Saturday, November 04, 2006

Franklin Pierce State of the Union Addresses

Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States of America. Although not well regarded today, he was popular until his presidency. He was a veteran of the Mexican War and his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a popular campaign biography of him titled The Life of Franklin Pierce.

Pierce is considered a weak president for two reasons. To begin, he was a notorious drunk. After losing the Democratic nomination in 1856, he reportedly quipped "there's nothing left to do but get drunk." He reportedly did this on many occasions and even ran over a woman with his horse drawn wagon. There were no drunk driving laws at the time...

Pierce also failed to act in a meaningful way that could have headed off the American Civil War. And during the war, the ex-president from New Hampshire actually was sympathetic to the southern separatist cause...

He wrote four State of the Union addresses. At the time, the addresses were titled the President's Annual Message. The sectional tension in these messages are quite evident. Links to the text are provided below:





Thursday, November 02, 2006

Britannica Blog

Rod Waldhoff at the Encyclopedia Britannica has been kind enough to point out a new blog to me. It is the Britannica Blog. The blog is described as, "Britannica Blog is a place for smart, lively conversations about a broad range of topics. Art, science, history, current events – it’s all grist for the mill. We’ve given our writers encouragement and a lot of freedom, so the opinions here are theirs, not the company’s. Please jump in and add your own thoughts."

The blog was recently started in October. It has an impressive range of authors. The names and brief biographies can be found at Although this blog is more than history it does have a strong history theme and I think many history blog readers will enjoy it.

There is also a new tool at Britannica that bloggers may find useful called Refmaker. You can type in text and the tool will attempt to find related links in the Britannica. It will then create a code you can paste on your blog with a link to an appropriate article in the encyclopedia. The best part of this is, "Once you have published the text on your web site, users who follow the links from your web site to ours will be able to view the entire text of the Encyclopedia Britannica article, regardless of their membership to Britannica Online."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

2006 Cliopatria Awards Nominations

Nominations for the 2006 Cliopatria Awards Nominations are now open. The Cliopatria Awards recognize the best history writing in the blogosphere. Bloggers are encouraged to nominate candidates for Best Individual Blog, Best Group Blog, Best New Blog, Best Post, Best Series of Posts, and Best Writer. The time frame for eligibility is 1 December 2005 through 30 November 2006.

Nominations will be open through November. The judges will deliberate during December and the winners will be announced at the AHA convention in early January. For full details please see

My nomination for best new blog will be History Is Elementary. I am not sure about the other categories but I will be giving this serious thought. I encourage everyone who regularly visits the history blogosphere to contribute good nominations as well.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

History of Namibia

History of Namibia. This is a short essay on the African nation of Namibia. The emphasis is on 20th century political history.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Country located on the southwestern coast of Africa. It has an area of 318,580 square miles (825,118 square kilometres), nearly all of it empty land. It is bordered by Angola to the north, Zambia to the northeast, Botswana to the east, South Africa to the southeast and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It ranges from arid in the north to desert on the coast and in the east. The landscape is spectacular, but the desert, mountains, canyons, and savannas are perhaps better to see than to occupy."

From the site:

The San are generally assumed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region. Later inhabitants include the Nama and the Damara or Berg Dama. The Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero migrated from the north in about the 14th century A.D.

The inhospitable Namib Desert constituted a formidable barrier to European exploration until the late 18th century, when successions of travelers, traders, hunters, and missionaries explored the area. In 1878, the United Kingdom annexed Walvis Bay on behalf of Cape Colony, and the area was incorporated into the Cape of Good Hope in 1884. In 1883, a German trader, Adolf Luderitz, claimed the rest of the coastal region after negotiations with a local chief. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and Germany resulted in Germany's annexation of the coastal region, excluding Walvis Bay. The following year, the United Kingdom recognized the hinterland up to 20 degrees east longitude as a German sphere of influence. A region later known as the Caprivi Strip became a part of South West Africa after an agreement on July 1, 1890, between the United Kingdom and Germany. The British recognized that the strip would fall under German administration to provide access to the Zambezi River and German colonies in East Africa. In exchange, the British received the islands of Zanzibar and Heligoland.

German colonial power was consolidated, and prime grazing land passed to white control as a result of the Herero and Nama wars of 1904-08. German administration ended during World War I following South African occupation in 1915.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Origin of the Greek Constellations

The Origin of the Greek Constellations. This is an article up at the new issue of Scientific American. It is by Bradley E. Schaefer. The full-text of the article is not here unless you are a subscriber. There is only an abstract.

Was the Great Bear constellation named before hunter nomads first reached the Americas more than 13,000 years ago? This article claims this may be the case as Ursa Major does not really look like a bear yet communities in Europe, Asia, and the Americas call the constellation the great bear. Hence, it is likely the constellation was named before settlers first arrived in North America.

The article introduced me to the concept of Archaeoastronomy. Wikipedia describes this as, "the study of ancient or traditional astronomies in their cultural context, utilising archaeological and anthropological evidence. The anthropological study of astronomical practices in contemporary societies is often called ethnoastronomy, although there is no consensus as to whether ethnoastronomy is a separate discipline or is a part of archaeoastronomy. Archaeoastronomy is also closely associated with historical astronomy, the use of historical records of heavenly events to answer astronomical problems and the history of astronomy, which uses written records to evaluate past astronomical traditions."

I had not really thought of ancient astronomy as a way to perhaps identify the movement of ideas before. I really enjoyed this article. If you do not subscribe to Scientific American and also do not want to pay for online access, I would recommend a visit to a local public library to check this out.

From the article:

My grandfather first taught me about the Great Bear constellation. After that, I had fun wielding an old pair of binoculars and picking out other constellations in the wide sky over Colorado--or even inventing my own. At the time, of course, I gave no thought to the age or origin of the constellations, but the curious pictures in the sky present a fascinating scientific puzzle.

In 1922, when the International Astronomical Union officially defined 88 constellations, it drew the bulk of them from Ptolemy's The Almagest, which was written around A.D. 150 and described the traditions widespread among the Greeks. These traditions had been popularized in the "best-selling" poem The Phaenomena, by Aratus (275 B.C.). The great astronomer Hipparchus's sole surviving book, The Commentary (147 B.C.), tells us that Aratus's poem is for the most part a copy of a work with the same name by Eudoxus (366 B.C.), which no longer survives. These books held the earliest descriptions of the Greek skies, and in them the constellations are already fully formed. But where did the Greek constellations come from?...