By Sara Charles 

Welcome to our Christmas top ten for 2018! Twice a year the Bibliography of British and Irish History presents a special selection of material that has been indexed on the BBIH to demonstrate the wide and varied strands of historical research included in our database. So find some time to relax over the Christmas period and take a chronological trip with us through a handpicked collection of interesting and unusual content.

1. Starting off with social history, we have Defamation, gender and hierarchy in late medieval Yorkshire by Bronach C. Kane. This fascinating article explores the social relations between a group of people in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1362, centring around the pregnancy of Margery de Pickworth, the unmarried daughter of knight Thomas de Pickworth. It focuses on the relationships between three men –Thomas de Pickworth (Margery’s father), Robert de Berlay (the household servant accused of impregnating Margery), and William de Saperton (a local priest, who was suspected to be the real father of Margery’s baby). It resulted in a defamation suit in the ecclesiastical court of York. This article examines the issues of masculinity and reputation as the suit is played out between two gentry families, the de Pickford’s and William de Bracebridge, lord of Barlow, although it also includes the perspectives of the women and non-elite men involved in the case. This research gives an interesting insight into class, gender and masculinity in the medieval period.

2. Next up is William Weston: early voyager to the New World by Margaret M. Condon and Evan T. Jones (available on Open Access). This was originally based on the research of Dr. Alwyn Ruddock, who spent forty years examining early Tudor explorers, claiming that she had found evidence of Bristol merchants reaching North America before John Cabot in 1497. Most frustratingly, she never published her research, and ordered all her work to be destroyed upon her death in 2005. This tantalizing tale led Evan Jones and Margaret Condon to pursue their own research on Bristol explorers, and this article on William Weston provides evidence of the first Englishman to lead an expedition to North America. Through painstaking scrutiny of Henry VII’s letters and account rolls, Jones and Condon have discovered payments made to Weston that indicates he was in the Americas c. 1499. Although evidence for Ruddock’s claims are yet to be found, this article provides credence to support her missing research.


3. Moving into the seventeenth century now, with Plague, covenants, and confession: The strange case of Ayr, 1647–8 by Michelle Brock. Already in the midst of the complexities of the civil war, the port on the south-west coast of Scotland was struck by plague in 1647. Fortunately this outbreak did not result in many deaths, so this article focuses on the response from the minister William Adair, and how he led a week-long series of collective confessions. Although an established area of political and religious radicalism, these documented confessions stand as an example of local self-identity rather than part of a national or political covenant movement, as the public confessions and desire for personal reform demonstrate.


4. ‘A Welshman coming to London and seeing a jackanapes…’: How jokes and slang differentiated eighteenth-century Londoners from the rest of Britain by Simon Jarrett discusses the issues around identity with the rise of migration to London in the 1700s. Humour was employed as way to cement bonds between those from English provinces now settled in the capital, sharing jokes and slang that were often aimed at strangers to the city. This form of humour created a new identity for the migrants, and meant they could form a new cohesive group of Londoners, no matter where they had originally come from.

5. Moving far away from London now, we have Seadogs and their parrots: The reality of ‘Pretty Polly’ by Megan C. Hagseth. Acknowledging the stereotypical view of pirates with a parrot on their shoulder, this article delves into the misunderstandings surrounding avian pets onboard. Although the trade of exotic birds from the new world can be traced back to the late fifteenth century, it is not until the eighteenth century that significant documentary evidence can be examined. The aquiring of exotic birds appealed to sailors for a variety of reasons – to keep as a personal pet, to trade, to eat, or as a scientific curiosity. Using a variety of sources, including newspapers, artwork and archaeology, this article reveals the complexity of the relationship between sailors and exotic birds.

6. A rather squeamish one for number six – Your money where your mouth is: the role of consumerism in eighteenth-century transplant surgery by Paul W. Craddock. The increase in medical and dental knowledge in the late eighteenth century gave rise to a new procedure – the tooth transplant, where rotten teeth were removed and replaced by healthy teeth from someone else. The mechanics were relatively simple, a healthy freshly-extracted tooth was inserted into the mouth and secured in place until connective tissue grew around the new tooth, but this article explores the financial and societal implications of this procedure as well as the advancements in medical knowledge. The author concludes by discussing the concept of the tooth as a tradable object, almost as currency.

7. Next up is ‘To see us as we see ourselves’: John Tengo Jabavu and the politics of the black periodical by Khwezi Mkhize. This fascinating article features in a special issue titled Print Culture in South Africa in the Journal of Southern African Studies, and discusses Imvo Zabantsundu (Native Opinion), the first black periodical in South Africa. Created in 1884 by intellectual John Tengo Jabavu, this periodical was produced against the backdrop of conquest and colonial identity, and represents the desire of the black intelligentsia for colonial modernity. The author discusses imperial liberalism and imperial citizenship, arguing that the latter term should be recognised as a way to acknowledge the making of the black intelligentsia.

8. Back to more grisly matters again, with Bodily circulation and the measure of a life: Forensic identification and valuation after the Titanic disaster by Jess Bier. After the sinking of the Titantic in April 1912, several recovery ships arrived some days later to retrieve the bodies from the sea. In total 337 bodies were recovered, but roughly a third of them were then returned to the water in a hasty sea burial when the crew realized they could not preserve all the bodies long enough to get them to shore. This article explores the valuation of bodies as materials, and discusses why most of those returned to the sea were those travelling third class or crewmembers. As the bodies were recovered they were recorded, along with any personal possessions, and therefore an initial judgement was made on perceived economic class (including the quality of dress of the person). Bodies were sorted into first, second and third classes, with most of the third class then buried at sea. The author discusses the reasons for this, including the likelihood of more well-off passengers having life insurance, and thereby providing the means for a land burial, whereas a sea burial might ease the financial burden on a poor family. This is a fascinating article on a sobering subject, which also gives an oversight into the uneasy attitudes towards burial at sea over the centuries and the value of human life.

9. Our penultimate article is Women in the shadow war: gender, class and MI5 in the Second World War by Rosemary Florence Toy and Christopher Smith. Discussing the role of women in the secret service, this article examines how, despite significantly outnumbering men, women were still restricted to subordinate positions, such as clerical or secretarial roles. Using declassified material from the MI5, the internal male attitudes to women are explored through the wider lens of masculinity and social status, demonstrating that the establishment remained largely impervious to change.

10. And finally, at number ten Discovering film on Irish television: fragments from RTÉ archives 1960–5 by Sian Barber. Examining the archives from the Irish national broadcaster Telefís Éireann (RTÉ), this article looks at film and cinema through its relationship with television in the 1960s. Using television broadcasting listings guides (RTV Guide) and archival footage from art and culture programmes, the author navigates the sometimes uneasy relationship between different artistic genres, but ultimately suggests that there was an important inter-connectedness between televison and film.

And that’s it! We warmly wish you a merry Christmas and happy new year from all of us at the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

Featured image: A fashionable dentist’s practice, T. Rowlandson, 1787-1790. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Sara Charles is the Assistant Editor of the Bibliography of British and Irish History and Historical Research. Read more about the Bibliography. Follow Sara on Twitter