Continental congress

February 23, 1996

EUROPEAN REVIEW OF HISTORY Edited by Bruno Cabanes et al Carfax, twice yearly, Pounds 28.00 (individuals), Pounds 78.00 (institutions) ISSN 1350 7486

Aside from the deplorably high institutional subscription rate, this bold attempt to encourage a forum for ideas from across Europe is thoroughly welcome.

The three sections, studies, reviews and research information, are designed to create a picture of the historical discipline in Europe. To this end, the responsibility for each number is entrusted to a different national editorial committee in turn. The European editorial committee supervises the enterprise and is designed to ensure that national historiographies become less compartmentalised. There is of course a danger that such a journal might be full of what critics decry as "Euro-nonsense". Instead there is refreshingly little twaddle, though the reviews are uneven, the interviews with prominent scholars are not as challenging as they might be, and, more seriously, the coverage of Europe is, while impressive, still incomplete. The comparative perspective is also developed less fully than I had hoped.

On the positive side, many important books that are ignored in most other British journals are reviewed, and reviewed fairly promptly, the series on libraries and archives is very useful, and the essays on national and European identities are helpful contributions to a currently central debate. That by Richard English on Irish national identity is particularly important. The major articles themselves are generally of a high standard. They are wide ranging in scope or implications and, although published only in English or French, are supported by summaries in both languages as well as in German and Italian.

One of the great pleasures of reviewing a work of this type is the opportunity it provides for reading current scholarship in distant fields. Ray Laurence's article on the relationship between the historiography of ancient town planning and the British town planning debate on the eve of the first world war is a fascinating account of how a partly misleading presentation of Roman urban planning influenced the debate over policy in Britain. Laurence goes on to criticise the nature of classical archaeology, not least for perpetuating the ideological distinctions of the Edwardian period in a postcolonial world.

The comparative dimension is ably handled in pieces such as Michal Kopczynski's article on officeholders in 17th-century Poland and Sweden. While Frederick Bager makes suggestive comparisons in "The Berlin Wall and the Bastille: tearing down walls and building myths", and Rob Iliffe considers French and Anglo-Saxon approaches to the history of science.

The roles of perception and agency play a major role in several of the articles. Daniel Baloup examines the role of didactic literature in religious teaching at the end of the Middle Ages through a collection of miracles attributed to St James, written in Latin and translated into Castilian. Baloup shows how the translator's changes shifted the texts from miraculous to didactic literature and then argues that although the translation offered those able to read direct access to doctrinal knowledge, the process was still affected by ecclesiastical control and influence. The role of language also plays a major part in T. P. Baycroft's "Peasants into Frenchmen? The case of the Flemish in the north of France 1860-1914", a study that distinguishes political integration from linguistic and cultural assimilation.

Naming of a different type is treated in Brigitte van Tiggelen's account of the evolution of chemical nomenclature in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The articles in the journal are characterised by a degree of methodological self-awareness uncommon in British historical periodicals. Given the compartmentalisation of so much historical research and the consequent tendency of most scholars not to read widely in journals, it is pleasing to welcome a journal where many of the articles are wide ranging in their concerns. This is not a journal that can be criticised for stodginess.

Jeremy Black is professor of history, University of Exeter.

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