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.
By the standards of key works on Spain's Civil War this is fairly concise at about 300 pages. However its value to students of the period is far more than this (possibly partly because it is so tightly structured).
This is not a blow by blow account of the war. For that the newest Beevor work is probably better. Rather Preston takes a loosely narrative structure and uses it to examine the key themes produced by the conflict in a clear and perceptive manner. The initial chapters setting the context should be compulsory reading not just for those interested in the 1930's but for those who want to understand modern Spain. The divisions and splits apparent before 1930 still figure prominently today: the historic poverty of the rural south and west still shows in the fact today that these areas are hardest hit by "la crisa". The separatist tendencies of the Basques and Catalans similarily predate the Franco and Post Franco era.
The complexities of the political infighting of both right and especially left in the 1930's is an area that can confuse and make the period difficult to fathom. Preston does an excellent job of navigating the reader through the ebb and flo of the politics helped by a list of key figures and a glossary of key terms attached as appendii. I found his treatment of the international aspect of the war most illuminating. Not just the intervention of Italy and Germany but also in making the less obvious war aims of the USSR evident. Most of all he shows up the at best perfidious, at worst antagonistic attitude of France and especially Britain to the legitimate Republican government. Officially peddling non-intervention, this did little more than cloak indirect support for Franco and the nationalists. It was left to the International Brigades to restore some dignity for the western Great Powers.
The full title of the work includes, "Reaction, revolution and revenge". It is the final section that may provoke most thinking by those new to the period. Revenge was displayed by both sides. The Republic, especially early on was guilty of unprovoked attacks on clergy, property owners and "fifth columnists" killing many thousands. Yet Preston shows how attacks, reprisals, disappearances became part of the systematic advance of Franco's forces and supporters. Indeed Preston argues the war took so long to end as a consequence of Franco's desire to eliminate possible future Left and Republican opposition as his armies progressed through Spain (rather like the actions of the Red Army outside Warsaw at the end of the Second World War as they waited for the Germans to eliminate the non-communist Poles of the failed Polish uprising before the Red Army itself entered the city to liberate it from the Germans). This revenge led to not just secret killings but also mass imprisonments in labour camps and the continued impoverishment of what were the last Republican areas of control for many years after the end of war.
In his introduction, Preston makes clear his sympathies are with the Republic rather than with Franco. However he does not let this show in his writing – and is to be commended all the more for telling readers this.
For actual students of the period there is one further gem. The final chapter is a comprehensive and very well explained critique on the works available on the civil war. This in itself makes reading worthwhile!
Between April 17th and April 22nd, the company that hosts the café, Typepad, experienced a service interruption due to a series of large, sophisticated denial of service attacks against their infrastructure which meant sites hosted online with Typepad like the café could not operate to their normal level. Access to the cafe was blocked on some days for hours at a time. It seems that the attacks were designed to extort a ransom from Typepad. You can read more about the attacks here.
Hopefully the matter is now resolved but there may still be breaks in service as the attacks could continue. Access may also be slower at times and any feeders/widgets designed to read the cafe are being blocked for the time being.
Looking forward to the restoration of normal service!
Several items to look at this month in the magazine. (comments are those of History Today)
Britain's First Industrial Revolution: While the advances in technology and manufacturing that took place in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries have entered the mainstream of history, few know about the industrialisation carried out during the Roman occupation, says Simon Elliott.
History After Hobsbawm: Since the completion of the Marxist historian's trilogy in 1987, history has changed, but in what ways?
The Imperial Triumph of Amiens: Nick Lloyd revisits John Terraine's article on the decisive Allied victory at Amiens in 1918 and asks why this remarkable military achievement is not as well known as the first day of the Somme.
Through the Cracks of Oblivion: Without dexterity and imagination historians are in danger of overlooking the telling details that complete the bigger picture, argues Mathew Lyons.
The Rise of Gay Rights: 'Arguably among the most misconceived and incoherent studies ever published in the field of gay history'.
Amongst the reviews is a sympathetic and worthwhile one of Concretopia which the cafe has also recently read summed up by the reviewers comment:
"There is a quietly political tone to Concretopia, written in a contemporary climate in which, as Grindrod puts it, 'we have moved from the postwar nationalisation of land to build everything from new towns to motorways, into an era where almost everything we think of as public space is actually private land'. In our era of austerity and stalled housebuilding, both books have an elegiac quality, looking back on confident and collectively-minded projects that sought to change people's lives for the better."