Putting the Color Back into History – Historical Novel Society – North America

What we think we know versus what actually happened in history is problematic for every time period. Many of the cultural assumptions we’ve learned in school or seen in popular culture are actually rooted in error. For example, we imagine medieval people as not bathing, when in fact they bathed regularly until the Black Death came around; we imagine Victorians to be prudes, although tattoos and piercings were quite popular; and we imagine the ancient world, and in particular Europe, to be white.

In truth, the ancient world has always been diverse, but it is seldom portrayed that way. There’s been a lot of controversy about skin tone with respect to the ancient world. The marble statues we’ve seen as pure white were in fact originally painted in bright colors to look realistic. The paint deteriorated over time, but it was also purposefully removed by museums, literally whitewashing statues that were once vibrant. There is currently an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on polychromy, which focuses on color in ancient statues.

The idea that these ancient statues were pure white has worked unconsciously on society at large, giving people the idea that Greeks and Romans were White (a concept they did not have). This error has in turn been used by White supremacist groups to claim that Western civilization is based on a Whiteness that never existed.

Putting the Color Back into History – Historical Novel Society – North America

Facts From My Fiction: Mary Anning’s Ichthyosaur

Rose in Bloom“Saturday isn’t far away,” I said. “Maybe while your uncle works on the garden, you and I can work on your dinosaur report. I think my favorite was the ichthyosaur fossil found by Mary Anning. What about you?”

“I was going to pick the T. rex,” Timothy said, “But everyone seemed to pick him because we got to see him walking around. Maybe I will pick the ick, um, fossil too. Will you help me?”

“Of course I will. And we will include some facts about Miss Anning, too; can you believe that people didn’t think a woman was smart enough to find fossils? Isn’t that silly?” — Excerpt from Rose in Bloom

I first learned about Mary Anning through a historical novel, Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures. As Rose says to Timothy in my text, many people disbelieved that Anning’s discoveries were truly her own. And yet, she was one of the foremost fossil collectors and paleontologists of her age.

I visited London’s Natural History Museum in 2005; I was running a fever and not feeling at all well, but I was determined. Sadly, I didn’t see Anning’s finds; I was too ill to see all of the galleries.

Here is one of Mary Anning’s ichthyosaur finds from some time before 1836, so well-preserved that its stomach contents may be seen, on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.


Pre-order your copy of my friends-to-lovers contemporary romance, Rose in Bloom, today!

On Location: “Rose in Bloom”

Hi, everyone. Today, I thought it would be fun to share a little video I made. It shows some of the scenery you’ll find in Rose in Bloom. You can pre-order this friends-to-lovers romance novella here. Enjoy!

Emperors and gladiators | Blog post by Mary Beard | The TLS

One problem is that ancient writers and artists invested in gladiatorial hyperbole, seeing every show as if through a magnifying glass. Think of all those Roman mosaics with their dying animals and bleeding gladiators, immortalizing deadly combat on rich dining room floors (even if what went on in the local arena was no more like that than the tacky procession of a carnival queen at a 1950s local village fete was like a real royal coronation – even if it was imagined in those terms). But more than that, there is the modern over-investment in the blood and gore too. If we are honest, we also exaggerate the whole spectacle to give ourselves an image of the Romans to both wonder at and deplore. Put simply, it suits us to have the Romans as over-the-top sadists.

Emperors and gladiators | Blog post by Mary Beard | The TLS

Free speech in ancient Rome | Blog post by Mary Beard | The TLS

In 25 CE, the Roman historian Aulus Cremutius Cordus was put on trial for treason. (Tacitus’s account of this in his Annals is available in English here, chapters 34–35.) Cordus’ “crime” was to have written a history in which he praised Brutus and Cassius, the leading lights in, almost seventy-five years earlier, the assassination of Julius Caesar – who was seen as the founder of the Julio-Claudian dynasty then in power at Rome. Cordus defended himself by saying that others had written similar things before, and they had been tolerated by the authorities. “The acts of Brutus and Cassius”, he said, “many people have recorded and not one has written of them except with honour …”, and he came up with a load of other examples of writers who had praised those deemed politically “awkward”, or slagged off those in charge (the poet Catullus attacking Julius Caesar being only one of many).

Free speech in ancient Rome | Blog post by Mary Beard | The TLS