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The Allotment as Fertile Ground for Historical Study

By Zoe Farrell  | @zoeffarrell

_Allotments_in_Kensington_Gardens,_London,_all_part_of_the_'Dig_for_Victory_'_scheme_in_1942._D8336

Allotments in many ways seem like a quaint symbol of the past; reminiscent of that kind elderly neighbour who always shared the fruits of their overabundant crop.  However, allotments have a long history and were brought about in their current form for a very serious purpose. The history of allotments can reveal a lot about governmental responses to economic crises, as well as encapsulating fundamental questions about the treatment of the poor and the issue of land rights. Read more

Newnham College Cambridge hosts Wikipedia edit-a-thon to mark International Women’s Day 2017

Know something about an eminent woman? Think it should be shared? Newnham College Cambridge are marking International Women’s Day 2017 by improving the gender balance of Wikipedia, and they’re looking for contributors. Read more

Absent leeks, lost voices? Cooking and recording in early modern Wales

By Carys Brown | @HistoryCarys

My original intention for a blog post for St David’s Day (1 March) had been to cook and write about early modern leeks. Quite apart from being one of my favourite vegetables, the humble leek is one of the national symbols of Wales and features in a number of “traditional” Welsh recipes, including Cawl and the misleadingly-named Glamorgan “Sausages”. Unfortunately, the leeks proved surprisingly elusive. What I found in their place were some interesting hints at the dynamics of society and literacy in early modern Wales. Read more

The Wandering Historian: Reflections on a Year of Research Abroad

In the second of our posts on doing research abroad, Tom Smith  (@TomEtesonSmith) traverses the United States.

Working on American history from a British university as I do, it was inevitable that at some point during my PhD research I was going to have to spend some time abroad. Courtesy of two Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded fellowships, first at the Huntington Library in California, and secondly at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, ‘some time’ rapidly became more-or-less an entire year. While I was somewhat daunted by the prospect of abandoning family, friends, and familiar settings to enter the political inferno that is the contemporary United States, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Read more

The (not so) Secret Vatican Archives: A Practical Guide for Researchers

In the first of our posts on doing research abroad, Fred Smith  (@Fred_E_Smith) explores the Secret Vatican Archives.

Aliens? Illuminati secrets? Devices that can see into the future? It seems that no conspiracy theory is too far-fetched for those who speculate what may be hidden within the vaults of the Archivum Segretum Vaticanum. [1] Indeed, the Vatican’s ‘secret’ archives are perhaps unique in their ability to fire the popular thirst for tales of mystery and machination – think, for instance, of their recent appearance in the 2009 film-adaptation of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, which saw an ill-fated Tom Hanks trapped in a bullet-proof reading room, slowly being deprived of oxygen. Read more

The trials and tribulations of the cross-border historian

By Zoe Farrell | @zoeffarrell

Writing in History Today this January, Suzannah Lipscomb, the TV historian and fellow of the New College of Humanities, urged us to remember that ‘no island is an island.’[1] In essence, what Lipscomb argued is that in these times of great uncertainty and heightened feelings of hostility towards ‘the other,’ it is important to remember that the borders that we use today to define our national identities have been perpetually fluctuating throughout human history and that countries do not exist in a historical vacuum. Rather, places like Britain have histories that are closely entwined with those of their European and global neighbours. Read more

Sweet harmony or rough music? Singing in the seventeenth century

By Carys Brown | @HistoryCarys

If you’ve ever been in a roaring rugby crowd, a church full of carol singers, or even just broken into song in the shower, you’ve probably noticed that singing can have a powerful effect. The physical, psychological, and social benefits of singing are now widely recognised, although the underlying reasons behind these are less well understood. But what if you could harness the power of singing, and use it for ill? In seventeenth-century England, it was generally agreed that singing could have a significant impact on the emotions. What was less clear was whether this was always a good thing. Read more

Australia Day and the Struggle to Control a Nation’s History

by Eleanor Russell

On the 26th of January 1788 eleven ships under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Port Jackson, now known as Sydney Harbour, carrying the first of more than 150,000 convicts sent to the new penal colony in Australia. The experiences of these convicts, and of the naval and military personnel, administrators, and free settlers, would be transformed from history into an origin story of the Australian national character that remains the focus of Australia Day celebrations. Read more

Festivity amid the fighting: Christmas on the British Home Front in World War Two.

by Elly Barnett – @eleanorrbarnett

By Christmas 1940 almost all of Britain’s major cities had been hit by extensive bombing raids, amongst them the devastating London Blitz of September and the destruction of Coventry in November. 24,000 British civilians had died, and families were displaced as children were evacuated from cities and parents went to serve in the war.[1] Read more

Christmas Shopping in the Seventeenth Century

By Carys Brown | @HistoryCarys

In October 2004, Christians, trade-unionists, and the festively-inclined rejoiced at the introduction of the Christmas Day (Trading) Act. Ever since then it has been illegal for large shops to be open on Christmas Day; workers theoretically have the chance to rest and spend time with loved ones; Christians can celebrate the festival undisturbed by other commitments. Three-and-a-half centuries before this legislation came into force the picture was somewhat different. In December 1643, zealously Christian shopkeepers stubbornly tried (and failed) to keep their businesses trading on Christmas Day against the riotous objections of the apprentice-boys of London. The dispute over Christmas trading and other festivities that lasted for much of the next two decades meant that for the rest of the seventeenth century it was the opening of shops of Christmas Day, rather than their closing, that was regarded as an expression of a pious Protestantism. Read more

The Late Medieval Christmas Feast

By Eleanor Russell

This article forms part of Doing History in Public’s Christmas series, which this year looks into patterns of consumption at Christmastide.

Like today, the most spectacular and anticipated part of the medieval Christmas was not the Mass, then mandatory, but Christmas feast, an event which offered not only an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ, reconnect with family and friends, and eat to bursting, but also  the chance to express social hierarchies and identity. Read more

Why We Need an Ethics of History Writing

By Dom Birch

The writing of history, we are told, is a political occupation—all historians have a political lens through which they work, or view the past. This viewpoint has led to historians convincing themselves that their work can almost always be justified in political terms. Justifying history as politics is doomed from the start: academic historians have very little influence on the political action and consciousness of the general population, and unavoidably political and intellectual purposes for writing history come into conflict. Historians inevitably need, at some point, to either change their politics or change their evidence. Read more

Optimo dierum! – Ancient winter festivals

By Alex Wakelam | @A_Wakelam

It should come as no surprise to most that the festival of Christmas, as practised by Europeans, did not come into existence at this time of year by itself. Long before the supposed birth of the Nazarene, ancient cultures celebrated a number of winter festivals. Nor is this acknowledgment necessarily a new one; in 1560 the new Church of Scotland issued its First Book of Doctrine (whose authors included John Knox), which declared that ‘the feasts (as they term them) of apostles, martyrs, virgins, of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Purification, and other fond feasts of our lady’ were the inventions of papists as they had no basis ‘in God’s scriptures’. Christmas was clearly an invention of the Church, but it is also clear that this invention was not without its own sources even if they were more pagan than biblical. Read more

Royal Power takes Flight: A Reconsideration of the Staircase in the Early Modern Palace

By Atlanta Neudorf | @ARaeNeudorf

In a letter written in 1663, Jean-Baptiste Colbert wrote to King Louis XIV of France that ‘in lieu of dazzling actions in war, nothing indicates better the greatness and spirit of princes than buildings’.[1] This sentiment illustrates the importance of palace architecture to the image and character of the prince in the early modern period. In the growing field of architectural history, the political and cultural functions of such grand spaces have been the focus of increasing interest in the last few decades. Scholarship has focused on the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century trend for palace building and adaptation by European princes aiming to affirm their royal status. Read more

Healing History? The Reformation 500 years on

By Fred Smith | @Fred_E_Smith

On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther (supposedly) nailed 95 criticisms of the Catholic Church to the door of a Wittenburg church. His actions, alongside those of many other ‘reformers’, helped catalyse events which would ultimately splinter Catholic Christendom into a myriad of diverse, often antagonistic, sects. Fast-forward 499 years, and there are signs that the wounds of the Reformation may, finally, be healing. Read more

PhD Challenges: The Tangled Web of Historiography

By Eleanor Russell

Any historian endeavouring to research an area of history must investigate its historiography (the scholarship of previous historians); not only using their evidence and arguments but analysing, revising, and, where appropriate, challenging them. For historians, this process can be fraught with tension and doubt: which texts do I need to read? Who has already been debunked? What are the prevailing arguments and when and how did they develop? And – crucial for PhD students – who CAN I challenge? Read more

Staging history: “Kepler’s Trial” by Tim Watts

Harriet Lyon (@HarrietLyon) reviews the recent world premiere of Kepler’s Trial: An Opera by Tim Watts based on Ulinka Rublack’s book The Astronomer & the Witch.

In December 1615, the renowned astronomer Johannes Kepler first received news that his elderly mother, Katharina, had been accused by a neighbour of witchcraft. A victim of the witch craze that swept through early seventeenth-century Germany, Katharina’s torment lasted for six long years, during which time Johannes temporarily abandoned his research to concentrate on building his mother’s defence. After being subject to a humiliating criminal trial and serving a spell of more than a year in prison, Katharina was finally exonerated in September 1621. This was an ordeal from which she never recovered: Katharina died just six months later aged seventy-six. Read more

‘Where are the Dinosaurs?’: Reflections on Public History at the Museum of Jurassic Technology

by Tom Smith – @TomEtesonSmith

What connects the obscure lives of neurophysiologist Geoffrey Sonnabend and opera singer Madelena Delani? Are these people even real? Is there really an elaborate miniature engraving of the Crucifixion on that seemingly ordinary fruit stone? Are we supposed to take these heroic portraits of the dogs of the Soviet space programme seriously? Are bees really seen to be so integral to the life cycle within certain cultures that they must be told if a member of the family has married or died, and are invited (in writing) to funerals? And what on earth does that have to do with Alexander Fleming? Read more

From nose in a book to nose in the kitchen – musings on the place of historians in recipe recreation

by Elly Barnett – @eleanorrbarnett

When I explain that I am researching the links between food and the European Reformations, I am usually met with premature praise for my (in reality non-existent) cooking skills. The obvious location in which to research food, they assume, is the kitchen. The cooking of historical recipes, moreover, has gained much public exposure recently, especially after last week’s Tudor theme on the nationally-coveted show, The Great British Bake Off. Meanwhile, food is increasingly becoming a legitimate and flourishing subject of enquiry in academia, as it moves away from traditional historical narratives. How then, should historians react to this popular interest in historical cooking, and is there any academic value in moving research from the archives to the kitchen?  With these questions in mind I attempted to recreate an early-modern blancmange… Read more