Volume 62 Issue 12 December 2012

Adam Rovner describes the little-known attempt to create a Zion in the Portuguese colony of Angola.

While it is right to seek justice for those tortured and mistreated during the Kenyan Emergency of the 1950s, attempts to portray the conflict as a Manichean one are far too simplistic, argues Tim Stanley.

Erica Fudge and Richard Thomas explore relationships between people and domestic animals in early modern England and how new types of archaeological evidence are shedding fresh light on one of the most important aspects of life in this period.

A great hoax was born on December 18th, 1912.

As the erotic novel appears to be experiencing a renaissance Julie Peakman reflects on 18th-century appetites for pornography.

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

Artemis Cooper reflects on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s flexible approach to historical fact.

After bringing slavery in the West Indies to an end in 1834, Britons differed over how to treat other forms of oppression around the world, says Richard Huzzey.

When Richard II succeeded his grandfather, Edward III, he turned to alchemy to create a more pious ideal of kingship. Though his reign ended in failure, it left us one of medieval England’s most enduring and complex images. Jonathan Hughes explores its symbolism.

Geoffrey Best reflects on a lifetime collecting books and the difficulties – emotional and financial – of parting with them.

The great composer died on December 28th, 1937.

Helen Szamuely explores the unprecedented success of a household manual and cookery book produced by a Russian housewife, Yelena Molokhovets, following the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861.

Chris Darnell examines the political and military background to the IRA’s last major action against the British army.

A landmark in folklore was published on December 20th, 1812.

Sarah Wise admires an assessment of lunacy in 19th-century London.

Disabled people were prominent at the court of the Spanish Habsburgs. Janet Ravenscroft examines the roles they played and draws comparisons with modern attitudes towards physical imperfection.

Gillian Tindall reflects on a recent discovery by a Dickens scholar, which offers new insights into the great writer’s early years.

Derek Wilson welcomes the emergence from the shadows of Thomas Cromwell, thanks to Hilary Mantel’s prize-winning historical novels.

Roger Hudson sails past a half-built Battersea Power Station and on to its slow decline.

'What drove people to go off into the forest, chop down a tree, decorate it?’ asks Bernd Brunner in his short history of the Christmas tree.

He answers with a wide- ranging exploration of the genesis of this symbol of the Christmas season probably first seen in central Europe during the winter solstice in the Middle Ages, becoming an accepted part of Christmas festivities in most European homes by the 19th century and soon the centrepiece of American Christmases too.

The heritage debate of the 1980s was spurred by the apparently paradoxical coincidence of deindustrialisation: Thatcher’s drive to modernise and waves of fashionable rural nostalgia. Was Britain becoming a ‘modern’ country or a country house museum? Or both at once, as affluent gentrifiers dressed in heritage clothing? Nowadays this latter possibility doesn’t seem as paradoxical to us as it once did and yet the big books of the heritage debate are still worth reading and Verso has reprinted one of the biggest books, Raphael Samuel’s Theatres of Memory.

The first English revolution? Yes indeed. The baronial movement against Henry III, which began in 1258, marked a radical overturning of the established order. It saw the management of the country taken out of the king’s hands and put under the control of a baronial council governing in the king’s name, yet actually in his stead. Magna Carta had limited the king’s powers, but its makers had not contemplated his effective replacement. The makers of the Provisions of Oxford, the reforming programme of 1258-59, did just that.

These are heady days for historians. While the 1990s saw one 50-year retrospective after another on the Second World War for those writing on the First the centennial of all centennials is fast approaching.

After a century it remains the ultimate historical whodunit. How did Europe, at the height of its glory, commit collective suicide, drowning centuries of progress in the bloodletting of 1914-18?

How do we know what we think we know? That the Earth is round, for example, and rotates around the Sun, or that Napoleon’s armies retreated from Moscow 200 years ago, or that Renoir was an Impressionist and Anthony Blunt a spy? On what grounds, for that matter, are we inclined to deny what others have believed to be true, such as that certain ‘races’ are inherently superior to others, that skull shapes suggest various levels of intelligence or that a house is haunted? My ‘knowledge’ (like yours, I suspect) is mostly based on information I have received from sources I trust.

It is half a century since readers were offered a ‘big’ scholarly book about maps aimed at a general audience, Leo Bagrow’s 1964 History of Cartography. Now Jerry Brotton’s monumental History of the World in Twelve Maps, traversing a panorama from ancient Greece to Google Earth, offers an all-new approach tailored for the new millennium. Or does it? More accurately Brotton’s achievement is to create what Joseph Hall, the 17th-century Bishop of Exeter, called another world and yet the same.