A hundred years on, the First World War still shapes the world in which we live. Its legacy survives in poetry, in prose, in collective memory, and in political culture. By the time the war ended in 1918, millions had died. Three major empires – Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans – lay shattered by defeat. A fourth, Russia, was in the throes of a revolution that helped define the rest of the century.
By Martin Thomas
Britain’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan and France’s recent dispatch of troops to the troubled Central African Republic are but the latest indicators of a long-standing pattern. Since 1945 most British and French overseas security operations have taken place in places with current or past empire connections.
By Jim Secord
We tend to think of ‘science’ and ‘literature’ in radically different ways. The distinction isn’t just about genre – since ancient times writing has had a variety of aims and styles, expressed in different generic forms: epics, textbooks, lyrics, recipes, epigraphs, and so forth.
On 31 March 1855 – Easter Sunday – Charlotte Brontë died at Haworth Parsonage. She was 38 years old, and the last surviving Brontë child. In this deeply moving letter to her literary advisor W. S. Williams, written on 4 June 1849, she reflects on the deaths of her sisters Anne and Emily.
After the Second World War ended in 1945, Britain and France still controlled the world’s two largest colonial empires, even after the destruction of the war. Their imperial territories extended over four continents. And what’s more, both countries seemed to be absolutely determined to hold on their empires: the roll-call of British and French politicians, soldiers, settlers and writers who promised to defend their colonial possessions at all costs is a long one. But despite that, within just twenty years, both empires had vanished.
By Marjorie Swann
The Compleat Angler opens with a man seeking companionship on a journey. “You are well overtaken, Gentlemen,” Izaak Walton’s alter-ego Piscator (Fisherman) exclaims as he catches up with Venator (Hunter) and Auceps (Falconer) north of London. “I have stretched my legs up Tottenham-hill to overtake you, hoping your business may occasion you towards Ware whither I am going this fine, fresh May morning.”
By Tim Harris
Historians have been arguing over how far back to trace the origins of the civil war that broke out in England in 1642 ever since the war itself.
Hugh Trevor-Roper was born 100 years ago today on 15 January 1914. The following is a letter from Hugh Trevor-Roper to Xandra Howard-Johnston from One Hundred Letters From Hugh Trevor-Roper, edited by Richard Davenport-Hines and Adam Sisman.
By Richard Roberts
The mounting diplomatic crisis in the last week of July 1914 triggered a major financial crisis in London, the world’s foremost international centre, and around the world. In fact, it was the City’s gravest-ever financial crisis featuring a comprehensive breakdown of its financial markets. But it is virtually unknown.
By Anne Secord
White’s classic text can be read as a shrewd exercise to encourage readers to follow a startlingly novel approach to studying the natural world. Most naturalists at that time based their natural systems and classifications of all living beings on the study of dead specimens in collections.
By Ashley Jackson
All around the world the British built urban infrastructures that still dominate towns and cities, as well as developing complex transport networks and the ports and railway stations that gave access to them. The Empire’s creation of cityscapes and lines of communication is easy to overlook, so much has it become part of the fabric of the world in which we live that it has been rendered unremarkable.
By Nicola Phillips
In eighteenth and early nineteenth-century England prisons were popular tourist sites for wealthy visitors. They were also effectively run as private businesses by the Wardens, who charged the inmates for the privilege of being incarcerated there. Indeed prisoners from the higher ranks of society, who had the means to pay for better accommodation, routinely expected to be treated better than lower class or “common” criminals.
By John van Wyhe
The year 2013 is the centenary of the death of the Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, best-known as the man who formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection independently of Charles Darwin.
By James Andrew Taylor
the more I read about his life after the war – the monumental drinking binges, the black-outs, the terrifying, sweating nightmares, and most of all the raging, unreasonable jealousies and the sickening violence that he meted out to his wife and, later, his lovers – the more I began to wonder whether this was not also the story of a man seriously damaged by his wartime experiences.
By Hannah Greig
Each autumn, throughout the 1700s, London’s West End was transformed. Previously quiet squares were populated again, first by servants and tradesmen. After the houses were readied, their employers journeyed to the capital from their country estates between October and January. Snow, noted one observer, ‘brings up all the Fine folks [to London], flocking like half-frozen birds into a Farm-yard, from the terror…of another fatal month’s confinement…in the country’.
By David Crystal
Hilary and I asked ourselves this question repeatedly when we were planning the tour that we eventually wrote up as Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain. Where can you find out about the places that influenced the character and study of the English language in Britain? How do you get there? And what do you find when you get there?