Napoleon: Cutting a swathe through Europe

Malcolm Crook | Published 15 June 2018
This is the second, stunning instalment of what will evidently constitute an outstanding three-volume biography of Napoleon, which explores the extraordinary feats of his central years in command. Superlatives are in order, for after 1805 the French won a series of astounding victories, including Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland. Napoleon’s subsequent ‘summit meeting’ at Tilsit in 1807, with Tsar Alexander I, saw the two emperors carve up the continent between them. As Michael Broers emphasises, this was a pivotal moment, inducing the hubris that led Napoleon to overplay his hand, notably by intervention in the Iberian peninsula. It sowed the seeds...Read more »
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The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

Celebrated memory: The Defence of Rorke’s Drift, by Alphonse Marie de Neuville, 1880.

The battle of Rorke’s Drift was refought this year when a London Underground employee wrote an account of the siege on Dollis Hill Tube station’s notice board to mark its 139th anniversary. Within hours, however, the message had been erased with apologies following complaints that it was celebrating colonialism – a decision which was itself condemned in some media outlets as ‘rewriting history’. It was a brief controversy, but a resonant one for considering how Britain remembers and forgets its Empire and how these memories are shaped by an inheritance of imperial narratives and images. Thanks to the 1964 film Zulu, Rorke’s Drift has become in the modern imagination the prototypical Victorian colonial battle. Brief, heroic and apparently uncomplicated, it stands as a memorial proxy for a wider, more complex and troubling imperial history – and this has a longer tradition than we might think.

Brian Wallace | Published 14 June 2018
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Volume 68 Issue 6 June 2018

National Gallery: Siberia

Beyond the popular image of a harsh, vast expanse. 

At the dawn of the 20th century, ‘the whistle of the steam engine dispersed the gloomy legend of the snow-covered Siberian wastes where only the howling of wolves and the clanking of convicts’ chains disturbed the silence’. This contemporary news report on the opening of the Trans-Siberian Railway conjures a popular image of Siberia as a harsh, vast expanse. Contained by the Ural Mountains in the west, national borders in the south and the Arctic and Pacific oceans to the north and east, Siberia would be the world’s largest nation, were it one. The Russian historian Afanasy Shchapov (1831-76) argued that, historically, it should be seen as such, given its ethnic and geographical differences from Russia. This truth is creatively embraced by the artist Damir Muratov, whose work references the region’s indigenous peoples and mythologies with the creation of Siberian characters named after its towns. 

WHAT LIES BENEATH

Remains of the Berezovka Mammoth, 1901.

The Beauty of Physical Ageing

Rosalind Janssen | Published 05 June 2018
‘Really wonderful work. No use describing it, you have to see it.’ So wrote Ludwig Borchardt in his official excavation diary on 6 December 1912, the day he discovered the ‘life-size colourful bust of Queen’. Last July, 105 years after that discovery, my Oxford students and I were privileged to enjoy a pre-museum opening tour of the Amarna Collection at Berlin’s Neues Museum led by Friederike Seyfried, Director of the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection. Having spent time alone with Nefertiti in the semi-darkness of the north dome room, I was therefore sceptical as to what Tyldesley’s ‘creation of an...Read more »
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Women Who Fly

Clare Mulley | Published 31 May 2018
Without a husband, I shall live happily. Without a man, I shall live proudly … So sings the Shaman of Nisan as she pays a flying visit to the underworld to rescue the son of a dignitary. Alas, while down there she bumps into the ghost of her husband, incensed that she has not chosen to restore him to life. Despite explaining that he is too-long dead, promising to care for his mother and successfully resurrecting the dignitary’s son, once back among the living the shaman is found guilty of effectively re-killing her husband. She is punished by having her...Read more »
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Our Bodies, Ourselves

Women’s realm: a birthing room, Dutch, 17th century.
Women’s realm: a birthing room, Dutch, 17th century.

This year we are marking the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which extended suffrage to (some) women. As a result, there are many exhibitions and books rightly thinking about women’s achievements through history, as activists and social reformers, scientists, writers, artists, politicians, financiers, humanitarians, educators, inventors, actors and athletes.

One thing we tend to forget is just how miraculous it is that any woman – who also wanted to have sex as part of her life’s activities and who lived before the age of the pill – could achieve so much. There were, of course, other forms of contraception before the pill: rubber condoms date from the 1850s, but predating that your options were unaffordable (and unappetising) sheaths made of pigs’ intestines or bladder, or linen. Few people bothered.

Suzannah Lipscomb | Published 29 May 2018

Suzannah Lipscomb is Convenor for History and Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the New College of the Humanities, London.

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Volume 68 Issue 6 June 2018

A Personal History of South India

Andrew Robinson | Published 17 May 2018
Thiruvalluvar statue at Kanya Kumari, Tamil Nadu, India. The history of India is notoriously hard to define. ‘Quicksand in every direction. Dates and figures never certain. Here the centuries move back and forth as months do elsewhere’, notes Roberto Calasso in Ardor , his recent book about the earliest Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, aptly quoted by Charles Allen in Coromandel: A Personal History of South India . For example, the date of the Vedas’ composition lies somewhere between 1500 and 500 BC; the Buddha’s death date varies between 483 and 400 BC; and even the Taj Mahal’s completion date is...Read more »
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Longman-History Today Book Prize 2018: The Shortlist

We are pleased to announce the shortlist for the Longman-History Today Book Prize for 2018.

Listed alphabetically by author name, the books are:

  • James DelbourgoCollecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane (Allen Lane)
  • Tera W. Hunter, Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Belknap Harvard)
  • Emily Jones, Edmund Burke & the Invention of Modern Conservatism, 1830-1914: An Intellectual History (Oxford University Press)
  • Tom Lambert, Law & Order in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press)
  • Chris Renwick, Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State (Allen Lane)
  • Zoë Waxman, Women in the Holocaust: A Feminist History (Oxford University Press)

The winner will be announced at the Longman-History Today awards evening in summer 2018.

Find out more about the Longman-History Today Awards

History Today | Published 10 May 2018
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National Gallery: Wales

‘The Welsh would be insuperable if only they were inseparable.’

In 1995, an obituary of the Welsh historian Gwyn A. Williams published in the Independent neatly described his view of Wales as ‘the very anvil on which the progress of the urban working class had first been hammered out’. It is true that the Industrial Revolution changed Wales, leaving an enduring association between the country’s southern Valleys and the production of iron and coal. Seen below, the artist Iwan Bala confronts Wales’ recent industrial past and the post-industrial era in which the Welsh were like ‘a naked people under an acid rain’. Williams is also quoted in Bala’s artwork – ‘Wales is an artefact which the Welsh produce. If they want to’ – faintly echoing the opinion of the country’s first historian, the 12th-century clergyman Gerald of Wales: ‘The Welsh would be insuperable if only they were inseparable.’

CELTS AND ROMANS

Caratacus at the Tribunal of Claudius at Rome, after Henry Fuseli, 1792.

The Times They Were A Changin’

Joe Street | Published 04 May 2018
‘Has this country gone mad?’, declaimed the Democratic politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Saturday Evening Post during May 1968. To find the answer, all he needed to do was turn on the television, tune into the news and drop into a frenzy of political assassinations (including Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King), violent and nonviolent protests, an overseas war that was turning sour and a generation of young Americans seemingly hell-bent on summoning the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Fifty years later, historians still wonder about the meaning of this tortured year. Separated into three sections, Reframing 1968 cleverly...Read more »
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