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. […]

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 […]

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 […]