New College of the Humanities

Volume 62 Issue 8 August 2012

The modern Olympic Games are an international phenomenon, often criticised for their controlling commercialism. However, as Mihir Bose explains, they owe their origins to a  celebrated novel set in an English public school.

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

The future emperor was born on August 31st, AD 12.

Growing nationalism in the UK’s constituent countries threatens the study of Celtic languages and history, argues Elizabeth Boyle.

Robert Colls asks what British identity is - and what it is not.

The cityscapes of the world’s most populous nation are expanding at a bewildering rate. But China’s current embrace of urban life has deep roots in its past, as Toby Lincoln explains.

Jos Damen tells the stories of two unusual men who lived a century apart in the Dutch colony at Elmina in West Africa; a poet who became a tax inspector and a former slave who argued that slavery did not contradict ideas of Christian freedom.

Mike Thomas looks back to a period of economic buoyancy in the Basque region, when a special relationship flourished between the people of Biscay and Britain.

The ancient Greek Olympics were just as enmeshed in international politics, national rivalries and commercial pressures as their modern counterpart, says David Gribble.

An 18th-century ménage à trois involving the King of Denmark inspired the recent film, A Royal Affair.  Stella Tillyard considers what makes it a story for our times.

England has been conflated with Britain for so long that unravelling English history from that of its Celtic neighbours is a difficult task. Paul Lay considers recent histories of England and its people.

The legacy of the Great Helmsman is the source of bitter conflict over China’s future direction, argues Tim Stanley.

The great historical shifts in energy use, from wood to coal, to oil, nuclear power and beyond, have transformed civilisation and will do so again, as Richard Rhodes explains.

Jerome de Groot wades through the swathes of warriors landing on his desk to give us a round-up of the best battle-laden historical fiction for this year.

London 2012 will be the biggest television spectacle ever. Taylor Downing reflects on the extraordinary links between the Olympics and the moving picture throughout their histories.

Often portrayed as a paragon of Christian virtue, the real King Arthur was an embarrassment to the Church, writes Simon Andrew Stirling.

Clare Mulley takes issue with an article on Second World War resistance movements, first published in 1984.

Roger Hudson on the circumstances behind an eviction in County Clare, Ireland, photographed in July 1888.

God's general was buried on August 29th, 1912.

The 'lost' city re-emerged on August 22nd, 1812

Christian apocalyptic literature and ecological predictions both anticipate the end of the world. Are they born of the same tradition, asks Jean-François Mouhot?

David Waller on the 150th anniversary of a ship that symbolised Liverpool’s ties to the Confederate states during the American Civil War.

The popular view of the history of Krupp – the German heavy industrial conglomerate – is still largely that expressed by Justice Robert Jackson in his indictment at the Nuremberg ‘Krupp Trial’ in 1947.

Like the bombs, shells and mortar rounds dropped and fired in their millions during the conflict a total history of the Second World War is more easily weighed than described. Simply to narrate a war that circled the globe several times over in the course of six years requires a lot of words and demands the skills of a marathon runner. At 2.7lbs, Antony Beevor’s new book outweighs not only a two-inch mortar round, but also several other recent attempts at telling the same story.

‘This is London! How d'ye like it?’ concluded John Bancks’ poetic paean to metropolitan diversity in 1738. In this comprehensive survey of the emergence of the world’s first modern city Jerry White has chosen the overarching theme of division to make sense of the kaleidoscope of people, places and events that constituted the metropolis. This was an age of contrasts, a time of ‘starving poverty as well as shining polish’, a ‘strikingly violent place’ in an age of politeness.

There are few parts of London more redolent of history than Stepney.  Here can be found, intense and unforgettable, the gory misdeeds of ‘Jack the Ripper’, the Siege of Sidney Street, the rise and fall of the great docks, the anti-fascist Battle of Cable Street, the forging of the Labour Party, the flood of late 19th- and early 20th-century Jewish immigrants, the enduring of the Blitz, the election of England’s second Communist MP in 1945, the struggle for tenant’s rights, the work of the notorious rag-trade ‘sweatshops’, the idealism of the post-Second World War era and much more.

Did the ancient Romans make any scientific discoveries? Or did they just recycle and elaborate the discoveries of their Greek predecessors, Democritus, Aristotle, or Ptolemy? For centuries the standard view has been that the Romans only did applied science – technology and engineering: the Greeks invented biology, zoology, physics and astronomy, while the Romans built roads and aqueducts. But Lehoux argues that the Romans’ reputation as scientists needs rehabilitation.

London is eternally fascinating. Every part has a story to tell, even the suburbs. And we should remind ourselves that Hackney – comprising the former metropolitan boroughs of Shoreditch, Hackney and Stoke Newington – was largely suburban until the latter years of the 19th century. The modern London borough comprises a constellation of once-satellite villages and they are recovered here as they achieve prominence in the life of London over past centuries.

Once upon a time the history of the police was simple. Before 1829 all watchmen and constables resembled Shakespeare’s Dogberry, Verges and Elbow; increasing crime rates and popular disorder, particularly from the end of the 18th century, exposed the decrepit nature of the system; a few valiant voices were raised, until Sir Robert Peel, as home secretary, pointed the way ahead with the formation of London’s Metropolitan Police. Then social historians took an interest.

The first pocket Tube map, 1908, featuring the new Underground logotypeBooks on London are a constant staple of the publishing industry, but it appears that, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee followed by the 2012 Olympics, the stream has become a flood, with a considerable amount of the flotsam managing to be singular and informative in unusual ways.

In the 1950s, I was given a book called Our Island Story, which told the history of England for children. It recounted in affecting detail King Alfred burning the cakes and Robert the Bruce drawing inspiration from a spider, but omitted most of the context of these events. I was left wondering why King Alfred fetched up in that hovel. Its author, H.E.

What was it like to attend the Olympics in 388 BC? asks Neil Faulkner, and he delivers an answer with sustained eagerness and brio.