Tag Archive: History


Exactly 500 years ago – on October 31st, 1517, a monk named Martin Luther changed the world. Concerned about the serious errors he that he believed were being taught by the Roman Catholic Church, he wrote down a list of 95 problems that he believed needed change, and (depending on the historian you talked to) either nailed them to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, or else mailed them from Wittenberg to the archbishop of Mainz. Whichever way it happened, that event is how all the turmoil started.

I am studying at Brandenburg University of Technology, and my blog has been silent for a few months while I adjust to my studies. But I wanted to write something for this special time, the 500th year since Luther started the Protestant Reformation. But what is the Protestant Reformation? What happened 500 years ago that was so special? What is so important about this list that Martin Luther made? Today, as I travel out to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the birthplace of this theological revolution, this post will upload and you can learn the basics of just what makes that day so remarkable.

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Hello there! This is just a general life update. This fall, I will be traveling to Germany to study historic preservation at Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, Brandenburg. I am already preparing, since this obviously is a big trip. It was a bit sad to turn down Columbia University’s offer of admission, but this school was my top choice.

There will be no history weekend this weekend, I need to take a break. I have some other writings planned that I hope to finish before my trip, but I also have a lot of preparation to do. If I have time once I am in Germany, I hope to do some travel blogging on here.

Well, that’s all for now.

– Ken

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A hamburger sandwich. Photo by Len Rizzi, public domain in the US. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:VulcanOfWalden.

It is now a truly international phenomenon: Millions of people throw down patties of ground beef on a grill, cook to order, and slide the meat onto buns to make a sandwich. And the popularity of the hamburger shows no sign of dying out any time soon. But what is the history of this favorite sandwich? Where did it come from?

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You see it every day at home, every day at work. It is a commonplace tool, so commonplace that I usually do not give it much thought, yet it is nearly indispensable. It is the broom. A great deal of ingenuity and effort went into the creation of this important tool. Today, we will learn a brief history of its development.

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The standard flat broom. Sleek and efficient when compared to its predecessors. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by User:Mauzile. CC BY-SA 4.0.

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In working on the final history weekend article for my series on Russian colonialism, I realized that I will not be able to complete it in time. I need a break, but will be back next week.

No, this is not a post about the recent and now former U.S. National Security Officer Michael Flynn. It is the latest installment of my series on Russian colonialism. Last week, we saw the consolidation of Russia under Peter the Great. So far, the imperial and colonial spread of Russia we’ve looked at took place on land. For this week’s installment, we will learn about Russia’s maritime colonial efforts, specifically those in North America. While the three previous posts have been relatively in chronological order, this post will break away somewhat from that format, and look at the entire history of Russian America from 1732 to 1867.

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Map of Russian America (present-day Alaska, United States). Public Domain. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:Angusmclellan

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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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