History from
the Bottom Up

Happy Thanksgiving!

500px Family Saying Grace Anthonius Claeissins c 1585 Happy Thanksgiving!

I am busy shopping, chopping, and cooking for lots of relatives this week, and will resume my blog next week. Have a wonderful holiday, all.


Antoon Claeissins, Family Saying Grace, 1585


Today I’m leaving for the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention, held this year in Washington DC.

Tomorrow I’ll be on a panel  from 2:30 PM to 3:45 PM with five other authors, moderated by Jeff Anderson.


My fellow panelists will be: Erin Dionne, Varian Johnson, Kate Messner, Laurel Snyder, and … Read more

Thanksgiving, Back in the Day

I’m busy planning Thanksgiving dinner, and as I do every year, am frustrated by the tyranny of today’s menu, and my family and friends’ expectations. People are so hidebound nowadays, demanding turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. It hasn’t always been the case. I found a treasure trove of old Thanksgiving menus from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at the UNLV Libraries digital collection, and I discovered that Thanksgiving menus in days of yore had so much more variety. Oysters, calves’ feet, turtle soup, and frogs’ legs factored into many of the menu offerings, as did … Read more

A Dangerous Post: Read at Your Peril

Dear Reader, reading this blog post could be very dangerous. Please proceed with caution.

There’s a Monty Python skitcalled The Funniest Joke in the World where a British writer during WWII comes up with a joke so funny it causes people to die laughing. No one can read it and live. Eventually the lethal joke gets translated into (nonsensical) German as:
Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer?
Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!
We see two German soldiers keel over laughing, and the “joke warfare” continues to cut its deadly swath.

Here’s where we enter treacherous waters. Because … Read more

The Clash and The Titans

The Fatal Clash

On a hot June day in 1559, King Henry II of France galloped toward his jousting opponent at full speed. His opponent was the young captain of his Scottish Guard, Gabriel Count de Montgomery. Montgomery had begged to be allowed to decline the joust, but King Henry had insisted.

The two horsemen met. There was a loud crack and Montgomery’s lance splintered. When they lowered the king to the ground and removed his helmet, they found a piece of wood had pierced his eye and another was … Read more

Mummy Dearest

JB in his early years

The subject of today’s blog is Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832). What? You’ve never heard of Jeremy Bentham? Why, he was an English moral and political philosopher, influenced by Locke and Hume, and the acknowledged “Father of Utilitarianism.” Among his followers were John Stuart Mill and other legal theorists and Consequentialists.

I see you suppressing that yawn.

Well JB had a devilish side. His dying request was that an auto-icon be made out of his dead body.

What? You don’t know what an … Read more

Death by Voting?


Update: I thought I’d re-post this pre-election blog I wrote a couple of years ago, in honor of Election Day.

On the eve of the election I am sure you’re as weary as I am of voter intimidation stories, suspiciously long early voting waiting lines, and  Super-PAC-funded negative advertising. But nineteenth century political campaigns make these things look tame by comparison. Today’s blog is about certain 19th century election practices, and how they might relate to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the author Edgar Allan … Read more

Firm and Tone—the Medieval Way!

Want to train like a troubador? Crush it like a crusader? Become lean as Lancelot? Here’s how!

(Note: this workout is reserved for members of the nobility, males only of course. Before embarking on any physical exercise program, check with your governing feudal overlord to be sure this regimen is right for you.)

Your physical education begins at age fourteen, while you’re employed as a squire to a knight, and consists of vigorous sports such as hawking with a falcon, hurling stones, wielding a battle-axe, and casting a spear.

 … Read more

Enlightened Thinker

Edward Jenner

Most people are familiar with the name Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823), a country doctor whose smallpox inoculation led to that dreaded disease’s eventual eradication. Jenner became intrigued by the fact that milkmaids who had contracted coxpox, similar to smallpox but much less serious, seemed immune to smallpox. He experimented with inoculating people with cowpox particles taken from the hand of a milkmaid, and found that they developed a mild case of the disease but were left immune to smallpox. In 1798 he published his findings, … Read more

Five Tips to A Healthy Pregnancy—the Renaissance Way

For some reason, I’ve been going to a lot of baby showers recently–I have another one Monday night. It’s fascinating to see all the new-fangled baby contraptions available these days, and to learn what has gone in and out and in again in the way of advice to pregnant women and new mothers. Doctors still advise pregnant women against pretty obvious things—don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, and try not to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s every night. I did a little research, and found that pregnant women have been given … Read more

Page 1 of 10312345...102030...Last »