‘Structure’ is still an unfashionable word in history. Since the late 1980s, ‘post-structuralism’ (or, more commonly, its elastic cousin postmodernism) has seemed to dominate much historical writing and methodology. The ‘linguistic turn’ has sharpened historians’ attention to the power of language.
The thesis and value of Andrew Elliott’s new study of ‘medieval film’ are neatly encapsulated by his reminding us at the end of the book’s preface that, in the medieval tradition, the Grail quest involved asking, not answering, the right questions.
In Remembering the Road to World War Two Patrick Finney (a student of 20th-century international history, history and theory, and collective memory) writes an impressive and informative account, not of the origins of the Second World War, but of the way historians and others have remembered those origins.
The liberal enlightenment idea of progress has promised many benefits over the past 300 years. Liberal progress, we have been told, would provide cures for diseases, remedies for ignorance, alternatives to superstition, and antidotes to poverty. Nothing however has raised higher expectations than liberalism’s claim that it could put an end to war.
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).
Classical works formed the kernel of Thomas Jefferson's libraries. The third president read both Latin and Greek. He wrote repeatedly of his fondness of classical literature and died, on 4 July 1826, with Seneca's work open on his bedside table. Nonetheless, Jefferson in many ways doubted the classical world was the original mold upon which the American experiment had to be built.
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
This book achieves two aims: to locate the Great War in the history of the 20th century, and to show how, as the 20th century unfolded, our understanding of the meaning and significance of the Great War changed as well.
Historians, unsurprisingly, spend much of their time thinking about how people make sense of the past.