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Loie Fuller and the Serpentine

- November 6, 2019 in choreography, Culture & History, dance, dancing, Drama, Loie Fuller, serpentine

With her "serpentine dance" — a show of swirling silk and rainbow lights — Loie Fuller became one of the most celebrated dancers of the fin de siècle. Rhonda K. Garelick explores Fuller’s unlikely stardom and how her beguiling art played out onstage the era's newly blurred boundaries between human and machine.

The Myth of Blubber Town, an Arctic Metropolis

- July 10, 2019 in arctic, blubber, blubber town, Culture & History, Dutch whaling, exaggeration, Featured Articles, legend, smeerenburg, whaling

Though the 17th-century whaling station of Smeerenburg was in reality, at it's height, just a few dwellings and structures for processing blubber, over the decades and centuries a more extravagant picture took hold — that there once had stood, defying its far-flung Arctic location, a bustling urban centre complete with bakeries, churches, gambling dens, and brothels. Matthew H. Birkhold explores the legend.

H. G. Wells and the Uncertainties of Progress

- June 27, 2019 in Books, Culture & History, future, future history, h. g. wells, Literature, progress, retrofuture, science fiction

In addition to the numerous pioneering works of science fiction by which he made his name, H. G. Wells also published a swathe of non-fiction meditations, mainly focused on themes explored in his stories — the effects of technology, human folly, and the idea of progress. As Peter J. Bowler explores, for Wells this notion of progression was far from simple.

Lustucru: From Severed Heads to Ready-Made Meals

- June 13, 2019 in bogeyman, Culture & History, decapitation, folklore, forge, les précieuses, Lustucru, misogyny, pasta, violence

Jé Wilson charts the migration of the Lustucru figure through the French cultural imagination — from misogynistic blacksmith bent on curbing female empowerment, to child-stealing bogeyman, to jolly purveyor of packaged pasta.

The Khan’s Drinking Fountain

- April 4, 2019 in airag, alcohol, Art & Illustrations, ayrag, Culture & History, drinking, empire, fermented mare's milk, fountain, kumis, Möngke khan, mongol empire

Of all the things described in William of Rubruck’s account of his travels through 13th-century Asia, perhaps none is so striking as the remarkably ornate fountain he encountered in the Mongol capital which — complete with silver fruit and an angelic automaton — flowed with various alcoholic drinks for the grandson of Genghis Khan and guests. Devon Field explores how this so-called Silver Tree of Karakoum became a potent symbol, not only of the Mongol Empire’s imperial might, but also its downfall.

Progress in Play: Board Games and the Meaning of History

- February 20, 2019 in Art & Illustrations, board games, colonialism, Culture & History, Featured Articles, french revolution, games, history of board games, nationalism, progress, soviet union

Players moving pieces along a track to be first to reach a goal was the archetypal board game format of the 18th and 19th century. Alex Andriesse looks at one popular incarnation in which these pieces progress chronologically through history itself, usually with some not-so-subtle ideological, moral, or national ideal as the object of the game.

Progress in Play: Board Games and the Meaning of History

- February 20, 2019 in Art & Illustrations, board games, colonialism, Culture & History, Featured Articles, french revolution, gameboards, games, history of board games, nationalism, progress, soviet union

Players moving pieces along a track to be first to reach a goal was the archetypal board game format of the 18th and 19th century. Alex Andriesse looks at one popular incarnation in which these pieces progress chronologically through history itself, usually with some not-so-subtle ideological, moral, or national ideal as the object of the game.

Divining the Witch of York: Propaganda and Prophecy

- October 24, 2018 in apocalypse, Culture & History, English Civil War, Featured Articles, henry viii, mother shipton, occult, poetry, predictions of the end of the world, propaganda, prophecies, prophecy, Religion, Myth & Legend, witch of york, witches

Said to be spawn of the devil himself and possessed with great powers of prophetic insight, Mother Shipton was Yorkshire's answer to Nostradamus. Ed Simon looks into how, regardless of whether this prophetess witch actually existed or not, the legend of Mother Shipton has wielded great power for centuries — from the turmoil of Tudor courts, through the frictions of civil war, to the spectre of Victorian apocalypse.

The Dancing Plague of 1518

- July 10, 2018 in Choreomania, Culture & History, dancing epidemic, dancing mania, dancing plague, ergotism, Paracelsus, psychic contagion, Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus's dance, Strasbourg

500 years ago this month, a strange mania seized the city of Strasbourg. Citizens by the hundreds became compelled to dance, seemingly for no reason — jigging trance-like for days, until unconsciousness or, in some cases, death. Ned Pennant-Rea on one of history's most bizarre events.

Early Modern Memes: The Reuse and Recycling of Woodcuts in 17th-Century English Popular Print

- June 6, 2018 in Art & Illustrations, ballads, Books, Culture & History, internet memes, meme culture, woodcuts

Expensive and laborious to produce, a single woodcut could be recycled to illustrate hundreds of different ballads, each new home imbuing the same image with often wildly diverse meanings. Katie Sisneros explores this interplay of repetition, context, and meaning, and how in it can be seen a parallel with the meme culture of today.