After studying the Reformation for over four decades, I’ve found myself alongside many other historians in pulling down one great Protestant myth: all you needed to do was put a little finger on the structure of the medieval Western Church, and it would fall over and collapse. Not so: the old religion satisfied most people and satisfied consumer demand.
Einstein’s scientific achievements are well known even if not widely understood by non-scientists. He bestrode the twentieth century like a colossus and physicists are still working through his legacy. Besides, the theory of relativity penetrated far beyond science into many areas of literature and the arts. If hard to measure, evidence of his cultural influence is unmistakable.
Is there a war on Christmas? Historian Gerry Bowler argues yes—and that it’s been going on for over 2000 years. The following excerpt from Christmas in the Crosshairs discusses recent incidences of Christmas-time political correctness in America, while highlighting examples of “Merry Christmas legislation.”
The viking image has changed dramatically over the centuries, romanticized in the 18th and 19 century, they are now alternatively portrayed as savage and violent heathens or adventurous explorers. Stereotypes and clichés are rampant in popular culture and vikings and their influence appear to various extents, from Wagner’s Ring Cycle to the comic Hägar the Horrible, and J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to Marvel’s Thor. But what is actually true? Eleanor Barraclough lifts the lid on ten common viking myths.
The surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s British army at Yorktown, Virginia, on 19 October 1781 marked the effective end of the War of American Independence, at least in North America. The victory is usually assumed to have been Washington’s; he led the army that besieged Cornwallis, marching a powerful force of 16,000 troops down from near New York City to oppose the British. Charles O’Hara, The presence of the young Alexander Hamilton, one of Washington’s aides-de-camp, who led a light infantry unit in the final stages of the siege, adds to the sense of its being a great American triumph.
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.