'With others of my own contemporaries,' Denys Hay once wrote, 'I certainly found myself in the years after 1945 still preoccupied with aspects of warfare in other times (in my case the later Middle Ages) which would not, I believe, have caught my attention if I had not experienced life between 1939 and 1945.' Another distinguished Medieval and Renaissance scholar, Hans Baron, first sketched his thesis about the early Florentine Renaissance being triggered by the threat of invasion from other Italian states while he was in London during the Blitz. Medievalists have always been aware of war and society as a continuum: modern studies, however, for long remained remarkably resistant to the pervasive, if not cataclysmic resonances of war. The first serious study of 20th-century Britain, Charles Loch Mowat's Britain between the Wars (1955), neatly managed, as the title indicates, to steer between the century's two total wars. Liberal British historians found wars very nasty and preferred either to avoid them altogether or to keep them in carefully compartmentalised sections of their books. How far things have changed can be seen from the title of Max Beloff's Wars and Welfare: Britain 1914-1945, an excellent textbook, if you like that sort of thing, of political and diplomatic history.
LRB 18 October 1984 | PDF Download