Friday, June 20, 2008

On June 20

On this day in ...
... 1756, a nawab, or ruler, of the region of Bengal in India was reported to have held overnight in an airless room 146 British prisoners, of whom only 23 were said to have survived. Despite the notoriety of this "Black Hole of Calcutta" incident, subsequent research indicated that far fewer persons died (no more than 69, with some estimates as low as 43), that the deaths were due to "negligence rather than intention," and that the nawab did not play a role in the incident, which took place in the city now known as Kolkata. One website calls it "an extraordinary instance of the manner in which narratives are constructed and the place of iteration in historical narratives."
... 1808 (200 years ago today), Marie-Jeanne Schellinck became the 1st woman to receive the Légion d'honneur (example at left), France's highest honor. Born 50 years earlier in Ghent, Belgium, Schellinck had 1st gone to war in 1792, disguised as a man and using a pseudonym. She was discovered to be a woman not long after, while being treated for numerous saber cuts; she was allowed to continue her military career, which lasted 17 years, till the day she received the honor from Napoleon, who said:
'Gentlemen, bow before this exceptional woman. She is one of the glories of the Empire.'

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