The IHR Blog |

“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.

The Deana & Jack Eisenberg Lecture in Public History 2017


The Second Founding:  How the Civil War and Reconstruction Changed the American Constitution

Speaker: Professor Eric Foner (Columbia University)

The preservation of the American nation and the destruction of slavery, the two most profound consequences of the Civil War, raised questions about the definition of American citizenship, the rights of the former slaves, and relations between the states and federal government. Three constitutional amendments were adopted during the Reconstruction period following the war which fundamentally changed the rights of citizens and the powers of the federal government. This lecture will consider the legal, political, and social consequences of amending the Constitution in the 1860s.

The lecture is free and open to all but advance registration is required

Date: 19 June 2017
Location: Beveridge Hall, Senate House
Lecture: 6.00-7.30pm
Reception: 7.30-8.30pm

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.

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.

4,027 Parliamentarians, with added XML


Wencelas Hollar image: Earl of Essex on his own. [Wikimedia Commons]

This post has kindly been written for us by Dr Philip Carter, Head of IHR Digital.

This week the Institute of Historical Research published a remarkable new biographical work, charting the lives of 4,027 officers who fought for Parliament during the first English Civil War of 1642-46. The Cromwell Association Online Directory of Parliamentarian Army Officers is a work of extensive scholarship which promises to transform historians’ understanding of those who took up arms against Charles I.

The Directory appears as a searchable and browsable text within British History Online (BHO), the IHR’s digital library of key printed and primary and secondary sources in medieval and early modern British and Irish history. It recreates the lives and military careers of many hundreds of previously little-known Parliamentarian officers, with a particular focus on the years 1642–45 before the creation of the New Model Army. Entries range from a sentence for the most obscure individuals to close to 1,000 words for major figures.

Where known, information is provided on family background and social networks, as well as details of the armies in which each officer served and the sources used to assemble a life. These biographies are freely available via British History Online and are published using a Creative Commons licence which also permits the downloading of the full text in its XML-mark up version. With this, historians will be able to undertake new research by searching and grouping the officers by age during military service, the armies in which they served and other attributes.

The Directory has been prepared for publication by the British History Online editorial team, who are members of the IHR’s Digital research department. The new collection is one example of a growing number of titles added to BHO as ‘born-digital’ resources – works created specifically for online publication or which, having existed online in other formats, now find a permanent home as part of this widely-used resource for the study of British and Irish history.

Similar titles recently added to BHO include The Court of Chivalry database which records trials brought for defamation and insult during the 1630s. Born-digital publications of this kind highlight the increasing importance attached to preserving and promoting web-based research, together with BHO’s contribution to digital sustainability for completed and current projects.

The Cromwell Association Directory of Parliamentarian Army Officers was launched on 17 May at an event organised jointly by the IHR and the Cromwell Association and held at the Institute. Research and publication was funded by the Cromwell Association with generous assistance from the Marc Fitch Fund and the Aurelius Trust. You can read more about the research for and aims of the project in Lives of the Civil War by the Directory’s general editor Dr Stephen K. Roberts.

New reviews: China, drink, reformations and Ike


We kick off with Robert Bickers’ epic Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination. Phoebe Chow tackles a well-written, exciting and important book on the Sino-Western relationship (no. 2108).

Next up is A History of Drink and the English, 1500-2000 by Paul Jennings. Pam Lock praises a valuable addition to drink history literature which provides a much-needed introduction to the subject (no. 2110).

Then we turn to Carlos Eire’s Reformations: the Early Modern World, 1450-1650. Sam Kennerley finds this volume provides a readable and stimulating overview of European history between 1450 and 1650 (no. 2109).

Finally, we have Liking Ike: Eisenhower, Advertising, and the Rise of Celebrity Politics by David Haven Blake. Thomas Tunstall Allcock enjoys a book which prompts the reader to consider how we choose our political leaders and the means by which the foundations of presidential images are created (no. 2107).

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.

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.


What is Microhistory Now?


2 June 2017, Wolfson Conference Suie, IHR

Microhistory rose to prominence more than three decades ago after the publication of Carlo Ginzburg’s Cheese and the Worms (1976) and Natalie Davis’s Return of Martin Guerre (1983).  It highlighted the agency as well as experiences of common people and challenged major narratives of historical change. By the 1990s its success in teaching history sparked anxiety that students might know more about Martin Guerre than about Martin Luther. This workshop brings together leaders in the field to chart current microhistorical practices. It explores how such approaches can inform a new global history, the history of emotions and intellectual history, the writing and teaching of history as much as creative collaborations with artists.

Speakers include:

  • Prof Maxine Berg (University of Warwick)
  • Prof Benjamin Kaplan (UCL)
  • Prof Tom Robisheaux (Duke University)
  • Prof Emma Rothschild (Harvard University)
  • Prof Ulinka Rublack (University of Cambridge)
  • Prof Francesca Trivellato (Yale University)

For a provisional programme, please click here

Fees apply

  • Full rate: £35
  • Concession rate: £25 (Student/retired/IHR Friend)
Fees include refreshments and lunch

The book in the Low Countries: New perspectives, hidden collections


21-22 June 2017, Wolfson Conference Suite, IHR

Great Britain and the Low Countries share a large part of their histories. There are countless stories of political and economic rivalries and wars, stories of religious and political exile in both directions, but also of cultural exchange and influence. Also the book business of the early modern era was characterised by an influx of printers, materials and books from the Low Countries to England. Rare books and manuscripts were eagerly collected by English bibliophiles and most of these collections are nowadays found in libraries all over the country.

This two-day symposium has a double goal. In a combination of papers and collection visits, it wants to bring these often overlooked collections to the surface, and it also offers an overview of the latest research on Low Countries books.

Speakers include: 

  • Arthur der Weduwen (University of St. Andrews)
  • Erik Geleijns (Museum Meermanno)
  • Jaap Geraerts(University College London)
  • Goran Proot (University of Udine)
  • Reinier Salverda (UCL and Fryske Akademy)
  • Marja Smolenaars(Koninklijke Bibliotheek)
  • Patrick Storme (Universiteit Antwerpen)
  • Steven Van Impe (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience)
  • Catherine Wright (University of Oxford)
  • Heleen Wyffels (KU Leuven)

Delegates will also visit the following locations as part of the conference:

  • Lambeth Palace Library
  • British Library
  • Dutch Church
  • Senate House Library

For the preliminary conference programme, please click here

Fees apply ( includes all refreshments and lunches on both days)

  • Full fee: £60
  • Concession Rate: (Student/retired/ IHR Friend)​: £40
Conference organised by:  Stijn van Rossem (Institute of Historical Research)
With support from the Government of Flanders and Scaliger Institute

< Older Posts

Newer Posts >