Tag Archives: History

Do civilisations collapse?

By Guy D Middleton – We also need to think about what we apply the term ‘collapse’ to – what exactly was it that collapsed? Very often, it’s suggested that civilizations collapse, but this isn’t quite right. It is more accurate to say that states collapse. States are tangible, identifiable ‘units’ whereas civilization is a more slippery term referring broadly to sets of traditions. Many historians, including Arnold Toynbee, author of the 12-volume A Study of History (1934-61), have defined and tried to identify ‘civilizations’, but they often come up with different ideas and different numbers. But we have seen that while Mycenaean states collapsed, several strands of Mycenaean material and non-material culture survived – so it would seem wrong to say that their ‘civilization’ collapsed. Likewise, if we think of Egyptian or Greek or Roman ‘civilization’, none of these collapsed – they transformed as circumstances and values changed. We might think of each civilization in a particular way, defined by a particular type of architecture or art or literature – pyramids, temples, amphitheatres, for example – but this reflects our own values and interests.

It is the same with the Maya and with the Easter Islanders. In both cases, civilization and state have been confused and conflated. The Maya world was spread across a huge area with many different environments, from the dry northern Yucatán Peninsula to the river-fed lowlands in the south, and beyond into the mountains. It was an old and interconnected world of cities and kings, divided up among super-states of wide influence and more modest kingdoms that could fall under their spell. There were probably 60 to 70 ‘independent’ states; the fortunes of all waxed and waned. It was a bigger and more complex world than Late Bronze Age Greece.

he idea of a collapse of Maya civilization seems just wrong – and it carries with it the wrong kind of implications – that the Maya all disappeared or that their post-collapse culture is less important or less worthy of our attention. Via many individual collapses, Classic Maya society transformed through the Terminal Classic and into the Postclassic – a development that is hardly surprising when compared with the changing map of Europe across any five-century period. Maya society continued to change with the arrival of the Spanish, and through the colonial and modern eras. If we value the Maya’s so-called Classic period more than their culture at other times, this is our choice – but it is one that should be recognized and questioned. more>

A New Americanism

Why a Nation Needs a National Story
By Jill Lepore – Carl Degler issued a warning: “If we historians fail to provide a nationally defined history, others less critical and less informed will take over the job for us.”

The nation-state was in decline, said the wise men of the time. The world had grown global. Why bother to study the nation?

Francis Fukuyama is a political scientist, not a historian. But his 1989 essay “The End of History?” illustrated Degler’s point. Fascism and communism were dead, Fukuyama announced at the end of the Cold War.

Fukuyama was hardly alone in pronouncing nationalism all but dead. A lot of other people had, too. That’s what worried Degler.

Nation-states, when they form, imagine a past. That, at least in part, accounts for why modern historical writing arose with the nation-state.

But in the 1970s, studying the nation fell out of favor in the American historical profession. Most historians started looking at either smaller or bigger things, investigating the experiences and cultures of social groups or taking the broad vantage promised by global history.

But meanwhile, who was doing the work of providing a legible past and a plausible future—a nation—to the people who lived in the United States? Charlatans, stooges, and tyrants.

The endurance of nationalism proves that there’s never any shortage of blackguards willing to prop up people’s sense of themselves and their destiny with a tissue of myths and prophecies, prejudices and hatreds, or to empty out old rubbish bags full of festering resentments and calls to violence.

When historians abandon the study of the nation, when scholars stop trying to write a common history for a people, nationalism doesn’t die. Instead, it eats liberalism.

Maybe it’s too late to restore a common history, too late for historians to make a difference. But is there any option other than to try to craft a new American history—one that could foster a new Americanism? more>

Updates from Datacenter.com

30 Years of Open Internet in Europe
By Piet Beertema – On Saturday, 17 November at 2.28 pm it is exactly thirty years ago since the Netherlands was the first country in Europe to be connected to the Internet. System Administrator Piet Beertema of Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam received the confirmation that CWI – as the first institute outside the US – officially gained access to NSFnet, an academic computer network that later evolved into the worldwide Internet.

In 1988, the pioneers of CWI gained access tot the – then still American – Internet after years of preparation (CWI was already the central hub within the European network ‘EUnet’ and predecessor NLnet), thanks to their good contacts in the network world. Teus Hagen, head of IT at CWI at that time, explains in the documentary that during the development period, especially hard work was being done to establish the internet connection and the associated technology, so that communication between – especially scientists – would be faster and easier. “Data and information were exchanged freely at that time. If we had known that privacy and hacking would play such a big role in the future, we would have opted for a different approach for sure.”

Steven Pemberton was one of the first Internet users in Europe. In a later stage he developed important standards for the World Wide Web, one of the most important applications of the Internet. “In retrospect, establishing that first connection was a historic moment, something we did not realize at that time.” more>

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Updates from GE

Engine Czech: This University Partnership Is Set To Propel Turboprop Engineering To New Heights
By Tomas Kellner – GE has spent the last 100 years building GE Aviation into a leading force in the aerospace industry. Since it was founded in 1918, the business unit, which brought in $27 billion in revenue last year, has introduced key innovations: It built the first jet engine in the United States and the largest and most powerful jet engines in the world; supplied engine parts for the largest commercial jetliner; and pioneered new materials and technologies like composites and 3D printing.

But it’s been only in the last decade that its Business and General Aviation unit, which is building engines and other technology for private and business planes, decided to pay close attention to the multibillion-dollar turboprop market.

“The turboprop segment has been underserved for decades,” says Brad Mottier, who runs the GE Aviation division. “Airframe customers and operators alike complained about the lack of innovation.”

This week, Mottier and his business said they are inviting the sharpest young engineers in the Czech Republic to help them transform the way we power small aircraft. The company will partner with Prague’s Czech Technical University (CVUT) to help bring up a new generation of aerospace engineers.

Why Prague? The Czech capital is the place where GE decided to jump into the turboprop engine market in 2008, when it took a bet on a storied but struggling turboprop manufacturer, Walter Engines.

Just like the Wright brothers, founder Josef Walter started out fixing and building bicycles before venturing into aviation. Established in 1911, his company ran aviation factories in Italy, Spain, Poland and elsewhere in Europe that produced record-breaking engines for planes used by 13 sovereign air forces. more>

Wars are not won by military genius or decisive battles

BOOK REVIEW

The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost, Author: Cathal J Nolan.

By Cathal J Nolan – War is the most complex, physically and morally demanding enterprise we undertake. No great art or music, no cathedral or temple or mosque, no intercontinental transport net or particle collider or space program, no research for a cure for a mass-killing disease receives a fraction of the resources and effort we devote to making war.

Battles also entice generals and statesmen with the idea that a hard red day can be decisive, and allow us to avoid attrition, which we all despise as morally vulgar and without redemptive heroism.

Whether or not we agree that some wars were necessary and just, we should look straight at the grim reality that victory was most often achieved in the biggest and most important wars by attrition and mass slaughter – not by soldierly heroics or the genius of command.

Winning at war is harder than that. Cannae, Tours, Leuthen, Austerlitz, Tannenberg, Kharkov – all recall sharp images in a word. Yet winning such lopsided battles did not ensure victory in war.

Hannibal won at Cannae, Napoleon at Austerlitz, Hitler at Sedan and Kiev. All lost in the end, catastrophically.

There is heroism in battle but there are no geniuses in war. War is too complex for genius to control. more>

How the Postal System and the Printing Press Transformed European Markets

By Prateek Raj – Until the end of the fifteenth century, impartial institutions like courts and police that serve all parties generally—so ubiquitous today in the developed world—weren’t well developed in Europe. In such a world without impartial institutions, trade often was (is) heavily dependent on relationships and conducted through networks like merchant guilds.

Such relationship-based trade through dense networks of merchant guilds reduced concerns of information access and reliability. Not surprisingly, because the merchant guild system was an effective system in the absence of strong formal institutions, it sustained in Europe for several centuries.

In developing countries like India, lacking in developed formal institutions, networked institutions like castes still play an important role in business.

If information access is poor (lack of transparency) or businesses don’t adopt reliable business practices (poor financial reporting or opaque quality standards), these deficiencies at the business level can make customers and investors question the reliability of new businesses.

Politicians, like medieval rulers, may be more willing to enter into a nexus with dominant businesses, like medieval merchant guilds, if 1) market frictions or 2) lack of incentives make the economy dependent on such businesses. more> https://goo.gl/faiBJ4

Can Government Earn Citizens’ Trust?

BOOK REVIEW

Can Governments Earn Our Trust? Author: Donald F. Kettl.

By Donald F. Kettl – The foundation for building trust begins with the argument for transparency. The central idea, developed during the Enlightenment, is that government’s legitimacy builds on the consent of the governed. But, to give consent, citizens must know what government is doing and find effective levers of influence.

James Madison, one of America’s most distinguished founders, and later the country’s fourth president, wrote in Federalist 51, part of a series of papers devoted to making the case for the new American Constitution: “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Of course, men are not angels, so democracy requires ways of helping the governed to control government. That begins, in the minds of many theorists and citizens alike, with the most important and fundamental tool to build trust: transparency.

The underlying assumption is that the more information that’s available to the public, the more accountable and better-performing government will be.

In the United States, the Sunlight Foundation is singularly devoted to making all government information open and available in real time. more> https://goo.gl/m71Cs4

Beware The Ghost Of Antitrust’s Past

By David Kully – The source of the increasing concentration in many markets, in the view of some commentators, was a shift that began in the 1970s in how antitrust enforcers and the courts view the role of antitrust enforcement.

At that time, economists in the “Chicago School” led an evolution away from concern about protecting small competitors from larger competitors to a current enforcement paradigm that emphasizes “consumer welfare” and calls for intervention by the government only if a merger or alleged anticompetitive practice is likely to harm consumers – through higher prices, lower output, poorer quality products or services, or diminished incentives to innovate. This shift, according to critics, made antitrust enforcers less likely to go to court to block large mergers or take on monopolies, with the result being the concentrated marketplaces we see today.

The nostalgia for the antitrust enforcement of the past, however, ignores important concerns about an approach predicated on attacking large firms merely because of their size. The evolution in antitrust thinking that began with the Chicago School was driven by economic research establishing that some mergers and certain practices that antitrust law previously forbade offer tangible benefits to society. Critics offer no countervailing basis to believe that these benefits would not be lost if we were to revert to past thinking. more> https://goo.gl/rt1ZSQ

What is global history now?

By Jeremy Adelman – To understand what global history was, it helps to understand what it was supposed to eclipse.

It used to be that, in the US, history departments had their cores in American and/or European fields; in Canada, Australia and Britain, the nuclei were also national. History meant the history of the nation, its peoples and their origins. When social and cultural history came along, it changed the subject from presidents or prime ministers to Hollywood or garment workers. But the framework remained mostly national; historians still wrote books about the making of the English working class, or the conversion of peasants into French citizens. There might be a smattering of East Asian or Latin American historians in the mix.

Often, they were cordoned into regional studies units, or lumped – as in my home department at Princeton – as ‘non-Western historians’, defined by their fundamental difference, there to embellish but not challenge the national canon.

By the 1980s, it was no longer foregone that the Rest was synonymous with decline, or the West with rise. The Rest, to some, became the new threat to define the purpose of the West.

No sooner did historians catch the glottalization wave with fancy new courses, magazines, textbooks and attention, than the wave seemed to collapse. The story changed. A powerful political movement arose against ‘globalism’. White-supremacists and Vladimir Putin fans from the Traditionalist Worker Party in the US proclaim as their slogan that ‘Globalism is the poison, nationalism is the antidote.’ Donald Trump put it only a bit more mildly. ‘Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,’ he thundered to cheering Republicans in his convention speech in July 2016. more> https://goo.gl/OAj1lI

Stop blaming India and China for the West’s 300 years of destroying the environment

By Steffen Böhm – A glance at global history reveals how closely energy is linked to economic growth.

The Netherlands was the first country to get a taste for exponential industrial growth back in the 16th and 17th centuries—and the Dutch empire was built on the availability of cheap domestic peat as well as timber from Norwegian and Baltic forests.

One reason the British took over the Netherlands’ imperial leadership was its vast reserves of cheap coal, which started to be burned at the end of the 18th century, exponentially growing in the 19th century.

Then came oil and gas, which helped make the US the imperial master from the early 20th century onwards.

So, there are more than 300 years of massive fossil fuel burning by the so-called West to account for. And while this historical responsibility still played a significant role at Kyoto in 1997—resulting in emissions cuts that were only legally binding for industrialized countries—it has gradually been pushed into the background.

Now in Paris it seems almost forgotten. more> http://goo.gl/RW7ygl