Hello and welcome to this week’s SPOT Newsletter.  Today we’ll be looking at two seminars from our collaboration with seminar groups outside of the IHR taken from the previous academic year.  We have been very fortunate to build ties with the Franco-British History seminar group at the University of Paris IV (Sorbonne) and with the Global History seminar group based at the London site of Notre Dame University.  Each have their specific interests; one obviously focused on international or ‘global’ history whilst the other more narrowly focused (in geographical terms) to Britain (although in today’s example the Franco-British seminar group move their focus to Italy). 

The Franco-British group hear papers both in French and English so I’m only able to reliably review about half of their output but what I have listened to has been diverse and interesting.  The first paper presented about this time last year was by James Thompson.  Thompson gave a detailed glimpse of political life in late nineteenth and early twentieth century London through evidence in newspapers and posters.  The ‘rebranding’ exercise by the Conservatives for the 1907 London County Council election perhaps echoes the need for governments in a media age to consider themselves as a type of consumable ‘brand’.  In February this year Amanda Behm looked at the rise of Imperial history as a sub-discipline.  I could easily see this podcast being useful for teaching historiography and as a starting point for those entering the world of Imperial history.  A paper from the Franco-British history seminar that I particularly enjoyed was presented by Stephen Mosley.  The Industrial Revolution is often hailed as the height of British power, but it came at a price – the pollution of Britain’s capital.  This study of industrial pollution is described by Mosley as a ‘disaster in slow-motion’. 

Click here for our complete list of podcasts from the Franco-British History seminar group

The first podcasts from the Global History seminar group were created before I began the SPOT Newsletter so there are still some which I have not yet listened to.  The first of these was presented by Patrick O’Brien with the title Myths of Eurocentrism and Material Progress.  If anyone would like to write their own reviews please feel free to in the comment section below the podcast page.  I’d be interested to hear what people think. 

The first paper that I reviewed from the Global History seminar came with the wonderful title: What might a global history of the 20th century look like?  Angus Lockyer sees the history of the twentieth century as needing a stronger narrative and structure as far as the writings of historians are concerned.  He sees the century as a period of tensions between multiple actors, separate logics and differentiated systems which can be dated back to the second half of the previous century.  Will anyone take up Lockyer’s gauntlet to write such a history?  I guess only time will tell. 

A paper of particular interest for me was Peter Barber’s discussion of the Image of the Globe in the Renaissance.  Maps are always interesting pieces especially from a time when the Earth was still a largely alien and unknown place.  So Barber’s discussion of globes in the 15th and 16th centuries provides a welcome study not only in past societies attempts to map their world but also in the culture that surrounded those attempts.

Click here for our complete list of podcasts from the Global History seminar group

Franco-British History
3 March 2011
James Shaw (University of Sheffield)
Equity, Law and the Economy of Obligation: A Comparative Analysis of Early Modern England and Italy

Palio Square medieval market, Siena

In a presentation to the Franco-British History seminar held back in March this year, James Shaw compared the role of equity in medieval and early modern financial transactions.  In Tuscany, Italy Princely Equity emerged as an element of absolutist government.  The Prince was given the power to correct the law through equity and kingly justice.  Over time therefore equity in Italy shifted from the realm of legal scholars to that of the king (especially from the fourteenth century).  Equity in Italy was not so much about the form of law but the intention behind market exchanges.  Contracts could, for instance, be invalidated if the intention on either side was seen to be false or made without free will.  Shaw therefore demonstrates that equity fitted between law and conscious, between legal order and moral order.   In England around the same time a different form of equity emerged – one based around what historians call the Economy of Obligation.  In England, Courts of Equity (i.e. the Chancery and Courts of Requests) worked in parallel to common and civil law.  Equity courts were able to bring in a much broader range of evidence to consider but over time its flexibility was lost as the Equity Courts became more structured and controlled. 

For more on this subject see also: James E. Shaw, “Writing to the Prince: Supplications, Equity, and Absolutism in Sixteenth-Century Tuscany” Past & Present, forthcoming May 2012.

Global History seminar
14 March 2011
William Clarence-Smith
The ‘Syrian’ global diaspora: migrants from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan since the 1880s

Syrian Children in New York

Also back in March, William Clarence-Smith presented to the Global History seminar a paper about migrants from ‘Greater’ Syria to the USA, South America and other parts of the world.  The paper is as much about why groups of people migrated to other countries as it is about what is meant for them to be Syrian.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth century Syria was a region that had many interpretations and meanings for its populace and indeed for migrants who left the area.  The Diaspora may have been caused for many reasons, but Clarence-Smith places some doubt on the established theory that it was entirely down to politics and civil unrest and suggests various pull factors as not only important but vital.