This Week In History: July 16-22


This week in history: Catherine the Great Crowned, Mendel born, and Moon Day celebrated. Read more below and dive deeper with The Great Courses Plus.

July 17, 1762 – Catherine the Great Crowned Tsarina of Russia

Following a coup d’état and the assassination of her estranged husband Peter III, Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great would be crowned as empress of Russia on this day in 1762. She would go on to become the longest-reigning tsarina in Russian history, holding the throne from 1762 to her death in 1796. She was credited with expanding the Russian Empire’s borders south and westward, absorbing some 200,000 square miles of territory. She took to the ideas of the Enlightenment era and sought to be seen as an enlightened ruler by the rest of Western Europe. She was an indelible patron of the arts and sought to expand European education in Russia. She would die from a stroke on November 16, 1796 at the age of 67.

Learn more about Catherine the Great in A History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev

July 20, 1822 – Gregor Mendel is Born

An Austrian monk and scientist, Gregor Mendel would be born on this day in 1822. Remembered most for his experiments involving crossbreeding pea plants, Mendel’s findings would create the basis for our understanding of genetic heredity. Though it was widely known that crossbreeding animals and plants would produce desirable traits, this process was never undertaken in a scientific manner. After breeding yellow and green pea plants together, Mendel began to see different traits from the original plants appearing in subsequent generations and would use the terms “dominant” and “recessive” to describe the traits that occurred more and less frequently. Unfortunately, Mendel’s original research would be burned after his death in 1884 and it would not be until the 20th century that his ideas would be rediscovered by other scientists.

Learn more about Mendel’s experiments in Biology: The Science of Life

July 21, 1969 – The First Man on the Moon

On this day in 1969, with the words “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” American astronaut Neil Armstrong would become the first man to set foot on the moon. Part of the manned Apollo 11 spaceflight, this historic moment would be televised to a worldwide audience. It would effectively bring the Space Race with the Soviet Union to an end and posthumously fulfill John F. Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin would spend most of the day on the moon’s surface collecting data and samples before returning to Earth; their return vessel landed safely in the Pacific Ocean on July 24th.

Learn more about the moon landing in Turning Points in Modern History