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Pirates captured by an increasingly powerful British state were routinely executed. But what happened to the families they left behind?
The chance survival of a ‘postbag’ of letters reveals a lost world of merchants, pilgrims, bankers and scholars.
‘Word blindness’ was a recognised condition more than a century ago. But it was not until the 1970s that it began to be accepted by the medical establishment.
A New Line in EmpireBy Paul Lay Though much of the West has withdrawn from empire, one of the world’s rising powers offers the latest twist on imperialism.   What is the use of it, none can conjecture,What it will carry, there is none can define,And in spite of George Curzon’s superior lecture,It is clearly naught but a lunatic line.The Lunatic Line referred to in this ditty by the maverick Liberal MP Henry Labouchère was a strategic railway built to give British East Africa access to the Great Lakes region. Officially the Uganda Railway, its terminus, at Kisumu on Lake Victoria’s eastern shore, was opened in 1901.The line’s construction met with frequent resistance and occasional catastrophe. Masai warriors slaughtered around 500 workers at Kedong in 1895; three years later as many as 135 workers were killed by lions while building a bridge across the River Tsavo; in all, some 2,500 of the project’s labourers died, many of whom were brought in from India.The story of the Uganda Railway, disparaged at the time as a waste of...
Shining a Light on DarknessBy Suzannah Lipscomb Sexual exploitation by powerful men has a long history. Will it ever end? [[{"fid":"36626","view_mode":"float_right","fields":{"format":"float_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Unremitting: The Rape of Lucretia, by Alessandro Varotari, 17th century.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"Unremitting: The Rape of Lucretia, by Alessandro Varotari, 17th century."},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"Unremitting: The Rape of Lucretia, by Alessandro Varotari, 17th century.","title":"Unremitting: The Rape of Lucretia, by Alessandro Varotari, 17th century.","class":"media-element file-float-right"}}]]The revelations about Harvey Weinstein and those of other men who used their privilege for the sexual exploitation of women – and men – with less power than themselves, feels as if it has woken us from sleep. In choosing the ‘Silence Breakers’ as their Person of the Year – all those pictured and an unidentified elbow that speaks of you and #metoo – Time magazine has exalted the efforts of those who let the light in through the cracks.What troubles me is the idea that the Weinstein phenomenon is a recent excrescence. Yet there is a deep and bitter historical root to this matter that needs to be known, because what we are...
Slips of the TongueBy Alexander Lee Historians set great store by what people heard in the past, but what about those things they misheard?  [[{"fid":"36651","view_mode":"float_right","fields":{"format":"float_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"If the shoe fits: Cinderella and the Glass Slipper, illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1919.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"If the shoe fits: Cinderella and the Glass Slipper, illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1919."},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"If the shoe fits: Cinderella and the Glass Slipper, illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1919.","title":"If the shoe fits: Cinderella and the Glass Slipper, illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1919.","class":"media-element file-float-right"}}]]After being sacked as secretary of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 1682, Charles Perrault decided to dedicate the last years of his life to literature. At first, he threw himself into the so-called Querelle des Anciens et des Moderns, a heated debate about the relative merits of classical and contemporary literature. But despite winning great acclaim for defending the superiority of his own times – in Le Siècle de Louis le Grand (1687) – he quickly tired of such weighty matters and started casting about for something lighter. He eventually settled on fairy tales, then more...
Kyoto, c.1626By Kate Wiles A map of the Japanese city from the Edo period was one of the earliest produced for general use.  [[{"fid":"36656","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"style":"margin-top: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px;","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]Kyoto, then called Heian-kyō, was established as the seat of Japan’s imperial court in 794, at the start of the Heian period. It remained the capital city until the court moved to Tokyo in 1869. The city was built on the model of the Tang capital Chang’an and followed the grid-pattern of its road-plan.Early maps of Kyoto were hand-painted and, initially, intended to preserve the memory of previous stages of the city as it grew and changed, rather than as aids for navigation. Later, maps started to be produced for and used by the city administrators as detailed surveys, showing road widths, house size, landowners’ names and place names.This map shows the next phase of recording Kyoto. It is a product of the growth of woodblock printing and the resulting rise of commercial publishing in the Edo period (1603-1868), which, along with prompting the start of publishing fiction and political writings for wider audiences, saw...
Soviet Spy SwapBy Chris Bissell Gerald Brooke’s time in a Soviet prison was a pivotal moment in Cold War espionage. The Cold War was at its height in the 1960s, when arrests, expulsions and exchanges were rife. In 1967, for example, the American John A. Walker walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington DC and offered his services as a naval cryptographer with access to highly classified material. Walker had worked as a key supervisor in the communications centre for the US Atlantic Fleet’s submarine force and had knowledge of top-secret technologies, such as the SOSUS underwater surveillance system. He was one of the Soviet Union’s most successful and highly paid agents (he is said to have received between $500 and $1,000 per week from his handlers) until his arrest in 1985, when he agreed to plead guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors. Walker received a life sentence and remained in prison until his death in 2014.At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, information was reaching the Soviets from Britain’s...
In Defiance of her Golden AgeBy Sophia L. Deboick Lucie Delarue-Mardrus was at the heart of daring interwar Paris, where she used her influence to defend those left behind by ‘progress’. For decades the reputation of author, sculptor, linguist and poet Lucie Delarue-Mardrus (1874-1945) has been defined more by the famous people she loved than by her own groundbreaking work. Delarue-Mardrus was a figure of renown in France at the beginning of the 20th century, but as the wife of the translator Joseph-Charles Mardrus and the lover of Natalie Clifford Barney, the American writer who for over 60 years hosted a literary salon in her adopted Paris, her own literary achievements and historical significance have been overshadowed. A prolific writer – she produced 70 novels in as many years of life – her work reached enormous audiences through serialisation in newspapers and she was a regular feature in the nascent celebrity magazines of the day. She combined popular appeal with critical acclaim and her work was compared with that of Émile Zola and the Nobel-nominated novelist Colette. Today she...
Women had few powers in Ancient Greece – except in death.
On the Spot: Daniel BeerBy Daniel Beer The historian of Russia on Dostoevsky, Foucault and sympathy for the Bolsheviks.  [[{"fid":"36621","view_mode":"float_right","fields":{"format":"float_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-float-right"}}]]Why are you a historian of Russia?I read Dostoevsky when I was 16 and became hooked on Russian culture and history.What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?It exposes the limits of our imagination in the present.Which book has had the greatest influence on you?Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.What book in your field should everyone read?Stephen Kotkin’s Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilisation.Which moment would you most like to go back to?Slightly macabre, I know, but I’d like to witness the mock execution of Dostoevsky in St Petersburg in 1848.Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?Laura Engelstein’s writings on 19th-century Russian cultural history.Which person in history would you most like to have met?Jarosław Dąbrowski, Polish rebel and republican. Exiled to Siberia in 1864, he escaped by posing as a Russian officer and walking out of the gates before rescuing his wife. He went on to become commander of the Paris Commune and...
The protests that broke out across Iran towards the end of 2017 were not triggered by one event. Their cause was mounting unrest at zulm: an all-encompassing term for the injustice, iniquity and oppression that has permeated Iranian society for more than a century. 
In the late 1950s, Armchair Voyage was the BBC’s first foray into televised historical documentary, taking its viewers on a tour of the classical world and establishing a format that is still popular today. Though it introduced classics to a mass audience, its origins lay in an elite members’ club.
The peoples of Germany's African colonies recovered from the conflict against all the odds.
‘We have not kept our women individually under control, we now dread them collectively’, said Cato the Elder, as women took to the streets to protest unfair laws.
The first royal divorce scandal in European history pioneered a new kind of crisis.
Death of Nikola TeslaBy Justin and Stephanie Pollard Child genius, engineer, inventor and physicist, Nikola Tesla died on 7 January 1943. Despite his reputation as a child genius, engineer, inventor and physicist, Nikola Tesla never graduated from university: he became addicted to gambling in his final year and, fearing humiliation, let his friends and family believe he had drowned in Graz’s river Mur.In 1884 he emigrated to the US and, after a brief stint working for Edison, began inventing for himself. After several false starts and being reduced to taking work as a manual labourer, business partners finally saw the value of his endless stream of inventions and invested. One of his first inventions was the AC induction motor, the patent that would make his fortune, being purchased by Westinghouse for $216,000.Freed from financial concerns, Tesla experimented at a furious rate. The high cost and speculative nature of his research, however, meant few of his ideas were immediately taken up and his financial troubles returned, leaving him heavily in debt. Later claims to have invented a ‘death...
Before the British Empire and the Atlantic slave trade, Africans lived freely in Tudor England.
European Christians who converted to Islam in the Ottoman Empire were vilified as traitors who had defected to the arch-enemy. But there is a big difference between official propaganda and the lived experiences of these ‘renegades’.