The first Svengali

Whenever Dominic Cummings makes the headlines, commentators reach for the same word to describe his relationship with the prime minister: he is Boris Johnson’s Svengali, they write. But who was the original Svengali? Svengali is one of those rare literary creations so seemingly archetypal his name becomes short-hand for a kind of behaviour: in this... Continue Reading →

St Kilda: the last and outmost isle

The small archipelago of St Kilda, fifty miles west of Harris, has long attracted romantic attention for its remoteness, with the sense of deep strangeness and difference such remoteness implies. It is the last and outmost isle, the island on the edge of the world: a place whose way of life, in the words of... Continue Reading →

When graduates voted twice

With support for the EU significantly higher among those with a university education, it’s interesting to recall that well into the 20th century graduates could vote twice in UK general elections: once in their local constituencies and again through their universities, which at one point held fourteen seats between them. The idea that universities should... Continue Reading →

Manuela Sáenz: the Liberator’s saviour

On the night of September 25 1828, a small group of armed men approached the presidential palace in Bogotá. Inside, Simón Bolívar lay in bed asleep beside his mistress, Manuela Sáenz. Bolívar – known as El Liberator – had led large parts of South America to freedom from imperial Spain, but his increasingly autocratic, anti-republican... Continue Reading →

The pioneering archaeologist Dorothy Garrod

On 6 May 1939 the pioneering archaeologist Dorothy Garrod was elected to the Disney chair of archaeology at Cambridge. She was the first woman to be a professor at either Oxford or Cambridge; women were still not admitted to full degrees at the university – despite having been educated there since 1869. Her election brought... Continue Reading →

History Today: Between fact and fiction

This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of History Today. What does it mean to write history today? What claims can historians make about their work? These are just two of the questions that sprang to mind after listening to Niall Ferguson tussle with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley on Radio 4’s Start... Continue Reading →

The decline and fall of Twyford Abbey

This article first appeared in the November 2015 London Historians newsletter. Since I wrote it, the abbey has been sealed away behind high metal fencing, as if to confirm the purposeful neglect of its current owners.  I grew up in Kingsbury, North West London. I now live in Ealing. Between those two places lies a... Continue Reading →

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