From Cows to Covid: The Spooky Origins of Vaccines

Like many life-saving innovations in medicine, vaccination emerged long before we understood how it worked. BY BRENDAN BORRELL BACK IN THE 18TH century, it was a wonder how anyone ever survived a trip to the doctor. Many didn’t. England’s drug stores were stocked with bulls’ penises, frogs’ lungs, and powdered Egyptian mummy, which was evidently used against tuberculosis. Syphilis, known as the “Great Pox,” was treated with mercury. Never mind that it made you slobber and eventually go mad. The Scottish physician John Brown, the author of “Elementa Medicinae,” simply gave his patients roast beef, opium, and booze. Many people thought he … Continue reading From Cows to Covid: The Spooky Origins of Vaccines

The emancipated Empire

The British Empire was first built on slavery and then on the moral and economic self-confidence of antislavery by Padraic Scanlan is an assistant professor at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto, cross-appointed to the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies. He is also a research associate at the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University and the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Freedom’s Debtors (2017) and Slave Empire (2020) Britain ended its slave trade in 1807, and abolished slavery in much of its colonial empire in 1834. Four years later, Queen Victoria … Continue reading The emancipated Empire

Being Persian

To be Persian before nationalism was to belong to a generous, plural identity woven through language, kin and manners by Mana Kia is associate professor of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University in New York. She is the author of Persianate Selves (2020). Edited bySam Haselby At the end of the 19th century, under the looming shadow of European colonial encroachment, political and intellectual elites in Iran began to draw on nationalist forms of belonging as a way to unify the various ethnic and religious groups that lived within its territory. The nation was gaining ground at this … Continue reading Being Persian

Native Americans Are Not Who We Thought They Were, Study Finds

By James Felton A widely believed theory about the origins of Native Americans has been dealt a huge blow by a new genetic analysis of ancient teeth, implying the ancient inhabitants of what is now America were not who we thought they were. Based on this and analysis of their migration across the continent, it’s been suggested that Native Americans made their way across the northern rim of the Pacific Ocean, across the Bering Land Bridge – dry land that connected Siberia and Alaska during the last ice age – until they reached the northwest coast of North America. That much may still be true, … Continue reading Native Americans Are Not Who We Thought They Were, Study Finds

When hope is a hindrance

For Hannah Arendt, hope is a dangerous barrier to courageous action. In dark times, the miracle that saves the world is to act Samantha Rose Hill is a senior fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities and associate faculty at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and the University of the Underground. She is the author of Hannah Arendt (2021) and Hannah Arendt’s Poems (forthcoming 2022), and her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, LitHub, OpenDemocracy, Public Seminar, Contemporary Political Theory and Theory & Event. Edited by Nigel Warburton As Hannah Arendt and her husband Heinrich Blücher waited … Continue reading When hope is a hindrance

Creatures of the Popol Vuh

For the K’iche’ Mayans, animals were not lower beings but neighbours, alter egos and a way to communicate with the gods by Jessica Sequeirais a writer, literary translator, and editor of Firmament magazine published by Sublunary Editions. She is based at the Centre of Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge. Edited by Sam Haselby Animals are everywhere in the Popol Vuh. They leap and lick and crawl and bite and squawk and hoot and screech and howl. They are considered sacred, not as disembodied beings in some faraway place, but in their coexistence with humans, day by day … Continue reading Creatures of the Popol Vuh

Making a Living

The history of what we call work. By Aaron Benanav We have named the era of runaway climate change the “Anthropocene,” which tells you everything you need to know about how we understand our tragic nature. Human beings are apparently insatiable consuming machines; we are eating our way right through the biosphere. The term seems to suggest that the relentless expansion of the world economy, which the extraction and burning of fossil fuels has made possible, is hard-wired into our DNA. Seen from this perspective, attempting to reverse course on global warming is likely to be a fool’s errand. But is … Continue reading Making a Living

Inside the New Allen Ginsberg Photography Exhibit at Tibet House US

Transforming Minds: Kyabje Gelek Rimpoche and Friends features never-before-seen photos by the famous Beat poet By Alison Spiegel Ayear and a half into mask-wearing and social isolation, the new Allen Ginsberg photography exhibit at the Tibet House, Transforming Minds: Kyabje Gelek Rimpoche and Friends, is a welcome reminder of the power of friendship and human connection. Immediately disarming and full of emotion, the forty black-and-white photos, some of them never seen before, also remind viewers of the personal side of Tibetan Buddhism—that even a Buddhist lama considered to be one of the great teachers of our time and one of the last lamas … Continue reading Inside the New Allen Ginsberg Photography Exhibit at Tibet House US


Patients and psychiatrists at Saint-Alban in France fought against fascism side by side. What can we learn from them? by Ben Platts-Mills is a writer based in the UK. Between 2013 and 2016, he led Who Are You Now?, a life-writing project that published the stories of brain-injury survivors. His memoir Tell me the Planets was published in 2018. Edited by Sally Davies Over the course of the Second World War, approximately 45,000 psychiatric patients died of starvation and disease in France, imprisoned in hospitals that were supposed to care for them. In 1979, one psychiatrist was interviewed by a newspaper about what … Continue reading Asylum

September 28, 1951: Alan Turing, the World’s First Digital Music, and the Poetry of Possibility

A hoot, a hummingbird, and an electronic hymn for the modern world. BY MARIA POPOVA “All truth is comprised in music and mathematics,” Margaret Fuller wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century as she was changing the fabric of the time. Exactly one hundred years after her untimely death, another tragic hero of another century, whose mind would shape the epochs to come, united these twin truths in a single, rapturous force-field of possibility on the pages of a programming manual containing the first instructions for how to compose music on a computer — a foundational marriage of technos and tenderness. … Continue reading September 28, 1951: Alan Turing, the World’s First Digital Music, and the Poetry of Possibility