The Best Articles of 2020

A selection of our favourite articles from the past year.

History Today | Published in 03 Dec 2020

Rejoice: 2020 is almost history, though grim reading it will likely make. Regardless, we’ve put together our annual selection of some of our favourite articles from the much maligned past year, in which the Roman Empire meets its Gothic demise, Charles II crosses the Channel with a scandalous new tradition, Henry VIII wrestles Francis I in opulent surroundings, Liberia is founded and the mystery of the swallow is solved. Read for free for a limited time and don’t miss out in 2021: subscribe now.   

Removing That Little Knot

Sarah Wise
A Victorian doctor offering to cure female ‘lunacy’ came under fire for his scandalous new operation: female genital mutilation.


The Wrongful Death of Toussaint Louverture

Marlene L. Daut
The hero of the Haitian Revolution’s lonely death in a French prison cell was not an unfortunate tragedy but a cruel story of deliberate destruction.

Portrait of Toussaint Louverture, chromolithograph by George DeBaptiste, c.1870 © Getty Images.

The Goths Take Rome

Douglas Boin
The distinction between centre and periphery was vital to the Roman Empire’s conception of itself. For centuries a rugged frontier, the land north of the Danube would produce one of Rome’s greatest foes.


The Foundations of Liberia

Angela Thompsell
The creation of an African American colony was supported by slave holders and abolitionists, but founded by a few dozen black families.


Sin and Siege: The End of the Crusades

Roger Crowley
Acre was the most cosmopolitan city in the medieval world. Its inhabitants thought it too valuable to destroy. They were wrong.

The Saracens besiege a Christian city, detail from The Song of Saint Mary, 1221-84 Photo © Luisa Ricciarini/Bridgeman Images.

Trust in Change

Peter Mandler
Historians and curators in heritage organisations, such as the National Trust, do not invent the past, they uncover it. 


Leading Ladies

Annalisa Nicholson
The French tradition of the royal mistress gave new opportunities for women at the court of Charles II.


Death and Sacrifice in the Franco-Prussian War

Karine Varley
The conflict that broke out between France and an ambitious new German state 150 years ago can lay claim to be the first modern war.


The Rise of the Valkyries

Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir
Life and death in a Viking battle depended not on military prowess, but on the favour of the valkyries. Why were these mythical figures, who decided a warrior’s fate, female?

Valkyrie and a Dying Hero by Hans Makart, c.1877.

Broken Windows

Sam Collings-Wells
The problem with community policing.


Nagorno-Karabakh’s Myth of Ancient Hatreds

Jo Laycock
The Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is sometimes explained as a result of ‘ancient hatreds’. In reality, it is nothing of the sort, despite both sides using history to bolster their claims to the region.  

'We Are Our Mountains' monument north of Stepanakert, 1978. Completed in 1967, it is a symbol of Armenian heritage in the region.

The State of Myanmar

Ewan Cameron 
Myanmar’s colonial legacy includes racial hierarchies and authoritarian government. In the new nation state, not everyone is welcome.


The Field of Cloth of Gold

Glenn Richardson
Five hundred years ago, in a spirit of rivalry and cooperation, two young Renaissance monarchs asserted their power and authority at one of the last great demonstrations of the chivalric age.


The Great Migration Mystery

Alexander Lee
It was once believed that swallows spent their winters on the Moon, or asleep on river beds.