Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Brian Boru

Fig.1: Unlike Saint Patrick, Brian Boru thankfully doesn't
have a day where it is acceptable for people dress as
ugly, hairy leprechauns.
Ireland has been a notoriously difficult place to rule over, what with the constant rebellions and the parades to commemorate the rebellions (fig.1). Early on, it was even difficult for the Irish themselves to take charge over their own Emerald Isle! Irish politics in the first millennium After Doughnuts (AD) was reduced to families ruling over their own little parcel of land. Indeed, the only hope of advancement was to challenge other clans to bar fights, which typically ended with disembodied heads everywhere (thus why they introduced those unbreakable beer bottles). Things changed when a man known as Brian Boru rose to prominence. He began the process of uniting Ireland by, yes, cutting some heads, but also by forging a national identity and culture. He was also able to bring Irishmen together through their hatred of those blasted Vikings, who always cheated by bringing axes into the pub. While his accomplishments faded after his death faster than a college student's liver on St. Patrick's Day, he is revered as one of the first rulers of a united Ireland, a goal which some people are still trying to get even today! (History doesn't end, people.)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Declaration of Independence (video)

Historical sources do not reveal King George III's immediate reaction to thirteen of his colonies' declaration of independence (known as the Declaration of Independence). Luckily I have been dumped once or thrice in my life, and I have a little bit of an idea of how it went down. This video is my depiction of how the United States' moment of independence went down from the monarchical mindset, complete with a full-range of beautifully-choreographed facial expressions.

Teachers! Check out the lesson activity that can be used with this video as guided practice for understanding the Declaration of Independence as a primary source!

America Breaks Up with King George by Voicemail (Declaration of Independence)

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Seventh Crusade

Fig.1: The fedora fad of the 1920s would only be outdone
by the one of the 1220s.
For all intents and purposes, the Sixth Crusade did its job and brought the holy city of Jerusalem back into Christian control. Nevermind the fact that the Crusaders were not allowed to build a wall to defend their kingdom, or that Muslims were still allowed to rule certain areas in and around the city, or that the guy who won the city was excommunicated by the Pope and was no better than the Antichrist (who really isn't that bad of a guy once you get to know him). As such, many people in Europe saw the Sixth Crusade as not really a crusade at all, but some sneaky deal made in a smoke-filled room (fig.1). Of course, once rumors of a Seventh Crusade started swirling about, people were just so scarred from the last few that many Europeans wanted nothing to do with it. (On a related note, I hope Star Wars: Episode 7 will be at least halfway decent! It has to be better than the prequels, right? Right?!)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Sixth Crusade

Fig.1: Most of the world's reaction
to the calling of a sixth crusade.
By this point in the early 13th century, Europeans had seen five crusading forces make their way to the Holy Land, only to watch as one by one turned into a bunch of Holy... well... something else. The Fifth Crusade was especially disappointing, as a constant revolving door of troops, squabbling within the leadership, and the ignoring of "flood watch" alerts from the National Weather Service caused the largest force in crusading history to meet its end within the rising currents of the Nile River. So do you think that discouraged anyone from trying to send off yet another crusade? Don't be ridiculous, we're barely halfway through these things! Even though the Christian populous was becoming tired not succeeding, the kings and clergy of Europe felt the need to try try again. Besides, there was one ruler in particular who was well overdue to pickup the crusading tab.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Fifth Crusade

Oh yeah, Crusades Month is back, and better than ever! Well the scope and overall effectiveness of the Crusades covered this month aren't better than ever (believe it or not, they're even worse), but that doesn't mean we still can't have fun at the expense of trivial religious warfare! This month I will be covering Crusades 5-7, which, if they were movie sequels, would be well past the tipping point of enthusiasm for even the most beloved film franchises (unless you're The Fast and the Furious, for reasons I dare not comprehend).

Fig.1: Europe just couldn't wait to add another one of these to its list of "Reasons Why the Rest of the World Thinks We're Jerks."
By the year 1213, the Crusades have had over a century to build up their reputation of suckiness. The First Crusade (1096-1099) allowed the Christians from Europe to conquer the holy city of Jerusalem from the various Muslim groups that previously controlled it, only to undermine their victory by bringing their typical European pettiness along with them. The fall of one of their possessions led to the Second Crusade (1145-1149), which not only attacked the wrong Muslims, but also lost against them! The fall of Jerusalem to Saladin led to the Third Crusade (1189-1192), which started out pretty promising for the Christians under the leadership of Richard the Lionheart, only to have it all end with a dud in the name of peace (yawn). And then there was the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), which didn't even make it to the Holy Land and only led to the destruction of the Christian city of Constantinople (granted, they totally deserved it for leavening their communion bread). Instead of just cutting their losses and focusing on other things, like, I don't know, feeding their starving peasants or something, Europeans decided to call for yet another crusade. And so the franchise regretfully continued (a quote that would be repeated ever since Transformers got a sequel).

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mount Everest (video)

Here is Canned History #6, where I please my geologist friends by talking about one of Earth's greatest natural wonders (behind rock candy, of course): Mount Everest. The mountain and the people surrounding it have such a rich history, regardless of its present status of the world's deadliest tourist trap. Once you're done watching this video, make sure to donate to a relief fund in order to help Nepal recover from this year's devastating earthquakes, and then watch the video about seventeen more times! 

For more information on relief efforts, visit the Nepal Red Cross Society's website.

Canned Histories: Mount Everest

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Trojan War

Fig.1: Only the greatest conflicts are depicted on pottery.
Now where did I put my Desert Storm vase?
No other war seems to have impacted or defined a civilization more than the Trojan War did to Ancient Greeks (unless you count the Pastry War on the French, who sure do love their pastries). The stories of the clash between the Achaeans and the Trojans were passed down from generation to generation, and contain lessons that are still common knowledge today. Who could ever forget the kidnapping of Helen by Paris, the exploits of Achilles, the cunning of Odysseus, the courage of Hector, and of course the armpit-stabbing-suicide of Ajax? Plus, who doesn't know about the Trojan Horse, and its moral that you shouldn't just accept strange gifts left outside your door (I'm watching you, UPS man!). So the ultimate question: is the Trojan War one of the most important conflicts in history?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ivan the Terrible

Fig.1: If anything's terrible,
it's that robe.
Back in the day, epithets really defined what people were all about. Sure, there have been plenty of "the Great"s, but let's not forget awesome ones like Richard the Lionheart, Suleiman the Magnificent, and the attractive uncle-nephew duo of Charles the Bald and Charles the Fat (until they morphed and became Charles the Danny-DeVito-Doppelganger). But my favorite epithet was given to Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich of Russia: the Terrible. Granted, the word terrible is being used here in its original sense (as in one who strikes terror in people, which can be seen as a good thing if you're always at war with your neighbors like Russia is), but its modern definition as bad, unpleasant, and just downright jerkish also would apply to Ivan. Examples of his terribleness include imprisoning people for no reason, destroying cities within his own kingdom, taking over indigenous peoples in Siberia, and killing his own successor so that his kingdom would fall into chaos within 15 years of his own death. If anything, maybe Ivan should be called something worse than "terrible," since that merely puts him on par with your average Adam Sandler movie.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

War of Jenkins' Ear

Fig.1: I miss the days when people loved their lobes so much, they were willing to fight for them.
A wise man once said, "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. (Say it again, y'all!)" Indeed, many people have fought and died over petty reasons, such as land, money, resources, and some chick named Helen. But possibly the silliest thing that war was ever declared over was a severed ear. Think I'm making this up? Well don't tell that to British captain Robert Jenkins, whose ear was sliced right off in 1731 by a Spanish commander who claimed that he was smuggling goods out of the West Indies. While this was not the sole cause of the war, it essentially because the straw that broke the camel's back (or the sword that broke the captain's ear), and open hostilities commenced between Great Britain and Spain. In a sense, this was one of the first "world wars" in history, as fighting took place within their colonial possessions across five continents, with Africa being the only inhabited one to escape the bloodshed (they got lucky, for once). Who knew that an ear drum would lead to the beating of the war drum?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kingdom of Nri

Fig.1: If you squint, the Kingdom of Nri looks...just as puny.
Normally when we talk about old kingdoms, we laud about how powerful they were and how easily they took over their neighbors and helped themselves to their cookie tin. I mean, would we really care that much about the Romans, the Vikings, the Mongols, and the British if they kept to themselves and decided to live in peace and harmony? How boring is that crap?! Well my therapist told me I needed to take it easy with the whole "violence" thing, so maybe I'll write about a kingdom that is known for never using military force against others or themselves. I'm talking about Nri, a medieval African kingdom situated in the southeast of present-day Nigeria. Comprised of people of the Igbo culture and language, Nri remained within its borders for the majority of its nearly-one-thousand-year-long history, emphasizing its political and spiritual welfare over the conquest of land or resources. As boring as that may sound, I suppose that actually should be a good thing. So let's give some time to the Nri before we feel the need to satisfy ourselves with the blood and gore of greater civilizations (is it too soon to do another Roman history?).

Sunday, February 15, 2015

John Adams

Happy Presidents' Day weekend! I will be continuing my coverage of every United States chief executive that I began last year with George Washington and will end in 2059 with the eternal-presidency of Taylor Swift. God help us.

Fig.1: Who is this guy again?
It's tough being a second fiddle, especially when one fiddle is annoying enough. In American history, the quintessential second banana also happened to be the second President: John Adams (fig.1). While he was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures during the American Revolution and in the early political development of the United States, Adams has been overshadowed, both then and now, by his more recognizable contemporaries. This certainly did not help his normally sour mood, as Adams was a master at quick wit and insults even before the days of "Yo Mama" jokes. It will now be my goal to lift John Adams out of his constant role as an understudy and make him the leading man on the marquee. At least until next year when I get to write about Thomas Jefferson (oh good, somebody important).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Battle of Carrhae

Fig.1: "After this defeat, no one will be able to stop us!"
The Romans were a very successful civilization back in the day, and part of their success can be attributed to all the battles they won. However, one of the biggest battles that directly led to the development of their expansive empire that blanketed three continents and turned the Mediterranean into a Roman nude beach was one in which they absolutely got their butts kicked. That's what happened in 53 BC near the ancient town of Carrhae in present-day Turkey. Rome had been squabbling for control of the region with the Parthian Empire, who already ruled Persia and Mesopotamia and was looking to expand their influence and carpeting business into Anatolia. Though the Romans lost the battle, as well as their richest man during the fighting, it set into motion a sequence of events that allowed Julius Caesar to take over the city and the eventual creation of the Empire that grabbed everything they saw. Yeah, maybe the Parthians should have just thrown that battle.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Fig.1: Bennelong was voted the Best Dressed
Australian of 1791.
Moving to a new place is hard, especially when you don't know the customs and habits of your new neighbors (how was I supposed to know that jackhammering the walls at 3am was frowned upon in my apartment building?). It's always nice make a friend who will let you know the good places to eat and the cool things to see and the proper method for removing copperhead venom from an infected wound. This was exactly the role served by a man named Bennelong (fig.1), an Aboriginal Australian who lived on the eventual site of Sydney in the 18th and 19th centuries. Bennelong helped the British colonists better understand the ways of Australia and its inhabitants, allowing for their survival and the formation of a greater trust between the two peoples. He also got a free trip to England out of it as well, educating Europeans to Aboriginal Australian culture and getting a lesson himself as to what exactly is "bangers and mash." While inter-cooperation between the British and Australia's indigenous people did not last, Bennelong remains a revered figure among both cultures within Australian history for being a good friend and neighbor (unlike the old Russian lady in 3C who went at me with her rolling pin).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

Fig.1: Lisbon and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Natural disasters happen practically everyday; things like hurricanes, volcanoes, forest fires, and Doritos Locos Taco shortages have all left their mark on individuals around the world. But sometimes Mother Nature gets so worked up that she just has to make a profound impact on history as well. This certainly happened in 1755, when an earthquake off the southwest corner of Europe pretty much destroyed Portugal's capital of Lisbon, as well as much of the rest of the country. Not only did this disaster alter the political and colonial aspirations of Portugal, but it also affected the philosophical and religious foundations of Europe as a whole, not to mention ruined the Domino Toppling Convention being held in Lisbon that year. In addition, this earthquake caused people to actually start figuring out why the earth quakes to begin with, giving rise to seismology (yet another college degree that pays better than history).

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Fig.1: I'll wait until they install the escalator.
Remember the days of exploring in your backyard and pretending to come across an ancient lost city? Well if your backyard was a rainforest in the El Petén region of Guatemala, this might have become a reality (though your face being clawed off by howling monkey might have become a reality too). This is what reportedly happened to a tree-gum collector named Ambrosio Tut (an awesome name and an awesome profession) in 1848 when he spotted some stone temples rising above the treetops. This proved to be the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, one of the largest and most influential urban centers in Mesoamerican history. At its height, it was home to as many as 75,000 people and controlled other city-states nearly 500 km away. Its power is plainly visible in its many temples (fig.1), built so high that they would have even given Rocky Balboa issues. It was among the most visited and studied Mayan sites in the world until 2012 when, as we all know, the world ended just as the Maya predicted. Boy, do I miss that world.