I study the history of early modern globalization, and am writing a dissertation and future book manuscript on the origins of the global drug trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, which you can read read about here.
I'm also an editor and co-founder of The Appendix and maintain an occasional blog about early modern history at Res Obscura.
You can reach me at Ben[at]theappendix.net.
''Whoso desireth to know what will be hereafter, let him think of what is past, for the world hath ever been in a circular revolution; whatsoever is now, was heretofore; and things past or present, are no other than such as shall be again: Redit orbis in orbem.''
- Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)
He was young, blonde and said he was from Taiwan. Appendix editor Ben Breen unmasks George Psalmanazar, an eighteenth-century hoaxer who created his own identity and shocked London with tales of viper blood, infant sacrifice, and opium addiction.
Published October 29, 2013 in Issue Vol. 1, No. 4
On the occasion of developing an index for The Appendix, its editors take a tour of past attempts to catalogue the universe, letting Borges, Descartes, and others be their guide.
Published June 26, 2013 in Issue Vol. 1, No. 2
Even The Appendix needs an appendix. For this issue, we share a timeline of apocalypses, real or (happily) imagined.
Published March 20, 2013 in Issue Vol. 1, No. 1
The word "Apocalypse" can mean both "an uncovering" and "an ending." Benjamin Breen explores the ambiguous history of what apocalypse means, and how it has been survived, from the fall of Ur in 2000 BCE Mesopotamia to the Heaven's Gate cult in 1990s California.
Published January 2, 2013 in Issue Vol. 1, No. 1
Why did the Emperor of India number an ordinary North American turkey among his prized possessions?
Published November 28, 2013
Our Magic Lantern series spotlights singular images from the past that deserve wider exposure. This week: nuclear bombs in space.
Published November 21, 2013
While NASA was developing its space ice cream and other trifles, the Soviet Union was working on a combination pistol and machete, for chopping wood and killing bears if they crash landed.
Published November 19, 2013
Our new Magic Lantern series spotlights singular images from the past that deserve wider exposure. This week: a nineteenth-century Japanese print of Audubon and the rat that ate his bird drawings.
Published November 8, 2013
We introduce a new weekly feature, Weekly Reading, which combines links to current writing on the web with extracts from authors long dead.
Published November 4, 2013
The earliest spam email dates to 1978. Surprisingly, however, the progenitors of "Nigerian scam" emails date back to the Victorian era.
Published October 24, 2013
What became of Cook’s bones is a mystery—as is the truth of European assumptions about his deification in Hawaiian lore. But this tiny coffin will always stand as a testament to the sea captain’s death on that sunny Hawaiian beach.
Published October 11, 2013
How will we write the history of outer space? Some reflections on the nature of the void from Giordano Bruno to Jimmy Carter.
Published September 25, 2013
The AMC show Breaking Bad has introduced the arcana of meth cooking to a huge audience. However, few know that methamphetamine was actually invented in 1890s Japan, or that the first scientific paper about medical cannabis dates to 1689.
Published August 23, 2013
Paleography, the study of premodern writing, is the domain of specialist scholars- but a quick crash course in how to read early modern books can open up a treasure trove of forgotten works.
Published July 31, 2013
Royal births have always attracted attention. But how has our understanding of them changed, and what does it tell us about childhood and the media? We offer a brief survey of powerful babies from Egyptian infants to Queen Victoria.
Published July 23, 2013
The School of Venus, a forgotten book from 1680 that includes helpful tips on what to call "the Thing which with a Man Pisseth" and how to master the "Mistery of Fucking."
Published June 25, 2013
A founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab was a self-taught chemist without a college degree who was also a fervent alchemist and occultist. Magic, it turns out, actually has quite a lot to do with rocket science.
Published May 8, 2013
Appendix co-editor Ben Breen explains the thought process that went into choosing the cover of Issue Two, "Illusions," and shares other photographs-within-photographs from the same series.
Published April 15, 2013
The Appendix wishes you a happy Lupercalia, the wolfish festival that inspired our modern holiday of love.
Published February 14, 2013
A 1696 engraving of a "Capivard, or water hog, at the foot of a banana tree" found in an early modern French book opens up a discussion of how images circulate in print and online.
Published January 21, 2013
Poisonous tomatoes, meth in the 1950s, and the deep history of clove cigarettes: a miscellany of lore related to food and drugs.
Published January 9, 2013
A selection of 17th and 18th century medicinal drug recipes -- many bizarre, some familiar -- found by the author in historical archives in Portugal and Philadelphia.
Published December 18, 2012
Comments and responses to "Cabinets of Curiosity: the Web as Wunderkammer."
Published December 3, 2012
Curiosity cabinets are usually thought of as antique oddities from another age. But isn't the internet a bit like a curiosity cabinet? If so, is that a good or bad thing?
Published November 28, 2012
Digital communication is changing how we think about the past as well as the present. But can we think big about the past while resisting the temptation to replace the "Great Men" theory of history with its 21st century counterpart, "Big Data"?
Published November 11, 2012