We start with Government Against Itself: Public Sector Union Power and Its Consequences by Daniel DiSalvo. Joseph E. Hower and the author discuss a useful book on an important subject (no. 1782, with response here).
Next up is Laurence Fenton’s Frederick Douglass in Ireland: The Black O’Connell, and Hannah-Rose Murray recommends a well-written and researched volume (no. 1781).
Then we turn to Robert Hoyland’s In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire. Youssef Choueiri reviews a lively and fresh account of the Arab conquests (no. 1780).
Finally, Cyril Pearce provides a monumental overview of the literature on war resisters over the last 100 years, in Writing about Britain’s 1914-18 War Resisters (no. 1779).
We begin this week with Laura King’s Family Men: Fatherhood and Masculinity in Britain, 1914-1960. Helen McCarthy and the author discuss a beautifully researched, nuanced and ambitious book (no. 1778, with response here).
Next up is The Jacobean Grand Tour: Early Stuart Travellers in Europe, edited by Edward Chaney and Timothy Wilks. Simon Ditchfield has some reservations, but finds much to enjoy in erudite, generously illustrated and very reasonably priced volume (no. 1777).
Then we turn to Megan L. Bever and Scott A. Suarez’s Historian Behind the History: Conversations with Southern Historians, as Bruce Baker reviews an insightful set of interviews with historians about doing history (no. 1776).
Finally, we have The Oxford Handbook of Environmental History, edited by Andrew C. Isenberg, which Peter Coates praises as an enormously valuable teaching and research resource for the practitioner of environmental history (no. 1775).
This post has kindly been written for us by Jennifer Keating, RHS Marshall Fellow, Institute of Historical Research
How is emptiness made, and what purposes does it serve? What cultural, material and natural work goes into maintaining nothingness? And why have a variety of historical actors, from colonial powers to cartographers, sought to construct, control and maintain physically and discursively ‘empty’ space? In April, three other IHR fellows (Courtney J. Campbell, Allegra Giovine and Will Pooley) and I organised a conference on the theme of ‘Empty Spaces’ that brought together speakers from a variety of historical backgrounds to tackle these very questions. The day saw an intriguing selection of inter-weaving topics, from ruins to representations of the sea and sky, and from vacant urban space to voids in history-writing. A hugely enjoyable keynote speech given by Matt Houlbrook reflected on the ways in which we all as historians have to engage with ‘emptiness’ in some form, whether as a specific aspect of our own topic of enquiry, or in the more historiographical sense of writing to fill gaps, voids or empty spaces – or conversely, embracing this emptiness – in our collective knowledge.
This theme of empty space provided me with a new angle from which to view my own work on Russian settler society in late tsarist Central Asia, the write-up of which is currently being funded by the IHR and the Royal Historical Society. In essence, the thesis investigates the ways in which the Russian settler community, presented with a territory far from the imperial centre that was commonly acknowledged as being ‘vast and alien’, sought to transform, appropriate or reject its ‘strange and Other-worldly’ terrain. Furthermore, I consider how ideas about Central Asia as a colonial space drove, and were driven by, these physical interventions in the landscape, as part of a broader perspective that considers the intersections between the actual reshaping of land and the social production of space in texts and images.
For the most part, I consider places and sites that we might think of as the opposite of empty space: work on irrigation projects, afforestation, railway building and settlement creation. Yet almost all of these activities and their representations were underpinned by pervasive Russian notions about the emptiness of rural Central Asia. Besides its settled river valleys and oases, over 75% of Turkestan’s territory comprised arid and semi-arid steppe and desert, and the perceived emptiness of these areas served a compelling ideological purpose in Russian discourse. Descriptions of the steppe commonly referenced landscape conventions of the sublime, awesome and terrifying in equal measure. These lands were held to be ‘lifeless’ and ‘deathly’, and visitors described in great detail the bewildering scale of an ‘empty’ environment that resembled ‘a circle of which the centre was everywhere, and the circumference nowhere’.
Claims that rural terrain was nothing but ‘one vast waste’, or a ‘monotonous Sahara’ were initially sustained by a lack of local geographical knowledge. With few accurate maps, Russian explorers and geographers set about ‘discovering’ the landscape, rendering it textually, cartographically and in photographs, acts which were very much part of the scientific and cultural exercise of colonial power. The documentation of this terrain generated discursively ‘empty’ space that had significant use and potential. Firstly, words and images were powerful tools that could be used to frame an empty landscape as an environment open for improvement. Engineers, irrigation specialists and state officials embarked on numerous projects to ‘fertilise this huge and hitherto unproductive space,’ casting the land as a potentially useful resource that had deteriorated into a state of dis-use. Secondly, emptiness acted as a convenient foil for exploitation. The aesthetic image of unproductive rural space provided the foundation for Russian claims to have transformed the land, resurrecting what was discursively labelled as ‘dead’, ‘empty’ and ‘barren’ into ‘fertile’ and ‘productive’ fields of irrigated land on which could be grown cereal crops, orchards and cotton, or beneath which coal, graphite, gold and other precious resources could be mined.
In the east of Russian Central Asia, where land was readily admitted to already be far more fertile than in the more arid regions of the Caspian, emptiness had rather different connotations. Here, rural land was occupied largely by Kazakh and Kirgiz nomads, yet local Russian officials confidently proclaimed that as the nomads had no fixed abode, the land was ‘obviously empty’. Such statements had the effect of discursively dispossessing indigenous peoples of their land, emptying the landscape of any inhabitants with sovereign claim to it. In turn, the Russian Resettlement Administration, a department of the imperial government that encouraged and oversaw the state-sanctioned resettlement of millions of land-hungry peasants from Central Russia to the empire’s Asiatic lands, made available large parts of rural land to incoming settlers.
Rural emptiness was clearly very much in the eye of the beholder. It could be both a hostile, threatening feature, in need of correction, and something to be embraced, under the right conditions. It legitimised colonisation, in terms of the ‘transformative’ effects on the land of Russia’s self-styled ‘civilising’ mission in Central Asia, and as a means of validating the settlement of tens of thousands of incoming Russian and Ukrainian peasants. At the same time however, the construction of empty space was far more than a tool to be wielded by the imperial state. Everyday Russian settlers also actively engaged with and referenced ideas of emptiness, very often for their own private gain. The portrayal of empty surface land, beneath which lay myriad natural resources was used in petitions to the state to grant mining and industrial concessions, while similar notions were employed to try to win railway-building contracts and to receive permission to build new homes and businesses. Thus the construction of emptiness was part of an ‘imperial language game’ in which many – consciously or unconsciously – participated.
The framing of empty rural land had numerous implications. The tsarist desire to exploit the land by means of irrigation and crop planting would reach its apogee in the Soviet period, actions that have had, and continue to have, severe environmental ramifications for the whole of the Central Asian region. Meanwhile, the sustained distribution of nomadic land to incoming settlers lead both to the incremental destruction of the nomadic way of life, and also to an escalation of inter-ethnic tensions that would contribute in no small part to the widespread violence of the 1916 uprisings. Notions of emptiness, as produced by Russian settler society, reveal not only colonial attitudes to geography, space and environment, and the desire to re-make landscape, but also some of the conflicting outcomes of such ideas.
We begin this week with The Courtly and Commercial Art of the Wycliffite Bible by Kathleen E. Kennedy. Eyal Poleg and the author discuss a book which is an important part of the ‘rehabilitation movement’ of the Wycliffite Bible (no. 1774, with author’s response here).
Then we turn to T. G. Otte’s July Crisis: The World’s Descent for War, Summer 1914, as Jeff Roquen recommends a thought-provoking study of supreme erudition (no. 1773).
Next up Gerald Power reviews The Shadow of a Year: 1641 in Irish History and Memory by John Gibney alongside TCD’s digital resource, the 1641 Depositions Online (no. 1772, with response here).
Finally we have Selina Todd’s The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010. Sean Ledwith takes on a powerfully written social and political history of contemporary Britain (no. 1771).
This post has kindly been written for us by Professor Richard Hoyle, Director and General Editor of the Victoria County History.
One thing which is pretty certain is that everyone who attends this year’s local history conference sponsored by the IHR and VCH lived through a part of the twentieth century – quite probably a fair chunk of it. And yet this conference starts with the premise that the twentieth century is often the hardest and most elusive period for local historians to deal with, being of our own times, familiar, yet strangely out of reach. It saw enormous upheavals in institutions, ownership and landscape, and in individual experience. Many of the familiar sources to address these sources disappear – so estate records – whilst others loose much of their evidential value (newspapers). Many modern records are closed to users: others may not even exist, having been swept away by records management. Yet other possibilities emerge, notably oral history, and for no other period do we have such abundance of maps and, of course, photographs (including those taken from the air).
This is a conference is for everyone who wants to contribute to an emerging agenda of looking at the relatively recent past. It offers guidance on some of the sources whilst describing, through worked examples, how the researcher can make their own contribution to deepening knowledge and understanding of the twentieth century. It explores what is before us, and is sometimes too obvious to see.
The first Historical Researchannual plenary lecture sponsored by Wiley will take place at this year’s Anglo-American conference (2 July, 18.00-20.00). We are delighted to have on board Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, on the theme of How fashion helps make a monarch: 500 years of royal dress
The lecture is part of the conference but a number of tickets are also available to the general public.
To mark the occasion a number of past Historical Research articles on wardrobe, jewellery and the clothing trades are being made freely available until the end of July:
This article examines how Roger II, who in 1130 became the first king of Sicily, articulated the culture of a new monarchy to his subjects. It does so through extensive analysis and contextualization of a crucial, yet undervalued, royal charter issued to the city of Bari in 1132 (and here translated into English for the first time). Previous scholarship has overlooked key evidence within the charter and tended to emphasize conflict in royal-urban relations. Instead, it will be argued here that the monarchy promoted and upheld negotiation and reciprocity as an integral facet of this new kingdom.
This article briefly outlines the history of the colonial diamond industry of Sierra Leone from 1930 to 1961, highlighting its contingent aspects and the bonds guiding the decisions and actions taken by local social actors in different contexts and at different times. By drawing on colonial documents and memoirs of colonial officers, it shows how the colonial government of Sierra Leone and the mining company that exercised a monopoly on diamond extraction collaborated on the establishment of a series of legislative and disciplinary devices that encompassed forms of biopolitical expertise.
This post has kindly been written for us by Dr Sian Barber, author of Using Film as a Source (MUP, 2015), the first in the IHR Research Guides Series.
What is the value of studying film? How can feature films tell us anything about the time in which they are made? Why do films look different in different periods? How do films address social issues? And how can film be used as a historical source?
These questions are central to anyone engaged in the study of film. However, film can be used in variety of different ways as part of research; not everyone uses film in the same way. The skills acquired in the fields of history, politics, English literature, sociology, cultural and media studies can all help to use film as ‘historical evidence,’ but the study of film is a discipline in its own right. Film cannot be treated simply as a historical source, but rather needs to be understood as a distinctive medium, possessed of complex visual and textual codes.
This work is intended to provide a starting point for those seeking to use film as part of research. It offers advice on research methods, film-specific theory and methodology and film-based analysis. It draws on the disparate yet frequently complementary disciplines of film and history to offer advice for students and researchers. It is deliberately intended to speak to the preoccupations of those engaged in the study of film, either at undergraduate or Masters levels, as well as those who want to use film as part of research in cognate disciplines such as social and cultural history, politics, modern languages and sociology.
This guide includes sections on working with different kinds of moving images, how to explore visual sources, how to undertake film-related research archival and how to use film theory. It addresses the complexities of studying moving image and the conventional problems associated with using films as sources, as well as broader issues related to film historiography and method. It also includes a number of detailed case studies of individual films. Everything included is intended to be an example of good research practice, whether it is conducting an interview, visiting an archive, undertaking textual analysis or defining a research question.
First up this week is The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity, as Thomas O’Loughlin and editor John Arnold discuss a new introduction to a vast field of research (no. 1769, with response here).
Then we turn to George Goodwin’s Fatal Rivalry, Flodden 1513: Henry VIII, James IV and the battle for Renaissance Britain. Alexander Hodgkins reviews a valuable addition to the body of literature discussing 16th-century Renaissance kingship and conflict in a British context (no. 1768).
Next up is Manuel Barcia’s West African Warfare in Bahia and Cuba: Soldier Slaves in the Atlantic World 1807-1844. Ulrike Schmieder praises an important contribution to the history of the African Atlantic and the South Atlantic (no. 1767).
Finally Vivienne Larminie recommends The Huguenots by Geoffrey Treasure, a worthy and largely well-informed attempt to explore a worthwhile and topical subject (no. 1766).
In the mid-nineteenth century a million British workers depended on the cotton textiles industry for their livelihoods. Most of the raw cotton they turned into cloth came from the southern states of America and was cultivated by slave labour. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861 a ‘cotton famine’ ensued: the secession of the southern states not only disrupted the American Union but also disrupted the flow of cotton across the Atlantic. For more than two years the Lancashire mills stopped working and hundreds of thousands of workers relied on public relief – yet they largely accepted their lot in the noble cause of destroying slavery.