Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fall of Constantinople

Fig.1: No, you can't go back to Constantinople! So stop asking!
Wise men once said that, "Istanbul was Constantinople; now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople." And they would be right! The city in Turkey that straddles the border of Europe and Asia is now known as Istanbul, but way back when it was called Constantinople. But that's been a long time gone...over five-and-a-half centuries to be more precise. So even though that's apparently nobody's business but the Turks', let's look into the reason why if you have a date in Constantinople, she'll be waiting in Istanbul.

Constantinople was technically founded in 330 Anno Doughnutty by the Roman Emperor Constantine (who, in all his narcissism, named it after himself), but it was really the site of the Ancient Greek city of Byzantium. That's like me going to Pittsburgh and saying, "I'm going to build an even better city here!" Which wouldn't be hard, cause it's Pittsburgh, but still, not cool. Anyway, Constantinople served as the capital of the eastern half of the Roman Empire, but then it became the only capital when Rome itself was bombarded with barbaric barbarians. Historians like to refer to the empire that Constantinople was centered around as the Byzantine Empire, to distinguish it from the Roman Empire and make it less confusing. But the Byzantines saw themselves as the Roman Empire, and in a sense, they were a continuation of the Roman Empire. So good job making things more confusing, you stupid historians! The nerve of those people (present company excluded, of course)!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What is the United Kingdom?


Fig.1: Seriously, what's going on here?
If you talk to someone from the United Kingdom, it really sounds like they have a identity crisis on their hands. Sometimes they'll call themselves British, sometimes English, others Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Cornish, or even Klingon (although those last people are just nerds). Sometimes people refer to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as "countries," even though they make up the country that is the United Kingdom, and sometimes they'll tack on a big word like "constituent country" to demonstrate the difference. There is a central Parliament in London, but Scotland and Wales have their own Parliaments too. They all use the pound sterling, but it's scorned upon to use a Bank of Scotland pound in England, even though it's the same country! Most importantly when it comes to power brokering and diplomacy, the constituent countries each have their own soccer team! So what is going on with this place? Why can't we call just get along? And what if God was one of us?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Timbuktu

Now you're probably thinking, "Sima Dave, if you want to become the next Grand Historian, you shouldn't be writing about make-believe places like Timbuktu!" Well, my na├»ve child, I'm here to tell you that Timbuktu is a real city, despite its reputation as a magical faraway place! It's actually a city in Africa (Mali, to be precise), but we shouldn't hold that against it. Back in the day, Timbuktu was a major Medieval trading post, and people from all over Saharan Africa and the Middle East came to buy precious commodities like salt, gold, ivory, slaves, and rare 8-tracks. Europeans ate up descriptions of the city, and even offered rewards to those who could infiltrate society there and make it out alive, much like the girls' locker room. Of course looking at the town now, it looks like just any other third-world, war-torn, desertifying North African Hooverville, so how could this place really have once been the land of wealth, culture, and absolutely delicious falafels?

Fig.1: The original inhabitants of Timbuktu.
Timbuktu was most likely settled in the twelfth century by nomadic pastorialists who wanted a nice place to chill along the Niger River. Timbuktu would pale in comparison to Gao, another city along the Niger two hundred miles to the southeast, for a couple hundred years. But then trade routes began to shift, and Timbuktu became the major city in the region by 1375; this of course caused the people already living in Timbuktu to brag that they were there before it was cool, and thus the hipster movement was born (fig.1). Timbuktu's rise to prominence can be attributed to its incorporation into the Mali Empire around 1324 (fig.2). The ruler of Mali, happily/alliteratively named Mansa Musa, peacefully annexed the city, which opened the door to supplying merchants with rare items of wealth from all over the empire. Manua Musa also solidified Islam as the dominant religion of the land, which is a great thing, since Islam is an infallible religion and nothing bad or funny can be said of it. There...no jokes...so please don't issue a fatwa on me.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Donner Party

Fig 1: The first of many traffic jams in California history.
Of all the parties thrown in the world, none ended so calamitously, not even my sixth birthday when that kid nearly choked to death on a noisemaker, than the Donner Party did in the winter of 1846-7. Even though the Donner Party is just one letter away from "Dinner Party," it certainly was nothing of the sort. Several families left the midwest pioneer-style for greener pastures and better fortunes out in California. Led by George Donner, the party 87 strong made it to Wyoming without a hitch, but somewhere along the line they made a wrong turn at Albuquerque, and they were forced to camp out for the winter in the Sierra Nevada mountains with no food or sustenance...except each other!

*cue the dramatic music*