What's the relationship between Samhain and Halloween? What sorts of divination games were played that night? Where did trick-or-treating come from? What about the Jack-o'-lantern? I have written two zines about the history of Halloween! They are published by Microcosm, or you can get PDFs on itch.io. [more inside]
Today I published PlenetSlade's third paperback book (Amazon link), and it's an updated version of my 2013 e-book telling the tale of South London's Cross Bones Graveyard. This tiny patch of unconsecrated ground just south of the Thames has sheltered the remains of London's most despised citizens for over 400 years. Today, it's a shrine to our own era's outcast dead, where thousands of people a year attend the monthly vigils created by a shamanic local writer and attach their own heartfelt offerings to the site's gates. It's one of the most fascinating graveyards in London, and a vivid lesson in what the poor of this city have always had to endure. [more inside]
A short zine about about the curious life of an invented fact. Scholars peg early modern European witch-hunt deaths at 40,000, but estimates in the millions continue to circulate in feminist and Pagan communities. Where did these gross exaggerations come from, and what uses have they been put to? After reading this zine, you will know! [more inside]
Visit virtual worlds of the past! Meet the netizens keeping them going. Let's re-wild the information superhighway! Can cyberspace be a better place? A streaming documentary series on the cultures and communities of antique virtual worlds. Every episode is standalone, so you don't need to have seen season 1. [more inside]
In AD 79, Italy's mount Vesuvius erupted, covering Pompeii and Herculaneum in hot ash and lava. This was not, however, the only important event of that year. One emperor died, another succeeded, farmers farmed, politicians plotted, lawyers advocated, businessmen cut deals, life went on. In this podcast, we will follow the seasons of a typical year at the height of Rome's power from the perspectives of people high and low.
This is an online version of an exhibition held at Houghton Library in the summer of 2022, set in a virtual recreation of the library's exhibition space. The exhibition highlights 40 examples from Houghton collections of early modern portraits of named people of color from around the world.
I've done a book. This one's called Everybody Wins and it's an overview of the rise of modern board games over the last four decades, using the German 'Spiel des Jahres' game of the year award as a lens. The publishers have done a gorgeous on it, and it's released in the UK today, and then in March in the USA. Ebook out now, audiobook to follow. It's a big, chunky coffee-table tome and I'm really pleased with the way it's come out, both as a piece of history and as reviews of 44 very different award-winning titles, ranging from household names to mostly forgotten footnotes. [more inside]
If we fail to see the last eight years as anything less than eight years of continuous war, we fail to understand the politics of cyberspace.
This digital history project reveals a comprehensive history of housing discrimination and segregation across the US' North and West. Complicating the notion that most racist policies existed only in the Jim Crow south, Unvarnished includes a national narrative on how racist policies and practices created a segregated nation, along with six "local spotlight" stories for Appleton, WI; West Hartford, CT; Brea, CA; Naperville, IL; Oak Park, IL; and Columbus, OH. [more inside]
TL;DR: On this date 39 years ago The Story of Mel was published on Usenet by its author. Today, we launch Mel’s Loop project (https://melsloop.com), with some fascinating details about the epic hacker folklore tale, its characters' biographies and origins! [more inside]
While doing research for an article on the history of the granny square (a crochet motif), I managed to find what is very likely the first published pattern for a granny square. With the help of another researcher, I was able to trace the connection between its first publication and what was previously thought to be the first published example. I then contacted some historians to do some myth-busting about previous theories of its origins. [more inside]
… was a 1950s newspaper cartoon strip by the artist and historian Peter Jackson (not that one). Appearing weekly in London’s Evening News and modelled closely on Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Jackson’s strips recounted the true stories and fascinating trivia of London’s bizarre past. They’re as eye-opening today as ever, and still an excellent guide for anyone with a sense of curiosity about the city. In one 1950 strip alone, Jackson covers London’s earthquake panic of 1750, the reinforced hats worn by Billingsgate fish porters, a remarkable tomb in Bunhill Fields and where to find the West End’s clock in a barrel. Elsewhere in his career, he succeeded the great Frank Bellamy on Eagle’s Marco Polo strip and painted dozens of historic scenes for the British educational comic Look and Learn. You can see a handful of my own favourite LISTF strips in this Twitter thread and read my full PlanetSlade essay about the series and Jackson’s other work here. [more inside]
Samuel L. Jackson narrates this fast-paced, provocative series that upends everything you think you know about addiction—from why we use drugs to how they’re brought to market. Adapted from Johann Hari’s best selling book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” and celebrated Ted Talk, "The Fix" exposes the true history of the war on drugs and its impact worldwide. Watch the entire series for free.
The Kraken Busters is a 1000% true history podcast telling the somehow-mostly-forgotten story of the United States' existential conflict with sea monsters immediately after World War 2. The first three episodes are up, with plenty more to come. Can be streamed directly from the site, or found at the usual podcast outlets.
In the past few months, I've been providing answers for the r/askhistorians subreddit, mostly (but not only) to questions about French history. A question about the presence of Africans in France in the late 19th century prompted me to investigate this topic, which has been little studied by academia: there are works on Africans before and after the 19th century, and, for that century, works on Afro-Caribbean people, but not so much on Africa-born residents. So I did a little bit of research and wrote this 8000-word essay which includes a few stories (found in newspapers) about some African people who lived in France in last quarter of the century, decades before African immigration began. [more inside]
Preserving Worlds is a documentary travelogue through aging but beloved virtual worlds. Join us as we explore dated chat environments, appreciate player-created art, and meet people working against obsolescence to keep the communities they care about alive and accessible. [more inside]
In the mid-to-late 1990s, two browser giants - Netscape's Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer - began the First Browser Wars, each introducing their own proprietary features to the nascent web. The former gave us <blink>, the latter <marquee>, and many personal websites used both (one wrapped inside the other) in order to provide animation to virtually all of their users. Don't bother dusting off your old computer: I've recorded what it looked like! [more inside]
Last year, Seven Stories Press released my book Full Spectrum Resistance, a two-volume exploration of how to build more effective movements. Right now you can get a free eBook version of both volumes (until July 5). (I’m posting bonus content on Facebook.) If you like free books about resistance, you can also download a copy of Direct Action Works: A legal handbook for civil disobedience and non-violent direct action in Canada, first released during February 2020's massive Indigenous solidarity actions.
A monthly soundscape mix of music and other sounds for every year - starting in 1853 and working my way slowly towards the present day. Also a monthly radio show on Cambridge 105fm where I talk about the recordings to give some context. Mixes have so far reached 1918 (plus 2016 and 2017) and the radio show is up to 1907.
A song for each year of the People’s Republic of China. An attempt to distill the many diverse, fascinating currents of music in mainland China over the last 70 years into a primer, an invitation to dig deeper. From revolutionary operas and western classical to rock’n’roll, disco, punk and hip-hop — a musical history of the PRC with an eye for the regional, underground and (nefarious) foreign influences. [more inside]
A longform visual essay (3000 words, 50 photos, and a song) about walking the historic North Head Trail in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. A tromp through local history, freezing rain, macrophotography, fog, a cholera hospital, moonlight hikes, tourists, foxes, and optical phenomena. [more inside]
This blog shares one interesting thing, every day. Recent topics have included Samoan independence, fake professors, and Renaissance fart jokes. Also on Facebook and Twitter.
A comic about food, government cheese, being a latchkey kid, being the child of a latchkey kid, and the power of kraft singles in your life
I started writing a blog about one of my dearest niche interests: terrible things happening in cold places. Whether it's explorers wrecking their ships in the Arctic or mountaineering expeditions mysteriously going wrong, I'm interested in it, and I will write about it for you here. [more inside]
The Library of Congress contains vast troves of digital resources. LOC Serendipity is a website that simulates the experience of exploring a library and skimming eye-catching or interesting titles. From books like, "Dainty dishes for slender incomes," which contains a delicious recipe for beignets, to the oddball early-1800's "Memoirs of the notorious Stephen Burroughs of New Hampshire" to "The forgotten book," published in 2018, this tool enables serendipitous and deeply engaging discovery every day. [more inside]
For The Baffler Issue 44 “Truth Decay”, artist and activist John Leavitt approaches the topics of historical memory, the first red scare, the role of propaganda, and the labor movement as something haunting the American mind.
The Christopher L. Jorgensen Collection: A digitized and cataloged private collection of historical cabinet cards and CDVs. Updated daily. [more inside]
We wrote a book! It came out in January and is available in the Mefi Mall. We've been chugging away at putting all the words online, and they're pretty much all scheduled to be up by the end of the year. Or so. Enjoy! [more inside]
The National Design Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America has a twitter presence and they’re using that presence to make threads about the intersection of art, design, and socialism. Bauhaus! William Morris! The Masses and Liberator Magazine! Banned I.W.W artwork! Oscar Wilde! Sewer socialism! National Design acomitee home page.
An excerpt from The Lavander Ledger, a manuscript in progress by John Leavitt about murder, gossip, and scandal in the gay underworld of 1940s Hollywood.
I wrote a book! It’s a popular science book (no equations), and it’s called What is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics. It’s about the 90-year-long struggle to decipher what quantum physics says about the true nature of the world around us. It’s my first book, and I’m still in shock that it’s done (and I'm really nervous about promoting it here). But apparently people like it: the New York Times called What is Real? “a thorough, illuminating exploration of the most consequential controversy raging in modern science.” [more inside]
In honour of Women's History Month, here's a map to help you explore locations in Melbourne related to women's history. Each location has some information about the site and links to more information (if available). Use the map to plan a walking tour of Melbourne or to explore the city from the comfort of your living room.
Since 2010 I've been doing various forms of memory activism on social media for World AIDS Day on December 1. [more inside]
Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, I've written & designed This Thing of Paper, a knitting book inspired by early printed books. Officially the first knitting book to be included in the Gutenberg Museum's archive of book history. [more inside]
I made whiskey based on frontier and Wild West recipes that called for tobacco, leather, and hot peppers. As well as gunpowder and a rattlesnake head. This is the story of making and drinking what seemed like potentially poisonous thing I have ever ingested.
Seersucker went from a working class uniform material to being the sole providence of Great Gatsby cosplayers, how did this happen? I wrote this for Racked to try and find out.
A podcast and blog looking at the good, the bad, and the WTF of western movies, country songs, and that sort of thing. [more inside]
I'm a third generation stagehand. My father and grandfather were both theatrical carpenters, and my father is also an antique tool collector. Many of the images are literally the drawers out of his roadbox and various tool chests at his home, others are some of my favorite pieces of his. I've been posting them with my recollections of a lifetime with these tools, or with stories from my father or grandfather. [more inside]
Anyone interested in some of the more odd and curious aspects of the American Revolution, its life and times, should enjoy the wealth of material at Journal of the American Revolution. Title link my latest, but there is something there for everyone. While I'm here, my Great Siege of Malta is now available for pre-order in paperback, release date June 6. Very reasonably priced and just as good as the hardcover (which is available now). Perfect for graduation/fathers' day/beach reads. Do the author a solid! I have a child looking at colleges.
I keep walking around thinking "Hmm, was there ever a year worse than 2016?" Then I remember that yes, there was. 1933! And what made that year so terrible? Dictators!
If you purchase anything from the Royal British Legion online, they send you a card with the name of a random ordinary soldier who died in the Battle of the Somme with it. When people tell me those names, I find out stuff about them. [more inside]
The traditional western hororscope, mapped onto the classic movie monsters.
A Twitter bot that crawls Tumblr and Flickr for images, learning what tags and authors are good based on feedback on its tweets. Inspired by Archillect, but with a different aesthetic slant. The bot is the main attraction, but you can read more about how and why it came to be here.
Safe for Democracy is a site and a podcast dedicated to shining a little light on the darker spots in the history of US foreign policy. It's got a blog here, a show page here, and an RSS feed here. You can also follow on iTunes. The first episode is about the coup in Guatemala. [more inside]
This map shows a 5,700-year timelapse of the world's cities being born one-by-one, starting with the first known city, Eridu, in 3700 BC. The data is from one of the coolest academic studies I've come across in a long time, which compiled a comprehensive dataset of the world's cities and their historic populations, from 3700 BC to 2000 AD. [more inside]
Some years ago, I heard that Sweeney Todd was based on a true story and I began setting out to do more research on the matter. I quickly discovered that the source which claimed the story was true was highly questionable, but it led me into my own historical search, finding ultimately that the story of Sweeney Todd began as a French story -- and possibly as an urban legend relating to some early 19th century city planning.
A Facebook project in which I explore my home state through photos, artifacts, postcards, and other memorabilia, all in a probably futile attempt to understand what it means to be Minnesotan.
Someone loaned us a house for the season and we made a small natural history museum. Admission is free, our exhibits are focused on Caribbean flora and fauna (it is located in Grand Case, St. Martin) and we are producing short films to show in our theater space at the museum. [more inside]
Each year since 2012, we've compiled a survey of the past year's historic preservation gains, losses and the bittersweet things that teeter in between. Today we released 22 for 2015, where you'll find all our favorite funiculars, cafeterias, neon signs, giant hot dogs, celebrity pet hospitals, tiki bar fish friends and so much more. If you dig old L.A., stop by and see if your favorite place made the list.
I have accidentally created a rather lively Facebook group about Omaha history. Daily posts about forgotten byways in the city by the Missouri, such as our restaurant that featured a live (and unhappy) porpoise that splashed diners, our movie theater that was basically a giant black light poster, and our various terrible mayors.