The Making of Modern Ukraine: A Free Online Course from Yale University, Featuring 23 Lectures

Back in Sep­tem­ber, we men­tioned that Yale his­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der had start­ed teach­ing a course, The Mak­ing of Mod­ern Ukraine, and putting the lec­tures online. With the fall semes­ter now over, you can watch 23 lec­tures on YouTube. All of the lec­tures appear above, or on this playlist. Key ques­tions explored by the course include:

What brought about the Ukrain­ian nation?  Ukraine must have exist­ed as a soci­ety and poli­ty on 23 Feb­ru­ary 2022, else Ukraini­ans would not have col­lec­tive­ly resist­ed Russ­ian inva­sion the next day.  Why has the exis­tence of Ukraine occa­sioned such con­tro­ver­sy?  In what ways are Pol­ish, Russ­ian, and Jew­ish self-under­stand­ing depen­dent upon expe­ri­ences in Ukraine?  Just how and when did a mod­ern Ukrain­ian nation emerge?  Just how for that mat­ter does any mod­ern nation emerge?  And why some nations and not oth­ers?  What is the bal­ance between struc­ture and agency in his­to­ry?  Can nations be cho­sen, and does it mat­ter?  Can the choic­es of indi­vid­u­als influ­ence the rise of much larg­er social orga­ni­za­tions?  If so, how?  Ukraine was the coun­try most touched by Sovi­et and Nazi ter­ror: what can we learn about those sys­tems, then, from Ukraine?  Is the post-colo­nial, mul­ti­lin­gual Ukrain­ian nation a holdover from the past, or does it hold some promise for the future?

A syl­labus for the course can be found on Sny­der’s Sub­stack.

The Mak­ing of Mod­ern Ukraine will be added to our col­lec­tion of Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es, a sub­set of our meta col­lec­tion: 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent

20 Lessons from the 20th Cen­tu­ry About How to Defend Democ­ra­cy from Author­i­tar­i­an­ism, Accord­ing to Yale His­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der

A Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Edi­tion of On Tyran­ny: Twen­ty Lessons from the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry, the Best­selling Book by His­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der

Sav­ing Ukrain­ian Cul­tur­al Her­itage Online: 1,000+ Librar­i­ans Dig­i­tal­ly Pre­serve Arti­facts of Ukrain­ian Civ­i­liza­tion Before Rus­sia Can Destroy Them

Putin’s War on Ukraine Explained in 8 Min­utes

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How a Lavish 17th-Century Study of Fish Almost Prevented the Publication of Newton’s Principia, One of the Most Important Science Books Ever Written

The exalt­ed sta­tus of Isaac New­ton’s Philosophiæ Nat­u­ralis Prin­cip­ia Math­e­mat­i­ca is reflect­ed by the fact that every­body knows it as, sim­ply, the Prin­cip­ia. Very few of us, by con­trast, speak of the His­to­ria when we mean to refer to John Ray and Fran­cis Willugh­by’s De His­to­ria Pis­ci­um, which came out in 1686, the year before the Prin­cip­ia. Both books were pub­lished by the Roy­al Soci­ety, and as it hap­pens, the for­mi­da­ble cost of Willugh­by and Ray’s lav­ish work of ichthy­ol­o­gy near­ly kept New­ton’s ground­break­ing trea­tise on motion and grav­i­ta­tion from the print­ing press.

Accord­ing to the Roy­al Soci­ety’s web site, “Ray and Willughby’s His­to­ria did not prove to be the pub­lish­ing sen­sa­tion that the Fel­lows had hoped and the book near­ly bank­rupt­ed the Soci­ety. This meant that the Soci­ety was unable to meet its promise to sup­port the pub­li­ca­tion of Isaac New­ton’s mas­ter­piece.”

For­tu­nate­ly, “it was saved from obscu­ri­ty by Edmund Hal­ley, then Clerk at the Roy­al Soci­ety” — and now bet­ter known for his epony­mous comet — “who raised the funds to pub­lish the work, pro­vid­ing much of the mon­ey from his own pock­et. ”

Hal­ley’s great reward, in lieu of the salary the Roy­al Soci­ety could no longer pay, was a pile of unsold copies of De His­to­ria Pis­ci­um. That may not have been quite the insult it sounds like, giv­en that the book rep­re­sent­ed a tri­umph of pro­duc­tion and design in its day. You can see a copy in the episode of Adam Sav­age’s Test­ed at the top of the post, and you can close­ly exam­ine its imagery at your leisure in the dig­i­tal archive of the Roy­al Soci­ety. In the words of Jonathan Ash­more, Chair of the Roy­al Society’s Library Com­mit­tee, a brows­ing ses­sion should help us “appre­ci­ate why ear­ly Fel­lows of the Roy­al Soci­ety were so impressed by Willughby’s stun­ning illus­tra­tions of piscine nat­ur­al his­to­ry.”

Though Sav­age duly mar­vels at the Roy­al Soci­ety’s copy of the His­to­ria — a recon­struc­tion made up of pages long ago cut out and sold sep­a­rate­ly, as was once com­mon prac­tice with books with pic­tures  suit­able for fram­ing — it’s clear that much of the moti­va­tion for his vis­it came from the prospect of close prox­im­i­ty to New­to­ni­ana, up to and includ­ing the man’s death mask. But then, New­ton lays fair claim to being the most impor­tant sci­en­tist who ever lived, and the Prin­cip­ia to being the most impor­tant sci­ence book ever writ­ten. Almost three and a half cen­turies lat­er, physics still holds mys­ter­ies for gen­er­a­tions of New­ton’s suc­ces­sors to solve. But then, so do the depths of the ocean.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Sir Isaac Newton’s Papers & Anno­tat­ed Prin­cip­ia Go Dig­i­tal

Beau­ti­ful & Out­landish Col­or Illus­tra­tions Let Euro­peans See Exot­ic Fish for the First Time (1754)

The Bril­liant Col­ors of the Great Bar­ri­er Revealed in a His­toric Illus­trat­ed Book from 1893

How Isaac New­ton Lost $3 Mil­lion Dol­lars in the “South Sea Bub­ble” of 1720: Even Genius­es Can’t Pre­vail Against the Machi­na­tions of the Mar­kets

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Dave Grohl, Jack Black & Greg Kurstin Sing Rush’s “The Spirit Of Radio” for Hanukkah

Once again, Foo Fight­ers front­man Dave Grohl and pro­duc­er Greg Kurstin have teamed up to cel­e­brate Hanukkah by per­form­ing songs cre­at­ed by musi­cians with Jew­ish roots. Above, they perform–along with Jack Black–Rush’s “The Spir­it Of Radio.” (Ged­dy Lee’s par­ents were both Jews who sur­vived Auschwitz and Dachau. Lee tells their sto­ry below.) Oth­er songs fea­tured in this year’s cel­e­bra­tion include Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.,“Spin­ning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears, Janis Ian’s “At Sev­en­teen” and more. Find per­for­mances from pri­or Hanukkah cel­e­bra­tions in the Relat­eds below.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Dave Grohl & Greg Kurstin Cov­er The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop” to Cel­e­brate Han­nukah: Hey! Oy! Let’s Goy!

Dave Grohl & Greg Kurstin Cov­er 8 Songs by Famous Jew­ish Artists for Hanukkah: Bob Dylan, Beast­ie Boys, Vel­vet Under­ground & More

Dave Grohl & Greg Kurstin Cov­er Van Halen’s “Jump,” Cel­e­brat­ing David Lee Roth, One of the Hard­est Rock­ing Jews, on the Fourth Night of Han­nukah

Behold! The Very First Christmas Card (1843)

Christ­mas cards aren’t just an anachro­nism.

They’re almost an endan­gered species, the vic­tim of the Inter­net, postal rate increas­es, and the jet­ti­son­ing of any time con­sum­ing tra­di­tion whose exe­cu­tion has been found to bring the oppo­site of joy.

Above, Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um cura­tors Alice Pow­er and Sarah Beat­tie take us on a back­wards trip to a time when the exchange of Christ­mas cards was a source of true social mer­ri­ment.

Christ­mas cards must hold a spe­cial place in both the V&A’s col­lec­tions and heart, giv­en that the museum’s founder, Hen­ry Cole, inad­ver­tent­ly invent­ed them in 1843.

As a well respect­ed man about town, he received a great many more hol­i­day let­ters than he had time or incli­na­tion to respond to, but nei­ther did he wish to appear rude.

So he enlist­ed his friend, painter J.C. Hors­ley, to cre­ate a fes­tive illus­tra­tion with a built-in hol­i­day greet­ing, leav­ing just enough space to per­son­al­ize with a recipient’s name and per­haps, a hand­writ­ten line or two.

He then had enough post­card-sized repro­duc­tions print­ed up to send to 1000 of his friends.

(It’s hell being pop­u­lar…)

Talk about zeit­geist: Charles Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Car­ol was first pub­lished that very same hol­i­day sea­son.

No won­der every­one want­ed in on the fun.

Part of the rea­son the cards in the V&A’s col­lec­tion are so well pre­served is that their recip­i­ents prized them enough to keep them in sou­venir albums.

Under­stand­ably. They’re very appeal­ing lit­tle arti­facts.

The upper crust could afford such fan­cy design ele­ments as clever die-cut shapes, pop up ele­ments, and translu­cent win­dows that encour­aged the recip­i­ents to hold them up to actu­al win­dows.

Tech­no­log­i­cal advances in the print­ing indus­try, and the cre­ation of the cost-effec­tive Pen­ny Post allowed those whose bud­gets were more mod­est than Mr. Cole’s to par­tic­i­pate too.

Their cards tend­ed to be sim­pler in exe­cu­tion, though not nec­es­sar­i­ly con­cept.

In addi­tion to the views we’ve come to expect — win­ter, Father Christ­mas, hol­ly — the Vic­to­ri­ans had a thing for jol­ly anthro­po­mor­phized food and some tru­ly shame­less puns.

Enjoy these Ghosts of Christ­mas Past, dear read­ers. We’re almost inspired to revive the tra­di­tion!

Read more about the advent of this tra­di­tion, includ­ing how it jumped the pond, in Smith­son­ian Magazine’s His­to­ry of the Christ­mas Card.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

When Sal­vador Dalí Cre­at­ed Christ­mas Cards That Were Too Avant Garde for Hall­mark (1960)

J.R.R. Tolkien Sent Illus­trat­ed Let­ters from Father Christ­mas to His Kids Every Year (1920–1943)

Langston Hugh­es’ Home­made Christ­mas Cards From 1950

Watch Ter­ry Gilliam’s Ani­mat­ed Short, The Christ­mas Card (1968)

Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christ­mas Car­ol Just Like Charles Dick­ens Read It

An Oscar-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion of Charles Dick­ens’ Clas­sic Tale, A Christ­mas Car­ol (1971)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

An Old-Time Radio Yuletide: Hear 20+ Hours of Vintage Christmas Radio Shows (1938–1956)

As Christ­mas approach­es, we reach for our book­shelves and pull down Charles Dick­ens’ beloved tale of hard­ship, rev­e­la­tion, and a mis­er’s redemp­tion in the hol­i­day sea­son. I speak, of course, of The Crick­et on the Hearth, pub­lished in 1845 as the third of what would be Dick­ens’ five Christ­mas books. (The first, of which you may have heard, was A Christ­mas Car­ol.) From the very year of its pub­li­ca­tion, The Crick­et on the Hearth found great suc­cess as a stage pro­duc­tion, and it con­tin­ued to be adapt­ed even in the age of radio. The sto­ry was a cen­tu­ry old by the time it aired on NBC, in the broad­cast that opens the five-and-a-half-hour com­pi­la­tion of Christ­mas old-time radio above.

That video is just one of three uploaded in the past few weeks by the Youtube chan­nel An Evening of Old-Time Radio. It col­lects a vari­ety of Christ­mas-themed spe­cials and broad­casts from shows like Lux Radio The­atre, The Coro­net Lit­tle Show, and CBS Ceil­ing Unlim­it­ed (an avi­a­tion-pro­mot­ing wartime effort cre­at­ed by Orson Welles).

The sec­ond vol­ume fea­tures more than six hours of hol­i­day episodes from the hit series of the Gold­en Age of Radio, includ­ing sit­coms like Our Miss Brooks, The Life of Riley, Fib­ber McGee and Mol­ly, and its spin­off The Great Gilder­sleeve. Their char­ac­ters, much like their lis­ten­ers, strug­gle to do their shop­ping and orga­nize their par­ties — and amid it all, of course, find their way to the true mean­ing of Christ­mas.

The lat­est video in An Evening of Old Time Radio’s “Yule­tide OTR” series includes radio adap­ta­tions of It’s a Won­der­ful Life, which now defines the genre of the Christ­mas movie, fol­lowed by one of Dick­ens’ Christ­mas Car­ol. Sched­uled for release this Christ­mas day, the fourth install­ment promis­es yet more sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate sto­ries — with the req­ui­site gags, com­pli­ca­tions, and final swells of good cheer — from such mid-cen­tu­ry domes­tic come­dies as The Aldrich Fam­i­ly, Lum and Abn­er, and The Adven­tures of Ozzie and Har­ri­et. But as you’ll hear, nei­ther could thriller, mys­tery, and west­ern shows like The Man Called X, The New Adven­tures of Nero Wolfe, and The Six Shoot­er resist telling a Christ­mas tale — nor can we, all these decades lat­er, resist hear­ing one.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear The Cin­na­mon Bear, the Clas­sic Hol­i­day Radio Series That Has Aired Between Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas for 80 Years

Bob Dylan Reads “‘Twas the Night Before Christ­mas” On His Hol­i­day Radio Show (2006)

Hear 149 Vin­tage Hal­loween Radio Shows from the Gold­en Age of Radio

Hear 90+ Episodes of Sus­pense, the Icon­ic Gold­en Age Radio Show Launched by Alfred Hitch­cock

Dimen­sion X: The 1950s Sci­Fi Radio Show That Dra­ma­tized Sto­ries by Asi­mov, Brad­bury, Von­negut & More

Free: Lis­ten to 298 Episodes of the Vin­tage Crime Radio Series Drag­net

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Tom Lehrer Puts His Songs into the Public Domain & Makes Them Free to Download (for a Limited Time)

“Christ­mas time is here, by gol­ly / Dis­ap­proval would be fol­ly / Deck the halls with hunks of hol­ly / Fill the cup and don’t say ‘when.’ ” So sings musi­cal satirist Tom Lehrer on his hit 1959 album An Evening Wast­ed with Tom Lehrer — which was record­ed in March of that year, not that it stopped him from tak­ing an out-of-sea­son jab at the hol­i­days. “Kill the turkeys, ducks and chick­ens / Mix the punch, drag out the Dick­ens / Even though the prospect sick­ens / Broth­er, here we go again.” If it seems to you that he takes a dim view of Christ­mas, you should hear how he sings about every­thing else.

Now, more eas­i­ly than ever, you can hear how Lehrer sings about every­thing else, by sim­ply down­load­ing his music from his web site. “All copy­rights to lyrics or music writ­ten or com­posed by me have been relin­quished, and there­fore such songs are now in the pub­lic domain,” he writes. “All of my songs that have nev­er been copy­right­ed, hav­ing been avail­able for free for so long, are now also in the pub­lic domain.” In short, he adds, “I no longer retain any rights to any of my songs.” We post­ed about the release of those songs them­selves into the Pub­lic Domain a cou­ple years ago, but last month Lehrer made the songs avail­able online–for a lim­it­ed time.

Not only is An Evening Wast­ed with Tom Lehrer free to stream or down­load on — com­plete with tracks not avail­able even on Spo­ti­fy — so is its fol­low-up Revis­it­ed, That Was the Year That Was (fea­tur­ing per­for­mances of the songs he wrote for the Amer­i­can ver­sion of That Was the Week That Was) and the three-disc col­lec­tion The Remains of Tom Lehrer. Togeth­er these albums con­tain all the music Lehrer record­ed before he stood up from the piano and became a pro­fes­sor, first of polit­i­cal sci­ence and lat­er of math­e­mat­ics (though he did teach some musi­cal the­ater as well.)

Giv­en his sec­u­lar Jew­ish ori­gins and his obvi­ous dis­dain for the Mam­monis­tic hol­i­day sea­son (at least “as we cel­e­brate it in the Unit­ed States”) Lehrer would sure­ly get a laugh from us tak­ing this free release of all his music as a Christ­mas gift. And yet, like all the best Christ­mas gifts, it has both a sur­face val­ue and a deep­er one. Despite their top­i­cal late-fifties-ear­ly-six­ties ref­er­ences to things like “new math” and Vat­i­can II, his songs can still make us laugh today. But they can also show younger gen­er­a­tions a satir­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ty they’ve nev­er known: cul­tur­al­ly lit­er­ate, dry with well-placed plunges into the low­brow, trans­gres­sive with­out cheap cru­di­ty, all sup­port­ed by musi­cal aplomb. Maybe Lehrer decid­ed to make his music free because now, in his tenth decade, he can be sure that nobody will sur­pass him. Find his music here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Tom Lehrer Releas­es His All of Catchy and Sav­age Musi­cal Satire Into the Pub­lic Domain

Hear Tom Lehrer Sing the Names of 102 Chem­i­cal Ele­ments to the Tune of Gilbert & Sul­li­van

Tom Lehrer’s Math­e­mat­i­cal­ly and Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Inclined Singing and Song­writ­ing, Ani­mat­ed

Cel­e­brate Har­ry Potter’s Birth­day with Song. Daniel Rad­cliffe Sings Tom Lehrer’s Tune “The Ele­ments”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Mudlarking on the Thames: A Treasure Trove of History Washes Ashore Every Low Tide

If you’re look­ing for free out­door activ­i­ties to pull you from the dig­i­tal realm, may we rec­om­mend mud­lark­ing?

Lara Maik­lem, author of Mud­lark­ing: Lost and Found on the Riv­er Thames and A Field Guide to Lark­ing, has devel­oped a keen eye in the 20 years she’s been scav­eng­ing his­toric detri­tus from the fore­shore of the Thames at low tide.

 I nev­er use a met­al detec­tor and I often walk lit­tle more than a mile in 5 hours, yet I can trav­el 2,000 years back in time through the objects that are revealed by the tide. Pre­his­toric flint tools, medieval pil­grim badges, Tudor shoes, Geor­gian wig curlers and Vic­to­ri­an pot­tery, ordi­nary objects left behind by the ordi­nary peo­ple who made Lon­don what it is today. 

As she says in the short film above, her first find has become one of her most com­mon — a clay pipe frag­ment.

The term mud­lark was invent­ed to describe the pover­ty strick­en Vic­to­ri­ans who scoured the fore­shore for cop­per, wire, and oth­er items with resale val­ue, as well as things they could clean off and use them­selves.

Today’s mud­larks are pri­mar­i­ly his­to­ry buffs and ama­teur arche­ol­o­gists.

The hob­by has become so pop­u­lar that The Port of Lon­don Author­i­ty, which con­trols the Thames water­way along with the Crown Estate, has start­ed to require fore­shore per­mits of all prospec­tive debris hunters.

Per­mit­ted mud­larks can claim as sou­venirs how­ev­er many Vic­to­ri­an clay pipes and blue and white pot­tery shards they dig up, but are legal­ly oblig­ed by the Portable Antiq­ui­ties Scheme to report items of poten­tial­ly greater his­toric and mon­e­tary val­ue — i.e. Trea­sure — to a muse­um-trained Finds Lia­son Offi­cer:

  • Any metal­lic object, oth­er than a coin, pro­vid­ed that at least 10 per cent by weight of met­al is pre­cious met­al (that is, gold or sil­ver) and that it is at least 300 years old when found. If the object is of pre­his­toric date it will be Trea­sure pro­vid­ed any part of it is pre­cious met­al.
  • Any group of two or more metal­lic objects of any com­po­si­tion of pre­his­toric date that come from the same find (see note below).
  • Two or more coins from the same find pro­vid­ed they are at least 300 years old when found and con­tain 10 per cent gold or sil­ver (if the coins con­tain less than 10 per cent of gold or sil­ver there must be at least ten of them). Only the fol­low­ing groups of coins will nor­mal­ly be regard­ed as com­ing from the same find: Hoards that have been delib­er­ate­ly hid­den; Small­er groups of coins, such as the con­tents of purs­es, that may been dropped or lost; Votive or rit­u­al deposits.
  • Any object, what­ev­er it is made of, that is found in the same place as, or had pre­vi­ous­ly been togeth­er with, anoth­er object that is Trea­sure.

How did all this his­toric refuse come to be in the Thames? Maik­lem told Col­lec­tors Week­ly that there are many rea­sons:

Obvi­ous­ly, it’s been used as a rub­bish dump. It was a use­ful place to chuck your house­hold waste. It was essen­tial­ly a busy high­way, so peo­ple acci­den­tal­ly dropped things and lost things as they trav­eled on it. Of course, peo­ple also lived right up against it. Lon­don was cen­tered on the Thames so hous­es were all along it, and there was all this stuff com­ing out of the hous­es and off the bridges. It was the biggest port in the world in the 18th cen­tu­ry, so there was all the ship­build­ing and indus­try going on.

And then of course, there’s the rub­bish that was used to build up the fore­shore and cre­ate barge beds. The riverbed in its nat­ur­al state is a V shape, so they had to build up the sides next to the riv­er wall to make them flat­ter so the flat-bot­tom barges could rest there at low tide. They did that by pour­ing rub­bish and build­ing spoil and kiln waste, any­thing they could find—industrial waste, domes­tic waste. When they dug into the ground fur­ther up, they’d bring the spoil down and use it to build up the fore­shore, and cap it off with a lay­er of chalk, which was soft and didn’t dam­age the bot­tom of the barges.

One of the rea­sons we’re find­ing so much in the riv­er now is because there’s so much ero­sion. While it was a “work­ing riv­er,” these barge beds were patched up and the revet­ments, or the wood­en walls that held them in, were repaired when they broke. But now, they’re being left to fall apart, and these barge beds are erod­ing as the riv­er is get­ting busier with riv­er traf­fic.

There are numer­ous social media groups where mod­ern mud­larks can proud­ly share their finds, and seek assis­tance in iden­ti­fy­ing strange or frag­ment­ed objects.

Maiklem’s Lon­don Mud­lark Face­book page is an edu­ca­tion in and of itself, a reflec­tion of her abid­ing inter­est in the his­toric sig­nif­i­cance of the items she truf­fles up.

Wit­ness the pewter buck­le plate dat­ing to the 14th or 15th-cen­tu­ry that she spot­ted on the fore­shore in late Novem­ber, turned over to her Finds Liai­son Offi­cer and researched with the help of his­toric pewter crafts­man Col­in Torode:

Pri­or to c.1350 pewter belt fit­tings seem to have been rather rare, although a Lon­don Girdlers’ Guild Char­ter of 1321 which banned the use of pewter belt fit­tings does show that the met­al was cer­tain­ly in use. In 1344 the Girdlers’ guild again reit­er­at­ed the ban on what they felt were infe­ri­or met­als such as pewter, tin and lead. In 1391 how­ev­er, a statute rec­og­nized that these met­als had been in use for some time and that their use could con­tin­ue with­out restric­tion

This ornate plate would have had a sep­a­rate buck­le frame attached to it and is prob­a­bly a cheap­er copy of the more upmar­ket cop­per alloy or sil­ver ver­sions that were pro­duced at the time.  Although the the open­work design is sim­i­lar to those found in in fur­ni­ture or church screens, it’s not reli­gious or pil­grim relat­ed.

Maik­lem also chal­lenges fans to play along from home with “spot the find” videos for such items as a Tudor clothes hook, Geor­gian cuf­flink, and a Ger­man salt glazed, stoneware bottle’s neck embossed with a human face.

She also reminds would be mud­larks to always wear gloves as it’s not all medieval thim­bles, WWI medals and 16th-cen­tu­ry box­wood combs, beau­ti­ful­ly pre­served by the Thames’ anaer­o­bic mud.

The riv­er also spews up plen­ty of drowned rats, flush­ing them out with the sewage after a heavy rain. Oth­er poten­tial haz­ards include hypo­der­mic nee­dles and bro­ken glass.

In addi­tion to such safe­ty pre­cau­tions as gloves, stur­dy footwear, and remain­ing mind­ful of incom­ing tides, Maik­lem advis­es novice mud­larks to look for straight lines and per­fect cir­cles — “the things that nature doesn’t make.”

It takes prac­tice and patience to devel­op a skilled eye, but don’t get dis­cour­aged if your first out­ings don’t yield the sort of jaw drop­ping dis­cov­er­ies Maik­lem has made — an intact glass Vic­to­ri­an sug­ar crush­er, a 16th-cen­tu­ry child’s leather shoe and Roman era pot­tery shards galore.

Some­times even plas­tic comes with a com­pelling sto­ry.

I’m still feel­ing quite gid­dy over this bit of plas­tic. I came to Corn­wall this week to write and to beach­comb. I hoped I might find a small piece of Lost Lego, but I wasn’t hold­ing out much hope. Calm weath­er means less plas­tic: good for the beach, bad for the Lego look­er. Then I found this wedged between two boul­ders. It’s one of the black octo­pus­es from the Lego spill of 1997 when, 20 miles from Land’s End, a huge wave hit the car­go ship Tokio Express. It tilt­ed 45 degrees and 62 con­tain­ers slid into the water. One con­tain­er was filled with near­ly 5 mil­lion pieces of Lego, much of which was sea themed. Lit­tle scu­ba tanks, flip­pers, octo­pus­es, cut­lass­es, life rafts, spear guns, drag­ons and octo­pus­es like this still wash up on the beach­es of Corn­wall and fur­ther afield.

Stay abreast of Lara Maiklem’s mud­lark­ing finds here.

Try your hand at mud­lark­ing the Thames in per­son, dur­ing a guid­ed tour with the Thames Explor­er Trust.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion Lets You Fly Through 17th Cen­tu­ry Lon­don

The Growth of Lon­don, from the Romans to the 21st Cen­tu­ry, Visu­al­ized in a Time-Lapse Ani­mat­ed Map

Watch the Sex Pis­tols Play a Gig on a Thames Riv­er Barge Dur­ing the Queen’s Sil­ver Jubilee, and Get Shut Down by the Cops (1977)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is a mud­lark­ing new­bie, the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Bruce Thomas, Bassist for The Attractions, Discusses the Art of the Bassline on Nakedly Examined Music

Bruce is best known as Elvis Costello’s bassist on about a dozen albums as The Attrac­tions, but Bruce has been in bands since 1970 and has done numer­ous ses­sion gigs, most notably for Al Stewart’s ear­ly albums, plus The Pre­tenders, John Wes­ley Hard­ing, Bil­ly Bragg, and many more.

Your Naked­ly Exam­ined Music host Mark Lin­sen­may­er inter­views Bruce  to dis­cuss his work on “Blood Makes Noise” by Susanne Vega from 99.9 Degrees (1992), play clips from sev­er­al of the most famous Attrac­tions tunes (using when pos­si­ble the 1978 Live at the El Mocam­bo album) plus “La La La La Loved You” by The Attrac­tions (w/o Elvis) from Mad About the Wrong Boy (1980), the first half of the title track of Quiver’s Gone in the Morn­ing (1972), and we con­clude by lis­ten­ing to a cov­er of The Bea­t­les “There’s a Place” by Spencer Brown and Bruce Thomas from Back to the Start (2018). Intro: “Radio Radio” by The Attrac­tions feat. Fito Paez from Span­ish Mod­el (2021). For more about Bruce’s musi­cal and lit­er­ary projects, see

Hear all of “Radio Radio” in Span­ish plus the orig­i­nal. Hear the full ver­sions of the Attrac­tions clips: “Chelsea,” “Pump It Up,” “Club­land,” and “Every­day I Write the Book.” Hear all of “Gone in the Morn­ing” plus “Killer Man,” whose bass solo is at 4min in. Here’s Bruce demo­ing some of his partsWatch the video for “There’s Is a Place.” Here’s one of the Al Stew­art albums that Bruce plays onHere he is live just pre-Attrac­tions with The Sun­der­land Broth­ers and Quiver.

Naked­ly Exam­ined Music is a pod­cast host­ed by Mark Lin­sen­may­er, who also hosts The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life Phi­los­o­phy Pod­cast, Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast, and Phi­los­o­phy vs. Improv. He releas­es music under the name Mark Lint.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.