The June issue includes two articles and an AHR Forum. The articles deal with censorship in England and nationalism in the Balkans, both in the twentieth century, while the forum offers several perspectives on how we should think about prehistories. There are also five featured reviews, followed by our usual extensive book review section. “In Back Issues” draws attention to articles and features in the AHR from one hundred, seventy-five, and fifty years ago.
When the prosecutor in a high-profile trial in London in 1960 asked the jury to consider whether D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover constituted appropriate reading material for their wives and their servants, he made a gaffe that started an inquest into the social assumptions of English obscenity law. In “‘Is It a Book That You Would Even Wish Your Wife or Your Servants to Read?’ Obscenity Law and the Politics of Reading in Modern England,” Christopher Hilliard confronts the assumption, rooted in Victorian arguments about citizenship, that a book might be safe for privileged men to read, but not safe for women or working-class people. His article examines how English obscenity law kept those ideas, especially with regard to social class, in motion after they had lost their relevance elsewhere in public life. Indeed, the legal convention of “variable obscenity” unraveled in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial as the defense exploited new legislation permitting expert-witness testimony to press for a more democratic politics of reading. The article presents a case study in the irregularity of cultural change and explores a conception of “freedom of expression” very different from American and subsequent British understandings of it.
In “Sudden Nationhood: The Microdynamics of Intercommunal Relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina after World War II,” Max Bergholz explores how nationhood can suddenly become a powerful lens through which ordinary people interpret their world. Focusing on one Bosnian community torn apart by intercommunal violence in 1941, he uncovers the postwar phenomenon of what he calls “sudden nationhood.” Local conflicts, which often had little to do with “ethnic conflict,” could trigger individuals to interpret incidents through mental categories of ethnicity derived from traumatic experiences and memories of violence. In those highly charged moments, an antagonistic sense of “us” and “them” would rapidly crystallize. The concept of sudden nationhood suggests a need to reflect on the limits of influential analytical frameworks used to explain nationhood, such as models that stress its emergence in response to modernization, as well as recent work on “national indifference.” Bergholz’s history of a community in Bosnia-Herzegovina demonstrates not only that an eventful perspective can be useful in accounting for sudden surges in nationhood, but also that their micro-mechanisms can be grasped by analyzing linkages among the sometimes isolated scholarly fields of violence, memory, and nationalism. Read more…