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Exiles of the New York Times
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Author Topic: American History  (Read 29467 times)
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weezo
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« Reply #960 on: September 02, 2007, 07:16:06 AM »

Dzimas,

Before I read the book, I was advised by local historians not to take it too seriously, and was guided to some websites that pointed out the errors in the book. I did not read the book expecting it to be a good history. I sat back and enjoyed the story. And, I did enjoy the story. It opened possibilities in my thoughts of how history is recorded and how history is disproved in time. I saw holes in the story, some of which I have shared on this forum. I have said, more than once, that I am inclined to dismiss the whole of the voyage to eastern North America and circling Greenland. It is not consistent with other points in the book. I cannot imagine how the Chinese could have made landfall in Carolina-Virginia, and not "discovered" the Chesapeake Bay. I am not wholly convinced that the structures found in Rhode Island were of Chinese origin, nor the structure on Newfoundland and Labrador. I tend to prefer the speculative history of Farley Mowat, that these structures were built by earlier settlers from Scotland.

Nevertheless, I had already read accounts that suggest a Chinese presence at some time in history, on the west coast of the Americas, and can readily accept that the Chinese may have made landfall in these areas. As to the stone carvings on the Cape Verde Islands, I neither belief nor disbelieve they are the result of a Chinese voyage. I am unclear why the wording of these monuments was not in Chinese, and wonder if other Asians made that voyage before or instead of Zheng He.

Some of the charges against Menzies are, to my mind, completely irrelevant, especially the claim that historians write for chump change and Menzies received a king's ransom for writing his book. At present, my own writings are published on the Internet and can be downloaded and read or printed free of charge. Does that raise my stature as a write? I don't think so. Some of my stories desperately need re-writing now that I have gained more skill in the art of writing stories. Do I expect historians to take my stories as serious history? No. My goal in writing them is more to induce children who are reluctant readers to take an interest in reading and move on to more substantive books from my stories.

I do not agree with you that this book does not belong in history. It is a speculative history book, and has a place in that genre. Speculative history has a place in opening minds to other possibilities than the traditionally accepted theories. And, the traditionally accepted histories are, for the most part, and at best, often speculative in and of themselves.

As I said in a earlier post, my use of this book in a high school classroom would be as a jumping off point to guide students into investigating the questionable parts of the book, and to help students learn that not all reading is expected to be taken at face value.
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thanatopsy
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« Reply #961 on: September 02, 2007, 08:38:46 AM »

I voted for 1421 but you should recall very early on I opted out of the discussion.  I have followed the posts, however.


DNR,

Since you have followed the exchange, what is your opinion of the book at this point?
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Bob
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« Reply #962 on: September 02, 2007, 09:28:36 AM »

My opinion of the book is that it is a very speculative venture indeed. I enjoyed reading it. It flows very well. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion and they certainly are free to write about it.  I also believe in "garbage in--garbage out." Anyone with any knowledge of the era spoken about would certainly question the initial assumptions Menzies makes. Once the reader accepts those assumptions as facts, the reader, following the logic of the author, is very apt to accept the conclusions. I'm amazed at the persistence of old mythologies. I was equally taken aback that Menzies, a mariner by trade, would even consider some of them.  I can see him making errors on the historical side,  he's not an historian. All in all, the book should never be portrayed as history. That's not to say everything in the book is intellectual do-do, some parts are rather informative and indisputable--but you need to know your stuff to separate the wheat from the chaff. To me it's OK for people to accept what I consider perfectly errouneous information as fact. That's human nature. There are still people around who believe William Henry Harrison was poisoned and that the deaths of Harrison, Taylor and Lincoln were all a part of the same conspiracy. More power to  them, but count me out.

Oh well, it was a very spirited discussion and I enjoyed it.

By the way, a very interesting point is this---the Dewey Decimal System classification for the book is 910.4 MEN. I'm a Dewey Decimal freak of sorts, I know the entire system, having nothing better to do when I was a kid except to sit down one day a do what every nerd dreams of doing--memorzing the general classifications. 910 is Geography and Travel---not history. History, Chinese History in particular, is 951; American History is 973--Historical Geography is 911----To the librarian the book is in among the travel books---not the history books or even historical geography books.

With that I close....
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Bob
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« Reply #963 on: September 02, 2007, 09:35:47 AM »

Oh, one other point---the reason I voted for the book is that is does qualify as American History in that it has to do with the issue of who discovered America. I'm a traditionalist and beleve that Columbus did, or that in the very least the discovery was a process rather than a singular event.Others disagree with that. I thought the book would open that debate---and it did. 1491, should we get into it, fits much in the same way--its a pre-Columbian view of life in America---its a part of our history and while its scope is wider than what subesquently became the United States, its still encompasses it.
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Bob
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« Reply #964 on: September 02, 2007, 10:06:39 AM »

Dzimas

Remembering  how very good Hugh Thomas' ARMED TRUCE,THE SLAVE TRADE  and CONQUEST were, I ran across his later one, published in 2003. RIVERS OF GOLD: THE RISE OF THE SPANISH EMPIRE, FROM COLUMBUS TO MAGELLAN. I haven't read it, but certaintly will whenever I get through the pile I have on the floor (I dread to look at it anymore)

Have you read this one yet?
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thanatopsy
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« Reply #965 on: September 02, 2007, 12:25:01 PM »

it is a very speculative venture indeed. I enjoyed reading it. It flows very well. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion and they certainly are free to write about it ... it was a very spirited discussion and I enjoyed it.

Agree 100 %.

Now let's hear from everyone else: what is your opinion of the book.

I'm at about page 430 and there is still a bit more to discuss so go ahead and lead away in the discussion ...
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weezo
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« Reply #966 on: September 02, 2007, 01:08:57 PM »

Bob,

That is a very interesting point about the Dewey classification of the book under Geography and Travel rather than History. Although I found it more interesting to read books than to classify them, it is a good point that those who classify books do not see it as an entry in history. It is indeed an interesting book from the standpoint of geography, and I did enjoy learning about how cartography works, how the ocean currents make travel from point A likely to make for one to arrive at point B rather than point C or D. It does help explain why certain parts of the continents were explored before others, and the importance in Puerto Rico from its position on the ocean currents.

I never thought about their being a classification for geography books (although it makes perfect sense). Maybe next time I have occasion to visit a library, I will check out the books under 910 and see what is there. I started a new series in my children's books on Geography, and did one title this summer. I was wondering what else, beyond explaining continents, oceans, and country boundaries, I could put under the classification, and you have given me an idea. Perhaps the best use of 1421 for my children's books would be to bring out some of the geographical points in the book.

Thanks!
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Dzimas
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« Reply #967 on: September 02, 2007, 01:10:00 PM »

By the way, a very interesting point is this---the Dewey Decimal System classification for the book is 910.4 MEN. I'm a Dewey Decimal freak of sorts, I know the entire system, having nothing better to do when I was a kid except to sit down one day a do what every nerd dreams of doing--memorzing the general classifications. 910 is Geography and Travel---not history. History, Chinese History in particular, is 951; American History is 973--Historical Geography is 911----To the librarian the book is in among the travel books---not the history books or even historical geography books.

With that I close....

Fascinating.  I would have probably filed it in historical fiction, but geography and travel is as good a heading as any.
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« Reply #968 on: September 02, 2007, 02:16:08 PM »

Bob, thanks for the Dewey lesson. 

Thanatopsy, When I first read the book I was very excited.  But I didn't know what, in the end, to think.  I was hoping . . . and I got the book back out intending to read it again--no I've never rummaged around at Menzie's web site--for clarification, maybe.  I was discouraged with the beginning remarks from you history buffs, which I'm not, from doing more than what I have: lurk.

I follow all the American History discussions although I do scroll a bit when you all begin to dig to China over some small (it often seems to me) thing.  Smiley  I don't begrudge you all of that.  It's fun for you and it's what you do.  Most importantly, I respect and appreciate your collective scholarship.

I believe the boats were that big, or close to it.  I believe they made voyages of what Westerners would call discovery.  But without written Chinese history who knows the details?  I think Menzies has taken the history he could find and has created a scenerio he believes is true, inviting people to "talk" about it, add to it, await further information.

So, there we are.
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madupont
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« Reply #969 on: September 02, 2007, 02:23:54 PM »

Dzimas,

Glad you mentioned that was Harpers.  (Okay, I confess, I was not reading this book, hadn't planned on it but, then, pondered -- when thanatopsy began posting -- if some casual advice on Chinese sources might be helpful to investigate as you chose. Although that first page ,which was linked as from "China History" -- and I must tell you I always search anything that appears to be an "as from", to know whether it originates from the PRC or the people who today like to put labels: Republic of China, on their products or publications from Taiwan; yet, frankly I could not tell from that linked sheet or page where it originated.

Although it was suggested, while throwing in the matter of the coming up Olympic Games, that people in various parts of China unhesitatingly agree that yes, the world should know about China's contribution,re: this expedition, and I am paraphrasing, it was not clear who was attributing these agreeable ideas, and I start getting the Readers' Digest goose-bumps of dubious authenticity although "digested" from someplace else.)

Of course now that we all have service provided by various internet carriers, each of us probably has their own example of things they discover while they are weeding through their sign-on routine. Confess, I was amused at the camps of opinion that I encountered last night commenting on the Congressman from Idaho, or was it Ohio?, many of whom have simply no idea why police officers are sometimes stationed undercover in public restrooms, because posters forget some of the more horrendous video tape used for observation in public places that record kidnappings of the more recent past where a good view of the kidnapper is absent; and, so is the child. Apparently people have short memories.

Harpers or Harper-Collins is just one of a number of publishers who send me e-mail pushing their books; and their status is not the same today as it was in the past.  But, I did have some correspondence with them about one of the writers whom they've published and who is a rank beginner yet also just happened to use a locale, that I know, as a fictional setting.  As the responsibility for a reply was passed down the line, I collected a handful of names who revealed inadvertently not that they have short memories but that they probably never learned some common expressions handed down from our literary past.

When ever we are alerted that we ought pay attention to some new staff of bright young things who are the New whatever in publishing or review, it doesn't surprise me that they do not make a lot of demands for authentication of something that is going to create a lot of buzz and therefore be a sheer money maker. Which of course is why some publishing houses are not adverse to hiring fresh people(working their way up, for less salary) who are sure to be "Icon smashers". That's Harpers. They have a new audience of light readers, which is something that becomes apparent when  you go over their releases.



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Dzimas
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« Reply #970 on: September 03, 2007, 12:12:03 AM »

Apparently, a more sober view of the voyages of Zheng He,

http://www.amazon.com/Zheng-He-Dynasty-1405-1433-Biography/dp/0321084438/ref=pd_sim_b_3/002-4086232-9828850
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Dzimas
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« Reply #971 on: September 03, 2007, 05:47:32 AM »

Here's a hypothetical view of one of these enormous junks,

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sultan/media/expl_01q.html

It would have truly been an engineering marvel, because as the Nova page notes,

The Ming account of the voyages that followed strains credulity: "The ships which sail the Southern Sea are like houses. When their sails are spread they are like great clouds in the sky." Were the reported dimensions of the biggest galleons—over 400 feet long by 150 wide—gross exaggerations? If accurate, these dimensions would signal the biggest wooden ships ever built. Only the mightiest wooden warships of the Victorian age approached these lengths, and several of these vessels suffered from structural problems that required extensive internal iron supports to hold the hull together. No such structures are reported in the Chinese sources.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sultan/explorers.html
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Dzimas
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« Reply #972 on: September 03, 2007, 05:53:18 AM »

Interesting article on one German's interest in 15th century Chinese junks.  Note the length: 162 feet, which would still have been enormous in its day, twice the size of Portuguese Caravels,

http://www.ibinews.com/ibinews/newsdesk/20070223105237ibinews.html

And the sails still would have appeared like "great clouds in the sky," expecially with so many ships in one flotilla.
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Dzimas
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« Reply #973 on: September 03, 2007, 06:06:33 AM »

Here's an interesting map which is supposedly a 1763 copy of a map first drawn up in 1418,

http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/2007/07/28/156-china%E2%80%99s-1418-world-map/

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« Reply #974 on: September 03, 2007, 12:12:35 PM »

Dzimas, thanks for all those links--I had to shave again while waiting for the animated junk to load since I have slooow dial up.  I'm starting to lean towards Maddy's contention that the Chinese didn't go on voyages of discovery, that being the center that the earth was built for and around, they only went out for tribute, for shock and awe of being "mighty" to encourage the willing remuniration of said tribute.

I'm just too happy that fellow decided to spend 10 million of his dollars to build the junk replica.  Sorry I'm too old to get to sail on it.

Am I wrong to think that wooden boats were limited by whether or not the boat builders could find tall trees for the beam that runs down the middle of the bottom of a boat?
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