History & Classics

Theodor W. Adorno in a library

Adorno's Aesthetics

Owen Hatherley

25 May 2024

Adorno’s aesthetics are extreme. ‘He is an easy man to caricature,’ Ben Watson writes, ‘because he believed in exaggeration as a means of telling the truth.’ He is frequently, and rightly, upbraided for his wildly ignorant essays on jazz, but these are by no means all there is to know about his views on the culture industry.

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What was the ghetto?

Erin Maglaque

6 June 2024

In his book​ 16 ottobre 1943, Giacomo Debenedetti describes the deportation of Rome’s Jews to the death camps. When the soldiers came in the early evening, everyone in the neighbourhood was at home.The . . .

Cuba Speaks

Rachel Nolan

6 June 2024

In​ 1968, Fidel Castro invited an American anthropologist called Oscar Lewis to interview Cubans about their lives. Lewis was famous for an oral history project, conducted in a Mexico City slum, which . . .

Medieval Minstrels

Irina Dumitrescu

23 May 2024

Of all​ the medieval people who sound as though they should be made up, Roland le Pettour, also known as Roland le Fartere, must be near the top of the list. An entertainer who worked for Henry II, Roland . . .

Italian Counterfactuals

John Foot

23 May 2024

In​ the dreadful 2001 film version of Louis de Bernières’s novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a miscast Nicolas Cage plays the soldier hero. The opening scene depicts the (second) Italian invasion . . .

The Public Voice of Women

Mary Beard, 20 March 2014

Public speech was a – if not the – defining attribute of maleness. A woman speaking in public was, in most circumstances, by definition not a woman.

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Watch this man: Niall Ferguson’s Burden

Pankaj Mishra, 3 November 2011

He sounds like the Europeans described by V.S. Naipaul – the grandson of indentured labourers – in A Bend in the River, who ‘wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else’, but also ‘wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves’.

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Diary: Working Methods

Keith Thomas, 10 June 2010

It is possible to take too many notes; the task of sorting, filing and assimilating them can take for ever, so that nothing gets written. The awful warning is Lord Acton, whose enormous learning never resulted in the great work the world expected of him.

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‘What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!’: Springtime for Robespierre

Hilary Mantel, 30 March 2000

Robespierre thought that, if you could imagine a better society, you could create it. He needed a corps of moral giants at his back, but found himself leading a gang of squabbling moral pygmies. This is how Virtue led to Terror. 

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The Sound of Voices Intoning Names

Thomas Laqueur, 5 June 1997

In a happier age, Immanuel Kant identified one of the problems of understanding any of the genocides which come all too easily to mind. It is the problem of the mathematical sublime. The...

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Identity Parade

Linda Colley, 25 February 1993

‘Iwill never, come hell or high water, let our distinctive British identity be lost in a federal Europe.’ John Major’s ringing assurance to last year’s Conservative Party...

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Goodbye Columbus

Eric Hobsbawm, 9 July 1992

Afew weeks ago, in Mexico, I was asked to sign a protest against Christopher Columbus, on behalf of the original native populations of the American continents and islands, or rather, of their...

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Grim Eminence

Norman Stone, 10 January 1983

The historian Edward Hallett Carr died on 3 November 1982, at the age of 90. He had an oddly laconic obituary in the Times, which missed out a great deal. If he had died ten years before, his...

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War and Peace

A.J.P. Taylor, 2 October 1980

War has been throughout history the curse and inspiration of mankind. The sufferings and destruction that accompany it rival those caused by famine, plague and natural catastrophes. Yet in nearly...

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Maldoror honoured independence struggles in Africa and other parts of the world throughout her life. But she wouldn’t set aside her values as a filmmaker in the name of a cause: ways of seeing had to...

Read more about I am only interested in women who struggle: On Sarah Maldoror

The legiones were open only (with rare exceptions) to citizens; non-citizens had to join the less well paid, less prestigious auxilia, and were rewarded on retirement after 25 years’ service (assuming...

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Ladders last a long time: Reading Raphael Samuel

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, 23 May 2024

Raphael Samuel​ set out his stall as a practitioner of ‘people’s history’. This was a capacious category: it could be liberal, radical, nationalist or socialist; macro or microhistorical.

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Seagull Soup: HMS Wager

Fara Dabhoiwala, 9 May 2024

The captain of HMS Wager had shot dead an unarmed sailor. Other men had been found murdered. The captain had been imprisoned by his own marines, and then left behind on the island by most of the crew....

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Frost-tempered: Russia in Central Asia

Greg Afinogenov, 25 April 2024

Though people like Vasily Vereshchagin often castigated the British for the arrogance and cruelty of their brand of imperialism, in practice the Russians were no better. Clichés such as Russia being ‘between...

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Trickes of the Clergye: Atheistical Thoughts

Alexandra Walsham, 25 April 2024

In an environment in which binary thinking prevailed, atheism was a potent ‘other’ against which devout Christianity defined itself. At its most extreme, this line of interpretation has led to the...

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Whenever I read claims about ‘forgotten women’, I want to ask: ‘By whom?’ Feminists? Society? The ‘culture’? And why ‘forgotten’? Forgetting presupposes something once known, but the general...

Read more about A Comet that Bodes Mischief: Women in Philosophy

On Pockets

Susannah Clapp, 25 April 2024

Routinely sewn into male but not into female clothing, they have helped men make their way through the world, fully equipped, as if they were armoured vehicles or portable garden sheds.

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Where does culture come from?

Terry Eagleton, 25 April 2024

Marxism is about leisure, not labour. The only good reason for being a socialist, apart from annoying people you don’t like, is that you don’t like to work.

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At the Capitoline Museums: ‘Fidia’

Christopher Siwicki, 25 April 2024

The Parthenon was Pericles’ great project. Phidias’ role in its construction isn’t clear; Plutarch says that the architects were Callicrates and Ictinus. Phidias is sometimes cast as a works supervisor,...

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Mrs Berkshire went swiftly upstairs and put a bold eye to the keyhole. When she did, she saw that Pratt and Smith’s trousers were down. Later, in court, she confirmed that she had seen both men’s private...

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Radical Mismatch: Cold War Liberalism

Stephen Holmes, 4 April 2024

Samuel Moyn doesn’t really believe that his four Cold War liberals (Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Lionel Trilling and Judith Shklar), much less all those to whom that label might conceivably be applied,...

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Remembering the Future

Hazel V. Carby, 4 April 2024

I am reminded of the first maps I saw as a child, hanging on the walls of British classrooms. Of course, the colour that occurred most often on those maps was red, not white, a difference in surface but...

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Drones have brought major changes to the battlefield, but the machines that have had the most striking impact are cheap ones originally designed for the consumer market and adapted in the field for lethal...

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Diary: The Bussolengo Letters

Malcolm Gaskill, 21 March 2024

Each war speaks to every war, providing fresh testimony of nerves strained, hopes raised and dashed. And yet there is something tragically unusual – nearly unique – about these particular letters:...

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The leisured wealthy spent a lot of time chasing not only health, but a glimmering dream of something like the modern idea of ‘wellness’. Galen railed against this idea. He recognised that the full-time...

Read more about The cook always wins: Galen v. Gym Bros

Too Big to Shut Down: Rave On

Chal Ravens, 7 March 2024

Acid house wasn’t a genre of dance music so much as a new way of experiencing it: audiences dressed down, parties ran all night and – so dancers reported – social divisions disintegrated, helped...

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Not So Special: Imitating Germany

Richard J. Evans, 7 March 2024

The Weimar Republic was a ‘great crossroads of modernism’, where cultural innovators from many countries mingled, experimented and lived in defiance of convention. All this was destroyed when the Nazis...

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