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New reviews: Medieval romance, Brits and apartheid, Puritans and Democrats


random34We start this week with Michael Johnston’s Romance and the Gentry in Late Medieval England, as Katie Bridger and the author discuss an insightful, fascinating contribution to our understanding of the world of the gentry (no. 1859, with response here).

Then we have a great interview by Jordan Landes with Elizabeth Williams, talking about her most recent book, The Politics of Race in Britain and South Africa, which examines British support for the anti-apartheid movement among its own black communities (no. 1858).

Next is The Crisis of British Protestantism: Church Power in the Puritan Revolution, 1638–44 by Hunter Powell. James Mawdesley praises a fine work of scholarship, which will surely become essential reading for those investigating the religious politics of the British Isles at a critical moment in their histories (no. 1857).

Finally we have Lily Geismer’s Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party, and Patrick Andelic believes this timely, original and richly detailed book should be required reading for all those seeking to understand the modern Democratic Party (no. 1856).

Revealing local history


DD-SAS c212-10-1 map for web

There is still time to sign up for one of our Being Human edit-a-thons in London and Leicester on 21 November.

As part of the Being Human Festival, British History Online (BHO), Senate House Library (SHL) and Victoria County History (VCH) will be leading two simultaneous Wikipedia edit-a-thons in London and Leicester on 21 November. An edit-a-thon is an event where editors get together to write or improve articles centred on a specific topic. We will provide training in editing Wikipedia and no prior experience is necessary. The theme of our edit-a-thons will be local history, which will involve both editing articles about particular places, but also editing articles about the practice of local history in the UK.

The idea to have a local history Wikipedia edit-a-thon first occurred to us when we had a Wikipedia training session at the IHR way back in March. Our trainer was Edwardx (who conveniently will also be the London trainer for this coming edit-a-thon) and during our session we were amazed at how easy the process of editing and improving Wikipedia articles was after a little bit of training. Jessica Davies and Rebecca Read from VCH were thinking of ways they could improve articles about various aspects of local history, and I was thinking about how to encourage more editors to consult BHO since Wikipedia encourages citing online, accessible materials where possible. Following the session, the three of us agreed that the theme of local history would an interesting one for an edit-a-thon. We envisioned local historians, Wikipedia editors, students and academics all coming together and learning from each other. The Being Human Festival, with its focus on the humanities’ ability to inspire and enrich our everyday lives, seemed like a natural fit for the event we were dreaming up.  Jordan Landes, the history librarian at SHL, had organised the initial training for us and kindly offered to help facilitate the edit-a-thon. Soon we were partnering with a team in Leicester, and taking the edit-a-thon beyond our immediate vicinity and bringing it to a national scale.

We’ll admit we were slightly stumped about whether our events would relate to this year’s Being Human Festival theme, “Hidden and Revealed.” But we quickly realised that the goal of revealing is already behind the work that we do.

2006_0731Image0006_1We believe local history should be cared for and preserved in archives, but it should not remain there. It is our communal responsibility to study history, to learn from it and to share it. With the VCH volumes, authors comb local archives and untangle the history of places in order to present those histories to the public in the form of the VCH red books. What is that if not a process of revelation? They take something that might not be hidden per se but rather, difficult to access, and reveal the history of a parish, a hundred, or a county in a clear, encyclopaedic format.

Similarly, by digitising the red books, BHO further reveals these histories by allowing VCH texts to be freely accessible from anywhere in the world. One of my responsibilities at BHO is to manage our email account, and I love receiving emails like the one from the Australian woman who found the history of the small village where her great-grandmother was born, or from the mayor who learned new things about his own town, or from the homeowners who discovered the rich history of the place where they live, or from the elderly man who is brought back to his schooldays. To all those people and many more, uncovering the history of where they come from is nothing short of a revelation.

And finally, Wikipedia—one of the most visited websites in the world—is driven by a desire to make human knowledge accessible to everyone. Wikipedia relies on source material like VCH, and BHO content is already heavily cited across the site. Wikipedia democratises the construction of knowledge by allowing articles to be edited by anyone from anywhere in the world.

So to us, the revelation of the hidden is about understanding the history of where we come from and sharing that with each other. Our goal in these events is for everyone to feel like they can participate in the creation of their own history. One thing I have learned since being at BHO is that British history is never only British; and local history is never only local. We are connected on a global level and we share a global history, which might begin with the local but it never stays there.

Follow the edit-a-thons on Twitter with the hashtag #revealinglocal.

This post has been edited since a third event in Gloucester has been cancelled.

New reviews: Henrykow Book, C18 satirical prints, Nixon and Europe, origins of Europe


henrykowWe start with The Text and the World: The Henryków Book, Its Authors, and their Region, 1160-1310 by Piotr S. Gorecki. Shami Ghosh and the author discuss a work which succeeds magnificently in providing a history of a European monastic institution that serves as an example of European history within a larger, overarching framework (no. 1855, with response here).

Next up is John Richard Moores’ Representations of France in English Satirical Prints 1740-1832, and James Baker finds much to recommend in this lively volume (no. 1854).

We then turn to Richard Nixon and Europe: The Reshaping of the Postwar Atlantic World by Luke A. Nichter. Robert Ledger believes this to be an excellent study of the transatlantic relationship during this period and a fine addition to the historiography of the Nixon Presidency (no. 1853, with response here).

Finally we have a review article on the origins of the landscape of Paris by Anthony Nardini, covering Planning the Greenspaces of Nineteenth-Century Paris by Richard S. Hopkins and How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean (no. 1852).

New reviews: Orthodox Church, Jefferson, Cuba, medieval textiles and Galileo revisited


Gentile_Bellini_003We begin with a response by Christopher Black to an earlier review of Thomas Mayer’s The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo.

We then turn to Render unto the Sultan: Power, Authority and the Greek Orthodox Church in the early Ottoman Centuries by Tom Papademetriou, and Jonathan Harris tackles a book with a credible new thesis, but which contains significant methodological flaws (no 1851).

Next up is Democracy’s Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, all the while being Dead by Andrew Burstein. David Houpt reviews an interesting and relevant analysis of the politics of historical memory (no. 1850).

Steve Cushion then discusses two very different books on modern Cuba, as he reviews Revolutionary Cuba: A History by Luis Martínez Fernández and Leadership in the Cuban Revolution: The Unseen Story by Antoni Kapcia (no. 1849, with response here).

Finally we have Dressing the Part: Textiles as Propaganda in the Middle Ages, edited by Kate Dimitrova and Margaret Goehring. Janet Snyder believes that despite some structural drawbacks, this collection is an important publication (no. 1848).

Representing TOBIAS: our new AHRC-funded project building on the Bibliography of British and Irish History



Cropped image of ‘‘Tobias and Sara on their Wedding Night’ (Germany, c.1520).

Finding an image to represent a new research project can be something of a challenge, particularly when that project does not have any strong visual focus. How do you illustrate linked open data without resorting to stock photos of networks and circuits which ultimately do nothing other than fill space? The Thesaurus of British and Irish History as SKOS, which is supported by follow-on funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has the acronym TOBIAS (you will, I hope, forgive us for quietly overlooking H for History). It is this that we have chosen to draw upon, using the stained glass depiction of ‘Tobias and Sara on their Wedding Night’ (Germany, c.1520) that forms part of the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is a peaceful image from what is a far from peaceful story. The Book of Tobit (or Tobias) is a scriptural work included in the Apocrypha, declared canonical by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Tobias depicted in the 16th-century stained glass panel is the son of the pious Tobit. Tobias marries his cousin Sara despite the fact that all seven of her previous husbands have been consumed by demons on their wedding night. With the help of the archangel Raphael, and the fumes from burning the heart and liver of a fish, the demons are driven away, and the marriage prospers. The small dog curled up at the foot of the bed had travelled with Tobias from his homeland, and art historians believe that its inclusion here may be a reference to fidelity and marriage. The image as a whole, complete with a pair of shoes left beside the bed, gives no indication of the horrible fate that has just been avoided.

More information about the stained glass panel and its history may be found at Tobias’s small dog has also attracted some attention online, with a lovely Tumblr devoted to its appearances in art ( and a short piece in the Huffington Post speculating that it might in fact be an angel ( Finally, for details of the project itself, do take a look at

New reviews: C19 cities, Austro-Hungary in WW1, civil rights and Carolingian religion


5We start this week with The Demographic Imagination and the Nineteenth Century City. Paris, London, New York by Nicholas Daly. Martin Hewitt and the author discuss a rich and rewarding new book (no. 1847, with response here).

Then we turn to Marvin Benjamin Fried’s Austro-Hungarian War Aims in the Balkans during World War I, and Mesut Uyar reviews a book which will be of value to scholars of Austria-Hungary and generalists alike (no. 1846).

Next up is Power, Politics, and the Decline of the Civil Rights Movement: A Fragile Coalition, 1967-1973 by Christopher P. Lehman. Emma Folwell believes this study provides an engaging and much-needed narrative of the fate of national Civil Rights organisations (no. 1845).

Finally Benjamin Pohl recommends Felice Lifshitz’s Religious Women in Early Carolingian Francia: A Study of Manuscript Transmission and Monastic Culture, a fine and well-argued piece of scholarship (no. 1844).

New reviews: Civil War, Dissenters, Presbyterians and Indian Ocean


abraham-lincoln-civil-war-1We start this week with Don H. Doyle’s Cause of all Nations: An International History of the American Civil War, as Martin Crawford and the author discuss a persuasive account of the American Civil War’s contemporary significance (no. 1843, with response here).

Next up is The Dissenters Volume III: The Crisis and Conscience of Nonconformity by Michael R. Watts. D. Densil Morgan praises a fitting epitaph to a life-long academic venture (no. 1842).

Then we turn to Benjamin Bankhurst’s Ulster Presbyterians and the Scots Irish Diaspora, 1750-1764, with David Dickson reviewing a short but tantalizing monograph which shows the importance of this general field, and presents a fascinating case study within it (no. 1841).

Finally we have Ocean of Trade: South Asian Merchants, Africa and the Indian Ocean, c1750-1850 by Pedro Machado. Gerard McCann believes this book succeeds in its aim to do ‘global history from a regional perspective’ (no. 1840).

Opening the book: reading and the evolving technology(ies) of the book


academicbookwhiteonblack-eps1In celebration of the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books, the first ever Academic Book Week is being held from 9 to 16 November 2015. A range of activities and events are being organised throughout October and November, tackling subjects such as ‘Curious books’, the trustworthiness of Wikipedia, the future of the English PhD, and the role and history of the university press (see, for more information).

On Tuesday 10 November, the School of Advanced Study, University of London is hosting a debate focusing on how the evolving technology(ies) of the book have affected the ways that we read. A panel of six speakers – Professor Sarah Churchwell (School of Advanced Study, University of London), Professor Justin Champion (Royal Holloway, University of London), Dr Martin Eve (Birkbeck, University of London), Dr Stephen Gregg (Bath Spa University), Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge (University of East Anglia) and Pip Willcox (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford) – will consider the many different kinds of books which are read in an academic context, from text books to edited collections, from monographs to scholarly editions, from novels to handbooks. There will also be plenty of time for audience discussion, beginning with formal responses from early career researchers for whom these questions will be of enormous importance in years to come.

Registration for the event is free, but places are limited so do book online now ( If you’re not able to attend in person, key elements of the debate will be published subsequently on the Academic Book Week website. You can also follow this and other events on Twitter throughout the week, using the hashtag #AcBookWeek.

This event is being organised as part of Opening the Book: the Future of the Academic Monograph, an international multi-centred debate. Academic Book Week itself is the centrepiece of this year’s activity on the two-year AHRC/British Library Academic Future of the Academic Book project (

New reviews: Unemployment, Christian missions, Latin law and Galileo


homeless_1625213cWe start this week with Unemployment, Welfare, and Masculine Citizenship: ‘So Much Honest Poverty’ in Britain, 1870-1930 by Marjorie Levine-Clark. Nicole Longpré and the author discuss a book which will appeal to those working in fields across the history of modern Britain (no. 1839, with response here).

Next up is Karen Vallgårda’s Imperial Childhoods and Christian Mission: Education and Emotions in South India and Denmark. John Stuart recommends an impressive book, distinguished by wide and close reading and by innovative methodology (no. 1838).

Then we turn to Law and History in the Latin East by Peter Edbury, which Stephen Donnachie extols as an erudite collection, of vast benefit to any who wish to investigate further the law and history of the Latin East (no. 1837).

Finally we have Thomas F. Mayer’s The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo. Maurice Finocchiaro cautions against accepting the thesis of a flawed and provocative book (no. 1836).

New reviews: Renaissance, TV multiculturalism, Book of Common Prayer and Cold War diplomacy


ruggiero2We begin this week with The Renaissance in Italy: a Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento by Guido Ruggiero. Stephen Bowd and the author discuss a new social and cultural history of Italy between 1250 and 1575 (no. 1835, with response here).

Next up is The Vision of a Nation: Making Multiculturalism on British Television by Gavin Schaffer. Stephen Brooke praises a superb book which scholars of race in Britain and culture in Britain will find indispensable (no. 1834).

Then we turn to Richard Baxter’s Reformed Liturgy: A Puritan Alternative to the Book of Common Prayer by Glen J. Segger. Benjamin Guyer believes this book makes an important contribution to both the study of early modern liturgy and the history of English religious controversy (no. 1833)

Finally, we have Martin Folly’s Historical Dictionary of U.S. Diplomacy During the Cold War. Thomas Tunstall Allcock recommends, with caveats, a hugely useful work and a remarkable achievement for a single-authored volume (no. 1832).

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