Last summer, at a friend’s cottage north of Kingston, my eye caught an interesting sounding book: “Vanished Kingdoms – the history of half-forgotten Europe” by Norman Davies. The writer describes a number of European kingdoms and countries that came and went.
Europe’s past is littered with kingdoms, empires and republics which no longer exist but which were some of the most important entities of their day – ‘the Empire of Aragon’, which dominated the western Mediterranean in the thirteenth century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the largest country in Europe for part of the eighteenth century. This book shows the reader how to peer through the cracks of mainstream history-writing, and to catch a glimpse of the ‘Five, Six or Seven Kingdoms of Burgundy’.
Although I had pretty solid history lessons in the Netherlands, there was always so much to learn that it was virtually impossible to see many of the dramatic historic events in a broader European and even global perspective. We used to learn a lot about the Middle Ages -often from a Dutch perspective- and it was hard to comprehend how events were part of bigger European machinations. Vanished Kingdoms appeared to be an interesting read to explain more background.
I ordered the book through the library. With 850 pages, it was a very long read and I had to renew it for another three weeks; it is not that type of book you read in one weekend.
At some point in the book, Mr. Davies mentioned a book written by Christopher Clark, which I decided to read next. Called “Iron Kingdom – the rise and downfall of Prussia 1600-1917” it is another heavyweight of over 800 pages describing the history of Prussia as it began as a medieval backwater, then transformed itself into a major European power and the force behind the creation of the German empire, until it was finally abolished by the Allies after the Second World War. It is an eye opener to see how modest and enlightened Prussia was in a way.
Luckily, Ottawa Public Library had the book on the shelf. Like Vanished Kingdoms, it was impossible to finish it in three weeks: thers is skating, skiing, baking to do too. When I went on line to renew it, it wasn’t in the database anymore. (Sad trombone)
As I couldn’t renew it, I dropped it off assuming I could eventually get my hands on it again. I went to see the librarian to ask for the book and she confirmed it was taken out of rotation. (It was in good condition, so it is probably at the 25 cents shelf now).
Smart Library card
Tagging the library, I mentioned my experience on Twitter. Wouldn’t you know that Jordana King from the Ottawa Public Library reacted through DM. She had tracked down another copy at the University of Ottawa’s Morisset Library for me. She also informed that there is such a thing as a Smart Library card, which allows you to read and/or search and borrow from libraries at other Ottawa places such as the war museum, universities and National Archives. You can get the card for free for a year from your local library branch.
Off I cycled to my local branch to get a card. Then I emailed the Morisset library and after 70 minutes I received an email that ‘Iron Kingdom’ was waiting for me and when I planned to pick it up. As it was a sunny day I cycled downtown to the Morisset library at the Ottawa U campus, housed in a large 1972 concrete building on campus.
Of course, I could have bought the book, but it is so much more fun to track it down through other channels. So thank you Jordana and Julie for helping to find the book, what a great service you provided. I have a week left to finish the book, so I am currently on a strict diet of 22 pages per day (at 2 minutes per page) so that this time I will finish it in time.
Exactly a day later, an eccentric driver caused chaos at The campus of Ottawa U. I walked at this very spot 24 hours before. Pffeww.