Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today's Twiddle and Answer...

What is the smallest locally proclaimed National Forest in America?

Adak National Forest, a.k.a. The Christmas Tree Forest.

Made up of 33 evergreens, Adak National Forest began as a tree-planting project designed to improve soldier moral during WWII. Local residents placed a sign, which humorously reads Enter and Leaving the Adak National Forest, next to the grove some time in the early 1960s.

While the base was under military command, residents annually decorated the entire “forest” in Christmas tree lights. Today the base is closed, and Adak has become part of the National Parks System.



Today's History Twiddle and Answer

What common natural disaster took an estimated 60,000 lives along the Austrian and Italian front during WWI?

…it was the avalanche alone…that would account for a third of the total combatants killed in the higher, western half of the Alpine front…


Twittle Side Note:
I originally began researching this Twittle because of an entry on Thinkquest claiming that avalanches were deliberately used as weapons during WWI.

"The World War 1 Tyrolean Avalanches

Avalanches were used as highly effective weapons during World War 1. This disastrous weapon started when lot's of snow fell in the Alp's during the December of 1916. People could tell that the avalanche risk was high. A big avalanche killed 250 soldiers while tumbling down on the barracks. Some unknown person got the idea that avalanches could make a highly effective weapon. The avalanche war had begun. Avalanches could be started and even directed by just bombing a mountain. History has not yet calculated the exact number of deaths. Deaths have been estimated as high as 40,000 on each fighting side. Humans are responsible for these death causing, disastrous avalanche killer."


However, historian Richard Galli has this to say on the subject:

"It has been said that opposing forces deliberately set off bombs, or fired artillery over columns of troops and transport to cause avalanches during WWI. This author finds these accounts unbelievable fiction or modern exaggerations for several reasons. The Alpini I knew said they had never heard these tales. "This sounds like Hollywood….perhaps in some other war, but we could never do such a thing," I was told. All "reports" of these deliberate avalanches seem to come from post-World Wat II studies about avalanches, not accounts of alpine warfare in the Great War. Not that I have read every tale of the Italian front, but nothing I have yet come across mentions this peculiar utilization of nature.

In truth there was little combat or movement in the Alpine front in winter; just surviving nature was enough of a struggle. Deep snow severely limits movement of ski patrols, let alone regiments or batteries. Monelli's personal accounts of mountain warfare states "during the winter months the engagements were few, almost as if only to stretch oneself out a bit, to surprise an outpost or mock an opponent." Perhaps a patrol was caught too close to a front line gun and suffered a fate worse than shellfire, but in 1915 a mountain offensive in winter was logistically impossible. [5] Hence, planned avalanche ambushes seem improbable.

A final reason to discount the idea of deliberately set avalanches is found in the live-and-let-live attitudes of the soldiers of the Great War towards their adversaries, especially on the front line. This factor would seem likely to be greater on the Alpine front. For generations these Austrians and Italians had been meeting frequently on summit and pass, at markets and weddings. Would the men of the Alps knowingly have tried to bury their neighbors alive? There are, however, stories passed down of cease-fires called after avalanches, with both sides assisting in rescue efforts, that seem more revealing of the soldiers true feelings on the matter. [6]"


So what's the lesson?

Don't believe everything you read, always search for primary sources, and happy historybusting...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Answer to today's Twiddle

What is the location of the northernmost golf tournament in the world?

Mount Dundas, which overlooks the polar ice cap, three glaciers, and Thule Air Base in Greenland, is the location of the Annual Mount Dundas Open, the world’s northernmost golf tournament.

Participants meet at the bottom of Mount Dundas, toss their golf clubs and other equipment onto helicopters, and then race 800 feet up the loose shale mountainside in order to reach Dundas’s rock filled golf course. The final 75 feet of the race features a rope climb up shear rock.

All participants are allowed extra golf balls to compensate for any that might fly off the mountain.

Here are a couple fun links written by those who have played on the course, as well as a few links about life on Thule Air Base:

Where is Thule?

Photo source:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Today's Riddle: What is the western hemisphere’s oldest constitution?

Okay, let me think. I know that bunch really cool radical thinkers, who eventually became sanctified as America’s founding fathers, signed some document in 1776.

No wait, that was the Declaration of Independence. The United States Constitution wasn’t written let alone ratified until after the Revolutionary War.

I’m guessing that this is a trick question.

It is probably something that I never learned about in school. Something called The Constitution of the Five Nations, or The Iroquois Book of the Great Law, which some historians believe existed as early as 1390 A.D., while others insist was first created between 1450-1500 A.D…” source

Either way, they beat the American Constitution by a few hundred years. And you know something else? Portland State University had put together an amazing website about the influence of the Iroquois Constitution on our own United States Constitution. It turns out that we modern Americans owe the Iroquois Confederacy quite a lot.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself at

As always, Happy Historybusting...

The answer to today's riddle...

How is it that Obama can be America's 44th president, yet only be the 43rd American to have ever become president?

Hint: It has nothing to do with his birth certificate.

Answer: It has something to do with our 22nd president.
Or was it our 24th president?
Let me think for a moment.
Oh yeah, America's 22nd and 24th president were the same guy.
I think his name was Grover something, and he was a popular president at the time.

Here is Grover Cleveland's biography from the White House's Official Website

Another fun fact about President Cleveland: He is the only American president who was elected as a single man and married during his term in the White House.

Have fun and happy histroybusters...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

How do I sign up for Historybuster's Twitter Riddler Program?

Simple enough...

First: You must sign up for your own free Twitter account. It's easy, and Twitter will walk you through it. Here is the link to sign up:

Second: Once you have your account, simply click on the option to Find People and run a search for Historybuster

Once you have found the Historybuster username, simply click on the option to follow.

As a follower of our histoybusting twitterings, you will recieve a daily fun factoid or riddle to share with your kids...

Take care and happy hisotrybusting....

Answer to today's tweet riddle...

What famous Russian Tsar placed a tax of 100 rubbles on men who refused to shave their beards? Answer: Peter the Great, who lived from 1682 to 1725.

Peter wanted to modernize his citizens, so he instituted many reforms designed to "Europeanize" them. Here is an excerpt from Jean Rousset de Missy's book, Life of Peter the Great, written about 1730.

The tsar labored at the reform of fashions, or, more properly speaking, of dress. Until that time the Russians had always worn long beards, which they cherished and preserved with much care, allowing them to hang down on their bosoms, without even cutting the moustache. With these long beards they wore the hair very short, except the ecclesiastics, who, to distinguish themselves, wore it very long. The tsar, in order to reform that custom, ordered that gentlemen, merchants, and other subjects, except priests and peasants, should each pay a tax of one hundred rubles a year if they wished to keep their beards; the commoners had to pay one kopek each. Officials were stationed at the gates of the towns to collect that tax, which the Russians regarded as an enormous sin on the part of the tsar and as a thing which tended to the abolition of their religion.

These insinuations, which came from the priests, occasioned the publication of many pamphlets in Moscow, where for that reason alone the tsar was regarded as a tyrant and a pagan; and there were many old Russians who, after having their beards shaved off, saved them preciously, in order to have them placed in their coffins, fearing that they would not be allowed to enter heaven without their beards. As for the young men, they followed the new custom with the more readiness as it made them appear more agreeable to the fair sex.

From the reform in beards we may pass to that of clothes. Their garments, like those of the Orientals, were very long, reaching to the heel. The tsar issued an ordinance abolishing that costume, commanding all the boyars [i.e., the nobles] and all those who had positions at court to dress after the French fashion, and likewise to adorn their clothes with gold or silver according to their means. As for the rest of the people, the following method was employed. A suit of clothes cut according to the new fashion was hung at the gate of the city, with a decree enjoining upon all except peasants to have their clothes made on this model, upon penalty of being forced to kneel and have all that part of their garments which fell below the knee cut off, or pay two grives every time they entered the town with clothes in the old style. Since the guards at the gates executed their duty in curtailing the garments in a sportive spirit, the people were amused and readily abandoned their old dress, especially in Moscow and its environs, and in the towns which the tsar often visited.

The dress of the women was changed, too. English hairdressing was substituted for the caps and bonnets hitherto worn; bodices, stays, and skirts, for the former undergarments. . . The same ordinance also provided that in the future women, as well as men, should be invited to entertainments, such as weddings, banquets, and the like, where both sexes should mingle in the same hall, as in Holland and England. It was likewise added that these entertainments should conclude with concerts and dances, but that only those should be admitted who were dressed in English costumes. His Majesty set the example in all these changes. . .


All for now and Happy Historybusting

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Answer to today's tweet riddle...

How could a man be born in 1967 but die in 1821?

Answer: He lived from 1967 to 1821 B.C.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Four Facts Every Proactive Parent Should Know

A disturbing 2008 survey conducted by Common Core shows that far too many graduating seniors fail when it comes to answering even the most basic history and literary questions. However, the same survey discovered that the higher achievers tended to have four things in common.

One: At least one of their parents had a college degree.

Two: Most had read at least one piece of literature not assigned at school.

Three: Invariably, they took part in local cultural events with their friends and families—visiting museums, concerts, and plays.

Four: Often they were members of an orchestra, band, performance group, or choir.

These happy few tended to achieve grades one to two levels higher than students who lacked these advantages. So what can a proactive parent do to take advantage of this survey? Well, if you are already doing all of the above, congratulate yourself for doing your utmost to provide your kids with the support they need to succeed in a subject where, according to the US Department of Education, “the amount of weekly instructional time…fell by 22 percent between 1988 and 2004.”

Congratulations aside, what about the rest of us? I mean what can parents do if they don’t have college degrees? Well, mentoring becomes all the more important. Parents should actively seek out opportunities for their kids to interact with college graduates in a casual setting. I am sorry if that sounds snobbish, and I do know many self-educated individuals who could beat the average college graduate in Jeopardy. That being said, encouraging your kids to hang out with educated people, whether college educated or self-educated, will foster a love of learning in your kids. Children tend to live up to the expectations of those they admire, so be sure to provide your kids with role models worth admiring. Many organizations exist to foster these relationships, and a proactive parent will find a way to encourage these important childhood friendships. Consider Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or having them volunteer for a community organization that interests them. When I was a kid, I practically lived at our various community theatres, and I learned more about literature while volunteering for those theatres than I ever did in high school.

Next, encourage your kids to read for fun. Make friends with your local librarians and ask them for help finding books that will appeal to your child. Keep lots of book options on hand at home. Make personal reading time more important than chore time, homework time, and even bedtime. In other words, when children are reading, they get to keep reading and nothing is allowed to get between them and their book. I know as a child, I hated bedtime because I was never tired. My mother bought me a bedside light and let me read quietly in bed for as late as I wanted. Consequently, I devoured books by the dozens.

Finally, even if you can’t afford spending time or money on museums and plays, you can still provide access to cultural activities through film and the Internet. For example, if you know that your kids are about to study American History then rent HBO’s John Adams and watch it together. Check out PBS’s wonderful documentary and companion website entitled Liberty! If you know that they are about to read Romeo and Juliet then rent Zeferelli’s brilliant production and watch it together. Many of these films are available at your library. Now, merely sitting your kids down and telling them to watch a documentary will not work. Actively watching these programs and exploring these websites together is the key. Moreover, keeping these activities fun is essential. Eventually, they will learn how to seek out answers on their own, and then they will be truly educated. While you are at it, every so often, you might try taking out a map and ask them if they can help you find Afghanistan. Even better, take out a timeline and ask them if they know when an important historical event happened. Don’t worry if you don’t know. Discovering the answers together can be twice as much fun, and Historybusters will continue to help you find the answers whenever we can.

The bottom line? People do not value what they do not perceive as valuable. If you as a parent do not value literature and history by making some small space for it in your daily life then your kids will follow suite. It doesn’t take much to hook a curious young mind on history and literature. After all, who doesn’t like a good story? And that is what we are talking about here—the world’s greatest stories.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In honor of this day in history...

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right of women to vote, was ratified when Tennessee became the 36th state to approve it. In Honor of that event, Historybusters would like to recommend the following movie:
Iron Jawed Angels might be just the ticket to get your daughters interest in Women’s History. Featuring an all-star cast, including Hilary Swank, Angelica Huston, Julia Ormond, Brooke Smith, and Frances O’Connor, Iron Jawed Angles tells the story of suffragettes Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and their fight for women’s right to vote. Admittedly a bit heavy handed in places, it does manage to make one feel grateful to the many women who fought for a right that is too often neglected. Family friendly, but with mature content
Want to learn more about the Suffrage Movement? Check out these websites:

Women involved in early reform movements

PBS companion site for Not for Ourselves Alone

PBS introduction for One Woman, One Vote

Timeline of the Women's suffrage movement

Women's suffrage from the Susan B. Anthony Canter

Lesson plan for Suffrage from the Library of Congress

The fight for suffrage from Digital History

Lucy Burns & Alice Paul at the Libray of Congress

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In Honor of Nagasaki and Hiroshima

On August 6, 1945, the US military dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, over 192,000 people died. Three days later, on August 9, the US dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on Nagasaki, over 74,000 people died. On August 15, Japan's Emperor Hirohito surrendered and WWII was over.

Perhaps the most powerful film commemorating these events is not a film at all but a feature length cartoon entitled Barefoot Gen, created by Japan's award winning manga artist Keiji Nakazawa. Born in Hiroshima in 1939, Nakazawa was one of only two in his family to survive the 1945 bombing. He was seven years old at the time. In Barefoot Gen, he tells his story as only an eyewitness can. This is not a cartoon for children. Barefoot Gen is a powerful and personal statement about the human cost of atomic warfare. It contains strong images and adult themes. We recommend it highly.

For other Historybusters' recommendations for Nagasaki and Hiroshima, click here. Members will also find a wealth of information in their members' center. Simply visit the WWII area of the center and scroll down to The Bomb.

As always, Happy Historybusting...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why history teachers hate Wikipedia and what you can do about it.

Do all history teachers hate Wikipedia? In truth, hate is probably too strong a word. After all, Wikipedia has many useful features, and even I, a card carrying Wikipedia hating history teacher, have used it upon occasion. But if we don’t all hate it, then why do so many of us stipulate that our students do not use Wikipedia as a research source?

Problem One: Wikipedia has no official editor or fact checker, so the site is known to contains mistakes and content biases. I run across mistakes all the time. Once, while I was preparing a curriculum for the film Spirit Bear: The Simon Jackson Story, Wikipedia linked me to a biography about a different Simon Jackson. If I hadn’t been checking all my sources, I would have made a seriously foolish mistake. As for biases, the site even has a page where readers may question any article’s neutrality, along with a backlog of articles yet to be processed and a request for volunteer help. As a researcher, I’ve learned how to find facts within biases, but how many high school students take the time to read the discussion behind the discussion?

Problem Two: The site does not really feature primary source material. If you look up Spirit Bear in Wikipedia, you will find this entry. If you Google past Wikipedia, you will suddenly you find this site, which contains Simon Jackson’s story told in his own words. Look up Apollo 13 on Wikipedia and you will find this entry. Search a little further on the web, and you will stumble on this official e-book about the Apollo missions posted by NASA Headquarters. It includes a first hand five-page account of what happened aboard Apollo 13 written by one of the three men who lived it, James A. Lovell. Take a look at the difference between the Wikipedia entry and the five-page account written by Lovell, and you tell me which is the more interesting and accurate account. You tell me why a history teacher might actually want a student to search past Wikipedia.

Problem Three: The writing on Wikipedia is largely atrocious, causing many an editor to cringe in terror. It is full of passive construction, vague subjects, and run on sentences. People add information by adding facts to existing ideas; so most sentences end up constructed something like this:

Apollo 13 was intended to be the third manned lunar-landing mission, part of Project Apollo under NASA in the United States, that would look more closely into the surface of the moon.

A good editor might take the time to write this:

“NASA intended Apollo 13 to be Project Apollo’s third manned lunar-landing and designed its systems to examine the lunar surface up close.”

I know this edit may seem silly to many people, but how will kids ever learn to write clear and effective sentences if they are constantly exposed to unclear and wordy writing?

Problem Four: Wikipedia is too easy. In our instant access online world, information is one click away. When kids use search engines to do historical research, nine times out of ten Wikipedia is the first link offered to them. Moreover, I don’t blame them for clicking on the Wikipedia link because they have come to depend on it. They know that most of the other links presented to them lead to an endless number of commercial sites offering links to another endless number of commercial sites.

So what is a student of history to do?

Google has a free online search feature for its AdSense members that has solved the problem for my students. I was able to formate a specialized search engine that weeds out all sites based upon my preferences. I designed my new search engine so it will only access educational, miliatry, governmental, and a few hand picked organizational sites. In other words, the search engine only looks for URLs with edu, mil, int., and gov, designations. When I tried my new search engine, I was thrilled with the outcome. I immediately found dozens of excellent sites that that would have been buried by other search engines. In fact, I found the wonderful online e-book by NASA on my specialized search engine within the first page of listings. My students and I have said goodbye to the overly commercialized misinformation super highway and finally said hello to a search engine that quickly meets both our scholastic needs.

The Google AdSense account is free. You just need to have a blog or website where you can insert the HTML codes to access your new search engine.

If you are a member of Historybusters, you can access the search engine I’ve just described through your members center. Give it a try the next time your kids have to do online research, and discover how much more fun the informational super highway is without all the commercial traffic.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Saint Patrick's Day is almost here...

Did you know that Saint Patrick was not Irish, and he never drove a single snake from Ireland? In fact, Ireland never had any snakes; however, Ireland did have a strong pagan tradition that considered the snake sacred. The Irish legend about St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland really refers to his driving the old pagan religion out of Ireland. Keep that in mind this Saint Patrick’s Day.

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, Historybusters has a few movie recommendations.

Patrick is a fine documentary that doesn’t recount the simple folk myths about Saint Patrick. Instead, this documentary, narrated by Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne, offers a dramatic new look at one of the best-loved and least-understood icons of world religion. The story of the real St. Patrick is part adventure tale and part spiritual awakening with the future saint rising from slave to liberator; learning to forgive and ultimately love his enemies; taking up a cause no one believed in; and finally lighting a fire that kept western civilization alive. This film is very family friendly.

St. Patrick: Apostle of Ireland is another fine documentary about the life of the real Saint Patrick. Only two documents written by Patrick, the Confession and his Letter to Coroticus, an Irish warlord, remain to tell us about this important man. Yet these brief writings captured his emotional state, his innermost feelings, and his aspirations. Read in voice-over and mixed with evocative music and gorgeous photography, Patrick’s words carry the viewer back in time to re-live the experience of walking side by side with him. From his birth to his death, viewers are able to witness Patrick’s physical struggles and to participate fully in his transformation and spiritual mission. For those interested in the topic, it is an entrancing piece of work and very family friendly.

Fun Fact about Saint Patty’s Day: In Ireland, those of the Protestant faith do not wear green to honor the day. They wear Orange in honor of William of Orange and their Protestant faith.

To help you understand a bit more about the fight between the Protestant Orange and the Catholic Green here are five more films that we would like to recommend in honor of the day:

Michael Collins
Irish writer-director Neil Jordan tackles the controversial biography of IRA member Michael Collins, one of Ireland’s most important 20th century political leaders, in a lavish film that won critical acclaim on both continents. The film follows Collins as he matures from guerrilla fighter to national statesman, creating a vivid portrait of 1920’s Ireland and its politics. Michael Collins is a wonderfully accurate and superbly crafted film, featuring performances by Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, Allen Rickman, Aidan Quinn, and Stephan Rae. It does contain mature content.

In the Name of the Father is a 1993 film directed by Jim Sheridan based on the true life story of the Guildford Four, four people falsely convicted of the IRA's Guildford pub bombing which killed 4 off-duty British soldiers and a civilian. The screenplay was adapted by Terry George and Jim Sheridan from the autobiography Proved Innocent by Gerry Conlon. It is a powerful film that contains mature content.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Set during the early days of the Irish Republican Army, The Wind That Shakes the Barley provides a mesmerizing look at the profound emotional transitions a fictional young doctor goes through on his road to becoming a saboteur and killer. Providing excellent background into the birth and existence of the IRA, this outstanding film contains mature content.

January 30, 1972, is known as Bloody Sunday in Ireland. Named for the protest that took a violent turn in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. British paratroopers, trying to restore order after a particularly unruly period of unrest, opened fire on a peaceful demonstration; fourteen Irish Catholic civil-rights protesters died. Based Don Mullan's politically influential book Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, this is the definite film about a tragedy most American’s only know about from U2's song "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Filmed in such a way as to make the audience feels that they are there, this truly fine film contains mature content.
The Secret of Roan Inish is technically not history. In fact, it is pure kid friendly fantasy. However, it provides such a delightful look at Irish folklore and life in post World War II Ireland that Historybusters can't help but recommend watching it this month.

And finally, if you are a fan of David Lean films, you should check out Ryan’s Daughter. Set in 1916 Ireland, this gorgeous film tells the story of an Irish girl who has an affair with a British officer during World War I, despite opposition from her nationalist neighbors. The film is a very loose adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary. It does contain mature content.

Hope you find time to sample some Irish history this month. Until next time, thanks and Happy Historybusting...

Hey Members, we have uploaded a new e-book for you

The e-book is called World War II: The Build Up to War. It is Part One in a series that we will be uploading this month about World War II. Beginning with Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and ending with his signing of the Tripartite Pact with Italy and Japan in 1940, this e-book includes all the events and terms your kids are likely to encounter on a history test about the build up to WWII; it also features twenty-one films that can help make the topic interesting, including Soldier of Orange, Das Boat, Enigma, Sink the Bismarck, Dunkirk, Hope and Glory, and many, many more. Drop by your member's drop box to download it.

Meanwhile, Happy Historybusting...

Friday, January 16, 2009

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

In honor of the month which gave birth to Martin Luther King Jr., Historybusters has put together a new curriculum on the American Civil Rights Movement beginning with the first African slaves purchaced in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, and ending with the election of Barak 2008. Members may download this new e-book from their drop box.

Here are just a few of the thirty-three films we recommend:
Race to Freedom
Africans in America
Amazing Grace
Gods and Generals
Missisipi Burning
Miss Evers' Boys
Our Friend Martin
Citizen King
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Tuskegee Airmen
Something the Lord Made
The Rosa Parks Story
Disney's Ruby Bridges
A Soldiers Story
Frontline's The Choice 2008

In honor of the many past heros, Historybusters asks that you take a moment to share one of these wonderful films with your kids this month.

Historybusters Review of Frost Nixon

Frost Nixon is certainly accurate enought to help someone pass a test, and on the whole we do reccommend it. It should be noted that the Frost Nixon Interviews were not nearly as important as the film makes them out to be, and the interviews themselves are much more interesting to me as a historian. However, if you want to introduce your kids to the Watergate scandal, you can't go wrong with Frost Nixon. We recommend that you also check out All the President's Men and The Pentagon Papers. Both films are Historybuster favortites. Put together all three films, along with the curriculum we have uploaded into the members' drop box, and your kids will be well informed.

Two investigative reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were assigned to investigate the Watergate burglary. Based on a number of tips they received from a political source nicknamed Deep Throat, Woodward and Berstein uncovered a link between the Watergate burglars and the White House Plumbers. All the President's Men, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, is a marvelous retelling of their story.

Starring James Spader, The Pentagon Papers tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg, the Rand employee who leaked top secret papers to the New York Times in order to set the record straight about America's military and political involvement in Vietnam. It's another Historybusting favorite.

To download the curriculum for these films, drop by your members' drop box...
If you want to know more about Watergate, click here for a wonderful website by the Ford Library...