The Logic of Last

When was the last ‘witch’ executed in Europe? I have come to think that this question itself is unhelpful. Unhelpful in that – as specialists have long known – it corresponds very poorly to the shifting legal status of witchcraft between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. ‘Witches’ were still being prosecuted for witchcraft in Russia […]

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Fool’s Cunning

In 1908, a regional newspaper carried a story about the criminal prosecution of a Parisian magician who had sold clients, among other things, a ‘fatal magnetic water’. One client wrote to the police: He sold me a bottle of ‘Fatal Water’ for fourteen francs so that I could kill the Emperor of Russia, against whom […]

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The Real Disruptors

This is a post for students. Many of you will recently have learned that the UCU – the union representing university staff – has called strike action starting in just a couple of weeks, in December 2021. I know some of you already support and understand the union position (in fact, a survey from the […]

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No, That is Not a Witch Hunt

The votes are in, and I am delighted to inform you: no, that is not a witch hunt! Great news! This is the correct response to all discussion of ‘modern witch hunts’. To every example from your life and from public debate that you want to point to. Well, every example except the actual witch […]

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Punching back

Academic history writing is not emotion-less. Academics often consciously express – or evoke – anger, sadness, regret, or hope in their writing. But when it comes to tone, how many academics write humourously? My thoughts have been drawn back to this after I found the following image and reposted it on Twitter. Why do I […]

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Fragments of a sentence

A sentence fragment is a phrase wearing the clothing of a sentence. It comes with the correct capital letter at the start, and a full stop at the end. But it is not a sentence. Why? Because it does not have a subject (a noun or pronoun) and an active verb. Like this. That fragment […]

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Murder on the cards

In June 1883 Madame Pasaz was called as a witness in the assize court of the Basses-Pyrénées in southwestern France. In her testimony, she lifted the veil on a type of encounter that I have been struggling to study in detail: divination using cards. Here is what she told the court, as reported in several […]

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Is there anything worse than writing conclusions? Even beginnings are easier, I find, than summing up, because I can trick myself into starting by telling myself ‘I’m just taking some notes‘. ‘I’ll put that quotation I like as an epigram.’ And don’t get me wrong. I love reading conclusions. What academic doesn’t? I could never […]

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