Saturday, September 25, 2010

July 29th in History

Armada painting by O. Brierley

1588   English naval forces under the command of Lord Charles Howard and Sir Francis Drake defeat the Spanish Armada off the coast of Gravelines, France. One of the explanations for the term "Black Irish" has traditionally been that dark hair and eyes among the Irish population trace back to a Spanish genetic contribution,
as a result of sailors from damaged Armada ships being wrecked on the coast of Ireland.  In fact the Celtic migrations have gone from the Danube area and across the Iberian peninsula before proceeding on to Ireland in earlier history. The population of Ireland show no significant contribution of a Spanish influence, lacking all but minute traces of certain characteristic genetic markers found in Spain.  The Spanish Armada naval battle was an eastern hemisphere battle that preceded, and continued as the on-going western hemisphere battle between the competing empires of England and Spain, Anglo and Hispanic, the continuing influences reflected in the modern immigration battles in states like Arizona.

1793   John Graves Simcoe decides to build a fort and settlement at Toronto, having sailed into the bay there - although he called it 'York'. The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided Canada into upper and lower; Simcoe became the Lieutenant Governor of the Lower section. One of the criteria I use in selecting items for a today in history inclusion is that it is significant in some way to how we progressed from 'then' to 'now'. Simcoe is comparatively little known to most of us who are not hard-core history buffs of a particular era or geography.  He deserves to be better known our side of the border.  He abolished slavery in this area of Canada before it ceased in other parts of the British Empire, and had an important influence in introducing courts, common law and trial by jury, and important land ownership customs into the traditions of the region when it was still a comparative wilderness frontier.

1848  In Tipperary, an unsuccessful nationalist revolt against British rule is put down by police in the larger context of the Potato Famine.  This famine was caused by a type of potato blight, not to be confused with earlier famines from other causes.  It resulted in the emigration to the United States of large numbers of Irish; between famine and immigration, the population dropped at least 20 to 25%.  Nearly a million died, and an additional million emigrated.  This had a significant effect on the populations of both Ireland and the U.S..  The Potato Famine is considered a watershed event in Irish history, and the Tipperary revolt was a significant part of subsequent Irish rebellion and political activity.  On a more prosaic note, the event is sometimes referred to as the Young Irelander Rebellion, or 'the battle of widow McCormack's cabbage patch."  It has a certain poignancy in view of an earlier 'in history' entry about the anniversary yesterday of abandoning of violence by the Provisional Irish Republican Army - in 2005.

1858 – United States and Japan sign the Harris Treaty.  The Harris Treaty was significant for opening up five ports in Japan under threat of force, where the country had previously been closed to the United States and European countries. It is a defining baseline event from which the subsequent relations developed between Japan and the United States. The Harris Treaty included a number of interesting and advantageous provisions for Americans, including extraterritoriality - the exemption from the jurisdiction of local law.  Extraterritoriality continues to be an issue for Americans in foreign countries where we have a military presence.

1899 – The First Hague Convention treaty is signed. The First and Second Hague Conventions defined what became the Geneva Conventions, originally called the Geneva Protocols to the Hague Convention.  The Hague Convention defined and codified laws of war, war crimes, and began restrictions on weapons and technology used in warfare. It also established the Permanent Court of Arbitration,  and the beginnings of international law. It was also the predecessor to the League of Nations and the subsequent establishment of the United Nations. There was a Second Hague Convention in 1907, and a Third Hague Convention was planned, but unfortunately World War I precluded it taking place as scheduled.  The U.S. was not a signatory to the 1899 Convention accords, but was a signatory to the 1907 Second Hague Convention treaty.

1901 – The Socialist Party of America founded from two other Socialist groups, and elected officials from that party at various levels of government, including in the heartland of the U.S.  At right is their campaign material for their presidential and vice presidential candidates.  One or more socialist parties have existed in the United States since well before 1900, and are as legitimately American as any other party has been which is comprised of American citizens, and which participates in our representative process.  Something which the Tea Partiers and others apparently seem to forget when lettering their various signs and making their speeches.  There is nothing inherently anti-American in socialism.  It is simply one more legitimate political movement and party, in this case a very old one, in the history and current events of the United States.  Contrary to what voices on the right like Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich and numerous others would have less history-literate followers believe.

1907 – Sir Robert Baden Powell sets up the Brownsea Island Scout camp in Poole Harbour on the south coast of England. The camp ran from August 1-9, 1907, and is regarded as the foundation of the Scouting movement and the Girl Guides movement.  Indirectly, you have Baden Powell to thank for Girl Scout cookies.

Hitler, 1921

1921   Adolf Hitler becomes leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party.

1957   The International Atomic Energy Agency is established, to promote peaceful use of atomic power, and to limit and discourage not-peaceful uses.

1958    U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which creates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

1959   First United States Congress elections in Hawaii as a state of the Union. These items of historic significance are included to reflect expanding borders, expanding populations, contributing influences on current events and points of conflicting spheres of influence.

1987   British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President of France Fran├žois Mitterrand sign the agreement to build a tunnel under the English Channel.  Popularly called the 'Chunnel', it is correctly named the Eurotunnel.  The Chunnel is significant not only on its own merits as a major development over the difficulties of sea travel (see the Armada above for example) but also as a reflection of the advances we are able to make in the world through successful cooperation in contrast to all of the instances of conflicts and destruction.  It also reflects that the areas of our exploration are now in places like the bottom of the oceans and in space, and the boundaries of our knowledge of the world unseen, even aspects of human relationships, not just land masses and the surface of oceans.

1988   The film Cry Freedom is seized by South African authorities.  A biography of the struggle and subsequent death of anti-apartheid Seven Biko and his friendship with white journalist Donald Woods who wrote two books on which the movie was based.  The movie received significant recognition in the year's Oscars and other film awards.   It is credited with contributing to the end of apartheid, and for exposing rampant corruption and violence in South Africa.  Actors Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline performed the leading roles; it was directed by Lord Richard Attenborough

Eris and Dysnomia

2005   Astronomers announce their discovery of Eris, a dwarf planet, and its moon, Dysnomia.  Larger than Pluto, which was demoted from planetary status, its recognition created a surprising uproar among planetarium fans and school children when it replaced Pluto as the 9th and most distant (so far) planet in orbit around the sun.

So far, we have only been to the moon, and to mars; but if we can see it, and take pictures of it, it is only a matter of time until it too is explored.

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