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Death and the word; William conquers Harold and the English language. From Cotton Vitellius A XIII(1) f3v. Photo courtesy British Library

Essay/
Language and linguistics
English is not normal

No, English isn’t uniquely vibrant or mighty or adaptable. But it really is weirder than pretty much every other language

John McWhorter

Jack Whinery and family, homesteaders photographed in Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress

Essay/
Economics
Return of the oppressed

From the Roman Empire to our own Gilded Age, inequality moves in cycles. The future looks like a rough ride

Peter Turchin

Omar ibn Said c1850. Digitally colourised. Omar ibn Said’s autobiography is the only known extant autobiography of a slave written in Arabic in America. It was not edited by his owner, as those of other slaves written in English were, and is therefore surmised to be more authentic. It also attests to the high level of education that existed in Africa at the time and also reveals that many Africans who were brought to the United States as slaves were followers of Islam. Public domain via the Beinecke Library/Yale University

Essay/
History
Muslims of early America

Muslims came to America more than a century before Protestants, and in great numbers. How was their history forgotten?

Sam Haselby

A woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle 1493. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Essay/
Cities
Return of the city-state

Nation-states came late to history, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they won’t make it to the end of the century

Jamie Bartlett

Photo by Larry Towell/Magnum Photos

Essay/
Human rights and justice
The invasion of America

The story of Native American dispossession is too easily swept aside, but new visualisations should make it unforgettable

Claudio Saunt

From a 1959 edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Illustration by Coby Whitmore

Essay/
Family life
Lock up your wives!

Advice columns from decades past provide a chilling glimpse into the horrors of marriage counselling before feminism

Rebecca Onion

From Decretum Gratiani with the commentary of Bartolomeo da Brescia, Italy, 1340-1345. Lyon, BM, Ms 5128, fol 100r. Photo courtesy Discarding Images

Essay/
History
The salacious Middle Ages

Medieval people feared death by celibacy as much as venereal disease, and practiced complex sexual health regimens

Katherine Harvey

Brotherhood. A young Argentinan legionnaire and his colleagues make fun of their instructor at the base in Nimes, France, 31 August 2015. Photo by Edouard Elias from his series Patria Nostra .

Essay/
War and peace
The legend of the Legion

His cap is bleached as white as the bones of a Saharan camel. Is the romance of the French Foreign Legion a cult of death?

Robert Twigger

The work-weathered hands of Henry Brooks, a former slave from Greene County, Georgia, May 1941. Photo by Corbis

Essay/
Ethics
History and guilt

Can America face up to the terrible reality of slavery in the way that Germany has faced up to the Holocaust?

Susan Neiman

Raving in the ‘90s. Photo by PYMCA/UIG/Getty

Essay/
History
Drugs du jour

LSD in the ’60s; ecstasy in the ’80s; ‘smart’ drugs today: how we get high reflects the desires and fears of our times

Cody Delistraty

A man gazes upon the ruined city of Frankfurt, Germany, 1946. Photo by Werner Bischof/Magnum

Essay/
Political philosophy
Theory from the ruins

The Frankfurt School argued that reason is dangerous, mass culture deadening, and the Enlightenment a disaster. Were they right?

Stuart Walton

The Bibliophiles, 1879, by Luis Jimenez y Aranda, Private Collection. Photo by Christie’s/Bridgeman Images

Essay/
Stories and literature
Bookish fools

The book has always been a sign of status and refinement; a declaration of self-worth – even for those who hate to read

Frank Furedi

Detail from We Are Making a New World (1918) by Paul Nash. Courtesy the Imperial War Museum

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The spirit of history

Hegel’s search for the universal patterns of history revealed a paradox: freedom is coming into being, but is never guaranteed

Terry Pinkard

Cruising the boulevard in Los Angeles, California, August 1980. Photo by Bruce Dale/National Geographic/Getty

Essay/
Childhood and adolescence
The end of adolescence

In the 20th century it offered a bridge from the innocence of childhood to the responsibilities of adult life. Not any more

Paula S Fass

Benjamin Lay by William Williams c1750-1758, oil on panel. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Essay/
History
The forgotten prophet

Radical Quaker Benjamin Lay was a pioneer of abolitionism, who lived what he preached. So why was he erased from history?

Marcus Rediker

The historical Buddha, preaching on Vulture Peak. Japanese, Nara period, 8th century. Courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Essay/
Religion
Who was the Buddha?

When we strip away the myths, such as his princely youth in a palace, a surprising picture of this enigmatic sage emerges

Alexander Wynne

The Soča river valley in Western Slovenia. Photo by Lizzie Shepherd/Getty

Essay/
Ecology and environmental sciences
Accidental rewilding

In places once thick with farms and cities, human dispossession and war has cleared the ground for nature to return

George Monbiot