Bodleian New History eBooks: April 2020 – Science and the Occult

Bodleian New History eBooks: April 2020 – Science and the Occult

Iam patet horrificis quae sit via flexa Cometis;

Iam non miramur barbati Phaenomena Astri.

Now we know what curved path the frightful comets have;

No longer do we marvel at the appearances of a bearded star.

Edmund Halley, “Ode on This Splendid Ornament of Our Time and Our Nation, the Mathematico-Physical Treatise by the Eminent Isaac Newton.”

The “Scientific Revolution” is understood to consist of a series of events during the early modern period that marked the emergence of modern sciences through revolutionary developments in such areas as mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, human anatomy and chemistry. Its starting point is usually taken to coincide with the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543, while its end point is the publication of another revolutionary study, Isaac Newton’s 1687 Principia, the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. It would be quite easy to imagine the Scientific Revolution as the great divide between the occult and the scientific – with magic, alchemy, astrology, and  any other “practical arts held to involve agencies of a secret or mysterious nature” (as the OED defines the term “occult sciences”) on the one side, and modern sciences like chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, and astronomy on the other. But the divide, if it even exists, is nowhere near as neat.

For one, esotericism, occultism and mysticism are very much alive and flourishing, and making headlines even in the 21st century: last year US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ birth horoscope, drawn up by self-described psychic and astrologer Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, made “Astrology Twitter” go wild, while a coven of Brooklyn witches publicly hexed then-Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh. Alternative medicines from acupuncture to homeopathy, and from Ayurveda and therapeutic magnets to faith healing are also experiencing a considerable revival – “healing crystals”, for example, endorsed and commercialised by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Adele and Kim Kardashian, have  become a (often shady) billion-dollar industry.

For another, evidence keeps mounting that the so-called occult sciences, especially alchemy, lie at the heart of much of the emerging modern science, and that even canonical figures of the Scientific Revolution pursued chrysopoeia seriously. Newton is a case in point – the Indiana University website Chymistry of Isaac Newton provides online access of his impressive collection of alchemical manuscripts, and even the The Cambridge Companion to Newton concedes that “[a]lthough his long engagement with alchemy did not lead Newton to his fundamental discovery of universal gravitation, it had highly significant impacts on other aspects of his science, particularly in the realms of optics and in the study of the Earth’s internal processes.” (p. 455) The “Father of Modern Chemistry”, Robert Boyle, is a similar case – surviving papers show clearly that his work on transmutational processes was integrated into his chemical research, and “document unambiguously Boyle’s lifelong chrysopoetic activities, his search for the philosophers’ stone, and his attempts to contact adepti.” (Principe, 2011, p. 308). This relationship of science with the occult does not even start and end with the Scientific Revolution – some of the outstanding figures of the very early history of medicine in Islam in the 9th and 10th century have an equal importance as alchemists, and the New Cambridge History of Islam, in its chapter on “Occult Sciences and Medicine”, labels the Islamic tradition of alchemy as “most important for the history of science”. On the other side, Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory argues convincingly that as modern nuclear physics was born, the trajectories of science and occultism briefly converged: in their joint 1902 papers on “The Radioactivity of Thorium Compounds”, Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy demonstrated how radioactive elements disintegrate, releasing radioactivity and transforming into other elements in the process, a process now known widely under the same name as the supposed change of base metals into gold in alchemy – “transmutation”.

In the spirit of such relationships, this selection of History eBooks newly purchased by the Bodleian on the wider topic of “Science and the Occult” includes studies from classic occult subjects such as demononolgy and witchcraft, discussions of the occult sciences and their relationship with modern science, and books on the Scientific Revolution itself.

The Occult

We are starting off with one of the “classics” of the history of witchcraft, Demonolatry: An Account of the Historical Practice of Witchcraft, a new 2008 edition of Ashwin’s English translation of Nicolas Remy’s 1595 Daemonolatreiae, an amplification and update of the 1486 Malleus Maleficarum, and the leading witchcraft handbook of its day. In addition to defining the black arts and their practitioners, making it possible to “recognize” witches, it offers civil and religious authorities directives for persecution of the accused and punishment of the condemned – and if you need any more incentive to read, Remy’s collection of notes, opinions, and court records features lurid details of satanic pacts and sexual perversity as well as the particulars of numerous trials. Lynda Roper’s Witch Craze (2004) then illustrates how handbooks like these were put into practice, offering a gripping account of the pursuit, interrogation, torture, and burning of witches during the 16th and 17th centuries in Southern Germany. Drawing on hundreds of original trial transcripts, Roper examines the lives, families, and tribulations of the condemned witches, analysing the psychology of witch-hunting, and discussing how the depiction of witches in art and literature has influenced the characterization of elderly women in our own culture.

Religion, the Occult, and Science

Another classic study of the subject, this one concentrating on the 16th and 17th centuries in England, is Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic, now also available as an eBook through SOLO. Thomas analyses the connections between magic and popular religion at a time the Protestant Reformation worked to take the magic out of religion, and science and rationalism also began to challenge the older systems of beliefs held by people on every level of English society. Staying with the topic of religion, but moving a bit further into the realm of science as well as into the 18th century is Rob Iliffe’s Priest of Nature, which focuses on an often-neglected side of Isaac Newton, his private religious convictions that set him at odds with established law and Anglican doctrine. Iliffe’s discussion of Newton’s long-suppressed writings on his theological positions sheds light on the relationship between faith and science at a formative moment in history and thought, and the theological discussions that dominated Newton’s age, giving an insightful picture of the spiritual views of a man who fundamentally changed how we look at the universe.

The Occult Sciences

Two of the books newly available as eBooks discuss some of the classic occult sciences – Secrets of Nature (2001) offers eight essays on various aspects of the disciplines of alchemy and astrology in early modern Europe, from the work of Renaissance astrologer Girolamo Cardano to the astrological thinking of Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, the history of the Rosicrucians and the influence of John Dee, the work of medical alchemist Simon Forman, and the existing historiography of alchemy. Connecting the occult science of alchemy with the modern scientific area of chemistry, Bruce T. Moran’s 2005 Distilling Knowledge looks past contemporary assumptions and prejudices to determine what alchemists were actually doing in the context of early modern science between 1400 and 1700. His examination of the ways alchemy and chemistry were studied and practiced show a shared territory between their two disciplines in the way the respective practitioners thought about the natural world, and even exchanged ideas and methods – to a point where he argues for accepting alchemy, on its own terms, as a demonstrative science.

The Scientific Revolution

Finally there are two books which focus on the Scientific Revolution itself. John Henry’s 1997 seminal study The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science is a concise but wide-ranging account of all aspects of the Scientific Revolution from astronomy to zoology, and offers a guide to the most important aspects of the Scientific Revolution. Its 3rd revised and extended 2008 edition, which takes into account the latest scholarship and research and new developments in historiography, is now available as an eBook on SOLO. The 2000 volume Rethinking the Scientific Revolution, however, challenges some of the traditional historiography of the Scientific Revolution – the papers collected here reconsider canonical figures from Copernicus to Robert Boyle and especially Newton, moving from their ideas on alchemy and astrology to the influences, ideas and attitudes towards religion, theology and philosophy during this seminal period of European intellectual history.

You can find all books newly available as eBooks on our LibraryThing shelf, or check out the tag pages for “witchcraft“, “Scientific Revolution” or “alchemy” for more books on this topic!

Bodleian New History Books: March 2020 – Women’s History

Bodleian New History Books: March 2020 – Women’s History

March is Women’s History Month in the UK, an event intended to highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

While much of “feminist history” is more specifically concerned with the re-reading of history from a female perspective, and re-interpreting history in a more balanced manner, “women’s history” tends to be more generally focused on the study of women in history, their roles, contributions, and situations in life. History was of course written mainly by men and about men’s activities in the public sphere, from war to politics and diplomacy, to science and literature and intellectual history – for a large part women are either excluded, or included only as the wives, mistresses, mothers and daughters of men, or portrayed in stereotypical ways. In his answer to the question “What is Women’s History?”, James F. McMillan thus defines women’s history as being “about putting women back into the historical picture from which, through the predilections of generations of male historians for writing about masculine-oriented activities such as war, diplomacy and affairs of state, they had largely been excluded.” The intent is thus to clearly acknowledge that women have a history of their own, and that gender is as powerful a determining factor as race or class or colour.

In her answer to the same question in the above article, Olwen Hufton mentions three distinct aspects of women’s history as an area of study: to discern women’s past roles and situations, locating them in the social, economic, political, religious and psychological world of traditional society; to give any historical period a “gender dimension” by acknowledging how the attitudes or positions of women influenced the course of events; and re-examining historical accounts collected or compiled by men and based on male assumptions and a masculine conception of both women and themselves.

Contributions to women’s history thus can range from studies of personal achievements of individual or groups of women throughout recorded history, the effect of historical events specifically on women, or the changes in women’s status, social situation or rights in different countries or historic eras. In this month’s blog on the new history books arrived at the Bodleian in the course of March we’ll be looking at a number of studies that focus on interesting women from a wide range of times and cultures (from the Middle Ages to the 21st century), from a wide range of social circumstances (from queens to nuns and suffragettes to musicians), and involving a wide range of literary genres (from memoirs to correspondence to hagiographies).

Calogera Jacqueline Alio’s volume on Sicilian Queenship supplements her Queens of Sicily 1061-1266 (2018), which contains the biographies of eighteen of the countesses and queens of the Kingdom of Sicily during the Hauteville and Hohenstaufen reigns. This follow-up publication  further explores the queens’ use of power and the Sicilian cultural identity forged by these women, from political issues such as their strategies for the suppression of adversaries, to social issues such as  patronage and heraldry, and to cultural aspects such as sexuality, poetry, and even cuisine.

An aristocratic woman is also at the centre of Carolyn James’ A Renaissance Marriage, which offers a fascinating account of a political marriage in Italy in the late 15th and early 16th century. Drawing on unpublished correspondence between and by Isabella d’Este and her husband Francesco Gonzaga, rulers of Mantua, the correspondence illustrates the couple’s marriage throughout political challenges such as the Italian Wars of the early 16th century and the public health crisis of the spread of syphilis in Renaissance Europe, painting a vivid picture of a woman in a Renaissance marital relationship as well as contributing to the history of emotions, of politics and military conflict, of childbirth, childhood and family life, and of disease and medicine.

Rather than merely the biography or correspondence, it is the autobiographical writings of a fascinating woman from the early modern era which are newly translated from the Yiddish in Glikl: Memoirs 1691-1719. Glikl bas Leib, also known as Glückel of Hameln, was a Jewish businesswoman in Germany, and her memoirs, begun after the death of her beloved husband, record the varying fortunes of her family and community over the course of 30 years. With its undeniable literary qualities, recounting of traditional tales and beliefs, indebtedness to contemporary Yiddish moral literature and especially in the significance she assigns to her own life experience, Glikl’s memoirs serve admirably for putting herself firmly into the historical picture of early modern Germany.

Two studies of religious women are next in the roughly chronological order of this blog. The first of these is Sue E. Houchins’ and Baltasar Fra-Molinero’s Black Bride of Christ, the first English translation of the Compendio de la vida ejemplar de la Venerable Madre Sor Teresa Juliana de Santo Domingo by Juan Carlos Pan y Agua (1752) , the hagiography of Teresa de Santo Domingo. Born as a tribal princess in West Africa with the name of Chicaba, enslaved by the Spanish and later freed to enter a convent, her acts of charity, her mystical experiences, and her fame as a healer or miracle worker led to her beatification after her death. The hagiographical biography translated here is not only the basis of the continuing efforts to have her canonized, but a vivid account of the life and times, struggles and successes of a black slave woman in 18th-century Spain.

Michael E. O’Sullivan’s Disruptive Power then focuses on a similarly fascinating and influential religious woman in the context of a surprising revival of faith in Catholic miracles in Germany from the 1920s to the 1960s, originating from the case of this particular mystic and stigmatic, Therese Neumann of Konnersreuth. O’Sullivan explores the political and social agenda of the “rebellious traditionalists” which were her followers, from theologians, politicians and journalists to Cardinals and everyday pilgrims, and their route from the Weimar Republic through the Third Reich, and into the Federal Republic of Germany. Drawing on archival material from Germany and the US, the focus also widens to visionaries and mystics in a number of rural towns after World War II, providing micro-histories that illuminate the impact of mystical faith on religiosity, politics, and gender norms.

The final three studies I would like to highlight in this month’s blog are studies of modern history, and two of them show the truth of the well-known aphorism that well-behaved women never make history – they are accounts of some of the female troublemakers, dissidents, agitators and campaigners who challenged the male dominance of democracy, religion and society, and in doing so changed the world. Hedwig Richter’s Frauenwahlrecht documents the fight of women for their right to vote from the middle of the 19th to their successes in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, and beyond these to the struggle for equal rights for women still ongoing today. The women’s movements to claim their space in the public and political sphere undeniably caused one of the great changes of society mentality, and the various contributions to this volume show the eventful history of women’s suffrage from a number of different perspectives with a distinct focus on the international character of this struggle. Helen Lewis with Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights then really takes the aphorism to heart, showing how much of feminism’s success can be attributed to complicated, contradictory, or imperfect women. However, because they were fighting each other as well as fighting for equal rights many of these difficult women have, Lewis argues, been whitewashed or forgotten in the modern search for feel-good, inspirational heroines. Drawing on archival research and interviews Lewis presents the histories of these troublemakers, from working-class suffragettes to the twenty-first-century campaigners for abortion services, in an attempt to show the history of women’s rights in an unvarnished light.

Sandra Soler Campo’s Mujeres músicas takes the history of women composers, performers or conductors right up to the present time in a re-discovery of professional females who were, she argues, silenced and often ignored until the 70s and 80s of the last century, when at last a considerable number of female musicians began to be sufficiently acknowledged in the English-speaking world as both prominent and influential. Soler Campo traces the challenges faced by female musicians from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic and into the twentieth century; looks at contributions made to the history of women musicians in musicology, history and gender studies; and examines female professional musicians as orchestra members, conductors, composers, and performers in the 20th and 21st century, discussing the difficulties they face, advances they have made, and the goals to be achieved for them in the 21st century.

You can find more studies that contribute to Women’s History on our LibraryThing profile tagged with “women” or “feminism“.

Please note: as the Bodleian Libraries are closed during the current COVID-19 outbreak, this new history books blog will unfortunately be on hiatus for the duration of the global health crisis. You can explore our LibraryThing shelf here, either by simply browsing or by exploring tags for subjects you are interested in, and access past themed blog posts on the Bodleian new books here.

Bodleian New History Books: February 2020 – Cultural History

Bodleian New History Books: February 2020 – Cultural History

Under the name of Kulturgeschichte cultural history as a widely inclusive discipline has been practiced for more than two centuries, when the historical studies of previously separate areas such as philosophy, music, literature, art, and language were subsumed under the umbrella term of ”human culture” (Burke, 2019, p.7), and attention turned to studying these combined issues for the whole of an individual country or defined era of time instead. A classic of the genre, Huizinga’s 1919 The Waning of the Middle Ages deals not only with masterpieces of art, music, philosophy, but also with the connections between various pieces of art their historical and societal context (the “spirit of the age” or “Zeitgeist”), reading pieces of art, paintings, or poems as evidence of the culture of the society in which they were produced. But the definition of “culture” as comprising of such masterpieces of art or literature has of course long vanished  – already Thompson’s 1963 The Making of the English Working Class looked at culture as a sphere which included everything from economic and political changes to food and dialect poetry (Burke, 2019). Around the same time cultural historians then also discovered “popular culture” or “Volkskultur”, such as expressed folk tales, songs, dances, rituals and traditions, arts and crafts, again in their wider context – Hobsbawm’s 1959 The Jazz Scene considers this style of music alongside its audience and societal implications.

In the 1980s the term ‘cultural history’ itself also changed meaning, so that it covered quite traditional histories of artistic and intellectual production as well as something different, called the “new cultural history”. Since then the boundaries of the subject have continuously stretched – by now the elite “high” culture of art and objects d’art, architecture, music, literature, philosophy and sciences has expanded both “downwards” to include “low” or popular culture, and also widthways to include, say, not only paintings but images of any kind, not only plastic art but the tools used to make it, not only art but artisan crafts, not just architecture but simply the houses people live in, not just ballet and theatre but folk dances and games, and not only literature but also people’s everyday reading habits (Burke, 2019).

Modern cultural history studies beliefs and ideas of intellectual elites as well as the often unwritten notions of the less privileged and less educated. It looks at artistic cultural expressions as well as the objects and experiences of everyday life, and at everyday attitudes, values, assumptions, and prejudices, and the behaviours that express them (Rubin, 2008). In short, today cultural history by no means restricts itself to the study of what used to be understood as “culture”, as in, activities within the sphere of ‘high culture’; nor is it exclusively “history”, as in, the interpretation of symbolic acts and rituals of people in the past. “Cultural studies” encompass anything from political economy to geography, sociology, social theory, literary theory, film/video studies, cultural anthropology, philosophy, and art history and criticism. Studies published over the last two decades that call themselves “a cultural history” have covered, for example (in a sense that goes back somewhat to the old idea of Kulturgeschichte) whole countries or regions such as Australia, Andalucia, or Provence, but also such rather diverse human ideas, organisations, issues and institutions the American Dream, the Mafia, idiocy, impotence, and Japanese love hotels.

It seems true, then, that in this day and age cultural history has become the ”history of everything” – maybe T.S. Eliot in his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture just said it best:

Taking now the point of view of identification, the reader must remind himself as the author has constantly to do, of how much is there embraced in the term culture. It includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people: Derby Day, the Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth-century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar. The reader can make his own list.

In the spirit of Eliot, the new Bodleian books I would like to highlight in this month’s blog are still very much historical studies, but of a rather wide range of eras and locations, and well as of widely diverse subjects – all of which, however, can still be classed under the great umbrella term of “cultural history”.

Two new studies ambitiously aim at a comprehensive view of “culture” throughout a specific era, namely the Middle Ages – Albrecht Classen’s Handbook of Medieval Culture, a follow-up publication to the  3-volume Handbook of Medieval Studies, offers compact articles on essential topics, ideals, specific knowledge, and concepts defining the medieval world from issues such as love and marriage, belief in God, hell and the devil, education, lordship and servitude, Christianity versus Judaism and Islam, health, medicine, the rural world, the rise of the urban class, travel, roads and bridges, entertainment, games and sport activities, numbers, measuring, the education system, the papacy, saints, the senses, death, and money – and is thus a history of medieval “culture” very much in T.S. Eliot’s sense of the term. A slightly different approach is taken by Rafael García Sánchez in Trazas medievales: una aproximación cultural: arguing against the still persisting image of the Middle Ages as an era of illiterate rural communities, he presents them as a time of cultured urbanity, touching on a wide variety of social, religious, economic, literary and artistic cultural spheres and influences from Christianity and the role of the Church, monasteries, and cathedrals to universities, boroughs and castles; and from scribes to guilds, bankers, and artists.

More specialised in the subjects (or rather objects) of its study, but with a rather wider view of both time and location, Peter N. Miller’s Cultural Histories of the Material World looks at the study of material culture from a historical perspective, and explores how studying material and materiality can enable new and different cultural historical perspectives. The topics touched on range from prehistoric to indigenous and postcolonial art, from antiquarian collectors to Chinese landscape inscriptions, and from music and recipes to the history of Facebook. Material culture is also at the centre of Tracy Chapman Hamilton’s intriguing Moving Women Moving Objects (400-1500), which discusses medieval aristocratic and royal women, their relationships with their objects, and medieval geography. It follows the movement of their belongings to trace their widespread familial and geographic spaces, from early medieval Scandinavia to Byzantium and Rus’, and various European countries, looking not only at manuscripts, sculpture or liturgical and secular ceremonial instruments, but at everyday personal items such as textiles, jewellery, and even shoes.

Two other new books look at the rather more traditional sphere of “high culture”, here in the areas of music and language – though, in the spirit of a more modern definition of culture, connected to wider issues of politics, economics and society. La réglementation de l’Opéra de Paris, 1669-2019 actually eschews the much-studied issues of performers and performances, and instead brings together editions of principal administrative documents of the Parisian Opera, which regulated artistic, economic and social aspects of its performances, and allow researchers to explore the links between the Opera and political power over the space of three and a half centuries. Less wide in time, but ranging wider geographically is The Whole World in a Book, which offers studies of dictionaries in the 19th century, from British and American English to French, German, Russian, and further afield to Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Persian, Greek, and Latin. The different contributions explore the position of dictionaries as tools of national identity and social inclusiveness in a period of globalization, industrialization, social mobility, new technologies and ways of communication which were dramatically changing languages, and in which rising literacy rates, book consumption, and advertising led to a unprecedented popularization of the dictionary.

The remaining four new books I would highlight in this blog are probably best classed as belonging to a wider area of the “history of culture and ideas”, with a focus on the way human ideas, opinions, and emotions shape human culture. Two of these deal mainly with the medieval world: a Festschrift for William Ian Miller, Emotion, Violence, Vengeance and Law in the Middle Ages, keeps what its title promises, and offers a truly wide-ranging selection of studies connected with these four aspects of human culture and society. A section on emotions, violence, vengeance and law in Medieval historical sources contains studies of early modern German homicide trials, trials by ordeal in Medieval England and the issues of gender and genitalia in 14th century Swiss courts, while studies of literary sources range from contributions on Njáls saga and the feuds of Norwegian kings to sexual revenge, vengeance in movies set in the Middle Ages, decapitation in Iron-Age Mesopotamia, and silence as a weapon in Sense and Sensibility. A rather more pleasant aspect of medieval culture is the topic of Lars Kjaer’s The Medieval Gift and the Classical Tradition, which explores how classical ideals of generosity influenced the writing and practice of gift giving in medieval England from 1100 to 1300. Instead of reading medieval gift giving as deriving from oral ‘folk models’ as proposed by social anthropologists and sociologists, the study looks at the impact of classical literature and philosophy on this particular aspect of medieval culture and ritual, and at how ideas from, for example, Seneca the Younger’s De beneficiis and Cicero’s De officiis were received, adapted and utilised by medieval writers across a range of genres, and influenced the practice of generosity.

The final two studies deal with aspects of culture in early modern Europe. Tony Claydon’s The Revolution in Time explores how people in Western Europe changed the way they thought about the concept of time over the early modern period, specifically focussing on reactions to the 1688-1689 revolution in England. Claydon presents a complex model of changes in chronological conception at the time, looking at how contemporaries fit the rapid changes of the revolution into their concept of history, and how new ideas about chronology and time allowed the revolution to be seen as the start of a new era, rather than as a reiteration of timeless principles of politics, or as a stage in an eternal and pre-determined struggle for true religion. Finally, the contributions in a new collection on Cultures of Calvinism in Early Modern Europe emphasize that Reformed Protestantism did not present as a uniform tradition but varied across space and time, with multiple iterations of Calvinism developing and impacting upon differing European communities. In this they cover a wide field, discussing the association of Calvinism with print and literary cultures, with republican, liberal, and participatory political cultures, with cultures of violence and vandalism, enlightened cultures, cultures of social discipline, secular cultures, and with the emergence of capitalism.

You can find more books on the topic on our LibraryThing virtual shelf, tagged as “cultural history“.

Bodleian New History Books: January 2020 – World War II

Bodleian New History Books: January 2020 – World War II

The annual Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls into this month and marks the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945, is certainly already occasion enough to devote this month’s blog to new books on the history of World War II. This year of 2020, however, is of course the 75th anniversary of this event as well as of the swiftly following end of the Second World War. Holocaust Day is thus only one of a number of occasions this year which prompt us to commemorate and reflect on the events of the final months of the war in 1945, from the suicide of Adolf Hitler on April 30 to V-E Day on May 8, and from the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 and V-J (“Victory in Japan”) Day on 15 August to the final surrender of Japan on September 2, which officially brought the hostilities of World War II to an end.

The famous and often-quoted words of the Spanish philosopher George Santayana that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” have surely never been as apt as with reference to the Holocaust – and to the worrying rise of neo-Nazis and re-emerging anti-Semitic sentiments in our 21st century. A number of new history books that focus on World War II strongly emphasise this “learning” from history – there is a distinct tendency towards fostering understanding about rather than documenting the events of the war, and rather than politics it is social as well as psychological aspects of the war which take centre stage in the more recent publications. A majority of the eleven new history books on World War II which the Bodleian has recently acquired (and I would like to highlight in this month’s blog) prioritize people over politics, and strive for an understanding of their lives and societies, personalities and emotions, influences and motivations in order to learn from the past, and to avoid repetition of it at any cost.

Life in Nazi Germany

It is a truism that individual human stories can convey a sense of immediacy of history that even detailed facts or statistics can never hope to reach. This may be especially true in the case of the Holocaust, where even the horrifying number of 1.1 million dead in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp does not add anywhere near as much to our comprehension and understanding as the personal account of a single survivor.

Erik Beck’s Lebensbrüche shows this clearly in its collection of ten stories of people from the Paderborn region of Germany who got caught up in the Nazi state’s machinery of persecution. The portraits of the emotional and mental lives of these victims of the Nazi regime uncover the structures of terror that pervaded society in this rural region. It stresses the wide-ranging and long-lasting consequences of the persecution which left survivors suffering mentally and physically, and also denounces the further injustice of lacking compensation or financial aid in their lives after the war.

In stark contrast to these tales, another three new books on offer a view from the other side of the divide – as promised in its title, Bernd Wegner’s Das deutsche Paris: der Blick der Besatzer 1940-1944 shows life in occupied Paris from the point of view of the German forces. The documentary collage presents a large variety of contemporary voices and images of the lives of German soldiers and civilian occupiers, lived between victory euphoria and fear of the future, and those of the occupied population, lived in a precarious balancing act between resistance and collaboration. Elizabeth Harvey similarly puts people and society in the foreground in her discussion of Private Life and Privacy in Nazi Germany, which focuses on the different ways in which Germans and German families, as well as ‘ethnic Germans’ in occupied Poland, and German Jews living in ghettos, tried to protect their privacy in the face of both the enthusiastically embraced notions of community and the pressure of the Nazi surveillance state. Harvey offers new insights into the degree to which the regime permitted or even fostered such aspirations, and offers some surprising conclusions about how private roles and private self-expression could be served by, and in turn serve, an alignment with the community. Inquiries not just into their private lives, but deep into the mind of the more radical Germans lie at the heart of Lothar Fritze’s Die Moral der Nationalsozialisten, which focuses on the self-image of Nazi perpetrators and the paradoxical way in which they justified their actions with their own moral beliefs, becoming “perpetrators with a clear conscience”. The study looks at the often-discussed “different morality” of the National Socialists and their mechanisms of self-justification, and shows how ideologically convinced Nazis made non-moral assumptions and held non-moral beliefs which led to rationally unacceptable and morally illegitimate justifications for their actions.


While thus individuals make history more immediate, there are also individuals who make history, full stop. A handful of the new books present biographies of some of the major players in the war, examining their deeds, their character, and their motivations as well as analyzing the impact their deeds had on the course of the war, and striving for an understanding of their personality and motivations.

Two Frenchmen and one German who played large or at least interesting roles on both sides of the battle lines stand in the centre of three of such biographical studies. Max Schiavon’s Les carnets secrets du général Huntziger (1939-1941) presents some of the personal notebooks of the controversial French general whose influential career included posts as head of France’s Second Army and leader of the negotiations of the 1940 armistice as well as commander-in-chief of the French land forces and Minister of Defence under the Vichy government. His notebooks, which unlike many other such documents remained unexpurgated and unedited after the war due to Huntziger’s accidental death in a plane crash, provide a wealth of information on contemporary political and military leaders, and their roles in the war. Somewhat less famous, and still influencing the course of the war in a rather different way, is another Frenchman, whose life and career is traced by Yves Pourcher in Le radio-traître: Jean Hérold-Paquis, la voix de la collaboration: a French collaborator and National Socialist, Jean Hérold-Paquis gained notoriety as a broadcaster with Radio Paris from 1942, and, after his flight to Germany in 1944, with Radio Patrie, and is still remembered for his catchphrase of “England, like Carthage, shall be destroyed!”. Pourcher traces the journalist’s career to its bitter end using the same archived audiotapes that served as evidence at his trial in 1945, which was rapidly followed by his execution on 11 October 1945 at the age of only 33. A German who gained fame of a completely different kind is the focus of Stauffenberg – mein Großvater war kein Attentäter: the Germany army colonel who was the driving force behind the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. In this study Stauffenberg’s granddaughter Sophie von Bechtolsheim presents her own very personal view through stories and memories of her grandfather and grandmother, family pictures, and the image of him presented in the media and in previous biographies. It is her attempt to free her grandfather from both the accolade of shining hero and the stigma of assassin, and to understand him as a man of his time.

But however crucial any of these three men might have been to the course of the war, there is of course no single man who bears more responsibility than Adolf Hitler himself, who is the subject of two final two books in his list of new biographies from WWII. In How Hitler was made Cory Taylor uses archival research in Germany, England, and the US to analyse the political and social situation in Hitler’s formative period immediately following World War I (1918-1924). Much focus lies on the attempted socialist revolution in Bavaria and the right-wing extremists who groomed an obscure, embittered malcontent, and whose manipulation of facts and use of propaganda helped to prime the German public into readiness for a man with political cunning and oratorical powers who would blame Jews and Communists for all of Germany’s problems. Focusing on the same inter-war period Brendan Simms presents a detailed look into the mind, world views, opinions and especially ambitions of the later dictator in a new biography titled Hitler: only the world was enough, which traces the emergence of Hitler’s ideology following the First World War. Arguing that Hitler’s main obsession was not the threat of Bolshevism, but that of international capitalism and Anglo-America, Simms analyses Hitler’s view of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ (the British Empire and the United States) as powers founded on appropriation of land, racism and violence: his determination to secure the ‘living space’ necessary to survive in a world dominated by these powers: and his desire to create a similarly global future for Germany by the same means.


The consequences of the WWII can be felt unto this day in innumerable aspects of our world, from the individual fates of Holocaust survivors to the political landscape of the entire European continent and to the way the modern world views ideological tendencies of Neo-Nazism or antisemitism. The final three books I would like to focus on in this blog deal with the aftereffects of the Second World War in only two relatively narrow spheres: the political climate and foreign policy of present-day Germany, and the legal aftermath of the drawn-out Nuremberg Trials which prosecuted prominent members of the political, military, judicial, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany for their war crimes.

In Normandie 1944 Jochen Thies labels the Allied Forces’ Normandy landings on D-Day, 6 June 1944, the “compass” of modern German foreign politics, and explains how the event still functions as a moral touchstone and source of a catalogue of values for international foreign policy in the Western world. His analysis sheds light on a number of decisions taken in matters of foreign policy by Western nations, and the author pleads for Germany to remain, both in mind and in deeds, an active part of this group, which is still the foundation of the global alliance that shares responsibility for the world we live in. A curious part of the war’s immediate legal aftermath is highlighted by Margaretha Franziska Vordermayer in Justice for the enemy?, which discusses military court cases in the British occupation zone, in which British officers served as lawyers for the German defendants opposite other British officers in the roles of prosecutors and judges, as an interesting form of transnational encounter. The suppression rather than execution of justice is then focus of NS-Justiz und Rechtsbeugung by Alexander Hoeppel, who opens up the question of why German practitioners of law were rarely sentenced for the crimes they committed during the Nazi era. Judging that the criminal punishment for the injustice committed by the judiciary in the Third Reich has failed, Hoeppel’s research into the legal reasoning on which these judgments were based reveals a case of “criminal self-immunization” in a development which, he claims, continues until this day.

You can find more of our books on the subject of the Second World War on our LibraryThing shelf tagged with “World War II“, “Holocaust“, “National Socialism/Nazism“, or “Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)“.

Bodleian New History Books: December 2019 – Marginality

Bodleian New History Books: December 2019: Marginality

In a working paper on the root causes of extreme poverty, Gatzweiler et al. (2011) define marginality as “an involuntary position and condition of an individual or group at the margins of social, political, economic, ecological, and biophysical systems”. Any individual or subgroup located outside the predominant socio-economic, geographical or even biological systems of a society, or anyone who appears to deviate in any way from the perceived norms of the “mainstream” or “core group” of a population, may thus become marginalised, and subject to social exclusion.

The reasons for such marginalisation, social exclusion, and resulting alienation, are copious and varied, ranging from a person’s race, skin colour, and ethnic origin, to their religious affiliation, sexual preferences, educational status and social class, way of life, political opinion, physical appearance or bodily and mental health, all the way to age or gender. It thus affects groups as diverse as racial, ethnical or religious minorities, LGBTQ+ people, the working class, drug users or sex workers, ex-convicts or institutional care leavers, people with a disability or simply divergent body shape, the elderly of both genders, or women of any age.

Individuals or groups affected by such social exclusion are prevented from participating fully in the economic, social, and political life of the society in which they live – in Dworkin and Dworkin’s Minority Report (1982) the two main characteristics of “identifiability” and “group awareness” of such societally marginalised minorities go hand in hand with two more characteristics of “differential power” and “differential and pejorative treatment”. However, continued pejorative treatment of a marginal or minority group by a society can also result in active opposition against such exclusion – in the form of protests, demonstrations or lobbying, or, in extreme cases, violent resistance, revolts, revolutions, and anarchism.

Minority studies have a firm place in both sociological and historical studies – for one, what exactly a society, whether contemporary or historical, considers its “mainstream” norms or “core groups”, as well as how it treats non-conformists, marginal groups, and outcasts, can be highly informative and enlightening for sociologists and historians. For another, there is a long overdue and welcome movement to acknowledge the importance – or, if you want, the centrality – of marginal groups for our understanding of history. With Black History Month (1st-31st October) just past, and Disability History Month (22nd November – 22nd December) ongoing, it seems certainly fitting to highlight in this month’s blog some of our new history books which discuss humans, whether individuals or groups, on the margins of historic societies – marginalised because of the state of their mind or body, because beliefs they hold are considered heretical and unorthodox, because of their gender, or because they do not fit (or want to fit) into a certain political or societal system.

Marginalities of Mind and Body

Throughout the course of history, sadly up to and including the 20th century, societies have for the most part not been kind to anyone with bodily or mental disabilities, or mental disorders. In Viewing Disability in Medieval Spanish Texts Connie L. Scarborough looks at examples of disability in relationship to legal precepts, medical knowledge, and especially theological teachings in Spanish medieval miracle narratives, hagiographies, didactic tales, and epic poetry. When viewed through the lens of religion, disabled individuals would usually be seen as “disgraced”, the disability viewed as an outward sign of inward corruption – but also occasionally as “graced”, when for example a miraculous cure showed evidence of divine intervention. A similar exception, where an unorthodox mental state translated into a “graced” rather than a “disgraced” state, exists in the case of medieval mystics such as the ultimately self-marginalised anchorite Julian of Norwich: Amy Laura Hall’s Laughing at the Devil examines Julian’s calls to scorn rather than fear the devil, thus fostering hope, solidarity, and resistance instead of dread in her contemporary audience.

A rather different treatment was accorded to those individuals with mental health issues who were inmates of the infamous Bedlam: London’s Hospital for the Mad over the first 700 years of its long history. Paul Chambers traces the hospital’s administrative, political, and medical  history from its founding in the 13th century through its popularity in the 17th, 18th and early 19th century to a modern institute of the NHS today. A final volume on the topic of marginalities of mind and body treats a group of individuals who are strictly speaking still marginalised due to “bodily differences” – Caroline Callard’s Le temps des fantômes tries to identify the place of the “corporeally challenged”, of ghosts or spirits, in the society of the Ancien Régime of the 16th and 17th centuries. Having survived the advent of natural philosophy, a belief in ghosts continued to form part of human existence both in everyday life and in scholarly and political discourse, forcing the living to engage with the dead – whether in order to banish unwanted hauntings, to communicate with deceased with valuable information, or even to encourage the continued presence of lost loved ones in their lives.

Marginalities in Science

Just as with unorthodox states of body or mind, unorthodox ideas have historically clashed with the norms of society – and innovations of science particularly have a long history of conflict with the teachings of established religions, resulting in the persecution, banishment, imprisonment, excommunication, or even execution of the scientists who promoted them.

Heliocentrism is a case in point – the nine essays in the collection Copernicus Banned thematise the causes, promotion, aftermath, and various philosophical, theological, political and cultural aspects of the discussions that arose around the decree issued by the Holy Office of the Catholic Church on 5 March 1616, which condemned De revolutionibus orbium caelestium by Nicolaus Copernicus 75 years after his death. Rather more directly affected by the decree was, 17 years later, another even more famous heliocentrist, whose nonconformist worldview similarly resulted in his societal marginalisation. The condemnation of Copernicanism is generally acknowledged to have been an essential element of the trial of Galileo Galilei, and the recent re-issue of Oppositori di Galileo, part of Antonio Favaro’s vast oeuvre, still offers the reader hints, insights and essential documents for the understanding of this fascinating figure more than a century after its first publication. Controversies and social exclusions arising from pushing the boundaries of medicine rather than astronomy in Reformation Germany are then discussed in Hannah Murphy’s A New Order of Medicine. Focus of her study are the careers of municipal physicians who practiced subversive anatomical experimentations, displacing apothecaries from their place at the forefront of medical practice, and establishing an elite medical order in the German city of Nuremberg.

Marginal Women

That living on the margins of, distanced, or largely closed off from society does not necessarily mean disempowerment is an issue raised by Steven Vanderputten in Dark Age Nunneries, which examines life and society in and around forty female monastic communities in Lotharingia in the years 800-1050. Vanderputten highlights the striving of these women for agency as religious communities, as well as for involvement in and influence over the attitudes and behaviours of the lay society around them. A similar struggle for female agency is documented by Lisa Hopkins in Women on the Edge in Early Modern Europe, which examines the lives of women whose gender impeded the exercise of their personal, political, and religious action, with an emphasis on the conflict that occurred when they crossed the restraints society placed on people of their gender – from the French chemist Marie Meurdrac, author of the women’s chemistry primer La chymie charitable et facile, en faveur des dames, to the alleged prophetess Anna Trapnell of 1650s England, to Queen Cecilia of Sweden.

Resistance against a denial of, and efforts to reclaim their political rights are also the issue for the women in Martine Lapied’s L’engagement politique des femmes dans le sud-est de la France de l’Ancien Régime à la Révolution. Lapied examines material from Provençal and Comtadine archives and local historiography to asses the role of women in public spaces in both Old Regime and after the turning point of the Revolution, when women patriots started to assert themselves and participate in the Revolution as well as in the politics of the Terror. Marginalized French women are also the subject of Patricia Tilburg’s Working Girls, which discusses female labourers in the garment trade of fin de siècle Paris, who faced political and sexual subordination. The working lives of these women, from the romanticised haute couture workers called midinettes to the over 80,000 real working women and their demands for better labour conditions, are vividly illustrated by primary sources ranging from letters to speeches, from union meeting minutes to travel guides, and from policy briefs to popular songs.

Marginalities in politics and society

Marginalisation through one’s position within a political system means being pushed to those margins through the neglect or disregard of those in political power – and occasionally taking arms against a sea of troubles through passive or active opposition against the system.

The essays collected in A Global History of Runaways discuss groups marginalised by race and geography as well as class and social status, but unwilling to tolerate this marginalisation and resulting enforced labour: slaves, indentured servants, convicts, domestic workers, soldiers, and sailors challenged the new economic order of emerging Capitalism by running away from their masters and bosses in the British, Danish, Dutch, French, Mughal, Portuguese, and American empires from 1600 to 1850. From escaped convicts in the Danish West Indies and Australia, to deserters in Bengal, French Louisiana and the Dutch East India Company, the essays chart the consequences of these movements for larger political events such as undermining Danish colonization in the 17th century, or igniting the American civil war in the 19th. More resistance by a marginalised group against the established political system, though here extreme and violent, is the topic of Nunzio Pernicone’s and Fraser Ottanelli’s Assassins against the Old Order. The authors chart the historical, social, cultural, and political conditions behind the phenomenon of anarchist violence in Italy around the turn of the 20th century. In an effort to expose the myth and discredit the exaggerated, demonic image of the anarchist assassin in the popular stereotype of an “Italian” armed with a bloody knife or revolver and driven to violence by a combination of radical politics, madness, innate criminality, and poor genes, Pernicone and Ottanelli strive to paint a rather more accurate picture of the intellectual origins, milieu, and nature of Italian anarchist violence with vivid portraits of some of the major players of the movement.

Suppression of marginal groups through exclusion from political debate, and their eventual demarginalisation through political re-engagement, is the topic of Sarah Haßdenteufel’s Neue Armut, Exklusion, Prekarität. The study raises the issue of the disappearance of poverty not in real life, but as a topic of political debate in the wake of economic growth in Germany and France in the second half of the 20th century, and with this disappearance the exclusion of citizens marginalised by poverty from the social and political agenda. Only after around 1970s the issue of “new poverty” despite the expansion of the welfare state, and its causes and possible remedies, re-enters political discussion, and Haßdenteufel analyses the semantics used and the idea of poverty and the poor presented in this new debate of a long-neglected topic. The final volume I would like to highlight in this blog deals with individuals marginalised and neglected by history, historians and historiography – in Vies oubliées Arlette Farge rediscovers these “forgotten lives” from snippets of information in archives ignored and rejected by historians, using these snapshots to reconstruct the social, emotional and political lives of priests, policemen, women, workers, servants, and artisans from the margins of history in 18th-century France, and revealing images of the human body at work or in pain, the human mind in care and in revolt, and words of love and desire, violence and compassion.

You can find more books on the topic on our virtual bookshelf on LibraryThing tagged with “marginalitiy” or “minorities“.