In a year filled with dramatic global events and unexpected twists, it could be difficult to keep up with the news. To help make sense of the year that was, discover the history behind the stories that shaped 2017.
North Korea Grows Its Nuclear Ambitions
2017: The United States watched as North Korea performed a series of increasingly sophisticated and troubling tests.
A Mysterious Famine Killed a Million North Koreans 20 Years Ago
Sporting Events Got Politicized
2017: African-American NFL players, as well as athletes in other sports, knelt during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” to protest the treatment of black Americans by police. Other teams chose to stay in the locker room or lock arms in other symbolic statements, setting up a contentious debate.
The History: Protest at football games goes back at least as early as 1965, when black football players boycotted the AFL All-Star Game to speak out against the terrible treatment they received as they arrived in New Orleans. Read More.
Why the Star-Spangled Banner is Played At Sporting Events
A Royal Engagement Makes History
2017: Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle delighted many when they announce they would be married in spring 2018. Markle is divorced and biracial.
The History: It turns out one of Markle’s ancestors had a royal connection, too: an English royal who earned knighthood during the Cornish rebellion of 1497. But four decades later, Henry VIII called for his land, his wealth, and his head. Read More.
The Royal Paramour Who Paved the Way For Meghan Markle
Eclipse Fever Sweeps the United States
2017: On August 21, a solar eclipse swept the United States from coast to coast, sending complete darkness over parts of the country for as much as two minutes 41 seconds. It was the first time since 1918 that an eclipse had been visible over the entirety of the contiguous 48 states.
The History: Solar eclipses have been fascinating—and often terrifying—humans throughout the course of history. Both Vikings and ancient Chinese cultures believed the sun was being eaten during an eclipse, for instance. Read More.
History of Eclipses
Election Meddling by Russia Dominates News Cycles
2017: Vladimir Putin’s Russia was a frequent source of news—and controversy—in 2017. In July, Putin responded to U.S. sanctions for interfering in the 2016 election by ordering 755 diplomatic staff out of the U.S. Embassy in Russia, a crippling blow to diplomatic operations there. Barack Obama had previously expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the United States.
The History: In 1986, the Soviet Union and the United States had a similar round of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions. It all started in March of that year, when the U.S. ordered the Soviets to remove 25 of their diplomats at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, and later claimed they were spies. Read more.
Russia and U.S. Relations: Lessons of the “X Article”
Wildfires Swept California
2017: A combination of severe drought and strong Santa Ana winds set the scene for the most damaging wildfire season on record, as more than a million acres burned and dozens of lives were lost. The economic toll of the fires, which covered an area greater than New York and Boston combined, is expected to reach over $180 billion.
The History: On October 8, 1871, women snatched their children from their beds, men formed ad hoc fire brigades, and the terrified residents of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, fled what would become the deadliest wildfire in American history. So why has the Peshtigo wildfire faded from national memory? Read more.
Human Ancestors Tamed Fire Earlier Than Thought
Hurricane Season Devastates the Gulf Coast and Caribbean
2017: A series of back-to-back hurricanes—Harvey, Irma and Maria—swept across the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. Houston and Puerto Rico suffered the brunt of the damage, with massive flooding in Texas and major power outages across Puerto Rico. Months later, many in Puerto Rico were still left without power, while the death toll is believed to be far beyond the official count of 58.
The History: The deadliest natural disaster in American history remains the 1900 hurricane in the island city of Galveston, Texas. On September 8, a category four hurricane descended on the town, destroying more than 3,600 buildings with winds surpassing 135 miles per hour. Estimates of the death toll range from 6,000 to 12,000. Read more.
Women Speak Out About Sexual Harassment and Abuse
2017: Starting with a pair of exposés about sexual abuse by Hollywood power broker Harvey Weinstein, women (and men) across the country spoke out about a pattern of sexual harassment and assault by others in power, including members of Congress, celebrity chefs and members of the entertainment elite.
The History: For movie stars during Hollywood’s Golden Age, a career in pictures often began with sexual exploitation on the “casting couch” of Harry Cohn, one of Hollywood’s most powerful—and brutal—men. As the head of Columbia Pictures from 1919 to 1958, Cohn expected sex in exchange for a chance at stardom. And as one of the most influential figures in Tinseltown, he usually got it. Read more.
Early 1900s Women Had an Ingenious Method for Fending Off Gropers
A Debate Rages Over Confederate Statues
2017: Two conflicting camps demonstrated for and against monuments to Confederate figures around the country. While some statues fell or were removed by local governments, the issue came to a head in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, when Heather Heyer was killed during a “Unite the Right” rally to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
The History: While every statue in every town has a different origin, taken together, the roughly 700 Confederate monuments in the United States tell a national story. Many of these commemorations of those on the losing side of the Civil War are a lot newer than one might think. Read more.
Trump Dismisses FBI Director
2017: President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey in May, setting off a chain of debate and an ongoing investigation.
The History: In a testimony before the Senate intelligence committee, Comey likened his dealings with Trump to a deadly power struggle in the medieval world between King Henry II of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. “It rings in my ear as kind of, ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’” Comey said. Read more.
Nine Fast FBI Facts