The Early Modern Commons

Res Obscura

Recent Posts

Nassim Nicholas Taleb vs. Historians

22 September 2017

When I was a grad student in history, I was trained to burrow into tiny corners of the past and "unpack" everything I found there. In essence, history was a hoarder's attic, and my...

Urine, Phosphorus, and the Philosopher's Stone

26 June 2017

Joseph Wright of Derby, The Alchemist Discovers Phosphorus, 1771 (detail). In 1681, the English writer John Evelyn covered his face with a glowing material, newly invented...

Why Are There So Many 17th Century Paintings of Monkeys Getting Drunk?

4 May 2017

On cold Friday in 1660, Samuel Pepys encountered two unpleasant surprises. "At home found all well," he wrote in his diary, "but the monkey loose, which did anger me, and so I did strike...

On the Women’s Petition Against Coffee of 1674

8 April 2017

“That Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE.” Imagine a space where you can bet on bear fights, warm your legs by the fire, witness public dissections...