Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Royal Pardon for the British Witches?

Over 400 people (mostly women) were legally executed for witchcraft in Britain until 1735. In retrospect, most of these people were probably not witches. Further, even if they were, it is unfair that they were killed for their personal religious beliefs. This has resulted in a campaign to have these "witches" given royal pardons.

The site has some more details:

On 28th of August 2008, the Swiss Parliament granted an official pardon to Anna Goeldi who in 1782 was the last person to be executed as a witch in Western Europe. It is time the British government followed this example and this Halloween offered a symbolic pardon to those people who were punished for witchcraft in Britain between the Sixteenth and Eighteenth Century.

Angels, the UK's largest Halloween retailer, has consulted with historian and witchcraft expert John Callow to prepare eight historical test cases that aim to remove the suspicion and fear that continues to surround these innocent women (and one man). Please fill in the petition below to see your name added to the list that will be presented to Justice Minister Jack Straw MP on Halloween 2008 asking him to recommend the Queen issues a posthumous pardon.

Over 400 women were executed in England alone following accusations of witchcraft. These women - often on the margins of society on account of their sex, poverty and age - found themselves used as the outlet for a wide range of unrelated social issues, from religious tension sweeping the nation during the Civil War to more localised problems such as crop failure. Often it was enough for a child to fall ill for a local woman to become the subject of a whispering campaign that could lead to an accusation of witchcraft. During the period, trials were conducted using official assizes presided over by the same circuit judges that tried people charged of non-supernatural crimes. They often used evidence obtained by duress or torture to justify the death sentence.

Eight test cases are being advanced to help with the pardon request. I am convinced this is worthwhile even if the victims can not appreciate it. Miland Brown has added his name to the petition.

Friday, October 31, 2008

3,000 Year Old Hebrew Text

An archaeologist is claiming to have found Hebrew text from over three thousand years ago. It dates from the time of King David and was found on a shard of pottery. An article from CNN (titled Archeologist finds 3,000-year old Hebrew text) has the details.

The article notes:

Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem says the inscribed pottery shard -- known as an ostracon -- was found during excavations of a fortress from the 10th century BC.

Carbon dating of the ostracon, along with pottery analysis, dates the inscription to time of King David, about a millennium earlier than the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, the university said.

The shard contains five lines of text divided by black lines and measures 15 by 15 centimeters, or about 6 inches square.

Archaeologists have yet to decipher the text, but initial interpretation indicates it formed part of a letter and contains the roots of the words "judge," "slave," and "king," according to the university. That may indicate it was a legal text, which archaeologists say would provide insights into Hebrew law, society, and beliefs.

The researchers say the text was clearly written by a trained scribe.

As noted by the article, Hebrew evolved a lot in a thousand years. It is not surprising that Hebrew changed so much from three thousand years ago and two thousand years ago. Languages change and evolve. This would probably shock one of the local English language grammar patrollers here in my town. She writes a weekly newspaper column criticizing anyone who writes or speaks differently than her. I note though that she does not speak or write proper Old English. I guess she missed the fact that the language changes and some of her musings are a futile attempt to prevent the evolution of English.

This is a nice find in the Middle East. Congratulations to Dr. Garfinkle.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ancient Iceman Probably Has No Descendants or Relatives

The famous iceman of Italy has some new news. He may have no relatives in the modern world. It appears his particular DNA is now extinct. An article at Yahoo! titled Ancient iceman probably has no modern relatives has the details.

It notes:

"Otzi," Italy's prehistoric iceman, probably does not have any modern day descendants, according to a study published Thursday.

A team of Italian and British scientists who sequenced his mitochondrial DNA -- which is passed down through the mother's line -- found that Otzi belonged to a genetic lineage that is either extremely rare or has died out.

Otzi's 5,300-year-old corpse was found frozen in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991.

"Our research suggests that Otzi's lineage may indeed have become extinct," Martin Richards of Leeds University in Britain, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

The Wikpedia article on Ötzi the Iceman writes, "Ötzi the Iceman (pronounced [ˈœtsi], Frozen Fritz, and Similaun Man are modern nicknames of a well-preserved natural mummy of a man from about 3300 BC (53 centuries ago),[1] found in 1991 in the Schnalstal glacier in the Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. The nickname comes from Ötztal, the region in which he was discovered. He is Europe's oldest natural human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Europeans."

Evidence shows that the iceman died from an arrow wound. It is possible that he died as a result of warfare. Perhaps this same war resulted eventually in the genocide of his relatives? It is impossible to tell but I find it interesting that none of his relatives are appearing in DNA today.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Remembering Herbert Zipper

Herbert Zipper was a Holocaust survivor who became a renowned music educator. There are several good sites about him on the web.

These include:

In Memoriam: Herbert Zipper - This is an article from the USC Trojan Family Magazine. It is in memory of Herbert Zipper who was a USC School of Performing Arts faculty member. It includes comments on the Oscar-nominated documentary Never Give Up: The 20th Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper.

Herbert Zipper Biography - This is a biography of the conductor Herbert Zipper, a Holocaust survivor known for organizing a clandestine orchestra while jailed in a concentration camp. It features details on his life in the USA as he advocated for community arts and music education.

Crossroads School: The Herbert Zipper Archive - This site contains the personal papers, letters, books, pictures, music scores, recordings, artworks, and memorabilia of Herbert Zipper. Archive materials include the original manuscript of Dachau Song.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

History Carnival: Let's Take a History Stroll

The newest History Carnival is up at the American Presidents Blog. Jennie Weber has done a good job collecting nice history links from the last month from around the history blogosphere.

The next History Carnival will be hosted by Penny at Disabilities Studies. You can submit to the history carnival here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Discussion Draft of Bailout Bill

Here is history in the making. The Wall Street Journal has the draft of the Bailout Bill. The text here is the agreed-upon draft of the House Resolution for the 2008 $700 billion economic bailout plan. The final version of this bill, if it passes, is likely to look different.

I have to admit I am skeptical. Is giving the rich people who caused the economic mess in the first place a good use of tax money? Will it even solve the problem? However, will failing to pass this bill cause a recession or depression which will make life tough on the tax payers too? I just do not know. I do not think anyone else does either. When in doubt, maybe it would be best to not throw away $700 Billion?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Horse

Although you may not have thought a lot about it, the relationship between the horse and humans has been rather successful for both parties. No other riding animal has had as much impact. Sure, Hannibal had elephants but they didn't do him much good did they? And the Mongols did not terrorize Europe and Asia with donkeys.

As such, The Horse is worth checking out. It is an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History and is dedicated to exploring how horses and humans shaped one another.

From the site:

The sound is unmistakable: the thundering hooves of a running horse. Horses have been racing across the landscape for more than 50 million years—much longer than our own species has existed. But once horses and humans encountered each other, our two species became powerfully linked.

Humans domesticated horses some 6,000 years ago, and over time, we have created more than 200 breeds, from the powerful Clydesdale to the graceful Arabian. As we have shaped horses to suit our needs on battlefields, farms and elsewhere, these animals have shaped human history. They have also captured our imagination and hearts. Millions of people rely on horses as their spirited, dedicated, much adored companions.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Index of Medieval Medical Images

Index of Medieval Medical Images is a really cool site. It is a database of medieval manuscript images with medical components held in North American collections. This database was created by the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library at UCLA.

From the site:

The Index of Medieval Medical Images project began in 1988 and aimed to describe and index the content of all medieval manuscript images (up to the year 1500) with medical components held in North American collections. The goal of this 2001 pilot project was to make a substantial sample of the images and descriptions available via a searchable database on the Web.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Review - Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance--and Why They Fall

I just finished reading Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance--and Why They Fall by Amy Chua. It was a enjoyable read and thought provoking. I am still digesting her central thesis but it has some merit.

A description of the book reads:

Historians have debated the rise and fall of empires for centuries. To date, however, no one has studied the far rarer phenomenon of hyperpowers—those few societies that amassed such extraordinary military and economic might that they essentially dominated the world.Now, in this sweeping history of globally dominant empires, bestselling author Amy Chua explains how hyperpowers rise and why they fall. In a series of brilliantly focused chapters, Chua examines history’s hyperpowers—Persia, Rome, Tang China, the Mongols, the Dutch, the British, and the United States—and reveals the reasons behind their success, as well as the roots of their ultimate demise. Chua’s unprecedented study reveals a fascinating historical pattern. For all their differences, she argues, every one of these world-dominant powers was, at least by the standards of its time, extraordinarily pluralistic and tolerant. Each one succeeded by harnessing the skills and energies of individuals from very different backgrounds, and by attracting and exploiting highly talented groups that were excluded in other societies. Thus Rome allowed Africans, Spaniards, and Gauls alike to rise to the highest echelons of power, while the “barbarian” Mongols conquered their vast domains only because they practiced an ethnic and religious tolerance unheard of in their time.

The basic premise of this book is that hyperpowers arise when they practice tolerance. This tends to attract the best and brightest from nations which are more repressive to the nation which is or will become the hyperpower. The Persians, Romans, Mongols, Dutch, British, and Americans all did this and thrived. She furthers this by pointing out that a loss of this tolerance ultimately leads to the fall from hyperpower status.

The histories that Chue lays out are simple to follow. Unfortunately, she sometimes gets facts wrong. She claims for example that all the cities in Italy stayed loyal to Rome while Hannibal laid waste to the Italian countryside. Anyone who has studied the Second Punic War knows that is false. Also, she follows many other historians who think that Rome's embrace of Christianity (and the subsequent intolerance that followed) lead to the Roman fall. I think that Rome went into decline while it was still tolerant (the plague that depopulated Italy under Marcus Aurelius is what I think was the ultimate killing blow which started the downward spiral) and Christianity may have only hastened the end.

Despite this, the book provokes thought and Chue appears to be on to something. This book is geared towards reflection on how America achieved hyperpower status and how such status might be lost. What is less clear is how the changes in the modern world might make these arguments less relevant. America remains (despite what immigration policies are enacted) the most tolerant nation in history and it is hard to see that changing anytime soon. Others factors may bring about American decline while America remains incredibly tolerant.

This is a book worth perusing. Chue may not be 100% right but she has good ideed which are worth pondering.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jane Austen's World

My wife Kate is a big Jane Austen fan. It seems like most college educated women are these days. I found a nice history blog site that focuses on Ms. Austen at Jane Austen's World.

The blog description reads:

This blog brings Jane Austen, her novels, and the Regency Period alive through food, dress, social customs, and other 19th C. historical details.

I have to admit I am not an Austen fan. I do not like watching TV and film versions of her books over and over again. However, this is a good site and anyone who is interested in 19th Century England will probably find this blog worthwhile.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Ancient Olympics Games

Archaeology Magazine has a timely themed collection of essays up at Ancient Olympics Guide. It provides good coverage of the ancient Olympics by leading academics. It also includes articles about the games at Nemea and ancient Rome as well as a guide to the modern Olympic games in Beijing.

A few articles include:

Winning at Olympia

Myths about the Olympic Games

Reviving Nemea's Games

Perspectives from Beijing

Friday, August 08, 2008

The 1936 Liechtenstein Flag Olympic Incident

The 1936 Olympic Games are well known for many historical reasons including Jesse Owens, Adolf Hitler, German nationalism, and palatable tensions which would lead to World War Two. However, a microstate in Europe was also deeply impacted. The consequences were lasting.

During the opening ceremonies, athletes from Liechtenstein were shocked to discover that their flag was identical to the flag of Haiti! After the games, a yellow crown was added to the flag of Liechtenstein.

I guess very few (if any) citizens of Liechtenstein or Haiti had visited the other country or had ever noticed. Of course, if any had they probably kept quiet to avoid the difficulty of changing something as hard as a national flag.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

John Titor, Proven Hoax

Put a fork in him, the John Titor story has now been proven to be a hoax. Almost two years ago, I posted John Titor, Fake Time Traveller. That post now has 26 comments on it and I had to reject dozens of others who continued to irrationally claim that political disagreements between Republicans and Democrats in the USA proved that a civil war was occurring in America right now. In frustration, I finally turned the comments off on that post.

The story is now over. Wikipedia notes in a section about Titor's failed predictions, "A particularly obvious example involves the Olympics, which Titor claimed 'As a result of the many conflicts, no, there were no official Olympics after 2004.' The uneventful staging of the 2006 Winter Olympics refutes this claim; however, there are arguments as to whether or not Titor was referring exclusively to the Summer Olympics. To those accepting this caveat, it is the successful or unsuccessful realization of the 2008 Summer Olympics that will ultimately determine the accuracy of this claim."

Well, official events have already been held at the 2008 Summer Olympics already. Several Women's Soccer (football) matches were held today. I regret to report that the American women lost to Norway 2-0. Regardless what happens now, official events in the Olympic Games have begun. Titor was wrong and is hence a fraud.

Of course, Titor supporters still have a cope out. As I wrote in 2006, "I guess his proponents can claim that John Titor was not a fraud and that he must have visited the past from a different alternate timeline. However, as I am only interested in the timeline I am living in, I am going to dismiss Titor."

The fork is in the turkey. The John Titor story is a fraud.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

History Carnival #67

I am a bit late on this but the newest History Carnival is up. It is at History Carnival LXVII is at Andy Walpole's Future/Retro. As always, there are a lot of good history posts included.

The next History Carnival will be hosted by Mike Ramalho at Osprey Publishing Blog.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hadrian: Empire and Conflict

The British Museum just opened yesterday a new exhibit called Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. I wish I was in England to see it. Here is a description from the site:

This special exhibition explores the life, love and legacy of Rome’s most enigmatic emperor, Hadrian (reigned AD 117–138). Ruling an empire that comprised much of Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East, Hadrian was a capable and, at times, ruthless military leader. He realigned borders and quashed revolt, stabilising a territory critically overstretched by his predecessor, Trajan.

Hadrian had a great passion for architecture and Greek culture. His extensive building programme included the Pantheon in Rome, his villa in Tivoli and the city of Antinoopolis, which he founded and named after his male lover Antinous. This unprecedented exhibition provides fresh insight into the sharp contradictions of Hadrian’s character and challenges faced during his reign. Objects from 28 museums worldwide and finds from recent excavations are shown together for the first time to reassess his legacy, which remains strikingly relevant today.

There is a ton of good Hadrian material at Explore more about Hadrian online. And of course, you can always shop online.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ten Scientifically Scientific Innaccurate Movies?

Yahoo has a nice article up titled Top 10 Scientifically Inaccurate Movies. The article notes:

If movies were completely scientifically accurate, they'd probably be as interesting as a Physics 101 lecture. In real life, there are no explosions in space, gas usually doesn't explode from a lit cigarette, and Bruce Willis/Jackie Chan/Will Smith would most likely be in a coma after getting kicked in the head. Some movies, though, put science front and center in the story and more often than not the science proves to be head-slappingly bad. Here are some of the worst offenders.

I don't watch science fiction for scientific accuracy. It is fantasy and I am OK with that. Further, sometimes gas does explode from lit cigarettes, warriors survive kicks to the head, and sound may not be heard in space but it might be in the combating ships if they have programs running which allow pilots to hear explosions as sounds to aid them in combat. Further, knowledge of science has changed a lot in the last several thousand years. Some of these inaccurate movies may appear visionary a thousand years hence.

A few of the listed movies:

* Armageddon - "But perhaps the biggest problem is that the plot itself -- splitting a Texas-sized rock in two with a single nuke -- has a Texas-sized hole in it. We don't have a nuclear bomb anywhere near powerful enough to do the job." Well, not yet anyway that the government is admitting about...

* Independence Day - "That mammoth mothership hovering over the earth in geostationary orbit would be doing more than just freaking out the world's population. Because of its close proximity and mass -- 1/4th that of the moon, according to the film -- the flying saucer's gravitational pull would cause massive tidal waves, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes." If the aliens flew across the galaxy to attack Earth, could they not have an anti-gravity field to counter this?

* Starship Troopers - "Could a band of cave-dwelling, preverbal giant insects really have the sophisticated mathematics and technology to hurl a rock millions of miles through space to crash into Earth? Plus, 70% of the planet's surface is covered in water, so they only had a 3 out of 10 chance at even hitting solid ground, let alone a major city like Buenos Aires." The author of this list missed the plot entirely. The alien "bugs" are specialized. At the top are hive minds which are intelligent, understand technology, and are capable of waging interstellar war. They know how to target rocks at cities. Read the original novel for more details.

* The Matrix - "But in reality, our supposed robot overlords are a bit dim. Humans are a remarkably inefficient energy source. Instead of turning the human race into Duracells, the machines would probably get more energy just setting those goopy people pods on fire." Quantum physics anyone? Science is showing that sometimes events are dictated by whether they are observed or not. As strange as that sounds, it is true. Maybe the machines need a biological mind to do the observing which then releases the energy? This movie is about Buddhism and not science anyway.

* Outbreak - "A monkey threatens a small town with a virus that kills everybody in less time than your average DMV visit, and only Dustin Hoffman can stop it. The trouble with a disease that virulent is it kills the host too fast to spread." Obviously, the threat from a virus like this is that it evolves. Further, random genetic reasons allow some victims to survive a longer time which allows for the spread of the disease. A virus can evolve quickly and allow a slightly less virulent version to pass along in just a few days.

Oh well. Please make good movies that lack scientific accuracy. I like them.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Yowie: In Search of Australia's Bigfoot

I just finished reading The Yowie: In Search of Australia's Bigfoot. It was written by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper. The book is interesting and is a good use of oral history.

A description of the book reads, "Australia's most baffling zoological mystery! During the early colonial era, Australia's Aborigines often warned British settlers to beware of huge, ape-like creatures that lurked in the rugged mountains and deep forests of the island continent. Their people, they said, had been encountering the hairy horrors since time immemorial. They knew them by many names, including doolagarl, thoolagarl, jurrawarra and tjangara. Soon the colonists, too, began to experience hair-raising encounters with the hulking, foul-smelling creatures, which they referred to as "Australian apes", "yahoos" or "youries". Today, they are generally referred to as yowies. The list of modern-day eyewitnesses includes zoologists, rangers, surveyors and members of the elite Special Air Service Regiment. This book chronicles the yowie saga from the pre-colonial era to the present day. It contains over 300 carefully documented eyewitness reports and a vast amount of other data, much of which suggests that the damnably elusive creatures really do exist. The authors also critically examine the many theories that have been put forward to explain - or explain away - Australia's most baffling zoological mystery."

There may or may not be a Yowie creature wandering around Australia. However, people keep seeing it so that makes it worthy of academic study. Why are white Australians seeing a monster that Aboriginals have been seeing for centuries and describing it in much the same way? Whether the Yowie is real or not, this is a good mystery and the authors have done a great job collecting past historical accounts and interviewing witnesses of modern sightings.

This book is well written. The authors created a nice narrative that is hard to put down. Using accounts of the Yowie, they attempt to put forth a history of the Yowie from indigenous folklore and accounts of whites from the colonial era to the present. They also do a good job of describing the environment of Australia. I realized that Australia is sparsely populated but I did not know that Sydney is basically surrounded by wilderness. There is lots of room for the Yowie to be unnoticed! They also cover another possible cryptozoological species called the Junjudee which are either juvenile Yowies or another species altogether.

My biggest complaint about this book is the desire of the two authors to cover all possible angles. From page 181 to 195, they discuss the Yowie as a possible paranormal entity. I am willing to consider that a real unknown primate species (or two) remains undiscovered Down Under. The burden of proof lies with those advocating the fantastic but I agree there is some evidence for the Yowie which warrants further study. However, I refuse to go down the road of ghosts, alternate dimensions, and UFOs to explain the Yowie. I am not sure how much Healy and Cropper realize how they may have hurt the credibility of this book by including these dubious pages. As an oral history project they could have acknowledged these points without treating them as a viable possibility. As graduate students are often told when writing a thesis or dissertation, just cite the good stuff. The best writings are not data dumps.

Healy and Cropper end their book by writing, "Obviously, we would love to see it proven that yowies (and their little cousins the junjudees) are living, breathing, flesh and blood creatures and that they really are out there somewhere, lurking in the bush. We live in hope. But meanwhile, until all the facts are in, our yowie file remains open" (p. 195).

I agree. Keep those files open. If a body is ever found (or a live Yowie!), biologists and anthropologists are going to go nuts. Such a discovery would reignite serious scholarly study of other crypto species such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster as well. If nothing is ever found, the oral histories of these strange encounters will still be of value to future historians.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Historic Map Works

I guess I am just a sucker for a good map site. I have found another I really like. It is Historic Map Works. The site specializes in reproductions of old American and international maps. The online collection has over 200,000 images.

From the site:

Drawing on the world's most extensive collection of American land ownership maps, it is now easier than ever to research the history of almost any location. The website presently contains 205,608 digital maps and views from the 19th and early 20th centuries searchable by name and geographic location. In many American locations, you can search by modern address to access many temporal layers spanning decades of change and growth. Each layer, a distinct slice of time, describes that area's development visually and contextually.

Viewable alongside our ever growing collection of American maps are the antiquarian World maps in our Osher Map Library Collection which includes works from 500+ years of history's most notable cartographers. A few of the more recognizable names from the collection include: Waldseemuller, Ortelius, Mercator, Hondius, Blaeu, Visscher, Coronelli, Speed, Bellin, and Des Barres. We now offer our members the ability to print maps at home, download images from our maps and overlay the geocode boundaries of many of our cadastral maps on top of a modern world map.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lincoln or Darwin? They are Both Important

Newsweek has a nice article online titled Who Was More Important: Lincoln or Darwin? It is by Malcolm Jones.

From the article:

How's this for a coincidence? Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born in the same year, on the same day: Feb. 12, 1809. As historical facts go, it amounts to little more than a footnote. Still, while it's just a coincidence, it's a coincidence that's guaranteed to make you do a double take the first time you run across it. Everybody knows Darwin and Lincoln were near-mythic figures in the 19th century. But who ever thinks of them in tandem? Who puts the theory of evolution and the Civil War in the same sentence? Why would you, unless you're writing your dissertation on epochal events in the 19th century? But instinctively, we want to say that they belong together. It's not just because they were both great men, and not because they happen to be exact coevals. Rather, it's because the scientist and the politician each touched off a revolution that changed the world.

Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day! Wow. A strong case can be made that these two men were the most influential of the 19th century. Lincoln may well have preserved the American Union which has had a major ripple effect on the 20th and 21st centuries. World history would be very different without a United States as a world power. In the case of Darwin, evolutionary theory would have been discovered in the late 19th century anyway. However, Darwin allowed it to advance faster than it would have otherwise. As just about every medical advance relies on understanding DNA and evolutionary thought, we are probably further ahead in health science than if Darwin had not lived.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Real Military Flix

I chanced upon a nice military history site. If you like military videos, this one should please you. It is Real Military Flix. It has war movies and military videos. This includes American basic training films, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq Wars, the Afghanistan War, and others. There is a clear American bias in the selections but some non-American conflicts are covered as well.

From the site:

Our military videos offer:

- unedited accounts and video evidence concerning key events in American history- basic training military videos from World War 1 and World War 2- documentaries and newsreels concerning Pearl Harbor, World War 1, World War 2, etc.

View American history lessons that stand out from the crowd. From essential air force and army basic training films to strategic airstrikes, we have amazing war footage that is a must for any history buff. We offer rare, one-of-a-kind military videos from World War 1 all the way up to the present, with more military videos being posted all the time.

Our American history films are both educational and exhilarating, whether you're viewing a cadet's rigorous basic training or the unedited combat found in our vast collection of military videos. Come see declassified top secret films from World War 1, the crossroads that Pearl Harbor presented, and the first tank missions of World War 2. Whether you desire unrefined accounts of the Korean War, classic war footage from battlefield Vietnam, or more recent Desert Storm and Iraq War video, we deliver! Come get the ultimate war footage, ride into the danger zone with

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Blogging Blues

The academic year is intense. On top of teaching classes, professional and committee work dominates a lot of the time. Most academics welcome the coming of summer.

I also welcome summer. I do not have to teach. Committee responsibilities are few. However, I am finding this is a hard time to blog.

Why? I have set aside summer to work on research projects. Further, my wife and kids expect me to spend vacation time on them. (And they deserve it!)

I have found that blogging is harder in the summer than during the academic year. I find this kind of ironic.

This post is an introduction to why the World History Blog has been unproductive the last few weeks. I will be back. I like blogging. I just can not give this priority right now in my life. I have the summer blogging blues. Please keep me on your blog rolls and your RSS feeds. I will be back to posting daily soon even if soon means September.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Medieval Settlement Research Group

An interesting and fun site is Medieval Settlement Research Group. It is a product of Archaeologists, geographers, and historians using their disciplines co-operatively in order to advance knowledge of settlements of all kinds from medieval times.

From the site:

The Medieval Settlement Research Group was established in November 1986 from an amalgamation of the Medieval Village Research Group (founded 1952) and the Moated Sites Research Group (founded 1971). Archaeologists, geographers, historians and others belong to the Group, aiming to use their disciplines co-operatively in order to advance knowledge of settlements of all kinds. The Group’s interest is concentrated on the period between the 5th and 16th centuries, but does not exclude earlier and later periods, study of which is often essential for understanding developments in the middle ages.

Over the last forty years members of the Group have contributed significantly to the transformation of views on the history of settlement. Hundreds of "lost" or deserted villages have been identified, shrunken villages and deserted hamlets or farmsteads have been added to the lists of abandoned sites, and moated sites are recognised as a distinctive type of habitation, whether in villages or dispersed as isolated farmsteads. The organisation of the long-term research project at Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire has been a key achievement whilst archive records, for which there is a computerised index, have been deposited in the National Monuments Record. The Group has for many years also sought to influence the policies of the national heritage bodies and others and has issued a number of policy statements on various topics. The Group’s latest, all embracing, statement can be viewed here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Civic Knowledge and Engagement at Age 14 in 28 Countries: Results from the IEA Civic Education Study

I found today an old but good ERIC Digest relating to teaching citizenship skills to teenagers. It is titled Civic Knowledge and Engagement at Age 14 in 28 Countries: Results from the IEA Civic Education Study. It was written by Judith Torney-Purta, Joanne Amadeo, and Rainer Lehmann.

From the site:

The well being of any democratic society largely depends on its ability to instill in youth the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for active, informed citizenship. In many countries educators, researchers, and the public are concerned about engaging children and adolescents in civic life. As political, social, and economic structures change along with technology and access to information, the need to involve young people seems especially pressing.

What do fourteen-year-old students know about democratic institutions and processes? What skills do they possess to understand and interpret political communication? Do they hold concepts of citizenship and democracy similar to those held by adults in their societies? What role do schools and other civic organizations play in the civic development of adolescents? These and other questions were examined by researchers in 28 democracies during Phase 2 of the 1999 IEA Civic Education Study. The findings provide a snapshot of what young adolescents know and think about democratic institutions and processes as well as their attitudes and plans for future civic participation. This Digest discusses the origin and administration of the 1999 IEA Civic Education Study, the research design, and the findings of the study.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Wig Wags

I thought today I would point out a blog I have really been enjoying. It is Wig Wags. Here is a description of the site:

Welcome! My name is Rene Tyree and I am a graduate student in military history with focus on the Civil War. I've designed the blog to keep the mass of information coming from my coursework, book reviews, and research organized and to plug into the rich conversations in the blogosphere on this topic.

This blog is worth checking out.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Encyclopaedia Britannica Goes -- Gasp! -- Wiki

Here is a notice from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Long a standard reference source for scholarship, largely because of its tightly controlled editing, the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced this week it was throwing open its elegantly-bound covers to the masses. It will allow the “user community” (in the words of the encyclopedia’s blog) to contribute their own articles, which will be clearly marked and run alongside the edited reference pieces.

This seems to be a response to the runaway success of the user-edited online reference tool Wikipedia. (See for yourself. Do a Web search on a topic and note whether Wikipedia or Britannica shows up first.) Scholars have been adamantly opposed to Wikipedia citations in academic papers because the authors and sources are always changing. Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder, agrees with this, but in next week’s issue of The Chronicle (click back to our home page on Monday for more) he also points to some changes in the reference tool that may make it more palatable to scholars.

I am very interested to see how the new EB works. I can only imagine (assuming tight editorial control) that the wiki approach will work for the EB. You do not need to pay people to write an encyclopedia. People do it for free in mass everyday and generally do a good job.

This model for EB will not work though unless they open the content up for free. Wikipedia wins because it is open license and that there is no cost to read articles. Hence, it generates more links and does better in Google. Most users of Wikipedia do not edit it. Opening up the content for surfers to read freely would do them better than opening articles for editing. If EB had opened up articles years ago for people to read for free, I bet they would be doing much better in the Google rankings right now.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Vermont Separatists in Alliance with White Supremacists

Last year, I wrote a post titled Vermont Liberation Front! It described a movement which hopes to have Vermont secede from the USA. I outlined my objections to this based on my understanding of history, law, and reality.

However, now I have a new objection. The primary group calling for the secession of Vermont is the Second Vermont Republic. A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center has proven that the Vermont separatists are in an alliance with southern white supremacists who believe the former Confederacy is under illegal occupation by the American government. The report is titled North Meets South: Vermont Secessionists Meet with Racist League of the South and was written by Heidi Beirich.

The article noted:

In November 2006, SVR and the Middlebury Institute co-hosted the First North American Separatist Convention in the Montpelier State House (which, ironically, is graced by a large statue of Lincoln). The secessionists-only conference brought together several groups, including the Free Hawaii movement and members of the Alaskan Independence Party. But the bulk of the crowd even then was made up of Southern groups including the racist League of the South; Christian Exodus, a theocracy-minded outfit headed by a former league leader from Texas; and the Abbeville Institute, which was established by Donald Livingston in 2003 after he finally left the League of the South due to its "political baggage." Livingston's institute is devoted to the "Southern tradition," including what it describes as the ignored "achievements of white people in the South."

I have issues with secession. I believe the American people as a whole (as well as the people of the area choosing separation) have to consent to the end of the American Union. The USA will not last forever. For example, will there be a USA four thousand years from now? If there is, will it be the same as it is today? Probably not. As such, secession is not in itself a bad thing.

However, why do separatists groups always tend to have an element of racism? Why not let everyone have a say in the matter and not fall back on tired arguments of "illegal occupation" and only allowing certain people from certain groups based on DNA descent to have the franchise? Separatists of all sorts from the South, to Hawaii, to Vermont keep making this fundamental mistake.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Battles and Routes of Alexander the Great

OK, I have to admit it. Google Earth is really cool. Not only can you use it to see who may have been parking in front of the homes of people you know, you can make some interesting history tools. Battles and Routes of Alexander the Great is a real nice example. It follows Alexander's route, presents maps of cities and shows the sites of battles. There is additional content added from Wikipedia and National Geographic.

I spent a good half hour playing with this. Tons of fun if you like ancient history. Another neat use of Google Earth is Secret Images of Google Earth. The creepy music goes along nice with the revealed images.

Monday, June 02, 2008

History Carnival LXV

History Carnival LXV is up at Progressive Historians. The set up this time is an imagined and improbable American presidential debate featuring Obama, McCain, and Nader. It is very entertaining with lots of links to good history blog posts.

The next History Carnival will be at the same blog by the same author. Recommendations can be sent via e-mail or using the nomination form.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Flawed Montevideo Convention of 1933

International law and the recognition of states is not always straight forward. The Montevideo Convention of 1933 is a clear example of this. In that year, the Montevidoe Convention was signed at Montevideo, Uruguay, on December 26 at the Seventh International Conference of American States.

The essence of this treaty comes down to this:

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

The treaty was limited to 19 states and was never ratified into international law. However, it is often cited by any group (or person!) who meets this criteria as evidence that an entity should be treated as an independent sovereign nation. Just about every separatist group in the world cites this as evidence that they are already technically an independent nation-state. So do micronations.

What is a micronation? Here is a definition from the Micronation Wiki:

A micronation (cybernation, fantasy country, model country, new country project, pseudonation, counternation, ephemeral state, online nation, and variants thereof) is an entity intended to replace, resemble, mock, or exist on equal footing with recognized independent states. Some micronations are created with serious intent, while others exist as a hobby or stunt. For the most part they exist only on paper, on the Internet, or in the minds of their creators and participants. A small number have also managed to achieve some degree of recognition. When they do, they converge to some degree with other organizing paradigms that offer, or seem to offer, political or infrastructural independence of some sort.

There are hundreds of micronations ought there. Most exist only as websites. However, some exist with real land territory as well. Some examples include The Government of the Principality of Sealand, Christiania, The Conch Republic, and the Dominion of Melchizedek. And according to the Montevideo Convention, these are all "states" worthy of international recognition.

Despite how widely the Montevideo Convention is cited, it is ignored by the international community today. Under the definition of that treaty, anyone with a piece of real estate and a lawyer can produce a state. This is not very helpful under international law and is actually rather harmful. It dilutes the meaningfulness of international statehood to the level of absurdity.

The way international law actually works is closer to the Declarative Theory of Statehood. In essence, that theory states that other sovereign nation-states have to recognize a state for it to be valid. Sorry to say, the abandoned platform off of the United Kingdom which is Sealand does not qualify.

If you see the Montevideo Convention cited in any paper or website, turn on your critical thinking skills. It is almost always an appeal to a flawed concept which has little legal validity. True nation-states do not need to cite it. So, why is it being referenced? It is a good bet it is a ploy to draw in those who do not understand how international recognition actually works. Do not buy a passport or invest in their banks. That is, unless you want to actually contribute to their hobby (or yours).

Friday, May 30, 2008

What is Oceania?

Oceania is a term often used to describe a large part of the world in the Pacific. I use Oceania as a label at this blog for some posts. However, I have been reading conflicting definitions of what this word actually means.

History of Nations - Oceania defines Oceania as, "Oceania includes most of the Pacific Ocean as well as portions of the Indian Ocean. Excluded are island nations which have been traditionally considered a part of Asia. Oceania includes Australia, New Zealand, and all of Polynesia." That definition is a bit vague.

Wikipedia attempts a definition with, "Oceania (sometimes Oceania) is a geographical, often geopolitical, region consisting of numerous lands—mostly islands in the Pacific Ocean and vicinity. The term is often used in many languages to define one of the continents and is one of eight terrestrial ecozones. Ethnologically, the islands that are included in Oceania are divided into the subregions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The exact scope of Oceania is variably defined: it generally includes New Zealand, is often taken to include parts of Australasia such as Australia and New Guinea, and sometimes all or part of the Malay Archipelago."

It appears including Australia and New Zealand in Oceania is debatable. For a long time, FIFA (the world governing body for football/soccer) had Australia in Oceania. Now it is in the Asian Confederation. New Zealand is still part of FIFA's Oceania zone. I doubt that Australia is a part of Asia either. FIFA has Israel in the European zone so I do not think FIFA is good at geography. Australia is a continent all by itself so I guess it does not matter if it is part of Oceania or not but I think it is.

Hawaii is also debated. The same Wikipedia article notes, "Hawaii is the northern corner of the Polynesian triangle and is generally included in Oceania, though politically it is part of the United States." I find it hard to argue that Hawaii is not in Oceania. The fact that it is part of the United States has no impact on physical geography. The Canary Islands are an integral part of Spain but they are still in Africa. Hawaii is no different.

I do not even know how to approach border areas such as Indonesia, Papua New Guineas, and East Timor. They look like they could be Oceania or Asia.

I guess it does not really matter that much. Oceania is a big place. A lot of what it is appears clear. The murky areas can be claimed as part of Oceania or not as people please. I guess I am one of the few people who actually spends time thinking about it. However, I can take comfort in the fact that some people are debating this issue even if it does not matter a great deal.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Executed Australian Man Pardoned

It will not do Colin Campbell Ross much good. After being executed for rape and murder 86 years ago, he was pardoned by Victoria state Governor David de Kretser. Research had shown that he was convicted on shaky evidence. Details on the case can be found at Australian state pardons man who was hanged for murder 86 years ago by the Canadian Press.

The article notes, "Prosecutors alleged that Ross, who ran a saloon in Melbourne, gave Tirtschke alcohol before raping and strangling her on New Year's Eve 1921. The only physical evidence connecting him to the crime were hairs on a blanket which prosecutors claimed were Tirtschke's. While witnesses gave alibis for Ross, he was convicted and later hanged, protesting his innocence. The pardon petition built on recent forensic tests that finally proved the original hair samples did not come from Tirtschke."

I amazed that this long after the fact forensic tests can point to guilt or innocence. Lacking the hair sample evidence, the only "proof" of Ross being guilty was questionable testimony from a jail house informer who got his sentence reduced by testifying against Ross and two others who got reward money for helping getting Ross convicted. The fact that Ross had recently been acquitted of an assault charge did not help him either as the Melbourne Police appear to have been out to get him.

A Wikipedia article has more on this case and Ross. A horrid fact is noted, "Colin Ross was executed on April 24, 1922 at Melbourne Gaol in a particularly gruesome manner. A new four-strand rope was used for the first time in an Australian execution and proved to be a failure, as Ross slowly strangled for more than forty minutes before his death. A prison report later ruled that such a rope must never be used again."

I am happy that Ross at least has been cleared all these years after his probable unfortunate false conviction. Justice delayed here is indeed justice denied. Ross will never get the years back he lost when he was executed. However, at least his name has been cleared.

Monday, May 26, 2008


I spent several hours today watching a MonsterQuest Marathon on the History Channel. The description at the site for the show reads, "From Bigfoot to Swamp Beast, Monsterquest reveals the truth of legendary monster sightings around the world. Deploying the latest in hi-tech equipment, each episode scientifically examines the best evidence available, from pictures and video, to hair and bones, as well as the eyewitness accounts themselves. From pilots to policemen to ship captains, a number of seemingly credible people have seen things they can't explain. One part history, one part science and one part monsters, MonsterQuest discovers the truth behind these legendary monsters."

Despite my enjoyment of this series, I question how much of this series is history. There is a lot of oral folklore and reference to historical events but this show seems a lot like all those unhistoric UFO shows which seem to dominate the History Channel on some days. I really am OK with this for the most part. The History Channel needs to make revenue from ad sales for popular shows and much of the rest of the network's programming makes up for this. Plus, the UFO and monster shows are entertaining.

Some of the MonsterQuest episodes deal with real life "monsters." These include animals such as the giant squid and killer giant catfish. Some deal with the unlikely but still possible such as Bigfoot and unknown big cats in North America. Other episodes go off the deep end with monsters such as extra-dimensional atmospheric creatures and Thunderbirds.

Of course, this series may well prove to be historic. If Bigfoot or other another featured creature in the cryptozoology episodes proves to real, this show will be remembered fondly (or not so fondly) by historians and biologists. For example, if Bigfoot is proven it will have a huge impact on the trust of the public on scientists. It may be the equivalent as if science was proven wrong on global warming. If Bigfoot is out there, how did science miss it and why were the scientists so dismissive of the evidence that existed prior to the discovery? It would be a huge blow to public confidence in the scientific community.

MonsterQuest appears to be a hit on the History Channel. The second season premiers tomorrow with an episode on giant hogs in North America. It looks fun. I will keep watching.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Russian Communists Upset with Indiana Jones

Some Russian Communists are unhappy with the new Indiana Jones film. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opened in Russia on Thursday. The communist distaste for the film can be seen at a CNN article titled Indiana Jones movie upsets communists.

Communist Party members said on the Web this week that the Soviet Union in 1957 "did not send terrorists to the States," but launched a satellite, "which evoked the admiration of the whole world."

Communist Andrei Andreyev said Saturday "it is very disturbing if talented directors want to provoke a new Cold War."

Well, maybe this film is unfair to the Soviet Union. The previous Indiana Jones films may have well been unfair to the Nazis too. As the Nazis were gone or hiding in South America in 1957, a new set of bad guys had to be found and the Soviets seem a good choice for 1957. Maybe the Soviets did not have the same reckless interest in occult archeology that the Nazis did but who else is a better choice to go up against Indiana Jones in this time period? It would have been insulting to Communism had they not been cast in the role of the opposition to Indie.

I doubt this film provokes a new cold war. If one happens, this film will not be the cause. I think most Russians can recognize this film as fiction. It is not like there have never been "evil" Americans portrayed in the Russian cinema. I think most Russians (as well as other world citizens) can recognize fiction.

As a bonus for this film, the Communist Party of Russia's attempt to boycott it may help it sell more tickets in Russia. Lots of Russians dislike the Communist Party. Their objections to it may help to boost the Russian box office tally.

Friday, May 23, 2008

BackStory Radio Show

Catherine Moore sent me an e-mail about a new public radio show called the Backstory. A temporary site is up at

It looks worthy so here is some information on it:

The site notes, "BackStory is a brand-new call-in radio show that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us every day. Each week, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths."

In her e-mail, Catherine wrote, "Over the course of a show, the hosts are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers who want to explore the roots of what’s going on now. Together, they drill down to colonial times and earlier, revealing the connections (and sometimes, the disconnections) between past and present."

I hope this show is successful and that many people are exposed to quality history over the radio.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fun Facts about Australia

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 author of the article is Beverly P. Frank.
Interesting Facts About Australia
By Beverly Frank

Australia is a continent that many people are fascinated with, and for good reason. It is full of sites and places that thousands of tourists flock to each year.

But there is more to Australia than just a lot of things to see. There are many interesting historical and present day facts about Australia, including:

Australia was home to thousands of prisoners.

When the British began to settle Australia in the late 1700s, their main motivation for doing so was to establish a land to send their prisoners to. The common practice of that time was to send convicts and prisoners (typically those who owed money or defied the government in some way) to the American colonies to work for a period of seven to fourteen years. However, when the British lost control of the American colonies, they had no place to send their prisoners until James Cook, the first Englishman to chart and explore Australia, suggested it as a suitable place. As a result, thousands of British prisoners were sent to Australia, where they eventually were set free and allowed the colonies to prosper. Now, about twenty five percent of Australians have ancestors who were convicts.

There were originally over 200 languages in Australia.

Australia was first inhabited over 40,000 years ago by Aboriginal people. These tribes of Aborigines in the states and across the country spoke over 200 languages and dialects. However, more than half of these dialects are now extinct, as over ninety percent of the original Aborigines were killed when the British settled the continent, mostly as a result of diseases the Europeans brought over.

Australia is the smallest continent in the world.
Australia can claim itself as a country, continent, and island. While it is the smallest continent in the world, it is also the largest island in the world. In addition, Australia is the only country in the world that makes up an entire continent. The majority of the people in Australia live in the large coastal cities because over ninety percent of Australia is actually dry and flat, and about three quarters of the land can't support any type of agriculture.

Australia is famous for its sheep.

The population of Australia is more sheep than people; in fact, there are roughly ten sheep in Australia for every person. As a result, Australia is the largest exporter in the world of lamb meat and wool.

Australia's most famous animals are unique to Australia only.

When many people think of wildlife in Australia, they think of such animals as koala bears and kangaroos. Because Australia is an island and not connected to any other land, it has developed its own wildlife. The kangaroo, koala bear, emu, and kookaburra are animals that are only found in the wild in Australia.

Australia is a smart country.

Presently, Australia claims to have a 100% literacy rate, one of the highest in the world. Perhaps this is why they read more newspapers per capita than any country in the world.

Australians love to gamble.

Per capita, Australians spend more money on gambling than any other country in the world. And although they make up less than one percent of the total population of the world, Australia has over twenty percent of the world's poker machines.

As you can see from these few facts, Australia is a country that is full of interesting facts, both from the past as well as the present. For more Australia visit Australia at "Surfing the Net with Kids."

Beverly P. Frank is a mom and stay-at-home writer for the network of sites, including Surf Net Parents, and Santa Claus Fun.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

SS Columbia Turns 106

SS Columbia Turns 106, Prepares For Odyssey From Detroit To Hudson River

New York, NY; Detroit, MI; May 21, 2008 – Planning is underway to transport the SS Columbia, the oldest surviving excursion steamer in the United States, from Detroit, Mich., to New York Harbor, as the volunteer organization, the SS Columbia Project, kicks off a capital campaign to complement challenge grants already secured. At completion of her journey—and subsequent restoration—the Columbia will become a catalyst for eco-tourism in both New York Harbor and the Hudson River, connecting Hudson River Valley towns to their histories and to opportunities for economic growth. Resurrected as a living ship, the Columbia will help promote jobs, simultaneously raising awareness of the scenic grandeur of the Hudson River and the crucial need to preserve it.

One of only two surviving vessels built by Frank Kirby, one of America’s greatest naval architects, the Columbia is adorned with such beauties as a grand staircase and an innovative, open-air ballroom. The artist Louis O. Keil collaborated with Kirby, decorating the interiors with mahogany paneling, art glass and gilded moldings. As swift as she was sumptuous, the Columbia’s massive 1200-horsepower steam engine—gleaming with brass and steel—ran open to public view. The steamship’s reign of transporting passengers lasted 89 years, from 1902 until 1991. Since then she has languished, tied to a Detroit pier, ghostly in her coat of shrink-wrap, her hull and engine in disrepair, her splendid interiors peeling and fading.

Headquartered in Manhattan, the SS Columbia Project is a non-profit 501c3, all-volunteer organization. “Our current goal is to raise $ 750,000 in matching funds in order to release $750,000 already granted by the State of New York,” said Richard Anderson, president and founder of the organization. “The SS Columbia is a National Historic Landmark, a treasure worth preserving. We are in urgent need of funds to match the challenge grant awarded to first stabilize, and then transport the ship—with a following phase devoted to her restoration. May 22nd honors National Maritime Day; we want the public to know we’ve been building up steam over the past two years through our volunteer corps and Board of Directors, as well as early benefactors to the project such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation.”

“Passengers riding the Columbia will connect with different eras in unforgettable ways,” Anderson continued. “This steamer provides a rich link with our historical past, while possessing the capacity to open windows into the future by promoting environmental stewardship and green technologies. For instance, she ran on coal, but now she’ll incorporate ‘green technologies.’ Her restoration signifies the creation of a unique, water-born classroom with potential to reach thousands in ways that other existing venues and educational tools cannot. Imagine her, also, as a floating salon, full of passengers enjoying cultural events, on deck and in her stunning interiors. The Columbia will serve as ambassador for ports along the river; she’ll string the towns like beads on the thread of the Hudson, bringing people and communities together.”

The Columbia’s deterioration through weather and disuse is taking its toll: she cannot wait forever. Matching the challenge grants can secure her future. The SS Columbia Project accepts donations large and small and welcomes anyone interested in volunteering. EMBARK, the newsletter about the SS Columbia Project’s progress, provides updates quarterly. To make a donation or to learn more, visit

For more information, please visit

Monday, May 19, 2008

Echoes of 1968

NPR: Echoes of 1968 - The American National Public Radio has a series examining the historic and influential events of 1968. This includes the killings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. It also features the signing of the Civil Rights Act and protests against the Vietnam War.

From the site:

Americans mourned the deaths of the Rev. Martin Luther King and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the Civil Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and people marched in protest of the Vietnam War. This occasional series looks at how these and other events of 1968 continue to reverberate 40 years later.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Winner of the Book Giveway

The contest for the Free Historical Book Giveaway by Hachette Book Group USA has ended. The books at stake were The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani and The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields.

And the winner is:

Stephen Posey of Selma, Alabama.

Enjoy the books Stephen.

My thanks to all who entered the contest. My thanks also to Hachette Book Group USA.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Copernicus was a Pole

Astronomer Copernicus was born in Poland. I guess I should have known this. However, I am not alone. A recent contestant on the American TV show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? thought that he might have been born in Italy. He decided to stop at $100,000 rather than risk losing the money. His 5th Grade guide also thought the answer was Italy.

I have to admit my answer would have been Italy. My only doubt was perhaps that the answer was Germany instead. Wrong! Wikipedia notes, "Nicolaus Copernicus was born on February 19, 1473, in a house on St. Anne's Street (now Copernicus Street) in the city of Toruń (Thorn). Toruń was situated on the Vistula River in the Royal Prussia region of the Kingdom of Poland."

So, how many 5th graders know this? This is a good trivia but not something that most 5th Grade students (outside of Poland!) would know. Hey, I have four college degrees (three graduate) and history is one of my passions. I was still way off. I think the producers of this show cherry pick questions that maybe some 5th Graders are exposed to but would still be tough for just about anyone.

Or maybe I should have flunked out in the 5th Grade...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reconstructed Historical Portraits

While surfing the Web, I found an interesting site. It is titled Reportret. It is a gallery of reconstructed portraits of key figures from world history. It attempts to do so without anachronisms, respecting contemporary style, and based on historical sources.

There are currently twelve portraits available ranging from Laozi to Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin. Other notables include Jesus of Nazareth, Muhammad, and Charlemagne. In addition to the portrait, there is a brief bio with reasons why the portrait was constructed the way it was. There are also a list of sources to support the rationale.

Not surprisingly, the creator of this portrait has a disclaimer about Muhammad. It is noted, "The portrait of Muhammad wasn't made to offend or harm anyone. Its purpose is neither worship, nor insult. Those who believe that it's forbidden or inappropriate to depict Muhammad can remain loyal to their faith by disregarding the image altogether. Others may not share these beliefs though. The image isn't forced on anyone and there's no obligation to accept it as an authentic portrait. Likewise, one who chooses to do so shouldn't be denied the opportunity to examine and appreciate the image. Finally, it must be stressed that, though based on historical sources, the image was produced from human imagination."

A whois search on the domain reports that this domain was created in 2003. As such, I am a bit disappointed that there are so few portraits. At the same time, I am intrigued by the idea and liked what I saw. I hope this site expands and continues to add good attempts at historical portraits. I respect the fact that this is hard work and I am hopeful more historical figures will appear.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jomon Japan

Jomon Japan. This site has a practical introduction to Jomon archaeology in Japan. It includes museums, links to other related sites, and research literature.

The site describes this ancient Japanese period. It notes, "The Jomon period, from approx. 12,000 years before present (BP) to 2,400 BP, saw relatively rapid expansion in human population in the islands that now make up Japan. Settlements became larger and more numerous, and various introduced and local plants came into cultivation. It seems that most food was obtained by hunting, fishing, and the collection of wild plant foods. The diversity and creativity of Jomon art is hugely appealing to modern audiences and is a source of inspiration to many people, within Japan and abroad."

The site leaves much to be desired. It has good content but is unsatisfying. Here are a few other equally informative but slightly flawed sites to check out for Jomon information:

Fukui Cave. Recounts the discovery of a cave showing Jomon culture on the southern island in Nagasaki.

The Jomon Period in Japan - This site has a nice timeline.

The Paleolithic Period / Jomon Period - Discussion of the history and food of the Jomon era and its pottery.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chinese Earthquakes

Early today, China was hit by a 7.9 earthquake. Right now, the death toll is over 10,000. I would not be surprised if the final death toll is in the 50,000 to 100,000 range. Unfortunately, this has happened many times before in China.

The 1976 Tangshan Earthquake took many lives not that many years ago. Wikipedia notes of the event, "The Tangshan earthquake (Chinese: 唐山大地震; pinyin: tángshān dà dìzhèn), also known as the Great Tangshan earthquake or GTE, was a natural disaster that occurred on July 28, 1976. It is believed to be the largest earthquake of the 20th century by death toll. The epicentre of the earthquake was near Tangshan in Hebei, People's Republic of China, an industrial city with approximately one million inhabitants. The initial number released by the Chinese government was 655,000, but has since stated the number to be around 240,000 to 255,000. A further 164,000 people were recorded as being severely injured. The earthquake came in between a series of political events involving the Communist Party of China. It shook China both literally and figuratively in 1976, which was later labeled a "Year of curse". The earthquake hit in the early morning, at 03:42:53.8 local time (1976 July 27 19:42:53.8 UTC), and lasted for around 10 seconds. Chinese Government's official sources state 7.8 on the Richter magnitude scale, though some sources listed it as high as 8.2. It was followed by a major 7.8 magnitude aftershock some 16 hours later, increasing the death toll."

The 1976 quake death toll was made worse by the fact that the Chinese government did not allow any relief efforts from western nations. I do not expect that this will happen this time. I think western relief agencies will be allowed access to the area and will save many lives.

There are some other bad earthquakes in Chinese history. These include:

1. The Shaanxi Earthquake, estimated as 8 on the Richter scale on January 23, 1556, with an estimated 830,000 deaths.

2. The Gansu Earthquake, estimated as a 8.6 on the Richter scale in 1920, with an estimated 200,000 deaths.

3. The Tsinghai Earthquake, estimated as a 7.9 on the Richter scale on May 22, 1927, with an estimated 200,000 deaths.

Undoubtedly, China has seen many other equally devastating quakes in the long history of that nation. I wish the Chinese people well in dealing with this one. I will be writing a check to the Red Cross to help. I hope many of the readers of this blog do as well.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World

I received a review copy of the book A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World last month. It is by Tony Horwitz. I enjoyed the book very much and I am happy to give it a good review here.

A description of the book reads:
"On a chance visit to Plymouth Rock, Tony Horwitz realizes he's mislaid more than a century of American history, from Columbus's sail in 1492 to Jamestown's founding in 16-oh-something. Did nothing happen in between? Determined to find out, he embarks on a journey of rediscovery, following in the footsteps of the many Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims to America. An irresistible blend of history, myth, and misadventure, A Voyage Long and Strange captures the wonder and drama of first contact. Vikings, conquistadors, French voyageurs—these and many others roamed an unknown continent in quest of grapes, gold, converts, even a cure for syphilis. Though most failed, their remarkable exploits left an enduring mark on the land and people encountered by late-arriving English settlers. Tracing this legacy with his own epic trek—from Florida's Fountain of Youth to Plymouth's sacred Rock, from desert pueblos to subarctic sweat lodges—Tony Horwitz explores the revealing gap between what we enshrine and what we forget. Displaying his trademark talent for humor, narrative, and historical insight, A Voyage Long and Strange allows us to rediscover the New World for ourselves."

The review copy of the book I received is labelled "Advanced Reader's Edition - Not for Sale." Most of the pictures and maps are missing as the book had yet to reach that stage of production when they sent it to me. The text is also noted as still be subject to proofreading. I have received copies of books like this before at academic conferences as handouts from vendors. This was the first time I got such a book for the purpose of review. I have to admit it made me feel a bit privileged.

I found this book to be a good read. In it, Horwitz visits the various places (Newfoundland, The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts) where European colonists explored and sometimes made attempts at colonies. He relates the history of European exploration interspersed with tales these areas in modern times. Horwitz repeatedly goes back and forth between time periods and I found it to be very effective.
Without a doubt, Horwitz presents a strong argument that many of the American origin stories are a myth and that Europeans (not to mention Native Americans) were here long before the Pilgrims made it to Plymouth Rock. I think most people realize that but Horwitz's narrative will make most readers think a bit harder and longer about this.

One complaint I do have about Horwitz's writing is his apparent dislike of the modern inhabitants of some of the areas he visited. I got a strong sense that he went home and told Newfie jokes about the citizens of Newfoundland. I have not the slightest doubt that Horwitz has no desire to ever return to the Dominican Republic. After what he recounts of the country, I would never visit there myself. He also doesn't think much of some Christian Fundamentalists in Florida. While I found his cynicism amusing, I imagine some locals in the areas he writes about will be less amused.

A good summary of what this book is about comes late in the book. Horwtiz quoted a minister in Massachusetts as saying, "Myth is more important than history. History is arbitrary, a collection of facts. Myth we choose, we create, we perpetuate. The story here may not be correct but it transcends truth. It's like religion - beyond facts. Myth trumps facts, always does, always has, always will" (p. 375, 376.)

Horwitz has done a good job of exposing the American myths which deal with the establishment of Europeans in North America. In the process, he describes in a fun style what actually happened. This book is worthwhile and I encourage those interested in American history to give it a look.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Free Historical Fiction Book Giveaway

Hachette Book Group USA has offered two books up as a giveaway at this blog. Here are the books with the publisher descriptions:

THE BLOOD OF FLOWERS by Anita Amirrezvani and The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields are now available in paperback.

Let THE BLOOD OF FLOWERS, nominated for the 2008 Orange Prize for fiction, a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and a #1 Book Sense historical fiction pick take you away to 17th-century Isfahan, Persia, the fabled land where Anita Amirrezvani spins this lush, mesmerizing tale about a carpet-weaving girl, her fate and her misfortunes.

While THE CRIMSON PORTRAIT, written by Jody Shields, was inspired by the little-known but extraordinary real-life collaboration between artists and surgeons in the treatment of injured men in World War I. THE CRIMSON PORTRAIT is a suspenseful tale of desire, deceit, and the metamorphosis of identity, as spellbinding and provocative as the author’s bestselling first novel, The Fig Eaters.

The rules:

I have not had a book giveaway here before. Here is how I will do it. If you want these books, post a comment with your e-mail address. Use an "at" rather than a "@" in your e-mail address to cut down the chances a spam harvesting robot will get your address.

Pick a number from 1 to 100 and include it in your comment. The person closest to a number I have already picked will get the books. If no one hits the number dead on and two people are equally close, the first person to have commented will get the books. I will contact the winner after the contest ends asking you for your postal address so the publisher can send you the books. The name of the winner will be published here.

I will end this contest one week from today which will be May 17th, 2008 or once all 100 numbers have been selected by commenters.

All comments must be approved by me before appearing so please do not submit your comment more than once. I will publish it when I see it.

Good luck.


This contest has closed. The winner has been announced at

Thursday, May 08, 2008

New Contact Policy

I am changing my contact policy for this blog. I will delete the old policy and connect this post to the blog template.

If you want to contact Miland Brown, send an e-mail to milandbrown at Yes, replace the "and" with @ for it to work.

I hope this will make it easier for publishers to contact me directly when seeking me for reviews. (This is happening at an increasing pace here.) Also, if someone wants me to check out a site I can do so easily with no fear a spam site will appear even briefly in my comments awaiting approval. Finally, people who are angry with me for something can snap off a nasty e-mail to me more easily and feel better. I probably will not respond to these but at least the reader will know there comment went somewhere other that the delete button on my Blogger dashboard.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Returning to the History Blogosphere

Last Thursday night, I received word my father-in-law was in the hospital. The next day, he was dead. It was sudden, shocking, and very devastating. After travel for the funeral and to be with family, I am finally back home.

During this time away, I only got on the Web one time. It was humbling for me to see how unimportant blogging can be sometimes. My blog went for a week without a post. So what? Life went on and I doubt many people even noticed.

I have no intent on stopping blogging. I will try to maintain this blog for the rest of my life. However, breaks in blogging are going to happen. And further, someday I will die and this blog will be "history." I have always known this intellectually but sometimes it takes something like this to drive the point home.

Sorry to sound depressing. I am OK. And for the time being, so is this blog.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Happy May Day

Today is May Day. Through much of history, this has been a mostly benevolent holiday celebrating pagan traditions or those who labor. However, in the 20th century, May Day became a Communist spectacle where the military might of communist nations was paraded through the streets.

I grew up with TV images of Soviet armies parading through the streets of Moscow. I would see tanks, missiles, and armed men marching proudly and menacingly every year on May 1st. In the days when there were only three evening news programs every night (at 6:30), the marching communist military might was always shown every year.

I have to wonder how true believers in Communism feel now. Is May Day a let down? As the reds were so closely identified with May Day, do current events make them feel depressed when the day roles around every year? No matter how many men march in Moscow today, is it the same?

Communism has proven to be a failure. Only a few states continue to be ruled by Communist parties. China is communist in name but is clearly a quickly evolving capitalistic state. Cuba is just the death of a few people named Castro away from probably losing communism. North Korea is an anachronism (good communists in an age when communism is basically dead) and one of the poorest states in the world.

Yeah, the world is still in danger. There are states around the world which can cause mass destruction. There are countless nuclear weapons unaccounted for from the Soviet Union which may show up anywhere. The apocalypse may still happen in my lifetime.

However, I feel good today. The Cold War is over. The communists lost. My TV is not showing Soviet armies parading down the street. Happy May Day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review: The Zombie Survival Guide

I just finished reading The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks. It was published in 2003. I realize this book is a stretch for this history blog. However, I have a good rationale for reviewing it. The book makes a wild stab at alternate history! And it is very enjoyable to boot. Many history oriented people would like reading this work.

Here is a description of the book from Amazon:

"The Zombie Survival Guide is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now. Fully illustrated and exhaustively comprehensive, this book covers everything you need to know, including how to understand zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective defense tactics and weaponry, ways to outfit your home for a long siege, and how to survive and adapt in any territory or terrain."

"Top 10 Lessons for Surviving a Zombie Attack: 1. Organize before they rise! 2. They feel no fear, why should you? 3. Use your head: cut off theirs. 4. Blades don’t need reloading. 5. Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair. 6. Get up the staircase, then destroy it. 7. Get out of the car, get onto the bike. 8. Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert! 9. No place is safe, only safer. 10. The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on."

"Don’t be carefree and foolish with your most precious asset—life. This book is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now without your even knowing it. The Zombie Survival Guide offers complete protection through trusted, proven tips for safeguarding yourself and your loved ones against the living dead. It is a book that can save your life."

This parody is immensely entertaining. It has become rather popular and already has a Wikipedia entry which would normally be unusual for a book such as this. I learned about the book from one of my undergraduate students. I got an inter library loan of the book from another library and have now ordered a personal copy for myself.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the history section. Brooks wrote in a section titled Recorded Attacks, "This is not a list of all zombie attacks throughout history. This simply chronicles all attacks for which the information has been recorded, survived, and been released to the author of this book. Accounts for societies with an oral history have been more difficult to acquire" (p. 182).

In the alternate history laid out by Brooks, zombies have had a big impact on human history. Starting with his account of archaeological evidence from 60,000 B.C. up until 2002 in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it relates zombie influence on historical events. In all, Brooks presented 80 pages of alternate history in this book. It is very amusing. Zombie outbreaks can explain many things including why ancient Egyptians took the brains out of mummies (so they could not become zombies!), the end of the Norse Greenland colony, and the gruesome fate of the Roanoke colonists and their Croatan allies.

You will be hearing more about this book in the coming years. Brooks wrote in 2006 a book titled World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. The book chronicles a theoretical zombie apocalypse using oral history interviews with survivors. I have yet to read it but have ordered it from Amazon as well. A movie version of the book will be released in 2010.