Archive for April, 2012

On April 25, 1953, Francis Crick and James D. Watson described the double helix structure of DNA for the first time in an article entitled “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”.

Francis Crick and James Watson, walking along the Backs, Cambridge, England in 1953. Image courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The article was published in a volume of the scientific journal Nature, and it remains one of the most important publications in the fields of biology and genetics in the twentieth century.  The photograph below depicts a later model demonstrating the double helix structure, in which genetic instructions are stored and passed down from generation to generation.

Original DNA Demonstration Model from Watson's 1968 book "The Double Helix". Image courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Through Opening History you can discover many primary source documents from the history of science.  For more information about Crick and Watson’s work in molecular biology and genetics, check out Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s James D. Watson Collection.

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The first National Poetry Month in the United States was observed in 1996 to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in America, and has been celebrated annually since 1999.  On April 1, 1996, in observance of the first National Poetry Month, President Bill Clinton proclaimed:

National Poetry Month offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today’s American poetry [….] Their creativity and wealth of language enrich our culture and inspire a new generation of Americans to learn the power of reading and writing at its best.

An excerpt of Walt Whitman's manuscript for "American According to Old Bards." Image courtesy of the Walt Whitman Archive.

Celebrate National Poetry Month with Opening History by exploring poetry collections such as The Walt Whitman Archive, A Celebration of Women Writers, and A Poet’s Voice: A Digital Poetry Collection.

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On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic, en route from Southampton, UK to New York, NY, sank after having struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland late the previous evening.  Over the course of two and half hours, from the time of the collision at 11:40 pm until 2:20 am the next morning, the ship gradually took on water while passengers and crew attempted to evacuate.  The ship, however, did not have enough lifeboats, and only 710 out of the 2224 people on board survived.

Composite of five mounted photographs of wireless operator on shipboard receiving distress call; life boats bringing Titanic's survivors to the Carpathia; Capt. Smith of the Titanic--1912. Image courtesy of the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.

The ship had launched on its maiden voyage to great acclaim as one of the largest and most luxurious ocean liners ever created.  Its state of the art features and facilities included restaurants, libraries, a gymnasium, and a wireless telegraph.  Outdated safety regulations, however, allowed the ship to sail with only 20 lifeboats, accommodating 1,178 people.  Moreover, during the evacuation process, several lifeboats were launched before reaching full capacity.  Due to the famous “women and children first” protocol, the survival rate for men was considerably lower across all passenger classes and among the crew.

Crowd awaiting survivors from CARPATHIA. Image courtesy of the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.

News of the disaster was met with a combination of moral outrage and morbid fascination, and it has remained a popular subject of books, music, and film for the past 100 years.  In addition to primary source materials documenting the ship, the wreck, and the lives of its survivors, Opening History provides a glimpse into how the Titanic captured the public’s imagination.  Indiana University’s Sam DeVincent Collection of American Sheet Music includes several ballads about the sinking of the Titanic and Harvard University’s Immigration to the United States (1789-1930) collection includes the full text of Sinking of the Titanic, a book published in 1912 that provides a contemporary, sensational account of the disaster.

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On the morning of April 6,1936, a storm system that had been moving east through Alabama the previous evening struck Gainesville, GA.  Two tornadoes touched down separately and then merged to form what is often regarded the fifth deadliest tornado in United States history with an intensity of F4 on the Fujita scale.  A total of 203 people were confirmed dead in the wake of the storm and 40 additional people went missing. Below is an image of the destruction at the Cooper Pants Factory, which collapsed and caught fire, killing 70 workers on duty.  Recovery and relief efforts began in earnest three days later when President Roosevelt arrived in Gainesville with representatives from the American Red Cross, Civilian Conservation Corps, and Works Progress Administration.  The tornado caused over $13 million in damages, and it took two years to restore the city.

Cooper Company building demolished, Hall County, Georgia historical photograph collection, Hall County Library System.

Opening History includes an entire collection devoted to the Gainesville tornado and its aftermath.  In 2007, the Digital Library of Georgia worked in association with the Hall County Library System and the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection to create “1936 Gainesville Tornado: Disaster and Recovery“.

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On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany at the request of President Woodrow Wilson, thereby entering World War I and ending a long period of neutrality. While the war in Europe had started nearly three years earlier, Wilson and many Americans were committed to non-intervention. Popular opinion in the United States was split by many factors, especially ethnic affiliations that made it difficult to choose sides in a war so heavily concerned with European politics and nationalism. The German sinking of the U.S. submarine Luisitania in 1915 began to help sway public opinion against Germany and the Central Powers. The renewal of Germany’s attacks on the U.S. naval force and the publication of the Zimmerman telegram, which revealed Germany’s negotiations for an alliance with Mexico against the U.S., helped spur the declaration of war in 1917.

A poster advertising an American war relief bazaar in Nov.-Dec. 1917. Image courtesy of the University of Minnesota

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