History & Classics

A page from a 17th-century edition of ‘Wonders and Rarities’.

Rarities and Marvels

Helen Pfeifer

30 November 2023

For the 13th-century Muslim scholar Zakariyya al-Qazwini and his contemporaries, to contemplate the wonders of nature was to contemplate the majesty of God, so much so that cosmography was a mainstay of Islamic theology. But wonder was also an intellectual method. It acted as the initial stimulus for acquiring knowledge.

Read more about Searching for the Bee: Rarities and Marvels

Heliogabalus’ Appetites

Michael Kulikowski

30 November 2023

When​ Gabriele D’Annunzio’s personal secretary likened his employer to Heliogabalus, that short-lived emperor was still a byword for florid decadence. He died at eighteen, but the Syrian boy’s . . .

A National Evil

Jonah Goodman

30 November 2023

As​ far as the archivist knew, the 48 box files locked in an attic above the Institute for the History of Medicine at the University of Bern had never been opened. They contained a mass of handwritten . . .

Alexis de Tocqueville

Oliver Cussen

16 November 2023

On​ 24 February 1848, having already forced Louis Philippe out of the Tuileries Palace, the Paris crowd stormed the Chamber of Deputies, where France’s political elite was fighting over the remnants . . .

‘The Refugee Problem’

Leila Farsakh

16 November 2023

Almost​ a month has elapsed since Hamas fighters broke the siege that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than sixteen years, murdering 1400 Israelis, 300 of them soldiers, and injuring 2600 . . .

The Public Voice of Women

Mary Beard, 20 March 2014

Public speech was a – if not the – defining attribute of maleness. A woman speaking in public was, in most circumstances, by definition not a woman.

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Watch this man: Niall Ferguson’s Burden

Pankaj Mishra, 3 November 2011

He sounds like the Europeans described by V.S. Naipaul – the grandson of indentured labourers – in A Bend in the River, who ‘wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else’, but also ‘wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves’.

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Diary: Working Methods

Keith Thomas, 10 June 2010

It is possible to take too many notes; the task of sorting, filing and assimilating them can take for ever, so that nothing gets written. The awful warning is Lord Acton, whose enormous learning never resulted in the great work the world expected of him.

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‘What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!’: Springtime for Robespierre

Hilary Mantel, 30 March 2000

Robespierre thought that, if you could imagine a better society, you could create it. He needed a corps of moral giants at his back, but found himself leading a gang of squabbling moral pygmies. This is how Virtue led to Terror. 

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The Sound of Voices Intoning Names

Thomas Laqueur, 5 June 1997

In a happier age, Immanuel Kant identified one of the problems of understanding any of the genocides which come all too easily to mind. It is the problem of the mathematical sublime. The...

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Identity Parade

Linda Colley, 25 February 1993

‘Iwill never, come hell or high water, let our distinctive British identity be lost in a federal Europe.’ John Major’s ringing assurance to last year’s Conservative Party...

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Goodbye Columbus

Eric Hobsbawm, 9 July 1992

Afew weeks ago, in Mexico, I was asked to sign a protest against Christopher Columbus, on behalf of the original native populations of the American continents and islands, or rather, of their...

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Grim Eminence

Norman Stone, 10 January 1983

The historian Edward Hallett Carr died on 3 November 1982, at the age of 90. He had an oddly laconic obituary in the Times, which missed out a great deal. If he had died ten years before, his...

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War and Peace

A.J.P. Taylor, 2 October 1980

War has been throughout history the curse and inspiration of mankind. The sufferings and destruction that accompany it rival those caused by famine, plague and natural catastrophes. Yet in nearly...

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‘We’ve messed up, boys’: Bad Blood

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, 16 November 2023

Ultimately, the companies responsible for producing and distributing infected blood products paid more than a billion dollars in compensation worldwide, but most victims never got a penny.

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Kettle of Vultures: A History of Interest

Jamie Martin, 16 November 2023

Pleasure is supposedly more valuable today than it will be tomorrow; deferral has a cost. But to the canonists, unlike the capitalists, this made no sense. Time wasn’t something that could be bought...

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Big Six v. Little Boy: The Unnecessary Bomb

Andrew Cockburn, 16 November 2023

‘Little Boy’ exploded over Hiroshima at 8.15 a.m. on 6 August 1945, wiping most of the city off the face of the earth and killing eighty thousand people instantly. But the ‘shock’ to the leadership...

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The Leaflet

Francis Gooding, 2 November 2023

Leaflet drops informed people that because of the actions their leaders had taken, or because there were insurgents hiding among them, they should immediately leave a proscribed area. Continuous air strikes...

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Shriek of the Milkman: London Hawking

John Gallagher, 2 November 2023

London was a city that loved to snack: a Venetian visitor wrote in 1618 that ‘between meals one sees men, women and children always munching through the streets, like so many goats.’ But while buying...

Read more about Shriek of the Milkman: London Hawking

To call him a ‘great republican’ doesn’t mean much nowadays and downplays his radicalism. Nonetheless, like de Gaulle, he is an undisputed national figure whose legend is apparently sacrosanct, if...

Read more about Coins in the Cash Drawer: Jean Jaurès’s Socialism

Exchange Rate

Eyal Weizman, 2 November 2023

However the conflict ends, with or without Hamas in power (and I bet on the former), Israel won’t be able to avoid negotiating over the exchange of prisoners. For Hamas, the starting point will be the...

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Before the strike, the country was characterised by comparative egalitarianism, the (relative) power and legitimacy of organised labour, and an industrial economy in which state industries played a prominent...

Read more about Blood All Over the Grass: On the Miners’ Strike

Eleanor of Aquitaine was like the folkloric figure of Mélusine, woman above and fish or serpent from the waist down, though she normally managed to conceal that trait.

Read more about She was of the devil’s race: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Can’t you take a joke?

Jonathan Coe, 2 November 2023

On a personal level, the kinds of thing we laugh at reveal the truth about us as individuals. On a national level, the kinds of thing we laugh at reveal the truth about us as a country. This seems to apply...

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Good Jar, Bad Jar: Whose ‘Iliad’?

Ange Mlinko, 2 November 2023

‘When women are marginalised, enslaved and silenced, very few men will be capable of any form of kindness,’ Emily Wilson remarks. It is no small thing for Homer to have noticed.

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The question of the Roma’s origins became more significant as the medieval social order gave way to modernising, territorially defined states. Individuals were no longer simply assigned a place in a...

Read more about Invention of the Trickster: Roma in Europe

Why did he not speak out? The Pope at War

Richard J. Evans, 19 October 2023

Only when a dictatorship actually attacked the Church and distanced itself from Christianity did it alienate the papacy, but even the actions of Hitler’s Germany in this direction were insufficient to...

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Take that, astrolabe: Medieval Time

Tom Johnson, 19 October 2023

 ‘Medieval people’, Gillian Adler and Paul Strohm write, were ‘more keenly aware of simultaneous and contending temporalities than we are, and more skilled at entertaining a wider range of temporal...

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Questions about the kinds of word that were and were not suitable for inclusion were a perennial source of conflict between James Murray and the volunteers who had professional status in a particular field....

Read more about Rare, Obsolete, New, Peculiar: Dictionary People

Smoke and Lava: Vesuvius Observed

Rosemary Hill, 5 October 2023

While the Romantic view of Vesuvius saw it as a unique phenomenon, a spectacle, for the scientists it was a specimen, a comparator for investigations into the nature of volcanic activity. Newtonian physics...

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We are our apps: Visual Revolutions

Hal Foster, 5 October 2023

The voice, the face and the gaze, all crucial to our ‘being with others’, are ‘disrupted and distorted’ by chatbots, artificial intelligence, eye tracking, iris scanning, facial coding and all...

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Both James and Jahangir were obsessed with hunting, wilfully ensuring that court timetables were disrupted and dictated by the prolonged pursuit of prey, to the frustration of officials. Even so avid a...

Read more about Base People in a Little Island: James I and Jahangir

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