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Doing History in Public Review of 2019

Editor of DHP Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown) looks back at 2019.

As it is New Year’s Eve, let’s take one final look at 2019, before the resolutions of 2020 begin. In fact, it was a resolution that kicked off 2019 for DHP. Veganuary saw Greggs launch their vegan sausage roll and they quickly struggled to keep up with demand. Piers Morgan called the bakery ‘PC-ravaged clowns’, however, Zoe Farrell uncovered the long history behind veganism.

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The Cancellation of Christmas

Philippa Carter (@extispicium)

In The accomplisht cook (1660), the English chef Robert May recommended to his readers a feast ‘to be used at Festival Times, as Twelfth Day [of Christmas]’. All the budding cook had to do, May explained, was to construct – in pastry – a castle, a ship laced with gunpowder, a wine-filled stag impaled with an arrow, one pie containing live frogs, and another live birds. Once served, it was simply a matter of persuading ‘some of the Ladies’ Read more

24. A Celebrity Chef’s Recipe for Famine Soup

By Aoife O’Leary McNeice (@aolmcn)

Alexis Soyer was a nineteenth-century celebrity chief. Born in Mieux-en-Brie in France in 1810, Soyer fled to England during the French Revolution of 1830. He quickly became a public figure, publishing books like The Gastronomic Regenerator: A Simplified and Entirely New System of Cookery and The Modern Housewife or, Ménagère.

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23. A Salamander Pendant

By Abigail Gomulkiewicz

This pendant is a salamander set in gold with blue enamel. The salamander’s body is formed from a baroque pearl and it holds an emerald in its mouth. Although the provenance is unknown, the salamander imagery was something quite often gifted by men at court to Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). In fact, the salamander actually appears in more offerings than the oft-studied phoenix or pelican.[1] Mr. Thomas Hennage, for example, gave a gold jewel tablet with a salamander in opal on it while Charles Smythe presented a small salamander jewel with rubies, diamonds, and pearls. Mr. Carmardenn also offered a silver and gilt bodkin with a salamander pendant in mother of pearl.[2]

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22. ‘Against Idleness’ Mug

By Meg Roberts (@megeroberts)

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as industry and population swelled, an enduring fear of ‘idleness’ as a morally corrupting and irresponsible vice took on new significance in both Britain and America. This fear could almost be described as an obsession. Across print and material culture throughout this period, the indolence of ‘idleness’ was contrasted with the aspirational diligence of ‘industry’.

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21. The Seal of Robert Fitzwalter

By Savannah Pine (@savannah_pine)

Robert Fitzwalter’s seal-matrix is a typical early-thirteenth-century seal-matrix. Its imagery proclaims his identity through an equestrian figure brandishing a sword, which represents that he was a part of the elite warrior class, and through a shield displaying his coat-of-arms (a fess between two chevrons), which signifies his membership within a familial group.[1] However, in contrast to other elite laymen’s seal-matrices, Fitzwalter placed another man’s coat-of-arms on his seal-matrix – the mascles arms depicted on the shield which is underneath the horse’s neck. That heraldic device belonged to his ritual brother, Saer de Quincy, earl of Winchester.

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20. John’s Leaves and Elizabeth’s Flowers

By Maggie Kalenak

Botanical specimens like the ones pictured can be found in archives all over the U.K., delighting the unsuspecting reader by tumbling out of 19th century envelopes. Whether to a family member, friend or sweetheart, flowers and leaves were frequently tucked into letters to further personalise the experience of their recipients. In the 1870s John Sibree from Yorkshire sent his fiancee, Cissie, leaves he pressed in order to share autumnal walks with her despite their long distance relationship. In return she would send her responses in envelopes full of violets, their fragrance scenting the paper, giving John a full sensory experience and building their intimacy by creating shared experiences through their floral exchange.[1]

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19. A Sphinx Carving

By Martin Crevier (@Crevier__Martin)

This carving of a Sphinx came to the British Museum in 1896 from Haida Gwaii, a Pacific archipelago off the coast of what is today the Canadian province of British Columbia. The artist, Simeon Stildha (1799-1889), was a chief of the Haida people, the islands’ indigenous inhabitants.

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18. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Wheelchair

By Clemency Hinton (@clemencyhinton)

This wooden wheelchair was the often invisible, but invaluable, aid to President Franklin Roosevelt during his years of political prominence. Cobbled together from a standard kitchen chair with bicycle wheels attached, this wheelchair was designed to be discreet, light and mobile. Unlike the bulky and obtrusive counterparts of its time, this wheelchair allowed FDR to somewhat conceal the lower body paralysis he had experienced since the age of 39. It sits today at the Home of FDR, the National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York.

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Fashion Gallery as Archive: Researching Dress History in Museums

By Zara Kesterton (@ZaraKesterton)

In recent years, it has become fashionable to talk of an ‘archival turn’ in history, in which the site of record-keeping has itself come under scrutiny.[1] At the same time, material history has risen to prominence as an intriguing counterpart or companion to the paper-trail left by written documents.[2] As someone who became fluent in the visual language of a museum long before I encountered academic history, I like to think of a fashion gallery as something that can be ‘read’ in similar ways to an archive, combining the perspectives of both historiographies.

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17. Commemorative Button Badge of General Roberts

By Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland)

The Second Boer War of 1899-1902 is renowned for raising popular imperialist fervour to new heights in Britain. Extravagant public rejoicing marked key turning points in the conflict. Most notoriously, uproarious celebrations followed the Relief of Mafeking in May 1900, even coining a new term in the English language. Historians continue to debate the extent and significance of this public display of jingoism – or ‘mafficking’.

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16. Gandhi’s ‘Guide to London’

By Alex White (@alex_j_white)

Travel literature can be invaluable to historians studying the dynamics of migration, tourism and cultural difference. However, they can be equally useful for shedding light on the interests and preoccupations of their own authors. This is certainly the case with Gandhi’s Guide to London, an unpublished booklet from 1893 written for Indian students intending to study in Great Britain.[1]

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15. Hawkins Hostess Trolley

By Kate Schneider (@sonicteeth)

We fondly remember the hostess trolley as a relic of the 1970s, trundled ceremoniously into the dining room for special occasions, with its misted-up Pyrex dishes filled with damp Christmas dinners and near-sliceable gravy kept warm for hours before serving.

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14. The Ace of Spades

By Evelyn Strope (@emstrope)

Early-nineteenth-century playing cards can tell us much about politics, society, and culture in the early American republic. These woodcut cards, engraved on paper and then water-coloured, served several functions. They represented a continued interest in ‘diversions’ like gambling in post-colonial society, where dice and card games of various fashions formed a key part of social interactions at home and in taverns alike.[1]

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13. Female Pills

By Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)

“Female Pills” that claimed to help with menstruation, indigestion, pain relief, hysteria, depression and sallow skin have been sold in Britain and the United States since the eighteenth century.[1] Dr John Hooper’s Female Pills, patented in 1743, was one such product that was still being advertised and consumed well into the twentieth century.

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12. A Celluloid Comb

By Georgia Oman (@Georgia_Oman)

In the late nineteenth century, celluloid combs were all the rage. ‘Few women consider their hair properly dressed nowadays unless they have at least three combs’, declared one newspaper in 1900.[1] An artificial thermoplastic first registered in 1870, celluloid’s easily mouldable nature made it a cheap replacement for more expensive materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell. However, as the same article went on to advise, ‘it is wiser to save up one’s money for the purchase of real tortoiseshell than to trust the cheap and perilous celluloid.’[2]

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11. Apprentice’s Hand-made Tools

By Morgan Bell (@CamTechMuseum)

This set of tools was made in Cambridge over sixty years ago by a 16-year-old called Derek Pickett. Derek finely crafted each one by hand during his apprenticeship at Cambridge Instrument Company.

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Virtual electioneering: echoes of the 1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act

Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland)

On Thursday, voters across the UK will head to the polls in the third general election in less than five years. This contest suggests numerous historical parallels. It’s the first December election since 1923 – an election which incidentally brought in Britain’s first ever (minority) Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald. Brexit continues to upset traditional party allegiances, leaving both Labour and Tory heartlands vulnerable. And never before has the environmental crisis featured so prominently as an electoral issue.

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10. Henry VIII’s Stamp

By Laura Flannigan (@LFlannigan17)

It is well known that Henry VIII was not fond of paperwork. In 1519, he admitted to Thomas Wolsey that he found writing ‘somewhat tedius and paynefull’. Yet throughout his reign he was required to sign off financial accounts, grants, letters, and official orders. Shortly after Henry’s accession to the English throne in 1509 an expedient solution for the more mundane of these duties was found: the creation of a stamp to imprint a facsimile of the king’s signature. The stamp itself does not survive, but there are many extant examples of its usage.

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9. Japan: the Pocket Guide

By Wonik Son

Japan’s re-entry into tourism after World War II began on the day that sovereignty was restored, seven years after defeat. In 1952, the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB), the Japanese government’s corporate arm tasked with promoting and facilitating travel to the country, published two tourist books, a Pocket Guide and an Official Guide. The Pocket Guide’s introductory message is dated as 28 April 1952 – the day the Treaty of San Francisco, which formally ended the American occupation of the Japanese mainland, took effect.

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