‘A world of repositioning and dispersal’ is how Professor David McKitterick describes libraries in the UK in his discussion on present day difficulties that are facing libraries and in particular their rare book collections.  This is our first podcasted session from the History of Libraries Seminar and it is one of concern for historians today.  In a world increasingly preoccupied with electronic access (e-books; online periodical access; catalogues and databases) why do we need to keep spending money on maintaining ‘old paper and parchment’?  The example of Cardiff Public Library who sought to sell off its rare books in order to purchase computer equipment is a case in point.  Eventually the University of Cardiff purchased the books, but initially there was no idea of what they had, how valuable the collection might be, and what state the books might be in.  No catalogue had been maintained, and limited in-house expertises were available.  Through this and similar examples McKitterick asks what role the library historian should have in a changing world of print and electronic data.  

Meanwhile, for the Metropolitan History seminar Kyle Roberts takes us on a journey back to nineteenth-century New York and in particular gives us a spatial study of religion and religious buildings.  Roberts points out that most spatial studies of American cities focus on urban commerce, but that there is much to learn from a study of the ‘spiritual marketplace’.  Nineteenth-century America saw an opening up of religious freedoms and the cities saw a massive increase in population through urban migration and as a centre for immigration from Ireland and elsewhere.  Often churches and places of worship were temporary buildings and each new generation created its own church and identity.  The rise of immigration to New York brought with it a segmentation of the urban landscape, but at the same time New York itself was undergoing a shift which saw new locations rise up as important ‘spiritual’ areas whilst others fell into decline.  As an additional bonus we have also included the post-paper discussion.

Dr Caitriona Beaumont discusses for the Voluntary Action History seminar the variance between the ‘ideal’ housewife of the 1950s as depicted in literature from the period and the reality of life for middle class women.  There can be no doubt that post-war British society was very much different than what had come before.  Although the image of the 1950s housewife working in the kitchen endures, the reality saw many women combining household chores with part-time work and increased pressure.  As Beaumont states ‘the real 1950s housewife was not the idealised women depicted in the pages of women’s magazines but instead a complex construction of wife, mother, employee, consumer, active citizen, and campaigner for women’s rights’.  To discuss this topic Beaumont focuses on three women’s voluntary organisations: the Mother’s Union; the Women’s Institute; and the Townswomen’s Guild.  


Finally, a slightly late podcast presented early in November to the Franco-British History seminar, is now ready.  James Thompson discusses visual evidence for the development of political culture in nineteenth century Britain.  The use of a case study on the London county council election of 1907 gives Thompson the opportunity to discuss the role of newspapers and posters in the propaganda campaign that saw the Conservatives ‘rebrand’ themselves as municipal reformers, and Labour/Liberals promote their ‘progressive’ policies.  The complex interaction of images and propaganda by newspapers (The Daily Mail for the Municipals and The Daily Chronicle for the progressives) is often ignored in discussions of political culture in favour of one party studies. 


This is the final SPOT Newsletter before Christmas, but the New Year promises even more.  In January we will be releasing podcasts from the Blocked Arteries Conference that was held at the IHR in November.  Ironically the Conference was held during the recent fees protests which disrupted London’s transport network, and was therefore timely in its subject matter.  This conference examined the way that congestion has been, and continues to be a problem.  In addition, the new History SPOT platform will be launched in March 2011 and numerous more podcasts created.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas or holiday break.
See you in the New Year!


History of Libraries Seminar
30 November 2010
Professor David McKitterick (Trinity College, Cambridge)
Libraries at risk
Voluntary Action History Seminar
6 December 2010
Dr Caitriona Beaumont (London South Bank University)
The Myth of the 1950s Housewife: Voluntary women’s organisations and the challenge to idealised domesticity in post war Britain
Metropolitan History
8 December 2010
Kyle Roberts (QMUL)
Faith in the antebellum urban order: religion and the making of early nineteenth-century New York City
Franco-British History
4 November 2010
James Thompson (University of Bristol)
‘That hideous head’: Politics and Visual Culture in Edwardian London