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Portal:History

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The History Portal

Historia, 1892 painting by Nikolaos Gyzis

History (from Greek ἱστορία, historia, meaning "inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past as it is described in written documents. Events occurring before written record are considered prehistory. It is an umbrella term that relates to past events as well as the memory, discovery, collection, organization, presentation, and interpretation of information about these events. Scholars who write about history are called historians.

History can also refer to the academic discipline which uses a narrative to examine and analyse a sequence of past events, and objectively determine the patterns of cause and effect that determine them. Historians sometimes debate the nature of history and its usefulness by discussing the study of the discipline as an end in itself and as a way of providing "perspective" on the problems of the present.

Stories common to a particular culture, but not supported by external sources (such as the tales surrounding King Arthur), are usually classified as cultural heritage or legends, because they do not show the "disinterested investigation" required of the discipline of history. Herodotus, a 5th-century BC Greek historian is considered within the Western tradition to be the "father of history", and, along with his contemporary Thucydides, helped form the foundations for the modern study of human history. Their works continue to be read today, and the gap between the culture-focused Herodotus and the military-focused Thucydides remains a point of contention or approach in modern historical writing. In East Asia, a state chronicle, the Spring and Autumn Annals was known to be compiled from as early as 722 BC although only 2nd-century BC texts survived.

Ancient influences have helped spawn variant interpretations of the nature of history which have evolved over the centuries and continue to change today. The modern study of history is wide-ranging, and includes the study of specific regions and the study of certain topical or thematical elements of historical investigation. Often history is taught as part of primary and secondary education, and the academic study of history is a major discipline in university studies.

Selected article

The first page of William Barret Travis's letter, To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World is an open letter written on February 24, 1836, by William B. Travis, commander of the Texian forces at the Battle of the Alamo, to settlers in Mexican Texas. The letter is renowned as a "declaration of defiance" and a "masterpiece of American patriotism", and forms part of the history education of Texas schoolchildren.

On February 23, the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas had been besieged by Mexican forces led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Fearing that his small group of men could not withstand an assault, Travis wrote this letter seeking reinforcements and supplies from supporters. The letter closes with Travis's vow of "Victory or Death!", an emotion which has been both praised and derided by historians.

The letter was initially entrusted to courier Albert Martin, who carried it to the town of Gonzales some seventy miles away. Martin added several postscripts to encourage men to reinforce the Alamo, and then handed the letter to Launcelot Smithers. Smithers added his own postscript and delivered the letter to its intended destination, San Felipe de Austin. Local publishers printed over 700 copies of the letter. It also appeared in the two main Texas newspapers and was eventually printed throughout the United States and Europe. Partially in response to the letter, men from throughout Texas and the United States began to gather in Gonzales. Between 32 and 90 of them reached the Alamo before it fell; the remainder formed the nucleus of the army which eventually defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Selected biography

Photo dated pre-1939
Witold Pilecki (May 13, 1901 – May 25, 1948; Polish pronunciation: [ˈvitɔlt piˈlɛt͡skʲi]; codenames Roman Jezierski, Tomasz Serafiński, Druh, Witold) was a soldier of the Second Polish Republic, the founder of the Secret Polish Army (Tajna Armia Polska) resistance group and a member of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa). As the author of Witold's Report, the first intelligence report on Auschwitz concentration camp, Pilecki enabled the Polish government-in-exile to convince the Allies that the Holocaust was taking place.

During World War II, he volunteered for a Polish resistance operation to get imprisoned at Auschwitz in order to gather intelligence and escape. While in the camp, Pilecki organized a resistance movement and as early as 1941, informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz atrocities. He escaped from the camp in 1943 and took part in the Warsaw Uprising. He remained loyal to the London-based Polish government-in-exile and was executed in 1948 by the Stalinist secret police Urząd Bezpieczeństwa on charges of working for "foreign imperialism", thought to be a euphemism for MI6. Until 1989, information on his exploits and fate was suppressed by the Polish communist regime.

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Sphinx partially excavated2.jpg

A photo of the Great Sphinx of Giza, partially excavated, from the late 19th century. The sphinx is a mythical creature with the head of a man and the body of a lion. Constructed in the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt during the reign of Khafra, it is the largest monolith statue and monumental sculpture in the world. Despite its prominence, very little is known about the statue; it is not even known what it was originally called, as no references survive in known Egyptian sources, sphinx being the name of a similar classical Greek creature.

On this day

October 16

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette

Pedro González de Lara (d. 1130) · Lucy Stanton (b. 1831) · Angela Lansbury (b. 1925)

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As long as I breathe I hope. As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future, that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizons of beauty, joy and happiness!

— Leon Trotsky, 20th century Russian revolutionary

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Anglo-Saxon England

"The most important fact in the history of the earliest English kingdoms is the clear distinction which was maintained for more than two centuries between the peoples established respectively north and south of the Humber.."
F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England

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