The fall of the Songhay Empire

The Songhay Empire wouldn’t be the first military power to set too much store in its cavalry. But by the time it fell to Morocco at the end of the sixteenth century it had little cause for complacency about anything. Founded in 1464 out of the ruins of the Malian Empire, Songhay was the largest... Continue Reading →

The forgotten story of Silent Night

Silent Night is one of the best-known songs in the world. It has been translated into over 200 languages and one version alone, Bing Crosby’s 1937 recording, sold over 30 million copies. But who knows anything of its authors? The lyrics to Silent Night were written by a somewhat loose-living Austrian priest named Joseph Mohr... Continue Reading →

The first Svengali

Whenever Dominic Cummings makes the headlines, commentators reach for the same word to describe his relationship with the prime minister: he is Boris Johnson’s Svengali, they write. But who was the original Svengali? Svengali is one of those rare literary creations so seemingly archetypal his name becomes short-hand for a kind of behaviour: in this... Continue Reading →

St Kilda: the last and outmost isle

The small archipelago of St Kilda, fifty miles west of Harris, has long attracted romantic attention for its remoteness, with the sense of deep strangeness and difference such remoteness implies. It is the last and outmost isle, the island on the edge of the world: a place whose way of life, in the words of... Continue Reading →

When graduates voted twice

With support for the EU significantly higher among those with a university education, it’s interesting to recall that well into the 20th century graduates could vote twice in UK general elections: once in their local constituencies and again through their universities, which at one point held fourteen seats between them. The idea that universities should... Continue Reading →

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