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Photo: Volcano Discovery

I love stories about volcanoes that change the flow of history. The really big ones, you know, darken the skies for months — even years — and disrupt the sea like a tsunami.

As Katherine Kornei reports at the New York Times, there are other effects that researchers are just beginning to discover.

“Chaos and conflict roiled the Mediterranean in the first century B.C.,” she reports. “Against a backdrop of famine, disease and the assassinations of Julius Caesar and other political leaders, the Roman Republic collapsed, and the Roman Empire rose in its place. Tumultuous social unrest no doubt contributed to that transition — politics can unhinge a society. But so can something arguably more powerful.

Scientists [in June] announced evidence that a volcanic eruption in the remote Aleutian Islands, 6,000 miles away from the Italian peninsula, contributed to the demise of the Roman Republic.

“That eruption — and others before it and since — played a role in changing the course of history.

“In recent years, geoscientists, historians and archaeologists have joined forces to investigate the societal impacts of large volcanic eruptions. They rely on an amalgam of records — including ice cores, historical chronicles and climate modeling — to pinpoint how volcanism affected civilizations ranging from the Roman Republic to Ptolemaic Egypt to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

“There’s nuance to this kind of work, said Joseph Manning, a historian at Yale University who has studied the falls of Egyptian dynasties. ‘It’s not “a volcano erupts and a society goes to hell.” ‘ But the challenge is worth it, he said. ‘We hope in the end that we get better history out of it, but also a better understanding of what’s happening to the Earth right now.’ …

“Joseph McConnell, a climate scientist at the [Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.], and his collaborators are in the business of looking for debris [from long ago eruptions]. …

“Volcanic ash, more generally known as tephra, sometimes hides in ice. It’s a special find because it can be geochemically tied to a specific volcano. … The ice also carries a time stamp. Dr. McConnell and his colleagues look for variations in elements like sodium, which is found in sea spray that’s seasonally blown inland. By simply counting annual variations in these elements, it’s possible to trace the passage of time, Dr. McConnell said. ‘It’s like a tree-ring record.’

“Dr. McConnell and his collaborators recently analyzed six ice cores drilled in the Arctic. In layers of ice corresponding to the early months of 43 B.C., they spotted large upticks in sulfur and, crucially, bits of material that were probably tephra. The timing caught the scientists’ attention. Researchers have previously hypothesized that an environmental trigger may have helped set in motion the crop failures, famines and social unrest that plagued the Mediterranean region at that time. …

“Gill Plunkett, a paleoecologist at Queen’s University Belfast, set out sleuthing. After extracting 35 pieces of tephra from the ice, she pored over the rock chemistry of likely volcanic suspects. Nicaragua’s Apoyeque. Italy’s Mount Etna. Russia’s Shiveluch.

“But it was Okmok, a volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, that turned out to be the best match, at least on paper. Sealing the deal would require testing two tephra samples — one from the ice and one from Okmok — on the same instrument.

“Dr. Plunkett arranged for a tephra handoff at a conference in Dublin. A colleague from the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Kristi Wallace, packed four bags of Okmok tephra in her carry-on luggage. The match was spot on, Dr. Plunkett said. …

“This eruption was one of the largest of the last few millenniums, Dr. McConnell and his collaborators concluded, and the sulfate aerosols it created remained in the stratosphere for several years. These tiny particles are particularly good at reflecting sunlight, which means they can temporarily alter Earth’s climate. …

“There’s good evidence that the Northern Hemisphere was colder than normal around 43 B.C. Trees across Europe grew more slowly that year, and a pine forest in North America experienced an unusually early autumn freeze. Using climate models to simulate the impact of an Okmok eruption, Dr. McConnell and his collaborators estimated that parts of the Mediterranean, roughly 6,000 miles away, would have cooled by as much as 13.3 degrees Fahrenheit. … Rain patterns changed as well — some regions would have been drenched by 400 percent more precipitation than normal, the modeling revealed.

“That climate shock came at precisely the wrong time, Dr. [Jessica Clark, a historian of the Roman Republic at Florida State University] said. ‘This was a period of Mediterranean-wide political, social and economic upheaval.’

“These cold, wet conditions would have almost certainly decimated crops, Dr. McConnell and his colleagues said. Historical records compiled by Roman writers and philosophers note food shortages and famines. … For a society already reeling from the assassination of Julius Caesar the year before, such trying conditions might have exacerbated social unrest, the researchers concluded. They might even have kick-started transfers of political power that led to the rise of the Roman Empire.

“ ‘It’s an incredible coincidence that it happened exactly in the waning years of the Roman Republic when things were falling apart,’ said Dr. McConnell, who published the team’s results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

This was a long, fascinating article. For additional details, including details about the effects of distant volcanic eruptions on the Nile River in Egypt, click here.

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Photo: Filip Noubel
Tiles representing Uzbekistan’s huge cotton industry at the Paxtakor metro station. The  ornamentation of various subway stops portrays the accepted history of the moment.

As we struggle today with our nation’s history and painful, long-suppressed facts come to the fore, let’s turn off the television and think about Uzbekistan.

Back in the day, the Uzbeks thought it would be a beautiful thing to build something Stalin really wanted. They eventually completed a mighty subway system full of the kind of history their now discredited leader would have liked.

Filip Noubel reports at Global Voices, “For many years, it was strictly prohibited to photograph the ornate stations of the Tashkent metro in the Uzbek capital. The Soviet-era system had also been constructed with nuclear attack in mind, and could serve as a fallout shelter in wartime. But ever since that ban was lifted in early 2018, visitors from abroad have started to show heightened interest in Central Asia’s oldest subway system. And with good reason.

“Tashkent’s metro system is so much more than just a means of transportation. Over the decades of its existence, the design and names of the metro’s 29 ornate stations have changed to reflect the turbulent trends of Uzbekistan’s history. …

“Back in November 1920, electricity was a taste of the bold promises of progress to come; it embodied the new innovations now made accessible to the masses. Just 12 years later, the Soviet leadership pronounced yet another strategic and futuristic priority: the construction of the metropolitan, as Europe’s subway systems had come to be known in the second half of the 19th century. On May 25, 1932, the Sovnarkom, the then executive body of the Soviet government issued a decree …

‘The construction of the metropolitan must be considered a project of the utmost importance to the state, with its provision of timber, metal, cement, transportation, etc, and as a key priority in matters of superproductivity at the national level.’ …

“The development of the metro also marked a key turning point in the development of the Soviet economy: while the first five-year plan (1928–1932) emphasised heavy industrialisation, the second five-year plan focused on urbanisation. As a result, the metro became a major cultural symbol, present in films, children’s books, poetry and songs. It was hailed as testament to the success of Stalinism in official songs, such as this one from 1936:

” ‘We believed, we knew, That by digging a pit,
” ‘We would, Comrade Stalin, Make your plan come true.

” ‘They will describe it for centuries on, And not with just one pen
” ‘And they will tell the children, How they fought for the metro!’ …

“The people of Tashkent had to wait several decades for their metro, which was the first in remote and comparatively underdeveloped Soviet Central Asia. Planners faced several challenges: the Uzbek capital had experienced a crushing earthquake in 1966, which destroyed half the city. The city lacked trained engineers and metro workers. Uzbekistan’s long and scorching summers posed problems for ventilation. Which was precisely why the Soviet authorities had to demonstrate that they were up to the task.

“Mobilising human resources and special construction material from all across the Soviet Union, the first metro pits in Tashkent were dug in 1973. Just four years later, in a Stakhanovite spirit which set a record, the metro’s first line was opened in November 1977. The date was chosen to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Russian revolution. Accordingly, as news footage from that day shows, all local politicians were present at the opening, where a message of congratulations from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was read out before the crowd. …

“As in other Soviet metro systems, each station of the Tashkent metro was assigned a particular political and cultural message to illustrate key messages of Soviet ideology.  …

“Of the 29 stations operating today (a third line was opened in 2001), five metro stations are particularly revealing in what they tell us about Uzbekistan’s changing narratives around national identity.

“[One] station is an emblematic example. Known as Friendship of the Peoples during the Soviet period, its previous name reflected Soviet ideology’s extensive attempts to emphasise its supposedly peaceful international role during the Cold War, in opposition to western imperialism. …

“[The Cotton Grower] station’s name symbolises the Uzbek economy’s everlasting dependency on cotton production. During the Soviet period, Moscow assigned each of the 15 Soviet republics a particular crop to produce en masse. This focus on cotton monoculture has been continued by all subsequent Uzbek governments at a high price for the country’s population. The cotton sector has used forced labor, including that of children.”

Forced child labor, huh? Bet they’re not proud of that now. Read more about the stations and (how the accepted history keeps changing) here.

Hat tip: Arts Journal.

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Photo: Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers
Many indigenous people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving. Others use it as a chance to raise consciousness about American mythologies or just to be with extended family and give thanks.

The other day, I was asking my British neighbors if they celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, the traditional story of the First Thanksgiving is about being grateful for freedom from Britain. Why would they? They said they love the holiday and always invite a lot of expat Brits living in the area to eat turkey with them.

Just as language evolves and individuals use words in their own ways, so do customs. At Smithsonian magazine I recently learned that among indigenous Americans there are as many attitudes toward Thanksgiving as there are unique individuals.

Read Dennis Zotigh’s great piece “Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?”

“In thinking about my earliest memories of elementary school, I remember being asked to bring a brown paper sack to class so that it could be decorated and worn as part of the Indian costume used to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was also instructed to make a less-than-authentic headband with Indian designs and feathers to complete this outfit. Looking back, I now know this was wrong.

“The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture. The costumes we wore bore no resemblance to Wampanoag clothing of that time period. Among the Wampanoag, and other American Indians, the wearing of feathers has significance. The feathers we wore were simply mockery, an educator’s interpretation of what an American Indian is supposed to look like. …

“When children are young, they are often exposed to antiquated images of American Indians through cartoons, books, and movies. But Thanksgiving re-enactments may be their most active personal encounter with Indian America, however poorly imagined, and many American children associate Thanksgiving actions and images with Indian culture for the rest of their lives. … While I agree that elementary-school children who celebrate the first Thanksgiving in their classrooms are too young to hear the truth, educators need to share Thanksgiving facts in all American schools sometime before high school graduation.”

Here, for adult readers, Zotigh goes into the tragedy, which I hope you’ll make time to read. Next, he quotes an array of opinions of actual Native Americans, noting, for example, that “the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill for a Day of Mourning. …

“I turn to the Internet to find out what Native people think of Thanksgiving. A few of the responses I have received over the years, beginning with the most recent: …

“Exeter, California: ‘Being the only Native American classroom teacher at a public school, raised mostly in an urban setting steeped heavy in traditional American holidays, and around many other native people on weekends while traveling to dance, this has always been a challenging question for me that I cannot claim to know the answer for. I see many other teachers I work with who are not native struggle with knowing how to address the issue comfortably. I have to say, I have fear that if we avoid the issue altogether, Native people will be forgotten about.

” ‘I have seen some teachers decide to stop teaching about Native Americans for fear of offending. I personally get sad when I see that happen. I know Thanksgiving is a controversial subject, and there are so many viewpoints. I share the modern theme of Thanksgiving, which I think has good intentions — family and community. I have also chosen to teach about Native American culture, even more heavily in November because of Thanksgiving, even though it is no longer a part of the curriculum. I have found ways to integrate it while teaching something that I think is important. I do an assembly for the students in which we dance, and I emphasize how it is not possible to teach everything there is to know about Native Americans in just one assembly. I emphasize the diversity among native people.’

“Sevierville, Tennessee: ‘Regardless of all the political views of Thanksgiving, we can all find something to be thankful for!’

“San Antonio, Texas: ‘Except for the last four years, the twenty years before that I spent 95 percent of my Thanksgivings at the table of my brother-in-law. Our gatherings were about giving thanks for what we had. As for Native American history being left out of teaching, it is an outrage. Educate our fellow educators on how to teach it. …

“Edmonton, Alberta: ‘We have family members with addiction issues. The kids get to eat, which my mom loves. And we are thankful not only to survive colonization, but also grateful to feed family.

Norman, Oklahoma: ‘We celebrate and give thanks for our loved ones’ being able to be together again. But when my daughter was young and the realization hit, as it does all young American Indians, she said to me , “Do you think we should have helped them?” There will be extra prayers for Standing Rock at our table.

“Hydro, Oklahoma: ‘Could we just start over and go forward? We can’t change the past, but we can work for peace and unity in the future. History needs to be taught correctly in our schools—that is what needs to happen. My daughter had to write a paper about Big Tree, Satank, and Satanta. She interviewed Satanta’s great-grandson, who was in his 90s, and told the story as he told it to her, including their transport from Fort Sill and how the feather was turned into a knife as they passed the giant tree, causing the soldiers to shoot and kill Satank. She got an AAA+ from her teacher.’ …

“Santa Fe, New Mexico: ‘My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much in the way that the “Pilgrims” may have done with the Indians. We give pause, and acknowledge all of the blessings that we received in the past year. We think of family and friends; of the homeless; of those away from family in hospitals, elders in nursing homes, those incarcerated, the soldier men and women overseas, around the world, standing watch and guarding our freedom. We think of those in mourning, whose family have gone ahead of them. We also think of those in school, no matter what age. And, finally, we pray for traveling mercies said for folks traveling home. We are thankful each day for Creator’s gifts but on Thanksgiving, it seems we focus and are concentrated in our thoughts about these blessings.’ …

“For more on Thanksgiving, see the 2017 post Everyone’s history matters. The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known.”

Read more of the fascinating comments at Smithsonian, here. It’s a real lesson in not painting any community with one brush. When we say, “Native Americans think [fill in the blank],” we need to remind ourselves that any group of people is full of unique individuals with individual thoughts.

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Photos: Viaggio nei Fori
Special multimedia light shows will be enriching Roman history at the forums of Caesar and Augustus until November 11 this year.

Recently, I was talking to the amazing Margaret, who was diagnosed with my sister’s horrible cancer more than eight years ago and has never had a recurrence. She had just returned from volunteering with a Jesuit refugee organization in Rome and showing her nephew the sights of the city. She described how they were given access to a special Mass in the crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica, where recent archaeological testing suggests that Peter’s bones really were buried.

I thought of Margaret and her nephew as I read this article about a initiative to bring history alive for Rome’s many visitors.

Livia Hengel has a report at Forbes. “Rome is a city filled with cultural heritage. Every building, statue and column has a story to tell, but it takes a vast amount of knowledge to piece together the city’s nearly 2,800-year-old history. … Where do you even begin? …

“From video projections cast upon ancient walls and multimedia light shows to virtual reconstructions revealed through 3D visors, technology is being used to help tell the story of Rome in a more concrete and compelling way.

“A large part of this trend can be attributed to the pioneering work of Paco Lanciano, a Rome-born physicist with a passion for cultural communication and a keen understanding of the learning process. Namely: if you make education fun, it sticks. ‘You need to strike a balance between creating something spectacular to hold an audience’s attention while also helping them learn in the process,’ Mr. Lanciano tells me. …

“Together with Piero Angela, a leading Italian television host and science journalist, Mr. Lanciano designed an immersive multimedia visit of ‘Le Domus Romane’ within Palazzo Valentini over a decade ago – the first time technology was used to enhance an archeological site in the capital. During the virtual tour, visitors can see baths, furnishings and decorations brought to life through digital projections that enhance the archeological site without compromising it. …

“After the success of Palazzo Valentini, Mr. Lanciano and Mr. Angela worked together again to create Viaggio nei Fori, two popular shows that cast the stories of Emperor Augustus and Julius Caesar onto the ancient forums each evening during the summer months. These screenings have become a mainstay of Rome’s summer entertainment and are on view this year from April 21 to November 11 2019.

“Now Mr. Lanciano has turned his attention to an even more ambitious project with Welcome to Rome, a 30-minute introduction to the city, through a stirring film and 3-dimensional models of some of the city’s major landmarks. The show begins thousands of years ago when Rome is home to a handful of tribes scattered across its seven hills and takes the viewer on a journey through the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and then finally the present day. ‘It was quite a challenge to synthesize the story of Rome, but the feedback has been very positive,’ ” says Lanciano.

More at Forbes, here.

This summer’s light shows in Rome are available in eight languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese. (Gives you an idea of where the city expects most visitors to come from.)

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Photo: University of York
A UK lab is learning what the DNA in old books has to tell us about the past. Even the beeswax used in seals is rich with data, including the flowers that grew in that region year to year.

Do you know what set you on your career? As an oldest child, I spent a certain amount of time explaining things, and I liked making a school for my dolls. Although I ended up as an editor for many years, I started my worklife as a teacher and am now back to volunteer work as a teacher.

The scientist in the following story got launched on his passion after watching the movie Jaws.

Sarah Zhang writes at the Atlantic, “It was in the archives of the Archbishop of York that Matthew Collins had an epiphany: He was surrounded by millions of animal skins.

“Another person might say they were surrounded by books and manuscripts written on parchment, which is made from skins, usually of cows and sheep. Collins, however, had been trying to make sense of animal-bone fragments from archaeological digs, and he began to think about the advantages of studying animal skins, already cut into rectangles and arranged neatly on a shelf. …

“In recent years, archaeologists and historians have awakened to the potential of ancient DNA extracted from human bones and teeth. DNA evidence has enriched — and complicated — stories of prehistoric human migrations. It has provided tantalizing clues to epidemics such as the black death. It has identified the remains of King Richard III, found under a parking lot. But Collins isn’t just interested in human remains. He’s interested in the things these humans made; the animals they bred, slaughtered, and ate; and the economies they created.

“That’s why he was studying DNA from the bones of livestock — and why his lab is now at the forefront of studying DNA from objects such as parchment, birch-bark tar, and beeswax. … With ample genetic data, you might reconstruct a more complete picture of life hundreds of years in the past.

“Collins splits his time between Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen, and it’s hard to nail down exactly what kind of -ologist he is. He has a knack for gathering experts as diverse as parchment specialists, veterinarians, geneticists, archivists, economic historians, and protein scientists (his own background). ‘All I do is connect people together,’ he said. …

“Collins began his scientific career studying marine biology, thanks to a formative teenage viewing of Jaws. He specialized first in marine fossils and, later, in the ancient proteins hidden inside them. This turned out to be a dead end. For the most part, the fossils were too old and the proteins no longer intact enough to study. He was forced to look at younger and younger material, until he crossed from paleontology into archaeology. He applied the techniques of protein analysis to pottery shards, in which he found milk proteins that hinted at the diet of the people who used those pots.

“Collins quickly realized that DNA held even more potential than ancient proteins, which can be ‘a blunt tool compared to DNA.’ The DNA of any single animal is, after all, a library coding for all the proteins their cells can make. …

“When Collins embarked on the parchment project, he gathered a team that included geneticists as well as archivists, bookmakers, and historians.

“It didn’t take long for the group to hit their first culture clash. In science and archaeology, destructive sampling is at least tolerated, if not encouraged. But book conservators were not going to let people in white coats come in and cut up their books. Instead of giving up or fighting through it, Sarah Fiddyment, a postdoctoral research fellow working with Collins, shadowed conservationists for several weeks. She saw that they used white Staedtler erasers to clean the manuscripts, and wondered whether that rubbed off enough DNA to do the trick. It did; the team found a way to extract DNA and proteins from eraser crumbs, a compromise that satisfied everyone.”

Read how the research evolved, here.

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In the remote Tarbagatai mountains, where Kazakhstan meets northern China, archaeologists have found an ancient treasure.

I have heard that the day-to-day life of an archaeologist is all mud and digging and measuring — not glamorous. But imagine having your efforts rewarded by unearthing a pile of gold! You don’t get to keep it, of course, but it must be a thrill to feel a sudden connection with artisans of thousands of years ago.

Natasha Frost writes at the History website, “Archaeologists have unearthed a cache of thousands of millennia-old pieces of gold jewelry in an ancient burial mound in Kazakhstan.

“The remote Tarbagatai mountains, where Kazakhstan meets northern China, was once home to the Saka. These expert horsemen were a nomadic people who moved across Eurasia through Iran, India and Central Asia for many hundreds of years—until they were conquered by Turkic invaders in the 4th century A.D. It’s believed these glittering objects may have belonged to members of their elite.

“Though many mysteries remain about the Saka people, their skill with metal is well documented. Among the finds are intricate earrings shaped like little bells, a necklace studded with precious stones, and piles of chains and gold plates. Tiny animals have been expertly wrought out of gold. The items show evidence of micro-soldering, a highly sophisticated technique for artifacts estimated to be as much as 2,800 years old. …

“Some 200 other burial mounds have [been] found on the fertile Kazakh plateau, which was regarded as a paradise by Saka kings. Few have been found with quite so much treasure, however, since widespread looting during the time of Peter the Great depleted many of the burial sites of their riches. Experts say that the area has become a focus for archaeologists, who hope to find other precious objects in other sites. …

“Local politicians are celebrating the discovery, which they say helps to inform them about their ancestors. ‘This find gives us a completely different view of the history of our people,’ former Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov said, in an interview with Kitco News. ‘We are the heirs of great people and great technologies.’ ”

More here.

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The Concord Museum has an exhibit on dollhouses right now, and I walked over to check it out. I’ve always liked dollhouses and even sought out one for Suzanne  when she was in utero.

At the museum, children were playing happily with the sturdy contemporary dollhouse they were allowed to touch, but I suspect the people most intrigued by the glassed-in displays from the Strong Museum and various private collectors were the adults.

The Concord Museum is a history museum, and so I was less troubled by the accurate recreation of inequality in the miniature scenes than by the lack of relevant commentary in the placards. I couldn’t help thinking, for example, that some of the black schoolchildren who pass through the museum might be troubled by one dollhouse and might appreciate some discussion of the life of the servants in the attic and kitchen. But the placard was silent about wealth, poverty, and the legacy of slavery.

Another aspect of social history that seems fundamental to a discussion of dollhouses involves the many women who created them as a hobby.

Women who had servants in the attic and the kitchen were not folding the laundry. They were not cooking or tidying up. They were not raising their children. They did not have jobs. In short, they had almost nothing useful to do — a recipe for depression.

I often wonder about the psychological constraints that kept such women from giving themselves permission to go out into the world, as Jane Addams or Beatrix Potter did, each in her own way.

If making exquisite little worlds at home gave the dollhouse creators and their friends and families pleasure, that is a great thing in itself. If it represents a determination to create something fine when hardly any meaningful activity was allowed, then that is an even greater thing.

The dollhouse exhibit is up through January 15. Related events may be found here.

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I had an awfully nice lunch yesterday, and I’d like to tell you about it. It involved two nonprofits — the mostly Caucasian conservation group Trustees of Reservations and the mostly African American community-outreach enterprise called Haley House.

The trustees had a really great idea recently to do meaningful art installations on a couple of their properties and chose one next to the Old Manse in Concord. The Old Manse is most often associated with 19th Century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a resident and saw the historic events unfold at the North Bridge on April 19, 1775.

Artist Sam Durant wanted to draw attention to the presence of slaves in the early days of Concord and launch a discussion, so he constructed a kind of big-tent meeting house, with a floor made of the kinds of materials that might have been in slave buildings.

The Trustees conferred with him on a series of “lyceums” that might bring races together at the site. They decided that at the first one, they would encourage races to break bread together and talk about food traditions.

From Haley House in Roxbury, they brought in a chef, a beautiful meal, and singer/educator/retired-nurse Fulani Haynes.

I ate a vegan burger, sweet-potato mash, very spicey collard greens and wonderful corn muffins. Also available were salad and chicken.

Haynes sang a bit and talked about the origins of Haley House, how it helps low-income people and ex-offenders and local children, teaching cooking and nutrition and gardening, among other things. She invited attendees to tell food stories from their early years, and several brave spirits stood up.

That participatory aspect of the activities helped to reduce the impression that African Americans were making entertainments for a mostly white audience (art, food, music entertainments).

I loved the whole thing and learned a lot. (For example, Grandpa Emerson had slaves living upstairs, and “the embattled farmers” who “fired the shot heard ’round the world” were able to go marching off because slaves were working the farms. I really didn’t know.)

African American artifacts are on display next door at the Old Manse. The art installation will be up until the end of October 2016.

More here.

Photos: Artist Sam Durant offers the crowd a new lens on history. The chef from Haley House keeps an eye on the African American cuisine. Fulani Haynes demonstrates how a food can become an instrument.

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I have decided that if Ireland ever names people as national treasures, it should include James J. Hackett of Moate.

Last night at the Kellys’ party, James clinked the glasses at the table and called everyone to attention. Then he recited Yeats’s poem “The Ballad of Father Gilligan,” preceding it with a little history and acting out all the parts.

The grandson of a man who taught Latin and Greek in a hedgerow school back in the dark days when the English forbade sending Irish children to school, James has taken it upon himself to preserve the culture. His ordinary conversation is a living history, and he is frequently dropping into poetry.

James’s book Days Gone By is written in the way he speaks when talking to friends or taking people on a tour of some ruin. Consider this sample.

“It was long past the witching hour when the poteen revellers came upon Kate resting on the puchann and in a most distressful state.* They took her along to the wake, where she related all her adventures. Great was the wonder and fear that was expressed at hearing this story, and needless to say, many a post mortem was held upon Kate Brambles’s account of the witches’ dance at the half way house in Ballylurkin Bog on the Hallow’een night that Tubbs Lanigan was waked.”

Recent chronicler of Ireland lore and customs Turtle Bunbury discovered James in Moate and has included him in one of his Vanishing Ireland books. Bunbury also features James on a Facebook page, which I hope to access as soon as Turtle accepts my friend request.

[Update: Turtle has just put my post on his page, here.]

You may recall that I blogged about James once before, here, at another time that he was visiting his Rhode Island cousin.

(*James says a “puchann” is a little hill in a bog.)

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom
James J. Hackett in New Shoreham. He made his own shillelagh of blackthorn. He also made one for John and mailed it to him with instructions on how to cure the wood.

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The Puritan thinker Roger Williams got fed up with the rigid Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and went off to found the state of Rhode Island and advocate for freedom of religion.

Recently Lucas Mason-Brown, a Brown University math major, worked with a small group of undergraduates to crack the shorthand code Williams used while making notes.

According to Martine Powers in today’s Boston Globe, here, translation of the notes was an achievement that had resisted scholars for centuries. No major insights about Roger Williams were revealed, but some were confirmed.

For example, the notes show that Williams was against baptizing Indian children — a new example of how adamantly he opposed pressure to convince anyone of any religious belief.

In an earlier AP article in the Herald Online, Erika Niedowski writes, “College history professor emeritus J. Stanley Lemons and others at Brown started trying to unravel the so-called ‘Mystery Book’ a few years ago. But the most intense work began this year after the university opened up the challenge to undergraduates, several of whom launched an independent project.

” ‘No one had ever looked at it systematically like this in generations,’ Widmer said. ‘I think people probably looked at it and shrugged.’

“Senior math major Lucas Mason-Brown, who has done the majority of the decoding, said his first instinct was to develop a statistical tool. The 21-year-old from Belmont, Mass., used frequency analysis, which looks at the frequency of letters or groups of letters in a text, but initially didn’t get far.

“He picked up critical clues after learning Williams had been trained in shorthand as a court stenographer in London, and built his own proprietary shorthand off an existing system. Mason-Brown refined his analysis and came up with a rough key.” Read more.

AP Photograph
The preface page of the Mystery Book from Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library. Lucas Mason-Brown, a senior mathematics major, helped crack a mysterious shorthand code developed and used by religious dissident Roger Williams in the 17th century. The handwritten code surrounds the printed text on the preface page.

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Following up on my tree entry a couple days ago, I want to tell you about what two Rhode Island School of Design teachers decided to do with one ancient tree.

An old elm tree that met its end two years ago at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline might have been headed for the chipper, but two faculty members at Rhode Island School of Design had a better idea,” writes Cate McQuaid in the Boston Globe.

“The elm, designated as a witness tree by the National Park Service because it was present as history was made, provided material for the Witness Tree Project, taught each fall by RISD associate professor of American studies Daniel Cavicchi and artist Dale Broholm, a senior critic in the school’s furniture design department.

“Undergraduates took two classes, one in history and one in woodworking. They visited the site, studied Olmsted, often recognized as the father of landscape architecture in the United States, and made objects inspired by what they learned.” More.

Photograph: Dale Broholm/RISD, Witness Tree Project
Wood from the Olmsted Elm after it was processed at a saw mill in Lunenberg last summer and made ready to start a new life.

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