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History

"This is indeed," the Adams Sentinel in Gettysburg, Pa., proclaimed on Feb. 24, 1830, "the age of improvement."

The proclamation was part of a story about the Moral Encyclopaedia, a set of self-teaching books by a writer identified as "Charles Varle, Esq. of Baltimore."

There were some mighty funny folks in 19th century America: writers Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce, for instance. And, by some accounts, stage comedians Fanny Rice and Marshall P. Wilder.

For a while, Rice was billed as the Funniest Woman in America. And Wilder, who specialized in mother-in-law jokes, was called the Funniest Man.

Manners still matter.

Later this month in Los Angeles, at the annual convention of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society — a group that focuses on making systems, devices and machines more human-friendly — researchers plan to report on a study showing that people want robots to be more mannerly and polite.

In America, though, manners and mores are ever morphing. And what was polite in the past — such as a man opening a door for a woman — is not always seen as polite in the present.

It's not every day you can plop down two bucks and walk away with some "junk" that is worth a fortune. But that's what happened when a collector purchased an old-timey photo from a Fresno, Calif., antiques shop.

It turns out, the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid is in the photo, apparently taking part in a leisurely game of croquet.

The image could be worth up to $5 million.

Virginia Alvino / Texas Public Radio News

To kick off Texas Archeology Month, City and State officials have unveiled newly discovered historic artifacts Friday.  The relics come from the site of Presidio de Bexar, and the probable site of the Mission San Antonio De Valero.  It’s the first time either site had been excavated.

The finds include an assortment of ceramics, glass, and wrought metal nails.

History can be tricky. Something that you think has never happened before has, actually, happened before. Someone who seems thoroughly modern actually lived long ago. And a quote that sounds up-to-the-nanosecond contemporary was actually uttered more than 100 years ago.

So let's see how you do: Here are seven items — six quotes and a photo. Your task is to determine whether they occurred before 1900 or after 1900. Answers are at the bottom.

1) Newspaper quote: "Dick got an idea somehow that Theo thought he was a slouch."

Fin-de-siecle America — in the final years of the 19th century — was fanatical about fads.

"There is something about the end of a century that sets people to thinking about their collective prospects and ultimate destiny," writes historian H.W. Brands in The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890s.

And collective thinking can lead to collective compulsive behavior, which can lead to collective fashions and fads and manias. Some of the fads were confined to certain places; others traveled farther. Here is a trio:

Just about a century ago, an international student at a college in the United States was telling someone what she likes best about the English language: American slang. "I must learn it," she said. "It is so unexpected."

For example, she was surprised to learn — according to a November 1916 edition of the Delta Delta Delta sorority publication, the Trident -- that "brick" was the masculine equivalent of "peach" because the former was a "term of approval" for a man and the latter was a term of approval for a woman.

Phrases phase in and out of everyday usage. Especially in the global hodgepodge that is American English. Sometimes, however, there are phrases forgotten that perhaps should be sayings salvaged.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

It's Independence Day. Let's take a break from parades, patriotic songs and pyrotechnics to think about the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

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