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The Blog News, reviews, and commentary on the world of history

December 27, 2011

History Today issues from 2011People of any epoch are perhaps conceited enough to think that they are living through “interesting times”, as the apocryphal Chinese proverb puts it, but 2011 seemed a year weighed down by an extraordinary number of major stories.

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The sheer range of events, and the speed at which they developed, has been hard to follow over the past twelve months. The Arab Spring and the toppling of loathed dictators across most of north Africa; the ever-troubled world economy, the uncertain future of the Euro and Britain’s growing isolation from its continental cousins; or the riots that gripped London and other British cities in the summer: any one would, in a normal year, be the stand-out event. That they all happened in a single year is remarkable. And that’s before one considers the fall-out of Britain’s hacking scandal and the closure of the News of the World, or the natural disasters that hit Japan and New Zealand, or the Royal wedding and the changes to Britain’s laws of succession, or the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong-il, the latter of which may significantly influence the course of history over the coming years. The BBC website carries an excellent review of the year, and speculates on what, historically speaking, the year 2011 may come to mean.

In matters more local, History Today celebrated its 60th birthday this year. We undertook a significant redesign of our website and welcomed a record number of visitors, launched a monthly podcast and a new student page, made our first tentative steps into the world of digital publishing via a range of eBooks, and increased our presence on Facebook and Twitter, where we’ve amassed nearly 13,000 followers. Thanks to everyone for your continued support.

As something of a Christmas gift, here’s a selection of the finest articles we’ve published in the magazine and online over the past 12 months — guaranteed to keep your mind active over the festive season. If you like what you read, take a look at our subscription options and treat yourself to 12 months of the finest history writing.

Our Top Articles Of 2011

How Did Bismarck Do It?

In the cover story from our January issue, Jonathan Steinberg considered how Bismarck managed “the greatest diplomatic and political achievement of any leader of the last two centuries”: the creation of the modern German state.

Renaissance Fashion: The Birth of Power Dressing

At what point did it begin to matter what you wore? Ulinka Rublack looks at why the Renaissance was a turning point in people’s attitudes to clothes and their appearance.

Frederick the Great’s Erotic Poem

A love poem purportedly written by the great Prussian king was discovered in August. A rare insight into the state of erotica in the 18th century.

The Sagas of Iceland: Creating Terra Nova

Janina Ramirez, presenter of a new BBC documentary on Iceland and its literature, explores the country’s sagas, their wide-ranging legacy and what they tell us about the history and culture of the Arctic island and its peoples.

Madame de Pompadour: Turn the Other Cheek

Colin Jones and Emily Richardson reveal a little-known collection of obscene and irreverent 18th-century drawings targeting Madame de Pompadour, the favourite mistress of Louis XV of France.

The English Diet: Roast Beef and…. Salad?

The English diet has been mythologised as one of roasted meats and few vegetables but, as Anita Guerrini concludes from a survey of early modern writings on the subject, the nation’s approach to food has been rather more complicated than that.

Blood, Sweat and Arrears: Stealing the Crown Jewels

What was behind Colonel Thomas Blood’s failed attempt to steal the Crown Jewels during the cash-strapped reign of Charles II and how did he survive such a treasonable act? Nigel Jones questions the motives of a notorious 17th-century schemer.

The Two Faces of William Beckford

William Beckford was the model of an 18th-century progressive and aesthete. But the wealth that allowed him to live such a lifestyle came from the slaves he exploited in his Caribbean holdings. Robert J. Gemmett looks at how an apparently civilised man sought to justify his hypocrisy.

Empire of Exceptions: The Making of Modern Brazil

Brazil may be one of the 21st century’s emerging superpowers, but its history is a mystery to many. Gabriel Paquette tells the story of its early years as an independent state.

The Astrologer’s Tables

Lauren Kassell reveals how the casebooks, diaries and diagrams of the late-16th-century astrologer Simon Forman provide a unique perspective on a period when the study of the stars began to embrace modern science.

Victorian Jokes: The Best in 19th-Century Humour

‘Why is the devil riding a mouse like one and the same thing? Because it is synonymous’. Lee Jackson, the man behind the Victorian London website, picks his favourite Victorian jokes.

Sana’a: City of the Book

Since its discovery in Yemen in 1972 a collection of brittle documents, believed to be among the earliest Koranic texts, has been the subject of fierce and divisive debate among scholars of Islamic history, as Scott MacMillan reports.

All The King’s Fools

The fools of the early Tudor court were likely to have been people with learning disabilities as a new project demonstrates, says Suzannah Lipscomb.

The Birth of China’s Tragedy

As China celebrates the centenary of the 1911 revolution Jonathan Fenby reappraises the uprising and argues that its failings heralded decades of civil conflict, occupation and suffering for the Chinese people.

Skin Deep: The Fall of Fur

In recent years British models have reappeared on the catwalk wearing real fur, though it is unlikely to ever regain the mass appeal it once had. Carol Dyhouse looks back to a time when female glamour was defined by a mink coat.

Learn More by a single Click to 2011 Back Issues On History Today

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