October 6th, 2005


(no subject)

I'd thought of some witty anecdote to start this off with, halfway through yesterday ... but I'll be damned if I can remember it now. It probably wouldn't've been as witty as it sounded in my head at the time, anyway, so you're probably lucky to be spared ;)

Finally, finally, finally finished my book - it was "Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700" by Diarmaid MacCulloch, and it's about 700 pages of small type about the Reformation. I feel like I should've been taking notes - on index cards, in coloured pens - like I did for my A-levels. Things like Name/Year/Action or Name/Year/Quote cf SameName/OtherYear/ContradictingQuote, colour coded by branch of the church (counting 3 main branches: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed Protestant, in red, green and blue, with the CofE as a very blue purple given its oddities, the medieval church in black and the various bits & bobs in brown). I clearly thought about that too much ;) I may one day go back through it & do that ... but computerise it rather than index cards, I think. I know the shape of the bigger project that would fit into - a webpage front end to a database of historical notes, so you could say enter a year, and get a collection of factoids about that year. Or enter a person's name, and get a chronological list of things-they-did, or a list of things-they-said or a list of things-about-them. I would, obviously, be working from secondary sources - I have neither the training nor the resources to work with primary sources. Very much a project for another day, though, as I've a couple of other computer based things I want to do first (that Quake3 stats analyser, a generator for graphics based on a modified rule-set for Life (started to write it in java last time I was learning to code, would have to start again now)) and this would involve learning some other stuff.

The book was interesting to read, it took me a long time though (I started in June sometime, though I read a dozen or so other things while I was reading it). This was partly because I needed to have a decent chunk of time to sit down and think about it while I read - rather than dip into it while I was doing other things. And partly because it was a very dense - lots of information was packed into each paragraph, and my prior knowledge of the history of the period was pretty much confined to England and England's interactions with the rest of the area - so, for instance, I knew about the Spanish in terms of Henry VIII's first wife, Mary's husband and the Armada, and a vague feeling that some part of modern Spain had been held by the Moors just prior to that period. So that made reading about the details of the Counter Reformation in Spain, and how it partly took the shape it did because of their national desire to set down what made a Spaniard a Spaniard due to the recent re-conquest of vast areas of Spain, rather heavy going. The first two thirds of the book is a fairly chronological explanation of what happened during that 200 year period, who said what, which churches were formed where and what the reactions were, and how that lead to other churches etc. The last part is about broader social changes and non-changes. So it talks about family structures & relationships, about attitudes to death, about attitudes towards women. It finishes with a chapter about the outcomes - about the Enlightenment and how that fitted in with what had happened in the Reformation, and a little about modern Christianity. There's also a section on how the Reformation affected the colonisation of the New World, and vice versa - particularly the later English Reformation and the religious composition of New England.

I'd try & summarise some of it, but the biggest feeling I've taken away is that it's complicated, and I need to do more reading before I feel like I've got a proper handle on it. I don't think that's a fault of the book, more that I'm not quite the intended audience - I stopped doing history at school after I turned 14. Not through lack of interest in history as such, but because the subjects we were going to do at GCSE level sounded dull to me - Hitler's rise to power & WWII, I'd rather've learnt about older things, like the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. So I've not got the more advanced education in history that I think the book assumes.

I still need to write up the other books I read over my holidays, but I've spent half an hour writing/thinking about this one, so I'll do them later on maybe.