By Michele Mitchell

About Michele Mitchell

Michele Mitchell is Associate Professor of History at New York University. Her most recent book (coedited with Naoko Shibusawa and Stephan F. Miescher) is Gender, Imperialism, and Global Exchanges (2015).

Nadir

“Nadir” can be a specific medical term that indicates the “minimum value of a fluctuating quantity” or an astronomical term that describes either “a point on the celestial sphere diametrically opposite some other point” or “the point on the celestial sphere diametrically opposite to the zenith and directly below the observer” (Oxford Universal Dictionary 1955). Yet “nadir” is perhaps most frequently used as an antonym for the more general sense of “zenith,” or “high point.” Put another way, “nadir” indicates the lowest point possible for a person or collective; it can identify the very worst moment of a particular era or situation as well. The English historian Henry Hallam (1777–­1859) used the term “nadir” during the early nineteenth century to refer to what he considered a particularly abysmal period in human history. In the first volume of Introduction to the Literature of Europe, in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth

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