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Reviews in History – 2000th review out today!


somme1To mark our 2000th review we have a special Somme centenary piece, centred around a reappraisal of Martin Middlebrook’s classic The First Day on the Somme.

How is that that a Lincolnshire poultry farmer changed the course of Somme historiography with his first book? In the first of a two-part centenary article on the bibliography of the 1916 Battle of the Somme, Ross Davies shows how Martin Middlebrook ‘prised open a window’ upon a battle that for a century has haunted the British and their Commonwealth allies. Himself haunted by the close-packed Somme military cemeteries, Middlebrook turned to the survivors with the-then novel idea of interviewing them rather than relying solely upon the accounts of the politicians and the generals, and the Somme veterans depicted an ‘almost indecipherable chaos’ on the opening day of the vast British infantry assault. This review explains the significance of this book and its approach in terms of the evolving historiography of the battle, and will be followed by a detailed overview of Somme centenary publications.

Read the full review here.

Historical Research – new articles online


exclusionThat racial chasm that yawns eternally in our midst’: the British empire and the politics of Asian migration, 1900–14 by Cornelis Heere

In recent years, the study of the networks, ideas and identities that bound the ‘British world’ together has proved a rich field of enquiry in imperial history. This article seeks to apply those insights to an issue that dominated much of Britain’s relations with its settler colonies before the First World War: the controversies surrounding the exclusion of Asian migrants. Racial exclusion has garnered a great deal of scholarly attention in recent years. This article builds on that historiography, but also questions its inattention to the British connection, and hence to considerations of imperial power. It analyses how the debate on immigration served as a canvas on which advocates and detractors of exclusion could paint competing concepts of empire, and seeks to understand how policymakers attempted to manage the migration question through a range of spatial and diplomatic solutions. It will attempt, in sum, to show how a global empire dealt with the problems of a world that seemed increasingly divided along racial lines.

A man called Mahaffy: an Irish cosmopolitan confronts crisis, 1899–1919 by Tomás Irish

This article examines the last twenty years of the life of one of Ireland’s most controversial scholars, the polymath John Pentland Mahaffy. Mahaffy’s name still has wide resonance in Irish historiography owing to his interventions in Irish cultural politics in the decades before 1919. He is frequently seen as an ‘anti-Irish’ figure. This article places Mahaffy in the wider context of international scholarship of the late Victorian era, arguing that he was a cosmopolitan whose overriding concern was not Ireland, or even Britain, but the fracturing of the republic of letters.

‘Per peli e per segni’. Muster rolls, lists and notes: practical military records relating to the last Florentine ordinanze and militia, from Machiavelli to the fall of the Republic (1506–30) by Andrea Guidi

In Renaissance Florence, the militia force created by Machiavelli in 1506, then re-established in 1527–30, involved the production of two types of records: the low-level ‘practical’ records which documented the daily running of an army in the field, such as muster rolls, notes and lists; and the upper-level administrative records, such as the correspondence between governing bodies and military officers. An analysis of published and unpublished sources provides evidence of the importance of such documentary practices, and highlights the problems connected to the loss and preservation of low-level military records relating to Renaissance ordinanze and militia.

The chronology of the de Mortemer family of Wigmore, c.1075–1185, and the consolidation of a Marcher lordship by Ian Mortimer

The twelfth-century chronology of the de Mortemer (later Mortimer) family of Wigmore has proved a difficult and confusing subject. In particular, most scholars have accepted the Complete Peerage genealogy, which incorrectly posits the existence of two distinct lords called Hugh between 1104 and 1181. Here, the English sources are reconsidered alongside independent Norman evidence, resulting in a more robust genealogy and a better context for understanding how the de Mortemers shifted their position from being primarily a Norman family with English and Welsh interests (which they neglected) to being primarily an English one with Norman and Welsh responsibilities (which they did not).

Bibliography of British and Irish History updated (September 2016)



An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 30 September. There are 4,962 new records, some 633 new records relate to Irish history while 240 deal with the history of London, 324 with the history of Scotland and 262 with the history of Wales.  The overall total of records available online is now 579,638.

We are pleased to welcome a new section editor to our editorial teamDr Colin Veach  Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Hull, who will be dealing with Irish history to c. 1640. He succeeds Dr Beth Hartland, for whose expert help over the last few years we are very grateful.

We also welcome Dr Adam Chapman, Editor and Training Co-ordinator with the Victoria County History based at the IHR, who will be dealing with England 1066-1500.


We expect to release the next update in February 2017.  You can always find out more about the Bibliography at or, if you already have access to the Bibliography, you can sign up for email alerts so as to be notified each time the Bibliography is updated with records on a subject or subjects of your choice.


New reviews: Magic, Confederate cities, Scottish Enlightenment and Capetians


Angel_Appearing_to_Zacharias_(detail)_-_1486-90We start this week with Brian Copenhaver’s Magic in Western Culture: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment, as Francis Young hails a towering achievement in the field of intellectual history (no. 1999).

Then we turn to Confederate Cities: The Urban South During the Civil War Era, edited by Andrew Slap and Frank Towers. David Silkenat believes this book provides a balanced and diverse exploration of how the Civil War era transformed urban spaces in the American South (no. 1998, with response here).

Next up is Constructing Kingship; The Capetian Monarchs of France and the Early Crusades by James Naus. Niall Ó Súilleabháin is frustrated by an over-brief book which fails to live up to its potential (no. 1997).

Finally we have Thomas Ahnert’s The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment. Tim Stuart-Buttle tackles a work which uses the Scottish Enlightenment as a case study to understand the wider intellectual history of the eighteenth century (no. 1996).

You can also search and browse all 1999 reviews here – do please let me know if you have any problem navigating the site or finding what you’re interested in.

Connected Histories – mixed race children in colonial India and Australia



Ships in Bombay Harbour, c1731

This post has kindly been written for us by IHR Digital intern Jaipreet Deo.

In an effort to pull in works relevant to my dissertation topic, the Connected Histories site provides an easy to navigate search function which looks through many databases and archives. Helpfully, this is infinitely quicker than searching through each one in turn.

My dissertation is a comparative essay on the treatment of mixed race children in colonial India and Australia, so I typed in ‘half caste mixed race’ into the keywords box. Using the advanced search function, I set the dates from 1700-1900, and the place as ‘Australia India’. However I then realised it was searching for ‘half’, ‘caste’, ‘mixed’, and ‘race’ individually, so I went back and changed the keyword search to the phrases “half caste” “half cast” “half-caste” “mixed race” “mixed-race”, and the place search to ‘Australia OR India’.

Admittedly this is something I had to do by hand as there is no function on the advanced search to input Boolean logic, so specifying things like this may be tricky for people who do not know how to do search in this way. However, there is a video guide to aid smart searching, and nine research guides on the site.

I had a look through these guides, and as they are categorised by subject, looked at the Imperial and Colonial History page. It outlined on which sites I might find relevant papers if I was looking at the governmental aspect of the empire (such as the 46 volume Calendars of State Papers Colonial through British History Online, or the Parliamentary Papers) and what these papers contained. The page also guided me to non-governmental sources, in British Newspapers and Pamphlets, and several collections examining the stories, lives, and communities of immigrants to Britain from the colonies. There were also outlines of how to look into slavery and the slave trade, sources examining the impacts, strengths, and weaknesses of the empire itself, and helpful sections for further reading and related websites.

The results for my search were grouped into the databases they were in, which was helpful as it prevented the whole page becoming bogged down in search results. These databases included British History Online, History of Parliament, British Newspaper Archive, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, and 19th Century British Pamphlets. I went through each at a time, and although the results were numerous they were also relevant, each one explicitly mentioned mixed race peoples in a colonial setting. I found the results very useful. I explored sources on a variety of issues, such as fears of mixed race revolution in Sri Lanka, and the appointment of British-Indian judges. Admittedly, Connected Histories does not search through every historical database available, but resources are frequently added and it is still extremely useful.

Another slight improvement would be to extend the date series. Anyone studying a topic which falls outside of the years 1500-1900 would not find this site as useful as I have. Unfortunately I cannot use it for my module on British popular culture 1945-85, and will have to revert to slightly less effective search methods for sources on this topic.

Minor issues aside, I found this search engine very user friendly. I did not need to, but it was simple to refine the search through filtering by types of source (for example journals, parliamentary papers, or local records). Additionally, being able to specify the place, source type, dates, keywords, and full, given, and surnames is extremely helpful when searching through archives. I was linked to reliable, easy to use sites, so the whole process was quick and simple. Even if I had had no subscription to the service, I could have selected only those results which were free to use. Also, the layout of the search page is easier to use and more fitting for its purpose than most that I’ve seen.

This is an intelligent search engine, engineered for its users, which really pays off when you’re looking for quick and simple results instead of searching through every database you can think of in turn. Instead, this site takes you straight to the relevant sources.


Ships in Bombay Harbour, c 1731

New reviews: Spanish anarchists, slavery, mercantilism and urban pollution


tumblr_n6csijvp7k1tt78svo1_500We commence this week with Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica by Jason Garner. Vlad Solomon and the author debate an engagingly-written account of a neglected yet important topic in the history of the Spanish labour movement (no. 1995, with response here).

Next up is Eighty-Eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 by Patrick Rael. John Craig Hammond and the author discuss a book which goes a long way to reforging the history of slavery (no. 1994, with response here).

Then we turn to Lars Magnusson’s The Political Economy of Mercantilism, and Andrew McDiarmid reviews a book which makes a valiant attempt at clarifying a widely used but problematic term (no. 1993).

Finally we have Death and Survival in Urban Britain: Disease, Pollution and Environment 1800-1950 by Bill Luckin. Jim Clifford tackles this collection from one of the most important urban environmental historians of London (no. 1992).


Researching the British Museum Library in the Collections of the IHR Library


The IHR Library staff have recently undertaken short research projects utilising the library’s collections to improve our understanding of what it’s like to use the library, as the IHR Library’s Reader and Technical Services Manager, Kate Wilcox, explained in a recent blog post. Consequently, in order to gain an appreciation of the user experience of the library, I have been examining the library’s holdings concerning the history of the British Museum Library.

To begin with, I searched the library’s catalogue for both ‘Libraries’ and for ‘British Museum’ using both the subject heading and keyword search fields. These searches brought up a range of results. As the IHR Library’s collections are arranged mostly geographically, I also consulted the library’s online collection guide for the London collection in order to familiarise myself with the make-up of the collection and relevant classmarks.

The London collection is situated within the Wohl Library on the first floor and is on open shelves. This ensured that I could easily browse the collection, discovering additional relevant materials that had not appeared on initial catalogue searches, and also meant I could consult works as and when required.


A selection of the relevant works from the library’s London collections include: books

I also uncovered relevant materials for my research within other collections and utilised works in a variety of formats. Examples of some relevant resources included:

Research Highlights

The IHR Library contained a wealth of fascinating information on the history of the British Museum Library, from it’s conception and first opening for public inspection in January 1759, through to the creation of the British Library in 1973 and it’s enveloping of the Museum’s library departments.

The history of the building is illuminated by Arundell Esdaile. For example, he notes the introduction of electric lighting into the Museum in 1879; ’till then (gas being banned), if a fog were to come on, not only was the Reading Room closed, but the entire staff went rejoicing home. Thereafter a working day meant a day’s work.’ (Esdaile, p 132)

Louis Fagan’s account of the life of Sir Anthony Panizzi, responsible for the building of the Library’s famous round Reading Room, provides insight into the life of key figures in the history of the Institution. However, while documenting Panizzi’s role as Chief Librarian, his account states that ‘the chief officer of the British Museum is styled the Principal Librarian, which is to a certain extent a misnomer, as he has no more to do with the books than with the other portions of the collection; he derives his appointment from the Crown under sign manual, and is entrusted with the care and custody of the Museum, his duty being to see that all the subordinate officers and servants perform their respective duties properly.’ (Fagan, p 107)

P.R. Harris’ work, The Reading Room, features several artworks, photographs and cartoons depicting the Museum’s Reading Room, allowing the reader to observe the immense changes the library underwent. He also attributes great focus upon the staff of the library, beginning with the first ‘Keeper of the Reading Room’, Dr Peter Templeman. This post was created after ‘regulations drafted in 1758 laid down “that a proper officer do constantly attend in the said room, so long as any…person, or persons, shall be there.”‘ Harris remarks that ‘the post proved however to be a dull one since there were so few readers (only five or six each month).’ (Harris, p 4)

Harris also quotes illuminating extracts from Templeman’s diary, including an entry he records for the 30th August 1759: ‘On Wednesday all the company going away a little after one of the clock, the Room being cold and the weather likely to rain, I thought it proper to move off too.’ However, on another occasion Templeman records leaving the reading room to have a walk in the garden, but met one of the Museum’s Trustees who ordered him back to his post ‘with startling energy of voice and manner.’ (Harris, p 4)

In this way, the IHR Library’s resources enabled research into the history of the physical building of the British Museum Library, the collections it held, and the lives of those who worked within it.

Using the Library

Reading desk in the libraryI found the library reading rooms overall to be an exceptionally pleasant place to work and conduct research. I chose to work in the Wohl Library on the second floor as I found the natural light in this area appealing. I did experience some minor noise issues that staff are already aware of and are currently trying to address as quickly as possible. Aside from this, I found the space to be conducive to quiet research, with soft seating available close by for intensive reading and the public PC enabling easy access to the library’s online resources directly from the desktop.

In selecting the British Museum Library as my topic for research, I found that most of the materials I consulted on the open access shelves were not in rolling stacks, but instead on open shelves. This was immensely useful for browsing materials and discovering additional resources to consult. Similarly, I deliberately selected a variety of works (including items kept in the onsite store, theses and e-resources) in order to gain an understanding of the different resources that the library holds and any challenges readers may face in accessing them. I therefore filled out request slips for closed access materials and submitted them to library staff in the library office on the first floor before returning to collect the volumes a short while later. I found the process to be relatively straightforward, however further information on ordering materials and collection times from the onsite store can be found on the library’s website. Overall, I found the library a conducive area for research and greatly enjoyed discovering more about the history of the British Museum Library.

Beyond the library’s collections the IHR, Institute of English Studies, and Warburg Institute organise a series of research seminars examining the History of Libraries. The seminars are free and open for anyone to attend, for more information see the History of Libraries Seminar schedule.

The Battle of the Somme: “Have you seen the Big Push films?”


“Have you seen the Big Push films?” wrote Roland Mountford to his father in August 1916. Mountford was referring to The Battle of the Somme film. We are not certain that his father did see the film as we don’t have the reply, however it is more than likely that he did it as it’s estimated over 20 million viewed it.  Reaction to the film was often divided.

“Crowds of Londoners feels no scruple at feasting their eyes on pictures which present the passion and death of British soldiers in the Battle of the Somme … a “film” of war’s hideous tragedy is welcomed. I beg leave respectfully to enter a protest against an entertainment which wounds the hearts and violates the very sanctities of bereavement.” (The Dean of Durham letter to The Times).

“We went on Wednesday night to a private view of the ‘Somme films’ i.e. the pictures taken during the recent fighting. To say that one enjoyed them would be untrue; but I am glad I went. I am glad I have seen the sort of thing our men have to go through, even to the sortie from the trench, and the falling in the barbed wire. There were pictures too of the battlefield after the fight, & of our gallant men lying all crumpled up & helpless. There were pictures of men mortally wounded being carried out of the communication trenches, with the look of agony on their faces.” (Frances Stevenson – David Lloyd George’s secretary).


Just as historians have debated the strategy and tactics of Haig et al, the representation of the battle and its effects on a nation, so too have they discussed the authenticity of the film. A discussion well covered in the Roger Smither article “A wonderful idea of the fighting” : the question of fakes in The Battle of the Somme.  A search on the subject tree BBIH brings up the following references.


Brepolis  somme film

To expand the search to Film and all World War I click on the Refine search button…

Brepolis  BBIH(10)

Brepolis  BBIH(13)

…and replace “Battles, Somme 1916″ with “Wars, World War I” for an overview of references to the war and film which includes cinema going, propaganda, representation of the war, and moral panics. Alternatively, delete the term “Film” and see the results for “Battles, Somme 1916″.

Brepolis  BBIH(11)

Film and World War I (Click to enlarge)











Battle of the Somme (Click to enlarge)

Battle of the Somme (Click to enlarge)












I’ll leave the final comments to Lt. Cyril Catford and his letter of 25 September 1916 held by the Durham County Record Office.

Surely truth is stranger than fiction!! Last night I had a most excellent sleep in No Mans Land, during a fairly heavy bombardment such as is practically continuous in this the greatest battle of the War!! … There is very little to say about this big show except the Artillery is awful and the flies are worse, whilst conditions of living are worse still. All the same we are exceptionally cheerful. We bear everything I hope like good soldiers proud to have beaten thoroughly the reputed “Invincible German Army”. The men are absolutely wonderful. My Company are in the best of spirit. I think you might send out 1000 Woodbines [cigarettes] for them.

Lt. Catford was to die 10 days later, he was 26 years old.

New reviews: abolition, Russia and Serbia, walking and Brexit


libertyWe start this week with Manisha Sinha’s The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. Beverly Tomek and the author discuss a book which will be a valuable go-to reference work for years to come (no. 1991, with response here).

Next, we turn to Nationalism, Myth, and the State in Russia and Serbia: Russian and East European Government Politics and Policy by Veljko Vujačić, which Jasna Dragovic-Soso praises as a book whose arguments are nuanced, compelling and well-supported throughout (no. 1990).

We also have two new podcast reviews. In the first, Jordan Landes talks to Arthur Burns and Paul Readman about their new edited collection, Walking Histories, 1800-1914 (no. 1989).

Then, in the second, we have an interview conducted just after the Brexit vote, with Daniel Snowman talking to Lord Peter Hennessy about  (very) contemporary history (no. 1988).


Researching Cold War espionage in the IHR Library


My name is Tundun Folami, and I am the Institute of Historical Research Library’s current graduate trainee.

In an exercise designed to improve understanding of what it’s like to use the collections, each of the IHR library staff have been undertaking different research projects using the library. This exercise was particularly beneficial to me to see how easy it is to access the collections, as I only started at the IHR library a week ago.

Using the library catalogue

I chose espionage during the Cold War as my research topic and as a starting point for my research, I searched the library catalogue using ‘Cold War’ as a keyword.
Searching ‘Cold War’ by keyword brings up 88 results. Some examples included:

Britain, Italy and the early Cold War : aspects of British foreign policy towards Italy, 1946-1949
The Cambridge history of the Cold War
Canada and the early Cold War, 1943-1957
Chronology of the Cold War at sea, 1945-1991
Chronology of the Cold War, 1917-1992
The CIA and the Cold War: a memoir
The Cold War reference guide: a general history and annotated chronology with selected biographies
The Cold War: a history in documents and eyewitness accounts

Next, I carried out a number of searches to try and narrow down the search results to resources related to Cold War espionage, with terms such as “cold war espionage” and “cold war intelligence”. This yielded the following results:
Encyclopedia of Cold War espionage, spies, and secret operations
Operation overflight: the U-2 spy pilot tells his story for the first time
Cold War Anthropology The CIA, Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual-Use Anthropology
The CIA and the Cold War: a memoir
On the edge of the Cold War American diplomats and spies in post-war Prague
Voices of decolonization: a brief history with documents

The first five results were most relevant to my research; three of which were books available on open access and two were e-books.
I felt narrowing down my search to Cold War espionage didn’t yield enough results, so I scrolled to the bottom of the page and found a link to the IHR library E-Resources page. Here I found a list of links to online resources available onsite. I went through the list and ultimately, the most relevant results were retrieved from JSTOR and Times Digital Archive. These included journal articles, reviews and newspaper articles.


Working in the IHR Library (Wohl Library – Lower Ground)
My topic for this exercise was on Cold War espionage and so I chose to work on the lower ground level of the Wohl Library, as this is where the International Relations collection is held. I sat at the desk closest to the entrance as it had a PC which I could use to browse the library catalogue and it was near to the rolling stacks holding the International Relations collection.                                                               _DSC7337
Working in this area was comfortable and quiet, though occasionally the noise from reception on the floor above would disturb the silence. The room housing the International collection was also poorly lit, especially further in towards the window.






The library has a large amount of material on the general topic of the Cold War, both in the library itself and online as e-books and e-resources. When I narrowed down my research topic to Cold War espionage, the majority of titles   found were_DSC7340 from a U.S perspective. A smaller number of titles were retrieved for the USSR, France, Germany, Italy and Latin America. I felt it would’ve helped my search if there had been a sub-category in either the Military or International Relations collection guides on the website. There were a few issues regarding noise and lighting were the International Relations collection is held, but overall, working in the IHR library was pleasant and largely problem free, and an ideal place to start research on the topic I’d chosen.

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