Centuries of Sound on Cambridge 105 Radio – Episode 7 (1898-1899)

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This time, coming towards the end of the 19th Century, we present an overview of the music and history of 1898 and 1899 – minstrel shows, vaudeville, cakewalk, the horribly-named “coon songs” and an exciting new genre called “ragtime.” This is a one-off solo show from James, as Sean is ill, expect lots of talking with occasional bits of something else, but it’s all good, really it is, honest.

1899 in Art

Kamal-ol-molk - The Doshan Tappeh Street

Kamal-ol-molk – The Doshan Tappeh Street

Almeida Júnior - Saudade (Longing)

Almeida Júnior – Saudade (Longing)

Winslow Homer - The Gulf Stream

Winslow Homer – The Gulf Stream

Claude Monet – Charing Cross Bridge

Claude Monet – Charing Cross Bridge

John F. Peto – Still life with Mug, Pipe and Book

John F. Peto – Still life with Mug, Pipe and Book

Nikolaos Gyzis - Behold the Bridegroom Arriving

Nikolaos Gyzis – Behold the Bridegroom Arriving

Paul Gauguin - Deux Tahitiennes

Paul Gauguin – Deux Tahitiennes

Thomas Eakins - Wrestlers

Thomas Eakins – Wrestlers

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Ida Reading A Letter

Vilhelm Hammershøi – Ida Reading A Letter

William Holman Hunt – The Miracle of the Holy Fire

William Holman Hunt – The Miracle of the Holy Fire

The Battle of the Nile 1899 by William Lionel Wyllie 1851-1931

William Lionel Wyllie – The Battle of the Nile

The Newsboys’ Strike

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Conflict raged across the world in the closing years of the 19th century, from the Spanish-American war to colonial wars in Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China. To focus on these big-picture events only would miss perhaps a more important fight – that of the newly awakened voice of labour against the ruling classes of the world. In New York even kids went on strike – that is, kids who had jobs, and rotten jobs at that.

There’s a decent enough missed in history podcast about the strike here (usual provisos about content / adverts ratio applies) but this from wikipedia sums it up nicely enough.

On July 21, 1899, a large number of New York City newsboys refused to distribute the papers of Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, and William Randolph Hearst, publisher of the Journal. The strikers demonstrated across the Brooklyn Bridge for several days, effectively bringing traffic to a standstill, along with the news distribution for most New England cities. They kept others from selling the papers by tearing up the distribution in the streets. The boys also requested from the public that they no longer buy either paper until the strike was settled. Pulitzer tried to hire older men to do the boys’ job, but the men understood their stance and wanted no part in defying the boys. Several rallies drew more than 5,000 newsboys, complete with charismatic speeches by strike leader Kid Blink.

So named because he was blind in one eye, Kid Blink (Louis Ballatt) was a popular subject among competing newspapers such as the New York Tribune, who often quoted Blink with his heavy Brooklyn accent depicted as an eye dialect, attributing to him such sayings as “Me men is nobul.” Blink and his strikers were the subject of violence, as well. Hearst and Pulitzer hired men to break up rallies and protect the newspaper deliveries still underway. During one rally Blink told strikers, “Friens and feller workers. This is a time which tries de hearts of men. Dis is de time when we’se got to stick together like glue…. We know wot we wants and we’ll git it even if we is blind.”

Although the World and the Journal did not lower their 60¢-a-bundle price, they did agree to buy back all unsold papers and the union disbanded, ending the strike on August 2.

The Second Boer War

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At the closing of the Victorian age, the Boer War saw the British discover they were not invincible after all – and though they ultimately won, the consequences would set the stage for South Africa’s history up until the present day. This documentary series goes into the story well, and includes plenty about the British use of concentration camps.

Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

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The British Empire was never the positive, civilizing force that it was sold as, but the Victorians seemed, as a whole, to either sweep any misgivings under the carpet or consider them less important than their blossoming sense of national pride. It’s only in the dying years of the era that cracks start to appear in the jolly facade, and none so vivid as Heart of Darkness.

Joseph Conrad is one of the most extraordinary writers I can think of – not only for the jarring modernity (coupled with undiluted 19th century prejudice) of his work, but the fact that he learned English as an adult, working for the merchant navy, yet has one of the most assured voices in literature, able to slip in and out of character like nobody else.

Heart of Darkness isn’t a fun book. A slim novella, it took me the best part of a month to get through it, but the relentless grimness of the trek through the horrors of the Belgian Congo never amounted to being bored. The “horror” here implicates not only the protagonist and narrator in these crimes, but also the reader and the culture they belong to.

A fascinating discussion about the book on the BBC’s In Our Time can be found here, the full text is here, a free audiobook is here, and you can buy the book here.