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Reviews in History

New reviews: Scotland, flappers, slave trade and queens


FryWith each week seeing a new series of claims and counter-claims about the viability of an independent Scotland, now seems an appropriate time for us to review a new book by Michael Fry, a self-declared former Scottish Conservative now supporting the nationalist position. Ian Donnachie believes A New Race of Men: Scotland 1815-1914 is in the tradition of scholarly, thoughtful, popular history and seems likely to command a wide audience (no. 1552).

bland (1)Elsewhere, Eloise Moss and Lucy Bland discuss Modern Women on Trial: Sexual Transgression in the Age of the Flapper which shows how the historiography on women’s sexuality in inter-war Britain has progressed during the last two decades (no. 1554, with response here).

walvinThen we turn to Crossings: Africa, the Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade by James Walvin, which Matthew Mitchell finds a highly coherent account that nevertheless manages to convey a satisfyingly complex view of its subject (no. 1553).

BeemFinally Estelle Paranque thinks that the strength of The Name of a Queen: William Fleetwood’s Itinerarium ad Windsor by Charles Beem and Dennis Moore is that it highlights and encapsulates the concerns and hopes that represented the power of a queen during the early modern period (no. 1551).

New reviews: Banishment, broadcasting, China vs Japan and global intellectual history


MorganYour deputy editor has returned this week from an ill-fated long weekend in Dorset, where apocalyptic weather conditions turned the drive from London into an eight-hour odyssey, and filled (we saw at least two) the fields with dead cows. And I didn’t get my promised Dorset Knobs and Vinney…

Still, my suffering pales into comparison with that endured by the subjects of our featured book, Banishment in the Early Atlantic World: Convicts, Rebels and Slaves, by Gwenda Morgan, Peter Rushton. Aaron Fogleman and the authors discuss a book full of highlights, and which raises a number of valuable questions for future study (no. 1550, with response here).

potter (1)Next up, we have Simon Potter’s Broadcasting Empire: The BBC and the British World, 1922-1970, as Brett Bebber reviews a staggering achievement, worthy of attention by scholars of popular culture and British imperialism, in addition to those interested in the business of radio and television (no. 1549).

mitterThen we turn to China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival by Rana Mitter. For Aaron Moore, this book provides a powerful, readable, and accessible account of the conflict in China (no. 1548).

MoynFinally Julia McClure believes that Global Intellectual History (edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori) contributes to the development of global history by deepening our awareness of the politics, epistemologies, and pluralities of global concepts (no. 1547).


New reviews: Heresy, revisionism, modernity and infanticide


mooreA real treat for medievalists this week, as eminent academics Pete Biller and R. I. Moore engage in a full and frank discussion of the latter’s The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe – a must-read! (no. 1546, with response here).

warringtonNext up, we have Revisionist Histories by Marnie Hughes-Warrington, which Jamie Melrose believes contains a wealth of examples of history’s plasticity, without outlining any means to establish the rules of these morphing games (no. 1545, with response here).

kynastonThen we turn to David Kynaston’s Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-1959. Malin Dahlstrom thinks that while readable, this volume fails to justify the author’s claim that the period in question marked a turning point in post-war British history (no. 1544).

farrellFinally Ian Miller praises a meticulously researched, well-written and thoughtfully crafted account of infanticide in late 19th-century Ireland, as he reviews ‘A most diabolical deed’: Infanticide and Irish society, 1850–1900 by Elaine Farrell (no. 1543).

New reviews: Churchill’s speeches, universities & empire, Baal’s priests and English love


toyeMuch discussion today of the trustworthiness, of lack thereof, of different names. In the interest of not alienating sections of our readership, I will have to redact our conclusions, but I would be interested to find out if readers share our irrational prejudices…

Anyway, enough of these witterings, and on with some reviews written by people with very sensible names.

First up, The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill’s World War II Speeches by Richard Toye. Kevin Matthews and the author discuss a valuable addition to the study of Churchill’s wartime premiership (no. 1542).

pietschThen we have Tamson Pietsch’s Empire of Scholars: Universities, Networks and the British Academic World, 1850-1939. Barbara Bush finds this book succeeds in its aim of writing settler universities into the history of British academia (no. 1541).

mccallNext up is Baal’s Priests: The Loyalist Clergy and the English Revolution, by Fiona McCall, and James Mawdesley believes that while the author has done a great service to historians of the 17th century in highlighting the treasures of the Walker archive, this book is not the final word (no. 1540).

langhamerFinally, we have Claire Langhamer’s The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution. Sally Holloway reviews a hotly anticipated new book, part of a new wave of scholarship on romantic love (no. 1539).

New reviews: Imperial electors, 1970s Ireland, League of Nations and Nazi culture


wolfThanks to everyone who got back to me about the podcast last week – we’ve already got plans to do more of these, and, as I said, it would be great to have suggestions for suitable interviewees. Do also feel free to get in touch if you fancy yourself, Paxman-like, on the other side of the mike…

Anyway, on with this week’s reviews, and we start with Armin Wolf’s Verwandtschaft – Erbrecht – Königswahlen. Donald Jackman appraises an attempt to solve the enigma of the origin of the imperial college of electors (no. 1538).


ferriterThen we have Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s, Diarmaid Ferriter, which Shane Nagle praises as a monumental piece of scholarship that will be a – if not the – standard work on Ireland in the 1970s for many years to come, written by one of Ireland’s premier historians working today (no. 1537).


clavinNext Emily Baughan believes Securing the World Economy. The Reinvention of the League of Nations, 1920-1946 by Patricia Clavin deserves an audience beyond the academy (no. 1536).


dennisFinally we have David B. Dennis’s Inhumanities. Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture, which Helen Roche reviews as a work which demands serious attention (no. 1535).

Latest from Reviews in History


seymourWe have all manner of treats in store for you this week, but before that, a rather London-centric question. The editor of the wonderful Bibliography of British and Irish History, who is a longstanding and long-suffering colleague of mine, claims to be able to walk from Senate House to Waterloo in 12 minutes. A glorious prize awaits for anyone who can beat this and prove it…

Don’t be distracted by this challenge, though, from checking out our FIRST EVER Reviews in History podcast. Daniel Snowman talks to Miranda Seymour (no. 1534) about her new book and her career as a historian, historical novelist and biographer.

Listen to an extract here, and please let me know if you would like to hear more of this sort of thing.

minutaglioThen we have Hugh Brogan’s review article, Fifty years since Dallas, in which he wades through (no. 1533) a pile of 50th anniversary Kennedy conspiracy theories, contrasting them with the latest piece of genuine scholarship on JFK. To judge from 2013’s newspapers, publishers’ lists, and television, the reading public is still, 50 years after, mesmerised by the assassination and its possible perpetrators.

katznelsonWe move to the period of the second-most celebrated US president of the twentieth century next, as Jonathan Bell and Ira Katznelson discuss (no. 1532, with response here) the latter’s Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, a rich and enviably learned study of a formative period in the creation of the modern United States.

wardFinally, we turn to Culture, Faith and Philanthropy: Londoners and Provincial Reform in Early Modern England by Joseph P. Ward. Brodie Waddell believes (no. 1531) this book provides us with a thorough and well-crafted study that demonstrates the importance of metropolitan charity in the social and cultural changes of the early modern period.

Latest from ‘Reviews in History’


The Summits of Modern Man: Mountaineering after the EnlightenmenHappy new year everyone – I hope you all had a good festive period, and that 2014 is panning out well so far. I’m always quite pleased to be back to sobriety / normality (or what passes for it at the University of London) at this time of year – when there’s no expectation of fun, you can’t be disappointed.

Not that there isn’t fun aplenty lurking in this week’s batch of reviews, starting with Peter H. Hansen’s The Summits of Modern Man: Mountaineering after the Enlightenment. Dawn Jackson Williams enjoys (no. 1530) a significant contribution to the field, which should be praised for placing the history of mountaineering ‘on belay’.

kumarNext we turn to Indigo Plantations and Science in Colonial India by Prakash Kumar, as J. N. Sinha and the author discuss (no. 1529, with response here) a well written, and impressively readable book, meticulously researched and based on a wide variety of sources skilfully used in the narrative. This is the first full- fledged independent work on the subject concerning India, and is sure to stimulate interest in the subject and prove a reference work for future research on indigo in India.

CustThen we have Richard Cust’s Charles I and the Aristocracy, 1625-1642, which Christopher Thompson finds (no. 1528) to be a study of major importance, which asks new questions, poses novel challenges and suggests positive answers of a challenging and comprehensive nature. By any standards, it is a study of major importance.

ransbyFinally Imaobong Umoren believes (no. 1527) Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs Robeson (by Barbara Ransby) should appeal to the general and specialist reader and is an excellent example of the benefits and beauty of biography at its best. In her second biography Ransby’s stylish skills chronicling the life, times and ideas of Robeson are again revealed.

Rezensieren – Kommentieren – Bloggen


The week before last I was in Munich, at the Rezensieren – Kommentieren – Bloggen conference organised to celebrate the second anniversary of, the online review platform for European History.

The IHR’s Reviews in History is a partner in this venture, and it was as deputy editor of this journal that I was invited to take place in a panel session to discuss the current state of online reviewing and commenting, and to speculate as to its future.

The panel (like the conference itself) was conducted solely in German, bar my own translated (and possibly therefore slightly random) intervention, and it was interesting that not just the language but the concerns of the participants and audience differed in some ways from those of British academics.

The keynote speaker on this topic, Dr Gudrun Gersmann, of Cologne University, predicted the demise of the traditional review. It was growing harder to find historians prepared to review, given other demands on their time, and in any case the new and preferable approach would be a crowdsourcing model, which would come to replace peer-reviewing by a couple of experts.

Other issues that were raised included those engendered by the sometimes more heirarchical German academic system, where a junior historian might feel loathe to be critical of a Professor’s work, or where to be seen as one of those ‘blogging types’ might be deleterious to one’s career. More familiar to British ears were the in-depth discussions as to how to secure funding to develop and maintain digital platforms such as recensio.

The debate was a deeply-engaged and at times heated one, and my schoolboy-German as a result might well have led to to some arguments escaping me! Fortunately full details can be in this round-up on the conference blog, and there are more comments here. A twitter round-up can be found by searching for #rkb13.

Journal of Digital Humanities and Historical Social Research special issue – Digital Humanities


I’ve just come across The Journal of Digital Humanities a comprehensive, peer-reviewed, open access journal that features scholarship, tools, and conversations produced by the digital humanities community. It has published three volumes (beginning in 2011) and is produced by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University.

On the homepage it states, “The Journal of Digital Humanities offers expanded coverage of the digital humanities in three ways. First, by publishing scholarly work beyond the traditional research article. Second, by selecting content from open and public discussions in the field. Third, by encouraging continued discussion through peer-to-peer review.”

The journal has articles, project news,  reviews of digital resources and publishes work identified by the weekday publication Digital Humanities Now. The latest issue (vol. 3, 2012) has an article, Visualizing San Francisco Bay’s Forgotten Past by Matthew M. Booker (associate professor of American and environmental history at North Carolina State University) and an article The Impact of Social Media on the Dissemination of Research: Results of an Experiment  by Melissa Terras (Co-Director of University College London (UCL) Centre for Digital Humanities). There is also a review of  the resource The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe, 1769-1794: Mapping the Trade of the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel hosted by Leeds University.

Coincidentally Reviews in History has also published a review of this important resource which includes a detailed and considered author’s response. 

Furthermore, the journal Historical Social Research has a special issue entitled Digital Humanities which presents the proceedings of a workshop that took place in Cologne,on 23-24 April 2012, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first conference on the use of computer technology in the Humanities. Topics covered include mark up, digital preservation and curation.

Social democracy – a Scandinavian mystery?


Perceptions of Scandinavia at the moment are governed by its seemingly endless production line of quality crime fiction and drama – the likes of Wallander, The Killing and the ubiquitious Girl With the Dragon Tattoo franchise, not to mention the terrifying work of Tove Jansson

Previously these countries, particularly Norway and Sweden, were probably best known for their espousal of social democracy, a political approach which during the Cold War came to be seen as a middle way between capitalism and communism, and which is explored in Professor Francis Sejersted’s The Age of Social Democracy. Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century (reviewed in detail here).

On the surface, these may appear to be contrasting phenomena, but in fact leftist politics and Scandi-crime have long been interrelated. The Martin Beck novels of the 1960s and 1970s were written by Marxist husband-and-wife team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, social issues in the Swedish welfare state feature in many Wallander tales, and Stieg Larsson himself was a noted left-winger.

The Moomins, of course, were nihilists…

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