Tag Archives: humanities

The Namoa Pirates

Kowloon Namoa Pirate Behading_tuhmHaving grown up in Hong Kong, thinking about colonialism and imperialism quickly gives me a headache. At the root of this is an unbridgeable sense of cognitive dissonance: on the one hand these two forces created an amazing city which I love as my home, and on the other I know that using force against others for your own gain is morally reprehensible.

Certain British historians have tried in the past to get around this by claiming that the British Empire was less brutish and more beneficial than other contemporary empires, but this seems to be skirting the issues to reduce collective guilt.

With this personal context in mind, I am immediately interested in any historical images of Hong Kong, especially older ones which might offer insight into what life was like under imperial rule. And so it was that the following image really caught my eye:

Kowloon Namoa Pirate Behading
Image via Historical Times, under Public Domain

Viewing only the top half of the image it seems like some kindly old gentlemen on a rural day out, posing for a photo. Look then at the bottom half and witness beheaded humans lying in the dirt. Should we feel for the “pirates” who have been executed? Did they deserve their fate through wrong deeds, or did they simply upset the wrong imperialists? What are passers-by thinking: are they relieved that justice has been dealt, abhorred by the brutishness of these gwai lo (foreign devils), or fatalistically indifferent?

Of course, we will never really know the answers to these questions, but they are worth discussing all the same. I duly filed the image away for later use, shared it on Twitter and moved on. Much to my surprise, a couple of teachers (@vanweringh and @PaulGrace9) who are now in my PLN saw the image and started sharing and researching  ideas on it.

Reading these articles is revealing. It seems like the pirates were genuinely dastardly, but they make up only 6 of the 15 beheadings. Also of interest is that some of the beheadings were carried out by a 15-year old boy. How times have changed.

Our collaboration finished up with suggestions to use HistoryPin and the image below to further explore this area. As was mentioned in our discussions, the topics of piracy and imperialism are so interesting to study as they are still relevant today.


Misleading Images

Doctored_Stalin-LeninThis lesson aims to introduce students to the concept of misleading images, and to try and engender in students a certain skepticism when interacting with media. This lesson could potentially be used in a range of subjects including ICT, Media, History, Theory of Knowledge, PSHE/Pastoral etc.

In the past this has proven to be one of those lessons that really gets students sitting up, listening and discussing, as most of them have no idea they are being constantly manipulated by the mass media.


Misleading Images

In general we trust photos in a way that we would never trust words: we know that photos can be faked, but we don’t usually question what we see in the media and on the Internet. Let’s use some fun examples to see what we can and cannot trust:

The resources below look at how photos can be misleading, either through accident, doctoring, creative photography or omission. Digital photography and computer technology make this process much easier and more powerful, but it is important to keep in mind that these exact issues have been relevant since the dawn of the photographic era.

Of particular interest is the process by which images are “photoshopped” (i.e. digitally manipulated), and just how much transformation is possible. The videos below give an insight into this process (they are accelerated, it really takes much longer to do this, and lots of skill too).

We can look at the impact of misleading photos from different perspectives, including:

  • Political – what might a country gain by manipulating photos of its enemy at war?
  • Individual – how does unrealistically attractive portraits in magazines make me feel?
  • Society – how have misleading photos changed our expectations and measures of beauty?

In the end, how do we know what to trust if we cannot trust what we see?

Where In Hong Kong?

Where in HK - 2. Capture 3It is amazing how one thing leads to another, and all of a sudden you have a crazy idea for a unit of work on your hands. I have recently been watching some video of old Hong Kong, and chatting about the footage with friends and family. My dad and I were wondering where one particular spot was, and threw a couple ideas around. This planted a seed in my mind, and I set out to see if I could use technology to find the answer. It seems that I have actually located the spot, and although it will be at least a few days before I can get out and see for myself, I am 99% certain that it is correct. I am looking forward to shooting some new footage to compare with the original.

Below I will share the steps I took to come to my conclusion, which can be replicated by secondary students relatively easily. The idea for the unit, then, is to give students some old footage and stills from an area they are familiar with (say a city, county, district, etc), and ask them to find as many of the spots as possible. All the confirmed spots can be placed into a Google Map, with the original image, and a link back to where it is found. Students thus build up their own map, putting historical footage in its place, and tying time and space together neatly. They can visit the spots for themselves, and see how they have changed. One of the tricky parts of the process (especially true in Hong Kong) is not only the rapid change of  human geography (e.g. new buildings, roads, etc), but also the fact that areas of sea have been reclaimed, and so even large geographical features can change in a relatively short space of time.

I started my investigation by taking 2 screen captures from one particular video, and crudely stitching these together using some graphic editing software (Acorn in my case, as they give it free to schools, but Gimp or Photoshop or a dozen other titles would do). My interest in this spot was first sparked because of the unusual amount of flat land on the right hand side. Click on any of the images to see a full screen version:

Where in HK - 1. Capture 1

Where in HK - 2. Capture 3

Where in HK - 3. Capture Combined

I then searched on Google Maps, looking around Hong Kong to find locations which might be a match. Hong Kong’s numerous small islands and rugged coastline make this quite easy, as there are plenty of features to match. Turns out that my initial guess of near Plover Cove was wrong, and my dad’s of Sai Kung was correct. After making my initial location, I saved a screenshot of the relevant Google Map:

Where in HK - 4. Map

The next step was to search for landmarks along two intersecting lines, in the original image. The trick here was to cross-reference the map and the original image numerous times so as to pick spots which are distinct in both sources. This gave the following annotated version of the original:

Where in HK - 5. Capture Combined Annotated

These 4 locations could then be marked on the map, and joined by two lines. The point of intersection of the two lines must be where the original image was shot from (I believe this is not triangulation but is similar, although not being a surveyor don’t take my word for it):

Where in HK - 6. Map Annotated

Over this I then laid a semi-transparent version of the same map, with labels, so that we can easily identify the surrounding areas.

Where in HK - 7. Map Annotated Labelled

Turns out that the photo was taken not that far from my house. Closer inspection of the map shows it to be Wong Chuk Yeung, what appears to be an unchanged, traditional Hong Kong village, with some flat grassy land just to the north west. Surely, this must be “the spot”:

Where in HK - 8. The Spot

Even though I do not teach humanities, I am incredibly excited by this process: it very quickly makes old media viscereal, alive, important. I could literally jump in a car, drive right to this spot and look at the same view that these people enjoyed 50 years ago. What else could we find out using modern technology? Could we discover who these people were, where they lived and why they visited Wong Chuk Yeung on that day. Could we find them? Meet them? Hear their stories? Now, that would be a real history lesson. I wonder if this could be pushed back further in time, with studies performed on paintings left behind by Hong Kong’s first colonial settlers?

My plan is to run this unit with some humanities teachers in my school next year. I would love to see other schools run it, and hear how it went. If only this kind of thing happened more often. It really is the best way to plan a new unit of work.

Update 1 – The Visit

It turns out that my feeling of 99% confidence was 100% wrong: had  I consulted an ordinance survey map, or studied the Google Map more closely, I would have seen that Wong Chuk Yeung is in fact on the wrong side of the hill for a view of Sai Kung. That said, the drive up their was more than worth it, as the village is not only huge, but seemingly entirely abandoned. As if stepping back in time, or into a movie set, the area is full of collapsing rice paddies, houses with no roofs, mailboxes stuffed full of mail, and tress growing out of houses:

The potential for student learning is huge, as are the potential number of questions one could ask of such a place. One of the most amazing aspects of the whole place is finding a large village nestled in a hollow, half way up a mountain: what a defensible, peaceful place, but also, how remote?

Credits: images captured from the original video are copyright Michael Rogge, and used under fair use for educational purposes. Google Maps images are used under fair use for educational purposes.

Old Hong Kong

Causeway Bay 1955The older I get the more interested I seem to become in the history of the place where I grew up: Hong Kong. Having read a few books on the subject (Hong Kong, History of Hong Kong, Diamond Hill and Gweilo), I am always delighted to find video footage to put images to text. Despite not being born until 1980, I feel a strange affinity for images and footage from the 1950s and before. Recently, my father-in-law (a Hong Konger from way back) shared the presentation below with me, and I thought it was worth sharing:

Whilst searching for an embeddable version of this file online, I also found the videos below, which are very interesting. Sadly, the two best videos, could not be embedded, but you can watch them here and here.

Credits: a big thank you to Michael Rogge for curating and sharing this amazing archival footage. Thumbnail image of Hong Kong by Shizhao on Wikipedia, under Public Domain

Map Games

These games are fantastic, not only for geography, but for any subject where teachers wish to promote teamwork, encourage students to solve problems, remember patterns, learn more about the world or just get engaged. In the past I have used these games with EAL students as a way to get them talking and interested.