History Articles

History of Thanksgiving: the Secular and the Sacred

November 24, 2020 /
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Mayflower II, Plimoth Plantation, MA


The origin of Thanksgiving Day in America has been attributed to a harvest feast held by the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. 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 featuring 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 the Wampanoag Chief, Massasoit, was accompanied by some 90 of his men to visit Plymouth for three days of fish, fowl, and venison. But of the 102 English settlers who had spent their first year on the Massachusetts coast, forty-five or about half the passengers had died by this time. This would have left about half the remaining fifty-seven English survivors as men. So the Native men outnumbered the Pilgrim men by over three to one!


Pilgrim Thanksgiving celebrant survivors of the first winter.

Pilgrim Motivation

The idea of the Pilgrims fleeing England to come directly to America due to persecution 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 unwilling 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 recognized that while in Holland, their children were forgetting how to speak English and were adopting Dutch customs too liberal for their sensibilities.

History of Vaccines: What This Means For Coronavirus

November 20, 2020 /
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Today, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they are submitting their Coronavirus vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration for Emergency Use Approval.

What are vaccines, when were they first developed, and what is the road to an approved vaccine in today’s world?

“Vaca” in the word vaccine sounds like “cow.” The word comes from the Latin phrase Variolae vaccine, meaning the “smallpox of the cow,” and referred to cowpox. What does vaccination have to do with cowpox?

Edward Jenner, in 1789 was working on a way to treat the deadly smallpox pandemic, a particularly deadly killer that had killed almost half a million Europeans during the 1700s and 1800s, and perhaps as many as 300-500 million people worldwide over its almost 500-year history. The story goes that when Jenner was a 13-year-old orphan boy and apprentice to a country surgeon, he’d overheard a beautiful milkmaid’s boast. She had a “peaches and cream” complexion that was flawless and bragged:

“I shall never have smallpox for I have had cowpox. I shall never have an ugly pockmarked face.”

Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner

Jenner, who became a British physician and scientist, tested his theory that exposure to cowpox would protect people from the deadlier smallpox by taking the pus from a cowpox pustule and vaccinating a young boy. After the boy proved immune, he further vaccinated several other children, including his 11-month-old-son. He successfully developed an effective vaccine against smallpox in this way, the first of its kind, and was aptly called “the father of immunology.”

History of Friday the 13th

November 13, 2020 /
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If you’re reading this article to learn the history of Friday the 13th, you’re in luck.

Or perhaps bad luck.

No one knows, with any certainty, when it began or why it’s to be feared. However, there are lots of entertaining speculative theories about the topic.



What is the Fear of Friday the 13th?

  • Paraskevidekatriaphobia — is the name of the superstition. The word is constructed from the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή, meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (δεκατρείς, meaning “thirteen”)
  • Friggatriskaidekaphobia — is the fear of Friday the 13th. The word is made of both Norse and Greek roots: Frigg or Frigga, the name of the wife of the Norse god Odin. Friday gets its name from Frigg. Triskadeka is “thirteen” in Greek (literally: “three” “and” “ten”), and phobia means “fear”


History of Veterans Day: Lest We Forget

November 11, 2020 /
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History of Veterans Day:PoppiesHISTORY OF VETERANS DAY

A professor once commented, “We write things down so we can forget them.”

Now, of course, this is true in the 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. Companies 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, things that make them unique. In many parts of the world — Europe in particular and several of the former British Commonwealth countries specifically — there are memorials in the town square commemorating their war heroes, usually with the words “Lest we forget.”

Armistice DayHistorically, Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, commemorating the ending hostilities of the western front of World War I on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.) At 5:45 am on that day, Germany signed the Armistice (truce) in the Forest of Compiegne, and the order was given for a cease-fire for later that morning, after four years of war.


History of Guy Fawkes Night: How gunpowder mixed with Parliament

November 5, 2020 /
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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.


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.


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.


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

November 2, 2020 /
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Why does the US vote on a Tuesday in November?

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.

Election Day 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 to not 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 November: That In-between Month

November 1, 2020 /
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November is the penultimate month of the year, meaning “next to the last.” It used to be the ninth month (Latin: novem) until the ancient Romans shoehorned in January and February. 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.


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.

Information Reformation

November 1, 2020 /
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I wrote the following article over 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.”


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.


History of Daylight Saving Time – Fall Back

November 1, 2020 /
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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, some places 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.