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.
At the conclusion of her history of Marian devotion, Mother of God, Miri Rubin states, ‘For in woman’s capacity to act as a generous host, to contain a body in her body, there is an act of tremendous hospitality’ (p. 424).
I must admit that, at the outset, the prospect of reviewing yet another book on the history of spices was not particularly alluring. In recent years there have been several such accounts, part of a succession it seems – or currently, an avalanche – of ‘food history’ books.
Confucius once remarked that rulers need three resources: weapons, food and trust. The ruler who cannot have all three should give up weapons first, then food, but should hold on to trust at all costs: 'without trust we cannot stand'.(1) Machiavelli disagreed.
As the editors’ introduction notes, this is the first of two volumes examining the subject of children in slavery, in a pioneering attempt to expose at least part of an area that ‘has only recently become the focus of academic research’ (p. 1).
I received the invitation to review this book during the same week – 16-20 November 2009 – that over 1,000 emails to and from climate scientists in the Climatic Research Unit at my university found their way into the public domain.
Most of us who have tried to write of time and place on a large scale resort to a broad framework of ideas, punctuated by an example or two from the literature or even from our own experience. As in his first edition, Donald Hughes does it differently: a series of footprints rather than a superhighway, as he puts it.
For readers like this reviewer, who do not read Germany fluently, the translation of Joachim Radkau’s Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment is a major event. This is probably the best available overview of the changing human relationship with the biosphere: a subject whose historiographical and political significance is becoming more and more evident.
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.
The concept of contagion is entangled with so many themes in the history of medicine that any on-line collection on the subject can hardly fail to generate interest among the scholarly community. Harvard University’s Contagion: Historical Views of Disease and Epidemics does not disappoint.