Category: History


The Great Man Theory of History as evidenced in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance

Applying the Great Man theory of History as a subtext to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic essay Self-Reliance makes for an interesting synthesis. The Great Man theory was brought into public discourse by Thomas Carlyle in the 1840s. But most of the later commentators pointed out to some of the misassumptions and flaws in the theory. Chief among them was Herbert Spencer who viewed that great individuals were products of their culture, history and environment and the inverse is seldom true. Yet the idea of the Great Man holds an intuitive appeal to readers. As people sharing a sense of community we are all looking for leaders and role models to provide us guidance. It is this intuitive appeal for leadership that sustains the value of the Great Man Theory, although it had somewhat become unfashionable in the last century.

Great men are thought to be path-breakers and independent thinkers. (James, p.114) In Emerson’s text, we find a powerful invocation of individuality. He . . . Read More

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Compare and Contrast: The Crips and the Neo-Nazis

All gangs and mafias have their own initiation rituals and modes of operations. The same is true of the two different gang cultures being studied here – the Crips and the neo-Nazis. In the autobiographical account of Monster – one of the leaders of the gang – we learn about the initiation rites, organizational structure, modus operandi, economic targets, treatment of rivalries, etc. The Crips is a predominantly black gang that hogged headlines during the post-war decades of the 1950s and 60s. In some ways the Crips represented a militant underground movement parallel to that of the Black Nationalist movement. While the Crips adopted some of the violent methods of the movement headed by Malcolm-X, it is not political in nature. So, despite its racial affiliation, the means and ends of the gang are largely anti-social. Likewise, in the film American History X, we are exposed to a dark underground cult of American society. Commonly referred to as ‘skin-heads’, the . . . Read More

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Imperialism in the film Apocalypse Now

Imperialism enables a state or country to increase its sphere of influence by seizing control of foreign territories. The film Apocalypse Now, based on the story Heart of Darkness, was produced in 1979 during the Vietnam War era and explores the role imperialism played in US foreign policy. The film highlights the drawbacks of imperialism by revealing the atrocities committed by the US Military, allegedly, in the name of freedom. The most tragic aspect of the Vietnam War was the huge numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children. Indeed, the chemical warfare exercised by American troops in the form of deploying Agent Orange (napalm) for deforesting the region is a major disaster for the local population. As a result of contamination of these heavy toxins, a whole generation of children was born with deformities and genetic mutations. Hence those who are apologists for imperialism are on the side of the unjust.

Military intervention in Vietnam was a part of a . . . Read More

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The conceptual dichotomy of civilization and the wilderness in African systems of thought w.r.t. Mande art and Kongo minkisi

Discuss the conceptual dichotomy of civilization and the wilderness in African systems of thought, and the significance of civilization and/or wilderness for Mande art and artistic practice. Discuss Kongo views of supernatural power, and the embodiment of this power in the ‘personhood’ of Kongo minkisi.

Anderson and Kreamer capture the essence of the African idea of the wilderness in their article titled Wild Spirits: Strong Medicine, African Art and the Wilderness. They identify the Kponyugo masquerade as one essential artifact representing the idea o the wilderness. Practiced by the Senufo community in Ivory Coast, the masquerade is quite a spectacle that accompanies annual ceremonies or special occasions. It is a mélange of composite features, snarling snout, projecting horns and tusks, etc, which epitomize the dangers of life in the African ‘bush’. It is equally a statement on the perceived tranquility and safety of the village communal life. . . . Read More

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The arts of Ancient Ife and the royal arts of the Yoruba peoples

Discuss the significance of the form and meanings of the arts of Ancient Ife and the royal arts of the Yoruba peoples. Discuss the different types of historic interactions and power relationships with Europeans as expressed in Afro-Portuguese ivories and the royal arts of the Benin Kingdom.

In the exhibition titled Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, we learn how Ife art tried to juxtapose misery and glory, deformity and beauty, master and slave, disease and health. Made of copper alloys and terra cottas, the royal arts of the Yoruba people were informed by the myth of Obatala, whose legend is the art of deformity or sin or illness. Royal personages were commonly immortalized through art. Ooni, the ruler of Ife, wore elaborate textiles in the fourteenth century. The buffalo horn filled with medicines is a symbol of his authority. The staff on his hand also signifies authority. He also wears a beaded collar which usually holds a pair of . . . Read More

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American writers as critics of war, women’s status & slavery: Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass and Margaret Fuller

All the authors in the title have made key contributions to American literature, culture and politics. They used their literary talent as a means to not only create art but also to transform society. The 19th century was a period of great upheavals in American history. The nation was still young and uncertain of its own identity. It is quite natural that this milieu gave rise to several undercurrents of unrest. On the political front was class struggle between the propertied and un-propertied whites. In terms of social equations, the blacks were hoping for the abolishment of slavery. Women were still thought of as ‘property’ of their fathers or husbands or sons, let alone having the right to vote. In terms of general culture, the population was highly illiterate. It is these pressing issues that writers such as Melville, Douglass and Fuller sought to address through their work. It can be claimed that their efforts were not in vain, given how much the country has progressed in . . . Read More

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The key traits of North American Indian culture which flourished before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in 1492

The simplistic version of history suggests a primitive/tribal way of life for indigenous Americans. Such a simplification detracts from the community a rich, ecologically informed culture, as well as an egalitarian social organization. The first chapter in the book by Roark, Johnson and team attempts to flesh out a complete picture of North American Indian culture before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors.

One of the key characteristics of Native Americans is their unique genealogy, which derives from African and Asian populations. Although this connection is not the most intuitive, anthropological studies using genetic markers have substantiated this understanding. In the late medieval period, they were believed to have adopted a hunter-gatherer mode of life. It is an important revelation, for everywhere else in the world agriculture and urbanization has already become entrenched. Bison was a great stock prey during the time as the ecology of the Great Plains suited it . . . Read More

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‘Social Death’ and ‘Possessive Individual’ according to Grace Hong

Grace Hong’s essay titled ‘The Possessive Individual and Social Death: The Complex Bind of National Subjectivity’ offers numerous insights into historical social constructs.  Focusing on the evolution of American history since the time of the Declaration of Independence, the author charts a cogent description of how the socio-polity resisted progressive changes.  The book is focused on women of color feminism and the culture of immigrant labor. But prior to arriving at their specific discourse, a broader framework of understanding is laid out. Hereby, two important terms are introduced by the author.

Possessive individual traces its origins to the framing of the constitution, whereby, only the propertied white males of the new country were accorded citizenship.  Not only were blacks (who were slaves at the time) were excluded, but so were women and a large section of white male population. The privileged minority of propertied white men enjoyed laws that . . . Read More

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British cinema’s dialogue with Thatcherite ideas, meanings, and values during the 1980s

The eleven years of Margaret Thatcher’s reign, which spanned through the 1980s were known for the social turbulence they caused.  The right wing political ideology that has come to be called Thatcherism is deemed reactionary in many ways.  To given an example, a pub near the Underground station at Highbury and Islington in north London was forced to paint the following sign blank under Thatcher’s conservatism: An Equal Opportunities Pub Regardless of Race, Creed, Nationality, Disability Or Sexual Orientation. This illustrates the deep impact of Thatcherism in all domains of cultural life. This was a period when “the very existence of society was placed in doubt, when the belief that greed is good was promoted as a moral imperative. It was also the decade when London came to seem like another country.” (Street, 1997, p. 106)

Cinema, being a major cultural product, was especially subject to pressure from the conservatives.  Cinema as an industry suffered . . . Read More

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Discuss the contribution of Hammer Studios to the Gothic tradition in British cinema

In the decades following the Second World War, Hammer Studios produced a number of films in the horror genre. These decades were considered the ‘Golden Age’ of British Cinema (1945-1975) and filmmakers were trying to experiment and explore the medium of cinema. The period witnessed “the evolution of a radical and subversive cinema focused upon challenging the moral codes and conservative values of the British establishment.”  Hammer Studios emerged as an influential player in British cinema during the 1950s.  It marked a “direct reaction to postwar optimism and the subsequent rise of a conservative political system. It also represented alternative artistic strategies operating in opposition to the realist tendencies of classical British cinema.” (Wilson, 2007) It was in this milieu that Hammer Studios’ foray into horror films will have to be analyzed. The rest of this essay will identify Hammer Studios’ contribution to the Gothic tradition in British cinema by way . . . Read More

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