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Gossip, men, and Victorian politics

By Cherish Watton (@CherishWatton)

Gossip in politics today brings to mind the political rumour-mill from the fallout of Brexit, political infighting, or frequent leaks from the White House criticising the Trump administration. But gossip, the ability ‘to talk idly, mostly about other people’s affairs’, isn’t unique to twenty-first-century politics.[1] In the Victorian period, it could even serve a more positive political purpose. Gossip facilitated intimacy not only between women but also men. The sharing and receiving of gossip allowed men to identify and participate in different political communities, such as in the gentleman’s club.[2]

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Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

By Tom Smith  (@TomEtesonSmith)

Last Wednesday, 4 April, the world commemorated the assassination fifty years earlier of a man widely regarded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest figures. Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered for having played an instrumental role in securing the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the U.S. federal government, and for doing so through an unwavering commitment to non-violence and interracial cooperation. Accordingly, the shooting of this Nobel Peace Prize laureate is seen to epitomize the tumultuous year of 1968 in U.S. history, during which opposition to the Vietnam War and ongoing racial antagonism saw American society turn from peace to violence, and from consensus to division.

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Expressions of “Russian exceptionalism”: a historical continuity?

By Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)

Vladimir Putin was unsurprisingly victorious in this month’s presidential elections on the 18th of March. As with all political campaigns, candidates routinely utilise powerful self-branding images. In Putin’s case, historic forms of Russian exceptionalism were re-imagined to run on a distinct platform based on anti-Americanism, similar to his previous campaigns. Michael Bohm, in a 2013 article, suggested that Putin was determined to turn Russia into the only leading world power that can hold its own against the U.S. This anti-American branding of Russian exceptionalism alongside long held notions of Russian Orthodoxy and Holy Russia were harnessed to amass public support throughout the election. His conservative stance on gay rights and support of the Russian Orthodox church are indicative of this. Read more

England’s First Double Agents?

By Fred Smith | @Fred_E_Smith

The disturbing events which have recently unfolded in the small English town of Salisbury appear to belong more to the set of a Hollywood spy thriller or the pages of an Ian Fleming novel than to reality. From a historical perspective, the role of spies and informants on all sides during both the Second World War and the Cold War is well known. However, over the last twenty years, historians have increasingly come to recognise that it was during the early modern period that ‘modern’ methods and strategies of international espionage first began to develop. Stephen Alford, for example, has shone new light on Francis Walsingham’s role as Elizabeth I’s ‘Spymaster’ – research which informed a three-part BBC series last year.[1] Similarly, a recent article by Sebastian Sobecki has uncovered the importance of an English spy, John Peyton, in providing intelligence on Spanish diplomatic activity in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth around the turn of the seventeenth century.[2] Read more

Empty Shops and the Housing Crisis: a Perspective from the Second World War

By David Cowan

Britain lacks enough affordable housing. The problem is clear: too few houses are being built to meet the needs of an ageing population. One estimate suggests that about 300,000 new houses are needed each year, whilst about half of that are actually constructed. With the demand for new housing exceeding availability, renting is becoming increasingly unaffordable; buying is now a pipe dream for many, especially the young.

Policy-makers are rightly considering the solutions to this crisis. Theresa May recently proposed, amongst other measures, ‘to make it easier for shops to be turned into housing if that’s appropriate’. It is good that Britain’s shortage of affordable housing is being taken seriously by the government. Read more

Resistance in Russia: A Reflection on International Women’s Day

By Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)

This year’s International Women’s Day, on March 8th, was marked across the world with various marches, proclamations and campaigns highlighting inequalities and celebrating women. In the last two years, we have seen feminist campaigns in various institutions to challenge ongoing inequalities that disproportionately affect women, including sexual abuse, the gender pay gap and governmental policies. The earliest observance of a day for women was held by the Socialist Party of America on 28th February 1909 in New York at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel. German Marxist Clara Zetkin initially proposed an International Women’s Day in 1910 with no fixed date. It had been predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted by the United Nations in 1975. Many historical demonstration actions have occurred on International Women’s Day, including in 1981 a demonstration when French women marched under the banner of the Movement for the Liberation of Women (MLF).

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Children’s strikes, school walk-outs, and youth political activism

By Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland)

In the last two weeks, university students across the UK have been coming out in solidarity with lecturers and staff in the University and College Union’s USS strike. On the other side of the Atlantic, the news has been dominated by the aftermath of the latest US mass school shooting. Survivors from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have spearheaded the national #NeverAgain campaign, renewing debate on the ever-controversial issue of gun control. Pledging his support in a tweet on 22 February, Barack Obama implied the high school students had the weight of history behind them: ‘Young people have helped lead all our great movements.’ Major twentieth-century protest campaigns – from civil rights, to women’s rights, gay liberation and nuclear disarmament – were in large part youth movements. It was university students who started the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and, more recently, the 2014 Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. But children and young people’s strikes have a much longer history. Read more

Independence and interdependence: one Scot’s perspective on Anglo-Scottish relations in early-seventeenth-century London

Laura Flannigan | @LFlannigan17

Notions of Scottish devolution or independence from England and the rest of the United Kingdom have been reiterated across the last few generations, with the 2014 ‘IndyRef’ and its potential sequel only the most recent examples.  Much of the discussion south of the border hangs on how Scotland could think to sustain itself outside the UK, ‘its chief exports being oil, whisky [and] tartan’, as one panel-show quipped in 2013.[1]  This often-disparaging discourse has parallels in the conversations being had about Scotland’s contribution to the original Union of the Crowns of 1603, when the Scottish King James VI naturally acceded to the throne of England.

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The roots of vegetable politics

By Carys Brown (@HistoryCarys)

Boris Johnson’s declaration last week that Brexit ‘can be good for carrots too’ caused a mixture of despair, mild amusement, and utter confusion. For those trying to get their heads around Britain’s Brexit-based future, this was hardly the ‘clarity’ they demanded. What few registered, however, was that Johnson had unwittingly tapped into a long history of the manipulation of this versatile vegetable for political ends. Read more

Fritter-filled Paunches: Pancake day in Reformation England

By Elly Barnett – @eleanorrbarnett

On the Monday before Lent, wrote comedic poet John Taylor in 1639, a farmer returned home to his wife ‘busily making Pancakes for him and his family’. After he criticised the quality of the fare – ‘the coursenesse of the flower, the taste of the Suite [suet- fat], the thicknesse of the Batter’ –  the farmer’s wife decided to teach her husband a lesson, ‘knowing he was better experienced in the Plough, than the Panne, and to eate Pancakes better than to make them’! Telling him to wait outside with his back to the door and the plate outstretched in front of him, she promised to toss the pancake through the chimney from which it would land merrily onto his dish. Instead, in retribution for his snide comments, the wife ‘came suddenly behinde him, & with the pan and all clapt the Pancake upon his head’. With his hair ‘well basted with the fat of the Panne’, the ridiculed husband scorned his wife as ‘an arrant Shrew’ and named the day ‘Shrewes Munday’ and the next ‘Shrews Tuesday’ in her honour.[1] Read more

Marking the Women’s Suffrage Centenary in Cambridge

By Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland)

6 February will mark one hundred years since the first women in Britain gained the right to vote in national elections. The Representation of the People Act of 1918 enfranchised 40% of women in the UK and was the result of decades of campaigning by various organisations across the country. It was a key step towards women getting the vote on equal terms to men ten years later. To celebrate this milestone in women’s history, Cambridge University Library is displaying some of its collections on women’s suffrage for the first time. Read more

Build The Wall?: The Perspective of an American in the Philippines

By Tom Smith (@TomEtesonSmith)

Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico is back in the news, this time as debates over how the wall is to be funded, and over the issue of immigration more broadly speaking, played a role in prompting a U.S. government shutdown. While Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, suggested that the president was changing his mind on the subject, Trump retorted in a series of tweets that ‘The Wall is the Wall’, and that without it, there could be no deal over the funding bill.

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Doing History in Public review of the year

As the first month of 2018 rolls on, Carys Brown (@HistoryCarys) takes a look at the events of 2017 and how DHP covered them.

Whatever your opinion of the developments of 2017 it was undoubtedly an interesting year for history, or at least for future historians. In January an unpredictable and somewhat controversial Twitter-wielding former businessman and television personality was inaugurated as President of the USA amidst allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct. As David Runciman pointed out in a DHP post in June, investigations into Donald Trump’s conduct took a surprising turn towards twelfth-century England in a comparison between Trump and Henry II (bizarrely, it was quite a good parallel). This has also been the year of “fake news”, or at least allegations of fake news, so much so that last week Trump announced that he was going to hold a ‘Fake News Awards’ for those he regards as ‘the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media’. We shouldn’t get carried away assuming that we live in a unique age of misinformation, however, as Alex Wakelam’s March DHP post highlighted.

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A social housing model from the past – the case of Augsburg’s Fuggerei

By Zoe Farrell   @zoefarell 

According to the UK charity Shelter, there are currently more than 1.8 million households on the waiting list for social housing in England; an 81% increase since 1997. The ‘Housing Crisis’ is perhaps one of the defining issues of modern society and is likely to be at the forefront of the political agenda for many years to come. Social housing is perhaps more important now than ever, yet we can trace its existence long into the past. To find one of the most interesting examples of early modern social housing we need only to travel to present-day Germany, where Augsburg’s Fuggerei still exists as the oldest functioning social housing complex in the world.

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23. Criminal Quilts

By Ruth Singer | @CriminalQuilts

Back in 2012 I was commissioned to make a piece of contemporary textile artwork inspired by the Shire Hall in Stafford including 18th century court buildings. I found that I was drawn to archive photographs rather than the building itself. I created a series of miniature ‘quilts’ taking inspiration from photographs of women prisoners with their hands on their chests. I was haunted by these images and found the details of their clothing intriguing. I based my work on the textile details in the images and made quilts in reference to their lack of comfort in the prison system.

I have continued to work with these images and am now Artist in Residence at Staffordshire Record Office engaging in further research into the prison photo albums and the lives of the women they show. New work will be shown in exhibitions in 2018.

Image: Work by Ruth Singer, photography by Joanne Withers and original image courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office.

 

22. Spiritual encounters in the archive

By Alice Soulieux-Evans

An English literature student, my ‘conversion’ to history came through studying the Reformation. Yet this scholarly ‘conversion’ coincided with my coming to faith. Whilst as a historian I seek to be objective, it doesn’t mean I don’t find my research and the people I study spiritually edifying as a Christian. One of my most memorable ‘encounters’ in the archives was one such occasion, when I came across a copy of Laud’s last will and testament. Read more

21. ‘Teuerster Polte’ – letters indicating the uneven friendship between Frederick Wilhelm IV. of Prussia and Leopold von Gerlach

By Laura Achtelstetter

In the Gerlach-Family Archive in Erlangen (GER), a copy of the diaries of Leopold von Gerlach, General of the Prussian Army and aidé de campe of Frederick Wilhelm IV., can be found. The originals have been lost since the Second World War. Signature LE02776 contains letters between Frederick Wilhelm IV, his wife Elisabeth and von Gerlach. What is interesting to note is the private tone some of Frederick Wilhelm’s letters contain. As an example, he addresses his general and subject with his nickname “Polte”. This salutation is normally used by von Gerlachs family members and very close friends. One might conclude that Frederick Wilhelm saw himself as a close friend. In another letter Frederick Wilhelm refers to Leopold’s gout disease. He urges von Gerlach to take a rest and the concludes ‘Hätte Papa sein Zipperlein vor etwa 20 Jahren fröhlich aufgenommen wie ich das meine, er lebte noch!’*

Those sources are interesting, as a king referring to his father and predecessor as ‘papa’ in front of a subject is quite uncommon and indicates that Frederick Wilhelm did not always see a need to maintain a respectable distance towards Leopold von Gerlach.
*Letter nb. 26, Berlin 14 March 1852. Transl.: If papa had happily accepted his gout/ minor ailment 20 years ago, as I did, he would be still alive.

 

Image: Franz Krüger, ‘Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia’, 1846. Oil on canvass. Public domain via Wikimedia commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1846_Krueger_Friedrich_Wilhelm_IV_anagoria.jpg.

20. Journal of Lawrence Rowntree

By Spencer Brown 

I was helping curate a museum exhibition in York on the life of Lawrence Rowntree, grandson of the famous businessman, philanthropist and social reformer Joseph Rowntree. Lawrence died at Passchendaele in the First World War, aged just 22. He kept a journal of his time with the Friends Ambulance Unit, in which his intelligence and compassion shone through. He was repulsed and exhausted by war, but the man-of-action wrote: “The excitement of it, even the fear is enticing; the glorious feeling when you overcome difficulties you thought were insuperable, and the jolly companionship of everyone which you get in the face of a common danger, and never so truly anywhere else.” His spirit was indomitable. It is a tragedy that his life – along with so many others – was cut short in the mud at Passchendaele, and his journal was the most interesting, and poignant, text or material I have encountered in an archive.

 

Spencer Brown has a BA in History from Durham University and an MA in Public History from the University of York. He is a recipient of the Thouron Award and is currently studying at the University of Pennsylvania.

Image: Stretcher bearers at Passchendaele, August 1917. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stretcher_bearers_Passchendaele_August_1917.jpg.

19. Treating mental illness in the early 20th century

By Chris Wilson (cw498@cam.ac.uk)

The Father Christmas figure pictured here is Theophilus Waldmeier, a Swiss Quaker missionary based in the Levant from the 1860s until his death in 1915. Late in his life, Waldmeier began raising funds for the construction of a mental hospital at Asfuriyeh, near Beirut, which opened its doors in August 1900. Envisaged as introducing modern and humane forms of treatment for the mentally ill, Waldmeier’s own annual reports on the hospital reveal some of the tensions engendered by his approach. Waldmeier saw work as regenerative, but not everyone agreed. In 1907, he wrote: ‘when the relatives of the patients come and see them at work they do not like it, often saying, “Why does my son or daughter work? This is not right – look at their hands and feet, how hard and dirty they are”, etc., etc., but soap makes all right again.’ Well they might have complained; in the same year, the medical superintendent reported that a large raised terrace had been built on the grounds of the hospital ‘almost exclusively by patients’ labour’. Even a source as official as the annual report of a hospital, read carefully, can offer up valuable glimpses of abuse and resistance. Patient work remained important at the mental hospital at Asfuriyeh long after Waldmeier’s death, but took on very different forms to the back-breaking labour performed by patients in the opening years of the twentieth century; in 1950, to end on a more festive note,  patients were responsible for printing sketches of the hospital, which were then sold as Christmas cards.

 

Image: Theophilus Waldmeier, from Henry T. Hodgkin, Friends beyond seas (London, 1916), p.64. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophil_Waldmeier#/media/File:TheophilWaldmeier2.jpg.

18. Queen Christina of Sweden’s saddle

By Valerio Zanetti

When studying early modern female horse riding, Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) is an inescapable figure to deal with. She was internationally renowned for her skilful horsemanship. However a doubt arises: did she ride astride ‘like a man’ or did she prefer a more feminine style à l’amazone? Written and visual sources provide different accounts. In my investigation I turned towards a saddle preserved at the Livrustkammaren in Stockholm. Commissioned by the queen in 1650, the year of her coronation, this was reserved for her particular use until she left Sweden in 1654. Velvets preciously embroidered with gold and silver thread were ordered especially from France to be then mounted by the court saddler Simon Jüterbock. Such saddles were employed to ride both ways, but the key to the problem is to be found in an accessory element, a half-moon shaped velvet and leather cushion. This was tied to the main body of the saddle and served to support the right leg of the rider as it was wrapped around the pommel when mounting side-saddle. Evident signs of wear provided me with clear evidence of the queen’s favourite riding style.

 

Image: Sébastien_Bourdon, ‘Queen Christina of Sweden on Horseback’ (1653). Oil on canvas, 383 x 291 cm. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sébastien_Bourdon-Christina_of_Sweden_1653.jpg.