"Contagium vivum fluidum," Latin for "contagious living fluid," was how viruses were first described in 1898. It was described as a fluid because the virus being studied was able to slip through the finest mesh filters then available, like a fluid.

Tillie Anderson was a Swedish seamstress who became a professional cyclist in America and dominated the sport in the 1890s. She won all but seven of the 130 races she entered. Unfortunately, women's cycling races declined and eventually ceased to be a professional possibility. By 1902 there were no longer any women’s races. Anderson switched careers, becoming a Swedish masseuse for wealthy families in Chicago, and helping establish bike paths in Chicago in the 1930s.

Using Dental Tartar to Reconstruct Diets from Japan's Edo Period

Samples of tartar from the teeth of 13 people who were buried in what is now eastern Tokyo in the latter half of the Edo Period, from 1603 to 1867 CE, were analyzed in a recent study. DNA from rice was identified in the tartar of eight of the individuals. The DNA of other foods, including daikon radish, the minty herb “shiso” perilla, green onion, Japanese chestnut, carrot, and pumpkin was also identified. The researchers noted that the DNA results match records describing these foods from the period.

Non-food items were also found. DNA from tobacco plants, which may have been smoked, was also found in the tartar. Slightly more obscure was resin from tropical lowland rainforest trees -- potentially a tooth powder? “The technique will make it possible to survey what each individual ate,” Rikai Sawafuji of the University of the Ryukyus said of the project. Such analysis could allow researchers to determine which foods were used as staples, and even which were an individual’s favorite foods, he added.

Mark Twain once entered a contest that offered $10 for the best original poem on the topic of spring, “no poem to be considered unless it should possess positive value.” He submitted this and took the prize.

An Anecdote on Shakespeare, the Mexican-American War, and the Male Psyche

In 1845 the US President James Polk ordered about half of the United States army to enter Texas, then an independent country the US had just annexed, and set up camp north of the new Mexican border. Polk wanted to provoke Mexico into attacking and starting a war. The army was basically told to mass just close enough to Mexican border to be worrisome, then stay put and do nothing. As you can imagine the men started drinking, fighting, and generally behaving like bored young men. Their officers decided to curb the rowdy behavior by...building a theater and staging Shakespeare plays! Only logical solution, really.

The first play planned was Othello. They found an officer, Porter, to play the lead role, but then there was a problem: who could play Desdemona? The officers eventually discovered a slim, girlish officer who everyone acknowledged looked great in a dress. His name was Ulysses S Grant. So this is the story of how the man who would become the general that led the Union Army in the American Civil War, then led the country as president through the start of Reconstruction after slavery was abolished, spent time rehearsing what it would be like to be a white woman in love with a black man.

In the end Porter could not handle playing Othello opposite Grant as Desdemona, and they brought in an actress from New Orleans. Makes you think about American society's willingness to accommodate male fragility around their sexuality.

France Made Already-Free Slaves Pay For Their Freedom

When Haiti's slaves fought for their independence (and won) against France, France required its former colony to pay "reparations" to the French government and French slaveholders for the "theft" of their slaves. Costing billions of dollars in today's money, it was financed by French banks and the American Citibank. The debt was only paid off in 1947. Having to continually send money out of the country has been a major factor in maintaining Haitian poverty over the past two centuries. France, by the way, continues to refuse considering repaying the reparations back to Haiti.

Skara Brae, the famous prehistoric stone village in Scotland's Orkney Islands, was preserved in part thanks to a giant sand dune. The Neolithic village rested peacefully under a giant dune for millennia until wild storms ripped away its protection in the winter of 1850.

Locals were surprised to find a midden heap and sunken stone homes that had been peacefully sitting under the dune their whole lives. The discovery turned out to be the best-preserved Neolithic settlement in northern Europe thanks to the dune. It even had some prehistoric furniture!

The dune, by the way, was named Skara Brae.

The first poem published by an African-American in North America was "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries." It was written by Jupiter Hammon, a Christian man enslaved by the Lloyd family from Long Island, New York. He ad been allowed a basic education so he could work as a book-keeper in their business. His Christmas poem was published in 1761. Eighteen years later, he published his second poem, "An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley." Hammon was an admirer of her poetry though they had never met. By the time he died, Hammon had published four poems and four prose works, and was still enslaved.

"A strap secured to the back of the board (on which the child rests) passes around the forehead, and the bearer by pressing the lower part with her arms, as represented in this sketch, secures it most effectually and carries it with great ease." A.J. Miller, extracted from "The West of Alfred Jacob Miller" (1837). In July 1858, William T. Walters commissioned 200 watercolors at twelve dollars apiece from Baltimore born artist Alfred Jacob Miller. The watercolors were based on field-sketches drawn during the 1837 expedition that Miller had undertaken to the annual fur-trader's rendezvous in the Green River Valley (in what is now western Wyoming). Each commissioned watercolor was accompanied by a descriptive text. Today, these watercolors are a unique record of the closing years of the western fur trade. Courtesy of the Walters Museum.

In 1619 the first African Americans were brought to North America as slaves. In the 401 years since, African Americans have been legally equal to Whites for just 16% of the time.

The reverse is also important to remember. Whites have been taught for at least 84% of the time that African Americans were lesser humans.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    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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