Volume 63 Issue 9 September 2013

This is a book about empires and their inability to understand when their time and capacities are exhausted. The empires concerned are those of the Americans, the British and the French in the crucial 20 postwar years when the world was moving from traditional land-based empires to the virtual imperialism of the Cold War. Burleigh’s book draws on a turn which has been shaping a history of the Cold War more generally: the move to the ‘periphery’ away from the centre – that is, away from the machinations in Washington DC and Moscow to the effects of the Cold War in the developing world.
Don’t be misled by the title of Stephen Bending’s new book, Garden Retreats . This well-researched work explores the cultural significance of the garden to well-heeled women living in the 18th century, although there are descriptions of their own gardens. Garden Retreats is divided into three parts, a wordy introduction followed by a section questioning the meaning of retirement – a search for solitude for some or a banishment from polite society for others?
The United States is a country infused with countless contradictions, but few of them are as sharp as religion. How could the first nation to cleave church from state remain so pious?
Victorians saw themselves as moral and progressive. They frequently referred to the brutal history that had preceded them. The more benighted the past, the better they seemed. Thus, as Andrew Sanders explains, a great deal of British history before the 18th century was popularly characterised as being ‘little more than a series of judicial executions and violent or untimely deaths. The sad stories of the death of kings were retold with relish and the sword, the axe, the assassin’s dagger and the poisoned cup became a stock in trade of history painting’.
This is a grimly fascinating tale, a comprehensive account of the business of killing and being killed in battle, the gritty commerce of war at the sharp end. How combatants have fought and died is reckoned up in a sort of Grim Reaper’s doomsday book, from the beginnings of recorded history to the confusing and grubby battlefield of today: the slums of Fallujah and the ditches and wadis of Helmand.
What were the influences that helped shape the expectations of the real-life prototypes of Chaucer’s Knight and what were these men’s experiences in the field? These are some of the questions that Timothy Guard seeks to answer in this impressive and richly textured new study.
In recent years Oxford University Press has published handbooks on everything from food history to genocide studies, so it is hardly surprising that room has been found in the series for a volume on witchcraft. Brian Levack has accordingly assembled a team of 28 contributors, each of whom has provided an essay (or sometimes two), accompanied by suggestions for further reading. Of course, as Levack points out in his introduction, this is far from being the first synthesis of its kind and it naturally invites comparison with its predecessors.

France's 'First Peer' was created on September, 6th 1363

The great Olympian was born on September 12th, 1913

Mexico declared its independence on September 13th, 1813.

France's 'First Peer' was created on September, 6th 1363

The great Olympian was born on September 12th, 1913

Mexico declared its independence on September 13th, 1813.

The Oxford by-election of October 1938 became a referendum on the Munich Agreement of the previous month. As such it was watched closely by Roosevelt, Mussolini and Hitler. Christopher Farman describes the event. 

Frank Prochaska has made a remarkable discovery in the personal library of John Stuart Mill. It proves that Mill not only read the works of his American contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson, but was surprisingly harsh in his judgement of him. 

Erich B. Anderson describes the fortunate alliance between Julius Caesar and a Roman knight and mercenary, Publius Sittius, who helped the dictator defeat his enemies in Africa once and for all.

The cold but continuing conflict between China and Japan is the subject of sustained attention from scholars, says Jonathan Fenby.

In September 1513 the fourth James Stewart became the last king to die in battle on British soil. Linda Porter argues that his life and achievements deserve a more positive reassessment.

Reaction to the death of André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry far exceeded the fame of the Belgian-born composer during his lifetime. The cult-like status he achieved beyond the grave reflects the power of music in turbulent times and reveals new attitudes to mourning, says James Arnold.  

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

Roger Hudson tells the story behind a gathering of glamorous movie stars in Washington DC in October 1947.

Owen Matthews revisits two articles, one of them from the earliest days of History Today, on Russia’s American empire.

The cold but continuing conflict between China and Japan is the subject of sustained attention from scholars, says Jonathan Fenby.

As the Football Association marks its 150th anniversary, Richard Sanders looks at the enduring legacy of the sport’s pioneers.

Benjamin Wild finds that the Middle Ages is inspiring a number of major designers.

Avi Lifschitz considers the changing meanings of the Enlightenment, both to those who created it and those historians who have since attempted to define it.

The San Paulo Railway, funded with money from the City of London, was one of the engineering marvels of the Victorian age, says David Gelber.

The state of Britain’s historic battlefields often compares poorly with that of other countries. Things are changing, says Julian Humphrys. 

Selina Mills attends a conference on the history of blindness, now a dynamic field of study.

Marseille is the 2013 European Capital of Culture – time to recall the heroics of Varian Fry, a US citizen who lived there during the Second World War. Markus Bauer reports.

John Bew and Mungo Melvin argue that we should take greater account of Waterloo’s aftermath.

The latest in Rob Murray's series of Alternative History cartoons.