Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond: Purpose in Isolation

‘Walden,’ published in 1854, is a manual for solitude with a purpose. Introduction Seeking to bend the coronavirus curve, governors and mayors have told millions of Americans to stay home. If you’re pondering what to read, it’s easy to find lists featuring books about disease outbreaks, solitude and living a simpler life. But it’s much[…]

The Fashionable History of Social Distancing

In the past, maintaining physical distance was an important aspect of public life – and clothes played a big role. As the world grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, “social distancing” has become a buzzword of these strange times. Instead of stockpiling food or rushing to the hospital, authorities are saying social distancing – deliberately increasing[…]

Inoculation in the 18th Century

Vaccination led ultimately to the eradication of smallpox, one of the great achievements of medicine. By Arthur Boylston Introduction Early in the 18th century, variolation (referred to then as ‘inoculation’) was introduced to Britain and New England to protect people likely to be at risk of infection with smallpox. This triggered a number of important[…]

The Journey of Vaccines, Past and Present

Inoculation spread all over the world and revolutionized the field of vaccination against several other infectious diseases. Introduction The history of the process of vaccination and the concept to vaccinate is 1000 of year old (>3000 years) that originated in the ancient Indian peninsula (Northern and Eastern India) as a practice of variolation/inoculation (the immunization of[…]

The Means of Ancient Communication

Since the art of writing was discovered, nearly every form of writing material has been used. By Grahame Johnstone Introduction The invention of writing and in particular of alphabetic writing marked a milestone in cultural development. It provided humanity with a new means of communication that literally inscribed in stone the spoken word. Communication could[…]

An Historical Overview of Communication since the Prehistoric World

Human communication was revolutionized with the origin of speech approximately 500,000 BCE. Introduction The history of communication technologies (media and appropriate inscription tools) have evolved in tandem with shifts in political and economic systems, and by extension, systems of power. Communication can range from very subtle processes of exchange, to full conversations and mass communication.[…]

An Historical Overview of the Polio Epidemic

Polio was nearly eradicated with the Salk vaccine in 1955. Little was known about this mysterious disease that paralyzed and sometimes killed young children. Introduction The fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic may feel new to many of us. But it is strangely familiar to those who lived through the polio epidemic of the[…]

Edward Jenner and the Search for the Smallpox Vaccine in the 18th Century

His work led to systematically developing, testing, and popularizing inoculation that saved countless lives. Introduction Edward B. Jenner (May 17, 1749 – January 26, 1823) was an English physician and scientist who is most recognized for introducing and popularizing an effective and relatively safe means of vaccination against smallpox, a discovery that proved to be[…]

How Rabies Symptoms Inspired Folktales of Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Monsters

Fear of a disease that seemed to turn people into beasts might have inspired belief in supernatural beings that live on in today’s creepy Halloween costumes. Introduction In 1855, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the gruesome murder of a bride by her new husband. The story came from the French countryside, where the woman’s[…]

Medieval Chinese Art and Architecture at the Longmen Caves of Luoyang

The Northern Wei was the most enduring and powerful of the northern Chinese dynasties before reunification. Imperial Patronage Worship and power struggles, enlightenment and suicide—the 2300 caves and niches filled with Buddhist art at Longmen in China has witnessed it all. The steep limestone cliffs extend for almost a mile and contain approximately 110,000 Buddhist stone statues,[…]

‘A Thousand Years of Art’ at China’s Mogao Caves of Dunhuang

The ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’ are a magnificent treasure trove of Buddhist art. A Trove of Buddhist Art The ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’ (Qianfodong), also known as Mogao, are a magnificent treasure trove of Buddhist art. They are located in the desert, about 15 miles south-east of the town of Dunhuang in north[…]

Lincoln, the North, and the Question of Emancipation

It was only midway through the war that Lincoln reached the conclusion that abolishing slavery would preserve the nation. Introduction For generations, Abraham Lincoln has been known as “the Great Emancipator.” His Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 effectively declared that, if the North won the Civil War, the American institution of slavery would come to[…]

Shakespeare in Plague-Ridden London

Despite the plague’s high contagiousness and terrifying symptoms, life in Elizabethan England went on. By Lindsey Rachel Hunt William Shakespeare died 400 years ago, in April of 2016. But, thanks to the plague’s many sweeps through London, he could have actually died much, much sooner. While the plague hit London particularly hard in 1665, it[…]

The Most Vulnerable Suffered when Ancient Greek City-States Purged during Times of Disease

The Greeks treated their city-states like bodies. To protect them from disasters, it was the poor that were often sacrificed. Introduction With the spread of the coronavirus, the world is becoming pointedly aware of the extent to which human beings are interconnected. The rapid spread of the virus has highlighted how much we are dependent[…]

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[…]

Fairhaven’s Privateers in the War of 1812

Captured officers and seamen of the Governor Gerry had the choice of enlisting in the Royal Navy or being sent to a British prison. By Robert Barboza This 200-year old patriotic story begins with a single reference spotted in an online history database, listing all the captured American ships reported to the Royal Navy headquarters[…]