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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The Medieval University Monopoly

New universities sprung up across medieval Europe at a rapid rate, yet at the start of the 19th century, England had only two: Oxford and Cambridge. For centuries, England’s two oldest institutions enjoyed a strict duopoly on higher learning, enforced by law. Why were they allowed to?

A professor lectures at a medieval university. Geneva, c.1525.

A professor lectures at a medieval university. Geneva, c.1525.

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.   

The Mediterranean and the Atlantic

David Abulafia | Published 07 February 2018
The explosion in the study of both Mediterranean and Atlantic history, not to mention the history of other seas and oceans, has left one important issue unresolved. What is the relationship between the bodies of water that flow into one another? The links between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic have been largely neglected. Barry Cunliffe’s latest addition to his beautiful collection of volumes about early Europe and the seas around it is, therefore, very welcome. Even if it reprises themes from earlier books, notably his Facing the Ocean , the extension of his argument into the Mediterranean enables him to...Read more »
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The Invention of the Flapper

Tanya Cheadle | Published 16 January 2018
The flapper continues to exert a powerful hold on our collective imagination. A symbol of decadence, ebullience and cynicism, she signifies at once the character of a decade – the 1920s – and the rebellion of a gender. Her genesis is often assumed to be the material deprivations and emotional disruptions of the First World War. Yet, as Linda Simon argues in this deftly written and meticulously researched cultural and experiential history, the flapper had a longer, complex and far more troubled evolution. For Simon, the flapper’s story begins in 1890s Britain and America. This is justified both etymologically –...Read more »
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The Rise of the Flesh-Avoiders

Modern vegetarianism is concerned largely with issues of animal welfare but its roots are to be found in the early-modern desire to promote spirituality by curbing humanity’s excessive appetites. 

An English translation of the essay De esu carnium, written by the first-century Greek philosopher Plutarch, was published in 1603. Translated by Philemon Holland, the text was given the title ‘Whether it be lawfull to eate flesh or no’ and opens with a bang:

Satan’s Bank Note

In the early 19th century ‘filthy rags’ – or bank notes – became a common form of currency. A surge in forgery followed, accompanied by a surge in harsh prosecutions. How did we get from gold to paper?

The Bank of England, 1897.

In 1820 a satirical pamphlet called ‘Satan’s Bank Note’ appeared on the streets of London. Accompanied by a woodcut engraving of five men being executed with the devil sitting on the gallows, the pamphlet offered a biting commentary on the epidemic of forgery trials that had broken out in Britain in the years following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The anonymous author lays the blame entirely at the door of the Bank of England and its biggest debtor, the government of the day:

The Antikythera Mechanism

Andrew Robinson | Published 08 September 2017
Everyone has heard of the Rosetta Stone. Not so familiar, but equally compelling, is a purely Greek artefact of the same period found in a first-century BC shipwreck chanced upon by sponge divers off the coast of Antikythera, an island between Crete and the Peloponnese. It triggered the first underwater archaeological excavation in 1901. The Antikythera Mechanism comprises more than 30 precisely cut bronze gear wheels, dials and pointers held in a wooden box the size of a phone book, with a damaged inscription indicating that they formed a model of the ‘cosmos’ (the Greek word appears in the inscription)...Read more »
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The Savage Punishment of Siberian Exile

Paul Dukes | Published 01 June 2017
When the Scottish explorer John Dundas Cochrane visited the town of Tobolsk in the early 1820s, he found ‘very good society … and the strongest features of content … in this hitherto supposed metropolis of barbarism and cruelty’. But few others walking through Siberia in the 19th century would have shared this view, since the majority of them were convicts shackled and poorly fed and more likely to agree with Dostoevsky that they were in ‘The House of the Dead’. In this welcome book, Daniel Beer follows in the path of others but brings to the subject a new view...Read more »
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The Wolf Must Be in the Woods

In the popular imagination, early medieval England was a wild place populated by packs of ravenous wolves, devouring people and livestock. The image is at odds with modern research into wolf biology and wolves were extinct in England by the time of Henry VII. With a programme of wolf reintroduction proposed for the UK, it is time to look back at the history of attitudes to wolves from when written accounts began, in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Tim Flight | Published 31 May 2017
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Published in
Volume 67 Issue 6 June 2017

The Crusades: A Complete History

A comprehensive account of a compelling and controversial topic, whose bitter legacy resonates to this day. 

During the last four decades the Crusades have become one of the most dynamic areas of historical enquiry, which points to an increasing curiosity to understand and interpret these extraordinary events. What persuaded people in the Christian West to want to recapture Jerusalem? What impact did the success of the First Crusade (1099) have on the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities of the eastern Mediterranean? What was the effect of crusading on the people and institutions of western Europe? How did people record the Crusades and, finally, what is their legacy?

Academic debate moved forwards significantly during the 1980s, as discussion concerning the definition of a crusade gathered real steam. Understanding of the scope of the Crusades widened with a new recognition that crusading extended far beyond the original 11th-century expeditions to the Holy Land, both in terms of chronology and scope. That is, they took place long after the end of the Frankish hold on the East (1291) and continued down to the 16th century. With regards to their target, crusades were also called against the Muslims of the Iberian peninsula, the pagan peoples of the Baltic region, the Mongols, political opponents of the Papacy and heretics (such as the Cathars or the Hussites). An acceptance of this framework, as well as the centrality of papal authorisation for such expeditions, is generally referred to as the 'pluralist' position.