Thursday, December 13, 2012

December Digest: GIS, Bog Butter, and Craftsmanship

I've been collecting odds and ends for the last few weeks, but between the end of the semester and some other ongoing projects, I haven't been able to put them all together until now. Here are a few of the most interesting things that have come across my desk recently.

One of the coolest applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) of which I've recently heard is "Bomb Sight," a project of the University of Portsmouth. This year-long mapping and digitization initiative has plotted every bomb that landed in London during the Blitz (1940-1941). The result is chilling. You can click on any of hundreds of individual bomb sites for more information, photographs, and records. Read more about it and see a video here, and listen to the account of a veteran fireman who worked during the Blitz here.

Bomb sites in London, from here.

Speaking of the United Kingdom but in a more peaceful vein, I was unfamiliar with "bog butter" until recently. Farmers occasionally uncover this substance in barrels and buckets underground in the the U.K. and Ireland, and many such finds are hundreds or even thousands of years old. The best current explanation is that bog butter, sometimes dairy-based and sometimes tallow-like, is the result of an ancient preservation technique in which people used peat bogs as a means of sealing and preserving food. You can read more here and here.

Bog butter. © Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland from here.

Finally, to put in a little plug for myself, an essay I wrote recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the article, I discuss my tailoring work and the reasons I chose to return to school and pursue a Ph.D. If you're interested in how we might change education systems to encompass a variety of forms of thinking, check out the book I mentioned, Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soul Craft and this TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talk by English arts education advocate Ken Robinson. A friend recommended this interesting forum about the "Future of Higher Education." Regarding the complicated nature of personal experience and historical inquiry, check out this brief but interesting blog post by Ph.D. student Abby Mullens. Two great craftspeople-historians who also blog are Brenda Hornsby-Heindl at Liberty Stoneware and Robin Wood, an English woodworker. If we are going to open a dialogue between academia, public historians, historical craftsmen, and the public, we need more folks like them.

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