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  • History's Value?
  • Sally Alexander and Alun Howkins

This issue of HWJ carries two features which spring directly or indirectly from the work of two founding editors, Tim Mason and Gareth Stedman Jones. Together these show how the study of British and European history has changed in the past forty or so years. On German and Italian fascism and modern British history respectively, they remind us of the value of historical thinking as a means to comprehend political and cultural change. The questions they raise about historical method and approach have a particular salience given the threat to the humanities in British Universities of the Conservative Coalition Government's cuts to research and teaching. In a third feature in this issue, contributors respond directly to the cuts and their potential impact, addressing the general health of archives, and of medieval history; the Oxford University campaign against the cuts; and history teaching in schools. Further discussion of these and other themes will be found on the website of the Raphael Samuel Centre (www. which is organizing a conference in 2012 on 'History, the Nation and Schools', as well as at, of which more below.

The papers on Germany and Italy, in the feature 'Politics, Economy and Class in Nazi Germany and Italian Fascism: a Reassessment', come from a conference held in Oxford in late 2010 whose aim was to look again at the kind of history which Tim Mason pioneered before his untimely death in 1990. Jane Caplan's paper on the administration of gender identity opens with a question Tim put to her twenty-five years ago - how to explain the unexpected in the archives as in the real world. Caplan's essay, like Eve Rosenhaft's case-histories of blacks and gypsies, complicates the cruel logic of Nazi eugenic thinking and racial murder by uncovering some instances of resistance, or those interstices in everyday life 'where resistance might be feasible'. Close readings of documents in newly opened archives reveal the resilience - albeit in fragmentary forms and spaces - of habits of mind throughout German culture among its constituent populations reaching back into the late nineteenth century and forward to post 1945. Nick Stargardt's essay traces the vicissitudes of civilian morale in Nazi Germany in the 1940s and finds these continuities reiterated in letters from father to son among the educated military class as its leadership pursued 'total defeat'. Stargardt and Claudia Baldoli describe the different political effects of mass bombing on morale and resilience in Germany and Italy in the [End Page 1] 1940s. All four essays are testimony to the arduous work of historical comprehension of events still within living memory, events which cast their shadow through the breakup of the Cold War, 9/11 and into the twenty-first century.

The three short papers on the present state of British history were given at a meeting in Cambridge in February this year to mark the publication of Structures and Transformations in Modern British History, a collection of essays 'presented' to Gareth Stedman Jones. The speakers, Martin Daunton, Catherine Hall and Frank Mort, who represent quite different areas of modern British historical scholarship, were asked to reflect upon how the study of British history has changed in the last forty or so years. An earlier discussion of this topic from the point of view of North American historians, published in Twentieth Century History in 2010, lamented the lack of a guiding narrative or paradigms. Against this, what comes out of the papers here is that the disparate nature of much modern historical work, the product of forty or so years of debate, can actually be its strength. All three papers stress the pluralism of approaches and narratives of British history. Their 'varied intellectual agendas', to quote Frank Mort:

. . . [have] diminished claims for clear causalities in favour of exploring 'patterns of interconnections' and lines of convergence and divergence - between politics and culture, elites and subalterns, society and the economy - conceived of as fluid processes rather than as fixed structures.

Other contributions to this issue reflect these approaches. Of those articles in some sense 'British', none is set exclusively in mainland Britain. Dana Rabin...


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