28 February 2012

Hot Chocolate for the Georgetown Student: Starbucks, Saxbys, or the Corp?

I abstain from coffee, which probably makes me a little weird but nevertheless makes life simpler. (I really just don't like the taste.) I do drink hot chocolate pretty often though, and in the last couple weeks I've gotten hot chocolate from three of the main businesses a Georgetown student would go to for the stuff, so I might as well review them.

I can't call myself much of a drink connoisseur, but I really do like hot chocolate, and something that I've definitely realized in this process is that different hot chocolates can taste very different. Often a person doesn't drink more than one type of hot chocolate in short succession, so the distinctions may be lost. Going to three different places in the course of two weeks, however, I very much noted the differences.

So, if you're a Hoya who loves hot cocoa like me - or just someone coincidentally interested in reading this - here goes my review:

  • Starbucks has become the embodiment of the corporate cafe. When I went to the Starbucks inside the Georgetown Safeway (see this article about the grocery store) I had come on the day of an amazing deal - buy one get one free! The whipped cream was of medium weight and pretty tasty, and the drink was boldly chocolatey. It tasted as if the ensemble was made of fresh, brand-name ingredients, assembled according to sterile, time-tested processes. Indeed, one would have to say that's exactly what it was. Getting two for one was quite lucky, and it took me several hours until I had finished both.
    Price: $3.74 for a large. Quality: Consistent.
    Distance from GU: 5-min. shuttle or 15-min. walk to Safeway, but there's also one in the Leavey Center.

  • Saxbys seems to be a pretty small cafe franchise, with locations scattered in various areas around the country like Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania and DC. The location near Georgetown is very nice, with good music and atmosphere and a TV with Jeopardy! on (while I was there). The whipped cream on my cocoa was quite good, as the body of the drink was very distinct. I'd say the taste was very jazzy and enlivening, a less typical sort of chocolate than Starbucks, a drink combining the best of barista skill and creativity.
    Price: $3.49 for a large. Quality: Tasty!
    Distance from GU: 2 min. from the front gates, two blocks straight down O Street.

  • Students of Georgetown, Inc. is "the world's largest completely student owned and operated business and 501(c)(3) non-profit organization." The Corp runs three coffee places, and for my hot chocolate I went to Midnight Mug, which is on the second floor of the library. Unfortunately, the cocoa was disappointing, although perhaps this wasn't the Corp's fault as much as the barista's or my own bad luck and timing. The foam was pitiable compared to the whipped cream of the other two places, and the cocoa was light and pleasant enough, but not as strong or as chocolatey as the others, which is what I would have preferred.
    Price: $3.25 for a large. Quality: Chancy.
    Distance from GU: None! Three locations on campus - library, Leavey Center, ICC.

So to sum up on the basics, the Corp was the cheapest, Starbucks the most expensive, and Saxbys was the best tasting overall. In terms of location and ambiance, all three are within easy reach and can be pretty good places to study, depending on your mood.

I think how you feel about your hot chocolate on any given day could very well determine which place you choose to go. As I said, different types of cocoa can taste very different, but that doesn't mean there's only one that's best. I also have a can of peanut butter hot chocolate mix in my apartment, and it is absolutely delicious! Maybe I'll talk about that another time, and until then, I will seek out further hot chocolate adventures.

(Now see my addendum, which reviews a fourth hot chocolate distributor on campus.)

26 February 2012

Specialization, Generalization, and Inspiring People with History

I understand very well that it's impossible to have great historical research without people who dig into the details, exploring every source they can concerning particular subjects. The more time they spend with such subjects, specializing, learning source languages and cultures, approaching the material from different perspectives, the further our knowledge can be advanced by their work. For example, I just finished readings from James Lockhart's book The Nahuas After the Conquest, which is based on documents written in Nahuatl, a Native language of central Mexico. Lockhart learned Nahuatl himself to do the work, and it's clear that was a major part of how he was able to understand and interpret the documents.

Still, I am increasingly becoming aware that as a historian I am likely destined to stay a generalist, acquiring and renewing knowledge about many eras and regions of the world and likely never conducting the sort of life-long, in-depth devoted research that so many admirable scholars do. I don't really feel bad about this, especially considering that I think I'd like to teach high school world history more than most anything else. While it could be extremely useful to pick out some place and theme for myself and engage with that in depth for the length of a career - or at for least several years of work - I also think that a generalist can be useful, not only by passing on history to students or the wider public, but also by seeing wider patterns in the course of humanity's past, making comparisons and drawing conclusions.

image credit
Being recklessly general can be very dangerous. One of my favorite examples of this is Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" theory, which I mentioned a year ago here. Huntington was no historian, but the man divided the world into "civilizations" (see the map), and then proposed that clashes between these civilizational divisions would characterize our post-Cold War history - and unfortunately, a lot of people take this sort of thinking seriously. (For an undoubtedly good analysis and refutation of it all, see this.) Briefly put, the "Clash of Civilizations" is an absolutely ridiculous concept, and it's an example of generalization gone horribly wrong.

I think being a generalist first and foremost means knowing the limits of one's knowledge - trying not to make assumptions, speak in absolutes, or use ridiculously large units of analysis, such as "Americans did this," or "China is like that" (or, "civilizations" are like that). After you know how to qualify your language, to speak in likelihoods and uncertainties, possibilities and doubts, then you become ready to see potential patterns across history, to consider different times and peoples around the world, and to inspire people to think about these commonalities that tie humanity together - the things we share with our forebears as well as with people on the other side of the globe.

Unfortunately, a lot of students and a lot of people in general don't see the relevance of history in their lives. They don't think that learning about the past has any practicality, and that taking history in school was largely a waste of time. To some extent, they may be right. I think that teaching history that isn't made relevant to students basically is a waste. From the very first day of class, students should know that their lives have been entirely shaped by all that has gone before them, and that their thoughts about the world, and most of all about themselves, need to be informed by a knowledge of the past.

As I talked about in this post, I think many students in the United States today are being failed by the status quo of history textbooks and instruction, in middle school, high school and elsewhere. Instead of being inspired by the uncertainties and conflicts of the past and being taught to think about them critically and apply their lessons to the present, they're just being force-fed flat, meaningless narratives that can easily fit onto worksheets. I'd like to be a historical generalist so that I can learn a lot about different parts of the world and different times in the past. Then, using that knowledge and awareness of history's detailed complexity, I'd like to specialize in inspiring people to explore the past themselves.

24 February 2012

North American Historical Patterns Before 1519

This is my first paper for my history seminar "Native Americans Making North America." The course doesn't really deal with North America as a whole, but rather centers on Mexico and the areas that are now "borderlands" between the U.S. and Mexico. This paper deals with several topics before the arrival of the Spanish in Mesoamerica in 1519 - but you can find that out in the introduction. As always, if you stumble upon this and want to use the information here, feel free, but just give me proper credit. If you want the specifics of my sources and footnotes, leave a comment and I will provide them. 

Movement, Diffusion, Diversity and Stateness
North American Historical Patterns Before 1519

In 21st century North America, much of indigenous history remains a mystery, lost through the passage of time as well as the massive impacts of European invasion. Modern archaeology, however, provides tools for the discovery of many aspects of this past, even at its earliest human beginnings. Some pre-contact indigenous records also exist, in addition to early writings from Europeans, or Natives under their tutelage. Ultimately, however, scholars will likely never reach a complete understanding of societies, developments, and events in the early history of the Americas. Nevertheless, ample research may be utilized today to construct a picture of certain historical patterns, especially in Mesoamerica and the areas that it influenced. This essay will seek to do just that, mustering and interpreting evidence in order to address several crucial questions, all of them related to movements, diffusion, diversity and stateness, brought to, spread from, and experienced within Mesoamerica before the arrival of Europeans.

This paper is comprised of three distinct sections: The first section examines patterns of migration, settlement and state-creation, as well as interaction between Mesoamerican societies and regions to the north. The second explores Mesoamerica’s diversity and the functioning of its states, posing the question of whether state structures in Mesoamerica constituted an overall positive or negative force in people’s lives. Lastly, the third section briefly addresses southward migrations into Mesoamerica, followed by an analysis of the history of the Aztec Empire, assessing its continuities and changes relative to previous archetypes. Analysis of these three topics may not achieve a holistic or detailed picture of pre-contact realities. Nonetheless, this essay presents an intriguing opportunity to explore and assess the organic appearance of state structures, how this “stateness” diffused, evolved, and differed among societies, and finally how it ruled the lives and cultures of millions of Mesoamericans.

I. State Creation and American Civilization

Evidence points to many waves and bands of humans arriving in the Americas by way of a northern route, crossing the land-bridge subcontinent of Beringia by foot or tracing its coast by boat. In either case, they had travelled from Siberia to Alaska, and in time spread southward from there. One cannot easily pinpoint specific causes of the migrations, but as with other movements of early humanity, groups likely roamed and relocated regularly in the pursuit of greater space and food sources. A precise chronology for the crossings cannot be determined either, but it is known that by 12,000 years ago, Beringia was under water. In terms of stateness in the Americas, the Beringia crossing and subsequent movements imply that it was an organic development, not an import from another landmass. The question then becomes why, instead of elsewhere in North America, it was Mesoamerica that hosted the formation of state structures.

In his book The Founders of America, Francis Jennings states that around 9000 years ago, people in south-central Mexico began planting the crop that would become maize, and others in northeastern Mesoamerica began cultivating pumpkins and gourds. It would be misleading, however, to consider these as two singularly innovative events: many of the peoples characterized as hunter-gatherers had much closer and more innovative interactions with plants in their gathering than one would often assume. The Natives of California, for example, processed acorns in complex ways in order to make flour. In addition, the processes of transition to agricultural production and development of state-based societies must not be immediately associated. In their book Mexico’s Indigenous Past, Alfredo López Austin and Leonardo López Luján outline a period known as the Protoneolithic – a “long transition” of approximately 2500 years, involving changes in societies’ subsistence and organization and ultimately leading to “the birth of Mesoamerica” around 2500 BCE. Afterward, the period labeled the Preclassic saw what they describe as “a long journey from egalitarian to hierarchical societies.” Thus critically, neither sedentariness nor cultivation directly bring about agriculture, nor does agriculture necessarily or immediately bring about stateness.

Jennings briefly constructs a narrative of state-creation in Mesoamerica by postulating that it was decreasing abundance of land and resources that led gradually to full adoption of settled agriculture. Following this, the adoption of trade by the Olmecs brought them unprecedented wealth and development. The impressive Olmec remains found today demonstrate that a strict hierarchy and state political order must have existed to coerce laborers into transporting stones and constructing such wonders. López and López investigate the processes much more carefully: Just as archaeological evidence cannot explain what caused the Protoneolithic transition to agriculture, neither can it point to a particular theory of the rise of social stratification. Compared to the rest of North America, however, Mesoamerica seems to differentiate itself through the close proximity of varying environments conducive to differentiated groups and varying types of cultivation, but also to regular contact and technological diffusion. Whether one theorizes that it was through control of resource access or manipulation of technical knowledge, stratification and the creation of the state surely came about through means where dynamics of exchange were essential.

For analysis in pre-modern history, an exclusive definition of a state misleads; often, societies become labeled according to an either-or philosophy – as statist or stateless. The concept of stateness as used in this paper opens up a continuum of certain traits for use in evaluation, among them division of labor, hierarchy, and centralized political organization, but also something more. Peoples along the northwest coast of North America, for example, followed largely sedentary lifestyles, sustaining hierarchical traditions and highly developed arts and crafts through trade, warfare, and above all the bountiful surpluses provided by nature. Concurrently, one must qualify this degree of stateness as less than that of contemporary Mesoamericans, as the Pacific Northwest’s relative isolation and sparseness of peopling preempted urbanization and the development of tight linkages between groups. Maize, beans and other crops would eventually spread over much of North America, and Europeans coming to what are now the eastern regions of the United States and Canada certainly found societies with relatively high levels of stateness – though they never described them in such terms. Mesoamerica, however, experienced far earlier the effects of this agriculture, and possessed an ideal environment of diverse, dense, and growing populations. This brought about its unparalleled and intense concentration of commercial exchange, technological diffusion, and many examples of state creation.

In assessing continental patterns, one should now inquire as to how Mesoamerican states influenced other regions and societies. Though the evidence he proffers appears limited at times, Jennings makes a convincing case that Mesoamerican influence reached into the present U.S. Southwest to the north and west, and far up the Mississippi River to the north and east, diffusing trade and culture into diverse areas of the continent. Concerning the area around the Southwest, a group of societies termed Oasisamerica by López and López appeared after crops and technology diffused along the Western Sierra Madre from Mesoamerica: Experts agree that most of the agricultural expertise must have been imported. Indeed, one can imagine swaths of land through the continent as huge zones of exchange, commerce, and interaction taking place along the mountains in cities such as Chaco Canyon, and elsewhere in more improvised locations, as peoples of varying levels of sedentariness met and developed relations. Though Mesoamericans themselves did not settle in Oasisamerica, their technology, goods, and commercial culture helped to create and sustain many centuries of “autonomous and vigorous” life.

Inquiry into the history of the Mississipians summons some very different ideas. López and López state simply that the Huastecs of the northern Mesoamerican Gulf coast “had contacts” with the Mississippi basin, evidenced by similarities in the artistry of their luxury goods. Jennings theorizes much more incautiously, stating that the truncated pyramid mounds at sites such as Cahokia strongly imply Mesoamerican presence on the Mississippi. Goods that presumably originated in Mesoamerica were traded in what is now the eastern U.S. long before the proposed migration; Jennings acknowledges as much, though he states it occurred in “attenuated wisps.” In the ninth or tenth centuries CE, Jennings believes a group of Mesoamericans travelled up the Mississippi and became the elites of a Mississipian mixed culture and commercial empire. That vast networks of trade existed appears doubtless from the archaeological record, and it even seems probable that, given the especially high level of Mesoamerican influence evident, there were travelers involved who disseminated culture directly. However, much more research would be necessary to substantiate Jennings’ characterization of the Mississipians as a sort of colonized society. The Mississippi case was likely more similar to that of Oasisamerica: While societies may have adopted many aspects of Mesoamerican practice and culture, they probably did so through their own agency, rather than because of a coercive foreign class.

II. Life Under the Mesoamerican State

The extensive scholarship and archaeological research that has focused on Mesoamerica reveals numerous and diverse regional cultures exhibiting unique practices, crafts, and artifacts. Though, differences surely existed even before the rise of agriculture and cities, due to widely varying subsistence environments, one can only speculate as to the general degrees of convergence or divergence that followed. In the Yucatan Peninsula and what are now the northern nations of Central America, Mayan civilization followed a distinct course, though it saw its share of outside influences. The cultures of Oaxaca, Central Mexico, and the Gulf Coast also possessed their own distinct regional characteristics, each area seeing major urban centers rise and fall. Western Mesoamoerica, by contrast, never truly formed as a cultural unit, its societies remaining divergent: López and López even imply that the Shaft Tomb Tradition people had contacts with South America, and that the later Tarascans received their metallurgy from there. Common to all, however, were ethnic and cultural groupings, as well as centers and peripheries existing at local, regional, and supraregional levels. Population growth led to urbanization, trade rose with specialization, and cities’ growth and contacts led to competition, warfare, and even domination. But these generalities aside, the question becomes under what conditions people lived, and how the state influenced and directed their lives.

Just as transformations in subsistence and in social structure occurred gradually, transpiring over the course of centuries, so too must the lives of early Mesoamericans have changed at a relatively slow pace. As it does around the world, tradition assuredly formed the bedrock for societies’ ways of life. Thus, contrary to the impression that scholarship gives, the most perceptible changes would not have been such pivotal yet long-term developments as those in agriculture, government, religion, or the rise and fall of political powers, but rather events about which we can discover much less, such as deleterious attacks, the undertakings of particular leaders, or even exceptional harvests. Without a doubt, it is extremely difficult to gain a detailed sense of individuals’ lives in Mesoamerica before European contact, as scholars must rely on material remains. Nevertheless, certain patterns and details present compelling impressions. So long as one understands the regions’ cultural diversity and bears in mind that most developments occurred over centuries, analysis of Mesoamericans’ lives becomes an exercise requiring a balance of information and imagination.

Urbanity was highly prevalent in Mesoamerica, especially at certain times in certain regions, such as in the Basin of Mexico some time after 150 CE, when 75% of the population moved to the valley of Teotihuacan, whose great city attained 125,000 inhabitants or perhaps even 200,000. Though scholars remain uncertain of the specific methods used to provide food for these masses, many people likely produced food in or near the city, supplementing the supplies imported from elsewhere. Necessarily, this sort of system could only exist through high levels of stateness and management, which profoundly shaped social structure. Identity would be based in great part on groups such as neighborhood, profession, or ethnicity, as can be seen from the organization of barrios in the cities of Oaxaca or in Teotihuacan. Through these groupings, the elites of the city or some distant more dominant power would indirectly assert their authority, requiring tribute of different types and participation in various norms of interaction and deference. The dominant patterns of life would have been threefold: communal life, in tight familial enclosures or high-occupancy apartments; productive activity, in highly varied crafts or social roles, coupled with communal or agricultural labor; and lastly cultural life, including regular traditions and religious activity.

Despite the central focus on cities in Mesoamerican studies – stemming from the abundance of archaeological material provided by these sites – one must take special care to emphasize the continuance of rural life. Even the highly citified Valley of Mexico possessed numerous villages and hamlets, and elsewhere in Mesoamerica urbanization rates and population density remained much lower. Striking about the small communities of Mesoamerica was that the majority likely fell into a clear stratification, hamlets linked to larger centers often linked to even greater cities. This was in a sense very much a requirement for the dynamics of the age: Cities producing so much grandeur must have efficiently siphoned surpluses from agricultural communities in order to support themselves. One could characterize it as a sort of macro-stateness, a widespread geographical hierarchy. At the same time, however, technical terminology should not disguise the similarities between this and other civilizations, where tributes from periphery to center were very much the same.

To judge the effects of the Mesoamerican state on individuals’ welfare, one must engage in some hypothetical thinking. An array of more egalitarian, low-stateness, gathering-cultivating societies could potentially have continued to produce and spread advancing tools and technologies as time went on, improving their lifestyles through small-scale diffusion and trade. Contrariwise, the urban wonders, engineering feats, extensive commercial networks, crafted tools, and high pottery and art of Mesoamerica’s so-called “Classic Period” beg to demonstrate that such achievements would only have been possible through more complex organization. Certain key questions present themselves, such as whom exactly the high levels of commerce benefitted, and to what extent certain tools and technologies proliferated in order to improve the basics of daily life. Full responses to these questions appear elusive, but certainly the bulk of prestige goods and surpluses were destined for elites. In addition, the socioeconomic structure of Mesoamerican cities indubitably neglected certain individuals, generating poverty and marginalization, such as those forced by hunger to beg on edges of feasts or to desperate depend on days when they wealthy may have distributed food. Given Mesoamerican cities’ apparent stability, however – save for a few theorized revolts, based on the archaeological record – it seems the majority of urbanites would have been well supplied and settled in their social roles.

According to López and López, relations between peoples during the age of Teotihuacan were primarily of a commercial and not military nature. Nevertheless, they do affirm that neither the inhabitants of Teotihuacan nor the Mayas were “peaceful people.” Warfare undeniably scarred the landscape of Mesoamerica all through its centuries of advanced stateness, as political entities competed, expanded their influence, or protected their interests. States created much of what people today recognize as the legacy of Mesoamerica; as concentrations of power they used coercion and cooperation to bring about much that would have been otherwise impossible, including massive yet stable urban structures – both physical and abstract in nature. At the same time, they funneled wealth and goods to the elites and away from the producers, creating major inequalities along lines of geography and class. It is along these lines that further questions must be posed.

III. The Aztec Experience

Before 1519 CE, the largest example of outside influence on the states of Mesoamerica most certainly lies in the great migrations theorized to have occurred at times during the 11th through 14th centuries, including the arrival of the Mexica people, also known as Aztecs. Jennings addresses the source of this continent-wide phenomenon by discounting out of hand the possibility of environmental causes, citing indigenous narratives of widespread warfare. However, environmental factors constitute an extremely important impetus for movement, particularly for societies whose subsistence depended on climate-sensitive plants and animals. It seems most probable that, as López and López indicate, climate change did indeed drive nomads and farmers alike southward, and it was these pressures and movements that generated the conflicts and violence of which Jennings is enamored. More interestingly, however, López and López blithely declare that the migrants brought to Mesoamerica “a new militaristic vigor.” Examining whether this statement and previously described patterns hold true in the history of the Aztec Empire will be the object of this paper’s final section.

A central problem for historians of pre-contact Mesoamerica remains the historiography surrounding the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan and their purported Aztec Empire. Assessment of the so-called “Postclassic Period” has often emphasized divergence from previous norms and proliferation of unprecedented militarism. While López and López acknowledge that such divisions in the scholarly literature have now become murkier, the problem remains as to how to evaluate the rise of the Mexica and the prevailing realities of their time. Spanish, Nahuatl, and Latin written sources, created after European arrival, aid but also complicate the task of understanding societies at the time. Whereas little is known of the people of Teotihuacan and the events in their city a millennium before Spanish contact, Tenochtitlan and its history are described in many accounts, though biases abound. Indeed, this paper and modern historiography may also betray a bias in emphasis by centering so clearly on the Mexica during this time. However, considering the weaker proportion of sources available for contemporary societies, such as the Tarascan state, it would take a courageous revisionist to change the status quo.

The actions of the expansionist Mexica state arguably aligned with previous patterns in at least a few ways: Firstly, the Excan Tlatoloyan – or Triple Alliance, which the Mexica came to lead – built an empire out of mixed relationships, some of direct domination, others tributary, others primarily commercial. Inasmuch as scholars can speculate, Teotihuacan likely had a similarly mixed portfolio of relationships stretching across Mesoamerica. The Mexica even had other desired objectives besides simply resources or trade: In some cases, scholars believe they lowered their demanded tribute in return for recognition as legitimate successors to the famed Toltecs. Secondly, the Mexica state dealt with a great deal of diversity – among its many contacts to be sure, but also within the confines of Tenochtitlan, as did the multiethnic Teotihuacan. In his relatively brief account of the Aztec Empire, Jennings points out that the city must have received many new arrivals and become much more heterogeneous after the Mexica’s first major victory. Unfortunately, Inga Clendinnen’s otherwise detailed work Aztecs does not give a compelling account of how Tenochtitlan must have handled its ethnic diversity, only suggesting that the city-dwellers united through projecting otherness onto foreign “barbarians” in their ceremonies.

Perhaps part of the answer relates to how the Mexica deviated from previous cultures. Most prominently, evidence of human sacrifice and high valuation of warfare appears at an unprecedented level among the Mexica, and in a sense, this departure may represent a culmination in the usage of Mesoamerican state power. López and López develop the idea of the Zuyuan system, an ideology of myth-based political hegemony representing a new conception of power that many societies adopted from the 10th century onward, allowing them to claim dominance over varying ethnic groups as never before. The Mexica clung to Zuyuan norms as well, claiming legitimacy from the legends of Tula or the Toltecs. However, López and López argue that Tenochtitlan went even further than the Zuyuan regimes, the Mexica claiming that their god Huitzilopochtli would “adopt” other peoples and control the whole world by conquest, and that the duty fell to them to feed the sun with more blood from human sacrifice. The story of Itzcoatl, who ruled Tenochtitlan when the city began its upward trajectory of power, might play a key role the story. Jennings tells that around the year 1430, Itzcoatl ordered the burning of all the ancient books, and that one reason for doing so was to justify the takeover and changes imposed by his newly ascendant faction of militants. The regime that followed included among its practices massive acts of human sacrifice, perhaps 20,000 lives ended for a single important ceremony. Getting beyond the “sense of incredulity” that these images inspire today lies at the crux of Clendinnen’s project, as it also threatens a sense of common humanity with the Mexica.

Clendinnen’s work on the religious and cultural foundations of Mexica life sheds light on the importance of politico-religious ideology. She defines the many public ceremonies she details as the “material reflex” of a “conscious and recent human construct” – the Aztec state. Thus, generational dynamics constitute a highly important factor in understanding Mexica history, especially in how rapidly such a construct could be solidified in popular beliefs, so much so that Mexica mothers gave up children born on a certain daysign in order to be sacrificed to Tlaloc. Perhaps the United States’ century-long, four or five-generation shift from 1912 isolation to 2012 global presence might provide an out-of-context parallel. In similar generational increments, the Mexica shifted from dependent fledgling settlers to domineering distributors of conquest and sacrifice. In all likelihood, the Mexica’s beliefs, culture, and political interests evolved in tandem, influencing each other all the while and eventually coming to support – partly organically and partly by the intent of elites – a highly powerful and influential society.

The socio-economic bases of Mesoamerican society may have remained relatively consistent between the ages of Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan, with this paper’s analysis of the state’s general impact on peoples’ lives staying much the same: continued subjugation to the influences, demands and limits of commerce, tribute, elite privilege and war. Contrariwise, the age of Tenochtitlan – with the Tarascans and others considered along with the Mexica – may have seen some of the most incredible and extreme applications of state violence that Mesoamerica had ever experienced. The essential problem for scholars remains one of insufficient and terribly unequal evidence. Without the same sources and without a balanced perspective, what seems exceptional in the last centuries of Mesoamerica’s pre-contact history may well have had precedents that are either undiscovered or lost to posterity. Much could have been learned from the history destroyed by Itzcoatl, but such a hypothetical statement falls in with similar questions of what the Spanish arrival destroyed, or indeed what its chroniclers could have told more of. As it is, Mexica society and their Aztec Empire must be understood not only according to what is known, but also according to what is not.


The several millennia of North American history before 1519 appear as the processes of a closed system, endowed with many diverse peoples and environments, stretching from the western coasts of Alaska to the jungles of southeast Mesoamerica. Peoples moved great distances and interacted with one another, warring, trading goods, and diffusing culture. Environments shifted over time and shaped the lives of people, particularly in terms of their subsistence and surplus. While stateness manifested itself in other areas, Mesoamerica gave birth to uniquely powerful state structures, in addition to influences such as maize cultivation, unprecedented urbanization, and high-volume sustained trading networks. Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan were the seats of unprecedented splendor and authority, founded on political ideologies and socio-economic exploitation, as well as imperceptibly nuanced supraregional relationships. These and other states transformed life and transformed Mesoamerica in ways that scholars will never fully comprehend. Over time, more and more evidence may come to light to aid in interpreting these diverse and compelling facets of indigenous history, but many mysteries will doubtlessly remain.

20 February 2012

The Publisher's 365th Post

Let it be known that Peter's Publisher now has a grand total of 365 published posts. If I started tomorrow, I could review one of my old posts every day and it would end up taking a year! (though I wouldn't be returning to this date, February 20th, because in just nine days we have a leap day).

This is actually a little bit of a scary thought, that I have so many posts: I probably I haven't looked at the majority of my old posts since shortly after I wrote them! That means many have messed up formatting, (I have fixed quite a few, but I don't know what caused the problem in the first place), and it also means there may be things I said long ago that I really shouldn't want lurking around.

Granted, I do provide in my "About the Blog" section the following disclaimer:
This blog was first created when I was but sixteen years old. It has now continued into my college years and will extend until who knows when.  
I know more than anyone else that I have written strange things on this blog; I've made arguments with which I would now disagree and used phrases I would never use again. All the same, I would not go back and alter the record of my development and growth. In part this blog's purpose is to preserve that history.  
As everyone changes, so have I.
Still, there are certain things that my younger and more inhibition-free self may have written that would go beyond my limits of comfort. I wrote one post, for example, which alternately criticized and complimented a few of my high school teachers by name. Some time ago (but still long after I wrote the post) I went back and changed the names to initials, and removed a picture I had added of one of the teachers. (Why did I ever do that?) It is, after all, my official blog policy not to give the names of people I know personally, and I intend to keep that policy, unless I get to know some famous person...

In any case, Peter's Publisher continues, and this 365th post has now become a milestone.

How the Publisher looks right now

19 February 2012

Potential Senior Thesis Idea: Education and Social Mobility

Well, being in my second semester of junior year, I'm thinking a lot about the future. One possible thing I might do is write a senior thesis next year. It's not required; I just have to figure out if I want to do it. Who knows what sorts of things I might end up deciding to do next year, but that's a question for another time.

If I were to write a senior thesis, I should at least come up with a couple ideas for what it could be. Considering that I've made it my quest to look at poverty through history while I'm at Georgetown, and considering that for my career I know I want to go into education, I've thought up the following proposal:

Educational Systems and Social Mobility: 
Students Around the World in the Early 20th Century

This would be an examination of how education (particularly public universal education) has affected social mobility in the past (particularly the social mobility of the poor and impoverished).

This could be done as sort of a global whirlwind tour, looking a several macro-regions, such as East Asia, West Africa, Western Europe and North America, for example, and then looking at specific examples within each of those world regions. The relevant questions would include how, when and why public education was established, what sort of access and content there was and how this changed over time, and whether or how this significantly influenced the social mobility of children attending school, especially children from poor and impoverished backgrounds.

Here’s an idea of places I might examine and their sequence, depending on the availability and depth of material. (They are selected according to my interest and exposure so far in college to their histories.) After doing the research required for one or two of the places, I would definitely have to reassess how many different studies would be ideal (and realistic) for inclusion in the thesis.

East Asia: Japan, Korea, China
West Africa: Senegal, Liberia, Ghana
Western Europe: France, Germany, Britain
North America: Canada, Mexico, the U.S.

The purpose of doing this global selection of case studies would be to seek out similarities or differences in the establishment and function of education systems and especially the role of education systems in either the replication of social class, the breakdown of social class, or something more ambiguous. Nothing would be explicitly tied to the present: the studies would be strictly tied to the past, likely a relatively compact period in the early part of that country’s development of their education system, probably in the late 19th or early 20th century. (For Senegal and Ghana, for example, this would necessarily mean looking at their colonial education systems.) This sort of time period is preferable because it will make it a lot easier to see potential results of social mobility borne out in subsequent decades. The studies might end up following along the lines of generational history, perhaps looking at one or two decades of students and then how the educational system shaped the rest of their lives.

At the beginning of the thesis I may need to set out some definitions, and I will definitely have to do a lot of explaining as to what I do and do not seek to accomplish or address. I also need to frame the key questions of my study.

After doing the case studies, I may or may not want to devote a lot of space to an overview of similarities and differences and conclusions on the role of education in social mobility across the globe.


In any case, I really don't know much about what a good thesis topic looks like, and as I said, I might not write a thesis at all. If you have any sort of comment, criticism or input on my idea, please submit it right below this post!

16 February 2012

Elizabeth Peratrovich Day: Jim Crow and Civil Rights in Alaska

Today is Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. On February 16th, 1945, 67 years ago today, the Territory of Alaska signed into law the Anti-Discrimination Act, a result of the voice, leadership and actions of Elizabeth Peratrovich and many other Alaska Natives. In the Territorial Senate, it was her testimony that turned legislators to pass this law:
Juneau, Alaska  
To provide for full and equal accommodations, facilities and privileges to all citizens in places of public accommodation within the jurisdiction of the Territory of Alaska; to provide penalties to violations.  
Be it enacted by the Legislature of the Territory of Alaska:  
Section 1: All citizens within the jurisdiction of the Territory of Alaska shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of public inns, restaurants, eating houses, hotels, soda fountains, soft drink parlors, taverns, roadhouses, barber shops, beauty parlors, bathrooms, resthouses, theaters, skating rinks, cafes, ice cream parlors, transportation companies, and all other conveyances and amusements, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all citizens. 
Section 2: Any person who shall violate or aid or incite a violation of said full and equal enjoyment; or any person who shall display any printed or written sign indicating a discrimination on racial grounds of said full and equal enjoyment, for each day for which said sign is displayed shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than thirty (30) days or fined no more than two hundred fifty ($250.00) dollars, or both. Approved February 16, 1945
After reading the text of this act, it should be clear that the law was responding to a very real problem: Jim Crow-style discrimination and segregationist attitudes pointed against Natives, going on in Alaska. Southeast Alaska and its big cities of Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka were particular hotspots of discrimination, as the southeast was Alaska's most populated and most densely populated region, home to many whites as well as Natives. World War II brought issues to the fore as well, because while Natives were allowed to become soldiers, their families were denied access to USOs and other amenities, and officers even drove Native girls away if they saw them with white soldiers.

image credit
Problems were not just limited to access to restaurants, movie theaters or dance halls, however; Elizabeth Peratrovich and her husband had arranged to lease a house in Juneau, but they were denied as soon as it was discovered they were Native. The racist views of the territorial legislators were surely symptomatic of attitudes across the state, and though the anti-discrimination act passed the house with a clear majority, it was the calm and resounding exhortations of Peratrovich that convinced and shamed the senatorial opposition into doing the right thing.

Wikipedia's article claims that Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act was the first of its kind in the United States. I wouldn't be surprised: This was really a modern and unprecedented action against the sort of casual racism and discrimination practiced by some white Americans - not just in the South, but also in all places where visible minorities could be marginalized and mistreated. In Alaska, this sort of injustice was confronted with legislation an entire nineteen years before the Civil Rights Act was passed for the country as a whole. I believe Alaska's stand really was pioneering.

Alaskan students and all Americans need to be taught much more of their country's history of discrimination. There is so much that I feel ignorant about concerning Native experiences after the American purchase of Alaska, and I think we all have a responsibility to better understand legacies of marginalization in our home communities, wherever they might be and whoever might be involved. When it comes to the actions of Elizabeth Peratrovich and all others who fought in battles for equality, however, this is history that Alaskans and Americans should be proud of.

Sources: See here for great collection of information.

11 February 2012

Debate About the "Facebook Parenting" Viral Video

views as of today
Some days ago a video on YouTube called "Facebook Parenting: For the Troubled Teen" started going viral. I saw people post it on Facebook and just today I saw an online news article about it. If you don't want to watch the whole eight minutes, I'll try to sum it up as best I can (skip two paragraphs if you watched it):

A father reports to the camera that his 15-year old daughter made a post on Facebook (which she unsuccessfully tried to hide from him using privacy settings) that was filled with profanity and vicious complaints about her parents. It seems she wrote a lot, mainly about her feeling that she was being forced to do tons of jobs around the house, and that her parents should either pay her for doing them or just do them themselves. Apparently the post also got a lot of "likes" from her friends, which I'd guess is probably how her dad found out about it.

In response to this, the girl's dad decided to make his video, talking about how disrespectful his daughter was, how disappointed he is in her, and also about how the chores she's asked to do are actually very minimal. He also talks about the punishment she'll get for writing the post, and he then takes a handgun and shoots his daughter's laptop several times. (Go to the 7 minute mark in the video for the action.) The other punishments are purportedly grounding, making the daughter pay for her next computer - only after college - and then of course the shame of the video itself. I guess you could say his making of the video was intended to serve a double purpose - first to shame his daughter, but also to try to teach a lesson to the friends who liked the post. I can't imagine he ever expected getting 17 million views and receiving national attention.

In the wake of all that attention, I'd say this video has now sparked a bit of a nationwide debate on parenting. Out of the people who "liked" or "disliked" the video on YouTube, nearly 87% liked it, which would seem to indicate a big majority approval. All the people I saw share the video also seemed to approve of it. Nevertheless, on the comment sections of the video and other places it's been posted, active debates are ongoing, and a vocal minority is expressing harsh disapproval of the father. Let's analyze the debate, shall we?

The way I see it, it looks like the majority approval stems from a number of widespread feelings: 1. that disrespecting one's parents is unacceptable, 2. that doing so in the way this girl did (online, using profanity, etc.) is especially unacceptable, and 3. that this requires substantial punishment. Many of these commenters share stories of how they disrespected or disobeyed, and now that they're older they understand their parents' disappointment and punishments, including examples of electronics or toys being destroyed. Many commenters conclude that the father's actions were more or less the correct response, and that this is how children should be disciplined.

Given their much smaller numbers, it's harder for me to characterize the general nature of negative commenters' views. I'd say they mainly stem from the impression that the father's response was way out of proportion, (especially shooting the computer), or that the problem should have been dealt with a different way, and perhaps that the daughter's actions represent a failure in parenting or communication on the parents' part.

Now, I completely understand how wrong it was for this fifteen-year-old to do what she did - though I haven't seen her original post and perhaps no one else ever will, as I assume it's long been deleted. I also sympathize with the father and mother here, and how they must have felt and been enraged after reading what their daughter wrote. (The father is still clearly upset as he's making the video.) All the same, I tend to side with the disapproval side of this debate. Note that I am not a parent - just a 20-year-old student - and you can discount my opinion all you want because of that. Nevertheless, I don't think this father's actions were the right way to go. I think the video was an irrational and disproportionate response - especially the shooting - both in terms of pragmatism and propriety.

Many of the commenters expressed negative sentiments about "this generation" or "kids these days." Yes, "kids these days" have access to things that children in the past didn't have, and that certainly poses unique problems. However, it's a good general rule for historians (and everyone else) to be very suspicious whenever people reminisce about glory days or a golden age. Differences between generations have been perceived and lamented for ages, and differences in child-rearing not only go back generations - they go back millennia, varying greatly among the world's cultures. I think this proves that many different kinds of parenting can be effective. What matters is choosing what's best.

Ideally, I believe the best sort of parenting is preventative. That is to say, children don't have to be taught lessons only after they've done something wrong; parents can teach lessons and instill values in many ways, many of which don't include punishment, and many of which are much more effective. Of course, there will inevitably be instances of disobedience or disrespect, and I don't disagree that punishment is then appropriate. Nonetheless, punishment should never be the end of the story. Punishment should be rational, and it should be the means to an end: greater understanding and respect between parent and child - not years afterward, but rather here and now.

08 February 2012

Safeway vs. Trader Joe's: The Georgetown Student Shopper

Note the €1 kilo of kiwis!
While in Strasbourg, my host mother provided me with breakfast every day and dinner four times a week. The rest was up to me, and quite honestly it was the first time in my life where I really had to buy groceries and plan out meals for myself, all by myself, for an extended period of time. For the most part, this was a great success, and I had a lot of fun. Pretty quickly, I found that Strasbourg had several great grocery stores that constantly had pretty good deals - great food I'd never seen at home or great prices I'd never seen at home. My favorite example would probably be the big delicious pineapples available from Côte d'Ivoire: I bought several for myself during my time in France, only for €1 or €1.50 apiece (US$1.50-$2.25). In the U.S., I've never seen pineapples sold for less than around five dollars.

France loves Alaska salmon!
More importantly, however, I learned to really enjoy grocery shopping and to do it for myself. (See the post Oh How I Love Grocery Shopping.) In the previous two years, my girlfriend did a lot to push me in the right direction, especially when it came to cooking: I was hopeless before we started dating, but once cooking became a wonderful "couple activity" for us, I'd say I've improved immensely. Strasbourg, though, was my big opportunity to do things on my own.

So what happened afterward? Well, I decided - after considering many factors - that this semester at Georgetown I would be going sans meal plan, meaning having to take care of all my groceries and all my cooking, all the time.

I'd say my grocery philosophy comes down to two things: nourishment and price. The two have to be balanced of course, and the two have to be understood in all their complexity - nourishment made up of healthiness as well as filling-ness, and price made up of sales, brand comparisons, and also price-per-item and price-per-unit-of-weight-or-size considerations. Basically, I want to keep my diet cheap, varied, simple and healthy - and of course enjoyable. I am very much a grocery person: So far this semester I've never ordered out, and I've only bought a sandwich twice. (I get the impression other students order out a bit more often...)

Georgetown Safeway
Thus we come to the question at hand: Where does a Georgetown student get their groceries? In Strasbourg I found many great grocery stores, and - just as important - the city was compact and the public transport awesome, so I had no trouble going anywhere. I could even get groceries in another country! DC, on the other hand - and especially the Georgetown neighborhood - is no mass transit paradise. (As far as I know, none of America is.) The Hoya is therefore faced with three options: Safeway, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's.

  • Safeway is the most accessible option, as a campus shuttle goes by there pretty regularly on weekdays up to 7pm, and it's the closest to walk to anyway (one mile from where I live on campus). At first I thought I'd be getting all my groceries from Safeway, since my family has the membership card and I get all the yellow-tag deals (also saving them gas money at home). I thought that being the more "mainstream" store and not as "upscale" or "organic" as the other two options would mean that Safeway would have consistently lower prices. We'll see about that in a minute.
  • Whole Foods, for the most part, backed up my assumption. It's accessible by the same shuttle as Safeway, but it takes a bit more walking. I've been in there a few times, mostly when my girlfriend visited DC last year. Going back this semester, though, with Safeway prices in my head, it was really difficult to find anything that was cheaper by comparison. Granted, there are lots of things at Whole Foods that I think are and would be delicious, but I think my shopping there will be quite infrequent.
  • Trader Joe's is a big contrast with both of the others, and it really blew away my presumptions. It's a bit over a mile's walk away (no shuttle) and although I had gone there once during freshman year, in the meantime I had forgotten the price ranges entirely. The first time I went back there, I realized, "Wow, some of these prices are super-huge steals!" Eggs, bread and cereal, for example, were all significantly cheaper than at Safeway, and a lot of the prices were just about matched.
Georgetown Whole Foods
I think the best way to go is to balance my shopping: Safeway and Trader Joe's compliment each other, and I think I can simply alternate my shopping trips between them and cover all the bases well. There are other questions one might pose, however, namely: What about environmental considerations? going organic? the ethical practices of the grocery chains? The first incarnation of this post, in fact, was going to be about the dilemma of shopping at Safeway. The corporation is not known for treating its workers well, and it seems Whole Foods and particularly Trader Joe's have better records.

Trader Joe's, Foggy Bottom
Before starting a Safeway embargo, however, I think there are a lot more factors to consider: grocery stores don't generally make very high profit margins, after all's said and done, and it varies greatly according to item and department. On the whole, most of my grocery money is probably going to the many producers, processors and distributors involved with every product, as well as their employees and the employees of the store. When it comes to buying organic or thinking about the environment, I don't have much to say, other than that you should BUY ALASKA SALMON. Otherwise, though, I think the best practice is to balance your groceries and balance your stores, all according to the food that fits you best.

06 February 2012

An Education Mission for Anonymous

I just read a post from the great blog Schools Matter called Wild Dreams about Anonymous and Testing, written by Jim Horn. In it, the best part is the following awesome story:
And so I was thinking about all this as I drifted off to sleep last night, and I had the craziest dream. I dreamed that the hacker group, Anonymous, had shut down every data port that handles test score data and had posted these demands on the Arne Duncan's Facebook page and on every state department of education webpage: 
1. Stop using test data to keep students from receiving their diplomas or moving to the next grade 
2. Stop using test data to evaluate teacher effectiveness in any way 
3. Stop using test data to close down public schools 
4. Stop using SAT or ACT test data to make admissions decisions for college 
5. When students graduate from high school, all test scores and collected psychometric data will be handed to each student and all other records will be expunged from the data system. 
6. If these demands are met, your data systems may continue to operate. If these demands are not met, your data systems will be made useless. You have until summer vacation to make these changes at state and national levels. Welcome back to the real world.
I immediately realized this is a really great idea. In fact, I had just recently been reading about how the hacktivist group Anonymous has been waging an internet war against American nazi and white supremacist groups, taking down their websites and publishing their records, including ones from one group that show Ron Paul has regularly met with their members.

Why couldn't hacktivists do the same thing to fight for educational integrity? I wouldn't say all of the points in Jim Horn's dream are achievable, but as ultimatums, they certainly send a clear message about how key it is to reverse the disastrous effects that are being wrought by ongoing campaigns for educational "reform" (really educational destruction). A new direction needs to be taken, before things get even worse.

How about it, Anonymous? I think you should take up a new mission.

05 February 2012

Senegal's Democracy in Danger

I do have a small history of writing about Senegal: It's a country that I find very interesting, with a longstanding and unique position in the history of Francophone Africa. I even thought about studying abroad in Dakar, but I ultimately chose Strasbourg, and you can tell from the blog that was a very rewarding experience. I've had a couple opportunities in my classes at Georgetown to do a little bit of research on the country, in one case analyzing its political system and all of the country's past elections, and in another case looking at its relationships with France and China. I posted that second paper on the blog - Senegalese Analogies: Parallels in Chinese and French Interaction with a West African Nation - and afterward I even posted a follow-up that noted the paper's popularity in Google searches.

Now, however, I'm looking back to that first paper - the one that analyzed Senegal's elections and politics, and the one I didn't post on the blog. I still don't think I'll post it, as I'm not very proud of the writing, but I do think it had some very important points that are relevant to Senegal's current turmoil, so I'll be referencing it a little bit here.

What is Senegal's current turmoil? Well, turning to any number of news organizations through the wonders of internet search will give you a pretty quick answer. Putting "Senegal elections" into Google should do it, although if you're reading this blogpost sometime far into the future, I think you'll have to add "2012." Senegal is scheduled to hold presidential elections on February 26th - only three weeks away. (Parliamentary elections are due in June.) Here are two good articles about what's happening:

Wade election bid poses risk to Senegal stability: US (Reuters)
Senegal in danger: The view from the ground (Al Jazeera English)

President Wade, photo from here
If you don't want to read the articles, I will summarize in a single sentence: Current president Abdoulaye Wade is intent on running for a third term, even though there was a constitutional amendment passed during his first term (with his support) that limited presidents to two terms. Understandably, this is incredibly upsetting; third terms are unconstitutional for American presidents as well, and if Obama wanted to run again in 2016 after winning in 2012, it would create a lot of turmoil. The difference would be that the US Supreme Court would (hopefully) strike down such a bid immediately, while in Senegal the constitutional court has now agreed with Wade's crafty argument that because the term limit was imposed during his first term, it should limit him to having two terms after the first.

The truth is, Wade had announced he would run for a third term all the way back in 2009, even before I wrote my paper on Senegalese democracy over a year ago. My conclusion for that paper was that the power to amend Senegal's constitution should be placed squarely with the people, rather than with the President, who currently has the power to revise and amend the constitution without even having the approval of a popular referendum. (Download the constitution here and look at Title III Article 52 and Title XII Article 103.) Last June Wade tried to do this very thing and amend the constitution to create a new post of vice president - which basically would have allowed him to instate his son as his successor. Thankfully, public uproar over the scheme forced him to back down. When it comes to the election in three weeks, however, the worry is that the uproar this time might not be enough. Wade might well be reelected.

Senghor, photo from here
Now, perhaps at this point you're wondering, "If a majority of Senegalese still want Wade to be president, why should we even question that?" The problem is that political elites in Senegal have manipulated democracy for a long time - in practically every election since its independence in 1960, in fact. In the first election, national leader Léopold Sédar Senghor designed things so that the whole country constituted a single electoral district, meaning that the party that got the most votes (his) received every seat in the parliament. Talk about a set up! Senghor stayed president for twenty years, and then his appointed successor Abdou Diouf was president for twenty more. Wade himself was an opposition leader for many of those years, so it was hailed a great success in 2000 when he was elected president and finally broke the one-party dominance that had lasted since independence. Even with this win, however, there were still many unfair electoral manipulations in place, but Wade didn't get rid of these when he took power; he's been using them to his own advantage.

Most every news article you'll read about Senegal talks about what a stable and democratic country it has been - an example for all of Africa. Now, I think it's wonderful that Senegal's last fifty years have been so peaceful, and I also don't want to ignore positive developments overseen by leaders like Senghor. What I'm trying to say, however, is that Senegal's elections have never been fully liberated from the machinations of elites, and Wade's bid to extend his time as president is just the latest example. I don't know what will happen in Senegal in the next few weeks. I hope there won't be more deaths, but I also hope that real change will take place. That will mean not just getting a new president, but also gaining new political freedoms and the right of the people to control the voting system themselves. All we can do is hope.

04 February 2012

The Death of Yugoslavia: A Film Review

I just finished watching the documentary The Death of Yugoslavia, and I'd have to say that it's an amazing piece of journalism and an amazing piece of history that's very much worth watching. The film covers all of the significant events involved, beginning with the death of Tito in 1980 and then covering in detail the period of Slobodan Milošević's rise starting in 1989 all the way through the battles of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina for independence, which brought about the bloody wars and genocide that finally ended with the Dayton Accords in 1995.

What is perhaps most amazing about the documentary is that it was made by the BBC only six months after the signing of accords, and there are interviews of every major person involved, including all the major presidents and politicians; Milošević, who died in prison in 2006; and also Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, both of whom have since been arrested for war crimes. In many documentaries, footage is shown of the people involved, and then there's a switch to an interview with someone who was close to those people, or someone who's an expert on them. In The Death of Yugoslavia, footage plays of those involved, and then they switch to interviews of the very same people! My one possible criticism is of the subtitling, as it's clear the translators often didn't put what was literally said (for example writing only "the capital" in the subtitle, when the interviewee clearly said "Ljubljana"). Other than that, however, the sheer quantity and quality of the interviews is amazing.

The wars and conflicts that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia took place during the first five years of my life, so I naturally have no memory of hearing about them as they took place. All the same, I think I've felt for a long time that, even though I didn't know much about the Yugoslav wars, they hold a very important place in the recent history of Europe and the recent history of international relations. Watching this documentary definitely confirmed that feeling, and I think it sets a high bar in terms of quality filmmaking and quality journalism. Often I think historians have the idea that it's only possible to accurately look back on history after a long time has passed. The Death of Yugoslavia demonstrates that these days, however, it's absolutely essential to look at history as it's being made.