Social, Political, and Economic Landscapes in Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’

The Arthashastra (or Arthaśāstra) is one of the oldest surviving treatises on statecraft. Introduction There is considerable debate about the dating and authorship of the text; it underwent compilation, recension, and redaction several times over the centuries and is likely to have been a witness of religious and ideological transformations, political and socio-economic changes. As a śāstra, it[…]

Arjuna: Hero of Hinduism’s Ancient ‘Bhagavad Gita’

Arjuna takes center stage in the role of the seeker-student to the god Krishna’s role of teacher-guide. Introduction Arjuna (also given as Arjun) is the great hero of the Indian epic Mahabharata and the philosophical-religious dialogue Bhagavad Gita. His name means “shining”, “silver” and similar terms relating to brightness. He is the most popular champion[…]

‘Song of God’: Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita

The Gita is a dialogue between the warrior-prince Arjuna and the god Krishna who is serving as his charioteer at the Battle of Kurukshetra. Introduction The Bhagavad Gita (“Song of God” or “Song of the Lord”) is among the most important religious texts of Hinduism and easily the best known. It has been quoted by[…]

A History of the Ancient Hindu Vedas and Vedic Period

The Vedas existed in oral form and were passed down for generations until they were committed to writing between 1500 and 500 BCE. Introduction The Vedas are the religious texts which inform the religion of Hinduism (also known as Sanatan Dharma meaning “Eternal Order” or “Eternal Path”). The term veda means “knowledge” in that they[…]

The Upanishads: Philosophical and Religious Texts of Hinduism

Introduction The Upanishads are the philosophical-religious texts of Hinduism (also known as Sanatan Dharma meaning “Eternal Order” or “Eternal Path”) which develop and explain the fundamental tenets of the religion. The name is translated as to “sit down closely” as one would to listen attentively to instruction by a teacher or other authority figure, but[…]

The Second Industrial Revolution, the Gilded Age, and Robber Barons

The term “robber baron” described powerful 19th-century industrialists who used questionable practices to amass their wealth. Introduction The Second Industrial Revolution, also known as the “Technological Revolution,” was a phase of rapid industrialization in the final third of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. The First Industrial Revolution, which ended in[…]

Raubritter: Medieval and Early Modern European Robber Barons

Medieval robber barons most often imposed high or unauthorized tolls on rivers or roads passing through their territory. Introduction A robber baron or robber knight (German: Raubritter) was an unscrupulous feudal landowner who, protected by his fief’s legal status, imposed high taxes and tolls out of keeping with the norm without authorization by some higher[…]

Illuminating the Natural World in Medieval Manuscripts

Throughout the history of the book, scribes and artists have incorporated nature into their creations. Flowers are blooming in Los Angeles, and although we are spending much more time at home than usual, many of us are finding opportunities to be outside in nature at a safe distance from others. As manuscript curators, we have[…]

Experimenting with Natural Dyes to Learn More about Ancient Life

Studies of painting materials from the ancient world have revealed a very sophisticated use of natural dyes as colorful pigments. The onions, avocados, and herbs sat in the fridge, neatly packed in baggies that disguised their colorful potential. Each of these unsuspecting items could be used to dye fabrics. I am a conservator of ancient[…]

Indigenous Artists Use Technology to Tell Stories about Their Ancestral Lands

The stories of four groups of Indigenous artists using technology and art to tell their communities’ stories. By Demi Guo Introduction Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun does not use email or text. In the Coastal Salish communities from which he hails, he has been known as a painter and a dancer since the 1980s. Yet, he has[…]

Fugitive Slave Ads and the Roots of Black Resistance in the United States

Freedom on the Move is a database collecting these ads, which help form a more complete picture of slavery and the enslaved. a more than 200-year-old fugitive slave ad reads:  “Run away from the subscriber in Albemarle, a Mulatto slave called Sandy. His stature is rather low, inclining to corpulence, and his complexion light; he[…]

Clinical Photography in the Victorian Era

The images serve as a testament to how clinical photography practice has changed as a result of training and professional registration. Introduction Before the profession of clinical photography, photographs of patients were taken by technicians, enthused clinicians and portrait photographers, the practice was unsophisticated, albeit by today’s standards, and results were often a bizarre hybrid[…]

Alchemy and the Quest for Long Life in 15th-Century France

Alchemy was an art, a scientific and technological project that foreshadowed modern chemistry. Alchemy, with its cryptic language and fantastic symbolism, evokes many aspects of the culture of the Middle Ages. In alchemical manuscripts, drawings of alembics, funnels and furnaces vividly represent this long lost art. Alchemy’s goal of transmuting base metal into gold fuels[…]

Ancient Rome’s Wealthy Cities of Oplontis, Stabiae, and Boscoreale

While the Vesuvian eruption was devastating, and many lives were lost, it preserved a moment in Roman history. Introduction More than 2,000 years ago, extremely wealthy Romans lived on the sunny shores of the Bay of Naples at Pompeii and in opulent villas nearby, unconcerned about Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), Augustus[…]

The Artifacts of White Supremacy: A History of the Ku Klux Klan

Robes, fiery crosses, and even the American flag were all material objects employed by the 1920s Klan to convey their “gospel”. Introduction Discussions about racism—and white supremacy in particular—tend to treat it as a matter of belief, while there’s considerably less talk of how racialized hate becomes tangible and real. And yet, we know the Ku[…]

Charles Sumner: The Fight for Equal Naturalization Rights in 1870

Sumner added fire to an already explosive debate with his amendment to do away with the “whites only” clause of the naturalization law. On July 4, 1870 – 150 years ago this week – Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts urged the U.S. Senate to take a radical step: to strike out the word “white”[…]

The Extortion of Haiti by France in the Early 19th Century

After enduring decades of exploitation at the hands of the French, Haiti was forced to pay a tax for their freedom – $30 billion on today’s money. Introduction I’m a specialist on colonialism and slavery, and what France did to the Haitian people after the Haitian Revolution is a particularly notorious examples of colonial theft.[…]

The Sea Dogs: Queen Elizabeth’s Marauding Privateers in the New World

Spain’s huge empire in the Americas was a tempting source of wealth for rival European powers. Introduction The sea dogs, as they were disparagingly called by the Spanish authorities, were privateers who, with the consent and sometimes financial support of Elizabeth I of England (r. 1558-1603 CE), attacked and plundered Spanish colonial settlements and treasure[…]

Medieval Tournaments: Knights, Aristocracy, and Nationhood

Family arms and honor were put on the line, ladies were wooed, and even national pride was at stake. Introduction The medieval tournament was a forum for European knights where they could practise and show off their military skills in activities such as jousting or the mêlée, indulge in a bit of pageantry, display their[…]

Visigoths: Establishing a European Identity in the Ancient World

The designation Visigothi seems to have appealed to the Visigoths themselves, and in time they came to apply it to themselves. Introduction The Visigoths were the western tribe of the Goths (a Germanic people) who settled west of the Black Sea sometime in the 3rd century CE. According to the scholar Herwig Wolfram, the Roman writer Cassiodorus (c. 485-585 CE)[…]

A Summer of Protest: Unemployment and Presidential Politics, 1932

Marches, demonstrations, civic unrest, attacks by law enforcement and the military on protesting civilians – in 1932. Introduction An election looms. An unpopular president wrestles with historic unemployment rates. Demonstrations erupt in hundreds of locations. The president deploys Army units to suppress peaceful protests in the nation’s capital. And most of all he worries about[…]

Roanoke Colony: First Contact to Disappearance, 1585-1590

Doomed to failure, this early colonial project lacked adequate planning and logistical support. Introduction The Roanoke Colony was England’s first colony in North America, located in what is today North Carolina, USA. Established in 1585 CE, abandoned and then resettled in 1587 CE, the colonists had little regard for their new environment and were soon in[…]

A Medieval Guide to Predicting Your Future

Perhaps those fortune-telling games have been circulating for much longer than we think! How can you predict the future, interpret your dreams, and protect yourself against harm? Some of the manuscripts digitised for The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project have the answer. Many medieval manuscripts include charms, which seek to influence events through the[…]

Ancient Papyrus Horoscopes: Stars, Planets, and Fortunes

Heavenly bodies and human fate have long been perceived as intertwined. ‘The stars (…) disclose for men what will pertain to them from the time of their birth till their leaving the world’. This is what Dorotheus of Sidon, an astrologer who lived in 1st-century Alexandria, wrote at the beginning of his verse treatise on[…]