The Longman-History Today Prize 2012
One of Britain’s finest Renaissance scholars and a ground-breaking study of the night in Early Modern Europe were among the winners at our annual celebration of excellence in history.
This year’s Longman-History Today Trustees Award was given to Gordon Campbell, Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester. The award recognises a person or organisation that has made a major contribution to history. Campbell, a Renaissance man in every sense, is a world-renowned authority on the life and work of John Milton and has written widely on classical antiquity, garden history, legal history, art, architecture and, increasingly, the Islamic world. He was presented with the award by the Editor of History Today, Paul Lay, at a reception held on January 11th at the Museum of the Order of St John in London.
In a notable feat of scholarship, confirmation of his mastery of historical theology and Biblical studies Campbell edited Oxford University Press’s 400th Anniversary Edition of the King James Bible. Last year he also produced the succinct, accessible Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 (OUP). One passage from that book, read out at the awards evening, serves to remind us of what an extraordinary intellectual feat the creation of the KJV represented:
It is sometimes assumed that people in the 21st century know more than the benighted people of the 17th century, but in many ways the opposite is true. The population from which scholars can now be drawn is much larger than that of the 17th century, but it would be difficult now to bring together a group of more than 50 scholars with the range of languages and knowledge of other disciplines that characterised the KJV translators. We may live in a world with more knowledge, but it is populated by people with less knowledge.
There are some exceptions to that trend and Campbell is among them.
The Longman-History Today book of the Year, with a prize of £2,000, went to Craig Koslofsky for his Evening’s Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press), a methodologically bold account of Enlightenment Europe’s transformation of darkness and night-time. It is reviewed below, along with the other books on the shortlist. The judges were Professor Jeremy Black of Exeter University; film-maker and historian Taylor Downing; History Today Reviews Editor Juliet Gardiner; Professor Miri Rubin of Queen Mary University of London; and Paul Lay.
Among the other awards was the Longman-History Today Historical Picture Researcher of the Year prize, given to a researcher who has done outstanding work to enhance a text with a creative, imaginative and wide-ranging selection of images. This year the prize and cheque for £500 was shared by Caroline Hotblack for her work on the Folio Society’s edition of Neal Ascherson’s Black Sea and Cecilia Mackay for Crimea by Orlando Figes (Allen Lane).
The Undergraduate Dissertation Prize, worth £250, is given by History Today in association with the Royal Historical Society. This year’s winner, from an outstanding shortlist, was Richard Lowe-Lauri of the University of Durham for his The Decline of the Stamford Bull-Running c. 1788-1840. The judges – Professor George Bernard of Southampton University, Dr Alan Thacker, Executive Editor of the Victoria County History and Paul Lay – thought it a ‘remarkable review of the historio-graphy of an increasing compassion for animals, set within a wider debate over changing leisure patterns and the decline of traditional sports in a rapidly industrialising Britain’.
2012 book of the year winner
Evening’s Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe
Cambridge University Press 432pp £18.99
Any book worthy of the Longman/ History Today prize should be elegantly written, exhaustively researched, profoundly original and methodologically bold. Craig Koslofsky’s Evening’s Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe is all of these. Before the Early Modern period the night had been a time of real and metaphorical danger, made plain in St Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:5: ‘You are all the children of the light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.’
The night set limits to physical existence, while offering a sinister stimulus to the imagination. But around the middle of the 17th century the entire concept of time as it was understood in Europe began to change due to a revolution Koslofsky labels ‘nocturnalisation’; ‘the ongoing expansion of the legitimate and symbolic uses of the night’. In just half a century street lighting was established in many of Europe’s great cities and throughout the Holy Roman Empire, offering new opportunities for leisure and labour, even making new art forms possible, most notably opera. The latter example points to the fact, though, that the change had far greater impact on aristocratic, courtly and urban circles than it did to country life, where the old patterns of labour and the traditional two bouts of sleep a day continued for centuries. Louis XIV of France, in rising at 9am and retiring at midnight to one single session of sleep, was among the first monarchs to keep the hours of modern man, patterns evident also in the diaries of Samuel Pepys.
The new control of the night, Koslofsky argues, saw marginal groups lose control of the hours of darkness, while at the same time the monarchs and states whose authority had been questioned in a confessionally fragmented world reasserted their control of the public sphere. This safer night was a fillip to piety. In his Hymn to Christ John Donne judged that ‘Churches are best for prayer, that have least light.’ But science was arguably the greater beneficiary of nocturnalisation. The light of reason and the torch of civilisation became familiar motifs among the educated and Alexander Pope mixed science with religion in his paean to Isaac Newton, whose revolutionary insights promised man control of the natural world: ‘Nature and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night/ God said, Let Newton be! and All was Light.’The descent of darkness was no longer understood as a canopy placed upon the earth, but as a vigorous symbol of planetary motion. The Enlightenment, scientific and cultural, was discussed long into the night in the teeming coffee houses, where stimulants replaced the traditional, rurally derived, sedatives of beer and wine.
Koslofsky’s brilliant synoptic work, born of rigorous study of diaries, letters and legal sources from, in particular, Britain, France and Italy, is worthy of the widest possible audience, a work that stands alongside that of Jürgen Habermas in the light it sheds on our understanding of the transformation of the public sphere and the origins of modernity.
Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England
The focus on Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth has pushed Henry VII and Edward VI to the shadows. In this well-written and interesting study Thomas Penn uses the often limited sources on Henry VII to show what an impressive figure he was. The bringing of stability rarely rates enthusiastic plaudits, but Henry was able to make his own safety also that of the country. There was, of course, a measure of harshness and Penn helps explain why Henry was also widely disliked, a dislike that helps account for the initial euphoria that greeted the accession of Henry VIII. But part of Henry VII’s achievement can be measured by the different way in which discontent was expressed by the end of his reign. Much else emerges, including the extent to which what some have seen as ‘New Monarchy’ was in practice another iteration of customary late-medieval practices. Looking to the future, Henry’s patronage of John Cabot indicated his ability to discern changing circumstances. An impressive book.
The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe
Yale University Press
How a society remembers and commemorates its past is vital to how it sees itself in the present. This was clear in the recent debate about the teaching of history and what should be in, and what left out of the National Curriculum. James Mark’s ingenious and superbly researched The Unfinished Revolution looks at how the modern democracies of Eastern Europe have reconstructed their pasts after the cataclysmic events of 1989. All of them have had to re-learn or re-invent a past after the end of the Communist era. In some countries there is talk of an ‘unfinished struggle’ against former regimes. In others history is used to heal earlier divisions. For instance, Hungary has made the 1956 Uprising a centrepiece of its new democratic identity; whereas in Poland, Solidarity, the movement that rallied opposition to Soviet rule from the early 1980s, has been written out. Mark uses oral history to understand what ‘ordinary people’ think about their recent past and the opportunities for their future. This book, rich in memory and politics, culture and history, gives a fascinating new insight into one of the major changes of our times.
The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony, 1845-1852
Ciarán Ó Murchadha
During the mid 19th-century Great Famine over one million Irish people died. Yet this greatest of humanitarian disasters has been strangely unexamined by historians until recently. Now Ciarán Ó Murchadha has written a powerful account of the terrible years from 1845, when the potato blight first destroyed the main sustenance of the Irish peasants, until the end of the decade when the countryside had been laid waste, its population scythed down by death. Many of the victims of starvation, poverty and disease were buried in ‘coffinless graves’ or followed the via dolorosa of emigration which accounted for the loss of a further million from Ireland.
But the towering strength of Ó Murchadha’s book lies not only in its harrowing accounts of the famine painstakingly gleaned from all over Ireland and of the gross inadequacy of official responses, but also in his forensic and balanced analysis of the causes of and responsibilities for this most terribly mismanaged of visitations.
The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society and Culture in Early Modern England
Cambridge University Press
This brilliant study of how English translations of the Bible forged a social world breaks down into four chapters, each devoted to a closely interrogated theme. The first, on ‘Neighbourhood’, is typically revelatory. From the 1300s, Tadmor argues, the Hebrew word re’a was translated into English not as ‘friend’ or ‘companion’ as elsewhere, but as ‘neighbour’, as in ‘love thy neighbour’. Thus Biblical injunctions became rooted in local communities and English protestantism is revealed as more communal than previously imagined.
But the English Bible was also a contested book and, in examining how translations sought to enhance ideas of monarchical rule, Tadmor offers further radical insight into this period, citing Cromwell’s reading of the story of Gideon, the judge who refused kingship, as a major step in his justification of republican rule. This is important as, until now, it is the classical tradition à la Harrington that has been seen as the seed of English republicanism. Tadmor’s book is full of such insights, revealing what the English Bible and its world gained in translation.
Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey
432pp £25 (hb) £9.99 (pb)
Maps and empires go hand in hand. The Abbasid Caliphs treasured their Christian mapmakers, and to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain Christopher Columbus – skilled cartographer – became oracle and an inspiration. Rachel Hewitt’s erudite and compelling Map of a Nation shows this link to have been alive, though markedly less personal, in imperial Britain. For the prehistory of the Ordnance Map, the vade mecum of every modern hiker, begins in Scotland in the aftermath of violence. The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and the clearances of the Highlands both revealed to those in the know just how poorly charted those parts of Britain were. It took a lowly engineer – William Roy of the Corps of Engineers, veteran of the Seven Years War – to make the urgent political case for comprehensive mapping to uniform standard and scale. One of Map of a Nation’s many accomplishments is to show how adventurous and imaginative engineering and mapmaking could – and still can – be. It is readable, informative and its content very often unexpected.
2012 Picture Researcher of the Year joint winners
Cecilia Mackay for
Crimea: The Last Crusade
Allen Lane 560pp £30
The selection of contemporary photographs and cartoons rather than gung-ho swashbucklers, underlines the modernity of this conflict, and sheds a sensitive light on the war and the experience of those who fought in it.
Caroline Hotblack for
Folio Society 304pp £29.95
The wide historical range is illustrated by a variety of subjects. Hotblack’s local contacts in Russia and her fluency in the language enabled her to reach parts other researchers could not have done and to commission unique material.