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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A Japanese nobleman prepares to kill himself. Why? Because he’d rather die than try to make sense of Japanese history using conventional sources!

The answer is Powell History’s “First History” method!  The first lecture of my new course on the  First History of Japan for Adults will be available FREE as a podcast, exclusively on Facebook, as of this Saturday!

Please join me at:  http://www.facebook.com/AFirstHistoryForAdults for the solution!

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Article 9 of the Japanese constitution reads:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

As many people are aware, this, along with other essential features of the current Japanese constitution (such as the renunciation of the divinity of the Japanese emperor) were imposed on Japan by the conquering power of the United States following World War II.

In his book Nothing Less than Victory historian John David Lewis explores how the overwhelming use of force brought about the enduring peace with Japan, and one can hardly argue with the results of American policy when assessing the past 60 years, with Japan apparently serving as a loyal subordinate of the United States since the beginning of the Cold War.

But what if we expand the context of our apperception somewhat to a longer continuum of Japan’s past, present and future?  Why is it that geo-political expert George Friedman predicts war between the United States and Japan by the middle of the 21st century in his book The Next Hundred Years?

A meaningful prediction of Japan’s conduct through the next hundred years must be grounded in a proper assessment of Japan’s last hundred years, especially its cultural response to the geopolitical supremacy of first Europe and now the United States.  In 1HFA5-1: The History of Japan, we will explore how Japan responded to the arrival of America’s “black ships” under the command of Commodore Perry in 1854 by trying to overturn that supremacy.  Then, one hundred years later still, during the American occupation of 1945-52, the Japanese struggled to define a new path by accepting it.  Why then, one hundred years later–by 2045 to be sure–as Friedman predicts, will Japan have likely returned to being an belligerent nation once again?

Japan certainly appears quiescent.   What happens, however, when it is forced to declare national bankruptcy within the next five years, due to a debt problem that far exceeds that of the United States and that can no longer be evaded?  What happens when Japanese industry cannot get the raw materials it needs because of expanded wars in the Middle East?  What happens when these factors combined with Japan’s demographic implosion force the Japanese to choose between an even more acute subordinacy in world affairs and the “glorious” hope of a Japan reborn through the “way of the warrior”?   The most essential traits of Japanese culture in the evolving context of American supremacy make a return to war almost inevitable!  Find out why in 1HFA 5-1: The “First History” of Japan for Adults(Pre-registration specials available until April 19.)

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Announcing the "First History" of Asia for Adults!

Western civilization has dominated the world for centuries now. Until the 20th century European empires spanned the globe, subordinating every other culture. Now America stands as the world’s sole superpower. When Columbus sailed in 1492, however, it was to reach Asian civilizations described by Marco Polo whose wealth and power were in advance of the West. Over the course of the Age of Discovery and subsequent colonial and imperial periods, an inexorable tide seemed to carry that wealth and power from East to West. However, if the world’s economists and historians are to be believed, that tide is reversing—and just as inevitably as before. But are the “experts” right? Will the 21st century will be the “Asian Century”?

Any valid prediction must be anchored in history. Thus, Powell History presents:

A First History of Asia for Adults, Part 5 – Japan, China, and India: The New Era of the Balance of Power


Here is a basic outline of the course, with details to follow soon…

Part 1: Japan

(Jul14 – Sep6:  8 weekly lectures — mark your calendar!  Times TBA)

An industrial powerhouse whose infrastructure and environment have recently been devastated; now a net importer with a staggering debt-to-GDP; how will Japan’s insular culture emerge from the multiple crises it faces in the next generation?

Part 2: China

(Sep – Oct 2012; 8 lectures; exact dates TBA)

The world’s most populous nation, second largest economy, and the greatest creditor nation in history. How will its codependency with the United States – the largest debtor nation in history – affect its fragile oppressive “state capitalist” system?

Part 3: India

(Nov – Dec 2012; 8 lectures; exact dates TBA)

The world’s 2nd most populous nation is projected to have the largest economy on earth by 2050. Is India the most western of the great Asian nations? How did its utter subordination to Britain and subsequent independence define its cultural trajectory?

PLUS: A FREE BONUS LECTURE! For students of all three course segments: Preparing for the New Era of the Balance of Power.

As with all Powell History courses in the past, the lectures will be given live, so live attendance is an option via Internet and telephone conferencing, and recordings will also be available in MP3 format and via iTunes.  This course will also be given using a new WebEx  format currently being used in HistoryAtOurHouse, which means there will be a visual component as well.

More information on the attendance options, formatting of the material, and pricing will be available prior to the launch of pre-registration April 5th.  Look for more news in forthcoming posts of PHR.

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Because as children we are not taught how to seek the living past in the present, most people never develop what I call the “history habit.

The “history habit,” like its more famous cousin the “reading habit,” is an ingrained intellectual method of functioning. It means studying history as an automatic, unquestioned behavioral pattern. It means that seeking to gain and sustain an awareness of the past on a regular basis comes as naturally as turning on the TV after a hard day’s work.

In my experience the fact that adult students, through no fault of their own, do not have the history habit, is the single most limiting factor in their ability to gain insight, inspiration, and instruction from history.   Even students of Powell History who find themselves carried along by the compelling narrative of ancient, European, American, or any other history, tend to take their history classes and then, returning to their normal lives, find that the content simply slips away.  Because history is not integrated into their intellectual lives, they can’t retain the facts — a psycho-epistemological problem I call the problem of “sinking concretes” — and in the absence of any integrated factual framework (i.e. a “big picture” outlook) from which to productively continue their studies, they find themselves back where they started.

Not entirely, to be sure.  Any student who has been inspired by A First History for Adults at least gains a more positive outlook on what history can be and may be inclined to dabble in it here or there, seeking ways to incorporate it into one’s professional life, political activism, or investing practices, as the case may be.  Some who have the time and motivation go back and listen to courses repeatedly.

Any form of periodic review of one’s studies of history is what I mean by “iteration”–the fifth I of history.

If one’s goal in studying history is powerful knowledge, then regularly revisiting and expanding one’s historical knowledge base is actually a necessity.  Powerful knowledge means useful knowledge, means knowledge that is used.  Here the popular phrase “use it, or lose it” definitely applies.

But how?

One form of iteration is simply going over the same content again, as in simply retaking Powell History courses.  (When you buy one, you get permanent access, so there’s no extra cost to re-listening. And you can keep a personal recording for yourself as well.)  Another, complementary approach is to use the resources that I provide in the various First History for Adults courses that I call “first histories,” which can be used in conjunction with my courses or after them.

In recognition of the challenges involved in the upkeep of historical knowledge for non-historians, I’m also going to be creating some other easier ways for Powell History students to keep their knowledge vital and relevant.

One is free one-hour video and audio lectures on various topics, including summaries of American, European, and ancient history.  Not only will these videos be the best introduction to the histories of any particular nation for those who haven’t taken my courses yet, but they will also be a great way for former students to go back and revisit the content they’ve seen before, as well as a way to motivate them to revisit the lectures they’ve taken which provide more detail.

Another way will be to follow the new PHR newsletter, either by subscribing to this blog or my e-mail list.  The newsletter will help adult students acquire the history habit, despite not having done so in childhood, simply by offering a regular, accessible presentation of historical topics, often connected to current events, to help people build a bridge between the past and their own values here and now, and to regularly practice fostering that connection.

I’m going to call the feature the “History Pop Quiz,” and my goal is to make it a weekly one.  Look for it, coming soon!

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It will have occurred to some readers that the notion that the key pedagogical principles of history can be stated in the form of five “I“s is a little too convenient, if not downright gimmicky. Nonetheless, the principles are what they are, and they happen to each start with the letter “i.” (Those readers who adhere to a code of rational egoism may find this fact mildly amusing.)

I consider the three Is introduced thus far to be the cardinal values of history. They are forms of that which by means of history we seek to gain and or keep: powerful knowledge.  I have discussed these three Is with my students at various junctures, and so it may have surprised some of you to find that the number of them had expanded from three to five.   The reason for the expansion is that the next two key Is in the Powell History method are the means to those ends, which I’ve come to recognize as being as crucial as the ends themselves.

In evaluating the successes of my courses for adults and children over the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to confirm without a doubt that in the pursuit of powerful knowledge about the past, the fundamental challenge is epistemological.

History is a plethora of facts. When presented in an un- or dis-integrated manner, its vast constellation of facts are impossible to understand or remember. Only by brute-force rote memorization do professional historians manage to do so within their subspecializations, but for normal (and psychologically healthy) human beings, who lack the motivation to pursue useless information, the past is an insurmountable overabundance of information.

That is why integration is the key to learning history.

Integration,” in the words of philosopher Ayn Rand, “is a cardinal function of man’s consciousness on all the levels of his cognitive development. First, his brain brings order into his sensory chaos by integrating sense data into percepts…His next step is the integration of percepts into concepts, as he learns to speak. Thereafter, his cognitive development consists in integrating concepts into wider and ever wider concepts, expanding the range of his mind.”

By means of historical integration, one’s awareness can expand to include 5000 years of recorded human experience across the full spectrum of human civilizations.

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IN THE PURSUIT OF POWERFUL KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE PAST, THE FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGE IS EPISTEMOLOGICAL.”

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Powell History integrates history like never before. The secret of the Powell History method is called “periodization.” Properly understood, periodization is not merely the breaking up of history into periods, but an abstract process of differentiation and integration, where the ultimate aim is the organization of history into a conceptually coherent whole. It is only in this form that history can optimally deliver the values of instruction, insight, and inspiration.

Students of the A First History for Adults series are already familiar with this technique to some extent.  It has actually been applied with far more rigor, and with fantastic results in the junior high and high school classes of History At Our House — which has allowed me to learn that much more about it and thus permitted me to study and communicate history with an ever greater efficiency.  (The power of this method will be demonstrated to a new degree in the upcoming A First History for Adults Part 5: Japan, China, and India, coming this summer.  Registration opens in April, so stay tuned!) 

Part of the purpose of the PHR newsletter, is to help my students and all adult learners of history better understand this method by acting as a forum to publish information about the ongoing development of this method, including the application of the method to specific examples from ancient, European, American, and world history, which brings us to the fifth “I”…

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One of the cardinal values of a proper method of history is the pursuit of “insight” into the world around us. Only history can answer the fundamental queries we naturally pursue from our childhood, and only become discouraged of asking through the failure of modern pedagogy. “Where did the world around us come from? How did things come to be the way they are now? Who made it so? Where are we headed? Down what path? What forces shape the world, and by what means? Do we control the world we live in, and, if so, in what sense?

When Herodotus, that other great ancient Greek historian, proposed to record the results of his inquiries into the shaping of the Greek world, he explained that his purpose was “to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements of both the Greek and the non-Greek peoples; and more particularly, to show how the two races came into conflict.”

Herodotus’s goal was to help the Greeks see their land within a geographic and cultural continuum of peoples, and the events unfolding around then as part of a chain of cause and effect that had brought them where they were. To the student of the world informed by history, the moment is always to be integrated into an arc connecting past, present, and future. It is thus both the culmination of a knowable process and a link in a progression leading to yet further predictable milestones in a causal series.

One may not be able to predict, for instance, the precise moment of a revolution in post-Nasserist Egypt, but one may very well have predicted that Egypt would be the next US-supported Middle East regime to be toppled (see: The Islamist Entanglement, lecture 4) and that it would necessarily gravitate towards an Islamist government. While Western commentators were tripping over each other in the past year to find hopeful signs of a “liberal” regime emerging from the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the outcome could never have been in doubt for those who benefit from the insight that history provides.

One particularly sharp example of the difference between a purely journalistic outlook and a historical one was demonstrated in the exchange between MSNBC anchors and Harvard historian Niall Fergusson — available on Youtube:

One of the general themes I discuss in The Islamist Entanglement is that more democracy will always mean more Islamism in the foreseeable future of every major regime in the Middle East – including Turkey, the most “Western” regime, where growing Islamism is and always has been a popular movement in the post-Kemalist era there.

To demonstrate the importance of a proper causal perspective on history, one of the regular features of the new PHR newsletter will be a “Vectors” feature.  In this feature we will look at current events that reflect historically significant trends in order to predict the shape of the world to come.  (Coming in April, for instance, we’ll examine what I call the “debt aggregation” vector, which portends a false stability and far greater financial disruptions than the 2008 financial crisis to come. Stay tuned!)

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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.

The unique ability of visual art to instruct and inspire will be regularly featured in upcoming issues of PHR, including Jacques-Louis David's amazing Death of Socrates.

The ultimate example of thematic historical visualization: Emmanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware (closeup by Lee Sandstead). More on this painting coming up in PHR!

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In the preface to his immortal work The History of the Peloponnesian War, the ancient Greek historian Thucydides enjoined his readers to seek “an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it.” Thucydides understood that the careful crafting of the factual record into an instructive narrative would generate what he called a “possession for all time,” i.e. a story containing abstract lessons applicable to similar contexts in any era.

The important instructive value of history was upheld by Plutarch, a Greek historian writing in Roman times. In his Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch explained that the purpose of biography was to instruct by example, that under the influence of proper history, the student would “pursue and make after the best and choicest of everything, that he may not only employ his contemplation, but may also be improved by it.

After Roman times the instructive value of history was corrupted by its subordination to Christianity.  History became the handmaiden of theology, its only acceptable purpose to demonstrate the unfolding of a divine purpose or to glorify the Christian rulers supposedly enacting it.

The gradual overthrow of the religious monopoly on the intellect during the subsequent Renaissance and Enlightenment brought about a commensurate shift in the expectations of the instructive value of history.  However, a new corruption crept into the study of the past.  History was no longer to serve religion. Instead, it was to serve “reason.”  Unfortunately, this meant a kind of providential force that in the mind of Enlightenment thinkers had naturally overcome the  irrationality of the Dark Ages and revealed itself with an everlasting triumph of science and social progress.   Any  instructive value to be derived from studying history was marred by this obvious oversimplification.

Despite the failings of medieval and Enlightenment historiography, a generation of intellectuals benefiting from the freedom of learning during the Age of Reason was able to see through to the actual instructive value of history, and put the theoretical views of Thucydides and Plutarch into practice.   Not surprisingly, it was precisely the lessons of Greek and Roman history that this unique generation of intellectuals, the Founding Fathers, turned to when creating the first modern constitutional republic.  When, for example, James Madison and the federalists proposed to unify the separate states into a more perfect union, it was the failure of ancient Greece to do so and the resulting cultural disintegration, as illustrated in the work of Thucydides, upon which many of their calculations were based.  When the Founders devised the “checks and balances” of the federal system, it was the institutions of Athens, Rome, and even Sparta, which guided their deliberations.

The Founders were so convinced of the timeless  instructional value of ancient history that Thomas Jefferson proposed a law that all American children be taught Greek and Latin and the histories of Greece and Rome.  Benjamin Franklin had explained to a woman on the street of Philadelphia upon leaving the constitutional convention that the Founders had created “A Republic, if you can keep it.” To do so, Jefferson reasoned, would require that Americans keep the lessons of ancient history that had helped make the republic alive in their minds.

(The truth of Jefferson’s thesis is tragically illustrated in the fact that Americans are now thoroughly ignorant of history, and the republic created based on the Founders unique historical awareness has been continually in decline for over a hundred years, and may well be approaching a terrible tipping point.)

Powell History takes Jefferson’s vision seriously and advocates a return to a “Thucydidean” approach to history.  (For those of you who may have wondered, that is indeed Thucydides in the PHR logo.)  In our present context this means promoting a rebirth of the study of ancient history along side a proper study of European, American, and even Middle Eastern and Asian history.

This is a tall order, since we live in a society that has all but given up on history.  But it can be done.   Powell history supports adults who are seeking to make up for lost time by its “first history for adults” series, and it provides homeschoolers and afterschoolers with all the tools necessary to provide a complete history education to children from 2nd to 12th grade. These are the first steps required to rebuild history as an instructive science that supports ongoing progress within a free, scientific, secular civilization.

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“Knowledge is Power.”

–Sir Francis Bacon

Powell History operates on five key pedagogical principles, based on the fundamental conviction that a proper study of history targets not merely the retention of facts about the past, but powerful knowledge that connects to life in the present.

This philosophy of history runs counter to the two dominant trends in modern historiography.

A still powerful theory among academic historians is the  nineteenth century ideology promoted by the German historian Leopold von Ranke.  This approach to history insists that it is a scientific pursuit of the highest intellectual order, modeled after Newtonian physical science.  The pursuit of knowledge in such a domain, “Rankeans”  hold, requires an intrinsic appreciation of facts about the past, which are to be observed and related dispassionately. In Ranke’s words, the past must be shown “wie es eigentlich gewesen” — “as it really was.”  To seek instruction from the past, in the Rankean view, is to collect and deploy information for a preconceived purpose, which necessarily corrupts one’s factual orientation.   Fearing such subjectivity, Ranke–and modern academic antiquarians–insist on the suppression of one’s conscious values in order to attain some measure of “scientific” objectivity.  Thus, of course, history is not to be studied in order to achieve benefits in the present and future.

Alternatively, post-Marxist historiography treats history as useful, but only as a rationalization for attacking the dominant Enlightenment narrative of western civilization.  Pure Marxism may not have any vital power left, but its fundamental premises of subjectivism and class warfare have mutated into many forms.  History is no longer solely  about the struggle of the proleteriat vs. the bourgeoisie; it’s about women vs. men, “native Americans” vs. European  conquerors, blacks vs. whites, homosexuals vs. heterosexuals, the insane vs. the sane, voodoo vs. medicine, environmentalists vs. industrialists, etc.  It’s about any and every subordinated collective identity rising up to assert itself against the “dead white men” whose essential contribution to civilization was supposedly to oppress others and then unfairly write a past that covers it up.

So if you’ve got an axe to grind or a chip on your shoulder about society, the modern study history is for you.  However, if you value individual rights, capitalism, science, industry, or anything one might associate with the core values of Western civilization, you’re part of the problem that this kind of history wants to “solve.”

Historians ask us to choose between “science” and useful knowledge or between the some form of “rage against the system” and the story that underpins our right to the pursuit of happiness. Is it any wonder that history has sunk to the status that it has in modern society?

Powell history takes a different view, adopting the foundational values of history first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and building upon those with modern insights in epistemology.  The five key pedagogical principles I call the Five “I”s are:  Integration, Inspiration, and Insight–the cardinal values that history rightly seeks to secure, and Integration and Iteration–the means to those ends.  In subsequent posts, I will elaborate on each of these in turn, so stay tuned!

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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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