Archive for the 'History' Category

Six Groups That Make Music with Unlikely Objects

August 8th, 2007

It’s likely that early music making evolved from objects found in everyday life, natural materials like rock, animal bones, and wood, but the creation of instruments has gotten much more complex since then. Of course, a folk tradition of homemade instruments has continued, with instruments ranging from the jug, to the spoons, to various stringed […]

Six Nicknames for French Presidents & Presidential Candidates

May 7th, 2007

Yesterday’s presidential election in France featured two opponents who, despite their differences, actually have a few interesting things in common: both were born after World War II; neither previously held the office of prime minister or president (a first for a presidential candidate since the 1970s); and both have pithy and sound bite ready nicknames. […]

Six Symbolic Easter Treats

April 6th, 2007

Although Easter is a Christian holiday, many of the traditions that have built up around it have their origins in earlier pagan celebrations of spring. That is why many of the sweet treats associated with Easter seem to have no connection to the Christian Easter story. However, since many of these goodies are symbolic of […]

Five Light-Hearted Celebrations in March and April

March 29th, 2007

In Western countries, April 1st has long been celebrated as April Fools’ Day, an opportunity to play tricks on others and to suspend seriousness for a short period of time. As it turns out, there are other holiday traditions that nearly coincide with the beginning of April; some have suggested that the start of spring […]

Six YouTube Videos Featuring Entertaining Automatons

March 20th, 2007

I first fell in love with automatons when I visited the famous Musée Mécanique in San Francisco. At that time it was housed in a dark, low-ceilinged hall right near the beach, but has since moved to the more tourist-oriented Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a great place to visit; for a few quarters you can see […]

Seven Common Myths About St. Patrick

March 15th, 2007

St. Patrick’s Day will soon be here with all its colorful traditions, which makes this a good time to look at the legends surrounding the man himself. Most everyone knows some part of St. Patrick’s story, from his expulsion of Ireland’s snakes to his favorite color. However, on closer inspection, some of the commonly held […]

21 Quirky Pub Names

March 6th, 2007

I first became interested in the phenomenon of pubs with names that contain two nouns (e.g., Crown and Anchor) when I visited Oxford a few years ago. Some combinations seemed natural, like Fox and Hounds, while others left me scratching my head (Angel and Greyhound). There are various explanations for these puzzling names, including the […]

Six (or More) Names for the Day Before Lent Begins

February 20th, 2007

In Western Christian traditions, the period of Lent begins 40 days before Easter, starting with Ash Wednesday. The day before Ash Wednesday is known by a variety of names, and is frequently marked by celebrations, such as the famous Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, and the Carnevale of Venice. […]

12 Things Thomas Jefferson Invented

October 27th, 2006

When he wasn’t busy drafting the Declaration of Independence, founding the University of Virginia, or serving as President, Thomas Jefferson liked to invent things (and, frequently, improve upon other people’s inventions). He never took out a patent, owing to his belief that every invention should benefit all of society. Just a few of his numerous […]

The Castles of King Ludwig II

October 13th, 2006

King Ludwig II, ruler of Bavaria from 1864 until 1886, is one of Germany’s more colorful characters. His reign coincided with huge political changes in Germany, including the push for unification of the German territories led by Prussia. However, Ludwig preferred designing and building elaborate castles to political maneuvering, and had a special fondness for […]

23 Interesting Towers to Visit

October 6th, 2006

Humans have been fascinated with creating tall structures for most of their history; from the Tower of Babel to the Pyramids of Egypt, these grand scale building projects are symbols of power and achievement. It is no different today, as builders around the world vie to construct the tallest structures possible. But towers are not […]

32 Weirdly Specific Museums

September 18th, 2006

Taking as a starting point my short list in Museums of Interesting Things at Interesting Thing of the Day, I set out to discover other small museums that specialize in just one specific (and typically rather odd) subject matter. I thought I’d find a few more; it turns out there are dozens. Here’s a mere […]

20 Most Popular U.S. Baby Names in 2005 and 1885

September 13th, 2006

There seems to be a trend lately of parents choosing names for their children that may be considered more traditional. I think this may be a backlash against decades of popular baby names that were newly coined or given new spellings. It’s interesting to see that there are some names that remain popular from one […]

13 Oral Hygiene Practices from the Past

September 12th, 2006

It seems like every time I go to buy toothpaste there are fifty new kinds to choose from. Offering endless combinations of properties (whitening, tartar control, breath-freshening, cavity protection, sensitive teeth formula) in a vast array of media (paste, gel, liquid gel, sparkle gel) and flavors, I usually opt for my old standby, plain mint […]

Eight Body-Based Units of Measurement

September 8th, 2006

Before we had precise, standardized units of measure such as meters and feet, lengths (and even, ocasionally volumes) were reckoned based on the average dimensions of human body parts. In Body-Based Units of Measurement at Interesting Thing of the Day, I listed a few such historical units of measure, which can still come in handy […]

The Questionnaires of James Lipton, Bernard Pivot, and Marcel Proust

September 6th, 2006

Fans of Inside the Actor’s Studio are familiar with James Lipton’s list of questions, which he poses to each of his guests at the end of an interview. Lipton always gives credit for this list to French talk show host Bernard Pivot, who hosted Apostrophes from 1975–1990 and Bouillon de Culture from 1990–2001; he often […]

Eight early photographic printing techniques

August 23rd, 2006

Now that digital photography has gained such popularity, there will soon be a generation for whom getting photos “developed” will seem entirely foreign. It’s just a fact of life that as a new technology gains popularity, it overshadows the previous one, and that is especially true in the case of photography. Early photographic processes may […]

Eight people who might be the “real” Shakespeare

August 10th, 2006

In academic circles, the question of Shakespeare’s “real” identity has long been debated. Some scholars believe, for various reasons, that the historical person known as William Shakespeare was not the actual author of the works he is known for today. Entire books have been dedicated to the subject, on both sides of the issue. I […]

Six drinks invented in San Francisco

August 8th, 2006

Quick, name something that was invented in San Francisco! You probably thought of Rice-a-Roni, and you’d be right. You’d also be right if you said the television, fortune cookies, the slot machine, bay windows, or any of these famous beverages: The Martini (maybe) The Cosmopolitan (probably) Irish Coffee (sort of) The Mai Tai The Mimosa […]

Six bestselling books about Da Vinci, the Templars, and the Holy Grail

July 27th, 2006

The following books with subject matter relating to the Holy Grail, Leonardo Da Vinci and/or the Templars all appeared on the April 9, 2006 New York Times Hardcover Fiction and Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller Lists: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Holy Grail, Da Vinci, Templars) (hardcover | paperback) The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry […]