Volume 64 Issue 6 June 2014

An inherent tension between the past and the present becomes explicit when we make our assessments of historical figures, argues Suzannah Lipscomb.

In 1880, after an unsuccessful attempt to occupy the southern half of the country, British forces withdrew from Afghanistan. Bijan Omrani describes how the new ruler installed in their wake, Abdur Rahman, unified the fractured nation at a terrible cost.

Academic history is crucial to the health of the discipline, but there are many other ways of engaging with the past.

Chris Skidmore praises Colin Richmond’s 1985 article, which offered a new theory, later confirmed, about the true location of one of the most famous battles in English history.

A selection of readers' correspondence with the editor, Paul Lay.

In Rwanda 20 years ago Hutu turned on Tutsi and a genocide lasting 100 days began. Dean White explains the historical background to an episode of intense violence many thought impossible in the late 20th century.

The stigma of illegitimacy forced many women in Victorian Britain to hand over their babies to adopters or ‘baby farmers’. Barbara Butcher tells the story of Amelia Dyer, who killed numerous infants she was paid to care for.

Roger Hudson sheds light on an 1898 image of US soldiers fighting alongside Cubans to end Spanish rule on the Caribbean island.

Taylor Downing looks at the making of the pioneering television series that launched BBC2 and marked the 50th anniversary of the First World War.

In 1812 the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Harriet, travelled to Dublin to assist the Irish cause and promote revolution. Eleanor Fitzsimons explains how the harsh realities of the experience swiftly shattered their juvenile idealism.

The country was renamed on June 23rd, 1939.

The heiress to the crowns of England and Ireland died on June 8th, 1714.

Maximilian of Austria acceded to the imperial throne of Mexico on June 12th, 1864.

The handover of the strategically important but troublesome Ionian Islands was an act rare for its time.

Joanne Bailey argues that gender history is no faddish digression from the historical route, but an advanced tool of analysis that is here to stay.

The River Nile and a thirst for commerce and land led the armies of Rome deep into Africa. Raoul McLaughlin investigates.

In 1904, when tobacco farmers of Kentucky and Tennessee formed an association to unite against the American Tobacco Company, a vigilante splinter group decided to deliver its own brand of rough justice.

Physical and mental disabilities have existed as long as life itself, but historians have paid little attention to them. On the other hand, much has been written about the evacuation of British children in the Second World War, but rarely mentioned are the large numbers of disabled children involved, their experiences and treatment, and the impact on perceptions of them. This is changing, as Sue Wheatcroft’s book attests. 

Gaston Doumergue, president of the Third Republic from 1924 to 1931, would wake at 5 am, throw himself into a vigorous regime of physical culture before taking a brisk hour-long walk, believing it helped him cope with the rigours of presidential office. Around the same time, working-class Marcel Hansenne was growing up as a scrawny, knobbly-kneed child in the industrial town of Tourcoing, north of Lille. Friends and bullies sarcastically nicknamed him ‘Hercules’. He later claimed that athleticism was responsible for his success as France’s 800m Olympic bronze medallist.

Professor Jeremy Black is one of our great adventurers: author of over 100 books to date, encompassing a wide range of geographical, chronological and intellectual topics, he is a resolute voyager of the mind. In The Power of Knowledge Black draws together his breadth of scholarly interests in support of a seductive argument: that, historically, power has been related to the search for information and the capacity to coordinate, depict, control and make practical use of it. 

In his delightful Germania (2010) Simon Winder gave his ‘personal’ history of Germany from Charlemagne to Hitler, taking as his starting point for each episode some evocative place one can visit today. Significantly the book has no illustrations, thus inviting the reader to see the vividly described locations in the mind’s eye.    

This book covers the period from 1369 to 1453, corresponding to the middle and later parts of the Hundred Years War, which affords an exceptional wealth of source material about the English military class of that period. In the muster rolls, letters of protection and appointments of attorney, all sources generated by the administrative needs of the English Crown, are recorded some 250,000 records of service, principally in France but also in the British Isles.

This volume covers the roles and influence of ladies-in-waiting in the Tudor and Stuart courts, France, the Habsburg courts, in Vienna and the Spanish Netherlands, and Sweden, with contributions covering several disciplines. This sort of study is useful to independent scholars like myself, who seek to bring the latest scholarly research to a wider audience, although its hefty price tag and self-conscious academic air are less appealing.

Lionel de Rothschild won the City of London seat in the 1847 general election. Because Rothschild was Jewish he was unable to swear the usual oath and thus take his seat. In 1858, after years of opposition and repeated re-election, a compromise finally allowed him into Parliament. Rainald Knightley, a Conservative opponent, complained that ‘a foreign nobleman came to that table as a representative of the City of London’. While Rothschild used an Austrian title (as Baron de Rothschild), he had been born in London and raised in England.

Adopting a wide-ranging definition of strategy, Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King’s College London, provides a discursive account with many interesting passages, notably, but not only, on recent developments involving the US. However the focus that he adopts, largely on western thinking, is seriously misguided in any work that purports to be a history of strategy or that seeks to explain the strategic cultures encountered by western powers as they expanded.

This fascinating book tells a lurid, in many ways atrocious story with verve and lucidity. Using the Pentagon’s own archives, as well as a wide selection of local ones, Roberts paints a fresco of sexual voraciousness in GI uniform, ravaging – often literally – a mass of bewildered and uprooted women across post D-Day Normandy. Prostitution was epidemic, as were the consequent diseases, and all was condoned, even consciously organised by high command, with only one rule: don’t let the folks back home know. 

After the eclipse of Mughal power in the early 18th century, the repository of Mughal culture moved from Delhi to Lucknow, capital of the rich north Indian state of Avadh (then known as Oude or Oudh). The East India Company’s greedy military annexation of Oudh in early 1856 – officially prompted by the misrule of its king – was a key factor in starting the Mutiny/Uprising of 1857 and so is extensively studied by historians. 

Female spies are back. Possibly they never left – hard to know – but they are now certainly very visible. Over the last couple of years we have had new biographies of Violette Szabo, Pearl Witherington, Christine Granville and the sisters Eileen and Jacqueline Nearne, various anthologies and new memorials to Granville, Noor Inayat Khan and, collectively, the women of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) at RAF Tempsford.

As a backbench Tory MP John Biffen was one of the very few disciples of Enoch Powell. On immigration, free market economics and Europe he followed his mentor’s lead and rebelled against the policies of the Heath government. When Heath fell, however, he rejoiced in the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and once prime minister she returned the compliment by appointing him to three Cabinet posts in succession. From 1979 to 1987, when she gave him the sack, Biffen was a pillar of the Thatcher regime – or so it appeared.