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People in world history

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Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo maintained that the earth revolved around the sun, disputing the belief held by the Roman Catholic church that the earth was the center of the universe. He refused to obey orders from Rome to cease discussions of his theories and was sentenced to life imprisonment. It was not until 1984 that a papal commission acknowledged that the church was wrong

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Vasco da Gama

While a young man, da Gama studied astronomy and navigation in Evora, Portugal. He became a naval officer in 1492, the same year Columbus sailed to the New World in search of a western route to the Indies. Five years later, he sailed around the south tip of Africa, opening a new trade route to India and Asia

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Mohandas Gandhi

Indian nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi spent his life campaigning for human rights in India. His strategy was to use a combination of passive resistance to and noncooperation with the British, who ruled India. Gandhi said his techniques were inspired by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, by American writer Henry David Thoreau, and by the teachings of Jesus Christ. In 1947 Gandhi’s pacifist efforts brought an end to British rule in India

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Genghis Khan

In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan created one of history’s largest land empires, which stretched from the Caspian Sea in Russia to the South China Sea. Genghis Khan succeeded his father as a Mongol chief when still a child, and faced many challenges to his position. He defeated these insurrections, and through his military genius united the nomadic Mongol tribes and turned them into a disciplined fighting force

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Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg originated the technique of printing from movable type. A 15th-century German craftsman, inventor, and printer, Gutenberg used hand-set type cast in molds to print multiple copies of manuscripts. Whereas scribes copied manuscripts by hand before Gutenberg’s invention, copying became mechanized and much faster after the invention. The invention of movable-type printing facilitated an easier exchange of ideas throughout Europe and helped spread the ideas of the Renaissance (1300-1600

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Henry VIII by Hans Holbein

Hans Holbein’s famous portrait of Henry VIII shows the Tudor king as the quintessential Renaissance sovereign. Henry prided himself on his education and his patronage of humanist scholars such as Sir Thomas More, but his increasingly despotic behavior left a more enduring image. He is most famous for founding the Church of England and for having six wives, two of whom he had beheaded

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Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler was one of the most powerful dictators of the 20th century. His attempts to conquer territory for German Lebensraum (living space) brought about World War II (1939-1945). He caused the slaughter of millions of Jews, Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), Slavic peoples, and others in the name of racial purification

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According to tradition, the Greek poet Homer is believed to be the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two great epics of ancient Greek literature. Very little is known about Homer or about how much he contributed to the final form of these epic poems. What is certain is that both epics have had considerable influence on Western literature. This marble bust of Homer, a Roman copy of a Greek original, is now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy

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Ivan the Terrible


Ivan IV Vasilyevich was often called Ivan the Terrible because he resorted to torture, exile, and execution to punish those who plotted against him or whom he suspected of opposing him. Although known for his cruelty and excesses, Ivan significantly expanded Russia’s territory and set a pattern for supreme tsarist rule

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, a principal leader in the American Revolution, and the third president of the United States. Jefferson is also regarded as a great political thinker and diplomat. The U.S. doubled its area in 1803 when he bought territory west of the Mississippi called the Louisiana Purchase. Recited by an actor

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Holy Night

Depictions of the birth of Christ were popular themes in northern European painting from the 15th to the 17th centuries. These images became central to Christmas celebrations of the time. This painting, Holy Night, was created by Dutch painter Gerard David in the late 15th century

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Martin Luther King, Jr

During the 1950s, Martin Luther King, Jr. studied the methods of nonviolent protest of the Indian nationalist leader Mohandas K. Gandhi and successfully implemented them in a civil rights movement in the United States. King expertly led the movement and forced discussion of inequality in the United States. His work inspired thousands of blacks and led to long-range changes in the lives of countless others. In 1963, five years before his death at the hands of an assassin, King addressed a gathering of more than 200,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital. There he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech

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Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin gained political stature through his writings and then as head of the radical socialist Bolshevik Party. He led the 1917 Bolshevik takeover of Russia's Provisional Government, which had governed the country since the fall of tsarist rule a few months earlier. After the revolution, Lenin became the leader of the new Soviet state. This audio selection contains a portion of a speech recorded by Lenin on a gramophone in 1919:


Today, the workers who have remained loyal to the cause of throwing off the yoke of capital call themselves Communists. All over the world the association of Communists is growing. In a number of countries Soviet power has already triumphed. Soon we shall see the victory of Communism throughout the world; we shall see the foundation of the World Federative Republic of Soviets

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Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was known not only as a masterful painter but as an architect, sculptor, engineer, and scientist. His pursuit of knowledge was relentless and his discoveries left lasting changes in the fields of art and science. With his sophisticated skills and love for learning, Leonardo was the quintessential Renaissance man. He painted The Last Supper between 1495 and 1497

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President Lincoln

Soon after Abraham Lincoln's election as president of the United States, seven Southern states seceded from the Union because they feared that Lincoln would abolish slavery. Four more states had followed by the time Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861. This recording of his 1861 inaugural address is recited by an actor

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Louis XIV

French king Louis XIV ruled from 1643 to 1715. Louis was convinced that the power of the monarchy came by divine right, and he exercised absolute control over France and the French people. Determined to make France into a strong, culturally advanced nation, he built up the French military and actively supported French artists and writers. Louis’s reign was the longest in the history of Europe, and became the model for other absolute monarchies in 18th-century Europe

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Martin Luther

German theologian and religious reformer Martin Luther precipitated the Protestant Reformation with his publication in 1517 of his Ninety-Five Theses, which detailed the indulgences and excesses of the Roman Catholic church. Luther felt that the essence of Christianity lay not in an elaborate organization headed by the pope, but in each person’s direct communication with God. Luther’s protest set off a flood of departures from the Roman Catholic church and set the stage for further Protestant movements, including Calvinism and Presbyterianism

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Nelson Mandela

Before becoming the first black president of South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela spent much of his life in prison for leading black opposition to the oppressive rule of the white minority government. During his many years in captivity, Mandela became a worldwide symbol of resistance to white domination in South Africa. Here, he speaks to supporters upon his release from prison on February 11, 1990

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Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong led the Chinese Communist movement in the 1930s and 1940s, and became ruler of China in 1949. Mao strayed from the Soviet Marxist model, attempting to build a socialist society based on peasant farming rather than a centralized, bureaucratic, industrialized economy. In Mao’s speech to the 1956 party congress, he spoke of the need to constantly strive for progress: “Even though we have attained extraordinarily great achievements, there is no reason to be arrogant. Modesty makes you move forward, arrogance makes you go backwards. I should always remember this truth

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