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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Feuding impresarios, a white-but-not-white-enough elephant, and racist ads for soap — Ross Bullen on how a bizarre episode in circus history became an unlikely forum for discussing 19th-century theories of race, and inadvertently laid bare the ideological constructions at their heart.
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.
Jon Crabb on the witch craze of early modern Europe, and how the concurrent rise of the mass-produced woodcut helped forge the archetype of the broom-riding crone — complete with cauldron and cats — so familiar today.
Donald S. Lopez, Jr. looks at Voltaire’s early reflections on Buddhism and how, in his desire to separate the Buddha’s teachings from the trappings of religion, the French Enlightenment thinker prefigured an approach now familiar in the West.
Dominic Janes explores how with this new figure — and the scandalous sodomy trials with which the stereotype became entwined — a widespread discussion of same-sex desire first entered the public realm, long before the days of Oscar Wilde.
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.
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.
Hot on the heels of the French revolution — by way of extravagant orgies, obscure taxonomies, and lemonade seas — Charles Fourier offered up his blueprint for a socialist utopia, and in the process also one of the most influential early critiques of capitalism. Dominic Pettman explores Fourier’s radical, bizarre, and often astonishingly modern ideas, and how they might guide us in our own troubled times.
Most familiar today as the godfather of Realpolitik and as the eponym for all things cunning and devious, the Renaissance thinker Niccolò Machiavelli also had a lighter side, writing as he did a number of comedies.
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.
The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which sees its 150th anniversary this year, remains to this day an enigmatic figure.