Tag Archives: History

Past Glories

All nations look to their pasts, often as much as to their futures. National history combines elements of myth with the familiar, and provides stories which animate and galvanize. History can unify. It can awe. And the lustre of civilization past can obscure or beautify a present which is less edifying. Contemporary improprieties can be well hidden among ancient stones. Continue reading

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History in Policy

‘Public history’ is something of a misnomer. The degree to which history which can influence policy is ‘public’ is a difficult question. E. H. Carr writes in his What Is History? that, when he was working in a junior capacity at the Paris peace conference in 1919, all the diplomats and their staffs took extra care to empty their wastepaper baskets. They were thinking of the discussions surrounding the peace treaty after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, and the history they used to inform their actions was a titbit of information about that time: that nefarious negotiators spied on their opposite numbers’ plans by going through their waste paper. Carr uses this to illustrate the fallacy of thinking one can ultimately ‘learn from history’ in a way which is total and all-encompassing. Each moment in time presents new and unique challenges. One cannot rely simply on knowing the past to know the present, or indeed to predict the future. Continue reading

‘Race’ or ‘Civilisation’?

Victorian Empire

Lord William Bentinck did not hold office in British imperial service during the reign of Queen Victoria, but the offices he held before she ascended to the throne were significant; he was governor-general of India, the first to hold that office after the Charter Act of 1833 re-organised Indian governance. His attitudes and perspective can thus be seen both to foreshadow Victorian ideas of empire, and also, in places, to diverge dramatically from them. When Bentinck departed Britain for his first role in colonial administration, the governorship of Madras, which he occupied at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he expressed Enlightenment values pertaining to the universality of human nature: ‘Is not human nature everywhere the same?’ This belief was stiffly expressed but sincerely held. Continue reading

The Meaning of Alexander

Was he nothing more than a military adventurer?

Alexander the Great was a remarkable military commander. He was an impressive leader of men who experienced huge and undeniable success. His conquest of much of the Persian Empire is notable for its dramatic nature and for the rapidity with which that conquest was achieved. Continue reading

Present Tense

Review – 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

The success of Yuval Noah Harari’s first book, Sapiens, a sweeping assessment of human history, was so great that its author has been granted a status far beyond that normally afforded to professors of global history. Continue reading

In Parts True and Original

Review – The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani

Amid many recent books purporting to explain our present age’s apparent problems with the truth, Michiko Kakutani’s stands out.

It stands out because of its author’s reputation as a judicious writer; she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for literary criticism. But more than that, it stands out because of the specificity of its central claim – which holds not, as other books have argued, that there is more falsehood in the world now than ever, or it is easier to be duplicitous, and on a grander scale, than at any time in recent history; but rather that the very idea of verity is under attack, and that it has been in retreat for some time. Continue reading

The Death of Socrates Reconsidered

Socrates is often considered the father of Western philosophy. He taught Plato and influenced Aristotle, pioneering aspects of intellectual instruction and philosophical enquiry. No writings in his name survive. Instead, the life of Socrates is held to demonstrate greatness. Plato viewed his mentor as the ideal philosopher, a model of how a thinker should act and live. The memory of the man surpasses his works. Continue reading