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Thomas Wiggins: A Nineteenth-Century Piano Savant

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor A 19th-century photograph of pianist Thomas Wiggins shows a stout young black man at rest on an overstuffed chair. His eyes are closed, and his hands curl delicately on his lap. He looks distinguished, confident, untroubled — and drowsy. It’s a shock, then, to learn that a reporter […]

Memories of History Camp

Remember last month’s History Camp? If you weren’t able to make it, you can still partake of some of the program through the videos that organizer Lee Wright has just posted on YouTube.Here I am talking about “The Boston Bankruptcy That...Show More Summary

1940s Chicago in living color

A rare color film of Chicago made in the 1940s was discovered at an estate sale in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the south side of Chicago by a professional film colorist, fortuitously enough. The canister was labeled “Chicago Print 1? which was intriguing enough to entice Jeff Altman to spend $40 to buy the [...]

Automata in history

By Helen King (W&M Monthly Contributor) Do you ever feel your dining table needs cheering up? This week I saw a collection of possibly the last word in ways to impress your dinner guests. I was at the wonderful Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna where the Kunstkammer – a selection from the amazing ‘cabinet of curiosities’ […]

Excitement at the Supreme Court

I was at the oral arguments for the Supreme Court yesterday with a group of students and we were lucky enough to catch someone standing up to protest the Citizens United decision. He was well-dressed, in a suit and a tie. The court artist...Show More Summary

Foreign Accent Syndrome: The History of an Odd Speech Disorder

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor Every few months, the news media report on a strange malady: someone unexpectedly and unintentionally begins speaking in his or her native language with a foreign accent. This disorder occurs all over the globe; for instance, a Canadian acquires a Scottish accent, a Japanese develops a Korean accent, […]

First day of the Somme in a 24-foot cartoon

The Battle of the Somme began at 7:30 AM on July 1, 1916. At the end of that first day, 20,000 British troops were dead and 40,000 injured, the worst day in British Army history. The French, their numbers weakened by Verdun, had 1,590 casualties, the Germans 10,000-12,000. These horrific figures didn’t stop the battle. [...]

It’s Electrifying!

In September 1966, General Electric hosted its Fifth Annual Utility Executives Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. Those businessmen (and perhaps a few women) came with their wives (and perhaps a couple of husbands) for a three-day meeting. Show More Summary

Nine Nazi leaders and the secrets only their psychiatrist knew

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor My newest book, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (PublicAffairs Books), tells the story of a U.S. Army psychiatrist’s quest to make sense of the months he spent in the company of the imprisoned [...]

Leicester group's Orpheus Project releases S.P.Q.R. - Roman inspired music CD

An ancient history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2013 The Orpheus Project, a Leicester based early music group, have released a new CD of ancient Roman-inspired music entitled S.P.Q.R. The album is the result of four years research...Show More Summary

Who is the real Sam Wilkeson?

As readers of Blog Divided are well aware, we have been fascinated by the story of Samuel and Bayard Wilkeson, a father and son who were both at Gettysburg, one as a correspondent for the New York Times and the other as a 2LT for the Union army.  The son died on the battle’s first day [...]

Five Psychiatrists and Psychologists Who Examined Top Nazis at Nuremberg

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor September 10 marks the official release of my new book The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (PublicAffairs Books). I’ve worked steadily on this book since 2007, when I found in a private [...]

Too Much Johnson found in Italy

Too Much Johnson, in addition to being an irresistible double entendre, is a silent movie made by Orson Welles in 1938 as a companion piece to the eponymous 1894 play by William Gillette being staged by the Mercury Theatre, Welles’ New York City repertory company. The film, much like Gaul, was divided into three parts: [...]

“Call the Midwife” – or knit your own womb

By Helen King (W&M Regular Contributor) (this post develops an earlier version that first appeared in July 2013 on   It was one of those moments that only happens when academics and practitioners are in the same room… For about a year, I had been thinking about the history of visual representations of body [...]

18th c. wooden railway found in Newcastle shipyard

Archaeologists excavating the site of the Neptune Shipyard in Newcastle upon Tyne, northeastern England, before development have discovered a 25-meter (82 feet) stretch of an 18th century wooden railway. These rails weren’t transporting trains — they wouldn’t be invented until the next century — but rather wooden wagons, aka chaldrons, pulled by horses. This is [...]

Caecilius’ Willy

by Caroline Lawrence (Wonders and Marvels contributor) Students and teachers familiar with the Cambridge Latin Course were in for a shock at the British Museum Pompeii exhibition this summer. We saw Lucius Caecilius Iucundus as never before and many of us exclaimed Herclé! (By Hercules!) Everybody knows his face from the famous orange textbook 1. [...]

New Details about the “First Draft” of the Gettysburg Address

On Tuesday evening, July 7, 1863, Abraham Lincoln responded to a “serenade” from a crowd outside the White House celebrating the wonderful news  received in Washington earlier that day that Vicksburg had finally surrendered to Union forces (actually on the Fourth of July, Independence Day). Speaking extemporaneously, the president struggled to find the right words [...]

Volume, Confusion, and Rage: On Commuting

Knocker-up in action Commuting has been part of the human experience since the Industrial Revolution. Ever since the workplace and the home got firmly disentangled, people have been waking up and resignedly making their way to their place of employment. Show More Summary

Color films of Britain in the 1920s

A reader — he knows who he is — pointed me to this video, a remarkable color film of London in 1927 that has been making the Internet rounds the past couple of days. The uploader notes that it’s the work of British film pioneer Claude Friese-Greene using a color process invented by his father [...]

Tesla Wardenclyffe laboratory bought for museum

Last year’s hugely successful Indiegogo campaign to raise $850,000 for the nonprofit Tesla Science Center to build a museum dedicated to the genius inventor Nikola Tesla at his Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham, New York, has borne fruit. The 15.69-acre laboratory site and all its buildings are no longer the property of Belgian multinational Agfa. As [...]

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