Saturday, March 01, 2008

Holocaust Book is a Hoax

No, the author is not Jewish. No, she did not survive as a four year old walking across Europe protected by a pack of wolves. Yes, the author is not sure what parts of her best-selling book are true or are when "she found it difficult to differentiate between what was real and what was part of my imagination."

The book is Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years. The author is Misha Defonseca. The sad hoax is reported by CNN at Author: My best-selling Holocaust book is a hoax.

First-hand accounts of history can be really helpful to historians. But historians also know that they can be problematic at times. However, cases of hoaxes can be real vexing. I am not real sure of what to write here other than, "Ouch!" I hope this book does not harm other Holocaust survivors.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Working for Free on Leap Day

Today is February 29th, 2008. It is also Leap Day. While I could get excited about this special day which happens only every four years, I am having trouble being happy about it.

There is a good reason for this. It dawned on my as I came to work that I am working for free today. I get not a single penny for coming into work for Leap Day.

Like most professionals in academia, I am a salaried employee. I get the same amount of money every month no matter how many hours or days I work. It comes with the territory. However, the idea of having to work on a day that only exists every fourth year for free just seems wrong. If anything, I should be getting bonus holiday pay.

Hourly employees do not have this problem. Conversely, working on Leap Day will get the average hourly employee eight hours of extra pay today. My education is working against me!

Why do we have Leap Day? Wikipedia notes, "Although the modern calendar counts a year as 365 days, a complete revolution around the sun takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours. Every four years, an extra twenty-four hours have accumulated, so one extra day is added to that calendar to keep the count coordinated with the sun's apparent position."

Julius Caesar first came up with the Leap Day idea with his Julian Calendar reform. This does give me a good culprit to blame my free day of labor upon. It was the ancient Romans! They were real good at getting free labor out of people and their legacy lives on thousands of years later.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A History of Evil

This is an interesting and fun cartoon which mockingly traces the history of evil. The creator notes of the video, "The film was intended to show what people have believed in and pointed to as evil throughout history. It was meant to get you to think about what evil really is. It is meant to show that when we get too obsessed with evil we might end up taking part in it ourselves."

The video seems to end before it is done. I hope the creator can go back and finish the ending. Hat tip to Ralph Luker for finding this video.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Content Area Textbooks: Friends or Foes?

I have not had many teaching history related posts lately. As such, I am happy to have chanced upon an older ERIC Digest post from 1989 that deals with the topic of textbooks. It is Content Area Textbooks: Friends or Foes? It was written by Patricia Tefft Cousin and is from the now defunct ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. The US Federal Government shut down all the ERIC Clearinghouses in 2003.

Cousin argues that textbooks for K-12 and college students are boring. I found that shocking! (OK, not really.) She wrote, "Walk into any upper elementary, junior high, or secondary classroom and ask the teacher to tell you about one of the main areas of difficulty that students with learning problems are having as they learn social studies or science. You will hear the same reply echoed from classroom to classroom, "reading the textbook." There are many reasons for this--some having to do with the text itself, such as its organization and format; some having to do with the students, and their reading competencies, background experiences, or interests; and, finally, some centering on the teacher, such as his or her competence in organizing and presenting the material. "

A possible solution is noted by Cousin, "Studies of effective textbook adaptations have included recommendations to include more graphics (Burnette, 1982). Herum (1982) found that revising texts to include more graphics and to make the text more explicit supported college students with learning difficulties. Bergerud, et al. (1988) compared the effectiveness of two types of textbook adaptations--graphics and study guides--for the purpose of self-study, with students identified as either low achievers or learning disabled. The use of graphics, consisting of diagrams with parts of pictures or labels missing, was found to be superior to the other approaches as measured by a retention test. "

Are textbooks better now almost 20 years later? Has the integration of the Web into course textbooks (or the replacement or supplementing of textbooks with the Web) made classroom texts better? I think the answer is probably yes.

I can not imagine teaching history without using text. I always use primary sources as well as good books or websites which give good summaries of history. However, as always, the effectiveness of any textbook or reading has to do with how the teacher uses it. Just telling students to go read something is not very helpful. The teacher has to integrate it well into his/her teaching. And despite how the teacher goes about instruction, reading will always be an important part of understanding the past.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS)

Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS) has information on a group that surveys and records the excavation of archaeological sites on the coast and islands of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. One of the features pages is ADIAS Guide to Archaeology in Abu Dhabiand the United Arab Emirates. It has a map and links to articles on thirty different UAE sites.

Other information on the site includes a Gallery, Meet the Team, Newsletter, Press, Publications, Radiocarbon archive, Timeline, and Web Links.

From the site:

The Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS) was established in 1992 on the instruction of the late President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, under the patronage of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, now Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. ADIAS was charged with surveying for, recording and, where appropriate, excavating archaeological sites on the coast and islands of Abu Dhabi. In the years that have followed, ADIAS has identified over a thousand sites or groups of sites on the coast and islands of Abu Dhabi, as well as deep in the deserts of the interior. Among the sites are several of international importance, including the oldest-known settlement in the Emirates, on Marawah island,and major sites in the south-eastern deserts of Abu Dhabi, near Umm az-Zamul, these all being of Late Stone Age date, and the only pre-Islamic Christian monastery yet identified in south-eastern Arabia, on the island of Sir Bani Yas. ADIAS teams have also identified numerous sites of palaeontological importance, with vertebrate fossils from the Late Miocene period, around 6-8 million years ago.

Monday, February 25, 2008

7 Craziest Conspiracy Theories

If you want a good laugh, check out 7 Craziest Conspiracy Theories at However, when you realize that people actually believe a few of these, it is not nearly as amusing. People will believe anything. Many of these are very much related to history.

Here is the list:

1. Israel makes Palestinian schoolgirls sexually promiscuous by selling them aphrodisiac bubble-gum. (If this kind of gum existed, would not men from around the world be scrambling to purchase it?)

2. Alien Reptiles are dominating the World. (According to the theory, George W. Bush is an alien reptile. It does explain a lot...)

3. Wingdings font has a secret message of approval to kill Jews. (Must be the Palestinians fighting back against that gum mentioned in #1.)

4. Stephen King killed John Lennon. (Mark David Chapman, the killer of Lennon, is probably not getting his hopes up about getting out of jail based on this theory.)

5. The Early Middle Ages (614–911 AD) never occurred. Year 2007 is actually 1710. (Who in the world would benefit from fabricating three hundred years of history? And why would so many historians from around the world and from various time periods go along with it?)

6. Paul McCartney is dead. The current is just a lookalike. (Well, this one at least is old news.)

7. NASA Faked the Moon Landings. (Sadly, this one is old too. It is an insidious piece of bad historical revisionism which just will not go away. The evidence debunks this but evidence is irrelevant to true believers.)

I want to start my own historical conspiracy theory! I need to come up with something good and then see how long it takes before people start believing it. Something wild but with some plausibility would be nice. "Facts" that can not be disproven by any evidence would be great too. Give me some time...