Tag Archive: History


Last weekend, we looked at the rise of the Russian state. This weekend, we will learn about the early expansion of Russia and its colonial efforts, up until about the time of Peter the Great. Before we proceed, however, it would be useful to explain what “colonialism” actually is. “Colonialism” is more than just a particular state extending its power over another – imperialism does that as well. The terms are related, but colonialism is particular form of imperialism. The key difference between “colonialism” and “imperialism” in general is the method of control: Imperialism tends to control another state or people group directly – it may grant the subject country significant autonomy, but it still holds direct control. Colonialism operates similar to this, but it does it chiefly through colonies – groups of settlers from the parent state who settle in a new region.

When discussing the history of Russia and its conquests, defining Russia as a colonial power is controversial and complicated. Russia used colonial methods, but melded these with more traditional style imperial conquests. Also, typically colonial empires expanded across oceans and along coasts, whereas Russia expanded almost entirely across land (and expand it did – every year from 1551 to 1700, the Tsardom gained roughly 35,000 square kilometers). But, they settled areas with populations tied to the home state, and so, even though did not actually call these settlements colonies, they functioned in a similar enough manner that they can be defined as colonies. With that taken care of, let us now explore the history of Russia’s early colonial efforts.

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For the next few weeks, I’m going to look at a big topic: Russian colonialism. Russia is a country that spans eleven time zones, since it stretches across most of Eastern Europe and all of North Asia. During the era of the Soviet Union, it controlled even more territory than it does now. Yet nearly all of this territory is contiguous – unlike most colonial empires, Russia mostly expanded over land. How did this happen? That’s what we will learn over the next few weeks. This weekend, we’ll look at the rise of Russia as a country.

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Rope is strands or yarns of fibers twisted together into a stronger form, and is a staple for everyday life all over the world. But how did it originate? What are some things that it has been used for? This weekend, let’s examine the history of this extremely important and useful tool.

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A bundle of rope. Released under a CC0 license.

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Writing is a form of communication that involves expressing language and emotions through the recording of signs and symbols, usually in a way that complements spoken language. But when did writing start? Which culture was the first to introduce writing?

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The Narmer Palette, one of the oldest examples of Egyptian writing. Credit: Public domain, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:Nicolas Perrault III

Exactly which culture first developed writing we do not know, and writing was invented by different cultures at different times. The earliest examples of writing that have been found so far are the Dispilio Tablet, found in Greece and dated to 5260 ± 40 BC, and, possibly, the Tărtăria tablets that were found in Romania. These tablets are dated to approximately 5300 BC, but the claim the the inscriptions on the tablets constitute writing is disputed, and there are recent claims that the tablets themselves are forgeries.

Conventionally, the first writing systems are credited to the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures, who both were practicing writing by 3200 BC. Whether Egypt developed writing independently or learned it from the Sumerians is debated. The Sumerians, who lived in what is now Iraq, would keep track of trade and industry by pressing marks into a clay tablet using a stylus. Originally, these styluses were round or sharp-edged, and engraved pictures of the items being recorded. Eventually, scribes started using a wedge-shaped stylus, and made simple marks into a tablet, rather than pictures, creating a writing script known as cuneiform.

Egyptian writing used a system of pictures known as hieroglyphs. Whereas Sumerian writing developed out of accounting and record keeping techniques, Egyptian writing emerged out of an artistic tradition. Writing in Egypt was an elite practice, and only select people were allowed to train to be scribes.

Some other writing systems that developed elsewhere independently are Chinese writing, the earliest examples of which are from 1200 BC during the late Shang dynasty, Mesoamerican writing, the earliest example of which is attributed to the Olmec/La Venta culture from the period 1200 BC to 900 BC, and, possibly, the Indus Valley Civilization (the earliest writing there dates to 2600 BC, but there is debate as to whether this culture learned writing from Mesopotamia).

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My graduate application process is almost over, so it’s high time that I got back into this series. Today, for St. Patrick’s Day, I will look at the Celts, since Ireland is one of the few places where Celtic languages are still spoken today.

Illumination from the Book of Kells

Illumination of the Book of Kells, an example of Celtic art. Credit: Public domain, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:PKM

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This week has seen some very cold weather, and a fair bit of snow, up here in Massachusetts. It is nothing particularly out of the ordinary, as winter up here is usually cold and snowy. But it made wonder – what is the worst storm that Massachusetts has gotten?

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Every year, during the Christmas season, millions of people decorate trees with lights, ornaments, and other assorted items. Often, presents are laid out underneath the trees. But when did people start doing this? Why do we decorate trees during Christmas?
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Last week, I introduced the history of Thanksgiving in the United States. Since the first Thanksgiving has, retrospectively, been applied to the 1621 harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims, I’ve been exploring that history. Last week, I gave an overview of what is modern-day New England in the 1600s from the perspective of the Native Americans, particularly the Wampanoag. Today, I will look at the history of the Pilgrim Fathers, their intersection with the Wampanoag, and what is credited as the first Thanksgiving.

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It is the year 1620. Along the coasts of what are now Canada and New England, busy settlements sprawl across the beaches and estuaries. They, like the water that laps against them are fluid, ever changing, as villages ebb and flow like the tide. Borders are well-defined, but constantly in flux. It is a centuries old vibrant network of small communities bound in trade and cultural exchange, managed by capable leaders called sachems.
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Sorry, this post is a week overdue: My draft failed to publish for some reason.

The last Thursday of this month is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For the remainder of the month, my History Weekend series will explore the history of Thanksgiving. For this first post, I will look at the history of Thanksgiving as a Holiday. The next two weekends will delve into the famous harvest festival that the Pilgrims celebrated, along with the historical context of that event. So, here is the history of Thanksgiving:
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