CURRENT EVENTS

National Spelling Bee to Return in 2021
February 22, 2021
Spelling Bee logo The Scripps National Spelling Bee will take place in 2021 but in limited form. Officials canceled the National Spelling Bee in 2020 because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time since World War II that the Bee had not taken place. The major change in 2021 will be the expanded timeline of the event. Rather than the traditional Bee Week, officials have planned a weekslong competition. Preliminary rounds will take place in mid-June, the semifinals will be on June 27, and the televised finals (featuring only a dozen or so spellers) will occur on July 8, in Orlando, Fla. All other rounds will take place in a virtual environment. In addition, officials have limited the field to 200. The 2019 number of participants was 562.

Pharaoh Executed on Battlefield, Archaeologists Say
February 17, 2021
Scientists now say that a pharaoh known as "The Brave" was the victim of a battlefield execution. Seqenenre Tao II, who ruled southern Egypt from about Sahar Salim1558 B.C. to 1553 B.C., led his army into battle against the Hyksos, who ruled Egypt during what historians called the Second Intermediate Period. The king died fighting alongside his soldiers. Recent examinations of his mummy using cutting-edge technology revealed the exact nature of those head wounds, scientists today say. A combination of CT scanning, X-rays, and 3D imaging produced an accurate depiction of the wounds that killed Seqenenre II and also found evidence that his hands were bound when the blows were struck.

Philadelphia Art Teacher Sets Record for Largest Drawing
February 13, 2021
Biggest drawing by an individual A Philadelphia-based artist has completed the world's largest individual-created drawing. Dyymond Whipper-Young, an artist and art teacher, used black markers in creating the 6,450-square-foot drawing at the Franklin Institute's Mandell Center. It took her 63 hours to do; she finished on Jan. 15, 2021. Whipper-Young's drawing is part of the Philadelphia institute's Crayola IDEAworks: The Creativity Exhibition, which just opened. The giant drawing includes pictures, doodles, and depictions of land, sea, and space.

Salisbury Plain a Second Home for Stonehenge: Archaeologists
February 13, 2021
StonehengeBuilding on evidence announced in recent years, archaeologists now say that Stonehenge was first built in Wales and then dismantled and moved to its current location, on the Salisbury Plain. University College London archaeologists have found the remains of an older stone circle in Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales. That circle is the same diameter as Stonehenge–361 feet–and the scientists found that a blue stone that is part of Stonehenge would fit in a hole at the Welsh site, known as Waun Mawn. The indentation of other holes provided evidence that the Welsh site, like Stonehenge, would have had stones configured to accommodate the shining of the Sun on the day of the summer solstice.

IN DAYS GONE BY
Supreme Court Establishes Judicial Review
On Feb. 24, 1803, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Marbury v. Madison, the first case in which anything was declared unconstitutional. This was the case of John Adams and his frantic appointment of the "Midnight Judges." The Court, under Chief Justice John Marshall, asserted itself as the arbitrator of laws and acts of Congress and how those laws and acts could be thought as consistent with the Constitution or, in this case, unconstitutional.

Baron von Steuben and the Success of the Continental Army
Baron von Steuben was a Prussian officer who played a large part in molding the Continental Army into the fighting force that eventually won the Revolutionary War for the United States. An introduction through a mutual acquaintance to Benjamin Franklin resulted in Steuben’s traveling to America, with the promise of employment in the Continental Army. Steuben reported for duty at Valley Forge on Feb. 23, 1778. Steuben’s arrival must have presented a welcome boost to what was for the Continental Army an otherwise demanding winter.


BLACK HISTORY MONTH

These African-Americans are famous for their deeds in wartime.

The 54th Massachusetts: History on the Battlefield
One of the extreme ironies of the American Civil War was that in later years, when one of the main causes of the fighting was clearly defined as the slavery of Africans by the Southern states, neither the Union nor the Confederacy gave much thought to having Black Americans fight for themselves. The North was undoubtedly more sympathetic than the South, but regiments of the Union were overwhelmingly not Black, and this was the case for a good part of the war. This changed significantly with, among other things, the announcement of the Emancipiation Proclamation and the organization of an "experimental" all-Black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. This regiment was formed in March 1863, nearly two full years into the war.

The Extraordinary Story of William Carney
With the Emancipation Proclamation came the drive for Black men to fight for the North in the Civil War. The first regiment to be mustered and sent into battle was the 54th Massachusetts. Among the men mustered in that historic regiment was William Carney, a former slave who had suspended his pursuit of the ministry to fight for the Union. Carney and the rest of the 54th Massachusetts trained for several months in early 1863 and then reported to Hilton Head, South Carolina. After a brief first engagement, they faced their first real test, in an attack on Fort Wagner, on Morris Island, on July 18. The fort was heavily defended, with both cannons and sharpshooters. Nonetheless, the order came for the 54th Massachusetts to lead the way in storming the fort. They did just that, advancing through a withering storm of enemy fire. Carney carried the flag alongside other members of his regiment, who continued to advance even though they probably knew that their attack had little chance of succeeding. Carney, even though he was shot in one leg, made it through the enemy's defenses and entered the fort. He planted the flagpole atop the high wall and proudly displayed the colors of the United States Flag. He was shot in the chest, the right arm, and the right leg, twice. Amazingly, he made it back to the Union forces, where he was promptly ushered into the medical tent. He had achieved both of his goals. William Carney survived his multiple wounds and later became the first Black recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.


The History and Political Development of France

The Gauls
VercingetorixSome of the earliest known residents of what is now France were the Gauls, a polyglot people who inherited Celtic traditions and struggled for existence in much of what is now Western Europe–against the Romans, notably, but against other peoples as well. One of the most famous of the Gallic commanders was Vercingetorix (right), who fought a determined campaign against the Roman general Julius Caesar. That famous general defeated Vercingetorix and then subjugated Gaul. The Gauls enjoyed Roman "protection" and even thrived under it for a time but were eventually the target of other invaders. The Vandals ravaged Gaul in 406. Four years later came the Visigoths, on their way to sack Rome. A still reeling Gaul had to contend with Attila and the Huns a few decades after that. Ultimately taking over with lasting authority were the Franks.

The Franks
Battle of Tours The most famous early Frankish leader was Clovis (left), a powerful warrior with a magnetic personality, able to inspire his fellow Franks to join him on a campaign of conquest. He soon was in control of nearly all of what is today France. Another famous Frankish leader was Charles Martel ("Charles the Hammer"), who led European forces to victory over an invading Muslim army at the Battle of Tours (right), which many historians consider to be a turning point in history. Later came the most Frankish leader of all, Charlemagne ("Charles the Great"), who ruled alone from 771, when his brother died. Charlemagne (left) earned his famous name by conquering most of Italy and most of Germany, creating an empire the likes of which hadn't been seen in Europe in a few centuries. He and his descendants came to be known as the Carolingian Dynasty.

The Capetian Dynasty
Hugh CapetA later famous King of the Franks was Hugh Capet (left), who founded a dynasty of his own, prevailing at a time of great unrest throughout Western Europe. Various descendants of Charlemagne made certain claims to the Carolingian reputation, and Capet had to struggle long and hard to finally take control. His dynasty lKing Philip IV of France asted nearly 400 years. Following him on the throne a century later was Louis VII, who famously led a large contingent of troops invading the Holy Land during the Second Crusade but might be more famous as the first husband of the dynamic and famous Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose dowry strengthened the hand of England's King Henry II. Another dynamic Capetian was Philip II, known as Philip Augustus, who engaged in titanic struggles with two of England's kings, Henry II and John and eventually retook nearly all of what those two monarchs had seized from France. The most well-known of the late Capetians was Philip IV (right). Philip it was who established the Auld Alliance, a long-running mutual defense pact with Scotland against England, and set up France's first Parlement. Philip it was who moved the papacy to Avignon, where it stayed for generations. Philip's sons succeeded him on the French throne. It was the death of his youngest son, Charles IV, without an heir that precipitated a succession crisis that brought on the Hundred Years War.

The House of Valois
France's King Charles VIIPicking up the slack in the wake of the demise of the Capetians was Valois, a descendancy that ruled France for a few centuries in the early Middle Ages. It was King Charles VII (left) who established the French standing army, a development that helped the country win the centurylong war with England. Another element of that victory came in the inspiration and deeds of the "Maid of Orleans," Joan of Arc. Other well-known Valois rulers were Louis XI, known as the "Universal Spider" for his plentiful intrigues, and Louis XII, known as the "Father of the People." Religious tensions dominated much of the later Valois reigns, punctuated by struggles between Catholics and Huguenots.

The House of Bourbon
King Henry III of FranceKing Louis XIV of France It was a Protestant king, Henry III (left), who founded the House of Bourbon. He was the first but not the most famous of the Bourbons, a dynasty the lasted for centuries. Perhaps the most famous of all French monarchs was Louis XIV (right), the famed "Sun King," who reigned for decades and was the architect of so much of early modern French society, thanks in no small part to his country's success in a series of wars, notably the Thirty Years War. He was the son of Louis XIII, whose able ministers included the iconic Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin. By the time that Louis XIV, his grandson was in line to succeed him. This was Louis XV, who presided over a devastating defeat in the Seven Years War, a part of which was fought in North America and came to be known as the French and Indian War. This king also gave way to his grandson, Louis XVI, who quite literally lost his head during the French Revolution.

The French Revolution
It was at turns gradual and speedy, triumphant and tragic, sustained and dramatic. French society for centuries had been stratified into social and economic classes. Feudalism had given way to the Ancien Régime, which divided the people of France into Three Estates. Making up the First Estate were the clergy, the religious leaders of the realm. Nobles and royals excluding the monarch made up the Second Estate. Those Storming of the BastilleGuillotine two Estates together made up about 2 percent of the population for much of this period. The rest of the population comprised the Third Estate. This included not only commoners and peasants but also slightly wealthier people like businessmen who made respectable but large incomes. This division into Estates came in handy when the king needed to summon the people for advice, as in the use of the Estates-General, which dated to 1302. Kings summoned this group occasionally to approve new taxes. In the 18th Century came the growth of the ideas of the philosophes, Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. Forming the basis of much of this thought and discussion was the philosophy of René Descartes. Ideas of equality flew in the face of the stratified society preferred by the monarch and the nobility, as ultimately personified by Louis XVI and his extravagant wife, Marie Antoinette. Enough people had had enough by the closing years of the 18th Century that a mob stormed the Bastille (left), setting off the Revolution. A new legislative body, the National Constituent Assembly, issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and then the Constitution of 1791. King Louis XVI tried to flee the country but was caught and placed uner arrest. He was eventually convicted of treason by the Assembly and executed, along with his wife. Gripping the country by this time was the Reign of Terror, personified by the Committee of Public Safety and its most prominent member, Maximilien Robespierre. The guillotine (right) efficiently disposed of hundreds of so-called "enemies of the state." In the wake of all of this internal upheaval, France went to war with various other European nations, starting with the War of the First Coalition and continuing on through a handful of subsequent coalitions. French troops met with varying degrees of success for nearly two decades. Rising to prominence was a young officer named Napoleon Bonaparte, who came to dominate the European scene. Largely at Bonaparte's direction, the Directory gave way to the Consulate, ending the Revolution.

Napoleon crossing the AlpsThe Napoleonic Era
He rose from humble beginnings and achieved lasting fame and recognition. Famed as a military commander and a political leader, famed as the husband of Joséphine, Napoleon achieved greatness for France but also brought about great sorrow. He and the Grand Armeé had great success–at Austerlitz and Borodino and Jena–but also suffered great defeats–at Trafalgar, in Russia, and at Waterloo. He redrew the political map of Europe, particularly with the Confederation of the Rhine and Continental System, a progenitor of the European Common Market that was designed to exclude the U.K. from European trade.

The Last Monarchs of France
July Revolution of 1830Napoleon III Napoleon was defeated and exiled, twice. The new ruler of France was Louis XVIII, whose prestige and authority benefited from a decade of prosperity but suffered in a time of famine and want. His son, Charles X, had a hard of it and was replaced during the July Revolution by Louis Philippe. This was the time of the Romantic era in Europe. A series of revolutions in 1848 featured one in France, and the king fled the throne in favor of another republic, led by President Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. In 1851, he became Emperor Napoleon III. His rule had varying degrees of success and failure. The most notable of the latter was the disastrous defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, in which he himself was captured. France's defeat was the death knell of his time on the imperial throne. Indeed, he was the last monarch of France.

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Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2020
David White