THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: SEPTEMBER 25, 1818

First Human to Human Blood Transfusion

first-blood-transfusionIn 1628, English physician William Harvey described the circulation of blood in the body. This sparked interest in understanding the functions of the blood and physicians became interested in replacing lost blood through transfusions. Soon after Harvey published his work, transfusions with animals were attempted. In 1665, another English physician, Richard Lower successfully transfused blood between dogs.

Since animals could be induced to “donate” blood more readily than seventeenth-century humans, they were eyed as possible sources of blood for human patients as well. In 1667, Lower and Jean-Baptiste Denis independently reported transfusions of lamb blood into humans. However, such experiments often resulted in deadly reactions — one of which led to Denis’s arrest. Animal-human transfusions were soon prohibited by law.

In 1818, an Englishwoman who was hemorrhaging after childbirth was successfully treated with a blood transfusion. Using a hypodermic syringe, physician James Blundell administered approximately four ounces of blood that had been extracted from her husband’s arm. Blundell performed ten additional transfusions between 1825 and 1830, of which half were successful. This was the pattern for early transfusions — sometimes they helped and sometimes the patient had a severe, often fatal reaction. In 1875, German physiologist Leonard Landois first described how incompatible transfusions resulted in the clumping and bursting of red blood cells, a process called hemolysis. It was not until the dawn of the twentieth century that Landsteiner, an Austrian-born American immunologist, discovered why this occurred.

In 1901, Landsteiner discovered three different blood groups — A, B and O. The next year, another research team added the AB group. Red blood cells of groups A and B have A or B antigens, specific sugar-containing substances, on their surfaces. AB group blood cells carry both antigens and O blood cells have neither. Antibodies in the blood serum react to antigens of a different group and destroy the red blood cells. Landsteiner was awarded the 1930 Nobel Prize for his work.

“The Development of Modern Blood Transfusions.” Science and Its Times. Ed. Neil Schlager and Josh Lauer. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Science in Context. Web.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: SEPTEMBER 17, 1787

U.S. Constitution Ratified

US-ConstitutionDelegates sent to Philadelphia from the thirteen states to discuss changes to the existing Confederation government formed the Constitution during the summer of 1787. The delegates tended to be well-educated, wealthy conservatives who worried about the economic and diplomatic problems facing the young United States. Shortly after the beginning of the proceedings, the delegates adopted a rule of debate behind closed doors, so that views could be expressed without fear of repercussions at home. James Madison of Virginia used this opportunity to introduce his plan for revising the government of the United States. Madison’s Virginia Plan meant to scrap the Articles of Confederation, replacing it with a highly centralized government based on federalism. The delegates, realizing that Madison’s plan answered their desire for a government that would protect liberty while ensuring order, began in earnest to create a new government of the United States.

The heart of Madison’s proposal balanced and separated the three most important functions of government: a bicameral legislature, a strong executive, and an independent judiciary. The Constitution models itself on past successful republics in creating a lower house, the members of which are elected according to the respective population of the states, with authority over how money is raised and spent; and an upper house, restricted to two representatives from each state, with functions resembling that of a general court. Executive power is modeled on the consuls of the ancient Roman Republic, who had two general powers: to serve as commander in chief and to execute the laws passed by the legislative power. Madison, who realized the importance of freeing judges from the influence of significant others, created a judicial system independent of the legislative and executive branches. The resulting Constitution balances power among the varying functions of the federal government while creating a method for local, state, and federal governments to share power.

Lawson, Russell. “Constitution of the United States (1787–1788).” Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 9. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 169-178. U.S. History in Context. Web. 27


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: SEPTEMBER 12, 1940

Lascaux Cave Paintings Discovered

lascaux-cave-paintingsOn September 12, 1940, four boys formed a small expedition team to explore a shaft they found while hiking through the sloping woods above Lascaux manor. Armed with shovels and picks, they expanded the restricted opening enough to enable them to descend into the unexplored chambers below. As they made their way through the narrow entrance shaft into the largest room of the cave, the young explorers noticed the walls and ceiling were adorned with brightly colored renderings of bulls and other animals. The boys had stumbled upon one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century–the Paleolithic paintings at Lascaux Cave.

The Cave at Lascaux, or Lascaux Grotto, is located in hills surrounding the Vézère River valley near the village of Montignac, Dordogne, in southwest France. It is one of 150 prehistoric settlements, and nearly two dozen painted caves, dating back to the Stone Age in the Vézère valley. Lascaux Grotto contains perhaps the most unprecedented exhibit of prehistoric art discovered to date.

“Prehistoric Cave Art Found at Lascaux.” Science and Its Times. Ed. Neil Schlager and Josh Lauer. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale, 2001. World History in Context. Web.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: SEPTEMBER 2, 1973

Tolkien Departs Middle Earth

j-r-tolkienJ.R.R. Tolkien, Oxford scholar of medieval English, died today aged 81. He will be remembered for the story he wrote for his children about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a furry-footed hobbit who lived in a burrow in the Shire, a bucolic idyll of Anglo-Saxon Britain. The tale grew into a saga of warriors and wizards, elves, demons, trolls, and goblins locked in an awesome struggle of good and evil, with the fate of Middle Earth hanging on a lost ring—the ring of the chillingly evil dark lord Sauron.

The passion of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s literary life was to make his “fairy-stories” so complete in description and detail, so varied in character and action, so expansive in philosophy and religion, as to be “real.” He was in every way the perfectionist in matters of verisimilitude–revising, correcting, and amending his tales over a period of years and decades so that they would always be referentially consistent. His life’s work, the creation of Middle Earth, encompasses a reality that rivals Western man’s own attempt at recording the composite, knowable history of his species. Not since Milton has any Englishman worked so successfully at creating a secondary world, derived from our own, yet complete in its own terms with encyclopedic mythology; an imagined world that includes a vast gallery of strange beings: hobbits, elves, dwarfs, orcs, and, finally, the men of Westernesse. The personalities and languages of these beings provide Tolkien with the rich, raw material for transforming parts of 10,000 years of Middle Earth history into elegant fairy-stories: The Hobbit and the trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 15: British Novelists, 1930-1959. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Bernard Oldsey, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. The Gale Group, 1983. pp. 520-530.


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