Friday, March 24, 2006

Pyramids - The Inside Story

Pyramids - The Inside Story. This site was created to accompany an episode of the PBS Nova from 1997. The description from the site reads, "Have you ever dreamed of exploring the pyramids of Egypt? If so, enter here, wander through the chambers and passageways of the Great Pyramid, and learn about the pharaohs for whom these monumental tombs were built. You can also follow the 1997 field season of a team of archaeologists as they excavated the bakery that fed the pyramid builders."

There are several tours in QuickTime VR of various sites including the Sphinx. It also explains how the pyramids were constructed and by whom. There is also a brief article on hieroglyphs.

There is also coverage of a 1997 excavation of the bakery that fed the pyramid builders. It took a lot of people (30K+) to build pyramids. Feeding and sheltering them must have been a colossal undertaking comparable to marching a huge army half way across the world.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Conspiracy Theories, 9/11, and Historical Revisionism

Actor Charlie Sheen, who also apparently fancies himself a noted engineer and historian, is making waves with his repetition of some of the conspiracy theories around the historical events of September 11th, 2001 in New York City.

He said, "Call me insane but did it sort of look like those buildings came down in a controlled demolition?"

Yeah, maybe Charlie Sheen is insane. It looks to me like the planes full of jet fuel which are shown on camera hitting the towers brought those buildings down. I also bet it was that hijacked plane full of fuel that caused the damage at the Pentagon too rather than a controlled demolition. It looks as though Charlie and others are not denying that planes hit these locations but they are also claiming that (depending on the conspiracy theory) that Israeli agents or the US government helped the terrorists commit the attacks.

While in many ways this lack of critical thinking skills is somewhat humorous, it is also sadly the beginning of what will almost certainly become a historical revisionist view of 9/11. As time goes by, decade by decade, I expect more and more books and web sites "proving" that 9/11 was a plot by the CIA, Mossad, or (insert your theory here).

I find a striking similarity between 9/11 revisionist and Holocaust deniers. Many of the claims of Holocaust revisionism is that the Holocaust was a fabricated event created by the West to justify the creation of Israel. The 9/11 revisionists are claiming that the event was contrived by Israel or other western power to create a backlash against Arabs which also benefits Israel. I find it ironic that educated individuals who may even realize the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is fake and is not proof of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy also at the same time believe that many of the major historical events of the last 70 years are proof of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

I realize that the lack of proof for a conspiracy is by itself proof that a conspiracy may exist. Or at least that is how many view conspiracies. However, a small number of men could not keep Watergate hushed up. Do you really think a much larger number of people required to pull of government conspiracy of this magnitude would stay quiet very long? Not one person has talked in 5 years? Of course, some still think the government has a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico too that thousands of people have apparently have stayed quiet about. So I guess this is not a stretch for many.

Wikipedia has an article on Historical Revisionism (Negationism). In it, there is a list of techniques used by revisionists. Many of them listed are being used by the 9/11 revisionist crowd including conspiracy theories, selective use of facts, burden of proof, and wishful thinking (apparent on the so called Arab Street).

Academics need to prepare themselves. This will not go away and it is just a matter of time before we have a significant number of students in class who are going to believe the stuff that Charlie Sheen and others are claiming as facts. Be prepared to do some serious debunking!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

EyeWitness to History

EyeWitness to History. This site has profiles of historical characters and events, from ancient times to today, told with the images and words of those who lived it.

The site notes that it is, "Your ringside seat to history - from the Ancient World to the present. History through the eyes of those who lived it, presented by Ibis Communications, Inc. a digital publisher of educational programming."

One of the featured front page articles is Cleopatra Seduces Antony, 41 BC. After an introduction setting the historical context, an ancient source by Plutarch is used to tell the story. Plutarch was a Greek historian who wrote a history of the life of Antony in the first century AD.

Other articles are similar with an introduction and then a shift to other sources such as photographs, letters, and contemporary accounts. Many of the articles about more historically recent events rely on primary source material.

This is a nice site which makes for quick and interesting reads in different time periods. I imagine it is quite popular with high school and college students as well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ritual Suicide

Ritual Suicide. This short article has information on the ritual suicide practice known as Seppuku (or Hara-kiri). It was normally practiced by samurai in medieval Japan.

The article notes, "To the samurai, seppuku--whether ordered as punishment or chosen in preference to a dishonorable death at the hands of an enemy--was unquestionable demonstration of their honor, courage, loyalty, and moral character. "

It is hard to believe but many warriors made the decision to kill themselves in a painful manner for making poor tactical decisions on the battlefield or for being on the wrong side of a political alliance. It is noted that this behavior became common after Buddhism was introduced in Japan.

Death in this manner was also ritualized. It is noted, "The location of an officially ordered seppuku ceremony was very important. Often the ritual was performed at temple (but not Shinto shrines), in the garden or villas, and inside homes. The size of the area available was also important, as it was prescribed precisely for samurai of high rank. All the matters relating to the act was carefully prescribed and carried out in the most meticulous manner. The most conspicuous participant, other than the victim, was the kaishaku (kie-shah-kuu), or assistant, who was responsible for cutting off the victim's head after he had sliced his abdomen open. The was generally a close friend or associate of the condemned."

Although ritual suicide is rarely practiced in Japan today, the legacy lives on. There is less social stigma attached to suicide in Japan than there is in other parts of the world.

Monday, March 20, 2006

US Library of Congress - Global Gateway: Islamic Manuscripts from Mali Collection

US Library of Congress - Global Gateway: Islamic Manuscripts from Mali Collection - This site features 22 manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye of Boujbeha, both in Timbuktu, Mali.

One example is Risalah ila al-Qaba'il al-Mutaqatilin (Letter to the Warring Tribes). In it, the author urges warring factions to make harmony and live in peace. He supports his argument with quotations from the Koran and examples from the practice of Muhammad and his companions.

From the site:

The manuscripts presented online are displayed in their entirety and are an exemplary grouping that showcase the wide variety of subjects covered by the written traditions of Timbuktu, Mali, and West Africa.

The manuscripts are written in various styles of the Arabic script. These styles were developed in Timbuktu and the surrounding regions of Mali and West Africa.

There are special presentations of maps, photographs, and other information about the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library. These presentations provide a fuller picture of the culture and society which produced and preserved these valuable artifacts of human endeavor.

Digital images of the manuscripts were donated by Abdel Kader Haidara, owner and director of the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library. The Library of Congress will include additional manuscripts in the future as new digital images are received.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

History of Norway

History of Norway. This essay has information pertaining to the history of the European nation of Norway.

Wikipedia notes, "Norway, or officially the Kingdom of Norway (Norwegian: Kongeriket Norge or Kongeriket Noreg) is a Nordic country on the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, bordering Sweden, Finland and Russia. Norway's extensive coastline along the North Atlantic Ocean is home to its famous fjords. The country has a very elongated shape. The Kingdom of Norway also includes the arctic island territories of Svalbard and Jan Mayen."

From the site:

Unlike the Swedes and Danes, the Norwegians were not organized even so late as the ninth century. The name of king was borne by the chiefs and heads of separate clans, but their authority was limited and the rights of the subjects very extensive. Only by marauding expeditions were the Vikings able to gain honour and wealth, and at times also to acquire control of extensive districts. Their early history is lost in the fabulous tales of the bards. In 872, Harold Haarfager (Fair-Haired), after a decisive sea-fight near Stavanger, established his authority over all the clans. Those refusing to submit left the country and their possessions were confiscated. When Harold divided his kingdom among several sons, its permanence seemed once more uncertain, but Hakon the Good restored a transient unity and procured an entrance for Christianity. Olaf Trygvesson continued the work of union after Hakon's death, and promoted the spread of the new faith, but in a sea-fight with the united forces of the Danes and Swedes he was killed about 1000 near Svalder (of uncertain location). The kingdom now fell apart, some portions coming under Cnut the Great of Denmark.

Finally Olaf, son of Harold Grenske and a descendant of Harold Haarfager (1015), re-established the boundaries of Norway, and aided Christianity to its final victory. At a later date Olaf became the patron saint of Norway. His severity so embittered the great families that they combined with Cnut and forced him to flee the country. Returning with a small army from Sweden, he was defeated and killed in the battle of Stiklestad (29 July, 1030). His heroic death and the marvellous phenomena that occurred in connexion with his body completely changed the feeling of his opponents. His son, Magnus the Good, was unanimously chosen his successor (1035), and the Danish intruders were driven away. Magnus died childless in 1047, and the kingdom went to his father's half-brother Harold, son of Sigurd. Harold had won fame and wealth as a viking, and had been an important personage at the Byzantine Court. On account of his grimness he was called Hardrada (the Stem). Impelled by ambition, he first waged a bloody war with Denmark and then attacked England. On an incursion into Northumberland, he was defeated at the battle of Stamford Bridge (1066). His son, Olaf the Quiet, repaired the injuries caused the country by Harold Hardrada's policy. Olaf's successor, Magnus, conquered the Scotch islands, waged successful war with Sweden, and even gained parts of Ireland, where he was finally killed. One of his sons, Sigurd Jorsalafari (the traveller to Jerusalem), went on a crusade to the Holy Land, while another son, Eystein, peacefully acquired Jemtland, a part of Sweden. With Sigurd's death (1130) the kingdom entered upon a period of disorder caused partly by strife between claimants to the throne, partly by rivalry between the secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries, whose partisans (known as the Birkebeinar and the Baglar) perpetrated unbelievable outrages and cruelty on each other. The power of the king sank steadily, while that of the bishops increased. For a time Sverre (1177-1202) seemed successful, but lasting peace was not attained until the reign of his grandson, Hakon the Old (1217-63). Hakon ruled with wisdom and force and was highly regarded by the rulers of other countries. During his reign Norway reached its greatest extent, including Greenland and Iceland. He died in the Orkney Islands (1263) while returning from an expedition against the Scotch.