Reading Roundup: Women, War & Weird Beliefs
The idea of a Resonance Calendar seems to have come from the community surrounding the notetaking app Notion, but I’ve adapted it for how I use obsidian.md and I’ve found it really useful as a practice. The idea is to keep track of and reflect on the various things that you read, watch and listen to. Each month, as a part of my spaced repetition learning practice, I select the most interesting of those things and share them here.
- I made some progress on Brotherhood of Kings by Amanda H. Podany and learned that Sargon was the first emperor in history and the first person with the goal of conquering the known world. I knew he was important, but I didn’t realize that he was the first.
- I picked up Quantum Shadows by L. E. Modesitt on sale. It made me want to go back with a hardcopy and post-it notes and annotate it. If I had to explain it as a 10-second pitch I would say it’s a mashup of Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld & an intro to world religions textbook… from the perspective of a rationalist who thinks atheists are ridiculous. It’s kind of a screed about how religion is fine until proselytization turns into armed conversion… that goes into a lot of detail about fancy lamb dinners and wine pairings.
- As a palette cleanser, I picked up Reflections (Indexing #2) by Seanan McGuire. It reminded me of Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series, except urban fantasy.
- I enjoyed The Queen’s Weapons by Anne Bishop, mostly because I enjoy how thoroughly ‘from the id’ Anne Bishop writes. It’s a story about bullying and teenage cruelty and how hard it can be for adults to come down hard on young people early enough to stop them from ruining everyone’s lives. Her worldbuilding always hooks me because the society allows for the sorts of extreme violence in retaliation that would be unacceptable in the real world but are just considered normal in this one and the magic system makes it sort of work. It’s an unusual juxtaposition of “coming of age” stories and family drama and also international violence and court politics.
- I discovered Dan Davis, an author who also writes Bronze Age stories, and his really awesome youtube channel. This video sort of summarizes the parts of The Horse The Wheel And Language by David Anthony that are relevant to the Yamnaya Culture of the Pontic Steppes.
- Watched episode 7 of Altered Carbon. My husband expected me to dislike it because I’ve complained about flashback scenes before, but this one was incredibly well executed. The flashback was necessary to contextualize the plot, the episode moved the plot forward in a big way, and I was never twiddling my thumbs wanting to get back to the main timeline because it was clear that this was filling in information the viewer needed at precisely that moment in order to understand what was going on in the main timeline.
- I found L. E. Modesitt’s reflections on war to be really thought-provoking, in particular how most fiction treats war as either having a superficial impact (I suspect because most American don’t really take note of the impact that American wars have had on American culture) or gets really down and dirty focused on the grimdark nitty-gritty.
- This blog post from an archaeologist who studies shipwrecks in the Mediterranean notes that ancient wrecks were all merchant ships.
- I read this Peopling the Past Blog Post: Forgotten Kingdom: The Mitanni, with Mara Horowitz that talks about the Mitanni Empire, which was located in northern Mesopotamia and had conflicts with Hittite Anatolia and Egypt. Mitanni was touched on extensively in Brotherhood of Kings by Amanda H. Podany so it was nice to get such a succinct summary (with a really nice map!) of the Empire.
- After a friend who read my article Five SFF Stories That Shed Light on Obscure History mentioned A Natural History of Dragons (the Lady Trent books by Marie Brennan) and I remembered that I read some really interesting stuff lately about the rise (and role) of female travel writers in the Victorian era. In particular, I liked Journeys to Authority – Reassessing Women’s Early Travel Writing, 1763–1862 by Thompson.pdf which has a nice introduction that does a roundup of the history of travelogues in the 18th & 19th century and the state of relevant scholarship on the topic.
- When investigating the size differences between the nomadic Yamnaya culture and their counterparts, I discovered that several dietary factors predict increased stature according to a study comparing Japan and Korean diets and child height and weight. Dairy intake was the strongest indicator. A predominantly rice-based diet is strongly correlated with shorter stature.
- Copper culture in the early Americas began earlier than we thought, and abruptly ended. This may be because the copper in the Americas was unusually pure, and therefore almost uselessly soft. Copper awls are an exception.
- I read this truly excellent explanation of St. Patrick’s mythos that explains Irish culture at the time of his life and why tales about him would have involved so much cursing and so little meekness.
- This thread about leadership in west Africa does a nice job of clarification about how ‘Nigerian princes’ work, how colonialism changed the political landscape of Nigeria, and how community leaders in that region were different from the more “kinglike” examples elsewhere.
- This thread addresses the different types of marriage in Rome — I particularly enjoyed the acknowledgment that Roman commoners probably didn’t go through all of the complicated legal proceedings and just … set up house together.
- On the topic of how historical societies accommodated disabled people, this thread details how dueling conventions in various cultures were adapted depending on the physical limitations of the parties involved in the duel. The tl;dr is that because duels were usually meant to occur between social peers, sometimes one party would be “handicapped” to bring them to an appropriate level to make it fair.
- This historian’s perspective on Ann Bonny, famously one of the few female pirates, was pretty interesting, particularly the part about how she probably avoided getting hung because she was pregnant, and often wore men’s clothes to fight and feminine clothes while “off-duty.” I didn’t even realize being “off-duty” was a thing for pirates!
- With this historian’s roundup of imagery relating to witches—and the role of women in making alcohol, particularly enjoyed the insight that the displacement of women from beer-brewing was mostly due to the industrialization of beer-brewing—which was helped by access to hops, which acted as a preservative.
- Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights: Women in the Military-Religious Orders is a really validating roundup of proof that there were women—even high-ranking ones—as part of various Medieval Orders of Knights, including sometimes entire families.
- This thread about project management in the Classical world explains that democratically managed public buildings like Greek Temples tended to progress in fits and starts after being planned by a single architect, but if things were funded by a single super rich person, they usually wanted it done before they died.
- This thread about Mesoamerican vs Andean beliefs discusses how it would be incorrect to think of any particular Mesoamerican society as being a “mother culture” to the rest and has an amazing reading list for digging into the religious systems of the region.
Did you learn anything from this? Have any insights to share? Lingering questions? Something you read recently you think I’ll be interested in? Let me know in the comments!