Saturday, June 17, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part One - (At Sea) A History of Holland America and the ms Zaandam

(ms Zaandam)

Seattle and the state of Washington are far behind us now. There are no scheduled ports of call today. I have been exploring the ship and have been having a good time walking around the deck and over eating.

The coast of British Columbia is beautiful. We are cruising along the coast of Vancouver Island and I am happy I remembered to pack my binoculars. It is hard to describe the wonderful nature scenery.

I was hoping to sit down to watch the USA vs. Italy World Cup game and hope for an improbable American win. I have never watched a World Cup game on a cruise ship, this should be memorable. However, the ship does not seem to have ABC available. I will look around and hope a lounge bar is showing the game. In the meantime, the history focus of this post will be on the Holland America Line and the ms Zaandam.

History of Holland America Line

The line was established on April 18, 1873 as the Nederlandsch-Amerikaansche Stoomvaart Maatschappij (Netherlands-America Steamship Company). For the first few decades, the company was into cargo runs and ferrying passengers. The official history of the company notes, "The line was a principal carrier of immigrants from Europe to the United States until well after the turn of the century, carrying 850,000 to new lives in the New World."

The company began offering cruises in 1895. Eventually, it dropped both the passenger ferrying and cargo aspects of the business in the 1970s. In 1883, Holland America adopts the "dam" suffix for the names of its passenger liners. This tradition is still being followed today.

During World War I, six Holland America ships were lost. Thirteen employees also died. The Statendam II was taken over by the British for use as the troopship Justicia, which was torpedoed and sunk in 1918.

The Great Depression put a financial hit on Holland America. Twelve ships were sold for scrap. A lot of employees were laid off while others had to accept large pay cuts.

Business began to increase as the 30s went on but then World War II came into the picture. Holland America started the war with 25 ships. Only nine remained in 1945. 264 Holland America employees died during the fighting. The Westernland, docked in England, became the seat of the Netherlands government-in-exile.

Air travel in the 50s is the main reason that Holland America dropped the trans-Atlantic traffic aspect of operations. By 1965, 95% of travelers were flying.

In 1971, Holland America Line bought one million shares of the Alaska tour company Westours and controlling interest. The current cruise I am on I guess is a dirct result of that business transaction in the 70s. The Prinsendam conducted Holland America Line' s first Alaska cruise on the Inside Passage itinerary in 1975. In 1980, a fire broke out in the Prinsendam's engine room. All aboard are evacuated safely but the the ship sunk west of Sitka.

The company site notes, "In 1989, Holland America Line Inc. became a wholly owned subsidiary of Carnival Corporation & plc., the largest cruise company in the world. Today, the line operates 12 ships to seven continents and carries more than 600,000 cruise passengers a year."

History of the ms Zaandam

The ms Zaandam does not have a long history. It is named for the Zaanstad district of Amsterdam. It is the sister ship to the Volendam. The ship was christened by the Olsen twins. It entered service on May 6, 2000 in the Caribbean.

This is a nice ship and I hope it does not make any history on this trip!

Previous Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Introduction

Next Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Two - History of Juneau

Friday, June 16, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Introduction

OK, I am trying something different for this history blog. My wife and I are going on an Alaskan Cruise. We are leaving today from Seattle on a seven day cruise which will be stopping in Juneau, Glacier Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, British Columbia.

I could put this blog on vacation for over a week but I decided to try something else...

Welcome to the first post of a planned eight post (including this introduction) series on the history of Alaska reported by Miland Brown as I enjoy my vacation. The ship I am traveling on (ms Zaandam) has an Internet Room and I should be able to post information on the history of places I am visiting. If not, then this blog will not be updated for a week and I guess my regular readers will know why!

I am calling this the Alaskan History Cruise series rather than an Alaskan History series as my experiences in Alaska will be limited. I will only be reporting basically on the southeast panhandle of Alaska. I will be missing much of the state. Further, the ship will be spending time in Canadian waters and be visiting Victoria in British Columbia. This is not part of Alaska but it is part of an Alaskan History Cruise so it will be covered.

Also, please note that that Holland America does not offer an Alaskan History Cruise. I am making it history themed by my research and my choice of shore excursions. If you want to try this, just sign up for a regular Alaskan cruise and do the same!

Here is a list of posts. The text will have a link on it after the post is actually made! This post was written before leaving for the trip. The rest will be composed onboard daily.

Alaskan History Cruise, Part One - (At Sea) A History of Holland America and the ms Zaandam
Alaskan History Cruise, Part Two - History of Juneau
Alaskan History Cruise, Part Three - History of Glacier Bay
Alaskan History Cruise, Part Four - History of Sitka
Alaskan History Cruise, Part Five - History of Ketchikan
Alaskan History Cruise, Part Six - History of Victoria
Alaskan History Cruise, Part Seven - Back in Seattle

Thursday, June 15, 2006

History Carnival #33

The newest edition of the History Carnival is up! Jennie Weber at American Presidents Blog has compiled a great selection of history blog posts from around the Web.

The next History Carnival will be held July 1st at Chapati Mystery by Sepoy. You can submit via the carnival submission form or email Sepoy: sepoy[AT]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Antikythera Mechanism - An Ancient Greek Computer

There were many brilliant people in the ancient world. As such, it is not usually surprising to learn about ancient inventions. Many so called modern inventions have ancient pasts.

However, I will still a bit taken aback to learn that the ancient Greeks had invented a computer. In 1901, divers working off the isle of Antikythera found the remains of a clocklike mechanism 2,000 years old. The mechanism now appears to have been a device for calculating the motions of stars and planets. This device is now known as the Antikythera Mechanism and it is recognized as being a mechanical analog computer.

In the June 1959 issue of Scientific American, Derek J. de Solla Price wrote about this in his article An Ancient Greek Computer. Price wrote, "From the evidence of the fragments one can get a good idea of the appearance of the original object. Consisting of a box with dials on the outside and a very complex assembly of gear wheels mounted within, it must have resembled a well- made 18th-century clock. Doors hinged to the box served to protect the dials, and on all available surfaces of box, doors and dials there were long Greek inscriptions describing the operation and construction of the instrument. At least 20 gear wheels of the mechanism have been preserved, including a very sophisticated assembly of gears that were mounted eccentrically on a turntable and probably functioned as a sort of epicyclic or differential, gear-system. " (p. 60).

The computer has continued to be studied since then. It has been in the news recently as scientists have managed to decipher most of the text on the device. The Times of India reported, "After deciphering most of the text they found the device was indeed made to calculate the position of certain stars, the known planets, the Sun and Moon, and to predict astronomical phenomena."

What does this mean? Not only do we have proof of an ancient computer but it also shows that the Greeks understood that the Earth and the Sun were not the center of the Universe. The Times of India article noted this, "Because if the investigators are correct it would mean that at least some Greeks had already adopted the heliocentric view of the solar system as opposed to the prevailing Aristotelian doctrine which put Earth and humanity at the centre of the cosmos."

This computer makes me wonder what other advanced devices the Greeks and other ancient civilizations may have made but which are now lost. The Dark Ages in Europe resulted in the loss of a lot of knowledge and scientific know how. If the Dark Ages had not occurred, would the world be more scientifically advanced now? I know I am speculating in alternate history here but before I heard about the Antikythera Mechanism, I though an ancient Greek computer was alternate history too...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Julius Caesar, War Criminal?

I have just finished reading Chronicle of the Roman Republic by Philip Matyszak. This tome looks like a coffee table book. I am sure many treat it this way. However, I went beyond the pictures and enjoyed it. Matyszak uses biography to inform the reader about the history of the Roman Republic in an entertaining and informative style.

Matyszak is not a fan of Julius Caesar. He actually accuses him of war crimes due to his actions in the Gallic War. Commenting on Caesar's The Gallic War, Matyszak wrote that "it is a work of propaganda. It masks the war's horrendous cost in human life and suffering (one historian describes it as the greatest human and social disaster until the settlement of the Americas.) It also hides the fact that the war was fought for Caesar's enrichment and glory. Contemporary Romans were well aware of this, and there was a movement in Rome to hand Caesar to the Gauls as a war criminal." (P. 206.)

I have several problems with this interpretation. For one, the Romans were gaining an ever increasing empire. The conquest of Gaul was probably inevitable. If Caesar had not done it, someone else would have. The bothersome Gallic tribes stood between Rome and the Spanish provinces and they had an annoying tendency to raid Roman soil. Right or wrong, their conquest was almost certain.

Second, Caesar did not do well politically in Rome. There was a reason he marched his legions on Rome. Despite his military accomplishments and his skill in making alliances with great men such as Pompey and Crassus, Caesar's enemies were ready and had the means to politically destroy him, financially ruin him, and expel him from Rome. The "war crimes" charge was just another argument on a long list of complaints that many had of Caesar and I doubt many took it that seriously.

The reason I think few took it as a serious reason is my final argument why viewing Caesar as a war criminal is inappropriate. War was different in the ancient world. There was no Geneva Convention back then. There were no rules for war other than those decide on by the combatants and which they then had the power to enforce. The Roman Republic itself had practiced brutal war repeatedly before Caesar and had even practiced genocide on the Carthaginian culture after the Third Punic War. As there was no UN or other international governing body then, there can technically be no war crimes charge.

Matyszak wrote, "History has been kinder to Caesar than he deserves. Caesar replaced an elected constitutional government - however imperfect - with military dictatorship. Over a million Gauls died to further his ambitions, and another million were enslaved." (p. 208.)

Any attempt to judge Caesar by modern standards is flawed. The rules were different then. Caesar did what many respected Romans did in his era. Caesar (and other Romans) were actually more merciful and trustworthy than some of the opponents they fought. Any attempt to judge Caesar as a war criminal based on 20th or 21st century law is ex post de facto and clearly an inappropriate application of international law.

It is also hard to mourn the passing of the Roman Republic. It represented only the interests of the aristocracy of Rome. If you were a slave, a woman, or a plebe (the majority of the people in the Roman Republic), did it make any difference if you lived in a Republic or an Empire? It can be argued that Caesar saved the Roman Empire by destroying the Republic. Could have a corrupt and bickering Roman Senate have successfully governed what became the Roman Empire? Probably not. And I think the world benefited from the civilization that Rome gave to the world.

Maybe I am just a modern day Caesar apologist. However, I see no benefit or justice in sticking Julius Caesar with a war crimes charge. He was a great man and I think he did more good than harm. However, I will not judge Matyszak too harshly either. This is a great book and I am glad I read it.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

History of The Netherlands

History of The Netherlands. This is a brief history of the European nation of the Netherlands. On a side note, I offer my congratulations to the Dutch soccer team which beat Serbia and Montenegro (which doesn't exist anymore except on the soccer pitch as Montenegro is now independent) today 1-0 in the World Cup in Germany.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes, "The name Holland (from Houtland, or Wooded Land) was originally given to one of the medieval cores of what later became the modern state and is still used for 2 of its 12 provinces (Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland). The irregular outline of The Netherlands, not unlike a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, encloses some 16,164 square miles (41,864 square kilometres) of mostly flat land, which lies between the North Sea on the north and west, Germany on the east, and Belgium on the south. Large parts of the total area consist of water, however. "

From the site:

The Dutch are primarily of Germanic stock with some Gallo-Celtic mixture. Their small homeland frequently has been threatened with destruction by the North Sea and has often been invaded by the great European powers.

Julius Caesar found the region which is now the Netherlands inhabited by Germanic tribes in the first century B.C. The western portion was inhabited by the Batavians and became part of a Roman province; the eastern portion was inhabited by the Frisians. Between the fourth and eighth centuries A.D., most of both portions were conquered by the Franks. The area later passed into the hands of the House of Burgundy and the Austrian Habsburgs. Falling under harsh Spanish rule in the 16th century, the Dutch revolted in 1558 under the leadership of Willem of Orange. By virtue of the Union of Utrecht in 1579, the seven northern Dutch provinces became the Republic of the United Netherlands.

During the 17th century, considered its "golden era," the Netherlands became a great sea and colonial power. Among other achievements, this period saw the emergence of some of painting's "Old Masters," including Rembrandt and Hals, whose works--along with those of later artists such as Mondriaan and Van Gogh--are today on display in museums throughout the Netherlands and the world.