Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. This site features illustrated biographies of important and influential New Zealanders. Some of the entries are also in Maori.

This is a great site but I do have a complaint. Only dead New Zealanders can be included! The site notes, "This website contains over 3,000 biographies of New Zealanders who have 'made their mark' on this country. It does not include people who are alive. So you will not find people like Helen Clark or Sean Fitzpatrick, but you will find people like George Nepia or Michael Joseph Savage."

As there are many living well known New Zealanders (like Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame), I find this a bit unfortunate. However, coverage of the dead is good and I enjoyed browsing this site.

On another point, the site uses framing which makes it difficult for the less web experienced to directly link to individual biographies. Unless you know how to right click on the mouse and select properties, the actual url will probably elude you. And it probably messes up the search engines too making this site less important than it should be for the average web surfer.

As an example of an included biography, here are the first two paragraphs for Alexander, William Frederick 1882 - 1957:

William Frederick (Fred) Alexander was born on 20 July 1882 at Little River, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand, the eldest child of William Francis Alexander, a storekeeper, and his wife, Elizabeth Sarah Phillips. Alexander senior later established a coach service from the railhead at Little River to Akaroa, which ended with an accident in which he suffered severe head injuries; he was thenceforth periodically confined to mental hospitals. His wife, four sons and baby daughter moved to Christchurch. From 1895 to 1898 Fred attended Christchurch Boys' High School, where he wrote the school song. He did well in arts subjects but proved a dunce at mathematics.

After a short time in the Stamp Department in Christchurch, Alexander became a subeditor on the Press in 1900. Four vigorous dailies and two major weeklies vied for Christchurch readers, and Alexander found himself among lively young people enthusiastic about modern literature and anxious to see New Zealand authors encouraged. Alexander himself, collaborating with a former schoolfellow, took a significant step towards this end. He was only 24, and his co-editor, A. E. (Ernest) Currie, a 22-year-old law clerk when their New Zealand verse was published in London in 1906, the first comprehensive anthology of New Zealand poetry. Alan Mulgan recalled that a British reviewer said that 'New Zealand played football better than it wrote poetry', but the book made a considerable impact in New Zealand. The co-editors made no great claims for their colonial bards, but they stated that they had selected 'the best verse available, irrespective of subject'. Their lengthy introduction and the choice and arrangement of the 172 poems by 68 authors (17 of them women) evinced considerable toil and a maturity of judgement.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinco de Mayo: The Battle of Pueblo

Cinco de Mayo: The Battle of Pueblo. Happy Cinco de Mayo to you! If you celebrate this Mexican holiday, I hope you have time to enjoy a margarita or two.

Cinco de Mayo remembers the Mexican victory over France on May 5th, 1862 at the Battle of Pueblo. Napoleon III of France landed French forces on Mexican soil late in 1861 on the pretext of debt collection. In reality, he intended to conquer Mexico. In the spring of 1862, the French army moved on Mexico City.

President Juárez of Mexico ordered that the French be intercepted at Pueblo. Wikipedia notes what happened next, "The weather favored the Mexicans. Rainy season downpours had turned the ground to mud, slowing the movement of the French artillery. Contemptuous of the Mexican troops, General Lorencez assumed they would flee from heavy fighting. At noon, he directed his first charge at the Mexican center. The Mexicans held their ground and drove the French back. The French regrouped and launched two more charges, both defeated. The Mexicans counter-attacked. A force of Zacapoaxtla and Xochiapulco Indians, many armed only with machetes, overran part of the French lines. Porfirio Díaz (a future President of Mexico) led a well disciplined company of Mexican cavalry that flanked the French. The battle was over by 4:30 p.m."

The victory was astonishing. The French army was modern and well trained. In contrast, the Mexican forces consisted largely of untrained farmers with primitive weapons. Everyone, including the Mexicans, had trouble believing the result!

The French would regroup and eventually take Mexico City. The Emperor Maximilian ruled portions of Mexico on behalf of France until he was executed in 1867. However, the heroism of the Mexicans at Pueblo showed the French and the world that they were willing to defend their country. The Mexicans had no intention of losing badly as they had in the Mexican-American War a mere 15 years earlier.

Looking back from the early 21st century, it is easy to see why Cinco de Mayo has been remembered by Mexicans for generations.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean

The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean. This site has a series of lessons from Dartmouth College covering Aegean Civilization from the Paleolithic period through the end of the Minoan Palatial era in the twelfth century B.C.

This is a well done site and the lessons have a lot of information. There are a total of 29 lessons ranging from The Southern Greek Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic Sequence at Franchthi to Post-Palatial Twilight: The Aegean in the Twelfth Century B.C. There are also sections on chronology, terminology, and the environment.

From the site:

This site contains information about the prehistoric archaeology of the Aegean. Through a series of lessons and illustrations, it traces the cultural evolution of humanity in the Aegean basin from the era of hunting and gathering (Palaeolithic-Mesolithic) through the early village farming stage (Neolithic) and the formative period of Aegean civilization into the age of the great palatial cultures of Minoan Crete and and Mycenaean Greece.

The textual information and illustrations in this site come from the lecture notes of Jeremy B. Rutter, Chairman of the Classics Department at Dartmouth College.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Geography Greek to Young Americans

Geography Greek to Young Americans. I sadly point out this report from CNN.

It notes, "The study, which surveyed 510 young Americans from December 17 to January 20, showed that 88 percent of those questioned could not find Afghanistan on a map of Asia despite widespread coverage of the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 and the political rebirth of the country."

This is not a surprise to me. I once was talking about Afghanistan in class and discussed the Soviet invasion and the American boycott of the 1980 Olympic games. Sadly, a student asked me what the heck the Soviet Union was. He brightened up when I told him that it was an earlier version of Russia. (I know. That is not exactly true but at least he could grasp what I was talking about.)

The report also notes, "In the Middle East, 63 percent could not find Iraq or Saudi Arabia on a map, and 75 percent could not point out Iran or Israel. Forty-four percent couldn't find any one of those four countries."

And they can not find Iraq. No wonder it is difficult to engage my students in serious debate about the war in Iraq. They do not know where it is and they have no idea about the history of Iraq or any other Middle East country.

Of course, there are many bright students who understand geography and history in the USA. But there sure are a lot of them who are geographically illiterate and do not care to correct the problem on their own. I will not even go into the story of one woman in my class who thought Canada was in Europe and actually argued with me about it...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Declassified Documents Relating to the Military Coup in Chile

Declassified Documents Relating to the Military Coup in Chile. This site includes CIA memoranda and reports on "Project FUBELT" which was a codename for operations to promote a coup and destroy Allende's government. The declassified files are from the National Security Archives.

The Encyclopedia of World History wrote of the event, "PRES. ALLENDE OVERTHROWN in U.S.-backed military coup. Anti-Allende forces claimed he had committed suicide during the siege of the presidential palace. GEN. AUGUSTO PINOCHET (b. 1915) emerged as head of a four-man junta. In the next month perhaps as many as 30,000 dissidents were rounded up and tortured, and approximately 2,000 were murdered. Political parties and labor unions were banned, and Pinochet moved quickly to adopt a free market strategy to 'regenerate' the Chilean economy and society."

From the site:

September 11, 1998 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. The violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende changed the course of the country that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda described as "a long petal of sea, wine and snow"; because of CIA covert intervention in Chile, and the repressive character of General Pinochet's rule, the coup became the most notorious military takeover in the annals of Latin American history.

Revelations that President Richard Nixon had ordered the CIA to "make the economy scream" in Chile to "prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him," prompted a major scandal in the mid-1970s, and a major investigation by the U.S. Senate. Since the coup, however, few U.S. documents relating to Chile have been actually declassified- -until recently. Through Freedom of Information Act requests, and other avenues of declassification, the National Security Archive has been able to compile a collection of declassified records that shed light on events in Chile between 1970 and 1976.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Joseph Smith: The Most Influential American of the 19th Century?

I have been reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman. It was published in 2005 by Alfred A. Knopf. I am about half way through the book and am enjoying it very much.

In the prologue, Bushman recounts the story from 1844 when Charles Francis Adams (son of President John Quincy Adams) meet Joseph Smith. He also includes some of the text that Adams wrote almost forty years later about the meeting.

Adams wrote, "It is by no means improbable that some future text-book, for the use of generation yet unborn, will contain a question something like this: What historical American of the 19th century has exterted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen? And it is by no means impossible that the answer to the interrogatory may thus be written: Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet" (p. 5).

Looking back from the early 21st century, I have to wonder if Adams was not right. Was Joseph Smith the most influential American of the 19th century?

I am not Mormon. As such, I do not regard Joseph Smith as a divinely inspired prophet. However, I also do not believe he was necessarily a con man either as many think. I think it is possible that he truly believed what he said but that does not require me to have to acknowledge he was a prophet of God. And of course the question of how authentic he was is not at all relevant to the question of how influential he was.

As it is, the Mormons survived Smith's death in 1844. They moved west and thrived. The Latter-day Saints have spread their message all over the world. The Mormons have played an important part in American history and they continue to be an important part of the Republican electoral coalition today. Joseph Smith remains an influential man.

But is he more influential than other great 19th century Americans? This is where it gets tough. I think at this point that Abraham Lincoln has him beat. President Lincoln saved the Union which survives to this day to be the only remaining superpower. That has to rank him #1. Other 19th century Americans such as President's Jefferson and Grant, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, and even Brigham Young may come out on top of Smith as well.

However, in centuries and millennia yet to come, will Smith be looked back upon as the most influential 19th century American? If there is no United States of America 1000 years from now and the Mormon Church is still thriving, would that then make Joseph Smith the most influential of 19th century Americans?

If enough time passes, I think Adams may be right about Joseph Smith and his place and history. My thanks to Bushman for sharing this encounter between Smith and Adams in his book.

History Carnival Number 30

History Carnival Number 30. The newest edition of the History Carnival has arrived at ClioWeb which "is a history and web design blog maintained by Jeremy Boggs, a web developer and history PhD student at George Mason University." This is a well done collection of history posts that will take most of us days to read and contemplate!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

History of Northern Ireland

History of Northern Ireland. This is a brief (and unsatisfying) history of Northern Ireland from 1922 to the present. Northern Ireland continues to have groups which argue for reunification with Ireland, groups which support the current status, and others which want a Northern Ireland independent of both Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Wikipedia notes, "Northern Ireland is one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have systems of devolved government though Northern Ireland's devolved Assembly has been suspended. It is situated on the island of Ireland, consisting of six north-eastern counties and is the only part of the United Kingdom with an external land border (with the Republic of Ireland). It was created by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920."

From the site:

Northern Ireland became independent from the remainder of Ireland after years of fighting between Catholics and Protestants. Ireland was partitioned in 1921 under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 between six of the nine Ulster counties in the northeast (forming Northern Ireland) and the remaining twenty-six counties of the south and west (forming the Irish Free State in 1922). When the latter achieved dominion status, the six Northern Ireland counties, under the procedures laid out in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 opted out, and so remain as part of the United Kingdom.

The conflict in Northern Ireland stems from a history of British rule, historical animosity between Catholics and Protestants, and the various armed and political attempts to unite Northern Ireland with the rest of the island. "Nationalist" and “republican” groups seek a united Ireland, while “unionists” and “loyalists” want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. After decades of violence by both republican and unionist paramilitaries, most notably the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the British and Irish governments negotiated an IRA ceasefire in 1994, which was followed by the landmark U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998.