Category Archives: History

Going viral

FIRST the pharaoh changed his name, from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten. Then he decreed that a new capital should be built far away from the old one. And in this city, one god should be worshipped, forsaking all others: the sun god Aten…

Pete Reynolds for New Scientist

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 19 July 2022. To continue reading click here (paywall).

The big idea: could the greatest works of literature be undiscovered?

WHEN the great library at Alexandria went up in flames, it is said that the books took six months to burn. We can’t know if this is true. Exactly how the library met its end, and whether it even existed, have been subjects of speculation for more than 2,000 years. For two millennia, we’ve been haunted by the idea that what has been passed down to us might not be representative of the vast corpus of literature and knowledge that humans have created. It’s a fear that has only been confirmed by new methods for estimating the extent of the losses…

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 28 May 2022. To continue reading, click here.

Womanland

THERE can be few myths as ingrained in our consciousness as that of the Amazons, an ancient caste of warrior women whose marksmanship struck fear into the hearts of their enemies, who chose sexual partners freely and who sacrificed their male offspring to preserve the matriarchy…

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 9 February 2022. To continue reading, click here.

 

Can history teach us anything about the future of war – and peace?

TEN years ago, the psychologist Steven Pinker published The Better Angels of Our Nature, in which he argued that violence in almost all its forms – including war – was declining. The book was ecstatically received in many quarters, but then came the backlash, which shows no signs of abating. In September, 17 historians published a riposte to Pinker, suitably entitled The Darker Angels of Our Nature, in which they attacked his “fake history” to “debunk the myth of non-violent modernity”. Some may see this as a storm in an intellectual teacup, but the central question – can we learn anything about the future of warfare from the ancient past? – remains an important one…

This article first appeared in The Observer on 7 November 2021. To continue reading, click here.

On pandemic time

LAST week, 15 volunteers descended into a cave in south west France, where they will remain for 40 days and 40 nights, without sunlight or watches, in an experiment designed to probe the dislocation in time that has characterised life with Covid…

This article first appeared in The Telegraph on 23 March 2021. To continue reading, click here.