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Disclaimer: History Today is addictive!!!
Those that have read my reviews before will have read that I am a history student and therefore reading historical publications are not just a matter of choice they are a matter of necessity. I began my subscription to History Today Magazine two years ago and I can whole heartedly confirm that my studies have been complimented and enriched.
History Today magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary this January, its first publication in 1951 would have cost you half a crown. The magazine's credibility as purely academic, coupled with just a tad of inflation, has boosted the price considerably and now you're looking at close to a fiver per issue. But this is monthly and a subscription will save you £17 per year (that's 3 and half extra issues than the shop price). But more importantly, what you will gain in return are fascinating, up to date articles about history written by top historians in their fields. This will give any body who works with, or studies history an insight into current debates and historical contention that is certainly advantageous.
The magazine always contains 5 main feature articles, most of them written by leading historians pursuing research into the subject of the article. Each is written in a way that is highly accessible to anyone ignorant to the subject in question. In short; you don't need to be a historian familiar with all the historical dialect, as most new ideas that are introduced into the pieces are explained and clarified. Articles will typically be around 7 pages. This is long enough to give enough details, but also short enough to read quickly on the bus or the tube. I use these articles in two ways. Firstly, I use them if I don't want to read a whole book to acquire a decent knowledge into a given historical period or issue or secondly, to decide whether I am interested enough in the area to read more about it. Each article will usually give you some idea of further reading. History today articles are often used by students as part of their reading where as BBC History (although a very enjoyable read) is often not. This does give a student/researcher/teacher some confirmation that what they are reading is reliable enough.
The articles are ordered in columns around plenty of photographs or illustrations. This is particularly useful for students who are used to reading just black and white. Art can be useful in illustrating and clarifying the main points which will help them to stick in your mind. They can also be used to demonstrate how contemporaries saw the world. All of this only serves to bring history to life. Often the articles will use primary sources to bring you closer to the event.
The magazine also has an excellent selection of usual features and regular columns. One of my favourite features is the 'letters' section. These are reader's response to the articles and features. What I truly love about reading them is that you really get a sense of historical contention. Ok, some of them may write in and say how much they loved a reading, but this is extremely rare. Most people write in to criticise an article or a particular point of view. (Correction of grammar, spelling and sloppy proof reading are also a favourite.) History is all about interpretation and like a science it builds on discrediting theories and finding new insights. The letters section shows that this is still absolutely the case and disagreement amongst historians is what makes history as a discipline so compelling.
The 'From the Archive' section at the back involves historians revisiting articles published some time ago in history today and indicates where the article continues to be held as truth and where the articles have been revised. Updating readers about articles is really interesting as the reading learns a great deal about historiography; how it develops and what external factors ordered the historian to view an event in history in such a way. It also pays homage to some of the great historians (who are like pop stars to us students) whose works, although at times disproved or heavily criticised, provide inspiration for us up and coming ones.
In the 'past times' section there are games, quizzes and the usual amusing cartoon. (Get it? past- times pastimes? no?) The cartoon is always really funny, but then I have tried to re-tell them to others and they usually go down like a lead balloon which leads me to the conclusion that history is either no laughing matter or history jokes really aren't very funny.
There is always a crossword which allows you to test your general history knowledge. I always have a stab at it as there is a 'recent selection of history books' up for grabs and as the proud owner of a large collection I am always looking for new additions. But alas if it's anything the crossword page has taught me is that I know nothing about history! Thankfully though, I can learn as the answers are always printed in the next edition which I usually survey with great interest at times texting answers back and forth to my friends. (One of them always replies 'I was going to say that!'- course you were.) I have noticed that since I began my subscription I am steadily improving but I'm not up there with Starkey yet.
The history matters section consists of three short pieces dedicated and determined to relate history to today and demonstrate why history is still an important subject. I have to convey that this is my favourite part of the magazine. So many people believe that history is not important in today's modern society. I would argue that in fact it may even be more important. I will not go into detail about why this is the case. However I will say that he pieces are quick and easy to read and are very good at allowing the reader to see today's events in the context of history. On many occasions they relate to events that are shaping the world today. Food for thought about the future as well as the past.
There is also a book review section which is ridiculously useful. These are trust worthy reviews by experts. They don't give you the good old trusted 5 star rating, but instead they give you a general opinion about the book, introduce you to the topic that the book covers and give you an indication of who the book is more appropriate for; hardcore historians or ignorant laymen (me!). I have fond some of the best books I have ever read trawling the review section. Again this page affirms to me that truly I am a reader; I get really exited when I go to buy a book and I would attribute allot of that enthusiasm to the amazingly insightful reviews that I have read in history today.
So who can read history today? Answer- anyone with a general interest in history as an interesting read or history as an academic subject. The magazine provides up to date and credible information about all areas in history and once a month I read my copy from cover to cover (usually while my daughter is watching Nick Jnr). I plan to keep my subscription as I have found myself so eager to keep up to date with my subject that I may be slightly addicted. I would recommend this to anyone; but particularly to students of history or those considering studying history. The magazine will introduce anyone to what studying history is really about and guess what....... it aint just about remembering dates!
With an Editorial Board that includes Lord (Asa) Briggs, formerly Chancellor of the Open University, and Dr David Starkey, of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge and well known TV historian, this magazine must have bundles of academic credibilty.
FACTS AND FIGURES
The price per issue is £4.20 per month, with a nice glossy colour cover. It is available in good newsagents, such as WH Smith, and also by subscription. See www.historytoday.com for more details, lots of debate and back issues.
Some articles are only available in full on-line with a subscription, unfortuanately, although they also send special offers, some of which are quite interesting. (I just received an invite to an Open Day at a photo archive).
By Direct Debit, it is £37 per annum, or £10 per quarter. Currently there is another special offer for a free OS map c1810 when you take out a sub. However, let me describe it a bit before you jump in.
Regular features include Frontline (editorial), film, books and media reviews and regulars such as archive news and letters page. The editorial position is a definite move away from dry academicia, encouraging lively discussion and relating historical events to contemporary events or issues such as racism. A definite effort is made to relate research to current debate, whilst leaving room for some more lighthearted topics.
This is my opinion of the 3 most recent issues that I have read, which were published earlier this year (nos 2-4, volume 56), in reverse order.
April's issue includes an editorial on the Dan Brown/plagiarism debate and David Irving, both current court cases supposedly involving 'historians'.
The main topics covered this month are:
- 'Rulers and Victims: the Russians in the Soviet Union'
- 'Women in the Easter Rising of 1916'
- 'How the West was Lost' (an examination of Native American records of the invasion)
- 'The Gambia : Another Country'
The 8 page feature on Russian federation and nationalism opens with a vivid half page photograph of a boy being rescued from the Beslan siege. I wondered about the sensitivity of including it, as it is very moving and almost too personal to loook at. Apart from this, there is a range of well selected illustrations, including a foggy black and white snap of the citizens of Riga welcoming the Red Army liberators from the German occupation in 1944. Another shows Ukrainians at a pro-Russian march in 2004, marking the anniversary of a treaty of 1654, under which Ukraine became a Russian protectorate. The photograph of Riga looks as if it could be out of a Victorian photograph album, rather than the mid twentieth century, it is of such a rough and ready quality.
It is written by Geroffrey Hosing, professor of Modern Hisotyr at University Colllege, London and based on his soon to published book (as many features are).
The column 'Cross Currents' examines the meaning of appeasement, another article links the importance of female icons to French culture, comparing Brigit Bardot and Joan of Arc. This could be to the detriment of serious debate, were it not for the quality of the writing and research.
- 8th Wonder: Who was the Real Henry VIII?
- Outlawing Cartoons
- Mothering India: Annie Besant and the European Women
At the end of the ninetheenth century, a fascination with Hindu culture led many proto-feminists (Victorian women who struggled for right to train for a profession, or to improve conditions for working women) went to live in India.
Annie Besant was a case in point. At a time when conventional wisdom held that unskilled workers were incapable of organing successful, as they had no economic leverage, the workers in the Bryant and May match factory were dying of chemical poisoning. Besant organised the 'Match Girls Strike' and won better conditions, creating a precedent for non-unionised workers everywhere.
Besant then went to India, attracted by the Theosophist movement, and the 'search for God and universal brotherhood' in the Hindu tradition, staying there the rest of her life. This article explores how these women were often aghast at some Hindu practices, such as bigamy, child marriage and the 'unconditional social death' of a widow. This bought them into conflict with Hindu society.
The editorial again focusses on David Irving, but warns with a new trial he should not be allowed to make a martyr of himself. .
- 'Cellini's Salt',
- 'The Fading of Memory My Lai' (about the Vietnam War)
- 'Dark Age Italy'
- 'Victorian men and their Beards' (about the fashion for facial hair!)
- 'Radio News in 1930's America' is a tie in with the release of the film directed by and starring George Clooney, 'Goodnight and Goodluck'. (This was the month for the Oscar awards in Hollywood).
The article details the phenomenal growth in the popularity of radio in 1930's in the US. This was in turn influenced by the desire of the public for information in the run up to the Second World War and after the Munich crisis. Previously, news was not considered to be a main feature of radio broadcasting - a state of affairs almost unimaginable today.
The popularity led to an increase in the amount of International news broadcast, and reporters employed. One famous or notorious reporter, depending on your point of view, was Boake Carter. He did not hesitate to denounce the the New Deal and was anti-Union, and also backed by the giant company General Foods. His views were anathema to Rooseveldt in the White House, who considered applying pressure to 'muzzle' him.
With greater longevity in the public consciousness, perhaps, was Ed Morrow, the CBS anchorman. He covered the Sudetenland (Czech) invasion, and is the subject of Clooney's film. This article coveres 7 full spread pages with a list for further reading and archive links. Written by David Culbert, ed The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and TV, and Professor at Louisiana State University.
I included all the above to hopefully give an indepth look at what you get before you dip a toe in the water. I wish that I had known about this magazine when I was a student, for despite not necessarily covering a subject I may be particularly in, I have always found it contains something rewarding to read.
There are two main reasons why an amateur hisstorian might be interested . Firstly, to keep abreast of current debate and secondly to keep in touch with events and reviews.
The only similar mag on the market would be BBC History, which is produced unsurprisingly by the BBC, to support their prodigious quantity of programming output in this area. It does not necessarily stick to just that, so you will get a pretty broad range of topics. However, on balance I think that History Today has the academic edge.
I mentioned the broad range of topics, although some subjects such as the Tudors, and World Wars I and II tend to predominate. There must be a demand for this, but personally I think the broader the spectrum the better. This is my only critique, otherwise I thoroughly enjoy each issue.
Its quite a difficult task to review a magazine that by its very nature is never the same two issues running. The bulk of the magazine is a collection of articles and essays which very in style and content by their subject matter and not least by their author. However there are some common factors on which the magazine is founded, and it is with them that we shall begin.
History Today has been around for a long time and is widely acknowledged as the premier history periodical in circulation today. Although my research into its past proved inconclusive the magazine has been a popular publication back into the sixties and if the number system hasn't changed then it seems to have had its birth not long after the Second World War. It is a monthly publication, currently costing £3.80, with a postal delivery via subscription and a website to back it up, but more of that later. It is a standard layout for western magazines, A4 is size, 64 pages in length and in full colour with loads of photos and pictures to accompany the articles.
As a general statement, History today is not designed as an entry level approach to the subject of history, but neither is it the high brow haven of the dusty academic but manages to span the middle ground. Useful for serious researchers and the curious amateur historian alike. It also combines a collection of lengthy articles that provide an in depth view of a particular subject as well as smaller pieces, snippets and soundbites that report items, often breaking news, in a more newspaper like style.
After a page of information, index and acknowledgements, the magazine gets going. The first item is from editor Peter Furtado and is normally an overview of the articles to be found within and often tries to find a common thread that relates to the themes presented therein. The format to the texts lay out follows a standard and is broken down as follows.
Normally five main articles form the bulk of the magazine and are generally contributions from known authors in the history field, although articles are accepted from any one who can write to the magazines standards, so budding historians take note. The range of subjects covered here is as immense as history itself and can therefore be a little off putting to those who only have a very special area of interest. History today however is aimed at a reader who is open to all areas of history and those interested in specific areas, such as Ancient, Levantine or Medieval may have to delve a bit deeper to find a magazine that suits their needs. An example of the wide ranging nature of the articles can be found by looking at the recent issue and its featured articles. "When Turks Civilized the World" is a look at the way Kemal Ataturk re-wrote Turkish history as part of the modernization process of the new Turkish nation in the 1930s. Two articles of a more medieval nature feature in the form of "The Hunting Year" deciphering the calendars featured in a Book of Hours fro Germany around 1500 and "Base Matter into Gold" a biography of Thomas Charnock and the science of Alchemy. "Another Little Patch of Red" discusses the effect of the British Empire on everyday citizens and "Animal Farm: Sixty Years On" gives an overview of the lasting legacy of Orwells classic novel, an article which was particularly useful in the writing of my recent review of the same.
Generally two other articles similar to the Features make up this section and they tend to be articles that although historical in nature, relate to present circumstances. In this issue the system of Roman coinage is compared to the Euro of today and a second article looks at the origins of modern school examination.
Modern history is viewed through eye witness accounts, an examination of the key events of the twentieth century through the eyes of the survivors. Often this has a bias towards the Second World War, but it is a bias that can be forgiven as very soon eye-witness accounts of this conflict will be unobtainable.
The early pages of the magazine contain a collection of smaller articles, more snapshots than in depth articles, but again a diverse arrangement of subjects. Amongst these is the Round and About page, which contains a listing of galleries and exhibitions, museums and lectures that are currently available to the historian. These can be as wide ranging as living history days were all periods are presented to the public to galleries showing Islamic art to a lecture on Charles Darwins ship, the Beagle. Also hear is History in the Media, a collection of paragraph length items pertaining to current historical items in the news and television programs of interest.
As would be expected a review of new book releases is to be found towards the back of the magazine and the reviewers are normally authors in their own right, who better to judge the worth of the titles available?
The magazine does contain a few advertisements but these are at a minimum, the sum total would be no more than a page or two, so value for money remains undiluted my non-productive items. As I said before articles are accepted by any writer but the core seems to be supplied by authors and lecturers in their own right and so the standard remains very professional but without alienating those from outside the academic circle.
The website mentioned earlier could be the subject of a review of its own, but I'm not the man for the job, though I would look forward to anyone undertaking such a challenge. A brief overview will suffice for now. All the articles are available from past magazines,and can be accessed in two forms. Either by purchasing an on-line subscription, as you would for the magazine itself, or through a pay-per-view system where by you can purchase access to articles as you wish. There are study guides, books, competitions and polls to be undertaken and seems to be a good substitute to buying the actual magazine. I'm, however, one of the old school and like nothing better than sitting down, magazine in hand, and wandering through the places and times past that are unlocked by this wonderful publication.
If you are a fan of history then this is a fantastic way to indulge your love of the subject. It covers a very broad range of topics but is food for a hungry mind and will satisfy the most eager history buff and serious student alike. And all that for £3.80 a month. What a joy, what a challenge, what a bargain.