History & Classics

Monarchs and Emperors

Michael Ledger-Lomas

21 July 2022

For minor kings and junior dynasts, the extra-European world was a place to amass wealth or responsibilities denied them at home. But they didn’t get to perform these fantasies of empire under conditions of their choosing: their power rested on legal fictions or brittle symbolism, and was much more dependent than they realised on the faiths and ambitions of those they aspired to make their vassals.

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Pogroms in Ukraine

Abigail Green

21 July 2022

On​ 8 September 1919, the New York Times reported on a convention being held in Manhattan to discuss the atrocities then taking place in Ukraine. ‘Ukrainian Jews Aim to Stop Pogroms,’ the headline . . .

Prodigious Enigma

Catherine Hall

7 July 2022

In​ the early 18th century, Bordeaux was a rapidly expanding and prosperous city. Its riches derived from the business of slavery, and the city changed to accommodate this business. The port was renovated . . .

A Psychohistory of France

Rosemary Hill

7 July 2022

For​ much of the 20th century, geography and history were treated as separate subjects: ‘maps and chaps’, as the saying had it. It is an anomalous distinction, but oddly persistent. While human perception . . .

Europe’s Underground War

Malcolm Gaskill

7 July 2022

On​ 23 March 1944 Italian resistance fighters ambushed an SS company marching up via Rasella, a quiet street in central Rome. At 3.45 p.m. Rosario Bentivegna, a 21-year-old medical student, lit the fuse . . .

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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The demarcated ring on the grassy plateau was from its outset about heaven, in the sense of afterlife. Was it always also about the heavens, in the sense of sky-watching? Can we rediscover how Stonehenge’s...

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As colonial historians have long appreciated, ‘runaway slave’ adverts provide the best surviving evidence of the appearance and individuality of large numbers of enslaved people. They also testify...

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Short Cuts: Love of the Gardenesque

James Butler, 23 June 2022

Ordinary people scarcely figure in the history of the English garden. Not because ordinary people had no gardens – they spider across 17th-century maps – or because the gardens they did have were purely...

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Mary Parsons revealed that she had chosen to marry her husband because she suspected him of practising witchcraft. She was arrested, watched closely during the night and grilled about her belief that...

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The nobility of Poland-Lithuania, superbly quarrelsome and eccentric, left every Western visitor with a lifetime of traveller’s tales. The early 18th century put many European monarchies on the track...

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The paper mill gave us a new textual economy, and in short order, a society clogged with text. What made paper different? Contemporaries were aware of its distinctive material qualities. One was its colour....

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Democrats were so overjoyed at defeating Trump that for a time they failed to notice that the election returns called into question the demographic determinism which in recent years has led many Democrats...

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Last year, Senate Republicans voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a national holiday, celebrating the wartime end of slavery and, in effect, the defeat of the Confederacy. The cultural struggle over the...

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Alphabetarchy: In the Kanjisphere

Lydia H. Liu, 7 April 2022

Hanzi script relied on concepts – pictography, ideography, logography – that the phonetic alphabet had superseded. The Roman alphabet, it was argued, had prevailed not because of its association with...

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Bring out the lemonade: What the Welsh got right

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, 7 April 2022

Who’s to say that one version of Welsh nationalism is more ‘true’ than any other? The claim that ‘Wales is a nation’ isn’t a descriptive statement: it is – or aspires to be – an illocutionary...

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That he was a werewolf seems to have been common knowledge and Thiess himself freely admitted it – in fact, he said, it wasn’t even the first time it had been mentioned in court. Ten years earlier,...

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Unnerved by death threats and assassination plots, Robespierre acquired a trio of bodyguards armed with clubs. In the end, however, his undoing was not the work of a murderous stranger but of his adversaries...

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So Much for Caligula: Caesarishness

Julian Bell, 24 March 2022

The life of a first-century Roman emperor seems typically to have been a sorry business. The vast polity looked to a single authority for stability; but for those who either pushed themselves or were pushed...

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Thou Old Serpent!

James Butler, 10 March 2022

Almost no first-hand accounts of the experience of possession exist. The actions and utterances of possessed women – the most famous cases all involve women, though men and children suffer possession...

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A Surfeit of Rank

Simon Akam, 10 March 2022

We stand at the end of twenty years of failed war. We should not be allowing this institution to mark its own homework.

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A Monk’s-Eye View

Diarmaid MacCulloch, 10 March 2022

The whole dissolution process was analogous to the proverbial frog boiling in water: you might not notice until it had happened. This is a partial explanation for why Henry VIII got away with it, but there...

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Keep the baby safe: Corrupt and Deprave

Stephen Sedley, 10 March 2022

Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who regularly advised the director of public prosecutions on possible obscenity cases, was once asked by a colleague how he decided what advice to give. ‘I don’t know anything...

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Like a Flamingo: Viking Treasure

Tom Shippey, 24 February 2022

In​ September 2014 a group of detectorists were searching a field in Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire, in south-west Scotland, when one of them got a signal. This wasn’t entirely unexpected....

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