Visual signals as communication & the history of food

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.

2022-Jan Updates

A lot has happened since my last update, so here's the run-down of what I learned last month, my recent publications, and what I'm working on this month.

Small Things

I swapped out the green "branding" color this newsletter uses, so it should be a little easier to read links in dark mode now, at least for the emails.

I started an account over at pixelfed, which is a free and open source instagram alternative. It runs off the decentralized ActivityPub protocol, which means it also interfaces pretty nicely with my twitter alternative. I've mostly been posting old vacation photos, but since this is me, they're mostly things like "check out this cool Roman gate" and "here's a photo of basket weaving in action."

I also updated the Giants issue to include a couple of awesome links submitted by readers. The Hebrew should be a little more accurate now, too.

The History of Food

I got invited to curate an email deep dive into the history of food over at Refind ā€” "The essence of the web, every morning in your inbox." Refind's thing is that they try to summarize and offer overviews of things you might be interested in. It's about half machine learning algorithms, half hand-curated lists, but it's got tens of thousands of users. I'm super excited by the opportunity they've given me to curate my own deep dive.

The idea is that food is a critical part of human culture and sits at the heart of many of our most cherished traditions. Understanding how culinary habits evolved in different cultures can help us better understand and appreciate our own.

You can sign up here and check out my deep dive into the history of food.

Social Signaling: Historical Tips for Worldbuilding Realistic Symbolism

I had an article published in the final issue of Worldbuilding Magazine's 5th volume: Social Etiquette & Expectations. Its official title was Go Ahead, Judge A Book By Its Cover. I changed the name when I mirrored it to my website to be more clear for people who weren't reading the whole magazine and therefore weren't familiar with the theme. The general idea is that I did a deep dive on different ways people throughout history and across the globe use visual signals to communicate with other people.

It touches on many themes that have come up in past issues of this newsletter, including tattoos, sumptuary laws, & symbols of leadership.

WorldCon

The World Science Fiction Convention was held about an hour from me this year, so I went. I met a lot of really interesting people and attended some fascinating panels.

Some highlights included:

  • a small group session with Ada Palmer, a history professor at the University of Chicago and author of the truly excellent Terra Ignota series, which just wrapped up.
  • an incredible panel on Hidden Histories, which I tweeted about in relation to the Giants issue of this newsletter.
  • a wonderful panel centered around imagining what diplomacy might look like in a universe where humanity is spread out between planets but does not have access to faster-than-light technology. The panel included a former diplomat, the son of a Chilean diplomat, a historian of Native American culture, and a State Department employee.

I took a billion notes and wrote at least one short story in my hotel room immediately afterwards.

Notes

Last month was super busy for me, between:

  1. my birthday! which I had to cancel the party for because of ā€”
  2. a COVID exposure and subsequent quarantine (we're okay!),
  3. a wilderness vacation in which our power went out, in freezing temperatures, in an unfamiliar house containing our toddler,
  4. WorldCon
  5. Christmas with a toddler
  6. finally managing to get my Booster shot

but I did manage to take some notes! I finished up Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott, learned some more about bronze age knives, and took extensive notes on things like:

  • currency alternatives & unexpected impacts of taxation.
  • the sources of power for various governments, including the Catholic Church and Athenian Assembly.
  • prerequisites for a variety of technologies, including crop rotation.
  • hyper-militarized states throughout history.
  • animals like locusts, raccoons, millipedes, spiders, and whales.

Everyone is welcome to check out the rest of my public notes, but my complete setup is available to paid subscribers. The plain text notes, when opened with a program like Obsidian, show how the stories I write connect with one another and my notes.

I hope you have a wonderful new year, and look forward to sharing future fruits of my research with you.

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