Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World
Note: This book was provided by press.princeton.edu as a review copy, though opinions below are entirely my own.
Living in a world that seems to inject an element of magic in nearly every story of time and place, it's surprising to me that Delphi hasn't attracted more attention to this point in books or film. In "Dephi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World," Michael Scott manages to craft a richly detailed history of this ancient place through an accessible narrative style.
While I confess to a bit of Delphi obsession, my knowledge of it would scarcely fill two pages of this book. The span of history covered is awe-inspiring. Has a historic site—and a relative few individuals (women no less) ever held such influence over world affairs so long a time?
Here are five interesting elements of this book that enlightened my understanding of Delphi, which Scott describes as “the belly button of the ancient world”:
It’s virtually hidden away. Despite its central role in the ancient world, Delphi was never exactly accessible. It lies in the foot hills of the Parnassian mountains, “resembling a fortress that Nature herself had chosen to take care of.” Nature and time have obscured the site even more, but it has never seen more traffic either—about two million visitors per year.
Vapor courage was the secret sauce. The Pythia’s responses were “inspired” by a vapor chasm, over which she sat on a tripod.
It changed hands more often than Chrysler. Nothing speaks to Delphi’s political and cultural influence more than surviving invasions on too many occasions to count. For a small town, it carried tremendous staying power.
It was a monument to heroism (from a certain point of view). Partly because so many cultures occupied Delphi at some time or another, the monuments there are a fairly definitive gallery of world history. It’s regrettable so few have survived, but this book describes them well.
Nero (?!) slept here. Nero was indeed the first Roman emperor to visit Dephi. Initially, he gave much autonomy to the city’s ruling council, and was honored with a statue of himself there. Unsurprisingly, the relationship cooled when Nero claimed some of Delphi’s statues, and the Oracle made a comment to him about mother-murderers.
There are several aspects of how this book was written and organized that I appreciated:
Shakespeare framed its structure (kind of). In his introduction, Scott frames the book’s three parts with a quote from Twelfth Night: “some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them.”
It’s chronological, but narrative. The book certainly has themes weaved into its narrative, but it is largely chronological. A wise move for making so much history make sense.
The illustrations add value. Quality photos and illustrations abound, always adding to the story without overwhelming it. Favorite images: “The Priestess at Delphi” and anything from the chapter on archaeological excavations of the early 20th century.
The end matter is a book unto itself. The story of the modern archaeological record is indeed my favorite part of this book, and it leads elegantly into perhaps the best end matter I’ve seen in any work: An insider walkthrough of the Delphi museum as it appears today, Abbreviations, Notes (about 60 pages) and a detailed index.
Top-grade construction. The first thing I noted about this book is the quality of its construction. The weight and feel of the paper, the binding and even the typographical presentation, make it a pleasure to read.
If Delphi intrigues you on any level, this book is a masterwork for your library. It’s authoritative and accessible, and only gets better in the final few chapters. Worth the read, in print format especially.
Question: What’s your favorite fact, story or resource about Delphi? Leave a comment below, or share it on social media with hashtag #voicesofthepast. I’ll be listening!
No Greater Valor: The Siege of Bastogne and the Miracle That Sealed Allied Victory
Jerome R. Corsi Ph.D.
October 28, 2014
The role of faith in the military is a worthy subject as it plays a key role in a successful military. Surrounded by death, faith is both weapon and defense. In "No Greater Valor," author Jerome Corsi explores the role of faith in delivering the "Christmas Miracle" at Bastogne, Belgium, during World War II.
The narrative focuses specifically on American military faith in the Christian tradition. It’s a fair thesis in the context of the time and place of the subject matter. And, on the whole, the book is an engaging, solidly researched narrative about the beliefs of the people who experienced this chain of events.
There are several good stories encapsulated throughout the larger narrative. The stories are told from multiple perspectives using primary sources. Chiefly, this includes an exploration of General Anthony McAuliffe’s unlikely “Nuts” response to German demands for surrender. There are some good folkloric elements as well, such as the story of an eleven-man “ghost patrol” that advanced peacefully through no-man’s-land into American lines unchallenged and then disappeared into legend.
The legend of this moment in time extends to three tellings of the origins of “The Patton Prayer” by Chaplain James High O’Neill. This prayer was composed at the behest of General Patton for clear weather for battle, and printed on a Christmas card and distributed to soldiers. The prayer was credited for the unexpected break in bad weather on Dec. 23, 1944, that allowed American fighting planes to repel the Germans while other resupply aircraft relieved Bastogne’s suffering. The fortunate weather also earned O’Neill a medal from Patton.
If you’re interested in this as a historical work, you’ll find it more credible if you skip the author's hyperbolic introduction. Among other things, his remarks connect the end of "don't ask, don't tell" to the conjectural court martial of chaplains who refuse to marry same-sex military officers. The next sentence wonders at the likelihood of the banning of the Christian Bible from military bases.
The final chapter makes a more reasoned argument regarding the role of a moral code for keeping a nation united for the greater good. In “No Greator Valor,” Corsi accomplishes his goal in “picking up the pieces of history, and confronting the puzzles of the past” through compelling storytelling about people whose strength of character made a difference in a pivotal moment in time.
In 2012, I managed development of a museum exhibit interactive called The Alchemical Quest, which supported an exhibit of rare books. The books originated during the golden age of alchemy, from the 16th and 17th centuries and were drawn from the collections of the Othmer Library of Chemical History. The report below documents the project team’s efforts to make these texts accessible and alive to visitors via touch projection technology.
Reinforce the depth and complexity presented in the exhibition content
Implicitly reiterate the exhibition narratives while allowing for visitors to enjoy the imagery of the books through the interactive experience
Provide visitors with alternate means of experiencing the books in the exhibition
Foster curiosity and encourage deeper exploration of images and text
Demonstrate an example of an alchemical process in its entirety
Reflect the fantastical and practical balance found within the books
My career is in digital media now, and I’m grateful for that. But my younger self romanticized the notion of being a newspaper journalist. Almost 20 years later, the university student newspaper I edited is celebrating 100 years of publication and digitization of its archive. Its tradition may not be yet be gone with the wind, but is certainly being buffeted by modern reality. Here are my thoughts looking back on that time.]
As a painfully introverted Northwestern State University pre-forestry major in 1990, I made one of those classic freshman errors that changes the direction of one’s life forever. In my case, it was taking Intro to Mass Comm class as an elective, a move that derailed any dreams of making a career among trees and not people. Following one class, instructor Tom Whitehead declared I should be writing for the paper and that he was sending me to meet the Current Sauce editor in the journalism suite.
I couldn’t immediately think of an excuse not to, which destined me to spend the remainder of my college life working in the “J-Lab.” It was a indeed a laboratory where an experimental tradition of combined curiosity, tenacity and vision manifested in journalism that reflected ourselves as much as the world around us.
My time as editor-elect was when I first discovered my life’s purpose, though the emergence of social media a decade later that would finally give form to it. It was a time of dreaming about what my paper might be like, and exploring the wonder of historical perspective by looking back through the archives dating back to the earliest Current Sauce issues —identifying the best parts of its legacy, and evolving them with a new generation of writers and editors.
Our “experiments” were published on Tuesday morning, usually after a bleary all-nighter. Still we all anticipated noon, when we could savor a printed copy of our creation. The savoring slowly turned to stewing with each typo found leading up to 3 o’clock. For that was the appointed hour we assembled on that stickiest of all wickets—Media Writing Class, which began with the gang …er,.. group critique of the paper led by Dr. Sara Burroughs. If you are familiar with the character of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, you have a sense of Dr. Burroughs.
Indeed, a weekly beating with a cricket bat would have been the quicker and less painful experience than those critiques. They examined every possible element of journalistic decision making that went into the issue—style, tone, grammar, placement, length and even design. The most thorough contributions came from classmates who had not (nor even cared to) write for the newspaper. The experience introduced me to the nuance of three critical career lessons:
Fight fearlessly for the things that matter.
Recognize a stalemate and change the conversation if you can.
Take it on the chin when it’s due but always keep moving forward.
The beauty of the critiques is that they inspired more determination than defeat. If there was one thing wish I could have done better, it would have been to learn these lessons earlier in my college career and express much more gratitude for my co-editors both as people and as journalists capable of leading the paper in their own right. The talent, work ethic and diversity we had on staff that year was a source of endless conflict, but a profoundly rare gift.
We blew off steam like all proper journalism nerds—with more work. On publishing a tabloid “April Fools” insert along with the regular 12-page broadsheet, Tommy congratulated me on producing the most expensive issue of the Current Sauce ever. I congratulated him on witnessing publication of the Current Sauce’s finest edition ever. Around that time the editorial staff road tripped to Atlanta for the SSPJ conference where the Current Sauce was in competition for the first time. For all our bravado, no one was more shocked that us when we took home several awards, including an honorable mention for best overall newspaper.
We were fortunate to share one more unexpected and gratifying moment that meant more than an award. It was the end of the spring semester and the editorial staff were visibly worse for wear when we assembled for one of our last meetings. Suddenly, Dr. Burroughs appeared in the office—the first time I could recall seeing her in the suite. “This was an exceptional year for the paper,” she said. “Certainly, we’ve torn it to pieces every week, but I just wanted you all to know that.” With a wink she was off, like St. Nick.
Nearly 20 years later, I’ve worked in the digital media space in Center City Philadelphia, and am about to embark on a new adventure in Miami Beach. Two very different cultural environments than where I came from, yet I still find the lessons from that time enduring and influential. The cycles of experimentation and evolution, and the continual refinement finding one’s place in the world can be painful, but they are the ingredients of a legacy that spans generations.
As part of the celebration of the newspaper’s 100th year, Northwestern State University scanned every issue of the Current Sauce and recently put them on archive.org. Here’s the newspaper from my year as editor of “The Sauce.” What wonderful memories!
In 2013, as part of my work managing digital initiatives at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, I created a livestreamed program titled #HistChem to establish a deeper dialog with CHF’s audiences around topics of history, science and culture.
Among the program’s objectives:
Make the institution accessible by featuring its people, collections and research initiatives
Unify traditional & social media platforms
Spark compelling conversations about History & SciTech
Track effectiveness through metrics & social curation tools
In 2013, I started up the GLAM-Wiki initiative at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to provide greater access to the organization’s rich store of historical art, books, instruments and oral histories related to the history of chemistry. The program initiative began with the hiring of a Wikipedian in Residence and continued with trainings and edit-a-thons that have gained participation throughout the Northeast U.S.
Accomplishments as of Spring 2014:
329 Images contributed to Wikimedia Commons
One million views for pages with CHF images in January 2014
14 new articles on Wikipedia
725 Wikipedia articles edited by Wikipedian in Residence
4,000 edits on Wikipedia by Wikipedian in Residence
Nine “Did You Know” featured articles by Wikipedian in Residence
145 Attendees at eight workshops and talks
140 Attendees at GLAM Cafe Digital Humanities Events
The full report on the program, with tactical advice for other cultural institutions, can be viewed and downloaded below.
This podcast features a conversation with Laura Bang. Laura works with Special and Digital Collections at Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library. She’s also active in the Philadelphia Digital Humanities community, which is where we often collaborate.
She’ll tell us about two digital humanities projects built by students at Villanova. One takes a look at the heritage of the small town of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The other examines a historic manuscript from Peru. These projects are good examples of how simple ideas can preserve cultural identity … and help students learn those values while growing their digital skills.
Herculaneum: Past and Future
History › Ancient › Greece
While Pompeii gets most of the play, it was Herculaneum that always seemed to capture my childhood imagination. In the book "Herculaneum: Past and Future," Dr. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill goes beyond imagination to provide a multi-faceted and compelling view of the ill-fated city.
Wallace-Hadrill crafts an engaging narrative that gives unprecedented dimension to the people of Herculaneum and their culture. Besides archaeology, the book covers, architecture, geology, preservation, conservation, anthropology, etc.This is a visually stunning coffee table-sized book that manages to be visually compelling while giving proper consideration to the narrative. More than 300 new images of Herculaneum are featured, including several fold-out panoramic photos. But this book is more than just pretty pictures. The graphs and architectural drawings (e.g. the site plans of the city and locations of excavated skeletons) add a surprising amount of depth you don't realize are typically missing in works that use a visual approach to examine scholarly cultural topics.
Herculaneum in Context
Beginning from the ground up, the first chapter examines the unique geology of the area--the cycle of seismic instability in the region that led to a constant state of repair, redecoration and reconfiguring of the structures there. The chapter also clears up misconceptions about why the city was left so well preserved. It's historic fate was set apart from Pompeii's by the direction of the wind. The chapter on the politics of archaeology poses the question: Why dig up the past? There are many motives, especially for a site whose location and history was never quite lost in the region's communal memory. The noted arrival of Charles Bourbon in the 1730s, was simply the beginning of the "glory years" in a cycle of discovery that occurred over the centuries.
The collapse of the ruins at Pompeii have been widely discussed, but researchers have recorded their concerns about decay at Herculaneum as far back as 1832 due to its being less explored by the public. Often good intentions have done more harm than good, as in the case of heavy varnishes damaging paintings and excavations collapsing original structures. This book came out of Wallace-Hadrill's involvement in a 2001 collaboration between the Packard Humanities Institute of California and the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii that was designed to address these concerns. This book is a treat for those interested in better understanding heritage preservation practice in historical and sociological context. The book also takes a deeper look into discovery into the conservation of individual artifacts, which has the makings of an interesting volume on its own.
The Town and its Setting
On feature of Herculaneum I find particularly enlightening is its numerous maps (historical and modern) and architectural models, which are key to keeping the reader oriented to what they're seeing and the nature of the cultural and practical influences. One of the most useful to me is a simple line map indicating the location of the Greek colonies founded in the with to sixth centuries BC and the local Oscan foundations under Etruscan influence in the same period.
The People and Culture
Along with delivering all the skeletons and imaginings of gruesome deaths one would expect, the author delivers a good bit of demographic data to fully illustrate the vibrancy and cultural diversity during the heyday of this seaport town. As he states:
The same point of death has the rare advantage, archaeologically speaking, of freezing a cross-section of the population, of different ages and social standing.
I've heard a lot about the boat sheds where many inhabitants met their deaths, and Herculaneum includes the story, photographs and even a breakdown by gender and age of the skeletons found there, and even a map that show the location and depth where they were found. The book backtracks to examine legal documents and statues of political leaders to construct a fascinating tale of the city's slave culture. Likewise, the architecture of the famous Suburban Baths attracted affluent visitors, which defined the public face of Herculaneum.
One of the most captivating stories in book details the Herculaneum Conservation Project's excavation and conservation of a marble head of a statue of an Amazon. There are photos of the half-buried artifact at the moment of discovery and an exquisite detail shot of painting around the eye. The rare preservation of the pigment (which is also extensively evident in the hair) is owed due to immediate involvement by professional conservators in its cleaning.
Standards of Living
It turns out, home size was not an indicator of class and wealth in Herculaneum. Indeed the town's growth over eras led to intriguing interpretations of architectural styles. The author usefully illustrates his insights with three-dimensional floor plans. The architecture and sculpture is most noted in these cultures since they are mostly what survived the catastrophe. Some carbonized wooden furniture survived in Herculaneum and is included. The small tables, cupboards and cradle provide a strikingly human element to this story. Perhaps because they are objects that the inhabitants would have interacted with (indeed, they look like those modern humanity uses), and not just dwelt in or admired.
The author thoroughly contextualizes class, architecture and everyday living. Most interesting was the Conservation Project's excavation of the sewers beneath the Palaestra block. The sewer was divided into one-meter lengths and excavated stratigraphically. Occasional sandy layers marked flood events. The finds there reveal more about the daily lives of the inhabitants as their art and architecture.
The Tale of Two Cities
The book's penultimate chapter provides an interesting comparison between Pompeii and Herculaneum. As the author states:
Put Pompeii and Herculaneum together, and it is like looking through two eyes. They may be close together, but that is enough to restore a sense of depth. It is because they are both similar and different that they give us a more three-dimensional view.
Here we learn that Herculaneum was a relative "small town" compared to Pompeii's metropolis. They had different political standings. Part of our fascination with Pompeii may be its famed brothels or the fact that it was one of the best places in the world to study gladiatorial games. The intimacy and complex personal relationships of Herculaneum's inhabitants put a damper on vice.
The Future of the Past
Wallace-Hadrill concludes "Herculaneum" fittingly with an analysis of the town's present, and the challenges it continues to face. These cities, though ironically well preserved by the disaster that befell them, were fundamentally damaged by it. Now exposed, their conservation is an ongoing challenge. This is especially true in Herculaneum, where carbonized material like structural wood beams are being held together by wax treatments. The politics of competing interests has played a role and has been famously blamed for structural failures in Pompeii in recent years,
Still, there are conservation victories, like the "House of the Gems" which is illustrated with before-and-after photographs. Regarding expansion of excavation versus conservation of what's already been unearthed, the author's closing thoughts comment on Herculaneum's being likened to a time capsule...
But a buried treasure lies secure for future generations. For our own generation, it is enough to appreciate the extraordinary value of the treasure that has already been dug up, to look after its merits, and to pass it on to future generations.
Note: This book was a review copy provided by the publisher. More information can be found at www.franceslincoln.com
We’re all hearing stories about how newspapers are obsolete and print is dead. But what’s taking their place? After, all the big attraction of newspapers is their scannability. We humans have become accustomed to absorbing a world of timely knowledge, at a glance.
At the dawn of social media, RSS (or really simple syndication) was THE way to monitor new content. It still has real value for those curating content for others in a specific niche. To put it in a nutshell, RSS solutions bring the web to you, your way. No clicking. No searching. No fancy formatting. Very little ad clutter. Just the text from your favorite sites along with relevant media. This technology continues to be a better choice for folks who want to actively control the type and quality of information they consume, rather than the passive experience of clicking on what shows up in your social media stream. It defines thought leadership, as opposed to following And the important thing is, it is indeed really simple. Here’s all you need to do:
Step 1: Get An RSS Aggregator
Google Reader was the king of RSS readers until 2013 when Google discontinued it. Using RSS in 2014 and beyond will mean are more ‘social’ experience rather than mere information consumption. The heir-apparent to Google Reader is Feedly due to its similar functionality, but Flipboard is a good choice as well for folks who like more visual experiences in a mobile environment. Bloglines refines the concept a bit with its focus on local blogs, news and events (a good option when you work in place-based heritage). Your reader is just a holding pen for all the information that will come from each site you subscribe to.
Step 2: Learn to recognize a site that offers a RSS feed
Most modern websites have RSS built in, but heritage organizations seem to be lagging behind in this regard. You will most likely recognize a RSS-enabled website by the square icon with a cone-shaped design in it. Usually it’s orange. This orange RSS button could be in the web page itself, but you know for sure by looking at the address bar of your browser. If the icon, or the letters RSS show up along with your website’s address, all you have to do is click the icon to save it to your preferred reader.
Remember all those really cool sites you bookmarked in your browser thinking you would get back to them? I didn’t think so. It’s often the newest, shiniest websites that seem to get the most attention, often at the expense of more established sites that have a backstock of useful information and experienced authors. Go back and take a look at these sites. If they still seem relevant, try adding them to your RSS reader. You can also check the websites of your favorite print publications.
Step 4: Learn how to scan
The beauty of RSS is being able to immediately identify whether an article is something you 1.) are not interested in, 2.) just want to scan, or 3.) want to read thoroughly. Generally, your reader loads a few articles at a time. And items appear one after the other on your page. The length of the post within reader is set by the owner of the website providing the feed. While Web 2.0 netiquette expects that articles be fed in their entirety, some sites provide just a summary or headline. By using an RSS reader app like “Reeder” you can literally thumb through your feed entries.
Step 5: Share what’s useful
When a webmaster establishes an RSS feed, it is often with the help of a program like Feedburner. This embeds a variety of sharing options into each post that goes into the feed. Usually this appears in the bottom of each post. Feed readers also generally include easy options for sharing entries to social media services like Twitter.What you certainly will see is your Reader’s built-in options for sharing. Here’s a screenshot of the sharing options for a post in Feedly:
Click the image to read more about what the icons mean for sharing. These options allow you to share the article without leaving your Reader or even losing your place. You can “star” an article or add a keyword through the tag feature for easy sorting later on. When you use “share” it gives all your shared items their own page, that other people can subscribe to. Congratulations, you made your first RSS web page! Of course, you can still e-mail the article if you just have to. Or you can mark “keep unread” so the article doesn’t go away as you continue to scan the articles below it.
There are two historical figures who intrigue me like none other: Ben Franklin and St. Francis of Assisi. Indeed, few religious figures are as universally admired as Francis. In the inspiring biography "Saint Francis," Robert West crafts and engaging, succinct narrative of the Saint's life.
Francis grew up in a merchant class home at the end of the feudal era. The young man enjoyed a frivilous, but not trouble-free, existence in his lust to become a knight. Abject defeat and humiliation in a prison stay set his path to one of the most storied conversion stories of all time. The author initially takes a lot of liberties surmising scenes from what little is known about Francis' youth. This decreases as the historic record clarifies after his conversion.
For a man who valued solitude and renounced all worldly goods and ambition, Francis often found himself in the center of difficult events. West explores the corruption of the church, and the struggles Francis encountered in trying to bring peace to one of the crusades, only to return home and find the brothers of his order were laxing rules he viewed as critical to the Franciscan way of life. He was a man of peace, but one of passion.
Noteworthy is West's dedication to weave the narrative both chronologically and thematically. Every detail and personality introduced throughout the story continues to play a role in the story throughout the events that follow.
The story of Francis' final months is both beautiful and heartbreaking, concluding with a tribute to Francis composed by an unlikely source.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”