History & Classics

The Reading Room in around 1924, by Donald Macbeth (British Museum).

Lenin’s London

Sheila Fitzpatrick

7 January 2021

Lenin liked London primarily because he had fallen in love. The object of his love was the British Museum – or rather, the great circular reading room of the library (now renamed the British Library, stripped of all its grandeur and romance and moved to the Euston Road) that was then the hidden heart of the Museum.

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The European Coup

Perry Anderson

17 December 2020

The key to understanding the success of the construction of Europe lies in the term that recurs with compulsive insistence at the turning points of Luuk van Middelaar’s story: the ‘coup’ . . .

The November Revolution

Neal Ascherson

17 December 2020

Romantic nationalists​ relish the idea of a national essence. ‘When was Serbia truly Serbian?’ Or as Gwyn Alf Williams put it, with a historian’s affectionate irony: ‘When . . .

Letters from My Father

Jonathan Raban

17 December 2020

Anzio​ is about 120 nautical miles from Salerno, on the west coast of Italy, and in January 1944 a convoy of 374 Allied ships took 25 hours to get there, at an average speed of barely five knots . . .

Every Possible Lincoln

Eric Foner

17 December 2020

Abraham Lincoln​, memorialised as a child of the frontier, self-made man and liberator of the slaves, has been the subject of more than 16,000 books, according to David S. Reynolds’s new biography . . .

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 Napoleonic Wars were in no sense purely European events. They involved individuals from around the world and had worldwide ramifications. They left a stamp on everything from the westward expansion...

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Down with Occurrences: Baroque Excess

Erin Maglaque, 3 December 2020

Fernand Braudel’s Italy is radiant, luminous, dazzling; its culture glows, sparks, illuminates Europe. It is a broken mirror, a glinting mosaic. This is a visual language that seems to spring naturally...

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The young Edward was one of a throng of half-brothers, both Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish (while he himself was Anglo-Norman), intent on killing one another. Was he accordingly reluctant to do much in this...

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A Regular Grey

Jonathan Parry, 3 December 2020

To​ have one brother killed by an African animal would be a misfortune. To lose two, at different times, is surely remarkable. Such was the distinction of Sir Edward Grey, who served as foreign secretary...

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Mothers were different: The Breadwinner Norm

Susan Pedersen, 19 November 2020

Fathers sat down to a kipper or a boiled egg at breakfast (and gave one fav­oured child the top); their dependants ate porridge. Kind fathers sometimes shared tidbits; others avoided the whole drama...

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Don’t break that fiddle: Eclectic Imitators

Tobias Gregory, 19 November 2020

The boundary between the broader and narrower senses has never been firm, and the history of literary imitation has always been bound up with the histories of philosophy, rhetoric and education. Plato,...

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The End of the Plantocracy

Pooja Bhatia, 19 November 2020

For most Haitians, it didn’t matter whether the plantation owner was Black, mixed-race or white; or whether he claimed France, Britain or Haiti as his nation, nor did it much matter whether the system...

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Mr Dug-out and His Lady: Woman’s Kingdom

Helen McCarthy, 19 November 2020

The Endell Street hospital showed what the First World War had made possible for the well-educated spinster. She found useful work, won the vote and became eligible to run for Parliament.

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They saw him coming: The Lockhart Plot

Neal Ascherson, 5 November 2020

Secret emissaries promise that a certain army general will bring ten thousand soldiers across to you. Émigré ‘experts’ assure you that the peasantry of a certain province is itching...

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A Thousand Slayn: Ars Moriendi

Barbara Newman, 5 November 2020

Fifteenth-century tracts instructed the imperilled soul to repent, make a good confession and detach from worldly goods, including wife and children. But the idea of dying as an art points to something...

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We know it intimately: Rummaging for Mummies

Christina Riggs, 22 October 2020

Egyptologists operate under quite a large illusion: that the history of their field is something to celebrate rather than scrutinise. The drama plays out against palm trees, pyramids and Nile boats,...

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The stories concocted about Mary Toft are a hybrid of science, folklore, fantasy, pornography and satire, drawing on medical knowledge of pregnancy and childbirth while fuelling ancient superstitions about...

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A Rock of Order: Through Metternich’s Eyes

Christopher Clark, 8 October 2020

While the peacekeeping aspects of the post-Vienna order continue to attract admiration, the same is not true of the intensified surveillance and repression of dissenting political networks that was another...

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Ah, how miserable! Three New Oresteias

Emily Wilson, 8 October 2020

Misogynist tropes often involve present­ing women as interesting in precisely the ways that Aeschylus’ female characters are interesting: charming, articulate, danger­ous, deceitful, too...

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Sheets of Fire and Leaping Flames

Thomas Jones, 24 September 2020

It must have seemed like the end of the world, and for thousands of people it was. The Younger Pliny was 17 when he witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. He described it many years later...

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The worlds, pre-internet, were so much smaller and dingier and more accidental than those of today’s feminisms. Whether or not you knew about this group or that argument depended on who you...

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The Spanish Habsburg line expired on the death of the hermaphrodite Charles II. Ferdinand I of Austria suffered from hydrocephalus and crippling epilepsy, which prevented him from reigning effectively...

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How to Read Aloud

Irina Dumitrescu, 10 September 2020

It is easy to overlook how loud pre­-modern education was. Most of our evidence for more than a thousand years of teaching consists of books, and, to the modern way of thinking, books are objects used...

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