Category Archives: Uncategorized

Celebrated writer Oscar Wilde is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/oscar-wildes-birthday

Oscar Wilde is born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. He grew up in Ireland and went to England to attend Oxford, where he graduated with honors in 1878. A popular society figure known for his wit and flamboyant style, he published his own book of poems in 1881. He spent a year lecturing on poetry in the United States, where his dapper wardrobe and excessive devotion to art drew ridicule from some quarters.

After returning to Britain, Wilde married and had two children, for whom he wrote delightful fairy tales, which were published in 1888. Meanwhile, he wrote reviews and edited Women’s World. In 1890, his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published serially, appearing in book form the following year. He wrote his first play, The Duchess of Padua, in 1891 and wrote five more in the next four years. His plays, including The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), were successful and made him a popular and well-known writer.

In 1895, the Marquess of Queensberry denounced Wilde as a homosexual, accusing him of having an affair with the marquess’s son. Wilde sued for libel, but lost his case when evidence strongly supported the marquess’s observations. Unfortunately, homosexuality was classified as a crime in England at the time. Wilde was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to two years of hard labor.

Wilde was released from prison in 1897 and fled to Paris, where his many loyal friends visited him. He started writing again, producing The Ballad of Reading Gaol, based on his experiences in prison. He died of acute meningitis in 1900.

READ MORE: How Oscar Wilde’s Libel Trial Backfired and Ruined His Life

Abraham Lincoln speaks out against slavery

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-speaks-out-against-slavery

On October 16, 1854, an obscure lawyer and Congressional hopeful from the state of Illinois named Abraham Lincoln delivers a speech regarding the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Congress had passed five months earlier. In his speech, the future president denounced the act and outlined his views on slavery, which he called “immoral.”

Under the terms of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, two new territories—Kansas and Nebraska—would be allowed into the Union and each territory’s citizens would be given the power to determine whether slavery would be allowed within the territory’s borders. It was believed that the act would set a precedent for determining the legality of slavery in other new territories. Controversy over the act influenced political races across the country that fall. Abolitionists, like Lincoln, hoped to convince lawmakers in the new territories to reject slavery.

Lincoln, who was practicing law at the time, campaigned on behalf of abolitionist Republicans in Illinois and attacked the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He denounced members of the Democratic Party for backing a law that “assumes there can be moral right in the enslaving of one man by another.” He believed that the law went against the founding American principle that “all men are created equal.” Lincoln was an abolitionist at heart, but he realized that the outlawing of slavery in states where it already existed might lead to civil war. Instead, he advocated outlawing the spread of slavery to new states. He hoped this plan would preserve the Union and slowly eliminate slavery by confining it to the South, where, he believed, “it would surely die a slow death.”

Lincoln and his fellow abolitionists were dismayed when Kansans voted a pro-slavery candidate into Congress in November. As Lincoln’s political career picked up momentum over the next several years, he continually referred to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the seeming inevitability that Kansas should become a slave state as “a violence…it was conceived in violence, passed in violence, is maintained in violence, and is being executed in violence.”

Lincoln continued to actively campaign against slavery in Kansas and helped to raise money to support anti-slavery candidates in that state. Meanwhile he continued his law practice and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1859. Although he lost to Democrat Stephen Douglas, Lincoln began to make a name for himself in national politics and earned increasing support from the North and abolitionists across the nation. It was this constituency that helped him win the presidency in 1860.

READ MORE: Slavery in America: Timeline, Figures and Abolition

Keeping the Nation’s Secrets: “Colonial Storytelling” within Australian Families

Previously posted at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363199020966920?ai=2b4&mi=ehikzz&af=R

Journal of Family History, Ahead of Print.
Recent studies of the genealogy craze focus on how family historians appeal to ancestors to fashion their own identities, but practicing family history can also be a form of national identity-work. In this paper I explore how Larissa Behrendt’s notion of “colonial storytelling” might apply to the hi/stories told within families, as they seek to reproduce or challenge inherited narratives of settler colonialism. To do this, I analyze a sample of self-published family histories of “settlement” held at the National Library of Australia. With close attention to family historians’ books, I consider how genealogical research can revise the collective memories that shape both familial and national imaginaries and offer a model for truth-telling.

The Long March

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-long-march

The embattled Chinese Communists break through Nationalist enemy lines and begin an epic flight from their encircled headquarters in southwest China. Known as Ch’ang Cheng—the “Long March”—the retreat lasted 368 days and covered 6,000 miles, more than twice the distance from New York to San Francisco.

Civil war in China between the Nationalists and the Communists broke out in 1927. In 1931, Communist leader Mao Zedong was elected chairman of the newly established Soviet Republic of China, based in Jiangxi province in the southeast. Between 1930 and 1934, the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek launched a series of five encirclement campaigns against the Soviet Republic. Under the leadership of Mao, the Communists employed guerrilla tactics to resist successfully the first four campaigns, but in the fifth, Chiang raised 700,000 troops and built fortifications around the Communist positions. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were killed or died of starvation in the siege, and Mao was removed as chairman by the Communist Central Committee. The new Communist leadership employed more conventional warfare tactics, and its Red Army was decimated.

With defeat imminent, the Communists decided to break out of the encirclement at its weakest points. The Long March began at 5:00 p.m. on October 16, 1934. Secrecy and rear-guard actions confused the Nationalists, and it was several weeks before they realized that the main body of the Red Army had fled. The retreating force initially consisted of 86,000 troops, 15,000 personnel, and 35 women. Weapons and supplies were borne on men’s backs or in horse-drawn carts, and the line of marchers stretched for 50 miles. The Communists generally marched at night, and when the enemy was not near, a long column of torches could be seen snaking over valleys and hills into the distance.

The first disaster came in November, when Nationalist forces blocked the Communists’ route across the Hsiang River. It took a week for the Communists to break through the fortifications and cost them 50,000 men—more than half their number. After that debacle, Mao steadily regained his influence, and in January he was again made chairman during a meeting of the party leaders in the captured city of Tsuni. Mao changed strategy, breaking his force into several columns that would take varying paths to confuse the enemy. There would be no more direct assaults on enemy positions. And the destination would now be Shaanxi Province, in the far northwest, where the Communists hoped to fight the Japanese invaders and earn the respect of China’s masses.

After enduring starvation, aerial bombardment, and almost daily skirmishes with Nationalist forces, Mao halted his columns at the foot of the Great Wall of China on October 20, 1935. Waiting for them were five machine-gun- and red-flag-bearing horsemen. “Welcome, Chairman Mao,” one said. “We represent the Provincial Soviet of Northern Shensi. We have been waiting for you anxiously. All that we have is at your disposal!” The Long March was over.

The Communist marchers crossed 24 rivers and 18 mountain ranges, mostly snow-capped. Only 4,000 troops completed the journey. The majority of those who did not perished. It was the longest continuous march in the history of warfare and marked the emergence of Mao Zedong as the undisputed leader of the Chinese Communists. Learning of the Communists’ heroism and determination in the Long March, thousands of young Chinese traveled to Shensi to enlist in Mao’s Red Army. After fighting the Japanese for a decade, the Chinese Civil War resumed in 1945. Four years later, the Nationalists were defeated, and Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. He served as chairman until his death in 1976.

READ MORE: China: A Timeline

High-ranking Nazi leader Hermann Göring dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hermann-goering-dies

On October 15, 1946, Hermann Göring, commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, president of the Reichstag, head of the Gestapo, prime minister of Prussia, chief forester of the Reich, chief liquidator of sequestered estates, supreme head of the National Weather Bureau, and Hitler’s designated successor dies by his own hand.

Göring was an early member of the Nazi Party and was wounded in the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. That wound would have long-term effects, as Göring became increasingly addicted to painkillers. Not long after Hitler’s accession to power, Göring was instrumental in creating concentration camps for political enemies. Ostentatious and self-indulgent, he changed his uniform five times a day and was notorious for flaunting his decorations, jewelry, and stolen artwork. It was Göring who ordered the purging of German Jews from the economy following the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, initiating an “Aryanization” policy that confiscated Jewish property and businesses.

Göring’s failure to win the Battle of Britain and prevent the Allied bombing of Germany led to his loss of stature within the Party, aggravated by the low esteem with which he was always held by fellow officers because of his egocentrism and position as Hitler’s right-hand man. As the war progressed, he dropped into depressions and continued to battle drug addiction.

When Göring fell into U.S. hands after Germany’s surrender, he had in his possession a rich stash of paracodin pills, a morphine derivative. He was tried at Nuremberg and charged with various crimes against humanity. Despite a vigorous attempt at self-acquittal, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but before he could be executed, he died by suicide by swallowing a cyanide tablet he had hidden from his guards.

READ MORE: The 7 Most Notorious Nazis Who Escaped to South America

H.L. Hunley sinks during tests

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/c-s-s-hunley-sinks-during-tests

On October 15, 1863, the H.L. Hunley, the world’s first successful combat submarine, sinks during a test run, killing its inventor and seven crew members.

Horace Lawson Hunley developed the 40-foot submarine from a cylinder boiler. It was operated by a crew of eight—one person steered while the other seven turned a crank that drove the ship’s propeller. The Hunley could dive, but it required calm seas for safe operations. It was tested successfully in Alabama’s Mobile Bay in the summer of 1863, and Confederate commander General Pierre G.T. Beauregard recognized that the vessel might be useful to ram Union ships and break the blockade of Charleston Harbor. The Hunley was placed on a railcar and shipped to South Carolina.

The submarine experienced problems upon its arrival. During a test run, a crewmember became tangled in part of the craft’s machinery and the craft dove with its hatch open; only two men survived the accident. The ship was raised and repaired, but it was difficult to find another crew that was willing to assume the risk of operating the submarine. Its inventor and namesake stepped forward to restore confidence in his creation. On October 15, he took the submarine into Charleston Harbor for another test. In front of a crowd of spectators, the Hunley slipped below the surface and did not reappear. Horace Hunley and his entire crew perished.

Another willing crew was assembled and the Hunley went back into the water. On February 17, 1864, the ship headed out of Charleston Harbor and approached the U.S.S. Housatanic. The Hunley struck a torpedo into the Yankee ship and then backed away before the explosion. The Housatanic sank in shallow water, and the Hunley became the first submarine to sink a ship in battle. However, its first successful mission was also its last—the Hunley sank before it returned to Charleston, taking yet another crew down with it. The vessel was raised in 2000, and is now on exhibit in Charleston.

READ MORE: The Hunley’s Most Daring Mission 

Mikhail Gorbachev wins Nobel Peace Prize

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mikhail-gorbachev-wins-nobel-peace-prize

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending Cold War tensions. Since coming to power in 1985, Gorbachev had undertaken to concentrate more effort and funds on his domestic reform plans by going to extraordinary lengths to reach foreign policy understandings with the noncommunist world.

Some of his accomplishments include four summits with President Ronald Reagan, including a 1987 meeting at which an agreement was reached to dismantle the U.S. and USSR intermediate-range missiles in Europe. He also began to remove Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and exerted diplomatic pressure on Cuba and Vietnam to remove their forces from Angola and Kampuchea (Cambodia), respectively. In a 1989 meeting with President George Bush, Gorbachev declared that the Cold War was over.

Gorbachev also earned the respect of many in the West through his policy of non-intervention in the political upheavals that shook the Eastern European “satellite” nations during the late-1980s and early-1990s. When Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, and other Iron Curtain countries began to move toward more democratic political systems and free market economies, Gorbachev kept Soviet intervention in check. (This policy did not extend to the Soviet republics; similar efforts by Lithuania and other republics were met with stern warnings and force to keep the Soviet Socialist Republics together.)

READ MORE: Was the Soviet Union’s Collapse Inevitable?