Winter 2021 – Special Places and Remarkable People

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


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.

14 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.

21 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

Central 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?

11 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?

18 February 2021      The Viking Realm – 1 – Erik the Red, Iceland and the North Atlantic

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**

4 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.