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the work of history

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    Oops, I just realized that today is my blog’s one year anniversary/birthday. Here’s a cake for my…self.

    Hello and thank you, followers, both new and old - and a special thanks to you who’ve been with me since I started posting. I especially love seeing those URLs pop up, because I feel relieved that you’re still here. But anyway, running this blog has been been both fun and fulfilling, and it certainly makes me feel a lot better about spending so much time on the Internet.

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    Till and his mother.

    Bryant, Milam, and their wives celebrate the two mens' acquittal.

    August 28, 1955: Emmett Till is kidnapped and murdered.

    The appalling, brutal murder of Emmett Till, a young African-American boy from Chicago, was one of the key events that helped spur the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Between 1882 and 1968, nearly 600 lynchings (of both blacks and whites) had, according to the Tuskegee Institute, taken place in the state of Mississippi. It was Mississippi that Emmett Till visited in the summer of 1955 to stay with his relatives. 

    What exactly transpired that provoked his murder remains uncertain: according to some, Till whistled at a white woman working in a store; according to the woman herself, Till made advances on her using “unprintable” words. He may, in fact, have had a stutter that caused him to make whistling noises while speaking. Whatever the case, it was after this incident that Till was taken from his great-uncle’s home by three men at around 2:00 in the morning and brutally beaten. One of the perpetrators was Roy Bryant, husband of the white woman at whom Emmett Till had allegedly whistled; the other was his half brother J.W. Milam, who claimed to have “never hurt a nigger in [his] life”… except to put them “in their place”. According to a 1956 interview, the men had not intended to kill Till but merely beat and frighten him. How did an attempt to scare a teenage boy turn into murder? An excerpt from that interview:

     I [J.W. Milam] tood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ‘em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.’

    Bryant and Milam shot Till by the Tallahatchie River and dumped his body, weighed down with a 35-kg fan from a cotton gin. When Till was discovered in the river three days later, his corpse was unrecognizably disfigured, decomposing and swollen. While the lynching of blacks in the South was rarely covered widely by the media, reaction to the murder of Emmett Till was widespread - and local Mississippian newspapers, along with the state’s governor, outright condemned the murder and murderers. Till’s mother, meanwhile, demanded that her son’s body be displayed in an open-casket funeral, which it was. However, the public’s opinion soon turned more sympathetic towards the murderers, who were both shockingly acquitted of the crime after a little over an hour’s deliberation by the jurors, one of whom joked that if the jury had not taken a break to drink soda, they would have come to a decision even sooner.

    In 1956, Bryant and Milam unrepentantly confessed to and described the killing of Emmett Till in a magazine interview. 

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    August 29, 1949: The Soviet Union detonates its first atomic bomb.

    A little over four years after the United States conducted its first nuclear test Trinity Site in New Mexico, the Soviet Union followed suit, successfully testing their RDS-1 device (also called First Lightning, and “Joe-1” by the Americans) at the Semipalatinsk Test Site. The bomb was similar in yield and design to the American “Fat Man” bomb, unsurprisingly, as it was later revealed that the Soviets had access to a ring of atomic spies, who passed along technical information sometimes directly from Los Alamos. 

    The first Soviet experiment was similar to to the American one, although the scientists had structures (bridges, buildings, towers) built and caged animals placed around point zero, in order to study the effects of radiation on both. The test was conducted by a program headed by Igor Kurchatov, called the “father of the Soviet atomic bomb”. In September of 1949, Harry Truman announced that the U.S. had reason to believe “that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the U.S.S.R.” Most American officials had anticipated that several more years would pass before the Soviets acquired an atomic bomb, but with Joe-1, American weapons supremacy was crushed with one blast. Once this fact was confirmed, pressure mounted in both countries to develop an even deadlier weapon - a hydrogen bomb.

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    August 31, 12: Caligula is born.

    The Roman emperor Caligula succeeded the his great-uncle Tiberius in the year 37 at the age of twenty-four. Like his predecessor, Caligula was popular with the public and generally regarded as a good ruler - early in his reign; not only was he the son of the very popular general Germanicus (whose soldiers gave him the nickname “Caligula” - “little boot”), but he was also not Tiberius, who, in the later years of his reign, became brooding and reclusive and was perceived by the public as paranoid and cruel.

    It is still unclear exactly what triggered Caligula’s almost spontaneous transformation into the depraved, insane despot we are familiar with. Some surviving sources simply state that he was insane; more modern scholars offer up medical explanations for his condition (hyperthyroidism, meningitis, epilepsy, etc.) He famously attempted to appoint his favorite horse, Incitatus, to the Senate, although this may have been Caligula’s idea of a joke, or simply not true at all. Caligula was also accused of, among other things, seducing his guests’ wives, trying to erect statues of himself in temples for worship, punishing the most minor of offenses with death, killing random bystanders simply because he could, and committing incest with each of his sisters. Philo of Alexandria also hints at pedophilic inclinations, although there is little historical basis for this claim (and for any of these claims, to be fair). Another notable feature of Caligula’s short reign was his reckless spending and the general decadence of his courts and lifestyle. While Tiberius left a large surplus in the imperial treasury, Caligula emptied it, spending wastefully on all sorts of projects and public displays. 

    After less than four years of rule, conspirators within the Praetorian Guard murdered Caligula, his wife, and their daughter. 

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    French filmmaker Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune) is widely considered the first ever science fiction movie. It turns 110 years old this year.

    It drew inspiration from both H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon and Jules Verne’s From Earth to the Moon, and, though it lacked any coherent plot, Méliès’s innovative special effects were a marvel to its viewers (he also designed the sets, acted in the lead role, produced, and directed). Although the film was a success, Méliès eventually went bankrupt in part because of Thomas Edison and his associates, who, among other American filmmakers, distributed stolen copies of his movies in the United States and reaped enormous profits. This was Méliès’s 400th film (he would go on to make over 500), and it cost 10,000 Francs to produce.

    Colored versions of Méliès’s movies were sold alongside black-and-white ones, but hand-colored prints of this particular film, his most famous, were only rediscovered in 1993. The film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival completely restored with color and a new soundtrack, 109 years after its original release in 1902.

    I made this when I was still learning to make gifs! But yep, released today - September 1, 1902.

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    Lieve Verschuier.

    The Great Fire of London - Philip James de Loutherbourg.

    September 2, 1666: The Great Fire of London breaks out.

    The populous and quickly urbanizing city of London had just begun recovering from the last breakout of bubonic plague to occur in England (the “Great Plague”), which, at its peak, was claiming thousands of lives a week. London, at this time in history, was home to around half a million people and filled with flammable wooden homes. Fires were already common in London, and the summer of 1666 was a dry, hot one. It seemed inevitable that disaster would strike, and it did - just past midnight on September 2, 1666, when fire broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane, near London Bridge. 

    By morning, the bridge itself had caught fire - Samuel Pepys (from whom much of our information about the event comes) described the sight of the burning bridge as “a bow with God’s arrow in it with a shining point; by afternoon, the inferno had become a firestorm. Efforts to destroy buildings and create firebreaks proved futile simply because they came too late. Around 100,000 Londoners were left homeless, and the fire also consumed historic landmarks like the original St. Paul’s Cathedral, along with around 3/4ths of the city. Miraculously, only eight deaths were recorded.

    After it was all over, King Charles II declared the disaster an act of God (plus a contributing factor being the weather), but many were unconvinced and instead preferred to pin the blame on London’s Catholic population.

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    Bunker Hill - 1775, Howard Pyle.

    Declaration of Independence - 1776, Trumbull.

    Washington Crossing the Delaware - 1776, Emanuel Leutze.

    Saratoga - 1777.

    Surrender of Lord Cornwallis - 1781, Trumbull.

    Treaty of Paris American delegation.

    September 3, 1783: The Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the American Revolutionary War.

    The terms of the treaty were overwhelmingly favorable to the United States (and not so much to the new nation’s wartime allies). Peace talks began in 1782, after the colonies’ decisive victory at Yorktown. The idea of an autonomous United States existing within the British Empire was rejected, and so the first provision of the Treaty of Paris was that the King would regard the United States as  ”free sovereign and independent states” and treat them as such. Additionally, the treaty urged the restoration of confiscated Loyalist property (ignored) and the payment of creditors on each side (also ignored in some states) and granted both countries access to the Mississippi River (later defied by the Spanish). 

    The preamble of the document stated that its goal was to “to forget all past Misunderstandings and Differences” and to establish “a beneficial and satisfactory Intercourse between the two countries”. To lay ground for this future relationship, the British defined very generous boundaries for the new country’s borders (far past that of the original Thirteen Colonies), ending to the west at the Mississippi River. The French, whose aid during the war had been indispensable in securing victory, were not included in these negotiations; they drew up their own treaties with the British and regained some scattered territories as a result.

    The bottom illustration of the American delegation (which included John Jay, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin) was painted by Benjamin West, but it was never completed because the British negotiators declined to sit for the portrait.

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    Easter Morning, 1828-35.

    Ruine Eldena, 1825.

    Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon, 1824.

    Woman at a Window, 1822.

    Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818.

    Wreck in the Sea of Ice, 1798.

    The Chasseur in the Forest, 1814.

    The Cemetery Entrance, 1825.

    The Monk by the Sea, 1808-10.

    September 5, 1774: Caspar David Friedrich is born.

    Here is a man who has discovered the tragedy of landscape.

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    Not that this feature is particularly pertinent to this blog, but I’ve been waiting for it to become available for a loooong time. Everyone celebrate.

    (Can someone confirm that it actually works now? Like, by replying?)

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    Czolgosz imprisoned.

    September 6, 1901: Leon Czolgosz fatally shoots President William McKinley.

    Less than half a year after being sworn into office for the second time, William McKinley travelled to Buffalo, New York, for the Pan-American World’s Fair Exposition. It was there, at the Temple of Music concert hall, that an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot the President twice with a concealed revolver as he greeted the public. Before he could shoot a third time, men standing in line nearby and McKinley’s security struck Czolgosz and began to beat him (McKinley, himself unable to stand, ordered the beating stopped). 

    One of the bullets did not penetrate McKinley’s skin; instead, it fell out of his coat, and the President, upon seeing it, remarked “I believe that is a bullet.” For several days after the shooting, McKinley seemed to be making a recovery, but this was short-lived. Around a week later, the developing gangrene in his stomach began taking effect, and the President died on the morning of September 14. When Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo later that day, he was sworn in almost immediately at a makeshift inauguration site. 

    Leon Czolgosz was sentenced unanimously to death in late September and executed in October. His last words were reportedly: “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people…I am not sorry for my crime”.

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    September 7, 1812: The Battle of Borodino is fought.

    Two hundred years ago on this day, over a hundred thousand soldiers from Napoleon’s Grand Armée met forces of around the same number from the Imperial Russian Army (under Mikhail Kutuzov) near Borodino, located 120 km west of Moscow. The ensuing battle was the bloodiest single-day action of all of the Napoleonic Wars, resulting in at least 70,000 casualties. Although Borodino was and is generally considered a French “victory”, the Grand Armée sufferedonly slightly fewer casualties than the Russians, and, in hindsight, Napoleon’s losses here may very well have cost him the war. The Russian army retreated following their defeat, leaving the path to Moscow open, so Napoleon trudged on, despite dwindling supplies and a weakened army. By the time he abandoned Moscow and made his retreat out of Russia, the Grand Armée could boast no more than 30,000 soldiers fit for battle, out of the original 690,000.

    The battle was immortalized by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (written to honor the Russian defenders who fought at Borodino) and also by Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace

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    Tough question. Trying to think of some films that are both NOT egregiously historically inaccurate while still quality in terms of filmmaking.

    Mongol, Gangs of New York (a personal favorite), The Lion in Winter, Master and Commander, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front (I’ve only watched the remake, but I hear that the original is much better)Oliver Stone films, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, All the President’s Men, The Queen, United 93, The King’s Speech, The Thin Red Line, Patton (excellent), The Pianist, Saving Private Ryan, Downfall, Das Boot, Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima, Taegukgi (a Korean-made Korean War film, and a good one). If you’re looking to cry, Grave of the Fireflies.

    If you’re looking for something that’s not a war film, then there are a lot of biopics out there as well. If it’s strict historical accuracy you want, can’t go wrong with a good documentary. 

    Hmm. Anyone have any recommendations?

    Other Recommendations:

    Thirteen Days is a good Cuban Missile Crisis movie.
    The Director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven is still pretty unhistorical, but a fantastic film.

    I actually like that film a lot! I wasn’t going to put it because it wasn’t so well-received by critics, but I recommend it too.

    How about Tora, Tora, Tora?

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    Tough question. Trying to think of some films that are both NOT egregiously historically inaccurate while still quality in terms of actual filmmaking.

    Mongol, Gangs of New York (a personal favorite), The Lion in Winter, Master and Commander, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front (I’ve only watched the remake, but I hear that the original is much better)Oliver Stone films, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, All the President’s Men, The Queen, United 93, The King’s Speech, The Thin Red Line, Patton (excellent), The Pianist, Saving Private Ryan, Downfall, Das Boot, Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima, Taegukgi (a Korean-made Korean War film, and a good one). If you’re looking to cry, Grave of the Fireflies.

    If you’re looking for something that’s not a war film, then there are a lot of biopics out there as well. If it’s strict historical accuracy you want, can’t go wrong with a good documentary. 

    Hmm. Anyone have any recommendations?

    Other Recommendations:

    pinstripe said: Thirteen Days is a good Cuban Missile Crisis movie.

    ethanfromestoboggan said: The Director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven is still pretty unhistorical, but a fantastic film.

    I actually like that film a lot! I didn’t put it because it wasn’t so well-received by critics, but I recommend it too.

    melancholynecrokiss said: How about Tora, Tora, Tora?

    nemoanon said: October Skies is a fantastic film. So is Apollo 13. Apollo 18, not so much… Also, The Right Stuff. Another good space race film.

    romanovillage said: I definitely suggest “The Young Victoria.” Such a beautiful film.

    nikhilpaagalhai said: JODHAA AKBAR is pretty unhistorical but still a great (and very long) movie

    1412bunny said: “Welcome to Dongmakgol” isn’t exactly the most historically accurate Korean war movie but it’s really good. ^^

    fuehrer-of-the-4-string said: The Last Battalion. Great film on WWI.

    robthemountainman said: I liked Enemy at the Gates even though it got panned by critics. Zulu is also an excellent movie, you can’t go wrong with a young Michael Caine.
    aysiel said: There’s Band of Brothers. And my favorite, Flyboys.

    bdkerns said: I would say Troy is one of my favorites

    theexperiencetenfold said: hotel rwanda?

    sewonandsewforth said: Any BBC miniseries ever, The Duchess, The Countess (about Erszebet Báthory), Sally Hemings: An American Scandal… it really depends what part of history you want to watch. :)

    thiswildlittledog said: iron jawed angels!!!

    walteroesau said: The original of All Quiet on the Western Front IS a masterpiece. I have it. It’s beautiful. The Blue Max isn’t bad, but it’s not as accurate - but based on fiction so…. Oh, I know one. That Christian Claivier Napoleon miniseries.

    meni-thio said: Nicholas and Alexandra is almost as accurate as it can be, and is a pretty good film. Rome the tv series is fairly accurate, but has a more authentic feel than anything else. Also Mad Men is a very historically studied version of the 60’s.

    todbrowning said: are you saying oliver stone films are not egregiously historically inaccurate? because I’ve always heard that they are

    He certainly takes artistic liberties and the way he portrays some events/figures is controversial, but his films are excellent. 

    toigers said: Conspiracy an The Great Escape is d ramaticized but still awesome

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    Tsentralniy Gosudarstvenniy Arkhiv Kinofotofonodokunmentov Sankt-Peterburga

    collecting water

    Boris Kudoyarov, October 1942.

    September 8, 1941: The Siege of Leningrad begins.

    The battle over the city that is today called St. Petersburg was a long-drawn-out, seemingly interminable struggle that ultimately ended nearly 900 days after it began; casualty-wise, it is the most deadly siege in history. By January 1944, over a million Red Army troops had been killed, plus several hundred thousand civilians and an unknown (but certainly equally devastating) number of German soldiers. The siege officially began when German forces surrounded Leningrad and cut off all supply routes in and out of the city. It is likely that Hitler’s goal to take the city was largely a symbolic one - it was named after Lenin, it had been Russia’s capital for two centuries, and much of the action of the 1917 Russian Revolution had taken place in Leningrad (then called Petrograd). 

    For two and a half years, the Germans lay siege to Leningrad and forced a blockade on the Russians, cutting off all supplies as to starve them out until they were too weak to fight back. They held onto the city for these two and a half years, however, though only just. Temperatures dropped to −30 °C in the winter. Food was also scarce (bread that was rationed out was often made of sawdust), and starving civilians were soon forced to eat rats, pets, and reportedly, other people. Some lucky civilians were evacuated across Lake Ladoga, on the frozen transport route that came to be called the “Road of Life”, because it was also used to transport supplies (or attempt to) into the besieged city.

    The siege was not lifted until 1944, and even as German forces retreated, they were ordered (perhaps simply out of spite) by their Führer to loot and destroy what historically and culturally significant sites they could. 

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    Comment as in reblog with a comment below? It depends on what they say. I love it when people connect a post to their own lives/families, or tell little anecdotes; in fact I actually encourage that (because they’re fun for me to read ha). I dislike it when people offer up disputed claims as absolute fact. Or when they argue with me. Juuuuust kidding.

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    September 10, 1946: Mother Teresa receives her “call within the call”.

    On board a train from Calcutta to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa received a message (so she claimed) from God, and an epiphany of sorts that caused her to realize, in her own words:

    I had the call to take care of the sick and the dying, the hungry, the naked, the homeless - to be God’s Love in action to the poorest of the poor.

    She began missionary work among the poor in 1948, before being receiving permission from the Vatican a congregation called the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. Her first efforts to help the poor began in Calcutta’s slums; over the years, she and the sisters of the congregation opened different charity homes in India for the dying, for those suffering from leprosy, for orphans and the homeless. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 1980, the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. 

    But naturally, some of her more controversial actions and views have come under some scrutiny and criticism. She once remarked, during her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in fact, that she believed the abortion to be “greatest destroyer of peace today” and opposed it in all cases; her militant stance on abortion was controversial even to some Church officials. British author and journalist Christopher Hitchens was a particularly vocal critic of hers. She also reportedly encouraged members of her order to perform Christian baptisms on dying patients, and she may have also discouraged the use of painkillers because she believed that it is “the most beautiful gift for a person that he can participate in the sufferings of Christ”. Others question the quality of healthcare and cleanliness of her “Houses of the Dying” and her connections with the Duvalier family of Haiti. Former members of the Missionaries of Charity have also, over the years, given their opinions on the matter (articles here and here).

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    AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler

    AP Photo/Gulnara Samoilova

    AP Photo/Matt Moyer

    AP Photo/Dan Loh September 15, 2001

    September 11, 2001

    9/11 was a reminder that the bonds of family can be severed in an instant. They are essential, crucial, valuable, fragile.


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    September 12, 1940: The Lascaux cave paintings are discovered.

    The discoverers of the celebrated Paleolithic cave paintings were four teenagers, who had stumbled upon the site while searching for their lost dog. Located in southwestern France, the Lascaux cave system was first studied by and introduced to the public by archaeologist-priest Henri Breuil. It was opened to the public in 1948, but it closed once more in 1963 in order to help preserve the paintings.

    Nearly 2,000 illustrations, of animals (stags, bison, cattle), humans, and other, more abstract designs, can be found in the Lascaux caves; these illustrations are some of the oldest examples of any sort of high-quality, complex art, estimated to be anywhere from 13,000 to 25,000 years old. These paintings are divided into several sections, including a “Great Hall of the Bulls”, which contains some of the cave’s most famous pieces - black aurochs, one of them measuring over seventeen feet across. Other sections include a “Chamber of Felines”, and “the Shaft of the Dead Man”. The purpose of these paintings remains obscure - perhaps the caves were regarded as sacred places, where special rites were performed, or maybe our prehistoric ancestors really, really liked painting animals.

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    La page n’existe pas…

    EDIT: never mind, it works! Link. If you guys don’t have the time to read the article, it’s basically describing how they’re opening another exact replica of the entire Lascaux cave system for the public to view (set to open in 2015) in order to preserve the original. Apparently other replicas have been facing the same problems as the original has.

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    Oops, that seems to be the main point of the article, which I missed. But how unfortunate… Hopefully they manage to raise funds regardless. Imagine if we lost something like the Lascaux caves simply because there wasn’t enough money to preserve it.

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