I'm not sure what got me started in the study of history, since during my childhood I was much more interested in other things. Perhaps it was my third-grade class. Now as I look back on it, I see that my third-grade teacher was an admirer of Roman civilization; we had some lessons in Latin vocabulary, and she read stories about the Romans (if only she could see me now . . .). Thus, I got something that not many elementary school students get today--a classical education. Then in sixth grade, and again in tenth grade, I had classes about the other great civilizations of the past. Something must have clicked between those three years, because without warning, I began thirsting to know as much as I could about where we came from.
I ended up majoring in history when I got to college, but I only got a B.A. in the subject. I'm really a self-taught historian, and most of the information I found for my history papers was discovered without the help of any professor. Besides, the History Department at the University of Central Florida left something to be desired, offering little besides courses in US and European history. In fact, it was right after I graduated when they started offering a course in Latin American history. During my senior year, we had a visiting professor from Cairo University, Dr. Gaballa Ali Gaballa, teach a course on ancient Egypt, and I can still remember what he told us on the last day of class: "Contrary to what UCF believes, history did not start with Greece!"
Around the same time, I became a member of Fellowship Church. The church has long offered a two-year Bible study course, and in 1984 we began to supplement it with a world history course. This is something I have helped out with ever since, teaching the class whenever there is enough demand for it. The pastor found a suitable textbook right away, but it didn't cover some of the subjects we wanted to talk about, so in 1987 I began writing additional material, short papers on topics like the Parthians, Amorites, Hyksos, etc. The pastor didn't want to do it himself because he felt out of his element, being a nuclear physicist before the Lord called him into the ministry.
That might have been the end of the matter, but in early 1988 I decided to help my pastor out some more. I devoted my spare time to writing some general papers on Asian history, because I have long been interested in that part of the world (my Filipino wife, of course). First I did a paper on India, then I did one on China; by the end of '88 I had also done Korea and Japan.
At that point I realized that I didn't want to stop writing history, so I continued. I wrote on Russia and Southeast Asia in 1989-90, and in 1991 I started on the Middle East. The Middle East project took until 2002 to finish, because so many other things got in the way. The main distraction was maintenance; history papers go out of date fairly quickly, especially if you finish by covering current events. Another was the classes I taught in the real world. In 1996-97 I taught classes on church history and Genesis, and was paid by my church to convert the notes from the world history class into a fullfledged text. As a result, those were very productive writing years; my pet projects may have been on the back burner, but I completed A History of Christianity, The Genesis Chronicles, and A Biblical Interpretation of World History. On top of that I got a request to turn a set of notes I had into a European history. It took two years, but that job was finally finished in October 2001. In 2004 and 2005, I wrote an African history. From 2006 to 2010 I tackled the histories of the United States and Canada, and then to finish up the western hemisphere, from 2010 to 2014 I composed the history of Latin America.
(Oddly enough, my wife didn't help me at all when I wrote about her part of the world. I would ask Leive a question about something strange I had read from the Philippines, and she would say, "I can't remember. It happened before I was born." After I finished I asked her those questions again and she said, "Oh yes, we talked about that in school.")
Let the record show that if you can't find literature on a certain subject, you ought to write it yourself! My Carthaginian page is an example; I researched and wrote that in May-June 2002, when I couldn't find a decent webpage about ancient Carthage.
Nowadays it's hard to believe what limitations I was under at the beginning. Back in the late 1980s IBM and Apple were taking over the personal computer market, but many of their rivals were still widely used. For four years I used a Commodore-64; the word processing program on it couldn't handle files larger than 32K, and it could take as long as twenty minutes to save a very long one (7-10 pages). Then I used a TRS-80, with similar handicaps. With so many different types of computers around, I couldn't pass my files to others, and only computer scientists had even heard of e-mail; if somebody wanted to read my files, I had to print them up. And the printer was a noisy dot matrix, which went through paper and typewriter ribbon very quickly. Under those circumstances very few people got to see my work. Nevertheless, I thought the technology couldn't get much better than that!
My first big break came in 1994, when an IBM 286 was handed down to me; it came with WordPerfect 5.1, and an unbelieveably large 30-meg hard drive. Oh, joy! Now I had the world's most widely used type of computer and the most popular word processor, meaning I could now put my papers on floppy disks to give to my friends. I spent much of that year converting my files to WordPerfect ones. The ones written on the TRS-80 weren't too bad (fortunately I got help on those), but the work done on the Commodore wouldn't convert into ASCII or anything else WordPerfect could read, so I ended up retyping those; that took me until October 1995.
After that the technological leaps came more quickly, about one per year. In 1995 I moved up to a PC that was a 486SX, 25 Mhz (yes, I know it was slow, but it got me where I wanted to go). In the same year I learned the other popular word processor, Microsoft Word 6.0. In 1996 I learned WordPerfect 6.1, and in October 1997 I got on the Internet, via WebTV. At last there was a place where the world could come and see my writings.
It didn't take long to find a suitable server; my brother Chris (alias Okahumpkee) had gotten a free homepage with Geocities nearly a year before. With a little help from him, I got a working knowledge of HTML, and on 12/14/97, I joined Geocities too. For nearly two years this website called its home at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/1591/.
Unfortunately, WordPerfect 6.1 doesn't handle HTML files very well. To get the job done I used a four-step process:
1. Convert WP61 to Rich Text, the most primitive format WordPerfect can easily handle.
2. Load MS Word, and convert the Rich Text file to "Text Only" ASCII.
3. Use an HTML editor to add the tags. I can type in the tags manually from MS Word or Notepad, but HTML editors (HotDog Pro, Cute HTML, MS FrontPage, HTML-Kit, etc.) are timesavers.
4. Upload the finished work. Since my home computer didn't have a modem, I had to do this from somebody else's PC. Only then could I look to see if there were any mistakes.
It sounds like a lot of work, and it was, but I got 44 papers online that way. Most of the obstacles disappeared in August 1998, when I got a new PC with a 56K modem and WordPerfect 8 on it. In effect that reduced the number of steps to three: convert, clean up, and upload. I may never become the most prolific HTML writer around, but now I have the proper tools.
August 1998 also saw me create my second website, Gateway to Upper Egypt. A year later I got a letter from the owner of The History Ring, Phil Konstantin, telling about a history club in Belgium that had acquired a server, and its leaders were so interested in historical webpages that they were offering 30 megs of free space to any historian who was willing to relocate. Good timing; I was starting to run short on space at Geocities, and getting concerned over the way that Yahoo!, the new owner of Geocities, was claiming property rights to the Geocities websites. I took the history club up on its offer right away, and began moving the Xenophile Historian "across the pond."
In September 2000 I tried my pages on Freeservers. So far I have been pleased with Freeservers' performance. The pages load reasonably fast, there are no pop-up ads, I can upload/FTP files without constant error messages, and, perhaps most importantly, the staff answers the e-mail and seems to know what they're doing. Finally, I got a URL that makes a bit of sense, so I expect to stay here, unless I get a server of my own.
In July 2001 I started paying the host, so that the banner ads on each page would disappear, and to make room for the goodies in the download folder. This marked the end of The Xenophile Historian's existence as a free site. It may be just as well, considering the neighbors I had. Don't get me wrong, free hosts like Geocities and Tripod still have many excellent websites, but if you surf the neighborhoods they're in, you'll find plenty of others that qualify for "Worst of the Web" awards. On Geocities, for example, The Xenophile Historian was near a site that showed how to make disgusting sounds in Portuguese! An online friend of mine, Herrbumpy, describes the typical free site as containing: "lurid family pages with surreal background patterns, poorly scanned family snapshots whose content would embarrass the Munsters, sentimental photos of family pets you wouldn't try to avoid hitting if they darted into traffic, phony news items about family events that have already been forgotten by the family, idiotic game pages by computer-addicted teens filled with massive collections of links and Quake trivia - it's all there for the whole world to see."
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