The IHR Blog |

IHR Digital


New IHR Digital and Senate House Library collaboration – The Ron Heisler collection

by

Collage3Following on from IHR Digital and Senate House Library’s successful collaboration last year (Fashion and consumption in the First World War: Department store catalogues 1916-17), we have been working together again to produce a new resource showcasing the digitised highlights of the Ron Heisler pamphlet collection.

This collection of political ephemera, built up by Heisler over the last 50 years and still being added to by regular deposits of pamphlet-stuffed plastic bags, currently consists of approximately 25,000 books, 20,000 pamphlets, 3,000 journal and newspaper titles and a quantity of ephemera, published by or relating to labour and radical political movements, and to political expression in art, drama and literature.

The collection is particularly strong for Britain and Ireland, and includes items published by radical groups, friendly societies and the Chartists from the late-18th to the 20th centuries, and many publications of Trotskyist groups, the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party from the early to mid-20th century. From the 1960s and 1970s, the holdings of New Left material are very extensive, and there are some uncommon publications from the women’s movement. The collection further covers Africa, particularly South Africa; Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and the West Indies; France, Germany, Italy and Spain (notably the Spanish Civil War); and the former Soviet Union. A substantial proportion of material in the collection was published in very small quantities, and some is scarce.

In order to promote the collection, the cataloguing of which is still ongoing, a selection of the most striking pamphlet covers have been digitised, and made available on a new web resource produced by the IHR Digital team (http://www.history.ac.uk/exhibitions/heislercollection/). Where possible contextual information about the pamphlets, and the issues they cover, has been provided.

The resource aims to give an example of the treasure trove of material that lies within the collection, to illustrate how ephemera can perform as unique type of historical source material, and to act as an introduction to the wider Senate House Library Radical Voices project. Over the next year, under the Radical Voices umbrella, SHL plans to produce a series of events and resources centring around its various collections in this area – including the Grote library, the books and papers of pacifist Caroline Playne, the archive of Afro-Trinidadian journalist, activist and historian C. L. R. James, the Booth library, and many more – as well as drawing in other similar collections from across London.

Anyone interested in finding out more about this resource, or the Heisler collection, can contact danny.millum@sas.ac.uk.

New reviews: socialism and consumerism, Louisa Adams, early modern women and the home front

by

workbuyconsumedieWe start with Noel Thompson’s Social Opulence and Private Restraint: the Consumer in British Socialist Thought Since 1800, as Jamie Melrose and the author debate a survey of the Left’s attitude to the worker-consumer in the heyday and beyond of British industrial society (no. 1919, with response here).

Next up we have a review article on The Other Mrs Adams, as Todd Webb reviews five biographies of Louisa Catherine Adams (no. 1918).

Then we turn to Challenging Orthodoxies: The Social and Cultural Worlds of Early Modern Women: Essays Presented to Hilda L. Smith, edited by Sigrun Haude and Melinda Zook, which Charmian Mansell praises as an important book that both celebrates and builds upon the work of Hilda Smith (no. 1917).

Finally Peter Grant and editors Maggie Andrews and Janis Lomas discuss The Home Front in Britain: Images, Myths and Forgotten Experiences since 1914, a wide-ranging survey which challenges some of the misconceptions we hold about the two home fronts (no. 1916, with response here).

New reviews: Poland / Lithuania, 1837, British tears and WW1 culture

by

SzlachtaVoivodshipsWe begin this week with The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania. Volume 1: The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1385-1569 by Robert Frost. Paul Knoll and the author debate an outstanding contribution to the history of east central Europe (no. 1915, with response here).

Then we turn to Jessica Lepler’s The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis, and Joanna Cohen praises a book which utilises a new approach to the history of capitalism, interrogating economic concepts as cultural and linguistic constructions (no. 1914).

Next up is Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears by Thomas Dixon. Hannah Rose Woods and the author discuss a book which sets out to dispel the ‘persistent myth’ of Britain as a nation of emotionally repressed stoics (no. 1913, with response here).

Finally Pip Gregory reviews Humor, Entertainment, and Popular Culture during World War I, edited by Clémentine Tholas-Disset and Karen A. Ritzenhoff, which she finds a thoroughly enjoyable book offering insight and interest for cultural historians of the Great War the world over (no. 1912).

Two actors, two plays

by

Although Samuel Foote and Ira Aldridge may seem an improbable pairing, both have featured in recent plays on the London stage. Foote, an eighteenth-century actor and playwright, is portrayed in Mr Foote’s Other Leg, played by Simon Russell Beale, while Ira Aldridge, the nineteenth-century African-American actor, appears in Red Velvet  played by Adrian Lester.

Scene from Taste in a painting by Robert Smirke. Lady Pentweazel, played by Foote.

Scene from Taste in a painting by Robert Smirke. Lady Pentweazel, played by Foote.

Both had dramatic lives to equal any play. Strangely, both performed Othello, Foote in 1744 to “universal applause” (although the run itself was ultimately unsuccessful), while 90 years later Aldridge made his West End debut in the same play to a favourable audience response but hostile press reaction. Foote went on to develop his own acting company and penned his own satires mocking the society of the day, fellow actors and the craze for auctions and the arts and antiquities market. His satirical and, not so subtle, attacks on society were to end in trouble when he crossed swords with Elizabeth Chudleigh, duchess of Kingston, during her trial for bigamy. The play, Mr Foote’s Other Leg, is an ironic reference to the loss of a leg after a horse riding accident. Undeterred, Foote continued to act and used two wooden legs; one a simple leg, the other decorated with a silk stocking and buckled shoe (for use on stage). Published rumours of homosexuality, followed by a charge from one of his servants in similar vein, wrecked his spirit. Though cleared of all charges he was to die soon after.

Ira Aldridge as Aaron in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.

Ira Aldridge as Aaron in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Aldridge, born in New York City, moved to England in 1824, and in the following year he made his stage debut in The Revolt of Surinam, or, A Slave’s Revenge, playing Oronooko. After the failure of his 1833 Othello he toured much of Europe, returning to Britain to a much more respectful press. He died in Poland, while on tour, in 1867.

Both actors are represented in BBIH, coincidently with 16 references each.

BBIh-foote

BBIH aldridge

Despite the danger of becoming a mere plugger for the London theatre scene, I can’t help but note that a play about the life of actress and royal mistress, Nell Gwynn, is also appearing on the London stage, so it may be that another post on actresses  in the British theatre beckons.

New reviews: Churchill, popular music, Chinese intellectuals and George Washington

by

indian armyWe begin with Churchill on the Far East in the Second World War: Hiding the History of the ‘Special Relationship’ by Cat Wilson, which Chandar Sundaram believes to be an excellent treatment of Churchill’s historical sleight of hand (no. 1911, with response here).

Then we turn to Irene Morra’s Britishness, Popular Music and National Identity: the Making of Modern Britain. Paul Martin believes anyone with an interest in popular music and culture or the mores of identity should find this a rewarding and convincing read (no. 1910).

Next up is Shakhar Rahav’s The Rise of Political Intellectuals in Modern China: May Fourth Societies and the Roots of Mass-Party Politics, as Chris Courtney and the author debate a thought provoking and original analysis, a valuable addition to both Chinese and intellectual history (no. 1909, with response here).

Finally we have Addressing America: George Washington’s Farewell and the Making of National Culture, Politics, and Diplomacy, 1796-1852 by Jeffrey J. Malanson. Steve Tuffnell and the author discuss a volume which will be vital reading for those interested in American conceptions of their republic’s role in international affairs (no. 1908, with response here).

New reviews: Russian radio, Australian settlers, German revolution and medieval robots

by

russianradioWe begin this week with Russia in the Microphone Age: A History of Soviet Radio, 1919-1970 by Stephen Lovell, as Allan Jones and the author debate an engrossing history of Soviet broadcasting (no. 1907, with response here).

Next up is Angela Woollacott’s Settler Society in the Australian Colonies: Self-Government and Imperial Culture. Bernard Attard and the author discuss a stimulating and thought-provoking study of the nature and dynamics of settler colonialism (no. 1906, with response here).

Then we turn to Germany 1916-23: A Revolution in Context, edited by Klaus Weinhauer, Anthony McElligott and Kirsten Heinsohn. Alex Burkhardt believes the editors have fulfilled their brief to provide an impetus for new ‘cultural-historical’ directions in research on the German Revolution (no. 1905).

Finally we have E. R. Truitt’s Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art, which Stefano Gulizia praises as an evocative book, the first survey of its kind in the English-speaking academic world (no. 1904).

Symbolic Scratchings or Belligerent Literacy: Graffiti and its Interpretations

by

The theme of graffiti seems to be a popular topic of late, and a search on the Bibliography reveals the interesting array of material that has been published recently. The term ‘graffiti’ often has negative connotations in our modern society as an act of vandalism, but the OED definition of a graffito is ‘a drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface’, and, as the following resources show, represent a number of different purposes.

A book chapter in England and Rome in the Early Middle Ages titled Anglo-Saxons Underground: Early Medieval Graffiti in the Catacombs of Rome explores the Anglo-Saxon trend of pilgrimage to the sacred burial tombs of the early Christian martyrs. As the catacombs of Rome were manipulated architecturally and visually to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of worshippers, pilgrims added their own marks by way of graffiti; creating an eternal link between themselves and the saint, long after they had returned to their homeland. From the four hundred or so medieval inscriptions identified, twenty-six Anglo-Saxon names have so far been recorded, including one female name. The names have been written in an uncial script with insular letter forms (four in runic letters), suggesting they were etched between the 7th-9th century. In the catacombs of Commodilla, twelve Anglo-Saxon inscriptions have been found grouped together on the fresco of St Luke, suggesting a band of English pilgrims travelling en masse. In the tombs of SS Marcellinus and Peter, the female name Fagihild was found written in runic letters among ten Anglo-Saxon names. From sources such as the The English Correspondence of Saint Boniface, it is clear that women often made pilgrimages to Rome, yet it is still satisfying to find physical evidence of Anglo-Saxon women travelling alongside their male peers. Further analysis is required to discern whether the name was inscribed by the woman herself or by a companion, raising further questions of literacy amongst women in this period

However, not all acts of inscription had a spiritual purpose. The book chapter Amiatinus in Italy : The Afterlife of an Anglo-Saxon Book in Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent charts the story of the Codex Amiatinus, a vulgate bible created in Wearmouth-Jarrow under the abbacy of Ceolfrith in the eighth century. Intended as a gift for Pope Gregory II, the codex disappeared shortly after Ceolfrith’s death en route. The huge manuscript, measuring almost twenty inches high, re-emerged in the ninth century in an abbey in Tuscany. Close scrutiny of the dedication page in the Amiatinus has revealed that the original name ‘Ceolfrith of the English’ was deliberately erased, and replaced with ‘Peter of the Lombards’, concealing its Anglo-Saxon origins for centuries (pictured left, click to enlarge).

Medieval graffiti in churches has inspired much academic interest of late, with the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey documenting a growing corpus of inscriptions that have formed the basis of several articles. Matthew Champion has produced an abundance of material, such as Medieval Graffiti : the Lost Voices of Britain’s Churches, The Graffiti Inscriptions of St Mary’s Church, Troston and Medieval Ship Graffiti in English Churches : Interpretation and Function. The ship motif features significantly in medieval churches and is explored further in Graffiti and Devotion in Three Maritime Churches. While it is clear that these etchings have an apotropaic function, serving as a symbol to avert evil, these marks are open to multiple interpretations. Are they requesting protection for or giving thanks for a safe voyage? Could they be associated with a maritime guild? Churches are intrinsically linked to the nautical world, with the word ‘nave’ coming from the Latin word ‘navis’ meaning ship, which may go some way to explain why so many ship images appear in churches so far inland. To modern tastes, the act of carving a personal image (particularly in a church) may seem like an act of vandalism, but to medieval thinking it was an act of piety; a way of interacting with very fabric of the church. This is demonstrated in primary sources such as The Life of Christina of Markyate, where Christina is recorded as scratching the sign of the cross on a monastery door with her fingernails to mark her devotion to the church.

While most graffiti in churches serves as an act of piety, there is a dark side. The article Ill Wishing on the Walls: the Medieval Graffiti Curses of Norwich Cathedral highlights three inscriptions found in different locations in the cathedral, written in pre-reformation script with inverted lettering. Of the three inscriptions, one is particularly well preserved, clearly spelling the name ‘Keynfford’ upside down and back-to-front, with an astrological symbol underneath (See NMGS image 37). Whilst examples of book curses from this period have been well documented, curses in churches may prove an interesting new area of research.

Stonemasons’ Drawings on Building Fabric : Diversity, Form and Function provides a practical insight into how stonemasons used their working space as a template for grand building designs, and carries a reminder that many creators of graffiti were not necessarily literate. This theme is also explored in The Apotropaic Symbolled Threshold to Nevern Castle – Castell Nanhyfer, an article that probes deeper into the significance of incorporating talismans into new buildings. The Monastery of Durham and the Wider World : Medieval Graffiti in the Prior’s Chapel is an interesting analysis of graffiti revealed behind plastered wall-paintings in the prior’s lodging, which at times was used as an administration base. Therefore the graffiti seems to hold little apotropaic value, but seem to represent a fascinating snapshot of the various members of religious and lay community who used this space, and carved out their marks, perhaps in moments of idleness.

Book Destruction from the Medieval to the Contemporary contains an extremely entertaining chapter titled Belligerent Literacy, Bookplates, and Graffiti: Dorothy Helbarton’s Book, concerning a 16th-century text of the Brut Chronicle, with the interesting addition of more than 60 marginal inscriptions bearing the name Dorothy Helbarton. While marginalia or glosses were considered helpful additions to the understanding of texts, as in the C version of Piers Plowman pictured on the right, in this instance the scrawling of Dorothy (or rather her scribe), seems to be an aggressive act of declaring ownership, with little interest in the textual material.

Moving on from early modern times, Graffiti of British Ships at La Aljaferia Castle details the intricate inscriptions left behind by prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars on the walls were they were held captive, and Gendered Graffiti at Kilmainham discusses the graffiti left by the women prisoners during the Irish Civil War. Words and phrases of nationalist sentiments were feminised by the women to represent their involvement, and perhaps as a way of avoiding being airbrushed out of the historical narrative. Finally, ‘Hitler Loves Musso’, and Other Civilian Wartime Sentiments : the Archaeology of Second World War Air-Raid Shelters and their Graffiti in Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology gives an insight into how air-raid shelters served as communal places to while away the time during the bombings; amongst the anti-Hitler daubings, there are drawings of Disney characters, mathematical sums for children and games of noughts and crosses.

Through all of these resources, what is notable is that while graffiti marks serve a wide and varied purpose, they also represent the often unrecorded story of the ordinary people, who may have been illiterate or poor, but have nevertheless made their voice heard through the scratchings on a surface. For a comprehensive list of all resources available, please visit the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

Screenshot of 'graffiti' search

Screenshot of ‘graffiti’ search

graff

Screenshot of ‘graffiti’ resources

Back to top

New reviews: Artist and Empire, Anglicans, Cyprus and the League of Nations

by

artist_and_empire_tragopan_17698_largeWe start this week with Miles Taylor’s long-anticipated review of Artist and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, as he praises a thought-provoking exhibition (running until 10 April), one of the best historically-themed shows that Tate Britain has done for some years (no. 1903).

Next up is Anglican Enlightenment: Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and its Empire, 1648–1715 by William Bulman. David Magliocco and the author discuss one of the most important interventions in late 17th–century studies in the last decade (no. 1902, with response here).

Next up is David French’s Fighting EOKA: The British Counter-Insurgency Campaign on Cyprus, 1955-1959. Andrekos Varnava reviews an engaging, thorough and, thankfully, not overly long read (no. 1901).

Finally, we have The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pedersen, and Peter Yearwood recommends a book written with clarity and precision, and featuring compelling themes and illuminating detail (no. 1900).

 

New reviews: 3000 years of finance, medieval Welsh soldiers, literary salons and Salmonella

by

South_Sea_BubbleWe begin with A Concise History of International Finance: From Babylon to Bernanke by Larry Neal, as Andrew Mcdiarmid reviews an engaging narrative that charts the evolution of finance from the personal to the impersonal (no. 1899).

Then we turn to Adam Chapman’s Welsh Soldiers in the Later Middle Ages. Christopher Allmand and the author discuss a book which transcends the geographical limits implied in its title (no. 1898, with response here).

Next up is Amy Prendergast’s Literary Salons Across Britain and Ireland in the Long Eighteenth Century, with Rachel Wilson enjoying a thought-provoking read, whose comparative approach gives it an edge and a freshness (no. 1897).

Finally Mick Worboys recommends a book which offers fascinating and novel insights into domestic life as he reviews Salmonella Infections, Networks of Knowledge and Public Health in Britain, 1880-1975 by Anne Hardy (no. 1896).

New reviews: Labour Party, Europeana, Early Modern accounting and slavery

by

corbynWe kick off this week with the History of the Labour Party by Andrew Thorpe, as Christopher Massey and the author discuss the most up-to-date study on the 115-year lifetime of the Labour Party (no. 1895, with response here).

Then we have a review of the digital resource Europeana Newspapers. Bob Nicholson and editor Clemens Neudecker discuss this flawed but fantastic tool (no. 1894, with response here).

Next up is Accounting for Oneself: Worth, Status, and the Social Order in Early Modern England by Alexandra Shepard. Mark Hailwood is impressed by a book which grasps the nettle of thinking about the kind of processes of macro-historical change that historians have largely shied away from in the past two decades (no. 1893).

Following this there is Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States by Ira Berlin. William Skidmore believes this book provides a provocative and powerful framework that scholars will use to rewrite the history of American slavery’s demise (no. 1892).

Finally we have George Molyneux’s response to Nicole Marafioti’s review from last week of Formation of the English kingdom in the 10th century (no. 1890).

< Older Posts

Newer Posts >