Tag Archives: History

The History of The English Language

History_of_EnglishI created this diagram to help me learn this material better and hopefully it helps others who learn like I do. I created it after consulting several sources on the history of English Language: my main information source was The History of English.

Here are some links to help explore items on the chart:

Question to readers: Any corrections, suggestions or thoughts?

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Blogs, Royalty & Factories

Catherine of Aragon & Henry VIII from another TV series (1970)

Catherine of Aragon & Henry VIII from another TV series (1970)

As I watch the Tudors, I now viscerally understand how intermarrying between countries was used as one layer of insurance to avoid war. For instance, King Henry VIII, among his 6 wives, married both Catherine of Aragon (Spain) and Anne of Cleves (Germany).

Going back prior to the House of Tudor (1485-1603), we see the same in the House of Plantagenet (1216-1485) and the House of Normady (1066-1216), and the House of Wessex (871-1066).

Sorry, prior to this TV series, I would have described myself as very anti-royalty and certainly very uninterested in them, but the later has weakened. The framework of the houses gives me a skeleton upon which to hang (and thus remember) English history.

Back to the post title: Modern capitalist nations build factories in each other’s countries for economic reasons, but this also adds a layer of safeguard from invasion. For if we destroy an enemy’s lands, we may destroy our own investments.

This all made me think about blogs: if we want others to visit our blogs and be civil and productive here, we best be civil and productive on theirs. And from my experience, most bloggers, love to have visitors of civil commentors.

These civil exchanges between countries can ironically change the nature of a country and similarly, marrying between religions can change religions. Exchange can do wonders to eat away parochialism. And so dialogue and civil arguments between blogs will slowly and inevitably alter both bloggers. Agreeing on terms of exchange is part of the means of securing the fruitfulness of such exchanges. Agreeing on methods of argumentation is such a method aimed at fruitfulness.

Trivia question for readers:  In the song, “I’m Henery the Eight, I am“, which wife had seven prior husbands?  Is that just a myth?  In my head, the song was about Henry himself and I though he had 8 wives — but he only had 6!  That this song sings in my brain while watching the series shows both my age and the silliness of our brains.

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A Mythical Slave Story

A few days ago I saw a tweet which had gone blog-viral.  It quoted a letter from a slave to his former master.  I read the letter  – it was fantastic but then I started to have my doubts if it was a real letter.  (see Huffington post for an example of a post)

With a little searching, I found this  copy of the 1865 New York Daily Tribune that published the letter.  I almost said, “OK, well, I guess it is true.  Here is the actual letter.” But my skeptical mind said, “Wait, what if some Northerner made up the letter back in 1884 just to make his political points?”

You may think I am a racist for even having such suspicions about a letter that confirms your rightful hatred of slavery, but I am willing to risk that judgement to make my point on this post.  The letter seems too perfect, too ironic and too superbly composed. “But wait!” you may say, “Are you such a racist that you doubt a black man could be this brilliant work?”  No, but I am suspicious and I am very happy to be proven wrong.  But I am not afraid to doubt.

It is hard to verify the historicity of reports that were made even a 150 years ago yet alone 2-3,000 years ago when many of today’s religious texts were composed.  It is clear to me that the authors of these documents had an agenda and could have forged or altered the “histories” they wrote.  Modern textual analysis techniques were made to aid in this issue, but we still must face much uncertainty.

Did Jesus exist?  Did Jesus say what is reported he said?  Did people reporting these things have reasons to alter the truth or to just plain make things up?

Some people doubt about the Buddha in similar ways.  Unlike Christians, who depend on the historicity of their founder’s death and resurrection, many Buddhists don’t really care if their founder was highly mythologized.  But many other Buddhists, finding out that the Buddha was a myth, would be devastating.

Slavery wasn’t a myth, of course, but this letter could be fictional.  Yet we can’t go back and find out if it happened or if this letter was contrived to make a point.  But even if it were contrived, couldn’t something have happened very similar to what is written in this letter?  Sure!  But is this report real?  Hmmmm, what do you think?  Are you a natural doubter, or a natural believer?

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The Great Person Theory of History

While I was writing my post  about the history of Darwin and the discovery of the solar nuclear furnace,  I was reminded of one of my pet peeves:  The Great Man Theory of History (wiki, also here).  This theory claims that history should be understood through famous people.  The montage on the right, would be a way to envision his small story through the eyes of the Great Man Theory.

The Great Man Theory of History views history as the impact of “great men” but the foibles of this simple theory can be seen in the story of the solar furnace.  In fact, I intentionally structured that post to illustrate this tempting yet mistaken theory of history by filling the right column with the big pictures of all the “Great Men”.  OK, there was one woman in the story and a modern day version of the theory should, of course, include women and rightly be called “The Great Person Theory of History”.  But “Man” or “Person”, the theory would still be deceptively wrong.

I see two huge main problems with The Great Person Theory of History:

  1. Interdependence: The creations of these “Great People” are almost inevitably dependent on many people who came before them — both those who made mistakes and those who approximated reality closer than those before them. Almost all ideas or discoveries can be shown to be dependent on the many discoveries or ideas that proceeded them.  The Solar Furnace post shows just a minuscule number of the discoveries that feed Bethe’s discovery.
  2. Co-Discovery:  Ideas are often born of several people independently and often simultaneously showing that any particular “Great Person” is not a necessary as one might be tempted to think.  In fact, if any of these great men or women had never been born, the idea most likely would have come out eventually anyway.   It is as if we share knowledge which ripens for any number of people to eventually pick.  For a list of co-discoveries or “multiple discoveries” see this wiki article.  Here are a few famous ones:
    • Calculus: Newton, Leibniz (1600s)
    • Oxygen: Scheele (1773), Priestley (1774)
    • Electric Telegraph: Wheatstone & Morse (1937)
    • Evolution: Darwin (1840), Wallace (1857)
    • Chromosomes: Sutton & Boveri (1902)
    • Sound Film: Tykociner (1922), Forest (1923)
    • Quantum electrodynamics:  Stueckelberg, Schwinger, Feynman, Tomonaga  (1930-40s)
    • Universal Computing Machine:  Alan Turing & Emil Post (1936)
    • Polio vaccine: Koprowski, Salk, Sabin  (1950-63)
    • Jet Engine: Campini (1940), Whittle (1941)
    • Nanotubes:  Bethune and Iijima (1993)

So, though the montage on the right may be a bit improved “Great Person” view of history than the one above, it is still distorted.  The Great Person theory is pervasive.  It permeates the historical models of people all over the world.

This model is a common temptation because of the existence of social hierarchy modules in human brains — we are built to look for leaders and heroes.    We share this with other primates.  These “leader” modules probably lead us into the delusional side of the Great Person Theory of History.   Our minds hunger for heros and leaders for our tribe.  Indeed the larger “tribal” module even has us generate “the other” and villains.  We fill our histories with stories of evil people to explain our lives: Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao and recently, the late bin Laden.  But like the hero stories, the villain stories lack the nuances of the many, many people involved and of the concepts and causes that really feed the phenomena.

The temptations of the Great (or Evil) Person Theory of history is obvious but so are its short-comings.  We must always be diligent not to let our minds fool us.

So, below, in contrast to the Great People Theory map, I have sketch a History Map which is honors both interdependence and co-discovery.  My attempt is to make concepts more central and Great People as less critical.  I will allow readers to imagine pictures of other people for the arrows missing pics as the map is, by necessity, a bit too cluttered already.  Note also that this model shows that mistakes (the source of rejected theories on the left) often serve as foundational material for success (closer approximations).  Tell me what you think:

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