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Culture & Literature
National Geographic History

National Geographic History March/April 2020

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Country:
United States
Language:
English
Publisher:
National Geographic Society
Frequency:
Bimonthly
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6 Issues

in this issue

1 min.
from the editor

Xanadu: The name captures the imagination. Its most famous appearance is in a 1797 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that opens with the words “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree.” Coleridge drew his inspiration from the writings of Venetian explorer Marco Polo, who sensationalized Kublai Khan and his summer estate, called Shangdu in his 13th-century account. Polo’s account spares nothing in describing the lush gardens with thousands of trees, massive chambers gilded with silver and gold, and a diverse menagerie of animals including leopards, hawks, and 10,000 snow-white horses. Kublai Khan and his summer palace are now shorthand for fabulous wealth, luxury, and fantasy (in 1941’s Citizen Kane, could Charles Foster Kane’s estate be named anything other than Xanadu?)—but celebrating the splendor often leaves out much of the history. Through his…

4 min.
deep discoveries from the battle of midway

THE RESEARCH VESSEL PETREL has located more than 30 historically significant shipwrecks in the Pacific, including the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Wasp, sunk by a Japanese submarine in September 1942. Petrel’s two deep-sea vehicles can survey craft at depths of three miles. One of these is equipped with long-range sonar equipment that can detect anomalies on the seabed. LYING ROUGHLY half-way between Tokyo and San Francisco, the Midway Atoll was claimed for the United States in 1859, and placed under the control of the U.S. Navy in 1903. Its two islands, together totaling less than three square miles, were vital staging areas in early transpacific aviation. State-of-the-art technology has probed thousands of feet below the Pacific to glimpse the wreckage of one of the most pivotal battles of the Second World War. A crew…

1 min.
glimpsed in the depths

BRISTLING WITH HIGH-TECH surveillance equipment, the Petrel is one of the few vessels that can explore the sea below 19,000 feet. Long-range sonar scanning revealed that the Kaga and the Akagi are resting more than three miles below the ocean’s surface. Clear, close-up images of the Kaga reveal striking details of the sunken aircraft carrier’s weaponry. I.J.N. KAGA Formerly a battleship, the Kaga was converted into Japan’s first heavy aircraft carrier in 1929. During the Battle of Midway it was attacked by around 30 American dive-bombers and received torpedo strikes from the American destroyer U.S.S. Nautilus. More than 800 of the crew perished. Pounded into inoperability, the Kaga was scuttled by the Japanese and left to sink. I.J.N. AKAGI Designed as a battle cruiser in the 1920s, the Akagi was converted into a carrier…

1 min.
france’s first lady of letters

1364 Christine de Pisan is born in Venice. At age four, she will move with her family to join the court of French king Charles V. circa 1389 After a 10-year marriage, Christine becomes a widow and chooses to support her family through her writing. 1400s Christine’s literary criticism centers on the literary portrayal of women. Her poems win her powerful patrons. 1405 The Book of the City of Ladies is published, in which Christine honors the role of notable women throughout history. circa 1430 A year after her “Tale of Joan of Arc” celebrates the Maid of Orleans, Christine dies, around age 65.…

5 min.
christine de pisan: france’s first lady of letters

For a daughter to receive the same education as a son was rare in the mid-14th century, and Christine de Pisan’s childhood was one such exception. Born in Venice in 1364 and raised in France, Christine (also known as Christina) used the advantages of her early education to forge a prolific writing career to support herself and her family, an unprecedented achievement for the time. A poet and biographer, Christine celebrated remarkable female figures in her works, including an account of Joan of Arc written during her lifetime. Christine’s father was a Bolognese physician and astrologer, Tommaso da Pizzano. His reputation as an intellectual secured him employment as the court astrologer of King Charles V of France. Tommasso moved the family there when Christine was four. She had two younger brothers,…

1 min.
portraits in blue

CHRISTINE DE PISAN helped craft the beautifully illustrated manuscripts of her literary creations. Using her experience as manager of a scriptorium, she oversaw the work of skilled miniaturists to produce these detailed images. In some editions she is often the subject of the illustrations. In a 15th-century edition of her 1405 work One Hundred Ballads of a Lover and a Lady, she is shown working in her study (left). As in this image, she is often shown wearing a long blue dress and a white wimple, the standard attire across many other portraits of her.…