This post has kindly been written for us by Joseph Harley, EHS Postan Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.
Since I was an undergraduate student I have been interested in researching poverty. The poor made up well over half of the British population during the early modern period, yet archives contain very little information on these people as the majority of records were made by the middling sort and the elite of society. This means that I have had to make long and frequent trips to archives throughout my PhD and Post-Doc to find sources.
I have calculated that over the past four and a half years, I have spent around six months of those, from opening to closing time, working at nearly 20 different archives. This number does not even include the months I spent searching online catalogues for records or the time I spent sorting through the thousands of photographs I had taken. This has been very rewarding but also very frustrating. Starting with the negatives: there is the considerable cost of visiting archives. On average, I have spent around £250 for every week that I have been away, even when I have found cheap hotels and economical forms of transport. I have been very fortunate to receive stipends and funding during my PhD and Post-Doc work, but even with this more often than not I am out of pocket. There is also the huge toll that these trips have on your body. For example, I am currently writing this blog on the 4.45am train from Leicester to London, to get to an archive in Maidstone for 9am. Once I am away, I will be eating a greasy cooked breakfast at the hotel every morning and will probably be eating something quick, cheap and thus unhealthy in the evenings.
Most of the archives I have visited are not nearby to where I live. This means that trips can be lonely and isolating as the only face-to-face conversations I have is brief chats with archive and hotel staff. I also do not actually conduct much research while I am away. I am simply someone who finds something, photographs it, and worries about using it later. Every archive has their own quirks, which are funny but also make you want to bang your head on the table. At one archive the staff thought that I was odd when I asked for a pillow to place a source with a broken spine on to. Another brought me out a trolley of sources to see, but would not let me lift things from the trolley to the table for health and safety reasons, even though they were very light and the distance was centimetres. Meanwhile, other archives are carefree and have even offered to bring me coffee and allow me to eat my lunch while looking at fragile documents (I didn’t). It is no wonder that some early-career historians struggle and can suffer from anxiety and depression.
There is a moral to this story. By working so extensively at archives I have had lots of practice of writing funding applications, which looks great on my CV and later helped when it came to writing my for the Economic History Society fellowship. People I have spoken to at archives have offered me opportunities to present my research at talks and write for journals. It has meant that I have the materials to write a dozen articles and ideas for three books. Many of these proposals are also easier to sell to prospective publishers and editors as they revolve around underutilised sources which would never have been found unless I undertook this work.
Moreover, it has allowed me to see the people that I am studying in a new light. One of my favourite things to find is doodles. It helps to remind me that the people we study were once alive and like us, sometimes got bored and would jot random pictures of anything and everything. One of the main sources I use is overseers’ accounts and these list hundreds and thousands of people that received payments from poor law authorities. It is easy to lose sight of who these individuals were when they are listed in such an emotionless way, but these doodles help me to see past that.
I have also found numerous examples which I will probably not otherwise use, but which have helped to remind me that I am studying people who were once alive and had worries, problems and dislikes of their own. In some parishes, for example, people would not be given poor relief unless they gave up their beloved pet dog. The elderly or single pregnant women were sometimes only helped by authorities if they entered the workhouse. Workhouse residents who tried to commit suicide were subject to criminal prosecutions if they managed to survive. I can’t imagine the sort of emotional turmoil and dilemmas that these people would have felt. Life could also be very unpredictable and peculiar. In Farningham, Kent, for instance, the parish constables were accused of neglecting their duties in 1827 after children were seen playing with gunpowder in the village. In Rothley, Leicestershire, in 1795, two people were given poor relief after one was bitten by a ‘Mad Dog’ and after the other was shot!
Overall then, as much as I dislike the costs, bad food and long days away from home, these trips have proved to be useful in other ways than providing sources for publications. They have helped me to become a more conscious historian who is appreciative of the challenges and complexities of contemporary society.
– New research guide to the Library’s Museum Studies and Heritage collections –
With research in the fields of museum studies and heritage continuing to expand and develop as a key trend in history, the IHR library has recently compiled a guide to the library’s museum studies and heritage collections. The guide provides an overview of the library’s holdings, gives details of the range of sources available for consultation, and highlights two case studies – the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum respectively. Relevant sources for the study of both institutions are outlined within the collection guide alongside relevant holdings within the library’s electronic resources, journals and periodicals. Throughout, the collection guide documents relevant examples on the architectural history, patronage, social history and visitor statistics for a range of institutions. These examples are designed to highlight the range of sources available in the library for researchers studying museums and heritage practices.
While researching the collection guide, one example from The Times, 25 January 1884 entitled ‘The Museum in New York’ proved particularly striking for its account of a law suit involving the then Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The article notes of the museum that, ‘the Museum of Art is not a public institution. It is a strictly private corporation. It is the child of a number of enthusiastic gentlemen, who in November, 1869, held a meeting in this city for the purpose of creating some institution that would emulate the British Museum.’ In addition to providing commentary on the museum’s establishment, the article also details an alarming disregard for conservation practices. The correspondent states that during the trial it was offered ‘to let the plaintiff hack several statues to pieces in open court to test their genuineness; and a sculptor actually did hew off fragments from one of the images, in presence of Judge and jury, to show that the ancient relic was actually made of solid stone and not of cement.’ Commentaries on a range of museums can also be found in the library’s collections of personal testimonies, diaries and correspondence. For example, Krystyn Lach-Szyrma, a Polish philosopher who travelled across Britain between 1820 and 1824, described the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow as, ‘a rich collection of animals, plants, minerals, medals and manuscripts left by the famous doctor Hunter who studied at this University. The Anatomical Hall is the most interesting of all. I have seen there all the parts of the human body preserved in alcohol…The seats of feeling and of thought are thus the places where life begins!’
The library’s collections in museum and heritage studies are continuing to grow. One of the latest titles to arrive in the library, Interpreting Native American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites, features best practice case studies for museum professionals involved in caring for collections of Native American material culture. Of particular relevance for museum studies researchers is the chapter entitled ‘Taking Responsibility for Museum History and Legacy: promoting change in collections management’. This chapter provides insightful discussion into ethical considerations for collection management as well as providing a historical background to collecting practices in museums across the United States.
We start this week with Bad Queen Bess? Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I . Andrew Hadfield and Peter Lake discuss a book which continues the author’s lifelong labour of making sense of the complex legacy of post-Reformation thought in England (no. 2083, with response here).
Next up is Queens Consort, Cultural Transfer and European Politics, c.1500-1800, edited by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Adam Morton. Estelle Paranque believes this is a collection scholars and students with an interest in queenship will not want to miss out on (no. 2082).
Then we turn to Caroline Winterer’s American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason. Tom Cutterham reviews a new take on the enlightenment, but one which risks glossing over the violence that made it possible (no. 2081).
Finally, in the latest of our occasional Reviews in History podcast series, Daniel Snowman talks to Margaret MacMillan about her background, career, key publications and future plans (no. 2080).
Very appropriate to follow on from last week’s blog about Octavia Hill, a successful housing and social reformer, a new collection guide about Social Policy History has seen the light of day! My colleague Tundun and I have put together a guide for finding material in this very broad field of research. Relevant works can be found in any of our collections depending on what aspect of social policy is being looked at. To try and ease the process of locating material in collections mostly arranged by country we have included suggestions of useful search terms such as Public Welfare, Charitable uses, Discrimination and Literacy. Here is just a small selection of material for the social policy researcher.
Closer to home in the British local collection there are a vast number of sources: Local initiatives of different charities, records of work houses and hospitals and local government implementation of poor relief to mention a few. One example is one of The Dugdale society’s latest publications about Poor Law Unions in Warwickshire 1834-1914. When it comes to government initiatives our comprehensive holdings of British Parliamentary Papers provide loads of material for research into the history of social policy.
We start this week with The Mercenary Mediterranean: Sovereignty, Religion and Violence in the Medieval Crown of Aragon by Hussein Fancy, as Robin Vose is stimulated by a serious work of historical research (no. 2079).
Next up is Harold Wilson: The Unprincipled Prime Minister?, edited by Andrew S. Crines and Kevin Hickson. Adam Timmins appraises a sympathetic collection which still falls short of fully rehabilitating Wilson’s reputation (no. 2078).
Then we turn to Nancy Tomes’ Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine turned Patients into Consumers, as Martin Gorsky tackles a big, original contribution to the field, which signposts important directions for future study (no. 2077).
Finally Bill Luckin reviews two books which show the exciting, rewarding and revealing state of current urban history, What is Urban History? by Shane Ewen and Global Cities: A Short History by Greg Clark (no. 2076, with response here).
Also, please do check out John Walter’s response, just in, to Eilish Gregory’s review of Covenanting Citizens: The Protestation Oath and Popular Political Culture in the English Revolution.
Hayne hudjihini: Eagle of delight, Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
To tie in with the IHR’s upcoming conference Pocahontas and after: historical culture and transatlantic encounters, 1617-2017, we have gathered a selection of resources from the BBIH that address the themes of Native American women in Colonial America. The women in these resources are portrayed as vital members of their community, who were often pivotal in forging links between the indigenous tribes and the newly-arrived Europeans, while remaining true to their cultural heritage.
“As Potent a Prince as Any Round About Her”: Rethinking Weetamoo of the Pocasset and Native Female Leadership in Early America is an article in the Journal of Women’s History by Gina M. Martino-Trutor. Weetamoo was a female sachem, or chief, who wielded power and influence in the seventeenth century. She was the leader of the Pocasset people, and a primary ally in the Native coalition led by Metacomet (King Philip), head of the Wampanoag Confederacy, to temper the spread of English colonists in New England. Although relations had been largely amicable between the Puritan settlers and the Native Americans in the 1660s, by 1671 the tribes had grown tired of the continual expansion of the colonists, resulting in King Philip’s War (1675-1676). This article explores the role of Native American women in times of war and peace, and assesses their political and military influence in Colonial America.
“The Pocahontas of Georgia”: Mary Musgrove in the American Literary Imagination by Steven C. Hahn in Georgia Historical Quarterly tells a different story, but nonetheless portrays the interwoven yet volatile relations between the colonists and indigenous peoples. Mary Musgrove was born in 1700 and raised by her Creek Indian mother, before being taken away at the age of seven by her English father, a deerskin trader, who subsequently died in the war waged by the Creek Indians against the settlers in South Carolina. Musgrove’s experience and ties to both Native American and English culture put her in a unique position, enabling her to act as go-between as interpretor and negotiator. However, her unsuccessful claims for compensation and land from the Georgian government soured her relationship with the authorities, and resulted in public outbursts of frustration, for which she was arrested twice. This article discusses subsequent depictions of Mary Musgrove in literary texts as she grew in the American imagination, as a savage, vengeful ‘queen’, tragic figure, or feminist, depending on the era, reflecting the complicated relationship America has with its multicultural past, and with gendered biography.
Creek Indians meeting Georgian Trustees. Unfortunately only Mary’s husband, John Musgrove is depicted as translator. Image from Wikipedia
Johnson Hall, Molly Brant’s home from 1763 to 1774. Image from Wikipedia
Following along a similar theme, Molly Brant: Mohawk Loyalist and Diplomat is a monograph by Peggy Dymond Leavey, charting the life of Brant. She became an important intermediary figure in the American Revolutionary War between the British and Iroquois. She was born in 1736 and grew up in a very Anglicized culture, being raised as a Christian Mohawk. She became the consort of Sir William Johnson, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and they had a family together. Johnson died in 1774 and as a respected member of the Mohawks, she proved invaluable to the British and was a vital link in keeping the Iroquois onside during the war. Like Mary Musgrove, Molly Brant’s legacy has also waxed and waned throughout history, and although some view her pro-British stance as traitorous, she is honoured as a Person of National Historical Significance in Canada.
Although the relations between the Native American peoples and colonial settlers has often been fraught with difficulties, misunderstandings and deceit, the selection of resources featured above and below demonstrate that there was always a need for relations between the two, with women often forming a pivotal role. A further selection of resources from the BBIH is listed below. For more information on the resources, enter the title on the simple search field, or use the index terms ‘women’ and ‘Native Americans’ to explore further:
Anne Boleyn, attributed to John Hoskins. Image from Wikipedia
The Howard family, dukes of Norfolk, are usually described as Catholics and considered to have been religiously ‘conservative’ throughout the early modern period and beyond. Thomas Howard, third duke of Norfolk, the family patriarch at the beginning of the Reformation, is thought to have remained on the conservative ‘side’ and it is assumed that the rest of the family followed his lead. By examining the responses of the Howard women to early religious change, this article argues that this was not the case; families did not react collectively but maintained relationships while occupying different positions across the shifting religious spectrum.
Edited by Elizabeth Baigent and Ben Cowell, this is a new collective volume from the IHR Conference Series.
Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was a successful housing and social reformer, providing an excellent example of female leadership in the nineteenth century. She inherited a strong sense of social justice from her mother’s side of the family, and committed herself to the development of social housing and the provision of open spaces for all social classes. She was also co-founder of the National Trust. The following chapters demonstrate the breadth of Octavia Hill’s achievements and her legacy:
Octavia Hill: ‘the most misunderstood … Victorian reformer’ Elizabeth Baigent
Octavia Hill: lessons in campaigning. Gillian Darley
Octavia Hill: the practice of sympathy and the art of housing. William Whyte
Octavia Hill’s Red Cross Hall and its murals to heroic self-sacrifice. John Price
‘The poor, as well as the rich, need something more than meat and drink’: the vision of the Kyrle Society. Robert Whelan
Octavia Hill: the reluctant sitter. Elizabeth Heath
Octavia Hill, nature and open space: crowning success or campaigning ‘utterly without result’. Elizabeth Baigent
Octavia Hill and the English landscape. Paul Readman
‘To every landless man, woman and child in England’: Octavia Hill and the preservation movement. Astrid Swenson
Octavia Hill and the National Trust. Melanie Hall
At home in the metropolis: gender and ideals of social service. Jane Garnett
Octavia Hill, Beatrice Webb, and the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, 1905–9: a mid Victorian in an Edwardian world. Lawrence Goldman
‘Some dreadful buildings in Southwark’: a tour of nineteenth-century social housing. William Whyte
For the benefit of the nation: politics and the early National Trust. Ben Cowell
Octavia Hill By John Sergeant (Image from Wikipedia)
We start this week with All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch, as David Davis navigates a useful map of the untidy academic overgrowth of Reformation historiography (no. 2075).
Next up is Lloyd Gardner’s War on Leakers: National Security and American Democracy, from Eugene V. Debs to Edward Snowden. Christopher Fuller believes this book adds to the noise and clamour of the current debate rather than providing an even-handed treatment (no. 2074).
Then we turn to Wolfenden’s Witnesses: Homosexuality in Postwar Britain by Brian Lewis. Helen Lewis enjoys a book which problematises and re-evaluates the 1950s as well as making a vital contribution to the history of sexuality (no. 2073).
Finally we have a review of The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286-1707, edited by Jacqueline Rose. Matt Raven praises a thought-provoking, engaging and well-edited collection (no. 2072).
To celebrate Women’s History Month and tie in with the IHR and KCL event on London’s women historians (http://www.history.ac.uk/events/event/7709), we have brought together a selection of articles by women historians published in the journal since 2000. The collection includes academics at various stages of their careers – from eminent professors to early career researchers – and highlights the range and depth of women’s research interests. Articles are free to read throughout 2017.