Did you know that Harriet Tubman and Ronald Reagan were alive at the same time? We doubt 90-year-old Tubman ever hung out with little baby Ronnie before she died, but our point is that history is a lot messier than we think. Historical eras we think of as completely separate mix and overlap in mind-blowing ways, like The Flintstones meeting The Jetsons, or 2019 websites making references to 1960s cartoons. For instance ...
Karl Marx is one of those names you can't bring up during Thanksgiving dinners without a political and/or food fight. The opposite is true about Abraham Lincoln, an uncontested hero to just about everyone ... including Karl Marx. Despite the massive gulf in the American perception of these two historical figures, Marx was a big fan of Lincoln. There hasn't been a more controversial presidential pairing since Kanye started wearing that MAGA cap.
Marx wrote to Lincoln on behalf of the United Kingdom's International Workingmen's Association to congratulate him on his reelection and cheer him on the whole "kicking slavery's ass" thing. Because if there was one thing Marx hated, it was unpaid labor.
What's more surprising is that Lincoln responded. The president instructed the U.S. ambassador in London to write back to Marx and the IWM, saying he was grateful to receive support from "friends of humanity and progress throughout the world." If you're feeling like calling up the ghost of Joseph McCarthy because Honest Abe was secretly a pinko commie bastard, keep in mind that Lincoln needed the support of the British working class. They were struggling to survive the cotton shortage resulting from the Southern economy collapsing, and if England had suddenly said, "You know what? We're fine with American slavery, actually," the North would have been in huge trouble.
Lincoln may have also recognized Marx's name from his work for The New York Daily Tribune, a Republican newspaper. In fact, Marx was so connected to the U.S. that he seriously considered moving there. He applied for a visa to immigrate to Texas along with a wave of Germans heading there after the failure of the 1848 revolutions.
John Jabez Edwin Mayal
We know about ancient Rome. We know about ancient China. We tend to think of them as sealed off from one another, as if someone locked them into separate jars like peanut butter and jelly.
But sandwiches, uh, find a way.
Genetic evidence shows that people from Europe had contact with people in China as early as the 3rd century BCE. As in, carnal contact (they found European mitochondrial DNA in the residents of Western China). On the flip side, in 2010, archaeologists in Italy unearthed a tomb from the 2nd century CE containing a man with an East Asian mother. They all got around, is our point.
But perhaps the most interesting evidence we have comes from the Weilue, a document the Chinese compiled about the Roman Empire during the 3rd century AD, which even included directions on how to get there.
Harvard Library, via Wikimedia Commons
They called Rome Da Qin, a land of amazing conjurers who could "produce fire from their mouths" and "juggle 12 balls with extraordinary skill." They thought Da Qin residents were "tall and virtuous," like the Chinese, except for their crazy clothes. But what seemed to baffle the Chinese the most was the concept of non-permanent rulers. They believed Da Qin was ruled by "numerous minor kings" who were selected due to their virtue and then unceremoniously fired whenever calamities befell the kingdom. They wrote that in those cases, the kings always left the job in good spirits and without complaining, which has to be the greatest work of science fiction ever produced in China.
A common refrain among those who think racism "ended" in America is pointing to the fact that slavery stopped 150 years ago, so get over it already. But the thing is, the people who took part in the Civil War didn't all drop dead at the same time as soon as it ended.
As far as anyone can tell, the last surviving Civil War veteran was a Union drummer boy from Minnesota who died in 1956, while the last combat veteran was a Confederate who sounds like a character from a Coen Bros. western, Pleasant Crump.
He died in 1951 at 104 years old. That means Crump went from hearing muskets firing in Civil War battlefields to hearing radio reports about atom bombs at the end of WWII. Or to put it another way, we have a man who literally fought to preserve the institution of slavery living long enough to vote in an election featuring Dwight Eisenhower, the president who enforced the Supreme Court ruling desegregating schools.
But even more astonishing is Peter Mills, a man born into chattel slavery who died at age 110 in freaking 1972. We don't know for sure if he was the last living slave in America, because the country didn't keep the greatest records about people they considered less than people, but it's still wild to think that an American slave outlived Martin Luther King Jr., and was alive at the same time as Barack Obama. It's a shame he didn't stick around a few more decades to see Obama get sworn in, aka the true day racism ended. (If you haven't looked at the news or the internet or anything since then.)
Alexander the Great was called Alexander the Great and not Alexander the Adequate because his conquests stretched well beyond ancient Greece into the Indian subcontinent. The result was a mixture of hybrid kingdoms and cultural exchange the likes of which wouldn't been seen again until the popularity of "fusion" restaurants in California.
One of the most interesting was Greco-Bactria, the mixing of Greek with Indian and Buddhist culture. From around the 4th century BCE to the 5th century CE, Greco-Buddhism flourished in the modern-day regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwest India. It started with Alexander building cities as he moved around the world like someone playing Civilization with cheat codes. There, colonists mixed Greek myth with Buddhist iconography. So if you ever wondered what Buddha would look like if sculpted by ancient Greeks, here you go:
Greek myths also got injected into the region. Many centered on Dionysus, since he was supposed to come from the east, and one myth features Zeus ordering him to bring wine to India to make the locals worship him. Dionysus has many erotic adventures along the way, so if the booze didn't convince the Indians to switch deities, the softcore porn probably did. Sadly, Christianity and Islam came around and ruined everyone's sexy fun.
Colonial Americans didn't think of themselves as American, mainly because that wasn't really a thing yet. They were British citizens. That meant that in the 1640s, when England devolved into a civil war (or revolution, depending on which historian you ask), so too did its colonies. About 130 years before America went all out on King George III, American colonists took up arms against King Charles I, only it was to side with the British Parliament.
New Englanders played an important role in the conflict. The anti-Charles Parliamentarians were Puritans, and New England was one big unsexy Puritan orgy. When the call came up, many Americans enlisted. Thomas Rainborowe, a New England colonel, sailed a regiment of Puritan fighters 3,000 miles to fight in England, and once the fighting was over, he advocated for a radical new idea that might sound familiar: extending the vote to all free men. (But just men; he wasn't that radical.)
There were battles in America proper too, most notably the Battle of the Severn, when the tensions between Puritans and Catholics back in the Old World spilled over into the new one and adherents to both sides ended up tussling in the streets of Annapolis. Thankfully we've evolved enough to not kill each other every time Manchester United beats Arsenal or whatever.
We tend to think that America was pretty much already America by the 19th century, minus some pockets of Frenchness and Mexicanness here and there. Truth is, there were many other European powers vying for pieces of North America well into the 1800s, and even Russia had its cold fingers creeping down the coast.
Everyone knows that Alaska was part of Russia until America bought it, but that was really like buying a piece of Canada and throwing a "Made in America" sticker on the land. What's more interesting is that we bought part of California from Russia too. They owned a chunk of the Pacific Northwest and administered it from a place called Fort Ross, which looks like someone grabbed a Siberian building and dumped it in the middle of Sonoma County.
Russian California was never a settler colony. It was an economic endeavor, and the Russians used it for trading with the Spanish (their southern neighbors), otter hunting, agriculture, shipbuilding, and getting friendly with the natives ... uh, in every sense. Let's just say agriculture wasn't the only planting happening.
The Russian history in the place ended in 1841, when Russia decided the colonial endeavor wasn't worth it and sold the fort to an American. Or so they want us to think, anyway.
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