Episode 33: The Mirror

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

‘Kelly did all his feats upon / The Devil’s Looking Glass, a stone; / Where playing with him at Bo-peep, He solv’d all / problems ne’er so deep’  (Samuel Butler ‘Hudibras’ 1663). For this episode lets us join the archivist of eons, Dr Sam Willis, and the dental surgeon of dates, Professor James Daybell, as they turn their wistful gaze upon the unexpected history of mirrors. Our two catoptromancers will take you on a journey from the court of Elizabeth I and John Dee’s mirror to Harry Potter and divination lessons at Hogwarts, from seventh-century England and the Sutton Hoo hoard to the 1559 edition of The Mirror for Magistrates and from William Paget’s new year’s gift in 1549 to Edward Somerset, Lord Protector of England to the ‘bling’ mirrors of Versailles and Trump International Hotel in Chicago. Perish the thought!

Upon careful reflection Sam and James discover that this unexpected history is actually all about: identity and concepts of self, presentation and personal grooming, introspection and perspective, cross-cultural contact and assumption, empire expansion and colonisation, belief and superstition, politics and journalism, past and future, splendour and display, ego and bufoonery.

Listen out for Sam and James’ favourite objects in the British Museum, and no it’s not a toilet seat! Is that spinach in your teeth…?

‘Of all the things that Alice saw in her journey Through the Looking-Glass, this was the one that she always remembered most clearly’ (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there (1875), page 176).


More Podcasts

85. Chimneys Live

8, 10, 2018 - Dr Sam Willis and Professor James Daybell explore the unexpected history of the chimney live at .... Read More

Episode 37: Hands

26, 5, 2017 - ‘… we find only one tool, neither created nor invented, but perfect: the hand of man’ (Julio .... Read More

Episode 23: Holes

14, 2, 2017 - ‘I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole – and yet – and yet – it’s rather curious .... Read More

Subscribe to our newsletter

Keep up to date with Histories of the Unexpected