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5. Lieve Verschuier’s ‘Tail Star (Comet) over Rotterdam’

By Lavinia Gambini (https://cambridge.academia.edu/LaviniaGambini)

For early modern contemporaries, comets were not only associated with the birth of Christ. Comets possessed an eschatological dimension and had often been considered signs of imminent catastrophes, such as the Thirty Years’ War.[1] The celestial phenomenon also retained its apocalyptic dimension in the ‘Scientific Revolution’, when in Cambridge the Lucasian Professor for Mathematics, William Whiston, announced in A New Theory of the Earth (1696) that the Earth would soon collide with a comet, finally initiating the Millennium of Christ’s rule.[2]

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4. Jean Marestan’s Sex Manual

By Sophie Turbutt (@Sophie_Turbutt)

L‘Éducation Sexuelle was a popular sex manual written by French anarchist Jean Marestan in 1910. Marestan trained as a doctor but was forced to quit his studies due to financial hardship; instead, he joined a bohemian circle and wrote for anarchist journals. Harnessing his connections in the movement, he managed to get his sex manual widely promoted in the anarchist press, not only in France but also elsewhere in Europe and the Americas. It was translated into five languages, went through many editions, and sold tens of thousands of copies.

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3. The Salamander

By Kate McGregor (https://katemcgregor.academia.edu/)

As wedding presents go a ship is certainly the pièce de résistance. A gift from the French King François I to his new son-in-law James V, King of Scots, it represented the renewal of the Franco-Scots ‘Auld alliance’. [1] At its helm was a glistening salamander, a ‘dragon in flames of fire’, and the emblem of the French king.

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2. The Honours of Scotland

By Lewis Younie (@Lewis_Younie)

The Honours of Scotland, better known as Britain’s oldest surviving crown jewels, were crafted in the late 15th and early 16th century. Comprised of a crown, a sceptre, and a sword, the regalia’s history has intertwined with that of the Scottish nation for centuries. The Honours’ physical appearance does not demand attention, however. Rather, it is their journey through Scottish history which deserves study. The Honours were smuggled out from under the nose of Cromwell’s New Model Army and hidden at Kinneff Parish Church until the Restoration and coronation of Charles II. After that, they were used in the Scottish Parliament until the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, then sealed away in Edinburgh Castle, becoming lost and gathering dust.

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1. An Anti-Communist Newspaper

By Alex White (@alex_j_white)

The first issue of Jours d’Afrique [‘African Days’] hails itself as ‘a new newspaper for a new era’. [1] This is a fair claim: the journal was published in January 1961, only months after the decolonisation of French Equatorial Africa. Grainy photographs of new presidents stare down from the front page and articles inside discuss the promises and challenges of independence. [2] Its benign appearance, however, is intentionally misleading. As a letter to the British Colonial Office reveals, Jours d’Afrique was not an independent publication but a secret production of the French government – a direct form of anti-communist propaganda for distribution across their former colonies in central Africa. [3]

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What is legitimate political power?

By Zoë Jackson (@ZoeMJackson1)

The events of the past few months have foregrounded the issue of political legitimacy in global politics, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom. The US presidential election has featured false claims of mass voter fraud from President Trump and his supporters. The House of Lords recently voted against parts of the UK government’s Internal Markets Bill. These sections would allow the government to ignore and act counter to the UK’s withdrawal agreement, an international treaty, with the EU on issues related to Northern Ireland. The Black Lives Matter protests this summer have highlighted how many people feel police forces have abused their power, and where that abuse of power is directly intertwined with racism. Even the coronavirus pandemic has brought out critics of national and local governments – governments that are perceived by some to be overreaching their legitimate powers and by others to not be doing enough. In questioning election results, domestic and international legislation, police power, and pandemic responses, individuals have been asking what their governments should have the power to do, on the basis of their election or appointment, and the limits to that power.

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Top 3 Digital Tools for Doing History

By Evelyn Strope (@develyn_16)

As we all continue to navigate an increasingly virtual world during the coronavirus pandemic, I thought I would share a list of my favorite digital tools that I use to organize sources, annotate readings, manage citations, draft chapters, and conceptualize the ‘big picture’ of the PhD, in the hopes that they help make online research a little less daunting.

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Questioning Modern Slavery Legislation through the Trade of SS Allach Porcelain

By Tristan Bromley @TefaBrom

Porcelain is not something usually associated with Nazism. Yet from 1936–45, the Nazi SS, were fostering this precise link through the Allach Porcelain Manufactory, an SS company.[I] Amongst its produce were animal figurines, vases, candleholders, as well as models of SS men and other ‘Aryan’ figurines. Each piece bore the company’s mark of the double SS sig rune. This porcelain was not however only made by SS men. While the company was founded in the Munich suburb of Allach, most of its production was moved to a factory at Dachau in 1937, and from 1940 wartime labour shortages meant concentration camp labour was employed.[ii] A cursory internet search will reveal that despite these clear links to forced labour, Allach porcelain is still sold today by private dealers, auction houses, and on common marketplace platforms including eBay. It is easily purchasable from the UK and pieces sold internationally have fetched prices of thousands and tens of thousands of pounds, euros, and dollars.[iii]

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Book Review – Augustine Sedgewick, Coffeeland: A History

By Jordan Buchanan

Augustine Sedgewick, Coffeeland (Allen Lane, 2020), £25.00.

In Coffeeland, Augustine Sedgewick achieves the often-elusive goal of creating an academic history that is enjoyable for the non-professional history enthusiast. Coffee is a product so closely attached to complex historical themes that this history could easily have become an esoteric one. By taking the reader on a biographical journey entwined with world history, Sedgewick creates a work that accessibly demonstrates the complexity of its main theme of global capitalism.

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Reckoning with Britain’s Colonial Past: The Mau Mau Detention Camps and Dedan Kimathi

By Lauren Brown @LaurenBroon

Britain has a complicated colonial history. Sadly, thousands of descendants from former colonial territories, still face the legacies of Britain’s hegemony. This is true for the Kikuyu, Embu and Neru people of Kenya. During the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952-1964, the British colonial government placed some 80,000 people from these ethnic groups in a ‘pipeline’ of detention camps after a series of violent attacks on British settlers and ‘loyalist’ Africans. Camp inmates were subjected to brutal interrogations, whippings, sexual assault and even castration.[1] Detainee letters cited a lack of food and poor sanitation, whilst David Anderson’s ‘Histories of the Hanged’ detailed the systematic hangings of many ‘hardcore’ prisoners.

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Egyptian Hajj murals: a centuries old tradition

By Yayha Nurgat (@yahyanurgat)

Every year, Muslims from across the world travel to the city of Mecca in order to undertake the Hajj, the fifth and final pillar of Islam. In many rural areas of modern-day Egypt, pilgrims return from Mecca to find the exterior of their home adorned with illustrations of the holy sites of the Hajj, along with various other images and calligraphy (see figs. 1, 2 and 3).[1]

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A familiar tune: the Proms affair highlights Britain’s reluctance for critical self-reflection

By Daniel Adamson (@DanielEAdamson)

Controversy was caused by the recent announcement that orchestral versions of Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory would feature at the Last Night of the Proms, in a break with the traditional singing of the anthems. Eventually, this decision was reversed by the BBC.  According to the broadcaster, the original change was made in response to COVID-19 restrictions. However, concern had previously been raised that the lyrics of both patriotic songs contained troubling references to Britain’s history of imperialism and slavery.

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Moscow’s Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy: A Soviet-era Exposition and the Russian State

By Liya Wizevich (@liyawizevich)

In Soviet Union there was vast human and geographical diversity, leading the government to look for ways to not benefit from it by showcasing the social, economic and geographical differences. This national diversity was grandiosely displayed nowhere better than in Moscow’s Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy, (VDNKh).[1] Read more

Levelling, enclosure, and coronavirus

By Max Ashby Holme

The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.

– Excerpt from “The Goose and the Commons” (c. 17th cent.) [1]

As lockdown measures in the UK are eased, we must consider the kind of world COVID-19 will leave behind. The coronavirus has been called a ‘great leveller’. As Paul Bristow, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, put it: ‘It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or what circumstances you come from – we are all at risk.’ [2] This statement is misleading, however, since coronavirus amplifies existing social inequalities. Not only do life savings help to mitigate the financial impact of the virus on the wealthy, they are also more likely to be able to work from home, and less likely to find themselves in overcrowded accommodation, without access to gardens. [3] Those most exposed to the virus, including care home workers, bus drivers, and shop keepers – as well as hospital staff – are overwhelmingly the lowest paid members of the workforce. [4] Furthermore, coronavirus disproportionately affects people from BAME backgrounds. [5] It is a myth that the virus affects everyone equally, and the political origins of the term ‘leveller’ illustrate even more clearly how poor a label it is for coronavirus.

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Call for Papers: Reconsidering Illness and Recovery in the Early Modern World

By Rachel Clamp (@racheljclamp) and Claire Turner (@_claire_turner_)

With many conferences being cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19, Rachel Clamp (Durham University) and Claire Turner (University of Leeds) have decided to hold an online interdisciplinary conference. Their aim is to provide a space for scholars at all stages of their careers to discuss and share their work with the wider academic community. Read more

Cherry-picking the past: empire through a public lens

By Liam Grieve @LiamGrieve4

For all academia’s ‘independence’, historians remain tied to one immortal axiom: the past serves at the pleasure of the present. In this sense, history is underpinned by an informal social contract. Yet what happens when the terms of this contract are rewritten without the historian’s consent? Spike Lister recently did a commendable job at examining the current ‘crisis’ which historians face: the fight to resist history’s appropriation by political elites. This represents a trend, he rightly cautions, which is not unique to recent populist movements.[1] Yet beyond the upper echelons of ‘Western’ political discourse lies an even greater challenge.

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The Hanging Baskets of a Medieval German Prague: English Travel Literature from 1815 to 1848

By Jana Hunter @janakhunter

At the heart of Europe lies Prague: a city centred around the River Moldau, embodying antiquity, mysticism and the sublime. Its imposing and grandiose scenes received little attention from travel writers up until the Napoleonic Wars. Through travel literature, Prague emerged as a fantastical city providing escapism, both physically and mentally, for travellers. Mapped like a medieval German city, and located in Central Europe, Prague was home to a dynamic cultural milieu. Yet, it was also deemed to be uncivilised, possessing an Oriental grandeur. This contentious portrayal epitomises the difficulty travellers had – and continue to have – in defining the city and challenges the powerful concept of a binary Europe.

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‘Paying it forward’: Bonds of giving between Ireland and the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Navajo Nations from the Irish Famine to COVID-19.

By Aoife O’Leary McNeice (@aolmcn)

In the mid 1840s and early 1850s, Ireland was ravaged by a Famine which, through a combination of death and emigration, saw the population fall by a third. The horrors of the Famine were reported globally, and the crisis, unfolding in almost real time in the newspapers of readers worldwide prompted an outpouring of global sympathy.[1]

Ireland received approximately two million pounds of overseas donations, which came from businessmen in New York, naval vessels in the Indian Ocean, and prisoners serving time on the remote penal settlement of Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean. Some of these donations have lingered longer in Irish popular historical memory than others, and the strength of these memories are such that they continue to shape Ireland’s relationship with overseas communities. Read more

Argentina 1910: Latin America’s Guardian

By Jordan Buchanan

Argentina was once the front-runner in the defence of Latin America from incipient U.S. imperialism. The South American republic celebrated the centenary of its declaration of independence in 1910, firmly established as the leading economy in the region.[1] In the prelude to Argentina’s anniversary, The Economist acclaimed that ‘it is probable that Argentina in the twentieth century may make as rapid progress as did the United States in the nineteenth.’[2] Argentina was attracting international praise for the success for its export-oriented economy that had stimulated average annual growth in export income by 14.1% between 1900-1910.[3]

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Knitting the Archives

If you walk into any charity shop, you are more than likely to find, somewhere, a box or folder full of old knitting patterns. The majority of people would overlook these – to those that cannot knit, the sheets look like indecipherable code, but even to those that can, the patterns are considered dated. But these publications are an archive of everyday material culture of their own, which merit engagement.

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