How garbled accounts of Viking voyages reached mainland Europe

One day in Genoa, Italy, in the early 1340s, friar Galvano Fiamma wrote this intriguing passage in his book, Cronica Universalis:

“Sailors who frequent the seas of Denmark and Norway say that northwards, beyond Norway, there is Iceland; further ahead there is an island named Grolandia, where the Polar Star…


Rogue Waves

At 3:10am on 12 December 1978 two cargo ships and a French coastal radio station at Bordeaux-Arcachon picked up a garbled distress call from the German freighter MS München, then just north of the Azores in the North Atlantic.

On one hand, it was unsurprising that a ship should be…


Jeanne Calment

In 1988, a crowd of reporters descended on Arles to cover the centenary of Vincent van Gogh’s sojourn in the southern French city. Suffering from ill-health and seeking warmer weather, the troubled Dutch artist had moved there from Paris in February 1888. He stayed until May 1889, when he voluntarily…


What was for dinner on that fateful night?

On the evening of 14 April 1912, as the RMS Titanic steamed westwards into the sunset, her thirteen hundred passengers sat down to dinner. Their voyage was nearing its end, and they expected to be in New York City on 17 April. …


The most mysterious book in history

In 1912, Polish book collector Wilfrid Voynich bought thirty volumes from the Jesuit Collegio Mondragone in Italy. They were Church property and so the College didn’t really have the right to sell them, but it was hard up for funds, and besides, nobody had looked at the books for at…


How the leader of the American Nazi Party published a children’s book

Even aside from its racist and openly Fascist central message, The Fable of the Ducks and the Hens: A Dramatic Saga of Intrigue, Propaganda and Subversion was never going to make George Lincoln Rockwell an icon of children’s literature. For a start, pre-schoolers were unlikely to find the title particularly…


How our lives came to be run by the clock

“The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age.”

— Lewis Mumford, Technology Historian

In 1947, 101-year-old Confederate veteran Julius Howell gave an interview to the U.S. Library of Congress on his experiences in the American Civil War. It is a great primary source overall…


The vexed history of the world extreme heat record

Western North America has been having an unusually hot summer. On Friday, 9 July 2021, the mercury at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California, hit 130ºF (54.4ºC). This temperature has been previously been recorded once before, in August 2020. If accurate, it might be the highest temperature measured on Earth…


The U.S. Library of Congress’ remarkable collection of recorded interviews with former slaves

“I’m the oldest one that I know that’s living. But, still, I’m thankful to the Lord. Now, if, uh, if my master wanted send me, he never say, you couldn’t get a horse and ride. You walk, you know, you walk. And you be barefooted and collapse. That didn’t make…


What can language tell us about history?

Suppose you needed to figure out where English speakers originally came from, but you knew absolutely nothing about European or American history and had no access to a book or any other written source (a strange hypothetical, I know). How could you do it?

You might simply start with the…

Adam M Wakeling

Adam Wakeling is an Australian writer, lawyer and historian. He is online at https://www.amwakeling.com/ and on Twitter @AdamMWakeling.

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