The civil service examinations taken by the bureaucrats and administrators of imperial China were not merely academic. They also served as social rites of passage. Moreover, they were designed to test the moral aptitudes of test-takers for a lifetime of upholding Confucian ideals. Naturally, they were a source of individual stress, as well as a key part of imperial power and authority for centuries, outlasting several dynasties. This episode looks at the roles civil service examinations played in premodern China, and the mythos that grew around them.
In 1536, there were two Anne Boleyns in the Tower of London. One was a queen who helped inspire the English Reformation and stood accused of treason; the other was the aunt whose testimony may have helped to convict her. Lady Anne Shelton, née Boleyn, was the sister of the queen’s father, Thomas Boleyn and the mother of one of Henry VIII’s alleged mistresses. She was to play a critical role during the reign and fall of Henry’s second queen – who was her namesake and who became her nemesis.
Prester John, a legendary Christian king, endured in the imaginations of many medieval crusade theorists and geographers. Thought to be a savior who would assist the forces of Christendom to defeat Islam in a final crusade to take Jerusalem, Prester John occupied an important place in the minds of those who hoped for a successful crusade. In this episode, join newcomer Josh as he takes you on a whirlwind tour of Asia and Africa in search of this mythical figure.
Mulan is a story without a single historical precedent. From a medieval ballad to early modern narratives to plays and operas, it’s been told over and over again. Mulan’s exploits are always presented as having happened “once upon a time,” anytime from the Han dynasty to the early Tang period. These stories about a fierce heroine and her loyalties tell us a lot about changing ideas of gender and cultural identity in China.
The first of Disney’s Renaissance films was a project in progress since 1930. Based on the writings of Hans Christian Andersen, the film updated the original tragic story for a modern family audience. In this episode, Lesley places the original story within the religious, cultural, and imperial context of its creation...while revealing a personal pain the author wrote into the mermaid’s story.
In 1995, Disney released Pocahontas, its first animated film based on a real person. Set in 1607, the film depicts the encounter between Pocahontas, an American Indian woman, and John Smith, an English settler, in what is now the state of Virginia. In this episode Christine uses the popular movie that gave us songs like "Colors of the Wind" as the starting point for separating fact from fiction and investigating the real life of Pocahontas.
The story of Aladdin is one of the most popular and most produced of the tales from the One Thousand and One Nights (also known in English as the Arabian Nights) and, yet, it isn't actually one of the original stories. In this episode, Elizabeth explains how the story of Aladdin entered the collection, including the young Syrian man who inspired a French author to write it.
When Victor Hugo wrote his novel, Notre-Dame of Paris in 1831, the cathedral of Notre Dame was over 600 years old and crumbling. The ensuing tale was one that inspired a massive renovation project and continues to stir imaginations today. In this week’s episode, Kristin talks about the story of Hugo’s Notre-Dame of Paris and its continuing resonance with modern audiences.
The English Civil War of the mid-17th century ended in the beheading of King Charles I and the establishment of the Commonwealth under of Oliver Cromwell. It also marked a turning point in the celebration of Christmas in Britain and its American colonies. In this episode, we will examine the rise of Puritan groups to power in the English Parliament, their attitudes toward the moral and ritual reform of the English Church, and how these groups in Britain and the colonies sought to purge Catholic and "pagan" influences in their society by banning the celebration of Christmas.
Between 1794 and 1804, the newly emancipated people of the colony of Saint-Domingue created a government under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture and defeated Napoleonic forces to become their own independent country. In this episode, Elizabeth explains the role of Louverture but also the international ramifications of the creation of Haiti.
In 1791, the enslaved people of France's wealthiest colony, Saint-Domingue, rose up for freedom. In this episode, Elizabeth examines the many factors that led to the abolition of slavery in the region now known as Haiti. The French Revolution, Kongolese leadership, social stratification, religion, and many other aspects all pay a role in what will become the first successful slave revolt of the Atlantic world.
Following a tumultuous life entrenched in Britain's art world, Elizabeth Siddal was laid to rest in 1862, but only a few years later her coffin was reopened. Find out the story of her life, marriage to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, death, and afterlife in this episode.
Ghosts, vampires, and more lurk in this year's installment of History for Halloween. Join us for our traditional episode featuring bits of history perfect for the creepiest time of the year.
Podcasters: Christine, Elizabeth, Kristin, Lesley, and Lucy.
In the 19th century, the Qing government of China faced major setbacks in the wake of military conflicts with European powers, spurring economic downturn and an immigration exodus out of the country. Increasing numbers of Chinese began to arrive on the West Coast of the United States, drawn by the California Gold Rush and seeking new economic opportunities to support their extended families back in China. Soon, however, American economic conditions began to take on racist overtones, as public opinion began to turn against the Chinese. In this episode, we look at the history of Chinese immigration to the United States, its increasing legal restrictions, and the long-term consequences of the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
In the 1760s, Occramer Marycoo was taken to the American colonies against his will. When he re-crossed the Atlantic in 1826, he was a free man who also went by the name Newport Gardner. In between, he was a composer, a teacher, a small-business owner, and a prominent member of Newport, Rhode Island Free African community. In this episode, Kristin follows the remarkable journey of the man, who bought his freedom and returned to Africa, known as both Occramer Marycoo – and Newport Gardner.
Ache in the head, running of the nose, and the throat being pierced by pain like a spear: medieval descriptions of common ailments are often familiar, as well as startlingly vivid. This podcast episode looks at everyday remedies in medieval Europe. From chicken and barley to spiced wine, many such remedies were delicious and nutritious. Administering medicine — from comfort food to careful concoctions — was based on both education and experience.
In April 2019, a fire at the French cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris had people around the world glued to their news feeds and televisions. Join Christine and Elizabeth for a discussion about some significant events that took place at Notre-Dame during one of France’s most turbulent periods, the span from the French Revolution to the exile of Napoleon III.
Podcasters: Christine and Elizabeth
Of all the wars in the 20th century, no loss was more frustrating than the military operation against the emu in Western Australia in 1932. Learn about the treatment of these enormous flightless birds as an organized military formation and the subsequent disaster as no amount of military force could successfully and effectively defeat these warriors of the animal world.
Theriac was a medicine of legendary origins, multiple ingredients, and a reputation for efficacy that extended for hundreds of years. It was said to be able to cure everything from migraines to the plague. In this episode, Kristin looks at some of the ingredients and processes that went into making theriac, where it could be found, who was selling it, and whether there was anything behind its extraordinary claims.
The landscape of the Christian afterlife has never been static, and over the last 2,000 years, the theology of what the hereafter looks like has evolved drastically. In this episode, we trace the origins and medieval development of one of the most significant and controversial Christian beliefs: Purgatory.