Greek Fire’s Burning Questions

Greek fire – Manuscript from the twelfth century | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

During the Middle Ages, everyone who knew the Byzantines considered their Greek fire to be the most destructive weapon known to mankind. Wielded by the Byzantines in Constantinople, soldiers used a hose to burn naval ships, which would spread rapidly across water. On land, the Byzantines used Greek fire as a primitive portable flamethrower and was even thrown like grenades. What made Greek fire so unique was its ability to burn and float in water. Because of its power, the Byzantines went to great lengths to keep the recipe a secret. As a result, only a handful of people knew the exact ingredients and its contents were never written down. By the time the Byzantine empire fell in the 15th century, the recipe to creating Greek fire had been lost and forgotten. Ever since then, nobody has ever been able to truly recreate the weapon. If you’re interested to learn more about the history of Greek fire, I wrote an article last year that goes more in depth on it’s creation and its effects on the invading Muslim army.

So how is it possible that mankind was able to create the internet, build atomic weapons and send a satellite outside our solar system, but not be able to make the same fire that the Byzantines created over a thousand years ago? Not many people are aware of Greek fire to begin with, and we have long since surpassed the necessity of swords and crossbows, so why do we need Greek fire if we have far more effective combat weaponry like guns, rockets, drones and nuclear warheads? Should we even try to bring back Greek fire? What would we gain?

Constantinople/Istanbul location | Courtesy of Wikispaces

Is it even possible to replicate Greek fire? Well, the closest we’ve come is in the form of napalm, but since the exact contents of Greek fire is currently unknown, we can’t exactly compare the two. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to fully recreate Greek fire (and who’s to say it hasn’t already been secretly rediscovered?), but if we are successful, what happens next? Will we start using it again as a weapon of war, or will we manage to keep it preserved? I would say it depends on which country or organization gets a hold of it. In my opinion, we should limit the usage of Greek fire to performances; perhaps as a part of a tourist attraction? I would imagine this could work great in a Byzantine museum in Istanbul (modern day Constantinople), since it was here that Greek fire was created and used. Greek fire was only used by the Byzantine army to defend against Muslim invaders, so it may be difficult to showcase the Byzantine’s weapon on a city that is now mostly Muslim, as it could show a bias view against the Muslims in favor of the Christian Byzantines. I say this hesitantly since I do not know about the public opinions in Istanbul, Turkey. Would Turkish officials be okay with this? How tolerant are they towards the Byzantine empire? But I can’t get ahead of myself, as who knows how long it’ll take to bring back the same Greek fire that the Byzantines had once possessed? We’ll just have to wait and see.

A quick look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art | Courtesy of New York Yimby

For this blog, I want to write about the Metropolitan Museum of Art found in Manhattan. Now, I don’t know how it compares to other national museums in terms of its size and content, but the Metropolitan is beyond breathtaking. I had the pleasure of visiting the Metropolitan a few years ago and I was more than impressed with how much it had to offer.

Ancient Rome Wing | Courtesy of Art Smart
American Wing | Courtesy of Flickr

There is just so much to see here that it’s impossible to examine everything in one visit. Like many, I myself only got to see a small portion during my one trip. Within the museum, there are sections dedicated to ancient civilizations and different time periods, such as Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, and so forth. The rooms are enormous and the interior design helps to enhance the aesthetics of the exhibits, as seen in the Ancient Rome and American wing photos above.

Temple of Dendur Exhibit | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Impressively, the Metropolitan managed to get the Temple of Dendur inside the museum. The temple was built in Egypt during the first Century BC under the reign of Augustus Caesar. What is shown here is no replica; it’s the very same Egyptian temple – dismantled and brought over from Egypt in the 1960’s. You can look inside the temple to see the room where the Egyptians had once prayed to their deities.

Boiserie from the Hôtel de Varengeville (Exhibit) | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Boiserie from the Palais Paar (Exhibit) | Courtesy of The Met

What impressed me the most during my visit were the exhibits that consisted of recreated 18th century Western European regal rooms. There were other similar rooms like the ones shown above that were put on display – a few you could walk around in and others that you can admire behind rope barriers. These rooms interested me the most because of its room design and how the whole room was set up to make you feel like you had just traveled back in time to the 18th century.

With over two million works of art, you can spend countless of hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you want to get the most out the museum, I highly recommend going several times – it’s well worth the visit. Thinking back about the 18th century luxury room exhibit, I wonder why more museums don’t try to recreate rooms or locations that help the audience immerse themselves into a specific time period? Doing that is sure to make the experience more memorable and meaningful.

 

The Importance of Demographs

In regards to our public history project, I decided to look into the racial and ethnicity demographs in San Antonio. What I believe to be the one of the best sites for this is the Statistical Atlas, which contains a wide variety of population statistics from all across the United States.

 

Here, you can compare the different statistics of Whites, Hispanics, Blacks, Asian and others within San Antonio. You can look at these demographs from an interactive map of San Antonio that can be categorized into neighborhoods, tracts and counties. Pictured below, you can view the comparison of the White and Hispanic populations by neighborhoods. It’s even possible to click on each neighborhood individually to look more in great detail.

Interestingly enough, you could compare the demographs of San Antonio with other cities in Texas, and even go as far as comparing it with different cities from around the country. The web-link in the beginning takes you to the racial and ethnicity demographs, but you can also look at different categories such as age and sex, household types, employment status and occupations – to name a few.

With this, it is possible to relate the information here with San Antonio jobs and architecture; although more research will have to be done to be able to sufficiently relate this to the main topic of mariachis.

San Antonio Hispanic Demographs

Primary Sources:

“Demographic and Housing Profile: San Antonio” Accessed March 4, 2018. http://demographics.texas.gov/Resources/Presentations/OSD/2015/2015_05_15_San_Antonio_Housing_Policy_Summit.pdf
– This is a U.S. Government census and there’s one map in particular that shows the areas within that have the highest population of Hispanic descent. With this, we might be able to find a correlation with the location of Mexican restaurants.
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 “Texas and San Antonio Hispanic Millennials” Accessed March 4, 2018.
– Similar to the other primary source mentioned above, but this goes more in depth on Hispanic demographics such as age distribution and the projected racial and ethnic percent in Bexar County.

Secondary Sources:
“Race and Ethnicity in San Antonio, Texas (City) – Statistical Atlas.” Accessed March 4, 2018. https://statisticalatlas.com/place/Texas/San-Antonio/Race-and-Ethnicity.
– This cite shows the percentage of Hispanic populations in Bexar county neighborhoods. It also shows comparisons against other cities in Texas and across the country.

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“San Antonio: Growth and Success in the Mexican-American Capital | Newgeography.com.” Accessed March 4, 2018. http://www.newgeography.com/content/005466-san-antonio-growth-and-success-mexican-american-capital.
– A news report that talks about how the Hispanic population is currently expanding and will continue to grow in the coming years. There are a few maps here that show which areas in Bexar county have had the most Hispanic growth in population. One thing that stood out that this cite said was that the U.S. population is supposed to be 23% Hispanic by 2035 and that San Antonio is an early example of the Hispanic growth.

Evaluating the “Geography of the Post”

When you look at a digital history project, you want to be amazed. You want to be impressed and take some value out of it. Today, I’ll be looking at the Geography of the Post site to see how it measures up according to the Digital Project Evaluation Rubric.

Looking at its content, the site is composed of a map of western U.S.A. in the 19th century and shows the number of post offices established through the years from 1846 to 1902.  At the bottom, the site gives a basic description of the map displayed. The description explains about some of the map’s features. For example, by pressing the “Duration View” button above the map, one can see the lifespans of each post office represented by a light or dark shade of green based on how long its been around. The “Status View” button shows the conditions of every post office in a selected year. Aside from that, there’s not much else in terms of content. While you can look at the names of the post offices on the map and their year of establishment, there is nothing else to look at. It’s a shame that this website is lacking content, since I would have liked to learn more about these 19th century post offices. From what I gathered, it seems they got all of their information from a postal historian. About 29 percent of the post offices are labeled as unmapped, although this is due to the fact that there are some offices that were simply not written down to begin with. In addition, offices that underwent name changes appeared as a brand new office opening, while its old name appeared as closed. To be fair, several of the issues here are not the designer’s fault, but rather, it’s the fact that not everything was documented on the Geographic Names Information Systems cite.

In terms of functionality, the site works well, as it gives a small guide on how to use the map. I like how you can interact with it by adjusting the scale to see how many post offices were open on the selected years. It’s pretty straightforward, overall.

Personally, I liked the aesthetics of this site as the green dots stick out against the black/dark gray background. The site’s layout is simple, and that’s perfectly fine; no need to overcomplicate things.

Unfortunately, since there is very little content, the site doesn’t engage me. I mean, it is interactive but there’s nothing there that’ll keep me interested for more than a few minutes. I like being able to see how much post offices expanded in the 19th century, but I just don’t see the relevance in it. There has to be more of a purpose for showing the public this map.

Overall, the site has potential for more content. It has good aesthetics (at least in my opinion) and has a good layout, but there’s not a lot of content. If I could click on one of the many thousands of green dots to learn more about a specific post office, then that would make the site much more interesting.

Evaluating a weak public history resource

If one wants to attract visitors to their park, they would need to do a good job presenting themselves to the public. As the title suggests, I will be looking at Lake Bob Sandlin State Park’s website and I’ll give my opinion on how it’s displayed. Seeing as how this is a ‘.gov’ website, one could expect captivating things from it. This, however, was not the case.

First off, there are only three pictures (and a video) to look at on the main page. I’m certain that the park is substantially large, but by just seeing those three pictures, I can only assume that the park is underwhelming. This along with the website’s white background leaves a weak first impression on me, so there definitely needs to be an improvement in grabbing the viewer’s attention. On the plus side, the main page has some basic information such as a ‘things-to-do’ list, directions, and entry costs.

Looking at the map, it can be easily navigated, but it lacks depth. Some photos of the entrance and places of interest would have been nice to have. Other than the directions it gives, there’s not much else to say about the map – it’s rather dull.

This being a park, the website provides a long list of the animals and plants that live within it. The fact sheet gives detailed information about its inhabitants, but its design is uninspired. The problem here isn’t the content, since (mostly) a good amount of information is given. Rather, it’s the layout that needs to be changed. There needs to be images under each of the inhabitants listed, because only having the names is unappealing.

When I clicked on the history tab, I almost became convinced that this website is unfinished. The history tab is just a very brief and vague description of the park’s history. This is basically a good example of how not to present your history on a website. Having visuals and a more detailed description will make its history sound more interesting. Having a narrative will also make it engaging.

While the format of the website is decent enough, there is plenty of room for improvements. There can definitely be more effort put into its aesthetic, layout, information, and visuals imagery. This wasn’t an absolutely terrible website – it’s just greatly lacking in creativity.

Heritage Center Manager – Blog 02

The role of a heritage center manager is admittedly not an easy one. Just like the role of any manager, these are the kinds of people that ‘pull the strings’ around their workplaces. It is a role that requires many skills to be successful. Not only do these managers need archival experience to succeed, they are also required to be able to manage the projects in terms of finance and budgeting, marketing, customer services, volunteer management, and display good team-work. (Sayer, 45)

My definition of public history fits extremely well with heritage museums, since they aim to bring the past to life through a visual and narrative experience. The heritage center managers play a vital part in this by making critical decisions as to how they should approach the audience, informing them while also catching their attention. One more thing to note is that since these organization are typically not publicly funded, managing their budgets can be a hefty challenge for heritage managers. Overall, it’s a big responsibility to oversee everything that goes on within a heritage organization.

One interesting organization that I found online was the Texas Rangers Heritage Center. They focus on preserving the legacy of 19th century Texan rangers through the use of interactive galleries. Of course, there is more to it than just that, as the organization provides several programs that are aimed for all ages. Regarding the website itself, I like how it is presented, as that helps catch more people’s attention.

Another website that caught my attention was the Doss Heritage and Culture Center. This organization’s goal is to preserve and bring more awareness to the history of Parker County, Texas. What stood out to me about Doss was their preservation of log cabins. As of now, they are trying to move cabins around to create a small log cabin village in Pioneer Cabin Park. Both the Texas Rangers and the Doss heritage centers are, what I think,  good examples of heritage centers, due to their focus on preserving the past through their reconstructions and engaging the public through programs and events.

Finally, you can visit these websites if you are interested in seeking out a job as a Heritage Center Manager:

http://www.thc.texas.gov/about/job-openings

https://jobs.aaslh.org/jobseeker/search/results/?msessid=CIt5M

 

Blog 01 – Interests in public history

What I admire about public history is how expansive it can be. Instead of only teaching students in classrooms, public historians can inform the public on a wider audience composed of all ages. The larger the audience, the more impact that the public history projects will have on the communities. In the public history field, there are many options to choose from and many projects to be a part of.

One blog that stood out to me was “Project Showcase: Murals of Las Cruces Project” by Peter A. Kopp, Norma Hartell, and Jerry D. Wallace. In it, the people working on the Murals of Las Cruces Project do an amazing job preserving public murals found around the city of Las Cruces. I find this to be a fascinating project, as the act of preserving city murals is something I have not really heard of before. Also interesting was how not just the art itself was preserved, but how the group collected all sorts of data around the community which included the names of the artists, the dates, and the mural’s physical conditions. I was also impressed with how they even started up a website to help connect with the community. This project even ties into heritage, in which we are learning about the community’s past.  Paul Ringel’s “Can Facebook help public historians build community?” blog shows that  public history can also be done on social media websites such as Facebook. Another blog that caught my attention was the “Statues, national monuments, and settler-colonialism: Connections between public history and policy..,” by Rose Miron because it shows how controversial  political/social dilemmas can be to public historians.

To define public history, I believe that it is about communicating the past and relating it to the present with the help of heritage. Faye Sayer puts great emphasis on heritage, which indeed is what helps shape public history but as the author mentions, both history and heritage must be merged together. As I mentioned earlier, public history can be applied into many areas – which include museums, social media, parks and monuments. The goal of public history is to be able to successfully inform the audience about the past and present. However, getting there can be challenging. As Sayer explains, there are several issues to consider while engaging in these projects: authenticity, education versus entertainment, consumerism and ownership. It should also be said that the public historians should not be the only ones with direct control over these projects, as the public should also play a significant role.

 

References:

Kopp, Peter A., Hartell, Norma., Wallace, Jerry D. 2017. “Project Showcase: Murals of Las Cruces Project.” National Council on Public History, http://ncph.org/history-at-work/murals-of-las-cruces/.

Miron, Rose. 2017. “Statues, national monuments, and settler-colonialism: Connections between public history and policy in the wake of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.” National Council on Public History, http://ncph.org/history-at-work/statues-national-monuments-settler-colonialism/.

Ringel, Paul. 2017. “Can Facebook help public historians build community?” National Council on Public History, http://ncph.org/history-at-work/can-facebook-help-public-historians-build-community/.

Sayer, Faye. Public History: A Practical Guide New York: Bloomsburry, 2015, 14-18.

Blog 00

My name’s Mario Sosa and I am currently a senior here at St. Mary’s University. As a history major, I am looking towards the public history track. I would like to learn how to be able to make history more captivating to the general public through the media and other methods. The main goal is knowing how to educate the public in a way that makes the material not only interesting but also impactful. I would have to thank my U.S. history teacher from high school, since that was the class that really got me into the realm of history. I have no doubt that this class will help familiarize me with what public history is all about and what I can do in it.