Remember the Alamo!

The real name of the mission where the famous battle happened during the Mexican-American War is San Antonio de Valero. But it has always been known by its nickname, Alamo. Where did that come from? Well, there are two competing theories.

Did you know that “alamo” is the Spanish word for “cottonwood”? One theory says that when the Spanish missionaries came to the spot in central Texas where they would locate the mission, they were struck by the lushness of the land and a grove of cottonwood trees growing nearby along the San Antonio River.

The second, competing theory, says the name came not from trees, but from a Spanish battalion of soldiers who were stationed at the mission after it was abandoned by missionaries. The battalion was named the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras. No “alamo” in there. But the soldiers were originally from a small town called San Jose y Santiago del Alamo, in Coahuila, Mexico. Eventually that very long name got shortened, to La Compañía del Alamo, or just El Alamo.

Neither theory has been proven absolutely. Which do you prefer?

The First Fashionable Knockoff

About 5,000 years ago, the Chinese discovered how to make silk from the cocoon of silkworms. Silk quickly became highly prized -- and very expensive -- so to keep their monopoly, the Chinese kept the secret of how to make the valuable fabric. It was illegal to take silkworms outside of China. Anyone caught trying to export the secret of silk could face the death penalty. With such stringent measures, the Chinese managed to keep the secret for almost 3,000 years! Which opened the door for knock-offs.

The most common knock-off was cotton, beaten with sticks to soften it, then rubbed against a stone to give it a shine like silk. The resulting fabric was called "chintz" because it was "cheap." Even today, with silk much cheaper and more available, the word chintz means something less valuable and of less good quality.

Dreadlocks: A Brief Explanation

Dreadlocks are a Rastafarian hairstyle, in which hair is allowed to grow without combing or cutting. Now it is more widespread, common among many who do not practice the Rastafarian religion, but originally the hairstyle was specifically to show religious commitment. The name comes from the Nazirites in the Bible. They were men who took a special vow to God: "All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long" (Numbers 6:5). The hairstyle's name is a big allusion to the hairstyle's purpose: it was to show that their possessor "dreaded" or feared or was in awe of God. The word itself, "dreadlocks" was first used in 1960.

Operation Aerial and Operation Cycle

After Dunkirk was evacuated in the opening days of World War II in Europe, there were still plenty of soldiers left on the continent who despised Nazi Germany, but were now stuck in enemy territory. With France fallen and Spain friendly to Germany, there was nowhere for such soldiers to go. So the British decided to try rescuing them. The order went out to any remaining British Expeditionary Forces who had missed Dunkirk, and any friendly forces, including French, Belgium Polish, Czech, et cetera. If they could get to the ports along the French west coast, they might get picked up by a British ship, and evacuated to Britain. Every ship available began visiting the French west coast; many merchant ships were requisitioned to assist in the evacuation, some little more than sail boats. But it worked! They were able to rescue 191,870 fighting men including 144,171 British, 18,246 French, 24,352 Polish, 4,938 Czechs, and 163 Belgians. Each soldier was one more person that could eventually be sent back to fight the Nazis.

A Media Milestone

On November 1st, 1896, the National Geographic magazine published its first picture of an African woman with bare breasts. The photo is of a Zulu bride and groom in Witwatersrand, South Africa. The photograph set a precedent: National Geographic would portray indigenous peoples as they were, not changed to suit western sensibilities. It was a huge deal at the time. The photograph was very shocking to American readers. And no, I'm not showing it, you're going to have to find the photograph for yourself.

La Llorona

In English, her name means "the Weeping Woman." She is a legendary figure in Mexico, who wanders for eternity, seeking her lost children. To hear her cries brings misfortune. According to legend, La Llorona was once a living woman, whose husband on day left her for a younger woman. In her grief and anger, La Llorona drowned her children, to hurt their unfaithful father. When she realized what she had done, she drowned herself too. According to some versions, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who even vaguely resemble her dead children. Crying and apologizing, she will then drown the children, so they can take the place of her own. La Llorona is understandably a popular threat to keep Mexican children from wandering.

An Old, Old City

Gwangju, a major city in the south of South Korea, was founded in 57 BCE. Which is pretty amazing to think about -- it is that old, and yet, we have a precisely dated record for when it was founded. Many ancient cities, including Pyongchang in Korea, Beijing in China, London in England, and Rome in Italy, are just ancient. Their actual age isn't known, they just have legends and myths. That makes Gwangju a pretty special city. It recently, or recently in comparison, celebrated its two thousandth birthday in 1957.

Prehistoric women's arms 'stronger than those of today's elite rowers'

The study of ancient bones suggests that manual agricultural work had a profound effect on the bodies of women living in central Europe between about the early Neolithic and late Iron Age. The study examined the remains of 94 women spanning about 6,000 years, from the time of the early neolithic farmers (dating back to around 5,300 BC) through to the 800s CE, from countries including Germany, Austria, and northern Serbia. These ancient women had arm bones which were extremely strong -- about 30% stronger than non-athletic modern women. And stronger than modern rowers, soccer players, and runners. The study also reveals that the strength of women’s arm bones dropped over time. Probably because technology was developed to ease manual labor. By medieval times, the strength of women’s arm bones was on a par with that of the average woman today.

The Tragic Tale of Krishna Kumari of Mewar

The Rajput princess’s life is worth remembering, for its briefness and its tragedy. She was famous and fought over, influencing political alliances and causing wars, as recorded in annals and letters composed during her life and immediately after her death. But after Krishna Kumari's death she was largely forgotten. Maybe because of how shamefully she died? Or because it is easier to forget than remember the wasteful tragedy of her short life. Read about her story for yourself, and come to your own conclusions

Eadgifu of Kent

A little-known Saxon royal, Eadgifu’s reputation suffers for living before the Norman conquest, and for having an unpronounceable name! She was the third wife of King Edward the Elder of Wessex. At the time, England was divided between Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Danish kingdoms, all vying for power. Wessex was the southernmost Anglo-Saxon kingdom and the only one that had completely held out against Danish invasion. But now the Anglo-Saxons were fighting back and Eadgifu was there to see it. Edward the Elder captured the eastern Midlands and East Anglia from the Danes in 917, and gained control of Mercia upon the death of his sister, its queen. By the end of his reign, Edward could be called “King of the Anglo-Saxons” because he had united them -- although not the Danes.

Little is known about her during her husband’s reign, but when her sons Edmund and Eadred ruled, Eadgifu seems to have been the power behind the throne. During the reign of King Eadred, the kingdom of Northumbria was conquered. It was the last Danish kingdom to fall. England was now a single, centralized monarchy, although the union was new and weak. Eadgifu actually lived to see two grandsons, King Eadwig and King Edgar, sit on the throne after King Eadred. She was less influential by this point, as she had sided with Edgar against Eadwig during the succession dispute. King Edgar, when he eventually took the throne, ruled a united England which was truly a union. It had been together for long enough that it was no longer a piecemeal collection of Anglo-Saxon and Danish kingdoms. When she died, in or after 966, Eadgifu had lived long enough to see the small southern kingdom of Wessex become the nation of England we would recognize today.

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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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