All manner of excitement last week at the IHR, with the prestigious Gerald Aylmer Seminar receiving a number of uninvited guests, as student protestors were diverted from their occupation of the Vice-Chancellor’s offices by the lure of the post-seminar sandwiches. The stern intervention of our events officer saw them off, but I think there’s a lesson here for any university seeking to deal with unwelcome demonstrations – no matter how righteous the cause, students will always prioritise free food…
Back to more serious matters, and this week’s reviews. We begin with Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg, which Christopher Smith believes represents a scholarly feat few writers could hope to match, engagingly tracking the history of how influential thinkers negatively interpreted Judaism to better understand their own religions and society (no. 1558).
Then we turn to Annette Aubert’s The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology. Daniel Ritchie and the author discuss a work which should be eagerly read by all modern religious historians with an interest in the development of Reformed theology in the United States (no. 1557, with response here).
Next up is Sovereignty Transformed: U.S.-Habsburg Relations from 1815 to the Paris Peace Conference by Nicole M. Phelps, found by Stephen Tuffnell to be a highly calibrated examination worthy of a place on the shelves of European and American historians alike (no. 1556).
Finally Peter Gurney reviews Hard Sell: Advertising, Affluence and Transatlantic Relations, c1951-69 by Sean Nixon. His view is that despite its valuable insights in the end this book, like many of the commodities it considers, promises more than it delivers (no. 1555).
‘Tis the season for reflecting on where our path has led us and which map to choose for the future. For many of us this allows us to think about where we want to be but also the choices we have made to get to where we are now. One decision that I made in 2013 was declare myself as an independent scholar as the distance between my PhD viva and 2013 no longer gave me much kudos as ‘early career’, especially when it came to funding bodies and post-doctoral positions. Independent scholar status seemed an identity shrouded in mystery and I was determined to unveil its secrets over the course of the year.
An independent scholar is defined as ‘ anyone who conducts scholarly research outside universities and traditional academia’ and a fitting commentary on this can be found on ‘How to be an Independent Scholar‘. The definition suits me and the freedom to research and publish when I can, mentoring younger scholars and dedicating time to advocacy work for early career and independent researchers certainly has its benefits.
Since I finished my PhD, the choices made and path chosen have made a difference to where I am at today with my research and my career (or lack thereof) in academia. I have a family, I have a full-time job and commitments to my discipline that include being part of research networks and setting up research networks. I am also Chair of a high-profile support network for early career and independent scholars. I do not have an academic post. Does this give me much time for my own research, finishing the manuscript, finishing articles or teaching? Not really. There are many out there in the same position who have made the choice between taking a job to pay the bills or surviving on a pittance with a short-term contract. We may also have children or are carers and have less mobility (both geographically and economically) than before. Does it bother me that I cannot dedicate more time to research and/or the development of my new research project? Sure. Sometimes it feels like the good ol’ days of the PhD and the guilt that came from taking any time off from researching.
Is this the downside of being and independent scholar? Possibly. However, the guilt comes from my own issue of feeling like a failure to those who mentored me (supervisors) and supported my research. From speaking to other colleagues who have made decisions not to go into academic positions (or are still struggling to find one), the failure factor weighs heavy on their mind. I am constantly reminded that the measure of success after the PhD is the coveted academic position. What about dedication to the discipline, teaching, supporting colleagues, advocacy and being part of the wider developments in your field and encouraging networks (research and otherwise)? For those who come to events sponsored by History Lab Plus, these issues always come up and there is no right or wrong answer to this. But it is something to keep in mind.
Something else to bear in mind: there are more of us out there searching for academic positions in history and related disciplines than ever before and what may have been a ‘best seller’ on the c.v. and would have gotten you in the door for an interview, may not be the same as it was 5 or even 3 years ago. The REF, grant capture, Open Access, impact and engagement and social media are making jobs even more competitive – if they were not already. For many of us, knowing the ‘buzz’ words and keeping apace can be daunting if there is no one to explain these to you.
I have also seen the landscape of academia change and have been at the mercy of those changes. I have watched as friends, colleagues and acquaintances moved into academia successfully – celebrating their successes – whilst others still struggle to find their way in an ever-changing world – sharing in their defeat and sense of frustration. Some have called their appointments ‘pure luck’ or being at the right place at the right time, for those still searching, believing that lady luck may shine in your favour can only last for so long. The best thing you can do to keep up is to stay in touch with mentors and friends inside the academy, come to an event by History Lab Plus, join a society, join a network – support network, research or teaching – and lastly, get your on-line profile up to scratch (yes, for those out there who have yet to venture into this land, give it a try, you will be surprised at the outcome). All of these things make a difference and you will feel the benefit. Dedicate time to networking, connecting and updating your on-line profile part of your resolution this year, they are mine.
Having to re-invent or re-think where your research fits within departments or trends is not un-common for early career or independent scholars. I ask myself questions all the time: Am I a social historian, gender historian or a historian at all? Where do I fit in my discipline? I often wonder if I am doubly damned as my research covers the ‘long middle ages’ (1100-1600) where many (but not all) medievalists tend to cover niche periods or subjects. I still do not know the answer – I just work on ‘nuns’. But these questions are important and allow me to think more widely about the discipline and how my research can make a difference. Make another resolution this year to keep asking questions about your research and where it may ‘fit’. Get out there and engage with your subject with other people – outside your time period – or give a paper a local history society, contact a museum, archive or heritage organisation. I have learned more from those who work in different time periods, disciplines and from public organisations then I could have imagined.
I am sure this all sounds rather easy in the grand scheme of things but I confess, there have been low points and I have lost the plot many times over the years out of frustration with academia and the pressures put on scholars to succeed. I have wondered if I can continue to go on with my research, developing networks and doing advocacy work after receiving one too many rejection letters or the bog standard rejection email. (Yep, got two last week). How to get out of the – low self-esteem, kicked in the teeth, exhausted because you spent all those extra hours putting the application together – deep, dark hole? Find a friend, and go somewhere that allows you to rejuvenate yourself – I go to Leeds IMC. After a week spent with friends and medieval scholars, I always come back more positive about my academic profile than ever before, confident in my research capabilities and have made a few more friends and contacts along the way.
So for 2014, I encourage you to make resolutions that are attainable: dedicate time to networking, connecting and updating your online profile; ask questions and engage with your discipline and beyond; go to the place that makes you feel your best. After reading the blog piece by Melodee Beals, I am also hopeful about putting strategies in place to dedicate time to research whilst balancing all my other commitments. Another New Years resolution? Definitely.
Over the past year we have been running a monthly British History Online photo competition. All those photos added to our Flickr group in the previous month have been entered into a pool and scrutinised by my judicious and sharp-eyed colleagues in IHR Digital. I then aggregated all the votes to produce a shortlist, which was then further voted upon by British History Online’s academic advisory group.
This month we had two runners-up, in no particular order. One was Fountains Abbey by a veteran of the photo competition, Bill Tennent, the frantic-photographer:
This kind of geometrical, receding composition is a tricky one for any photographer and Bill has done a great job of giving us a sense of depth and space while keeping everything in balance. I also like the somewhat eerie bright green walls and column bases.
Almost everything we can see in this photograph is, or appears to be, stone – except that out-of-place window, with the light streaming through. Particularly evocative are the empty coffins, perhaps brought from elsewhere, their contents presumably scattered or reburied.
who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?
Thomas Browne, Hydrotaphia, Urn Burial
The prize is that the winning photo has the glory of appearing on our British History Online homepage for a month. Our last winner, now in that prestigious position, is The Paris House at Woburn, by Jason Ballard:
The Paris House, although clearly in the English style, was built in Paris for an international exhibition on architecture held in 1878. It was designed by Gilbert Redgrave and was actually prefabricated and constructed on the site – although it is a bit more elegant than the prefabricated classrooms of my school days. It now stands in Woburn Park, and Jason has caught the character of the house and its surroundings beautifully, including the quintessentially English greens of a country that receives a healthy amount of rainfall.
It is appropriate (although entirely coincidental) that the house stands on the Duke of Bedford’s estate, because he liked it so much he had it shipped to England. The Institute of Historical Research (and the entire central University of London) also stands on estates owned by the dukes of Bedford. Most of the roads around our offices are named after members of the family: Russell Square, Woburn Place, Malet Street, Bedford Square…
We’ve very much enjoyed judging the photo competition over the past year, and we’d like to thank everyone who contributed photos to the group. Anyone is welcome to continue adding to the Flickr group, if they’d like to.
History Spot has been a much-used and well-liked tool in the two-and-a-half years of its existence and has provided access to training materials and hundreds of podcasts and seminars to thousands of researchers throughout the UK and the world. Now, though, it has outgrown the systems on which it was originally built and we are making some changes which will, we hope, make it easier to find and access the materials which up till now have been available on History Spot.
Everything which was formerly accessible via History Spot has been retained and will continue to be available to researchers, but different types of resource are now to be found in different ways:
1) IHR Podcasts have been merged into the main IHR website at history.ac.uk and can be located and downloaded for free and without registration via the Events menu (under Podcasts: or follow this link: http://www.history.ac.uk/podcasts).
2) Online Research Training Courses can be reached via the Research Training pages on the IHR website (http://www.history.ac.uk/research-training/online). To access chargeable courses an account is still necessary. All the old History Spot accounts have been retained and will function with the new system, but on the first occasion that they are used it will be necessary to reset the password by following the procedure for a forgotten password (to change your password straight away, use this link: http://training.historyspot.org.uk/login/forgot_password.php). All the free and non-chargeable online courses, however, can now be accessed without an account or password by using the Login as a Guest button.
We hope that this will not cause too much disruption and that with the new arrangements even more historians and researchers will be able to use the tools that we provide and that History Spot has helped to popularise.
This post has been kindly written for us by George Gilbert, currently one of the Scouloudi Fellows at the Institute of Historical Research.
For the beginner, the idea of networking can be a confusing one, and historically hasn’t always been helped by attitudes found in our discipline. Elements of academia have in the past perhaps been slow to catch on to this technique, slower at least than many professions in the city and politics. However, the profession has largely turned round to the idea, and it’s now apparent that developing fruitful links with other researchers, not only outside your home institution, but across countries and continents, is recognized as a central part of the doctoral experience. It is particularly vital for the aspiring researcher who wants to make the most of their abilities and interests in pursuing an academic career. Getting to know senior colleagues can at times seems a daunting experience, and the idea of ‘selling yourself’ might even sound a touch undignified!
However, it’s a good strategy to pursue. Firstly, networking is vital from a career perspective. At an early stage in your doctoral research, continuous and effective networking alerts you to conference opportunities, colloquiums and seminars that allow you to take in new ideas, engage with the latest and most cutting-edge research and, most of all, meet a wide range of characters and come across interesting viewpoints that will help you in your chosen field. Later, you will find out fellowship and job opportunities from helpful and well connected colleagues and friends.
As well as this, it can be very enjoyable. Networking might seem like a sly word to describe the cunning enhancement of an academic CV, but in reality, it’s usually very fun. It rarely goes wrong, and usually promotes rather than damages career development. Possibly one of the main issues for a young researcher is considering who to share your ideas with. If you have what you think might be a new and path breaking idea, a good rule of thumb is that it is best to share it only with those you know best, at least in the earliest stages of development: you don’t want to see your ideas in print before you’ve published them yourself! But most opportunities end positively. For example, I have had much entertainment from seeing different generations of Russianists, with very different questions on the scholarly agenda, productively engaging (and less productively, arguing) with each other over what direction the discipline is (and should be) heading in at various conferences and seminars! It helps develop people skills that are vital when teaching, giving papers, and discussing ideas: basically, anything that involves any level of face to face engagement. No one is out to ‘get you’ and several will probably end up becoming good friends.
Another aspect of engagement worth discussing in this brief post is another side to networking: sharing writing. Once you have got to the stage where you are able to produce significant chunks of written work based on your primary research, it’s a very good idea to share it with experienced professionals and helpful graduate students outside your supervisory team. For me, the feedback I have received from the peer review process, and also academics working in other institutions interested in my research, has been of immense value in helping me hone my ideas and develop my arguments. You must expect some criticisms, but in my own experience, the majority of those who have commented on my work have been very helpful and constructive in letting me know when the work isn’t good enough, as well as praising elements that they particularly liked.
Finally, networking has gone digital. For most sub-disciplines, there are forums, newsletters, websites and discussion blogs all online, many of which are worth reading to familiarize yourself with the latest academic research and where the discipline is going, as well as using those invaluable 40-year old monographs written by pillars of the field. It’s worth getting in touch with colleagues to find out where the best new material is being posted online, and to find out in what direction the field is heading, and perhaps even what your role in that development might be. Even if you aren’t into social networking, finding out where the thought pieces from those actively involved in the discipline are appearing is good practice.
The following digital networking websites, for instance, have proved useful for me:
H-Russia, an online network encouraging scholarly discussion of all matters Russian, featuring a discussion log, forum, and reviews of recent scholarship. The discussion log is good for pulling together panels for conferences.
Finally, twitter offers more than the opportunity to berate minor celebrities. It also contains many targets for the Russianist to follow, for instance: Crossing the Baltic, Russian Universe, and the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies’ research blog, which presents links to the some of the latest papers and talks by those engaged in the field.
With each week seeing a new series of claims and counter-claims about the viability of an independent Scotland, now seems an appropriate time for us to review a new book by Michael Fry, a self-declared former Scottish Conservative now supporting the nationalist position. Ian Donnachie believes A New Race of Men: Scotland 1815-1914 is in the tradition of scholarly, thoughtful, popular history and seems likely to command a wide audience (no. 1552).
Elsewhere, Eloise Moss and Lucy Bland discuss Modern Women on Trial: Sexual Transgression in the Age of the Flapper which shows how the historiography on women’s sexuality in inter-war Britain has progressed during the last two decades (no. 1554, with response here).
Then we turn to Crossings: Africa, the Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade by James Walvin, which Matthew Mitchell finds a highly coherent account that nevertheless manages to convey a satisfyingly complex view of its subject (no. 1553).
Finally Estelle Paranque thinks that the strength of The Name of a Queen: William Fleetwood’s Itinerarium ad Windsor by Charles Beem and Dennis Moore is that it highlights and encapsulates the concerns and hopes that represented the power of a queen during the early modern period (no. 1551).
The library, Trinity College Dublin. Eighteenth-century watercolour by James Malton
An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 26 February. Over 4,000 new records have been added; over half of these are for publications of 2013-14. Some 700 new records relate to Irish history while 186 deal with the history of London.
We are pleased to welcome a new section editor to our team, Dr Elaine Murphy of Plymouth University, who will handle material on Irish history, 1640-1800. We now have three editors helping us to deal with Irish history; Dr Beth Hartland (Ireland before 1640) and Dr Marie Coleman (Ireland since 1800) complete our Irish history team.
There have also been some improvements to the metrics; we continue to welcome your feedback on these.
We expect to release the next update in June. You can always find out more about the Bibliography at http://www.history.ac.uk/projects/bbih or, if you already have access to the Bibliography, you can sign up for email alerts so as to be notified each time the Bibliography is updated with records on a subject or subjects of your choice.
Abstract: In the early decades of the 20th century the London Underground was transformed from being simply a pioneer urban transit system into becoming the most powerful influence on the metropolitan landscape of any world city. This was entirely due to the vision and planning of one individual: Frank Pick (1878-1941) who became managing director of the Underground in the 1920s and the first chief executive of London Transport in 1933. Pick’s ‘total design’ management, through graphics, architecture, communication systems and the design of the entire passenger environment gave the Underground a unique character that is not found on any other metro. His influence is still felt today, an urban design culture which has shaped London’s chaos more than anyone else since Christopher Wren.
Biography: Oliver Green is currently Research Fellow at the London Transport Museum (LTM) and working as an independent museum consultant, lecturer and historian. He began his museum career at the Museum of London in 1974 and was the first Curator of LTM when it opened in 1980. He left to manage local authority museums and cultural services in Colchester, Poole and Buckinghamshire, returning to LTM as its Head Curator in 2001 and leading the curatorial team working on the major lottery funded refurbishment of the Covent Garden museum, which reopened in 2007. He has written and lectured widely on transport art, design and history. His latest book, authored jointly with David Bownes and Sam Mullins, is UNDERGROUND, How the Tube shaped London, published by Penguin Books in association with Transport for London to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Underground.
The IHR is delighted to announce the launch of this new course, which provides an introduction to how archival research findings on historic gardens can contribute to garden restoration, conservation and management. Taught on Tuesday mornings (11.00-13.00), Historic Gardens: Research in Action adopts a case-study approach to the exploration of these relationships through a combination of lectures, seminar-based discussions and site visits.
Researching the history of a garden or landscape is an absorbing and exciting activity that draws together documentation, maps, paintings, horticulture and other information to tell the story of the garden’s development and the people involved in its creation. The results will be a well-referenced report that describes chronological design overlays and planting and may identify the garden as of significant historic interest. This short course takes researching a garden’s history a stage further by a consideration of how these findings can contribute to a garden’s restoration, conservation and management. It also provides a practical understanding of the range of methodologies currently employed in the identification, protection and care of historic parks and gardens in the UK.
Examination of these issues is made through case studies chosen as examples of gardens restored to different historic periods and under different types of ownership and management. Visits will be made to the seventeenth-century formal gardens at Ham House (National Trust), the eighteenth-century landscape garden at Painshill Park (Painshill Park Trust), and the early twentieth-century garden of plantsman E. A. Bowles at Myddelton House (Lee Valley Regional Park Authority). Sources of evidence for restoration and plans for garden management will be studied in both classroom sessions and with expert guides during site visits.
Here is the latest run-down of new additions to the library, based on our recently updated New Books display. Whereas last month’s entry focused on collected correspondence, this time I have picked out some examples of new volumes from some of the many local records societies whose publications we hold, and which cover a range of regions and areas. Our English local history collection forms a significant part of the library, and this is continually expanding largely because of the regular output of such societies.
Firstly we have the Dugdale Society and their latest publication – Coventry Priory Register. The Dugdale Society was founded in 1920 and named after Sir William Dugdale, a seventeenth century antiquary from Warwickshire. Their stated aims are ‘publishing original documents relating to the history of the County of Warwick, fostering interest in historical records and their preservation and generally encouraging the study of local history.’
Forming Volume XLVI of the Dugdale Society’s Main Record Series, Coventry Priory Register has been carefully produced from an original set of over 250 fifteenth-century folios, kept in The National Archives. It shows in great detail the extensive range of property and land owned by the priory at the time, and the rent that was received. Within the volume the Register itself is preceded by a very helpful contextual introduction from the editor, as well as a series of specially produced street plans for Coventry in 1411, which are certainly a valuable accompaniment to the original source.
Froxfield Almshouse, the subject of this latest volume, has a fascinating history going back to its foundation in the 1690s, and is in fact still open today as The Duchess of Somerset Hospital. The almshouse was originally built to ‘accommodate 30 poor widows’ on a budget of £1,700 left by Sarah duchess of Somerset in her will. This generous benefactor not only provided the initial start-up costs, but also made many other stipulations to ensure the future sustainability of the almshouse, and the care of the women living there. The resulting legacy of successful management is reflected in the minute books, which are a valuable source for studying how the almshouse was run from day to day, as well as providing the bigger picture of adaptation to change across the years.