History & Classics

Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century, Anonymous

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 suggestion that if atheism had not existed it would have had to be invented. 

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Remembering the Future

Hazel V. Carby

4 April 2024

Aband​ of light, reflected across the waters of Morgan Lake, New Mexico, leads our eyes from the centre foreground to a power plant on the Navajo Reservation: the Four Corners Power Plant, one of the . . .

Cold War Liberalism

Stephen Holmes

4 April 2024

Samuel Moyn​ didn’t begin his career as a crusading left-wing critic of liberalism. His earliest writings were on 20th-century French intellectual history: erudite studies of Emmanuel Levinas, Pierre . . .

The Bussolengo Letters

Malcolm Gaskill

21 March 2024

Cambridge​ in the autumn of 1989 seemed to me a lonely place. I had just taken up that loneliest of occupations, doctoral research in the humanities: three years of self-exile in libraries and archives . . .

Galen v. Gym Bros

Claire Hall

21 March 2024

Galen​ couldn’t stand gym bros. They were so occupied in the business of ‘amassing flesh’, he said, that they paid no attention to their souls, which were ‘smothered in a heap of mire’. Lucian . . .

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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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

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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Unicorn or Narwhal? Linnaeus makes the rules

Lorraine Daston, 22 February 2024

Linnaeus’s personal contradictions do not make him a historical chimera. If he sounds odd to those who hold a view of Enlightenment science as rational and orderly, perhaps that’s because real Enlightenment...

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Diary: In Mostyska

Keiron Pim, 22 February 2024

It was impossible to tell where my ancestors were buried or the location of the mass grave containing five hundred of the town’s Jews, shot in 1942. But few descendants of the Ostjuden who visit Eastern...

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Our Way of Proceeding: Jesuit Methods

Diarmaid MacCulloch, 22 February 2024

What​ was this Society for which Pope Paul III provided a charter? It was not a religious order, though it is often styled as such. Its members were neither monks nor friars. Its self-descriptor as a...

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Multiplying Marys: On Mary Magdalene

Marina Warner, 22 February 2024

Devotees often exult in the stripping of her beauty and her wealth; she is imagined as a woman of substance, who owned property in Magdala (hence her name), and when she repents and gives all this up,...

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Strike at the Knee: Italy, 1943

Malcolm Gaskill, 8 February 2024

The gruelling, often grotesque nature of the Italian campaign is reason enough to remember it, but it’s been overlooked, idly regarded as filler between the defeat of Rommel and the Normandy Landings.

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To write about gay men in Britain in the 19th century should be to write about them as sons, brothers, friends, lovers, husbands, fathers, grandparents, members of a social class, employees, employers,...

Read more about Balzac didn’t dare: Origins of the Gay Novel

There’s a voyeuristic quality to so many of the discussions of Anne’s rise and fall, since it was allegedly her sexual allure that made her queen and her sexual licence that led to her death. The compulsion...

Read more about Whip with Six Strings: Anne Boleyn’s Allure

Diary: Looking for Indraprastha

Raghu Karnad, 8 February 2024

Moving the Sanskrit epics ‘from mythology to history’ turns out to mean the obliteration of an archaeological site by a construction site. This is the kind of historical reckoning which India’s present...

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Wreckage of Ellipses: On Enheduana

Anna Della Subin, 8 February 2024

The Sumerian priestess Enheduana managed the complex affairs of the temple and wrote poems, among them a collection of temple hymns that sought to accomplish in verse what her father, Sargon of Akkad,...

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I know a good deal about the Bonhomme Richard. I know that it was originally a French merchant vessel called the Duc de Duras; that it was loaned to the fledgling US navy; and that it took part in the...

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Petrifying Juices: Fossilised

Liam Shaw, 25 January 2024

Like sculptures, fossils need curators. A raw lump of stone must be prepared and cleaned before it can be studied as a fossil; scientists of the past may well have inadvertently destroyed interesting surface...

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Bertie Wooster in Murmansk

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 25 January 2024

Apart from getting rid of the Bolsheviks, the aims of the Western intervention were remarkably ill-defined. Sometimes it was to protect British interests and keep the Germans, Turks, Poles, or Japanese...

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