Right Now in Stuff You Missed in History Class

I love visiting historic villages. I like the reproductions of houses with their provincial dirt floors and low ceilings. The town square with the stocks and wandering goats. It's nice being thrust back in time and seeing firsthand how our forefathers spent their days. But if you're wondering how they spent their nights, you may not get that information on the guided walking tour. And that's why I was amused to read Slate's take on Sex Shops in Colonial America. Writer Brian Palmer exposes prostitution in colonial America: the tricks of the trade and the punishment for the purveyor. Did you know that Philadelphia's early red light district was called "Hell Town"? Me, neither.

Lately, angry citizens in cities all over the country have been holding protests against the stimulus package and using tax dollars to bail out people who took on mortgages they found they couldn't afford. In St. Louis, protesters tossed tea in the Mississippi River, according to AHN. Now, they are planning a National Tax Day Tea Party. When I first heard of these anti-stimulus tea parties, they seemed rather silly. However, I'm giving it a second thought after studying up on the original Boston Tea Party this week for a podcast we're preparing on the East India Company (one of my favorite subjects). Today, people are dissing the stimulus tea parties, saying that the modern issue has nothing to do with "taxation without representation." But if you remember from our original podcast on the Boston Tea Party, the historic event didn't exactly have to do with that either.

In what some perceive as a step toward lifting the long-standing embargo against Cuba, the Obama administration is moving to loosen restrictions for trade and travel between the United States and Cuba, according to yesterday's Guardian story. A spending bill coming up for vote this week includes a provision that would allow those with relatives in Cuba to visit every year rather than every three years as well as ease certain trade requirements. The embargo dates back to the rise of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War. This timeline from NPR lays out a helpful chronology of how 10 different presidents have dealt with Cuba since the rise of Castro. The United States imposed an economic embargo on Cuba when Castro took over some American-owned properties in 1960. After the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy strengthened the embargo and banned Americans from traveling to Cuba.

Was there really a Pied Piper of Hamelin?

Everyone knows the story of the Pied Piper -- but how much of this legend is factual? Learn more about the fact and fiction behind the story of the Pied Piper in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

It's been called the fourth dimension and it's boggled thinkers for millennia. We're talking about time, and just in case you weren't aware of this already, we're losing an hour of it this weekend thanks to Daylight Saving Time (DST). How and when did people come up with this curious system? Believe it or not, Benjamin Franklin first proposed such an idea back in 1784 as a way to cut down on the use of candles. Despite Franklin's foresight, more than a century went by before the idea took hold. First off, it's important to note that countries didn't begin standardizing their time until the development of railroads made it necessary in the 19th century. As the California Energy Commission explains, it took a world war to push countries into adopting a DST system. In an effort to save precious energy resources during World War I, the United States (as well as several other countries) switched to DST.

At age 47, Barack Obama is one of the younger presidents in U.S. history (he's the 5th youngest to be exact). But, according to an article in today's Washington Post, he's starting to age before his time. Judging from recent appearances, it's clear that President Obama's hair is starting to gray significantly. Although it's true that presidents seem to age rather quickly while in office, he's only held the position a mere six weeks. The article points out, however, that the fast-aging process seems to have started as soon as he hit the campaign trail. What is it about being president that has such an effect on the body? This seems like a prime case for the X-Files' Fox Mulder to investigate -- does the Oval Office cause people to experience what he calls "missing time?" In lieu of Mulder's expertise, I came across a video that provides before-and-after pictures as well as a rational (more Scully-like) explanation.

It's happened to me several times: I'll be deep in conversation with a group of friends and the discussion gradually shifts into personal stories about 9/11. Everybody takes a turn to talk about their experiences that day -- where they were, how they found out, what they were thinking at the time. I had heard of similar conversations concerning the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but because I'm too young to have been around that day, I didn't quite understand it until 9/11 happened. People in the psychology field call this "flashbulb memory," and it refers to the phenomenon of how people retain exceptionally vivid memories about significant, emotional events. Because history is always told from memory and people's flashbulb memories dictate what we know about significant events of the past, historians are understandably interested in the phenomenon. A new study indicates that people tend to remember history-making moments more vividly than personally significant events.

Adolph Hitler's legendary propaganda programs steered public opinion with unprecedented precision. Learn how this massive campaign influenced the average war-time German in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

When the British navy somehow defeated the seemingly invincible Spanish Armada, it emerged as a force to reckoned with, and it held this reputation for centuries to come. According to a BBC News story, recently discovered "superguns" have shed light on the technology used on the British ships during this time. Previously, historians believed that Elizabeth had been using cannon technology similar to that of her father, Henry VIII. That belief had made it difficult to reconcile accounts of how Elizabeth's navy became more successful and more feared than her father's. This technology, according to experts, was years ahead of its time. Instead of using many cannons of various sizes, shapes and roles, a ship equipped with several of these superguns could bombard a distant enemy with rapid fire. And, it's possible these superguns contributed to the unlikely defeat of the Spanish Armada, an event that changed the course of history.

Forget Roswell, JFK, and even 9/11. Holocaust denial is arguably the biggest conspiracy theory ever devised. It's so feared that it's actually been outlawed in several countries. And, since it's been in the news these past few weeks, there's no better time to delve into this extremely sensitive issue. While they were in power in the 1930s and '40s, the Nazis systematically exterminated approximately six million Jewish people using various methods, including gas chambers. This is the widely held belief that most respected scholars adhere to and that we're taught in schools. Holocaust deniers (or, as they prefer, Holocaust revisionists) question the validity of several accepted notions regarding this point of history. Many deny that the Nazis used gas chambers or that they ever had what's called "The Final Solution" -- an official policy that stated their intention to exterminate the Jewish people.

How the Alamo Worked

Legends and lore surround the story of the Alamo. As a result, it can be difficult to separate the fact from fiction. Listen in as our resident historians take a look at the true story of the Alamo in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

When President Obama mentioned in Tuesday's speech to Congress that the United States invented the automobile, podcast listener Hayden questioned if that was exactly accurate. Turns out, your instincts were right, Hayden. Because invention tends to be a long, collaborative process, pinpointing one inventor is almost always tricky. Nevertheless, most experts agree that it's a mistake to say the car originated in the United States. Purists might want go all the way back to Da Vinci's design for a car. However, many point to Germany's Karl Benz as the inventor of the modern automobile. Benz invented a horseless carriage with an internal combustion engine on three wheels in 1885. If that doesn't convince you, let's move on to our next eligible contestant: Gottlieb Daimler. Daimler, independent from Benz but also a German, constructed a four-wheeler in 1886 with his partner, Wilhelm Maybach. Only one American team makes the list: the Duryea brothers in 1893.

If you've been to Washington D.C. in the past few years, you may have noticed that their license plates invoke the centuries-old issue of "taxation without representation." But these plates aren't meant to celebrate the historic Revolution as much as they are protesting the problem that exists today. What's that? You thought this debate was over and done-with in America ever since the colonies won independence from the British crown? If so, you were wrong. According to the organization DCVote.org, it's unfair that District of Columbia residents bear the same burden of taxes as everyone else, but do not have a voting representative in the U.S. Congress. They make an interesting point, and their cause has recently won some momentum in Congress, according to a recent New York Times story. But, why did the Founding Fathers, who risked their lives to rid us of such tyranny, put D.C. in this situation in the first place?

You may have heard buzz this past week about the "discovery" of the ancient mythical island of Atlantis. Using the new feature of Google Ocean, aeronautical engineer Bernie Bamford spotted what he thought looked like a sunken city grid on the Atlantic Ocean's floor 600 miles off the coast of northwest Africa, according to Telegraph. Alas, this recent find was all a mistake, says Google. The DailyMail reports that Google believes the supposed grid to be just a blip -- rather than an ancient city, it represents the path of the boat that was mapping sonar information. Although the story had the public and historians excited, we can add this to the long list of dubious theories about the location (or even existence) of Atlantis. So, why are some diehards relentlessly searching for the remains of the ancient civilization while others doubt that it existed at all?

The knights of medieval Europe are often associated with a code of behavior known as chivalry -- but what were these knights actually like? Learn more about the reality behind the popular image of knights in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

There's an article in the Fashion & Style section of NYTimes.com today called But the article cites Doug Wead, author of "All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families," who explains, "I ...

Leonardo Was Here -- Or Was He?

Going off of yesterday's post about the recent discovery of a possible Da Vinci painting, I wanted to delve a little further into why historians have such trouble pinning down the great Leonardo. Questions of authenticity have plagued Da Vinci schola ...

Oscars Honor Historical Films

While historical films don't always make a big splash, the 81st Annual Academy Awards honored a handful of 2008 historical dramas.First, there was "The Duchess," which won the award for Another big winner was "Milk." TIME magazine ...

Possible Da Vinci Self-Portrait Reveals a Blue-eyed, Blonde-haired Renaissance Man

On Friday, our friends over at Discovery News reported that a (possible) Leonardo Da Vinci self-portrait has recently surfaced. Experts are hesitant to jump to conclusions yet, however, because they've been duped before.

Although the Spanish-American War was a short conflict, many historians believe this conflict marked the United States' emergence as a major world power. Tune in and learn more about the Spanish-American War in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.