Welcome to Your Historical Compass

"The purpose of this blog is to generate discussions about historical issues. Students, enthusiasts, and friends are all welcome to join by reading and participating with comments. I hope to generate interest in history and offer help to the perplexed." Caleb Johnson

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Egypt: Lost & Found

Everyone today knows of the Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza, as well as other landmarks of ancient Egypt. Hollywood has made numerous films based on Egypt, and MGM’s Luxor Palace is one of Las Vegas’ most popular attractions. Surprisingly, though, our knowledge of Egypt and particularly ancient Egypt is a fairly recent phenomenon. The beginning of what’s now called Egyptology began not with a research study, but with a minor campaign in the French Revolutionary Wars.

When Napoleon Bonaparte sailed into Alexandria and defeated the local forces of the Egyptian Mamluks at the Battle of the Pyramids, he brought with him several French architects and scholars. Spurred by the Enlightenment thirst for classical history, the French started exploring the ruins that were left behind by the pharaohs and forgotten by the sands of time. However, observe as they might, the massive structures that spotted the Nile River Valley seemed to hold more secrets than answers. Who built these structures? How did the people live? Only scraps of knowledge remained from medieval writers and some from the ancients, but to really understand the land, the new scholars would have to decipher the pictographs that decorated the walls of the temples and tombs.

This was made possible when French engineers excavated a dark stone in the village of Rosetta in 1803. The stone included three types of script: Ancient Greek, Ancient Demotic and Hieroglyphic. The task at hand was to use knowledge of the ancient Greek text to decode the Hieroglyphics and thus unlock the mysteries of the pharaohs. It took scholars twenty years to be able to competently understand Hieroglyphics but the result was a huge leap for Egyptology. Now that we are able to read Hieroglyphics, we are able to understand much of that civilization that was once described by Herodotus as “the gift of the Nile.”

Saturday, March 3, 2012

American Industrialism

Although we live in a time of suburbs, renewable energy sources and a largely service-based economy, America used to be the world’s leading manufacturer. General Motors, US Steel, Standard Oil, and the B&O Railway all represent a time when American industrialism was at its height. But how did it all get started? Why was America able to dominate global industry? What events took place that led America to the forefront? The answer lies in the past.

Andrew Jackson Captures New Orleans

When the industrial revolution hit America in the early 1800’s, the water-powered mill industry sprang up among the many rivers that thread the New England hinterland. Fostered by high tariffs, the industry grew despite attempts by foreign nations to flood the market with cheap goods. Vast natural resources were unleashed when the United States captured New Orleans in 1812, opening up the expansive Mississippi River valley to exploitation. In 1825, the Erie Canal opened, linking the Great Lake economies of Chicago and Detroit to the Atlantic Ocean through New York City. American industrialism was on the rise, but it met an unexpected boost through a traditional destroyer-war.

Ford's Model T
While America’s Civil War killed over 600,000 men and damaged over $100,000,000 of the nation’s southern economy, it acted as a catalyst for northern industry. Factories made cannons, steel ships, locomotive engines and uniforms for the Federal army. By the war’s end, the northern economy was better than when it started. Due to war and famine in Europe, immigrants flocked to the western Atlantic seaboard, eager to share in peace and prosperity. Large cities grew larger and factories were supplied with cheap labor and ready markets. This advent of urbanization and massive immigration resulted in social unrest and the rise of labor unions. While most workers involved in the factories lived their lives making little, a few rose by innovation and pure hard work. Andrew Carnegie started out earning $1.20 a week at a factory, but ultimately sold his share of his steel company for $300,000,000. Other captains of industry, such as JD Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Henry Ford, Eli Singer, and James Duke, led America into greatness to match the European powers.

Two reasons the US was able to harness industrialism on such a large scale were population and natural resources. The fact that the US straddles an entire continent and hosts one of the world’s largest populations secures its ability to compete globally due to its mere size. Granted, this subject is much larger than one blog post, but I have attempted to outline the main points. Indeed, I left many issues out for the sake of space and attention, but there are important issues I skipped and pains I didn’t mention. What do you think?