Saturday, March 11, 2017

Reflections on learning about history of Ancient Egypt

In 1799, one of Napoleon's soldiers discovered a mysterious stone in the Nile Delta, during the French campaigns into Egypt that year - a stone that would prove the key to Egyptology and its modern practice. The mysterious object was the Rosetta Stone, and it bore an inscription in three different languages - Egyptian hieroglyphics, a later form of the Egyptian language called "Demotic," and an ancient variety of Greek that was well-known already to Europeans. Although this soldier didn't know it then, this trilingual inscription would allow a young scholar named Jean-Francois Champollion to decipher the script when he reached adulthood, since he was only nine years old at the time that his fellow Frenchman discovered this.

The Rosetta Stone

The Napoleonic campaigns in general - and the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone in particular - ignited a wave of true "Egyptomania" back in Europe, which grew into the modern discipline of Egyptology. Many great discoveries have been made in this area by archaeological digs at various sites, and some of these have uncovered information that was not known to anyone for centuries. Perhaps because of this, the discipline of Egyptology is sometimes considered a subfield of archaeology - a field broad enough to include sites from Greece to Rome to China to Central America. This classification points out that the excavations done in Egypt are just some of the many across the world that attract the attention of archaeologists; and there is truth in this claim. Nonetheless, the study of Egyptology encompasses more than just "digging in the dirt", and embraces written records as well; with languages whose grammar must be seriously studied and understood before a proper and complete history of the Egyptian past can be written. Thus, the Europeans classify Egyptology as a philological discipline (or in other words, a "linguistic" discipline); and the controversy over its classification continues today.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A review of Ken Burns' “Jazz” (PBS series)

I should preface this review by saying that I am a longtime fan of jazz music, as well as a longtime fan of both history and the Ken Burns documentaries about it. I freely acknowledge that I am not an expert on music history (jazz or otherwise), and do not consider myself to be a true musician - much as I would like to call myself by this distinguished title. I have played piano for a long time, it is true, and I have played jazz (and other styles) by ear; but I am neither a professional musician nor particularly talented in my performance, and consider myself only an enthusiastic fan with a sometime musical hobby. That being said, I am entitled to my opinion about it as much as anyone else, and so offer this review to any who might enjoy it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Japanese American soldiers in World War II

Japanese American children pledging allegiance to the United States in 1942, shortly before the internment started

Most Americans today have heard the story of Japanese American internment in World War II (at least in outline form), which was unquestionably one of the sadder episodes in this country's history (at least in the last century). But most Americans have not heard of the story of the Japanese American soldiers in World War II, who served with great distinction in the war. This is a part of the story that our schools have not told as well, and so I thought I'd venture to offer some coverage of it on my blog here. (This necessarily involves some background about the story of Japanese internment, I should note here; but I intend to focus this post on the military contributions of the Japanese American soldiers.)

"Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry," under Executive Order 9066

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A review of PBS's “The Gold Rush”

The California Gold Rush is one of those events that tends to have been heard of by the public, but is often overlooked by popular historians today for a number of reasons, among them that it is partially an economic story, and thus considered less "sexy" than the more "traditional" topics of politics and the military. Nonetheless, the Gold Rush is a monumental event in the history of America which had massive repercussions on the history of the West, causing the rapid colonization of California by White immigrants (and a handful of Chinese immigrants), and creating the ethnic mix that California is so known for today - since it is a race relations story as much as it is anything else, fraught with interest for anyone interested in American history. (But more on the particulars of that later.)

Sutter's Fort - California, 1849 (not to be confused with Sutter's Mill)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A review of Andrew Marr’s “Modern Britain” series (1901-2007)

I should preface this review with an up-front disclaimer, which is that I am not a citizen of Britain - I am an American citizen who has never been to the British Isles, and my ancestors haven't lived in Britain for more than a hundred years - although I do have ancestors from various parts of the British Isles, I should note here, who emigrated to the United States over a period of centuries (with some branches arriving at one time, and some branches at another). Thus, I have often felt rather British in my heritage; and this feeling is shared by many Americans of all ethnic origins, because of the cultural similarity between our two countries. (And I'm not just talking about our speaking the same language, although that does help - as George Bernard Shaw once joked, we are two countries "separated by a common language.")

Winston Churchill

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