May 1862: Confederate and Union forces clashing during the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
We start this week with The War That Forged A Nation: Why The Civil War Still Matters by James M. McPherson, and Susan-Mary Grant and the author discuss the latest work by the Civil War’s most preeminent historian (no. 1887, with response here).
Next up Kate Fleet tackles a curate’s egg of a book, as she reviews Sean McMeekin’s The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923 (no. 1886).
Then we turn to The Gages of Hengrave and Suffolk Catholicism, 1640-1767 by Francis Young, as Eilish Gregory recommends a well-researched and detailed book on an early modern English Catholic family (no. 1885).
Finally we have Peter Webster’s Archbishop Ramsey: The Shape of the Church, which Sam Brewitt-Taylor praises as a fine addition to the literature on this key Archbishop (no. 1884).
This post was originally published on the School of Advanced Study Talking Humanities Blog.
We talk to the director of the Institute of Historical Research about the history of history and the rise of statistical thinking in the Victorian period.
Professor Goldman has nearly three decades of experience teaching modern British and American history. From 2004 to 2014, he was editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the record, in more than 65 million words, of the most notable figures in British history, and took up the directorship of the IHR in 2014. He is currently at work on a study of the development of social statistics and their impact on culture, politics and social thought in Britain under the title ‘Victorians and Numbers’.
What does a typical day involve as director of the Institute ofHistorical Research? No day is the same, which is the joy of the job. The day might start in a meeting with key staff to review our academic programme, budget, staffing or fundraising. Coffee is often taken with one of my students, or a visiting fellow at the institute. Lunch often involves business: meeting one of the members of the ‘Friends of the IHR’, or a potential donor, or an academic colleague with whom we’re planning an event. Afternoons are for committees – departmental, publications, examinations and so forth. At 5pm, if I’m lucky, I may be able to attend one of our research seminars and hear a paper from a leading historian: the IHR hosts more than 60 different seminars throughout the academic year. There are also evening events – a major lecture, a reception, an IHR film-evening which we do three to four times a year – which usually end in dinner in a nearby restaurant.
You joined SAS from the University of Oxford; how does the life of an academic there compare to SAS? In Oxford, you teach. The life of a college tutor is focused on undergraduate teaching, mainly by means of one-to-one tutorials and small-group teaching. Often I would spend 6–7 hours a day in formal teaching sessions, with postgraduate supervision on top. It is a much harder job than people think: the depiction of dons swanning around (and murdering each other) in Morse or Lewis is entirely false. But the close communication with students is intensely interesting and rewarding, and the breadth of the curriculum that has to be delivered makes one a better historian. At SAS I do less teaching and my role is more entrepreneurial: an institute director is an initiator, organiser, fundraiser, administrator, ambassador. There is still teaching to be done, but less of it, and it is more specialised. I was ready for the change and to make the swap.
Are there any particular initiatives or projects you are keen to push forward? The IHR has an enviable reputation as a centre for academic historical studies of all types, covering all regions. I want it to maintain this same breadth but face outwards, drawing more of the general public into our work. Our commitment to serve the historical profession is undiminished, but that profession is now broader than it was, including archivists, librarians, heritage professionals and so forth. Meanwhile popular interest in history, whether on television, radio or in the media in general, is one of the most heartening developments in recent years and I want that interest to be focused on the IHR. Our centenary will be celebrated in 2021 and we will start building towards this in the coming period: I want it to be an opportunity for historians to reflect on the development of our subject, and for the IHR to reach new audiences.
What was your own experience of being a student like? Academically wonderful; socially dismal! I was an undergraduate in Cambridge in the 1970s. My supervisors were among the leading historians of that generation and merely to recite the list of my teachers encourages sighs of wonder and envy. But life in an all-male college in the days of Brown Windsor Soup and roast mutton was not to my liking. I moved out after one year and never went back. Two things have improved student life beyond recognition in the past generation: the mobile phone, which has allowed students to plan a social life, and the better balance between male and female students which has civilized many institutions. To my chagrin my Cambridge college went mixed the year I left. On graduation I had a scholarship to Yale for a year, where I studied American history in the graduate school, and made some lifelong friends. I then returned to Cambridge for my doctoral work. I can still recall the isolation and loneliness of the first few months of that: universities have worked hard to improve the experience of postgraduates since then.
What’s the focus of your current research? I work in the 19th century and I am currently editing a book of essays on social policy in that period. I’m also thinking through a difficult argument about the origins of anti-slavery in the Atlantic world after 1780; if I can get it straight I hope to work it into a major article in the coming year. I’m also focused on historiography – the history of history. I want to write something on the intellectual history of the IHR for our centenary; I’ve also been asked to write a section on the ‘historians of Trinity College, Cambridge’ (which is where I was a Junior Research Fellow) for the official history of the college. When all that is finally out of the way, my real ambition is to return to some work on the rise of statistical thinking in the Victorian period in a book to be entitled ‘Victorians and Numbers’. The development of a numerical approach to social life in the 19th century was, I shall argue, one of the great intellectual transformations of the modern era.
Why do you think historical studies remain relevant today? I don’t think there’s been a better time to be a historian in Britain. We might like more money for our subject, but we bathe in media interest and public regard. Historians are everywhere – from the Prince of Wales and the Chancellor of the Exchequer down – and history is still valued as a degree subject at university. At one level this is because history is recognised as a genuine intellectual challenge: to do it well requires ability, application, fluency and skill. At another level, it is the result of a broad popular fascination with the past, be it via military history, genealogy, metal detecting, going on an archaeological dig, or visiting a National Trust house. One very notable historian, A. J. P. Taylor, who gave seminars at the IHR, once said that ‘the only lesson of history is that there are no lessons’. But most people evidently disagree and they consider the past a highly relevant guide to the present and future. Almost all the great questions of the moment in Britain – our membership of the EU, Scottish nationalism, immigration, Northern Ireland, the reform of parliament – depend on historical understanding. People recognise this and they are interested in learning more. It is very heartening and positive.
We start this week with John Foot’s The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care. Peter Barham and the author discuss a hugely ambitious book about the movement in Italy to transform the institutional landscape of Italian mental health care (no. 1883, with response here).
Next up is Browned Off and Bloody-Minded: The British Soldier Goes to War 1939-1945 by Alan Allport, as Andrew Muldoon praises a book which should attract, and deserves to gain, both a specialist and a general readership (no. 1882).
Then Thomas Hamm covers two contributions from the early American history ‘Atlantic turn’ generation, as he reviews Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England by Abram Van Engen and London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community by Jordan Landes (no. 1881).
Finally we turn to Hubert Wolf’s The Nuns of Sant’ Ambrolio: the True Story of a Convent in Scandal, which Sara Charles recommends as an intriguing retelling that avoids sensationalist tabloid clichés (no. 1880).
Late 17th century view of London by William Hollar
The Institute of Historical Research has been awarded a first-stage pass and development funding of £103,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a new interactive online resource tracing London’s history from the Roman period to the present day. The Centre for Metropolitan History, working with the Victoria County History, is leading the development of this resource that will create a multi-layered map of London drawing upon a wide variety of maps and archival materials, currently held in different collections.
A major element of the project will be to engage the public at borough level and city-wide, through crowd-sourcing, volunteer, schools and internship programmes, inviting them to upload photographs and personal histories. It will present the most comprehensive snapshot of London’s diverse history in one resource, and is unique in enabling the creation of new content by online users and volunteers, who will learn new skills and be encouraged to start new local heritage projects of their own.
Waterlow and Sons 1937 Map of London
A number of prestigious partners are involved, including: London Metropolitan Archives, Historic England, Museum of London Archaeology, The British Library, Senate House Library, The National Archives and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. The heritage assets contributed by the partners are incomparable sources of evidence and knowledge of all aspects of the history of London; they provide aesthetic, architectural, historic and scientific information on the city; and they have unique social and community value as records of everyday life, work and culture in the capital.
We start this week with the latest volume from the Victoria County History, The History of the County of Somerset. Volume XI: Queen Camel and the Cadburys, edited by Mary Siraut. Michael Hicks and the editors discuss a comprehensive, indispensable, and almost definitive volume (no. 1879, with response here).
Next up is James Morone’s The Devils We Know: Us and Them in America’s Raucous Political Culture: Essays, and Karen Heath recommends a collection which will be indispensible for any scholar concerned with American contemporary social and political issues (no. 1878).
Then we turn to Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France by Robert J. Knecht. David Potter believes the world of Francis I has been the ideal domain for this lover of art and culture, collector of foibles, and superb teller of stories (à la Brantôme) to deploy his skills (no. 1877).
Finally we have Dan Stone’s The Liberation of the Camps: the End of the Holocaust and its Aftermath. Rainer Schulze reviews an engrossing book that is incredibly rich in survivor testimony (no. 1876).
The update includes the historian and political commentator, Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012), whose entry is written by Martin Jacques. The update is accompanied by a short film in which Martin discusses Hobsbawm’s life and work with the Oxford DNB’s editor, David Cannadine.
Happy New Year! We start 2016 with Remembering the Irish Revolution: Dissent, Culture, and Nationalism in the Irish Free State by Frances Flanagan. Sean Ledwith and the author discuss a thoughtful and scholarly contribution to an understanding of a generation that tried to change the world (no. 1875, with response here).
Next up is Samantha Baskind’s Jewish Artists and the Bible in Twentieth-Century America, as Peter Webster praises a tightly focussed and coherent volume, which is also lavishly produced and a pleasure to hold (no. 1874).
Then we turn to Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert. Steve Cushion reviews a book which makes you think again about the shirt on your back, and wonder how much blood there is on it (no. 1873).
Finally we have Kate Loveman’s Samuel Pepys and his Books: Reading, Newsgathering, and Sociability, 1660-1703. Lena Liapi believes that this book will be of great interest to anyone working on the history of reading (no. 1872).
Professor Lawrence Goldman, the Director of the Institute of Historical Research, discusses the film ‘Glory’ about the first black regiment in the American Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts, raised in 1862. ‘Glory’, released in 1989, won 3 Oscars including the award for best supporting actor which went to a young Denzel Washington.
The film is based on the letters of the Colonel of the 54th, Robert Gould Shaw. We shall examine the history of the African-American contribution to the American Civil War and the historical accuracy of the film. Hollywood can sometimes surprise us.
Famed across Europe during Bede’s time and the heyday of Wearmouth monastery, Sunderland found a less celebrated renown in the twentieth century with the distress of its heavy industries between the wars, and their final extinction in the 1980s. Between those very contrasting eras, its story is one of re-invention and of a growing industrial and commercial might. The coal trade transformed the town during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; shipbuilding came to the fore in the nineteenth, and Wearside became the nation’s, and the world’s, greatest shipbuilder. Though it lacked formal local government before 1835, this was a wealthy and relatively sophisticated town, with a great and spectacular early iron bridge (1796).
This volume, edited by Gillian Cookson, covers the history of Sunderland from the earliest times and into the twenty-first century, including its landscape and buildings, government, trade and industry, politics and social institutions.
We begin this week with Recasting the Region: Language, Culture and Islam in Colonial Bengal by Neilesh Bose. Markus Daechsel and the author discuss an encyclopedic and important study (no. 1871, with response here).
Then we turn to Benjamin Pohl’s Dudo of St Quentin’s Historia Normannorum: History, Tradition and Memory. Elisabeth van Houts recommends an impressive debut from a medievalist of considerable talent (no. 1870).
Next up is The Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution, edited by Dave Andress, as Anne Byrne praises a convenient and scholarly starting-point for many different aspects of this turbulent epoch (no. 1869).
Finally Jess Prestidge reviews an original, thoroughly researched and highly readable addition to studies of Thatcher and Thatcherism, as she takes on God and Mrs Thatcher: The Battle for Britain’s Soul by Eliza Filby (no. 1868).