The Mediterranean and the Atlantic

David Abulafia | Published 07 February 2018
The explosion in the study of both Mediterranean and Atlantic history, not to mention the history of other seas and oceans, has left one important issue unresolved. What is the relationship between the bodies of water that flow into one another? The links between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic have been largely neglected. Barry Cunliffe’s latest addition to his beautiful collection of volumes about early Europe and the seas around it is, therefore, very welcome. Even if it reprises themes from earlier books, notably his Facing the Ocean , the extension of his argument into the Mediterranean enables him to...Read more »
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The Invention of the Flapper

Tanya Cheadle | Published 16 January 2018
The flapper continues to exert a powerful hold on our collective imagination. A symbol of decadence, ebullience and cynicism, she signifies at once the character of a decade – the 1920s – and the rebellion of a gender. Her genesis is often assumed to be the material deprivations and emotional disruptions of the First World War. Yet, as Linda Simon argues in this deftly written and meticulously researched cultural and experiential history, the flapper had a longer, complex and far more troubled evolution. For Simon, the flapper’s story begins in 1890s Britain and America. This is justified both etymologically –...Read more »
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The Rise of the Flesh-Avoiders

An English translation of the essay De esu carnium, written by the first-century Greek philosopher Plutarch, was published in 1603. Translated by Philemon Holland, the text was given the title ‘Whether it be lawfull to eate flesh or no’ and opens with a bang:

The Antikythera Mechanism

Andrew Robinson | Published 08 September 2017
Everyone has heard of the Rosetta Stone. Not so familiar, but equally compelling, is a purely Greek artefact of the same period found in a first-century BC shipwreck chanced upon by sponge divers off the coast of Antikythera, an island between Crete and the Peloponnese. It triggered the first underwater archaeological excavation in 1901. The Antikythera Mechanism comprises more than 30 precisely cut bronze gear wheels, dials and pointers held in a wooden box the size of a phone book, with a damaged inscription indicating that they formed a model of the ‘cosmos’ (the Greek word appears in the inscription)...Read more »
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The Savage Punishment of Siberian Exile

Paul Dukes | Published 01 June 2017
When the Scottish explorer John Dundas Cochrane visited the town of Tobolsk in the early 1820s, he found ‘very good society … and the strongest features of content … in this hitherto supposed metropolis of barbarism and cruelty’. But few others walking through Siberia in the 19th century would have shared this view, since the majority of them were convicts shackled and poorly fed and more likely to agree with Dostoevsky that they were in ‘The House of the Dead’. In this welcome book, Daniel Beer follows in the path of others but brings to the subject a new view...Read more »
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The Wolf Must Be in the Woods

In the popular imagination, early medieval England was a wild place populated by packs of ravenous wolves, devouring people and livestock. The image is at odds with modern research into wolf biology and wolves were extinct in England by the time of Henry VII. With a programme of wolf reintroduction proposed for the UK, it is time to look back at the history of attitudes to wolves from when written accounts began, in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Tim Flight | Published 31 May 2017
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Published in
Volume 67 Issue 6 June 2017

The Stamp Act

A tax on Britain's American colonies was introduced on 22 March 1765.

'O! the Fatal Stamp': a response to the Stamp Act published in the Pennsylvania Journal, 1765.
'O! the Fatal Stamp': a response to the Stamp Act published in the Pennsylvania Journal, 1765.

The act never went properly into effect, but it had greater consequences than many which did. Passed through Parliament against little opposition and signed into law by George III, the Stamp Act imposed on the British colonies in North America a tax on printed documents, including legal papers, contracts, bills of sale, licenses, wills, ships' papers, advertisements, newspapers and magazines. Books were not affected, but playing cards and dice were. The items had to carry revenue stamps, sent from Britain. The act was to come into effect from the beginning of November and the money would pay for troops stationed in the colonies to defend them against attack.

The Man Who Invented Pi

In 1706 a little-known mathematics teacher named William Jones first used a symbol to represent the platonic concept of pi, an ideal that in numerical terms can be approached, but never reached.

William Jones, mathematician from Wales, 1740
William Jones, mathematician from Wales, 1740

The history of the constant ratio of the circumference to the diameter of any circle is as old as man's desire to measure; whereas the symbol for this ratio known today as π (pi) dates from the early 18th century. Before this the ratio had been awkwardly referred to in medieval Latin as: quantitas in quam cum multiflicetur diameter, proveniet circumferencia (the quantity which, when the diameter is multiplied by it, yields the circumference).

It is widely believed that the great Swiss-born mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-83) introduced the symbol π into common use. In fact it was first used in print in its modern sense in 1706 a year before Euler's birth by a self-taught mathematics teacher William Jones (1675-1749) in his second book Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos, or A New Introduction to the Mathematics based on his teaching notes.