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?
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.
The love affair of Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt (69-30 BC), and Marcus Antonius, Roman triumvir (83-30 BC) is legendary.
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.
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.
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.