Below you’ll find around 100 blog posts written between 2009 and the present. The bulk of them are imported from my blog Res Obscura, which is loosely themed around globalization, drugs, medicine and science, and intercultural exchanges in the early modern period. It also has a strong focus on visual culture and art history and has […]

Meiji Meth: the Deep History of Illicit Drugs

Robert Hooke, the short-tempered genius who discovered cells, was also the author of the first academic paper on cannabis. In the fall of 1689, Hooke ducked into a London coffee shop to purchase the drug from an East Indies merchant, and proceeded to test it on an unnamed “Patient.” It was evidently a large dose. […]

Hybrid Atlantics

Future Directions for the History of the Atlantic World Between 1584 and 1590, the painter and colonist John White produced an extraordinary series of watercolors depicting the peoples, plants, and animals he encountered in the West Indies and Virginia. In 2007–2008, some seventy of these images toured the world as part of a traveling British Museum exhibition. Yet […]

In the Garden of Forking Paths

The Appendix, Appendixed How do we order what we’ve learned of the world? In 1941, Borges imagined a “Library of Babel” that contained every book that could possibly exist: histories of the future, “autobiographies of archangels,” lost gnostic gospels, “the treatise Bede could have written (but did not)” even “the true story of your death.” […]

Calypso’s Island

A Short History of the Apocalypse How does one survive an apocalypse, let alone remember it? Who writes the history of the end of the world? At the time of its destruction four thousand years ago, Ur was the largest city in the world. Indeed, up to that point, it was the largest city to […]

"Why Does ‘S’ Look Like ‘F’?": A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Early Modern Texts

Last month, I came across a recently digitized book from 1680 with the innocuous-sounding title The School of Venus. After browsing it for a few moments, however, I realized I’d stumbled onto something truly interesting. It was a sex manual, and a rather free-spirited one at that, as the frontispiece engraving suggests: It occurred to […]

Medicinal Cannibalism

As the picture above hints, substances like human fat or powdered mummy were once so common that hundreds or perhaps even thousands of antique ceramic jars purpose-built to contain them still exist in antique shops, museums and private collections. This is no secret, but it remains more or less the domain of specialists in early […]

Early Modern Drugs and Medicinal Cannibalism

18th century container for medicinal mummy, Germany. Image via Wikimedia Commons. This is the first Res Obscura post after another rather lengthy break, but I plan to start updating more regularly in the new year. I’ve cannibalized portions of this post from a piece I wrote for the new online journal I helped co-found, The Appendix, […]

Cabinets of Curiosity

The Web as Wunderkammer “We moderns tend to associate boxes and cabinets with the mundane. They hold a single type of item. They order and sort. They serve as metaphors for the banal, the ordinary, the pedestrian. Our public figures frequently endeavor to “think outside” them and occasionally offer to blow them up. Yet imagine a […]

Tempora Mutantur

Narrative and Experimental History On a brisk April morning two years ago, I followed winding medieval streets to the Edinburgh University Library, an imposing concrete slab that houses some of the rarest and oldest books in Scotland. I was there to consult a set of letters between two 17th century natural philosophers and physicians, Sir Hans Sloane and Sir […]