that flanked King’s College. I soon realized that its beginnings were as aristocratic and grandiose as they are mysterious: the architect of the building is not known. The sumptuous three-storey Renaissance building is one of the earliest of its kind in England, and over five centuries, it changed, and changed again, reinventing itself and its purpose as the times changed.

Works on Somerset house began in the 1540s, though it would take many decades before it was complete. Even then, the house had many subsequent changes. The story goes that in the 1530s, Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, received some land in the area directly above the river Thames, and started a grand palace construction project. This involved tearing down most of what was there in order to lay the foundations for his flashy new residence on the Strand. In 1547, he became Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector to the boy-king Edward VI. It seems that nothing was further from Edward Seymour’s mind than to abandon the plans he had for redeveloping his mansion. The works were in full swing when he was overthrown and executed in 1552. The building was left half-finished.

“Somerset Palace”, as the house was then also known as, became the royal residence of Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I, and finally Anne of Denmark, consort to King James I. Royal occupancy of Somerset House continued into the 18th century, with interruptions to mirror the many crises of the English monarchy in those three centuries. Naturally, whenever a new royal occupant moved in, they moved out leaving their own cachet in terms of modifications they had made to the building.

In the mid-18th century, the building began to be used for grace-and-favour residence purposes, a kind of “benefit in kind” system in which royalty would grant persons a free stay in the residence at Somerset House to thank them for favours or services.

It was around this time that Canaletto painted the building and the views of London to the East, and the West, from the Terrace of Somerset House. Canaletto had moved to London in 1740, and stayed there until approximately 1755, as he had been very successful in Venice selling his paintings of Venice vistas to Englishmen traveling on the grand tour. When, in those years, the English ceased to travel to Italy as much as previously, Canaletto squarely moved to England, to be closer to his market, and took many commissions from English patrons to paint their residencies, or landscapes and cityscapes; the views from Somerset House fall within this category (see above). A nerdy trivia about Canaletto in London is that he was at one stage believed to be an impostor by art critics who thought his style had become all too predictable, and was forced to paint in public in order to prove his identity as the painter, Canaletto.

What struck me (as it would anybody) about Canaletto’s Somerset House painting, was that it showed it with direct access to the Thames, un-embanked at that time. The Thames Embankment is a Victorian achievement, as the name “Victoria Embankment” suggests. Characteristic ironwork designs like nautically themed street lamps with Poseidons enormous, gaping-mouthed fish, or Egyptian themed benches with camel and Sphinx, make this stretch of the Thames historical in its own way. To embank the Thames had certainly been a project contemplated by other generations before the Victorian era. Although proposals to do something about the marshland in central London and to reclaim the acres near the Thames had been put forward by architects and engineers before, the works began in 1862. The project was huge, and it also incorporated a section of the London Underground network, the Savoy Hotel and Shell Mex building, as well as the creation of extensive public gardens atop the river, which Londoners can still enjoy, in the center of town.

Definitely an amazing part of town to visit.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons. Yale Center for British Art

Crystal Palace, Dinosaurs, and Exhibition Road

In Allgemein by Francesca / 20. August 2014 / 0 Comments

Last week, I visited the Dinosaur Park in London’s Crystal Palace Park. Not half as awe-inspiring as the Jurassic Park rendition, this odd and adorable collection of extinct animals, or animals that perhaps never existed outside the imagination of a few scientists and sculptors in the mid-19th century, was opened in 1854, making it the first of its kind in the world.

It was born into hectic times for the history of modern science and biology. With the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species just around the corner, and in the context of an exponentially rising public interest in the natural sciences, the discussion and visualization of dinosaurs in conjunction with new theories on biological evolution, was received instant critical acclaim from the press.

Sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins had modeled his creations under close supervision of biologist Richard Owen, so that this was much more a park of science visualization than an entertainment theme park. It became a popular attraction none the less, because the gigantic lizards from the distant past were a novelty, and a mesmerizing thought. So much did the dinosaur as a concept and image enter the public imagination, that Charles Dickens started one of his novels with the sentence:

Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

Richard Owen, a hugely successful, if controversial, natural scientist in the public eye, also advocated that natural historical specimens that were stored in the British Museum, should be presented in a museum specifically dedicated to natural history, and in 1881, London’s Natural History Museum was inaugurated.

The Natural History Museum in South Kensington is part of an interrelated complex of cultural and educational institutions around Exhibition Road, referred to as „Albertopolis“ in the 19th century, which also comprises the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, the Science Museum, Imperial College, the Royal College of Music, all of which and more were launched by Prince Albert, prince consort to Queen Victoria, in the period immediately following the Great Exhibition of 1851.

This brings us back to Crystal Palace, where that Exhibition took place. World Exhibitions held to showcase the progress of science and industrial advance were an important, much-anticipated and feted feature of the 19th century’s cultural life in the industrialized nations. The Crystal Palace was a temporary structure erected to host the 1851 exhibition in Hyde Park. Designed by Joseph Paxton, this building, which was made entirely of glass, was some 564m long and 39m high, and provided a total of 92,000 sqm of exhibition space for more than 14,000 exhibitors. Exhibits included an early facsimile machine, daguerreotypes, telegraphy, and the first flushable lavatories.

As if all this wasn’t brazen enough, after the six month exhibition ended, the exhibition building was—of course—removed from Hyde Park, and transported to Penge Common, where it was built up from its parts in a structure completely different from the original. The reconstruction was recorded photographically for posterity, and pictures widely distributed. In 1854, Queen Victoria again performed an opening ceremony.

Although it looks like no expense was spared here and that this exhibition might have left the budgets somewhat drained, the opposite was recorded (although, as an aside, the human toll was probably rather huge, but unreported). A substantial profit was made from the exhibition, and the surplus in the budget was used to purchase some land in South Kensington, and commission the creation of this “Albertopolis” (the term being perhaps a tad satirical) of London’s most high-profile museums and learned institutions. Hence the apellation “Exhibition Road” for that dazzlingly elegant road in Kensington.

Now that the wondrous Crystal Palace had been relocated to South London to the Penge and Sydenham area, which received its very own railway station and was henceforth referred to as simply Crystal Palace, North Londoners felt that a fitting counterpart for London’s North was in order. This is how Alexandra Palace was born, a “palace of the people”, erected in 1863 from a building that had also been used for a world exhibition beforehand. As the centrepiece of Alexandra Park in Harringey, it was a grand public arts and entertainment center named after Alexandra of Denmark, who had married prince Edward earlier that year. The Alexandra Palace was destroyed by a fire in 1873 and, in typical Victorian vigor, repaired and re-opened for the spring of 1875.

As for Crystal Palace in South London, after numerous crises and problems with its upkeep, in 1936, it caught fire and burnt down entirely in just a few hours. 400 firemen could not check the fire, and the flames were seen across 8 counties. In just a few hours, it was completely destroyed. 100,000 people came to Sydenham Hill to watch the blaze, among them Winston Churchill, who said, „This is the end of an age“.

Ditigal Renaissance? Ancient Texts, New Media

In Allgemein by Francesca / 14. August 2014 / 0 Comments

Books are media. Old-fashioned as it may sound, the book itself was once a radical innovation. In fact, somewhere in the foundational knowledge useful to anyone interested in classical civilizations, is an understanding of how the contents of the ancient Romans, Greeks and other ancient peoples have actually reached us through a series of transformations in the media.

The Iliad is amongst the oldest known documents of ancient Greek literature. As an epic in verse, it is thought to have been the product of an oral tradition of bardic poets who specialized in telling stories in a rhythmical, poetic verse pattern. They developed a large pool of formulaic turns of phrase, which fit into the metre and rhythm of their songs. An added benefit of pre-fabricated formulae was that they would automatically be in line with the overall poetic style of the songs. Thus the formula would come ready-made with an aura of poetic beauty suitable to the context and subject matter – not unlike the modern practices of spoken word poetry.

The genesis of the Iliad and similar texts has puzzled many scholars of ancient Greek. It’s been proven that the Iliad, like the entire epic cycle to which it belonged, was at first an oral tradition, which existed for decades, if not centuries, before it was for the first time captured in writing, in the 8th century BCE. Scholars then wondered if the name “Homer” was the name of the man who wrote it all down, or if he was a prominent bard-master whose accolade gave him the authorship rights to the work altogether.

It has even been argued that the Greek alphabet was specifically developed in order to write down the Iliad.

However it happened, this was the first in a series of several changes of medium, for the Iliad: from its preservation in the collective memory of a network of humans whose job was that of the bard, to the written form: first on stone, and later, on papyrus. For centuries, ancient works of literature like the Iliad were preserved through hand-copying, and from the scroll of papyrus, evolved the folio edition, and the modern book. The invention of the printing press in the Renaissance brought about a major change, and from early print making to the modern paperback, the book form established itself as the default medium for text.

The internet brought back the scroll. Plus, the internet’s affinity with the search-engine brought on new text search modalities, that allow a more thorough-going examination of texts, dictionary building, and data gathering. A much more “scientific” angle on ancient texts is then possible, and lets us map the development of ancient languages with greater accuracy and less effort.

The internet also performs the functions of a library and archive, and provides a rich and multi-faceted communication infrastructure to aid the distribution and dissemination of information on a large scale.

Often compared to the book printing revolution in information technology or even celebrated as a new renaissance of learning and knowledge, it is often argued that the internet provides wider access to learning at a cheaper cost. Simultaneously, other voices have put forward the argument that a digital divide exists in the online infrastructure, which reflects the social divide in education, and remains just as hard to bridge as before.

Likened also to the industrial revolution of the late 18th and early 19th century, the digital revolution is unquestionably changing the way we peruse information, because it changes the way we publish it in the first place. In recent months, the “Hachette Affair“ has made news headlines more than once, because it highlights the grand scale and profound nature of the changes occurring, and underscores the painfulness of these transformative processes, that bring not only innovation and new creations, but also destruction. Online retailers and the digital availability of books first made a dent in the business of physical book shops, and now also is knocking down established pillars of the book publishing industry: a process that few find fault with per se, but that is happening at ravaging speed.

The content of the Iliad and other books remains the same, but the experience of reading them is a different one now that the media of reading change. The pace, expectations, and entertainment value of literary works is a different one in this context. Television didn’t overtake ancient Greek literature, television began with a televised series of Oedipus, expanding upon certain themes and bringing the ancients closer to the modern living room again. The world of computer gaming and fantasy abounds with ancient warlords and mythological creatures from Greece and Rome. But how is ancient literature made palatable to the new generation of readers? So far, the use of out-of-copyright translations which are free to download on kindle, I would say, leaves room for improvement…

Modernist Mythology : Berlin

In Allgemein by Francesca / 6. August 2014 / 0 Comments

Berlin is famous and infamous for its theatre and performance scene. You can find and see all sorts on the Berlin stage. Frequent nudity is what the outside onlooker most frequently discerns first and foremost, but the experimental and innovative use of stage, space, objects and living beings, and the breadth of acting is massively lively in the city. As many will know, Berlin has a bit of a tradition in experimental directing and acting for the stage and screen.

The expressionist stage of the early 1900s pioneered an uprooted aesthetics of the nightmare-like, the derailed and the brutal, presenting the industrialized city as an artistic reality for the first time. In another post, I wrote in more detail about one example, Strauss‘ Elektra, but this is only one of several works that fell within the framework of the time’s new set of artists. It ran a deep cut through both the measured and elevated tentes of neo-classical style and the heart-rendingly beautiful, emotion-rich and idealizing tendencies of the romantic era, in which a far more prolific trend had been the focus on rural landscapes, the communion with nature, oftentimes accompanied with medievalizing scenes of old castles and ancient knightships.

The expressionist movement not only had Berlin at the heart of its subject matter, in all its industrialized, over-crowded, gas-lit, disease-ridden, poverty-stricken and department-store-dazzled glory. It also found a fountain of creativity in early cinematography through works such as the silent movie Metropolis, Nosferatu or indeed Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. The expressionist style also took the fancy of the operatic milieu.

It wasn’t long before the modernizing pushes of expressionist performance in the 1900s and 1910s morphed into the heyday of fashion, film, and cabaret in the golden ‚twenties of the Weimar Republic.

A classic example is the 1930 film The Blue Angel starring Marlene Dietrich as a burlesque variety starlet singing „Falling in Love Again“ to the syncopated sounds of a jazz band, the first in german film (the movie was simultaneously produced in German and English, premiering in London in 1930). The film, based on the 1904 novel Professor Unrat by realist writer Heinrich Mann, tells the story of an older school teacher falling in love with a much younger burlesque starlet, which leads to the entire unravelling of his own self and ends with him having gone completely insane.

Another novel, another male personality’s unravelling : Berlin-Alexanderplatz. This 1929 tale of a freed convict’s failure to find his feet in Berlin upon a stint in jail, his return to criminal life and ultimate defeat in his daily struggles against the odds in the great city, is the first German modernist epic set in the metropolitan milieu, often compared to Ulysses. Turned into a movie by 1931, the story was revisited in the 1980s by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in the production of a television series.

Like many of his colleagues in the expressionist literary movement, the author of Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Döblin, was a medical doctor. The tale of someone’s unraveling, degeneration and descent into an abyss, certainly has the appearance of showcasing a determinist concept not only of biological evolution, but also moral and psychological evolution, so dear those engaged in the natural sciences at the time. Today, we can probably review this imputed agenda, and marvel at how these early seeds urban mythology have grown into a well-watered forest of urban myths alive in oral history, pop culture and indeed, the contemporary Berlin stage and screen.