Saturday, December 02, 2006

Two Recent History Carnivals

The newest History Carnival is up as History Carnival XLIV. David Tiley of Barista is the host. Thanks for a great carnival David.

Also recently posted is the new edition of the Carnival of Bad History. The Carnival of Bad History No 11 is up at Philobiblon. Natalie Bennett is the host. Thanks Natalie.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Spatial Dynamics: An Alternative Teaching Tool in the Social Studies

Spatial Dynamics: An Alternative Teaching Tool in the Social Studies. Do you use models to teach students history? For example, if you teach about the Battle of Gettysburg have you placed a large scale model of the battlefield on the floor so students can visualize it? Do you use ship models to demonstrate pirate navigation?

If not, you may want to consider trying it. This ERIC Digest by Carl L. Siler from 1998 discusses the concept of spatial dynamics and how it can be used to teach social study lessons to students. There are some good tips here for lesson planning.

From the site:

Spatial dynamics is an instructional strategy wherein students create large-scale models that capture their interest by allowing them to participate in learning. That participation is maximized because students help design and construct the models. Spatial dynamics activities motivate and enhance the learning of students of all ability levels and grade levels. Learning styles not accommodated by more traditional teaching methods are addressed by spatial dynamics. For example, concrete sequential learners prefer direct, hands-on activities; a spatial dynamics classroom activity provides abundant opportunities for such learners. Spatial dynamics activities also demonstrate a teacher's enthusiasm and commitment to the subject, which further motivates students and yields high-level cognition and learning.

Teachers who use only one teaching style day after day are denying opportunities for achievement to their students who may learn more effectively through a variety of teaching approaches. Furthermore, those teachers quickly become stale and boring to students. The students then perceive the subject matter as uninteresting when it is not the subject matter that is boring, but the teacher's instructional style. Teacher creativity is essential to enhance the educational experience in the classroom, but it is also needed to keep teachers and their students active as learners. Spatial dynamics activities enhance student learning in ways that traditional classroom instruction does not.

In 1994, the National Council for the Social Studies published EXPECTATIONS OF EXCELLENCE: CURRICULUM STANDARDS FOR SOCIAL STUDIES as a statement of purpose and standards for the social studies. In a section of this document on teaching and learning, a "powerful" social studies curriculum was advocated--one that would maximally enhance student achievement. A "powerful" social studies curriculum was identified as one with solid content, containing various instructional approaches and active learning experiences. Spatial dynamics is part of this "powerful" social studies curriculum because it is based on sound social studies content, involves a unique instructional approach, and allows for active learning. "Powerful" social studies teaching, then, requires teachers who can create and implement various creative curriculum plans that actively involve students in the learning process. Finally, exemplary teachers use a variety of instructional techniques, including physical examples. Using spatial dynamics, classroom teachers can easily develop activities which provide physical examples. Spatial dynamics, therefore, is one aspect of a "powerful" social studies curriculum.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gaiseric and the Vandal Conquest of North Africa, 406 - 477 CE

Gaiseric and the Vandal Conquest of North Africa, 406 - 477 CE. Excerpts from the 1914 Heinemann Harvard translation of Procopius' History of the Wars, Book III, chapters iii-vii at the Ancient History Sourcebook. Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar who is commonly held to be the last major ancient historian.

From the site:

Now the Vandals, dwelling about the Maeotic Lake [the Sea of Azov], since they were pressed by hunger, moved to the country of the Germans, who are now called Franks, and the river Rhine, associating with themselves the Alans, a Gothic people [Arkenberg: actually, they were one of the Indo-Iranian peoples]. Then from there, under the leadership of Godigisclus, they moved and settled in Hispania, which is the first land of the Roman Empire on the side of the ocean [406-07 CE]. At that time Honorius made an agreement with Godigisclus that they should settle there on condition that it should not be to the detriment of the country. But there was a law among the Romans, that if any persons should fail to keep their property in their own possession, and if, meanwhile, a time amounting to thirty years should pass, that these persons should thenceforth not be entitled to proceed against those who had forced them out, but they were excluded by demurrer from access to the court; and in view of this he established a law that whatever time should be spent by the Vandals in the Roman domain should not be spent by the Vandals in the Roman domain should not by any means be counted toward this thirty-year demurrer. And Honorius himself, when the West had been driven by him to this pass, died of disease [August 27, 423 CE].

Now before this, as it happened, the royal power had been shared by Honorius with Constantius, the husband of Placidia [Galla Placidia], the sister of Arcadius and himself; but he lived to exercise the power only a few days, and then, becoming seriously ill, he died [421 CE] while Honorius was still living, having never succeeded in saying or in doing anything worth recounting; for the time was not sufficient during which he lived in possession of the royal power. Now a son of this Constantius, Valentinian, a child just weaned, was being reared in the palace of Theodosius, but the members of the imperial court in Rome chose one of the soldiers there, John by name, as emperor. This man was both gentle and well-endowed with sagacity and thoroughly capable of valorous deeds. At any rate he held the tyranny five years [actually he only ruled eighteen months] and directed it with moderation, and he neither gave ear to slanderers nor did he do any unjust murder, willingly at least, nor did he set his hand to robbing men of money; but he did not prove able to do anything at all against the barbarians, since his relations with Byzantium were hostile. Against this John, Theodosius, the son of Arcadius [Theodosius II, reigned 408-450 CE], sent a great army and Aspar and Ardaburius, the son of Aspar, as generals, and wrested from him the tyranny and gave over the royal power to Valentinian, who was still a child [Valentinian III, reigned 423-455 CE].

And Valentinian took John alive, and he brought him out in the hippodrome of Aquileia with one of his hands cut off and caused him to ride in state on an ass, and then after he had suffered much ill treatment from the stage-performers there, both in word and in deed, he put him to death. Thus Valentinian took over the power of the West. But Placidia, his mother, had reared this emperor and educated him in an altogether effeminate manner, and in consequence he was filled with wickedness from childhood. For he associated mostly with sorcerers and those who busy themselves with the stars, and, being an extraordinarily zealous pursuer of love affairs with other men's wives, he conducted himself in a most indecent manner, although he was married to a woman of exceptional beauty. And not only was this true, but he also failed to recover for the empire anything of what had been wrested from it before, and he both lost Libya in addition to the territory previously lost and was himself destroyed. And when he perished, it fell to the lot of his wife and children to become captives. Now the disaster in Libya came about as follows.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Democrats -- the Party of Disorder, and Achievement

I am reprinting this short article from the History News Network. I believe from the language on the article I am allowed to do this. While clearly written from an anti-Republican perspective, I still find it an interesting take on recent history.

Democrats -- the Party of Disorder, and Achievement
By Steven Conn

Mr. Conn is a professor in the history department at Ohio State University and a writer for the History News Service.

It was during Franklin Roosevelt's first term that Will Rogers is said to have joked: "I am a member of no organized political party-I am a Democrat."

As the dust of this momentous midterm election settles, that joke has been resurrected -- mostly by people much less funny than Rogers -- to describe the dilemma of the incoming Democratic majorities in both Congressional houses. After all, many of the new Democratic members of Congress seem to sit to the right of the Democratic leadership on a whole host of issues. How can these Democrats govern, puzzles the punditocracy, since they are clearly so riven and disorganized?

The implicit answer, at least in much media analysis, is: they can't. The new Democratic majority is simply too fragile to bear the weight of its own internal contradictions. This conclusion has become an orthodoxy in the press.

But this consensus seems willfully to ignore the history of Congress across much of the 20th century. Will Rogers said that his party wasn't organized; he didn't say that it was ineffective.
Between 1932 and 1994 Congress was ruled by Democrats except for a few years in the middle '40s, early '50s, and the Senate in the '80s, and the Democrats who controlled those congresses were always messy, unwieldy coalitions. As President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt fashioned a Democratic majority that included labor unions, the elderly, urban ethnics, African Americans and white Southern conservatives. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Far from being the bastion of liberal special interests groups, as the party has been caricatured by so many commentators, the Democrats in Congress were usually led by their conservatives and pragmatists. More often than not, since 1932, the Democratic House Speakers came from places like Alabama and Texas, and the longest serving (1961-1977) Democratic Senate majority leader was Mike Mansfield from that hardly left-wing stronghold of Montana. In other words, Democrats have always managed to balance their Congressional leadership ideologically.

Yet this motley assortment of Democratic politicians managed to work together enough to create the New Deal, including the Social Security program; fight and win the Second World War; pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts; and get man to the moon. While the Democratic big tent might often have resembled a three-ring circus, those Congresses managed to advance the nation's agenda in historic ways.

Meanwhile, over this same period, the Republican Party looked remarkably stagnant. In his 1936 speech accepting the nomination to run for a second term, FDR called the opposition "economic royalists." And so the party has largely remained. The only significant demographic the party has added are those white Southern conservatives and evangelicals, many of whom finally did leave the Democratic Party, largely because of racial issues.

Otherwise the Republican Party's attempts to create its own "big tent" have faltered. George Bush was supposed to make the GOP an Hispanic-friendly place. In this last election Hispanics voted more than 70 percent for Democratic candidates.

During the twentieth century congressional Democrats may have governed effectively not despite, but precisely because of, their heterogeneity. Democracy, after all, is a process whereby people with many agendas come together to define a common good. It is a process that involves compromise, deal-making and operating pragmatically rather than ideologically. Given their intra-party experiences, Democrats simply have more practice doing all this than Republicans do.

During their 12 years in power, on the other hand, congressional Republicans could not play well with others. They governed only from their political base, relying on the very wealthy and the evangelicals for their support. They equated compromise with weakness, and set out to destroy personally those who offered other ideas. Their legacy is a bitterly divided nation. That bitterness came home to roost on November 7.

Indeed, Republicans don't even seem to be able to play nicely with each other. Once some competing voices appeared within the Republican Party, the party imploded. In particular, moderate Republicans were marginalized and humiliated, and former administration figures who disagreed with White House policy were vilified in public.

Congressional deadlock is certainly a real possibility for the in-coming Congress. If that's the case, however, I suspect it will be largely because of Republican intransigence and not because of internal disagreements within the Democratic Party. Democratic diversity - of ideas and experiences - has been the party's great strength since 1932.

Will Rogers may have been right in saying that Democrats didn't constitute an organized party. But then, this is a messy, bumptious, diverse nation, not a nation of people who march neatly in rank and file. Who better than the Democratic Party to represent that?
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This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Assassins of Hassan-i-Sabah

Hassan-i Sabbah (the Old Man of the Mountain) lived in the 11th and 12th centuries. He founded a group of assassins whose members are referred to as the Hashshashin. The word assassin originates from this group. They were based heart of the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran.

Wikipedia notes, "The group transformed the act of murder into a system directed largely against Seljuk Muslim rulers who had been persecuting their sect. They were meticulous in killing the targeted individual, seeking to do so without any additional casualties and innocent loss of life, although they were careful to cultivate their terrifying reputation by slaying their victims in public, often in mosques. Typically they approached using a disguise; their weapon of choice was a dagger, rejecting poison, bows and other weapons that allowed the attacker to escape."

Hassan-i-Sabah had a unique and successful method of recruiting assassins. According to the site Assassins, "He constructed a secret garden and furnished it with all the delights promised in the Koran…to the faithful when they reached paradise. The chosen were drugged, one or two at a time, and taken to this garden by night. When they woke up in the morning they were surrounded by beautiful and scantily clad houris [in Muslim belief, women who live with the blessed in paradise] who would minister to their every need and desire. After being allowed to savor this false — but pleasant and sensual — paradise for a day or so, they were again drugged before being taken back to awaken in their own squalid hovel or cave dwelling. To them, it was as if it had been a vivid dream. Ben Sabbah then sent for them, told them Allah had given them a preview of paradise, and surprised them by telling them exactly what each had been up to while in the secret garden."

This recruitment method worked well. Even though the assassins did not seek death and would fight until dead, they never sought suicide. Despite this, many of the assassinations were carried out in public almost assuring death to the assassin. It is reasonable to assume that many of the assassins knew that their own death would occur in the process of the assassination attempt. Hassan-i-Sabah's "Paradise" approach worked wonders in conditioning his killers.

The Hashshashin were effectively destroyed by the Mongols. They destroyed Alamut (the assassin headquarters) in 1256. However, their legacy lives on to this day inspiring assassins.