Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Charlotte Corday and the French Revolution

As the French Revolution unfolded between the years 1789 and 1794, a lot changed in France. Along with political upheaval, the Catholic church was also regulated to the sidelines. Baptism of infants was replaced by a ceremony of dedication. Men wore long pants. Women dressed in simple styles, and even bricks from the former Bastille were sold as doorstops.

This past year, I had the opportunity to re-visit Paris. This time, I was able to see the small soldiers that were played with by the Dauphin (the crown prince) while he was locked in the Temple. Later, he would die from horrific abuse and neglect after his mother, Marie Antoinette was executed.

My favorite person on the French Revolution was a 19 year old girl named Charlotte Corday. She was a royalist who hailed from the Vendee region of France, a region that was deeply Catholic and against the excesses of the revolution. She chose to assassinate Marat, who died holding a list of proposed victims. After stabbing Marat while he lay in his bathtub, she was apprehended and quickly executed. Charlotte Corday remained a favorite subject of many artists. My granddaughter, Charlotte, is named after this French Revolution heroine.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tally sticks and the House of Parliament

Tally sticks, or Taille sticks were the ancient medieval way that tax collection was done. In England, the sticks were made out of a soft wood, then notched and eventually broken in two after several years of tax collection. One half of the stick was kept by the owner--the other half, by the government.

As modern accounting methods developed in the later 18th and early 19th century, the taille sticks were no longer used. They were stored, however, in an official place. In England, they were stored in the basement of the Parliament building. Talk about a bunch of dry kindling--sticks that were centuries old, were heaped into bags. It was time them were "shredded" or in this case, burned.

In 1834, on 16 October, the responsibility for disposing of the tally sticks fell to Richard Whibley, the Clerk of Works at the Palace. He decided against burning them on a bonfire out in the open, as he feared such an action would upset the neighbours. The decision was made to burn the sticks in the underfloor coal furnaces that heated the House of Lords chamber. The Parliament buildings burned down (they later burned down again, during the London Blitz).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Balthasar Bekker and Superstition

Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698) was a Dutchman who did a great deal to end the terrible witchcraft persecutions that were set alight in Europe, and even Puritan New England, in the years between 1450-1700.

He was thrown out of the ministry for his preaching against religious customs that helped inspire superstition and mistrust.

His best known work was The World Bewitched (1695), in which he examined critically the phenomena generally ascribed to spiritual agency. He attacked the belief in sorcery and possession by the devil. During the witchcraft persecutions, countless victims, mainly elderly women, were killed when they were really showing signs of dementia (Alzheimer's) or other physical maladies. Even men and women with cataracts were seen to be as possessed by the devil.

The book had a sensational effect and was one of the key works of the Enlightenment in Europe. It was almost certainly the most controversial. Bekker became a heroic figure defying the superstition of the age.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Charles Darwin and his daughter....

One of my favorite books is Darwin, his daughter, and Human Evolution by Randall Keynes. He was a great great grandson of Darwin.

Students are learning about Social Darwinism in 20th Century I. Of course, the Robber Barons were accused of using unfair business practices and workplace malpractice to gain profits on the backs of the poor.

However, the Robber Barons called themselves "Captains of Industry." They felt that the money they earned allowed them to increase production, build plants and provide jobs. Both Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were famous Robber Barons.

Yet, what about Darwin? He died before his ideas were applied to the workplace. He never entered a church after he wrote Origin of the Species. However, years later, his great great grandson found among Darwin's things was a small box filled with mementos from the life of his daughter Annie, who died from a lingering illness at age 10. Darwin's wife worried that he could not draw religious comfort from their tragic loss. This story is the basis of the move Creation made a few years ago.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Agriculture Revolution and Norman Borlaug.

In 9th grade history, we have learned a bit about the Agricultural Revolution of the 1700's which helped boost food production. Farmers used science to improve crop and livestock production. With more food available, people could plan to have families. As the population increased the demand for products grew, and this demand led to the inventiveness and expansion of the Industrial Revolution.

Who has saved more human lives than anyone else in history? Who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970?

Norman Borlaug is responsible for much of the progress humanity has made against hunger. If people want to believe that the organic food has better nutritive value, it's up to them to make that foolish decision. But there's absolutely no research that shows that organic foods provide better nutrition.If some consumers believe that it's better from the point of view of their health to have organic food, God bless them. Let them buy it. Let them pay a bit more. It's a free society. But don't tell the world that we can feed the present population without chemical fertilizer.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back to school...

Mrs. Olsen had a great summer. She was in Philadelphia and New York City on an National Endowment for the Humanities Grant. She also was thrilled to see the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit. There were many historical overtones in this exhibit including the Russia style dresses, left. They were a modern twist on the costumes that might be seen in the Russia court of Alexander I.

Mrs. Olsen will be teaching the following

Period 1: Prep
Period 2: Freshman history
Period 3: Freshman history
Period 4: Freshman history
Period 5: Reading your way through history
Period 6: Advanced Placement European History
Period 7: Freshman history

Here's to a great year!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Summer in Philadelphia and the Steens Mountains

The school year of 2010-2011 has officially wrapped up--so thanks students for an exciting year.

I will be in Philadelphia and New York City in July. In Philadelphia, I'll be learning more about Benjamin Franklin. Each year, Mrs. Olsen manages to travel somewhere historical so I can be a better teacher in the fall.

This year, the National Endowment for the Humanities will be my host. Most of the time, though, I'll be in Oregon, so I hope to see many of you around. One place I'll be camping in August is the Steen's Mountain wilderness area--part of the great Oregon Outback. Besides arrowhead hunting, I hope to have a good time picking up sunstones and spotting the occassional antelope. Of all the places I've been, Oregon is the most beautiful.

In the fall we are going to have a new schedule. I may be having some of you in my classes, so I look forward to seeing you then!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hitler was not Jewish...

All students in my history classes have been given their final exam study guide...happy studying, kids.

Students in 9th grade history are reading a detailed biography of Adolf Hitler.

My Aunt Marquita, who is mentioned in class from time to time, always said students should learn about Adolf Hitler as he had such a remarkable and terrible influence on the 20th century. I agree.

There are many myths about Adolf Hitler. One of the myths (which was taught by a Sprague teacher years ago) was that Hitler was Jewish. Though members of his family did work for Jewish employers from time to time, that did not mean they were possibly impregnated by them. Hitler was not Jewish!

Hitler hated the Jewish people. This was called anti-Semitism and had its origins in the emergence of science and race during the age of Social Darwinism and eugenics during the 1800's.

Students are learning the the Holocaust was a step by step process of what would be wholesale murders. Various ideas were floated for the Jewish problem: some included the far-fetched idea that Jews should be sent to the island of Madagascar. The more enlightened ideas of the Nazi regime were to include quick transport and quick death, and immediate disposal of the bodies.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Game

Students in 11th grade history are learning about the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. When Russia invaded, they had hopes of propping up the pro-Soviet forces that had allied themselves with the Soviet Union.

Both Russia and Britain vied for control of this region in the 1800's. This interference was called "The Great Game," and Britain avidly fought to exert influence in the region to protect their interests in India.

George MacDonald Fraser set one of his Flashman novels during the Great Game. Flashman was a fictional character who ends up in all sorts of scrapes throughout the colonial British empire.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

President Hoover--Oregon's president

President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was raised in Oregon after his parents died. He is well-known as the president who presided over the first 3 years of the Great Depression. Hoover flags and Hoovervilles and Hoover blankets were all part of the popular criticisms of President Hoover.

However, Hoover had another reputation--and that was "Master of Emergencies." During the years after World War I, Hoover saved the lives of millions by overseeing the Belgium and Russian food relief program. When asked if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!" His engineering background helped him oversee an unprecedented movement of food supplies to help people whose lives hung in the balance.

As part of a thank-you, Belgium women took the flour sacks and returned them to the United States, filled with beautiful embroidery, and yes, Belgium lace at the edges.

Years later, after World War II, President Hover was again called out of retirement. Even though President Truman was told to not have anything to do with Hoover, Truman invited Hoover to the White House and asked him to lead the relief effort. Again, President Hoover traveled the world tirelessly helping with food distribution to starving millions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Helen Keller--one of the great icons.

Imagine if you were a small child who was placed in a room where you could not see or hear--and you were placed there permanently. This happened to Helen Keller when she was just a year and a half old--she caught scarlet fever, an illness that left her deaf and blind. Her story is referred to in our book Witness, a novel about the Ku Klux Klan coming to Vermont. I spoke with the students about dismay when I heard the lyrics from a popular song (even my four year old granddaughter knew the some of the lyrics). Here's what a recent article has to say about this song:

A catchy new pop song that references Helen Keller is being played all over the local airwaves, but it's also creating quite a controversy.

The music video for the song titled "Don't Trust Me" shows band members from "3OH!3" wearing wrestling attire and dancing in their underwear with scantily clad young women.

But for parents, the lyrics are even more disturbing than the outfits. Near the end of the song, the band sings, "Shush girl. Shut your lips. Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips."

"Helen Keller embodies the achievements of generations of us, whether or not we have a disability. This lyric perpetuates the stigma of disabilility," says Cleveland Sight Center Executive Director Steve Friedman.

Friedman says the song's lyrics aren't just offensive to those with disabilities. "It's perpetuating the sexualization of women, the objectification of women.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Taos Blue Lake

In 11th grade history, students are learning about the American Indian Movement. This last summer I received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We were taken to the Taos Pueblo, outside of Taos, New Mexico to learn more about their sacred river, and its source, Taos Blue Lake.

Taos Blue Lake is in the mountains above the Pueblo. The setting is beautiful, and it is patrolled by Native Americans who try to keep the site sacred and pristine, for to them, it is the source of the Pueblo peoples.

During the disorganized and predatory time of reservations and land grabs, Taos Blue Lake ended up in the hands of the federal government. After years of advocating for the return of their lands, Richard Nixon signed the return of the lake to the Taos Pueblo. He said,
“this is a bill that represents justice, because in 1906 an injustice was done in which land involved in this bill, 48,000 acres, was taken from the Indians involved, the Taos Pueblo Indians. The Congress of the United States now returns that land to whom it belongs… I can’t think of anything more appropriate or any action that could make me more proud as President of the United States. For this act, they revere him. If you google Taos Blue Lake, you will only find one picture. For the Taos people, it is so sacred, that they do not want it seen by those who are not of the tribe.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, and Somaly Mam

Students in 11th grade just read an article about Somaly Mam and her valiant efforts to diminish sex trafficking in her native country of Cambodia. Somaly herself was sold into a brothel as a young child, escaped to France, and has since returned to lead the efforts to prevent and educate about the extensive sexual abuse of young girls that exists in Cambodia.

Cambodia has a horrific record on sex trafficking. This is partially due to the vacuum left after the murderous Pol Pot ruled in Cambodia, with his Khmer Rouge regime, from 1975 to 1979. The country was left shattered, while generations of elders were slaughtered by youngsters with machine guns.

Pot turned the Cambodian clock back to year zero, forced the people out of the cities onto collective farms, and then taught the young to murder and commit mayhem. The terror diminished only when the North Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and forced Pol Pot to flee.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dada and the end of World War I

After the destruction of World War I, the world was in upheaval. The shock set in about the waste of the war. Throughout Europe, graveyards and memorials were put in order to commemorate the dead. In culture, there were radical changes. Students in AP Euro are learning about the movement called DADA, which means "ridiculous" or "nonsensical." It reflected the enormity of the death toll and the destruction of the war--one could not make sense of it. It criticized the war profiteers, the moral decay, and the physical destruction of the "Great War."

DADA artists painted, sculpted and created seminal images that seem bizarre or ridiculous. I went to a major DADA exhibit in 1978 in London, England. I didn't quite understand what I was seeing, but I will always remember the bizarre images.

Here's a painting by George Grosz, whose art depicted this troubled time. Grosz grew to admire America and eventually left Germany before Hitler's full domination of his homeland.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Wild Children of Revolutionary Russia

In Social Studies, grade 9, students will be reading the book Wild Children by Felice Holman. It is the story of the orphaned children after the catastrophic famine and upheaval of the Russian Revolution. Millions of children were left orphaned by the disaster. This is their story. Here is the quote from the New York Times in 1932.

Russia's experience with her vagabond youth should prove a warning to us. The shelterless, or bezprizorni, as they were called, came into being after the overthrow of the Russian monarchy in 1917 and increased so rapidly that they were estimated in a few years' time to number from 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 boys and girls. This army of children, many of them as young as 10 years, terrorized whole villages and cities and became known for their murders, robberies and other acts of violence. The "wild children of Russia" the press termed them.... - Newton D. Baker The New York Times, December 11, 1932

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Princess Mary Gift Box

During the first months of World War I, most of the participants hoped the war would be over by Christmas.

Because it was the first year of the war, 1914, Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, thought of sending each soldier a special gift. A special brass box was designed with a side profile picture of Princess Mary, along with the names of the various allies, including France, Russia, Belgium, Japan, Serbia and Montenegro. It is interesting to note that the Lusitania carried a large shipment of brass destined to be made for the gift boxes when it was sunk in 1915.

What was in the box? Chocolate, a writing pad, a small pencil, a greeting card and cigarettes. The ingredients varied according to who received them: nurses got chocolates, and soldiers from India received sweets. In 1996 (before the internet!), I came across one in an antique store in Calgary, Alberta where I was teaching school. I was able to buy it for my daughter (named Mary) but also for my students to see.

Students in 9th grade were able to do a brass rubbing from the Queen Mary gift box, a death medal from World War I, and a small piece of trench art (in this case a matchbook holder) during their World War I centers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Good times at Faye Wright Elementary

In our 11th grade classes, students just finished learning about the circumstances behind the Cuban Missile Crisis. All students were attentive and interested in how close we came to nuclear war.

Of course, as a child of the Cold War, I can remember doing drills that were very different than the average fire drill. We had to line up inside the hallway and get down on our knees and put our hands over our head.

The worst part was that was a time when we girls still wore dresses or skirts to school. I can remember one hand on my head and the other trying to pull my dress down! I was going to protect myself from a nuclear bomb by following the drill, but the drill position was awkward.
I can also remember talking with my two older brothers about whether Salem, Oregon was targeted to have a bomb dropped on it....we were pretty sure it was, if the population of our town got above 100,000.

I am so glad my students don't have to live with the fear of nuclear war!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Viva la Vida! Revolutions 1848 and 2011...

Coldplay's recent album includes the song, Viva la Vida. The lyrics are compelling. In the video on youtube that accompanies the song, we see Chris Martin, the lead singer, performing to the backdrop of two famous revolutionary paintings: Gericault's Raft of the Medusa and Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People. As we continue to see the events unfold in Egypt, AP Euro students will be analyzing this song's lyrics and the similarities among the revolutionaries of 1848 and Egypt 2011.

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy's eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dead Men do tell Tales

In 9th grade history, students have learned about some fantastic geography stories:
In 1912, Robert Falcon Scott (British) and Roald Admundsen (Norwegian) both set out to conquer the South Pole.
The Norwegians were well-prepared. They also zoomed as fast as they could to the pole, and did not take detailed scientific readings along the way. They got to the South Pole first and planted the Norwegian Flag.
Thirty five days later, Scott and his party showed up--too late!
The return journey was a nightmare. One man died along the way, while the other had a serious foot injury. He eventually went out into the blizzard, rather than slow his companions down--this is depicted in the above painting. Soon, they ran out of food and heating fuel.
The remaining men froze to death in a tent. A year later, their bodies were found along with Scott's diary where he outlined all that happened, and how the men met their doom like stoic Englishmen.
In fact, Scott became more famous that Admundsen. He was seen as a hero, who along with his men, bravely met their deaths in a British way.
The diary is now available on line--and you can read it like a book. Isn't the British library fantastic to put this up for all to read? Here it is: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/virtualbooks/index
Hint: What is it called when you know the outcome of something--and the characters do not? Dramatic Irony. This diary is full of dramatic irony, for we know that Scott and his men will die.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Opium and Imperialism

Before and after Christmas, 9th graders are learning about the benefits and harm of Imperialism.

They even learned a brief account of the Opium Wars. These wars, which occurred in the middle of the 1800's was based on conflicts over the extent of European influence in China.

One of the complaints by China was Britain's continuing export of Indian Opium into China. The British had learned that by exporting opium to China--they could avoid having to pay cash for Chinese goods, thereby addressing the large trade deficit that Britain had with China (sound familiar?). Opium, a highly addictive substance, was desired by the Chinese and it was smoked in Opium dens throughout China, but especially in the port cities of Nanking and Shanghai.

The Opium wars are a sore spot for the Chinese. In 2001, they banned the French fragrance, Opium from being sold in China. The rationale was that the fragrance sought to glorify the "forbidden, sensual aspects of a substance that caused untold suffering for the Chinese." Opium--the fragrance--is still sold at our downtown Macy's. I even have a small bottle that students get to "sniff" in class.

In 1999, coming back from Montana, I was shown a small silver case that was a portable opium smoking kit. I did not have the money to buy it....but I remember the small little drawers where the opium seeds were crushed, oil was place with them, then the smoke traveled through a long tube. It was a fascinating piece of history.