Troubling agency: agency and charity in early nineteenth-century London. Megan Clare Webber

(This article is a revised version of a paper given at the British History in the Long Eighteenth Century seminar at the Institute of Historical Research on 16 March 2016. It was subsequently jointly awarded the 2016 Pollard Prize.)

Agency is a fashionable concept, particularly among historians of poverty, welfare and charity in Britain in the long eighteenth century, and yet the concept is seldom scrutinized. This article troubles agency, subjecting it to the critical examination that it has largely eluded thus far. The first section outlines the manifold, and occasionally contradictory, ways in which historians characterize human agency. The second examines agency through the lens of charity in early nineteenth-century London (c.1800–c.1837), dissecting how the poor exercised agency in their interactions with charitable organizations and illustrating how philanthropists represented and sought to define the limits of plebeian agency. Case studies from individual charities test the boundaries of agency, proposing new ways of approaching the concept. The article concludes by reflecting on the usefulness of agency as a tool for historical analysis.


The Socialist International and Italian social democracy (1948–50): cultural differences and the ‘internationalisation of domestic quarrels’. Ettore Costa

Between 1948 and 1950 Comisco, the provisional Socialist International, and the British foreign office intervened in Italian politics to help the social democrats form a united party. The British Labour party came into conflict with the foreign office and the Dutch Labour party, as they disagreed over which Italian faction to support. The episode revealed the difference between the two parties’ political cultures and strategic choices, particularly on the issue of coalition government with centrist parties. The narrative of the intervention is followed by an appraisal of its success, the obstacles which limited it, and its short- and long-term effects.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science committee on evolution and the Scopes trial: race, eugenics and public science in the U.S.A. Alexander Pavuk

Instead of viewing racial eugenics, modernist religion and prescriptions for social engineering as discourses tangential to the evolution constructs propounded by top scientists in the build-up to the Scopes trial, this article considers how the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s committee on evolution intertwined all of these threads by the early nineteen-twenties. Committee members aimed their evolution models at broad public audiences even as they tried to fulfill the American Civil Liberties Union’s request to provide a scientifically-sound view of evolution to help combat Protestant fundamentalism in the build-up to the trial. Racialist eugenics was essential to their multi-layered evolution constructs, as were key religious ideas particular to Protestant modernism.


Notes and Documents

The Cheshire Magna Carta: distinctive or derivative? Graeme J. White

Seal of Ranulf de Blondeville. Image: Wikipedia

The so-called Cheshire Magna Carta was granted by Ranulf III earl of Chester to his Cheshire barons, probably in summer 1215. This article offers an accessible text and translation and, drawing largely on the evidence of other comital charters, sets the document in the context of the county’s thirteenth-century administration. It discusses the date of issue, argues that the charter was seen in Cheshire as a substitute for, rather than a supplement to, the king’s Magna Carta, and concludes that most of the concessions were reaffirmations of existing distinctive custom and practice, with safeguards against abuses by comital officials.