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A popular exhibition at the Wellcome Trust in London, running for three months from October 2016, Bedlam: the Asylum and Beyond promised to ‘reimagine the institution, informed by the experiences of the patients, doctors, artists and reformers who inhabited the asylum or created alternatives to it’.
There are two approaches to writing a significant history book. One is ‘going big’ and covering the broadest range of historical phenomena within a large geographical space during a wide time span. This approach makes use of vast and variegated historical bibliographies and well-selected primary sources.
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.
Sean Wilentz has become our generation’s foremost historian as public intellectual, positioning himself as a blend of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Richard Hofstadter, the historical giants of the mid-20th-century era of consensus. Wilentz, however, lives in what another thoughtful historian, Daniel T. Rodgers, has called an ‘age of fracture’.
So often, intellectual history is about inheritances. Historians study what is passed down from one age to the next. This has often led to the problem that we tend to focus on what is more familiar, engaging, or at least recognisable, and leads us to ask: why study that which has not left an inheritance?
Eli Rubin has written a wonderful book that does not just tell a fascinating story about an important but much neglected subject, but also manages to link this story to much broader historiographical, and indeed ontological, questions about the intersections between space, on one hand, and power, time and lived experience on the other.
In Disability and the Welfare State in Britain. Changes in Perception and Policy 1948–1979, Jameel Hampton provides a scholarly account of the development of disability policy after the Second World War.
Algeria was colonised and departmentalised by the French in the 19th century, and by 1954 around a million Algerians of European origin lived in the settler colony. Following a seven-and-a-half-year war against France, Algeria officially became independent in 1962.
Surveying the latter half of the 20th century in Britain, Professor James Hinton highlights the popular tendency to consider this period in terms of its characteristic decades. There is ‘the boring 1950s, the exciting 1960s, the crisis-ridden 1970s, [and] Mrs. Thatcher’s 1980s’ (p. 23).
Ritika Prasad’s volume Tracks of Change: Railways and Everyday Life in Colonial India is a refreshingly new addition to the historiography of colonial Indian railways. It is indeed, as the author claims in the introduction, a story of ‘how railway travel, technology and infrastructure became palpably present in the everyday lives of Indians’ (p. 2).