Daily Life as a Slave

Below are some vivid paintings and engravings of enslaved peoples in the colonial Americas compiled by Professor Jerome S. Handler (his personal site) and Michael L. Tuite, Jr. in a joint project funded by the University of Virginia and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Contextual details for these images are scarce, but the pictures …

Image of the Week: The Defeat of the Spanish Armada

This painting, by an anonymous English artist, depicts in remarkable detail the Spanish Armada‘s confrontation with English vessels, probably at the momentous Battle of Gravelines. From Wikipedia:          English losses stood at 50-100 dead and 400 wounded, and none of their ships had been sunk. But after the victory, typhus, dysentery and hunger killed many …

The Baron and the ‘Savages’: Lahontan in North America

An early French edition of Lahontan’s travelogue. I’ve spent the last week in UT Austin’s Harry Ransom Center reading a book that was once sensationally famous but has since fallen into obscurity: the Baron de Lahontan’s Nouveux Voyages dans L’Amerique Septentrionale, published in English as New Voyages to North America (London, 1703). After reading less …

The Domestic Life of Alchemists

Philadelphia’s Chemical Heritage Foundation maintains a wonderful Flickr page of images relating to the history of chemistry, pharmacy and alchemy. While perusing their image banks, I came across this collection of 17th and 18th-century paintings of alchemists practicing their occult art — paintings which include some revealing glimpses into the private life of those who …

Cabinets of Curiosities in the Seventeenth Century

“There is no man alone, because every man is a Microcosm, and carries the whole world about him… There is all Africa, and her prodigies in us.”– Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, 1642 Early modern Europeans envisioned their own bodies as miniature worlds which echoed God’s Creation in every detail. And in the expansionist, acquisitive …

The Baroque Monsters of Father Schott

In Portuguese, barroco means “imperfect pearl”: a fitting name for the Baroque era, a period that combined ornate beauty with a distinct taste for the odd, macabre and irregular. This interplay between the beautiful and the monstrous — and its connections to the rise of the “New Science” in the second half of the seventeenth …

Early Victorian Ambrotypes

I had never heard of the ambrotype (from the Greek for “immortal impression”) photographic process until quite recently, but it seems to have been a very popular medium in the middle decades of the nineteenth century — cheaper than the more famous daguerrotype, and with a level of pictorial detail and richness of tone that …

Fun with Google’s New "Ngram Viewer"

News of Google Book’s new Ngram Viewer, which allows one to make a graph of the printed usage of any word over time, has been making the rounds on the internet for the last couple days. The advanced technology that makes this massive database possible has even spawned an upcoming article in the journal Science …

"It is an error to suppose that lions do not approach a fire": Observations of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier

 “It is the custom of the Dutch to send parties from time to time to explore the country, and those who go furthest are best rewarded. A number of soldiers went in a party with a sergeant who commanded them, and advanced far into the country, where they made a large fire at midnight, both …