Maps Get People Talking

This post isn’t meant to be groundbreaking by any means, but just a short time ago I viewed a map of the U.S. with the state boundaries redrawn so that each state had an equal number of residents.  The map was just a hypothetical reorganization of the states.  It was not intended to be a call for an actual reorganization.  However, I noticed in the comments below that the map got a number of people talking.  Some were angry about the idea, some thought it funny, some chose to pick it apart discussing why it would never work.  It appeared that most of those who commented never paused to take in to account that the map was for fun.  I myself thought it amusing that so many people thought it necessary to vent over an innocent little map.  

A bit later, while reading some of the comments I noticed a link to another map.  One that illustrates the increase in obesity in America over the past 25 years.  I know that people on average are fatter than they were a several decades ago, but this map really puts things into perspective.  I decided to look at the comments below, and was somewhat shocked to see that there were only half as many comments as there were for the population reorganization map, and many of those comments were brief.  Why do so many people get upset over a hypothetical map, and have very little to say on the increasing epidemic of obesity?  Anyway, that’s my rant for the day.  Happy Thanksgiving!  


Boom 2053

Recently, Adam M. Sowards, a historian and environmental interdisciplinarian, posted a link to his Twitter account that showcased every nuclear explosion on the planet from 1945 to 1998.  The video itself is cinematically underwhelming–sometimes feeling like a mixture between a bad techno beat and an Atari game from 1983.  Yet, if the viewer spends the time to watch the clip in its entirety, I would expect that they would walk away feeling somewhat nauseated having realized that most of the world’s superpowers–namely the U.S.–have unleashed such a destructive force on Mother Earth 2053 times.  What really makes this clip hit home is when it is paired with actual footage of nuclear explosions like that compiled by Atom Central.  The negative environmental impact created by these explosions must be staggering.  The realization of the detrimental effects of radiation has steadily increased since 1945, but more responsible testing methods do not negate the long-term impacts of tests from years-ago.  The CTBTO has a number of reports and educational resources that better illustrate the negative side-effects of nuclear testing.  In addition to the environmental impact of nuclear weapon testing, their financial impact must be considered as well.  Brookings Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project lists 50 facts about U.S. nuclear testing.  Number 50 tells that over 35 trillion dollars have been spent on nuclear related activities in the U.S alone between 1940 to 1998.  Of course there are a number of potential benefits like propulsion systems and energy that the nuclear age has engendered, but can we justify killing our planet and mankind along with it in the hopes that one day we might be able to responsibly control the atom.    


Dissertation Reviews

It is always nice when a new resource becomes available that scholars and graduate students can use when trying to conduct research for their dissertations or when needing feedback on their dissertations before publication. is one such resource.  The aim of the site, “is to offer readers a glimpse of each discipline’s immediate present by focusing on the window of time between dissertation defense and first book publication.”  In addition, the “Fresh from the Archives” section of the site gives viewers the opportunity to peruse a number of reviews of archives and institutes around the world.  These reviews not only highlight what materials are contained in the archives, but also the protocols and paperwork needed to gain access to the collections.  Since these reviews are written by graduate students and scholars who have conducted research at the archives they are reviewing, they offer further advice and tips that are meant to help those researching in unfamiliar destinations better acclimate to their surroundings and those they will be working with.  The tips they offer such as “bring small gifts,” and don’t bother the staff during their lunch breaks may sound silly, but this kind of advice will most definitely help those wishing to conduct research in the future to have an enjoyable and productive experience.

The dissertation reviewers come from many backgrounds, but the many of the reviewer categories at present are geared towards eastern studies like Asian Archaeology, China, Chinese Literature, Japan, Korea, and Russia.  They also have a number of categories centered around the Middle-East and Islamic studies.  Unfortunately, at the moment, they do not have any reviewers who focus on the classical Mediterranean and medieval worlds, Byzantium, the Renaissance, and related fields.  Because they do not focus on these areas of study, the site does not offer much insight into archives and institutions that contain related materials.  Much of this can be attributed to the relative newness of the site.  Dissertation Reviews is currently seeking reviewers so it should only be a matter of time before these fields are offered as reviewer categories.  Even though the site does not cover all areas of study it still provides students and scholars in many fields with a valuable tool.  

Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves Oh My!

As some of us don our favorite costumes on this night of mischief and mayhem in search of cavities and a slightly expanded wasteline lets pause for a moment to reflect on the mythical stories that have inspired Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves.


The word vampire is a relatively recent name given to those who lust for blood, but there are many references to similar creatures.  In ancient Greece, the goddess Hera killed the children of a beautiful Libyan woman named Lamia.  Her loss and rage led to her taking on a monstrous appearance and thereafter she sought to seize and kill other children [1].  The famous vampire we have come to love by the name of Dracula is also based on a real character.  Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler as he is sometimes called was ruled Wallachia in Romania during the mid-fifteenth century AD.  He is well know for inviting his enemies to dinner and subsequently having them impaled while he ate.  The name Dracula is derived from dracul (Order of the Dragon), a society that Vlad belonged to.  As far as the evidence goes, a number of skeletons have been uncovered recently that have shed light upon the burial practices of suspected vampires.  In Bulgaria a 700 year-old skeleton was found that had been stabbed in the chest and had had its teeth extracted [2].  The precaution of placing a brick in the mouth of those believed to be undead has also been observed [3].

Both the Greek historian Herodotus and the Roman author Petronius mention werewolves.  Herodotus mentions that there was a people called the Neuri who transformed into wolves each year for a few days and then changed back again [4}.  Petronius tells a different tale in his work the Satyricon;

We came to a graveyard, and this pal of mine went off to the tombstones to take a pis while I say a spell or two to keep off evil and count how many stones there are.  But when I turned back to him, he’d taken off all his clothes and put’em in a pile beside the road .  .  . He pissed around his clothes, and then all of the sudden he turned into a wolf .  .  . once he was a wolf he started howling and ran off to the woods [5].

Tales of the undead predate those of werewolves and vampires.  In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Ishtar, lamenting her recent rebuff by Gilgamesh to her father states, “I’ll raise up the dead to devour the living, the dead shall outnumber the living” [6].  The credit for the creation of zombies goes to Ishtar not George Romero.  All of these myths do not prove the existence of these creatures, however, they do show that there were people who did and still do believe that vampires, zombies and werewolves are real.

By the way, remember that there are always more frightening creatures out there lurking in the night besides vampires, zombies and werewolves.  Oh wait, that’s just a Kardashian.



1.  Simon Price and Emily Kearns, Classical Myth and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) 312.



4.  Herodotus.  Histories trans. A.D. Godley. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920) 4, 105.2.

5.Petronius, Satyricon trans. Sarah Rudin (Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company, 2000) 46.

6.  Benjamin R. Foster, The Epic of Gilgamesh (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001) 49.