Category: Social and Cultural History

For outstanding bravery: Civilian honours in the Second World War

Reading time: 7 minutes
The story of civilian honours starts in September 1940, when two new awards, the George Cross and the George Medal, were instituted to recognise the outstanding contribution made by civilians during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. These awards were primarily aimed at those involved in civil defence, such as Air Raid Precautions officers, rescue party workers, fire fighters and casualty and medical service workers. But they also recognised vital work carried out by the police service, gas workers, electricians, train drivers and dockyard workers to keep Britain going in what Winston Churchill described as ‘The Darkest Hour’.

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Pope Gregory XIII gave us the leap year – but his legacy goes much further

Reading time: 7 minutes
On this day, February 29, conversations the world over may conjure the name of Pope Gregory XIII – widely known for his reform of the calendar that bears his name.

The need for calendar reform was driven by the inaccuracy of the Julian calendar. Introduced in 46 BC, the Julian calendar fell short of the solar year – the time it takes Earth to orbit the Sun – by about 12 minutes each year.

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The Beginning of Rebellion: The Hidden History of the 1521 Santo Domingo Slave Revolt

Reading time: 5 minutes
As the Age of Discovery slowly transitioned into the Age of Colonialism, the Spanish Empire, or more accurately its citizens, began importing African slaves into its new colonial holdings in North America and the Caribbean.
Only 30 years after Columbus had discovered the Americas, on the island of Hispaniola (now modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), the very first colonial slave revolt occurred.

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Why are algorithms called algorithms? A brief history of the Persian polymath you’ve likely never heard of

Reading time: 5 minutes
Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī played a central role in the development of mathematics and computer science as we know them today. The next time you use any digital technology – from your social media feed to your online bank account to your Spotify app – remember that none of it would be possible without the pioneering work of an ancient Persian polymath.

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The A to Z of the Royal Navy Captains’ letters project

Reading time: 11 minutes

This is the first of a planned series of blogs charting the progress of the Royal Navy Captains’ letters volunteer project. In it I make reference to letters which use terminology and refer to practices that may cause offence.

This project, scheduled for completion in 2024, involves cataloguing letters written by Royal Navy Captains to the Admiralty during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1793-1815). The National Archives holds these letters in 564 boxes in the record series ADM 1, archived by year and the initial letter of Captains’ surnames.

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Why the Romans weren’t quite as clean as you might have thought

Reading time: 5 minutes
Prior to the Romans, Greece was the only part of Europe to have had toilets. But by the peak of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD, the Romans had introduced sanitation to much of their domain, stretching across western and southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Their impressive technologies included large multi-seat public latrines, sewers, clean water in aqueducts, elegant public baths for washing, and laws that required towns to remove waste from the streets. But how effective were these measures in improving the health of the population?

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