Christian III of Denmark and Norway (1503)

Christian III was king of Denmark and Norway from 1534 to 1559. Early in his reign, he allied with Sweden to defeat the German city of Lübeck, which had invaded Denmark in an attempt to reinstate the deposed Christian II. That victory broke the power of the Hanseatic League and made the Danish fleet supreme in northern waters. As ruler, Christian established Lutheranism in Denmark and laid the foundation for the absolutist Danish monarchy of the 17th century. On what holiday did Christian die? Discuss

Eiji Yoshikawa (1892)

Yoshikawa was a popular Japanese historical novelist. Despite the fact that many of his novels are actually revisions of past works, Yoshikawa was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit in 1960. Just before his death from cancer two years later, he received the Mainichi Art Award as well. His success is especially impressive given his lack of formal education—he had not been able to study beyond primary school due to his family’s financial troubles. What are some of Yoshikawa’s novels? Discuss

Herbert Hoover (1874)

Hoover rose to fame for his relief efforts during and after World War I, which included arranging the return of Americans stranded abroad and securing supplies for civilians of war-devastated Europe. Elected US president in 1928, his administration was dominated by the economic depression that followed the 1929 stock market crash. Believing the economy would regenerate spontaneously, he was reluctant to extend federal activities. What event spurred Hoover to order federal troops to the capital? Discuss

Adam von Trott zu Solz (1909)

Von Trott was a German lawyer and diplomat who opposed the Nazi regime and used his position to travel to the UK and US seeking support for the resistance. In order to better monitor Nazi activities and party information, von Trott joined the Nazi party. At the same time, he served as a foreign policy advisor to the Kreisau Circle, a clandestine group of intellectuals that worked to disrupt the Nazi regime. Von Trott was hanged in 1944 after being arrested for attempting to do what? Discuss

Emiliano Zapata (1879)

During the Mexican Revolution, Zapata led the Liberation Army of the South, whose slogan, “Land and Liberty,” represented its goal of returning Mexican land to the indigenous people. A champion of the rural poor, Zapata rallied his neighbors to protest against the hacienda that had appropriated their land and eventually led them in taking the land by force. His peasant soldiers occupied Mexico City three times between 1914 and 1915, and Zapata began to implement land reform. How was he killed? Discuss

Mata Hari (1876)

Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, this Dutch courtesan, dancer, and alleged spy went by the stage name Mata Hari. During World War I, she had intimate relationships with high-ranking Allied military officers and government officials. Though details are unclear, she apparently spied for Germany from 1916. In January 1917, French intelligence intercepted German messages about a spy they identified as Mata Hari, and she was executed by the French on espionage charges. What happened to her corpse? Discuss

Alexander Fleming (1881)

Motivated by the devastating infections he saw in hospitals during World War I, Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist, began searching for an effective antiseptic. In 1922, he discovered lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme present in saliva and tears. In 1928, he isolated the substance penicillin, which became the first successful antibiotic for human bacterial infections. His work earned him a Nobel Prize and has forever changed modern medicine. In what accidental way did he discover penicillin? Discuss

Oswaldo Cruz (1872)

Cruz was a Brazilian physician, scientist, and the founder of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute for research and development in biomedical sciences in Rio de Janeiro. As the Director General of Public Health, Cruz took strong measures to combat the bubonic plague, smallpox, and yellow fever in Brazil. He instituted sanitary reforms that included isolating the sick and exterminating the rat population in Rio. What happened when he tried to reinstate a law imposing mandatory smallpox vaccination? Discuss

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792)

Shelley is considered one of the great English Romantic poets. He is known for his masterpiece lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound and his poems “To a Skylark” and “Ozymandias.” A rebellious youth, Shelley was expelled from Oxford for his part in authoring an atheist tract. He married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, now famed as Mary Shelley, after his first wife drowned herself in 1816. Shelley himself drowned just six years later at age 29. Why do some think his death was not accidental? Discuss

Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia (1770)

Friedrich Wilhelm III ruled Prussia from 1797 to 1840 and was well intentioned but weak and vacillating. Despite attempts at neutrality, he was drawn into the Napoleonic Wars between France and a shifting alliance of European powers. Defeated by the French in 1806, he allied with Russia, and his troops were instrumental in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Prussia’s prestige declined during his reign, and he was quite unpopular. What happened when his wife visited Napoleon on Prussia’s behalf? Discuss