Longman-History Today Awards 2003: The Winners

The best history books, films and students of 2003 announced.

The History Today awards for Book of the Year, New Generation Book, History Film, Undergraduate Dissertation, and Picture Researcher were announced on January 8th, at a ceremony in London, attended by 150 figures from the world of history and addressed by Simon Sebag Montefiore, whose talk on the implications of setting out to be a biographer of a man like Stalin appears in this issue.

Some of the awards are given under the auspices of a Trust set up to commemorate the long relationship between History Today and Longman publishers, and others are given by the History Today Trust, ultimate owners of the magazine. They all celebrate work in creating and popularising serious history. The Book of the Year award, which this year was won by The Friend, by the late Alan Bray, is given for an author’s first or second book only.

In the last year television has continued to expand its coverage of the past, while the number of new history titles in bookshops has also risen again. History coverage in the media generally is at an all-time high; our awards are aimed at rewarding not just the ubiquitous stars but a range of up-and-coming talent and those who work in less glamorous but still highly necessary areas.

UK readers can win a set of the books shortlisted here - see our competitions page.

Longman-History Today Trustees Award

This award, given by the Trustees of the Longman-History Today Trust, is given to a person or institution that has done outstanding work to promote history. This award was initiated last year, and went to best-selling author Antony Beevor. This year’s recipient is quite different, with the award going to an institution that all historians in Britain rely on, directly or indirectly, The National Archives.

The Archives were founded in April 2003 by bringing together the much more familiar Public Record Office and the Historical Manuscripts Commission, and they provide a unitary, accessible resource comprising one of the largest archival collections in the world, dating back to Domesday. Over recent years, the constituent bodies of the Archives, especially the PRO, have done a great deal to make their holdings accessible to the general public, who now flock to Kew and to the National Archives websites. They also do a great deal to educate, to debate and to facilitate research at every level. The prize was collected by Sarah Tyacke, Keeper of Public Records since 1992.

Sarah Tyacke said, ‘'It is wonderful that Longmans and History Today have recognised our work in making the country’s records and archives more easily available to everyone.  People in the Kew area have the benefit of enjoying TNA events and exhibitions on their doorstep throughout the year.’

Book of the Year Prize

For an author’s first or second book in English, published October 2002-September 2003.

Judges: Jeremy Black (University of Exeter), Mark Mazower (Birkbeck College, London), Miri Rubin (Queen Mary, London).

Book of the Year

The Friend
Alan Bray
University of Chicago Press. xii + 380pp  £30
ISBN 0-226-07180-4

On a visit to Cambridge some two decades ago, Alan Bray was shown a late-seventeenth century monument which marks the burial of Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines side-by-side in the same tomb. Set next to the communion table of Christ’s College, where Finch and Baines had once been students, it symbolises their friendship with the imagery of ‘wedded’ brotherhood signalling a marriage of their souls. His host’s request for an explanation of this monument launched Bray on a journey to find answers which he recounts in vivid and compelling detail.

Bray takes his readers through a historical travelogue in the mode of an intrepid explorer seeking hidden treasure. His goal is to make sense of a phenomenon that at first glance appears incomprehensible to modern mentalities: the ritual and spiritual union of two individuals of the same sex. The evidence that directs his path is not primarily the parish registers, official records, or personal papers that have preoccupied historians of the family, but the architectural remains of a spiritual culture of kinship which can be found across Western Europe. The journey leads us from the tombstone of Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe, buried together in 1391 after their deaths within a few days of each other in Byzantium, to the shared grave of Cardinal Newman and Ambrose St John marked by a simple cross on the Lickey Hills south of Birmingham. We travel by way of Fulke Greville’s final commemoration as ‘Frend to Sir Philip Sydney’; the memorial brass of John Bloxham and John Whytton in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford; the ‘marriage’ of King James I and the Duke of Buckingham; the memorial plaque of Father Nicholas Morton and Father John Seton at the Venerable English College, Rome; and the diaries and gravestone of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, near Halifax.

These shards of evidence  are meticulously investigated by Bray, who is fuelled by a desire to interpret the past in its own terms. His forensic precision leads him to reject former explanations of sworn brotherhood as either a form of insurance in a violent age; the self-interested pursuit of profit; or a simple expression of love between two individuals. Instead, he recovers the highly complex social, political and, above all, theological contexts for understanding pre-modern concepts of friendship. Such ties bound families as well as individuals in relationships akin to (and sometimes in conjunction with) those of godparents, ‘cousins’, and spouses. Central to the conjunction of friends was the Eucharist which helped to seal an earthly shadow of the bond of love represented by God. While Bray detects an eighteenth-century watershed in the symbolism of friendship (with the disappearance of public gestures of affection and shared tables and beds), he nonetheless argues for its continued importance as a spiritual tie until the late-nineteenth century.

Bray resists interpreting his evidence according to the more narrowly private and sexualised concepts of friendship characteristic of late modern culture. It is precisely his painstaking quest for objectivity—his refusal to conflate friendship with what we today call homosexuality—that gives this book such contemporary relevance, and which ultimately makes it (as he puts it) ‘a book about ethics’. It should be read not only as an exemplary piece of historical detective work and source criticism. By seeking to restore a space for friendship as a spiritual bond of public significance, this book also provides an indispensable frame of reference for current debates spiralling from the increasingly fraught relationship between homosexuality and Christianity.
Alan Bray died in November 2001, leaving a typescript of this book which has been faultlessly produced. He intended it to continue a conversation in which he had an esteemed voice, and it will engage many in dialogue for years to come. It is a valuable legacy from a scholar and a friend who will be deeply missed.

Alexandra Shepard

Book of the Year: Proxime Accessit

Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin
Frances Harris
Oxford University Press 330pp £25 
ISBN 0 19 925257 2.

In his two books about John Evelyn in the 1950s, W.G. Hiscock argued that the diarist’s relationship with Margaret Blagge, thirty years his junior, was a kind of seduction, intended to prevent her marriage to the courtier Sidney Godolphin. In a persuasive new account which explores the full context of court and country life and of the milieu they lived in, Frances Harris offers a quite different reading of this remarkably well documented and, at first sight, highly curious friendship. This is a clever, rewarding book for all who are interested in the seventeenth-century mind.

Harris writes in a leisurely manner; principal characters sometimes disappear for a while into a background which is lovingly painted. Chapters are not exactly what the title says: Courtly Love deals with Margaret’s role as a maid of honour, until Sidney Godolphin appears briefly; Godly Housekeeping is much more about Margaret’s death in childbirth than Evelyn’s advice about how she should keep house. Strangely, the reader is advised that the Introduction ‘may be read last.’ The book is much less demanding if it is read first.

The core of the book is the platonic relationship between a schoolmasterly intellectual and a young undereducated girl with a passion for religious devotion, who leaves the court, ostensibly for her marriage to Godolphin, in practice to pursue piety and charity. The ‘transformations of love’ are ones that both parties strove for. Harris prints a pen and ink drawing that Evelyn probably executed, dated October 16th, 1672, inscribed by both of them as their Altar of Friendship. This is perhaps the most striking documentation we have of the ideal of friendship as understood in the seventeenth century. Harris’s handling of the intellectual context here is exemplary.

The issue of what the relationship meant to each of them and how far it did transform them is handled  elliptically but  sensitively. Evelyn was clearly much more obsessed by Margaret than she was by him, though the friendship had started with her leaning on him for advice. After her death, Evelyn tried to work through his  feelings about this, as he accepted, excessive attachment by composition of his memoir of Margaret’s life.  Harris suggests this owed much to models from Roman Catholic hagiography and puritan exemplary lives.

Evelyn could console himself he had persuaded Margaret that godly marriage was her correct course; briefly she had given herself to it. He had compartmentalised himself in a way that must have cost his long-suffering wife. It is hard to see the division of intense emotion and spirituality from their sexual lives as bringing them real contentment. These hardly seem positive transformations of love. But the value of the book lies in its evocation of a distant mental world.

Anthony Fletcher               

Highly Commended

The Field and the Forge: Population, Production, and Power in the Pre-Industrial West by John Landers (OUP), a look at how demography, technology and politics interact.

Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade, and Prohibition by James H. Mills (OUP), a study of British attitudes to cannabis use for medical and recreation purposes in 19th-century India.

The Legend of Basil the Bulgar-Slayer by Paul Stephenson (CUP), a study of the Byzantine emperor whose interventions in the Balkans loomed larger in later history  than in his reign.

Picture Researcher of the Year

This Longman-History Today prize acknowledges the work of historical picture researchers who develop and extend the argument of a text by seeking out a wide range of pictures from different sources, and create something in which words and images work in harmony to form more than the sum of their parts.

The winner is Gregor Murbach, for his work on The First World War , edited by Hew Strachan (Simon & Schuster). In this he discovered a wide range of excellent and rare images of the conflict, including colour photographs. Gregor also worked as stills researcher on the TV series broadcast on Channel 4, and his work perfectly complements the thesis of Strachan’s text, and, even to those who have looked at a lot of First World War images over the years, appears as fresh and exciting. He also took immaculate care to ensure the images were as close as possible to the historical events they claimed to be illustrating.


Lily Richards for Illustrated London by Peter Ackroyd (Chatto and Windus)
Cecilia Mackay for Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Niall Ferguson (Allen Lane)

Film of the Year

Star Wars Dreams , made by Antelope Films and broadcast in May 2003 on BBC4. The judges were particularly looking for a films that presents a convincing thesis about a historical topic or issue, and that does it with style and flair.

Star Wars Dreams is an elegant, sometimes frightening but often witty account of the American search of ‘a roof over America’ which attempts to keep the country invulnerable to attack. The issues are patently highly relevant today, but we do not always realise that the debates go back to Pearl Harbor; the film includes some striking testimony from many people involved in the decisions regarding the Strategic Defense Initiative under Reagan and Bush, and counterpoints them with Civil Defence films of the 60s and Hollywood myth-making.

The prize was awarded to producer and director Leslie Woodhead.

New Generation Book of the Year

For a book likely to inspire enthusiasm for and involvement in history among those of secondary school age.

Rubicon: The Triumph And The Tragedy Of The Roman Republic by Tom Holland (Little Brown/Time Warner Books).

Treasure: Finding Our Past  by Richard Hobbs (British Museum Press).

This Is History: The Holocaust. A Key Stage 2 Depth Study by Anne Moore and Christopher Culpin (Hodder Murray)

New Generation Book of the Year


London’s Archaeological Secrets: A World City Revealed
Editor, Chris Thomas with Andy Chopping and Tracy Wellman
Yale University Press 160pp £19.95
ISBN 0 300 09516 3

The Museum of London Archaeology Service have produced anything but the usual kind of archaeology book.  There are no confusing ground plans or complicated section drawings. There is no detailed list of sites, finds, features and layers. Instead, the book is divided into thematic sections that make sense of how people actually lived in the past: the history of archaeology in London, the landscape and development of the city, the importance of the Thames and its other rivers, the industry, trade, houses, diet, clothes, entertainment and religions of the city’s inhabitants. 

The main strength of the book is its illustrations, with many superb photographs of archaeological sites, archaeologists at work and most importantly of the archaeological finds.  The images are fully integrated with the text in an exemplary way that is all too rare.  While being is easy to follow, the text also conveys a great deal of information about how the city developed and how people lived in the past.  Perhaps the best feature of the book is the reconstruction drawings of scenes from the past.  These really do help to bring to life the scraps of metalwork, the figurines, potsherds and fragments of wall or earthen features so well photographed on the same page.  Everyone will have their favourite images. It may be the medieval poulaine (a leather shoe with elongated pointed toe), the Roman leather bikini bottom, or perhaps the fingerprints of a potter preserved on a 2000-year-old pot.

This is an ideal book to pick up at will and browse, but can also be read through with pleasure and fascination. The book should whet the appetite of the reader to know more, and in showing just what a major contribution archaeology can make to our knowledge of past ways of life, perhaps even stimulate the reader to get involved in archaeology for themselves. The authors have shed a great deal of light on London’s hidden past, a past no longer present in the cityscape or skyline of modern London. The reader can easily feel that these remnants of the past are fragmentary and fragile. It is easy to get a sense of how much has been lost, and of how important is the work of the archaeologist in helping to preserve the traces of the past.  The list of places to visit at the end is a useful addition to the book.  Perhaps there could have been some guidance for younger readers who will have been enthused to find out more about archaeology the Young Archaeologists’ Club or for teachers on the possibilities of teaching archaeology at GCSE or A-Level; but these are only minor caveats. The book is a triumph of mixing sound archaeology and interpretation with popular appeal.  It deserves a wide readership. Don Henson

Undergraduate Dissertation of the Year

For the best dissertation presented by a final-year undergraduate at a British university.

Joint Winners

Sami Abouzahr, University College London.
The European Recovery program and American Policy Towards Indochina 1947-50 .
A masterly account, requiring study of a wide range of official sources and memoirs and ranging across the world, of the dilemmas faced by the American State Department with regard to France in the late 1940s, as that country became embroiled in colonial war in Indo-China.

Charmian Brownrigg, University of Central Lancashire.
The merchant mariners of North Lancashire and Cumberland in the mid-18th century .
An imaginative use of quantitative analysis applied to wills and probate records, providing a compelling and vivid picture of life in the mariner community in and around Whitehaven and Lancaster.

Highly Commended

Andrew Syk, University of Derby.
The 46th North Midland Division on the Western Front: A steep learning curve .
A confident entry into the historical debate about the quality of leadership in the British army during the First World War.