Dr Elizabeth Archibald

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Elizabeth Archibald holds a Ph.D. in History from Yale University, with research focusing on the history of education from Antiquity to the Renaissance and the History of the Book. She has published on topics including the history of Latin instruction and the history of women’s book ownership.

She teaches in the Humanities Department at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.


Latest publication:


Lamartine tells us that history teaches everything, including the future.  Good old Alphonse.

Everything, including a whole bunch of things we didn’t even know we wanted to learn.  Want to know how to sing? How to walk on water? How to disfigure a Peacock? How to sober up? How to grow a nose?  For answers to all those, look no further than the most enjoyable, engaging, fun and thought-provoking place you'll have spent time in ages. Don’t just take our word for it --  here’s what Buzzfeed and OpenCulture have to say.

Ask the Past was born when Elizabeth Archibald started posting – for the amusement of friends and colleagues, but also for students of a new seminar she had devised called “How To Do It: A History of Instruction” – occasional morsels of advice from the books of the past.  Soon, questions for the Past started to come back (“How do I impress my boss?” “How do I put out a fire?”), and with Elizabeth based next to one of the finest rare-book collections in the world, the answers were to be found close at-hand in the historical treasure-trove of the Peabody Library.

Almost exactly a year, and over 500,000 visits later, Ask the Past has fans all over the world. Ask the Past promises to be a book with the insight and fun and con brio zest of the blog, as well as its charm, and the considerable (albeit lightly-worn) learning that underpins it. We need only look at the success of bestsellers like Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guides, to know of the market for serious history, and serious scholarship, conveyed in a popular and accessible form (without being populist or dumbed-down).  The Ask the Past book will do exactly that – entertaining, surprising, funny and impossible to put down.


Praise for ASK THE PAST:

"From medieval headache remedies to Renaissance pick-up lines, we are promised old-school advice to make us laugh out loud and shake our heads in amazement" Bookseller

"A wonderful compendium of received wisdom from our forebears, this endlessly fascinating book provides the answer to conundrums that still vex us today. From sleeplessness to weight loss, table manners to taming wayward eyebrows, 900 years of sage, thoughtful and downright bizarre advice is interspersed with witty commentary by the author. A must for anyone with an eye to the curious world of the past." Tracy Borman

"The perfect book for anyone who wants really preposterous advice" Harry Ritchie Daily Mail

"This compendium has all the qualities of a well-curated cabinet of curiosities" Juanita Coulson, 4 stars Lady


Publication DetailsNotes

Square Peg (UK), Hachette Books (US)

Want to know how to garden with lobsters? How to sober up? Grow a beard? Or, simply, how to make a perfect cheesy omelette? Look no further than Ask the Past.

Chock-full of advice that has (and some that hasn't!) stood the test of time, Ask the Past is the tongue-in-cheek compilation of hilarious and true answers to life's questions, drawn from actual antique sourcebooks by a historian and bibliophile.

From medieval headache remedies to Renaissance pick-up lines, Ask the Past brings you advice that will make you laugh out loud and shake your head in amazement.

Here are the answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to ask – 'How do I impress my boss?' or 'How do I put out a fire' – and some that you didn’t know you needed to. Brimming with advice both wise and weird, and illustrated throughout with charming images from rare books, Ask the Past offers a surprising vision of the past, together with a hilarious menu of solutions to the knotty problems of the present – like how to kill a snake with a radish!