PhD’ing on tactile access to microscopic objects. All about anthropology, archaeology, museums, cats and bad puns. Tell me your favourite history fact.

  • Kate

So unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ve probably heard (at least in passing) that Scotland is having a vote to determine whether they want to leave the United Kingdom today. As an American, I feel I have absolutely no right to weigh in an opinion on the matter, but I’ll do my best to explain what is going on if you’ve been out of the loop.

Scotland has been a separate country in the past, becoming an independent kingdom in the Middle Ages. By 1603, Scotland entered a personal union with England when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I as the ruler of England. The two countries were very briefly united under a single government when England was a Commonwealth in the middle of the 17th century, but this did not last when the monarchy was restored in 1660. However, in 1707 Scotland and England united to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. Almost 100 years later Ireland joined to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. (I’m choosing to skim over Irish history here, to deal with for another day.)

Back to the present, there was an agreement in November last year between the Scottish Parliament and United Kingdom government created the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill. The official question on the bill is “Should Scotland be an independent country?” and voters can only respond with Yes or No. To pass this bill, there will only need to be a simple majority. This will take some time to count though, as nearly everyone over 16 is able to vote (4.3 million people) and the news is reporting 97% of all possible voters registering.

The polls closed about 2 hours ago, but there are 32 local authority areas to count. Current estimates are saying that we should all expect the final results to be announced by chief counting officer Mary Pitcaithly at 6:30 to 7:30 Friday morning. Any guess is as good as another as to what we’ll hear tomorrow, as the latest polls taken 2 hours ago stated that “No” was at 54% and “Yes” at 46%. I have not had any Scottish people to ask on opinions, but nearly all the English I’ve asked think it’ll never actually happen.

So what are some of the reasons I’ve heard from either side? Please, please keep in mind that I am not saying these are the be-all, end-all reasons for the independence referendum or that it’s a comprehensive look at a complicated issue. On the Yes vote they believe that Scotland:

  • Can stand on their own for an economy with the strength of the oil industry and the general workforce of the Scottish people.

  • Won’t have a fair voice in government with it continuing to operate in England and want to have the final say for what is best for Scotland and not just the financial district in London.

  • Is an independent country and should be treated as such, not as an afterthought from the government now.

On the Better Together (No vote) they believe that Scotland is better staying with the United Kingdom because :

  • Economic security for Scotland, in the United Kingdom without Scotland would still be the same, whereas Scotland would become a relatively small player internationally.

  • There is no guarantee of continuing membership with the European Union or NATO (especially as Spain is threatening to veto based on their own nationalist concerns).

  • International opinion from both the US and EU political and business leaders indicates that they would prefer the United Kingdom to remain, well, united.

So what do you think will be the turn out? Do you think Scotland has thought this out far enough into the future? What would change? We’ll all find out in about 7 hours! Regardless of the outcome, I’m excited as an outsider to witness this major point in history and wish only the best to all the affected parties. Will report back with results in the morning (though surely I’d hope you’re all watching the world news for this!).

— Kate (and M)

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  • Kate

While I’ve not been to all the historical places in Colchester this week, I’ve been by a good amount and thought it’d make a lovely post to tell the story of the town in standing architecture today.

Colchester is the oldest recorded town in Britain, being known in the past as Camulodunum to the Romans in the 40s CE. It was founded as a Roman Legionary retirement base on what was once the Celtic site of Camulodunon (“The Stronghold of Camulos”), Camulos being a Celtic war god of the region. That site has coinage dating back to between 20-10 BCE. There have been some attempts to link Camulos to the Old King Cole of nursery rhymes, but modern scholars have determined this is unlikely to be the case. There’s also some argument that Camulodunon may be the basis for Camelot, but it is mostly speculation at this point.

Camulodunum was one of the focus points of the Iceni rebellion led by Boudica in 60-61 CE, in which it was razed to the ground and no one was spared. The town at the time was undefended, and so the survivors of the initial onslaught took shelter in the Temple of Claudius, which had been built by local taxation and slave labor of natives. Needless to say, the building was a point of contention and was targeted for attack after only a few days. The town was so utterly destroyed by this events that archaeologists have named the deposit layer of the fire and carnage the Boudican Destruction Layer, consistently finding a thick layer of burnt organic material, building ruins, and fused metal and glasswork from the heat of the flames. This layer of chaos is important for archaeologists and historians today though, as it gives a definite time stamp to work with layers above and below the BDL.

The settlement was rebuilt quickly after the attack, with fortifications added this time around. Curiously, Camulodunum was officially a colonia instead of a municipia, which meant that the Romans considered it an extension of Rome and not a province, meaning that the inhabitants were all Roman citizens. Never again the capital city for the Romans in Britain, Colchester remained an Imperial cult capital for a long time with the Temple of Claudius and appeared in writings through the years by Pliny, Ptolemy, and Tacitus.

Jumping forward nearly 1,000 years, the town was continually occupied but mostly quiet. Many of the buildings still standing from this period show recycling of materials, with Roman era bricks being used to build Norman era creations such as St Botolph’s Priory and Colchester Castle. In fact, the Temple of Claudius was still standing in the 11th century when the Normans came in to Colchester. They actually dismantled the massive structure to place the castle on top.

King Cole makes another appearance at this point with the Normans referring to the temple as King Coel’s Palace. It was a popular medieval myth that the Roman town was founded by a native warlord named Coel, who was supposedly the father of St Helena (the patron saint of Colchester). Following the story, he then married Helena off to the Roman Constantius to save his town from siege, and the couple later gave birth to Constantine the Great. (In reality, these events took place WAY off in Turkey.) Not to be deterred by history, the town’s coat of arms shows the “true cross” and the crowns of the three magi that Helena was said to have found in Jerusalem and brought back to Colchester.

In the mid-17th century, Colchester had an influx of Dutch weavers and clothmakers from Flanders. They were well known for their “Bays and Says” cloths made of wool (associated with the “Baize” coarse wool and “Serge” twill of today). During this time frame, Colchester was one of the best towns for wool in England. The area of the Dutch immigrants is near the modern town center and is still known today as the Dutch Quarter, with a good amount of still-standing Tudor era homes.

Three hundred years later, the current town hall was built. The area has been in use as a town hall for over 800 years, but the building today was created by John Belcher in 1902. It was designed as a Baroque style with a statue at the top of the hall with what is either St Helena or the Virgin Mary on it. Inside, the Council Chambers has a painted ceiling with a classical theme of the months of the year, as well as two stained glass depictions of the Roman history in Colchester on the windows.

Finally, coming up to the modern day in terms of history, there is Castle Park. In 1727 the Colchester Castle had been purchased and the grounds turned into a private park for Sarah Gray, wife of the Colchester MP Charles Gray. Gray had originally kept the land split between a grain merchant and the county gaol (jail), but in the 1740s he restored parts of the castle and created the private park around the ruin and his summer house nearby. In 1922, nearly 200 years later, the castle and the park Gray had created were gifted to the town. The park was split into an upper and lower park and the castle became a public museum.

And of course, if you ask the locals they’ll all tell you that Colchester is “alright I guess.” 😛

— Kate

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  • Kate

I’ve made it to Day 7 and have managed only minimal jetlag. Sleep is a bit wonky, but turning out okay. It’s been around this time in the late afternoon each day that I start regretting not making a second cup of coffee or tea, but I have yet to learn from this. Let’s see… What have I gotten into since? Well, on Tuesday a handful of students in the program all met by the clock tower (We originally were supposed to go to the Starbucks at the university, but I got two of us lost… Thankfully everyone was fantastic and they came to the tower.) and all grabbed some coffee and lunch and chatted for an hour or so. It’s SO nice to meet people before term begins, and everyone was awesome. I’m greatly looking forward to courses with them!

After we all went our separate ways, I continued with my new tradition of wandering aimlessly around the city – half genuinely lost, half somewhat aware of landmarks and just adventuring. Not having a car and aiming to walk everywhere teaches you some important lessons pretty quickly. Firstly, you really don’t need all that crap in your bag that you always take with you. Secondly, the more you can fit in your bag, the less you have to carry in flimsy plastic bags that cut off circulation in your fingers. Thirdly and most importantly, if you cannot carry it all comfortably in a basket in the shop, you are going to have a heck of a time getting it home. The only time a shopping cart is a good idea is when you have a willing victim alongside you that can help carry things home, of which I did not. Amazing what you’re capable of when you realize it’s either sit on the street and wait for an expensive taxi to come by and take your lazy rear home or just suck it up and walk already. Needless to say, I’m gaining new callouses on my feet.

Walking back from meeting fellow students and there’s a very drunk man staggering through the streets and screeching (at 3 pm). I stopped and asked some shop staff:

“What exactly is he going on about?”

“England. And some profanity. That’s all we can understand. He just came out of the pub, so sports maybe.”


Back at my flat, it was time for mail call!

Have I mentioned recently that I have amazing parents? Because they not only sent me things I needed that were going to be hard to walk back from the shops with, but also a surprise with the sweeteners. I have since christened the coffee machine and can gladly dismiss the stereotype that the British do not have good coffee. Picked up a Colombian fresh roast from Tesco that tasted great.

After unpacking presents, it was a walk to the train station to catch up with one of my favourite Twitter people! I take great offence at people who say that technology is ruining our social lives and that we all need to leave the phones at home. Yes, you should always engage with those talking to you, but the internet only helps to broaden that scope. My life would be much poorer without the weirdness of social media, and I wouldn’t want to change it. Heck, even meeting everyone from the program ahead of time was due to Facebook and email. Making new friends, the millennial way. 😉 Had a massive “You’re a real person again!” squeal, then set out on the city to talk and catch up with so much that’s happened since last we saw each other in November.

I would like to apologise to the now local ( 😀 ) people in my life as the anthropologist in me has been having a field day. Coming to a new place you’ll always have new experiences to process, (sometimes happens just crossing America) but instead of just shrugging it off with a “well that’s odd,” I have an intense curiosity to find out why things work that way. It’s my motto to always look at life and new things as interesting, never weird or “not like home.” The world works around things in many different ways, and societies are fascinating because of it. Over the space of dinner my poor friend was questioned on how the bank overdraft in the UK works (you can pull much, much more over the limit of what you have in your account than in the US), the why/when/how of putting x’s at the end of text messages (best stick to loved ones to be on the safe side), and the curious absence of doggie bags/boxes in UK restaurants (though honestly, if you walk everywhere it’d be a pain to carry that around). And of course, any time you share restaurants around the world, you’re bound to get a giggle out of the menus and signs.

This leads us into Wednesday, which was a travel day. Brief wander around town, but I had also packed up a bag and made sure to wash the dishes in the sink. By the afternoon, I wheeled my bag to the train station and hopped on the first of two trains to Colchester, where I’ll be visiting for a little over a week. Trains really are the way to get around in this country, though there’d have to be a cultural shift to have something like this happen across the United States. Maybe when gas hits $10 a gallon it might become more of a thing. Be sure to bring something to read with you though, because playing on your phone will suck the life out of it and unless you’re in a first class seat, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a charging place for your plug. Also, if you qualify for a railcard and plan on doing more than a quick journey or only one ride, it is well worth the price for the card in the savings you’ll accrue over time. Train travel is still at reasonable costs, but that little bit helps.

On the train from Leicester to my change point in London, I just happened to sit across the way from two Texans visiting friends in Nottingham and heading back to London for the evening. Sadly, they were University of Texas alumni and my family are Texas A&M alumni, so we were sworn enemies. I kid, I kid! It was nice to hear a random “y’all” so far from the source. 🙂

Oh! An important thing I learned when you come in to London in one station and have to leave from another to make your connection – you don’t have to cough up cash or your Oyster card to use the Underground as long as you go from point A to point B. Make sure your ticket has a little cross printed on it somewhere on the bottom and you’ll just feed your ticket through the reader at the Underground barriers, letting you both in and out. Basically, DON’T LOSE THAT TICKET. You’ll also be using it to get through the barriers coming and going from each train station as well. Another random but important fact – there are toilets on the trains, but you can’t use them in the station because the flush system just dumps it out of the bottom of the train on older models. Eww.

So as I write this, I’m now safely in Colchester, about 2 hours away from Leicester by train. I’ve got near and dear people to pester, and as it turns out there are a few other foreigners that I may get to catch up with in London! The world is shrinking every day, and it’s pretty interesting to witness. Hope all is well wherever you are. 🙂

— Kate

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