Category Archives: History

Amelia Earhart redux

JULY 2nd of last year marked the 80th anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, a pioneering aviatrix, and her navigator Fred Noonan over the Pacific Ocean, as they attempted a circumnavigation of the globe in a twin-engined Lockheed Electra monoplane. The many theories about the pair’s demise, aired once more on that occasion, fall into two broad groups: they crashed into the sea and drowned, or they crashed onto Nikumaroro, a remote island, where they perished from hunger. An American forensic anthropologist has new evidence that greatly increases the likelihood of their having suffered the second fate…

This article appeared in The Economist print edition of 10 February 2018. To continue reading, click here.

Let’s build

AT POVERTY POINT, Louisiana, a remarkable monument overlooks a bend in the Mississippi river. Built around 3500 years ago, entirely from earth, it consists of six concentric, semicircular ridges radiating out from a central “plaza”, together with five mounds. Mound A, the largest, towers 22 metres – the equivalent of a seven-storey building – over the lush floodplain. North America wouldn’t see another monument on this scale for 2000 years…

Moai, Easter Island

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 10 January 2018. To continue reading, click here.

Notes from underground

ON 3 November 1793, in the thick of The Terror, the porter of the disaffected Val-de-Grâce abbey in Paris took advantage of the general commotion to slip into a stairway that led into the network of tunnels under the capital, and set off in search of treasure…

This article first appeared in The Idler around 1 January 2018. To continue reading, subscribe here or hunt it down in WHSmiths or bookshops.

Playing the long game

IN the long grass beyond the last hut, slabs of greyish-white shark meat dry on wooden racks in the sun. This village, which I’m visiting as the paying guest of an ecotourism company, lacks electricity, has a single fresh water pump and is inaccessible by road. Like many others along the west coast of Madagascar, it looks to the sea for its food, income and transport. Malagasy villages tend to specialise when it comes to marine resources, and this one’s speciality is shark…

This article first appeared in Geographical Magazine in December 2017. To read it in full you have to subscribe.

Monuments to catastrophe

THE history of humanity is punctuated with purges. Large numbers of people have died in short periods of time as a result of wars, disease and natural disasters. Once these have passed, it falls to the survivors to count the dead. This is never easy, but it is harder for some kinds of disaster than for others. It may be hardest of all for a pandemic, as Ole Benedictow acknowledged in his 2005 article, ‘The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever’…

This article first appeared in History Today on 23 March 2017. To continue reading, click here.