‘Writing this book would not have been possible without Samsung, whose phone was of invaluable help.’ If acknowledgments were an honest reflection of the research process, a similar sentence would probably feature in most scholarly works of the last decade. Though pencil and paper, as well as our eyes and hands, are not usually acknowledged, the use of a smartphone or camera probably should be, for it alters our relationship to the sources.
By Grace Whorrall-Campbell, interviewed by Cherish Watton (@CherishWatton), Series Editor
Historian Highlight is a new series sharing the research experiences of historians in the History Faculty in Cambridge. We ask students how they came to research their topic, their favourite archival find, as well as the best (and worst) advice they’ve received as academics in training. History is all about how we tell stories – this series looks at the stories we have to tell as graduate students researching in unprecedented times. In the second post in the series, Grace Whorrall-Campbell explains her research into the history of emotion and psychology in the mid-twentieth-century workplace.
What are you currently researching?
My PhD explores the role of emotion and the psychological sciences in the mid-century workplace. Around the outbreak of the Second World War, concerns about efficiency and the mental strain of overwork on the Home Front joined worries about the psychological impact of combat. Psychologists and psychiatrists became newly influential as industry and the military looked for new ways to understand and manage the feelings of their workforce. However, this was not a wholesale psychological revolution. Older ways of thinking about emotion and the self persisted – managers, civil servants and workers sometimes vociferously resisted psychological influence.
What led you to research this topic?
I initially became interested in the interaction between emotion and work during my MPhil. During that year I completed a dissertation on how shop assistants and waitresses in twentieth-century Britain were encouraged to manage their emotions as part of good customer service.
Histories of emotion often focus on the home and the family. I think this reflects an assumption that work is less of an emotionally intense or complex space, than say, the emotions that arise within families or relationships. It’s true that many of us would not feel comfortable showing our feelings at work in the same way that we would at home. But the workplace has its own fascinating set of emotional rules and expectations, and this is what drew me to this project.
There is also a common stereotype about British culture’s ‘stiff upper lip’, particularly with regards to the period I’m researching. The 1940s and 1950s are often seen as a period of emotional repression, and the 1960s as a period of emotional release. There is some truth in this, but what I have found in my research is a much more complicated relationship with what kinds of emotions are acceptable, where, and for whom. In the Army, for instance, there was surprisingly frank discussions about how the stresses of combat could lead to mental breakdown.
What’s the most interesting historical material you’ve read, listened to, or watched in the last month?
I don’t have a particular recommendation, but I have been really enjoying exploring BFI Player. They have an eclectic range of films from across the twentieth and twenty-first century that you can watch for free. They have everything on there from Night Mail, the iconic documentary featuring Auden’s poetry, to home movies of beach holidays and public information films. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and get totally distracted though!
What’s one of your favourite historical sources?
One of my favourite finds in the archive is the psychological tests candidates took as part of the recruitment process for the War Office. Soldiers hoping to get a commission as an officer had to undergo a three-day selection procedure, where they took a variety of psychological tests. One of the tests involved a Word Association game, and another asked candidates to make up a story for a series of images. It is fascinating to think about what these men must have felt completing these tasks, knowing they were being assessed the whole time. It is also fun to play along and think about what I would write about for the word ‘beer’ – apparently, writing ‘Drinking a glass of cool beer’ demonstrated an inhibited personality!
And what’s the best or most unusual experience in an archives?
For my MPhil research, I went to the Marks & Spencer company archive in Leeds. They have a display for visitors that covers the history of the company. There was so much fantastic material culture there, but my highlight – aside from the Percy Pig visitor trail – was a life-size plastic model of their famous melt-in-the-middle chocolate pud! They were very proud of it, but I have to say it did not look particularly appetising recreated in brown plastic.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given as a historian?
I will always be grateful to Lucy Delap, my supervisor, for encouraging me to get into the archives as soon as possible. Of course, none of us knew that the pandemic would close all archives halfway through my first year, but getting in there early meant I at least had some material to start writing about during lockdown number one. I can’t wait to get back into the archives once they reopen – I’ll never complain about a chilly reading room ever again!
And the worst?
One thing that I used to hear as an undergraduate from other students, was that some topics weren’t ‘proper’ history. I definitely felt that my interest in the history of emotion and culture were not as important as political or economic history. Thankfully I don’t hear that at all now! I think once you get to the level of a PhD, everyone’s research is quite specialised and niche. It’s the variety that makes an academic community so vibrant.
What’s your must-do Cambridge experience?
This is a pretty obvious one, but I think punting has to be a must-do Cambridge experience. It might be slightly overrated, and it’s definitely harder than it looks, but when else do you get to feel like you’re in a Merchant Ivory film?
Traditional narratives of the Manhattan Project emphasise a group of heroic white male physicists in the United States who succeeded in creating, testing, and using the world’s first atomic weapons. Perhaps the most recognisable figure in atomic history was the project’s scientific leader, Dr J. R. Oppenheimer. Other prominent male figures include Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, and Enrico Fermi. What is missing from the narrative, however, are the contributions and experiences of the thousands of women who worked and lived on the Manhattan Project.
David Lyndsay is perhaps Scotland’s best, but least well known, poet and playwright. Yet his work both reflects the vibrant culture of early modern Scotland and the deeply political ramifications drama could have during this period. One could imagine that the performance of a play written by Lyndsay was an eagerly anticipated event. The Great Hall of Linlithgow Palace was in January 1540 packed with the lairds and ladies of the Scottish court. With a fire crackling, the sights and smells of the Christmas season all around, a hush would surely have descended on the hall for the centre piece entertainment by Lyndsay.
When twenty-year-old Federica Montseny advertised her first full-length novel, La Victoria, in her parents’ Spanish anarchist journal La Revista Blanca in 1925, she hardly could have imagined the drama that would unfold in its wake. Certainly, La Victoria was a deliberately provocative book. Its romantic plotlines flew in the face of expectation – even by some anarchist standards – but for heated debates about the book to litter the pages of La Revista Blanca for years afterwards was astonishing. So, what was it about La Victoria that triggered such an outpouring of admiration and vitriol from readers? Its politically tenacious, passionately independent, childless female protagonist: Clara.
If there is a work of sociology that has held more attention, generated more discussion, and created more controversy than any other, it is Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Released in 1905, its premise is based on Weber’s observation that Protestants, in particular Calvinists, appear to be more economically prosperous than their Catholic counterparts. This looked to be the case at both the individual and national levels. His research set out to find out if there was an element in Protestant thinking that was uniquely compatible with engaging in capitalism that would explain this. 
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]
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. 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.
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).
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).Read more
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.
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. 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.’ 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.
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.
Mr D. is the History teacher to whom I owe my passion for the subject. A historian of Byzantium, he was nonetheless able to take us through late medieval civic government in the Low Countries, and the politicisation of historical memory in the twentieth century. Among his teachings, there was one I always struggled to relate to: his extreme diffidence towards Wikipedia. Recently, however, I am starting to think that he may have had a point.
Guided tours are part and parcel of today’s tourism industry. In fact, there are over 1,800 registered professional tour guides in the UK alone. Tour guides (also known as rangers, couriers or interpreters) can be traced through history, leading one scholar to describe guiding as likely to be ‘among the world’s oldest professions.’ The World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations defines a ‘Tourist Guide’ as a qualified person who ‘guides visitors in the language of their choice and interprets the cultural and natural heritage of an area.’ However, guides have existed long before they became part of a recognised profession.
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
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. At the same time, material history has risen to prominence as an intriguing counterpart or companion to the paper-trail left by written documents. 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.
“The national state . . . must set race in the center of all life,” Hitler declared in Mein Kampf, exemplifying his movement’s exaltation not only of the nation but also of its ostensible basis in race. This pernicious ideology encountered challenges, recent scholarship has found, when it met with populations in East-Central Europe that had difficult-to-distinguish ethnic backgrounds and no, or at least no stable, national identities. Such so-called national indifference is difficult to imagine, for today we take nationality for granted as universal and timeless. Yet nations did not emerge in their modern form as the model for state organization until the 19th century. Even then they had to be actively constructed. Compulsory public schooling, for example, was widely introduced to teach standardized national languages and national history in an attempt to make citizens into members of nations. The course of nationalization did not, however, run smooth. Well into the 20th century national indifference persisted, not just in backwaters like the early Soviet Union’s rural Western frontier but also in some of Europe’s industrialized heartlands, such as Bohemia and Upper Silesia. During the Second World War, Nazi occupation authorities in such areas adopted racist rhetoric. However, acknowledging ethnic ambiguity internally, they also instituted policies designed to recruit the nationally indifferent for the German nation.
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.
In a certain sense, sleeping is the great unifying experience across time and place. Regardless of time period, almost every person spends one-third to one-half of their life asleep thus a good portion of our modern lives are identical to those of medieval people!
Yet, sleeping is not just the experience of unconsciousness. Recent scholarly work—particularly on the early modern period in Europe—has highlighted numerous differences in how people have structured their sleeping. While modern people have come to almost sacralize the ideal of one person per bed, the norm for most of history was to share beds; while we generally (attempt to) sleep continuously through the night, many in preindustrial Europe segmented their sleeping patterns so to be awake for a few hours in the middle of the night. These variations, though, pale in significance to the differences in how premodern people reflected upon their sleep.