This post has kindly been written for us by Kathryn Olivarius, Past & Present Fellow.
No champion of American slavery had a larger pulpit or did more articulate and forward proslavery ideology than Senator John C. Calhoun, the former Vice-President and darling of South Carolina’s planter class. With his “positive good” thesis, he was the first Southerner of national eminence to say openly in Congress what historian Richard Hofstadter claimed, “almost all the white South had come to feel.” In 1838, Calhoun claimed “a mysterious Providence” had brought African slaves to America. The parallel lives of blacks and whites had “secured the peace and happiness of both… Each had improved; the inferior greatly… [Achieving] a degree of civilization never before attained by the black race in any age or country.” Calhoun continued, “Every plantation is a little community with the master at its head, who concentrates in himself the united interests of capital and labor, of which he is the common representative.” These small communities “aggregated make the State in all, whose action, labor, and capital is equally represented and perfectly harmonized.”
Calhoun enslaved hundreds of people during his lifetime. It is highly doubtful that the people he owned—working under threat of physical, sexual, and psychological violence—would have echoed his idea that the plantation was “perfectly harmonized.” Moreover, it was not a “mysterious providence” that brought Africans to the Americans. Rather, it was thousands of human beings, working at all levels of the vast imperial trans-Atlantic slave trade who unwillingly carried 12 million Africans to the Americas, over 300,000 of whom landed on North American shores. And despite Calhoun’s pious pronouncements, the plantation and larger system of American unfreedom was anything but “peaceful.” Generations of black Americans lived and worked their entire lives in bondage, with no chance at freedom, all to increase the capital—social, political, and economic—of whites.
The “peace” was disrupted in other ways, too. During the period of American slavery (1619 to 1865), hundreds of slave revolts took place – moments of black-on-white violence where enslaved blacks armed themselves, marched on cities, killed whites, destroyed property and crops, and demanded that the ideas of the American Revolution, colour-blind in rhetoric, could be so in fact.
Slave resistance has long been a focus of historical attention. Enslaved persons worked slowly, feigned sickness, ran away, poisoned their masters, and broke machinery. Some slaves (especially women) committed suicide and infanticide and induced abortions – desperate to save their kin from a lifetime of brutality.
Slave revolts, however, have garnered the most historiographical attention, perhaps because they were often violent, white people wrote a great deal about them, and they caused widespread social panic. Moreover, they also almost always ended in extreme legal and extra-legal retribution which saw dozens if not hundreds of allegedly-involved slaves executed.
Historians such as Herbert Aptheker’s American Negro Slave Revolts (1943) to Eugene Genovese’s From Rebellion to Revolution (1992) to Junius P. Rodriguez’s Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion (2007) have chronicled between 200 and 300 individual slave revolts that took place in mainland North America, firmly situating these events within a larger Caribbean and South American nexus. Other historians have analysed the motivations of slaves who chose to rise up. Echoing the assertion of C. L. R. James that “Voodoo was the medium of the conspiracy” in Haiti (1791 to 1803), Virgin Islands (1790s), and Afro-Cuban rebellions (1820 to 1847), historian William Suttles described how African religious traditions infused insurrections in the United States.
Certain large slave revolts have been analysed in great detail. Recent books about the 1739 rebellion in Stono, South Carolina (at least 86 people killed in punishment), the 1811 German Coast uprising in Louisiana (over 200 people involved), and Nat Turner’s 1831 revolt in Southampton, Virginia (55-65 people killed by the insurgents; perhaps 200 blacks killed by mobs in retaliation) have shown that slaves were highly organized and animated by the actions of slaves elsewhere. Certain revolting slaves like Gabriel Prosser of Richmond, Virginia (1800) and Cinqué of the Amistad rebellion (1839) are now American folk heroes. These rebellious men have been described in mythic, even romantic terms for their actions against a brutal white supremacist regime and the inspiration that they offered to others.
Considering that American slavery lasted for almost two-hundred and fifty years, involved millions of people, was legal (at times) in every American colony and state, penetrated every industry in both cities and rural districts, dictated that in some regions (particularly in cotton and sugar growing districts of the Mississippi River Valley and Carolina Low Country) black people outnumbered whites by over 100 to one, geographically spanned tens of thousands of square miles, and was a brutally violent system, some historians have expressed surprise that only between 200 and 300 revolts occurred. As historian Peter Kolchin wrote in 1987, most “revolts and conspiracies…were minor incidents of unrest that were quickly put down with a minimum of local force or were nipped in the bud before they occurred. Other historians have been more impressed with the paucity than with the ubiquity of American slave revolts.” Kolchin concluded that in comparison with their “Russian counterparts,” American slave rebellions were “small-scale affairs.”
Though future generations of historians have revised the number of slave revolts and their impact on American history, certain questions have persisted: Why were there not many more successful revolts in the United States? Why were there not more Nat Turners? Why were most revolts so easily suppressed? Why were they, apparently, so often betrayed by fellow slaves, free blacks, and poor whites?
These questions run the risk of assigning blame to enslaved persons for not resisting oppression “adequately.” They also privilege insurrection over other, perhaps more personally successful, forms of resistance like running away. Moreover, such questions suggest that slave revolts were only “successful” if they permanently abolished slavery, as in the Haitian Revolution.
But this is an extremely high bar. Perhaps we should be asking a different set of questions: What was a slave revolt? How many people needed to be involved? What legal and social structures existed to curtail more slaves from revolting? Must there have been an ideological, abolitionist component for it to have been a slave revolt? Does our conception of slave revolts change if free blacks or whites were involved? Were there places where slaves were more likely to revolt? What conditions (geographic, climatic, demographic) were more likely to spark a revolt? Why were slave revolts often male-dominated events?
Most of all, historians can shed light on this form of resistance by looking beyond the most famous insurrections to the smaller and often more idiosyncratic patchwork of revolts staged in America. Over the last few years, I have assembled a spreadsheet of every slave revolt that I have found reference to in the archives: in letters, insurance claims, state documents, municipal records, court minutes, doctor’s ledgers, slave narratives, and newspapers. The recent expansion of digitized newspaper and primary source databases has made it possible to trace the wider impact of such events within the South and the larger nation.
I have identified well over 350 discrete actions that we could call “slave revolts” – events that involved three or more people, organised with the express purpose of killing whites, achieving personal or group freedom, pillaging, causing physical damage to property, personal enrichment, or ending slavery altogether. Not all revolts meet all of those criteria. My revolt database is ever evolving, especially as it is difficult to determine whether a revolt was real or just imagined. (Historians are faced with the nearly impossible task of triangulating “truth” from a wide range of rumours, biased sources, and dispatches – almost all of them written by whites seeking to justify their fears and violent retaliation.) But in expanding our definition of slave revolts, we can see that enslaved persons—like all persons—were animated by a wide range of personal and ideological motives and were well-aware of events like the Haitian Revolution, even on isolated plantations.
For example, in December of 1837, a “vague report” in various newspapers across the country that over 50 slaves, free people of colour, and whites were involved in a plot in Alexandria, Louisiana. The (nameless) leader was allegedly seeking revenge after being moved from house to field work. Apparently, the plan was to coordinate an attack from various plantations, kill all the white men but spare the women and children, loot and destroy the surrounding plantations, and march on New Orleans – the region’s economic, cultural, social, and political hub. The plot, however, was betrayed by a slave named Lewis, belonging to Mr Compton of Rapides Parish, who was granted his freedom and $1,500. The rebellious slaves were condemned by an extra-judicial “vigilance” committee comprised of 12 of the area’s “most influential citizens.” At least nine slaves were hung and probably 50 were imprisoned.
This instance shows that slaves revolted for a plethora of evolving reasons. Indeed, slaves revolting together could have very different reasons for joining on. This instance 1837 also illustrates the strong limitations historians face in investigating slave revolts. Was this an actual revolt? Or was this just white imagination run amok, in a frenzy of fear? As the vigilance committee almost certainly used torture to exact confessions, can historians use their “evidence” or even consider the confessions reliable? Could the informing slave have made the whole thing up in order to gain his freedom?
Slave revolts were one end of a spectrum of resistance – moments that often remain vague in the historical record and nearly impossible to substantiate. The fact that they happened at all (not that they happened infrequently)—with uprising slaves knowing almost certainly that they would die—shows just how totalizing and brutal American slavery was. But revolts, even imaginary ones, offer a window into the psyche of this region, betraying exactly what whites were most fearful of. Most of all, revolts open a door into the often-elusive slave experience, showing how slaves communicated across plantations, absorbed news of revolts far away, and identified and exploited the vulnerabilities of America’s slave system.
 Eugene Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made, Two Essays in Interpretation (New York, 1969), 136.
 Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition: and the Men Who Made It (New York, 1948), 78; John C. Calhoun, ‘Speech on Slavery,’ U.S. Senate, Congressional Globe, 24th Congress, 24th Congress, 2nd Sess. (February 6, 1837), 157-159.
 Calhoun, ‘Speech of January 10, 1838,’ from Eric McKitrick, Slavery Defended: Views of the Old South (Englewood Cliffs, 1963), 19.
 Herbert Aptheker, “American Negro Slave Revolts,” Science & Society, vol. 1, no. 4 (Summer, 1937), 512-38; Carolyn Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below (Knoxville, Tenn., 1990), 48.
 C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (New York, 1963), 86; William Suttles, “African Religious Survivals as Factors in American Slave Revolts,” Journal of Negro History, vol. 56, No. 2 (April, 1971), 97-104.
 Jack Shuler, Calling Out Liberty: The Stono Slave Rebellion and the Universal Struggle for Human Rights (Jackson, Miss., 2009); Peter Charles Hoffer, Cry Liberty: The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739 (Oxford, 2010).
 Daniel Rasmussen, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt (New York, 2011); Albert Thrasher, On to New Orleans! Louisiana’s Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt (New Orleans, 1995);
 Patrick Breen, The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New History of the Nat Turner Revolt (New York, 2015); David Allmendinger, Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County (Baltimore, 2014).
 Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), 250.
 See for example, “From the National Intelligencer,” Vermont Phoenix, 3 November 1837.
This post has kindly been written for us by Joseph Harley, EHS Postan Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.
Since I was an undergraduate student I have been interested in researching poverty. The poor made up well over half of the British population during the early modern period, yet archives contain very little information on these people as the majority of records were made by the middling sort and the elite of society. This means that I have had to make long and frequent trips to archives throughout my PhD and Post-Doc to find sources.
I have calculated that over the past four and a half years, I have spent around six months of those, from opening to closing time, working at nearly 20 different archives. This number does not even include the months I spent searching online catalogues for records or the time I spent sorting through the thousands of photographs I had taken. This has been very rewarding but also very frustrating. Starting with the negatives: there is the considerable cost of visiting archives. On average, I have spent around £250 for every week that I have been away, even when I have found cheap hotels and economical forms of transport. I have been very fortunate to receive stipends and funding during my PhD and Post-Doc work, but even with this more often than not I am out of pocket. There is also the huge toll that these trips have on your body. For example, I am currently writing this blog on the 4.45am train from Leicester to London, to get to an archive in Maidstone for 9am. Once I am away, I will be eating a greasy cooked breakfast at the hotel every morning and will probably be eating something quick, cheap and thus unhealthy in the evenings.
Most of the archives I have visited are not nearby to where I live. This means that trips can be lonely and isolating as the only face-to-face conversations I have is brief chats with archive and hotel staff. I also do not actually conduct much research while I am away. I am simply someone who finds something, photographs it, and worries about using it later. Every archive has their own quirks, which are funny but also make you want to bang your head on the table. At one archive the staff thought that I was odd when I asked for a pillow to place a source with a broken spine on to. Another brought me out a trolley of sources to see, but would not let me lift things from the trolley to the table for health and safety reasons, even though they were very light and the distance was centimetres. Meanwhile, other archives are carefree and have even offered to bring me coffee and allow me to eat my lunch while looking at fragile documents (I didn’t). It is no wonder that some early-career historians struggle and can suffer from anxiety and depression.
There is a moral to this story. By working so extensively at archives I have had lots of practice of writing funding applications, which looks great on my CV and later helped when it came to writing my for the Economic History Society fellowship. People I have spoken to at archives have offered me opportunities to present my research at talks and write for journals. It has meant that I have the materials to write a dozen articles and ideas for three books. Many of these proposals are also easier to sell to prospective publishers and editors as they revolve around underutilised sources which would never have been found unless I undertook this work.
Moreover, it has allowed me to see the people that I am studying in a new light. One of my favourite things to find is doodles. It helps to remind me that the people we study were once alive and like us, sometimes got bored and would jot random pictures of anything and everything. One of the main sources I use is overseers’ accounts and these list hundreds and thousands of people that received payments from poor law authorities. It is easy to lose sight of who these individuals were when they are listed in such an emotionless way, but these doodles help me to see past that.
I have also found numerous examples which I will probably not otherwise use, but which have helped to remind me that I am studying people who were once alive and had worries, problems and dislikes of their own. In some parishes, for example, people would not be given poor relief unless they gave up their beloved pet dog. The elderly or single pregnant women were sometimes only helped by authorities if they entered the workhouse. Workhouse residents who tried to commit suicide were subject to criminal prosecutions if they managed to survive. I can’t imagine the sort of emotional turmoil and dilemmas that these people would have felt. Life could also be very unpredictable and peculiar. In Farningham, Kent, for instance, the parish constables were accused of neglecting their duties in 1827 after children were seen playing with gunpowder in the village. In Rothley, Leicestershire, in 1795, two people were given poor relief after one was bitten by a ‘Mad Dog’ and after the other was shot!
Overall then, as much as I dislike the costs, bad food and long days away from home, these trips have proved to be useful in other ways than providing sources for publications. They have helped me to become a more conscious historian who is appreciative of the challenges and complexities of contemporary society.
This post has kindly been written for us by Aashique Iqbal, Royal Historical Society Marshall Fellow, IHR
The first aeroplane flown by the first squadron of the Indian Air Force (IAF), on its formation in 1933, was the Westland Wapiti. The Wapiti, nicknamed the ‘What-a-pity’, by British pilots, was far from the cutting edge flying machine of its time. Air gunners had to be tied to their seats with a ‘monkey chain’ to be kept in place in the two seater biplane. The Wapiti often needed to be manhandled by teams of men into flying position and threw up great plumes of dust with its rotors. IAF Wapitis did not always come equipped with radios, meaning that pilots sometimes had to carry caged messenger pigeons with them in order to send important communications to ground stations. As the official history of the IAF would later note the force was ‘swaddled in the castaway garments of the the Royal Air Force ‘. By 1950, however, the situation had undergone a sea change. The IAF operated a series of sophisticated aircraft comparable with its British counterpart including De Havilland Vampire fighter jets, Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and Douglas DC-3 Dakota transport aircraft.
Westland Wapiti Bi-plane, Indian Air Force Museum, New Delhi.
Understanding the rapid technological modernisation of the Indian Air Force in the period between 1933 and 1950 involves understanding the politics that underpinned and enabled it. In 1933 India was very much a central part of the British Empire whereas by 1950 the country had emerged as an independent republic. A case study involving a selection of aircraft of the Indian Air Force is revealing of the ways in which technological modernisation is a deeply political act. As David Edgerton has argued it is useful to think of technology as ‘things in use’ since things are owned and their ownership is often revealing of the roots of social power. In the instance of colonial India the slow process of transition from British rule to independence had concrete consequences for the IAF, especially in determining what aircraft the force would fly.
The Indian Air Force was established in 1932, primarily as a concession to Indian political opinion, which had been demanding greater Indian control of the colonial military as a means of reducing the high costs of employing British personnel and of setting India on the path to self-government. The IAF was kept small, equipped with outdated aircraft like the Wapiti and confined to air policing operations against the tribes of the North West Frontier province. This state of affairs persisted into the Second World War when efforts by the colonial Government of India (GoI) to acquire new aircraft were stymied by His Majesty’s Government (HMG). New Delhi’s planned wartime expansion of the IAF had to be shelved since London was unwilling to release critical dollar reserves necessary to import new aircraft for the IAF from the United States. While the IAF was able to acquire a few new aircraft including the Hawker Hart, the Hawker Audax, the Bristol Blenheim and the Westland Lysander these were barely sufficient to meet the needs of the growing force. The newly formed IAF volunteer reserve would continue flying Westland Wapitis well into 1942.
When war with Japan broke out in 1941 the Indian Air Force could have hardly have been less prepared. The force was still no larger than one functioning squadron, though others were being trained, and it was still remarkably ill-equipped. Against the odds, however, the IAF gave a good account of itself during the long allied retreat from Burma in 1942. Indian Air Force personnel emerged as masters of improvisation, inventing a wooden wheel for their Westland Lysander planes, which often suffered from damaged rear wheels. They also managed to repurpose their ‘Lizzies’, which were meant for reconnaissance, with new bomb racks that transformed the aeroplane into a light bomber. For many IAF men the war was an opportunity to expand the force and in doing so to provide India with a military institution it would need to attain true independence. As the Squadron Leader of No 1 Squadron IAF serving in Burma, Karun Krishna ‘Jumbo’ Majumdar stated, the war offered the IAF a chance to escape its status as a ‘flying club’. Whatever reservations IAF men might have about fighting to protect the British Empire could be saved for after the war when Indians had their own air force. When Majumdar’s squadron was ordered to scout Japanese positions it went beyond the call of duty to use its improvised Lysander aircraft to launch light bombing raids on Japanese forces as far away as Thailand from its base in Northern Burma. The raids, often led by Majumdar in person, had little effect in turning the tide of a conflict that decisively favoured the Japanese, but they showcased both the IAF’s expertise in improvisation and its wartime gallantry.
The IAF was expanded and rapidly modernised by the Government of India following the string of defeats in 1942. Eight squadrons formed during the war would be equipped with Hawker Hurricane aircraft. While the Hurricane was not the fastest or most sophisticated aircraft available it was considerably more advanced than anything the IAF had thus far flown. Perhaps most well-known for its role as a fighter aircraft in the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane was used by the IAF on the Burma front primarily for tactical reconnaissance. Hurricane aircraft would take the majority of the 16,000 photographic prints taken by the IAF during the war, serving as the eyes of the Allies in Burma. Since the Hurricane was inferior to the Japanese Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa fighter plane, the IAF had to perform reconnaissance while remaining unseen. IAF personnel used tactics pioneered in air policing operations on India’s North West frontier, flying low and slow to avoid detection by the fast high flying Japanese fighters. While technological inferiority prevented Hurricanes from engaging Japanese aircraft they were encouraged to strafe ground troops. The IAF wreaked havoc on Japanese supply lines, attacking any targets of opportunity. Japanese troops quickly learned to take shelter in the thick Burmese jungle from IAF planes but their supply lines remained vulnerable. IAF Hurricanes strafed cattle trains, boats and, on several instances, elephants bearing Japanese supplies.
Ground crew with Lysander aircraft c 1942. Photo Courtesy: J.R. Nanda.
The fact that the IAF was not equipped with a plane suited for air-to-air combat was a consequence of its low position in the hierarchy of allied air forces. IAF needs were second to those of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in a theatre that was itself of relatively low importance for the British air planners. The premier fighter of the period, the Supermarine Spitfire, was not provided for the IAF until 1944, well after Allied air superiority had been acquired on the Burma front. Even when IAF squadrons received Spitfires there is some evidence to suggest that they were tasked away from zones where air combat might potentially occur. This was likely aimed at preventing Indians from gaining combat experience in the war and also reflected the widely-held notion that Indians were second-rate aviators. IAF Squadron No. 8, the first Indian squadron to be equipped with Spitfires was, for instance, tasked with defending the city of Calcutta, which had not been attacked by Japanese aircraft for over eight months. The lack of Spitfire aircraft for much of the war and the tasking of the IAF meant that the IAF saw very little air-to-air combat during the war, with only one confirmed enemy kill in a dogfight in the entire conflict. Nevertheless, the IAF was highly successful in utilising the Spitfire for bombing operations in the last two years of the war. The IAF’s reputation for accurate light bombing was further burnished with the adoption of the American Vultee Vengeance bomber, a plane infamous for the crashes occasioned by its high speeds. Assigned to the IAF partially because of its unpopularity with RAF personnel, the Vengeance came to serve as a highly precise means of delivering light bombardments thanks to a dive-bombing technique pioneered by IAF personnel in keeping with their penchant for improvising with the often problematic aircraft with which they were equipped.
The extraordinary success of the IAF in the Second World War was recognised by the granting of the prefix ‘Royal’ by the King Emperor to the service on 12 March 1945. Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) Hurricanes had the distinction of escorting Major General Numata of the Imperial Japanese Army to the surrender ceremony at Rangoon later that year. At the end of the war the IAF could boast 1 Distinguished Service Order, 22 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 1 bar to Distinguished Flying Cross, 3 Air Force Crosses, 2 Orders of the British Empire, 7 Members of the British Empire, 5 British Empire Medals, 45 Mentions in Dispatches and 285 Jangi Inams. It had expanded from a single squadron force of 16 officers and 269 airmen in 1939 to a nine squadron force that, in July 1945, included 1,638 officers and 26,900 Other Ranks. The small force had sustained substantial casualties during the war, with 688 killed, 367 wounded and 3 captured.
Perhaps the most important aircraft inducted by the RIAF in the 1940s would not be adopted during the war. The American Douglas DC-3 Dakota would only come into service on 1 December 1945 as part of the newly-raised No 12 Transport Squadron. The Dakota would play a key role in the two events that defined the passing of British rule in South Asia; partition and the Kashmir war of 1947. The Imperial defense of South Asia from the Japanese had been successful but costly. Colonial military control of the subcontinent was eroded by the passing of military technologies such as aviation from British to Indian hands and some form of Indian independence became inevitable after the war. Independence in 1947 was accompanied by the violent partition of British India into the independent dominions of India and Pakistan. As it became increasingly apparent that the creation of the two states would require the rapid movement of Muslim officials to Pakistan and non-Muslim officials to India, RIAF Dakotas were pressed into service. The interiors of the planes were stripped of seats and carpets to enable more passengers to board them. Thousands of government officials, along with their families, were moved to the dominions in which they were desperately required in order to expedite the formation of independent states. Even as the partition crisis was winding down, the two newly-created dominions of India and Pakistan went to war with each other over the disputed semi-autonomous state of Kashmir. As tribesmen backed by Pakistan poured into Kashmir in late October 1947, hoping to capture the state and hand India a fait accompli with the onset of winter, RIAF Dakotas were mobilised to fly in Indian troops to defend the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar. The war between the two new dominions would see the use of Dakota aircraft on both sides to move troops and supplies over Kashmir’s mountainous terrain. Again displaying the spirit of improvisation that had characterised it during the Second World War, the RIAF also used Dakotas for bombing operations by rolling bombs outside the planes’ open hatches. Though the conflict ended in a stalemate it is clear that without the Dakota Indian forces would have been unable to occupy as much of Kashmir as they were eventually able to. Indeed it is possible that without the Dakota India may have been forced to concede most of Kashmir to Pakistan. The Kashmir dispute has served as the most significant source of hostility between India and Pakistan ever since 1947 and the Dakota enabled India to launch, sustain and eventually escalate military involvement in the region.
India’s main combat aircraft in the Kashmir conflict was the Hawker Tempest. The Tempest had come to replace the fabled Spitfire in the RIAF’s arsenal, reflecting the rapid development of aviation technology in the decade. As with the Second World War, the conditions of the Kashmir conflict ensured that there was little dogfighting over Kashmir. Consequently, RIAF Tempests were able to draw on institutional skills pioneered on the North West Frontier and honed during the Second World War in the conflict. RIAF Tempests were used extensively in light bombardment and tactical reconnaissance to interdict enemy lines of supply. Their presence on the Kashmir front also served to deter the Royal Pakistan Air Force from using its aircraft to openly aid Pakistani forces, though covert operations were undertaken.
A major lacuna for India during the Kashmir conflict was the lack of heavy bombers. The British commander of the RIAF in independent India, Air Marshal Thomas Elmhirst, had suggested that India import Lancaster bombers from the United Kingdom, which continued to remain the prime supplier of aircraft to India. RIAF personnel led by Group Captain Harjinder Singh had a different idea. Following the Second World War the RAF had been forced to dispose of a number of Consolidated B-24 Liberators in India which it had received from the United States under the terms of the Lend-Lease agreement. Liberators were sent to Kanpur, where they were damaged by RAF personnel in a variety of ways. Trucks and bulldozers were run into the aircraft, damaging their fuselages. Cockpits were smashed by dropping aircraft from cranes on which they were raised and engines were filled with sand, rendering them unusable. However, the RIAF, which had for years relied on salvage and repair operations to keep its equipment-starved squadrons operating, was able to repair the Liberators. Some 42 Liberators were flown from Kanpur to Bangalore by Jamshed Kaikobad ‘Jimmy’ Mistry, a Hindustan Aircraft Limited test pilot with no previous experience flying four-engine aircraft. At the Hindustan Aircraft Limited factory at Bangalore aircraft were once more made air-worthy using spare parts cannibalized from other Liberators at Chakeri. Three Indian squadrons – No 5, No 6 and No 16 – would eventually be equipped with Liberator bombers. The RIAF became the last air force in the world to fly the Liberator which it only retired in 1967. In a testament to the excellent engineering skills of the IAF, the Royal Air Museum would ask for and receive a Liberator aircraft for display at its museum. The Liberator, which was flown in 1974 from India to the United Kingdom, is still on display.
Foreign exchange saved by not importing Lancasters was spent instead on pushing India into the jet age with the purchase of licenses to build De Havilland Vampire fighter bomber jet aircraft. This was part of a broader attempt by the newly-independent Indian state to eventually indigenise aircraft production, which it saw as being central to the maintenance of Indian sovereignty. Over 410 Vampires would serve in the Indian Air Force over the next three decades, including night fighting and training variants. The first of these was inducted into service with No 7 squadron in 1949. Only a decade earlier the Indian Air Force had been a tiny force flying Westland Wapiti aircraft.
The induction of Vampire jet planes built in India on license into the Indian Air Force in 1949 not only signaled the beginning of the jet age but reflected the vast political changes that had swept the continent in the preceding decade. Initially denied modern aircraft, the IAF had been modernised largely as a response to the exigencies of the Second World War. This modernisation in turn had the effect of loosening colonial military control, contributing ultimately to the decision to terminate British rule in the subcontinent. Aircraft inducted into the force after the war played a critical role in shaping modern South Asia, not least by drawing present day Indian borders in Kashmir. The RIAF was able throughout the period to excel in often adverse circumstances through improvisation of both aviation technology and flying techniques, eventually clawing its way into the jet age by bringing into existence entire bomber squadrons from scrap. In the decades after 1950 the IAF would continue to expand, eventually becoming the fourth largest air force in the world. The history of its aircraft in its first two decades serves as an example of the ways in which poorer countries engage with high technology. It is also revealing of the manner in which technological modernisation is deeply implicated in politics.
 B. Prasad, History of the Indian Air Force 1933-45, (New Delhi, 1961), p xix.
 D. Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, (London, 2008), p 212.
 B. Prasad, Expansion of the Armed Forces and Defence Organisation 1939-45, (New Delhi, 1956), p 142.
 S. Sapru, Combat Lore, (New Delhi, 2014), p 153.
 M.Edwards, Spitfire Singh, (New Delhi, 2016), p 146.
 R. Chinna, The Eagle Strikes, (New Delhi, 2006), p 61.
 V. Seth, The Flying Machines, (New Delhi, 2000), p 21.
 R. Chinna, The Eagle Strikes, (New Delhi, 2006), p 113.
 See for instance: Ministry of Defence (MoD), 601/9616/H, Operations Record Book No 1 Squadron.
 MoD, 601/9621/H, ORB No. 8 Squadron, 3 March 1945.
 B. Prasad, History of the Indian Air Force 1933-45, (New Delhi, 1961), p 177.
 J.J. Halley, The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth, (Tonbridge, 1988). p 523.
 R. Chinna, The Eagle Strikes, (New Delhi, 2006), p 236.
 B. Prasad, Expansion of Armed Forces and Defence Organisation, (New Delhi, 1956), p 153.
 TNA, AIR 23/3426, History of the Royal Indian Air Force.
 R.K. Pal, Sentinels of the Sky, (New Delhi, 1999), p 26.
 B. Kumar, An Incredible war, ( New Delhi, 2007), p 53.
 M.Edwards, Spitfire Singh, (New Delhi, 2016), p 321.
This post has kindly been written for us by Benedict G. E. Wiedemann MA (UCL), Thornley Fellow, IHR.
‘A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer’
Seneca the Younger
When is a gift not a gift? Simple. When either the giver, receiver – or even an observer – says it isn’t. They might not say so at the time of course. Imagine I gave you my old sofa. I want to get rid of it and you very kindly take it off my hands, many thanks for that, glad to see the back of it. But then – perhaps six months, perhaps a year later – I want it back. My new sofa hasn’t worked out (it gives me nasty back pains) or maybe I’m moving and my big new sofa won’t fit. So I get in touch: ‘I’m afraid I’m going to need that sofa I lent you back’. Circumstances have changed – I want the sofa again – and so how I choose to define our earlier transaction has changed too. Less facetiously, the idea of ‘contested constructions’ – points at which two parties have conflicting interpretations of what has passed between them – is vitally important to Medieval political history.
When objects pass between two people, or two groups, how we define those objects can determine the relationship between those groups. If we say that someone paid tribute then there’s a clear indication of political subservience. Rent? Well that’s an indication that the recipient has some sort of power over the payer’s land or home. Gifts? Well there’s a bit more equality there. We all know that gifts can be a way to show hierarchy (in, for example, the relative costs of gifts) but not in the same way as tribute. What we and others call these transactions – and not everyone will call them the same thing – will influence how we speak of and consider the relationship between these persons and groups.
But what about other transactions? What about tax. Can tax also be a gift? Most of us would say no: it’s not as if we have any say in whether we pay tax or not. But that wasn’t always the case. In the Middle Ages, the language of gifts was often used when describing how permission to levy a tax was granted by the people to the king. When Henry III of England needed a tax to defend the county of Poitou in 1218. His letter ordering the sheriffs to collect it explained that ‘all the magnates and faithful men of our kingdom have conceded – by their grace – a gift to be made to us’. This ‘gift’ had previously been agreed between the royal administration and a council held at Worcester. We can reasonably assume that this tax – as many taxes are – was the result of hard negotiation. It seems probable that many of the people who had to pay it – and didn’t want to – would not call it a gift but an exaction, or even theft. But it was presented as a freely-given gift from the people to the king.
Defining transactions as ‘gifts’ can therefore confer legitimacy on forced exactions. It can also flatten out any suggestion that an exchange was dishonourable. Even fantasy creatures can show such manipulative skills: at the end of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins gives the Elvenking a necklace of pearls in return for the king’s food which the Hobbit had eaten earlier in the book. By giving the king a gift, Bilbo repays the king for the food. But turning back a few pages we read that Bilbo had stolen the food. Considering his fellows had – at the time – been prisoners of the Elvenking, the Hobbit had surely had no intention of giving recompense for the food originally. Circumstances had changed: the Hobbits, elves, dwarfs and so on were now united and so it behoved Bilbo to present his theft as one act in a reciprocal exchange.
Such contested constructions aren’t limited to giving and receiving either. Ceremonies and rituals are fertile ground for spectators and participants to read different meanings. Philippe Buc has emphasised how the same Medieval ritual could be presented either as cementing the power of a ruler or showing his unfitness to rule, depending on whether the chronicler describing the ritual thought he was a suitable king or not. That isn’t a solely literary observation either. When King Alexander III of Scotland performed homage to Henry III of England in 1278, the English chancery implied that the homage was for all Scotland – suggesting Scotland was subservient to England – while the Scots said that it was merely for the lands which Alexander held in England, and hence showed nothing about Scotland’s status vis-à-vis England. How the ritual was interpreted affected the political relationship of these two polities, and both sides had different interpretations.
What separates this from the bread-and-butter ‘he said, she said’ of historical analysis (or criminal detection) is the agreement on the actual event: both sides took it as read that King Alexander III had performed homage, but the circumstances – the terms – of the event were debated. Equally what is interesting about contests of interpretation is less who is ‘right’, but why different people want to put forward different constructions.
But – obviously – not all interpretations are equally plausible. Indeed, in order for a particular interpretation of an event to gain traction it has to be reasonable to those hearing it. In 1139 King Roger II of Sicily needed Pope Innocent II to confirm his royal title. It had earlier been confirmed by Innocent’s rival pope, Anacletus II, but Anacletus’ party had been defeated so Roger needed the winning pope’s approval. Considering Roger’s support for his enemies, Innocent was not disposed to look kindly on him. In fact they went to war. This was a poor choice on Innocent’s part. The pope was captured and Roger forced Innocent to recognize Roger’s title. The chroniclers did not all record the following events in the same way.
Falcone of Benevento explained that Innocent did confirm Roger’s kingship, after ‘the king […] sent envoys to Pope Innocent […] begging him more humbly than one would have thought possible to grant him the hand of peace and concord’. Then Roger ‘and his sons the duke and prince came into the pope’s presence, flung themselves at his feet and begged for mercy, and bowed to his authority’. The author of Pope Innocent’s biography – who was a cardinal – simply skated over the whole event, however. No mention was made of the events of 1139 at all. Presumably the biographer did not see any way to make Innocent’s humiliation – being captured by Roger and forced to accede to his demands – less. Even if he had done what Falcone had done, and emphasised how humble Roger was, it still wouldn’t alter the fact that Roger had beaten Innocent and captured him. The biographer could not simply deny this had happened, or put forward a radically different interpretation with no basis in fact, because no reader would take it seriously. So he chose to remain silent.
Historical accounts of ceremonies, transactions and rituals reflect the concerns and aims of the author. Sometimes this might be the same as what the original participants thought, but often it isn’t. By looking at conflicting interpretations of rituals and gifts, it is possible not only to observe common features, but to see differences. These differences are – quite simply – what mattered to the people who wrote, and constructed, and observed these events and exchanges. Their conflicting interpretations tell us what was important.
Buc, ‘Ritual and interpretation: the early medieval case’, Early Medieval Europe 9 (2000), pp. 183-210.
Algazi, ‘Introduction: doing things with gifts’, in G. Algazi, V. Groebner, B. Jussen, eds., Negotiating the Gift: Pre-Modern Figurations of Exchange (Göttingen, 2003), pp. 9-27.
Weiler, ‘Knighting, homage and the meaning of ritual: The kings of England and their neighbours in the thirteenth century’, Viator 37 (2006), pp. 275-99.
This post has kindly been written for us by Dr Alice Dolan, Economic History Society Anniversary Fellow.
My postdoctoral project comes directly out of my PhD thesis which was a social history of linen during the long 18th century. Linen was used by rich and poor for underwear and on beds and tables. Its ubiquity across all ranks of society makes it ideally suited to an analysis of how relationships with textiles varied over the life cycle. ‘The Fabric of Life: Linen and Life Cycle in England 1678-1810’ therefore considered experiences across the life cycle, exploring infant clothing, child labour and the temporality of domestic work within a Lancashire household. Adult daily life was uncovered through the themes of respectability, the commercial significance of linen and the relationship between bodily intimacy and the creation of emotional meaning. Finally the thesis finished by exploring burial practice with burial in wool rather than linen, which was forced by the 1678 Act for Burying in Woollen for economic reasons.
The thesis showed that linen was only dominated by cotton for plain textiles in the 19th century. Linen’s superior durability and cheaper price, alongside its essential roles in everyday life, meant that it continued to be used during the long 18th century. It took decades for cotton prices to fall far enough to change established material culture traditions. However by the 1830s, the British and Irish linen industries were in rapid decline. They were victims of low cotton prices, lengthier fibre preparation processes and a slower rate of technological innovation.
My postdoctoral project follows up where my thesis left off by investigating how mechanisation and falling cotton prices transformed working-class dress in the first half of the 19th century. Engels recorded a dramatic change in what people wore.
Wool and linen have almost vanished from the wardrobe of both sexes, and cotton has taken their place … [The working class] is scarcely ever in a condition to use a thread of woollen clothing; and the heavy cotton goods, though thicker, stiffer, and heavier than woollen clothes, afford much less protection against cold and wet, [and] remain damp much longer because of their thickness and the nature of the stuff.
Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, (1844)
This bleak summary of the clothing privations of the working class centres on material changes. Engels bemoans the disappearance of wool from labouring wardrobes, replaced by stiff, absorbent cotton, an inferior insulator. Centuries of reliance on linens and woollens were over.
I will explore these dramatic and rapid material changes over this academic year. In 1800 working-class people wore linen underwear, men wore woollen outer clothing, and women wore cotton, linen and woollen dresses. By 1850 the cotton, linen and woollen trades were fully mechanised in England. Hand-spinning had largely died out which prevented industrious families from producing their own textiles to reduce costs. By 1844, according to Engels, their choices were basically limited to one textile – cotton.
The effect of manufacturing changes on working-class clothing has been little studied, yet it is another facet of the Industrial Revolution’s effect on daily life and the global rise of cotton. This project directly traces the impact of these changes on what people wore. It focuses primarily on members of the working class able to choose their clothing, rather than the poor forced to wear uniforms by institutions.
I will complete two garment studies this year: underwear and trousers. My research into underwear asks when did the majority of working-class people begin to wear cotton not linen underwear (shirts and shifts/chemises)? Was the price of cotton fibre grown in America more important, or the full mechanisation of production in the 1830s?
I will also examine the rise of trousers. Before 1800 only sailors wore trousers, while everyone else wore breeches. In the early 19th century trousers spread across the working class and they were then adopted by the middle and upper classes. Old Bailey crime records testify to a growth in their popularity: trousers appeared in 161 cases in the 1800s and 2018 in the 1840s. This case study will look at the materials used for trousers by the working class and whether they changed over the period. Was cotton exclusively used as Engels suggests? I will also examine how quickly the trouser fashion spread, whether men in some areas were more resistant than others.
My sources will include Quarter Sessions records from Yorkshire and a (still to be chosen) southern English county, surviving objects, images, autobiographies, adverts, shopkeepers’ inventories, merchants’ records and novels.
The evidence given at the Quarter Sessions provides insight into working-class clothing choices, textiles and colours as the following example from the West Riding Quarter Sessions shows. In early September 1826, Enoch Ant and John Wilson allegedly stole unfinished wool cloth from a manufacturer. Both were chimney sweeps. Wilson’s wife stated that John and Enoch made a pair of trousers out of the contentious cloth, an unusual example of domestic male production. However their endeavour was not successful, the trousers did not ‘fit him well between the Legs’ so Charlotte Wilson altered them to fit ‘better’.
The case was taken to Court because John unlike Enoch took his stolen kersey to a tailor who was suspicious because it was ‘unfinished’ or ‘raw’ and got a hawker to ask around for missing cloth. This means the final finish had not been applied to the textile. Kerseys were cheap woollen cloths. They were woven and then the surface was felted. The unfinished kersey lacked its fuzzy surface. Kersey protected its wearers against the elements and it was cheap, therefore it was popular with the lower classes. The stolen kersey was drab, meaning that it was undyed and was a grey-beige colour.
Clearly all chimney sweeps were not clad in stolen textiles. However, this case gives an example of what was considered appropriate and even desirable cloth for these two chimney sweeps. And it was even worn by one, if only for a few days before discovery. Examples like this will help to build up a picture of the clothing and colours worn by working-class people in 19th-century England. Furthermore, because a specific textile name is given, we are able to get an idea of what the outfit might have looked like, even if we don’t know the exact cut of Enoch’s trousers. The case also inspires questions – did John and Enoch have trousers because they were more practical garments for chimney sweeps? – Did certain professions adopt trousers earlier than others for practical reasons?
In summary, my postdoc examines the first half of the 19th century, a period with an unprecedented rate of change in working-class clothing. To uncover the role of mechanisation and declining fibre prices I will look at changes in fibres used for underwear. Research into trousers will also consider issues of materiality, as well as uncovering how quickly this new fashion spread amongst the working class.
Florence Montgomery, Textiles in America 1650-1870 (London, 2007)
Vivian Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (New York, 2013)
John Styles, The Dress of the People (London, 2007)
 Advanced search ‘trowser* trouser*’ on 03/03/2015.
Welcome to the inaugural blog post in a series promoting the Low Countries collection in the IHR Library. My name is Stijn van Rossem and I took up a one-year post-doctoral fellowship in March. In the months to come, I will explore and promote the remarkable holdings on the Low Countries, one of the largest collections outside of the Netherlands and Belgium, and will help to show the collection’s relevance not just for Low Countries studies but also for scholars of British, European and World History.
Before joining the IHR, I held teaching positions at the University of Antwerp (Literature of Modernity) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Art History). I am a visiting professor at the School of Arts in Ghent, where I teach courses on the history and theory of graphic design. In 2013, I was director of the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Brussels. My primary areas of expertise are book history, graphic design, and curatorship; my Ph.D. focussed on the publishing strategies of the Verdussen family, printers in Antwerp from 1589 to 1689.
As well as producing a general guide, I will focus on the extensive collection of rare books from the Low Countries held by the IHR, and which includes the arguably understudied collection of about 1,000 Dutch pamphlets (dating from 1602–1814), an important source on the political, religious, commercial and social history of the Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands.
Pieter Geijl in London 1922 (Source Wikipedia)
This collection of Dutch Historical pamphlets is but a small part of the books on the Low Countries entering the IHR Library on the instigation of Professor Pieter Geyl, the first chair of Dutch Studies in the United Kingdom. Geyl was involved in the creation of a seminar on Dutch History in the IHR and was able to negotiate the transfer of the history books from Bedford College to the IHR, which were to be used as the reference library for his seminar ‘Reading of Dutch Historical Texts’ (from 1925 to 1926). Although often a very controversial figure with the capacity to generate a series of academic and political feuds, Geyl is still considered one of the most important historians from the Low Countries, who started his academic career in London. Together with the Dutch Department of UCL, I plan to organise a conference on the influence of Pieter Geyl in the United Kingdom.
But also other libraries of the School of Advanced Study have important collections. Senate House Library holds more than 1,000 rare books from the Low Countries, with over 700 of those printed by the famous Elzevier family. Next year will be the anniversary of the death of the founding father of the dynasty Lowijs Elsevier (ca 1540–1617). Together with Leiden University, Museum Meermanno (House of the Book, The Hague) and the Elsevier Heritage Collection we are currently discussing how to organise a suiting commemoration and what role we could play in it.
Professor Lawrence Goldman, the Director of the Institute of Historical Research, discusses the film ‘Glory’ about the first black regiment in the American Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts, raised in 1862. ‘Glory’, released in 1989, won 3 Oscars including the award for best supporting actor which went to a young Denzel Washington.
The film is based on the letters of the Colonel of the 54th, Robert Gould Shaw. We shall examine the history of the African-American contribution to the American Civil War and the historical accuracy of the film. Hollywood can sometimes surprise us.
We hope you will be able to attend our programme of Director’s seminars for autumn, at which the 2015-16 junior research fellows will present their research. All are welcome. Tea and coffee will be served.
Jennifer Keating – Images in crisis: Landscapes of disorder in Russian Central Asia, 1915-1924
Julia Leikin – War and Commerce under the Imperial Russian Flag, 1768-1812
Alice Dolan – Re-Fashioning the Working Class: Mechanisation and Materiality in England 1800-1856
Judy Stephenson – Occupation and Labour market institutions in London 1600 – 1800
Will Eves – The Assize of Mort d’Ancestor: From 1176 to 1230
James Norrie – Property and Religious Change in the Diocese of Milan, c.990-1140
Felicity Hill – Excommunication and Politics in thirteenth-century England
Lucy Hennings – England in Europe during the Reign of Henry III, 1216-1272
Joan Redmond – Popular religious violence in Ireland, 1641-1660
Sarah Ward -Royalism, Religion, and Revolution: The Gentry of North-East Wales, 1640-88
Paul Kreitman – Attacked by Excrement: the political ecology of shit in wartime and postwar Tokyo
John Morgan – Financing flood security in eastern England, 1567-1826
Cécile Bushidi – Dance, socio-cultural change, and politics among the Gĩkũyũ people of Kenya, 1880s-1963
Tehila Sasson – In the Name of Humanity: Britain and the Rise of Global Humanitarianism
26 November (Thursday)
Mindaugas Sapoka – Poland-Lithuania and Jacobitism c. 1714 – c. 1750
Junqing Wu – Anticlerical erotica in China and France: a cross-cultural analysis
Roel Konijnendijk – Courage and Skill: A Hierarchy of Virtue in Greek Thought
Ben Thomas – The Royal Naval Reserve in rural Scotland and Wales, c. 1900-1939
Courtney J. Campbell, Past & Present Fellow at the IHR for 2014-15, has had a paper published in the most recent issue of Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies.
From the abstract:
This article compares two cases in which Brazilian abolitionists mobilized around a law passed in 1843 to prohibit British subjects, no matter where they resided, from owning slaves. Placing a case against a large British-owned gold mine in Minas Gerais alongside outcry against a Scottish widow who owned two slaves in Recife, the article argues that this law was used as a rhetorical tool to gain support for abolitionism and create public outrage against British slaveholders in Brazil at a moment of expanding public participation in abolitionism as a form of nationalism.
After a highly competitive process, the Institute is delighted to have appointed eighteen Junior Research Fellows for the 2015-16 year. We received a record number of applications for Junior Fellowships this year, and panels found it challenging to select the successful candidates from a range of excellent submissions. Thank you to everyone who took the time to apply.
We greatly look forward to welcoming the new cohort in October, and will be sharing more details and news of them in the coming months. In the meantime, you can get a sense of their areas of interest from the list below.
Do remember to check back for the programme of Director’s Seminars. At these seminars the Junior Fellows will present their research. These will be held on Wednesday afternoons, 2-4pm, from 7 October – 2 December (except one on the Thursday, 26 November), in Wolfson II at the IHR.
Economic History Society Fellows
Alice Dolan (UCL) 1 year
Re-Fashioning the Working Class: Mechanisation and Materiality in England 1800-1856
Paul Kreitman (SOAS) 1 year
Economic and Social Dimensions of Sovereignty in the North Pacific, 1861-1965
John Morgan (Exeter) 1 year
Financing flood security in eastern England, 1567-1826 Warwick
Judy Stephenson (Cambridge) 1 year
Occupation and Labour market institutions in London 1600 – 1800 LSE
Jacobite Studies Trust Fellow
Mindaugas Sapoka (Aberdeen) 1 year
Poland-Lithuania and Jacobitism c. 1714 – c. 1750
Past & Present Fellows
Jennifer Keating (UCL) 1 year
Images in crisis: Landscapes of disorder in Russian Central Asia, 1915-1924
Roel Konijnendijk (UCL) 1 year
Courage and Skill: A Hierarchy of Virtue in Greek Thought
Tehila Sasson (UC Berkeley) 1 year
In the Name of Humanity: Britain and the Rise of Global Humanitarianism
Junqing Wu (Exeter) 1 year
Anticlerical erotica in China and France: a cross-cultural analysis Nottingham
Ben Thomas (Aberdeen) 1 year
The Royal Naval Reserve in rural Scotland and Wales, c. 1900-1939
IHR Doctoral Fellows – Royal Historical Society
Lucy Hennings (Oxford) 1 year P.J. Marshall Fellow
England in Europe during the Reign of Henry III, 1216-1272
Sarah Ward (Oxford) 1 year Centenary Fellow
Royalism, Religion, and Revolution: The Gentry of North-East Wales, 1640-88
IHR Doctoral Fellows – Scouloudi Fellows
Will Eves (St Andrews) 6 months
The Assize of Mort d’Ancestor: From 1176 to 1230
Felicity Hill (UEA) 1 year
Excommunication and Politics in thirteenth-century England
Julia Leikin (UCL) 1 year
Prize law, maritime neutrality, and the law of nations in Imperial Russia, 1768-1856
James Norrie (Oxford) 6 months
Property and Religious Change in the Diocese of Milan, c.990-1140
Joan Redmond (Cambridge) 6 months
Popular religious violence in Ireland, 1641-1660
IHR Doctoral Fellows – Thornley Fellow
Cécile Bushidi (SOAS) 1 year
Dance, socio-cultural change, and politics among the Gĩkũyũ people of Kenya, 1880s-1963
We would also like to announce that Jacob Currie (Cambridge) was awarded a six-month Scouloudi Fellowship, which has been deferred to 2016-17.