Wednesday, July 06, 2005


In ancient Rome, a conquering general would return to Rome with his conquered enemies in tow. A grand parade would lead to the Senate building. The general would ride at the head, in a chariot, while a slave, standing behind him would whisper in his ear, “Thou are mortal” repeatedly, lest the celebration swell his head. Behind his chariot, trumpeters and drummers would mark the pace of the parade. Troops, and dancers, followed by the conquered chieftain, usually in chains, and his captains followed. Any treasure captured followed along, and then came the tribute – that collection of goods and valuables assessed almost like a tax.

After a while, the tribute became the whole event, and eventually, tribute took on a whole different meaning. Tribute became an event in which praise and glory were heaped upon someone who accomplished something special. Even today, we see tributes on TV to long time entertainment or sports stars. We used to see tributes to our military leaders, in days long past, when ticker-tape parades through the great cities of the United States left no doubt who our heroes were.

I have been blessed in my life with a number of teachers who had a profound influence on me. In kindergarten many years ago, Mrs. Slavin, who had the smallest waist that I have ever seen, encouraged me to produce a performance of Snow White one week. My classmates and I rehearsed during recess. When the day of the performance came, all of us did our parts. Unfortunately, every time we rode off somewhere looking for this prince, or that dwarf, we rode out of the Kindergarten part of the playground and off into the older kids area, lost from view.

In fourth grade, dear Mrs. Campbell relied on me to lead studies, and activities. She taught me the difference between leading and being bossy. In high school, Ms. Boyle encouraged the fascination I had with every sample I collected in the pools and currents of the creek that ran behind my home. So fascinated was I that I took Biology for a second year, and considered a career in botany or biology.

And then there was my father. He taught senior English, a year of English literature, ending with an intense study of Hamlet. His insights taught me to love language, and to ask myself “Why?” when something odd stuck out. He used to say that there is a reason for everything, you just have to look for it. In Act II, Scene 2, of Hamlet, the King and Queen have a discussion with two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. at the end of the discussion, the king says, “Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.” The Queen follows by saying, “Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz.” As my father the English teacher put it, the reversal of the names is simply due to where the two were standing in relation to the King and Queen. They would address the closest one first. Things like this taught me to look for the anomalies, and then ask “Why?” they occur. That detail taught me to look deeply into things and try to analyze them.

This kind of thinking allowed me to embrace learning through discovery – to seek things out, and delve into them, determine the what and why and how, and so on. Back then, however, we did not have the advantage of personal computers, and the Internet.

Recently I encountered two college professors that have had a profound influence on me. One was not my instructor, but the short time I spent at a conference this past spring with Dr. Tom Hanks of Baylor University was both enlightening, and thrilling. He was instructive, and encouraging, and lit a fire in me that eventually found its way into a presentation in the class of the other professor. Dr. Hanks dangled a presentation about Thomas Mallory and William Caxton, and the printing press that made both of them famous. Along the way he implanted a seed in my mind that the wonderful writers of the Elizabethan era that followed were the builders of modern English. They took the Middle English language and, when structured by the new inventions of punctuation added by Caxton and the other printers, ran with the language, in poetry, and dramas for the masses. The printers were the architects, and the writers were the builders.

The “other” professor led two semesters of exploration into the history of Western Civilization. Because I am older, and had visited many of the places we discussed, I was able to share some personal experiences. Some professors would have resented such intrusions. Not this one. He encouraged it for the depth and background it gave to the course. Indeed, he encouraged Internet research, as well. I took advantage of the course to fill in a lot of blanks, between my reading and my travels. In this, I was warmly encouraged by this educator who believes that education is not telling someone something, but showing them where to look, and what to look for in order to discover it for ones’ self. He loves history, as do I.

Each of these educators imbued in me a love of discovery. The Internet allows me to “connect the dots” of history, and even to explore across disciplines to archaeology, anthropology, and geology in order to find links between events in those disciplines that correspond to those of man’s history. I believe the days of “stove-piped science” need to end, and scientists from all disciplines need to cross-link to find these connections.

I am in eternal debt to these educators, and this is my tribute to them.

Novus Livy

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 01, 2005

12: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 12

Few of us give much thought now to the Internet. It came upon us in the 1990s with the advent of a series of advances in software and hardware technology that brought the price of a home computer, or PC, down to an affordable level. For most of us, just having a PC was truly remarkable, but there was this thing called the Internet that came with it. It allowed us to send email to our family and friends, and to join discussion groups from all over the world, and make new friends (and sometimes new family members) with which we exchanged emails. But mostly, we could buy things “online”, as it is called. Not many of us gave more than a passing “Isn’t that amazing!”, or even a simple “It’s wonderful!” to the Internet.

In fact, it is a technological marvel, perhaps on the scale of the great pyramids of Egypt, or the magnetic compass, or the steam engine, or the printing press with moveable type, or the gasoline engine, perhaps even the splitting of the atom.

An older husband washed some clothes for his wife and forgot to check pockets. When the wife could not locate her cell phone, the washer was checked. There it was. At least the suds had not reached it, but the water had. After drying it out, it was determined the battery was dead, shorted out by the water. The rest of the phone still worked with the battery from the husband’s matching phone. A search was made on the Internet, a battery was found at a reasonable price, and it was ordered late on a Sunday night. On Monday morning, the husband received an email informing him the battery had been shipped from Hong Kong that morning. On Tuesday morning the battery was delivered to his back door in the U.S. The husband had engaged in international trade on a singular level. In terms of the transaction, it rivals the speed with which our cave dwellers traded apples and boar meat for berries and fish with the people from the next cave. It was that simple. And nearly that fast.

After coming nearly full circle about trade, there are some dots left to connect. Obviously, technology drove trade, and trade drove technology. As advances were required, technology provided them. As trade was required to pay for those advances, it would then expand to require even more advances, and so on, in an endless cyclical process, from the caveman who discovered his meat tasted better cooked, to the delivery of a cell phone battery from half-way around the world in 36 hours. Technology advances in its own evolutionary process, in that most technological advances occur when there is a human need for an advance. On occasion, however, a new advance will occur before that need arises, and civilization will be advanced.

Trade brought spice and silk to the world. Spice, according to author Jack Turner in his wonderful book Spice: The History of a Temptation, was used initially as a food preservative and to enhance its flavor. By the time of King Solomon it had become an aphrodisiac, as related in the Songs of Solomon, which contains the comparison of a lover to spices. Imagine an ancient kingly house, the air perfumed with several pleasing scents, the exquisite food flavored with different spices, and the King and his consort clothed in luxurious silken robes. Even the wine has cinnamon in it. All this to please the senses, to relax a person and make them feel special, to enhance the sensual delights of love. Spice was much more than a commodity. And by recognizing this, we can begin to appreciate its value. Yes the food was bad, particularly in Europe where sanitary practices were of little importance, where, when a king’s palace or castle got filled with trash and garbage, he would move out to another castle or palace (this is called a “progress”!). But the food was not that bad that spice would be a requirement to rescue it. And spice was not for the serfs and peasants. Spice was for those who could afford it. Hence, the great national efforts of the past millennium to obtain spice in greater quantities. That effort, then, spawned the maritime exploration of the world, and colonization, and exploitation of new and not so new continents, and their native peoples.

When economies caught up, the advances would reach farther and farther down the ladder to people with lower incomes. With every advance in technology, spice, and the technological advances became less expensive and closer to the grasp of the individual -- so much so that we take for granted now that cinnamon comes from a grocery store, and not from some Indonesian Island. Where this fails to be the case is in the worlds that were exploited, or the worlds that were disrupted in their progress. Most of these tend to be the tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, India, Africa, Central and South America. But even they are catching up. Note the effort to find survivors of the great tsunami of late last December in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The Internet was used to find and match missing family members separated by that catastrophe. Satellites study the geography, geology and climate of sections of the earth where people are starving, so that ways that would arrest and reverse the process of famine can be found.

But most importantly, just like ideas of philosophy and religion were shared along the Silk Road and the Spice Road, information is now being shared across the Internet, around the world. Thanks to the Internet, school children in Denmark can talk directly to Astronauts in the Space Station, and thanks to the Internet, doctors treating a young child in an African jungle can consult in real time with peers in the U.S.

As civilization has advanced because of trade and the trade routes, such as the Silk Road, the Spice Road, and the Incense Road, and because of accompanying technological advances, we have reached a point in the civilization of mankind that marks a line of departure from the older more traditional ways of commerce. The Internet has become our new Spice Road, and Information is our new spice. Let us pray that the wisdom of the ages has taught us to use it for beneficial and peaceable purposes.

This concludes the series “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade”. Look for more series and some single essays in the near future.

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.

11: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 11

In 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United State Navy sailed into Tokyo Bay with four wooden ships that belched black coal smoke from one stack and white clouds of steam from another. Until that time, Japanese exposure to western ways, and ships had been limited to the wooden merchant and exploration vessels that sank in Japanese waters and cast their surviving seaman onto Japanese shores. These shipwrecked mariners, now including the occasional American, had begun appearing in the early 16th Century when Spanish ships were crossing the Pacific from the Americas to the Philippines, and beyond, and Portuguese explorers had sailed around Africa, past India, and north from the Spice Islands to the coast of China itself. On occasion, a western merchant ship would call on the Japanese Shogun in a vain attempt to negotiate a trade agreement. The Japanese would have none of it. They traded with the Indochinese, the Chinese, and the Koreans, and that was that.

Perry changed that attitude in a blink. Awed at what they saw, and recognizing the technology of the Americans as far superior to anything previously known, the Japanese succumbed and granted Perry a treaty, opening one port to American ships for trade, and promising to return any shipwrecked American seamen to any U.S. vessel visiting that port.

Over the next fifty years, the Japanese would make one of the most remarkable societal changes ever seen in world history. A feudal, closed society where the Emperor served as a titular head of state under the power of the Shogun, the Emperor Meiji wrested control from the Tokugowa Shogunate, and set a course of change that swept the island nation from the crown to the lowest peasant. By the 1880s, Japanese educators were writing essays about Japan’s role in Asia, and by the end of the half-century since Perry’s arrival, they had become a major player on the world stage, trading with the U.S., and European nations, establishing not only a political presence in the world, but a political will at home. By 1905 they were embroiled in a war with a major European power, and in the historic naval Battle of Tsushima Straits, they defeated the Russian fleet using steel ships fashioned after those of the United States Navy. Indeed, it took Theodore Roosevelt to negotiate a Treaty of Peace between the two nations. Once Russia was out of the way, there really was not another power present in the whole of the Pacific other than the U.S. Suddenly, Japan could trade with the world, instead of just the Chinese. Cramming their own Industrial Revolution (and other revolutions of equal significance) into that 50 year period, the Japanese opened up entirely and became a full fledged member of the world community.

Their appetite for trade was voracious. Trading silk, coal, timber, rice, fish and minerals, the Japanese began to import steel from the U.S., rubber from French Indochina, and oil from Dutch Indonesia. Because they were on the winning side of World War I, they were given the former German enclaves in China. It was an entry into the Chinese mainland that they would later exploit in the years leading up to World War II.

Post World War II trade began with the rebuilding process. Routes over the sea were re-established after the convoys of the war had moved them to more remote regions to escape enemy threats. By the end of the 20th century, the airplane had taken over from the ship as the chief method of making shipments of a small size between continents, or countries, even intra-national shipments.

At the end of the 20th Century, the most remarkable event in the history of trade occurred: the introduction of e-commerce.

Back: Part Ten
Next: Part Twelve
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Novus Livy

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.

10: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 10

In China it is known as “cha”. It is a commodity that for centuries traveled the Silk Road, the Spice Road, and the sea routes that replaced them when seafaring technology allowed it. It is neither silk, nor spice, although some say it is as smooth as silk, and some add spices to it. In English, it is known as “tea”.

Tea was a commodity brought back from China to Europe by the great traveler himself, Marco Polo. Once European exploration and colonization allowed bulk cargos of silks, spices and tea to be shipped by sea, tea became perhaps the most significant product imported into European countries, and later to the American Colonies. So high a value was placed on it that in the early 1770s, when the British placed a rather exorbitant tax on it, the good residents of the American colonies started smuggling their tea into the colonies. That act caught the attention of the British. The British then passed an act that would allow the British East India Company to land and sell tea without taxes or fees, thus enabling them to undercut American tea smugglers, like John Hancock. In what some historians feel is one of the first instances of women banding together in a common cause to influence a political situation, the ladies of the American colonies began to boycott tea imported by the British East India Company. Eventually, all the colonies but Massachusetts refused landing rights to ships carrying “Company” tea. The Sons of Liberty, as they called themselves, dumped the cargos of tea from three “Company” ships into Boston harbor one night, carefully cleaning up after themselves and ensuring that no one was hurt, and only the tea was damaged. No one simply threw away a whole cargo of tea like that! Thus, tea became one of the issues leading to the American War for Independence.

Up to the middle of the 19th century, getting from Europe, or the east coast of the United States to the South Pacific Spice Islands, or to China itself for the “cha” was a long and arduous journey. From the American Colonies, and later the United States, ships heading for India had to cross the Atlantic, sail down the west coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, sail up the east coast of Africa before turning east and crossing the Arabian Sea to India, where tea was produced in abundance. To travel to the East Indies (as the spice producing Islands of Indonesia were called), ships leaving from American ports had the option of going around the Cape of Good Hope, or risking the shorter but perilous passage “around the Horn”.

Notorious for its ubiquitous bad weather and harsh westerly winds, rounding Cape Horn at the Southern tip of South America was hazardous even in decent weather. The many small islands contained dangerous shoal waters, where a slip of the wind, or a moment’s loss of attention could crush a ship to pieces. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese mariner sailing for King Charles I of Spain, took just over three months to work his way through a passage he would name All Saints Channel, and history would rename as the Straits of Magellan in his honor. This narrow, dangerous passage between Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego (so named because the local indigenous tribes would line the cliffs of the passage with large fires) remained the main route to the west coast of South America used by the Spanish to transport and then supply their Conquistadors. (Their treasure, however, would go by land to Panama, and across the isthmus to the Gulf of Mexico for transport to Spain by Spanish Galleon…if Drake didn’t get it first!). Attempting to follow Magellan some 59 years after his 1520 passage through the Straits, Drake discovered that Tierra del Fuego was not a solid landmass to the south, but a large island, and some years later, the Drake Passage was fully discovered. With its ample waters, calmer (but colder) weather and a better angle of sailing into the wind (on the beam reach or the broad reach), it offered ships a respite from the winds and storms and rocky shoals of the Straits.

Enter the Clipper Ship. Gracefully beautiful, and built for speed more than anything else, these sleek, narrow, four-masted vessels with incredible amounts of sail were able to double the speed of a normal three-masted cargo ship, on the clipper’s worst days. The clippers sailed from American and European ports usually around the Horn to San Francisco. In the late 1840s the Clippers left Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans and made the run around the horn taking the Forty-Niners to the California gold fields. On their return journey they would bring tea, silk, and spices hauled across the Pacific from the Orient to San Francisco in slower merchant vessels.

Eventually, American clipper ships would become supplanted during the Industrial Revolution, and the age of steam, first by steam powered ships of greater speed and capacity, finally to the American transcontinental railroad that would make the trip to San Francisco in a matter of days, not the weeks it would require for the clipper to journey there. And there was little limit to what the railroads could haul in the way of either passengers or cargo.

That romance and mystique of the trade routes to the mysterious Orient had vanished with the sound of the steam whistle, and the clatter of steel wheels on iron tracks.

Back: Part Nine
Next: Part Eleven
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Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.