Miscellanies

Miscellanies is History Today's free weekly long read. Every Wednesday, we publish a specially commissioned essay or long read from our archive. The subject? History. As the name suggests, we can’t be more specific…

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The career of Tunisian singer Habiba Messika was cut tragically short in 1930. Her murder devastated her fans, but in its aftermath her records spread across the French-occupied Maghreb, fanning the flames of insurgent nationalism.

Still life with flowers, Hans Gillisz. Bollongier, 1639.

Historians have overplayed the extent of the moral, social and economic impact of the 17th-century craze for trading tulip bulbs. The original Dutch sources reveal a much more subtle cultural turning point behind its collapse in 1637.

Edward Everett.

Best known for being upstaged by Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address, Edward Everett was also the first American to receive a PhD and a classicist who became an unlikely spokesperson for Greek revolutionaries.

Eilean Donan Castle. Photo: David C. Weinczok

Built as tangible symbols of repression and control, by the 18th century castles were more likely to be invaded by tourists than soldiers. When castles lost their military function, the crowds arrived, looking for history that was not there.

Saint-Just in a portrait by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, 1793. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon / Bridgeman Images

Young, idealistic and prone to violence, Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just embodied the spirit of the French Revolution. He was devoured by the Terror he helped unleash.

Despite advances in technology, the fledgling music industry had a problem: it could not mass-produce records. For a brief period, every recording committed to wax was unique, forcing labels to find creative ways of meeting demand.

Hitler and Goebbels on the set of Barcarole, 1935.

Nazi art never caught on, its architecture was unbuilt or destroyed, but its films were shot and seen by millions. The German dictator was a keen believer in the power of cinema and used it to spread the ideology of his murderous regime.

New universities sprung up across medieval Europe at a rapid rate, yet at the start of the 19th century, England had only two: Oxford and Cambridge. For centuries, England’s two oldest institutions enjoyed a strict duopoly on higher learning, enforced by law. Why were they allowed to?

Christie's Auction Rooms, from 'The Microcosm of London', published by Rudolph Ackermann, 1808.

Auctions, presided over by charismatic storytelling showmen, became social events in the 18th century, where middle-class Georgians could pick over the possessions of the dead and see close up the tactile relics of celebrity.

Prester John enthroned on a map of East Africa. Detail from 16th century atlas.

For five centuries the legend of a Christian priest king, in Asia or in Africa, sustained the hopes of Europeans in their struggle with Islam. Those who joined the search for Prester John were looking for a man who was not there.