September 2nd 1945: Vietnamese Proclamation of Independence
On this day in 1945 the Vietnamese Proclamation of Independence was issued. The Proclamation, written by communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, was first announced in public at the Ba Đình flower garden in Hanoi. Vietnam had been a colony of France since the 19th century, but revolutionary forces were able to take hold following the occupation of the country by the Japanese during World War Two. The Proclamation itself began with a direct quote from the US Declaration of Independence and liberally quoted from French revolutionary texts to highlight the hypocrisy of brutal and repressive French imperialism. The Communists’ Proclamation made no reference to Marx or Lenin but despite its praise of the American Founding Fathers and attempts to appeal to them, the Cold War driven United States was determined to destroy this new communist state. The US therefore supported France in their attempt to reassert control in the ensuing Indochina War. However the French were no match for Ho Chi Minh’s well-organised guerilla forces, and suffered humiliating defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The war ended with the Geneva Accords which divided Vietnam along the 17th parallel into a communist North and Western-friendly South. After years of struggle and unrest between the two, and the steadily increasing presence of US advisers, full scale war broke out and by 1965 the US had decidedly entered the conflict on the side of the South. The Americans underestimated the determination of the North Vietnamese and eventually withdrew from the war that had killed millions of people. Shortly after in April 1975, thirty years after the initial proclamation of independence, Saigon fell to the communists and Vietnam was reunited as an independent communist state.
"Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country—and in fact it is so already. And thus the entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their independence and liberty"
- excerpt from Vietnamese Proclamation of Independence
August 31st 12: Caligula born
On this day in 12 AD, the future Roman Emperor Caligula was born in Italy. Born Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, he is today known by his nickname Caligula (‘Little Boot’) which Roman soldiers on the German frontier called him when he was a young boy because of hisfootwear. As great-grandson of the first Emperor Augustus the young Caligula was born with imperial blood. After his parents were killed by imperial forces he was adopted by his great uncle Emperor Tiberius and eventually became the third emperor upon Tiberius’s death in 37 AD. With the support of the army he quickly moved to eradicate any challenges to his reign, having Tiberius’s grandson and rival heir executed. As emperor, Caligula lavished Rome with grand games and building projects but soon became despised for his increasing megalomania and apparent insanity that seems to have stemmed from an illness early in his reign. He supposedly tried to humiliate the Senate by making his favourite horse Incitatus a senator. Caligula also reversed previous imperial trend by actively encouraging worship of himself as a god. For example he frequently dressed up as the Roman gods at public games and decreed statues of him should be built in temples. His reign was also brutal in its vicious treason trials and frequent executions of dissenters; he even made it a capital offence to mention a goat in the presence of the very hairy Caligula. Emperor Caligula also had imperial aspirations, and undertook military campaigns in Germany and planned one to Britain. In 41 AD, after a four year reign, the increasingly unpopular Caligula was assassinated aged 29 by his own bodyguards. He was succeeded by his uncle Claudius, who proved a much more even tempered and moderate leader.
"I am nursing a viper for the Roman people"
- Emperor Tiberius
Anonymous said: I think there must be a date wrong in the Treaty of Nanking post. I don't see how the war could have started in 1939 if the treaty was signed in 1842. And the British had a bigger war to worry about in 1939 than an Opium War.
Oh dear yes you’re right! Thanks for pointing that out, I’ve corrected the date to 1839
August 28th 1955: Emmett Till murdered
On this day in 1955, the 14-year-old African-American boy Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi. While visiting family in the state, Till allegedly flirted with the young white shopkeeper Carolyn Bryant while buying candy. Bryant told her husband and a few nights later he and his half-brother abducted Till and brutally tortured and murdered him. His mutilated body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie river; Till’s face was unrecognisable, but he was identified by the ring he wore engraved with his father’s initials that his mother gave him before he left for Mississppi. The viciousness of this unprovoked, racially-motivated crime sent shockwaves throughout the nation. The case drew attention to the oppression of African-Americans throughout the nation and provided a name and a face to the threat of lynching. Till’s mother Mamie, a highly educated woman who went on to become a devoted fighter for African-American equality, insisted on an open-casket funeral in order to show the world what was done to her young son. Thousands attended the funeral and thousands more saw the horrific images of Till’s body. Due to the fierce reactions the murder had engendered it was a particularly painful, but sadly expected, outcome when the all-white jury in Mississippi acquitted Till’s killers, despite Till’s great-uncle openly identifying them in court. A few months later the killers, now protected by double jeopardy laws, sold their story to Look magazine and openly confessed to the murder in chilling detail. Taking place a year after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, the outrage over the murder galvanised the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. 100 days after Emmett Till’s murder Rosa Parks, on her way back from a rally for Till hosted by the then-unknown Martin Luther King Jr., refused to give up her seat for a white man on an Alabama bus. This sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, thus beginning the movement that would result in the dismantling of the system of Jim Crow segregation and win successes in promoting African-American social and political equality.
August 26th 1910: Mother Teresa born
On this day in 1910, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (now best known as Mother Teresa) was born to an Albanian family in Skopje, Macedonia which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. She became a nun when she was 18 and joined the Sisters of Loreto. In 1946 she claimed that she had a vision of God telling her to leave the convent and help the poor. She obeyed and lived among the poor in India and it was during this time that she went from Sister Teresa to Mother Teresa. In 1950 she established Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic congregation which helps the poor, the ill and the homeless. Members of the order, which still continues to do good works, make four vows, the last of which is to give “Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor”. Her work drew great international attention and in 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize. While being praised by many she was also a figure of controversy partly due to her opposition to contraception and for the large donations from disreputable sources her organisation accepted. Towards the end of her life Mother Teresa began to feel doubts about her religious convictions, and died in Calcutta on 5th September 1997, aged 87.
"I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith."
- Mother Teresa on her message from God
August 24th 1929: Hebron Massacre
On this day in 1929, around 67 Jews were killed by an Arab mob in Hebron, Palestine. The massacre took place during the 1929 Palestine Riots, which in total resulted in the deaths of 133 Jews and 110 Arabs. At this time, Palestine was under British administration and was known as the British Mandate of Palestine. The local Arab majority resented the immigration of Jews into their homeland, especially Hebron, a city considered a holy site for both Muslims and Jews. The tensions came to a head when false rumours spread that Jews were killing Arabs in the holy city of Jerusalem and were threatening Muslim holy sites. Violence thus soon erupted in Hebron, where many Jews (both foreign settlers and Palestinian Jews) were killed and wounded, with scores of homes and synagogues also targetted and destroyed. Around 435 Jews survived the massacre, largely due to the support of local Arab families who hid them, allowing them to survive the violence and soon be evacuated. Despite repeated warnings of possible violence in the area, the British authorities in Hebron were woefully unprepared, with just one British policeman stationed there. The rest of the police force was made up of local Arabs, some of whom actually joined in the killings. Hebron, located in the West Bank, remains a place of tensions between local Palestinians and Jewish settlers.
August 23rd 1305: William Wallace executed
On this day in 1305 William Wallace was executed for high treason in London. Wallace was one of the major leaders of the Wars of Scottish Independence that took place throughout the late 13th and early 14th centuries. He led Scottish forces against the English with great success, such as at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, for which he was knighted. However he was later defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 and eventually captured in 1305, at which point he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered by King Edward I of England. After his grisly execution, Wallace’s preserved head was set on a pike atop London Bridge. The Wars for Independence that Wallace had fought so valiantly for were successful, and Scotland remained an independent nation until it joined with England in 1707 to form Great Britain. Wallace has since become a Scottish icon and a symbol of the nation’s continuing campaign for independence. He remains a popular figure in literature and film, most famously portrayed by Mel Gibson as the protagonist of the 1995 film Braveheart.
"I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject"
- Wallace on his treason charge
August 22nd 1910: Japan annexes Korea
On this day in 1910, Japan formally annexed Korea with the signing of the Japan-Korea Treaty. Signed by Prime Minister of the Korean Empire Lee Wan-yong and Japanese Resident General of Korea Count Terauchi Masatake, the treaty completed the process of dwindling Korean autonomy that had been furthered by other treaties since 1876. The treaty became effective on August 29th, a week after it was signed, on which day it was also officially promulgated to the public. This marks the beginning of the period of Japanese rule in Korea, during which time Koreans were expected to assimilate with Japanese culture and reject their own. Japanese colonial rule over Korea ended after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, at which time Korea became an independent nation. In 1965 the treaties between Japan and Korea before 1910 were declared “already null and void”, but a debate continues over whether they were ever legally valid. The legacy of Japanese colonialism remains a controversial one. Many Koreans are still resentful of the treaty, which they believe was invalid as it was forced upon the Koreans, and the years of brutal imperialism that followed. As for the Japanese, there are mixed messages of sincere apology and defiant justification of imperialism; therefore full reconciliation between the two nations is still not complete.
September 1st 1983: Korean Air Lines Flight 007 shot down
On this day in 1983 the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 from New York City to Seoul was shot down by a Soviet jet fighter over the Sea of Japan. All 269 passengers and crew aboard the flight were killed, leaving no survivors; the majority of the victims were South Koreans. Flight 007 was off course and strayed into Soviet airspace, which was on high alert due to the presence of a US reconnaissance plane that resembled a Boeing 747 aircraft. Soviet pilot Major Gennadi Osipovich was responsible for the attack, and despite privately suspecting it might be a civilian jet, fired a heat-seeking missile at the plane which caused it to crash into the ocean. Occurring in the middle of the Cold War, the incident increased tensions between the world’s two leading superpowers - the United States and the Soviet Union. In what US President Ronald Reagan called a “massacre”, among the 269 victims was a US Congressman from Georgia. This incident has been much discussed recently due to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine on July 17th 2014.
August 30th 1914: Battle of Tannenberg ends
On this day in 1914 during World War One, the Germans defeated the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg after four days of fighting. The first major battle on the Eastern front, Tannenberg devastated the underprepared Russian army, who suffered 170,000 casualties to the Germans’ 12,000, thus eviscerating the Russian Second Army. The overwhelming victory of the German army made this battle one of the few decisive battles in a war characterised by stalemate and attritional warfare. The Germans thus successfully repelled the Russians from East Prussia, and their victory can partly be attributed to their superior tactics, including the use of large turning movements by train. One German leader for this battle was Paul von Hindenberg who went on to become President of Germany and saw the start of Nazi rule before his death in 1934. The Russian generals were largely incompetent due to their personal feud and one, Alexander Samsonov, committed suicide on August 30th after the Battle of Tannenberg rather than report the defeat to Tsar Nicholas II. The Russian First Army soon suffered the same fate as the Second and fell under German attack.
100 years ago today
August 29th 1842: Treaty of Nanking signed
On this day in 1842, the Treaty of Nanking was signed by the United Kingdom and China. The treaty ended the First Opium War which began in 1839 and resulted in the defeat of Qing China by the British. The war was fought over the smuggling of European opium into China, and was sparked when Chinese officials confiscated around 20,000 chests of the drug from British traders. With China defeated, the two sides met aboard the HMS Cornwallis moored at Nanking and their representatives signed the treaty. The agreement, considered unequal by the Chinese as they received no concessions, mostly concerned trade and gave the British more control over Chinese trade. It also provided for the Qing government to pay reparations for the confiscated opium and the cost of the war. Very importantly, the treaty also saw the Chinese cede the territory of Hong Kong to the British, which only returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
August 27th 1896: Anglo-Zanzibar War
On this day in 1896, the shortest war in history was fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate. The war lasted only 40 minutes. The conflict was caused by the death of pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini the day before. The British wanted the successor to be another sultan who would support Britain. The new sultan Khalid bin Barghash refused to stand down and barricaded himself inside his palace. British forces bombarded the sultan’s palace between 09.02 and 09.40, when the attack and thus the war ended. The sultan’s forces suffered 500 casualties, whilst the British only had one soldier wounded. The British were then able to put their preferred sultan in power in Zanzibar.
August 25th 79: Pliny the Elder died
On this day in 79 AD, the famous Roman author and philosopher Pliny the Elder died. Pliny was a prominent Roman citizen, serving in the army and becoming a friend of Emperor Vespasian. Among his written works include his comprehensive Natural History which is the precursor for all modern encyclopedias. In his capacity as fleet commander of the Roman Navy, Pliny witnessed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Following the eruption, Pliny crossed the Bay of Naples in an attempt to rescue a friend from the devastation and to observe the phenomenon directly. Despite the rubble raining down on his boat, Pliny pushed his boat onward and declared "Fortune favours the brave". Once he reached the shore and found his friend, Pliny’s party became stranded on the shore. The next day he collapsed and died, supposedly from the toxic fumes, however the rest of his party returned safely. In his will he legally adopted his nephew Pliny the Younger who also became a renowned philosopher and served as a provincial governor of Bithynia; his letters to Emperor Trajan provide fascinating evidence of the relationship between emperors and governors in the Roman Empire.
Anonymous said: I'm picking courses for next year (grade 11) and my options for history are ancient Greece, medieval times, and Canadian history. I'm stuck on which one to take. Any help?
That’s a great range of choices you have! It’s completely up to you, you’ve just got to decide what’s right for you. Ancient and Medieval history are really interesting as it’s something so detached from our own times, but this can also make it harder for some people to get their heads around it. I had a professor once who told us that his top students were the ones who could think like the people they were studying and put themselves in their shoes. This is certainly easier for more modern history like Canadian history, but if you can do it ancient and medieval are fascinating to study too. It’s really cool seeing the roots and origins of things that are so familiar to the modern world, especially with Ancient Greece. In the end it all depends really on how far back you’re comfortable studying, every option sounds interesting though! Good luck with making your choices :)
Hi! I’m currently a senior in high school and planning on majoring in History (or a combination of History and Politics) at a UK University. I was wondering where you study or if you have any recommendable programs/schools?
As this is a submission I’ll respond in italics. I study at the University of Sheffield, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. A great city and a really fantastic History department that offer a wide range of modules (last semester I did Ancient Rome and also the United States during the Cold War!), and also lots of extracurricular things you can get involved in like the department blog and the oral history project. I also have quite a few friends who do both History and Politics and they seem to like it. As for other universities, I can’t give first-hand experiences but my other choices that I applied for were: Leeds (really struggled to decide between this and Sheffield - a fantastic university and History course), Durham (a very good university, just behind Oxford and Cambridge), Southampton and Liverpool. There are also the London universities like UCL, and the School of Oriental and African Studies which focuses on Asian and African history which is cool. Hope that helps, best of luck with applications!