The Skeptical Pilgrim: Melville’s Clarel

Weighing in at a colossal 18,000 lines, Herman Melville's Clarel (1876), which centres on the theological musings of a group of pilgrims touring the Holy Land, is not for the faint-hearted. Jeff Wheelwright explores the knot of spiritual dilemmas played out in the poem and it … | Continue reading | 15 days ago

Colour Wheels, Charts, and Tables Through History

A chronology of various attempts through the last four centuries to visually organise and make sense of colour: from simple wheels to multi-layered pyramids, from scientific systems to those based on the hues of human emotion. | Continue reading | 17 days ago

Eastern Sports and Western Bodies: The “Indian Club” in the United States

Although largely forgotten today, exercise by club swinging was all the rage in the 19th century. Daniel Elkind explores the rise of the phenomenon in the US, and how such efforts to keep trim and build muscle were inextricably entwined with the history of colonialism, immigratio … | Continue reading | 1 month ago

The PublicDomainReview Colouring Book Free to Download and Print Off at Home

We made you a colouring book to help you through these strange times, featuring works by Hokusai, Albrecht Dürer, Virginia Frances Sterrett, and Aubrey Beardsley. | Continue reading | 1 month ago

François de Nomé’s Imaginary Ruins

Startling Baroque paintings of imaginary ruins and other fantastic architecture by a proto-surrealist master. | Continue reading | 2 months ago

Glossary of Censored Words from a 1919 Treatise on Love

List of Latin words used to veil words deemed too scandalous in Bernard S. Talmey’s treatise on carnal acts. | Continue reading | 2 months ago

The easterner goes west in three early American comics

The California Gold Rush transformed the landscape and population of the United States. It also introduced a new figure into American life and the American imagination — the effete Eastern urbanite who travels to the Wild West in quest of his fortune. Alex Andriesse examines how … | Continue reading | 2 months ago

Coughs, Sneezes, and Jet-Propelled Germs: Two Films by Richard Massingham (1945)

Two PSA films featuring the multi-talented director, actor, doctor, and hypochondriac Richard Massingham. | Continue reading | 2 months ago

Japanese Firemen’s Coats from the 19th Century

Continue reading | 3 months ago

“Theire Soe Admirable Herbe”: How the English Found Cannabis

In the 17th century, English travelers, merchants, and physicians were first introduced to cannabis, particularly in the form of bhang, an intoxicating edible which had been getting Indians high for millennia. Benjamin Breen charts the course of the drug from the streets of Machi … | Continue reading | 3 months ago

When Dorothy Parker Got Fired from Vanity Fair

Dorothy Parker’s reputation as one of the premier wits of the 20th century rests firmly on the brilliance of her writing, but the image of her as a plucky, fast-talking, independent woman of her times owes more than a little to her seat at the legendary Algonquin Round Table. Jon … | Continue reading | 3 months ago

D. A. Rovinskii’s Collection of Russian Lubki (18th–19th Century)

A selection of D. A. Rovinskiĭ’s collection of lubki — colorful Russian prints from the 16th through 20th century. | Continue reading | 3 months ago

Emma Willard's Maps of Time

In the 21st-century, infographics are everywhere. In the classroom, in the newspaper, in government reports, these concise visual representations of complicated information have changed the way we imagine our world. Susan Schulten explores the pioneering work of Emma Willard (178 … | Continue reading | 4 months ago

Scurvy and the Terra Incognita

One remarkable symptom of scurvy, that constant bane of the Age of Discovery, was the acute and morbid heightening of the senses. Jonathan Lamb explores how this unusual effect of sailing into uncharted territory echoed a different kind of voyage, one undertaken by the Empiricist … | Continue reading | 5 months ago

The Sound and the Story: Exploring the World of Paradise Lost

John Milton’s Paradise Lost has been many things to many people — a Christian epic, a comment on the English Civil War, the epitome of poetic ambiguity — but it is first of all a pleasure to read. Drawing on sources as varied as Wordsworth, Hitchcock, and Conan Doyle, author Phil … | Continue reading | 5 months ago

Picturing a Voice: Margaret Watts-Hughes and the Eidophone

Of the various forms the nascent art of sound recording took in the late nineteenth century perhaps none was so aesthetically alluring as that invented by Margaret Watts-Hughes. Rob Mullender-Ross explores the significance of the Welsh singer’s ingenious set of images, which unti … | Continue reading | 6 months ago

Welcome to our shiny new website

Online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas. | Continue reading | 6 months ago

Loie Fuller and the Serpentine

With her serpentine dance — a show of swirling silk and rainbow lights — Loie Fuller became one of the most celebrated dancers of the fin de siècle. | Continue reading | 6 months ago

A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000

A series of futuristic pictures by Jean-Marc Côté and other artists issued in France in 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1910. Originally in the form of paper cards enclosed in cigarette/cigar boxes and, later, as postcards, the images depicted the world as it was imagined to be like in the … | Continue reading | 6 months ago

Persian Demons from a Book of Magic and Astrology (1921)

Watercolours from an early twentieth-century book of spells depicting Persian demons associated with the zodiac. | Continue reading | 7 months ago

First Paper to Link CO2 and Global Warming, by Eunice Foote (1856)

The first paper to link carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and earth heating. | Continue reading | 7 months ago

Our Masterpiece Is the Private Life: In Pursuit of the “Real” Chateaubriand

While nowadays he might be best known for the cut of meat that bears his name, François-René de Chateaubriand was once one of the most famous men in France — a giant of the literary scene and idolised by such future greats as Alphonse de Lamartine and Victor Hugo. Alex Andriesse … | Continue reading | 7 months ago

John Locke’s Method for Common-Place Books (1685)

The philosopher's method for creating a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. | Continue reading | 7 months ago

Yvette Borup Andrews: Photographing Central Asia (2018)

Although often overshadowed by the escapades of her more famous husband (said by some to be the real-life inspiration for Indiana Jones), the photographs taken by Yvette Borup Andrews on their first expeditions through Central Asia stand today as a compelling contribution to earl … | Continue reading | 8 months ago

Greenland Unicorns and the Magical Alicorn

When the existence of unicorns, and the curative powers of the horns ascribed to them, began to be questioned, one Danish physician pushed back through curious means — by reframing the unicorn as an aquatic creature of the northern seas. Natalie Lawrence on a fascinating converge … | Continue reading | 8 months ago

Woodblocks in Wonderland: The Japanese Fairy Tale Series

From gift-bestowing sparrows and peach-born heroes to goblin spiders and dancing phantom cats — in a series of beautifully illustrated books, the majority printed on an unusual cloth-like crepe paper, the publisher Takejiro Hasegawa introduced Japanese folk tales to the West. Chr … | Continue reading | 8 months ago

The Dreams of an Inventor in 1420

Bennett Gilbert peruses a sketchbook of 15th-century engineer Johannes de Fontana, a catalogue of designs for a wide-range of fantastic and often impossible inventions, including fire-breathing automatons, pulley-powered angels, and the earliest surviving drawing of a magic lante … | Continue reading | 9 months ago

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug” (1843)

Poe’s story of a treasure hunt, revealing the fantastical writer’s hyper-rational penchant for cracking codes. | Continue reading | 9 months ago

Frolicsome Engines: The Long Prehistory of Artificial Intelligence (2016)

Defecating ducks, talking busts, and mechanised Christs — Jessica Riskin on the wonderful history of automata, machines built to mimic the processes of intelligent life. | Continue reading | 9 months ago

Darwin's Polar Bear

Musings upon the whys and wherefores of polar bears, particularly in relation to their forest-dwelling cousins, played an important but often overlooked role in the development of evolutionary theory. Michael Engelhard explores. | Continue reading | 10 months ago

Brilliant Visions: Peyote Among the Aesthetes

Used by the indigenous peoples of the Americas for millennia, it was only in the last decade of the 19th century that the powerful effects of mescaline began to be systematically explored by curious non-indigenous Americans and Europeans. Mike Jay looks at one such pioneer Havelo … | Continue reading | 10 months ago

In Praise of Halvings: Hidden Histories of Japan Excavated by Dr D. Fenberger

Roger McDonald on the mysterious Dr Daniel Fenberger and his investigations into an archive known as “The Book of Halved Things'. | Continue reading | 10 months ago

Concealing messages in entomological drawings of leaves and butterflies

In 1915 Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouts movement, published his DIY guide to espionage, My Adventures as a Spy. Mark Kaufman explores how the book's ideas to utilise such natural objects as butterflies, moths and leaves, worked to mythologize British resource … | Continue reading | 10 months ago

Why do we so seldom see people smiling in painted portraits?

Why do we so seldom see people smiling in painted portraits? Nicholas Jeeves explores the history of the smile through the ages of portraiture, from Da Vinci's Mona Lisa to Alexander Gardner's photographs of Abraham Lincoln. Today when someone points a camera at us, we smile. Thi … | Continue reading | 10 months ago

The Myth of Blubber Town, an Arctic Metropolis

Though the 17th-century whaling station of Smeerenburg was in reality, at its height, just a few dwellings and structures for processing blubber, over the decades and centuries a more extravagant picture took hold — that there once had stood, defying its far-flung Arctic location … | Continue reading | 10 months ago

Optics Illustrations from the Physics Textbooks of Amédée Guillemin (1868/1882)

Illustrations from the 19th-century physics text books of Amédée Guillemin. | Continue reading | 10 months ago

Fabre’s Book of Insects (1921)

Book of Insects: An Alphabet of Floral Emblems (London; New York: T. Nelson and Sons, 1857) In the first chapter of his Book of Insects, Jean-Henri Fabre (1823–1915) introduces the reader to his workshop — which is to say his home — located on a pebbly expanse of land near the Pr … | Continue reading | 10 months ago

Walt Whitman in Russia: Three Love Affairs

Walt Whitman’s influence on the creative output of 20th-century Russia — particularly in the years surrounding the 1917 Revolution — was enormous. For the 200th anniversary of Whitman's birth, Nina Murray looks at the translators through which Russians experienced his work, not o … | Continue reading | 10 months ago

H. G. Wells and the Uncertainties of Progress

In addition to the numerous pioneering works of science fiction by which he made his name, H. G. Wells also published a steady stream of non-fiction meditations, mainly focused on themes salient to his stories: the effects of technology, human folly, and the idea of progress. As … | Continue reading | 11 months ago


Illustrations of a mysterious and terrifying animal that terrorised a small region of France in the 1760s. | Continue reading | 11 months ago

Lustucru: From Severed Heads to Ready-Made Meals

Jé Wilson charts the migration of the Lustucru figure through the French cultural imagination — from misogynistic blacksmith bent on curbing female empowerment, to child-stealing bogeyman, to jolly purveyor of packaged pasta. | Continue reading | 11 months ago

X Is For...

How alphabet books dealt with the letter X before the rise of x-rays and xylophones. | Continue reading | 11 months ago

Music of the Squares: David R. Hay and the Reinvention of Pythagorean Aesthetics

Understanding the same laws to apply to both visual and aural beauty, David Ramsay Hay thought it possible not only to analyse such visual wonders as the Parthenon in terms of music theory, but also to identify their corresponding musical harmonies and melodies. Carmel Raz on the … | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Get Thee to a Phalanstery: Or, How Fourier Can Still Teach Us to Make Lemonade

Hot on the heels of the French revolution — by way of extravagant orgies, obscure taxonomies, and lemonade seas — Charles Fourier offered up his blueprint for a socialist utopia, and in the process also one of the most influential early critiques of capitalism. Dominic Pettman ex … | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Loos, Lewdness, and Literature: Tales from the Boghouse

In the early 1730s, a mysterious editor (known only as “Hurlothrumbo”) committed to print a remarkable anthology: transcriptions of the graffiti from England’s public latrines. For all its misogynistic and scatological tendencies, this little-known book of “latrinalia” offers a u … | Continue reading | 1 year ago

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Art (1460–1921)

Highlights from the many centuries of artworks to feature the iconic building — from its illuminated punctuation of medieval skylines to grainy detailed studies at the birth of photography. | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Lover of the Strange, Barbarianologist of the Farthest Peripheries

Winnie Wong brings us a short biography of the Chinese curioso Pan Youxun (1745-1780). At issue? Hubris, hegemony, and global art history. | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Filling in the Blanks: A Prehistory of the Adult Coloring Craze

Its dizzy heights may have passed, but the fad for adult coloring books is far from over. Many trace the origins of such publications to a wave of satirical colouring books published in the 1960s, but as Melissa N. Morris and Zach Carmichael explore, the existence of such books, … | Continue reading | 1 year ago