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Best Back-to-School Essentials for History Students of All Ages

September 21, 2018 in History

By Heather Corcoran

Because knowing the past always has a way of being useful.

We the People, Gone Graphic

Need a refresher on civics class? Finding traditional explanations of our country’s founding documents a little…dry? . This encyclopedic book by author and historian Jeffrey C. Stewart celebrates African-American leaders and innovation through the lens of six key topics: great migrations; civil rights and politics; science; inventions and medicine; sports; military; culture and religion. About $15, Amazon.

In Praise of Fierce Women

Forget tired dorm-room decor—give your walls an inspirational upgrade with a collection of mini-posters from Rad Women Worldwide. Featuring 20 impressive and influential women—from Egyptian queen Hatshepsut to tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai—these frameable 7-by-11-inch posters give perfect context to the pink wave. To kick the inspiration up a notch, check out Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women, the newest book from author Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl, the duo behind the “Rad” history series. Posters about $9, Amazon.

Fossil Finder

The Mega Fossil Dig Kit gives aspiring archaeologists a fun way to discover history buried just beneath the earth’s surface. Using paleontologist tools, future explorers can carefully chisel and brush their way into the kit’s large dig brick to “discover” up to 15 authentic fossils—shark teeth, ammonites, brachiopods and more. The dig-along guidebook provides instructions for finding the fossils, plus a wealth of information on each. Indiana Jones hat not included. About $20, Amazon.

Setting the Record Straight

If a good education teaches us nothing else, it’s the importance of critical thinking. That’s the mission behind Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong—the U.S.-history themed follow-up to 1995’s bestselling “counter-textbook” Lies My Teacher Told Me. It spotlights often-overlooked histories behind important American episodes from pre-Columbian history through 9/11. About $15, Amazon.

Get on the Map!

It’s said that travel is life’s best teacher, so what better way to celebrate seeing the world—and learning about histories and cultures other than our own—than by tracking journeys on a Scratch-off Map? Featuring mini-stickers, national flags and easy-to-read borders, this handsome keepsake will make any student of the world excited to get out there and put some new stamps on their passport. About $29, Amazon.

Facts in Hand

Gamify your history lessons with Brain …read more


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Long-Lost Letter Reveals How Galileo Tried to Trick the Inquisition

September 21, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Galileo had evidence suggesting that Earth orbits the sun (not the other way around), but he also knew it was a dangerous theory.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) explaining his theories on the solar system.

A long-lost letter written by Galileo Galilei reveals an effort by the 17th-century astronomer to soften his public stance against the Catholic Church’s doctrine that the sun orbits the Earth. The letter, uncovered at the Royal Society in London, appears to solve a four-century-old mystery over Galileo’s original language on the celestial matter.

In the letter, written in 1613, the famed astronomer-philosopher-physicist-mathematician argued for the first time against the concept that the sun orbited the Earth (and not the other way around). When a copy of the letter was later forwarded to the Inquisition in Rome, Galileo claimed the language had been altered to make it more heretical, and produced a toned-down version he claimed was the original. In fact, as this new discovery shows, it was Galileo who had done some altering.

The newly rediscovered document, which had been misdated in the Royal Society library’s catalog, shows that Galileo himself had made changes to his original text, in an effort to protect himself from the Inquisition’s wrath.

The Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus had argued in his 1543 book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres that the sun lay at the center of the universe, while Earth was a planet orbiting it. Though Copernicus himself did not live to see the impact of his revolutionary heliocentric theory, the mathematician Giordano Bruno was convicted of heresy in 1600 for his support of Copernicus’ theory, and burned at the stake.

Through his telescopic experiments, Galileo found evidence that supported the Copernican model. On December 21, 1613, he wrote to his friend Benedetto Castelli, a mathematician at the University of Pisa in Italy, about his findings. He argued that passages in the Bible mentioning astronomical events could not be taken literally, and that the Copernican theory was not necessarily incompatible with the Bible.

Due to the controversial nature of the letter, copies were circulated, and one was sent to the Inquisition in Rome in 1615. Shortly after that, Galileo wrote to a cleric friend claiming that the letter forwarded to the Inquisition had been altered to amplify the heresy of Galileo’s claims. He enclosed what he said was the original, and asked his …read more


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7 Contentious Trade Wars in U.S. History

September 21, 2018 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

From the Boston Tea Party to the banana wars of the 1990s, U.S. trade battles have yielded mixed results for Americans.

President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, Canadian lumber and on Chinese goods are just the latest in America’s long history of trade war tactics. And while some efforts have led to revolutions (Boston Tea Party), others have failed miserably (Smoot-Hawley Act). Here’s a look at seven U.S. trade wars that made an impact—for better or for worse—on our country.

1. The Boston Tea Party

Major players: American colonists, British Parliament

Boston Tea Party (TV-14; 1:51)

Tools of the trade (war): Tea

“Taxation without representation.” That was the rallying cry December 16, 1773, at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, when colonists waged a political protest over taxes levied by Great Britain, including the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767 that taxed everything from newspapers and playing cards to paint, glass and, yes, tea. Following the 1770 Boston Massacre, Britain repealed all but the tea tax, leading to a colonial boycott of the British East India Company and tea smuggling. The night of the infamous tea party, organized by the Sons of Liberty (which counted John Hancock, John Adams and Paul Revere among its members), a reported 116 men tossed 342 chests of tea—92,000 pounds of the stuff valued at around $1 million by today’s standards—overboard.

Consequences: The British Parliament and King George III enacted the Coercive Acts, which among other orders, closed Boston Harbor until the tea was paid for, stopped free elections in Massachusetts and required colonists to house British troops on demand. In response, the other colonies sent supplies and were spurred to declare the right of the colonies to govern independently. The Revolutionary War began soon after, on April 19, 1775.

2. The Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930

Major players: United States, Canada, Europe and other nations

A political cartoon of President Herbert Hoover explaining his farm relief program to a farmer.

Tools of the trade (war): Thousands of imported goods

President Herbert Hoover originally set out to deal with a farm crisis during the early years of the Great Depression, proposing tariffs on agricultural imports. But Senators Reed Smoot and Willis C. Hawley offered their own legislation, and added a slew of industrial tariffs. This was despite a petition signed by 1,000 U.S. economists calling, unsuccessfully, for Hoover to veto the plan. The world responded with tariffs on U.S. …read more


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How Robert Bork's Failed Nomination Led to a Changed Supreme Court

September 21, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

President Reagan took three tries to get a Supreme Court nomination approved—and the outcome would have far-reaching consequences for the Court and the country.

Reagan nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Robert Bork, testifies on the fourth day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in Washington D C. Bork was rejected by the Senate.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan got the chance to appoint the third Supreme Court justice of his presidency. But while the first two justices had sailed through the confirmation process, the third appointment turn out to be much, much more difficult. The outcome would have far-reaching consequences for the Court and the country.

After Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., a long-time “swing” vote on the Court, announced his retirement, President Reagan nominated Robert Bork, a federal appeals court judge. Bork had been serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the nation’s second-highest court, for five years at that time.

A die-hard fan of constitutional “originalism,” Bork rejected what he saw as the Court’s liberal judicial activism, including key precedents like the “one person, one vote” principle of legislative representation, civil rights legislation and cases involving privacy rights. In Bork’s view, the U.S. Constitution included no right to privacy.

Bork’s controversial opinions and writings, and the fear that he would decisively shift the Supreme Court to the right, motivated liberals in Congress to launch an aggressive campaign against his confirmation, led by Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

“Robert Bork’s America,” Kennedy declared on the Senate floor, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, [and] schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution…”

Democrats controlled Congress at the time, and the Senate ended up voting against Bork’s confirmation by a vote of 58-42, the biggest margin of any failed Supreme Court nominee in history. Bork’s confirmation fight, and its result, even spawned a new verb. In the years that followed, politicians on both left and right would adopt the practice of “borking” judicial nominees—vigorously questioning their legal philosophy and political views in an effort to derail their confirmation.

President Reagan (R) holding press conference to introduce his Supreme Court nominee Douglas H. Ginsburg.

After Bork, Reagan nominated a more moderate conservative, Douglas H. Ginsburg. …read more


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Why Are There So Many Urban Legends About Mr. Rogers?

September 21, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

If popular folklore is to be believed, he’s a tattooed former sniper with a dark secret.

You may have read it on the internet or heard it from a friend: Before Fred McFeely Rogers became a beloved TV legend, he was a sniper in the Vietnam War. Then he took to the airwaves, adopting his signature sweater to cover his full-sleeve tattoos, using his platform to abuse children and flipping off television cameras along the way.

Everything in that paragraph is untrue—so why do these stories keep being repeated? The persistence of these stories, and their stark contrast from the truth, tells us a lot about urban legends and how they spread. In fact, folklorists, who study how people express themselves in everyday life, say that the stories we tell about public figures can actually tell us a lot about ourselves.

Celebrated in the latest Google Doodle, Mr. Rogers’ real biography reads like a squeaky-clean fable: A Pittsburgh native, he entered a seminary but left to pursue a career in children’s television. A deft puppeteer and storyteller, Rogers had a deep love of—and respect for—children that made him a uniquely qualified kids’ entertainer. “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” his iconic TV show that debuted 50 years ago this month, ran for 33 years on public television and is still shown in reruns. Rogers’ soft-spoken persona, his inventive puppets and the familiar residents of his “neighborhood” turned the show into a much-loved kids’ classic filled with gentle lessons and quiet entertainment. The cherished star made a famously emotional plea for public television before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications in 1969, and was a devoted Presbyterian minister who neither smoked nor drank. An award-winning documentary about Rogers released in 2018 was one of the most successful specialty box office releases of the summer.

Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

He’s also the subject of a string of tall tales. Supposedly, he flipped off a television camera in an uncharacteristic show of aggression, captured in a GIF that’s reached meme status. (In truth, he was raising his fingers during an innocent on-air game of “Where is Thumbkin.”) Other myths have it that he fought in Vietnam or was a particularly violent Navy SEAL. (He did neither, though he did receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush for his work in television.) Some even …read more


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Oldest (and Weird-Looking) Animal Discovered Through 558 Million-Year-Old Fat

September 20, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

The find, confirmed through 558 million-year-old preserved fat, expands the known existence of animals by three million years..

The oldest known animal in history has been discovered thanks to some well-preserved animal fat that’s been sitting in northwest Russia for the past 558 million years. The find expands the confirmed existence of animals by three million years.

The ancient animal is a Dickinsonia, which looks more like a creature from a sci-fi movie than something you’d expect to run into on Earth. Dickinsonia were oval-shaped creatures spread flat like pancakes that could grow up to four and a half feet long. Previously, the oldest macroscopic animal in the geological record was the mollusc-like Kimberella from 555 million years ago.

We already knew that Dickinsonia existed because of fossil imprints that show the animals’ eerily symmetrical, rib-like segments all over their bodies. Many of these fossils are found in southern Australia. But Ilya Bobrovskiy, a PhD student at Australian National University, had to travel to a cold, remote area near the White Sea to find ones that still had preserved fat.

“These fossils were located in the middle of cliffs of the White Sea that are [195 to 330 feet] high,” Bobrovskiy said in a university press release. “I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after.”

Before his discovery, it wasn’t clear that Dickinsonia were animals—i.e., that they belonged to Animalia, the same biological kingdom as humans. Dickinsonia are a type of Ediacaran biota, a group of organisms that emerged during the Ediacaran Period between 635 million and 541 million years ago. These organisms predated the “Cambrian explosion” of animal life over the next nine million years.

Organic matter extracted from the ancient animal.

“Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edi[a]caran Biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution or the earliest animals on Earth,” said Jochen Brocks, a lead senior researcher at Australian National University, in the press release.

The Dickinsonia fossil tissue Bobrovskiy found contains cholesterol molecules; and because this type of fat is present in all animal tissues, it settles the debate. “The fossil fat now confirms …read more


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This Teenager Killed Nazis With Her Sister During WWII

September 19, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Freddie and Truus Oversteegen sometimes ambushed Nazi officers from their bicycles—and never revealed how many they had assassinated.

Freddie Oversteegan pictured in her teens. She joined the Dutch resistance at age 14 and took up arms against Nazis by the time she was 16.

Freddie Oversteegen was only 14 when she joined the Dutch resistance during in 2016. But the experience of war still caused her insomnia. In another interview, Freddie recalled seeing a person she’d shot fall the ground and having the human impulse to want to help him.

“We did not feel it suited us,” Truss told Jonker of their assassinations. “It never suits anybody, unless they are real criminals.”

Both women died at age 92—Truus in 2016, and Freddie on September 5, 2018, one day before she turned 93. Throughout much of their long lives, the Netherlands failed to properly recognize the women’s achievements, and sidelined them as communists. In 2014, they finally received national recognition for their service to their country by receiving the Mobilisatie-Oorlogskruis, or “War Mobilization Cross.”

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Why Were the Rosenbergs Executed?

September 19, 2018 in History

By John Seven

They were the only spies executed during the Cold War and some question whether their sentence was fair.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were executed after having been found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage. The charges were in relation to the passing of information about the American atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

Few death-penalty executions can equal the controversy created by the electrocutions of spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953. Accused of overseeing a spy network that stole American atomic secrets and handing those over to the Soviet Union, the couple were the only spies executed during the Cold War.

But were they guilty? For some, that has been in dispute for more than half a century.

Julius Rosenberg was almost certainly guilty.

By most accounts, Julius Rosenberg was an enthusiastic Communist. His job at the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories made him an enticing recruit for Soviet spies, who approached him on Labor Day, 1942.

Late in 1944, Julius became a recruiter for the Russians and oversaw several spies himself, including the one who would cause Julius’ downfall: his brother-in-law David Greenglass. Greenglass worked on the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

After the ring was uncovered, Greenglass was arrested on June 15, 1950. He named his wife as a co-conspirator, along with Julius. Greenglass originally denied his sister Ethel was involved, but later changed his story.

Ethel Rosenberg was arrested on the courthouse steps.

Soon after, the FBI raided the Rosenberg home and arrested Julius. Ethel was later arrested while leaving a federal courthouse in New York City after testifying she had no knowledge of espionage efforts. The FBI hoped her arrest would force Julius to name names of other Communist sympathizers.

Greenglass later told New York Times journalist Sam Roberts that he had entered into a deal with the government, implicating his sister in exchange for his wife’s immunity.

The Rosenbergs and Greenglass were all found guilty.

Sentencing guidelines gave the judge two choices for Julius and Ethel: 30 years imprisonment or execution. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover suggested a 30-year sentence for Ethel, believing she would eventually name names in jail.

But Judge Irving Kaufman chose death for both Rosenbergs. David Greenglass got a 15-year sentence, serving just over nine years.

The Rosenbergs were executed by electric on June 19, 1953, at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.

<img src="" height="349" …read more


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Best Gear for an Epic Mountain Adventure

September 18, 2018 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

Long to become an off-grid winter expert like the cast of ‘Mountain Men’? Looking to elevate your next snowy trail hike or camping trip? Take things up a notch with this selection of outdoor gear. The mountains are calling.

HISTORY recommends products that our editors think you’ll like, and if you buy something through our links HISTORY may get a small share of the revenue. Prices may fluctuate.


Whether you’re navigating wintry backwoods terrain, looking for a quad-burning workout or simply out to enjoy a scenic stroll through the fluffy stuff, that’s not only a warm knit hat, but also features a built-in headlamp with two modes—white light or flashing red and blue lights—so you can see and be seen in the dark. Washable. $9, Amazon


You don’t have to be a lumberjack the likes of Paul Bunyan to know the value of a good axe when you’re mountain-bound. This sleek 17.5-inch Gerber Freescape hatchet features a durable forged-steel head and composite handle, making it easy to use without a lot of hand strain. Babe the Blue Ox not included. $45.50, Amazon


Building a fire on a cold mountain night can make the difference between a comfortable campsite and the possibility of frostbite or hypothermia. If you can rub two sticks together to start a fire, well—more power to ya. For the rest of us, we’ll rely on the Zippo Emergency Fire Kit, which includes five lightweight paraffin wax-coated cotton tinders, a Zippo flint-wheel lighter and a water-resistant, floatable case. $9, Amazon


Winter rule No. 1? Don’t leave home without a hat. This chocolate-brown Stetson “Pawnee” fur-felt cowboy hat is a classic, durable, American-made style with a brown leather concho-adorned band. Bonus: a fabric moisture-wicking sweatband to keep you feeling as cool as you look. $156-$203, depending on the seller, Amazon


If there’s one thing we don’t want to sacrifice—like, ever—it’s a hot-cooked meal. So, the MSR PocketRocket 2 folding-canister backpacking stove is a must in our adventure kit. Easy to use and able to boil a liter of water in less than four minutes, it’s ultra lightweight (2.6 oz.), compact (2 x 2 x 3 in.) and works with a variety of pot sizes. Dinner is served. $45, Amazon


You don’t …read more


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Four Works of Nazi-Looted Art Identified and Returned to Jewish Family

September 18, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

The drawings were in the stash of Hildebrand Gurlitt, the head buyer for Adolf Hitler’s planned Führermuseum.

Adolf Hitler is shown looking at a tiara and a sculpture of Napoleon Bonaparte during his visit of an art exhibition. Rudolf Hess stands in the background.

Germany has .

Only a few pieces from Cornelius’ stash have been returned to the heirs of the artworks’ original owners. Now, the four Deutsch de la Meurthe drawings have also been restituted to the family’s heirs. With the family’s approval, these drawings by Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen, Augustin de Saint Aubin and Anne Vallayer-Coster are on display until January 2019 at the Gropius Bau museum in Berlin, along with other pieces from the famous Gurlitt stash.

…read more