What is a ‘Companion’ for?
In the opening of his recent volume, Nature and History in the Potomac Country, historian James D. Rice informs his readers that the idea for the book began with what he perceived as a ‘hole in the map’ (p. 1).
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.
Reports of the death of the Mediterranean – on some accounts from pollution, on others from conceptual redundancy – have proved exaggerated. Conceptually, at least, ‘The Mediterranean’ flourishes as never before: an idea more than a sea. It seems ubiquitous on web sites and in book and journal titles as well as on conference posters, not to mention political action plans.
Michel Foucault famously asserted that sexual identity was a modern invention, remarking, ‘The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species’.(1) For Foucault, the vocabulary and specificity of modern sexual identity were largely formulated under the impetus of 19th-century sexology.
It is a brave man who would take on the job of writing a history of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire between 1493 and 1806. Many historians would maintain that neither Germany nor even German national consciousness (certainly not German nationalism) existed during this period; as for the Holy Roman Empire, there is a long-running dispute over what it actually amounted to.
The Ottoman Empire, over the course of its existence, evolved a cultural synthesis of strands coming from its Arab, Persian and Byzantine antecedents, as well as the folk culture of its constituent populations. Culinary traditions were part of this legacy, and the taste for sweets an ever popular and refined element, constituting a repertoire extending into modern Turkey and the Middle East.
I must preface this review by saying that I feel the discussion of human-animal interactions has been lacking a book like this for some time. From the outset, this book is fundamentally more than historical in its impact. The topics discussed, and so vividly illustrated, are anthropological assessments for the modern world, using history as base data.
David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition is an impressive scholarly accomplishment that matches a dauntingly large subject matter with a vast vault of personal knowledge. At 474 pages and 13 chapters covering more than 3000 years, it is thorough without being exhaustive.
At first sight this looks like another of those increasingly common commodity books, some of which are intended to be global in scope, and which include studies of chocolate, sugar, cod, salt and many others (digestible or not!). As Riello points out, commodities are a good way to tell a global story since many of them have been traded throughout the world for centuries.