The History of Witchcraft: Witchcraft in Africa

September 15, 2022

       This is the second post in the history of witchcraft series I started last year. I included a link to the first post in the list below. Since I was more familiar with the history of witchcraft in Salem, Long Island, and the United Kingdom, I wanted to start my research in an area I am not familiar with on the history of witchcraft. The first places that people in general think of when witchcraft is discussed are Salem, Massachusetts, and Europe where the well-known witch trials took place. I decided to take a closer look at the history of witchcraft in Africa and find out what witchcraft was and is like on the continent. During my research, I decided to write about only a sample of witchcraft beliefs in African cultures for the sake of not making this post too long. I have included a list below of additional resources I have come across in my research.

To understand what witchcraft in Africa is it is important to learn what Africa itself is.  Africa is a continent with numerous countries encompassing the land mass. There are fifty-four countries altogether and four territories. Africa has over 3,000 protected areas, with 198 marine protected areas, 50 biosphere reserves, and 80 wetlands reserves. Since there are many countries and territories on the continent, governance varied per country, and a union was formed to provide the continent a unified representation for all of them. The African Union (AU) is a continental union consisting of 55 member states. The Union was formed on June 26, 2001, and was officially established on July 9, 2002. It was originally located in Addis Ababa until July 2004 when the African Union’s Pan-African Parliament (PAP) was relocated to Midrand, South Africa; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights remained in Addis Ababa. People in Africa also recognize and practice various religious beliefs and rituals.

While Africans acknowledge a wide variety of religious beliefs, the majority of the people respect African religions or parts of them. However, in formal surveys or censuses, most people will identify with major religions that came from outside the continent, mainly through colonization. There are several reasons for this, the main one being the colonial idea that African religious beliefs and practices are not good enough. Religious beliefs and statistics on religious affiliation are difficult to come by since they are often a sensitive topic for governments with mixed religious populations. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, Islam and Christianity are the two largest religions in Africa. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, 45% of the population are Christians, 40% are Muslims, and 10% follow traditional religions. A small number of Africans are Hindu, Buddhist, Confucianist, Baháʼí, or Jewish. There is also a minority of people in Africa who are non-religious. By learning about Africa, what the lands are like, and what the religious beliefs are, we can start to learn what the many beliefs there were about witchcraft itself.

There are some publications that discuss witchcraft in Africa. For instance, the Transafrican Journal of History released an article back in 1995 called “The Evolution and Essence of Witchcraft in Pre-Colonial African Societies” that mentions the growth of interest in comparing and contrasting witchcraft within Africa itself and in Medieval Europe. This article articulates a number of historical accounts on the origins and distinctive features of witchcraft in pre-colonial Africa, and offers an appraisal of some poignant aspects such as magnitude, ramifications, and controlling witchcraft in traditional settings. It intends to place witchcraft in the proper perspective as a socially constructed system in many pre-scientific societies. Also, the article elaborates on the role of anti-witchcraft specialists (waganga) whose expertise and significance were deliberately misconstrued by over-zealous colonial administrators and pioneering Christian missionaries.  They describe how witches were viewed at least in some African cultures; some cultures believe witches willfully seek and do harm while other cultures believe witches are not aware of what they are doing.

According to the article, witches are believed in some African cultures to assemble in cannibal covens at graveyards or around a fire to feast on the blood they extract from their victims, like vampires. The article also shares that in many African cultures witches are believed to act unconsciously and are unaware of the harm they cause since witches are driven by irrepressible urges to act malevolently. It is thus easy for those accused of witchcraft, but who are not conscious of wishing anyone ill, to assume that they unknowingly did what is attributed to them. This, along with the effects of suggestion and torture, in a world where people take the reality of witchcraft for granted, goes far to explain the striking confessions of guilt that is so widely reported in Africa and elsewhere and that are otherwise hard to comprehend. While those identified as witches may believe they are unconscious agents, it is not the view of those who feel victimized by them.

In addition to the article, I also read “The legality of witchcraft allegations in colonial and postcolonial Zimbabwe” written by Fortune Sibanda which is a chapter from the book called Religion, Law and Security in Africa edited by M. Christian Green, T. Jeremy Gunn, and Mark Hill. The chapter tackles questions such as How legal or illegal are the witchcraft accusations in the public and private domains in colonial and postcolonial Zimbabwe? For some context, Zimbabwe is a country located in southern Africa, and was known as Rhodesia before the country gained independence in 1980 following a long period of colonial rule and a 15-year period of white-dominated minority rule. The chapter discusses a study that was conducted to examine witchcraft accusations, and it discusses what witchcraft means to the people in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.

     Sibanda pointed out that African Traditional Religion (ATR) accepts the existence of witches in societies where some people practice uroyi (witchcraft) and is not a myth contrary to the stance adopted by Western missionaries and colonial administrators from Europe who questioned the reality and existence of witches. Also, Sibanda’s chapter discussed the two important aspects of witchcraft in the colonial and postcolonial contexts which were socio-religious and legal. She stated in the chapter that witchcraft is largely regarded as a reality in Zimbabwe and Africa at large by traditionalists and traditional courts, a position that was denied through colonial legislation; and the work of traditional healers and their medicines were also considered to be witchcraft at law. The legal flaws have persisted into the postcolonial times, in spite of the later amendments. Witchcraft accusations entail some cultural, social, political, and legal implications. Some cases of witchcraft accusations were highly gendered and manifested as political witch-hunts bent on humiliating and eliminating political rivals through hate speech, framing, and claims-making. The study concluded that the legality of witchcraft accusations in postcolonial times is marred by the legal flaws and selective application of the witchcraft law replicating the colonial legacy that sought to promote Christianity at the expense of African Indigenous Religion in Zimbabwe.

The publications previously discussed in this post are examples of how witchcraft is viewed in parts of Africa. While this post does not cover the entire continent’s views of witchcraft, I included links that refer to the history of witchcraft in Africa, witchcraft in general, and the resources I used to write this post. I also included a link to a previous post I wrote about the history of witchcraft as a start to taking a closer look at this history.

Check out the links below on witchcraft in Africa and more.

List:

What is Witchcraft? Taking a Closer Look at the History of Witchcraft: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-1wg

“The Evolution and Essence of Witchcraft in Pre-Colonial African Societies”, Transafrican Journal of History Vol. 24 (1995), pp. 162-177 (16 pages).

Sibanda, Fortune. “The legality of witchcraft allegations in colonial and postcolonial Zimbabwe”, Religion, Law and Security in Africa, edited by M. Christian Green, T. Jeremy Gunn, Mark Hill, African Sun Media, SUN MeDIA. (2018) pp. 297-313.

https://fivebooks.com/best-books/jean-fontaine-on-african-religion-and-witchcraft/

https://www.routledge.com/Witchcraft-and-Sorcery-in-East-Africa/Middleton-Winter/p/book/9780415852135

https://www.jstor.org/stable/24328661

https://www.bibliovault.org/BV.titles.epl?tquery=Witchcraft

https://www.sunypress.edu/p-5511-encounters-with-witchcraft.aspx

https://www.brookings.edu/research/good-and-inclusive-governance-is-imperative-for-africas-future/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/witchcraft/Witchcraft-in-Africa-and-the-world

https://mellenpress.com/book/Studies-in-Witchcraft-Magic-War-and-Peace-in-Africa/6769/

https://www.britannica.com/place/Africa/Geologic-history

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Malleus-maleficarum?utm_medium=mendel-homepage&utm_source=oyr&utm_campaign=oyr-1&utm_term=20220324

https://www.britannica.com/bioraphy/Matthew-Hopkins?utm_medium=mendel-homepage&utm_source=oyr&utm_campaign=oyr-2&utm_term=20220324

https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/africa.htm

https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/06/21/zimbabwes-struggle-for-liberation/

https://www.britannica.com/place/Zimbabwe

South African History Online: https://www.sahistory.org.za/place/zimbabwe

Virtual Historic Site Impressions: Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

July 28, 2022

     After I visited the Harriet Tubman Historical National Park, I virtually went across the Atlantic Ocean to visit Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, England. I really enjoyed exploring the area and walking through what is left of the abbey. I was surprised to see at least one space that is shielded from the sun because the first impression of Fountains Abbey I had was there is no roof left. It would have been wonderful to see what it may have looked like fully intact. I can imagine it was just as beautiful as it is in its current state. I included a link to the virtual tour I attended in the list below. While I was exploring Fountains Abbey, I took the time to learn the history of this abbey.

The abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York who were fed up with the extravagant and rowdy way that the monks lived in York and so they escaped seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle. After three years, the monks were admitted to the Cistercian Order which was founded in 1098 by a group of monks in France. The monks at Fountains Abbey were introduced to the Cistercian system of lay brothers (laborers) to give monks more time to dedicate to God instead of spending time farming the land to get by. The Fountains Abbey became so wealthy with the help of the lay brothers through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding, and stone quarrying. Unfortunately, bad harvests hit the monks hard, and they dealt with raids from Scots throughout the 14th century which led to an economic collapse. Things were made worse by the Black Death which struck the country in 1348. The Abbey remained important despite its financial problems.

    In 1539, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ordered by Henry VIII, led to the Abbey abruptly closing down, and the abbot, prior, and monks were sent away with pensions. Demolition of the Abbey began in 1540. The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant named Sir Richard Gresham, and stripped it of anything of value. Furnaces were built in the church to melt the lead from the roof and pipes; the fire was fed by timber from the screens and furnishings. The grounds surrounding the ruins of Fountains Abbey were landscaped during the 18th century. It remained in private hands until the 1960s. The National Trust bought the estate from the West Riding County Council in 1983. The Abbey and grounds are open to the public for tours, and the National Trust recommends spending the whole day on the property to be able to see everything during the visit.

     In addition to the ruins of Fountains Abbey, there is also Studley Royal water garden, which is home to the moon ponds, cascades, statues, follies, and wide views. Then there are Fountains Hall, Fountains Mill (the oldest building in the National Trust), the medieval deer park and St Mary’s Church (open 12-4pm, March to October). If one is looking for something to eat, then there are three different places across the site to choose from: the restaurant at the visitor center, the Studley Royal tea-room, and the Mill Café. The National Trust also has a minibus service in case people are tired after walking the grounds which runs between the three different entrances: the visitor center, Studley Royal, and West Gate. For more information, check out the links in the list below.

Thank you again for your patience as I finish this post!

Links:

http://www.360vista.eu/abbey/

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/fountains-abbey

https://abbey.cistecian.org/history/the-cistercian-order/cistercian-beginnings/

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/fountains-abbey-3467

Biography of Sir Richard Gresham: https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/gresham-sir-richard-1486-1549

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/your-day-at-fountains-abbey

Estate Map: download-the-estate-map.pdf (nt.global.ssl.fastly.net)

Virtual Historic Site Impressions: The Harriet Tubman Historical National Park

July 1, 2022

        I recently did a virtual trip to the newer national park the Harriet Tubman Historical National Park. Not to be confused with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Park, the Historical National Park in Auburn, New York is where Harriet Tubman’s home and farm are located. The park was established in 2017 by the National Park Service and the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center is operated by National Park Service partner, the Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. It includes the Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church that Tubman helped raise funds to build. The park also includes the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center, the Tubman Home for the Aged, and the Harriet Tubman Residence which sit on about a 32-acre campus. At the date of this post and visit, it is a park in progress with limited services.

According to the website, the Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and parsonage require substantial repair and renovations prior to being returned to public uses. Harriet Tubman’s house is viewed from the outside only and access to the Home for the Aged is by guided tour that begin at the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center; at least at the time of this post was written. The park’s website shared their goals for the park, and have not included recent updates. It would be good to see in the future a more 360-degree virtual tour for both around the campus and within the building. In the meantime, I really appreciated the sources available on their website.

I participated in a virtual tour by exploring their National Park Service website and the mobile app. While I was on the website, it provided background information describing the historical significance of the national park and how Harriet Tubman made her home in Auburn, New York. The Harriet Tubman Historical National Park shares the life of Harriet Tubman who was one of the conductors of the Underground Railroad to help enslaved people escape to freedom. Tubman was born enslaved in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1822, and much of Harriet Tubman’s early life was outside of her control; she was denied basic human rights and subjected to exploitation by others. She seized her freedom at the age of 27. For ten years, she used her time and energy to help liberate others, including her family and friends, but in doing so she found few opportunities to establish a home base for herself for very long. Tubman was almost constantly on the move between Canada and Maryland. When she realized that a Civil War was imminent, Tubman found a haven for her family in the rural village of Fleming, New York, just outside the city of Auburn. To learn more, I recommend visiting their website and I included a list of links below.

     I decided to explore the app when I read about Travel with Tubman on the website. Travel with Tubman is a virtual trip planning tool within the National Park Service app to explore places across the country that highlight thirteen places important to Harriet Tubman’s life and legacy, and importance in American history. It outlines locations connected to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Site, and their partners across the east coast of the United States. The app, available for iOS and Android devices, connects visitors to a number of National Park Service offerings including interactive maps, tours of park places, and on-the-ground accessibility information to plan adventures before and during the trips. I appreciate the amount of information they included on the app especially a list of other historic sites relevant to the Underground Railroad, and a map of where those places are located.

To learn more, visit the links below. Thank you all so much for your patience!

Links:

https://www.nps.gov/hart/index.htm

Harriet Tubman Home, Inc.: https://www.harriettubmanhome.com/

https://www.nps.gov/subjects/undergroundrailroad/explore-virtual-ugrr.htm

https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/travel-with-tubman.htm#APP

https://www.nps.gov/places/harriettubmanhome.htm

Virtual Historic Site Impressions: The Tower of London

March 3, 2022

Thank you to all of those who responded to the second poll I released. The one that had the most votes was the Tower of London in London, England. A little while back I saw a couple of documentaries about the Tower of London on Netflix and the Tower’s history has fascinated me ever since. I decided to include the Tower of London as one of the options for the poll since it has fascinated millions of visitors and I thought that there may be interest among all of you readers. Enjoy this impression of my virtual visit!

           I took a couple of tours including the 360-degree tour of the Tower hosted by the Historic Royal Palaces YouTube channel. The Historic Royal Palaces tour was guided by Dan Snow behind the camera and Chief Yeoman Warder Alan Kingshott. I appreciated that during the tour there are arrows at the top left corner to see more of this 360-degree tour especially when it may be a person’s only way to visit the Tower of London. It is great to have this experience of learning about the castle that not only held prisoners, but also guarded royal possessions, protected the royal family during times of war and rebellion, and was used as a luxurious palace.

         William the Conqueror, in the 1070s, began to build a massive stone fortress in London to defend and proclaim his power.  The Tower of London took about 20 years to build and William the Conqueror did not live to see it completed. Since it’s completion the Tower has been adapted and developed by other kings; for instance, Henry III (1216-1272) and Edward I (1272-1307) expanded the fortress by adding huge defensive walls with a series of smaller towers and enlarging the moat. In addition to using the Tower as protection, a defense and a palace, arms and armor were made, tested, and stored there until the 1800s. The Tower controlled the supply of the nation’s money; the coins were made at the Tower Mint from Edward I’s reign until 1810. Kings and queens locked away their jewels and other valuables at the Tower. Today, the Crown Jewels are protected by a garrison of soldiers.

         The soldiers who guard the Tower are known as Yeoman Warders and are recognized as symbols of the Tower around the world have been there for centuries. They were originally part of the Yeomen of the Guard, who were the monarch’s personal bodyguard who traveled with the monarch. Henry VIII (1507-1547) decreed that some of the Yeomen would stay and guard the Tower permanently. Nowadays the Yeomen Warders guard the visitors but they still carry out ceremonial duties including the Ceremony of the Keys, which is the unlocking and locking of the Tower every day that began in the mid-1300s during the reign of Edward III; the King went to the Tower unannounced one night in December 1340 and walked straight in unchallenged, and after imprisoning the Constable of the Tower for neglecting his duty Edward III decreed that the castle should be locked at sunset and unlocked at sunrise. The Yeomen Warders wear their red state “dress uniforms” for important occasions at the Tower and special events including the Gun Salutes (firing the huge cannon on the Wharf). Yeomen Warders live on the premises of the Tower.

        When it was used as a royal residence, medieval kings and queens lived in luxurious apartments at the Tower. They worshipped in the Chapel Royal, kept a menagerie of exotic animals (which lasted until the 19th century), and welcomed foreign rulers at magnificent ceremonial occasions. Although it has long since vanished, there was once a splendid royal palace to the south of the White Tower. Henry VIII modernized the rooms inside in preparation for the coronation of his new bride, Anne Boleyn in 1533. She and the King feasted the night before Anne processed in triumph through the City of London to Westminster Abbey. Three years later Anne was back at the Tower, this time accused of adultery and treason. She was held in the same luxurious lodgings before being executed by sword on Tower Green.

         For over 800 years, men and women have arrived at the Tower. Some stayed for only a few days, others many years. During the Tudor age, the Tower became the most important state prison in the country. Anyone thought to be a threat to national security including the future Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Guy Fawkes were sent to the Tower. The last time individuals were sent to Tower was during World War II when German spies were brought here and shot. Not everyone who went to the Tower came to serve time in prison.

         The Tower has been a visitor attraction since the 18th century, but the number of tourists increased dramatically in the 1800s. Visitors were fascinated by the stories of England’s turbulent and sometimes gruesome history. Stories of ghosts haunt the Tower. Anne Boleyn is said to stalk the site of her execution on Tower Green. Arbella Stuart, the cousin of Elizabeth I who starved while under arrest for marrying without royal permission, is said to frequent the Queen’s House still. One of the most famous legends of the Tower surrounds the ravens.  The story goes that should the ravens leave the Tower, both it and the kingdom will fall. Seven ravens live at the Tower today and are cared for by a dedicated Yeoman Warder known as the Ravenmaster. It continues to be a popular visitor attraction today.

        To learn more about the Tower of London, I included a list of sources below.

Thank you for reading! If you would like to support my book project, check out my Buy Lindsey a Coffee page to learn more.

Links:

360 degree Tour of Tower of London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeLQVare-3k

https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/the-story-of-the-tower-of-london/#gs.p7qji9

https://joyofmuseums.com/museums/united-kingdom-museums/london-museums/tower-of-london/

Secrets of Great British Castles: The Tower of London episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdgjsSQ3McM&t=38s

https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/the-ceremony-of-the-keys/#gs.p7v0pf

https://www.hrp.org.uk/discover-the-palaces/#gs.nvvop9

https://kidadl.com/online-events/video-tour-tower-of-london

https://www.londononline.co.uk/towerguide/

https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/#gs.nvx23z

Public Historian Takes a Closer Look at the History of Valentine’s Day

February 10, 2022

Valentine’s Day is on a Monday this year and it is important to understand that while it seems like a more commercial-founded holiday this holiday actually has historical roots.  I decided to take a closer look into the history of Valentine’s Day. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the true origins of the holiday are vague at best; for instance, it has been suggested that the holiday has origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia which was a celebration of the coming of spring held in mid-February. Lupercalia was also known as a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

          It became St. Valentine’s Day towards the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius I forbid the celebration of Lupercalia and was often attributed to replacing it with St. Valentine’s Day; there were a number of Saint Valentines in the church, who all became martyrs, who the holiday was possibly named for. One example is that it is believed it was named for a priest who was martyred about 270 CE by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to legend the priest signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, healed from blindness. Another legend stated that he defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to prevent husbands from war. The holiday was not celebrated as a day of romance until about the 14th century.

            Formal valentines appeared in the 1500s, and by the 1700s individuals were using commercially printed cards. The first commercial valentines in the United States were printed in the mid-1800s. On the Valentines, they commonly depict Cupid, the Roman god of love, along with hearts. Birds also became a symbol of the day since it was thought that the avian mating season begins in mid-February. The holiday is popular in the United States as well as in Britain, Canada, and Australia, and it is also celebrated in other countries, including Argentina, France, Mexico, and South Korea. In the Philippines it is the most common wedding anniversary, and mass weddings of hundreds of couples are not uncommon on that date. The holiday has expanded to expressions of affection among relatives and friends.

          At the time I wrote this post, I did not find many academic studies written in books and journals about Valentine’s Day. What I did come across were articles and a list of children’s Valentine’s Day books. I included links to books on Valentine’s Day in the list below. There was an article from American Quarterly written by Vivian R. Pollak about Emily Dickinson’s Valentines. Emily Dickinson was an American poet born in Amherst, Massachusetts who wrote almost 1,800 poems and of those poems fewer than a dozen were published during her life; scholars identified her writing period was between 1858 and 1865. Pollak’s article, published in 1974, discussed her early works including two humorous Valentines as well as the history of noncommercial Valentines during the 19th century, and argued that Dickinson was writing poetry before 1858. According to the Emily Dickinson Museum website, these early writings were published anonymously in the early 1850s. The first Valentine was referred to as “Magnum bonum, harem scarum” which was a valentine letter published in Amherst College’s Indicator in February 1850, and the second Valentine was published in Springfield Daily Republican titled “A Valentine” called “‘Sic transit gloria mundi’” on February 20, 1852.

      A periodical about St. Valentine and English poet Geoffery Chaucer in Jack B. Oruch’s “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February (appeared in Speculum in The Medieval Academy) came from The Wilson Quarterly was called “The First Valentine”. It discusses how Oruch pointed out the first time St. Valentine was connected with romance occurs in Chaucer’s poem “Parlement of Foules” when Nature summons the birds on “seynt Valentynes day” and commands them to choose mates. Chaucer and other writers’ work in the 14th century and after led to associating St. Valentine and Valentine’s day with romance and love.

      In the end, Valentine’s Day is about celebrating the people you love in your lives including family, friends, pets, and romantic partners.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!!

Thank you for reading! If you would like to support my book project, check out my Buy Lindsey a Coffee page to learn more.

Links and Sources:

Vivian R. Pollak, “Emily Dickenson’s Valentines”, American Quarterly, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Mar., 1974), pp. 60-78.

Emily Dickinson Museum:

https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/

The First Valentine The Wilson Quarterly (1976-), Vol. 6, No. 2 (Spring, 1982), pp. 37-38.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Valentines-Day

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Valentine#ref1290121

https://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day-2

https://www.byrdsbooks.com/book/9781638786337

https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/valentines-day-books-for-kids

Virtual Historic Site Impressions: Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

December 16, 2021

Thank you to all of those who responded to the poll I released a few weeks ago. The site with the most votes was the Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. I plan to write about the other sites in the future and I released another poll to ask all of you which one you want to read about next. In the meantime, I will share with you all my experience visiting this Scottish castle.

    Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified places in Europe and was used as a royal residence, military garrison, prison, and a fortress. Parts of it remain in military use while the rest of it is now a popular world-wide visitor attraction.

    When I made a virtual visit to the Edinburgh Castle, I was surprised to discover that it was more than one large castle; there were also a chapel, a whiskey shop, tea rooms, et. cetera.  Before I even entered the castle, I was already impressed with the architecture and the details that were on and inside. I decided to do a general walk around the castle with no specific plan and share some of the highlights from my visit.

         I made my virtual walk around the area and noticed a small chapel known as St. Margaret’s Chapel. St. Margaret Chapel was named for Queen Margaret who was later made a saint. When Queen Margaret died in 1093, the chapel was built in her honor by her son, King David I. It is Edinburgh’s oldest building. St Margaret’s Chapel still hosts weddings and christenings today. Close to the chapel is the Portcullis Gate.

St. Margaret’s Chapel (oldest building in the castle)

     Portcullis Gate was built almost 450 years ago in the wake of the devastating Lang Siege that took place in 1571 when supporters of Queen Mary held the castle against the rule of the regent the Earl of Lennox (who supported the then infant King James VI). The Gate was erected by the Regent Morton in 1574.  The building contains a long-vaulted trance, once furnished with two outer double doors, a portcullis and an inner double door that once sat alongside the iron gate to ward off intruders. The top floor, Argyle Tower, was added in the 1880s.

Portcullis Gate

        During my visit, I came across The Redcoat Café which offers a variety of things to eat and drink including but not limited to soups, roasts, toasted deli sandwiches, beer, wine, spirits, hot beverages, and soft drinks. I also went by the Tea Rooms located at the top of the castle in the Crown Square; they offer traditional afternoon tea as well as light lunch (soup, salad, sandwiches), cakes, hot cocoa, coffee, spirits, wine, beer, and ale. Next to St. Margaret’s Chapel is the Whisky Shop where visitors can purchase whisky that was created in collaboration with the award-winning Edinburgh Gin distillery. They have a huge range of whiskies including their exclusive Edinburgh Castle 10-year-old single malt, and sweet and savory treats including traditional shortbread, whisky fudge, and cakes.  In addition to exploring the castle on my own, I also visited Edinburgh Castle’s website to learn more about it.

The Redcoat Café

        Edinburgh Castle was built upon a rock for a military strategic advantage during the Iron Age, and their defenses evolved over hundreds of years. For instance, Mons Meg, one of the greatest medieval cannons ever made, was given to King James II in 1457. The Half Moon Battery, which was built in the aftermath of the Lang Siege of 1573, was armed for 200 years by bronze guns known as the Seven Sisters. Six more guns defend the Argyle Battery, with its open outlook to the north.

          In addition to serving as a military fort, Edinburgh Castle was also a royal residence. The Great Hall, that was completed in 1511 for King James IV, hosted grand banquets and state events. But the king had little time to enjoy his new addition. James IV died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, fighting English forces sent by his brother-in-law, King Henry VIII of England. According to their website, they pointed out that above the door to the Royal Palace are the gilded initials MAH – for Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Mary gave birth to James VI in the Royal Palace in 1566 who would become king of Scotland at 13 months old and united the crowns of Scotland and England in 1603. After the ‘Union of the Crowns’ of 1603, Edinburgh Castle was rarely visited by the reigning monarch, but from the 1650s it grew into a significant military base. Defenses were rebuilt and enhanced in response to the Jacobite Risings of 1689–1746. New gun batteries such as Dury’s Battery were constructed and new barracks such as the Queen Anne Building were added to house the many soldiers and officers. To learn more about Edinburgh Castle, I included a list of resources below.            

       Their website includes a number of resources to help people plan their visit, COVID restrictions, the history of the castle, et. cetera. I appreciate that they have a list of suggested itineraries based on interest and the amount of time one has to visit Edinburgh Castle. I would like to someday visit the castle in person as well, and in the meantime, I will make numerous virtual trips to keep exploring the many places within the castle.

The second poll to choose the next historic site is active. To decide which historic site you want to learn more about, click on the link here: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-1xi

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts.  More information about additional benefits for supporting my work can be found here: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/buy-me-a-coffee-page/

Links:

Edinburgh Castle website: https://www.edinburghcastle.scot/

Edinburgh Castle Virtual Tour with Us blog post: https://blog.edinburghcastle.scot/virtual-tour-with-us/

Virtual Edinburgh Castle: https://www.google.com/maps/@55.9485358,-3.1984482,3a,75y,272.57h,110.04t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sK8bujNmtCtGOcDq8H1KZng!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

https://canmore.org.uk/site/52093/edinburgh-castle-portcullis-gate-and-argyle-tower

http://www.edinburgh-history.co.uk/lang-siege.html

Poll: What is the Second Historic Site You Would Like to Read About?

December 9, 2021

In the first poll, the one with the most votes was Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. My experience with the virtual visit will come out next week so stay tuned. In the meantime, please choose the next historic site you would want to learn more about.

*as of January 31, 2022, the poll is closed. Stay tuned for the post on the second historic site chosen by this poll.

What is Witchcraft? Taking a Closer Look at the History of Witchcraft

November 11, 2021

          Since we recently celebrated Halloween, I thought I would share a short introduction to the history of witchcraft. When we talk about witchcraft, the first things that come to mind are movies and T.V. shows that depict witchcraft, Halloween decorations and costumes, the Salem Witch Trials, et. cetera. It is important to acknowledge that witchcraft history can be found around the world not just in Europe and Colonial New England. Witchcraft looks different for each culture, and therefore not one definition describes what is witchcraft. There are many definitions of witchcraft and witches used by historians in the past and now. Ronald Hutton in his book The Witch: A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present shared a number of definitions past historians have shared. For instance, Hutton stated that a witch is “…any person who uses magic (although those who employ it for beneficial purposes are often popularly distinguished as ‘good’ or ‘white’ witches); or as the practitioner of a particular kind of nature-based Pagan religion…”. He wrote this book as a contribution towards the understanding of the beliefs concerning witchcraft, and the resulting notorious trials of alleged witches, in early modern Europe. Hutton’s The Witch also described witchcraft history found outside of the United States and Europe. I will go into more depth about witchcraft history in future blog posts, and if there is something you would like to know more about, please let me know. In the meantime, I will introduce the history of witchcraft on Long Island.

While one of the most well-known witchcraft cases took place in Salem, Massachusetts, there have been witch trials in New York and even one that was decades before the Salem Witch Trials. In 1658, a woman named Elizabeth “Goody” Garlick in East Hampton, New York was accused of witchcraft but was spared the same fate accused people faced in Salem. After the East Hampton magistrates collected the evidence, they decided to refer the case to the higher courts in Hartford, Connecticut (Long Island was four years shy from becoming a part of the Connecticut colony at the time; it was not until 1664 when it became a part of New York colony). While witchcraft was a capital offense at the time, John Winthrop, Jr.’s court rendered a non-guilty verdict for Goody Garlick. John Winthrop, Jr., the son of the co-founder of the Massachusetts Bay colony, was made the Governor of the Hartford colony and was one of the few people that were skeptical of magic particularly common people having the capabilities to practice magic; part of his skepticism was inspired by his background as a scholar whose research pursued finding explanations for magical forces influencing the world around them. In addition to learning about witchcraft in New York, I also previously did some research on modern witchcraft history and the pagan origins of Halloween.

Some witches and pagans (or Neo-Pagans) celebrate Samhain (“saah-win”), an ancient Gaelic festival that marks the time of year when seasons change, and many believe the boundary between the world and the world of the dead is at its thinnest. Samhain is known to be Halloween’s earliest root.  Early celebrations of Samhain involved a lot of ritualistic ceremonies to connect to spirits including celebrating in costumes (using animal skins) as a disguise themselves against ghosts, special feasts, built bonfires and made lanterns by hollowing out gourds. To learn more about the history of Halloween, I wrote about Halloween’s origins in the post “The History of Halloween and How Museums Celebrate” and I have included it in the links section below.

I included more links about witchcraft on Long Island if you would like to read more about this part of history. If you want to read more blog posts about witchcraft history, please let me know.

Links:

The History of Halloween and How Museums Celebrate

Hutton, Ronald. The Witch: A History of Fear, From Ancient Times to the Present, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017.

https://history.hanover.edu/texts/nyhah.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/before-salem-there-was-the-not-so-wicked-witch-of-the-hamptons-95603019/

http://bklyn-genealogy-info.stevemorse.org/LI/WitchesofLongIsland.html

https://bronx.news12.com/beyond-the-broomstick-witches-on-long-island-36714763

My Thoughts on a Coming Soon Museum: Museum of Broadway

October 7, 2021

        I found out a little while ago that a new museum is coming to New York City next year called the Museum of Broadway. Broadway World made an announcement stating the Museum of Broadway will open in the summer of 2022. It surprised me that there has not been a museum focused on the history of Broadway before now. During the past few years I have lived in New York, I attended some Broadway shows in these historic theaters and had wondered about the history of the theater as well as the history of Broadway in general. I am glad to hear that there will be a new museum dedicated to Broadway’s history. I have loved both history and musicals for as long as I can remember, and I would be interested to see what they do with the history of Broadway.

According to Broadway World, the interactive and immersive experience the Museum of Broadway, founded by entrepreneur and four-time Tony Award nominated producer Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti (founder of the award-winning experiential agency Rubik Marketing), offers guests a unique look at the rich history of Broadway, a sneak peek behind-the-scenes, and a change to personally engage with the “Game-Changing” shows that redefined Broadway forever. They also provided a brief description of what the experience would be like when it is open to the public. In their article, they stated that

At the heart of the experience, guests will travel through a visual history of Broadway from its birth to the present day highlighting theater’s pioneers, landmark moments of social change, and many of the most beloved plays and musicals of all time. Key points along the timeline will focus on the pivotal shows that transformed the landscape of Broadway, through immersive installations designed by leading contemporary visual artists and acclaimed Broadway designers. Fans will also go backstage to get a taste of “The Making of a Broadway Show,” with a special exhibit honoring the community of brilliantly talented professionals – both onstage and off – who bring Broadway plays and musicals to life every night.

It sounds like it would be a fun experience as well as an educational one. As a museum educational professional, I do wonder what their educational side of their museum operations would be like. When I visited their website, there was no mention of what they plan for school programs. I could see the programs focused on history and music including looking at the historical context of musicals.

I look forward to finding out more as it gets closer to opening day. What do you think of this new museum?

Links:

https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Museum-of-Broadway-Will-Open-in-Times-Square-in-Summer-2022-20210816

https://www.themuseumofbroadway.com/

Looking for your Next Podcast to Listen to? Check out this List of Podcasts on Museums and Public History

September 16, 2021

        In recent years, I started listening to more podcasts and I decided to share a list of podcasts about museums and public history on this website I have either been familiar with over the years as a museum professional, come across for this post, or have been shared with me to share on this website. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list, and that they are in no particular order. If there are ones that you do not see on this list and think they should be on this list, please contact me and let me know.

The following are podcasts discussing museums and what is going on in the museum field:

  1. Museopunks

Every month, Suse Anderson investigates the fascinating work and personalities in and around the museum sector. The hosts explore some of the sector’s most stimulating questions, institutions, and practices, with a focus on emergent, boundary-pushing work and ideas.

2. For Arts’ Sake

For Arts’ Sake podcast help people discover the difference museums can make to their lives by sharing real-life stories of leading museum professionals and professionals within the heritage sector across the UK.

3. Museums in Strange Places

Hannah Hethmon is the host of this podcast and in each episode they visit a different museum to discover its stories, discuss challenges and triumphs with fascinating museum professionals (and volunteers), and get to know each season’s country, state, or region through it museums.

4. Museum Confidential

Museum Confidential is a behind-the-scenes look at museums hosted by Jeff Martin. The show is a co-production of Philbrook Museum of Art and Public Radio Tulsa. There are new episodes every two weeks.

5. Museum People

Museum People is a NEMA-produced (New England Museum Association) podcast that celebrates individuals connected with the museum field by highlighting their work, passions, opinions, and personalities. In each episode, you’ll hear stories and viewpoints from a variety of museum people, from unsung workers to executive directors, volunteers to trustees, as they help change the world one visitor at a time.

6. Queering the Museum

Queering the Museum is an ongoing coordinated intervention into representations of LGBT/Q* people in museums. Their goal is for QTM to facilitate critical dialogues between community members and museum practitioners, addressing the role that museums play in forming social norms around gender and sexuality. They focus on museums due to their ability to shape and define the communities in which we live. QTM believes that museums have a responsibility to account for the role played in constructing normalized ideas of race, gender, and sexuality.

The following are podcasts discussing various topics in history and about public history:

  1. HistoryExtra

HistoryExtra, the official website for BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed, has podcast episodes featuring interviews with notable historians on topics spanning ancient history through to recent British to American history. Episodes feature perspectives on everything from crusading knights to Tudor monarchs and the D-Day landings.

2. Malcolm Gladwell Revisionist History

Revisionist History is Malcolm Gladwell’s journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood. Every episode re-examines something from the past — an event, a person, an idea, even a song — and asks whether we got it right the first time. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.

3. American Revolution Podcast

American Revolution Podcast is a weekly podcast that explores the events of the American Revolution, from beginning to end. They also have a blog that posts pictures, maps, and links to more information for each week’s episode. The link to the blog can be found here: https://blog.amrevpodcast.com

4. Ben Franklin’s World

Hosted by Liz Covert, this podcast is for people who love history and want to know more about the early American past.

5. A History of the World in 100 Objects

In this podcast, the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, narrates 100 programs that retell humanity’s history through the objects we have made.

6. BackStory

BackStory is a weekly public podcast hosted by U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly, and Joanne Freeman. They are based in Charlottesville, Va. at Virginia Humanities. Each week BackStory takes a topic that people are talking about and explores it through the lens of American history. Through stories, interviews, and conversations with our listeners, BackStory makes history engaging and fun.

7. National Leprechaun Museum’s Talking Stories  

Talking Stories is a podcast of stories, folklore, mythology, and chat from the Storytellers at the National Leprechaun Museum, on the 1st and 15th of every month. The National Leprechaun Museum is the first ever attraction dedicated to Irish mythology, and it opens up a fun and magical world full of fascinating folklore, mythology, and enchanting stories.

Visit the Contacts page and let me know if there are other podcasts that I should check out that are not on this list.

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts.  More information about additional benefits for supporting my work can be found here: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/buy-me-a-coffee-page/