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History & Classics

Painting of houses in Florence,

In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque

9 February 2020

Inthe cold autumn of 1629, the plague came to Italy. It arrived with the German mercenaries (and their fleas) who marched through the Piedmont countryside. The epidemic raged through the north, only slowing when it reached the natural barrier of the Apennines. On the other side of the mountains, Florence braced itself. The officials of the Sanità, the city’s health board, wrote...

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At the Corner House

Rosemary Hill

9 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 you’d . . .

So many ships and fleets and armies

N.A.M. Rodger

27 January 2020

There​ can scarcely be a subject about which more books have been written than the Second World War, and yet surprisingly few of them risk a synthesis of the whole. Many writers refer to the war . . .

Emigrés on the Make

Sheila Fitzpatrick

27 January 2020

Peter Reddaway wasn’t surprised by the Soviet Union’s collapse or, for that matter, by any of the twists and turns of Soviet policy and fortunes over the previous thirty years related in his . . .

Antigone on Your Knee

Terry Eagleton

27 January 2020

When​ we were students, a friend of mine discovered that he could trump anything anybody else said by using the word ‘tragic’. If someone said he needed a new pair of glasses or was thinking . . .

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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Niall Ferguson’s Burden

Pankaj Mishra, 3 November 2011

Worried about the imminent collapse of Western civilisation and awed by the rise of China, Niall Ferguson rewrites the history of the world.

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Diary: Working Methods

Keith Thomas, 10 June 2010

It never helps historians to say too much about their working methods. For just as the conjuror’s magic disappears if the audience knows how the trick is done, so the credibility of...

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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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Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn, 13 January 2020

As he lay on his deathbed at Yuste, Charles seemed to have found an unaccustomed ease: dying monarchs were more often to be found scrabbling remorsefully to make peace with their subjects and their maker....

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Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade, 13 January 2020

Ray Strachey​ is remembered, if at all, for The Cause, her history of the women’s movement, published in 1928. But reading that book – which is dedicated to Strachey’s friend...

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C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill, 13 January 2020

In​ 2000 Christopher Sansom took a year off from his job as a solicitor to write a novel: it had occurred to him that the dissolution of the monasteries might make a good backdrop to a murder...

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The​ problem presented by Troy: Myth and Reality at the British Museum is not so much the myth as the reality (until 8 March). Troy was a tiny city in what is now the northwestern corner of...

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Pevsner's Hertfordshire

Gillian Darley, 22 December 2019

The volumes​ of the Buildings of England series initiated by Nikolaus Pevsner unsurprisingly confine themselves to buildings and their settings, but it’s tempting to be distracted by what...

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'The Pillow Book'

Rivka Galchen, 22 December 2019

The​ Pillow Book was written in Japan more than a thousand years ago. Little is known about its author, Sei Shonagon, save for what can be deduced from the text itself. In 993, when she was in...

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At the Ashmolean: Pompeii

Christopher Siwicki, 22 December 2019

The​ excellent exhibition Last Supper at Pompeii at the Ashmolean (until 12 January) is about much more than what Pompeians had for dinner. A fresco that once decorated the lararium (the shrine...

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Red Clydeside

Jean McNicol, 22 December 2019

An article published in the Times just after the 1922 election suspiciously lists some of the things organised by the Independent Labour Party: ‘Socialist study circles, socialist...

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Charlemagne

Charles West, 9 December 2019

When​ Charlemagne, king of the Franks, planned the division of his empire between his sons in 806, he allotted Aquitaine, Gascony, Provence and half of Burgundy to one son; Lombardy, Bavaria...

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George Washington, Slave Owner

Eric Foner, 9 December 2019

One of the few​ facts of American history of which Donald Trump appears to be aware is that George Washington owned slaves. Trump mentioned this in 2017 as one reason for his opposition to the...

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Medieval Bestiaries

Tom Shippey, 9 December 2019

One can’t help wondering where the notion of the bonnacon came from. Surely no one in medieval Europe could have encountered a skunk?

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Renovating Rome

Anthony Grafton, 25 November 2019

One of the chief mysteries of late Renaissance Rome is that beauty and order emerged from the chaos and incompetence of planning.

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Lewis Namier’s Obsessions

Colin Kidd, 25 November 2019

In​ 1951, at the height of his celebrity and a year before he received his knighthood, the historian Lewis Bernstein Namier was sufficiently well known to appear – only lightly...

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Richard Sorge’s Fate

Tariq Ali, 19 November 2019

Sorge went to Berlin in May 1933 and spent the next three months fulfilling the tasks set for him. He joined the Nazi Party, obtained a German passport – his profession declared as ‘journalist’...

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Hitler in the Head

Christopher Clark, 7 November 2019

Whether Hitler gets into our minds, or we mislay something of our own inside his, it’s clear that this strange and hateful man, who has been dead for 74 years, is still messing with our heads.

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Europe or America?

Ian Gilmour, 7 November 2019

When his book, ‘This Blessed Plot’, came out in 1998, Hugo Young said that it was ‘the story of fifty years in which Britain struggled to reconcile the past she could not forget...

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Writing about Clothes

Lisa Cohen, 7 November 2019

‘About​ clothes, it’s awful,’ the protagonist thinks in Jean Rhys’s novel Voyage in the Dark (1934). Everything makes you want pretty clothes like hell. People laugh at...

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Rewriting ‘Pericles’

Adam Smyth, 24 October 2019

Ben Jonson’s​ comedy The New Inn (1629) was, by all accounts, a theatrical disaster: ‘negligently played’ at the Blackfriars Theatre, according to its title page, ‘and...

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