Much of our cultural heritage owes a large debt of thanks to private collectors of manuscripts, incunabula and printed material; to those individuals who were interested in the accumulation of knowledge and the preservation of our literary history, and who saw fit to pass on their acquisitions for the foundation of libraries. One of the most well-known book collectors is Robert Cotton (1571-1631), whose vast collection of manuscripts include the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Beowulf and Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, which now form a vital core of the British Library collection and are listed in the Catalogue of the manuscripts in the Cottonian Library. Although his habit of disbanding precious manuscripts and rebinding them as he saw fit may seem an act of vandalism to us today, there is no doubt that without his legacy our book history would be far less impressive (even if the odd fire did somewhat deplete stock!).
Another famous private collector of the early modern period was Thomas Bodley (1545-1613). In the collected volume Books and and Collectors 1200-1700we can learn more about the process of acquiring precious books in the chapter Sir ThomasBodley‘s library and its acquisitions : an edition of the Nottingham benefaction of 1604, with letters from Bodley to his librarian providing clear evidence of his desperation to gain possession of new stock. Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-75) was also a voracious collector of manuscripts, and MatthewParker‘s manuscripts : an Elizabethan library and its usegives a fascinating account of how he developed and interacted with his private collection.
However, while it is undeniable that the libraries of Cotton, Bodley and Archbishop Parker are invaluable, they all derive from the elite classes, born into privileged positions with disposable incomes that allowed them to amass vast collections in huge private houses. But what of those from more humbler origins? In Common Libraries in Fifteenth-Century England: An Episcopal Benediction, we learn of the earliest book collections being made freely available to the wider public. The very first civic library was Guildhall Library in London and was founded between 1423-1425, largely due to capital from the estate of Richard Whittington, (who, as we remember from childhood stories was four-times Lord Mayor of London), and was founded partly from the private collection of John Carpenter. There were also accessible libraries founded at Worcester, Bristol and possibly Norwich during the fifteenth-century. However, these libraries were all developed with a strong ecclesiastical bent, designed to inform and reform, and often run by members of the clergy. While these book collections were freely available for everyone, it is likely that it would only be the more educated citizens that made use of them, and even then the texts were carefully selected by religious authorities.
So what did ordinary people read? Was book ownership something strictly reserved for the wealthy classes and the ecclesiastical community in early modern times, or were the common people encouraged to foster reading habits? In the medieval period, manuscripts were laboriously made from parchment and painstakingly handwritten, which could take months to complete, and therefore were unlikely to be found in ordinary homes. Yet even after the birth of the printing press in the mid-15th century, books continued to be a valuable commodity, although as we can see in the article“Ovid with a Littleton” : the cost of English books in the early seventeenth century,the real cost of printed material is a complicated business, and even by the 1630s, only a handful of people owned more than a hundred books. (Although, despite literacy levels being an area difficult to judge, it is clear from A historyofBritishpublishingthat reading standards improved dramatically in this period, largely due to the growth of the book trade.)
However, we get a tantalising glimpse into how ordinary people assimilated books into their everyday lives in a fascinating article called Libraries of the “common sort”. Despite a woeful inadequacy in evidence, largely due to the ephemeral nature of cheaply printed items, through probate records we learn of certain individuals who clearly spent part of their limited income on the collection of books. Most pleasing is the forest labourer William Bane, who died in 1614, leaving in his single room his tools, a few items of furniture, writing implements and a small library of books worth 10s. Unfortunately we do not know the titles of the books, but we also learn of John Tayer, a shoemaker, whose account book from 1627 list a wide variety of titles in his ownership, including travel books, almanacs and tomes on spirituality. Accounts such as these provide a vital window into the reading habits of everyday people, who may be too often dismissed as illiterate labourers. Book ownership revealed in Norfolk probate inventoriesprovides further evidence of book ownership across the classes, with more information on the types of books held and, interestingly, where they were kept in the house.
Another area less documented is that of women’s private collections. The Library of Mrs Elizabeth Vesey 1715-91, the woman who part-founded the Bluestocking movement, provides a comprehensive list of the tracts that were integral to herself and her circle. ‘I can’t resist sending you the book’: Private Libraries, Elite Women, and Shared Reading Practices in Georgian Britainis about the library of Elizabeth Rose and her female friends, who actively sought out copies of books and formed an informal network of lending from their private libraries. Through the enthusiasm of these female readers, new ideas on female education and child rearing were able to disseminate to a wider audience. It also highlights how loaning from private libraries could strengthen relations between the privileged and less privileged.
Which brings me neatly onto the next resource,Servants’ reading : an examination of the Servants’ Library at Cragside,a rare example of a nineteenth-century library provided in a country home for the use of the servants. The surviving collection is made up of an eclectic mix of novels, periodicals and non-fiction; some, such as Charles Loudon Bloxham’s ‘Laboratory teaching, or, progressive exercises in practical chemistry’, suggesting that the servants library may have been a receptacle for books not required anywhere else. Although the library indicates no particular learning towards self-improvement, the fact that it exists at all is heartening, and though rare, was not unique. Further research on book ownership in the nineteenth-century is presented in Beyond Bibliophilia: Contextualizing Private Libraries in the Nineteenth Century, a recently published article exploring the complex relationship that develops between owners and their books.
From the resources mentioned, it seems that whether rich or poor, private collections of books have been an important part of people’s lives since the late medieval times, and although the generous legacies of wealthy gentlemen are more relevant than ever to our libraries, it is the image of the humble labourer William Bain, sitting in his sparsely furnished room and reading by candlelight after a hard day’s work, that is all the more pleasing.
As usual, all relevant material can be found in the Bibliography of British and Irish History. To find our most up-to-date resources on the subject, use the index term ‘Private libraries’ to explore further:
An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 26 October. 3,868 new records have been added. Some 326 new records relate to Irish history while 174 deal with the history of London, 312 with the history of Scotland and 186 with the history of Wales. Titles on Welsh history include, for example, Welsh soldiers in the later Middle Ages, 1282-1422 by Adam Chapman and an article on Lloyd George’s diary for 1887 in the Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society. The overall total of records available online is 565,806.
We would like to thank people who have used the Feedback link on BBIH to provide us with additional information or new material. We are very grateful to our users for keeping us alert!
We expect the next update to be released in February 2016.
Bulldog soldiers’ and sailor’s club (from Wikipedia)
Naturally the anniversary of the start of the war to end all wars has created a plethora of special issues on the subject. What I have found engaging about these is the coverage of the not so obvious material. A prime example is Comparative Legal History, and its issue entitled The Great War and Private Law, which examines changes that occurred in law as a result of the legal and contractual demands necessitated by the conflict. Articles includes, ‘English Contract Law and the Great War: The Development of a Doctrine of Frustration’, and ‘The Great War and Dutch Contract Law: Resistance, Responsiveness and Neutrality’. The legal effects on Austria, Germany and Italy are also examined.
Another not so noticeable effect was in accounting, a subject discussed in Accounting History Review’s issue Accounting and the First World War. Changes in company and government accounting practices are discussed, as well as an increase in taxation on profits in Britain as the war economy developed. The impact of the Great War on the Blackpool Tower Company, in particular on profits and taxation, is also covered. Most intriguing are the accounting changes at the St. James’s Gate Brewery of Arthur Guinness, specifically revealing how additional war risk costs were accounted for internally.
Interestingly the British empire is well represented. The Canadian Historical Review and its issue Canada and the Great War: 100 years on, encompasses the historiography, commemoration and the effects on women and children. Another Canadian journal, Histoire Social/Social history (issue Canada’s First World War, 19140-2014 ) has sections on “Coping with Conflict” which includes the consequences on Canadian society at home and in the trenches; “Beyond Colony and Nation” looks at the USA-Canada border, and the influence of the war on race and gender are also examined.
YMCA Canadian Beaver Hut in London (from Wikipedia)
Naturally The Round Table has a special imperial issue entitled, The First World War and the Empire-Commonwealth. It too has an article on Cyprus’s non-military contribution to the war effort, while also examining Dominion soldiers’ cartoon satire in the trenches, the repatriation of Indian prisoners of war, and the emotional responses to the war by West Indian soldiers.
Imperialism and sport are combined in Anzac Centennial – Sport, War and Society in Australia and New Zealand, issued by The International Journal of the History of Sport. The poignant article, ‘Australasia’s 1912 Olympians and the Great War’, charts the stories of the Olympians who volunteered, four of whom did not return. Other areas covered are the rise of women’s football, and the role of sport for Australian prisoners of war in Turkey.
Moving from the imperial angle to the local angle, Midland History in its issue, The Midlands and the Great War covers the outbreak of war in the provincial press. Other articles include, ‘Patriotism in Nottinghamshire: Challenging the Unconvinced, 1914–1917′, ‘Burslem and Its Roll of Honour 1914–1918′, and ‘The Midlands’ First Blitz’.
Shifting to the cultural impact of the Great War, New Perspectives on the Cultural History of Britain and the Great War, from 20th Century British History covers the role of Irish and Indian soldiers and their self sacrifice, and the letters of the Sepoys and details of their emotions. The distribution of gas masks to civilians and the relationship between the understanding of the gas mask and British culture in general is also discussed.
An unlikely contender in the rundown of special issues includes the journal Shakespeare and its issue Shakespeare and the Great War. The debate surrounding the “cultural mobilization” of Shakespeare is explored, ranging from the reading by soldiers, the reception of the dramatist, the tercentary celebrations, and the “Shakespeare hut” set up in Bloomsbury for the entertainment of New Zealand soldiers.
An equally unlikely contender, and perhaps the most moving issue, given what was to happen twenty years later, is Rabbis and the Great War from European Judaism. The support, comfort and opposition to the war by various Rabbis in various countries is investigated. Sermons about the war by British Rabbi Morris Joseph at his west London Synagogue show his dismay at the war and his attempts not to glorify it.
The after effects of the end of hostilities on service personnel are studied in Journal of Contemporary History’s – The Limits of Demobilization: Global Perspectives on the Aftermath of the Great War. The demobilization of around 65 million was bound to create problems for all nations engaged in the struggle and how society dealt with these problems, their effects on national politics, and the “brutalization” factor are discussed with reference to Russia, central Europe, the USA and white settler colonies.
An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 29 June. 3,460 new records have been added; over 2,000 of these are for publications of 2014-15. Some 400 new records relate to Irish history while 135 deal with the history of London and 251 with the history of Scotland. We continue to be grateful to the Scottish Historical Review Trust which supports a team based at St Andrews University, led by Dr Christine McGladdery, which assists in the collection of material relating to Scotland. The overall total of records available online is 561,976.
We expect to release the next update in October. 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.
My previous post on the range of history material being published opened with the early modern view of masculinity and men crying. Go back a couple of hundred years and it seems men were allowed to cry, and at least if you were a bishop, the act was deemed appropriate, usually in a religious sense, and of course if the crying was not seen as too ostentatious. As observed in Episcopal emotions: tears in the life of the medieval bishop, by Katherine Harvey, the significance of weeping in the life of the late medieval English bishop was key to perceptions of his masculinity, his sexuality as well as his physical body. Furthermore, the act had significant implications for his reputation both as a cleric and as a potential saint.
Returning to the weeping theme, Stephen Spencer, in The emotional rhetoric of crusader spirituality in the narratives of the First Crusade, analyses representations of fear and weeping in the Latin narratives and argues that emotional displays functioned as markers of crusader spirituality (rather like the weeping bishops above). He then explores depictions of weeping as an expression of piety, focusing specifically on tears shed over Jerusalem.
If you are interested in further tear duct activity, I’d recommend Crying in the middle ages: tears of history, which looks at the role of tears in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultural discourses covering the arts, preaching, literature (including Piers Plowman), and in the emotion of pilgrimage.
On a completely different theme, I was intrigued by two war-related articles. The first discusses Quaker peace activities prior to the World War I – “Edwardian peace testimony: British Quakers against militarism and conscription c. 1902-1914″, in Journal of the Friends Historical Society, 2010, vol. 61:1 p. 49-66. The second, Human Computing Practices and Patronage: Antiaircraft Ballistics and Tidal Calculations in First World War Britain, outlines the importance of mathematics and the work of Arthur Thomas Doodson, an intriguing scientific aspect of the conflict. As one can imagine a great deal has been written on the Great War largely in special issues of journals, indeed so much has been written I plan a blog covering those issues.
Over 500 of the new records cover books and articles relating to Irish history and the database now contains nearly 84,000 Irish history records overall. We are pleased to welcome a new section editor to our editorial team, Dr Colin Reid, Senior Lecturer in History at Northumbria University, who will be dealing with Irish history since 1801. He succeeds Dr Marie Coleman, for whose expert help over the last few years we are very grateful.
One of the joys, and tribulations, of working on BBIH is the amount of material that comes across my desk (or indeed desktop). Joy in that there is such a range of material, and tribulation in the amount! As an indication of the range of material, I’ll highlight a snapshot of articles that I have come across recently.
The title, Crying in the colonies: The bellmen of early Australia, did not cover the emotional sensibility of the colonists but was a discussion on the use of the town crier, who made announcements, advertised sales, rallied people to political meetings, encouraged locals to attend events and performances as well as announcing the news of the day.
Oxford University Press has launched a monograph series Emotions in History, one of the books is entitled, Learning how to feel: Children’s Literature and Emotional Socialization, 1870-1970, which covers such feelings as trust, compassion, empathy, fear and piety, all charted through a particular literary character.
Expanding further on emotions, and combining it with piety, there is a special issue of German History entitled Feeling and Faith—Religious Emotions in German History, covering early German pietism, the expected behaviour of evangelists in Wilhelmine Germany, as well as the feminization of piety in interwar Germany.
According to John Johnston in Lost in time and space: Unrolling Egypt’s ancient dead (Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 2013, p. 7-22) the first unrolling of a mummy took place in 1698. Gabriel Moshenska charts the unrolling of mummies in nineteenth-century Britain, a popular spectacle which is also covered by Beverley Rogers in her chapter, Unwrapping the Past: Egyptian Mummies on Show from Popular exhibitions, science and showmanship, 1840-1910. Tomb raiders for mummies or other relics was not confined to the modern period, as Sean Lafferty outlines in Ad sanctitatem mortuorum: tomb raiders, body snatchers and relic hunters in late antiquity. This article charts the actions of tomb raiders despite punishment for such crimes. The increasing popularity of the cult of saints created a demand for such relics as objects of veneration, which in turn led to elaborate strategies of acquisition, including the exhumation, transporting, smuggling and dismembering of the dead. Taking us up to the modern scientific approach to mummies is an article, Augustus Bozzi Granville (1783-1872): Pioneer obstetrician and gynaecological surgeon. Granville performed the first scientific autopsy of an Egyptian mummy discovering, in the process, the oldest known ovarian tumour.
Best title must surely go to, The Sludge Question: The Regulation of Mine Tailings in Nineteenth-Century Victoria, by Susan Lawrence and Peter Davies. The “sludge” in question is the industrial waste from gold mining in Australia. The pollution was a significant environmental problem to an area dependent on gold mining for its economic prosperity. The article discusses the realisation of the environmental problem and the passage of legislation to resolve the issue over a fifty-year period.
Discounted subscriptions to the online Bibliography of British and Irish History are available to Friends of the IHR who may not have access to the Bibliography through a university or other institution. The Bibliography is a joint project of the IHR, the Royal Historical Society and Brepols Publishers, and is the most extensive guide available to what has been published on British and Irish history. It covers the history of British and Irish relations with the rest of the world, including the British empire and the Commonwealth, as well as British and Irish domestic history. It includes not only books, but also articles in journals and articles within collective volumes. It is updated three times a year and currently includes nearly 550,000 records, with a further update expected during October; subscribers can sign up for email alerts notifying them when new records are added on subjects in which they are interested.
Friends of the IHR (including American Friends) can subscribe to the Bibliography for one third of the normal cost of an individual subscription. The sign-up period for the Friends’ discounts starts on 1 October and runs until 15 December 2014 for the 2015 subscription year. New subscribers will have access to the Bibliography as soon as their subscription has been processed but all subscriptions will run until 31 December 2015, so you can enjoy nearly fifteen months’ access for the price of twelve. To apply please contact the Development Office by email or by telephoning (0)20 7862 8791. For more information about the Friends, and the other benefits of joining, please visit the Friends’ web pages. Similar discounts are available to Fellows and Members of the Royal Historical Society who will receive information in their autumn mailing, as usual.
My colleagues in the library have already blogged about History Day, however I thought I’d follow it up from the perspective of the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) as I’ve had a number of enquiries which I can address here.
After an outline of the history of the Bibliography and its coverage I usually emphasise three points:-
1. The Bibliography has links (where possible and where institutional subscriptions allow) to a variety of sources including to full text via doi (digital object identifier); online collections of journals such as JSTOR and Project Muse; links to publishers; and links to other digital resources such as the National Register of Archives and union catalogues (e.g. Copac).
2. The ability to set up email alerts for specific subjects or authors or places (or a combination). Users can easily set up an email alert by following the instructions. The email alerts can then be managed by clicking on the “My email alerts” on the banner of the homepage. It’s a simple and effective way of keeping informed about developments in your research area (you’ll get an update three times per year). As an example I have an email alert for subject keyword “Intelligence” and period covered “1880-1945”.
3. The ability to export data to a range of reference tools, such as Microsoft Word, RefWorks, Endnote and Zotero. Again there are online tutorials demonstrating how to use these tools.
Additionally from History Day, some useful tips were picked up from Paul Horsler (LSE) who discussed reference tools. He also made three key points. Use the reference manager as you start your research, you’ll become accustomed to it sooner and it will save a lot of time at the end of research. Choose a tool you feel comfortable with and one that is supported by your research institution (if in doubt, ask your librarian). And finally, as with all software, make sure you do backups – you don’t want to lose all that research.