The Trial That Gave Vodou A Bad Name

It was a Saturday, market day in Port-au-Prince, and the chance to meet friends, gossip and shop had drawn large crowds to the Haitian capital. Sophisticated, French-educated members of the urban ruling class crammed into the market square beside illiterate farmers, a generation removed from slavery, who had walked in from the surrounding villages for a rare day out.

The Ottoman Empire's Life-or-Death Race

The executioners of the Ottoman Empire were never noted for their mercy; just ask the teenage Sultan Osman II, who in May 1622 suffered an excruciating death by “compression of the testicles”–as contemporary chronicles put it–at the hands of an assassin known as Pehlivan the Oil Wrestler. There was reason for this ruthlessness, however; for much of its history (the most successful bit, in fact), the Ottoman dynasty flourished—ruling over modern Turkey, the Balkans and most of North Africa and the Middle East—thanks in part to the staggering violence it meted out to the highest and mightiest members of society.

More articles by Mike Dash

The Epic Struggle to Tunnel Under the Thames

Today, engineers deal with treacherous ground by pressurizing their workfaces (though that solution still leaves tunnelers vulnerable to the problems that come from working in high-pressure environments, including bone-rot and even the bends). In the early 19th century, such measures were still decades away. The first men to attempt a tunnel beneath the Thames—gangs of Cornish miners brought to London in 1807 by businessmen banded together as the Thames Archway Company—had little to guide them.

The Mystery of the Five Wounds

Until the twentieth century, reports of stigmata were confined to Catholic Europe, but the most recent count of contemporary cases, made about a decade ago, included about 25 cases scattered around the world, including one in Korea and one in Japan. This in itself is a remarkable development, but there has also been a dramatic change in the ratio of male to female stigmatics. Overall, the vast majority have always been women: 353, compared to just 54 men, a ratio of almost seven to one. But according to Harrison’s analysis, that ratio has changed dramatically in the last half-century. Among the 44 cases reported since 1946, it is 2.4:1, and among living stigmatics it is a mere 1.5:1. Harrison suggests that this may be explained “by the changes in the balance of authority between men and women, both in the church and society,” and that in previous centuries women may have manifested stigmata to draw attention to themselves in a society dominated by men and in a church that excluded them from the priesthood. Citing stigmatics who effected local religious revivals or became the leaders of messianic sects, Harrison notes “the role stigmata plays in granting to individuals and congregations a direct spiritual authority.”

The Woman Who Bested the Men at Math

To be a woman in the Victorian age was to be weak: the connection was that definite. To be female was also to be fragile, dependent, prone to nerves and—not least—possessed of a mind that was several degrees inferior to a man’s. For much of the 19th century, women were not expected to shine either academically or athletically, and those who attempted to do so were cautioned that they were taking an appalling risk. Mainstream medicine was clear on this point: to dream of studying at the university level was to chance madness or sterility, if not both.

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