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Volume 60 Issue 1 January 2010

Richard Cavendish remembers January 13th 1935.

Ian Friel argues that popular ideas of the nature of Elizabethan seapower are distorted by concentration on big names and major events. Elizabethan England’s emergence on to the world stage owed much more to merchant ships and common seamen than we might think.

Mark Bryant admires a Russian artist whose lampoons of Napoleon inspired some notable British caricaturists.

Jonathan Clark, editor of a major new history of the British Isles, considers what effect the intellectual currents of our own time have had on the way historians write.

The astrononer made a remarkable discovery on January 7th, 1610.

Paul Cartledge visits the archive of History Today to retrieve a critical appraisal of the Greek proto-historian Herodotus by the inimitable Oxford don Russell Meiggs, first published in 1957.

Roger Moorhouse on a controversial historical DVD being reissued.

Bernard Porter reviews the field of studies of British covert operations and espionage.

John Tosh argues that historians should find ways to teach undergraduates the practical applications of their uniquely insightful discipline.

Medieval scholars were the first to make the connection between maths and science and anticipated the discovery of inertia long before Newton. So why have their discoveries been forgotten, asks James Hannam.

Sedition could cost you your life in Tudor England, but by the 18th century the monarch was fair game, writes David Cressy.

Opera has flourished in the United States. But how did this supposedly ‘elite’ art form become so deep-rooted in a nation devoted to popular culture and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal? Daniel Snowman explains.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, France was riven by political division as extremes of left and right vied for power. Annette Finley-Croswhite and Gayle K. Brunelle tell the tragic and mysterious story of Laetitia Toureaux, a young woman swept up in the violent passions of the time.

A distant monarch, political factionalism, vainglorious commanders and the distraction of European enemies helped George Washington seal victory in the American War of Independence, writes Kenneth Baker, who explores the conflict through caricature and print.

The recent scandal over MPs’ expenses would not have raised an eyebrow in the 18th century when bribery was rife and rigged elections common. Trevor Fisher looks into that system and the slow path to reform.

Britain has had a long and sometimes problematic relationship with alcohol. James Nicholls looks back over five centuries to examine the many, often unsuccessful, attempts to reform the nation’s drinking habits.

Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland - By Diarmaid Ferriter

Profile Books 694pp £30 ISBN 978 1861979 186

A pamphlet on What Not To Do on A Date, written by a Jesuit priest and published in Dublin in 1960, advised that passionate kissing for the unmarried was ‘mortally sinful’; a girl could keep lustful thoughts at bay by saying quickly:

 
Bernard Shaw was 66 when the BBC started broadcasting in 1922. He was already a household name in Britain; a famous playwright, a Fabian socialist, a provocatively opinionated, witty and brilliant public speaker. He and the BBC were made for each other and Shaw was, one way or another, continuously involved in broadcasting until his death in 1950. In the 1920s he took part in carefully staged debates with other wellknown men of letters on such burning issues as ‘The menace of the leisured woman’.

Everyone has a view on historical fiction, especially the readers of historical fact. As a result, any serious study of the subject is most welcome, particularly when it employs such a refreshingly open definition of what constitutes historical fiction. Indeed, whereas most academic studies by their very nature have to label, limit and define, de Groot does not see historical fiction as simply ‘a genre’ but as a conceptual force that runs throughout literature.

 
Billed as a ‘frank, salacious and often shocking portrait of a people’, Maureen Waller’s The English Marriage is tragic rather than titillating. Through 29 short chapters, each with one matrimonial pair at its centre, Waller catalogues the horror that marriage could entail from the late 15th through to the mid-20th centuries. 
 
Women bore the vast brunt of it.
Her haunting face completely covered in long, soft, fur-like hair, she looks directly out at you from the painting by the 16th-century artist Lavinia Fontana. Dressed in an exquisitely embroidered gown, the ‘hairy girl’ holds a piece of paper which tells the viewer her story. Fontana does not depict her as a monster; rather, as a young girl of remarkable assurance, intelligence and poise.
Juliet Nicolson’s second published book has a good premise: to cover in detail the two years after the Great War, from the day the guns went silent in November 1918 to the interment of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey in November 1920. She sees the period as one in which Britain grieved for all that had been lost.
Only once did I find myself flagging while reading through Diarmaid MacCulloch’s blockbuster history of Christianity and that was around page 245 in the midst of a lengthy and somewhat dense disquisition about relations between Miaphysites and Dyophysites in late fifth-century Syria and Ethiopia. It is a tribute to the author that he leaves no stone unturned – which in the case of a history of Christianity means no heresy goes undissected.
What produces love of a single house, street, village, city, region or country? Is it something about the place itself, or is it more about our emotional connection to the group of people who happen to live there at a particular time, or have lived there in the past? Whichever it is, the attachment clearly exists and, as a result, people have celebrated, spent money, argued, voted and fought wars for thousands of years.

The Code Breaker's Secret Diaries: Rediscovering Ancient Egypt

Jean-François Champollion

Translated by Martin Rynja Gibson Square Books

404pp £8.99

ISBN 978 1903933831

The history of obelisks is, to a fascinating extent, the history of civilisation and also a corrective to those who, prioritising dialogue and democracy, still believe that civilisation began with the Greeks. Though mentioned only in passing in this book, the 19th-century Washington Monument – inspired by these ancient, pre-democratic cultural memorials – is the tallest obelisk in the world, soaring above the classical monuments of the National Mall. Though Martin Bernal in his 1987 book Black Athena may have exaggerated the ‘African’ (i.e.
As an academic who began researching the history of the Security Service – better known as MI5 – in the 1970s, it is still difficult to believe that Christopher Andrew’s book actually exists. Thirty years ago there was no prospect of it ever existing, for no MI5 files had been released to the National Archives and there was no hope of ever getting access to them. 
 
The transformation since then has been remarkable.