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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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The Brooklyn Bridge opens

This Day in World History
On May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge opened to great fanfare. With schoolchildren and workers enjoying a rare holiday, thousands flocked from Brooklyn and Manhattan to attend the dedication, led by President Chester Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland. The crowd cheered as Emily Roebling — wife of the chief engineer and an integral figure in its construction — became the first person to cross. That night, fireworks illuminated the sky.

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Ortelius publishes first world atlas

This Day in World History
On May 22, 1570, bookmaking and map-making history were made. Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish book collector and engraver published the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Epitome of the Theater of the World) — the world’s first atlas.

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Da Gama reaches Calicut, India

This Day in World History
On May 20, 1498, sailing for the Portuguese crown, Vasco da Gama reached Calicut, India. Having successfully sailed around the southern tip of Africa, da Gama had pioneered a sea route from Europe to Asia that bypassed the Muslim nations that controlled the overland spice trade.

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Montréal is founded

This Day in World History
Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, jumped from the wooden boat onto land. Falling to his knees, he blessed the ground. His followers also came ashore and built an altar, where a Jesuit father offered a blessing. “You are a grain of mustard-seed,” he said, “that shall rise and grow till its branches overshadow the earth.” With these words, French settlers founded Ville-Marie de Montréal — Montréal, Canada — on May 17, 1642.

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Israel declares statehood

This Day in World History
Late in the afternoon of May 14, 1948, a group of Jewish settlers fulfilled a long-cherished dream and declared, as of midnight that night, the existence of the state of Israel. The announcement created the first Jewish state in nearly two millennia — and outraged the Palestinian people and their Arab allies.

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Constantine dedicates Constantinople

This Day in World History
Six years before, the emperor had ordered the building of a vast new city. On May 11, 330, construction was sufficiently complete for that city to be dedicated. The Emperor Constantine took part in a solemn mass at St. Eirene, his newly built church, that dedicated the new city to the Virgin Mary. He issued an edict that declared the city New Rome, or the Second Rome, capital of the empire. Within a hundred years, though, the city came to be known by another name — Constantinople.

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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony premieres

This Day in World History
Back to the audience, facing the orchestra, the composer steadily marked the tempo with his hands. He was not conducting, though — he was deaf. Thus it was that, when the orchestra and chorus finished, he could not hear the applause and cheers of the Vienna audience. When a musician turned him around so he could see the joy on listeners’ faces, Ludwig von Beethoven bowed in gratitude — and wept.

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The Sack of Rome

This Day in World History
On May 6, 1527, a mass of German Lutheran and Spanish Catholic troops—unlikely allies—reached Rome angry at being unpaid for months and resentful of the riches of the papacy. As the soldiers—by now a rampaging mob—entered the Vatican, Pope Clement VII was saying a mass in the Sistine Chapel. With Swiss Guards being slaughtered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope was hustled away to safety in the stout Castel Sant’Angelo. And the sack of Rome was on.

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Kublai Khan becomes Mongol Emperor

This Day in World History
In 1259, the great Mongol Empire — which stretched from parts of China west to Russia — was shaken for the second time by the death of its leader, or khan, when Mongke, a grandson of the founder Genghis Khan, died. One of his brothers, Kublai, left his army in China, came back to Mongolia, and had himself declared the Great Khan.

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Osama bin Laden killed

: This Day in World History
In the middle of the night, 2 May 2011, a brief message was radioed from Pakistan to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia: “EKIA.” “EKIA” is military shorthand for “enemy killed in action.” The enemy was Osama bin Laden. After a manhunt of nearly ten years, the United States had found and killed the al Qaeda leader who had ordered the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

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South Africa holds first multiracial election

This Day in World History
April 26, 1994 marked the beginning of the end of a period of monumental change in South Africa. On that day, for the first time in the nation’s history, more than 17 million black South Africans began casting their votes for government officials. When the election ended four days later, the vote made Nelson Mandela South Africa’s first black president.

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Scientists identify DNA

This Day in World History
The April 25, 1953 edition of the journal Nature included a scientific paper that opened new doors in scientific understanding. The paper, written by James Watson and Francis Crick, described the structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the substance that determines the hereditary traits of a living organism.

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Shakespeare and Cervantes die

The date 23 April 1616 marked the end of two eras in world literature; for on that day, two giants of Renaissance letters died. Poet and playwright William Shakespeare died in his home at Stratford-upon-Avon. Farther south, Spanish poet, playwright, and novelist Miguel de Cervantes also passed away.

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Captain Cook sights Australia

This Day in World History
“What we have as yet seen of this land appears rather low, and not very hilly, the face of the Country green and Woody, but the Sea shore is all a white Sand.” Thus James Cook concluded his log entry for April 19, 1770 — the day Europeans first sighted the continent of Australia.

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Earthquake and fire destroy much of San Francisco

This Day in World History
Shortly after 5:12 A.M. on April 18, 1906, and for as long as a minute, the earth shook violently along nearly 300 miles of the San Andreas Fault in California. The violent earthquake, estimated around 8 on the Richter scale, caused severe damage from Salinas, south of San Francisco, to Santa Rosa, north of the city. People as far away as southern Oregon, Los Angeles, and central Nevada felt its tremors.

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Leonardo da Vinci is born

This Day in World History
Painter, sketch artist, sculptor, architect, civil and military engineer, cartographer, anatomist, physical scientist, botanist, geologist, mathematician, and more — Leonardo da Vinci defined the phrase “Renaissance man.” Born on April 15, 1452, and dying at 67, he produced a body of work that remains unrivaled. Giorgio Vasari, biographer of the great Italian artists of the Renaissance, aptly called Leonardo “truly marvelous and celestial.”

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