Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hadrian's Wall

Newcastle University (UK) prepared an online course about Hadrian's Wall built by the Romans around 122 AD as a frontier to mark the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Britain. The six week course is one of the many online courses to be found on the FutureLearn website -

The structure known as Hadrian's Wall is not just a wall built across Britain but it also contained a series of forts, milecastles, turrets, outposts and watch stations. This complex not only housed one of the largest concentrations of Roman soldiers in the empire but also supported a large cosmopolitan civilian population. It is therefore not just a study of buildings but also of the diverse frontier communities living beside the Wall. The course looks at surviving sources from the Roman period as well investigating archaeological skills and methods used to investigate the past. The background to the building of Hadrian's Wall includes a study of the life of the people living in the area before the Wall was built, the arrival of the Romans and the building of the first outposts culminating with the actual building of the Wall. The organisation of the Roman army and what it was like being a members of such an organisation is explored as well as the interplay between soldiers and civilians two thousand years ago. Ritual and religion is another theme. The Romans were in Britain for around four hundred years so the course also looks at the later part of their time in the country and then explores what happened after the Romans left Britain and how subsequent generations tried to understand the Wall.

In one section of the course we looked at the use of geophysics (resistivity, ground penetrating radar and magnetrometry) to explore what is beneath the ground. The example used is investigations carried out at Maryport on the west coast of England just south of the Wall. We visited this area on one of our trips to the UK and had walked around one of the fields being discussed in the course so it was fascinating to see some of the results of the investigation of the area. Some of the stones from Roman buildings could be seen in the ground in the area we explored.
Another part of the course looks at some of the altars discovered at Maryport in the nineteenth century. During the past four years archaeological excavations have been undertaken in part of the grounds surrounding the museum.
I found a number of books about this period of British history in local  libraries.

Hadrian's Wall by Derry Brabbs (2008) - a detailed, illustrated study of Hadrian's Wall following its path from the west coast to Wallsend on the Tyne River. The illustrations in the book, as well as the text, provide the reader with a view of the area today as well as an understanding as to how it may have been 2000 years ago.

Journey to Britannia: from the heart of Rome to Hadrian's Wall AD 130 by Bronwen Riley (2015) - the author imagines a journey from Rome to Britain via Gaul then through Roman Britain to Hadrian's Wall. Places visited include London, Silchester, Bath, Caerleon and Wroxeter. An interesting introduction to life to life in the Roman Empire.

Roman Britain: a new story by Guy de la Bedoyere (2013) - an illustrated account of the Roman occupation of Britain. This book uses archaeological finds and sites to explain the impact of the Romans in Britain and life in Britain at this time.

The Wall: Rome's greatest frontier by Alaistair Moffat (2008) also published as an ebook in 2012 - a history of Roman Britain in general but the book includes chapters on Hadrian's Wall describing the building of the wall as well as the effects of the Wall on the people already living in the area.

Rosemary Sutcliff wrote a series of children's books about the Romans in Britain. The story of The Eagle of the Ninth revolves about the Ninth Legion which mysteriously disappeared in the area near Hadrians' Wall.
Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (1954)  
Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles (2010) - as well as Eagle of the Ninth (1954) this work contains two other books,  The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959).

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hans Christian Andersen

Most of us have memories of stories told to us when we were children that were written by Hans Christian Andersen. Some of these include The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina, The Emperor's New Clothes to name a few of the fairy tales written by this Danish writer in the nineteenth century.

The Hans Christian Andersen Centre is running a six week online course on Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales via FutureLearn. The stories being analysed during the course include The Tinderbox, The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Travelling Companion, The Red Shoes and The Story of a Mother.

As well as investigating the multi-layers of the stories, the course looks at sources used as the basis for some of the stories as well as examining the life of Hans Christian Andersen plus events occurring in Europe which influenced the author's thinking. Hans Christian Andersen did not only write fairy stories. He wrote for adults as well as children and also wrote books and plays and poetry and was an artist. Examples of his paper cuts adorn many of his works. Hans Christian Andersen belongs to the period in literary history called Romanticism and late Romanticism, important in European art, literature and culture. However he is known for changing the mould and trying new ways to express his ideas via his literature.

Two biographies about Hans Christian Andersen I have borrowed from the library are:

Hans Christian Andersen: a new life by Jens Andersen (2005), a biography emphasising how events in the author's life plus events in Europe at this time affected the stories that he wrote.

Hans Christian Andersen: European witness by Paul Binding (2014), a study of the works of Hans Christian Andersen especially in regard to the political and economic changes occurring in Europe at the time plus the author's connections to other prominent European writers.

The Hans Christian Andersen Centre provides translations of the fairy tales which can be downloaded however other translations into English exist and selections of tales have been published in a number of works. One such work is Tales of  Hans Christian Andersen translated by Naomi Lewis (2004) - thirteen tales including three of the stories being studied in the course. It is interesting to note the variations in the translations. Some of the stories, of course, have been completely retold to make them more acceptable for children in the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


2015 saw the celebration of 600 years since the Battle of Agincourt on 25 October 1415. As part of the commemorations of this battle between England and France the University of Southampton prepared a two week online course on this topic made available on the Future Learn site - The course looked at many aspects of the battle including why the battle is still significant, the background to the battle, information about medieval armies, equipment and weapons, clothes etc, logistics of establishing and maintaining an army in the fifteenth century, transporting troops overseas, feeding the troops, Southampton Plot, Siege of Harfleur as well as the actual Battle of Agincourt and its aftermath. The course also looked at historical records existing from the period and the challenges of using such records.

As well as a study of the battle this course provided an insight into medieval battles especially the many battles between England and what is now France in what has been called the Hundred Years War. Many books have been written on this period of history but for background reading I checked out the following books available in local libraries.

Henry V: leadership, strategy, conflict by James Cowper (2010) - a short illustrated introduction to the life and reign of  King Henry V of England.

Agincourt: Henry V and the battle that made England by Juliet Barker (2005) - a detailed study of the Battle of Agincourt.

Agincourt by Christopher Hibbert (1964) - a shorter study of the battle.

Agincourt: my family - the battle and the fight for France by Ranulph Fiennes (2014) - a study of the Battle of Agincourt with emphasis on the involvement of his ancestors in the battle.

Conquest: the English Kingdom of France (1417-1450) by Juliet Barker (2009) - a detailed study of the second invasion of France in 1417 by Henry V's army and subsequent conflict in France until the final defeat of the English in France in 1450.

Battlefield detectives: unearthing new evidence on the world's most famous battlefields by David Wason (2003)  - an examination of seven battles including Agincourt.

There are also a number of websites providing information about the Battle of Agincourt but one really worth investigating is Agincourt 600.

Next year it is proposed to run this course again over three weeks instead of two to include a more detailed study of  what happened after the Battle of Agincourt.