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Allison C. Meier

Allison C. Meier is a Brooklyn-based writer focused on history, architecture, and visual culture. Previously, she was a staff writer at Hyperallergic and senior editor at Atlas Obscura. She moonlights as a cemetery tour guide. Contact her on Twitter @allisoncmeier.

A headstone featuring clasped hands

The Cemetery Symbol of Eternal Love

Why did Victorian-era gravestones include so many images of clasped hands?
Portrait of Demasduit over a map of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia

Who Were the Beothuk, the Lost People of Newfoundland?

The remains of two of the very last of the Beothuk are finally being repatriated to Canada. Why has it taken almost 200 years?
An aerial view of Roden Crater

A Decades-in-the-Making Artwork in a Dormant Volcano

James Turrell is building an observatory that uses the human eye instead of optical instruments. It may soon be open to the public for the first time.
In a Glasgow Cotton Mill: Minding a Pair of Fine Frames and In a Glasgow Cotton Spinning Mill: Changing the Bobbin, 1907 by Sylvia Pankhurst

This British Suffragist Used Her Art for Activism

Sylvia Pankhurst gave up painting to focus on suffrage and anti-colonialism activism, but she continued to use her design sense throughout her career.
A Pedoscope made by the Pedoscope Company

When Shoes Were Fit with X-Rays

Fluoroscopes were used in shoe stores from the mid-1920s to 1950s in North America and Europe -- even though the radiation risks of x-rays were well-known.
A plate from Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, by Maria Sibylla Merian

The Metamorphosis of a 17th-Century Insect Artist

Maria Sibylla Merian's work in the natural sciences was overlooked for centuries. Now a rare butterfly has been named in her honor.
Cyclorama in South End Boston, 1964.

Cycloramas: The Virtual Reality of the 19th Century

Immersive displays brought 19th century spectators to far-off places and distant battles. The way they portrayed history, however, was often inaccurate.
ENOCH in Space

An Ancient Egyptian Funerary Vessel Heads to Outer Space

Tavares Strachan's “Enoch” was launched into space on December 3rd, 2018. It's the latest in a long line of artworks inspired by Egyptian canopic jars.
Silhouette de château illuminé par un orage, by Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo: Surrealist Artist

Victor Hugo created visual art that was intuitive, experimental, and inspired by Spiritualism. In other words, nothing like his novel Les Misérables.
Plaster face casts by Anna Coleman Ladd

How Masks of Mutilated WWI Soldiers Haunted Postwar Culture

In the age before plastic surgery, masks were the best option for veterans with faces scarred by war. The end results, however, were somewhat uncanny.
Land of the Lotus Eaters, a painting by Robert S. Duncanson

Marking the Grave of the First African American Landscape Artist

Robert S. Duncanson was among the first African American artists to gain international fame. And yet his grave has stayed unmarked for 146 years.
Close up of an eye

Finding a Murderer in a Victim’s Eye

In late 19th-century forensics, optography was all the rage. This pseudoscience held that what someone saw just before death would be imprinted on their eye.
Relics from the Franklin Search Expedition

When Clairvoyants Searched for a Lost Expedition

When Captain Sir John Franklin's Arctic expedition went awry, clairvoyants claimed to be able to contact the crew members. Why did people believe them?
mummy brown painting

When Artists Painted with Real Mummies

The popular paint pigment called “mummy brown” used to be made from—yep—ground-up Egyptian mummies.
pioneer plaque

Art in Space

Artists may soon be heading to the moon for the first time, but art and space travel have been linked together since the beginning.
St Cuthbert Gospel

Why Europe’s Oldest Intact Book Was Found in a Saint’s Coffin

The St. Cuthbert Gospel is the earliest surviving intact European book. Some time around 698, it was slipped into the coffin of a saint.
Ectoplasm Helen Duncan

Ectoplasm and the Last British Woman Tried for Witchcraft

Spiritualist medium Helen Duncan was photographed emitting ectoplasm, supposedly proof of her ability to contact the dead.
Geranium

Why Victorian Gardeners Loathed Magenta

For decades, British and American gardeners avoided magenta flowers. The color had associations with the unnatural and the poisonous.
arsenic book

Some Books Can Kill

Poisonous green pigments laced with arsenic were once a common ingredient in book bindings, paints, wallpapers, and fabrics. Yikes.
nazi german radio

An Affordable Radio Brought Nazi Propaganda Home

In the 1930s, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels led the charge to create a radio cheap enough that even workers could own one.
African American graveyard

Grave Robbing, Black Cemeteries, and the American Medical School

In the 19th century, students at American medical schools stole the corpses of recently-buried African Americans to be used for dissection.
Elizabeth Jennings Graham

The Woman Who Refused to Leave a Whites-Only Streetcar

In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings rode the streetcar of her choice, in an early civil rights protest that led to desegregating public transportation in NYC.
Nelson, New Zealand - March 05, 2012. Close-Up of Iconic Papa & Rangi Sculpture at Arts Unique, next to the enterance to the Abel Tasman National Park, Marahau, Tasman Region, New Zealand.

Reversing the Trade of Māori Tattooed Heads

Preserved heads decorated with tā moko, or facial tattoos, were sacred objects to New Zealand's Māori. Then Europeans started collecting them.
Horse skull

The Horse Skulls Hidden in the Dance Floors of Ireland

Old houses in Ireland often have horse skulls buried beneath the floors, but folklorists and archaeologists disagree on exactly why.
Susan La Flesche Picotte

The First Native American to Receive a Medical Degree

Susan LaFlesche Picotte was first Native American to be licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. She opened her own hospital, but didn't live to run it.