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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).

Students and the digital edition. A polemic.


academicbookweekThis post has kindly been provided for us by Dr Stephen Gregg of Bath Spa University, and is the text of a talk given to the panel session ‘Opening the book: reading and the evolving technology(ies) of the book’ as part of Academic Book Week.

I want to talk about the undergraduate perspective on a particular kind of academic book – the edition. In fact my starting point is that, from the student perspective (and according to some scholars), there is no longer a clear idea of what that is.

The place and perceived value of the printed critical edition seems to be still firmly established. I once asked my students to identify and compare value markers of their printed text in front of them and of an online version of the same text, and they made a pretty good case for the printed text, citing everything from the name of the publisher, to modes of reading, navigation, and interaction, and even pointing to the durability of its medium. And this in a digital humanities module. However, asking them to tell me how and why either of these versions look the way they do was a far more tricky question. So my polemic will be a plea for teaching in a way that puts students themselves in the position of editors and curators of literary texts: and that the best way of doing this is an engagement with digital editing and curating.

But first, I’m going to begin by outlining how a dramatic rise in the online availability of our literary heritage drives certain changes in reading and studying practices.[1] When a lot of academics are running to catch up with the accelerating process in disseminating the world’s literary heritage online – even in their own field, and I include myself – is it any wonder that our students, stepping off the path of the printed set text, also find themselves slightly taken aback and click on the top hit in Google? Because there is indeed a chaotic mass of types of texts they can find. In addition to catalogue entries and Amazon hits, there are texts from web sites and web ventures that essentially depend upon some form of commercial revenue or profit (e.g. Google, Luminarium, editions via Kindle, and even apps), non-profit web organisations (e.g. Project Gutenberg, Poemhunter, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust), nationally-supported or privately-endowed institutions (e.g. Folger digital texts, British Library Shakespeare Folios), University libraries (e.g. SCETI, Virginia, Adelaide, Bodleian), a whole host of academic projects (e.g. Rosetti Archive, EEBO-TCP, the Correspondence of William Godwin, the Walt Whitman Archive) and, of course, via institutionally-accessed and pay-walled commercial publishers (like Cengage or ProQuest). My essential point is that there is a blurring of the definition of the ‘edition’. What we see – for sometimes good reasons – are projects that describe themselves as digital archives, databases, digital library collections, social editions (like Transcribe Bentham), and apps (e.g. Touchpress’s The Wasteland). And texts that come via these platforms look, feel and function very differently.

Between the printed and digital text, there’s a two-way process happening. The easy and quick availability of texts online drives a certain kind of reading of printed editions which makes invisible ‘the history of their own making’ (D. F. McKenzie).[2] At the same time, undergraduates don’t often spot the distinction between the kinds of texts they find online and the one in their printed critical editions. This partly because they see only the text in their editions, and not the ‘edition’ (introduction, textual note, annotations, etc.): the actual edition becomes invisible. I don’t want to denigrate undergraduates’ skills and this isn’t entirely the students’ fault: it’s partly how English literary studies – at least in many seminar rooms – is still running with the idea of the literary text as an immaterial abstraction (despite the influence of various kinds of historicization). It’s this that renders invisible the processes that shape the form of the book in their hands. So I guess my rant is partly a plea for a serious consideration for the materiality of the book and a bigger role for the history of the book in English Studies.

But I’m also thinking about the lack of attention (at undergraduate level) paid to how editions and texts end up on the web in the ways they do. Formats vary hugely, from poorly catalogued page facsimiles, to unattributed HTML editing of dodgy nineteenth-century editions, to scholarly high-standard editing with XML/TEI encoding. But there are still plenty of these digital versions and collections that make it very difficult to see who these resources are for and how they got to look and function the way they do. And, as I’ve hinted at earlier, issues of format and accessibility are linked to how the various sites and projects are funded. In significant ways a lot of texts available digitally do much worse than the print edition at signalling ‘The history of their own making.’

So, the second half of my polemic is about how we should be making our students more aware of how the edition is remediated based on an understanding of the limits and affordances of digital technology and of how the internet works.[3] Because this is where digital technology can open their books in a vital way. I’ve found it intensely interesting that the digital humanities community has been using a variety of material and haptic metaphors to describe what it is they are doing – ‘making’ or ‘building.’[4] For me, this is wonderfully suggestive. In asking my students to understand the processes involved in transforming a material book into an printed edition and then a digital edition is a necessarily haptic experience. This experience – a process that involves decisions about audience, purpose, authority, and technological affordances and restraints – enables a student to understand their literary object of study in a vital and transformative way. It might seem odd that I’m emphasising materiality in a debate thinking through the effects of what is, ostensibly, an immaterial medium, but technology is material and digital editing should involve the material aspects of the book and material work. My undergraduate dissertation student is producing a digital edition of a work by Henry Fielding: she will be going to the British Library to see the source text as an essential part of her learning. In a few weeks time, my students will be building a digital scanner partly out of cardboard; after that even our training in digital markup will start with pencil and a printed sheet of paper.

So I’m arguing that we give students the opportunity to be academic editors of books, and not just in theory but in practice; to enable them to be creators and not merely consumers of texts, because the electronic editions of the future should be powered by an early and vital experience of digital making.

[1] Leaving aside why there is an increasing use by undergraduates of online texts instead of printed ones in class – though I suspect it’s partly down to the increasing centrality of the mobile device as well as an expectation that everything is, or should be, freely accessible.

[2] D. F. McKenzie, quoted in Jerome McGann, ‘Coda. Why digital textual scholarship matters; or, philology in a new key,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, eds, Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 274-88 (p.274).

[3] I’m always reminded of internet hacktivist Aaron Swartz’s maxim: ‘It’s not OK not to understand the internet anymore.’

[4] Most notably Stephen Ramsay, On Building.

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).

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).

New reviews: US political history, Huguenots, money and Istanbul


critchlow2This week  we begin with Donald Critchlow’s American Political History: A Very Short Introduction, as Mark Power Smith and the author debate a concise, readable narrative of American political history (no. 1831, with response here).

Then we turn to Experiencing Exile: Huguenot Refugees in the Dutch Republic, 1680–1700 by David van der Linden. Dave Papendorf praises a valuable contribution to Huguenot history and early modern history in general (no. 1830).

Next up is Christine Desan’s Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism, with Katie Ball and the author discussing an important contribution to monetary history (no. 1829, with response here).

Finally we have Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul by Charles King, which Pheroze Unwalla applauds as an enthralling read; a popular history that will be appreciated by scholarly audiences (no. 1828).


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