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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Prince Charles, George Peele, and the theatrics of monarchical ceremony

Today marks the forty-sixth anniversary of Prince Charles’s formal investiture as Prince of Wales. At the time of this investiture, Charles himself was just shy of his twenty-first birthday, and in a video clip from that year, the young prince looks lean and fresh-faced in his suit, his elbows resting on his knees, his hands clasping and unclasping as he speaks to the importance of the investiture.

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The Battle of Marston Moor and the English Revolution

As a schoolboy I was told that on the eve of the battle of Marston Moor in 1644, as the rival armies drew up, a sturdy yokel was found ploughing his fields. When brought up to speed about the war between King and parliament he asked, “What has they two fallen out again?”.

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Does everyone love the National Health Service? Uncovering history’s critics

The National Health Service (NHS) has never just been about the state’s provision of universal healthcare. Since 1948, it has been invested with a spectrum of ‘British values’, including decency, fairness, and respect. Featured in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and hailed in polls as the thing that makes people most proud of being British, the NHS enjoys widespread affection.

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How do we remember the Battle of Waterloo?

From the moment the news of the victory was announced in London, Waterloo was hailed as a victory of special significance, all the more precious for being won on land against England’s oldest rival, France. Press and politicians alike built Waterloo into something exceptional. Castlereagh in Parliament would claim, for instance, that Waterloo was Wellington’s victory over Napoleon and that ‘it was an achievement of such high merit, of such pre-eminent importance, as had never perhaps graced the annals of this or any other country till now’.

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A Magna Carta reading list

King John II of England ascended to the throne in 1199 after a tumultuous accession war with his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, and his ally Phillip II of France. His inheritance was the Angevin Empire, consisting of England, most of Wales and Ireland, and a large swathe of France stretching south to Toulouse and Aquitaine. And yet, this empire was crumbling. It is in this context that one of the greatest legal documents in the world was written.

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Magna Carta: the international dimension

The importance of Magna Carta—both at the time it was issued on 15 June 1215 and in the centuries which followed, when it exerted great influence in countries where the English common law was adopted or imposed—is a major theme of events to mark the charter’s 800th anniversary.

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The greatest charter?

On 15th June 2015, Magna Carta celebrates its 800th anniversary. More has been written about this document than about virtually any other piece of parchment in world history. A great deal has been wrongly attributed to it: democracy, Habeas Corpus, Parliament, and trial by jury are all supposed somehow to trace their origins to Runnymede and 1215. In reality, if any of these ideas are even touched upon within Magna Carta, they are found there only in embryonic form.

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Redefining beauty in the suburbs of Victorian London

The British Museum’s current blockbuster show, Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art, amasses a remarkable collection of classical sculpture focusing on the human body. The most intriguing part of the show for me was the second room, “Body colour,” which displays plaster casts of several Greek sculptures brightly painted in green, blue, yellow, red and pink. The press has not known what to make of “Body colour.” It has been met with surprise, sneers, or been entirely ignored in otherwise glowing reviews.

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Party games: coalitions in British politics

The general election of May 2015 brought an end to five years of coalition government in Britain. The Cameron-Clegg coalition, between 2010 and 2015, prompted much comment and speculation about the future of the British party system and the two party politics which had seemed to dominate the period since 1945. A long historical perspective, however, I think throws an interesting light on such questions.

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A century of British cinema

Film is little over 120 years old, and lives in film seem to fall into three phases. The first comprises those who were born before the era of film, and whose different experiences and expectations helped shape the young medium. The second comprises those who grew up with film, in the era of the studios and mass cinema-going. The third consists of those who saw the bastion of the film world assailed by new technologies, from television to video games, which divided the audience’s attention and changed professions.

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The final years of Fanny Cornforth

Family historians know the sensation of discovery when some longstanding ‘brick wall’ in their search for an elusive ancestor is breached. Crowds at the recent ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ exhibition at Birmingham explored the new resources available to assist their researches, and millions worldwide subscribe to online genealogical sites, hosting ever-growing volumes of digitized historical records, in the hope of tracking down their family roots.

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Who said it? Napoleon or Clausewitz

How well do you know your military strategists? Napoleon Bonaparte and Carl von Clausewitz are considered some of the finest thinkers on war and strategy. Although they were enemies on the battlefield, both men’s insights into the dynamics of war are still widely consulted today. Take our quiz and see if you can tell who said what. Quotes are drawn from Napoleon: On War and On War by Carl Von Clausewitz.

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Five years of Labour opposition

The 7 May 2015 marks the conclusion of a long and challenging five years for Ed Miliband as leader of the opposition. After one of the worst defeats in the party’s history in May 2010, he took over as the new leader of the Labour party with the mission to bring the party back into power after only one term in opposition. A difficult task at the best of times, but made even harder due to internal tensions between Blairites and Brownites, Blue Labour and New Labour as well as many voters blaming the previous Labour government for the economic state of the country immediately after the 2010 election.

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The long history of World War II

World War Two was the most devastating conflict in recorded human history. It was both global in extent and total in character. It has understandably left a long and dark shadow across the decades. Yet it is three generations since hostilities formally ended in 1945 and the conflict is now a lived memory for only a few. And this growing distance in time has allowed historians to think differently about how to describe it, how to explain its course, and what subjects to focus on when considering the wartime experience.

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Who was the first great Shakespearean actress?

The first female Juliet appears to have been Mary Saunderson, to Henry Harris’s Romeo in 1662 when her future husband, Thomas Betterton, played Mercutio. Later she acted admirably as Ophelia and Lady Macbeth but nothing I have read characterizes her as great. Elizabeth Barry (c.1658–1713) succeeded her as Betterton’s leading lady, excelling in pathetic roles and achieving her greatest successes in the heroic tragedies of her own time.

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