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.

How Cleopatra Became a Canvas for Society’s Anxieties

One more article for The Week ends 2019 for me, a year that has been something of a roller coaster ride. This year I decided to become more serious about freelance writing, and these articles that I have been writing for The Week is the result of that decision.

Please enjoy this investigation into how and why Cleopatra continues to intrigue us more than 2,000 years after she died.

Happy New Year!

How Cleopatra Became a Canvas for Society’s Anxieties.

2019-12-31_0940

Two-thousand years after her death, Cleopatra continues to enthrall us. Earlier this year, the British tabloid The Daily Star reported that a new movie about this last Pharaoh of Egypt was in the works. According to an anonymous source, the movie will be “a dirty, bloody, political thriller told from a feminist perspective,” as opposed to the movie Cleopatra of 1963 starring Elizabeth Taylor, which had been a historical epic.

Our fascination with Cleopatra endures because we know surprisingly little about her. And what we do know is based purely on speculation. This lack of information makes Cleopatra the perfect canvas onto which…

Please click here if you wish to read the entire article.

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

Academics Are At War Over Racist Roots of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Studies

On December 1, 2019, I was back on The Daily Beast, continuing my coverage of the connections between modern racism and pre-modern history. This time I expressed my take on the ongoing debate on whether or not the term “Anglo-Saxon” should be phased out because of its racist meaning. Enjoy!

Academics Are At War Over Racist Roots of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Studies

Academics Are At War Over the Racist Roots of Anglo-Saxon Studies | The Daily Beast | The Boomerang

At the RaceB4Race symposium held in Washington D.C. in September 2019, medievalist Mary Rambaran-Olm took to the podium and called out the inherent racism of the term “Anglo-Saxon.” She asked the prestigious professional organization called the International Society for Anglo Saxonists, or ISAS, to change its name, and then declared her immediate resignation from that organization.

Rambaran-Olm’s speech sent shock waves through the world of experts on Anglo-Saxon England—and in the months that have passed since then, colleagues have turned on each other in a heated debated over the use of the term “Anglo-Saxon” and whether it constitutes white supremacy.

This debate might seem like an example of typical academic hair splitting with little to no relevance to the general public. But in the case of “Anglo-Saxon,” what might look like academic inside baseball has, in fact, major implications for wider society. This debate cuts to the root of the polarization that we are currently experiencing in the United States and the United Kingdom.

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

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

The Great Man Theory and Historical Change in SFF

On November 18, 2019, I published the following article on Tor.com. This article is Part 2 in the series I am writing for them called History and SFF. I am really happy about this post because I have wanted to write about how Wesley Chu uses history in his Tao trilogy ever since I first read it. The fact that Chu tweeted that he was happy with this article makes it even better.

The Great Man Theory and Historical Change in SFF.

The Great Man Theory and Historical Change in SFF | Tordcotcom | The Boomerang

The question of what factors drive historical change has intrigued historians from the very beginning, when the earliest scholars first turned their attention to studying and interpreting the past. To find the answer(s) to this key question, historians make use of social science theories. These theories help make sense of the inherent contradictions found in human behavior and human society.

For example, there is the theory…

Click here if you want to read the article in its entirety.

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