Canada's prestigious Queen's University officially banned black medical students in 1918. The policy was enforced until 1965, and only officially removed the ban in 2018!

The Epic Life of A Viking Explorer

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir was a Norse explorer, born in Iceland, but remembered for her participation in the Viking expeditions to what is today Canada. She became known as the ‘far-traveller' and she is talked about in two Old Norse sagas, The Saga of Erik the Red and The Saga of the Greenlanders.

Gudrid is described in The Saga of the Greenlanders as “a woman of striking appearance, and wise”. Both sagas start Gudrid's story with her and her father sailing west to join Erik the Red’s newly-founded colony in Greenland. According to The Saga of the Greenlanders Gudrid, her husband and several others were shipwrecked, then rescued by Leif the Lucky, son of Erik the Red. A sickness came through the Greenland colonists that winter and Gudrid's husband died. The Saga of Erik the Red does not mention a shipwreck or Gudrid already being married. Instead, when Gudrid arrived Greenland was in the grip of a famine. Though a Christian, she took part in a pagan ritual and assisted a seeress in chanting songs to sway spirits and end the famine.

Both sagas agree that after arriving in Greenland Gudrid married Thorstein, son of Erik the Red and younger brother of Leif the Lucky. That winter a deadly sickness struck again. Gudrid and her but, once again, Gudrid survived. She then married an Icelander, Thorstein Karlsefni, who travelled with her to Vinland. After they landed, Gudrid gave birth to a son, Snorri. If the sagas are truthful Snorri was the first baby born to a European on the North American continent.

Gudrid's story continues after the Vinland attempt at a colony is abandoned. She becomes a revered matriarch in Iceland, who many famous Icelanders trace their ancestry to. She even makes a pilgrimage to far-away Rome. The Saga of the Greenlanders ends with a list of Gudrid's descendants. Some historians argue that the saga should more rightly be named "The Saga of Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir" given how important she is in the history.

The Assassin Who Gave Us A Word

The English word "guy" meaning a man or gender-neutral person, likely comes from Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot he was involved in, in 1605. The word "guy" was first slang for a poorly-dressed person like those that carried Guy Fawkes effigies at the yearly festival. Eventually it lost its negative connotation.

Things English Can’t Do - That Other Languages Can

A fun video about what some other languages have evolved to do. And English did not.

A German shield for tournament use, in "Hungarian-style" dress, circa 1500. The owl's ribbon says roughly, "Although I am hated by all birds, I rather enjoy that."

How many human sacrifices did the Aztec make, really?

The most recent archaeological evidence suggests a consistent pattern of finding between 90-150 individual remains at each of the the major archaeological sites in Mexico City. Based on the age of the city, and the Aztec religious calendar, the math suggests the Aztecs sacrificed 18 to 25 individuals every year. This might go up during times of stress. We have at least one recorded drought when they increased the number of human sacrifices in response. But in general, this is a much lower number than the popular imagination would have you believe. Another win for archaeology!

Buzz Off

One genus of mosquitos, discovered and named by German entomologist Johann Wilhelm Meigen in 1818, is called "anopheles." From the Greek an (“not”) + ophelos (“benefit”).

The empire which had the largest percentage of the world's population living within its imperial borders was....the Achaemenid Empire! Better known as the Persian Empire, it had roughly 49.4 million of the world’s 112.4 million people in around 480 BCE. That's 44% of the world's people!

How Extremism Crippled A University

Although now obscure, Göttingen had been the place for mathematical research all throughout the 1800s. Those working at the university were premier mathematicians (and physicists): Gauss, Riemann, Klein, Dirichlet, Noether, Von Neumann, Oppenheimer, Hilbert. (For us non-mathematicians, that’s apparently a very impressive list of names.) The importance of Göttingen and German mathematicians generally is most clearly shown by German becoming an international language for science. Dissertations published in the US and UK often had German titles.

With the Nazi rise to power in the early 1930s many prominent Jews left Germany. Göttingen was still prominent, however. Then came the “great purge.” Academics including Max Born, Victor Goldschmidt, James Franck, Eugene Wigner, Leó Szilárd, Edward Teller, Edmund Landau, Emmy Noether, and Richard Courant were expelled or fled from the university. Göttingen became the showpiece for the Nazi crackdown on “Jewish physics.” Only approved Germans were now allowed to teach there.

One of the few remaining faculty from before the purge, David Hilbert, was asked in 1934 “How is mathematics at Göttingen, now that it is free from the Jewish influence?” He replied, “There is no mathematics in Göttingen, anymore.” The center of academic progress moved, virtually overnight, to the United States.

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    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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