The History List: Secular Nativities, Medieval Culinary Culture & More

A round-up of some things we've enjoyed reading over the past week

Presepe (nativity scenes) in the Via San Gregorio ArmenoA round-up of some things we've enjoyed reading over the past week 

  • 'It’s certainly tricky to reconcile the holiness of the Nativity with the strange humour and gritty realism of the presepe – whose stock types include a breastfeeding woman and a man shown defecating on the floor': the centuries-old Neapolitan tradition of the presepe anticipates today’s secular (and celebrity-filled) nativity scenes. (The Conversation)
  • Ÿ The Paris Commune seized power for two months in 1871. 'It made various feints at self-organization, and offered statements of purpose that still seem prophetically advanced - particularly the boldly feminist ones. It also insulted the clergy and the few remaining rich people, and committed mostly disorganized acts of looting and reprisal against its ancient political enemies'. Adam Gopnik on “one of the four great traumas to have shaped modern France”. (The New Yorker)
  • Vladimir Nabokov famously cited a caged chimp at the Jardin des Plantes as the inspiration for his most famous novel Lolita, but the real-life abduction of 11-year-old Sally Horner in 1948 bears striking similarities with the book’s plot, a fact not noticed until 50 years after its publication. Sarah Weiner on the 'five-cent notebook' that 'irrevocably changed the course of 20th-century literature'. (Hazlitt Magazine)
  • 'Medieval foods were anything but drab and tasteless. The homes of the well-to-do were a constant display of numerous dishes, heavily spiced and often presented in visually exciting ways. The belief that medieval diners were akin to savages ripping apart meat with their teeth or bare hands, could not be more inaccurate': in defence of medieval culinary culture. (

Rhys Griffiths is Publishing Assistant at History Today.