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Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey

The closest we armchair travellers normally get to the olfactory sensation of walking through the globe’s most fragrant souks is opening the doors of our spice cupboards. The bottles may be sealed shut but the aroma of their contents —cardamom and cumin, cinnamon and saffron, turmeric and vanilla — wafts towards our nostrils and for a brief moment we are not in our kitchens but strolling through the spice markets of Arabia, Asia or Africa.Read more »
More articles by Gary Paul Nabhan

Though we share a common humanity with people of the past, their world can seem alien to us, says Mathew Lyons. Was it just as disconcerting for them, too?

David Gentilcore describes responses to a hideous epidemic that affected the rural poor of northern Italy, from the mid-18th century until the First World War, the cause of which is attributed to a diet dependent on maize.

Peasants toiling over a maize crop in 'September Sun' by Giovanni Muzzioli, c.1886. Getty/Da AgostiniIn March 1814 a London-based periodical called the Pamphleteer published the ‘Narrative of the Cruxifixion of Mattio Lovat, Executed by his Own Hands at Venice’. It took the form of a startling medical case-history of religious mania, as written by a Venetian surgeon, Cesar Ruggieri. The protagonist, Lovat, was a pious young shoemaker from a small village in the Dolomite mountains around Belluno. Lovat’s ambition to become a priest had been thwarted because of his family’s wretched condition. He became ill ‘subject in the spring to giddiness in his head, and eruptions of a leprous appearance showed themselves on his face and hands’. The first sign of insanity appeared in July 1802, when Lovat, perhaps feeling the ‘stirrings of the flesh against the spirit’, ‘performed upon himself the most complete general amputation’– a castration – throwing ‘the parts of which he had deprived himself from his window into the street’. 

Manhattan was taken on September 8th, 1664.

A plan of New Amsterdam, 1661New York City started its glittering history in a modest way as the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. The story begins in 1609 when Henry Hudson, an English sea captain working for Dutch merchants, was trying to find a north-west passage to Asia. Exploring along the Atlantic seaboard of North America, he came to the island of Manhattan and then sailed north for 150 miles or so up the river later named after him. Returning to Europe, he reported that there was a good prospect of profitable trading in furs there and in 1614 the Dutch established a trading post called Fort Nassau, later Fort Orange, near today’s city of Albany. 

Historians gathered at Warwick this summer to celebrate the contribution of Christopher Andrew.

Doyen of espionage historians: Christopher AndrewWhen did the study of secret intelligence become a recognised field for historians? The consensus at a conference held at Warwick University in July was 1984, with the publication of The Missing Dimension: Governments and Intelligence Communities in the Twentieth Century by Professor Christopher Andrew and his colleague David Dilks.

The occasion was a festschrift and cohors amicorum for Andrew, the doyen of espionage historians. It brought together former students and intelligence officers to mull over the pros and cons of throwing light on secret operations.

Arguably the wall of secrecy surrounding intelligence had been breached a decade earlier – in 1974 – when a former RAF officer, F.W. Winterbotham, published The Ultra Secret, the first book to provide a detailed, if flawed, account of the breaking of German Enigma codes at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Its appearance soon led to a reappraisal of many aspects of that conflict, such as the Battle of the Atlantic. 

The Politics of Spanish Inquisitors

From 1478 a new ‘Inquisition’ against Christian ‘heresy’ spread throughout Spain and its overseas possessions in Europe (Sicily) and America. It would last until the 19th century and acquire a reputation for almost totalitarian cruelty, but was attacked at the time by Spain’s enemies and by lovers of religious liberty. In recent decades it has been the object of a vast amount of historical work by scholars from various countries.Read more »
More articles by John Edwards

Disgust, or Deathly Terror? Ghost Pranks Past and Present

A graveyard in Abney Park, north LondonRecently Anthony Stallard, 24, was fined for 'pretending to be a ghost… in a cemetery' in Portsmouth. It seems fair to assume that the witnesses, who reported a group 'engaging in rowdy behaviour and one of them throwing their arms in the air and saying "woooooo"', after an evening’s drinking, found the imitation more distasteful than terrifying. And it also seems reasonable to imagine that, had Stallard been alone, and cloaked in a white sheet for his imitation, few people would have been frightened by the sight. By contrast, throughout the 19th century, most people believed in ghosts. And when somebody decided to imitate one, a white sheet and some dark shadows were sometimes quite enough to frighten their victim to death.

More articles by Richard Sugg
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