WSJ Historically Speaking: Baseball, From a Pharaoh to Hoboken, N.J.


Say goodbye to the winter blues. On April 2 the sport of kings is set to resume: no, not horse racing but baseball, the oldest ball game on record.

At the dawn of civilization, our ancient ancestors learned how to write, build temples, sail the seas—and play ball. It will probably come as no surprise to baseball fans that the Egyptians placed the game (or their proto-variation of it) on a par with life and sex. According to Prof. Peter Piccione at Charleston College, the term “seker-hemat,” often translated as “batting the ball,” began as a fertility ritual performed in spring festivals. It’s believed that the ball represented the head of Osiris, god of the underworld. Continue reading…

WSJ Historically Speaking: Monuments With Staying Power

In Turkey, a subterranean strategy. ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

In Turkey, a subterranean strategy. ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Mount Rushmore celebrates its 75th birthday this month, with many more to come, according to geologists: They estimate that the granite presidential faces will withstand the forces of erosion for 7.2 million years.

Poets have long bristled at efforts by the rich and powerful to immortalize themselves in stone. In “Ozymandias” (1818), Percy Bysshe Shelley portrayed such attempts as vainglorious and futile. All that remains of Ozymandias, king of kings, is “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone… Near them, on the sand, / Half sunk, a shattered visage lies.” The poem’s ironic message lies in the king’s inscribed command to “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” when all around there is nothing but empty sand. Continue reading…

The New York Times: Historian Amanda Foreman upends the story of civilization to give women their due


The Ascent of Woman

The Ascent of Woman

Enheduanna. Hatshepsut. Empress Wu. Murasaki Shikibu. These ancient women were the first feminist trailblazers, yet they’ve been largely expunged from the historical record.

Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon the Great of Sumer, became the world’s first recorded author in the third millennium BCE. Hatshepsut ruled the Kingdom of Egypt for 20 years, adopting the full regalia of a male king — beard included — before her successor had all signs of her reign erased. Empress Wu, also known as Wu Zetian, united the Chinese empire and reigned as sole monarch for fifteen years before her successors also tried to obliterate her achievements. Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world’s first novel, the Tale of Genji, between 1001-1010 AD. Her real name and personal details remain largely unknown.

These influential women are just a few of the female iconoclasts featured in The Ascent of Woman, Dr. Amanda Foreman’s four-part BBC documentary that premiered to U.S. viewers on Netflix earlier this month. The series aims to “retell the story of civilization with women and men side by side for the first time,” as Foreman declares in the introduction. Reinscribing women into their rightful places in the human story, the documentary corrects the erasures of history’s male heirs. Continue reading…

BBC: Ten women who ruled the world

Statue of Hatshepsut on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Statue of Hatshepsut on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dr. Amanda Foreman explains the legacy of Pharaoh Hatshepsut, one of ten powerful women highlighted by the BBC for their political accomplishments:

‘. . . And the greatest of Egypt’s known ruling Queens was Hatshepsut. She came to power in the 15th century BC as the regent for her stepson Thutmose III; but it was how she ruled for over 2 decades that demonstrates her genius for government. Hatshepsut appropriated for herself the symbols of kingship… Famously, her statues depict her wearing the divine pharaonic beard. But just as important was how she concentrated on what Egypt did best. Building and trade. She organised the largest ever trade mission in her country’s history to the land of Punt. Her legacy was peace and prosperity. But even in Egypt there’s a sting in the tale. We don’t know why, but after her death, the next Pharaoh literally defaced Hatshepsut from the public record. In a sense, she represents the fate of so many women, not just in the ancient world, but throughout all of history.’

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The Daily Mail: The historical heroines you’ve never heard of: From the Sumerian priestess poet to the English queen who revolutionised literature, the women who deserve to be remembered

By Ruth Styles

From Boadicea of the Iceni to Queen Victoria, there is no shortage of women who have made their mark on history.

But for every Eleanor of Aquitaine or Elizabeth I, there have been many more whose efforts have gone unrecognised, largely because of their sex.

Now a new BBC series, the Ascent of Women, aims to change all that and shed light on the forgotten heroines of the past.

From the start, says presenter and historian Amanda Foreman, men have ‘conspired’ to control speech while women, lacking the educational opportunities of their male peers, have failed to realise that ‘speech is power’.

But not everyone has been content to remain silent. From the Celtic warrior queen who kept the Romans from her door to the Sumerian priestess who invented literature, meet the women who deserve to be remembered.

Continue reading…

The Wall Street Journal: The Special Vilification of Female Leaders



Thirty-five years ago this Sunday, Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to be elected British prime minister. She wasn’t the first woman to be at the head of what had often been “Her Majesty’s Government,” of course, but only Thatcher had fought her way to parliamentary power via a general election. Standing on the steps of 10 Downing Street, she acknowledged the sexual and political revolution that had taken place. To her naysayers, Thatcher offered the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony…where there is doubt, may we bring faith.”

During her 11 years in office, Thatcher repaid her Tory supporters’ faith, eradicating any last doubts that a woman could govern as well as a man. But her wish to bring harmony was in vain. Judging by the names she was called, Thatcher attracted a unique hatred among some Britons that was hard to separate from the fact she was a woman. After Thatcher’s death in 2013, a vociferous minority campaigned to propel the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” to the top of the official U.K. singles chart. It stopped at No. 2.

Continue reading…