Out of the Ashes: A New Library for Congress and the Nation after 1812

The Congressional library was destroyed in 1812 when the British burned the Capitol. It came back bigger and stronger. Introduction On the evening of August 24, 1814, during the second year of the War of 1812, British forces under orders from Rear Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross set fire to the unfinished[…]

Five Rejected Designs for the U.S. Capitol Building in a 1792 Competition

Introduction Construction of the US Capitol we know and love was completed in 1800, following a competition to find a home for Congress. The contest had been won by a physician with pretensions to architecture, William Thornton, who only had his shot at the prize – after the deadline had passed – thanks to George[…]

The Cultural Constants of Contagion from the Justinian Plague to Today

It is a shared affliction, our collective ailment, our common humanity, that gives rise to irrational behavior but also kindness. Sometime during the year 541, a few rats found their way into Byzantium. Soon more would arrive in the city. Whether they came from ships unloading cargo in Constantinople’s bay, or overland in carts bringing[…]

An Ancient Roman Legacy in the Age-Old Art of Propaganda

Propaganda tactics are timeless. While the game has moved on since the time of Augustus, the rules remain the same. Until the reign of Augustus, no one in Rome had come close to creating a personality cult.  A striking image, a catchy phrase, shocking material – these are the bread and butter of propaganda. It[…]

Gossip: A Powerful Tool for the Powerless in Ancient Greece

Idle gossip or rumor is personified by the Ancient poets. At the heart of the greatest works of Ancient Greek literature are mighty acts of revenge. Revengers overcome their enemies through superior physical prowess, as when Achilles kills Hector in a single combat to avenge the death of his comrade Patroclus; or through their employment[…]