Summer Book Club: Seeley’s The Expansion of England

You are asked to think over English history as a whole and consider if you cannot find some meaning, some method in it, if you cannot state some conclusion to which it leads.  Hitherto perhaps you have learned names and dates, lists of kings, lists of battles and wars.  The time comes now when you are to ask yourselves, To what end?  For what practical purpose are these facts collected and committed to memory?  If they lead to no great truths having at the same time scientific generality and momentous practical bearings, then history is but an amusement and will scarcely hold its own in the conflict of studies…. No one can long study history without being haunted by the idea of development, of progress.

J.R. Seeley wrote these words as part of a series of lectures he gave at the University of Cambridge in 1881 and 1882, published as The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures in 1883.  Seeley was a professor of modern history at Cambridge from 1869 to 1895.

NPG Ax17824; Sir John Robert Seeley by Philip Crellin Jr

John Robert Seeley – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Seeley examined modern British history with the goal of answering the question of what direction the world was headed.  His answer? Toward liberty, democracy, and the advancement of “greater” Britain. Continue reading

Postcard from Brock’s Monument, Queenston Heights, Canada

Postcard from Brock’s Monument, Queenston Heights, Canada

 

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Brock’s Monument at Queenston Heights National Historic Site — Photo credit: P. Dumas

Brock’s Monument commemorates the work of Major General Sir Isaac Brock. Brock was a leading figure in the early battles against American forces in the War of 1812 and died at the Battle of Queenston Heights. The monument stands an imposing 56m (185ft) tall and is actually the second to commemorate Brock at Queenston Heights, as the first was dynamited in April 1840 in an act likely related to the 1837 Rebellion. The monument towers above the Niagara River, very close to the modern-day border between Canada and the USA.

Queenston Heights offer beautiful picnic grounds, a historic walk related to the Battle, and a new monument and garden acknowledging the vital contributions of First Nations peoples to the War.

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Brick’s Monument, Queenston Heights — Photo Credit: P. Dumas

In the News: Roots of Unionist Political Parties in Northern Ireland

Since last week’s election, the Democratic Unionist Party has received more attention outside of Northern Ireland than it has in years, now holding the balance of power in the UK Parliament.  While the DUP was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, the separation of political parties in Northern Ireland from the main United Kingdom parties has roots in the late nineteenth century before and during the Home Rule era.

2017 Election

2017 General Election Results – BBC News

In the 1870s, sectarian strife in the north of Ireland was at a low ebb as both Catholics and Protestants united through Liberal Party politics.  Continue reading

Disease and Death in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Disease and Death in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

I am working my way through a series of letters sent between my Scottish ancestors and their families and friends in Scotland, Canada, and the USA. You can find my introduction to the letters here. Their authors have included some fascinating morsels of information about everyday life, and the nature of their letters also tells us about channels of communication that were maintained by Scots, regardless of where they travelled.

One thing that is immediately noticeable across these letters is that the authors were focussed on the putting the most important news first: that of their health and the health and wellbeing of family members and close friends. Unfortunately, this means that a number of the letters begin with news of recent (and not so recent) deaths. Continue reading

Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part III: National Monuments

Where any church or ecclesiastical building or structure appears to the Commissioners to be ruinous, or if a church to be wholly disused as a place of public worship, and not suitable for restoration as a place of public worship, and yet to be deserving of being maintained as a national monument by reason of its architectural character or antiquity, the Commissioners shall by order vest such church, building, or structure in the secretary of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, to be held by such secretary, his heirs and assigns, upon trust for the Commissions of Public Works, to be preserved as a national monument, and not to be used as a place of public worship.

Irish Church Act, Section 25.1 (1869)

Not only did the Irish Church Act of 1869 disestablish the Church of Ireland, but it also provided for the protection of the first national monuments in Ireland.  They were to be placed under the control of what is now the Office of Public Works, founded in 1831 and one of the oldest government agencies still in existence in Ireland.

The first group of monuments, those at the Rock of Cashel, were taken into state care in 1874.

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Rock of Cashel, 1970 – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Rock of Cashel, a medieval site in County Tipperary, contains several 12th and 13th century religious structures, with roots dating back much further as the traditional seat of the kings of Munster. Continue reading

Scots in Canada: The Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

The Scottish people have a long history of migration and as a result many Canadians have Scottish roots.

I think there’s a tendency to lump all 18th and 19th century immigrants to Canada and the United States together and think of them as poor, desperate, unskilled workers, in some cases the victims of industrialisation, crop failure, land clearances, etc., and who by leaving for a new country would be abandoning everything and everyone they once knew, never to be heard from again. Continue reading

Postcard from Port Dover, Ontario

Postcard from Port Dover, Ontario
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Beach at Port Dover — Photo by P. Dumas

Port Dover is a small town in southern Ontario, Canada, on the coast of Lake Erie. Now famous for its Friday the 13th gatherings of motorcyclists from across Canada and the USA, the town was settled by Loyalists in the 1790s and saw action during the War of 1812. Continue reading

More Maps: John Speed’s Depictions of Ireland

Today we’re taking a look at John Speed’s depictions of Ireland in his Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, published in 1611/1612.  Speed (1552-1629), the best-known mapmaker of his era, included an overview of Ireland and maps of each province in his atlas.  As I described in a previous post, Speed used previously compiled sources to inform his atlas, but made the maps and other elements himself.

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland - photo credit: British Library

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland – photo credit: British Library

R. Dudley Edwards and Mary O’Dowd noted the importance of Speed’s maps in their Sources for Early Modern Irish History, 1534-1641, writing:

Among the most ambitious projects commissioned by a London bookseller in the early seventeenth century was John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, which appeared in 1611.  Speed devoted special attention to Ireland for which he provided a general map of the country and separate provincial maps.  This gives him, in the opinion of J.H. Andrews, the claim to be, in the eyes of contemporaries, the author of the definitive map as known till the mid seventeenth century in Britain and abroad.  Speed’s work was based on some of the ‘regional surveys, especially in the north, as well as Mercator’s general map of 1595, and, less, happily, Boazio.’  His work included the first printed plans for the towns of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.  As Dr. Nuala Burke pointed out, Speed’s work was not necessarily up to date.  She considers, however, that Speed can be regarded as giving a ‘reasonably correct general impression of the actual early seventeenth century topography,’ though there can be errors in matters of detail.

While this was considered the definitive map of Ireland and its provinces for its time, there are biases and agendas at work in Speed’s depictions.  Continue reading

Viewing Canada Live & Online, Pt. 5 – British Columbia

Viewing Canada Live & Online, Pt. 5 – British Columbia

In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, we have been making our way across Canada on the blog via webcams! You can revisit our look at the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and the Prairies, and travel northwest with us as we wrap up our survey of some of the great online views of Canada.

I’ve learned a lot as I’ve virtually travelled across the country seeking out webcams aimed at great views and historic places. Continue reading

Viewing Canada Live and Online Pt. 4 – The Prairies

Viewing Canada Live and Online Pt. 4 – The Prairies

I’m making my way across Canada from the East Coast to the West via webcams. This week I’m moving into Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (my home province). These three provinces make up the “Prairies” and are all partially covered by prairie grasslands. Manitoba joined the confederation early on — in 1870, only 3 years after the original four provinces united — but Saskatchewan and Alberta joined later in 1905. Continue reading