Tag Archives: Winston Churchill

The Villain of the East

Review – The Russian Origins of the First World War by Sean McMeekin

The First World War is hardly a novel subject for serious historical study. Its origins in particular, in the same way the end of the Roman Republic and the creation of an empire captures the attention of scholars and general readers, demands attention; it is both a vital, epoch-defining event and a perfect encapsulation of something deeper – and such a suggestion is highly attractive, not only to those who seek to discover (or invent) cast iron laws of history, but to anyone seeking a more crystalline understanding of the past. Continue reading

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In Defence of History on TV

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

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

History Is Literature

‘It is important for the historian not only to write, but to write well.’ Thus ran a particularly controversial essay title which was recently put to history students sitting their Finals at one of our most ancient universities. This question provoked what might at first glance seem a surprising level of controversy.  Continue reading

Oliver Cromwell: The Holy Warrior

Review – God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution by Christopher Hill

Few figures in the canon of English history can claim to be as controversial as Oliver Cromwell. Reviled in Ireland, revered by many, and skilfully avoided by politicians and public figures eager to avoid the controversy inevitably associated with his invocation, Cromwell’s life has been chronicled, interpreted and pored over for more than 300 years. For many, especially children, Cromwell is known as a figure of history, but often only as a caricature. His supposed Puritanism, his part in the execution (by decapitation) of King Charles I, his warts – all of these represent and to some extent define Cromwell in the public eye. He will, however, stand the test of time; too much is deeply associated with his most remarkable life for him to sink into obscurity. But the misunderstandings surrounding Cromwell’s life and legacy remain great. A young Winston Churchill, whose earliest memories were of Ireland – his family moved there after Lord Randolph, Winston’s father, got a job as secretary to his own father, the Duke of Marlborough, who was appointed Lord Lieutenant – wrote of one such story in his memoir, My Early Life. Continue reading

Two Lives: Review – Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas (2000) by Douglas Murray

Douglas Murray’s first book – published when the author was just 19 and still an undergraduate at Oxford – sets out to chronicle the life of Lord Alfred Douglas, the much maligned and little understood muse of Oscar Wilde. It is Murray’s intention to demonstrate that Douglas was not the petulant, shallow youth of popular perception; it is only reasonable to suggest that this endeavour produces mixed results. Whereas Murray’s study of Douglas’s youth is revelatory – dispensing, for example, with the outdated idea that Douglas entirely abandoned Wilde in his time of need – some of his arguments are less successful. This reviewer remains unconvinced as to Douglas’s own literary merit; and it would take a tremendously skilful apologist – a part Murray is too canny to play – to convince the fair-minded reader that Douglas’s final years were much more than tragicomic in outcome. Continue reading

When Historians Write About the Past, Are They Nearly Always Writing About the Present?

On one level, one must agree with the statement entirely: every historian, in the act of writing, is implicitly chronicling his or her own times. In a basic sense, this can be seen in the language or dialect they use, even in the vernacular of their work. Each is connected with history, but each is still of the present, directed by the exigencies of the present day. The words themselves might also have political connotations from which they cannot be entirely dissociated. E. H. Carr, in his seminal work of historiography What is History?, provides a pertinent example:

The names by which successive French historians have described the Parisian crowds which played so prominent a role in the French Revolution ­­– le sans-cullottes, le peuple, la canaille, le bras-nus – are all, for those that know the rules of the game, manifestos of a political affiliation and of a particular interpretation.[1]

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