The IHR Blog |

Author Archives: dannymillum

School of Advanced Study makes digital history with new appointment


Jane_web_largeThe School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London has promoted Dr Jane Winters, currently head of digital publications at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), to a personal chair in digital history. In the post below she explains a little bit about the development of digital history at the IHR.

In the summer of 1996 I was interviewed for my first job at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR). I can remember being asked whether I had ever used the web, to which the answer was an unqualified ‘no’. It’s a sign of how little penetration this new technology had that I got the job anyway. I might not have been familiar with it, but the IHR’s website (then called a ‘hypertext internet server’) had been up and running for almost three years. IHR-Info, which would become the current website, was funded by Jisc as part of the Electronic Libraries programme (eLib), and this early investment laid the groundwork for twenty years of innovation in digital history within the Institute. In 1999, the IHR’s print and digital publishing activities were unified, although the IHR Digital brand was only applied in October 2010. During the past fifteen years, the department has been involved with a range of major digital research projects, including British History Online, the Bibliography of British and Irish History, Connected Histories, Early English Laws, Reviews in History and the History of Parliament Online. In keeping with the remit of the wider School of Advanced Study, its role has to been to promote and facilitate historical research nationally and internationally – by digitising primary sources, developing new tools, and identifying and mediating new developments in digital research.

All of this activity has been defined not just by innovation but by collaboration and partnership, whether with other institutes in SAS or with other universities, libraries and archives. It is also interdisciplinary, as evidenced by a project such as Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data, which brings together historians, political scientists, computational linguists, and computer and information scientists. As new Professor of Digital History, it is this collaborative and interdisciplinary activity which I am most keen to develop. The most interesting digital research tends to happen in the spaces between disciplines, involving people with a range of complementary subject and technical knowledge. The School of Advanced Study is well placed to foster such collaboration, and to act as a neutral space for the discussion of the significant issues facing us as humans in a digital age.

One of the exciting things about working in a field such as digital history is that you don’t know what will turn out to be important two or three years down the line. At the moment, I am particularly occupied with big data, through involvement with two projects funded by the AHRC (Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities and Traces through Time: Prosopography in Practice across Big Data) and the parliamentary history project that I’ve already mentioned, funded under the Digging into Data Challenge 3. Other areas on which I would like to focus include linked data, open access (of course!), the potential of the archived web for historical research, the communication of research using digital tools, making and materiality, and how humanities researchers engage with sound and moving image. I suspect that this list will look very different in a few years’ time, but it is probably enough to be going on with for now. I’m very much looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

New reviews: African intervention, medicine and religion, Ireland and colonialism and Jazz Age New York


millerWe start this week with Elizabeth Schmidt’s Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror, as Jason Robinson and the author discuss a book which should prove useful and readable to many of those new to post-Cold War African history (no. 1702, with response here).

Next up is Medicine and Religion: A Historical Introduction by Gary B. Ferngren. Sophie Mann believes this work merits readership from any non-expert seeking a historical perspective on religious attitudes to sickness and healing (no. 1701).

Then we turn to Audrey Horning’s Ireland in a Virginia Sea. Emma Hart reviews a book which is a reminder that as historians move towards ever larger scales of inquiry, they should make sure that they integrate their approach with the insights provided by micro-history (no. 1700).

Finally we have a review article on Jazz Age New York by Christian O’Connell, in which he tackles Imperial Blues: Geographies of Race and Sex in Jazz Age New York by Fiona I. B. Ngô and Donald Miller’s Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America, which demonstrate that its history is a fertile ground for new scholarship, but also reveal the city’s ability to dazzle even the keenest minds (no. 1699).

New reviews: Anglo-Saxon theology, Scottish Enlightenment towns, early modern faith and WW1 diaries


Wulfstan Archbishop of York 1002-1023

Wulfstan Archbishop of York 1002-1023

We start this week with Heaven and Earth in Anglo-Saxon England: Theology and Society in an Age of Faith by Helen Foxhall Forbes. Máirín Mac Carron and the author discuss a book which breaks new ground in considering the widespread Anglo-Saxon population’s engagement with Christian beliefs (no. 1698, with response here).

Then we turn to Bob Harris and Charles McKean’s The Scottish Town in the Age of the Enlightenment 1740-1820, which Ian Donnachie finds to be a formidable and scholarly volume, and a major contribution to urban, social and cultural history (no. 1697).

Next up is The Soteriology of James Ussher The Act and Object of Saving Faith by Richard Snoddy, which Susan Royal welcomes as a major contribution to the field of historical theology (no. 1696).

Finally we have the acerbic Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street, edited by Michael and Eleanor Brock. Iain Sharpe reviews a labour of love carried out with great care and professionalism (no. 1695).


New reviews: Scottish gender, Paris 1944, medieval magic and Poland


carrAnyway, we begin with Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth-Century Scotland by Rosalind Carr, as Stana Nenadic and the author discuss a useful and brave attempt to embrace a complex, ephemeral and hard to define phenomenon (no. 1694, with response here).

Next up is Matthew Cobb’s Eleven Days in August: The Liberation of Paris in 1944. Karine Varley praises a book which is meticulously researched, engaging with a range of French, British and American archival sources, as well as numerous first-hand accounts and secondary works (no. 1693).

Then we turn to Magic in the Cloister: Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe by Sophie Page. Helen Nicholson believes this study provides a context for the widespread accusations of sorcery and diabolism against political opponents in the 14th century (no. 1692).

Finally we have Brian Porter-Szűcs’ Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom. Anita Prazmowska is not convinced that this book fills a gap in the market (no. 1691).

The Brazilian Northeast, Inside Out


This post has kindly been written for us by Courtney J. Campbell, Past & Present Postdoctoral Fellow, @CJCampbell123,


Saturnino de Brito Filho, Regiões Secas do Nordeste, 1936.

This year, Brazilians faced a difficult presidential election. Through a preliminary election in October, voters narrowed their choice to two candidates: sitting president Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party or Aécio Neves of the Social Democrat Party of Brazil. While both candidates were born in the city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil’s Southeast, the election was widely discussed in terms of a different region: the Brazilian Northeast. After the preliminary vote, newspapers ran strongly worded editorials critical of the Northeast and its loyalty to the Workers’ Party. Tweeters and Facebookers followed suit, publishing disparaging comments about Northeasterners that referred to them as too ignorant and illiterate to understand who they should vote for or as lazy and simply wanting to remain on the welfare check supported by the Workers’ Party. In some cases, the insults even came in the form of racist comments, referring to the majority mixed-race population of the Northeast. In response, many Northeasterners defended their region on social media, highlighting its contributions to Brazilian literature and culture. A new hashtag gained fame on Twitter – #essesnordestinos – reflecting disparaging and even violent comments that began with the phrase ‘those northeasterners …’ and  a Tumblr account was set up to gather negative comments found on social media about the Northeast. In the runoff election, Rousseff did carry the Northeast easily, with nearly 80% of the vote in several states, while Neves was more popular in the Southern and most Southeastern states (though this map is careful to show that in reality, all states are some shade of purple). This social media storm emphasizes the roles that the Brazilian Northeast plays within the nation. The Northeast serves as root of national culture, as scapegoat for the nation’s problems, and as foil to the ideal socially equal and developed Brazil that so many Brazilians hope to achieve.

What is surprising about this Northeastern regional identity is that it formed so quickly. In 1919, the term ‘Northeast’ came into use within governmental reports referring to the drought region. Before that, there were ‘North’ and ‘South’, but no ‘Northeast’. I study how this area originally defined by rainfall morphed into a cultural and social identity. I focus on how Brazilians discussed what it meant to belong to the Northeastern region in the mid-twentieth century and how this cultural identity was both influenced by and influenced the region’s relations with the world around it. I write about moments of intense international action that took place in the Northeast or that involved Northeasterners, including romantic relationships between Brazilian women and U.S. soldiers stationed in the Northeast during World War II, a campaign to bring a World Cup soccer match to the Northeast in 1950, and Miss Universe pageants in which Northeastern women competed in the 1950s and 1960s. My work emphasizes that for ideas about Northeastern culture and the definition of its borders to become popular ideas (popular enough to be readily presented and understood on Twitter and Tumblr) they had to be relevant to a variety of social groups. For this reason, I analyze popular art, including popular music, pamphlet poetry (called cordel), hand-made ceramics, and even liquor labels. I study these popular sources alongside more traditional historical sources, like intellectual manuscripts, film, letters, political agreements, and the press. By analyzing such a wide variety of sources, I explore how ideas about the region and its meaning circulated among social groups and across international lines. In this way, my work emphasizes that what being Northeastern meant was discussed across social classes, depended to a surprising degree on international attention and activity in the region, and came about as much through debate as through agreement.

Robert Kennedy in Brazil (Bob Kennedy in Brazil)", image housed at the Museu da Imagem e do Som in São Paulo.

‘Robert Kennedy in Brazil (Bob Kennedy no Brasil)’, image housed at the Museu da Imagem e do Som in São Paulo.

I currently hold a Past & Present Postdoctoral Fellowship at the IHR, allowing me to spend this academic year converting my doctoral thesis into a book manuscript. As part of this project, I am writing a section that shows that the discussion of Northeastern regional identity was not just words. This section examines President John F. Kennedy’s international aid project, The Alliance for Progress, in the Brazilian Northeast as well as Senator Robert Kennedy’s visit to the region in 1965. This section will establish that how the Northeast was discussed within the region also influenced how it was understood from without. On one hand, discussions about the Brazilian Northeast that circulated among social groups in previous decades influenced how U.S. policymakers viewed the region and imagined it at once as a staging ground for projects aimed at development and as a hotbed of communist agitation before and after the Cuban Revolution. On the other, how the Kennedy administration and later Robert Kennedy discussed the Northeast consolidated certain existing stereotypes on an international scale while excluding others.

I became interested in the Brazilian Northeast, its place within the nation, and its international interactions when I lived, worked, and studied there. I moved to Recife, Pernambuco in 2003 after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Paraguayan Chaco.  I left Recife in 2008 to begin my Ph.D. studies at Vanderbilt University, but I have returned to Brazil every year since for research and for the Endangered Archives Programme project in Paraíba that I direct. With the support of an IIE Graduate Fellowship for International Study, I researched in archives throughout the Northeast, as well as in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo as part of my doctoral research in 2012. I have also researched in archives in the United States and now, as a postdoctoral fellow, I study sources housed in British institutions. In this way, my research also reflects my own, ongoing relationship with the Brazilian Northeast as an international researcher investigating the region at times from within, at others from without. I hope, in this way, that my experience living, studying, and researching in Brazil serves as a contribution to the study of Brazilian history.

Courtney invites IHR blog readers to her Latin American History Seminar talk on 10 February 2014 about a 1941 labor protest by Northeastern fishermen and a movie that Orson Welles tried to make about it.

New reviews: Ottoman refugees, Indian soldiers, Counter-Reformation women and US Civil War


Armenian_refugees_camps_Aleppo_1918_main_Ottoman_barracks_(2)We begin with a discussion between Ben White and Isa Blumi of the latter’s new study of late Ottoman population displacements, Ottoman refugees, 1878-1939: migration in a post-imperial world (no. 1690, with response here).

We then turn to The Testimonies of Indian Soldiers and the Two World Wars:Between Self and Sepoy by Gajendra Singh. Gagan Preet Singh finds this book to be a breakthrough in the historiography of Indian armed forces (no. 1689).

Next up is Simone Laqua-O’Donell’s Women and the Counter-Reformation in Early Modern Munster. Jennifer Hillman welcomes a refreshing approach and a welcome contribution to the existing literature on the Counter Reformation (no. 1688).

Finally we have Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meaning of the American Civil War edited by David T. Gleeson and Simon Lewis. William Coleman believes that this book stands as testament to the fact that the American Civil War had global dimensions (no. 1687).

New reviews: Irish Nationalist women, pagan oracles, Muslims and the Crusades and Wisconsinite scholars


Hanna Sheehy Skeffington with Mrs Pearse c.1921. Skeffington was a co-founder of the Irish Women's Franchise League in 1908. (NLI, INDH 100)

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington with Mrs Pearse c.1921. Skeffington was a co-founder of the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908. (NLI, INDH 100)

So, onto the reviews, and we start with Irish Nationalist Women 1900-1918 by Senia Paseta. Mo Moulton and the author discuss a book which has opened a rich field of inquiry, and one worth pursuing into the less celebrated terrain of post-independence Ireland (no. 1686, with response here).

Then we turn to Anthony Ossa-Richardson’s The Devil’s Tabernacle: The Pagan Oracles in Early Modern Thought. Justin Champion believes this book should become a foundational work for exploring the changing shape of the relationship between erudition and cultural change (no. 1685).

Next up is Popular Muslim Reactions to the Franks in the Levant, 1097–1291 by Alex Mallett. Megan Cassidy-Welch reviews a book which shifts our view of the actions of the Counter-Crusade quite profoundly (no. 1684).

Finally we have James G. Morgan’s Into New Territory: American Historians and the Concept of US Imperialism. Alex Goodall recommends a book which does a great job of showing both how and why the legacy of the Wisconsinite scholars has been so substantial (no. 1683).

Medieval Materiality


 Primrose Hill_cropThis post has kindly been written for us by Carolyn Twomey, who is currently a Mellon Dissertation Fellow at the IHR (Follow her on Twitter @Carolyngian)

Objects speak to us. The evocative WWI poppy memorial at the Tower of London and the Disobedient Objects exhibition at the V&A are excellent examples of the fascination we have with material objects and the power that ‘things’ bear on our modern constructions of past and present. Objects can overwhelm, soothe, and jar. From the flashing lights of a Leicester Square Saturday night, to the familiar feel of keys in a pocket; from the swipe of an iPhone, to the click of prayer beads; these things—this stuff—are expressions of our everyday lives and cultural consciousness. Part of the postmodern turn in the discipline, studies of materiality and physical spaces in history have the potential to reveal new aspects and attitudes of the lives of historical men and women, some of whom are absent from the usual texts of the historian.

My Ph.D. dissertation at Boston College focuses on the history and material culture of the sacrament of baptism in early medieval Britain. On my year-long Mellon Dissertation Fellowship at the IHR, I am interested in exploring how the ritual of baptism did and did not define a Christian in the post-Roman world: a world typified by diverse localized Christianities seen in both texts and objects. This autumn, I begin by exploring early medieval baptismal texts as objects in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. These eleventh-century pastoral handbooks saw a variety of hands-on use; for example, the Red Book of Darley (CCCC 422) is a particularly messy manuscript. Most likely used by a parish priest, the pages that contain the liturgical ordines for the blessing of the holy water of baptism are folded, torn, stitched, water-stained, and dark with oil from the hands of countless local baptizers. The text is not only an Anglo-Saxon copy of the baptismal ceremony in Latin and Old English, but also a portable object of the ritual that would have been carried, dropped, seen, and splashed during the public religious performance.

Medieval men and women also inscribed themselves onto their landscape. As historians, we can read these physical architectures and spaces left behind to draw conclusions about their political and cultural attitudes. The placement of churches near prehistoric barrows, reuse of Roman ruins, and adoption of new artistic motifs, are examples of early medieval acts of (re)negotiation through which historians explore how communities understood themselves and their place in the world. To that end, I will be driving—perilously on the wrong side of the road for this American—to sites of Anglo-Saxon and Norman stone baptismal fonts. I will continue research begun this past summer and examine them for their iconography, monumentality, and for what they can tell us about baptismal administration and local stone production at the close of the early medieval period.

One of the most unexpected and enjoyable aspects of my research so far has been my interaction with local parishioners and staff during my visits to baptismal sites. In the process of photographing and sketching East Yorkshire fonts with figural carvings, I’ve chatted with the local ladies of the parish over a mandatory cuppa before receiving the massive Victorian keys to the church doors. One vicar even provided me with a comprehensive tour of every stone in his medieval church as well as a cardboard box full of what local people had written about the font since the nineteenth century. Having these conversations not only gave me the chance to talk with wonderful people, but also reminded me that the history I am pursuing is profoundly rooted in the local community. These men and women are not just custodians of a museum, but active participants in the life of their church—people who had been baptized and had their children baptized in the very fonts I am studying. Their lives and names have been figuratively—and, at times, literally—carved into the church building. Many layers of identity have been mapped onto these objects and spaces during and after the Middle Ages; part of my job is to navigate these fascinating layers and uncover what they can tells us about medieval religious practice.

In the meantime, you’ll find me in the British Library, British Museum, and the IHR library, investigating the diverse medieval materialities of baptism while negotiating my own new academic environment through the modern objects and physical spaces of London.

New reviews: emotions, Achilles, crime and punishment and Dominicans


frevertWe start with Emotional Lexicons: Continuity and Change in the Vocabulary of Feeling 1700-2000 by Ute Frevert. Anna Jordanous believes this book’s strengths lie in its contextual diversity and in the thoroughness of the compilation and usage of reference sources (no. 1682, with response here).

Next up is Elizabeth Vandiver’s Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War, which Marguerite Johnson recommends as a truly successful interdisciplinary achievement (no. 1681).

Then we turn to Murder Most Russian: True Crime and Punishment in Late Imperial Russia by Louise McReynolds. James Ryan and the author discuss a very significant contribution to the study of modern Russian history (no. 1680).

Finally we have Joanna Cannon’s Religious Poverty, Visual Riches: Art in the Dominican Churches of Central Italy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, which Michael Morris finds to be delightfully inquisitive while maintaining a respectful attitude toward religious Orders (no. 1679).

Lunchbox Tuesdays


lunchboxHistory Lab Plus would like to introduce Lunchbox Tuesdays, a weekly lunchtime group for late PhD and early career historians. This group is not intended as a seminar or forum for historical debate, but an informal way for individuals at similar academic levels to socialise over lunch.

Lunchbox Tuesdays will be held every Tuesday, 1-2pm in the common room of the Institute of Historical Research in the North Block of Senate House. Members and non-members of the IHR are welcome to attend the group. If you are a non-member, ask the reception staff to admit you into the Institute. The first meeting will be held on Tuesday, 4 November.

For more information about these meetings, please visit the Lunchbox Tuesdays Facebook page, or the History Lab Plus website Queries can also be directed at the organiser of Lunchbox Tuesdays, Kelly Spring, at