Archive for November, 2007

The LA Times carried an article yesterday that touched on an interesting theme relating to the importance of the history of the Middle East, and the importance of history in general. In essence, that theme is the weight of un-integrated history.

As students in my current European history course (registration is always open!) are well aware, the complex and dreary chain of wars that Europeans waged on each other throughout their history provides important insight into the cultural malaise on that continent. Whence that wry English wit? Whence the French distaste for a happy ending? Whence the German “Weltschmerz” (“world weariness”)? These are all symptoms of un-integrated history, expressed in the “sense of life” of a culture.

The emotional burden that people carry when they fail to integrate the past of their nation is just one of the costs of not learning from history, and really just a symptom of a more tragic reality. When history goes unlearned, as George Santayana was wont to say, the same mistake keep getting repeated. And worse yet, this iterative process of failure compounds the context of historical-psychological baggage that people carry with them.

Witness the Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans in the latest round of “peace talks.” It’s been forty years since the UN Resolution 242, which proposed “land for peace.” Everybody says they want peace, but no one seriously believes they will find it now, or in the near future. The so-called “road map” put forward by President Bush sets out conditions for peace that are not being met by the Palestinians, and that no one can foresee being met.

The weight of un-integrated history which everyone carrying but evading is the basic fact that the Palestinians (and their Muslim and Arab sponsor states) are morally bankrupt and have done nothing to come even remotely close to earning them statehood. The history of these people is a shocking litany of self-destructive religious fanaticism, racism, and violence. And yet they are treated as genuine partners in the “peace process.”

Until the historical record of the Middle East is set straight, predicting the outcome of the latest round of peace talks is depressingly straightforward. Whatever commitments are stated will not be met, whatever hopeful sentiments are expressed will be repudiated in action; and there will be no peace.

Learn the history of the Middle East with Powell History by taking The Islamist Entanglement this coming February (general registration is now open).

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Americans are deeply divided over the direction to take in the Middle East.  Must we “stay the course” in Iraq, “cut and run,” “change course” and attack Iran, or something else–and how do we decide?

This February, Powell History presents The Islamist Entanglement, the third installment in the acclaimed A First History for AdultsTM curriculum.  Finally, you have a chance to understand the historical context behind the most critical foreign policy challenge of our times, and bring this knowledge to bear to help steer America in the right direction.

For over 200 years the policies of Western powers have profoundly affected the development of the Middle East. Indeed, during that time, the West’s answer to the “Eastern Question” has been the single most important factor in determing the history of the region and its impact on world affairs.  In the Islamist Entanglement, we will examine the how the West, and especially America, has perceived the Middle East in connection to Western interests, what policies have been attempted to mold the region according to wider objectives, and what their results have been. 

Without the answer to these questions, any proposal for dealing with the Middle East today is little more than a historical “stolen concept,”–a proposal torn from the context necessary to validate it, and one which probably contradicts the centuries of precedent that this context provides!

So isn’t it time you armed yourself with the understanding that only history can provide?  Untangle yourself from the moment, and get the “Big Picture”!  Join Powell History for The Islamist Entanglement! (Classes start February 6th)

You’ll get:

  • 10 lectures, each 1.5 hours, for a total of 15 hours of instruction
  • your choice of live teleconference instruction or digital recordings
  • unlimited access to web-based recordings for repeat listening
  • “fact sheets” that summarize the history of each of the major Middle Eastern nations
  • tips and unique exercises to help you integrate and retain the material

Be sure to return to PHR later today, when pre-registration opens, and save an amazing $60 OFF the regular price of $249.  (You pay only $189!) Just type “Monroe Doctrine” into the pre-registration password box. DON’T DELAY, THIS OFFER EXPIRES “CYBER MONDAY,” November 26th!

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It seems Americans can’t have a holiday without a controversy. And, to make matters worse, the two opposing sides of whatever controversy it is don’t ever seem to get it right either.

When it comes to this particular holiday, as one website puts it:

At issue are two competing views of America and American history: a heroic account of the birth of freedom and democracy, and a brutal tale of conflict, racism, and the decimation of native peoples. (Read the full article here.)

In the traditional religious American view, Thanksgiving is seen as an important symbolic moment confirming the blessing of God on the mission of the Puritan pilgrims, and a ceremony indicative of the religious roots of American life–a perspective well capture by Jennie A. Brownscombe in her painting of “The First Thanksgiving.”

Historical innacuracies aside, the painting places the emphasis on the religious nature of the event, at the same time as it de-emphasizes the Indian role in it.

Of course, in today’s multicultural setting, this traditional celebration is under attack. Indian groups insist in observing a “day of mourning” instead of celebrating the arrival of Europeans on these shores.

The real problem with America’s traditional Thanksgiving is not, however, that the Indians don’t get enough credit for giving corn and fowl to a few starving Protestant zealots, or that eventually, as growing numbers of Europeans arrived, they engaged in various means–some odious–of taking over “Indian land.” That’s a complex question that can’t possibly be answered in a one-line rebuttal, but again, it’s just not the issue.

By the time Thanksgiving became a regular, national observance, and President Lincoln issued his “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” it was already obvious that the source of America’s copious abundance–including the disproportionate “bounty” enjoyed by the North over the South–was human productivity (made possible by political freedom), not some divine bestowal.

It’s thanks to America’s productive geniuses that the nation went on to surpass all others, and now enjoys unparalleled wealth, so it’s Vanderbilt, Hill, Rockefeller, Ford and Gates I’ll be thinking of today.

I wish you a happy and just Thanksgiving!



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Finish digesting that huge turkey dinner, put the Thanksgiving controversy behind you, and be sure to check back here at PHR on November 23rd,”Black Friday,” for the first Powell History sales event of the holiday season!  There will be specials on American History, European History, The Middle East, and more.  Don’t miss out!

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The Hapsburg Sandwich: Take a deep breath: In 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile became joint rulers of Spain, creating a personal union for that kingdom.  In 1477, Maximilian I Holy Roman Emperor married Mary of Burgundy, bringing a patchwork of states under direct Hapsburg control in central Europe.  Then, these two families, so recently brought together themselves, were joined by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter Joanna to Max and Mary’s son Philip. Their son first became Charles I of Spain, and, then, in 1519 was elected Charles V Holy Roman Emperor. Phew!

Why do I call this the Hapsburg Sandwich?  Well, Charles thus inherited a large portion of Europe, seen in the following map:


 This raised the prospect of a universal monarchy for Europe.

In the middle, however, “sandwiched” by the Hapsburg lands, was a strong, unified Catholic France, possessed of a distinct national identity (born of the Hundred Years’ War), which had no intention of being subsumed by this imperial behemoth. Hence…

The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich:  In 1529, the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith, laying siege to the Hapsburg capital of Vienna, leading Catholic France to ally with the Muslim Empire in 1536 in an attempt to counterbalance Hapsburg power.  In 1543, a combined Ottoman and French fleet captured Nice.  In 1544, the Ottomans, at France’s request, also took Naples from the Emperor.  They would continue to project power into Europe for another 150 years!

The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich is thus a major historical example of Western nations being absorbed by the question of the temporary “balance of power” while discarding ideology and common values.

Of course, it’s true to say that the only integrating ideology that Europeans had at the time was Christianity, and that the Ottomans did not really have the ability to conquer Europe, so one might argue that what France did might actually have been for the best–in the moment.

However, viewed in its full historical context, one sees that what followed was a wholesale abandonment of principles in European foreign policy.  In that regard, the Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich seems to be a watershed point.  Once the Reformation had done its work of disintegrating Christendom, Europe regressed into a period of pragmatism characterized by the projection of power for its own sake.  Its “grand” monarchs, Louis XIV of France, Peter “the Great” of Russia, and Frederick “the Great” of Prussia, would initiate countless wars of aggression against their neighbors and their imperial targets.

And–which only made matters worse–it was at this point, when Western politics was devoid of principled guidance, that Europe became entangled by the “Eastern Question,” i.e. the question of what to do with the Middle East.

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HistoryAtOurHouse, the world’s premiere secular homeschooling history program, is enjoying a terrific start to the new academic year.

Students from Massachusetts to Bangladesh are enjoying this year’s American History program, which is delivered using the same means as the “A First History for Adults” Curriculum.

This year’s program is unique in a number of ways.  For one, this is the first year of the History Through Art program, which both enhances student’s appreciation of the importance of what they are learning in history, and their appreciation of the nature of great visual art.  To date, students have enjoyed paintings such as “The Grey Cardinal,” by Jean-Leon Gerome, which concretizes the power of religion in European culture, and “Columbus at Salamanca,” by William Powell, which dramatizes Columbus’s independence.

Students also enjoyed learning Poetry related to the story of Columbus, including “Columbus,” by Joaquin Miller, and “Columbus” by Edward Everett Hale.

Having covered the European background to the Story of America as well as the Age of Discovery, the program is now moving to the period of Colonization and Colonial Wars.

For more news and details about the HistoryAtOurHouse program, and for information on how you can sign up your child (registration is open year-round), visit the program’s blog.

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The world’s tallest building is under construction…in the Middle East.

After recently watching an interesting documentary about Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates) on 60 minutes, I briefly became fascinated with that city. The documentary called it “the largest construction site on the planet”–already boasting a phenomenal indoor ski slope, and man-made island groupings in the shape of “the World”. (They have no environmental regulations there, so they exploit the earth with stunning results!)

“The World” Real-Estate Development Project in Dubai

And the Burj Dubai is under construction there as well. This amazing tower reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Illinois” tower. (When completed it will be twice as tall as the Empire State Building!!)

Artist Rendering of the “Burj Dubai” and Dubai Skyline

Then I thought of the World Trade Center, and I became somewhat depressed. (I don’t hate the latest design, but by comparison to the Burj Dubai, the “Freedom Tower” is, quite frankly, stubby.)

I think what is so upsetting about the Burj Dubai is that it is so heroic a structure and it’s in the Middle East–where no wealth would exist today without Western aid and technology–and where, despite the transmission of heroic values to that region, the West (and especially the United States) is villified. Meanwhile, America, which fueled the industrial leap that made the wealth of Dubai possible, has largely lost its heroic sense of life, and little of significance seems to be under construction here (with one exception, see below). Viewed in full historical context, Dubai–and the Burj Dubai above all–is a historic-aesthetic monstrosity!

Honestly, there’s a part of me that hopes that, somehow, Providence will intervene, and the combination of oil pumping and Persian Gulf dredging will cause an unanticipated seismic event, bringing the thing down.

Meanwhile, I take some architectural solace in the continued growth of the Chicago skyline. The Trump Chicago (decent, but should be taller), and the Chicago Spire (takes getting used to, but it grows on you!) promise to add some inspiration into our architectural landscape.

The Trump Chicago

The Chicago Spire (Click the link for the video intro to “elevate” your spirits.)

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A good traditional date assigned as the beginning of the Age of Discovery is 1415. In that year, Portugal, having in the past century and half achieved independence from both the Muslims in Iberia and their Christian rivals Castile, initiated a new phase of exploration by conquering the Muslim trading post of Ceuta in northern Africa.

One thing that strikes me about this episode in the history of Western relations with the Middle East is that during the subsequent phase of Portuguese activity, the Muslims were treated as an adversary to be defeated and then circumnavigated. In other words, Prince Henry did not advocate attacking the outposts of Muslim pirates near the Strait of Gibraltar and then settling among them to foster common values. He advocated destruction of any threats to Portugal, but then independence. After exhausting every strategic value he could from Ceuta, his focus shifted to avoiding further entanglements with these enemies, and pursuing profit to empower his native country.

Under his leadership an institute of geography and exploration was founded at Sagres, on the southern tip of Portugal, and wave after wave of Portuguese ships of increasingly advanced design, sought a passage around Africa in order to establish trade with the empires of the East.

The torturous progress of his explorers did not yield that route while he was still alive. They found their way past Cape Verde by 1445, and to the Guinea coast a decade later, but by the time of his death, the Equator had yet to be crossed.

Tragically, Portugal’s kings were not as wise as Prince Henry. His father gradually turned away from the country’s true interest and became entangled in a crusade against the Muslims in northern Africa. Then Portugal’s next king Afonso V, who you might say “stayed the course,” abandoned further exploration in the name of religious warfare. He earned the nickname “the African” for all his efforts, but those same efforts bankrupted his country.

Only after Afonso V died did his successor Joao II re-initiate exploration efforts. Under his leadership the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hood in 1487/88 (more famous than the true southern tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas), and reached Asia in 1498, to subsequently enormous advantages. The tiny nation would create an empire spanning from Brazil to the Indies.

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In the ongoing “A First History for Adults” program, Mr. Powell recommends books to students as follow-up resources.  Here are useful links to the resources, he recommended for material about English constitutional history and the Crusades: 

Constitutional and Legal History of Medieval England by Bryce Lyon
I didn’t find this one on-line for free, but here are on-line booksellers that carry it: Abebooks.Com | Amazon.Com

I did find “Mr. Empiricism” Hume’s History of England online for free.

The Crusades by Richard A. Newhall also doesn’t seem to be on-line.  Again, here are some on-line sources:  Abebooks.Com | Amazon.Com.

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