The Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) has been called the first modern conflict. This is no compliment… A forward-looking view of the war—the dawn of mass-media coverage, barbed wire, and concentration camps—emphasises the bit parts played by 20th-century personages. Winston Churchill, the neophyte correspondent, making his daring escape from Boer captivity; Mohandas Ghandi’s exertions in the Indian ambulance corps; and Robert Baden-Powell’s devil-may-care dispatches from the Siege of Mafeking (“One or two small field guns shelling the town. Nobody cares”; “All well. Four hours bombardment. One dog killed”), which prefigured his Boy Scout movement by 10 years.
From the start, it was hard to know whose side Ferdinand Magellan was on. Born in northern Portugal around 1480, Magellan, an orphaned son of lesser nobles, spent decades serving the Portuguese crown in its wars abroad, in India and Malaysia. One might think Magellan was the epitome of national devotion. But in 1518, after being rejected by the Portuguese authorities, Magellan turned to his country’s greatest rival: Spain.
The Vatican Secret Archives is one of the grandest historical collections in the world. It’s also one of the most useless. The grandeur is obvious. Located within the Vatican’s walls, next door to the Apostolic Library and just north of the Sistine Chapel, the VSA houses 53 linear miles of shelving dating back more than 12 centuries. It includes gems like the papal bull that excommunicated Martin Luther and the pleas for help that Mary Queen of Scots sent to Pope Sixtus V before her execution. In size and scope, the collection is almost peerless. That said, the VSA isn’t much use to modern scholars, because it’s so inaccessible.
The Madras Observatory offers little to the visitor’s eye. Stone slabs and broken pillars lie ignored in a fenced-off section of a local weather centre in the southern Indian city of Chennai. Few tourists venture out to see the ruins of the 18th-century complex…Yet it is the Madras Observatory, and not the spectacular Jantar Mantars, that marks the triumphal fusion of scientific knowledge and imperial power.
The Muslim invasion from North Africa was “one of history’s greatest revolutions in power, religion, culture and wealth to Dark Ages Europe,” writes historian David Levering Lewis in God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe.
Aurangzeb Alamgir, the sixth ruler of the Mughal Empire, is the most hated king in Indian history. He ruled for nearly 50 years, from 1658 until 1707, the last great imperial power in India before British colonialism. According to many, he destroyed India politically, socially and culturally.