Volume 61 Issue 4 April 2011

Much western commentary on the turmoil in the Arab world demonstrates historical ignorance, argues Tim Stanley.

An interesting and instructive approach to German history in the first half of the 20th century, Victoria Harris’ book depicts the interplay between national legislation and the local agencies that sought to regulate a trade that is presented as driven essentially by economic need. Moreover she locates prostitution not in a hidden underworld milieu but as a central part of an economy that included many women, from landladies to dressmakers.
In late medieval Europe a devotion to the heart of Jesus developed around an image of a heart surrounded by flames and often represented visually outside and apart from his body. During the Counter-Reformation this devotion became particularly popular among ascetics and mystics, men and women alike, and it grew into a global cult through the work of missionaries. Yet this idealised, symmetrical, very red and burning heart is little different from the one we see all around us, on advertising hoardings, on greeting cards, as jewellery and as graffiti on walls.
Much of the commentary that has accompanied the recent ‘Arab revolts’ has focused on Britain’s past dealings with the Middle East, especially in the period from the mid-19th century when Britain moved into territories ceded by the fading Ottoman Empire, softening the ground economically and culturally before troops went in. Which is why James Mather’s superb study is so valuable, for it shows another side to Britain’s engagement with the Middle East, telling the story of the Levant Company.
Although there have been many studies in English of how Britain in general, and London in particular, stood up to the Blitz, Roger Moorhouse’s is the first in English ‘on the other side of the hill’. Some of the material, therefore, has a familiar feel: for example, a chapter on the evacuation of children from the Reich’s capital.
Best to declare an interest immediately: for me as a novelist, the work of musicologist Craig Monson has been revelatory. Over the last 20 years he has uncovered a rich and complex musical subculture inside Italian Renaissance convents, giving voice to the creativity – and frustrations – of generations of nuns who sang, arranged and even composed music, often bringing them into conflict with Counter- Reformation Church hierarchy. Without his research, it is fair to say, I could never have written my novel Sacred Hearts .
In The Jew in the Medieval Book: English Antisemitisms 1350-1500 (2006) Anthony Bale traced representations of the Jew in images and in narratives of late medieval England, long after the expulsion of the Jewish community in 1290. He showed there how central was the Jew to several longstanding discussions about justice and governance, and increasingly to devotional ideas and practices.

Richard Cavendish recreates the circumstances of Horatio Nelson's victory at Copenhagen on April 2nd, 1801.

Richard Cavendish recreates the circumstances of Horatio Nelson's victory at Copenhagen on April 2nd, 1801.

Richard Cavendish remembers King Farouk's succession to the Egyptian throne on April 28th, 1936.

Richard Cavendish marks the anniversary of St Catherine of Siena's canonisation by Pope Pius II.

As the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton approaches, Jenifer Roberts looks at the series of 18th-century weddings which led the Portuguese royal family into dynastic crisis.

James Boswell, Samuel Johnson’s future biographer, found Glasgow a dull place. Yet it was at the city’s university that he came into contact with the political economist Adam Smith, whose insights forced the student to grapple with competing claims on his conscience, as Robert Zaretsky explains.

Jacqueline Riding examines how a 19th-century painting, created almost 150 years after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, has come to dominate the iconography of that event.

Glittering monument to Britain’s colonial achievement or fragile symbol of a fragmenting imperial dream? Jan Piggott charts the efforts to make Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace flourish as an ‘Acropolis of Empire’.

Michael Bloch tells the story of one of the more unusual dynasties related to the Windsors.

The quest for spiritual virtue through personal austerity drove many Eastern Christians to lead solitary lives as hermits surviving in the wilderness. Andrew Jotischky describes how indifference to food became an integral part of the monastic ideal in the Byzantine era, one revived in the West in the 11th and 12th centuries.

The editor answers your correspondence this month.

Richard Almond describes how some rare wall paintings help shed light on medieval hunting.

As a major new exhibition on the Aesthetic Movement opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Richard Cavendish explores Bedford Park, the garden suburb inspired by the movement’s ideals.

Paul lay introduces the April issue of our 61st volume.

Stephen Alford admires a perceptive article on Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I’s ally and consummate political fixer, by the distinguished Tudor historian Joel Hurstfield, first published in the 1956 volume of History Today.

Since its discovery in Yemen in 1972 a collection of brittle documents, believed to be among the earliest Koranic texts, has been the subject of fierce and divisive debate among scholars of Islamic history, as Scott MacMillan reports.

In the light of current events in North Africa and the Middle East, David Motadel examines the increasing frequency of popular rebellions around the world.

Modern day obituaries often speak of illnesses ‘bravely fought’, but the history of pain, a defining and constant experience in lives throughout history, lacks a substantial literature, argues Joanna Bourke.

In this highly original and literary meditation on poetry and war Daniel Swift trawls through British, German and Dutch archives to trace the short life of his grandfather, James Eric Swift of 83 Squadron RAF, whose Lancaster bomber was brought down during a night raid targetting Münster in 1943. From that one terrible incident the author opens his study out in an attempt to understand how poets, novelists and artists tried to capture the experience of living through the Second World War.