Volume 61 Issue 6 June 2011

Paul Lay introduces the June issue of our 61st volume.

The desire of western governments, most notably those of Britain, to apologise for the actions of their predecessors threatens to simplify the complexities of history, argues Tim Stanley.

Richard Cavendish describes how General Somoza organised an armed uprising and seized power in Nicaragua, on June 9th 1936.

The Australian pioneer Robert O'Hara Burke died of starvation on June 30th, 1861.

Richard Cavendish charts the life of the author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was born on June 14th, 1811.

John Swinfield describes the bizarre politics behind the British government’s attempt to launch a pair of airships in the 1920s and how a project that might have boosted national pride ended in tragedy and failure.

Despite the popularity of shows like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Britain’s Gypsy Travellers still face longstanding prejudice, warns Becky Taylor.

The Aeneid, Virgil’s epic Latin poem, offers as profound an insight into the current Libyan crisis as any 24-hour news channel, argues Robert Zaretsky.

In the late 18th century the merchants, manufacturers and traders of Liverpool founded one of the first chambers of commerce in Britain with the aim of promoting the local economy. Bob Bennett looks at early parallels with the Coalition government’s plans for local partnerships.

The anti-government protests in Egypt earlier this year swept through Cairo and Alexandria before measures could be taken to protect antiquities in museums and archaeological sites in those cities and across the country. Yet, argues Jonathan Downs, the impact on Egyptian heritage and the repatriation debate has been a positive one.

During the seventh century the Arabs invaded North Africa three times, bringing not just a new religion but a language and customs that were alien to the native Berber tribes of the Sahara and Mediterranean hinterland. Eamonn Gearon looks at the rise of the first Islamic empire.

Brazil may be one of the 21st century’s emerging superpowers, but its history is a mystery to many. Gabriel Paquette tells the story of its early years as an independent state.

History Today was launched in 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain. Barry Turner challenges Arthur Marwick’s impressions, first published in 1991, of the year that austerity Britain glimpsed a brighter future.

Adam Hochschild looks at an unlikely pair of siblings whose high profile yet very different approach to the events of the early 20th century reflect a turbulent age.

Medieval knights were the sporting superstars and military heroes of their day, who performed before an adoring public in the tournament. Nigel Saul explains their appeal.

Richard Bosworth looks at the Vittoriano, the Italian capital’s century-old monument to Victor Emmanuel II and Italian unification and still the focus of competing claims over the country’s history and national identity.

The Victorian era was an anxious age. The men and women of the time feared the effects of industrialisation and urbanisation. They shuddered at turmoil from without, as Europe erupted into revolution, and at disorder from within, as the Fenians battled for an independent Ireland. Without the safety net provided by a welfare state they worried about the poverty which could so easily result from illness, debt or misfortune. Above all they feared the threat of personal harm.

It has always been impossible to work out how Oliver Cromwell, a man who was a failed business-man in Huntingdon and a former mere yeoman-farmer in St Ives who then managed properties in Ely, came to be elected as MP for Cambridge in 1640, a city that had always elected men with strong connections to the royal court or who were among its elite aldermen. Andrew Barclay has now solved the riddle in a work of exhilarating virtuosity, going where no man has gone before, into archives as dusty and neglected as archives can be, telling a compelling story of parish-pump intrigues.

As the French naturalist Victor Jacquemont travelled around India he had to admire the dignified reserve of English imperial rulers. But he found that this quality cut them off not only from their despised subjects but also from the ‘pleasures of the heart’. Ironically in view of their French Huguenot name, this observation applies exactly to the ‘thoroughly anglicised’ members of the Du Boulay family, the ‘servants of empire’ whose letters form the basis of this book.

The enslaved, the indentured and the colonised have all had their places in the sun of recent British imperial history, while the colonists themselves have been left in the shadows. Perhaps the passing of time has made us less sensitive to the emergent nationalism of former dominions, or perhaps recent neo-imperialist incursions in the Middle East and North Africa have reignited interest in colonial identity. Either way, the thousands of Britons who perched or nested overseas are starting to migrate triumphantly to the limelight of centre stage.

European adventurers in 19th-century India were often shady characters in search of a fortune and attracted by the riches of independent native kingdoms. But not all were rogues. In this lively and original book we meet talented men at the glittering Lahore court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ‘Lion of the Punjab’. Its extravagant ceremonies were colourfully captured on canvas by Auguste Theodor Schoefft, the talented and little-known Hungarian artist, who spent the winter of 1841 at court.

Coloured lantern slide by William Henry Jackson, India, c.1895With each year that passes amid mushrooming economic opportunity, innovation and obvious wealth in many areas of Indian life  it becomes easier to talk simply in terms of a British ‘interlude’ on the subcontinent rather than the civilisational Year Zero once touted.

David Cordingly took up piracy comparatively late in life. Previously he had led a distinguished and more conventional existence as keeper of the Royal Pavilion’s art gallery in Brighton; as assistant director of the Museum of London; and then as keeper of pictures and head of exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

The Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010 gave television viewers worldwide visual access to contemporary India. A vast country that, once classified as ‘third world’, could now host an international and spectacular sporting gathering. Money and modernity were on display. But behind the spectacle lay disquieting questions. What were the building standards that allowed newly built flyovers to collapse and what, if any, was the regulatory regime that guaranteed safety for workers and users? Who were the labourers drafted in to build roads and accommodation for athletes?