Old Heritage Archive

History at the End of the World?

History at the End of the World?
History at the End of the World?

I am very excited to announce the forthcoming publication of what promises to be one of the signature books on history and human survival. My own contribution to this book is not on my usual topic of research, but on the example of the Parsis, Zoroastrian Indians of Persian descent and their diaspora. It is entitled, ‘A Zoroastrian Dilemma? Parsi Responses to Global Catastrophe’ and is in the final part of the book (Part VI: Surviving Catastrophe: Creating Conditions for Renewal) where I discuss how Parsis have reconciled life and religion throughout their history to survive a series of crises that have challenged this tiny community whose impact on the world has nevertheless been greater than most realise. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the editors, Mark Levene (University of Southampton), Rob Johnson (University of Oxford) and Penny Roberts (University of Warwick) for their brilliant shepherding of this project.

The book will be published in e-book and paperback form on 15 April, History at the End of the World? History, Climate Change and the Possibility of Closure edited by Mark Levene, Rob Johnson and Penny Roberts and is available from the following sources:

History at the End of the World? Out 15 April 2010:

Paperback via Troubador

E-book direct from Humanities Ebooks

Download the flyer for History at the End of the World

The collection has been produced under the auspices of Rescue!History , a network of historian activists with broadminded and sometimes radical approaches to thinking, life and the world. Rescue!History is the sister network to Crisis Forum. I will be reviewing the book on Past Thinking in due course.

Old Heritage Archive

National Portrait Gallery / Wikimedia

This is a quick response to a very good and pleasantly short blog post on Open Objects regarding the conflict caused by Wikimedia scraping high resolution ‘zoomified’ images from the NPG’s website and making them available.

I concur with your thoughts. I don’t think Wikimedia is, however, anything other than extremely naive not to have thought things through a bit better. That they couldn’t even respond promptly (allegedly) to original complaints by NPG is highly unprofessional and this in itself has lowered them in my esteem.

By and large I think the NPG’s response is balanced and correct. We should all be well aware by now that someone has to foot the bill for this quality of digitisation and delivery. It occurs to me that the ‘free, free’ mob is just as naive as WM in this regard.

Perhaps Wikimedia Foundation Inc could do what they did for Wikipedia last year and have a high profile campaign to raise money, but specifically for organisations to digitise and make available some of their content by way of return? I also don’t see any reason why WM needs to host such high res images; a decent image doesn’t have to be art catalogue quality and a link to the zoomify image on the organisation’s own website would surely suffice in the bid to ‘open up access’.

There is an active discussion going on on the Museum Computer Group and also the Museum Copyright Group which some have lamented as indicative of the lack of cohesion inherent in the museum/heritage/cultural sector on issues of access vs. the need for income to fund projects.

Some have said, well as they are publicly funded, they should make all this available for free. But who should pay? The very people who advocate this radical stance must enjoy taking their wage packets home at the end of the month and are not, as far as I can see, willing to give up their jobs for the greater good?

And in any case should we now question the motives of Wikimedia administrators who say they are doing this for the greater good of providing the sum of human wisdom to the world for free?

Whatever the legal rights and wrongs of all this two things are clear: in all acts, even ones purporting to be for the greater good need to be honourable and this one clearly was not, whether through naivity or not. Secondly, those who campaign for absolute open access to everything for free really need to start coming up with new arguments for how this could be made possible, assuming for now that the State is not going to suddenly decide that this is more important to support than propping up corrupt banks and over-bloated businesses.

Edit: I have just received an email from an anonymous person from Wikipedia Belgium wishing to point out the exact difference between Wikimedia Foundation Inc who ‘own’ (is this the right word?) Wikipedia and other projects like Wikimedia Commons. I have slightly adjusted the phrasing of the paragraph above regarding fundraising to clarify. I had appreciated the difference but had not expressed it clearly enough before so I hope this helps.

I was rather disappointed to have received this response to my post privately, which itself misunderstood what I was suggesting, as it means I cannot publish it here with my response, but I can say that I hope this anonymous individual will maintain a correspondence to make very clear a) what his/her opinion is and b) how projects like Wikimedia Commons can work more openly _with_ organisations like NPG so conflict like this doesn’t have to arise again. I can say, however, that the individual cited the Bridgeman Art Library vs Corel case in the US in his/her response, to which I replied that the ruling does not apply as a UK precedent as many of us who have been involved in collections digitisation realised a long time ago.

I have since received a further response and will be respecting the individual’s privacy as one can understand that in the current circumstances they would prefer it this way. I would, however, like to thank him/her for expressing their own personal thoughts about this case. I have been reminded that the nebulous network of people like Wikimedians don’t always in themselves agree about the best way to do things and there has been disappointment amongst other uses in the way the NPG images were reused, which were contrary to the terms and conditions NPG applied to their content. There is also a genuine desire to work more closely with organisations to make their content available through such initiatives as WM Commons and there have been examples of this, e.g. Wikipedia Loves Art and Wiki Loves Art. While content is usually sought on a gratis basis, there have been instances where illustrations have been paid for, and these are supported by the Philip Greenspun project.

So it’s been good to get some of these things aired. Wikimedia Inc has challenged the way we present our information in all its projects and it is perhaps not a bad thing that this conflict, which we all hope can be resolved amicably and quickly, has happened as it will at least give people and organisations pause for thought when undertaking digitisation projects, asking perhaps more obviously, who are we doing this for, why, and is this the best way?

Old Heritage Archive

Exhibition reviews on Creative Spaces

I thought about using Past Thinking as the place for exhibition and book reviews on museumy subjects that interest me, but instead I would like to contribute to content creation on Creative Spaces (National Museums Online Learning Project) particularly when the reviews related to items in the nine museum collections it hosts.

I have recently contributed two reviews, and added them to two groups I run. The first is a short response to Shah ‘Abbas at the British Museum and the second is in response to Byzantium at the Royal Academy.

Read response to Shah Abbas in the Iran and Persian Culture group.

Read response to Byzantium in the Medieval and Byzantine Objects group.

Please note: For some reason my paragraphing is not preserved and so the Byzantium review might be a little hard-going. If you happen to read it and would prefer to read it in a more sensible format, please leave a comment here, or on Creative Spaces.

Old Heritage Archive

I like Creative Spaces

Creative Spaces does. No poking, no sheep throwing, no nonsense.

The two posts below and the several comments are enough to set out the different views of Creative Spaces, or the National Museums Online Learning Project. I am not going to respond to the various criticisms leveled at the project as they do a good job of speaking for themselves. This is about my experience so far, over the last two weeks or so of actually using the site. Many of the buggy features have already been pointed out by Tom and by and large I agree with those (strange URLs and registering procedure, the lack of a big fat button to JOIN and the lack of an advanced search are probably my immediate problems).

Old Heritage Archive

Who’s Who in Medieval Southern Italy

Last May, I gave a short cameo paper on the theme of identities in 11th century southern Italy.  It revoles around two examples, one of the description of Duke Melo or Melus in William of Apulia’s poem in praise of Robert Guiscard (Book 1) and the second on the depiction of the Earth (tellus) in one of the Bari exultet rolls.

Read Who’s Who in Medieval Southern Italy.

Old Heritage Archive

Fragmentation in the Middle Ages: Call for Papers

While the ‘Medieval Exchanges in southern Italy’ project has now ended, the work it has started has not!  I will be co-organising a session at the forthcoming Theoretical Archaeology Conference 2008 at the University of Southampton entitled:

Putting Humpty Together Again: Overcoming the Fragmentation of the Middle Ages

The conference will be held at the Avenue Campus (School of Humanities) on 15-17 December 2008 (Monday to Wednesday).

This session is co-organised with Ben Jervis, also of the University of Southampton (Archaeology) and is supported by the Society for Medieval Archaeology.

To submit an abstract, please use TAG 2008’s submission page on the website as well as emailing a copy to both myself ( and Ben Jervis (

The deadline is 1 September 2008

Old Heritage Archive

‘What do you want the future of Seaton Delaval to be?’ and ‘Will you help?’

These are the words of the National Trust‘s Director-General, Fiona Reynolds on a new kind of campaign by the trust to get the public to decide the future of Seaton Delaval Hall, its gardens, grounds and a large area of countryside in south Northumberland near Blyth.

The Trust intend to purchase the house and its estate to save it for the nation in perpetuity. It is willing to back the purchase with £6m of its own money but needs to raise a further £6m from public appeal, fundraising and public grants.

Romantic and partly-ruined, Seaton Delaval was built between 1718 and 1731 by Sir John Vanbrugh, architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard, and is widely said be the finest work of the English Baroque and one of the most important historic houses in Britain.

In quite a firm statement, the NT’s Trustees have said that without public support, both in terms of fundraising and the public demonstrating a desire for the acquisition to take place, they will not proceed with the acquisition.

This announcement comes hot on the heels of the announcement yesterday of a new Chairman for the National Trust, Simon Jenkins, well-known as a newspaper editor, journalist, writer and heritage conservation campaigner. There have been no big pronouncements from him about his appointment and the future of the Trust which is a refreshing change.

So is this a one-off for the Trust and similar bodies? Does the public have to decide such things? Or is this a genuine attempt to change the way society deals with the conservation and preservation of the country’s past? The latest news on their website does not mention the Seaton Delaval campaign but then again the press release was only received 23 minutes ago. However, if I have managed to blog it, I should think they could do the same. I do hope their campaign will properly use such methods to communicate and raise its profile. I watch with intense interest.

Old Heritage Archive

Olio e vino nell’alto medioevo

54th Settimana di Studio, Spoleto

The 54th Settimana di studio (study week conference), hosted by the Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo (CISAM) was themed ‘Oil and Wine in the High Middle Ages‘ and took place in the beautiful medieval town of Spoleto, Umbria (20-26 April 2006). I was fortunate to have won one of the borsa di studio awarded to ‘foreign’ students. The majority of the Settimana took place in the Palazzo Ancaiani where CISAM are based. The conference itself was highly varied with papers ranging from the theraputic use of oil and wine (Jacquart), to oil and and wine in Byzantine liturgy (Parenti).

Old Heritage Archive

Medieval Food and Feasting, and the emperor Charlemagne

Tehmina has now written two books, aimed at young adults (but very readable by any age really!). Her first is entitled “Medieval Feasts and Banquets: Food, Drink, and Celebration in the Middle Ages” which gives a great introduction to the subject, and blows away quite a few myths (bones being chucked over shoulders onto sawdust for the dogs for one!).

Her second is entitled “Charlemagne: The Life and Times of an Early Medieval Emperor” which gives a concise and enjoyable introduction to the infamous Holy Roman Emperor known as ‘Charles the Great’. He is an important historical character who led a complex life, and many books written about him are heavy-going – Tehm’s book is the most lucid introduction to his life that I have come across (and superbly written). Read more about Charlemagne at Wikipedia.

Both books are published by the Rosen Publishing Group and are available to buy at Amazon.

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Old Heritage Archive

Research trip to Amalfi

Biblioteca Comunale, AmalfiIn March 2005, we made our first joint research trip to Italy. Tehmina was already in Italy as the Tim Potter Memorial Awardee at the British School at Rome. Patricia Skinner also spent 3 weeks at the BSR to continue library-based documentary research on the Amalfitan mercantile diaspora.