Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yuri Gagarin - The First Spaceman

 12 April 1961

The people of the United States share with the people of the Soviet Union their satisfaction for the safe flight of the astronaut in man's first venture into space. We congratulate you and the Soviet scientists and engineers who made this feat possible. It is my sincere desire that in the continuing quest for knowledge of outer space our nations can work together to obtain the greatest benefit to mankind.

John F. Kennedy
Kennedy's telegram to president  Khrushchev after Vostok 1 mission

Yuri Gagarin was born in the Smolensk region of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). His family was displaced during World War II (1939-1945) and moved to the town of Gzhatsk in the northeastern part of Smolensk. In 1949 Gagarin began his higher education at a manufacturing trade school in Lyubertsy, a town outside of Moscow. In 1951 he trained as a metalworker at the industrial technical school in Saratov, which is southeast of Moscow. While he was in Saratov, he joined a flying club and learned to fly airplanes. His instructor recommended him to the air force, and Gagarin began attending the Soviet Air Force cadet training school at Chkalov (now Orenburg) in Russia in 1955. He graduated from the academy with high distinction in 1957, shortly after the launch of Sputnik 1.

Yuri Gagarin (1934 - 1968)
Gagarin applied for the six-week cosmonaut screening process in 1960 with just 230 hours of flying experience. He and 19 others were selected to become cosmonauts. Of these 20 men, 12 eventually completed space flights. Gagarin and fellow cosmonaut Gherman Titov, front-runners in their class, were both contenders for the Vostok 1 flight.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Blackface Minstrels

The practice of actors "blacking up" is no longer seen as amusing or acceptable. The once highly popular television series "The Black and White Ministrel Show", which featured blackened-up singing and dancing routines from 1958, notoriously fell out of favour and finally went off the air in 1978.

A hundred yers ago, however, the blackface minstrel tradition was a popular variety show genre. It had originated as an American entertainment in the 19th century, and was performed by white people in blackface greasepaint. It often lampooned black people, with stock characters such as "the dandy" and "the mammy",
and presented black people as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical.
Blackface minstrelsy was the first distinctly American theatrical form. In the 1830s and 1840s, it was at the core of the rise of an American music industry, and for several decades it provided the lens through which white America saw black America. On the one hand, it had strong racist aspects; on the other, it afforded white Americans a singular and broad awareness of significant aspects of black-American culture.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hernán Cortés' Service to the Country

Hernán Cortés or Cortez, Hernando (1485-1547), Spanish explorer and conqueror of the Aztec Empire of Mexico, was born in Medellín, Extremadura. He studied law at the University of Salamanca but cut short his university career in 1501 and decided to try his fortune in the Americas. Cortés sailed for Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) in the spring of 1504. In 1511 he joined Spanish soldier and administrator Diego Velázquez in the conquest of Cuba and subsequently became alcalde (mayor) of Santiago de Cuba. In 1518 Cortés persuaded Velázquez, who had become governor of Cuba, to give him the command of an expedition to Mexico. The mainland had been discovered the year before by Spanish soldier and explorer Francisco Fernández de Córdoba and subsequently by Juan de Grijalva, nephew of Velázquez.

On February 19, 1519, Cortés, with a force of some 600 men, fewer than 20 horses, and 10 field pieces, set sail from Cuba. He left despite the cancellation of his commission by Velázquez, who had become suspicious that Cortés, once in a position to establish himself independently, would refuse to recognize his authority. Cortés sailed along the coast of Yucatán and in March 1519 landed in Mexico, subjugating the town of Tabasco. From the native inhabitants of Tabasco, Cortés learned of the Aztec Empire and its ruler, Montezuma II.

Cold War paranoia

"Don't brag about your job" poster

The poster Don't Brag About Your Job was displayed in government and military offices dealing with sensitive material in the early 1960s. It is a strange cousin of the public health campaigns produced by the Central Office of Information, the government's communications agency after the Second World War. Using a genial cartoon style like that which encouraged children to cross the road with care or smokers to give up, this breezy design alluded to a period of deep anxiety when the Cold War seemed to be getting hotter by the day.

The designers, Reginald Mount and Eileen Evans, had tuned their skills during the Second World War with witty, economical images that delivered government messages without preaching or alarming their viewers. As their colleague Abram Games put it: "maximum impact with minimum means“. Don't Brag About Your Job reminded employees of the interest that Britain's enemies might have in this information. While not explicitly anti-communist, it captures the fear of infiltration and espionage that fuelled Cold War paranoia.
The poster dates from a period punctuated by notorious cases of espionage. In early 1963 British spy Kim Philby - one of the 'Cambridge Five' - defected to the Soviet Union. Within weeks, the Profumo Affair exploded when the British secretary of state for war was linked to a naval attache in the Soviet embassy through their shared attraction to Christine Keeler. The image of the spy infiltrated British popular culture, as Ian Fleming and Len Deighton's novels testify. Mount and Evans's charactet was, however. no James Bond: he was the office show off, no doubt a far more commonplace character.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Winchester Round Table - The Mystery Unveild

More so than any other medieval monarch, King Edward I loved to travel. He travelled all around the Britain, as well as much of Europe and even the Holy Land.At first glance, therefore, his arrival in Winchester in 1287 might seem unremarkable. In actual fact, this was the occasion for a great chivalric festivity, long since forgotten, but which probably explains the creation of one of the most intriguing of all medieval artifacts - the Winchester Round Table, "King Arthur's Round Table". 

A giant disc of solid oak, 18 feet in diameter and over a ton in weight, it now hangs at the end of the Great Hall of what was once Winchester Castle.Obviously, the table has nothing to do with a real King Arthur (whisper it quietly - he never existed). It is scientifically proved that it was made in the second half of the 13th century, and thus most likely dates from the reign of Edward I (1272 - 1307).

Winchester Round Table illustration

Friday, May 27, 2011

Claudius I - The Wisest Fool in Rome

"What an artist the world is losing in me!"
 Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (August 1, 10 B.C.E. – October 13, 54) 

As news of Caligula's assassination spread, the senate gathered in haste, several of them ready to press their own claims to the succession, other urged that the moment had come to restore the republic.
Though the praetorian guard had its own ideas as to who should take the throne. Claudius, Caligula's feeble-minded uncle, had been dragged from his hiding place in the palace to the praetorian camp, where he was promptly hailed as emperor, and then marched back to the senate, who had no choice but to confirm their decision.
But the soldiers had chosen better than they knew. Claudius had spent his life the almost forgotten, half-witted brother of the great Germanicus. But now in office he proved extremely conscientious. His intentions were excellent, and his political theory, if derived wholly from books, was intelligent. He was 'the wisest fool' in Rome, but he kept his wisdom for the state, while his domestic follies made him a figure of contempt to his contemporaries and ridiculous to posterity. 

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (August 1, 10 B.C.E. – October 13, 54)

On this day - 27th May

1647   Achsah Young, a resident of Windsor, CT, was executed for being a "witch." It was the first recorded American execution of a "witch."
1907   The Bubonic Plague broke out in San Francisco.
1931   Piccard and Knipfer made the first flight into the stratosphere, by balloon
1941   The German battleship Bismarck was sunk by British naval and air forces. 2,300 people were killed
1985   In Beijing, representatives of Britain and China exchanged instruments of ratification on the pact returning Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997
1996   Russian President Boris Yeltsin negotiated a cease-fire to the war in Chechnya in his first meeting with the leader of the rebels

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Helen Duncan – The medium who cheated?

As a child, Scottish-born Helen Duncan earned the nickname Hellish Nell for her tomboyish exploits. She alienated her peers with bizarre behaviour and sinister predictions, and her mother predicted that one day she would be burnt as a witch. In 1910 Helen, at the age of 20, married invalided soldier Henry Duncan, whom she had 'first met in her dreams', and Henry neglected his business of cabinet-making to help her develop as a psychic and to help raise their six children. To sustain this large family and a disabled husband she worked in the local bleach factory by day and her spiritual work and domestic duties by night. The small amount of cash she made from her sittings, mostly token donations from friends and neighbours existing in a similar poverty to herself, would often discreetly go to their local doctor to pay for those patients who were destitute. This was in the time before Britain's national health service concept of free medicine for all had been introduced. 

Helen Duncan

On this day - 26th May

1521   Martin Luther was banned by the Edict of Worms because of his religious beliefs and writings
1660   King Charles II of England landed at Dover after being exiled for nine years
1831   Russians defeated the Poles at battle of Ostrolenska
1896   The last czar of Russia, Nicholas II, was crowned
1946   British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed a military pact with Russian leader Joseph Stalin. Stalin promised a "close collaboration after the war."
1998   The Grand Princess cruise ship made its inaugural cruise. The ship measured 109,000 tons and cost approximately $450 million, making it the largest and most expensive cruise ship ever built

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

19th Century sport in Scotland

Communal games involving men and older boys ranged up and down the streets of many towns and can still be observed each New Year in Kirkwall’s Ba’ Game, between „Uppies“ and „Doonies“ on 1st January. The border towns kept their Common Ridings, and many others celebrated an annual beating of the bounds, in all cases accompanied by fairgrounds, music, dancing and the public consumption of a great deal of alcohol. Quoits, cockfights and bare-fist boxing were all popular, and all provided opportunities for gambling as well as for social drinking. These events often took place in the open air, but premises were also built or adapted to put on such entertainments. Public disapproval turned such sports into furtive events, and as such they have not wholly disappeared.

Bare-fist boxing match

On this day - 25th May

585 BC   The first known prediction of a solar eclipse was made in Greece
1844   The gasoline engine was patented by Stuart Perry
1895   Oscar Wilde, a playwright, poet and novelist, was convicted of a morals charge and sentenced to prison in London
1925   John Scopes was indicted for teaching the Darwinian theory in school
1935   Jesse Owens tied the world record for the 100-yard dash. He ran it in 9.4 seconds. He also broke three other world track records
1996   In Nimes, France, Christina Sanchez became the first woman to achieve the rank of matadore in Europe
1997   Poland adopted a constitution that removed all traces of communism

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On this day - 24th May

1543  Nicolaus Copernicus published proof of a sun-centered solar system
1798   Believing that a French invasion of Ireland was imminent, Irish nationalists rose up against the British occupation
1822  At the Battle of Pichincha, Simon Bolivar secured independence of the Quito
1844  Samuel F.B. Morse formally opened America's first telegraph line. The first message was sent from Washington, DC, to Baltimore, MD. The message was "What hath God wrought?"
1930  Amy Johnson became the first woman to fly from England to Australia
1976  Britain and France opened trans-Atlantic Concorde service to Washington
1993  The Ethiopian province of Eritrea declared itself an independent nation
2001  Temba Tsheri, 15, became the youngest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest

Tamerlane, A Fearless Mongolian Conqueror

Tamerlane (also Tamberlaine; 1336-1405) was a fiery, charismatic, brutal Mongol ruler who attempted to reclaim Genghis Khan’s empire in the fourteenth century. His bloody reign inspired poetry from such later writers as Christopher Marlowe, Lord Byron, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Early Years

He was born Timur Leng in 1336 in Shahr-i-Sabz, south of Samarkand, the son of a Turk commander. As a young man, he injured himself in a sheep-raiding accident, and "'as unable to bend his right knee or raise his right arm ever again. This earned him the nickname Timur the Lame, which became Tamerlane. Mongol power in Tran­soxiana had been significantly reduced from the days of Genghis Kan,  as various factions sought to assert leadership. Tamerlane claimed he was Genghis's descendant, but there is no evidence to support this, al­though apparently two of his four wives were related to Genghis. In 1361, Tamerlane became chieftain of the Timurid tribe. With Amir Husayn, his brother-in-law, Tamerlane began defending the Timurids against the dominating Chingisid tribe. Within a decade he defeated the Chingsids, and later Husayn's army itself. Tamerlane named himself sole ruler of Transoxiana in 1369. He saw himself as having been selected by God to lead, having been born during the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On this day - 23rd May

1430  Joan of Arc was captured by Burgundians. She was then sold to the English
1827  The first nursery school in the U.S. was established in New York City
1915  During World War I, Italy joined the Allies as they declared war on Austria-Hungary
1934  In Bienville Parish, LA, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed and killed by Texas Rangers. The bank robbers were riding in a stolen Ford Deluxe.
1960  Israel announced the capture of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Argentina.
1995  The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was demolished

When Hollywood destroyed New York

In 1953, the heat generated by an atomic bomb test near the North Pole releases a dinosaur from its Arctic tomb. The frenzied beast promptly heads for New York, where it wreaks havoc on Manhattan, before being killed at Coney Island amusement park.
Then, barely half a decade later, a superhumanly strong killer robot goes on the rampage through the Big Apple, causing destruction on an epic scale. Only the presence of mind of an heroic young American saves the city from being wiped from the face of the earth.

The scene from The Beast from 20.000 Fathoms

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ernst Thälmann - Hitler's forgotten rival

Ernst Thälmann
One man who would have relished today's crisis, just as he hoped to benefit hugely from the interwar slump, was the German communist leader Ernst Thälman. He is little remembered today but, in his time, was seen as Hitler's great rival in the battle for power on the streets of Weimar Germany. 
Born in Hamburg in 1886, he worked as a docker, and was an enthusiastic trade unionist, and also lived for a while in the USA. After fighting in the First World War, he joined the German communists and in March 1921 he was fired from his job at the job centre due to his political activities. In December Thälmann was elected to the Central Committee of the KPD. In 1925 he became leader as champion of the Stalinist faction. That summer Thälmann went as a representative of the KPD to the 3rd Congress of the Comintern in Moscow and met Lenin. In June 1922 Thälmann survived an assassination attempt at his flat. Members of the right-wing nationalist organisation Consul threw a hand grenade into his ground floor flat. His wife and daughter were unhurt; Thälmann himself came home only later.

On this day - 22nd May

1570  Abraham Ortelius published the first modern atlas in Belgium
1819  The steamship Savannah became the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean
1892  Dr. Sheffield, a British dentist, invented the toothpaste tube
1908  The Wright brothers registered their flying machine for a U.S. patent
1972  The island Ceylon adopted a new constitution and became the republic of Sri Lanka
1998  Bolivia was hit with a series of powerful earthquakes. At least 18 were killed. The quakes ranged in magnitude from 5.9 to 6.8

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tracing England's First Castle

A British amateur historian has found what he believes to be England's oldest castle - built by Norman adventurer 15 years before the battle of Hastings. Ground-breaking research by an expert on Herefordshire castles, Terry Wardle, strongly suggest that a mystery Norman castle mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 1051 was built in Herefordshire at a place now known as Burghill. It is likely to have been the very first Norman motte and bailey castle ever constructed in England, as all the previously known pre-conquest Norman fortified sites were built between 1052 and around 1063.
A reconstructed early Norman castle at Saint-Sylvain d' Anjou in France
All that is left of Burghill Castle today are traces of the bailey ditch and bank - and the moat around the site of the motte (a now long-levelled mound on which a timber stronghold would have stood). Terry Wardle, who has published his findings as a book (England's First Castle, History Press), has also reconstructed the likely circumstances that led to the construction of the castle.
The anglo-Saxon king of Englad, Edward the Confessor, wanted to be rid of the most powerful noble family in the land  - the Godwines - and he arranged a political "trap", which forced them into exile. Edward then confiscated the Godwine family lands and gave some of it to his Norman nephew. It was probably through this nephew that a more minor Norman called Osbern was allocated Burghill - presumably so that he could build a castle there to help defend the realm against Welsh raiders. But in 1052, the king and the Godwines reached an accommodation: the godwines got their political power back - and Osbern had to leave his castle.

The Reluctant Bathing

French king Henri IV sent an emissary to the Paris home of his superintendent of finances, the Duc de Sully, in 1610 to request his presence at a meeting. On the arrival the messenger was shocked to find Sully taking a bath. The Duc prepared to leave his bath and attend the king but the messenger stalled him, alarmed. "Monsieur, do not quit your bath," he said. "I fear that the king cares so much for your health,and so depends on it, that if he had known you were in such a situation, he would have come here himself." With that emissary returned to Henri who, after taking medical advice, decided to reschedule the meeting at Sully's house. The Duc received a note telling him to greet the king the following day" in your nightshirt, your leggings, your slippers and your nightcap, so that you come to no harm as a result of your recent bath."

Medieval child bath

On this day - 21st May

1790  Paris was divided into 48 zones
1840  New Zealand was declared a British colony
1934  Oskaloosa, IA, became the first city in the U.S. to fingerprint all of its citizens
1982  The British landed in the Falkland Islands and fighting began
1991  In Madras, India, the former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a bouquet of flowers that contained a bomb
1998  Microsoft and Sega announced that they are collaborating on a home video game system

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Bogomils

The Bogomils were members of a religious sect that at its peak held enormous influence over the Balkan countries between the 10th and 15th centuries. Founded in Bulgaria in the mid-tenth century by a priest named Bogomil, the sect relied heavily on the belief in dualism - that the universe was ruled jointly by the forces of good and evil. Evil, the Bogomils said, was represented by the material world; they thus lived extremely ascetic lives. They vigorously denunciated the worship of the Virgin Mary, the worship and prayers to the saints, and also images, icons, and pictures of the Virgin and the saints. They opposed the use of crucifixes, crosses, bells, incense, ecclesiastical vestments, and everything which contributed to pomp and ceremony in the worship of God.They took neither meat nor wine, and they condemned marriage. This ascetic and abstemious life was as far removed as possible from the seclusion, the fastings, flagellations, exposure to the weather, and hermit or desert life of the stricter orders of monks and nuns in the Greek and the Roman churches.

Bogumil cemetery

On this day - 20th May

1506  In Spain, Christopher Columbus died in poverty
1674  John Sobieski became Poland’s first King
1784  The Peace of Versailles ended a war between France, England, and Holland
1899  Jacob German of New York City became the first driver to be arrested for speeding. The posted speed limit was 12 miles per hour
1927  Charles Lindbergh took off from New York to cross the Atlantic for Paris aboard his airplane the "Spirit of St. Louis." The trip took 33 1/2 hours
1942 Japan completed the conquest of Burma
1990  The Hubble Space Telescope sent back its first photographs

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Native Indian Women in U.S. Army - from American Revolution to Vietnam War

The history of female soldiers in American Army goes far back to the beginning of the creation of new, independant state of America. There are several women who fight next to their fellows in the war against Britain - Deborah Samson (which joined army disguised like a youn man), Margaret Corbin, Angelica Vrooman, Anna Warner...
But it is very little is known about the contributions of Native American women to the United States military. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation is attempting to fill this gap by encouraging Native American women veterans to register with the Memorial so that their stories may be recorded and preserved. We are also conducting research on the contributions of Native American women of earlier eras.
Historians have only recently rediscovered and verified the actions of an Oneida woman, Tyonajanegen, at the battle of Oriskany during the American Revolution (1775-1783). Tyonajanegen was married to an American Army officer of Dutch descent. She fought at her husband's side on horseback during the battle, loading her husband's gun for him after he was shot in the wrist.

Sacajawea one-dollar coin
The story of Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 19th century, is somewhat better known. Much of what is common knowledge is myth, however. Sacajawea has been remembered as a guide. In reality, she served as an interpreter for members of the expedition, who were unfamiliar with Native American languages. "Bird Woman's" service is described in the journals kept by Army Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during the expedition.

Four Native American Catholic Sisters from Fort Berthold, South Dakota, worked as nurses for the War Department during the Spanish-American War (1898). Originally assigned to the military hospital at Jacksonville, Florida, the nurses were soon transferred to Havana, Cuba. One of the nurses, Sister Anthony, died of disease in Cuba and was buried with military honors.

On this day - 19th May

1536   Anne Boleyn, the second wife of England's King Henry VIII, was beheaded after she was convicted of adultery.
1643   Delegates from four New England colonies met in Boston to form a confederation.
1906   The 19 km long Simplon Tunnel linking Italy and Switzerland through the Alps is officially opened.
1926   Thomas Edison spoke on the radio for the first time.
1967   U.S. planes bombed Hanoi for the first time.
2000   The bones of the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton went on display in Chicago.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Technology in Europe: 15th and 16th Century

Technological development in the 15th and 16th centuries were generally limited to improvements on medieval innovations. The voyages of discovery were made possible by improvements in the compass and the astrolabe (used to determine latitude). New rigging techniques made ships more maneuverable and better able to sail off the wind. The waterwheel was adapted from its traditional role as a gristmill into a power source for the textile industry and paper manufacturing, while the windmill became a valuable water pump. Although these adaptations played important role in European life, they did not have the dramatic impact of three new discoveries: gunpowder, printing, and paper.

Early windmill


On this day - 18th May

1302   The weaver Peter de Coningk led a massacre of the Flemish oligarchs.
1652   In Rhode Island, a law was passed that made slavery illegal in North America. It was the first law of its kind.
1804   Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed emperor by the French Senate.
1944   Monte Cassino, Europe's oldest Monastic house, was finally captured by the Allies in Italy.
1974   India became the sixth nation to explode an atomic bomb.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Long Trip to Botany Bay

Diabolical conditions abroad the hulks, the floating prisons which took up the slack when transportation to America ended, forced Britain to rethink its penal policy. The consensus was that Britain urgently needed another colony. First under consideration was the island of Lemane in the Gambia, West Africa. Its advantage was isolation. No guards would be needed to watch over the felons. But it would have amounted to signing the death warrant of the desperate souls abandoned there. Happily the scheme was dropped. Another African venue, this time Das Volatas Bay in the south-west, became favoured choice. But the survey commissioned in 1785 reported that it was a barren land. Without opportunity to hack a living out of the soil the convicts would surely die. The only route now open to the government was the one that led to Botany Bay, on the Tasman Sea south of Sydney, Australia. The doubters comforted themselves that the opportunities for convicts to return home from this colony would be scarce.

Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers

The White Rose, Silenced Voices of Hitler's Germany

Fifty-four years ago three German students were arrested. A few days later they were hauled before the Volksgerichtshof ("People's Court"), sentenced to death and executed by beheading the same day. Within a few months many more arrests were made, and, in a second trial, three additional death sentences were handed down. (The "People's Court," I should add, existed outside the German constitution. It was created by the NSDAP, the National Socialist Party, in 1934 for the sole purpose of eliminating Hitler's enemies.)

In the early summer of 1942, a group of young people — including Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, Hans Scholl, his sisters Sophie and Inge Scholl, and Alex Schmorell, all in their early twenties, as well as their professor of philosophy, Kurt Huber, formed a a non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany. The group became known for an anonymous leaflet campaign, lasting from June 1942 until February 1943, that called for active opposition to the Nazis regime.

The White Rose members: Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst, Hans Scholl, Willi Graf, Kurt Huber, Sophie Scholl

The group co-authored six anti-Nazi Third Reich political resistance leaflets. Calling themselves The White Rose, they instructed Germans to passively resist the Nazis. They had been horrified by the behavior of the Germans on the Eastern Front where they had witnessed a group of naked Jews being shot in a pit. The White Rose was influenced by the German Youth Movement, of which Christoph Probst was a member. Hans Scholl was a member of the Hitler Youth until 1936 and Sophie was a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel.

On this day - 17th May

1630   Italian Jesuit Niccolo Zucchi saw the belts on Jupiter's surface
1756   Britain declared war on France, beginning the French and Indian War.
1861   The first colour photograph is exhibited at the Royal Institution in London
1861   Thomas Cook of London organize the first „package holiday“ , when a group of British workers and their families set off for Paris. Channel crossing, hotel accommodation and meals were included in the price.
1948   The Soviet Union recognized the new state of Israel.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Who was Alexander Selkirk?

Cast away on a desert island, surviving on what nature alone can provide, praying for rescue but fearing the sight of a boat on the horizon. These are the imaginative creations of Daniel Defoe in his famous novel Robinson Crusoe. Yet the story is believed to be based on the real-life experience of sailor Alexander Selkirk, marooned in 1704 on a small tropical island in the Pacific for more than four years, and now archaeological evidence has been found to support contemporary records of his existence on the island.

Alexander Selkirk was born in the small seaside town of Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland in 1676. A younger son of a shoemaker, he was drawn to a life at sea from an early age. In 1704, during a privateering voyage on the Cinque Ports, Selkirk fell out with the commander over the boat's seaworthiness and he decided to remain behind on island, now named Robinson Crusoe, where they had landed to overhaul the worm-infested vessel.
He cannot have known that it would be five years before he was picked up by an English ship visiting the island.

On this day - 16th May

1770   Marie Antoinette, at age 14, married the future King Louis XVI of France, who was 15.
1881   In Germany the first electric tram for the public started service.
1920   Joan of Arc was canonized in Rome
1960   A Big Four summit in Paris collapsed due to the American U-2 spy plane incident.
1969   Venus 5, a Russian spacecraft, landed on the planet Venus.
1997  In Zaire, President Mobutu Sese Seko gave control of the country to rebel forces ending 32 years of autocratic rule.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Magna Carta

Magna Carta (Latin for "Great Charter") is one of the most celebrated documents in English history. At the time it was the solution to a political crisis in Medieval England but its importance has endured as it has become recognised as a cornerstone of liberty influencing much of the civilized world.
In 1213 King John gave England to the Pope as a fiefdom. The barons and the English Church were outraged and they came together under the leadership of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. They acknowledged the laws of Henry I and in 1215 produced the Articles of the Barons and eventually the Magna Carta.

Salisbury Cathedral's Magna Carta Granted World Heritage Status

On this day - 15th May

1718   London lawyer James Puckle patents the machine gun
1829   The US Congress designates the slave trade as piracy
1918   The world's first regular air mail service begins between Washington and New York
1957   Britain's first H-bomb is dropped on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean
1988   The USSR begins evacuating troops from Afghanistan

Montezuma II - the last ruler of the Aztecs of Mexico

Montezuma II, the 9th huey tlatoani (great speaker) of the Aztecs of Mexico, came to power in 1502 at the time of both triumph and danger for the Aztec realm. The empire was larger then ever, and Montezuma himself was one of the most powerful and intriguing figures in its history. He changed the previous meritocratic system of social hierarchy and widened the divide between pipiltin (nobles) and  macehualtin (commoners) by prohibiting commoners from working in the royal palaces.

 Montezuma II

According to the astonished Spaniards who observed his lifestyle, thousands of servants, all nobles, provided vast meals on the gold plates; he wore new clothes every day; was entertained by dwarfs, freaks and his own zoo; and it was said that 150 of his wives were pregnant at the same time. More historically proved, he had eight daughters, including Doña, and Isabel Montezuma, and eleven sons, among them Chimalpopoca and Tlaltecatzin.

Elizabethan England

Many must have predicted a bleak future for England when the 22 year old princess Elizabeth succeeded her half sister Mary Tudor to the throne. The government was a disarray, and the treasury was empty. The circumstances of Elizabeth's birth to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had placed her in the centre of controversy between Catholics and protestants who threatened at any moment to take up arms in the defense of their beliefs.

Elizabeth I (r.1558 - 1603)

Much of the credit for England's success during the last half of the century must go directly to her queen. Elizabeth was a handsome woman with a humanist education, a quick mind, and a strong will. Her approach to politics was decidedly Machiavellian. Although she ruled with a firm hand, she was known as Good Queen Bess to her subjects. Elizabeth never married. Her failure to provide an heir posed a serious threat for an England only two generations removed from civil war. On the other hand, her maidenhood was a valuable asset in diplomacy. What England could not gain by force or persuasion it often gained from men who sought Elizabeth's hand and her dowry of the English realm.

Queen Elizabeth I of England
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