History


Figure 1.--One of the great questions historians must face is how much history is determined by Great Men and to what extent the common man affects the historical developments. Of course in totalitarian societies it is the leadership that plays a dominant role, but even in these socities individuals can and the historical process.

HBC is at heart a history site. While our focus is on fashion and issues surrounding children, we touch on a wide range of historical topics. As a result we think it important to discuss the major threds of history and especially how children have been involved and affected. This is something that is often neglected by historiasns and something my students would ask about when I was teaching. We note certain recurrent themes in history. Perhaps the most consistent over time is that major world powers have almost always seen themselves as God's chosen people and the center of the universe. There have also been various basic approaches and methods of interpreting history. Here we are just beginning our assessment. Do let us know if you have any insights or know of major historians that we should mention here. Also we see the images we are archiving as little historical documents and we hope that historical and other researchers will use HBC the HBC archive as a source in their research.

Pre-history: Physics and History

I had been thought as recently as a generation or two ago that history began with the Neolitthic or agricultural revolution that created civilization which left artifacts and ecen writing that cpuld be studied. Advances in physics have changed this. We now have been able to learn not only details about pre-literate socities but of the origins of the universe itself. There is an atomic bases of the senses and radionactivity, prominently Carbon 14 dating, providesus historians with essentially an atomic clock that can not only date relatively recent artifacts, but the remains of early man. Radio activity helps to date early life forms as well as cosmic events. Physics can help date and authnticate art. DNA can help study the evolution of movements of early man. It can also help develop a history of agriculture and animl husbndry, vital in understnding the development of civilization. Tree rings provide historica seasinal data as do ive cores dating back an incredible 0.8 million years. Ocean sediments take us back much further--5 million years. And we now know why the dionasurs disappeared--about 65 million years ago.

Origin of History

Efforts to write history came only after the development of civilization which meant the three great river valley civilizations. Modern writers can write about erarlier periods, but contemprary efforts at history only begin with the great river valley civilizations. And this meant millenia these civilizations began to develop. For history to be written, writing systems of course had to be developed. The first artifacts that we might call history come from Egypt (4th millenium BC). It is known as the Narmer Palette (also called the Great Hierakonpolis Palette or the Palette of Narmer). Archeologists date it at the 32nd-31st century BC. It has some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions yet found. Of course we have no idea who created the Narmer Palette. It must have been commissioned by the Pharoah Narmer. Narmer was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period (about 32nd century BC). The Greek writer Herodotus is often referred to as the "father of history". The title comes more from the fact that he was the first actual historian rather than his historical method. Modern historians would find his work unacceptable. There are major inaccuracies in his work. He is also known as the "father of lies". Herodotus is known for his Histories, a highly partisan celebration of the Greek victories over the Persians. He wrote them in the mid-5th century B.C. Herodotus appeared to have tossed vin what ever crossed his mind at the time. His description of the Persian Empire is a fascinating description reading more like a travelog than a historical work. Herodotus also delved into mythological prehistory when explaining the background of the conflict. Despite Herodotus' many weakenes as a historian, his work was a substantial improvement over previous compilers of what might be called quasi-history--the logographers.

Recurrent Themes

We note certain recurrent themes in history. Perhaps the most consistent over time is that major world powers have almost always seen themselves as God's chosen people and the center of the universe. [Cook] The Inca even had a hitchingb post of the Sun. This was the case of countless ancient as well as modern civilizations. The best example is the determination pf the Pope and Catholic Church even after Galileo and other early scientists convincingly demonstrated that this could not possibly the case. The British at the turn of the 20th century saw London as the center of the World. Europeans developed social and bilogical justification (social Darwinism and eugenics) using pseudo-science to demostrate their superiority. Many Americans in the 21st century share this view. Modern maps commonly show America in the middle. Few Americans ever question this world view.

Cultural Embroidery

One author describes what he calls as "gratuitous cultural embroidery". He dedescribes that as man's "quite remarkable capacity to tie themselves and others in knots by developing elaborate and ultimnately arbitrary rules". [Cook] This is an interesting observatiin that needs some consideration. One example is the amazingly complicated meso-American calendar. Less complicated, but still elaborate cultural emroidery is no unknown to the modern world. This cultural emroidery not uncommonly involves both ritual and dress.

History and Truth

Students as they begin to study history are prone to believe that history is established fact and are prone to give great creedence to printed material. As one persues their study of history it becomes much more complicated. A particular problem for young people is that they often get ther history from the movies and television--media in which facts are often prey to what film makers call creative license and dramatic effect or more blatant propaganda. The serious student finds that historians, even competent historians have very different interpretations and even dispute what had been assumed to be accepted facts. This complex web becomes even more difficult as one learns foreign languages and moves outside the cacoon of one's own country. And this is even more the case when one's reading is persued immediate society, religion, and social group. The eventual conclusion is that historical truth is very slippery. And arguments over major issues are eternal. Often the accepted interpretations fillow what James McPherson calls a "scholarly pendulum". The job of an historian is to first collect and document facts. Factual information does exist and can be subjected to rigorous historical analysis. It is on that foundation that competent historians than form their opinions and historical theories. The problem ith history is that many historians first form their opinions and then proceed to selectively collect their facts to butress their opinions. There are many examples of this since the very beginning of history. One of the best examples is the Lost Cause historians in America after the Civil War. Another example is the Marxist historians, especially Soviet historians. And in todays's world many theologically oriented Muslim historians.

Historical Interpretation

There have been various basic approaches and methods of interpreting history. These factors vary in importance. And here there is no simple equation. The various factors have varied in importabnce over time and from country to country. Marxist believe that history is determined by economics. There is no doubt that economics is a powerful force. It is clear, however, thast it is not the only force. A wide range of factors have affected history over timer. Many of these factors are interrelated. Geographty can for example affect economics. A desert country unless it has oil is usually going to be a poorer country than a country like Frabnce with productive agriculture. Yet countries without natural resources such as Japan can become succesful economically. And richly endowed countries like Argentina can fail to develop an modern economy. The deeper historical question is why do some countries succeed and other countries fail. Here the economic progress is often an effect of other factors rather than the driving force. The reader of course should not review this list to find one interpretation with the key to interpreting history. Rather there are elements of truth in many of these approaches which can enhance any historical assessment.

Censorship

Government over time has attempted to control information amd history was part of this. This was relatively simple when the laborious process of creating manuscripts limited the number of texts and few people could read. The invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg (1456) and the Protestant Reformation (1519) which encouraged people to learn to read changed everything. The Catholic attempt to limit the reading of the Bible failed. This did not prevent rulers from attempting to control what was published. This proved to be very difficult, especially in Protestant countries. The Inquisition proved more successful in Catholic countries. The turning point in Western civilization occurred in England. It began after the Restoration in coffeehouses. King Charles II had a more open attitude than Cromwell. One result was the appeatance of coffee houses. The Government began publishing the Official Gazettee (1665). At the time a license was needed to publish, but Parliament involved in disputes with the King refused to renew Licensing Act. A a result all linds of broadsheets and newspapers began to appear. Coffee houses became places where politics and other issues were discussed. And a oropriter would subscribe to some of the newspapers for clients to rread. Among those issues was economics and commerce. It soon becamne apparent that information that affected prices had commercial value. And then a coffee house keeper managed to get a clerk in Parliament to provide him informaion. King Charles attempted to supress coffee houses. Parliament voted to prohibit the printed listing of votes. But after the Glorious Revolution (1688-89) there would be no real attempt to censor news and public debate. The same occurred in Enland's American colonies and was confirmed by the Zenger trial (1735). European monarchs continue to censor with varying successes. The ability to control information was seen as an indicator of success. Ironically it was the Anglo-Americans with a free press that constantly prevailed in military and ecomnomic conflicts. The issue of censorship at first dealt primarily with religion and current events. In the 20th century, the totalitarian powers also focused on history.

National Histories

History is commonly structured around national states or reguional groupings of nation states. Thus most people are acustomed to viewing history through thre prisim of their own national experiences. Of course, this can lead to many misunderstandings as so many historical developments involve interactions with other countries. We have worked on many historical events as we developed HBC, working on a thematic and chronological approach. Many of these topics toch upon or pertain to many individual countries. A number of HBC readers have expressed an interest in specific countries. So it seems a reasonable to create pages on national histories that tie these various pages together for readers interested in a specific country. We do not have many of these national history pages, but will begin to create them as HBC develops. Here we invite readers to contribute assessments of their country's history. HBC's focus is of course largely American and we are thus interested in reader contributions on their history.

Chronological History Trends

We are building a historical chronology. Here we are in an organizational bubble. We began with just dealing with a clothing chronology, but over time we realized that we needed a historical section to put our fashion discussin in context. So our chronology section at this time is historical for the earlier eras and more focused on fashion by the 16th century. This is going to take some reorganization to sort this out, but it is a project we will eventually address.

International Organizations

International organizations have come to play an increasingly important role in history. There have associations appearing early in history. Athens for example fought the Pelopenesian War with the Delian League. The League was, however, more of an alliance dominated by Athens than a true international organization. A medieval grouping was the Holy Roman Empire. Here the Hapsburgs were not able to totally dominate the Empire, but it did not really have an independent existanance separate from that of the emperor. Perhaps the first real international organization was the Red Cross (1864). It was founded Many international organizations have followed the humanitrian impulses which led to the creation of the Red Cross. A range of chritable organizations followed in the wke of the Red Cross. Since World War II there has been a plethora of new international organizations founded to persue a range of social efforts, especially ecological programs which nation states seem to have difficulties addressing. Some international organizations have been overtly political, such as the Socialist internationals. The major international organizations have been aimed at persuing world peace. The first was the League of Nations set up after World War I (1919). The League failed in the face of Fascism. Its successor was the United Nations established after World War II (1945).

DNA

Historians at the end of the 20th century were given a radically new source of information--DNA. Questins of heredity had interested historians earlier. This was particularly true of the NAZIs. At thtime there was no scientific method to measure heredity. That of course did not stop the NAZIs with horendous results. Historians in the 21st now have a way of measuring heredity which they are just beginning to take advantage of. In part the NAZI obsession wih genetics has caused historians to approach DNA cautiously. It is now clear that DNA evidence can be enormously useful, but has severe limitations. One area in which DNA can be particularly useful is pre-history. Our knowledge of cultures that did not leave limited records is very limited, both because of the lack of records and the time which has pased erasing physical evidence. Historians in many cases have to rely on linguistic studies to develop information on he origins of modrn peoples. DNA evidence is adding another independent source of information to collaborate or disprove linguisic studies and archeological finds. The fact that some of the issues are politically contentious, such as just how cloesly related Jews and Arabs are complicates work. DNA may also assist with more recent historical questions, such as President Jefferson's children. Even so there are substantial limitations to DNA work. One author who tried use DNA to find more aout his ancestors discusses some of the limitations. [Bell] He points out that the average individual if we go back only 10 generations has about 14,000 ancestors. Of course our understanding of DNA is still very limited. Historians will undoubted make major advances in using DNA as the science develops. A HBC reader tells us about his personal DNA research.

Clothing and Fashion

HBC is of course a history site focusing on clothing and fashion. Clothing was not a central cetermining factor in hisry like the historicl interpretationsdescibd above. Clothing has, however, been an important factor in history, affecting historical developments beginning in ancient times. These impacts continue to affect modern times. We have begun to assess many of these historical trends on HBC.

Silk Road

Because of its high value and light weight, silk was the single most important product carried west from China on the fabeled Silk Road. The trade and exchanges which resulted had an almost incalcuable impact on Europeand and Asian history.

Spice Route

Silk was also an important cargo on the vessels working the Spice Route. Because of the natureof thise vessels, a much wider range of goods could be carried and in greater quantities. Thus goods like spices, porcelin, and other products could be carried. The Spice Route and the associated European Voyages of Discovery has an enormous impact on our modern world.

Medieval wool trade

The wool trade was at the heart of the medieval European economy. Just as cotton was at the center of the Industrial Revolution, wool was a key commodity in the Medieval era. Wool was the principal raw material used for textiles in Medieval Europe. It was usually woven to produce cloth, but some was used to produce felt. The center of the European wool trade was Flanders, but the damp Low Countries was not condusive to sheep husbandry. Conditions accross the Channel in England were ideal and sheep flourished there and it was a center of wool production. Thus critical economic ties developed between England and Flanders.

Fur trade

The fur trade played a key role in the movement east of the Norsemen (Vikings) and the foundation of modern Russia. The fur trade also played an important role in the founding of New France and theopening of the west in both Canada and America.

Industrial Revolution

No development has so affected our modern life as the Industrial Revolution. Here cotton and textiles were at the center of the inovations which began the transformation of European society in the 8th century. Historians debate just where and when the Industrail Revolution began. We would set it at about the mid-18th century in the English Midlands. It was at this time that workers instead of weaving piece work at home, began to work in factories. Here cotton manufacture became especially important. Several inventions at this time were responsible, including the spinning jenny, flying shuttle, and a water-powered loom. This was soon followed by the key invention of our time which served as a catalyst for industrial expansion--the steam engine.

American slavery

The slave trade was not based on cotton, but many economists believed that slavery would have gradually died out because it was an inefficent economic system. The invention of the cotton gin made possible the large-scale production of cotton which in great demand as a result of the Industrial Revolution. America in the 19th century was the primary supplier of cotton o European mills. American slaves were emancipated as a result of the Civil War (1861-65). The lingering impact of slavery, continues to affect the United States. Here we do not just mean the rascist attitudes of many Whites. This was the major problem until the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s. Today while racism has not been eliminated the continuing impact os slavery and racism on Black people themselves may be the major difficult. Social attitudes such as the large number of children born out of wedlock appear to be major imediments.

Teaching History to Children

A British teacher writes, "One of the ways we teach history to the under 13s at least, is to get them to compare their lives with those of people in other eras. About 2 years ago I had a mixed group of 11-12 year olds who were really keen to explore Tudor times but went off the idea when they realised the long school hours and regime the boys were subjected to. The girls thought we should still do a re-enactment until it was pointed out that their lives would have been worse in many respects. I am not teaching history at the moment but have just been to see a new touring exhibition about the Tudors and just wish it had been available for that class. I really like interactive and immersive ideas like that as history can be very dry without making it more people centred." Actually this is part of the genesis of HBC. As a young teacher in America, I noted how students would often ask about children and life-style type questions. Yet their history was full of illustrations about adults--often beared white men. Thus HBc focuses on children over the ages. We emphasize clothing, but deal extensively with culture and life style of ordinary people. Of course we have far to go, but there is now quite a bit of information aechived in HBC on childhood throughout the years and in different countries and societies. Hopefully some teachers will give us an idea of methods they found effective in teaching history to children.

Sources

Bell, Edward. (Simon & Schuster, 2007), 265p.

Cook, Michael. A Brief History of the Human Race (Norton, 2003), 385p.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel.

Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man.

Huntington. Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations.

McPherson, James M. This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (2007).

Mahan, Alfred Thayer. The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (1890).

Mandelbaum, Michael. The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the 21st Century.

Pipes, Richard. VIXI: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger (Yale Iniversity Press: 2003), 264p. ("VIXI is Latin for "I lived." His parents managed to excape fom NAZI-occupied Poland. Most of their family perished in the gas chambers. Some describe him as the intelectual archetct of America's victory in the Cold War.)

Popper. Karl. The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism.






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Created: February 16, 2003
Last updated: 5:20 AM 5/18/2015