The Fabricated American Desert

Humans have negotiated the desert for millennia, finding in it equal measures of sustenance, terror, beauty—and, above all, a dwelling place. To explore issues of human intervention in and on the American desert, my colleague James Nisbet and I have organized a conference at The Huntington titled “The Fabricated American … Continue reading

Thomas Browne and His World

The idiosyncratic physician, essayist, and naturalist Thomas Browne (1605–82) produced a diverse body of writings that reveal a cornucopian range of interests at once scientific and religious: burial practices and mortality (Urn-Burial), the geometrical patterning of nature (Garden of Cyrus), and the perpetuation of errors and falsehoods across various disciplines … Continue reading

Portraiture as Interaction

Portraiture implies an interaction between the sitter and spectator. It often rehearses an interaction between two or more protagonists and regularly focuses on the interaction between the people represented and their surroundings. Portraits—of husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends, and colleagues—are often depicted by artists and arranged by curators … Continue reading

Isherwood in California

The conference “‘My Self in a Transitional State’: Isherwood in California” takes place at The Huntington on November 13 and 14 in Rothenberg Hall. We asked the conference conveners—James J. Berg, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at College of the Desert, and Chris Freeman, professor of English … Continue reading

Reading the Aftermath of Civil War

I had the pleasure of attending “Ending a Mighty Conflict: The Civil War in 1864–1865 and Beyond,” a conference that took place at The Huntington last month. The lively talks by distinguished scholars reminded me of my recent encounters with the handwritten accounts of Civil War soldiers. Expressing noble sentiments, … Continue reading

The Provocative 15th Century

Until recently, the literature of 15th-century England had a poor reputation, being characterized as lacking talent and literary imagination. Coming after Chaucer’s death in 1400 and before the well-known works of the Elizabethan period, the period’s literature struck many readers as being overly decorous, didactic, and dull. “The Provocative 15th … Continue reading

Turbulent End to Civil War

By the spring of 1865, when surrenders at Appomattox, Durham Station, and elsewhere had finally delivered an end to four years of bloody battle, the American Civil War had killed a staggering 750,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians—about two and a half percent of the U.S. population—and wounded hundreds of thousands … Continue reading

Shakespeare Takes the Stage

“All the world’s a stage,” declares Jaques in William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. While that may be true, there’s something to be said for an auditorium with a beautiful stage, state-of-the-art acoustics, raked seating, and clear sight lines. With the opening earlier this month of the Steven S. … Continue reading

Thirty-Three Ways of Looking at the American Revolution

This publishing season, books on the American Revolution and Founding Fathers have garnered tough reviews and a little controversy, but one book stands out as a once-in-a-generation reassessment of scholarship on that subject: The Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution. The volume, which came out in late November, features essays … Continue reading