The Public Domain Review

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The Silent Treatment: Solitary Confinement’s Unlikely Origins

Wednesday 25 October 2023 at 17:14

Characterised today by the noise of banging, buzzers, and the cries of inmates, solitary confinement was originally developed from Quaker ideas about the redemptive power of silence, envisioned as a humane alternative to the punitive violence of late-18th century jails. Revisiting Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary, Jane Brox discovers the spiritual origins and reformist ambitions of solitary’s early advocates, and sees their supposedly progressive desires come to ruin by the 20th century.


A Melting Cauldron: The Book of Hallowe’en (1919)

Tuesday 24 October 2023 at 15:34

The first book-length history of Halloween, written when the author was a mere twenty-six years old.


Your Flannelette Cure: Fire Tests with Textiles (1910)

Thursday 19 October 2023 at 14:12

Photographs of fire tests carried out at the turn of the century to keep women’s clothing from catching on fire.


Aftershock of the New: Woodblock Prints of Post-Disaster Tokyo (1928–32)

Tuesday 17 October 2023 at 16:44

A collection of prints by eight artists envisioning a new Tokyo.


Marked by Stars: Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy

Thursday 12 October 2023 at 13:26

Reading Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s encyclopedic study of magic is like stumbling into a vast cabinet of curiosities, where toad bones boil water, witches transmit misery through optical darts, and numbers, arranged correctly, can harness the planets’ powers. Anthony Grafton explores the Renaissance polymath’s occult insights into the structure of the universe, discovering a path that leads both upward and downward: up toward complete knowledge of God, and down into every order of being on earth.


Pantographia: A Specimen Book of All the Alphabets Known on Earth (1799)

Tuesday 10 October 2023 at 13:54

Containing 405 alphabet specimens from 164 languages, the book is a treasure chest for the epigraphical imagination.


The Presentation of Sources and Rights Labelling Gets a Big Overhaul

Thursday 5 October 2023 at 20:29

Details of a whole raft of important changes aimed at improving how we communicate rights labelling and championing those institutions openly sharing public domain works.


Käthe Kollwitz’s Peasants’ War Series (ca. 1901–1908)

Thursday 5 October 2023 at 14:42

Käthe Kollwitz's etchings based on the German Peasants’ War and a mysterious woman called Black Anna.


Charles H. Bennett’s Shadows (ca. 1856)

Tuesday 3 October 2023 at 16:43

Illustrations that employ a magic-lantern conceit: the shadow thrown by a spotlit individual can reveal her inner character.


Free Speech and Bad Meats: The Domestic Labour of Reading in Milton’s Areopagitica

Wednesday 27 September 2023 at 15:37

Does a healthy intellectual culture resemble a battlefield or a kitchen? Revisiting Milton’s Areopagitica, a tract often championed by today’s free speech absolutists, Katie Kadue finds a debt to the work of early modern housewives. In their labours to preserve food and transform it into wholesome cuisine, Milton saw an analogue for how the reading public might digest books — good and bad alike — into nourishing ideas.