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Bloody history

Historians used to ignore violence and horror, but a new generation places it centre stage

By David Herman   June 2004

Something has changed in the way historians write about violence, terror and atrocities. In the past, the terrible things people have done to each other have been left in the margins, even swept under the carpet. But over the past decade, terror has moved centre stage.

Three photographs in recent history books give a flavour of this shocking new realism. The first is in Orlando Figes’s history of the Russian revolution, A People’s Tragedy (1996). It shows a naked man, apparently a Polish officer, killed by the Reds during the Russo-Polish war in 1920. According to the caption, “The naked…

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