Friday, October 27, 2006

Using Alternative Assessments To Improve the Teaching and Learning of History

Using Alternative Assessments To Improve the Teaching and Learning of History. This ERIC Digest si from 1997. Although almost ten years old, I enjoyed reading it. One problem I have always had to deal with is how to grade students. I do not always like doing it. How do I know if my assessment actually reflects what the student learned? I know I have given Bs to students who learned a lot but struggled with a test while I have given As to some students who are good at turning in well crafted papers but never really struck me as having learned a lot based on my interactions with them a semester later.

This article addresses a few different ways to assess learning in history beyond the traditional methods. Further, the methods are proposed with the intent that the mere use of the assessment method will help students learn more. There is some food for thought here.

From the site:

A history teacher's curriculum planning, choice of classroom methodology, and means to assess student learning are inextricably linked. Forms of assessment that involve only recall of discrete information are likely to encourage teaching methods that emphasize low-level cognition. Further, traditional forms of assessing students' knowledge of history neither prompt students to reveal all they know about the subject nor challenge them to learn more. Thus, teachers and researchers have concluded that traditional assessments must be complemented by new methods that can reinvigorate and improve the teaching and learning of history in schools.

Alternative assessment can be a diagnostic tool to improve both a teacher's instruction and a student's learning of history by revealing information about three dimensions of a student's historical literacy. First, students who complete alternative assessment activities demonstrate their knowledge of historical facts, themes, and ideas. Second, students who complete alternative assessment activities demonstrate their ability to reason; that is, to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize historical evidence. And third, students who complete alternative assessment activities demonstrate their ability to communicate their historical knowledge and reasoning to others.

Each dimension of a student's historical literacy has its own important characteristics that provide the structural frame teachers need to create an alternative assessment activity for their students. Knowledge of historical evidence is the prerequisite students need to demonstrate their ability in the other two dimensions. The Bradley Commission's "Vital Themes and Narratives" is a conceptual scheme that helps students organize their knowledge of the past. These themes serve as filters to help students differentiate between what is important and what is insignificant in the historical record. They provide direction for students to accurately identify, define, and describe important concepts, facts, and details. (The Bradley Commission on History in the Schools 1988, 10-11).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Where Did Queen Nefertiti Come From?

I found this history article at As the site allows for the reproduction of articles by blogs and other websites, I am going to go ahead and reprint it here. The author of the article is Ashok Malhotra.

Where Did Queen Nefertiti Come From?
by Ashok Malhotra

Queen Nefertiti is one of two most famous queens of ancient Egypt, the other being Cleopatra. Her beauty, revealed in her famous limestone portrait busts - the loveliest masterpieces of Egyptian sculpture - has made her widely known around the world. Yet, in spite of her fame, historians are not unanimous about her origins. There appears to have been a deliberate attempt in ancient Egypt to erase the existence of her memory due to reasons that will be elaborated in this article.

Nefertiti is a mysterious figure. Some say, who she was, or who her parents were, is unknown and that she was just a commoner. Others have suggested that she was a Hittite princess, or that she was a Mittani princess from a neighboring kingdom, or a daughter of Ay, one the viziers to the pharaoh. However clarifying the matter would help to clarify other significant aspects of ancient Egyptian civilization.

An aspect of genetics, that appears not to have been given the attention it deserves, can help resolve this mystery. It is the elongated skull or the dolichocephalic heads that many members of the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty possessed. One of the reasons that historians ignored this feature at first is because some thought that it was just a feature of stylized art. Some have suggested that elongated skulls are not an unusual feature and prevail in some African and Nordic tribes. However here, it is not a question of just a long skull that some Africans or ancient Nordics could possess. Those are within the limits of normal human variation albeit on the longer side. Here we are talking of a skull shape that goes well beyond the normal human shape, to the point that biologists have attributed it to rare diseases, some even to extraterrestrial sources. Studies have shown that it is a rare occurrence indeed. Certain African tribes such as the Mangbetu and the Zande produce long skulls by binding the heads of young but this latter type of elongation produces quite a different effect. Moreover studies on Egyptian royal mummies have proved conclusively that the royal Egyptian dolichocephalic head is not a result of binding but rather a genetic family trait. The skull shape is so pronounced that many initially thought it was just an artistic feature until the actual mummies with such skulls were discovered. Some modern doctors postulated that this might be a result of a rare deforming disease. However that too has been ruled out since the trait is shared in the family by inheritance. Research work by David Childress in Peru, Adriano Forgione in Malta and Andrew Collins, (Andrew Collins. Gods of Eden. London: Headline Book, Pub. 1998) has led to a greater knowledge of the elongated skull. The first is that this is a rare anomaly that has been found since ancient times in other parts of the world as well. If those possessing the elongated skull belong to a certain race that has now become extinct cannot be said with certainty. Such skulls have been discovered not only in Egypt but also in Peru, Malta and the Mittani belt of northern Iraq and Syria and those possessing such skulls appear to have been associated with the royal or priestly classes. Except for Peru the other four locations are in close geographical proximity therefore the possibility that all of them arise from the same genetic source cannot be ruled out. The genetic source of the Peru skulls may also be the same since there does appear to be an old world origin of American civilizations.

Nefertiti too possessed such a skull and therefore the possibility of her being a commoner becomes unlikely. The second speculation that she was a Hittite princess is also ruled out by reference to available historical records. Rather she appears to be a Mittani princess daughter of the Mittani king Dashrath. The confusion has arisen because in historical records the Mittani have been confused with Hittites on occasions. Both Hittites and the Mittani belong to the Indo-European speaking Aryan races.

The Mitanni were a people of Aryan origin who ruled a vast kingdom with a largely Hurrian population in West Asia in the second millennium BC, for a brief historical epoch, sometime after 1500 BC. It was a feudal state led by a warrior nobility in which apparently the royal women were trained along with men in horse riding, chariot racing and warfare. This training was provided for the eventuality that they might be called upon to rule if widowed. Such accounts are found in the Puranas and Vedas, ancient historical records of the community that the Mittani kings belonged too. The Rig-Veda, an ancient scripture of Mittani rulers recounts the story of a warrior, Queen Vishpla, who lost her leg in battle, was fitted with iron prosthesis, and returned to battle. The Mittani kingdom in Syria was a foreign and brief one lasting for about 150 years. During their brief reign the relationship they established with Egypt has left a significant mark in history. It was a mutually beneficial alliance that permitted the Mittani to continue in foreign surroundings and provided a buffer to the Egyptians against Hittite incursions. The Mittani kingdom was eventually weakened by Hittites and returned to Syria in approximately 1330 BC.

While they ruled in the area, the Mittani Royal house developed close amicable relations with their western neighbors, the Egyptian Royal house through intermarriages as well as financial, military and religious alliances. For a period they became as one family. There appear to have been some alliance amongst the priestly class as well. The daughter of King Artatama was married to Thutmose IV, Akhenaten's grandfather. His son, King Shuttarna in the early fourteenth century BC sent his daughter Kiluhepa to Egypt for a marriage with Pharaoh Amenhotp III. And the daughter of the King Dasharatha, the son of Shuttarna, Princess Tadukhipa, became the queen of Akhenaten. The Egyptian Pharaohs also introduced horses and chariots in Egypt because of their relationship with the Mittanis.

The archeological finds at Amarna shed light on the relationship between the two royal families. In one Amarna letter, written to Akhenaten's mother, Tiye, my sister, the Mitannian king complains that Akhenaten has not sent gifts that his father had promised, "I had asked your husband for statues of solid cast gold, but your son has sent me plated statues of wood. With gold being dirt in your son's country, why have they been a source of such distress to your son that he has not given them to me? Is this love?" Dushrath wrote to Tiye instead of to the pharaoh himself because he was more comfortable in writing to his sister than the king. The letter is hardly a diplomatic or royal letter. It is a family communication.

The origin of queen Tiye, like that of Nefertiti are also shrouded in controversy. It is very possible that the priests did not approve of the Egyptian family connection with Mittanis. They had good reasons for it. Primarily it was the introduction of foreign gods and unorthodox customs into Egypt as a result of these foreign queens. Queen Tiye too has been recognized for her unorthodoxy like Nefertiti. Historians have however admitted that there appears to be a relationship between Tiye and Nefertiti. There was. Tiye was Nefertiti’s aunt – the sister of her father Dashrath. The Amarna letters prove the close family ties between Dashrath and Tiye. Another reason for the discomfort of the priesthood was that before the appearance of the Mittanis, the priestly clan often supplied brides to the pharaohs. That helped them to maintain their power in Egypt, but this new source of royal brides must have been a source of much anguish to the priestly clan. They may have responded by claiming that the new brides were not royal but just from a common tribal source that had managed to grab a neighboring kingdom. This last assumption may have arisen from their ignorance of Mittani royal roots that have a history perhaps longer than even the Egyptian civilization as illustrated by their sacred texts, the Vedas.

Some historians have claimed that Tiye was the daughter of Yuaa, a priest of Mittani origin that her mother Tuaa, was of royal descent, from the royal family of Mittani. If this latter was the case then it would make Tiye a cousin of king Dasharath rather than a blood sister. However, the utter informality of communications between Dasharath and Tiye, along with historical records indicating that the Mittani kings had provided the Egyptian pharaohs with their daughters as queens suggests that Tiye was a blood sister of Dashrath, the Mittani princess Kiluhepa. In either case the Mittani royal origin of Tiye, and by extension that of Nefertiti appears to be of little doubt. Both bore a resemblance as revealed from their statues. Physical resemblance of relatives within the Mittani and Egyptian households appears to have been accentuated by inbreeding to the point that even Nefertiti and her husband bore a striking resemblance to each other. As compared to humans of other races, Akhinaten appeared effeminate and some suggested that he had no sexual organs because a nude statue of him depicted him without any. Akhinaten fathered many children and the absence of sexual organs in his statue is more likely a result of modesty. The ancient Egyptians were not as open about male frontal nudity as the Greeks were in a later civilization. In reality Akhinaten may have been rather well hung. However there is a possibility that his sexual chromosomes were XXY rather than XY, a result of inbreeding. The possibility arises because of the speculation that the elongated skull is primarily a feature imparted by the X chromosome and that its presence in males is only likely with an extra X. However a confirmation of this last hypothesis must await further advances in genetic science.

Betsy Bryan, a professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins, found a statue of Tiye, Akhinaten’s mother, at the Mut temple. When the statue was removed it revealed itself as a queen of Amenhotep III, whose name appears repeatedly on the statue's crown. Schwappach-Shirriff curator of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in California told Discovery News that it is significant that the statue was found buried within a temple. " It shows that she indeed had strong religious ties because she was found in a temple ” she explained. Women at the time could not serve as priestesses, but both Bryan and Schwappach-Shirriff think the emerging evidence, such as this statue, indicate that at least some women may have been more central to certain Egyptian religions than previously thought. This new role of women in Egypt appears to be due to the foreign Mittani origin of these queens.

The Mittani royal families appears to be the source from which elongated skulls arrived in the Egyptian royal family. Thutmose III and Thutmose IV grandfather of Akhinaten did not possess such a skull as revealed by their statues at Luxor and Cairo Museums but his grandmother Queen Mutemwiya , Great Royal Spouse of King Thutmose IV and royal daughter of Artatama I, King of Mittani probably did. The Mittani queens were given new Egyptian names after their marriages to the Pharaohs. The change in names added to the fact that the Pharaohs had more than one wife has lead to the confusion as to which is which. Add to this the propaganda circulated by the priests who were the principal scribes of the time and the clouding of history becomes certain. The Pharaoh Akhinaten, who too possessed the elongated head, could have got this trait from his father, mother or grandmother. His daughters and son King Tutankhamen possessed the same skull as well. There was considerable inbreeding in the royal families and this tends to establish a genetic trait. The elongated skull was probably a common feature of the Egyptian and Mittani royal households and this would have lead them to consider that they had become one family. Akhinaten had two wives Kiya and Nefretiti and scholars are unsure as to which of the two is the Mittani Princess. However, if one were to go by the elongated skull then it has to be Nefretiti who was the Mittani princess. Add to this the fact that she was a warrior queen who has been shown participating in chariot races and wielding weapons. She was not the typical Queen of Egypt. She was shown in very prominent positions in the Amarna art, and has even been shown in the warlike position of the Pharaoh - grasping prisoners' hair and breaking their skulls with a mace. Order in ancient society was maintained by ruthless punishments. This was very unlike Egyptian princesses but not unexpected of a Mittani Aryan one.

In ancient times it was not uncommon for queens and princesses to have a personal nurse who stayed with the princesses well into adulthood often accompanying them into a new household after their marriage. The nurse often played the role of a substitute mother if the real mother was not available. If a princess came from the Mittani kingdom, it is expected that she be not sent alone to a foreign land but along with maids and her personal nurse. That is the least a royal father could do when sending his daughter to another country. Did such a nurse accompany Akhineten’s Mittani wife into Egypt? One lady in the palace did claim to be her nurse. It was Tey who never claimed to be the queen’s mother but did claim to be her nurse. Tey is also known to have had her own daughter Mutnodmjet born from a marriage to the prominent Egyptian Aye. Nefertiti would have regarded the daughter of Tey in a sisterly way and one inscription reads, "Mutnodjmet, may she live like Re forever, sister of the King's Great Wife. Therefore, it is clear that Nefertiti regarded her Nurse’s daughter as her sister. There is little doubt that Mutnodjmet was Aye’s daughter because there are prominent depictions of the two together. The fact that Nefertiti had a personal nurse, who is well known in Egypt, is also evidence against her being from a common or unknown background. If it was claimed by some that Nefertiti’s background is not known in spite of the fact that her nurse continued to be present as the wife of a prominent personality is an indication that a deliberate attempt has been made to ignore Nefertiti’s background. Aye even became a Pharaoh at a later stage after the death of the last heir of the eighteenth dynasty.

There are other bits of evidence that support the theory that Nefertiti was a Mittani princess. Nefertiti means the beautiful one who has come, signifying a princess from afar. During his rule Akhinaten probably due to the Aryan influence of his mother and wife attempted to establish a new religion, that of monotheistic worship with the Sun as the symbol of God’s power, to the utter dismay of the priesthood. This attempt resulted in an open revolt by the priestly class.
The striking resemblance between Nefertiti’s portraits and those of her young husband has prompted some scholars to suggest that she was his half, or even his full sister. Brother and sister marriages were common in Egypt. But we know from historical records that this was not the case here. Rather if the princess were the daughter of Dushratta, then her aunt would be the mother, and her grandmother the sister of the grandmother of the King, a relationship even closer than cousins and there would be nothing strange in their resembling each other as brother and sister.

Their reign was brief. Akhinaten ruled just 17 years, and within a few years after his death in 1336 B.C., Neferititi too died, apparently murdered, struck from behind at an unguarded moment. Tut ruled for about ten years before he died in 1322 B.C. The Egyptian vizier Aye was perhaps the de facto ruler initially using King Tut as the figurehead on the throne. As Tut grew up it is likely that he, like his father, was starting to have ideas of his own. His mentors particularly Aye, could not tolerate another heretic and may have organized his murder by poisoning or another device. Aye is portrayed as a person who acted in a fatherly manner to Nefertiti but this may have been just a cunning front that Aye maintained to retain his foothold in the palace. Aye proclaimed himself Pharaoh after the death of Tut since no other heirs were left. He is the shadowy figure who may have organized the end of the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty in order to gain power. He too died within three years in 1319. A commoner Horemheb followed Aye to the throne and ruled for 27 years, obliterating every record of Nefertiti and Akhenaten that he could. The old orthodoxy was restored. Akhenaten's enemies soon smashed his statues, dismantled his temples, and set out to expunge all memory of him and Nefertiti from Egypt's historical record. The eighteenth Egyptian dynasty ended with King Tut. Two other outside rulers – Aye and Horemheb are shown grouped with the eighteenth dynasty because of a lack of a better placement.

Archives found in the Hittite capital of Hattusa in Anatolia indicate that Nefrititi wrote a desperate letter to the Hittite king saying her husband had died and begging him to send her one of his sons so that she would not have to wed a "servant." and one who would rule over Egypt as the king. The letter indicated that Neferititi maintained the reigns of power as long as she lived. An Egyptian princess was more likely to seek an alliance closer at hand. It is also a written proof that the eighteenth dynasty regarded themselves as a class apart from other Egyptians regarding the latter as a servant class and believed in marrying within royalty rather than outside of it. If Nefertiti was indeed of common Egyptian origin than such a statement is unlikely from her. The Hittite king obliged by sending his son, however the son was way laid and killed at the border leading to a bloody war. This indicates the intrigue that was taking place in the palace at that time. There were few, other than Aye who could be privy to the communication. Only a Mittani princess could have dared to write to a Hittite king with a proposal for marriage and only an insider like Aye would know.

Nefertiti did not behave as a commoner or a person from anything less than a royal family right from the start. She ruled by the side of Akhinaten as long as he lived and after his death added the suffix Aten to her name, adorned a male dress and took charge of the kingdom as a Pharaoh true to the tradition of Vedic Aryans. The royal heirs Smenkhare and Tutankhamen were too young to become kings right away, but were possibly regarded by the orthodoxy as the real Pharaohs. Historians are unsure as to whether Tutankhamen was the son of Nefertiti or queen Kiya but it was probably the latter because one of Nefertiti’s daughter’s was married to King Tut and that would seem more reasonable if they were half brother and sister. Both Smenkhare and Tutankhamen possessed the royal skull. Tut was both a son and son-in-law of Nefertiti.

There is no evidence whatsoever in historical records to suggest that Nefertiti was not the Mittani princess, and while she lived she ruled like a warrior queen true to the race of warriors she had descended from. The pharaohs of Egypt added a divine suffix to their names. The suffix declared them as the divine representatives of the god that became a part of their name. As a queen princess Tadukhipa adopted the name Nefertiti and Nefretari, “the beautiful one has arrived”. As a Pharaoh she changed the name to NeferNeferaten – the beautiful, beautiful one from the Sun God”. In recent years her hidden tomb and injured mummy has been discovered in the Valley of the Kings, restoring the recognition she deserved. The present study restores the recognition of her origins that ancient Egyptian scribes tried so hard to delete from Egyptian memories. Their attempts were understandable. She was a foreigner and an equal partner with her young husband in attempting to destroy the ancient religion of Egypt and replace it with a new one. It is hoped that the present study will contribute towards restoring her rightful place in the history of human civilizations.

The author Dr. Ashok Malhotra holds a doctorate in engineering from UBC Canada.

Article Source:

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Citizendium - An Alternative to Wikipedia?

I read in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education that there is a move being made to create an alternative to Wikipedia. It is called Citizendium. Larry Sanger, one of the co-founders of Wikipedia, is attempting to create an academic version of Wikipedia. The idea is for a project (which is not quite an encyclopedia but close to it) which is open to all but allows experts in subject matter have the final say on articles.

The project is going to begin as a fork of Wikipedia with the copying of all the articles currently there. However, the idea is that real life experts will then begin work on the articles and put a stamp of approval on them when they are ready. Discipline based editorial teams will give final approval to content.

Editors will be required to use their real names. Further, they must have academic qualifications which would qualify them to be considered experts in the subject area. Right now, applications for the project are required to submit a CV. As I understand it, non-experts may be allowed to edit articles but they will have no veto over approved expert editors from the academic community. There will be no edit wars between a 19 year old with an axe to grind and a real life academic. The guy/gal with the doctorate will win every time.

Of course, there is a more academic version of Wikipedia out there already. It is called the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Britannica is allowing visitors to contribute content as well but requiring professional editors to approve it. However, as the content there is hidden behind subscription fees, it is not a long term threat to dethrone Wikipedia. Given a choice between free quality information and subscription quality information, free wins every time even if the paid content is slightly better. What if a free peer-reviewed resource created by members of the academy became big? Now we have an alternative to Wikipedia that both academics and the public could approve.

It is going to be hard to create a resource with a large active academic community. This project participants likely will get few tenure or promotion credits for contributing. This will not count as scholarship in most places. Further, one of the keys to Wikipedia is the thousands of users who update articles hourly. It is a good source for current news and up-to-date information. Can Citizendium be this active?

I wonder how many historians will go for this? How many good historians will Citizendium need to have a good history editorial team which can deal with the massive amount of non-peer reviewed articles at Wikipedia which are mostly accurate but will need work and vetting before getting a stamp of approval? I am not going to join right away but I wish these historians luck.

I would say that chances for Citizendium to be successful long-term are slim. However, I would have thought five years ago that an idea like Wikipedia was doomed as well. And how wrong I would have been...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two New History Carnivals

Two new history carnivals to help you find good recent posts in the blogosphere:

1. The Carnival of Bad History #10 is up over at archy

2. Carnivalesque XX, an early modern edition, is up at Recent Finds.

My thanks to Ralph Luker at Cliopatria for pointing these out. I sure do like history carnivals. Maybe we should have a few more? How about a Carnival of American History? Or perhaps a Carnival of the Romans?

Monday, October 23, 2006

50th Anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It was brief but the people of Hungary clearly demonstrated their desire to end communism. But for the Soviet Union, they may well have been succesful. Soviet troops engaged Hungarian forces and the revolution was over by November 10th, 1956.

Here is a collection of links for finding more information on this topic:

The Hungarian Revolt, October 23 - November 4, 1956 - A Scribner research anthology of written sources on the Hungarian Revolt, edited by Richard Lettis and William I. Morris. Documents include radio broadcasts, newspaper and magazine articles, and portions of books on the revolt.

1956 Hungarian Revolution Collection - From the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Cold War International History Project (Virtual Archive 2.0), containing documents and other source materials relating to the 1956 Revolution.

Hungarian Tragedy - An eyewitness account by Peter Fryer, correspondent for the British Communist Party's newspaper, The Daily Worker.

The 1956 Portal - A resource for Hungarian-American organizations to highlight and promote their 1956 Hungarian Revolution commemoration activities, including 1956 photos, videos, resources, and events across the US.