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Posts Tagged ‘World History’

Geography Trivia: Chester A. Arthur and the Prime Meridian

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

These days, the average person takes for granted how easy it is to get from one place to another. Most of us don’t even need maps when traveling. We have GPS technology in our cars and GPS Apps on our phones that tell us which direction to go and where to turn and when we will arrive at our destination. Our phones even change the time for us when we enter in to a new time zone. But, this was not always the case.

The prime meridian is a great circle drawn on maps and globes of the Earth that passes through the North and South Poles, separating the globe into two hemispheres: East and West. This prime meridian passes through Greenwich, England. Governments, however, did not always agree that the Greenwich meridian was the prime meridian, making navigation and time standardization very difficult. Sea navigation, as well as the astronomical charting of stars, usually remained a matter of local, national or sometimes even religious preference. Maps could be based on longitude east or west of St. Petersburg, Rome, Jerusalem, Paris, the Canary Islands or Washington D.C. Needless to say, all of these prime meridians led to a massive amount of international confusion. Although latitude (North and South) had always been measured from the Equator, there was no equivalent point from which to measure longitude.

The beginning of the 19th Century saw calls for unification and the adoption of one common meridian. But the problem was not one of geographical location alone; it was also linked to the measurement of time. To standardize one, would require the standardization of the other.

The Prime Meridian

The Prime Meridian Photo via NASA [Public Domain]

By the 1870s, with the increasing use of rail transportation, there was intense pressure both to establish a prime meridian for worldwide navigation purposes and to unify local times for railway timetables. Great Britain had already solved this problem by using the Greenwich Meridian to standardize its time zones. In the United States, the problem with time standardization was more complicated, with one railroad timetable showing over 100 local times varying by more than 3 hours. President Chester A. Arthur decided he had had enough. He called for an International Meridian Conference, which was held in Washington D.C. in October 1884, to determine a prime meridian for international use. Specifically, the Conference was to hammer out the choice of “a meridian to be employed as a common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world.”

Delegates from 25 countries attended the Conference. The Conference established that the meridian passing through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich would be the Earth’s prime meridian, and all longitude would be calculated both east and west from it up to 180 degrees. The Conference also established Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a standard for astronomy and the setting of time zones.

Standing on the Greenwich Meridian

One Can Stand in Both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres Astride the Greenwich Meridian [Photo via Wikimedia Commons] (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This semester, there are two good reasons for Geography teachers to tell students about the 1884 International Meridian Conference: 1. It is a very interesting topic, and. 2. How often do Geography teachers get to mention Chester A. Arthur in class? Teachers can have their students use eLibrary to find out more about the Prime Meridian and other Geography-related topics.

If you do not have a subscription to ProQuest products, you can get a free trial here.

Trivia Time:

  • In addition to sporting some very flashy sideburns, by all accounts, Chester A. Arthur’s presidency was a popular and successful one. In fact, after Arthur’s death in 1885, Mark Twain wrote of him: “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s Administration.” The New York World also wrote of Arthur’s time in office: “No duty was neglected in his administration, and no adventurous project alarmed the nation.”
  • The prime meridian also sets Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). UTC never changes for daylight savings time. Just as the prime meridian is the standard for longitude, UTC is the standard for time. All countries and regions measure their time zones according to UTC.
  • The vote to select Greenwich at the 1884 Conference passed 22 to 1, with San Domingo (Dominican Republic) voting against and both France and Brazil abstaining.

May 11, 330 AD – The Naming of Constantinople…And Why You Should Care!

Byzantine Empire Research Topic

Byzantine Empire Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Byzantium. Constantinople. Istanbul.  Three names for one city – one of the most important cities in the history of civilization.

The year 324 marked a turning point for western civilization, for it was then that Emperor Constantine the Great proclaimed Byzantium the new capital of the Roman Empire. On May 11, 330, he officially changed the city’s name to Constantinople to reflect the importance of the city to the world.

It is believed that Byzantium was founded by the Greeks around the year 657 B.C. The meaning of the name Byzantium is unknown, but it likely comes from an ancient Greek legend of a King Byzas.

Constantine the Great Research Topic

Constantine the Great Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Constantine chose his new capital wisely. The city is located on the European side of the Strait of Bosporus. The Bosporus (in northwestern Turkey) is significant because it is the passage linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, forming part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia. Due to its natural and man-made defenses, the “City of Constantine” was able to withstand the barbarian invasions that devastated Rome and the Western Empire in 476.

Constantine referred to his newly-named city as “Nova Roma,” or, the New Rome. After the fall of Rome, the Eastern Empire, referred to as the Byzantine Empire, lasted for more than a thousand years. From the mid-5th century to the early 13th century, Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe. The city spawned a rich tradition of art, literature and architecture, as well as serving as a buffer between Europe and threats of invasion from Asia.

Constantinople was especially important for preserving in its libraries manuscripts of Greek and Latin authors during a period when violence and chaos resulted in the mass-destruction of books and art in western Europe and north Africa. When the city finally did fall, thousands of these ancient manuscripts were taken by refugees to Italy, where they played a key part in stimulating the transition to the Renaissance and then to the modern world. In addition, moving the capital of the Empire to the East gave prestige to the Bishop of Constantinople (Ecumenical Patriarch) and made the city a dual center of Christianity, alongside Rome. This eventually led to the Great Schism that divided Western Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy in 1054.

Ottoman Empire Research Topic

Ottoman Empire Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Turkey Research Topic

Turkey Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The month of May is important in the history of Constantinople for another reason: on May 29, 1453, after Sultan Mehmed’s Ottoman army stormed the city, Emperor Constantine XI was killed in battle, ensuring that the fall of the Byzantine Empire was complete. The city was then under Ottoman control and was the capital of the Ottoman Empire until its demise in 1922.

It is not an overstatement to say that the military, political, religious and artistic influence of the city on the Western world, over the many centuries of its existence, is incalculable.

Teachers: You can help your students learn more about this culturally significant city by pointing them to the great History and Geography resources in eLibrary.

Trivia Time!

  • From the date of its construction in 537 AD until 1453, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years. The building was later converted into an Ottoman mosque from 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum in 1935.
  • Constantinople was renamed Istanbul in 1930.
  • The name Instanbul (which means “in the city”) likely comes from the word Stamboul which refers to the older, ancient Byzantium part of the city.
  • It is said that on the day when the city fell to Mehmed, a crescent moon hung in the sky. Today, many Islamic nations around the world commemorate the military victory of 1453 with crescent moons on their flags.
  • France and Britain promised Constantinople to the Russians if the Entente won World War I. (Didn’t happen due to the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917).
  • The song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” was released in 1953 by The Four Lads, and later recorded in 1990 by They Might Be Giants.
  • The Byzantine Empire was the only organized state west of China to survive without interruption from ancient times until the beginning of the modern age.

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100 Years Ago This Week: “It’s War!”

America in WWI Research Topic

America in World War I Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Calling all History teachers!  Don’t let this week go by without talking to your students about World War I. This Thursday, April 6, marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ declaration of war on Germany. On April 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had asked Congress for the declaration, stating that it would be a “war to end all wars” and that it would “make the world safe for democracy.” All-out war had been raging in Europe since August 1914. Wilson had kept America out of the fighting, even after the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, which had 128 Americans on board. Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine (U-Boat) warfare on all commercial ships heading toward Britain.  In addition, British Intelligence intercepted a secret German diplomatic communication, called the Zimmermann Telegram, which proposed a military alliance between Germany and Mexico. These events, plus the fact that the United States had loaned massive amounts of money to the allies and feared it would not get that money back if the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) won, tipped the scales in favor of war.

Tom Young Mason Draft Card

Thomas Young Mason Draft Registration Card [Ancestry Library via ProQuest]

The Selective Service Act was signed May 18, 1917. In the United States, over 9-and-a half million men, ages 21 to 31, signed up at their local draft boards. One of those men was my grandfather, Thomas Young Mason. Tom was a 30-year-old farmer from Logan County, Kentucky, when he signed his draft card on June 5, 1917. The reason I know this is because I found a copy of his draft card while searching AncestryLibrary.com, available via ProQuest. I was surprised at how easy it was to find information about my grandfather. I can’t say that I know a lot about his time during the Great War. He died years before I was born, and my family never was much for telling war stories. I do, however, have some nice photographs of him in his WWI uniform. I also have, at home in my basement, the very hat he was wearing in those photos.

Thomas Young Mason (1886-1953)

WWI Photo of Thomas Young Mason [Image Courtesy Blog Author]

Grandma & Grandpa Mason

Grandma & Grandpa Mason [Photo Courtesy Blog Author]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My grandfather was one of the lucky ones who made it home from the War. Europeans bore the brunt of the casualties with 9 million military men killed and over 30 million wounded. World War I was one of the most tragic events in modern world history, and the “peace” that was reached at its end led directly to the Second World War.

eLibrary has many resources teachers can use to explain this momentous time in world History. A really good high school lesson plan called “Wilson & American Entry into World War I” can be found at EDSITEment!, a National Endowment for the Humanities website.  While you and your students are conducting research on this topic, don’t forget to check out ProQuest’s awesome Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, a digital collection of writings produced near the trenches and on the home front.  During this 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, it might be a good idea to take some time out from your regular class assignments and get your students involved in a discussion on this timely topic. One idea would be to have your class watch the American Experience documentary The Great War,” which premieres on PBS April 10.

Factoids:

While Woodrow Wilson often gets credit for the phrase “the war to end all wars,” delivered during his April 1917 speech before Congress, many historians assume that he got the idea from a 1914 book by H.G. Wells entitled “The War That Will End War.”

The United States officially declared war on Austria-Hungary on December 7, 1917. Twenty-four years later, on December 7, 1941, FDR asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan, marking America’s entry into World War II.

 

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