on a scale of one to invade russia in the winter
how bad is your idea
I’m not kidding. This is so cool.
In which John Green kicks off Crash Course US History! Why, you may ask, are we covering US History, and not more World History, or the history of some other country, or the very specific history of your home region? Well, the reasons are many. But, like it or not, the United States has probably meddled in your country to some degree in the last 236 years or so, and that means US History is relevant all over the world. In episode 1, John talks about the Native Americans who lived in what is now the US prior to European contact. This is a history class, not archaeology, so we’re mainly going to cover written history. That means we start with the first sustained European settlement in North America, and that means the Spanish. The Spanish have a long history with the natives of the Americas, and not all of it was positive. The Spanish were definitely not peaceful colonizers, but what colonizers are peaceful? Colonization pretty much always results in an antagonistic relationship with the locals. John teaches you about early Spanish explorers, settlements, and what happened when they didn’t get along with the indigenous people. The story of their rocky relations has been called the Black Legend. Which is not a positive legend.
I wish we had gotten more Crash Course Lit, but it looks like the new series is going to be good!
The oldest portrait of a woman ever found, dating from 26,000 years ago, carved in mammoth ivory and proving that even our early ancestors could capture the expressive nature of the human face in a style that was uniquely meaningful to them.
Read more about how researchers are studying artifacts like these through the lens of art rather than solely through anthropology at Short Sharp Science.
Louis XVI, king of France, was executed on January 21, 1793.
His last words, addressed to the crowd around the scaffold, were: ‘I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I Pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.’
An account of his execution, written by the confessor who attended him, may be read here.
Image: Louis XVI et l’Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont au pied de l’échafaud, le 21 janvier 1793 by Charles Benazech
Nabokov on Kafka on Insects
Vladimir Nabokov, celebrated author of Lolita, and other novels, was not merely a writer. Not that being a writer is any sort of a “mere” thing, but go with me here. Nabokov was a professionally-trained entomologist, a lifelong student of insect biology.
He curated Harvard’s butterfly collection, contributing a great deal to the practice of lepidoptery and even getting parts of his work published in our day and age. Nabokov was a fan of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the story of Gregor Samsa, who turned into a bug. That’s Nabokov’s teaching copy of Kafka’s book up there, scrawled with notes. Nabokov lectured on Kafka, and using his knowledge of insects he offered a theory as to what kind of bug Gregor may have become (not a cockroach as usually assumed):
Now what exactly is the “vermin” into which poor Gregor, the seedy commercial traveler, is so suddenly transformed? It obviously belongs to the branch of “jointed leggers” (Arthropoda), to which insects, and spiders, and centipedes, and crustaceans belong. If the “numerous little legs” mentioned in the beginning mean more than six legs, then Gregor would not be an insect from a zoological point of view. But I suggest that a man awakening on his back and finding he has as many as six legs vibrating in the air might feel that six was sufficient to be called numerous. We shall therefore assume that Gregor has six legs, that he is an insect.
Next question: what insect? Commentators say cockroach, which of course does not make sense. A cockroach is an insect that is flat in shape with large legs, and Gregor is anything but flat: he is convex on both sides, belly and back, and his legs are small. He approaches a cockroach in only one respect: his coloration is brown. That is all. Apart from this he has a tremendous convex belly divided into segments and a hard rounded back suggestive of wing cases. In beetles these cases conceal flimsy little wings that can be expanded and then may carry the beetle for miles and miles in a blundering flight … He is merely a big beetle.
Nabokov also offered this nice note to the Joes and Janes in the audience:
Curiously enough, Gregor the beetle never found out that he had wings under the hard covering of his back. (This is a very nice observation on my part to be treasured all your lives. Some Gregors, some Joes and Janes, do not know that they have wings.)
Nabokov isn’t the only entomologist who has studied Kafka’s work. Donna Bazzone of St. Michael’s College in Vermont wrote about the impossible biology of an insect the size of Gregor Samsa, based on the study of thousands of insect species:
None could be as big as the “new Gregor.” If the body with its exoskeleton were to scale up to human size, it would be so heavy that even appropriately sized legs and musculature could not support it. Such an insect could not move. Also, because insects do not have a respiratory system with tubes connecting to internal lungs that have large absorptive areas, a giant like Gregor the roach would not be able to get enough oxygen to survive. Furthermore, our circulatory systems are powered by a large muscular heart that sends blood to all cells in the body through an elaborate network of blood vessels. Insects lack such a sophisticated circulatory system, so if you scaled the body to human size, insect blood (containing oxygen and nutrients) wouldn’t be able to reach all cells.
I always knew something bugged me about that story.
Thanks to Open Culture for the Nabokov book link that sent me down this rabbit hole.
I wonder if Kafka intentionally wrote him as a beetle? The implication of having undiscovered wings is interesting…. As is the fact that Gregor-beetle would die due to an insufficient circulatory system. Thank you, Nabokov.
Archaeologists discover 3,000-year-old tombs in Egypt
NBC News: Archaeologists say they have discovered a string of 3,000-year-old rock tombs in the Egyptian city of Luxor, containing the remains of wooden coffins, skeletons, furniture and canopic jars.
The tombs were dug within the funerary temple of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, who reigned from 1427 to 1401 B.C. during Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. However, the newfound tombs appear to be part of a more recent cemetery. In Thursday’s announcement of the discovery, Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said they date back to the beginning of a transitional period that lasted from 1075 to 664 B.C.
Photo: A worker studies one of the funerary jars found inside a recently discovered burial chamber in Luxor (Egypt Ministry of Antiquities)
Überschreiten des Rheineises im Januar 1893 by J. Blechinger
December 14th 1812: Napoleon’s invasion of Russia ends
On this day in 1812, Napoleon’s Grand Armée was expelled from Russia when the last French troops left, thus ending the French invasion of Russia. France’s failure was a decisive turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, and turned the tide of the war against the French and in favour of the coalition against them. Napoleon had begun the invasion in June 1812, but by the end his army of around 685,000 was down to 120,000. This was partly because his tactic of getting resources by ‘living off the land’ was thwarted by the harsh Russian winter and the Russian scorched earth tactic.
One does not simply invade Russia.
Unless (wait for it) you’re the Mongols.
Ancient Egyptian music notation
From a set of 6 parchments described by German musicologist Hans Hickmann in his 1956 book Musicologie Pharaonique, or Music under the Pharaohs, as dating from the 5th to 7th centuries C.E. Colors are presumed to indicate pitch and size to indicate duration. Writings on the parchment are in Coptic with indications like “Spiritual Harmony” and “Holy Hymn Singer”. This manuscript had a profound influence on Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh’s music notation and paintings when he discovered a reproduction in Vogue magazine in 1952.
Note: I wasn’t able to locate these manuscripts and couldn’t find any reference to them online, but they are presumably in NY’s Metropolitan Museum collections. This image comes from Theresa Sauer’s book Notations 21, Mark Batty Publisher, USA, 2009.
Catacombes de Paris
Deep beneath the narrow streets and wide boulevards of Paris lies a seething labyrinth of tunnels, networked like arteries and stretching out over 300 kilometres. They originally began as stone mines during Roman occupation, and throughout the centuries, the ground below Paris was slowly quarried and hollowed out. In 1774, after a tunnel collapsed and swallowed up a house, an architect called Guillaumot was commissioned to map and stabilize the quarries. Around the same time, the millennia-old Saints Innocent cemetery was becoming a festering epicentre for disease, so in 1785, bodies were exhumed and transferred into the old quarries, making them catacombs: burial places. It’s thought that the catacombs house the remains of over 6 million dead Parisians, three times as many as those who inhabit the living city above. The dead date from the French Revolution to as far back as the Merovingian era, and the remains are unmarked with peasants mixed in with royalty—but some work below the surface to identify them. Researchers can read the bones and tell the diseases and accidents they suffered, their wounds, their diets…painting a simultaneous picture of life and death. Furthermore, teams of inspectors carry on Guillaumot’s work, mapping and assessing the tunnels to help prevent collapses, which still happen on small scales every year. These dangerous conditions mean that many tunnels are closed off to the public—not that it stops the most passionate explorers from exploring the damp, crumbling crypts, the brilliant murals, the walls of skulls, the sinkholes… With such a rich history, the catacombs have provided inspiration for scores of artists and writers from Victor Hugo to Umberto Eco, and continue to inspire today.
This is NOT Susan B. Anthony. This is Ada Wright, a British suffragette who was beaten by police on “Black Friday” in 1910.
Ms. Anthony was arrested on November 5, 1872 for voting in the presidential election (straight GOP ticket) and fined $100. She never paid. She was also never beaten or photographed being beaten.
Great stories don’t need to be manufactured if they’re already great.
Thank you….and regardless the fight undertaken by women (1920), African Americans (1865 & 1964), Native Americans (1924), and other underrepresented groups for the right to vote is amazing and should be given recognition.
But please, please, please use Google’s reverse image search.
Election Day, 1872.
Susan B Anthony pummeled and arrested for attempting to vote in 1872. She was fined $100 for registering to vote.
Thank you Ada, and thanks to all the women who fought for suffrage. :)