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Interactives -- Historical and Cultural Contexts Image of a Newspaper Pick another Interactive:


A letter from one person to another can capture an event is a unique way. Letters, whether formal or informal, can provide insight into a period in history. In the interactive below you will see three letters, one at a time, about events of historical significance. Identify the region and era particular to each letter, and answer additional questions about the information it contains.

(Note: Region selections are based on using a current-day map for all stories. The location of publication and the location where the event took place might be different. In that case, identify the location where the event took place.)

Letter from Eliahu Epstein

My dear Mr. President:

David Ben Gurion (First Prime Minister of this country) publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State, in Tel Aviv.

Credit: Israel Ministry of foreign Affairs

David Ben Gurion (First Prime Minister of this country) publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State, May 14, mid 20th century, in Tel Aviv.

I have had the honor to notify you that the state of _____ has been proclaimed as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, _____, and that a provisional government has been charged to assume the rights and duties of government for preserving law and order within the boundaries of _______, for defending the state against external aggression, and for discharging the obligations of _______ to the other nations of the world in accordance with international law. The Act of Independence will become effective at one minute after six o'clock on the evening of 14 May _______, Washington time.

With full knowledge of the deep bond of sympathy which has existed and has been strengthened over the past thirty years between the Government of the United States and the people of Palestine, I have been authorized by the provisional government of the new state to tender this message and to express the hope that your government will recognize and welcome _______ into the community of nations.

Very respectfully yours,

Eliahu Epstein, Agent

Provisional Government of _________

Letter of Catherine of Aragon to her husband, King Henry VIII

My most dear lord, king and husband,


Queen Catherine, 16th Century

The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.

Catherine the Queen.

St. Francis Xavier: Letter from Japan, to the Society of Jesus in Europe, 16th Century

May the grace and charity of our Lord Jesus Christ be ever with us! Amen.

Portrait of Francis Xavier with Monoyama Inscription

Portrait of Francis Xavier with Monoyama Inscription

By the favor of God we all arrived at _______ in perfect health on the 15th of August, 1549. We landed at Cagoxima, the native place of our companions. We were received in the most friendly way by all the people of the city, especially the relations of Paul, the ________ convert, all of whom had the blessing to receive the light of truth from heaven, and by Paul's persuasion became Christians. During our stay at Cagoxima the people appeared to be wonderfully delighted with the doctrines of the divine law, so entirely new to their ears.

_______ is a very large empire entirely composed of islands. One language is spoken throughout, not very difficult to learn. This country was discovered by the Portuguese eight or nine years ago. The ________ are very ambitious of honors and distinctions, and think themselves superior to all nations in military glory and valor. They prize and honor all that has to do with war, and all such things, and there is nothing of which they are so proud of as weapons adorned with gold and silver. They always wear swords and daggers both in and out of the house, and when they go to sleep they hang them at the bed's head. In short, they value arms more than any people I have ever seen. They are excellent archers, and usually fight on foot, though there is no lack of horses in the country. They are very polite to each other, but not to foreigners, whom they utterly despise. They spend their means on arms, bodily adornment, and on a number of attendants, and do not in the least care to save money. They are, in short, a very warlike people, and engaged in continual wars among themselves; the most powerful in arms bearing the most extensive sway. They have all one sovereign, although for one hundred and fifty years past the princes have ceased to obey him, and this is the cause of their perpetual feuds... Before their baptism the converts of Yamaguchi were greatly troubled and pained by a hateful and annoying scruple -- that God did not appear to them merciful and good, because He had never made Himself known to them before our arrival, especially if it were true that those who had not worshipped God as we preached were doomed to suffer everlasting punishment in hell. It seemed to them that He had forgotten and as it were neglected the salvation of all their ancestors, in permitting them to be deprived of the knowledge of saving truths, and thus to rush headlong on eternal death. It was this painful thought which, more than anything else, kept them back from the religion of the true God. But by the divine mercy all their error and scruple was taken away. We began by proving to them that the divine law is the most ancient of all. Before receiving their institutions from the Chinese, the _______ knew by the teaching of nature that it was wicked to kill, to steal, to swear falsely, and to commit the other sins enumerated in the Ten Commandments, a proof of this being the remorse of conscience to which any one guilty of one of these crimes was certain to be a prey...


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