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Noel Malcolm

Author of Kosovo: A Short History

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About the Author

Noel Malcolm is a British columnist, writer and editor who was born in 1956. He was educated at Cambridge University and was a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge from 1981 to 1988. Malcolm left teaching to become the Foreign Editor of the Spectator and a political columnist for show more London's Daily Telegraph. Malcolm has written Bosnia: A Short Story, which puts the Bosnia-Hercegovina conflict into historical context and Kosovo: A Short Story, which outlines its history from medieval Serb state into modern times. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Includes the names: Malcolm Noel, Sir Noel Malcolm

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Common Knowledge



Regular users of social media may be aware that the peach emoji is used to indicate not only the fruit in question but also the buttocks. This metaphor is not new. It was used in the middle of the 16th century by Francesco Berni, a Florentine poet, who assured his readers that the fruit was ‘good at the front and perfect from behind’. While drawing such modern parallels is tempting, it also presents dangers for the historian. This is particularly true for the history of sex between men, where so many sources derive either from the prosecution of illegal acts, or from literary texts that were by necessity often coded.

One of the most thought-provoking books I have read in some time, Forbidden Desires is an ambitious comparative study of sex between men in the Mediterranean and northern Europe. Its argument unfolds in a very readable narrative: this is a rare academic book for which I must tell you that my review contains spoilers. From the starting point of a scandalous case of sodomy in the household of the senior Venetian official in 16th-century Constantinople, Noel Malcolm first compares patterns of sex between men in the eastern and western Mediterranean, before asking whether these also prevailed in northern Europe.

The Mediterranean half of the story is relatively straightforward. Synthesising a large body of research based on legal codes, court cases (both secular and ecclesiastical) and literary sources, Malcolm paints a convincing picture of a broad Mediterranean pattern of sex between men. In both the Ottoman Empire and the western Mediterranean (strictly speaking Iberia and Italy, because the study does not take in the south of France, nor the Maghreb), this consisted of illegal but nonetheless relatively common sexual relations between men under 30 and ‘beardless youths’. Those whose sex lives sat outside this pederastic model faced much harsher condemnation, both legally and socially (the ‘inveterate sodomite’, for example, who kept having sex with men after his marriage, or the older man who took the passive role in sex). This pattern has its variations: there was a more open literary culture around love for boys in the Ottoman texts than in the Italian, while Italy (especially Florence) seems to have had a wider sodomitical culture than Iberia. Malcolm has little time for scholars who dismiss European travellers’ accounts of Ottoman sexual practices as only Orientalist fantasies, pointing out that the Ottoman sources provide ample confirmation of a real-life phenomenon.

Read the rest of the review at HistoryToday.com.

Catherine Fletcher is Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University.
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HistoryToday | Feb 20, 2024 |

Magisterial stuff, which unfortunately takes us only to 1997 and the emergence of the KLA. Unlikely to be bettered as a summary of historical knowledge, especially in the medieval period.
nwhyte | 5 other reviews | Jul 23, 2022 |
Prior to reading "Kosovo: A short history", I knew sweet fa about Kosovo, except that it featured in the media in the 1990s for all the wrong reasons. Now I know this small, landlocked nation (or at least considered by over 100 other countries as a nation) has a bloody history that seems far bigger than its area, full of Nazi collaboration and a seemingly insignificant (in global terms) battle in 1389 that still echoes through the region six centuries later.

Like his earlier tome on Bosnia, Malcolm is very thorough and you don't finish the book wishing Malcolm had covered particular topics in more detail. As Kosovo may yet prove to be an important part of twenty first century Europe, this book is worth a read.… (more)
MiaCulpa | 5 other reviews | Oct 29, 2018 |
"Bosnia: A Short History was celebrated on its first publication as a brilliant
work of history which set the terrible war in the Balkans in its full
historical and political context. This revised edition has been updated with a
new chapter that covers the events of the last two years and remains the
definitive work on the complex history of Bosnia." --back cover
collectionmcc | 1 other review | Mar 6, 2018 |



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