Tobacco’s Golden Era

This shows Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Joan Crawford indulging in a cigarette in the 1934 film Chained.

Despite the many health risks associated with smoking tobacco, in the Golden Era, cigarette smoking was a fashion statement that showed the smoker to be a classy person. Indeed, many a student bedroom is adorned with the iconic photograph of Audrey Hepburn with cigarette holder clinched betwixted gloved fingers.

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A7V Sturmpanzerwagen

Whenever a new technology is introduced, whether on the battlefield or at home, there is always a brief period when inventors, unfamiliar with the new concepts, begin experimenting with designs and plans, trying to push innovation to the limit. While these experiments occasionally produce useful results, the great majority end up on the scrap heap of history.

One such forgotten experiment was the A7V Sturmpanzerwagen, an early German attempt at creating a battle-ready tank. Continue reading “A7V Sturmpanzerwagen”

Beau Brummell: The Most Stylish History Maker

You sir, yes you. Take a look at your fine wardrobe and the styles you hold dear. Those of the elegant, refined, understated gentleman. A far cry from the powdered wigs and scented noblemen whose influence, without our Beau, would have dominated the fashions of Europe — and thus the world — for many years longer than they have done.

The 1700s were a time of wealth. On the continent and in Britain, the nobility showed its flare with ever greater demonstrations.

A prime example of this is the decadency of the French royalty in the guise of Louis XVI, who was advertised as such a tyrannical arch-degenerate that it cost him both his crown and his head to a revolutionary mob. (Despite his actual character as probably a fairly decent chap.)

From the gold-leaf extravagance of the Palace of Versailles to the towering powdered wigs of lords and ladies, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were times of showing off, but this had always been the case. Ancient kings and emperors had worn their riches in full display. But the increasing wealth of the eighteenth-century aristocracy was so much flaunted that it was driving an ever-firmer wedge between rulers and their people.

Let us take a closer look at these pre-Brummell styles, before we meet the man himself.

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The Carnival of Venice

The Venetian Carnival evokes thoughts of a centuries-old tradition of lavish celebration. A seemingly timeless event, with it roots in the thirteenth century, the carnival is known the world over for its elaborate costumes; as a playground for the nobility, the wealthy and the common man alike; a time of celebration, dancing, gambling, intrigue and just plain old craziness of every kind imaginable.

A more perfect backdrop for a steampunk story seems hard to imagine.

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Of World Wars and Ham Sandwiches

The foundations of history are held hostage by the whims of our predecessors — how Herodotus felt about the Spartans two thousand and five hundred years ago determines what we know about them today. A mathematical fact is an unflinching cinderblock of provable truth; an historical fact is no more than mutually consensual quicksand. How can we even begin to build objective structures in a field where everything we know can be overturned by a botanist discovering a scrap of North American tobacco in the stomach of a mummified Egyptian king?

Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb and self-proclaimed Yugoslav Nationalist, was born on July 25, 1894. On June 28, 1914, he and five others set out to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in an attempt to revitalize the Serbian struggle for independence. The events that preceded the attack played out much like a black comedy of errors; each assassin was given a weapon and a position on the archduke’s motorcade route, and each in turn failed at their task.

So much of what we know about the past hangs on nothing more than a scribbled word or phrase. So much of it is invented — sometimes out of necessity, sometimes merely out of preference — that we may wonder if any of it is true at all. For what purpose, then, do we study it? If there is no objective truth at the end of the rainbow, why bother seeking it out?

The first and second assassins failed to act; the third threw a bomb. It was deflected by Franz Ferdinand and detonated on the car behind him, wounding several people. In desperation, the assassin swallowed a cyanide pill and sprang into a nearby river, hoping to kill himself before he could be captured — only to discover the pill was old and ineffective and the river was six inches deep. He was pulled out of the water and severely beaten.

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