Category Archives: General History

The Separation of Britain and Europe

Signposts bearing flags of UK and EU

Even before Brexit, there were debates as to whether the UK should be described as a European country. On one hand, the UK is certainly culturally closer to European countries than, say, Asian ones. On the other hand, there are significant differences between UK and the rest of Europe.

Volcano Day; or, the Fall of Pompeii

Pompeii excavation site

Sometimes,, historical tragedy is the archaeologist’s best friend. Most cities slowly fade into obscurity as people gradually pack up their belongings and move away, chasing greener or safer pastures. The buildings they leave behind slowly crumble until there’s nothing left but foundations which often become buried by debris, newer construction, or both. When death is instantaneous and on a massive scale, however, sometimes belongings survive intact and in their natural places for scientists to one day find. The eruption of

Bathroom Customs; or, Everyone Poops

Roman bathroom habits

There’s talk of late of where transgender people should go to the bathroom.  If you’re physically male, but you consider yourself female, do you use the men’s room or the ladies’ room?  What if you have gender reassignment surgery, so you’re physically a different gender than you were at birth? Or, a question I’ve always asked, long before I had heard of transgenderism: why the heck do we care? The Modern Urinal Of course, the urinal poses some problem, since

Today (Kind of) In History: St. Patrick

St. Patrick stain glass window

I don’t actually have a lot to debunk about St. Patrick Day.  More like just giving up tidbits of information. Feast Day March 17 is the official feast day for St. Patrick.  Theoretically, it’s the date of his death.  In truth, we have no idea when he died, nor, to the best of my knowledge, how he died.  Unlike many early saints, Patrick was not a martyr.  Had he died for his faith, the story of it would certainly have

Invoking the Templars; or, from Where Friday the 13th Came

Burning of the Knights Templar

Today’s post was inspired by a doctor’s visit when, in the waiting room, one patient abruptly informed another patient that Friday the 13th superstitions were based on the execution of the Templars. He also insisted most people don’t know that. Hasn’t everyone heard that story? Maybe it’s just a history major urban legend.  I sure thought most people had heard that claim. The fact is, it’s baloney. The Knights Templar on Friday the 13th On Friday, October 13, 1307, hundreds

The Long, Long Fall of the Roman Empire

Thomas Cole's painting "Fall of Rome"

As a medievalist, 476 C.E. is arguably the beginning date of my time period, the Middle Ages. That is the date we normally give for the fall of the Western Roman Empire, although it is chosen somewhat arbitrarily, as Rome was not really functioning as an empire by that point. Which, I think, is not how people understand the fall of the Roman Empire. The great and powerful empire didn’t just get overrun one day, It was a slow, steady

Looking Like a Thug as Capital Crime

historical image of a hanging

Oklahoma is considering  legally preventing people from concealing themselves “in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise,” via a proposed law the media is nicknaming the “hoodie ban.”  This, of course, in the wake of the Treyvon Martin shooting, in which his wearing of a hoodie potentially intimidated his shooter. In Michigan, a black man was questioned by police for having his hands in his pockets on a cold December day, because that somehow made

The Murderous English Language

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary

You may have heard English is one of the harder world languages to learn as a second language. The problem is it borrows from too many sources, meaning our grammar and spelling rules are something like the Pirate Code from Pirates of the Caribbean: more like suggestions than actual rules. It’s how we end up with bough and cough not rhyming, how individual words end up meaning different things, such as bow (bow of a ship, bow and arrow, bow

Evolution of Words

The world is full of symbols, even if we don’t consciously consider them such. A symbol is something that represents something else through common agreement rather than anything inherent in its nature. In America, a red octagon is strongly associated with “Stop,” as is a red light. In other contexts, red means other things, like love. No one thinks a red light means love, however. Written language as also symbolic. Each squiggle only means something because we all agree it

The Historical War on Xmas

17th century notice punishing Christmas celebrants 5 shillings

For a long time, I often abbreviated Christianity and Christmas to Xtianity and Xmas in class for no better reason than it was quicker. Then, one day, I had a student complain the spelling was anti-Christian. This student had been a semester-long pain in the ass (accusing me of working witchcraft on the class, among other things), but I started refraining from using the phrases, in part because I didn’t know precisely where the spellings came from.  I have no

« Older Entries