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Posts from the ‘History & current affairs’ Category

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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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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‘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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Early Modern Quarantine and Present Social Distancing

By Marina Inì (@MarinaIni_)

The past few months have been unexpected and distressing for everyone. As an Italian citizen originally from Lombardia, the centre of the outbreak in Italy, I strongly felt the anxiety caused by COVID-19 weeks before the declared global pandemic. As a historian, however, I have been especially puzzled and even intrigued by the news around me. My PhD dissertation examines quarantine centres, called lazzaretti, as plague prevention strategy in the eighteenth-century Mediterranean, focusing on the Venetian territories (which included Italy but also the Balkan peninsula and the Ionian Sea), Malta, different states of the Italian peninsula, and France. Suddenly, my topic has become extraordinarily relevant in the ongoing circumstances. Deep down, every historian knows that historical research, even the most specific and peculiar topic, helps to understand the present day. But never would I have imagined that my topic on early modern quarantine could resonate so much with current events, nor that I would be writing my dissertation on quarantine while preventatively isolating myself amid a global pandemic.

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Art in the Time of Coronavirus

By Zara Kesterton (@ZaraKesterton)

15 March 2020: we were beginning to realise just how much of an impact the coronavirus pandemic would have on all our lives. One of my friends messaged a group chat, ‘Now that we aren’t allowed to touch anything ever again does it spell the end of material culture? Is the new textual turn approaching?’ Read more

Apocalypse Then: what would past ages have made of COVID-19?

By Sam Harrison (@seph1812)

As the implications of COVID-19 became clear last month, many of us began to ask why we had not done more to prepare for it: we had known for some time that the virus had the potential to become a pandemic, and for years experts had been warning successive British governments of the dangers of a flu-like pandemic.

But perhaps we should not have been quite so surprised. It is now over fifty years since scientists first started alerting the world to anthropogenic climate change. New evidence mounts every week to prove that the natural world is disintegrating around us, and we know full well that the implications of this for us are cataclysmic. And still we fail to take the drastic action that we know to be necessary.

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‘Come From Away’: Can historical methodology and theatre co-exist?

By Charlotte Coyne (@charlottecoyne_)

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of musical theatre productions which choose to depict historical events. Many even delve into discussing historiography and the process of creating history as a major theme of the show. Most lauded among these is, of course, Hamilton: An American Musical, to which biographer Ron Chernow’s role as historical consultant arguably added a stronger claim of historical authenticity. However, despite this proliferation of ‘history musicals’, and though considerable research has also been done on the strengths of historical re-enactment in promoting public engagement with history, there are still academics who argue that theatricality and historical veracity are too disparate to coexist effectively: Nancy Isenberg has notably claimed that “history cannot be reduced to song and dance”.[1]

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History in the Present: Saving the Thomas Cook Archives

By Zoë Jackson

On September 23, 2019, the British travel company Thomas Cook suddenly went out of business. The company had been dealing with financial issues for years. But its end was abrupt enough as to catch hundreds of thousands of travellers in the middle of trips or looking forward to trips planned with the company.[1] Read more

The Climate of History: Protest and Performance at the British Museum

By Alex White (@alex_j_white)

On the 8 February 2020, the British Museum became the site of a mass protest for climate justice. The target was the multinational oil and gas provider BP, a long-term partner of the British Museum and the sponsor of a new flagship exhibition entitled ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’.[1] According to the organisers of the protest, the activist group ‘BP or not BP?’, the company’s sponsorship of historical attractions is a form of ‘culture-washing’ which draws attention from their exploitation of the natural world and their support for authoritarian regimes. At the same time, the exhibition’s showy, uncritical style distracts from more contemporary debates within the museum – such as the status of artefacts acquired through colonial force. This combined critique of donor and recipient is particularly interesting: while the protest is primarily a climate demonstration, it also represents an elaborate and inclusive exercise in public history.

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Irish politics: past, present, future?

By Aoife O’Leary McNeice (@aolmcn

For the past one hundred years, Irish parliamentary politics has been dominated by two political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. This is now no longer the case. Ireland’s recent general election saw the left wing party Sinn Féin emerge as the third ‘big party’ in Irish politics, gaining more first preference votes than either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael (both centre right).  Witnessing the frustrations of an electorate faced with a housing crisis and overcrowded hospitals during a period of alleged economic recovery, pundits and politicians alike identified a thirst for change. The election has produced a complicated political  landscape, in which no single party has enough seats to form a majority.  Weeks if not months of coalition talks are now likely. And whilst many are more focused on the future than the past, these three parties share a complicated, overlapping history. This shared past may still impact upon their ability to form a government together.

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‘Twittering Historians: On Active Duty in the Rapid Reaction Force’

By Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown), Laura Flannigan (@LFlannigan17), and Robert Saunders (@redhistorian)

DHP were invited to speak at the Public and Popular History seminar on 5 February 2020. We sent along our Editor, Stephanie Brown, and member of the editorial team, Laura Flannigan. Also, on the panel was Dr Robert Saunders (Queen Mary London), who is a prolific author on nineteenth and twentieth century British politics, including his acclaimed book Yes to Europe: The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain (2018).

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Teaching Around Trauma: The Holocaust in Primary School Education

By Alex White (@alex_j_white)

It’s a sunny day in rural England. A football team is practising on the field outside, a group of schoolchildren are queuing for lunch, and I am working as a teaching assistant as a class of nine-year-olds learn about the Holocaust for the first time.

The room is quiet, and I can’t help feeling tense. The teaching of painful histories always carries emotional baggage, forcing educators to balance the need for factual accuracy with the risk of causing lasting trauma. This is particularly true for young children:  their emotional capacities are still developing and many can struggle to separate themselves from traumatic events while others will fail to engage empathetically at all.[1] At the same time, however, the schoolroom has been depicted as a formative space where educators can introduce complex topics in a mediated and emotionally appropriate manner.[2] When schools refuse to teach ‘difficult’ histories, they run the risk of exposing pupils to misinformation from less secure sources. For a topic as emotive as the Holocaust, this can have particularly dangerous consequences.

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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 Archive in Decline: The Emergency of Archival Collections in Italy

By Marina Iní (@MarinaIni_)

During part of the last academic year, I travelled to several archives and libraries collection in the Italian peninsula for my PhD fieldwork. It has been an extremely rewarding experience on the research side, but it was also thought-provoking.  I saw with my own eyes the disheartening situation of different Archivi di Stato (Italian National Archives, usually one per provincial capital), Archivi Storici Comunali (City Archives) and other public archival collections and libraries.

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Playing the Blame Game: Divorce Then and Now

By Georgia Oman (@Georgia_Oman)

When Parliament was suspended this September, several bills making their way through the Commons and Lords were dropped. Although three pieces of legislation were carried over to the next session, the remainder fell into a legal limbo, with their only hope of resurrection being that the government would choose to re-introduce them upon the return of Parliament.[1] One such bill lost in the Brexit shuffle is a reform of the divorce laws of England and Wales, which at the moment demand that couples provide evidence of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or years of separation before a divorce can be granted, even if both parties have amicably agreed to end their marriage.[2] Put simply, the proposed legislation aims to establish ‘no-fault divorce’, in which neither partner need be apportioned blame for the failure of the marriage.[3] Under the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973 currently in force, those seeking a divorce must prove their partner was at fault through adultery, desertion, or unreasonable behaviour. If there is no evidence of fault, consenting couples still must live apart for two years before they can file for divorce, while cases in which both sides cannot reach agreement must endure five years of separation.[4]

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The Dreyfus Affair: metaphor and reality in public history

By Daniel Adamson (@DEAdamson9)

The Pyrrhic Wars; the crossing of the Rubicon; the witch hunts; the sinking of the Titanic. Modern parlance is littered with examples of historical events that have accrued a metaphorical value superior to the weight of their historical realities. In public spheres, there is more interest in deploying historical events for what they symbolise, rather than what they actually were. The Dreyfus Affair is one such case in point. In 1894, the French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason, having been accused of passing classified documents to the German military. Protracted division and debate subsequently embroiled French society, as competing parties contested the validity of Dreyfus’ conviction. Eventually, in 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated upon retrial and the identification of the true culprit (Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy).

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Anglo-Irish Relations and European Integration: then and now

by Christopher Day (@ChrisDay96)

Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, the country’s future relationship with the Republic of Ireland has been a key issue. The question of what to do about the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has been crucial in negotiations between the UK and the EU, but (at the time of writing) no answer has been found agreeable by all parties. Given the legacy of British involvement in Ireland, and the continuing desire of Northern Ireland to remain in the UK, this issue is especially pertinent and potentially fractious. But that has not stopped several commentators from positing the troubling suggestion that the Republic could simply leave the EU too, thus avoiding the need to create a hard border on the island of Ireland. This idea is a non-starter; a poll in March 2019 showed that just eight percent of Irish people favoured leaving the EU. Rightly, those who have suggested this ‘solution’ to the issue have been widely castigated. Read more

Dreams of ‘something better’: Exploring childcare alternatives from the First Neighbourhood Co-operative Nursery to ‘My Mum is on Strike.’

By Rosa Campbell @rrrosavalerie

In the late 1970s, parents in Walthamstow, London started the first neighbourhood co-operative nursery which officially opened in 1986 and closed in 1993. To celebrate this, the oral history collective On the Record has put together an exhibition at the Mill, a community centre in Tottenham called ‘Doing it Ourselves.’ Read more