Moments In History: October 3rd, 52 B.C.

vercingetorix

*painting by Lionel Royer

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

October 3rd, 52 B.C.

The Surrender of Vercingetorix & The Roman Conquest of Gaul

From 58 B.C to 50 B.C., Julius Caesar was carving out huge parcels of territory from the  feared Celtic Gauls of modern day France, Northern Italy, and Belgium.  Rome had been sacked earlier in its history by an invading Gallic tribe, and the Gauls had ever since been the “bogymen” of the Roman psyche. Caesar saw Gaul as a spring board to riches and greater political power; if he could do the unthinkable and conquer this vast country, not only would he become rich, but he would win the undying love and support of the people of Rome.

By 52 B.C., the stage was set for a final climatic showdown. Over the years Caesar had succeeded in subjugating various tribes one by one, picking them off or turning them against old rivals until he crushed them. This changed when a charismatic king and chieftain of the Averni tribe, Vercingetorix, united a large coalition of tribes to attempt to destroy the occupying Romans for good. Most of the Gallic tribes joined in the general revolt and their numbers swelled to over 80,000 men. Caesar rushed to the scene with as many reinforcements as he could muster; he managed to surprise the Gauls in their fortified city of Alesia. Caesar decided to besiege the settlement, hoping to starve the Gauls into surrendering. Caesar and his legions set about the herculean task of digging trenches and building a wall around the city of some 11 miles.

The Gauls, running short of food, called for more tribes to unite and attempt to revive their besieged kin. Within a short time, tens of thousands answered the call, and the Roman legions found themselves surrounded as the Gauls attacked from both sides of their fortifications. The Romans were on the breaking point, but Caesar personally rode to where his troops were most hard pressed and cheered them on as they fought for survival. The Romans persevere, and by morning the Gallic relief force and those still alive in Alesia had given up. The morning of October 3rd, 52 B.C., Vercingetorix rode down to the Roman Camp in his finest armor, stripped himself naked, and knelt before Caesar himself in surrender. This moment was the end of organized Gallic resistance to Rome.

In the coming years, Gaul would become a Roman province and would remain so for the next 500 years. Vercingetorix would be kept prisoner for the next 5 years until Caesar’s triumphant march in Rome, where he was executed in front of the crowds. The end of the Gallic Wars would go on to bring about a series of civil wars that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Roman Republic and Caesar’s own assassination. Finally the republic would be reorganized as an empire under Caesar’s nephew, Octavian.

If you would like to know more about the events surrounding the conquest of Gaul and the battle of Alesia, please follow the links bellow:

 

Moments In History: September 28th, 1928

penicilin

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 28th, 1928

Discovery of Penicillin

On this fateful day, Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming made a discovery that would go on to change medicine forever. While working on research and experiments with Staphylococcus bacteria in his lab, he woke the morning of the 28th of September to find one of his Petri dishes had its lid popped off and had been contaminated. While investigating the source of the contamination, he noticed a strange green ring that had appeared around the dish. This ring was a green fungus mold known as “Penicillium notatum.”

What he found so fascinating was that the bacteria surrounding the ring had not only not penetrated it but had been destroyed by the mold. Meanwhile, those farther away from it were unharmed and still growing. He would later remark:

“I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

It would still take many years of peer review, as well as isolating and growing the mold into a pure culture and tested on patients for its effects as a treatment of bacterial infections.

However, by 1942, penicillin was in mass production and might even have helped tip the scales in favor of the Allies during WWII, as it is thought to have saved as many as 12% to 15% of Allied soldiers’ lives from sepsis and other infections from recently amputated limbs. It would also be used to treat prominent illnesses and diseases such as pneumonia and gonorrhea.

On average, 33 million pounds of penicillin is produced around the world each year. All told, it is estimated that penicillin has saved around 200 million people worldwide and continues to do so today.  In 1999, Alexander Fleming was named among the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century in Time magazine.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to know more about Alexander Fleming and his work, I encourage you to follow the link down below for a fantastic book and on the subject.

 

Book Review: “Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World” by Nicholas Ostler

empires

Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World is a fascinating book about the historical evolution of the world’s major languages. This book describes how and why certain languages persisted and became dominantly used in the world and why others fell out of use. This is as much a cultural anthropological history book as it is a dynamic linguistics book.

Empires Of The Word spans the historical antiquity of the first dominant languages, including Greek, Latin, and Ancient Chinese. As time goes on and empires collapse and expand, the book shows how different cultures begin to adopt or dominate different linguistic groups.

Author Nicholas Ostler describes what he calls the “Death of Latin” and the eventual emergence of the Romance languages from Germanic invaders. I found the development and spreading of Spanish and English to be particularly interesting. The section of the book dedicated to the evolution of the Semitic language groups of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic are equally insightful.

Lastly, the book deals with the current top 20 languages of the earth and what the future may hold for them. Ostler then gives his hypothesis of which will become dominant and which will recede from use based on population trends and common usage.

Empires Of The Word is such a joy to read because it offers great insight into history from both social and cultural sources. It is remarkably in-depth and dense, but I found it to be an easy read for a layman with passing curiosity on the subject.  I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone who has ever wondered how and why we came to speak the wide variety of languages that we do. It’s a fun travel through time and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

*written by Matthew Beyer

Moments In History: September 12th, 1683

veinna

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 12th, 1683

Battle of Vienna

Late in the afternoon of September 12th, 1683, the fate of Christendom and the future of Western civilization would be decided. To better understand the significance of this turning point in history, we must go back all the way to 1453 to the Fall of Constantinople. The Ottoman Turks had been fighting a series of wars for close to two hundred years after the conquest of Greece and the Balkans.  Large scale naval raids and piracy had long plagued the coast of the Mediterranean. The practice of slavery was so common that, through the 16th and 17th centuries, as many as 2.5 million slaves were taken from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean respectfully.  The Ottomans had conquered most of the Balkans and Hungary by 1541.

Many assumed the Turks’ westward expansion seemed nearly unstoppable. In response to the Ottoman threat, various kingdoms of Christendom would unite to form holy leagues and Christian collations under the backing of the Pope that routinely managed to slow the advance or halt conquest over the decades. The Hapsburgs of Spain, funded by the conquered gold of the new world, funded the majority of campaigns from the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 to the enormous naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. These defeats shocked the world because beforehand the Ottomans were believed to be invincible.

With these events in mind, fast forward nearly one hundred years. In the 1600s, the Ottomans had recovered from their losses, and the Christian nations of Europe were in disarray following the Thirty Years’ War that claimed the lives of nearly 8 million people in the struggle between Protestants and Catholics.  The Ottomans had long sought to take the city of Vienna as it had been a strategic location of trade and offered numerous military potentials for future conquest into the heart of Europe. With the alarming news of the mobilization of the Ottoman army, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I began to prepare for the titanic struggle that was to come. He sent envoys requesting reinforcements to the Pope and most importantly asked that the Polish King John III Sobieski lead a relief force to the city’s aid. By August 6th, 1682, the Ottomans marched out of Constantinople with a force of nearly 170,000 men, cavalry, artillery, and siege equipment and headed straight for Vienna.

By July of 1683, the city of Vienna was under siege and by late August its 15,000 defenders were on their last legs as starvation looked imminent. The Ottoman General had taken a rather passive approach to the siege, possibly wanting to capture the city intact in hopes of vast quantities of loot and plunder that would rival the splendor of Constantinople. Ottoman sappers (infantry soldiers) had dug elaborate tunnels with the intent to blow up the city walls and lead a final assault before the relief force could arrive.

But by the afternoon of the September 12th, the vanguard of John III Sobieski’s army began to arrive and were sent into the fray. The Christian Coalition numbered around some 70,000 soldiers, mostly Germans and Poles. As the battle began to turn in favor of the Coalition, Sobieski unleashed his full might of cavalry as some 18,000 horsemen began charging down the hills towards the wavering Ottomans.  Sobieski charged at the head of his 3000 elite heavy cavalry, known as the “Winged Hussars,” who were famous for their attire of large wooden frames shaped like wings strapped to their backs and glittering with hundreds of feathers from eagles, swans, or even ostriches in order to give them a terrifying appearance.

This was the largest single cavalry charge in human history; it broke the back of the Turkish army by the evening when as many as 15,000 Ottomans lay dead. With the rest of their army routed and their entire camp looted, the battle was over.  All of Europe celebrated Sobieski as the savior of Christendom. For many historians, this is the starting point for the long decline of the Ottoman Empire, who would lose control of Hungary in the coming decade and would never again go on such a grand offensive with hopes of deeper European conquest.

If you would like to learn more about the struggles between the Habsburgs and Ottomans, the Union University Library has some amazing books dealing with this subject:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moments In History: September 5th-6th, 1972

German Olympics

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 5th-6th, 1972

Black September & The Munich Massacre

 

In 1972, during the Summer Olympics Games in Munich Germany, an event would take place that would shock the world and create a flash bulb moment in history. These moments are a type of collective memory that large portions of the population share, as each individual can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned about the given event. Examples of this include The Moon Landing, JFK’s assassination, and (in my own life time) 9/11. These events are becoming much more common as information is being spread at a faster rate through the use of the Internet and 24/7 news coverage.

On September 5th, 1972, eight members of a terrorist group infiltrated the Olympic housing compounds of the Israeli Olympic Team.  They were members of Black September, a group affiliated and connected to the Palestinian Liberation Organization or PLO. The terrorists were armed with AK-47’s, pistols, and grenades, and in the ensuing chaos of entering the dormitories, several athletes were injured and two killed while they bravely attempted to fight off and barricade themselves from their attackers. Eventually, the remaining 9 athletes were subdued.

By morning, nearly a billion people around the world were watching the tense standoff unfold on television. The terrorists demanded the release of some 234 Palestinians prisoners as well as a few other secular non-Islamic groups. The official Israeli position at the time was no negotiation with terrorists at any cost, due to the fear that such concessions would only lead to more hostages and threats against Jews.

The German government dragged out negotiations as long as they could. They quickly devised a plan to raid the building and attempt to rescue the hostages. As they were moments away from making entry, the terrorists appeared on the patio, threatening to kill two Israeli hostages.  Their entire plan was ruined because there were dozens of news agencies on site reporting on what the police were doing, and the terrorists were inside watching it all unfold live on television.

The government finally agreed to charter a plan and have the entire group flown to Cairo, Egypt, where negotiations could continue. This was a ploy to plan an ambush at the airport. The terrorists were driven to waiting helicopters and then to an airport where a jet was waiting. The jet was supposed to have police on board dressed as flight crew, but through a series of poor communication and lack of centralized command, the German police abandoned this plan and all that were there to rescue the hostages were five police acting as snipers hundreds of meters away. They had no radios nor did they have night vision or scopes on their rifles.

What happened next was a disaster. The terrorists soon discovered that the jet was empty of pilots and crew, and the police sharpshooters soon began to open fire. In the resulting two-hour gun battle, 5 of the 8 hostage takers were killed along with 1 German police officer. However, the worst was still to come.

The situation was so chaotic that a German government spokesman issued a statement that the operation had been a success and all hostages were saved. Only a few hours later did the truth come out when Jim McKay, a sports journalist covering the Olympic events, received the fateful news:

We just got the final word . . . you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say “Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were 11 hostages. 2 were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, 9 were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.

It turned out that, during the ensuing gun battle, the Israeli athletes were killed. The aftermath of this horrific event caused ripples across the world for the German government; it showed they were woefully unprepared for violent hostage style crises that were becoming increasingly prevalent all over the world. Each major nation took note of this event and began to develop units of highly trained police and counter-terrorist specialist to deal with such events.

Back in Israel, the nation was in mourning and many of its people furious as the Olympics continued after only of 34 hours of postponement. Israel would go on to bomb numerous training camps belonging to the PLO in Lebanon and Syria. What they are most famous for was Operation Wrath of God, in which they would send out covert agents of Mossad and attempt to assassinate the masterminds and financiers of Black September and high ranking members of the PLO. For over a decade, they would track down targets all over the world and assassinate them.

This moment in history is often considered the starting point of when the world was first introduced to terror threats, hostage taking, and mass killing that has now become all too familiar.

Here are some great resources at the library if you wish to learn more about this topic:

 

 

Moments In History: August 9th, 1974

richard nixon

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

August 9th, 1974

Resignation Of U. S. President Richard Nixon

 

The 37th President of the U.S. presided over a time period of great upheaval and uncertainty for the nation. His personal and political accomplishments were eventually dwarfed by his spectacular downfall, which to this day has fueled the public’s skepticism of blind trust in the executive office of government.

President Nixon was quite popular early on due to his foreign policy differences in relation to his predecessors. Diplomatic negotiations in dealing with the Soviet Union and communist China helped ease tensions during the Cold War. Nixon proved to be very popular in domestic politics and oversaw the Apollo 11 mission.  Yet all of these achievements could not save him from involvement in the infamous Watergate scandal in the summer of 1972.  Five men were caught burglarizing and attempting to wiretap the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The President’s involvement and the attempted cover up of the incident would lead to extensive congressional investigations, culminating in the release of taped conversations that implicated President Nixon and others in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The release of the “Smoking Gun” tape (revealed by the FBI) clearly showed Nixon’s involvement, and, as a result, articles for impeachment began in the House of Representatives. President Richard Nixon decided to resign from office rather than face impeachment, and on August 8th, 1974, he gave a televised farewell address to the American people. The next day, the president and his wife proceeded to the White House lawn, boarded the Presidential helicopter, and flew away. His vice president Gerald Ford would go on to succeed him and issue an official presidential pardon of all crimes. Nixon would continue in his private life to be a pariah in American politics.

Today marks the 45th anniversary of that historic day.

If you found this post interesting and would like to learn more on this topic, the Union University Library offers numerous books and films related to the subject:

 

 

 

Featured Poetry: “Quiet Fire: A Historical Anthology of Asian American Poetry 1892-1970”

quiet fire

 

This anthology is intended to serve as an archival counter-memory, illuminating the gaps in what has been presented as “American poetry” and “American culture.”

Juliana Chang, the editor of Quiet Fire, introduces this poetry anthology with a reminder. Chang wants the readers to know that Asian American poetry has a longer, older tradition than one might have been led to believe. Chang states that Asian American poetry dates back to the 1890s with poets like Sadakichi Hartmann (secretary to Walt Whitman) and Yone Noguchi. The tradition has carried on among Asian American writers- Chang includes poems that date up to 1970.

After the introduction, Quiet Fire includes poems by Moon Kwan, Jose Garcia Villa, Jun Fujita, and many more. Brief biographies of the authors can be found toward the back of the book, as well as the written memories of different Asian American literary movements and poetry scenes.

Not only can you enjoy various poems in Quiet Fire, but you can also learn about a vital part of poetry history in America that was once overlooked. Quiet Fire is available for check out here at the library.

 

Moments In History: July 30th, 1945

The World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis at Pearl Harbor Hawaii

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

July 30th, 1945

 Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. The ship was on a top secret mission to deliver parts that would be used to construct an armed and operational atomic bomb codenamed “Little Boy,” which was scheduled to be used on the city of Hiroshima and intended to force the Empire of Japan to surrender.  The Indianapolis completed its mission to deliver the bomb’s components; however, on her return voyage, disaster struck as she was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. The vessel sank in a mere 12 minutes, with their frantic distress calls going unanswered.

Out of a crew of 1195 men, 300 went down immediately with the ship. The surviving crew were left stranded in the middle of the South Pacific for the next three and a half days. With many wounded, few life jackets, and fewer life boats, the surviving seamen endured unimaginable suffering. There was stifling heat during the day and hypothermic conditions at night. The crew also experienced unquenchable thirst that could lead to the congestion of delirium-inducing saltwater. The worst and most feared fate still awaited these desperate sailors: hundreds of sharks! After the third day the survivors were spotted by a friendly aircraft on patrol, and a rescue craft was sent to aid them, but the total number of those that survived out of the 900 men that went into the water was only 317.

This event would mark the single greatest loss of life by any U.S ship in the navy’s entire history. As of July 2019, there are only 12 remaining living survivors to this tragedy. So if this article finds you today, take a moment and say a prayer for those still living and for those who were lost in the horrors of World War II.

The Union University Library offers several books on this subject for those who would like to learn more:

 

 

 

 

Spotlight On “Volunteer Voices”

Tennessee

Are you interested in learning about Tennessee history? The Volunteer Voices project is a collection of documents, artifacts, photos, and other facets of local culture. The library provides access to Volunteer Voices as a database in our Databases, E-Books, and Media tab. You can also access Volunteer Voices via the Tennessee Secretary of State website.

So, what can you read about in Volunteer Voices? The project has many broad topics to choose from, including the following [click the links to access Volunteer Voices]:

Broad Topics
African-Americans
Architecture
Arts and Literature
Children and Childhood
Civil and Human Rights
Education
Family Life and Gender Relations
Farming and Agriculture
Frontier Settlement and Migration
Government and Politics
Health and Medicine
Immigrants and Immigration
Law and Legal Documents
Music and Performing Arts
Native Americans
Nature and the Environment
Popular Culture and Folklife
Religion
Science and Technology
Social Reform
Sports and Recreation
Trade, Business and Industry
Transportation and Internal Improvements
Wars and Military
Women

You can also choose to search the collection for specific terms, or you can simply browse the collection and see what the project has to offer. You’ll find documents like personal letters, campaign advertisements, pamphlets, photographs, and more. The collection allows you to narrow your search down by choosing subjects, genres, and the historical era of your topic.

The next time you’re searching for Tennessee history, head to Volunteer Voices and get started. You can also tour our library’s online archives, search our catalog here, visit the Tennesee Room at the Jackson Madison County Library, or visit the Madison County Archives.

 

 

Spotlight On “The American Historical Review”

pex aha

According to their website, The American Historical Review (AHR) continues to have the highest “impact factor” among history journals (via the latest Journal Citation Reports from Thomson Reuters). A publication of the American Historical Association, the AHR seeks to provide the most insightful historical content from experienced researchers. Whether you’re looking for a film review, a critique of capitalism, or a collection of colonial law, the AHR can point you in the right direction.

If you prefer the spoken word, the AHR also hosts a podcast called AHR Interview. Episodes are available on SoundCloud.

The library provides free, online access to the AHR via our Journals section. History majors, check it out!