Easter was late in 1916, falling on 23 April, St George’s Day. This coincidence of faith and patriotism was inevitably both heightened and tempered by the ongoing struggles of the First World War. April 1916 came amidst the protracted fighting of the Battle of Verdun, a long and bloody conflict yet one which was only a foretaste of the horrors to come at the Somme the summer following. It also happened to mark the Tercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare.
Some four decades ago the late Sir Moses Finley, then Professor of Ancient History at Cambridge University, published a powerful series of lectures entitled Democracy Ancient and Modern (1973, republished in an augmented second edition, 1985). He himself had personally suffered the atrocious deficit of democracy that afflicted his native United States in the 1950s, forcing him into permanent exile, but my chief reason for citing his book here, apart from out of continuing intellectual respect, is that its title could equally well have been Democracy Ancient Versus Modern.
15 October 2015. Another cold, grey afternoon in Hamburg-Langenhorn. My last research visit to Helmut Schmidt’s private archive next to his home, a simple bungalow in the northern suburbs of the city. I was there to check some final references before sending my book off to press. But unexpectedly there was a chance to say hello to the former Chancellor, now ailing and housebound, before I took a taxi to the airport.
In France today, pork has become political. A series of conservative mayors have in recent months deliberately withdrawn the pork-free option from school lunch menus. Advocates of the policy claim to be the true defenders of laïcité, the French secular principle that demands neutrality towards religion in public space.
In early November 2015, the Belgian and Dutch press announced that a small land swap was in the making between Belgium and the Netherlands. Agreement has been reached at the local level that Belgium would cede a small peninsula in the river Maas [Meuse] of about 14 hectares – the size of 28 soccer fields – to the Netherlands. In return, Belgium would get a smaller piece of Dutch territory where it had already built a water lock.
Brexit—the prospect of Britain exiting the European Union—has garnered a great deal of attention in the past year as Britons debate the pros and cons of remaining a member of the EU. So-called Eurosceptics oppose integration with Europe for a variety of reasons, among them the constraints it places on the UK’s ability to negotiate more advantageous trade agreements, and the regulations and bureaucratic excesses the EU imposes on Britain in economic, financial, and judicial matters.
While the French revolutionary era is a period of the past, it remains one of the most defining moments in the country’s legacy and history. The major victors and vices are well known in these moments of violence and change—but what about the forgotten? From radical cleric Henri Grégoire to military leader Armand-Louis de Gontaut, here are but four overlooked figures of the French Revolution.
Pope Francis recently announced a “Year of Mercy.” He called on all Catholics to once again realize that God is love and that this includes infinite mercy. Yet, the message of mercy, also with its practical consequences, has been constant on the agenda of the Catholic Church, even in the eighteenth century—a time which is allegedly known for its rigid, sectarian close-mindedness. Here are four ways that the Catholic Church has emphasized “mercy” over time.
The politics and religious turmoil of 16th century England provided Shakespeare with the fascinating characters and intriguing plots. From the publication of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, which some historians argue ignited the Protestant cause, to the publication of the Geneva Bible in 1560, English religious history has dramatically influenced Shakespeare’s work.
Religious belief has been allied, for centuries, with fundamentalism and intolerance. It’s possible to have one without the other, but it requires a degree of self-criticism that is not easily acquired. When Calvin endorsed the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553, he justified his decision by appeal to the certainty of his own religious faith.
On 12 November 2015 the Ukrainian Parliament took the bold step of recognizing the destruction of the Crimean Tatar nation by the Soviet Army in 1944 as a genocide. The surviving Crimean Tatars hope that this long overdue action will shine an expository light on a genocide that has been kept hidden for decades and is still not recognized by Russia.
There is nothing new about the notion that the English, and their history, are exceptional. This idea has, however, recently attracted renewed attention, since certain EU-sceptics have tried to advance their cause by asserting the United Kingdom’s historic distinctiveness from the Continent.
Without Islam there would be no Shakespeare. This may seem surprising or even controversial to those who imagine a “national bard” insulated from the wider world. Such an approach is typified in the words of the celebrated historian A.L. Rowse, who wrote that when it came to creatively connecting with that world, Shakespeare, the “quiet countryman,” was “the least engaged writer there ever was.”
Tea was first imported into Britain early in the seventeenth century, becoming very popular by the 1650s. The London diarist Samuel Pepys drank his first cup in 1660, as recorded in his famous diary: “I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before.”
People frequently ask whether the study of history can help in managing humanitarian crises. This question is particularly timely given the massive outflow of refugees from Syria and the problems of admitting large numbers of refugees to other countries, including the United States.
This year, 2015, has seen a special landmark in cultural history: the 2500th anniversary of the official ‘birth’ of comedy. It was in the spring of 486 BC that Athens first included plays called comedies (literally, ‘revel-songs’) in the programme of its Great Dionysia festival.