Today, it is taken for granted that ‘World History’ exists. Muslims, Jews and Chinese each have their own calendars and celebrate their own New Year’s Day. But for most practical matters, including government, commerce and science, the world employs a single common calendar. Thanks to this, it is possible to readily translate dates from the Chinese calendar, or from the Roman, Greek or Mayan, into the same chronological system that underlies the histories of, say, Vietnam or Australia.
What began as a collection of journals and Victorian bookshelves has evolved into a major source for politically impartial information on matters affecting the UK. For 200 years the House of Commons Library has been a rich archive for MPs and, increasingly, the public.
In 1818, 22-year-old Benjamin Spiller became the first House of Commons Librarian. A newly designed suite for a collection which had outgrown a small room was completed by the architect John Soane in 1828, but was to last less than a decade.
While attempting to dispose of disused tally sticks on the evening of 16 October 1834, the Clerk of Works accidentally set the Palace of Westminster ablaze. The library and two thirds of its collection were destroyed, including a set of Commons records dating back to 1547. Staff inside saved what they could by throwing books out of the window.
The new building, designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, opened in 1852. The new six-roomed suite was one of splendour, overlooking the Thames, with gothic Pugin furniture and towering windows of the ‘Oriel Room’ marking the entrance which is still used today.
Returning from a whirlwind visit to France and England during the first months of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Queen Marie of Romania proudly proclaimed she had successfully given her country a ‘face’. Romania’s uncompromising prime minister Ion Brătianu – derided as desperate, ‘beetle-browed’ and byzantine by Western politicians – had the nous to realise that, in their eyes, his English-born, thoroughbred monarch was the perfect antidote to his perfidious Balkan traits, hence Marie’s invitation to Paris.
The millions of readers of the Peanuts comic strip first encountered Snoopy as the First World War Flying Ace in 1965, when Charles Schulz drew the lovable beagle pretending his doghouse was a Sopwith Camel biplane. Dressed in scarf and goggles, Snoopy imagined that he flew in hot pursuit of the Red Baron, a reference to the legendary German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen. In later strips, Schulz enlivened Snoopy’s wartime fantasies with allusions to battle sites, planes, guns and popular songs of the Great War. The Flying Ace imagery – at times including barbed-wire trenches and mention of missing comrades – seemed especially grim, considering that Peanuts’ characters were all children. The Flying Ace persona prompted Mort Walker, creator of the military-themed comic strip Beetle Bailey, to ask: ‘What does a dog know about World War I and the Red Baron? Where did he get the helmet?’ And of the bullet-riddled doghouse, Walker declared: ‘Good golly, this has gone beyond the tale.’
In 1966, the Flying Ace storyline went even further ‘beyond the tale’ in the televised CBS Halloween cartoon It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The main narrative centres on Linus, an ever-optimistic boy who, in the face of his friends’ doubts, waits in vain for the mythical, godlike ‘Great Pumpkin’ to appear on Halloween.