Category Archives: History

History as a giant data set

IN its first issue of 2010, the scientific journal Nature looked forward to a dazzling decade of progress. By 2020, experimental devices connected to the internet would deduce our search queries by directly monitoring our brain signals. Crops would exist that doubled their biomass in three hours. Humanity would be well on the way to ending its dependency on fossil fuels…

Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1882)

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 12 November 2019. To continue reading, click here.

Tongue twisters

IN 1882, linguists were electrified by the publication of a lost language—one supposedly spoken by the extinct Taensa people of Louisiana—because it bore hardly any relation to the languages of other Native American peoples of that region. The Taensa grammar was so unusual they were convinced it could teach them something momentous either about the region’s history, or the way that languages evolve, or both…

George Catlin (American, 1796 – 1872 ), Chief of the Taensa Indians Receiving La Salle. March 20, 1682, 1847/1848, oil on canvas, Paul Mellon Collection

This article was first published in Slate on 30 October 2019. To continue reading, click here.

How pandemics shape social evolution

WHEN will we learn never to declare the end of anything? Only 50 years ago, two prominent US universities closed their infectious-disease departments, sure that the problem they studied had been solved. Now, cases of measles and mumps are on the rise again in Europe and the United States, new infectious diseases are emerging at an unprecedented rate, and the threat of the next pandemic keeps philanthropist Bill Gates awake at night…

Illustration by Antoine Dore

This article first appeared in Nature on 15 October 2019. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

Royal women revisited

ELEANOR of Aquitaine is often portrayed as one of the most powerful queens in history. Wife, mother and counsellor of kings, crusader, landowner, patron of the arts, her power eventually grew so great – at least in the eyes of one royal husband, Henry II of England – that he chose to lock her up. But what if Eleanor wasn’t exceptional? What if, in the manner and the degree to which she exerted power, she was very much in line with royal women throughout history…?

The tombs of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England at Fontevraud Abbey, France. Photo courtesy of Martin Cooper/Flickr.

This essay first appeared on Aeon on 12 July 2019. To continue reading, click here.

 

Cosy up with the Neanderthals

PUT Matt Pope in a valley apparently untouched by humans and he can tell you where Neanderthals would have built their home. “It’s about a third of the way up a slope, with a really good vista and a solid bit of rock behind,” he says. Anyone who goes camping will recognise these preferences: this is where you want to pitch your tent when you arrive in an unfamiliar place at dusk. It is also where aspirational types dream of buying a place to live. In other words, this is the spot that lures us with siren calls of “home”…

Jack Hudson for New Scientist

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 8 February 2019. To continue reading, click here (paywall).