Category Archives: History

Being Persian before nationalism

Mana Kia writes: At the end of the 19th century, under the looming shadow of European colonial encroachment, political and intellectual elites in Iran began to draw on nationalist forms of belonging as a way to unify the various ethnic and religious groups that lived within its territory. The nation was gaining ground at this… Read More »

The debt-ceiling issue isn’t just politics

Rebecca L. Spang writes: At least for the moment, the U.S. Senate has averted a crisis over the federal debt ceiling, after some Republicans in the chamber grudgingly agreed yesterday to help Democrats put off a reckoning until December. That the United States has endured confrontation after confrontation in Congress over the issue—and will almost… Read More »

How immunizations helped create America

David Leonhardt writes: The United States owes its existence as a nation partly to an immunization mandate. In 1777, smallpox was a big enough problem for the bedraggled American army that George Washington thought it could jeopardize the Revolution. An outbreak had already led to one American defeat, at the Battle of Quebec. To prevent… Read More »

The idea of the West has always been in motion and in crisis

Faisal Devji writes: When asked what he thought of Western civilisation, Gandhi apparently responded that he thought it would be a good idea. While this celebrated statement is taken to be an ironic dismissal, Gandhi had in fact given the matter of Western civilisation much thought. In his manifesto of 1909 called Hind Swaraj or… Read More »

The fall of the Roman Empire was a lucky break for humanity

Walter Scheidel writes: For an empire that collapsed more than 1,500 years ago, ancient Rome maintains a powerful presence. About 1 billion people speak languages derived from Latin; Roman law shapes modern norms; and Roman architecture has been widely imitated. Christianity, which the empire embraced in its sunset years, remains the world’s largest religion. Yet… Read More »

Scientists understood physics of climate change in the 1800s – thanks to a woman named Eunice Foote

Eunice Foote described the greenhouse gas effects of carbon dioxide in 1856. Carlyn Iverson/NOAA Climate.gov By Sylvia G. Dee, Rice University Long before the current political divide over climate change, and even before the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), an American scientist named Eunice Foote documented the underlying cause of today’s climate change crisis. The year… Read More »

From probable to possible: The ideas of Albert O Hirschman

Michele Alacevich writes: Like most disciplines, the field of development economics came into being not because of disinterested intellectual curiosity but rather due to pressing contemporary events. In the late 1960s, one prominent international civil servant and development economist reflected that: the cue to the continual reorientation of our work has normally come from the… Read More »

Small climate changes can have devastating local consequences – it happened in the Little Ice Age

The Little Ice Age brought some bitter extremes. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565 By Dagomar Degroot, Georgetown University In recent weeks, catastrophic floods overwhelmed towns in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, inundated subway tunnels in China, swept through northwestern Africa and triggered deadly landslides in India and Japan. Heat and drought fanned wildfires in the… Read More »

It is only Utopia that allows us to dream together

Jeet Heer writes: Utopia and dystopia are twins, born at the same moment from the shared ancestry of social critique. Although remembered as the first modern attempt to systematically imagine an ideal society, Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) began with a stark portrait of a Europe torn apart by war and crushing poverty, with the shocking… Read More »

Why the history of the vast early America matters today

Karin Wulf writes: Nations need history; it is a key genre for explaining the status quo. Modern nations and modern historical practices in the West developed over the same centuries, so the effort to harness the latter to the former is no surprise. Yet whether about the removal of statues, the veracity of journalism and… Read More »

Empires, pandemics, and the economic future of the West

John Rapley writes: Early in 2020, after a mysterious coronavirus emerged out of China and then raced across the globe, a quiet new year took a screeching turn. Stark images of ventilated patients in Italian hospital hallways soon filled our newsfeeds. Panic erupted across the West. One after another, governments that had been telling their… Read More »