This Week in History — Dec. 14 to 20
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.”