Vincent van Gogh’s Dead Grasshopper.

Vincent van Gogh, “Olive Trees” (1889) (all images courtesy The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art).

There’s a grasshopper in the van Gogh. The artist didn’t intend to embed the critter in his canvas when he was painting olive groves in the south of France, but the insect is there, buried in a swirl of paint. For over a century, it went unnoticed in the finished work, “Olive Trees” (1889), now owned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, but a recent study by the museum’s curators, conservators, and outside scientists has revealed its old, brown carcass. It’s a small but telling trace of van Gogh’s practice of painting outdoors, where conditions were often windy enough to send flies, dust, sand — and, apparently, crickets — blowing around the artist and his canvas.

Image taken through a microscope of the grasshopper embedded in the paint of “Olive Trees”.

You can read all about this at Hyperallergic.

The Day After.

It’s the day after pain clinic, and I have the best pain people ever, they take great care of me, and it’s always nice to see them, tell stories, and catch up. For all that the visits are good, the days after aren’t so grand. I’m having trouble sitting, and I hate taking pain meds so early in the morning, so I’m going to wander off and have a very quiet day not sitting. I’ve reached the ‘Spirits of Malice’ section of The Penguin Book of the Undead: Fifteen Hundred Years of Supernatural Encounters, by Scott G. Bruce, where monks have given in to writing more salacious accounts of the undead, so that will keep me occupied.

I’ll leave you with a forensic account of someone who was in considerable pain prior to a vicious killing blow, a young Danish Medieval Warrior. A summary is at Medievalists, the full paper is available from Scholars Portal. I’ll see you all tomorrow. I think.

Digital Humanities.


First, What Is Digital Humanities?

Humanity (and not just the humanities) mediated through the largest extant body politic. A global vehicle (and personal prosthetic) for containing what it is to be human and humanist–within and without the academy.Robert Long.

Digital Humanities: the creation and preservation of extensible digital archives to document, and tools to interact with, material culture.Robert Whalen, Northern Michigan University.

A fluid term to describe a variety of practices applying and theorizing the intersection of technology and humanities questions.Amy Earheart.

There’s more. Much more.

Introduction: In the decades following the onset of the Index Thomisticus project, medievalists were often early adopters of the digital, and continue to play an important role in the development of a broader field, which came to be called digital humanities. This field took other forms and names during its emergence and subsequent development: humanities computing, humanist informatics, literary and linguistic computing, digital resources in the humanities, eHumanities, and others.

These competing alternatives, among which “humanities computing” had long been dominant, have only recently made place for the newly canonical term “digital humanities,” which today is rarely contested. “Digital humanities” is generally meant to refer to a broader field than “humanities computing.” Whereas the latter is restricted to the application of computers in humanities scholarship and had narrower technical goals, the former also incorporates a “humanities of the digital,” including the study (potentially via traditional means) of digitally created sources, such as art and literature.

DH is therefore profoundly multidisciplinary and attracts contributions from scholars and scientists both within and outside the humanities and the humanistic social sciences. Digital humanists have taken care to define themselves in an inclusive rather than exclusive manner. As a result, the term “digital humanities” connotes a greater sense of integration than the diversity of approaches that are sheltered within the “big tent” of DH and that are also reflected in the contents of this supplement.

You can read more at Medievalists, and that article led me to a full open access issue of Speculum! Some very good reading there, including The Digital Middle Ages: An Introduction.

Challenging Oxford: World’s Oldest Zero.

Bakhshali manuscript – image courtesy Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; Science Museum.

An international group of historians of Indian mathematics challenges Oxford’s findings around the age and importance of a manuscript thought to contain the oldest known zero.

Last month, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University announced that a Sanskrit manuscript housed in the library for the last century had been dated using radiocarbon techniques. Oxford’s radiocarbon dating laboratory announced that the three of the birch-bark folios of the Bakhshali Manuscript could be dated to roughly 300 CE, 700 CE and 900 CE.


An international group of historians of Indian mathematics has now challenged Oxford’s findings.

The team, which includes scholars from universities in the USA, France, Japan, New Zealand and the University of Alberta in Canada, has published a peer-reviewed article that refutes several of the Library’s key assertions.


The international team ends its article with a plea to Oxford University’s Library that important and complex scholarly topics should be published through established academic channels involving peer-review, and not through sensationalizing press releases to the media.

Medievalists has the full story. Also see The First Zero. The article in the journal History of Science in South Asia.