History & Classics

Illustration from the Codex Manesse, circa. 1305 and 1340 (Wikimedia Commons)

Medieval Minstrels

Irina Dumitrescu

23 May 2024

Minstrels provided art as entertainment, but also, in a time before the mechanical production and reproduction of sound, laboured to make a wide range of noises appropriate for various occasions.

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Italian Counterfactuals

John Foot

23 May 2024

In​ the dreadful 2001 film version of Louis de Bernières’s novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a miscast Nicolas Cage plays the soldier hero. The opening scene depicts the (second) Italian invasion . . .

Reading Raphael Samuel

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite

23 May 2024

Raphael Samuel​ adopted his notetaking method from Beatrice and Sidney Webb, progenitors of Fabian socialism, who developed it in the late 19th century:Each thought or reference to a source was written . . .

‘Life in the Roman Army’

Thomas Jones

23 May 2024

Among​ the swords, daggers, scabbards, spearheads, shields, helmets, belts, cuirasses, trumpets, tombstones and portrait busts of emperors that you might expect to find in an exhibition entitled Legion . . .

On Sarah Maldoror

Jeremy Harding

23 May 2024

Awoman waits​ in a bare room for a meeting with her lover, who has been detained as an anti-colonial agitator. He is escorted from the cells by a Portuguese plain-clothes officer. This is Angola, sometime . . .

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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Seagull Soup: HMS Wager

Fara Dabhoiwala, 9 May 2024

The captain of HMS Wager had shot dead an unarmed sailor. Other men had been found murdered. The captain had been imprisoned by his own marines, and then left behind on the island by most of the crew....

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Frost-tempered: Russia in Central Asia

Greg Afinogenov, 25 April 2024

Though people like Vasily Vereshchagin often castigated the British for the arrogance and cruelty of their brand of imperialism, in practice the Russians were no better. Clichés such as Russia being ‘between...

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Trickes of the Clergye: Atheistical Thoughts

Alexandra Walsham, 25 April 2024

In an environment in which binary thinking prevailed, atheism was a potent ‘other’ against which devout Christianity defined itself. At its most extreme, this line of interpretation has led to the...

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Whenever I read claims about ‘forgotten women’, I want to ask: ‘By whom?’ Feminists? Society? The ‘culture’? And why ‘forgotten’? Forgetting presupposes something once known, but the general...

Read more about A Comet that Bodes Mischief: Women in Philosophy

On Pockets

Susannah Clapp, 25 April 2024

Routinely sewn into male but not into female clothing, they have helped men make their way through the world, fully equipped, as if they were armoured vehicles or portable garden sheds.

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Where does culture come from?

Terry Eagleton, 25 April 2024

Marxism is about leisure, not labour. The only good reason for being a socialist, apart from annoying people you don’t like, is that you don’t like to work.

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At the Capitoline Museums: ‘Fidia’

Christopher Siwicki, 25 April 2024

The Parthenon was Pericles’ great project. Phidias’ role in its construction isn’t clear; Plutarch says that the architects were Callicrates and Ictinus. Phidias is sometimes cast as a works supervisor,...

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Mrs Berkshire went swiftly upstairs and put a bold eye to the keyhole. When she did, she saw that Pratt and Smith’s trousers were down. Later, in court, she confirmed that she had seen both men’s private...

Read more about Eye to the Keyhole: Pratt and Smith

Radical Mismatch: Cold War Liberalism

Stephen Holmes, 4 April 2024

Samuel Moyn doesn’t really believe that his four Cold War liberals (Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Lionel Trilling and Judith Shklar), much less all those to whom that label might conceivably be applied,...

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Remembering the Future

Hazel V. Carby, 4 April 2024

I am reminded of the first maps I saw as a child, hanging on the walls of British classrooms. Of course, the colour that occurred most often on those maps was red, not white, a difference in surface but...

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Drones have brought major changes to the battlefield, but the machines that have had the most striking impact are cheap ones originally designed for the consumer market and adapted in the field for lethal...

Read more about ‘The A-10 saved my ass’: Precision Warfare

Diary: The Bussolengo Letters

Malcolm Gaskill, 21 March 2024

Each war speaks to every war, providing fresh testimony of nerves strained, hopes raised and dashed. And yet there is something tragically unusual – nearly unique – about these particular letters:...

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The leisured wealthy spent a lot of time chasing not only health, but a glimmering dream of something like the modern idea of ‘wellness’. Galen railed against this idea. He recognised that the full-time...

Read more about The cook always wins: Galen v. Gym Bros

Too Big to Shut Down: Rave On

Chal Ravens, 7 March 2024

Acid house wasn’t a genre of dance music so much as a new way of experiencing it: audiences dressed down, parties ran all night and – so dancers reported – social divisions disintegrated, helped...

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Not So Special: Imitating Germany

Richard J. Evans, 7 March 2024

The Weimar Republic was a ‘great crossroads of modernism’, where cultural innovators from many countries mingled, experimented and lived in defiance of convention. All this was destroyed when the Nazis...

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At the heart of Brian Cummings’s Bibliophobia is a sense of the book as a ‘liminal object’, by which Cummings means that the book is both vessel and object, something that carries and something that...

Read more about Impossible Desires: Death of the Book

The peculiarities of the British constitution mean that it requires the combined input of the disciplines of law, politics and history – each with its own priorities, sensitivities and hinterlands of...

Read more about Highbrow Mother Goose: Constitutional Dramas

Fans and Un-Fans

Ferdinand Mount, 22 February 2024

In its modern incarnations, sport is a spontaneous thing, blowing wherever the fans fancy. Even the impulses that have transformed Britain into a nation of joggers and gym bunnies remain mysterious. They...

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