Way Back When: Discovering 1923 in 2023

Well, it’s 2023, which feels like a strange and unwieldy number for a year to be after the neat symmetry of 2022. I thought for today’s post it would be interesting to look at different events that occurred exactly 100 years ago, and feature various books, movies, and resources for you to explore corresponding to those events. For one thing, ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’, and for another…this makes learning history fun! (For me, at the very least, but hopefully for you too). Without further ado, let’s jump right in.

cover of Red Star Over Russie by David King

January | The USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) aka the Soviet Union is established after a period of revolution. Red Star Over Russia by David King has a self-explanatory subtitle; it’s a Visual History of the Soviet Union From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin: Posters, Photographs and Graphics From the David King Collection. I’m a visual learner myself, and this graphic book is eye-catching and eye-opening, and reminds readers of the intersection of art and politics as a revolutionary incentive, as propaganda, and as an art movement in and of itself.

cover of In the Valley of the Kings by Daniel Meyerson

February | King Tutankhamen’s sealed burial chamber is opened and the young pharaoh’s sarcophagus is discovered by Egyptologist and archeologist Howard Carter. In the Valley of the Kings: Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb by Daniel Meyerson details this historical event as well as Carter’s career, from its inauspicious beginning to thrilling (and perhaps even cursed?) end.

cover of TIME magazine's first issue
(image via TIME)

March | The first issue of TIME Magazine is launched, featuring Joseph G. Cannon (a former U.S. House Speaker) on the cover. It was only thirty-two pages long and didn’t have the red border that would become distinctive of the magazine. You can read this first edition online, or read more recent (and physical) issues of TIME at any of our branches. See what’s available here.

Interested in a different publication? Check out the PressReader app, which⁠—when used while connected to the library’s wifi⁠—gives you free access to five magazines daily that you can read offline after downloading! TIME magazine is unfortunately not available on the app, but you can get many different publications in many different languages from all over the world!

cover of Breakthrough by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg

April | Insulin becomes widely available for the treatment of diabetes, saving the lives of millions of people who were otherwise doomed to the wasting disease, which at the time was most effectively medicated via starvation. You can read more about this medicine’s discovery and mass production, and about Frederick Banting and Charles Best, the Canadian researchers involved, in Breakthrough: Banting, Best, and the Race to Save Millions of Diabetics by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg.

cover of The War for Ireland by Peter Cottrell

May | The Irish Civil War comes to an end. In The War for Ireland by Peter Cottrell, the fight for Irish for independence from English rule is explored from it’s inception following the end of WWI to it’s conclusion nearly thirty years later with the establishment of the Irish Free State, an entity independent from the UK but still a part of the British Empire. Ireland became divided into two countries: the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, the latter which remained under British rule. (This would eventually lead to further conflict, the Troubles, sparked during the late 60s and officially ending with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998).

cover of Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

June | George Bigheart, one of the Osage nation’s oil millionaires who would become a victim of what was then called the ‘Osage Indian murders’, informs his lawyer that he thought he had been poisoned, and provids information about documents that would later identify a murder suspect. Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is a nonfiction narrative on this case and its investigation by the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), which was the precursor to the FBI. Founded on years of research, the book explores each step in the investigation and is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice towards Indigenous peoples, which allowed the murderers to get away with their crimes for so long. A film adaptation is being released this year, directed by Martin Scorsese and in consultation with members of the Osage nation.

cover of The Great Dinosaur Discoveries by Darren Naish

July | American explorer, adventurer and naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews discovers the first dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert and Mongolia, bringing them back to the American Museum of Natural History, where he is director. While VPL doesn’t (yet) have books or documentaries specifically on Roy Chapman, The Great Dinosaur Discoveries by Darren Naish is a gorgeous compilation of prehistoric discoveries from the 1800s and onwards, sure to enrapture all dinosaur lovers out there. (Fun fact, 1923 was also the year the first velociraptor fossil was discovered!)

cover of Wait For Your Laugh film

August | Comedian, actress, and singer Rose Marie is born. Though later known primarily for her role as Sally Rogers in The Dick Van Dyke Show, she actually debuted as a child actress at the age of four. Wait for Your Laugh is a documentary about her life, featuring interviews with friends and colleagues like Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, and Tim Conway. The film explores her nine-decade showbiz career, her friendships with infamous gangsters, and her marriage to trumpeter Bobby Guy. 

cover of The Woman Before Wallis by Andrew Rose

September | French socialite and high ranking prostitute Marguerite Alibert is acquitted of the murder of her husband due to, it is suspected, her previous and longstanding affair with Prince Edward. Andrew Rose’s The Woman Before Wallis: Prince Edward, the Parisian Courtesan, and the Perfect Murder divulges the details of their relationship, from how Alibert and Prince Edward first met, to how—despite the wealth of evidence presented against her—Alibert got away with murder, and finally to Alibert’s life post trial and acquittal.

cover of The Disney Story by Aaron H. Goldberg

October | Roy and Walt Disney found The Walt Disney Company, which is then known as the Disney Brothers Studio. The Disney Story: Chronicling the Man, the Mouse, and the Parks by Aaron H. Goldberg is a decade by decade look at the entertainment behemoth, ranging from Mickey Mouse’s debut at the Colony Theatre in November 1928 to the opening of Shanghai Disneyland in 2016.

cover of The Vanquished by Robert Gerwarth

November | A coup by Hitler and the Nazi Party, called the Beer Hall Putsch or Munich Putsch, is attempted and fails. Hitler escapes immediate arrest, but a few days later is caught, charged with treason, and sentenced to five years in prison (though he only serves nine months). The Putsch is considered his first propaganda victory. The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End by Robert Gerwarth is an excellent resource to understanding the political and social climate of the time both within Germany and internationally, the rise of fascism and nationalism, and how World War II could have happened so soon after the ‘war to end all wars’.

cover of The Ten Commandments film
(image via IMDB)

December | The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. DeMille premiers. This silent American religious film was the highest grossing film of the year, became the most popular movie of 1924, and was lauded for its incredible scenes (especially the Parting of the Red Sea) and for its use of technicolour. The film has two parts: the Prologue, which tells of the Exodus, and the Story, set in 1923 and involving characters living by the lessons of the commandments. You can borrow this film on Blu-Ray or DVD at any VPL location, as well as the expanded 1956 remake, also by DeMille, which dropped the Story and focused on the Prologue.

And that wraps up our month by month foray into the past! I hope you enjoyed this, learned something new, and found something to explore or discover!

About Sumayyah

Sumayyah is an Information Assistant at the Vaughan Public Libraries. She's also a bookworm and author, constantly dreaming up a multitude of different stories and wrestling with finishing them.  |  Meet the team

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