The Stonehenge Theories

Stonehenge Updated
Oxford University
Department for Continuing Education
Andrew Becker
Roger M. Jones Fellow Abroad, The University of Michigan
Hillary 2009

The Stonehenge Theories

It is a world famous archaeological site, great national symbol of Britain, sacred place to neo-druids and neo-pagans, and an extremely perplexing riddle left to taunt us by the people who lived here almost 5000 years ago. Stonehenge inspires wonder all around the world, and everyone seems to have their own personal theory on just what it was supposed to do. The fact that the construction of such a site by Neolithic peoples would have required unimaginable effort in the absence of modern technology makes it all the more compelling a problem. The abundance of theories on the subject is popularly known as the “mystery of Stonehenge”.

To speak in an educated way about this mystery, the first thing one must do is to familiarize themselves with the various explanations already posited by famous archaeologists of the past and present. Most notable among these are the possible functions of burial monument, observatory, solar temple, druid temple, and centre of healing.

Stonehenge as Burial Monument

The Stonehenge Riverside Project, a recent excavation project from 2003-2008 suggests that a primary use in the history of Stonehenge was as a burial monument. Mike Parker Pearson, the head of that project has stated that, “Stonehenge was a place of burial from its beginning to its zenith in the mid third millennium B.C.” Mike Pitts, another researcher on the project, has suggested that the cremated remains of some 240 people in total were buried at the site.

Many archaeologists and anthropologists have suggested that Stonehenge is part of a wider ritual landscape, and represents a “place of the ancestral dead”. It would mark the end of a ritualized symbolic journey carrying the remains of the deceased in a daylong procession down the river Avon from the nearby sites known as Durrington Walls and Woodhenge, the posited “place of the living”. Parker Pearson and others have suggested that stone was a substance associated with death and timber with living by prehistoric peoples. Several hundred burial mounds of varying age surround the actual site of Stonehenge, so even if it was not a major place of burial on its own, it may have symbolic meaning associated with death. Other researchers contest the burial site theory, citing evidence that the burials (specifically at Stonehenge) may be connected to a function as a pilgrimage site known for healing, and also that burial sites have been found at Woodhenge making its identity as a place of the living debatable.

As Observatory

Various archaeoastronomers have suggested that Stonehenge represents an “ancient observatory” and possible “Neolithic computer”. The opening of the monument faces northeast, and on the solar equinoxes and the solstices the sun rises framed in a gap between great stones. The equinoxes and solstices are considered the midpoints or endpoints of the seasons in different cultures, and the ability to approximate their dates would have been useful to an early society that had no knowledge of the accurate length of a year as they transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers.

British astronomer Gerald Hawkins went further than this and suggested in a 1963 paper in Nature that there are in fact thirteen solar and eleven lunar correlations with features in the site, based on his early computer-assisted calculations on 165 such features. He based this research on a dating of 1500 B.C. although with radiocarbon dating we now know the most ambitious phase of the site to have been built closer to 2500 B.C. Hawkins also proposed a method by which the 56 pits at the site known as Aubrey holes could have theoretically been used to predict the lunar eclipse, the so-called “Neolithic computer”.

As Solar Temple

The same evidence that points towards the function of Stonehenge as secular observatory can be used to support claims that it is a place of sun worship. Prior to the calculations and theories of Hawkins, William Stukeley in the 18th century and Norman Lockyer in the early 19th century had noticed the alignment with the summer solstice and proposed that the site was a temple of sun worship. Stukeley had theories of a “paternal religion” involving sun worship that was the source of all other religions in history, and in fact many early societies practiced sun worship and built other structures aligned in different ways with the solar cycle. Many have commented on the “feeling” that Stonehenge is sacred ground as anecdotal evidence in itself for a primarily religious function of the site throughout history.

As Druid Temple

John Aubrey, namesake of the Aubrey holes, suggested in the 17th century that Stonehenge and similar sites were temples of the Druids, and that theory persisted throughout the 18th century. Today we know Stonehenge to be much older than the Celtic society that produced the priestly class called the Druids, who probably appeared in Britain around 300 B.C. The persistence of this idea is mostly due to the modern day Celts and neo-Druids who claim the monument as their own and hold festivals and ceremonies there.

As Centre of Healing

Notable Bournemouth University archaeologists Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill in 2008 added a new theory to the mix, that Stonehenge was a place of sacred healing and pilgrimage where “people came to be made well”. They base this theory mainly on the fact that a number of the skeletal remains found at Stonehenge show evidence of bone trauma, and that some of those remains show evidence the individuals originated great distances away. The so called “bluestones” at the centre of the monument, somehow moved over 250 km from Wales to the site, came from an area with hot springs that are themselves traditionally associated with healing. This new theory is being hotly debated.

Almost five thousand years later, the “mystery of Stonehenge” continues to perplex and intrigue. Was it a burial monument, observatory, early solar temple, druid temple, centre of healing, or perhaps intended as a landing pad for interstellar space travellers long since forgotten? As a bona fied world wonder and symbol claimed by everyone from the Welsh culture to the British nation to the Druid religion, Stonehenge now means so many things to so many people it has become a question that will almost certainly never be given one universally satisfying answer. It appeals to us in the same way as the Mona Lisa, beautiful and strange and forever waiting for a lucky someone to discover some new pattern or detail, or to generate a new compelling theory. By doing so they link themselves for better or worse with one of the longest enduring symbols of all time.

Web Resources (Accessed April 1, 2009)

Wikipedia Pages –

“Changing the Meaning of Stonehenge”, 09/10/2008

War and Peace: The 19th Century In Europe – Coursework Assessments

Submitted to Carl Wade, Tutor
War and Peace: The 19th Century in Europe
Oxford University
Department for Continuing Education
Andrew Becker
Roger M. Jones Fellow Abroad, The University of Michigan
Hillary 2009

Oxford University Department for Continuing Education



George Cruikshank published this cartoon in 1851.What major demographic change in Nineteenth Century Europe does it refer to? Could you suggest two main reasons why this accelerated so much more rapidly in the Nineteenth Century than in earlier times?

The demographic change Cruikshank refers to in the cartoon is population growth. During the 19th century the population of Europe doubled, having previously doubled during the 18th century. The artist references this with details such as the hot air “balloon buildings” at the top of the frame and the “suspension villas”, imaginary circumstances under which people have been forced to live due to crowding. There are also huge throngs of people overcrowded on tops of buildings and boats in the harbour. London seems to be bursting at the seams with people.

Population growth in Europe accelerated due to a combination of better medical and public health knowledge and a more robust food supply, combating epidemics of disease and famine. While families were still in the mindset of combating a high death rate with a high birth rate these societal advances drove down the death rate, leading to an explosion in population growth.

Generally speaking, the improvements in medicine and food supply are associated with the Industrial Revolution, now known as the Industrialization Process. The related British Agricultural Revolution meant increased productivity in farming due to developments like enclosure, and “freed up” (made redundant) labourers to do other work. Many of them found work in the new factories in the cities (manufacturing medicines and soap, among other things) and building infrastructure like roads and canals that made the food supply chain more robust and aided the flow of information. At the same time, new social rules such as border enforcement also helped put an end to epidemic outbreaks of disease.



Considering the map of Europe in 1800, which had been so greatly affected by the advance of Napoleon’s power, can you name two major effects on the politics and society of 19th Century Europe that resulted from the French Revolution?

The French Revolution replaced the absolutist monarchy of France with a republic based on principles of the Enlightenment such as the inalienable rights of man. This touched off a time of great change for France including two restorations of the monarchy, the Napoleonic wars, and two more revolutions. Two major effects resulting from the French Revolution and echoing across Europe were the rise of nationalism and emergence of more serious class conflict.

The rise of nationalism and romantic notions of national identity spread quickly in the wake of the French Revolution. The success of the revolutionaries in dismantling the old power structure and uniting in liberalism caused individuals in other absolutist states to attempt to do the same. In some cases this meant national unification of fractious small states, and in others independence from what came to be seen as an occupying foreign power. Notably for unification, between 1859 and 1861 Italy became unified, and Germany did the same from 1866-71. Greece fought a war of independence against the Ottoman Empire from 1821-1829 and Hungary received its autonomy in 1867. The transition from monarchical rule to more liberal nation-states in the wake of the French Revolution transformed Europe into the familiar modern landscape.

At the same time, the violence of the French Revolution and the wars that it spawned foreshadowed the coming class conflict across Europe. The revolutionary elements such as the Jacobins called for “liberty, equality and brotherhood”, which threatened the longstanding autocratic status quo and led to both armed struggle and nonviolent political / propaganda conflict. Enfranchisement was a major issue, with the common people demanding a greater say in the rule of law, starting with voting rights for property owning males and eventually leading to demands for the enfranchisement of the poor, women, and minorities as well. Attempts to subdue these revolutionary movements forced them underground, but made them martyrs in the eyes of the John Bull public.


By 1900 European countries had colonised a large portion of countries outside the European continent. Name two developments in the history of Nineteenth-Century Europe that made this possible, and suggest a reason why each development occurred.

The 19th century colonization of the world by European powers was directly linked to changes in the European economies brought about by the industrial revolution and also changes in the balance of European power brought about by various wars and revolutions.

The industrial revolution, with its increased productivity and dependence on technology, forced many labourers off their lands and into the cities, which they found to be overcrowded. At the same time, the industrialization lead to redistribution of the way private capital was allocated in the European countries, making colonization efforts for slave trading and other industries possible and extremely lucrative. The result was that many lower income persons sought a better life in the colonies, often starting off as indentured servants. The new technologies brought about by the industrial revolution, along with the greater pace of development due to better infrastructure and a more open society helped the European nations into a position of dominance over the indigenous societies they colonized.

At the same time, the European wars meant increased competition among the European nations for control of the seas and the territories of the whole world. The exploitation of colonies abroad could help fund war efforts at home, and the war efforts lead to the development of ever more lethal war technologies, useful for the further suppression of indigenous cultures. The wars at home also created refugees, who were especially likely to take the opportunity to flee to the new world.


‘Liberalism was the triumphant ideology of the 19th Century in Europe’

Do you either agree or disagree with this statement? Justify your decision with at least one argument.

Liberalism was indeed the triumphant ideology of the 19th Century in Europe, as evidenced by the emergence of the British Empire and the United States of America as the dominant global powers at the end of that century amid the decline of absolutism.

The beginning of the 19th Century really began with the French Revolution, culminating around 1799. This was the great catalyst for liberal thought throughout the world, but while the French were the first (and perhaps because of it) they were unable to maintain a continuous liberal republic.

The United States, formed at the end of the 18th Century, was the first liberal democracy and fared extremely well during the 19th Century, including the “Gilded Age” beginning around 1876 and continuing into the 1900s. The British Empire as well, enjoyed the “Imperial Century” until around 1914. While the United States is not technically a part of Europe, it can easily be seen as an extension of Europe at least in the context of this period.

While the more liberal U.S, British, and German empires were rising, the Spanish and Ottoman empires were in decline, and the absolutist states were more or less abolished. Liberalism, at least in modified form, was the triumphant ideology.

Britain and the French Revolution – Historical Document Exercises

Submitted to Dr. Kate Watson, Tutor
John Bull, Tom Paine & The British Jacobins
Oxford University
Department for Continuing Education
Andrew Becker
Roger M. Jones Fellow Abroad, The University of Michigan
Hillary 2009

Britain and the French Revolution – Historical Document Exercises

Parliamentary Reports

Report of the Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons, May 1794
1) Significance of Dates / Origins: May 1794 was just before the “Thermidorian Reaction” (Thermidor = July in the French revolutionary calendar), which replaced the most radical elements in power in France with more conservative ones. This was a period of terror in France.
2) Concerns Voiced: The Committee is scared that the Constitutional Information Society and the London Corresponding Society are part of a wider conspiratorial network aligned with revolutionary groups in France, and might try to lead Britain down the same path.
3) Language and Tone: Suggests a “traitorous conspiracy”, i.e. “French treachery” versus British treachery, meaning that these elements are working against the King but not for any foreign power or other interest.

An Account of the Debate on the Treasonable Practices Bill, November 1795
1) Significance of Dates / Origins: November 1795 was just after the end of the Thermidorian Reaction, and also the end of “Pitt’s terror”, the British were still figuring out how to deal with the threat of change.
2) Concerns Voiced: The author of the account is afraid of things going too far in Britain, and believes that change of the type in France will by nature be associated with chaos.
3) Language and Tone: Labeling of revolutionary literature as “infernal poison”, and what’s worse, publishing at the cheapest rate so that even the common people can read it!
4) Pros / Cons of Parliamentary Reports as Sources: Parliamentary reports give an idea of the more “official” viewpoints of the times, but they are (from this time period) only second hand accounts, and thus not as pure as historians would like. We can only guess at the type of emphasis the authors would have added when orating these reports.

The Caricatures of Gillray

The Zenith of French Glory, Gillray, 1793
1) Significance of Date: In 1793 France declared war on Great Britain, following the execution of King Louis XVI. This was also the period of the Terror in France, and the caricature is reflecting on that.
2) Message Conveyed? Gillray is illustrating the revolution in France as not leading to a better society, but a brutish and ugly one.
3) Use of Images and Title: Images in the caricature include the typical savage “sans-culottes” Frenchman, who is, as per usual depiction, wearing no pants at all. He has his foot on some priests who have been executed, and a guillotine in the background also alludes to out of control executions. A sort of cross topped with a liberty cap above the hanging priests depicts the “religion” of the revolutionaries as atheism. The sans-culotte plays a violin, perhaps a reference to Nero, who famously fiddled as Rome burned. The full title mocks the liberty derived from the French revolution as inferior to the sort of liberty already held by the common Englishman.

London Corresponding Society Alarmed- Guilty Consciences, Gillray, 1798

1) Significance of Date: In 1798 there was a perceived rise of Jacobinism in Great Britain, taking place underground.
2) Message Conveyed? The LCS is composed of inferior lower-class people (who could not possibly know anything), who meet in dark places and delude themselves with atheistic Jacobite propaganda.
3) Use of Images and Title: The men in the image appear as troglodytes, meeting in a dark place. They are workingmen; the message is that these sorts of people have dangerous personal political beliefs that are wrong for the good of the rest. There is a visible LCS pamphlet in the bottom right corner, associating this group with the threatening appearance of the men. The title says that they are alarmed, probably with the rise of Napoleon.
4) Pros / Cons of Caricatures as Sources: While caricatures show some general attitudes of the times and give insight into the complexity of the issues, this complexity makes them one of the most difficult types of source to read. There are so many details, a good example being the violin played by the sans-culotte in the first caricature, which could really mean any number of things.

Contemporary News Articles

Hampshire Chronicle, November 15 1790
1) Significance of Date: In 1790 Great Britain was still in a very liberal phase in terms of the reaction to the French Revolution, which was met initially with general tolerance. Burke had just published a “reflection” against the Revolution, which was met with derision during this period of naiveté.
2) Message Conveyed: The message of this passage is that Burke is a fool, liberal things are good, and that his being Irish makes him a possible secret-Catholic that might be working in the service of the Catholic Church and therefore absolutism in all forms.
3) Use of Language and Tone: The use of the word “hurling” reminds the reader that Burke is Irish, and therefore not to be trusted. The section is overall dismissive of Burke personally, more than his beliefs.

Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal, December 9th 1792.
1) Significance of Date: In the wake of the “September Massacres” of the late summer of 1792, where anarchy ruled and rape and murder were said to be common, Great Britain views the French Revolution as a savage affair.
2) Message Conveyed: The author is implying that everyone should demonstrate their loyalty to the crown, and those that do not are highly suspect.
3) Use of Language and Tone: In this section, those who form loyalty associations are “distinguishing their character”, while those who do not are “backward”, “crude”, “licentious”. Anyone who does not demonstrate loyalty is associated with the anarchy, rape, and murder in France and may want to bring that to British shores.
4) Pros and Cons of Newspapers: Selections from newspapers such as these provide historians with the middle-class view of historical events and the immediate gut-reaction of the populace, but suffer from press bias or the possibility that press bias may be present.


The Consecration of Banners… Wallingford Loyal Assoc, Rev. T. Pentycross 1798
1) Context of Date and Place: Great Britain is at war with France in 1798. A “Loyal” association is against any sort of Jacobin politics, and would have been especially receptive to this message refuting Atheism.
2) Message of the Sermon: Rev. Pentycross wants the people to believe that God is on their side against the heathen atheist Jacobins, and that in fact they lack free will when it comes to their war against the French, that they must fight because God makes it so.
3) Use of Religion for Politics: In this example the preacher does not explicitly declare a political message, but by explaining that God chooses the wars we fight he blesses the war against the French and the British Jacobins.

A Sermon Preached Before the Chiswick Military Association, 1798
1) Context of Date and Place: Again, Great Britain at war with France in 1798. The Military Association would be similar in disposition to a Loyal Association but perhaps would have more “common” members, and so this sermon is even more direct in it’s message.
2) Message of the Sermon: The French are not just wrong, they are wicked and going against God, Christianity, and society. They are immoral, and therefore it is righteous to wage war against them.
3) Use of Religion for Politics: Every warring faction always regards themselves as having “god on their side”, but this preacher takes it a step farther, making this a war not just between Great Britain and France but between Christian morality and atheistic anarchy.
4) Pros / Cons of Sermons as Historical Sources: Religious sermons generally are supposed to provide guidance for the people, in line with a larger Church doctrine, so they may indicate the Church response where the populace was conflicted over an issue. However, they may also simply reflect the personal politics of the individual preacher.

Web Resources Consulted:

Giulio Romano and the Palazzo Del Te

Submitted to Robert Franklin, Tutor
The Architecture of Eccentricity
Oxford University
Department for Continuing Education
Andrew Becker
Roger M. Jones Fellow Abroad, The University of Michigan
Hillary 2009

Giulio Romano and the Palazzo Del Te

The Palazzo Del Te by Giulio Romano is a true classic among the Mannerist style of architecture from the Renaissance period in Italy. This style is characterized by the deliberate use of techniques and design elements in ways that may appear contradictory (to tradition or function), confusing, or chaotic– in order to draw attention to the “art” that is the building itself. The principal features of the Palazzo Del Te, in their deliberate breaking of classical rules, increase the aesthetic appreciation of the building by even the amateur viewer.

Principle Features
The Palazzo was the pleasure palace or “Villa Suburbana” of Federico II Gonzaga, then Marquess of Mantua. It was constructed in Mantua, Italy in 1524-34.
The North Façade – note that while the features at first glance appear evenly spaced, they are actually quite irregularly spaced. Also note the strange way the building seems to be halfway between one and two stories, so you are not quite sure if there is a second story or not. It is as if the second story has been compressed down.

The Northeast view from within the Palazzo. The building on the left is a “secret garden” containing a grotto. There is a fake door on this grotto, but this is nothing particularly exciting as there are fake doors throughout the Palazzo. On the right is the hemispherical exedra, through which the Marquess would have had a grand view on horseback. The whole palace was built with a theme of horses and horseback riding, the great love of the Gonzaga family.
Here we see columns that have been given a very rough surface treatment that perhaps seems out of place, common throughout. The beam above has a keystone shape that might be functional in another place, but certainly is not here and is therefore perplexing or humorous.
Here is a wall within the courtyard. There are fake windows like this all over, mirroring the dummy doors. Note the dropped triglyphs at the top that seem to be falling out of the entablature. This was done on purpose and is perhaps the ultimate inside joke / Easter egg of the multitude within the Palazzo. Also note that the keystone is slightly raised out of place, pushing the joint above open.
Inside “Cela dei Giganti”, the room of the Giants. Intricate work like this is common throughout the interior of the house. The theme of the painting, collapse, unifies this as the theme of the entire building, along with numerous other items such as the dropped triglyphs and the smashed two story / one story appearance. Some say Romano was alluding to the collapse of classical architecture.

Analysis from a “Classical” Context
Classical architecture, meaning Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman, came out of the very first architecture, and involved the desire to build ever more perfect buildings. Simplicity, elegance, and symmetry were considered the goal, and the buildings seem very formal and imposing. Here Giulio Romano has built something that at first may seem to be quite classical, but is in fact thumbing its nose quite deliberately at the classical tradition. It is not perfect, but in fact, quite deliberately appears to be in a state of perpetual falling down. It is not symmetrical, but alludes to symmetry in its playful and careful dissymmetry, which could be said to give it a higher symmetry of purpose. It is not simple, but has numerous features that serve no functional purpose, serve only to mock functionality, or deliberately create chaos or complexity. It is clearly layered with meaning, message, and humor, some of which requires additional information to decode. Yet it is supremely elegant.

Assessment of Aesthetics
The Marquess of Mantua paid a princely sum for this pleasure palace, and he entrusted Giulio Romano with the vision. In return he received a building that was not just great, but personal, with innumerous intricacies revealing both the details of Gonzaga and the essence of Romano. Because of this building, these men have been remembered, who they were and what made them special remained in the public knowledge until modern times and therefore they live in infinity. So it was a trade-off. The Marquess could have demanded a building in the classical style, to match with thousands of others, and perhaps his could have even been a particularly grand classical building, and perhaps he would have even been remembered for it, but it would have been as a footnote. By allowing Giulio to share (and perhaps even dominate) the stage, he cast his lot with greatness. This feeling, that this is a great building, that je ne sais quoi, that x-factor, is what makes this such a stunning and noteworthy piece of architecture. It draws the viewer in, makes them feel that they are a part of something special. While classical buildings were exclusive and imposing, this one is inclusive and imperfect—imperfect like a human being. It tells a story of fantasy and secrets. What greater aesthetic evaluation is possible, to say that this building is, to all who view it, a great piece of art?

So it was through careful inclusion of features that subtly break the rules of classical architecture that Giulio Romano created one of the most aesthetically pleasing buildings of his time. It may be saying, “look at me!” but says so in a subtle and never ostentatious way (as far as a “pleasure palace” can be unostentatious). Today we recognize the Palazzo Del Te as a great example of Mannerist architecture that achieves great beauty through its rebellion.

All web resources were accessed on 27-3-2008.
All photos used under educational fair use, not for distribution (photos in this post will be removed in 30 days or less)

Virtual Reality Tour of the Palazzo –

Wikipedia Palazzo Del Te –

Photographic tour of the Palazzo –

Economic Grievances and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

Economic Grievances and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

Submitted to Heather Falvey, Tutor
Rioting Peasants, c. 1380 – 1650
Oxford University
Department for Continuing Education
Andrew Becker
Roger M. Jones Fellow Abroad, The University of Michigan
Michaelmas 2008

Economic Grievances and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

The lives of average people in England in 1381 were difficult and subject to newly increasingly change. Three hundred years after the Norman conquest of England, things seemed to be getting a bit chaotic. The Black Death had struck hard, especially in 1348 and 49, wiping out around one third of the population, laying waste to the serf classes who, in various degrees of bondage or slavery, worked extracting resources from the land for the lords and higher ruling classes. The lords had grown accustomed to having plenty of labor to support their lives of leisure, and weren’t so happy to learn a lesson in supply and demand when their serfs started asking for more money and more freedom. The government, for its part, was slow to recognize the inevitability of the resulting changes to society and enacted regressive rules and taxes that angered the populace. These and other related economic issues came to a head in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

The Black Death

England in 1348 had a population estimated at around 6 million people. Following the first outbreaks of plague, beginning in Weymouth in June, 1348, and terminating in December, 1349, between one third and one half of the population was wiped out. Further outbreaks, especially 1361-1362, probably killed another 20% of those that were left. Modern studies of period manor records have shown that mortality was higher in the peasant classes than the upper classes, whose members would have had less contact with disease carriers and better access to nursing and medical resources. This left the elite classes without enough labor to work their lands, which gave the serfs leverage to demand higher wages, fewer working hours, and more freedom.

Statute of Labourers, 1351

The Statute of Labourers was a wage-capping initiative enacted by Parliament under Edward III, essentially a law that attempted to suspend or eliminate any benefit the serfs might derive from the scarcity of labor in the aftermath of the brutal Black Plague. It regulated the wages for serfs, limiting them to pre-plague levels, and demanded that able-bodied serfs under 60 years of age work regardless of financial reserves that might have formerly allowed them to pay their way out of labor. Theoretically, the Statute also guaranteed reasonable prices for food. In practice, the Statute and the Ordinance it was supposed to enforce were failures.

Poll Taxes

Also during this time period, England was involved in the Hundred Years War with France. This war was extremely costly and caused economic depression in the economy in England. Furthermore, the purposes of this long war would have been difficult to grasp for your average serf, who probably would have lead about the same difficult life no matter the outcome. Despite this, it was determined among the ruling barons that the peasants should bear a larger part of the cost of this war. In 1377 John of Gaunt, the Regent to King Richard II, levied the first poll tax, requiring that every adult pay 4d. Finding this to be a successful little money-maker for the crown, and finding that it enriched locally the tax-collectors who pocketed a little off the top, further poll taxes were enacted in 1379 and 1380/81, with the last requiring the payment of 12d by all adults. By this point many people had figured out how to avoid paying the taxes, and they were a bit fed up with the whole thing.

Examining the returns from this 1380 taxation, John of Gaunt and his cronies noticed something fishy was going on. The amount of money they had coerced out of the population wasn’t as much as they knew it should be. They sent tax collectors out to demand the people make up the difference. This lead to the first violence and protest associated with the Peasants’ Revolt, as a tax collector named Thomas Bampton rode out to Fobbing in Essex, where he demanded that the people of Fobbing, Stanford, and Corningham pay the tax again, or at any rate pay to make up the difference owed. The people rejected his demands, beat him and his men, and ran them out of the village. When additional men were sent to follow-up on this issue, they found a force of rebels waiting for them, and the Peasants’ Revolt was born.

The Church as Landowner

Additionally factored into the economic grievances involved, and spilling over into religious grievances, is the position of the Church as a major landowner in England. The labor shortages of the time strained the relations between the Church and the serf classes, as the Church leadership faced the same problems other landowners did in terms of ensuring their lands were worked productively. Rebellious priests, notably John Ball, railed against perceived moral treachery in the upper levels of church management and incited their flocks to rebel.

So it was a changing socio-economic landscape, resulting from demographic shifts due to the Black Death, and ill-advised attempts by the government to cap wages to deny the benefits of these changes to the lower classes that lead to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The consequences included revolt in Essex and Kent, an armed march on London, the storming of the Tower of London, the destruction of John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace, the burning of many tax records, and the execution of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Treasurer. Although not particularly effective in obtaining results for the participants, this revolt echoed through history as an example of the collective power of labor workers to obtain concessions from the capital owners who employ them.


Comparative Analysis: the National Health Service in England and Publically Funded Healthcare Provision in the United States

Comparative Analysis: the National Health Service in England and Publically Funded Healthcare Provision in the United States

Submitted to Dr. Lisa Parker, Tutor
Human Disease
Oxford University
Department for Continuing Education
Andrew Becker
Roger M. Jones Fellow Abroad, The University of Michigan
Michaelmas 2008

Comparative Analysis: the National Health Service in England and Public/Private Healthcare Provision in the United States

The British love to talk with Americans about their health care system, the American lack of a publically funded comprehensive healthcare system, and the comparative moral, functional, and other standards by which such systems should be measured. It is one of the greatest differences between the two countries, otherwise so very similar in culture and governance. The National Health Service in England and government healthcare services in the United States may be compared in terms of their scale, scope, and composition, their perceived efficacy, and their perceived moral righteousness.

“The founding fathers never intended for the poor to live into their forties”
–Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on 30 Rock (US sitcom, 10-1-2008)

Scale, Scope, and Composition of the Systems

National Health Service, United Kingdom

The National Health Service stated goal is “to provide a universal service for all based on clinical need, not ability to pay”. Private healthcare is used by only 8% of the British population. Staffing for the NHS as of 2005 amounted to 1.3 million people, the 5th largest workforce in the world. Doctors and nurses in hospitals are generally NHS staff, while General Practitioners (GPs) and other local healthcare providers are generally not and provide NHS services on contract.

The total budget of NHS England in 2008 amounted to 92.5 billion GBP. Funding is primarily via taxation, with most services free, however there is a charge of 7.10 GBP for prescription medicines that must be paid except by the young, elderly, and poor.
The NHS is controlled by the Department of Health, which oversees ten regional-geographic “Strategic Health Authorities”. Each Strategic Health Authority is responsible for a number of “trusts” providing the various component services for that region, such as hospital trusts, ambulance services trusts, and primary care trusts. This provides for complete control of healthcare services, if not always homogeneity between regions.

Medicare and Medicaid in the United States

Medicare is a national social insurance program in the United States that provides health insurance coverage to people 65 and over, some disabled persons receiving social security payments, and persons with certain medical conditions such as end-stage renal disease and Lou-Gehrig’s disease. In 2002 Medicare expenditures were $256.8 billion. Medicaid is another program that provides health insurance to certain qualifying low-income persons such as parents, children, seniors, and the disabled. Medicaid covers approximately 40% of the poor in the United States. In 2004, Medicaid covered 42.9 million Americans at a cost of $295 billion. Since 1997 another program, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), has existed to try to fill the gaps by providing health insurance for children in relatively low-income families who do not otherwise qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. In 2006 SCHIP covered 6.6 million children and 670,000 adults at a cost of around $5 billion.

None of the major American programs directly employ medical staff or own facilities; they provide health-insurance type programs that reimburse care providers. In general they are run in cooperation between state and federal governments. Since 2006 all Medicare recipients have received prescription coverage, but some Medicaid patients may be asked to co-pay for some or all medical procedures, depending on a litany of state regulations.

Perceived Efficacy of the Systems:

The World Health Organization no longer publishes a ranking of the world’s healthcare systems, due to the complexity of that task, and the last such ranking was created in the year 2000. In that ranking, the United Kingdom placed 18th and the United States 37th out of 190 total ranked countries. In the current World Health Report 2008, a given statistic relating perceived efficacy of the systems by their users is the percentage of the population citing health as their main concern before other issues.


It would appear that the relative percentages for this statistic are approximately 18% for the United Kingdom and 24% for the United States.

Both are doing quite well in comparison to Bangladesh and Uganda, where greater than 50% of the population list health as their main concern.

Perceived Moral Righteousness of the Systems:

In the United States, publically funded healthcare of the type provided by the state in the United Kingdom is commonly referred to as “socialized medicine”, a term which, although demonizing, is generally used without that specific intent. This term provokes a knee-jerk negative reaction by invoking imagery of red North Koreans, Viet cong, the Gulag, and hiding under desks during nuclear apocalypse drills. There is a common fear that government providing healthcare, or really anything to an individual for no cost creates a disincentive for people to work and a has a general negative influence on the economy. At the same time, most people are sympathetic to the need to provide healthcare for children, the elderly, and the disadvantaged. The question is, who is out there without healthcare that isn’t disadvantaged?

The Barack Obama healthcare plan calls for the establishment of a Medicare-like institution to provide health insurance options for people under 65 who are not covered by private health insurance. The stated goal is quality affordable coverage for all. The mechanism of provision is government subsidy. However, by calling it “affordable” and not providing direct care, it is clear that this will not be the “socialized medicine” so upsetting to the stomachs of politically conservative Americans.
The main argument for UK-style provision of extensive publically funded healthcare is that such care is a human right, that all people by birthright are collective owners of national wealth and that in a first world country that can afford to provide such a service there is a mora

l imperative to do so. Detractors argue that government funding and control of such a service leads to civil liberties issues such as the issues surrounding the provision of tax-funded healthcare to smokers and alcoholics.

On the US sit-com 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin plays a General Electric executive who says, “the founding fathers never intended for the poor to live into their forties”. The US Medicare / Medicaid / SCHIP system effectively is designed to provide for care for poor children and their parents long enough to give those children half a chance to raise themselves out of poverty, similar to public schooling and other resources for children from low-income families. If those low-income children, by luck or by initiative, manage to survive into old age, they will again be provided for by the state. Even with the healthcare plan proposed by US President-elect Barack Obama, considered by many to be radically progressive, this is a far cry from the extensive National Health System of the United Kingdom. In many ways the United States is sitting back and watching, allowing the smaller United Kingdom to experiment with providing publically funded healthcare to an Anglo-democratic society so much like their own. Only time will tell which is the most sustainable, effective, and righteous solution.

Web resources:

Manet’s Olympia: Nude vs. Naked – Obtainable vs. Unobtainable

The following is a short essay for my Art and Sexuality class, it is a casual work and as such it lacks references.

Olympia – Édouard Manet, 1863

Manet’s Olympia: Nude vs. Naked – Obtainable vs. Unobtainable

She has been described as “terrifying”, “frightening”, and “shocking”. Yet she looks like the girl next door. This is Manet’s Olympia, and she is naked… or, possibly nude.

Nude, naked… naked, nude… while art historians may argue over this distinction, in common parlance they are synonyms. Semantics aside, the fact remains, there is something important here– something that made contemporary viewers rather uncomfortable. Through choices in presentation and subject, Manet created a nude that was, perhaps, somewhat revolutionary. She is believably sexually attainable in a non-procreative context—and therefore, shockingly naked (nude).

Manet modeled Olympia (1863) on the Venus of Urbino by Titian in 1538.

Venus of Urbino – Titian, 1538

Venus is one of the primary Roman goddesses. According to the myth, she was one of the mothers of the Roman people, lover to a mortal named Anchises. In the myth Venus seduces Anchises, and then appears nine months later with his child, Aeneas.

The Venus of Urbino is itself modeled on Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus from 1510. In comparison to that work, contemporary viewers also considered Titian’s Venus erotic and provocative.

Sleeping Venus – Giorgione, c. 1510

The Olympia depicts a sexually attainable subject by virtue of its presentation. To dissect some differences between the presentations in Titian’s Venus and Manet’s Olympia:

Venus is emphatically a goddess and depicted as goddess-like, and therefore unobtainable. This is highlighted by her flowing hair and impossibly elegant, elongated pose. The colors and style of the painting seem to imply that we are viewing a scene in heaven or another world.

Olympia, on the other hand, is clearly human. She appears in a not quite comfortable looking position, and with her hair neatly and modestly styled. The colors and style of painting are even more realistic than in the Venus, so that the viewer assumes that this is a representation of a scene from the real world.

Also of note in terms of presentation, Venus appears by herself, with others only in the background, implying superiority and a separation from ordinary humans, the viewer included. Olympia appears with a slave at hand, a very low-status individual who she must, as a human living a normal existence, interact with. This gives her attainability.

The Olympia depicts a sexually attainable subject in its choice of model. To dissect some of the differences in the two models:

Venus is plump and exhibits physical qualities characteristic of fertility, especially her wide hips and slightly plump belly. She is definitely of child-bearing age, and definitely built for bearing and raising children. She is a mother-icon and therefore demanding of respect. She is, in fact, a mother of the Roman people, and therefore of all Western people. Beyond this, in her myth, she seduces a mortal man for a session of love-making (actually it was two weeks of love-making), and then appears nine months later with his child. She represents sexuality for procreation, sexuality with consequences, the only kind of sexuality considered acceptable by the moral authorities of the time. The message is clear: sex with me will be pleasurable, but it will result in a child and therefore requires a commitment and a relationship of respect.

Olympia, on the other hand, appears boy-like and small. She is thinner than Venus, and appears to be younger. She does not look like she is physically capable of carrying a child to term. She is therefore, while a woman, not a mother figure. She, while suitable for sex, is ill suited for procreation. Beyond this, contemporary viewers, guided by details of the painting (including the orchid in her hair, her pearl earrings and bracelet), would have understood that this subject, while maintaining plausible deniability, is likely intended to be a prostitute. This makes her the ultimate in attainability and unaccountability. While non-procreative sex was certainly being had by lots of people of the time, it was frowned upon by religious authorities who had an even larger impact than they do today. Like a cigarette advertisement, Olympia reminds the viewer that the option for non-procreative sex is out there, however hard you try to put the possibility out of mind.

One last detail is the bow around Olympia’s neck. This ultimately emphasizes her role as a sexual object. While some would argue that she is a symbol of female strength and in charge of her own sexuality, it is important to remember the dichotomy of dominance and submission. Olympia is in charge of her own sexuality but uses that control to make herself available for non-procreative sex, ultimately harming the collective bargaining power of the female race as a whole.

A self-respecting woman of the time would have no choice but to view the Olympia as a threat to her way of life. In the 1850s women had very little power, and one way they exerted what little control they could was by controlling the supply of sex, by making it available only with the precondition that it would lead to procreation, and therefore a respectable life as a mother and the support of a husband and community. While the Venus encourages the fetishism of motherhood and procreation, Olympia commodifies sex, presents the option that sex might be had at far less of a cost than a lifetime of commitment.

In the Venus, the mother figure is revered, a goddess at the center of the world. But look, Manet has replaced her! She has been replaced by a whore, as if the sexual needs of man have been outsourced to the lowest bidder. This is the threatening message of Manet, that perhaps a whore is equally, if not more so desirable to the true primal mind of a man than a wife or mother figure.

Is she naked? Is she nude? She is sexually obtainable, more so than Titian’s Venus, which in turn is more so obtainable than the Venus in Giorgione’s version. She represents the availability of non-procreative sex and reminds men that no matter the laws and morals of society, this has always been and will always remain an option. She has only the same naughty bits showing as the wife and mother figure Venus, but for all these reasons, contemporary women would surely have liked for her to cover up.