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 | 3 days 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 days ago

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

The philosopher's method for creating a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. | Continue reading | 14 days 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 | 24 days 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 | 26 days 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 | 1 month 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 | 1 month 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 | 1 month 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 | 2 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 | 2 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 | 2 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 | 2 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 | 2 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 | 3 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 | 3 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 | 3 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 | 3 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 | 3 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 | 3 months ago


Illustrations of a mysterious and terrifying animal that terrorised a small region of France in the 1760s. | Continue reading | 3 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 | 4 months ago

X Is For...

How alphabet books dealt with the letter X before the rise of x-rays and xylophones. | Continue reading | 4 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 | 5 months 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 | 5 months 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 | 5 months 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 | 6 months 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 | 6 months 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 | 8 months ago

Flower Power: Hamilton’s Doctor and the Healing Power of Nature

Rebecca Rego Barry on David Hosack, the doctor who attended Alexander Hamilton to his duel (and death), and creator of one of the first botanical gardens in the United States, home to thousands of species which he used for his pioneering medical research. | Continue reading | 8 months ago

“O Uommibatto”: How the Pre-Raphaelites Became Obsessed with the Wombat

Angus Trumble on Dante Gabriel Rossetti and company's curious but longstanding fixation with the furry oddity that is the wombat — that 'most beautiful of God's creatures' which found its way into their poems, their art, and even, for a brief while, their homes. | Continue reading | 9 months ago

Chirologia, or the Natural Language of the Hand (1644)

Images from John Bulwer's 17th-century study on the language of the hands and gesture. | Continue reading | 9 months ago

Public Domain Review's “Class of 2019”(Artists/Writers with Works Entering PD)

Our top pick of those whose works on 1st January 2018 enter the public domain in many countries around the world, including Kurt Schwitters, Marcel Duchamp, Sergei Eisenstein and Martin Luther King Jr. | Continue reading | 9 months ago

Hokusai’s Ghost Stories (ca. 1830)

Hokusai's five ghoulish prints for the series Hyaku Monogatari . | Continue reading | 10 months ago

Frolicsome Engines: The Long Prehistory of Artificial Intelligence

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 | 10 months ago

Polychrome Woodblocks of Itō Jakuchū Birds

Meiji era copies (ca. 1900) of original designs by Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800), a Japanese painter of the mid-Edo period notable for his striking modern aesthetic. | Continue reading | 10 months ago

Mesmerising Science: The Franklin Commission and the Modern Clinical Trial

Benjamin Franklin, magnetic trees, and erotically-charged séances — Urte Laukaityte on how a craze for sessions of 'animal magnetism' in late 18th-century Paris led to the randomised placebo-controlled and double-blind clinical trials we know and love today. | Continue reading | 11 months ago

Elephants, Horses, and the Proportions of Paradise

Does each species have an optimal form? An ideal beauty that existed prior to the Fall? And if so could this be recreated on both paper and in life? These were questions that concerned both artists and breeders alike in the 17th century. Dániel Margócsy on the search for a menage … | Continue reading | 11 months ago

The Public Domain Review

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 | 11 months ago

Divining the Witch of York: Propaganda and Prophecy

Said to be spawn of the devil himself and possessed with great powers of prophetic insight, Mother Shipton was Yorkshire's answer to Nostradamus. Ed Simon looks into how, regardless of whether this prophetess witch actually existed or not, the legend of Mother Shipton has wielded … | Continue reading | 11 months ago

John Milton’s Frontispiece Prank

Confronted with a bad frontispiece portrait of himself Milton enacted a very literary revenge on the engraver. | Continue reading | 12 months ago

Napoleon’s “Englich” Lessons

While imprisoned on St Helena, Napoleon started learning English. One resident of the island called his English “the oddest in the world.” | Continue reading | 1 year ago

The Calaveras of José Guadalupe Posada

Deriving from the Spanish word for 'skulls', these calaveras were illustrations featuring skeletons which would, after Posada's death, become closely associated with the mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Grandville, Visions, and Dreams

With its dreamlike inversions and kaleidoscopic cast of anthropomorphic objects, animals, and plants, the world of French artist J. J. Grandville is at once both delightful and disquieting. Patricia Mainardi explores the unique work of this 19th-century illustrator now recognised … | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Images from William Saville-Kent’s the Great Barrier Reef of Australia (1893)

Colour lithographs and photographs from the first book to extensively depict a coral reef using photography. | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Eric, Count Stenbock: A Catch of a Ghost

With his extravagant dress, entourage of exotic pets, and morbid fascinations, Count Stenbock is considered one of the greatest exemplars of the Decadent movement. David Tibet on the enigmatic writer’s short and curious life. | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Dr Julius Neubronner’s Miniature Pigeon Camera

Continue reading | 1 year ago

Bringing the Ocean Home

Bernd Brunner on the English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse and how his 1854 book The Aquarium, complete with spectacular illustrations and a dizzy dose of religious zeal, sparked a craze for the | Continue reading | 1 year ago

Ernst Haeckel’s Jellyfish

Haeckel's stunning illustrations of medusae, in whose ethereal forms he glimpsed a reflection of his first wife, who died tragically at the age of 29. | Continue reading | 1 year ago