Monthly Archives: August 2012

Thank God for Anaesthesia

Fanny Burney, diarist, letter-writer and novelist, was one of Jane Austen’s favourite writers.  She was the second daughter of the musician and writer, Charles Burney.  She was born in 1752, and spent her early years in Norfolk, but the family moved to London in 1770.

In 1778, Fanny published her first novel, Evelina, or, A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, and other novels followed.  She became a member of the ‘Blue Stocking Club’.  In 1786 she became ‘second keeper of the robes to Queen Charlotte’, with a salary of £200 per year, 2 servants and an apartment in Windsor Castle.  Her social-climbing father loved her appointment, but Fanny apparently hated it, especially from 1788, when George III began to show signs of madness.  She retired from the court on half-pay in 1791.

Frances Burney's (1752–1840) last novel before...

Frances Burney (1752–1840)  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile the French Revolution had broken out.  During a break in Surrey the next year, Fanny met a group of émigrés who had settled nearby, including Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay, the former adjutant to the marquis de Lafayette.

Despite her father’s disapproval, they married, in the Church of England on 28 July 1793, and a second time, 2 days later, by Roman Catholic rites.  It was a happy marriage, although they had nothing to live on except Fanny’s £100 pension and the profits of her writing.  The following year, at the age of 42, Fanny bore a son, Alexandre.

In 1802, the Peace of Amiens ended Britain’s long war with France – temporarily as it turned out.  D’Arblay had returned to France in 1801 to try to retrieve his property, and now Fanny and their son joined him in Paris.  When war broke out again, the family was trapped, and Fanny didn’t return to England until 1812.

In September 1811, Fanny D’Arblay was diagnosed with breast cancer and told she would need a mastectomy.  There was no anesthesia and precious little hygiene.  Fanny later described her operation to her sister, Esther:

Continue reading

Teaching history through Hoaxes

I don’t usually reblog other people’s posts, but I came across this at The Conversation (thanks @davegearl) and can’t resist.

You need to trawl down through the comments to reach the links T. Mills Kelly put up, giving examples of his students’ work.  These include:
The Last American Pirate (a blog, so it’s best to start at the beginning and work forward)
Beer of 1812

I’m interested to hear what other people think about this as a teaching strategy.

Teaching students to lie: historical method through hoaxes

By T. Mills Kelly, George Mason University

Continue reading

Our Men in Oxford

In July 2010, I spent a few days in the library of Rhodes House, Oxford, going through a collection of manuscripts relating to the early Moreton Bay settlement.  It was a great place to work, light and airy, but with polished wooden furniture that glowed with a sense of the timeless traditions of Oxford – but with free wifi too.

The Rhodes Trust takes a keen interest in the achievements of its alumni.  Walking up the stairs to the library in mid-2010, I was startled to encounter a large photograph of Tony Abbott (New South Wales, 1981), who had a few weeks earlier replaced Malcolm Turnbull (New South Wales, 1978) as Opposition Leader.  In terms of global reach, perhaps Bill Clinton (Arkansas, 1968) was Cecil Rhodes’ greatest coup, but others include a President of Pakistan and Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada, Jamaica and Malta.

Continue reading

Potatoes and the foods of the poor

I bought 2 kg of potatoes last weekend.  Four days later, I took out the bag to peel some for dinner, and found that every single potato in the bag had shoots on it.

I spent a minute or so muttering about supermarkets and their appalling buying policies, but then I realised that, in a funny way, I felt quite happy for those potatoes.  It’s cold at the moment (by Brisbane standards), but we passed the shortest day three weeks ago.  In their plastic bag, deep in the darkness of my pantry, those potatoes knew that spring is only a week or so away.

We ask a lot of potatoes.  There are some basic foodstuffs we expect to be on hand all year – potatoes and onions, apples and bananas, eggs and milk – yet even the humble spud is really a seasonal vegetable.

purple potato from villandry

Purple potato chips, made from purple potatoes, and served at the Chateau of Villandry in the Loire Valley,  which is noted for its vegetable gardens.

In 1949 the pioneer in World History, William H McNeill published an article on ‘The Introduction of the Potato into Ireland’ in the Journal of Modern History, based on his postgraduate work.  Now that every commodity, from cod to coffee to the colour mauve, seems to have its own historian, it’s easy to miss just how innovative McNeill’s thematic approach then was.  Exactly 50 years later, he returned to the topic with ‘How the Potato Changed the World’s History’, in Social Research: An International Quarterly (1999).  His preoccupation is understandable, for potatoes really did transform the world.

Continue reading

Gracious words in a hung parliament

The last time Australia had a hung parliament was more than 60 years ago.  In 1939, Robert Menzies, an ambitious Victorian lawyer, became Prime Minister, replacing the more popular Joe Lyons, who came from the outer state of Tasmania.  The following year, Menzies scraped home in an election that failed to deliver him a clear majority.  His government hung on precariously with the support of a couple of independents until the following year, but his backbench became increasingly restless, and began to look around for other possible leaders.  Sound familiar?

Continue reading