The Renaissance began in Europe in the 15th century and marked the change from the medieval period to the modern world. Towering figures such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and especially Leonardo da Vinci were known as Renaissance men because of their talents and lasting achievements in several important areas of knowledge. They were also accomplished musicians, public speakers, athletes, poets, and so forth. And they were expected to do all this stuff without breaking a sweat.
You could give the same title to an ancient Egyptian named Imhotep, who lived about 2600 BCE. He was the vizier, the most important government official, during the reign of Pharaoh Djoser. He served as the high priest of the god Ra and was an expert astronomer.
Imhotep designed and oversaw the building of the first major pyramid in Egypt. Located at Saqqara, at the time it was the world’s tallest structure. He innovated the use of stones rather than mud bricks to build it, and it was that added strength that enabled the pyramid to rise so high. He is also credited with the invention of several devices that facilitated the construction.
Many people believe that Imhotep, rather than the Greek Hippocrates who lived more than 2,000 years later, is the real “Father of Medicine.” In an era when most physicians relied on magic spells and appeals to the gods, Imhotep prescribed dozens of effective down-to-earth treatments for illnesses and injuries.
He is credited with ending a seven-year famine in Egypt. He advised the pharaoh to make sacrifices to Khnum, the god of the annual flooding of the Nile River, and thereby provide desperately needed water to farmers. On a more practical level, he invented an improved irrigation system to carry water to the crops even if the river level was abnormally low.
In addition to these accomplishments, an inscription at the base of one of his statues notes that he was “Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief.” In his little spare time, he wrote poetry and dispensed philosophical advice.
Imhotep can also boast of two accomplishments that eluded even Leonardo da Vinci. He was deified after his death and worshipped for many centuries, an honor accorded to hardly anyone besides the pharaohs. And today the comic book community gives him the credit for founding S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel Comics espionage and crime-fighting agency that became the basis for blockbuster movies such as Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.
Jim Whiting has written a book on another great Egyptian leader -- Ramses the Great who lived about 1350 years after Imhotep. He fully lived up to the "Great" part of his name. His reign lasted for 67 years, the second longest in Egypt’s 3,000-year history. He had dozens of wives and more than 100 children, outliving many of them. He was a military leader who expanded the borders of his country. That resulted in decades of peace and prosperity for his people. He ordered huge statues of himself to be erected all over Egypt. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "A Renaissance Man - 4,000 Years before the Renaissance."
Nonfiction Minute`, iNK Think Tank, 8 Feb. 2018,
, The trial of former German concentration camp guard Oskar Gröning provided a stark reminder of the World War II horrors that claimed the lives of more than 6,000,000 people, most of whom were Jews.
Perhaps the most famous victim was teenager Anne Frank.
She was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany. Soon after Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Anne’s family moved to Amsterdam, Holland. In 1940, German forces invaded Holland, though the Franks managed to eke out a meager existence. For her 13th birthday, Anne’s presents included a diary.
Shortly afterward, the Franks were forced to go into hiding in “the Annex,” a hidden apartment. During the walk from their home to the Annex, they had worn all the clothing they could in the summer heat. Carrying a suitcase would have tipped off the Germans. Soon four other people joined the Franks. Several friends risked execution by supplying the fugitives with food and other necessities.
Anne’s diary reflected what they did during the long months of concealment. Many passages dealt with things she didn’t want to share—her feelings, her belief in God, and her desire to be an author. She made her final entry on August 1, 1944. A few days later, someone betrayed them. They were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp. While many Jews were sent to the gas chambers as soon as they arrived, the Franks were put to work as slave laborers and provided with the most meager and unappetizing food.
Later they were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Early in 1945, a typhus epidemic killed thousands of prisoners. British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15 that year. But it was too late for Anne. She died, probably of typhus, in February or March. Her body was dumped into a mass grave.
When he returned to Amsterdam, Anne’s father Otto discovered that Anne’s diary had been saved. Reading it moved him profoundly. He decided to honor his daughter’s desire to be an author by publishing it.
Since then, millions of copies of The Diary of Anne Frank have been sold. In 1999, Time magazine honored Anne by putting her on the list of The Most Important People of the Century: “With a diary kept in a secret attic, she braved the Nazis and lent a searing voice to the fight for human dignity.”
After WWII, the State of Israel was founded and became a haven for Jews from around the world. Jim Whiting has written a book about this momentous event and you can read more about it here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Anne Frank and Her Diary." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 11
June 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
When seamstress Rosa Parks boarded a bus after work in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955, she had no idea she was about to make history.
At that time, Montgomery buses were strictly segregated. According to city law, whites had the right to the first few rows of seats. Under a long-standing custom, blacks had to give up their seats as additional whites boarded. So when that happened, the driver ordered Parks and three other blacks to move further back. The other three did. Parks didn’t. The driver repeated his order. Again Parks refused. She was arrested.
Years later, a legend grew up that she was tired from a long day on her feet. But as she explained, “No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Black leaders, who had long shared her frustration, sensed an opportunity. They quickly formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and selected a young minister who had just moved to Montgomery as leader. His name was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Under his leadership, Montgomery blacks ordered a boycott of the bus system. They used many methods of alternate transportation, sometimes walking for an hour or even more. Despite whites’ burning of several churches and an explosion that destroyed Dr. King’s home, they persisted: day after day, week after week, month after month. Since blacks formed about 75 percent of the normal ridership, the loss of their fares began crippling the system. Finally, on December 20 the following year Montgomery repealed the law requiring segregated buses. The victory also catapulted Dr. King to national prominence.
Parks didn’t fare so well. She was fired from her job and received numerous death threats. She and her husband moved to Detroit.
Honors began pouring in. In 2000, Time magazine named Rosa Parks—often called the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”—as one of the 100 most important people of the twentieth century.
Parks had another honor that year. In 1994, the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan had announced a plan to clean up a portion of Highway I-55 near St. Louis, Missouri under the federal Adopt-a-Highway program. That meant signs would be posted to acknowledge the Klan’s “public service.” The Missouri Department of Transportation objected, but a series of court cases concluding in 2000 deemed the objection as unconstitutional. The state quickly responded by naming that portion of I-55 the Rosa Parks Freeway. The Klan never did clean it up.
On the morning of December 1, 1955, hardly anyone in Rosa Parks s home town of Montgomery, Alabama had heard of her. By the time that night fell, she was on her way to becoming a household word all over the United States. Jim Whiting tells the story in his book What's So Great About Rosa Parks? For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 26 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
The Running Encyclopedia
In pro football’s early days, there was no set way of determining the league champion. In 1921, the Buffalo (New York) All-Americans had the best record (8-0-2) in the American Professional Football Association. Runners-up were the Chicago Staleys, named for team sponsor A.E. Staley Starch Company, with a 7-1 mark. (The team would become the Bears the following year.) The Staleys’ only blemish was a 7-6 loss to Buffalo on Thanksgiving Day.
Chicago player-owner George Halas lusted for revenge. He persuaded Buffalo owner Frank McNeil to travel to Chicago for a game the day after the All-Americans’ final game on December 3 in nearby Akron, Ohio. McNeil agreed, with one stipulation: the game would be an exhibition and not count in the final standings.
The Buffalo players took an overnight train to Chicago after a hard-fought triumph. Still recovering from the rigors of that game and lack of sleep, the All-Americans lost to the Staleys 10-7. Halas saw an opportunity. He quickly scheduled two more games with other teams, winning one and tying the other. In his eyes, the results of those additional games meant his team was now 9-1-1, while Buffalo was 9-1-2 (tie games didn’t figure in the standings). Despite the seeming identical records between the two teams, Halas appealed to the other owners. He said his team deserved the league title on two grounds: the second game between Chicago and Buffalo was more important than the first, and his team had outscored Buffalo 16–14 in their two contests.
The owners sided with Halas despite McNeil’s vehement protests that the second Chicago game was an exhibition. McNeil spent the rest of his life trying to overturn what he called the “Staley Swindle.” The league—now the National Football League (NFL)—decided that henceforth the season would have a definite ending date, though rejecting the idea of a championship game.
In 1932 Chicago and the Portsmouth Spartans had identical records. The NFL sanctioned a game between them to determine the champion. Chicago won 9-0. The game attracted so much interest that the NFL split into East and West divisions, with a playoff between the division winners to crown the champion. That playoff has continued to the present day (though adding several rounds to determine the finalists). Super Bowl Sunday has become so important in the United States that many people (not entirely jokingly) have suggested making it a national holiday.
Jim Whiting’s hometown team, the Seattle Seahawks, didn’t make it to the Superbowl this year, but you can still read about them in his book NFL Today The Story of the Seattle Seahawks. Click here to see the list of books Jim has written devoted to football teams and other sports.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Staley Swindle and the Super Bowl." Nonfiction Minute`, iNK
Think Tank, 2 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
The onset of spring, summer, fall, and winter every year is precisely measured, depending on the sun’s position. But there’s no similar astronomical or scientific reason for celebrating New Years on January 1.
Many people don’t. The Chinese New Year occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice, between late January and mid-February. Muslims mark the occasion on the first day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. That calendar is based on the lunar cycle, 11 or 12 days shorter than the solar calendar. So their New Year comes a little earlier every year. Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, is a two-day observance that begins 163 days after Passover and varies between September 5 and October 5. Unlike other New Year’s celebrations, Rosh Hashanah is holy, a time for piety rather than parties.
There was just as much variation in ancient times. In Babylon, the first new moon after the vernal equinox marked the New Year. Egyptians celebrated it in early August, when the annual Nile River flooding began. In Greece, Athens and Sparta couldn’t get along, so their respective new years didn’t occur at the same time. In Athens, it was the first new moon after the summer solstice, while the Spartans waited until early fall.
So how did January 1 become the most widely accepted start of the New Year? The answer: Julius Caesar. For centuries, the Roman calendar was in a state of chaos, with the number of days in the year fluctuating widely. In 46 BCE, Caesar worked with the brightest Egyptian astronomers to retool the calendar. He wanted the year to begin on the first of January, a month named after the god Janus. Janus had two faces: one looking backward (at the year just ending) and the other facing forward. For the Romans, it was party time!
Caesar didn’t stick around very long after his innovation. On the Ides of March—March 15, 44 BCE—he went to the Roman Senate as usual. While one senator distracted him, others swarmed around him with knives they’d hidden inside their togas, hacking and gashing. He collapsed and died.
His calendar proved more durable. When Roman legions conquered new territories, the natives had to adopt the Roman calendar. Every day, especially at the start of the new year, it was a reminder of Roman power.
You've been hearing from Jim Whiting almost weekly, so we thought you might want to know more about him. He's an interesting fellow:
Children's book author. Acclaimed multi-genre freelance editor. Entertaining and informative classroom visitor. Middle school running coach. Award-winning magazine publisher. Workshop presenter. Sportswriter. Light versifier. E-commerce and e-book writer. Teacher. Runner. World traveler. Sailor. Scuba diver. Photographer. Actor. Patron of the arts. Hometown Hero. And of course Voracious Reader.
For more about Jim, read his biography and background.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Happy New Year--in August?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 2 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/Happy-New-Year-in-August.
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