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What historical fact blows your mind?

Here are come interesting facts:

Drunk debates were once a key aspect of any important decision-making process.

Perhaps you don’t have to be Don Draper to believe in the necessity of alcohol at the work place. When famous Greek historian Herodotus, travelled to Persia around 450 B.C., he found a culture that deeply valued the wisdom that comes while being drunk. The Persians he encountered would make sure that particularly important arguments were debated both while sober and drunk, as only ideas that made sense in both states were truly worthwhile. This process went both ways: Arguments originally had while drunk would be debated again the next day in soberness, and dry arguments would be followed up with discussions over wine.

C.S. Lewis expanded upon this idea in his “Letters to Malcolm,” when he wrote:

I know this is the opposite of what is often said about the necessity of keeping all emotion out of our intellectual processes – ‘you can’t think straight unless you are cool.’ But then neither can you think deep if you are. I suppose one must try every problem in both states. You remember that the ancient Persians debated everything twice: once when they were drunk and once when they were sober.

The Olympic Games used to award medals for art.

Maybe artists deserve varsity jackets, too. From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics held competitions in the fine arts, with medals being awarded for architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. The art produced was required to be Olympics-themed, so gold-winning pieces had names like, “Knockdown” and “Étude de Sport.” The first winning work of literature was actually written by the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, who supposedly wrote the piece, “Ode to Sport,” under a pseudonym.

According to Frédy, adding an arts component to the modern Olympics was necessary because the ancient Greeks used to hold art festivals alongside the games. Over the years, dancing, film, photography and theatre were all proposed as additional events, but none of these ever became medal categories. In total, 151 medals were awarded before the Olympics removed the art competitions in favor of requiring host cities to provide cultural events to accompany the games.

Pink wasn’t always a girl’s color and blue a boy’s color — in fact, it was once the other way around.

The distinction of blue for boys and pink for girls didn’t take full hold until the middle of the 20th century. Many people already know that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wore dresses as a child, but this was common practice for the time. Children would wear gender neutral, mostly white clothing that was easy to bleach clean, and wouldn’t get haircuts until around the age of six or seven. It wasn’t until department stores started marketing gender-specific colors that parents began to worry about making sure their children were wearing the “right” outfits.

Even when mass marketing began, the messages were mixed. The trade publication “Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department” featured an article suggesting, “the generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

English was once a language for “commoners,” while the British elites spoke French.

Despite the severity with which some contemporary English-speakers vehemently attack “incorrect” uses of the language, English used to belong to the people. In the formative years of the language, it was only spoken by “commoners,” while the English courts and aristocracy mostly spoke in French. This was due to the Norman Invasion of 1066 and caused years of division between the “gentlemen” who had adopted the Anglo-Norman French and those who only spoke English. Even the famed King Richard the Lionheart was actually primarily referred to in French, as Richard “Coeur de Lion.”

To further mess with your preconceptions about the English language, the “British accent” was actually created after the Revolutionary War, meaning contemporary Americans sound more like the colonists and British soldiers of the 18th century than contemporary Brits. Of course, accents vary greatly by region, but the “BBC English” or public school English accent (which sounds like Austin Powers) didn’t come about until the 19th century and was originally adopted by people who wanted to sound fancier.

Money was once designed to discourage people from having too much of it.

Perhaps having quick and easy money isn’t truly in our best interests. According to Greek historian Plutarch, in his “Life of Lycurgus,” the Spartans used long and heavy iron rods as their currency in hopes that it would discourage them from pursuing large amounts of wealth. This unusual currency was called “obeloi” and was supposedly so cumbersome that carrying multiple rods would require oxen.

A couple other things that might change the way you think about contemporary money: American presidents weren’t originally supposed to be on the nation’s currency, as that was seen as a practice of monarchies. Also, the idea civilizations relied on established barter systems before the rise of physical currency is probably incorrect. People may have traded things, but one of the only well-known bartering practices was more of a bonding and sex ritual between tribes in Northern Australia called the dzamalag.

A good night of sleep used to mean waking up sometime in the middle.

Are we sleeping all wrong? According to growing research about sleeping habits before the 20th century, people didn’t always sleep in one long block, but would briefly wake up in the middle to split the slumber into two sessions. During this time, people would reportedly engage in all sorts of activities, with the more scholarly using the time to read and write, while couples might spend the break having sex.

The two-part sleeping pattern was the product of people going to bed much earlier before the invention of electricity, which meant the world actually went dark when the sun set. For those who assumed candles were regularly lit at night before electric lights, historian Craig Koslofsky points out in his book, “Evening’s Empire,” that we tend to overestimate their importance. He writes, “even the wealthy, who could afford candlelight, had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social value associated with staying up all night.”

Contemporary society seems to have adjusted to the single session of sleep, but that doesn’t mean the transition has been entirely smooth. It has been suggested that those who consistently wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep, may simply have bodies that yearn for the way we used to operate.

The first proposal for space travel in English history was made by Oliver Cromwell’s brother-in-law

Theologian and natural philosopher John Wilkins (1614–72), who married Cromwell’s youngest sister Robina, was a polymath of great learning and curiosity, and would be one of the founders of the Royal Society. In two books he explored the possibility of “flying chariots” to carry men to the moon.

He believed, as did many others, that the moon and planets were inhabited, and that we should meet these people and trade with them. People were anchored to the earth by a type of magnetism, and if it were possible to reach an altitude of just 20 miles, travellers would be free to fly, or rather sail, though space. Breathing wouldn’t be a problem as the astronauts would soon grow accustomed to the purer air breathed by angels.

Wilkins appears to have experimented in building flying machines with Robert Hooke, in the gardens of Wadham College, Oxford, in the 1650s. Some years later, however, with growing understanding of the nature of vacuums, he realised that space travel was much more complicated than expected.

While his Cromwellian connections reduced him to poverty after the return of the monarchy, Wilkins’s fortunes were gradually restored and he ended his life as Bishop of Chester.

There have been ‘more than 600’ plots against Fidel Castro

The former director of Cuba’s intelligence service claims that there were more than 600 attempts to kill or destabilise Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. These were backed by various opponents of the regime, most notably the United States, often operating at a distance by using gangsters or anti-Castro Cuban exiles.

These have included using thallium to make his famous beard fall out, or LSD to make him sound mad during a radio broadcast. Then there was the poisoned diving suit, the exploding cigar, and the femme fatale who was to seduce him – in the latter case Castro claimed he uncovered her intentions, offered her a pistol and told her to kill him, but she didn’t have the nerve.

There was also a tide-line of exploding seashells, which went off 40 minutes after Fidel’s visit to the beach, but which did succeed in fusing Havana’s traffic lights. There are also bizarre tales of a plan to beam a holographic image of the Virgin Mary, which was supposed to inspire Catholic Cubans to shun communism, though it doesn’t appear to have been tried.

A lot of these plots are impossible to substantiate properly, though there can be no question that many people wanted Castro dead. “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal,” he said.

A pedestrian collected rocks to build a house

A historical, topographical and descriptive view of the county palatine of Durham, Eneas Mackenzie & Metcalf Ross, dated 1834:

“Simeon Ellerton died here [Crayke, North Yorkshire] January 3, 1799, at the advanced age of 104. He was a noted pedestrian, and was often employed by gentlemen in the neighbourhood on commissions to London and other places, which he always executed on foot with fidelity and diligence. He lived in a neat stone cottage of his own building; and what was remarkable, he had literally carried it upon his head!

“It being his practice to bring home from every journey the properest stone he could pick up on the road, until he had accumulated a sufficient quantity to erect his habitation, by which time, although the motive had ceased, this practice had grown so much into a habit, that he imagined he could travel the better for having a weight upon his head and he seldom came home without some loading. If any person inquired his reason, he used facetiously to answer, ‘’Tis to keep on my hat’.”

A best-seller was written by a nine-year-old

In 1890, nine-year-old Daisy Ashford wrote a novel and forgot all about it. She gave up writing fiction for good at the age of 13. Some 28 years later, upon going through her mother’s house after she had died, Daisy and her sisters found the pencilled manuscript in a drawer. They showed it to a friend, who passed it on to an acquaintance who worked in publishing, and so the book – The Young Visiters – came out in 1919 with a preface by Peter Pan author JM Barrie, who many people wrongly believed was the book’s author.

The novel was praised for its clever plotting and keen observation of Victorian manners, and went into several editions. The author, by now Mrs James Devlin, bought a farm with her earnings, commenting, “I like fresh air and royalty cheques”.

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