Michael Clanchy, 1936-2021

From Kate Clanchy on Twitter:

This is thread for my father, Michael Clanchy, who has died aged 84.

Michael was born in 1936, and travelled at 6 weeks old to Moscow where his father was Naval Attaché. In 1939, he was on the last train back, a journey he never forgot. Aged 5 he was at prep school, and from there he went to Ampleforth, and Merton College Oxford.

Michael was one the most distinguished medievalists of his time. He wrote the textbook everyone still uses, England and its Rulers, and the groundbreaking From Memory to Written Record, about why we started to write things down.

If that makes him sound conventional, he wasn’t. He didn’t get a first, he never worked in an Oxbridge college. He was just original and tenacious and wrote wonderfully clear prose. The medieval world was always near to him: he could make you see it.

I second this. His scholarship was first-rate, and he was personally very kind and helpful to me when I was researching my dissertation in London. 

Stephen F. Cohen, 1938-2020

From the New York Times:

Stephen F. Cohen, Influential Historian of Russia, Dies at 81

He chronicled Stalin’s tyrannies and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he was an enthusiastic admirer of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Stephen F. Cohen, an eminent historian whose books and commentaries on Russia examined the rise and fall of Communism, Kremlin dictatorships and the emergence of a post-Soviet nation still struggling for identity in the 21st century, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 81.

His wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher and part owner of The Nation, said the cause was lung cancer.

From the sprawling conflicts of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the tyrannies of Stalin to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Vladimir V. Putin’s intrigues to retain power, Professor Cohen chronicled a Russia of sweeping social upheavals and the passions and poetry of peoples that endured a century of wars, political repression and economic hardships.

A professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University, he was fluent in Russian, visited Russia frequently and developed contacts among intellectual dissidents and government and Communist Party officials. He wrote or edited 10 books and many articles for The Nation, The New York Times and other publications, was a CBS-TV commentator and counted President George Bush and many American and Soviet officials among his sources.

Read the whole thing

Links, Various

The Conversation: “How the extinction of ice age mammals may have forced us to invent civilisation”

Why did we take so long to invent civilisation? Modern Homo sapiens first evolved roughly 250,000 to 350,000 years ago. But initial steps towards civilisation – harvesting, then domestication of crop plants – began only around 10,000 years ago, with the first civilisations appearing 6,400 years ago.

For 95% of our species’ history, we didn’t farm, create large settlements or complex political hierarchies. We lived in small, nomadic bands, hunting and gathering. Then, something changed.

We transitioned from hunter-gatherer life to plant harvesting, then cultivation and, finally, cities. Strikingly, this transition happened only after the ice age megafauna – mammoths, giant ground sloths, giant deer and horses – disappeared. The reasons humans began farming still remain unclear, but the disappearance of the animals we depended on for food may have forced our culture to evolve.

New York Times: “Marvin Creamer, a Mariner Who Sailed Like the Ancients, Dies at 104”

It is daunting enough to circumnavigate the Earth with the aid of modern global positioning technology, much less with medieval and Renaissance tools like a mariner’s compass and sextant.

But Professor Creamer, in the grip of an obsession that had held him for years, shunned even those newfangled contrivances, as well as a radio, a clock and a wristwatch.He chose instead to rely on his deep knowledge of the planet and its vagaries, and be guided by nothing more than wind, waves, the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night.

Under cloud-massed skies, he could divine his location from the color and temperature of the water, the presence of particular birds and insects and even, on one occasion, the song of a squeaky hatch.

Skills like these, he long maintained, had let the master mariners of antiquity answer the seafarer’s ever-present, life-or-death question — Where am I? — and in so doing sail safely round the world.

“From everything I’ve read, the ancients didn’t feel uncomfortable out there,” Professor Creamer told The New York Times in 1978. “They didn’t have navigational tools, but they didn’t seem afraid to go to sea. I felt they might have known what they were doing, that they might have made predictable landfalls and having once hit a coast could have returned there.”

Newsmax: “‘Mystery Is Over’ Regarding Lost Colony of Roanoke”

The English colonists who came to what became known as the “Lost Colony” never actually disappeared, according to a new book.

Rather, they went to live with their native friends, the Croatoans of Hatteras, The Virginian-Pilot reports.

“They were never lost,” said author Scott Dawson, who has researched records and dug up artifacts where the colonists lived with the Indians in the 16th century. “It was made up. The mystery is over.”

Dawson’s book, The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island, which was published in June, highlights his research.

We Are the Mighty: “The last shots of the American Civil War were fired in Russia”

Historians don’t talk much about naval action during the Civil War, certainly not as much as they do about the ground combat. If it’s not about a riverboat, the Monitor and the Merrimack, or damning torpedoes, it just doesn’t get the same attention.

The CSS Shenandoah did a lot of things worth talking about.

Her flag was the last Confederate flag to be lowered and she was the ship that took the Civil War to the global stage, looting and burning Union merchant shipping from Africa to India to Russia and back.

She took 38 prizes and more than a thousand prisoners, some of them joining the Confederate ship.

Shenandoah was built by the British. A fast, steam-powered screw ship, the Brits transferred her to a Confederate skeleton crew under Capt. James Waddell off the coast of Africa. From there, Shenandoah terrorized American ships in sea lanes around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Pacific, and into the Bering Sea off Alaska.

At the time, however, Alaska belonged to the Russian Czar. And the Czar was friend to the United States. When Shenandoah began burning American whaling fleets in his territory, the Czar was not at all pleased.

Even after the Civil War was over, Shenandoah continued her Pacific rampage. The skipper just didn’t believe Lee’s surrender ended the war, even when American whaling captains told him so.

Pretty soon, he was the only Confederate still fighting. So he moved to shell the defenseless city of San Francisco. It was on his way to California that he met a British ship who confirmed the news: The Confederacy was gone and the captain and crew of the Shenandoah were going to be tried and hanged.

With every Navy in the world looking for Shenandoah and a hefty bounty on his head, Capt. Waddell disguised the ship, stowed its weaponry, and made a mad dash for Great Britain – the long way around.

Mark Ormrod

From the University of York, some sad news (hat tip: Ilana Krug): 

Obituary: Professor Mark Ormrod

A prolific researcher and leading historian of the later Middle Ages.

Professor Mark Ormrod passed away on 2 August 2020, in St Leonard’s Hospice, after a long illness which had caused him to retire early from the University in 2017 but did not impede his research and publication.

Mark was a leading historian of the later Middle Ages in Britain. He completed his doctorate in 1984 at the University of Oxford and then held a number of positions at the Universities of Sheffield, Evansville (British Campus), Queens University Belfast and Cambridge. In 1990 he moved to a lectureship at the University of York and was promoted to Professor in 1995. His experience of what is now widely known as ‘precarity’ in this early phase of his career always informed his nurturing of students and early career colleagues, whose careers were at the forefront of his mind in the creation of the many funded research projects that he so successfully established.

Mark was Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies from 1998 to 2001 and 2002 to 2003, and Head of the Department of History in 2001 and from 2003 to 2007. He also struck up a very close working relationship with the Borthwick Institute for Archives. He was a natural choice as the first Dean of the newly created Faculty of Arts and Humanities at York in 2009, a position that he held until his retirement in 2017.

While taking up these leadership roles, research remained Mark’s chief joy: he is the author or co-author of at least nine books, fourteen edited collections and well over eighty book chapters and articles. These included the definitive 700-page biography of Edward III (Yale, 2011), an exceptionally complex project that had defeated several earlier scholars. His penultimate book, Women and Parliament in Later Medieval England, was published by Palgrave in July 2020 while his last book, Winner and Waster, was delivered to the publisher just 10 days before he died; a further major collection of essays is forthcoming from the British Academy later this month. Hallmarks of his scholarship included the combination of accessible narrative with major new interpretations of important topics based on scrupulously thorough archival research; a combination of insight and detail that is rarely mastered.

In addition to his own writing he also supervised twenty-eight PhD theses. He was the Principal Investigator on nineteen major externally-funded research projects that were worth over £4m and provided early career positions to many former students. In July 2020 a festschrift compiled by these former students and colleagues was presented to Mark at a tribute to that mentorship (Monarchy, State and Political Culture, ed. Craig Taylor and Gwilym Dodd).

Mark’s externally-funded projects centred on creating public access online to the extensive but often obscure records of medieval government from The National Archives and the Borthwick Institute for Archives. A particularly well-received project, England’s Immigrants 1350-1550, identified circa 70,000 immigrants living in 15th-century England. This last project led Mark into collaboration with the Historical Association and the Runnymede Trust, creating new teaching materials for schools, providing training for teachers and contributing to the content of a new national curriculum in History that focused on the long history of migration to Britain. One output of this work, ‘Our Migration Story’, won the Guardian award for Research Impact in 2019. Other new initiatives that flourished in York because of Mark’s leadership and support include the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (the AHRC-funded collaborative doctoral training centre), the Centre for Christianity and Culture, the Festival of Ideas, and the York Medieval Press (an internationally-acclaimed imprint of Boydell and Brewer); all projects that shared his commitment to making scholarship accessible and relevant to the widest possible range of audiences.

Students and colleagues alike remember him above all as a kind and generous man, someone who was always in your corner and wanted you to achieve your best. Underpinning all these achievements was Mark’s very happy home life with Richard, who joined Mark in supporting (and feeding) his extended academic family of students and colleagues. Mark’s professionalism at work was always combined with modesty, good humour, a ready smile, and a generous understanding of colleagues. He laughed a lot and enjoyed life to the full.

I second this. Mark was a brilliant and productive scholar, and a warm and kind person as well. He will be missed. 

Antonia Gransden, 1928-2020

From the Guardian (hat tip: Chris Berard):

Antonia Gransden, who has died aged 91, was among the foremost medievalists of her generation. Her substantial and sustained scholarship spanned seven decades and continues to guide today’s students and researchers.

She will be best remembered for her two-volume, 1,000-page survey Historical Writing in England (1974, 1982), which covers the period from circa 550 to the early 16th century, from Gildas the Wise to Thomas More. Before that work anyone going in search of the roots of medieval historiography faced churning through the 250 volumes of the Stationery Office Rolls Series, or else had to find and translate the original parchment.

I was lucky to acquire both volumes of Historical Writing in England – it is certainly a very useful work. 

Robert K. Massie, 1929-2019

From the New York Times:

Robert K. Massie, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer who wrote gripping, tautly narrated and immensely popular books on giants of Russian history, died on Monday at his home in Irvington, N.Y. He was 90.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said his wife, the literary agent Deborah Karl.

In monumental biographies of Peter the Great (1672-1725), Catherine the Great (1729-96) and Czar Nicholas II and Czarina Alexandra, who were assassinated with their five children and others in 1918, Mr. Massie captivated audiences with detailed accounts that read to many like engrossing novels.

I’ve read only one of his books: Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War (1991), which I enjoyed. The article claims that:

Some criticized Dreadnought as lacking disclosures from original materials — a regular criticism of Mr. Massie’s reliance on secondary sources — but others praised his dramatic description of a grand failure in crisis management.

But that was not the impression I got when I read the book; in fact, I thought that he relied too much on extended quotations from letters, speeches, or telegrams, etc. (Yes, primary sources are important, and some of these make for good reading, but I’ve always thought that it’s bad form to quote them repeatedly and at length – exert some power over your sources and incorporate their ideas into your own prose.) Otherwise, the book was quite compelling, and it was fascinating to learn about such people as Kaiser Wilhelm, Bismarck, Holstein, Eulenburg, or Hohenlohe; and on the other side Queen Victoria, Lord Salisbury, Joseph Chamberlain, Cecil Rhodes, the young Winston Churchill, Herbert Asquith, Jacky Fisher, or David Lloyd George, and about the process by which Nelson’s Victory was transformed into Fisher’s Dreadnought. Those two strands never really come together, and the book doesn’t even end with the Battle of Jutland, but it remains an engaging portrait of that important period of European history parallel to Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower (1966). 

Brian Tierney, 1922-2019

Brian Tierney, former Goldwin Smith Professor of Medieval History at Cornell University and the first Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies, has died at the age of 97. 

Wikipedia says that “his speciality was medieval church history, focusing on the structure of the medieval church and the medieval state, and the influences of the interaction between these on the development of Western institutions. He was widely recognized as a leading authority on medieval church law and political thought. His work in these fields also proved relevant to some of the modern debates about Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Tierney’s most recent book was Liberty and Law: The Idea of Permissive Natural Law, 1100-1800 (2014). He continued to work on medieval history until the time of his death.”