This Week In History: Nov. 20 – Nov. 26 

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On this week in history, Lassy talks about World War II, acting and, of course, Thanksgiving! Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus.

Greetings history buffs, and welcome back to This Week in History! As a much-needed break begins this week, what better way to celebrate than by looking at some fascinating history? Let’s jump right in! 

On Nov. 20, 1441, the Peace of Cremona ended a war between the Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Milan.  

One astounding feat during the war was known as the “Galeas per Montes.” Between 1438 and 1439, Venetian military forces devised a plan to end the conflict through a surprise invasion. However, this plan did not revolve around the typical invasion strategies of the day. Rather, tacticians pondered over how to deliver Venetian warships into Lake Garda, which was situated between Venice and Milan. But one issue arose: there was no continuous water route to the lake. 

Entranced by the prospects of a quick collapse of Milan, the Venetians planned to have laborers drag the ships across the land blocking the path to the lake. They first sailed the ships as close as they could to the lakeshore, then constructed pathways, cleared obstacles and hills and ultimately set off on the task of manually hauling the ships over the terrain. 

With hundreds of workers, thousands of oxen and three months of labor, 33 ships had successfully made the 12 mile journey over land to Lake Garda. Military strategists across the continent were utterly stunned. 

Such a force in Garda would be capable of controlling the lake and even threatening the city of Milan itself. Yet despite all this effort, early successes of the new Venetian force were subdued by the Milanese; Venice lost two major naval engagements on the lake. By 1440, fortunes changed and the Venetians came out victorious, with the operation only contributing slightly to their success. Perhaps ships are best kept in the water. 

Moving on in history, Nov. 22, 1940 proved to be a vital day in World War II. Following the Italian invasion of Greece, Axis forces would experience a major tactical defeat for the first time.  

Throughout 1939 and into 1940, the Axis powers had declared war on numerous countries — France, Belgium and Poland to name a few. All of these campaigns went fairly smoothly for the Axis, who maintained the initiative until the collapse of the defending nation. 

However, luck ran out when the Italians invaded Greece, who at the time were thought to be another quick capitulation. At the Battle of Korytsa, the Greek army repelled an Italian invasion through occupied Albania, and then pushed the Italians back several miles. 

Perhaps the most important outcome of the Greek victory in southern Albania was the proof that Axis forces were not unstoppable. Italian divisions were matched and even bested by the outnumbered Greek troops and despite falling to the Germans in 1941, the spirit of the Greek efforts no doubt affected many allied forces. Greece would finally be liberated following German withdrawal by the end of 1944.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the Greek victory in southern Albania was the proof that Axis forces were not unstoppable.

Leaving the 20th century and heading back to Nov. 23, 534 B.C., an innovative man named Thespis of Icaria became the first documented actor to ever play diverse characters on stage, tour commercially and perform the classic format of tragedy. 

In the earliest years of stage productions, actors were expected to act as themselves within the play, meaning that they were not to portray other characters or individuals within their role. Thespis reversed this convention and used all sorts of props to portray other characters from within his plays. Additionally, Thespis is claimed to have traveled across Greece to capitalize on his new take on classical plays, bringing props, masks and various costumes in a wagon on his journey.  

Classical Greek intellectuals such as Aristotle viewed Thespis as the first actor; even in the modern day his position as a groundbreaking individual still remains, with the National Theatre of Greece having a touring branch known as “The Wagon of Thespis” throughout the 20th century.  

To conclude this week, on Nov. 26, 1789 following a proclamation by George Washington, Thanksgiving was first celebrated as a U.S. holiday. However, for centuries it was not made a federal date and was celebrated at different times of the year and in different ways. Thomas Jefferson even outright refused to make a Thanksgiving proclamation as president in 1801, viewing the holiday as state mandated religion due to the celebration’s Puritan roots. 

Years of differing dates and celebrations would finally be settled by Abraham Lincoln, who set the proclamation to take place the last Thursday of November each year. Eventually, issues even arose with this system, as during FDR’s presidency, the last Thursday fell on the very last day of November, 1939. Worried about the proximity of the winter holiday season, FDR moved the celebration a week earlier, causing a division between states celebrating with FDR and those who celebrated on the original last day of November.  

This ultimately led to Congress reevaluating the date for the holiday, federalizing it to be on the fourth Thursday of November rather than the last, hopefully preventing another situation like that of FDR. 

And that concludes This Week in History! Have a safe, rejuvenating break — I’ll see you next week! 

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