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.
Posts from the ‘Helen Sunderland’ Category
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.
Last week, the world’s media was fixed on the arrival of another royal baby. At less than a week old, pictures of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the first child of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and the Queen’s eighth great-grandchild, have been shared around the globe. Although the birth took place in the relative privacy of the Windsor estate – avoiding a repeat of the now-familiar press camp outside St Mary’s Lindo Wing – the royal couple were still expected to present their new baby to the world within days. Royal Instagram followers were even treated to a photo of Archie’s feet on Sunday to mark Mother’s Day in the US. This level of exposure might seem unique to the internet and social media age, but royal childhood was followed just as eagerly at the turn of the twentieth century.
Over recent months I’ve watched more parliamentary debates than ever before. I imagine I’m not alone. This is perhaps a bold confession for a historian of political culture – admittedly, I’m more familiar with nineteenth-century Hansard than BBC Parliament. Numerous historical parallels have been drawn over Brexit, some more accurate than others. I won’t dwell here on what the EU referendum result says about the legacy of empire, whether Brexit will split the Tory party like the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, or politicians’ astonishing displays of historical illiteracy over Ireland. But with media attention fixed firmly on Westminster as the drama continues to unfold, I’ve been reflecting on the place of constitutional history in the public imagination.
2018 was another turbulent year in global politics. In March, Vladimir Putin was, unsurprisingly, re-elected as Russia’s President. Mobeen Hussain reflected in this blog post on how Putin’s popular appeal stemmed in part from rebranding the long-held idea of Russian exceptionalism. Tensions between Russia and the West have continued to increase. Just two weeks before Putin’s re-election, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury. As Fred Smith noted in this DHP post, spying is often associated with modern times, but double agents also operated in sixteenth-century England.
In the first decades of mass schooling in late nineteenth-century Britain, attendance was a persistent issue. Parents often resented having to send their children to school, which for many meant forfeiting much-needed income. To improve attendance levels, education authorities rewarded children who had spotless attendance records with medals. A year without any absences would earn a child a medal. Particularly keen students could rack up a whole collection over their school career.
As I come to terms with the fact that I will soon no longer be able to call myself a first-year PhD student, I want to give some advice to those starting their doctoral research. Things I wish I knew when I started, some things I’ve learnt and others that I am still working on…
- Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start. This is completely normal. Moving to a new city and a new university, everything felt quite overwhelming at first. With post-induction information overload, it took a good couple of months for me to settle into a research routine. Read more
Getting stuck into my summer reading, I have spent the last few weeks trawling through volumes of early twentieth-century teachers’ magazines. I am scouring these weekly periodicals for references to politics in the classroom. Hidden among the teaching tips, correspondence pages and reports on government activity, are examples of political topics in the curriculum, and even teachers and students displaying political views at school.
What fascinates me about this kind of research is the unexpected discoveries. Reading the magazines cover to cover has thrown up some good examples, from the amusing to the macabre. Schoolroom ‘panics’ caused by intruding dogs and even cows cropped up on more than one occasion. On a darker note, reports of pupils’ accidental deaths at school and suicides were disturbingly frequent.
By Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland)
‘The Weather for some Days past is said by the Curious in such Observations, to have been several Degrees hotter than for these four Years past.’
As I write this piece under another cloudless Cambridge sky with temperatures soaring well into the high twenties, this July 1757 report from the London Evening Post seems oddly familiar. The UK’s unusually long spell of dry, warm weather has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, ranging from the serious – such as the two major moorland fires in Lancashire – to the less so. Brits should apparently brace themselves for an impending lettuce shortage and, of course, revive the obligatory ‘how hot does it have to get for a day off work?’ debate. The summer of 1976, which saw over two weeks of consecutive plus-thirty-degree temperatures, has reached an iconic place in popular memory when it comes to this much-loved subject. But looking back a couple of centuries earlier, does our national obsession with the weather have deeper roots? Read more
Tom Smith and Helen Sunderland (Doing History in Public) talk to Judd Birdsall, Managing Director of the Cambridge Institute on Religion & International Studies based at Clare College, Cambridge
Doing History in Public: Hi Judd. Could you tell us a bit more about CIRIS and its work?
Judd Birdsall (CIRIS): The Cambridge Institute on Religion & International Studies (CIRIS) is a multi-disciplinary research centre at Clare College, Cambridge. We aim to provide students, practitioners, and the general public with credible and engaging insights that will shape new scholarship, sound policy, and constructive debate on the role of faith in international affairs. Read more
When I first saw the University Library as a new Cambridge student last October it looked like something from a dystopian novel. The library tower loomed above me – a modernist monument to humanity’s pursuit of knowledge. With the addition of a few slogans on the walls, I thought, it would fit right into Orwell’s 1984. What this says about my sense of trepidation embarking on a PhD aside, the library tower has long been a focus of mystery and myth since it was completed in 1934. Now, the new exhibition Tall Tales: Secrets of the Tower, which opened at the University Library earlier this month, uncovers some of its secrets for the first time.
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
The recent success of The Vietnam War, a television documentary co-directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, shows the enduring legacy of the conflict in popular memory. Broadcast as a ten-hour series in the UK on BBC Four and originally aired with an even longer running time on PBS, the series is ambitious in its detail and scope. That such an in-depth history can still prove gripping, accessible and popular shows how the Vietnam War continues to loom large in the psyche. Read more