History Today

Wanting to ‘take the temperature’ of the discipline I picked up the latest issue of this worthy magazine. Wasn’t very impressed. Very dry, very British, rather too military. The best article by far was on conscientious objectors in the Second World War – and it still wasn’t great. That’s a rich topic – WW2 has been generally accepted* as a just, indeed heroic, war, so an examination of why men refused to fight is intriguing. But all you get is an arid overview, some smatterings of personal recollection, and barely any attempt at analysis at all. And the rest of the magazine is much the same – a nervousness pervades it, a dancing around any attempts at humour, let alone judgement, and an apparent fear of making anything seem too interesting. When I started work in market research, one of the first maxims I encountered was “If it’s interesting, it’s probably wrong”. History Today seems to work to a similar principle. A vibrant subject deserves better.

*And rightly so, but if I had had more time this month I might have talked about the terrible albatross the memory of WW2 seems to have become, a justified war that has been used ever since as a justification for war.