Join us to talk about data!

CelebrationImage2Let’s talk about data!

Wednesday, April 24th, Milne Library will host A Celebration of Data on the upper level of the library from 4:30 – 5:30 pm.

This event is one of hundreds being held by over 750 Colleges and Universities worldwide who are hosting discussions surrounding data and statistics as part of The International Year of Statistics 2013.

The campus and Geneseo community are invited to share in a discussion  about how our census and data collection can be most meaningful. Light refreshments will be served.

The truth, the truth! My kingdom for the truth!

Richard III

Richard III

Last month news story headlines all over the world confirmed that bones exhumed from under a parking lot in Leicester, England, are those of Richard III, King of England from 1483–1485. Last of the Plantagenet dynasty that had ruled England since 1154, Richard was killed—the last English king to die in battle—fighting the forces of Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII and the founder of the Tudor ruling line.

So what? This was over 500 years ago. Besides, Richard III was a bad king and a worse human being. Now if it was King Arthur’s bones that had been discovered… But actually, Richard III—or more accurately, the image most people have of Richard—is surprisingly relevant to our time. We think of political spin as something from modern times, but in reality, it’s been going on for centuries.

Thanks primarily  to William Shakespeare, Richard is best known as one of history’s great villains, responsible for (at least) usurping the throne, murdering his two nephews, having lustful designs on his own niece, and committing other random murders along the way. He also was hunchbacked, limped, and had a withered arm and squinty eyes.

PluckingEDIT

William Shakespeare’s version of the splitting of nobles into the factions of York and Lancaster, sparking the Wars of the Roses in 15th-century England.
Artist: Henry Arthur Payne (1868–1940).
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The problem with the popular notion of Richard is that much, if not most to all of it, is untrue. In the time period Shakespeare was writing, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, Elizabeth I, was on the English throne. Shakespeare would have certainly been aware that pleasing the monarch was the best way to success (including keeping one’s head attached to one’s shoulders), so he would have been extremely unlikely to write anything positive about the man Elizabeth’s grandfather had killed. The sources that Shakespeare drew upon in writing Richard III were similarly biased. John Rous, a chronicler writing  during Richard’s reign, lauded Richard as a good king with a good heart, who stood up for the common man. But after Richard’s death and the ascension of Henry VII, Rous described Richard as physically deformed and born with teeth and shoulder-length hair after spending two years in the womb. Other chroniclers took that description and ran with it…but in the process Richard’s supposedly withered arm moved from his right to his left. Oops. And portraits of Richard have, upon examination, revealed evidence of repainting to add uneven shoulders and squinty eyes. Double oops.

Similarly, most supposed murders by Richard took place during the reign of Richard’s older brother, Edward IV, and there is no evidence linking Richard with either planning or executing them. The two that did occur during Richard’s reign were both cases of treason, which was punishable by death. The only uncertain case is central to the idea of Richard as villain, though—the murders of his young nephews, commonly known as the Princes in the Tower, and one of the most famous unsolved historical mysteries.

Princes in the Tower

“The Princes in the Tower”
Artist: John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The popular image of the princes is two young boys, one an anointed king, imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London and later secretly killed, either by Richard himself or on his orders, to preserve his usurpation of the English throne. The reality is much more complicated and involves a secret marriage, a possible secret betrothal, possible illegitimacy, power-hungry courtiers, and bitter divisions between the two major “parties” of the time. Briefly, Edward IV, from the Yorkist branch of the royal family, secretly married a woman named Elizabeth Woodville, whose family members were placed in positions of power in any way possible, causing major resentment of the entire Woodville family. After Edward IV’s death in April 1483, the former chancellor for Edward, a bishop of the Church, came forward and claimed that Edward had been betrothed to another woman before marrying Elizabeth. In those days a betrothal, or plight-troth, was as binding as a marriage; thus, Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was invalid and all of their children, including the two princes, were illegitimate. Consequently, as Edward’s younger brother, Richard was the closest legitimate heir to the throne.

Before the bishop’s revelation, Edward’s older son, also named Edward, had gone to  the Tower of London, which at that time was not only a prison, but contained living quarters. (Traditionally, heirs to the throne lived there before their coronations.) Elizabeth Woodville soon allowed Edward’s younger brother to join him. The boys were seen playing outside during the summer of 1483, but by late fall rumors were circulating that the boys were dead. The only certainty is that they were not seen alive after the summer of 1483.

There are others suspected of murdering the princes. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, had initially supported Richard against the Woodville family, but less than six months later led a rebellion against Richard. Henry Stafford was related to the Yorkist royal family and potentially had his eye on the throne, and removing any potential claimants to the throne, even illegitimate sons, would have been in his interest. Henry Tudor was distantly related to the rival branch of the royal family, the Lancastrians, but his claim was tainted for two reasons: it was through a female line of descent, and it was through illegitimacy. Because of these reasons, Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was very tenuous, and he would have had even stronger reasons for wanting rival claimants to the crown removed.

Richard nearly defeated Henry Tuor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in August 1485. Henry was saved only by the treachery of one of Richard’s supporters, who turned his army against Richard’s during the battle, and by multiple fighters of Henry’s own household, who brought Richard down after Richard’s single-minded charge across the battlefield almost reached Henry himself, coming so close as to kill Henry’s standard-bearer. Henry’s troops hacked and defiled Richard’s body, which was then buried with no ceremony in the grounds of Greyfriars’ Church in nearby Leicester. During the Dissolution under Henry’s son, Henry VIII, the church was destroyed. For a long time it was thought that Richard’s body had been disinterred and thrown into the River Soar.

In the end, history was written by the winner. Henry Tudor became Henry VII, married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV, and subsumed all claims to the English throne into his own family. Under the rule of Henry VII and Henry VIII, most of the male members of the House of York were executed, removing any possibility that a York might claim the throne. Chroniclers of the era painted Richard with the blackest of brushes to further delegitimize the House of York and appeal to the Tudor family. These are the sources upon which Shakespeare drew to write Richard III, and these are what have shaped Richard’s reputation over the last five centuries. Five centuries from now, what sources will historians of that time be using to write the history of today—and how truthful will they be?

lions

If you’re interested in reading more about Richard III, Milne Library has some great resources! Check GLOCAT Classic for copies of Shakespeare’s Richard III, both in print and in video form, as well as a wide range of sources about the history of late 15th-century England and Richard’s reign, by searching for “Richard III” OR “Richard the Third.” (Be sure to use the quotation marks to ensure that the search engine looks for “Richard” and “III” or “the Third” together as a phrase!) And while two excellent historical novels about Richard III aren’t part of the library’s holdings, you can use interlibrary loan through IDS (available from the library’s homepage under the tab labeled “Requests and Services”) to find copies of Sharon Kay Penman’s thoroughly researched The Sunne in Splendour and Elizabeth Peters’ lighthearted yet historically accurate mystery novel The Murders of Richard III. RichardSunneFor information on the discovery and retrieval of Richard’s bones, and the ongoing argument as to where the skeleton will be interred, Lexis-Nexis (on the library’s homepage under “Popular Resources”) is the place to go for newspaper, magazine, and other current media stories from around the world. Searching on “Richard III” retrieves almost 1,000 stories; “Richard the Third” as a search term is less focused, mixing in stories about rugby players and such, but still retrieving some interesting stories. And for a look at the scholarly literature, Historical Abstracts, which can be found by using the “Find a resource by title” search box below “Popular Resources” on the library’s homepage, produces over 100 results, including articles on Richard himself, Shakespeare’s play, and the sources he drew on, especially Thomas More’s account of Richard’s life.

 

Apocalypsmas: How the world might actually end

First, let’s state emphatically that despite the recent silliness about the topic (even on this blog), the world is not ending tomorrow.  To repeat, the world is NOT ending tomorrow.

On the other hand, it will probably end one day. But when we talk about the end of the world, we are really talking about two different scenarios. First, there are circumstances that could make the earth uninhabitable for human beings, making Homo sapiens just one more in a long list of extinct species. Second, there are the circumstances that could actually destroy the planet, making the list of extinct species much, much longer.

Super volcanoes – Beneath Yellowstone National Park is a super volcano, centered over a hot spot transferring heat from the Earth’s mantle into the crust. Over the past several million years, this super volcano has erupted several times, ejecting enough rock and volcanic ash to cover one third of north America. Consistent monitoring of the area by geologists indicates that an eruption isn’t imminent, but we’re due. The caldera has erupted every 700,000 years on average over the last 2.1 million years, and its been 640,000 years since the last eruption. While an eruption at Yellowstone won’t cause human extinction, it will cause a lot of death and destruction in North America. See this article or the video below for more information.

Man made disasters (e.g. nuclear war) – Of course, we’re also at risk for destroying ourselves. With over 17,000 nuclear warheads, the world has enough nuclear bombs on hand to make life very difficult for the humans who survive an all-out nuclear war. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists maintains the Doomsday clock, analyzing our risk of nuclear war and catastrophic destruction.

Asteroid impact – Remember the dinosaurs? The mass extinction in which the dinosaurs died was the result of a large impact in the Yucatan peninsula region of Mexico 65 million years ago. The resulting environmental conditions decimated many living organism, and almost no large animals survived. Humans might survive a smaller impact, but a large impact is likely to kill us off. NASA regularly tracks objects in outer space that might impact the earth and estimates our risk (not that big, at the moment). For a great book on how scientists discovered the cause of the mass extinction 65 million years ago, read T. rex and the crater of doom.

Artist's depiction of the Snowball earth, 2.3 billion years ago.

Artist’s depiction of the Snowball earth, 2.3 billion years ago.

Snow ball earth – Starting about 2.3 billion years ago, the Earth went through several cycles of the “Snowball Earth” in which the entire earth was covered with ice and snow from pole to pole for millions of years. This was before most multicellular organisms and animals evolved, and it was the unicellular bacteria that were able to live through the protracted cold spell. If such an event were to occur again, humans probably wouldn’t make it. The likelihood of another Snowball earth is small, however. Earth’s atmosphere (considered an important factor in the development of the Snowball) is different than it was 2.3 billion years ago, and the Sun is brighter.

Sun expansion – While there is still some debate about how, precisely, the life cycle of the Sun will destroy the earth, it seems very likely that we won’t survive. The Sun is now about 40% brighter than it was when the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. As the sun grows brighter, temperatures on the earth will increase until life is no longer sustainable and the oceans boil away. As the sun increases in size, it will also impact the orbit of the earth. The earth may or may not escape being engulfed by the red giant version of our Sun, although recent calculations suggest we won’t make it. Of course, all of this won’t happen for another 7.59 billion years, so you’ll still have to suffer through that family Christmas carol sing along this year. And next. And the one after that.

Artists depiction of what the earth might look like in 7 billion years when the Sun becomes a red giant. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Fsgregs.

One way or the other, the human race isn’t likely to be living on earth in about 8 billion years. We might destroy ourselves, or we might perish when the earth is destroyed, or (most optimistically) we may have colonized other solar systems.

Whatever event causes our demise, it won’t be happening tomorrow. I’m planning to open Christmas presents on December 25th.

Business News: New Website to Help Entrepreneurs

OpenBus

The Small Business Administration and Department of Labor have partnered on a new website to help states offer assistance to local entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses.

The site is geared toward helping states take advantage of the $35 Million the federal government gave to states to implement Self-Employment Assistance programs to help those looking to create jobs in their communities.

These programs provide Unemployment Insurance recipients interested in starting a business with financial assistance, training and resources to get their businesses off the ground. Among the links to resources on the site, there is a link to the New York State fact sheet on how to apply for local assistance through this program.

Be a part of the Social Good Summit in NYC from Geneseo

The third annual Social Good Summit will take place this weekend (Sept. 22-24) in New York City during UN Week.

The event unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss how the power of innovative thinking and technology can be used to solve the world’s greatest challenges.

By focusing on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals being addressed in high-level plenary sessions at UN Week, the Social Good Summit celebrates the power and potential of new media to effect change.

This year, organizers of the Summit are encouraging folks around the world to take an active part in the conversation by organizing or attending a Social Good Meetup in your hometown using meetup.com.

Or, livestream the Social Good Summit 2012 online for free (available in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic).

Join the conversation!

Journalist, Novelist, Screenwriter, and Movie Director: Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron, 1941-2012
photo credit: Tech Crunch

Nora Ephron, prolific American writer, director, and film maker, passed away on Tuesday after a battle with lukemia. Ephron was a pioneer of “new journalism” in the 1970s, writing bold essays about social issues of the day, as well as other writers’ views. She continued growing and developing as a writer and in the 1980’s expanded into screenwriting and production.

IMDB lists her film credits with 15 titles as writer, including such well-known titles as Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and most recently, Julie & Julia. She directed eight, produced 10, and  even took up with a bit of acting in Woody Allen’s films, Husbands and Wives and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The daughter of  Hollywood writers, she grew up writing, becoming known for,

“Viewing her life and the lives of others, particularly intimates, as material for her works, she is famous for her observations of other people’s lives, as well as for her own personal revelations.”

(Encyclopedia of World Biography)

If you’ve seen several of her films, don’t miss out on reading her novels, plays, and essays, too. We have several available here at Milne Library, and of course you can order still more through IDS. It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything by her, but she published a collection of essays in 201o titles, I Remember Nothing, and Other Reflections. It looks like I’ve got a new book to read so that I might appreciate this independent, bold, and funny woman.

Have you read anything by Nora Ephron? What is your favorite recommendation? Share in the comments!

 

Haiti Earthquake Disaster Resources and Information

On January 12, 2010 Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake which has been a subject of interest in the news. Milne Library has created a new guide to make it easier keeping up on events as well as researching its people, its long, complex history, and its geology.

It is located in our Resources by Subject under News and Contemporary Issues.

Cheating on Facebook?

Chris Avenir, a Ryerson University Freshman in Toronto, Canada, is facing 147 counts of academic misconduct for running an online chemistry study group via Facebook last term, where he and 146 of his classmates swapped tips on homework questions that counted for 10 per cent of their final grade. As administrator of the study group, he is bearing the brunt of the accusation.

Today’s Toronto Star reports that College officials are currently silent on the matter pending further investigation but that students are in an uproar over the situation. How is discussing the questions via Facebook’s forum any different from meeting in the “Dungeon” – a Ryerson basement study room used by engineering students to study and network in this same manner for years?

Is this truly a case of misusing networking technology to “gain academic advantage” or yet another clash of Luddite Professor vs Wired Youth? The results are going to be worth following as we sort through another layer of the consequences of being hyper-connected in an Internet World.

Tell us what you think by taking the poll, or make a longer comment here!