14 December 2008
Meg (Margaret): She remembers living better and struggles to be graceful about their straightened situation, although it has obviously been the way things are for quite some time.
Aunt March: She is childless & offered to adopt one of the girls when the March family fell on hard times. She was upset by their refusal and initially refused to speak to them, but has since mellowed enough to take Jo as a sort of domestic assistant. Aunt March is a widow. See also: Jo.
The King Family: Thus far we have read about the 4 children that Meg tends. In addition there are two older sisters, Grace & Ellen, that are about Meg & Jo's age that have recently debuted and are enjoying all the little luxuries that Meg wishes for. There is also an older brother whom the father sent away because of some unspecified disgrace.
Jo (Josephine): She is "Josy-phine" to Aunt March and she considers Aunt March to be a considerable trial she must endure (but she also loves her). But Aunt March still has her late husband's library, which Jo loves. Jo is restless and ambitious, but as yet seems to have little direction for her ambition.
Beth: Because she did so poorly at school (she's very bashful), Beth is homeschooled, previosly by her father but now Marmee does it, and Beth also does a great deal working with Hannah to keep up the house. She is a tender thing who loves music and has a little hospital of discarded dolls.
Amy: Amongst the other girls, Amy almost seems out of place. Where the others have quite a few virtues, Amy seems to be selfish ("Not one whole or handsome among [her dolls], all were outcasts till Beth took them in; for, when her sisters outgrew these idols, they passed to her because Amy would have nothing old or ugly." Ch 4, pg 45) She's prissy and I find myself more than a little sympathetic to the irritation that leads Jo to constantly needle her. Her nose is her greatest trial?? She is, however, very artistic and a good student.
Susie Perkins: One of Amy's classmates. She gets in trouble for mocking Mr. Davis, the teacher.
Mr. Davis: Amy's teacher.
Laurie: bashful, but friendly and kind neighbor. He seems to be about the same age as Meg and Jo.
Mr. Lawrence: He's the gentleman next door and Laurie's redoubtable grandfather. He takes a nearly instant liking to Jo.
Laurie's parents: His father married his mother against the wishes of Mr. Lawrence; they both died young. Mrs. Lawrence was an Italian and a pianist.
Chapter 4: The March family struggles to remain happy in the face of trial. Marmee reminds them all that in spite of the things they don't have to remember how many blessings they have.
Chapter 5: Jo goes to visit Laurie and also meets his grandfather. It appears to be the beginning of friendly relations between the two households.
Chapter 6: Mr. Lawrence allows Beth to use his piano. She sends beautiful handmade slippers by way of thanks. He responds by giving this little girl, who reminds him of his late granddaughter, his granddaughter's piano. Mr. Lawrence and Beth become fast friends.
One of the things I just love about this book is the way that Alcott keeps it real. It starts with complaints ("Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents!") and although the girls & their Marmee are definitely wonderful women, they all have their cross moments in this second set of chapters. I love the way that Jo works against the grouchiness in the beginning of chapter 4 with the imagery of the Pilgrim's Progress and other good literature. But I think that there is a bit of wisdom in the comment about Meg:
"Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learned to know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can make life happy." (Chapter 4, pg 44.)
What an ordinary human problem! I think that Meg is in good company with this problem. I think that Kate has the right of it: Count Your Many Blessings. It's likely the best and fastest cure for the problem. I should count mine more often.
The other thing that stands out to me here is the grand effects of simple kindness. Jo went out to shovel paths for Beth in the yard. She ended by going to visit Laurie, who was ill. Small and simple things bring great things to pass, and from these humble beginnings springs all sorts of wonderful things: Laurie gets out more and generally leads a happier life. There is much visiting back and forth. Everyone in both households is better off. Finally, in chapter 6, Beth and Mr. Lawrence each give the other kindnesses that are priceless to their recipients.
I like the way this book makes me want to be a better woman myself. The fruits of goodness and kindness are so clearly and so realistically displayed in the March family's lives as we read about them. But more than the benefits they receive for their goodness, it's clear that their goodness makes them wonderful people. I want to be like that. I like that this book makes me think that kind of thoughts.
13 December 2008
Marmee, while demonstrating some frustration (p. 37), still remains a very admirable woman. I am intrigued by her parenting style. As we come into the story, we're much too far along in the narration to read what it was that Marmee did to establish such an solid and wonderful relationship with her girls, but we clearly see how she works to maintain it. In chapter 4 (p. 47), they all take turns telling stories, essentially sharing their day's events with each other. Marmee not only listens actively to what her children are saying, she uses their own stories as a teaching tool. Through her teaching, she not only re-emphasises her tenets of living an active Christian life, but also she clearly demonstrates to the girls that what they say is important enough for her to pay real attention to. This validates them and can only work to build them up more and more. (haha.. listen to me go on as if i know something about parenting) But I definitely see that as something I'd like to [eventually] achieve and emulate in my own life with my own eventual kids.
I really like the development of the connection between Beth and Mr. Laurence. I was touched by how tenderly he worked to get Beth to come play his piano. I must say, of all the characters so far, I relate to Beth the best and I thought the exchange of gifts between them, at the end of chapter six, was so very sweet.
I really am enjoying this book. It makes me wish my life was more like this story. Not so much that I wish I were more poor or necessarily more humble.. but it would be really wonderful to have my blessings so beautifully (and clearly) laid out so I could better appreciate them.
Other, Outside Stuff
Ritsumei mentioned, in the comments of my last post, her curiosity surrounding the "Pilgrim's Progress" book that is occasionally mentioned in Little Women. Originally, I assumed that the mysterious Christmas book (chapter 2, p. 14) was a Bible, but further comments in the book, and Rit's mentioning it again peaked my curiosity as well and so I Googled "Pilgrim's Progress".
According to Wikipedia, Pilgrim's Progress is an actual book written by John Bunyan published in 1678. It is a Christian allegory about a man who quests for the "Celestial City" (representing Heaven, or the life to come). I think this may be the little book the Little Women are reading and using as a motivator to be better people. The actual text is available online here.
07 December 2008
So far there are lots of things that I like about this book. I like the world that Louisa May Alcott has created in Little Women; such a wonderful family and home. I like the dynamics between the sisters. I was amused by the description of the King children and the pointed timing of it. After having spent the first few pages of the book detailing just how poor the March family was, yet concluding that despite it all, they were happy, I thought the stark contrast in description of the wealthy King children, "... fighting and fretting all the time, in spite of their money", (pg.5) was very telling of Louisa May Alcott's position on what brings happiness.
Overall, I think her characters are diverse and very interesting, with just the right touch of realisim thrown in so they are believeable. They're not super developed yet, but we've only just had a taste thus far.
One of the questions that we have over there on our list of questions to ponder is: "Does the author have an agenda" or "Does this book have a theme"?
I don't think the words "agenda" or even "theme" are quite the right word that I would use to describe the approach Louisa May Alcott uses with this book, I think "tone" might be a better word. But already I am definitely seeing a very strong tenor of Christianity in the writing of Little Women. (not that i think that's a bad thing or that i disagree with her clearly stated opinion of the goodness of it) Mostly, it's something I noticed. I rather like the unabashed way she clearly promotes an active Christian lifestyle (meaning the doing of service, the general improving of one's self and being happy with life even when it's not what is generally accepted as perfect) And I find it interesting how different that is from uses of that theme in more recent literature. I think Christianity and productivity is still a predominant theme in many books. However, I feel that today it is more likely that the approach to that sort of theme would be either laid out almost apologetically, or it would be the bash-the-reader-over-the-head-with-how-THIS-is-what-they-should-be-doing. Louisa May Alcott's approach is more matter of fact, almost understated; just another aspect of life at the March house. I think it probable that this is a result of the "Realism" movement that Ritsumei touched on.
I like it.
05 December 2008
by Louisa May Alcott, 1868 & 1869
Somewhat autobiographical: Louisa & Jo are closely related.
List of Characters (in order of appearance):
Jo: Leading Lady. 15 years old, described as boyish, though she seems more awkward than masculine. Bookworm.
Meg: Jo's older sister, 16 years. Prim & a bit fussy, kind & mothering.
Mother/Marmee: A Christian woman in every sense of the word. Loves her girls.
Amy: Youngest of the sisters, a bit self-important, puts on airs.
Beth: Just older than Amy. Introspective, quiet.
Father: Away as a Chaplin in the Civil War. Sends letters full of love & wishes for the growth of his "Little Women."
King Children: Well-to-do acquaintances who are neither happy nor well-behaved.
Hannah: A servant in the March household, "considered a friend more than a servant."
Aunt March: A relative the girls make sheets for.
German family: recipients of the March family's Christmas breakfast.
Mr. Laurence: sends over Christmas dinner
Scrabble: The rat in Jo's attic. I wonder if he's autobiographical?? [shudder]
Ms. Gardiner:Throws the party Jo & Meg attend.
Sallie: A girl at the party
(Theodore) Laurie Laurence: grandson of Mr. Laurence. Hides in the same alcove as Jo & they chat then dance at the party.
Annie Moffat: Sallie's friend who invites Meg for a week-long visit to include a trip to the Opera.
Chapter 1: It's Christmas Eve (how very seasonal for us to read this now!) and the March girls begin the evening by sitting around and complaining, but soon enough they find better things to do. They plan gifts for their mother, read a letter from Father in which he encourages them to be their best selves, which they resolve to do, and then the girls practice their play.
Chapter 2: Christmas morning starts out with gifts from Mother (a Bible?) and then they continue on with some unexpected Christmas service: they give their holiday breakfast to a family that's even poorer than they are. But the day continues in a jolly & festive vein. They perform the play and are given a lovely Christmas dinner by a neighbor that heard about them giving away their breakfast.
Chapter 3: Meg and Jo are invited to, fuss over, and then attend a dinner/dance party. Meg is much more at ease in this sort of situation, but sprains her ankle. Jo makes a mess of everything, but gets to know the neighbor boy, Laurie, who takes them home in his carriage because of Meg's ankle.
Mrs. March is a gem of a woman; a true Christian. Hannah's description says it all:
"Where is Mother?" asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to thank her for their gifts, half an hour later.
"Goodness only knows. Some poor creeter come a-beggin', and your ma went straight off to see what was needed. There never was such a woman for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes and firin'," replied Hannah...
Although the girls (being ordinary mortals) are having a hard time with having such a slim Christmas, they do a right decent job of making their own fun without a lot of Things. -The gifts for Mother, the Christmas breakfast, the homemade theater, the resolve to be better women. These are all the acts of remarkable young women.
Other, Outside Stuff:
Found a literary timeline that places some books (not ours) alongside some historical events (I'm thinking BoC) and also mentions a bit about literary movements. It would appear that Little Women fits in nicely with their definition of the "Realism" movement, wherein authors wrote about ordinary, rather than extraordinary things.
28 November 2008
I've discovered a cute little thing called "lap books" which is usually a file folder that's got some fun little fold-out parts that kids have written and drawn different types of information about the topic at hand. (I've only run into it in homeschool circles, but I'm not paying much attention to public school these days!) My but that's a wordy attempt at explaining lap books! Try some pictures. And a blog with some more sophisticated examples of lapbooks.
I'm going to put some information about Louisa May Alcott into my Book of Centuries using some lapbooking techniques. There's a whole bunch of different ways to fold your paper and that way I can get a little more information into a little less space. Which seems like a good thing since there's just not a lot of space for 100 years of history in a 2 page spread!
26 November 2008
Chapters 1-3: Read & post by Dec 6.
Chapters 4-6: Read & post by Dec 13.
Chapters 7-9: Read & post by Jan 3.
Chapters 10-12: Read & post by Jan 10.
Chapters 13-15: Read & post by Jan 17.
Chapters 16-18: Read & post by Jan 24.
Chapters 19-21: Read & post by Jan 31.
That's about half the book, so at this pace it's going to take a while. Let's start out & see if this schedule is realistic. Now that it's been written down it's looking a bit drug out. We'll have to see how it goes. This schedule would probably take us into March.
24 November 2008
I was sort of leaning toward a more orderly reading. A chapter a week, 30 pages a week, what have you. Then we could look at those questions I collected in the side bar, or other thoughts the reading spawned. Maybe aim to do a post every week, excepting some holiday weeks, of course. Personally, I think I'd get more out of a more organized approach, and that way we might get several discussions of different elements of the book going on, as we're almost sure to notice different things.
What do you think?
Now I just need to find a bookstore here in my new neighborhood so I can go out and acquire Little Women and get on the ball with reading. Maybe I'll just pickup a copy when I'm up at the parents' house this weekend.. hehe.
Yay for new books!
23 November 2008
12 November 2008
America's Constitution beckons -- a New World Acropolis open to all. Ordained in the name of the American people, repeatedly amended by them and for them, the document also addresses itself to them. It does its work in strikingly clean prose (as law goes) and with notable brevity. Its full text, including amendments, runs less that eight thousand words, a half hour's read for the earnest citizen. The document's style thus invites us to explore its substance, to visit and regularly revisit America's legal city on a hill.
Acropolis. An interesting choice of words. I wasn't entirely certain what it meant, so the first order of business is to get a definition to work from:
Acropolis (from Wikipedia): Acropolis (Gr. akros, akron, edge, extremity + polis, city, pl. acropoleis) literally means city on the edge (or extremity). For purposes of defense, early settlers naturally chose elevated ground, frequently a hill with precipitous sides.
The Constitution, a "New World Acropolis." A bastion of defense. A well defended hill with "precipitous sides." It's a very interesting analogy for a document. What is it defending? What sort of precipitous fall awaits outside the Constitution? It will be interesting to see what the author has to say about this. The Acropolis is a monument, a wonder of the world. I think that the Constitution is certainly no less.
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Savior declared, “I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose” (D&C 101:80). Friend, Sep 1987, Ezra Taft Benson.
Perhaps the precipitous fall is the fall from Divinely Revealed freedoms into the more run-of-the-mill tyranny of ordinary governments. The loss of freedoms and rights our Maker intended for His children to have. President Benson was certainly clear that the Lord is pleased with the Constitution:
But we honor more than those who brought forth the Constitution. We honor the Lord who revealed it. God Himself has borne witness to the fact that He is pleased with the final product of the work of these great patriots.
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith on August 6, 1833, the Savior admonished: “I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land” (D&C 98:6).
I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval on the Constitution of this land. ibid.
America's Constitution beckons -- a New World Acropolis open to all. Ordained in the name of the American people, repeatedly amended by them and for them, the document also addresses itself to them. It does its work in strikingly clean prose (as law goes) and with notable brevity. Its full text, including amendments, runs less that eight thousand words, a half hour's read for the earnest citizen. The document's style thus invites us to explore its substance, to visit and regularly revisit America's legal city on a hill.
Most citizens have declined the invitation. Many could probably recite at length from some favorite poem, song, speech, or scripture, yet few could quote by heart even a single paragraph of the supreme law of our land, one of the most important texts in world history.
It's sad, but true. I recently became aware of my own Constitutional ignorance. Talking to others around me has revealed theirs, even to include the lady that was recently elected to the State Assembly! She had no better idea of what is in the Constitution than anyone else I've spoken to. Interestingly, her attacks on her opponent were particularly vicious where the opponent (who was well versed in Constitutional ideas and liberties) was championing limited government. Limited government and personal responsibility have become very unpopular ideas of late.
Reading this book is a step in my plan to correct my own ignorance. I feel that, given that nearly every prophet of the restoration as talked about the importance of the Constitution and the Divine origin of the liberties it secures, I should put some time and effort into getting to know it better, to understand the principles that the Founders were trying to put into practice. Clearly there is more at work here than just some good ideas that some smart men got together and wrote about 200-some-odd years ago.
Most citizens have declined the invitation. Many could probably recite at length from some favorite poem, song, speech, or scripture, yet few could quote by heart even a single paragraph of the supreme law of our land, one of the most important texts in world history. Lawyers, politicians, journalists, and opinion leaders converse fluently about legal dictums and doctrines that appear nowhere in the Constitution itself while slighting many intriguing words and concepts that do appear in the document. For instance, we rarely stop to think about what lay beneath the Constitution's promise of a "more perfect Union," or why the Founders required presidents to be at least thirty-five years old, or how the Fourteenth Amendment built upon earlier bans on "Titles of Nobility" when it made everyone "born" in America a "citizen." University professors who teach constitutional law often neglect to assign the document itself. The running joke is that reading the thing would only confuse students. The joke captures an important truth. Without background materials placing the Constitution in context, a modern reader may miss much of its meaning and richness.
I certainly would not be able (yet) to recite any of the Constitution. I'm still pondering what I would like to memorize. I may start with just the Preamble. There's so much in there. It does not surprise me at all that Universities neglect the Constitution itself, even in "Constitutional Studies" courses. The Constitution, to my reading, seems to be diametrically opposed to many of the popular ideas about government. We wouldn't want anyone to notice that our own government is operating outside of its authority, now would we! Of course not. If "We the People" were aware, I like to think that We would reign in the government, force it back to its proper place and size, and many who now enjoy power would loose it. Constitutional principle seems to be entirely missing from education, apparently at all levels! No wonder we have no Patriot-statesmen like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson in our day: we are not teaching the potential patriots the principles that would light the fire in them!
This book seeks to reacquaint twenty-first century Americans with the written Constitution. In the pages that follow, I invite readers to join me on an interpretive journey through the document, from its first words to its last clause. Along the way, we shall explore not merely what the Constitutions says, but also how and why it says these things. How did various provisions at the Founding intermesh to form larger patterns of meaning and structures of decision making? How did later generations of constitutional Amenders reconfigure the system? Why did the Founders and Amenders act as they did? What lessons did they deduce from the distant past and from their own experiences? Which historically available models did they copy, and which plausible alternatives did they overlook or reject? What immediate problems were they trying to solve? Which long-range threats and possibilities did they espy on the horizon, and which future developments did they fail to foresee? What material and ideological resources did they command, and what practical constraints did they confront? How and why did their political opponents take issue with them? Who got to participate in the various decisions to ordain and, later, amend America's supreme law?
These are some very interesting questions. I look forward to seeing the author's answers. Right now most of them are things that I have not previously considered.
The Constitution has given rise to a remarkable range of interpretations over the years. In the chapters that follow I offer my own take: This book is an opinionated biography of the document. For example, while I try to say at least something in passing about every paragraph of the document, I pay special attention to those aspects of the Constitution that are, in my view, particularly significant or generally misunderstood. Because readers deserve to be told about other views, this book's endnotes identify contrasting perspectives (and also, where appropriate, furnish additional elaboration). In a brief Postscript, I summarize the main areas where my method and substance are, for better worse, distinctive. For convenience, this book's Appendix contains the complete text of the Constitution, keyed to the corresponding pages of my narrative.
Too bad the main stream media doesn't preface its reporting with a similar disclaimer!
Our story begins -- where else? -- at the beginning, with the Constitution's opening sentence, conventionally known as the Preamble. This sentence bids us to ponder basic questions about our Constitution and our country. How democratic was the Constitution of 1787-1788? Did it bind Americans into an indivisible nation? If so, why?
30 September 2008
1st book: The Secret Garden.
I read this book in school. Probably late elementary or junior high school. Likely both, actually. I liked The Secret Garden. It's one of the titles that was in that box that vanished. Anyway, I've replaced it now. Twice, actually. Seems that I picked up one at a thrift shop and one at Barnes & Nobel, but I couldn't tell you which one came first. That's probably why I've got two. Anyway, reading The Secret Garden is a much different journey the second time around.
Before when I read it, it was an enjoyable story, but it never was much more than a nice story. Now, I wonder things: what happens to Colin and Mary after the story? It's a pretty idealic view of them that's presented in the book. And a mighty remarkable transformation, all from nothing more than getting out and gardening. Having worked with troubled kids, I have a hard time with the abrupt cessation of Colin's tantrums. But that aside, the way that the book is written makes me want to think about myself, and the changes that I need to make. And this seems quite remarkable to me! I watch the things that change first in Mary, then Colin, and finally in Mr. Craven, and it seems like such a hopeful, encouraging thing: "Look here, see how far gone these three were, and they managed to change, so surely you can too." Seems to be the message in the pages of that book. It's very interesting.
The 2nd Book: The Well-Trained Mind.
I've read this one before too, though it's not been as long as The Secret Garden. I was going back over what Mrs. Bauers recommends for the study of History, and looking at her ideas for time-lines. She says:
The time line can be simple (birth and death dates recorded in red pencil, political events in green, scientific discoveries in purple, and so forth). Or it can be as complected as the student likes (adorned with drawings and cutout pictures: notebook-paper-sized inserts hung above or below a particular date to allow for expansion -- for example, a month-by-month account of the Civil War or a year-by-year description of Arab conquests of the seventh century). (Well-Trained Mind, page 271)
This, along with the interesting things she was recommending for kids to study, made me want to pull out my Book of Centuries and see what I can learn about History. I don't have any of the resources she recommends (yet), but I do have an Institute Manual on the history of the Church. It's got some pretty interesting stuff in there. They actually start with the Apostasy, and so I included a map of the area covered by the early church, added the date of the Nicean Council, and a few other early things like that. I'm using my scrapbooking pens, at least for now, to add a bit of color to the dates. It really does seem to make it more readable and easier to tell what's going on.
24 July 2008
10 June 2008
Mr. Menzies continued his narrative outlining the path of Admiral Zhou Man's fleet. In four months they went 16,000 nautical miles, down the western coast of North and South America; from Canada to Panama. Along the way, he surmised that there would be wrecks. He researched that theory and found some evidence to support his theory. But more concrete than even the supposed Chinese wrecks, was the evidence of Chinese settlements along those same areas.
It fascinated me to read about the reports of the settlements. For example, in 1874 Stephen Powers, an official inspector appointed by the government of California, spent years researching and collecting information on the language tribes of California. He claimed to have evidence of a Chinese colony not too far from where a wreck site that Mr. Menzies investigated (pg 245). Sadly, they were decimated by European diseases.
Other examples were given on pages 246 to the end of the chapter. Discussions about how they found sites where the settlers had intermarried with the American Indians, evidenced by the mixing of customs: building walls around cities, rice patties, even linguistic evidences.
Mr. Menzies goes on to talk about how the Chinese must have encountered the Mayan civilization (pg. 249 - 253). He goes into some detail about the Mayan history and culture. I couldn't help but think about the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Mayans had beehives, built temples, had networks of trade established. It makes me wish that we had more information on the Mayans and the Aztecs.. I would love to know more.
29 May 2008
Geez, no wonder the harems are places of politics and intrigue! 2000 women, cooped up with (at least according to popular depictions) nothing to do, but if they can attract his attention they can have the ear of the Emperor. Or they can have nothing. Yikes. Talk about catty!(pg 50)
I'm neither a student of economics or of Chinese history, but it seems to me that history is beginning to repeat itself:
Rulers paid tribute to China in return for trading privileges and protection against their enemies, but China always gave its trading partners a greater value of goods -- silks and porcelain at discounted prices, often funded by soft loans -- than was received from them. They were thus in perpetual debt to China. (page 52, emphasis added)
The Chinese preferred to pursue their aims by trade, influence and bribery rather than by open conflict and direct colonization. (page 60)
We keep hearing about how China has become a major purchaser of American national debt. Looks like this preference for having other nations in debt to them is a well-established policy. And why not? Any country that we owe money to has that to hold over our heads! "Do what we want or we'll make you pay up." No wonder the dollar is weak. Surely there is a lesson here to be learned: PAY OUR DEBTS!
So, my first question is that since the Chinese have been tracking this comet since before Christ (page 55), why in the world is it named after a 17th Century Englishman?? In any case, the information in Wikipedia about Halley's Comet is pretty interesting. I remember its visit in 1986. But I don't know that I should plan on making it as long as 2061 to see the next visit. And this comet is a "short period" comet!
23 May 2008
So it all started with the world map, Universalis Cosmographia, published in May of 1507, drawn by cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. This map, Mr. Menzies says, is "the first to chart latitude and longitude with precision" (p. 238).
While reading in this book I've always been fascinated by the descriptions of the evolution of the maps. Not so much the actual fundamental details and inner-cog workings of how they did it, but it's fascinating to watch as they get more and more accurate and similar to our world view of today. I have had to reshape my thinking by a new found admiration I have for these early explorers. Their understanding of math and astronomy, and whatever other sciences necessary for them to figure out longitude and latitude and draw amazingly accurate maps while sailing around on wooden boats without any fancy tools, demands greater respect than what I had previously been giving to these people.
ANYWAY, that's not where I was going with this entry.
Mr. Menzies comments only briefly on page 238 that this world map of 1507, that it was the first to have called these two continents "America" in writing. And he leaves it at that. No more details, just moves goes on from there.
However, the statement that this map was "the first ever to call the continent 'America' " made me realize I had no idea where America got its name. Of course it had to come from somewhere, but where?
In doing some searches I found many websites. However, I quickly discovered that the name America is surrounded by as much controversy and conflicting stories as is the history of who discovered her first! Ah, history and its many keepers.
So, here is what I've found:
"America" - Possible Origin #1
Americo Vespucci: Italian explorer who first realized that the Americas were two continents, independent of Asia (c.1499). Along with the world map drawn by Waldseemüller, there was an accompanying book, Cosmographiae Introductio, published by the same author. This book explains that the name was derived from the Latinized version of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci's name, Americus Vespucius, in its feminine form, "America", as the other continents all have Latin feminine names. However, news traveled slowly back in the day and eventually that name was withdrawn by Waldseemüller after he realized that Columbus arrived on that continent before Vespucci. Still, the name stuck.
"America" - Possible Origin #2
Richard Amerike: a wealthy Bristol merchant Richard Amerike, who was an overseas trader living just outside the city in Long Ashton (c. 1480). I found an article that said that previous to this time, Bristol merchants bought salt cod in Iceland until the King of Denmark stopped the trade in 1475. In l479, four Bristol merchants received a royal charter to find another source of fish and trade. This article purports that the new source was the Americas. And, the continent was named as such because Richard Amerike was largely the funder of the expedition. It is indicated that on the fishing map, the name America was used and that Vespucci was given a copy of these maps. Also, there is reported to be a letter in the Spanish National Archives confirming that Bristol merchants had traveled to the Americas first and the maps was also sent to Columbus for his journey. So, that area had been called America before 1507, there just weren't any extant maps to prove it.
Both of these stories have compelling points. However, nowhere do they factor in the Chinese maps that Mr. Menzies indicated were the possible reference maps for that 1507 world map, so who really knows?? I'm inclined to think that due to the largely European slant on all of our current, mainstream history, the name probably caught on from Mr. Waldseemüller's world map. Plus, I think it fitting that Mr. Vespuccio get the naming rights since he's [the European] accredited with the discovery of it being its own continent.
But what if it was a mixture of both? I can see that too. Everybody is sharing maps, right? So, maybe the Bristolians did come first. And it was called America on those maps, and it was just easier to refer to it as that when Americo Vespuccio used the maps for his journey. And what if Mr. Waldseemüller, the poor stay at home cartographer, had no idea why Vespuccio referred to it as America. So, he just guessed in his book, and his book was published and then people believed it forever.
So much speculation! Isn't this fun? :)
Anyway, my conclusion: I just don't know.
However, some purport that it's a shame that America wasn't named for Columbus. However, I think that since the man lived and died thinking he'd found the Indies and never really knew it was its own continent, regardless the origin, it's ok that the Americas weren't named for him.
21 April 2008
So, the first thing that I wanted to know about when I started chapter six is this extinct warrah - the Falklands' fox. Wikipedia to the rescue! They had this public domain picture in their entry for the Falkland Island Fox. There's a little bit more information on Wikipedia, but you can't expect a whole lot for a species that went extinct almost 150 years ago! Mr. Menzies says that he thinks these are the descendants of the dogs left behind & promises more on his website, but I couldn't find anything when I looked this evening.
My next thought was to wonder where the Falkland Islands are. One of the things that this book has definitely done for me is to show me how poor my geography is! Happily, Wikipedia answered that question too: the south tip of South America. Here's another map, one that's a bit easier to look at.
Errr.... more later. It's time for bed.
08 April 2008
I find it quite amusing that Mr. Menzies doesn't do much to conceal his disdain of European explorers. Not to say that I think Columbus or Magellan were saintly gentlemen by any means, but it rather seems that Mr. Menzies is indignant on behalf of the Chinese who's nautical achievements have been so overlooked and that indignation manifests in snarky commentary on their European counterparts. Pages 172 and 173 sketch out a description of Magellan that is almost as unflattering as the one for Columbus in earlier chapters. Seriously, I am firmly convinced that history is really all about the historian spinning the tale.
However, I cannot help but be astonished again and again at the amazing aptitude of the Chinese as they sailed around the world and were able to discern the circumference of the earth and triangulate their position with the stars and discovered a way to track longitude. And their sailing prowess; Mr. Menzies description of sailing the Strait of Magellan is a powerful example of the sailors' skill.
It must have been a treacherous journey. I was struck by how much these sailors gave up in agreeing to go on this trek. A ship wrecked off the coast of Australia, and the ship's description fits that of one from the Chinese fleet, and there is a legend among the Aborigines of "yellow men" settling in among them. Can you imagine the change of life that must have been? Yikes.
14 March 2008
I sort of felt torn about this chapter. Part of me really appreciated that he was so thorough in the support of his claims about his abilities of deduction based on looking at maps and reading travel-logs (basically the support for thesis of the book.. heh) He went into great detail explaining how exactly he determined how the Chinese were so accurate in their mapping abilities, and who met whom where and when. However, it was that same detail that I got bogged down in as I was reading. Maybe it is just that I'm not much of a seafarer nor am I an expert on cartography, but I found the gobs of details rather laborious.
In the end, I took notes on the people he introduced and and tried to summarize the rest of the detail things. In the end I thought myself fairly successful :) I find, however, as I read further, that his claims seem more and more substantiated. This amuses me slightly, just because I have approached this book with a substantial amount of skepticism. Not that I thought that, irrevocably, Columbus MUST have been the first to find the Americas, but that I was skeptical how reading maps could really be the way he would support his thesis.
I am perfectly ok believing that other people found the Americas first. It seems pretty reasonable that it be the Chinese, especially when looking at them as Mr. Menzies has painted them. They were so much more knowledgeable and advanced at the time compared to the Europeans. Still, this new light really doesn't change much for me here in the United States in 2008; the Europeans still were the folks who made the immigration and colonization stick. But now, I begin to let my mind wander as I wonder how things would've been different if all the records had not been destroyed so carefully. And also if the Chinese culture of the time had been more prone to sharing their amazing amounts of knowledge with the rest of the world.
03 March 2008
But you know what I found out? There seems to be a lot of disagreement online about what is actually factual in this guy's life. But at least I found a nice picture.
14 February 2008
1488 - Bartolomeu Dias (page 33) rounds the Cape of Good Hope (southern Africa)
1498 - Vasco da Gama (page 33) becomes first European to reach India by sea.
1492 - Christopher Columbus (page 33) arrives in the Bahamas. (The Encarta link is a pretty long bio on Columbus & has some fun information. It says that there was a reward for sighting land, nearly a year's pay, & that Columbus dishonestly pocketed it himself. This fits with Mr. Menzie's depiction of Columbus & his brother as crooks.)
OK, I'll be back to add more explorers later, as they come up.
12 February 2008
The first one is this cartographer, Zuane Pizzigano. So I googled him. The very first hit was this odd Mysteriuos World site that I'm not entirely sure that I trust. But they did say that his map is available for folks to go look at at the University where Mr. Menzies originally found it. It's not terribly far from here, maybe the next time Andy gets sent there for business I'll tag along and see if I can't see the map. But this site seems a bit ... off ... to me.
Here's an actual copy of the 1424 map, found on the 1421 website. That's pretty interesting, although it's a little small.
Here's an interesting (if a little long) article about the 1424 map. Looks like it was written well before our book, but one of the things that they mention at the end of the article is that you'd have to outline what voyage made landfall on "Antilia." But apparently Portuguese children are taught a different story of the discovery of the Americas.
Oh, hey, this is interesting. I looks like notes from a presentation that Mr. Menzie did at some point. Mr. Menzie & his buddies think the Chinese were a major factor in kicking off the Renaissance. Not that they say it in so many words, but the contributions they're crediting to the Chinese are things that contributed significantly to the flowering of knowledge and technology that became the Renaissance. Things like movable type and calculating latitude. Makes me wish that I could go to some of the sessions that he's talking about these other men presenting.
Here's another one, that starts out quite hostile to Mr. Menzies right from the get-go. It's a 39 page .pdf, so bring some hot chocolate and some cookies. However, be warned that the author of the paper is rather unfriendly to Mr. Menzies, preferring an Aribic-Islamic theory of the discovery of the world. It's not a pleasant read at all, but it does answer one question I had about Mr. Menzies's theory: he seems to discount the Arabs pretty early on as incapable, but I'd always thought that they were the folks that gifted us with the concept of "zero" among other important things, and it seemed odd that they should be so casually brushed aside. So it's somewhat comforting to discover that there are other theories out there. It also further muddies the water. I have come to the conclusion that we basically have No Idea who got to the Americas "first."
Anyway, back to 1421. (Although I still know little to nothing about this Zuane Pizzigano guy.)
The very early Ming was a period of vigorous Chinese military resurgence after the period of Mongol domination. The founder of the dynasty, Zhu Yuanshang ... (Mentioned on page 45 of 1421 - he's Zhu Di's rags-to-riches father.) For his era name he chose Hongwu, which means "grand military achievement," and his military accomplishments were certainly impressive. By the end of his reign, the Ming had won control of all China and dominated th frontier region from Hami, in Zinjang, north through Inner Mongolia and into northern Manchuria. (Here's a map of Ming China.) Beyond that, the Ming had won the subjugation of Korea as well as various Central and Southeastern Asian states which sent tribute. Chengzu, the third Ming emperor, often referred to by his reigh name, Yongle, continued his father's expansionist policy, leading five expeditions against teh Mongols, intervening in Annam and then incorporating it into the empire, and sending out great maritime expeditions, which established China as a naval power. (According to our Mr. Menzie, Zhu Di was 3rd Ming emporer, let me see if I can find any information about these 2 people. Ah, yes. Wikipedia and this other site will be happy to tell you about it.) The early Ming was thus a period of vigorous Chinese military resurgence coming after the period of Mongol domination.
Taizu (The father; no wonder I had such a hard time... in addition to each ruler having a fistful of names, the book is very equal-opportunity in using them all!) was a harsh and autocratic ruler. The position of Chancellor was abolished, and ministers now had to kneel in front of the emperor whereas in the Song (a previous dynasty) they had stood and in the Tang they had sat in the imperial presence. Taizu insisted on deciding personally even matters of secondary importance. A very hard worker, he went through stacks of memorials: in one period of ten days he is reported to have perused 1,660 memorials dealing with 3,391 separate matters. ... Merciless in exterminating those who stood in the way or were suspected of doing so, he obtained information through a secret service provided with its own prison and torturing apparatus. Officials who displease the emperor were subjected to beating in open court. Always painful and terribly humiliating, the beating was sometimes so severe that the victim died. ...
Chengzu (our Zhu Di) was as politically and militarily vigorous as his father but did not follow the first emperor's example in all respects. After defeating his nephew, the second emperor, in a massive civil war, Chengzu moved the capitol from Nanjing to Beijing, which he largely rebuilt. To assure supplies for the capitol, he also reconstructed the Grand Canal. Just as severe as his father when it came to purging real or suspected opponents, he was better educated than Taizu and more generous in his patronage of Confucianism. ... He also sponsored major scholarly projects. The most grandiose of these was the compilation of a huge literary treasury, which employed more than 2000 scholars and when complete in 1408 resulted in a compendium of 22,877 rolls, or chapters. Under Chengzu the complete, unexpurgated Mencius (an influential book of Confucian philosophy.) was also once more available.
Looks like for this section, the textbook has some very similar although less detailed things to say about the Early Ming period of history. The next section goes on to talk about the Maritime Expeditions, mentioning the enormous fleet and the foreign envoys that are brought back to pay tribute to China. Apparently the King of Borneo was buried in China, outside of Nanjing, and you can still see his grave there today. But the text only lists destinations of "not only various areas of Southeast Asia but also the Indian Ocean, Arabia, and the east coast of Africa.(page 241)" It's not terribly surprising that it doesn't list all of the destinations that Mr. Menzies gives, as his reading of the history and the evidence for his conclusions in some cases, is new and controversial. At least it is in the West, and this is an English language textbook, published in the USA. Huge portions of our history will need to be re-written if Mr. Menzie is correct about many of his assertions at all!
07 February 2008
Oh my goodness! The turn around of fortune from the previous chapter was so drastic! Gavin Menzies is a very compelling author. He is very gifted in putting a spin on a story. Not to say that I think it's all untrue, or impossible, but he does seem to have a lot of flourish and detail and an impressively fleshed out story for something that had all documentation destroyed.
All that aside though, one can't help but feel great sympathy for Zhu Di and his complete downfall before the end of his reign as emperor. By the end, all his dreams had been squashed and destroyed. I'm sure it's very American of me to look at it ( and so not Confucian) and think that it was so admirable that Zhu Di achieved so much greatness and that it be so tragic that his successors would turn it around so completely after his death. However, I'm sure Zhu Gaozhi and Zhu Zhanji felt they were doing what was best for China; all of Zhu Di's extravagance almost bankrupted the country and was so heavy with human life. Still, I think it's a sad sad tale.
I think I feel the most sympathy for the poor sailors who went on that two year voyage and came back to a completely changed country. I'm sure they were so excited to return with all their successes, and then to be shunned for being part of Zhu Di's extravagance is so very tragic.
Though, in it all, my question is: If all the records were so meticulously destroyed after the voyagers returned, how did Columbus get those maps, or the Venetian cartographer Zuane Pizzigano?
Hehe... hopefully Mr. Menzies will address that eventually.
02 February 2008
Throughout the entire chapter I was impressed again and again by Zhu Di's ingenuity and powerful, driving ambition. His rise to power was intense to say the least. I mean, the man faked insanity, lived in squalor for several months and hid out in plain sight to avoid being killed for being a threat as a potential rival to the chosen heir, Zhu Yunwen (p.48). That's dedication.
Once he had finally conquered and overthrown Zhu Yunwen and Nanjin, he had such amazingly colossal plans for improving China. And he implemented them unabashedly from the get-go. Moving everything to Beijing was just the beginning. Throughout his reign, Zhu Di built the Forbidden City, repaired the Grand Canal, and compiled a huge collection of academic knowledge, printed novels and a 4000 volume encyclopedia set (p. 62). All the while maintaining peace with the people in his empire and in surrounding areas and still managed to build a huge ocean-worthy fleet of ships for which he planned to "proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas..." (p. 64).
Also, I thought it was very interesting the lengths that he went to in order to fully establish that he was the legitimate heir and that the gods smiled upon his reign. On page 54 it talks about how Zhu Di built the Temple of Heaven at the center of the new city as the very first project. Not only would it be the stage for major, yearly ceremonies, it would be the "very heart" of the new Chines empire. And later, he would present a magical "qilin" (or giraffe.. hehe.. from East Africa) to convince the mandarins to support his pricey schemes. This gift was presented by a close adviser to Zhu Di and proclaimed to be a sign of heavenly approval for his rule (p.58). Such a swindler.. heh.
All in all, it seems that Zhu Di led a charmed life; always achieving what he set out to do. However, the last paragraph of chapter one seems to hint that all would not end well despite the auspicious beginning:
"As they sailed out across the Yellow Sea, the last flickering lights of Tanggu faded into the darkness while the sailors clustered at the rails, straining for a last sight of their homeland ... The majority of those seaman at the rails would never see China again. Many would die, many others would be shipwrecked or left behind to set up colonies on foreign shores. Those who eventually returned after two and a half years at sea would find their country convulsed and transformed beyond all recognition."I am intrigued and must read on......
01 February 2008
It does raise the question: what do I teach my children about the discoveries of the various places in the world when it comes time to do that? If this book is right, and with all the evidence he has including diaries from the European explorers it sure is convincing, then all of the history textbooks need to re-written in a spectacular fashion.
26 January 2008
Sunday School this week covers the rest of Nephi's Vision, including the discovery of the Americas. Go read this.
Now, in light of the information in this book, I have to wonder, was Christopher Columbus perhaps included in the "other Gentiles" rather than being the man the spirit "wrought upon?" I haven't looked too treribly closely at what our book says about Columbus, but the author seems pretty adamantly clear that the European explorers knew to one degree or another that someone had already been where they were trying to go.
Something to ponder.
24 January 2008
However, in just the Introduction, I have decided that I need a Book of Centuries. Otherwise I will never keep all these dates straight. Also, once I got started thinking about it, having this to reference would be very cool in general. I think I would actually be able to remember dates for a wide array of things. Consequently, today over lunch I am going to brave the cold and go out in quest of a notebook to create a Book of Centuries in.
20 January 2008
To study history is to do history. And the only way we can do history is to examine the available records from the past and then write about them. So, doing history means writing history.
I like his reasons! He gives a number of reasons why writing should be an important part of the study of history: it helps you understand & remember it better, and gives you the chance to put your own opinion out there. Sounds a lot like joining the "great Conversation" that Susan Bauer talks about in her two "Educated Mind" books. It makes sense to me. I think when this book is all done I'm going to write a bit about it. I always did like doing papers anyway. This will give me the chance to control the length, content, the whole kit and caboodle. Sounds like fun to me! Anyone care to join me?
15 January 2008
Check this one out - a lovely curved river. This one has several pictures from Beijing, plus shots of the Great Wall. One of the thrones. Sounds like there are several. That's Some Seat!
Apparently Pinyin is for pronouncing Mandarin. I found some very interesting information about it here. It's really interesting to hear the difference between the various (5) tones that they've got. It sounds like singing on the webpage. I'll have to look around and see if they have any full words, because so far all I've seen is just syllables with pronunciation examples that you can listen to. But it's extremely melodic, even just broken up into syllables. Ah, here are some words with pronunciation both at speed and broken down slowly.
14 January 2008
Race ya to the bookstore!
09 January 2008
A Book of Centuries is like a timeline in a notebook. As its name suggests, each two-page spread in the book is devoted to one hundred years — a century — of history. Each student creates his or her own book, recording historical events and names of importance, along with pictures, poems, quotes, and anything else that makes the book individual. You can also add written narrations, illustrations from the Internet, or titles of books you’ve read that are set in that time period.
04 January 2008
Educating Ourselves: Classical Education for Adults
Begin the habit of keeping a learning journal in which you jot down ideas, facts, questions, material that you're learning. The great writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century are marked by their diligence in writing down what they were learning from their reading. Don't organize these notebooks too elaborately, or you'll find that you're spending your study time tidying your filing and notation system, rather than studying. Just head each page with the subject that you're learning, and write down facts that strike you and your reaction to them. You'll find that these learning journals expand into series of notebooks that chronicle your intellectual journey. Make it a habit to dedicate a week of study time, once every six months or so, to reading back through your own notes on your learning. (emphasis added)
You know, I've been keeping a journal for a while now - it's getting close enough to full that I realized the other day that I was going to have to get another one one of these days. But I don't think that I've done a whole lot in the way of going back through the notebook and looking over the things that I read or the thoughts that I had while I was reading. I'm going to have to do that over the next little while!