Category Archives: Hot Topics
By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department
Native American Heritage Month (also known as “National American Indian Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) hasn’t been around for very long. Although Native Americans have resided on the continent for approximately 12,000 years, it wasn’t until November 1990 that President George H. W. Bush declared November to be “National American Indian Heritage Month”.
Honoring the month
Many of us are not exposed to Native American culture and do not know much about Native people, their way of life, and the issues they face. In order to honor this month, I’ve compiled some facts and figures, as well as answers to questions some of us may have about Native Americans and their culture. This list is far from complete, and I encourage you to discover what you’ve always wanted to learn about Native people and their history.
Below you will also find ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month for yourself, plus Fiction and Non-Fiction books from Native American authors – and a few movies, too. All titles are available at our library, so get to celebrating!
Census information as of 2014
Population: American Indians and Alaska Natives made up 2% of the US population (5.4 million people), including those that are more than one race.
Race: Of the 5.4 million, only 48% are fully American Indian or Alaska Natives. The other 52% are American Indian or Alaska Natives in combination with at least one other race.
Reservations and Tribes: As of 2015 there were 326 federally recognized American Indian reservations and 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes.
Income: The median income for single-race Native American and Alaska Native households was $37,227 (compared to $53,657 for the United States as a whole).
Poverty: Single-race Native Americans and Alaska Natives had a poverty rate of 28.3%, the highest rate of any race group in America.
Higher Education: 13.9% of single-race Native Americans and Alaska Natives, ages 25 and over, had a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.
Language: 26.8% of single-race Native Americans and Alaska Natives ages 5 and older spoke a language other than English at home.
More interesting facts here
FAQ about Native Americans
Are all Native Americans considered US citizens?
- In 1924, all Native Americans who were born in the US were granted citizenship, although not all states allowed them to vote until 1957.
Do all Native Americans live on reservations?
- According to the 2010 census, only 22% of the country’s 5.2 million Native Americans live on tribal lands. Many Natives have left reservations seeking jobs and higher education.
Do any Native Americans still live on their original tribal land?
- There are some reservations that are located on a tribe’s original land, while others were created by the Federal government for the tribes forced from their land.
Do tribes make their own laws, or live under the laws of the US?
- Federally recognized tribes have a sovereign, government-to-government relationship with the United States. They legally govern themselves aside from some restrictions from Congress, federal courts, and treaties with the U.S. They are able to form their own governments, make and enforce laws, tax, provide licenses and regulate activities, and more. They are unable to print their own currency, start wars, or take part in foreign relations.
What is life like on a reservation?
- Living on a reservation has been compared by some to living in a Third World country. For many there are few jobs, a lack of employment opportunity, and inadequate and substandard housing including a lack of running water, phones, and electricity.
Can anyone visit a reservation?
- All reservations have their own laws and therefore different policies on visiting. Make sure to contact the proper tribe to ask about their policy and be aware of etiquette if given permission to visit. Here is a link to the Tribal Leaders Directory that provides contact information for each tribe. Here is a link to some tips on visiting a reservation.
Do Native Americans still speak their tribe’s language?
- Before European influence, it is estimated that there were over 100,000 different Native languages. Today, over 70% of Native Americans say they only speak English at home. Navajo is the most-spoken Native language, at 150,000 people.
What is the history behind Native American names?
- This is a fascinating topic that cannot be fully represented by a short answer. The brief version is that many Native Americans have a complex naming tradition. Their names are said to speak to an individual’s personality and even change over the course of their lives.
What was the Native American population before 1492?
- No one knows for sure. Not many population records were kept at all during that time period. All scientists have to go on are historical writings, and even then they can only guess. At the low end, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber estimated 8.4 million. At the high end, anthropologist Henry Dobyn estimated 112.5 million. What almost everyone can agree on is that the Native population decreased significantly after 1492.
Do Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?
- In 2015, Huffington Post published an article that interviewed the ancestors of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, the first tribe to make contact with the Massachusetts Pilgrims of 1620. This is a quote from their current tribal president and chairman on how he celebrates the holiday: “We are Americans as well, and so even today, I sit down at Thanksgiving with family.” He goes on to note that Thanksgiving is equally a time to reflect on the tragedies they suffered then and ones they continue to suffer today. So while many consider it a day to give thanks, it is also seen as a national day of mourning.
What are some current issues facing Native Americans today?
- The Dakota Access Pipeline has been in the news recently. The construction of the pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation may potentially threaten their water supply. The Sioux also say the pipeline would disrupt sacred land.
- Click here for a Smithsonian article about the current controversy, and here to visit the Standing Rock Sioux website.
How can I find out if I have Native American ancestors?
- If you believe you may have Native American ancestry, here is a guide provided by the Office of Public Affairs – Indian Affairs on how to begin genealogical research as well as tribal enrollment information.
- Visit us at the Williamson County Public Library to get free access to Ancestry.com with your library card.
How can I participate in Native American Heritage Month?
- Click here for some creative ideas on how to celebrate.
- Read a book or watch a movie – all available @WCPL!
- The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens (978.02 COZ)
- Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan (770.92 EGA)
- Empire of the Summer Moon : Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne (978.004974572 GWY)
- 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (970.011 MAN)
- With My Own Eyes: A Lakota Woman Tells Her People’s History by Susan Bordeaux Bettelyoun (973.04975 BET)
- On the REZ by Ian Frazier (978.366 FRA)
- Killing Custer by James Welch (973.82 WEL)
- Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie (F ALE)
- House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (F MOM)
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (YA F ALE)
- Smoke Signals (DVD SMOKE)
- Dances with Wolves (DVD DANCES)
- The Last of the Mohicans (DVD LAST)
- Longmire – TV series (DVD LONGMIRE)
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – (DVD BURY)
- More Suggested Reading:
Other Resources for Native American History Month
- Click here for audio and video resources from the Library of Congress, Smithsonian, and more.
It is impossible to accurately represent an entire people in a single blog while retaining the real essence, beauty, and complexity of their culture. I urge everyone who is interested in any aspect of Native American life to read more, learn more, and attempt to truly understand the lives and history of America’s Native people.
By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department
“Remember, remember, the 5th of November
Gunpowder treason and plot…”
Who is Guy Fawkes and why do they burn his effigies in England every 5th of November? I mean — that seems a bit harsh. To be fair, the modern-day celebration is more about fireworks and parades, which is far more humane than what actually happened to Guy Fawkes in the aftermath of November 5th, 1605.
Some History: A few months before the fateful November 5th a group of men, Guy Fawkes among them, were plotting to kill King James I of England. Why, you ask, would they want to do such a thing?
The hatred of the monarchy began with the throne’s predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I. Under Elizabeth’s reign it was illegal for Catholics like Fawkes and his co-conspirators to celebrate mass or marry according to Catholic rites. Maybe if the Pope hadn’t excommunicated Elizabeth I in 1570 she would not have gone to such lengths, which included killing dozens of priests.
After the reign of Elizabeth I ended in 1603 Catholics in England had hope that King James I would be different. His mother, Mary Queen of Scotts, was Catholic, and it was said that his wife converted to Catholicism. It was even rumored that King James I would convert as well. Unfortunately for the Catholic population, King James I treated them just as poorly as the former Queen had. He publically condemned the Catholic religion, referred to it as a superstition, and ordered all Catholic priests to leave England. And so, a group of Catholic dissidents decided to blow him up.
But how do you go about blowing up the King of England? In what would later be called the “Gunpowder Plot”, Guy Fawkes and 12 others planned to blow him up indirectly.
The Plot: Many people believe that Guy Fawkes was the mastermind behind the Gunpowder Plot. In reality, he’s probably so popular because he was caught in the act of carrying it out. The real leader and creator of the plot was Robert Catesby. His idea was to kill the king, kidnap his daughter, and marry her off to a Catholic to restore their rights in the kingdom. In order to do that the current regime had to be destroyed.
Using the alias John Johnson, Fawkes was chosen to pose as caretaker of a cellar located directly below the House of Lords. The group had managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellar and would wait until the 5th of November when Parliament was in session for Fawkes to light the fuse.
The Mysterious Letter: To this day no one knows who sent the letter that unraveled the Gunpowder Plot. The letter advised its recipient to avoid the House of Lords, which was handed over to authorities and spurred them to search Westminster Palace. They found Fawkes in his cellar, along with the barrels of gunpowder and a match. That was all of the evidence they needed to capture Fawkes and torture him until (after two grueling days) he revealed the names of his co-conspirators. Four were killed while resisting arrest; the others were tried and executed for their treason.
The Punishment: Being found guilty of treason in seventeenth-century England was one of the last things you would ever want to happen. Fawkes was to be hung, drawn, and quartered after having his stomach opened before his eyes. Fawkes, a rebel until his death, jumped off the hangman’s platform and died from a broken neck. Although he saved himself from his horrible punishment, they still quartered him to be sent to the four corners of the kingdom as a warning to potential traitors.
Unintentional Consequences: The Gunpowder Plot had not only failed, it backfired. King James I worked even harder to make sure Catholics knew he, not the Pope, had authority over them. The king required that every citizen take an oath saying just that. Catholics in England were not fully liberated from legal restrictions including the right to vote, practice law, or serve in the military until the 19th century.
The Celebration: The king and parliament had narrowly escaped being blown to pieces. In 1606 they would officially commemorate November 5th as a day of thanks and celebration. Back then, there was still an anti-Catholic atmosphere surrounding the festivities. They would burn effigies of the Pope and Guy Fawkes. They also gathered for parades, set off fireworks, and made huge bonfires.
Today’s Celebrations: Britain still celebrates Guy Fawkes Day every 5th of November. Although the anti-Catholic sentiment is nowhere near as wide-spread, some groups still burn effigies of the 1605 Pope in keeping with tradition. The town of Lewes is particularly noted for burning effigies, including the Pope, Guy Fawkes, and current political figures. Different towns celebrate in different ways, but among the celebrations you will find burning tar barrels, seriously big bonfires, fireworks, torches, costumes, and members of bonfire societies leaping through open flames. Not an event for the faint of heart.
The Mask: Americans might not know Guy Fawkes from the 5th of November plot, but from the Guy Fawkes masks used by protestors to protect their identity. The graphic novel and film V for Vendetta used the mask while overthrowing a suppressive government in future dystopian England. What inspired protestors to use it in real-life situations? The illustrator of the graphic novel, David Lloyd, says it best, “It’s a great symbol of protest for anyone who sees tyranny.”
Many groups have used Guy Fawkes’ face as a way to protect their identity while protesting against what they consider to be tyrannical establishments. From the hactivist group Anonymous to Egyptian protestors during the Arab Spring movement, these masks have become a symbol of anti-establishment protest.
Guy Fawkes may have lost the battle for Catholic rights in 17th century England, but his face has come to serve as a symbol of protest throughout the world.
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/bonfire-night-why-do-we-celebrate-with-firework-displays-who-was/ – 10 unknown facts
By Jeffie Nicholson, Reference Department
What is a Friends of the Library group? They are outstanding individuals who value the services a public library provides to a community. They are willing to volunteer their time and talents plus dedicate themselves to the promotion and support of their local library.
To recognize and celebrate the volunteer and fundraising work of Friends in local community libraries, the United for Libraries division of the American Library Association designates one week in October as the National Friends of Libraries Week.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed October 16-22, 2016, as Friends of Libraries Week in Tennessee and encourages all citizens to join in this worthy observance.
Our own Friends of the Williamson County Public Library group was established in 1961. They held their first meeting on December 3 at the War Memorial Public Library. Over the years, they have contributed thousands of dollars to our library. Nearly $15,000 for books was raised this year. They also provide support for staff training and education, and other endeavors as they arise.
Our Friends raise these funds via membership fees, their book sales and events such as the Special Children’s Book Sales and by selling t-shirts and book bags. Members volunteer to help out with these and library events plus special Friends events like October’s “Boo Books” on October 24.
“The library has always played such an important role in my life and in my family’s life,” said Friends president Debbie Eades. “I truly enjoy being able to give something back – and being an active member of this group is fun!”
Our Friends of the Library are truly priceless and our library system would be bereft without their contributions. Did you know that the value of a volunteer hour is now assessed at $20.56? It leaves you speechless when you think about all the time our Friends give to the library.
“Our library would be much poorer without the Friends,” said Library Director Dolores Greenwald. “The funds they raise are such a valuable contribution to our community. I think most patrons would be surprised to learn how much support is provided by our local Friends groups.”
By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department
It’s that time of year again, the time to celebrate… the freedom to READ!! Banned Books Week is Sept. 25 – Oct. 1, an annual week that highlights the importance of free and open access to information. Yeah, I know we’re also gearing up for Halloween, with fantasies of 5 candy corns, 4 chocolate kisses, 3 tiny monsters, 2 couple costumes and a big ole’ jack-o-latern… well, close enough. Is it not terrifying to think about the possibility that not only could you be told what you have to read (thank you summer and required reading), but that you could also be told what you can’t read?
That may not be quite as terrifying as having dead pets come back from the grave as violent and disturbed zombies, or having a scarred psychopath with claws for fingers chase you in your dreams, but still, it’s scary. Farenheit 451 and Brave New World scary (Have you read them? They’re pretty good, and they’ve also been challenged or banned in an ironic twist). That’s why we have Banned Books Week, the annual event “brings together the entire book community – librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types – in shared support of the freedom to seek, to publish, to read, and to express ideas, even those [that] some consider unorthodox or unpopular,” according to the American Library Association (ALA).
This week encourages people to look at some of the efforts that have been taken across the country, including the reasoning behind those efforts, to remove or restrict access to books. This draws national attention to the harms of censorship, and the infringement on intellectual freedom. The ALA really says it best, so take a look at an excerpt from their website:
What Is Intellectual Freedom?
Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored… Intellectual freedom is the basis for our democratic system. We expect our people to be self-governors. But to do so responsibly, our citizenry must be well-informed. Libraries provide the ideas and information, in a variety of formats, to allow people to inform themselves. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.
What Is Censorship?
Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it! ” Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone… In most instances, a censor is a sincerely concerned individual who believes that censorship can improve society, protect children, and restore what the censor sees as lost moral values. But under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, each of us has the right to read, view, listen to, and disseminate constitutionally protected ideas, even if a censor finds those ideas offensive.
What Is The Relationship Between Censorship And Intellectual Freedom?
In expressing their opinions and concerns, would-be censors are exercising the same rights librarians seek to protect when they confront censorship. In making their criticisms known, people who object to certain ideas are exercising the same rights as those who created and disseminated the material to which they object. Their rights to voice opinions and try to persuade others to adopt those opinions is protected only if the rights of persons to express ideas they despise are also protected. The rights of both sides must be protected, or neither will survive… Censors might sincerely believe that certain materials are so offensive, or present ideas that are so hateful and destructive to society, that they simply must not see the light of day. Others are worried that younger or weaker people will be badly influenced by bad ideas, and will do bad things as a result. Still others believe that there is a very clear distinction between ideas that are right and morally uplifting, and ideas that are wrong and morally corrupting, and wish to ensure that society has the benefit of their perception. They believe that certain individuals, certain institutions, even society itself, will be endangered if particular ideas are disseminated without restriction. What censors often don’t consider is that, if they succeed in suppressing the ideas they don’t like today, others may use that precedent to suppress the ideas they do like tomorrow.
And just for fun, take a look at the top ten most challenged books of 2015:
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
- I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
- The Holy Bible
Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
- Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
- Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
- Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
- Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
A brother and sister in the county recently decided to get their first library cards at WCPL. Let’s call them Jack and Jill for short. It is not known why they waited so long to get a card, but it turns out that Jill needs a rare and costly book that the library has on the shelf. Using the library for free (that’s right, free) saves Jill from having to buy the book with the equivalent of half her weekly grocery budget.
Soon Jack comes by the library to pick up Jill’s rare book as well the five movies his sister has reserved online from home. Since this is his first time in the library, Jack takes his own tour to see what’s here. He sees a huge collection of childrens’ books, and notices the Launchpads which could occupy his niece for hours. He browses shelves and shelves of entertainment DVDs, locating several older movies that are hard to find. Nearby is the large area holding an extensive fiction collection and Large Print books.
Jack thinks to himself, “Surely, there is more to the library than this,” and he is right. He sees the stairs and heads up to the second floor. Jack uses his card to access the public computers which offer the range of Microsoft Office software as well as photo editing and more. He discovers that there are nonfiction and documentary type DVDs on the second floor and locates two which ignite his interest.
Meanwhile, Jill is thinking about their family dinner party and texts Jack requesting two cookbooks, Rachel Ray’s Look + Cook, and The Best of America’s Test Kitchen Little did Jack know, but the Library has over 50 shelves of cookbooks upstairs, including one entire 27 foot long wall . He finds both books available, with the recipes Jack and Jill both love cooking.
Before leaving, Jack sees the Reference Desk and asks them a question regarding data for his business. Jack makes guitar pedals and wants to be sure he is speaking to every music place within 50 miles. He asks if there is a database that could help him. Jack gets back on the library computer and the librarian takes him through several databases available for library users. Most helpful is Reference USA, which lets him mine and correlate the very information he is seeking.
Jill texts again to remind Jack to schedule time for the winter family trip to Switzerland. This prompts Jack to think how he needs to learn more about his digital camera, while also brushing up on his French and German. To save time, he asks the librarians at the Reference Desk for help. They show him how to take advantage of the several eBook connections through the library, especially READS and Totalboox. With his new card, Jack is able to download on his ipad, David Pogue’s Digital Photography: The Missing Manual. The librarian also shows Jack the photography E-magazines available to check out free through the READS and Zinio electronic libraries. Jack downloads immediately Digital Photography from Zinio.
Jack tells the librarian, that if he ever worried the library would go out of business, he doesn’t now. “Are you as up-to-date on language learning? I need to refresh my French and German.” The Reference Desk librarian shows him the library learning site called PowerSpeak Languages, and gets him into the German and French programs using Jack’s library card as the login.
On his way out, with books, DVDs, and electronic downloads in hand, Jack texts Jill, “There’s a lot here at the library. More than I realized. You say you like the newly designed card; I know you’ll like even more, using it. You’ve got to come check this out!”
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
At this point, we’ve all heard something about the wildly popular game Pokémon Go. You know, the game that has players falling off cliffs and running into oncoming traffic. The game that many players claim has improved their mental health. Maybe you know it as the game that finally got your kids off the couch and walking around outside. Either way, Pokémon Go really is a great way for people of all ages to spend some time in the great outdoors, especially as the weather changes. And we’re here to give you the basics and some tips on how to play (especially after helping numerous children catch pokemon at the library).
Pokémon Go was created by Niantic, Inc. as a way to get players out of the house and exploring their neighborhoods and cities. It’s similar to geocaching, but without finding physical objects. Pokémon are spawned based on the player’s geographic location, which is tracked through the GPS in the player’s smartphone. As you move, your avatar moves in the game, and the more you move, the better your chances for finding Pokémon.
Pokémon fall into different categories, or “types.” Each Pokémon is typically found in a location correlating to its type. For instance, Water Pokémon are found near bodies of water (ponds, rivers, lakes, oceans, etc.), Grass Pokémon and Bug Pokémon are in particularly grassy areas (parks, golf courses, nature trails, etc.), and Normal Pokémon can be found in residential areas. These Pokémon are more common in this area, although that doesn’t mean you won’t come across a different type. You can also hatch Pokémon from eggs collected from PokéStops, and in order to hatch them, you have to walk. Each egg hatches after a certain predetermined distance—2 km, 5 km, or 10 km—, and the greater the distance walked, the rarer the Pokémon hatched.
When you come upon a Pokémon, your phone will vibrate to let you know you found something. You tap on the Pokémon that appears on your screen, and from there, the app uses augmented reality through your phone’s camera, so it looks like the Pokémon is there in the real world. You’ll be prompted to “catch” it with a Poké Ball, and you throw the ball by swiping up on the screen with your finger to hit the Pokémon in the circle.
There are locations scattered around town called PokéStops and Gyms that are usually found either along nature trails, historic sites, churches, public buildings, and other interesting local locations. Stops are places players can visit to get supplies, and Gyms are for battling. The library is a PokéStop, and since we’re in a historic part of town, there are lots of Stops and Gyms around us. Lure modules can be placed at Stops, which lure Pokémon to the Stop for thirty minutes.
Once caught, you can make Pokémon stronger by powering them up or evolving them using the stardust and candy that you get when you catch a Pokémon. You can also transfer your Pokémon to get candy, which is especially helpful when you have lots of low CP, common Pokémon. The more Pokémon you catch, the more stardust and candy you get. When you’ve reached Level 5, you can battle other players’ Pokémon and train your Pokémon at Gyms.
The best spots to catch Pokémon are typically places that are heavily populated or where there are lots of active users, such as Cool Springs or downtown Franklin. PokéStops will give you more items, and you’ll find better Pokémon if you’re in a bigger area. Landmarks and other places of interest are good to try, too. You’ll find better and rarer Pokémon as your trainer level advances, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t catch anything amazing at first.
“What does all this have to do with the library, of all places?” you might be thinking. As I mentioned earlier, the Main Branch of WCPL in Franklin is a PokéStop itself, with tons of other Stops and a couple of Gyms within walking distance. It would be a great starting place for anyone wanting to walk around and catch Pokémon. Starting in the back of our parking lot, you could walk along Columbia Avenue towards downtown, picking up seven or eight Stops along the way. I’ve personally caught decent Pokémon—like Pinsirs and Scythers—in the library, and I’ve seen people catch Glooms, Arboks, and Wigglytuffs. We’ve also been known to drop Lures at some of our library events, so you never know what you might find here.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
I hear this and immediately think of Joe Strummer howling at the start of the Clash’s song of the same name. While that was about the smoke and exhaust of the metropolitan road systems and gridlock, three hundred and fifty years ago it meant something far different. From the second to the fifth of September, 1666, London did indeed burn. A huge swath of the old medieval city of London, north of the Thames, was nothing but ash.
The great fire of 1666 was not a terrorist plot like the abortive attempt to destroy parliament from sixty some years before with Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot. It did not have anything to do with the English Civil War and the return of the monarchy six years prior with the coronation of Charles II. It didn’t even directly tie to the plague outbreak the year prior, although that did lend some contributing factors. No, while Great Britain in the 17th century was a tumultuous place, the fire began in a most mundane way. It started with a stray spark from a bakery oven.
Just after midnight on 2 September 1666, the bakery of Thomas Farriner caught fire. Farriner, baker to King Charles II, lived above the bakery with his three children and a servant. The Family was unable to get to the street but did manage to get into the next house through an upstairs window. The serving woman, terrified by the situation refused and became the first victim of the fire. By the end of the day on Sunday the fire had spread almost half way to the far city wall.
Samuel Pepys, the noted diarist, lived in the environs of the fire and was able to view it from a tower and from a boat on the river. As a senior official in the Navy Office he was called to the King and reported on what he saw.
“everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them onto lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another.”
His report led to the Duke of York, the future James II, and King Charles himself going to the Thames to view the situation. The King ordered all buildings adjacent to the burning to be torn down. The Duke of York offered the life guards to assist in fighting the blaze. It was, however, a bit too late. The fire itself had created a chimney effect. A vacuum existed from the air being heated and pulled up through the fire. This in turn caused more air to rush into the area of the fire close to the ground. Anyone familiar with the principles of a blast furnace will tell you that this is a great recipe for extreme heat. The temperature was so high (approximately 1700°C) that pottery actually melted. From a position across the river, Pepys noticed the “one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it”
Over the following days the fire spread until it was finally contained and on Tuesday and brought to an end the following day. Gunpowder was used for wholesale destruction of houses to create fire breaks. That and the dying down of what had been a very stiff east wind finally allowed for control and an extinguishing. The damage included the destruction of 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, and 44 Company (guild) Halls and the final total was accessed at £10,000,000 (more than a billion pounds in today’s money) Only eight people were reported to have died but this number is heavily suspect because the temperatures reached would have melted steel and certainly would have cremated the remains of any of London’s poor unfortunate enough to not be reported missing.
Why the fire happened was an interesting thing. At first foreigners and papists were blamed. This was proven false, but the prejudice lasted for many years. Because the fire started on Pudding Lane and ended at Pye corner, many people suggested the fire was God’s punishment for the gluttony of the city. In actuality it was a combination of cheap buildings, poor design and planning, and poor management on the account of the Lord Mayor. Buildings in London were supposed to have been made of stone to prevent just such a thing. Stone was too costly and everyone went to wood as the next best choice. Also, in order to maximize available space, each successive floor was slightly larger than the ground level floor, jutting out over the street. The close proximity of such dwellings caused the fire to spread very rapidly. Finally, Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Bloodworth refused to act. Within an hour of the start he was called to Pudding Lane and asked to give the order to demolish surrounding houses to form a break. He declined initially and eventually left the scene, but not before declining the help of the Lifeguards and untruly telling representatives of the king demolitions were under way. That did not actually start until well into Monday.
The Great Fire of London changed the face of London. The rebuilding was similar to the prior plan and avoided the radical changes suggested by some like John Evelyn, but there were still changes. Regulations to avoid fire were more strictly enforced and fire companies better trained. To this day you can still see the monuments, the Great Fire monument near the start and the Golden boy of Pye where it finally was brought to a halt.
You can learn more about the 1666 Great Fire of London at the library:
- The Great Fire of London by Pam Robson (J 942.1 ROB)
- Fire Cat by Pippa Goodhart (J E GOO)
- By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London by Adrian Tinniswood (942.1 TIN)
- The Great Fire of London by Stephen Porter (942.1066 POR)
- The Mammoth Book of How it Happened in Britain by Jon E. Lewis (eBook through TotalBoox)
- In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan (F BRE)
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
On August 26, 1789, the French Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was truly a remarkable document. Although inspired by The Declaration of Independence, it contained more principles than that document; it was drafted by the Marquis de Lafayette, who was impressed by the document written by his good friend Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was in Paris as our ambassador during this time.
The Declaration was a statement of democratic principles grounded in the philosophical and political ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The document proclaimed the Assembly’s commitment to replace the ancien régime (meaning the king and the way the county had been governed for centuries) based on equal opportunity, freedom of speech, popular sovereignty and representative government.
Here, in its entirety is Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen:
The representatives of the French people, organized as a National Assembly, believing that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, being constantly before all the members of the Social body, shall remind them continually of their rights and duties; in order that the acts of the legislative power, as well as those of the executive power, may be compared at any moment with the objects and purposes of all political institutions and may thus be more respected, and, lastly, in order that the grievances of the citizens, based hereafter upon simple and incontestable principles, shall tend to the maintenance of the constitution and redound to the happiness of all. Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:
Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.
Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.
Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.
Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.
No person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law. Any one soliciting, transmitting, executing, or causing to be executed, any arbitrary order, shall be punished. But any citizen summoned or arrested in virtue of the law shall submit without delay, as resistance constitutes an offense.
The law shall provide for such punishments only as are strictly and obviously necessary, and no one shall suffer punishment except it be legally inflicted in virtue of a law passed and promulgated before the commission of the offense.
As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all harshness not essential to the securing of the prisoner’s person shall be severely repressed by law.
No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.
The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.
The security of the rights of man and of the citizen requires public military forces. These forces are, therefore, established for the good of all and not for the personal advantage of those to whom they shall be intrusted.
A common contribution is essential for the maintenance of the public forces and for the cost of administration. This should be equitably distributed among all the citizens in proportion to their means.
All the citizens have a right to decide, either personally or by their representatives, as to the necessity of the public contribution; to grant this freely; to know to what uses it is put; and to fix the proportion, the mode of assessment and of collection and the duration of the taxes.
Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration.
A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.
Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.
For months after this declaration, the Assembly members debated fundamental questions about the shape and expanse of France’s new political landscape. Would the clergy owe allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church or the French government? And probably most importantly, how much authority would the king retain? The Assembly adopted France’s first written constitution on September 3, 1791, which was basically a compromise proposed by more moderate voices in the Assembly, establishing a constitutional monarchy. The more radical elements in the Assembly were not happy, namely Maximilien de Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton; they wanted a more republican form of government and a trial for Louis XVI.
In April 1792, the newly elected Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia, because it believed that French nobles leaving the country were building counterrevolutionary alliances. In Paris, the political crisis took a much more radical turn when a group of insurgents attacked the royal residence in Paris and arrested the king on August 10, 1792. The following month, amid a wave of violence in which Parisian insurrectionists massacred hundreds of accused counterrevolutionaries and the Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention, which proclaimed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the French republic. On January 21, 1793, it sent King Louis XVI, condemned to death for high treason and crimes against the state, to the guillotine; his wife Marie-Antoinette suffered the same fate nine months later.
1793 saw the Revolution’s most violent and turbulent phase. In June 1793, the Jacobin party seized control of the National Convention from the more moderate Girondin party and instituted a series of radical measures, including the establishment of a new calendar and the eradication of Christianity!! They also unleashed the bloody Reign of Terror (“la Terreur”); for 10 months suspected enemies of the revolution (the Jacobins) were guillotined by the thousands. Many of the killings were carried out under orders from Robespierre until his own execution on July 28, 1794. His death marked the beginning of the more moderate phase in which the French people revolted against the Reign of Terror’s excesses.
On August 22, 1795, the National Convention, composed largely of those assembly members who had survived the Reign of Terror, approved a new constitution that created France’s first bicameral (two houses) legislature. Executive power would lie in the hands of a five-member Directory (“Directoire”) appointed by parliament. Royalists and Jacobins protested the new regime but were swiftly silenced by the army, which was now being led by a young (and successful) Napoleon Bonaparte.
By the late 1790s, the government relied almost entirely on the military to maintain authority and had ceded much of their power to the generals in the field. On November 9, 1799, frustrated with the Directory leadership, Bonaparte staged a coup d’état, abolishing the Directory and appointing himself France’s “first consul;” soon to become Emperor of France, and then Europe.
In our everyday, technology filled lives; it is easy to forget that the earth is dynamic. Our planet is constantly changing, whether we realize it or not. The landforms that we take for granted are in many cases the result of earth’s violent and relentless activity that has persisted for billions of years. This third planet from the sun is our home, but Earth does not care about us. Nature is not required to make sense nor consider human existence regarding its activity. What seems static from a human perspective is in a constant state of movement. Natural disasters often remind us that Mother Nature is more powerful than humans and she must be respected.
Tectonic activity, such as volcanic eruptions are illustrations of Earth’s volatility. Though there have been more recent blasts in modern times, none have been more deadly than the eruption of Krakatoa on August 26, 1883. Krakatoa (or Krakatau) is a small island located between Java and Sumatra in the Indonesian Island Arc. The island is only about 3 miles wide and 5 miles long. These islands and the volcanic activity in the region is the result of tectonic movement below the sea floor. The Indo-Australian plate is subducted under the Eurasian and Pacific plates as it moves slowly northward toward the Asian mainland. When Krakatoa erupted in August of 1883, an estimated 36,000 people were killed. Many perished due to the eruption, but many more died after the resulting tsunami following the collapse of the volcano into the caldera below.
With our advanced modern technology, we are able to detect natural hazards like severe weather and also monitor earth’s internal movement. For example, in 1980, geologists were able to detect seismic activity and knew that Mount St. Helens would erupt soon, saving the lives of many. The brave Krakatoans (10 points if you caught the Seinfeld reference there) had no warning system or advanced notice. Before nature was understood at the level it is today, it was more respected and spawned many legends and folktales of angry gods and evil spirits. Those closest to the volcano in western Java and Sumatra were victims of the volcanic debris and hot gases from the blast. Countless thousands more were killed by the 120 foot high wall of water from the following tsunamis. After the initial eruption on August 26, a cloud of gas and debris was sent some 15 miles into the atmosphere and it is believed that debris from this eruption clogged the neck of the volcanic cone, allowing pressure to build inside the magma chamber. The next morning, four massive explosions were heard as far away as Perth, Australia (about 2800 miles) and much of the island collapsed into the caldera. According to the Volcanic Explosion Index (VEI), the eruption of Krakatoa is given a rating of 6, which is comparative to the explosive force of 200 megatons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT). The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 had a VEI rating of 5.
Just a few months prior to the eruption in May of 1883, the captain of a German warship reported a cloud of ash over Krakatoa that he estimated to be over 6 miles high. Other vessels in the area reported seeing similar sites and heard explosions. Inhabitants of the neighboring islands celebrated and held festivals in honor of the display of lights in the night sky. The celebrations would end tragically with the eruption and ensuing tsunami on August 27.
The first explosion ruptured the magma chamber, sea water rushed in causing the water to flash-boil. The force of this phenomenon created a steam-generated explosion that propelled pyroclastic materials over 25 miles at speeds of over 60 mph. The eruption sent about 11 cubic miles of volcanic debris in the lower atmosphere that darkened the skies for nearly 300 miles from the volcano. The effects of the eruption of Krakatoa were not only felt in the immediate area of the volcano. Because of the debris in the atmosphere, Europe and the United States experienced unusually brilliant sunsets and for the next five years, the average global temperatures would be about 1.2 F degrees cooler.
Krakatoa was not the largest eruption in the modern era, but it was certainly responsible for the largest loss of life. Could an eruption of this magnitude happen again? Absolutely. Do we know where or when? Nope. But be assured that the U.S. Geological Survey has its eye on many locations. Nevertheless, there is nothing that we can do about an eruption other than be prepared.
So stop worrying and enjoy this beautiful day. Earth always wins in the end.
- McKnight’s Physical Geography: A Landscape Appreciation, Tenth Edition, Hess