A Japanese Feast of the Dead, 1615

One of the things we all ‘know’ about Halloween is that it’s just an American import. It’s not, though, completely true. Modern Halloween has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which itself was imported to the US by Irish migrants in the nineteenth century. But it also has a distant ancestor, too, in…

John Millward’s Beard Brush: a Global Tale from 1623

Deep in the papers of the English East India Company, kept in the British Library in London, lies one of the most astonishing lists I’ve ever seen. It’s a particular kind of list, which will be familiar to many. It’s a list of goods held by someone at their death, just like the probate inventories used…

Happy Historical 2015!

Here’s some anniversaries to look forward to in the New Year. It’s 50 years since the first US combat troops arrived in Vietnam. Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity is 100 years old. The US Civil War ended 150 years ago. It’s 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, and the ‘War of 1812’ also ended…

The Dawn of the Global Age

Amongst the nonsense that gets said about the British Empire (as bad as the Nazis, force for democracy… etc etc) one of the silliest statements – which you do still hear from time to time – is that it effectively invented Indian famine. Long peddled by nationalists, it’s one of those historical myths only sustained…

Five Centuries of Famine

I was really lucky recently to be invited to speak to the Global Scholars Network Conference at Rhodes House in Oxford. The event was a way of getting together postgraduates studying on international scholarships, such as the Rhodes and the Fulbright, from across the UK, and allowing them to discuss some of the big issues…