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History & Classics

A Lieutenant with a Cutter (uniform), 1777

The Age of Sail

N.A.M. Rodger

30 July 2020

It is the business of the historian to plunge into the deep waters of the past and to bring up vanished lives, but few lives seem to have vanished so completely, in so short a time, as that of the square-rig sailor. The necessary combination of scholarly rigour and imaginative sympathy is seldom harder to achieve than when treating the lost lives of an inarticulate people – or a people usually supposed to have been inarticulate.

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Parachuted into France

Neal Ascherson

30 July 2020

Marie​ Fouillette died in France in 1975. By then, Harry Rée was a teacher at Woodberry Down Comprehensive in North London, back doing the job he loved best. But a little over thirty years . . .

Smells of Hell

Keith Thomas

16 July 2020

Ionce​ asked the great historian Richard Southern whether he would like to have met any of the medieval saints and churchmen about whom he wrote so eloquently. He gave a cautious reply: ‘I . . .

The Soho Alphabet

Andrew O’Hagan

16 July 2020

Ifirst​ walked along Brewer Street when I was 13. I was looking for a shop that sold film posters. It’s a long story, a four-hanky number, and it started in Glasgow the previous summer when . . .

The Murdrous Machiavel

Erin Maglaque

16 July 2020

‘Surely it is a great wonder’, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote to his friend Francesco Vettori in 1514, ‘to contemplate how blind human beings are in matters that involve their own sins.’ . . .

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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Springtime for Robespierre

Hilary Mantel, 30 March 2000

For a time, early last year, there was no trace of Robespierre to be found on the street where he lived in the days of his fame. The restaurant called Le Robespierre had closed its doors, and...

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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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Warrior Librarians: Cultural Pillaging

Neal Ascherson, 2 July 2020

The Monuments Men were interested in stone, bronze and painted canvas; the Acquisition of Foreign Publications was hunting paper. Even so, the boundary between agencies, let alone between agencies and...

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Some streets in Charles Booth’s maps were black at one end and pink at the other; blue and pink – ‘poverty and comfort mixed’ – were fused to produce a purply brown; a blue...

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Short Cuts: In the Bunker

Thomas Jones, 2 July 2020

Elaborate and secret bunkers tend to be linked in the popular imagination (and perhaps in reality too) with evil megalomaniacs: every other Bond villain is to be found lurking in an underground lair –...

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Anyone​ who doubts that Thebes is indeed a ‘forgotten city’ hasn’t spent much time in Greek souvenir shops. In a marketplace shaped by the interests of foreign tourists, there...

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While Statues Sleep

Thomas Laqueur, 18 June 2020

It is a task of a different order to redeem a history with the dead. If we are to learn from the Germans and produce a better narrative for the United States, then we need to be clear about who constituted...

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Julius Caesar, Génocidaire

Michael Kulikowski, 18 June 2020

Consider​ the many things that would not exist without Caesar’s account of the Gallic Wars: Asterix and Obelix; The Wicker Man; Gauloises cigarettes; the little Airfix Romans and Britons...

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Good to Think With

Helen Pfeifer, 4 June 2020

From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, Europeans saw the Ottoman Empire not only as an opponent on the battlefield, but as an intellectual resource.

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‘Love at Last Sight’

Chloë Daniel, 21 May 2020

On 7 June 1914 a personal ad appeared in the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger: ‘Single widow, 35, wishes to make the acquaintance of a respectable gentleman for the purpose of marriage.’ This wasn’t...

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Mussolini’s Unrealism

Edward Luttwak, 21 May 2020

As his country’s grand strategist, Mussolini’s incurable delusion was that a highly staged military parade, with the same tanks turning up again and again, was proof of actual military capabilities...

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A Great Wall to Batter Down

Adom Getachew, 21 May 2020

Priyamvada Gopal’s focus isn’t on the ways colonial subjects negotiated, resisted and reclaimed the empire, so much as on the ways in which imperial crisis awakened dissent at the metropolitan...

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You are a milksop

Ferdinand Mount, 7 May 2020

When the fighting was finally over, one cannot escape the conviction that it was primarily Cromwell’s angry will that carried on the civil unsettlement through the Commonwealth and into the Protectorate,...

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Medieval Smut

Irina Dumitrescu, 7 May 2020

For much of the 20th century, academics argued that the concept of obscenity was born along with the printing press and state censorship of erotic material. One can understand where this idea came from:...

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You can’t prove I meant X

Clare Bucknell, 16 April 2020

When poets or printers weren’t clever enough with their ambiguities and disguises, the law moved in. Until the second quarter of the 19th century, those convicted of seditious libel – or obscene...

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Short Cuts: ‘Parallel Lives’

Tom Crewe, 2 April 2020

Dickens offers a ‘fine example of how not to end a marriage’. The Carlyles made their marriage a ‘spectacle we in later days can witness, with resolutions and tensions we can participate...

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In 1348

James Meek, 2 April 2020

When you aren’t going anywhere, the danger is that you might start seeing the way things are going. Just as medieval peasants wondered whether the world would end if they refused to give their lord...

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