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SPOT Newsletter: 23 February 2011

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We start off this SPOT Newsletter by going back to the early modern period with an interesting paper from Natalie Deibel on the role that recreation took in the founding of early American colonies.  The Sports and Leisure History seminar heard how recreation and entertainment (especially dance and music) became a way for colonists to build a friendly relationship with Native Americans (although it did not always succeed leading to several deaths).  After a century of experiences in the Americas Europeans still struggled to identify with the natives but dance, music, and entertainment was one method that they were increasingly using to overcome these problems.  Deibel also discusses entertainment internal to the colonies themselves using first Virginia as an example where gambling became a serious issue and then Newfoundland, where alcoholism and drunkenness was very much a problem that even began to spread out to the natives. 

Staying on the theme of Imperial history, the Franco-British History seminar presents a paper this week by Amanda Behm.  Few of the IHR’s podcasted seminars have yet focused on historiography as its subject matter, but Behm gives us a wide reaching and interesting paper on just that: the rise of Imperial history as a sub-discipline.  In this paper Behm presents two case studies that demonstrate the initial development of the sub-discipline and its institutionalisation.  The first case study looks at the publication of The Expansion of England (1883) by Cambridge professor, John Robert Seeley.  Behm examines the influence of this work but also its limitations and how that work continues to influence the historiography today.  The second case study focuses on Oxford’s foundation of the Beit chair of Colonial History in 1905, which can be argued as the first step towards institutionalisation of Imperial History.  Behm concludes that the discipline first developed to combat external threats to the empire in the nineteenth century and as a justification of Imperial attitudes (a means to understanding the past to inform the present and future), but that modern scholars often ignore this fact and therefore run the risk of ‘flattening the conflicted career of Imperial history to a tale of shifting moods’.  Behm also uncovers the fragile beginnings of the discipline as just one amongst many rival ideologies and methodologies for the study of Britain’s position in the world.  Behm notes that neither the Cambridge nor Oxford examples started out with much success but that nevertheless Imperial history slowly took root. 

Moving away from British colonialism for our last seminar of the week, Joanna Marchant presents to the Metropolitan History seminar a fascinating paper about the impact of museums on the city environment.  Using a comparative case study of the National Gallery at Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square and the Victoria & Albert museum at South Kensington, Marchant shows how museums educational role permeates its local environment.  The geo-political location of London meant that these museums were set up in specific times and for specific purposes as a means for education and learning of the masses.  The V&A was set up in a location already known for its educational institutions but the National Gallery was set up next to a barracks.  Yet Trafalgar Square offered much easier transport links than South Kensington.  Both museums therefore had to contend with difficulties in reaching their audiences and in identifying who those audiences might be.  Marchant argues that the development of each area was intricately linked with the educational mandate of their local museum.   

Franco-British History seminar
27 January 2011
Amanda Behm (Yale University)
Institutionalising Imperial History in Modern Britain: Pasts, Politics and the making of a field
 
Sports and Leisure History seminar
14 February 2011
Natalie Deibel (George Washington University)
‘For Profit, Pleasure and Sport’: Recreation, Culture and Society in the Atlantic World, 1600-1700
 
Metropolitan History seminar
16 February 2011
Joanna Marchant (CMH/IHR)
Sites of knowledge and instruction: London’s museum environments and civic identity 1851-1914