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“Narratives of New Spain, written by the anonymous conqueror” from the Collections of the IHR Library


During the ongoing reclassification of the Institute of Historical Research Library’s Latin American collections, a book was discovered entitled Narrative of some things of New Spain and of the great city of Temestitan, Mexico – written by the anonymous conqueror, a companion of Hernan Cortes.

The document was written during the early 16th century by an unknown author referred to as a “companion of Hernán Cortés”, or simply, “The Anonymous Conqueror” or “Gentleman of Cortés”. The edition in the IHR Library’s collection was translated into English by Marshall H. Saville, and published by the Cortés Society in New York in 1917. The document is one of the sources for the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire dating from the 16th century, one of the many surviving contemporary Spanish accounts from the period of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and central Mexico (1519–1521). However, unlike conqueror accounts which highlight individual deeds worthy of rewards from the Spanish crown (a genre called probanzas or relaciones de méritos y servicios,[1] , the Anonymous Conqueror’s account is descriptive of indigenous life at the time of the conquest.

The document begins with an introduction written by Saville, which explains how the original Spanish text of the report of the Anonymous Conqueror is lost and that this edition was translated from the Italian text. He states that the anonymous author had been speculated to be Franciso de Terrazas, who was the butler of Hernan Cortés, and a mayor of Mexico.

Narrative of some things of New Spain provides descriptions of the life and culture of the pre-Columbian Aztec/Mexica and surrounding peoples of the Valley of Mexico, as they were first encountered by the expedition of Conquistadores under Hernán Cortés. The narrative is divided into 24 chapters and describes everything from the land and animals, to military concerns, to food and drink, to religion and government, to marriage and burials and beyond. It also contains information on the weapons of the Aztecs in comparison to those of the Spaniards.

1.  Altman, Ida (2003). The Early History of Greater Mexico. Upper Saddle River, NJ. p. 75.

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All the Right Ingredients: Food History Resources in the IHR Library


The IHR Library recently celebrated the opening of its latest exhibition, All the Right Ingredients: Food History Resources in the IHR Library.

Food as a source of nourishment is a necessity of life, but it also has deeper significance. Its importance ensures that it forms the backdrop to everyday lives throughout history. The multi-layered and diverse areas of food history allow researchers to examine the social, cultural, political, and economic perspectives of the past. Through food history, historians can gain a window onto societies at the macro and micro levels, enabling them to research a range of issues such as gender roles, identity, emotions, familial relationships, memory, class, and race.

Within the discipline of history today, the study of food and the closely related research on foodways and culinary history are ever-expanding and rapidly developing areas of historical enquiry. This exhibition therefore explores the wealth of resources in the IHR Library’s collections to demonstrate the ways in which food history can offer fresh perspectives on historical narratives.

The first display case in the exhibition examines culinary history through a selection of cookery books and recipes. Examples include recipes for ‘apple omelet’, ‘Spanish sauce’, and ‘beef or mutton broth for very weak people who take but little nourishment.’ In this way, the recipes on display illuminate historical interactions between peoples and cultures and provide a window onto the social and economic past of the societies in which they were served.


SketchThe second display focuses upon food history in personal testimonies. Multiple examples in the Library’s collections show the importance of food to individuals during times of conflict and celebration, through scarcity and abundance, and during everyday life. Demonstrative of this are the drawings Lance-Corporal Henry Buckle sketched during the First World War. These beautiful depictions of food reveal the dark humour of the trenches and the central role food played in the lives of soldiers. The sketch shown here (right) bears the caption, ‘Note this was *not* drawn from life.’

Records from star-Chamber Dinners

In the third cabinet, the history of food as recorded within official records and documents is highlighted. Included within the display is a facsimile of the Sugar Act passed by the British Parliament in 1764 and the detailed accounts of dinners provided for the Lords of the Privy Council in Westminster during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I of England. Such records demonstrate the importance of food in history as a commodity, whether for use in ceremonial practices or in establishing control over trade.


Common Room prior to refurbishmentThe final display is devoted to the history of food in the IHR. Through a series of archival documents, photographs and personal accounts, the display demonstrates that food has held a central role in the history of the Institute, both in formal gatherings such as parties and dinners, and through informal meetings over tea and coffee in the Common Room. A selection of the documents on display include a menu from a sherry party held in 1938 in conjunction with Fortnum & Mason, a seating plan from the Institute’s ‘Dining Club’ dinner of 1958, and photographs of the Common Room prior to refurbishment.

Throughout, the exhibition aims to highlight the range of materials available in the Library’s collections and demonstrate the possibilities food history can afford historians. The exhibition is on display in the third floor reading room throughout the summer and is open to all.

The exhibition was developed in consultation with Dr Kelly Spring, Convener of the Food History Seminar at the IHR. Further information on the seminar can be found here or on Twitter @IHR_FoodHist.

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1757, 1857 and 1947: three momentous years in India’s recent past: Part 2. 1857


It cannot be denied that the Rebellion of 1857-8 was a turning point in Britain’s occupation of the Indian subcontinent. This is reflected in the prodigious literature produced on the subject, spanning novels, plays as well as works of historical scholarship. Even by the beginning of the 1860s a flurry of works on the Rebellion had been produced. Yet the subject of this post is George Forrest’s A history of the Indian Mutiny, published decades later, from 1904 to 1912.

Although the work is dedicated to his father, Captain George Forrest (1803/4-1859) who would die as a result of the wounds he suffered in May 1857 defending and eventually destroying the Delhi magazine, the work bears little of the shock and at times anger of the literature produced during and in the immediate aftermath of the Rebellion. Perhaps this is understandable given the chronological distance between the Rebellion and the publication of Forrest’s account. What, then, are the features of Forrest’s narrative?

In his article on the historiography of the Rebellion the historian, S. N. Sen, stated that Forrest acknowledged the epic nature of his account but tried to offer a balanced view (Sen, S. N. ‘Writings of the Mutiny’ in Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, p. 383) and this is something Forrest states explicitly declares in his introduction; although basing his account, ‘on the sure ground of official documents’, he recognises the potency which the events of 1857-8 wielded:

The Indian Mutiny addresses our mind through the intellect and the imagination. It is no mere memorable incident in Anglo-Indian history which conveys many grave lessons to those who labour in our Indian Empire, but it is a noble epic which speaks to every Englishman wherever he may be, and calls up past and glorious memories.

It must still be remembered, however, that Forrest’s narrative was a product of the high imperialism of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. He acknowledges that various Indian communities did side with the British, depicting them as stoic – perhaps silently compliant – martyrs to Britain’s colonial interests

Photograph of the Lucknow Residency taken from Vol. 2 of Forrest’s The Indian Mutiny

There have been tongues and pens enough to narrate the excesses which have raised the Indian Mutiny to the rank of world-wide tragedy. It is useful that these crimes should be remembered and freshly pondered, but it is equally wise to study the opposite picture. The brave and turbulent population of Oudh with a few exceptions treated the fugitives of the ruling race with a marked kindness. Not only the loyalty and courage but also calm heroic spirit with which the sepoys in the Lucknow Residency endured dangers and trials are worthy of all honour. The devotion and fidelity of humble native attendants and loyal sepoys, the patient endurance and calm courage of our countrymen and countrywomen, the high energy and valour of the British soldier, afford some relief to the most terrible features of a tale of wrath and fury.

Turning away from this depiction, Forrest, when discussing the infamous catalyst for the Rebellion, the use of beef and pork grease in the manufacture of rifle cartridges, citing sources which depict the main enemy as persistent rumours, paying little attention to the fact that initially the fault lay with the British authorities, even though Colonel Richard Birch, military secretary, had ordered all cartridges issued were to be free from grease by the 27th January:

On the 24th January 1857, Major-General Hearsey, Commanding the Presidency Division, forwarded two letters for immediate submission to the Government of India. One of them was from Captain Wright…stating “that there appears to be a very unpleasant feeling existing among the native soldiers…regarding the grease used in preparing the cartridges, some evil-disposed persons having spread a report that it consists of a mixture of the fat of pigs and cows.”…Captain Wright also observed that some of the depot men in conversing with him on the subject had stated that “the report had spread throughout India, and when they went to their homes their friends would refuse to eat with them.

Forrest goes on to state

The propagator of sedition and the fanatic, the two great enemies of our rule, took advantage of the feeling of unrest and suspicion to raise the cry that a systematic attack was to be made on the ancient faith and customs of the people, and they pointed to the introduction of the greased cartridge as a proof of what they so sedulously preached.

This work can be found in the library at shelf-mark CLC.3131/For

This gives the briefest of glimpses into Forrest’s Rebellion and evidently his narrative is far from a sound depiction of the events of 1857-8. However this does not detract from its value. As a text loaded with the language of late nineteenth and early twentieth century British colonialism, it is fascinating in its own right, and is ultimately testament to the fractured nature of narrative and memory.

If you would like to find out more about our items on the Rebellion or our collection on Indian history, with its particular strength on the British period, search our catalogue here.

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1757, 1857 and 1947: three momentous years in India’s recent past: Part 1. 1757


To highlight some of the items and collections currently stored in the central tower of the Senate House building – and perhaps out of mind – the staff in the library will be selecting a few at regular intervals and give a brief description of the items discussed as well as their merits and limitations as historical sources.

Although 2017 has been, understandably, a busy year for historians both of the Reformation and the Russian Revolution, it does also mark a number of anniversaries in the British occupation of India. This year will mark 260 years since the Battle of Plassey, 160 years since the Indian Rebellion and 70 years since independence was won by many of the states in present day south Asia and in this and subsequent blog posts the library will showcase some of the works from the Indian history collection, describing events during those three fateful years.

Title page from volume 2 of Robert Orme’s Military Transactions

The first item is A history of the military transactions of the British nation in Indostan (London: 1803) by Robert Orme (1728–1801). Robert Orme was present in India for much of the 1750s when the British gained a significant foothold in to region. He had joined the East India Company in 1743 and by the late 1750s was a member of ruling council at Fort St. George in Chennai (Madras), and was thus among the authorities responsible for sending Robert Clive to recapture Kolkatta from the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daulah, leading eventually to the Battle of Plassey on the 23rd June 1757. Orme gives a standard account of the battle, describing the terrain as well as the troop movements of either side in the conflict, as well as depicting the various machinations going on in Siraj-ud-daulah’s camp:

The Nabob had remained in his tent out of reach of danger, continually flattered by his attendants and officers, of whom one half were traitors, with assurances of victory; but about noon he was informed, that Meer Murdeen [Mir Madan Khan], the best and most faithful of his generals, was mortally wounded by a cannon-ball. The misfortune disturbed him to excess; he immediately sent for Meer Jaffier [Mir Jafar]; and as soon as he entered the tent, flung his turban on the ground, saying, “Jaffier, that turban you must defend.” The other bowed, and with his hands on his breast, promised his utmost services; and returning to his troops and associates, immediately dispatched a letter to Colonel Clive…In the meantime, the terrors of the Nabob increased continually: Roydoolub [Rai Durlabh] taking advantage of them, counselled him to return to his capital: his advice prevailed, and the Nabob ordered the army to retreat into the intrenchments. (Vol. II, p. 175)

The rest of Orme’s account describes how the British forces attacked the retreating part of the Nawab’s army, Clive’s belated recognition that one of the lingering divisions was Mir Jaffar’s, as well as the British forces eventual capturing of the Nawab’s camp in the late afternoon of June 23rd. Orme also describes how Siraj-ud-Daulah was captured for Mir Jafar’s forces as well as his eventual execution only a few weeks after the battle on July 2nd. He concludes that Siraj-ud-Daulah’s defeat was largely due to alienating forces in his own court rather than any perceived military prowess on the side of the British:

Tyrant as he was, if he had respected the advice of his grandfather Allaverdy [Ali Vardi 1671–1756], and not have excited the detestation of the Gentoos, at the same time that he was rendering himself dreadful to the principal Mahomedan officers of his court, the English would have found no alliance sufficient to have ventured the risque of dethroning him: but it is probable that the same iniquity of character, which urged him to the destruction of Calcutta, would soon have called forth other avengers of other atrocious deeds (Vol. II, p. 185)

Portrait of Siraj-ud-Daulah

Orme’s account is, obviously, limited, being both a classic example of history from the victor’s perspective as well as dripping with preconceived orientalist notions of someone entrenched in the conquest-capitalism of the East India Company. Understandably, this does not diminish its value as a source. Although one could rightly doubt many aspects of Orme’s account of eighteenth century India, the implicit details and assumptions conveyed by his narrative tells us probably more about British attitudes to India, conquest and race than is does about the events of 1757.

If you would like to consult this work yourself, or any others from the library’s collections of works on India from the 18th to the early 20th century, just contact the library office at or come along in person, we’re on the first floor. Try a search of the catalogue to find out what other items we have.

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Public copying facilities


The University of London is implementing a new printing, scanning and copying system in mid-June 2017.

The present public copiers will be replaced.

The new system will be shared across Senate House Library, the Warburg Institute and the Institute of Historical Research so if you are a member of multiple libraries you will be able to use your account for printing and copying at all of them. Balance(s) from your existing account(s) can be transferred.

Further details will be provided nearer the time.


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An Evening of Food History in the IHR Library


On Monday 15th May, the IHR Library will host an evening dedicated to food history to coincide with the opening of a new exhibition, ‘All the Right Ingredients: Food History Resources in the IHR,’ examining the history of food as revealed by the collections of the IHR Library.

Food has always held a significant role in history, shaping societies and influencing cultures and economies. However, it was only in the twentieth century that the study of food in history was incorporated into the discipline. Similarly, in relation to the IHR itself, food has always held a central role in the Institute with catering available in the Common Room, a formal Dining Club, and a dedicated Institute Tea Fund. This exhibition, and the talks that accompany its launch, therefore aim to highlight how food history can offer new insights into historical narratives.

Food item list with pricesMatthew Shaw, IHR Librarian, will introduce the exhibition and the library’s food history collections. Dr Kelly Spring, Convenor of the Food History Seminar at the IHR, will then open the exhibition with a talk examining the establishment of food studies into the historical discipline and the avenues that this has opened up to researchers. As Dr Spring has noted, ‘a macro-approach to the history of food can be implemented in order to reveal food’s effects on the grand narrative while a micro-level view as part of a micro-historical approach can be utilised to analyse the everyday lives of individuals, groups or communities in connection with food to furnish new insights into history.’ Dr Spring shall draw upon materials from the library’s collections and holdings, whilst also exploring new directions in the discipline of food history.

Following this, Siobhan Morris, Library Officer at the IHR, will talk on the importance of food in the history of the IHR. Siobhan will focus on the history of the IHR Dining Club, tracing its history from its establishment in 1938 to the decision taken to fold the Club in 1956. The talks will be followed by a reception and the opportunity to browse the exhibition and view additional materials from the library’s food history collections and the IHR archive.

The exhibition centres around four display cases, each addressing a different theme. These shall examine the social, cultural, political and economic histories of food through a range of materials in the IHR library collections – including recipes from across Mexico, France and India, soldiers’ diaries, chef’s memoirs, parliamentary acts and household accounts. In addition, a brief history of food in the Institute of Historical Research itself will also be displayed. This shall incorporate conference menus, personal testimonies and archival photographs and documents.

The exhibition will be on display on the third floor of the library and is open to all. Please ask at reception if you would like to visit the display. Further details of the launch event are available here.

Archival photograph of the IHR Common RoomContemporary photograph of the IHR Common Room

Further information on the IHR’s Food History Seminar can be found here: You can also follow the seminar on Twitter: @IHR_FoodHist.

A more detailed history of the Institute’s Dining Club, as published in the IHR’s Past and Future series, can be accessed here.

A guide to the library’s collections on the history of food and drink is also available: 

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History of Art and Design in the IHR library


While researching a collection guide on art history in the IHR library, we have been interested to see the range of material available in a library which doesn’t in itself specialize in the subject. The importance of art and culture within society means that our collection contains lots about the social, economic, political and ecclesiastical background of artists, patrons and consumers of art. Our collections complement the more specialist resources at the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Senate House Library, the National Art Library and elsewhere, and are especially strong in primary sources giving context to the history of western art since the fall of Rome.

Material can be found in a variety of sources, including letters and diaries, travel narratives, and the administrative records of households, local and national government and businesses. Among our online resources, newspapers carry contemporary reviews of exhibitions such as the Nazi ‘Exhibition of Degenerate Art’ held in Berlin in 1938. This can be found alongside a piece about the unveiling of three decorative panels designed and executed by students of the Hornsey School of Art for Muswell Hill Branch Library (The Times, 25 Feb 1938, p.18). Material in the North American collections includes exhibition records for the American Academy of Fine Arts and American Art-Union and The National Academy of Design, and an annual review of art in the Dominion Annual Register.

Mortimer, The Universal Director 1763

Parliamentary records also have a lot to offer, as varied as the petition associated with William Hogarth that led to ‘Hogarth’s Act’ introducing copyright protection, patents on art materials, and official reports on the provision of national galleries of art. From a parliamentary paper we learn of campaigns to provide artificial light in the newly opened South Kensington galleries, enabling them to open later “so that the members of the industrial classes may have opportunity of visiting them in the evening, which is their only time for such recreation and instruction.” (Letters and Memorials on Admission of Public in Evening to Turner and Vernon Galleries of Pictures, House of Commons Papers, 1859, accessed via Proquest UK Parliamentary Papers)

Our rich biographical collections help with identifying patrons and better understanding their backgrounds and motivations. There are a number of specialist dictionaries of artists, useful for seeing the backgrounds of people practicing in different fields.

The guide draws out several themes. There are collections on war and political art, with compilations of posters, accounts of war artists and records for political patronage of art. There is material on iconoclasm across the collections, especially in the sections for Byzantine, Ecclesiastical, Latin American and Northern European history, including the writings of reformers, legislation and town and church records. The history of collecting and display is also a strong theme, as discussed in more detail in the Guide to Museum and Heritage studies. Alongside some subject specific works such as catalogues of collections, guides to using art as a source and secondary texts, a wealth of material can be found in sources that aren’t in themselves about art, and the guide highlights some examples.




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Museum and Heritage Studies in the IHR Library


 – New research guide to the Library’s Museum Studies and Heritage collections –

With research in the fields of museum studies and heritage continuing to expand and develop as a key trend in history, the IHR library has recently compiled a guide to the library’s museum studies and heritage collections. The guide provides an overview of the library’s holdings, gives details of the range of sources available for consultation, and highlights two case studies – the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum respectively. Relevant sources for the study of both institutions are outlined within the collection guide alongside relevant holdings within the library’s electronic resources, journals and periodicals. Throughout, the collection guide documents relevant examples on the architectural history, patronage, social history and visitor statistics for a range of institutions. These examples are designed to highlight the range of sources available in the library for researchers studying museums and heritage practices.

While researching the collection guide, one example from The Times, 25 January 1884 entitled ‘The Museum in New York’ proved particularly striking for its account of a law suit involving the then Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The article notes of the museum that, ‘the Museum of Art is not a public institution. It is a strictly private corporation. It is the child of a number of enthusiastic gentlemen, who in November, 1869, held a meeting in this city for the purpose of creating some institution that would emulate the British Museum.’ In addition to providing commentary on the museum’s establishment, the article also details an alarming disregard for conservation practices. The correspondent states that during the trial it was offered ‘to let the plaintiff hack several statues to pieces in open court to test their genuineness; and a sculptor actually did hew off fragments from one of the images, in presence of Judge and jury, to show that the ancient relic was actually made of solid stone and not of cement.’
Commentaries on a range of museums can also be found in the library’s collections of personal testimonies, diaries and correspondence. For example, Krystyn Lach-Szyrma, a Polish philosopher who travelled across Britain between 1820 and 1824, described the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow as, ‘a rich collection of animals, plants, minerals, medals and manuscripts left by the famous doctor Hunter who studied at this University. The Anatomical Hall is the most interesting of all. I have seen there all the parts of the human body preserved in alcohol…The seats of feeling and of thought are thus the places where life begins!’

The library’s collections in museum and heritage studies are continuing to grow. One of the latest titles to arrive in the library, Interpreting Native American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites, features best practice case studies for museum professionals involved in caring for collections of Native American material culture. Of particular relevance for museum studies researchers is the chapter entitled ‘Taking Responsibility for Museum History and Legacy: promoting change in collections management’. This chapter provides insightful discussion into ethical considerations for collection management as well as providing a historical background to collecting practices in museums across the United States.

The Museum Studies and Heritage collection guide complements the library’s guides to History of Art and Design and Memory and Commemoration. Alongside these resources, the guide also provides information of other relevant libraries and institutions with extensive resources on the study of museums and heritage. If you have any comments or suggestions regarding our collection guides, please contact us.

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Social Policy in the IHR Library


Very appropriate to follow on from last week’s blog about Octavia Hill, a successful housing and social reformer, a new collection guide about  Social Policy History has seen the light of day! My colleague Tundun and I have put together a guide for finding material in this very broad field of research. Relevant works can be found in any of our collections depending on what aspect of social policy is being looked at. To try and ease the process of locating material in collections mostly arranged by country we have included suggestions of useful search terms such as Public Welfare, Charitable uses, Discrimination and Literacy. Here is just a small selection of material for the social policy researcher.

In the German collection we hold works in a series of sources of the history of German Social policy 1867 till 1914 Quellensammlung zur Geschichte der deutschen Sozial politik 1867 bis 1914. It is an ongoing project and the plan is to acquire the complete set.

Closer to home in the British local collection there are a vast number of sources: Local initiatives of different charities, records of work houses and hospitals and local government implementation of poor relief to mention a few. One example is one of The Dugdale society’s latest publications about Poor Law Unions in Warwickshire 1834-1914. When it comes to government initiatives our comprehensive holdings of British Parliamentary Papers provide loads of material for research into the history of social policy.

  Going further back in time and further afield to the Austrian Local Collection we have recently acquired a “Beggar survey of the early modern Vienna” more precise Das Wiener Stadtzeichnerbuch 1678-1685 : ein Bettlerverzeichnis aus einer frühneuzeitlichen Stadt  Again the topic is poor relief but this time by charities.

Women’s Rights Demonstration, 13 November 1989, Duke University Archives

The American collection is particular rich on diaries and correspondence of political activists fighting for different causes in 20th century USA thereby trying to change the social policy of their time: Mari Sandoz’s correspondence for the Native Americans , Jim Crow and me : stories from my life as a civil rights lawyer memoirs of a lawyer in Alabama dealing with segregation and Remember my sacrifice : the autobiography of Clinton Clark, tenant farm organizer and early civil rights activist.

Please have a look at the guide and any of the other collections guides. Any comments or suggestions you are very welcome to contact us

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Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie


Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

Anyone craving a bit of Enlightenment might want to head to the third floor reading room of the Institute’s library where there is a small display showing a few choice articles from Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie.

Thanks to the generosity of R. E. Madisson the library obtained a first edition of this seminal text of the French Enlightenment in 1957. Although not all the volume are on display one can browse some of the articles Diderot wrote himself, including Droit Naturel, where he defines his concepts of the private will and the general will, Autorité Politique, highlighting Diderot’s thoughts on violent and conferred political power, and Intolérance, where he states the vital need for religious tolerance within a state and between its citizens.

If you would like to find out more about the library’s collection on French history just click here.

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