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.

The Empires of Mexico and Peru & The earliest Americans

The earliest Americans. The first people in the Americas lived by hunting and gathering. Gradually, a new way of life emerged farming. In what are now the United States and Canada, many different cultures and societies thrived. The cultures of these peoples often depended on the geography of the region they inhabited. In the dry, desert-like conditions of the Southwest, for example, farmers lived in permanent settlements made up of communal houses, rather like apartment buildings, built out of adobe a sun-dried brick. On the northwest coast of North America, on the other hand, people relied primarily on fishing and carved great totem poles with their family histories from the enormous trees that forested the region. On the Great Plains, tribal peoples survived by hunting buffalo, following the herds wherever they went. More sophisticated cultures developed in the diverse environment of the Eastern Woodlands. The Hopewell Culture, for example, left many mounds, presumably burial sites, as well as the foundations of buildings, which archaeologists have recently uncovered.

The empires of Mexico and Peru. In Central and South America a variety of cultures also developed. Early cultures in Mesoamerica included the Olmecs in Mexico and the Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Maya were farmers who were also skilled architects and engineers. They built steep pyramid-shaped temples to their gods and invented the only writing system in the Americas. Despite the brilliance of their civilization, however, which was scattered among many city-states throughout the Yucatan region and into present-day El Salvador, about A.D. 900 they suddenly abandoned their ceremonial centers.

Meanwhile, further north, other civilizations had also developed in central Mexico. About A.D. 650 a people called the Toltec invaded central Mexico from the north. Ruled by a military class, the Toltec soon spread their influence as far south as the Yucatan. Around 1200 A.D. other peoples from the north also invaded central Mexico. One of these peoples, the Aztecs, soon emerged as the strongest. The Aztecs incorporated into their culture the inventions of peoples they conquered or with whom they traded. They also made and acquired the use of the calendar and mathematics. To sustain their gods, they practiced human sacrifice.

At about the same time that Aztec civilization was at its height, another civilization was expanding in the Andes Mountains of South America. These people  the Inca based their religion on worship of the Sun and moon. Their name meant “children of the Sun." By the late 1400s, the Inca Empire extended along most of the west coast of South America and far into the Andes, covering much of the present-day nations of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile. The Inca built fortresses and irrigation systems and laid roads, many of them paved. The rulers of the empire prevented local famines by maintaining storehouses and distributing food supplies when crops failed. After conquering their neighbors, the Inca sought to eliminate regional diversity in their empire. They established an educational system, particularly for the children of the nobility, that taught the imperial language, Inca religion, and history. Although the Inca did nof have a writing system, they kept records by means of the quipu, a kind of knotted string used to assist the memory. They were also quite advanced in the practice of medicine, using anesthetics and even performing operations on the brain.

Japan, Korean, and Southeast Asian

Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia.
Chinese civilization also greatly influenced surrounding peoples. Civilization in Japan was largely inspired by contacts with China, and the Japanese initially developed a centralized imperial political system modeled in many ways on that of China. Chinese Buddhism also heavily influenced the Japanese, many of whom accepted it side by side with their own native religion, now called Shinto, which was based on a belief in gods or nature spirits called kami. The Japanese also adopted the Chinese style of writing, as well as such things as artistic designs, road engineering, medical knowledge, and even styles of clothing.

While imperial rule was usually centralized in China, a different pattern developed in Japan after about 800. Although the emperor remained an important spiritual symbol, power gradually shifted to great war lords. Eventually a decentralized kind of political system developed that resembled feudalism in Europe. Under the theoretical authority of the emperor, a shogun, or supreme military commander, ruled loosely over powerful local lords, who were in turn supported by warriors known as samurai. Eventually, the most powerful lords, known as daimyo, or “great names,” fought among themselves for power, while the emperor and the shoguns were relatively powerless.

Chinese influence was even more pronounced in Korea, the rugged, mountainous peninsula south of Manchuria on the east coast of Asia. China had conquered Korea under the Han dynasty. After the fall of the Han, three kingdoms emerged in Korea, which struggled for control of the peninsula. Eventually, the strongest, Silla, united Korea under its own rule. Thereafter, apart from conquest by the Mongols, Korea retained its political independence, but continued to be heavily influenced by Chinese culture. Koreans adopted the Chinese civil service system, for example. Korean scholars also studied the Confucian Classics. Chinese Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, became extremely influential in Korea. Nevertheless, the Koreans retained their own sense of identity, expressed in such things as their own language and their native dress.

Chinese influence even penetrated to Southeast Asia, where the modern-day countries of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Thailand (formerly Siam) are found. China controlled northern Vietnam, for example, a region then known as Nam Viet, for much of its history. Other parts of Southeast Asia, on the other hand, such as Cambodia, were heavily influenced by contacts with Indian civilization and Hinduism, as well as Indian versions of Buddhism.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Mongol Empire

The Mongol Empire
While China continued to develop and become prosperous, to the north a new power emerged in the form of the Mongols, a fierce nomadic people who had adapted to life in the great steppes of Mongolia Empire . Under a new leader, who became known as Genghis Khan, or “Universal Ruler,” the Mongols created a vast empire that eventually stretched from Europe to China and the borders of India. In the early 1200s, the Mongols captured the city now called Beijing in northern China. Under Kublai Khan, one of Genghis Khan’s grandsons, the Mongols completed their conquest of China and Kublai Khan proclaimed the beginning of his own Yuan dynasty in 1271.

Over a century of warfare and invasion the population of China had declined from about 100 million to about 60 million, but after the consolidation of Mongol rule, China once again began to prosper in many ways. The population began to increase again, and Kublai Khan extended the Grand Canal all the way to Beijing. The Mongols also linked China to India and Persia by new roads, and encouraged trade throughout their vast empire. During Mongol rule, contacts between China and Europe increased, as Christian missionaries and merchants like Marco Polo travelled to China and back. Despite such benefits, however, the Chinese always regarded the Mongols as invaders and in 1368 the Chinese overthrew the last Mongol emperor and established a new Chinese dynasty, the Ming, on the throne.

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