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David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition is an impressive scholarly accomplishment that matches a dauntingly large subject matter with a vast vault of personal knowledge. At 474 pages and 13 chapters covering more than 3000 years, it is thorough without being exhaustive.
The meaning of an object, Paula Findlen tells us, is in perpetual change. Why an object is valued and how it might be perceived or represented by its users and viewers can be dramatically different at each moment in an object’s life.
At first sight this looks like another of those increasingly common commodity books, some of which are intended to be global in scope, and which include studies of chocolate, sugar, cod, salt and many others (digestible or not!). As Riello points out, commodities are a good way to tell a global story since many of them have been traded throughout the world for centuries.
If we survey the historical profession at the moment, there are plenty of academic squabbles going on, but the great debates that once divided historians seem to be in short supply. Time was when contests over the standard of living during the industrial revolution or about post-modernism and its application to the study of history would drive scholars into a frenzy of position taking.
In 1872 the Reverend T. DeWitt Talmage composed an essay entitled ‘After midnight’ in which he put forward the notion that night-time in the city passes through four distinct phases or ‘watches’ (pp. 55–6). Night was not one entity that lasted from dusk until dawn, instead it moved in three hour periods commencing at 6pm.
From the advent of the new social history, the patient has received extensive attention from historians of medicine.
The Making of the Middle Class: Toward a Transnational History grew out of two panels on the middle class at the American Historical Association meetings in 2004 and a related conference at the University of Maryland in 2006. Taken together, the 16 papers and three commentaries included in this book have the feel of a big academic meeting.
In his new book Steven Pinker, psychologist at Harvard University, sets out to fundamentally alter our understanding of the trajectory of violence from pre-historic times to the present. He takes issue with the widely held perception that the most recent past, the 20th century, was an age of large-scale bloodshed and genocidal slaughter.
Chocolate, writes Emma Robertson in the introduction to her monograph, ‘has been invested with specific cultural meanings which are in part connected to … conditions of production’ (p. 3). At the heart of this study is a challenge to existing histories:
The history of nakedness deserves a serious history. For organised nudism or ‘naturism’ was a conscious movement initiated by Europeans at the end of the 19th century that has exerted a significant influence over society and politics in the wider world. This book is not that serious academic history. In one respect its aim is much more ambitious.