Category Archives: HIstory

Mostly everyday life and personalities of the past.

Gaps in Time

Standard

Phantom Time? New Chronology? Missing Dark Ages?

No, the problem to which many are prone in historical fiction writing, that what is around today was around in the past, just with brass ornaments. Many seem unwilling to say, “There wasn’t anything like this back before the digital revolution.”

This is a thought pattern entwined with the *Your Friends in Funny Clothes* flaw. It’s the anachronism of assumption, like “There have always been houseplants” or “Nice people were never racists, let alone classists.”

This is most likely to show up in Near History settings, but sometimes the 19th century. Someone wants to transfer an activity or a personality type (the friend, being re-dressed) back from the present. Rather than researching what people were like or what they did, the inept research-avoider grabs what they think applies, based on wrong assumptions. Which is usually based on lack of knowledge of the target time, or anything in between.

Take — the Internet.

What, before WW2, would have been the equivalent of the person who lives on social sites, forums, and chat rooms?

I don’t have to make up this answer. On one forum thread, a group decided “of course” that the equivalent, before radio, of the Internet, must have been telegraphy.

It’s so obvious! It’s electrical/electronic, and reaches all over the world, and so those kinds of people must have learned Morse and chattered to strangers on the wires all the time.

No. Just no. It’s not even wrong.

See, they had jumped some gaps in their knowledge, and landed in nonsense up to their earrings.
Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

Populations & Police

Standard

In the 1885 volume of the Boston magazine, Cottage Hearth, full of wholesome recipes, sheet music, entertainment for the kiddies, and temperance news, on page 227 we find this factoid collection as filler.

England and Its Capital

About 500,000 dwellings shelter the population of London. [c. 3,377,000]
About 10,000 strangers enter the city each day.
About 125 persons are added to the population daily.
About 28 miles of new streets are laid out each year.
About 9,000 new houses are erected annually.
About 129,000 paupers infest the city.
About 11,000 police keep good order. Read the rest of this entry

A Road, Not a Wall

Standard

I’ve discovered some forums, over at Reddit (duh, http://reddit.com). Now, Reddit was designed for people to share links to interesting articles – read-it. However, it has developed beyond that.

On certain subreddits like askhistorians or the alternate-history ones, there is a basic geographical and technological assumption that’s starting to make me grit my teeth when it comes up.

Europe.

Followed immediately by Asia and Africa.
Read the rest of this entry

Battleships on Stilts

Standard

Dieselpunk realities!

I never saw these before so I’m betting you haven’t either. From the 1944 pages of Popular Science Monthly comes one of several newly revealed war machines, now that VE Day approaches and there’s no reason to keep them secret. (OMG, VW Beetles, too, and the Thing version that the Germans used as the equivalent of the Jeep.) Read the rest of this entry

Journey to the Center of the Snowbank

Standard

… or how failed railroad tech inspired scientific romance.

Railroads on a large scale only date back to the 1830s, but they ran into the problem of snow on the tracks the first winter. The earliest solution was the snow plow. Often called a Bucker (or bucker), it just relied on speed and plowing action to clear the tracks. If the snow got too deep, though, there was nothing to do but bring up crew cars with 200 men for several days of shoveling.

1884 brought a new high-tech solution: the Jull rotary snow plow, whose auger and blades chewed its way into the face of ten feet of snow and threw the result a hundred feet to either side, first going up thirty feet to clear the telegraph wires. Imagine a ten or eleven foot wheel spinning at 90 rpm, and you get an idea of the speed. (You can find way too many YouTube vids of North American rotaries in action. Really, the Europeans don’t seem to know how to really use them.)

Now, thanks to Mr. Orange Jull having secured good patent rights everywhere he could, and sold them to the Leslie brothers who built his first rotary (and knew a good thing when they saw it), nobody else could get in on the business.

(Fanfare, maestro!)

Enter the glorious failures, the screw-front snow plows.

Formally called augers, these ran into the basic problem that, however well they fed snow back to a blower, or cut into an iced bank, the horizontal pressures on the central shaft created insurmountable mechanical problems.

This “Cyclone Steam Snowplow” by E.P. Caldwell, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was constructed in 1889. (This is just a patent drawing of the lubrication system.)

The Cyclone Steam Plow, progenitor of the Cyclotram.

The Cyclone Steam Plow, progenitor of the Cyclotram.

Read the rest of this entry

Dragonflies and Bumblebees

Standard

31DecDragonflyThis flight of fancy, with its vibrating set of wings for propulsion, reminds me of the Japanese “bumblebee” fliers in H. G. Wells’ 1908 The War in the Air (tons of invention, badly written, with a lead character less of a protagonist and more an accidental point of view). Of course, the bumblebees were mounted and ridden like a flying motorcycle, where this is bigger and more conventional. “Flying mounts” rather than “flying carriages” have long appealed to us, as something closer to being winged ourselves, or at least riding Pegasus: they appear in 1827 in The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Jane Loudon. However, this one appeared in the December 1931 issue of Popular Science Monthly, p.63. Mad science had not deserted aeronautics after all!

Japanese Time

Standard

OldJpnsTime

On some levels, I love history for the same reason I love speculative fiction: those wonderful moments that make the brain go “tilt.”

Working on the new Names book, I was going through Koop and Inada, or Japanese names and how to read them: a manual for art-collectors and students, being a concise and comprehensive guide to the reading and interpretation of Japanese proper names both geographical and personal as well as of dates and other formal expressions (1922) Now, when you think about it, this ought to be obvious, but who ever stops to think that the Japanese had their own means of telling time, and it wasn’t a 12/24 hour thing.

So for those of you writing in Old Japan, here’s the reference you desperately needed, whether you knew it or not. And just so it’s all in one place, here’s the page on measures used, too.

OldJpnsMeasure