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’.
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 This is certainly the case with Gandhi’s Guide to London, an unpublished booklet from 1893 written for Indian students intending to study in Great Britain.
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.
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.
“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. 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.
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. 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.’
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.
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.
By Nicolas Bell-Romero (@NicoBellRomero)
‘So, as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: ‘From my cold, dead hands!’
This seemingly innocuous teapot has a seditious past. Painted with an image of Charles Edward Stuart (known to his supporters as “Bonnie Prince Charlie”), this was a Jacobite object. The Jacobites were those who, following the “Revolution” of 1688-9, when James II fled Britain and was replaced as monarch by William and Mary, supported the return of the exiled Stuart monarchy to the British throne. This support made them treasonous criminals in the eyes of the Hanoverian Protestant state. As a result, they had to keep their written communication to a minimum, and destroy much of what they received. Jacobite objects were often used as an alternative means of communicating politically and demonstrating loyalty to the Stuarts.
By Walker Schneider (@WalkerSchneider)
Today crime-fighting relies on massive criminal databases. In the United States, this practice can be traced back to Gilded Age New York City and the Rogues’ Gallery, the great-grandfather of modern criminal databases. Deep within the New York City Police Department’s headquarters on Mulberry Street, the Rogues’ Gallery was a hulking mass of dark polished wood that stood five feet tall and four feet wide. Its two doors opened to reveal large wooden panels that could be flipped through like pages in a book. Each panel held a hundred photographic portraits of known criminals from around the world.
by Lucy Inskip (@lucyskippin)
Rather than finding the most outlandish historical object from a heritage site or online collection, I looked to my own bookshelf for an interesting piece of history. I bought this vintage Oxford coloured postcard print from Antiques on High whilst reading History at Oriel College, University of Oxford (2016-2019). It is from an original watercolour drawing of Oriel, by Alfred Robert Quinton (1853-1934).
By Luisa Hulsrøj
“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.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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).