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Bulgarian soldiers from the 19th century

My post’s title says it all--or at the very least I hope it does. At one point I figured that I’d like to write about the probability of Bulgarian steampunk developing as a genre niche and war, more or less, found its way into my writing. I believe that war is crucial for steampunk as it’s crucial for Bulgaria, in its different manifestations.

Speculative fiction fuels itself with war. The most dynamic stories are born in troubled times, as epic fantasy has shown readers time and time again. Urban fantasy thrives on shadow wars led in the dimly lit streets and hidden underground worlds, while science fiction marches its fleet in the great cosmos. Steampunk is no different. Steampunk runs on war. It’s the “punk” part. It’s the mechanical force that propels the cogs of the genre onward.

Whether it be used as a dramatic background in order to showcase a human story as done in “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest or as a force behind the plot as demonstrated by Westerfield in his World War reimagining, war and unrest and upheavals give readers that adrenaline spike, that sense of dire severity and intensity, which can hardly be achieved at times of peace. It’s also the factor that makes us hiccup in adoration at the corset-bound, revolver slinging femme fatales and automations, which can as easily destroy as they can create. It’s why I consider Bulgarian steampunk to be a fruitful pairing.

It’s impossible to mention Bulgaria, look it through the prism of the past and not discuss war.

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The current war fought in Libya in these days is drawing attention on that country and its history. This article is about the history of Libya from ancient times until World War II.

Only in recent times has the term "Libya" been in use, indicating the territories between Tunisia and Egypt; before its colonization, the area was called Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, two territories that had a separate historic development for centuries.

Libya before Italian Occupation: A Brief History

Tripolitania was initially under the control of Phoenicians while Cyrenaica was under the control of Greeks, who between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE founded Cyrene, Arsinoe, Apollonia, Tolemaide and Berenice: this territory was called Pentapolis, for the five cities present. Tripolitania passed from Phoenician influence to Carthaginian and after the Punic war, during the 1st century BCE, under Roman control. Cyrenaica, on the other hand, was under Persian influence (6th century BCE), then became a part of Alexander the Great’s Empire and afterwards, was put under the Hellenistic Reign of Egypt.

In 75 BCE, Romans took possession of the Cyrenaica, creating the province of Creta and Cyrene. In 46 BCE, Tripolitania was organized in the Africa province.


Arch of Roman emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (AD 146–211) in Leptis Magna.

Roman domination was limited only to coastal regions where cities had a relevant development. It is to be noted that Libya, for the Romans, was an integral part of the Republic/Empire and not a colony in foreign land: from that part of the Empire came emperors, philosophers, and Popes.

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Vlisco model. Click for source.

“A picture of a pipe isn't necessarily a pipe, an image of “African fabric” isn't necessarily authentically [and wholly] African”.

These above words are quoted by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian-British contemporary artist known for his amazing artwork using African print fabrics in his scrutiny of colonialism and post-colonialism. What is commonly known as “African fabric” goes by a multitude of names: Dutch wax print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Dutch Hollandais. I grew up calling them ankara and although they've always been a huge symbol of my Nigerian and African identity, I had no idea of the complex and culturally diverse history behind the very familiar fabrics until I discovered Yinka Shonibare and his art.

I know I personally felt shocked upon learning that the “African” fabrics I grew up loving and admiring were not really “African” in their origins (or is it?). This put things in perspective, however, as it suddenly made sense that my mother's friends regularly travelled to European countries, including Switzerland and England, to purchase these fabrics and expensive laces to sell them again in Nigeria. In an attempt to join this lucrative business, my mother once dragged me with her to a fabric store while on holiday in London. I was not 13 years old then and I recall being surprised to find such familiar fabrics on sale outside Nigeria. Regardless, I never imagined that the history of this African fabric, henceforth referred to as Dutch wax print, spanned over centuries, across three continents and bridging various power structures.

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Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.

Princess Kaiulani Movie

Released in 2009 (though with a fair share of controversy over the admittedly tasteless title, “Barbarian Princess”), with limited run last year and a DVD release in September, Princess Kaiulani is a gorgeously-shot tale of an unjustly forgotten figure in American history. Though the writing isn’t as nuanced as it could be, and there are many holes in the tale which require further reading after viewing the tale, for a movie which sheds light on a dark, yet fascinating period not often told outside of Hawaiian history, Princess Kaiulani is an excellent addition to the library of any history buff and period film aficionado. The film follows Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu i Lunalilo Cleghorn (to give her full name) from shortly before her mother’s death to her own premature death at the age of 23. In between that regrettably short time span, we are shown the tenuous state of Hawaii’s royal family and its inhabitants.

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Note from Ay-leen: This essay is cross-posted from Eccentric Yoruba's Dreamwidth journal and describes the story of the international slave trade from a unique vantage point: where historical hardship becomes a tourist commodity at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.


The canopy walkways of Kakum National Park

There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. "Are you scared?" one of the men-- presumably a safety guide--asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.

"Yes, I am absolutely frightened," I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, "You're lying." In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: "We'll soon reach the end." I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I'd heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn't ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.

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Illustration of the Fenian Dynamite Campaign



The main period that steampunk covers is the reign of Queen Victoria (1838-1901). At conventions and meet-ups, we see people dressed in spiffy waistcoats, stylish petticoats and top hats. People have high tea, create characters and personas of mad scientist, airship captains and Victorian dandies. There is nothing wrong with emulating Victorian high society; at the same time, however, during this much-admired period, the British government instituted its control over half the globe and soaked a large portion of it in blood. What, then, are our responsibilities as people who use this time period as a historical base for our worlds? This was an age of Social Darwinism, of belief in white, Christian supremacy, and the idea that it was the godly imperial duty of all good Englishmen to help extend their world view to the darker parts of the world, and if they meet resistance, it was to be crushed. Does the same vicious and racist world view come through in our worlds? If not, what is the history of people left unconquered by Western Imperialism?



Victoria’s vision of a global British empire didn’t go unchallenged. Throughout her rule, from Dublin to Khartoum, people took up arms to see the British (and other western powers) removed from the places they had come to conquer. Thus, the following questions should be asked: Who were the “rebels” of the Victorian era? Who were the people that were responded to what they saw happening all around them? The list is actually quite long: they were the Irish, the Zulus, the Boers, the Luddites, the mutineers in India, the guerillas in the Sudan, the working class of all nations, and the children living on the streets of London. These were the true rebels in Victoria’s empire, and we should pay them more attention and respect as we evolve as a subculture and literary movement. As we look for the modern “punk” in steampunk, we should become aware of the rich history that lies in all the colonies, not just the United States. Their struggles and the tactics they chose, though not always universally acceptable, make perfect fodder for the worlds and stories we wish to tell. The following is just one example of resistance to the British state from a colonized population and how the British responded. It is the story of acts of resistance that was aimed not just at Victoria’s empire, but at the queen herself.



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Note from Ay-leen: This the third and final part of a series of guest posts from Matt Delman, Proprietor of Free the Princess and Doc Fantastique's Show of Wonders.



The rise-fall-rise of Dost Mohammad was one of the most central facets of the Great Game as it was played in Afghanistan. His son, Mohammad Akbar Khan, had already proven that the Afghanis could send Britain packing from their mountainous nation when his campaign to restore his father to the Emirship succeeded in the early 1840s. Mohammad Akbar Khan, however, died in 1845, removing one of the most anti-British figures of the past few years from the playing field.



It took more than a decade after the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War before the British made overtures to renew relations with Dost Mohammad. In 1854, they made the opening moves at Kabul, and in 1855 the Afghans and the British signed the Treaty of Peshawar. The two nations agreed to respect each other’s territorial boundaries and to make friends with each other’s friends and enemies of each other’s enemies.



In October 1856, the Persians attacked the city of Herat for the second time that decade (1852 was the first). The British came to Afghanistan’s aid, in keeping with their policy of maintaining that nation’s territorial integrity. After only three months of fighting, the Persians were expelled from Herat. Soon after the end of that conflict, in 1857, the British and Afghans signed an addendum to the Treaty of Peshawar that allowed the British to station a military mission at Kandahar.



During the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, certain officials in British India suggested restoring Peshawar to Afghanistan in return for Dost Mohammad’s assistance during the mutiny. However, the idea was rejected because several officials on the northwest frontier thought Dost Mohammad would see such a gift as weakness on the part of the British government in India.



In 1863, the British finally allowed Dost Mohammad to retake Herat and add it back into the Afghani national territory. By this time, a series of Liberal governments in London regarded Afghanistan as a Buffer State against Russian interests in Central Asia. The southern border of the Russian Empire was on the opposite side of the Aral Sea from Afghanistan, and even stopped at the Syr Darya, which runs through modern Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, throughout much of the 1860s.





The path of the Syr Darya, with modern country names. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. (click for link)



On the map above, you can see Toshkent, also called Tashkent, slightly inside the border of Uzbekistan. It’s the black dot beneath the H in Chirchiq, if you’re having problems seeing it. By 1865, the Russian Empire had formally annexed Tashkent. This expanded the border of the territory Tsar Alexander II controlled across the entire length of the Syr Darya. Within a few years, Russian forces would move through Uzbekistan and the mountainous Central Asian khanates subduing one after another with ease. The Emir of Bukhara signed a treaty with Russia in 1868 that placed his nation under Russian protection, after a brief war that the Russians handily won. Russia took control of Samarkand, an important city in Bukharan territory, and five years later would make Bukhara a protectorate of the Russian Empire.



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Note from Ay-leen: This the second in a series of guest posts this week from Matt Delman, Proprietor of Free the Princess and Doc Fantastique's Show of Wonders.

The Crimean War


The Crimean War of October 1853 to February 1856 is so named because much of the land-based engagements took place on the Crimean Peninsula, which juts out into the Black Sea and in modern times is an autonomous republic within the Ukraine. The battles didn’t only occur on the peninsula; the naval conflicts occurred in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the White Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. Some additional land battles also happened in Western Turkey.





 


Ostensibly, the conflict was over who had the right to protect Christians and Christian holy places in Palestine: France, who had protected Christians and the Holy Places since two treaties in 1690 and 1740, respectively, which acknowledged Roman Catholic responsibility in the region; or Russia, who spoke for the Eastern Orthodox Church that claimed most of the Christians in the area as devotees.



Perhaps most interesting about this situation is that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church declined between 1740 and 1820. There simply were not that many Roman Catholics in the Holy Land; the Christians that did live in Palestine were more likely to be Eastern Orthodox, and thus under the protection of the Russian Empire. Tsar Nicholas I also saw himself as ordained by God to lead the Orthodox Church and protect the adherents of that church in the world. By 1840, Russian pilgrims were flocking to the Holy Land, which gave the Tsar the excuse he needed to demand greater say in the Holy Land from the Ottoman Sultan.

Read the rest on BeyondVictoriana.com
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Note from Ay-leen: This the first in a series of guest posts this week from Matt Delman, Proprietor of Free the Princess and Doc Fantastique's Show of Wonders.



***





A map that tracks the decline of the Ottoman Empire from 1798 to 1923. Image courtesy of zonu.com



The time: 1807, when the Napoleonic Wars still raged in Europe. The place: London, England. Agents of the Crown have recently reported that Tsar Alexander I of Russia signed a treaty with Napoleon Bonaparte that suggested the French Emperor would receive Russian aid in his war against Great Britain, and in return Russia was to receive Moldavia and Wallachia — two European possessions of the flagging Ottoman Empire.



If the Ottoman Sultan refused to turn over the provinces, then France and Russia would invade the Empire and partition its lands — Greece and much of the Balkans included — between their two nations. The addition of such wide swathes of territory to its two enemies’ spheres of influence was bad enough news for the British Crown. However, even worse news was that Napoleon suggested that France and Russia steal away the jewel in the British Crown.



India.

“Napoleon’s plan – which died with his defeat – was that a French army of 50,000 should march across Persia and Afghanistan, and there join forces with the Cossacks for the final thrust across the Indus River into India (Kathleen Burk).”

There remained a singular problem with this plan: Napoleon had no idea of the geography of India. For that matter, the British realized, neither did they. More than two centuries of involvement in the nation of India hadn’t garnered any knowledge of the internal geography of the landscape; the British had previously confined themselves to the coastal regions where their ships could easily reach.



The focus of the East India Company was on sea routes and sea routes only, which were the best way to transport trade goods back to England. Napoleon’s plan, though abortive, necessitated an investigation into the interior of the Indian subcontinent. For if the East India Company didn’t know where the overland lines of attack were, then how could they defend against an invasion?



Thus, in 1810, orders were given, and Lt. Henry Pottinger and Capt. Charles Christie volunteered to conduct a survey of the potential land routes invasion could come by. The men exercised extreme caution, disguising themselves as Indians and taking two servants and a local horse dealer along as companions. Such a disguise was necessary because if the tribesmen along their route saw two Europeans, they would assume that Christie and Pottinger were making notes to plan an invasion of the tribal lands. Notes had to be made in secret and hidden on the body where no one could find them.



Christie, Pottinger, and their party travelled from Bombay to Sind via ship, and then overland from Sind to Kalat. The men were immediately recognized as British officials, and were forced to escape in the middle of the night. Eventually, they reached Nushki, a city near the border of Afghanistan and Baluchistan.

At Nushki, Christie went northwest to Herat, and thence to Isfahan, whilst Pottinger travelled through Kerman to Shiraz, and joined Christie in Isfahan. Each had feared the other had died, but when each heard that there was another European in the town, they agreed to meet – but only after some minutes did they recognise each other. Other explorers followed over the years, filling in the blanks on the maps. (Burk)”

Thus began the opening moves of what would come to be known as The Great Game, a term crafted by British spy Arthur Conolly in 1829 and popularized in the 1901 novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling. In 1807, there were 2,000 miles of territory between British and Russian lands in Central Asia. By the end of the classic Great Game period in 1907, fewer than 20 miles separated the possessions of the two empires.



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My work also looks at the ideals of beauty and femininity represented by examples of privileged members of society, and the aspirations of the less fortunate women to be like them. - Mary Sibande (source)



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Newspaper illustration from a performance of "The Coming Man" at the The Principal Chinese Theatre in San Francisco, California, in the 1880s. Audience members in the picture include Chinese men and women (one holding an infant) in fancy dress, a vendor holding a tray, and others watching the play. Image courtesy of Berkeley University.

May is recognized in the US as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month (also known as Asian/Asian-American History Month). Asians have a long history in the Americas, starting with the first Chinese and Japanese immigrants to the United States in the mid-1800s (or, going even earlier, research has argued that Chinese explorer Zheng He could have arrived in America in 1421 before Columbus). But there has also been 19th-century Asian immigration to Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Cuba as well.

Thus, the experience of Asians in the Americas during the Victorian Era have been diverse and complex; below are four glimpses into Asian (and American) history.

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“In the colonies the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country preferred it with clothes on.”- Jean-Paul Sartre

Prologue

When I first became interested in steampunk last year, I posed a question to one of my friends.

Me: “So… I was wondering about steampunk, where does colonialism fit in?

Friend: “Colonialism? Like in the Colonies?”

Me: “Like being from the colonies.

Friend: “Oh, you can do that. They’re different types of subgenres in steampunk, and it can take place in America.”

Pause right there. I wasn’t referring to America. Or was I? Yes, my friends and I are from the US and steampunks, and most identify our personas as being from the “Colonies.” Yet their idea of what the Colonies represented in steampunk—aka an alternative America that was still under control of the British Empire during the Victorian Era—and my interpretation of the colonies—aka the actual ones that had existed during the Victorian Era—were vastly different. Which leads to the questions I’d like to explore here. Why is the concept of the United States as a colonized America so appealing to steampunks? Is this notion damaging to steampunks of color (SoCs), whose histories are negatively intertwined with the realities of colonialism? Does the idea of a colonial America promote or denounce the imperialism that existed during the Age of Empire?

 

Read more... )

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