Cultural Literacy: Black Hole of Calcutta

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on the Black Hole of Calcutta–a topic which fascinated me as a kid.

In fact, I think we kids used a potential stay in the Black Hole of Calcutta, or its equivalent on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin, as a deterrent to misbehavior. In other words, one had better not commit pranks on Halloween night lest one end up cast into the Black Hole of Calcutta. I may have gotten onto the Black Hole while reading through the reams of Classics Illustrated Comics my father accumulated as a child, then conveyed to me. But it was part of the lingua franca of my crowd, so we may have also gotten onto it by way of cartoons, or something else.

We probably assumed it was a mythological place. As it happens, the Black Hole was in Fort William, in Calcutta. The British East India Company (which if memory serves, the CUNY–John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to be exact–historian Mike Wallace, characterized as “Wal-Mart with Guns” in Ric Burns’ magisterial eight-part documentary series on New York City) built Fort Williams to protect its trade in India. In other words, a colonial, mercantilist endeavor designed to enrich England at the expense of India.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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