August 2012

Steinbeck in Vietnam

August 30, 2012

Reading Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches From the War, edited by literary scholar Thomas E. Barden, is a fascinating, and occasionally uncomfortable, experience. In December, 1965, Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, then 65, accepted an assignment from Harry F. Guggenheim to report on the war in Vietnam for Newsday.  A personal friend of Lyndon Johnson, with one […]

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From Confucius to Air Traffic Control

August 28, 2012

In 130 BCE, the Chinese emperor Han Wudi came up with a new idea for how to choose government bureaucrats. He established a civil service of Confucian scholars, known in English as mandarins, who earned their positions by passing a standardized examination. The system still favored those from privileged families who could afford to give […]

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Ashoka: The Buddhist Emperor of India

August 24, 2012

I recently blogged about Chandragupta Maurya, who created an empire out of the chaos that followed Alexander the Great’s invasion of India. Chandragupta was an empire founder, but the real empire builder in the Mauryan dynasty was Chandragupta’s grandson, Ashoka, who ruled from 269 to 232 BCE. Although he was a successful warrior, who expanded […]

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From Here to Timbuktu

August 21, 2012

Timbuktu has been in the news lately as a result of growing control by Islamic extremists, whose narrow interpretation of sharia law has led to the destruction of Muslim tombs, innocent people lashed in the streets, and thousands of refugees fleeing their homes. It’s a good time to remind people of a time when Timbuktu […]

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India’s First Emperor

August 16, 2012

Okay, I’m a little slow.  India’s Independence Day was yesterday.  Still, I think a bit of South Asian history is in order as a belated celebration: Cyrus the Great built the Persian empire on those of the Medes and the Babylonians.  Alexander the Great began his empire by taking over Persia.  Chandragupta Maurya created the […]

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The Rise of the Skyscraper

August 14, 2012

Reliance Building. 1895. Photo courtesy of Cornell University Library I was fascinated by architectural history long before I moved to Chicago.  As a child I amused myself by keeping a running count of Doric vs Ionic capitals on the pillars on front porches throughout town.  (So many ways to be a dork.  So little time.) […]

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Isidore, Patron Saint of the Internet

August 10, 2012

In a recent discussion on Facebook, a friend of a friend mentioned that St. Isidore of Seville is the patron saint of the Internet. Luckily I had already swallowed or there would have been iced tea all over the computer and the cat. Isidore the encyclopediast looking over computers and the Internet? Who knew the […]

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The Whiskey Rebellion

August 6, 2012

“No taxation without representation” was a rallying cry in the American Revolution*, but taxation controversies didn’t go away after the United States was formed.  The new government needed regular revenue.  The average man on the street (or dirt road through the wilderness) was opposed to taxation and had his doubts about government in general.  Some […]

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