World History


‘In the Green Hell of the Amazon:’ From the Rediscovered Notebooks of an Early Russian Explorer of Brazil

Grigori-langsdorff 2.jpgThe 2016 Olympic Games and mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have drawn the world's attention to Brazil recently. Even the Russians attending the Rio games may not be aware that one of their illustrious forebears, Grigory Langsdorff, was present as the first Russian Consul General in that city over 200 years ago. The story of this important naturalist and explorer is told in “Russian Scientists in Brazil, A Forgotten Expedition,” published in 1963 in Nauka i Zhizn' (Science and Life), and found in English-language translation in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports.

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Langsdorff served as consul in Rio from 1813-1820. By then he had already circumnavigated the world and spoke five languages including Portuguese, hence his appointment to the then-Portuguese colony of Brazil. His official duties in Rio were eclipsed by his scientific passion, however, and mosquito-borne complications from tropical diseases ultimately took his mind and ended his career.

Langsdorff returned to Russia in 1820, was granted 200,000 rubles for expeditionary support from Czar Alexander the First. He returned to Brazil in 1822 with a team of scientists and artists. Their three excursions along the coast and into the heart of the country extended over the next seven years.

‘In the Green Hell of the Amazon:’ From the Rediscovered Notebooks of an Early Russian Explorer of Brazil

'In the Shadow of Conventions:' Gender Equality in Islamic Society

 

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The scope of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, is much broader than politics and national security; social issues are also well represented. In the four reports excerpted below we proceed from general to particular. The first, which includes the cartoons here, is a diverse collection of articles from Arabic-language sources; the second a travel diary of a woman visiting oases in Egypt. The third and fourth items both concern the conflict of Muslim traditions in the former Soviet Union—the latter report specifically with regard to the nomadic culture of Kazakhstan. Together they offer valuable insights into the role of women in Muslim countries, both in urban and rural settings.

The first report, Near East/North Africa Report, No. 2620, Status of women in Persian Gulf countries (JPRS-81769, 09/15/1982. 90 pages) touches upon such contemporary topics as age discrimination, suffrage, driving, marriage and divorce, employment, education, dress, and East/West cultural differences.

'In the Shadow of Conventions:' Gender Equality in Islamic Society

Dangerous Ground: Competing Interests and Intentions in the South China Sea

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Do you know how the many islands, shoals, and reefs were formed? It is a great miracle of nature.

Thus begins Chapter 2 of the book Our Country’s South Sea Archipelagoes (JPRS Report 18424, 3/28/1963) by Ch’en Tung-k’ang, published in 1962. In light of recent developments a revised edition might be warranted, for today that “miracle of nature” involves large-scale dredging and the impoundment of sand and coral into areas large enough to support permanent Chinese military bases and claims to the surrounding waters.

The “Rich and Beautiful Treasure Islands” referred to in the book’s table of contents are increasingly seen as fraught, perilous, and treasured by competing parties in the international arena.

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It's tempting to view China’s island-building program as a recent phenomenon, begun in response to the America's “pivot” to Asia. But Ch’en's book claims, “Ever since ancient times, these islands and islets in the South Sea have been the territory of our country.”

Dangerous Ground: Competing Interests and Intentions in the South China Sea

New and Improved: Personal and Political Reform in Socialist States

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-L0822-0026,_XX__Olympiade,_DDR-Turnerinnen,_Training Caption Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L0822-0026. Gahlbeck, Friedrich. CC-BY-SA 3.0.jpgEast and West, self-improvement is a human project in which the state has a vested interest. In the West, the idea of a liberal education resulting in conscientious, informed citizens has been the goal. In socialist states, the tendency has been to link the personal with the political taken collectively rather than individually.

In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we offer a selection of best practices drawn from countries in which the U.S. government had a healthy interest.


Residues of the Islamic Religion and Methods for Eliminating them

Voprosy Filosofii (Problems in Philosophy) No. 5, May 1961

The United States is just the latest nation where Islam has become a political issue. Communism has always had an argument with organized religion as leading to “false consciousness” and inhibiting adherence to proletarian goals and identity.

This report relates the proceedings of a conference in Dagestan wherein the rationale and methodology is laid-out for eliminating the Islamic religion from the Soviet population. And they don’t mince words:

New and Improved: Personal and Political Reform in Socialist States

A Day at the (Space) Races: Gherman Titov and Vostok-2 Raise the Stakes of Manned Space Flight

“Socialism is the launching platform from which the Soviet Union shoots off its cosmic ships.” —Nikita S. Khrushchev

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On 6 August 1961, less than four years after Sputnik and not quite four months after Yuri Gagarin's historic orbital flight, Gherman Titov accomplished a flight of over seventeen orbits, lasting more than a day. This achievement had the desired effect of serving notice to the United States that Soviet space exploration was neither a fluke nor a stunt, but a sustained program to demonstrate the technical superiority—and by extension, the socio-political potency—of socialism over capitalism. In these documents from the current release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we offer direct quotations from Titov himself, scientists, a journalist, even a farmer witnessing Titov's landing.

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Preparation for Man's Flight into Cosmic Space

Vestnik Akademii Nauk, SSSR (Herald of the Academy of Sciences, USSR), No. 6, 1961. 16 p.

A Day at the (Space) Races: Gherman Titov and Vostok-2 Raise the Stakes of Manned Space Flight

The Worst Day for Casualties in British Military History: A Look Back at the Battle of the Somme through Early American Newspapers

July 1, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of the day the British army suffered the worst losses in its history, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. American newspapers and news services had correspondents in Britain, France and Germany, who were the main opponents on the Western Front, covering the events of the war. This was possible because the United States had not yet entered the war. Readex’s Early American Newspapers contains the accounts those correspondents filed about this battle as well as the rest of World War I.

July 1, 1916: After five days of an artillery barrage intended to destroy the barbed wire and thin out the German defenders, officers blew their whistles at 7:30 a.m. and the British troops went over the top. The plan by the commanding generals was that this attack would cut through the German lines and turn a static war back into a war of movement. Originally expected to be led by French forces, the lengthy battle of Verdun shifted the main attack to the British sector. Planned in late 1915, the attack was planned to coincide with the Brusilov Offensive on the Eastern Front in present-day western Ukraine. 

 

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The Worst Day for Casualties in British Military History: A Look Back at the Battle of the Somme through Early American Newspapers

The U.S. Presidential Election of 1980: International Perspectives from Open-Source Intelligence Reports

Ronald Reagan campaigning with Nancy Reagan in Columbia, South Carolina. 10/10/80.Every U.S. presidential election attracts worldwide interest, and Reports from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service—available from Readex in a unique digital edition—provide English-language analysis of them from all sides of the political and geographical world.

These open-source intelligence reports can be used to understand how different nations viewed the outcome of the 1980 contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Some of their conclusions are somewhat surprising, especially in light of what actually happened during the eight years Reagan was president.  


The first excerpt below was broadcast in Persian from the Tehran Domestic Service on November 6, 1980. The transcript states at the beginning that this is “Unattributed political commentary.” Its headline is “Carter, Reagan Called Identical.” Some of the language in the opening paragraphs could have seemingly come from an Eastern European or Soviet source. 

The U.S. Presidential Election of 1980: International Perspectives from Open-Source Intelligence Reports

“That Execrable Sum of All Villainies”: Highlights from African History and Culture, 1540-1921

The June release of African History and Culture, 1540-1921: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes narratives by both a British Army cavalryman and the British Army’s Commander-in-Chief. Also found in this release is an account by an Austrian explorer who was one of the first Europeans to visit Lake Turkana in the Kenyan Rift Valley.  


 

Travels in Western Africa, in 1845 & 1846 (1847) 

By John Duncan 

Scotsman John Duncan served in the British Army’s cavalry and journeyed twice to Africa. During the Niger expedition of 1841 he was struck with a poisoned arrow and suffered from fever but was undaunted. He returned to Africa in 1845 and traveled “from Whydah, through the kingdom of Dahomey, to Adofoodia, in the interior.” 

Duncan uses a regrettable tone to describe some of the peoples he encounters, declaring the Fantee “of all the Africans I have yet seen the laziest and dirtiest….They are remarkably dull of comprehension, and, unless constantly watched, will lie down and do nothing.” Nor is he impressed by their superstition-based approach to medicine. However, Duncan is most disturbed by their exuberant celebrations, writing:  

“That Execrable Sum of All Villainies”: Highlights from African History and Culture, 1540-1921

The Body Politic: Public Health and Quality of Life in the Eastern Bloc

In such diverse forums as National Geographic, The Aspen Institute, and the TED-talk series, there has been an active discussion of “blue zones,” initially proposed as five distinct geographic locales where the populace demonstrates greater longevity and a higher quality of life than the norm. The concept was popularized by the author Dan Buettner, and includes areas such as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, California. Conspicuously absent from the list, however, is any location in the former Eastern Bloc.  

In this month's highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we're delving into some of the statistical and qualitative material which might contribute to an understanding of the absence of “red” countries from “blue” zones.  


Comparative Studies on the Frequency of Suicides in the Two German States

Das Deutsche Gesundheitswesen (The German Health Service), Vol. XVI. No. 19, May 1961 

The Body Politic: Public Health and Quality of Life in the Eastern Bloc

The Broad Sweep of Imperialism: As Seen in Open-Source Intelligence Reports from the U.S. Government

Of those Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports that are not strictly technical in nature, it would be fair to say that imperialism is at least an implicit theme throughout.

This month's highlights include scientists seeking to ease tensions between nuclear states, a Swedish view of the Cold War, a caustic Soviet evaluation of Harvard's Russian Research Center, and three reports describing the challenges facing African nations breaking free from colonial relationships. 


The Pugwash Meetings of Scientists—A Soviet View

Vestnik Akademii Nauk, SSSR (Herald of the Academy of Sciences, USSR) Vol. XXXI No. 11, 1961

The Cold War enjoys a September sojourn in Stowe, Vermont, in this report. Nikita Khrushchev sends greetings from home in the form of a two-page letter justifying the resumption of nuclear tests. The title characterizes Pugwash as “meetings,” but today we recognize Pugwash as a movement kicked-off by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, still vital after 60 years. (10 pages) 


The Cold War

Ny Militar Tidshrift (New Military Journal) Vol. 34 No. 6, 1961 

The Broad Sweep of Imperialism: As Seen in Open-Source Intelligence Reports from the U.S. Government

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