The IHR Blog |

Interning at the Victoria County History


blog photo

Clara Clarson, VCH intern

My name is Clara Carson and I am an undergraduate student, studying history at Richmond the American International University in London. I have been fortunate enough to be interning at the Victoria County History (VCH) as part of my degree for the past six weeks, but even more fortunately, I still have three weeks to go. This internship has been an incredible opportunity for me, not only being able to work at the VCH, which in itself is a piece of history, but also through being associated with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR); I have been able to experience and learn so much from both incredible organizations.

Thinking back to my first week, I remember feeling intimidated as I walked through the large doors at the entrance to the Institute, and how quickly ny fears subsided as I was introduced to everyone at VCH, and as I began to form acquaintances within the IHR; including a personal introduction to the Director. I am so grateful to Adam Chapman and Rebecca Read and to all the team at VCH, for the extent in which they have taken me under their wing, always ready to help and introduce me to new ways of thinking and allowing me to learn from them; but especially for showing me where the endless supply of tea can be found.

I have learnt so much in my short time here and what I shall remember most is the level of interest everyone has taken in me and my career aspirations, and the extent to which everyone has gone out of their way to instruct me further in ways to achieve these aims. From working day-to-day with these professionals, I’ve gained an education both in my historical training but also my general knowledge of England’s past, researching periods of history that I had not previously focused upon. The individuals I have met, especially at VCH, have been a continuous source of aid and inspiration, they have given me the benefit of their time and proven to me that this is the type of career I aim to pursue. Furthermore, I have been inspired by the interests that they continue to specialise in alongside their work for the VCH, demonstrating that careers can have additional or multiple streams, which I had not appreciated before.

Both the VCH and the IHR have provided countless opportunities to learn and develop new skills, and I hope that I have utilized these chances to the best of my ability. The two organizations together offer such a wealth of knowledge that it would be almost criminal not to learn as much as possible about them and the work that they do. I feel privileged to have observed the work conducted by the VCH, to have been able to support and participate in this, and also to witness the continuation of a much respected and long tradition of historical research carried out by this unique organization. To have also been able to combine and further this education by using the facilities of the IHR, such as the amazing seminars and the knowledgeable staff, has meant that I have gained so much more than I thought possible in six weeks; I’ve had an amazing experience and I could not have asked for more; I would like to thank everyone who has been a part of this incredible experience.

Private libraries of the rich and poor


Lindisfarne Gospels (image from British Library)

Lindisfarne Gospels (image from British Library)

Much of our cultural heritage owes a large debt of thanks to private collectors of manuscripts, incunabula and printed material; to those individuals who were interested in the accumulation of knowledge and the preservation of our literary history, and who saw fit to pass on their acquisitions for the foundation of libraries. One of the most well-known book collectors is Robert Cotton (1571-1631), whose vast collection of manuscripts include the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Beowulf and Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, which now form a vital core of the British Library collection and are listed in the Catalogue of the manuscripts in the Cottonian Library. Although his habit of disbanding precious manuscripts and rebinding them as he saw fit may seem an act of vandalism to us today, there is no doubt that without his legacy our book history would be far less impressive (even if the odd fire did somewhat deplete stock!).

Another famous private collector of the early modern period was Thomas Bodley (1545-1613). In the collected volume Books and and Collectors 1200-1700 we can learn more about the process of acquiring precious books in the chapter Sir Thomas Bodley‘s library and its acquisitions : an edition of the Nottingham benefaction of 1604, with letters from Bodley to his librarian providing clear evidence of his desperation to gain possession of new stock. Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-75) was also a voracious collector of manuscripts, and Matthew Parker‘s manuscripts : an Elizabethan library and its use gives a fascinating account of how he developed and interacted with his private collection.

However, while it is undeniable that the libraries of Cotton, Bodley and Archbishop Parker are invaluable, they all derive from the elite classes, born into privileged positions with disposable incomes that allowed them to amass vast collections in huge private houses. But what of those from more humbler origins? In Common Libraries in Fifteenth-Century England: An Episcopal Benediction, we learn of the earliest book collections being made freely available to the wider public. The very first civic library was Guildhall Library in London and was founded between 1423-1425, largely due to capital from the estate of Richard Whittington, (who, as we remember from childhood stories was four-times Lord Mayor of London), and was founded partly from the private collection of John Carpenter. There were also accessible libraries founded at Worcester, Bristol and possibly Norwich during the fifteenth-century. However, these libraries were all developed with a strong ecclesiastical bent, designed to inform and reform, and often run by members of the clergy. While these book collections were freely available for everyone, it is likely that it would only be the more educated citizens that made use of them, and even then the texts were carefully selected by religious authorities.

Woodcut of printing press (image from Wikipedia)

Woodcut of printing press (image from Wikipedia)

So what did ordinary people read? Was book ownership something strictly reserved for the wealthy classes and the ecclesiastical community in early modern times, or were the common people encouraged to foster reading habits? In the medieval period, manuscripts were laboriously made from parchment and painstakingly handwritten, which could take months to complete, and therefore were unlikely to be found in ordinary homes. Yet even after the birth of the printing press in the mid-15th century, books continued to be a valuable commodity, although as we can see in the article “Ovid with a Littleton” : the cost of English books in the early seventeenth century, the real cost of printed material is a complicated business, and even by the 1630s, only a handful of people owned more than a hundred books. (Although, despite literacy levels being an area difficult to judge, it is clear from history of British publishing that reading standards improved dramatically in this period, largely due to the growth of the book trade.)

Own image

Own image

However, we get a tantalising glimpse into how ordinary people assimilated books into their everyday lives in a fascinating article called Libraries of the “common sort”. Despite a woeful inadequacy in evidence, largely due to the ephemeral nature of cheaply printed items, through probate records we learn of certain individuals who clearly spent part of their limited income on the collection of books. Most pleasing is the forest labourer William Bane, who died in 1614, leaving in his single room his tools, a few items of furniture, writing implements and a small library of books worth 10s. Unfortunately we do not know the titles of the books, but we also learn of John Tayer, a shoemaker, whose account book from 1627 list a wide variety of titles in his ownership, including travel books, almanacs and tomes on spirituality. Accounts such as these provide a vital window into the reading habits of everyday people, who may be too often dismissed as illiterate labourers. Book ownership revealed in Norfolk probate inventories provides further evidence of book ownership across the classes, with more information on the types of books held and, interestingly, where they were kept in the house.

Another area less documented is that of women’s private collections. The Library of Mrs Elizabeth Vesey 1715-91the woman who part-founded the Bluestocking movement, provides a comprehensive list of the tracts that were integral to herself and her circle. ‘I can’t resist sending you the book’: Private Libraries, Elite Women, and Shared Reading Practices in Georgian Britain is about the library of Elizabeth Rose and her female friends, who actively sought out copies of books and formed an informal network of lending from their private libraries. Through the enthusiasm of these female readers, new ideas on female education and child rearing were able to disseminate to a wider audience. It also highlights how loaning from private libraries could strengthen relations between the privileged and less privileged.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 12.33.32

Cragside, Northumberland (image from Wikipedia)

Which brings me neatly onto the next resource, Servants’ reading : an examination of the Servants’ Library at Cragside, a rare example of a nineteenth-century library provided in a country home for the use of the servants. The surviving collection is made up of an eclectic mix of novels, periodicals and non-fiction; some, such as Charles Loudon Bloxham’s ‘Laboratory teaching, or, progressive exercises in practical chemistry’, suggesting that the servants library may have been a receptacle for books not required anywhere else. Although the library indicates no particular learning towards self-improvement, the fact that it exists at all is heartening, and though rare, was not unique. Further research on book ownership in the nineteenth-century is presented in Beyond Bibliophilia: Contextualizing Private Libraries in the Nineteenth Century, a recently published article exploring the complex relationship that develops between owners and their books.

From the resources mentioned, it seems that whether rich or poor, private collections of books have been an important part of people’s lives since the late medieval times, and although the generous legacies of wealthy gentlemen are more relevant than ever to our libraries, it is the image of the humble labourer William Bain, sitting in his sparsely furnished room and reading by candlelight after a hard day’s work, that is all the more pleasing.

As usual, all relevant material can be found in the Bibliography of British and Irish History. To find our most up-to-date resources on the subject, use the index term ‘Private libraries’ to explore further:

Search screen

Search screen






Search results

Search results




Back to top

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).

Bibliography of British and Irish History updated


An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 26 October. 3,868 new records have been added. Some 326 new records relate to Irish history while 174 deal with the history of London,  312 with the history of Scotland and 186 with the history of Wales.  Titles on Welsh history include, for example, Welsh soldiers in the later Middle Ages, 1282-1422 by Adam Chapman and an article on Lloyd George’s diary for 1887 in the Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society. The overall total of records available online is 565,806.


We would like to thank people who have used the Feedback link on BBIH to provide us with additional information or new material.  We are very grateful to our users for keeping us alert!

We expect the next update to be released in February 2016.

Representing TOBIAS: our new AHRC-funded project building on the Bibliography of British and Irish History



Cropped image of ‘‘Tobias and Sara on their Wedding Night’ (Germany, c.1520).

Finding an image to represent a new research project can be something of a challenge, particularly when that project does not have any strong visual focus. How do you illustrate linked open data without resorting to stock photos of networks and circuits which ultimately do nothing other than fill space? The Thesaurus of British and Irish History as SKOS, which is supported by follow-on funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has the acronym TOBIAS (you will, I hope, forgive us for quietly overlooking H for History). It is this that we have chosen to draw upon, using the stained glass depiction of ‘Tobias and Sara on their Wedding Night’ (Germany, c.1520) that forms part of the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is a peaceful image from what is a far from peaceful story. The Book of Tobit (or Tobias) is a scriptural work included in the Apocrypha, declared canonical by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Tobias depicted in the 16th-century stained glass panel is the son of the pious Tobit. Tobias marries his cousin Sara despite the fact that all seven of her previous husbands have been consumed by demons on their wedding night. With the help of the archangel Raphael, and the fumes from burning the heart and liver of a fish, the demons are driven away, and the marriage prospers. The small dog curled up at the foot of the bed had travelled with Tobias from his homeland, and art historians believe that its inclusion here may be a reference to fidelity and marriage. The image as a whole, complete with a pair of shoes left beside the bed, gives no indication of the horrible fate that has just been avoided.

More information about the stained glass panel and its history may be found at Tobias’s small dog has also attracted some attention online, with a lovely Tumblr devoted to its appearances in art ( and a short piece in the Huffington Post speculating that it might in fact be an angel ( Finally, for details of the project itself, do take a look at

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).

Latest issue of Historical Research published: vol. 88, no. 242 (November 2015)




Tenure and property in medieval England 

Susan Reynolds

The Bari charter of privileges of 1132: articulating the culture of a new Norman monarchy

Paul Oldfield

Donald Balloch, the ‘Treaty of Ardtornish-Westminster’ and the MacDonald raids of 1461–3

James Petre

Recovering Charles I’s art collection: some implications of the 1660 Act of Indemnity and Oblivion

Andrew Barclay

Obstinate juries, impudent barristers and scandalous verdicts? Compensating the victims of the Gordon Riots of 1780 and the Priestley Riots of 1791

Jonathan Atherton

The ‘blood of the martyrs’ and the growth of Catholicism in late Chosŏn Korea

Andrew Finch

Notable protests: respectable resistance in occupied northern France, 1914–18

James E. Connolly

 Sterilization and the British Conservative party: rethinking the failure of the Eugenics Society’s political strategy in the nineteen-thirties

Bradley W. Hart and Richard Carr

Beyond co-operation and competition: Anglo-French relations, connected histories of decolonization and Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, 1965–80

Joanna Warson

Albert Gallatin and the Early American Republic: exhibition and lecture


Gallatin-imageAn exhibition on Albert Gallatin and the politics of the early United States is currently on in Senate House Library until 27 November 2015, and includes books from the IHR and Senate House Library collections. The piece below was written by Benjamin Bankhurst, former Postdoctoral Fellow in North American history at the IHR.

Dr Max Edling (King’s College London) will hold a public lecture on Albert Gallatin, Jeffersonian finance and the War of 1812 on Wednesday, 4 Nov at 6pm in the Wolfson Suite, IHR, Senate House.

The decades following the American Revolution were a turbulent and transformative time in the United States as the citizens of the new republic wrestled with the meaning of their revolution and attempted to build a society that lived up to its principles.  How was this new society going to be structured and how should its government and economy be structured? Should Americans build a fiscal military state and advanced economy that would enable the United States to compete with the great powers of Europe, or should the country strive to become something different, a vast agrarian republic whose security rested on open trading policies?

Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) was at the heart of these debates. A Swiss immigrant who arrived in the country at the closing stages of the revolution, Gallatin played a leading role in the formation of US finance and politics in the early republic and was a central actor in many of the defining events of the period. He was committed to Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the republic and served under him as the 4th Secretary of the Treasury following Jefferson’s presidential victory in 1800. In this capacity he arranged the financing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1802 and helped plan the subsequent Lewis and Clark Expedition into the Louisiana Territory. Gallatin was also the main American negotiator in the peace talks that led to the Treaty of Ghent (1814) and the end of the War of 1812, the ‘Second War of American Independence’.

To celebrate the recent discovery of a portion of Albert Gallatin’s library in the collections of the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House Library and the IHR are proud to showcase items from their collections relating to Albert Gallatin and the history of the early American Republic. Many of these items are unique and bear marginalia and provenance that exposes the extent of Gallatin’s network of correspondence during this formative period. The items chosen for display touch upon major themes and issues from the period, including American constitutionalism, US expansion, the development of the American State and popular politics in the new nation.

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).

The Making of Wolf Hall


The Making of Wolf Hall

Email Banner2

Thursday 22 October 2015

IHR | Senate House | Malet Street | WC1E 7HU

Lecture: 6:00-7:30pm
Reception: 7:30-8:30pm

Peter Kosminsky series director of the BBC’s Wolf hall will be in conversation with Professor Lawrence Goldman (IHR) & Professor George Bernard (University of Southampton) to discuss the making of the BBC 2’s most successful drama in a decade. The discussion will feature clips from the series and be followed by a drinks reception.

Wolf Hall (an adaptation from the Booker prize-winning novels; Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel) was first broadcast on the BBC in January 2015 and reportedly cost £7 million to produce (Guardian 2013).

The drama series featured 102 characters, took 3 months to film in numerous locations across the UK and attracted 26.33 million viewers across the entire drama series (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board).

Peter Kosminsky, the director of the series, said:

This is a first for me. But it is an intensely political piece. It is about the politics of despotism, and how you function around an absolute ruler. I have a sense that Hilary Mantel wanted that immediacy. … When I saw Peter Straughan’s script, only a first draft, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was the best draft I had ever seen. He had managed to distil 1,000 pages of the novels into six hours, using prose so sensitively. He’s a theatre writer by trade (Guardian 2013).

To hear more of what Peter Kosminsky has to say about directing the series, join us in the IHR on Thursday 22 October 2015 at 6pm.

The lecture, screening and reception is free and open for all to attend.  to register your place at the lecture visit the registration page.

If you have any enquiries relating to this lecture, please contact the IHR Events Office (

< Older Posts

Newer Posts >