Friday, December 18, 2009

A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich

For all of you who a) fell asleep in history class or b) didn't fall asleep but cannot seem to remember if the Crusades came before or after the Spanish Inquisition, this book is for you.

Gombrich's title is exactly what this book is, a little history of the world from the Dark Ages up until just after World War I. The main focus is Western history, notably that of Europe, however, Gombrich spends time flying across the world to Asia so that the reader can understand what was going on during the same time period. The chapters are short and written in a conversational format to a child. However, although this sounds like it would create a contrived tone, this book has been much beloved of adults around the world since its publication.

One of the most pleasant aspects of this book is how Gombrich handles some of the more delicate aspects of history. He doesn't shy away from speaking of the horrors that have been committed by multiple nations (both existing and not). It's difficult not to shake one's head at the things that have been done for power, religion and money. Even sadder is with this compilation of history, it's easy to see how easy history repeats itself.

The artful, story telling way in which this book is written makes it difficult to remember that this isn't a work of fiction. However, only the ardent history buffs will know everything that is presented. For everyone else, surprises abound. It's a great springboard for those who haven't been introduced to some of the turning points in history, and is written in such a way to encourage the reader to seek out more.

Whether you read it to a child, give it to your teenager, or read it yourself, this is a must for anyone wanting to understand a little history of the world.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pizza Toppings Around the World

Nothing seems to bring the greater portion of the world together than a good pizza. Found in almost every country, whether by the country's design (such as Italy), or by force (such as Scotland), the pizza is a favorite food of many. One of my favorite things to do is to pop my head into the local Pizza Hut or mom and pop pizza shop to find out the toppings of choice. I've been pleasantly surprised at the way different countries (even my own) have managed to integrate their local ingredients as toppings on the pizza. Pizza has come a long way from melted cheeses. Here are some of the items I've experienced on pizza, and some of the toppings that I have yet to try (or maybe stay away from):

Tried and True:
Corn (Scotland- Edinburgh)
Paneer (India - Agra)
Vegetable Tikka (India - Agra)
Marscapone (Italy - Rome)
Arugula (Italy - Rome)
Apples and Sultanas (Canada - Montreal)
Peaches (USA - Michigan)
BBQ Sauce (USA - Michigan)

Other Toppings from Around the World:
Minced Ginger (India)
Mayonnaise (Japan)
Green peas (Brazil)
Eel, squid and other seafood (Japan)
Red Herring (Russia)
Curry (Pakistan)
Coconut (Costa Rica)
Asparagus (Germany)
Fried Eggs (Brazil)
Bananas (Sweden)
Sweet potatoes (Korea)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves by Sarah B. Pomeroy

Pomeroy's book "Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves" was originally published in 1975 and since then has become a standard read for anyone interested in the lives of women in classical antiquity. With a new forward by the author, it was republished in 1995. Where typical books on women in ancient history tend to focus on women in the noble class (where a great deal more of our knowledge rests), Pomeroy takes time to focus on the lesser known, portions of women's lives, that of the wife and slave.

Pomeroy's work starts in the dark ages and travels through the days of the Roman matron.
This is a long timeline to navigate, and Pomeroy does an excellent job of stating when there is a sketchy amount of research on a subject, and stating multiple theories when they exist. She always takes time to draw parallels between her current topic and her previous chapters, especially drawing parallels, and breaking them, between Greece and Rome. At one point, she sums up this difference by saying that Roman women, unlike Greek women, were allowed to attend dinner parties.

The book is clear, concise, and readable for anyone not versed in ancient history or feminist theory, and a wonderful addition to those who are versed in the same old subjects. Pomeroy covers classical marriage contracts (and how to break them), legal and medical texts, women in politics, prostitution, the debate on female infanticide, women as seen in classical literature (by male and female authors), and the importance of religion to woman, especially the cult of Isis.

"Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves" would be a great read for anyone interested in feminist studies, ancient history, or would like to challenge their worldview on the role of women through the ages.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Balkan Heritage Field School

One of the single most important things you can do in order to further your passion is to take a step towards it. With my dream of archaeology and studying the classics under my belt, and a great deal of soul searching, instead I took a step back. Was archaeology something I truly wanted to pursue, or did images of Indiana Jones swim through my head? After quite a bit of research, I decided that a beginning step (and an important one if I decided to pursue archaeology either full time or as a volunteer on digs) was to attend a field school.

There are a lot of options for a field school, depending on the nature of your interests. As I'm primarily interested in Mediterranean archaeology from the Late Bronze Age to the Late Roman Empire, where I would like to go is quite limited. Luckily I stumbled upon the Balkan Heritage Field School.

Established in 2003, the Balkan Heritage Field School is a part of the Balkan Heritage Foundation which is a public, non-governmental, non-profit organization that helps to restore, excavate, educate and protect cultural landmarks. The BHFS happens to have quite a few projects scheduled for 2010, including the one I fell in love with - excavation of Heraclea Lyncestis. This beautiful site still lies mostly hidden from the world, but contains Hellenic, Roman, and Byzantine finds. It was founded in the 4th century by Philip of Macedon and was one of the key trading locations between Asia Minor and Rome.

BCHS was kind enough to accept my application yesterday and I plan on attending next July. What is it about archaeology that makes it such a romanticized profession? In the next six to seven months as my research of the site and culture begins, I look forward to finding out.

To visit the Balkan Heritage Field School's Website, click here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Art of Complacency

Complacency is an art form, and one that many of us have PhDs in. Every day in the business world, I am bedazzled by the number of people who have taken their dreams, patted them into a nice compact lump, and stuffed them away where they will no longer see the light of day. So many of us start out childhood with a dream of being an astronaut, or a paleontologist. Yet somehow, so many of us end up sitting behind a desk in a standard gray cubicle doing paperwork. When I mentioned to a few co-workers that I am applying for archaeological field school for next summer, the resounding response was one of "I wish I could do that too". My response was, "Well, why don't you?"

Take a moment to jot down those childhood dreams and what you would like to do more than anything. I'm not speaking of your bucket list, but those hidden passions that have died out over the years because they aren't seen as lucrative or safe if you want to raise a family. Yet there are shades of gray that allow everyone to enjoy their passions. Take archaeology for example. You don't have to be an archaeologist as a full time profession, but nothing is stopping you from signing up for a volunteer dig as a type of alternate summer vacation.

There are choices, but first you must start at the beginning and identify those passions. And the first question you should ask yourself is, "If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Live Like a Hamster in Nantes, France

When I travel, I like to eschew the traditional American idea of staying in a hotel in favor of renting an apartment, or better yet, staying in a bed and breakfast. Bed and breakfasts let me absorb the spirit of a place, taste the flavor of a culture through their cooking, and experience the owners' excitement to show me their city. It's a far cry from a lot of hotels which can seem too clean and where I am just a nameless face.

A hotel in Nantes, France, however, may just change my view on hotels. Focusing on human affection for the cuddly hamster, the owners of this hotel have decided to let their guests experience a different type of flavor: the life of a hamster. Living in a room designed to mimic a hamster cage, guests eat grains, sleep on straw, and even have a wheel to run on. What's more, is guests can participate in all of this activity complete with fuzzy hamster hat.

Check out a short article on the hamster hotel on here.