This week in history we’ll take a look at some of the events that have shaped our shared culture and way of life both in the United States and abroad.
On Feb. 24, 1836, 184 years ago, the Battle of the Alamo began as the Texan commander, Colonel William Travis, issued an official call for help. Just 24 hours before, Mexican commander, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, arrived in San Antonio with 5,000 troops. His mission was to recapture the city from the revolutionaries who were creating trouble in the Mexican state of Texas.
Upon their arrival, the Texan army retreated inside the Alamo, an old Spanish mission that housed the couple hundred rebels. When Santa Ana called for their surrender, the Texans responded by firing a bold canon shot at the approaching Mexican army. Santa Ana enacted a siege that lasted until March 3, 1836, leading to the deaths of all remaining soldiers including legends like John Bowie and Davy Crockett. While the Battle of the Alamo was a loss for Texas, the phrase “Remember the Alamo!” became a battle cry used for the remainder of the war. In May of that same year, Texas became an independent republic.
On Feb. 27, 1827, 193 years ago, the first Mardi Gras festival was celebrated in the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana. While modern day New Orleans is synonymous with its famous Mardi Gras festivities, this was not the case before 1827.
The tradition of Mardi Gras, or Carnival in English, was first brought to the United States in the 1600s by French settlers. The festival was celebrated between Jan. 6, the end of Christmas, and the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, acting as the last chance for devout Catholics to party before the mournful season of Lent. When New Orleans was turned over to the Spanish, the holiday was banned until 1803 when the Louisiana Territory was added to the United States. Although legal to celebrate, Mardi Gras did not come back into fashion until a group of students studying in Paris returned home with elaborate costumes and masks to wear in the streets.
Over time the festival caught on and wealthy plantation owners poured funds into organizations that threw extravagant parties and organized elaborate parades. Mardi Gras is now a staple of New Orleans culture and brings together thousands of locals and tourists every year. In February of 2006, the first Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleanians still rallied together for the festivities, taking a large step in the city’s road to recovery.
On Feb. 28, 1953, 67 years ago, scientists Watson and Crick discovered the chemical structure of DNA. While DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is not the easiest concept to grasp, especially for history majors like myself, these two individuals are the reason why every modern biology classroom has a plastic model that looks like a spiral staircase.
At Cambridge University, James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick announced that DNA, the human gene molecule, was made up of a double helix polymer where two strands of DNA are fused together by alternating nucleotides. According to the duo’s book, “The Double Helix,” Crick ran to the nearest bar, the Eagle Pub, yelling, “we had found the secret of life,” to celebrate their breakthrough. Today, modern science has much to thank for Watson and Crick’s discovery. The understanding of DNA allowed for innovations in prenatal screenings, human bone identification and AIDS research, plus providing evidence in many criminal justice cases.
Gino Giansanti is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.