This Week in History: July 18-24th

July 18th

On this day, in 64CE, the Great Fire of Rome breaks out, causing multiple casualties and major destruction of property. Due to the fire originating in buildings with flammable materials stored within, and reports of great winds on the night, the fire spread quickly. Most Romans lived in tightly packed wooden apartment buildings, called insulae, which didn’t help to stall the fire. Rumours in the centuries since have pointed the finger at Emperor Nero, who wanted to make room for his new palace. However, the fire started on the other side of the Palatine as the eventual site of the Domus Aurea. It’s also been commonly accepted that Nero accused Christians in the city of starting the fires, however, some modern audiences call this into question.

Births: ‘Veronica Mars’ and ‘The Good Place’ actor Kristen Bell (1980).
Deaths: Author Jane Austen (1817).
Holidays: Nelson Mandela International Day.

July 19th

The Provisional IRA resumed their ceasefire on this day in 1997. While only one of a few Republican dissident groups active during the Troubles, the British government regarded the Provisional IRA as “a professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient force,” and thus their agreeing to a ceasefire was an incredibly significant moment in the peace process in Northern Ireland. By July of 2005 the group would be fully decommissioned. An earlier ceasefire was in effect in 1994, but the Provisional IRA resumed hostilities due to frustration with and rejection of the British government’s terms to include Sinn Féin in negotiations. The 1997 ceasefire essentially marked the end of the Provisional IRA’s 25-year paramilitary campaign.

Births: Queen guitarist & astrophysicist Brian May (1947).
Deaths: Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt (2009).
Holidays: Liberation Day (Nicaragua).

July 20th

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) revealed that it had conducted experiments relating to mind control. Project MKUltra was the code name of the operation, which began in 1953. MKUltra is most closely associated with the agency’s interest in the ability of narcotics in altering brain function, namely cannabis and LSD, but they also tested the abilities of hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal & physical abuse and other forms of torture. The project was curtailed significantly in 1964, reduced further in ’67, and cancelled entirely in ’73. Many of the subjects of MKUltra, including a number of Canadian citizens, were given substances like LSD without their knowledge; this, coupled with a number of known deaths relating to the project, has meant that MKUltra reserves an uncomfortable place in American legal history.

Births: Alexander the Great (356BCE).
Deaths: Star Trek actor James “Scotty” Doohan (2005).
Holidays: International Chess Day.

July 21st

The last mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle program ends, when Space Shuttle Atlantis lands in Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Atlantis had been tasked with delivering cargo to the International Space Station. During the mission the crew were woken by songs by artists such as Coldplay, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), Elton John and Keith Urban. The end of the mission coincided with the 42nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. The Space Shuttle program, which formally began in 1972, was criticised for not being as cost-effective as it had promised to be, as well as being more conservative (thus, providing less scientific advancement) as the previous Apollo missions.

Births: Eastenders actor Ross Kemp (1964).
Deaths: Leader of the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler, Claus von Stauffenberg (1944).
Holidays: Racial Harmony Day (Singapore).

July 22nd

The systematic ‘deportation’ of Jewish people from the Warsaw Ghetto began on this day in 1942. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of its sort in German-occupied Europe, at times containing 400,000 imprisoned people in an area of 3.4 sq. km (1.3 sq miles). The majority of these people were transported to the Treblinka extermination camp, with a large minority being sent to the Majdanek concentration camp. In 1943, the remaining residents of the ghetto refused to be sent to Treblinka, beginning the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The German commanders ordered the burning of the ghetto, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Jewish residents (and several German operatives).

Births: Academy Award-nominated actor Willem Defoe (1955).
Deaths: SS Guard (Auschwitz) Johann Breyer (2014, Philadelphia PA).
Holidays: National Press Day (Azerbaijan).

July 23rd

A Vatican commission, led by the future Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in 1992 established that limiting certain rights of ‘homosexuals’ and ‘non-married couples’ is not equivalent to discrimination on grounds of race or gender. The report specifically highlighted military service, child adoption, teaching and ‘sports instruction’ as areas that homosexuals might be precluded from. Speaking to RTÉ news at the time, Senator David Norris described the statement as “incitement to discriminate against me in my employment.” The Vatican clarified that it was not a report to be used generally, but specifically meant as an advisory for bishops in the United States. Homosexuality would not be decriminalised in Ireland for another year.

Births: English comedian Jo Brand (1957).
Deaths: Singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse (2011).
Holidays: Revolution Day (Egypt).

July 24th

The Incan settlement known as Machu Picchu was ‘rediscovered’ by American academic & explorer Hiram Bingham III. Sometimes erroneously referred to as the ‘Lost City of the Incas’, Machu Picchu was an Incan citadel built on the ridge of a mountain around the year 1450, and archaeologists believe it was intended as an estate for the emperor  Pachacuti. The Incans abandoned Machu Picchu at the time of the Spanish conquest of Latin America, with the knowledge of its location only known by the locals. As time went on, only the indigenous people of the Cuzco region of Peru knew of the settlement, until Bingham brought it to international attention, on this day, in 1911.

Births: Master of technical wrestling Zack Sabre Jr. (1987).
Deaths: ‘Pink Panther’ and ‘Dr.Strangelove’ actor Peter Sellers (1980).
Holidays: Carnival of Awussu (Tunisia).


(You can read previous editions of ‘This Week in History’ by clicking here. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now Medium for the latest news & updates related to my writing)

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