Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Italian Reunification

The nation of Italy was divided for much of its history, only reunifying in 1861. The unification, dubbed Risorgimento, was actually a process from about 1848 to 1870.

In 1815, the Vienna Congress restored Austrian dominance over the peninsula, although Italy really existed as Austrian Lombardi and Venice in the north, the Papal states, and several dominions such as the Kingdoms of Sardinia and Sicily.

 VenetiaInspired by the French revolution, nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini sought a unified Italy. From that point, revolution swept the peninsula and destabilized the many Italian territories. A Sicilian revolt granted the region a constitution, a papal revolt drove the Pope from Rome and established a republic, and the Sardinian King Albert helped in the war to drive the Austrians from Northern Italy. 

The tide for reunification wavered as the Austrians beat the Italians in the war to reclaim northern Italy. However, Napoleon of France later transferred Lombardy to Sardinian sovereignty after France beat Austria in a war. An election soon after left only Venetia under Austrian rule, ever increasing the Kingdom of Sardinia.

Instrumental in the reunification of Italy was Giuseppe Garibaldi. He waged war against the Austrians again after the first unsuccessful attempt, and recovered much territory for the Italians. When Austria lost the Seven Years War to Prussia, Italy gained back Venice, and later, when Napoleon withdrew, Italy gained back Rome. By 1871, Italy was united with Rome as its capital.   


 Garibaldi (left) and Mazzini (right)

Sources: Wikipedia, Spark Notes,,
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Monday, May 20, 2013

Portuguese Brazil

You may know Brazil as one of the few South American countries where Spanish is not the primary language- in Brazil, they speak Brazilian Portuguese.

Why? What is the history with Brazil and Portugal? For the beginning of that story, we should examine the era of colonialism- specifically, the 1500s. The Portuguese were a major colonial power alongside the Spanish.

In 1500, Pedro Cabral led Portuguese men to Brazil, where they found Native Indian tribes who were mainly hunter-gatherers and whose technique of "slash-and-burn" led to thin ground to plant crops. Rather than the resource-rich and 'civilized' societies the Spanish found in Mexico and Peru, the Portuguese in Brazil were met with a people without towns or domestic animals.


When Spain and Portugal, warring over colonization, set the Line of Demarcation, it divided easternmost Brazil from the rest of Brazil. 

In 1580, the Spanish and Portuguese empires were combined. During this 60-year period of union, the Brazilians and the Portuguese settlers began moving westward and expanding Brazil into the enormous country it is today. The Portuguese began settling in larger numbers in Brazil when a number of sources of wealth were found- among them, gold, diamonds, sugar, and coffee growing.


Following, in the 19th century, Portugal was embroiled in a European conflict. Napoleon, disrespecting Portugal's neutrality, invaded the country and forced the royal family into Brazil, where they resided for many years after the conflict ended. When the royals went back to Portugal, the crown prince Pedro remained behind as "Regent Viceroy."

Pedro, in 1822, had himself crowned Emperor of Brazil, Pedro I as tensions with the 'mother country' persisted and Brazilian advisers convinced Pedro of independence. The conflict was worked out peacefully between Portugal and Brazil, bringing Brazil independence. Further, in 1889, Brazil switched from a monarchy to a democratic republic.


Certainly, the Portuguese have left a legacy in the country they once ruled. Yet Brazil is now a fully sovereign nation by its own right.

Sources: The World,, Kids Corner

Friday, May 17, 2013

James Buchanan

The infamous James Buchanan is commonly ranked among the worst Presidents, just like many Presidents close before or close after Lincoln.


Buchanan was a one-term President and our only life-long bachelor President. He was active on the political field well before his presidency- he was elected to the House of Representatives 5 times, and served as Minister to Russia,  Polk's Secretary of State and Pierce's Minister to Great Britain, which helped earn him the Democratic nomination. Critics would call him a "doughface"- a Northerner with Southern sympathies.

He thought of the territorial question of restricting slavery as a non-issue in the beginning of his presidency. The Dred Scott case ruled that the government could not take away "property" rights in the territories, and Buchanan urged that the Kansas territory be admitted as a slave state to end the violent tension therein, both moves alienating Democrats and angering Republicans.

Due to a Republican plurality in Congress, the government reached a stalemate as no bills were passed. Lincoln rose to popularity among Republicans as the Democratic party split into a north and south wing, just as many Southern states began crying 'secession.' Buchanan tensely denied the legal right of a state to secede while simultaneously denying the government's right to stop them.

Towards the end of his term, as cabinet members resigned, he appointed many Northerners and sent reinforcement troops to Fort Sumter (though these troops were not present at the time of the attack in 1861).

Due to Buchanan's weak stance over the question of slavery in territories and the government's rights in allowing or preventing it, as well as his lack of action over the continuing divide in the country, Buchanan's term saw the climaxing of tensions leading to the Civil War.

Sources: White, Wikipedia,

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dr. Livingstone

David Livingstone staue near Victoria Falls, Z...
David Livingstone staue near Victoria Falls, Zambia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Stanley posing later (in London) with Kalulu i...
Stanley posing later (in London) with Kalulu in the "suit he wore" when he found Livingstone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The phrase "Dr. Livingstone, I presume," has become much more popular than the situation it arose from.

So who was this Dr. Livingstone and where did the quote come from? Dr. David Livingstone was a 19-century Scottish missionary who lost his way while in Africa.

Livingstone came to Africa in 1840, lauded as a British hero for his hopes to help end slave trade and also to explore the continent; he ended up exploring an area that was previously unfamiliar to most explorers- central Africa and the Congo region.

During the Zambezi expedition, Livingstone's wife died of malaria, and gradually his other companions died or left him. In response to the troubles, Livingstone famously responded, "I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward."

Following this expedition, support for funding Livingstone's expeditions fell. Livingstone still proceeded to continue with his fascination with parts of Africa, including the Nile River, and his attempts to explore them. His journal makes clear the many important geographical discoveries Livingstone made, including  Lake Ngami, Lake Malawi, and Lake Bangweulu, and Victoria Falls. However, he fell quite ill during his journey and had to rely on slave traders to be moved at all. The horrors he witnessed by the hands of slave traders during his time spent ill finally dissuaded him from continuing his explorations. He traveled to Ujiji, an Arab settlement, where he was found by Henry Stanley.

During Livingstone's time trapped in Africa, his fame continued to spread, as well as the story of him going missing in interior Africa. Stanley, who traveled to Africa with 200 men to explore the continent's interior, found Livingstone within the town of Ujiji and uttered, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" upon seeing the only white man in the entire village.

The conversation continued: "Yes."
Stanley: "I thank God, Doctor, I have been permitted to see you."
Livingstone: "I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you." 
Despite his illness and disillusionment due to the slave traders, Livingstone still felt compelled to finish his mission, against Stanley's urging.

Sources: Wikipedia, Eye Witness to
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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cinco de Mayo

Though this is again a little bit late, I couldn't very well let Cinco de Mayo pass without making a blog post about it!

A few things about Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth of May, are commonly misunderstood. For instance, Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration of Mexican independence. Furthermore, Cinco de Mayo is actually a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, and is celebrated mainly within the United States as a symbol of Mexican culture and heritage.

The holiday instead celebrates the victory of Mexican troops over French during the Battle of Puebla, which was part of what is sometimes called the Franco-Mexican War. When in 1861, Mexico claimed temporary cessation of foreign debt repayment, the British, French, and Spanish all invaded the country. However, in 1862, both the English and Spanish withdrew. The French forces, under Napoleon III, remained in hopes to bring Mexico under the rule of Austrian monarch Maximilian and to defy growing US power in North America. 


The Battle of Puebla was a battle on May 5, 1862, in which the Mexican troops enjoyed an unlikely victory over the French. Over 1000 Frenchmen died, and though the war and French occupation continued until 1867, the victory at Puebla came to represent Mexican pride in uprising against foreign oppression.

As for celebration of the holiday today, most celebrations occur in the southwest, where a greater proportion of the population are of Mexican descent. Mexican cultural and religious symbols such as the Virgin de Guadalupe enjoy special recognition on this day. Commercially, many business provide more Mexican goods to their customers. Some schools prepare lessons and banners to inform students about Mexican history. And in some cities, such as Pueblo de los Angeles, the crowd performs and celebrates regional Mexican music and dancing.

File:Cinco de mayo bush.jpg
Sources:,, Wikipedia, Time And

Monday, May 6, 2013

Republic of Molossia

The first Monday of the month brings us to another micronation- Molossia.

The micronation is located in Dayton, Nevada. It has only four residents, one of them being His Excellency President Kevin Baugh.


The micronation, the idea formed in 1977 and the actual territory founded in 1999, is one of the older micronations of today. It boasts a motto ("Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained"), a national anthem ("Molossia, Nation in the Desert" by Kevin Baugh), a claimed 1.3 acres of land, and its own currency called the Valora.

Though Molossia is, by name, a constitutional presidential republic, it is by fact a military dictatorship. The Molossian navy consists of rubber rafts.

Molossia appears to celebrate many of its own holidays. In this month of May, May 1st was Boulder Day and May 26th will be Founder's Day. On the website is a countdown to the opening of a Molossian time-capsule buried in the land- 1,028 days from today, May 6th.

The Molossian customs station

The website also counts the number of days Molossia has purportedly been at war with East Germany: a staggering 10,788 days as of May 6th. War was declared on November 2nd, 1983, for uncertain reasons, though they perhaps pertain to Baugh being stationed in West Germany with US troops. The website appears to issue war bonds for the war effort with the now defunct eastern bloc nation of East Germany.

Border sign, Harmony Province
War bond

In addition to having English as an official language, Molossia occasionally uses the Deseret alphabet.

Sources:, Micronations Wikia, Wikipedia

Friday, May 3, 2013

Franklin Pierce

Our 14th president of the United States was Franklin Pierce. He was one of our younger presidents, being only 48 when he assumed office. He's known primarily for fighting in the Mexican-American War pre-presidency and signing the Kansas-Nebraska act during his one term.

Pierce, a democrat, was a "dark horse" for the nomination, being fairly unknown within the party before rising to popularity. However, he entered the office distraught, since two months prior, his eleven year old son was killed in a train crash.

In office, Pierce's attempts at expansion raised criticism from Northerners. They believed Pierce was trying to spread slavery. His expansion attempts included his negotiations with the UK and Spain over the Central American coast and Cuba.

But what really caused controversy during his presidency was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. With the help of Stephen A. Douglas, Pierce made plans to build a trans-continental railroad to Western territories. It was deemed these Western territories would be able to decide the question of slavery for themselves. Northerners and Southerners both rushed to Kansas in an attempt to spread their influence for either non-slavery or slavery states. The conflict from the power struggle culminated in Bleeding Kansas- shootings erupted, and are now pointed to as a prelude to the Civil War.

Kansas returned to a peaceful condition by the end of Pierce's term, but the democrats decided to nominate James Buchanan over Pierce, as Buchanan was less controversial. Though following the compromises between the North and the South under Millard Fillmore, with everyone expecting a relatively peaceful era for Pierce to preside over, the storm began brewing anew during Pierce's expansion of the nation.

Franklin Pierce is consistently rated by historians in the worst quartile of United States presidents, though not to as extreme a degree as his successor, Buchanan. Indeed, what's particularly interesting about US leadership in this era is how Abraham Lincoln's 3 predecessors, Taylor, Fillmore, and Pierce, all rank in the lowest quartile while Lincoln himself is consistently one of the top 3 presidents in the ranking.

Sources: Wikipedia,, White,

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chinese censorship

China, a nation that is communist mainly in name, has certainly progressed from the brutal rule of Mao Zedong. Yet political and religious freedoms are still repressed.

China ranked 174th out of 179 countries in press freedom. Media outlets are heavily censored. For instance, the live showing of President Obama's inauguration address abruptly cut to black on Chinese TVs after Obama spoke of previous generations facing down fascism and communism Additionally, though the Beijing Olympics was meant to be a live broadcast, broadcast was delayed so that cameras could pick out activists wearing Free Tibet shirts and remove them.

Press Freedom Index- green indicating a good situation, pink indicating a bad situation, and yellow indicating noticeable problems. 

But most famous is the internet censorship in China. China's agreement with Google allows certain terms to return no results for Chinese computers when typed into the search bar (this can usually be worked around by searching for the terms in English). Many words deemed tied to dissent with the Chinese government have been blocked, such as "democracy," "oppression," and "persecution." Similarly blocked are the terms "Tibetan Independence" and any mention of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Websites blocked in China include Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. Many foreign news sources are also blocked, and if they aren't, are blacked out when they post 'controversial' news stories. According to reports, 52 people are imprisoned in China for their online communications.

Among other forms of censorship, the Chinese government bans video games that it declares negatively portrays the Chinese or Chinese history. Chinese textbooks are also accused of glossing over or entirely skipping events that paint China in a negative light, such as the aforementioned Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, ABC News, Wikipedia