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:
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.