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Author Archives: dannymillum


Teaching A Level History using British History Online

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256px-Cardinal_Wolsey_Christ_ChurchThis post was kindly written for us by Alex Porter – Head of History, Parmiter’s School

The paradox of teaching A Level history is that you know very well your students’ education would be better served by studying topics in greater depth but unfortunately this has the potential to hamper their achievements in examination. Nowhere is this more apparent than in textbooks.

An A Level textbook can be a comfort but the range of sources provided in textbooks is very limited. This limitation is for two reasons, the first being the examiners need to hold onto some sources to base examination questions on, but also because the textbook is supposed to be just enough for the average student to get by on. In theory you could use it all on its own and get the top grade. Yet this doesn’t necessarily help make the best historians, and the best students know this. The high achievers need to be stretched and this means more sources.

As a result, many history teachers will punch phrases into Google on a regular basis in the forlorn hope that there will be some magical archive of sensibly arranged contemporary information that could be mined for use in lessons. Those that teach courses on Henry VIII will likely have found solace in the comforting embrace of British History Online. I am one of them.

I was initially searching for contemporary accounts of Henry VII in order to put together a lesson investigating the circumstances of Henry VIII ascension. What I ended up finding was Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1: 1509-1514, an extremely rich seam of court papers and accounts from the reign of Henry VIII. It included a missive apparently from the Venetian ambassador dated 8th May 1509, in which Henry VII was described as ‘a most miserly (miserissimo) man but of great genius, who has accumulated more gold than that possessed by all the other Christian kings’.

This was perfect material. The provenance was such that it afforded the students an opportunity to consider how Henry VII might have been considered outside his realm, but also gave real meat to the idea of his wealth in comparison with others around Europe. It wasn’t long before I was reading details of the condolence note to Henry VIII from Ferdinand of Aragon.

Such information is invaluable to me in the delivery of this course. It provides me with a deeper understanding of the affairs at court in the period and allows me to drop anecdotes into lessons that pique the interest of my students. It also gives me the material needed in the delivery of lessons that go beyond the narrow confines of the set text.

Since this happy find, I have been back on British History Online more than once and not alone. My school has developed a “Bring Your Own Device” policy allowing students to safely use their phones and tablets in lessons, I was able to encourage my students to undertake their own research in a subsequent lesson. It wasn’t long before a number of them were trawling through these records, attempting to establish the use of the term Alter Rex for themselves to see if it only ever applied to Wolsey.

With the use of websites such as British History Online and the assistance of a progressive ICT policy it has become possible not only to find extremely useful resources for myself but to encourage students to develop their learning independently. In ordinary circumstances I would be harvesting their finds as Wolsey gathered tithes but we have to change our A Level for next year and no doubt there’ll be a new set of narrowly focused textbooks to use. At least this time I’ll know where to look for some sources.

Institute of Historical Research gets royal reopening

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The newly refurbished IHR Common Room

The newly refurbished IHR Common Room

The Institute of Historical Research was officially reopened by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, on Tuesday 14 October. The Princess Royal, who is Chancellor of the University of London, was given a tour of the Institute’s new facilities including the library, seminar rooms and the conference suite.

More than 80 people assembled in the remodelled IHR Common Room for the rededication, where the Chancellor met students and junior research fellows as well as members of staff and representatives of the Friends of the IHR. After unveiling a plaque, she gave a short speech about the Institute’s ongoing work.

The refurbishment, made possible by a University of London investment of more than £10 million, took place over a three-year period, during which time the Institute was temporarily housed in Senate House. Charitable foundations, individual benefactors and the many historians who use the IHR’s library and attend its research seminars, made further contributions.

The Institute has been the focus of a rich historical culture in London since its foundation in 1921 and now the many improvements to its premises, equipment and facilities can only enhance its national and international roles as a centre for historical studies.‘The Institute of Historical Research has always had a special place in the affections of academic historians in Britain and around the world. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else’, explained Professor Lawrence Goldman, IHR Director.

‘Historians have come here for decades to work in our library with its unique resources, attend the many seminars which convene in the Institute, and meet and chat in the IHR’s common room. We can now accommodate them in purpose-built facilities for research and exchange. We look forward to an exciting new phase in the IHR’s history.’

New reviews: working class travel, material culture, the Alexiad and the Crusades

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parisWe start this week with Michele M. Strong’s Education, Travel and the ‘Civilisation’ of the Victorian Working Classes. Susan Barton recommends an interesting and significant work covering the under-researched topic of educational tourism (no. 1674).

Then we turn to Craft, Community and the Material Culture of Place and Politics, 19th-20th Century,  edited by Janice Helland, Beverly Lemire and Alena Buis. Heidi Egginton praises a worthy addition to the global history of material culture (no. 1673).

Next up is Penelope Buckley’s The Alexiad of Anna Komnene: Artistic Strategy in the Making of a Myth. Elisabeth Mincin and the author discuss an immensely valuable addition to the scholarship on this 12th-century epic (no. 1672, with response here).

Finally we have Travellers, Merchants and Settlers in the Eastern Mediterranean, 11th-14th Centuries by David Jacoby. Wei-sheng Lin believes that this book helps to open up room for more nuanced understandings of the Eastern Mediterranean between the 11th century and the 14th century (no. 1671).

Introducing the new Director of the IHR

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Lawrence Goldmanby Professor Lawrence Goldman, Director

Coming to the IHR feels like coming home. I was once a postgraduate working on collections in London who needed a base in the city and a warming cup of coffee in the IHR Common Room. And on those forays for doctoral research I would occasionally attend a seminar in the Institute and marvel at the cosmopolitan nature of the audience, more varied by age and background than anything I was then used to. More to the point, I grew up in London and, as an undergraduate, would use the Senate House Library next door in university vacations. I have known these university buildings for as long as I’ve been a student and a historian.

At Cambridge as an undergraduate I was drawn to the nineteenth century (though, if I had my time again, it might be the seventeenth century). I thought I would be a straight Victorianist, and I have certainly published on Victorian political and intellectual history. But, in the best historical traditions, I had an epiphany while taking a term of American History – something I knew little about before then. The history of slavery and the Civil War grabbed me (I was hardly the first). Reading about the life of the slaves, the historical debates concerning their experience of slavery, and the relation of slavery to the origins of the Civil War made me want to learn more, and on graduating I was fortunate enough to spend a year in Yale as a Harkness Fellow taking courses with some of the leading American historians of that era: Ed Morgan, David Montgomery and David Brion Davis (who is still reviewing and publishing).

Cambridge reclaimed me, however, and to a project in intellectual history: the relationship in the mid-Victorian decades of social thought and social policy as evidenced in the work of a neglected Victorian organisation, the Social Science Association (1857-1886) which hoped to do for social science what the British Association, founded in the 1830s, had done for Victorian natural science – to popularise it, raise its profile, and bring its authority and expertise to bear on government. Occasionally patronised by some of the most notable Victorians – intellectuals including John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin and F. D. Maurice, and politicians including Brougham, Russell and Gladstone – the SSA gave plenty of scope for analysing the relations between intellectual and political life in this period. It led to a book, Science, Reform and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Britain. The Social Science Association (CUP 2002).

On the back of this work, and after a Junior Research Fellowship in Cambridge at Trinity College,  I went to a first job in Oxford – an interesting and unconventional position as History and Politics tutor in Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education, teaching adult students. For five years I was an extra-mural tutor in the old manner, teaching classes, often co-organised with the Workers’ Educational Association, in Oxford but also going out to teach courses to groups all over the region in places like Maidenhead, Windsor and Great Missenden in the Chilterns. It was the greatest fun and I met some remarkable people who took a broad interest in History and current affairs. What I taught, and how I taught it, was often my choice or was negotiated with class members. I developed a deep interest in the life and work of the designer, poet, businessmen and socialist, William Morris, for example, finding him a fascinating subject in himself and a brilliant vehicle for the discussion of wider Victorian themes in politics, culture and the arts. These five years also led, later, to a book on the history of workers’ education – Dons and Workers. Oxford and Adult Education Since 1850 (OUP, 1995) – and to a biography of perhaps the most influential and charismatic tutor in this educational movement, the political thinker and historian, R. H. Tawney (Bloomsbury, 2013; paperback edn. 2014).

Moving after five years to a more conventional university lectureship and college fellowship at St. Peter’s College, Oxford, allowed me greater scope still to teach American History, in particular the popular undergraduate Special Subject at Oxford on ‘Slavery and the Crisis of the Union 1854-75’. Building American History from the bottom up – by generating student interest and demand for this and other courses on the United States – has been one of the most satisfying (if arduous) aspects of my career. I enjoyed the breadth of tutorial work as well: to teach British, American and sometimes even modern European History was a challenge few young historians now face. But it led to some enjoyable research and learned articles on comparative and transatlantic history, and I have continued to favour breadth in the undergraduate curriculum and also in the training of future academic historians.  During this time I supervised a range of doctoral theses as well and in my case the range was indeed broad: from studies of Ruskin’s posthumous influence to British diplomacy in Texas between 1836 and 1845 (when Texas was a republic in its own right) and from American financial diplomacy during the Civil War to the ‘Southern Lumber Industry 1870-1920’, an early exercise in multi-disciplinary environmental history.

Ten years ago, on its publication in 2004, I became the editor (alongside the role of college tutor) of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. It had been designed by the late Colin Matthew, Gladstone’s biographer, brought to publication by Sir Brian Harrison, and it combined the work of more than ten thousand contributors in the longest single work ever published in English. The Oxford DNB is a compilation, online and in print, of more than fifty thousand biographical essays on more than sixty thousand people who have contributed to British history over two millennia. The scope of the work, and its variety, once more demanded breadth – but I needed help! Colleagues could tell me of medieval bishops, early modern poets, and twentieth century scientists: my three children were required to keep me up to scratch on figures from popular culture, for they are also included in the Oxford DNB. It was stimulating work in which I especially enjoyed ‘taking the Dictionary on the road’ and demonstrating its remarkable potential to unlock the past to local historical societies and civic groups.

After 29 years in Oxford the move to the IHR feels like a natural next step, combining breadth and depth, and giving me the opportunity to use the experience of teaching, supervising and writing academic History in encouraging and stimulating others. The IHR has more than 20 Junior Research Fellows at any one time; it is the home of many different historical projects covering all periods, medieval, early modern and modern; it hosts the most ambitious (and still very cosmopolitan) historical research seminars; and it puts on cutting-edge conferences. It is the natural focus for History and historians in London and has a national and international role to play in presenting British research to the world. There could be no better preparation for this than to have taught all those stimulating and demanding evening classes in the home counties before the most discerning (and best read) students I’ve ever encountered. As I have come to understand, if you can cut it in Great Missenden, you can cut it anywhere.

New reviews: Racisms, Homicide, Beau Monde and Marco Polo

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OrteliusWorldMap1570This week we start with Francisco Bethencourt’s Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century. Panikos Panayi and the author discuss a book which moves the genesis of modern racial biologically determined ideology away from the ‘modern’ period (no. 1670, with response here).

Next up is Homicide in Pre-Famine and Famine Ireland by Richard McMahon. Conor Reidy reviews a book which activates a much-needed and more inclusive discussion in a clear and confident manner (no. 1669).

Then we turn to Hannah Greig’s The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London, which Susie Steinbach enjoys as a masterful integration of gender, politics, space, and material culture (no. 1668).

Finally we have Marco Polo Was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues by Hans Ulrich Vogel. Na Chang believes this excellent book offers a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to study Marco Polo and Chinese economic history (no. 1667).

Fashion, the 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians, 2-3 July 2015: Call for Papers

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fashionaach2In a major collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the IHR is taking Fashion as the theme for its annual conference in summer 2015. Fashion in history is a topic which has come of age in recent years, as scholars have turned to addressing what is chic and what is style over the ages and across different cultures. The history of fashion, and the role of fashion in history, is not just confined to the study of dress and costume, but encompasses design and innovation, taste and zeitgeist, treats as its subjects both people and objects, and crosses over into related disciplines such as the history of art and architecture, consumption, retailing and technology. And across the world, fashion brings together museums, graduate teaching programmes, learned societies and the fashion profession around a common set of interests and concerns. The IHR conference next year we hope will be a perfect showcase and a meeting-point for the wide spectrum of specialists in this exciting field.

Our plenary speakers include Christopher Breward (Edinburgh), Beverly Lemire (Alberta), Ulinka Rublack (Cambridge) and Valerie Steele (Fashion Institute of Technology, New York). Proposals for panels on the themes of dress, imitation and emulation, taste and style, body-art, the fashion-industry and its media, fashionability and trend-setting, catwalks, fairs and exhibitions, innovation in interior design, architecture and public space, fashion education and technology will be accepted down to the middle of December. Individual paper proposals will also be accepted. Panels should comprise three papers and a chair, and proposals must include the name and affiliation of the speakers, the title of the panel and the titles of the individual papers. Please send proposals by 15th December to IHR.Events@sas.ac.uk Decisions will be made known once the Programme Committee has met in early January 2015.

New reviews: police control, British wildlife, communism, and child emigration

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policeIt’s all change at the moment at the IHR, with a new Director, Professor Lawrence Goldman, starting yesterday, our Events Officer Manjeet leaving (she’s only going across the corridor to the Institute of English Studies – as our receptionist Beresford brilliantly described it, she’s ‘leaving for pastures new. Well, pastures, anyway’), and a new venue being selected last night for departmental drinks.

On with the reviews, anyway, and we begin with Police Control Systems in Britain, 1775–1975: From Parish Constable to National Computer by Chris A. Williams. Kevin Rigg and the author discuss a book which helps fill a clear gap in the historiography of policing (no. 1666, with response here).

Then we turn to Tom Williamson’s An Environmental History of Wildlife in England 1650-1950. Terry O’Connor praises an engaging read, written with clarity and care, and with only the minimum use of specialized vocabulary (no. 1665).

Next up is The Oxford Handbook of the History of Communism, edited by S. A. Smith. Jennifer Cowe believes this excellent book gives the reader the opportunity to see the global nuances of Communism (no. 1664).

Finally Christopher Bischof reviews Empire’s Children Child Emigration, Welfare, and the Decline of the British World, 1869–1967 by Ellen Boucher, an ambitious book of wide-ranging research and powerful analysis, which firmly establishes the importance of child emigration to modern British history (no. 1663).

Connected Histories, Lunatic Asylums and Witches in Early Modern England

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witchesThis review was kindly written for us by our intern Grace Karrach Wood.

My original intention was to use Connected Histories in order to research lunatic asylums during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as this is my dissertation topic and therefore I already hold some knowledge about it. In order to go about this I input the keyword ‘asylum’ and the dates 1700-01-01 – 1900-12-31, using the ‘simple search’ function and reviewed the 5 matching resources from which the 7,908 matches came. However, it came to my attention that of these 5 resources, the authorisation failed for British Newspapers, the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers required a login and 19th Century British Pamphlets directed to JSTOR which displayed a preview of the front cover only. These set backs were impractical in terms of completing my research imminently, though still highlighted places which would be useful if I were accessing the sources from my university, which holds a subscription, or if I were in a position to subscribe to these resources as an individual. Nonetheless as a result I decided to change my topic to one which would have more accessible resources.

In order to choose a new research topic which was likely to have hits from large amounts of easily accessible resources I went back onto the Connected Histories homepage and scrolled along the ‘other resources’ bar until I found one specific enough to inspire me and have sufficient, relevant results. It was this method which helped me find the Witches in Early Modern England resource, which is free to use and covers the time period 1540 to 1700. Selecting this resource allowed me to read a description of the records, strengths and weaknesses of the content and the technical method by which the sources had been accessed and uploaded. This was particularly helpful as it allowed me to get a better idea of the records I would find when using this resource. As a result of this promising source suggesting a large amount of relevant content on witches I returned to the home page and searched ‘witch’ within the dates ‘1600-01-01 to 1800-12-31’. This search returned 44,586 matches across 16 resources, with Witches in Early Modern England appearing at the top, due to Connected Histories displaying the sources in order of relevance.

Searching through these 16 sources was particularly easy due to the layout of the site enabling you to preview 3 records from the source in addition to the option to ‘view more’, which shows additional hits without leaving the page. This allowed me to quickly decide whether the sources looked relevant without too much difficulty and saved time.

The sources which I found most useful were from John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments Online, Witches in Early Modern England, British History Online and Transcribe Bentham. Witches in Early Modern England was particularly useful due to the large number of first-hand accounts of witches it held from different perspectives, while Transcribe Bentham was advantageous because it showed the original document alongside the typed up text, allowing you to zoom and check for errors in the transcription yourself.

Overall I found that the Connected Histories page was useful in terms of identifying relevant sources in order to work from and discovering topics and details which you might not have been aware of before, however, the use of so many sources which needed subscriptions meant that it is only useful if you have a subscription. Furthermore, the fact that some of the resources had been published using inaccurate scanning processes meant that they were inaccurate and difficult to read.

New reviews: Childbirth, Melbourne’s youth, Justinian social conflict and early modern landscapes

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michaels2Your deputy editor is working at home today, while builders, tasked as far as I can see with knocking an ever-bigger hole in the wall of our flat, toil around me. In the office, tapping away with other desk-based types, it’s possible to think that we’re actually doing real work. Next to someone with a sledgehammer, I just feel a bit silly…

Anyway, back to the pretence. First up this week is Paula A. Michaels’ Lamaze: An International History, and Salim Al-Gailani and the author debate a book which deserves a wide readership (no. 1662, with response here).

Then we have Young People and the Shaping of Public Space in Melbourne, 1870–1914 by Simon Sleight. Andrew May believes this book is important because it reminds us to constantly ask who and what the city is for (no. 1661).

Next we turn to Peter Bell’s Social Conflict in the Age of Justinian: Its Nature, Management, and Mediation. Douglas Whalin and the author discuss a study which self-consciously embraces a unique paradigm for the understanding of the age of Justinian (no. 1660, with response here).

Finally, James Mawdesley hopes that Earls Colne’s Early Modern Landscapes by Dolly MacKinnon will encourage other scholars to visit the rich treasure trove of evidence of early modern England’s rural landscapes (no. 1659).

Interning at the IHR

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internThis post was kindly written for us by our intern Grace Karrach Wood.

During September 2014 I spent 3 weeks working as a ‘digital humanities’ intern at the IHR in Senate House, London. Though most of the previous interns here had opted to work for 3 or 4 days a week for the full month, I instead opted for 5 days for 3 weeks, meaning that the experience was particularly full on and almost felt like I had already graduated and this was my new graduate job – though panicking about my dissertation at the weekends begged to differ.

On my first day I caught a far-too-early train up to Euston and spent half around half an hour pacing around London wondering how early was too early to go in and eventually arrived at reception. I filled out a few preliminary forms and was told that everybody ‘drank a lot of tea’, (which was most definitely an understatement) and that I should ‘feel free to ask lots of questions’, which I certainly did.

Throughout the weeks I was slowly given more and more tasks to work on, from listening to podcasts and writing their abstracts to proofreading and checking footnotes on unpublished journal articles. Some of my favourite tasks included learning to use Photoshop in order to edit scanned Parish maps and retouching and sizing book images for Reviews in History, as well as assessing and indexing collective volumes, as the books themselves were interesting to read and it required lateral thinking.

Although some of the tasks were less interesting than others, such as renaming map sheets, I always had a choice in what I wanted to do and was also given some more simple background tasks in order to break the day up, which meant that I always had at least 2 or 3 choices of tasks to undertake.

Overall my time spent there was enjoyable and I felt like I gained a lot experience, in terms of practical editing and writing skills as well as simply understanding what it’s like to work in an office environment and actually be awake and on a train before 9.00am. Everyone was really helpful and welcoming and the casual work wear and flexible days and hours meant the whole process was far more relaxed than stressful.