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Darwin’s Polar Bear Feb 21, 2018 Science Musings upon the whys and wherefores of polar bears, particularly in relation to their forest-dwelling cousins, played an important but often overlooked role in the development of evolutionary theory. Michael Engelhard explores. The Dreams of an Inventor in 1420 Jan 24, 2018 Science & Art Bennett Gilbert peruses the sketchbook of 15th-century engineer Johannes de Fontana, a catalogue of designs for a variety of fantastic and often impossible inventions, including fire-breathing automatons, pulley-powered angels, and the earliest surviving drawing of a magic lantern device. Pods, Pots, and Potions: Putting Cacao to Paper in Early Modern Europe Dec 7, 2017 Science & Art & History Christine Jones explores the different ways the cacao tree has been depicted through history — from 16th-century codices to 18th-century botanicals — and what this changing iconography reveals about cacao’s journey into European culture. Master of Disaster, Ignatius Donnelly Sep 27, 2017 Books & Literature & Science & Religion The destruction of Atlantis, cataclysmic comets, and a Manhattan tower made entirely from concrete and corpse — Carl Abbott on the life and work of a Minnesotan writer, and failed politician, with a mind primed for catastrophe. Human Forms in Nature: Ernst Haeckel’s Trip to South Asia and Its Aftermath Sep 13, 2017 Science & Art An early promoter and populariser of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, the German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel was a hugely influential figure of the late 19th century. Bernd Brunner looks at how a trip to Sri Lanka sowed the seeds for not only Haeckel’s majestic illustrations from his Art Forms in Nature, for which he is perhaps best known today, but also his disturbing ideas on race and eugenics. W. B. O’Shaughnessy and the Introduction of Cannabis to Modern Western Medicine Apr 19, 2017 Science Cataleptic trances, enormous appetites, and giggling fits aside, W. B. O’Shaughnessy’s investigations at a Calcutta hospital into the potential of medical marijuana — the first such trials in modern medicine — were largely positive. Sujaan Mukherjee explores the intricacies of this pioneering research and what it can tell us more generally about the production of knowledge in colonial science. Lofty Only in Sound: Crossed Wires and Community in 19th-Century Dreams Apr 5, 2017 Poems & Science & History Alicia Puglionesi explores a curious case of supposed dream telepathy at the end of the US Civil War, in which old ideas about the prophetic nature of dreaming collided with loss, longing, and new possibilities of communication at a distance. The Many Lives of the Medieval Wound Man Dec 7, 2016 Science & Art Sliced, stabbed, punctured, bleeding, harassed on all sides by various weaponry, the curious image of Wound Man is a rare yet intriguing presence in the world of medieval and early modern medical manuscripts. Jack Hartnell explores this enigmatic figure’s journey through the centuries. “Let us Calculate!”: Leibniz, Llull, and the Computational Imagination Nov 10, 2016 Science & Philosophy & History Three hundred years after the death of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and seven hundred years after the death of Ramon Llull, Jonathan Gray looks at how their early visions of computation and the “combinatorial art” speak to our own age of data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. Visions of Algae in Eighteenth-Century Botany Sep 7, 2016 Science Although not normally considered the most glamorous of Mother Nature’s offerings, algae has found itself at the heart of many a key moment in the last few hundred years of botanical science. Ryan Feigenbaum traces the surprising history of one particular species — Conferva fontinalis — from the vials of Joseph Priestley’s laboratory to its possible role as inspiration for Shelley’s Frankenstein. Copying Pictures, Evidencing Evolution May 18, 2016 Science Copying — unoriginal, dull, and derivative by definition — can be creative, contested, and consequential in its effects. Nick Hopwood tracks Haeckel’s embryos, some of the most controversial pictures in the history of science, and explores how copying put them among the most widely seen. Frolicsome Engines: The Long Prehistory of Artificial Intelligence May 4, 2016 Science Defecating ducks, talking busts, and mechanised Christs — Jessica Riskin on the wonderful history of automata, machines built to mimic the processes of intelligent life. The Anthropometric Detective and His Racial Clues Feb 24, 2016 Science Ava Kofman explores how the spectre of race, in particular Francis Galton’s disturbing theory of eugenics, haunts the early history of fingerprint technology. Worlds Without End Dec 9, 2015 Science & Religion At the end of the 19th century, inspired by radical advances in technology, physicists asserted the reality of invisible worlds — an idea through which they sought to address not only psychic phenomena such as telepathy, but also spiritual questions around the soul and immortality. Philip Ball explores this fascinating history, and how in this turn to the unseen in the face of mystery there exists a parallel to quantum physics today. The Science of Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Nov 25, 2015 Books & Science Professor Sharon Ruston surveys the scientific background to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, considering contemporary investigations into resuscitation, galvanism, and the possibility of states between life and death. Notes on the Fourth Dimension Oct 28, 2015 Books & Science & Philosophy Hyperspace, ghosts, and colourful cubes — Jon Crabb on the work of Charles Howard Hinton and the cultural history of higher dimensions. Richard Spruce and the Trials of Victorian Bryology Oct 14, 2015 Science Obsessed with the smallest and seemingly least exciting of plants — mosses and liverworts — the 19th-century botanist Richard Spruce never achieved the fame of his more popularist contemporaries. Elaine Ayers explores the work of this unsung hero of Victorian plant science and how his complexities echoed the very subject of his study. Bad Air: Pollution, Sin, and Science Fiction in William Delisle Hay’s The Doom of the Great City (1880) Sep 30, 2015 Books & Literature & Science Deadly fogs, moralistic diatribes, debunked medical theory — Brett Beasley explores a piece of Victorian science fiction considered to be the first modern tale of urban apocalypse. Dr Mitchill and the Mathematical Tetrodon Sep 16, 2015 Science One of the early Republic’s great polymaths, New Yorker Samuel L. Mitchill was a man with a finger in many a pie, including medicine, science, natural history, and politics. Dr Kevin Dann argues that Mitchill’s peculiar brand of curiosity can best be seen in his study of fish and the attention he gives one seemingly unassuming specimen. When the Birds and the Bees Were Not Enough: Aristotle’s Masterpiece Aug 19, 2015 Books & Science Mary Fissell on how a wildly popular sex manual — first published in 17th-century London and reprinted in hundreds of subsequent editions — both taught and titillated through the early modern period and beyond. Cat Pianos, Sound-Houses, and Other Imaginary Musical Instruments Jul 15, 2015 Music & Science & History Deirdre Loughridge and Thomas Patteson, curators of the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments, explore the wonderful history of made-up musical contraptions, including a piano comprised of yelping cats and Francis Bacon’s 17th-century vision of experimental sound manipulation. Black on Black Apr 9, 2015 Books & Painting & Science & Philosophy Should we consider black a colour, the absence of colour, or a suspension of vision produced by a deprivation of light? Beginning with Robert Fludd’s attempt to picture nothingness, Eugene Thacker reflects* on some of the ways in which blackness has been used and thought about through the history of art and philosophical thought. Sex and Science in Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora Mar 11, 2015 Books & Poems & Painting & Science & Art Bridal beds, blushing captives, and swollen trunks – Carl Linnaeus’ taxonomy of plants heralded a whole new era in 18th-century Europe of plants being spoken of in sexualised terms. Martin Kemp explores* how this association between the floral and erotic reached its visual zenith in Robert Thornton’s exquisitely illustrated Temple of Flora. Neanderthals in 3D: L’Homme de La Chapelle Feb 11, 2015 Books & Photography & Science More than just a favourite of Victorian home entertainment, the stereoscope and the 3D images it created were also used in the field of science. Lydia Pyne explores how the French palaeontologist Marcellin Boule utilised the device in his groundbreaking monograph analysing one of the early-20th-century’s most significant archaeological discoveries – the Neanderthal skeleton of La Chapelle. When Chocolate was Medicine: Colmenero, Wadsworth, and Dufour Jan 28, 2015 Science & History Chocolate has not always been the common confectionary we experience today. When it first arrived from the Americas into Europe in the 17th century it was a rare and mysterious substance, thought more of as a drug than as a food. Christine Jones traces the history and literature of its reception. Julia Pastrana: A “Monster to the Whole World” Nov 26, 2014 Science & History Julia Pastrana, a woman from Mexico born with hypertrichosis, became one of the most famous human curiosities of the 19th century, exhibited the world over as a “bearded lady” while both alive and dead. Bess Lovejoy explores her story and how it was only in 2013, 153 years after her passing, that she was finally laid to rest. Illustrations of Madness: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom Nov 12, 2014 Science & Art & History Mike Jay recounts the tragic story of James Tilly Matthews, a former peace activist of the Napoleonic Wars who was confined to London’s notorious Bedlam asylum in 1797 for believing that his mind was under the control of the “Air Loom” – a terrifying machine whose mesmeric rays and mysterious gases were brainwashing politicians and plunging Europe into revolution, terror, and war. Redressing the Balance: Levinus Vincent’s Wonder Theatre of Nature Aug 20, 2014 Science & Art Bert van de Roemer explores the curiosity cabinet of the Dutch collector Levinus Vincent and how the aesthetic drive behind his meticulous ordering of the contents was in essence religious, an attempt to emphasise the wonder of God’s creations by restoring the natural world to its prelapsarian harmony. “O, Excellent Air Bag”: Humphry Davy and Nitrous Oxide Aug 6, 2014 Science The summer of 1799 saw a new fad take hold in one remarkable circle of British society: the inhalation of “Laughing Gas”. The overseer and pioneer of these experiments was a young Humphry Davy, future President of the Royal Society. Mike Jay explores how Davy’s extreme and near-fatal regime of self-experimentation with the gas not only marked a new era in the history of science but a turn toward the philosophical and literary romanticism of the century to come. The Naturalist and the Neurologist: On Charles Darwin and James Crichton-Browne May 28, 2014 Photography & Science Stassa Edwards explores Charles Darwin’s photography collection, which includes almost forty portraits of mental patients given to him by the neurologist James Crichton-Browne. The study of these photographs, and the related correspondence between the two men, would prove instrumental in the development of The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Darwin’s book on the evolution of emotions. Frederik Ruysch: The Artist of Death Mar 5, 2014 Science & Art Luuc Kooijmans explores the work of Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch, known for his remarkable ‘still life’ displays which blurred the boundary between scientific preservation and vanitas art. The Founding Fathers v. The Climate Change Skeptics Feb 19, 2014 Science When claims from Europe accused British America of being inferior on account of its colder weather, Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Founding Fathers responded with patriotic zeal that their settlement was actually causing the climate to warm. Raphael Calel explores how, in contrast to today’s common association of the U.S. with climate change skepticism, it was a very different story in the 18th century. Olaus Magnus’ Sea Serpent Feb 5, 2014 Painting & Science & Art The terrifying Great Norway Serpent, or Sea Orm, is the most famous of the many influential sea monsters depicted and described by 16th-century ecclesiastic, cartographer, and historian Olaus Magnus. Joseph Nigg, author of Sea Monsters, explores the iconic and literary legacy of the controversial serpent from its beginnings in the medieval imagination to modern cryptozoology. Writing his Life through the Other: The Anthropology of Malinowski Jan 22, 2014 Science & History Last year saw the works of Bronislaw Malinowski – father of modern anthropology – enter the public domain in many countries around the world. Michael W. Young explores the personal crisis plaguing the Polish-born anthropologist at the end of his first major stint of ethnographic immersion in the Trobriand Islands, a period of self-doubt glimpsed through entries in his diary – the most infamous, most nakedly honest document in the annals of social anthropology. Alfred Russel Wallace: a Heretic’s Heretic Oct 30, 2013 Science & Religion On the centenary of his death, Michael A. Flannery looks back at how Alfred Russel Wallace’s take on evolution, which radically reintroduced notions of purpose and design, still speaks to us in a post-Darwin world where problems of sentience and of the origin of life remain, some would argue, as intractable as ever. Proving it: The American Provers’ Union documents certain ill effects Sep 4, 2013 Science What would induce physicians to ingest mercury to the point of vomiting and to painstakingly note down the effects of imbibing large amounts of cannabis tincture? Alicia Puglionesi explores the history of “proving”, the practice of auto-experimentation which forms the cornerstone of homeopathic medicine. Re-examining ‘the Elephant Man’ Jul 24, 2013 Science & History Nadja Durbach questions the extent to which Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, was exploited during his time in a Victorian ‘freakshow’, and asks if it wasn’t perhaps the medical establishment, often seen as his saviour, who really took advantage of Merrick and his condition. As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy May 1, 2013 Books & Science & Philosophy In 1621 Robert Burton first published his masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy, a vast feat of scholarship examining in encyclopaedic detail that most enigmatic of maladies. Noga Arikha explores the book, said to be the favorite of both Samuel Johnson and Keats, and places it within the context of the humoural theory so popular at the time. Vesalius and the Body Metaphor Apr 18, 2013 Books & Science & History City streets, a winepress, pulleys, spinning tops, a ray fish, curdled milk: just a few of the many images used by 16th century anatomist Andreas Vesalius to explain the workings of the human body in his seminal work De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Marri Lynn explores. Joseph Banks: Portraits of a Placid Elephant Apr 4, 2013 Painting & Science & Art & History Patricia Fara traces the changing iconography of Joseph Banks, the English botanist who travelled on Captain Cook’s first great voyage and went on to become President of the Royal Society and important patron for a whole host of significant developments in the natural sciences. Mary Toft and Her Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbits Mar 20, 2013 Science & History & Events In late 1726 much of Britain was caught up in the curious case of Mary Toft, a woman from Surrey who claimed that she had given birth to a litter of rabbits. Niki Russell tells of the events of an elaborate 18th century hoax which had King George I’s own court physicians fooled. Athanasius, Underground Nov 1, 2012 Books & Science & Art & History With his enormous range of scholarly pursuits the 17th-century polymath Athanasius Kircher has been hailed as the last Renaissance man and “the master of hundred arts”. John Glassie looks at one of Kircher’s great masterworks Mundus Subterraneus and how it was inspired by a subterranean adventure Kircher himself made into the bowl of Vesuvius. The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden Sep 6, 2012 Books & Science & Philosophy & Religion Of all the attempts throughout history to geographically locate the Garden of Eden one of the most compelling was that set out by minister and president of Boston University, William F. Warren. Brook Wilensky-Lanford looks at the ideas of the man who, in his book Paradise Found, proposed the home of all humanity to be at the North Pole. The Krakatoa Sunsets May 28, 2012 Poems & Literature & Science & Art & History When a volcano erupted on a small island in Indonesia in 1883, the evening skies of the world glowed for months with strange colours. Richard Hamblyn explores a little-known series of letters that the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins sent in to the journal Nature describing the phenomenon – letters that would constitute the majority of the small handful of writings published while he was alive. The Mysteries of Nature and Art Nov 28, 2011 Books & Science & Art Julie Gardham, Senior Assistant Librarian at University of Glasgow’s Special Collections Department, takes a look at the book that was said to have spurred a young Isaac Newton onto the scientific path, The Mysteries of Nature and Art by John Bate. Aspiring to a Higher Plane Sep 19, 2011 Books & Literature & Science & Philosophy In 1884 Edwin Abbott Abbott published Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, the first ever book that could be described as ‘mathematical fiction’. Ian Stewart, author of Flatterland and The Annotated Flatland, introduces the strange tale of the geometric adventures of A. Square. Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine Sep 13, 2011 Books & Science & Philosophy & Art & Religion Between 1617 and 1621 the English physician and polymath Robert Fludd published his masterwork Utriusque Cosmi, a book split into two volumes and packed with over 60 intricate engravings. Urszula Szulakowska explores the philosophical and theological ideas behind the extraordinary images found in the second part of the work. Accuracy and Elegance in Cheselden’s Osteographia (1733) Aug 22, 2011 Books & Science & Art With its novel vignettes and its use of a camera obscura in the production of the plates, William Cheselden’s Osteographia, is recognized as a landmark in the history of anatomical illustration. Monique Kornell looks at its unique blend of accuracy and elegance. American Kaleidoscope: Morton Prince and the Boston Revolution in Psychotherapy Aug 5, 2011 Books & Science & Philosophy In 1906 the American physician and neurologist Morton Henry Prince published his remarkable monograph The Dissociation of a Personality in which he details the condition of ‘Sally Beauchamp’, America’s first famous multiple-personality case. George Prochnik discusses the life and thought of the man Freud called “an unimaginable ass”. Was Charles Darwin an Atheist? Jun 28, 2011 Science & History & Religion Leading Darwin expert and founder of Darwin Online, John van Wyhe, challenges the popular assumption that Darwin’s theory of evolution corresponded with a loss of religious belief. John Muir’s Literary Science Jun 9, 2011 Books & Literature & Science The writings of the Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir are known for their scientific acumen as well as for their rhapsodic flights. Terry Gifford, author of Reconnecting with John Muir, explores Muir’s multifaceted engagement with ‘God’s big show’. The Life and Work of Nehemiah Grew Mar 1, 2011 Books & Science & Philosophy & Art & History In the 82 illustrated plates included in his 1680 book The Anatomy of Plants, the English botanist Nehemiah Grew revealed for the first time the inner structure and function of plants in all their splendorous intricacy. Brian Garret explores how Grew’s pioneering “mechanist” vision in relation to the floral world paved the way for the science of plant anatomy. The Snowflake Man of Vermont Feb 14, 2011 Photography & Science & Art Keith C. Heidorn takes a look at the life and work of Wilson Bentley, a self-educated farmer from a small American town who, by combining a bellows camera with a microscope, managed to photograph the dizzyingly intricate and diverse structures of the snow crystal. Ernst Haeckel and the Unity of Culture Jan 24, 2011 Science & Philosophy & Art & Religion In addition to describing and naming thousands of new species the German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel was behind some of history’s most impressive meetings of science and art. Dr Mario A. Di Gregorio explores Haeckel’s unique idea of “monism” which lies behind the mesmerising illustrations of his most famous work, Kunstformen Der Natur.