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Archive for the ‘European History’ Category

My first “vectors” feature on debt aggregation featured the story of Spain’s debt aggregation landscape.  Today two stories have emerged to complement Spain’s debt aggregation narrative.

First, from Zero Hedge:

Valencia Announces SOS, Needs To Tap Government LIquidity Support Just Eurogroup Accepts Spanish Bailout Plan

Spain’s heavily indebted eastern region of Valencia said on Friday it would apply for help under the government’s 18 billion euro plan passed on Thursday aimed at helping regional finances.

This, just shortly on the heels of a Spanish bank rescue announcement, from Bloomberg:
Euro Finance Chiefs Give Final Approval to Spain Bank Rescue

Euro-area finance ministers gave final approval to as much as 100 billion euros ($122 billion) of bank aid for Spain, putting Greece back on the front line of the bloc’s crisis-fighting agenda.

Note that the “bank aid” is a loan, via the EFSF mechanism.  This is the essence of debt aggregation: with national “too big to fail” institutions given cheap money permitted by international collusion to keep them afloat.”

For the foreseeable future, Europe’s leaders will use debt aggregation to “kick the can down the road.”  It never ceases to amaze me that this works to assuage the financial markets, and how well it “works” to keep the economy going, but piling more debt onto already un-payable debt leads to only one place: default.    In a coming update, I’ll try to predict when that is going to happen, by dissecting Germany’s untenable position in the Eurozone from a historical perspective.

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As promised, I’m inviting former First History clients of Powell History to revisit their history studies to explore how to apply what they’ve learned.  The goal is to practice the arts of iteration and integration–two of the Powell History “Five ‘I’s of History.

Of course, anyone who is interested is welcome to participate. So here is the “pop quiz”…

In 1878, Japan was desperate to modernize its army to catch up with the West. It had originally turned to Britain for help in developing its navy, and France for help in developing its army. Now, however, it shunned the French model that it had been following since the mid-nineteenth century and adopted another. Whose model was it and why did the Japanese adopt it?

For students of 1HFA, Part 2: Europe – Context and Foil, the answer is found in lecture 15.

BONUS QUESTION: What is the significance of this shift in Japanese policy to its conduct in the World Wars?

[Answer(s) provided with the next PHR History Pop Quiz!]

Interested in developing an integrated of Western and Eastern civilization?  1HFA5: Japan, China, and India  is coming this summer, and pre-registration is now open (until April 19).

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Although the instructional value of history provides a crucial underpinning of the American Revolution, it is not the only value that history provides that helped make the republic that is the United States and that can help those who still seek to keep it. “Without the classical example,” states historian Hannah Arendt “…none of the men of the revolutions on either side of the Atlantic would have possessed the courage for what then turned out to be unprecedented action.” In other words, history can empower us emotionally as well as intellectually by presenting actual, successful heroes who moved the world.

Literature and art, for their part, serve as inspiration when they present human beings as they could and ought to be: Michelangelo’s courageous David facing off against Goliath, the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac questing for love, or Terrence Rattigan’s Arthur Winslow seeking justice for his son in the Winslow Boy. Although, due to the failing of modern historians, history is usually viewed as dry and devoid of such emotional fuel, one of the crucial functions of history is in fact to inspire, and to do so in a way that only it can.

The unique source of inspiration that a proper study of history can provide is the sight of man as he actually has been and can be again.

The incomparable heroism of King Leonidas of Sparta, defending Greece to the death at Thermopylae, the unbending integrity of Galileo in his pursuing of scientific truth in defiance of the nearly monolithic power of the Catholic Church, the genius and poise of Washington crossing the Delaware to victory against the Hessians at Trenton; these examples are not invention. They are the truth of human beings at their greatest. It’s no wonder that a young history student of mine from Norway once exclaimed, history “…keeps me more thrilled than any movie.”

HISTORY THROUGH ARTHistory can inspire in many ways.  In its basic narrative form, it can mimic literature.  But its power to inspire can also arise in other forms, including film and painting.  One of the unique features of the Powell History pedagogical approach is the use of visual art to both facilitate students’ grasp of history and to help students draw inspiration from the past.

The benefits of this approach are manifold.  From an instructional perspective, visual art concretizes the abstract narrative of the past, providing us with a past that can be seen.  By means of the compositional or thematic integration of the art itself, it also helps to integrate the meaning of the past.  (For instance, in the painting below, the symbolic inscriptions in the bottom left tie the events of Napoleonic history to an ancient past, evoking crucial comparisons and themes.)  Looking at great art, as in the images below, one need hardly elaborate on its power to inspire as well.  Challenges sometimes arise about the objectivity of the inspirational themes involved, but when instruction and inspiration are connected to genuine values, the final product is invaluable.  This will be a theme that we aggressively pursue in the new PHR!

Great historical art can inspire and instruct at the same time. Look for a complete analysis of David's Bonaparte Crossing the Alps in an upcoming issue of PHR.

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The past year has been an incredibly busy time for me, with the launch of new products and a trip around the world, but I’m back, with some exciting announcements for the coming months!

For both those of you new to Powell History and those who’ve been around from the start, let me get you caught up on the history of Powell History, as well as recent goings-on.

For over five years Powell History has provided an unmatched educational experience for history students of all ages.  In 2006, the first sessions of “A First History for Adults, Part 1 (The Story of America)” were offered to students across the United States and the world.   A year later, History At Our House—the ultimate history resource for homeschoolers—was launched, making live professional history instruction available to homeschooled children of elementary grades everywhere.

Both products have grown by leaps and bounds.  Over the the past four years, A First History for Adults has expanded to include:

Part 2 – Europe: Context and Foil
Part 3 – The Islamist Entanglement
Part 4 – The Ancient Background,

…and European History Through Art for adults!

HistoryAtOurHouse has grown even more rapidly along side, as a fully integrated curriculum, offering a three-year program rotation of ancient, European, and American history for students from second to twelfth grade.

In 2010, the HistoryAtOurHouse model was adopted to begin making a wider range of homeschooling products available with the launch of MusicAtOurHouse, a music history and appreciation program taught by composer M. Zachary Johnson.

ScienceAtOurHouse was added to the growing array of programs available in 2011, and is currently enjoying great success thanks to work of curriculum director Dr. John Krieger of VanDamme Academy and life science instructor Rachel Miner.  Based on early progress in this venture, we plan to expand ScienceAtOurHouse into a three-year program rotation of life science, physical science, and earth science for students from 2nd to 9th grade.

2012 promises to be the best year yet with new curriculum offerings for children and adults alike.  Plans are in the works for literature, math, and physics in the coming years.   And for students of history — both homeschoolers and life-long learners — the coming year will be extremely exciting:  our focus will shift to the history of Asia.  A First History for Adults, Part 5: Japan, China and India – will begin this summer! — exploring the theme of the subordination of the major eastern cultures to western civilization and the evolving responses of each of them, which will play a crucial role in shaping the world we live in.

History At Our House will also focus on Asia in the coming year, breaking from its fundamental three year program rotation of ancient, European, and American history for a unique spectrum of courses on Asia, including units on the history of India, China, Japan, and the Middle East.

2012 is also the year when Powell History’s product lines will move to a new on-line platform developed by Cando.Com.

The new PHR blog and newsletter will serve as the vehicle for news on these exciting developments. It will also serve the broader purpose of promoting the unique value of history using Powell History methods.  Please look for the upcoming feature articles on The Five “I“s of the Powell History philosophy of history, and a stream of articles in which that philosophy will be put into action!

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Through the HistoryThroughArt program, you’ll learn to see history in a new way by combining the abstract lessons of history with the visual power of art!

Aren’t you tired of history books that bombard you with too many facts? Having trouble seeing the “big picture”? Are you convinced that understanding history is just not something you can do as an adult? If you’re like me, you had a terrible history education. (Who among us actually liked history in high school? Who among us learned anything of value?!)

After graduating from college, I started to really learn history for myself. I had to…I was teaching it! I already had a love of art as well, and these two passions slowly came together. For the past three years, I’ve been using art to enjoy history even more and to help my homeschooling students across the country better understand history as part of the HistoryAtOurHouse curriculum.

The verdict is in. Students and parents agree: it’s awesome! Art really helps bring the past to life. In fact, it has worked so well, I decided to pass on the the unique benefits of this program to adults.

Why learn history through art?
History is about the past. As obvious as that is, to recognize this simple fact helps us to understand why history can be so difficult to learn. There’s no way to experience history directly. The only way to learn about the past is to read about it. As engaging as some writers can be, it still takes a ton of reading to piece together the story of the past. Even if you’re willing to make that effort, and even if you are able to assimilate all of history’s stories, what you’re left with in the end is a lot of abstract information that isn’t easy to connect to your life here and now.

That’s where art can help.

Art has the ability to show us the past in visual form. Simply put, art lets us see history. In some ways, art can function much like photography and film do today. But art can also do so much more than document history. As we’ll see throughout this course, art can represent much more than just a moment in time. It can depict the meaning of history.


This is where the power of art can transform our awareness of history. The value of history lies not in its myriad facts, but in their meaning. In most instances, however, the meaning of events is the most difficult thing to grasp of all. After you’ve performed the research, you still need to do a lot of difficult thinking. Although there are no short cuts or “quick fixes” when it comes to this challenge, there are tools for facilitating the process. Art is one such tool. Through art we can see history’s meaning.

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: a picture really is worth a thousand words! In fact, when it comes to history, a picture–if it’s a great work of art–might be worth a lot more than that!

Program Details
History Through Art for Adults will operate in the same way as A First History for AdultsTM.


  • The program will operate on a three-year rotation: Ancient, European, and American history.
    • This year, the program will focus on European history.

    • Students will have two options for attending: live lectures, via conference-call and/or on-line recordings.

    • The program will run from September to June, with two seminars per month.

    • That’s 20 lectures in all!

    • Classes start September 2nd!
      • Each interactive seminar will last 1 hour to 1.5 hours.
      • Students will receive images and links via a dedicated class web page.
    • Live classes will be held Wednesday evenings at 8:30 PM Central Time (9:30 PM Eastern, 6:30 PM Pacific), usually on the first and third Wednesday of the month.

    • All lectures will be recorded and made available indefinitely for listeners to download for repeat listening.


    In every lecture, you’ll get an essentialized history lesson to help you learn the story or recapture the context. Then we will examine works of art that help us visualize the characters and events–and that help us grasp and retain the meaning of the story. Every lesson will combine the power of history and art!



    Can’t attend Wednesday nights?

      • You can listen to the lectures on-line, anytime.
      • Lectures can easily be downloaded to an iPod or other portable player.
      • You can listen as many times as you like.
    • Like A First History for AdultsTM classes, History Through Art for Adults classes are recorded.


    Program Cost

    History Through Art for Adults is available for only $20/month!

    • That’s less than the price of a movie per lecture! (And it’s better art!)


    Want to try it, before you buy the whole course?

    • Click here, and select a single month of lectures.



    The HistoryThroughArt program has been one of the most successful components of the HistoryAtOurHouse homeschooling curriculum of Powell History.  Combined with the unique pedagogical methods of A First History for AdultsTM, I’m certain that you will be amazed by how much you enjoy learning history!  Explore your registration options here.

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    In returning to the history of Saudi Arabia in preparation for my recent lecture on the Islamist Entanglement and struggling to define the precise relationship between the United States and its so-called ally, it finally struck me what the two countries have colluded in creating. In essence the United States has adopted a feudal relationship with the Saudi monarchy. What is worse, rather than champion its distinctive founding ideology of individual rights, the US has essentially captained the re-institution of the feudal system as the basic system of international relations throughout the world. Viewed from this perspective, US actions in support of dictators, theocracies and other oppressive regimes around the world are understandable, and completely consonant with the poor treatment the US and its closer allies often reserve for each other. God help us, because we’re headed back to the Dark Ages!

    Ibn Saud becomes the vassal of the United States

    Want to know why this tribal barbarian is so happy? He’s just been infeuded by the most powerful lord in all of history!

    Feudalism, a political system found in various forms in all developing world cultures through history, but especially associated with the darkest time in the history of Western civilization, is an attempt to mitigate human barbarism not by identifying the principles required for people to live in peace, but rather by establishing a set of inter-dependencies to discourage war and to accrue short term advantages.

    When the feudal system originated in Europe, it was because the most powerful chieftains could not directly manage their territories during the constant war that was life in the post-Roman world. Charlemagne, for instance, was constantly running from one front to another—from the Muslims in Spain, to the Lombards in Italy, to the Germans in central Europe. Despite his martial prowess, he understood that no area that he had conquered would stay conquered for long in the religious and tribal setting of the time, so he extended the system of “stem duchies,” whereby semi-independent regional rulers were entrusted with maintaining order on the frontiers. In the south, there was the “Spanish March.” In the east, there were numerous regions such as Bavaria and Saxony, each ruled by a “dux” (a duke).

    To make sure that the system functioned by design, and that no part became too self-involved, Charlemagne sent envoys to every part of his empire on a regular basis. They were known as the “Missi Dominici.” The Missi were foreign to the territory they managed, so that they wouldn’t have special ties to its rulers, and they were sent to insure that imperial directives were implemented. One was a lay official, the other an ecclesiast, so that both dimensions of medieval governance could be managed.

    The fundamental relationship that the Missi Dominici were supposed to oversee through their “shuttle diplomacy” was the basic form of barter that defines every feudal relationship: “land for loyalty” (sometimes known as Frankish Resolution 242!)

    In this barter arrangement, a vassal was granted territory (a fief or “feud”) by his lord in exchange for various expressions of loyalty. Whenever the lord required an army in defense of his broader objectives, the vassal was to provide a levy of knights and peasants from his territory. In exchange the vassal’s claim to his land was sanctioned and protected by his lord. If one landholder’s claim was threatened by another it was the lord’s obligation to arbitrate the relative claims of his vassals and to interpose his military might when needed. This type of relationship existed at every level within the medieval social hierarchy, from serfs and farmers to knights, barons, counts and dukes, all the way up to kings and emperors.

    An important aspect of this system was that the moral legitimacy of any particular regime took a back seat to power politics. Feudalism was the systematization of “might makes right.” For instance, before Charlemagne’s reign, when Frankish feudalism was still in its infancy, Pippin—a servant of the reigning Merovingian king Childeric III—went to the Pope and demonstrated that it was he, not Childeric, who exercised real power in the kingdom. The Pope then sanctioned the transfer of power from the Merovingians to Pippin’s family, later known as the Carolingians.

    Childeric deposed by Pippin. (His hair is being cut in preparation for life in the monastery.)

    Later, when Rollo the Viking was granted Normandy by the king of France in 911, it wasn’t because he had a moral claim to it, but rather because he promised to “stabilize” a region that was otherwise subject to the very depredations that Rollo had engaged in but was now supposedly willing to forgo. (You could say he was willing to play Fatah to other the Vikings’ Hamas.) Not surprisingly, Rollo’s powerful descendants nearly toppled the French kingdom on multiple occasions thereafter. The French-Norman version of the “peace process” extended for many centuries, and only closed with the Hundred Years’ War.

    What on earth does this have to do with the present day? I’m sure to some of you (especially my students!) the parallels may already be evident. Before revealing the trappings of the modern feudal system, however, I still need to elaborate on how feudalism works in Part 2: False Morality, Pragmatism, and Collectivism. Stay tuned!

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    Although I am usually loath to recommend any history book written after 1920, when the subject matter itself postdates WWI, you simply have no choice. And, truth be told, I have read more than a handful of quite excellent histories from modern writers, despite the dreadful state of the profession, so I’m willing to give credit where credit is due.

    When it comes to the topic of European Union, the title I recommend is The Community of Europe by Derek Urwin. Although not quite fitting in the category of “excellent histories,” this work has many virtues.

    The theme of this work is European integration. No historical topic can be more relevant to anyone wanting to understand Europe’s current course.

    Ever since the disaster of WWII, Europeans have been trying to fashion a non-belligerent way of life amongst themselves, to create a “community” of nations. Their answer to this challenge has been the concept of “supranationalism.” In recent weeks, I have posted some of my thoughts on this topic in my essay on Europism (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 coming soon). In simple terms, supranationalism is the attempt to assert a broader collective self-identification in order to justify the creation of a “United States of Europe.”

    Urwin looks mostly to the bleak years of post-WWII Europe when presenting his thesis. This is a reasonable approach, because it highlights the first tentative steps of the supranationalist agenda and shows how the European Union was formed in the period of European subordinacy to the Cold War superpowers. (Especially interesting is the role of Charles de Gaulle’s anti-Americanism in directing the early progress of the Union.)

    The most important value of Urwin’s book is that it presents the basic progression–the story–of European integration from the European Coal and Steel Community (1951) and European Economic Community (1957) to the Maastricht Treaty of European Union (ratified in 1993).

    Two things are missing in this presentation: 1) The advent of supranationalism in the context of nationalism and internationalism is not sufficiently treated. To truly understand the genesis of the new approach one must understand the failure of its predecessors and how the former is derived from the latter. 2) A philosophical evaluation of supranationalism is also wanting. What the modern student of Europe needs to understand is the collectivist roots and nature of supranationalism and the collectivist responses of its opponents. Urwin provides the material for the student of political philosophy to work with, but he does not aid in the integration himself. That is up to the reader.

    Still, the treatment is brief and relatively accessible. Consequently, you won’t too often find that the details are distracting or discouragingly complex–especially if you have the benefit of an initial orientation through my two-lecture history of Europe in the Twentieth Century, coming soon (part of “A First History for Adults,” Part 2). [Get the full course here!]

    Also coming soon: Thomas Jefferson’s library had 6500 volumes it. Find out how you can be fully informed with just 40!I cannot live without books!–an exclusive e-zine series for Powell History mailing list subscribers– will help you create the ultimate history library. Be sure to join the Powell History Mailing List to get your recommendations.

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