Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Opening hours over Christmas and New Year

Just a reminder that we close at 4pm today (Tuesday 23rd) and we re-open again on the 27th December at 10am.

Here's link to our opening hours chart for full details:

Hope you have a relaxing break and come back refreshed for the Spring term.

Picture: National Union Catalog Christmas Tree at the University of San Francisco by Shawn Calhoun

Friday, 19 December 2014

Giants of Academia & the Arts

… but, then again, nobody is perfect

Saint Nicholas (15 March 270 – 6 December 343)

This is going to come as rather bad news for the kids, we fear, but St Nicholas has been dead for the better part of seventeen hundred years now, though it’d perhaps be best not to mention it just now and keep on eating half the mince pie and drinking the glass of sherry yourself. Despite that, his spirit lives on, transformed into the guise of a mythical gift-giving being capable of visiting every house on the planet in a single night, known to all as Santa Claus. Really though, when you think about it, shouldn’t we be getting someone with those remarkable skills and attributes set to work on some of the more pressingly important tasks facing us today? Such as reorganising London’s abysmal railway system, for a start off. Mind you, practically speaking, an infinite number of gibbons could surely do a better job than the worthless shower running things currently. Come to think of it, even as few as two of them, who’d also just shared a bottle of scrumpy, would make a better fist of it. As for the our original St Nicholas, he sowed the seeds of Christmas as it now is and thus more than merits his place amongst the Giants.

Nicholas – as he was then – was born in 270 in the port of Patara, now part of modern-day Turkey, and he lived most of his life in the nearby town of Myra, at a time when the region was Greek in culture, heritage and outlook, making him Greek by birth and nurture but Romish by persuasion, having been mustard-keen on religion right from the off. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents, whose names nobody quite agrees on, the dad being Epiphanius or Theophanes, depending who you believe, and the mum either Johanna or Nonna, the choice is yours but, seeing they both happened to die in an epidemic when Nick was still in short chitons, to be brutally frank, who cares? Except poor young orphaned Nicholas, of course, who was then raised by his uncle, who himself, as tradition demands with our Giants, was also called Nicholas but, more pertinently, happened to be Bishop of Patara at the same time and so he naturally wanted his nephew to follow him into the family business, going so far as to tonsure the young man (give him a severe haircut by way of inducting him into the clergy) and then ordaining him as a presbyter (priest) himself.

Once his parents had pegged out, Nicholas found himself heir to a large fortune and decided that the best thing, as Jesus said, was to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” and that’s exactly what he did, using the whole lot to assist the needy, sick and the suffering, thereby establishing his reputation as an open-handed gift giver. Not that it did him much good at the time, seeing the Roman Emperor Diocletian happened to be something of a sadistic maniac when it came to ruthlessly persecuting Christians, especially ones who were dishing out fat wadges of cash all over the place and not giving him any of it, so he had Bishop Nicholas (as he had now become) imprisoned and tortured, then exiled for a bit, just for good measure. All that did was to give Nicholas a soft spot for prisoners (most of Diocletian’s prisons were anyway full of nothing but bishops and priests) and legend has it that Nick then got word that Eustathius (he even sounds like a wrong ‘un, don’t he?) was about to have three innocent men executed, so he ankles it over there sharpish, just in time to grab the sword and fling it to the ground before demanding the men’s bonds be broken. Such was his authority then that the executioner had no option but to say, ‘Right you are, squire,’ and let them go. That’s the thing about Bishop Nicholas: he did stuff. Though how much of it he actually did may be more open to question.

Widely known as Nikolaos of Myra (being Greek and from Myra), because of his specialism in the miracles line he was also called Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Nicholas, as we’ll persist in calling him, had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. The practice is still celebrated on his feast day (6 December, the one he died on, which is a shame really because he’d’ve missed out on Christmas). Legend has it that, during a severe famine, a butcher lured three children (or clerks, in some versions, who would have also been clergy then, seeing all clerks were clerics in those days, hence the word) into his shop, killed them and then popped them into a barrel to cure and later sell as ham, only Nick has a dream in which the whole plot is revealed, does a spot of industrial praying and, heigh-ho, the boys come back to life. Nice one, Nicky, but highly unlikely.

Much more credible, and probably with more than a grain of truth, is his most famous exploit in which he hears about a poor man who had three daughters but could not possibly manage to give any one of them a dowry and, as we all know, no dowry, no brilliant marriage, and from there it’d downhill all the way into prostitution. So Nicholas decides something must be done and, wanting to avoid any publicity and to save the family the shame of accepting hand-outs, he reckons that the only thing to do is to creep up to the house under cover of darkness and hurl three bags of gold coins in through the window. As it happens, he didn’t actually manage to get away with his anonymity still intact. Whilst versions vary from having him throw the purses on three consecutive nights to doing it over a three year period on the night before each daughter comes of age, they all have the dad thinking, “what’s me-laddo think he’s playing at here then?” and, by the third time, lying in wait for the culprit in order to confront him. Nicholas is caught bang-to-rights but, thinking on his feet, insists that it’s God alone who should be thanked, not him. Though yet other variations have our goodly saint wise to this possible outcome and dropping the third bag down the chimney instead (a-ha! gifts down the chimney!), others still saying that the daughter in question had just washed her stockings and hung them by the fire to dry when in plops a bag of gold (a-ha! stockings too now! We’re well on the way to the modern traditions).

Another of his feats to have the whiff of authenticity came during a further famine round about 311-312 time, when a ship was in port at Myra packed to the gunwales with wheat for the Emperor, so Nicholas suggests to the sailors that they might like to help out a bit by unloading some for the hungry citizens, an invitation that the said mariners are none too enamoured with, seeing the wheat has been carefully weighed already and, had the bicycle actually been invented then, they might have responded by inviting our man to mount his forthwith and make all possible haste away upon it. But he got things done, did St Nicholas, and eventually they relented, handing over a “full two years’ worth with enough for sowing on top.” Bet you can’t guess what happened when the sailors arrived home with the remaining wheat, can you? That’s right: it was exactly the correct weight …
Even after his death, the story went on and, if anything, his name got bigger still. He became the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students. Then, in 1087, some Italians sneaked off with his bones but, even then, they only managed to get their hands on half of them, which they took to Bari, thus getting our man the further name of Nikolaos of Bari, the remaining relics ending up in Venice in 1100, all of this despite Nicholas’s dying wish to be buried in Myra. An Irish tradition also insists that the bones ended up buried in County Kilkenny, where a stone slab marks the spot but, sadly, this is mere blarney and tosh. Legend has it that, while the relics were still in Myra, each year they would exude a clear liquid smelling like rosewater and called manna or myrrh, believed to possess miraculous powers. Once they ended up in Bari, this continued to happen and to this day a flask of it is still collected on his feast day. And then sold in the giftshop. In the late 1950s, a team of scientists photographed and measured the contents of the crypt grave and this revealed that St Nicholas was barely five feet high and had a broken nose. They do say that little men are the ones most likely to start fights …

In medieval times, nuns used his feast day to drop baskets of food and clothes anonymously on the doorsteps of the needy, echoing the deeds of St Nicholas, who is still revered as a great gift-giver today. But the (highly unlikely) character that actually got him rocketing to commercial stardom and international renown was none other than Martin Luther, author of the Reformation and one of the most unmitigated killjoys ever to have nailed ninety five theses to a church door (a myth, actually; he didn’t). It had become something of a tradition to present children with gifts on December 6, in honour of St Nicholas, but the sourminded Protestants were deadset against the veneration of saints instead of Christ, so they did their level best to stamp this practice out, going so far as to move the gift-giving day to December 25, birthday of the Saviour, so that people’s minds would be focussed firmly on the coming of Jesus and not the coming of the gifts. As a plan, it was infallible. How could it possibly go wrong? Luther did manage to suppress saints in most of Europe, including our Nick but, even so, the stalwart Dutch stuck by him through thick and thin, their name for him being Sinterklass, and the rest is history.

And, briefly, the history is this. Let’s start with Christmas itself, shall we? December 25, as we all know, a handy exact nine months from when Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary to expect the Christ child around about Christmas time. But that’s going by the old Julian calendar, which would make it January 7 in our Gregorian, just outside the Twelve Days of Christmas. Modern historians now estimate the birth of Jesus to have been between 7 and 2 BC, though that would just mean that we’ve got our year numbering wrong as, by definition, he has to have been born in 1 AD (Anno Domini, “the year of the Lord”), seeing there is no Year Zero. Unless you happen to be an astronomer, who do have such a thing, which equates to our 1 AD, and so, to our astronomer friends, may we be the first to wish you a happy and prosperous 2014 next year. Glad we’ve cleared that up.

Father Christmas and Santa Claus are now pretty much synonymous. The former, when he made his first appearance in the fifteenth century, was neither fat nor old, nor even called Father, being named “Nowell” or “Sir Christemas” or even “My Lord Christemas”. And he wasn’t keen on the dishing out of presents to children so much as encouraging everyone to get stuck into the tuck and the booze, making it an adult-orientated festival: "Make good cheer and be right merry." Once again, it was those incorrigible miseryguts and extreme Protestants, the Puritans, that were responsible for turning him into a hearty wellfed celebrity by trying to ban Christmas altogether, which only made the Royalists all the more keen on promoting him, just to get up their noses.

Prior to Christianity, the celebrated midwinter event was Yule, from the Old English geola or guili, and many of the traditions associated with it have been absorbed into modern Christmas. Odin was the big cheese back then, something of a prototype Santa himself in image (a blue-hooded old man in a cloak and long beard who rode the night sky as Giftbringer in the Wild Hunt) and he is said to have entered houses on the solstice via chimneys or fireholes in order to dish out his goodies, the hearth being sacred in primitive belief as a source of beneficence (hence sweeps and weddings). In these days of central heating, however, Santa has to resort to a Magic Key.

The idea of Father Christmas dropping in through the chimney, and much else besides, was widely popularised by an 1823 poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas, published anonymously but later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. The image of him as a stout old man dressed in a red suit trimmed with white fur with matching hat, big wide belt, dark boots and a long white flowing beard has often been wrongly associated with adverts for Coca Cola in the Thirties – an urban myth, seeing they weren’t even the first drinks company to do it, being beaten by White Rock Beverages, who used it to sell mineral water in 1915. But even they don’t deserve the credit, which actually belongs to a German-born American caricaturist called Thomas Nast (wonder what his nickname was at school), who also created the elephant symbol for the Republicans (though not Uncle Sam, Columbia or the Democratic donkey, as has sometimes been claimed). In Harper’s of January 1863 (US Civil War time), he depicted him much as we know him now, except wearing an American flag but, by 1881, he’d pretty much come up with the finished article, complete with a long clay pipe.

In 1832, the future Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights, ornaments, and presents placed round it and, by 1841, the custom become widespread throughout Britain. In 1843, Dickens penned A Christmas Carol, thus giving us the phrase “Merry Christmas” and in the same year, in London, Sir Henry Cole produced the first commercial Christmas card. Decorations themselves go back much further, all the way to at least the fifteenth century, when the custom was for every house to be decked with holly, ivy, bays and whatever other green stuff happened to be lying around. The heartshaped leaves of ivy symbolise Jesus (the Sacred Heart), whilst the holly protected against pagans and witches, the thorns and berries standing for the Crown of Thorns and the Blood of Christ.

As for Father Christmas, the location of his residence remains top secret, though we do know he lives in the mountains of Korvatunturi in Lapland Province, Finland. And that his postcode is 99999 Korvatunturi. In fact, if you’ve got a minute, his mobile number is – well, perhaps we’d best not: he tends to get mighty busy this time of year. Despite his festival (shouldn’t that really be our St Nicholas’s festival?) being about goodwill to all men, there are still plenty of spoilsports around, long after the demise of Luther and the Puritans. Doing the honours for us British, it was Birmingham City Council to the rescue, in 1998, when they decided that the Christmas-period festival (the what?) should be known by the neutral name of “Winterval”, spawning at the same time possibly the first use of the phrase “political correctness gone mad.” Sadly, though, such a claim would be entirely untrue as it was, in fact, just “a jumped-up gang of pompous self-important windbag councillors gone mad”, though even we would have to admit, as phrases go, ours is not half so catchy.

All the same, a very happy and peaceful Winterval to all our readers, and see you again in 2015 (and you astronomers, we’ll look forward to seeing you in 2014) …

St Nicholas: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Myra: By Ingo Mehling (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
St Nicholas Saves Three: Ilya Repin [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Three Virgins: Gentile da Fabriano [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Myra Tomb: By Sjoehest at de.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons
Luther: Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Annunciation: By Paolo de Matteis (Saint Louis Art Museum official site) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Nast Santa Claus: By Thomas Nast [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Christmas Tree: By Marcel Rieder (1862-1942) (Collection privée Photographie by P.F. Rieder) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Tips on using the Library and its resources: No. 8 - Finding journal articles on a topic

In our last Tips posting for this term, some pointers on how to find journal articles on a topic for your essay or assignment.

The best place to start is your Library subject guide, listed under "Library Resources by Subject" on our web site. These are put together by our subject librarians and highlight the most useful resources that the Library has for your subject. Each of these guides has a section on the best journal article databases, so this is a good place to start to get to know what to search when looking for journal articles.

Many of the databases have extensive help screens, guides and online tutorials and videos to help you get the most out of them - we have The Library also runs Saturday workshops on search skills and individual databases – watch out for our Spring term programme coming soon.

Some of these resources have the full text of the articles within them, and some are pointers to what’s been published in that subject area. If the full text is not available in the database, you will see this button:
 Click on this button to see if we subscribe to that journal.

Our Library Moodle Module has lots of help on this – check out the sections on "Finding material for an essay or assignment" and "Carrying out a literature search for a long essay/project/dissertation".
>  http://moodle.bbk.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=117

If you get stuck, please contact the Library help desk and, if you need further help, your subject librarian.
>  Contact us

Friday, 12 December 2014

Missed the Post?

Get all the latest news - Post Haste

If you did happen to miss any of our recent posts, you can get straight to them now by clicking on the links below.

If you haven't already heard, the Library will be open for certain additional days during the Christmas holidays on a self-service basis. Find out which days and when at:
Christmas Opening Hours

Our handy series of Tips on Using the Library continues with:
Tips on Using the Library No. 6
Tips on Using the Library No. 7

Find out which are our most popular e-books:
Top Ten e-Books

And, if you use e-journals in the course of your studies, you'll want to know all about this one so that you can be ready for it if it happens:
Possible Loss of Access to Some e-Journals

There's also a brand new Lighter Side right below, if you feel so inclined.