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Changing perceptions of motherhood: maternal concepts and realities

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As spring is traditionally the season associated with new life and fertility after the long winter months, now seems a timely moment to explore the latest academic publications on the subject of Motherhood featured in the Bibliography of British and Irish History. The vast majority of material produced recently on this topic covers the Tudor and early modern period, but the first resource presented here, Performative Rituals for Conception and Childbirth in England, 900–1500 concerns the medieval period.

Birth and death took central stage in medieval life and thought, and the practice of rituals for conception and safe pregnancy highlight a maternal (and paternal) concern that is easily understood today. The rituals range from verbal charms and religious benedictions (a popular charm was the peperit charm, that invoked the Holy Mothers of Mary and Elizabeth), to ingesting words written in cheese or butter, or placing physical objects upon the body. There is evidence that manuscripts were used as ‘birthing girdles’, wrapped around a woman’s midriff during pregnancy and possibly even labour, as can be seen in the manuscript Wellcome MS. 632. Most of these practices were largely in the female domain, but the article also includes medical charms advised by medieval surgeons and mendicant friars. The rituals highlight a medieval belief in the power of the spoken word, through incantations and charms; and the written word, through the haptic relationship between manuscripts and the body.

Moving away from the medieval period, there are two resources covering Tudor queens: Regarding Catherine of Aragon and Unanswered Prayers : A Cistercian Missal At York Minster Library. The first examines the life of Catherine, a women with a complex cultural heritage whose legacy as queen of England has rarely been scrutinised, yet strongly influenced the reign of both Mary and Elizabeth. The relationships between her mother, Isabella I of Spain, mother-in-law Elizabeth of York, and great mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort are also discussed, in terms of how their roles as ‘queen-as-mother’ impacted on Catherine’s public and private persona. The second resource discusses a manuscript containing handwritten Latin prayers for the safe pregnancy of Mary I, divided into three sections, oratio, secreta and postcommunio. The prayers were almost certainly disseminated from a printed book now held at Lambeth Palace Library. This dates the prayers from late 1554, when Mary was assumed to be pregnant with Philip of Spain’s child, and stands as a sad reminder of Mary’s (and catholic England’s) anticipation of a child that never came.  

A special issue of Women’s History Review features an article titled Social Negotiations in Correspondence between Mothers and Daughters in Tudor and Early Stuart England, examining mother-daughter relationships within the strict social confines of epistolary etiquette. These letters offer an intriguing glimpse into the social realities of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, with many offering maternal advice on specific situations regarding childbirth, marriage and inheritance. Interestingly, more letters from daughters than mothers survive, which may indicate that a mother’s advice is always much sought after! However, this article demonstrates that letters could also convey anger, and daughters could make their opinions perfectly clear, managing to defend their honour whilst still portraying the appropriate respect, through the templates provided in letter-writing manuals. The same journal issue also features From ‘Dearest Mama’ to ‘Dear Mother’ : changing styles in early twentieth-century letters from daughters to mothers, examining how letter writing changed in one generation, by looking at the correspondence between two members of the Strachey family, Philippa Strachey and her niece Elinor Rendel, written home to their mothers whilst travelling. Both articles reflect the social etiquette of their time, whilst underlining the importance of the mother-daughter bond.   

As migration to America increased during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the article From Birthing Chamber to Court Room: The Medical and Legal Communities of the Colonial Essex County Midwife draws attention to the issue of children born out of wedlock. Debunking the view that early modern midwives were regarded with suspicion and open to accusations of witchcraft, evidence from court records show that they held a respected position in the community. When attending the birth of an unmarried woman, it was their duty to repeatedly pressure the labouring woman to reveal the name of the father of the child. If successful, the midwife would then provide evidence in court against the accused father, with the authority of her statement seemingly being revered above all else. The calling to account of these men seems to stem from a worry that an economically fragile community would have to support these children born out of wedlock, rather than a sense of morality; although harsh punishments were meted out to both mother and father, in the form of fines or whippings. To bookend this article, Maternal Mortality in Six East Anglian Parishes, 1539-1619 examines the outcomes of a cross-section of women who gave birth in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and subsequently died, focussing on their community and social status, as well as the implications of multiple births, stillbirths and illegitimacy. Again, the role of midwives as respected and vital members of the community is highlighted, and the unwillingness of a parish to support an illegitimate child chimes with the previous article.

Nativity of the Virgin, London, British Library, Harley 629, f. 1v

Nativity of the Virgin, London, British Library, Harley 629, f. 1v

On a more spiritual theme, Literal and Spiritual Births : Mary as Mother in Seventeenth-Century Women’s Writing discusses how two Reformation women, Aemilia Lanyer and Dorothy Leigh, elevated Mary as not only the mother of God, but the deliverer of God’s plan for salvation, and therefore created a new metaphysical construction for maternity. A chapter in British Women and the Intellectual World in the Long Eighteenth Century titled Anxiety, Authorship, Authority : the Maternal Feminine and the Divine in Hannah More’s Sacred Dramas again challenges the notion of the feminine, albeit at times as an outright rejection of the maternal image. Hannah More, an eighteenth century writer and philanthropist, wrote her Sacred Dramas in 1782, and they can be interpreted as a revisioning of women in an era of patriarchal tradition. The dramatically titled Next week!! — : Desire, Domestic Melodrama, and the Extravagant Proliferations of East Lynne examines the Victorian novel East Lynne by Ellen Wood, and discusses the didactic message in the narrative that nineteenth-century wives and mothers should be satisfied with their domestic situation, however dull and stifling that may be.

"Invitation to attend antenatal classes" Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org

“Invitation to attend antenatal classes”
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Returning to more practical themes, Risky or Relaxing? Exercise during Pregnancy in Britain, c.1930–1960 investigates how physical activity gained popularity in the mid-twentieth century, and helped to overthrow the previous generation’s idea that pregnant women should be passive in their antenatal months. Love Beyond the Frame : Stories of Maternal Love Outside Marriage in the 1950s and 1960s gives an account of twenty women who raised children single-handed in the postwar decades, focusing on real issues such as housing and employment. The women who provided the oral testimonies were predominantly working class, and reflect the material hardships of the era, despite changing social values.

From the broad spectrum of resources above, the term ‘Motherhood’ embraces the themes of fertility, queenship, spirituality and economic realities. Search on the Bibliography of British and Irish History to discover more – try a simple subject search for ‘Motherhood’ (fig. 1), or use the subject tree on the advanced search to really drill down (fig. 2):

Screen shot of simple search for 'Motherhood'

Fig. 1. Screen shot of simple search for ‘Motherhood’

Screen shot of subject tree for advanced search

Fig. 2. Screen shot of subject tree for advanced search

Screen shot of latest resources for 'Motherhood'

Fig. 3. Screen shot of latest resources for ‘Motherhood’

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There is also a helpful video tutorial on using the Subject tree.

New reviews: Anglican COs, working class fathers, John Dee and post-Civil War black politics

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Gay, Arthur Wilson; The Conchie; Peace Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-conchie-21680

Gay, Arthur Wilson; The Conchie; Peace Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-conchie-21680

We begin this week with Clive Barrett’s Subversive Peacemakers, War Resistance 1914–1918: An Anglican Perspective. James Cronin and the author discuss a valuable scholarly contribution to the war’s hidden history documenting its half-forgotten subversive peacemakers (no. 1927, with response here).

Next up is Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914 by Julie-Marie Strange, as Emily Bowles praises a study which is important for understanding contemporary readings of fatherhood and parenting (no. 1926).

Then Sara Charles recommends an exhibition which does an excellent job of portraying Dee as a much-accomplished scholar as opposed to an eccentric occultist, as she reviews Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee (no. 1925).

Finally we have Reconstructing Democracy: Grassroots Black Politics in the Deep South after the Civil War by Justin Behrend. Erik Mathisen believes this work is the perfect place for scholars to begin the work of re-imagining the history of America’s most tortured historical moment (no. 1924).

BIGOT! Senate House Library seeks author of anonymous student pamphlet

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p4443Even amongst the extraordinary contents of the Ron Heisler collections, this strident little pamphlet rather stands out. It is the first and perhaps only issue of an underground magazine called, with arch provocativeness, Bigot. It is a remarkable mixture of sexual politics, suspicion of the establishment, vegetarian recipes and anti-nuclear propaganda. Something of its spirit and attitude can be discerned from the fact that the editorial has, by way of testimonial, an image of Karl Marx with a speech bubble containing the words, ‘Moist and fruity. A real corker’.

The content betrays a suspicion of authorities, the state and police in many different forms, with a cartoon depicting undercover police offers selling ‘dope’ to students in the hope of postponing the revolution; satisfied with their work, they walk away saying ‘Keep ‘em stoned, keep ‘em tame’. Even Winnie-the-Pooh is drawn into this position; with scant regard for the copyright of either A.A. Milne or E.H. Shepard, he is shown discussing how he would deal ‘with an angry police-person’, namely, ‘I would first bounce on him on my front, then turn over and bounce a little more.’

In other places, Bigot betrays a very powerful impatience with fellow students, for example haranguing a Saturday night crowd oblivious to the world situation and an international militaristic conspiracy: ‘They’re building a war. They’ve planned it. They’re ready, waiting, prepared. And all you do is DANCE.’

While arguably naïve, it is an intriguing document that illustrates with great immediacy the last generation of such publications, which would today be far more likely to be produced as blogs and online content. It is also, to the best of our knowledge, the only example of this or any other issue of Bigot to find its way to the security of a library shelf anywhere in the UK.

Moreover, reading it, one cannot help but warm to, and wonder about, the typist of these now fragile pages. The whole production is anonymous, and the author even remarks wryly that ‘due to anticipated C.I.D. investigations, I am a little less than enthusiastic to give my home address’. This statement does, however, give the best clue to the creator in that the postal address given is ‘Box D, Mandela House, Swansea University,’ a building that still functions as the Swansea University Students’ Union. The best hint of the date of its production is that the first article is an anti-capitalist exploration of the cause of the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise passenger ferry in 1987. From an angry passage where a P.E. teacher is recalled using ‘girls’ as an insult, and from the ensuing discussion, it is also clear that the writer is a man.

So, the staff of Senate House Library and IHR Digital would like to appeal to anyone who suspects they may know or remember the identity of a student who attended Swansea University in the late 1980s, was a socialist-minded vegetarian, and who may have written Bigot. We would love to unite the writer with a new crop of readers, and to hear whether this foray into alternative journalism had an influence on his later life.

Please email danny.millum@sas.ac.uk with any leads…

New reviews: C19 caricature, medieval marriage, fascist training and English Revolution

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Canine at the Westminster Pit - Lord Palmerston and Lord Derby

Canine at the Westminster Pit – Lord Palmerston and Lord Derby

We start this week with Henry Miller’s Politics Personified: Portraiture, Caricature and Visual Culture in Britain, c.1830-80. Tessa Kilgariff and the author discuss a book whose conclusions have implications not only for political historians but also art historians and scholars of social and cultural history (no. 1923, with response here).

Next up is Papacy, Monarchy and Marriage, 860-1600 by David d’Avray, as Sara Butler and the author robustly debate a comprehensive analysis of royal marriages and their dissolution (no. 1922, with response here).

Then we turn to Alessio Ponzio’s Shaping the New Man: Youth Training Regimes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Philip Morgan has some reservations about a new history of fascism (no. 1921).

Finally we have the Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution, edited by Michael Braddick, which Elliot Vernon believes to be a useful starting point for those seeking to expand their knowledge of an increasingly complicated field of study (no. 1920).

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

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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

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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

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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

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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. Using the Person as subject serach.

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

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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

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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).

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