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the work of history

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    Favorite Artists - Viktor Vasnetsov (May 15, 1848 – July 23, 1926)

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    December 5, 1848: President Polk announces the discovery of gold in California, sparking the California Gold Rush.

    In January of 1848, James Marshall discovered flakes of gold in a segment of the American River running through a sawmill owned by John Sutter, a German-born Swiss pioneer. Prior to the discovery, Sutter had planned to develop this land (located in California’s present-day capital, Sacramento) for commercial use, but the influx of gold-crazed settlers who arrived by the thousands before news of the discovery even reached the East Coast destroyed Sutter’s plan as his land was quickly overrun. Shortly after the discovery at Sutter’s mill, California, which was then part of the Mexican province of Alta California, was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. Because California was soon rapidly settled and organized as a result of the Gold Rush, it was admitted to the United States only two years later, without ever having gone through the territorial phase of statehood. 

    In August of 1848, the New York Herald became the first major newspaper on the East Coast to report the discovery of gold in California. Two months later, James K. Polk announced the discovery to Congress; because many false claims of gold discoveries had been made in the past, and such a thing was difficult to prove, President Polk’s affirmation of the finding can be described as the real beginning of the California Gold Rush. Before 1849, most of those who sought wealth through Californian gold were the Californians themselves (including, to Sutter’s dismay, his own workers), but after Polk’s announcement, the “forty-niners” arrived by the thousands on boats and horses and mules, or a combination - over mountains, around South America, through Panama, whatever would take them to California. The trip, however it was carried out, was dangerous because of the lack of a safe and affordable route to the Mother lode, but the California Gold Rush came to be known as the “first world-class gold rush”, because, despite the danger, gold-seekers from New Zealand and Australia, France, South America, and even China still came looking to make their fortunes; by 1855, at least 300,000 people from all over the world had come to California. The Chinese, in particular, came to California in large numbers, and they were heavily discriminated against. 

    The idea of the “California Dream” emerged during the Gold Rush and endures to this day. One historian describes its infectious spread across the country:

    The old American Dream … was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard” … of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck. [This] golden dream … became a prominent part of the American psyche only after Sutter’s Mill.

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    Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

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    December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment is adopted, abolishing slavery.

    The large-scale emancipation of American slaves began in 1863, with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which applied in only ten states and was enacted as a military measure but represented a momentous step toward complete abolition nevertheless. That year, Giuseppe Garibaldi wrote Lincoln to tell him: “Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure.”

    In January of 1864, Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri submitted to the Senate a proposal for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. His proposal was combined with proposals made by Senators James Ashley (Ohio), James Wilson (Iowa), and Charles Sumner (Massachusetts). The Senate passed the amendment in April of 1864, and the House of Representatives approved it in January of 1865 after much deliberation (and scheming, politicking, and patronage). Northern states quickly ratified as well, but it took several months for Georgia, the 27th of 36 to ratify, do so, and passage of the amendment was not complete until after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

    The text of the amendment was straightforward and clear:

    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
    Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    Between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, around four million slaves were freed by the end of the war. 

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    December 7, 1941: The Imperial Japanese Navy launches an attack on Pearl Harbor.

    During the 1930s and early 1940s, the Japanese military spread across Asia, declaring war on China in 1937, invading French Indochina in 1940, and moving into the Dutch East Indies and British Malaya in pursuit of raw materials. The U.S. government, in response to Japanese expansion, issued the Export Control Act, which would help to limit the amount of war material exported to Japan during this period. In August of 1941, the United States placed an oil embargo on Japan, which probably only increased the Empire’s desperation for resources. Not only were Americans outraged at the perceived moral failings of the Japanese, but the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a “bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers” arguably comparable to America’s own Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt Corollary, would eventually seek to overthrow American control over the Philippines. The United States, by the end of its negotiations with Japan, fully expected an attack on the Philippines, or perhaps Malaya or the Indies, and, shortly before the attack, a majority of the American public believed that war with Japan was imminent (according to a Gallup poll).

    Instead, however, Japan struck at Hawaii, at the naval base of Pearl Harbor, where a significant portion of the American navy was stationed. The goal of the Japanese was to incapacitate the American fleet so that it would be unable to interfere with Japan’s planned takeover of Southeast Asia. Only a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan began its invasion of the Philippines.  

    Originally, Japan had intended to declare war on the United States (or hint at it) before the attack, but it commenced long before the message could be delivered and published. It was a long-held belief that this delay in message delivery was the result of “fateful accidents and plain bumbling”, but papers discovered in 1999 hint otherwise. Whatever the case, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shocked Americans. Several battleships were heavily damaged; the USS Arizona exploded and then sunk completely, killing 1,177 people. A total of 2,402 people were killed, including 57 civilians. But the “date which will live in infamy” was not without its heroes. One of these was Doris Miller, a Navy cook who had had little experience with machine guns but manned one during the attacks to shoot down several Japanese planes. He became the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross, a medal recognizing great valor in combat. Fifty-one Navy Crosses and fifteen Medals of Honor were awarded in the aftermath of the attack. During the war, Pearl Harbor was an important part of recruitment and war bond propaganda.

    On December 8, President Roosevelt delivered his famous “Infamy Speech” to a joint session of Congress who, only an hour later, passed a formal declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, marking the beginning of the United States’ official involvement in World War II. On December 11, Germany and Italy each declared war on the United States. 

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    December 8, 1980: John Lennon is killed.

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    Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon)

    December 8, 1861: Georges Méliès is born.

    Dubbed a “cinemagician” for his experimentation with special effects and cinematography, this early filmmaker was, for much of his early career, a stage performer with a particular love for magic and illusion shows. He combined some of his theatrical techniques with his films, realizing that, through cinema, he could create situations and effects that could not possibly exist or be performed on stage - objects could disappear or be transformed, and rockets could fly into the moon. In 1896, the year after the Lumière brothers held a sceening for their first film, Méliès began shooting his own. By 1913 he had directed 531 films, most of which were used to showcase Méliès’ innovative special effects. His most famous film, A Trip to the Moon (1902), was one of the earliest science-fiction films. It cost 10,000 francs to produce and was extremely successful, yet it was not Méliès who profited the most off of his own movie in the United States but producers who distributed illegal copies, including Thomas Edison.


    His other famous films include The Impossible Voyage (1904) and Conquest of the Pole (1912), Méliès’ last successful film before going bankrupt after a series of personal crises and financial failures. During World War I, hundreds of his studio’s films were confiscated and melted down for raw materials; still, 200 of Méliès’ films were preserved and survive to this day. After years of living out of the public eye, interest in Méliès and his work renewed in the late 1920s, and in 1931 the French government awarded him the Légion d’honneur.The Lumière brothers, who in 1895 had refused to sell Méliès a camera, proclaimed him the “creator of the cinematic spectacle”. 

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    If I’m being offensive or insensitive and unaware of that, I do think people should let me know; I’m just so confused as to why someone would try to dismiss the attacks on Pearl Harbor and then try to make it look like I wrote it. What. what. what.

    Feel free to have opinions, but present them as your own opinions, not mine. In any case, all of this is nonsense, and I’m ignoring it. By the way, @that last user, 50+ civilians died in the attacks on Pearl Harbor, so…

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    December 9, 1946: The Doctors’ Trial of the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials begins.

    Two months after the end of the main Nuremberg Trials, which put twenty-three of Nazi Germany’s most powerful political, military, and financial leaders on trial for war crimes, the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials began. These eventually came to include trials specifically conducted for justices, members of the SS death squads, high-ranking generals, and ministry officials, but the first to begin was the Doctors’ Trial. 

    Officially, it was entitled United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al., Karl Brandt being the head of the T-4 euthanasia program, Hitler’s personal physician, Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation, and one of twenty-three men charged by the tribunal with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and inhumane medical experimentation. Another relatively well-known figure among the accused was Karl Gebhardt, a high-ranking SS surgeon who, at Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, performed fatal experiments on prisoners that involved breaking their legs and intentionally infecting the wounds in order the prove the uselessness of the drug sulfonamide. Waldemar Hoven, who was also sentenced to hang along with the previous two, performed experiments on prisoners with typhus. Wolfram Sievers was a leader of the Ahnenerbe and founded the organization’s institute for medical research for military purposes. The institute performed the notorious high-altitude experiments at Dachau, along with freezing temperature experiments and amputations without anaesthesia. Sievers also authorized the creation of a skeleton collection, which was achieved through the maceration of dozens of Jewish, Polish, and other prisoners. There was one man, now synonymous with Nazi medical experimentation, who was notably absent from the Doctors’ Trial - Josef Mengele. Mengele evaded capture and eventually escaped to Argentina, never answering for his crimes, which included vivisections on pregnant women and horrifying experiments conducted on twins. 

    Seven of the accused were ultimately sentenced to death. One, Kurt Blome, was spared the gallows and gave information to American officials regarding his research at Dachau, later to be hired by an American government research group under Operation Paperclip

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    December 10, 1815: Ada Lovelace is born.


    Today’s Google Doodle honors Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s only legitimate child and the woman who is popularly credited as “the world’s first computer programmer”. Lady Byron, who separated from Ada’s father just a month after she was born, sought to raise her daughter in a manner that ensured she would not end up like her volatile poet father. Ada, often ill as a child, began studying mathematics at a young age and soon discovered her natural flair for the subject, so strong that one of her tutors, Augustus De Morgan, suggested that she become a mathematician “of first-rate eminence” later in life. In 1833, Ada attempted to elope with another one of her tutors, although her attempt failed, and the entire incident was covered up.

    That year, she also met Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor with whom Ada shared a close correspondence for the rest of her life. Over a nine-month-long period in 1842 and 1843, Ada translated an Italian memoir regarding Babbage’s Analytical Engine; she supplemented her translation with her own set of notes (which actually ended up longer than the memoir itself) explaining in detail the differences between Babbage’s machine and his Difference Engine. Ada was optimistic about the future of these engines and machines. Although a mathematician, she was not limited by numbers and predicted that someday a more complex descendant of Babbage’s engines “might act upon other things besides number… the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent”. She also provided what is today recognized as “the world’s first computer program” - a proposed algorithm that would generate Bernoulli numbers using the analytical machine. Whether Ada formulated the plan herself, or whether it was the product of close collaboration between herself, Babbage, and associates, or whether it was someone else’s work entirely, remains subject to debate to this day. Babbage, at least, was as impressed by Ada as she was by him; in 1843 he wrote of her:

    Forget this world and all its troubles and if
    possible its multitudinous Charlatans – every thing
    in short but the 
    Enchantress of Numbers.

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    December 11, 1936: Edward VIII abdicates the throne.

    After the death of King George V in January of 1936, the throne passed to his forty-one-year-old son Edward, who became King Edward VIII upon his accession. He and his relationship with the twice-married American socialite Wallis Simpson were controversial and widely reported by the foreign media. Simpson filed for divorce in October of 1936, and the King made known his intention to marry her. However, due to Simpson’s status as a divorcee whose previous husbands were still living, the issue of their marriage was complicated. The British Conservative leader, Stanley Baldwin, along with leaders of the opposing parties and heads of Dominion governments, agreed that the King could not be allowed to remain King while marrying Simpson, and their marriage was met with opposition from religious leaders as well. The King was supported by working-class citizens, Winston Churchill, and David Lloyd George.

    Ultimately, the King’s proposal to marry Simpson morganatically was also rejected. On December 10, he issued his Instrument of Abdication, which went into effect the very next day. His reign lasted 327 days, one of the shortest reigns of any British monarch. Reaction was varied; the King’s supporters believed that he had been “been hounded from the throne”, while his opponents collectively let out a sigh of relief that someone whose ”sense of right or wrong [had] been largely obliterated by the jazz of life he [had] led for years” had been taken off the throne. Edward was succeeded by an unlikely successor, his younger brother Prince Albert, who became George VI upon his accession. 

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    Jewish-American soldiers conduct services in Schloss Rheydt in Mönchengladbach, former residence of Joseph Goebbels - March 1945. 

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    December 12, 1935: Heinrich Himmler establishes the Lebensborn program.

    Lebensborn (“Fountain of Life”), a program administered partly by the Schutzstaffel, aimed to reverse Germany’s declining birthrate while also supporting “racially, biologically, and hereditarily valuable families with many children”. If successful, Lebensborn would result in the creation of a new generation of Germans created in the image of the blond, blue-eyed Nordic ideal - a master race. That same year, the statutes that represented the flip side of Nazi racial policy - the Nuremberg Laws - were issued. 

    Lebensborn clinics provided various different services; one was to enable unmarried women to become pregnant and give birth away from their homes (provided they pass a “racial purity” test), and by 1940 over two-thirds of women who participated in the program were unmarried. It also allowed German families to adopt and raise racially valuable children taken from occupied European territories, both those willingly given up and those taken by force. The institution established facilities across Western and Northern Europe, including as many as fifteen (more than the number of total facilities in Germany itself) in Norway. Between 8,000 and 12,000 Lebensborn-supported babies were born to German men and Norwegian women, and these unions were looked upon favorably by German Lebensborn administrators, due the romanticized image of racially pure Viking warriors closely associated with Norway (and Scandinavia in general) in Nazi propaganda.

    After the war’s end, however, these “war children” and their mothers, branded as traitors and whores, were severely mistreated by their own countrymen. The sensationalized postwar idea that racially pure women were forced to procreate with SS men has proved mostly untrue; in fact, the most controversial part of Lebensborn was that, during the war, its facilities were used to house and forcibly “Germanize” perhaps thousands of non-German children who were kidnapped for their traditionally “Aryan” traits. 

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    December 12, 1863: Edvard Munch is born.

    I painted the picture, and in the colors the rhythm of the music quivers. I painted the colors I saw. 

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    December 13, 1937: The Nanjing Massacre begins.

    The fall of the Chinese city of Nanjing (former capital of the Republic of China) to the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War was followed by a six-week period of mass rape and murder known as the “Rape of Nanking”, beginning seventy-five years ago on this day. As the city fell, a handful of Westerners - businessmen, missionaries, doctors - quickly set up the Nanking Safety Zone, a demilitarized zone composed of several refugee camps designed to protect Chinese civilians from the city’s Japanese occupiers who, to some extent, did respect the boundaries of the zone. Although the safety zone was not entirely safe at all times, conditions outside it, in other parts of the city, were far worse, for that was where the brunt of the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers took place over the weeks following December 13, 1937.

    The International Military Tribunal for the Far East estimated that 20,000 women were raped over the course of six weeks; this number included not only young women but also the elderly, infants, and pregnant women alike, many of whom were killed indiscriminately afterward. Others had objects, ranging from bayonets to bamboo to bottles and canes, rammed into their vaginas, as seen in this photograph (warning: explicit image). One reverend present in Nanjing at the time wrote in his diary during the early days of the massacre:

    I know not where to end. Never I have heard or read such brutality. Rape! Rape! Rape! We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night, and many by day.

    John Rabe, German businessman, Nazi party member, and elected leader of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, also reported the prevalence  of such atrocities:

    You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they’re shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality andbestiality of the Japanese soldiers.

    Other accounts report actual contests between Japanese officers to see who could kill the most Chinese civilians. Corpses literally littered the streets of Nanjing for weeks and months after the massacre; one Christian missionary described how civilians “were shot down like the hunting of rabbits in the streets”; Victims were bayoneted “like potatoes in a skewer”, in the words of one Japanese soldier. Death toll estimates differ greatly and remain highly disputed, although the Japanese war crimes tribunal estimated that over 200,000 civilians and prisoners of war had been killed during the six-week period in Nanjing. Iris Chang’s acclaimed (but controversial) novel The Rape of Nanking and the Chinese government assert that the death toll reached 300,000, while some Japanese researchers have made more conservative estimates, ranging from several thousand to 150,000. Others deny that such an event even occurred at all, although the IMTFE did ultimately hold Iwane Matsui responsible for what they described as an “orgy of crime”, sentencing him to death. General Hisao Tani was also sentenced to death by China’s own Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal for his involvement with the massacre. 

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    December 14, 1911: Roald Amundsen and his expedition party reach the South Pole.

    In September of 1910 Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen set off on an expedition to Antarctica. Two rival American explorers, Frederick Cook and Robert Peary, both claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1908 and 1909, respectively, but their conflicting claims could not be completely verified and the subsequent controversy prompted Amundsen to take extreme caution in ensuring that his reaching the South Pole could not be disputed. After leaving Norway aboard Fridtjof Nansen’s ship Fram, Amundsen made it known to the world and to his own countrymen that he intended to sail to south, not north, as he had led them to believe. Robert Falcon Scott led his own Antarctic expedition (the Terra Nova expedition) concurrently with Amundsen’s, although he too had left for the pole believing Amundsen was sailing north. 

    After a false start, Amundsen and four other men departed with four sledges and fifty-two sled dogs (Scott’s party, on the other hand, traveled using both dogs and ponies). Amundsen and his team discovered and ascended the Axel Heiberg Glacier, a trip that only forty-five of the dogs survived; atop the summit, twenty-seven of the remaining dogs were killed and skinned for food. On December 8, the group passed Ernest Shackleton’s Farthest South record. On December 14, they became the first humans to reach the South Pole and pitched camp at Polheim (“Home at the Pole”) atop a plain they named after the Norwegian King Haakon VII. 

    For Robert Falcon Scott, whose team arrived at the pole thirty-three days later, Amundsen left a Norwegian flag and a tent containing a letter addressed to his British rival:

    Dear Captain Scott — As you probably are the first to reach this area after us, I will ask you to kindly forward this letter to [Norwegian] King Haakon VII. If you can use any of the articles left in the tent please do not hesitate to do so. The sledge left outside may be of use to you. With kind regards I wish you a safe return. Yours truly, Roald Amundsen.

    Amundsen later reflected on the irony of his achievement: “Never has a man achieved a goal so diametrically opposed to his wishes. The area around the North Pole—devil take it—had fascinated me since childhood, and now here I was at the South Pole. Could anything be more crazy?” In 1926, however, he became the first explorer to indisputably reach the North Pole. 

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    Favorite Artists - Albrecht Dürer (May 21, 1471 – April 6, 1528)

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    I’ve received so many lovely messages and compliments in my inbox this week. Thank you guys so much; I appreciate it! The college application process is terrible (why didn’t anyone warn me?) but your guys’ messages are definitely helping. A little. Minimally. But they still help. Anyway, thank you, and happy holidays! 

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    [A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.

    - Thomas Jefferson, 1787.

    December 15, 1791: The U.S. Bill of Rights goes into effect.

    The first twelve amendments to the U.S. Constitution were introduced on September 25, 1789, and ten of them (collectively referred to as the Bill of Rights) were eventually ratified and went into effect on December 15, 1791. The basic rights granted in the Bill of Rights were based on or influenced heavily by the English Bill of Rights (1689), American Revolution ideals, and the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776). The latter was drafted by George Mason, who refused to sign the Constitution without the addition of amendments protecting the rights of individual Americans (in the context of the Bill of Rights, this included only white males and excluded minorities and women). 

    Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists argued against the addition of a Bill of Rights; one of their arguments was that they feared that a stated list of rights would imply that rights left unstated would not be protected at all (a fear addressed in the Ninth Amendment). But desire for a bill of rights was felt almost universally, and among the Founding Fathers the most vocal support came from George Mason and Patrick Henry. Although James Madison authored the amendments, he was doubtful of the effectiveness of this “parchment barrier”. The Bill of Rights went into effect after its ratification by Virginia, although two proposed amendments were rejected by several states, one regarding apportionment and the other regarding congressional pay raises. Specifics regarding race or gender were not explicitly mentioned, but it was tacitly accepted that the provisions of the Bill of Rights did not extend to blacks (enslaved and free alike), women, Native Americans, and land-less white men. Firmly ingrained in the culture of the United States, its people, and its government, the Bill of Rights is currently located in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom alongside the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. 

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    I’m hoping to, but first I’d have to get into college.

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