All posts by sleuthboss

Woodrow Wilson awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/wilson-awarded-nobel-peace-prize

On December 10, 1920, the Nobel Prize for Peace is awarded to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for his work in ending the First World War and creating the League of Nations. Although Wilson could not attend the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Albert Schmedeman, delivered a telegram from Wilson to the Nobel Committee.

Wilson’s involvement in devising a plan to prevent future international conflict began in January 1918 when he laid out his “Fourteen Points.” The plan addressed specific territorial issues in Europe, equal trade conditions, arms reduction and national sovereignty for former colonies of Europe’s weakening empires, but the primary thrust of his policy was to create an international organization that would arbitrate peaceful solutions to conflicts between nations. Wilson’s Fourteen Points not only laid the foundation for the peace agreement signed by France, Britain and Germany at the end of World War I, but also formed the basis for American foreign policy in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Although the League of Nations never materialized, largely due to the fact that it was never ratified by the U.S. Congress, it formed the blueprint for the United Nations, which was established after the Second World War.

When Wilson learned of his win, he was a lame-duck president battling the residual effects of a paralyzing stroke he suffered in October 1919; he was therefore unable to accept his award in person. (The stroke occurred in the midst of an arduous cross-country tour to ask the American electorate to pressure a reluctant Congress to ratify the Versailles peace treaty and the League of Nations.) In his telegram to the Nobel Committee, Wilson said he was grateful and “moved” by the recognition of his work for the cause of peace but emphasized the need for further efforts to “rid [mankind] of the unspeakable horror of war.” Wilson did not live to see the United Nations take shape in place of his League of Nations. He died at age 68 in February 1924.

First Nobel Prizes awarded

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-nobel-prizes-awarded

The first Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. The ceremony came on the fifth anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite and other high explosives. In his will, Nobel directed that the bulk of his vast fortune be placed in a fund in which the interest would be “annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” Although Nobel offered no public reason for his creation of the prizes, it is widely believed that he did so out of moral regret over the increasingly lethal uses of his inventions in war.

Alfred Bernhard Nobel was born in Stockholm in 1833, and four years later his family moved to Russia. His father ran a successful St. Petersburg factory that built explosive mines and other military equipment. Educated in Russia, Paris, and the United States, Alfred Nobel proved a brilliant chemist. When his father’s business faltered after the end of the Crimean War, Nobel returned to Sweden and set up a laboratory to experiment with explosives. In 1863, he invented a way to control the detonation of nitroglycerin, a highly volatile liquid that had been recently discovered but was previously regarded as too dangerous for use. Two years later, Nobel invented the blasting cap, an improved detonator that inaugurated the modern use of high explosives. Previously, the most dependable explosive was black powder, a form of gunpowder.

Nitroglycerin remained dangerous, however, and in 1864 Nobel’s nitroglycerin factory blew up, killing his younger brother and several other people. Searching for a safer explosive, Nobel discovered in 1867 that the combination of nitroglycerin and a porous substance called kieselguhr produced a highly explosive mixture that was much safer to handle and use. Nobel christened his invention “dynamite,” for the Greek word dynamis, meaning “power.” Securing patents on dynamite, Nobel acquired a fortune as humanity put his invention to use in construction and warfare.

In 1875, Nobel created a more powerful form of dynamite, blasting gelatin, and in 1887 introduced ballistite, a smokeless nitroglycerin powder. Around that time, one of Nobel’s brothers died in France, and French newspapers printed obituaries in which they mistook him for Alfred. One headline read, “The merchant of death is dead.” Alfred Nobel in fact had pacifist tendencies and in his later years apparently developed strong misgivings about the impact of his inventions on the world. After he died in San Remo, Italy, on December 10, 1896, the majority of his estate went toward the creation of prizes to be given annually in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The portion of his will establishing the Nobel Peace Prize read, “[one award shall be given] to the person who has done the most or best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Exactly five years after his death, the first Nobel awards were presented.

Today, the Nobel Prizes are regarded as the most prestigious awards in the world in their various fields. Notable winners have included Marie Curie, Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. Multiple leaders and organizations sometimes receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and multiple researchers often share the scientific awards for their joint discoveries. In 1968, a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science was established by the Swedish national bank, Sveriges Riksbank, and first awarded in 1969.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decides the prizes in physics, chemistry, and economic science; the Swedish Royal Caroline Medico-Surgical Institute determines the physiology or medicine award; the Swedish Academy chooses literature; and a committee elected by the Norwegian parliament awards the peace prize. The Nobel Prizes are still presented annually on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death. In 2006, each Nobel Prize carried a cash prize of nearly $1,400,000 and recipients also received a gold medal, as is the tradition.

READ MORE: Did a Premature Obituary Inspire the Nobel Prize? 

American diplomat Ralph Bunche receives Nobel Peace Prize

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bunche-receives-nobel-peace-prize

For his peace mediation during the first Arab-Israeli war, American diplomat Ralph Joseph Bunche receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. Bunche was the first African American to win the prestigious award.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1904, he entered the field of U.S. diplomacy while serving in the Office of Strategic Services and the State Department during the 1940s. In 1947, he was appointed to the United Nations and served as an aide on the U.N. Palestine Commission, a special committee formed to seek an end to the crisis over Israel’s movement toward independence. When the chief U.N. mediator between Israel and its Arab opponents died in early 1949, Bunche was thrust into a leading role in the process and proved instrumental in the successful negotiation of a cease-fire between the warring parties.

After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Bunche continued his important role at the U.N. and was noted for his expertise on colonial affairs and race relations. He died in 1971.

First paper currency is issued in the Colonies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-paper-currency-is-issued-in-the-colonies

On December 10, 1690, a failed attack on Quebec and subsequent near-mutiny force the Massachusetts Bay Colony to issue the first paper currency in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

France and Britain periodically attacked each other’s North American colonies throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries. In 1690, during one such war, Governor William Phips of Britain’s Massachusetts Bay Colony made a promise he could not keep. After leading a successful invasion of the French colony of Arcadia, Phips decided to raid Quebec City, promising his volunteer troops half the loot in addition to their usual pay. Soldiers were typically paid in coins, but shortages of official currency in the colonies sometimes forced armies to temporarily issue IOUs—in one case, in the form of cut-up playing cards—which troops were allowed to exchange for goods and services until receiving their actual pay. Despite Phips’ grand promise, he failed to take the city, returning to Massachusetts with a damaged fleet and no treasure.

With a shortage of coins and nothing else to pay the troops with, Phips faced a potential mutiny. With no other option, on December 10th, 1690, the General Court of Massachusetts ordered the printing of a limited amount of government-backed, paper currency to pay the soldiers. A few months later, with tax season approaching, a law was passed removing the limit on how much currency could be printed, calling for the immediate printing of more, and permitting the use of paper currency for the payment of taxes.

The currency was initially unpopular for anything except paying taxes, and was phased out. Within a few years, however, paper currency would return to Massachusetts. The Bank of England began issuing banknotes in 1695, also to pay for war against the French, and they became increasingly common throughout the 18th Century. Paper money continued to stoke controversy throughout the early history of the United States, and it was tied to the value of gold for a surprisingly long time. It was not until 1973 that President Richard Nixon officially ended the international convertibility of the U.S. dollar into gold.

READ MORE: How Did the Gold Standard Contribute to the Great Depression?

“Scarface,” starring Al Pacino, opens in theaters

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pacino-stars-in-scarface

The actor Al Pacino stars as a Cuban refugee who becomes a Miami crime boss in Scarface, which opens in theaters on December 9, 1983.

In Scarface, Pacino played Tony Montana, who arrives in Florida from Cuba in 1980 and eventually becomes wealthy from his involvement in the booming cocaine business. Things fall apart when Tony becomes addicted to the drug and his world collapses in violence. Directed by Brian De Palma from a screenplay by Oliver Stone, Scarface co-starred Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Robert Loggia. The film was loosely based on a 1932 gangster film of the same name, directed by Howard Hawks and reportedly inspired in part by the real-life mobster Al “Scarface” Capone. Though De Palma’s Scarface received mixed reviews upon its initial release and was criticized for its violence, it proved to be a success at the box-office and went on to achieve pop-culture status.

Tony Montana is just one of many notable roles in the career of Pacino, who was born on April 25, 1940, in New York City. He first gained notice for his portrayal as a young drug addict in 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park, which was produced by Dominick Dunne and written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Pacino’s next film (just the third of his career) was the director Francis Ford Coppola’s now-iconic crime-family drama The Godfather (1972), co-starring Marlon Brando, James Caan, Diane Keaton and Robert Duvall. Pacino received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as the conflicted crime boss Michael Corleone, a role he would reprise in the acclaimed sequels The Godfather: Part II (1974) and The Godfather: Part III (1990).

Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Pacino turned in a number of acclaimed performances, garnering three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, for Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and …And Justice for All (1979). In the ensuing decades, the prolific actor continued to rack up an impressive list of credits in such films as the 1989 hit Sea of Love, opposite Ellen Barkin; Dick Tracy (1990), for which he earned yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination; and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), for which he received a nod for Best Supporting Actor. He took home his first Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a blind, retired Army officer in Scent of a Woman (1992). Among Pacino’s other memorable films are the 1970s-era gangster drama Carlito’s Way (1993); the New York mafia drama Donnie Brasco (1997); the Oscar-nominated The Insider (1999), with Russell Crowe; and director Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday (1999), in which Pacino played a pro football coach. In 2008, Pacino teamed up with another Italian-American screen legend, Robert De Niro, to play New York City police detectives in Righteous Kill; the two appeared again in 2019’s mob drama The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese. 

“The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson is published

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-charge-of-the-light-brigade-by-alfred-lord-tennyson-is-published

On December 9, The Examiner prints Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” which commemorates the courage of 600 British soldiers charging a heavily defended position during the Battle of Balaklava, in the Crimea, just six weeks earlier. Tennyson had been named poet laureate in 1850 by Queen Victoria.

Tennyson was born into a chaotic and disrupted home. His father, the eldest son of a wealthy landowner, was disinherited in favor of his younger brother. Forced to enter the church to support himself, the Reverend Dr. George Tennyson became a bitter alcoholic. However, he educated his sons in the classics, and Alfred Tennyson, the fourth of 12 children, went to Trinity College at Cambridge in 1827. The same year, he and his brother Charles published Poems by Two Brothers. At Cambridge, Tennyson befriended a circle of intellectual undergraduates who strongly encouraged his poetry. Chief among them was Arthur Hallam, who became Tennyson’s closest friend and who later proposed to Tennyson’s sister.

In 1830, Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. The following year, his father died, and he was forced to leave Cambridge for financial reasons. Besieged by critical attacks and struggling with poverty, Tennyson nevertheless remained dedicated to his work and published several more volumes.

The sudden death of Tennyson’s dear friend Arthur Hallam in 1833 inspired several important works throughout Tennyson’s later life, including the masterful In Memoriam of 1842. Later that year, he published a volume called Poems, containing some of his best works. The book boosted Tennyson’s reputation, and in 1850 Queen Victoria named him poet laureate. At long last, Tennyson achieved financial stability and finally married his fiancée, Emily Sellwood, whom he had loved since 1836.

Tennyson’s massive frame and booming voice, together with his taste for solitude, made him an imposing character. He craved solitude and bought an isolated home where he could write in peace. In 1859, he published the first four books of his epic Idylls of the King. Eight more volumes would follow. He continued writing and publishing poems until his death in 1892.

The Texan Army captures San Antonio

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-texan-army-captures-san-antonio

Inspired by the spirited leadership of Benjamin Rush Milam, the newly created Texan Army takes possession of the city of San Antonio, an important victory for the Republic of Texas in its war for independence from Mexico.

Milam was born in 1788 in Frankfort, Kentucky. He became a citizen and soldier of Mexico in 1824, when newly independent Mexico was still under a republican constitution. Like many Americans who immigrated to the Mexican state of Texas, Milam found that the government both welcomed and feared the growing numbers of Americans, and treated them with uneven fairness. When Milam heard in 1835 that Santa Ana had overthrown the Mexican republic and established himself as dictator, Milam renounced his Mexican citizenship and joined the rag-tag army of the newly proclaimed independent Republic of Texas.

After helping the Texas Army capture the city of Goliad, Milam went on a reconnaissance mission to the southwest but returned to join the army for its planned attack on San Antonio-only to learn that the generals were postponing the attack on San Antonio for the winter. Aware that Santa Ana’s forces were racing toward Texas to suppress the rebellion, Milam worried that any hesitation would spell the end of the revolution. Milam made an impassioned call for volunteers, asking: “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?”

Inspired by Milam’s bold challenge, three hundred men did volunteer, and the Texas Army began its attack on San Antonio at dawn on December 5. By December 9, the defending forces of the Mexican army were badly beaten, and the commanding general surrendered the city. Milam, however, was not there to witness the results of his leadership–he was killed instantly by a sniper bullet on December 7. If Milam had survived, he might well have been among the doomed defenders of the Alamo that were wiped out by Santa Ana’s troops the following March.

Malleable Masculinity: Fashioning Male Identity in Teding van Berkhout’s Travel Letters (1739–1741)

Previously posted at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363199019881644?ai=2b4&mi=ehikzz&af=R

Journal of Family History, Volume 45, Issue 1, Page 3-19, January 2020.
Drawing evidence from the letters and travel journal of Jan Teding van Berkhout—scion of a wealthy regenten family from Delft—this article scrutinizes how elite masculinity and wellevendheid (politeness) were constructed, perceived, experienced, and contested in the eighteenth-century Dutch Republic. Berkhout’s correspondence not only hints at some important differences in the Netherlandish and British interpretation of polite masculinity but also evidences that ideas about what a “true man” was and how he should behave could differ substantially within one and the same family. Differences in age, gender, and the unequal balance of power created a set of—coexisting, competing, or clashing—multiple masculinities. Whether masculinity was performed front- or backstage also mattered, as politeness was frequently put on hold and replaced by intimate bawdiness. In fact, the spectrum of masculinities available in Berkhout’s correspondence casts some serious doubt on Connell’s idea of hegemonic masculinity.

Smallpox is officially declared eradicated

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/smallpox-officially-declared-eradicated

On December 9, 1979, a commission of scientists declare that smallpox has been eradicated. The disease, which carries around a 30 percent chance of death for those who contract it, is the only infectious disease afflicting humans that has officially been eradicated.

Something similar to smallpox had ravaged humanity for thousands of years, with the earliest known description appearing in Indian accounts from the 2 Century BCE. It was believed that the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V died of smallpox in 1145 BCE; however, recent research indicates that the actual smallpox virus may have evolved as late as 1580 CE. A type of inoculation—introducing a small amount of the disease in order to bring on a mild case that results in immunity—was widespread in China by the 16th century.

There is no record of a smallpox-like illness in the Americas before European contact, and the fact that Europeans brought pox with them was a major factor in their conquest and near-eradication of many of the indigenous peoples of North, South and Central America. Smallpox was the leading cause of death in 18th century Europe, leading to many experiments with inoculation. In 1796 the English scientist Edward Jenner discovered a vaccine. Unlike other types of inoculation, Jenner’s vaccine, made from a closely-related disease that affects cows, carried zero risk of transmission.

Many European countries and American states made the vaccination of infants mandatory, and incidents of smallpox declined over the 19th and early 20th centuries. Compared to other epidemic diseases, such as polio or malaria, smallpox eradication was relatively simple because the disease lives only in humans, making human vaccination highly effective at stopping its spread, and its symptoms appear quickly, making it easy to identify and isolate outbreaks.

Starting in 1967, the World Health Organization undertook a worldwide effort to identify and stamp out the last remaining outbreaks of the disease. By the mid-70s, smallpox was only present in the Horn of Africa and parts of the Indian subcontinent. The last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in Somalia in 1977. Two years later, doctors proclaimed its eradication. The elimination of smallpox is one of the major successes in the history of science and medicine.

READ MORE: How an African Slave in Boston Helped Save Generations from Smallpox