Category Archives: History

Everyone Farts; or, Historical Bathroom Humor

Bonnacon - Medieval monster that farts

Today’s page is dedicated to those fans who have wondered when I’m going to put up more bizarre historical art. About 300 years ago, some genius Japanese artist gave us He-Gassen, or “the fart war.”  I can’t make this up if I tried.  Not quite safe for work. And then there’s more medieval silliness on the matter: Says one source, who I’m sure is totally reputable and wasn’t drinking at all when he wrote it: …in Asia an animal is

When Architecture Fails: The Leaning Tower of Pisa and Beauvais Cathedral

I love it when architecture fails spectacularly. I’ve previously talked about the Bent Pyramid in ancient Egypt, which took 20 years to build and doesn’t actually contain anyone because it threatened to collapse. There’s also the Black Pyramid, whose mud brick core essentially melted during construction. But, just to ensure you that this medievalist does not play favorites, I give you two medieval examples of architectural fails: the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Beauvais Cathedral. Famous Architecture Fail: The Leaning

A Gross Realization: Historical Sanitation

The western world takes sanitation for granted, an inherent part of civilization. In truth, few places had anything even resembling sanitation until the 19th century. The Problem of Population Civilization is defined by urban living: large numbers of people living in relatively small spaces. As historical populations grew, cities grew up as much as out, as one needed to be able traverse the city on foot.  In Europe, this meant multi-story tenement buildings sitting close together on narrow streets with

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

Art of the “Dark Age”

Sainte Chapelle, gothic architecture

One of the things I deal with is the continuing use of the term Dark Age to describe the Middle Ages. It wasn’t that dark, at least not overall. It did get pretty ugly at the beginning, however, and it was definitely different from what came before it, which was the Roman Empire. …with whom Renaissance writers were in love with, and they were the ones who decided to call everything I love the Dark Age, meaning the unfortunate time

What the Heck’s a Holy Roman Empire?

This strange entity known as the Holy Roman Empire never fails to confuse students. Let’s start with what it isn’t: It’s not the Roman Empire. It’s not the Eastern or Western Roman Empires, into which the Roman Empire split in the fourth century C.E. (Western Roman Empire falls in 476 CE.) It’s not the Byzantine Empire, which is really just the Eastern Roman Empire with another name, which lasted until 1453. It also isn’t ruled from Rome, which one might

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

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