To be offered as virtual lectures via Zoom Webinar
Special Places and Remarkable People
Presented by Tony Davis
Thursdays, January 14 to March 11, 2021
* NO LECTURE FEBRUARY 25, 2021 *
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
As some of you know, I’ve travelled a
lot doing field work, teaching and bonding with my two sons. With travel out
for most of us during the pandemic, it might be relaxing, entertaining and
instructive to revisit some of my destinations, but not as purely a picture
show. By design or accident, each of these places has an attachment to a famous
historical figure or cultural group. How to talk about the Galapagos without mentioning
Charles Darwin? His picture stands reassuringly on my night table. How to speak
about Pacific travels without invoking James Cook and anti-hero William Bligh?
Impossible to talk about North Atlantic islands without reference to the
commonly maligned Norse. Even Inner Mongolia has its “famous” connections –
with Genghis Khan.
January 2021 Darwin,
Evolution and the Galapagos
Like all oceanic islands, the Galapagos
Islands have a peculiar suite of plants and animals. Endemic animals include
flightless cormorants, marine iguanas and Darwin’s finches. Notable among plant
endemics are prickly pears and tree daisies. Although Darwin’s finches get the
main billing, it was the Galapagos mockingbirds that first caught his
attention. The islands were not discovered until 1535, and not settled until
the early part of the nineteenth century. Now, increasing tourism and the
impact of introduced species has the potential to destroy what is still a
largely pristine biota.
January 2021 Genghis
Khan, the Yellow River and the Loess Plateau
This area in north central China is
known as the Cradle of Civilization. The earliest dates for agriculture in
China come from the middle section of the Yellow River. Xian, the largest city
in the region, was the first capital of a unified China. The region became a
battleground for the Han and the Mongols. Genghis Khan made major inroads and
grandson Kublai Khan briefly occupied the whole of China. The yellowness of the
river stems from the huge amounts of silt flushed into it as it crosses the
Loess Plateau. The region is being rapidly desertified. Erosion creates
spectacular landscapes and impoverishes agriculture. Frequent and massive
flooding downstream has earned the river its “China’s Sorrow” tag. Rapid
industrialization adds to the region’s environmental problems.
28 January 2021 El Nino and Pre-Columbian
Societies in South and Central America
and South America produced a series of spectacular and generally short-lived
cultures characterized by large settlements supported by intensive agricultural
systems, massive architecture, huge earthworks and complex societies. Some
became victims of European exploitation but most became increasingly
susceptible to environmental calamity. The major culprit seems to have been El
Nino, the Boy Child. In some places, repeated flooding was the major cause but
in central America, drought appears to have been the driver.
4 February 2021 Chasing Captain Cook – 1 – New Zealand
James Cook (1728-1779) made three round-the-world voyages. He had a strong Canadian connection. Besides mapping the west coast during his first global voyage, he spent summers between 1759 and 1767 mapping the coast of Newfoundland. On his trips to New Zealand he took with him two famous naturalists: Joseph Banks, later to be the first President of the Royal Society, and Daniel Solander. In New Zealand, Cook’s main task was mapping the coast. What did he see? How different was his New Zealand from that of the present day?
February 2021 Chasing
Captain Cook – 2 – French Polynesia and Hawaii
On his third voyage, Cook explored the west coast of
Canada and attempted to find the Northwest Passage. He visited Tahiti, Moorea
and some of the other Society Islands. With him was William Bligh, later of the
Mutiny on the Bounty infamy. The breadfruit story starts here. Cook was killed
on Hawaii in 1779. What was Cook’s Hawaii like? Polynesians had been there for
a thousand years before his arrival. What impact had they had?
February 2021 The
Viking Realm – 1 – Erik the Red, Iceland and the North
During the tenth century, the Vikings
expanded across the North Atlantic, through the Baltic and the Mediterranean
into the Black Sea and the Caspian. The reasons are unclear. Most of this
movement involved colonization rather than plunder. Iceland was settled from
874 CE. The population was always small and subject to the threats of the
Icelandic environment, particularly its volcanism. Erik the Red was exiled from
Norway to Iceland, but was soon in trouble there, too. In 986 he established a
colony in Greenland. Why was life so difficult in Iceland? Why was the
Greenland settlement doomed?
**25 February 2021 NO LECTURE TODAY**
March 2021 The Viking Realm – 2 – Vikings
in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
In the late eighth century, early in the age of
expansion, Vikings occupied the northern isles of Scotland (Shetland and
Orkney), the Hebrides, the region around Dublin and the northeastern part of
England centred on York. The settlement involved the establishment of several
kingdoms and earldoms. We’ll look at the nature of their settlement in the
northern and western islands of Scotland. How did they occupy their new realm?
How did they make a living in what today seems like a forbidding environment?
11 March 2021 Life on the Fringes of the Emperor Hadrian’s Empire
The Roman Empire reached its maximum extent during the reign of Hadrian. Life on the fringes had many of the trappings of normality – impressive cities and fortifications, etc. – but it was unpredictable. In England, Roman Britannia, life at the edges is well documented at Hadrian’s Wall. In Jordan, the spectacular ruins of two cities, Jerash, north of Amman, and Petra in the south, attest to the scale of Roman commitment. Both were thriving trade centres until routes shifted and both declined. An earthquake near Petra in 363 CE destroyed many of the buildings and the complicated irrigation system on which the city depended. Volubilis in Morocco was a thriving Roman city for about 200 years. Its fortunes were based largely on olive oil. It fell to local tribes in 285 CE and was never reoccupied.