Monday, December 31, 2007

4th Birthday of the World History Blog

On this day in 2003, I first fired up this blog. When I made my first post, I had no idea I would still be at this four years later. This blog has changed a great deal during that time. My posts are a lot different and usually more substantial. I have a ton more readers. The search engines like the blog. And people leave comments.

And I owe all of this to those of you who read this blog everyday or just occasionally. Thank you very much. Your comments and links are much appreciated. It is a struggle to keep posting sometimes but I will stay at it as long as it is clear that people are reading this blog and I am still having a good time doing it.

Will I do this another four years? Time will tell. This blog has changed a great deal in the last four years. I wonder what it will be like in 2011?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Which woman is history's most famous seductress?

The latest World History Blog Poll question has closed. It was, "Which of these women is history's most famous seductress?" The choices were Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Mae West, and Wallis Windsor.

The winner was easily Cleopatra with over 60% of the vote. Helen of Troy got slightly over 20%. Mae West and Wallis Windsor both finished in single digits.

What do you think? Here are some more information on each of the choices.

Helen of Troy is normally reported to have been seduced by Paris. She did not seduce him. Some feminist scholars are claiming she was raped. It is hard to determine if she even ever existed.

Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love, said of Cleopatra, "The way Cleopatra got Julius Caesar is totally amazing. Here is a guy -- you can imagine Mick Jagger -- he was surrounded by groupies. All the women wanted this guy. Men went into battle singing this little ditty about all the women he'd had. Not only that, he was bisexual -- he had all the beautiful boys too. He had everybody. He was a jaded ladies' man. Here's a guy maybe 56 when Cleopatra saw him. When she rolled out of that rug, she was about 18 and not beautiful at all. Plutarch is clear about that. She rolled out and barraged Caesar with such a stream of charming conversation -- a 'charm offensive' through language. She addressed him in perfect Latin. Then perfect Greek. She told him jokes. Stories. Displayed her magnificent erudition. She was a brilliant women. She wrote a tract on weights and measurements, of all things. She was happiest in a library. It was said she had a 'voluptuous' love of learning. Caesar had never encountered a woman like this. He was so charmed he made her his mistress that night."

Mae West was mostly a seductress on the screen. Kendahl Cruver wrote, "When vaudeville became less lucrative, Mae wrote her first play, under the pen name Jane Mast, and starred herself. From the moment it opened, Sex was notorious. The critics despised it, but ticket sales were good enough to threaten the deputy mayor. A year into its run, he had the production raided for indecency. Along with the principal cast and producers, Mae was sentenced to ten days in jail. She served eight, with two days off for good behavior. She spent a comfortable conviction, even convincing the warden to let her wear silk underwear instead of the scratchy prison issue variety. Mae continued to write plays. With salacious titles such as The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man, and The Constant Sinner, they were plagued by controversy and production difficulties. If indecency didn't shut down a play, slow ticket sales would."

Wallis Windsor did not start a war like Helen of Troy. But she did bring down a king. From the Royal Scribe, "The question became, How could a woman like her get a man like him; so handsome and promising; to give up the British Empire? The most obvious answer became that she was a seductress who had tempted him from his duty. With two husbands behind her, she must have some strange sexual hold over men. And, with witnesses claiming that she ordered the King about and treated him like a wayward child, the popular theory came about that she must be some sort of dominatrix. Rumors abounded that, while in China, Wallis had frequented notorious brothels where she had learned special sexual techniques that no man could resist. Not only that, this information was said to be gathered, as it were, by British Intelligence."

Of course, my short list may have left off the most famous historical seductress. Feel free to comment on any other historical figure you feel belongs on this list.

Friday, December 28, 2007

History and Politics Out Loud

This is a searchable archive of historically important speeches and other audio materials. It is called History and Politics Out Loud. It has been operated by Northwestern University since 1999 with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Michigan State University.

The site about page notes, "HPOL is a collection of invaluable audio materials some available for the first time on this website capturing significant political and historical events and personalities of the twentieth century. The materials range from formal addresses delivered in public settings to private telephone conversations conducted from the innermost recesses of the White House. Our aim is to provide an accessible source of audio information to enliven instruction and scholarship in history and politics and to enable easy access for all persons to the rich audio archives of American history and politics."

This is a great site full of primary source material. Although the site is limited in scope, what is here is good. The site could use more material but it appears it stopped growing in 2002. I guess we will have to just enjoy what is here.

A few samples:

George C. Marshall, Commencement address, Harvard University (1947)

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon explaining his start in the movement for civil rights

Winston Churchill, The sinews of peace (1946)

Chief Justice Earl Warren eulogizes President John F. Kennedy (1963)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Democracy in Hawaii

Scott Crawford has an interesting post about democracy in Hawaii in Response to Twigg-Smith - Thurston and "Republic" = anti-democratic. In it, he deplores how the Hawaiian Kingdom ended without a democratic vote.

Crawford writes, "The truth is that the provisional government, the so-called republic, and the U.S. occupation were forced upon the people of Hawaii against their will and without their consent."

Crawford's view of Hawaiian history is one-sided. It ignores primary sources which do not support his views. It ignores that fact that the Hawaiian Kingdom was imposed upon the majority of Hawaii without the consent of Hawaiians by King Kamehameha. (I guess that means the Hawaiian Kingdom was never valid...) It ignores democracy in the 20th century because the "wrong" people voted.

Thurston Twigg-Smith, whom Crawford is attempting to rebut, notes this. If Kamehameha's conquest by non-democratic means was legitimate, why was not the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom? Twigg-Smith wrote, "The test is how things progressed from the date of illegitimacy. The 18th-century residents of Oahu and the other islands he conquered accepted Kamehameha as their new king, and the residents of 19th-century Hawaii accepted the Republic of Hawaii as their new government."

Crawford appears to miss this point entirely. Are only non-democratic events in history you retrospectively like legit? Despite this, I believe Mr. Crawford is actually speaking up for democracy and would respect a democratic vote today.

I believe in democracy as well. Governments should not be imposed upon a people without their consent. I also believe that people should not have a southern style "grandfather clause" placed upon them to determine whether or not they are "really" a citizen of a locality.

If any changes in the status of Hawaii are to ever be enacted, they must also be enacted with the consent and the will of the people of Hawaii. Any defect in how things were changed in the 19th century does not justify denying citizens their rights in the 21st century. The citizens of Hawaii have a right to determine their own fate regardless of what happened between people who lived and died long before they were born. Beware anyone who seeks to deny anyone their suffrage by trying to determine the status of their ancestors in the 19th century.

Let's not impose a government on the people of Hawaii without "their will and without their consent." Democracy can indeed work. But only if everyone votes. Excluding people based on 19th century events would assure a non-democratic process and sow the seeds of chaos and probable violence.

History is indeed informative to today. Mistakes in the democratic process in the past (as evidenced by Kamehameha and later by the rebel forces in Hawaii in 1893), need not be repeated in the future in Hawaii. Let us hope the lessons have been learned.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Convict Creations

Australia is a nation founded by convicts. Not surprising, much of the history and traditions of the island nation can be traced back to the convicts who originally settled the continent. Convict Creations promotes unique aspects of Australian culture that have been built upon its convict foundations.

There is a lot of good content at this site. I lost myself for over an hour reading many of the pages. Here are a few I thought were worthwhile:

Convict life - A life of floggings, regrets, and more floggings.

Gallipoli - Remembering loss in a useless battle.

Australian immortals - The great heroes who were losers.

Politics - Beer drinking records, and missing trousers.

Whether you study Australian history or not, you will find this site fun and informative. Have fun!

From the site:

Today, the Convict memory continues to shape Australia 's cultural evolution. For some concerned citizens, the Convict stigma seems to inspire an obsession with championing migrant cultures, or Aboriginal cultures, so that the stain can be washed away. Such people would look at the above comments and criticise them as inaccurate stereotypes in modern day multicultural Australia and/or irrelevant to the traditions of Aborigines.

For nationalists, Convict history also seems to be problematic. As much as nationalists love history, there just isn't any moral resonance in pulling out grandpa's ball and chain for a street march that preserves the spirit of the founding fathers.

To help understand the cultural peculiarities of the Australia's concerned citizens and nationalists, as well as those Australians who don't identify with either, the Convict Creations web site explores those missing links in the Australian story that, although having a significant influence in making Australians unique, have been ignored by the official textbooks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Noonsite: Piracy

Piracy is alive and well. It did not cease after the end of the Golden Age of piracy which has been so romanticized in the media and by many historians. In fact, piracy is becoming more common!

I am highlighting a site today (Noonsite: Piracy) that documents current events. It includes the latest reports of attacks or suspicious incidents on ships from around the world. It also features messages from yachts seeking protection, general piracy reporting information, and articles on defending against pirate attacks. The archives go back to 2003 and the pirate reports are updated regularly.

While this site is not history yet, I hope the data being collected is saved for future historians. The early 21st century is going to be remembered for a reemergence (hopefully brief) of large scale piracy. Accurate data will help to study this period.

From the site:

No other danger has marred the beauty of cruising more than the threat of piracy, whether on the high seas or in coastal waters. Indeed it is a risk that mariners have had to confront for many thousands of years, and the good news is that as far as attacks on pleasure boats are concerned incidents in recent years have been mercifully few in numbers. The situation is very different when it comes to big ships, which have seen a steady increase in piracy incidents in recent years.

Hot spots for reported piracy attacks on any kind of shipping are well known, and undoubtedly the main reason why there have been so few victims amongst cruising sailors is that they have heeded the warnings and avoided such areas as the Sulu Sea and other troubled areas in both the Philippines and Indonesia, the coast of Somalia or the vicinity of Socotra Island.

Unfortunately the maritime authorities are more concerned with attacks on commercial shipping and do not regard attacks on pleasure craft as a high priority or even to be their responsibility. This is reflected in the absence of hard information about attacks on yachts on most internet sites dealing with piracy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Magna Carta tops British day poll

What is the best time to celebrate Britishness? According to a poll by the BBC, it is June 15th. This is the day that the Magna Carta imposed on King John in 1215 by rebel barons limited the power of the King and gave ordinary people rights under common law.

Are the British starting to move away from World War Two as their defining moment? BBC History magazine editor Dave Musgrove said the choice of the Magna Carta anniversary may indicate the UK is moving on from a "dependence on World War II as the critical point in our island story."

Of course, the Magna Carta is English, not British. "The problem with a Magna Carta day is that this was originally very much an English, not a British significant event," said Linda Colley, Professor of history at Princeton University.

One commenter on the story noted, "My National Day would be the anniversary of the date in AD410, when the famous letter of the Emperor Honorius told the cities of Britain to look to their own defences, and as a result started a period where we have never again been occupied." Well, England has not been occupied but some Scots, Welsh, and Irish may feel differently...

The full story is Magna Carta tops British day poll.

Monday, December 17, 2007

World History Blog Poll: Which of these men was the most evil Roman Emperor?

There were a lot of good men who ruled the Roman Empire. They are easy to identify when they were both decent human beings and good rulers to boot. Unfortunately, the Romans also suffered under the hands of evil men as well. These men were depraved but they were not always bad rulers making their identification as sinister men hard.

But this is not always the case. Four men have stood out as amongst the worst through history. This may be just bad press but the evidence suggests these men were not people you would have wanted to have had to deal with. These are Caligula, Nero, Domitian, and Commodus.

A just closed World History Blog Poll asked, "Which of these men was the most evil Roman Emperor?" Nero was the consensus choice with 49% with Caligula following at second with 29%. Commodus got 11% and Domitian finished fourth with 9%.

Were these really evil men? You decide.

Tacitus noted how Nero murdered his mother Agrippina, "A night of brilliant starlight with the calm of a tranquil sea was granted by heaven, seemingly, to convict the crime. The vessel had not gone far, Agrippina having with her two of her intimate attendants, one of whom, Crepereius Gallus, stood near the helm, while Acerronia, reclining at Agrippina's feet as she reposed herself, spoke joyfully of her son's repentance and of the recovery of the mother's influence, when at a given signal the ceiling of the place, which was loaded with a quantity of lead, fell in, and Crepereius was crushed and instantly killed. Agrippina and Acerronia were protected by the projecting sides of the couch, which happened to be too strong to yield under the weight. But this was not followed by the breaking up of the vessel; for all were bewildered, and those too, who were in the plot, were hindered by the unconscious majority. The crew then thought it best to throw the vessel on one side and so sink it, but they could not themselves promptly unite to face the emergency, and others, by counteracting the attempt, gave an opportunity of a gentler fall into the sea. Acerronia, however, thoughtlessly exclaiming that she was Agrippina, and imploring help for the emperor's mother, was despatched with poles and oars, and such naval implements as chance offered. Agrippina was silent and was thus the less recognized; still, she received a wound in her shoulder. She swam, then met with some small boats which conveyed her to the Lucrine lake, and so entered her house...Meantime, Agrippina's peril being universally known and taken to be an accidental occurrence, everybody, the moment he heard of it, hurried down to the beach. Some climbed projecting piers; some the nearest vessels; others, as far as their stature allowed, went into the sea; some, again, stood with outstretched arms, while the whole shore rung with wailings, with prayers and cries, as different questions were asked and uncertain answers given. A vast multitude streamed to the spot with torches, and as soon as all knew that she was safe, they at once prepared to wish her joy, till the sight of an armed and threatening force scared them away. Anicetus then surrounded the house with a guard, and having burst open the gates, dragged off the slaves who met him, till he came to the door of her chamber, where a few still stood, after the rest had fled in terror at the attack. A small lamp was in the room, and one slave-girl with Agrippina, who grew more and more anxious, as no messenger came from her son, not even Agerinus, while the appearance of the shore was changed, a solitude one moment, then sudden bustle and tokens of the worst catastrophe. As the girl rose to depart, she exclaimed, "Do you too forsake me?" and looking round saw Anicetus, who had with him the captain of the trireme, Herculeius, and Obaritus, a centurion of marines. 'If,' said she, 'you have come to see me, take back word that I have recovered, but if you are here to do a crime, I believe nothing about my son; he has not ordered his mother's murder.' The assassins closed in round her couch, and the captain of the trireme first struck her head violently with a club. Then, as the centurion bared his sword for the fatal deed, presenting her person, she exclaimed, 'Smite my womb!' and with many wounds she was slain."

Suetonius wrote of Caligula, "Having asked a man who had been recalled from an exile of long standing, how in the world he spent his time there, the man replied by way of flattery: 'I constantly prayed the gods for what has come to pass, that Tiberius might die and you become emperor.' Thereupon Caligula, thinking that his exiles were likewise praying for his death, sent emissaries from island to island to butcher them all. Wishing to have one of the senators torn to pieces, he induced some of the members to assail him suddenly, on his entrance into the Senate, with the charge of being a public enemy, to stab him with their styluses, and turn him over to the rest to be mangled; and his cruelty was not sated until he saw the man's limbs, members, and bowels dragged through the streets and heaped up before him." noted of Commodus, "In the later stages of his reign Commodus became ever more obsessed with performing as a gladiator. He even changed parts of his palace into an arena in order to fight beasts there or gladiators. But Commodus was not satisfied with such private fights. He also appeared in public as a gladiator. For the Roman public, or at least the privileged classes, it was a harsh shock to see their emperor publicly debase himself to the level of a slave or a prostitute in the arena. For, in Roman attitudes, gladiators were indeed understood as one of the lowest possible levels of society. But Commodus cared little about such attitudes. He liked to appear in the arena dressed up in a lion skin as the ancient hero Hercules, son of Jupiter. There is little doubt that by this time Commodus was deranged. Senators had to be present at such performances, as their emperor slaughtered helpless animals or hapless gladiators. At one day he is said to have killed one hundred bears. Given this number, it is hard to imagine that the animals were anything but helplessly tethered with no chance to fight back and were simply stabbed to death. The fighters who would meet Commodus in the arena stood equally little chance. For if the emperor was armed, all they would have were harmless wooden weapons."

Of Domitian, one site noted, "Historians have described Domitian as 'crazy and unbalanced'. He suffered from social inadequacy and preferred solitude to the company of people. He had a distrustful nature and was constant in fear of conspiracies; the pillars of his palace were made of white reflective marble so that he could see what was going on behind him. Like Caligula, Domitian was very sensitive of his baldness and official portraits continued to show him with flowing locks of hair. Domitian was also notorious for his cruelty. He is supposed to have invented a new method of torture: burning the sexual organs of his victims. Domitian was capable of inviting an erring official to supper, dismissing him in such a way that the man retired happy and carefree. Nevertheless, the next day he was executed. Domitian also enjoyed asking senators to dinner-parties at which all the equipment was black, so that the guests were numb with fright. Like Vespasian, Domitian persecuted Stoic philosophers and Jews. He had all Jews, who claimed descent from King David, tracked down and killed. Very peculiar was Domitian's pleasure in catching flies, stabbing them with the point of a pen and tearing their wings out. "

Friday, December 14, 2007

Human Evolution Speeding Up?

Ralph E. Schmid at Time has an article titled Human Evolution Speeding Up? In it he wrote, "People are evolving more rapidly than in the distant past, with residents of various continents becoming increasingly different from one another, researchers say."

Researchers have been discovering the genes and evolution do not always work as we thought we understood them. Evolution can happen quickly. It does not always take thousands of years.

I recently read Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem. In the book, he wrote about jumping genes and retroviruses. Moalem noted, "The capacity of African primates to support the persistent of other viruses may have put our evolution on fast forward by allowing more rapid mutation through exposure to more retroviruses. It's possible that this capacity helped spur our evolution into humans" (p. 153).

Further, Epigenetics is showing that genes can be modified in a generation to deal with issues such as famine. If the gene markers are not turned off after a few generations, the genes can be modified. The Scientist has an article on this titled Epigenetics: Genome, Meet Your Environment.

The article in Time does not deal with all of this but it is interesting. It postulates that evolution is occurring more frequently now due to a larger human population and the fact that humans live in more diverse environments. Schmid wrote, "Harpending and colleagues looked at the DNA of humans and that of chimpanzees, our closest relatives, they report in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If evolution had been proceeding steadily at the current rate since humans and chimps separated 6 million years ago there should be 160 times more differences than the researchers found. That indicates that human evolution had been slower in the distant past."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Year 1000: A Legacy of Science & Technology

Year 1000: A Legacy of Science & Technology. This is an online exhibit that explores the events in Europe and influences from China, India, and the Islamic world that began an intellectual revolution.

I found this site informative, easy to navigate, and fun to read. Some sections include medicine, astronomy, algebra, alchemy, horticulture, and water power.

From the site:

Sometimes when people think about the year 1000, they think of a time of darkness and chaos for civilization. In fact, the turning of the first millennium was a time of marvelous change. This time period marks the turning point towards High Medieval civilization with individuals and societies around the world making contributions to science, technology and culture. The exchange of goods between China, India and the Islamic world brought with it the exchange of ideas and inventions.

The year 1000 was a time influenced by the dominance of Islamic culture in science and technology. Most of the new knowledge coming into Europe came through Islamic scholarship. It also marks the beginning of the end of Islamic control in Spain. This allowed European-based civilization to begin its first steps on its own cultural expansion. These steps would eventually bring about the Renaissance in Europe.

Tremendous growth in Chinese commerce during the Song Dynasty affected technological development worldwide. Although the Chinese culture remained remote, Chinese inventions and scholarship traveled with trade into the Islamic world and from there to Europe. The influence of Indian knowledge also traveled the trade routes with extremely important results.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Top 3 Worst War Films

Back in September, The Osprey Publishing Blog had a post on the Top 3 Worst War Films. I discovered this post via the 7th Military History Carnival. The carnival author noted, "I asked what the Top Three Worst War films were and what war films our readers would like to see."

I found the discussion on this post inspiring. I can come up with three bad war films! My reasons are different from those who posted (I am not clever enough to recognize the wrong uniforms and planes in the films) but I do like well told stories that at least try to be close to historical reality. Poor or silly story lines helped me come up with a list of three.

My choices:

Wake Island (1942) - The ending of this film is entirely fictitious. The movie shows the Wake Island garrison fighting to the last man. In reality, they surrendered to the Japanese after repelling the first wave of the Japanese attack. They could have held out longer and may well have done so if the survivors had known what they were going to be in for at the hands of the Japanese. I do not find the film that well done well technically either. The film probably achieved the goal of helping encourage American men to enlist and to show that American soldiers were hard fighters, but the film is still bad history and makes the top of my list for bad war films.

The Patriot (2000) - This is not a bad action movie and do like Mel Gibson. However, the portrayal of the British in the film is unacceptable. They were not Nazis and did not participate routinely in the slaughter of children, women, and captured soldiers. They did not burn down churches full of civilians. And the Americans did not win the Battle of Guildford Courthouse. The British did. This film is just a really bad representation of the American Revolutionary War.

Independence Day (1996) - Ok, this film is not based on history. It is alternate history based on what might have happened if aliens bent on eradicating the human race had invaded Earth in the 1990s. It is not real history but it is a war film so I can include it on my list. The movie is exciting, has some good acting, and it technically brilliant. I actually loved the President's inspirational speech before the final climatic battle. However, how is it that a technologically advanced species that can travel between stars can lose dogfight battles with 90s era fighter planes? Why are their alien computers vulnerable to a computer virus? Is the evolution of computers on different worlds so similar that uploading a virus based on a human created programming language would have any chance of working? How is it that the aliens had such bad record keeping that they did not notice a ship missing for forty years (the Roswell crashed one!) attempting to dock on their mothership? And of course we also learn that an alcoholic dust cropper can learn to fly a fighter jet in under a day and win a battle almost all by himself.

If this topic interests you, go take a look at the post that inspired this at the Osprey Publishing Blog. Many films are nominated for a variety of reasons and it is worth perusing.

Monday, December 10, 2007 Launches the Largest Collection of World War II Photos on the Web Launches the Largest Collection of World War II Photos on the Web

Snapp Conner PR for Jeremy Kartchner, (801) 994-9625 today announced the addition of thousands of US Air Force photos to their digital World War II collection. This release coincides with the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing, and contains tens of thousands of original World War II photos and documents from the National Archives. Among this collection are missing air crew reports, documents from allied military conferences and photos of Japanese air targets.

"They say that a picture is worth a thousand words," says Russell Wilding, CEO of "What's exciting about this collection of photos is they also include captions that tell stories of the people and events in the photos." has added these new pictures and documents as part of a much larger, ongoing effort to preserve the heroic memories and stories of the brave men and women that served in World War II and other wars.

"We are providing priceless content from our archives and libraries that is only a part of a much larger picture," continued Wilding. "While this is an extensive collection of history, we understand that many people out there have valuable pieces of history in their personal record collections within their own homes. We encourage everyone to upload their own photos, letters and documents contained in their old shoeboxes." is leading the movement to preserve the documents and stories about World War II and invites everyone to join in this effort. Uploading photos and documents and creating memorial pages is completely free on To view samples of these photos and other World War II documents, visit About Footnote, Inc. is a subscription website that features searchable original documents that provide users with an unaltered view of the events, places and people that shaped the American nation and the world. At all are invited to come share, discuss, and collaborate on their discoveries with friends, family, and colleagues. For more information, visit

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pearl Harbor

It is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii today. It plunged the United States into World War Two. This very short video has footage from that day as well as the beginning of FDR's speech to Congress asking for a declaration of war. The video has the wrong year at the beginning (it is 1941 and not 1942!) but other than that is well done and worth a minute and a half of your time.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Alabama soldier missing since Korean War has been found

And they are still being found almost sixty years later...

The Montgomery Advertiser has details. It notes, "The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Korean War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. He is Army 1st Lt. Dixie S. Parker of Green Pond. He will be buried Dec. 6 in Arlington National Cemetery."

It is hard to believe that there are still unaccounted American soldiers from the Korean War. I guess it shouldn't be surprising as the fog of war and the chaos of the post-war political climate made it very easy for bodies to get lost. I know there have always been those unaccounted for in wars going all the way back to antiquity. How many families never knew what happened to missing kin in the Roman civil wars for example? It just seems that in the modern era that lost soldiers should be a thing of the past. This is probably an impossibility but at least the percentage of soldiers becoming missing-in-action for decades on end is much smaller.

Parker was assigned to Battery B, 8th Field Artillery Battalion, 25th Infantry Division then occupying a defensive position overlooking the Kuryong River in P'yongan-Pukto Province, North Korea. On Nov. 27, 1950, Parker was killed in his foxhole while serving as a forward artillery observer. His body was not recovered until recently.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

History Carnival LIX

History Carnival LIX is up at Westminster Wisdom. Thanks to Gracchi for putting together a well done carnival. The next History Carnival will be Jan 06, 2008 at The Victorian Peeper.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Pole honors Germany's Red Baron

At least one Pole is attempting to honor a dead German from World War One. And not just any German but the infamous Red Baron. The article Pole honors Germany's Red Baron by Ryan Lucas has the details.

Lucas wrote, "Baron Manfred von Richthofen buzzed above the muddy World War I battlefields in his red Fokker tri-plane, downing a record 80 Allied aircraft on his way to becoming the war's top fighter ace and earning the famed Red Baron nom de guerre. But von Richthofen, who was shot down and killed just before his 26th birthday in 1918, has been a legend in limbo since Poland's borders moved west after World War II and swallowed the baron's hometown of Schweidnitz — today called Swidnica. The neglect has been largely due to apprehension about honoring a German, a legacy of the brutal Nazi invasion and occupation of World War II."

Swidnica resident Jerzy Gaszynski is attempting to have a memorial built. He said, "I think that with a figure this well-known around the world, it's a bit of a sin that he's not even that well-known here and that there's really no effort to remember him. Everybody here kind of said under their breath 'baron this, baron that,' but he was neglected, nobody was doing anything."

Gaszynski had a plaque put on the house the Red Baron was born in. It reads, " "In this house lived the best pilot of World War I, the Red Baron. Born May 2, 1892, he died in aerial combat April 21, 1918, Manfred von Richthofen."

Swidnica used to be a part of Germany. However, it was given to Poland after World War Two. So the Red Baron (German hero) was born in what is now Poland. As can be imagined, the Poles do not have fond memories of the German military. So, this makes it hard for the Red Baron to be honored in his hometown.

Lucas noted, "Honoring a German soldier in Poland, which lost some 6 million citizens under the Nazi occupation, can still be a touchy issue. The two countries continue to wrestle with efforts by some Germans to regain property lost to Poland when the borders shifted west after World War II."

It does seem strange that a town in Poland would honor a German pilot from World War One. However, the Red Baron is from the town. So it kind of makes sense.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Topix: History in the News

From time to time, I have seen traffic come to the World History Blog from a website called Topix. I finally went and checked the site out. It is a news aggregator which allows people to volunteer and select the best stories. The site appears to be very popular.

The About Us page notes, "Topix is the leading news community on the Web, connecting people to the information and discussions that matter to them in every U.S. town and city. A Top 20 online news destination (Hitwise, July 2007), the site links news from 50,000 sources to 360,000 lively user-generated forums. Topix also works with the nation's major media companies to grow and engage their online audiences through forums, classifieds, publishing platforms and RSS feeds."

I like this site. I was particularly attracted to the History in the News page. I often look through news headlines for good history topics to write about. This site easily delivers them up! Quite a few of the articles are false hits and do not seem very history related but others seems good. It looks like a RoboBlogger also posts news stories which probably accounts for some of the false hits.

Anyway, I liked it. I thought I would share as I have found it difficult to get a good source of "history in the news" type of articles without doing a lot of searching through newspaper sites on the Web. Maybe others will find this useful too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is There a Link Between Autism and Some Historical Figures?

Recently, I have been hearing and reading about many different famous men from history who may have been autistic. Names I have come across include Archimedes, Charles Darwin, Lewis Carrol, Adolph Hitler, and Albert Einstein. Wikipedia has a list of them at People speculated to have been autistic.

A good description of autism can be found at Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Autistic individuals have difficulties with social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests. These behaviors can range in impact from mild to disabling.

And some are speculating that autism may actually be linked to creativity. Some aspects of autism may help focus the mind on tasks such as language, math, science, and art. The biggest proponent is Michael Fitzgerald in his book from 2004, Autism and Creativity: Is There a Link between Autism in Men and Exceptional Ability? The description of that book reads, "Autism and Creativity is a stimulating study of male creativity and autism, arguing that a major genetic endowment is a prerequisite of genius, and that cultural and environmental factors are less significant than has often been claimed. Chapters on the diagnosis and psychology of autism set the scene for a detailed examination of a number of important historical figures. For example: * In the Indian mathematician Ramanujan, the classic traits of Asperger's syndrome are shown to have coexisted with an extraordinary level of creativity. * More unexpectedly, from the fields of philosophy, politics and literature, scrutiny of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sir Keith Joseph, Eamon de Valera, Lewis Carroll and William Butler Yeats reveals classical autistic features. Autism and Creativity will prove fascinating reading not only for professionals and students in the field of Autism and Asperger's syndrome, but for anyone wanting to know how individuals presenting autistic features have on many occasions changed the way we understand society."

This is interesting. Autism may indeed spark creativity in some people. It is not unreasonable that some of these people are famous in history. However, I do find it hard to give anyone an autism diagnosis long after he is dead. Sure, they may have exhibited autism symptoms but so do people who do not have autism. Social awkwardness is fairly common. Contemporary critics of a person were more likely to focus on negative behaviors and ignore positive ones which may make a person appear to be autistic retrospectively even if they were not. With even the recognition of autism being fairly recent, I think it makes the task even harder.

This is an area that historians (with caution!) may want to explore. Could considering autism when looking at a historical figure's biography be helpful in understanding the person and the events that happened in their lifetime? It will be interesting to see if future historians or doctors want to pursue this research route. More information on autism can be found at the Autism Research Institute, the Autism Society of America, and the Autism Blog.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Texas ghost town is sold on eBay

How would you like to buy a piece of history? How about a historic ghost town in the American south? eBay may be your answer.

The BBC has a report titled Texas ghost town is sold on eBay. The town of Albert, Texas went cheap for a mere three million dollars.

Mind you, there is not a lot to this uninhabited town. The article noted, "He (current owner Bobby Cave) said the town's population consisted of himself and a groundsman at weekends. The winning buyer will take over an icehouse created from the frame of the old general store, a pavilion, an 85-year-old dance hall, a tractor shed and a three-bedroom house, together with peach and pecan orchards."

But still, to buy a whole historic town like this. It is either a great opportunity or a travesty depending on how historians may view it. I would not mind buying a ghost town but I doubt my academic salary will ever allow for it.

I wonder how much my small hometown (still inhabited) would go for? Of course, it is not that historic but give it time...

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Feature: World History Blog Poll

Just for fun, I have added a new feature. I will try to add a new poll weekly asking a question about history. If I get a good response, I will keep it up. If not, I will let the feature die eventually.

A couple of notes:

- It is possible for a person or group of people to rig a poll by voting repeatedly from different IP addresses or computers. There is no promise that any poll result has not been manipulated.

- Polls on blogs are not scientific. They do not represent the views of historians or the general population of the world. They just represent the thoughts of those who saw the poll and voted.

- I will try to ask questions pertaining to different parts of the world and different eras of history. However, I have my preferences and they probably will become apparent over time.

Here is the first question:

Who was the greatest general of antiquity? Possible responses include: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Scipio Africanus, and Zhuge Liang. I will post the response here next week after the poll closes.


Alexander won hands down. He got 51%. Hannibal got 18% and Caesar got 17%. Scipio Africanus and Zhuge Liang barely showed with 6%.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend

As I traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was fortunate to have a copy of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend by Barbara Oakley. I have always found travel to be both rewarding and stressful. A good book always helps to make the experience more rewarding.

I ordered Evil Genes through the interlibrary loan department of my academic library. The subtitle of the book lead me to believe this book might not be that great as it is stuffed with keywords and obviously dealt with personal family gossip. Much to my surprise and delight, I was wrong. This book is worth buying and I shall be doing so after I return my borrowed copy!

A Publishers Weekly review of the book gives a good summary. It notes, "Born out of a quest to understand her sister Carolyn's lifelong sinister behavior (which, systems engineer Oakley suggests, may have been compounded by childhood polio), the author sets out on an exploration of evil, or Machiavellian, individuals. Drawing on the advances in brain imaging that have illuminated the relationship of emotions, genetics and the brain (with accompanying imaging scans), Oakley collects detailed case histories of famed evil geniuses such as Slobodan Milosevic and Mao Zedong, interspersed with a memoir of Carolyn's life. Oakley posits that they all had borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder, a claim she supports with evidence from scientists' genetic and neurological research. All the people she considers, Oakley notes, are charming on the surface but capable of deeply malign behavior (traits similar to those found in some personality disorders), and her analysis attributes these traits to narcissism combined with cognitive and emotional disturbances that lead them to believe they are behaving in a genuinely altruistic way. Disturbing, for sure, but with her own personal story informing her study, Oakley offers an accessible account of a group of psychiatric disorders and those affected by them."

I think Oakley has done a good job presenting a strong case that much of human behavior that is deemed to be evil has a biological connection that can be explained by biology and DNA. She acknowledges the social impact on human behavior as it develops in children but makes a good case that the genetics plays a stronger role. Every other species on earth has behavior influenced by DNA so why not humanity? Yes, that leads to many tricky legal, moral, and religious questions but it does not change anything if it is true. It certainly puts the study of historical figures under a different lens.

One problem I have with Oakley is that she does not understand the philosophy of Machiavelli. She equates Machiavellian behavior with psychopathic behavior throughout the book. This is clearly wrong to anyone who has studied Machiavelli and The Prince. Machiavelli did advocate bad behavior in some circumstances to avoid a greater evil. He postulated the concept of entering into evil. At times, a leader must commit evil acts for the common good. Further, failing to do this will actually result in a greater evil. He believed good men were best suited to this and actually wrote his book aimed at educating good men on the rules of power evil men already knew. Ledeen (1999) wrote in summary, “The problem is to find a suitable leader, a good man willing to enter into evil to accomplish good ends. Such men are in short supply; good men shy from evil, and evil men are not interested in good ends” (p. 178). We may find Machiavelli's message questionable today but he was not advocating psychopathic behavior.

I can hardly fault Oakley. Most people have never read The Prince or have actually spent anytime learning what Machiavelli really meant. Machiavelli means intelligent evil in popular culture and she is just repeating the general perception of Machiavelli's work. I hope she spends some time in the future perusing his work and studying his biography. A future edition of her work may well modify her description of Machiavelli.

Oakley also writes about how "evil" genes may actually benefit the human race. After all, if these genes did not aid in natural selection and human survival, they would not be around in great quantities today. Narcissism and ambition help people advance both good ideas and bad ones. Those with attitude are often the most successful in making an impact on society. Have you noticed how those in academia who trumpet their own horn tend to get ahead? Do "evil" genes help humanity as a whole more than they help? Those obnoxious scientists and politicians who leave behind positive legacies may be worth the damage done by their more sinister counterparts...

Again, this is a good book. Disagree or agree with Oakley, this book will make you think. And it is a joy to read to boot.


Ledeen, M. A. (1999). Machiavelli on modern leadership. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

American Thanksgiving Holiday

I am on the road for the next four days for the American Thanksgiving holiday. This will be my last post until next week. I wish my American readers (who according to my statistics are the majority of my hits) a happy turkey day.

I understand much of the world does not have this holiday. I also realize the Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving in October! I gave one of my colleagues from Canada a hard time for leaving in the middle of the semester to celebrate "fake Thanksgiving" as I had to cover her class!

Looking for a good site on Thanksgiving? Try The First Thanksgiving. It is from Scholastic Books and features a picture timeline from 1620-1621, and discusses what life was like in Plimoth (Plymouth) for the first Thanksgiving. It blends the traditional view of the holiday with the politically correct version which probably gives a good pass at what really happened.

For those travelling, have a safe trip.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Ghost Ship of the Arctic

I found this fun short 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 article is by Debra Cruz.


In 1914, the Hudson Bay Co. built the Baychimo, a steel cargo ship designed to withstand the dangerous ice packs and stormy waters of the Canadian north. Her purpose was to deliver food and supplies to the Eskimo community in exchange for pelts, and thus, was a pioneer in the Eskimo fur trade. On July 6, 1931, she set off on her usual 2,000 mile round trip to the Victoria Islands, arrived safely and left the Victoria coast back towards Vancouver. On October 1, ice packed around the Baychimo, leaving her stalled and frozen.

Luckily, it was not far from a small Alaskan village and the ship's captain ordered the men to walk across the ice to the huts seen in the distance. After 2 days in the frozen Alaskan winter, the crew saw the ice begin to loosen and boarded the ship once again. After 3 hours, the ice gathered around her again. On October 8, the captain sent out an SOS. October 15, two aircraft rescued all but 15 men, who stayed onboard waiting for the ice to melt. Preparing for a long, hard winter, the men built a wooden shelter on the ice. On November 24, a great blizzard trapped the men in their shelter and after the storm, the men emerged to find the Baychimo gone. Somehow the men trudged across the ice and reached the mainland.

Now here is where the story gets amazing!

- A few days later, the ship was found 45 miles south of where she was lost, but was again ice-packed.

- After several months, she was spotted again but about 300 miles to the east.

- In March 1932 of the following year, she was seen floating peacefully near the shore by a man travelling to Nome with his dog-sled team.

- A few months after that, she was seen by a company of prospectors.

- March of 1933, she was found by a group of Eskimos who boarded her and was trapped on-board for 10 days by a freak storm.

- August 1933, the Hudson Bay Co heard she was still afloat, but was too far a-sea to salvage.

- July 1934, she was boarded by a group of explorers on a schooner.

- September 1935, she was seen off the Alaskan coast.

- November 1939, She was boarded by Captain Hugh Polson, wishing to salvage her, but the creeping ice floes intervened and the captain had to abandon her.

- After 1939, she was seen floating alone and crewless numerous times, but always eluded capture.

- March of 1962, she was seen sailing along the Beaufort Sea coast by a group of Eskimos.

She was found frozen in an ice pack in 1969, 38 years after she was abandoned, and this is the last recording sighting of the ghostly Baychimo. In 2006, the Alaskan government began work on a project to solve the mystery of "the Ghost Ship of the Arctic" and locate the Baychimo, whether still afloat or on the ocean floor. As of yet, she has not been found.

Looking for more interesting history? Check out my Hub Page for more amazing stories.

Article Source:

Monday, November 19, 2007

History of Madagascar

History of Madagascar. This is a short essay on the history of this African nation. Yes, this is were the lemurs come from.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes,"Republic of Madagascar , Malagasy Madagasikara or Repoblikan'i Madagasikara , French Madagascar or République de Madagascar country lying off the southeastern coast of Africa. It occupies the fourth largest island in the world, after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo. Located in the southwestern Indian Ocean, it is separated from the African coast by the 250-mile- (400-kilometre-) wide Mozambique Channel."

From the site:

The written history of Madagascar began in the seventh century A.D., when Arabs established trading posts along the northwest coast. European contact began in the 1500s, when Portuguese sea captain Diego Dias sighted the island after his ship became separated from a fleet bound for India. In the late 17th century, the French established trading posts along the east coast. From about 1774 to 1824, it was a favorite haunt for pirates, including Americans, one of whom brought Malagasy rice to South Carolina.

Beginning in the 1790s, Merina rulers succeeded in establishing hegemony over the major part of the island, including the coast. In 1817, the Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius concluded a treaty abolishing the slave trade, which had been important in Madagascar's economy. In return, the island received British military and financial assistance. British influence remained strong for several decades, during which the Merina court was converted to Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Anglicanism.

The British accepted the imposition of a French protectorate over Madagascar in 1885 in return for eventual control over Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) and as part of an overall definition of spheres of influence in the area. Absolute French control over Madagascar was established by military force in 1895-96, and the Merina monarchy was abolished.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Alexander the Great's relationship with alcohol

I read today an interesting article titled Alexander the Great's relationship with alcohol which is from the Addiction, 2003 May;98(5):561-7. It was written by J. A. Liappas, J. Lascaratos, S. Fafouti & G. N. Christodoulou. I could find no online version of this article but an abstract can be found at PubMed.

The article aimed to clarify:

• Whether Alexander indulged pathologically in alcohol.

• If, on the basis of the existing historical evidence, the diagnosis of alcohol abuse, consumption causing harm to health with resulting dependency, or pathological intoxication, as defined by the diagnostic criteria DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association 1992) and ICD-10 (World Health Organization 1992), can be established.

• The social and political context of alcohol use in Alexander’s time and during his military campaigns.

• The probable accuracy of the attribution of alcohol as Alexander’s cause of death.

Was Alexander the Great an alcoholic? The study did not reach a conclusion. It noted, "In conclusion, it appears that Alexander was indeed involved with alcohol. However, bearing in mind the existing historical evidence, the national, social and cultural conditions of the historical period during which Alexander lived, it appears likely that Alexander periodically consumed large amounts of alcohol which resulted in instances of alcoholic or pathological intoxication. The diagnostic criteria of ICD-10 and DCM-IV seem to prove useful in our endeavour to evaluate the involvement of Alexander the Great in the use of alcohol. On the basis of the currently existing phychiatric classification systems, the existing evidence does not support convincingly the idea that Alexander would be ‘diagnosed’ a posteriori as suffering from either dependence on or abuse of alcohol" (p. 567).

The article has lots of medical jargon but it is understandable. If you are interested in ancient history, this article is worth hunting down in paper.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vietnam Veterans Memorial National Memorial

National Park Service: Vietnam Veterans Memorial National Memorial. This is the official site for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial National Memorial in the Mall in Washington DC. It includes directions and information about operating hours and fees.

I found the site design and content disappointing. It may be the National Park Service template that the site is required to use. However, there doesn't seem to be as much depth or information about the Vietnam War. Even the link to a "current in depth" page is full of links to 404 pages!

From the site:

Deliberately setting aside the controversies of the war, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served when their Nation called upon them. The designer, Maya Lin, felt that “the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives.” She kept the design elegantly simple to “allow everyone to respond and remember.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blog Labels

Sorry for yet another blog policy/maintenance post. I will be be back to regular programming soon...

However, it has become apparent to me that having the post labels on the template of this blog needlessly clutters the blog and are rarely used by visitors. I think there is value in them. However, I will remove them from the blog template. Instead, I will link to this post from the template. Those who are interested can peruse them easily if they wish. It will still offer an alternate navigation system for this blog.

Here are the labels as of November 13, 2007. I will periodically update them if I add more:

American Civil War
American History
American Presidents
American Separatists
Ancient History
British History
Business History
capital punishment
Central America
Charles Darwin
Cliopatria Awards
Cocos Islands
Cold War
Cook Islands
East Timor
Easter Island
Encyclopedia Britannica
Falkland Islands
Global Warming
Hawaiian Revolution
HBO Rome
Historical Revisionists
History Carnivals
Julius Caesar
Labor History
Maritime History
Medieval History
Mexican War
Middle East
Netherlands Antilles
New Zealand
North America
North Dakota
Oral History
Polar Regions
Primary Sources
Puerto Rico
Roman History
Saint Helena
Sao Tome and Principe
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South America
Soviet Union
Space Exploration
Teaching History
Women's History
World War One
World War Two

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Grand History of the Realms

The Forgotten Realms is a fictional campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons game. It was invented in the 70s by librarian Ed Greenwood and has hundreds of books devoted to it. It may well be the best developed fantasy world in existence. Middle Earth is not nearly as well documented as the Forgotten Realms.

Not surprisingly, this world has an extensive recorded history. Wizards of the Coast has published a new book devoted to the timeline of the Forgotten Realms. It is The Grand History of the Realms by Brian R. James and Ed Greenwood.

A publisher description of the book reads, "The Grand History of the Realms chronicles the rich history of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, presenting a detailed timeline accompanied by essays from Elminster of Shadowdale and other Realmslore experts. Although not a game supplement, it serves as a handy reference guide for players and Dungeon Masters seeking information on specific historical events. In addition, the book features an exclusive Forgotten Realms short story by best-selling author R.A. Salvatore and new revelations for Realmslore aficionados."

Despite the description, I could not find the promised Salvatore short story. However, the book delivers by providing a detailed history of the Forgotten Realms. If you do not like history or fantasy worlds, stay away from this book. I think one will have to appreciate both to fully get wrapped into the fake history of this fake world.

The history of the Forgotten Realms often echoes the history of the real world. The Last Stand of Humaithira as detailed on page 34 is clearly an homage to Spartan King Leonidas and the Greeks from the Battle of Thermopylae. Of course, in the Realms, the Persians are giants!

This book is a hard read. The dates and side stories offer great detail but are not a flowing narrative. If you are unfamiliar with the Forgotten Realms, this book may be unreadable. However, the many historians out there with fantasy gaming backgrounds (tons I think!) may appreciate this book more than active gamers do.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Comments Policy

I have decided to be less restrictive on the comment policy on this blog. I will now allow anonymous comments.

Here are some rules that govern their approval:

1. Comments with links to other sites will be assumed to be spam and deleted. If you feel you must link to another url, do so and I will look at it. However, unless the link is helpful and not a disguised SEO (search engine optimization) trick attempting to get free Google PR juice, it will be deleted and never published.

2. Comments must be related to the post. If you are attempting to contact Miland Brown, post a comment on the contact page. I will respond if I am interested.

3. Comments must be respectful. You are welcome to disagree with me and I will approve your post. If your comment is hostile and disrespectful, I will delete it. I am very tolerant and will be forgiving. However...

4. Comments should not be posted just to refer to a book. Even if you do not link to the publisher's url, I will not approve comments which appear to just be hyping a book.

This post will be linked to from the main page of the World History Blog and be considered a core policy.

Thank you.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Book Review Policy

I have been getting comments from publishers/authors offering me a free copy of their book. I am assuming they are hoping for a positive review at this blog. As such, I feel obligated to put a book review policy at this blog:

1. The author of the World History Blog (Miland Brown) is happy to accept free copies of books, software, DVDs, etc. However, all items are accepted as gifts with no assurance that any item will be reviewed at this site.

2. When an item is sent to Miland Brown, there is a possibility that a resulting review may be negative. I am a nice guy but sometimes I do not like a book. If I feel moved to review a gift I do not like, the review may well reflect this.

3. I will not review vanity press publications. If you had to pay to have the book published, it is a vanity. Is it a print-on-demand publication listed in Amazon that you had to pay to have produced? That is a vanity press publication too. It really is not that hard to figure out.

4. If you want to send me a copy of a book (or other item), send me an e-mail at milandbrown at

5. I almost certainly will mention in any review that I got the copy for free. Ethically, I feel I need to do this.

Feel free to offer me free stuff. I like it. However, do not assume that the gift will result in free positive publicity or any publicity at all.

This post will be linked to from the main page of the World History Blog and be considered a core policy.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

History of Iceland

History of Iceland. This essay is a brief history of the European nation of Iceland. Medieval as well as modern history is covered.

Wikipedia notes, "Iceland, officially the Republic of Iceland is a country in northern Europe, comprising the island of Iceland and its outlying islets in the North Atlantic Ocean between the rest of Europe and Greenland. It is the least populous of the Nordic countries and the second smallest; it has a population of about 313,000 and a total area of 103,000 km². Its capital and largest city is Reykjavík."

From the site:

Iceland was settled in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, principally by people of Norse origin. In 930 A.D., the ruling chiefs established a republican constitution and an assembly called the Althingi--the oldest parliament in the world. Iceland remained independent until 1262, when it entered into a treaty establishing a union with the Norwegian monarchy. Iceland passed to Denmark in the late 14th century when Norway and Denmark were united under the Danish crown.

The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "Irish monks, according to legend, were the first discoverers of the island about the year 800. Colonization did not begin until much later, when King Harold I Harfagr of Norway subdued the Norse nobles, who had been independent until then, and made himself absolute lord of Norway in 872. Many liberty-loving men at that time left the land of their fathers (874), and sought new homes on the still uninhabited island which is said to owe its name to the Norseman, Floke Vilgerdarson. This immigration (Landnahme) continued for sixty years. The colonists (noblemen, with their serfs, among whom were men of Germanic and Celtic origin) divided the soil among themselves, and the chieftains not only continued to exercise judicial prerogatives over the low tenants and serfs, but also performed the functions of high-priests (gooi). Freemen, however, might claim their rights in the moot or public assembly (thing). The people at the beginning of the tenth century numbered about 25,000, divided into some thirty clans, which about 930 formed an independent republic with an aristocratic constitution. The government and the administration of justice were vested in the Althing, which met annually in June and in which freemen and their families could take part. But this body was not always able to exercise its powers, and it happened quite often that internal quarrels were settled by the sword. Thirty years later the country was divided into four quarters, subdivided in turn into thing-districts. To simplify business, there was a special court of law for each district, under the general jurisdiction of the Althing. A committee (lögrätta), to which each quarter sent twelve representatives, carried on the administration in the name of the Althing. The republic was on friendly terms with the Kingdom of Norway, the two countries having fixed the respective rights and obligations of their citizens by treaty. But it was not long before King Olaf Haraldsson (1024) and Harold Hardrada (1066) made unsuccessful attempts to bring the island into dependence on Norway."

"The inhabitants had in the meantime been converted to Christianity, and for a long while the Catholic bishops exerted over them a powerful and beneficial influence. At their instance the old laws (Gragas) were written down in 1117. Unfortunately, soon afterwards bloody feuds broke out among the chief nobles of the State, in the course of which Sturla attempted to make himself king. The people, tired of protracted wars, offered no resistance to King Hakon the Elder when, in 1258, he appointed Gissur Thorwaldsson Governor (Jarl). A few years later the whole island swore allegiance to the new master, still insisting, however, on retaining certain privileges (1302). It is certain that this act did not make Iceland, strictly speaking, a province of Norway. Norwegian Iceland is always referred to in public documents of the fifteenth, and in chronicles of the sixteenth, century as a dominion of the Crown (see Styffe, "Skandinavien under Unionstider," Stockholm, 1880), and at first it retained its constitutional organization. In the year 1281, however, a code of laws was introduced by the judge, Jón Einarsson, patterned on the Norwegian laws (Jonsbok). Hakon II having died (1380), his son Olaf, who since 1376 had ruled Denmark, ascended the throne."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Military History Carnival 8

Another day, another great history carnival. Remember the days before we had history blogs and history carnivals? It was like the dark ages...

Military History Carnival 8 is up at Gary Smailes. There is some good stuff here as you might expect.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

History Carnival LVIII

History Carnival LVIII is up at Martin Rundkvist's Aardvarcheology. There is a lot of good history blogging recorded here!

The next History Carnival will appear on 1 December at Westminster Wisdom. You can Submit here.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Historical Ignorance

As someone who teaches college students, I am continually amazed how historically illiterate many of them are. I had several conversations yesterday that were particularly frustrating. A large part of the problem is that undergraduate students are not well versed in history. It is not a subject that is taught in depth in most of the K-12 schools in the United States. Students often can graduate from high school with a single course in the subject. A recent study found that only 47.8% of college students could pass a basic history test.[i] More than half of the students in a 1999 study believed that Cornwallis surrendered to General Grant after Yorktown during the American Revolution.[ii]

This lack of basic historical knowledge is not limited to the United States. A study in the United Kingdom found that 83% of Scots did not know that Trafalgar was where Admiral Lord Nelson won his famous naval victory over the Spanish and the French.[iii] Chinese students also have been found to be lacking in historical knowledge. A study in Hong Kong found that only 37% of high schools students could pass a test on the history of the People’s Republic of China covering 1949 to the present.[iv]

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough calls this lack of historical knowledge in the United States a threat to national security. McCullough said, “We are raising a generation of people who are historically illiterate and ignorant of the basic philosophical foundations of our free society. We can’t function in a society if we don’t know who we are and where we came from.”[v]

OK, enough complaining. I am just going to have to work harder. History is important and college students should graduate with at least a basic grasp of world and American history.

[i] Gravois, J. (2006). Condemned to Repeat It. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(14), accessed on 18 June 2007 at

[ii] Cheney, L. (2001). Mrs. Cheney's Remarks on "Teaching for Freedom" at Princeton University. Accessed on 22 June 2007 at

[iii] Anonymous. (15 October, 2005). Scots ‘Ignorant’ about Trafalgar. Accessed on 18 June 2007 at

[iv] Clem, W. (July 9, 2005). Recent Chinese History ‘A mystery to students.’ South China Morning Post, p. 1.

[v] Archibald, G. (April 11, 2003). Ignorance of U.S. History Called Threat to Security. Washington Times, accessed on 18 June 2007 at

Friday, November 02, 2007

Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth, 73rd Edition

I received a copy of the book Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth, 73rd Edition. The book is lavishly illustrated and has entries for every country in the world. The United States is given extra coverage with each state getting an entry. The book looks like a real reference book you would find at your local library.

The publisher description of the book reads, "Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of The Planet Earth, 73rd Edition features incorrect statistics on all of the Earth's 168, 182, or 196 independent nations. It also features maps, including a fold-out world map at actual size. Readers will learn about every country from Afghanistan, 'Allah's Cat Box,' to the Ukraine, 'The Bridebasket of Europe.' Today's news-parody consumer cannot possibly understand made-up current events without the context of fake world history and geography. That is why The Onion is publishing a world atlas: to help us. Our Dumb World is an invaluable tool for any reader interested in overthrowing a weakened government in East Asia, exploiting a developing nation in Africa, or for directions to tonight's party at Erica's. It is a reference guide to 250,000 of the world's most important places, such as North Korea's Trench of Victory, the Great Human Pyramid of Egypt, and Saudi Arabia's superhighway, the Mohammedobahn."

Despite the books appearance, few are going to believe this is a real reference work. The satire is clever, humorous, and sometimes downright offensive. The facts are fabricated, based on stereotypes, and often amusing. The country maps with fake locations are particularly clever. Probably the only hazard this book poses is to struggling students who use English as a second language who may not recognize satire.

The history covered in each region is loosely based on facts but bears no resemblance to reality. Interesting tidbits include:

* The United States - "1865, Robert E. Lee agrees to surrender and end the Civil War on the condition that 193 high schools in the south be named after him" (p. 11)

* Bahamas - "1717, The Bahamas becomes a Five-Star British crown colony with full buffet" (p. 40).

* Zambia - "1851, Queen Victoria renounces her crown and hacks her way through the Zambian jungle...Thus the majestic waterfall near her hut was named Victorian Falls" (p. 71).

* Andorra - "1278, Andorra celebrates its grand opening, commemorated with the cutting of a 75-mile long ribbon strung around its perimeter" (p. 147).

* Thailand - "1440-1939, The people of Thailand call their country by the wrong name for nearly 500 years" (p. 222).

* New Zealand - "1939, Japanese location scouts find New Zealand to be ideal for their major WWII epic" (p. 236).

No country (no matter how small) is neglected. This is a fun, entertaining book virtually assured to also offend you at some point. When you need a break from those serious history texts, take a look at this book. You may have trouble putting it down.