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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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Published in
Volume 68 Issue 6 June 2018

Sufism: Into the Mystic

Fitzroy Morrissey | Published 25 May 2018
Quaranic inscriptions on the dome of the mausoleum of the 13th-century Persian mystic Jalal al-Din Muhammad al-Rumi, Konya, central Anatolia. In November 2017, Wilayat Sina’, the Egyptian wing of ISIS, launched a deadly attack on a Sufi mosque in Sinai Province. As a consequence, many people were left asking what exactly Sufism was and questioning its relationship with mainstream Islam. Though Sufism is often defined as the ‘mystical’ dimension of Islam, this is perhaps an oversimplification. As the North African philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun, who was himself sympathetic to Sufism, put it, ‘Sufism ( al-tasawwuf ) cannot be confined...Read more »
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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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Skanderbeg: a Man for Our Times?

In charge: Skanderbeg fights  the Ottomans. Detail from the Memorial Wall of the National Skanderbeg Museum in Krujë.
In charge: Skanderbeg fights the Ottomans. Detail from the Memorial Wall of the National Skanderbeg Museum in Krujë.

You could be forgiven for missing the announcement that 2018 is the ‘Year of Skanderbeg’. The Albanian government made the decision late last year, as 2018 marks 550 years since his death, in 1468. Now an obscure figure outside Albania, for centuries Skanderbeg was lauded throughout Europe. ‘Land of Albania! Where Iskander rose; Theme of the young, and beacon of the wise,’ wrote Byron in 1812. Who was this forgotten hero – sometimes called ‘The Albanian Braveheart’ – and what relevance, if any, does he have today?

Karen Murdarasi | Published 30 April 2018
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Published in
Volume 68 Issue 5 May 2018
Three tulips and an anemone by Jacob Marrel (1614-1681).

Tulipmania: An Overblown Crisis?

The Menniste Bruyloft (Mennonite Wedding) was a well-known tavern and musical centre in the Oude Brugsteeg in Amsterdam, a tiny alley near the port and the commodity exchange. In the early part of the 17th century it was run by Jan Theunisz, perhaps an unusual man for an innkeeper; he was a religious liberal, a printer, a scholar in Latin, Greek, Arabic and Hebrew. Although Theunisz probably died between 1635 and 1640, the tavern remained a popular sight for visitors, in part because of a cabinet of curiosities it contained.

Throwing Light on the Menorah

Julia Neuberger | Published 10 April 2018
Menorah from the King’s Bible by Isaac ben Judah of Toulouse, 1384. As a child, Steven Fine was fascinated by the flickering of the candles on the Chanukkah menorah. The Jewish festival of Chanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Greeks in 161 BC. On winning, the Maccabees purified the Temple in Jerusalem and re-established within it traditional Jewish worship. The candles on the Chanukkah menorah that Fine so loved refer to the story that the victorious Maccabees only found a small jug of oil, enough for one day, for...Read more »
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The Long Fight for Liberty

David Lowenthal | Published 14 March 2018
Of the millions of enslaved Africans in the Americas, only those in Hispaniola and Guiana mounted rebellions that brought freedom. Elsewhere, uprisings were brutally suppressed. These books chronicle two rare exceptions. Runaway Maroons in British Jamaica and Dominica gained dominion over substantial hinterlands on their islands. Both established viable communities in mountainous terrain adverse to British troops, were abetted by kindred plantation slaves and menaced the plantation system, aiding slavery’s ultimate demise. Jean Besson relates how Africans who fled Spanish servitude won autonomy after Britain captured Jamaica in 1655. As slave-worked lowland sugar plantations expanded, so did marronage in the...Read more »
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A professor lectures at a medieval university. Geneva, c.1525.

The Medieval University Monopoly

In June 1686, a small family – a clergyman, his wife, and their daughter – disembarked from a ship at the docks of Boston, Massachusetts. They had just finished a long journey of a month or more across the Atlantic, escaping from England. The clergyman, a scholarly, 60 year old named Charles Morton, was fleeing prosecution. His crime? Teaching students – or, more specifically, teaching students in north London.