The Reading Subject: New Directions in Bibliography and Critical Hermeneutics

By guest contributor Barbara Heritage

Reading—how we read, what we read, and where we read—has attracted a great deal of attention during the last decade. From the pages of The New York Times to those of specialized scholarly journals, we find all kinds of attacks, defenses, statistics, insights, proposals, and agendas pertaining to the reading subject—often in connection to advances in digital technology and the legitimation crisis in the humanities. Amidst these conversations, the dual practices of reading and literary critique have been called into question within departments of English and comparative literature as academics (re)assess their engagement with hermeneutics. What does it mean, for instance, to conduct “close reading” as opposed to so-called “surface reading” or “distant reading”?

In 2014, literary theorist Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht went so far as to claim that “we quite literally do not know anymore, and do not know yet, what ‘reading’ exactly is for those whom we are teaching how to read” (101). In her recent study, The Limits of Critique, Rita Felski points to a similar failure: “Given the surge of interest in the questions of reading—close and distant, deep and surface—the neglect of the hermeneutic tradition in Anglo-American literary theory is a little short of scandalous” (33). Drawing upon her own teaching experiences, Felski writes: “What else could we teach our students besides critical reading? The bemusement likely to greet such a question speaks to the entrenched nature of a scholarly habitus […] yet there comes a point when many [students]—especially those who do not see themselves as professors in the making—turn away. They do so, I believe, not because of any inherent distaste for theory but because the theories they encounter are so excruciatingly tongue-tied about why literary texts matter” (“After Suspicion,” Profession 8, 29–30).

Looking to identify alternative interpretative methods for understanding the history of reading, greater numbers of theorists seem to be engaging with the field of book history. Both Gumbrecht and Felski, for instance, have gestured to the scholarship of book historians Roger Chartier and Janice Radway, whose research seems to suggest fresh possibilities for inquiry into the way that reading practices have been shaped over time, and in various social circumstances. Yet bibliography—the sibling discipline of book history—has not fared so well in discussions about postcritical reading.

Bibliography, broadly conceived, is the study of the materials and processes involved in the production and transmission of “books,” whether they be manuscript, printed, or digital. The descriptive nature of bibliographical analysis would seem to suggest a viable alternative for those who seek different approaches for understanding the social lives of texts. (Indeed, one of the most widely read works of bibliographical scholarship is D. F. McKenzie’s Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts.) Yet the field tends to be overlooked, ignored, or misunderstood among theorists, in large part owing to a long-running rift between bibliography and literary interpretation that dates back to New Criticism.

In her widely read essay, “Close but not Deep: Literary Ethics and the Descriptive Turn,” theorist Heather Love rightly points out bibliography’s overall “disengagement with critical hermeneutics” (382). Although Love’s assessment is accurate, it is also one-sided—assuming that neither critical hermeneutics nor literary theory have any need to engage meaningfully with bibliography. Love’s critique thus continues to enact that same disengagement that it reproaches. Meanwhile, bibliographers themselves have, in the past, been more than disengaged from literary criticism—some have been openly hostile toward it. In 1957, Fredson Bowers began his Sandars Lectures (later published as Textual & Literary Criticism by Cambridge University Press in 1966), as follows: “The relation of bibliographical and textual investigation to literary criticism is a thorny subject, not from the point of view of bibliography but from the point of view of literary criticism” (1). This mutual antagonism persisted through the 1970s until the early 80s, when Jerome McGann and D. F. McKenzie each worked, with some success, toward establishing a rapprochement between the two. Meanwhile, Terry Belanger established Rare Book School at Columbia University, and there was the founding of the Society for Textual Scholarship, followed a decade later by the founding of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing, which formed in 1991. More recently, in 2012 and with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Rare Book School’s current director, Michael F. Suarez, S.J., began developing critical bibliography so as to combine hermeneutic and bibliographical methods.

Much progress continues to be made in these areas. Yet the gap between bibliography and critique threatens to persist. If we return to the same article cited above, Love characterizes analytical bibliography and studies on book production, distribution, and consumption as “new methods” or “new sociologies of literature” that “distance themselves from texts and from practices of reading altogether” (373). Such practices, according to Love, “rely on a complete renunciation of the text (to focus, for instance, on books as objects or commodities)” (375). Bibliographers, according to Love, do not engage at all with the written content of the books that they study. This would, I believe, reflect a mainstream view of bibliography still held by many academics. For this reason, we should take a closer look at Love’s analysis.

First, some attention to historiography is needed. Practiced throughout the twentieth century, analytical bibliography is by no means a “new method,” nor has it ever been disconnected from textual criticism. Indeed, bibliography was practiced throughout the twentieth century chiefly in service of scholarly textual editing.

Because Love’s study neglects the history of bibliography as it has developed over the long term, her analysis merely reinscribes those same divisions that book historians and bibliographers have worked so sedulously to overcome. This calls attention to a second, and perhaps more important, point: clearly, “the text” that Love is describing has been conceived of as something very much apart from what bibliographers and textual editors study. How can those who work within the same discipline (English literature) hold such different opinions as to what constitutes a basic “text”? It’s my sense that, as a scholarly community, we cannot constructively proceed in our discussions of reading without exploring this question more closely together.

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The 1847 Smith, Elder edition of Jane Eyre (Image from Sotheby’s)

Usually it seems to be the case that, when theorists speak of “the text,” they are indicating words alone, without reference to their textual condition—that “laced network of linguistic and bibliographical codes” (to borrow McGann’s phrase) that may, or may not, be shaped, to varying degrees, by author, publisher, printer, editor, bookbinder, or graphic designer. Most critics are less concerned with how a reader approaches, say, the Smith, Elder edition of Jane Eyre as opposed to the Penguin Jane Eyre, than they are with Jane’s narrative address to the reader. In contrast, bibliographers and textual editors speak of texts and, as needed, draw on their own terminology to specify the various versions that they encounter—for example, using specialized terms such as printing, issue, state, and variant. And so, to respond to Love’s point, bibliographers are actually very much concerned with reading practices—but with a focus on the actual, historical copies of books being read. For every “text” generally referred to by a theorist, a bibliographer finds versions of texts, whose contents and forms are always changing, inflecting our various readings of that work.

The question of what constitutes a “text” is not only central to critique; it is also becoming increasingly important as humanists and librarians alike reexamine the landscape of print and digital publication. How many versions of a work do we need for our teaching and research? If so, in what forms, and to what end? In the past, scholars working on the history of reading—Kate Flint, for example—have been more interested in the “rhetoric of reading practices” rather than the actual habits of readers (viz. The Woman Reader, 1837-1914, 73). Should we also be documenting and analyzing the markings made by common readers in books, as Andrew Stauffer, Kara McClurken, and others have begun to do with the University of Virginia’s “Book Traces” project—or as Erin Schreiner and Matthew Bright have accomplished with their City Readers project at the New York Society Library? Resources such as these would seem to provide hospitable bridges connecting both the teaching and research of those theorists, bibliographers, and book historians who contemplate reading practices. The reception of projects like these will certainly influence the future shape of our libraries and classrooms—and also possibly the nature of interpretation itself.

Barbara Heritage is the Associate Director and Curator of Collections at Rare Book School, University of Virginia. She serves as Secretary of the Bibliographical Society of America. She received her PhD in English literature after completing her dissertation, Brontë and the Bookmakers: Jane Eyre in the Nineteenth-Century Literary Marketplace.

Aldo Leopold and the History of Environmental Ideas

By guest contributor Daniel Rinn

Aldo-LeopoldThere seems to be a dualism at work in the way intellectual historians think about the history of environmental thought. The history of environmental ethics is presented as a continuous conflict between two competing systems, anthropocentrism and ecocentrism — the former suggesting the environment only enters ethical judgements on the basis of its use-value for humans and the latter suggesting that all non-human life (and the environment generally) has inherent value. As Peter Hay has argued, the evolution of environmental ethics in the US has been unsteady, with explosive growth in this field in the 1960’s and 1970’s fueled by the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. Carson’s important book encouraged ethicists to consider the role of the environment in questions about justice.

The rise of environmental ethics as a field in philosophy since the publication of Silent Spring is significant for it has shaped the history of ideas. Much of the new environmentalism, whether of academic philosophers or activists in general, has focused on the anthropocentric/ecocentric debate. As a result, historians have read this basic dualism back into the past, placing thinkers like John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Aldo Leopold in one camp or another. This anthropocentric/ecocentric understanding of American environmental thought appears in the influential work of Roderick Nash and Donald Worster.

Nash’s books, Wilderness and the American Mind (1967) and The Rights of Nature (1989) show the slow development of an intellectual revolution in the United States. Nash argues that the history of environmental thought has been defined by a slow transition from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. Early Americans closely tied wilderness to wildness, evil, and the dangerous, unpredictable characteristics of human action. Pioneers viewed wilderness as an obstacle to civilization, something to be conquered in westward expansion. As the frontier closed, it became evident, and distressing to some, that wilderness could permanently disappear. Writers like Muir celebrated nature and raised questions about the inherent value of the environment.

Muir’s ideas received a lot of attention during the Hetch Hetchy debate in the early twentieth century — an event that revealed the fissures in American ideas about environmental ethics. On one side, Gifford Pinchot and others supported building a dam in the Hetch Hetchy valley of Yosemite National Park, a project that would provide water for the population of San Francisco. On the other side of the debate stood Muir and a growing “wilderness cult.” For Nash, Hetch Hetchy inspired a national debate and is evidence of the slow transition from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism among environmentalists. Such a response would have been impossible during the pioneer stage of American history, when the environment was viewed as an impediment to civilization — building a dam in these circumstances would have been clear evidence of progress (as it was for Gifford Pinchot).

This central tension regarding civilization and wilderness would encourage the development of an ecological consciousness among a growing number of theorists in the 20th century, among them Aldo Leopold. Leopold’s training as a scientist and forester taught him to approach wilderness from the perspective of management for human use. However, his outlook also appeared to bring together both the logic of the scientist as well as the aesthetic sensibility of the romantic. He assembled a powerful defense of the case for preservation at a time when many Americans were becoming more receptive to the ecological impulse. At times, it even appeared as though he wanted to articulate something akin to the Gaia hypothesis, which holds that the natural world was a super-organism of which humans were merely a small part. According to Nash, there is a lack of clarity regarding Leopold’s justification for his environmental ethics. Did the environment have rights which entailed human responsibilities? Or was preservation built strictly on a human-centered view of the aesthetic pleasures the natural world could afford? In other words, was Leopold’s an anthropocentric or ecocentric environmental vision?

A similar tension appears in the work of Donald Worster whose Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (1977) suggests environmental thought has been caught between the two poles of arcadian and imperial ecology. Stepping outside the US, he begins with Gilbert White, a figure whose conflicting accounts of ecology illustrate the division between two competing views of the environment. White embodied the ideal of the arcadian scientist, a researcher who lived in deep appreciation of the natural environment. White’s writings catalogue life in Selborne, a pastoral dream that was free of the disruptions of industrialization that would later rock England. His work served as a source of inspiration for a later generation of nature essayists such as John Burroughs and John Muir. These writers wanted to formulate an arcadian science that would build on the idea of holism—a belief that the natural world was integrated and indivisible.

Worster regards Francis Bacon as a key example of the imperial variety of ecology. Departing from the humility of the arcadian ecologist, Bacon’s scientist relied on a crass instrumentalism, actively manipulating the natural environment. The purpose of scientific work was to dominate and control nature. The imperial view of Bacon surfaced in the work of Swedish botanist Linnaeus. Worster writes, “According to Linnaeus, man must vigorously pursue his assigned work of utilizing his fellow species to his own advantage. This responsibility must extend to eliminating the undesirables and multiplying those that are useful to him” (36).

The tension between arcadian and imperial ecology would continue to shape environmental thought well into the 20th century. Similar to Nash, Worster argues that Aldo Leopold was caught in an uncertain position between imperial and arcadian ecology. Using Leopold as an example of a larger trend in American intellectual history, Worster charts his transition from a Progressive Era-style instrumentalism to an arcadian form of ecology. Leopold would finally articulate a rights-based justification for protecting all members of the ecosystem.

Both Nash and Worster frame the history of American environmental ideas in a narrative about the competing aims of anthropocentrism and ecocentrism. Under this rubric, Aldo Leopold plays a transitional role in their accounts. For both historians, Leopold’s thought is laden with tension between anthropocentrism and ecocentrism; his intellectual trajectory seems to mark a larger change in environmental ethics as ideas move from a form of utilitarianism to an early ecological outlook. It might be more helpful, however, to step away from these categories and consider how a figure like Leopold simply explodes this binary. Leopold was neither anthropocentric nor ecocentric. His thought was indeed murky, but this is not evidence of a tension between two radically different environmental ethics.

Leopold was consistently concerned with the biotic community, with how humans interact with the non-human world. Although he seemed to hold both an instrumentalist and Gaia-like view of nature, this does not mean his thought was conflicted. His form of instrumentalism did not suggest that the environment served instrumental functions, nor did he believe the human was indistinguishable from the non-human world. Instead he believed we can never predict how our actions will change circumstances in the long run, we will never be able to fully map the relationships that tie us to the natural world, but this does not mean we should not try. Leopold was an instrumentalist in a unique sense, believing humans should always attempt to solve specific problems by testing potential solutions and always maintaining a critical view of how we conceptualize nature. He argued that we will never have a full grasp of the ways the human and non-human worlds are deeply entangled. Accordingly, he wrote in A Sand County Almanac (1949), “We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive” (210). Leopold’s thought, perhaps, maps a different tradition in American environmental thought that historians have failed to understand.

Daniel Rinn is a PhD student at the University of Rochester. His research interests include the history of American environmental thought as well as pragmatism. His most recent work has focused on Liberty Hyde Bailey, exploring the philosophical affinities between his ideas and those of the classical pragmatists.

‘Slimy rimes’: Donne’s Contagious London

By guest contributor Alison Bumke


John Donne, c. 1595. Anonymous painting, National Portrait Gallery London. (Wikimedia Commons)

While John Donne (1572-1631) was writing verse letters and elegies in the early 1590s, London was experiencing a major plague epidemic. His lyrics trace everyday life in a plague-stricken city, describing efforts to identify sources of contagion, disinfect living areas, avoid public spaces, and protect one’s body. They also express the shock of living in a transformed city, where bustling streets are suddenly ‘lancke & thin,’ as he writes in a verse letter, ‘To Mr E. G.’ (l. 9). Donne’s early verse conveys a familiarity with medical theories of contagion that would inform how, decades later, his sermons depicted sin passing through a population.

By the 1590s, the term ‘contagion’ had been used in an English medical context for nearly a century. The period’s medical theorists were undecided, however, on whether contagion had physical substance. Galen, the widely cited Greek physician, believed that it consisted of tiny ‘seeds’ of air, water, and organic matter: a precursor to modern germ theory. These seeds were thought to communicate sickness through the air and via direct contact. At least two English plague tracts, printed during London’s 1603-4 plague epidemic, refer likewise to a ‘corrupt and venemous seede’ of disease. In Italy, meanwhile, a physician and poet named Girolamo Fracastoro proposed the existence of airborne ‘seeds’ of disease in his De contagione (1546). But in early modern England, the prevailing theory of contagion was that miasmas—expanses of foul-smelling air—communicated illness.

Video from the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, reconstruction of where Donne would have preached. For more information on the sulfurous smoke and gloomy weather of Donne’s weather, see here.

A person inhales infectious air through her nose’s porous lining, Galen argues in his De instrumento odoratus (c. 170). This porous lining is like a sponge: its ‘hollownesse and holes … may take in the smoake that is resolued, and commeth from the thing that is smelled,’ Stephan Batman explains. After the person’s sponge-like nose inhales the ‘smoake,’ or vapour, that an object produces, the vapour proceeds to her brain. By the time her brain perceives its scent, the corrupt air has started to infect her body.

To avoid inhaling corrupt air, the person can fill her nose’s ‘hollownesse and holes’ with sweet scents. Spices and herbs produce pleasing, harmless vapours that fill the nasal passages, preventing putrid air from reaching the brain and infecting the body. The period’s medical tracts recommend carrying scented sachets and pomanders in public, as protection against disease. In Physicall directions in time of plague (Oxford, 1644), for example, an anonymous author urges readers to carry fragrant items when ‘going abroad, or talking with any’. A person should hold a perfumed object in her mouth or hand so she inhales its vapours, rather than putrid air. Medical tracts recommend also using spices to perfume rooms, indoor fires, and cleansing water. In A dialogue bothe pleasaunte and pietifull (London, 1564), William Bullein writes, ‘Forget not to kepe the chamber, and clothyng cleane, no priues at hande, a softe fire with perfumes in the mornyng.’ Perfuming homes with pleasing, innocuous scents reduces the inhabitants’ risk of inhaling corrupt air.

Donne’s early verse alludes to medical tracts’ guidelines for avoiding putrid vapours. His poem ‘The Anagram’ mentions two of the spices Physicall Directions lists: musk and amber. He writes,

In buying things perfum’d, we aske; if there

Be muske and amber in it, …                          (ll. 13-4)

Potential buyers ask if perfumed objects contain strongly scented spices, like musk and amber, to determine if the objects will block corrupt air’s scent. In addition to masking putrid odours, individuals could attempt to purify corrupt air. Bradwell’s A watch-man for the pest (London, 1625) advises firing cannons, so air is ‘first forcibly moved, shaken, divided and attenuated, and so prepared for purification; & then immediately (by the heat of the fire) purified.’ Alternatively, he recommends leading a ‘great drove’ of oxen through an infected city so ‘their sweet wholsome breath’ can ‘cleanse the impure Aire.’ Donne refers to the former method in his poem, ‘The progress of the soul, Metempsychosis.’ ‘Thinner than burnt air flies this soul,’ he writes (l. 173). Cannon fire burns away air’s impurities, so the resulting, ‘burnt’ air is thinner than average.

Attempts to purify or mask corrupt air had limited success, however. ‘In every street / Infections follow, overtake, and meet,’ Donne writes in 1592 in a verse letter, ‘To Mr T. W.’ (ll. 9-10). A major plague epidemic was starting in London, and it would ‘overtake’ tens of thousands by 1594. The concept of contagions having physical heft—enabling them to ‘follow’ an individual—appears often in contemporary medical tracts. Thomas Dekker, for example, writes in 1603 that ‘thick and contagious clowdes’ of infection have ‘driven’ some individuals out of their ‘earthlie dwellings,’ or bodies, while others have avoided the ‘arrowes’ of infection. Bradwell assigns contagion a similar physicality, observing that the plague ‘over-runneth … like a torrent, and few escape at least a scratching with it, if they be not deeply bitten by it.’ In each case, the contagion—whether in figurative clouds, arrows, or torrents—is an external aggressor, presenting a tangible threat to the human body. Individuals try to escape from it by masking putrid odours and purifying air, but they remain deeply vulnerable.

The prevalence of the plague made Donne consider his verse, or ‘rimes’, in cognate and related terms. In another verse letter from the 1592-4 epidemic, ‘To Mr. E. G.,’ Donne compares his ‘slimy rimes’ to standing water’s putrid vapours:

Euen as lame things thirst their perfection, so
The slimy rimes bred in our vale below,
Bearing with them much of my love & hart
Fly vnto that Parnassus, wher thou art.                     (ll. 1-4)

Donne humorously compares his addressee’s home on Highgate Hill, an elevated area next to London, to Greece’s Parnassus, a mountain bordering Delphi. Highgate and Parnassus have much purer, healthier air than their neighbouring cities. Meanwhile, Donne writes from ‘our vale below,’ London, which is situated in the Thames Valley. London is prone to disease, he suggests: its valley location enables standing water to accumulate, releasing disease-causing vapours. Donne sees the current plague epidemic’s effects everywhere. He observes ‘Theaters … fill’d with emptines,’ noting that ‘lancke & thin is euery street & way’ (ll. 8, 9). The city has closed its theatres and people are avoiding the streets, or abandoning the city altogether, to reduce their risk of infection.


Woodcut from Thomas Dekker, A Rod for Run-awayes (London, 1625), picturing the plague (Wikimedia Commons)

Until now, though, Donne has remained in the city, which inspires his verse. London’s ‘vale’ breeds his ‘slimy rimes,’ he contends: his poems acquire the slime of their source, London’s damp river valley. In a literal sense, his lyrics express his native city’s character as they ‘fly’ to Highgate. He does not claim that they will infect his addressee, but he does seek to move his friend with his vivid descriptions of plague-ridden London. His lyrics transmit another feature of their source, as well: Donne’s ‘love & hart.’ Donne flatters his friend, asserting that the latter’s physical elevation in Highgate signals elevated intellectual and moral status, or ‘perfection.’ Donne’s imperfect lyrics ‘thirst’ for an audience with such a person as they rise from a source—Donne and London—that is literally and figuratively lower. Donne asserts that his verse expresses ‘spleene’: laughter and mirth, inspired by his city’s absurdities (l. 11). But as the epidemic takes hold, his spleen finds ‘Nothing wherat to laugh’ in London (l. 11). He will flee the city, he decides, seeking alternative sources of inspiration and pleasure.

Donne returned soon after the epidemic, however, and—before his death in 1631—he experienced two more major outbreaks of plague in London, as well as frequent epidemics of typhoid, typhus, and smallpox. These outbreaks continued to influence his writing’s style and themes long after he first celebrated his ‘slimy rimes’.

Alison Bumke is a College Lecturer and Fellow in English at Queens’ College, Cambridge, for the 2015-16 academic year.

What We’re Reading: Week of Feb. 20

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!


Sheila Fitzpatrick, “Zanchevsky, Zakrevsky, or Zakovsky?” (LRB)

Frank Kermode’s 1983 review of The Name of the Rose by the late Umberto Eco (LRB)


Sara Georgini, Debate Night (S-USIH Blog)

Robert O. Paxton, The Truth About the Resistance (NYRB)

Isaac Chotiner interviews Robert Paxton: Is Donald Trump a Fascist? A Historian of Fascism Weighs In (Slate)

Michael Caines, Matthew Arnold (and other Victorian big heads) (TLS Blog)

Donal Harris, The Art of Administration: On Greg Barnhisel’s “Cold War Modernists” (LARB)

George Packer, Why Leftists Go Right (New Yorker)

Sarah Wildman, The Revelations of a Nazi Art Catalogue (New Yorker)

Jeremy Bernstein, Tom Lehrer, Al Sears and Me (LRB Blog)

And, not least, some entertaining academic spats:
Terry Eagleton, A Toast at the Trocadero: D.J. Taylor (LRB)
Robin Lane Fox and Garry Wills, A Difference Over Augustine (NYRB)


E.R. Truitt, “Fantasy North” (Aeon)

Elizabeth Drew, “A Country Breaking Down” (NY Review of Books)

Gabriel Rosenberg, “Inventing the Family Farm: Towards a History of Rural Heterosexuality” (Notches Blog)

Tim Parks, “The Passion of the Bureaucrats” (LRB)


Anthony Grafton, 2016 Sandars Lectures (audio via Cambridge University Library)

Frederic Raphael, Lost Worlds of Joseph Roth (TLS)

Francine Prose The Passion of the Coens (NYR Daily)

Saki Knafo, A Black Police Officer’s Fight against the NYPD (NY Times)

+ The Greenwich Village Antiquarian Book Fair is this weekend! Feb. 19-21 @PS 3, 490 Hudson St., NYC



Brave Entertainments

by contributing editor Brooke Palmieri



Pepys exhibition illustration by Bradley Jay


Few historical truths are as easy to pin down as the fact that Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) knew how to have a good time. He loved a good party, he loved his wine and his parmesan cheese, he loved to go to the theatre (350 performances in a 9 year span), and his enthusiasm for reading ranged from delight at Micrographia to erotic satisfaction at L’Ecole des Filles (although he burned it after reading).

As only we who are the most practiced hedonists can, Pepys made the best of bad situations. During an outbreak of plague in London he wrote in his diary at the end of July, while noting the death of around 1,700 people:

Thus I ended this month with the greatest joy that ever I did any in my life, because I have spent the greatest part of it with abundance of joy and honour, and pleasant journeys and brave entertainments, and without cost of money.

Or, during a boring sermon in Church, he simply took out his telescope and amused himself:

I did entertain myself with my perspective glass up and down the church, by which I had the great pleasure of seeing and gazing at a great many very fine women; and what with that, and sleeping, I passed away the time till sermon was done.


Dunn scope

Hand-held telescope inscribed with name Jacob Cunigham, probable owner [Repro ID: F8641-001]

Reading Pepys’ diary is a pleasure, because everything is fascinating when written about by someone who keeps himself fascinated as a matter of habit — by someone who adapted. Pepys was also adaptable where it counted most: although “a great roundhead” at age 15, witnessing the execution of Charles I with the sense of savage glee (“The memory of the wicked shall rot,” he recalls saying the day the King was beheaded), he was aboard the ship that brought Charles II back to England, and managed to have a successful naval career across an incredible period of political volatility, the span of which is covered at the National Maritime Museum’s exhibition Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution.

This exhibit has everything: a painting of the beheading of Charles I highlighted with a spotlight, draperies stimulating the houses of plague victims, recipes for avoiding the plague, Napier’s Bones, pirate catalogues, portraits of beautiful women (Nell Gwynn as Venus, Aphra Behn as herself), models of warships, mannequins wearing frilly Restoration fashions, ceramic tiles depicting the Popish Plot, elaborate drinking goblets, and multiple portraits Pepys commissioned of himself.


plague landscape

Frontispiece of EPB/53190/A: ‘The Christians Refuge’ Wellcome Images L0064305.


On the one hand, these materials offer an immersive experience into a well-worn concept of the Restoration dramatized in Pepys’ diary. As Lisa Jardine put it in a New Statesman review:

Because of Pepys, the Restoration has been painted with monotonous regularity as the age of the bodice-ripper adventure – men in periwigs doing shady business deals and exchanging confidences in crowded coffee houses, fondling buxom seamstresses and keeping covert assignations with neighbours’ wives, bedding loose women in insalubrious taverns.

But on the other hand, the exhibition intermingles that bodice-ripping with the traumatic highlights of the era Pepys survived (Revolution, Plague, and Fire). Wandering through the exhibition gives the impression that the periwig-wearing caricature of the Restoration Pepys has helped to popularise was a matter of psychological necessity — his own. Maybe the sheer weight of material accrued by the exhibition curators is a faithful re-enactment what a person of his social standing could do in 1666 to try to forget the pain of his own memories.

One of the first things Charles II did upon his restoration to the throne in 1660 is pass the Indemnity and Oblivion Act. Michael Neufeld among others has shown in The Civil Wars After 1660 how these acts kicked off a top-down effort to erase public memory of the Civil War (during which a fourth of the population perished) and Interregnum Period, and minimize violent reprisals. Under the act, only 11 out of the 31 regicides were executed, and records were altered, or ‘obliterated’ to erase any sourcex of embarrassment. But the government’s enforcement of memory loss and its related control on information and record-keeping could only go so far on a societal scale. Consider only for example the failure of the King’s supposed “Surveyor of the Press”, Sir Roger L’Estrange, toward the end of the 60s, in suppressing the publication of seditious materials among groups who had been vocal during the war — non-comformists like the Quakers barely broke their stride in speaking, and publishing, their minds. Against that background, acts of God were much more effective than legislation: pestilence that killed a fourth of London, a fire that levelled the city and incinerated many of its books, archives, and artefacts that people might otherwise use to connect with the past.

Who is to say how people might develop, on top of that, their own behaviours of forgetting, their own coping mechanisms: whether it be going to the theatre obsessively, or drinking wine constantly, or focusing their telescope on Jupiter and churchgoing ladies alike? Novelty can sometimes be deeply therapeutic, and in a London that had been destroyed, there was nothing to do but start over and buy garish new things until the panic subsided and there was truly the time to rebuild.


Fire of London, September 1666, British School, 18th century. (BHC0291)

This form of consumerist coping makes sense when paired with the epistemological optimism of institutions like the Royal Society, which Pepys was elected to in 1665 and president of in 1684: socialising around practices of observing new phenomena and conducting new experiments to re-calibrate an understanding of the way the world works is a wonderful way of moving forward. So too does it fit with his naval career and the expansion of the British Empire. The hunger for novelty to soften the traumas of the past seems, for Pepys, limitless. In The Invention of Improvement, Paul Slack describes it in different terms (indeed, in Pepys’ terms, or even at a later date Benjamin Franklin’s) that hunger becomes about “improvement” and “improvement came to rival and eventually replace alternative roads to better things, such as ‘reformation’ or ‘revolution’. Instead, the condition of England would be bettered by gradual and piecemeal change.”

That Pepys employed each of these strategies, and was involved in each of these scenes — cultural, scientific, political— is a testament to his privileged position: he had worked hard to make the money that allowed him to repeatedly make the best of bad situations. While he leaves an astonishing paper trail, one that makes it easy forget his limits as one man with one perspective (“History’s greatest witness,” the exhibition billboard proclaims), he is not alone in his habits or his emergency spending power. In that case: is the Restoration the first time in English history when it was possible to medicate trauma with material consumption? Did the combination of failed revolution, bubonic plague, and destructive flames create the ideal conditions for retail therapy? As Thomas Browne writes in the the preface to Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646): “Knowledge is made by oblivion, and to purchase a clear and warrantable body of Truth, we must forget and part with much we know.” Over-accumulation of new things serves a similar purpose. And walking through the exhibition has nearly that effect: the dramatic scenes of destruction at the beginning are almost blotted out by the lustre of fine cutlery and maritime instruments featured at the end. The pocket atlases and telescopes and seascape paintings that conclude the exhibition ask of us to look almost anywhere other than at the immediate surroundings, as Pepys himself seems to have done, with tireless optimism.

Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution is on at the National Maritime Museum, London, until March 28, 2016.

JHI 77:1 available

FullSizeRender (4)We’re pleased to note that the January 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas (volume 76 issue 1) is available in print. As you’ll see from the table of contents, the articles in this issue include Peter T. Struck’s 2013 Arthur O. Lovejoy Lecture on “A Cognitive History of Divination in Ancient Greece” and several articles from a symposium on J. G. A. Pocock’s Barbarism and Religion. The contents include:

Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 77, Number 1, January 2016

Peter T. Struck, “A Cognitive History of Divination in Ancient Greece,” pp. 1 – 26.

Brad Bannon, “President Edwards and the Sage of Highgate: Determinism, Depravity, and the Supernatural Will,” pp. 27 – 48.

Matthew S. Adams, “Formulating an Anarchist Sociology: Peter Kropotkin’s Reading of Herbert Spencer,” pp. 49 – 74.

Stefan Nygård and Johan Strang, “Facing Asymmetry: Nordic Intellectuals and Center-Periphery Dynamics in European Cultural Space,” pp. 75 – 98.

Richard Wolin, “Symposium on J. G. A. Pocock’s Barbarism and Religion: Introduction,” pp. 99 – 106.

Jonathan Israel, “J. G. A. Pocock and the ‘Language of Enlightenment’ in His Barbarism and Religion,” pp. 107 – 128.

Pierre Force, “The ‘Exasperating Predecessor’: Pocock on Gibbon and Voltaire,” pp. 129 – 146.

Helena Rosenblatt, “On Context and Meaning in Pocock’s Barbarism and Religion, and on Gibbon’s ‘Protestantism’ in His Chapters on Religion,” pp. 147 – 156.

J. G. A. Pocock, “Response and Commentary,” pp. 157 – 172.

JHI contributors are always welcome to be in touch about writing JHIBlog posts related in some way to their articles. The articles will be online shortly on Project Muse’s JHI site. If you are currently a subscriber, you can access the articles online here. If you’d like to receive your own print copy (and support the excellent work that our friends at the Journal do), consider subscribing!

Towards a Global Intellectual History?

by guest contributor Sarah Dunstan

9780231160483Speaking of the emerging calls for transnational and global intellectual history in a 2011 article, David Armitage wrote that ‘[w]hat is certain is that the possibilities for such a global history – or even for multiple histories under this rubric – remain enticingly open-ended.’ In the five years that have passed since that article’s publication, scholarship contemplating the potential of such a history has proliferated. Not least of these contributions is Samuel Moyn’s and Jeremy Sartori’s brilliant edited collection Global Intellectual History, published in 2013. That volume – like their essay posted on the Imperial & Global forum – sought to ask the hard questions about the idea of ‘global intellectual history’ – not only questions of how historians might write such histories but whether or not the sub-field should exist at all. The diverse range of approaches that appear in the volume itself certainly speak for the multiplicity of possible understandings and methodologies historians might adopt.

As is clear from Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s critical review of Global Intellectual History in History and Theory, there remain those uncomfortable with the addition of the term ‘global’ to the sub-field of intellectual history. Subrahmanyam worries that the use of the word ‘global’ is just another fad that offers little analytical benefit. Moyn and Sartori have convincingly responded to his criticisms of Global Intellectual History but Subrahmanyam’s review, like the volume itself, illustrates rather clearly that we have certainly not arrived at a consensus for what might constitute such a history. Questions abound, including: Who do we mean when we use the term ‘intellectual’? How do we approach the spread and reception of an idea, particularly when we consider the permutations and changes that occur to ideas when they cross linguistic and cultural barriers? What role is played by the everyday experiences of the men and women whose ideas travel the world?

aimOne possible way of answering these questions lies in the latest book from the German historian, Michael Goebel. Entitled Anti-imperial Metropolis: The Seeds of Third World Nationalism’ the book foregrounds the role of migration to and from interwar Paris as a precipitating force in creating movements against imperial structures. Crafting a compelling narrative that rests upon a platform of meticulous archival research, Goebel argues that the experiences of migrants in interwar Paris were a significant catalyst for the spread of nationalist thinking and anti-imperial movements both within the French empire and beyond.

As Moyn and Sartori have argued, one of the key questions facing historians attempting to construct global intellectual histories pertains to the exploration of the ‘historical processes that have made intellectual exchange and connection possible beyond conventional national boundaries.’ The vehicle of migration is not one that has been unattended in the historical literature on Paris but it is one that deserves more attention in intellectual histories, as Goebel demonstrates. Rather than conceptualising his historical actors as ‘intellectuals’, Goebel treats them first and foremost as migrants or, as he calls them, ‘ethno-entrepreneurs’. This approach is key because it allows him to interrogate community formation as the origins of intellectual connections between groups that are usually studied as distinct entities. In the case of Paris, historians have long assumed physical proximity as suitable causation. Goebel, however, takes this thinking further, demonstrating how physical proximity in conjunction with the experience of similar pressures, despite linguistic and cultural difference, made becoming anti-imperial a transcultural phenomenon, albeit one that manifested in myriad forms across different migrant groups. As such, Goebel’s methodology is a departure from more traditional intellectual histories. He himself acknowledges that his work is ‘much more of a social history of migration than an intellectual history of anti-imperialism’ but he contends that it is impossible to understand the processes behind the latter without the context of the former.

Goebel’s argument about the significance of treating these individuals and groups as ‘ethno-entrepreneurs’ rather than intellectuals, as migrants rather than activists, is most compelling for groups such as the Algerian and Vietnamese communities. The Latin-American presence in Paris during this period is not usually treated by migration histories, not least because they comprised a much wealthier echelon of Parisian society during the period. Their own accounts of the time spent in the French metropole, however, characterise it as a turning point in their political development. For example, this may have owed less to the socio-economic hardship endured by the Algerian or black African contingents and more to the opportunities it offered for exchange between members of Latin American countries not usually in contact. Goebel argues that this created a sharper sense of solidarity against US imperialism. What’s more, the gap in opportunity between those who were subjects of the French empire and those who were foreigners in the French capital, also impelled thinkers grasping for a cogent understanding of their situation to come to terms with the realities of imperialism.

Goebel thus argues we can trace the global spread of the claim for national sovereignty to the urban space of interwar Paris. Goebel’s work is outstanding and his study might yet provide a methodological blueprint for writing ‘global intellectual history’. Of course, there will be those who question the combination of social and intellectual history. Paris, too, might be a unique case. In the book’s conclusion, Goebel points to the sheer magnitude of the populations of colonial subjects in the city during the interwar period as exceptional. Likewise, for the purposes of pursuing an intellectual genealogy of nationalism and anti-imperialism, it is impossible to ignore the significance of the republican discourse embedded in the Parisian political landscape, a feature that was not so true of cities such as London or Berlin. Moreover, in privileging the examination of community and group formation over a more intensive study of the individual trajectories of those individuals who were at the forefront of anti-imperial movements later on– like Ho Chi Minh, Zhou Enlai, Léopold Senghor – it is impossible to get at the nuances of their ideological development. Of course, Goebel’s study never set out to do such a thing: my comment here is not a criticism of his work but is instead an observation about the implications of anchoring an intellectual history so firmly in a social history framework.

By focusing in upon the pathways of the Parisian landscape, both literal and figurative, Michael Goebel has offered a persuasive study that goes some way in answering the question of why nationalism and anti-imperialism became ‘global’ ideas in the aftermath of World War II. His work elegantly links the ‘local’ with the global’ through the meticulous exploration of rich archival sources not usually studied in tandem. The kinds of substantive and methodological questions it raises for the practice of ‘global intellectual history’ are sure to invite a great deal of reflection and debate. Personally, I would like to suggest that Anti-Imperial Metropolis itself is a persuasive argument for intellectual historians to explore the possibilities of social history as a means to understanding the ways that intellectual exchange was facilitated on a global scale. For the moment, it seems as if ‘global intellectual history’ is here to stay, an observation confirmed by the launch in the last fortnight of a new journal, Global Intellectual History.

Sarah Dunstan is a PhD Candidate on an Australian Postgraduate Award at the University of Sydney. She was a Fulbright Postgraduate Fellow at Columbia University New York for the 2014-2015 academic year and is currently a Visiting Postgraduate Scholar at Columbia Global Centers, Paris. In 2016, she was awarded the James Holt Prize for the best article published in the Australian Journal of American Studies in the previous two years. She has a new article forthcoming in Callaloo. Her research focuses on francophone and African American intellectual collaborations over ideas of rights and citizenship.

What We’re Reading: Week of Feb. 6

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.


Tamson Pietsch, On institutions (and why we need them) (Cap and Gown, originally published in Griffith Review)

Adam Gopnik, The Peculiar Radiance of Henry James’s Memoirs (New Yorker)

Folk Connections: Cecil Sharp’s Appalachian Trail (BBC Radio 3)

Yung In Chae, Apples and Oranges, Ravens and Writing Desks: How to Compare Stuff (Eidolon)

Paula Findlen, Before Europe’s Intrusion (The Nation)

On the “trouble with benefactors” beat, Deborah Yaffe, Wilson Revisited, an instructive example of how one American college is grappling with its past (Princeton Alumni Weekly)

Colin Kidd, Misappropriation: Burke (LRB)
For more on Burke’s reception history, see the totally fascinating work of Emily Jones, especially her recent article Conservatism, Edmund Burke, and the Invention of a Political Tradition, c. 1885-1914 (Historical Journal)

And of course, where would we be without some Really Excellent Pointing in Western Art History? (The Toast)


Alexander Chee “Children of the Century” (New Republic)
Agustina Zegers “God is a Lesbian“: DISmiss presents Zanele Muholi (DIS Magazine)


Ed Miliband, The Inequality Problem (LRB)

Tim Parks, A Long Way from Primo Levi (NYR Daily)

Claudia Funke, Counting the Days 500 Years Ago (Chapel Hill Rare Book Blog)

Sylviane Diouf, Black Power! (NYPL)


Dan Kopf, “The Great Migration” (Priceonomics)
From Sweden to Socialism Symposium” (Dissent Magazine)
Paul Bloom, “The Trouble with Empathy” (Guernia Mag)
Ulrich Kockel, “An Enlightened Localism” (Eurozine)
Jim Davies, “Our Conflicted Feelings for R2-D2” (Nautilus Magazine)

Darkness Regained

by contributing editor Brooke Palmieri

CN10550 - Cicero - Opera omnia, vol. 2, ship drawing close up- RCP-Mike Fear 1000px (1)

Dee’s doodle of a ship from vol. 2 of Cicero’s Opera omnia (Paris: Estienne, 1539 – 40). [CN10550] © RCP

John Dee (1527-1609) dreaded the loss of his library decades before he died. In a diary entry from 24 November 1582 he recorded a nightmare in which his books were burned by a jealous rival. In 1589 later he had a similar dream, this time it was Edward Kelly who “wold by force bereave me of my bokes.” The dream was prophetic: a month later Dee returned to England to find that his library had been looted. Books and instruments had been stolen not by a superstitious rabble, but by men with the same pretensions to universal knowledge Dee himself had cultivated, as William Sherman emphasises in John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in England. When reading and writing are political, then the knowledge gained can’t help but be desirable. And occasionally, dangerous.

“Bereave” was understood in the 16th century as an active verb: to take by force. It has languished since then into the passive, desolate state of those who survive what they have lost. Bereaved of his books, and later his estate at Mortlake, and his livelihood after James I had ascended the throne, John Dee’s failures have mellowed him out over the years. He has become something of a loveable victim that deserves respect for the sheer breadth of his studies: mathematics, alchemy, medicine, astrology, astronomy, cryptography, theology, law.

That legacy has extended to the ways in which Dee’s emotional gaps are filled with literary sources. When Dee is linked to Shakespeare’s Prospero, he is Prospero the victim, Prospero as he appears to his daughter Miranda, who admits to “neglecting worldly ends” for love of books, Prospero as he was betrayed by those more at home in the court than the library. He has not been linked with the Prospero who forces Miranda to sleep when he doesn’t want her to know what he’s up to, who threatens the spirit Ariel with slavery, who torments Caliban, or uses his magic to forgo politics and regain his kingdom at any cost. Caliban alone offers an alternative perspective, and it all comes down to books. As Sherman points out, Caliban’s attempted to overthrow Prospero begins with attacking his library:


First to possess his books, for without them

He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not

One spirit to command — they all do hate him

As rootedly as I. Burn but his books. (Act 3, Scene ii)

This is not symbolic: burning Prospero’s books removes a threat of tyranny, depriving him of the means by which he has subjugated an island and conjured storms forceful enough to sink ships in its orbit. But to go further: Prospero’s quaint distinction between bookishness and worldliness collapses in Caliban’s description— the library becomes the throne-room.

To complete the circuit, consider applying Caliban’s description of that library to an understanding of the library of John Dee. Without a sense of the real stakes of possessing its contents, the story of Dee’s library makes no sense: not the nightmares, the pillaging, the bereavement, nor even the status of the library after his death. It was desired by statesmen and alchemists alike, from Robert Cotton (1570-1631) who even bought land around Dee’s house in 1609 in hopes of finding buried manuscripts there, to Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) who obsessively sought Dee’s books half a century later. To think for a moment like Caliban requires us to consider the darkest extremities of what it means to reconstitute Dee’s library; and maybe even for a moment, to be thankful that it does not survive in its entirety.

The first exhibition to bring together so many books in one room salvaged from Dee’s library confirms that. Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the lost library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians shows through its bibliography of books owned, or thought to be owned, by Dee that when combined, the scholar, the courtier, and the magician are each facets of Dee, the Imperialist, the first recorded person to coin the term ‘British Empire’. To see these books and instruments together in one place offers a viewpoint that complicates studies of Dee, and indeed any Renaissance aspirant to “universal” knowledge. Francis Yates in Theatre of the World portrays Dee’s library as “the whole Renaissance” — both typical in its ambitions and exemplary of its time. Deborah Harkness’s wonderful John Dee’s Conversations with Angels reconstructs Dee’s synthesis of all he knew into the search for a “universal science” that would “extend a ladder from the deteriorating world to the heavens.” But Scholar, Courtier, Magician forces us to ask: why did men like Dee want to know everything? As Jeremy Millar’s film commissioned for the exhibit shows: beware the know-it-all, whose knowledge amounts to a need to control. An English emblem book from 1586, Geoffrey Whitney’s Choice of Emblemes, tells us “usus libri non lectio prudentes facit”; it is the use of books, not the reading, which makes us wise. To think seriously about the way John Dee used, and aspired to use, his books produces some sinister kind of wisdom.

No wonder Dee could argue so forcefully in General and rare memorials pertayning to the perfect arte of navigation (1577), and his other works, for a British Empire: there are books in his library to engineer such a feat. Alchemical works in theory provided instructions to make the gold to fund voyages to foreign lands. Books on astronomy, astrology, mathematics, cartography, and navigation make it possible for those ships to efficiently plan and complete the journey. Histories provide tough lessons and useful strategies about subjugating the locals: predominantly works about the Roman Empire, but also the Ottoman Empire (Francesco Sansovino’s Gl’annali turcheschi), and more recently works on trade with the East (João de Barros’s L’Asia) and the conquest of the New World (André Thevet’s La cosmographie universelle and Cosmographie de Levant). Cross-reference these with Matthew Paris’s Flores historiarum on King Arthur’s mythical dominion, and the justification for a particularly British Empire is given “historical” precedent. Finally, use magic to contact the angels and support human agency with divine right. As the angel Murifri told Dee, recorded in his diary:

The Earth laboreth as sick, yea sick unto death.

The Waters pour forth weepings, and have not moister sufficient to quench their own sorrows.

the Aire withereth, for her heat is infected.

The Fire consumeth and is scalded with his own heat…

Hell itself is weary of Earth: For why? The son of Darknesse cometh now to challenge his right: and seeing all things prepared and provided, desireth to establish himself a kingdom; saying, “We are not stronge enough, Let us now bulid a kingdom upon earth, and Now establish that which we could not confirm above.”

It should be taken seriously that Dee the magician justified his use of magic as an arm of the state and in that way distinguished it from mere witchcraft. Dee’s angelic conversations cast the earth as an apocalyptic wasteland in need of saving. They were the final justification that in the face of decay, of Satan, of apocalypse, a unifying force, a godly empire, was necessary to put the world to rights. He was not alone: a miscellaneous manuscript in the British Library (Add MS 36674) shows the explorers John Davis and Sir Humphrey Gilbert contacting angels and visiting the otherworldly library of King Solomon to aid in their own voyages.

L0057559 Claude Lorrain mirror in shark skin case, believed at one ti

Claude Lorrain mirror in shark skin case, believed at one time to be John Dee’s scrying mirror. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Credit: Science Museum, London.


Dee’s library, angels and all, amounts to a plan for that, with a full realisation about what would happen to those that may resist— hence his advocacy for a strong navy, his readings of military histories, his familiarity with Spanish and Portuguese expeditions. Look into the obsidian mirror that was allegedly Dee’s, originally taken from Mexico in the wake of Hernán Cortés, and the bloodshed involved in such a plan becomes not imagined but proved. At what cost did such a mirror cross the seas all the way to Dee’s house at Mortlake? A new spectral analysis of a 19th century portrait featured in the exhibition of Dee “performing an experiment” for Queen Elizabeth, painted by Glindoni, speaks to that mirror. Underneath the painting’s layer of red and green, grey and black, making up an unassuming flooring of court, Glindoni had originally placed Dee within a circle of skulls.

John Dee Performing an Experiment Before Elizabeth I by Henry Gillard Glindoni 1852-1913 copyright Wellcome  Library, Wellcome Collection Large Version

John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I. Oil painting by Henry Gillard Glindoni.Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Credit: Wellcome Library, London.


The impression left by Scholar, Courtier, Magician is perfectly (if not horrifically) complemented by Derek Jarman’s portrayal of Dee in Jubilee, who in a conflation with Prospero, conjures the spirit Ariel in order to time travel with Elizabeth I into London in 1978. “I will reveal to thee the shadow of this time,” Ariel promises; Dee and Elizabeth call it entertainment. They are transported into a violent and anarchic England that would have squared with the angel Murifri’s desolate depiction, with one crucial difference. It is a Britain run and driven to ruin by a central figure who controls the global market through his control of media and finance. In other words, a British Empire that spans the globe, of consolidated wealth and knowledge taken to exactly the extremity Dee himself hoped to engineer in his own time. 

Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the lost library of John Dee is on view at the Royal College of Physicians in London until July 26, 2016.

What We’re Reading: Week of Jan. 30

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.


John Morgan, US PhD graduate detained in UK immigration removal centre (THE)
Ben Jackson, Immigration Scandals (LRB Blog)

Will Self, On the Thames Towpath with Samuel Pepys (Guardian)

Sarah Kershaw, The race to save ancient Islamic manuscripts from terrorists who want them destroyed (Washington Post)

James Grossman, Introduction to the AHA Plenary on “The Confederacy, Its Symbols, and the Politics of Public Culture,” January 7, 2016 (AHA Today)

Unsurprisingly, Javier Espinoza, Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford University after alumni threaten to withdraw millions (Telegraph)

James Romm, Be Spartans! (LRB)

Benedict Anderson, Frameworks of Comparison (LRB)

Janet Malcolm, ‘A Very Sadistic Man’, on a problematic new biography of Ted Hughes (NYRB)

Ben Lerner, The Art of Conservation (New Yorker)

Rebecca Onion, America’s Other Original Sin: enslavement of Native Americans (Slate)


Edward Mendelson, “A Different T. S. Eliot” (NYRB)

Darryl Pinckney, “The Anger of Ta-Nehisi Coates” (NYRB)

Ellen Barry, “Indian Women Seeking Jobs Confront Taboos and Threats” (NYT)

Milly Budny, “Scrap of Information” (Blog for Manuscript Studies)


Sarah Laskow “How the ‘Einstein of Sex’ Kept the World’s First LGBT Movie Safe from Nazis” (Atlas Obscura)

Jennifer Bendery “Concepcion Picciotto Died. You Know Where She Stood, Even If You Don’t Know Her Name” (Huffington Post)

Paul Szewezyk, “Retracing Detroit’s Native American Trails” (Detroit Urbanism)


Mahesh Rao, “London Lost and Found” (NYT Sunday Review)
Andrew Hartman, “Marx: American Alter Ego” (USIH Blog)

Jonathan Meades, “Favourite Without Portfolio” (London Review of Books)

Josh Feldman and Emma Tehrenfeld, “Before the War on Drugs: Review of The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State” (Los Angeles Review of Books)


Courtney Martin, “The Problem with Diversity“, (On Being)

Corey Robin, “How Intellectuals Create a Public“, (Chronicle)

Charles Taylor, “The Ideal of Authenticity” (Spiked Online Review)

Zing Jianying, “China: Surviving the Camps” (NYRB)

Wolfgang Streeck “What About Capitalism: Jurgen Habermas’s Project of a European Democracy“, (Verso Books)


Rhian Sasseen, a dear friend, The Death of the Author (LARB)

Allison Meier Witch Marks, Curses, and Magic in the Neglected History of Medieval Graffiti (Hyperallergic)

Shannon Wianecki When America’s Titans of Industry and Innovation Went Road-Tripping Together (Smithsonian)

Huge Collection of Medieval Documents Discovered in Gniezno (Science & Scholarship in Poland)