The Farmer’s Law cannot be dated with certainty, nor is its exact authorship known. But internal evidence points to a date in the seventh or eighth century, probably right around 700. This was a period in which the Byzantine state had to scrape together the financial and manpower resources it needed to defend itself— especially Anatolia, its agricultural heartland in the center of Asia Minor—against the armies of the far larger and richer Arab caliphate to its southeast. Its strategy of defense, based on its inferiority, allowed Arab armies to enter Byzantine territory, hoping simply to harass them, prevent them taking any major cities (especially the capital at Constantinople), and wait for them to go home at the end of the campaigning season. This was, obviously, hard on the rural population of the area, and many regions contained abandoned fields and settlements that the government then attempted to repopulate with migrants from other areas. The organization of such new settlements was a large part of what the Farmer’s Law regulated.
Walter Ashburner, “The Farmer’s Law (continued),” Journal of Hellenistic Studies, 32 (1912): 68–95.
Robert of Avesbury
Although flagellation (beating oneself with a whip) had been practiced as a means of spiritual discipline by monks long before, it did not emerge as a public group activity until the thirteenth century. While Europe was besieged by the Black Death (1348–1352), the Brotherhood of Flagellants (which also included women) resorted to ever more spectacular public flagellation. The movement probably originated in eastern Europe and took root most deeply in German-speaking areas, as the account below demonstrates. As we see from the subsequent report of Robert of Avesbury, however, they had also crossed into England, offering some sort of solution to the plague crisis.
“52. The Flagellants,” from the Chronicon Henrici de Hervordia and from the Concerning the Miraculous Deeds of King Edward III by Robert of Avesbury, in Rosemary Horrox, The Black Death (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994), 150–154.
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.
Sir Charles Trevelyan
Sir Charles Trevelyan (1807–1886) spent fifteen years as a British colonial officer in India, where he pursued reform of living conditions; when he was recalled to England, he worked to combat the Irish potato famine. His account of the Great Famine (1845–1852) provides his thoughts on everything from the potato to relationships between social classes. This introductory portion of The Irish Crisis lays out contemporary viewpoints on the famine and frames the disaster as a failure of the “agrarian code” that drove Ireland into socioeconomic imbalance.
From C. E. Trevelyan, Esq., The Irish Crisis. London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1919, pp. 2, 4–9.
William J. Burroughs
William J. Burroughs, a scientist who specializes in physics and climate ponders the unwelcome relationship between people and lice, and what that reveals about evolution and migration of early humans. In this excerpt, Burroughs uses the designation” kya” for dates; it refers to “1000 years ago.”
William J. Burroughs, Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos, (Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 133-134)
Sir Charles Lyell (1797–1875), a friend of Charles Darwin, was a Scottish geologist who was so notable that to this day, in his honor, a crater on the moon and a type of armored fish both bear Lyell’s name. Lyell examined the premise that the earth is governed by the same principles regardless of era and that geological evolution can be broken down into tiny changes over long spans of time—a notion that also appears in Darwin’s evolutionary theory. This selection examines revolutions in climate over the eons, using evidence from, among other phenomena, mammoths preserved in ice.
From Charles Lyell, “On Extinct Quadrupeds,” Principles of Geology. London: J. Murray, 1830–1833, pp. 74–82.
Charles Darwin (1809–1882), a British naturalist, propounded the theory of evolution in his famous work On the Origin of Species (1859). With this theory, Darwin launched a massive debate concerning the spiritual repercussions of belief in natural selection—such as the contradiction inherent in the evolution of humans from apes and the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. This second work, The Descent of Man, explores the physiological connections between mankind and what Darwin calls “lower animals.” This selection examines the notion of sociability and how it plays out in various associations of animals; Darwin even makes a case for “lower animals” (like dogs) having characteristics that would be called “moral” in humans. Consider the impact of such “scientific discoveries” on a society that views humans as an elevated creation modeled on God.
From Philip Appleman, Ed., Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, Second ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980, pp. 196–203, 208.
The name of Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is inextricably linked to the earth-shattering and (even today) controversial theory he proposed in 1859. However, it is also important to remember that he was a writer of exceptional skill and a best-selling author—even though many of his observations and conclusions were certainly too difficult for nonspecialists to appreciate. The 200th anniversary of his birth—and the 150th anniversary of the appearance of The Origin of Species—in 2009 resulted in a series of commemorative events around the world, a brief sample of which can be viewed online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/2009.html. Among the most famous elements of the book is the tangled-riverbank image introduced in the long book’s final paragraph, and Darwin’s stimulating view of the “grandeur in this view of life.”
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (New York: Modern Library, 1936), 353, 372, 373–374.
J. R. McNeill is an environmental historian at Georgetown University. In Something New Under the Sun (2000), McNeill provides a broad and comprehensive history of environmental change in the twentieth century, which he claims was the most intense period of environmental change in world history, change that was overwhelmingly the result of human action. In the excerpt that follows, McNeill explains why the twentieth century was so peculiar and why a historical understanding is both desirable and crucial for a more complete appreciation of environmental conditions as we enter the new millennium.
From J. R. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World, 3–5, 16–17. Copyright © 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Pedro Cieza de León
The Incas created an imperial communications and logistics infrastructure that was unparalleled in the Americas, with two highways extending to the north and south from Cuzco nearly the entire length of the empire. The roads, which were up to 12 feet wide, crossed the terrain as directly as possible, which clearly required a tremendous labor force to create. In many places, even today, the 25,000-mile road network still exists. Pedro Cieza de León was born in Spain in 1520 and undoubtedly traveled along the extensive, and still-functional, Roman road system of his native land as a child. When he arrived in the New World at the age of 13, he was captivated and impressed by the civilizations that the Spanish were supplanting. In 1541, he began writing his account of the Incas, tracing their heritage and government for the benefit of those who would never see the territory he did—or travel the roads that made his observations possible.
Pedro Cieza de León, The Incas, trans. Harriet de Onis, ed. Victor Wolfgang von Hagen (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959), 135–137.
This qibla map (qibla roughly translates as “sacred direction” in Arabic) is centered on the holiest place in Islam—the Ka’ba in Mecca. The obligation to pray in the direction of Mecca is central to Islamic belief. The fundamental importance of sacred direction in Islam gave rise special charts and maps, such as this “qibla map” in which the world is divided into sections, with the Ka’ba in the center of the world.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Traditional Micronesian and Polynesian maps of the Pacific, such as this example from the Marshall Islands, from about 1880, show sea lanes across the ocean in the form of reeds that link islands and atolls, which are represented as small shells. Each straight stick indicates regular currents or waves, while the curved sticks show ocean swells.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Simone de Beauvoir
Encouraged by the successful strategy and tactics of the civil rights and antiwar movements, a new assertiveness also marked the drive for women’s rights after the conclusion of the Second World War. A leading voice in the movement for women’s freedoms was that of a leading French philosopher and intellectual, Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986). Her lengthy, detailed, and compelling study of The Second Sex, published in 1949, challenged women to take action on their own behalf in order to gain full equality with their male counterparts. Her analysis traced the origins of sexism and a sense of women’s inferiority to the unique circumstances of girlhood and to society’s instilling of “feminine” characteristics within young women. Only by breaking the barriers of societal expectations for “well-bred young girls,” she argued, could women achieve the goal of true and complete equality with men.
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, translated and edited by H. M. Parshley, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953, pp. 334–336.
David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson
The Treaty of Versailles concluded the First World War. Signed between the Axis powers and the victorious Allies, it was drafted primarily by the “Big Three,” Britain, France, and the United States, represented by their leaders, David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson, respectively. Signed at the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris, the treaty reflected the different positions of the victors. France looked to permanently end any future threat from Germany and exact vengeance for wartime losses, while President Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” offered a somewhat softer landing for Germany. The British government walked a fine line between its public’s demands for vengeance and its own concerns that Germany should remain a solid wall against Russia’s Communism. The final treaty imposed heavy reparation costs and territorial losses on Germany, however, and its severity played a role in the rise of Hitler and the Second World War.
From Jonathan F. Scott and Alexander Baltzly, Readings in European History since 1814. New York: F. S. Crofts & Co., 1930, pp. 546–50.
United Nations Drafting Committee
While there has been considerable debate over the last several decades on the nature and degree of global warming, there is general scientific consensus that greenhouse gases are the main contributors to temperature increases on earth. Scientists generally assume that at current rates of greenhouse gas production the earth will reach a “tipping point” of 450 parts per million, with catastrophic consequences for the planet’s climate, before the middle of this century. Although 169 nations joined the 2005 Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse emissions, the United States refused to sign the agreement. However, the United States did eventually sign on to an international agreement regarding climate change and the reduction of its global threat under President Barack Obama. This framework document, resulting from a conference held in Copenhagen in 2009, pledges the international community to action on the environment, in both specific and principled terms.
This “upside down” map is oriented so that south is up, north is down, east is on the left, and west is on the right. The Southern Hemisphere is thus at the top of the map, instead of at the bottom. “Upside down” maps are not new. It was only in the sixteenth century that the convention of orienting maps with north on top became standardized in Europe, and for millennia Islamic maps were oriented with south on top. But with decolonization, globalization, and the end of the Cold War, it has become popular in Australia, New Zealand, and South America to show the “Global South” on top, literally.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress