Cultural Focus

Manasa Muppirala (1st Period)

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Apollo Program


The Apollo program was designed to land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth. Six of the missions achieved this goal, and returned a wealth of scientific data and almost 400 kilograms of lunar samples. Apollos 7 and 9 were Earth orbiting missions to test the Command and Lunar Modules, and did not return lunar data. Apollos 8 and 10 tested various constituents while orbiting the Moon, and returned photography of the lunar surface. Apollo 13 did not land on the Moon due to a malfunction, but returned photographs as well. Experiments included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments.

Influence of Media

The crew of Apollo 8 sent the first live televised pictures of the Earth and the Moon back to Earth and read from the creation story in the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve, 1968. This was believed to be the most widely watched television broadcast until that time. The mission and Christmas provided an inspiring end to 1968, which had been a troubled year for the US, marked by Vietnam War protests, race riots, and the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Establishing American Predominance

According to The Economist, Apollo succeeded in accomplishing President Kennedy's goal of challenging the Soviet Union in the Space Race. The Americans beat the Soviets by accomplishing this singular and significant achievement, and thereby demonstrated the superiority of the capitalistic, free-market system represented by their nation. However, the publication noted the irony that in order to achieve the goal, the program required the organization of tremendous public resources within a vast, centralized government bureaucracy.

Altered Public View of Earth

"Everything that I ever knew – my life, my loved ones, the Navy – everything, the whole world was behind my thumb." –James Lovell.

One significant effect of the Apollo program was the newly adopted public view of Earth as a fragile, small planet, captured in photographs taken by the astronauts during the lunar missions. The most famous, taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts, is The Blue Marble. Many astronauts and cosmonauts have commented on the profound effects that seeing Earth from space has had on them.
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Taj Mahal


In 1631, emperor Shah Jahan of the Mughal dynasty was grief-stricken when his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal died during the birth of their 14th child. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal. The main mausoleum was completed in 1643 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished around five years later.

Cultural Influences on Design

The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of earlier Mughal and Persoan architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including the Gur-e-Amir, Humayun's Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah's tomb, and Shah Jahan's own Jama Masjid in Delhi. Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, in contrast to earlier Mughal architecture in which the use of red sandstone was dominant. Under his patronage, buildings reached new levels of refinement.

Legend of the Black Taj Mahal

Legend holds that Shah Jahan planned a mausoleum for himself to be built in black marble as a Black Taj Mahal across the Yamuna river, and was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before it could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across the river in Mehtab Bagh seemed to support this myth, but excavations carried out in the 1990s found that they were actually discolored white stones. However, more credibility to the story was added by an observation made by archeologists in 2006, when they reconstructed part of the pool in the moonlit garden and it reflected a dark reflection of the white mausoleum. A dark reflection of the white mausoleum could clearly be seen, fitting Shah Jahan's obsession with symmetry and the positioning of the pool itself.


The Taj Mahal, a global cultural icon and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, attracts a large number of tourists. UNESCO documented more than 3 million in 2015. A two tier pricing system is in place, with a significantly lower entrance fee for Indian citizens compared to foreigners. Most tourists visit in the cooler months of October, November and February. The small town to the south of the Taj, known as Taj Ganji or Mumtazabad, was originally constructed with caravanserais, bazaars, and markets to serve the needs of visitors and workmen.
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1889 Exposition Universelle


The Exposition Universelle was a World's Fair held in Paris, France from May 6th to October 31 1889. This also happened to be the year of the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, an event considered symbolic of the beginning of the French Revolution and thus extremely significant to the country's history. A reconstruction of the Bastille and its surrounding neighborhood was included as an exhibit at the fair.

Eiffel Tower

Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the fair, the Eiffel Tower was initially criticised by some of France's leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tower was an immediate success with the public and by the end of the exhibition at the fair there had been 1,896,987 visitors.

Human Zoos

Ethnological expositions, or "human zoos", were 19th- and 20th-century public exhibitions of humans, usually in a so-called natural or primitive state. The displays often emphasized the cultural differences between Europeans of and non-European peoples or other Europeans with a lifestyle deemed primitive. The 1889 Parisian World's Fair presented a Negro Village (village nègre). Visited by 28 million people, the fair displayed 400 indigenous people as the major attraction.

Other Cultural Influences

The exposition also influenced notable historical figures from other parts of the world. At the Exposition, the French composer Claude Debussy first heard Javanese gamelan music, performed by an ensemble from Java. This influenced some of his later compositions. Buffalo Bill noticed and recruited Annie Oakley for his Wild West Show, which performed for packed audiences throughout the exposition.
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Chinese Americans and the Transcontinental Railroad


The First Transcontinental Railroad was a 1,907-mile contiguous railroad line constructed in the U.S. between 1863 and 1869 west of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to connect the Pacific coast at San Francisco Bay with the existing eastern U.S. rail network at Council Bluffs, Iowa. Manual labor required to build the Central Pacific's roadbed, bridges and tunnels was done primarily by many thousands of emigrant workers from China under the direction of skilled non-Chinese supervisors. The Chinese were commonly referred to at the time as "Celestials" and China as the "Celestial Kingdom."

Testing a New Source of Labor

Despite the concerns expressed by general contractors that the Chinese were too small in stature and lacked previous experience with railroad work, they decided to try them anyway. After the first few days of trial with a few workers, with noticeably positive results, Charles Crocker, a well-known contractor, decided to hire as many as he could, looking primarily at the California labor force, where the majority of Chinese worked as independent gold miners or in the service industries.

Increased Migration

The decline of the Qing Dynasty in China caused many Chinese to emigrate overseas in search of a more stable life; this coincided with the rapid growth of American industry. Many more workers were imported from southern China, which beside great poverty, suffered from the violence of the Taiping Rebellion at that time. Most Chinese workers were planning on returning with their new found "wealth" when the work was completed.The Chinese were considered by employers as "reliable" workers who would continue working, without complaint, even under grueling conditions.

Injustices Against Chinese Immigrants

Chinese migrant workers encountered considerable prejudice in the United States, especially by the people who occupied the lower levels of white society. This is mainly due to Chinese "coolies” being used as a scapegoat for depressed wage levels by politicians and labor leaders. Cases of physical assaults on Chinese include Chinese massacre of 1871 and the murder of Vincent Chin. Emerging American trade unions also took an outspoken anti-Chinese position, regarding Chinese laborers as competitors to white laborers. In the 1870s and 1880s several legal discriminatory measures were taken against the Chinese. Such laws, most notably the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, were aimed at restricting further immigration from China and restricting legal rights of Chinese and other Asian immigrants within the country.
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Rabindranath Tagore


Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

Global Influence

Tagore was renowned throughout much of Europe, North America, and East Asia. He co-founded Dartington Hall School, a progressive coeducational institution. In Japan, he influenced figures such as Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata. Tagore's works were widely translated into English, Dutch, German, Spanish, and other European languages by Czech indologist Vincenc Lesny, French Nobel laureate Andre Gide, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, former Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, and others. In the United States, Tagore's lecturing circuits, particularly those of 1916–1917, were widely attended and acclaimed.

Influence of Indian Independence Movements

Tagore’s work was also influenced by and reflective of independence movements in India against the British (such as the swadeshi movement). Tagore’s criticism of British colonial rule in India was constantly strong and became increasingly intense over the years. While he viewed India as having been “smothered under the dead weight of British administration”, Tagore also recalls what India has gained from “the large-hearted liberalism of 19th-century English politics”. The tragedy, as Tagore saw it, came from the fact that what “was truly best in their own civilisation, the upholding of dignity of human relationships, has no place in the British administration of this country”. He added: “If in its place they have established, baton in hand, a reign of ‘law and order’, or in other words a policeman’s rule, such a mockery of civilisation can claim no respect from us.”

Political Ideals

Some of the ideas he tried to present were directly political, and they figure rather prominently in his letters and lectures. He had practical, plainly expressed views about nationalism, war and peace, cross-cultural education, freedom of the mind, the importance of rational criticism, the need for openness and so on. For Tagore, it was of the highest importance that people be able to live and reason, in freedom. His attitudes toward politics and culture, nationalism and internationalism, tradition and modernity, can all be seen in the light of this belief. His values are most clearly expressed in the poems of Gitanjali.
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Shaka Zulu


Shaka was a remarkable Zulu king and conqueror. He lived in a region of south-east Africa between the Drakensberg and the Indian Ocean, an area populated by several autonomous Nguni chiefdoms. During his brief rule more than a hundred chiefdoms were united in a Zulu kingdom which survived not only the death of its founder but later military defeat and calculated endeavors to split it up.

Military Advancements

Once in power Shaka began reorganizing the forces of his people in accordance with ideas he had developed as a warrior. Shaka armed his warriors with short-handled stabbing spears (in contrast to earlier and rather ineffective tactics of hurling spears over long distances) and trained them to move up in close formation to their opponents with their body-length cowhide shields forming a practically impenetrable barrier to anything thrown at them. He also developed new battle formations. A number of regiments extending several ranks deep formed a dense body known as the chest, while on each side a regiment moved forward forming the horns. As the horns curved inward around the enemy, the main body would advance, killing all those who could not break through the encompassing lines. In addition, Shaka enforced a strict code of discipline in his army. By means of much drilling and discipline, Shaka built up his forces, which soon became the terror of the land.

Economic and Social Effects

The development of the military system caused significant economic and social changes. The concentration of youth at the royal barracks resulted in a massive transfer of economic potential to a centralized state. However, the cattle wealth of the whole community throughout the kingdom was greatly improved; even though most of the herds were owned by the king and his chiefs, all shared in the pride roused by the magnificence of the royal herds as well as the pride of belonging to the indomitable military power of Zulu.

Effects of War on Demographics

Shaka’s wars were accompanied by great slaughter and caused many migrations. Because they feared Shaka, leaders like Zwangendaba, Mzilikazi, and Shoshangane moved northwards far into the central African interior spread war and destruction before developing their own kingdoms. Some estimate that during his reign Shaka caused the death of more than a million people. Shaka's wars between 1818 and 1828 contributed to a series of forced migrations known in various parts of southern Africa as the Mfecane, Difaqane, Lifaqane, or Fetcani. Groups of refugees from Shaka's assaults, first Hlubi and Ngwane clans, later followed by the Mantatees and the Matabele of Mzilikazi, crossed the Drakensberg to the west, smashing chiefdoms in their path. Famine and chaos followed the wholesale extermination of populations and the destruction of herds and crops between the Limpopo and the Gariep River. Old chiefdoms vanished and new ones were created.