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.