Television is in bad shape. Facing competition from video games, social media and online streaming services – all of which seek to overturn its long-established dominance – TV faces the toughest commercial challenges in its history. And those voices that criticise television for being too low-brow, for being, in their view, an entirely unintellectual form of entertainment, have never gone away. Historical television is a frequent target for those critics, who say history on TV (when it is produced at all) is often represented by nothing more than a collection of platitudes read over an emotive soundtrack and embarrassing reconstructions of dubious accuracy. Continue reading
Monthly Archives: November 2015
Defeating the Islamic State
During the quieter months of the year-long aerial campaign waged against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it might have been possible to forget of its existence, or at least to push the subject to the rear of the developed world’s many priorities. That cannot be said now. With a refugee crisis which largely stemmed from the affected areas sparking a summer of tragically perilous sea journeys and arbitrary border closures, followed at all times by the implied threat of a populist, nationalistic backlash, forgetting was not an entirely easy process. And now – as ISIS launches more ambitious examples of its terrorist activity overseas, including the likely downing of a Russian plane in Egypt and the savage bloodbath which has terrorised the city of Paris last week – it seems that a reaction of sorts is not only appropriate but vital. Continue reading
An Ontology of President Obama’s Failure in Syria
The Syrian civil war has been tearing the heart out of the country and the region for nearly five years. The mere numbers alone illustrate this brutal reality with suitable bluntness and force. 300,000 likely dead; 11 million people displaced, either internally or externally; four million of them refugees. This is a barbaric and almost Hobbesian reality. It sometimes – indeed, often – defies understanding, especially for those who live in the West, most of them largely untouched by its ferocity; but occasionally, brief and transient insights are given for the benefit of those unaffected by all this into the sheer horror – and its vast extent. Continue reading
Continuity and Change after the Bolshevik Revolution
The eventual shape of the Soviet Union, it could be argued, was vastly different to that which had been envisaged by its founders, and vastly divergent to the predictions of its intellectual forefathers. After the October Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in the major cities of St Petersburg and Moscow. What they did not possess, however, was the support of the whole country; quite obviously, this was not going to be a harmonious or peaceful transfer of power. This could simply never have happened – and certainly not in the situation which presented itself after revolution, with all of Russia’s political factions arranged in opposition and still in the process, it must be remembered, of fighting a crippling war against Germany. Continue reading
Was the Accelerating European Arms Race Responsible for the Outbreak of the First World War?
The European arms races which characterised military life after the turn of the century could certainly be stated to have increased tension, fed into a culture of militarisation, and provided impetus for the increasingly aggressive actions of national governments in the run up for the war. There are many other factors, however, which also could be said to have made war either more likely or even, possibly, inevitable. Continue reading
Montaillou: Time, Space and Individuality in Medieval France
The ghosts of the past continue to entrance. While the topic of Montaillou – the thoroughly individual history of the village of the same name by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie – and memory is a particular enthralling one, it can also serve as an ultimately ineffable subject, something which could prove completely out of the grasp of those who no longer occupy the same space and time as those whose lives they study. The historian is well suited, however, to studying the concepts of time, space and individualism in Middle Ages Foix; and they are no less fascinating. Continue reading
Was the League of Nations Undermined Mainly by Its Own Constitution?
The League of Nations was certainly undermined by the inherent faults of its constitution; this was the product of a particularly idealistic period of history, in which the notion of a supra-national body was a conception ultimately unable to keep up with the Great Depression and the rapacious revisionist powers of the 1930s. This idealism was also seen in the assumptions made in the League’s creation – seen for example in the likelihood of US membership, as well as the motivations and intentions of Britain and France, both of which did not take kindly to becoming de facto world policemen. It is also clear that matters relating to the Covenant and the nature of League machinery predominate in calculations of the failure of those years. The interpretations and arguments presented stem fundamentally from the way the League was constructed and built; this greatly undermined the League, leading to its eventual failure and the collapse of international order. Continue reading
Montaillou and Memory
Arguably one of the greatest achievements of 20th century historical scholarship, Montaillou by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie is a tremendously comprehensive study of peasant society in the comté de Foix in the Middle Ages. Both the region and the book are unique – the former because it stood almost alone in the 14th century as a home and haven for the Albigensian heresy, and the latter because it benefits from an effectively singular source: the Fournier Register, which comprises records kept by a particularly enterprising bishop – Jacques Fournier – that detail the progress of his prosecution of the Inquisition in Languedoc. Continue reading