This week we present various papers from the IHR and from external sources, all summarised here. In addition we have finally uploaded the final segment from last year’s Blocked Arteries Conference. The roundtable involving all of the plenary speakers is now ready for you to listen.
On 17 February the Franco-British History seminar was told about a place that saw little sunlight, where buildings were enveloped in soot and thousands of people died from rickets and bronchitis. This place was London (and indeed many cities in Britain) during the Industrial Revolution. Stephen Mosley casts an image of late nineteenth and early-twentieth century Britain through the lens of industrial pollution. He describes it as a ‘disaster in slow-motion’, in other words a catastrophe nurtured over many decades that resulted in a stunted and degenerated population. Mosley begins by looking at the effect of pollution on the public health and environment and then discusses how these issues were communicated to the people. Finally Mosley suggests reasons why smoke abatement did not capture the public imagination. Although, by the middle of the twentieth century, industry had begun to move towards gas and electricity, house owners were much more reluctant to part with their coal fired hearths. Parliament too was reluctant to force the issue as they recognised that urban households placed a great deal of value to their hearths, which formed the focus for home life. The catastrophic ‘great smog’ of 1952 in London, that killed thousands ended up as the catalyst for change but it was nevertheless a slow process.
Continuing on the subject of the environment, Henrik Schoenefeldt has investigated the environmental problems that the Great Exhibition faced due to their decision to construct a glass building. The Crystal Palace, as discussed in the Sports and Leisure History seminar, was by its nature hot, humid and prone to glare from sunlight. The designers and architects went to great feats to limit these problems. Light into the building was controlled and made more uniform; around forty thermometers were used to monitor the environment both within and outside the building to try to keep the temperature at an acceptable level. However, visitors continued to complain of hot and humid conditions that made their visits uncomfortable (and even unbearable). There were various instances where visitors fainted from the heat and poor quality of the air. Although the Great Exhibition was a massive success and the visitors largely managed to cope with the environmental difficulties, the conditions within the building had a massive impact on the future sustainability of the Palace in Hyde Park. Schoenefeldt argues that the cost and difficulties involved in maintaining an acceptable environment was one of the largest factors that lead to the failure to secure the Palace for use after the exhibition had ended.
Staying with London, Philip Davies provided the Metropolitan History seminar a journey through the streets of lost London. By ‘lost’ Davies is referring to the buildings and locations that have irrevocably changed over the last few centuries through cultural change, expansion, warfare, economic and political policies. Using photographs of pre-war London, Davies looks into this past through four central themes: work; poverty; wealth; and change. In so doing Davies notes that as things changed, many things stayed the same. Although each generation has their own image of London it generally remains recognisable.
The final two papers summarised this week refocuses our attention onto historiographical issues. First, using the diocese of York and Bath as his primary focus, Daniel Cummins addresses a gap in our historiography on property landholding in the eighteenth century. The British History in the Long 18th Century seminar group heard how tithes could equally be a force for unity as much as dispute. Cummins believes that the focus on court records has over-exaggerated the belligerent and uncompromising role of landowners to their tenants. Through tithes and estate correspondence related to ecclesiastical property Cummins believes he has found a way to address this exaggeration. Through these records a picture emerges that shows how pervasive ecclesiastical property relationships were in the daily lives of communities and how it was often the driving force and unifying factor that helped shape peoples lives and inter-relationships.
Meanwhile, Dr Lockyer, a lecturer on the history of Japan at SOAS has written many important and provocative pieces on modern Japanese representations of art, technology and nature. In this session of the Global History seminar, however Lockyer asks a wider question that affects all historians studying the 20th century – what might a global history of the 20th century look like? Lockyer believes that the framework for world history up to 1914 is pretty well established but for the century as a whole it remains fragmented, euro-centric, and too focused around the end of the Second World War in 1945. A stronger narrative and a clearer logic and structure to the period is still required. In Lockyer’s view the twentieth century is a period of tensions between multiple actors, separate logics and differentiated systems which can be dated back to the second half of the nineteenth century. This proves to be an interesting paper and one that compliments the paper given earlier this year by Amanda Behm on the topic of Institutionalising Imperial History.Blocked Arteries Roundtable – addition to Blocked Arteries conference Franco-British History 17 February 2011 Stephen Mosley (Leeds Metropolitan University) A disaster in slow motion: The case of smoke pollution in industrial Britain Global History seminar (External) 28 February 2011 Angus Lockyer What might a global history of the 20th century look like? British History in the Long 18th Century 2 March 2011 Daniel Cummins (University of Reading) Ecclesiastical Property: Social, Economic and Religious history? The Church and English social history, 1730-1800 Metropolitan History 2 March 2011 Philip Davies (English Heritage) Lost London: managing change in a World City Sports and Leisure History 28 February 2011 Henrik Schoenefeldt (University of Cambridge) The Significance of Thermal Comfort, Physical Health and Recreation in the Design of the Crystal Palaces at Hyde Park and Sydenham