History & Classics

Indexing

Anthony Grafton

23 September 2021

The index gave its users formidable power to find and quote adages and examples, narratives and poems, scriptural and patristic texts, whether or not they had actually read the full works they cited. That power in turn inspired anxiety, especially among those who had learned what they knew in the old-fashioned way, or claimed that they had. Would the index kill close reading?

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Fondness for Yiddish

William Pimlott

23 September 2021

‘Even the stones speak Hebrew,’ the Yiddish poet Yosef Papyernikov complained in 1949. He first visited the Jewish homeland in 1924, then returned briefly to Poland, where he was born, before . . .

Flocculent and Feculent

Susan Pedersen

23 September 2021

Of the many​ hardships visited on New York in the first months of the pandemic, food shortages weren’t among them. Supply chains held. Cleaning products vanished from supermarket shelves but . . .

United States of Amnesia

Eric Foner

9 September 2021

Survivors recalled seeing trucks loaded with bodies heading out of the city, presumably to burial sites in unknown locations. Dick Rowland was not one of the victims. Somehow, he escaped during the chaos . . .

Prussian Disneyland

Jan-Werner Müller

9 September 2021

The reconstructed palace, with Franco Stella’s razionalismo façade. Thirty years ago​, the Bundestag voted to move from sleepy Bonn to newly unified Berlin. There was a lot of anxiety . . .

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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Invidious Trumpet: Find the Printer

Thomas Keymer, 9 September 2021

Warrants could be readily obtained (or sometimes just not obtained) to raid the premises of printers, arrest and interrogate writers, or confiscate and destroy equipment. Informal harassment was rife,...

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Short Cuts: Found Objects

Tom Crewe, 12 August 2021

It is chastening to think of what has been found on the foreshore while we have been walking or riding across the bridges, looking idly down at the river or over at the needily glinting skyscrapers. Megalodon...

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Kings and Kinglets: Cassiodorus

Michael Kulikowski, 12 August 2021

Ancient​ Latin literature has reached us along an improbably narrow path. Two millennia of rats, fire and floods were as nothing compared with three historical bottlenecks. Only one of these...

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Hush-Hush Boom-Boom: Spymasters

Charles Glass, 12 August 2021

Scores of former agents have exposed CIA crimes and defeats in books, films and articles. In the wake of American humiliation in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, Senate and House investigations documented...

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White Sheep at Rest: After Culloden

Neal Ascherson, 12 August 2021

Sadistic public cruelty, military slaughter and political order maintained by the fear of death and torture still prevailed, and many of the superior minds parading the salons of Edinburgh, Paris or London...

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Leave me my illusions: Antiquarianism

Nicholas Penny, 29 July 2021

Moonlight on broken stone tracery is a common motif; dark interiors provide a foil for stained glass and for white satin and deep blue velvet. The men must be away on the crusades. Young women are sobbing...

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It was important not to give instructions, just to pass on the hard-won wisdom of street protest. Don’t be panicked into running away, even if the police bring horses. Sitting down is safe, if everyone...

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Thomas Becket​ was not the first archbishop of Canterbury to meet a violent end – Archbishop Alphege was killed by Vikings in 1012 – but he was unique in other ways. Unlike his...

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The world they sought to understand belonged to them all, and demanded that a gifted few should work together to interpret the writings of former ages. Alchemists resembled learned theologians poring over...

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Later, Not Now: Histories of Emancipation

Christopher L. Brown, 15 July 2021

The British plantation lobby rarely receives credit for the skill with which it defended colonial slavery. For nearly half a century, slaveowners blocked emancipation schemes, neutered reform proposals...

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In post-Soviet Russia perfume was one of the luxury goods that symbolised the repudiation of Soviet puritanism. While Polina Zhemchuzhina’s attempt to bring perfume to the masses and rebrand it as...

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Despite their obvious significance in the production of books, correctors were treated like manual labourers. One complained that he and his colleagues ‘would be off like a shot from this sweatshop’...

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What most people in the US call an ‘embargo’ – meaning the sweeping trade restrictions first imposed in 1960 and ratcheted up many times since – is known in Cuba as el bloqueo,...

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Global Morality Play: Selimgate

Helen Pfeifer, 1 July 2021

It is certainly true that the Ottomans have not always received due recognition for their impact on the modern world. They boasted modern Europe’s first standing army. They introduced the world not...

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Knife, Stone, Paper: Law Lords

Stephen Sedley, 1 July 2021

The modern relationship of the three principal elements of the constitution – legislature, courts and executive – doesn’t resemble the cogs of a working machine, or the delegation of...

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Short Cuts: Untilled Fields

Ferdinand Mount, 1 July 2021

‘This is certain – for I have noted it several times – some parts of England are becoming almost as lonesome as the African veld.’ This was Rider Haggard’s...

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Diary: Oxford by Train

Patrick McGuinness, 17 June 2021

The canals and rivers of Oxford aren’t working waterways anymore, but livelihoods used to depend on them. Oxford’s crest – an ox ‘fording’ three wavy lines of water –...

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Who started it? Nero-as-arsonist

James Romm, 17 June 2021

Nero’s responsibility for the fire is supported by very slender evidence, and as far as the lyre-strumming is concerned barely any evidence at all. But belief in his heedlessness or wanton destructiveness...

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