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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Medieval Millennials

The joys of adulthood: haymaking in June, from the Trés Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century.
The joys of adulthood: haymaking in June, from the Trés Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century.

We have a tendency to associate youth culture with modernity, but medieval people were as anxious about youths as are today’s headline writers worrying about the rise of the ‘millennial’. As the poet John Lydgate (c.1370-c.1451) warned: ‘O lusty gallants in your adolescence, / ... When you are stirred to wanton insolence, / Restrain yourselves.’ We might also assume that extending youth beyond the teenage years is a luxury of a modern society, where life expectancy stretches into the eighties. But even in the late Middle Ages, when life expectancy was considerably lower, youth was a flexible category that could expand well into the late twenties and even thirties. So what were the defining characteristics of ‘medieval millennials’ and when did they stop being youths and start being adults?

Rachel Moss | Published in
Rachel Moss | Published 04 June 2018
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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

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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A History of Ink in Six Objects

History is full of ink. From Paleolithic cave paintings to parchment scrolls to printed books, ink has recorded human history for over 100 millennia. Even the Kindle makes use of e-ink (a reusable ink that sits just below the surface of the screen), reminding its readers that ink is hardly a thing of the past. All inks are a means and method of communication – the first and longest-running form of information technology. 

Although historically ubiquitous and seemingly omnipresent, ink is anything but simple. Ever since the Pleistocene, inks of all types have been invented and reinvented, with every ink a product of its own unique context. On a basic material level, inks consist of two components: colour and a way for that colour to attach itself to its intended surface, be it papyrus, parchment or paper. But the way that those elements combine, and the ingredients used to make them, offer a variety of permutations, proving ink to be one of the most curious and complex objects in human history. 

Consequently, inks are inexorably bound to their times, geographies and utilities as every type of ink is the result of decisions about purpose, cost, usability and accessibility. Neolithic Chinese ink had different cultural requirements from medieval manuscript ink; printing ink is most certainly different from that found in modern fountain pens. Ritually made ink is culturally sanctioned, whereas other modern inks are intentionally disposable. The value of each ink is seen in the sum of the choices about how it is made and why.

Lydia Pyne | Published in
Lydia Pyne | Published 16 May 2018
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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 in
History Today | Published 10 May 2018
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Who Lost Czechoslovakia?

It is often taken for granted that all European nations involved in the early Cold War, save Germany, fell naturally onto one side of the Iron Curtain or the other. Yet Czechoslovakia was not pre-ordained to become part of the Soviet sphere. There were multiple opportunities for the United States to influence its position on the political map of Europe.

Benn Steil | Published 09 May 2018

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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