Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Night: A Social History

The literature of history in recent years has moved away from generals and princesses, monks and masts, to take on a broader range of ordinary topics, such as Cod: A Biography of the Fish that changed the World, or Salt: A World History.

The time between set and rise, Chaos and Old Night, has been given a history of its own, and in a specifically European context.  Tim Blanning reviews Craig Koslofsky's Evenings Empire: A history of the night in early modern Europe, an attempt to analyse just how the migration of daytime activities into the night led to a revolution in Europe.

Festivals around this time moved from street to palace, and night took on a moral and evil tone among the religious minds of the age for that reason.  Already a loose metaphor deployable against any range of targets, through street lamps and policing the night was 'reclaimed' from prostitutes and thieves, opening up a whole new part of the day for economic or social activity, ushering in a mini revolution.

My final question is more practical.  Do street lights help or hinder crime?  Hinder, you might say, but a dark street means that criminals cannot spot likely targets either, and crime tends to rise during long, musky, summer days.

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