New and noteworthy – 20 September 2018

Up, up and away; hallowed grounds; degrees of evolution at Oxford; and making peace and making up

September 20, 2018
classic-aircraft
Source: iStock

Taking to the Air: An Illustrated History of Flight
Lily Ford
British Library

Most books on flight put the stress on (mainly male) inventors and aviators. Yet flight was also a form of spectacle and popular entertainment, not only for passengers but for spectators, including the many millions who never got a chance to take to the air. Lily Ford tells this story largely through the diverse collection of print imagery held by the British Library, “from medieval woodcut prototypes to Regency ballooning narratives, from photographic records of aircraft to Biggles”. The result is a lavish chronicle of flight’s cultural impact, full of bizarre and unexpected objects, which also gives women a proper place in the narrative.


The Oxford History of the Holy Land
Edited by Robert G. Hoyland and H. G. M. Williamson
Oxford University Press

Although the editors admit that the term “Holy Land…has never featured on any map worth its salt”, they hope that it is appropriate to their survey of an area that is “more cultural, and specifically religious, than political”. Fifteen historians track developments from the time of Abraham to the end of First World War, taking in the Hellenistic, Roman and Christian eras up to the coming of Islam, and then on through the Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans to “the Holy Land and the wider Middle East” since Napoleon. Three concluding chapters consider the broader themes of pilgrimage, sacred spaces and Scripture.


The University of Oxford: A Brief History
Laurence Brockliss
Bodleian Library

In the Middle Ages, Oxford was “one of the leading centres of western Christendom”, according to Laurence Brockliss, and since 1945 it has developed into a “modern world-class research university”. The central chapters of his short book, however, present a far less impressive institution. When the Reformation “turned Oxford (and Cambridge) into an arm of the English monarchy and Church of England”, the result was that “most of the university descended into intellectual slumber”. It was only when it was “prodded into new life by parliamentary fiat” around the 1850s that the university “opened its doors to non-Anglicans, women and subjects of the British Empire…and began belatedly to take an interest in the advancement and not just the dissemination of knowledge”.


Climate in Motion: Science, Empire, and the Problem of Scale
Deborah R. Coen
University of Chicago Press

Today, the field of dynamic climatology enables us to understand major interactions across space and time, on scales ranging from the human to the planetary. But where can we find the origins of this crucial approach? In this dazzling piece of historical detective work, Deborah Coen traces it back to researchers such as Julius Hann in Vienna and the practical problems faced by the Habsburg Monarchy in administering its vast and varied territories. Empires, she argues, have acted as “experimental sites for exploring ties of interdependence among far-flung humans, nonhumans, and the inorganic world” and it is still rewarding to explore “the legacies of Habsburg climatology for twentieth-century Central Europe and the present climate crisis”.


When Political Transitions Work: Reconciliation as Interdependence
Fanie du Toit
Oxford University Press

Now an honorary associate professor at the University of Cape Town, Fanie du Toit spent 16 years with South Africa’s Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. In this bold book, he takes an insider’s look at the country’s political transition, 24 years after the formal end of apartheid, to assess what went right, what could have been done better and the key lessons for other nations. Topics addressed in detail include the nature of reconciliation, dealing with a violent past, settling on a shared future, restoring the rule of law and even the value of “the forgiving embrace”.

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