History For Geeks

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I've called this page "History for Geeks" as a nod to the many university courses called "Physics for Poets". I may be closer to "geek" than "poet", but over the years (since school) I've discovered that history is actually more interesting… and important… than I realized at any time in school outside of Mrs DeFrancis's classes. They were good… but Miss Sangdahl's were even more in tune with my nature and progress to date, and I went down the path I did. Below are some snippets which I hope will help others enjoy history more. The first entry.. at the bottom of the page… probably gets no points for "important", but I hope none-the-less that it will be found "interesting"!

New entries at top…

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Next time you have a piece of gingerbread…

In mediaval western Europe, it took more than an ounce of gold to buy the materials to make one ounce of gingerbread. (The spices from the East, which would have come overland, were what made it expensive.)

(Heard on Secrets of the Castle, BBC TV, December 2014, Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold.)

Normandy Landings, 1944… some numbers

In June 2014, I saw an interesting television program presented by James Holland, telling more of the story than the battles for the beaches.

The Normandy battle lasted for 77 days, by the commander's reckoning.

On average, each day: 6,500 casualties. A column of men, five abreast, stretching for 1,300 rows…

One small unit of the offensive consisted of 150 fighting tanks. As one broke down or was damaged by the enemy, it was replaced. Replaced. There was a crucial difference between the challenges faced by the leaders on each side. While the Allies "only" needed to ferry things across the channel, the Germans had much more extended supply chains, and a more impoverished inventory.

As I was saying: One unremarkable unit: 150 fighting tanks. In the course of the 77 days, 1,073 tanks were supplied to the unit to keep it at 150 fighting tanks.

One day, a major push was attempted. Seven thousand TONS of bombs were dropped. The troops on the ground then advanced. Seven miles. A THOUSAND TONS of bombs per mile.

"History".. or biology?

Actually, NOT "history", as the term is used by people who know about these things…. history is only things with written records.

But I did tell you I'm a failed student of history.

Anyway… watching a BBC programme just now, I was introduced to an interesting idea. Of course no one KNOWS, but some of the people who study these things have an interesting theory….

When humans first left Aftrica, they probably did so from modern day Djibouti across the Bab el Mandeb straits to Yemen. No so remarkable.

What is remarkable is that it is thought that just two individual women were "grandmother" to all of today's non-African-origin people! One for the European races, one for India and the far east. Wow! Well. I think the idea is pretty amazing, anyway.

What they never tell us

History is written by the victors.

And when I was in school, blacks and Indians were not part of the winning team. So I never heard about Crispus Attucks. See more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crispus_attucks

He is likely the first colonial killed by the British (Boston, March 5, 1770) when the American revolution was kicking off. His story, as so often with "the little people", is not well documented… but he was probably a black AND an Indian!

I am drawn to the story, as the first naval vessel fighting for the revolution was named for my five times great grandfather's wife, and owned by his in-laws.

And how did I come to hear about Crispus? Ah, the wonders of doing research on the internet! From looking into a collector of science fiction, to (in connection with that) looking for the "other" Alice Dunbar, sculptor, etc, etc.

How many?

I've always known about the WWII "vengence weapons", the V-1 and the V2. I could even draw you a good picture, describe their basic characteristics. But I never realized just how many were launched, how many fell on English soil… not just London… another thing I didn't realise.

pp Wikipedia, 7/12:

People killed by V-1s: 6,184
People killed by V-2s: 2,754

Still quoting Wikipedia… at least 3,172 were fired, not all at England. Belgium wad hist by slightly more than England was.

"British intelligence leaked falsified information implying that the rockets were over-shooting their London target by 10 to 20 miles. This tactic worked and for the remainder of the war most landed in Kent due to erroneous recalibration."…now that's canny!

And lastly, from a TV programme: The German scientists managed to launch at least one V-2 from a canister which could be towed behind a submarine… A Polaris or Trident… 15 years before the time of Polaris. Hmm… that surprised me… I didn't realize Polaris had been lurking in the seas for so long. (First successful launch, 1960. Entered service 1961. Cost of one Trident: $70 million. Cost of program to date: About $40 billion. (At least those are Wikipedia's best guesses.))

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An oddity…

This isn't really the sort of thing I mean for this page, but where else to put it?

Are you familiar with the Gaia theory? Quoting from Wikipedia, it "proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system." That is to say that "the earth, and all that thereon is" can be thought of as "an organism" in its own right. Interesting idea, and not without its uses. But! Do you know who formulated the name for it? William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies!

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Stunning graphics, not just "eye candy"…

I don't have to tell you that the world is changing. People are living longer. We are better off in material terms. And these phenomena are not reaching every country equally.

But I couldn't begin to present the information in such a stunning manner as the following 4 minute clip…


In it you can "see" the 1918 flu pandemic. You can see various wars. You can see "things" which I can't identify, but which fascinate me, and I may one day figure out!

By the way… if you come across something good which you may want to view again and again, but which you fear might not last online forever, there is a service which can "harvest" some video files from the web. It is at www.getvideomp3.com. The service is free, but you may have to install a "player" utility… also free… on your PC to view downloaded material. (Sadly, the video mentioned above is copyright material, and cannot be downloaded. Its source may have been the BBC's "Statistics" programme.

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Extraordinary Deaths

This note will be much longer than most, but I hope you will agree it has more food for thought than most.

It all started when I was watching The British TV program Is the West History presented by Niall Ferguson.

He made reference to a rebellion in China, mid 1800s, and said that it claimed lives of twice as many people as died… on all sides… in all of World War I, and that set me wondering. So, off to Wikipedia, where I found a fascinating page.

Before I turn to that page, let's just give a lot of thought to how do you define and determine "how many died in WW I". The page lists many conflicts and catastrophes… some with good documentation, e.g. number of official Japanese Kamakazi pilots… to things that are almost pre-history, and no one today can possibly determine "exact" numbers…. but does that mean we don't even try?? Furthermore, consider this: If 100,000 die or are killed in a place today, it is bad… but what if it happened in the same place 500 years ago? 100,000 would have been a much larger part of the population back then.

And last, but not least, of course the "number of people killed" figure is usually highly politcal. Ask President Obama how many civilians have died in Afganistan since he became president, for instance.

IN ANY CASE… here are Wikipedia's attempts at "how many died"… in each case they give a low estimate and a high estimate.

Quote from Wikipedia…

The Taiping Rebellion was a widespread civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864, led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan, against the ruling Qing Dynasty. About 20 million people died, mainly civilians, in one of the deadliest military conflicts in history.

(One little aside which might amuse you: I had quite a search to find that. I'd only heard Hong Xiuquan's name. My guess at the spelling? Hong Tzu Twan. Even Google couldn't quess what I was looking for!)

Now we'll turn to things from the summary of wars and disasters page at Wikipedia. No- the numbers aren't "right", or "exact"…. but they aren't picked out of thin air, either, and are, to me at least, interesting… I hope you'll find the same!

Going back to where all this started: World War I, "poster child" of shameful waste of life: More than 9 million combatants were killed. 15 to 65 million died. (But high estimate includes Spanish Flu deaths… quoted in it's own article to have killed between 50 and 100 million worldwide. Go figger. (Maybe only the European Spanish flu deaths were included in the WW I figures?)

Taiping… of which I'll admit I'd never heard… listed in the page I'm quoting here as taking 20 to 30 million… in fifth place.

WorldWar TWO tops the list, with estimates ranging from 40 million to 72 million.

Then there are three wars/ disasters which again, I hadn't heard of. Only then do we get to World War I. One of the earlier entries was for an event from around 1300. So the large absoulte number of murders becomes even more amazing… 8 to 17% of world population!

I hope I managed to spark in your mind some of the things that hadn't crossed mine before tonight, which was far too late in my life to consider them.

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Careful old man…

True, I believe…. but it is so "good", maybe not…

The French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, was a notorious atheist, but the church wouldn't give up, tried giving him last rites as his time drew near.

Asked "Do you renounce the Devil and all his works?", he replied….




…. "I don't think this is a good time to be making any enemies."

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"History" today…

For many readers, perhaps the Cold War is something they merely read about. Not for all of us! While we live with various things today, there was a time, not SO long ago when at any time in the next 36 hours the world could have been knocked flat, as it were.

What an amazing ignorance we lived in in respect of the Soviet Union! To learn more about this amazing entity, read "Charm School", Nelson DeMille, and "Archangel", Robert Harris. The former: Amazing insights. The latter: An amazing story line, just gets better and better… rather like his "Fatherland"… another fascinating novel for the "almost interested in history" geek. Very clever premise: A "crime novel", set in Berlin in the 1960s… but in a parallel universe where Hitler hasn't lost WW II, although he was stopped between London and eastern Russia.

"Archangel" inspired me to "visit" Moscow and Archangel (the town) via Google maps, the "satellite" view in particular. Have a look at how far you have to go out from the city centre to be "in the country". Makes you think…. I hope!

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A lot of bricks…

According to a TV programme I was watching: In the "good old days" when bricks were made by hand… a daunting thought just by itself… a man was expected to make almost 1,000 per day. (That's just shaping the clay into the right sized blocks. Other men would have been busy with the work of preparing the clay, and firing the bricks, etc.) I don't think I want to STACK 1,000 bricks per day…

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"Luckiest ship"?

The USS Phoenix was at Pearl Harbor, and came through relatively unscathed. After Pearl Harbor, she was thought to be a lucky ship. In 1951, she was sold to Argentina.

Sadly, her "luck" didn't transfer to the Argentines. They renamed the ship the Belgrano, after one of their national heros. It was sunk, with terrible loss of life, during the Falklands conflict. According to Wikipedia, she is, at least as of 6/10, "the only ship ever sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine and the second sunk by any type of submarine in action since WWII".

(My thanks to "QI" ("Quite Interesting"), hosted by Steven Fry, for that, and to Wikipedia for some details, and for reading my mind, and returning information on "Belgrano" when I entered "belgraon"!)

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