An Exchange of Historical Information

Historybook is designed to assist individuals in the discovery of vital information in the ongoing pursuit of understanding and interpreting history. Articles will be posted and links provided specifically addressing historical topics of interest and related current events. This blog is also a forum for questions and answers related to United States and World History. Visitors may make comments in general or ask a question or to answer a colleague's question on Historybook's Forum(s). Use the Search feature to locate questions and answers posted in previous semesters.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Copper Mountain College Commencement Speech 2014

I would like to thank the friends and family of our graduates for attending tonight’s commencement.  Commencement addresses are a time for reflection and projection.  Speakers will often reflect upon their own past to project how their experience might be an inspiration to the graduates who are about to embark into an unknown future. 
My own reflection took me back to my graduation day in a northern California rainstorm.  We graduates sat in our caps and gowns on the football field with our loved ones seated in the stadium surrounding us, much like this, but larger and outdoors.  It rained, and rained, and rained, without even a hint of letting up.  I thought that certainly each department’s speaker (and there were many) would realize just how miserable it was for us, and cut their presentation short.  It never happened.  The proceedings went on as planned, in what seemed like a very wet eternity.
What I can promise you tonight is that it will not be raining, at least not here, inside the Bell Center. 
In preparing for my address this evening I began to research the history of commencement.  There were a couple of things that stood out for me.  The first thing was that Winston Churchill, then prime minister of Great Britain in the dark days of World War II, gave one of the most famous commencement speeches in history.  His speech is famous for both its impact and its brevity.

The other thing that struck me was the optimism exemplified by commencement oratory.  Even in Churchill’s words, one can find an optimistic message for the future.  He said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in…”  In 1941 this phraseology had very significant meaning to both Churchill and his audience in London.  I thought to myself that I am neither a great man nor am I speaking at a time of great world crisis, but I could adapt Churchill’s words of wisdom to our present circumstance.
Never give in to that negative voice we all have inside ourselves.  You know the one.  It says things like: “This is not the time.”  “You are not the one.”  “This is not the place.”
Opportunities present themselves and that enemy within can defeat us before we begin.  Never give in to that voice.  I was offered an opportunity to volunteer at a museum and the voice said, “This is not the time to do unpaid work.” I ignored that voice and said “yes” only to find myself eventually employed by that museum.  As serendipity would have it, I also met my beautiful wife at that museum.
Later, a friend mentioned that Lowell Bean needed researcher for a book he was writing.  Again, that voice said, “Who are you to think you could work for the most well-known anthropologist in your field of study.  You are not the one.”  I rejected that voice of negativity and said, “yes” to one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic life. 
I was told by a colleague about a one year contract teaching position at a community college named for a copper mountain.  That negative voice in my head said, “What will you do in a place like that when the year is over?    This is not the place.”  I did not give in to the enemy within and here I am four years later a tenured instructor speaking to you at a commencement ceremony at the base of that very copper mountain. 
I like the way Sheryl Sandberg stated it in a commence address she gave, “If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”  She did not give in to her negative voice.  Sandberg said “yes” to Google and rode in that seat to eventually become the CEO of Facebook.  Our rocket ships will not all lead to Sandberg’s dream job.  But I can tell you now, that by not giving in, by saying “yes,” and by taking my seat, I have rocketed to my dream job – teaching history and anthropology at Copper Mountain College.

On behalf of the faculty of Copper Mountain College I would like to congratulate you all.  Be sure to never stop thanking the family and friends who supported you to this milestone.  Be sure to be as proud of yourselves as we are of you.  Most of all, never, never, never give in!  I hope I did not keep you too long but at least it is not raining.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Spring 2013 Forum

Post your history questions here!


By Dean W. Pieper
As we leave behind a divisive election and head toward a divisive New Year and the potential and proverbial “fiscal cliff,” it is important to have historical perspective.  The United States was founded on divisiveness.

The American Revolution was not supported by a majority (revolution by definition is divisive). John Adams estimated only one third of the population supported the independence movement and a third remained loyal to the crown. The early years of the Confederation were marred by unrest and rebellions until the Constitutional Convention attempted to rein in the civil unrest. It was successful but only partially; the Whiskey Rebellion required President Washington to lead a militia (15,000 strong) to subdue 500 rebels.

The debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, and their fear of tyranny (“of the majority” by the former and “by the few” by the latter), were central to the discourse. The Constitution was an imperfect document but, according to George Washington, the best they could do at the time. The Bill of Rights convinced the Anti-Federalists not to oppose its ratification, at least not as fervently. George Washington became the first President of the United States, without much controversy, but he did have a very internally divisive administration.

The presidential campaign of 1800 was certainly the most divisive up to that point in history and ranks in the top five for divisiveness. Chronologically, the “worst” elections for divisiveness would occur as follows: Jefferson/Adams in 1800; Jackson/Adams in 1828; Lincoln/Breckenridge in 1860; Hayes/Tilden in 1876; and Nixon/Humphrey in 1968. Obviously there would be some debate of the ranking and the listing, but these do stand as good examples for their divisiveness. The elections featuring Bush/Gore in 2000 and Obama/Romney in 2012 should be in consideration (although they still fall within the realm of current events) but at least deserve “honorable” mention.

There have been four presidents elected without the popular vote: John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), and George W. Bush (2000). It is not coincidental that the some of the presidents on this list also appear in the previous one. A democracy is majority rule and, according to Plato, not a very good form of government. That is one reason the United States is not a direct democracy. The founders had read their Plato.  They founded a republic.  A republic is a form of government designed to protect the minority from the abuse by the majority (in the United States through representative democracy and checks and balances) but not without divisiveness.

The election of 1800 was marked by slander and personal attacks as well as both sides claiming that the victory of its opponents would end the republic (similar hyperbolic rhetoric has echoed through elections ever since). The Federalists claimed the Jeffersonian Republicans would tear the country apart in anarchy like the French Revolution. The Republicans claimed the Federalists threatened republican values and wanted to re-institute the monarchy.

Historians debate whether the election of 1800 or the election of 1860 was more divisive.  There are good arguments for both, but the election has the Civil War connected with it – trumping pretty much every election before or since.  The election itself was relatively civil, at least in terms of the candidates.  Abraham Lincoln never called for the abolition of slavery even though he clearly opposed it.  He reluctantly acknowledged that slavery was the law of the land and advocated preventing the spread of slavery to the new territories.  For his stand (and that of the Republican Party), South Carolina pledged to secede from the nation if Lincoln won in 1860.  He became president in 1861 and South Carolina led the secession movement.

The first secessionist movement in the United States occurred not during the 1860s over slavery or even during the 1830s over “the tariff of abominations” (“Obamanation” has a long historical past) but in the 1810s by radical Federalists who opposed Jefferson and his successors. Ironically, it was the Federalists who favored the ratification of the Constitution originally and who would later advocate for New England to secede from the nation. Their movement ended in failure and began the fracture of the Federalists party that ushered in the age of the Jeffersonians: Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.  Even the recent secessionist’s divisiveness dates back to the earliest days of American history.

Divisiveness is nothing new to the United States.  It predates the Constitution, and the divide between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists appeared to threaten the nascent nation.  However, in their divisiveness, the founders may have disagreed vehemently about who should govern, they shared one very important philosophical idea.  What was that idea?  The structure of government should limit the power of the federal government to protect the rights of its sovereign citizens.  It is difficult to find such common ground in today’s politics.  Nevertheless, at least we can say that historically, the republic has seen some divisive times and the republic will survive another divisive election.


Monday, December 26, 2011

The Oak Tree by Batt Holiday

The oak tree stood there, tall and straight ,
Seemingly impervious to the whims of fate.
It’s limbs were many, it’s leaves without number
It survived the lightning, it laughed at thunder.
The food it produced was abundant fare
For other beings everywhere.
The armor of it’s bark was thick and hard,
Always ready, always on guard.
Through wind and rain and ice and snow
The oak tree flourished and continued to grow.
It reached onward and upward toward the sky.
The whole world thought it would never die.
For just short of two hundred years
The tree flourished; it was without peer.
Then a very small insect whose name is greed
Chewed through the bark to the heart of the tree.
Greed was soon joined by other small bugs,
There was more greed, dishonesty, and drugs.
Now the tree was under full attack;
It tried so gallantly, but couldn’t fight back.
The God who had placed it there was forgotten,
The heart of the tree was completely rotten.
The spread of the rot was steady and sure.
Try as they might, men found no cure.
Then the winds of change brought it down.
With one great shudder it fell to the ground.
Like many great trees in eons past
When attacked from within, it could not last.
Now men had no choice but to kneel and pray
For that once great tree called the U.S.A

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Paradigm Shifts

Stone against rock and a tool was born.  For thousands of years stone tools assisted and humans subsisted.  Every plant, animal, and mineral had life and energy, given by the Creator in the common elements.  The great mysteries eluded human understanding but not human reverence or observation.  Nurturing, tending, and altering led to cultivation.  Irrigation ushered in surplus.  Surplus begot trade.  Trade evolved into larger societies and eventually the state.  The states centered on cities and in the cities philosophy arose.

The ancient Greeks believed that the world was made up of tiny particles; these philosophers were known as the atomists.  The Greeks debated everything from the tiniest particles to the grandest politics.  The gods always played their role in the fate of kings, nations, and international relations.  Then about two thousand years ago Jesus said, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar, render unto God what is God’s;” that statement alerted for the western world what had been a long standing connection between religion and the state.  Borders no longer held religious beliefs within them.  In the eastern world a similar philosophy had already emanated out of Buddhism.  Of course, Church and state was only a portion of the ultimate change brought by a Jewish carpenter.

Christianity spread to Rome.  When the mighty empire was on the verge of collapse, Cicero wrote about “natural law.”  The empire divided into east and west.  Islam rose up in the Middle East and spread into Hindu Asia, Christian Europe, and Africa. Ibn Battuta traveled throughout the Muslim world describing the wonders he encountered.  Vikings traded and plundered from Constantinople to Vineland.  The Mongols built an empire which engulfed nearly all of Asia and Russia.

When scientists were still philosophers, alchemists believed that lead could be turned into gold.  For a time the world was believed to be flat.  Heliocentric ideas collapsed the theory that the sun revolved around a very round earth.  Gutenberg’s printing press in the mid 15th century changed communication in Europe and opened the door for the Protestant Reformation.  Machiavelli and Bacon contemplated the practical use of politic and science.  Literacy rates improved and people read about a “new world” “discovered” by de Gama, Columbus, and Magellan.  A renaissance of art and literature brought the “Dark Ages” into “enlightenment.”   

The philosophes discussed legislatures, social contracts, and constitutions and introduced natural rights to the divine monarchies and an enlightened parliament lost their mercantile control over a new capitalist republic.  Adam Smith smiled but Karl Marx had other ideas.  Revolutionary ideas spread across the western world in the mid 19th century and ended slavery in America.  By the end of the 19th century the west had been transformed by a second industrial revolution and new liberal ideals. 

In the mid 20th century, scientists used the collision of tiny particles, called atoms, to produce energy greater than anything perceived in human history.  As an explosion, the atom bomb became the most destructive force on earth at the time.  The same materials under a different control situation provided electricity for millions of people.  Somehow, morality got lost in the application of the practical use of politics and science when human beings began to “engineer” society and the physical world.

Throughout history, basic philosophical assumptions, when challenged, have radically altered humanity’s perceptions and can only be characterized by the cliché “paradigm shift.”  Humanity appears to be on the verge of radical change after the technological revolution in the late 20th century fundamentally altered communications.  In 2011, political unrest bubbled up in as diverse places as Wisconsin and Libya.  Are we on the verge of a major paradigm shift?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Aristotle's Virtues

I.  Defining Virtue in General
Virtue = a means between two extremes, an excess and a defect, with respect to a particular action or emotion.
 II. Defining Specific Virtues
Courage is a means between the extremes of cowardice and foolhardiness with respect to the emotion of fear
Temperance is a means between the extremes of self-indulgence and insensibility with respect to the desire for pleasures of the body (eating, drinking, sex).
Generosity (or liberality) is a means between the extremes of  extravagance and stinginess with respect to the giving away and taking in of money.  [an extravagant person is excessive in giving away , but defective in taking in money; a stingy person is defective in giving away money, but excessive in taking in it].
Pride is a means between the extremes of vanity and excessive humility with respect to ones desire to receive great honors.
Good temper is a means between the extremes of irascibility (or irritability) and apathy with respect to ones proneness to anger.
Truthfulness is a means between the extremes of boastfulness and self-deprecation with respect to the way one presents oneself to others.
Wittiness is a means between the buffoonery and boorishness with respect to ones desire to amuse others.
Friendliness is a means between obsequiousness (e.g., being overly deferential/groveling) and unpleasantness with respect to the desire to please others.
Modesty is a means between the extremes of bashfulness and shamelessness with respect to one's susceptibility to shame.
Righteous indignation is a means between envy and spite with respect to the pleasure and pain that one feels at the fortunes of one's neighbors  [e.g., One who is righteously indignant is pained by the undeserved good/bad fortune of others, but is pleased by the deserved good/bad fortune of others;  the envious person is pained good fortune of others, whether deserved or not; the spiteful person feels pleasure at the bad fortune of others, whether they deserve it or not]