Christopher Kissane: ‘Historical myopia is to blame for the attacks on Mary Beard’

On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the historian calls for an end to the trivialisation of the lessons of the past

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther sparked a movement of Reformation that would leave indelible marks on European history. While some have used this anniversary as an opportunity for reflection, and others a chance to heal old wounds, 2017 finds us in an age of intense historical myopia. Breathless news cycles and furious outrage are shrinking our horizons just as they need to widen. Public debate barely remembers the world of last year, “old news”, let alone that of a decade or few ago.

History’s expertise, and most dangerously its perspective, are being lost in our inability to look beyond the here and now. We stumble into crises of finance and inequality with ignorance of economic history, and forget even the recent background to our current politics. ...

Rulers, Religion and Riches by Jared Rubin – why the west got rich

Getting religion out of politics was the key to Europe’s success, this work of economic history argues. The turning point was the Reformation Why are some parts of the world rich, and other parts poor? In the west many of us live in conditions almost unimaginably more comfortable than billions of people in regions where economic growth and development have been slower. Inequality defines our world. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Lucas put it, once you start thinking about what causes these stark differences, it can become hard to think about anything else. This “great divergence” is even more intriguing given how relatively recent it is: 500 years ago the west was no richer than the far east, while 1,000 years ago, the Islamic world was more developed than Christian Europe in everything from mathematics to philosophy, engineering to technology, agriculture to medicine; the medieval German nun and writer Hrotsvitha ...

The EU: An Obituary by John R Gillingham – the neoliberal case against the European Union

The Thatcherite historian argues that the EU is defunct, a relic of the postwar decades. But would an unfettered Europe be a better place? A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of disintegration. The European Union, argues John R Gillingham, is on the verge of “collapse”, defended only by an alliance of old elites. While we focus on Brexit (which he confidently predicts in a postscript), the issues imperfectly covered in his book suggest that it is a parochial distraction from the much bigger question of how Europe is to be organised in the 21st century. We are at a “turning point” in European history. Euroscepticism creates some strange bedfellows. Many rightwing nationalists view the EU as a Trojan horse of unstoppable multiculturalism. Some on the left see its focus on the single market as institutionalised “neoliberalism” and austerity. And some “neoliberals” such as Gillingham see it as a ...

The Holy Roman Empire by Peter H Wilson review – Europe from Charlemagne to Ukip

The empire at the heart of Europe for nearly a thousand years was much like the EU, with its Byzantine complexity, a reliance on fudge, inequalities and multiple identities – but it worked

When the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V besieged Metz in 1522 the city taunted him with a banner emblazoned with the imperial eagle chained between two pillars. These represented the ancient pillars of Hercules, the border of the known world at the straits of Gibraltar, where a notice warned “Non plus ultra” – “no further beyond”. Charles had adopted the motto “Plus ultra” to emphasise his imperial power, so underneath the restrained eagle, the defenders of Metz wrote “Non plus Metas”, meaning both “not beyond Metz” and “not beyond the boundaries”.

For an entire millennium, from 800 to 1806, from its birth with Charlemagne to its death at the hands of Napoleon, the Holy ...