This post was kindly written for us by our intern Grace Karrach Wood.
During September 2014 I spent 3 weeks working as a ‘digital humanities’ intern at the IHR in Senate House, London. Though most of the previous interns here had opted to work for 3 or 4 days a week for the full month, I instead opted for 5 days for 3 weeks, meaning that the experience was particularly full on and almost felt like I had already graduated and this was my new graduate job – though panicking about my dissertation at the weekends begged to differ.
On my first day I caught a far-too-early train up to Euston and spent half around half an hour pacing around London wondering how early was too early to go in and eventually arrived at reception. I filled out a few preliminary forms and was told that everybody ‘drank a lot of tea’, (which was most definitely an understatement) and that I should ‘feel free to ask lots of questions’, which I certainly did.
Throughout the weeks I was slowly given more and more tasks to work on, from listening to podcasts and writing their abstracts to proofreading and checking footnotes on unpublished journal articles. Some of my favourite tasks included learning to use Photoshop in order to edit scanned Parish maps and retouching and sizing book images for Reviews in History, as well as assessing and indexing collective volumes, as the books themselves were interesting to read and it required lateral thinking.
Although some of the tasks were less interesting than others, such as renaming map sheets, I always had a choice in what I wanted to do and was also given some more simple background tasks in order to break the day up, which meant that I always had at least 2 or 3 choices of tasks to undertake.
Overall my time spent there was enjoyable and I felt like I gained a lot experience, in terms of practical editing and writing skills as well as simply understanding what it’s like to work in an office environment and actually be awake and on a train before 9.00am. Everyone was really helpful and welcoming and the casual work wear and flexible days and hours meant the whole process was far more relaxed than stressful.
As I’m sure you all know, it’s referendum day, and as well as marking the occasion with a relevant review (see below) I hoped to bring you breaking news from the polls, have texted my BBC correspondent pal earlier to ask how it was going. Just got his reply a few minutes ago – ‘Been up Arthur’s Seat. Sweaty’. I don’t think that really counts as a scoop…
Anyway, thanks to a super-quick turnaround from reviewer Fiona Watson and the author, we’ve got a discussion for you of Michael Penman’s new book Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots, an excellent work that shines a light on some extremely murky corners of history (no. 1658, with response here).
To a quintessentially British figure now, with Rory Muir’s Wellington: The Path to Victory, 1769-1814. Kevin Linch and the author discuss an outstanding achievement – the definitive biography of Wellington (no. 1657, with response here).
Then we turn to The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers by Joanna Bourke. Jennifer Crane enjoys a detailed, thought-provoking and fascinating piece of historical scholarship (no. 1656).
Finally we have David Lambert’s Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen’s African Geography & the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery, and James Poskett hails an accomplished and creative account of the troubling connections between Atlantic slavery and geographical knowledge in the 19th century (no. 1655).
Henry Littlejohn, a great man to have at any party
This week, along with the rest of the country’s media, Reviews is focussing on Edinburgh – but rather than referenda, it’s the sewers we’re interested in, as Tom Crook and authors Paul Laxton and Richard Rodger discuss Insanitary City: Henry Littlejohn and the Condition of Edinburgh (no. 1654, with response here).
David Cameron was up there too, and one wonders what his predecessors in the Conservative and Unionist Party would have made of the prospect of a break-up of the union. Many of these feature in Stuart Ball’s Portrait of a Party: The Conservative Party in Britain 1918-1945. Andrew Thorpe finds this to be as much a major contribution to historical method as it is to the history of 20th-century Britain (no. 1652).
Then we turn to London Zoo and the Victorians, 1828-1859 by Takashi Ito, which Andrew Flack believes sets the agenda for future research in this area (no. 1653, with response here).
Finally Shami Ghosh reviews two works of medieval history which will stimulate many questions for future scholars and students, as he compares and contrasts Reframing the Feudal Revolution: Political and Social Transformation Between Marne and Moselle, c.800-c.1100 by Charles West and Episcopal Power and Ecclesiastical Reform in the German Empire Tithes, Lordship, and Community, 950-1150 by John Eldevik (no. 1651).
Our featured piece this week is on The Modern Origins of the Early Middle Ages by Ian Wood. Paul Fouracre and the author discuss a thoroughly researched and written tour de force (no. 1650, with response here).
Next up is Benjamin Smith’s The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico: Catholicism, Society, and Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750–1962 , and Thomas Rath recommends a book which is necessary reading for historians of modern Mexico, and makes a lasting contribution to Latin America’s agrarian, political, and religious history (no. 1649).
Then we have Past Scents: Historical Perspectives on Smell by Jonathan Reinarz. William Tullett finds this book neatly summarizes many current historical perspectives on smell (no. 1648).
Finally William Haydock reviews two very different approaches to the history of alcohol consumption and control, Pubs and Patriots: The Drink Crisis During World War One by Robert Duncan and Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-44 by Dan Malleck (no. 1647).
This post was kindly written for us by Caitlin Brown, one of our interns via the Leicester University / IHR Digital programme.
I decided to use Connected Histories to research an area that I knew something about, but that I would like to investigate more. I picked the Crimean War as I had studied it from a Russian perspective but not from a British point of view, and I knew Connected Histories provided links to British Newspapers, 1600-1900. I used keywords such as ‘Crimea’ and narrowed down the date to between the 1850s and 1860s, as I wanted perspectives of the situation from both before and after the conflict. A problem I noticed straight away was that while many of the results were from British Newspapers, this was a resource that was restricted. This meant that these results were impossible to access from the IHR. However, if I had been researching from my own University Campus which has a subscription to British Newspapers, I would have been able to look at these resources. Apart from the newspapers and a picture from the British Museum, there were a limited number of resources available to investigate this topic further. I wondered if this was because I had selected a topic towards the end of the time period covered. Therefore, I decided to use the same methods as before, but instead investigate a topic firmly within the time period covered by Connected Histories.
I changed my topic to the Great Fire of London, and, using the date filters and the use of keywords, I searched ‘1666’ and ‘fire of London’. These results were more useful, as they were not all from restricted resources which required a separate login. Lots of results were thrown up, particularly when I narrowed the dates down to a few years around the actual date of the Fire of London (1666). A particularly useful resource I found was John Strype’s ‘A Survey of London and Westminster’, which not only accounts for the state of London, but also talks about the damage that the fire created, as well as Parliamentary acts that were put into place to deal with the damage created by the fire. It also gives specific numbers about what was damaged in the fire; for instance, 12,000 houses were burned down. Not only was this useful for learning more about the fire, it was a source I had not heard of before but was one that would be extremely useful in investigating London as a whole in this period. Similarly, I found a Dutch etching which portrayed the fire itself and its permeation throughout the city. Another resource I discovered through Connected Histories was a link to British History Online, which has several Journals of the House of Commons. This provided purely parliamentary perspectives on the handling of the impact of the Fire of London, for instance compensating people whose houses had to be blown up to prevent a further spread of the fire.
A problem I noted during both searches was that due to the process involved in putting some documents online, they were often unreadable and therefore not very useful. Also, sometimes the search engine can be slow, as it has a lot of information to process. Overall, using Connected Histories as a starting point for researching a particular subject is very useful, as it provides a wide range of sources. Some areas are more difficult to look into when you cannot access the restricted content, however this would not always be an issue, depending on location. There is some limitation in the amount of sources, but even these provide a stepping point by which to continue research.
Just back from the other side – no, not a near death experience, but a quick visit to the almost finished new look IHR! There’s a smell of fresh paint, the books are in place, and the librarians have the thousand-yard stares that come with weeks of twelve-hour days spent calculating shelf yardage. For more on the move see David’s blog post here: http://blog.history.ac.uk/2014/08/library-move-under-way/ – and we’re due to reopen on Monday…
Anyway, life continues all the same for us on the mezzanine floor, and we start our reviews this week with Mark Glancy’s Hollywood and the Americanization of Britain: From the 1920s to the Present. Jonathan Stubbs and the author discuss a book which is likely to be enjoyed and admired by a wide readership (no. 1646, with response here).
We then have a nice cluster of early modern reviews for you to enjoy, starting with The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, edited by Allyson M. Poska, Jane Couchman and Katherine A. McIver. Alice Ferron finds this book provides a truly inter-disciplinary review of historiography pertaining to the study of early modern women in Western Europe (no. 1645).
Next we turn to David Loewenstein’s Treacherous Faith: The Spector of Heresy in Early Modern English Literature and Culture. David Manning believes this book highlights some of the perils of both cultural history and interdisciplinary scholarship between literary and historical studies (no. 1644).
Finally Sara Wolfson reviews Reading Authority and Representing Rule in Early Modern England by Kevin Sharpe, a volume which is an essential read for scholars working on the history of political culture, and a fitting representation of a distinguished career (no. 1643).
First up this week we have Archbishop Pole by John Edwards, as Francis Young and the author discuss a magnificent example of first-rate historical scholarship (no. 1642, with response here).
Next we turn to Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement by Mathew Thomson. Laura King praises a fascinating, well-researched and insightful contribution to the literature (no. 1641).
Malin Dahlstrom then covers two works on Darwin by distinguished historians of biology, as she reviews Was Hitler a Darwinian? Disputed Questions in the History of Evolutionary Theory by Robert J. Richards and Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World Without Darwin byPeter J. Bowler (no. 1640).
Finally Emily Corran reviews Le désir dicté: Histoire du vœu religieux dans l’Occident médiéval by Alain Boureau, which she finds a learned and significant contribution to the history of scholastic thought and medieval institutions (no. 1639).
Off to Edinburgh this weekend, just as things are hotting up in the independence campaign. However, as all those who know him will vouch, your deputy editor shies away from political controversy at all times, and my visit is solely a cultural one to take in a little bit of the Festival. Any tips on what to see and what to avoid would be much appreciated…
Anyhow. First up this week we have Nobility and Kingship in Medieval England: The Earls and Edward I, 1272-1307 by Andrew Spencer. James Bothwell and the author discuss a well-crafted and thoughtful book offering a balanced new interpretation (no. 1638, with response here).
Then we turn to A Problem of Great Importance: Population, Race, and Power by Karl Ittmann, as Scott Spencer reviews a fine book on the ins and outs of policy formation (no. 1637).
Next up is Anthony McElligott’s Rethinking the Weimar Republic: Authority and Authoritarianism, 1916-1936, which Colin Storer recommends as being an excellent and insightful book that challenges the reader to look anew at a familiar subject (no. 1636).
Lastly there is Paralysed with Fear: the Story of Polio by Gareth Williams, which Wendy Gagen praises as a book which gives an insight into the reality of medical research (no. 1635).
Oh, and we also have the bonus of an additional response, from Matthew Hendley to the review of his book Organized Patriotism and the Crucible of War: Popular Imperialism in Britain, 1914-1932 (no. 1623, with response here).
Back working from home this week, as the elongated summer occupation of my flat by relatives and their children has been temporarily lifted. There’s nothing like the prospect of returning to a house full of sugar-fuelled nine-year olds to make the IHR suddenly seem more attractive. Sadly the respite is brief, even now my phone buzzes with news of this afternoon’s arrivals. Perhaps moving to the seaside may have been an error…
Right, enough moaning about people being nice enough to visit, and on with this week’s offerings. We start with Steven Jones’ The Emergence of the Digital Humanities – James Baker and the author discuss a volume which has plenty to offer every historian (no. 1634, with response here).
Next up is Women in Eighteenth-Century Scotland: Intimate Intellectual and Public Lives, edited by Katie Barclay and Deborah Simonton. Catriona Macleod reckons this to be a rich and engaging work with some excellent contributions that will reward all with an interest in gender history in Scotland and beyond (no. 1633).
Then we turn to John Appleby’s Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime, which Daniel Lange judges to be a well written, insightful, and long-overdue study of the various roles women played as supporters and accessories of pirates (no. 1632).
Finally we have The Favor of Friends: Intercession and Aristocratic Politics in Carolingian and Ottonian Europe by Sean Gilsdorf. Levi Roach finds this to be an example of charter scholarship at its finest, combining diplomatic precision and rigour with a strong sense of the broader socio-political significance of the practices examined (no. 1631).
Summer has arrived with a vengeance at the IHR this week, and as ever in England the rarity of hot weather leads us to be unsure of how to handle it properly. For instance, some considerable time elapsed before we realised that what we thought was an air-conditioner was actually blowing out hot air….
Somehow, despite the conditions, we’ve still managed to produce this week’s helping of reviews, and we begin with a great interview between our own Jordan Landes and Amanda Herbert, author of Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain (no. 1630).
Then we have three more First World War reviews, beginning with Ross Davies’ review article on art from the First World War, in which he deals with a plethora of different books on the subject (no. 1629).
Next up is The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century by David Reynolds. Jay Winter praises a masterly history, written by one of our finest historians (no. 1628).
Finally there is Ryan Floyd’s Abandoning American Neutrality: Woodrow Wilson and the Beginning of the Great War, August 1914-December 1915. Moritz Pöllath advises historians and interested readers alike to read this book, an insightful study on America’s entry into the First World War (no. 1627).