Something strange happened last month for members of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA). On Wednesday the 28th October members of the 61-year-old historical society were informed that one of the major benefits of membership –subscription to the research tool – had been cancelled. The service claims to possess “images of virtually every work printed” in English between 1473 and 1700, constituting several million scanned images of microfilm supplied by more than 200 libraries worldwide. It is thus an invaluable tool for the early modernist, available through most, if not all, university libraries. However, the service doesn’t offer any individual subscriptions and the high price puts it out of the realm of the casual public library. Membership at a very reasonable £85 a year of the RSA (the only professional society that subscribes to EEBO) provides the vital access to these documents in a digital, searchable format. It must therefore have proved a blow to their members that ProQuest, who own EEBO, decided to cancel the RSA’s subscription. This was not due to lack of use but to such “heavy use of the subscription” by members that it was “reducing ProQuest’s potential revenue from library-based subscriptions”. Within 24-hours the decision had been rescinded with ProQuest describing the situation as a “confusion”.
‘Public engagement’ and ‘research communities’ – these are the new buzzwords from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, one of the largest funding bodies for historical research in the UK. Their message is that the gulf between the ivory tower of academic research in higher education institutions and the enthusiastic, public communities interested in historical research must be reduced. It’s an idea that has been at the forefront of university scholarship within the humanities for some time now, and it’s unsurprising considering it’s the public who fund historical investigation. In providing the opportunity to conduct research, it would seem that the same public would like us to deliver it into their hands. This in itself is not an unreasonable request, though it is one that has lead us to the general assumption that the only good history is ‘usable history’.
By Jeremy Wikeley
Over the summer I read Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim for the first time. I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting to. Kim tells the story of an Irish orphan who, growing up in India, has a series of adventures, first as the protégé of an elderly Buddhist monk and later as an agent in ‘the Great Game’. Kim enjoys the excitement of espionage but he misses the freedom of life on the road. Kim is a ‘boys own’ tale, but the verve and colour of Kipling’s descriptions of India and its diversity of peoples and cultures give the novel a wider appeal, as does the theme: everyone’s torn between what’s expected of us and what we really want to do.
As an American living in the UK, I often get asked about the presidential election, particularly my views on Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. My British and European friends cannot understand why two polar opposite figures are becoming significant in American politics at the exact same time. To this question, I always respond that Trump and Sanders are two sides of the same coin, and should be understood in relationship to each other. They are both ‘populists’: politicians who appeal to the hopes and fears of the general population by contrasting the interests of “the people” with the interests of political and corporate elites.
There are around 2,500 museums in the UK. Many of the larger ones, particularly in London, contain internationally-renowned collections of great historical and scientific significance, and are always worth a visit. In some cases, however, it is the local and specialist museums that provide the most inspiring, entertaining, and educational days out. In celebration of this, the Doing History in Public team has put together a collection of our favourite museum experiences.
If you have a favourite museum, we’d love to hear from you!
A perspective from the early medieval west, c.841AD
By Robert Evans @R_AH_Evans
This week we remember the human cost of military conflict. We think not only of the millions killed and wounded but also about the unseen impact of war on human minds and emotions.
The psychological and emotional costs of war are far better known about and studied than they used to be. The conflicts of the last century are increasingly studied with this in mind. Similarly, the mental wellbeing of our own armed forces remains an important political issue. The emotional cost of war is not, however, a new consideration. Although the nature of fighting (and its cultural context) differs according to time and place, the modern and medieval soldier often had a great deal in common when it came to emotional experience.
By Harriet Lyon @HarrietLyon
On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes, one of a number of Catholic conspirators against the Protestant king of Scotland and England James VI and I, was caught emerging from a vault beneath the Houses of Parliament that had been stacked with barrels containing almost a ton of gunpowder. The scheme having failed, Fawkes and his fellow plotters were arrested, tried, and executed for treason. On the one-year anniversary of the failure of the plot, the king issued a ‘Thanksgiving Act’, which lauded the ‘miraculous and gracious deliverance’ of the Church of England from ‘malignant and devilish papists’ and called for the annual public commemoration of the overthrow of Catholic conspiracy. The Book of Common Prayer was updated to include a sermon that could be read every year on 5 November, but it was not long before these solemn remembrances became raucous celebrations, marked with explosions of gunpowder and by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes.
By Fred Smith | @
‘John Bossy, where are you when we need you?’
So wrote Christopher Haigh over a decade ago, expressing the need for ‘big ideas’ to ‘shake up the field’ of early-modern English Catholicism, just as John Bossy had done twenty-five years previously. His words have never rung so true.
It was with great sadness that I learnt of the recent death of Professor John Bossy, an historian whose published works range from a three-hundred year history of Christianity in Western Europe, to a micro-analysis of events and individuals surrounding the French ambassador to England from 1583 to 1596. I am possessed of neither the knowledge nor the ability to adequately represent his contribution to the historical field in the lines which follow, a task better to left to historians who knew and worked alongside the eminent professor at the University of York until his retirement in 2000. However, I feel it is only right to offer a few words about an historian whom I greatly admire, and whose work has profoundly shaped my own study of history.
As a lover of history, few things excite or engage me more than dusty manuscripts and stories from the past: the shocking, the inspiring, the scandalous, and even the mundane. Although my obsession may be particularly acute, it’s not unusual – as Laurence Goldman pointed out while opening the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Workshop at the Institute of Historical Research on 29 October, ‘history is booming’. The workshop was the first instance of what the organisers hope will be a yearly event, along with the RHS’s Public History Prize and proved an inspiring day, with many different perspectives on what it means to do ‘public history’. Several key themes emerged: