Fake news is not only a phenomenon of post-truth politics in the Trump era. It’s as old as newspapers themselves—or as old, Robert Darnton suggests, as the scurrilous Anecdota of Procopius in sixth-century Byzantium. In England, the first great age of alternative facts was the later seventeenth century, when they clustered especially around crises of dynastic succession.
An eclectic mix of small manufacturers, shopkeepers and service providers dominated the streetscape of towns across north-west England during early industrial revolution. Yet although these tradesmen and women constituted anything from 20–60% of the urban population, our view of the commercial world in this period tends to be dominated by narratives of particularly big and successful businesses, and those involved in new and large-scale modes of production.
‘Blow the bloody place up.’ There was nothing ambiguous about the instructions which Commander F. T. Woosnam had been given. Woosnam was the naval engineer in charge of preparing Heligoland for Operation ‘Big Bang’, the destruction of all Germany’s military installations on the small island.
In response to the Fake News and Alternative Facts doctrine twittered so incoherently from the Trump White House, people have remembered George Orwell’s Doublethink and Newspeak, and sales of 1984 have boomed in the USA. No doubt we shall soon appreciate anew the Orwellian warning that Big Brother is Watching You. The revelations by Edward Snowden still linger in our consciousness as a reminder of the caution.
The Oxford English Dictionary is recognized the world over, but much of its history isn’t so widely known: as with a respected professor or an admired parent, it’s all too easy simply to make use of its wisdom and authority without giving much thought to how it was acquired. Read on for some interesting nuggets of information about the history of this extraordinary project that you may not have encountered elsewhere.
How would the Anglo-Saxons react to the threat of terrorism if they had access to Facebook? It’s a bizarre question, I admit, but I’ve been immersed in England’s pre-Norman Conquest legal system for over a decade now, and it’s been playing on my mind. The answer makes me uncomfortable. Supposing the brutal persecution of minority groups was impractical (which it actually wasn’t), how would the Anglo-Saxons have reacted if they knew that there were among their number people who secretly rejected their core values and plotted to cause them harm?
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve put together a reading list of biographies that capture the lives of influential women throughout history.
Today we use the term “bastard” as an insult, or to describe children born to non-marital unions. Being born to unmarried parents is largely free of the kind of stigma and legal incapacities once attached to it in Western cultures. Nevertheless, it still has associations of shame and sin. This disparagement of children born outside of marriage is widely assumed to be a legacy of Medieval Christian Europe, with its emphasis on compliance with Catholic marriage law.
Most gardens are in predictable places and are organised in predictable ways. On entering an English suburban garden, for example, one expects to see a lawn bordered by hedges and flowerbeds, a hard surface with a table for eating al fresco on England’s two days of summer, and a water feature quietly burbling in a corner.
Just over three hundred years ago, William Pitt Amherst arrived in China as Britain’s putative ambassador. The new frontier that China presented remained closed until it was opened by force of arms, solemnized in treaties denounced by China as unequal and marking the beginning of a century of humiliation. In other parts of Asia, international law facilitated and legitimized the colonial enterprise to expand international law and commerce to other frontiers.
Charles Dickens’s reputation as a novelist and as the creator of Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the most globally recognized Christmas miser figures, has secured him what looks to be a permanent place in the established literary canon. Students, scholars, and fans of Dickens may be surprised to learn that the voice many Victorians knew as “Dickens,” especially at Christmastime, was also the voice of nearly forty other people.
Alan Turing’s personal mathematical notebook went on display a few days ago at Bletchley Park near London, the European headquarters of the Allied codebreaking operation in World War II. Until now, the notebook has been seen by few — not even scholars specializing in Turing’s work. It is on loan from its current owner, who acquired it in 2015 at a New York auction for over one million dollars.
“Will the Prime Minister provide a commitment today that no part of the great repeal bill will be subject to English votes for English laws?” This seemingly technical query – will have reminded Theresa May that, amidst the turmoil and drama of the current political moment, a powerful English question is now salient in British politics. But these questions of parliamentary procedure and tactics are really the tip of the iceberg.
We know more about Geoffrey Chaucer’s life than we do about most medieval writers. Despite this, it’s a truism of Chaucer biography that the records that survive never once describe him as a poet. Less often noticed, however, are the two radically different views of Chaucer as an author we find in roughly contemporaneous portraiture, although the portraits in which we find them are themselves well known.
Christopher Marlowe was born in February of 1564, the same year as Shakespeare. He was the son of a Canterbury shoemaker, and attended the King’s School there. With fellowship support endowed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, young Marlowe matriculated at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge University in 1580 and received the BA degree in 1584.
The growth of hospital medicine in 19th century India created a space–albeit a very small one–for providing Western-style healthcare to female patients. Many of these changes, including the reform of reproductive healthcare and the spread of women’s medical education, benefitted a privileged minority belonging to urban, higher-caste groups. The reform in women’s healthcare in colonial India constitutes a significant chapter of the country’s social history and laid an irrevocable foundation for medicine in the post-independence period.