New Bodleian History Books: June 2019 – Kings and Queens

For millennia kings and queens, emperors and empresses, royal consorts and mistresses, and in general members of royal houses have captured the attention of historians, historiographers, biographers, anthropologists, social scientists, theologians and the common people alike – from Suetonius and De vita Caesarum to Hello! Magazine. Because the earliest roots of kingship are found in sacral power, kings have been (and occasionally still are) considered by their people to have divine ancestry, even to the point of being revered as living gods; an idea that still continued in a way into the Christian Middle Ages through the concept of the divine right of kings. Monarchy or kingship (or queenship) thus denotes not only to a form of government but also to a supposed quality of “majesty” which marks rulers and their families as exceptional, and seems to still lie at the core of the fascination with royalty found in today’s society.

Examples of monarchs can be drawn from all four corners of the world, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the kings of Babylon and Minoan Crete, the emperors of ancient China, Japan, and Byzantium, the Caesars of Rome, the kingdoms of medieval Europe, and the emirates and sultanates of North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Until as late as the 20th century monarchy was the most common form of government, and while most monarchs today do not wield anywhere near the power of the kings and queens of old, they are still the heads of state in 45 nations across the world in both constitutional and autocratic monarchies – so there is plenty of material not only for the royalty-hungry tabloids of today, but also for the historians who chart how kings and queens and royal families influenced the time in which they lived, and shifted the course of history.

Mirrors for Princes

The speculum principum as a genre of political writing has its roots in the early Middle Ages, but theories of ideal kingship, books of advice for new rulers, or collections of examples of great rulers, are a type of writing that seems almost as old as the institution of monarchy itself – and continues in some form to today with self-help books on leadership such as Covey’s The 7 habits of highly effective people (1999) or Goleman’s Primal Leadership (2002).A new edition of the most famous example of the genre is just out by Cambridge UP in Machiavelli: The Prince with a revision of Russell Price’s acclaimed translation and a rewritten and extended introduction by Quentin Skinner, an improved timeline of key events in Machiavelli’s life, and an enlarged and fully updated bibliography. The essay collection Concepts of Ideal Rulership from Antiquity to the Renaissance (also available online), on the other hand, deliberately stays away from such classic specula as The Prince or earlier examples such as Seneca’s On Clemency, and instead examines ideas of rulership discussed in other literary genres, from Plato’s dialogues and Aristotle’s ideas on kingship to the advice of the Byzantine peasant-turned-emperor Basil I to his son Leo VI in the 9th century, and literature aimed at the later medieval Italian officials called podestà. Finally, in Autorità e consenso: regnum e monarchia nell’Europa medievale Maria Pia Alberzoni discusses the idea of or “monarchy” in the European Middle Ages as a model formulated on the examples offered by the Classical (Roman Imperial) world, but revised through reference to the Bible and other European nations, with a focus on the developments of the concept of legitimate power and its affirmation.

Empires and Emperors

If rulers of single nations make their mark on history and attract the interest of the historian, the more so do the rulers of multiple nations amalgamated into an empire.

In Emperor: A New Life of Charles V Geoffrey Parker draws on new evidence for a study of the world’s first transatlantic empire with an account of the life of Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), ruler of Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and much of Italy and Central and South America. Parker’s biography explores both political aspects in Charles’ achievements and the decisions that created and preserved his vast empire, and more intimate details of the ruler’s life for any insight into his character and inclinations. A comparison of two dynasties of near-contemporary medieval emperors is offered in an essay collection on the Staufen and Plantagenets. Contributions discuss a wide range of issues on these German and the English royal houses of the 12th century, including the images of their respective rulers on coins and seals, the ideas and ideals of kingship propagated in their narratives, the expansion of their domains by marriage, or the issue of ruling a territory that stretches across barriers like the English channel and the Alps.

Queens and Consorts

Among the predominantly male monarchs throughout the ages, powerful and successful female rulers tend to stand out even more, and have been accorded rather more attention over the last half century; and although they may not nominally reign, the influence and power wielded by the wives and consorts of kings and emperors is now also being recognised.

Catherine Hanley discusses the woman who was arguably England’s first regnant queen in Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior. While undeniably closely tied to powerful male monarchs as daughter of the English king Henry I, wife of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V and Geoffrey of Anjou, and mother of England’s Henry II, Matilda was an impressive, powerful, and fascinating woman in her own right as an empress, the first ever female heir to the English crown, and an able military and political leader. A woman similarly in the shadow of more famous and powerful male royals around her is the subject of Conor Byrne’s monograph Katherine Howard: Henry VIII’s Slandered Queen: a woman stripped of her title of queen not 16 months after becoming the monarch’s fifth wife, and beheaded three months later at only 18 or 19 years of age. The study challenges her notorious reputation of promiscuity and accusations of adultery, attempts to redeem her as the monarch’s most defamed queen and adjust a popular opinion skewed by her representations in media. A reigning queen who very much overshadowed her own prince consort, on the other hand, is Queen Victoria (1819–1901). In her new biography The Young Victoria Deidre Murphy charts the years preceding her 63-year-long reign in a volume which includes portraits of the queen as princess, childhood diaries and sketchbooks, clothing, jewellery, and correspondence, and paints a vivid picture of Victoria’s early years through accounts of her personal relationships with famous people such as her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and Prince Albert, as well as with lesser-known figures such has her first schoolmaster, her governess, and her half-sister.


You can find more books on the subject on our online LibraryThing shelf tagged with kings and rulers, queens and royal consorts, and monarchy.

New Bodleian History Books: May 2019 – War

War is
A grave affair of state;
It is a place
Of life and death,
A road
To survival and extinction,
A matter
To be pondered carefully.

Thus Sun Tzu in his Art of War (p. 6), the probably earliest philosophical treatise on a phenomenon of human interaction which more than any other has been credited with shaping and changing the course of history. From the Thermopylae (480 BC) and Marathon (490 BC) to Stamford Bridge and Hastings (1066); from Agincourt (1415) and the Siege of Orléans (1428-29) to Trafalgar (1805) and Waterloo (1815); from Saratoga (1777) and Gettysburg (1863) to the “Battle of Britain” (1940) and Stalingrad (1942-43) – the outcome of battles has determined the outcome of wars, and the outcome of wars has determined the fate of the nations who fought them.

No wonder then, that battles, war, warfare, and military history are topics to be found frequently in the new history books at the Bodleian every week – the nine volumes I’d like to present here are only some of the books on war in history that are newly arrived this month.

War and Culture

In his recent study War in Human Civilisation, Azar Gat collects some of the fundamental questions on war and its relationship to human civilisation:

Why do people engage in the deadly and destructive activity of fighting?…Have people always engaged in fighting or did they start to do so only with the advent of agriculture, the state, and civilization? How were these, and later, major developments in human history affected by war and, in turn, how did they affect war? (p. ix)

Three of the books on war new this month tackle such questions of its impact on or relationship to humans and their culture and cultural ideas.

Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), Prussian General and military theorist, and veteran of the Napoleonic wars, argues in his treatise Vom Kriege (On War) that the violence of war “arms itself with the inventions of Art and Science” – that is, with ideas (i.e. tactics and strategy), and with technology (i.e. weaponry). Two of the new studies argue that it is in fact not technology, but the human mind which is the most powerful weapon of all. Both studies take a macrohistoric approach to the topic – in Carnage and Culture Victor Davis Hanson discusses nine landmark battles from the victory of the Greeks against Xerxes at Salamis to the Tet offensive, arguing that it is positive Western culture and values which produce superior arms and soldiers. Similarly, John A. Lynn in Battle: A History of Combat and Culture looks at examples from several millennia and from around the globe to explore the way ideas, far more than bullets or bombs, shape the conduct of warfare. Human ideas and ideologies as the causes of wars, rather than as the weapons used in the waging of them, are discussed in Arnaud Blin in his study on War and Religion. Moving from the emergence of the great monotheistic faiths in the Mediterranean through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into the modern era, he shows how religion not only fuelled a great number of conflicts but also defined the manner in which these wars were conducted and fought.

Men and Steel

In yet another famous treatise on war, Dell’arte della guerra (1521), Niccolò Machiavelli discusses four mainstays of war and their relative importance:

Men, steel, money, and bread, are the sinews of war; but of these four, the first two are more necessary, for men and steel find money and bread, but money and bread do not find men and steel. (Book 7)

The history of weaponry and weapons technology is of course closely linked to the history or war in general, and Machiavelli’s synecdochal use of “steel” comprises the entire phenomenon of the arms race, whether in the form of artillery, aircraft, firearms, missiles, or, in the 20th and 21st century, weapons of mass destruction. No less interesting are the humans who wield those weapons. Two of the new Bodleian books discuss these two closely linked aspects for the same series of medieval wars, the crusades. In Artillery in the Era of the Crusades Michael S. Fulton draws on both literary and archaeological evidence to examine the use of mechanical artillery, particularly the trebuchet, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the Levant, while Steven Tibble’s The Crusader Armies draws on a wide range of Muslim as well as Western texts and archaeological evidence to discuss strategies of attack and defence, adaptation, evolution, and cultural diversity of the two opposing armies.

War in Human Memory

Throughout human historiography and literary production wars have been reported, described, narrated in fiction, romanticised, and sparked a plethora of both poetry and prose in an effort to understand it or process the experience – from the Chanson de Roland to Shakespeare’s Henry V, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Wilfred Owen’s poetry, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Heller’s Catch-22.

Attempting an overview of such memory and memorializing of one particular war, The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the Crusades surveys the multilingual literary output on the theme of the crusades over the space of an entire millennium, from the earliest reports to the modern era, presenting the enduring legacy of the crusaders’ imagery from the chansons de geste to Walter Scott and from Charlemagne to Orlando Bloom. Memories of war with a rather shorter afterlife, and rather less romanticised and more credible, are collected by Frances Houghton in The Veterans’ Tale, accounts of how British veterans of the Second World War remembered, understood, and recounted their experiences of battle throughout the post-war period, and the contrasts with official, scholarly, and cultural representations of the Second World War in Britain.

The End of the War

Clausewitz advocates a theory of two types of war, or more specifically, of two different ways to end a war: either by completely destroying the enemy, or by prescribing peace terms to him. The latter type has thankfully been rather more prevalent in recent times, and has resulted in peace treaties which are as famous and as history-defining as the wars they ended, and three of the new books look back at the conclusion of three major wars of the 20th century. A new addition to the Very Short Introduction series discusses The Treaty of Versailles on the centenary of the end of World War I, analysing the many subtle factors that influenced the treaty, and looking back at how the many conflicting objectives (such as a desire for peace after five years of disastrous war, demands for vengeance against Germany, the uncertain future of colonialism, or the emerging threat of Bolshevism) evolved throughout the remainder of the twentieth century – and also looks at its role in bringing about the conditions which ultimately led to World War II. The 70th anniversary of the conclusion of WWII, the 1945 Potsdam Agreement, is occasion for Das Potsdamer Abkommen 1945-2015, a collection of essays which discusses the conflicting objectives of the three main global powers, the Soviet Union, the USA and Great Britain, in the aftermath of the victory over Nazi Germany. Already at the time of the Potsdam Agreement, however, the battle lines were being drawn for the Cold War. The ending of this longest (if not most violent or bloodiest) war of the 20th century is discussed by Michael Cotey Morgan in The Final Act: the Helsinki Accords, if they did not actually end the Cold War, certainly served as a blueprint to do so. This account of the diplomatic saga that produced this historic agreement draws on research in eight countries and multiple languages, and argues that despite being initiated by the Soviets, the final agreement embraced liberal democratic ideals more than communist ones, and instead of restoring the legitimacy of the Soviet bloc, established principles that undermined it.

You can find more books on the subject on the History at the Bodleian LibraryThing shelf, tagged with “war”, “warfare”, “military history”, and “treaties”.

New Bodleian History Books: April 2019 – History of Science

We live in the age of  “post-truth”, of “alternative facts” and the “war on science”, in which all manner of scientific knowledge is questioned, experts are doubted, and denialism is rife. Online platforms provide sources of information which fuel the beliefs of climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers, and fill the proponents of pseudosciences such as astrology or alternative medicines with distrust in established institutions, authority and experts.

Faced with a present like this, it can be rather reassuring to take a look back at the long history of science and the development of science and scientific thought from its beginnings through to today, if only to see for yourself the uncontrovertible evidence of how science and scientific innovations and inventions have shaped the course of human history and influenced human society as it is today – whether you believe with Karl Popper that scientific knowledge is progressive and cumulative, or with Thomas Kuhn that scientific knowledge moves through paradigm shifts.

Science itself (if we define it as “the knowledge of natural regularities that is subjected to some degree of sceptical rigour and explained by rational causes”) is rather older than the invention of writing, so the long history of science begins with non-verbal evidence of “scientific” thought – neolithic structures showing astronomical alignments such as Stonehenge are an obvious example of this, or archaeological evidence for the extraction of copper and tin and later iron from metal ore which led to the Bronze and Iron Ages. But although modern “science” as such really only dates back to the scientific revolution of 16th- and 17th-century Europe, the astronomers, alchemists and natural philosophers of the Ancient world, Antiquity and the Middle Ages usually receive their well-deserved credit from historians of science for playing their important part in the accumulation of human knowledge of the natural world.

The recently arrived new Bodleian books in the subject area of history of science thus not only span an impressive number of centuries, they also illustrate the diversity of smaller fields which fall under the greater umbrella term of “history of science”: there are volumes that chart the history of a particular branch or discipline, studies with a more social focus that document the influence of scientific discoveries or technological inventions on human society, and also biographies that celebrate the lives of individual influential scientists.

Histories of Science

Three of the volumes I would like to highlight in this month’s blog are traditional “histories” of scientific disciplines. Danilo Capecchi’s The Problem of the Motion of Bodies offers a history of mechanics which presents both a synchronic analysis of individual historic periods from Antiquity through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to Modernity, as well as a diachronic discussion which makes comparisons between different periods, looking at the what inspired humans to attempt to gain insight into the mechanisms of motion. Also charting the developments of a single discipline is Edouard Mehl’s Le temps des astronomes, his discussion of astronomy in the early modern world as a method of calculating celestial movements of the future and the past, as well as its modern understanding in which this definition quickly became insufficient, inadequate, and finally obsolete. Finally, Jost Weyer’s first volume of a projected two-volume series on the history of chemistry covers first early forms of chemistry from the Greco-Roman world to the Latin Middle Ages via Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Arab world, China and India, and then moves to a description of its development into an actual science during the early modern age from the 16th to the 18th century. In its aim to show not only how chemistry changed over the course of world history, but also how chemistry itself changed world history, it would also rather neatly fit into this following second batch of books.

Science and the World

In Un trésor scientifique redécouvert Dominique Bernard introduces a collection of over a thousand scientific instruments from the mid-19th to the turn of the 20th century preserved at the University of Rennes in Brittany. Many of these were invented by or belonged such great names among scientists as Leon Foucault of the famous pendulum, the nobel prize laureates Pierre and Marie Curie, or Pierre Weiss and his electromagnets, and the volume emphasises both the historical and educational interest in these, looking at the sometimes very “modern” concepts that influenced their design. Audra J. Wolfe’s Freedom’s laboratory also focuses on the role of science and scientists in a particular historic era, namely the Cold War, where US propaganda promoted a vision of American science with an emphasis on “scientific freedom” and a “US ideology” conceived as opposed to Communist science. The continued hold of Cold War thinking on ideas about science and politics in the United States is demonstrated in following this thought through to the present day with a discussion of the recent March for Science and the prospects for science and science diplomacy in the Trump era. How specifically scientific inventions rather than scientific thought influenced the 20th and 21st century world we live in is the subject of David Segal’s aptly named One hundred patents that shaped the modern world, charting the huge impacts, many unexpected, of new inventions on multiple spheres of our lives, and placing inventions into historical perspective – from everyday items such as tarmac, aspirin, liquid crystals, ring-pulls of soft drink cans and barbed wire to history-changing ones such as Morse code, television, transistors, diodes, and gene editing.

Men and Women of Science

Marc Raboy’s biography of Guglielmo Marconi could, again, just as easily be listed with the above two volumes – it charts the life and doings of the man whose invention and patent of radio waves and establishment of stations and transmitters around the world made global communications wireless, and whose impact on modern society and life can hardly be overstated. Generally rather better known that Marconi, though not in his profession as a scientist, is the subject of a second biographical study: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Lewis Carroll of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland fame, was a lecturer in Mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Amirouche Moktefi’s book on his “mathematical world” for the first time collects the materials on his mathematical achievements, including personal letters and drawings, in a single volume which describes his writings in geometry, algebra, logic, the theory of voting, and recreational mathematics, and discusses his mathematical legacy.

You can find all our new books tagged with “History of Science” on LibraryThing here.

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!

 

 

New Books at the HFL

As it’s Black History Month, we would like to highlight new books purchased by the library which explore black history. Covering a range of topics from racial integration, slavery in the Atlantic and Black intellectual voices in the U.S. You can find these books on the New Books Display in the Upper Gladstone Link.

For a full list of recent acquisitions, including other topics, click on the image below:

Gershenhorn, Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: a life in the long black freedom struggle (2018, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press)

Harrigan, Frontiers of Servitude: Slavery in Narratives of the Early French Atlantic (2018, Manchester, Manchester University Press)

Bury My Heart in a Free Land: Black Women Intellectuals in Modern US History (2018, Santa Barbara, Praege)

Blackett, The captive’s quest for freedom : fugitive slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and thepolitics of slavery (2018, New York, Cambridge University Press)

Horne, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: the roots of slavery, white supremacy, and capitalism in seventeenth century North America and the Caribbean (2018, New York, Monthly Review Press)

Walker, The Burning House (2018, New Haven, Yale University Press)

 

There are more! Find them here.

Personalise your alerts

If you would like a personalised RSS feed so you can be alerted to our new history books, just email isabel.holowaty@bodleian.ox.ac.uk with your preferred period, country or topic.

 

New Books at the HFL

Mes amies, de rien! The library has recently purchased new books on French History, from an account of Napoleon’s life during the very eventful years of 1805-1810, to a reassessment of Thomas Paine’s influence on the French Revolution and much more.

For a full list of recent acquisitions, including other topics, click on the image below:

Broers, Napoleon. Volume 2, The spirit of the age, 1805-1810 (2018, London, Faber & Faber)

Cusimano, Selected works of Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis (2018, Washington, D.C.,The Catholic University of America Press)

Park, Papal protection and the crusader : Flanders, Champagne, and the kingdom of France, 1095-1222 (2018,  Woodbridge, The Boydell Press)

Sowerwine, France since 1870 : culture, politics and society (2018, London, Palgrave Macmillan)

Millington, Fighting for France : violence in interwar French politics (2018, Oxford, OUP)

Clark, Thomas Paine : Britain, America, and France in the age of enlightenment and revolution (2018, Oxford, OUP)

There are more! Find them here.

You will also find our New Books Display in the Upper Gladstone Link.

Personalise your alerts

If you would like a personalised RSS feed so you can be alerted to our new history books, just email isabel.holowaty@bodleian.ox.ac.uk with your preferred period, country or topic.