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.
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.
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 Delbourgo, Collecting 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.