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the work of history

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    I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in printand how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know.

    Jane Austen on Elizabeth Bennet, 1813.

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    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

    January 28, 1813: Pride and Prejudice is published.

    Jane Austen’s most famous work, a satire of society and manners, was published 200 years ago today. Like all of her works, Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously - Austen was identified on the title page only as “the author of Sense and Sensibility”. Austen completed the original version in 1797. at which point it was entitled First Impressions, but this version was rejected for publication. By 1812 she had apparently revised the manuscript significantly, and it was this version that was eventually published, though under the (equally appropriate) title Pride and Prejudice, so named as to avoid confusion with other novels. 

    For historical context - Pride and Prejudice was written during the late Georgian era and is typically associated (along with Austen herself) with the Regency era, during which the future king George IV ruled as Prince Regent in his father’s stead. Although this was a time of great political and social change, both at home and abroad, Pride and Prejudice touches sparingly on these issues and instead focuses on the lives of the landed gentry and the not-quite-aristocrats. In addition, the novel cannot be neatly classified into one or the other of the major literary movements of the time; although Austen wrote during the Romantic period, her writing had little in common with the movement. In fact, Charlotte Brontë was a notable critic of the book, citing a lack of passion and emotion as her main complaint:

    I had not seen “Pride and Prejudice,” till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.

    Perhaps the main difference between the two was that Austen saw the world as a comedy rather than a tragedy (“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”). 

    Full novel online.

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    Thank you so much!!

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    January 29, 1845: Edgar Allan Poe’s ”The Raven” is published.

    Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem was published toward the end of his life - he died in 1849 of mysterious causes after suffering for years in poverty and alcoholism, particularly after the death of his wife, Virginia. As Poe was writing “The Raven”, Virginia was dying of tuberculosis, which lent a personal touch to the poem’s subject matter (and also to that of some of Poe’s other poems). The titular raven, Poe wrote, was a symbol of “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance”. The poem itself is full of allusions, from the “bust of Pallas” to “Night’s Plutonian shore” to Seraphim and the balm of Gilead.

    “The Raven” was first published in the Evening Mirror, and then in February of 1845 in The American Review under the name “Quarles”. It was an immediate hit among both critics and casual readers, although one notable non-fan of the poem was Ralph Waldo Emerson, an important figure in the Transcendentalist movement of American literature - a movement Poe deeply disliked. Of “The Raven”, Emerson commented ”I see nothing in it”. The poem also turned Poe into a well-known and well-respected author, but unfortunately, he remained destitute for the rest of his life; of this sad set of circumstances he wrote (in a letter to Frederick W. Thomas) in May of 1845:

    I have made no money. I am as poor now as ever I was in my life – except in hope, which is by no means bankable.

    Illustrations by Gustave Doré.

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    Honestly? Probably. It’s something The History Channel has never tried before, so it could be either really terrible or really awesome.

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    Soviet Guerrillas, c. 1942.

    Library of Congress

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    Nocturne No 1 in E minor, Op 33/1 - Gabriel Fauré

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    January 31, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment is ratified.

    The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was the first to be passed in sixty years, the first since the passage of Twelfth Amendment in 1804. The Amendment had two simple and short sections:

    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.

    Its passage, however, was anything but. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that any enslaved person in any state in rebellion against the United States “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free” - a more symbolic than practical gesture. Without a constitutional amendment, however, the Emancipation Proclamation could easily be swept aside as a wartime measure and a gross overreach of presidential powers, unnecessary in a postwar, reunited United States, and four million slaves would remain in bondage.

    In January of 1864, Senator John B. Henderson, a Democrat representing the slave/border state of Missouri, proposed a ban on slavery via constitutional amendment. Less than a month later, Charles Sumner, a Radical Republican, proposed an amendment as well, though his version not only banned slavery but contained a guarantee of equality, a clause that never made it into the final amendment. The Senate passed the amendment in April of 1864 38 to 6, but the House of Representatives took another long grueling eight months to debate and discuss it; meanwhile, the Republican party adopted, as part of its official platform, support for an antislavery amendment. Finally, on January 31, the House of Representatives passed the amendment by a narrow margin - 119 to 56. 

    The Thirteenth Amendment was not officially adopted until December of 1865, months after Lincoln’s assassination. The first state to ratify was Illinois, and the twenty-seventh state (out of thirty-six - a 3/4ths majority) was Georgia, while Kentucky and Mississippi rejected the initial proposals and failed to ratify the amendment until 1976 and 1995, respectively.

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    February 1, 1968: Nguyễn Văn Lém is executed.

    Lém was a member of the Viet Cong whose execution on the streets of Saigon was captured in a photograph that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize and came to symbolize, to many people, an ugly war that many Americans now wanted no part in. AP photojournalist Eddie Adams’ photograph was in some ways the antithesis of Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. Both were widely distributed, iconic photographs, and both had been taken during major military engagements (the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Iwo Jima) - one launched by the Viet Cong and the other by American military forces. One was captured during the country’s least popular, most detested war, and the other during a war out of which the United States emerged victorious and stronger than ever before. One invigorated a fierce antiwar movement, and the other strengthened morale and national pride. 

    The executioner in the photograph was South Vietnam’s chief of National Police, then Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, who was described by many who knew him as hot-tempered. The prisoner had reportedly been the commander of a death squad and had, prior to his execution, killed one of the general’s colleagues and his family, including his wife and their six children. After shooting him, the general said (according to another Pulitzer Prize winner“They killed many Americans and many of my people” to the journalists gathered around the scene. Eddie Adams, who later apologized to the general, lamented his role in destroying the man’s reputation:

    The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?”

    Others disagreed with Adams’ sentiment, however; many maintained that, regardless of the exact context of his specific photograph, it effectively and succinctly captured the horror and brutality of the Vietnam War. Adams also stated that he “would have rather won the Pulitzer” for his photographic series “Boat of No Smiles”, which documented in photographic form the struggles of Vietnamese refugees.

    Other links: Eddie Adams speaking about his photograph

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    An American sergeant is served a birthday cake topped with “the tools of his trade”, May 1942. 

    National Archives: African Americans During World War II

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    Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald

    Arbeit macht frei” = “work sets you free”

    Jedem das Seine” = “to each what he deserves”

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    February 2, 1943: The Battle of Stalingrad ends.

    The decisive and bloody five month-long battle at Stalingrad, widely considered the turning point in the European Theatre of the Second World War, ended seventy years ago in a crushing defeat for German forces and marked sort of a beginning of the end for the Third Reich. The battle began in August of 1942, when a massive bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe reduced the entire city to rubble; Stalingrad soon became a conflict of both practical (the city was an industrial center) and symbolic importance. The Battle of Stalingrad was characterized by massive casualties on both sides: an estimated 850,000 Germans were killed, wounded, or declared missing, and a further 100,000 died in captivity; over 400,000 people on the Soviet side - including 40,000 civilians - were killed. It was also characterized by heavy, brutal urban warfare (see: Pavlov’s House), a method known to the Germans as Rattenkrieg - “Rat War”, and also the prevalence of snipers on both sides, most famously Vasily Zaitsev

    Despite the failure of the Luftwaffe to adequately supply German troops, Adolf Hitler insisted that his trapped and cornered armies stay resolute and reject surrender at any cost. Out of both basic victuals and ammunition, the commander of the Sixth Army Friedrich Paulus requested permission from his Führer to surrender in late January. Instead, Hitler promoted Paulus to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall, reminding him that no German Field Marshal had ever surrendered and dared him to become the first. Paulus acquiesced, disregarding Hitler’s less-than-subtle suggestion that he commit suicide, and allegedly said:

    I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal.

    Out of the 107,000 German soldiers who made up the remainder of Paulus’ forces, 6,000 survived captivity - the Sixth Army had been completely obliterated, the first time such a thing happened to a German field army. And for the first time, the Nazi government acknowledged a major setback in its war effort. In his famous Sportpalast speech, Joseph Goebbels emphasized the looming threat of  ”Bolshevism from the East”, and he declared that such an imminent threat meant that the German people would have to make sacrifices and meet this threat with “total war”. 

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    The Studio Wall (1872) - Adolph Menzel

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  • 02/03/13--10:30: Adolph Menzel → Armor

  • Adolph Menzel → Armor

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    Go get ‘em, gurl.

    As if we needed more reasons to love Beyonce!

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    February 4, 1913: Rosa Parks is born.

    I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.

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    February 4, 1945: The Yalta Conference opens.

    The “Big Three” Allied leaders of World War II met at the Livadia Palace in Crimea for the second time (after the 1943 Tehran Conference) this time to discuss the reorganization of post-war Europe. By this time, victory in Europe was but three months away, and the Red Army’s offensive thrust into Germany was complete. It had already been decided that Germany would be divided into four zones to be administered by the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France. Other key issues were negotiated, though not necessarily decided, during that week at Yalta.

    Germany would, once again, undergo demilitarization, as well as denazification, a process through which any elements of German National Socialism were removed from society, and certain Nazi leaders would be put on trial for war crimes. Certain boundary lines were set, including the Polish-Soviet border; Poland itself, along with all other liberated European countries, would be open to Democratic elections. This promise was not kept, and, as a result, many in Poland and the Allied nations regarded the outcome of the Yalta Conference as a betrayal of Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union; Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died two months after the conference, was criticized for “selling out” to Stalin. Stalin also agreed that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan three months after the fall of Germany, and also that it would join the United Nations. Whatever hitches met at or caused by the uncertainty of Yalta and the events surrounding it, the United Nations would, supposedly, be able to deal with any disagreements between the Soviet Union and its allies, or so it was hoped. 

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    Denazification: an Allied soldier removes an “Adolf Hitler” street sign and replaces it with one named for Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1945.

    National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.

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    February 5, 1917: Congress passes the Immigration Act of 1917.

    Also called the “Asiatic Barred Zone Act”, this piece of immigration legislation was passed over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto and added to a list of “undesirable” people, who would henceforth be banned from immigrating to the United States, “all idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons; persons who have had one or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority; persons with chronic alcoholism; paupers; professional beggars; vagrants; persons afflicted with tuberculosis in any form or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease…” as well as polygamists, anarchists, and anyone inclined to commit treason against the government. The act also provided for literacy tests for any prospective immigrants over sixteen. This clause stated that if any foreigner could not “read the English language, or some other language or dialect, including Hebrew or Yiddish”, they would also be excluded. 

    Even more controversially, the act created an “Asiatic Barred Zone”. In 1882, the landmark Chinese Exclusion Act restricted Chinese immigration to the United States, eventually becoming permanent in 1902; the 1907 “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was an informal accord between both countries that nevertheless did stop immigration from Japan; the creation of the Asiatic Barred Zone spelled further restrictions against immigration from the continent as a whole, continuing the general trend of isolationism, nativism, and xenophobia that manifested itself in legislation and public sentiment. As a result of this act, immigrants living in areas“adjacent to the continent of Asia” (besides any American territorial possessions) and within certain coordinates were denied entry to the country.

    The Immigration Act of 1924, which set nationality quotas and further restricted the immigration of non-Western Europeans, finally stopped Asian immigration to the United States altogether. 

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    Health inspector examines an immigrant at Angel Island, c. 1917.

    Between 1910 and 1940, inspectors at the “Ellis Island of the West” detained, examined, and processed around a million immigrants, mostly from Asia (many of these immigrants were from China).

    National Archives

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