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Wilfrid Prest

Wilfrid Prest

Wilfrid Prest, born and educated in Melbourne, is Professor Emeritus in History and Law at the University of Adelaide and was president of the History Council of South Australia. He is the author of William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century (2008). His edited book Pasts Present: History at Australia’s Third University was published in 2014 by Wakefield Press.

Wilfrid Prest reviews 'The Shortest History of Europe' by John Hirst

November 2009, no. 316 01 November 2009
The opening sentence of Norman Davies’ blockbuster Europe: A History (1996) notes that ‘History can be written at any magnification’. Yet the superlative asserted in the title of John Hirst’s latest book does bring one up, well, short. Its claim is plainly contestable – how about ‘Plato to NATO’ (the irreverent shorthand for once-fashionable US undergraduate ‘Western Civ.’ survey ... (read more)

Wilfrid Prest reviews 'The Ends Of Life: Roads To Fulfilment In Early Modern England' by Keith Thomas

June 2009, no. 312 01 June 2009
A new book by the most learned, original and witty historian now living and writing in England – conceivably in English – is a rare treat. Because Keith Thomas’s academic career commenced in 1950s Oxford, it scarcely mattered that his first monograph – the prizewinning, much-acclaimed Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) – only appeared when its author was in his late thirties. For ... (read more)

Wilfrid Prest reviews 'A Historian for all Seasons: Essays for Geoffrey Bolton' edited by Stuart Macintyre, Lenore Layman, and Jenny Gregory

August 2017, no. 393 23 July 2017
Traditional academic festschrifts often lack coherence and consistency, especially when the honorand’s former students and colleagues, as more or less duty-bound contributors, share little in common beyond that association. A posthumous tribute to a departed scholar can be more successful, not least because the circumstances of its compilation permit a less constrained approach to its subject’ ... (read more)

Wilfrid Prest reviews 'Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science' by Richard Yeo

October 2014, no. 365 01 October 2014
With the advent of digital technology and the Internet, traditional paper-based scholarship appears increasingly threatened with redundancy, if not total obsolescence. This may help to explain current interest in the various techniques adopted by early modern natural philosophers and scholars who struggled to cope with the diverse and rapidly expanding bodies of data at their disposal. ... (read more)

Wilfrid Prest reviews 'Queen's College, The University of Melbourne: A pictorial history 1887–2012' by Jennifer Bars, Sophia T. Pavlovski-Ross, and David T. Runia

December 2013–January 2014, no. 357 01 December 2013
Notwithstanding occasional media focus on misbehaving students or senior members, the residential colleges and halls dotted around or about most Australian university campuses keep a low profile. Their influence has undoubtedly declined since the early twentieth century, when as many as one quarter of Melbourne’s enrolled undergraduate population, and a much higher proportion of full-time studen ... (read more)

Wilfrid Prest reviews 'The Arch-Conjuror of England: John Dee' by Glyn Parry

June 2012, no. 342 22 May 2012
If modern politicians rely excessively on pollsters and spin doctors, what should we say of the trust which their medieval and Renaissance predecessors placed in diviners and soothsayers? Among the most famous of these latter practitioners was ‘Dr’ John Dee, born just six years before Henry VIII’s youngest daughter, who availed herself of his services even before she succeeded to the throne ... (read more)

Wilfrid Prest reviews 'The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland' by Alexandra Walsham

December 2011–January 2012, no. 337 24 November 2011
Australian universities have long taught early modern (c.1500–1750) English/British and European history, but with Alexandra Walsham’s recent appointment as the first female to occupy a Cambridge history chair, there are now (with Oxford’s Lyndal Roper) two Melbourne-trained early modernist Oxbridge professors. Banalities about the empire striking back are hard to resist. True, Walsham was b ... (read more)