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IHR Digital

Latest Reviews – Labour Party, medieval peacemaking, Irish poverty & crusaders


We kick off this week with John Gaffney’s Leadership and the Labour Party: Narrative and Performance. Christopher Massey believes this book provides vital reading for all interested in Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party and the development of political narrative and performance (no. 2196, with response here).

Next up is The Benefits of Peace: Private Peacemaking in Late Medieval Italy by Glenn Kumhera. Alexandra Lee and the author discuss a book which provides a deeper insight into the complicated practices of private peacemaking in medieval Italy (no. 2195, with response here).

Then we turn to Lindsey Earner-Byrne’s Letters of the Catholic Poor: Poverty in Independent Ireland, 1920-1940. David Kilgannon praises a book which challenges other historians of 20th-century Ireland to ‘people their pasts’ (no. 2194).

Finally we have The Uses of the Bible in Crusader Sources, edited by Elizabeth Lapina and Nicholas Morton. Stephen Spencer recommends a book which adds substantially to our understanding of the sources and the intellectual milieu of their authors (no. 2193).

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Latest reviews: William the Conqueror, Stefan Collini, blackface and Indian news


We begin this week with David Bates’ William the Conqueror. Matthew Bennett and the author debate the extent to which this biography shows sufficient empathy for its subject (no. 2192, with response here).

Next up is Common Writing: Essays on Literary Culture and Public Debate by Stefan Collini. Tim Rogan and the author discuss a collection of pieces which read together for the first time yield a clearer sense of the general preoccupations which unite them (no. 2191, with response here).

Then we turn to Brian Roberts’ Blackface Nation: Race, Reform, and Identity in American Popular Music, 1812-1925. Eran Zelnik highlights the strengths and weaknesses one of the most informative and persuasive recent cultural histories of the 19th century (no. 2190).

Finally we have a response by Amelia Bonea to our previously published review of her book The News of Empire: Telegraphy, Journalism and the Politics of Reporting in Colonial India (response to 2149).

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British History Online and the Bibliography of British and Irish History – not just British


From the titles of some of the IHR’s digital resources, you might think that they have limited geographical reach: British History Online…the Bibliography of British and Irish History. But the real world overspills geographical boundaries and the digital world even more so.

1655 engravure of the islands Amboyna (top) and Nera (bottom). National Maritime Museum, London

British History Online has much more to offer than British history, even though that is naturally the focus. Series like the Journals of the Board of Trade and Plantations and the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial (which, despite the title, includes relations with China and Japan!) have an explicitly global reach. There is also the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, America and West Indies. For example, after the 1624 Amboyna Massacre, the bloody outcome of a power struggle over the spice trade between Great Britain and the Netherlands, we can read that the East Indian company agreed to distribute 1,000 copies of its account of the massacre in Dutch “to be sent over”, i.e. to what is now Indonesia, and that “there shall be set upon the front of each book the arms of this Company, in token that they avow them to be true”. Faith in the word of international corporations was clearly greater then than now.

Stamp commemorating Irish monks arriving in Iceland

The Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) also offers more internationally than its title suggests. It covers the history of British and Irish relations with the rest of the world, including the British Empire and the Commonwealth and the American Colonies. As an example, searching on Iceland brings up early medieval Irish missions there; a range of cultural relations – for instance the influence of the sagas on British and Irish literary tradition; British visitors such as the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks to Iceland; trade relations including the voyage of the “Marigold” in 1654; foreign relations during World War II and the American and British occupation of the island; and the so-called cod wars over fishing rights of the 1970s. The image below shows hotspots for BBIH’s world coverage:

Of course IHR resources are not just global in scope, they are global in audience. This opens up scholarship to the world. Those who cannot attend IHR lectures can enjoy them as videos and podcasts from anywhere in the world. Since 2009 the IHR has produced over 800 podcasts, encompassing not only its acclaimed and unique seminar series, but also one-off talks and conferences. Those who cannot attend training courses can access training online training.

British History Online has received thanks from researchers across the world for providing free access to volumes that are hard to obtain where they live and work. BBIH has subscribers all over the world including the USA, most European countries, Australia, Japan and Taiwan. The reach of IHR is truly global.

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Latest Reviews – US revolutionaries, French sexual revolution, Victorian historicism and London smoke


We begin this week with Tom Cutterham’s Gentlemen Revolutionaries: Power and Justice in the New American Republic. Lindsay Chervinsky praises a book which offers a complex and active view of the 1780s (no. 2189, with response here).

Next up is From Vichy to the Sexual Revolution: Gender and Family Life in Postwar France by Sarah Fishman. Charlotte Faucher and the author discuss a clear, convincing account of post-war France (no. 2188, with response here).

Then we turn to Historicism and the Human Sciences in Victorian Britain, edited by Mark Bevir. Alex Middleton thinks this collection represents a missed opportunity given the presence of so many distinguished historians (no. 2187).

Finally we have William Cavert’s The Smoke of London. Elly Robson enjoys a book that opens up new horizons for rich, multifaceted histories of environmental change (no. 2186).

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Open Access Week 2017: share and aware


Humanities Digital Library

Researcher awareness and engagement with open access data and sharing is increasing, that is according to a 2017 State of Open Data Report published by Figshare this week. This does not come as a surprise to me and, as a publisher of open access research in a variety of forms, it is something I have witnessed develop first-hand over the last few years. It is fantastic to now see the willingness and endorsement of authors, particularly those outside the sciences, who wholeheartedly support the publication of their research as open access through our own Humanities Digital Library – a place to access and download books published by the School of Advanced Studies, its constituent Institutes and partners within learned societies.

This year’s Open Access Week (23 and 29 October 2017) presents the theme of ‘Open in order to’. From my perspective, we seek to make research open in order to improve discovery and accessibility. As a publisher and member of a research institution, one of my primary objectives is to enable as wide a dissemination of research as possible. I believe it’s critically important for all those who encourage, create and facilitate research to be focused together towards developing open, visible, accessible and adaptable digital infrastructures which will help enable everyone to find and absorb ideas and knowledge. The Humanities Digital Library represents a step forward on our part towards achieving this objective.

Emily Morrell, Publications Officer at the School of Advanced Study, can see the benefits of digital publishing methods as an integral part of established and respected publishing programmes. “Open in order to expand from our traditional hard-copy publishing programme to make the high-quality research we publish available more widely, to a bigger and more international audience, while retaining our high editorial and production standards.”

For Simon Newman, Sir Denis Brogan Professor of American History at the University of Glasgow, Vice President of the Royal Historical Society and Convenor for New Historical Perspectives (a new and upcoming books series), this issue extends further with implications for the global research community. “Open in order to reach every researcher and every student with a computer and internet access” says Simon. The tracking of access and downloads of open access books on our platform from locations and institutions around the world reinforces his point. “At present much research remains largely inaccessible to many members of the potential audience, and OA can take, for example, my research into the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the Caribbean to students and academics in colleges and universities from Accra and Legon in Ghana to Cave Hill in Barbados and Mona in Jamaica.” Simon believes in the removal of barriers to research. Whilst Research4Life and similar initiatives have been fantastic for taking affordable access to developing countries, truly open access has the possibility to go further. “Knowledge can become truly international,” says Simon, “and new teaching and research collaborations will be fostered by Open Access.”

This is not an impossible ambition but an achievable reality. However, in order to truly embrace these opportunities for access, dissemination and research collaboration we need to make the benefits and potential of open access clear to all. An article published in THE today suggests that many scholars remain unaware of what constitutes copyright infringement and that perhaps a lack of understanding regarding the permissions inherent within the various open access licensing agreements is exasperating the issue. As more research outputs engage with open formats (whether books, articles, data or another form of communication) it is the responsibility of publishers to help scholars, readers and potential partners navigate this changing landscape. For our part, the Institute of Historical Research and School of Advanced Studies hold annual Getting Research Published and Publishing for Historians workshops which aim to help authors and researchers make sense of the editorial and publishing processes as well as licensing and copyright issues – events upcoming in early 2018 are soon to be announced.

I believe in the shared opportunity of open access. Since launch in January of this year, the Humanities Digital Library has grown to contain books from three Institutes within the School of Advanced Study and has several dozen titles upcoming into 2018, including the series New Historical Perspectives which will be published by the Institute of Historical Research in partnership with the Royal Historical Society. Together we aim to continue to delivery open access research with those shared goals of discoverability, quality and accessibility.

Access and download our open access books online at

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Latest Reviews – Witches, Cats & Dogs, Soldiers and Print Culture


We begin this week with Ronald Hutton’s The Witch: A History of Fear From Ancient Times to the Present. Willem de Blécourt and the author debate – I think it’s fair enough to say that they don’t agree (no. 2185, with response)!

Next up is The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: the Real Story of World War II’s Unknown Tragedy by Hilda Kean. Maggie Andrews and the author discuss a welcome contribution to the ongoing process of chipping away at the pernicious national narrative of the Second World War as a ‘People’s War’ (no. 2184, with response).

Then we turn to Ilya Berkovich’s Motivation in War: The Experience of Common Soldiers in Old-Regime Europe. Joe Cozens enjoys an impressive first monograph from an extremely adept and promising military historian (no. 2183).

Finally we have Commemoration and Oblivion in Royalist Print Culture, 1658-1667 by Erin Peters. Imogen Peck believes it is a testament to the the originality of this book and the liveliness of the field that it succeeds in raising as many questions as it answers (no. 2182).

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BBIH and the occult (for History Day 2017)


As 31 October looms we all know what that means, no not Halloween, but History Day. And of course the theme this year is the occult and all things that go bump in the night. BBIH is a big supporter of History Day –  it’s well organised with lots of participants and interesting panel sessions. It also gives BBIH the opportunity to showcase research on this year’s theme – the occult and its many facets. So grab your broomstick, cauldron, and crystal ball and we’ll delve into the world of the dark arts.

Naturally BBIH has lots of material on the occult. The snapshot from the subject tree shows the range of search terms that can be used.


A search on the broader term Occult beliefs and practices brings up over 1500 entries including witchcraft trails, the devil in post-Reformation Scotland and British Intelligence and the occult in the Second World War.

The term Magic (occult), as opposed to entertainment, has nearly 300 entries covering the subject from the Roman period to imperial history with the article amulets from Roman London, the Sophie Page book, Magic in the cloister: pious motives, illicit interests, and occult approaches to the medieval universe,  a Tudor necromancer’s manual, and the West Indian obeah belief.

Of course there is much on witches and witchcraft trails, and specific places can be searched for, such as the witches of Pendle Forest as well as the clerk of the court who recorded the proceedings, Thomas Potts.

Witchcraft also features in dramas (and not only by Shakespeare), as in the case of The Witch of Edmonton by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford.  Of course, witches are often associated with the early modern period, but there are medieval examples, as in the trail of Eleanor Duchess of Gloucester in 1441, as well as more modern examples such as Helen Duncan, the last witch to be prosecuted in Britain and the “wickedest man in the world”, Aleister Crowley.

Other areas of witchcraft to be considered (apart from the usual trials) are the influence of emotions, as explored in Emotions in the history of witchcraft by Laura Kouine and Michael Ostling, which includes the chapter, Tyrannical beasts: Male witchcraft in early modern English culture. Other fruitful subjects of research may be the witches’ familiar discussed in Guardian spirits or demonic pets : the concept of the witch’s familiar in early modern England, 1530-1712 (a chapter in The animal/human boundary: historical perspectives).

Additional related topics are alchemy, as well as its associated personalities such as the mathematician, astrologer, and antiquarian John Dee, and of course spiritualism. Searching on Spiritualism and Photography (prompted by the IHR exhibition Accusations of Witchcraft featuring a photograph of the aforementioned Helen Duncan) brings up a list of useful articles.

The term “Prophecy and prediction” (which includes astrology) naturally covers religious elements, such as mysticism, but also includes dreams, politics, the influence of history, and printed media as well as personalities such as Joanna Southcott and Lady Eleanor Davies.

Whatever your research topic you’re bound to find something of interest in BBIH and at History Day 2017.

Detail of a miniature of a phoenix burning, Harley 4751 f. 45 British Library

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3D history at the IHR


This post was written by Philip Carter, Head of IHR Digital. To see the 3D printer in action visit the IHR stand at History Day. Free registration is here.

Lewis Chess Set on Sketchfab (The British Museum)

On History Day, on 31 October, IHR Digital will demonstrate its new 3D printer and 3D imaging equipment. This will be the first public outing of our new kit which we’ve purchased in conjunction with the School’s Institute of Classical Studies. Together we’re setting up a ‘3D Centre for History and Classics’. From 2018 the Centre will run courses on how and why to use 3D technologies in historical research. At History Day you’ll be able to register you interest for one of these courses at the IHR stand.

The IHR has recently taken possession of a high performance computer on which staff and researchers can practise high quality photogrammetry; that is, the creation of three-dimensional representations derived from digital photographs of 2D images or physical objects.

Today’s photogrammetry software will run well enough on a regular desktop computer, and is able to convert images taken on a standard digital camera. However, the IHR’s hi-spec workstation allows us to create exceptionally high-quality images, as well as complex visualisations that can be experienced through the ‘immersive technology’ of virtual reality (VR). Our purchase of a 3D printer means we can also create physical models from these images, using an additive process by which—layer-by-layer—the printer builds up an exact scale representation.

Photogrammetry, virtual reality and three-dimensional printing may at first seem far removed from historical study as practised at the IHR. But 3D is now an important way to undertake and present research, especially in areas such as architectural, urban and topographical history, or histories of material culture. It similarly creates opportunities for new forms of archival and object-based teaching, which permit otherwise rare artefacts to be viewed closely and remotely ‘in the round’, or handled and used as three-dimensional models.

A queen from the Lewis chessmen from Sketchfab (The British Museum)

3D technology also helps us to assemble and explore what was hitherto lost. Examples include the recreation of historical built environments, as depicted in the Virtual St Paul’s website or the recently completed St Stephen’s Chapel project. There’s also the opportunity to reconstruct severely damaged documents, of which a prime example is the Great Parchment Book of the Honourable the Irish Society: compiled in 1639, destroyed by fire in 1786, and now readable again as a flattened 3D representation.

It’s no surprise that museums and galleries make good use of three-dimensional technology to promote their collections. Notable here are the 3D Petrie Museum, at University College London, and the British Museum, while artefacts from many other institutions appear on digital platforms such as Sketchfab. Within universities, three-dimensional technology (while increasingly compact and affordable) is often reserved for those studying engineering, the medical and physical sciences architecture and archaeology.

Critical engagement with 3D images or printed objects is much less common for undergraduate and graduate historians, often because the equipment remains the preserve of other departments. Now that we’ve acquired this technology for the IHR, we’re looking to establish the Institute as a centre for historical applications of imaging, modelling and virtual reality; one where historians can gain new skills and to which they’ll bring research data to model and share in new ways.

We hope these options will be on display at the IHR’s forthcoming Winter Conference—Home: New Histories of Livingon 8-9 February 2018. In keeping with its focus on new research practices, the conference will include papers from historians using 3D technologies to recreate and experience, for example, the early modern home from data gathered in probate records.

Following the Winter Conference, we’ll invite historians to try out the IHR’s imaging and printing equipment for themselves. In doing so, we hope that a technology of the late 2010s and 2020s will help rekindle a Pollardian ambition fostered in the 1920s: of the Institute as a national ‘historical laboratory’—a place for experimentation and training in new approaches to the past.

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Latest Reviews – Tasmania, kitchens, US Civil War and sex regulation


We begin this week with Into the Heart of Tasmania: A Search for Human Antiquity by Rebe Taylor. Tom Lawson and the author discuss a book which is much more than a straightforward history (no. 2181, with response here).

Next up is Sara Pennell’s The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850. Rachel Laudan believes this research opens up the possibility of investigating the relationship between changes in the kitchen and the industrial revolution in 18th-century England (no. 2180).

Then we turn to Paying Freedom’s Price: A History of African Americans in the Civil War by Paul D. Escott. Carin Peller-Semmens finds this book fails to paint a historically accurate and suitably complex narrative (no. 2179).

Finally we have Martin Ingram’s Carnal Knowledge: Regulating Sex in England, 1470–1600. Charmian Mansell reviews a book that the reader will find him or herself returning to time and again (no. 2178).

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Latest Reviews – Burgundy, Holocaust, election agents and paupers


We begin this week with Robert Stein’s Magnanimous Dukes and Rising States: the Unification of the Burgundian Netherlands 1380-1480. Katherine Wilson and the author discuss a huge contribution to the scholarship of the Burgundian Dominions (no. 2177, with response here).

Next up is The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees. Joseph Cronin praises a gripping narrative interspersed with compelling, moving and relatable testimony (no. 2176).

Then we turn to Kathryn Rix’s Parties, Agents and Electoral Culture in England, 1880-1910. Iain Sharpe enjoys a book which manages to break new ground and make a significant contribution to current historiographical debates (no. 2175).

Finally we have Pauper Policies: Poor Law Practice in England 1780-1850 by Samantha Shave. Joseph Harley finds this book largely convincing and well-researched, and believes it to be a strong platform for further research on pauper policies (no. 2174).

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