May 1862: Confederate and Union forces clashing during the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
We start this week with The War That Forged A Nation: Why The Civil War Still Matters by James M. McPherson, and Susan-Mary Grant and the author discuss the latest work by the Civil War’s most preeminent historian (no. 1887, with response here).
Next up Kate Fleet tackles a curate’s egg of a book, as she reviews Sean McMeekin’s The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923 (no. 1886).
Then we turn to The Gages of Hengrave and Suffolk Catholicism, 1640-1767 by Francis Young, as Eilish Gregory recommends a well-researched and detailed book on an early modern English Catholic family (no. 1885).
Finally we have Peter Webster’s Archbishop Ramsey: The Shape of the Church, which Sam Brewitt-Taylor praises as a fine addition to the literature on this key Archbishop (no. 1884).
The feast day of St Brigid is celebrated on the 1st February, and in honour of this, we have delved into our resources to give a taste of the material available on the Bibliography of British and Irish History.
St Brigid of Kildare is one of the main patron saints of Ireland, along with St Patrick and St Columbus. Brigid was born into slavery in the mid-5th century but became a nun and abbess, founding several monasteries. Her vitae was written by Cogitosus in the 7th century, and is translated in Cogitosus’s Life of St Brigid : content and value. As our range of resources show, the myth of Brigid has associations with an earlier pagan deity of the same name, explored in Brigid : goddess, druidess and saintand Brigit : from goddess to saint. Brigid was also strongly connected with the symbol of fire, as Gerald of Wales recounts in his Topographia Hibernica how the sacred fire of St Brigid burned continually around the monastery at Kildare even after her death, yet never accumulated any ashes. It was tended by the nuns of Kildare for nineteen nights in turn, and on the twentieth night left for Brigid to tend herself. According to Gerald, the scriptorium at Kildare produced an illuminated manuscript so sumptuous it was thought to be the work of angels. Unfortunately this manuscript is now lost, but it would probably have been of a similar quality to the Book of Kells.
The image on the right is from London, British Library, Royal MS 13 B VIII, and shows the scribe creating the heavenly manuscript. This copy of the Topographia Hibernica was produced in Lincoln in c. 1196-1208, and most probably was overseen by Gerald himself. The image shows the tools of a scribe, a feather quill (probably goose), and a knife. The knife was used to sharpen the quill and also to correct mistakes, by scraping the ink off the parchment. In this image, it also seems to be used to hold the quill-hand steady and secure the parchment. According to Gerald, the book was composed with the angel presenting the designs, while Brigid prayed, and the scribe copied – ‘sic igitur angelo praesentante, brigida orante, scriptore imitante.’ (fol. 22v).
We start this week with John Foot’s The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care. Peter Barham and the author discuss a hugely ambitious book about the movement in Italy to transform the institutional landscape of Italian mental health care (no. 1883, with response here).
Next up is Browned Off and Bloody-Minded: The British Soldier Goes to War 1939-1945 by Alan Allport, as Andrew Muldoon praises a book which should attract, and deserves to gain, both a specialist and a general readership (no. 1882).
Then Thomas Hamm covers two contributions from the early American history ‘Atlantic turn’ generation, as he reviews Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England by Abram Van Engen and London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community by Jordan Landes (no. 1881).
Finally we turn to Hubert Wolf’s The Nuns of Sant’ Ambrolio: the True Story of a Convent in Scandal, which Sara Charles recommends as an intriguing retelling that avoids sensationalist tabloid clichés (no. 1880).
In previous posts I have alluded to the range of material gathered for BBIH, a range that sometimes creates a sense of déjà vu with similar or complementary articles. The following are recent examples.
I start with three articles all about clerks and shop workers; two of which feature H. G. Wells, himself once a draper’s assistant. Nicholas Bishop uses the works of Wells, Arnold Bennett and Shan Bullock to discuss “clerical literature” in Ruralism, Masculinity, and National Identity: The Rambling Clerk in Fiction, 1900–1940. This article argues that urban-dwelling clerks were pioneers in developing an interest in getting “back to the land” and the rural “idyll.”
Deborah Wynne continues the draper’s assistant theme, and the use of Wells, with The ‘Despised Trade’ in Textiles: H. G. Wells, William Paine, Charles Cavers and the Male Draper’s Life, 1870–1914 which examines the situation of the male draper in terms of his relationships to textiles and the female customers. Using the aforementioned accounts, the ridicule levelled against men is highlighted. The accounts used are, H. G. Wells’s discussion of his years as a draper’s apprentice in his Experiment in Autobiography (1934); William Paine’s emotionally charged title Shop Slavery and Emancipation (1912); and the diary of a Bond Street draper, Charles Cavers, posthumously published, and wonderfully entitled, Hades! The Ladies! Being Extracts from the Diary of a Draper (1933). Cavers, a draper’s assistant from the 1870s and then a successful owner of a Bond Street emporium, paints a more positive picture than Wells or Paine, although he used the exclamation ‘Hades! The ladies!’ when his wealthy female customers were being difficult to please.
And speaking of “ladies”…. although these first two articles refer to male workers and focus on masculinity, Ella Ophir presents the journal of Evelyn Wilson, an impoverished employment registry clerk in London. Wilson kept her diary for over 20 years and, after her death, it was published in 1935 under the melancholy title of The Note Books of a Woman Alone. The article The Diary and the Commonplace Book: Self-Inscription in The Note Books of a Woman Aloneuses the diary extensively.
Continuing the police theme, David Taylor in his Cass, Coverdale and consent the Metropolitan Police and working-class women in late-Victorian London focusses on the treatment of two working-class women by the Metropolitan Police in 1887. Elizabeth Cass was arrested for soliciting in Regent’s Street while Annie Coverdale was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Both were working class: Cass a dressmaker in Holborn and Coverdale a domestic servant in Canning Town. The two arresting constables were dishonest in their evidence but both remained policemen despite newspaper agitation and parliamentary condemnation. As Taylor points out the mistreatment of these two women was not unique at the time.
Two articles on the Foundling Hospital established by Thomas Coram examine the use of tokens at the orphanage. The tokens ranged from bits of cloth to coins and jewellery, as well as actual copper or pewter tokens detailing the name and admission of the child. In Gillian Clark and Janette Bright’s article The Foundling Hospital and its Token System the authors look at the array of objects used as tokens in case the family wished to reclaim their abandoned child. while Maria Zytaruk in her article, Artifacts of Elegy: The Foundling Hospital Tokens, explores similar territory, and makes the depressing point that the token could also be used to guard against a charge of infanticide.
The Foundling Hospital (Wellcome Library http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0013443.html)
The Foundling Hospital is well served by the Bibliography, there are nearly 60 references ranging from histories of the hospital to Handel’s connection to the charity, as well as an autobiography of a foundling – The Last Foundling : The Memoir of an Underdog (see listing below).
We start this week with the latest volume from the Victoria County History, The History of the County of Somerset. Volume XI: Queen Camel and the Cadburys, edited by Mary Siraut. Michael Hicks and the editors discuss a comprehensive, indispensable, and almost definitive volume (no. 1879, with response here).
Next up is James Morone’s The Devils We Know: Us and Them in America’s Raucous Political Culture: Essays, and Karen Heath recommends a collection which will be indispensible for any scholar concerned with American contemporary social and political issues (no. 1878).
Then we turn to Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France by Robert J. Knecht. David Potter believes the world of Francis I has been the ideal domain for this lover of art and culture, collector of foibles, and superb teller of stories (à la Brantôme) to deploy his skills (no. 1877).
Finally we have Dan Stone’s The Liberation of the Camps: the End of the Holocaust and its Aftermath. Rainer Schulze reviews an engrossing book that is incredibly rich in survivor testimony (no. 1876).
Happy New Year! We start 2016 with Remembering the Irish Revolution: Dissent, Culture, and Nationalism in the Irish Free State by Frances Flanagan. Sean Ledwith and the author discuss a thoughtful and scholarly contribution to an understanding of a generation that tried to change the world (no. 1875, with response here).
Next up is Samantha Baskind’s Jewish Artists and the Bible in Twentieth-Century America, as Peter Webster praises a tightly focussed and coherent volume, which is also lavishly produced and a pleasure to hold (no. 1874).
Then we turn to Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert. Steve Cushion reviews a book which makes you think again about the shirt on your back, and wonder how much blood there is on it (no. 1873).
Finally we have Kate Loveman’s Samuel Pepys and his Books: Reading, Newsgathering, and Sociability, 1660-1703. Lena Liapi believes that this book will be of great interest to anyone working on the history of reading (no. 1872).
We begin this week with Recasting the Region: Language, Culture and Islam in Colonial Bengal by Neilesh Bose. Markus Daechsel and the author discuss an encyclopedic and important study (no. 1871, with response here).
Then we turn to Benjamin Pohl’s Dudo of St Quentin’s Historia Normannorum: History, Tradition and Memory. Elisabeth van Houts recommends an impressive debut from a medievalist of considerable talent (no. 1870).
Next up is The Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution, edited by Dave Andress, as Anne Byrne praises a convenient and scholarly starting-point for many different aspects of this turbulent epoch (no. 1869).
Finally Jess Prestidge reviews an original, thoroughly researched and highly readable addition to studies of Thatcher and Thatcherism, as she takes on God and Mrs Thatcher: The Battle for Britain’s Soul by Eliza Filby (no. 1868).
On 21 November, we held two simultaneous Wikipedia edit-a-thons in London and Leicester as part of the Being Human Festival. We did a lot of promotion of these events beforehand so we thought we should tell you how they went. An edit-a-thon is an event where editors get together to write or improve articles centred on a specific topic. These particular edit-a-thons were centred on local history and you can read about how we connected our theme with the overall Being Human Festival theme of “Hidden and Revealed” here. You can also read the story of the day via social media.
My colleagues Jessica Davies and Rebecca Read from Victoria County History (VCH), Jordan Landes from Senate House Library and I were all at the London event. Our Wikimedia UK accredited trainer was Edward Hands, and fellow trainer Jonathan Cardy was also there to lend a hand. The wonderful thing about Wikimedia trainers is that they are volunteers, so we are very grateful to Edward and Jonathan for coming along and teaching our attendees to edit Wikipedia. Overall, we were twenty-one people at the London event. We had a great mix of experienced Wikipedia editors and complete novices. The experienced editors were able to help the novices throughout the day.
The first half of the day was devoted to learning how to edit Wikipedia, especially how to make edits that will last—the secret is to provide references for all the additions you make to Wikipedia. Once they’d been trained, our attendees tried their hands at making some edits.
After lunch, VCH editor and training co-ordinator Adam Chapman gave attendees a quick introduction to the VCH, explaining the historical context of the project and how the volumes are organised. I followed by showing attendees how they could use British History Online (BHO) to search and read VCH, along with many other sources of local history. Since providing references is such a vital part to creating strong Wikipedia edits, we wanted our attendees to know about the rich resources that they can rely on when writing and improving Wikipedia articles, especially those resources that are freely accessible on BHO.
Here’s a list of the articles worked on just by the London attendees:
As for the Leicester event, they had ten people in total, including Pam Fisher from the Leicestershire VCH Trust, who helped us organise the Leicester branch. From the feedback we’ve received, it sounds like the Leicester event was just as much fun and just as productive as the London event. Their trainers were Doug Taylor and Roger Bamkin, who both did an excellent job. The only negative feedback we received is that the day should have been longer!
Overall, we all had a productive day, learned lots of new things and met some wonderful people. Thanks to everyone who helped with organisation, promotion and training. And thanks to all our attendees for making it such a great day.
We start with the aforementioned History of Drinking: The Scottish Pub Since 1700 by Anthony Cooke, as Callum Brown and the author discuss a well-written account of the commerce, sociability and drinking communities of the country (no. 1867, with response here).
Next up is John Van Atta’s Wolf by the Ears: The Missouri Crisis, 1819-1821. Matthew Mason recommends an outstanding one-volume introduction to the Missouri Crisis and Compromises (no. 1866).
Then we turn to The Logic of Political Conflict in Medieval Cities: Italy and the Southern Low Countries, 1370-1440 by Patrick Lantschner, as Laura Crombie praises a book which offers a new political account of the later Middle Ages (no. 1865).
Finally Thomas Colville reviews an engaging but flawed longue durée history of science, Steven Weinberg’s To Explain the World: the Discovery of Modern Science (no. 1864).
We start this week with Holy War, Martyrdom and Terror: Christianity, Violence and the West by Phillipe Buc, as Cecilia Gaposchkin and the author debate an enormously ambitious book (no. 1863, with response here).
Then we have another in our occasional podcast series, with Daniel Snowman talking to Peter Burke about the latter’s career and forthcoming book, What is the History of Knowledge? (no. 1862)
Next up is Stalin’s Agent: The Life and Death of Alexander Orlov by Boris Volodarsky. Andrei Znamenski recommends an erudite and meticulously researched study (no. 1861).
Finally Josh Ehrlich believes Barbarism and Religion: Volume 6, Barbarism: Triumph in the West by J. G. A. Pocock represents as monumental an achievement as could be hoped for from any historian in any age (no. 1860).