Skip to content

The Archive in Decline: The Emergency of Archival Collections in Italy

By Marina Iní (@MarinaIni_)

During part of the last academic year, I travelled to several archives and libraries collection in the Italian peninsula for my PhD fieldwork. It has been an extremely rewarding experience on the research side, but it was also thought-provoking.  I saw with my own eyes the disheartening situation of different Archivi di Stato (Italian National Archives, usually one per provincial capital), Archivi Storici Comunali (City Archives) and other public archival collections and libraries.

Read more

Playing the Blame Game: Divorce Then and Now

By Georgia Oman (@Georgia_Oman)

When Parliament was suspended this September, several bills making their way through the Commons and Lords were dropped. Although three pieces of legislation were carried over to the next session, the remainder fell into a legal limbo, with their only hope of resurrection being that the government would choose to re-introduce them upon the return of Parliament.[1] One such bill lost in the Brexit shuffle is a reform of the divorce laws of England and Wales, which at the moment demand that couples provide evidence of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or years of separation before a divorce can be granted, even if both parties have amicably agreed to end their marriage.[2] Put simply, the proposed legislation aims to establish ‘no-fault divorce’, in which neither partner need be apportioned blame for the failure of the marriage.[3] Under the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973 currently in force, those seeking a divorce must prove their partner was at fault through adultery, desertion, or unreasonable behaviour. If there is no evidence of fault, consenting couples still must live apart for two years before they can file for divorce, while cases in which both sides cannot reach agreement must endure five years of separation.[4]

Read more

The Dreyfus Affair: metaphor and reality in public history

By Daniel Adamson (@DEAdamson9)

The Pyrrhic Wars; the crossing of the Rubicon; the witch hunts; the sinking of the Titanic. Modern parlance is littered with examples of historical events that have accrued a metaphorical value superior to the weight of their historical realities. In public spheres, there is more interest in deploying historical events for what they symbolise, rather than what they actually were. The Dreyfus Affair is one such case in point. In 1894, the French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason, having been accused of passing classified documents to the German military. Protracted division and debate subsequently embroiled French society, as competing parties contested the validity of Dreyfus’ conviction. Eventually, in 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated upon retrial and the identification of the true culprit (Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy).

Read more

Anglo-Irish Relations and European Integration: then and now

by Christopher Day (@ChrisDay96)

Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, the country’s future relationship with the Republic of Ireland has been a key issue. The question of what to do about the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has been crucial in negotiations between the UK and the EU, but (at the time of writing) no answer has been found agreeable by all parties. Given the legacy of British involvement in Ireland, and the continuing desire of Northern Ireland to remain in the UK, this issue is especially pertinent and potentially fractious. But that has not stopped several commentators from positing the troubling suggestion that the Republic could simply leave the EU too, thus avoiding the need to create a hard border on the island of Ireland. This idea is a non-starter; a poll in March 2019 showed that just eight percent of Irish people favoured leaving the EU. Rightly, those who have suggested this ‘solution’ to the issue have been widely castigated. Read more

Dreams of ‘something better’: Exploring childcare alternatives from the First Neighbourhood Co-operative Nursery to ‘My Mum is on Strike.’

By Rosa Campbell @rrrosavalerie

In the late 1970s, parents in Walthamstow, London started the first neighbourhood co-operative nursery which officially opened in 1986 and closed in 1993. To celebrate this, the oral history collective On the Record has put together an exhibition at the Mill, a community centre in Tottenham called ‘Doing it Ourselves.’ Read more

Review: The Museum of the American Revolution

By Evelyn Strope (@develyn_16)

Location: 3rd & Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, PA, USA, Independence National Historical Park

Ticket Prices: $18 Student, $21 Adult

Opening Hours: Mon–Sun, 10am–5pm

www.amrevmuseum.org; @AmRevMuseum

While undertaking archival research in Philadelphia this summer, I finally had the chance to visit the Museum of the American Revolution (MAR), situated at the heart of the United States’ Independence National Historical Park. The Museum is still relatively new; it opened in 2017 on the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington & Concord – 19 April 1775. Both its modern architecture and its attention to visual experience and to cutting-edge digital history reflect its age. More importantly, those technologies, woven into eye-catching text panels and amongst many extant artefacts, help the MAR to tell a cohesive story within its main exhibit, divided chronologically into four sections: Becoming Revolutionaries (1760–1775), The Darkest Hour (1776–1778), A Revolutionary War (1778–1783), and A New Nation (1783–Present).

Read more

A historian of youth politics stands with the school climate strikers

By Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland)

We are halfway through the week-long Global Climate Strike. Last Friday, millions of school students and workers around the world took to the streets demanding that governments act now to address the climate and ecological crisis. Back in March 2018, in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, I blogged about the history of children’s strikes for Doing History in Public. Since then, youth strikes have exploded onto the global political arena. In less than a year, Greta Thunberg has gone from protesting alone outside the Swedish parliament to being the figurehead of a global ‘School Strike for Climate’ movement.

Read more

Public History in the Digital Sphere: /r/AskHistorians

By Joe Rachman

What sparked the craze for martial arts, particularly kung fu, in 1970s America? Why did some Serbs commit acts of genocide in the late twentieth century despite Serbs themselves having been victims of genocide during World War Two? What started the Opium Wars? Did Zarathustra, the supposed founder of Zoroastrianism, actually exist? Why are contemporary African states so poor when compared to the legendary wealth of some pre-colonial African empires? All these questions, and more, posed by curious members of the public have recently been answered for free by historians willing to dedicate a little bit of their time to help sate public curiosity about history. Welcome to /r/AskHistorians.

Read more

Thinking about Sleep Across History

By Albert Kohn

In a certain sense, sleeping is the great unifying experience across time and place. Regardless of time period, almost every person spends one-third to one-half of their life asleep thus a good portion of our modern lives are identical to those of medieval people!

Yet, sleeping is not just the experience of unconsciousness. Recent scholarly work—particularly on the early modern period in Europe—has highlighted numerous differences in how people have structured their sleeping. While modern people have come to almost sacralize the ideal of one person per bed, the norm for most of history was to share beds; while we generally (attempt to) sleep continuously through the night, many in preindustrial Europe segmented their sleeping patterns so to be awake for a few hours in the middle of the night. These variations, though, pale in significance to the differences in how premodern people reflected upon their sleep.

Read more

Film archives: using moving images as historical sources

By Max Long

My first encounter with moving image archives took place in a windowless room in the basement of a building in London. I was there to view a selection of natural history films. I had watched similar films online, but here I could load, spool, and wind up the films myself. Films are the principal source in my research, but prior to my PhD, I had little experience with the medium. Here I was left alone with two towering piles of 35mm and 16mm films, and an unexpected lesson in the materiality of film technology.

Read more

‘Experience doesn’t pay the bills’: a lesson from medieval England

By Rhiannon Sandy (@RhiannonSandy)

A few weeks ago, in my daily perusal of Twitter, I came across a retweet which made me angry enough to write a blogpost. Questioned as to why interns should be paid if they’re ‘getting experience for their résumé’, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a short video answer – ‘experience doesn’t pay the bills’. This was retweeted by Piers Morgan, who called it ‘nonsense’ because ‘the free teaching is the salary’.[1] This is a very privileged stance. Unpaid internships are exploitative and exclusionary, limiting experience to those whose financial situation allows them to work for free. This limits diversity and prevents institutions from being enriched by new ideas and perspectives, because their interns are almost always going to come from a similar background.[2]

Read more

Reconsidering the History of Domestic Medicine

By Jennifer W. Reiss

The history of American medicine often follows a declension/ascension narrative: it’s a teleology of medical progress dominated by professionalised and scientifically-minded male physicians of the nineteenth century bringing the light of modernity to backward-looking, female-dominated folk practice of earlier periods. Even comparable British scholarship on early modern medical history follows a top-down story of professionalising medics ineffectively controlling a diverse ‘medical marketplace’ – a position which appreciates the place of vernacular practice generally, but underplays non-commercial, domestic medicine. Lay, and especially female practitioners were an essential alternative source of medical knowledge, particularly for poor and rural populations with limited access to other forms of health care, as well as a complement to the professional medicine available to urban and elite populations.

Read more

How to abuse and misuse history: a guide from twentieth-century politics

By Spike Lister

The utilisation of history in political discourse has itself a long history. For as long as there has been a public space and a shared experience, communities have looked to the past as a lens through which to understand their issues. History offers us a guiding light by which to move forwards or a source from which to draw blood-curdling parallels to our present circumstances. Consequently, it should not surprise us in such complex and disruptive times that historical parallels abound as a means of garnering political support. In periods of political intricacy and seemingly tectonic historic change, it is inevitable that politicians draw from the past to assert the continuity of their policies within a nation’s historical experience, or to draw ominous parallels between history and the present day.

Read more

The Politics of the Archive: reflections, observations and challenges

By Tamara Fernando (@TamaraFernando3)

One rainy winter day in 2016, I was navigating the cavernous halls and corridors of the British Museum, looking for the Department of Prints and Drawings. I had arrived to examine two seventeenth-century engraved frontispieces depicting Saint Augustine, the early Church Father, for an MPhil project on the reception of Augustine’s works. When I finally located the correct floor, I was hailed down by a museum guard at the entrance: ‘Madam, this is not the tourist section’ they volunteered. I mumbled an explanation about an appointment with the Curator of Prints—which presumably got muffled, because the staff repeated (this time louder and slower): ‘Maadamm, NO touurissts here’, making a wide crossing-arm gestures to clarify. Something about my age, gender or the colour of my skin and hair, signalled tourist, not researcher.

Read more

Unconventional History: El Paso, Texas according to an early-twentieth-century postcard

By Savannah Pine (@savannah_pine)

El Paso, Texas (my hometown) features in the news frequently nowadays because of the migrant crisis and the administration’s desire to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. The border, which lies along the Rio Grande, separates a large urban area into two cities: El Paso in the US and Juárez, in Mexico. But people have long travelled across the border, as this early-twentieth-century postcard demonstrates: a streetcar rides the El Paso & Juárez Streetcar Line from downtown Juárez, over the international bridge, and down El Paso Street to downtown El Paso. My professor sent me this postcard last year as a graduation gift and I decided to find the modern version. However, it was more difficult than I thought without institutional access to research resources. This is the story of how I did unconventional historical research.

Read more

Ghettoes to Gentrification: How Hollywood Shaped America’s Urban Imagination

By Sam Collings-Wells (@Sam_cw_)

‘And they hide their faces / And they hide their eyes / Cause the city is dyin/ And they dont know why.

These lyrics from Randy Newmans 1977 Baltimore’—later made famous by Nina Simones justly celebrated coverperfectly captured the spirit urban life during the mid-1970s. Historians would later pinpoint the variety of forces that were killing Americas cities: the flight of industry to the suburbs; increased manufacturing competition from emerging economies in the Global South; a deeply racist housing market which served to entrap people of colour within these decaying urban cores.

Yet as Newmans lyric suggests, for many Americans the causes of urban decay were far more nebulous.

In seeking out explanations, some might have turned to the intense contemporary debate amongst sociologists, urbanists, and politicians. For others, a rather more seductive interpretation of the urban crisis was emerging, one which they could absorb from the comfort of a suburban movie theatre.  Read more

Revisiting the Visitor’s Book

By Clemency Hinton (@clemencyhinton)

Have you ever left an online review after dining at a café or staying in a hotel? What about after a visiting a museum or a local heritage site? You probably left your comment for the benefit of future visitors or to get the attention of management, but that review may have had unintended consequences. Although you not have known it, your opinions could  be creating valuable digital sources for the historians of tomorrow.[i]

It might feel like websites such as Google Reviews, TripAdvisor and HotelWorld are a pretty new phenomenon. Certainly, online reviews are a product of the twenty-first century. But as consumers, we humans have been recording our opinions on recreational experiences for a long time. The best historic example of this is the visitor’s (or guest) book. Typically identified by its leather cover, heavy pages, or dusty appearance, this thick tome sitting in the corner of a museum room or end of the gallery corridor should not be overlooked. Though some visitor’s books may only elicit a signature, akin to ‘X was here,’ most are filled with colourful and reflective feedback. Even the briefest of autographs can open intriguing avenues of research, whether exploring the nature of the ink to the style of the handwriting.[ii]

Read more

Serving ex-servicemen? Demobilisation schemes in India after the Second World War

By Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)

The demobilisation of soldiers has always been fraught with questions regarding jobs, re-skilling, pensions, rehabilitation and transition into peace time society. Such challenges were particularly pronounced at the apexes of the First and Second World Wars due to the sheer scale of demobilisation. Read more

‘No Stamp Act’: Pots & Politics in Early America

By Evelyn Strope (@develyn_16)

Although it may come as a shock to a twenty-first-century consumer, tea was once a political brew. The strong, steeped leaves and the teapots, teacups, and silverware that accompanied them were representative of clashes between imperialism and commercialism in the Atlantic world. As tea shifted from luxury to necessity in early modern Europe, Britons wanted tea-time utensils as fashionable as the drink itself.[1] Sensing a profitable opportunity  in this spike in tea consumption, British manufacturers raced to meet demand for teaware and challenge the Chinese stronghold on the porcelain market through the invention of ‘creamware’ or ‘pearlware.’ Both attractive and cost-effective, creamware opened up new markets for fine tableware beyond the middling classes, allowing ordinary men and women whose pocketbooks had once restricted them to rough earthenwares to dabble in the finer things in life. New-and-improved British ceramics were marketed throughout the Empire, including in the North American colonies, where tea and teaware would set the stage for now-infamous taxation protests. Long before disaffected colonists threw around 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor, Americans had already begun to associate pots and politics. Take, for example, the ‘No Stamp Act’ teapot.

Read more