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Posts Tagged ‘A First History for Adults’

The new Powell History website features pre-registration specials on 1HFA5: Japan, China, India and the New Era of the Balance of Power.

Pre-registration is open from April 5 – 19 only, and you can save from $20 to $120 by pre-registering, so don’t miss out!

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Yesterday, the first of 2500 American troops arrived in Darwin, Australia to engage in training with the Australian Defense Force.  The exercise is part of a new defense pact, the reasoning behind which is explained by Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith:

“We see this very much as responding and reflecting the fact that the world is moving into our part of the world, the world is moving to the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean…The world needs to come to grips with the rise of China, the rise of India, the move of strategic and political and economic influence to our part of the world.”

Here’s the full article in the NY Times.

One of the crucial themes of the upcoming First History for Adults, Part 5: Japan, China, and India will be the “balance of power” and why postmodernity makes this construct so disproportionately important.  (Full course descriptions and pre-registration will be available starting tomorrow!)

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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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Installment four of A First History for Adults, Ancient history. begins October 8th.  In preparation for this exciting course–and, of course, to entice you to registerI’ll be posting a number of pieces related to its themes.

Among the stories concerning the uncovering of the distant past, none is more fascinating than that of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798.  It is at once a watershed moment in the unfolding of modern Middle Eastern history and in the origin of the study of the ancient world.

Since I have addressed the significance of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt for Middle Eastern history at length in my newsletter, I’ll merely summarize it here.  In essence, Napoleon’s actions punctuated the West’s military, political, and cultural ascendancy over the Muslim world.  A visible trend had begun in 1683, when the Ottoman Turks were repelled from Vienna by European powers and forced to accept major territorial losses.  Soon Russia was making advances into Ottoman and Persian territory.  Then France’s prodigal son demonstrated in turn that the West was ascendant by soundly defeating the vaunted Mameluk warrior aristocracy of Egypt and taking control of the region, which was then a province within the vast Ottoman Empire.

Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau’ s depiction of the Battle of the Pyramids

Napoleon was eventually expelled from Egypt. Ironically, however, his defeat only reinforced the fact that the West had taken a great leap forward.  It wasn’t the Mameluks, or their Ottoman overlords who ejected the French from Egypt; it was the British.  The lessons of the West’s successes was not entirely lost on either the Turks or the new regional leader of Egypt, Muhammad Ali (the Pasha, not the boxer!), and a concerted effort–already underway in some areas–was made to match Europe’s progress by mimicking its institutions.  This led to the Tanzimat reforms in Turkey, and to a host of similar projects throughout the region.  (The partial success of these reforms, combined with the West’s continued ascendancy, lies at the heart of the modern dilemna I have termed The Islamist Entanglement.)

Napoleon thus changed history, as he was soon to do in still other ways.  But he also changed our understanding of history.  Along with large army of soldiers, Napoleon brought a small army of scientists and artists to Egypt.  Their aim was to push the boundaries of knowledge about the mysterious land of Egypt.  They traveled the exotic domain of long-dead Pharaohs in the wake of Napoleon’s army, sketching, recording, seeking, and uncovering.

Arrival at Abu Simbel, by David Roberts

The first windfall of these efforts was the gargantuan Description de l’Égypte, published originally as a 23-volume edition, and later expanded to 37 volumes!  The “Description,” as the name suggests however, was merely the observations by scholars of Egypt as it was then.  The country’s distant past remained a mystery.

The great obstacle to uncovering Egypt’s history was straightforward in nature, if impossibly complex in its particulars.  The source material from which history is constructed is written records.  Although Egypt had plenty to offer, they were indecipherable.  The famous hieroglyphic writing which blanketed Egyptian temples was inaccessible, as were the other forms of Egyptian writing.  Until the linguistic code of the Ancient Egyptians could be cracked, the true nature of their culture would remain unknown.

There was hope, however. In 1799, Napoleon’s soldiers had uncovered a stele near the town of Rosetta on the Nile river delta.  Whereas the soldiers might well have ignored the stone in other circumstances, they had orders from Napoleon to preserve anything of interest.  Surely this artifact qualified. It seemed to have three different kinds of writing on it.

French scholars examined the stone, and found that one of the languages was Ancient Greek, which they could read.  The other two languages–hieroglyphics and demotic–were not readable yet, but with a key such as this one, comparisons between the three parallel versions could provide an all-important opening for linguists.

The Rosetta Stone, found by Napoleon’s soldiers in 1799

The task was torturous.  It took scholars 15 years to decipher the demotic–a later Egyptian cursive script.  The hieroglyphics remained indecipherable for a further eight years.  The problem was that the script contained a combination of phonetic and pictorial symbols.  Finally, French scholar Jean-François Champolleon cracked the code.

Work could now begin on the rediscovery of Egypt’s story. King lists and annals, religious papyri, funerary engravings on temple walls–all began to be translated, collected, compared, and ultimately integrated into narrative form.

Nearly 200 years later our understanding of Egyptian history is incomparably greater than that of any people before us–including the Ancient Egyptians themselves!  An entire science–Egyptology–thrives in academic centers around the world. Through the lens of scientific history, we can see further back and with greater clarity than anyone could have previously imagined.

And all of it stems from the unusual actions of one of history’s most brutal destroyers of life.

As far as Napoleon is concerned, many would rather dismiss his contribution.  Some interpret the scholarly dimension of his expedition as nothing more than a ploy to sway public opinion or a device for gaining political advantage.  But history is not primarily concerned with moral judgment.  Historical value-jugdment is an act of weighing the importance–not the goodnessof an individual or group’s contribution to the fate of mankind.  In this regard, one must attribute to Napoleon a unique place as a conqueror, lawgiver, transmitter of ideas–and irreplaceable contributor to a vast expansion of human knowledge.

In the first four lectures of my 20-lecture Ancient history program for adults we’ll examine the results.  I hope you’ll join us, starting October 8th!  Registration is now open, for those of you who’ve been waiting.  For more information on the course, stay tuned for the opening of the Ancient History program page–coming soon!

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Due to the rigors of initiating a new school year with a vastly expanded group of homeschooling students using two parallel product lines, to which was added the severe inconvenience of having to leave home to avoid Hurricane Ike (and then the return to huge loads of yard work–and still no power!), I have yet to unveil the registration site for the third installment of “A First History for Adults”–my 20-lecture course on Ancient History. Bear with me.  It’s coming soon!  Live classes begin Wednesday, October 8th, and I’ll have much more information for you all in the coming week.

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The biggest problem with most history classes is that they are simply boring (as anyone who took history in high school can attest). Out of those that manage to be engaging or at least entertaining, the biggest problem is that you, the student, don’t retain the material you have learned: you may remember a few individual facts, but not the material as a sum. These classes are little better than storytime.

Powell History solves both problems, easily putting it in the top 1% of history lectures or writing I have ever encountered.

First, the lectures are engaging. Scott tells history for what it is: a grand, dramatic narrative, an epic tale literally about the fate of the entire world. He carefully chooses the characters and events to focus on, and explains the causal connections, the link from one event to another.

Scott shows you the connections between the people, places, and events of history–not only the causal connections in a sequence of events, but also, through his patented “periodizations”, the connections between events in a period, such as the Reformation, the American colonial wars, or the growth of the union in the period before the Civil War. The result is that each period becomes a meaningful mental unit and a means by which the student can remember history.

One of the great virtues of Scott’s periodizations is that they are hierarchical. There are only so many dates you can put in a period–say, the Age of Discovery–before you start forgetting them. Scott solves this problem the only way it can be solved: by organizing events in a logical hierarchy. Thus, the student learns to put a series of dates of individual voyages together under the heading “the circumnavigation of Africa”; another series of dates under “the discovery of America”, another set under “the circumnavigation of the globe”, etc. Then, only a handful of subheadings like this go to make up the higher-level integration of “The Age of Discovery”. Taking this a step further, the Age of Discovery can be combined with other periodizations at the same level–the Copernican Revolution in science, the Italian Renaissance in art, the Elizabethan Renaissance in literature, and others–to form the grand heading of the Renaissance, a historical “abstraction from abstractions.” In this way, Scott renders history intelligible and retainable.

This is why, when I took the first session of Powell History, I felt that I was learning history for the first time, despite all my previous study of it. I now know, for instance, the significance of 1066, the meaning of the Reformation, and the content of the Monroe Doctrine. (If you took history in an American school, you probably recognize all of those words–and know none of the content behind them.) I also know the challenges faced by the Founding Fathers to keep the nation together even after they had won the Revolutionary War, thanks to Scott’s explanation of the “Critical Period.” I understand the impossible compromises made in the decades leading up to the Civil War, and why they were futile. I know what made the Roaring Twenties roar.

In brief, I’m thrilled with Scott’s courses. They are what I have been seeking ever since high school: a way not just to hear about history from someone else who knows it, but to learn it for myself.

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