“Can Cookery,” 1928

28 January 2015 At Powell’s the other day, I picked up a pamphlet-style cookbook from 1928 called The Book of Can Cookery, published by Woman’s World magazine. Not to be confused with the modern tabloid magazine of the same name, this Woman’s World began in the late 19th century and ceased publication in 1940. It …

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An Eighteenth-Century Sweeney Todd

2 January 2015 A human skeleton was an essential ornament to the early modern dissecting room. Beginning with Vesalius, a number of anatomical textbooks offered instructions for making an articulated skeleton from a dead body, and there was a flourishing clandestine industry in making skeletons and in stealing or otherwise procuring the necessary dead bodies …

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Living in the Anthropocene

26 October 2014, Berlin Last weekend I went to a public forum of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG).  This is a group, mostly of geologists, who propose that the Anthropocene is a new geological era, “an official unit amending the Geological Time Scale.”  The working group also includes some ecologists and climate scientists.  The AWG …

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Long Live the King

21 September 2014, Berlin Louis XIV, who saw himself as the new Alexander the Great, adopted the lion as one of his symbols. Although he didn’t wear a lion skin on his head like Alexander, real and imaginary lions surrounded him. The lion long pre-dated Alexander as a symbol of power and majesty. On visits …

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A Sonnet to an Anatomist

Montpellier surgeon Barthélémy Cabrol (1529-1603) first published his Alphabet anatomic in 1594. A series of tables that graphically represented the parts of the body, it was immensely popular, with eleven editions in the seventeenth century as well as translations into Latin and Dutch; the Dutch translation in 1633 was by Descartes’s friend and correspondent Vopiscus …

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Outing the Other

I've been reading another book in animal studies that talks about the other and even "othering," a solecism I can barely tolerate and will keep in quotation marks. A number of philosophers have variously defined what the “other” is, ranging from God to animals to women to the disabled to the colonized. Except for God …

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Sir Nicholas Gimcrack rides again

In today’s New York Times there is a report on some new experiments on rejuvenation. Blood from young mice, it appears, can reverse signs of aging in old mice. The article cites experiments in the 1950s by Clive McCay (famous for his experiments showing that calorie restriction extends life)  that joined rats together by their …

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Why fierce animals are fierce

The eighteenth-century Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) wrote many books, but among his most famous were his Aphorisms and his Materia medica, both of which were translated and reprinted throughout the century.  They distilled the conventional wisdom of the day and added Boerhaave's own astute observations.  The following observations from Materia medica follow a logic we …

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John Evelyn meets Raymond Chandler

You could smell them before you saw them, what Raymond Chandler called “that peculiar tomcat smell,” so evocative of southern California.  I did not expect to smell them in a forest in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, where I spent a week last September walking the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.  But there they were, …

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An Ostrich for the New Year

Aristotle had not been entirely certain that the ostrich was a bird, but it took pride of place among the birds in the Versailles menagerie and in the 1676 Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des animaux.   Ostriches had first made the long journey from Africa to Paris in the early seventeenth century; the young …

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