Berfrois

Gassy

Gassy

On Boxing Day of 1799 the twenty-year-old chemist Humphry Davy – later to become Sir Humphry, inventor of the miners’ lamp, President of the Royal Society and domineering genius of British science – stripped to the waist, placed a thermometer under his armpit and stepped into a sealed box specially designed by the engineer James Watt for the inhalation of gases, into which he requested the physician Dr. Robert Kinglake to release twenty quarts of nitrous oxide every five minutes for as long as he could retain consciousness.

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Empire

Empire

Why, in 2011, think about empires? We live in a world of nation-states — over 200 of them, each with their seat in the UN, their flag, postage stamps and governmental institutions.

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Frank Müller on Emperor Frederick III

Frank Müller on Emperor Frederick III

‘Fritz and Vicky’, on their honeymoon, Windsor, 1858 by Frank Lorenz Müller It was only after her husband, the German Emperor Frederick III, had finally died on 15 June 1888 that his widow, Empress Victoria, allowed herself to buckle under the weight of almost unbearable grief. Throughout the many...

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Nico Slate: Satyagraha on the Spot

Nico Slate: Satyagraha on the Spot

by Nico Slate On Thursday November 17, a few days after Occupy Wall Street protesters were evicted from Zuccotti Park, a poster emerged declaring “mass non-violent direct action” to “shut down wall street,” “occupy the subways,” and “take the square.” While the reference to “non-violent direct action” reminded me...

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Anne Schutte: Gender and Monastic Release

Anne Schutte: Gender and Monastic Release

by Anne Jacobson Schutte A desperate nun, thrust against her will into a convent by cruel parents, cannot obtain release. Such is the prevailing image of involuntary female monachization in early modern Europe. The engraving reproduced above comes from Denis Diderot’s novel La Religieuse ‒ begun in 1760, published...

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‘Gitmo in the present millennium is no departure at all’

‘Gitmo in the present millennium is no departure at all’

Etching of the first American soldiers to land on Guantanamo Bay during the Spanish-American War, c.1898 From The Nation: With every year, the US naval base at Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay becomes less of a place and more of a concept, one that seems to have sprung from a vacuum...

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Women of the Cistercian Order by Anne Lester

Women of the Cistercian Order by Anne Lester

Cistercian nuns in chapel, detail from frontispiece, Pierre de Blois, La Sainte Abbaye, Central France (possibly Maubuisson) or North Eastern France (Lorraine), ca. 1290. The British Library Board, BL Yates Thompson MS 11, fol. 1v. Reproduced with kind permission by Anne E. Lester To call it a parchment page does not...

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Why do supernatural experiences matter for history?

Why do supernatural experiences matter for history?

Heroldsbach, 1949, via From The Hedgehog Review: In the 1950s, in the midst of what came to be known as the Economic Miracle, West Germany was positively deluged with other wonders: mysterious healings, mystical visions, rumors of the end of the world, and stories of divine and devilish interventions...

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Lisa Rosner: To Burke

Lisa Rosner: To Burke

Burking Poor Old Mrs Constitution Aged 141, William Heath, 1829 by Lisa Rosner What could possibly link Britain’s Catholic Relief Act of 1829, the first in a series of Parliamentary reforms leading to full Catholic emancipation, with the horrific Burke and Hare anatomy murders? The answer is a series...

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Carolina Armenteros on Joseph de Maistre

Carolina Armenteros on Joseph de Maistre

Joseph de Maistre, Karl Vogel von Vogelstein, c.1810 by Carolina Armenteros Centuries after his death, the name of Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) can still trigger shudders. To non-specialists, it evokes Catholic zealotry, reaction incarnate, the taste for violence and the praise of war. After all, this is the Counter-revolutionary...

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Eric Dursteler: Beatrice the Renegade

Eric Dursteler: Beatrice the Renegade

Harem scene, from Memorie Turche, Museo Civico Correr, Cicogna, 1971 by Eric Dursteler In 1559, a ship sailed from Venice to the Dalmatian coast. On board were a mother and her four children, including her young daughter, Beatrice Michiel. As they crossed the Adriatic, corsairs waylaid the ship and...

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Matthew Clavin: Beside Toussaint Louverture

Matthew Clavin: Beside Toussaint Louverture

by Matthew Clavin The last two decades have witnessed an extraordinary transformation in the writing of early American history. Where historians once assumed the exceptionalism of the new United States kept it hermetically sealed from the outside world, they now believe the early republic existed on the periphery of...

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Italy Consumes by Emanuela Scarpellini

Italy Consumes by Emanuela Scarpellini

by Emanuela Scarpellini The press has various ways of describing the current crisis afflicting many countries, including Italy. The first is usually to call it a finance crisis and blame the banks and financial intermediaries; there is talk of problems in the real economy, industry producing less and exports...

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Mark Bevir: Marxism, Fabianism, Ethical Socialism

Mark Bevir: Marxism, Fabianism, Ethical Socialism

England to Her Own Rescue, Walter Crane, 1884 by Mark Bevir “We Are All Socialists Now: The Perils and Promise of the New Era of Big Government” ran a provocative cover of Newsweek on 11 February 2009. The financial crisis had swept through the economy, and the state had...

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Jonathan Boyarin: 180 Stanton Street

Jonathan Boyarin: 180 Stanton Street

180 Stanton Street by Jonathan Boyarin The fast-approaching secular year 2013 will mark the centennial of a modest building at 180 Stanton Street, on New York City’s Lower East Side, that houses Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshei Brzezan. I first entered its doors and re-learned how to place tefillin on...

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Elaine Forman Crane: Legal Matters (and Whores)

Elaine Forman Crane: Legal Matters (and Whores)

A Bellarmine Jug, or “Witch-bottle” by Elaine Forman Crane John Hammett, a Newport clerk, schoolmaster, and wife beater, may not be the most typical early American, but his experience suggests how braided law and life actually were in the era. Before his own brush with the authorities as an...

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Craig Harline: Conversion

Craig Harline: Conversion

The Conversion of Saul, Micheangelo Buonarroti, 1542-45 by Craig Harline What are the choices when a family member converts to another faith (or non-faith)? Or, takes a path that upsets the family’s perceived traditions? One good place to look for answers is Reformation Europe, where the problem of individual...

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Aaron Skabelund: Hachikō

Aaron Skabelund: Hachikō

The “Loyal Dog” Hachikō in 1934 by Aaron Herald Skabelund On the morning of 21 May 1925, a dog known as Hachikō walked with his master to a Tokyo railway station just as they had done each weekday morning for over a year since he had been adopted as...

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Logan K. Young on The Replacements

I, myself, was barely six months old when Twin/Tone put out The Mats’ Let It Be. The day, they say, was Orwellian: Tuesday, October...

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Tyranny Is a Growth Industry by Vladimir Savich and Zachary Bos

Tyranny is a growth industry. Each day brings exciting new developments. These events imprint themselves upon the world in the form of newspapers, magazines,...

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Tjoa Shze Hui: 1920s

Of the many witticisms that make up The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, one voiced by Picasso really gets under the skin. He says...

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Elias Tezapsidis on Lorentzen, Batuman, Lerner, Smallwood and Stein

Contemporary narrators feel entitled to their own realities now more than ever. The internet has created this fascinating binary, one in which individuals can...

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Henry Giardina on Bob Hope

All mythical creatures need an origin story. The Bob Hope character springs into being, Athena-like, from out of the head of Preston Sturges in...

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Mattilda B. Sycamore: Yearning From Spurning

One problem with gentrification is that it always gets worse. But then I go into a Hooters, and it’s a vintage clothing store. A...

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Alexander McGregor
Alexander McGregor: Trauma

Following World War II, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote, “Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch”: to write poetry after Auschwitz is...

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John Crutchfield: Chords

But music, even bad music, is a symptom of hope, is it not? Naturally one would prefer the music to be good, but any...

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Menachem Feuer on Robin Williams

Regardless of whether you are from Europe, the United States, Asia, or Africa, we can all agree that there is something special about the...

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Reality Principles: Berfrois Interviews Frank Smecker

I don't know if I ever wanted to become a theorist. I struggle with this position. For me, it's a hystericized — and therefore...

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Albert Rolls: Which (Side) Are You On, Man?

James Parker begins his review of Inherent Vice with the quip, “If Thomas Pynchon were a stand-up comedian, and Inherent Vice his newest routine,...

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Keith Doubt
Keith Doubt on Serbia

The intellectual integrity of cultural anthropology is based largely on its commitment to cultural relativism as a principled notion. Cultural relativism is the principle...

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A Gosse in Woolf’s Clothing by Andre Gerard

On May 31, two weeks after his death, and the day before Orlando was sent to the printer, Woolf noted his death as follows:...

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Andrew Gallix: Let’s Go!

Retro-futurism, as we now call it, came out of the closet in the late '70s due to the widespread feeling that there was indeed...

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