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History & Classics

Dame Ellen Terry ('Choosing') by George Frederic Watts

Smells of Hell

Keith Thomas

16 July 2020

The men and women of the Middle Ages may have had a greater aversion to unpleasant body odours than their descendants do now. If so, this was bad luck, for they were much more likely to encounter them than we are in our deodorised world.

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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.’ . . .

Where the Poor Lived

Alison Light

2 July 2020

Charles​ Booth’s survey of London poverty was an epic Victorian undertaking. Beginning in the late 1880s with East London, Booth and his army of investigators launched a systematic study which . . .

Cultural Pillaging

Neal Ascherson

2 July 2020

Afew​ months after the end of the Second World War, Stephen Spender returned to Germany. His plan was to contact German intellectuals. This was not very fruitful: most were dead or in exile, and . . .

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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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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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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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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The House of York

John Guy, 2 April 2020

The Yorkists are currently back in fashion, something that has much to do with the excavation of what are widely believed to be the skeletal remains of Richard III in a Leicester car park eight years ago....

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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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Brandenburg-Prussian Power

Abigail Green, 19 March 2020

Some saw the collapse of the German Empire as a decisive and traumatic break in the historical continuity of the state. Nothing, in Christopher Clark’s view, more profoundly exemplified this revolt...

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Rehabilitating Nero

Michael Kulikowski, 19 March 2020

Three​ centuries after the death of the emperor Nero, his name had become a byword for the very worst kind of ruler. For Ausonius of Bordeaux, in his didactic poem the Caesares, Nero was a...

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In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque, 20 February 2020

The plague meant that life was interrupted by barriers: the walls of the home, the waxed sheet between lay person and priest, the otherworldly beak worn by the plague doctor as he dosed patients with medicine.

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At the Corner House

Rosemary Hill, 20 February 2020

We had a rag at Monico’s. We had a rag at the Troc,And the one we had at the Berkeley gave the customers quite a shock.Then we went to the Popular, and after that – oh my!I wish...

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