Friday, 30 July 2010

First Impressions: Anne Boleyn

by Charlotte Crow,

Howard Brenton’s new play Anne Boleyn, which has just opened at the Globe Theatre directed by John Dove, pays homage to ‘a great English woman who helped change the course of our history’( in Brenton’s words).

Since her execution in 1536 on trumped up charges of adultery, incest and treason, Henry VIII’s second wife has been depicted in history and literature as either heroic victim or villainous vixen. Here she is decidedly the hero, presented as almost single-handedly responsible for pushing through the English Reformation. But Brenton gives us the dichotomy. Boleyn (Amanda Raison) is an almost too foxy lady whose flirtatious interactions with the king (Anthony Howell) sit confusingly at odds with her pious interest in the works of William Tyndale.

The production is set in historic period, yet Raison (who also performs the role of Boleyn in the Globe’s concurrent staging of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII), perhaps deliberately, has a distinctly 21st-century aura; with her brashness she might have strolled in from Tate Modern next door. ‘Do you want to see it? Do you? Do you?’ she provocatively asks the audience -- before pulling her own severed head out of a blood-soaked shoulder bag in the opening scene. Soon after, she remarks of her rival Queen Katherine, ‘I wish that bitch would piss off to a convent’.

The impact of Anne and Henry’s controversial marriage and its bitter legacy is conveyed through a subplot focused on a subsequent monarch’s struggle with religious division. Sixty years after Anne’s death, James I (James Garnon) finds a chest of her relics that inspire him to revisit her story as he wrestles to reconcile the tensions between bishops and puritans in his own time. Though initially distracting this outer layer produces some of the play’s most lively scenes. There is a cleverly staged debate between Church factions, which drives James towards producing his new version of the Bible, for example, and a sharply choreographed dance between the king and his favourite, George Villiers (Ben Deery), that is both funny and poignant.

As with other broad-sweeping history plays, the effort to get across the high drama of a complex subject to audiences who will have varying degrees of insight comes at the expense of intimate character development. Many who see Anne Boleyn may well have had their interest kindled by Hilary Mantel’s engrossing novel Wolf Hall, yet there is no space here to reflect the subtleties of Thomas Cromwell or Jane Rochford. Through no fault of the actors, these remain limited stereotypes, he a Tudor gauleiter, she a misguided busybody.

But Anne Boleyn nevertheless went down a storm with the audience, suggesting that Brenton’s hunch to give this significant historical woman a platform in our times is right on cue.

Anne Boleyn
Until August 21st
Shakespeare's Globe
21 New Globe Walk, Bankside
London SE1 9DT

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The UK Memory of the World Register

by Kathryn Hadley,

The Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book is one of the first documents to be inscribed on the UK Memory of the World Register. The register, an online catalogue created to help promote the UK’s documentary heritage, is part of a UNESCO programme to support and raise awareness of archives. The Account Book records the names of 350 people who received payments from the Peterloo Relief Fund, set up in the aftermath of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre to provide financial assistance to those injured in the massacre and to the dependents of those killed. It also provides details of their injuries and the circumstances in which they were inflicted, with some information on the victims’ backgrounds and characters.

In the words of Jan Wilkinson, University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Library:

‘The Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book is a unique and irreplaceable manuscript.
It provides vivid, first-hand evidence of the Peterloo Massacre. With its
graphic descriptions of the injuries sustained, it captures the shocking nature
of Peterloo, and helps to explain the political impact that the event had in the
immediate aftermath and in subsequent decades. No other single piece of
documentary heritage relating to Peterloo has this effect. We are delighted that
the importance of the Account Book has been recognised through its inclusion on
the UK Memory of the World Register.’

At least fifteen people were killed and more than 400 were injured at St. Peter’s field, Manchester, on August 16th, 1819, when some 60,000 demonstrators were dispersed by a cavalry charge. The demonstration was organised by the Manchester Patriotic Union to petition for parliamentary reform and the repeal of the first of the Corn Laws and was to be addressed by the British radical speaker Henry Hunt.

Nine other documents from across the country and spanning nearly 1,000 years of history are also inscribed on the register. They include the Pont manuscript maps, the earliest surviving topographic and chorographic survey of Scotland dating to between 1583 and 1614, the charter of King William I to the City of London, the oldest document in the archive of the City of London, and a never-released film on David Lloyd George. The film, shot during the last months of the First World War, is thought to be the first feature length biopic of a contemporary living politician.


The Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book (The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Ceausescu remains exhumed

by Kathryn Hadley,

Last Wednesday, July 21st, forensic scientists in Romania exhumed what are believed to be the remains of the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena. Samples were taken from the couple’s grave following doubts that they were really buried in the Ghencea military cemetery in west Bucharest.

The couple’s late daughter Zoia Ceausescu had sued the defence ministry in 2005 saying she had doubts that her parents were buried in the cemetery. When she died in 2006 her brother Valentin, the Ceausescu’s only surviving son, and her husband Mircea Oprean pursued the case.

Nicolae Ceausescu (1918-89) became General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party in 1965; however his government was overthrown during the anti-communist revolution in December 1989. Ceausescu and his wife were executed on December 25th, 1989. They were incidentally the last people to be executed in Romania before the abolition of capital punishment on January 7th, 1990.

According to official reports the DNA tests could take up to six months.

The exhumation is symptomatic of Romania’s struggle to come to terms with its communist past. In Coming to Terms with the Past: Romania Markus Bauer hopes that Romania’s new membership of the European Union will enable it to face down the ghosts of its troubled twentieth-century past.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

New henge at Stonehenge

by Kathryn Hadley,

The University of Birmingham announced this morning the discovery of a new henge less than one kilometre away from Stonehenge. The new henge was discovered by a team of archaeologists led by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology earlier this week, just two weeks into a three-year study that forms part of the international Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project. The project aims to map the Stonehenge landscape and to virtually recreate the prehistoric monument and its surroundings using the latest geophysical imaging techniques.

The new henge consists of a circular ditch aligned with Stonehenge, which measures 25 metres (82ft) in diameter (five metres less than Stonehenge). It has two opposed north-east/south-west entrances and surrounds a smaller circle with internal deep pits that are up to one metre in diameter and could have held a free-standing timber structure. It is believed to be contemporaneous to Stonehenge, dating back to the Late Neolithic period between approximately 2,900 and 2,200 BC.

In the words of Professor Vince Gaffney from the University of Birmingham’s IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, the finding ‘is remarkable’. In an interview with the BBC, he explained that ‘a major ceremonial site of this type or of this significance’ had not been found for over 50 years.

The discovery has raised many new questions about Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape, which archaeologists hope to solve as the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project progresses.

According to Professor Vince Gaffney,

‘it will completely change the way we think about the landscape around
Stonehenge. People have tended to think that as Stonehenge reached its peak it
was the paramount monument, existing in splendid isolation. This discovery is
completely new and extremely important in how we understand Stonehenge and its

Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, added:

‘This is just the beginning. We will now map this monument using an array of
technologies that will allow us to view this new discovery, and the landscape
around it, in three dimensions. This marks a new departure for archaeologists
and how they investigate the past.’

Mr Paul Garwood, prehistorian at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham, said:

‘This discovery is of great importance for our understanding of the Stonehenge
landscape in the 3rd millennium BC. Its location, a short distance from
Stonehenge, and the fact that the two monuments were inter-visible, raises
exciting new questions about the complex sacred landscape that existed around
Stonehenge when the sarsen and bluestone monument was constructed.’

Prior to the construction of the iconic monument which survives today, there existed an earlier bluestone structure which was dismantled. In March 2008, archaeologists began, for the first time in 40 years, a new series of excavations at Stonehenge in an effort to throw new light on the origins of this little understood structure. Anthony Johnson reports in Solving Stonehenge.

- The archaeological team on site at Stonehenge (professional images)
From left, archaeologist Eamonn Baldwin, University of Birmingham with archaeological geophysicist Dr Chris Gaffney of University of Bradford with Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Vienna.
- Interpretation: visual representation showing site of ditches (grey), post holes (yellow) and barrow (blue)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Srebrenica Massacre Remembered

by Kathryn Hadley,

Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, on July 11th, 1995, when the town was attacked by Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic. It is estimated that 8,000 Bosniak Muslims, mainly boys and men, were killed by Bosnian Serbs. The victims were initially buried in mass graves, but then dispersed in smaller graves in an effort to cover up the massacre. Over the past few years, forensic experts have exhumed the remains of over 4,500 victims in order to identify them. Last year, during a ceremony to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the massacre, 534 newly identified Bosniak Muslim victims were buried at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery just outside Srebrenica.

Der Spiegel reports on a similar ceremony organised this year to mark the 15th anniversary of the massacre. 775 coffins belonging to the latest victims to have been identified were buried during a service held, once again, at the Potocari memorial. The burial was attended by almost 50,000 people, including European leaders such as the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, and representatives of the European Union. A speech by US President Barack Obama was read out by Charles English, the US ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Serbian President Boris Tadic also attended the anniversary.

A slideshow of images of the ceremony is available on the website of Der Spiegel.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Wood from Newton's apple tree back from space

by Kathryn Hadley,

The piece of wood engraved with Sir Isaac Newton’s initials from the tree which inspired him to formulate the theory of gravitation was returned, yesterday, to its home at the Royal Society.

The section of wood from the tree from which Newton famously saw the apple fall was taken into space, on May 14th, by the astronaut Piers Sellers on the NASA mission STS 132. Sellers also took with him an image of Sir Isaac Newton, a former president of the Royal Society, as part of the 350th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Society. The piece of wood and the picture spent 12 days in space with Sellers who videoed them floating in the space station.

They are now on display in the Royal Society’s exhibition 'The Royal Society: 350 Years of Science'.


- Piers Sellers presents wood back to Professor Lorna Casselton, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society (Royal Society)
- Piers Sellers holding the tree fragment (Royal Society/ NASA)

Friday, 2 July 2010

French Nazi collaborators named and shamed

by Kathryn Hadley,

In February last year, the French council of state, the Conseil d’Etat, recognised for the first time the responsibility of the French Vichy government in the deportation of Jews during the Second World War. Peter Allen reported on Wednesday, June 30th, in the Telegraph and Mail Online that police reports from the time are now due to be digitised and published online. The files dating from 1940 will be made public in 2015, as soon as the 75-year official secrecy order issued by the post-war government expires. Archives from the following four years will subsequently also be made public from 2016 to 2019. Since the liberation of Paris on August 25th, 1944, the documents have been kept in the archives of the Musee des Collections Historiques de la Prefecture de Police in Paris. They include police logs from stations across France, details of fines, arrests and interviews, as well as information passed on to the Nazis.

In the Guardian, Nabila Ramdani explains how the online publication of the names of ‘second world war collaborators’ will force the country to reconsider official versions of the history of the German occupation and the ‘myth of the resistance’ developed in the aftermath of the liberation. ‘If a beloved great uncle was caught slipping some black market camembert to the Bosch in 1940, then the whole world will be able to read about it from 2015’.

It is not that simple, however. Can giving a German soldier a camembert really be defined as an act of collaboration? How indeed does one define collaboration and what crimes did one have to commit to be classified as a collaborator? When times were hard, queues for food were never-ending and people were hungry, can selling cheese on the black market to have a little extra cash really be defined as a crime? The history of occupied France is not black and white and the lines between collaboration and resistance were often blurred. People could, for example, superficially collaborate with the Germans in order to cover up more active acts of resistance against the Nazi regime. On the whole, the majority of the French population primarily sought to survive and carry on with their daily lives as unaffected as possible by the occupation. The publication of archives from the time will, above all, raise many complex questions about historical memory and issues of responsibility.
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