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Snoopy Remembers the Great War

The millions of readers of the Peanuts comic strip first encountered Snoopy as the First World War Flying Ace in 1965, when Charles Schulz drew the lovable beagle pretending his doghouse was a Sopwith Camel biplane. Dressed in scarf and goggles, Snoopy imagined that he flew in hot pursuit of the Red Baron, a reference to the legendary German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen. In later strips, Schulz enlivened Snoopy’s wartime fantasies with allusions to battle sites, planes, guns and popular songs of the Great War. The Flying Ace imagery – at times including barbed-wire trenches and mention of missing comrades – seemed especially grim, considering that Peanuts’ characters were all children. The Flying Ace persona prompted Mort Walker, creator of the military-themed comic strip Beetle Bailey, to ask: ‘What does a dog know about World War I and the Red Baron? Where did he get the helmet?’ And of the bullet-riddled doghouse, Walker declared: ‘Good golly, this has gone beyond the tale.’

In 1966, the Flying Ace storyline went even further ‘beyond the tale’ in the televised CBS Halloween cartoon It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The main narrative centres on Linus, an ever-optimistic boy who, in the face of his friends’ doubts, waits in vain for the mythical, godlike ‘Great Pumpkin’ to appear on Halloween.

Carrie Allen-Tipton | Published 31 October 2018
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Published in
Volume 68 Issue 11 November 2018

Thoth and Khepri

The ancient Egyptian gods of creation and knowledge vanquish the ‘Lord of Chaos’.

Thoth and Khepri, on board a barque, defeat the serpent Apep in this detail from the Book of the Dead of Imenemsauf, written during the 21st and 22nd dynasties (1069-716 BC) and now in the Louvre.

Just seen at the bottom of this image, Apep, also known as Apophis, was the embodiment of chaos. He battled daily with Ra, the sun deity, seeking to devour him as he descended below the horizon – where Apep lived – into the underworld. Night would fall, but Apep, never managing to swallow Ra whole, would spit him out and the sun would rise again.

Khepri, the scarab-headed god second from the right, is the morning manifestation of Ra, associated in particular with creation: the eggs of the scarab beetle are laid in dung and so emerge fully formed, their incubation hidden from the world. Because scarab beetles roll dung, they also became associated with the movement of the sun across the sky.

Thoth, who stands at the prow of the barque, with the head of an ibis, was married to Ma’at. She was the god of order and so inextricably opposed to the serpent Apep, the ‘Lord of Chaos’. Thoth was the judge of the dead, who had overseen three epic battles between Good and Evil. He was also an engineer, associated with science and knowledge, and, as scribe of the gods, he was the creator of language.

Any Colour You Like

How does the process of colourisation affect our understanding of history?

Model villain: Lewis Powell, 1865, colourised by Marina Amaral.Colourisation has come of age. Artists such as Wolfgang Wild and, in particular, Marina Amaral, whose book, The Colour of Time, is a bestseller, have used digital technology to ‘restore’ black and white images from the period 1850-1960, many of them well known and so all the more revelatory when unveiled.

A colourised image of Lewis Powell, for example, one of the aides of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, could be something out of a Burberry catalogue. Other photographs, such as that of Franz Ferdinand, the archduke whose murder sparked the First World War, tempt the viewer into hindsight, reading into his pale blue eyes the tragedy to come.

Now comes They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary film commissioned by the Imperial War Museum and directed by Peter Jackson. The creator of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson has the financial and technological means with which to transform black and white moving footage of the Great War, not only restoring colour, but smoothing out the stop-start speeds of early cinematography.

Ireland: A Nation in its Own Right

Patrick Walsh | Published 26 October 2018
Ireland’s history has long been dominated by its troublesome relationship with its larger neighbour. In the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the Irish question seemed to be slowly slipping away from the agenda of politics and into the realm of history. The complexity of the Brexit negotiations, however, has seen it return to centre stage. New tensions have arisen in Anglo-Irish relations and once again history seems to be intruding into politics. These present concerns are one of the reasons why the publication of the Cambridge History of Ireland is especially timely. This four-volume undertaking reveals an...Read more »
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Weird Writers of History

If the English language had taken a different path, historians might not exist.

A scribe, probably Bede, from the Life and Miracles of St Cuthbert, English, 12th century.Are historians particularly ‘weird’? It is not as insulting a question as it sounds and some linguistic history will explain why.

There is a widespread myth about the history of the English language, which goes like this: it began as the sturdy, rugged Germanic tongue of the Anglo-Saxons – good for writing about battles, but not much else – and was refined into a decent level of sophistication by the influence of Norman French, which shaped it into a language fit for discussing elegant and cultured topics. This trajectory – from earthy to elegant, coarse to cultured – is a story regularly repeated in popular narratives of English history, usually by those who have not read much Anglo-Saxon literature; the stereotype of Old English as unsophisticated or ‘rude’ (in every sense of that word) falters in the face of contact with the intricate poetry or thoughtful prose written in that language.

Fake News is Old News

War of words: Sefton Delmer broadcasting to Germany from the BBC, 1 November 1941.

Social media is used strategically to disseminate ‘fake news’. Online profiles are hijacked and hacked in order to agitate, stoke divisions and ‘troll’ adversaries online. These methods of waging a very contemporary style of combat are sometimes known by the more sinister epithet, ‘psychological warfare’. Yet so many aspects of this supposedly 21st century phenomenon – from its harnessing of communications technology, to its emphasis on controlling narratives of who is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in various global struggles – has deep roots.

James Crossland | Published 23 October 2018
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Published in
Volume 68 Issue 11 November 2018

The Global Success of Silk

Evelyn Welch | Published 19 October 2018
As this erudite volume makes clear, silk connects, communicates and challenges our assumptions about luxury and consumption. In the introduction, the editors explain why they have focused on ‘a liquid extruded by a caterpillar [which] upon contact with air … solidifies into a filament’. The results, they argue, form the basis for a remarkable story of wealth and power, ‘transforming economies and societies’. To understand this story across time and space, three scholars organised an international conference almost a decade ago. This brought together specialists in silk cultivation, spinning, weaving, trade, design and use from across Europe, Asia and the...Read more »
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The Women Who Walked Into History

Arriving in Edinburgh on 21 April 1822 aboard the Leith smack Superb, Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt stepped onto the docks towards an uncertain future. She had journeyed for seven days up Britain’s east coast from London in order to be divorced by her husband of 14 years, the essayist William Hazlitt. He had become infatuated with a teenage barmaid in the English capital.

Kerri Andrews | Published 09 October 2018

The End of the English Republic

Rise and fall: Cromwell Dissolving the Long Parliament, by Benjamin West (1782).By the early months of 1658, the young English republic was in crisis. Nine years earlier, after a decade of civil war and three years of famine, leaders in the New Model Army had, as the poet Andrew Marvell later put it, ruined ‘the great work of time, / And cast the kingdom old / Into another mould’. In early December 1648, frustrated by the ambiguities and hesitations of those negotiating with the defeated king, a detachment of soldiers purged Parliament of its most conservative MPs, opening the way for the hasty organisation of a High Court of Justice and the consequent trial of Charles I. As the king resisted the legitimacy of the court and refused to enter a plea, power passed to the more radical military and political leaders, as they became increasingly interested in exploring republican solutions to the political crisis. After multiple attempts to have Charles recognise the court by entering a plea, his judges found him guilty of treason. He was beheaded on 30 January 1649 outside Westminster Hall and, four months later, England was formally established as a republic.

Crawford Gribben | Published 08 October 2018
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Published in
Volume 68 Issue 10 October 2018