History for the Rest of Us

Hernando Cortes

Hernando Cortes

Apr 23, 2013

(1485-1547) Among the millions that from age to age are born into this world there arise in every generation one or two pre-eminent men and women who are objects of the wonder and the envy, the admiration and the hatred of their contemporaries, and whose names, after their deaths, stand out as landmarks by which we shape a course across the dark and doubtful seas of history. Cæsar and Cromwell, Mahomet and Napoleon, to mention no others, were such men, and such a man was Hernando Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico. They have been called, and well called, Men of Destiny, since it is impossible in studying their lives and tracing their vast influence upon human affairs, to avoid the conclusion that they were raised up and endowed with great talents and opportunities in order that by their agency the ends of Providence might be shaped. Hernando Cortes was born of a good family, at the town of Medellin in Spain, in 1485, and educated at the college of Salamanca. At the age of nineteen having proved himself unfit to follow the profession of the law to which his parents had destined him, he emigrated to the Indian Island of Hispaniola where he was appointed notary of the town of Acua, and in 1511 assisted in the conquest of Cuba under the command of Velasquez. Here after many curious adventures and vacillations he married a lady named Catalina Xuarez, and being created alcade of the settlement of St. Jago realized a moderate fortune by the practice of agriculture and mining. In 1518 there came to Cuba news of the discoveries made by Grijalva in Yucatan on the coast of the country now known as Mexico, and the Governor, Velasquez, determined to despatch a force to explore this new land. After much intriguing and in consideration of the payment of a considerable sum of money toward the expenses, Cortes whose ambitious spirit had already wearied of a life of peace and indolence, contrived to persuade Velasquez to appoint him Captain General of the expedition. Before the ships sailed, however, Velasquez repented him of the appointment, for in Cortes he recognized a servant who might well...

Columbus Announces His Discovery

Columbus Announces His Discovery

Nov 15, 2012

The Letter of Columbus to Luis De Sant Angel Announcing His Discovery (1493) As I know you will be rejoiced at the glorious success that our Lord has given me in my voyage, I write this to tell you how in thirty-three days I sailed to the Indies with the fleet that the illustrious King and Queen, our Sovereigns, gave me, where I discovered a great many islands, inhabited by numberless people; and of all I have taken possession for their Highnesses by proclamation and display of the Royal Standard without opposition. To the first island I discovered I gave the name of San Salvador, in commemoration of His Divine Majesty, who has wonderfully granted all this. The Indians call it Guanaham. The second I named the Island of Santa Maria de Concepcion; the third, Fernandina; the fourth, Isabella; the fifth, Juana; and thus to each one I gave a new name. When I came to Juana, I followed the coast of that isle toward the west, and found it so extensive that I thought it might be the mainland, the province of Cathay; and as I found no towns nor villages on the sea-coast, except a few small settlements, where it was impossible to speak to the people, because they fled at once, I continued the said route, thinking I could not fail to see some great cities or towns; and finding at the end of many leagues that nothing new appeared, and that the coast led northward, contrary to my wish, because the winter had already set in, I decided to make for the south, and as the wind also was against my proceeding, I determined not to wait there longer, and turned back to a certain harbor whence I sent two men to find out whether there was any king or large city. They explored for three days, and found countless small communities and people, without number, but with no kind of government, so they returned. I heard from other Indians I had already taken that this land was an island, and thus followed the eastern coast for one hundred and seven leagues, until I came to the end of it....

Marco Polo

Marco Polo

Nov 6, 2012

LIVED FROM 1254-1324 Some years before St. Louis led his last Crusade there was born in Venice a boy named Marco Polo. His father was a wealthy merchant who often went on trading journeys to distant lands. In 1271, when Marco was seventeen years old, he accompanied his father and uncle on a journey through the Holy Land, Persia and Tartary, and at length to the Empire of China—then called Cathay. It took the travelers three years to reach Cathay. The emperor of Cathay was a monarch named Kublai Khan, who lived in Peking. Marco’s father and uncle had been in Cathay once before and had entertained Kublai Khan by telling him about the manners and customs of Europe. So when the two Venetian merchants again appeared in Peking, Kublai Khan was glad to see them. He was also greatly pleased with the young Marco, whom he invited to the palace. Important positions at the Chinese court were given to Marco’s father and uncle, and so they and Marco lived in the country for some years. Marco studied the Chinese language, and it was not very long before he could speak it. When he was about twenty-one Kublai Khan sent him on very important business to a distant part of China. He did the work well and from that time was often employed as an envoy of the Chinese monarch. His travels were sometimes in lands never before visited by Europeans and he had many strange adventures among the almost unknown tribes of Asia. Step by step he was promoted. For several years he was governor of a great Chinese city. Finally he and his father and uncle desired to return to Venice. They had all served Kublai Khan faithfully and he had appreciated it and given them rich rewards; but he did not wish to let them go. While the matter was being talked over an embassy arrived in Peking from the king of Persia. This monarch desired to marry the daughter of Kublai Khan, the Princess Cocachin, and he had sent to ask her father for her hand. Consent was given, and Kublai Khan fitted out a fleet of fourteen ships to...

Columbus Arrives in the New World

Columbus Arrives in the New World

Oct 8, 2012

Thursday, October 11th, was destined to be for ever memorable in the history of the world. It began ordinarily enough, with a west-south-west wind blowing fresh, and on a sea rather rougher than they had had lately. The people on the Santa Maria saw some petrels and a green branch in the water; the Pinta saw a reed and two small sticks carved with iron, and one or two other pieces of reeds and grasses that had been grown on shore, as well as a small board. Most wonderful of all, the people of the Nina saw “a little branch full of dog roses”; and it would be hard to estimate the sweet significance of this fragment of a wild plant from land to the senses of men who had been so long upon a sea from which they had thought never to land alive. The day drew to its close; and after nightfall, according to their custom, the crew of the ships repeated the Salve Regina. Afterwards the Admiral addressed the people and sailors of his ship, “very merry and pleasant,” reminding them of the favours God had shown them with regard to the weather, and begging them, as they hoped to see land very soon, within an hour or so, to keep an extra good look-out that night from the forward forecastle; and adding to the reward of an annuity of 10,000 maravedis, offered by the Queen to whoever should sight land first, a gift on his own account of a silk doublet. The moon was in its third quarter, and did not rise until eleven o’clock. The first part of the night was dark, and there was only a faint starlight into which the anxious eyes of the look-out men peered from the forecastles of the three ships. At ten o’clock Columbus was walking on the poop of his vessel, when he suddenly saw a light right ahead. The light seemed to rise and fall as though it were a candle or a lantern held in some one’s hand and waved up and down. The Admiral called Pedro Gutierrez to him and asked him whether he saw anything; and he also...

Neil Armstrong One Small Step for Man

Neil Armstrong One Small Step for Man

Sep 19, 2012

Below is the text from Neil Armstrong’s descent to the surface of the moon on 20 July 1969: Listen to the audio: Neil Armstrong steps onto the surface of the moon Neil Armstrong:I’m at the foot of the ladder. The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about 1 or 2 inches, although the surface appears to be very, very fine grained, as you get close to it. It’s almost like a powder. Down there, it’s very fine. Neil Armstrong:I’m going to step off the LM now. Neil Armstrong:That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Neil Armstrong:And the—the surface is fine and powdery. I can—I can pick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers like powdered charcoal to the sole and sides of my boots. I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles. Bruce McCandless:Neil, this is Houston. We’re...

Amelia Earhart – A Woman’s Place in Science

Amelia Earhart – A Woman’s Place in Science

Sep 18, 2012

In 1935, Amelia Earhart delivered the following address as part of a radio broadcast on a woman’s place in science. Listen to the broadcast: Amelia Earhart – A Woman’s Place in Science “This modern world of science and invention is of particular interest to women, for the lives of women have been more affected by its new horizons than those of any other group. Profound and stirring as have been accomplishments in the remoter fields of pure research, it is in the home that the applications of scientific achievement have perhaps been most far-reaching, and it is through changing conditions there that women have become the greatest beneficiaries in the modern scheme. Science has released them from much of the age-old drudgery connected with the process of living. Candle dipping, weaving and crude methods of manufacturing necessities are things of the past for an increasing majority. Today, light, heat and power may be obtained by pushing buttons and cunningly manufactured and appealing products of all the world are available at the housewife’s door. Indeed, beyond that door she need not go, thanks to the miracles of modern communication and transportation. Not only has applied science decreased the toil in the home, but it has provided undreamed of economic opportunities for women. Today, millions of them are earning their living under conditions made possible only through a basically altered industrial system. Probably no scientific development is more startling than the effect of this new and growing economic independence upon women themselves. When the history of our times is written, it must record as supremely significant the physical, psychic and social changes women have undergone in these exciting decades. The impetus of the sociological evolution of the last half century should be largely credited to those who have toiled in laboratories, and those who have translated into practical use the fruits of such labors. One hears a lament that a mechanized world would not be a pleasant one in which to live. Quite the contrary should be true. And it can be true if the fine minds who have accomplished so much in the realms of applied science will unite with the same enthusiasm to control...