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.

People

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.

Aftermath

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“.

Bodleian New History Books: November 2019 – Into the 21st Century

Bodleian New History Books: November 2019 – Into the 21st Century

When do contemporary affairs become “history”?

“The increase in the velocity of history means, among other things, that the ‘present’ becomes the ‘past’ more swiftly than ever before.” Thus the American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in his address to the American Historical Association – in 1967. Schlesinger ascribes the reason for this acceleration of the rate the world is changing to human innovation:

“The transformations wrought by science and technology have acquired a cumulative momentum and an exponential effect, rushing us along by geometric, not arithmetic, progression.”

If this exponential effect of change through technology and science, and the resulting increase in the “velocity of history”, was thus a concern already at his time, at not even three quarters through the 20th century, over a decade before the invention of the internet, a good quarter of a century before email and the WWW started being used widely, and forty years before the first iPhone hit the market – how much more so do we need to be concerned about it in our age of almost daily technological innovations, ubiquitous smartphones, and especially readily available online newspapers and reporters’ blogs and tweets?

Both reporting and analytical writing can already hardly keep up with events as they happen – and at what point do “journalism”, “comment” and “analysis” become “historical writing”? Undeniably, “contemporary history” ends with the present – but by the time the historian’s analysis of events is concluded, never mind by the time their book or article is ready for publication and accessible to the public, the present has long since become the past. Trying to write the history of the present is a futile endeavour – Michael Burleigh’s 2017 book The best of times, the worst of times: a history of now, where today this “now” is already over two years out of date, clearly shows the hazard of including words like “now”, “to the present”, “contemporary”, or “recent” in the title of any history book. It is no wonder that even the most “contemporary” module in “modern history” offered by the Faculty of History here at Oxford only covers events up to and including the year 2000.

Contemporary historical writings, or the writing of contemporary history, can thus not really reflect the information explosion we have experienced since the beginning of the 21st century – SOLO lists over 8,000 physical items and over 10,000 electronic resources with the combined subjects of “21st century” and “history”. This may sound impressive, but is really not all that much compared to the nearly 120,000 books on the history of the 20th century (even if you take into account that the 21st century is so far only a fifth as long as the 20th century has been). This imbalance is certainly reflected in the new books on the subject of 21st century history that have arrived at the Bodleian over the last year: our LibraryThing tag page for “21st century” contains a mere 66 titles, only 44 of which were added since January 2019 – as compared to 1426 titles tagged with “20th century”, with 474 new books arrived since the beginning of the year.

But even among the books tagged with 21st-century history, only very few deal exclusively with events in the 21st century. Some exceptions are Beatrice Heuser’s Brexit in History, Peter Frankopan’s The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World, or Deported to Death: How Drug Violence is Changing Migration on the US-Mexico Border by Jeremy Slack. The majority of books tagged with “21st century”, however, are also tagged with “20th century”, “19th century”, “18th century” or even all the way back to “17th century” and “16th century”. Many of these volumes are expressly written or published on the occasion of some anniversary of the past events or subject they discuss, whether a semicentennial as in Ken M. Wharton’s Torn Apart: Fifty Years of the Troubles, 1969-2019, a centenary as in Paul Beaver’s The Royal Air Force: The First One Hundred Years, or even three centuries as in Rainer Vollkommer’s 1719 – 2019, 300 Jahre Fürstentum Liechtenstein.

A number of the new books on the shelves this November similarly cover events leading up to and including the 21st century, alongside a few which discuss exclusively 21st -century history, and books from both these categories are the volumes I would like to highlight in this month’s blog.

Two of the new books deal with truly contemporary social issues in Europe. Romaric Godin’s La guerre sociale en France examines issues of the neoliberal movement, capitalism, democracy, and authority, and Emmanuel Macron’s striving, and failing, to balance economics and social pressures in 2019 France. Jay Rosselini’s The German New Right takes on a similarly serious social crisis in Germany, the populist movement that rejects cosmopolitanism, globalisation and multiculturalism, and values tradition over innovation and change, and thus gave rise to such organisations as the Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) political party and the citizens’ group of “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” (PEGIDA). Rosselini’s book aims to provide a portrait of both individuals and organisations, with a focus on cultural (rather than political) issues and figures that play a role in this movement, placing the New Right in the context of truly contemporary German culture and history.

Two further volumes recently arrived look back over a few centuries in charting a development from the further past to the (almost) present. In Les Noirs en France du 18ème siècle à nos jours Macodou Ndiaye and Florence Alexis provide a history of black people in France from the first arrivals in the 18th century through the French Revolution and its struggle with the issue of the abolition of slavery, and then looking further afield to the revolt in Santo Domingo that led to the creation of the Black Republic of Haiti and the emancipation of the French West Indies. Moving into the 20th century they discuss the arrival of black Americans in France, the participation of black soldiers in the French army in the two World Wars, and the post-war years with their emancipation movements of Africans and West Indians, and the immigration policies of de Gaulle and of today. Portuguese history from the 19th century to the present day is covered by Nuno Severiano Teixeira in The Portuguese at War, which presents an overview of the conflicts, wars and revolutions in which Portugal was involved during that period. In this the volume covers issues from the Napoleonic invasions to the civil wars of the early 19th century, from participation in the First World War to neutrality in the Second during the 20th century, and from the country’s place in the NATO to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, East Timor, Lebanon and Afghanistan in the 21st century.

Looking back no more than 70 and 50 years respectively are the final two volumes I would like to introduce in this month’s blog. Following on from his 2015 book To Hell and Back, which charts the developments of Europe through the two World Wars from 1914 to 1949, Ian Kershaw’s Roller-Coaster: Europe, 1950-2017 looks at the vastly more peaceful and prosperous Europe that followed the wars. Kershaw discusses Europe’s transformation through economic improvements, though still under shadow of the war years to its life under the nuclear threat from both USA and USSR in the Cold War, through to the disbandment of the Soviet bloc and the reunification of Germany and finally to the years post-2008 after which peace and stability were brought into question again. Last but not least, Now and Then: England 1970-2015 by documentary photographer Daniel Meadows accompanies the exhibition of still photographs and moving images from the Bodleian Archives that were on display at the Weston Library from 4 October to 24 November, capturing 45 years of the life of England’s ordinary people. The volume contains samples of the full range of Meadows’ documentary projects over his 45-year career, with both portraits of the English people and the work they did. Including many now long-forgotten trades such as the engineer for a steam driven cotton mill and the steeplejack, and with a number of striking returns to people he had photographed 20 years earlier, it is a fascinating display of the differences and similarities between England Then and Now.

You can find all of the books tagged with “21st century” on our LibraryThing tag page here.

New Bodleian History Books: October 2019 – Historiography

New Bodleian History Books: October 2919 – Historiography

The early modern understanding of the term “historiography”, attested in the OED from 1565, is simply as “the writing of history” or “written history”, and the title or role of “historiographer” simply as “historian” – or even as “official historian”, in evidence for example in the title of “Historiographer Royal of Scotland” which is still in existence today.

The modern sense of “historiography” as we understand it today, attested in the OED with quotations from 1889, is, of course, more specifically as “the study of history-writing…as an academic discipline” – in the broadest sense of the term historiography deals with the writing of history. It is “meta-history”, the study of the history of history, as well as of the historians who wrote this history, and of the principles and techniques of the writing (and studying) of history – historiography does not study so much the events of the past as the different interpretations of those events as presented by earlier historians, or the different methods used by these historians to present their version of historical events.

With this definition in mind, a number of different types of studies can be subsumed under the heading of “historiography”, from editions and translations of historical accounts to collections of critical essays on a specific topic or time period or country; from studies of a historian’s methods to biographies of influential historians; and last but not least the classic “histories of history” which try to offer a condensed yet comprehensive account of a historical discipline (e.g. social or economic history) or of the history of a country or region – or even of the history of the world. This month’s blog introduces some of the newly arrived Bodleian books which can be classified as “historiography” in this wider sense.

Historiographical sources

In the study of how historians write history, editions and translations of historical accounts have a definite place. Whether these are records of contemporary history or biographies of their great contemporaries by past historians, or maybe personal diaries and letters which comment on current affairs and how these are presented in contemporary records, or collections or translations of modern historical studies on a given topic – all of these can be looked at as different forms of historiographical sources.

Some contemporary biographical writing from the Italian 15th century is newly edited and translated in Lives of the Milanese Tyrants, which contains two biographies by the Milanese humanist Pier Candido Decembrio (1399–1477), secretary and envoy to the bizarre and powerful Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. Pier Candido’s masterpiece of Renaissance biography, based on decades of direct experience at the Duke’s court, is here followed by his fascinating account of the deeds of Visconti’s successor Francesco Sforza, the most successful mercenary captain of the Renaissance. Similar eyewitness accounts of a historian close to royalty can be found in an edition of the Mémoires de l’abbé de Foncemagne – Étienne Lauréault de Foncemagne (1694- 1779) frequented the Parisian salons of the 18th century and was a member of both the Académie française and the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. Friend of Edward Gibbon and author of essays on topics ranging from French royal history and the Salic Law to a Dissertation préliminaire sur la Cuisine moderne, he was a tutor to the future Duke of Orléans (one of the wealthiest men in France, the Louis Philippe later known as Philippe Égalité) and thus in a prime position to give a detailed portrait of the man.

The disparity between personal, recorded memories of historic events, and their official representation (including their distortion, censoring, or omission) are the subject of two further volumes arrived newly at the Bodleian. The proceedings of a 2013-15 research seminar in Brest published as Mémoires de la Révolution française advertise themselves as dealing with “epistemological issues, historiographical milestones and unpublished examples” on the topic of the French Revolution. The contributions focus on the difference between memory of the past (“the activity of more or less faithfully encoding and restituting data”) and history (which they define as offering “a verifiable account of the past”), thematize of the production, maintenance, or occlusion of such memories and how they might present “history”, and explore the diversity of international historiographies of the period. Differences between personal memory or records, and official versions of historical events, here in the contemporary press, are also a focus in the third volume of the collected diaries of Hélène Hoppenot, Journal 1940-1944 (with the previous two volumes containing the diaries of the years 1918-1933 and 1936-1940 respectively). As the wife of the French diplomat Henri Hoppenot, stationed variously in Uruguay, Brussels, and the US, Hélène Hoppenot was in an excellent position to record firsthand experiences of the Vichy government, the rise of Charles de  Gaulle, the events of D-Day, and the Liberation of Paris, and she stresses her efforts in trying to faithfully record words heard and things seen behind the scenes before finding them misrepresented or even repressed by journalists with a specific political agenda.

Finally, a true collection of historiographical sources can be found in Florin Curta’s 2-volume Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages (500-1300), which sets out to remedy the fact that only around 11% of the historiographical literature published on the medieval history of Eastern Europe is in English – in its translations of seminal historiographical writings from 10 different languages into English it provides a comprehensive summary on the existing literature that would be otherwise inaccessible due to linguistic barriers, presenting an overview of the current state of research as well as an introductory bibliography in English.

 

 

Historians as Authors

Two of the new books arrived over the last couple of months at the Bodleian deal with the historian as an author, and with the issue of authorial self-consciousness, or self-affirmation, in the work of recording events of the past or present.

To shed new light on the authorial figures of ancient and medieval historians “Je, auteur de ce livre” by Cristian Bratu discusses authorial self-representations and self-promotion strategies in the works of historians from Antiquity to the later Middle Ages, from the emergence of the author in the Greek and Roman histories to the not exactly self-effacing vernacular French medieval historians of the 12th to 15th centuries. Following on where Bratu leaves off, the collection on La construction de la personne dans le fait historique focuses on the authorial figure in historical writings from the 16th to the 18th century. The studies collected here thematize once more the tension between memory and historical record, but also the awareness that as a political actor as well as a historian one’s historical narratives shape the image of the self which one leaves to posterity – whether in the historian’s conscious inscription of the self in history or, on the other hand, their attempts to erase or distance themselves from events.

Histories of Historians

As it is the study not only of the history of history, but of the historians who wrote this history, we can include a number of biographies of eminent historians as belonging among the new historiography books at the Bodleian.

The first of four new studies features the influential 19th century French historian and founder of modern historical practice Jules Michelet (1798-1874). Michèle Hannoosh examines the role of art writing in Michelet’s work and shows how the visual arts, at the very centre of Michelet’s conception of historiography, decisively influenced his theory of history and his view of the practice of the historian. The historian who is subject of the second study is situated at the tail-end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century: Thomas Frederick Tout (1855–1929), one of the most prolific English medieval historians of his time. This book presents biographical studies dealing with Tout’s early career and his work at Manchester University, examine his wide-ranging influence on the study of history, and discuss Tout’s life and writings, his political and academical influence, and his lasting legacy on our understanding of the Middle Ages.

Moving into the later 20th century, Raul Hilberg und die Holocaust-Historiographie is dedicated to one of the first and foremost historians on the Holocaust and the genocide of the Jews of Europe. The volume collects papers from the 2017 conference in Berlin held on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Hilberg’s death, and the contributions range from a critical appraisal of Hilberg’s pioneering 1961 study The Destruction of the European Jews to biographical sketches, discussions of ethical questions raised in his work, and the impact of Hilberg’s work on the study of the Holocaust in our century. Historians of the post-World War II era are also the subject of No Straight Path, which presents first-person accounts of the careers of ten successful female historians in a predominantly male-dominated professional world. Starting from college and public-school teaching, or marriage and motherhood, and making the unusual decision (at the time) to move beyond high-school teaching and attend graduate school, the experiences of these historians from the southern United States are varied and distinctive in their respective paths to become a member or even chair of the History Department at the University of Memphis, or Professor for History at Tulane University. The authors discuss the issues they faced including gender inequality and problems with their work/home balance, but also their role models on the path of becoming professional female historians.

 

Meta-History

Somewhat shorter than John Burrow’s comprehensive 2007 study A History of Histories, and also than his own 2012 A Global History of History, Daniel Woolf’s new 2019 publication A Concise History of History is meant as an introduction for those studying or teaching historical theory and method, or historiography. Keeping to the promise of its subtitle to be a “global historiography from antiquity to the present” despite its conciseness, it contains a number of helpful features designed to assist in making sense of the vastness of human history such as timelines listing major dynasties or regimes throughout the world, outlines of historiographical developments, or guides to key thinkers and seminal historical works. Its chapters cover topic such as the earliest historical writings, the history of Eurasia to the 15th century, the sense of the past in early modern and Renaissance history, the impact of imperialism and sciences on historiography in the 18th and 19th centuries, historical writing in the 20th century, and a look at new, future directions of historiography.

This final topic is also discussed for a more specialist section of historical studies in New Directions in Social and Cultural History. Leading historians in the field here reflect on what it means to be a social or cultural historian today; muse on what challenges and opportunities await historians in the early 21st century in this age of digital and public history; discuss key developments and important shifts and interventions in the theory and methodology in their fields; and suggest future developments and emerging areas of historical research, providing a comprehensive overview of the field for any student or scholar of social and cultural history and historiography.

You can find more books on the subject on our online LibraryThing shelf tagged with”historiography“.

New Bodleian History Books: September 2019 – Economic History

New Bodleian History Books: Economic History

Adam Smith’s 1776 Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is generally considered to be the first modern work of economics, and economic history as a discipline is even younger, tracing its origins only to the late 19th and early 20th century. As a discipline, economic history can be variously defined as the study of the economic aspects of societies and individuals in the past, or the history of the economic use of resources such as a land, labour and capital, or the examination of the past performance of individual economies. It thus includes a number of different sub-disciplines such as financial and business history, or demographic and labour history, and asks questions about such diverse issues as the demand and supply of goods and services, production and costs of production, trade and trade routes, levels of income, distribution of wealth, or volume and direction of investment. But since historical economic phenomena have no existence independent of the social, political, cultural, religious and physical environment in which they occurred, economic historians will also draw on the areas of political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and might consider a wide variety of  factors including crime, education, the family, law, politics, religion, social institutions, war, science, and the environment.

This blog entry is not the place to get involved in the great debate of the exact relationship between economics, history and economic history (does any study of economics involve a component of economic history so that the two are inseparable? Or does economic history constitute its own field separate from mainstream economics? Does economic history belong into the History Department or into the Economics Department?) – without taking any sides, the History books newly arrived at the Bodleian I have chosen to highlight in this month’s blog are simply studies on any aspect of economics from a historical perspective, from discussions of a single historical person’s individual wealth or influence on economics, to the trade and industries of towns and cities, the economic situations and influences of larger regions, and finally global economic issues.

Individual economics

Economic history asks questions about some of the fundamental aspects of people’s lives in the past – how and where they lived, how they were born and died, how they worked and earned and spent their money. The factors that influence these include anything from climate and geography to political instability and form of government, the availability or discovery of natural resources, the size and health of population and availability of labour, the existence of natural or artificial infrastructure, and the development or invention of technology. Forces like these are usually understood to be outside the control of single, individual actors – but on the other hand an influential individual, be it a king or queen, politician or economic theorist, businessman or inventor, can certainly singlehandedly change the shape and direction of their society’s economy.

Bernard Allorent’s La fortune de la Grande Mademoiselle examines the personal fortune and property of Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier (1627-1693), which most certainly qualified as “un enjeu politique”, “a political issue” of 17th century France.  One of the greatest heiresses in history, she died unmarried and childless, leaving her vast fortune to her cousin, Philippe of France, the younger brother of Louis XIV. The documentary evidence examined throws light not only on her fortune (and varying fortunes!) and its management, but also on the debt market of 17th century France, the general economic situation of her times, and the influence of the king in the management of her affairs which resulted in the ultimate transmission of her vast fortune to the royal family. An even greater influence by one individual on the economic affairs of two countries if not a whole continent, this time towards the end of the 20th century, is documented by Mathias Haeussler in his study Helmut Schmidt and British-German Relations. In his office as West German chancellor from  1974 to 1982, Schmidt clashed heavily and repeatedly with his British counterparts Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher – Schmidt’s competing vision of and incompatible strategy for post-war Europe and the issue of European integration not only influenced contemporary market forces, but had long-reaching repercussions on the shape of the European economy as it is today.

Urban economics

The influence of a place’s geography on its economy can be clearly seen in coastal towns and cities whose harbours ensured their development into and situation as major trading centres, often for centuries or even millennia. Venice is one of the great examples of these (see more on this in the next section), but Cyprus has a claim to a similarly long history in the city of Famagusta, the deepest harbour of the island, which dates back to the 3rd century BC, and developed from the early Middle Ages into one of the major trading ports of the Mediterranean in the possessions of Genoa, Venice, the Ottoman Empire, and finally the British Empire. The collection Famagusta maritima offers essays on a wide range of various economic aspects of the port’s history, from its relationship with both the Papal court and the Islamic world to the trade of such diverse merchandise as soap, olive oil, and slaves, to the modern economic boom brought by tourism in the British colonial and postcolonial era. Rather more northern coastal cities are the subject of a second collection of conference proceedings, “Hansisch” oder “nicht-hansisch”, which examines the smaller cities of Livland in the eastern Baltic. Hanseatic traders established trading posts in larger cities there already in early days of the League in the 12th century, but the present collection examines questions of membership and economic and political influence of Livland’s smaller towns, as well as the relationship of the entire region to the great organisation of the Hanseatic League.

Regional economics

Widening the focus from the individual and the urban space of the city, four of the newly arrived books deal with the economic situation of larger regions. Kaufhäuser an Mittel- und Oberrhein im Spätmittelalter presents the proceedings of a conference on the subject of late medieval trade emporia, “Kaufhäuser”, the forerunners of the modern shopping centre, in the Middle and Upper Rhine valley – rather than dealing with individual establishments, the focus of the contributions is on the overall regional impact and operations,  including the influence of trade centres located in smaller towns. Medieval and early modern economics of Western Europe are the subject of Cultures fiscales en Occident du Xe au XVIIe siècle – Denis Menjot has a long distinguished career in the area of the financial, economic, social and political history of Castile and the towns and regions of medieval Spain, and the 28 contributions collected here in his honour touch on issues of taxes, fraud, the redistribution of resources, and financial government and its social effects in medieval and early modern Europe, with a focus on both the idea of the common good in the Middle Ages and that of fiscal citizenship today.

Renaissance economic history, more specifically the economic influence of Venice and it surrounding region on Old Regime Europe, with a special focus on the issue of economic inequalities, is then the subject of Guido Alfani’s and Matteo di Tullio’s The Lion’s Share. Comparing data from the Venetian Terraferma and the rest of early modern Europe, the two authors argue for the rise of the fiscal-military state (with its disparities in wealth increasing through taxation destined to fund war and defence rather than social welfare) as the root cause of modern inequality and social stratification. A second Festschrift, this one in honour of Philippe Mioche whose areas of interest include industrial history and the history of the European Union, moves us into the modern age: the studies in Industrie entre Méditerranée et Europe, XIXe-XXIe siècle explore contemporary industrial history of Europe and the Mediterranean region through the analysis of its main actors, from the human managers and workers to factories and companies, from family businesses to large international groups, and from mines to furnaces. They trace the influences of international and European policies on these industries, as well as their evolution and their heritage, from the 19th century to the present day.

Global economics

Finally, the last newly arrived book I would like to highlight this month moves us onto the stage of global or world economics: in The Anxious Triumph: A Global History of Capitalism, 1880-1914 Donald Sassoon looks at the establishment of the modern political frameworks all over the world which enabled the globalisation and dominance of capitalism as a system, from the unifications of Italy and Germany to the establishment of a republic in France, the elimination of slavery in the American south, the Meiji Restoration in Japan, and the emancipation of the serfs in Tsarist Russia. Sassoon’s study analyses the impact of capitalism on the histories of many different states as well as its chronic instability, the “anxious triumph” of his title, focusing on the role of the state as an “overseer” of the capitalist “war of all against all” – necessary to develop a welfare state, to intervene in the market economy, and also to protect it from foreign competition.

You can find more books on the subject on our online LibraryThing shelf tagged with economic history or economic conditions.

New Bodleian History Books: August 2019 – History of Religion

Most followers of one of the larger world religions are, or certainly should be, concerned with history to some degree, since the great world religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism are all very much “historical” religions, inescapably tied to the historical events of the life, works, and teachings of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammad, and Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha.

But even atheists and the non-religious have ample cause to be interested in religions and their history, since religions have of course for millennia influenced the social, economic, cultural and political shape of the societies we live in today. They have stamped their marks on numerous and occasionally quite important aspects of everyday life, from a country’s national holidays and working week to the ethics and morals underlying its laws, or the shape of its towns and cities with their churches, mosques, and temples. Our personal and social lives are similarly permeated and moulded by religious teachings, from the form our relationships, marriages, and families take through to our personal attitudes towards and behaviour with regard to issues such as the environment, human rights, fair trade, or charity.

Religious history is thus very much not distinct from secular, social, political, economic, or intellectual history, but touches on all of these areas. And if that was not a wide enough field yet, in addition the subject matter of “history of religion” encompasses numerous facets from ecclesiastical and church history to the history of theology, the social history of religion, religious literature, the relationship of religion and politics, or the comparative history of religion. It is understandable, then, that the new books on the topic of the history of religion arrived at the Bodleian this month, which I would like to highlight in this month’s blog, touch only on a very small portion of what the subject has to offer.


Rulers and Religions

The connection between rulers and religions is firmly tied in with the idea of the established church or state religion, whether this takes the form of mere government-sanctioned establishments of a religion, genuine theocracies, or, on the other side of the spectrum, an approved religion actually under the control of the state. The degree to which established national religions are imposed upon citizens by ruler and state has rather decreased over the last few centuries especially in European nations, but examples of very close connections between ruler and religion are numerous in both medieval and early modern Europe.

A look at a ruler’s attitude towards religion as well as the relationship between Christianity and Islam during the age of the crusades is presented in William C. Jordan’s The Apple of his Eye, which discusses the efforts of Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) to convert Muslims to Christianity and repatriate them in France during the 13th century. Since Louis is rather better known for his strict attitude towards and often violent opposition of other religions – for example in his laws and edicts against the Jews, the use of the inquisition against the Cathars, or two crusades against the Muslims – these accounts of the peaceful conversion of Muslims highlight an interesting new facet of the saintly king’s character. The relationship of kingly rulers with members of their own, rather than a different religion, is the topic of Barbara Bombi’s monograph on Anglo-Papal Relations in the Early Fourteenth Century, which discusses the diplomacy between England and the papal curia during the reigns of Edward II and Edward III from 1305 to 1360. Bombi examines the diplomatic relationships in the light of several key events of these years, such as the papacy’s move to France after the election of Pope Clement V in 1305, the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ Wars in 1337, and the conclusion of the first phase of the war with the Treaty of Brétigny-Calais in 1360. A third newly arrived study on rulers and their attitudes towards religion examines royalty in 19th century Germany: Der König und sein Beichtvater offers an edition of the personal correspondence between the Prussian King Frederick William IV and his confessor Carl Wilhelm Saegert, as well as of Saegert’s diaries from the eventful months of the 1848 revolution. One of the king’s primary advisors on matters of national and international politics, Saegert’s low birth barred him from elevation to an official post on the king’s staff, but he remained in secret the king’s chief political advisor and emotional supporter for over seven years after 1848.


Religious Writings

Sacred texts are at the centre of the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but religions have of course produced a plethora of writings beyond these, from non-scriptural interpretations and commentaries and the literature of religious controversies to hagiographies and martyrologies, religious drama and poetry, prayers, hymns and service books, or church historiography.

Martyrologies as a specific genre of early modern hagiographical writings and their impact on contemporary society is the subject of the conference proceedings collected in Märtyrerbücher und ihre Bedeutung für konfessionelle Identität und Spiritualität in der Frühen Neuzeit. The contributions cover martyrologies in England, France, Germany and the Netherlands, looking at the origins and printing histories of these martyrologies from the mid-16th to the 17th century, and the artwork and imagery that accompanied them, but also at their roles in the reformation history of the various European countries, both as a means of strengthening the identity of religious communities and as instruments of religious prosecution. Writings concerned with religious debate and dispute, and the issue of religion and public politics, are at the heart of Peter Lake’s and Michael Questier’s All Hail to the Archpriest, an edition of the rich pamphlet literature occasioned by the “Archpriest Controversy” or “Appellant Controversy”, the debate which followed Pope Clement VIII’s appointment of an archpriest to oversee Catholic priests in England at the end of the 16th century. The pamphlets shed light on issues such as late Elizabethan puritanism and the function of episcopacy, as well as on the accession of James VI in England and the relationship between Protestants and Catholics in this troubled period. Even more religious controversy related to writing from the early modern period is the subject of Nadine Wendland’s Gibbon, die Kirchengeschichtsschreibung und die Religionsphilosophie der Aufklärung, a study of Gibbon’s 1776 The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, whose first volume with its descriptions of early Roman Christianity and persecution provoked outrage among British theologians. The study focusses on Gibbbon’s bias in portraying historical events and figures, examining his methods in dealing with such topics as Christian miracles and heresy, and his handling and reception of authors such as Voltaire and David Hume.


Religion, Politics and Society

That not only the presence of religion but also its absence or diminishing can have a profound impact on society and politics is shown in the essay collection Säkularisierung und Religion: Europäische Wechselwirkungen. The contributions discuss definitions and theories of secularization with reference to both a historical and a contemporary context, examine historical phases of secularization and their possible causes, the theoretical and practical reactions of different religions to the phenomenon, and its substantial repercussions for both society and politics. The often religiously connoted idea of “reconciliation” with a view to national politics is the subject of a second essay collection newly arrived this month, Versöhnungsprozesse zwischen Religion, Politik und Gesellschaft. The contributions by historians, political scientists, sociologists and theologians look at processes of reconciliation as driven by participants from churches, politics and society, examining factors that influence the process of reconciliation and its successes, obstacles and setbacks. They offer a wide range of case studies on international reconciliation processes from the second half of the 20th century, such as those between Germany and France, Russian and Finland, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, South and North Korea, East Germany, and South Africa. Finally, an even more widespread view of religion and politics than either of these two volumes, both in terms of geography and chronology, is taken by Alan Strahern in his Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History. Drawing on examples from Ancient Rome to the Incas and 19th-century Tahiti, and dicussing a number of religious phenomena from sacred kingship to reformation, iconoclasm, and conversion, Strahern’s book tackles such fundamental questions as the importance of religion for rulers in the pre-modern world, the emergence and spread of the great world religions of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, the nature of both immanent and transcendent religions, and how the interaction of religion with political authority shaped the course of world history.


You can find more books on the subject on our online LibraryThing shelf tagged with religious history or church history.

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.