Magazine article History Today


Magazine article History Today


Article excerpt

Scholars and novelists

Derek Wilson (January 1999), in making a case for the historical novel, claims that the motivations of people in the past were the same as those of today. This is demonstrably incorrect.

It was John Huizinga who pointed out that people of the Middle Ages exhibited a psychology which was entirely different from those of today. For example, the Crusades were seen both as a means of material advancement and a war against religious enemies. It was not hypocrisy, but an inability to make a moral distinction between the two aims.

The task of the historian is to understand the world picture of people in the past and present their actions in that light. The historical novel is an obstacle to this understanding because it appeals to the contemporary market, transferring modern attitudes and conceptions to the past. History Today's back numbers are full of articles correcting misconceptions given in novels and films.

A novelist writes for the purpose of entertainment; a historian should seek the truth in the light of attitudes and preconceptions relating to his period. Henry VIII's matrimonial difficulties cannot be understood by reference to `Camillagate', and television documentaries that make use of advertising and propaganda techniques, like the dreadful Channel 4 offering about Stonehenge, do more harm than good.

A Mackie Edinburgh

Age and Beauty

So your reviewer Max Beloff thinks (February 1999) that members of Charter 88 are all `ignorant young men', members of a think tank' of the `current Left' with `repellent views', does he?

He obviously hasn't seen the list of Charter 88's founders and supporters; a list of intelligent and highly-placed persons who hardly merit the title of 'ignorant young men'!!

No. Mr Beloff's comments merely reveal him to be an arrogant bigot.

Richard E. Dawson MB, ChB, Sqn Ldr RAF (Retd) Southport

Spoils of War

Alexander Bittmann's article on the fate of the Hatvany and Herzog art collections was most illuminating (January 1999).

A little more of this story appears in the papers of the British art-looting investigators. In 1945 the British received a claim from Baron Weiss from Switzerland which enumerated a number of artworks. These included works from the Herzog and Hatvany collections. This submission suggests there may exist a counter claim.

There might be a sympathetic context for the Hungarian action over the two collections. In 1948 the Hungarians had just cause for concern over Western approaches to Hungarian property. The Hungarian Legation in Vienna sent a protest to the Allied Control Commission regarding the proposed auction of identifiable Jewish property from the Nazi Hungarian Gold Train of 1944 by the Americans. The American Army had recovered the loot at Werfen, Austria, including the collections of the Gyor Museum, Hungary. The Americans did not comply to the request. This appeared contrary to undertakings in the Hungarian Peace Treaty. By the account of Adam Lebor of 1997, some $8m was raised from Inter-Governmental Committee for Refugees auctions of the remaining contents of the Gold Train. This went to refugee agencies.

However, in their protest document, the Hungarian Government stated, 'according to Hungarian law all removed and recovered goods are being returned to their lawful owners'. …

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