Event: History Today at Hatchards, Socrates

What Have The Greeks Ever Done For Us?

Amy Smith | Published 05 August 2018
It is a truism that the modern world feels the influence of ancient Greece – not least, in languages, arts, politics – yet the interactions of ancient Greece with other cultures rarely surface in popular histories. Jeremy McInerney weaves these two stories seamlessly together, evoking the importance of Greece as a conduit of cultural change. His book opens with a stunning image of a marble statue of a girl directly opposite discussions of ‘cultures in dialogue’ and ‘truth and beauty’. This girl, Kore 674, belongs here. A votive dedication to the gods on the Athenian Acropolis, admired and drawn by...Read more »
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How Europe Learnt to Swim

For 1,500 years, Western Europe ‘forgot’ how to swim, retreating from the water in terror. The return to swimming is a lesser-known triumph of the Enlightenment.

A woman swimming in the sea in Margate, Kent, Thomas Rowlandson, c.1800.

A woman swimming in the sea in Margate, Kent, Thomas Rowlandson, c.1800. 

Humans first learned to swim in prehistory – though how far back remains a matter of debate between the paleoanthropological establishment and the followers of Elaine Morgan (1920-2013), who championed the aquatic ape hypothesis, an aquatic phase during hominid evolution between 7 and 4.3 million years ago. Even though we may never have had an aquatic ancestor, compelling evidence exists for the swimming abilities of the representatives of the genus Homo since H. erectus, who appeared some 1.8 million years ago.

Gregor MacGregor, the Prince of Poyais

Like a herald of lost Atlantis, Gregor MacGregor arrived in 19th-century London with news of a Central American utopia. Unfortunately, Poyais didn’t exist and its would-be emigrants found only a ‘sinister coast of disillusion’.

Sunrise in Nicaragua, Martin Johnson Heade, 1869.

Sunrise in Nicaragua, Martin Johnson Heade, 1869.

In 1820, the year of George IV’s accession, there came to London from the Americas, His Serene Highness Gregor the First, Sovereign Prince of the State of Poyais and its Dependencies, and Cacique of the Poyer Nation. He arrived unheralded and without ceremony but, within a few months, his name was to flash like a meteor across the skies of contemporary fame and as rapidly to pass into oblivion.

France, from Gaul to de Gaulle

Desmond Seward | Published 10 July 2018
John Julius Norwich’s history of France was his final tribute to a country that he loved throughout his long life, ‘living in everything from the grandeur of the British Embassy to a humble Strasbourg bedsitter’. As the title indicates, the reader is taken for a cheerful gallop, Norwich covering everything from Vercingetorix, Caesar’s heroic, doomed opponent, to the end of the Second World War. He brings to life Clovis, King of the Franks, the Emperor Charlemagne, Count Robert of Paris, St Louis and the disastrous Crusades, the end of the Templars whose last Grand Master was burned at the stake...Read more »
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Who Were The Phoenicians?

Mark Woolmer | Published 29 June 2018
The people known to history as the Phoenicians occupied a narrow tract of land along the coast of modern Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. They are famed for their commercial and maritime prowess and are recognised as having established harbours, trading posts and settlements throughout the Mediterranean basin. However, the Phoenicians’ lack of recognisable territory, homogeneous language or shared cultural heritage means that, despite being one of the most influential Mediterranean peoples of the first millennium BC, their identity has long remained shrouded in mystery. In Search of the Phoenicians takes the reader on an exhilarating quest to reveal more...Read more »
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Ferdinand Columbus, Bibliophile

Lisa Barber | Published 19 June 2018
Ferdinand Columbus. Christopher Columbus brought the riches of the New World to Spain; his son, Ferdinand, collected the riches coming from the new technology of the printing press and brought them to Seville, where he founded the most astonishing library. Ferdinand (or Hernando) also wrote the biography of his father, which is our main – and often only – source for the great explorer’s life and voyages. Until now, however, no full biography of Ferdinand has existed: a void amply filled by Edward Wilson-Lee’s The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books. He places Ferdinand firmly within the intellectual, social and political milieu...Read more »
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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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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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