New Bodleian History Books: March 2019 – Ireland

In honour of St Patrick’s Day celebrated not two weeks ago, I would like to use this March edition of the New Bodleian History Books blog to showcase a number of studies on Ireland and Irish history newly arrived at the library this month.

The history of the island of Ireland is a long one, from the first evidence of human habitation 12,500 years ago through the Christianisation period and St Patrick’s work on the island in the 5th century; the Viking presence from the raids in the 8th century to the Battle of Clontarf in 1014; the Norman invasion in 1169; the conquests, rebellions and religious conflicts in the early modern period; the Battle of the Boyne in 1690; the union with Great Britain in 1801; the great Famine in the mid-19th century; the Home Rule, Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence in the early 20th century; the Troubles in the late 1960s and Bloody Sunday; the Good Friday Agreement; all the way to the threat of a hard border in Ireland and the role of the DUP in Britain’s Brexit negotiations today.

Rather than attempting to provide anything like a comprehensive overview of any of these eventful eras, most of the books on Irish history that have arrived in the Bodleian this month can be seen as presenting a variety of interesting snapshots of Ireland’s long history, and its societies and cultures.

The Great Famine

This year marks the sesquicentenary of the end of the Great Irish Famine (1845-49), and two of the volumes deal with this watershed event in the history of Ireland: The Great Irish Famine and Social Class looks at the impact of the catastrophe on Ireland’s economy (including its relations with Britain) and investigates topics such as the suffering of the rural classes, landlord-tenant and class relations, Poor Laws, and relief operations during the food crisis. A rather different approach is taken by Niamh Ann Kelly in Imaging the Great Irish Famine, which examines commemorative visual culture – memorial images, objects and locations – from that period to the early twenty-first century, linking these artefacts of historical trauma and enforced migration to the ongoing dispossession of people across the world who are driven out of their homes and countries on a wave of conflict, poverty and famine.

The Irish Abroad

Voluntary rather than enforced emigration and travel by Irish nationals is thematised in two other new studies. In Medieval Irish Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela Bernadette Cunningham traces the long connection between Ireland and the shrine of St James in Galicia, and tells the stories of some of the men and women who undertook the hazardous journey by land and sea between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, drawing on sources from official documents, historical chronicles, literary texts and saints’ Lives to archaeological finds to look at the varied influences on and motivations of these pilgrims. The story of a group of 1,300 young Irish men who travelled across Europe several centuries later to defend Pope Pius IX’s Papal States on the Italian Peninsula is told by Donal P. Corcoran in The Irish Brigade in the Pope’s army 1860. The volume looks at the battles in which the Irish fought and died for the pope at Perugia, Spoleto, Castelfidardo and Ancona, as well as their imprisonment at Genoa after the defeat of the pope’s forces, and their heroes’ welcome when they were finally allowed to journey home to Ireland.

Irish Local History

Charting the history of the diocese of Derry is Ciarán Devlin’s The Making of Medieval Derry; originally published in 2013 it is out in a new paperback edition made greatly accessible through a number of new indices. Devlin’s history of Derry is a tale of saints and sinners, of churchmen and warlords, of scholars and craftsmen, of Derry itself as sacred city, as frontier citadel, as royal capital and episcopal see. Also looking back at local history is John O’Callaghan in his volume on the role of Limerick as a key social, political and military battleground during the Irish revolution, Limerick: The Irish revolution, 1912-23. This is only one of so far eight similar volumes on these eventful years published by Four Courts Press which draw on a wide array of contemporary sources to try and draw a realistic picture of the lives of local people in Mayo, Louth, Derry, Monaghan. Waterford, Tyrone and Sligo as well as in Limerick during this time.

Residing in Ireland

The long and varied relationship between religion and landscape in Ireland during the dawn of Christianity, the Middle Ages and the post-medieval era is discussed in Church and Settlement in Ireland, with twelve individual essays on how, over the centuries, the church formed a core component of settlement and played a significant role in the creation of distinct cultural landscapes in Ireland. For the 20th century, Emer Crooke takes a look the same topic of residence and buildings on the island with his book White Elephants, which discusses the country house and the state in post-independence Ireland from 1922 to 1973. Not regarded as an integral part of the national heritage, but rather symbols of British oppression, hundreds of former landlords’ residences were sold on, demolished or simply abandoned to ruin in these decades, with politicians torn between conserving them, or burying them and the past they represented.

 Ireland in the Press

Finally, historians and journalists celebrate the character, role, culture and history of the Irish Sunday newspaper over the course of the last century in The Sunday papers: a history of Ireland’s weekly press, with chapters, with individual chapters each examining a particular paper, from long-running, prestigious publications like the Sunday Independent or the Sunday Times to papers such as the Sunday Freeman which only ran in the years 1913–16. The chapters examine the Ireland in which these papers first appeared, their origins, proprietors, editors, journalists and contributors, their major stories and controversies, business dynamic, circulation and readership, and assess their overall contribution to Irish journalism, society and culture.

You can find all our books tagged with “Ireland” on LibraryThing here.

New Bodleian History Books: February 2019 – Historical Letters

In this 21st century, corresponding in longhand is a dying art – the idea of a “love email” really does not ring right, and online blogs have all but replaced the open letter and the handwritten diary.

But as primary sources for the study of history, letters, whether hand- or later machine-written, have a unique appeal – however much distance the individual contemporary conventions may add, letters still always convey a sense of directness and immediacy. They seem to us to open a window into the writers’ innermost thoughts, and let us feel a special closeness to their lives and circumstances.

There is certainly no shortage of famous letter-writers whose creations have been preserved for posterity – the letters of Pliny the Younger to the Roman historian Tacitus with their eye-witness accounts of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; the Epistles of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, Corinthians or Ephesians; the exchanges of the tragic lovers Heloise and Abelard in the 12th century; or the around 3,000 letters of Queen Elizabeth I, some of them to her youthful successor James VI of Scotland.

Occasionally, even more interestingly, letters of not-so-famous people survive, and offer the historian unique insights into the lives, concerns, and views of (mostly) ordinary people. The Paston family’s letters to each other which cover over 70 years and document their rise from peasantry to aristocracy are a case in point, or the collections of so-called pauper letters, written in the 18th and early 19th century to the overseers of the poor by the poor people themselves.

The modern electronic letter may, however, have one advantage over the traditional handwritten one – it is far easier to save, store, or make accessible. Historical letters on paper, if they even survive, can be difficult to access; they are stored in archives or museum collections, or remain in the possession of the writers’ relatives and heirs, or the original correspondents. To be useful as sources for historians, historical letters need to be laboriously collected, preserved, edited, perhaps even translated, in order to become an accessible source for historians to study.

This February, a number of the new history books acquired by the Bodleian are such collections of letters as primary sources of history from the early modern and modern periods, which supply insights into a multitude of different lives, minds, and concerns.

Two of these are part of vast collections of letters that shed light on some of the Greats in the history of science. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was a compulsive letter-writer and respondent, who made a point of replying to every letter he received. As a result, the edition of his collected correspondence runs to currently 26 volumes, the latest of which has just arrived in the Bodleian. The correspondence of Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919), the foremost systematist and system builder of Darwinism, reaches similar proportions with over 44,000 letters which represent a rich resource of information about intellectual, cultural, and social life during the industrializing era of Germany. A major 25-year project by the Ernst Haeckel House has just published the first volume of a planned 25-volume critical edition of his collected letters.

There are also three new collections of letters with a political focus. Although all three are concerned with German history, they are very different otherwise. From the era of World War II comes a collection of letters written and sent back home by both German and Russian young soldiers from Stalingrad. Two more collections shed light on German politics of the later post-war era: letters and other documents that illustrate the interactions of the author Heinrich Böll with German Socialist Party leader and Chancellor Willy Brandt throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, and the political reports and correspondence written by Swiss diplomats stationed in East Berlin in the 1980s.

Last but not least (because it is after all not even two weeks since Valentine’s Day) there are the love letters. J’ai tellement envie de vous presents 25 years’ worth of love letters written by the (in)famous ladies’ man and King of France Henry IV (1553-1610) to his many and various wives and mistresses. Of slightly less elevated status, but still from aristocratic circles, are the correspondents of the collection Briefe der Liebe: in 18th century Germany Henriette von der Malsburg, 16 years old, enters into a marriage of convenience with Georg Ernst von und zu Gilsa  – but they subsequently, and surprisingly to them both, fall passionately in love. Their letters explore both the overwhelming emotional and the physical aspects of their love, but come to an abrupt end after only a year of married bliss with Henriette’s death in childbirth in 1767. Rather longer-lasting is the literary relationship of Balthasar and Magdalena Paumgartner, a merchant couple from Nürnberg, Germany, whose 169 letters from over 16 years of marriage provide a fascinating look at the  work conditions, property issues, gender roles, emotions, married life and family relations at the turn of the 17th century.

If this sounds interesting, do check out the lists of all Bodleian History books on LibraryThing tagged with “letter writing” and “correspondence”!

 

New Bodleian History Books: January 2019 – Historical Biographies

Throughout the ages writers have produced countless famous biographies of similarly famous men in history, from Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans (2nd century AD) to Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects of Renaissance Italy (1550), Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), Carlyle’s Life of Frederick the Great (1858), or even Ian Kershaw’s Hitler (1991).

Because of its connection to and overlap with popular books of the less scholarly “life writing” tradition, academic historical biography has been something of a stepchild for the subject: “The border separating history and biography has always been uncertain and anything but peaceful” is how Sabina Loriga puts it in her chapter on “The Role of the Individual in History” in a recent volume on Theoretical Discussions of Biography (Loriga, 2014, p. 77). Loriga discusses questions of biographical analysis (“What is important and unimportant in the life of a person?”) as well as questions concerning the relationship between biography and history (“Can the life of an individual illuminate the past?”) (Loriga, 2014, 89). Academic historical biography is thus concerned with both these types of questions, and uses biographical information to examine the lives of individuals in relation to secular and ecclesiastical institutions, local communities, social groups, and other entities, to, as Loriga phrases it, “reassess the balance between personal destinies and social structures” (Loriga, 2014, 90).

Thomas Carlyle famously stated that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men”, but the latest Bodleian acquisitions of the genre beg to differ on both the “great” and the “men” parts of this statement – they include accounts of the lives of undeniably fascinating and influential but not necessarily history-making men and, importantly, women from a vast range of different times, locations, societies, and social circumstances. Here are only a few examples from the three main historical eras to whet your appetite.

For the medieval era, Giorgio Godi describes in detail a few years of the fascinating life and times of the 14th-century longbow man, soldier and mercenary captain John Hawkwood, a man of almost mythical proportions.

Medieval women are also well-represented: Leonora Alice Neville presents a volume on the life and work of Anna Komene, the 12th century Byzantine princess, scholar, physician, hospital administrator, and historian, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and historical biographer in her own right as the author of The Alexiad, her account of her father’s reign. In her Stories of women in the Middle Ages, Maria Teresa Brolis then tells the fascinating tales of sixteen other medieval women who led equally interesting lives as fashion icons, art clients, businesswomen, saints, healers, lovers, or pilgrims throughout the European Middle Ages, from Hildegard of Bingen to Heloise, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Saint Clare of Assisi, Joan of Arc, and to lesser-known but still well-documented women such as a moneylender, a healer, and a pilgrim.

The early modern era is represented by a man very close to home in Vittoria Feola’s biography of Elias Ashmole, whose donation of his cabinet of curiosities to the University of Oxford in 1677 led to the establishment of the world’s first university museum, the Ashmolean. Rather less fulfilled (and certainly shorter) lives were led by the three women of the Italian Renaissance which are the subject of Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan’s and Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur’s book Décapitées. As the title rather suggests, she singles out three cases of women who were beheaded – or more precisely publicly executed for adultery on the orders of their husbands. These wives of three of the greatest lords of Renaissance Italy – Mantua, Milan, and Ferrara – were executed for adultery, though on a closer look it seems what they were most guilty of was having tried to take an active part in the great political and cultural innovations of their time.

On the cusp of the modern era we then find In Napoleon’s shadow, an account of a life lived not as, but alongside a traditional “great man” – it is an edition of the complete memoirs of Louis-Joseph Marchand, the personal valet to Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile to Elba, the Hundred Days, and his exile to St Helena until his death.

Moving into the 20th century the men are represented by a very brief life, with an even briefer apogee, but nonetheless one which : Robert M. Zoske’s Flamme sein! (“Be a flame!”) is a biography of Hans Scholl, founder of the nonviolent Nazi resistance movement Die Weisse Rose. It was less than a year after the group started  distributing their leaflets at German universities in the early summer of 1942, Hans and his sister Sophie were arrested, tried, and shortly after executed on 22 February 1943. A detailed look at the same period of German history from the female side is shown in Elisabeth Krimmer’s German women’s life writing and the Holocaust, which looks at memoirs, diaries, or autobiographically inspired fiction of women who were complicit bystanders during the National Socialist regime, whether as army auxiliaries or nurses, but also as female refugees, rape victims, and Holocaust survivors – their continuing support for the regime and, in some cases, their growing estrangement from it.

You can find all items tagged as “biography” in the Bodleian History collections here.

New Bodleian History Books: December 2018 – Writing “macrohistory”

The concept of “total history” is not a new one – the “histoire totale” advocated by Fernand Braudel of the Annales School in the 1940s introduced a historiography which strove to observe the long and medium-term evolution of economy, society and civilisation, and thus avoid the tunnel vision created by separating economic, political, social and other forms of history. For the late 20th and the 21st century, the historian David Christian has gone even further in the idea of what timeframe “history” should be looking at, coining the term Big History for a multidisciplinary approach which encompasses everything from the Big Bang to the present, an integrated history of the cosmos, earth, life, and humanity as a whole.

But scale in historiography of course also goes the other way – “microhistory” uses investigations of small and well-defined units of research (such as a single event, a single individual or a single small community) to eventually ask these same larger questions about society or humanity.

Somewhere inbetween the two extremes lie studies that have recently been termed “macrohistory” – not as ambitious as to claim to be “total” or “big” history, but going well beyond the scale of microhistory in their scope. Over the last few months a number of the new History books arrived at the Bodleian have been of this kind of historiography – studies which span an ambitiously large time frame, and therefore elude categorizing into such traditional historical eras as “Antiquity”, “medieval history”, “early modern history” or “modern history”.

Still very much on a trend towards “histoire totale” for individual countries are for example John Julius Norwich’s History of France and the Storia mondiale dell’Italia edited by Andrea Giardina which trace developments from Roman times to the present; and Richard Bressler aims to write a similarly wide-ranging history for a rather more delineated timeframe, but for the entire world in The Thirteenth Century.

Several recent studies in the area of History of Science and Medicine aim for a similarly comprehensive account across the centuries while focussing on one specific aspect or subject – Mechanics from Aristotle to Einstein run from the 4th century BC via Descartes, Galileo, and Newton to the 20th century; the History of Forensic Medicine traces the science from its beginnings in Ancient China and Rome to its history in individual countries from Japan to Europe and the U.A.E., and The Ambulance – a history reviews 800 years of ambulance services, including the vehicles used and the individuals who served on them.

A number of newly arrived studies in Social History, too, conduct their discussions on a similarly ambitious scale: Michelle Perrot’s The Bedroom. An Intimate History discusses the importance of this one room for the history of mankind (and womankind) from Greek and Roman antiquity to today; Rob Boddice’s History of Emotions (also available online as eLD) looks at how emotions change over time, cause historical events, or influence human morality; Nikos Panou’s Evil Lords (also available online) examines tyrants and tyranny from Antiquity to the Renaissance, and Séverine Auffret writes Une histoire du féminisme, tracing the movement from Antiquity to the present day.

You can find all items tagged with “macrohistory” in the Bodleian History collections here.

New Bodleian History Books: November 2018 – WWI

Right on schedule for the Centenary of the First World War a number of exciting new history books on various interesting aspects of WWI have arrived at the Bodleian!

In Ypres Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel examine the small Belgian city which between 1914 and 1918 became the location of five major battles between the Allied troops and the Germans – battles which resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties, and placed Ypres at the heart of First World War battlefield tourism.

Opening his focus to the entirety of the Western Front rather a single battlefield, David T. Zabecki’s The generals’ war: operational level command on the Western Front in 1918 examines the plans and decisions of the senior-most German and Allied commanders, exploring the military strategies of those generals during the last year of the Great War.

And not from the generals’ view, but from the complete opposite side of the spectrum come Les carnets de guerre de Louis Barthas: 1914-1918. This is an edition of the 19 notebooks compiled by a French corporal who fought for four years in some of the most dangerous sectors of the front, including Verdun and the Somme. Into these notebooks Barthas transcribed his diary and letters, adding collected picture postcards, illustrations, and maps clipped from newspapers and magazines.

Unlike these first books which examine the war and WWI warfare proper, several of the newly arrived books focus on the social and cultural history of WWI. Laura Rowe writes on Morale and discipline in the Royal Navy during the First World War, and Roger L. Ransom examines the dark history of war profiteering in Gambling on war: confidence, fear, and the tragedy of the First World War

Along with socio-cultural history, gender studies are also gaining a foothold in war historiography – while all of the above monographs focus rather naturally on the (male) soldiers and their (male) commanders, the final pair of books I would like to present in this blog post take as their topic the often neglected “other half” of humanity involved in the Great War – the women.

Alison Fell’s Women as veterans in Britain and France after the First World War looks at former nurses, charity workers, secret service agents, members of resistance networks in occupied territory or of the British auxiliary corps. After the end of the war these women appropriated the cultural identity of “female war veteran” in order to have greater access to public life in a political climate in which women were rarely heard on the public stage.

Similarly, the women Stefania Bartoloni writes on in Donne di fronte alla guerra: pace, diritti e democrazia (1878-1918) demanded more rights and more democracy and called for women’s participation in decisions on national and international affairs. Beginning at the end of the 19th century but continuing through to the end of WWI, this group of feminists and suffragists critiqued the male power system in which men were the heads of governments and diplomacy who chose to settle conflicts between nations through the instrument of war.

You can find all the books tagged with “World War I” on the Bodleian History Faculty LibraryThing pages here!