In this week’s TLS – A note from the History editor
The sumptuous book now known as the Lindisfarne Gospels led a peripatetic life in the two centuries after its creation, but it rarely travels these days. It has survived in near perfect condition (minus original binding) for around 1,300 years, and as Alexander Murray writes, its conservators at the British Library have decreed that “no page may be exposed more than once in five years or for more than three months at a time”. But Durham, the city with which it was long associated and where, up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it resided, is a special case. The book has been lent out to feature as the main attraction in an exhibition at Durham University’s Palace Green Library. The show not only displays some of the masterpieces of early medieval art but, as Murray finds, does so “in the highly instructive company of related manuscripts and artefacts”.
Luckily, the Lindisfarne Gospels avoided the fate of many other early English treasures, of being looted by Viking raiders. But war has always made cultural casualties. In the case of the air war over Europe, it was long argued that Allied attacks on places of cultural rather than military significance, such as Dresden, were responses to German escalation of the air war to include attacks directed at civilian morale as well as materiel. Reviewing Richard Overy’s impressive history of The Bombing War, John Gooch concludes that, on the contrary, “we started it”, switching the focus of raids to “heavy material destruction in large towns” in 1940. This was a case, Overy argues with an Orwellian flourish, of “pre-emptive retaliation”.
If that overturns one widely held misconception about Germany, a much more curious feature of German life is the subject of a book by H. Glenn Penny, reviewed by Peter Pfeiffer. The Germans have a long-held affinity, it turns out, for Native Americans. Evidence for this comes not only in the form of a history of self-identification traceable back to Tacitus, but in some of the most popular German books and films, particularly those of Karl May, featuring “Old Shatterhand” and his Apache friend, Winnetou.