Sunday, 30 September 2012


I wrote a short history of Shanghai the largest city in China. 

Friday, 28 September 2012

Shang Dynasty

The Shang dynasty created a highly organised state. Though they ruled only a part of China their cultural influence spread through most of it. Writing was invented in China about 1,500 BC. The earliest evidence of it comes from bones used for fortune telling. Bones were touched with a red-hot piece of bronze so they cracked. The cracks were then interpreted and the predictions were written on them. The form of writing invented during the Shang era remained unchanged for thousands of years.

The Shang were polytheists (they worshipped many gods). The most important god was called Di. During the Shang dynasty the practice of ancestor worship began. Ancestor worship is the belief that the dead can intervene in the affairs of the living. Offerings were made to them to keep them happy. Ancestor worship became part of Chinese culture for thousands of years. The Shang probably invented the Chinese calendar.

Silk was probably first made in China during the Shang era. It was made by 1300 BC. During the Shang era bronze was more widely used. Previously it was only used to make weapons. After 1700 BC bronze vessels were made. However tools such as sickles, ploughs and spades were usually made of wood and stone.

The Shang built the first real cities in China. The first capital at Zhengdou had walls more than 6 kilometres long. (Later the capital was moved to Anyang). The Shang also built palaces and temples. The Shang nobles were very fond of hunting.

During the Shang era slavery was common in China. Prisoners of war were made into slaves. Human sacrifice was still practiced. When a Shang emperor died his servants and slaves either committed suicide or were killed to accompany him into the afterlife. Because of the need to capture slaves warfare was common. After 1200 BC chariots pulled by 2 or 4 horses were used in Chinese warfare. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


I wrote a little history of Prague. Its a very historic city. Fortunately most of its buildings survived the Second World War intact.  

Sunday, 23 September 2012


By the 9th century Sweden had become one kingdom. However Swedish kings had little power. When a king died his eldest son did not necessarily inherit the throne. It might go to a younger son or even to the dead kings brother. However as the centuries passed the kings power slowly increased.

In the 11th century Sweden was converted to Christianity. Afterwards it became a part of Western civilisation. A missionary called Ansgar went to Sweden in 829 but he had little success in converting the Swedes. However a Swedish king, Olof Stokonung, became a Christian in 1008. However it was a long time before all Swedes were converted. Paganism lingered on in Sweden until the end of the 11th century. Nevertheless by the middle of the 12th century Sweden had become a firmly Christian country. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


I wrote a little history of Gdansk in Poland. It was the birthplace of Solidarity and the end of Communism. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012


I wrote a short history of Warsaw. Unfortunately the city was devastated during the Second World War. However it was rebuilt and it is now a vibrant and flourishing city.  

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Torun, Poland

I wrote a history of Torun, Poland. Its a very historic city famous for its Medieval buildings. Today it has a Gingerbread Museum! 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


I wrote a short history of Cracow in Poland. For centuries it was the capital of Poland and was a centre of trade and Polish culture.  

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Gunpowder Plot

I wrote an article about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It was a conspiracy to blow up parliament and King James I with gunpowder. In England it is commemorated every year on Bonfire night. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Ancient China

Chinese civilisation developed independently of others because it was separated from them by deserts and by sheer distance. After 10,000 BC people in China lived by hunting and gathering plants. Then, about 5,000 BC, the Chinese began farming. From about 5,000 BC rice was cultivated in southern China and millet was grown in the north. By 5,000 BC dogs and pigs were domesticated. By 3,000 BC sheep and (in the south) cattle were domesticated. Finally horses were introduced into China between 3,000 and 2,300 BC.

By 5,000 BC Chinese farmers had learned to make pottery. They also made lacquer (a kind of varnish made from the sap of the Chinese lacquer tree). The early Chinese farmers also made baskets and wove cloth (before sheep were domesticated hemp was woven). The Chinese also made ritual objects from jade such as knives, axes and rings. The wheel was invented in China about 2,500 BC.

Saturday, 8 September 2012


I wrote a little history of Mozambique. It is still a very poor country but its economy is growing rapidly. There is every reason to believe that Mozambique will be an African success story in the future.  

Friday, 7 September 2012

18th Century Gardens

The most famous gardener of the 18th century was Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Kent and Bridgeman mixed formal and informal elements in their gardens but Capability Brown adopted a completely informal style. He wanted to 'improve' nature not rework it. Brown sought to remove the 'roughness' of a landscape and perfect it but afterwards it should be almost indistinguishable from a landscape created entirely by nature.

After Brown came the famous gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818). He first became a gardener in 1788 and even within his lifetime a reaction began against the informal landscaping style towards more formal gardens.

Meanwhile in 1725 the Society of Gardeners was founded in England. In London public gardens were created - although you had to pay to view them. However in the 18th century pleasure gardens were still only for the upper class and the middle classes. If poor people had a garden they had to use it for growing herbs or vegetables. They had neither the time nor the money to grow plants for pleasure. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


I wrote a little history of Bhutan a remote mountain kingdom. Its still a poor and overwhelmingly agricultural country but it has great potential. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

Early 19th Century Houses

In the early 19th century housing for the poor was often dreadful. Often they lived in 'back-to-backs'. These were houses of three (or sometimes only two) rooms, one of top of the other. The houses were literally back-to-back. The back of one house joined onto the back of another and they only had windows on one side.

The bottom room was used as a living room cum kitchen. The two rooms upstairs were used as bedrooms. The worst homes were cellar dwellings. These were one-room cellars. They were damp and poorly ventilated. The poorest people slept on piles of straw because they could not afford beds.

However conditions gradually improved. In the 1840s local councils passed by-laws banning cellar dwellings. They also banned any new back to backs. The old ones were gradually demolished and replaced over the following decades. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

20th Century Women

During the 20th century women gained equal rights with men. In 1918 women over 30 in Britain were allowed to vote. In 1928 they were allowed to vote at the age of 21 (the same as men). From 1975 it was made illegal in Britain to sack women for becoming pregnant. Also in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in employment, education and training. In the late 20th century the number of women in managerial and other highly paid jobs greatly increased.