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the work of history

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    The Magic Circle (1886) - John William Waterhouse

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    Victorian-era portraits of African-Americans, 1899 or 1900; from a collection assembled by W.E.B. Du Bois for the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique of the1900 Exposition Universelle. 

    Library of Congress

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    February 28, 1933: The Reichstag Fire Decree is issued.

    The February 27 arson attack on the Reichstag Building (the house of the Weimar-era parliament) took place just weeks after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. The fire was pinned on communist subversives, and, while the actual motives of the arsonists remain a subject of debate to this day, the event indubitably benefited Hitler and his party and facilitated the process of their shift in power from simple domination to total control. 

    The first step in this process following Hitler’s appointment and the Reichstag Fire was the Reichstag Fire Decree, which was promulgated immediately after the fire took place. As stated in the opening text of the decree, this act suspended “until further notice” entire articles of the Weimar Constitution using a different portion of the constitution (Article 48), which stated that the President could potentially suspend civil rights in cases of emergency. So it was done - the Fire Decree imposed

    restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications…

    Shortly after the decree went into effect, the new regime arrested thousands of communists and suspected communists (including some party leaders), suppressed publications, and concentrated power into the hands of the central government - all for the sake of preventing an imagined Bolshevist takeover. After the Nazi Party failed to capture an absolute majority in parliament in the March 1933 election, Hitler used the March 23 Enabling Act to further tighten the Nazis’ grip on Germany through ostensibly constitutional means; the act granted the Chancellor and cabinet ministers the power to enact legislation over the Reichstag. These two acts, neither of which were abolished throughout Hitler’s rule, formed the basis for the Nazi totalitarian state. 

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    Dragon slaying - World War I-era propaganda from Great Britain and Austria-Hungary. 


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    March 1, 1914: Ralph Ellison is born.

    Ralph Ellison, named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, was born in Oklahoma City. As a student, he studied music at Tuskegee University for three years before moving to New York City, where he came into contact with Richard Wright - author of Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), and one of the most influential African-American authors of the 20th century, along with Ellison himself. Ellison’s experiences at Tuskegee and in New York and his affiliation and eventual disillusionment with American communist groups heavily influenced his most famous work, Invisible Man (1952). Originally conceived as a short novel, Invisible Man ended up nearly 600 pages long, all of which had been handwritten by Ellison and transferred to type by his wife; within those hundreds of pages, Ellison addressed a wide variety of topics - all centered around personal identity and the role and identity of African-Americans like the novel’s young and naive protagonist in modern American society. 

    Invisible Man won the 1953 National Book Award for Fiction just as the African-American Civil Rights Movement was emerging as a fully-realized, national movement. In his acceptance speech, Ellison spoke on what he believed was the significance of his novel, as a piece of fiction:

    To see America with an awareness of its rich diversity and its almost magical fluidity and freedom I was forced to conceive of a novel unburdened by the narrow naturalism which has led after so many triumphs to the final and unrelieved despair which marks so much of our current fiction. I was to dream of a prose which was flexible, and swift as American change is swift, confronting the inequalities and brutalities of our society forthrightly, but yet thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization… Despite my personal failures there must be possible a fiction which , leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.

    In addition to Invisible Man, Ellison wrote two other novels - Juneteenth and Three Days Before the Shooting…, both published posthumously, along with several essays.

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    March 2, 1965: Operation Rolling Thunder begins.

    “Rolling Thunder” was an aerial bombardment campaign conducted over North Vietnam by the U.S. and South Vietnamese Air Forces and U.S. Navy from March 1965 until its discontinuation in November of 1968. By that point, the operation had, according to American estimates, killed 182,000 North Vietnamese civilians. It was the successor to Operation Flaming Dart, a shorter joint operation carried out over the course of seventeen days in February, and it was an escalated effort by the American government with broader targets and broader goals - namely, the destruction of North Vietnam’s infrastructure and industry and the demoralization of the North Vietnamese government and people. The North Vietnamese were undeniably outmatched in terms of technology, but the Americans were met with their own problems, which limited the effectiveness of the entire operation. Historians debate whether Rolling Thunder crippled North Vietnam’s capacity to fight, or whether the United States’ lack of coordination (among many other shortcomings) made Rolling Thunder a failure.

    Its failure, if it was indeed a failure, was not due to a lack of firepower; by 1968 around 900,000 tons of bombs had been dropped by American aircraft during Rolling Thunder alone, compared to 698,000 throughout the entire Korean War. 

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    Victorian-era portraits of African-Americans, 1899 or 1900; from a collection assembled by W.E.B. Du Bois for the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique of the1900 Exposition Universelle. 

    Library of Congress

    Fuck everyone who says black people look wrong in period clothing or would not have had access to this sort of clothing. Just seriously fuck you.

    William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois is a fascinating and inspiring figure, an uncompromising civil rights activist (literally uncompromising - he rejected Booker T Washington’s Atlanta Compromise, an unwritten deal struck with Southern leaders in the aftermath of the Reconstruction era, in which African-Americans would submit to.discrimination, segregation, lack of voting rights and non-unionized employment and in return Southern whites would “permit” blacks to receive a basic education, some economic opportunities, and justice within the legal system; Du Bois called for nothing less than full equal rights.)

    Du Bois and Booker T Washington, who together organised the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique, worked with Washington’s friend Frances Benjamin Johnston (a pioneering female photographer and photojournalist) to take photos of students at the Hampton Institute. The photographs were specifically compiled to counter stereotypes and the predominant white narrative about African-Americans, showcasing their success and diversity. The exhibition won several awards.

    One of my profs, who is a black woman, has done a lot of work with the geneology of her family in 1900s New York, and one of the things I help her with is the photos on her archive.

    Here’s my favorite:

    You can read more about the project here.

    Linked photos are gorgeous, go look!

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    I’m part of this quiz bowl club at school, and I’ve been interested in history together, so I figured that for as much time as I spend on the Internet and on tumblr, I had might as well do something sort of productive - study for the quiz bowl and have an excuse to spend lots of time on the Internet reading about history. So I made a blog!

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    Grigoriy Myasoyedov - Reading of the 1861 Manifesto (1873)

    March 3, 1861: Alexander II of Russia issues the Emancipation Reform of 1861.

    For centuries after the fall of the Kievan Rus’, varying percentages of Russia’s peasant population were bound as serfs to their landlords and land. Serfdom became widespread practice in Western Europe several hundred years before the system spread to Russia and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. In 1649, Tsar Alexis issued (through parliament) the Sobornoye Ulozheniye, a law code designed to replace the older 1497 code enacted by Grand Prince Ivan III; it defined the status of serfs for the subsequent three centuries and tied their lives and livelihoods on the landowners and nobles on whose land they worked. This code was issued toward the beginning of the rule of the House of Romanov after the turbulent and miserable period known as the Time of Troubles, not coincidentally - in tying the serfs to landowners the code made these same masters subservient and loyal to the new dynasty of tsars.

    Serfdom in Russia was on the decline by the 1800s, although serfs still made up an impressive portion of the population; of the around 60 million people living in Russia at the time of the emancipation, the majority were peasants and approximately half of those peasants were considered serfs. Fleeing was a criminal offense, and serfs, despite some reforms, still possessed few rights and were barely distinguishable from slaves. The Emancipation Reform of 1861 was created and passed mindful of the events that had directly preceded - the Revolutions of 1848, initiated by a disgruntled working class, and the Crimean War, which had been an astonishingly embarrassing failure for the Russians and seemed, at the time, to demand the creation of an army composed of free Russians, not serfs. In 1856, Tsar Alexander II delivered a famous speech to representatives of the countrýs nobles in which he declared

    … the existing condition of owning souls cannot remained unchanged. It is better to begin to destroy serfdom from above than to wait until that time when it begins to destroy itself from below.

    Of course, those responsible for creating the legislation that would bring this abolition about were landowners and masters of serfs, and therefore heavily invested in the future status of serfs. The resulting Emancipation Manifesto granted serfs the rights of free citizens as well as the opportunity to buy land from their previous masters, but, for the most part, freed serfs received insufficient, nearly unfarmable land, while their landlords received financial compensation from the government and the choice of which portions of land to keep and sell. While the reforms were impressive in scale - larger than the freeing of American slaves during the same period, and accomplished without civil war - it is also often considered a failure. At the time of its implementation, it disappointed the privileged, the peasants, and progressive reformers alike.

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    Henry Clay

    James Monroe

    March 6, 1820: The Missouri Compromise is ratified.

    The issue of slavery was, in the early years of the United States, treated cautiously, handled warily, and often tip-toed around altogether. In the Constitution, slaves were only vaguely referred to - as “such Persons” and  ”other Persons”. Article one, section nine of the U.S. Constitution provided the earliest year Congress would be able to abolish the slave trade (1808) but was mum on the subject of slaves already living in the country and the countless thousands who would be born into bondage in the future. Therefore, responsibility for dealing with the future of slavery and the debate between slaveowners and northerners over the westward spread of slavery was shifted to the federal government, which fumbled with the subject as well for decades until its resolution by the Thirteenth Amendment. 

    The acquisition of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 exacerbated the conflict. When Missouri requested admission to the Union as a slave state in 1819, the government was faced with an important decision regarding sectional balance, settled finally by the Missouri Compromise; this solution temporarily quieted debate until its terms were violated by the provisions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, but until then, it remained an inviolable and almost sacred resolution. The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line except for Missouri, which was admitted as a slave state. At the same time, the state of Maine was also created and admitted to the Union, thereby maintaining a balance between slave and free states. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to popular sovereignty, through which residents rather than the federal government could decide the future of slavery in their respective territories despite the fact that the Missouri Compromise had closed Kansas to slavery. 

    In 1857, the Taney Court ruled (on same day as the ratification of the 1820 Compromise) in Dred Scott v. Sandford  African-Americans were not permitted to sue in federal court, and also that the Missouri Compromise had never been constitutional in the first place, because slaves, like farm animals, were “property” that the federal government could not take away under the Fifth Amendment.

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    March 7, 1965: The first Selma to Montgomery March (“Bloody Sunday”) takes place. 

    During the 1960s, only small percentages of the large populations of eligible black voters in certain parts of the South could actually vote, even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Voter registration programs organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other civil rights groups (including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) were established in these states, but they were met with fierce opposition: during the 1964 “Freedom Summer” campaign, designed to register African-Americans in Mississippi, eighty civil rights workers were beaten by white residents; in one notorious incident, local Klansmen ambushed and murdered three workers as retribution for their efforts in attempting to register and educate disfranchised voters. 

    In 1965, a voter registration campaign focused in Selma, Alabama, began - at the head of this revived effort was Martin Luther King, Jr., the SNCC, and the SCLC. On March 7, a group of several hundred people set out from Selma on a fifty-four-mile march toward Montgomery, but this protest was stopped short in a brief and violent confrontation (later known as “Bloody Sunday”) between the marchers and state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. One of the main catalysts for the march, besides the ongoing struggle over voting restrictions, was the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama State Trooper a week earlier; however, the events of Bloody Sunday garnered more national attention than Jackson’s murder.

    As the Selma marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by state troopers, who began to shove and beat them, while another detachment fired tear gas into the crowd. Among those injured in the attack was John Lewis, who escaped the beatings with a fractured skull. These acts of violence against peaceful protesters were widely publicized and highly influential in turning public opinion in favor of the Civil Rights Movement. Following the second ceremonial march, conducted on March 9, a white minister named James Reeb was severely injured by KKK members and later died after the hospital in Selma turned him away; the death of a white minister captured the public’s attention even more securely. When Martin Luther King, Jr. led a third march on March 21, 25,000 people gathered in Montgomery to hear him speak and deliver his “How Long, Not Long” speech, and after President Johnson witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday on television, he was compelled to introduce a voting rights bill to Congress and did so on March 15; he also delivered his own speech to a joint session of Congress in which he quoted an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement - “we shall overcome” - in an obvious and momentous display of support for the movement.

    Johnson’s bill passed in August as the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

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    March 8, 1010: Ferdowsi completes the Shahnameh (شاهنامه).

    Ferdowsi’s “Book of Kings”, a poem consisting of over 50,000 couplets, took him over three decades to complete; the end result was the poet’s magnum opus and a national epic worthy of the long and rich historical and cultural legacy of Persia and Persian speakers. The poems chronicle the history of Iran over three eras - the mythical age, the heroic age, and the historic age, beginning at the creation of the Earth according to the beliefs of prei-Islamic Persians. In his work Ferdowsi wrote of the legendary shahs of Iran (the earliest kings who ruled for hundreds of years each) and of figures like the epic hero Rostam and Prince Siavash, and finally of the last kings of the Sassanid Empire and the conquest of Persia by the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century. The Shahnameh was several times longer than both the Iliad and the Nibelungenlied, and its composition was ordered by Mahmud, emir and later sultan of the Ghaznavid Empire; however, Ferdowsi was also heavily influenced by older compilations that had been commissioned by rulers of the Samanid dynasty, who were instrumental in the revival and celebration of Persian culture through their patronage of poets. 

    Other links: English translation of the Shahnameh by Helen Zimmern.

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    Happy International Women’s Day! Here’s one of my favorite women in history…. Lise Meitner (7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968), an Austrian physicist who worked alongside Nobel laureate and chemist Otto Hahn for decades studying radioactivity. Meitner earned a doctoral degree in physics from the University of Vienna in 1905 and, after moving to Berlin, she became an assistant to Max Planck. After World War I (during which she worked as a nurse), Meitner became Germany’s first professor of physics, assuming a post at the University of Berlin in 1926.

    After losing her Austrian citizenship in 1938 following the Anschluss (Meitner was Jewish by birth, though a baptized Lutheran), Meitner fled to Sweden but continued her work with Hahn who, as the chemist, performed research and experiments and discovered in 1938 a process that Meitner and her nephew Otto Frisch explained and dubbed “nuclear fission”, a term borrowed from biology. In 1944 Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of nuclear fission; Meitner was not acknowledged by the academy despite her contributions to the theoretical portion of the discovery (Hahn once wrote to her asking her to “come up with some sort of fantastic explanation” for his observed results - that explanation being nuclear fission), although she was eventually awarded, along with Hahn and Fritz Strassman, the Enrico Fermi Award. In addition, she and Hahn received the Max Planck Medal in 1949, and in 1997 she alone became the namesake of a new element -  ”meitnerium” (Mt). 

    When she was invited to work on the Manhattan Project in 1943, she replied “I will have nothing to do with a bomb!”, and in her later life she reportedly had mixed feelings about her role in the development of the bomb, as a co-discoverer of nuclear fission. The inscription on her headstone, chosen by Frisch, read: “Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity.”

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    March 9, 1945: Operation Meetinghouse begins.

    The first bombings conducted by the United States over Japan came in the form of the Doolittle Raid, a 1942 air raid that succeeded in boosting American morale but caused very little long-lasting damage to targeted Japanese cities. The bombing campaign dubbed Operation Meetinghouse, which targeted Tokyo with incendiary bombs and firestorms, was of an entirely different breed and more closely resembled the 1945 bombing of Dresden

    On March 9, 1945, around 330 B-29s (the plane that carried out the majority of bombings in Japan, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) launched an attack on the Japanese Home Islands from U.S. outposts in the Mariana archipelago. The bombers carried out low-altitude raids over Tokyo using incendiary bombs, which were deathly effective against the tightly-packed and highly-flammable buildings that were common in Japan. They also made it impossible to avoid devastating civilian populations - there was no way to accurately target, with these napalm bombs, factories and industrial buildings. Fiery infernos burned on the ground, reaching 1,000 ° C, and wind swept burning debris and “clots of flame” into the air, setting everything surrounding alight. Civilians threw themselves into canals and any nearby water in attempts to escape the burning, but still stacks of incinerated bodies piled up in the streets - Curtis LeMay, who executed the strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific Theater, described the victims as having been “scorched and boiled and baked to death. An estimated 80,000 - 100,000 (according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police) died in that overnight air raid, during which some 4,500,000 pounds of incendiaries were dropped in three hours. Reportedly, the stench of burning human flesh was so strong that the Americans piloting the bombers, flying thousands of feet overhead, could smell it. 

    The firebombing of Tokyo, which was followed by similar bombings in Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe, was the deadliest air raid of World War II, and it was only the beginning of a campaign that began in late 1944 and targeted and destroyed more Japanese industrial cities throughout the spring and summer until the capitulation of the Japanese Empire in August of 1945. In a memorandum dated June 17, 1945, Bonner Fellers describes the American firebombing campaign of Japan as “one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history.”

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  • 03/09/13--11:52: Hmmm……

  • Hmmm……

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    Tokyo after the firebombings, 1945.

    Koyo Ishikawa

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    They’re actually both on that old book recommendations list that I tried to compile (based on user opinions) a couple of months ago. They’re also both high on my personal to-read list…. which grows longer constantly… I hear that they’re both great, though.

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    Spring (1894) - Lawrence Alma-Tadema

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    March 13, 1938: The Anschluss is declared.

    The Anschluss (Anschluß) was the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany, in which Austria ceased to be an independent state and was incorporated into the Greater German Reich as Ostmark - Eastern march, a name meant to enforce pan-Germanism by suggesting that Austria was merely the eastern portion of a new German empire. This action was explicitly forbidden by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and the Austrian government in power between 1934 and 1938 was opposed to union with Germany; however, in February of 1938, Adolf Hitler met with Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg at Berchtesgaden, where the two settled a mostly one-sided agreement to ease the tensions between the two nations. Schuschnigg agreed to end his government’s opposition to National Socialists in Austria. Shortly afterward, Schuschnigg made Arthur Seyss-Inquart, an Austrian National Socialist, Austria’s new Minister of the Interior (he also served as chancellor during the brief period between Schuschnigg’s resignation and the beginning of the Anschluss). Schuschnigg’s efforts to preserve Austria’s independence continued, however, and he called for a plebiscite on the issue of unification with Germany to be conducted on March 13; Hitler, fearing that a plebiscite might affirm Austrian independence by popular vote, ordered German troops into Austria on March 12 on the grounds that the people had requested German military aid. 

    No fighting took place, and German forces were greeted with flowers and cheering - which is why the annexation of Austria is sometimes called the “war of flowers” (Blumenkrieg). One day later, a law regarding the union of the two nations was promulgated, although the new plebiscite. which could now be safely conducted under the supervision of the Nazis, was not held until April 10 - it declared that 99.7% of Austrian voters desired union with Germany. Meanwhile, former chancellor Schuschnigg was placed under house arrest, and Adolf Hitler entered his native country as, in his own words, a “liberator”. Although many Austrians still opposed the Anschluss, many of these dissidents were also thankful that the takeover had occurred so quickly and bloodlessly. Austrian Jews were, of course, not welcomed with open arms and integrated smoothly into the Greater German Reich - shortly after the Anschluss, even before the April 10 plebiscite, the Nazis began to institute anti-Jewish policies in Austria, subjecting Austrian Jews to the same treatment they would have been made to endure in Germany. 

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