Saturday 23 February 2013

History in Focus: Taiwan in the early 20th Century

Taiwan is an island state situated in East Asia and for the much of the early half of the 20th century, the island was controlled by Japan. Following the end of World War II, the island eventually came into the control of China (though officially, the details are murky, with Japan still exercising sovereignty over the island until 1952. See here). As a result of the Communist takeover of mainland China, the previous government relocated to Taipei in Taiwan and continue to stay there since.

During the latter half of the 20th century, Taiwan has experienced rapid economic growth and industrialization and is now an advanced industrial economy.

 In the 1980s and early 1990s, Taiwan evolved into a multi-party democracy with universal suffrage. Taiwan is one of the Four Asian Tigers and a member of the WTO and APEC. The 19th-largest economy in the world,its advanced technology industry plays a key role in the global economy.

 Taiwan is ranked highly in terms of freedom of the press, health care, public education, economic freedom, and human development.

Here are some photos from, which is an archive of over 7000 historical Taiwan pictures collected and organized by taipeimarc, an American expat in Taiwan. All images are believed to be in the public domain. I recommend you visit the website!

Overview of Taipei, Taiwan's capital, in the early 20th century
School session in Japanese-held Taiwan, prior to 1945
The Governor General's house and East Gate , circa 1920s.
School gathering
Farmers working
1945 bombing of Taipei
Taipai in the early 20th century
Taiwanese farmers on the field. Date unknown
Girls' school in Taiwan
Aborigines of Taiwan (historically called Formosa). Date unknown
Missionary school, date unknown.
Rice planting. Workers often worked till sunset. Date unknown
Opium den in Taiwan
Sugar manufacturing factory and plantation. The site is now a museum.
Sugarcane farming. Date unknown
Sugar bags from the 1940s.
Sun Moon Lake.
Aborigines canoeing in the Sun Moon Lake.
Unknown building in Taipai

Thursday 14 February 2013

Remembering an Artist: Jean-Paul Laurens

Jean-Paul Lauren' self-portrait in 1876
Jean-Paul Laurens (28 March 1838 – 23 March 1921), was a French painter and sculptor, and one of the last major exponents of the French Academic style.

Born in Fourquevaux, he was a pupil of Léon Cogniet and Alexandre Bida. Strongly anti-clerical and republican, his work was often on historical and religious themes, through which he sought to convey a message of opposition to monarchical and clerical oppression. His erudition and technical mastery were much admired in his time, but in later years his highly realistic technique, coupled to a theatrical mise-en-scène, came to be regarded by some art-historians as overly didactic. More recently, however, his work has been re-evaluated as an important and original renewal of history painting, a genre of painting that was in decline during Laurens' lifetime. 

Laurens was commissioned to paint numerous public works by the French Third Republic, including the steel vault of the Paris City Hall, the monumental series on the life of Saint Genevieve in the apse of the Panthéon, the decorated ceiling of the Odéon Theater, and the hall of distinguished citizens at the Toulouse capitol. He also provided illustrations for Augustin Thierry's Récits des temps mérovingiens ("Accounts of Merovingian Times").

Jean-Paul Laurens in 1914
Laurens was a professor at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he taught André Dunoyer de Segonzac and George Barbier. Two of his sons, Paul Albert Laurens (1870–1934) and Jean-Pierre Laurens (1875–1932), became painters and teachers at the Académie Julian. He died in Paris in 1921.

Among Laurens' many students are:

Artistic Works:
Le pape et l'inquisiteur (1882)

Pope Formosus and Stephen VII" - The "Cadaver Synod" (1870)

L'Excommunication de Robert le Pieux - 1875
Hostages. Held by the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon (1896)
The Agitator of Languedoc (1887). Held by the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse.
The last moments of Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico (1882). Held by the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
Porträtt av en kvinna (1874).
The Western Roman Emperor Honorius (1880)
La Délivrance des emmurés de Carcassonne (1879)
Intérieur du Capitole de Toulouse, painted by Laurens.
The execution of the Duke of Enghien (1873)
Salle des illustres au Capitole de Toulouse, ville de Toulouse, région Midi-Pyrénées (France) : Le Lauraguais Campagne Toulousaine
Toulouse strengthens its walls to resist Simon de Montfort in 1218 

Monday 4 February 2013

Skeleton Found Confirmed to be Richard III

Now if you are well versed in the archaeology world, you'd know that for the past week or two, people from all walks of life (myself included) tuned in to a press conference organised by the University of Leicester. What for? 

The skeleton
On the 24th of August 2012, the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society, announced that they had joined forces to begin a search for the remains of King Richard. On 5 September 2012, the excavators announced that they had identified a male body located under a public car park, many speculated this belonged to the King.

But first, you might be wondering who Richard III was.
Portrait of Richard the Third

Richard III (born 2 October 1452 – died 22 August 1485) was the King of England for two years, from 1483 until his death in 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field was the decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses and is sometimes regarded as the end of the Middle Ages in England. He is the subject of an eponymous play by William Shakespeare (and now you know!)

In August 1485, Richard III faced Henry Tudor at Bosworth and was killed. His body was brought back to Leicester and was buried without pomp or ceremony in the church of the Grey Friars.

Back to the press conference: After a rather interesting flurry of speeches, experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones recovered from the car park, matched that of descendants of the monarch's family.
Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: "Beyond reasonable doubt it's Richard."
 Dr. Jo Appleby stated at the conference that the skull was struck during excavation but this did not cause major damage. There is also damage to the bones from their being buried for 500 years.
The entire skeleton, note the curved spine
It was an adult male but with an unusually slender, feminine build. That's consistent with descriptions of Richard. There is no indication he had a withered arm, however. He was aged in his late 20s to late 30s. That fits with Richard's age when he died. The skeleton was not born with scoliosis, she also said.

Among the injuries on the skeleton was a small, rectangular injury on the cheekbone, consistent with a dagger. There was a small, penetrating wound on the top of the head. This came from a direct blow from a weapon, and would not have been fatal.
A large wound to the base of the skull came from a slice cut off the skull by a bladed weapon. A smaller injury on the base of the skull was also caused by a bladed weapon. Both of these injuries would have caused almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed shortly afterwards. There are also three more shallow wounds on the skull. And there is a cut mark on the lower jaw, caused by a bladed weapon.

Following DNA analysis from the skeleton and from living descendents, the researchers were able to say, "beyond reasonable doubt", that it was the skeleton of Richard III.
The skeleton in its burial place, courtesy of the University of Leicester
What now for the body? Well, it's to be reburied at Leicester Cathedral.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Freshen Up With (a very special) Archaeology Sunday

Better late than never, right?

Oldest Stone Hand Axes Found:

350 ancient tools in Konso, Ethiopa (photo from MSNBC)

Scientists have unearthed and dated some of the oldest stone hand axes on Earth. The ancient tools, unearthed in Ethiopia in the last two decades, date to 1.75 million years ago. 

The tools roughly coincided with the emergence of an ancient human ancestor called Homo erectus, and fossilized H. erectus remains were also found at the same site, said study author Yonas Beyene, an archaeologist at the Association for Research and Conservation of Culture in Ethiopia.

Collectively, the finding suggests an ancient tool-making technique may have arisen with the evolution of the new species.

This discovery shows that the technology began with the appearance of Homo erectus," Beyene told LiveScience. "We think it might be related to the change of species." 

The findings were described Jan. 28 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,

Human ancestors used primitive tools as far back as 2.6 million years ago, when Homo habilis roamed the Earth. But those tools, called Oldowan tools, weren't much more than rock flakes knapped in a slapdash manner to have a sharp edge.

But nearly a million years later, more sophisticated two-sided hand axes or cleavers emerged. These Aucheulean tools could be up to 7.8 inches (20 centimeters) long and were probably used to butcher meat. Scientists recently discovered tools of this type a few hundred miles away near Lake Turkana in Kenya, dating to 1.76 million years ago. [Image Gallery: New Human Ancestors from Kenya]

Because of its coincidence with the appearance of Homo erectus, scientists believed the sophisticated tools were made by the newer species of Homo, but proving that was tricky, because the dating of fossils and tools wasn't precise enough, said study co-author Paul Renne, a geochronologist and director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in Berkeley, California.

Ice Age era 'Lion Man' is World Earliest Figurative Sculpture:

40,000 years old: Lion Man sculpture. Photo: Thomas Stephan, © Ulmer Museum

The star exhibit initially promised for the British Museum’s “Ice Age Art” show will not be coming—but for a good reason. New pieces of Ulm’s Lion Man sculpture have been discovered and it has been found to be much older than originally thought, at around 40,000 years. This makes it the world’s earliest figurative sculpture. At the London exhibition, which opens on 7 February, a replica from the Ulm Museum will instead go on display. 

The story of the discovery of the Lion Man goes back to August 1939, when fragments of mammoth ivory were excavated at the back of the Stadel Cave in the Swabian Alps, south-west Germany. This was a few days before the outbreak of the Second World War. When it was eventually reassembled in 1970, it was regarded as a standing bear or big cat, but with human characteristics.

The ivory from which the figure had been carved had broken into myriad fragments. When first reconstructed, around 200 pieces were incorporated into the 30cm-tall sculpture, with about 30% of its volume missing.

Further fragments were later found among the previously excavated material and these were added to the figure in 1989. At this point, the sculpture was recognised as representing a lion. Most specialists have regarded it as male, although paleontologist Elisabeth Schmid controversially argued that it was female, suggesting that early society might have been matriarchal.

The latest news is that almost 1,000 further fragments of the statue have been found, following recent excavations in the Stadel Cave by Claus-Joachim Kind. Most of these are minute, but a few are several centimetres long. Some of the larger pieces are now being reintegrated into the figure.

Conservators have removed the 20th-century glue and filler from the 1989 reconstruction, and are now painstakingly reassembling the Lion Man, using computer-imaging techniques. “It is an enormous 3D puzzle”, says the British Museum curator Jill Cook.

The new reconstruction will give a much better idea of the original. In particular, the back of the neck will be more accurate, the right arm will be more complete and the figure will be a few centimetres taller

The guns belong to a British ship that was sunk during the Battle of Cape Passaro

Friday 1 February 2013

Honouring a Legend: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

It's Art and Culture month once again on the blog (in case you missed last year), a time when we appreciate the visual and musical wonders of art that our ancestors and contemporaries have given us. 

Now recently, I've developed a thing for classical music and seeing as it was absent last year (unfairly!), it deserves to start at #1 here. Though I'm sure most of you are familiar with the likes of Beethoven and Bach, quite a handful (aside from well-versed classical music enthusiasts) would recall the likes of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the great Russian composer. If you haven't heard of him, I don't blame you. If you haven't heard his works before, you should sit in a corner and think about what you've done.

Short Biography:
(From Wikipedia)

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (7 May 1840 – 6 November 1893) was a Russian composer whose works included symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, chamber music, and a choral setting of The Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Some of these are among the most popular theatrical music in the classical repertoire. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, which he bolstered with appearances as a guest conductor later in his career in Europe and the United States. One of these appearances was at the inaugural concert of Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1891. Tchaikovsky was honored in 1884 by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension in the late 1880s.

Although musically precocious, Tchaikovsky was educated for a career as a civil servant. There was scant opportunity for a musical career in Russia at that time, and no system of public music education. When an opportunity for such an education arose, he entered the nascent Saint Petersburg Conservatory, from where he graduated in 1865. The formal Western-oriented teaching he received there set him apart from composers of the contemporary nationalist movement embodied by the Russian composers of The Five, with whom his professional relationship was mixed. Tchaikovsky's training set him on a path to reconcile what he had learned with the native musical practices to which he had been exposed from childhood. From this reconciliation, he forged a personal but unmistakably Russian style—a task that did not prove easy. The principles that governed melody, harmony and other fundamentals of Russian music ran completely counter to those that governed Western European music; this seemed to defeat the potential for using Russian music in large-scale Western composition or from forming a composite style, and it caused personal antipathies that dented Tchaikovsky's self-confidence. Russian culture exhibited a split personality, with its native and adopted elements having drifted apart increasingly since the time of Peter the Great, and this resulted in uncertainty among the intelligentsia of the country's national identity.

Despite his many popular successes, Tchaikovsky's life was punctuated by personal crises and depression. Contributory factors included his leaving his mother for boarding school, his mother's early death and the collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, his 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck. His homosexuality, which he kept private, has traditionally also been considered a major factor, but musicologists now play down its importance. His sudden death at the age of 53 is generally ascribed to cholera; there is an ongoing debate as to whether it was accidental or self-inflicted.

While his music has remained popular among audiences, critical opinions were initially mixed. Some Russians did not feel it sufficiently representative of native musical values and were suspicious that Europeans accepted it for its Western elements. In apparent reinforcement of the latter claim, some Europeans lauded Tchaikovsky for offering music more substantive than base exoticism, and thus transcending stereotypes of Russian classical music. Tchaikovsky's music was dismissed as "lacking in elevated thought," according to longtime New York Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg, and its formal workings were derided as deficient for not following Western principles stringently.

Swan Lake: Scene

The Nutcracker: II March

Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture

Chinese Dance - The Nutcracker

Piano Concerto No. 1:

Nutcracker Trepak (Russian dance): 

Nutcracker: Dance of the Mirlitons

Nutcracker: Waltz of the Flowers

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy:

1812 Overture:

Bonus clip:
This is an actual recording of Tchaikovsky's voice, recorded in January 1890, by Julius Block on behalf of Thomas Edison.

According to musicologist Leonid Sabaneyev, Tchaikovsky was not comfortable with being recorded for posterity and tried to shy away from it. On an apparently separate visit from the one related above, Block asked the composer to play something on a piano or at least say something. Tchaikovsky refused. He told Block, "I am a bad pianist and my voice is raspy. Why should one eternalize it?"[

Why More Maps Should Be Upside Down

If you've utilised a map at any point in your life, whether it's Google Maps to find out which right turn you just missed on the hig...