History

The 75th Anniversary of the Trinity Test

The atom bomb did not miraculously appear at the end of World War II. It took years and some of the world’s greatest scientific minds to develop the most destructive weapon ever created by humankind. In the late 1930s, rumors were circulating that Nazi Germany was working to develop a powerful new weapon. Two European scientists, Einstein and Fermi, refugees from fascist Europe, warned American officials of the danger of a Nazi atomic bomb. Einstein even sent a personal letter to President Roosevelt. The message warned the president of the dangers of atomic warfare. The threat of mass destruction by the Axis nations was the impetus of creating the Manhattan Project.

The new program was located in various parts of the United States. The Trinity project, one of the multilayered parts of the Manhattan Project, was located in New Mexico. It was the testing site for evaluating the most efficient way of dropping a super bomb. The military took over 52,000 acres of land in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1942. The area was shrouded in secrecy. On July 16, 1945, the bomb was dropped. The Army reported that a large amount of munitions had exploded to hide the truth that America had successfully created an atomic bomb. “To help provide the public with a credible account, the Manhattan Project allowed New York Times reporter William Laurence to live on the Los Alamos compound in the months leading to the blast. He kept the secret and wrote a celebrated series in the Times after Hiroshima.”‘Atomic Bill’ Laurence, The New York Times, and the Birth of the BombA star science reporter had unparalleled access to the Manhattan Project, as chronicler and cheerleader.

The most poignant part of this research has been reading the eye witness accounts of the Los Alamos bomb drop. One can feel the uneasiness of the scientists who participated in the construction of the atomic explosive. Several of them compared the new technology to stories from Greek mythology, Pandora’s Box and Prometheus. An updated article continues to compare technology and mythology.

Christian Lous Lange, the winner of the 1921 Nobel Peace, writes, “technology is a useful servant but a a dangerous master.”


Bastille Day

July 14 is Bastille Day, the most important public holiday in France. The country joins in a celebration to honor its people and history. The French call this day la Fête nationale (the National Holiday).

The origin of this holiday took place in 1880. French government officials felt that the country needed a national day of celebration. After much debate, July 14 was chosen, the same day as the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison.

France has an interesting history and culture. The MVCC library has many resources to help you understand why this this holiday is celebrated worldwide.

Fireworks

Fireworks have been around for over 2000 years. Most historians agree that fireworks originated in China around 200 BC. Villagers would throw pieces of bamboo into a fire to ensure that evil spirits would be frighten away by the exploding bamboo. This country also invented gun powder in 600 AD. Serendipity played a pivotal role in the history of fireworks. Gunpowder was placed into a piece of hallowed bamboo thrown into a fire. There was no aerial show, just a series of explosions. Gunpowder also proved to be an amazing addition to the weapons of war. Explorers and traders brought the new technologies to Europe. The Europeans utilized this new knowledge on the battlefield and for special occasions.

Europeans used fireworks to celebrate religious holy days, military victories, and royal events. The shows became more colorful and in addition to noise, the pyrotechnics went aerial. English settlers brought the science of fireworks to the colonies. John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote a letter to his wife on July 2, 1776, stating that “this day ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations (fireworks).” On July 4, 1777, fireworks were included in the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Happy 4th of July to all.

Drive-In Movie Theaters

An old form of entertainment is back. Two drive-in movie theaters are opening in the Chicago-land area this weekend. Many people may not be familiar with this form of movie watching, but you may find this “blast from the past” an interesting way to view movies. In March, the coronavirus restrictions forced movie theaters to shut their doors. This is not the first time that Hollywood has faced a crisis. The movie industry was threatened by television in the 1950s and 1960s, new technology in the later decades, and the latest assault, streaming. However,the industry has always reinvented itself and survived the attacks. Ironically, it is using an outdated method to lure viewers back.

The future of movie theaters is evolving. It will be interesting to see how the social distancing movement will affect the industry.

How This Pandemic Will Go Down in History

From the Library of Congress: “As part of our “National Book Festival Presents” series, Jill Lepore (bestselling historian and Harvard professor) and John Haskell (director of the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress) discuss how the current pandemic, its effects and our reaction to them say something very real about America in this moment and in the historical record that will emerge from it.”

Lord of the Flies

In researching for a book entitled Humankind: A Hopeful History (due out this June), historian and author, Rutger Bregman came across a story of some schoolboys who were shipwrecked just like the fictional characters in William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. The boys set off in a stolen boat from the island of Tonga and after getting caught up in a storm, they ended up shipwrecked on the island of Ata.  Unlike the boys in the fictional story, all six of these boys survived.  You can read the real boys’ story in this article, also written by Rutger Bregman, entitled “The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months”.  There is a follow up article interviewing one of the boys who is now a 73 year old; it’s entitled “The ‘real Lord of the Flies’: a survivor’s story of shipwreck and salvation”.  If you’ve never read the Lord of the Flies novel, it is available as an Ebook and and Eaudiobook through our library catalog.  If you are interested in other stories of shipwrecks (real and fictional), we have some of those as well. You can also read a blog post from earlier this week about Recently Discovered Shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. If you need help accessing the resources mentioned in this post, or you have any other questions, please Ask a Librarian for help. 

Boat, Sea, Sky, Landscape, Nature, Beach, Sand, Old


Did Woodstock Really Take Place During a Pandemic?

By now most of us are familiar with the history of 20th century pandemics and how they affected America. I recently read an account about the Hong Kong flu pandemic that took place between 1968 and 1970. The article, written by Jeffery Tucker, describes the pandemic and how the most famous rock concert played to over 300,000 fans with absolutely no social distancing. The article goes on to describe how America handled the virus that “killed 100,000 people in the U.S., mostly over the age of 65, and one million world wide.”

I was amazed that Woodstock Occurred in the Middle of a Pandemic. MVCC librarians always tell the students to determine if the information is credible. I decided to practice what I preach. I reacquainted myself with the MVCC Library Guide on News Literacy. I continued to research the topic and I found numerous articles that questioned the way the author presented certain facts.

Let this statement guide you on your research journey. “We all have a world view, a set of beliefs that we use to understand the world around us. These beliefs often develop into biases, a preference for a particular perspective that upholds our worldview. These biases aren’t necessarily bad, but they do often obscure vital pieces of information that may lead to a fuller understanding of a story. This section of the News Literacy Guide provides resources for how to recognize your own bias, how to recognize bias in the news and media you consume, as well as some strategies for getting a fuller picture of news events and issues in the media.”

Recently Discovered Shipwrecks

In just one week last month, two historic shipwrecks were unearthed on the shores of Lake Michigan. On April 20th, near Manistique, an early 20th century schooner was discovered. Rapidly on its heels, a mid 19th hull washed up near Ludington on April 24th.

The Great Lakes have served as a transportation and recreation hub for hundreds of years. Many areas of the lakes are quite treacherous to navigate and it is believed that upwards of 6,000 ships lie wrecked in their waters. The cold, fresh water found in the Great Lakes preserves the wreckage exceptionally well. Recent years have seen some of the highest water levels on record. This has resulted in shoreline erosion and the in washing up of more and more shipwrecks.

The map pictured above is a snapshot of an interactive map of shipwrecks in Michigan waters. You can explore the map and lots more information on this Michigan History Center Shipwrecks site. And the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, at Whitefish Point Light Station on Lake Superior, provides even more information about shipwrecks across all of the Great Lakes.

Find out more about the history and ecology of the Great Lakes and about shipwrecks in MVCC Library resources.

Don’t You Know We’re Going on the Marrakesh Express

We have spent several weeks in France but it is time to depart. The people, the food, and the sights made it an experience that we will never forget. Let’s head south to Africa. Our destination is Morocco. It is a two hour flight from Paris to the city of Casablanca. We will spend two days in Casablanca. Afterwards, we will take a bus to the train station and begin our three hour journey to Marrakesh.

The train ride from Casablanca to Marrakesh became the place to be for young Americans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash wrote a song about his experience traveling on the Marrakesh Express train. It brought fame and fortune to Nash and more tourists to Morocco.

There is much to do in Marrakesh. We will use guides to take us to various places of interest. Many people in the city speak English, in addition to Arabic and French, so fortunately we will be able to communicate. We will travel to the desert and sample the local cuisine and the tea-drinking customs. We will also visit some museums that will help us understand the people and the culture of this area.

Murder Most Foul

Bob Dylan, an icon of rock music, has just released a new song, Murder Most Foul. The song explores “the impact the assassination of President John F. Kennedy had on the United States’ cultural history.”

There are numerous theories on why he wrote the song, why it is so long and will anyone listen to a 17 minute song? Hopefully during this period of isolation, people will take the time to reflect on the past and try to make sense of the present.

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