Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Bibliographical Commercial Break

"Thanks Mr Harris for all your history lectures. They're really good" (Anonymous review)

I have made no secret of the fact that part of the point of this blog has been to publicise my pieces that are for sale on Amazon Kindle. So this post will be nothing else; it is a list of all my Kindle pieces with a few words about each one. I fancy you may learn a fair bit of history if you just read this blog and don't buy anything – but I'll be pleased if you do buy some, of course.

When I started, my target readership was the most ambitious and enthusiastic AS or Higher (Scotland) pupils. That is to say 16+. They typically follow a course based on text-books that are ruthlessly exam-focused and incline to the “Worthy but dull” end of historical writing. A lot of this material – and a lot of the revision material available – is aimed at candidates who are hoping to pass, rather than those who plan to get good A grades and then go on to study history at a higher level. My “A grade history lectures” were intended to plug this gap.

Older pupils, studying for A-level or Advanced Higher, ought, as much as possible, to be using real history books, written for adults. It is by reading the best history that they learn to write the best history. Besides, the ability to work with long books is essential training for university. But – and it is a big but – many history books are far too long for most readers most of the time. It is said that when George III visited Edward Gibbon he exclaimed: “Scribble, scribble, scribble Mr Gibbon. Another damn great thick book!” My stuff at least is short. You can read it on the train to work. There are frequent references to longer and better books by great historians, for those who have the time to read them.

I call my pieces “Lectures” because, in my experience as a listener and as a talker, the lecture format allows great freedom to challenge, to cross reference, to entertain. I believe there are readers who find the word “Lecture” a turn off; they have experienced monotone droning accompanied by photocopied notes or, more recently, death by power-point. That is not what I do.

When the first set of Kindle “Lectures” came out I was flattered to find that various friends and relations who fit into the category of “general readers” viewed them very favourably. This led me to bear them in mind when I was writing some of the later pieces. I no longer concentrated on mainstream exam topics. Obviously, the more people read them the better I am pleased.

Then in 2014 I finished a rather different piece. It's a lot longer (40,000 words) and is about Edinburgh. It has been written as nine walks about the city and will show visitors all sorts of things. It is also good for Edinburgh people who have had to move away; it is a cheerful reminder of home. in fact even if you live in Edinburgh you will learn somethings from it, unless you are a real expert. It is not a work of reference; it doesn't have everything. It deals with the things I like - history and art and with a few references to Henry Cockburn, Robert Fergusson and Walter Scott. being much longer, it costs a bit more than the lectures, but is still much cheaper than any book I have seen on sale.

Anyhow, here's the list, roughly in chronological order.

Getting to know Edinburgh

In nine walks this book takes you to museums and galleries, up Calton Hill, along the Water of Leith, through the Old Town and the New Town and so on. Packed with history and commentary.

During the Edinburgh Festival 2015 the following tweet turned up: "Am fan of the book; have used on last 3 trips to Edinburgh, always new things to learn about"

The Place-names of Scotland: a first introduction

This lecture makes no pretensions to scholarship, but it will tell the visitor to Scotland a good deal about the early history of the country. Towns on the East coast include Inverness (Gaelic), Aberdeen (Welsh), Pittenwheem (Pictish), Coldingham (Anglo-Saxon) and Berwick (Norse). Add the Normans to this (the original Robert de Brus came from Picardy) and you have a fine mix of genes, languages and cultures.

This is NOT, by the way a gazetteer of names with definitions. Do not be disappointed to find that it is not this. Whang any name into a search-engine to discover its meaning and origin.

An Introduction to the Renaissance

I can remember when I first became aware of the Renaissance. It was in 1960 and we were being shown round the Chateaux of the Loire by a French guide. I was only ten, but it was a formative experience. I have been looking at Renaissance paintings, sculpture and architecture ever since. I've read a fair amount about it too. This lecture tries to summarise the main points of the artistic revolution of the fifteenth century. It also – and this was harder – tries to explain the meaning of that elusive concept “Renaissance humanism”. This is a lecture to take with you on holiday in Italy.

I do not pretend to any original insights, but I do think the quotations from primary sources are particularly interesting. My text is based on numerous holidays in Tuscany, Umbria, London, Amsterdam, Venice and Rome. I am aware of four authors as particularly influential: E H Gombrich, Michael Baxandall, Giorgio Vasari and Desiderius Erasmus.

James IV: Scotland's Renaissance King
I've had this in mind for a while, but I was reminded of the need to get on and write it by a visit to the site of the Battle of Flodden. The fields below Branxton Edge, where the battle took place on September 9th 1513 have been very well laid out with paths and sign boards, and a visit is highly recommended. However, this lecture is mostly about James' reign before his disastrous last campaign. He was a contemporary of Henry VIII, Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II and Ferdinand of Aragon, amongst others. I would argue that his approach to kingship, and his achievements, mean that he should be listed with them as a Renaissance Prince. He is too little known. These 6,000 words will rapidly show you why he should be remembered, and also recommend further reading so that you can get to know him better.

The Protestant Reformation briefly explained

Those of us who were brought up going to church, and then spent a whole life singing in church music, can hardly help being interested in church history. Those of us who have ever witnessed an Orange March, or a Catholic cathedral in southern Europe, cannot help but be interested in what makes Christians so diverse. Besides, those historians who have no church backgrounds must struggle when they encounter religion as a major factor in all European history. With luck this lecture will get the main points clear. What did Luther and Calvin stand for? I also re-tell the story of Henry VIII’s break with Rome. It is all over the TV these days, so a clear summary can do no harm.

The "Glorious" Whig Revolution 1670-1720, explained by the Vicar of Bray

One of the questions in my English History A-level in 1968 was "What was the significance of 1688?". Whatever my answer was then, that date remains one of enormous significance in British history - as great as 1066. The old satirical song, "The Vicar of Bray" covers the momentous so-called "Glorious Revolution". The vicar tries to keep his parish despite the changes of political and religious orthodoxy as Charles II, James II, William III, Anne and George I took the throne. This lecture goes through the song verse by verse and explains the many issues involved.
Among other things here are explained the Divine Right of Kings, Whigs and Tories, High and Low church, the Hanoverian succession and much else. It was originally written in response to a lament from English Literature tutors that their students knew no Eighteenth Century history, so I hope it will help plug that gap. If you add in my Bonnie Dundee lecture and my Scottish Enlightenment lecture, that's a fair chunk of Eighteenth Century Britain covered. (This Vicar of Bray piece is definitely about England only).

Bonnie Dundee and the First Jacobite Rebellion

Those of us who were at primary school in the 1950s learned lots of traditional songs in music lessons. “Bonnie Dundee” was one of them. Walter Scott based his rousing ditty on a real set of events and characters. What I do here is take the song verse by verse and explain the history that lies behind it. The fact that John Graham of Claverhouse had three nick-names – “Bonnie Dundee”, “Bluidy Clavers” and “Black John of the Battles” – surely makes it worth reading about him. The song – and the lecture – deals with one of the more remarkable episodes in Edinburgh’s colourful history.

The Jacobites

This movement began as soon as James II and VII was thrown out in 1688. It lasted until his famous grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, was defeated at Culloden in 1746. With over fifty years, and five rebellions, it was a challenge to keep this as a short piece. Fortunately there are many excellent long books already, so I end with a select bibliography. I begin with a simple chronological table to help readers get the main facts sorted out. Then there is an essay on why people became Jacobites, and another on Jacobite warfare. The piece I am especially pleased with is set out as a chat in an Edinburgh pub as three friends chat about the risings, and cover a huge amount of history. There is also a suggested Jacobite tour, through the Highlands.

The Jacobite story has attracted so many myths over the years that many people who think they know the history still have a lot to get straight. This short e-book (18,000 words) will help you put the heroes and villains and battles in context.

An Introduction to the Scottish Enlightenment

This lecture began life as an evening talk to a bunch of Scottish teachers, few of whom were historians. So it has, I hope, a general appeal. The Scottish Enlightenment was phenomenal – and was recognised during the eighteenth century as something remarkable. How could such a small country, on the fringes of Europe, suddenly produce a generation of world-changing thinkers, writers and scientists? It is a massive and complex subject, but this lecture will start to help you get a grip of it.

Cockburn's Edinburgh

I discovered Henry Cockburn's wonderful book "Memorials of My Own Time" when I first moved to Edinburgh. I wrote this play so as to make his Edinburgh readily accessible to non-historians. It is packed with scenes of life in the city during the French Revolution and the Regency. These include: a duel; the funding of "The Edinburgh Review"; a dinner party; the Great Fire of Edinburgh; the Edinburgh Fencibles on parade; the case of Burke and Hare; the City Guard. wherever possible I used Cockburn's own words as he chats to his friend Francis Jeffrey. It is as full of history as an egg is of meat and, thanks to Cockburn's style, full of wit and insight. 

The Congress of Vienna Reassessed

During the first three decades of my career I taught this topic very often, and it seemed to me that most text books dealt very poorly with it. Too often it was in a book about the nineteenth century, and so was related to liberalism, nationalism, Napoleon III, 1848 and so on. Whereas the men who made the settlement had hardly heard of any of this. They were eighteenth century statesmen, men of the Enlightenment, who sought to create a rational, stable Europe. They certainly did not wish (as one often reads) to put the clock back to 1789. Nor did they.

As well as dealing with the sorts of issues that come up in exams I also try to set this settlement in the long context of European settlements, from the death of Charlemagne to 1945.

Slavery and the Causes of the American Civil War

This piece is based on two evening class lectures I gave in support of a course on American literature. I was alarmed to find that the class included a High Court Judge and two highly educated Americans. They were kind enough to find what I had to say interesting, so I hope you will too. I think of this as a useful introduction for people who have little previous knowledge and who will then (maybe) go on to read more and more for themselves about these vast areas of study.

The Unification of Italy

My career began with a lucky break. I was, aged 23, given the top O-level set. When we reached the Unification of Italy I was able to say “On this topic your text book is completely wrong. Italian historiography has moved on since it was written” (This was in the days when Denis Mack Smith was writing). This went down very well with this hard-working, ambitious bunch and I achieved a not-wholly deserved reputation for scholarship.

Most of my pieces are analytical, but this one follows the narrative and, I hope, makes sense of it; and gets Garibaldi, Cavour, Victor Emmanuel and co correctly placed within the story.

Bismarck and the Making of the German Empire

One Amazon reviewer called my assessment of Bismarck “trite”. All I will reply is that my main sources have been Golo Mann, Fritz Stern and David Blackbourn. (Not to mention dozens of others over the years). The key to my assessment is in the title: not “The Unification of Germany” but “The Making of the German Empire”. Bismarck did not want to unify Germany, and did not (he left out Austria altogether). He was a diplomat of genius, but not even he could manipulate all events. His trick was to pretend that what happened was what he had planned all along.

This is a long and dense lecture, but that is the nature of the topic.

The Development of Democracy in Britain

There is a very readable book by Robert Rhodes James called “the British Revolution”, dealing with the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And it is remarkable that this revolution took place so peacefully (with due acknowledgement to serious violence over the issue of Irish independence). This piece is made of three lectures. Numbers two and three deal with the various developments – mostly Acts of Parliament – and explain what they signified and why they were passed. Part one is an analysis of the meaning of “Democracy” that has found favour with teachers of Citizenship and of Politics.

Votes for Women!

If I had to pick a favourite lecture it might be this one. It separates the social and cultural question of why women got the vote during the early twentieth century from the political question of why they got it precisely when and why they did. Both strike me as fascinating. My argument is that the militant suffragettes were less significant than mythology has made them. Many remarkable women – Josephine Butler, Elizabeth Garrett, Beatrix Potter among others – take their place in the analysis.

The Great Liberal Social Reforms 1906-1914

A century ago a government began to deal seriously with the problems of poverty and began to spend tax-payers money as part of the solution. This was a substantial revolution in government and we live, of course, with the consequences today. This lecture covers all the reforms, considers why they were passed and also why they were like they were, with considerations of the pressure of political realities on the decision-makers.

The Causes and the Course of the First World War

This got such a friendly Amazon review from W Goetsch of Pittsburgh PA that I shall quote it in full:

After reading book after book on the lead up to WWI, always something of a mystery to me, it is here in this elegant and concise lecture that I became satisfied that now I had the matter in hand. It focused like a laser on the underlying issues which otherwise I had not been able to extract for myself from the plethora of detail that I had read. The British are clearly better with language, and nuance, than we Americans.

More generally, I now see a place for what might be called a new genre: brief essays not previously available to a general public, and priced appropriately. The trouble with many recent book length offerings today--not all--is that they have a nugget of an interesting take on some interesting subject, but the author feels compelled to flesh them out to book length with additional matter, presumably to construct a salable "book". I rather like the nugget part straight, like a shot of whiskey, quite unencumbered with the chaff. This saves everyone time. Now we can buy what amounts to an article in a magazine, the tune in an album. I think this notion will take off.

I only wish it had included the bibliography to the lecture. That would have been useful to Amazon as well.

I did include more “further reading” in later lectures. As far as the First World War is concerned, I have read so much over 40 years that it would be hard to single out a small number of books that have influenced my thinking.

Scotland and the Causes of the Causes of the First World War

For the centenary year, 2014, I was asked to give this talk three times. The listeners were all very interested and knowledgeable adults, so I was on my mettle. I tackled the controversy about the causes of the War that was exercising historians, journalists and politicians by relating it to the changes and developments in my own thinking. For the Scottish dimension I made use of contemporary newspapers. These primary sources were, as always, most revealing and interesting.

Socialism and the Early Years of the Labour Party

This is another two-lecture piece. Part One tries to explain Socialism (before 1914), what it meant and what some of the main varieties were. I like to think it is clear and accurate though, being brief, it does not go into all the subtleties and complex arguments of Jaures, Bernstein, Lenin, Macdonald, Beatrice Webb and co. Part Two tries to explain the paradox of the British Labour Party in its early years – the way in which it simultaneously did well and yet did not do all that well.

 The Russian Revolution of 1917

Perhaps this should be called “The Russian Revolutions”, for February and October are distinct. Here are two lectures, one on why the tsar fell and the other on why the Bolsheviks triumphed. In the first one I avoid talking about causes in a general sort of a way, but try to relate them to precisely what happened, so that it is possible to form a judgement as to which causes were more important. Lists of causes in general are the enemy of precise historical thinking.

Hitler’s Rise to Power

Here is how this one begins:

The question “Why did Hitler come to power in Germany?” sounds like a reasonable one. But it gives a wrong impression from the start. The question should be: “How on earth did a gang of obsessives, losers and misfits manage to get supreme power in one of the most advanced and civilised democracies in the world?”

There are two parts to my explanation. One is to explain why a good many Germans (never a majority) voted Nazi in the crucial elections of 1930-1932. The other is to show how, step by step, the Nazis converted electoral success into absolute power.

The Causes of the Second World War and Appeasement

Poor Neville Chamberlain utterly failed to prevent the Second World War. But does that mean that he and his associates were “Guilty Men” or merely unlucky? The section on Appeasement is succinct and clear.

The section on the causes of the Second World War in general emphasises that we are dealing with six different wars that all got mixed up together. Their causes are best considered separately or muddle will undoubtedly ensue.

Why did the Allies Win the Second World War

I reckon I've been studying the Second World War for longer than any other topic (since 1955 at least). This is my attempt to make some sense of what happened, in brief. There are numerous longer and better books available – see any bookshop – but you can read my piece in less than an hour. It does owe a good deal to Richard Overy’s “Why the Allies Won”.

The Cold War

I found it strange, towards the end of my career, to be a primary source in my own lessons. (Did you sing carols to Hungarian refugees in 1956?). It was most stimulating to be forced, by exam options, to do some serious reading on the subject. As with all these lectures, I am pretty sure this would be a good introduction for an interested adult and good revision for a sixth-former.

No comments:

Post a Comment