Re-connecting with the past: recent developments in Mongolia

It is summer time and with that comes vacation. Given the current economic situation, most people stay close to home. Traveling to far away places might not be part of our plans. However, that should not preclude us from catching up on what has been happening on the other side of the world: Mongolia.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: madpai

A recent news release on the BBC website revealed that several crates containing “amazing Buddhist art objects” had been unearthed in the Gobi desert. A total of 64 crates were buried in the 1930s by a Buddhist monk, in an attempt to save historical artifacts during a period of immense upheaval. The monk passed his secret along to his grandson, who dug up some of the boxes in the 1990s and opened a museum. Two additional boxes were uncovered recently, and an estimated 20 boxes still remain buried in the desert.

The Gobi desert is currently also the place where a group of Australians are looking for the Mongolian “death worm”  a creature said to be up to 5 feet long, and able to spit acid. It remains to be seen if this worm actually exists, as it stands, it is part of what we know as cryptozoology.

What is much less controversial and much easier to see is a huge equestrian statue of Genghis Khan located about an hour’s drive outside the Mongolian capital, Ulan Baator. This Texas-size statue, weighing in at 250 tons of stainless steel and standing 131 feet tall is a very visible expression of the renewed interest in Mongolia’s past. A smaller, though still imposing, statue of a seated Genghis Khan can be seen by those who visit the Parliament Building in Ulan Baator.

dsc_0952While the equestrian statue is too large to ever fit in a museum hall, there is currently a copy of the seated Genghis Khan on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit, entitled “Genghis Khan,” is on display until September 7, 2009. It relates the story of the meteoric rise of the Mongolian Empire. Visitors will learn how, over the time span of three generations, Mongolian armies overran huge parts of Asia, the Near East and Europe. Objects from museums in Mongolia as well as the Hermitage in St. Petersburg illustrate the story. Maps and interactive computers complete the picture. (Those interested in the death worm will have to await the results of the Aussie expedition.)

Book List: Warfare and Soldiers

HMNS is currently hosting three special exhibitions, two of which are Genghis Khan and Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor, so the topic for this month’s booklist is soldiers and warfare.

Jean Fritz, author of Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold, has written numerous books about American history and explains her work: “My approach is that of a reporter, trying for a scoop, looking for clues, connecting facts, digging under the surface.”  Because of this, her books bring history alive as she helps students understand the personalities and motivations of the individuals who shaped our country.

The first few sentences of Traitor are a powerful and telling introduction to Arnold’s life:  “When Benedict Arnold was a teenager, some people in his hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, predicted that he’d grow up to be a success.  Others said, No.  Benedict Arnold would turn out badly.  As it happened, everyone was right.” 

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Creative Commons License photo credit: pwbaker

 

Fritz introduces you to an Arnold you probably did not know—a druggist and a sea captain who loved shoes but was obsessed with his honor.  The Revolutionary War provided a unique stage for Arnold, and he became a general–but made many enemies along the way. 

In Philadelphia, Arnold met fashionable but spoiled Peggy Shippen, whose father was sympathetic to the British.  They were married, but the happy day was clouded by Arnold’s upcoming court martial and increasing financial problems.  Arnold began to think that if he “could not win the war for the Americans, he might at least bring the war to an end,” and become a hero.  With this thinking, becoming a traitor was not difficult. According to Fritz, Arnold apparently never understood the enormity of his actions. 

civil war reenactment-american museum 2005
Creative Commons License photo credit: daz smith

Paul Fleischman, author of Bull Run, won a Newbery Medal, as did his author father, Sid Fleischman.  After growing up in California, Paul lived in New England, and his love of history grew.  “I thought about teaching history as a career, but decided to bring it into my books instead.”   Bull Run is a collection of short monologues - so, in addition to being read by individuals, this book is suitable for classes to read aloud.  The book has 16 characters, both men and women—one only 11 years old– in sets of 8 from the North and 8 from the South.  The characters describe their lives and experiences leading up to and including the Battle of Bull Run, the Civil War’s first major battle.  Because of the number of individuals involved, you experience  the battle and its aftermath from many perspectives as the characters learn that war is not a game.

Newbery Medal winner Avi is one of the most popular authors for children and young adults.  The Award-winning book, The Fighting Ground, is a fictional account of a day in the life of 13-year-old Jonathan during the Revolutionary War.  Jonathan’s older brother and cousin are soldiers, and his father had been wounded near Philadelphia. More than anything, Jonathan wants to be a soldier, too.  When the bell at the town tavern began to ring, Jonathan tricks his mother into letting him investigate what is happening, and as he leaves home, his day-long adventure begins. Jonathan comes to realize that being a soldier is not glamorous, and when he is captured by the Hessians, his journey towards manhood continues as he is exposed to the horrors of war.

Author notes:

Many of the titles of Jean Fritz’s books about American history end with a question mark. Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?, What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?, and And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?  Perhaps her best-known book is her memoir, Homesick, that tells the story of her childhood growing up in China in the 1920’s and China Homecoming, the story of her return to China years later.

Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voiceswon the Newbery Medal, but don’t miss Seedfolks and WhirligigSeedfolks illustrates the power of one person to change a community, and Whirligig is the story of teenage Brent who drives drunk and kills innocent Lea.  Lea’s mother asks Brent to put a whirligig that looks like Lea in Washington, California, Florida and Maine, and his journey to fulfill this request leads to his own inner journey.

Books by Avi that should not be missed are The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing But the Truth and Wolf Rider.  Readers will be fascinated by Charlotte’s adventures on her transatlantic voyage in 1832, including being accused of murdering the ship’s captain.  In Nothing But the Truth, high school freshman Phillip Malloy’s humming of “The Star Spangled Banner” sets in motion a series of events which leads to the question, “What really IS the truth?”  Wolf Rider has the best opening sentence I have ever read.  After reading that sentence, you cannot put the book down.

Night at the Museum 2 wages war on IMAX – opening today!

One of the many duties of the Chief Projectionist is to assemble films.  Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, like the first film, is 32 separate reels.  Each reel is carefully wound to the projection system reel unit, which can take 8 – 10 minutes at a time.  Every reel is numbered to indicate the sequence which is first and which is last.  It takes time and a lot of patience to put together an IMAX film

This particular “Hollywood” film only took 5 hours to assemble.  Once the film is complete, then one must check their work, which is a stressful moment when assembling a film.  You can say that those in the digital world do not have this duty, more like click and drop.   The art of splicing remains at HMNS, the “reel” thing. 

Night at the Museum: Battle of the SmithsonianNight at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian has more animals, more action, more characters and a lot more laughs, which HMNS is proud to present to IMAX enthusiasts. After assembling the 32 reel; 105 minute movie, I became engulfed in this enjoyable adventure.  Since the film took place in the Smithsonian, a few key artifacts from history make an appearance as well.  Artifacts such as Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Archie Bunker’s chair, Muhammad Ali’s boxing robe, and notable works of art play a role in the film.  Oh, and for you younger teens, the Jonas Brothers make a notable cameo too.  So you could say that this movie has it all.
 
I would hope that museum visitors will sit in this IMAX experience and become as enthralled as I did.  I would also encourage the visitors to stroll through our exhibit halls after the film if they can and see a bit of history and science, which includes an exhibition of one of the characters in the film, Genghis Khan
 
If Fox studios and director Shawn Levy plan to make a third installment of Night at the Museum, I would definitely nominate HMNS for Larry Daley’s next adventure.  
  
Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian opens today! 

The lost fleet of Khubilai Khan

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. James Delgado from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. Dr. Delgado is giving a lecture at HMNS on Tuesday, April 21 at 6:30 p. m. Dr. Delgado will be discussing Khubilai Khan’s failed naval attacks on Japan in the thirteenth century; he was part of the expedition that uncovered part of Khubilai Khan’s lost fleet in 2001.

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When people hear the words “Mongol invasion,” they probably think of fast riders on horseback.  They most likely do not think of warriors on the decks of ships.  In 1274 and in 1281, however, Khubilai Khan, Great Khan of the Mongols and conqueror of the Song Dynasty in China, sent invading fleets against Japan.  His troops, consisting of Mongols, Korean vassals and conquered Chinese were defeated, according to legend, by a divine wind sent by the gods in answer to Japanese prayers for victory.  The Japanese term for those divine winds, “kamikaze,” has come down through history as a potent phrase more famous for its use in World War II, when pilots crashed their planes into the sides and decks of enemy ships.  Many people do not remember the legendary events of several hundred years ago, when Mongol invaders twice tried, and failed, to add Japan to the globe spanning empire started by Genghis Khan, Khubilai’s grandfather.

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Archaeologists seeking traces of Khubilai’s invasion were finally successful in the 1980s when evidence of the ships and the battles fought around them surfaced from Imari Bay, off the southern coast of Kyushu

I was fortunate to join a team of Japanese archaeologists in 2001 when they found and began to excavate the remains of the Khan’s lost fleet.  What they found and what I had the opportunity to dive on was amazing – scattered timbers, swords, armor, ceramic pots used to store food and water, and amazing technological marvels in the form of clay bombs, filled with gunpowder and metal shrapnel that the Mongols hurtled at the Japanese from ship-mounted catapults.  These bombs, the earliest explosive devices ever found and used in naval warfare, are a reminder that “modern” technology dates back centuries and that China, as one of the oldest civilizations on earth, was an early innovator and inventor of many things that we still use today such as gunpowder and paper.

In my presentation on Tuesday night, I am going to share images and impressions of the invasions of Japan by the Mongols, and show you what was found underwater and what we’ve learned from the excavations including the incredible work done by Texas A&M nautical archaeology graduate student Randall Sasaki.

Join us at HMNS Tuesday night as Dr. Delgado presents the story of Khubilai Khan and the findings from the Japenese archaeological team that uncovered the lost fleet.