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Boy Actors in Early Modern England: Skill and Stagecraft in the Theatre (Cambridge University Press, 2022) by Dr. Harry McCarthy provides a new approach to the study of early modern boy actors, offering a historical re-appraisal of these performers' physical skills in order to reassess their wide-reaching contribution to early modern theatrical cul…
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In the early modern era, seemingly impossible stories of levitation, bilocation, and witchcraft were common and believable. The important question of the time was not if these things happened, but why. This was particularly true as the rise of Protestantism began to challenge Catholic beliefs in miracles and continued to be the case even after scie…
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Running and securing an empire can get expensive–especially one known for its opulence, like the Mughal Empire, which conquered much of northern India before rapidly declining in the eighteenth century. But how did the Mughals get their money? Often, it was through wealthy merchants, like the Jhaveri family, who willingly—and then not-so-willingly–…
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In the eighteenth century, women’s contributions to empire took fewer official forms than those collected in state archives. Their traces were recorded in material ways, through the ink they applied to paper or the artefacts they created with muslin, silk threads, feathers, and shells. Handiwork, such as sewing, knitting, embroidery, and other craf…
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Irish Women in Religious Orders, 1530-1700: Suppression, Migration and Reintegration (Boydell & Brewer, 2022) by Dr. Bronagh Ann McShane investigates the impact of the dissolution of the monasteries on women religious and examines their survival in the following decades, showing how, despite the state's official proscription of vocation living, rel…
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Joseph A. Skloot joins Jana Byars to talk about his new book, First Impressions: Sefer hasimdim and Early Modern Hebrew Printing (Brandeis UP, 2023). First Impressions uncovers the history of creative adaptation and transformation through a close analysis of the creation of the Sefer Hasidim book. In 1538, a partnership of Jewish silk makers in the…
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The largest slave uprising in the 18th century British Caribbean was also a node of the global conflict called the Seven Year’s War, though it isn’t usually thought of that way. In the first few days of the quarantine and our current geopolitical and epidemiological shitshow, John and Elizabeth spoke with Vincent Brown, who recently published Tacky…
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Matthew Kadane, Professor of History at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, talks about his just new book, The Enlightenment and Original Sin (University of Chicago Press, 2024). An eloquent microhistory that argues for the centrality of the doctrine of original sin to the Enlightenment. What was the Enlightenment? This question has been endlessly d…
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"When the Spanish colonization of the Philippines began in 1565, early reports boasted of mass conversions to Christianity and ever-increasing numbers of people paying tribute to the Spanish crown. This suggests an uncomplicated story of an easy imposition of Spanish sovereignty. But as Stephanie Mawson shows in her book, Incomplete Conquests: The …
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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