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Portal:History

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The History Portal

Herodotus (c. 484 BC – c. 425 BC), often considered the "father of history"

History (from Greek ἱστορία, historia, meaning 'inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation') is the past as it is described in written documents, and the study thereof. Events occurring before written records are considered prehistory. "History" is an umbrella term that relates to past events as well as the memory, discovery, collection, organization, presentation, and interpretation of information about these events. Scholars who write about history are called historians.

History also includes the academic discipline which uses a narrative to examine and analyse a sequence of past events, and objectively determine the patterns of cause and effect that determine them. Historians sometimes debate the nature of history and its usefulness by discussing the study of the discipline as an end in itself and as a way of providing "perspective" on the problems of the present.

Stories common to a particular culture, but not supported by external sources (such as the tales surrounding King Arthur), are usually classified as cultural heritage or legends, because they do not show the "disinterested investigation" required of the discipline of history. Herodotus, a 5th-century BC Greek historian is often considered within the Western tradition to be the "father of history", or by some the "father of lies", and, along with his contemporary Thucydides, helped form the foundations for the modern study of human history. Their works continue to be read today, and the gap between the culture-focused Herodotus and the military-focused Thucydides remains a point of contention or approach in modern historical writing. In East Asia, a state chronicle, the Spring and Autumn Annals, was known to be compiled from as early as 722 BC although only 2nd-century BC texts have survived.

Ancient influences have helped spawn variant interpretations of the nature of history which have evolved over the centuries and continue to change today. The modern study of history is wide-ranging, and includes the study of specific regions and the study of certain topical or thematical elements of historical investigation. Often history is taught as part of primary and secondary education, and the academic study of history is a major discipline in university studies.

Selected article

The first page of William Barret Travis's letter, To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World is an open letter written on February 24, 1836, by William B. Travis, commander of the Texian forces at the Battle of the Alamo, to settlers in Mexican Texas. The letter is renowned as a "declaration of defiance" and a "masterpiece of American patriotism", and forms part of the history education of Texas schoolchildren.

On February 23, the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas had been besieged by Mexican forces led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Fearing that his small group of men could not withstand an assault, Travis wrote this letter seeking reinforcements and supplies from supporters. The letter closes with Travis's vow of "Victory or Death!", an emotion which has been both praised and derided by historians.

The letter was initially entrusted to courier Albert Martin, who carried it to the town of Gonzales some seventy miles away. Martin added several postscripts to encourage men to reinforce the Alamo, and then handed the letter to Launcelot Smithers. Smithers added his own postscript and delivered the letter to its intended destination, San Felipe de Austin. Local publishers printed over 700 copies of the letter. It also appeared in the two main Texas newspapers and was eventually printed throughout the United States and Europe. Partially in response to the letter, men from throughout Texas and the United States began to gather in Gonzales. Between 32 and 90 of them reached the Alamo before it fell; the remainder formed the nucleus of the army which eventually defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Selected biography

Nikita Zotov, rotogravure by Alexandr Osipov, 1882–1883
Count Nikita Moiseevich Zotov (Russian: Никита Моисеевич Зотов) (1644 – December 1717) was a childhood tutor and life-long friend of Russian Tsar Peter the Great (Russian: Пётр I Алексеевич, "Великий"). Historians disagree on the quality of Zotov's tutoring. Robert K. Massie, for example, praises his efforts, but Lindsey Hughes criticizes the education that he gave to the future Tsar.

Not much is known about Zotov's life aside from his connection to Peter. Zotov left Moscow for a diplomatic mission to Crimea in 1680, and returned to Moscow before 1683. He became part of the "Jolly Company", a group of several dozen of Peter's friends that eventually formed The All-Jesting, All-Drunken Synod of Fools with Zotov being appointed "Prince-Pope" of the Synod, and regularly presiding over their entertainments and festivities. He accompanied Peter on many important occasions, such as the Azov campaigns and the extorturing information from the Streltsy on high treason after their uprising. Zotov held a number of state positions, including c.1701 a head position in the Tsar's personal secretariat (Russian: Тайная канцелярия). Three years before his death, Zotov married a woman 50 years his junior. He died in December 1717 of unknown cause.

Did you know...

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Selected image

Nofretete Neues Museum.jpg

The Nefertiti Bust is one of the most famous pieces of ancient Egyptian artwork in the world. Nefertiti was the Great Royal Wife of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten; her bust, attributed to the sculptor Thutmose, was one of the most copied works on ancient Egypt, and is notable for exemplifying the understanding ancient Egyptians had regarding realistic facial proportions.

On this day

December 14: Feast day of Saint John of the Cross (Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism); Martyred Intellectuals Day in Bangladesh (1971); Monkey Day

Roald Amundsen and his team at the South Pole
Roald Amundsen and his team at the South Pole

Al-Ashraf Khalil (d. 1293) · Lupe Vélez (d. 1944) · KaDee Strickland (b. 1975)

More anniversaries:

Selected quote

What transforms this world is — knowledge. Do you see what I mean? Nothing else can change anything in this world.

— Yukio Mishima, Japanese author

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