The IHR Blog |

North American Collections Room now open!

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American-room2
The North American Collections Room on the second floor of the IHR opened its doors to readers last week. We are pleased to announce that over two-thirds of our American resources are now available on open access in the room. The resources are spread over 350 metres of shelf space and represent the strengths of the overall collection, including colonial North American History, Canadian history, the American Civil War, US western expansion, and early US constitutional history. The space is also home to the IHR’s English and Spanish Caribbean holdings.

Soon the room will be equipped with a projector and will provide a new base for several IHR seminars. It will also be used to host small workshops, book launches and other functions promoting American history in London. In this way, the library hopes that it will become a community space for students and researchers interested in early American history.

To mark the opening, the library will post a series of entries on the IHR blog devoted to a body of sources that constitute the backbone of our colonial American resources: archival series published by state and regional historical societies. All together, the IHR holds over 800 volumes of state historical society material relating to the history of the colonial and revolutionary periods. It is the largest open shelf collection of these resources in the UK. These volumes contain printed versions of a range of documents held in state archives, including – but by now means restricted to – personal correspondence, assembly minutes, and court records. The first blog post, to appear early next week, will focus on our New England resources.

The Historical Aspects of Dilipad: Challenges and Opportunities

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This post originally appeared on the Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data project blog, and is a guest post by one of the historians working the project, Luke Blaxill.

The Dilipad project is on one hand exciting because it will allow us to investigate ambitious research questions that our team of historians, social and political scientists, and computational linguists couldn’t address otherwise. But it’s also exciting precisely because it is such an interdisciplinary undertaking, which has the capacity to inspire methodological innovation. For me as a historian, it offers a unique opportunity not just to investigate new scholarly questions, but also to analyse historical texts in a new way.

We must remember that, in History, the familiarity with corpus-driven content analysis and semantic approaches is minimal. Almost all historians of language use purely qualitative approaches (i.e. manual reading) and are unfamiliar even with basic word-counting and concordance techniques. Indeed, the very idea of ‘distant reading’ with computers, and categorising ephemeral and context-sensitive political vocabulary and phrases into analytical groups is massively controversial even for a single specific historical moment, let alone diachronically or transnationally over decades or even generations. The reasons for this situation in History are complex, but can reasonably be summarised as stemming from two major scholarly trends which have emerged in the last four decades. The first is the wide-scale abandonment of quantitative History after its perceived failures in the 1970s, and the migration of economic history away from the humanities. The second is the influence of post-structuralism from the mid-1980s, which encouraged historians of language to focus on close readings, and shift from the macro to the micro, and from the top-down to the bottom-up. Political historians’ ambitions became centred around reconstructions of localised culture rather than ontologies, cliometrics, model making, and broad theories. Unsurprisingly, computerised quantitative text analysis found few, if any, champions in this environment.

In the last five years, the release of a plethora of machine-readable historical texts (among them Hansard) online, as well as the popularity of Google Ngram, have reopened the debate on how and how far text analysis techniques developed in linguistics and the social and political sciences can benefit historical research. The Dilipad project is thus a potentially timely intervention, and presents a genuine opportunity to push the methodological envelope in History.

We aim to publish outputs which will appeal to a mainstream audience of historians who will have little familiarity with our methodologies, rather than to prioritise a narrower digital humanities audience. We will aim to make telling interventions in existing historical debates which could not be made using traditional research methods. With this in mind, we are pursuing a number of exciting topics using our roughly two centuries-worth of Parliamentary data, including the language of gender, imperialism, and democracy. While future blog posts will expand upon all three areas in more detail, I offer a few thoughts below on the first.

The Parliamentary language of gender is a self-evidently interesting line of enquiry during a historic period where the role of women in the political process in Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands was entirely transformed. There has been considerable recent historical interest on the impact of women on the language of politics, and female rhetorical culture. The Dilipad project will examine differences in vocabulary between male and female speakers, such as on genre of topics raised, and also discursive elements, hedging, modality, the use of personal pronouns and other discourse markers- especially those which convey assertiveness and emotion. Next to purely textual features we will analyse how the position of women in parliament changed over time and between countries (time they spoke, how frequently they were interrupted, the impact of their discourse on the rest of the debate etc.).

A second area of great interest will be how women were presented and described in debate – both by men and by other women. This line of enquiry might present an opportunity to utilise sentiment analysis (which in itself would be methodologically significant) which might shed light on positive or negative attitudes towards women in the respective political cultures of our three countries. We will analyze tone, and investigate what vocabulary and lexical formations tended to be most associated with women. In addition, we can also investigate whether the portrayal of women varied across political parties.

More broadly, this historical analysis could help shed light on the broader impact of women in Parliamentary rhetorical culture. Was there a discernible ‘feminized language of politics’, and if so, where did it appear, and when? Similarly, was there any difference in Parliamentary behaviour between the sexes, with women contributing disproportionately more to debates on certain topics, and less to others? Finally, can we associate the introduction of new Parliamentary topics or forms of argument to the appearance of women speakers?

Insights in these areas – made possible only by linked ‘big data’ textual analysis – will undoubtedly be of great interest to historians, and will (we hope) demonstrate the practical utility of text mining and semantic methodologies in this field.

New Historical Research article

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The seditious murder of Thomas of Sibthorpe and the Great Statute of Treasons, 1351–2. David Crookmurder

Thomas of Sibthorpe, a Nottinghamshire clergyman and chancery clerk, prospered under the regime of Edward II and his favourite Hugh Despenser the younger, and again under Edward III, when he also became a clerk of parliament and a justice of assize and of the peace. In 1326 he established at Sibthorpe a college of chantry priests to pray for his soul and those of others; it was twice expanded and more lavishly endowed, in 1335 and 1343. He appointed a keeper or warden to take charge of the college, and used all available legal means to ensure that the endowment was firmly appropriated to the warden, who was obliged periodically to render him accounts. In 1351 the third warden, Robert of Kneeton, aided by others, allegedly murdered him in order to avoid rendering such an account. They were tried at a Nottingham gaol delivery, convicted of seditious killing and sentenced to be drawn and hanged, the punishment reserved for traitors, because the victim was a royal clerk and justice. The circumstances of Sibthorpe’s death may have had a significant effect on the terms of the first Great Statute of Treasons, adopted by parliament only a few months later, and presumably incorporating the views of the most senior judges in England.

Bawling bishops, pugnacious prelates and crying crusaders

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My previous post on the range of history material being published opened with the early modern view of masculinity and men crying. Go back a couple of hundred years and it seems men were allowed to cry, and at least if you were a bishop, the act was deemed appropriate, usually in a religious sense, and of course if the crying was not seen as too ostentatious. As observed in Episcopal emotions: tears in the life of the medieval bishop, by Katherine Harvey, the significance of weeping in the life of the late medieval English bishop was key to perceptions of his masculinity, his sexuality as well as his physical body. Furthermore, the act had significant implications for his reputation both as a cleric and as a potential saint.grosseteste

Of course not all prelates were prone to weepy emotions. In The political and military agency of ecclesiastical leaders in Anglo-Norman England: 1066-1154, the role of ecclesiastical lords in the Anarchy is discussed. Such bishops became despoilers of the countryside. Indeed one chronicler argued that bishops were behaving in much the same fashion as secular lords in warfare, carrying swords and wearing armour.

A local history view of the Anarchy can be gleaned from Edmund King’s King Stephen and the Empress Matilda: the view from Northampton where the civil war led to conflict over land and lordship especially for Simon de Senlis, earl of Northampton.

Returning to the weeping theme, Stephen Spencer, in The emotional rhetoric of crusader spirituality in the narratives of the First Crusade, analyses representations of fear and weeping in the Latin narratives and argues that emotional displays functioned as markers of crusader spirituality (rather like the weeping bishops above). He then explores depictions of weeping as an expression of piety, focusing specifically on tears shed over Jerusalem.

If you are interested in further tear duct activity, I’d recommend Crying in the middle ages: tears of history, which looks at the role of tears in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultural discourses covering the arts, preaching, literature (including Piers Plowman), and in the emotion of pilgrimage.

I’d also recommend the History of Emotions blog.

On a completely different theme, I was intrigued by two war-related articles. The first discusses Quaker peace activities prior to the World War I – “Edwardian peace testimony: British Quakers against militarism and conscription c. 1902-1914″, in Journal of the Friends Historical Society, 2010, vol. 61:1 p. 49-66. The second, Human Computing Practices and Patronage: Antiaircraft Ballistics and Tidal Calculations in First World War Britain, outlines the importance of mathematics and the work of Arthur Thomas Doodson, an intriguing scientific aspect of the conflict. As one can imagine a great deal has been written on the Great War largely in special issues of journals, indeed so much has been written I plan a blog covering those issues.

There are two articles, both animal related, which vie for best title. A “Bovine Glamour Girl”: Borden Milk, Elsie the Cow, and the Convergence of Technology, Animals, and Gender at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, by Anna Thompson Hajdik, looks at the adoption and development of the company’s popular and eponymous mascot.Daniel-Sennert

Joel Klein’s article, Daniel Sennert, The Philosophical Hen, and The Epistolary Quest for a (Nearly-)Universal Medicine surveys Sennert’s pursuit of nearly universal medicines made from noble metals. One of his experiments involved feeding a hen silver or gold during favourable astrological conjunctions.

As usual all relevant material will appear in the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

New reviews: Roy Foster interview, early modern pamphlets, C19 women professionals and Nat Turner

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foster2We start off this week with another in our occasional interview series, with Daniel Snowman talking to Professor Roy Foster about his recent work on the human dimension behind the Easter Rising, Vivid Faces (no. 1745).

Next we have Thomas Dekker and the Culture of Pamphleteering in Early Modern London by Anna Bayman. Kirsty Rolfe and the author discuss a highly readable study, with important implications for critical understanding of ‘popular print’ and the cultures with which it interacted (no. 1744, with response here).

Then we turn to Crafting the Woman Professional in the Long Nineteenth Century, edited by Kryriaki Hadjiafxendi and Patricia Zakreski, which Zoe Thomas believes will positively contribute to a number of academic fields (no. 1743).

Finally there is David F. Allmendinger Jr.’s Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County, as Vanessa Holden reviews an account of the most famous slave rebellion in American history (no. 1742).

 

Wliat’s in a n^me? Post-correction of randomly misrecognized names in OCR data

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This post originally appeared on the Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data project blog, and is a guest post by team member Kaspar Beelen.

Problem.

Notwithstanding the recent optimization of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) techniques, the conversion from image to machine-readable text remains, more often than not, a problematic endeavor. The results are rarely perfect. The reasons for the defects are multiple and range from errors in the original prints, to more systemic issues such as the quality of the scan, the selected font or typographic variation within the same document. When we converted the scans of the historical Canadian parliamentary proceedings, especially the latter cause turned out to be problematic. Typographically speaking, the parliamentary proceedings are richly adorned with transitions between different font types and styles. These switches are not simply due to the esthetic preferences of the editors, but are intended facilitate reading by indicating the structure of the text. Structural elements of the proceedings such as topic titles, the names of the MPs taking the floor, audience reactions and other crucial items, are distinguished from common speech by the use of bold or cursive type, small capital or even a combination.

Moreover, if the scans are not optimized for OCR conversion, the quality of the data decreases dramatically as a result of typographic variation. In the case of the Belgian parliamentary proceedings, a huge effort was undertaken to make historical proceedings publicly available in PDF format. The scans were optimized for readability, but seemingly not for OCR processing, and unsurprisingly the conversion yielded to a flawed and unreliable output. Although one might complain about this, it is at the same time highly unlikely that, considering the costs of scanning more than 100.000 pages, the process will be redone in the near future, so we have no option but to work with the data that is available.

Because of the aforementioned reason, names, printed in bold (Belgium) or small capital (Canada), ended up misrecognized in an almost random manner, i.e. there was no logic in the way the software converted the name. Although it showcases the inventiveness of the OCR system, it makes linking names to an external database almost impossible. Below you see a small selection of the various ways ABBYY, the software package we are currently working with, screwed up the name of the Belgian progressive liberal “Houzeau the Lehaie”:

Table 1: Different outputs for “Houzeau the Lehaie”

Houzeau de Lehnie. Ilonzenu dc Lehnlc. lionceau de Lehale.
Ilonseau de Lehaie. Ilonzenu 4e Lehaie. HouKemi de Lehnlc.
lionceau de Lehaie. Honaeaa 4e Lehaie. Hoaieau de Lehnle.
Ilonzenn de Lehaie. Heaieaa ée Lehaie. Homean de Lehaie.
Heazeaa «le Lehaie. Houzcait de Lekale. Houteau de Lehaie.
Hoiizcan de Lchnle. Henxean dc Lehaie. Houxcau de Lehaie.
Hensean die Lehaie. IleuzeAit «Je Lehnie. Houzeau de Jlehuie.
Ileaieaa «Je Lehaie. Honzean dc Lehaie Houzeau de Lehaic.
Hoiizcnu de Lehaie. Honzeau de Lehaie. Ilouzeati de Lehaie.
Houxean de Lehaie. Hanseau de Lehaie. Etc.

Although the quality of the scanned Canadian Hansards is significantly better, the same phenomenon occurs.

 Table 2: Sample of errors spotted in the conversion Canadian Hansards (1919)

BALLANTYNE ARCHAMBAULT
BAILLANiTYNE ARCBAMBAULT
BALLAINTYNE ARCHAMBATJLT
BALLANT1NE AECBAMBAULT
BALLAiNTYNE ABCHAMBAULT
iBALiLANTYNE AROHASMBAULT
BAIiLANTYNE ARlQHAMBAULT
BALLANTYINE AECBAMBAULT

In many other cases even an expert would have hard time figuring out to whom the name should refer to.

Table 3: Misrecognition of names

,%nsaaeh-l»al*saai.
aandcrklndcrc.
fiillleaiix.
IYanoerklnaere.
I* nréeldcn*.
Ilellcpuitc.
Thlcapaat.

These observation are rather troubling, especially with respect to the construction linked corpora: even if, let’s say, 99% of the text is correctly converted, the other 1% will contain many of the most crucial entities, needed for marking up the structure and linking the proceedings to other sources of information. To correct the tiny but highly important 1%, I will focus in this blog post on how to automatically normalize speaker entities, those parts of proceedings that indicate who is taking the floor. In order to retrieve context information about the MPs, such as party and constituency, we have to link the proceedings our biographic databases. Linking will only be possible of the speaker entities in the proceedings match those in our external corpus.

In most occasions speaker entities include a title and a name followed by optional elements indicating the function and/or the constituency of the orator. The semicolon forms the border between the speaker entity and the actual speech. In a more formal notation, a speaker entity consists of the following pattern:

Mr. {Initials} Name{, Function} {(Constituency)}: Speech.

Using regular expression we can easily extract these entities. The result of this extraction is summarized by the figures below, which show the frequency with which the different speaker entities occur.

 Figure 1: Distribution of extracted speaker entities (Canada, 1919)

fig1afig1b

 

 

 

Figure 2: Distribution of extracted speaker entities (Belgium, 1893)

fig1afig1b

 

 

 

The figures lay bare the scope of the problem caused by these random OCR errors in more detail. Ideally there shouldn’t be more speaker entities than there are MPs in the House, which is clearly not the case. As you can see for the Belgian proceedings from the year 1893, the set of items occurring once or twice alone contains around 3000 unique elements. The output for the Canadian Hansards from 1919, looks slightly better, but there are still around 1000 almost unique items. Also, as is clear from the plots, the distribution of the speakers is more right skewed, due to the large amount of unique and wrongly recognized names in the original scans. We will try to reduce the right-skewedness by replacing the almost unique elements with more common items.

Solution.

In a first step we set out to replace these names with similar items that occur more frequent. Replacement happens in two consecutive rounds: First by searching in the local context of the sitting, and secondly by looking for a likely candidate in the set of items extracted from all the sittings of a particular year. To measure whether two names resemble each other, we calculated cosine similarity, based on n-grams of characters, with n running from one to four.

More formally, the correction starts with the following procedure:

More formallyAs shown in table 4, running this loop yields many replacement rules. Not all of them are correct so we need manually filter out and discard any illegitimate rules that this procedure has generated.

 Table 4: Selection of rules generated by above procedure

Legitimate rules Illegitimate rules
EOWELL->ROWELL W.HIDDEN -> DENIS
McOOIG->McCOIG SCOTT -> CAEVELL
ROWELiL->ROWELL THOMAS VIEN -> THOMAS WHITE
RUCHARBSON->RICHARDSON BRAKE -> SPEAKER
(MdMASTER->McMASTER CLARKE -> CLARK
ABCHAMBAULT->ARCHAMBAULT
AROHASMBAULT->ARCHAMBAULT
CQCKSHUTT->COCKSHUTT

Just applying these corrected replacement rules, would increase the quality of the text material a lot. But, as stated before, similarity won’t suffice when quality is awful, such as is the case for the examples shown in table 2. We need to go beyond similarity, but how?

The solution I propose is to use the replacement rules to train a classifier and consequently apply the classifier to instances that couldn’t be assigned to a correction during the previous steps. OCR correction thus becomes a multiclass classification task, in which each generated rule is used as a training instance. The right-hand side of the rule represents the class or the target variable. The left-hand side is converted to input variables or features. After training, the classifier will predict a correction, given a misrecognized name as input. For our experiment we used Multinomial Naïve Bayes, trained with n-grams of characters as features, with n againg ranging from 1 to 4. This worked surprisingly well: 90% of the rules it created were correct. Only around 10% of the rules generated by the classifier were either wrong or didn’t allow us to make a decision. Table 4 shows a small fragment of the rules produced by the classifier.

Table 5: Sample of classifier output given input name

Input name Classifier output
,%nsaaeh-l»al*saai. Anspach-Puissant.
aandcrklndcrc. Vanderkindere.
fiillleaiix. Gillieaux.
IYanoerklnaere. Vanderkindere.
I* nréeldcn*. le président.
Ilellcpuitc. Helleputte.
Thlcapaat. Thienpont.

Conclusion.

As you can see in table 5, the predicted corrections aren’t necessarily very similar to the input name. If just a few elements are stable, the classifier can pick up the signal even when there is a lot of noise. Because OCR software mostly recognizes at a handful characters consistently, this method seems to perform well.

To summarize: What are the strong points of this system? First of all, it is fairly simple, reasonably time-efficient and works even when the quality of the original data is very bad. Manual filtering can be done quickly: for each year of data, it takes an hour or two to correct the rules generated by each of the two processes and replace the names.  Secondly: Once a classifier is trained, it can also predict corrections for the other years of the same parliamentary session. Lastly, as mentioned before, the classifier can correctly predict replacements just on the basis of a few shared characters.

Some weak points need to be addressed as well. The system still needs supervision. But, nonetheless, this is worth the effort, because it can enhance the quality of the data significantly, especially with respect to linking the speeches in a later stage. In some cases, however, it can be impossible to assess whether a replacement rule should be kept or not. Another crucial problem is that the manual supervision needs to be done by experts who are familiar both with the historical period of the text and with the OCR errors. That is, the expert has to know which names are legal and also has to be proficient in reading OCR errors.

At the moment, we are trying to improve and expand the method. So far, the model uses only the frequency of n-grams, and not their location in a token. By taking location into account, we expect that we could improve the results, but that would also increase dimensionality. Besides adding new features, we should also experiment with other algorithms, such as support-vector machines, which perform better in a high-dimensional space. We will also test whether we can expand the method to correct other structural elements of the parliamentary proceedings, such as topical titles.

New reviews: Roy Jenkins and his biographer, Abraham Lincoln and early modern alehouses

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jenkins2More fruits of that pressure now, anyway, as we have a special feature on biographer John Campbell. Adam Timmins looks back over his previous work (no. 1740) as a prelude to Robert Saunder’s examination of his latest effort, Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life (no. 1741).

Then we cross the Atlantic, turning to Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Brookhiser. Sean Ledwith and the author discuss an innovative biography of the 16th President (no. 1739, with response here).

Finally we have Mark Hailwood’s Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England. Jennifer Bishop believes that this book makes a very strong case for the alehouse as one of the key institutions in early modern society (no. 1738).

 

IHR Friends Film Evening – Henry V (1944)

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Professor Anne Curry_V1

Professor Anne Curry

2015 seems to be a year marking many notable anniversaries: 800 years since Magna Carta; 750 years since the first elected Parliament representing all of England; 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo; 50 years since the death of Sir Winston Churchill; and the First World War centenary remembrances continue.  This year also represents another momentous anniversary—600 years since the Battle of Agincourt.  To commemorate this milestone of the Hundred Years’ War, the Friends of the IHR are hosting a film evening on 16 March, showing Laurence Olivier’s acclaimed film, Henry V.  The evening will feature a guest lecture from Professor Anne Curry, an expert on medieval history and a prolific author on the Hundred Years’ War.

Agincourt-Henry V publicity poster_WikiCommons

Henry V Film Poster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Henry_V_%E2%80% 93_1944_UK_film_poster.jpg)

Crafted in 1944, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France, directed by and starring Olivier, is widely regarded as the first motion picture to successfully adapt Shakespeare from the stage to the screen.  In homage to the Bard, the movie opens with a production of Henry V at the Globe Theatre, and slowly transforms into a cinematic spectacle.  The viewer is then treated to a masterful mix of action—following the King’s campaign to Agincourt—and romance—as Henry attempts to court the French princess.  The action returns to the Globe as this Academy Award-winning film draws to a close.

The Friends of the IHR have been very loyal supporters of the Institute.  The funding they provide is integral to increasing the capacity of the IHR to promote and enhance the study of history in Britain.  As part of the mission to extend the reach of the IHR’s resources, charitable donations from the Friends have funded bursaries for many PhD students who are based outside London to access the Institute and undertake excellent research.  In addition, the Friends have subsidised numerous outstanding speakers to present insightful seminars, provided vital capital for the recently completed redevelopment, and delivered cornerstone funding for the IHR Library’s new Conservation Fund.  All of these help ensure that the IHR is able to offer the highest quality scholarship and resources.

Agincourt-Battle archers_WikkiCommons_small

Battle of Agincourt (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schlacht_von _Azincourt.jpg)

Much more than just financial supporters, however, the Friends form a social community of academics and all with a shared interest in history.  As such, the film evenings are a highlight of the Friends’ calendar.  These events offer a chance to engage with history through a medium other than books, to hear from experts in the field, and to partake in a critical discussion of the subject and an exchange of ideas.  Perhaps just as importantly, these events provide an opportunity to have a good time with like-minded people, enjoy some food and drink, and perhaps make some friends among the Friends. For information on how to join the Friends, please follow this link.

The event is open to all, but you are encouraged to book soon, as spaces are limited and going fast.  In addition to the film and lecture, there will be wine throughout and light supper to follow.

Venue: Wolfson Conference Suite, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU

Talk/Screening: 5:30 pm

Light supper from: 8:00 pm

Tickets: £20 / £10 (students)

For information on how to register and to see the event poster, please click here.

Annual Pollard Prize 2015

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Entries are invited for this year’s Pollard Prize (sponsored by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.) awarded for the best paper presented at an IHR seminar 2014-15 by a postgraduate student or by a researcher within one year of completing the PhD.1096214263368_PXYJwtsF_l

First prize

Fast track publication in the prestigious IHR journal, Historical Research, and £200 of Blackwell books.

Runner up prizes

Publication in Historical Research, and a selection of Blackwell books.

Application

Applicants are required to have delivered a paper during the academic year in which the award is made. Submissions should be supported by a reference from a convenor of the appropriate seminar. Papers should be fully footnoted, although it is not necessary at this stage to follow Historical Research house style. All papers submitted must be eligible for publication.

The closing date for submissions is  30 May 2015

Enquiries and submissions should be directed to the Executive Editor, Historical Research (Jane.Winters@sas.ac.uk).

Exhibition at Senate House Library for London and the First World War conference

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This post has kindly been written for us by, Dr Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian, Senate House Library.

Playne 489

Fashion catalogues from SHL

The Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research and the Imperial War Museum are holding a major conference on 20-21 March that will explore the ways in which London and its inhabitants were affected by, and involved with, the 1914-18 conflict. Senate House Library provided a display to support the conference of a few items that pertain specifically to London.

One item displayed is as parochial for the University as it is possible to be: the Roll of War Service, 1914-1919, which lists members of the University of London Officer Training Corps who lost their lives in the conflict. It is a chilling list of seven officers and some 670 cadets. Perhaps equally chilling is Alfred Rawlinson’s The Defence of London 1915-1918, which describes the defence of London during the First World War against zeppelins and against aeroplanes, about which Percy Scott states in the preface: “Colonel Rawlinson has written this book on our defence of London against attacks from the air by Germany. He has to admit that we had no defence.”

Playne 489_2

Fashion catalogues from SHL

Life was not entirely miserable. The most visual items displayed are a couple of catalogues from London fashion emporia, Dickins & Jones on Regent Street and Peter Robinson’s on Oxford Street. The war affected them: a catalogue held but not shown, from Bradley’s in Chepstow’s Place for its 1916 autumn and winter fashions, warns: “The increasing shortage of labour, coupled with the rapid advance in prices of all materials, is likely to seriously affect the possible output of all firms, even of a firm such as ours with its exceptional resources and capacity …”. Stock ranges from the severely practical (the well-cut farm suit of khaki gabardine advertised by Dickins & Jones) to the luxurious, with Peter Robinson’s advertising, for ten guineas: “Evening gown in Silk net over Charmeuse; corsage of handsome silver lace. The tunic effect is edges with opalescent beads and large hanging crystal bead tassels.”

orderly

Observations of an Orderly

Stories could be amusing. Ward Muir’s Observations of an Orderly (1918) describes the author’s experiences working during the war at the 3rd London General Hospital. Much of the work (waiting on the patients, washing up, checking linen) would have been the same anywhere in the country. But Muir describes how a colleague accompanied seven blind soldiers to a matinée at Queen’s Hall. They went there by bus, but insisted on taking the tube back. The corporal who was accompanying them consented. He had forgotten that the lifts at Oxford Circus tube station had been abolished in favour of escalators, judged unsafe for blind people. Having heard a comic song about escalators, they wished to sample “this metropolitan invention”. At the bottom they fell down, one on top of each other, with other hurrying passengers falling too. The soldiers regarded the affair as extremely comical, while an old lady who had tripped over the first soldier reproved the hapless corporal for his “callousness and cruelty to these unhappy blind heroes”.

The books shown come from two of the named special collections at Senate House Library: the Bromhead Library of about 4,000 items on the history of London, and the Playne Collection about 530 books and pamphlets pertaining to the First World War collected by pacifist and historian Caroline Elizabeth Playne.

 

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