York, UK: Harry Potter, Chocolate, and Richard III

sdfg.jpgYork and our journey there was a study in all of my favorite things: Harry Potter, train travel, that famous glorious son of York, chocolate, tea, and gorgeous architecture. We started our day with time to spare at Kings Cross so we could visit Platform 9 ¾, the start of one’s journey to Hogwarts. My mom and I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was a sophomore in high school, and we loved them and shared them throughout my time in college. Mom is a textbook Hufflepuff, while I am a stalwart Syltherin. How the two biggest hufflepuffs to ever hufflepuff created a Slytherin is anyone’s guess.  Anyway. Platform 9 ¾ was everything we hoped it would be, and the photographers in the line that day were superb and so fun. Even though they made me hold Voldy’s wand since I’m a Slytherin. Obviously we bought all 4 photos, and I got my mom some Hedwig souvenirs, because it was her birthday!

20180905_141107-01Then we hopped on the train and headed north to Yorkshire, home of my boy Richard III. Once we got to York, we dropped off our bags and headed into the ancient town. We started with tea at Earl Grey’s in the Shambles, which was delicious and perfect. I couldn’t finish my caramel cake, but the treats were superb. We wandered around the Shambles and downtown, then headed into York’s Chocolate Story to purchase our tickets.

20180905_141728York has a great history of chocolate and candy making, which automatically puts it high up on my list of favorite places. York’s Chocolate Story is a great example of the interactive, technological, and innovative types of exhibits that money can buy. All tours are fully guided and seem to be heavily scripted, but our guide was a delight. The tour starts with a ride in the elevator to the top floor where you enter a recreated street scene from York’s past.  We had an opportunity to taste chocolate made from one of York’s earliest recipes, and it wasn’t half bad. From there, we headed into a multimedia experience to tell the story of the discovery of cacao beans in the South American rainforests (without glossing over colonialism and the horrors the invaders brought with them). Then we learned about the families of York who founded candy and chocolate making empires in Yorkshire through a multimedia presentation. The next part was the best, though…

20180905_152047On the first floor there is a recreated chocolate factory, where visitors learn the entire process of creating consumable chocolates from processing to wrapping. We tried our hand at tasting the many flavors in chocolate and learned about the science of chocolate as well. Next, we got to decorate our own chocolate lollies! Chocolatiers were also on hand to show the process of making candies and truffles from the chocolate, and of course we got to taste, as well. I’m only sad that we had just had a large tea before our tour. We exited through the gift shop, as per usual, and brought home many treats for our friends and families (and ourselves). This museum really did have it all from multimedia displays, to sensory experiences, to the best possible interactives. I highly recommend it, even though it is totally touristy. We decided to walk off our chocolate and tea for the rest of the afternoon, and we saw all the major sites such as the York Minster church, the York walls, the Norman Clifford’s Tower, and even a pub named for r3.

20180905_161838We headed to our guesthouse and I got mom settled in, and I headed back out for a pub game night with the Death and Culture Net folks at the Eagle and Child. I knew I was in the right place when I walked in and heard people asking, “Are you here for death??” I didn’t end up playing any games, but I met all kinds of people from all over the world working broadly with death; Maggie, a doula and activist from the Bay area, Ruth from York who studies sociological aspects of death and criminology, Janieke from the Netherlands who studies funereal music… and so many more. My next will be all about DacNet, so tune in next time for more!

Café In the Crypt and The Roman Dead @ Museum of London: Docklands

IMG_20180904_133032_729From the British Museum, mom and I headed back to Trafalgar Square to finally visit the Café in the Crypt at St. Martin’s in the Field. I previously visited the café on my New Years trip to London and loved it. The café is located, as the name implies, in the old crypt of the church. The space and all of its associations truly deserve a blog all their own on death tourism and dark histories. Tables are located on top of grave stones and the crypt is surrounded by memento mori and memorial stones. Income from the café helps fund preservation and outreach programs at the church. When I told my students about this café, they were horrified at the thought of eating on graves and saw it as disrespectful, yet they were all about some ghost tours… as I said, lots more for another blog. All in all, the cafe made a mean scone and pot of tea, and the cakes looked to die for (lol see what I did there?).20180904_151621

We ubered on over to the East Side of London, which I was visiting for the first time, to the Museum of London: Docklands to see the Roman Dead exhibit that I had been looking forward to for months. The museum is located in the industrialized docks of the East End on Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. The landscape is an interesting mix of industrial, commercial, and new sleek business buildings along the high-tech docks.  As a huge fan of Call the Midwife, set in this area of London, it was a bit shocking to see modern Poplar compared to 1950s and 1960s Poplar of the TV show.

DSC03390~2Our welcome at the museum was superb, and the FOH staff member we spoke with was a graduate of UNC, just a few hours from home; small world! We first went to see the Roman Dead exhibit before exploring the rest of this excellent museum. According to their website,  “Last year, a Roman sarcophagus was found near to Harper Road in Southwark. What does this unique find tells us about the ancient city that 8 million people now call home? We’ve displayed the sarcophagus alongside the skeletons and cremated remains of 28 Roman Londoners found during archaeological excavations of ancient cemeteries. The exhibition also features over 200 objects from burials in Roman London, exploring how people dealt with death in Londinium. Many items were brought here from across the Empire, showing the extent of London’s international connections, even at this early time in its history.”DSC03401~2

The exhibit also, “uses these grave goods and the results of scientific analysis of ancient Londoners’ skeletons to explore who Roman Londoners were, and show the surprising diversity of the ancient city.”One of the coolest aspects is an online interactive display available here: “Take a closer look at the exhibition’s most fascinating objects by exploring our interactive display.”

DSC03405~2I loved this exhibit. From the warning at the beginning about he display of human remains, to the treatment and interpretation of remains and funerary objects including cremated remains, full skeletons, childrens’ remains, and even animal and pet remains.

One of the best parts was the diversity (sex , age, and race/ethnicity) of these skeletons, all found in London from the Roman periods of history.   The museum did a great job of connecting the diverse history of London to its current status as one of the most diverse cities in Europe. Additionally, the connection between people 2000 years ago to modern people was presented with ease; people cared about their pets as family members, were sometimes buried with treasured belongings, and worried about the afterlife and what comes next, in many of the same ways that people do today.

DSC03393~2Soft lighting, quiet space, and layout of the exhibit seemed respectful and somber as was fitting for a room full of human remains. The interpretation of these people and their funerary objects, as well as the context of Roman Britain was explained well through text panels and multimedia displays. While I was in the exhibit, several families with children came through, and the children all seemed very engaged by the video, and also the remains themselves.

There were interactives, multimedia, opportunities to find more information, and all the things that make a modern museum exhibit great. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I’m only sad to report that it closed in October of 2018.

DSC03411After some time spent with the dead Romans, I had some time to visit the rest of the Docklands museum to learn the history of the area and people of the East End. This museum is awesome. Not only is it housed in a historic building that shows the connection of the location to industry and the local communities, but they have some very progressive interpretation (especially on colonialism and a surprisingly critical view of the UK’s role in the slave trade) and great interactive opportunities.

20180904_155650One of my favorite parts was the hamster-wheel like recreation of a pulley system from ye olde dockland days (see the photo my mom captured here), and the recreation of a London dock street, “Sailortown” was way too much fun. There were also myriad opportunities for children to play and learn throughout the museum from dress-up corners, to a mining set-up, and interactive recreated living spaces from throughout the decades. I started to get museum fatigue towards the end of our visit, but I really plan to make it back here for another visit on my next trip to London (and the regular Museum of London, too!). From the museum, mom and I headed back to Covent Garden where we ended the night with the traditional cheeky Nandos chicken and British television.

Next: Platform 9 ¾, York, York’s Chocolate Story, and more!

Out & About London: The Tower, V&A, and Natural History

For our first full day in London, we mixed tourism and research, which is easy to do when you are working on museums, human remains, death studies, and memorialization of death.

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Room of the Princes in the Tower

Stop #1 was the Tower of London. I previously visited the tower and loved it; visit two was just as great! We saw the ravens, the Crown Jewels, beefeaters, and the Thames. It is always incredible to be in a near-millennia old structure, and knowing the people who have been on the site and the events that took place there takes away my breath! This time, through the lens of death studies, I was particularly struck by the memorialization of death, often state-sanctioned or mysterious. Most notable are the memorial to Anne Boleyn and the speculation about what happened to the two princes in the tower (I still maintain it was NOT Richard III).

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Execution Memorial

Less noticeable but perhaps even more subtly impactful are the bits of graffiti still visible on the walls of the towers where people were held before execution. The torture chamber is as tastefully done as possible while still catering to guests to expect to see the gruesome side of history, which at the tower at least, is a bit more subdued than most assume. Speaking of taste, across the street, the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered pub at the site of the tower hill public execution site is something for another post all together.

dsc031762.jpgAfter a good morning at the Tower we headed across town to the Victoria and Albert to visit a bit of unexpected human remain in a museum: Frida Kahlo’s prosthetic leg. Most unfortunately, the exhibit had sold out months early and remained sold out for the entirety of the show. This put a damper on things, and combined with a bit of hanger, I did not fully love the V&A. I did find some great medieval memento mori in the collections, and saw some good hands-on exhibits on medieval bedding, but I was happy to move on along to the Natural History Museum next door.

DSC03193The Natural History Museum was incredible! Beautiful architecture, vast collections, and wonderful old-school style displays immediately caught my eye. The display of human evolution and human ancestors was especially great. It brought to mind several questions about the display of reproduced human remains; I know in the US the display of Kennewick Man, even as a rendering, has evoked emotions and resistance in the descendent community. What about human ancestors; how “human” are they? Do they fall into the same category as other human remains?

On the way back we stopped by Trafalgar to see the lions and Buckingham Palace. We capped off the night with the national dish of curry and rested up for another day of museums and human remains the following day!

More photos below:

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Fall 2017 Student Blogs: REARC

This is the second in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This blog is by student Tori Peck about the student trip to REARC in Williamsburg. 

By Tori Peck Earlier this month I attended the academic conference called REARC at Colonial Williamsburg, VA. It was about Reconstructive and experimental archaeology. It was a two day conference consisting of two parts. Friday was the formal lecture day where presenters gave presentations on the work they have been doing in the experimental/reconstructive archeological […]

via REARC Conference — Journey into Public History

Fall 2017: Intro to Public History in Review

I’ll get back to Scotland and Ireland very soon, especially because I had a lot of great encounters with bodies, death, and exhibits in the last half of the trip, but I want to take a moment to reflect on my Fall 2017 Intro to Public History class.

Students at the Horry County Museum, Fall 2017

This was my third time teaching this course at Coastal Carolina, and I, for one, had a blast this time around. The class was often engaged in discussion and debate, even if that meant sometimes we got a little off the scheduled topic. We went to museums, exhibits, historic districts, an archive, and more. We had guest speakers on almost every topic we covered. We discussed everything from the ownership of history and objects, legislation in regard to history, museums and exhibits, interpretation, oral histories… the list goes on.

The students described the class on their website as:

Our course deals with discussions and readings that surround public history and all that it entails, this may include defining public history, understanding different legislation that has been passed to promote the preservation of different historic landmarks in addition to visiting museums and national parks and hosting guest lectures across the state of South Carolina to inform students of certain opportunities that are available if one would like to venture further into professions that surround public history. Public history can be viewed anywhere outside of academia such as museums, national parks, and monuments. Our class also consists of wide variety of individuals, who were put into this class to express their views on history and to gain a better understanding of what public history is.

In reading student reflections on the semester, the most impactful aspect of the course seems to have been our engagement with Reacting to the Past pedagogy. I’ve been familiar with RttP, but right before the semester began CCU hosted a training workshop in which we played the Greenwich Village 1914 game. I wanted to try out a game in my class, and with all our discussion on patrimony, preservation, conservation, etc, the Bomb the Church game seemed to be our best bet.

Students Reacting to the Past

Many of my students were Reacting veterans, and already knew the drill.  The great thing about the Bomb the Church microgame is that there is no required foreknowledge of the topic and no real preparation; it just throws students in their roles and they carry it along. The students were engaged in debate and persuasive speaking, and we all had a blast.

I plan to detail the second game (and Reacting in general) in another post, because it is one that I wrote especially for this and future classes. Considering it was a new game being play tested, again, I think it was a huge success, with special thanks to my colleagues Shari Orisich and Carolyn Dillian. Keep checking back for more on that game…
Another aspect of the HIST395 course this year was a class website and blog. Dr. Robert Connolly instilled in me the importance of a web presence when students are looking for jobs or even just when they are being Googled in the professional world. The class website includes information about the class, students, guest speakers, and each student was required to write at least one blog related to public history. The website is: www.publichistory52.wordpress.com – check it out!

In the coming weeks, I plan to share blogs from their website, so be on the lookout for that.

Thanks for a great semester, HIST395 Fall 2017 public historians!!

Highlands and History Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

After the great vacation injury of 2016, I was convinced we had to return to the Highlands of Scotland to finish the Great Glen Way.  We had some great adventures in Edinburgh at various museums and cemeteries, and then it was time to get on the train to the north.

IMG_20170515_132244868_HDR-01.jpgWe started the Great Glen Way in Fort Augustus this time, about halfway through the walk. Last year, the section between Fort Augustus and Invermoriston was our favorite, so I was happy to start the trail with some of the best views in the Highlands. Fort Augustus is home to the mouth of Loch Ness, a fascinating set of locks in the Caledonian Canal, and some great pub food. Up, up, up from Fort Augustus, we set out for Invermoriston, my favorite town in the Highlands. Views of Loch Ness and the surrounding hills were just as lovely this time.

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Avoiding Injury

Into Invermoriston, Charles managed to avoid injury and I was a nervous wreck our whole time exploring the trails and paths around town. We made it down to the shores of Loch Ness after seeing it from up high all day. A wonderful dinner at the Glenmoriston Arms closed out our first day back on the trail.

IMG_20170516_123922534_HDR-01.jpgThe following day we started a new (to us) section of the trail and headed towards Drumandrochit. What a day of hiking. We did some of the steepest sections of the trail, reached the highest point of the GGW, traveled through dense forest, trekked across a bleak moor, and finally made it into town. I believe my fitbit counted around 16 miles in this day and the most steps I’ve ever done in a single day (over 40,000). It was worth it! In Drum, we ate more great food, walked along some nice bluebell paths down to the river, and enjoyed the Fiddler’s Restaurant .

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Attempting a trip through the stones

Our GGW booking with Macs Adventure included a transfer for the last section of the trail, which is over 20 miles. We were taken to the top of the hills between Drum and Inverness, and we walked down the hills towards town. What a relief! The people going towards Inverness spent their day walking uphill while we went down the hill happily past them. After the previous grueling day, this hardly felt like cheating.

Our last day on the trail saw us back in the cab to head back down the hill towards Inverness. This was another easy day of walking mainly downhill towards the capital of the Highlands. We passed an old asylum being turned into apartments, a set of standing stones, and the last of the River Ness before it empties into the sea. We wandered Inverness, checked into our lovely hotel along the river, and rested up so we could be ready for an early flight back to Ireland the next morning.

We did it! We finished the Great Glen Way! It only took us 2 years. Next up: West Highland Way, England’s Lake District, Japan’s Kumano Kodo,  Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Speyside Whiskey Trail… and plenty to do in the US as well.

 

 

Egypt in Edinburgh

I was so, so, so excited to visit Edinburgh while the new The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial exhibit was on. Egypt, mummies, museum, and death customs; what’s not to love?

IMG_20170513_141345816.jpgAt the time of writing this, the exhibit has closed, but luckily the National Museums of Scotland have an excellent web presence, with information, interactive, videos, and even games and learning materials.

The exhibit is described on their website as such:

The Tomb was constructed in the great city of Thebes shortly after the reign of Tutankhamun for the Chief of Police and his wife. It was looted and reused several times, leaving behind a collection of beautiful objects from various eras. These are displayed alongside objects found in nearby tombs, giving a sense of how burial in ancient Egypt changed over time.

The Tomb’s final use occurred shortly after the Roman conquest of Egypt, when it was sealed intact with the remarkable burials of an entire family. The exhibition comes ahead of the new Ancient Egypt gallery, opening at the National Museum of Scotland in 2018/19.

Interactives in use!

When I visited in May 2017, the gallery was a bit crowded, especially with children.  This limited my ability to try out the interactive elements of the exhibits (get off my lawn – adults like play, too), but it was nice to see kids excited about history.

Like Jameson Distillery, the exhibit used multi-sensory engagement and technologies so visitors can learn more and connect with the past.

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Touch, see, and smell table

I also really liked the exhibit text and content, which isn’t praise I give out lightly. I’m generally easily bored or uninterested in text, but the detail and translation of ancient funerary texts was fascinating! They also include a youtube video explaining the text on their website:

Next time I visit the museum, hopefully the new Egypt gallery will be open.  I can’t wait!

Auld Reekie: Murder, Cemeteries, & Plague… again.

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View of the Royal Mile from our AirBnB Flat

The death theme continued once we got to Scotland, which was perfect for kicking off my new research agenda.

We arrived in Auld Reekie, known as Edinburgh in the modern age, and checked in to our 17th Century AirBnB rental off the Royal Mile. Once we got settled in, I read in the guestbook about the history of this close and the courtyard behind our flat.

Tweedale Court, it turns out, is the site of one of the most notorious and infamous murders in Edinburgh’s history (and there have been a LOT of murders there). The close was home to the British Linen bank, and according the the stories, “on the evening of 13th November a girl went out to a well to get the evening’s water. On her way stumbled across something lying in the entrance to the court. It was the body of bank messenger William Begbie, lying in a pool of blood and with a knife stuck in his chest. Earlier that evening he had set out to deliver a package of £4,000 in banknotes to a branch in Leith. Despite a major search for the culprit no one was ever arrested for the crime, although months later most of the money was discovered hidden in an old wall, roughly where Drummond Place is today.”

Dun dun dun! We never saw anything spooky in our time in the close, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the beautiful flat if you’re ever in Edinburgh! Just be aware of the spiral staircase to the top of the building…

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Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

While in Edinburgh, we had to visit a few of our favorite spots: Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and the Frankenstein Pub (in an adaptive reuse church, of course!) nearby! After the last Scotland trip, while listening to the Lore podcast (seriously listen to this if you love spooky and history), we learned all kinds of folklore about the Greyfriar’s cemetery, so we had to revisit it. I love a good cemetery, and Greyfriar’s is one of the best. Supposedly, it’s one of the most haunted in the world, with “Body snatchers, violent ghosts, a loyal dog, and Harry Potter characters.” Don’t forget all the plague bodies, too.

 

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In front of the Mackenzie Mausoleum

One of the best stories about Greyfriar’s was told in the Lore podcast mentioned above. According to the tales, the Mackenzie tomb is the most haunted. The “Bluidy Mackenzie,” a real jerk while alive, is supposedly still seen wandering near his mausoleum, knocking people over, making them faint, and generally wreaking havoc. Things get really gruesome in 1998, when (supposedly, apocryphally, i.e.: I can’t find many sources on this) a homeless man broke into the mausoleum seeking shelter from the elements. As he sheltered from the storm, the floor beneath him gave way, dumping him into a plague pit below of the mausoleum. Regardless of the truth of this tale, we still had to see the famous tomb. It was gorgeous, and we did not suffer any ill effects.

Oh and the beautiful, sloping landscape in the cemetery? It’s not a natural slope. It’s the thousands of bodies (possibly up to half a million) underfoot, buried on top of each other than create the terrain.

Later in the day, we ventured to see some corpses that were even older – Egyptian mummies at the National Museum….

 

New State, New Job, New Life basically.

So, I promised to write more this summer in amongst all of my travels.  But then…

Those travels happened….

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City

Then we bought a house…

Miss Frances, unsure of all this.

Miss Frances, unsure of all this.

And then we moved to South Carolina, the Palmetto State.

State Motto: “Dum Spiro Spero” – While I breathe, I hope.

State fruit: The Peach;  State Dance: The Shag; State Beverage: Milk.

Where Spanish Moss hangs from Live Oaks, the liquor stores close at 7pm, people run red lights with abandon, and almost everyone (local) smiles and waves at everyone else.

We live in this adorable little town

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Which is about 15 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and the beaches.

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So what else is going on?

I went to Salt Lake City to grade the AP Exams, which was as fun and fabulous as ever.  Sure, I had to read thousands of high school essays, but I also got to see a great group of friends that I reconnect with every June. We also went up into the Wasatch Mountains, which is always beautiful. Unfortunately, the Mormon Museum was closed for renovations.  Next year, or the year after, I will definitely be visiting.

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With other history educators at Silver Lake, Utah

Mostly I’ve been settling into the new house and state.  My family came to visit and we spent a week or two touristing.  We visited Medieval Times (of course), Charleston, and so much more.  And of course, beach time.

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Touristing in Charleston, SC

My biggest news is this:  Starting on Monday, I will be teaching Public History and History to the students of Coastal Carolina University!  I’m so excited to be back in an academic atmosphere, and I’m honored to have this opportunity.  The campus is beautiful.

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And our mascot is Chauncey, a Chanticleer (information on how that came about here).

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For now, I’m getting back into the swing of syllabi and schedules, and enjoying every moment.  I can’t wait to have the opportunity to think and discuss Public History and current issues with students.  Look for more posts on that soon.

And as I’m constantly pining for Ireland, those updates will appear someday as well.

Hurling: Done Poorly by Americans

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Soon I will be back with those promised Ireland reviews, as well as a lot of exciting news.  In the meantime, here is a teaser of our adventure in Ireland.

Hurling (Irish: Iománaíocht/Iomáint) is an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin. The game has prehistoric origins, has been played for over 3,000 years, and is considered to be the world’s fastest field sport.

The GAA says on their website, “Hurling is believed to be the world’s oldest field game. When the Celts came to Ireland as the last ice age was receding, they brought with them a unique culture, their own language, music, script and unique pastimes. One of these pastimes was a game now called hurling. It features in Irish folklore to illustrate the deeds of heroic mystical figures and it is chronicled as a distinct Irish pastime for at least 2,000 years.  The stick, or “hurley” (called camán in Irish) is curved outwards at the end, to provide the striking surface. The ball or “sliotar” is similar in size to a hockey ball but has raised ridges.”

In 2015, Katie and Charles made their best efforts to “hurl.” Here lies evidence of their valiant efforts. Special thanks to the Extreme Ireland team for their fabulous Cliffs of Moher tour, our great Hurler and Tour guide Shane, Liz Hurley, and The Burren.