Thursday, July 07, 2011

Goodricke and Constantine without honor in their own city

Today I went on a free guided tour of York, provided by one of the many volunteers who have been providing this service since 1950 (!). Well worth the time and I'm grateful to the organization and our guide.

However, I must say that he had me biting my tounge more than once with his version of York history (and of his weakness for terrible folk etymologies no more will be said). My faith in his knowledge of his home town's history -- and he called himself a local historian -- was given a shock when he called Athelstan a Viking king. I mean, is there a more (Old) English name? If, dear reader, you were a volunteer guide at York, I believe you would not make this mistake.

Nor, I hope, would you try to be relevant by saying that Henry VIII used the loot from the Dissolution of the Monasteries "to found the Oxbridge Consortium." Would you?

It's odd what people include, and don't. Maybe there was no archaeological or architectural hook to bring in the Pilgrimage of Grace, but I bet I could find one. (Just sitting here I now have one.) But how can you say that the late Roman HQ was found under the Minster in the late 1960s, and not mention that Constantine was elevated to the emperorship in York? This has got to be one of the most important things, on a world-historical scale, to ever happen in the city. But it went unmentioned.

And about the same time Constantine was being ignored, we were standing in front of the Treasurer's House in the old ecclesiastical enclave, also ignoring a sign that said John Goodricke worked there in the 1780s on Cepheid variables, the discovery of which eventually provided an astronomical yardstick to estimate the size of the universe. Talk about world-historical.

I should study up and volunteer myself...

Challenge: look up Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who should have got a Nobel Prize. No York connection.