We start off this week with Thomas Munck’s The Enlightenment as Modernity: Jonathan Israel’s Interpretation Across Two Decades, as he and the author discuss 20 years of work on the Enlightenment and the origins of modern concepts of democracy, equality and freedom (no. 2039, with response here).
Next up is John Iliffe’s The African AIDS epidemic: a history. Annamarie Bindenagel Šehović returns to a book which remains a cornerstone of literature in understanding the African AIDS epidemic, providing rich contextual detail and giving voice to human experience (no. 2038).
Then we turn to Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II by John Dower. Martyn Smith revisits a richly researched, beautifully illustrated and elegantly written account of the period of the US-led occupation of Japan (no. 2037).
Finally we have Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Tom Lawson asks if this book succeeded in its author’s aim to change our understanding of the Bloodlands (no. 2036).
The Victoria County History (VCH) project has just appointed a new editor, Professor Angus Winchester from Lancaster University. Brush any ‘waxed jackets’ notions of county aside because this august body publishes historical reference works on English counties – it has a long and illustrious history of its own – and is coordinated by the Institute of Historical Research.
Part of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, the VCH’s scholarly volumes are based on original research. Professor Winchester brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the mix, including his own contribution to the study of landscape history which has been to open up the hitherto little-researched history of the landscape of upland, pastoral Britain.
The VCH is an important resource for county and local historians as well as anyone researching genealogy and family history. Professor Winchester, who honed his local historian skills while an assistant editor with the VCH in Shropshire and as a lecturer at the University of Liverpool in the 1980s, will lead an initiative that has been built into a national treasure over 117 years and is without parallel. He has also been a member of the VCH National Advisory Board since 2007.
‘Having been associated with the VCH for so long, it is an honour to step into this role’, says Professor Winchester: ‘I look forward to working with colleagues in the Institute of Historical Research and with the wider local history community across the country, as the VCH moves forward in the changing world of local history research and publishing in the 21st century.’
Using his expertise in landscape history, Professor Winchester co-led a major Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, ‘Contested common land: environmental governance, law and sustainable land management c.1600-2006’. This was an interdisciplinary study, linking environmental history and environmental law, and has contributed to current policy debates on the future management of common land.
Since 2010 Professor Winchester has taken the lead in reviving work for the VCH in Cumbria, developing a volunteer-based project under the auspices of the Cumbria County History Trust. He has written and edited several books and scholarly editions including two major 17th-century works on Cumbria, and wrote the history of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society for its 150th anniversary in 2016.
He retains a strong interest in local history communities. He has served as president and chairman of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. He is also founding president of Cumbria’s Lorton and Derwentfells Local History Society and, in 2014, set up Lancaster University’s Regional Heritage Centre.
‘The Institute of Historical Research and the whole community of VCH historians and supporters is delighted that Angus Winchester will be the next Editor’, says Professor Lawrence Goldman, Director of the IHR. ‘He brings to the VCH a wealth of experience in local history, great knowledge of the VCH itself, and a formidable reputation as a historian of the medieval and early modern British landscape and environment. We all look forward to working with him.’
Notes to Editors
For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8859 / email@example.com
The Institute of Historical Research was founded in 1921 and is one of nine institutes that comprise the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. The Institute’s mission is to promote the study of history and an appreciation of the importance of the past among academics and the general public. It offers a wide range of services both onsite and remotely which promote and facilitate excellence in historical research, teaching and scholarship in the UK, by means of its library, events programmes, fellowships, training and publications. It is a leading centre for the creation of digital resources for historians, and promotes the study of London history through its Centre for Metropolitan History and the Victoria County History.
The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities and facilities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2014-15, SAS welcomed 805 research fellows and associates, held 2,073 research dissemination events, received 23.1 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms and received 213,456 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities, Being Human. Find out more at sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.
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This post was written by Penelope Corfield, and originally appeared on her monthly blog.
When remembering my colleague Conrad Russell (1937-2004),1 the first thing that comes to mind is his utterly distinctive presence. He was an English eccentric, in full and unselfconscious bloom. In person, Conrad was tall, latterly with something of a scholar’s stoop, and always with bright, sharp eyes. But the especially memorable thing about him was his low, grave voice (‘Conrad here’, he would intone, sepulchrally, on the phone) and his slow, very precise articulation. This stately diction, combining courtesy and erudition, gave him a tremendous impact, for those who could wait to hear him out.
He once told me that his speaking manner was something that he had consciously developed, following advice given to him in his youth by his father. In fact, given his life-long wish not to be overshadowed by his famous parent, Conrad spoke very rarely about the mathematician and public intellectual Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Conrad, the only child of Russell’s third marriage, was brought up by his mother, who lived in isolation from the rest of the family. But the eminent father had once advised his young son to formulate each sentence fully in his mind, before giving voice to each thought.2 (Not an easy thing to do). The suggestion evidently appealed to something deep within Conrad, for he embraced the slow, stately style from his youth and maintained it throughout his lifetime.
One result was that a proportion of his students, initially at London University’s Bedford College (as it then was),3 were terrified by him, although another percentage found him brilliant and immensely stimulating. Only very few disliked him. Conrad was manifestly a kindly person. He didn’t seek to score points or consciously to attract attention as an eccentric. Yet his emphatic speaking style, laced with erudite references to English politics in the 1620s, and witticisms with punch-lines in Latin, could come as a shock to undergraduates. Especially as Conrad did not just speak ‘at’ people. He wanted replies to his questions, and hoped for laughter following his jests.
Because he thought carefully before speaking, he was also wont to preface his remarks with a little exclamation, ‘Em …’, to establish his intention of contributing to the conversation, always followed by a Pinteresque pause. That technique worked well enough in some contexts. However, when Conrad took up a prestigious academic post at Yale University (1979-84), a number of his American students protested that they could not understand him. And in a society with a cultural horror of silence, Conrad’s deliberative pauses were often filled by instant chatter from others, unintentionally ousting him from the discussion. A very English figure, he admitted ruefully that he was not psychologically at ease in the USA, much as he admired his colleagues and students at Yale. Hence his relief was no secret, when he returned to the University of London, holding successive chairs at University College London (1984-90) and King’s College (1990-2003). By this time, his lecturing powers were at their full height – lucid, precise, and argumentative, all at once.
And, of course, when in 1987 he inherited his peerage as 5th Earl Russell, following the death of his half-brother, Conrad found in the House of Lords his ideal audience. They absolutely loved him. He seemed to be a voice from a bygone era, adding gravitas to every debate in which he participated. Recently, I wondered how far Conrad was reproducing his father’s spoken style, as a scion of the intellectual aristocracy in the later nineteenth century. But a check via YouTube dispelled that thought.4 There were some similarities, in that both spoke clearly and with authority. Yet Bertrand Russell’s voice was more high-pitched and his style more insouciant than that of his youngest child.
The second unmistakable feature of Conrad’s personality and intellect was his literal-mindedness. He treated every passing comment with complete seriousness. As a result, he had no small talk. His lifeline to the social world was his wife Elizabeth (née Sanders), a former student and fellow historian whom he married in 1962. She shared Conrad’s intellectual interests but was also a fluent conversationalist. At parties, Elizabeth would appear in the heart of a crowd, wielding a cigarette and speaking vivaciously. Conrad meanwhile would stand close behind her, his head slightly inclined and nodding benignly. They were well matched, remaining devoted to one another.
Fig.1 Conrad and Elizabeth Russell on the stump for Labour in Paddington South (March 1966).
My own experience of Conrad’s literal-mindedness came from an occasion when we jointly interviewed a potential candidate for an undergraduate place in the History Department at Bedford College. (That was in the 1970s, before individual interviews were replaced by generic Open Days). A flustered candidate came in late, apologising that the trains were delayed. Within moments, Conrad was engaging her in an intense discussion about the running of a nationalised rail service (as British Rail then was) and the right amounts of subsidy that it should get as a proportion of GDP. The candidate gamely rallied, and did her best. But her stricken visage silently screamed: ‘all I did was mention that the train was late’.
After a while, I asked if she’d like to talk about the historical period that she was studying for A-level. Often, interview candidates became shifty at that point. On this occasion, however, my suggestion was eagerly accepted, and the candidate discoursed at some length about the financial problems of the late Tudor monarchy. Conrad was delighted with both elements of her performance; and, as we offered her a place, commented that the young were not as uninterested in complex matters of state as they were said to be. The candidate subsequently did very well – although, alas for symmetry, she did not go on to save British Rail – but I was amused at how her apparent expertise was sparked into life purely through the intensity of Conrad’s cross-questioning.
His own interest in such topical issues was part and parcel of his life-long political commitment. At that time, he was still a member of the Labour Party, having stood (unsuccessfully) as the Labour candidate for Paddington South in 1966. But Conrad was moving across the political spectrum during the 1970s. He eventually announced his shift of allegiance to the Liberals, characteristically by writing to The Times; and later, in the Lords, he took the Liberal Democrat whip. He wanted to record his change of heart, to avoid any ambiguity; and, as a Russell, he assumed that the world would want to know.
Conrad’s literalness and love of precision were qualities that made him a paradoxical historian when interrogating written documents. On the one hand, he brought a formidable focus upon the sources, shedding prior assumptions and remaining ready to challenge old interpretations. He recast seventeenth-century political and constitutional history, as one of the intellectual leaders of what became known as ‘revisionist’ history.5 He argued that there was no evidence for an inevitable clash between crown and parliament. The breakdown in their relationship, which split the MPs into divided camps, was an outcome of chance and contingency. Those were, for him, the ruling forces of history.
On the other hand, Conrad’s super-literalism led him sometimes to overlook complexities. He did not accept that people might not mean what they said – or that they might not say what they really meant at all. If the MPs declared: ‘We fear God and honour the king’, Conrad would conclude: ‘Well, there it is. They feared God and honoured the king’. Whereas one might reply, ‘Well, perhaps they were buttering up the monarch while trying to curtail his powers? And perhaps they thought it prudent not to mention that they were prepared, if need be, to fight him – especially if they thought that was God’s will’. There are often gaps within and between both words and deeds. And long-term trends are not always expressed in people’s daily language.
In case stressing his literalism and lack of small talk makes Conrad sound unduly solemn, it’s pleasant also to record a third great quality: his good humour. He was not the sort of person who had a repertoire of rollicking jokes. And his stately demeanour meant that he was not an easy man to tease. Yet, like many people who had lonely childhoods, he enjoyed the experience of being joshed by friends, chuckling agreeably when his leg was being pulled. Common jokes among the Bedford historians were directed at Conrad’s unconventional self-catered lunches (spicy sausages with jam?) or his habit of carrying everywhere a carafe of stale, green-tinged water (soluble algae, anyone?). He was delighted, even if sometimes rather bemused, by our ribbing.
Moreover, on one celebrated occasion, Conrad turned a jest against himself into a triumph. The Head of Bedford History, Professor Mike (F.M.L.) Thompson, was at some date in the mid-1970s required to appoint a Departmental Fire & Safety Officer. It marked the start of the contemporary world of regulations for everything. Mike Thompson, with his own quixotic humour, appointed Conrad Russell to the role, amidst much laughter. Not only was he the caricature of an untidy professor, living in a chaos of books and papers, but he was, like his wife Elizabeth, an inveterate chain-smoker. In fact, there were good reasons for taking proper precautions at St John’s Lodge, the handsome Regency villa where the History Department resided, since the building lacked alternative staircases for evacuation in case of emergency. Accordingly, a fire-sling was installed in Conrad’s study, high on the top floor. Then, some months later, he instituted a rare emergency drill. At the given moment, both staff and students left the building and rushed round to the back. There we witnessed Conrad, with some athleticism,6 leap into the fire-sling. He was then winched slowly to the ground, discoursing gravely, as he descended, on his favourite topic (parliamentary politics in the 1620s) – and smoking a cigarette.
Later, Conrad referred to his years in Bedford’s History Department with great affection. Our shared accommodation in St John’s Lodge, five minutes away from the rest of the College, created a special camaraderie. The 1970s in particular were an exciting and challenging period for him, when he was refining and changing not only his politics but also his interpretation of seventeenth-century history. The revisionists attracted much attention and controversy, especially among political historians. (Economic, demographic, social and urban historians tended to stick to their own separate agendas). Collectively, the revisionists rejected the stereotypes of both ‘Whig’7 and Marxist8 explanations of long-term change. Neither the ‘march of progress’ nor the inevitable class struggle would suffice to explain the intricacies of British history. But what was the alternative big picture? Chance and contingency played a significant role in the short-term twists and turns of events. Yet the outcomes did not just emerge completely at random. In the very long run, Parliament as an institution did become politically more powerful than the monarch, even though the powers of the crown did not disappear.
By the 1990s, the next generation of political historians were beginning to revise the revisionists in turn. There were also new challenges to the discipline as a whole from postmodernist theory. In private conversation, Conrad at times worried that the revisionists’ critique of their fellow historians might be taken (wrongly) as endorsing a sceptical view that history lacks any independent meaning or validity.
Meanwhile, new research fashions were also emerging. Political history was being eclipsed by an updated social history; gender history; ethnic history; cultural history; the history of sexuality; disability history; world history; and studies of the historical meanings of identity.
Within that changing context, Conrad began to give enhanced attention to his role in the Lords. His colleagues among the Liberal Democrats appreciated the lustre he brought to their cause. In 1999 he topped the poll by his fellow peers to remain in the House, when the number of hereditary peers was drastically cut by the process of constitutional reform. And, at his funeral, Conrad Russell was mourned, with sincere regret, as the ‘last of the Whigs’.
Fig.3 Conrad Russell, 5th Earl Russell, speaking in the House of Lords in the early twenty-first century.
There is, however, deep irony in that accolade. In political terms, it has some truth. He was proud to come from a long line of aristocrats, of impeccable social connections and Whig/Liberal views. Listening to Conrad, one could imagine hearing the voice of his great-grandfather, Lord John Russell (1792-1878), one of the Whig architects of the 1832 Reform Act. Moreover, this important strand of aristocratic liberalism was indeed coming to an end, both sociologically and politically. On the other hand, as already noted, Conrad the historian was a scourge of both Whigs and Marxists. Somehow his view of history as lacking grand trends (say, before 1689) was hard to tally with his belief in the unfolding of parliamentary liberalism thereafter.9 At very least, the interpretative differences were challenging.
Does the ultimate contrast between Conrad Russell’s Whig/Liberal politics and his polemical anti-Whig history mean that he was a deeply troubled person? Not at all. Conrad loved his life of scholarship and politics. And he loved following arguments through to their logical outcomes, even if they left him with paradoxes. Overall, he viewed his own trajectory as centrist: as a historian, opposing the Left in the 1970s when it got too radical for him, and, as a politician, opposing the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s, when they became dogmatic free-marketeers, challenging the very concept of ‘society’.
If there is such a thing as ‘nature’s lord’ to match with ‘nature’s gentleman’, then Conrad Russell was, unselfconsciously, one among their ranks. He was grand in manner yet simple in lifestyle and chivalric towards others. One of his most endearing traits was his capacity to find a ‘trace of alpha’ in even the most unpromising student. Equally, if there is such a thing as an intellectual’s intellectual, then Conrad Russell was another exemplar, although these days a chain-smoker would not be cast in the role. He was erudite and, for some critics, too much a precisian, preoccupied with minutiae. Yet he was demonstrably ready to take on big issues.
Putting all these qualities together gives us Conrad Russell, the historian and politician who was often controversial, especially in the former role, but always sincere, always intent. One of his favourite phrases, when confronted with a new fact or idea, was: ‘It gives one furiously to think’.10 And that’s what he, courteously but firmly, always did.
1 Conrad Sebastian Robert Russell (1937-2004), 5th Earl Russell (1987-2004), married Elizabeth Sanders (d.2003) in 1962. Their sons, Nicholas Lyulph (d.2014) and John Francis, have in turn inherited the Russell earldom but, post Britain’s 1999 constitutional reforms, not a seat in the House of Lords.
2 Conrad volunteered this information, in the context of a discussion between the two of us, in the early 1970s, on the subject of parental influence upon their offspring.
3 Merged in 1985 to become part of Royal Holloway & Bedford New College, these days known simply as Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), located at Egham, Surrey.
5 The intellectual excitement of that era, among revisionist circles, was well conveyed by fellow-panellist, Linda Levy Peck (George Washington University, Washington, DC).
6 Talking of Conrad Russell’s athleticism, some of his former students drew attention to his love of cricket. He could not only carry his bat but he also bowled parabolic googlies which rose high into the sky, spinning wildly, before dropping down vertically onto the wicket behind the flailing batsman, often taking the wicket through sheer surprise.
7 The term ‘Whig’, first coined in 1678/9, referred to a political stance which had considerable but never universal support throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in support of parliamentary constraints upon the unfettered powers of monarchy, a degree of religious toleration, moderate social and political reforms, and opposition to the more pro-monarchical Tories. The ‘Whig interpretation of history’, which again was never universally supported, tended to view the unfolding of British history as the gradual and inexorable march of liberal constitutionalism, toleration, technological innovation, and socio-political reforms, together termed ‘progress’.
8 On which, see S. Rigby, Marxism and History: A Critical Introduction (Manchester, 1987, 1998).
9 This point was perceptively developed by fellow-panellist, Nicholas Tyacke (University College London).
10 Conrad showed no sign of being aware (and probably would have laughed to discover) that this phrase originated with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, in Lord Edgware Dies (1933), ch.6.
We would like to thank regular Friday night library readers for their induldgence over a few evenings in November. Regular visitors to the library may have noticed the odd room closed for mysterious purposes, spotted our Low Countries post-doctoral fellow poring over the typography of the London Gazette from 1666, or been bemused by members of This&That Productions looking for trapdoors and other hiding spots. All this preparation was in advance of ‘Night at the Library: books of hope and fear’, part of the IHR’s contribution to the 2016 Being Human festival of the humanities (you can also read about the IHR’s other event and exhibition, ‘Beside the Seaside’ here).
The festival seeks to communicate the excitement of current humanities research, laced with the occasional dose of enjoyment. We wanted to do something in the library that explored the process of research, and perhaps introduced some new people to the richess and usefulness of the collection here. After thinking about some questions based around the collections, and making use of the library’s physical space, we very quickly realised that what we had in mind was a type of ‘Escape Room’, something that has rapidly become very popular since its origin in Japan in 2007 (and which can arguably be traced back to a series of popular TV shows in the 1980s and 90s). Ours involved a twist: we wanted to use a relatively new technology that uses small pucks to beam a geographically-specific message to a phone (or track participants around the room) via iBeacon or Eddystone protocols. Typically found at IT conferences, but also at a few cultural or heritage sites, such as Kew Gardens, it offered the chance to link the physical environment with digital resources. And with that, the ‘Book Sniffer’ was born (you probably had to be there.)
We also needed a theme. Being Human’s exploration of hope and fear quickly suggested the Great Fire of London, not least because of the 350th anniversary year, but again to pin the event down in geographical terms: the winners would be offered a night-time view of St Paul’s Cathedral from the top of the Senate House Tower. An application to Being Human was submitted, and we were fortunate enough to receive a grant, enabling us to secure the services of This&That Productions to help produce the event and develop scripts for four actors would posed the challenges to participants as they made their way through the three rooms. These included an audience with a lascivious Charles II, full of hope for his new capital city, a concerned printer to the king, trying to keep abreast of the destruction as the fires raged, and a Dutch immigrant, fearful for her son who had been arrested and accused of arson.
The challenges included the complexities of a name/place/subject index, the clues to the burning of the London Gazette‘s printing office left in its typography, operating a venerable microfilm reader, sorting early modern maps, thermochromatic love letters, and old-fashioned jigsaw puzzles. Props included real tennis balls (mistaken at the time for fire balls), and special recordings and playback machines created by the SAS sound artist in resident, Hannah Thompson.
We also had a visit from Radio 3 Free Thinking‘s Shahidha Bari and Laurence Scott, who proved to be excellent guinea pigs for the event before our 70 guests arrived for the proper event. You can hear how they fared at the end of the episode that aired on 16 Nov 2016 (about 36 minutes in).
What next? It’s possible that the event, or something like it, may return to the IHR. We will certainly look at how the puzzles and ideas might be used in library induction or training, as well as think a bit more about how escape games might relate to historical teaching, and even research, in the future. The Atlantic reported on the rise of educational escape games, Cambridge Science Museums have run several succesful games, and there is even a blog dedicated to educational library escape games. Finally, there are question about heritage and the use of the past: what are we really doing when we are playing historical escape games? Perhaps we are as much escaping the fear of the present as recreating a hopeful past. As the reading rooms return to their normal scholarly hush, we look forward to reading a book on the subject.
We have a treat for you today – the first part of a special issue to mark the 20th anniversary (and bear in mind that in digital resource years that makes us at least 200) of Reviews, for which we have asked our Editorial Board to recommend some of the most influential / significant history books of the last 20 years.
Some suggested themselves, some commented that the task itself was impossible (‘Ha ha sure that’s straightforward Danny, name the best history book out of what – only a million or so contenders!’), but I think we came up in the end with a good spread of books, and nice spread of approaches to revisiting a ‘classic’.
Anyway, here are the first four (I don’t know what it says that we didn’t review any of them when they first came out! I wasn’t in charge then of course…).
We start off with Imagining the Balkans by Maria Todorova, as Hannes Grandits goes back to a book which became an instant must read on its publication in 1997 (no. 2035).
Then we turn to Randall Packard’s The Making of a Tropical Disease A Short History of Malaria. Maureen Malowany looks back over a timely overview of the history of one of the most complex and ancient of all diseases (no. 2034).
Next up is Which People’s War?: National Identity and Citizenship in Wartime Britain 1939-1945 by Sonya O. Rose. Laura Beers tackles a book which, more than a decade after its publication, remains a model for students interested in contemporary cultural history (no. 2033).
Finally, we have Christopher Bayly’s Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780-1870, and Ricardo Roque revisits a book which made him travel to places and explore ideas that he would not otherwise had considered (no. 2032).
This post has been reposted from the LSE website to highlight this exciting new resource.
Charles Booth’s Inquiry Into theLife and Labour of the People in London was a path-breaking investigation into the social conditions faced by Londoners living in the late-Victorian era. To mark the 2016 centenary of Booth’s death, LSE has relaunched the website dedicated to Booth’s life and work as Charles Booth’s London (https://booth.lse.ac.uk/).
Booth’s famous poverty maps were pioneering in the use of colour to detail the street-by-street disparities of wealth and poverty in London. The maps were drawn from a series of “police notebooks” that Booth and his team produced by walking the streets of the Victorian metropolis. The newly redeveloped website makes available both the police notebooks and the poverty maps.
The poverty maps are available as a single interactive version using modern online mapping techniques, and are also available individually for download. The interactive version of the map allows users to search by location, and offers the ability to geo-locate individual notebooks according to the streets Booth and his team walked when doing their research. The police notebooks are available to browse and search, can be read using state-of-the-art manuscript viewer technology, and are available for download.
In addition to making available the maps and notebooks, the site has been thoroughly redesigned to reflect modern web design and accessibility standards, and features responsive design allowing it to be accessed on desktop computers, on tablets and on mobile devices. The site also includes contextual information about Booth’s life and times and about the Inquiry, and provides a series of highlights offering a “way in” to the rich archival material.
Nicola Wright, Director of LSE Library commented: “This was a pioneering study and I am thrilled to see this important archive reinvented again and made even more engaging and accessible. The innovative work of the LSE Library team and our partners is a fitting tribute to Booth’s great endeavour.”
In July 2016 the Booth archive was inscribed on UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register, which recognises culturally significant heritage material from across the UK, joining other material such as the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. The redeveloped website reflects LSE’s ongoing commitment to make available LSE Library’s collections as widely as possible and via new and innovative means.
Martin Luther, as ever the life and soul of the party…
First up this week we have Dominic Erdozain’s The Soul of Doubt: the Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx, as Charlotte Methuen and Dominic Erdozain discuss a fascinating study of the ways in which religious faith could open the door to doubt (no. 2031, with response here).
Then we turn to the Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence, edited by Chad Williams, Kidada E. Williams and Keisha N. Blain. Lydia Plath praises an innovative crowdsourced response to the tragic events of Charleston (no. 2030).
Next up is Danes in Wessex : the Scandinavian impact on southern England, c.800-c.1100, edited by Ryan Lavelle and Simon Roffey. Jeremy Haslam reviews an edited collection which should provide all students of the period with material to ponder and enjoy (no. 2029).
Finally, we also have a lengthy response by Dmitri Levitin to our earlier review of Ancient Wisdom in the Age of the New Science: Histories of Philosophy in England, c1640-1700, which you can read here.
Following the IHR Library’s user survey conducted in April 2016, the library team have been undertaking further, more in-depth user experience (UX) research to establish the multitude of ways in which our readers use the library space. This research is intended to identify areas in which the library can be improved and to gain insight into user requirements of the library.
Library staff have therefore been researching methodologies and current trends in user experience research. A range of interactive and creative tasks were then selected to best establish a snapshot of our users, their research behaviours and the ways in which they use the library. These research activities included conducting focused one-to-one interviews with a range of researchers, asking users to take staff on tours of the library, and to participate in a cognitive mapping exercise.
In total eight cognitive maps were collected, with each varying greatly both in style and content. This has provided staff with a varied dataset to help facilitate better understanding of library users’ perceptions of the building, physical space of the library and of the Institute more broadly. Further information about this exercise and examples of some of the maps collected are detailed below.
Cognitive Mapping Exercise:
In recent years, cognitive mapping has become a popular tool amongst library practitioners to gain insight into user behaviour and experience. As Ned Potter has outlined, ‘cognitive mapping is in essence asking your subject to draw a map of the library – or, ideally, of their wider learning landscape – in order to understand how they perceive the space, what they actually use, what they value and see as most important and so on.’ (Ned Potter, ‘UXLIBS 4: Ethnography You Can Try at Home‘, UX Adventure, 2015)
Consequently, IHR library staff recently asked eight researchers to draw the IHR library, or the IHR more generally. Participants were asked to alternate the colour of pens every two minutes for a total of three colours over six minutes. This technique is used to place items in the order in which they were drawn, indicating areas of importance. Participants began with a red pen, then changed to blue, before concluding in black pen.
One participant chose to depict the ‘journey’ to get to the Institute, drawing the hectic and chaotic world of central London outside the IHR (Figure 1). In their map, the library was described as representing something of a haven for quiet, contemplative research and work. The participant therefore drew streets, cars and surrounding buildings, however the only people included on the map were within the IHR itself, highlighting the participant’s view of the IHR as a social and inviting space.
Similarly, another participant opted to fill their map with people and key sites of interaction (Figure 2). They spoke of depicting the IHR as a ‘community’ in their map. In drawing the Institute as a whole, the common room and the reception area were common factors across all eight maps, suggesting these as significant sites in the make-up of the Institute. This also indicated that so-called ‘break-out’ areas within the library were key considerations for participants.
In addition, during discussions explaining their maps three participants highlighted the location of sites within the current library in relation to where they had been prior to renovation of the building and the IHR’s time in the South Block of Senate House. In this regard, one participant drew ‘sites of memory’ on their map – these represented both areas of particularly fond memories and recollections, but also previous locations of the library’s collections (Figure 3).
As noted previously, all eight maps were drawn in very differing styles and in varied formats. While some were formulated in a logical manner and floors were depicted in a rigid structure, others missed out areas and one participant was unsure of how many floors in total the IHR has – writing on their map ‘Missing Floor?’ between the second and third floor landings. The relative lack of detail attributed to the North American room on the second floor and to the third floor across all eight maps suggests a need to review the physical environments of these areas of the library.
Further analysis of the cognitive maps and in-depth participant interviews will take place in the coming weeks. The IHR library team are immensely grateful to all participants and for allowing the reproduction of a selection of the cognitive maps collected here.
Library staff would welcome any feedback on any aspect of the library and on the user experience research they are conducting. If you would like to provide feedback, please contact library staff via the library enquiry office, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7862 8760.
For further information on the methodology of utilising cognitive mapping in library user experience research see:
For a simple search, covering all periods, the BBIH has 2692 entries:
While this is informative for statistics and general coverage, the resources are too broad for those undertaking more specific research. Therefore narrowing down the period covered would filter the results further. For example, Jewish people in the medieval period:
This has narrowed the results down considerably. However, if your research interest is in a particular field, for example medieval Jewish women, you can locate exactly the right resources by going into ‘Advanced Search’. Choose ‘Jews’ from the Subject tree or type ‘Jews’ in the search box, then type ‘women’ in the Subject tree, making sure to select ‘and‘ rather than ‘or‘ from the Boolean functions:
Insert the search terms (using the insert/close button) and once again apply the same date range. It is clear that the search results have narrowed considerably (to 28):
Clicking on the search button then displays the details of the resources.
The SEE ALSO options on the main search for ‘All index terms’ can also provide prompts for other areas of exploration:
Another useful tip for general browsing is to go into the record to see how the subject hierarchy has searched through the subject index to arrive at the result:
To receive notifications of new resources, please sign up to our email alert option. The bibliography is updated three times a year, and you will be alerted to any new material in your chosen subject field. For additional medieval Jewish resources and reviews, see Dean Irwin’s Towards a Bibliography of Medieval Anglo-Jewry.
Initial image – full citation: Süßkind, der Jude von Trimberg (Süsskind, the Jew of Trimberg), portrait from the Codex Manesse.
The IHR enjoys an associate fellowship connection with Historic England and this year we invited some of the Fellows from Historic England to deliver a lecture. The event was part of the Being Human Festival and a coincident exhibit was arranged in the IHR’s exhibit space in the Wolfson corridor.
The lecture took place on Monday, 21 November, and it was a wonderful and well-attended evening. John Cattell spoke first, providing an overview of the work of Historic England. Allan Brodie then provided a visually stimulating talk on change to various aspects of seaside communities, their beaches, and waterfronts, accented with beautiful photographs, old and new. Brodie has already published books on English seaside resorts and on Blackpool and his new book on seasides and seafronts in England is well underway.
The lecture was followed by a seaside-themed reception, complete with fish and chips, cornish pasties, and samples of Caspyn Cornish gin. We were able to screen some lovely footage from the Wellcome Collection in the background, as well as tourism films from the mid-20th century, which aimed to entice visitors to seaside towns. Punch and Judy man, Professor Robert Styles, entertained and informed the guests at the reception. We watched as Robert set up his traditional Punch and Judy theatre and he then gave “backstage” tours, displaying a collection of puppets, including some antiques, and answered questions about the history of Punch and Judy.
The event also provided a launch of sorts for the associated exhibit, also titled By the Seaside. The exhibit covers fashion and morality at the beach; seaside cures; art, music and literature inspired by the seaside; the close connection of ice cream with the English beach; and beach photography and tourism materials. The central case displays a fantastic Edwardian bathing costume, on loan from IHR Wohl Librarian, Matthew Shaw. Kelly A Spring curated the excellent display on the history of ice cream, tracing the introduction of ice cream by Italian immigrants, and the early migration of that ice cream to the seaside.
The South East Archive of Seaside Photography (SEAS) kindly loaned us about 20 incredible framed tintypes and ambrotypes, portraits of couples and groups at the beach. The early beach photographer was itinerant and was perceived at the time as more vulgar salesman than photographer, regarded with at best indifference and frequently with contempt. The work produced by these practitioners has been readily dismissed as inartistic disposable wares – cheap seaside ephemera. These photographers provided while-you-wait ambrotypes (photographs on glass) or ferrotypes (photographs on enameled iron, commonly called tintypes) and these curated items provide an opportunity to reconsider the previous aesthetic, technical and cultural disregard with which they were treated. These also provide images of late 19th and early 20th English couples, friends, and families who might not have been able to afford studio portrait photography and who, therefore, are less often captured in photos.
I had a fascinating time assembling the other cases of the exhibit and was particularly intrigued to learn more about some of the habits and practices common to early beach tourism in England and about how these have changed. I had never been aware that the drinking of large glasses of seawater was a standard part of the seaside cure in the late 18th century. Some doctors felt it was acceptable to add milk to the salt water in order to make it – allegedly – more palatable. Seawater was even bottled and sold inland, much as spa water was then and still is. Measures of modesty and the measures used to enforce modest behaviour shifted dramatically over time. Some what surprisingly, it was entirely acceptable at some resorts for men to bathe naked up into the Victorian period, and regulations about gender segregated bathing fluctuated with time and geography. There is, of course, an element of the marketplace in all of these matters. Local governments and business-people used the need for modesty as an excuse for forcing bathers into rented bathing machines, tents, huts, and changing rooms.
Joe Acheson of Hidden Orchestra, and his publisher, Full Thought Publishing, kindly allowed us to set up a listening station at the exhibit, featuring Acheson’s Marconi and the Lizard EP. As Acheson explains: “Lizard Point is the most southerly point of the UK mainland. Radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi built a hut there in 1901, to experiment with sending radio signals over longer distances – it was in that hut that the first ever ship-to-shore SOS signal was received. I spent a week there in August 2016, in the National Trust’s first ever sound artist residency. The “Marconi and the Lizard” EP is the result of that residency.”
We hope this will be the first in a series of annual events of this kind, in collaboration with Historic England and hope, as well, that you have a chance to visit the exhibit, which will be on in the lower ground floor of the IHR until early December.