Perpetual Motion: Technology, Slavery, and History

Once we stop thinking of the past as a failed but noble attempt at the present, many of its inexplicable, repulsive, or ridiculous aspects take on a new colour. A good example is alchemical transmutation, an evident impossibility that nevertheless occupied -- and not just occupied, but motivated -- the likes of Newton or Boyle, … Continue reading Perpetual Motion: Technology, Slavery, and History

Empire: Yay or Nay

A disturbing feature of the ongoing public debate about the history of empire is the dullness with which the main question has been engaged, particularly by academic-cum-public intellectual apologists on the right. Was empire a good thing, or a bad thing? Survey says: good thing. Yay! I was right! Another recent debate, over whether or … Continue reading Empire: Yay or Nay

Happiness as a Colonial Science: new publication

In the wake of the Royal Society (London, 1660) and the Académie Royale (Paris, 1666), a slew of scientific societies formed in the later seventeenth-century European world, nodes in an expanding network of institutions devoted to experimental science, natural history, and kindred sorts of philosophical activity. A short-lived member of this scientific community was the … Continue reading Happiness as a Colonial Science: new publication

O Brexiteers!

I happen to be in London this week -- England, not Ontario -- which actually made last night's Brexit vote results harder to follow than being five hours behind in Montreal would have done. Unlike some of my telegenic, modern-leaning and public-spirited colleagues in North America (Brian Cowan at McGill, for example), I have not been asked by … Continue reading O Brexiteers!