Although William Huskisson (1770–1830) was a prominent member of the British Parliament and a cabinet member in several governments, he is more famous for the circumstances of his death in a rapidly industrializing Great Britain. While attending the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in northern England, on September 15, 1830, Huskisson rode in a carriage with the Duke of Wellington, a political figure and venerated hero of the Napoleonic Wars. Exiting the train during a stop, he was attempting to shake hands with the duke when he failed to notice another locomotive, George Stephenson’s Rocket, traveling down an adjacent track. Huskisson attempted to swing into the carriage but fell on the tracks in front of the Rocket. With his leg horribly mangled by the train, Huskisson was rushed to a hospital (in a train driven by George Stephenson), but he died of his injuries a few hours later. He is, therefore, the world’s first reported railway casualty.
Letter from Thomas Creevey to Miss Ord., available online at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/accident.html.
Daniel Lord Smail
In On Deep History and the Brain, historian Daniel Lord Smail postulates that “it is the similarities [between civilizations] that are the most startling,” more so than the differences. In this excerpt, he also draws our attention to the continuities between the Paleolithic era and the agricultural civilizations. To this end, he uses the term “Postlithic” to refer to this latter period, rather than the traditional term “Neolithic” which would imply a more explicit break between the two. Although Smail acknowledges the fundamental changes brought by agriculture, he does so by emphasizing the patterns of conceptual and material interconnectivity between the Paleo- and Postlithic worlds.
“Agriculture and Emerging Societies,” Daniel Lord Smail, On Deep History and the Brain (University of California Press, 2008, pp. 197-200)
A 2009 paper in Science announced the identification of at least 488 fibers of flax attached to clay samples found in a cave in Georgia. Some of these fibers had been spun and dyed, and one of the threads (no. 8 below) had been twisted. The applied colors, ranging from black to gray to turquoise, may indicate that the inhabitants of the cave were engaged in producing colorful textiles. The presence of spores in the cave indicates that fungus was probably already growing on the clothes and progressively breaking them down.
From Eliso Kvavadze et al., SCIENCE 325: 1359 (2009). Reprinted with permission from AAAS.
Agatharcides of Cnidus
The societies and trade networks that flourished along the Red Sea (or “Erythraean Sea” as the Greeks called it) in antiquity were well documented by writers of many different cultures. Gold was one of the most sought after trade items. In the second century BCE, a Greek historian named Agatharchides of Cnidus vividly described the dangerous circumstances under which gold was mined in Nubia.
Agatharchides of Cnidus, “The Gold Mines of Lower Nubia,” from Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum, Stanley Burstein, ed. (New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1997); pp. 49-52.
Named for a site in the archipelago of New Caledonia, the Lapita culture was a system of kinship-based exchanges among the inhabitants of thousands of islands in the western Pacific. Elements of “Lapita ware,” decorated with stamped patterns, were in high demand, and pots were exchanged among the inhabitants of the islands.
Thomas R. Trautmann
Few things are more tantalizing to historians than an undeciphered script. Hundreds of broken and intact Harappan seals have been discovered in numerous sites throughout the Indus Valley, many that combine a line of symbols assumed to be text with an image of an animal. Denoting them seals, historians have determined that most were used to identify someone involved with an object (owner, craftsmen, or merchant). It is also possible that the seals, and other examples of the Indus script, were protective in nature, operating as a talisman. However, without the ability to read the symbols, how the seals and other objects with writing were used to convey information is a matter of speculation. It is hard to understand how a text is used if one cannot read the content. In the excerpt below, historian Thomas Trautmann, a leading specialist on ancient India, provides an overview of the mysterious Harappan seals.
The most intriguing artifacts of the Indus sites are rectangular steatitei seals, because of the writing on them. These seals, little more than an inch square, generally bear an incised image, beautifully carved, of which the humped bull is a common type. Other animals (tiger, elephant), composite mythological beasts, and the rare human form are figured on other seals. They also bear a short inscription across the top, in a script that has defied many attempts to decipher it. This script contains more than four hundred signs, too many to be purely alphabetic or syllabic because no language is known to have more than a hundred phonemes. Although many of the signs are obviously pictographic, other elements act as modifiers, perhaps as word endings, and others are clearly numerals. The seals were meant to be pressed into soft clay as a mark of ownership, in all likelihood. The inscriptions are short, presumably recording little more than the owner’s name. The language of the script is unknown; a Dravidian language would be our best guess because of islands of Dravidian language in the Indus and Ganga valleys, but other languages cannot be ruled out. We do not have a bilingual inscription, like the Rosetta Stone by which the Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered, or the Greek and Prakrit inscriptions on coins by which the inscriptions of Ashoka were read. However, because the Indus people were involved with seagoing trade with other literate people, especially the Elamites and perhaps the Mesopotamians, there is a chance that a bilingual inscription will be found one day…
From India: Brief History of a Civilization. Thomas R. Trautmann. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 22-27
Josef V. Stalin
As leader of the Soviet Union for over two decades, Josef Vissarionovich Stalin (1879–1953) was one of the most important figures of the twentieth century. A professional revolutionary from 1900 on, Stalin joined V. I. Lenin (1870–1924) and the Bolshevik (Communist) Party and became one of Lenin’s closest collaborators, especially during the desperate and bloody days of the Civil War (1918–1920). Having cautiously consolidated his political position by 1929, Stalin oversaw a series of radical economic, social, and political initiatives that laid the industrial foundation of the USSR, broke the political resistance of the peasantry, and created a terror apparatus that made Stalin the uncontested dictator of the country. In August 1939, Stalin entered into a nonaggression pact with Hitler that kept the USSR out of World War II until the German invasion of Russia in June 1941. Ultimately, at the cost of 25 million deaths and untold destruction, the Soviets drove the Nazi forces out of their country, contributing the lion’s share to the Allied victory over Hitler. The experiences of World War II did nothing to soften Stalin’s ways, and he was a tough negotiator during the wartime conferences. After the war, Stalin established a zone of Soviet occupation and domination in Eastern Europe that lasted until 1989.
In 1931, Stalin gave a speech titled “On the Tasks of Workers in the Economy” to a nationwide workers’ conference in the Soviet Union. In this speech, Stalin explained and justified the quick pace of Russian industrialization and the extraordinary demands that it imposed on the Russian people. The address is noteworthy, for it provides a concise yet compelling view into Stalin’s political philosophy, particularly regarding Russia’s relations with its neighbors.
Josef V. Stalin, “On the Tasks of Workers in the Economy,” in Works, Vol. XIII (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1955), 40–41.
Despite the well-publicized and scandalous reports of the reformers, there remained many supporters of unregulated factory labor among British liberals. One of the most influential was Andrew Ure (1778–1857), a Scotsman who taught chemistry at the University of Glasgow and who later conducted scientific research for the government and several private companies. Angered by Sadler’s attempt to harness free enterprise, Ure toured the textile factory districts of Britain in 1834, collecting evidence from business owners and factory foremen. The result was The Philosophy of Manufactures (1835), which he hoped would provide a more accurate assessment of industrialization and stem Parliament’s pursuance of “dangerous ideas.” Although Ure did not attain his immediate goals, he did give voice to advocates of “laissez-faire” capitalism whose arguments continue to echo in contemporary political debates.
Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures, or An Exposition of the Scientific, Moral, and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain (London: Chas. Knight, 1835): 5–8, 13–15, 17–19, 29–30.
Michael Sadler (1780–1835) was raised in an affluent and prominent English family, and after a brief stint in the family import-export business (for which he had no liking), he was elected to Parliament in 1829 as a member of the Tory party. Although the Tories generally advocated for the interests of the landed aristocracy in England, they also showed a paternalistic concern for the welfare of the lower working classes. Sadler persuaded Parliament to appoint a select committee to investigate the problem of child labor in textile factories, and as chairman of the committee, he collected testimony from eighty-seven witnesses that produced a 682-page report. Critics charged that the committee’s leading questions biased the testimony of witnesses such as Matthew Crabtree (in the reading that follows), but Sadler achieved his goals when Parliament accepted the report and passed the Factory Act of 1833, which, for the first time, regulated working conditions for children. From this point on, government implicitly accepted the right and responsibility to monitor and regulate private economic concerns.
Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures, or An Exposition of the Scientific, Moral, and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain. London: Chas. Knight (1835): 5–8, 13–15, 17–19, 29–30.
Now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, this section of an elaborately crafted and painted piece of textile attests the manufacturing prowess of the Chavín people. In the image, a central fanged figure grasps and may be controlling a four-eyed monster. The snake-like elements of this figure have led to the conclusion that he is an ancestor of the khipucamayuc, the Inca name for the keeper of a khipu.
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY
The only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi served in turn as prime minister between 1966 and 1977 and again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. She was the third of the country’s prime ministers and the first female to hold the position. Gandhi pursued many of the same policies as her father, supported the Non-Aligned Movement, and was especially concerned to promote the interests of the women and girls her nation and of the world,. This speech, delivered to students in a women’s college, reveals her concern to combine women’s rights with India’s drive for modernization.
The British Parliament took on a series of initiatives to investigate the lives of women and children in the mid-nineteenth century, and the resulting testimonies, presented by workers to the various parliamentary commissions make for fascinating—and uniquely visceral—reading. The lives of working children are rarely detailed in historical sources from any era, but these testimonies had a direct impact, if not a fully humane one, on the lives of British laborers. These documents were collected for Lord Ashley’s Mines Commission of 1842, and the shocking testimony resulted in the Mines Act of 1842, which prohibited the employment in the mines of all females and of boys under 13 years of age.
http://www.victorianweb.org/history/ashley.html, from Readings in European History Since 1814, ed. Jonathan F. Scott and Alexander Baltzly (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1930), drawing on Parliamentary Papers, 1842, vols. 25–27, Appendix 1, 252, 258, 439, 461; Appendix 2, 107, 122, 205.