Volume 62 Issue 11 November 2012

Colin Smith recounts the Allied invasion of French North Africa, which commenced on November 8th, 1942.

Judith Flanders applauds Jerry White’s analysis of poverty in North London, first published in History Today in 1981.

Penelope J. Corfield proposes a new and inclusive long-span history course – the Peopling of Britain – to stimulate a renewed interest in the subject among the nation’s secondary school students. 

James Barker describes the impact of an SOE mission in wartime Greece 70 years ago this month to demolish the Gorgopotamos railway bridge.

Gyanesh Kudaisya considers how the Sino-Indian war of 1962 has shaped relations between Asia’s two largest nations.

For three generations one Calcutta family pioneered cultural, political and social advance, making a profound mark on Indian modernity, says Chandak Sengoopta.

The great English king was born on November 13th, 1312.

The first commercially successful machine gun emerged on November 4th, 1862.

The erudite courtier, and inventor of the flush water closet, died on November 20th, 1612.

The battle of the Milvian Bridge in October 312 has attained legendary status as the moment when the Emperor Constantine secured the future of Christianity in Europe. But the real turning point, argues Michael Mulryan, took place a few months earlier.

Humiliating, painful and reminiscent of crucifixion, the British army’s Field Punishment No 1 fuelled public outrage during the First World War, as Clive Emsley explains.

Roger Hudson expands on an image of Russian ships destroyed by the Japanese at Port Arthur, 1904.

Jacob Middleton finds that, far from being a relic of a cruel Victorian past, corporal punishment became more frequent and institutionalised in 20th-century England.

Since the 1980s the American family has evolved towards greater diversity and complexity. Yet, paradoxically, it is the essentially conservative nuclear family forged in the 1950s that continues to hold sway as a touchstone in US politics and culture, says Tim Stanley.

Jeremy Black considers Hanoverian precedents for the wayward behaviour of royal younger brothers.

Edward III’s 700th anniversary is a suitable moment to celebrate one of England’s greatest monarchs, says Ian Mortimer.

Richard C. Hall looks at the bloody conflicts in south-eastern Europe which became the blueprint for a century of conflict in the region.

Sarah Mortimer looks at the historiography of what followed the British Civil Wars: the Republic led by Oliver Cromwell.

A selection of readers' correspondence with the editor, Paul Lay.

Panikos Panayi explores attitudes to German prisoners interned during the First World War.

Since the Tudor period generations of black seamen have been serving on British ships and some of those who travelled to our seaports, including London, Liverpool and Cardiff, made the ‘Mother Country’ their home. Britain’s black population has largely been overlooked by historians. With the exception of the Crimean ‘doctress’ Mary Seacole, black Britons from history are absent in the school curriculum. In today’s culturally diverse Britain this is an appalling situation and it needs to change.

The story of ancient Egypt is well known. Starting with its unification by a king called Narmer, it becomes obsessed by, then loses interest in, pyramid building, develops a huge empire ruled by any number of odd characters, then it all goes wrong with invading foreigners turning up on a regular basis. However this is not the story recounted in this, the first of John Romer's promised two-volume history of ancient Egypt, which takes us from the earliest farming communities in north-east Africa, to the building of the Great Pyramid of King Khufu.

The photo-interpreters based at RAF Medmenham during the Second World War are the unsung heroes of the immensely successful intelligence war. The code breakers at Bletchley Park have taken most of the limelight. Amazon lists 588 books on Bletchley and the unquestionably important work performed there. It lists only four books about Medmenham and the arguably even more important day-to-day intelligence work carried out there. So this new book focusing for the first time on the women who worked at Medmenham is much to be welcomed.

This is very much a domestic biography of William Wilberforce, which focuses on his private life, rather than his public career as evangelical politician and abolitionist. We learn a good deal from it about his poor state of health, the result of chronic irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis (for which he regularly took opium) and a progressive curvature of the spine, and also about his psychological failings of crippling self-doubt and indecision.

Few authors are better qualified then Andrew Robinson to write about the history and science of ancient scripts. His expertise long proven in earlier works, his new book, Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion fills a yawning gap in Britain, providing a definitive modern history, in English, of Champollion’s pioneering translation of hieroglyphs.

On his recent trip to Britain last year Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s first stop was a pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he stayed for over an hour longer than planned, enjoying the beautiful gardens, listening to scenes from Hamlet, and writing a two-page poetical inscription in the visitor’s book.  Wen Jiabao is only one of almost a million visitors to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust properties every year, from over 130 countries.

When I was a young history undergraduate I attended a riveting lecture by that brilliant and charismatic medievalist Walter Ullmann, an Austrian immigrant to Britain and one of the world’s great experts on the papacy. He was speaking about the so-called Donation of Constantine, an infamous document of dubious origin whereby imperial Rome was purported to have ceded authority to the Church.

Throughout most of his long political career Churchill relied for the bulk of his income on his earnings as an author and journalist. That was, however, a precarious way of earning his living, especially when he accepted more commissions than he could complete in the contracted deadline. That was particularly the case in the 1930s, when he was out of office but required a large income to support his family, his expensive tastes and his country home, Chartwell in Kent. During that decade Churchill produced three books of memoirs, several collections of speeches and two major histories.

Fra Dolcino was a radical: he preached that all goods should be held in common, that the pope was unworthy and that he, himself was the ‘true apostle of Christ’. He was also, if the chronicles are to be believed, a maniac. Hiding out in the mountains in northern Italy between 1305 and 1307, his followers ravaged the local villages, setting fire to churches, executing local people and generally running amok. Fra Dolcino was eventually captured and burnt at the stake. Several Italian chronicles record events and, in the Divine Comedy, Dante placed him in the depths of Hell.

Ever since the invention of hell and the destruction of Valhalla conflagration has been a powerful metaphor for purging and renewal. When the House of Commons and House of Lords were dramatically consumed by fire during the night of October 16th and 17th, 1834, two years after the passage of a Reform Act which had nibbled at rather than swept away a moth-eaten political system at least 400 years old, it was (and is) tempting to see the event as the funeral pyre of the British ancien regime.

Visitors to Moscow can hardly fail to notice the equestrian statue by Red Square commemorating Georgy Zhukov’s ride at the head of the Victory Parade in 1945. The monument bears testimony to the fact that the Soviet Marshal’s reputation was sky-high in 1995 when it was erected at the command of President Yeltsin, who also created two new military decorations in Zhukov’s honour. During his lifetime he was not always so well regarded. In particular, he was demoted by Stalin and Khrushchev in turn, allegedly for insubordination to the top political authority.