cross-cultural stuff

Holiday Rerun: The Other First Thanksgiving

November 28, 2013

Unless you live in the American Southwest, the grade school version of American history* typically leaps from Columbus and 1492 straight to 1620, when the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. There is a vague awareness that the Spanish and the French were “out there” doing something, but the story focuses on the development of the thirteen […]

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On Paper

November 5, 2013

Self-confessed bibliophiliac Nicholas Basbanes is the author of several volumes on book collecting and book mania. In On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand Year History, he moves beyond the world of books to consider the material from which they are made. On Paper is not another history of the discovery and spread of the […]

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From The Ruins of Empire–Revisited

August 27, 2013

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I like books that look at familiar history from another point of view. (For example, here, and here, and here.)  Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia,  is an excellent example.* Misra begins with the statement that […]

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The Love of Maps

August 20, 2013

I will tell you with no apology (and only a slight wiggle of nerdy embarrassment) that I love maps. I suppose it is theoretically possible to love history and not love maps. I just can’t imagine how that would work.* After all, history happens in both time and space. A quick look at the right […]

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Madeleine Caulier Goes to War

July 12, 2013

I’ve been fascinated for a long time by real-life stories of women who disguised themselves as men and went to war at times when women didn’t go to war. * About ten years ago, I began to collect examples, thinking I could write a book, or at least an article, about the subject. I quickly […]

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Black Athena

March 28, 2013

A recent exchange with a slightly disgruntled reader of Mankind: The Story of All of Us * led me to pull a book off the shelf that I hadn’t looked at for several years: the first volume of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena . Sub-titled The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Bernal’s book was a smack […]

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You can’t vote because…

November 2, 2012

Photograph from the Library of Congress From sixth century Athens on, who has the vote and why has been a touchy and evolving subject in democracies.  People who already have the vote have hesitated to extend it to others for two basic reasons.  Those with the vote don’t think those without the vote have the […]

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From The Ruins of Empire

October 11, 2012

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I like books that look at familiar history from another point of view. (For example, here, and here, and here.) It should be no surprise that Pankaj Mishra’s latest book caught my eye. In From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who […]

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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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City

July 12, 2012

Cultural historian P.D. Smith, author of Doomsday Men, argues that the city is humanity’s greatest creation. After reading City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age, it’s easy to believe it’s true. City is not a simple chronological history of urban areas from their first appearance in ancient Mesopotamia to modern megacities. Instead, Smith organizes his […]

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