1711 — David Hume is born

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, David Hume was one of the greatest of British philosophers. Best known for his empiricism and skepticism, his most famous claim is that – in direct opposition to Rene Descartes – reason is not the greatest driver of humanity, but rather, than desire is. (Obviously, economists were too busy misunderstanding Adam Smith to catch up with this idea for several centuries.) His attitudes to religion were notably ambiguous, although he was critical of the argument from design.

Broadly a member of the utilitarian school of philosophy, Hume was a very influential figure in the history of philosophy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, William James, Joseph Butler and Adam Smith were all influenced by his ideas – Kant and Smith in particular credited him with inspiring their own works. Hume was also a pioneer of the essay as a literary form.

Referenced in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

1833 — Johannes Brahms born

Johannes Brahms is one of the greatest composers in the Classical tradition, while also being strongly influenced by the Baroque composers who preceded him. He was born in Hamburg, Germany, but spent much of his career in Vienna. An accomplished player as well as composer, Brahms premiered many of his own works in his lifetime – a devout perfectionist, he also destroyed many others that were not up to his standards.

Brahms died in 1897, a month short of his 64th birthday. His music lives on, both for its own sake, and in the works of composers he influenced, such as Bartok, Dvorak and Elgar.

Referenced in:

Green Onions — The Blues Brothers

1954 – Dien Bien Phu falls

The fall of Dien Bien Phu marked the unofficial end of French Indo-China. The French Far East Expeditionary Corps was comprehensively defeated by the Viet Minh communist-nationalist revolutionaries – the first time that a colonial occupier had been so defeated. The causes of the defeat are many, but the two most prominent are the evolution of the Viet Minh from a loose group of disorganised guerilla bands into a force equivalent to standing national army, and a series of poor decisions made by the French defenders.

The Vietnamese victory came only after 55 days of battle, with large losses on both sides: as many as 2000 French dead and over 4000 Vietnamese. The fighting was close and deadly, often resembling the trench warfare of World War One as the siege progressed. In the final victory, almost 12,000 French prisoners were taken, and many died in captivity from wounds received in the fighting, or as a result of beatings, disease and starvation while imprisoned.

The official end of the first Indo-China War came later that year, although it would cast a long shadow, inspiring other rebellions in the French colonies of Madagascar and Algeria, two separate coups d’état in France itself, and of course, the Second Indo-China War – better known today as the Vietnam War.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel