The Public Domain Review
Vol.7 #19

New Essay


Race and the White Elephant War of 1884

Feuding impresarios, a white-but-not-white-enough elephant, and racist ads for soap — Ross Bullen on how a bizarre episode in circus history became an unlikely forum for discussing 19th-century theories of race, and inadvertently laid bare the ideological constructions at their heart.

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New piece in our Conjectures series!


The Primordial Gound

Kant in Sumatra? The Third Critique and the cosmologies of Melanesia? Justin E. H. Smith with an intricate tale of old texts lost and recovered, and the strange worlds revealed in a typesetter’s error.

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New Collection Items


The Civil War Sketches of Adolph Metzner (1861–64)

Remarkable collection of sketches, drawings, and watercolours left to us by Adolph Metzner, during his three years of service with the 1st German, 32nd Regiment Indiana Infantry.

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Alphonse Bertillon’s Synoptic Table of Physiognomic Traits (ca. 1909)

Cheat sheet to help police clerks put into practice Bertillon’s method for classifying and archiving the images of repeat offenders — and a potent symbol for the new age of surveillance and “biopower” which it helped to usher in.

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Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1784)

The published correspondence of Ignatius Sancho, the first known Black Briton to vote in a British election, and the first person of African descent known to be given an obituary in the British press.

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From our friends at JSTOR Daily…


Ancient Maps Are Mirrors for the Ancient Psyche

A look at The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences, and Marvels for the Eyes, an eleventh-century Arabic geography compiled by an anonymous scribe.

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Further Reading


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A hand-picked selection of recently published books (within the last 15 years or so), all of which in someway tap into the tastes and concerns of The Public Domain Review. There are many beautiful facsimiles and reproductions of works we’ve featured on the site, as well as fascinating books on a wide range of historical periods and themes, including many penned by our very own essay contributors.

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