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Blog Posts by Subject: History of Europe

Maury and the Menu: A Brief History of the Cunard Steamship Company

In 1907 the Cunard Steamship Company launched the first of their Express Liners, the Lusitania and the

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Spencer Collection Book of the Month: The Rain of Crosses

Did you know that The New York Public Library has an official color? I didn't either, and I've worked here since the Dark Ages (before the Internet). But we do, as I found out when I ordered new business cards recently. The color is red.

That's fine with me—I've always liked red (political considerations aside), and besides it gives me an excuse to select as the Spencer Collection Book of the Month for April a small volume containing two illustrations in vivid red. It is appropriate also because Easter falls in April this year.

The work is

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Spencer Collection Book of the Month: A Wotton Binding

Volume bound for Thomas Wotton (Detail)After I'd spent four Sunday evenings in January engrossed in the doings of the Earl of Grantham and his household on the PBS "Masterpiece Classic" series Downton Abbey, this month's choice for Spencer Collection Book of the Month was obvious: a book that lingered for more than three centuries in the company of barons and earls, before being exiled from their presence in exchange for cold, hard cash.


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Wildwood Dancing: A Review

In the wilds of Transylvania, set on a high spur of rock next to the Wildwood, rests a castle named Piscul Dracului. The castle itself is unexceptional, old and crumbling as it is. Looking at it, you would never know it hides a portal to the Other Kingdom.

Each full moon five sisters travel through the portal into a magical glade where they dance with creatures rarely seen outside of fairy tales--fairies, dwarves, trolls and other creatures only whispered about back home.

For nine years of full moons, the sisters have gone dancing in the Other Kingdom.


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Travel in Andalusia, Spain

The secret to a successful trip abroad may simply be to know yourself, what you are looking for, and where to find it. For the traveler looking for art and history, untouched mountain trails and sandy beaches, along with distinctive culinary and musical traditions, Andalusia in Spain may be the ideal choice.

Located at the southernmost part of the Iberian Peninsula, Andalusia’s major cities include Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Ronda, and its capital, Seville. These urban 

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'You have not known misfortunes such as mine!': Storytelling and Trauma in Candide

Jessica AlpertCandide is a story composed of other stories, as the hero spends much of his world travels listening to others. Few stories are as long and involved as the old woman's in chapters 11 and 12, and she even spurs other characters to tell their stories of misfortune and tragedy at the end of her tale: "I advise you to divert yourself, and prevail upon each passenger to tell his story."


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Perpetual Mourning

“His purity was too great, his aspiration too high for this poor, miserable world! His great soul is now only enjoying that for which it was worthy!”

— Queen Victoria after her husband’s death

Victoria was breathlessly in love with her husband, Prince Albert, the Germanic butt of modern-day tobacco can jokes. She was known to describe him as “my all in all.” A sober, conscientious prince, Albert composed formal diplomatic correspondence even on his death bed. Victoria’s grief was boundless when he 

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Lazare-Nicolas-Marguerite Carnot

Lazare-Nicolas-Marguerite Carnot was the original multi-tasker, known as the “Organizer of Victory” because he applied his background in engineering to French military operations under Napoleon Bonaparte and successfully led them to victory. His background in mathematics led to innovative ground tactics and recruitment methods. To be sure, 

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The Creation of Christmas

I generally enjoy the Christmas season if I don’t allow myself to get sucked up in the frenzy. Of course, the frenzy is almost irresistible: the catalogs start coming right after Labor Day, store owners regard Halloween as the beginning of the holiday season, and the stability of the global economy depends on how free and easy you are with your credit card. As for me, I’ve always thought of Christmas as:

"a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open ... Read More ›

Vampire Lovers at the New York Public Library

As a professional librarian at the main reference desk, I do whatever it takes to respond to a particular question, and I never become judgmental about the quality of that question. That’s Library School 101. I will admit, however, to wondering sometimes where certain questions come from, or what it might mean for the culture at large when a number of people start asking the same question at the same time. For instance, what should I make of the fact that there have been several requests lately--by New Yorkers, no less!-- for books about vampires? Is it because Halloween is coming? 

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Ode To Anne Boleyn

In novels, movies, television, too, you’ve been all the fashion, Because yours is a story of such tragic passion. The Boleyn girl book has become a cottage industry, All because of your rampant celebrity. A sorry pawn of an ambitious father, Or a scheming hussy full of bother? Which is the truth, despite all the tales, Did you deserve to go down on Justice’s scales? A pretty face, a slender neck, All the better for Henry to bedeck, You with glittering jewels and such trumperies, While his pious wife went down on her knees, And prayed for a means to ensure 

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The Tudors Turnaround

My colleague Serena Jimenez often has a nose for a fashion trend. She alerted me to the runaway success of Showtime’s series The Tudors. I’m a pretty poor television viewer, whose idea of great tv is MSNBC’s Lockup series and HBO’s Deadwood (love those expletives). Therefore, I was initially skeptical of a production that featured a hard-bodied, smoldering Henry VIII, and took various other liberties with historical fact. But, over time, listening to her consistently eager reports, I found myself intrigued.  

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Ireland's Cottage Crafts.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

The legacy of handmade crafts--tweed, lace, baskets, woolen knits, and more--has been sustained in Ireland over centuries. These handmade traditions are tied both to individual makers' efforts as well as organizations that worked to revive and sustain interest in cottage crafts and industries in the 1880s. Janice Helland's British and Irish Home Arts and Industries, 1880-1914: Marketing Craft, Making Fashion provides an illuminating overview of the organizations that fostered this revival, 

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The Girl in Green.

The Girl Scouts have been planting trees for almost 100 years.

Yesterday, March 12th, marked the 96th anniversary of the first meeting of the Girl Scouts in the United States. Since Juliette Gordon Low's first gathering of "girls in green" in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912, Girl Scouts have been doing good deeds and learning in both the "outdoor laboratory of the camp" as well as the "indoor laboratory of homemaking" (as these two realms were called in the 1937 publication, Twenty-Five Years of Girl 

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Hand press propaganda.

(William brought a traveling mint along too, to speed the creation of coins with the new kingly and queenly mugs. Image from the NYPL Digital Gallery.)

I've been making an effort to sort out my English history once and for all, and lately have been reading my way around the seventeenth century. And what have I learned? All about William of Orange's use, in the year 1688, of a traveling hand press to churn out political propaganda.

William of Orange, along with his wife Mary, tidily orchestrated what has come to be known as England's Glorious Revolution of 1688.  

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