Friday, 12 December 2008

Editorial - January 2009 Issue

The last few months have served to remind us, once again, of the importance of history. Just as the attacks of 9/11 deprived the West of the comforting illusion of the End of History, so the credit crunch reminds us all, painfully, that the economic cycle remains untamed. History has a way of tripping us up with its harsh realities, especially societies prone, like ours, to bouts of serial amnesia. Even historians succumb: was it not Dr Gordon Brown, chronicler of Red Clydeside, who proclaimed the end of ‘boom and bust’? Surely, it is significant that Brown, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama, facing a once-in-a-century crisis, have all sought the advice of professional historians. History is a serious subject for serious times.

Since its founding by Brendan Bracken in 1951, History Today has been the forum for historians to present serious and challenging work before the wider public. As History Today’s new editor, it is my aim to maintain the magazine’s best traditions and ambitions, to inform, educate and entertain its readers. History as it is practised today, is both vast in its variety, and marked by a remarkable vigour. History Today will promote dialogue, debate and contention, for history is ultimately an endless but civilised argument marked by tolerance and erudition. We welcome your contributions to the magazine and its website.

Fittingly, the January 2009 edition, available from next Wednesday, offers a wide range of subject matter. In a fascinating piece of research, Robin Waterfield examines the trial of Socrates to reveal a very different figure from the idealised and idealistic one portrayed by his pupil Plato. Of more recent vintage, John Shepherd looks back thirty years to the Winter of Discontent, which marked the beginning of a period of triumphant capitalism in Britain and beyond that may now be coming to an end. The end of another era was marked by the battle of Waterloo. Andrew Roberts tells the dramatic and ultimately tragic story of Magdalene De Lancey, who accompanied her husband on the campaign. The life of another remarkable woman is charted by Margaret L. Kekewich. Yolande of Aragon, scourge of the English during the Hundred Years’ War, is less celebrated than her contemporary and compatriot Joan of Arc, but no less formidable, a reminder that medieval queens were influential figures in their own right. Finally, we have an intriguing historical mismatch: the love affair between the Romantic poets, including Lord Byron, and the bruising, if noble ‘art’ of bare-knuckle boxing.

Diverse, dramatic, surprising, enlightening, we do hope you enjoy this month’s History Today.

Paul Lay

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