This dispatch comes not from Oxford, but from Paget parish in Bermuda - England's oldest self-governing colony, a speck of land in the mid-Atlantic, a chain of islands formed by the peaks of ancient submarine volcanos. When travelling, it's always a treat to go equipped with historical novels set in the place I'm visiting - I remember how memorable it was reading Tim Willock's flamboyant epic romance, "The Religion", about the 16C seige of Malta, in a hotel built into the ramparts of the very fort where much of the action is set.
I couldn't find all that much by way of appealing historical fiction set in, or even history about, Bermuda before I left the UK, but it's been salutary to see how even in this age of three-click access to a wealth of published and antique books, and exhaustive on-line catalogues, the local on-the-ground bookshop can still offer treasure-troves of publications which internet trawls fail to pick up. I walked into the National Trust of Bermuda giftshop, for example, in a little alley off the Hamilton waterfront, and was directed to a book section. It was apparently modest, 20 titles or so, but they included detailed guides to the historical architecture of every parish on this small island, memoirs of colonial life, and a gleaming volume, 'Butler's History of the Bermudas', a new edition (2007, by C.F.E Hollis Hallett) of a 1623 account of early colonial life in Bermuda, written by one of the archipelago's first governors.
So, instead of reading Bermudian historical novels while I'm here, I'm instead enjoying this 17C historical source, which is making for lively and funny reading. This is perhaps one of the penalties of being a historian. My old tutor at Lincoln College once expressed the wish that his teenage son would not become a historian like his father 'because it's a burden'. I've often wondered what exactly he meant by that remark, but maybe it was precisely this - the inability to just let things be their present selves, the need to locate everywhere you see in time as well as space, a sense that a place isn't at all comprehensible until you can clearly picture the early 17C settlers catching cahoo birds, watching their wooden watch-towers blown down in hurricanes, and anxiously scanning the blue horizon for Spanish galleons.
Monday, 4 July 2011
There hasn’t been a blog for a little while, because we’ve been dealing with a tragic situation in Somerville over the past week – the death of one of our first year history students, Jonathan (or Jonny) Roberts, three days before he was due to sit his Prelims exams.
The college held a commemoration service last Thursday in Somerville Chapel, which was attended by over 200 people. I was Jonny’s personal tutor, and you can read the address which I gave at the service, remembering Jonny, by clicking here. I shall miss Jonny very much, and I extend my very deepest sympathy to his family and friends, in Somerville and beyond.