not_an_expert

Some Things That the HEMA Movement Gets Right

Several men and women in plate armour rest on the grass in the shade while others look on or chat
Some happy warriors after a historical fencing event in the Midwestern USA.

Quite a few people seem to be finding their way to my post about why I drifted away from the historical fencing movement. While I think it needed to be said, it might leave someone wondering what I found attractive about that world in the first place. Some of the reasons seemed obvious: the historical fencing movement gives people the chance to learn horse archery in Vancouver and a reason to get happy and sweaty with a group of friends (sometimes leading to to other more private happy-sweaty times). Those are wonderful things! And while I am not sure how much we can know about how ancient Greeks or Viking Age Norwegians used their shields, I think that someone who wants to know would be wise to get one and spend time moving it (because Thucydides and Snorri Stirluson wrote for an audience who had all used spear and shield). So this week, I would like to talk about some good things which the community does in 2017.
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Link Dump

A round, domed wicker shield with a spiked steel boss and a cloth-bound rim.  Three short scimilars hang behind it with their handles up and blades crossed at the middle.
A Turkish target and three Turkish scimitars from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century in the second armoury, Schloss Ambras. Photo by author, October 2015.

(Due to some events in my private life, this post is late and pulled out of my file of drafts)

Gui Minhai, a Chinese Suetonius who did not wait until his targets were safely dead, was disappeared in October 2015. In January 2016 he appeared on Chinese state TV to make a confession then vanished again.

A character sketch of Edward Luttwak, another of those curious American academics-cum-policymakers whom my readers may know for his Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire and Grand Strategy of the Bzyantine Empire.

A watercolour of Innsbruck in 1495 courtesy of Albrecht Dürer. He sat to sketch a little bit downstream from Conrad Seusenhofer’s house.

In December 2015, Steven Payne made a pilgrimage on foot from Southhampton to Canterbury in fourteenth-century kit.

L. Sprague de Camp’s historical novels set in the Mediterranean between the fifth and the second centuries BCE have been reprinted in codex and ePub by Phoenix Pick. One of them imagines the events which might lie behind the very detailed description of an elephant in Aristotle; readers who enjoy stories about the gifting of large animals over long distance might enjoy reading up on the elephant Harun al-Rashid gave to Charlemagne, the elephants Nadir Shah sent to St. Petersburg for Emperess Anna of Russia, or the giraffe which Sultan Faraj of Egypt sent to Samurkand for Tamurlane.
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Low Water in the Sill

A crystal-clear river with broad stretches of gravel and some hibernating trees on either bank and a blocky glass building in the background.
Low water in the river Sill at the beginning of March 2015. Photo by Sean Manning.

Living in Innsbruck, its hard to ignore the changes in the local waterways over the course of the year. The local rivers are fed by runoff, and these days large areas of the Alps are bare by May. I took these photos on the tenth of March, in a week where snow fell for several days but melted as it hit the ground of the valley.

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I Was Wrong about the HEMA Movement

Photo of a stunning church entrance with a multicoloured stone archway with double doors set inside it
I understand that its traditional in the German-speaking countries to nail these manifesti to a church door, but since this is the 21st century, and there do not seem to be any historical fencers in Innsbruck, a blog post with a photo of San Anastasia in Verona will have to do.

There are those who say that because most people forget their false predictions and remember their true, it is healthy to make a note when one notices that one was wrong about something. There is a movement variously known as historical European martial arts, Western Martial Arts, or historical fencing. Its central activity is recreating dead martial arts from the manuals which they left behind, although many practitioners also try to recreate ‘prehistoric’ martial arts which died without leaving manuals, or revive obscure but still living European martial arts such as Irish stick-fighting. And my understanding of what it is about, and what sort of people it attracts, has drastically changed over the past few years.

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How the Grafs Trapp Acquired the Armour of the Vogts of Matsch

No energy to be poetic sorry
Schloss Churburg as seen from a third-story balcony outside the walls of Glorenza. Photo by Sean Manning.

Most weeks I post about things which I have seen or read myself, about domains in which I have reason to consider myself an expert, and refer to supporting evidence which my gentle readers can check if they doubt me.  This is a kind of history which began to take shape in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries along with other kinds of modern science.  It is certainly not the only way to tell stories about the past.  So this week I decided to try something more Herodotean.  What I will tell you this week comes from people met here and things read there, and I think that it tells something important, but in the end it is still a story about things long ago and far away, and just because it is great fun does not mean that every detail is true.  This is the story of how the Grafs Trapp acquired Schloss Churburg and the armour of the Vogts of Matsch.

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The Liebster Award, or, Becoming Aware of an Internet Tradition

Photo of a red limestone building with a weathered gateway of white stone carved in relief built into it
The very rich and very patient can ignore practical constraints on their collecting too: random Tudor gateway built into the Burrell Collection, Scotland.

A few weeks ago Alexandra of ascholarlyskater nominated me for the Liebster Award. Thanks Alex! I see that Judith Weingarten won one of these in 2013. Although I do not normally post personal things on this blog, I thought I would get into the spirit of things in my reply. Those of you who are here for the history can come back next week when I will have something nice and martial and either Babylonian or Phoenician.

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The University as Social Service

Alex Usher of the Higher Education Strategy Associates recently posted a summary of some surveys of students at Canadian universities.  He and his colleagues found that students at most Canadian universities answered questions about their university the same way.  Usher often suggests that he wants universities to become more diverse, but in this post he mentions with a hint of disdain another view, that universities exist to provide a uniform social service.  That strikes me as a very good description of the role which I would like Canadian universities to play.  Moreover, while I think his heart is in the right place, I can see a few disadvantages of greater “differentiation” which Alex Usher has not spelled out.

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Some Thoughts on Guy Windsor’s “Italian Longsword Guards”

Ancient martial arts are dead and beyond recovery. Anyone who wishes to learn a method for using ancient weapons effectively must study an art originating within the last thousand years before looking at the scraps of literature and painting and sculpture which give us some hint to how Assyrians or Romans fought. We are extraordinarily lucky to have a series of European fencing manuals running back to circa 1300, and over the past decades these sources have attracted researchers willing to face the formidable scholarly, epistemological, and physical challenges of interpreting them. In Italian Longsword Guards: Comparing Vadi’s Guards with Fiore and Marozzo Guy Windsor makes a first attempt at one of these problems: the relationship between guards for the sword in two hands in the oldest known Italian writers who describe that weapon, namely Fiore dei Liberi (wrote circa 1404-1410), Philippo Vadi (wrote circa 1482-1485), and Achille Marozzo (first edition printed 1536). Vadi’s verse manual contains many names and phrases which resemble Fiore’s words, but also significant differences.
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