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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Said to have ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, Helen of Troy has been remembered, judged – and hated – by every age since she entered the written record 2,700 years ago. With great beauty comes great resentment. 

Marching through the Atacama during the War of the Pacific, one Chilean general opined that his troops had fought ‘more against the desert than against men’. For those soldiers, the desert became a hell on earth.

In Nazi Germany, a number of female doctors and nurses worked at Ravensbrück concentration camp, where medical treatment was replaced by negligence, experimentation and violence. What led these women to take jobs there?

In the 19th century, American theatres provided the stage for a war between high and low culture, the elite and ‘Know-Nothings’ – and Britain and the US. In 1849, events turned bloody.

A woman swimming in the sea in Margate, Kent, Thomas Rowlandson, c.1800.

For 1,500 years, Western Europe ‘forgot’ how to swim, retreating from the water in terror. The return to swimming is a lesser-known triumph of the Enlightenment.

Like a herald of lost Atlantis, Gregor MacGregor arrived in 19th-century London with news of a Central American utopia. Unfortunately, Poyais didn’t exist and its would-be emigrants found only a ‘sinister coast of disillusion’.

The exotic dead animals that appeared in the menageries of Victorian Britain’s grand exhibitions were far from perfect specimens. Stuffed, stitched, painted hybrids – accuracy was not a priority.

Britain’s ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures has caused controversy since they were first brought to London in the early 1800s. Keen to keep the Greeks onside, the debate became highly charged during the Second World War.

Timsah Arena, Bursa.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party has consolidated its power with relentless construction projects, pursued at the expense of Turkey’s cosmopolitan heritage. The country’s historic football stadiums are among the collateral.

In medieval Ireland divorce, contraception and abortions were readily available. The country’s recent political and cultural changes take it much closer to its pre-modern past.