Travelling History in Lockdown

Well, it has been a little quiet on the history outreach front over the past couple of months. Our school work has all been on Zoom, the history machine has not left the driveway since March and our home education work has comprised a series of online "Prezi" challenges.

Whereas we have not been able to explore the deep historic landscape, this has been an amazing time to explore the Universe. With a couple of Jedi Knights in the household it has been great to be able to show them galaxies far away and long ago. Normally in our polluted Bristol skies it is very difficult to spot galaxies but in the recent weeks the warm weather, clear nights and presumably cleaner air, we have seen more galaxies than we have ever been able to before. Favourite to date has been Admiral Smyth's "double nebula" better known as M60. 55 million light years away (thus 55 million years in the past) and 115,000 light years across, could this have been where Han Solo made the famous Kessell Run?

We have also been exploring the Moon, in this photograph (and apologies that here at the Travelling History Company we are absolutely rubbish at astrophotography!) you can see sunrise over Rupes Altai (named after the mountains dividing China from Mongolia), down the centre of the photograph, an escarpment some 545 km long and up to 1800 metres high. For some reason it reminds us of a trip we ran for Chinese students a couple of years ago, not to the Moon, but to the Cotswold Scarp near Stroud. The smooth bit to the left is Mare Nectaris, the Sea of Clouds. This photograph is afocal - simply pointing a camera down the telescope eyepiece.

The Moon this week has been magnificent, we have been inspired by a fantastic new book - Lunar Cognita by Robert Garfinkle (Springer 2020) an amazing three volume handbook of the Moon - perfect lockdown reading.

Do take the opportunity one clear evening to get a deckchair out, enjoy a glass of wine after sunset and look up at the Moon and stars. We have a handy guide to "wineglass astronomy" on our website.

With lockdown restrictions relaxing a little and a new "stay local" mantra from Boris, now is a great time to explore the local historic landscape on foot or bicycle. Westbury on Trym, Clifton and Blaise are, for example, stuffed full of prehistory, a fantastic opportunity to drag the children out and about and pretend to be teaching them something useful! We have Iron Age Hill forts, Bronze Age cemeteries (see photo, a Bronze Age barrow in Southmead) and Roman roads all on our doorstep. There is even a Neolithic tomb in a front garden over in Stoke Bishop.

The idea of moving through the landscape, today and in the deep past is a fascinating one and another favourite lockdown book has been "Making One's Way in the World " by Martin Bell (Oxbow 2020), an excellent reevaluation of the archaeology of routeways.

Music has always been important in our household, our astronomy evenings have been accompanied by relaxing soundscapes, often Tangerine Dream or Fripp and Eno. On a more lively note, one lockdown soundtrack in our house has been the new Nightwish album, Human Nature. This Finnish symphonic rock music includes a track about Eugene Shoemaker.

Shoemaker was a geologist and astronomer, he trained the Apollo astronauts on the collection of lunar samples. He is also the only human thus far to have his ashes scattered, or rather crashed, onto the Moon, very close to a crater near the Lunar South Pole that now bears his name. It is a name that resonates strongly with me. On a hot summers night in July 1994 I was at the fabulous COAA observatory on the Algarve watching events unfold as comet Shoemaker Levy split up and plummeted into Jupiter.

Record two of this double album, yes, lovely vinyl, is a classical piece that includes the famous Carl Sagan "pale blue dot" speech. Brilliant.

We have discovered tea! Inspired by our friends Mr and MissElaineous, we have dispensed with tea bags and are experimenting with all sorts of loose leaf teas. If it is not an LP dropping on the doorstep from an independent record store, it is another packet of tea from family tea importers. Or gin. Mrs S has discovered online Cornish gin, delicious.

Another benefit of lockdown has been the number of webinars and talks we can attend, usually for free, a great opportunity for learning and accruing CPD. The Historical Association are running a fantastic series "What's the wisdom on....." and Bett putting on seminars sharing ideas and thoughts on online teaching. The National Archives and British Library have extended the range of resources available online to explore. This is a great time for lesson planning.

Whilst our excavations, history camping retreats and festivals over the summer are definitively cancelled, light is appearing at the end of the tunnel and maybe we will be able to resume our outdoor home ed history sessions later in the summer and get back into our schools in September.

As we return to what seems likely to be a new normality, the galaxies will doubtless fade back into the pollution, routines will return but hopefully, despite the difficulties and tragedies that the spring has brought with it, we will come out of all this with fresh perspectives and new ideas for the future. And certainly here at the Travelling History Company, we shall be enjoying our tea (and maybe the occasional gin) a whole load more.

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