Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Queen Victoria, or why modern brides wear white!

As a royal wedding approaches it is good to reflect on some of our Year 11 work on Victoria's Empire. You can stun your friends as you watch the coverage - "on every channel"?????!!!! What about Friday night football???

When Jane Austen’s parents were married in 1764, the bride, Cassandra Leigh, wore a red riding habit to the ceremony. Cassandra was not being eccentric or making a fashion statement. Such dress was perfectly appropriate for a young woman from a genteel but not particularly wealthy family marrying a country parson.

Under such circumstances, the wedding dress was a practical garment, expected to be worn again on many occasions. This explained why black was a general favorite for the lower classes. As for the red wedding dress of the ever practical and thrifty Mrs. Austen, it too was used for many years, before being eventually recut as a riding jacket for her son Francis.

Bridal attire in 18th century France was much the same. White was a mourning color, and brides would wear it when they had recently lost a close relative. Otherwise, they dressed in their best finery, and color was a matter of taste and fashion.

But when in 1840 Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, all of this changed. The wedding was of course a momentous occasion, both politically and in terms of fashion.

The bride wore a gown of white satin, trimmed with white lace matching her veil, and a crown of orange blossoms. The only spot of color was the beautiful sapphire brooch Albert had given her as a wedding present.

Queen Victoria was a trendsetter in this regard and soon white became de rigueur for wedding gowns, at least among the upper classes. In France, though, more practical colors remained popular for those of modest means.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Where are we up to???

Year 11 people, did you finish Meiji?

Year 12 people, did you finish Leni?

Friday, April 15, 2011


Dates have a funny way of imposing a preconceived analysis on the past.

They can function by synecdoche: 1776 for the five years of the American Revolution, 1976 for the punk revolution and its aftermath. Or they can work by metonymy: 1789 stands for the dawn of modernity itself. Choosing a date with no such obvious implications can be gimmicky, but it can also serve a useful methodological purpose, drawing attention to the way we process time and give it meaning.

Mathematically and physically, the passage of time is neutral, any chunk of the past equivalent to any other. We give time meaning subjectively and socially: the first weeks at high school in our mental autobiographies, the Second World War in the social memory of so many nations. These periods of marked time swell up and fill our understanding of the past. Picking an ‘unmarked’ date can force us to rethink the unexamined hierarchies of importance that we assign to past ages and past events. What’s more, because we tend to process the past in terms of narrative, we leave out many things that don’t readily fit into the stories we tell.

By focusing on one ordinary, unmarked year, we can often make sense of the things we usually leave out because they just don’t belong; in the process, gimmick becomes useful method.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Civil War photographers completely changed popular perceptions of modern warfare.

The Civil War = black-and-white images of bearded Union generals or mustachioed Confederate colonels posing to one side of the camera, dead bodies stacked on the battlefield or common soldiers around a camp tent.

Looking back 150 years to the start of the Civil War this month, what impact did photography have on the war? On the people who lived during the time? What do these images tell us today about the soldiers and their families?

Photography changed the war in several ways. It allowed families to have a keepsake representation of their fathers or sons as they were away from home. Photography also enhanced the image of political figures like President Lincoln, who famously joked that he wouldn't have been re-elected without the portrait of him taken by photographer Matthew Brady.

Intense images of battlefield horrors were presented to the public for the first time at exhibits in New York and Washington, many later reproduced by engravings in newspapers and magazines of the time.

"Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it," wrote the New York Times on Oct. 20, 1862 about Brady's New York exhibit just a month after the bloody Battle of Antietam.

Photography had been around for over 20 years before the Civil War, but new techniques and commercialization led to its flowering just before conflict broke out. Bob Zeller, president of the Center for Civil War Photography in Abilene, Texas, says the invention of the tintype, which was a metal image, and the ambrotype, printed on glass, allowed for mass production of small photographs usually kept by families in wooden or glass cases.

"It was their most visceral, closest link to their loved ones," Zeller said. "For girlfriends or wives at home, the only thing they had was the ambrotype."

These images were taken by small-town photographers and traveling camp photographers, which combined topped 5,000 by the time war broke out in 1861, Zeller said. More than a million such images were produced during the war.

Officers had their photos taken as well and often passed them out to the men as a morale booster. New ways to reproduce photos gave birth to cards. The Library of Congress has produced an exhibit of soldier's portraits April 12 called "The Last Full Measure," based on a private collection.

The second kind of photo was the carte de visite. The carte de visite, or cdv, was also primarily a portrait photograph, except it was made with a glass, wet-plate negative, which meant unlimited copies could be created. Prints were made on albumen paper, according to the center. These portraits of generals, statesmen, actors and other celebrities were mass produced and given out like trading cards.

Some of the Civil War photographers, including Brady, have been criticized in recent years because it appears they moved corpses to create more graphic images. But Zeller said it wasn't a common occurrence. Given that each photographer need an entire wagon worth of equipment and chemicals, he said, these post-battle photographers faced their own set of challenges.

"Each time they moved, they had to secure bottles of chemicals and plate," Zeller said. "Each time they stopped, it had to be level." Photographers also battled flies that were attracted to photo chemicals, ether that made them woozy, and the stench of death.

"How they were able to look at the scenes of dead bodies and be calm enough to set up their equipment and try to portray reality, there is an unsung heroism there," said Alan Trachtenberg, retired professor of American history at Yale University. "It takes guts to do that."

Trachtenberg said military leaders on both sides also hired photographers to gain intelligence about enemy emplacements, roads, bridges and railroads.

Images of everyday life are also depicted for the first time in the Civil War, men playing cards, playing instruments or cleaning equipment. Black soldiers and slaves were also depicted for the first time, according to New York University professor Deborah Willis.

"The placing of the images was significant in identifying that black soldiers found their place in the war," Willis said. "They were working as soldiers and laborers. The fact is they also placed looked as if there are looking for hope."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I should be a spy!

Had dinner at "Frontline" tonight (the Foreign Correspondents Club in London) and sitting two tables away was Julian Assange the WikiLeaks guy.

The CIA might not be able to find him, but I did. lol

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A 5,000-year-old gay caveman?

Five thousand years after he died, the first known gay caveman has emerged into the daylight.

According to archaeologists, the way he was buried suggests that he was of a different sexual orientation.

The skeleton of the late Stone Age man, unearthed during excavations in the Czech Republic, is said to date back to between 2900 and 2500 BC.

During that period, men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with the head pointing towards the west; women on their left side with the head facing east.

In this case, the man was on his left side with his head facing west. Another clue is that men tended to be interred with weapons, hammers and flint knives as well as several portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other side.

Women would be buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as domestic jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet.

The 'gay caveman' was buried with household jugs, and no weapons.

Archaeologists do not think it was a mistake or coincidence given the importance attached to funerals during the period, known as the Corded Ware era because of the pottery it produced.

'From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake,' said lead researcher Kamila Remisova Vesinova.

'Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transvestite. What we see here does not add up to traditional Corded Ware cultural norms.'

An oval, egg-shaped container usually associated with female burials was also found at the feet of the skeleton.

Another member of the archaeological team, Katerina Semradova, said that colleagues had uncovered an earlier case dating from the Mesolithic period where a female warrior was buried as a man.

She added that Siberian shamans, or witch doctors, were also buried in this way but with richer funeral accessories appropriate to their elevated position in society.

'This later discovery was neither of those. We believe this is one of the earliest cases of what could be described as a transvestite or third-gender grave in the Czech Republic.'

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Triumph of the Will

Del posted that you have just watched 'Triumph of the Will'.

I know it gets rave reviews from film people for style and propaganda people for effectiveness, but I don't get it! Maybe it's because I am old and so far separated by time, but I find it profoundly boring. To me, you can only see so many swastikas, so many SS men, hear so many rousing speeches, before it all becomes a bit ho hum.

I want you to consider this. A friend of mine who was in car sales once told me that those ads for cars that don't really mention any price or deal, but simply show the car purring along on country roads with beautiful people inside, etc... were not actually intended to "sell" me a car.They were actually made to help reinforce / convince people who already owned that brand that they had made the right choice, that they were part of an exclusive club. So that they would be happy with their purchase and be brand loyal at their next purchase.

If this is the case with 'Triumph of the Will', that it wasn't really designed to sell Nazi beliefs to non-believers, but reinforce the loyalty of Nazis themselves, is what Riefenstahl has done here really that important? Is Riefenstahl really that important if she is only making feel good movies for the Nazis? Is it then really propaganda???

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Back in Oxford and Spring has sprung

The daffodils are out everywhere Bec!! It is already beautiful and this is just out our gate.