Archive for the ‘Top Five’ Category

Top Five: Museums (a personal choice)

14 September 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I am, I must admit, not the biggest fan of museums. Monuments, yes. Galleries, certainly. But there’s something about museums that often seems, well, too wordy, unfocussed, or over-done. Which might seem like an odd admission, coming from (a) an historian, and (b) one about to list his five favourite museums. But read on…

The British Museum
Start with a classic. If you can get over the size – in many ways it’s too big, and there’s too much that you simply don’t want to see. And if you can ignore the provenance of its artefacts and how many of them were acquired. Then there is so much to excite and amaze, on repeated visits, that you can always find yourself in an unexpected room, in an unexpected wing, or on an unexpected floor – for hours on end. That and the A History of the World in 100 Objects tie-in has opened a whole new way of exploring even the most obscure exhibit. Oh, and it’s free too.  Read More

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Top Five: Bob Dylan’s histories

1 June 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I use the term ‘histories’ loosely. For, as any of you who have seen No Direction Home, read Dylan’s own brilliant Chronicles, Vol. 1, or had the urge to peruse any of the myriad biographies produced over the last forty years or so will know, Bob Dylan is a man well versed in the art of bending the truth. (And no stranger to others doing the same for him, as he recently commented: ‘I’m encouraging anybody who’s ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.’) Since he turned 70 last week, and since we haven’t had a ‘Top Five’ in a while, I thought it would be fitting to have an American history as told by Bob Dylan list. All corrections, suggestions, contradictions and admonitions gratefully accepted via the comments box below.

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

The opening lines say it all: ‘William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll / With a cane that had twirled round his diamond-ringed finger / At a Baltimore hotel society gathering’. Here was Dylan at his storytelling best: basic history combined with active mind and a genius for storytelling, with a twist of racial injustice – Carroll was a black waitress – thrown in for good measure. Zantzinger, who served a six-month prison sentence for manslaughter, died in 2009 still bitter at what he viewed as Dylan’s distorted picture of the events.  Read More

What is the point?

21 March 2011

By Juliana Adelman

As Lisa has already highlighted, the academic job market is currently in full swing (or half swing, given the ‘e’ word).  Applying for jobs tends to turn one cynical in the best of times. The process of composing cover letters that summarize years of one’s life in 500 words or less can be soul destroying.  The type of self-representation which is required by those engaged in the academic job hunt tends to reinforce the distance between ‘professional’ historians and everyone else with an interest in history.  With this in mind, I thought it might be good to get a discussion going as to why we do history since I think this represents common ground for everyone with an interest in the subject.  I have given 5 reasons below and I hope others will add theirs in the comments section.

1. I am nosy and I bet you are too.  People like to know about other people.  I have recently read (in On Deep History and the Brain by D L Smail) of a theory in neuroscience which suggests that gossip is a form of addictive behavior.  Gossiping releases endorphins and helps people to combat psychological ‘slumps’.  And really what is history at its most basic but a form of gossip?  On a more serious note, history is a means of examining ourselves and may be considered, as Roger Smith argues, an integral part of what it means to be human. Read more

9 of the best web resources for teaching history

17 January 2011

By Juliana Adelman

I have been doing more teaching in the past few years and have found an amazing number of resources online.  Some of them have been passed on through email lists or recommendations, but others have simply emerged from concentrated googling.  Although I found them useful for teaching, or thinking about teaching, many of them are also relevant to researchers.  Enjoy and feel free to add others in the comments.

1. Learning Historical Research.  This is an outstanding website, organised by the environmental historian William Cronon, which targets undergrads but has tips and reminders that even the most seasoned researcher might find useful.  It might be particularly useful if you are supervising a dissertation or conducting a class which requires primary research. Read more

Top five: Fashion History

9 July 2010

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

‘Nothing happened, except that we all dressed up’. So John Lennon ironically dismissed the social and cultural revolution that was 1960s London, in a 1970 interview for Rolling Stone magazine. If the ‘swinging sixties’ in London can be encapsulated by the image of the miniskirt, it doesn’t mean that the cultural revolution that took place during than decade was a superficial one, but that clothes came, in a very real way, to embody the changes that were taking place in identity, gender relations, youth culture, consumer culture and much more. Until recent years, fashion or dress history was mostly seen as a branch of art history, with the focus being primarily on the aesthetic qualities of clothing – usually the sumptuous dress of royalty and the upper classes. It is only in the last couple of decades that it has begun to be seen as an integral part of social and cultural history, with studies examining what ordinary people wore, and what their clothes said about their lives and the society they lived in, rather than just looking at courtly dress, or the fashion industry. Here are Niamh’s top five books for Fashion history:
1 . Gilles Lipovetsky, The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy

A French philosophy professor, Lipovetsky is regarded in some ways as the heir to Roland Barthes. Both are postmodernists and have written about fashion, but the similarities stop there. Lipovetsky has inherited none of Barthes’ disdain for the so-called superficiality of the fashion industry. Instead, he recognises the value of fashion as a way of expressing individual identity in modern, democratic society and, with this premise in mind, traces the development of the fashion industry in France from the eighteenth to twentieth century. Read more

Top five: football histories

26 May 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It’s now only sixteen days until the beginning of the most bloated, over-hyped, quality-diluted, greed-driven (see FIFA’s recent clampdown on South African airline Kulula for advertising themselves as the ‘unofficial national carrier of the “you-know-what”’) sporting show on earth. But do I still love it? Will I still collect and pore over a variety of free newspaper world cup guides in the way I did as an eight-year-old watching Francois Oman-Biyik head that goal against Argentina in 1990? Absolutely, although I think I might give the Star sticker album a miss this time.

Brian Glanville, The Story of the World Cup (newest edition: London, 2010).
First published in 1973, Glanville’s book is now on its eighth edition, and still offers by far the best synthesis of the competition’s history. In his long journalistic career, including columns for World Soccer magazine and frequent match reports for the Sunday Times, Glanville has been an original and refreshingly honest voice. The Story of the World Cup is an extension of that writing, managing to walk the difficult tightrope of match description, background information and pithy asides with confidence and style. I can’t think of any other writer who could quote William Wordsworth to describe Maradona’s ephedrine-fuelled exit from the 1994 World Cup – ‘Men are we, and must grieve when even the shade / Of that which once was great has passed away’ – and get away with it. Read More

Top 5: History of Dublin 1500-2000

22 March 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

My PhD focused on Dublin and my research (and residency) has instilled me with a keen interest and passion for the history and architecture of the capital. I was appalled a few years ago when running an extramural course on Dublin history when a student told me that ‘as an outsider’, I am from Waterford, I could never truly understand the history of the city. I have since realised that his comment is just indicative of the passion which the city inspires in its older and more established citizens!  As someone coming to the urban history of Dublin as an outsider seeking a broad history, and then looking for some reliably accurate academic studies here is my top 5 in no particular order.

1. Maurice Craig, Dublin 1660-1860: The shaping of a city: Craig is an art-historian so I like this as it is not a traditional history. The evolution of the city, its development, architecture and civic spaces and the book shows how the city was shaped by figures rather than being led by events and people. This isn’t just an architectural history and should not be underestimated. It is a fantastic urban history. There are many editions of this wonderfully written history but if possible avoid the Liberties Revival edition which is riddled with typos and spelling errors. Read more

Top Five with a bullet: history of Western science

22 February 2010

By Juliana Adelman

I decided to limit myself to Western science, mostly because I don’t know enough about other scientific or natural traditions to be able to pick a top 5. There is also a serious bias in favour of books written in English which means I have most likely NOT picked the best book about French or German or Dutch science. I’ve kind of mixed best with ‘most important’.


Thomas Kuhn, The structure of scientific revolutions (Chicago, 1962). This book is really philosophy of science, but it has had an enormous impact on how historians of science view scientific knowledge. Kuhn, a physicist, received much criticism from the scientific community because he presented science as a social process and scientific knowledge not as inevitable ‘truth’ but negotiated consensus. Not all the ideas in the book are still embraced by hisorians of science, but it is a good starting point. Read more

Top five: Political Cartoons

25 January 2010

Contributed by Felix M. Larkin

Our newest monthly feature is the ‘Top 5’. We have asked researchers to submit their favourite top 5 books within their own field of interest. This month Felix M. Larkin, author of Terror and Discord: the Shemus Cartoons in the Freeman’s Journal, 1920-1924 published by A & A Farmar, has submitted his top 5 books about political cartoons:

Forty Years of Dublin Opinion (Dublin: Dublin Opinion Ltd, 1967)

Dublin Opinion was a satirical magazine published continuously from 1922 to 1968 and celebrated for its gentle, but perceptive, cartoons.  Its motto, ‘Humour is the Safety Valve of a Nation’, is as true today as it was then!

L.P. Curtis Jr, Apes and Angels: the Irishman in Victorian caricature (London: David & Charles Ltd, 1971).

Perry Curtis is a pioneer of Irish cartoon studies, and his theme here is the racial stereotyping – in particular, the “simianization” – of the Irish in Victorian political cartoons.   This is a book about the serious side of comic art.

Roy Douglas, Liam Harte & Jim O’Hara, Drawing Conclusions: a cartoon history of Anglo-Irish relations, 1798-1998 (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1998)

The great value of this book is that it demonstrates the changing styles of caricature over two hundred years.  The authors present a wide range of cartoons, from a variety of sources, highlighting the often absurd nature of Ireland’s relationship with Britain.

Read more

Top Five: African history

7 January 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

With a nod to Nick Hornby, John Cusack and High Fidelity, this post is the first in an occasional series of introductions to lesser-explored corners of history.

Martin Meredith, The state of Africa: a history of fifty years of independence (London: The Free Press, 2005)
Never far from the eye in the history section of your local Waterstones, Meredith’s book has become the book of choice for the uninitiated. And for good reason; The state of Africa is a brilliantly written, accessible introduction to the history of the continent from a knowledgeable and vastly experienced author. For those of you looking for some extra detail, try Paul Nugent’s Africa since independence: a comparative history (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Richard Dowden, Africa: altered states, ordinary miracles (London: Portobello, 2008)
Like Meredith, Dowden draws extensively on his first-hand experience of Africa, from his time as a teacher in Uganda in the early 1970s to his work with the Independent, Times, Economist and latterly as director of the Royal African Society. The result is an expertly nuanced mix of personal experience, history and investigative journalism bound together in a subtle narrative of a continent of many contradictions – its war, corruption and poverty, but also its abundant generosity, hospitability and ingenuity. Read More