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Melancholy Wedgwood (MIT Press, 2024) is an experimental biography of the ceramics entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood that reveals the tenuous relationship of eighteenth-century England to late-capitalist modernity. It traces the multiple strands in the life of the ceramic entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795) to propose an alternative view of eightee…
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Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz was one of the greatest rabbis of the eighteenth century. Even as a child, he was renowned as one of the rare geniuses of his time. Among the most revered Torah scholars of the last 300 years, Rabbi Eybeshitz was also a prolific writer, preacher, and Kabbalah master. His innumerable writings cover all areas of Jewish Learn…
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This volume proposes a method for reading Milton's De Doctrina Christiana as an artifact of his process of theological thinking rather than as a repository of his doctrinal views. Jason A. Kerr argues that reading in this way involves attention to the complex material state of the manuscript along with Milton's varying modes of engagement with scri…
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In a broken world, in which even God Himself is in a state of deep crisis, what is required in order to mend the rupture? How can one heal God and His world? Moreover, what might allow our actions to be effective? These questions stand at the heart of the Lurianic Kabbalah, the apex of the Safedian intellectual and religious renaissance of the sixt…
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From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution transformed Britain from an agricultural and artisanal economy to one dominated by industry, ushering in unprecedented growth in technology and trade and putting the country at the center of the global economy. But the commonly accepted story of the industrial revolution, anc…
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Shakespeare through Islamic Worlds (Routledge, 2024) investigates the peculiar absence of Islam and Muslims from Shakespeare’s canon. While many of Shakespeare’s plays were set in the Mediterranean, a geography occupied by Muslim empires and cultures, his work eschews direct engagement with the religion and its people. This erasure is striking give…
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Fabricating Founders in Early Modern England: History, Rhetoric, and the Origins of Christianity (Brill, 2023) argues that in order to understand nationalisms, we need a clearer understanding of the types of cultural myths, symbols, and traditions that legitimate them. Myths of origin and election, memories of a greater and purer past, and narrativ…
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Bandits in Print: "The Water Margin" and the Transformations of the Chinese Novel (Cornell UP, 2023) uses the classic novel The Water Margin (Shuihu Zhuan) to examine the world of print in early modern China. Scott W. Gregory traces the way this beloved novel about outlaw heroes, honor, corruption, and brotherhood was adapted and changed by differe…
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When will I die? What is the sex of my unborn child? Which of two rivals will win a duel? As today, people in the later Middle Ages approached their uncertainties about the future, from the serious to the mundane, in a variety of ways. One of the most commonly surviving prognostic methods in medieval manuscripts is onomancy: the branch of divinatio…
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Lucy Barnhouse of Arkansas State University talks with Jana Byars about her new book, Hospitals in Communities of the Late Medieval Rhineland: Houses of God, Places for the Sick, out 2023 with Amsterdam University Press. From the mid-twelfth century onwards, the development of European hospitals was shaped by their claim to the legal status of reli…
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In 1647, the French author Étienne Cleirac asserted in his book Les us, et coustumes de la mer that the credit instruments known as bills of exchange had been invented by Jews. In The Promise and Peril of Credit: What a Forgotten Legend about Jews and Finance Tells Us about the Making of European Commercial Society (Princeton University Press, 2019…
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Mirabai, an iconic sixteenth-century Indian poet-saint, is renowned for her unwavering love of God, her disregard for social hierarchies and gendered notions of honor and shame, and her challenge to familial, feudal, and religious authorities. Defying attempts to constrain and even kill her, she could not be silenced. Though verifiable facts regard…
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Shakespeare's Adolescents: Age, Gender and the Body in Shakespearean Performance and Early Modern Culture (Manchester UP, 2024) by Dr. Victoria Sparey examines the varied representation of adolescent characters in Shakespeare's plays. Using early modern medical knowledge and an understanding of contemporary theatrical practices, the book unpacks co…
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Guilds were prominent in medieval and early modern Europe, but their economic role has seldom been studied. In The European Guilds: An Economic Analysis (Princeton University Press, 2019), Sheilagh Ogilvie offers a wide-ranging examination of what guilds did and how they affected pre-modern economies. As Ogilvie explains, guilds were particularized…
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In sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, the female silhouette underwent a dramatic change. This very structured form, created using garments called bodies and farthingales, existed in various extremes in Western Europe and beyond, in the form of stays, corsets, hoop petticoats and crinolines, right up until the twentieth century. With a nuanc…
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The Pacific Ocean is twice the size of the Atlantic, and while humans have been traversing its current-driven maritime highways for thousands of years, its sheer scale proved an obstacle to early European imperial powers. Enter Lope Martin, a forgotten Afro-Portuguese ship pilot heretofore unheralded by historians. In Conquering the Pacific: An Unk…
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During the late Spanish colonial period, the Pacific Lowlands, also called the Greater Chocó, was famed for its rich placer deposits. Gold mined here was central to New Granada’s economy yet this Pacific frontier in today’s Colombia was considered the “periphery of the periphery.” Infamous for its fierce, unconquered Indigenous inhabitants and its …
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We are used to thinking of ourselves as living in a time when more information is more available than ever before. In The Specter of the Archive: Political Practice and the Information State in Early Modern Britain (University of Chicago Press, 2024), Nicholas Popper shows that earlier eras had to grapple with the same problem—how to deal with too …
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What does it mean to be human? What do we know about the true history of humankind? In this episode, I spoke with historian and NYU professor Stefanos Geroulanos to discuss his new book, The Invention of Prehistory: Empire, Violence, and Our Obsession with Human Origins (Liveright, 2024) to discover how claims about the earliest humans and humankin…
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Alexander Statman's book A Global Enlightenment: Western Progress and Chinese Science (U Chicago Press, 2023) is a revisionist history of the idea of progress reveals an unknown story about European engagement with Chinese science. The Enlightenment gave rise not only to new ideas of progress but consequential debates about them. Did distant times …
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In this colorful book, historian Sudev Sheth traces how a family of diamond dealers deployed wealth to play off political leaders and survive the collapse of the Mughal Empire. The story highlights the unique role played by Jain and Hindu bankers in the daily affairs of Islamic, Hindu, and early colonial forms of Indian government. Bankrolling Empi…
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The enigma of William Shakespeare's religious beliefs has long tantalized scholars and enthusiasts alike. Vernon Press's latest publication, Christian Shakespeare?: A Collection of Essays on Shakespeare in His Christian Context (Vernon Press, 2022), dives deep into this mystery. The collection of essays, edited by renowned scholars Michael Scott an…
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Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was one of the most important philosophers of all time; he was also one of the most radical and controversial. The story of Spinoza's life takes the reader into the heart of Jewish Amsterdam in the seventeenth century and, with Spinoza's exile from Judaism, into the midst of the tumultuous political, social, intellectual,…
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Libertine London: Sex in the Eighteenth-Century Metropolis (Reaktion, 2024) by Dr. Julie Peakman investigates the sex lives of women from 1680 to 1830, the period known as the long eighteenth century. It uncovers the various experiences of women, whether mistresses, adulteresses or those involved in the sex trade. From renowned courtesans to downtr…
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Spanish Fashion in the Age of Velázquez: A Tailor at the Court of Philip IV (Yale University Press, 2024) by Dr. Amanda Wunder is the first archival study of dress at the court of Philip IV, as told through the life and work of royal tailor Mateo Aguado. Tailor to the queens of Spain from 1630 to 1672, Aguado designed the striking dresses that gave…
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How did early moderns experience sense and space? How did the expanding cultural, political, and social horizons of the period emerge out of those experiences and further shape them? Senses of Space in the Early Modern World (Cambridge University Press, 2024) by Dr. Nicholas Terpstra takes an approach that is both global expansive and locally roote…
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Debby Koren's book Responsa in a Historical Context: A View of Post-Expulsion Spanish-Portuguese Jewish Communities Through 16th- And 17th-Century Responsa (Academic Studies Press, 2023) contains a collection of eight annotated translations of responsa, alongside the original Hebrew texts, focusing on the post-expulsion Spanish-Portuguese communiti…
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Puerto Rico is a Spanish-speaking territory of the United States with a history shaped by conquest and resistance. For centuries, Puerto Ricans have crafted and negotiated complex ideas about nationhood. Jorell Meléndez-Badillo provides a new history of Puerto Rico that gives voice to the archipelago's people while offering a lens through which to …
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Sixteenth-century Spain was small, poor, disunited and sparsely populated. Yet the Spaniards and their allies built the largest empire the world had ever seen. How did they achieve this? In How the Spanish Empire Was Built: a 400-year History (Reaktion, 2024) Dr. Felipe Fernández-Armesto and Dr. Manuel Lucena Giraldo argue that Spain’s engineers we…
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Adam Kabat’s The River Imp and the Stinky Jewel and Other Tales: Monster Comics from Edo Japan (Columbia UP, 2023) is an in-depth introduction to the rich and ribald world of kibyōshi, a short-lived (1778-1807) subgenre of books combining text and illustration on the same page, much like comic books and manga today. This book presents a selection o…
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In The Atlantic Slave Trade in World History (Routledge, 2015), Jeremy Black presents a compact yet comprehensive survey of slavery and its impact on the world, primarily centered on the Atlantic trade. Opening with a clear discussion of the problems of defining slavery, the book goes on to investigate the Atlantic slave trade from its origins to a…
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Enlightenment philosopher David Hume enjoyed a tremendous influence on intellectual history. What did Hume believe, why was it so controversial at the time, and why to many does it seem so common-sensical now? What can Humian thought explain, and where does it fall short? To discuss, Aaron Zubia, Assistant Professor at the University of Florida's H…
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Historians of early America, slavery, early African American history, the history of science, and environmental history have interrogated the complex ways in which enslaved people were thought about and treated as human but also dehumanized to be understood as private property or chattel. The comparison of enslaved people to animals, particularly d…
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In The Jesuits: A Thematic History (Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2023), Claudio Ferlan provides an exploration of the tradition of the Society of Jesus. Instead of focusing solely on the Society’s historical milestones and changes, Ferlan traces the continuity of key Jesuit themes over time—covering education, mission, social engagement, and more. …
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Six hundred years ago, the author of this landmark work of history and religious thought—an esteemed judge, poet, and scholar in Cairo—survived the bubonic plague, which took the lives of three of his children, not to mention tens of millions of others throughout the medieval world. Holding up an eerie mirror to our own time, he reflects on the ori…
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Despite being one of the most influential women of 17th century France, Marie de Vignerot has been largely forgotten. The niece, heiress, and advisor to the infamous Cardinal Richelieu, Marie was deeply motivated by her Catholic faith, yet never re-married after she became a widow at 18. She shaped France and the French empire's political, religiou…
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In 1341 in Aragon, a Jewish convert to Christianity was sentenced to death, only to be pulled from the burning stake and into a formal religious interrogation. His confession was as astonishing to his inquisitors as his brush with mortality is to us: the condemned man described a Jewish conspiracy to persuade recent converts to denounce their newfo…
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Kant scholars have paid relatively little attention to his raciology. They assume that his racism, as personal prejudice, can be disentangled from his core philosophy. They also assume that racism contradicts his moral theory. In Kant, Race, and Racism: Views from Somewhere (Oxford UP, 2023), philosopher Huaping Lu-Adler challenges both assumptions…
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Caritas, a form of grace that turned our love for our neighbour into a spiritual practice, was expected of all early modern Christians, and corresponded with a set of ethical rules for living that displayed one's love in the everyday. Caritas was not just a willingness to behave morally, to keep the peace, and to uphold social order however, but wa…
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Eighteenth-century France witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of materially unstable art, from oil paintings that cracked within years of their creation to enormous pastel portraits vulnerable to the slightest touch or vibration. In A Delicate Matter: Art, Fragility, and Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France (Penn State University Press, 20…
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The Spirit of the Laws not only systematizes the foundational ideas of “separation of powers” and “balances and checks,” it provides the decisive response to the question of whether power in the nation-state can be limited in the aftermath of the Westphalian settlement of 1648. It describes a civilizational change through which power becomes domest…
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On November 12, 1588, five young Asian men—led by a twenty-one-year-old called Christopher—traveled up the River Thames to meet Queen Elizabeth I. Christopher’s epic sea voyage had spanned from Japan, via the Philippines, New Spain (Mexico), Java and Southern Africa. On the way, he had already become the first recorded Japanese person in North Amer…
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It’s very easy to study the history of the British Empire from the perspective of, well, the British–and to extend the early 20th century version of the empire as a world-spanning entity backwards through history. David Veevers, in his new book The Great Defiance: How the World Took on the British Empire (Ebury Press, 2023) studies the English, and…
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In 1717, the Council of Trade and Plantations received "agreeable news" from New England. "Bellamy with his ship and Company" had perished on the shoals of Cape Cod. Who was this Bellamy and why did his demise please the government? Born Samuel Bellamy circa 1689, he was a pirate who operated off the coast of New England and throughout the Caribbea…
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Across the Green Sea: Histories from the Western Indian Ocean, 1440-1640 (University of Texas Press, 2024) by Dr. Sanjay Subrahmanyam presents a history of two centuries of interactions among the areas bordering the western Indian Ocean, including India, Iran, and Africa. Beginning in the mid-fifteenth century, the regions bordering the western Ind…
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Coins, flax, spinning wheels, mud, pigs. Each of these objects were ubiquitous in the premodern cultural representation of the Irish. Through case studies of these five objects, Colleen Taylor’s new monograph Irish Materialisms: The Nonhuman and the Making of Colonial Ireland, 1690-1830 (Oxford University Press, 2024) recovers the sometimes-oppress…
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Is contemporary international order truly a secular arrangement? Theorists of international relations typically adhere to a narrative that portrays the modern states system as the product of a gradual process of secularization that transcended the religiosity of medieval Christendom. William Bain's Political Theology of International Order (Oxford …
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The birchbark canoe is among the most remarkable Indigenous technologies in North America, facilitating mobility throughout the watery world of the Great Lakes region and its borderlands. In Muddy Ground: Native Peoples, Chicago's Portage, and the Transformation of a Continent (UNC Press, 2023), Texas Tech University historian John William Nelson a…
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In the sixteenth century, members of the Ouchi family were kings in all but name in much of Japan. Immensely wealthy, they controlled sea lanes stretching to Korea and China, as well as the Japanese city of Yamaguchi, which functioned as an important regional port with a growing population and a host of temples and shrines. The family was unique in…
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The 2020 toppling of slave-trader Edward Colston's statue by Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol was a dramatic reminder of Britain's role in trans-Atlantic slavery, too often overlooked. Yet the legacy of that predatory economy reaches far beyond bronze memorials; it continues to shape the entire visual fabric of the country. Architect Victor…
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