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Middle East Primer # 5: Iraq. Gulf War One and Two

What, exactly is our beef with Iraq? Like Afghanistan, we have been there for the entirety of my childrens’ school life to date. I remember my twenty-year-old asking me if we would kill children by mistake when we bombed Iraq. When she was seven. What was going on in Iraq before we showed up (US, that is…)? As we described earlier...
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Middle East Primer #4: Afghanistan

What is the Afghan war all about? Why are we (that is to say Americans) still there, even if troops are now leaving? After 9/11, the Bush White House (with Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary) decided to go after the perpetrators of the attacks of that day –al Qaeda–who were then deemed to be residing in Afghanistan. At that time...
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Middle East Primer # 3: Women, Islamic?

Recently, Pakistan Today ran a satirical story about the very real Council on Islamic Ideology.  Said council is a group of bearded nut-jobs who for some reason hold a certain amount of respect in some Pakistani circles, and who lobby for more Islamic influence in government. The story told how the council had ruled that women were...
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Murder, Genocide, War and the Taliban

When the Pakistani Taliban kills an entire schoolfull of children as it did on December 16, it beggars understanding.  How can we possibly comprehend this? When massacres such as this happen, like the one in Chechnya in 2004,( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beslan_school_hostage_crisis ) people often cast around for reasons; what would possibly...
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Scrappy! Why We Fight: What it Means

I originally intended this as a WH quickie. But it ran a little long. Don’t worry, only 1000 words, you can still rip through it on your phone. (ed).  The BBC has estimated that currently on the planet two people are killed every minute in a violent conflict. Think back through your history classes. Most of what you learned involved war,...
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Middle East Primer # 2. Muhammad and Early Islam

Welcome to Middle East Primer #2: History of Islam The place to begin this story is about 570 CE, with the birth of Muhammad, in Mecca. At the time Mecca was a site of ritual pilgrimage for people from all over Arabia, largely nomadic tribes. The people of Mecca were involved in trade, especially the long-distance caravan trade to the north,...
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Middle East Primer # 1.The Making of the Middle East

Over the years many people have asked about the Middle East. What is this Fundamentalism thing all about? Who are the Shi'ites? Why violence? What is the Iraq war about?
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This Man’s Sex Life is Interesting

Hernan Cortes. Conqueror of the Mexica (Aztecs). First Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. We are all more or less familiar with the idea that a group of Spaniards conquered what is now Mexico in short order. But apart from the political ramifications of this event (which are more complex than any narrative of outright, cut-and-dried conquest...
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the history of silence

Keep Mum (throw out Dad). The Virtues of Silence This may seem like a bit of a stretch for world history. But the categories of WH are so ridiculously wide, and history itself is in the process of being opened up, butterflied like a shrimp, that we can, I think, insert many things here. Consider this some light entertainment.   Nothing is so...
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The Past in the Present: Kidnapped Girls

All events are contemporary events; they happen Now, and are therefore distinctly of the moment. This is true of the abduction of 200 school girls from their dormitaries in the middle of the night by Nigeria’s Islamist group Boko Haram. The group represents, among other things, a reaction to the modernizing, westernizing, globalizing...
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United: Part II. Cannibalism is Normal

When we think of our irreconcilable differences, we could do worse than consider the issue of cannibalism. This taboo practice seems like a perfect example of the ways in which people are separated by cultural gulfs. But, as it turns out, cannibalism and human sacrifice are a human inheritance, practiced by different people around the...
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United, Part I: We Are One: How History Shows Our Common Humanity

Much historical writing focusses on our differences: The Greeks and the Persians; The Romans and the Gauls; the Arabs and the Israelis. History has often been the tale of different people getting in each others’ faces. The questions, therefore, have been: Why did the Greeks get in the Persians’ faces? Why did the Romans mess with...
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Was Agriculture a Mistake?

These days large parts of our culture are celebrating the return of the “small farmer.” Food production is attracting progressive, young people who are earnestly looking to save the planet while improving our health. So it seems uncool and counter-intuitive to go slandering agriculture as “the worst mistake in human...
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who built the pyramids?

Here’s a quickie: Received wisdom for several generations has been that the pyramids were built by slaves. This was popularized largely by the 1956 film, by  Cecil B. DeMille, The Ten Commandments, starring Charleton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as the Pharoah Ramses.  In this movie thousands of slaves among them the Israelites, later...
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Interesting Historians Part One: Ian Morris

You tend to read a lot of history books when you’re writing a world history text book. Many of these are monographs–specialist books written by and for academics. As such, they can be dry and hard to digest. But some stand out and i’m going to tell you a little about these ones, the writers that seemed to offer me something...
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The Same Story, Over and Over?

The more you read in history the more you (ok, I) get the feeling that we’re reading the same story. If you take the big-picture approach, and begin before agriculture and sedentism (ca 10,000 years ago), then the only things of significance seem to be the big shifts. Big History looks like this: Bracketting off for the moment the Big...
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The End of History 2.0

The End of History 2.0? Francis Fukuyama argued  in the 1990s that the great shift that prompted him to—rather grandly—conceptualize the “End of History” was political, that is to say, the resolution of the Cold War in favor of Liberal Democracy, and not Communism. But the story of history continued, notwithstanding the publication of his...
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The Narmer Palette

When it comes to primary sources, the ancient world is challenging. We usually think of texts as documents–in ancient terms that means inscriptions, such as can be found in Mesopotamia, Shang China, or Mayan stonework. We haven’t deciphered the script of the Harrapans yet, and there is precious little from the Olmecs. Even then, in...
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Who are the barbarians?

Every society has their own Barbarians. This subject provides enough material for several classes at the college or high school level. One could start with the Greeks who seem to have coined the term “Barbarian,” from their approximation of how those uncivilized non-Greek-speakers sounded when they attempted speech. The Arabs were...
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Diamond in the Rough

Jared Diamond has really set the cat among the pigeons. Not only is he not a historian, but he has really irked academics by writing history books that sell like hot cakes. First, he wrote a book (Guns Germs & Steel) which suggested that inequalities in material conditions among nations were solely the result of geography (a popular...
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