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.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend, 1918

Notice the noses! Despite the attempt at preventing the spread of the flu, their masks do not cover their noses and they are standing quite near each other. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be aware that despite their precautions, their noses meant the flu could still be exchanged.

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.

Using Genetics To Understand Central Andean Populations Across Time

A recent genetic study of ancient human remains found in the highlands and coastal regions of Peru’s Central Andes Mountains indicates that around 7,000 BCE, groups that lived in the highlands were genetically distinct from those that lived along the Pacific coast, and that by 3,800 BCE, the population that lived in the north was genetically distinct from the population in the south.

This is not to make too strong a statement about populations living in isolation from each other: there was some evidence of intermarriage between these groups. But the rate of gene exchange slowed around 2,000 years ago. And these groupings are still in evidence today, in the genes of Peru's modern inhabitants.

Because the researchers found a high level of genetic continuity, the study suggests that the fall of Andean cultures such as the Moche, Wari, and Nazca were not the result of massive immigration. Nor did local people did not die out when they were invaded. If such mass population changes had occurred it would have been shown in the genetic record. However, remains from urban centers do show evidence of diverse origins: cities were gathering places for individuals from varied genetic (and geographical) backgrounds.

The First American Cities

Peru's archaeological site of Caral made headlines in 2001 when carbon-dating proved the site to be from around 2627 BCE. That's the same time when the Egyptians started the construction of their first pyramid complexes. Caral's layout showed neighborhoods for specific trades, and higher-status and lower-status neighborhoods. It sprawled across 163 acres, and appears to have administrative as well as ceremonial areas, including six large pyramidal structures. Its early carbon dating make Caral, along with 18 similarly dated sites that have been discovered clustered together in the Supe Valley, are the earliest-known cities in the Americans. It would be another 1,000 years before the first Olmec cities arose in Mesoamerica.

The US Government Has Long Killed Black Activists. It Just Wasn't Filmed.

In 1968, at just 20 years old, Fred Hampton brokered a nonaggression pact among Chicago's most powerful street gangs. He then helped form a multicultural political organization, "Rainbow coalition," that initially included the Black Panthers, Young Patriots and the Young Lords, and an alliance among major Chicago street gangs to help them end infighting, and work for social change. Fred Hampton was then assassinated in his sleep, age 21, by a tactical unit produced by the Chicago Police Department working in conjunction with the FBI. A coroner's jury held an inquest in 1970 and ruled his death to be justifiable homicide. A civil lawsuit was later filed on behalf of his survivors and relatives that was resolved 1982 by a settlement of $1.85 million. Today, based on revelations about the illegal COINTELPRO program and documents associated with the killings, scholars now widely consider Hampton's death an assassination under the FBI's initiative.

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.

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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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