History: Today in History, Dinosaurs, Iapetus and More

When I was in grade school, I hated history. Back then history books (yes, books were invented back then) were about as interesting as day old pea soup. Teachers did little to make the subject more easily digested. They fed you dates, and events and you regurgitated them at test time. I barely got by.

I didn’t fair much better in junior or senior high school, either. More dates and events meant more sad grades. The stuff I wanted to know about, The Black Plague, The Crusades, Greek and Roman culture were glossed over. Even the things that were covered in some detail, like World Wars 1 and 2, were presented in an uninspired, and decidedly lopsided points of view, history being written by the victors and all.

Back when I was a kid, we were so sure of ourselves. We had nuclear power, lofted machines, monkeys, dogs, rats, and even a man into space, and could make a phone call to nearly anywhere on the globe. Our science was built on facts and if it appeared in a textbook then it had to be true.

Today the only thing we’re sure about is that we don’t know everything, and I guess that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s scary how little we know of our world and its past. It seems like not a week goes by that someone somewhere discovers something that throws what we’ve assumed to be facts, or at least strong theories, into question.

For instance, Lucy, the three million year old female protohuman was long believed to be the ‘link’ between modern man and our simian relatives. That is, until Ardi came along with her erect stance and ape -- like hands and feet and turned out to be Lucy’s senior by at least a million years.

How about the vast colonies of life thriving in the deepest, darkest, and hottest places on Earth; deep ocean geothermal vents? Around these hellish openings in the ocean floor an ecosystem built on heat and chemical reaction, not light as it is with us surface dwellers, fuel a menagerie of creatures that would have given Dante nightmares.

Even the way we look at dinosaurs has changed since I was in school. There are those who now believe that some of those ancient lizards were warm blooded, that they weren’t micro-brained brutes, but reasonably intelligent creatures, and that they were around a bit longer than it was first thought.

Anyway, I had to wait until I was in college before finding history interesting. Learning by rote was replaced with discussions on the ideologies and cultures of past civilizations, examining and proposing theories on the causes and affects major historical events, and reviewing accomplishments of historical thinkers and artists.

History became one of my favorite subjects in college, if didn’t matter what type of history as long as the subject matter was examined thoughtfully and without bias. Heck, I even watch the History Channel now, something I would have sworn I wouldn’t be caught dead doing in my preteen years.

Ah well, we live and learn. At least that’s what we should do. And if you’re like me then learning new stuff is always a good thing.

A great way to learn new history related facts is the grab and run Today in History Lite, a free iPhone/iPod touch apps available on the iTunes Store. It’s a pretty simple application, run it and it shows you some historical happenings that occurred on this date sometime in the recorded history.

I like that you can check different dates, search for keys words, and events, find out what famous person was born or died on a particular date. The feature I like most is the Holiday feature which, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, shows you all the holidays for any given date, but just for this country, ALL countries. You can also share your historical facts with family and friends via email, Twitter, or Facebook.

As you might suspect, the lite version is ad supported, the ads are not obnoxious or big. There’s also a paid version that does not have ads, which is always a nice option.

Even if you still hate history as I did I think you’ll be a fan of Today in History Lite.

If you like your historical subject matter a bit older, say from the Jurassic Period then you may want to take a look at Dinosaurs, an app from the American Museum of Natural History.

The Dinosaurs app interface is a bit of uniqueness; the home screen is mosaic of a T-Rex’s skull made up of hundreds of photos relating to all kinds of dinosaur topics. As you double tap the screen the area where you tapped gets large until the picture is revealed, giving you lots to explore. Each picture has a brief description associated with it, and you can comment on a public forum about it or email the shot to a friend. (Makes fun e-cards!)

You can pinch your way back to the mosaic or, for you couch potatoes, you can simply tap the bottom of the screen to bring up a 3-button menu that will let you go back to the mosaic, review the included stories, or learn about the app and its maker.

The Stories focus on several reptiles, offering vital stats, some background on location and discovery history, and more.

Dinosaurs is a must have for any archeology buff who likes learning about the ancient beasts in the buff. Or not.

Finally, Iapetus is another fun history app with a geographical orientation and a unique interface. Open it and you get a globe of the Earth as is was during one of the many ages from 600 million years ago to present, and it’ll even show what Earth will look like a hundred million years from now.

By tapping the buttons in the upper corners of the screen you can advance or digress the landmass and ocean formations by 50 million year increments and watch as whole continent blossom, break apart, and merge.

This is an amazing app that is just plain cool to have.

For those who were wondering, Iapetus is the father of Atlas in Greek mythology. You know who Atlas was, right? The guy who was condemned to hold up the heavens for eternity by Zeus? (Read a book!)

Anyway, get Iapetus and hold the world in your hands.

That’s a wrap for this week. Join me next week for more Free on iTunes.

More freebies below with direct iTunes Store links. Go for it. They’re free!