Author: jhiblog

What We’re Reading: Week of 19th February


Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.



Heather Agyepong, “The Forgotten Story of the Women Behind the Black British Panthers,” (The Debrief)

Tina Cartwright, “Whodunnit to whom? A case for language preservation,” (overland)

Pierre Challier, “Patrick Weil, historien, <<Il faut des procédures communes avec nos voisins»” (

Pamela E. Klassen, “When Secularism Fails Women,” (Public Books)

Thania Sanchez, “More of the same? Human Rights in an Age of Inequality,” (LawfareBlog)



Online Forum: W.E.B. Du Bois @ 150” (Black Perspectives).

Greg Afinogenov, “Ice Age: Society as checkpoint” (N+1).

Hugo Drochon, “France’s Machiavellian Moment: Then and Now” (Tocqueville21).

Magali Della Sudda, “L’Europe des anti-genre” (Viedesidées).



Priya Satia, “Guns and the British Empire” (Aeon)

William Howarth, “Reading Thoreau at 200” (The American Scholar)

Walter Johnson, “To Remake the World: Slavery, Racial Capitalism, and Justice” (Boston Review)

Thomas Meaney, “A Celebrity Philosopher Explains the Populist Insurgency” (New Yorker)



Anna Deavere Smith, “Ghost Whisperers” (NYRB)

Regina Marler, “In the Cauldron at Midnight” (NYRB)

Oliver Moody, “The Oddness of Isaac Newton” (TLS)

Brian Cummings, “Naked Luther” (Marginalia)

Christopher Turner, “Cinematic Airs” (Cabinet)


By guest contributor Trish Ross

For the full companion article, see this Winter’s edition of the Journal of the History of Ideas.

“Human nature is the only science of man; and yet has been hitherto the most neglected.” Thus David Hume simultaneously lamented the past and hailed a bright future for the sciences humaines in the eighteenth century. Historians have, by and large, assumed the narrative eighteenth-century thinkers like Hume devised, tracing the development of the social sciences, and in particular, anthropology, to the Enlightenment and colonialism. (Popular pastiches like Steven Pinker’s purvey a whiggish knockoff of this narrative with little concern for precision and care.) But had the study of human nature really been neglected? If the study human nature was not ignored before the eighteenth century, and if it is the foundation of the human sciences, how might that change our historical narrative about the goals and the development of disciplines familiar to us?

Contrary to Hume’s claim, dozens of learned early modern humanists, physicians, theologians, and philosophers of all religious confessions produced a series of texts that show them laboring to study and understand what Hume charged past thinkers with disregarding: human nature. They often spoke explicitly of their topic as “natura humana.” Operating across what we retrospectively classify as distinct scientific, social scientific, and humanistic disciplines, they integrated empirical research and experimentation with intricate natural philosophy and complicated theologies in a wide-ranging attempt to understand human bodies and souls. Focusing on one of the names they gave their study is as revealing as the undertaking itself. They termed it “anthropologia.”


Magnus Hundt, Anthropologium (1501).

Long before the development of the eighteenth-century human sciences and before anthropology became a modern academic discipline, over thirty books appeared in Europe between 1500-1700 that include the word anthropologia in their titles, starting with the earliest so far identified: Magnus Hundt’s Anthropology, on the Dignity, Nature and Powers of a Human Being [and] the Elements, Parts, and Members of the Human Body (1501). Studying these texts and what their early modern authors meant by the term anthropologia requires suspending impulses anachronistically to read our own disciplinary divisions into the past. Yet doing so offers insight into the ways in which sixteenth- and seventeenth-century religious and philosophical debates intersected with scientific developments and, as time went on, with reports about new lands and peoples from beyond Europe to encourage the development of what would become the modern human sciences.

At first glance, the content of these works bears little resemblance to anthropology as we think of it. Sixteenth-century texts with the term covered everything from detailed anatomies to discussions of the soul inspired by the long tradition of commenting on Aristotle’s De anima to a humanist dialogue about gender to descriptions of the history and customs of peoples. Around the beginning of the seventeenth century, the term started to be used primarily to describe studies of the body (anatomy and physiognomy) and the soul (philosophical and theological anthropology). The German physician Johannes Magirus’s Anthropologia (1603), a fulsome commentary on the more famous Philip Melanchthon’s works on natural philosophy and the soul, was a turning point. After Magirus’s book appeared, anthropologia texts by philosophers, physicians, and theologians came off the presses in greater numbers. Thereafter anthropologia, as a multi-faceted study addressing the physical, religious, and moral aspects of human nature, provided grounds from which eighteenth-century (and later) human sciences developed.


James Drake, Anthropologia Nova (1707).

Anthropologia and its vernacular variants continued to be used in this way to denote the study of anatomy and the soul up to and even through the eighteenth century, such as in James Drake’s Anthropologia nova (1707). Out of this usage grew eighteenth-century French “anthropological medicine,” described by Stephen Gaukroger and Elizabeth Williams, with its focus on the body-soul nexus and its concern with moral questions and human nature.

Moreover, anthropologia developed out of and fortified a tendency to understand human bodies as disclosing moral or theological truths, as well as out of post-Reformation debates about the extent of sin’s effects on human souls and bodies. Some took this to what seem to us perhaps amusing extremes, such as the Lutheran theologian Christoph Irenaeus, who argued that sin is the reason defecation smells. In its study of bodies and souls with a view to understanding what they revealed about human nature, anthropologia was related to the flourishing early modern practice of physiognomy, widely tied by scholars to early theories of race and and social order. This search for truths about human nature, stripped of their inherited natural philosophical and theological roots, in turn encouraged the development of anthropology.


Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (1799)

Early modern “anthropologists” used this interest in the truths discernible from body and soul to ground arguments about natural law, and theories about the proper order of the world and differences between types of people on the study of bodies and souls. In this way, their longstanding interest in and study of human nature and souls eventually was combined with debates about the capacities of peoples encountered in the Americas and Asia, speculation about whether and how these people and Europeans descended from common ancestors, and widely popular travel literature to inform influential arguments about human nature and diversity as well as the first attempts to theorize race. This is the heart of the connection between anthropologia, natural law, and ethnography that developed among German intellectuals, leading up to Kant’s important lectures on anthropology. By 1808, the Englishman Thomas Jarrold utilized the term for a book on racial differentiation entitled, Anthropologia: or Dissertations on the Form and Colour of Man.

Notwithstanding Hume’s proud boast about founding the study of human nature, eighteenth-century studies of it grew out of a tradition of thought about it, summed up in words sometimes strikingly familiar to us today.  Intra-disciplinary divides between histories of the Enlightenment and nineteenth-century science on the one hand, and early modern natural philosophy, medicine, and religion on the other have hitherto obscured the way in which earlier studies bearing the name “anthropologia” evolved into later ones. Taking this early modern study seriously in (literally) its own terms highlights how questions raised by physicians, natural philosophers, and theologians in recondite and seemingly repetitive Latin treatises and disputations gave rise to a discipline that is more familiar to us in range and content. Though not coterminous with the later sciences humaines, recovering this earlier effort by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European scholars to understand human nature by drawing on religious and scientific thought can deepen our understanding of what shaped the development of the human sciences, including what their eighteenth-century successors rejected from the past and what they quietly retained. Anthropologia reveals how disciplines we use to study ourselves developed from an all-but-forgotten natural philosophical and religious discourse that was slowly secularized in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Trish Ross is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland, Australia.

What We’re Reading: Week of 12th February


For those who’ve already raced through the latest issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas and are still in need of intellectual history, here’s what our editorial board has been reading this week:


Some Valentine’s themed reading:

William Jankowiak, Shelly Volsche, and Justin R. Garcia, “The Half of the World That Doesn’t Make Out” (Sapiens)

A fiery debate for those interested in military strategy, links to oppositional pieces included:

Adam N. Weinstein, ““No, We Can’t Kill Our Way to Victory Despite What 2 Misguided Lieutenant Colonels Might Think” (Task & Purpose)

Franz-Stefan Gady, “Has the US Military Really Lost ‘The Art of Killing’?” (Diplomat)

Marina Koren, “What Color Is a Tennis Ball?” (Atlantic)



Carol J. Adams, “The Hamburger: An American Lyric” (The Paris Review)

Anton Martinho-Truswell, “To automate is human” (Aeon)

Jennifer Hassan, “Meet Cheddar Man” (Washington Post)

Lisa Bitel, “The ‘real’ St. Valentine was no patron of love” (The Conversation)



Hisham Aidi “L’anti-orientalisme ambigu de Juan Goytisolo” (Orient XXI).

Ibram X. Kendi “The Soul of W.E.B. Du Bois” (The Paris Review).

Adam Tooze, “Democracy’s Twenty-First-Century Histories” (AdamTooze).

Quinn Slobodian, “Neoliberalism’s Populist Bastards” (Public Seminar)



Francis Gooding, “Feathered, Furred or Coloured” (LRB)

Thomas Morris, “Circle of Life(TLS)

Amanda Dennis, “Life Writing(LARB)

Jason DeParle, “When Government Drew the Color Line” (NYRB)

Dan Piepenbring, “The Enthralling, Anxious World of Vladimir Nabokov’s Dreams(New Yorker)

JHI 79:1 Available

The latest issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 9 number 1, is now available in print, and online at Project Muse. The table of contents is as follows:


Tricia M. Ross, “Anthropologia: An (Almost) Forgotten Early Modern History,” 1–22

Albert Gootjes, “The First Orchestrated Attack on Spinoza: Johannes Melchioris and the Cartesian Network in Utrecht,” 23–43

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins and Kevin Brookes, “The Many Liberalisms of Serge Audier,” 45–63

Elías Palti, “Revising History: Introduction to the Symposium on the Bicentennial of the Latin American Revolutions of Independence,” 65–71

Jeremy Adelman, “Empires, Nations, and Revolutions,” 73–88

Francisco A. Ortega, “The Conceptual History of Independence and the Colonial Question in Spanish America,” 89–103

Gabriel Entin, “Catholic Republicanism: The Creation of the Spanish American Republics during Revolution,” 105–23

Elías Palti, “Beyond the ‘History of Ideas’: The Issue of the ‘Ideological Origins of the Revolutions of Independence’ Revisited,” 125–41

Federica Morelli, “Race, Wars, and Citizenship: Free People of Color in the Spanish American Independence,” 143–56

João Paulo Pimenta, “History of Concepts and the Historiography of the Independence of Brazil: A Preliminary Diagnosis,” 157–68

Journal authors are always encouraged to submit a blog post about their article—or anything else—to JHIBlog. And if you’re a reader of JHIBlog, why not consider subscribing to the Journal? Subscription information is available at the Penn Press website, including information about special rates for students.

What We’re Reading: Week of 5th February


Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.


David P. Goldman, “A Sea of Blood at the Met: Race theory, Aryan purity, and a Jewish purge in Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’” (Tablet)

Jia Tolentino, “The Mesmerizing Spectacle of North Korea’s “Army of Beauties” at the Winter Olympics” (New Yorker)

Don Piepenbring, “The Enthralling, Anxious World of Vladimir Nabokov’s Dreams” (New Yorker)

Ian Bostridge, “God’s Own Music” (NYRB)



Jill Lepore, “The Strange and Twisted Life of “Frankenstein,” (New Yorker)

Josephine Livingstone, “Losing the Twentieth Century,” (New Republic)

Andrew Rice, “The Fight to be a Muslim in America,” (Guardian Longreads)

Robert Wood, “On Guilty Pleasure: A Response to Reading Joyce Carol Oates,” (overland)



Amanda Giracca, ““Consider the Rooster” (Aeon)

Shaan Amin, “The Dark Side of the Comics That Redefined Hinduism” (The Atlantic)

Laura Spinney, “How the 1918 Flu Pandemic Revolutionized Public Health” (Smithsonian)



Terence Tiller, “Political Prisoner(TLS)

Ian Bostrige, “God’s Own Music(NYRB)

Caroline Crampton, “Caroline of Ansbach(New Statesman)

Allison C. Meier, “Illustrating Carnival(Public Domain Review)

Robert Cremins, “Ishiguro’s Orphans” (LARB)

What We’re Reading: Week of 29th January


Here are some pieces from around the internet that have caught the eyes of our editorial team this week:


Garbage, Genius, or Both? Three Ways of Looking at Infinite Jest” (LitHub)

Editors, “Debating the Uses and Abuses of ‘Neoliberalism’: Forum” (Dissent)

Sean Wilentz, “The High Table Liberal” (NYRB)

Karen Kelsky, “When will we stop elevating predators?” (Chronicle of Higher Education)



Nick Richardson, “Even What Doesn’t Happen is Epic” (LRB)

Frederic Raphael, “Aryan Ghetto of One” (TLS)

David Dabydeen, “From royal trumpeter to chief diver, Miranda Kaufmann uncovers the Africans of Tudor Britain” (New Statesman)

Mark A. Michelson and John Ryle, “Remembering Paul Robeson” (NYRB)

Alex Ross, “The Rediscovery of Florence Price” (New Yorker)

Bennett Gilbert, “The Dreams of an Inventor in 1420” (Public Domain Review)



Charlotte Higgins, “The Cult of Mary Beard,” (Guardian)

Cressida Leyshon, “Jhumpa Lahiri on Writing in Italian,” (New Yorker)

Erik Moshe, “What I’m Reading: An Interview with Historian Ashley D. Farmer,” (History News Network)

Susan Pedersen, “One-Man Ministry,” (LRB)



Bridget Minamore, “Black Men Walking: a hilly hike through 500 years of black British history” (The Guardian)

Gavin Walker and Ken Kawashima, “Surplus Alongside Excess: Uno Kōzō, Imperialism, and the Theory of Crisis” (Viewpoint Magazine)

What We’re Reading: Week of 22nd January.

The Orange Book

The Orange Book by Allen Tucker. Undated oil on canvas.

Here are a few pieces that have caught the attention of our editorial team this week:


Andy Beckett, “Post-Work: The Radical Idea of a World Without Jobs,” (Guardian)

Alison Croggan, “Now The Sky is Empty,” (overland)

Richard Eldridge, “What Was Liberal Education?” (LARB)

Julie Philipps, “The Subversive Imagination of Ursuala K. Le Guin,” (New Yorker)



Martin Puchner, “The Technological Shift Behind the World’s First Novel” (The Atlantic)

Robert Bird, “Gateless Fortress” (TLS)

Michael Prodger, “The Cavalier Collection” (New Statesman)

Morten Høi Jensen, “Darwin on Endless Trial,” (LARB)

Simon Callow, “The Emperor Robeson” (NYRB)



Kathryn Schulz, “The Lost Giant of American Literature” (New Yorker)

Charlotte Gordon, “Mary Shelley: Abandoned by her creator and rejected by society” (LitHub)

Savannah Marquardt, “The Nashville Parthenon Glorifies Ancient Greece — and the Confederacy” (Eidolon)

Lisa Bitel, “What a medieval love saga says about modern-day sexual harassment” (The Conversation)



Maximillian Alvarez, “The Year History Died” (The Baffler)

D.J. Fraser, “I Swear to Be Your Citizen Artist” (Canadian Art)

Jack Halberstam, “Towards a Trans* Feminism” (Boston Review)

Margarita Rosa, “Du’as of the Enslaved: The Malê Slave Rebellion in Bahía, Brazil” (Yaqeen Institute)



Shuja Haider, “Postmodernism Did Not Take Place” (Viewpoint).

Daniel Rodgers, Julia Ott, Mike Konczal, NDB Connolly, Timothy Shenk, Forum on Rodgers and ‘Neoliberalism.’ (Dissent).

Colette Shade, “How to Build a Segregated City” (Splinter).

David Shaftel, “All Good Magazines Go to Heaven” (NYTStyle).



What We’re Reading: Week of 15th January.


Girl Reading by Georgios Jakobides c. 1882.

Here are a few pieces that have caught the attention of our editorial team this week:


Brandon M. Terry, “MLK Now” (Boston Review)

Teresa Kroeger et al., “The state of graduate student employee unions” (Economic Policy Institute)

Lewis Lapham, “The Enchanted Loom” (Lapham’s Quarterly)



A Strategy for Ruination: An Interview with China Miéville” (Boston Review)

Gavin Francis, “The Untreatable” (LRB)

James A. Marcum, “The Revolutionary Ideas of Thomas Kuhn” (TLS)

George Prochnik, “The Hasidic Question” (LARB)

Zac Bronson, “Thinking Weirdly with China Miéville” (LARB)



Neil Davidson, “History from Below,” (Jacobin)

Colin Kidd, “You Know Who You Are,” (LRB)

Angela Naimou, “Preface,” (Humanity)

Neil Roberts, “Black Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Race: Paul C. Taylor,” (Black Perspectives)



Billy-Ray Belcourt, “Settler Structures of Bad Feeling” (Canadian Art)

Max Read, “The Awl and The Hairpin’s Best Stories, Remembered By Their Writers” (New York Magazine) (including “Negroni Season”, “Text Messages from a Ghost” and “When Alan Met Ayn: Atlas Shrugged and Our Tanked Economy”  

Doreen St. Félix, “Trump’s Fixation on Haiti, and the Abiding Fear of Black Self-Determination” (The New Yorker)



From where I sit, I can watch the lights on the FDR, curving ribbons of white and red, flowing slow as molasses. I can also watch the planes take off from LaGuardia, small blips of light tracing diagonals against the night sky. The FDR is, according to Wikipedia, a “9.44-mile (15.19 km) freeway-standard parkway on the east side of the New York City borough of Manhattan.” Besides cute 3-letter acronyms, the FDR and LGA have something else in common–Robert Moses. It was Moses who provided the original designs for the FDR (in 1934), and it was also Moses who determined that there would be no train or subway service to LGA airport.

In his obituary of Moses, Paul Goldberger wrote, “His guiding hand made New York, known as a city of mass transit, also the nation’s first city for the automobile age. […] The Moses vision of New York was less one of neighborhoods and brownstones than one of soaring towers, open parks, highways and beaches – not the sidewalks of New York but the American dream of the open road. “ And that is why, if you’ve travelled to Manhattan via LGA, your experience of entering (or exiting) the city usually involves considerable time on the FDR.

Of course, we know where this story goes, and most of us are familiar with the Jane Jacobs critique. (And perhaps also with the critiques of the Jane Jacobs critique… Though, as Adam Gopnik noted, it is hard to criticize her.)

In the same essay, Gopnik observes: “London, Paris, New York, and Rome—whose political organizations and histories are radically unlike, and which live under regimes with decidedly different attitudes toward the state and toward enterprise—have followed an eerily similar arc during the past twenty-five years. After decades in which cities decline, the arrow turns around. The moneyed classes drive the middle classes from their neighborhoods, and then the middle classes, or their children, drive the working classes from theirs.”

New York was a different city in the midst of that decline. It created the conditions for the production of entirely new types of art–among them, the abandoned buildings that Gordon Matta-Clark carved into “urban equivalent[s] of Land Art.” Matta-Clark is now the subject of a retrospective at the Bronx Museum, a fact that underscores Gopnik’s point about the rising arc. In the 1970s, when New York was deep in its decline, Matta-Clark began thinking about using the city’s derelict buildings as a medium for his art. His first act of “anarchitecture” was to cut holes into the walls and floors of abandoned Bronx apartments. A short film, “Day’s End,” documents the artist creating a “sun and water temple” out of an abandoned pier near Gansevoort Street.

A line of descent runs from Matta-Clark to Rachel Whiteread, whose cast-concrete “House” (1993, destroyed 1994) was also a comment on the conditions of the city–though the city, in this case, was London, and the “conditions” in question were those that Gopnik might ascribe to the upward arc, the arrow turning around. Or we might call it gentrification. “House” was a cast of a specific London house, one located at 193 Grove Road, in an part of the East End called Wennington Green. A piece by Digby Warde-Aldam, published on the tenth anniversary of “House,” ruefully noted: “To say the early 1990s were a time of upheaval for the then-predominantly working class neighbourhoods of the East End doesn’t come close; the Conservative government had put an enormous amount of faith into constructing a new financial centre around Canary Wharf, a few miles south of Wennington Green. In the surrounding areas, ‘regeneration’ became a mantra. The terraces around the Green, heavily bombed during the Second World War, were among the first places marked for demolition: ‘Thatcher wanted to create a “green corridor” around Canary Wharf’, Rachel Whiteread says, ‘I had my studio nearby and used to cycle past. I was very conscious of the fact it was all about to change’.”

Whiteread, too, is getting a major retrospective. Her work can be undeniably beautiful, as the Tate’s installation of Untitled (One Hundred Spaces, 1995) demonstrates. One hundred cast resin volumes, each delineating the volume of space beneath a specific chair, carefully arrayed in a austere, neoclassical space. They look, to me, like so many pieces of pate de fruit, laid out against a backdrop of clean, neutral stone. Eleanor Birne described their effect beautifully: “At the Tate, when the sun comes out over the long glass roof of the gallery, the coloured blocks glow like boiled sweets, or like jewels. When the sun goes in they grow duller, mute. I visited on a bright sunny-cloudy day and they lit up and grew dim over and over again.”

If Matta-Clark was born of the city’s decline, Whiteread is undoubtedly a product of the upward arc. No deconstruction here. In the new city, the city awash in wealth, we create cast relics, we ‘mummify the air.’ We relish the thingness of things, their taste, their touch. One could eat Whiteread’s Due Porte (2016), with their hard candy sheen, ingesting both their beauty and the history imprinted in that translucent blue resin. The city changes, yes, but we can hold onto history here. We can almost taste it in our mouths.


What We’re Reading: Week of January 8.



Reading the Scriptures by Thomas Waterman Wood, 1874.

Here are a few of the pieces the team at the JHI blog have been reading over the last week:


“The World in Time”: Interview with Eric Foner (Lapham’s Quarterly)

Anton Jaeger, “The Myth of Populism” (Jacobin)

Richard Holmes, “Out of Control” (NYRB)

Irvine Loudon, “A brief history of homeopathy” (JRSM)



Branko Milanovic, “What these early-2oth-century scholars got right” (Vox)

Eleanor Robertson, “Intersectional Identity and the Path to Progress” (Meanjin)

Nathan Robinson, “Orders from above” (Current Affairs)

Michelle Wolff, “Symposium: Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life” (syndicate)



Zoë Carpenter, “If We Lose Our Healthcare, We Will Begin to Die” (The Nation)

Moira Donegan, “My Name Is Moira Donegan” (The Cut)

Joan W. Scott, “How The Right Weaponized Free Speech” (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Anthony Oliveira, “The Year in Apocalypses” (Hazlitt)



Melinda Cooper, “Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism”

Polygon’s Year In Review, especially Charles Yu on Universal Paperclips (play the game, too)

My friend Ilan Moscovitz’s series on AI: (parts one, two, three and four) (The Motley Fool)



Ayelet Wenger, “Hokhmat Nashim” (The Lehrhaus)

Andrew Butterfield, “Divine Lust” (NYRB)

Marcel Theroux, “The post-truth Gospel” (TLS)

Brook Wilensky-Lanford, “Jonas Bendikson: Among the Messiahs” (Guernica)

Michael Valinsky, “To and from the Linguistic Shore of Ismail Kadare’s ‘A Girl in Exile’” (LARB)



Bryan A. Banks and Erica Johnson, “Religion and the French Revolution: A Global Perspective,” (Age of Revolutions)

Julie Green, “Movable Empire,” (Jacobin)

Jennifer Anne Hart, “The Crown Goes to Ghana? Media Representation, Global Politics and African Histories,” (Ghana on the Go)


If you are anything like me, you are probably still writing 2017 when you actually mean 2018. I spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day moving, so I had precious little time to make New Year’s resolutions. Still, that didn’t stop me from considering how I might improve myself over the course of these next 52 weeks. Or are there now only 50 left? I guess that gives me 2 less weeks to improve myself to death. Alexandra Schwartz’s piece will have you alternately making — and unmaking — resolutions. Maybe just take her suggestion and just go read a novel. In any case, I should probably refrain from buying either self-improvement manuals or novels for quite some time, as the act of unpacking my library has left me exhausted. If only I could find my copy of Illuminations, I could read Walter Benjamin’s “Unpacking My Library.”

Note that Benjamin never wrote an essay on unpacking his wardrobe. But clothes, like books, are repositories for memories. Fashion’s ability to conjure worlds out of memories is used to great effect in a trio of recent movies–Lady Bird, I, Tonya, and Call Me By Your Name. Lady Bird’s director Greta Gerwig told Sam Levy, the film’s director of photography, that she wanted the movie to “look like a memory.” In an interview with Vanity Fair, Levy, Lady Bird’s costume designer April Napier and production designer Chris Jones discuss how they achieved this aesthetic. (An unexpected source of inspiration: Lise Sarfati’s portraits of young women.) Giulia Persanti had a very different approach to the costume design for Call Me By Your Name. Unlike the pointed specificity of Lady Bird’s costumes, Persanti’s costumes were only loosely anchored in the film’s time period (1980s Italy). In an interview with British Vogue, Persanti said, “My main focus was to make a period film in which the costumes didn’t stand out as too ‘period-y’. More important was to send a clear message of the personality and origins of each character, choosing to give a casual, timeless, intimate style with a hint of inhibited adolescent sexuality.” I, Tonya has a very different relationship with clothing and memory. Jennifer Jones, the costume designer for I, Tonya, wanted to avoid saddling her characters with excessive nostalgia or kitsch. Jones discusses her approach in interviews with Entertainment Weekly and Deadline. Jones also wanted to avoid creating a caricature Tonya. Here, the clothes help open up the audience’s understanding of each character’s psychological development. We knew Tonya–and the people around her–primarily as tabloid and tv fodder. Jones hoped her costumes would restore some measure of their humanity, the humanity denied them when they were mocked, reviled–and played for laughs.





What We’re Reading: Week of 1 January.


The Reader by Eduard Manet, 1861.

Happy New Year! Here are a few pieces that the JHI blog team have been reading over the holiday season.


Adam Hochschild, “Ku Klux Klambakes” (NYRB)

Robin D.G. Kelley, “Coates and West in Jackson” (Boston Review)

Randall Kenney, “The Forgotten Origins of the Constitution on Campus” (American Prospect)


Andrew Lanham, “How to Abolish War,” (New Republic)

Patricia Lockwood, “It Was Gold,” (LRB)

Rachel Shteir, “No Longer Getting Lost at the Strand,” (New Yorker)



Bo Seo, “The Preservation of a Mother Tongue” (TLS)

Christine Jones, “Pods, Pots, and Potions” (Public Domain Review)

Rowan Williams, “The Good Samaritan” (New Statesman)

Shaan Amin, “The Dark Side of the Comics That Redefined Hinduism” (The Atlantic)



B.D. McClay “Reconciliation through Beauty?” (Commonweal)

S.J. Pearce “The Nazi on my Bookshelf.” (Meshalim 2.0)

Susan Sontag “On Classical Pornography (1964, audio)” (92Y Plus)