By nearly all accounts, higher education has in recent years been lurching towards a period of creative destruction. Presumed job prospects and state budgetary battles pit the STEM disciplines against the humanities in much of our popular and political discourse. On many fronts, the future of the university, at least in its recognizable form as a veritable institution of knowledge, has been cast into doubt.
In Hamlet, Marcellus, referring to the royal ghost, says: “It faded on the crowing of the cock. Some say that ever gainst that season comes wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, this bird of dawning singeth all night long, and then, they say, no spirit dare walk abroad, The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, so hallowed and so gracious is that time.”
Seventy years ago, on 30 September 1946, Lord Justice Lawrence, the presiding judge of the International Military Tribunal, began reading out the judgement in the trial of the so-called major German war criminals at Nuremberg. For nearly a year the remnants of the Third Reich’s top brass, led by Hermann Goering, had stood trial for crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and a conspiracy to commit the aforesaid crimes.
Opening the morning paper or browsing the web, routine actions for us all, rarely if ever shake our fundamental beliefs about the world. If we assume a naïve, reflective state of mind, however, reading newspapers and surfing the web offer us quite a different experience: they provide us with a glimpse into the kaleidoscopic nature of the modern era that can be quite irritating.
Historians of both Britain and Ireland have too often adopted a blinkered approach in which their countries have been envisaged as somehow divorced from the continent in which they are geographically placed. If America and the Empire get an occasional mention, Europe as a whole has largely been ignored. Of course the British-Irish relationship had (and has) its peculiarities.
At the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, national states were on the rise. Versailles was constructed as a stage on which the Sun King, Louis XIV, acted out the pageant of absolute sovereignty while his armies annexed neighbouring territories for the greater glory of France. At the death of Charles II of Spain in November 1700, the Spanish throne and its extensive possessions in Italy, the Low Countries and the New World passed to his grandson, Philip, Duke of Anjou.
On 7 September 1940, German bombers raided the east London docks area in two waves of devastating attacks. The date has always been taken as the start of the so-called ‘Blitz’ (from the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ or lightning war) when for nine months German bombers raided Britain’s major cities. But the 7 September attack also came at the height of the Battle of Britain.
Christmas is the most widely celebrated festival in the world but in few countries is it valued as deeply as in Germany. The country has given the world a number of important elements of the season, including the Christmas tree, the Advent calendar and wreath, gingerbread cookies, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, “Es ist ein Ros` entsprungen,” or “Vom Himmel Hoch.”
The Medici, rulers of Renaissance Florence, are not the most obvious example of a multiracial family. They’ve always been part of the historical canon of “western civilization,” the world of dead white men. Perhaps we should think again. A tradition dating back to the sixteenth century suggests that Alessandro de’ Medici, an illegitimate child of the Florentine banking family who in 1532 became duke of Florence, was the son of an Afro-European woman.
In the spring of 2014, after Russia annexed the Crimea, the German chancellor Angela Merkel took to the air. She jetted some 20,000 kms around the globe, visiting nine cities in seven days – from Washington to Moscow, from Paris to Kiev – holding one meeting after another with key world leaders in the hope of brokering a peace-deal. Haunted by the centenary of 1914, Merkel saw summitry as the only way to stop Europe from ‘sleepwalking’ into another great war.
Government advisers don’t regularly admit to handling doctored evidence. The extent to which the actions of recent governments may have depended on documents which had been ‘sexed up’ have—quite rightly—become matters for close scrutiny in recent decades. But the modern world has no monopoly over the spurious, the doubtful, and the falsified.
Guglielmo Marconi is popularly known as “the inventor of radio,” a mischaracterization that critics and supporters of his many rivals are quick to seize upon. Marconi was actually the first person to use radio waves to communicate. His first patent was for “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals and in Apparatus Therefor,” and he considered what he was doing to be a form of wireless telegraphy.
Violent sports like American football, ice hockey, rugby, boxing and mixed martial arts are perennially among the most popular. Their status is a frightening indication of the flowering of violence in sports in the 21st century, booming to a level unknown since ancient Greece and Rome. In the ancient Mediterranean, the audiences both in the Greek East and in the Roman West mutually enjoyed Greek athletic contests and Roman spectacles.
On 23 June 2016 a majority of people in England and Wales voted to Leave the European Union. A majority of Scottish voters opted to Remain and, so too, did a clear majority of voters in Northern Ireland. These results have produced uncertainty about the future direction of relationships across these islands.
Blindness is a recurrent image in Enlightenment rhetoric. It is used in a political context to indicate a lack of awareness, seen in a letter from Edmund Burke to the chevalier de La Bintinnaye, in poetic rhetoric, with the stories of the blind poets Milton, Homer, and Ossian circulating among the intelligentsia of the time, or simply as a physical irritation, when writers with long lives and extensive correspondences frequently complained of their eyesight deteriorating.
Over spring break, I spent a day in Tombstone, Arizona. This is the town where, if you don’t know the story, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, accompanied by their friend Doc Holliday, had a shootout with a group of cattle rustlers at the OK Corral. Though the Earp brothers wore the badges, when the tale is told the hero is usually Doc Holliday—noted gambler, crack shot, prodigious drinker