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Special issue - History and Biography

The Lone Protestor: A M Fernando in Australia and Europe / Fiona Paisley

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Review Date: 11 April 2013

Tracing the path of an Australian Aboriginal political activist through four decades of early 20th–century Europe must surely have been a challenging and often surprising task.


First Lady of Fleet Street: A Biography of Rachel Beer / Yehuda Koren, Eilat Negev

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Review Date: 11 April 2013

Rachel Beer first caught my attention some 20 years ago when I was trawling through Who Was Who looking for journalists. She was unusual because she was the editor of The Sunday Times in the 1890s, when no other national newspaper had a woman editor.


Cosmo Lang. Archbishop in War and Crisis / Robert Beaken

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Review Date: 11 April 2013

'I HATE Cosmo Lang!’ exclaimed a member of the audience when Robert Beaken spoke to a seminar at the IHR about Lang, archbishop of Canterbury and subject of this important reassessment. As Beaken rightly notes, Lang’s reputation has suffered in the years since his death.


Witness to History: The Life of John Wheeler-Bennett / Victoria Schofield

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Review Date: 21 March 2013

In 1929, Major-General (retired) Sir Neill Malcolm advised the 27-year-old J. W.


George F. Kennan: An American Life / John Lewis Gaddis

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Review Date: 21 March 2013

‘No one knows what George Kennan really meant [to say]!’ So did the late McGeorge Bundy, my then professor, initiate me and a half a dozen other graduate students into mystery of George Frost Kennan. I say ‘mystery’ deliberately, as both at the time and later, there was indeed something distinctly odd about two aspects of the life and career of the one-time scholar-diplomat.


Kaia, Heroine of the 1944 Warsaw Rising / Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm

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Review Date: 21 March 2013

This is a very personal book, first published in Polish in 2006. The author, Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm, tells the story of Cezaria Ilyin Szymańska, a personal friend who participated in the Warsaw Rising of 1944. Kaia is the name under which the heroine is known to her friends.


Museums and Biographies: Stories, Objects, Identities / ed. Kate Hill

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Review Date: 21 March 2013

Slowly but surely the history presented in museums is coming to the attention of academic historians. However, the relationship between museums, memory and history remains complex. In selecting what to collect, museums seek to define what is or is not history. In preserving their collections in perpetuity they act as a permanent, if selective, memory store.


The Queen’s Hand; Power and Authority in the Reign of Berenguela of Castile / Janna Bianchini

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Review Date: 14 March 2013

Berenguela of Castile (1180–1246) is a figure who is often overshadowed by her famous relatives, including her grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine, her sister Blanche of Castile and her son Fernando III of Castile and León. However, there is no doubt that during her lifetime, she exercised considerable political power as a part of the ‘plural monarchy’ in both Castile and León in a range of roles.


Revolutionary Communist at Work: A Political Biography of Bert Ramelson / Tom Sibley, Roger Seifert

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Review Date: 14 March 2013

Bert Ramelson, one of the leading figures of the post-war Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the Party’s Industrial Organiser during the era of heightened industrial militancy in the 1960s and 1970s, has been a widely debated person in the historiography of the CPGB, but a new biography by Roger Seifert and Tom Sibley attempts to reassess the characterisations of Ramelson by other authors.


The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe / Nwando Achebe

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Review Date: 14 March 2013

The Female King of Colonial Nigeria is the story of a woman, Ahebi Ugbabe, who rose from the status of a local girl and commercial sex worker to that of a village headman, a warrant chief and a king. Ahebi was born in Enugu-Ezike, an Igbo community, in the late 19th century.


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Biography remains one of the most popular forms of non-fiction, and historical biography has often been the genre in which professional historians have written for a wider audience. But what happens when it is the historian who becomes the subject of the biographer? In recent years several major biographies of historians have been published, and others are on their way. The 2013 IHR winter conference showcases the phenomenon of biographies by and about historians, and also looks across the humanities at current research on life-writing. Biography may well be ‘history without theory’, but that is no reason not to explore why it remains one of the most compelling and challenging ways of understanding the past in relation to the present.

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