Reads For The Road: The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

I am a firm believer in learning, and teaching, history (disclaimer: history was my minor in university, so I have a slight bias). In order to understand where we are going, and not repeat the same mistakes, we have to know where we came from.

The usual reactions to this opinion include:

  • history is boring

  • history is biased

  • history is only written from one perspective

I fully agree that all of these can be true — some history can be achingly dull, all history is biased (but so is EVERYTHING you learn in school or from a book), and true, the majority of history that we learn is written by the victors, or people in power.

This is where Peter Frankopan’s bestselling book, The Silk Roads: A New History of The World, comes in. Frankopan has scoured primary sources from all over the world and has put together a text that challenges the “known” Western history of how human society developed.

He explains this new history using the Silk Roads, or the trade routes that stretched from China to the Middle East and the Balkans to South Asia.

What this does is shift our view from the Greco-Roman world view to more of an Eastern view. Frankopan explains how the exchange of knowledge, religion, ideas, and culture were not occurring in one place or “golden age”, but arose from strong ties between different peoples scattered in the West AND East.

In other words, the East and West were a lot more linked than we have been taught in school.

What has struck me the most from reading this book is how you can trace the conflicts that we see in the present day to things that occurred in the past — history really does repeat itself.

It’s a captivating read — expect to learn something new on every page — and come away with a new understanding and perspective of the world around you.

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The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

Why Are The Buildings In Portugal Covered In Tiles?

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

One of the best parts of strolling through the historic heart of Portugal’s cities — like Lisbon, Porto, and Lagos — is encountering the stunning decorative tiles that can be found covering the facades of both medieval and more modern homes, restaurants, cafes, churches, shops, and train stations.

But where did all these tiles come from?

And, why are they all over the buildings in these cities?

These polished painted tiles — called azulejos after the Arabic al-zulaich, meaning polished stone — were introduced to the country by the Moors, who had learned the craft from the Persians.

The Persians likely were influenced by Roman floor mosaics that they encountered in the 7th century when moving into parts of North Africa that had once been ruled by Rome.

After the Portuguese took over Ceuta in Morocco in 1415, they started working with this form of tile work themselves. The historic Moorish art mixed with the 16th century Italian invention of “majolica” — painting colors directly onto wet clay over a layer of white enamel — made the tiles bright and vibrant and the Portuguese fell in love with the art form.

Or, more accurately, became obsessed.

For most of its history, Portugal was incredibly wealthy due to their success in exploration and they used some of that wealth to decorate the walls, floors, ceilings, and facades of both their private and public residences in colorful, intricate azulejos.

The earliest examples created in Portugal date from the 1580s (check them out in Lisbon’s Igreja de Sao Roque on your next visit!).

Demand began to rise in the 17th century and the Netherlands’ blue-and-white tiles began to appear in the country (see below) as they were already masters in mass production. Portuguese tile makers also upped their game and started figuring out ways to mass produce their own designs.

There was a massive need for more tiles again after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake rocked the city and resulted in a need to rebuild entire blocks.

The 19th century art-nouveau and art-deco movements was a dream for azulejo lovers who used them to create incredible facades and interiors for the restaurants, shops, and homes.

Now, some of the most stunning examples of this artwork can be seen just wondering around the city streets. Lisbon’s metro also has some of the best examples of contemporary Portuguese tile art if you are interested in checking out more modern interpretations.

The images below were all taken of the facades of buildings in Lisbon — click on the individual images to see a larger view of each pattern.

The earliest tiles in the country are Moorish from Seville that were decorated with interlocking or geometric floral patterns. Figurative art (seen below) was not something that Muslim artists created due to religious reasons. These types of tiles were created by Portuguese or Dutch artisans.

If, like me, you find yourself falling in love with with tiles of Portugal and want to learn more, I highly recommend a visit to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon that has tiles dating back to 400 years!

It is located in a 16th century convent and covers the history of azulejo from the early Ottoman empire to the present day.

The most impressive exhibits include a 36m-long panel that depicts pre-earthquake Lisbon, and a cloister covered in intricate gold decorations and tiles. There is also a beautiful, peaceful courtyard to enjoy some treats from the restaurant cafe. Check out the website for opening hours, location, and admission.

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Why are the buildings in Portugal covered in tile?
Why are the buildings in Portugal covered in tile?

Your Guide to The NEW Royal Alberta Museum (RAM)

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,

Located in the heart of the city of Edmonton, the capital of Alberta in Canada, the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) opened its doors in its new location in October of 2018. The new space is 419,000 square feet — twice the size of the former museum — making it the largest museum in western Canada!

RAM Building Fast Facts

  • More than 18,000 m3 of concrete was used to construct the Royal Alberta Museum. That's enough to fill more than seven Olympic sized swimming pools!

  • Over 2,500 metric tons of steel reinforcement was cast into the concrete. That's heavier than 500 elephants!

  • Indiana limestone is something we proudly have in common with New York. The limestone that adorns both the interior and exterior was pulled from the same quarry as stones used in the Empire State Building in the United States. (source)

The museum is located on the grounds previously occupied by a Canada Post Office and distribution centre, and there are a few elements in the museum that were preserved from the post office building.

Mosaic murals created by Ernestine Tahedl that were commissioned by the federal government in 1966 for the post office, are now on the façade of the new Royal Alberta Museum building (above left), while terrazzo flooring and limestone panels from the post office are now in the courtyard of the museum's outdoor café (above right).

Planning Your Visit

9810-103a Avenue NW
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Adult $19, Youth $10, Children 6 and under are Free (check website for multi-day and annual rates)

*Note: The Royal Alberta Museum rests on Treaty Six territory and the homeland of the Métis. Many of the objects in RAM's collections and many of the stories presented in our galleries are Indigenous. In the spirit of reconciliation, and to honour the unique relationship between Indigenous Peoples of Alberta and the Crown, the museum extends free General Admission to Indigenous Peoples.

Opening Hours
Daily 10 am – 6 pm, Thu + Fri 10 am – 8 pm (check website to confirm hours)

The museum is closed on the last Monday of every month, with the exception of the week of spring break (March or April) and December. The museum is always closed on December 24 and 25.

The RAM’s Main Exhibit Spaces

The main spaces of the museum include the Manitou Asiniy (an artifact and space that has great spiritual significance to the Indigenous peoples in both Alberta and Saskatchewan — photos are not permitted), the Natural History Hall, Human History Hall, Children’s Gallery, and Bug Gallery.

Natural History Hall

This is one of my favourite spaces because it contains fossils of ancient mammals, mammoths, and dinosaurs! Did you know that Alberta is one of the most concentrated areas of dinosaur fossils in the world?!

There are also landscapes to explore, rocks and gemstones, stunning dioramas (see below), and lots of interactive displays for the little ones.

Human History Hall

This hall contains multiple spaces that showcase both permanent and temporary exhibits telling the story of Alberta’s human history — and it has been a vibrant and fascinating one so far!

Beautiful artifacts, handiwork, clothing, and stories from the Indigenous people that lived, and still live, in Alberta are on display.

People from all over the world settled in Alberta and brought with them their costumes, traditions, and cultures (left). They created a new culture, which celebrated new traditions and created products (that we now consider vintage) like you can see in the picture on the right.

There are also feature galleries in the Human History Hall, which on my last visit contained an exhibit showcasing the stories of some of the first black settlers in the province (photo above left), artifacts from WW! (photos above right), and textiles.

Children’s Gallery & Bug Gallery

There is a hand’s on space for the little ones to explore and a bug gallery where you can check out creepy critters from around the world.

The RAM’s Special Exhibit Space

The museum intends to have a touring exhibition in this special exhibit space year-round. Currently,  Vikings: Beyond The Legend — the largest touring exhibition of Viking artifacts in the world — is on loan from the National Museum of Denmark (until October 20, 2019).

There are more than 650 artifacts on display, including jewellery, coins, three Viking warships — including the 37-metre Roskilde 6, the longest Viking warship ever found — and 11 interactive stations.

The three sides of a full-scale replica of the Jelling Rune Stone (coloured so you can see the designs better) is shown above. It is often referred to as “Denmark’s birth certificate” because it tells the story of how Christianity became the kingdom’s main religion.

A replica of Thor’s Hammer (above), was worn as a pendant (usually by women) for protection.

Conservation Spaces

A huge part of any museum is what happens behind the scenes in the storage and conservation areas and, for the first time, this museum has made that work more accessible to the public by putting windows into some of these spaces, so you can watch the archaeologists, scientists, and conservationists at work!

Keep your eye out for windows into the labs, and check the website for available tours and talks of these spaces.

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Your Guide to the Royal Alberta Museum
Your guide to the Royal Alberta Museum

Your Guide to The Most Amazing Libraries In the World [Infographic]

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

With the vast availability of Ebooks and audiobooks, reading from a physical book is becoming more and more uncommon. New technology has allowed us to have access to millions of books at our fingertips.

But, there is still something special about stepping foot inside of a library — a place that has helped mold some of our world’s greatest minds.

Did you know the world’s oldest operating library was founded in the 6th century?

The Library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located in Egypt, holds a collection of early scrolls and manuscripts that are centuries old. And, there are many other libraries that hold priceless books that are an integral part of world history.

It’s funny that we think of libraries as quiet demure places where we are shushed by dusty, bun-balancing, bespectacled women. The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community. Librarians have stood up to the Patriot Act, sat down with noisy toddlers and reached out to illiterate adults. Libraries can never be shushed.
— Paula Poundstone

Oldest recently published a guide to the most amazing public libraries that are invaluable to world history, which house millions of items in their collections.

From the Middle East to western Europe, check out more about the historic libraries that share stories from our world’s past in the infographic below!

Most Amazing Libraries Around the World

Photos by Charl van Rooy and Shawn Ang

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Guide to The most Amazing Libraries in The World
Guide to The Most Amazing Libraries in The World

What is Old English and How Is It Different From Modern-Day English?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

What is old English?

When you read the words “Old English”, I am sure that the first thing that pops into your head are passages from Shakespeare's plays and words like "thou" and "ye".

I am afraid, however, that you would be incorrect.

The English that Shakespeare used is actually called Early Modern English

So, what is Old English?

Old English was a language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons (or English speaking peoples) who inhabited Britain from around 449-1066. Modern-day languages spoken all over the world can trace their roots back to this dialect. It looks and sounds completely different then any of these languages however.

So foreign is it to our ears in fact, that elements of these ancient words were used to make up the Elfish language in Tolkien's Lord of The Rings books and movies.

Here's an example of Elfish:

Because literacy was low at the time when it was spoken, stories and histories were transmitted orally and so there are only a few texts that exist in Old English.

One of the most famous (other than the Bible of course) is Beowulf  — yes, that long, epic poem that you were forced to study in English class, and didn't really understand, was actually a translation from Old English.

Here are lines 115-125 of the poem, when Grendel the monster attacks while the troops are sleeping, as you may have remembered reading them: 

When night descended he went to seek out
the high house, to see how the Ring-Danes
had bedded down after their beer-drinking.
He found therein a troop of nobles
asleep after the feast; they knew no sorrow
or human misery. The unholy creature,
grim and ravenous, was ready at once,
ruthless and cruel, and took from their rest
thirty thanes; thence he went
rejoicing in his booty, back to his home,
to seek out his abode with his fill of slaughter.

Now here is what you just read being spoken in Old English (the text that you see in the video are the lines above written in Old English):

As you can see (and hear) from the video above, Old English really isn’t anything like Modern-Day English at all, though it may be the root of our current language.

If you are interested in leaning more, I suggest reading Introduction To Old English by Peter S. Baker, and picking up a version of Beowulf in it's original form. I like the version by Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson. 

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What is Old English?

Reads For The Road: "The Rise and Fall of The Dinosaurs" by Steve Brusatte

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Did you know that T Rex lived ONLY in the western part of North America? That there were pygmy dinosaurs living on islands in what is now Europe? And that most dinosaurs had feathers?! 

What we know about the age of the dinosaurs has changed A LOT since I was in school, which became very apparent when I started reading paleontologist Steve Brusatte's book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World.

I have been fascinated with dinosaurs for as long as I can remember (my favorite is the pterodactyl in case you were wondering) — even volunteering at the paleontology department at my alma mater to help with the cleaning of extracted fossils. So, I jumped at the chance to read an updated history on the subject! 

Brusatte, an American paleontologist, is one of the foremost researchers in the field and has created this new history of the dinosaurs through extensive research, collaboration with paleontologists around the world, and cutting-edge technology. But don't expect a dry, scientific book, Brusatte has created a page-turning history spanning 200 million years going through the evolution of dinosaurs from small, inauspicious creatures, to their dominance of the earth, to their mass extinction when a massive asteroid hit the earth in modern-day Mexico. 

Full of photos, illustrations, and fascinating stories, you are sure to be as gripped by this new history as I was! 

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The History of Shakespearean Insults

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

If you love Shakespeare, then you may know that April 23 is both his birthday and death day — the perfect day to celebrate and remember his legacy. (This is an especially special day for bookworms, as it is also World Book Day.)

Over the course of two decades, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays that are praised for their ability to showcase the full range of the human experience. The histories, comedies, and tragedies he wrote have been performed around the world and are as relevant today as they were in the Elizabethan era.

In addition to appreciating his literary contributions, Shakespeare enthusiasts understand and enjoy the snarky humor that is embedded in his work. His writing shows the power of language for its ability to make a statement and pack a punch. To celebrate  Shakespeare’s 454th birthday, Invaluable compiled the best insults from some of his most famous works into a Shakespearean insult generator. It includes more than over 70 hilarious quotes from his plays and ones that you can create yourself using his language.

Check out some of his wit in the images below, and click here to generate some Shakespearean insults yourself!