This Week in His­tory — Dec. 14 to 20

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT -

On this day in 1900 ( Dec. 14) Ger­man physi­cist Max Planck pub­lished a ground­break­ing study that es­tab­lished the quan­tum the­ory of mod­ern physics.

Planck demon­strated that en­ergy can ex­hibit char­ac­ter­is­tics of phys­i­cal mat­ter in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Specif­i­cally, his study ob­served the ef­fect of ra­di­a­tion on a “black­body” sub­stance. It helped to re­solve pre­vi­ously un­ex­plained phe­nom­ena, such as the be­hav­ior of heat in solids.

Later, sci­en­tists like Al­bert Ein­stein and Niels Bohr used this foun­da­tion to de­velop quan­tum me­chan­ics, which main­tains that en­ergy is both mat­ter and a wave, depend­ing on cer­tain vari­ables.

Not many tow­ers have un­der­gone con­struc­tion to for­tify, but not elim­i­nate, a sharp lean. But that’s ex­actly what hap­pened to Italy’s Lean­ing Tower of Pisa, which re­opened on Dec. 15, 2001, af­ter about 11 years of emer­gency repa­ra­tion ef­forts.

Con­struc­tion on the 190- foot bell tower for the cathe­dral of Pisa first started in the 12th cen­tury, at which time Pisa was a busy trade city. Dur­ing the build­ing process, the tower’s foun­da­tion be­gan sink­ing in the soft, mushy ground ( its foun­da­tion was shal­low to be­gin with). Some mod­ern en­gi­neers say it was a mir­a­cle it didn’t fall down com­pletely by the time it was com­pleted in 1360.

By the 20th cen­tury, the Tower of Pisa had tilted to roughly 15 feet from the per­pen­dic­u­lar, which made it an in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous tourist at­trac­tion. The clo­sure from 1990 to 2001 al­lowed ar­chae­ol­o­gists, ar­chi­tects and soil ex­perts much needed time to pre­vent the build­ing’s col­lapse — they now say it’ll take 300 years for the tilt to re­turn to the sever­ity of the late-20th cen­tury.

More than 200 years be­fore that, one of the most pop­u­lar English- lan­guage nov­el­ists of re­cent cen­turies was born in Hamp­shire, Eng­land.

That was Jane Austen, born on Dec. 16, 1775. She pub­lished sev­eral ma­jor nov­els in a re­mark­ably short pe­riod of time, like “Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity” ( 1811), “Pride and Prej­u­dice” ( 1813) and “Mans­field Park” ( 1814).

Not much bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about Austen’s life has sur­vived. In the late 1700s, while work­ing through ini­tial drafts of her ear­li­est nov­els ( i. e. “Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity” and “Pride and Prej­u­dice”), she read them aloud to her fam­ily.

She died in 1817 as just 41 years old. To­day, she re­mains one of the few authors to garner both crit­i­cal ac­claim and widespread pop­u­lar­ity.

More than two decades af­ter Austen’s death, one of the great Christ­mas sto­ries was first pub­lished — Charles Dick­ens’s “A Christ­mas Carol.”

That date was about a week be­fore Christ­mas in 1843, Dec. 17. At the time of its pub­li­ca­tion, Dick­ens had al­ready es­tab­lished him­self as one of the most pop­u­lar writ­ers alive, and the novella was im­me­di­ately suc­cess­ful. Near­ing 200 years later, it’s never been out of print and has been adapted for many dif­fer­ent plat­forms, in­clud­ing film, stage and opera.

Ad­di­tion­ally, a num­ber of bits from “A Christ­mas Carol” have been adopted into the con­tem­po­rary English lex­i­con. Prob­a­bly the most no­table is the term “scrooge,” taken from the main char­ac­ter, Ebenezer Scrooge. There’s also his catch­phrase: “Bah! Hum­bug!”

On Dec. 18, 1968, a some­what un­usual mu­si­cal film pre­miered in the­aters. ”Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” opened on this day, to mixed re­views at best.

Crit­ics, for the most part, hated the film. None­the­less, the film about a mag­i­cal fly­ing car has built up a legacy over the years as a light-hearted, kid-friendly movie with a frus­trat­ingly catchy theme song. It stars Dick Van Dyke, who had made a big name for him­self ear­lier in the decade with the Dis­ney mu­si­cal, “Mary Pop­pins.”

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