Plus: Hanukkah and Horses |

December 14, 2017

By Lily Rothman

Earlier this week, we got a chance to take an early look at the latest episode of the PBS celebrity-genealogy show Finding Your Roots. While the show is frequently full of family-history factoids, what musician and producer Questlove learned on his episode also had a deeper historical lesson. As it turned out, he is descended from enslaved people who came to the U.S. on the very last known ship ever to carry people to the country in bondage.

It’s so unusual for Americans descended from enslaved people to be able to fully trace their family histories — that knowledge being another casualty of slavery — that this discovery means, as host Henry Louis Gates Jr. put it, he hit the genealogy “jackpot.”

Click here to see Questlove’s moment of discovery.

Here’s more of the history that made news this week:

The Mane Event: LIFE’s 25 Most Memorable Horses

Don't say neigh

Alabama’s First Senate Special Election Still Matters

An Alabama historian explains how the 2017 special election reflects a dramatic and historic shift in the state's demographics

The Surprising Origins of 5 Hanukkah Traditions

There's lots of history behind favorite Hanukkah traditions such as eating latkes, lighting candles and playing with dreidels

How a Daring WWII Saboteur Got Behind Enemy Lines

Read an excerpt from The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France’s Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando

'It's Almost About Anything But the Guns'

An expert on the Second Amendment offers perspective on the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting


Genius of Stars Wars BB8 Time Magazine Cover

Today in 2015: Star Wars

“It’s often said that the original Star Wars movies changed the movie industry, but they also changed something else: the way we make fiction onscreen. They were a new kind of illusion, one that felt real in a way that no fantasy or science-fiction movie ever had before. ‘When that giant spaceship flew over your head, and it was preceded by that kind of old-fashioned title crawl,’ says Harrison Ford, who played, and plays, Han Solo, ‘and then the rumbling sound of that spaceship, you were in the movie for approximately 30 seconds before you knew you were in for something that you had not seen before and that was gut-level engaging.’” (Dec. 14, 2015)

Read the full story

Dec. 14, 1936

Today in 1936: Salvador Dali

“Artist Dali was born in Figueras near Barcelona in 1904, as a child developed a strong persecution mania and a wholehearted admiration for the works of his friend and countryman, Pablo Picasso. Salvador Dali entered the Academy in Madrid, was quickly expelled for insubordination. As an art student he reached Paris in 1927 when surrealism had yet to make any headlines but was the talk of the Montparnasse cafes. Surrealism suited his extraordinary technical facility as a draughtsman, his morbid nature.” (Dec. 14, 1936)

Read the full story

Dec. 15, 1967

50 Years Ago: The First Heart Transplant

“Last week, in two hospitals separated by almost 8,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, the historic juxtaposition happened and the heart transplants were performed. The physicians who performed them thus reached the surgical equivalent of Mount Everest, followed automatically by the medical equivalent of the problem of how to get down—in other words, how to keep the patient and transplant alive." (Dec. 15, 1967)

Read the full story


Bela’s Story Keren Blankfeld at the New York Times tells the moving story of the toddler who received the first refugee visa out of Berlin during World War II.

Happy Holidays Jordan G. Teicher looks at the question of how the Hanukkah holiday became “Jewish Christmas” for many Americans, for JSTOR Daily.

Caveat Emptor In light of the heights to which bitcoin prices have lately soared, Ryan Vlastelica at MarketWatch looks at a chart that compares bitcoin to famous economic bubbles from history, such as the “tulip mania” that swept 17th century Holland.

Somber Day The Associated Press reports on how China marked the 80th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre, in which Japanese troops sacked the city that was then China’s capital.

Earth and Heaven At Hindsights, the blog of the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest, Paul C. Rosier writes about the long history of religious values shaping environmentalism.

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