Sculpture of Sir Isaac Newton (with prism), Trinity College Ante-Chapel. 1755, Louis-Francois Roubiliac (detail)
On 13 November 2009, NASA announced ‘a new chapter in our understanding of the moon’.[ii] The crash of a satellite and the resulting plume of moon dust testified to the presence of water through spectrometry. Originating in Isaac Newton’s paper on Opticks, spectrometry measures the colour of light reflected or absorbed by materials as evidence of their composition.[iii]
In the early modern era, women had a direct way to contact their king or queen: a petition. Women could and did take their complaints and pleas to the highest authority in the realm. While the petition would go through various secretaries and court officials — such as Gervase Holles, Master of Requests of Charles II, whose entry book lists this petition — the monarch personally had to make the ultimate decision about the lives of even his neediest subjects.
This sign, on a house on the main square of Hudcov, a village in the Sudetenland, announces that the house was in the property of Wenzl Pokorny-Renner, landlord. Further signs on the house state that it was the ‘Gasthaus zum Reichsadler’, the Inn of the Imperial Eagle. The continued presence of these German-language signs harks back to the bilingual nature of the Sudetenland before 1946, when its German population (estimated at around three million people) was expelled, and the territory became Czech-speaking.
The coast surrounding Cork Harbour is dappled with little holiday cottages. Ivy and gorse break through the flimsy plywood walls of these boxy bungalows, and paint flakes off to reveal the curious industrial origins of these summer homes. These bungalows started life in the Ford Motors Factory, which opened in Cork City in 1919, and manufactured Fordson Tractors.
Receiving a knotted cord – a strand made from yucca leaves – might seem like a strange gift for Christmas, but in August 1680, during their revolt against the Spanish, the Pueblo peoples of present-day Mexico placed great importance on them.
Fancy some Regency-era cheese on toast? By the late eighteenth century, cheese toasters were all the rage among the British upper classes. The six removable trays in this particular toaster from the period could each hold a small slice of toast or bread, topped with cheese. To make the toast, hot water would first be poured into an opening in the stem of the handle until it filled the container underneath the six trays. As the heat quickly permeated the silver plate and copper interior (both excellent heat conductors), it would simultaneously melt the cheese and keep the toast warm.
This hand-propelled trolley system ran on interconnected rail tracks that skirt the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe. Since their debut in 1920, a substantial number of black African men pushed and pulled approximately two million white guests to various scenic points around the Victoria Falls. Plaques displayed under the preserved trolleys, which can be found today in the courtyard of the Victoria Falls Hotel and the National Railways of Zimbabwe Museum in Bulawayo, point out that these trolleys stopped running after “37 years of romantic, yet reliable service”.
Playing cards were meant for much more than games in late seventeenth century England. They flourished as a medium for conveying political events and (mis)information. This particular pack, which was illustrated by Francis Barlow, details the ‘Popish Plot’ (1678-81): a fictitious conspiracy alleging that an extensive cabal of Catholics were plotting to assassinate Charles II and place his Catholic brother, James Duke of York, on the throne. The Plot detonated latent anti-Catholic paranoia in Restoration England and resulted in the greatest political crisis of Charles II’s reign. At least 22 alleged plotters were executed – the five of clubs depicts the hanging of five Jesuit priests. The country was brought to the brink of civil war and opposing ‘Whig’ and ‘Tory’ parties began to crystallise in Parliament.
Towards the end of a telephone conversation with my grandmother a few weeks ago, I was startled by a surprising revelation. As if a fleeting afterthought, she revealed that her mother had recorded an oral history in the early 2000s. “It was only a very amateur recording – I can’t imagine it would be of any use to you”. Demanding that the transcript be posted immediately, a few days later I sat down to read it. The following sprang off the page:
Womanopoly, a board game created by activist and writer Stella Dadzie in the late 1970s, offers an unusual yet productive entry-point for examining late twentieth-century British feminism. The game moves through the life-stages of education, work, politics and the home, in each case capturing the contrasting experiences of men and women; the forces of ‘chance’ consistently acting in men’s favour.
For early modern contemporaries, comets were not only associated with the birth of Christ. Comets possessed an eschatological dimension and had often been considered signs of imminent catastrophes, such as the Thirty Years’ War. The celestial phenomenon also retained its apocalyptic dimension in the ‘Scientific Revolution’, when in Cambridge the Lucasian Professor for Mathematics, William Whiston, announced in A New Theory of the Earth (1696) that the Earth would soon collide with a comet, finally initiating the Millennium of Christ’s rule.
L‘Éducation Sexuelle was a popular sex manual written by French anarchist Jean Marestan in 1910. Marestan trained as a doctor but was forced to quit his studies due to financial hardship; instead, he joined a bohemian circle and wrote for anarchist journals. Harnessing his connections in the movement, he managed to get his sex manual widely promoted in the anarchist press, not only in France but also elsewhere in Europe and the Americas. It was translated into five languages, went through many editions, and sold tens of thousands of copies.
As wedding presents go a ship is certainly the pièce de résistance. A gift from the French King François I to his new son-in-law James V, King of Scots, it represented the renewal of the Franco-Scots ‘Auld alliance’.  At its helm was a glistening salamander, a ‘dragon in flames of fire’, and the emblem of the French king.
The Honours of Scotland, better known as Britain’s oldest surviving crown jewels, were crafted in the late 15th and early 16th century. Comprised of a crown, a sceptre, and a sword, the regalia’s history has intertwined with that of the Scottish nation for centuries. The Honours’ physical appearance does not demand attention, however. Rather, it is their journey through Scottish history which deserves study. The Honours were smuggled out from under the nose of Cromwell’s New Model Army and hidden at Kinneff Parish Church until the Restoration and coronation of Charles II. After that, they were used in the Scottish Parliament until the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, then sealed away in Edinburgh Castle, becoming lost and gathering dust.
The first issue of Jours d’Afrique [‘African Days’] hails itself as ‘a new newspaper for a new era’.  This is a fair claim: the journal was published in January 1961, only months after the decolonisation of French Equatorial Africa. Grainy photographs of new presidents stare down from the front page and articles inside discuss the promises and challenges of independence.  Its benign appearance, however, is intentionally misleading. As a letter to the British Colonial Office reveals, Jours d’Afrique was not an independent publication but a secret production of the French government – a direct form of anti-communist propaganda for distribution across their former colonies in central Africa. 
The events of the past few months have foregrounded the issue of political legitimacy in global politics, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom. The US presidential election has featured false claims of mass voter fraud from President Trump and his supporters. The House of Lords recently voted against parts of the UK government’s Internal Markets Bill. These sections would allow the government to ignore and act counter to the UK’s withdrawal agreement, an international treaty, with the EU on issues related to Northern Ireland. The Black Lives Matter protests this summer have highlighted how many people feel police forces have abused their power, and where that abuse of power is directly intertwined with racism. Even the coronavirus pandemic has brought out critics of national and local governments – governments that are perceived by some to be overreaching their legitimate powers and by others to not be doing enough. In questioning election results, domestic and international legislation, police power, and pandemic responses, individuals have been asking what their governments should have the power to do, on the basis of their election or appointment, and the limits to that power.
As we all continue to navigate an increasingly virtual world during the coronavirus pandemic, I thought I would share a list of my favorite digital tools that I use to organize sources, annotate readings, manage citations, draft chapters, and conceptualize the ‘big picture’ of the PhD, in the hopes that they help make online research a little less daunting.
Porcelain is not something usually associated with Nazism. Yet from 1936–45, the Nazi SS, were fostering this precise link through the Allach Porcelain Manufactory, an SS company.[I] Amongst its produce were animal figurines, vases, candleholders, as well as models of SS men and other ‘Aryan’ figurines. Each piece bore the company’s mark of the double SS sig rune. This porcelain was not however only made by SS men. While the company was founded in the Munich suburb of Allach, most of its production was moved to a factory at Dachau in 1937, and from 1940 wartime labour shortages meant concentration camp labour was employed.[ii] A cursory internet search will reveal that despite these clear links to forced labour, Allach porcelain is still sold today by private dealers, auction houses, and on common marketplace platforms including eBay. It is easily purchasable from the UK and pieces sold internationally have fetched prices of thousands and tens of thousands of pounds, euros, and dollars.[iii]
In Coffeeland, Augustine Sedgewick achieves the often-elusive goal of creating an academic history that is enjoyable for the non-professional history enthusiast. Coffee is a product so closely attached to complex historical themes that this history could easily have become an esoteric one. By taking the reader on a biographical journey entwined with world history, Sedgewick creates a work that accessibly demonstrates the complexity of its main theme of global capitalism.
Britain has a complicated colonial history. Sadly, thousands of descendants from former colonial territories, still face the legacies of Britain’s hegemony. This is true for the Kikuyu, Embu and Neru people of Kenya. During the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952-1964, the British colonial government placed some 80,000 people from these ethnic groups in a ‘pipeline’ of detention camps after a series of violent attacks on British settlers and ‘loyalist’ Africans. Camp inmates were subjected to brutal interrogations, whippings, sexual assault and even castration. Detainee letters cited a lack of food and poor sanitation, whilst David Anderson’s ‘Histories of the Hanged’ detailed the systematic hangings of many ‘hardcore’ prisoners.