This Week In History: Sept. 7-11

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Welcome back, my fellow historians, to another exciting year of far-off places, gripping characters and turbulent times (oh my!). In the first edition of This Week in History for the 2021-2022 school year, we will take a look at the many events that have come to define the world we live in. So let’s dive in!

On Sept. 8, 1504, 517 years ago, Michelangelo unveiled his statue of David to the people of Florence, Italy.

Quite possibly the greatest sculpture of the High Renaissance, the David was first commissioned in 1501 by the Opera del Duomo to be placed on the roof of the Cathedral of Florence. The 26 year-old genius, Michelangelo Buonarroti, took three years to complete the 17 foot tall, 12,000 pound masterpiece.

Upon its unveiling, the Cathedral Vestry Board, which included the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli, decided it should be kept on the ground so passersby could enjoy its immense beauty. Truth be told, it would have been a logistical nightmare to try to lift the statue 376 feet up to the roof of the cathedral, so it’s probably best “David” was never put on the pedestal he was meant for. 

David by Michelangelo in the Florence Galleria dell’Accademia. Photo via Wikimedia

Today, the David stands in the Galleria dell’Accademia, a museum built to house the statue since 1873. As someone fortunate enough to have visited the marble monument, I can say it is a breathtaking must-see for anyone looking to see the many sites of Florence.

On Sept. 8, 1664, 357 years ago, the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam was captured by the English and renamed “New York.”

Few people realize the bustling streets of Downtown Manhattan were originally laid by the Dutch, not the English. Though Henry Hudson, the famed naval explorer, was born in the Kingdom of England, he sailed under the Dutch flag as he traveled down the river that now bears his name. Hudson claimed much of modern-day New York State for the Dutch, who called it ‘New Netherlands.’

As the myth goes, in 1626, the Dutch “purchased” the island of Manhattan from the Lenape Native Americans with some trinkets and beads worth a whopping $24. The reality was the Dutch believed this to be fair trade, while the Lenape believed this to be an act of good will that would allow them to share the island. Conflict and bloodshed soon followed.

To guard against outsiders, the Dutch built a small settlement on the tip of the island with a wall protecting them to the north (modern-day Wall Street) and a broad avenue running through the center for trade (modern-day Broadway). Unlike the Puritans of Boston or the Quakers of Philadelphia, the Dutch established New Amsterdam, not for religious freedom, but in reality: to make money. Interestingly enough the Financial District of New York City is in the exact spot of the first Dutch merchant houses, and people have been coming there to make a profit ever since.

The Dutch settlers were so concerned about making money they refused to fight against the English when they attacked because it would cost too much to rebuild if a war was to take place.

While it has been more than three centuries since the Dutch ran the Big Apple, Dutch influence can still be seen in the Anglocized versions of Dutch names: Breukelen (modern-day Brooklyn), New Haarlem (Harlem) and Jonas Bronck’s family farm (The Bronx).

The old Dutch quarter of New York City made history books again on Sept. 11, 2001, 20 years ago, when 2,977 people across America lost their lives in the deadly terrorist attacks on the United States.

So many Americans can recall exactly what they were doing when they learned that American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. So many initially heard of the incident and believed it to be a fluke accident. President George W. Bush himself, who was about to give a speech at an elementary school, figured the pilot had a heart attack. Little did the world know what horrific events would soon follow.

Over the course of an hour and a half, four planes were hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists and struck various locations across the eastern seaboard, with the first two striking the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, the third striking the Pentagon in Washington and the fourth being grounded in rural PA after passengers attacked the hijackers.

Events in New York took a turn for the worse when the two towers collapsed under the intense heat of the fire and the 20,000 gallons of jet fuel lodged in buildings’ cores. Smoke and debris engulfed lower Manhattan and hospitalized an additional 10,000 workers, residents and first responders.

Two decades later, the U.S. made good on its promise to rebuild with the One World Trade Center, completed in 2014, standing as the tallest building in America and the Western Hemisphere. The reflecting pools dug in the foundations of the twin towers list the names of all 2,977 lost on that fateful day. The Department of Homeland Security was founded, and the War on Terror became the longest war the United States had ever fought in. The world was certainly a different place after Sept. 11, 2001.

While this year marks the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, and for the first time ever, more than half of the UConn students reading this column will have been born after 9/11, the stories and memories of those lost continue to stay alive in the American character and spirit. They have fallen, but are never forgotten.

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