Plagues and empires

What can the decline of the Roman Empire and the end of European feudalism tell us about COVID-19 and the future of the West? John Rapley is a political economist at the University of Cambridge, as well as a senior fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study. His latest book is Twilight of the Money Gods: Economics as a Religion and How it all Went Wrong (2017). He lives in London and Johannesburg. Edited bySam Haselby Early in 2020, after a mysterious coronavirus emerged out of China and then raced across the globe, a quiet new year took a screeching turn. … Continue reading Plagues and empires

Exit the Fatherland

Shaking off Nazism was no simple matter: the work to create a plural and peacable Germany was prolonged and painful Helmut Walser Smith is the Martha Rivers Ingram Chair of History and professor of history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. His books include The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Antisemitism in a German Town (2002), The Continuities of German History: Nation, Religion, and Race across the Long 19th Century (2008) and Germany: A Nation in Its Time (2020). Edited by Sam Haselby After 12 years of fascism, six years of war, and the concentrated genocidal killing of the Holocaust, nationalism should have been thoroughly discredited. Yet it was not. … Continue reading Exit the Fatherland

800 years of rape culture

From The Taymouth Hours (Yates Thompson MS 13, folio 62r), 14th century. Courtesy the British Library Rape in the Middle Ages was seen as a routine part of women’s lives, even as it was condemned. How far have we really come? Carissa Harris is associate professor of English at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Obscene Pedagogies: Transgressive Talk and Sexual Education in Late Medieval Britain (2018). Edited by Pam Weintraub One of the most memorable lies about medieval rape appears early in Mel Gibson’s blockbuster film Braveheart (1995). As he ponders how to entice his English noblemen to live in Scotland, King Edward I declares that … Continue reading 800 years of rape culture

The road from Rome

The fall of the Roman Empire wasn’t a tragedy for civilisation. It was a lucky break for humanity as a whole Walter Scheidel is Dickason Professor in the Humanities, professor of Classics and history, and a Catherine R Kennedy and Daniel L Grossman fellow in human biology, all at Stanford University in California… Edited by Sam Dresser For an empire that collapsed more than 1,500 years ago, ancient Rome maintains a powerful presence. About 1 billion people speak languages derived from Latin; Roman law shapes modern norms; and Roman architecture has been widely imitated. Christianity, which the empire embraced in its sunset years, remains the … Continue reading The road from Rome

France is banning any short flight that can be replaced by a train trip

If you can get there within 180 minutes on the train, you won’t be able to fly. BY ADELE PETERS It takes around two hours to take a train from Paris to the city of Lyon. That train ride has a far smaller carbon footprint than flying between the cities—and now the French government plans to ban the flights, along with other short routes that take 2.5 hours or less by train, to shrink the country’s transportation emissions. Another proposal would have ditched all flights shorter than four hours than could have been replaced by train rides, but politicians compromised after … Continue reading France is banning any short flight that can be replaced by a train trip

It pays to be tolerant: Dutch national identity

“It’s not always about agreement, more often it’s about business.” by Kamil Bulak  The roots of Dutch tolerance run deep. Perhaps its sources are to be found in centuries old Calvinist prescriptions, according to which everyone has the right to interpret the Bible in their own way. Or maybe in the economy, since international trade necessitated respect for others. “According to our report, there is no such thing as Dutch national identity,” announced Máxima, Queen of the Netherlands, in 2007, which delighted some, outraged others, and left others still unimpressed. This expert report commissioned by the authorities was to establish … Continue reading It pays to be tolerant: Dutch national identity

Rich witches

How a flawed logic of economic scarcity and social climbing spurred witch hunts in early modern Germany Johannes Dillinger is professor of early modern history at Oxford Brookes University. He is the editor of The Routledge History of Witchcraft (2019) and the author of Magical Treasure Hunting in Europe and North America (2012), among others. Edited by Sam Dresser Margaretha Hönin had a bad reputation. Even though she lived in the late 16th century, we know that her neighbours, the people of Coburg in Thuringia, despised her for being a parvenu and a money-grabbing miser. Hönin was also said to be a witch who met regularly with a dragon. For … Continue reading Rich witches

Scientists Have Unlocked the Secrets of the Ancient ‘Antikythera Mechanism’

A digital model has revealed a complex planetarium on the ancient device’s face. “Unless it’s from outer space, we have to find a way in which the Greeks could have made it,” researchers say. By Becky Ferreira In the early 1900s, divers hunting for sponges off the coast of Antikythera, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, discovered a Roman-era shipwreck that contained an artifact destined to dramatically alter our understanding of the ancient world. Known as the Antikythera Mechanism, the object is a highly sophisticated astronomical calculator that dates back more than 2,000 years. Since its recovery from the shipwreck … Continue reading Scientists Have Unlocked the Secrets of the Ancient ‘Antikythera Mechanism’

Rousseau explained: What his philosophy means for us

The philosopher who praised a simple life and inspired the worst of the French Revolution. by Scotty Hendricks  Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss Enlightenment philosopher with some radical ideas. He argued passionately for democracy, equality, liberty, and supporting the common good by any means necessary. While his ideas may be utopian (or dystopian), they are thought-provoking and can inform modern discourse. Modern political debates often ask how much democracy we should have and what should, and should not, be subject to a vote. Whenever we discuss these issues, we stumble on the famously tricky philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who argued nearly … Continue reading Rousseau explained: What his philosophy means for us

The medieval childbirth guide: 6 tips for pregnant mothers in the Middle Ages

Having a baby in medieval Europe presented women with a set of acute challenges – and dangers. From what to drink while in labour to the best saints to beseech for a safe pregnancy, Elma Brenner offers six tips for those preparing for motherhood in the Middle Ages. by Dr Elma Brenner Call the midwife As labour pains kicked in, many medieval women leant on the expertise of experienced professionals Childbirth in the Middle Ages was a community effort. Family members, parish priests and local experts all lent a hand – and when midwives were called in to assist, they often worked in … Continue reading The medieval childbirth guide: 6 tips for pregnant mothers in the Middle Ages