The Best Articles of 2019

A selection of our favourite articles from the past year.

History Today | Published in History Today

Another year and what have we learned? That the Dutch Golden Age was bookish, what it was like inside a medieval brothel, the root of the Nazi obsession with witches, how fans worked in British India, why Iran overthrew the shah and lots more. As usual, we’ve chosen a selection of some of our favourites. Read them for free for a limited time and then thank us by buying a subscription for 2020

Menstruation and the Holocaust

Jo-Ann Owusu 
Periods are a fact of life, but little talked about. How did women in the concentration camps cope with the private being made public in the most dire and extreme circumstances?

Rembrandt’s Empty Bookshelf

Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen 
We remember the Dutch Golden Age for its paintings – which may be why so few realise that it was Europe’s publishing powerhouse. 

Interior of a Dutch printing office, Abraham von Werdt, coloured woodcut, 17th century. Bridgeman Images.

Inside the Medieval Brothel

Jamie Page 
What was life like for Medieval prostitutes? A case in the German town of Nördlingen revealed a hellish world of exploitation and violence.

The Changing Value of Money

Roderick Floud
How can we work out the true value of money in the past? It depends how you do the sums.

Keeping India Cool

Arunima Datta
Sweltering British imperialists relied on an army of fan bearers, whose stories are as invisible as the air they circulated.

A British officer receiving a pedicure while a punkahwallah stands nearby, c.1900 © Hulton/Getty Images

Go Tell It On The Mountain

Patrick Nunn
Mythical tales of giants are rooted in geological realities.

Kazakhstan’s Nuclear Nightmare

Joanna Lillis
During the Cold War, nearly a quarter of all the world’s nuclear testing took place in Kazakhstan, in secret. In 1986, a high-profile disaster in Ukraine changed that.

You Are Where You Eat

Rachel Rich 
Restaurants went mainstream in the 19th century, but the boom in places to dine out brought unexpected perils – menu anxiety, excessive table talk and ‘strange ladies’ among them.

Return of the Ayatollah: Iran’s Islamic Revolution

Siavush Randjbar-Daemi 
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became a lightning rod for the mass protests which overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979, but the causes of the Iranian Revolution lay elsewhere.

Railway To Hell

Clare Makepeace
The Thai-Burma railway was built by prisoners of war in appalling conditions. The dead were treated with a dignity denied the living.

A Working Party on the Way to the Railway Site, 1943,  by Leo Rawlings (1985), based on an original  painted in captivity.

K Syndrome, the Disease that Saved

Francesco Buscemi 
In one Italian hospital, an invented disease helped save hundreds from the occupying Nazis.

Saving Mexico from the Devil

Amy Fuller
The Conquest of Mexico was justified by the Spanish as an evil necessary to save a people who practised human sacrifice and worshipped false gods. 

The Puzzles of Thermopylae

Chris Carey
The story of 300 Greeks withstanding the might of Persia at the Thermopylae pass is well known. But how accurate is it? And, with few sources, how can we know? 

The Real Third Man: Policing Postwar Vienna

Clive Emsley
At the centre of a war-shattered Europe, Vienna was divided between the victorious Allied powers. Restoring civil society proved a major challenge. 

Himmler's Witch Hunt

Joel F. Harrington 
The Third Reich’s obsession with a pure Germanic past led to a renewed interest in the witch hunts of early modern Germany.

Karl Wolff, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich attend the premiere of the film Verräter (Traitor), Nuremberg, 1936 © akg-images

What Counts as a Concentration Camp?

Emma Kuby 
Even for Nazi Camp survivors who sought to eradicate them, they were hard to define.

Doctoring the Ladies

Natasha Simonova 
Although not allowed to study at university, women in 18th-century England still found ways to join – and challenge – the scholarly world.

A Traveller's Guide to Ruritania

Nicholas Daly 
There are many ways to visit Ruritania, although the country doesn’t exist. Anthony Hope’s bucolic kingdom – replete with chocolate-box royalty and swashbuckling adventure – has a long cultural history.