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The sub-branch of history that is known by the ambiguous (and frightening to undergraduates, cats, and many mainstream academics) name “historiography” seems to be undergoing a Renaissance at the moment.
Jonathan Scott, Professor of History at the University of Auckland, in his recent book, How the Old World Ended (2019), has provided an intellectual bridge between the early modern period and the modern world, which was born out of the Industrial Revolution.
The Birth of Modern Belief is seriously good. It is erudite, insightful, and cogent; but, above all, it enables us to think hard about the relationship between our past and our present.
The history of the western European family has been an area of interest for social and cultural historians for several decades with the late medieval and early modern period central to debates about continuity and change in family life. An aspect of family life that has received little attention is the common experience of remarriage and living in a stepfamily.
It is hard to tell a non-deterministic story about the shift from early modern to modern economic practices: the terms we use (‘modernity’, ‘capitalism’, ‘economic’), the questions we ask, and the conclusions we draw are all inevitably weighed down by what we think or know about economic life today.
The aim to cover, in a single monograph, patterns and trends in memory across early modern Europe is an ambitious one. Yet if anyone could achieve this it would be Judith Pollmann. This is an ambitious book in its chronological and geographical scope, but is also pioneering in providing a meta-narrative of continuity and change in early modern memory practices.
Since the turn of the millennium it has become increasingly common for general histories of magic and witchcraft to include a section on the phenomenon of magic in the contemporary western world, but the precise relationship between contemporary manifestations of magical belief and their historical antecedents is rarely explored.
This is an extremely ambitious, thought-provoking, challenging and inspiring book.
Some monographs feel as if they have slotted themselves – like a puzzle-piece – snugly into the picture presented by our extant historiography. And just like single parts of a complex jig-saw, these works often add brilliantly to the overall image.
In this history of representations and knowledge formation Sanjay Subrahmanyam turns a historian’s gaze to the problems both implicitly and explicitly embedded in all histories of the early modern and modern world: why did Europeans represent and construct India and by extension, the non-European world in the ways that they did? Why and how did these constructs evolve?