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Spiritual Soldiers: Masculinity and the Body in the British Indian Army, 1900-1940


 Indian troops during a physical training. Copyright IWM (Q52701)

Indian troops during a physical training. Copyright IWM (Q52701)

This post has kindly been written for us by Kate Imy, Mellon Dissertation Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.

Contemporary debates about “religion” often emphasize that which is supposedly “irrational,” metaphysical or anciently doctrinal, ignoring the intimate, ever-shifting, disciplined and resolutely global ways in which beliefs develop in certain places at certain times. In order to investigate these complexities, I examine the meanings and uses of the word “religion” within the British Indian Army—a resolutely cosmopolitan, multi-linguistic, interracial, multicultural and overwhelmingly “religious” force. This massive military establishment—which played a decisive role in most of the major armed conflicts of the first half of the twentieth century—is perhaps one of the most potent symbols of faded European empires. Despite being a paragon of disciplined, secular, and imperial rationality, the army used “religion” for everything from recruiting soldiers, to encouraging men to fight and die, to occupying “holy” lands. My project therefore attempts to see how the army used the concept of “religion” to assign value to certain bodily performances of masculinity at a definitive moment in late-colonial British and South Asian history. By focusing on the intimate encounters between British and South Asian men, and the ways in which soldiers and civilians made meaning of, represented and interpreted soldiers’ bodies, this project hopes to better understand the processes through which soldiers’ bodies—as both “religious” and “martial” beings—helped give birth to contemporary notions of masculinity and violence in the late and postcolonial world.

Memories and popular perceptions of the British Indian Army are often defined by imperial nostalgia or post-colonial regret. Both narratives hinge upon shifting concepts of masculinity and perceptions of British and South Asian bodies. For the former, the proud and glistening British and Indian men in impeccable dress, and the paternalistic relationship between British officers and Indian soldiers, was at once intimate and familial, while also laying important groundwork for India’s postcolonial army. The latter interpretation, however, focuses on the imbalances of colonial power and the restrictive theory of “Martial Races” which deemed some men worthy of becoming warriors, at the expense of those “emasculated” men who were not. This perspective locates service to the empire somewhere between slave-like servitude, necessitated by limited job prospects, or a mercenary labor force that begrudgingly sold its martial prowess to the highest bidder. My study falls within the purview of more recent interpretations which have moved beyond these powerful yet restrictive interpretations by focusing on the complex networks of ideas guiding attitudes toward spiritual beliefs, bodies and “selfhood” that made the British Indian Army a powerful international force until the Second World War.

During war and peace, “religious” concerns were central to the efficient functioning of the colonial army in India. British army officials recruited South Asian soldiers based on a matrix of region, caste, and religion, for instance praising Sikhism as having “martial value” because it discouraged so-called “caste prejudices” while celebrating martial strength and disciplined living. Meanwhile, British soldiers marched into church armed every Sunday to receive the divine wisdom from chaplains who encouraged them to live their lives free from sin—especially the debilitating and fiscally costly conditions of venereal disease and alcoholism. Fears of anti-colonial “sedition” among South Asian soldiers meant cultivating allies among “religious” leaders and appointing religious teachers to exert an educational, social and ceremonial influence among the men to prevent them from seeking wisdom and guidance from the outside world. During wartime, army officials played an active role in regulating soldiers’ bodies, shaping the performance of even pillars of Islam such as the fast of Ramzan (Ramadan) and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). Each of these bodily interventions played a crucial role in demarcating which types of bodies and beliefs were most conducive to military order and discipline, limiting financial and social opportunities to certain subjects of the British Empire.

One of the most widely debated aspects of daily life in the British Indian Army was the relationship between food and “religion.” While military officials hoped to build strong bodies and encouraged recruitment through the promise of stable rations, many officials condemned “the contagion of Hinduism” for impeding military discipline by making group messing more difficult. In the twentieth century, this was largely dictated by the limited and faulty memories and stories of the 1857 Uprising, which was widely regarded as stemming from improperly adhering to “Hindu” and Muslim dietary practices. However, arrangements for a diverse range of British and South Asian soldiers required considerable attention. Military officials strongly discouraged British soldiers from consuming numerous goods, including bazaar fruits and non-packaged drinking water, and often condemned and ridiculed them for contracting “preventable” maladies such as enteric fever and diarrhea. Similarly, many Muslim soldiers worried about finding food that was prepared “halal,” or carrying out the fast of Ramzan, while Gurkha soldiers’ food was often subject to considerable scrutiny including inspection of water tanks on ships and the use of exclusively Brahmin cooks. While military officials were willing and able to cater to such dietary needs of the “Martial Races,” they condemned the so-called “prejudices” of Indian Hindus. These dietary debates revealed the unstable boundaries between science, health, “religion,” custom and personal preference. They solidified the importance food in defining martial masculinity and the unequal application of what was “religious” and what was merely “rational.”

By placing British and South Asian bodies and beliefs in conversation with one another, my project hopes to create a more varied portrait of the relationship between belief, martial prowess, masculinity and violence in the making of the modern world. By looking at a disciplined and highly centralized military force and the ways in which “religion” shaped and was shaped by a diverse range of British and South Asian actors, my dissertation suggests that concepts of masculinity and the body were both global and local—spiritual and secular—and forever influenced by the uncertainties, opportunities, inequalities and instabilities of the imperial world.

Witchcraft and Medicine in Modern France


Will Pooley is a Past & Present Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. He blogs at and you can follow him on Twitter @willpooley.

I’m not the first person to point out that witchcraft exerted a fascination over doctors and physicians. Historians of early-modern Europe have long argued that separating the science from the supernatural in medical writings is impossible.

But France makes a bit of an odd case. The medical fascination with witchcraft had largely dissipated in other European countries by the nineteenth century, yet in France this period saw a boom in serious medical writings about possession, sorcery, and alternative healing practices. The interest may have waned as the twentieth century progressed, but French doctors have continued to occasionally publish investigations of magical practices and epidemics of ‘demonopathy’ up until very recently.

(One of the many medical theses written about ‘superstitions’ and witchcraft. See

(One of the many medical theses written about ‘superstitions’ and witchcraft. See

This raises two questions:

  • why this continuing interest?
  • why should historians care?

At this stage in my research, it is easier for me to answer the second question than the first, although I do have some working hypotheses for why not only doctors, but also psychologists and veterinary professionals in France took such a pronounced interest in sorcery.

For a start, there was a lot of it.

My research uses newspaper reports to trace criminal cases involving witchcraft from the 1790s to the 1930s, and even at this early stage it is apparent that crimes related to witchcraft were prosecuted with depressing regularity across this period. In the secondary literature alone I have identified 15 cases of people who were murdered for being witches in this period. There were many more cases of attempted murder or assault which were not reported so widely in the newspapers, not to mention a multitude of prosecutions for fraud and illegal medical practice. Sometimes, men and women sued their neighbours for defaming them as witches. What all of this suggests is that witchcraft beliefs, fears, and fantasies were surprisingly widespread in France during this period.

And perhaps this is partly related to the other key explanation for why doctors and scientists took such an interest in sorcery: the tumultuous religious history of France during this period. The struggle between the Catholic Church and secularists inspired by Voltaire and the French Revolution had two contradictory effects on French culture.

On the one hand, there was an apparent hardening of boundaries, especially during periods when regime changes abruptly shifted the balance of power between the scientific establishment and the Church. The struggle over Bernadette Soubirous’ visions at Lourdes would be just the most obvious example of a case where Church and Doctor faced off over an issue of national importance and supernatural significance.


(Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes. See:

Yet on the other hand, I think a strong case could be made for seeing this as a period when a cultural vacuum opened up. The very intensity of the public conflict between scientific secularists and defenders of the Church led to a willingness, at least among some elements, to court public opinion, to take seriously the feelings and beliefs of ordinary people such as the visionary Bernadette, or the many people who flocked to witness the miracles of Lourdes.

Many within the Church might have felt that condemning the ‘superstitions’ of the population was a slippery slope. Priests, too, read Voltaire and they were only too aware that condemning a belief in the supernatural powers of black masses and ringing church bells could seem inconsistent with the claims the Church made for the supernatural efficacy of its key rites.

And scientists also had to court public opinion. What use were immunization or pasteurization if the people could not be persuaded that they worked? Promoting professional midwifery, or psychology, or veterinary medicine partly depended on proving to a population that was predominantly rural that these new methods and theories were more than simply a way to interfere, charge higher fees, and defraud the paysans.


(Léon-Augustin Lhermitte, ‘La paye des moissoneurs’. The rural population were not always known for their approachability… See:

This brings me on to my second question: why historians should care about all of this? It might be weird that French doctors were so interested in sorcery, and it is equally odd that witchcraft seems to have been so important to so many people among the general population, but why does it matter?

The answer, I argue, has to do with what a remarkable case study this odd convergence makes for ‘history from below’. I have been strongly influenced by historians such as Andy Wood, Guy Beiner, Katrina Navickas, David Hopkin, and by the Many-Headed-Monster blog symposium from last year on revisiting ‘history from below’ (see:

These historians, I think, have developed incredibly subtle understandings of concepts such as ‘popular culture’, ‘social class’, and ‘resistance’. We recognize that such terms are always problematic, and we recognize how hard it can be to recover the ‘voices’ of the people history too often forgets, but we maintain that there is still value in trying (

And it seems to me that the point where medicine and witchcraft met in France is a particularly rich example for pursuing the kinds of complicated questions of cultural repression, resistance, and agency that the new history from below addresses. Yes, doctors and other scientific ‘experts’ attempted to impose their understandings of causality, the human body, and illness onto the general population. But ordinary people took these ideas and refashioned them to fit what was important to their lives, forcing the ‘experts’ to deal in the languages of possession and malevolence.

Far from being a simple case of ‘superstition’ swept away by reason, witchcraft and medicine in France during this period is a much more interesting story of accommodation and cultural negotiation, and one that puts working men and women into the spotlight as often as middle-class doctors and scientists.

What is more, this was not unique to medicine. As I have mentioned, the related disciplines of psychology, psychiatry, and veterinary science were also caught up in witchcraft debates. But sorcery also touched even wider domains. Victims and suspected witches related their experiences to new technologies and the ‘modern wonders’ that Bernard Rieger has studied, and addressed new theories of radiation, ions, and the laws of physics. They also argued about the law, challenging the basis for criminal and civil prosecutions, and provoking a series of legal theorists to address the problem of witchcraft in the same period.

This is why I have found that the more I study the witches and their accusers, the less drawn I am to the early-modern parallels that at first appear so obvious. Witchcraft was modern, and has a lot to tell historians about the agency and constraints of ordinary people grappling with new authorities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Junior Research Fellows’ Colloquia 2015


Empty Spaces - camelThe 2014-15 cohort of Junior Research Fellows at the IHR will be holding a number of excellent colloquia and workshops in the coming months. These colloquia are a key element of the IHR Fellowships programme, and the institute provides Fellows with administrative and financial support in running them. The idea is that early career researchers get valuable experience in planning and hosting academic events, while the institute benefits from participating in engaging, diverse academic activity. Events held at the institute itself will be open to public registration.

This blog will feature details on upcoming colloquia over subsequent posts.

Empty Spaces

A one-day conference at the Institute of Historical Research
Friday 10 April 2015

Plenary Speaker: Dr Matt Houlebrook (Birmingham)

If nature abhors a vacuum, cultural attitudes to emptiness are more complex. Vacant places have been constructed and sustained by a variety of actors, from colonial powers to cartographers, city planners to scientists. This one day colloquium asks how and why empty spaces have been important to travelers, empires, anthropologists, artists, archivists, photographers, and the historians who study them. How is emptiness made? What tools, materials, and agents does it involve, and what cultural, physical, and natural work goes into maintaining nothingness? Have empty spaces been particularly important at specific points in history? What cross-cultural continuities are there in how they have been made and understood? How have historians perceived and created ‘gaps in the literature’? What ideological functions does emptiness serve?
The conference will explore ‘empty space’ in history.



Organized by: Courtney J. Campbell, Allegra Giovine, Jennifer Keating, and Will Pooley (IHR Junior Research Fellows)


Read more about these in subsequent blog posts.

IWM_ART_001179Gender in War Captivity: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

A one-day symposium at the Institute of Historical Research
Friday 8 May 2015

Organised by Elodie Duché (IHR Junior Research Fellow) and Grace Huxford (Warwick) of the Prisoner of War Network in conjunction with Warwick Institute of Advanced Study and the Institute of Historical Research.

Image:  Randolph Schwabe, The Women’s Land Army and German Prisoners, 1918, available at the Imperial War Museum.

History of the BodyThe History of the Body: Approaches and Directions

A one-day colloquium at the Institute of Historical Research
Saturday 16 May 2015
Organized by: Kate Imy and Will Pooley (IHR Junior Research Fellows)

Religious IdentitiesReligious Identities and Material Landscapes in Early Modern Europe

A one-day workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Friday, 5 June 2015

Organized by: Roisin Watson (IHR Junior Research Fellow)

Image: Prayer Book, c. 1623, V&A Images Image reference 2006BJ4433

Add. 49598, f.25Water in Anglo-Saxon England

A one-day colloquium at the Institute of Historical Research
October 2015 [date TBC]

Organized by: Carolyn Twomey (IHR Junior Research Fellow)

Image: Benedictional Aethewoldi c. 963-984 (c13101-49) ©British Library Board, Add MS 49598 f.25r

Crime, Identity and Economics: New Research and Approaches

A one-day colloquium at the Institute of Historical Research
Saturday 12 September 2015

Organized by: Caroline Nielsen and Ben Taylor (IHR Junior Research Fellows)

Ententes Cordiales? Methodology in French History from France, Britain, and Beyond

A one-day colloquium at the Institute of Historical Research
Date to be determined

Organized by: Will Pooley (IHR Junior Research Fellow)

Latest from the IHR Fellows – prizes, papers, panels & publications


curriersheader200•    Junior Research Fellow Ian Stone has been awarded the inaugural 2014 Curriers’ Company London History Essay Prize for his essay ‘Arnold fitz Thedmar: his place in London’. The prize is awarded in association with The London Journal and the Institute of Historical Research. In addition to a cash prize of £1000, the winning essay will be published in The London Journal.


Campbell •    Junior Research Fellow Courtney Campbell has three upcoming presentations:

“‘Ela vale um time de futebol’: Gender, Victory, and Loss in Brazilian World Cup and Miss Universe Press Coverage (1954-1962),” American Historical Association, New York, 3 January 2015

“Sixty-One Days at Sea: Fishermen, their Rafts, and Regional Identity in the Brazilian Northeast,” Latin American History Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 10 February 2015

A panel that Courtney proposed to the Latin American Studies Association has been accepted. Courtney will be travelling to Puerto Rico to present her paper on “The Making of A Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”​ within the panel:

 “Before and After a Pedagogy of the Oppressed: From Cold War Politics to 21st-Century Social Action,” for the XXXIII International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 2015

Courtney also recently presented the following:

“The Latin American Region as Internationally Embedded: The Case of the Brazilian Northeast (1926-1968),” Latin America in a Global Context Workshop, University of Bern, Switzerland, 4 December 2014

A book chapter co-written by Courtney Campbell will be coming out soon. The book launch will be at the British Library on February 27. The book is titled From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2015.

[Jane Landers, Pablo Gómez, José Polo Acuña, and Courtney J. Campbell. “Researching the History of Slavery in Colombia and Brazil through Ecclesiastical and Notarial Archives.” In Maja Kominko, Ed., From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2015.]



•    Visiting Research Fellow Cheryl Fury presented a paper in Hamburg in November  at the “Early Modern Military-Medical Complex” conference called “You Make No Men of  Us but Beasts”: Shipboard Diet & Health in the Elizabethan Maritime Community”.

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.

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.

2013 Donald Murphy Prize awarded to IHR Fellow


benbankhurstWe are delighted to announce that Benjamin Bankhurst has been awarded the Donald Murphy Prize for Distinguished First Books for his recent work Ulster Presbyterians and the Scots Irish Diaspora, 1750-1764. Ben is the Postdoctoral Fellow in North American History at the IHR, and his book examines how news regarding the violent struggle to control the borderlands of British North America between 1750 and 1764 resonated among communities in Ireland with familial links to the colonies.

The prize was awarded by the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS), which annually recognizes five books and one graduate dissertation for their contribution to the field of Irish Studies in the disciplines of social sciences, history, literature, and the Irish language.

You can find more details of the ACIS prizes here, and full details of Ben’s book are available here.

Introducing the new Postdoctoral Fellow in North American History


Welcome to the inaugural blog post in a series promoting the American history resources available at the IHR. In this post I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Benjamin Bankhurst and I have recently joined the School of Advanced Study as the Postdoctoral Fellow of North American History. 183712_10151164433194859_333601655_n

Before taking up this position I held teaching appointments at the LSE, King’s College London and Canterbury Christ Church University. In 2009 I was the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Fellow in Early American Religion at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. My research interests include the history of religion and ethnicity in the 18th-century Atlantic World. My Ph.D. thesis, completed in 2011, examined Irish migration to the Appalachian frontier during the era of the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763). Specifically, it focused on how news from the war-ravaged colonial backcountry and the arrival of American Presbyterian relief missions in Ireland collapsed emotional and spatial distance and produced a sense of transatlantic empathy among Ulster Presbyterians for their beleaguered kin across the ocean. This research forms the basis of my first book, Ulster Presbyterians and Scots Irish Diaspora, 1750-1763 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

I am also interested in library and book history and look forward to applying my past expertise in these fields to promote the rich colonial and American collections in the IHR and Senate House libraries. As a member of the research team on the AHRC-funded project ‘Private Books for Educational Use – the Formation of the Northern Congregational College Library’ (February 2012 and March 2013), I examined the provenance and individual object histories of 2,500 books once owned by various dissenting academies in the north of England during the 18th and 19th centuries. This results of our research (including a searchable list of former owners and examples of user annotation) are now integrated into the Virtual Library System on the Dissenting Academies Online. In my first few weeks at the IHR I have uncovered interesting provenance in the colonial collections relating to the early benefactors of the library. I look forward to sharing my findings on this subject on this blog in the months to come. Watch this space!

I am very excited to join the teams at the IHR and Senate House libraries and look forward to promoting American studies across the School of Advanced Study over the next two years. I am currently preparing several North American collection guides for the IHR and will be blogging about the highlights from our holdings throughout the year. I will begin later in the week with a few posts highlighting our Canadian resources.

The Art of Ritual: Object, Image and Space in Medieval and Early Modern Europe


Coronation_of_Louis_VIII_and_Blanche_of_Castille_1223Three of this year’s Junior Research Fellows at the IHR – Dhwani Patel (KCL, Thornley Fellow), Wendy Sepponen (University of Michigan, Mellon Fellow) and Jo Edge (RHUL, Scouloudi Fellow) – have come together to organise a conference on the links between art and ritual in the medieval and early modern periods. After meeting at the introductory party for JRFs at the start of the year, we realised that while we all work on diverse topics – Wendy works on Renaissance sculpture, Dhwani late medieval ceremonial in Rome, and Jo medieval divinatory diagrams – that there was a real opportunity to organise a conference on this little-explored area. The IHR, Royal Holloway and King’s College London have all generously pledged financial support for what promises to be a most engaging day.

We’re aiming to bring focus to how material culture and art (broadly defined) negotiates with and shapes ritual. We have identified three principal thematic strands. The first is art that influenced ritual, for example space and site specificity, or the importance and history of a particular place, site or space in connection with ritual. The second is art that reflected ritual, for example representations of processions. The final strand concerns objects and images that functioned as an integral part of ritual, for example relics and magical diagrams.

This conference will have a broad chronological, disciplinary and geographic scope, drawing from art historians, historians, and archaeologists from the late antique to early modern periods. Speakers including Achim Timmermann (University of Michigan), Sophie Page (UCL), Zoe Opacic (Birkbeck), Tom Nickson (The Courtauld Institute), Natalia Petrovskaia (University of Cambridge), Marianne Gilly-Argoud (Universite Pierre-Mendes-France) and Andy Murray (UCL) are already confirmed to speak.

The conference will take place on Saturday 17 May, in the Senate Room, Senate House, London

Registration is now open. The cost for attendance on the day, including lunch and refreshments, is £10 (£5 students/unwaged/retired/disabled). Please email to reserve your space.

Networking and academia



This post has been kindly written for us by George Gilbert, currently one of the Scouloudi Fellows at the Institute of Historical Research.

For the beginner, the idea of networking can be a confusing one, and historically hasn’t always been helped by attitudes found in our discipline. Elements of academia have in the past perhaps been slow to catch on to this technique, slower at least than many professions in the city and politics. However, the profession has largely turned round to the idea, and it’s now apparent that developing fruitful links with other researchers, not only outside your home institution, but across countries and continents, is recognized as a central part of the doctoral experience. It is particularly vital for the aspiring researcher who wants to make the most of their abilities and interests in pursuing an academic career. Getting to know senior colleagues can at times seems a daunting experience, and the idea of ‘selling yourself’ might even sound a touch undignified!

However, it’s a good strategy to pursue. Firstly, networking is vital from a career perspective. At an early stage in your doctoral research, continuous and effective networking alerts you to conference opportunities, colloquiums and seminars that allow you to take in new ideas, engage with the latest and most cutting-edge research and, most of all, meet a wide range of characters and come across interesting viewpoints that will help you in your chosen field. Later, you will find out fellowship and job opportunities from helpful and well connected colleagues and friends.

As well as this, it can be very enjoyable. Networking might seem like a sly word to describe the cunning enhancement of an academic CV, but in reality, it’s usually very fun. It rarely goes wrong, and usually promotes rather than damages career development. Possibly one of the main issues for a young researcher is considering who to share your ideas with. If you have what you think might be a new and path breaking idea, a good rule of thumb is that it is best to share it only with those you know best, at least in the earliest stages of development: you don’t want to see your ideas in print before you’ve published them yourself! But most opportunities end positively. For example, I have had much entertainment from seeing different generations of Russianists, with very different questions on the scholarly agenda, productively engaging (and less productively, arguing) with each other over what direction the discipline is (and should be) heading in at various conferences and seminars! It helps develop people skills that are vital when teaching, giving papers, and discussing ideas: basically, anything that involves any level of face to face engagement. No one is out to ‘get you’ and several will probably end up becoming good friends.

Another aspect of engagement worth discussing in this brief post is another side to networking: sharing writing. Once you have got to the stage where you are able to produce significant chunks of written work based on your primary research, it’s a very good idea to share it with experienced professionals and helpful graduate students outside your supervisory team. For me, the feedback I have received from the peer review process, and also academics working in other institutions interested in my research, has been of immense value in helping me hone my ideas and develop my arguments. You must expect some criticisms, but in my own experience, the majority of those who have commented on my work have been very helpful and constructive in letting me know when the work isn’t good enough, as well as praising elements that they particularly liked.

Finally, networking has gone digital. For most sub-disciplines, there are forums, newsletters, websites and discussion blogs all online, many of which are worth reading to familiarize yourself with the latest academic research and where the discipline is going, as well as using those invaluable 40-year old monographs written by pillars of the field. It’s worth getting in touch with colleagues to find out where the best new material is being posted online, and to find out in what direction the field is heading, and perhaps even what your role in that development might be. Even if you aren’t into social networking, finding out where the thought pieces from those actively involved in the discipline are appearing is good practice.

The following digital networking websites, for instance, have proved useful for me:

H-Russia, an online network encouraging scholarly discussion of all matters Russian, featuring a discussion log, forum, and reviews of recent scholarship. The discussion log is good for pulling together panels for conferences., a useful forum and not just for scholars, though especially helpful before that first research visit, on a variety of matters.

Finally, twitter offers more than the opportunity to berate minor celebrities. It also contains many targets for the Russianist to follow, for instance: Crossing the Baltic, Russian Universe, and the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies’ research blog, which presents links to the some of the latest papers and talks by those engaged in the field.

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