This Week In History: June 18-24


This week in history: The war of 1812 declared, Fermat’s last theorem proven, and Picasso premiered his work at his first exhibition. Read more below and dive deeper with The Great Courses Plus.

June 18, 1812 – The US Declares War against Britain

On this day in 1812, President James Madison became the first US President to declare war. A short-lived and often overlooked conflict in the early years of the United States, the War of 1812 would last only a few short years, drawing to a close in 1815. Causes for the declaration of war were varied, including trade restrictions due to the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, British impressment of American sailors, as well as British support of native tribes harrying American settlers on the western frontier. While short, the War of 1812 served as a means for the fledgling United States to prove its prowess, and helped to cement its status as an independent nation capable of defending itself from foreign powers.

Learn more about the War of 1812 in A History of the United States 2nd Edition

June 21, 1993 – Andrew Wiles Proves Fermat’s Last Theorem

Once considered an unsolvable math problem, Fermat’s Last Theorem was derived from a problem notated in the margins of a book by 17th century mathematician Pierre de Fermat. Unlike the Pythagorean Theorem, which is believed to have an infinite number of positive integer solutions for the variables, Fermat’s equation an + bn = cn was believed to have no positive integer solutions if n is equal to any value greater than 2. Attempts to solve the equation proved unsuccessful, but did lead to developments in the field of number theory. It wasn’t until this day in 1993 that the theorem found any sort of answer; Andrew Wiles presented a proof that he had been secretly working on for 6 years, in which he utilized the modularity theorem to to prove Fermat’s Theorem for odd prime exponents. For his work, Wiles earned the Abel Prize in 2016, an award presented to outstanding mathematicians.

Learn more about mathematical proofs in Prove It: The Art of Mathematical Argument

June 24, 1901 – Picasso’s First Exhibition

Arguably one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso is perhaps most well-known for his works of abstraction, notably Cubism. A prolific artist, Picasso was proficient in multiple media, including sculpture and collage, in addition to painting. Gifted from a young age, Picasso’s earliest works are oddly realistic, offering sharp contrast to the direction his work would take later in life. At the ambitious age of 19 he held his first exhibition in Paris on this day in 1901. The exhibit would contain a series of realistic paintings, each painted in the same somber, blue tone. Collectively referred to as his Blue Period by art historians, they are marked by a profound loneliness and sadness, but are considered to be some of his most popular paintings despite their depressed tone.

Learn more about Picasso and his long and varied career in A History of European Art