Tag Archives: World History

Remembering Christopher Columbus

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
Public Domain

Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition.  As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders. Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well.

Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope, Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places. However, it was a not yet a federal holiday. The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then.

Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday.

Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India, and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was. Thus, they thought East Asia was closer than it was.

After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships-Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain. On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court.

Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and South and Central American mainland. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished. The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result.

Sea travel of great distances in the 15th century was quite a challenge, fraught with all kinds of uncertainty and dangers. They had to depend on the wind, current and favorable weather, and the stars. The sextant had not been invented yet, so they used a procedure called Dead Reckoning. This required the use of simple arithmetic and process to determine their location. A long rope was used, a piece of wood, an hourglass, and a compass. The navigator would record in a log book the daily speed and direction. The rope was knotted every four to six feet along its length. Arithmetic tells us that distance traveled in a single direction can be measured by multiplying the speed with the time. You might have done some of this in grade school. A car traveling at 30 miles per hour for two hours would travel 60 miles (speed x 2). A navigator would log the speed, direction, and time in the log. In this way they could measure the distance traveled to and from where they departed from. Changes in wind speed and other things would be recorded as well. Columbus used his own version, gained from experience sailing, of determining the speed and direction to enter in his log. He could feel the keel moving through the water and with his sense of the wind, knew what the speed of his ship was.

It was a remarkable and historic undertaking. Long sea voyages were often avoided because you were away for years at a time and dependent a great deal on nature to survive. And there was the terrible specter of scurvy. Many would die on long sea voyages from this scourge, which came from the lack of vitamin c in the diet. Fresh water in kegs often wet bad after a month, so beer and spirits (often rum), was where you got water from. Fruits and vegetables would only last so long, and meat had to be cured for long term use. So food was rationed carefully. Later when it was realized that having citrus would alleviate this condition, sailors would get lime or lemon juice as part of their daily food ration. It became so common on British Royal Navy ships the sailors were called Limeys.

Italians and Spanish are rightly proud of his accomplishment. Others had touched upon America (the Vikings for one) prior to Columbus but none had opened the door as he did to a new part of the world that had been undiscovered. Like all our accomplished heroes of the past, he had his faults. In fact, not one hero you can point to doesn’t have faults. The ancient Greeks knew this and what defined a hero was someone who rose above them to do something extraordinary. The Greek hero Heracles (Hercules in Latin) had all kinds of faults but did things that rose above them. Columbus should be remembered for the courage, bravery, and fortitude to sail over the horizon to see what lay beyond. It would change the world and end the Venetian and Ottoman control of trade to the East forever. Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis.

For information about Christopher Columbus, here are some sources online to view:
Britannica Online
History.com

 

 

The Russian February Revolution (March 1917)

Russian February Revolution in Saint Petersburg. March 1917. The crowd is in front of the Tauride Palace.
Public Domain/Wikimedia

On March 8, 1917 (February 24 on the Julian calendar used at the time) events would begin unfolding in Russia that would bring about the end of the Czarist regime in Russia and the establishment of a new provisional government that would transition to a parliamentary democracy. Unfortunately that interim government would itself be overthrown in October (November) by the Bolsheviks that established the Communist government in Russia that would last until 1991.

Russia lagged behind the major powers of Britain, France and Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike those powers which had fully industrialized and developed powerful economies, Russia was still primarily agrarian and had a very small industrial sector. Additionally it failed to modernize during this period and clung on to old social and political structures that made little sense in a more industrialized world. Capitalism was able to flourish in many places but not in Russia, where the autocracy did not allow it much room to develop. So Russia was considered a very backward nation.

Russia had disastrously involved itself in World War I. With a poor industrial sector, it was no match for heavily industrialized and better led German forces. Russia suffered heavy casualties and defeats. The economy could not absorb the cost of the war causing shortages of all kinds leading to unrest in the streets of Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg-renamed to remove any connection to Germany). Radicals and moderates united to call for change and the end of the Czar. Widespread demonstrations began on March 8 in Petrograd. By 10 March all of Petrograd’s workers were on strike and some factories had elected their own deputies to workers committees.

The Petrograd garrison was called out on 11 March and some demonstrators were killed but the demonstrations continued. Then the Czar dissolved the Duma on the same day and troops began to waver. The following day on 12 March 1917, the Petrograd regiments defected to the demonstrators giving them 150,000 new supporters. On 15 March 1917 the rule of the Czars came to an end with the formal abdication of Nicholas II (his brother declined to be Czar). The new provisional government decided to stay in the war but had major challenges such as how to resolve the food shortages and other crises as well. Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party but exiled in Switzerland, was brought back to Russia by the Germans in a sealed train. He would take charge and ultimately lead the Russian Revolution later that year that would install the first Communist government in world history.

Sources

Britannia.com
History.com

,,,

Remembering History: Post-World War I Conference Leads to Versailles Treaty

World War I came to an end in November 1918. The next step was to hammer out a formal agreement that would end the war. The major allied powers-France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States-would meet to begin this process on 18 Jan 1919. The European powers, particularly Britain and France, wanted Germany punished. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States argued for a peace without victory strategy where Germany would not be treated to harshly. Unfortunately, the major powers wanted Germany punished for the costs of the war. Wilson eventually compromised in order to get an international peacekeeping organization, the League of Nations, established.

Aftermath

Map of Europe, 1923, with territorial changes under Treaty of Versailles
Image credit: Fluteflute (Wikipedia)

Germany was excluded until May and presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty. That is when they learned that Wilson’s promises were not included. The draft required Germany and Austria-Hungary to forfeit a lot of territory and pay reparations. It also made Germany solely responsible for the war. This disillusioned the Germans and for many a bitter pill to swallow. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 on the five year anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that had sparked the war. Anger and resentment over the treaty would cause problems in Germany. And it would lead to extreme parties in Germany agitating against it. The Nazi Party would use the anger to achieve power, resulting in a second world war. Exactly what Wilson and others had hoped to avoid in 1919.

Sources
Treaty of Versailles (Britannica.com)
This Day in History (History.com)
Treaty of Versailles (History.com)


TODAY IS COLUMBUS DAY (U.S. OBSERVED)

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
Public Domain

Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition.  As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders.

Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well. Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope,  Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places.

However it was a not yet a federal holiday. The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then. Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday.

Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was. Thus they thought East Asia was closer than it actually was.

After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships–Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain. On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court.

Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and South and Central American mainlands. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished. The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open up new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result.

Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis.

For information about Christopher Columbus, here are some sources online to view:
Britannica Online
History.com