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This Week in History: the Ashmolean Museum

May 29, 2020

This week in 1683, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology opened in Oxford. It was the world’s first university museum and was named after Elias Ashmole, who in 1677 had given Oxford University what became the museum’s first collection. Construction also began in 1677. The current museum building was finished in 1845.

Ashmolean Museum

That first donation from Elias Ashmole ranged from antique coins to zoological specimens. The most noteworthy piece may have been the stuffed body of one of the world’s very last dodos. Unfortunately, by 1755 the dodo’s body was so moth-eaten that only the head and one claw remained. Today, the Ashmolean has more than 110,000 items, including drawings by Michelangelo and Raphael, paintings by Pablo Picasso, and a Stradivarius violin.


 

Photo: the Ashmolean Museum’s main entrance, taken in 2014 by Lewis Clarke, used with permission under CC BY-SA 2.0

This week in history: Kublai Khan

May 15, 2020

This week in 1260, Kublai Khan became ruler of the Mongol Empire. Grandson to the great Genghis Khan, the empire’s founder, Kublai was the fifth Khagan, or Great Khan. He succeeded to the throne after the death of his eldest brother, Mongke. The latter died in 1259 without naming a successor, and almost immediately Kublai’s younger brother, Ariq Boke, held a Mongol great council and had himself named Khagan. But Kublai then held his own great council, which declared him Khagan, and went to war against Ariq Boke. The Mongol civil war that lasted four years, and of course Kublai won. Read more…

Independent Press Award

May 8, 2020

I am very proud to announce that my second novel, Secrets of Hominea, just won an award: Distinguished Favorite in the Juvenile category of the Independent Press Awards.

Secrets of Hominea is a magical novel for middle grade readers (4th through 8th grade), using fantasy to teach history and science. Read more…

The Fall of Troy and Its Warning for 2020

April 24, 2020

This week marks the traditional reckoning date for the fall of Troy, in 1183 B.C. The ancient Greeks calculated the date centuries later, but they probably weren’t far off. Whatever the timing, Troy offers a frightening warning for our world in 2020. Read more…

Follow-up to REAL theories for the origin of April Fool’s Day

April 9, 2020

Last week, I posted this article that had 3 real theories on the origins of April Fool’s Day, and 3 fake theories. Below are the 3 true theories: Read more…

Which of these are REAL theories for the origin of April Fool’s Day?

April 1, 2020

Historians debate the origins of April Fool’s Day, with three possible explanations. Which of the following are real; which three are actual theories for the holiday’s origin? Read more…

Coronavirus Would Not Have Disrupted Our Ancestors’ Lives

March 23, 2020

A virus circles the world, killing 1% of the population or more, particularly the elderly … and people just go about their business. Even in countries that understand contagion, no one healthy stops working, and neither do most of the sick. In fact, if you suggest staying home, most people think you’re crazy. Why manufacture an economic disaster? That’s how our ancestors would react to coronavirus, from the ancient world through early modern times. Their lives already involved a steady risk of death from acute, fast-acting disease, so this comparatively mild new illness would hardly set them back.

Europe's history of pandemic inspired Breugel's famous painting

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. c. 1562. Click for a closer view of death’s regular assault on our ancestors.

Read more…

This week in history: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

March 20, 2020

This week in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published her anti-slavery novel, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. Beecher Stowe was a teacher at Hartford Female Seminary in Connecticut. She originally published her most famous work as a 40-week serial in “The National Era,” an abolitionist periodical. Publisher John Jewett saw potential and proposed that Stowe turn the serial story into a book. He had good reason. The story was so popular that, if the magazine ever published without a new chapter, it received multiple protest letters. So Beecher Stowe published. She sold 3,000 copies the first day, and UNCLE TOM’S CABINE soon sold out of its first print-run. The novel ultimately became the second best selling book in the United States for the entire of the 19th Century, just behind the Bible. Read more…

This week in history: Louisiana Purchase

March 13, 2020

This week in 1804, the Louisiana Territory transferred from French to U.S. sovereignty, with the change marked by a ceremony in St. Louis. The territory had actually changed hands before, from France to Spain and then, as late as 1800, back to France. France’s First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte (later emperor), had planned to reestablish a French colony in North America, but he found himself short of resources, thanks to troubles at home and war with Britain (and ultimately just about everyone else). Hard up for cash, Napoleon had sold the Louisiana Territory to the U.S.’s President Thomas Jefferson. The two republican leaders’ original plan just involved the purchase of New Orleans. But in 1803, French Treasury Minister Francois Barbe-Marbois had offered the whole, vast Louisiana Territory to the American negotiators, James Monroe (later President) and Robert Livingston. They jumped at it. In fact, President Jefferson exceeded his authority by committing to the purchase without Congress’ consent, but he could not pass up the chance to double America’s possessions. Read more…

This week in history: the Articles of Confederation

March 5, 2020

This week in 1781, the Articles of Confederation went into effect in the United States, following ratification by the 13 colonies – a.k.a. states. Work on the Articles had begun in 1776, around the time of the Declaration of Independence. Completion took a year and a half, until November 5 of 1777 – for two reasons: uncertainty about what to include, as well as several moves from city to city, to avoid advancing British troops. In the end, the final draft included state sovereignty, en bloc voting by state in a unicameral Congress, and terms that left western land claims unresolved – up to individual states. Read more…

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