Fletcher tells the story of how Europe was converted to Christianity from 300AD until the late 14th century. This means Fletcher looks at the emergence (or adoption?) of the Christian church as a political force and its spread across western continent. The early chapters, more dependent on almost-contemporary hagiographic writings of monks are perhaps the least interesting, their lack of recorded detail failing to provide a satisfactory factual narrative to base analysis upon. This though is no fault of the author - indeed by providing a comprehensive survey of the missions and missionaries (with their confusing names) he provides an accessible record of how the ideas and customs of the early western Christian church spread in Europe. His chapter on the construction of ritual, more abstract and less mired in the life stories of the succession of early missions is a great success. He demonstrates very clearly how ritual and religious custom and ceremony were a later fabrication drawing as much out of pagan practice and political expediency as divine origin. Little would appear to connect the conduct of the Catholic Church with early Christian groups it purported to descend from. This would not make a good read for a Roman Catholic fundamentalist.
Established western Christianity then faced threats from rival faiths, one old (from Europe's Jews), one new (from a youthful and energetic Islam, predominantly in Iberia) and then the family feud as the eastern Orthodox Church moved further away and became a direct competitor in the Slav lands of central and eastern Europe. Fletcher covers these threats well and shows how problems arising have continued to fester away into modern times.
The work shows that nothing was inevitable about the rise of western Christianity. It was as haphazard as it was inexorable. One area I would have liked to have seen emphasized and analysed more is the crucial "crossover" point at the start of the survey when Christianity moved into the political sphere and the symbiotic relationship appeared between politics and religion. Why was it considered an appropriate move by successive heads of government from late Roman times to Charlemagne? Just how cynical and pragmatic were Church leaders of this time? Answers may never be clear given the lack of evidence, but a little more detailed speculation would perhaps have been appropriate here.
Co-incidentally, whist reading the Fletcher I was re-reading the first of Asimov's Foundation trilogy for the first time in (too many) years and was struck by the similarity in the expansion of Hari Seldon's planet on the back of the pseudo religion that his psychohistory produced in the minds of the neighbours........
Read here how Jonathan Powell, Britain's chief broker of the Northern Ireland peace deal, explains how terrorism can never be defeated by military means alone and how to go about negotiating with people who have blood on their hands. (Image shows US President Reagan meeting with Afghan Mujahideen leaders in the Oval Office.)
Give yourself time to read this article which is presumably extracts from the forthcoming book. Has a touch of the Blair apologist in places but is thought through historically - although one comment takes his definition of a terrorist to task, indicating imperialism is someone else's terrorism (but to be fair he may include that in the actual book).....
Today's Guardian has an item by Seamus Milne on NATO and the Ukraine crisis which is worth reading for those students of the Cold War, too young to remember it but who want to experience the way in which different contemporary interpretations of events removed a sense of historical objectivity:
This article is not about a new Cold War but it does present a take on the Ukraine situation using the "revisionist" historiographical approach of modern Cold War studies. In so doing it reveals the same blindness in the west to perceptions of their actions by Russia which aggravated relations during the Cold War and which seems to be repeating itself now.
A swift look through many of the comments beneath the article show the impact of this blindness on readers perceptions clearest of all.
Before the Humanities, the Humanists David Rundle looks at the current state of the humanities, asking whether we can recapture the confidence and broad cultural ambition of the Renaissance's studia humanitatis, which sought to define what it is to be human.
In Focus: Schmiedhammer Fritz Roger Hudson on a photograph taken in the Krupp works, Essen in 1861, signalling the arrival of a new industrial force in Europe.
Pilgrims in a Strange Land Though we share a common humanity with people of the past, their world can seem alien to us, says Mathew Lyons. Was it just as disconcerting for them, too?
Steeped in Sin and Squalor Alexander Larman takes issue with some of the assertions made in John Redwood's otherwise incisive 1974 article on the Earl of Rochester, the fast-living rake who epitomised the Restoration.
The True Herod by Geza Vermes. "This is a rich read, despite its brevity, demonstrating the knowledge and understanding of an author at the peak of his powers, even so close to his death. In this book that honours the complex character of Herod, we have also an honourable tribute to the exceptional historian who wrote it."
Warsaw 1944: The Fateful Uprising by Alexandra Richie. "Warsaw 1944 is a sympathetic, detailed and well-written account of one of the most seminal yet under-known events of the Second World War. It is not without flaws, but for its general accessibility and its wealth of new eyewitness material it deserves genuine praise and a prominent place in the still-slim canon of English-language books relating to the subject."
The Aesthetics of Loss by Claudia Siebrecht. "By focusing her research on female artists, Siebrecht helps to move the historical studies of the First World War away from the male world of the battlefield towards a wider understanding of the impact of, and responses to, this most transformative of conflicts. Sensitively written and carefully researched, Siebrecht's book opens up a whole range of German sources to an English- speaking audience, reminding us of the universality of grief amongst the bereaved of the First World War."
The Hero of Budapest by Bengt Jangfeldt. " This 'Scandinavian Schindler' personally rescued between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews by his own courageous and resourceful initiatives."
The Guardian describes a new tool being based on Wikipedia: a means of viewing and making history timelines from Wikipedia and Wkidata articles. Available timelines show linear history but the (clearly subjective) selection is likely to remain an issue for genuine students of history looking at the outcomes. There are a few samples to play with, but my own experimenting suggests that this is a site to watch rather than feel able to use at the moment.......
Given the date of this month's issue, much on the Great War. Key articles are subscription only, but there are several that are open access (descriptions are those of History Today):
A New Moral Order: Britain at the Start of the Great War: When Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914 there was no outbreak of jingoism and no immediate rush to enlist. What Anthony Fletcher finds instead, in letters, diaries and newspapers, is a people who had little comprehension of the profound changes to come.
Opening the Doors of Diplomacy The Foreign Office was long a bastion of male chauvinism. Only during the Second World War did women diplomats begin to make their mark.
From Agincourt to Bosworth Dan Jones argues that Nigel Saul's article on Henry V and the union of the crowns of England and France does not take into account the long-term consequences of the king's achievements.
Wheatcroft tells a story little written about by English speaking historians - the attempts by the Ottoman Turks to capture Vienna in the 16th and 17th centuries. The focus here is on the campaign which came closest to success, that of 1683. The most useful part of the work is in placing this attack in the context of Turkish advance westwards since the 15th century and in showing the reader new to the topic just how extensive this was. The duration of the Turkish presence in much of Hungary until the 18th century and the Hapsburg wars against the Turks which lasted until the end of that century were a surprise to me.
The 1683 siege is covered in much detail although as mentioned before in other reviews the quality of the maps in this ebook was poor and place names almost totally unreadable (when will publishers do something about this? Some now recognise the problem but their solution is to publish without any maps at all...) which made it difficult to always follow the progress of both the initial Turkish march on the capital and then the military configuration of those armies lifting the siege. However the detail of the narrative is clear.
Unfortunately, the focus tends to fade once the siege is lifted and the narrative becomes an outline of future campaigns and battles which I found somehow lacking in substance and unsatisfying. Part Three is more an essay on the nature of Austria's "Age of Heroes" (Heldenzeitalter) which followed the final succession of victories against the Ottomans. These included the hero of 1683, Charles of Lorraine, and Prince Eugene of Savoy the 18th century leader and enabled Vienna to construct a fantasy of military heroism and prowess that would last well into the 19th century (and even contribute to the hubris of 1914) and long after any repetition of victorious military campaigns was possible within the Empire. The Austrian historian Michael Hochedlinger is quoted as describing this 'belated great power', as having a 'splendid baroque surface, it perhaps had more of a trompe l'oeil and resembled a colossus on feet of clay, whose fate was always hanging by a thread'. The connections with 1683 are made but at times this final section feels more like an afterthought.