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Posts Tagged ‘America

“Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honored by posterity because he was the last to discover America”*…

 

the_mali_empire

The Mali Empire in 1337

 

Abubakari II was a Malian who ascended to the throne in 1310. He controlled most of western Africa and an incredibly wealthy state with more than one million subjects. He (his navy) may have sailed to the Americas in 1311:

More than a hundred years before the Portuguese had cleared Cape Bojador in the Western Sahara, and almost two hundred before Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, there is some evidence to suggest that Abubakari II, Emperor of Mali, crossed the Atlantic and visited the Americas. The idea even received support from Columbus himself, who wrote in his journal about African journeys from the Guinea coast to the Americas and supposed this was how the South Americans had learned techniques of alloying gold.

At the time, the Malian empire was arguably the richest state on earth. Founded in 1235, by 1310 when Abubakari II came to the throes it had control of most of western Africa, form the inland trading cities of Timbuktu and Gao on the fringes of the Sahara to the Guinea coast. The empire ruled millions of subjects, its three gold mines were responsible for producing more than half of the Old World’s gold and it also profited from the extremely lucrative salt trade. …

[It is from] Inslamic historian al-Umari’s conversations with Mansa Musa [Abubakari II’s successor] that we have our best account of Abubakari’s mission. Apparently, when Abubakari came to the throne in 1310, he ordered two hundred boats to set out to check whether, like the Niger River, the Atlantic Ocean had a far bank. Inorder to maximise the chances of success, a variety of boats was constructed.

Some of them would have been pirogues, which resembled a canoe, while others were probably based on Arab boats such as the dhow. Each of the two hundred vessels had a supply barge attached, with enough dried meat grain and preserved fruit in ceramic jars to last for two years, as well as cotton goods and gold for trade.

Of the two hundred vessels that departed only one returned. The captain reported to the mansa that:

we sailed for a long time, up to the moment when we encountered in mid-ocean something like a river with a violent current. My ship was lost. The others sailed on, and gradually each of them entered this place, the disappeared and did not come back. We did not know what had happened to them. As for me, I returned to where I was and did not enter the current.

It seems that most of the fleet was destroyed in a giant whirlpool. Yet Abubakari II’s curiosity was not diminished by this tale of natural disaster. He determined to make the voyage himself. In 1311 he abdicated, leaving matters of state in the hands of his younger half-brother Musa, and set off at the head of an expedition whose two thousand ships and their supply barges made it ten times as large as the previous one. They sailed off into the Atlantic from where The Gambia is today and were never heard from again.

Powerful but inconclusive arguments have been made to suggest that at least some of the fleet landed in America. The locations usually suggested are Recife in Brazil, or the Caribbean, where the Garifuna, a tribe known to the Europeans as Black Caribs, claimed pre-Columbian African ancestry. Arguments for a pre-Columbian Malian presence in the Americas include the prevalence of the bottle gourd, a native African plant, in South American cultures; the composition of spearheads, indicating the use of Malian gold; linguistic traces of Mandinka languages in the regions where the fleet may have landed; and Columbus’s assertion that he saw black traders working in the Americas when he arrived…

An excerpt from Ed Wright’s The Lost Explorers: Adventurers Who Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com.

* James Joyce

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As we investigate the initial, we might note that this leap-day (like every “last day in February”) is Rare Disease Day— an occasion devoted to raising awareness of and encouraging action on the too-often horrifying ailments that fall outside the spotlight, but that cumulatively are all-too-common.  It’s a great day to adopt an orphan (disease).

logo-rare-disease-day source

 

Written by LW

February 29, 2020 at 1:01 am

“History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another.”*…

 

The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1836 (oil on canvas)

Thomas Cole: “The Course of Empire: Destruction” (1836)

 

Your correspondent is headed to the steamy Southeast for his annual communion with surf, sand, and delicacies of the deep-fried variety.  Regular service will resume on or around August 26.  By way of hopping into hiatus on a high note…

The conviction that Trump is single-handedly tipping the United States into a crisis worthy of the Roman Empire at its most decadent has been a staple of jeremiads ever since his election, but fretting whether it is the fate of the United States in the twenty-first century to ape Rome by subsiding into terminal decay did not begin with his presidency. A year before Trump’s election, the distinguished Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye was already glancing nervously over his shoulder at the vanished empire of the Caesars: “Rome rotted from within when people lost confidence in their culture and institutions, elites battled for control, corruption increased and the economy failed to grow adequately.” Doom-laden prophecies such as these, of decline and fall, are the somber counterpoint to the optimism of the American Dream.

And so they have always been.  At various points in American history, various reasons have been advanced to explain why the United States is bound to join the Roman Empire in oblivion…

Tom Holland compares and contrasts (very engagingly) the late history of the Roman Empire with that of the U.S., and (very amusingly) second-century Emperor Commodus with Donald Trump; he concludes:

History serves as only the blindest and most stumbling guide to the future. America is not Rome. Donald Trump is not Commodus. There is nothing written into the DNA of a superpower that says that it must inevitably decline and fall. This is not an argument for complacency; it is an argument against despair. Americans have been worrying about the future of their republic for centuries now. There is every prospect that they will be worrying about it for centuries more.

Enjoy the essay in full: “America Is Not Rome. It Just Thinks It Is.

* Max Beerbohm

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As we recognize that this doesn’t actually mean that we can breathe any easier, we might send fantastically far-sighted birthday greetings to Hugo Gernsback, a Luxemborgian-American inventor, broadcast pioneer, writer, and publisher; he was born on this date in 1884.

Gernsback held 80 patents at the time of his death; he founded radio station WRNY, was involved in the first television broadcasts, and is considered a pioneer in amateur radio.  But it was as a writer and publisher that he probably left his most lasting mark:  In 1926, as owner/publisher of the magazine Modern Electrics, he filled a blank spot in his publication by dashing off the first chapter of a series called “Ralph 124C 41+.” The twelve installments of “Ralph” were filled with inventions unknown in 1926, including “television” (Gernsback is credited with introducing the word), fluorescent lighting, juke boxes, solar energy, television, microfilm, vending machines, and the device we now call radar.

The “Ralph” series was an astounding success with readers; and later that year Gernsback founded the first magazine devoted to science fiction, Amazing Stories.  Believing that the perfect sci-fi story is “75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science,” he coined the term “science fiction.”

Gernsback was a “careful” businessman, who was tight with the fees that he paid his writers– so tight that H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as “Hugo the Rat.”

Still, his contributions to the genre as publisher were so significant that, along with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes called “The Father of Science Fiction”; in his honor, the annual Science Fiction Achievement awards are called the “Hugos.”

(Coincidentally, today is also the birthday– in 1906– of Philo T. Farnsworth, the man who actually did invent television… and was thus the inspiration for the name “Philco.”)

Gernsback, wearing one of his inventions, TV Glasses

source

 

Written by LW

August 16, 2019 at 1:01 am

“the beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting”*…

 

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’s rendering of the signing of the Mayflower Compact. Each person to hold this quill would have done so in a way suited to their gender, occupation, and maybe even their hometown.

In colonial America, “the very style in which one formed letters was determined by one’s place in society,” writes historian Tamara Thornton in Handwriting in America: A Cultural History. Thanks to the rigorous teachings of professionals called “penmen,” merchants wrote strong, loopy logbooks, women’s words were intricate and shaded, and upper-class men did whatever they felt like. So different were the results, says Thornton, that “a fully literate stranger could evaluate the social significance of a letter… simply by noting what hand it had been written in.”

Understanding how colonists put pen to paper means understanding why they wanted to write in the first place…

More on the semiotics of script at “The Hidden Messages of Colonial Handwriting.”

* George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion

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As we consider cursive, we might recall that it was on this date in 1780 that New Englanders awoke to find a murky haze drifting over the morning sun. An early twilight descended over the next few hours, and by noon, the skies had turned as black as midnight. Night birds sang and confused chickens retired to their roosts. People were forced to light candles to see.

More on the infamous “Dark Day” of 1780 here.

One of the only artist’s depictions of the Dark Day

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Written by LW

May 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing”*…

 

What did the United States look like to Ottoman observers in 1803? In this map, the newly independent U.S. is labeled “The Country of the English People” (“İngliz Cumhurunun Ülkesi”). The Iroquois Confederacy shows up as well, labeled the “Government of the Six Indian Nations.” Other tribes shown on the map include the Algonquin, Chippewa, Western Sioux (Siyu-yu Garbî), Eastern Sioux (Siyu-yu Şarkî), Black Pawnees (Kara Panis), and White Pawnees (Ak Panis)….

See a larger version of the map and learn more about it and about the history of Turkish maps of North America at “The Ottoman Empire’s First Map of the Newly Minted United States.”

* C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

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As we ponder perspective, we might recall that it was on this date in 1918– four years and a day after joining World War I as allies of Germany– that the Ottoman Empire surrendered and signed an armistice with the Allies at Mudros, ending the war in the Middle Eastern Theatre.

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Written by LW

October 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

Re-building America…

 

A map puzzle that should be simple (for U.S. readers, at least), but may be even more chastening than last Thursday’s

 

Click here to play on Jim’s Pages.

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As we get our bearings, we might recall that it was on this day in 1845 that a majority of the citizens of the independent Republic of Texas approved a proposed constitution, that when accepted by the U.S. Congress and approved by President James Polk later that year, made Texas the 28th puzzle piece– that is, the 28th American state.

The Annexation of Texas to the Union, by Donald M. Yena, 1986. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

source

 

Written by LW

October 13, 2012 at 1:01 am

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