History Today blog informs us that the two winners of the 2012 Wolfson History Prize are Christopher Duggan for Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy and Susan Brigden for Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest. Both sound very interesting and are hereby added to the notional pile of books to be read.
The rest of this long posting is on the secondary blog (for long postings)
A real-life paper copy of the West Midlands History Magazine that analyzes Enlightenment, its people and organizations in that part of the country. The article on Industrial Enlightenment is fascinating. More goodies to read.
Also a gem of a book: The Odd Thing About the Colonel, a collection of articles and essays by one of the greatest of conservative journalists of the twentieth century, Colin Welch, sent to me, very kindly by his daughter, Frances Welch, herself a formidable historian.
Last year Tory Historian wrote an angry and scathing posting about the mess that Tate Britain (the Tate to many of us, harrumph) had become. Well, there was some good news in the Evening Standard today. According to the Director, Penelope Curtis,
A complete rehang of the collection at Millbank will give visitors a chronological history of British art, says director Penelope Curtis — and throw up some exciting juxtapositions.One worries a little (well, TH does) about those "exciting juxtapositions" but displaying the British art collection and in a chronological order (just like they used to do in the dear old days gone by) sounds like an excellent idea. On the other hand, it does not sound like a particularly radical one. Is that not what Tate Britain is for?
Tory Historian was reading some of the essays in H. R. F. Keating's splendid collection, Agatha Christie - First Lady of Crime and found a highly entertaining one by Emma Lathen (really two formidable ladies, Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Hennisart). Entitled Cornwallis's Revenge, it analyzes Christie's technique and her extraordinary popularity, especially in the United States. In fact, posits Ms Lathen, it is the return battle of the War of Independence and it has made the outcome somewhat doubtful.
In 1781 Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown and, for all practical purposes, the Revolutionary War was over. The viscount went on to a distinguished career in India, the rebels became preoccupied with the problems of forging a new political state, and the world assumed that British domination over the colonies was at an end. There the matter rested until 1920 which saw the publication of the first American edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Now, fifty-six years later, any detached observer on these shores would have to admit that the second British Expeditionary Force had been considerably more successful than the first.Heh! That would be the force led by General Hercule Poirot, ably assisted by Brigadier Jane Marple and Lieutenant-Colonels Battle and Race. I think we might forget about the Beresfords for the time being.
Calling all those interested in history in the West Midlands (the historic counties of Shropshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire) and those who might think of visiting: there is a new site, called History West Midlands. It is an independent site (not attached to any academic institution, I assume) and gives a full list of events that could be of interest to anyone interested in the history of that area. In addition, the first issue issue of History West Midlands Magazine, that deals with the fascinating topic the West Midlands Enlightenment is now available to download or to order. Good reading.
This article came my way for reasons that are a little hard to explain. It goes into some detail about peer reviews of different kind in scientific journals. To be honest, most of the argument is a little beyond me and if there are any scientists among this blog's readers they might like to enlighten the rest of us.
However, the article did turn my attention to a rather peculiar development among some journals and, especially, publishers who are insisting on what they call "peer review" in arts and social sciences. This, I maintain, is not just completely unnecessary but is actually harmful.
When I was still editing the printed version of the Conservative History Journal I was asked once or twice whether the articles were peer-reviewed. Until then it had not occurred to me that history articles could be. Factual inaccuracy, if not caught by the editor, is usually pointed out by some alert reader while interpretations one can argue about but they do not come under the rubric of peer review. That would imply that certain interpretations ought not to be published as they are somehow outside the peer consensus. That, as far as I can make out, is exactly what is happening with some publishers. At least one person I know has had trouble after the publisher had accepted her book with peer reviews because her writing was "outside the academic consensus" according to one reviewer. The publisher seems to be in a dither.
My reply was that CHJ is not peer reviewed and nor is it. Mistakes can be picked up and interpretations should be varied. I recall going through an article about Margaret Thatcher's premiership that was really rather hostile to her policies and achievements. I disagreed with every word but corrected only the grammar and punctuation as necessary. Maybe I tightened the text up a little but left all the arguments I considered wrong-headed in place. That, in my opinion, is what an editor does. Running off to a bunch of peer reviewers is not the answer.
Having thought about the subject I realized that a couple more points need to be made. One is that peer review looks at methodology. Any editor of a history journal or of a history book should be able to see whether the methodology makes sense and whether too many relevant facts and developments had been left out. I presume that is not so with science publications as no editor or a journal could understand the methodology of all branches of research. Therefore, peer review makes some sense.
On the other hand, as we have seen with the scandal that surrounds a good deal of the so-called "climate change science" and, specifically, with the e-mail controversy (or scandal) to do with the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, in any controversial subject peer review can be and is used to prevent a break in the consensus.
I am hoping there will be comments on this piece as I would like to start a discussion. It is important for the future of history writing whether we accept the need for peer reviewing or not.
No, this is not to Margaret Thatcher but by her to Ian Gow, who was assassinated by the IRA (well, murdered is as good a word but I prefer assassinated) on July 30, 1990. Mrs Thatcher's tribute was published in The House Magazine in October, 1990, not long before her resignation. Here it is reprinted on PoliticsHome.
The intention is to write a long piece about the first volume of Charles Moore's authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, Not for Turning, and I have started reading it. Unusually, the Preface is fascinating as it describes how the whole project came about and Lady Thatcher's own attitude and behaviour. Much of it Mr Moore told us at the launch, which was held, rather grandly in the Banqueting House in Whitehall, beneath the Rubens ceiling with the speakers standing by the window through which Charles I had stepped out to the scaffold. (But I digress.)
It is, however, fascinating to read how little interest Lady Thatcher had in self-analysis or in examination of her past life. In this she was the exact opposite of Sir Winston Churchill: for her the deed was the only thing that mattered, not its description (accurately or otherwise) afterwards.
Like all remarkable leaders, she had a great egotism. She always believed that she, and she alone, rescued Britain from its post-1945 years of semi-socialist decline. She believed that the "-ism" which derived from her married name would make a permanent different to the history of human freedom.But she was not at all touchy, or even anxious, about what history might say about her.A remarkable case of self-confidence. How many other leading politicians could show anything similar?