Friday, September 24, 2010

July 12th in History

100 BC Gaius Julius Caesar, the month is named for him. Before it was changed by Augustus to honor this legendary figure from ancient Rome it had been the fifth month of the roman calendar (not the 7th) and had been called Quintilis, representing that place in the calendar order (logical people, the Romans).

Yes, this is the same conqueror of Gaul, adventures with Cleopatra and Mark Antony, beware-the-ides-of-March and 'et tu Brute?' Julius Ceasar.  An extraordinary man in his time, and well deserving of having his name continue to be honored with a month named after him.
 Appropriate to begin this day in history with his birth for that reason as well as the chronological order.  Although for a time he had an entire calendar named after him, the Julian or Roman calendar.  Some of my favorite quotes are attributed to Ceasar: "What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also." and " As a rule, men worry more about what they can't see than about what they can."  Perhaps the most famous is ' I came, I saw, I conquered. " 

1690 Battle of the Boyne and Orangeman's Day are celebrated in Ireland, marking the defeat of James II, aka James VII, by William III aka William of Orange, often recognized as the William in William-and-Mary. (Not to be confused with James VI aka James I, who was responsible for the King James Bible - in case you were wondering. Ah, the joys and challenges of keeping straight who's who among the monarchs of the UK!) The famous family of the Churchills had a part in all the kingmaking going on, and the kingmaking had a part in the Churchills being a famous family in subsequent English history as well. (see, isn't history fun?) That's William-and-Mary on the left and James II/VII on the right.  Mary was James' daughter, and William was his nephew, giving new meaning to the phrase "all in the family".  This was a conflict about religion and rights, which led to the English Bill of Rights, and also to the Hanoverian succession -- which led to the monarch on the throne of England at the time of the American Revolution.  Yes, it all gets back to us in the end. Bonus history points to you if you can name the monarch AND name the other country on the mainland of Europe of which he was king. (hint - it was called the Hanoverian succession.....)

1730 The birth date of Josiah Wedgwood, credited with advancing pottery making into an industry, and in achieving some of the greatest artistic accomplishments in it. He was a prominent industrialist and innovator in England. He was also the maternal grandfather of Charles Darwin, (who married another Josiah Wedgwood grandaughter). His company continues in existence today as Waterford Wedgwood, which also manufactures the elegant crystal in Ireland. Wedgwood literally 'left his mark' on history - and that mark looks like the images to the right.

Josiah Wedgwood is significant for more than just making fancy dishes. He made a direct, major contriubtion in his time to industry and business, art, and science. His legacy was a continuing and indirect contribution to those three areas of endeavor, and his trademark has lasted as a mark of excellence for more than five generations.  Without Josiah Wedgwood, we also wouldn't have been celebrating in this day in history July 10th, the start of the Scopes 'Monkey' Trial and all of the subsequent Creationism vs. Evolution battles.

1864 or 1865 Birth of George Washington Carver; his exact birthdate is unknown because he was the son of slaves owned by a German immigrant in Missouri.  He was one of 11 children, and the only one to survive to adulthood.  He became a botanist, responsible for promoting alternate crops to cotton in the south which had destroyed the soil for agriculture, including peanuts and sweet potatoes, which formed a basis for sustainable agriculture.  In addition to promoting those crops, he expanded the use of peanuts beyond food substances, in other products, including cosmetics, dyes and paints, gasoline, plastics, and nitroglycerine.  Carver was an educator, heading the Agricultural Department at the Tuskeegee Institute.  He was also a scientist and an inventor, and was recognized as a great humanitarian.  A true polymath and renaissance man, he did a great deal to refute the notion of black intellectual inferiority that continued into the 1950's (and in the case of some backward thinking people even later).  Chances are that somewhere, somehow in your day today you will be touched by something this man did in his lifetime, which makes him worth noting on this day in history.

1884 Amedeo Modigliani, Italy, expressionist painter/sculptor, known by the nickname Modi (in french 'Maudit' which loosely translates as 'cursed' ). He was a contemporary and rival of Picasso during his blue period. He was known for having developed a very mannered, stylized form of painting and sculpture, and was particularly famous for his nudes and portraits with elongated oval faces, almond eyes, and very long, graceful necks. His style was influenced by the cubists, and the art of Africa and Asia.  (Everybody writes about music; I wanted to be different and write about the visual arts.  And I happen to like Modigliani's work.)  The woman in both of these portraits is his mistress and model, Jeanne Hebuterne.  She is the mother of his daughter, and was nine months pregnant when the artist died of tuberculosis at 35 years old; she committed suicide two days later, jumping out of a window at her family's home, killing herself and her unborn child.  Her conservative family didn't approve of her relationship both because he was an artist - and Jewish. Her family did not allow her body to be buried next to his until many years later in 1930.

1920 – The Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty was signed, with Soviet Russia agreeing to recognize an independent Lithuania.

1943 – World War II: Nazi German and Soviet forces engaged each other at the Battle of Prokhorovka, one of the largest tank battles in military history.

1954 - U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a highway modernization program, with costs to be shared by federal and state governments.

1984 - Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale named U.S. Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York to be his running mate. Ferraro was the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket. It would be 24 years later before a major political party again would place a woman on the ticket for Vice President, in 2008, when GOP candidate John McCain ran with Sarah Palin. Both times the ticket lost, the first time the Democrats lost to Republicans, the second time the Republicans lost to the Democrats. It remains to be seen how long before a woman is on the ticket again for Vice President - or maybe President.

2006 – Hezbollah forces crossed the Israel–Lebanon border and attacked Israeli military positions while firing rockets and mortars at Israeli towns, sparking the July War, which Hezbollah called Operation True Promise.  Because whenever you invade someone, it is important to dress it up with a good sounding name.

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