About Erika Harlitz-Kern

Erika Harlitz-Kern is a historian and freelance writer with more than ten years of experience from teaching, writing, editing, and publishing. She is an Adjunct Instructor at the Department of History at Florida International University and has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Gothenburg. Dr. Harlitz-Kern has been published by The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, The Week, Ploughshares, Foreword Reviews, Book Riot, and Quirk Books. She has been featured on The Story of God with Morgan Freeman on the NatGeo Channel and on Counterpoint on ABC Australia.

To See the Antisemitism of Medieval Bestiaries, Look for the Owl

On March 24, 2020, I published my first piece for Aeon Magazine. I am genuinely happy about how this piece turned out. It might be my best piece of writing so far, if I may so myself. A big thank you to Pamela Weintraub, the editor who I worked with for helping me unlock it.

Enjoy!

To See the Antisemitism of Medieval Bestiaries, Look for the Owl.

animal animal photography avian beak

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The owl watches you from the raised seat on the medieval misericord in Norwich Cathedral in the east of England. Surrounding the owl are birds with feathers like the scales of a pangolin. The birds are focused on the owl. The owl pays them no mind.

The motif of this scene would have been familiar to the woodcarver who made it and to the abbey monks who leaned against it during the long hours of Mass. But the associations the people of the Middle Ages made when they saw the scene on the misericord seat were different from how we would interpret it today.

Please click here to read the rest of the article.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

I was interviewed for Condé Nast Traveler

Tour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commons_(cropped)

One of the things you can do while working from home during this pandemic is to say yes to a request for an interview with Condé Nast Traveler about tourist destinations and amusement parks closing down because of the corona virus.

If you wish to read the article, please click here. Enjoy!

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Monarchies Are Gradually Disappearing

On February 3, 2020, The Week published an article I had written for them about the slow demise of the monarchy as a system of government. The monarchy is the oldest system of government that we have, and in an increasingly democratic world (yes, believe it or not), countries are more likely to declare themselves a republic than a monarchy.

Enjoy!

Monarchies Are Gradually Disappearing

When Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced their decision to step away as senior royals and strike out on their own, the British royal family joined the ranks of other royal families facing a changing reality. Months before Harry and Meghan reached their compromise with Queen Elizabeth II, the Swedish royal family had stripped certain family members of royal titles and cut them from the royal payroll. Meanwhile in Spain, members of the royal family have been removed from the succession after receiving prison sentences for corruption and tax fraud. And in Japan, the future of the royal family is in peril because of outdated succession laws that discriminate against its female members.

Forty-four of the world’s 195 countries are monarchies. As a result of how the British Empire dissolved itself, 16 of these 44 have Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State. With the exceptions of Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Oman, Eswatini, and the Vatican, all monarchies are constitutional monarchies, which means that the sovereign is a figurehead with limited political influence and power. During the 20th century, a newly created country could become either a republic or a monarchy. Israel, Lebanon, and Poland are examples of the former. Norway, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Spain are examples of the latter. At the same time, old monarchies became republics, often by force, with Cambodia bucking the trend and reinstating its monarchy in 1993. Two decades into the 21st century, the idea of a country declaring itself to be a monarchy seems almost alien. Has the monarchy as a system of government become obsolete?

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

History and SFF: Big Data and The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older

On January 24, 2020, Tordotcom published the third installation in the series History and SFF that I am writing for them. This time I talked about history, Big Data, and Malka Older’s amazing trilogy The Centenal Cycle. If you haven’t read those books yet, I highly recommend that you do. They are so good!

Enjoy!

History and SFF: Big Data and The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older

Malka Older Infomocracy

My family’s first computer had a 41 MB hard drive. I saved my carefully crafted teenage observations of life on 1.5 MB floppy discs that never seemed to be filled to capacity. Two years later, I moved away to go to college. I brought with me a laptop computer with a 240 MB hard drive. I was a very proud owner of this technological marvel, even though I had no idea what to do with all that storage space. Since 2005, we have been living in the age of Web 2.0 and Big Data. Now, I download 240 MB of data every time I update the apps on my smartphone.

The exact origins of the term “Big Data” might be in dispute, but its meaning is clear. Big Data gets its name from the enormous amounts of digital information generated, collected, and stored every second.

Big Data includes all the data generated by users on the internet. As soon as you go online, internet providers, social media platforms, newspapers, stores, communication apps, and blog platforms trace your every move and store your data for later use or sale.

Malka Older’s novel Infomocracy, part one of The Centenal Cycle trilogy, presents one version of what a future dominated by Big Data might look like.

Please click here to read the entire article.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Dr337 The Valleberga Runestone

On this Brexit Day when Great Britain is officially leaving the European Union, I give you Dr 337, also known as the Valleberga Runestone (Vallebergastenen). The inscription on this runestone shows that we are all connected in what is today Europe, and that we have been connected for over a thousand years.

Dr 337 Vallebergastenen | The Boomerang

Dr 337, the Valleberga Runestone (Vallebergastenen). Source: Riksantikvarieämbetet, Kulturmiljöbild (http://kmb.raa.se/cocoon/bild/show-image.html?id=16000300013212)

The inscription on the stone reads:

Sven and Torgöt made these memorials after Manne and Svenne. God help their soul well. And they lie in London. (My translation)

Sven och Torgöt gjorde dessa minnesmärken efter Manne och Svenne. Gud hjälpe väl deras själ. Och de ligger i London. (Raa translation)

Swen auk Þorgøtr gærðu kumbl þæssi æftiR Manna auk Swena. Guð hialpi siöl þera wæl; æn þer liggia i Lundunum. (Old Norse transcript)

The style of the runic inscription is interesting. The text looks like the RAK style, which consists of bands of runic text that meander across the surface of the stone. But, the RAK style is not known to include any decorations, and this runestone has a cross carved on it. The RAK style has been dated to c. 980–1015, but because of the cross, the dating of this particular runestone has been pushed forward to c. 1050.

We don’t know the exact identity of the men mentioned on the runestone. However, there are some clues that we can glean from the inscription.

First of all the runestone was made in memory of two men who lay buried in 11th century London. The two men who commissioned the runestone, Sven and Torgöt, were Christians. Manne and Svenne were probably Christians as well, but we don’t know that for certain. Runestones were commonly raised over family members or very close friends. Some runestones explain the relationship between the commissioner(s) and the person(s) commemorated. This is not the case with Dr337.

The runestone was made in and currently stands in the south-Swedish region of Scania (Skåne). At the time of the stone’s creation, Scania was part of the Danish sphere of influence. Based on this evidence, scholars believe that Manne and Svenne were two of the warriors who made up the Scandinavian defense force of England created by Danish king Cnut the Great after he became king of England in 1035. England’s close ties with Scandinavia were severed after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

We need to keep in mind, though, that the story of Manne and Svenne as Scandinavian defenders of the Danish kingship over England is based on circumstantial evidence and conjecture. It could very well be that they were Viking raiders who sailed to England and died in London, either in battle or from some other cause.

Regardless of who Manne and Svenne really were, the Valleberga Runestone demonstrates the close ties between the different parts of Europe that have been ongoing for more than a thousand years.

Sources:
The Swedish National Heritage Board/Riksantikvarieämbetet, Kulturmiljöbild, Dr 337 Vallebergastenen.
Vallebergastenen.
Runstensstilar.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

 

 

What Happens when Women Translate the Classics

On January 14, 2020, The Week published this article that I had written for them. I’m really happy that this idea found a place at The Week. It seems as if the readers of The Week were happy too, at least judging by the amount of shares and likes that this article received on Facebook and Twitter. Enjoy!

What Happens when Women Translate the Classics

What Happens When Women Translate the Classics | The Week.com | The Boomerang

“Tell me about a complicated man.” This first line of Emily Wilson’s translation of the Ancient Greek epic poem The Odyssey raised a lot of eyebrows when it was published in 2017. The translation reinvigorated the interest in the story of Odysseus and his 10-year struggle to return home to his wife Penelope and their son Telemachos on the island of Ithaca, after having fought in the Trojan War. Wilson is so far the only woman to publish a translation of The Odyssey in English, a translation considered by many as groundbreaking.

Wilson might be the first woman to translate The Odyssey into English, but she’s not the first woman to translate an Ancient Greek text into a contemporary language. With her translation, Wilson joins the ranks of women who have broken gender barriers to give their voices to the Classics. Does the translator’s gender influence the interpretation of a text?

Please click here to read the article in its entirety.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Historical Sources and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

On December 17, 2019, I published part two of my ongoing series for Tor.com, History and SFF. This time I wrote about how N.K. Jemisin uses historical sources to tell the story, and to contradict that same story, of her award winning trilogy The Broken Earth. Enjoy!

History and SFF: Historical Sources and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

History and SFF | Historical Sources and N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy | Tor.com | The Boomerang

History is the interpretation of the past based on written and recorded texts. These texts are known as historical sources and they are the sine qua non of history writing. Over the past centuries, techniques have developed for how to categorize, evaluate, and analyze historical sources. Being a historian means that you dedicate a substantial amount of your time mastering these techniques in order to make your interpretation of the past valid and reliable.

In The Broken Earth trilogy, N.K. Jemisin uses historical sources to tell the history of The Stillness, a seismically overactive continent where human civilization is repeatedly destroyed through prolonged cataclysmic events known as Seasons.

Please click here if you wish to read the article in its entirety.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.