Historic Dates

March 20th 2017

On this day in 1778, King Louis XVI of France recieved at court two representatives of the newly declared United States, Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin. Their reception by an absolute monarch was an astonishing coup for a fledgling nation rejecting the very notion of monarchy, but Louis' hatred of Great Britain trumped concerns about encouraging rebellion againts kings. The fact that one of the emissaries was Benjamin Franklin made Louis' decision easier: Franklin was the equivalent of a... Read Post

April 8th 2016
...for April 8, 2016. On this day 81 years ago Congress passed the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, the law that created the Works Progress Administration, an unprecedented effort by the federal government to provide employment during an economic crisis. At its peak the WPA employed over 8 million people on public projects ranging from building roads and making parks to creating public works of art and interviewing former slaves about life before Emancipation. If you would like to... Read Post
March 15th 2016
On this day in 44 BC the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated. His murder and the ensuing warfare and chaos has been written about by historians, poets, playwrights and novelists.  SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Cambridge classicist Mary Beard, is a highly regarded and compulsively readable work in which she discusses the significance of Caesar's life and death, as well as other important figures in Roman history such as Cicero, Hannibal and Augustus. If you're interested in... Read Post
February 12th 2016
Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln. The sixteenth president was born on this day in 1809. If you enjoy historical photography you might be interested in checking out a recent SPL acquisition, The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln, a collection of every known photograph of Lincoln, from his days as a young lawyer to the end of the Civil War. It's a beautifully printed book and a fascinating window into life in 19th-century America. Another title I recommend is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of... Read Post
July 1st 2015
..for today, July 1. 1863: The Battle of Gettysburg begins, three bloody days that ended Robert E. Lee's invasion of the North, which Lee had hoped would force the North to sue for peace. Union General George Meade's army of 90,000 took on Lee's invading force of 75,000 resulting in three days of grueling fighting that resulted in roughly 51,00o casualties and forced Lee to return to Virginia. The battle has inspired a number of award-winning books, including the eminently readable Gettysburg... Read Post
April 15th 2015
Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the murder of Abraham Lincoln. He was shot in the head in Ford's Theater, where he was watching the play Our American Cousin. A century and a half and three presidential assassinations later, it's impossible for us to comprehend what a national trauma it was.  It was the first time an American president had been murdered. Ford's Theater has put together an online exhibit on national reactions to the assassination. It's a fantastic example of how the... Read Post
April 9th 2015
...for April 9, 2015 150 years ago today Robert E Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, bringing an end to four years of war that caused 600,000 deaths.  The generosity and forbearance of the victors in the American Civil War has no historical precedent: there were no executions; Confederate soldiers were allowed to keep their property; Confederate prisoners were released as soon as they swore an oath to never again fight against the U. S. government. When Union soldiers began to... Read Post
February 7th 2015
For today, February 7. Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens. He remains one of the most beloved and influential novelists in English and was born this day in 1812 in Portsmouth, England. Recommended related reading from SPL: The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin or his novel Bleak House.   Feb. 7, 1601: Shakespeare's Richard II is performed at the Globe by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Since the play is about the overthrow of a monarch and the Earl of... Read Post
July 21st 2014
This year a number of books on the First World War have been published in recognition of its upcoming 100th anniversary: on July 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, sparking a chain reaction of hostilities. Serbia's ally, Russia, declared war on Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary's ally, Germany, then declared war on Russia and Russia's ally France. Then German troops swept through neutral Belgium to invade France.  In response to the violation of Belgium's neutrality and sovereignty... Read Post
July 16th 2014
JFK, Jr and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy on their wedding day

Today was a tragic day in US History when John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and her older sister Lauren died when the airplane JFK, Jr. was piloting when down in the Atlantic near Martha’s Vineyard. A massive search/rescue/recovery mission was undertaken to find the plane and bring home their bodies. This sad story captivated the world over for many days. But, it was not the only thing that happened on this... Read Post
July 1st 2014
July 4 is coming up, a day for fireworks, cookouts and spending time with friends.   Here's a brief guide to local fun on Independence Day. Somerville's July 4th festivities will be Thursday evening at Trum Field. Live music  starts at 6:15, fireworks at 9:15. Everything you need to know, including rain date information, is here. If you want to go to the banks of Charles, hear the Boston Pops and see fireworks you need to read this guide by cbslocal. You could also listen to the Pops and see... Read Post
June 16th 2014
In honor of Bunker Hill Day, which commemorates the defeat of American forces on a different hill.
June 6th 2014
Since the beginning of the Muslim Journeys programming here at Somerville Public Library, I've been thinking about how little attention historians have paid to the Islamic elements of "Western" history--such as the Jefferson Administration's diplomatic relations  and military confrontations with North African states.   Today, on the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, University of Michigan historian Juan Cole rightly points out the vital role Muslim soldiers played in the Allies' victory over... Read Post
June 4th 2014
Postcard from 1930

Somerville Public Library’s central branch is marking its centennial this year. Way back in January of 1914, the Italian Renaissance-style building at 79 Highland Avenue opened for patrons after its dedication on Dec. 17, 1913. Famed library architect Edward Lippincott Tilton designed the new building. According to the Somerville Journal in an article dated Dec. 12, 1913, the library was constructed at a cost of $125,000 (which is $2,993,333 in today’s dollars).... Read Post
May 5th 2014
For most of us today is just another Monday, or at most an excuse to go out for Mexican food tonight or make a margarita at home. For Mexican-Americans and Mexicans residing in the US, today is a celebration of Mexican heritage. But what is Cinco de Mayo? The holiday commemorates the highly unlikely victory of a Mexican army over invading French forces on May 5, 1862, near the city of Puebla, Mexico. Here's the background: after the U.S. invasion of 1846-48 and two civil wars, the Mexican... Read Post

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