15 Answers To Questions About History We Can't Wait To Work Into A Conversation

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Vote up the answers to historical questions you're most excited to share.

Being inquisitive is a good thing. It helps you gain all kinds of knowledge and insight into various topics and gives you the opportunity to share that information with others. This is especially true for history because, honestly, there's a lot of history out there. 

Whether you're reading a book, watching a movie or TV show, or just looking around at your surroundings, you are likely to wonder about something.

What does the "QR" in QR code mean?

How many bridges cross the Amazon River?

What's the oldest living tree on Earth?

Each one of these questions has a connection to history - and a fascinating answer.

We have a bunch more questions and answers that we want to share. Take a look and vote up the ones you're going to tell somebody about, too!

  • 1
    164 VOTES

    When Did Soldiers Start Wearing Dog Tags?

    According to ancient Greek author Polyaenus, Spartan soldiers "engraved their names on their shields, which were fastened to their left arms" so they could be identified among the bodies of the fallen, while Roman legionaries each received a signaculum - a small lead plate engraved with personal details - to carry around their necks.

    By the 19th century, troops fighting in the American Civil War pinned or stenciled their names onto their clothing or carved their names into coins or wood for later identification. It wasn't until the early 20th century that the British Army started issuing identification bracelets made of metal.

    The US Army rolled out the Kennedy identification tag in 1906. A second identical tag was added in 1916, both with "name, rank, company, and regiment or corps of the wearer." One tag was supposed to be interred with a deceased soldier's body, and the other "turned over to the surgeon or person in charge of the burial, from which a record of the same, together with the cause and date of death" was reported to the commanding officer. Throughout the 20th century, dog tags came to include additional information, like religious affiliation and blood type.

    The US Navy adopted comparable identification tags in 1917, but it wasn't until 1936 that William Randolph Hearst coined the term "dog tag." He meant it as a diminutive phrase, one intended to give the impression that President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration was tagging soldiers like animals

    In a different origin story, the nickname came from the wearers of the tags themselves during World War II. Drafted men were said to have come up with the moniker because they felt like they were treated like dogs. Either way, wearing identification on the battlefield was well established by the time the items were known as dog tags. 

    164 votes
  • Why Are Blue Jeans Blue?
    Photo: KALX999 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
    144 VOTES

    Why Are Blue Jeans Blue?

    They're often called "blue jeans" and they're probably the most recognizable item made out of denim, but why are they blue? When Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss patented pants with rivets in 1873, they used material that had long since been blue.

    Denim - the word (and maybe the fabric) - is purportedly derived from a material made by weavers in Nimes, France, during the 17th century. The term "de Nimes" ("from Nimes") sounds very similar to "denim." It was woven using white and indigo yarn. Historians also note the production of comparable cotton fabric in Genoa, Italy, dyed with indigo. This was called "jean" - short for Genoa. Genoans dyed jean blue with indigo because it adhered to the outside of the fabric and gently faded away with each wash. The material also got softer in the process.

    By the mid-19th century, jean fabric was regularly worn in pants and coats, while denim was more of a "workwear" fabric. In early America, pants made with jean were called "waist overalls," but Davis and Strauss chose to use denim. Their pants became known as "denim overalls," characteristic of the conflation of the terms.

    Exactly when denim overalls started to be called "jeans" or "blue jeans" en masse isn't clear, but the use of "jean" for informal pants was well-established by the 20th century. Informal blue jean pants now equates with blue jeans.  

    144 votes
  • 3
    37 VOTES

    Did Vikings Ever Raid Wales?

    Scandinavian explorers traversed waterways and land alike; they traveled to North America, through the Mediterranean, across Russia, and all around Europe. Their raids and eventual settlements in England and Ireland are commonly depicted in history books and popular culture, but there's rarely any indication that the Vikings went to Wales.

    They did.

    Viking raids into Wales began around 850 CE. Records indicate they attacked the Isle of Anglesey as well as the kingdom of Gwynedd in northern Wales several times during the late 9th and early 10th centuries.

    The Vikings did not establish settlements in Wales the same way they did in Ireland and England, but archaeological evidence indicates they may have had at least one small community on Anglesey. Skeletons and artifacts at Llanbedrgoch suggest non-Christian practices as well as the site's importance during the 10th century for the manufacture and trade of commodities.

    37 votes
  • 4
    60 VOTES

    Why Is Crimea So Disputed As A Territory?

    The complexities surrounding Crimea, its relationship with Russia, and its connections to Ukraine are multifaceted, but it traces back to the 18th century. Crimea, a peninsula that extends into the Black Sea, was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1783.

    With the establishment of the Soviet Union during the early 20th century, Crimea operated as an autonomous Soviet socialist republic until 1946, when it was reclassified as an oblast (or region). This came on the heels of the mass deportation of ethnic Tatars from Crimea at the order of Joseph Stalin.

    Once Crimea was downgraded to oblast status, it functioned as a province of the Soviet Union until 1954. At that point, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev "gifted" it to the Ukraine Republic. Crimea remained part of Ukraine until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, albeit as an area that had autonomy. This autonomous status continued until 1996, when Ukraine determined legislation in Crimea must keep with those of its own.

    In 1997, Russia re-asserted its naval presence at Sevastopol in Crimea, which set the stage for intervention at the order of Vladimir Putin in 2014. When Putin became President of Russia, he annexed Crimea to protect Russians living on the peninsula (as well as Russian political and economic interests), while Ukraine was in the midst of a political revolution.

    The 2014 annexation of Crimea was, to the international community, an illegal act. Crimea, as of 2022, is recognized as part of Ukraine, despite Russian occupation. In addition to its strategic location and economic importance, Crimea has served as a military base from which Russia sent troops into Ukraine, notably in the area around the city of Mariupol.

    60 votes
  • Where Did The Name 'John Doe' Come From?
    Photo: William Henry Brown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    79 VOTES

    Where Did The Name 'John Doe' Come From?

    John Doe - or Jane Doe - are the monikers used for unidentified deceased men and women. Both are also catch-all terms for the general public, an unidentified person, or to hide the identity of someone. 

    The earliest reference to "John Doe" found in the Oxford English Dictionary dates to 1599, but the names "Doe and Roe" were used in conjunction with legal matters by Ivo of Chartres (the patron saint of lawyers) as early as the 13th century.

    By the mid-19th century, John Doe and Richard Roe were names used in actions of ejectment in English Common Law. Ejectment was a process by which a landlord could act on behalf of a fake tenant (John Doe) against a fictitious individual who'd evicted them (Richard Roe). The legal action was a way for the court to determine who had rights to the land so the landowner could use it against squatters or anyone who tried to take away their possession.

    The continued use of Doe and Roe in law, and with respect to anonymity, is clear in cases like Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, both from 1973. 

    79 votes
  • How Many US States Have Tried To Form Their Own Countries?
    Photo: Treasury Department of the Republic of Texas / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    67 VOTES

    How Many US States Have Tried To Form Their Own Countries?

    Six - arguably seven - states have tried to establish their own countries at various points.

    Efforts by Texans to do so are relatively well known, and for a period of time, the Republic of Texas functioned as a sovereign state. After Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836, it remained a republic until 1846. Texans have talked about succession from the US in the decades since for different political and economic reasons, but no serious action has been taken.

    Hawaii was a republic between 1894 and 1898, prior to becoming a territory of the US, and Vermont formed its own republic in 1777. Vermont was still part of the colony of New York at the time, but didn't want to side with Britain or New York during the Revolutionary War. One year before Vermont, Rhode Island successfully broke with the British and declared its independence, although it soon joined with the other colonies as they followed suit. 

    Oregon successfully established a provisional government in 1843, but amid James K. Polk's presidential campaign, the annexation of the Oregon Country became a point of contention between the US and Great Britain. In the end, the Oregon Country south of the 49th parallel became a US territory in 1848.

    West Florida became an independent entity for two months in 1810, when settlers seized land near Baton Rouge from the Spanish. The US quickly annexed it and incorporated it into Louisiana.

    California, or at least part of what is now California, became a sovereign nation in 1846. When a group of settlers rebelled against Mexico, they established the Bear Flag Republic in the area north of San Francisco. Their short-lived independence lasted for about three weeks and, in 1850, California became part of the United States. 

    67 votes