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In the West, it can be easy to forget just how closely China and the USSR were once bound in political imaginations. Today, the USSR is a land to which there is no return: a figment of past dreams and nightmares – whereas China is on everyone’s mind, a growing economic power that has shed its socialist past to move to the forefront of the new capitalist order.
The 13 essays in this book are the outcome of a conference (with the addition of a few other papers) held at Winchester University in September 2011.
Despite their presence in the popular imagination and their undoubted importance in the narrative of medieval history, the Crusades have for a long time sat apart from mainstream medieval historiography. Traditionally, the Crusades themselves are as peripheral in the minds of historians of Europe as they were geographically.
The disintegration of communist federations at the end of the Cold War represented the most momentous reconfiguration of the boundaries of Eastern Europe since 1945.
In 1372 Renatus Malbecco, a Milanese ambassador, arrived in Avignon for a meeting with Pope Gregory XI. His embassy was evidently unwelcome: he was ‘received with insults’ and promptly sent away. An observing diplomat recounted this event in a couple of terse lines. A little over a century later it was the turn of Ludovico il Moro of Milan to dismiss a visiting envoy.
We have here two very different books utilizing two very different approaches to essentially the same period of history in Europe. And while the differences are enormous, each is excellent in its own way and both are major contributions to the historiography of Europe in the first half of the 20th century.
The history of the European Wars of Religion from the Crusades onward has provided fertile ground for study by historians, philosophers, and theologians of all ideological persuasions. The period from the 1520s forward particularly has served as the subject of an astonishing amount of research – with no discernable chronological gap in the historiography.
At the end of Miklos Banffy’s entertaining panoramic novel of pre-WWI Hungary, the protagonist Count Balint takes a final tour of Transylvania before joining his regiment. It is a personal and private farewell to his childhood home and to a whole generation of Hungarian nobles, of which Balint/Banffy was highly critical.
It is dangerous for historians to know the future. The seductive power of seeing ‘how it all came out’ too often warps the way the process of change in the past is understood and can result in the classic version of a Whiggish view of history. Among the examples of this that can be cited is the way the Polish-Lithuanian union has been evaluated.
Historical scholarship has experienced a number of ‘shifts’ over the last three decades, with traditional concerns about politics and economics increasingly vying with newer ‘cultural-historical’ questions around language, meaning and subjectivity. Other innovations, such as spatial and transnational approaches to history, have also come to the fore.