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history

The enigmas of Ivan the Terrible

Ivan the Terrible tests the limits of historical understanding. All that we know of him we only seem to know of him. All the stories we tell of him we can narrate only with difficulty separate from legend. His experience of the world, to the extent that we can reach that interpretation beneath other interpretations, […]

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history

Third Rome

First there was the Latin empire, polyglot and legal, centred on Rome. Then there was the Eastern Empire, religious and magnificent, radiating out, then sucking itself back in when defending itself against Goths, Slavs, Persians and Arabs, in the seeming impregnable perfection of Constantinople. Then at last there was the third Rome – Holy Mother […]

Categories
history

Thoughts on coasts

We think about history in categories that are the imprints of how generations of tradition have told the wide story of the past: rise and fall of civilisations, the phases of nomadism, agriculture and industry, the gradual mapping of a world defined by inner lands of continents, not the liminal boundary of unmasterable oceans. The […]

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history the real world today

The return of the venal office and tax-farmer

The French Revolution was in part a revolt against a degraded court, whose profligacy in prestige goods was in stark contrast to its bankruptcy in pursuing national prestige in war, and in part the collapse of authority of a political order, so disabling its most essential task, taxation. The crucial preliminary chapters of any good […]

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history

Final millennial prediction: initiative will continue to shift

Fernandez-Armesto’s final prediction is almost too mild. It would seem like stating the obvious until you recall how often the obvious is ignored. Cultures freeze their minds at the moment of their triumph, and continue to regard themselves as global leaders while decay is obvious to all. The United States with its eternally replenishing liberal […]

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history

The Armenian genocide

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire began to crumble and to resent the European empires who pitied this sick man of Europe, yet on whom the Turkish elite depended for their brittle rule. As its authority collapsed, more or less at the same time as the fall of the Chinese […]

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culture history literature Personal story

The burning archive

The Burning Archive is the title of my work in progress collection of poetry. It is inspired by Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, a painting of 1920, a world in which political, cultural and social orders were in collapse. The painting was inscribed by Walter Benjamin into Gerhard Scholem’s apocalyptic visions, and became the most enduring of his Theses […]