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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Unearthing Viking jewellery

By Jane Kershaw
There’s a lot we still don’t know about the Vikings who raided and then settled in England. The main documentary source for the period, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, simply tells us that Viking armies raided Britain’s coastline from the late eighth century. Raiding was followed by settlement, and by the 870s, the Vikings had established a territory in the north and east of the country which later became known as the ‘Danelaw’.

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20 years since the Bishopsgate bombing

By John Horgan
On 24 April 1993, the city of London was brought to a standstill. A massive terrorist bomb exploded at the NatWest tower, killing one person and injuring at least 40 more. The truck bomb, planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was designed to strike at the financial heartland of London, and it succeeded. In addition to the human casualties, what has since become known as the Bishopsgate bomb caused $1 billion in financial damages.

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A vegetable wonder!

By Tatiana Holway
With headlines and taglines and raves such as these fanning out from Fleet Street in the autumn of 1837, it would be hard to overestimate the sensation surrounding the immense water lily found earlier that year in the remote South American colony of British Guiana and subsequently named Victoria regia in honor of the empire’s newly crowned queen.

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Discovering the hermit in the garden

By Gordon Campbell
For many years, answering polite enquiries about my current book project was relatively easy: I could explain that it was about Milton, or the Bible, or Renaissance art and architecture, or the decorative arts, or whatever might be the topic, and the conversation could happily proceed to more interesting subjects. For the past few years, however, I have had to say that I was writing a book about ornamental hermits in eighteenth-century gardens.

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Mark Roodhouse on the black market

From cigarettes to knockoffs, what’s available on the black market? Lecturer in modern history Mark Roodhouse investigates the illegal trade in counterfeit and stolen goods in Britain from the interwar period to today. And there’s always a boom in the underground economy as austerity measures hit, whether with “losses of goods in transit” during the Second World War or horsemeat discovered in packaged meals in 2013. Mark Roodhouse speaks with BBC Wiltshire’s Mid-Morning Show about the history of the black market.

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Woman – or Suffragette?

By Lynda Mugglestone
In 1903, the motto “Deeds not Words” was adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst as the slogan of the new Women’s Social and Political Union. This aimed above all to secure women the vote, but it marked a deliberate departure in the methods to be used. Over fifty years of peaceful campaigning had brought no change to women’s rights in this respect; drastic action was, Emmeline decided, now called for.

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The legacies of Margaret Thatcher’s rhetoric

By Richard Toye
The death of Margaret Thatcher has already prompted an outpouring of reflections upon her place in history. One aspect of her legacy that deserves attention is her use of rhetoric and the way in which, to a great degree, she helped reshape the language of British politics as well as the substance of policy. Historians divide about when original Thatcherism really was.

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Remembering Margaret Thatcher

By Matthew Flinders
Could it be that far from the all-powerful ‘Iron Lady’ that Margaret Thatcher was actually a little more vulnerable and isolated than many people actually understood?

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Jack the Ripper and the case of Emma Smith

By Paul J. Ennis
Many people are puzzled by the phenomenon of ripperology. What kind of person has a grim fascination with a serial killer famous for not getting caught? For me, and many fellow ripperologists, the appeal is not Jack per se, but the atmosphere of Whitechapel in the 1880s. The case is a window into a forgotten world and one that shows us how that world was experienced by the common man.

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Celebrating the suffrage movement in International Women’s History Month

Who Was Who entries provide insight into the diversity of attitudes to women’s suffrage in the early years of the twentieth century. The career section of the suffragette Constance Lytton’s entry details the injuries she sustained after being force fed during a prison hunger strike, while Ellen Odette, Countess of Desart’s work was summarized as “The usual duties of a well-educated, intelligent woman, conscientiously carried out; very strong anti-suffrage views.”

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This April fools’ day, learn from the experts

As the First of April nears you may be planning the perfect joke, hoax or act of revenge. If so—and if you’re looking for inspiration—may we recommend some of British history’s finest hoaxers, courtesy of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. So this year, how about …

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Soldier, sailor, beggarman, thief

By Clive Emsley
Soldiers, sailors, and airmen reflect the societies from which they come. We should not be surprised therefore if they reflect vices as well as virtues; yet there is often hostility to anyone picking up on the vices of service personnel. When putting together a recent book, I was denied permission to use a quotation from the memoir of an infantry lieutenant about theft by members of his platoon in Germany in 1945. It might be asked: why was the information put in the memoir if it was not to be read? It was not always thus.

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In the path of an oncoming army: civilians in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

By Mike Rapport
Modern wars, someone once wrote, are fought by civilians as well as by armed forces. In fact, it is of course a truism to say that civilians are always affected by warfare in all periods of the past – as the families left behind, by the economic hardship, by the horrors of destruction, plunder, requisitioning, siege warfare, hunger and worse. The involvement of civilians in modern wars, however, became more intense because, with the advent of ‘total war’, belligerent states began to mobilise the entire population and material resources of the country. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were an early example of the ways in which a modern war could grind millions of people up in its brutal cogs, whether as conscripts in the firing lines of Europe’s mass armies and navies, or as civilians caught in the path of the oncoming battalions and trapped in the crossfire of the fighting itself. At the Oxford Literary Festival on 24 March, I will be speaking about the non-combatants who, in one way or another, found themselves entangled in the wars.

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Ben Jonson: such is fame

By Ian Donaldson
Some years ago, while I was working in Australia’s national capital, Canberra, I was about to give a lecture on Ben Jonson when the telephone rang. It was the Canadian High Commission on the phone. A small delegation (I was told) was just setting out to hear the lecture, and wanted more precise directions to the place where I’d be speaking.

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Eating horse in austerity Britain

By Dr Mark Roodhouse
On 27 April 1942, the Bow Street magistrates convicted The Waldorf Hotel, London, its head chef, and a London horseflesh dealer for ignoring the regulations fixing the maximum price of horsemeat. The chef paid the dealer £6 10s for 78 lb of horsemeat, nearly double the official price of £3 18s. Two American journalists, staying at The Waldorf while reporting on the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, read the news with consternation.

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