Essays

Every two weeks we publish a new long-form essay which seeks to offer insight and reflection upon public domain works and the oft overlooked histories which surround them. You’ll find pieces on a wide and eclectic range of subjects – from a history of the smile in portraiture to the case of the woman who claimed to give birth to rabbits. Our contributors are drawn from an equally varied pool, from leading writers and scholars – such as Julian Barnes and Jack Zipes – to history and literature PhD students working with fascinating material and seeking an outlet for their more unusual finds. If you’d like to submit (or if you simply have an idea for a good subject) then please visit our submissions page, we’d love to hear from you.

Want the essays off the screen and onto your bookshelf? Then look no further than our “Selected Essays” series.
See here for more info.

The Dancing Plague of 1518

500 years ago this month, a strange mania seized the city of Strasbourg. Citizens by the hundreds became compelled to dance, seemingly for no reason — jigging tra…more

Bringing the Ocean Home

Bernd Brunner on the English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse and how his 1854 book The Aquarium, complete with spectacular illustrations and a dizzy dose of religious…more

Darwin’s Polar Bear

Musings upon the whys and wherefores of polar bears, particularly in relation to their forest-dwelling cousins, played an important but often overlooked role in the…more

The Dreams of an Inventor in 1420

Bennett Gilbert peruses a sketchbook of 15th-century engineer Johannes de Fontana, a catalogue of designs for a wide-range of fantastic and often impossible inventi…more