Rethinking our global past: new edition of BBC’s ‘World Histories’ magazine

Do you need a glossy but stylish history magazine to dip into during those precious quiet moments in our busy lives? The publishers of the very popular BBC History magazine, a monthly publication which investigates all aspects of history and the past, recently launched an exciting new companion magazine entitled World Histories, and issue no. 2 of this has just been published.

The magazine, which in its launch issue promised to provide what the editor called ‘Fresh Perspectives on Our Global Past’, more than delivers on this objective in the new second issue (issue no. 2, February/March, 2017).


A key feature of the new issue is a focus on the post-1945 ‘Cold War’, with discussion also of the two Russian Revolutions (which happened 100 years ago this year). In the Cold War article, the ‘Big Question’ posed is ‘Did the Cold War ever really end?’ The Cold War, of course, is often thought to have finished in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR). But with recent tensions in East-West relations and the possibility of a new arms race, perhaps this view needs to be reassessed. A panel of seven experts assess this question in the magazine and offer their thoughts: Evan Mawdsley, Kathleen Burk, Piers Ludlow, Vladislav Zubok, Hakim Adi, Robert Service, and Catherine Merridale.

During the course of the debate, a number of thoughtful assessments are put forward about the very nature of the Cold War. According to Piers Ludlow, for example, ‘It was a competition between two universalist models: each claimed to represent the future’. It was this competition that came to an end in the period between 1989 and 1991: ‘This does not mean of course that all that has followed has been about peace and goodwill’. Thus, in Ludlow’s view, there is still plenty of division in today’s world. On the other hand, though, the Cold War was ‘a very specific competition’ between two universalist models, and such universalism came to a decisive end in 1989-91 and does not really lie at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s regime or in China’s current vision.

Similarly, two other articles with direct relevance to the above topic are contained in the new magazine. The historian and journalist Victor Sebestyen offers an essay on ‘Lenin’s Lust for Power’, which summarises some of the main findings of his ground-breaking new work Lenin the Dictator: An Intimate Portrait (published last month). The latter book has been very well-received by critics. The well-known historian of Russian history, Robert Service, whose recent books have included The Penguin History of Modern Russia (2015), has likewise contributed an essay to the magazine on ‘Russia’s Revolutions’, where he traces the rise and fall of Communist Russia and its impact upon wider world politics in the twentieth century.

Lenin in bw

Interestingly, one of the main arguments set out in Sebestyen’s book, which he has repeated in his new essay for World Histories, is that one of the enduring myths about Lenin being an ‘icy, unfeeling, one-dimensional’ individual devoted solely to the Marxist revolutionary cause should actually be revised: ‘In fact he was a highly emotional man who flew into tremendous rages that would leave him exhausted and almost prostrate’. Thus, his thirst for revenge after his brother was hanged by the Czarist state ‘motivated Lenin as powerfully as did any ideology’.

Elsewhere in the new edition of World Histories the reader will find articles on ancient Egypt, the treasures of Korea, an eyewitness account of the Normandy Landings of 1944, and a journey into the world of Cambodia’s epic empire, which reached its peak during the medieval period. There is also a fascinating short piece on ‘Global Connections’, where the broadcaster and academic Michael Scott offers a number of thoughts on the emergence of the nation state in history and how the 15th and 16th centuries became an age of great exploration and discovery across the world.

And for those who are interested in the process of crafting and writing history, Peter Frankopan, author of the critically-acclaimed The Silk Roads (2015), contributes some reflections on the importance of historians questioning their own work: ‘It is easy to forget that writing history is as important as the events historians detail’.

As with the launch issue, the new second issue also contains a ‘Briefing Section’ where leading expert opinions are given on some of the historical issues behind today’s news, including Syria’s future, Donald Trump, and how the growing tendency of young people to abandon books could (in the estimation of Professor James R. Flynn) result in many of them losing touch with history, a thesis that is based on some recent alarming statistics that are coming out of America.

Finally, for those who are interested in the life and legacy of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (who died in November, 2016), the Briefing Section also includes a piece by Tanya Harmer (an associate Professor in international history at the LSE), in which she puts forward her views on Castro’s appeal during his lifetime, and how this cannot be understood without placing it into a larger international perspective.

With plenty of other articles and news items, the new edition of World Histories is well worth consideration. Retailing at an eye-watering price of £6.99, it might be financially challenging for some students, but it is arguably still quite a bargain. Moreover, if this standard of output is maintained, the magazine will undoubtedly become an essential buy for all scholars of international history and global affairs.

The February/March 2017 issue of World Histories is on sale now.

(All images: WikiMedia Commons)


This entry was posted in American history, European History, Public History, Russian History, Teaching, Uncategorized, World History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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