Tag Archives: research

Historical Terms: Action Francaise

action francaise: Right-wing political movement founded in France by the journalist and poet Charles Maurras (1868-1952), which was royalist, nationalistic, and anti-Semitic and which criticized the Third French Republic for decadence. Although a freethinker, Maurras approved of Roman Catholicism, believing that its traditions were a counterforce to democratic republicanism. In 1908 he and Leon Daudet (1867-1942), a pamphleteer and essayist, began joint editorship of the movement’s newspaper, Action Francaise. The Vatican became estranged from the movement after 1926 and it drew increasingly close to fascism. Between 1940 and 1944, it gave strong support to the Vichy government and was accordingly suppressed after France was liberated; Maurras was sentenced to life imprisonment for collaboration with the Germans.”

Excerpted from: Cook, Chris. Dictionary of Historical Terms. New York: Gramercy, 1998.


Hausa: Chadic language, native to northern Nigeria (roughly from Kaduna northwards and some 200 km east of Kano westwards) and neighboring parts of Niger. Also widespread as a second language, there and elsewhere, and as a lingua franca across West Africa. Written in Arabic script before the 20th century, now largely in Roman.

Excerpted from: Marshall, P.H., ed. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Art Brut

“Art Brut: A term coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet to characterize spontaneous and rough artistic expression of children, prisoners, and the insane. Dubuffet’s collection of art brut inspired him to reclaim untrained and marginal artistic elements in his own work. See naïve art and ‘outsider’ art.”

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

Book of Answers: Merlin the Sorcerer

“Where in literature did Merlin the sorcerer first appear? In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain [Historia Regum Britanniae] (1137). This Latin prose work by the English chronicler also helped build the legend of Merlin’s protégé King Arthur.”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Battle of Lepanto

“Battle of Lepanto: A naval engagement in the Gulf of Corinth on October 7, 1571, fought between the forces of the Ottoman Empire and those of a holy league comprising Spain, Venice, and the papacy. Under the leadership of Don John of Austria, the Christians overwhelmingly defeated the Turks, ending their naval domination of the Mediterranean. Cervantes took part in the battle and was wounded in the left hand.”

It is the subject of a poem by G.K. Chesterton.

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Historical Terms: Abolitionists

abolitionists: Party opposed to slavery founded in the northern states of the USA in the late 18th century. In 1774 an Abolitionist Congress was held and in April 1776 legislation against slavery was attempted in the US Congress. Abolitionist sentiment, previously only loosely coordinated, was given a focal point in 1833 when William Lloyd Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. Originating in Boston, by 1840 the movement had some 200,000 members nationwide. However, in 1839 the national organization had split into a radical wing, led by Garrison, which denounced the US constitution as pro-slavery, and a more conservative wing. In 1840 a splinter group, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, founded the Liberal Party to represent directly the abolitionist cause in national politics. Greatest activity took place at state and local levels, ensuring that the anti-slavery cause remained an important element in US politics: it was promoted by the Freesoilers and the Republican Party. The victory of the north in the Civil War (1861-65) led to the emancipation of slaves and the American Anti-Slavery Society formally dissolved itself in 1870.

Excerpted from: Cook, Chris. Dictionary of Historical Terms. New York: Gramercy, 1998.

14 and Bach

“By giving each letter a number from its order in the alphabet you can deconstruct the name ‘Bach’ as follows: 2 for the B, 1 for the A, 3 for the C, 8 for the H—which makes 14. A pleasing mirror, or reversal, of this number can also be formed from ‘J.S. Bach’—which gives 41. This pseudo-science of substituting numbers for letters is known as gematria, (or abjad in Arabic) and has innumerable variations depending on whether or not you include vowels or which language you translate back to or transcribe into. It has often appealed to creative minds and may have been behind Bach’s playful manipulation of the number 14, achieved by itself (in the fourteen canons of the Goldberg Variations for instance) or in pairs of sevens that occur throughout his work.

Gematria is a very ancient tradition, particularly in the Near East, where it has often had official sanction, with poetic inscriptions commissioned by rulers to reveal the date of the publication of a book or the construction of a building. There are examples dating back to Sargon II of Assyria (in the eighth century BC). In the first century AD gematria became a recognized tool of Jewish hermeneutical scholarship and it was tradition respected by many of the Ottoman Sultans. It seems only to have taken root in the imagination of Western Europe, however, in the seventeenth century.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.