MotW: All years again - #legohistory and anniversaries

Author: Benjamin Franz 


Dan takes us back to the Scottish Middle Ages and shows us how naturally we remember past events today.


2020 we celebrate the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. Also the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In 2019 we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 2018: 100 years of the end of the First World War. In 2017 we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Of course we are celebrating a lot in each year and not just the few events I have listed. After all, cultivated humans have been on this planet for several thousand years. So a lot of stuff that can be remembered has happened. 


You may be asking yourself, "and what does this have to do with today's model?" Well, that's easy. The model shows exactly such a historical event. It's a phenomenon, because of the thousands upon thousands things that happened, this still seems to be memorable today. So Dan from Brick to the Past thought, the Scottish Declaration of Independence, is really something to remember. Especially now that it goes back a full 700 years.


So he built us a scene that is not only interesting because of its aesthetics, but also in its entire social context in which it was created. The context of the self-evident commemoration of past events.



"The Declaration of Arbroath" by Dan Harris

An undisputedly memorable event, presented in especially beautiful brilliance. 



Windows to the past


But first, as always, let us address the model on its own. In the picture we see a crowd of people in a large building standing around a desk where something is signed. The people around will probably be seen as representatives of the nobility and the clergy of Scotland. This can be seen in the elaborately designed dresses and of course in the crown and the cross that is being hold. These symbols are necessary to identify which people are present.


The building will probably be the Arbroath Abbey where the Declaration of Independence is believed to be made. The monastery church is characterized by the classical architecture, like the thick columns that support the building. Just as natural and most clearly by the classical stained glass windows.


The glass window panes were built with individual, differently trans-coloured 1x1 Slopes, which were attached in different orientations to create the illusion of a pattern that seems similar to those of church windows. This works excellently here. In the world of LEGO bricks we know different approaches to achieve this effect. This is also the case, for example, with a variant in which trans-coloured round 1x1 plates are used, which are set on turntable plate bases. We see this in Gabe Umland's model of a burning church during the air raids on London in December 1941.


However, this type of window is said to have been common in Europe only since the High Middle Ages. Nowadays, there are only remains of the Arbroath abbey, so I guess we don't know if they existed there. But since it was founded in the High Middle Ages (1178-1197), such stained glass windows are quite reasonable to assume without further in-depth research. 


Speaking of the 1x1 Slopes. The ground almost only consists of these small wonder pieces. They give you the possibility to create fantastic mosaics. Dan has made excellent use of this here. He presents us with a uniform pattern of dark red, dark blusih grey and light bluish grey 1x1 Slopes, which harmonize very well together. At the same time the dark red touch that can be seen in the whole picture of the model reminds a little bit of the lion on the Royal Banner of Scotland. The custom printed minifigures by United Bricks also have the same on their torso. This is hardly a coincidence.


Finally, I would like to point out something that made me smile about the model from a LEGO point of view, and that is the use of the Clone Wars Count Dooku's head as a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.



A church window displayed with several 1x1 slopes to create the typical effect. Very well done.



All years again - anniversaries


Today we want to ask not only questions about the intention behind the model but also about the social context in which such models are possible and created. 


As mentioned at the beginning, we celebrate anniversaries in a natural way, both privately, such as birthdays, and socially, such as the Scottish declaration of independence. Our public culture of commemoration is inconceivable without the anniversaries. They are popular, automated rituals that always appear when another decade, another century or even millennium from the celebrated event has passed [1]. 


Cultural practitioners in particular base their themes on the anniversaries that are scheduled in a given year. No matter whether it is newspaper/television editorial offices, museums, or even an incredibly felicitous LEGO blog. All serve a logic of attention economy. By starting with the thought: "we have another anniversary", the pressure is that we think that we have to create something for it. We believe it is important and right to remember the past by remembering that event. 


On the other hand, of course, we also use the attention that is created on a large scale by other institutions to create something for the anniversary ourselves. It would be really naive to assume that Dan's contribution was the only one for the commemoration of the Scottish declaration of independence from 1320. Of course not. Because then you'd have to ask Dan the question: why to remember the event at all?  It's mostly unknown others don't do it, so it doesn't seem to be important. Why are you wasting your time with this? But it's not like that and Dan provides the proof himself in his blog post. The event has been entered into UNESCO's Memory of the World register in 2016. 


This is therefore an event that we still consider worth remembering today. Our way of celebrating Jubilees thus represents a direct link between past events and our present time [2]. In other words, these events are never completely gone, because they live on in our traditions and our memory, and logically, this also changes our view of these past events.



Final thoughts


Building with LEGO bricks is an everyday social practice. These show us how people do things and which images, ideas, mass media etc. influence them and what is important for them to represent for themselves. LEGO bricks serve here as a medium of memory. They remind us of past events that we still want to remember in our own way today. Perhaps we even feel obliged to do so.


We are often not even aware of this. We usually depict what we know from our everyday world or what our wishes and worries are. The construction of LEGO bricks is an attempt to find a way of dealing with our world. So all our models are shaped by media, images and ideas. Sometimes this is obvious when a model is directly reminiscent of a movie or a series/video game and sometimes it's just very subtle.


Here we have the latter. And we only understand this when we question our everyday self-understandings such as remembering historical events. That's what we did today.




[1]  Winfried Müller : Das historische Jubiläum. Zur Geschichtlichkeit einer Zeitkonstruktion, in: Ebd. (ed.): Das historische Jubiläum. Genese, Ordnungsleistung und Inszenierungsgeschichte eines institutionellen Mechanismus (Geschichte : Forschung und Wissenschaft), Münster 2004, p. 1–77, here: 1-2.

[2] Ebd., p. 2-3.



The concept: MotW (Moc of the Week)


I would like to introduce my "Moc of the Week" to you weekly. The whole thing shouldn't be longer than today's article.


I do this to do justice to the LEGO brick as a medium for art, for example. For that you need to reflect on the individual models. Those models I am discussing here have simply earned this reflection. In our so fast moving internet, models have disappeared as quickly as they came and can rarely create a lasting impression. This is also due to the fact that the engagement with the builds is much too superficial. If it is more intensive, we can gain more from the whole thing and that's my goal to achieve. Taking the works of others seriously and appreciating the time they have spent to show us their beautful builds.