Posts Tagged ‘Britain’
(Roughly) Daily is headed into a brief hiatus, as your correspondent is hitting the highways of his humid homeland. Regular service should resume on April 26. Meantime…
Britain split from mainland Europe to become an island thanks to catastrophe — that might sound political, but in fact it’s geographic. Thousands of years before the UK opted to leave the European Union, a process called Brexit, a different separation occurred. Unlike the political one, it was relatively simple, and probably composed of just two stages.
First, a review of geography: England is separated from the rest of Europe by a body of water called the English Channel; the bit of water where England is closest to France is called the Dover Strait. But the strait wasn’t always there — it was likely created by two major erosion events, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The first one likely happened around 450,000 years ago, around the same time Neanderthals first appeared in Europe. That’s when huge amounts of water spilled over from a large lake sitting at the edge of a massive ice sheet that stretched from Britain to Scandinavia. The second one may have occurred 160,000 years ago, when catastrophic flooding opened the Dover Strait. When the ice age ended and sea levels rose, water flowed into that gap. Just like that, Britain became an island…
* Jeanette Winterson,
As we cope with separation anxiety, we might spare a thought for Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; he died on this date in 1788. A naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste, Buffon formulated a crude theory of evolution, and was the first to suggest that the earth might be older than suggested by the Bible: in 1778 he proposed that the Earth was hot at its creation and, judging from the rate of its cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.
In 1739 Buffon was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi, a post he occupied until his death. There he worked on the comprehensive work on natural history for which he is remembered, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. He began in 1749, and it dominated the rest of his life. It would eventually run to 44 volumes, covering quadrupeds, birds, reptiles and minerals. As Max Ernst remarked, “truly, Buffon was the father of all thought in natural history in the second half of the 18th century.”
Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (SDFB) is a digital reconstruction of the early modern social network that scholars and students from all over the world will be able to collaboratively expand, revise, curate, and critique. Historians and literary critics have long studied the way that early modern people associated with each other and participated in various kinds of formal and informal groups. By data-mining existing scholarship that describes relationships between early modern persons, documents, and institutions, we have created a unified, systematized representation of the way people in early modern England were connected…
Follow the connections at Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.
As we marvel at the interconnectedness of it all, we might recall that it was on this date in The Virginia Company loaded three ships with settlers, who set sail to establish Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. As this was the UK’s first colony, today can be considered the birthday of the British Empire.
The digging of Crossrail, London’s new twenty-three-billion-dollar east-west underground commuter line, has been one long party for archeologists. Since construction began, in 2009, imposing encampments, clad in blue fencing and busy with trucks, have appeared across the city, providing access points for the cranes and the huge boring machines that are needed to carve out tunnels, vents, and stations along the line’s seventy-three miles. Almost always, there have also been archeologists on the scene, clipboards and trowels in hand, to see what can be unearthed from the briefly exposed soil. So far, there have been excavations at thirty of Crossrail’s forty building sites, yielding up a section of a medieval barge, in Canning Town; a Bronze Age wooden walkway, in Plumstead; and the remains of a Mesolithic campfire, in North Woolwich.
On a recent, gray spring afternoon, I went to see the latest, and largest, Crossrail dig, across the road from Liverpool Street station, in the middle of the financial district, where a new ticket hall will soon occupy the space previously filled by London’s first municipal graveyard. The New Churchyard, an acre in size, was first used in 1569, not long after an outbreak of bubonic plague, as an alternative to the overcrowded parish plots inside the old city walls. It was not attached to any church, which made it a natural resting place for radicals, nonconformists, migrants, mad people, and drifters—Londoners, in other words. It closed some time in the seventeen-twenties, full many times over. Ten thousand people were buried there; in 1984, a partial excavation found graves dug through graves, eight skeletons per cubic meter…
More urban archaeology at “Bedlam’s Big Dig.”
* William Shakespeare, Richard II
As we memento mori, we might recall that it was on this date in 1606 that King James I, having inherited the English and Irish thrones to go with the Scottish monarchy that (as James IV) he already had, decreed the design of a new flag for his domains, according to which the flag of England (a red cross on a white background, known as St George’s Cross), and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire on a blue background, known as the Saltire or St Andrew’s Cross), would be joined together, forming the flag of England and Scotland for maritime purposes. King James also began to refer to a “Kingdom of Great Britaine”, although the union remained a personal one. The flag– known as the Union Flag or Union Jack– was adopted as the national flag in 1707, after the completion of the Treaty of Union and the passage of the Acts of Union.
Gas stations are rarely known for their aesthetics. Looking like a truck stop is no compliment for a work of architecture. It hasn’t always been so: In the early days of American car culture, gas stations were designed with enough architectural flamboyance to lure customers off the highway. As driving has become an ingrained way of life, though, that extra design effort has fallen by the wayside. Though in general we’re not a huge fan of city driving, as long as people continue to rely on cars, there will have to be places to fuel up. Why make car infrastructure more of a blight on the landscape than it already is?
Some of the best-known architects of our time have set their sights on gas station architecture, from midcentury icons like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, to Jean Prouvé to Norman Foster. In a new book from Architizer founder Marc Kushner, The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, Kushner devotes an entire section to this car-centic architecture that outclasses the barren Shell stations of today by a mile…
Fill ‘er up at “9 Gorgeous Gas Stations Throughout History.”
* “Socrates” (Nick Nolte), a gas station attendant in Peaceful Warrior
As we opt for unleaded, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Britain introduced the first Driver’s Test for licensing. Optional until 1935 (so as to avoid a crush at the test centers), the new requirement, enacted with the Highway Code of 1934, followed a year in which cars on the road topped 1 million in the U.K. and road deaths reached 7,300. In an effort to calm motorists made nervous by the new requirement, Ford produced a short, reassuring film, narrated by motor racer and land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell:
Via Collective History.
As we look both ways, we might send covert birthday greetings to Ian Lancaster Fleming; he was born on this date in 1908. The scion of a wealthy merchant banking family, Fleming worked as a journalist and served as a naval intelligence officer before finding his stride, starting in 1952, as the author of a series of spy novels featuring a suave MI6 agent who was licensed to kill. While he also wrote such well-known works as Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, his James Bond novels have sold over 100 million copies; the films based on his novels have grossed over $12 billion (adjusted for inflation), second as a series only to the Harry Potter films.
What do Guatemala, Tajikistan, Luxembourg, and the Marshall Islands have in common?
Every schoolboy used to know that at the height of the empire, almost a quarter of the atlas was coloured pink, showing the extent of British rule. But that oft-recited fact dramatically understates the remarkable global reach achieved by this country.
A new study has found that at various times the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe.
The analysis of the histories of the almost 200 countries in the world found only 22 which have never experienced an invasion by the British.
[TotH to Laughing Squid]
As we reach for our hair-dryers, we might recall that it was on this date in 55 BCE that Julius Caesar first landed in Britain (or so historians reckon). It’s unclear whether the expedition to the (then Iron Age) island was intended as an invasion (he crossed from Gaul with two Legions) or a reconnaissance-in-force; in any case, it succeeded in establishing a beachhead in (what’s now) Kent– where, the following year, Caesar’s successful invasion landed.