Asa Briggs, British historian and author of a trilogy of books on Victorian life was 90 years old two years ago. To mark the occasion the IHR (which also shared its birthday with Lord Briggs) held a one day conference to celebrate the career and contributions of Asa Briggs to the British History profession. The proceedings focused on three key areas of Asa Brigg’s career: his studies of Victorian Britain; his role in media and communications; and finally his role in British universities.
David Cannadine began the proceedings with a tribute to Asa Briggs in which he states the eminent importance of Asa in establishing 20th century study of nineteenth century Britain and his pioneering work into the BBC and modern communication history. Beyond his contribution to research Asa has had an extraordinary influence on academic life: as Professor of Modern History at the University of Leeds (1955-1961), as Professor of History at the University of Sussex and as Pro Vice-Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor (1961-1976). Between 1978 and 1994 Asa Briggs became Chancellor of the Open University paving the way forward for a successful alternative to the traditional university model in Britain.
In the first session of the day ‘Victorian Studies’ Martin Hewitt (Manchester Metropolitan University) discusses the role of Asa Briggs as a specialist in Victorian Britain. The revisions to this history that occurred in the 1950s and 60s was enabled in-part through Asa’s work and still hold up today as starting points into the topic. Asa took the opinion that what matters most is not what happened, but what people said when it had happened. His emphasises on contemporary voices, especially those from below helped to revolutionise our understanding of the nineteenth century and to give it a human face and identity. Francesca Carnevali (University of Birmingham) added that Asa used the setting of the city to give Victorian’s their voice; a lens with which to observe the social, economical, and political occurrences. Carnevali focuses on Asa’s description of Birmingham as a social space and as the ‘workshop’ of the world. It is in Asa’s study of industry that he showed for the first time that research should be more than about the engine of economic progress but also about being an engine of social mobility as working men became masters.
Abstract: “Hitchcock’s Underground” studies the fascinating intersection between one of cinema’s foremost directors and perhaps London’s most frequently filmed settings. Unlike a number of his contemporaries—Fritz Lang, to name a prominent example—Alfred Hitchcock used underground settings sparingly in his career. He generally preferred to create suspense from the paradox of entrapment in an open space than the more conventional spatial dynamic of confinement below the ground. The primary exception to this pattern is the cellar setting in the Hollywood films Notorious and Psycho; however, this paper will examine the other use Hitchcock made of subterranean—the London Underground as setting in his London films of the 1920s. The Underground figures physically or as a plot element in Downhill (1927), Blackmail (1929), Rich and Strange (1931), and Sabotage (1936), making it a significant setting among his London films, and making his engagement with the setting one of the most sustained of the period. This paper will present the films in the context of cinematic representations of the Underground during the interwar years—key years in its development as a spatial icon of city—and in the context of Hitchcock’s extensive meditation on the cityscape of London from the first film he directed (Number 13, 1922) until he left for Hollywood during the war. For Hitchcock, the Underground was a photogenic space of urban modernity, but it was not, as it had been for the 19th century and would continue to be in many cinematic cityscapes, a space distinct from the world above.
Biography: David L. Pike is Professor in the Department of Literature, American University, Washington DC. He is the author of Metropolis on the Styx: The Underworlds of Modern Urban Culture, 1800–2001 (2007) and Subterranean Cities: The World beneath Paris and London 1800–1945 (2005), shortlisted for the 2006 Modernist Studies Association book prize, and of articles on medieval literature, modernism, film, and Paris and London. From 1993 to 1995, Professor Pike was Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University.
Abstract: This paper explores the power, potential, and challenges of studying historical political speeches using a specially constructed multi-million word corpus via quantitative computer software. The techniques used – inspired particularly by Corpus Linguists – are almost entirely novel in the field of political history, an area where research into language is conducted nearly exclusively qualitatively. The paper argues that a corpus gives us the crucial ability to investigate matters of historical interest (e.g. the political rhetoric of imperialism, Ireland, and class) in a more empirical and systematic manner, giving us the capacity to measure scope, typicality, and power in a massive text like a national general election campaign which it would be impossible to read in entirety.
The paper also discusses some of the main arguments against this approach which are commonly presented by critics, and reflects on the challenges faced by quantitative language analysis in gaining more widespread acceptance and recognition within the field.
Places are still available for this one day free workshop on the topic of Material Culture. The workshop takes place at Senate House (London) this coming Monday, so if you would like to join us please sign up fast!
This is the second in a series of AHRC Collaborative Skills Development workshops intended to start a conversation about the analysis of pre-modern material culture across different disciplines and categories of evidence – from pots to pamphlets and jewellery to armour. This second workshop will consider ways of analysing the lifecycle of the book, exploring peoples’ relationships to textual artefacts through an understanding of manufacture and evidence of ownership, readership and collection. There is no need to have attended the first session to understand the second, so please do feel free to sign up and join us.
Date: 23 September 2013
Time:10.00 – 17.00
Location: Senate House Library, Senate House, Bloomsbury (London)
Course tutor: Dr Karen Attar, Senate House Library
Abstract: The Underground is one of the noisiest places in London. The sounds of machines, crowds and the music of buskers accompany travellers on each journey through the Tube. Public address (PA) systems have become a central feature in the design of trains and stations. PA announcements inform passengers with a constant stream of information and warn us to ‘mind the gap’. Warning signals beep to tell us to ‘stand clear of the closing doors’. Experienced commuters tune in to these aural markers of the Underground and use all their bodily senses to alter their journey, to alight a train swiftly, or to leap through closing train doors. The act of listening plays a special role in the efficient navigation through the spaces of the Underground and the city.
This paper takes an aural journey to show how PA systems contribute to travellers’ successful negotiation of the Underground. Examining the period from the 1960s to the present day, I explore how the development of PA systems has affected the behaviour and mood of passengers. Drawing on a rich archive of accounts gleaned from social media, I trace people’s responses to the live and recorded messages on the Underground. My paper considers the choice of words and the voices used in PA announcements in order to analyse the Underground’s institutional attitudes to gender and ethnicity. Exploring how sound is a socially and historically produced part of the experience of Tube travel, my aural journey contributes to the cultural meaning of the Underground.
Biography: Dr Jacob Paskins is an Architectural Historian and Research Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge. His PhD thesis (UCL, 2011) was an historical study of construction sites in France during the 1960s. He teaches at the Bartlett School of Architecture and runs a seminar about the relationship between the body’s senses and architecture for the MArch Architecture programme. He is a founding member of the Autopsies Research Group, which examines the obsolescence of everyday objects and places. Developing his research into the social experience of architecture, infrastructure and travel, Jacob is currently working on a history of the hoverport in Britain and France.
Nick Guyatt’s and Luke Clossey’s recently piece, ‘It’s a Small World After All? Geographical diversity and history teaching in the UK’, in the American Historical Association’s Perpectives on History (May 2013) has started a lively debate about the breadth and quality of teaching and research in our universities. Have universities got the right balance between European/North American history, and wider world history? If not, why not? How can we account for disparities in the way this balance seems to operate in US/Canadian universities versus British ones? Is the UK falling behind? Does that matter? Is the challenge simply to persuade departments to hire more wider-world historians or do we need to tweak the culture of university research and teaching to ensure that early career historians in wider world topics realise their potential? What are the connections between this debate in the university setting and the arguments about ‘the history of us’, the National Curriculum and school teaching. And in any case, why should students/pupils be interested in wider world history in the first place? Should we emphasise the value of wider world curiosity by embracing instrumental arguments about the (international) career opportunities and the global economy that await school-leavers and university graduates?
Panellists on this Question Time-style event will include Machel Bogues, Professor Sir Richard Evans, Nick Guyatt, Su Lin Lewis, Nicola Sheldon, Jason Todd and Peter D’Sena (chair).
Date: Wednesday 11 September 2013
For more information about this event click on the IHR events page. To access the live stream go to the History SPOT podcast page and click on the video option.
On 3 May 1895 the Society of Public Libraries in London was founded with Robert Reid (recently elected chairman of the Free Library Board) acting as its first chair. The members met after hours to discuss library related matters, but largely to promote professional relationships between them. The society lasted 35 years promoting librarian activities but also revealing much about the social and recreational habits of their members.
Michelle Johansen has been using the society’s letters, minutes and ephemera combined with journals, administration records and other sources to get a clear image of the leisure pursuits of librarians at the turn of the century. In this talk she looks at the socio-cultural context – the rise of the free library in the nineteenth-century – before moving on to the shared leisure lives of the chief and deputy librarians.
This is an interesting talk, which connects into the socio-cultural events of the time, as well as leisure activities in general. The librarians are described as curious about the world, eager to learn and to better themselves. They are active in their leisure pursuits which tend to be self-directed and London-focused.
This is a guest post by Bianca Harrisskitt, one of IHR Digital’s interns from the University of Leicester.
“The White (?) Man’s Burden”. Satire of Kipling’s phrase shows the “white” colonial powers being carried as the burden of their “colored” subjects. First printed in Life, March 16, 1899. (wikipedia)
In March 2010, Professor Francisco Bethencourt delivered an enlightening lecture on the development of racism, part of a larger project aiming to chart the development of racism from the Crusades to the mid-nineteenth century. As Professor Bethencourt points out, race does not exist from a biological point of view, rather it exists in the views of people and the way that they choose to classify and rank humankind. Focussing mainly on the nineteenth century, but with reference to earlier time periods, the speaker outlines the development of theories which aimed to classify human beings along the lines of ‘race’, exhibiting a phenomenon we now call racism.
Professor Bethencourt firstly explains that racism and race theory existed before the nineteenth century, citing Benjamin Isaac’s book ‘The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity’, which analyses racism in the Greek and Roman worlds. Furthermore, he goes on to explain that the first definitions of the hierarchy of the human race were based on the allegorical personification of the continents in the 16th century. Whilst the Crusades had placed Jerusalem at the centre of world, rapid European expansion was starting to place Europe at the epicentre, giving rise to Eurocentricism and theories of white supremacy.
However, whilst theories of race may have existed before the nineteenth century, there was a vast expansion of the field during this time period and Professor Bethencourt aims to summarise its main sources of inspiration, looking at the work produced by scholars such as Blumenbach, Camper, James Prichard and Robert Knox. The speaker stresses that the scholarship begins to express more inherently racist themes and ideals from the 1840s onwards, pointing to Robert Knox as a representation of the mainstream naturalists who became prominent in the mid nineteenth century.
Professor Bethencourt accepts that his material is still raw, and he does not cover the work of Rousseau, Darwin, De Gobineau and a number of other prominent scholars in his lecture. Nevertheless, his conclusions thus far are clear: theories of race developed in the 16th century but intensified and expanded in the nineteenth century. The complex definition of race by early nineteenth century scholars such as Blumenbach and Prichard resulted from the increasing complexity of ethnographic research worldwide and whilst the supremacy of white standards was never disputed, these scholars stressed the perfectibility of all races. However, a profoundly racist trend emerged in the 1840s which denied the perfectibility of non-European people and confirmed prejudices against mixed race people, which Professor Bethencourt concludes inspired and facilitated the Holocaust, one of the most notable and horrific displays of racism in living memory.
Air cooling on trial at Victoria station (Wikipedia)
Abstract: Architectural historians interested in underground transportation systems have largely focused on the representational character of the passenger stations, such as those designed by Otto Wagner in Vienna and Hector Guimard in Paris, and positioned these works within standard are historical narratives, particularly the emergence of the avant-garde in the twentieth century. In contrast, my paper analyzes and discusses the ways in which architects, engineers, and others gave visual form to the more mundane but no less important functional elements of these transportation systems. Though the primary example of the Southwest Corridor Transit Project (Stull & Lee, 1987) in Boston – which made ventilation shafts a visible part of a new public park that laced through an established residential community – I trace changing attitudes toward subway infrastructure from the late eighteenth into the twentieth century. How and to what extent have architects participated in shaping the form and character of the mechanical equipment that is now an inevitable part of the urban landscape? To what extent have changing technologies (the switch from steam to electrically powered lines) changed the character of these projects? How do the different strategies employed by designers and engineers – from the masking of these systems behind false fronts as in Victorian London to their guarded acknowledgment in the Boston example – offer different models for understanding the extent to which infrastructure participates in the representation of civic life.
Biography: Lucy Maulsby received her M.Phil. in the History and Theory of Architecture from Cambridge University in England, before earning her PhD at Columbia University in New York in 2007. Her scholarship focuses on the relationships between architecture, urbanism, and politics, with a particular emphasis on architecture in modern Italy. Maulsby is currently completing her book manuscript Fascism, Architecture and the Claiming of Modern Milan to be published by Toronto University Press in 2013. She has presented her research in journal articles, book chapters and at numerous national and international conferences. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Northeastern University in Boston where she teaches courses in nineteenth and twentieth century architectural and urban history.
This is a guest post by Bianca Harrisskitt, one of IHR Digital’s interns from the University of Leicester.
The growth of consumerism is a topic that seems to be receiving ever increasing academic attention, as historians, sociologists, economists and many others seek to study and explain the rise of the consumer culture. Professor Frank Trentmann of Birkbeck College delivered a lecture in March 2010 called ‘The Consumption of Culture’, as part of a larger project entitled ‘the Consuming Passion’, which sought to chart the history of consumption from 1600 to the present day.
The speaker identifies the two main problems which plague the historical understanding of the place of global developments and empire within the history of consumption. These include, firstly, the lack of research by historians on the period 1700 to 1900 and secondly, the ‘power vacuum’ in most consumer theories. Thus, in this lecture, the speaker strives to cover the 1700 to 1900 period, whilst paying attention to the role that power plays in the pattern of consumption.
In order to do this, Professor Trentmann aims to address four thematic areas of the history of consumption: the expansion of ‘drug foods’ (including chocolate, tea, coffee and sugar), slavery, the role of the consumer within imperial relations and the value of objects in relation to place. Through exploring these tropes Professor Trentmann aims to pinpoint how ‘empire’ impacted on consumers, and furthermore if and how consumers impacted on ‘empire’.
Additionally, the importance of time and the differences that occur over different time periods are considered throughout the speech. For example, Trentmann points out that tea is a typical example of the way in which exotic products embedded colonial meanings as well as colonial trade in ordinary lives in the eighteenth century, highlighting the impact of empire on consumers. However, the speaker states that whilst this is right for the eighteenth century, it does not necessarily apply to subsequent centuries. Patterns change over time, and Professor Trentmann goes to great lengths to demonstrate this.
On a concluding note, although the podcast is incomplete and we therefore do not get to hear Professor Trentmann elaborate on his final two thematic areas, his main argument is clear; it is absolutely crucial to engage with the entire time period, from 1600 up until the present day in addition to paying close attention to the role of power in order to understand the topic as a whole. Professor Trentmann therefore provides an informative and stimulating overview of the historical development of consumption and the approach needed in order to study.