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  • History

Fame, race, Nella Larsen, and Nella the Princess Knight

Certainly my oddest moment as a scholar of the biracial woman novelist Nella Larsen (1891–1964) was the day I ran across her in the guise of a pink-clad children’s cartoon character, profiled in the New York Times. The unusual name “Nella” drew my eye to Nella the Princess Knight, but as I read further, the character’s similarities to the literary figure multiplied. Like the novelist, Nick Jr’s new heroine has a black father, a white mother, and a baby sister, and she lives in a multiracial community.

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The free press in the “Good War”

When the president declares war on the media, dubbing it the “enemy of the people,” the first instinct of its defenders is to take to Twitter to emphasize how many reporters have sacrificed their lives in reporting the news. The second is to hark back to two eye-catching events: the Vietnam War, when uncensored media reporting exposed the lies about how the conflict was being waged; and the Watergate scandal, when the Washington Post helped to uncover the massive attempt to cover-up the Nixon administration’s illegal bugging of the Democrats.

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Reading landscapes of violence

The Mewatis sought shelter on the Kala Pahar, the Black Mountain, as the Aravallis are called, but the very next day there was firing from an aircraft sent by the Bharatpur State. Azadi was no freedom but is instead locally called bhaga-bhagi (exodus) and kati (killing) in 1947.

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How libraries served soldiers and civilians during WWI and WWII

Essentials for war: supplies, soldiers, strategy, and…libraries? For the United States Army during both World War I and World War II, libraries were not only requested and appreciated by soldiers, but also established as a priority during times of war. In the midst of battle and bloodshed, libraries continued to serve American soldiers and citizens in the several different factions of their lives.

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Edward Gibbon, Enlightenment historian of religion

On 8 May 1788, Edward Gibbon celebrated the publication of the final three volumes of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at a dinner given by his publisher Thomas Cadell. Gibbon (born 27 April 1737) was just 51; he had completed perhaps the greatest work of history ever written by an Englishman, and certainly the greatest history of what his contemporary David Hume called the “historical age,” and we think of as the Enlightenment.

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Are Americans in danger of losing their Internet?

It’s hard to imagine life without the Internet: no smart phones, tablets, PCs, Netflix, the kids without their games. Impossible, you say? Not really, because we have the Internet thanks to a series of conditions in the United States that made it possible to create it in the first place and that continue to influence its availability. There is no law that says it must stay, nor any economic reason why it should, if someone cannot make a profit from it.

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Heartthrobs and happy endings

Popular romance is often written to a formula. Our heroine falls for the attractions of the hero. Stuff gets in the way. They get through this and marry. We assume that they are happy thereafter. Most of the books published by Mills and Boon or Harlequin have some variation on this kind of narrative, centring on heartthrobs and happy endings.

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Mary Wollstonecraft, our contemporary

Since the political earthquake of Trump’s election, preceded by the earth tremor of Brexit, the commentariat has been awash with declarations of the end of eras—of globalisation, of neoliberalism, of the post-World War II epoch of political stability and economic prosperity. As though to orientate ourselves in this brave new world, the search has been on for historical analogies, through whose lenses we might understand our present moment.

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Ellington’s A Drum Is a Woman turns 60

Recent research on African-American jazz icon Duke Ellington (1899-1974) has increasingly focused on the composer-pianist-bandleader’s post-World War II achievements: a torrent of creativity across film, theater, and dance perhaps unrivaled in American music. But the unleashing of Ellington’s “late career” genius was not a foregone conclusion. It would take an ambitious — if not a […]

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Witches and Walpurgis Night

In modern British and American popular culture, Halloween is the night most associated with the nocturnal activities of witches and the souls of the dead. But in much of Europe the 30 April or May Eve, otherwise known as Walpurgis Night, was another moment when spirits and witches were thought to roam abroad. The life and death of Saint Walpurga, who was born in Dorset, England, in the eight century, has nothing to do with witchcraft or magic, though.

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Fielding and fake news

Fake news is not only a phenomenon of post-truth politics in the Trump era. It’s as old as newspapers themselves—or as old, Robert Darnton suggests, as the scurrilous Anecdota of Procopius in sixth-century Byzantium. In England, the first great age of alternative facts was the later seventeenth century, when they clustered especially around crises of dynastic succession.

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From the Bastille to Trump Tower?

Since his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump has courted controversy by issuing a series of tweets or executive orders. His endorsement of the efficacy of waterboarding, an illegal and degrading form of torture, or the decision to close the US frontiers to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries provoked outrage amongst his many opponents.

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Challenges of a hometown oral history performance

One of my first oral history performance experiences was watching E. Patrick Johnson perform Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South Tell Their Tales, the readers theater version of his oral history collection, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, at Texas A&M University.

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So, you think you know Darwin?

Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, geologist, and biologist is known the world over for his contributions to the science of evolution, and his theory of natural selection. Described as one of the most influential figures in human history, his ideas have invited as much controversy as they have scientific debate, with religious, social, and cultural ramifications.

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Tradesmen and women during the Industrial Revolution

An eclectic mix of small manufacturers, shopkeepers and service providers dominated the streetscape of towns across north-west England during early industrial revolution. Yet although these tradesmen and women constituted anything from 20–60% of the urban population, our view of the commercial world in this period tends to be dominated by narratives of particularly big and successful businesses, and those involved in new and large-scale modes of production.

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Councils and juntas in early modern Madrid

Nowadays it’s not uncommon to think of meetings as a time-consuming chore, and it was no different in the seventeenth century. During the 1660s, the count of Castrillo would complain to his wife about the long hours that he had to spend in committees. He was sometimes too busy even so much as to go to Mass, and when he was finally allowed out of the palace it might not have been until the early hours of the morning.

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