Twenty-five years ago today, the Soviet Union of Socialist Republics collapsed, effectively ending the Cold War that had defined the latter half of the twentieth century and had spanned the globe. The previous day, 25 December 1991, General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned, transferring the Soviet nuclear codes to Russian president Boris Yeltsin.
The surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s British army at Yorktown, Virginia, on 19 October 1781 marked the effective end of the War of American Independence, at least in North America. The victory is usually assumed to have been Washington’s; he led the army that besieged Cornwallis, marching a powerful force of 16,000 troops down from near New York City to oppose the British. Charles O’Hara, The presence of the young Alexander Hamilton, one of Washington’s aides-de-camp, who led a light infantry unit in the final stages of the siege, adds to the sense of its being a great American triumph.
Seventy years ago, on 30 September 1946, Lord Justice Lawrence, the presiding judge of the International Military Tribunal, began reading out the judgement in the trial of the so-called major German war criminals at Nuremberg. For nearly a year the remnants of the Third Reich’s top brass, led by Hermann Goering, had stood trial for crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and a conspiracy to commit the aforesaid crimes.
This year, Americans celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act. The bill culminated decades of effort by a remarkable generation of dedicated men and women who fought to protect the nation’s natural wonders for the democratic enjoyment of the people.
The sixteenth of June is the day on which James Joyce fans traditionally email each other their Bloomsday greetings. And nowadays it has become the focus for a global celebration of Joyce’s work, marked by readings and performances, and many other acts of Joycean homage.
Two hundred years ago, on 16 June 1816, one of the most remarkable gatherings in English literary history occurred in a villa just outside Geneva. Present at the occasion were Lord Byron, who had left England in April to escape (unsuccessfully, in the event) the scandal surrounding his separation from Lady Byron; John Polidori, whom Byron had engaged as his personal physician.
A month before Joan of Arc’s heresy was cleansed by fire on this day in 1431 CE, a spokesman for her Burgundian accusers railed against her: “O Royal House of France! You have never known a monster until now! But now behold yourself dishonored in placing your trust in this woman, this magician, heretical and superstitious.”
Charles Darwin’s five year voyage aboard H. M. S. Beagle and subsequent life work are as widely known as any events in the history of the biological sciences. His wide ranging bird work has been overshadowed by drab small birds he discovered in the Galapagos Islands–the Galapagos, or Darwin’s, finches.
On 25 April 1916, 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through London towards a service at Westminster Abbey attended by the King and Queen. One of the soldiers later recalled the celebratory atmosphere of the day. This was the first Anzac Day. A year earlier, Australian soldiers had been the first to land on the Gallipoli peninsula as part of an attempt by the combined forces of the British and French empires to invade the Ottoman Empire.
Remembering the Easter Rising has never been a straightforward business. The first anniversary of the insurrection, commemorated at the ruins of the General Post Office on Easter Monday, 1917, descended into a riot. This year its centenary has been marked by dignified ceremonies, the largest public history and cultural event ever staged in Ireland and, in Northern Ireland, political discord, and menacing shows of paramilitary strength. Over the past century, the Rising’s divisiveness has remained its most salient feature.
His words still shape our consciousness, even if we fail to read him. This is not due to some hackneyed idealism (“tilting at windmills”), but rather to his pervasive impact on the genre that taught us to think like moderns: the novel. He pioneered the representation of individual subjectivity and aspiration, which today undergirds the construction of agency in any narrative, whether in novels, films, television, or the daily self-fashioning by millions of users of social media.
“We may, without knowing it, be writing a new definition of what science is for,” said Aldo Leopold to the Wildlife Society in 1940. A moderate but still crisp April breeze was playing in my hair as the sun worked to melt the last bits of frost in the silt. Shoots of prairie grasses were popping up through the mud, past shell skeletons of river mussels and clams.
William Henry Harrison was 68 years old when he became the ninth president of the United States and the oldest US president until Ronald Reagan was elected nearly a century and a half later. He was sworn into office on 4 March 1841. Exactly one month later, he was dead.
Eugene McCarthy made first stop in New Hampshire on January 25, 1968, only six weeks before the state’s March 12 primary. When he did arrive, his presence sparked little excitement. He cancelled dawn appearances at factory gates to meet voters because, as he told staffers, he wasn’t really a “morning person.” A photographer hired to take pictures of the candidate quit after five days because the only people in the shots were out-of-state volunteers.
In Rome on 22 June 1633 an elderly man was found guilty by the Catholic Inquisition of rendering himself “vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture”. The doctrine in question was that “the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from east to west, that the earth moves and is not the centre of the world.
Aleppo, Mosul, Tikrit, Acre… Until just a few years ago, these names meant little to the average American. Now they are all too familiar, as are the atrocities being committed there in the name of religion. Eight hundred years ago the situation in that region was much the same, except then, Christians were committing acts of cruelty no less numerous or shocking than Muslims.