Category: history

On this day in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Ale…

On this day in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human being to travel into space.

From the TED-Ed Lesson Could we survive prolonged space travel? – Lisa Nip

Animation by Bassam Kurdali

If you can’t imagine life without chocol…

If you can’t imagine life without chocolate, you’re lucky you weren’t born before the 16th century. Until then, chocolate only existed in Mesoamerica in a form quite different from what we know today. As far back as 1900 BCE, the people of that region had learned to prepare the beans of the native cacao tree. The earliest records tell us the beans were ground and mixed with cornmeal and chili peppers to create a drink – not a relaxing cup of hot cocoa, but a bitter, invigorating concoction frothing with foam.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The history of chocolate – Deanna Pucciarelli

Animation by Lisa LaBracio / TED-Ed

The Myth of Prometheus


Before the creation of humanity, the Greek gods won a great battle against a race of giants called the Titans. Most Titans were destroyed or driven to the eternal hell of Tartarus. But the Titan Prometheus, whose name means foresight, persuaded his brother Epimetheus to fight with him on the side of the gods. 


As thanks, Zeus entrusted the brothers with the task of creating all living things. Epimetheus was to distribute the gifts of the gods among the creatures. To some, he gave flight; to others, the ability to move through water or race through grass. He gave the beasts glittering scales, soft fur, and sharp claws.


Meanwhile, Prometheus shaped the first humans out of mud. He formed them in the image of the gods, but Zeus decreed they were too remain mortal and worship the inhabitants of Mount Olympus from below. Zeus deemed humans subservient creatures vulnerable to the elements and dependent on the gods for protection. However, Prometheus envisioned his crude creations with a greater purpose. So when Zeus asked him to decide how sacrifices would be made, the wily Prometheus planned a trick that would give humans some advantage. He killed a bull and divided it into two parts to present to Zeus. On one side, he concealed the succulent flesh and skin under the unappealing belly of the animal. On the other, he hid the bones under a thick layer of fat. When Zeus chose the seemingly best portion for himself, he was outraged at Prometheus’s deception. 


Fuming, Zeus forbade the use of fire on Earth, whether to cook meat or for any other purpose. But Prometheus refused to see his creations denied this resource. And so, he scaled Mount Olympus to steal fire from the workshop of Hephaestus and Athena. He hid the flames in a hollow fennel stalk and brought it safely down to the people. This gave them the power to harness nature for their own benefit and ultimately dominate the natural order. 


With fire, humans could care for themselves with food and warmth. But they could also forge weapons and wage war. Prometheus’s flames acted as a catalyst for the rapid progression of civilization. When Zeus looked down at this scene, he realized what had happened. Prometheus had once again wounded his pride and subverted his authority. 

Furious, Zeus imposed a brutal punishment. Prometheus was to be chained to a cliff for eternity. Each day, he would be visited by a vulture who would tear out his liver and each night his liver would grow back to be attacked again in the morning. Although Prometheus remained in perpetual agony, he never expressed regret at his act of rebellion. His resilience in the face of oppression made him a beloved figure in mythology. He was also celebrated for his mischievous and inquisitive spirit, and for the knowledge, progress, and power he brought to human hands. 

He’s also a recurring figure in art and literature. In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lyrical drama “Prometheus Unbound,” the author imagines Prometheus as a romantic hero who escapes and continues to spread empathy and knowledge. Of his protagonist, Shelley wrote, “Prometheus is the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends.” His wife Mary envisaged Prometheus as a more cautionary figure and subtitled her novel “Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus.” This suggests the damage of corrupting the natural order and remains relevant to the ethical questions surrounding science and technology today. As hero, rebel, or trickster, Prometheus remains a symbol of our capacity to capture the powers of nature, and ultimately, he reminds us of the potential of individual acts to ignite the world.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The myth of Prometheus – Iseult Gillespie

Animation by Léa Krawczyk ( @lea–krawczyk )

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump1768, J…

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

1768, Joseph Wright ‘of Derby’

A travelling scientist is shown demonstrating the formation of a vacuum by withdrawing air from a flask containing a white cockatoo, though common birds like sparrows would normally have been used. […] The bird will die if the demonstrator continues to deprive it of oxygen, and Wright leaves us in doubt as to whether or not the cockatoo will be reprieved. The painting reveals a wide range of individual reactions, from the frightened children, through the reflective philosopher, the excited interest of the youth on the left, to the indifferent young lovers concerned only with each other.

See more at The National Gallery

Fun Fact Friday!

Fun Fact Friday!

According to legend, the ancestors of the Inca rulers were created by the sun god Inti, and they emerged from a cave called Tambo Toco. Leading four brothers and four sisters was Ayar Manco, who carried a golden staff with instructions to find the place where it would sink into the ground, showing fertile soil. After many adventures and extensive searching, Ayar Manco and his siblings reached the Cuzco Valley, where the staff pierced the ground. After fighting off the fierce local native population, they founded their capital, and Ayar Manco became Manco Capac, the first Sapa Inca, or king of the Incas. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Incas first settled in this valley around 1200 CE. They remained a small kingdom until 1438, when they were nearly overrun by the neighboring Chanka tribe.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The rise and fall of the Inca empire – Gordon McEwan

Animation by TED-Ed / @emma-carre

The Berlin Wall stood for 10,316 days. Now, Be…

The Berlin Wall stood for 10,316 days. Now, Berlin lives with the memory of the wall for longer than it lived with the wall itself.

For a look into the history of one of the world’s most famous dividing lines, check out the TED-Ed Lesson The rise and fall of the Berlin Wall – Konrad H. Jarausch.

Animation by Remus & Kiki

Benjamin Banneker & The First American Protest…


Born in 1731 to freed slaves on a farm in Baltimore, Maryland, Benjamin Banneker was obsessed with math and science. And his appetite for knowledge only grew as he taught himself astronomy, mathematics, engineering, and the study of the natural world. As an adult, he used astronomy to accurately predict lunar and solar events, like the solar eclipse of 1789, and used his scientific expertise to pioneer new agricultural methods on his family’s tobacco farm. 


In 1792, Banneker began publishing almanacs. He was among the first Americans, and the first African-American, to publish almanacs. These provided detailed annual information on moon and sun cycles, weather forecasts, and planting and tidal time tables.


Banneker sent a handwritten copy of his first almanac to Virginia’s Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. This was a decade before Jefferson became president. Jefferson read the almanac and wrote back in praise of Banneker’s work. 


Banneker included a letter imploring Jefferson to “embrace every opportunity to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions” that caused prejudice against black people. The letter also denounced the Bill of Rights as disingenuous. Banneker questioned the rationale of the imperialistic position taken by the Founding Fathers, especially in light of their rebellion against the tyranny imposed on them by England as settlers seeking a better life in America.


Banneker’s correspondence with the future president is now considered to be one of the first documented examples of a civil rights protest letter in America. For the rest of his life, Banneker fought for this cause, sharing his opposition to slavery through his writing.


Banneker, in his debut almanac of 1792 , was the first to recommend the establishment of a U.S. Department of Peace. It wasn’t until nearly two hundred years later that the U.S. Institute of Peace was established by Congressional authorization in 1984. The organization acknowledges Banneker for his role as the pioneering agent of this idea and states:

The first formal proposal for the establishment of an official U.S. government peace institution dates to 1792. The product of efforts by architect and publisher Benjamin Banneker and physician and educator Dr. Benjamin Rush. The proposal called for establishing a “Peace Office” on equal footing with the War Department – noting the importance to the welfare of the United States of “an office for promoting and preserving perpetual peace in our country.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The exceptional life of Benjamin Banneker – Rose-Margaret Ekeng-Itua

Animation by Jun Zee Myers

This month is Black History Month, or National African American History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.

Today we are honoring Benjamin Banneker, a true renaissance man, who authored almanacs and worked as a surveyor, naturalist, and farmer. His correspondence with the Thomas Jefferson is now considered to be one of the first documented examples of a civil rights protest letter in America.

For some, it’s a serious sport. For othe…

For some, it’s a serious sport. For others, just a way to let loose. But despite its casual association with fun and sun, surfing has a richer and deeper history than many realize.

For the people of Hawaii, wave sliding was not just a recreational activity, but one with spiritual and social significance.  Like much of Hawaiian society, nearly every aspect of surfing was governed by a code of rules and taboos known as kapu. Hawaiians made offerings when selecting a tree to carve, prayed for waves with the help of a kahuna, or an expert priest, and gave thanks after surviving a perilous wipeout. Certain surf breaks were strickly reserved for the elite. 

But it wasn’t just a solemn affair. Surfers competed and wagered on who could ride the farthest, the fastest, or catch the biggest wave with superior skill, granting respect, social status, and romantic success. Though it was later called the sport of kings, Hawaiian men and women of all ages and social classes participated, riding surfboards shaped from koa, breadfruit, or wiliwili trees.

Today, surfing is a multi-billion dollar global industry, with tens of millions of enthusiasts worldwide. And though relatively few of these surfers are aware of the once-crucial wave chants or board carving rituals, Hawaiians continue to preserve these traditions nearly washed away by history’s waves.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The complicated history of surfing – Scott Laderman

Animation by Silvia Prietov

Fun Fact Friday!

Fun Fact Friday!

What we today call surfing originated in the Polynesian islands of the Pacific Ocean. We know from various accounts that ‘wave riding’ was done throughout the Polynesian Pacific, as well as in West Africa and Peru. But it was in the Hawaiian archipelago in particular that surfing advanced the most, was best documented, and, unlike elsewhere in Polynesia, persisted.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The complicated history of surfing – Scott Laderman

Animation by Silvia Prietov

“I have as much muscle as any man and can do a…

“I have as much muscle as any man and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed and can any man do more than that?” -Sojourner Truth

This month is Black History Month, or National African American History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.

Today we are honoring Sojourner Truth, an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who escaped slavery with her infant daughter in 1826. In 1828, she went to court to get back her son, who had been illegally sold into slavery at the age of 5. She became one of the first black women to go to court against a white man and win the case.

From the TED-Ed Lesson How to use rhetoric to get what you want – Camille A. Langston

Animation by TOGETHER