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Symbolic Scratchings or Belligerent Literacy: Graffiti and its Interpretations

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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

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Screenshot of ‘graffiti’ resources

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

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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

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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

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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).

A new open access series with the Royal Historical Society

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The IHR has the great pleasure of announcing our partnership with the Royal Historical Society (RHS) to publish a new, open access series of monographs and shorter form works, further solidifying our commitment to open access.

ebookIHR

New Historical Perspectives will seek to publish works produced by early career scholars, and senior scholars who are collaborating with early career scholars. The new series will be defined by mentoring, extensive editing and support for contributors to the series through editorial panels and monograph workshops, ensuring high standards of peer-reviewed scholarship.

As a joint venture, the series will be published by the IHR and the RHS will provide editorial management and expertise. Books will be published in free digital formats and available for print purchase.

The RHS currently seeks a series Convenor to work closely with the series Board, authors and editors to provide mentoring and feedback.

More information regarding New Historical Perspectives and the opening date for submissions will be released shortly.

As the first publishing partnership of our rapidly developing open access initiative, the IHR and RHS share a vision of utilising open access as a means to disseminate high quality research which fulfils the needs of scholars and is accessible to as wide a readership as possible.

New reviews: Civil War, Ottoman Empire, Early Modern Catholics and C20 Archbishop

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May 1862:  Confederate and Union forces clashing during the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia.  (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

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).

Feast of St Brigid – 1st February

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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 saint and 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.

Fol. 22v

Detail from fol. 22r

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).

Like Gerald, Brigid herself was a great traveller, and was the patron saint of travellers and sailors. The network of religious connections she belonged to is further documented in Gender and Connectivity: Facilitating Religious Travel in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries.  Miracles associated with Brigid include the themes of farming and generosity, such as when she gave away her freshly churned butter to the needy, only to have it replenished through divine intervention, and the time she milked a cow three times in one day. Dairy themes are expanded further in Milk Symbolism in the Bethu Brigte. More controversially, she is linked with ‘abortion miracles’, explored in The Sexual Shame of the Chaste : ‘Abortion Miracles’ in Early Medieval Saints’ Lives. Iconography associated with Brigid include the reed cross (pictured below), crozier and lamp. She died on 1st February of natural causes, and in the 9th century her relics were interred with the tomb of Patrick and Columba.

 

To research more about the legend of St Brigid, visit the Bibliography of British and Irish History and use the advanced search feature to explore the many resources:

 

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Screenshot of subject search for ‘Brigid’

 

Screenshot of resources available for 'Brigid'

Screenshot of resources available for ‘Brigid’

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New reviews: asylums, British soldiers, Puritans and nuns

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franco_basag-0ada2212b731c0e87805d69c2d9f6756

Franco Basaglia

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).

Hades! The Ladies: Draper’s clerks, police, foundlings and nursery education

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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.

hades

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 Alone uses the diary extensively.

Again using autobiographical materials, Eloise Mossa’s The scrapbooking detective: Frederick Porter Wensley and the limits of ‘celebrity’ and ‘authority’ in inter-war Britain  follows the approach of the clerical articles above in that it explores the detective’s use of his scrapbooks in publishing his autobiography, Detective Days, (1931). Furthermore, Mossa looks at Wensley’s creation of  his own celebrity status through his memoirs and newspaper columns.

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 (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).

Continuing the topic of young children, Pam Jarvis and Betty Liebovich, explore the origins of the modern nursery school in England, focusing upon the early efforts of the Nursery School Association and the work of Margaret McMillan and Grace Owen in British Nurseries, Head and Heart: McMillan, Owen and the genesis of the education/care dichotomy. Amy Palmer neatly continues the theme (in chronology and subject) in her article Nursery schools or nursery classes? Choosing and failing to choose between policy alternatives in nursery education in England, 1918–1972.

As usual, all relevant material can be found in the Bibliography of British and Irish History. Searching for the Foundling Hospital use the Place name tree.

 

BBIH foundling

New reviews: Somerset, US politics, Francis I and concentration camps

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Badon_CadburyCastle02_fullWe 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).

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