The work under review here owes its genesis to the Open University course of the same title, for which it is the core text. As such, it consists of ten interlinked essays, specially commissioned, on the broad theme of the dynamics of difference within and between world religious traditions.
The first principle of understanding history, I was taught, is to sympathize with the historical actors, to immerse oneself in their context and perspective.(1) Otherwise, history becomes a fabricated reconstruction – more about the writer's ideology than the events of the past.
The writing of history – any history – is shaped by the intellectual environment in which it is written, and by the preoccupations of its writers. As Christopher Tyerman acknowledges in his prefatory remarks, ‘writing history is not a neutral revelation but a malleable, personal, contingent, cultural activity’ (p. xi).
No one would deny that Pompeii, the city destroyed by the forces of nature – as when, in the words of the poet Leopardi, ‘an overripe tomato falls on an anthill’ – has attained the status of an archetype, outpacing even Atlantis (whose story must now be explained to the unfamiliar in terms of the fate of Pompeii).
How should we live? Roman Krznaric, in The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live, tackles a question as old as civilization itself from a position more fundamental than philosophy, religion or psychology offer on their own. This position is historical.
At a time when billboards have been driven around London urging illegal immigrants to ‘go home’, when photographs of the arrests of those suspected of breaching their visas were being tweeted by the Home Office (with the hashtag #immigrationoffenders), and when 39,000 texts stating ‘go home’ have been sent to suspected overstayers, the publication of Tony Kushner's The Battle of Britishness
The beginnings of Europe is not a very complicated historical subject. After the end of Roman domination in the fifth century CE, so-called ‘successor states’ grew up in the territories and around the margins of what had been the Western Roman Empire, and out of those states grew France, Spain, Italy and (with greater complications) England and Germany.
Introducing a 1996 translation of Alain Corbin’s now seminal work on the history of scent, The Foul and the Fragrant, Roy Porter lamented that ‘today’s history comes deodorized’.(1) As Jonathan Reinarz shows in this historical synthesis of recent work on the history of smell, Porter’s complaint has since been enthusiastically answered.
Lynn Hunt’s new book, Writing History in the Global Era, places an important question on the table: ‘Is globalization the new theory that will reinvigorate history? Or will it choke off all other possible contenders, leaving in place only the inevitability of modernization of the world on the Western model?’ (p.