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25 October 1979
The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism 1780-1850 
by J.F.C. Harrison.
Routledge, 277 pp., £9.95
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... Thanks to​ the work of NormanCohn, Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm, Keith Thomas and others, we have, over the past few years, acquired a lot of information about millenarianism as a social and historical force. The belief that the ...
10 March 1994
Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith 
by Norman Cohn.
Yale, 271 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 300 05598 6
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... can be demythologised in this way, few texts fit the theory very neatly, and it is far from clear that his hypothesis is widely applicable. It should, however, be of some relevance to those who, like NormanCohn, are concerned with the dynamics of persecution. Cohn’s classic, The Pursuit of the Millennium, posited a connection between millenarian thought and the persecuting impulse, and one of the ...
4 November 1982
... projection: just as the paranoiac murderer can feel terrified of his harmless victims, so a dominant social group can perceive itself as threatened by the people whom it exploits and persecutes. As NormanCohn has written in his masterly study of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Warrant for Genocide, ‘what these people see as the enemy is in fact the destructiveness and cruelty in their own ...
6 October 1983
The Name of the Rose 
by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver.
Secker, 502 pp., £8.95, October 1983, 0 436 14089 6
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... who would preside with the Angelic Pope over a renewed world in a Third Age. The desire for such an emperor led to all sorts of extraordinary charismatic outbursts, familiar from the work of NormanCohn. Fra Dolcino, one of the chiliasts Cohn mentions, figures prominently in Eco’s book. The story is supposed to be told by an old Benedictine monk, Adso of Melk, writing near the end of the 14th ...

Common Ground

Edmund Leach

19 September 1985
A Social History of Western Europe 1450-1720: Tensions and Solidarities among Rural People 
by Sheldon Watts.
Hutchinson, 275 pp., £7.95, October 1984, 0 09 156081 0
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Kinship in the Past: An Anthropology of European Family Life 1500-1900 
by Andrejs Plakans.
Blackwell, 276 pp., £24.50, September 1984, 0 631 13066 7
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Interests and Emotion: Essays on the Study of Family and Kinship 
edited by Hans Medick and David Warren Sabean.
Cambridge, 417 pp., £35, June 1984, 0 521 24969 4
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... works of fellow historians. Two years later a similar conference held in Cambridge on the theme of ‘Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations’ included contributions concerning European history from NormanCohn, Peter Brown, Keith Thomas and Alan Macfarlane, all professional historians. They were fully integrated with the contributions of the anthropologists. Since that date it has become increasingly ...


Rosalind Mitchison

21 January 1982
Enemies of God: The Witch-Hunt in Scotland 
by Christina Larner.
Chatto, 244 pp., £12.95, September 1981, 0 7011 2424 5
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The Enlightenment in National Context 
edited by Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich.
Cambridge, 276 pp., £19.50, September 1981, 0 521 23757 2
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... from accusation of complicity. The story of witchcraft in Scotland has its own special interest. The ‘craze’ was a short one, coinciding with the late wave of the general European scare. NormanCohn has established that the existence of a witch scare in the early 14th century is an invention of historians. Witchcraft, in theory and in suppression, was a growth at the end of the 14th century ...

Enemy of the Enemies of Truth

Frank Kermode: The history of the footnote

19 March 1998
The Footnote: A Curious History 
by Anthony Grafton.
Faber, 241 pp., £12.99, December 1997, 0 571 17668 2
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... pièce justificative placed on display to support the bold theses of Renaissance archaeology’. The books may nowadays be mentioned with respect by such learned and adventurous historians as NormanCohn; and if one wants to see where an educated 17th-century scholar or amateur looked for information about the history and theory of music, his Musurgia Universalis of 1650 is a good place to start ...
19 March 1998
The Autumn of the Middle Ages 
by John Huizinga, translated by Rodney Payton.
Chicago, 560 pp., £15.95, December 1997, 0 226 35994 8
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... that of softening the brutalities. Again, take the witch craze. Obedient to contemporary consensus, Huizinga saw the Malleus maleficarum as the outcome of ‘medieval thought’ rather than – as NormanCohn and others have shown – of conditions peculiar to the later 15th century and the two centuries that followed. Another example is medieval saints. For Huizinga they were ‘timeless’, whereas ...


Peter Burke

18 March 1982
The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought 
by John Friedman.
Harvard, 268 pp., £14, July 1981, 0 674 58652 2
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Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain 
by William Christian.
Princeton, 349 pp., £16.80, September 1981, 9780691053264
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... trials, for the witches’ sabbaths seem to have been visions, culturally patterned dreams (whether or not induced by drugs), to which the authorities had given an unfavourable interpretation. As NormanCohn showed in Europe’s Inner Demons (1975), the perception of witches – like that of saints, visions and other cultures – was governed by ancient stereotypes. The history of stereotypes, and ...

Broom, broom

Leslie Wilson

2 December 1993
The Virago Book of Witches 
edited by Shahrukh Husain.
Virago, 244 pp., £14.99, October 1993, 1 85381 562 4
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... predicament: maleficium was an emanation of suppressed female violence that could only be expressed in cursing. The only thing all witches had in common was that ‘she ys deveelishe of her tonge.’ NormanCohn argued that the witch’s Sabbat was a projection of the witchhunters’ own minds, comparing it to the orgies of which the ancient Romans accused the Christians and the Christians, in their ...

On the Rant

E.P. Thompson

9 July 1987
Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians 
by J.C. Davis.
Cambridge, 208 pp., £22.50, September 1986, 0 521 26243 7
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... Ranters and Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down. At the same time, these and other historians wished to find precursors for the anti-hegemonic ‘hippy’ culture of the late 1960s, and NormanCohn (whose membership of the CP Historians Group has gone unrecorded) wished to clobber that culture, and to show the way in which millenial Ranting led on to totalitarianism. So the old bugaboo was ...

Where’s the omelette?

Tom Nairn: Patrick Wright

23 October 2008
Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War 
by Patrick Wright.
Oxford, 488 pp., £18.99, October 2007, 978 0 19 923150 8
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... In Europe’s Inner Demons, NormanCohn described the medieval witch craze as a ‘supreme example of a massive killing of innocent people by a bureaucracy acting in accordance with beliefs which, unknown or rejected in earlier centuries ...
1 September 1988
Citizen Cohn 
by Nicholas von Hoffman.
Harrap, 483 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 245 54605 7
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... its future. The analogy that fits is Rome under Nero. The retribution that is surely coming will be terrible to behold. The tale is told in the form of a biography of one of the minor players. Roy Cohn was a personification, but not a creator, of the rot that has spread through the élite of American life since World War Two. He was Jewish, son of a New York State Supeme Court judge, a mama’s boy ...
23 January 1997
Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust 
by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.
Little, Brown, 622 pp., £20, March 1996, 0 316 87942 8
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... could thus describe the extermination of the Jews to an SS assembly in Poznan in October 1943 as ‘a glorious page in our history’. An enterprise of this kind needs a rationalisation, which is why NormanCohn entitled his classic history of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Warrant for Genocide. What about the perpetrators? Goldhagen makes the valid claim that there has been relatively little ...

Make for the Boondocks

Tom Nairn: Hardt and Negri

5 May 2005
by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.
Hamish Hamilton, 426 pp., £20, January 2005, 0 241 14240 7
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... by fundamentalists of varying hues, all ready with their own formulae for rapture and ecstasy. Each one has its own multitudes of the faithful, armed and ready for great encounters still to come. NormanCohn, the historian of millennial thought, traces the idea back to Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who added the idea of a happy ending to previous visions of disaster: ‘a glorious consummation of order ...

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