Tag Archive | World History

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Object: Print


I-0068k (01)

“The Black Madonna of Czestochowa”
Unknown artist
Materials: Wood, Ink, Paint

This object is a small print representing the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. The Black Madonna of Czestochowa also known as Our Lady of Jasna Gora is a revered icon of the Virgin Mary. Today the original painting sits in Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland and has been there for six centuries. There are many stories surrounding the history of the original painting, some seem to be more fantasy than fact, and these stories have inspired many artists to create their own versions of this famous work of art. The print shown above, from the ITC collection, is one of a set of 15 different versions of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

Jasna Góra monastery by night Photo made on 2005-02-04 by Adam Kumiszcza. Imaga via Wikimedia Commons.

The original painting is said to have been painted by St. Luke and it remained in the holy land until it was discovered by St. Helena of the Cross sometime in the 4th century. After this discovery it was then moved to Constantinople, where it was proudly displayed by St. Helena’s son, the Emperor Constantine. Around 803 C.E. the painting was passed on to Prince Leo of Ruthenia. It remained in the royal palace, in present day northwestern Hungary, until the eleventh century when there was an invasion. The painting was then transferred to the Jasna Gora Monastery in Poland at the request of Ladislaus of Opole. Once the painting was in the hands of Ladislaus, the history became better documented.

In 1392 Tatars attacked the fortress at Belz and one of the arrows hit the painting lodging itself in the throat area. Fearing that the painting would be captured by the Tatars, Ladislaus fled with it to the town of Czestochowa and the painting was installed in the church. In 1430 Hussite looters attacked the church and one attacker struck the painting with his sword. The damage due to the sword and arrow can still be seen today. By 1655 Poland was overrun by Swedish forces. The monks at the monastery were able to defend the portrait during a forty day siege. Following the win against Sweden the Lady of Czestochowa became crowned as Queen of Poland.

Throughout the centuries there has been many reports of miraculous events surrounding the painting. The name Black Madonna was given due to the soot residue that discolors the painting.  The soot comes from centuries of candles burning in front of the painting. Today the feast day of the Black Madonna is celebrated on August 26. Many people make the pilgrimage to see the painting, leaving from Warsaw every year since 1711 on August 6th, the pilgrimage lasts 9 days and covers roughly 140 miles.

"Czestochowa National Shrine" in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Statue is Jan Pavel II. Near Dublin, PA. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

“Czestochowa National Shrine” in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Statue is Jan Pavel II. Near Dublin, PA. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Black Madonna is popular in places like Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. In the United States there is a National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa which is located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The shrine was founded in 1953 and features a replica of the painting. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Art, Belief, Meaning Symposium, Herman C. Du Toit, and Doris R. Dant. Art and Spirituality: The Visual Culture of Christian Faith. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 2006.

Pasierb, Janusz St, Jan Samek, Jan Michlewski, and Janusz Rosikoń. The Shrine of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa. Warsaw: Interpress Pub, 1980.

Paz, Adele. The Black Madonna of Czestochowa: A Fluid Symbol of Polish Nationality. 2005.

Object: Lamp

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Bicycle Lamp
The Badger Brass MFG Company
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Materials: Glass, Metal

This object is a bicycle or possibly a carriage lamp from 1900. It was manufactured by the Badger Brass MFG Company from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Known as a carbide lamp, or acetylene gas lamp, it was used to for buildings, lighthouses, early car and bicycle headlights, and as lamps for miners.  This lamp was an early chemical lamp that relied on burning acetylene, a gas substance, for light.

Ancient oil lamps. Image by Hanay, via Wikimedia Commons.

According to archaeological finds, the first known personal lamp is dated at 70,000 years old and was simply a bowl-shaped rock that would have been filled with a combustible material like animal fat or plant oil. Later lamps were made using pottery and wicks, which led to more control over how long the light could last. The Ancient Greeks used this type of lamp and the word lamp actually comes from the Greek word lampas which meant torch. It wasn’t until the 1800s that lamps were radically changed from burning fuel to using electricity.

Ad for Edison Mazda Lamps, via Wikimedia Commons.

For small items, like the bike lamp, electricity was first used in 1801 by chemist Sir Humphrey Davy who created the Carbon-Arc Lamp. It wasn’t until Sir Joseph Swan of England and Thomas Edison of America separately developed the incandescent light bulb in the late 1800s that electric lights became widely available. By 1880, Edison had patented his invention and the product boomed.

Using electricity for large-scale operations, like lighting cities and manufacturing, began in 1895 when the water power of Niagara Falls was used to generate electricity for a nearby manufacturer and the city of Buffalo, New York. With much more innovation needed for electricity to become more widespread, many earlier forms of lighting were still in use by 1900. By 1930 most large cities had electricity with only small, rural towns still relying on older forms for lighting and cooking. Today we use electricity everywhere we go and can carry light around with us because of batteries which we use in objects like flashlights. [Briana Miano, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Readings:

Elmer, Louis Smith and Melvin Horst. Early Lighting: From Tallow to Oil in Early America. Lebanon, PA: Applied Art Publishers, 1975.

“Mining Lights and Hats.” The National Museum of American History.

Edison, Thomas A., and Reese Jenkins. The Papers of Thomas A. Edison. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Object: Bowling Ball


Bowling Ball
Bexar County
Materials: Wood

This object is a wooden bowling ball originally used in 1889 by the Bexar Bowlers of the Bexar Bowling Society. Bowling is one of the most popular sports in the world and the history of bowling is believed to go back to 3200 BCE. This early date was based on a find by British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie. He found some objects in a child’s grave that looked like they could be used as for bowling. Others, like the German historian William Pehle, believe bowling originated in Germany around 300 AD. Bowling was also popular in England during the reign of King Edward, so popular that it was outlawed because soldiers were neglecting archery practice in order to spend more time bowling. Bowling was brought back by King Henry VII and has remained popular ever since.

At this time there were different variations of games with pins being played. These games were eventually brought to America. Bowling was first mentioned in America in the book Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. In his book, Rip hears the sound of “crashing ninepins.” The sport of bowling had many ups and downs when it reached America. In 1841 Connecticut law made it illegal to have ninepin lanes. Making bowling illegal was in large part because the game attracted gambling and drinking. Nine pin bowling was the most popular form of bowling in the United States and Texas was no exception.

Gymnastics room in Turner Hall, Milwaukee, ca. 1900 via Wikipedia

Gymnastics room in Turner Hall, Milwaukee, ca. 1900 via Wikipedia

In Texas, 9 pin bowling was popularized by the turnverein movement. This movement was brought over by the forty-eighters, political refugees from Germany. People associated with the turnverein movements were strong supporters of gymnastics and athletic clubs, but they were also involved with a variety of different causes. Turnvereins didn’t appear in Texas until 1851 and they were located in places like Houston, New Braunfels, Galveston, San Antonio, and Comfort. In Houston “Turners,” as they were called were involved with the needy and sick. The Turners also established schools and entertained the public. Turners in Fredericksburg were responsible for organizing volunteer fire departments. Even though new Turner clubs were established, gymnastics was never that popular in Texas, and as founding Turners grew older the gynastic equipment was typically replaced with bowling lanes. As the Turners began to disband and merge with other clubs, 9 pin bowling gained momentum.

Today 9 pin has all but disappeared, except in some Texas towns where 9 pin bowling is still incredibly popular. Different from the conventional bowling most people are used to, 9 pin bowling involves bowlers rolling a wooden bowling ball at pins that are set up in a diamond formation. In the center of the seven pins is one pin called the number 5 pin or “kingpin.” Bowlers must knock down the 8 pins surrounding the one in the center. As the team knocks down the pins points are accumulated. If you are curious about this game you can visit a 9 pin bowling club in one of the small Texas towns where this game is still popular. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources: 

LeCompte, Mary Lou. “The Texas Turnvereins”. Austin [Tex.]: [publisher not identified], 1985.

Wittke, Carl Frederick. Refugees of Revolution; The German Forty-Eighters in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1952.

Woellert, Dann. Cincinnati Turner Societies: The Cradle of an American Movement. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.

Object: Tartan

I-0611g (2)


Tartan Fragment
United States
Materials: Cloth

This item is a piece of a Scottish tartan from the MacLean Clan, which is one of the oldest clans in the Scottish Highlands.  It consists of green, white, and black patterned lines. Tartans have a long history, not just in Scotland but around the world, where the familiar plaid pattern has been used for centuries. Today we view the tartan pattern as representative of Scotland and their kilts.

The Maclean of Duart Hunting Tartan

The Maclean of Duart Hunting Tartan. Image via http://www.clanmacleanatlantic.org

Tartans are the patterns of interlocking different colored stripes that run horizontally and vertically, which are known as the warp and weft of the cloth. Tartans are defined as the pattern itself, so it can technically be used to describe the pattern in any form, such as in a digital picture, painting, or print. The earliest tartans can be dated back to the third or fourth century A.D. in Scotland though the pattern can be found as early as 3000 B.C. in other parts of the world. Originally tartan patterns did not have any significance, it was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that tartan began to symbolize clan affiliation.

The naming of tartan patterns began after 1765 when the firm William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn began producing and collecting tartan patterns. By 1815 100 tartans had been named and clan chiefs began to gain interest in preserving their history and identifying a pattern that represented their clan. In 1822, King George IV visited Scotland expecting to see the clans present their tartans, this forced many clan leaders to choose or invent new tartans for their clan. Although tartans today are generally thought to represent clans, they can also represent towns, districts, corporations, individuals, and events.

Duart Castle

Duart Castle. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This tartan is connected to the MacLean Clan of Duart Castle. Today the MacLean Clan has more than 10 different tartan patterns registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans. The MacLean’s have the prestige of having one of the oldest recorded tartans, which was described as early as 1587. Although it is difficult to know the exact origins of the clan, clan historians trace their ancestors as far back as 1050. Their name itself originated in 13th century when Gilleain na Tuaighe was chief. Maclean literally translates to son of Gilleain.

Today, tartans continue to be made and in the last fifty years have become an increasingly profitable business dominated by a few large mills. The tartan continues to be a representation of Scotland as much as kilts and bagpipes are. People continue to connect their genealogical history to their ancestral clans and the corresponding tartans. Clans continue to meet in reunions in Scotland, and Highland Games around the world to this day. [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Readings:

Brown, Ian. From Tartan to Tartanry: Scottish Culture, History and Myth. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

Innes, Sir Thomas. The Tartans of the Clans & Families of Scotland. Edinburgh, Scotland: Johnston and Bacon, 1971.

Lewis, Brenda Ralph. Tartans. Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, 2004.

MacLean, L. A Historical and Genealogical Account of the Clan Maclean, from its First Settlement at Castle Duart in the Isle of Mull, to the Present Period. Edinburgh, Scotland: Laing & Forbes, 1838.

Object: Figurine


Religious Figurine
Spanish American
Northern Mexico or southern Texas
Mid-19th Century
Materials: Wood, Paint

This object is a wooden statue of Saint Anthony, or possibly Saint Francis. Spanish statues like this were called bultos or santos and they were depictions of saints or other religious figures in Catholicism. This work of art was probably made in southern Texas or northern Mexico. A figurine like this would have been used in a home shrine, rather than in a church. Santos have a long history dating back to the Spanish Colonial period, after the Spanish had explored and conquered the New World.

Example of a santos.

Example of a santos. Photo by Marina Hayman Ph.D., via colonialmexicoinsideandout.blogspot.com

Originally, santos were made by the missionaries living in the New World. These religious men would use them as props to help teach Native Americans about Christianity, and were often given to the converts to display in their homes. However, not all santos were placed in the home, many of them were treasured items and churches proudly displayed them during religious celebrations.

This santo is depicting either Saint Anthony or Saint Francis. Saint Anthony is the patron saint of finding lost things or people. He was a part of the Franciscan order and was known for his gifted preaching which had the ability to reach people of various backgrounds. This gift was celebrated so much that he was given the title of Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946. He is usually depicted holding a book, or with Jesus as a baby.

Saint Francis is the patron saint of merchants, ecologists, and animals. He was known for abandoning his family wealth to live a simpler life of poverty. He is one of the most respected religious figures in history. The Franciscan order was also founded by him and the members of the church would later become widespread in the New World in their attempt to convert native populations. He is usually depicted with animals such as birds.

Saint Francis

Saint Francis. Image via Catholic Online

Santos are carved out of wood and then painted into the likeness of whichever saint they were supposed to represent. Today, people called santeros make the santos and other religious images. Like all art, the materials they are made from and their style reveal where they come from. Many santos are attributed to New Mexico where the tradition of making and keeping santos is still practiced. However, not many examples of early colonial santos survived to today. [Briana Miano, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Readings:

Dewhurst, C. Kurt, Betty MacDowell, and Marsha MacDowell. Religious Folk Art in America: Reflections of Faith. New York: E.P. Dutton in association with the Museum of American Folk Art, 1983.

Shalkop, Robert L., and Taylor Museum. Wood Saints: The Santos Of New Mexico. Buchheim Verlag, 1967.

Steele, Thomas J. Santos and Saints: The Religious Folk Art of Hispanic New Mexico. Santa Fe, N.M.: Ancient City Press, 1994.

Object: Toy

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20th century
Materials: Wood/Cloth

Today Vikings are quite popular, this is in large part due to television and movies. A Viking’s greatest weapon, other than his ferocity, was his warship. Viking ships were not only strong and durable, they were also lighter and faster than other ships. Due to the speed of these ships, Vikings were able to travel vast distances. These superior ships allowed them to establish a vast trade network and even colonize new areas. Ships like the toy above were called drekar, or dragon headed long ships. The secret to these ships was the way in which they were built.

Osenberg Longship. Image by Arnejohs, via Wikimedia Commons

Some famous men who used these ships to travel vast distances in the Atlantic Ocean were Erik the Red and Leif Erikson. Erik the Red was born in Norway in 950 CE. He was most likely given the name of Red because of the color of his hair. Erik’s father was exiled to the Nordic colony on Iceland. Along with his father, Erik’s whole family made the move. However, it wasn’t long before Erik was then exiled himself from Iceland. After his exile, Erik traveled to an uncharted island to the west of Iceland, he would eventually call the island Greenland. Erik, impressed with the country’s land and resources returned to Iceland to spread the word. Able to persuade many to make the move, Erik took 25 ships and headed west. On these 25 ships 500 men and woman were on-board, along with livestock, to establish a new colony. Out of the 25 ships only 14 ships made it. When they arrived two small settlements were established and were known as the east and west settlements.

Seattle's Leif Erikson memorial statue at Shilshole Bay Marina.

Seattle’s Leif Erikson memorial statue at Shilshole Bay Marina. Image by Steven Pavlov, via Wikimedia Commons.

Like his father, Leif Eriksson was an explorer, but not out of necessity like his exiled father. Leif was the second of three sons of Erik the Red. It is not known when exactly Leif was born but it is agreed that he grew up in Greenland.  According to the “Saga of Erik the Red” on his way from Greenland to Norway he stopped in Hebrides and fathered a daughter. Once in Norway, Leif was converted to Christianity by King Olaf I Tryggvason and tasked him with spreading Christianity to Greenland. On his way to back to Greenland it is believed his ship got lost and he ended up in North America in area he named Vinland. However, scholars consider other accounts such as the “Groenlendinga Saga” more reliable, this account states Leif heard of Vinland from a trader who spotted it from his ship but never actually set foot on North America. The exact location of Vinland is unknown and many sites have been cited as the location for Vinland. In the 1960s an excavation at L’Anse aux Meadows turned up evidence of what could be a Viking base camp. This find however, is also contested because it is too far north. Leif Erikson’s time in Vinland would have happened 500 years before Christopher Columbus, that is why many Nordic Americans celebrate Leif as the first European explorer in the New World. Today, October 9 is dedicated as “Leif Eriksson Day.”  [Tanner Norwood edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Brøndsted, Johannes. 1965. The Vikings. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

Du Chaillu, Paul B. 1970. The Viking Age: The Early History, Manners, and Customs of the Ancestors of the English-Speaking Nations. New York: AMS Press.

Fitzhugh, William W., Elisabeth I. Ward, and National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). 2000. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Washington: Smithsonian Institutions, in association with the National Museum of Natural History.

Object: Eyeglasses

I-0267l (3)

Atlanta, Georgia
ca. 1870
Materials: Glass & Metal

Humans have five senses: hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell. Although all are important for the human experience, many argue that sight is the most important. This object is a pair of eyeglasses which were made around the year 1870. It is estimated that most of the U.S. population uses eyeglasses or contacts. Today with modern technology there are all kinds of options to help if ones vision starts to fail. However, the most common and the earliest form of vision assistance are eyeglasses.

Before the invention of glasses, people had to go about their lives in a blur. However, people used whatever was available to help them see. For example in a letter written in about 100 B.C. by a Roman, he states that because he could no longer see and read for himself and had to rely on his slaves. It was also said that the philosopher Seneca read books by looking at them through a glass globe in water. The oldest known lenses were found in ancient Nineveh and were made of polished rock crystal. The reading stone, a simple type of magnifying glass, was created around 1000 A.D.

Reading stone.

Reading stone. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Ziko van Dijk.

It is not known who exactly invented glasses or in what year they were invented but it is estimated that they were developed between 1268 and 1289, based on written accounts of their use. For example, in a manuscript dated 1289 it was written “I am so debilitated by age that without the glasses known as spectacles, I would not longer be able to read or write.” By the year 1306 a monk from Pisa, Italy gave a sermon in which he stated, “It is not yet twenty years since the art of making spectacles, one of the most useful arts on earth, was discovered.” By the year 1352 eyeglasses began to appear on people in paintings.

In the beginning, glasses had lenses made out of quartz and were set into bone, metal or leather. These glasses however, did not look like what we think of today. In the early days of glasses they were simply balanced on the nose of the person who wore them. This proved to be a problem because everyone’s nose is different.  One invention to try to help with this issue was using ribbons that attached to the frames and looped over the ears. The modification traveled to China but the Chinese used metal weights attached to the strings. Slowly the use of eyeglasses began to spread from  Italy to places like Germany, Spain and France.

Man wearing a monocle.

Man wearing a monocle. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

By the 1700s eyeglasses were being worn in many places around the world. Vision aids began to improve and evolve. In 1780 Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing the bifocal lens. This lens made it possible for people with multiple vision problems to only use one set of eyeglasses. There were many types of glasses that were produced besides the traditional ones we know of. The monocle was one of them, which was a circular lens used when vision needed to be corrected in one eye. Another type of eyeglass was the lorgnette, which had a handle to hold them instead of being worn.

Today although many people still wear eyeglasses, contact lenses are very popular. Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with coming up for the idea of contact lenses in 1508. However, his ideas were never really implemented. There were many people who tried to come up with a suitable contact lens that could be worn comfortably in the eye. Many failed and others used the failed ideas and perfected them. Contact lenses started out made out of glass and then as new materials like polymethyl methacrylate were developed, plastic versions were invented. By 1949 contact lenses could be worn for up to 16 hours a day and more people were interested in them, even though they were expensive. As the years have gone by contact lens have improved drastically and serve many aspects of correcting vision. Many people also wear contact lenses for cosmetic purposes.

A pair of contact lenses.

A pair of contact lenses. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Today many people who have trouble with their vision are opting for not wearing either glasses or contact lenses. With modern technology it is now possible to correct ones vision with a procedure called LASIK. This procedure, also known as laser eye surgery, is a surgery which corrects multiple vision problems by reshaping the eyes cornea.  With this surgery many people no longer need to depend on eyeglasses or contact lenses. However, as with all surgeries there are some pros and cons to having the procedure done.

Glasses, contact lenses, and LASIK surgery are all options to help correct ones vision. However, for many people whose vision cannot be improved by any of these options, other tools must be used to replace their natural sight. These tools include canes which help them detect obstacles when trying to move from one place to another. Guide dogs are also an option to help with mobility. When it comes to things like reading, people who have severe visual impairment use braille, a writing system made up of raised dots. For other every day activities, people with visual impairment might use equipment such as calculators, or GPS devices which can speak to the user. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Darrigol, Olivier. A History of Optics: From Greek Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Gaustad, Edwin S. Benjamin Franklin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

United States. Lasik Laser Eye Surgery. [Rockville, MD]: FDA Office of Women’s Health, 2007. <http://purl.fdlp.gov/GPO/gpo21770>.

Object: Dog Tag








United States
San Antonio
Materials: Metal

This object is a metal identification tag also known as a dog tag. This tag was worn by Jose M. Valdespino who enlisted in  Sept 1942 at Duncan Field, in San Antonio. After training, he was assigned as the Ball Turret Gunner in a B-17 with the U.S. Army Air Corps in the the 367th Bomb Squadron, 306th Bomber Group, based in England.  He flew 24 missions with “The Clay Pigeon’s” in a B-17, his missions included the bombing France which was occupied by Germany. Joe’s combat service ended when he was injured in a jeep accident. He was discharged in October 1945. Watch the following video to hear more about his story. 

Identification tags for the military have been used since around the 1850s. The earliest known example where dog tags were used was during the Taiping Revolt in China.  The soldiers fighting in this rebellion wore wooden tags on their belt. The information on the tag included name, age, birthplace, unit and the date they were enlisted. In the days of the American Civil War more than 150,000 soldiers were unidentified. Some knew that if they were to perish in the war there was a possibility that they would not be identified. So many went to great lengths to have some sort of identification on them. Many attached notes to their bodies while others wrote their name on their belts, and some wrote their name on the bottom of their shoes.

Example of a identification tag used during the American Civil War

Example of a identification tag used during the American Civil War. Image via: http://www.ephemerasociety.org

With the high demand for some type of identification tag, merchants started selling metal disks to soldiers. In many periodicals such as Harper’s Magazine there was advertisements for tags called “soldier’s pins” which were made of silver or gold with the soldiers name and unit. By the 1890s dog tags were being issued to the U.S. Army and Navy. By the time the United States entered WWI all soldiers were required to use a identification tag.

During WWII a new type of tag was introduced, this new tag changed in style from a disk to a rectangle tag, known as the M1940. The rectangular tag had a notch at the end like the tag from our collections. It was during WWII that the tags got the nickname “dog tag.” The tags not only had the name of the soldier but also other information such as blood type, tetanus shot information, and religious preference. During WWII however, there was only 3 options for religious preference: Protestant, Catholic, and Hebrew. Since then more options have been added and soldiers even have the option to put “none” or “no religious preference.” Early versions of identification tags included the name and address of the soldier’s next of kin. During the war, the enemy used that information as a tool for psychological warfare, so the practice was discontinued by 1943. Silencers for the dog tags were also introduced during WWII. The silencers were used to prevent the dog tags from making noise when coming into contact with each other.   The M1940 tag was in use until it was replaced by the M1967 which was made of a T304 stainless steel. This type of tag has no notch and is what is used today.

Example of current dog tags issued today with silencers.

Example of current dog tags issued today with silencers. Image via: http://www.armydogtags.com

With technology being so advanced, the future of dog tags looks promising. The U.S. Army is currently developing and testing dog tags that would use RFID, microchip, or USB technology. The dog tags would hold the soldiers medical information as well as dental records, which would make it easier if in identifying them. These dog tags would be worn in addition to the current ones. The Marine Corps is developing dog tags with advanced technology also including RFID and the possibility of even being able to use GPS data to help locate wounded soldiers. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Braddock, Paul F. Dog Tags: A History of the American Military Identification Tag, 1861-2002. [United States?]: P.F. Braddock, 2003.

Cucolo, Ginger. Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification. [United States]: Allen House Pub, 2011.

Maier, Larry B., and Joseph W. Stahl. Identification Discs of Union Soldiers in the Civil War: A Complete Classification Guide and Illustrated History. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2008.

Object: Dance prop


Dragon dance prop
21st Century
Materials: cloth, paint

In western society the thought of dragons conjures up fearful images of large lizards that can fly and breathe fire. Often dragons are perceived as evil and a menace upon the land. Knights of legend would ride out and dual with dragons in the hopes of freeing the land and saving a beautiful princess. This image of the evil dragon has gone back for millennia in Greek, Norse, English and German culture and legends. However, the legend of the dragon in Chinese culture is very different.

China and its connection to dragons

The Chinese Dragon, sometimes called the Oriental dragon, is a benevolent creature with the ability to fly and live in the ocean. Dragons in China are often thought to control rain, rivers and other forms of water.  The earliest known depictions of dragons in China date back thousands of years, and can be seen in art, jewelry and pottery. Even though dragons have been a part of Chinese culture for a long time, there is still much debate on when and where they originated. The Totem-Worship Theory states that sometime around 2697 BC, China was made up of a number of different tribes who each had a totem depicting an animal or plant. The tribes believed they were blood related to these totems. One of the tribes, was ruled by the first legendary Emperor Huang Di. Huang Di fought against the Yandi tribe for the throne.

Image depicting Emperor Huang Di

Image depicting Emperor Huang Di

Emperor Huang Di’s tribe won and it is thought that his tribe adopted a coat of arms which depicted a snake. Emperor Huang Di soon started waging wars with other tribes in the area. It is believed that every time they conquered one of these tribes they took that tribes totem animal and incorporated it with their own. Many scholars believe that this is why the oriental dragon looks like it is made up from nine different animals, possessing the antlers of a deer; the head of a camel; the neck of a snake; a hawk’s claws; the palms of a tiger; an ox’s ears; a rabbit’s eyes; a frog’s belly, and a carp’s scales. Under Emperor Huang Di’s rule the central plains of China were unified and the symbol of the dragon has remained popular even today.

Two other popular theories are that the dragon is a stylized depiction of an animal, such as a fish, snake or crocodile or that the Chinese dragon represents lightning. Some evidence to support this is the fact that the Chinese pronunciation for the word dragon, lung or long, resembles the onomatopoeia of the sound of lightning in Chinese culture.

Symbolism of the Chinese Dragon

Today dragons are still highly respected in China and many Chinese consider themselves decedents of dragons. Legends say that after Emperor Huang Di died the gods in heaven granted him rebirth as a dragon. This falls in line with the Chinese belief that the dragon is the symbol of the emperor and all emperors of China were believed to be direct descendants of celestial dragons. Ancient emperors called their robes “dragon robes,” their palace a “dragon palace” and their throne “The Dragon Throne.” The close association with dragons in Chinese culture has made it a well known symbol of China.

Where did the Dragon Dance come from?

The dragon dance originated during the Han Dynasty (180-230 AD). While it is usually performed at festivals, like the New Year’s Festival and Lantern Festival, it originally started out as a folk dance. Because dragons are believed to be the bringers of rain, many farmers started to perform this dance in order to honor the dragon. The farmers would hoped that the dragon would be pleased by the dance and in return bring rain to the crops. By the time the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD), the dragon dance had become very popular and being performed almost exclusively for festival events.

b6b1cb392dcd146cbe86aaeae078cbc9Though the dance may look simple from an outsider’s point of view, it takes many hours of practice for the performers to get and keep the movements of the dragon flowing. If one performer messes up, it can spoil the entire performance.  The dragon dance is carried out by a team of performers who carry the dragon on poles. The dragon’s body is made up of a series of hoops with a head attachment on one end and a tail attachment on the other. These dragon props can range from 25 to 70 meters long, with the shorter dragons used for more acrobatic dances while the longer ones are for ceremonial use. The color of the dragon is also symbolic. Most dragons are green, which symbolize the harvest. Gold represents the empire, and red represents excitement and good fortune.

Today, if you want to see a dragon dance without visiting China you need look no further than within your own local community. Here in Texas there are multiple festivals held throughout the year that feature dragon dances. At these festivals one can see a dragon dance and celebrate Chinese culture. In San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures holds the Asian Festival every year. This year it will be held on February 13, 2016.  [Carlise Ferguson, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Blust, R.. (2000). The Origin of Dragons. Anthropos, 95(2), 519–536.

Nickel, H.. (1991). The Dragon and the Pearl. Metropolitan Museum Journal, 26, 139–146.

Petersen, V. D.. (1962). Dragons—in General. Elementary English, 39(1), 3–6.

Wilson, J. K.. (1990). Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 77(8), 286–323.

Liu, Xie, and Youzhong Shi. The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons: A Study of Thought and Pattern in Chinese Literature. Ann Arbor, Mich: University Microfilms International, 1979.

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