European History

Hennig Brand and the Discovery of Phosphorus

Spoiler alert: Hennig Brand discovered phosphorous by boiling pee. And phosphorous is the first element whose discoverer we can name. But he was really trying to do something else: He thought the secret to the philosopher’s stone might be found in urine. 

Baron Franz Nopcsa

Nopcsa lived an adventurous, scholarly life, funded entirely by his family money. He identified dinosaurs, inserted himself into Albanian politics, and wrote volumes and volumes of books and papers. But his life was not entirely charmed. 


The Tiara of Saitaphernes

Our April Fool’s Day story is the tale of an elaborate hoax. It starts with the Scythians and how their artifacts became highly prized in 19th century Europe, and ends with an artist who came into fame as a result of his part in a forgery. 



The Life and Disappearance of Ettore Majorana

Had his life had taken a different course, he may have become as widely known as Albert Einstein. In the 1930s, Majorana contributed to the field of quantum mechanics in ways that fundamentally shaped the field. And then he vanished.

Raphael Lemkin and the Genocide Convention

Dr. Raphael Lemkin is often described as the person who coined the term “genocide.” And he did do that – but was also the driving force behind the existence of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Olga of Kiev

Most of what we know about Olga comes from the Russian Primary Chronicle, also known as the Chronicle of Nestor or the Tale of Bygone Years. Some elements of the story may borrow more from legend than from history – it involves an elaborate, gruesome, very thorough revenge … and then a religious conversion. 

Alexandre Dumas Père

Alexandre Dumas wrote such classics as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, and both those books’ sequels, eight Marie Antoinette romances, and a BUNCH of other novels and plays. And essays. And travel books. And memoirs. And a dictionary of cuisine. Hundreds and hundreds of works. 



General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas

General Dumas sounds like a character out of one of his son’s books. Because he pretty much was. His life is a series of dramatic and daring adventures, including an impressive rise up through the ranks of the French military.

The Rabbit Test

After the discovery of hormones in the early 20th century, new methods of pregnancy testing were developed. Some of these involved animal use, but how did the rabbit test work, and when did it get replaced?

A Brief History of Vodka

The story of vodka is one that’s closely tied to cultural identity for several countries, but where did it originate, and how did it evolve over time? We’ll talk a bit about how vodka is made, where it came from, and how it’s expanded to a global market.