Monday, October 12, 2020

Northern Europe after World War II

Northern Europe
The smaller but still highly developed nations of northern Europe enjoyed a general period of prosperity during the late 1900s. The small principalities of Monaco and Liechtenstein managed to maintain their sovereignty,^ while Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands worked to foster European unity.

Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, members of the NATO alliance, contributed vitally to Western Europe’s defense during the Cold War. Despite a sometimes heated dispute with Britain over fishing rights, the island nation of Iceland played a key role in the protection of the Atlantic shipping lanes. So did Norway, which benefited greatly from the discovery and development of North Sea oil in the 1980s.

Although Finland, Sweden, Austria, and Switzerland maintained good relations with the rest of Western Europe, each country remained neutral throughout the Cold War. Recession in the early 1990s, however, offered a strong incentive for these countries to strengthen political and economic ties with Western Europe. Finland, Sweden, and Austria all chose to join the new European Union, while Swiss voters narrowly decided to maintain their country’s traditional neutrality. On the domestic front, Sweden implemented free-enterprise reforms, steering away from its socialist policies of the past.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

European Cooperation after World War II

European Cooperation
The spirit of cooperation among the nations of Western Europe that had developed in the years after World War II continued to grow during the later part of the 1900s. Formal institutions, such as NATO and the European Economic Community, grew in both strength and membership. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe left the structure and purpose of some of these organizations open to question. At the same time, however, it opened the possibility of an even wider union of European nations.
European Cooperation
The Helsinki Accords. In 1975, representatives of 35 nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union, met in Helsinki, Finland, to discuss the topics of security and cooperation in Europe. The meeting resulted in a series of agreements known as the Helsinki Accords. These agreements specified ways of improving economic and technological cooperation between East and West, endorsing the use of peaceful means rather than force to settle disputes between nations. The accords also settled a major Cold War issue by recognizing the legitimacy of certain boundaries in Eastern Europe that were established after World War II but were disputed by some countries. Perhaps the most important part of the accords, however, concerned the protection of human rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of worship. The Helsinki Accords called on all nations to respect the basic human rights of their citizens.

Although the Helsinki Accords provided for no real means of enforcement, they proved to be an important symbolic step. By showing little interest in complying with the human rights aspects of the accords, the Soviets and other Communist bloc countries undermined their own credibility in the international community. The accords also formed an important foundation for the democratic movement that ultimately swept across Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. In the 1990s, following the collapse of communism, European nations worked to reaffirm their commitment to the principles set forth in the Helsinki Accords.

NATO. Although the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remained the cornerstone of Western European security as the 1900s drew to a close, its policies and future role increasingly came into question. Friction between Greece and Turkey, both members of NATO, led to Greece’s withdrawal from the alliance in 1974. Greece eventually rejoined, but its relations with other NATO countries remained strained. The deployment of American nuclear weapons in Europe during the Cold War proved especially controversial. Some member countries refused to allow American nuclear weapons on their soil; others expressed serious reservations. At the same time, the United States demanded that other members agree to take on a larger share of the burden of defending Europe.
NATO’s future grew increasingly uncertain following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. With the military threat from the Eastern bloc diminished, NATO seemed to many people to have outlived its usefulness. Others pointed out that threats to European security still existed, and that NATO provided a framework to deal with problems like containing the civil war in the countries of what had been Yugoslavia, or a possible revival of Russian military power. Many countries of Eastern Europe sought to join NATO. Critics argued that any expansion of NATO eastward would require a burdensome commitment from current members and might provoke Russian hostility. In 1997, despite Russian objections, NATO leaders agreed to invite Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join the alliance.

From EEC to EU. The late 1990s saw the evolution of the European Economic Community (EEC) into the even more closely knit European Union (EU). A general expansion of the EEC preceded this transformation.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the EEC grew from 6 members to 12. After lengthy negotiations, Britain finally joined in 1973. Ireland and Denmark also joined in that year. In 1981 Greece became a full member, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. In the early 1990s, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined.

As the EEC grew, it made headway toward setting common practices for its members in taxation, credit, and labor and monetary policies. In 1993 the EEC countries implemented the Maastricht Treaty, creating the European Union (EU). Under the terms of the treaty, they dropped trade barriers among themselves, agreed to pursue closer cooperation in defense and foreign relations, and accepted the idea of a common currency.

The implementation of the Maastricht Treaty had not come easily, however, and many problems remained unresolved in the mid-1990s. Several members of the EEC worried that the EU would undermine their sovereignty. British leaders in particular voiced misgivings. In Denmark, voters barely chose to ratify the Maastricht Treaty, but in Norway they rejected membership in the EU. As the century drew to a close, the future of the EU remained unclear. Aligning the economies of Western Europe was proving especially difficult, and the EU remained divided over whether or not to admit Turkey and various Eastern European countries. The nations of Western Europe had nonetheless achieved a real degree of unity in a century marked by two world wars.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hinduism, Buddhism and Ancient Indian Civilization

Hinduism and Buddhism. Two of the world’s great religions developed in ancient India  Hinduism and Buddhism. According to Hinduism, the world known to our senses is an illusion called maya, which betrays people, giving them sorrow and pain. People can be delivered from their suffering if they learn to identify maya. Because this learning takes lifetimes of experience, reincarnation the rebirth of the soul occurs to make it possible. According to Hinduism, the soul does not die with the body, but is reincarnated, or reborn, in the body of another being, either human or animal, and thus lives again. Ultimately, Hindus hope to end the repeated reincarnations and enable their souls to reunite with the universal spirit, Brahma.

Two major events in the theory in reincarnation are known as dharma and karma. Dharma is fulfillment of one’s moral duty in this life so that the soul can make progress toward deliverance from punishment in the next life. Karma is the positive or negative force generated by a person’s actions, which will determine that person’s status in the next life.

According to Hinduism, people who fulfill their dharma are rewarded with good karma and are reborn into a higher social group. People who do not live moral lives are reborn into a lower social group or even into the bodies of animals or insects.

The other great religion ot India, Buddhism, was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha, or “the Enlightened One."

Friday, June 30, 2017

Writers of the Italian Renaissance

Writers of the Italian Renaissance
One of the first humanists, the Italian Francesco Petrarch (PEE-trahrk), lived from 1304 to 1374. Like many of the humanists, Petrarch became famous as a scholar and as a teacher. He also wrote poetry, and his sonnets to Laura, an imaginary ideal woman, are considered some of the greatest love poems in literature.

Petrarch’s main influence, however, grew out of his desire for continuity with classical writers, whom he believed were committed to virtue in both public and private life. Petrarch thought these individuals could best be imitated if one studied their writings. The study of the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans came to be called classical education. A command of classical languages, as they had been used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, became the mark of an educated person.

The humanists remained deeply committed to Christian teachings. For that reason, they sometimes felt a tension between their commitment to the study of the ancients and their commitment to Christianity. Petrarch, for instance, agonized over his lust for fame (a common Roman ambition) because he feared it would hurt his chances for salvation. Like most Italian humanists, Petrarch thought it important to lead a full and active life here on earth, even if that meant devoting less time to spiritual concerns.

Niccolo Machiavelli (mahk-yah-VEL-lee) of Florence, a diplomat and historian who lived from 1469 to 1527, ranks as one of the most illustrious of the many Renaissance writers. In 1513 he wrote a famous essay, The Prince, which described government not in terms of lofty ideals but as Machiavelli felt government actually worked.

Machiavelli can be considered a humanist because he looked to the ancient Romans for models and because such matters as the workings of politics interested him. However, the lack of concern for morality that he wrote about in The Prince set him apart from other humanists, who considered virtue their main aim.

Baldassare Castiglione (kahs-teel-YOH-nay) was an Italian diplomat and writer who lived from 1478 to 1529. In 1528 he published what was probably the most famous book of the Renaissance, The Book of the Courtier. Castiglione’s work is a book on courtesy as well as an explanation of the role of the refined courtier as opposed to that of the coarse knight of the Middle Ages. As nobles lost their military role, Castiglione gave them a new idea of refined behavior. The setting for the book is the court at Urbino, an Italian city-state where the author lived many happy years. Castiglione’s characters are real people who reflect in fictional conversations on how gentlemen and gentlewomen ought to act in polite society.

The Humanities and The Origins of the Italian Renaissance

The Humanities
Beginning in the 1300s, a number of Italian scholars developed a lively interest in classical Greek and Roman literature. Medieval scholars who had studied ancient history had tried to bring everything they learned into harmony with Christian doctrine. By contrast, the Italian scholars studied the ancient world to explore its great achievements.

These Italian scholars stressed the study of grammar, rhetoric, history, and poetry, using classical texts. We call these studies the humanities; people who specialized in the humanities were called humanists. Humanists searched out manuscripts written in Greek and Latin. Often they would find more than one copy of a work. If the copies differed, humanists compared the different versions to try to determine which was most authentic. In doing so they displayed a critical approach to learning that had been lacking.

As humanists studied classical manuscripts, they came to believe that it was important to know how things worked. This belief led them to emphasize education. However, they also felt that a person should lead a meaningful life. Humanists became convinced that a person had to become actively involved in practical affairs such as patronage of the arts.

Humanists viewed existence not only as a preparation for life after death but also as a joy in itself. Along with a belief in individual dignity came an admiration for individual achievement. Many individuals of this period displayed a variety of talents, such as being both poet and scientist.

The Origins of the Italian Renaissance

The Origins of the Italian Renaissance
A renewed interest in Greek and Roman literature and life characterized the Renaissance, In many ways it was natural that this interest would reawaken in Italy. Ruins of the mighty Roman Empire served as constant reminders of Roman glory. The tradition of Rome as the capital city of a vast empire lived on in the popes, who made Rome the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. The Crusades and trade with Africa and Southwest Asia introduced new ideas and brought Italians into contact with the Byzantine civilization, whose scholars had preserved much learning from classical Greece and Rome. Arab and African developments in such disciplines as medicine and science fired the curiosity of many Italian scholars.

Italian cities such as Florence, Rome, Venice, Milan, and Naples had grown rich through trade and industry. Their citizens included many educated, wealthy merchants. In Florence, for example, the Medici (MED-ee-chee) family grew wealthy first as bankers and then as rulers of the city-state. As leader of Florence, Lorenzo Medici became a great patron of the arts and influenced Florence’s artistic awakening.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

History of Africa

Africa and the Americas
The civilizations of Europe, Southwest Asia, and East Asia were all in contact with each other. Consequently, developments in one often found their way to the others and often had great influence. In Sub-Saharan Africa and especially the Americas, however, such early contact with other regions of the world was minimal or non-existent. Consequently, these civilizations developed in unique ways.

Africa's early history. Scholars rely on many methods to understand the history of Africa. Linguists study the development and spread of language groups like Bantu, for example, to understand the spread of African peoples throughout the continent. Oral traditions  poems, songs, or stories passed from one generation to the next have also been a major source of information about specific African clans, villages, and dynasties. Scholars believe that most Africans lived in small, independent villages and were farmers, herders, or fishers. Relationships established by kinship and age provided the ties that bound the different societies together. Religion was an important part of life in many African societies. Elders usually exercised authority over the village. Life in African villages was closely bound to the agricultural cycles of planting and harvesting. Through the rise and fall of numerous kingdoms, the village survived as the basic unit of society and the economy.

African city-states and kingdoms. While some African peoples lived happily without developing state structures, others came together to establish small city-states, kingdoms, and even empires. These states were as diverse as the African geography and peoples that created them.

Along the Nile River, south of the major centers of ancient Egypt, arose a powerful kingdom known as Kush. At first, Kush maintained close cultural and economic ties with Egypt. Beginning in about 1300 B.C., however, Kush started to become more independent. Then in about 710 B.C. it conquered Upper Egypt. For about 40 years a Kush dynasty ruled a unified Egypt. Then the Assyrians, who were armed with iron weapons, invaded in 671 B.C. With the Assyrian invasion the kingdom of Kush weakened. Later, the kingdom of Aksum arose in the Ethiopian Highlands. As Kush declined, Aksum became a major competitor for control of trade in this area.

No large kingdoms such as Kush and Aksum emerged on the coast of East Africa. Instead, a series of city-states emerged and dominated coastal trade in the Indian Ocean. The growth of Indian Ocean trade after the A.D. 900s dramatically increased the demand for gold. The Shona people, who immigrated onto the plateau land of what is today Zimbabwe, achieved control over local peoples and mining activities. The spread of Islam also created favorable conditions for trade and gave rise to a new society along the coast that merged African, Arabic, and even Persian elements as the language it produced, Swahili, testifies.

In West Africa, between Lake Chad and the Atlantic Ocean, several important African societies and empires flourished. They included the empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. The wealth and strength of these kingdoms depended on control of the trade routes across the Sahara Desert. At the desert’s edge, traders exchanged gold, extracted from mines south of the desert region, for salt, which was mined in the Sahara itself. The spread of Islam in the region was often an important factor in the creation of great empires. Mali and Songhay both, for example, were Muslim states.


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