History Articles

History of Thanksgiving: the Secular and the Sacred

November 20, 2018 / 1 Comment
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History of Thanksgiving: Mayflower IIHISTORY OF THANKSGIVING

The origin of Thanksgiving Day has been attributed to a harvest feast held by the Plymouth Colony. In 1621, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony proclaimed a day of “thanksgiving” and prayer to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest in America the year after their arrival on the merchant ship Mayflower. The picture you usually see of a few Native American men joining the Pilgrims at the feast is a bit inaccurate, however. From original settler Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend in 1621, we know that some 90 men accompanied the Wampanoag Chief, Massasoit, to visit at Plymouth for three days of fish, fowl, and venison. But of the roughly 100 English settlers who had spent their first year on the Massachusetts coast, about half had died by this time. This would have left about half the 52 survivors as English men. So the Native men outnumbered the Pilgrim men by over three to one!

Motivation

The idea of the Pilgrims fleeing England due to persecution to come to America is not quite historically accurate, at least as the starting point. Rather, over a decade earlier they had already left England for Holland as Dissenters of the Church of England. They were not willing to comply with obligatory Church of England worship practices and were therefore subject to fines if they stayed in England. These Pilgrims were Puritan Calvinists in their theology and found the Dutch Calvinism more tolerant of their religious practice. However, they found that in Holland their children were forgetting how to speak English and were adopting Dutch customs too liberal for their sensibilities.
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Veterans Day: How it differs from Memorial Day

November 12, 2018 / 0 Comments
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John Petro

SSgt John Petro

HISTORY OF VETERAN’S DAY: HOW IT DIFFERS FROM MEMORIAL DAY

As we celebrate Veterans Day, we express gratitude for those who have served in the Armed Services. Its roots go back to World War I and Remembrance Day or Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the Armistice following the War on 11:11:11, the 11th hour of 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. I write about its origin in WWI in more detail here.

Contrast

It differs from Memorial Day which goes back to the American Civil War and the original observance of Decoration Day, wherein people honored those who died in service to their country.

Gratitude

HarryTrumanToday, I thank those who serve and have served in our Armed Service. A grateful nation honors you. In particular, I am grateful to my father Staff Sergeant John Petro who served in the US Army Infantry during World War II. He twice crossed paths with the notable “Band of Brothers” Easy Company first at the Battle of the Bulge and later toward the end of the war in Munich at the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp. Those were the only two stories he told me about his service; I wish he had told me more. I captured it on a tribute page on my blog. He came home from the War, married and started a family. He worked as a tinsmith, a bar owner, and a commercial realtor.

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History of Veterans Day: Lest We Forget

November 11, 2018 / 1 Comment
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History of Veterans Day:PoppiesHISTORY OF VETERANS DAY

On this year, the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I in Europe we remember

A professor once commented, “We write things down so we can forget them.” Now, of course, this is wrong, except in the limited sense of writing down appointments so we don’t have to worry about missing meetings. But that’s just it; we do forget things. As individuals, we forget things that are important to us. Corporations seem to have little in the way of corporate memory so that they might do things better the next time. Countries forget the things that have occurred in their past, that make them unique. In many parts of the world — Europe in particular and the former British Commonwealth specifically — there are memorials in the town square commemorating their war heroes, usually with the words “Lest we forget.”

Historically, Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, commemorating the ending of World War I on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.) At 5 am on that day, Germany signed the Armistice (truce) in the Forest of Compiegne and the order was given for a cease-fire, after four years of war.

In the United States in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson issued an Armistice Day proclamation, but it was not until Congress first passed a resolution in 1926, and then passed a bill 12 years later that it became a federal holiday. But WWI, “the War to end all wars” was not the final war, and of the 16 million who served in WWII, more than 400,000 died. Birmingham, Alabama organized a “Veterans Day” parade on November 11, 1947, to honor all of America’s veterans for all wars. In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday Veterans Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill introduced by a Kansas congressman renaming the federal holiday to Veterans Day. In 1954 President Eisenhower proclaimed November 11 as Veterans Day asking Americans to rededicate themselves to the cause of peace.

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History of Election Day: Why we vote on a Tuesday in November

November 6, 2018 / 0 Comments
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Election Day HISTORY OF ELECTION DAY

Why do we vote on a Tuesday in November in the US?

Historically, the United States was an agrarian society where much of the calendar revolved around farming. In 1840, Congress set voting day on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. This time provided a convenient month for farmers, who needed to travel perhaps overnight to the county seat’s polling places, following the Autumn harvest season. The weather would not yet have turned bad enough to make rural roads impassable.

Travel

Rural Americans would begin their trip on Monday, rather than on Sunday lest their travel interfere with Sunday worship services. It had to be on a Tuesday following the first Monday so as not to fall on November 1st, a holiday known as All Saints Day. Additionally, the first day of the month was when accounting books were brought up to date. While Election Day is a federal holiday, it is observed only by government holidays in the capital of Washington D.C. and those counties that border it in the states of Virginia and Maryland. (more…)

History of Guy Fawkes Night: How gunpowder mixed with Parliament

November 5, 2018 / 0 Comments
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Guy FawkesHISTORY OF GUY FAWKES NIGHT

For our friends across the Pond

November 5th is known as “Bonfire Night” or “Guy Fawkes Night,” and all over Britain people fire off fireworks, light bonfires, and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. Guido Fawkes was an Englishman who, in popular legend, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder. He was caught, imprisoned, tortured on the rack, and finally executed, as we’ll see.

History

Over 400 years ago, Guy Fawkes was a co-conspirator in the “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605 in England. He and his cohorts decided to blow up both of the Houses of Parliament in London and kill King James I (of the King James Bible fame) upon the inaugural opening of the Parliament during what we now call “The King’s Speech” and succeeded in smuggling several barrels of gunpowder into the basement of the Parliament.

Plot

PlotThis “Gunpowder Plot” occurred two years after King James I ascended to the throne. A group of English Catholics, of which Guido Fawkes was a member, decided to kill the King because it was felt he had reneged on his promises to stop the persecution of Catholics. To this day, it is the law in Britain that a Roman Catholic cannot hold the office of monarch. And the Queen is still Supreme Head of the Church of England.

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History of Daylight Saving Time – Fall Back

November 3, 2018 / 2 Comments
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Fall Back.jpg HISTORY OF DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME – ENDING

Daylight Saving Time, or DST, is a brilliant campaign to convince us that we’re getting more daylight each day when in reality we’ve simply changed our clocks and then forgotten about it within two weeks. DST begins each year at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March in most of the United States and its territories, however there are some places that have not bought into this campaign: it is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the city of South Bend, Indiana nor the state of Arizona… except for the Navajo Indian Reservation, which does observe DST.

Standard Time

Each year at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November we return to Standard Time. This is the time in the Fall to “Fall” back by moving your clocks back one hour at the resumption of Standard Time. In the Spring, we “Spring” forward an hour, losing an hour of sleep, and finally realizing where we get the names for half of the seasons of the year. However, with DST for Summer now occurring before the vernal equinox which brings Spring, should we say “March forward”? What about the Southern Hemisphere which has the opposite seasons?

Why so many changes? Is this campaign on a roll, is it gaining energy? Indeed, it is all about energy… and of course, money.

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History of November: That In-between Month

November 1, 2018 / 0 Comments
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NovemberHISTORY OF NOVEMBER

November is the penultimate month of the year, meaning next to the last. It used to be the ninth month (Latin: novem) until January and February were shoehorned in by the ancient Romans. November enjoys the distinction of being situated between the two biggest holidays in the American calendar… at least revenue-wise. October has Halloween, the #1 candy revenue holiday in America and a sucrose gathering bonanza for children nationwide. December features Christmas, #1 in everything else and a favorite for those who are children-at-heart.

Interstitial

But November is somewhere in the middle. Certainly, it has Thanksgiving, no insignificant holiday, and something for which to be grateful. But it’s not widely observed outside the US, except for the Canadians who celebrate Jour de l’Action de grâce on the second Monday in October, or by the English who celebrate it on July 4th.
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Information Reformation

November 1, 2018 / 6 Comments
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Information ReformationINFORMATION REFORMATION

I wrote the following article two decades ago when I was a technology evangelist at Sun Microsystems. Back in the mid-’90s we experienced the early part of the first wave of “The Web.” Today newer Web technologies have expanded what was largely a “reader-oriented” phenomenon into a dynamic read-write participatory social platform. While the mantle of managing information has passed to a new generation of companies, the basic principles of information production and exponential growth remain the same.

Every October 31, we observe the anniversary of the German Reformation. Presently, there is a lot of talk about the Internet Explosion. There are several significant similarities between the two.

Indeed, one could call it the “Information Reformation.”

HIGHLIGHTS:

1) Common Language:

  • Martin Luther made previously exclusive information accessible to the common man by publishing in the common language (German), not the language of scholars (Latin).
  • With the aid of graphical tools like Mosaic, Netscape or the HotJava browsers (a Java-based browser from Sun), anyone can easily read the Internet and discover new information without knowing classical Geek.

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History of October 31: What’s Martin Luther got to do with it?

October 31, 2018 / 7 Comments
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Wittenberg Door

Wittenberg Door

HISTORY OF OCTOBER 31

See my mini-series here on the life of Martin Luther.

On October 31, 1517, the story goes, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany 95 propositions or theses and marked the beginning of the Reformation. Of course, the Reformation began long before that, but this date proves to be a convenient coat hanger for historians to mark the beginning of the Protestant* Reformation.  However, the 95 Theses were not intended as a call to reformation, and it is the story behind this event that proves so fascinating and shows the real purpose of the 95 Theses.

Fund Raising

Prince Albert of Brandenburg wanted the archbishopric of Mainz. You may know the city of Mainz as the home of a goldsmith named Johann Gutenberg, who had developed the uniform-sized movable type printing press some 60-70 years earlier. Because Albert was younger than 25 years old, and because holding multiple archbishoprics was forbidden, the office of archbishop required a dispensation that would cost him 23,000 ducats (about $500,000.) Pope Leo X, who was financing the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (for $46 million) suggested that Albert borrow the money from the wealthy Fugger banking family. Albert was able to secure half the funds from the Fuggers, and for the rest he sold indulgences.

Indulgences

An indulgence was a document which freed the holder from the temporal penalty of sin. The sale of indulgences, originally introduced during the Crusades, remained a favored source of papal income. In exchange for a meritorious work — frequently, a contribution to a worthy cause or a pilgrimage to a shrine — the Roman church offered the sinner exemption from his acts of penance by drawing upon its “treasury of merits.” According to the church doctrine of ex opere operato, this consisted of the superabundance of grace accumulated by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross along with the meritorious deeds of the saints. This surplus, dispensed by the Pope, could be used by sinners. In Castle Church at Wittenberg for example, it was believed that the relics (bones of saints or other articles from biblical characters) collected there were reckoned to earn a remission from Purgatory for pilgrims of 1,902,202 years and 270 days.

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