Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!!

Happy Mother's Day, everyone! More cool history content soon. Promise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Artist's Depiction: The Aerial Screw and Da Vinci's thrist for flight.

What does it mean to be innovative? To create something new that no one has seen. This makes me think of the old cartoons, when a bubble popped over characters heads with a light bulb going on. Well it is clear that Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 - 1519) is one of the most innovative people ever to exist? Da Vinci takes credit for some of the most beautiful and theologically pleasing paintings and he spent tremendous amounts of time on understanding the anatomy of the human body and should be credited with the term Renaissance Man with the amount of diverse endeavors he took part in. It is quite possible that he is known throughout the world as the greatest painter(Rivaled alone with Michelangelo). However, what really stands out in Da Vinci's works are his detailed and technologically advanced drawings that he compiled in notebooks. In this episode of An Artist's Depiction, we will look at Leonardo Da Vinci's drawing of the Aerial Screw, which looks very similar to the modern day helicopter. The fact that Da Vinci was creating drawings of devices that would not come about for hundreds of years sheds some light at how advanced and ingenuous of a mind he had.

The inventions that Da Vinci was able to create and design are amazing and include such things as a parachute, a circular armored car (Tank), an automatic battering ram and improvements on weaponry. Da Vinci had a passion for flight and made many designs that dealt with flying, including a bird man suit. The one drawing that stands out is the Aerial Screw, which is a primitive version of the helicopter. Designed very similar to modern day helicopters, the Aerial Screw had a long shaft with a flat screw design on the top, which when turned by four passengers would lift up the contraption. Even though this device was never tested, it is believed that it wouldn't have worked, because four people would not be able to generate enough energy to stay in flight. However, just the fact that Da Vinci had these ideas in his head centuries before anyone would be able to get off the ground, shows just how advanced a mind Da Vinci really had.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cousin Jesse's Peeps: Ivan the Terrible

In terms of interesting people, Ivan Vasilyevich or Ivan the Terrible, comes across as an intriguing personality, because of his power and strength as the very first Tsar of Russia. So he is kind of like the George Washington of Russia, but only with a far more interesting nickname than old wooden tooth, cherry tree chopping George. The nickname terrible is very misleading and when it is translated it actually means Ivan the Awesome, but everyone knows that words mean different things in different cultures. But then again he was terrible toward anyone that was against him or in the way.

What makes Ivan the Terrible such an interesting person, is that he was able to take a backwoods medieval society in Russia and get it on the right track to becoming an empire. At the age of three Ivan IV was given the throne and was raised to be a ruler by boyars (Russian nobles)that were fighting for control of power and this had an impact on Ivan when he grew up. Especially when he was not respected by these boyars and was often neglected and tortured by them. This might of been a reason for why he became such a ruthless ruler and went from torturing animals as a child to torturing and executing anyone that was in his way. The experience of being a witness to the boyars fighting for power while he was a child, might have led to Ivan having such mistrust toward the boyars as an adult when he became "Tsar of All Russia".

What kind of a ruler was Ivan Vasilyevich? In this time period you had to be a ruthless ruler in order to remain a ruler, but intelligence was very important as well. Ivan was a very devoted and strong leader that expanded the Russian borders to a billion acres and he modernized the military. He was able to build up the empire of Russia and rule as Tsar for just over fifty years, from 1533 to 1584. During this long reign he went from good times to bad times and was able to let out his ruthlessness on any enemies that he felt threatened by. Many suspect that Ivan had a mental illness and was very prone to violent fits. So vicious was Ivan the Terrible, that he accidentally killed his own eldest son with a blow to the head with his staff. Ivan led the way for future horrific rulers, like Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler and others; with his reign of terror that included a loyal militia that dressed in all black and killed anyone that opposed the Tsar's rule.

The Tsar had many great accomplishments as a ruler, which include revisions of the code of law, unified the people with force and through assembly of the land, attempted to unify the religion of the nation and brought along the printing press. He had the difficulty of trying to open up trade through the sea with a country that was land locked and he was able to open up trade in the White Sea. What makes Ivan the Terrible such an interesting ruler was how he was able to build up an empire from a primitive nation that had no identity or cultural unification. He was able to pave the pathway for Peter and Catherine the Great to build up the Russian nation into a significant country.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Top Five's -- Historical Songs

1 With God on Our Side, by Bob Dylan

In terms of history, Dylan’s “With God on Our Side”, happens to mention several historical events from Native American wars to the Cold War. Dylan runs through the history of the United States and goes with a manifest destiny approach, in which he shows how America grew to be such a powerful country. He looks at religions influence on the mindset of a country that is being taught who to hate and who to accept as friend. Almost as if Dylan is challenging God to end war, but in the end, is it possible that God is our only hope to end war, because man can’t stop war.

2 Youngstown, by Bruce Springsteen

Youngstown is a song that highlights the industrial juggernaut and the massive military complex of America. Springsteen reveals that the backbone of the American military during the major wars that America has fought in, were the people in these steel factories and coal mines. Now these factories are all but disappearing and the people are all but forgotten. Something that you can see happening all over America is factory towns are left barren wastelands and therefore a living Hell for people that once thrived and survived off building bombs and tanks.

3 Cortez the Killer, by Neil Young

The way this extraordinary clash of civilization is portrayed in Cortez the Killer, it is almost as if you are taken back hundreds of years and you are standing on the coast and watching the giant ships coming toward land. Young expresses the magnificent culture of the Aztecs and their extravagant clothing and rituals and how in one swift moment that can all be taken away. The build up of the song, reaches a climatic moment when we realize that an entire culture is wiped out by a few conquistadors that are left with no choice but to conquer and wipe out the entire Aztec Civilization.

4 Washington Bullets, by the Clash

“Washington Bullets” is a song that attacks America’s world police policy and at the same time attacks communism’s and capitalism’s hypocritical approaches. Who is benefiting from all these bullets that are spread throughout the world? Someone is making lots of money off of old tanks, planes and guns. The song lets you know that even though the words have changed, America is still involved in building up an Empire and in order to maintain the Empire, the Washington Bullets have to carve the way. The Clash had an effective way of exposing deep problems around the world and the Cold War Era had its share of deceptive intentions.

5 The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordan Lightfoot

Ever since I was able to board the Niagara in Erie, PA, I have been fascinated with ship wrecks. It’s obvious that the sea is a powerful force and Lightfoot takes you on the perilous journey of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior back in Nov, 1975. He shows the comradery of the ships crew as the cook says, “It’s been good to know ya”. This song opens your eyes to how unforgiving the sea can be and how difficult and dangerous of a journey it had to of been for the first ships crossing the Oceans around the world, let along the Great Lakes.

Others that deserve mention: "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down", by the Band and "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda", by the Pogues. Sorry to anyone that felt that Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" should be in the top five list, but just repeating random historical names does not consist in a great historical song.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dying Breed - Print Media

I have two friends in the newspaper business. I know I can count on both for good conversation and bits of hilarious self-deprecation. Lately, things aren't looking good for the industry. The internet has left print newspapers behind, especially for people below the age of thirty. In 2008, 59 percent preferred the Internet, while 28 percent hung on to the old-fashioned method of reading a newspaper, according to a recent statement by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, a Washington, D.C.-based public opinion research organization.

Things are so bad that my buddy described working for the paper as "I feel like we're all on the deck of the Titanic, admiring the pretty icebergs." I recently read this article in the Washington Post by David Simon.
He does a wonderful job of bringing to light one aspect of the newspaper's relevance.
If it's too much for me to ask you to read, then please watch this video put together by the venerable Rocky Mountain News, which recently stopped print since being around two years before the first shots were fired in the Civil War.

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Things I learned from drinking Craft Beer - Mind Your P's and Q's

Last week, I took a trip to Jersey City to visit friends. While my wife went up to the top of the Empire State Building, my buddy Kepic and I decided to kill the time drinking pints in the Heartland Brewery on the ground level. Later, around the table for lunch, Kepic noticed a card with interesting beer tidbits. One talked about the history of the term, "Mind your P's and Q's." Back in Ithaca, I looked it up and found out that Heartland's claim is one of many, but there is no refutable evidence that it's true. The brewery claims that it comes from pints and quarts, the two main measurements for drinks. When things would get rowdy in bars, you would often hear "Mind your pints and quarts!" I like the idea and hope it's true.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What was it Like? - In the Trenches of World War I.

When I think about history, I always wanted to put myself in the shoes of the people that lived in these situations that I was reading about. What it must of been like to cross the treacherous Ocean on a boat for months without knowing where you were going or to be a slave traveling like a caged up animal in chains, surrounding by sickness and stench. How a soldier must of felt when they were lined up to charge into ongoing gunfire from across the field or taken a little further back swinging swords or axes and dodging arrows. Well one situation that I would like to look at in, What was it Like?, that really interested me was the trench warfare from World War I. Set to be the "War to end All War", World War I had its share of new weaponry teamed up with old school (Napoleonic War Era) war strategy, which led to a slaughterhouse of young men that were in search of an adventure they never expected to be so dreadful and deadly.

The construction of trenches is as old as the existence of war. However, the scale of trench warfare during World War I was unlike anything ever seen on earth and it was a war of attrition that stayed in a constant stalemate. Truly a World War, there were battles being fought in Africa, Turkey, the Middle East, Asia; but smack dab in the middle of Europe laid these trenches that served as a suicide mechanism. What is Trench Warfare? Trench Warfare is a warfare in which both combatants have trenches that are fortified and the lines are constantly moving back and forth in a defensive-oriented fashion. One big problem with the trench warfare that was happening during WW I, was that the generals were slaughtering their own soldiers by refusing to change their war strategy. The old school Napoleonic Era columnar tactic in which the soldiers march in a column toward the enemy line as opposed to a open order skirmish led to millions of unnecessary deaths in the first few years of the war.

Now lets get back to what life was like in the trenches for soldiers. First thing we need to understand about life in the trenches was what kind of weapons were being used during WW I. There were several new weapons being used in the Great War and also improvements on older weapons. Infantry carried with them in the trenches rifles with bayonets, shotguns, and grenades. Machine guns were used for the first time in battalions and there were the light machine guns that individual soldiers carried and heavy machine guns, which needed 8 people to use and maneuver and that served as a fixed attack on the enemy line. Soldiers were constantly killed or injured by incoming mortars and artillery. Fragmentation from these bombings often injured, buried or killed soldiers that were in fixed trenches. Many different gases were used until both sides found that mustard gas was not as easy to detect in the air as the others. New weapons were being used as well like the flamethrower and the first uses of tanks and planes in war, but these weapons were used sparingly and planes were mostly for reconnaissance and artillery spotting. Barbed wire became a horrendous obstacle that served as a buffer for enemy lines. New improvements in helmets helped soldiers that in the beginning of the war were using leather helmets. These new weapons and improvements on weapons are what led to such a grueling stalemate of a war, because there were really no advances on each side as a result of not being able to break the lines and hold them.

What must life have been like in the trenches? Soldiers were constantly exposed to artillery, snipers and machine guns in the trenches. Besides the enemy, the soldiers had to fight against diseases from lice, rats the size of cats (which would feed off the dead bodies laying around), the cold weather which could lead to Trench Fever and the muddy water in trenches that sometimes reached their knees and could cause Trench Foot (Led to many soldiers having their feet amputated). The psychological and physical effects of war can be very heavy on these soldiers who were sometimes sleeping next to dead bodies that they couldn't find the time to bury. Soldiers did not have a lot of leave time either and were in the front lines for long periods of time and even behind the front lines they were still likely to be hit by artillery or shrapnel. One thing that had to get to the soldiers was the smell that filled the air from the dead bodies that were either laying around or buried in shallow graves nearby. It is easy to see that life in the trenches during World War I was a very extreme experience that left all soldiers psychologically scarred and many physically injured. Entire generations of youth lost their lives in a war that accomplished nothing but death and destruction and as a result of bad war strategies, many unnecessary deaths happened.