Tag Archives: history

How to write a good history essay

Pat is taking a course in Canadian history and has to hand in a final essay. She has read all the textbook and all the reference papers, but she still have no clue how to write a good essay. She summarized all points from different historians, but she could not figure out how to meet the essay requirement, assess and contrasts the points from those historians.

I think writing an history essay is just like writing a philosophy paper, probably all undergrad level academic papers come from the same mold. For a history essay, first you give a brief summary of the historical event, what had happened and what is the result. Then you quote different historians to offer different explanations on why it happened and what is the consequences of the result. Usually the easy way out is pick the perspective from the historian you like, cite some minor events to backup his theory, and cite some other minor events to go against other theories. At the end of the essay, you conclude by saying historian A is right, historian B and C are wrong, and that’s it. I know nothing about the Riel Revolution, but after reading just Pat’s summary, I manage to BS an outline for an A grade essay (I think).

The historical event in the essay is about some European and native Indian mix-blood decedents rebel against the Canadian federal government seizing their land and the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) has a monopoly in fur trade. At the end the federal government gave in and respect their properties rights. Historian A uses Marxism theory, the revolution is a typical class struggle. The government and the HBC are capitalist exploiting poor rural farmers and hunters. Historian B claims there are two groups of mix-blood decedents, those mixed with English and those mixed with French. The revolution is just the extension of the England-France war with the French mix-blood rebel against government while the English mix-blood wants to assimilate with the government. Historian C gives a toned down version of Historian A’s view, instead of claiming class different is the problem, he claims cultural different causes the problem. Historian D does not offer any theory, he just record some anecdote of certain English mix-blood family. It really does not matter which theory you choose to defense, I am sure you can find reference in D’s material to support or against any of A,B,C’s view points.

I think besides becoming a philosopher, I also have the potential to become a historian. Writing history essay seems pretty easy, it’s like ordering fast food, combo A + B + C. First pick a historical event, then pick a social theory and link them up by citing minor events. You just need to claim your theory is better than any other theory in explaining why the event happened and twist some facts to make them fit your theory.

Hampi – the hidden jewel of India

Ruin of ancient market

Hampi is probably one of the hidden treasure of India.  It was the capital of the largest Indian kingdom in 14th century.  It is glorious day, its has over half a million population.  Then the Muslim rulers came and destroy everyone.  Now it is an ancient huge ruin covering an area of 75 km square with just a few small farm villages.  Hampi is far away from any major travel route so it is not well known to most travelers.  Hampi only got a paragraph in my tourist book and a couple pages in the Lonely Planet.  With its status as a world heritage site and massive preservation project on the way, I think it will transform itself into the second biggest attraction in India after Taj Mahal.

Trees and rice field  Ruins of ancient market Water thank in the market 

To get to Hampi, we have to take an overnight train from Bangalore.  Riding trains in India is quite an experience.  Although we are riding first class, things are not quite right.  The cabin is OK, at least we got clean sheet and pillow case.  The toilet is a hole go straight down to the tracks.  You can feel the wind when coming up when you are doing your business.  You are not allow to go to toilet when the train stops at train station, otherwise what comes out of you will stay on the tracks.  The train door is not locked, so you can stick your head out and get some fresh air.  It seems quite scary at first, but after a while you use to the open door, you will find it very enjoyable.

Trees and rice field Ox cart waiting to cross the rail crossing. The train door is not locked.  I can stick my head out and enjoy the ride.

The natural beauty of Hampi is stunning.  The whole area is scattered with rocks mountains.  The ancient Indian build their temples and palace using local materials by cutting the stones.  There are over 300 temples in the area, most of them are destroyed and deserted, only a few survive.  The scale of the palace, the market, public bath, the royal bath is very impression.  Every building is connected by an aqua duct system.  The canal built in the ancient times are still used as water supplies by villagers.  The most spectacular view is the sun rise temple on the highest rock mountain.  We woke up 5a.m. to climb the mountain.  Unfortunately we were too slow and missed the sun rise by 15 minutes.  However, the view on top is so beautiful that it still worth the 600 steps hike up the ancient stairs carved out from the rocks.

Ruin of the palace Wake up at 5a.m. to watch sun rise Water temple. The royal water tank.

We don’t plan ahead of time, but the weekend we visit Hampi is also the birthday of the monkey god.  There is a big festival going on in the only functional temple in the area.  Villagers nearby all come to the temple to celebrate.  Indian festival is very interesting. Hundreds of men and boys will pull a 6-7 stores high chariot down the street.  The temple elephant will also come out and give blessing to people.  You just have to drop coins into its trunk, it will give the coin to its master then laid its trunk on your head.

Indians are pulling the huge chariot Holy elephant is giving out blessing Temple kids' band

Hampi is very clean compare to other Indian cities.  There ain’t any garbage on the street.  The people are poor but they seem to live a happy simple life.  There are not many hawkers nor people asking for money.  The villages are generally very nice and kind.  Probably many of them never see foreigners, they want to take photos with you.  The little kids are especially energetic, they will follow you around with their curious little eyes.  Mark is trying to teach high-five to the little kids.  Maybe a few years from now, high-five would be the coolest gesture in Indian.

Villagers lining up for photo Kids with sling shots Rice field with straight stones Kids in a village

Hampi is the kind of India experience I was expecting.  Seeing the ruins of an ancient civilization and having close encounter with people living in peaceful poor villages.  I am glad I sign up for this trip, it is a pleasant surprise.  If there is one thing I have to complain, it’s the heat.  It’s over 35 degree under the sun in the afternoon.  We have to start our sight early in the morning and retire to the hotel swimming pool in the afternoon.

Visiting Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

If you are visiting India, Taj Mahal is the one thing you have to visit. Without seeing Taj Mahal, you can’t say you have been to India. The last weekend is Indian new year, so we get a four days long weekend. I had arranged a trip to see Taj Mahal with Mark, my other colleague who had exiled to Bangalore from Vancouver with me.

Taj Mahal is located in Arga in Northern India. We have to take a flight to New Delhi first then take a 3 hour express train ride to Arga. Since our flight arrive in New Delhi at night, so we stay there for the first night. The plane is delayed as usual and it took us a while to find the driver coming to pick us up. By the time we get to the hotel, it’s already 1a.m. Our train is 6a.m. the next morning, so we only get 4 hours of sleep.

Travel by train in India is quite an adventure. You see all the things you expected to see from the Discovery Channel. People waiting for over night train just sleep in front of the ticket office. The platform is crowded, with people trying to sell you everything form food to souvenirs. Wild dogs running between the rails and the platforms, looking for food in the garbage. Local people are carrying luggages on their head. In the train, the second class cabin for Indians are packed and stinky. Luckily we are staying in the first class cabin with AC. Put it this way, the condition in first class cabin better but still far from good, probably in par with the condition of buses in Vancouver.

We are staying in Arga for a night. On the first day, we visited Taj Mahal and the Arga Fort. Taj Mahal really lives up to its fame as one of the seven wonders in the world. It is very beautiful. I will save my words to describe how impressive it is, please just check out my photos in facebook. Local people pay Rs20 entry fee, tourists pay Rs750. It would be nice if everyone pays the same price, prefer at Rs750, so the Taj Mahal would be less crowded. The tourist guide we had on the first day is very good, he told us stories about Taj Mahal and helped us take good pictures.

According to the tourist book, Taj Mahal is the symbol of love for a king to memorize his dead wife. I think it is just an excuse for the king to build himself an expensive toy. The king wanted to build a black Taj Mahal in black mable facing the Taj Mahal, but he bankrupted his kingdom with just one Taj Mahal and got overthrown by another king. There are some annoying hawkers in Taj Mahal or any historical site I went in India. They will try to sell you the perfect angle to shoot a photo of Taj Mahal and ask you Rs10 for each position. One word you only have to say is NO. Don’t even bother talk to refuse them politely, those hawkers don’t understand any English word others than NO.

In the afternoon we went to see the Arga Fort. The Taj Mahal is the tomb for the queen and the Arga Fort is where the king lives. It is built using red sand stones overseeing the Taj Mahal. It is quite impressive on its own, but we had just saw Taj Mahal. The beauty of Taj Mahal just eclipse all other historical sites we are seeing in the trip. In short, the Arga Fort is just a huge ruin of an ancient palace. You get exactly what you expected form all palace ruins. The ancient air conditioning system in the palace is one of the few things interests me. The building is built using hallowed marble wall filled with water and sitting on top of a huge water pond. The water and marble keeps the building cool in the summer.

On the second day, we took a side trip to Fatehpur Sikri, yet another ancient palace / fort ruin. It is about 1.5 hours drive from Arga. The ruin itself is nothing special but the view of Indian country side on the way is quite beautiful. At least I don’t see garbage everyone in the country side like in the city. The tour guide we have in the second day is really bad. No only he talked on his cell phone all the time. He did not wait for slow walkers like me, I have to run to catch up with him a few times. He deliberately bring us to hawkers trying to sell us useless junks, and worse he try to persuade us buying the junks.

The tour guide from the first day at least did his job to warn us staying away from the hawkers. To be fair, the first tour guide also brought us to some handcrafts shops charging marked up tourist price, but we know it is part of the deal. Trying to sell us junks is not the job of a tour guide. It is totally unacceptable. I suggested we only tip the second tour guide only Rs100, but Mark is kind enough to tip him Rs200 and he regretted it once he handed out the money. From now on, I will not tip any Indian tour guide if his service is unacceptable. Talking on the cell phone more than 30 seconds, didn’t wait for me and trying to sell me junks equals to no tips! On the other hand, we should reward good service. We tipped the first tour guide quite handsomely. We even got his business card and will highly recommend him to others planning to visit Taj Mahal.

One other thing we learn is the driver is usually more reliable than tour guide. We have some time between the end of our tour and the our train back to New Delhi. We asked the driver take us to the government shop and a good restaurant for beer. He dutifully follow our orders and bring us to a decent restaurant. Unlike the tour guide, the driver probably don’t have any commission from the shops or restaurants, so he will simply bring you to the one he thinks is the best. On our train back to New Delhi, we sit next to a philosophy professor from Britain. Her field of expertise is the moral theory of David Hume. I really enjoy our conversation ranging from philosophy to almost anything.

We spent the last day in New Delhi. We got a tour guide to show us around the city and unfortunately we got a bad tour guide again. Anyways, there ain’t much too see. The museums and monuments are closed on every Monday, so I didn’t get to visit Gandhi. I am a bit disappointed not about to take a photo with his statute and posing like him. We visited two more ruins, Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb. Qutb Minar is dating 1000 years old and have a tower 72 meters high. I am not interested in Indian history and we are not allow to go up the tower, so it is not very impressive. The Humayun’s Tomb looks pretty similar to Taj Mahal and it is 100 years older. It has a marble dome but the main structure is built using red sand stone. The garden is quiet and beautiful, but not as grand as the one at Taj Mahal.  I guess Humayun’s Tomb is simply a cheap prototype for Taj Mahal.

One thing I am like about New Delhi is its city planning and government buildings. The roads are wide and well designed. The architecture of government buildings are Victorian style with Indian flavors. New Delhi is probably the capital with the most impressive center of authority district. Well… all those nice things are remains from the colonial days. The British pretty much built and design New Delhi from scratch in the 1920s. Once you go outside of the British planned section of the city, New Delhi is just like every other Indian cities. Looking at the nice left over form British ruling days and the current of the Indian government. I wonder the independence really did any good to the Indians. One way or another, the Indian people are oppressed by the government, whether it is a foreign rule or domestic one. However, the life of the people would be better if the oppressing government is at least more capable.

Left or right

When I am searching for power socket format used in Europe, I came across an interesting article on origin of driving direction. Some countries drive on the left hand side of the road, which is Japan, UK and its former colonies, and the rest of the world drive on the right hand side. Driving on the left hand side actually makes sense and it can be dated back to pre-automobile days. Knights are usually riding on the left side on the road, so that their sword using arm is closer to incoming enemies. Moreover they carry the sword on the left hand side, so it is easier to mount or dismount the horse from the left. It is more natural to get off the horse to the side of the road rather than towards the center of the street. Thus riding and driving on the left hand side of the road is a symbol of the noble class, where the presents leave to walk on the right side of the road. When revolution came in France and US, the people want to distinguish themselves from the old royal system, therefore driving on the right became the rule. Sometimes illogical choices due to political ideology would stay and affect our life for a long time.

The article can be found at this link.