History & Classics

Tools of Enslavement

Fara Dabhoiwala

23 June 2022

As colonial historians have long appreciated, ‘runaway slave’ adverts provide the best surviving evidence of the appearance and individuality of large numbers of enslaved people. They also testify to their continual defiance of captivity. Yet these notices, and the networks of communication they reinforced, were themselves instruments of bondage.

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Love of the Gardenesque

James Butler

23 June 2022

Bulbs wait​ for the right conditions – sufficient light, water, warmth – to produce new growth. Eighteen months ago, when I moved to a new boat, the conditions were right for me, too. For the first . . .

‘The World of Stonehenge’

Julian Bell

23 June 2022

There​ are the known unknowns: the 52 sarsens – ‘Saracen’ stones, accessories to un-Christian religion – clustered on the bare Wiltshire upland. It is now agreed that the boulders of quartzite . . .

Bewitched by the Brickmaker

Keith Thomas

12 May 2022

These days​, Springfield is the most populous suburb of Chelmsford, the county town of Essex. But until the 1950s it was a mere village, situated a mile north-east of the city on the old Roman road . . .

On Paper

Tom Johnson

12 May 2022

In​ 1391, 2.3 million sheets of paper arrived at the port of London: a page for every person in England. Most of it was probably low-quality brown paper used as a packing material to protect foodstuffs . . .

The Public Voice of Women

Mary Beard, 20 March 2014

Iwant to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’; telling her that her voice was not...

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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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The nobility of Poland-Lithuania, superbly quarrelsome and eccentric, left every Western visitor with a lifetime of traveller’s tales. The early 18th century put many European monarchies on the track...

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Democrats were so overjoyed at defeating Trump that for a time they failed to notice that the election returns called into question the demographic determinism which in recent years has led many Democrats...

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Last year, Senate Republicans voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a national holiday, celebrating the wartime end of slavery and, in effect, the defeat of the Confederacy. The cultural struggle over the...

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Alphabetarchy: In the Kanjisphere

Lydia H. Liu, 7 April 2022

Hanzi script relied on concepts – pictography, ideography, logography – that the phonetic alphabet had superseded. The Roman alphabet, it was argued, had prevailed not because of its association with...

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Bring out the lemonade: What the Welsh got right

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, 7 April 2022

Who’s to say that one version of Welsh nationalism is more ‘true’ than any other? The claim that ‘Wales is a nation’ isn’t a descriptive statement: it is – or aspires to be – an illocutionary...

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That he was a werewolf seems to have been common knowledge and Thiess himself freely admitted it – in fact, he said, it wasn’t even the first time it had been mentioned in court. Ten years earlier,...

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Unnerved by death threats and assassination plots, Robespierre acquired a trio of bodyguards armed with clubs. In the end, however, his undoing was not the work of a murderous stranger but of his adversaries...

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So Much for Caligula: Caesarishness

Julian Bell, 24 March 2022

The life of a first-century Roman emperor seems typically to have been a sorry business. The vast polity looked to a single authority for stability; but for those who either pushed themselves or were pushed...

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Thou Old Serpent!

James Butler, 10 March 2022

Almost no first-hand accounts of the experience of possession exist. The actions and utterances of possessed women – the most famous cases all involve women, though men and children suffer possession...

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A Surfeit of Rank

Simon Akam, 10 March 2022

We stand at the end of twenty years of failed war. We should not be allowing this institution to mark its own homework.

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A Monk’s-Eye View

Diarmaid MacCulloch, 10 March 2022

The whole dissolution process was analogous to the proverbial frog boiling in water: you might not notice until it had happened. This is a partial explanation for why Henry VIII got away with it, but there...

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Keep the baby safe: Corrupt and Deprave

Stephen Sedley, 10 March 2022

Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who regularly advised the director of public prosecutions on possible obscenity cases, was once asked by a colleague how he decided what advice to give. ‘I don’t know anything...

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Like a Flamingo: Viking Treasure

Tom Shippey, 24 February 2022

In​ September 2014 a group of detectorists were searching a field in Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire, in south-west Scotland, when one of them got a signal. This wasn’t entirely unexpected....

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A Tiny Sun: Getting the Bomb

Tom Stevenson, 24 February 2022

Intentional use is not the only danger. Nuclear strategists systematically underestimate the chances of nuclear accident: it has no place in the logic of strategy. But there have been too many close calls...

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Short Cuts: Vanity and Cupidity

David Renton, 24 February 2022

For ten years Horatio Bottomley had been an MP, for thirty he had fought his way through the court system without significant reverse. People stopped laughing at Bottomley’s jokes only when they grasped...

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Big Boss in Fast Cars: In Brezhnev’s Room

Neal Ascherson, 24 February 2022

Brezhnev wasn’t a mediocrity. He was average: not at all the same thing. He was the sort of Russian male whom foreigners think typical: large, handsome, a great dancer brimming over with sentimental...

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At the British Library: Elizabeth and Mary

Deborah Friedell, 24 February 2022

Elizabeth and Mary were obsessed with each other. Mary was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII; her paternal grandmother was Henry VIII’s older sister, Margaret Tudor. While most of Europe thought of...

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Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley and Iris Murdoch all matriculated at Oxford in the late 1930s. When most of the men went off to war, they found themselves, as women philosophy students,...

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