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Summer top ten – Roman tankards to tube trains

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Following on from the success of our top ten favourite articles from 2016, we thought we would bring you a round-up of the most interesting and unusual articles that we have indexed on the Bibliography so far this year. From anger to laughter, beer to bank managers, we hope you enjoy this small sample of the many resources available.

Once again, the list has been compiled chronologically.

The Langstone Tankard, National Museum of Wales

1. Starting with alcohol (not that we ever would, of course) we have Bring Me Three Large Beers: Wooden Tankards at Roman Vindolanda, an article by Rob Sands and Jonathan A. Horn in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology. It discusses three drinking vessels found at Vindolanda, skillfully carved from yew, and each holding up to four pints. Perhaps unsurprisingly, tankards of this sort seem to a British trend, rather than a Roman import. The article explores the significance of yew as a material from the late Iron-Age in Britain, and the significance of feasting, drinking and comradeship that carried on with the establishment of Roman forts such as Vindolanda.

2. On a more sobering note, The Devil’s Daughter of Hell Fire: Anger’s Role in Medieval English Felony Cases by Elizabeth Papp Kamali in Law and History Review looks at cases of murder and manslaughter from the thirteenth and fourteenth century, and discusses how emotions such as anger could inform the decisions made by the jurors. Although on the one hand anger in medieval times was seen as the result of an ill-formed conscience, and therefore the accused was guilty of moral failings, but on the other hand it could also partially excuse the accused, as anger in its extreme form could be seen to prevent rational reasoning. These nuanced readings of the legal texts create a broader understanding of the medieval psyche and adds further scope to the history of emotions.

Portrait of George Talbot, 1580. Image: Wikipedia

3. Next is an article by Graham Williams titled “My evil favoured writing”: Uglyography, Disease, and the Epistolary Networks of George Talbot, Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury in the Huntington Library Quarterly. George Talbot, a powerful Elizabethan magnate, was noted by himself and future palaeographers alike for his appalling handwriting, and was blamed on his gout. This article explores the Elizabethan relationship between bad handwriting and ill-health, and how George Talbot’s condition affected his epistolary networks.

4. Soundings of Laughter in Early Modern England: Women, Men, and Everyday Uses of Humor by Joy Wiltenburg in Early Modern Women reflects on laughter as a way to explore gendered social dynamics. Although a difficult subject to comprehensively analyse, she looks at two different angles ‘troublesome laughter’, when laughter was not appropriate (at least to those in authority), and private humour, such as that expressed through letters and diaries. She explores attitudes towards laughter, how it links into social structure, religion and politics, and how rowdy laughter was seen by some as uncivilized.

St James Workhouse. Image: Wikipedia

5. Jeremy Boulton’s article The Painter’s Daughter and the Poor Law: Elizabeth Laroon (b. 1689 –fl.1736) in The London Journal relates the sad life of Elizabeth Laroon, daughter of the artist Marcellus Laroon the elder (c.1648/9–1702). Elizabeth was relatively comfortable financially when her father died, but this article charts the progress of her life, ending up as a pauper. She also experienced the parish workhouse and two visits to the venereal hospital. This article highlights the vulnerability of single women in society in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and how the parish poor law reached out to the community.

6. One for all you cataloguers and list-makers out there: ‘Orderly made’: re-appraising household inventories in seventeenth-century England by Donald Spaeth in Social History reveals how probate inventories were compiled by amateur appraisers and can now be used to assess the growth of material culture and consumption in early modern England. Through skillfully assessing the value of household goods and ordering lists to reflect the value, some appraisers gained enhanced social standing, such as Andrew Parslow from Thame in Oxfordshire. The article looks at the different ways that lists could be ordered, according to the individual assessor; room by room, or by groups of similar objects, such as bedding. However, after the Restoration, the ‘summary’ format was popularized by Andrew Parslow, and used for wealthier households, which reflects the amount of material goods being accrued in the seventeenth century.

Image: Wikipedia

7. Smelling salts at the ready for ‘Under Cross-Examination She Fainted’: Sexual Crime and Swooning in the Victorian Courtroom by Victoria Bates in the Journal of Victorian Culture. This article looks at accounts of rape in court, and how women losing consciousness in court had social, medical and legal ramifications. Using legal texts as cultural records, the use of ‘fainting’, ‘insensibility’, ‘swooning’, or ‘syncope’ all had slightly different meanings, and highlights the complex issue of unconsciousness. Victorian attitudes towards the fragility of women are also explored, as are the witness accounts in the courtroom, and how they interpreted the act of fainting.

8. From the edges of the empire, Business Fashion: Masculinity, Class and Dress in 1870s Australia by Melissa Bellanta in Australian Historical Studies looks at the emergence of business dress among men in late nineteenth century in Australia. The rise of bankers and stock-brokers in the gold-mining towns such as New South Wales sparked a male interest in smart and professional fashion, which offers new insights into masculinity in colonial Australia, as well as social structure and material wealth.

London Underground, 1960 tube stock trailer No. 4904. Image: Wikipedia

9. How We Came to Mind the Gap: Time, Tactility, and the Tube by Simeon Koole in Twentieth Century British History is an article that many urbanites will relate to. Charting the growth of the London Underground and our attitudes towards it, this article looks at how commuters cope with their personal space being encroached, and how the desire to get somewhere quicker has driven the design of tube trains, such as automatic doors and more standing room. These innovations have led to closer contact with strangers, requiring a constant need to adapt to shifting personal boundaries and tacit unspoken agreements about space-sharing.

10. Last, but by no means least, we have ‘The computer says no’: the demise of the traditional bank manager and the depersonalisation of British banking, 1960–2010 by Pål Vik in Business History. Looking at the demise of the high street bank, this article discusses how the changes in banking since the 1980s, such as the centralization of authority and heavy emphasis on targets, has depersonalized the banking experience. Based on interviews with retired bank managers, who regarded their roles as skilled and autonomous, this article argues that having to defer to a higher authority led to loss of personal relationships with their customers, and disempowered their profession.

We hope you enjoyed our selection of articles. If that has whetted your appetite, here’s a few more we found just as interesting:

The Bitter and Biting Humor of Sarcasm in Medieval and Early Modern Literature

The Clerk’s Tale: Civic Writing in Sixteenth-Century London

When “Comoners Were Made Slaves by the Magistrates”: The 1627 Election and Political Culture in Norwich

Hobby and Craft: Distilling Household Medicine in Eighteenth-Century England

‘Female Husbands’, Community and Courts in the Eighteenth Century

Droughts and Dragons: Geography, Rainfall, and Eighteenth-Century London’s Water Systems

Fine Gottenburgh Teas: the import and distribution of smuggled tea in Scotland and the north of England c. 1750–1780

The Manly Art’: The Burlesque Boxing Match in Nineteenth-Century Knockabout Comedy

BLITZWEED: the rise and fall of Buddleia davidii in England (1896–2008)

“Dressed in an Angel’s Nightshirt”: Jesus and the BBC

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