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Latest reviews – Summer Palace, WW2 BBC, early modern memory and climate change


We start this week with Collecting and Displaying China’s “Summer Palace” in the West, edited by Louise Tythacott. Andrew Hillier believes that though its essays are stimulating, this book represents a missed opportunity to explore the wider issues implicit within them and to have brought Chinese scholars into the debate (no. 2223).

Then we turn to Edward Stourton’s Auntie’s War: The BBC during the Second World War by Edward Stourton. Ross Davies finds this paean to ‘Auntie’ as even-handed as can be expected from a BBC veteran (no. 2222).

Next up is Memory in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800 by Judith Pollmann. Sarah Ward praises a book which refutes a number of fairly entrenched historiographical views, and in doing so carves out a thesis of continuity as well as change (no. 2221).

Finally we have Joshua Howe’s Making Climate Change History: Documents from Global Warming’s Past. Katrin Kleemann enjoys a book which aims to be ‘a series of starting points, wormholes into historical worlds both familiar and strange’ (no. 2220)

Home in the IHR library: inventories in the library collection


For the IHR Winter Conference on Home: New Histories of Living we are highlighting some relevant sources in the IHR library. Inventories of furniture and possessions are especially well represented in our large collection of primary printed material, a fascinating way into the domestic arrangements of particular houses and the day-to-day lives of the people who lived there.

Some of the inventories describe the rich and extraordinarily varied possessions of the grandest families in society, including Lorenzo de’ Medici at home : the inventory of the Palazzo Medici in 1492, Inventarios reales: Bienes muebles que pertenecieron a Felipe II and Noble households : eighteenth-century inventories of great English houses.

The focus here, though, is on the inventories of middling families in the towns and villages of pre-industrial England, typically probate inventories drawn up in connection with the legal validation of wills. Many are published in local and regional record series, either as general collections from a local probate court or as specialist compilations on particular subjects. For comparative research, the IHR library is a good place to access many editions in one place.

The inventory of Thomas Symonds of Birmingham, yeoman 1567 from Birmingham Wills and Inventories 1512-1603, Publications of the Dugdale Society 49, 2016, pp.198-202.

Inventories often give an idea of the sequence of rooms in a house, using phrases such as ‘the street parlour’ or ‘the chamber over the hall’. It is interesting to see the changes between early and later inventories. The will of William Robinson, linen weaver of Northallerton (1705), details the rooms and layout of his house as he divided it between existing occupants and allowed rights of access through other parts of the house. (Northallerton wills and inventories, 1666-1719, Surtees Society 220, 2016, p.xxxi and pp.146-8).

The probate inventory of Sarah De Morais, widow (1691), a French immigrant in London, lists the contents of ‘the Daughters Roome’ and ‘the widdows Roome’, both with multiple beds. Artisans usually worked from home, and the inventory of Thomas Grafforte, merchant tailor in St Giles Cripplegate, noted ‘4 weavers loomes, one warpe . . . 2 paire of Vices & a few Bobbins with other lumber’ in his ‘workeing roome’. (Probate inventories of French Immigrants in Early Modern London, 2014, pp.97-9 and 37-9)

Turning from towns to the countryside, Farm and Cottage Inventories of Mid-Essex brings together probate inventories from two rural parishes, accompanied by a useful introduction which discusses the sorts of furniture and other goods mentioned in the inventories.

The inventory of Theophilus Lingard of Writtle in 1744 has a detailed description of the furniture and items in his house, as well as his livestock, farm equipment (including cucumber frames), produce and crops. The total value was £247. Five rooms contained beds: the best room, the little room, the striped bed room, the garrett and the maid’s room.

The best room included

‘a sacking bottom bedstead with blue mohair curtains lined with India Persian, a feather bed, bolster, and two pillows, three blankets, one quilt, a chest of draws, a dressing table and glass, six cane chairs, one elbow ditto, a stove grate, shovel, tongs, poker and holders, a hearth brush, a pair of window curtains and rod, a looking glass, the paper hangings’.

The maid’s room had

‘a corded bedstead with old curtains, a set of yellow ditto not put up, a feather bed, bolster, one pillow, two blankets, one rug, two old hutches (cupboards), four old chairs, an old trunk, a brass kettle, one small ditto, two old water potts, a pair of garden sheers, a pair of cobirons’.

His house also had a best parlour, pantry (with sixteen pewter plates, fifty-five pieces of Delph and earthenware), hall, cellar, buttery and out cellar. (Farm and Cottage Inventories of Mid-Essex, 1635-1749, pp.269-70).

By contrast John Day the elder of Highwood in Writtle, carpenter (1726), lived in a much humbler dwelling, with goods worth only £15. His hall was simply furnished, though he owned a clock. Although he had four beds, one was ‘indeferant’, one ‘sorry’ and two ‘very mean’. (Farm and Cottage Inventories of Mid-Essex, 1635-1749, p.260).

Inventories are complemented by other types of household records, for example building accounts and household accounts. The Russells in Bloomsbury 1669-1771 is based on letters, accounts and household bills. Extraits des comptes du domaine de Bruxelles des XVe et XVIe siècles concernant les artistes de la cour details payments to artists and the type of work they were producing.

The library collection is also strong on guides to sources and bibliographies, and the following are examples that will help with finding and interpreting inventories:

Latest reviews – magic, conversation pieces, Black Panthers and digital humanities


We start this week with Magic as a Political Crime in Medieval and Early Modern England: A History of Sorcery and Treason by Francis Young. Coral Casey-Stoakes thinks this book makes an important contribution to both the historiography of political culture in medieval and early modern England and that of magic (no. 2219).

Then we turn to Kate Retford’s The Conversation Piece: Making Modern Art in 18th-Century Britain. Alexandra MacDonald praises a valuable resource that promises to shift scholarship on the conversation piece by inviting a new generation of scholars to ask innovative questions (no. 2218).

Next up is Out of Oakland: Black Panther Party Internationalism During the Cold War by Sean L. Malloy. Kerry Pimblott enjoys a well-researched and engaging study that successfully conveys the significance of internationalism to the BPP’s evolution (no. 2217).

Finally we have Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flynn’s Computation and the Humanities: towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities. Christina Kamposiori believes that this book will help us understand not only the history of the field but also aspects of the early era of computing (no. 2216).


Home in the IHR library: a new architecture guide


The forthcoming IHR Winter Conference on Home: New Histories of Living has us thinking about the insides and outsides of buildings.

The IHR library collections support a range of study on the subject of architecture, and the new collection guide highlights some of the areas to explore. As well as the obvious parts of the collection, it draws attention to some more hidden sources of information.

We have many secondary works on individual buildings, building types and localities. There is much on studying and understanding buildings as well as their conservation, public interpretation and display, for example in works on using material culture and digital technologies. An 1897 piece in the journal The Antiquary outlines a lecture given at the Society of Antiquaries on legislation in different countries for the preservation of ancient buildings. The Foreign Office had collated the information following the ‘disastrous’ rebuilding of the west front of Peterborough cathedral. (The Antiquary Vol. 33, 1897)

The library has strong holdings of primary sources across the subject. Travel writing and antiquarian histories include contemporary descriptions and impressions of the built environment. Celia Fiennes, for example, wrote about Ambleside in 1698:

“villages of sad little huts made up of drye walls, only stones piled together and the roofs of same slatt; there seemed to be little or noe tunnells for their chimneys and have no morter or plaister within or without; for the most part I tooke them at first sight for a sort of houses or barns to fodder cattle in. not thinking them to be dwelling houses” (Morris, C., The Journeys of Celia Fiennes, 1949, p.196)

Landowners, tenants, architects, policy makers and commentators are all represented in biographies, prosopographies and personal narratives.

Household and trade records give insights into the building trade. For example in the Household Books of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, we learn of the steps taken to dismantle his Colchester house in 1481, store the timbers in a barn and move it to Stoke by Nayland where Richard Tornour, carpenter, “schal rere it and sett yt up there” (Crawford, A., The household books of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, 1462-1471, 1481-1483, 1992, Household Book II, p.121).

Records of government highlight social concerns and the resulting legislation. In an appendix to a parliamentary paper of 1864 we find a description of the history and current state of rural housing in a Report by Dr. Henry Julian Hunter on the House-Accommodation had by Rural Laborers in the different parts of England. He wrote:

“One house, called Richardson’s, could hardly be matched in England for original meanness and present badness of condition. Its plaster walls leaned and bulged very like a lady’s dress in a curtsey. One gable end was convex, the other concave, and on this last unfortunately stood the chimney, which was a curved tube of clay and wood resembling an elephant’s trunk. A long stick served as a prop to prevent the chimney from falling. The doorway and window were rhomboidal.”
(Seventh Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council, with Appendix, 1864, 19th Century House of Lords Sessional Papers, 1865: section on Bedfordshire, p.148. From Proquest’s UK Parliamentary Papers).

Alongside the written material there is much accompanying visual material in the form of illustrations and plans. As well as illustrations in mainly textual sources such as government reports and antiquarian histories there are editions of illustrations ranging from monastic plans in The Plan of St Gall, various editions of plans and illustrations of individual architects and places, to The photography of Bedford Lemere & Co.

Find out more by visiting the guide to the History of Architecture in the IHR library.

Latest reviews – Holocaust memories, slave reproduction and Irish emigrés


We start this week with Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory, an innovative book by Elizabeth Rosner. Ellis Spicer believes this book’s contribution to the field lies in its raw emotionality, personal stories and thematic strengths (no. 2215).

Then we turn to Katherine Paugh’s The Politics of Reproduction: Race, Medicine and Fertility in the Age of Abolition. Trevor Burnard believes this book to be a valuable addition to a venerable literature on slave reproduction in the Caribbean (no. 2214).

Finally we have Irish Nationalists in America: The Politics of Exile, 1798-1998 by David Brundage. David Sim appreciates a sharp and well-written book which forces us to appreciate the ways in which nationalism was perceived as a liberating force by many in the 19th century (no. 2213).

February issue of Historical Research


Historical Research, vol. xci, no. 251


Simon de Montfort. Image: Wikipedia

Simon de Montfort’s sheriffs, 1264–5. Richard Cassidy

Counties without borders? Religious politics, kinship networks and the formation of Catholic communities. James E. Kelly

‘Round-head Knaves’: the Ballad of Wrexham and the subversive political culture of Interregnum north-east Wales. Sarah Ward Clavier

Venality at court: some preliminary thoughts on the sale of household office, 1660–1800. R. O. Bucholz

War, public debt and Richard Price’s Rational Dissenting radicalism. Anthony Page

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

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

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

Notes and documents:

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


Latest reviews – C19 consumption, medieval religion, modern magic and 10 commandments revisited


Happy New Year to all Reviews in History readers! We start 2018 with the latest in our occasional podcast series, a fascinating interview with Joanna Cohen discussing among other things her new book, Luxurious Citizens: The Politics of Consumption in Nineteenth-Century America, and her future research plans (no. 2212).

Then we return to The Reformation of the Decalogue: Religious Identity and the Ten Commandments in England, c. 1485-1625  by Jonathan Willis, with a response by the author to last month’s review (response to no. 2208).

Next up is Medieval Religion and its Anxieties: History and Mystery in the Other Middle Ages by Thomas A. Fudgé. Kieran Creedon praises a fascinating study from a writer that engages, energises and uses sources to put the very idea of the historical Middle Ages on trial (no. 2211).

Finally Francis Young reviews a valuable contribution to the interdisciplinary study of magic, Edward Bever and Randall Styers’ edited collection Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization (no. 2210).

Ernö Goldfinger and a visit to 2 Willow Road, Hampstead


As a survey of domestic experience, the IHR’s 2018 Winter Conference—‘Home: new histories of living’ (8-9 February)—ranges widely in its locations and forms of historical dwellings. At the same time, individual properties stand out. These include No. 2 Willow Road, Hampstead, now one of London’s best-known modernist houses, which makes two appearances at the Conference and its follow-on events.

Interior, 2 Willow Road, Hampstead

Interior, 2 Willow Road, Hampstead

Goldfinger in Hampstead

The work of the Budapest-born architect Ernö Goldfinger (1902-1987), Willow Road was from the outset a controversial design. Goldfinger’s critics—mindful of his training with Le Corbusier—feared the imposition of an angular concrete block in a part of London celebrated more for its fine Georgian architecture and, with the Heath, proximity to largely untamed countryside.

Goldfinger had initially sought to erect a modernist block of flats on the site, but reverted to three residential properties when permission for his larger scheme was refused. Leading critics of his revised project included the conservationist and future MP for Hampstead, Henry Brooke; and the author Ian Fleming whose opposition to Ernö’s architectural tastes resulted, it’s said, in his use of ‘Goldfinger’ as the name for one of 007’s most megalomaniacal villains.

In response, the architect justified his design for Willow Road in terms of its dominant use of brick, relative unobtrusiveness, and a profile no more angular than the much-loved surrounding terraces. In championing modernism Goldfinger was also supported by Hampstead’s avant-garde for whom structures such as Wells Coates’ Isokon Building demonstrated the potential of new residential forms.

Completed in 1939, Nos 1-3 Willow Road are now as much a feature of Hampstead domestic architecture as the neighbouring Georgian cottages. No. 2 Willow Road, the largest of the three properties, was taken by Goldfinger and remained a family home until the architect’s death there in September 1987. Acquired by the National Trust in 1993, the house been open for public viewings since 1996.

Though relatively modest in scale, Nos. 1-3 Willow Road established Goldfinger’s reputation as a coming, and controversial, architect. Denied the opportunity to build at scale and in concrete in pre-war Hampstead, Goldfinger’s Corbusian training was evident in his later expeditions in Brutalism—Balfron Tower, in Poplar, and Trellick Tower in Kensal Town. Today both towers and Nos. 1-3 Willow Road are Grade II* listed.

Trellick Tower

Trellick Tower

Willow Road and the IHR Winter Conference

Willow Road’s first appearance at the IHR’s Winter Conference comes on Thursday 8 February in the first of two ‘brown bag’ lunchtime slots. Thursday’s session sees short talks from three curators and archivists who’ll each tell the ‘biography’ or life story of a notable domestic object drawn from his or her collection.

From 2 Willow Road, the house steward Leigh Sneade will bring and speak about an artefact in Goldfinger’s collection, in part to highlight broader themes of mid-century modernism. Leigh will also introduce us to the interior spaces in which Ernö and Ursula Goldfinger lived and entertained, and which also became home to a significant art collection by the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp.

1-3 Willow Road, Hampstead

Our second Goldfinger event of the Winter Conference takes place on Saturday 10 March, and gives delegates the chance to explore 2 Willow Road in greater detail. This takes the form of a guided tour of the house, provided by its National Trust curators, and coming soon after the Willow Road’s reopening following renovation work for the 2018 season. Further details of how to enroll for the 10 March house tour will be made available at the Winter Conference in early February, and then on the IHR website.

For more information on the conference—including details on registration, bursaries for Early Career Researchers, and other extra curriculum activities—please visit the IHR Winter Conference blog.

New Historical Research articles


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Notes and Documents

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

Seal of Ranulf de Blondeville. Image: Wikipedia

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

Latest reviews – secret files, Decalogue, Anschluss and more WW1 trauma


We start this week with Secret Files from World War to Cold War: British Government and Secret Intelligence and Foreign Policy files. Dan Lomas believes the sheer size and usability of the digital records makes this a worthwhile aid for anyone interested in early 20th-century international, political, military and intelligence history (no. 2209).

Then we turn to The Reformation of the Decalogue: Religious Identity and the Ten Commandments in England, c. 1485-1625  by Jonathan Willis. John Reeks praises a book which puts The Ten Commandments firmly at the centre of post-Reformation scholarship (no. 2208).

Next up is Imagining a Greater Germany: Republican Nationalism and the Idea of Anschluss by Erin R. Hochman. Timothy Schmalz enjoys a book which provides new template for examining Austria and Germany during the inter-war period (no. 2207).

Finally we have a response by editors Jason Crouthamel and Peter Leese to Ryan Ross’s review last week of Psychological Trauma and the Legacies of the First World War and Traumatic Memories of the Second World War and After (response to no. 2205).


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