I was thinking the other day how cool it was that we were having another total eclipse of the sun, and how I wish it was in the UK again. It was 1999 since we had a total eclipse and it was so eerie. It was the middle of the day but it felt like dusk and all the birds went quiet. I remember watching it on TV and out in the back garden. It was even better for me as the Dean of the Faculty I was in, Professor Parkin, who I always got on with, was on TV explaining what was happening. We had a partial eclipse in 2015 and it was as surreal as although it didn’t go quite so dusk the birds still went quiet.
It got me thinking, we have the media and they were able to tell us the eclipse was going to happen and show us pictures of it from around the world, but what happened before we had TV and radio. How did our ancestors react to an eclipse?
So for example on the 3 May 1715 Britain had a total solar eclipse (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_eclipses_visible_from_the_United_Kingdom#21st_century_.28AD_2001_.E2.80.93_2100.29) but what did the people think. It would have been OK for those who could afford to purchase a newspaper and read about the forthcoming event, but what about the rest of the population. How did they react to it going dusk in the middle of the day? They would probably have had no idea as to what was happening. Did they think it was the end of the world?
Another partial eclipse that occurred was in 1485. It happened on the day the queen consort of England, Anne Neville, the wife of King Richard III died. At this time it could only mean one of two thing, the eclipse caused the death of the Queen or the eclipse was the result of her death. It must be a sign form the heavens. The people must have flocked to the church in fear when they found out. But they probably found out weeks later by the time the news filtered through to them.
I suppose what I’m getting at is how our ancestors reacted to events they had no knowledge of. We have an eclipse and it’s all over the media with live views from space and think it’s interesting. But if you don’t know what it is how do you react. I suppose it depends of your station in society. Someone higher up in society will probably have had a better education and have learned some astronomy and had knowledge of what was happening, but the farmer in the fields would wonder what the heck was going on.
This works with other major events though if you think about it. We know when something has happened as we have 24 hour rolling news and nothing can happen without a reporter there in hours bringing us all the latest news live, but how many major events happened that most of our ancestors never new anything about, or did not now about but had to wait months, if not years to find out what happened.
So for example, most people would have known about major wars as the army and navy would go around amassing the army. Men and boys would go off to war and fight for King and Country, but would their family ever find out what was happening to their loved ones or even if they were still alive. They couldn’t watch the news, they had to wait for news to get to them. This could mean they had to wait for the men of their village or town to come home to find out their family’s fate.
We may moan about how the media is affecting our lives and how technology is getting in the way of our lives but at least we know what’s going on and what’s happening that affects us directly. Our ancestors didn’t have that luxury and it must have caused a lot of heart ache and pain. So in a sense we’re luck even if the media can be annoying, but I suppose there is always the off button.