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Publication date: 17th April 2011 by Richard Brown, Iain Smith & Rachel Murray

'Modern History' Book Reviews - April 2011

7 book reviews looking at Modern World History. This month the reviews cover the following: 

1.  Deborah Simonton - Women in European Culture and Society: Gender, Skill and Identity from 1700,

2. C. I. Hamilton - The Making of the Modern Admiralty: British Naval Policy-Making, 1805-1927,

3. Theodore Koditschek - Liberalism, Imperialism and the Historical Imagination: Nineteenth-Century Visions of a Greater Britain,

4. David Feldman and Jon Lawrence, (editors) - Structures and Transformations in Modern British History: essays for Gareth Steadman Jones,

5. Michael A. Reynolds - Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires 1908-1918,

6. Larry Frohman - Poor Relief and Welfare in Germany from the Reformation to World War I,

7. Jonathan C. Friedman, (ed.) - The Routledge History of The Holocaust


1. Deborah Simonton - Women in European Culture and Society: Gender, Skill and Identity from 1700

(Routledge), 2011

416pp., £22.99 paper, ISBN 978-0-415-21308-0

Most books on women's history taken either a geographical or a thematic approach but this book combines the two.  As a result, we have a transnational history of women in Europe from the early eighteenth century that successfully creates an integrated view of three hundred years of women in Europe.  In doing so Deborah Simonton questions the dominant narratives of history especially accounts of industrialisation and bourgeois femininity.  The book is divided into three parts: each part is divided into a prelude, three chapters that examine self, community and wider worlds, and an intermezzo or, in the case of the final section, a coda.  Each section also had a valuable chronology of key events and issues.  This structure is important is differentiating the different roles women played in society and the pressures and tensions that they addressed.  The opening chapters consider the rights of man and duties of woman through an examination of the gendering of the Enlightenment and the impact of the revolutionary era after 1789.  The second section focuses on domesticity and industrialism and unpicks the ways in which women's identity was shaped by the legacy of the Enlightenment and the development of social and economic change.  The final section looks at the twentieth century and the impact of change, in part caused by war, on women and the emergence of a liberationist ideology.  What shines through the discussion of women's own writings and cultural production is just how important women were as agents of change and how women shaped the culture and society of Western Europe.  The geographical breadth of the study enables the author to draw comparisons and contrasts in ways absent from most studies and in doing so, she provides a valuable guide to the conditions, circumstances and understandings of how women lived throughout Europe. 

With 27 well-chosen illustrations, effective use of sub-headings to signpost the key issues in the book and a detailed grasp of primary and secondary material, this book deserves a wide audience among teachers and students.  That it is so well written and structured is a bonus.

Richard Brown


2. C. I. Hamilton - The Making of the Modern Admiralty: British Naval Policy-Making, 1805-1927

(Cambridge Military Histories, Cambridge University Press, 2011)

345pp., £60 hard, ISBN 978-0-521-76518-3

The ways in which decision-making and policy-making were made in the period between Trafalgar and the aftermath of the Battle of Jutland are examined through the British Admiralty.  The centrality of the Royal Navy to the global balance of power makes this an extremely valuable book.  The author shows the ways in which the bureaucratic structures of the Admiralty developed during the nineteenth century demonstrating the power lay less in the hands of the Board but initially with individuals, then groups and committees and finally with senior permanent bureaucracies.  Of especial importance were the Naval Staff and the civil service Secretariat under the Permanent Secretary that became increasingly important in policy-making.  As a result, by the 1920s, the Admiralty had developed into an effective policy-making organisation. The book opens with a chapter on Lord Barham's Admiralty in 1805, a detailed analysis of the organisation before it began the gradual process of modernisation that turned it into a modern department of state.  The following four chapters examine how the Admiralty developed until the mid-1880s with discussion of reform and decision-making.  The period leading to the outbreak of war in 1914 and especially the part played by Churchill and Fisher is examined in two chapters.  The book ends with an examination of the Admiralty under Lord Beatty.  This volume is an important contribution to understanding how modern government developed as well as providing a case study for naval historians.

Richard Brown


3. Theodore Koditschek - Liberalism, Imperialism and the Historical Imagination: Nineteenth-Century Visions of a Greater Britain

(Cambridge University Press), 2011

351pp. £60 hard, ISBN 978-0-521-76791-0

Theodore Koditschek has written an important study of the relationship between liberal imperialism and the writing of history in the nineteenth century.  It was a symbiotic relationship with imperial agendas illuminating the writing of history and historical writing transforming imperial agendas.  Based on the writings and personal papers of individuals such as Walter Scott, J. A. Froude, Edward Freeman and J. R. Seeley, the author explores the ways in which historical imagination contributed to the establishment, definition and legitimation of liberal imperialism and especially the notion of the Greater Britain.  Imperialists and those who were the subjects of imperialism reflected on the Empire's past because of the need to establish a multi-national imperial identity in the present.  This was a clear case of the past being used to inform and construct the present.  For Maria Edgeworth and Walter Scott, the critical question was the nature of British Unionism.  For John Malcolm and James Mill, it was the project of Indian modernisation and the reconstruction of the empire.  For the Macaulays, central to their thinking was a liberal romance of empire while for Froude it was its antithesis.  As race became a central issue from the 1850s, Anglo-Saxonism became a key concept in the writings of Freeman and Stubbs with his focus on the evolution of English constitutionalism while the demise of liberal imperialism and its replacement with Conservative Unionism saw the end of history as a key determinant of policy.  The agenda had moved beyond the realities of history as a medium through which reconstruction could be achieved to a political imperative in which retaining empire became central, at least until self-government or decolonisation proved necessary.  It is a story of contradictions and paradoxes and Britain sought to square growing anti-imperial rhetoric with a deep attachment of British liberal values.  For this, the study of the past did not provide solutions, only further questions. 

Richard Brown


4. David Feldman and Jon Lawrence, (editors) - Structures and Transformations in Modern British History: essays for Gareth Steadman Jones

(Cambridge University Press), 2011

331pp., £50 hard, ISBN 978-0-521-51882-6

Collections of essays by multiple authors are, on occasions rather like the curate's egg...good in parts.  The essays often lack a coherent theme and are, perhaps inevitably, of variable quality and value.  Structures and Transformations is the exception.  Inspired by the work of Gareth Steadman Jones, its essays explore the social, political and intellectual long-term structures of modern British history and the ways in which those structures were transformed at key moments.  The result is an original collection of twelve essays that present new research insightfully within a broad historical context.  The editorial introduction situates Steadman Jones' work in the developing historiography from the 1960s and explains how his ideas on political, social and cultural history have influenced other historians.  This is followed by the twelve essays by authors who all combine original and provocative thinking on their chosen areas as well as lucid writing.  They cover a broad range of subjects including the results of rapid population growth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; institutional change and the role of government; civil growth in the ‘long' eighteenth century and through consideration of Engels.  There are also essays on change in the countryside; the forces that shaped transnational networks especially between Britain and its empire; and, the persistent problem of how we connect cultural politics and social change.  Each essay could act as a manifesto for historiographical change and combined they provide important conclusions about new directions in historiography for the twenty-first century.  For any teacher of modern British history, this volume is essential reading and I do hope that a paperback version will quickly follow.

Richard Brown


5. Michael A. Reynolds - Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires 1908-1918

(Cambridge University Press), 2011

303pp., £19.99 paper, ISBN 978-0-521-14916-7

This is a very interesting and original study of the collapse of empires.  Conflict between the Russian and Ottoman empires had already existed for centuries before its dénouement in the opening decades of the twentieth century.  The unravelling of those empires was both a cause and consequence of World War I and led to the death of millions.  It changed the landscape of the Middle East and remains a persistent theme to this day in conflicts throughout the Caucasus and Middle East.  Previous accounts have seen the conflict as one of competing nationalities and religions but Reynolds argues that the rivalry between the two empires was about geopolitical competition.  This is an important addition to the literature on Russian and Ottoman history and to the history of the First World War.

Iain Smith

6. Larry Frohman - Poor Relief and Welfare in Germany from the Reformation to World War I

(Cambridge University Press), 2011

257pp., £20.99 paper, ISBN 978-0-521-18885-2

This excellent account of the development of poor relief and social welfare in Germany from the Reformation to the First World War provides a valuable comparison with similar processes in England.  It provides a valuable integration of narrative and theoretical analysis of such issues as social discipline, governance, gender, religion and state-formation.  The institutions, strategies and practices employed in responding to the needs of the poor are shown to have begun not with the Bismarckian social insurance programme but with preventative social welfare institutions, progressive reformers and local voluntary initiatives.  The relationship between these different initiatives and their impact of the public sphere is explored.  The bulk of the book is concerned with the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries exploring the social question of poverty in a civil and increasingly market society.  This is a valuable addition to the studies of poor relief.

Rachel Murray

7. Jonathan C. Friedman, (ed.) - The Routledge History of The Holocaust

(Routledge), 2011

516pp., £100 hard,  ISBN 978-0-415-77956-2

The Holocaust is now one of the staples in English schools and there are some excellent books available for both student and teachers.  This collection of essays will be of especial value because it collects in one place material on every aspect of the Holocaust.  It serves as a comprehensive introduction to the history of the Holocaust but also adds depth to current debate, both geographically and topically, by covering issues that have previously been under-investigated.  It provides a context for the Holocaust by examining continuities in German and European history with regard to genocide before 1939.  It considers the eugenic roots of Nazi anti-Semitism and the responses of Europe's Jewish communities to persecution and destruction.  It examines the Final Solution at it was instituted across Europe, the motivation behind rescue and rescuers, gender and Holocaust experience and the persecution of non-Jewish victims.  It discusses the problems of prosecuting war crimes and the place of the Holocaust in post-war cultural venues.  The book is divided into five parts.  The opening nine essays look at the Nazi takeover and persecution in Hitler's Reich to 1939.  The next part examines Germany's ‘racial war' in Poland and the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1941.  The central section examines the Final Solution in Europe with excellent essays on the destruction of Norway's Jews, the special characteristics of the Holocaust in Hungary and in Romania, valuable case studies that provide an extension of the normal focus on Poland and Russia.  The fourth part addresses the responses from victims, bystanders and rescuers while the final part examines the Holocaust in law, culture and memory.  Each of the forty-two chapters is written by an expert in their particular field, with detailed notes to provided bibliographical insights.  It is to be hoped that a cheaper paperback version will soon become available so the it can be purchased by all teachers of the Holocaust.

Richard Brown