History & Classics

China takes it slow

Rebecca E. Karl

21 October 2021

The many young economists who devoted themselves to preventing shock therapy fell from power in 1989 when Zhao Ziyang was ousted: like Zhao, their support for the Tiananmen Square protesters had political consequences. Some emigrated, others went underground and re-emerged as business leaders. Most are no longer remembered for what they did in the 1980s.

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Aristophanes Remixed

Emily Wilson

21 October 2021

Old Comedy anticipated modern sci-fi, and shows like The Good Place, in its willingness to carry out fantastical thought experiments (talking frogs, a city of birds, a singing chorus of metaphysically . . .

Swingeing Taxes

Ferdinand Mount

21 October 2021

‘You  were so generous, you British,’ Hans-Dietrich Genscher, West Germany’s perpetual foreign minister in the 1980s, once remarked: ‘You gave us a decentralised federal . . .

Made by Free Hands

Michael Taylor

21 October 2021

‘Every thing is wet,’ Martin Benson recorded, after inspecting his cargo. ‘Not a single hogshead that we have yet opened, but has been wet with salt water.’ Benson came from Newport . . .

Capitalism’s Rosy Dawn

David A. Bell

7 October 2021

‘One red sea of Fire, wild-billowing, enwraps the World; with its fire-tongue licks at the very Stars.’ When Thomas Carlyle wrote these words in the 1830s, few people in the West doubted . . .

The Public Voice of Women

Mary Beard, 20 March 2014

Iwant to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’; telling her that her voice was not...

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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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Milman Parry, Albert Lord and Nikola Vujnović toured the villages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, interviewing and recording the guslari they met there. Some sang tales from legend; others told of the...

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Fake it till you make it: Indexing

Anthony Grafton, 23 September 2021

The index gave its users formidable power to find and quote adages and examples, narratives and poems, scriptural and patristic texts, whether or not they had actually read the full works they cited. That...

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Exile Language: Fondness for Yiddish

William Pimlott, 23 September 2021

Ben-Gurion’s government saw Yiddish as an ‘anti-nationalist’ goles shprakh (‘exile language’) that represented life in the diaspora. Yiddish had been spoken by an urbanising...

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Flocculent and Feculent

Susan Pedersen, 23 September 2021

Are our Fitbits and exercise apps, our vegan diets and locavore restaurants, holdouts against our food system or merely further evidence of its remorseless adaptability, its capacity to supply niche markets...

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Invidious Trumpet: Find the Printer

Thomas Keymer, 9 September 2021

Warrants could be readily obtained (or sometimes just not obtained) to raid the premises of printers, arrest and interrogate writers, or confiscate and destroy equipment. Informal harassment was rife,...

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Prussian Disneyland

Jan-Werner Müller, 9 September 2021

Defenders of Berlin’s new palace claim that as home to the Humboldt Forum – a collection of objects from Africa and Asia – it demonstrates Germany’s eagerness to engage in a ‘dialogue...

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United States of Amnesia

Eric Foner, 9 September 2021

One might think it impossible to erase an event of this magnitude from historical memory. But Tulsa tried its best. Scott Ellsworth discovered that police reports and National Guard records had been systematically...

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Hush-Hush Boom-Boom: Spymasters

Charles Glass, 12 August 2021

Scores of former agents have exposed CIA crimes and defeats in books, films and articles. In the wake of American humiliation in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, Senate and House investigations documented...

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White Sheep at Rest: After Culloden

Neal Ascherson, 12 August 2021

Sadistic public cruelty, military slaughter and political order maintained by the fear of death and torture still prevailed, and many of the superior minds parading the salons of Edinburgh, Paris or London...

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Short Cuts: Found Objects

Tom Crewe, 12 August 2021

It is chastening to think of what has been found on the foreshore while we have been walking or riding across the bridges, looking idly down at the river or over at the needily glinting skyscrapers. Megalodon...

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Kings and Kinglets: Cassiodorus

Michael Kulikowski, 12 August 2021

Ancient​ Latin literature has reached us along an improbably narrow path. Two millennia of rats, fire and floods were as nothing compared with three historical bottlenecks. Only one of these...

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It was important not to give instructions, just to pass on the hard-won wisdom of street protest. Don’t be panicked into running away, even if the police bring horses. Sitting down is safe, if everyone...

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Leave me my illusions: Antiquarianism

Nicholas Penny, 29 July 2021

Moonlight on broken stone tracery is a common motif; dark interiors provide a foil for stained glass and for white satin and deep blue velvet. The men must be away on the crusades. Young women are sobbing...

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Later, Not Now: Histories of Emancipation

Christopher L. Brown, 15 July 2021

The British plantation lobby rarely receives credit for the skill with which it defended colonial slavery. For nearly half a century, slaveowners blocked emancipation schemes, neutered reform proposals...

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In post-Soviet Russia perfume was one of the luxury goods that symbolised the repudiation of Soviet puritanism. While Polina Zhemchuzhina’s attempt to bring perfume to the masses and rebrand it as...

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Thomas Becket​ was not the first archbishop of Canterbury to meet a violent end – Archbishop Alphege was killed by Vikings in 1012 – but he was unique in other ways. Unlike his...

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The world they sought to understand belonged to them all, and demanded that a gifted few should work together to interpret the writings of former ages. Alchemists resembled learned theologians poring over...

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Knife, Stone, Paper: Law Lords

Stephen Sedley, 1 July 2021

The modern relationship of the three principal elements of the constitution – legislature, courts and executive – doesn’t resemble the cogs of a working machine, or the delegation of...

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