There are many examples of First Nations’ competence.
The wheel – It was here before Christopher Columbus. Why was it used for toys, not chariots? Good question. Why did the Chinese use gunpowder for fireworks instead of cannons?
Written language – Complex written languages characterized Central American civilizations; the Cherokee devised their own written syllabary.
Astronomy – Mayans practised astronomy at an advanced level. First Nations used the heavens to navigate the Great Plains, Arctic wastes and the Northwest Coast.
Science – From the chemistry of tanning hides to knowledge of infectious agents, indigenous technologies were informed by the same methods of trial, error and observation upon which modern science relies.
Mathematics – Central American civilizations used complex mathematics built on a number base of 20 rather than the number base of 10 used by our math. Base 20 may be different from what we teach in elementary school, but so is the binary math of computer technology.
Medicine – Cree women showed Jacques Cartier how a medicinal infusion prevented scurvy 200 years before the British “discovered” a cure. Plains peoples were renowned for bone-setting skills. Brain surgery was used from the Northwest Coast to Central America, where ancient surgical tools have been found. Antibiotics and anti-virals were used.
Music – An existing rich musical tradition was eradicated by Spanish missionaries. Yet within a decade, indigenous musicians were composing complex musical works in the western style.
Drum and rattle – The haunting flute melodies of First Nations are well-known.
Metallurgy – At least 6,000 years ago, indigenous metallurgists in Manitoba discovered the technique of annealing – superheating and slowly cooling metal to make it malleable. They made weapons, tools and jewelry. Copper was prized on the Northwest Coast and moved along trade routes that criss-crossed pre-contact North America. Spain got rich with precious metals looted from conquered indigenous peoples.
Sail versus canoe – Coastal canoes the size of racing yachts sometimes used sails. Before trains, the birchbark canoe was the bush plane of Canada’s 18th and 19th centuries, making possible the fur trade that opened a continent to Europeans.
Created virtually no mechanical devices – From specialized hunting gear to sophisticated irrigation systems, First Nations created scores of mechanical devices, including looms for weaving from 4,000 years ago.
Never used stone for building or art – Nanaimo’s own Petroglyph Park celebrates artistic stone images; Central American civilizations built stone cities, as did cliff-dwelling peoples of the American southwest. Northwest Coast civilizations used the local resource – cedar – for buildings explorers described as the equal of European buildings, but stone fortifications still stand in the Fraser Canyon.
Few inventions – An encyclopedia listing First Nations’ contributions to global technology runs to nearly 400 pages. For example, the tea clipper’s sleek hull design may have derived from canoes seen by traders travelling the Northwest Coast; Inuit clothing inspired the wet suit and the space suit.
The exact origins of this religious feast day’s name are unknown. Some sources claim the word Easter is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Other accounts trace Easter to the Latin term hebdomada alba, or white week, an ancient reference to Easter week and the white clothing donned by people who were baptized during that time. Through a translation error, the term later appeared as esostarum in Old High German, which eventually became Easter in English. In Spanish, Easter is known as Pascua; in French, Paques. These words are derived from the Greek and Latin Pascha or Pasch, for Passover. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection occurred after he went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew), the Jewish festival commemorating the ancient Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. Pascha eventually came to mean Easter.
Easter is really an entire season of the Christian church year, as opposed to a single-day observance. Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of reflection and penance and represents the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness before starting his ministry, a time in which Christians believe he survived various temptations by the devil. The day before Lent, known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, is a last hurrah of food and fun before the fasting begins. The week preceding Easter is called Holy Week and includes Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples; Good Friday, which honors the day of his crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, which focuses on the transition between the crucifixion and resurrection. The 50-day period following Easter Sunday is called Eastertide and includes a celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
In addition to Easter’s religious significance, it also has a commercial side, as evidenced by the mounds of jelly beans and marshmallow chicks that appear in stores each spring. As with Christmas, over the centuries various folk customs and pagan traditions, including Easter eggs, bunnies, baskets and candy, have become a standard part of this holy holiday
Despite popular belief, French military prowess is far more formidable than most Americans realize, once you study their history. By European standards, France is a rather large country, and has been so for centuries, owing in part to its military strength — the country was in an almost constant state of war at all sides. In both World Wars, the Germans identified France as their military equal and principal opponent.
In fact, since 387 BC, France has participated in 168 major European wars, out of which they have won 109, drawn 10, and lost 49; this makes them the most successful military power in European history (note that this is according to Niall Ferguson, who starts with Gaul-era France; others would likely begin with 486 CE, with the formation of the Frankish Kingdom).
Part of the reason the French performed poorly in World War II is because they lost a horrific number of young men from the previous conflict, to say nothing of the subsequent trauma to the national psyche. And part of their poor performance in WWI (which could be said of all the powers involved), is partly explained by the fact that France was the only republic of all the major European participants, which gave their military far less leeway than its allies and rivals. As it happens, their special forces and intelligence agencies remain among the most effective in the world.
Of course, there’s also the fact that the US owes its independence largely to the French. While we saved them in WWII, they helped us become a country through direct military, diplomatic, and financial assistance.
Full disclosure: I am a Francophile, not that that should make any difference given the facts of the matter.
Norwuz is Farsi for “The New Day,” and marks the start of the Persian New Year. This major event is celebrated by tens of millions of Iranian peoples all over the world (namely in Central and South Asia, Northwestern China, the Middle-East, and the Balkans). It’s one of the world’s most ancient holidays, and it’s one of the few pre-Islamic traditions still widely practiced in Iran.
Though it has origins in the ancient Zoroastrian religion — with which it is still associated — Norwuz has come to be celebrated by a variety of cultures and faiths that adhere to the Iranian calendar, which recognizes the start of the new year on the day of the vernal equinox, when the Earth’s axis is “straight,” tilting neither away or toward the sun. Given the diversity of the cultures that celebrate it, the festivities can be incredibly variable.
Indeed, Nowruz incorporates just about every element we could imagine from our Western holidays: feasting, fireworks, the exchanging of gifts, thanksgiving, costuming, spring cleaning, spending time with loved ones, and even something akin to trick-or-treating.
Perhaps the most iconic custom associated with Norwuz — and the one maintained by all the different cultures that celebrate it —is the Haft-Seen. Also known as the “Seven S’s, this is a traditional table setting comprising seven symbolic items that are meant to represent the elements of life. In Zoroastrianism, they also corresponded to “immortal divinities,” or angels (it’s believed that the concept of angels first emerged in this faith, and came to influence Christianity and Islam). These items, and their significance, include:
- Sabzeh - wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish - symbolizing rebirth
- Samanu - a sweet pudding made from wheat germ - symbolizing affluence
- Senjed - the dried fruit of the oleaster tree - symbolizing love
- Sīr - garlic - symbolizing medicine
- Sīb - apples - symbolizing beauty and health
- Somaq - sumac berries - symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
- Serkeh - vinegar - symbolizing age and patience
In addition to these core values and concepts are many others that are typically included:
- Sonbol - Hyacinth (plant)
- Sekkeh - Coins - representative of wealth
- Traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi
- Aajeel - dried nuts, berries and raisins
- Lit candles (enlightenment and happiness)
- A mirror (symbolizing cleanness and honesty)
- Decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family (fertility)
- A bowl of water with goldfish (life within life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving). As an essential object of the Nowruz table, the goldfish is also “very ancient and meaningful,” and has deep connection to Zoroastrianism.
- Rosewater, believed to have magical cleansing powers
- The national colors of a given country, for a patriotic touch
- A holy book, such as the Avesta, Qur’an,or Kitáb-i-Aqdas and/or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnameh or the Divan of Hafiz)
Below are some examples of Norwuz table that incorporates all the main objects — and then some. Given the sheer variety of items, and the ability to personalize the arrangement, no one Norwuz table looks exactly the same way. See if you can identify the major components.
Back when I worked at a pet store, I used to receive a lot Iranian customers in a short span of time who were looking to purchase some goldfish for Nowruz, which is how I first learned about the the holiday. It’s definitely one of the most delightful and colorful holidays I’ve ever read up on, and I highly encourage you all to learn more about it, and there are far more interesting traditions and concepts that I simply don’t have the time to cover. Needless to say, it’s also a nice change of pace to read something pleasant about Iran.
I wish all of my Iranian readers out there a Happy Norwuz! Feel free to weigh in with your own personal accounts or information.
The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.
The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.
“The numbers are so much higher than what we originally thought,” Hartmut Berghoff, director of the institute, said in an interview after learning of the new data.
“We knew before how horrible life in the camps and ghettos was,” he said, “but the numbers are unbelievable.”
The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.
Auschwitz and a handful of other concentration camps have come to symbolize the Nazi killing machine in the public consciousness. Likewise, the Nazi system for imprisoning Jewish families in hometown ghettos has become associated with a single site — the Warsaw Ghetto, famous for the 1943 uprising. But these sites, infamous though they are, represent only a minuscule fraction of the entire German network, the new research makes painfully clear.
The maps the researchers have created to identify the camps and ghettos turn wide sections of wartime Europe into black clusters of death, torture and slavery — centered in Germany and Poland, but reaching in all directions.
The lead editors on the project, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites that they have identified as part of a multivolume encyclopedia. (The Holocaust museum has published the first two, with five more planned by 2025.)
The existence of many individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a fragmented, region-by-region basis. But the researchers, using data from some 400 contributors, have been documenting the entire scale for the first time, studying where they were located, how they were run, and what their purpose was.
A great talk about the fascinating “Cyrus Cylinder” and what it stands for.
At the end of the 20th century, only 10 percent of all patents were awarded to female inventors [source: Bedi]. When you compile a list of the most famous inventions of the past few centuries, few women will show up as the creators of those items. It’s not that women lack ingenuity or a creative spirit, though; it’s just that women have faced many hurdles in receiving credit for their ideas.
Take the case of Sybilla Masters, a woman who lived in the American colonies. After observing Native American women, she came up with a new way to turn corn into cornmeal. She went to England to obtain a patent for her work, but laws at the time stipulated that women couldn’t own property, which included intellectual property like a patent. Such property was considered to be owned by the woman’s father or husband. In 1715, a patent for Sybilla Masters’ product was issued, but the name on the document is that of her husband, Thomas.
Such property laws prevented many women from acquiring patents for inventions several centuries ago. Women were also less likely to receive a technical education that would help them turn an ingenious idea into an actual product. Many women faced prejudice and ridicule when they sought help from men in actualizing their idea. And some women came up with ideas that would improve life in their households, only to see their inventions treated with scorn for being too domestic and thus unworthy of praise.
Mary Kies was the first American woman to earn a patent in her own name. In 1809, she developed a way of weaving straw into hats that was an economic boon for New England. By receiving that piece of paper with her name on it, Kies led the way for other female inventors to take credit for their ideas. In this article, we’ll salute 10 things invented by women.
Note that each of these were independently developed by the Chinese, even if some were also used or invented elsewhere.
- Battens in sails and cloth
- Blast furnace
- Cast iron
- Chinese cuisine: Tofu, Ramen sushi
- Chinese clothing: Qipao, Hanfu
- Repeating crossbow
- Escapement mechanism for clocks
- Exploding cannonball
- Fire Arrow
- Horse collar
- Hull compartments/bulkheads
- Indian ink
- Land mines
- Menus for Song-era restaurants
- Naval mines
- Pendulum (Zhang Heng)
- Printing (woodblock printing and movable type)
- Rockets: Fire Arrow, Multistage rocket
- Sailing carriage
- Seismometer (of Zhang Heng)
- South Pointing Chariot (differential gear, of Ma Jun)
- Sluice gates
- Toilet paper
- Traditional Chinese medicine
- Trebuchet (traction)
- Trip hammer
- Winnowing machine
- Abacus (first appearance: Mesopotamia, 2400 BC. First certain appearance in China: 12th century AD)
- Armillary sphere (invented by the Greek Eratosthenes), with the world’s first water-powered armillary sphere by Zhang Heng.
- Various automata (refer to article on King Mu of Zhou, Mozi, Lu Ban, etc.)
- Belt drive
- Bituminous coke for the iron and steel industry
- Camera obscura
- Cardan Suspension
- The cannon
- Chain drive
- Chain pumps
- Chinese calendar
- The Flamethrower
- Flash lock
- Early explosive grenades
- Paddle wheel, for boats
- Paper money
- Pontoon bridge
- Postal system
- Pound lock
- Suspension bridge
- Star catalogue
- Water clock
Find more here.
So, yes, Mr. Serwer, the French did take the Bastille in 4 hours—that is, in fact, true—and when they finally decided to overthrow the Old Regime, they managed to do it fairly quickly. And one of the reasons they were able to do it so quickly is that there was a locus of symbolic power in France, and an imperfectly yet steadily centralizing state apparatus, that provided them with the levers and instruments to achieve that transformation.
In the United States, activists have often wanted but seldom had those levers and instruments. Not for lack of trying: as I’ve argued elsewhere, the entire history of American social movements has been about trying to bring the power of a—often sadly non-existent—centralized state apparatus to bear on private regimes of power (on the plantation, in the family, and in the workplace), to use a decentralized, federated national state to break the back of private autocracies. In the process, these activists have managed, on occasion, to centralize the national state, but only rarely and often imperfectly.
The overwhelming trend has been one of resistance to those attempts. And the reason that trend has been so successful is that the American state is not nearly as unified or centralized—not by accident or because of the vagaries of history but by constitutional design—as other states. This kind of programmatic decentralization gives local elites, with all their ideological legitimacy, economic power, and coercive power, an automatic and tremendous advantage. And even when local or state-level activists manage by some small miracle to achieve victory, they are immediately confronted by a sea of hostile forces around them, in nearby states and the federal court system—not to mention federal armies—that often overturn their victories.
So if we simply imagine some of the labor wars in copper country of Colorado, or in West Virginia’s coal country, we see a level of violence and Jacobin ferocity that certainly parallels that of the revolutionary street fighting in Paris. But what we don’t see is the demonstration effect that revolutionary Paris had throughout the French countryside. Nor do we see, except rarely, a national state that would be able to take those local victories (more often defeats) and turn them into national achievements.
The African Blood Brotherhood was a short-lived but highly influential Black Liberation organization in the US, formed during the infamous “red summer” of 1919. That year saw murderous pogroms against African-Americans from Chicago to St. Louis, yet it also was a year of rising militant resistance to racist oppression. The African Blood Brotherhood was formed in part to organize physical resistance to pogroms, but also to organize for socialist revolution against white supremacy. Many members of the African Blood Brotherhood eventually joined the nascent Communist Party and helped to shape their policy on Black Liberation through the 1920’s and 30’s. Notable African Blood Brotherhood comrades included queer communist poet Claude McKay, whose 1919 poem “If We Must Die” epitomized the African Blood Brotherhood’s spirit of militant struggle.
A big part of American history that few people even know (let alone know accurately).
Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Horace Greeley, 1862
Yet another example that government’s self interest is nothing new. It seeks only to perpetuate itself. Helping society is not among its goals.
Nobody believes me when I say Abraham Lincoln was an asshole
The full context of Lincoln’s response is as follows:
“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”
Lincoln differentiates between “my view of official duty” — e.g., what he can do in his official capacity as President — and his personal views. Officially he must save the Union above all else; personally he wanted to free all the slaves…or so it is suggested here.
Happy 540th Birthday to Nicolaus Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543).
A name well-known to students across the western world, Copernicus was a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a comprehensive heliocentric model, which as opposed to the prevailing geocentric model of the time, placed the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the center of the universe. The model was also one of the first to describe the system’s mechanics in mathematical terms.
Just before his death, Copernicus published is magnum opus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), which is considered a major event in the history of science. It began the Copernican Revolution and contributed importantly to the subsequent emergence of the Scientific Revolution.
In addition to his achievements in mathematics and astronomy, Copernicus was one of the great polymaths of the Renaissance — he was quadrilingual, a jurist with a doctorate in law, physician, classics scholar, translator, artist, Catholic priest, governor, diplomat and economist.