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.
By Chioma Vivian Ngonadi (@ChiomaNgonadi12)
The process of precolonial metalworking is recognised by the presence of material fingerprints such as slags, remains of blooms, or finished objects (Chirikure 2013). In Lejja-Igboland, southeastern Nigeria, iron smelting is an indigenous craft specialization that flourished on an industrial scale from around 2000 BC (Eze-Uzomaka 2013). Evidence, in the form of relic furnaces and extensive slag and tuyere remains, are widely visible in the landscape today. The vast number of slag blocks on the surface reveal that iron working in this region was a highly sophisticated, long-lived and well-developed tradition with techniques that involved relatively large-scale metal production (Ngonadi 2017). The main village square in Lejja contains over 800 slag blocks weighing between 34 and 57 kg (Eze-Uzomaka 2013).
As a colonial officer in India, it was paramount that one knew what to expect and how to prepare for the sweltering climate. The mid to late nineteenth century saw a surge of advice books and manuals, mainly written by men, for families voyaging to the Subcontinent. One such book was entitled Real Life in India, embracing a view of the requirements of individuals appointed to any branch of the Indian Public Service (1847) by ‘An Old Resident’ which detailed precise lists of items required, ranging from home furnishings and hygiene products to clothes and ladies’ equipment for the ship. This list included white cotton stockings, white silk dittos, white muslin clothing and white nightdresses alongside soap, perfume and toothpowder. The emphasis on white represented the colonial preoccupation with purity, propriety and health in a climate that was perceived to be exotic, degenerating and dangerous, especially for women. Many of the items listed also attempted to transport and replicate the perfect English home from the metropole to the colony and such manuals were aimed at middle-class women, in particular, who would be able to afford to hire a host of ‘native’ servants (a departure from their lives in England). Resources from the colonies also enabled a more diverse consumer culture to flourish in the metropole, one that allowed a housewife to purchase branded ‘Windsor’ soap and choose from a variety of other cosmetic products sold by local producers and international companies.
Image: By an old resident, Real life in India, embracing a view of the requirements of individuals appointed to any branch of the Indian public service; the methods of proceeding to India; and the course of life in different parts of the country, London: Houlston and Stoneman (1847), Wellcome Collection, London, pp.145-146.
By Maggie Kalenak
Either encased under glass in brooches, lockets and hair accessories or woven with wire to create three-dimensional ornaments and chains, the use of hair in sentimental jewellery was a fixture of British fashion from the 17th century through the end of the 19th, reaching its height in popularity between 1810 and 1850. Representing the Romantic fashion for the sentimental, in 1854 Wilkie Collins wrote that hair jewellery, was, “in England, one of the commonest ornaments of women’s wear.” Hair, especially women’s hair, was largely fetishised and commoditised in the 19th century. Being worth its weight in silver for most of the century, hair was an outward symbol of class, gender, taste and sensuality. The exchange of hair between lovers, friends and family members represented the most intimate of relationships. The wearing of hair became an expression of love and being loved. Hair was used in both romantic jewellery (exchanged between sweethearts) and mourning jewellery which would be created from the hair of the dead and worn by friends and family in remembrance. An iconic example— after the death of Prince Albert in 1839, Queen Victoria was never again without a lock of her beloved’s hair on her person. The creation of hair jewellery was both a skill worked by women in their homes and also, by the mid-19th century, a commercial industry.
Image: Photograph by Maggie Kalenak
 Wilkie Collins, Hide and Seek (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 256. First published in 1854.
Alice Procter is a historian of material culture based at UCL. She has six years of tour guiding experience at heritage sites and galleries and runs Uncomfortable Art Tours, podcasts and writes under the umbrella of The Exhibitionist. I had the chance to interview you her about her work and to discuss how her tours fit into wider critiques of national history, spaces and narratives.
By Jeremiah J. Garsha (@jjgarsha)
In 1898, Chief Mkwawa committed suicide after leading a seven-year revolt against German rule. His head was severed to claim a bounty, and then displayed as ‘a family trophy’ in the home of a British-born German colonial administrator. It was then defleshed and the skull was shipped to Germany, where it entered into the entangled streams of skulls collected across the German empire to support the creation of racial sciences. Shortly before the First World War, Mkwawa’s skull disappeared into a museum, university, or hospital archive. After the war, British plenipotentiaries inserted a clause into the Treaty of Versailles calling for a return of ‘the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa’. This article was in the ‘special provisions’ section detailing ‘historical souvenirs or works of art’, where Chief Mkwawa was orientalised as a Muslim ruler and his skull ornamentalised, becoming what the German-born British statesman Viscount Milner playfully called ‘a craniological curiosity’. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, the British continued to press Germany to hand over Mkwawa’s head, repeatedly being told that the skull was lost. In 1954, the Bremen museum director contacted the British to inform them that skulls taken from East Africa had been located as the museum’s holdings and were recatalogued following their storage in salt mines during the Second World War. Sir Edward Twining, Governor of Tanganyika, personally flew to Bremen and, using the head measurements of Mkwawa’s descendants, identified Mkwawa’s skull and had it sent back to the colony. The skull was handed over to Mkwawa’s grandson during a recruitment ceremony to enlist colonial soldiers to fight in the Mau Mau emergency across the border. It was then transported to a Mausoleum-Museum where it still sits on display today, owned by the Tanzanian government and yours to view for the price of admission.
Image: Skull of Mkwawa, made available under a public domain licence.
By Alasdair Chi
The Singapore Stone, as a stele or shards, remains the longest-enduring extant proof of Singapore’s antiquity. Erected by the mouth of the Singapore River by the 13th century, and possibly even earlier, its 52 lines may have recorded the dealings of some great empire or monarch, or perhaps a more prosaic statement of authority.
In an age before electrical lighting, in cramped cities with few sources of natural light, mirrors acted as a tool to bring light into homes. They were also decorative, placed alongside paintings to accentuate the splendour of ordinary domestic environments. Venice, and particularly Murano, became the centre of European mirror production during the Renaissance, with Venetian mirrors earning their fame both for their technical innovation and their beauty.
By George Severs (@GeorgeSevers10)
On World AIDS Day, 30 years after its establishment as a global health event to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses, today’s calendar post looks at how objects were produced as a tool of this commemoration. Perhaps the best known ‘AIDS object’ is the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Conceived of in 1985 by San Franciscan activist Cleve Jones, in 1988 the nearly 8,300 quilt panels memorialising individuals who had died of HIV/AIDS, was displayed outside the White House in protest of the government’s slow response to the epidemic.
By Dr Marta Musso (@martamusso)
For Historical Archives, investing in digitisation is an extremely expensive, time consuming, and complex endeavour. It is well worth the effort, but it is fundamental to implement all the opportunities that digital technologies offer to archives. Since the beginning of the millennium, archives and cultural heritage institutions have started to reflect on the new challenges and opportunities brought about by the digital age. The guidelines created in 2002 by the International Council of Archives indicated full digitisation and online availability of archival material as the main objective for archives in the digital age. Now, even in a utopic world where archives had infinite budget and resources, this is a very long-term and ambitious goal – we are talking about millions, trillions of paper and analogue documents that need to be digitised and indexed online. At the same time, opening its heritage to everyone in the world is the goal of any archive; and for national and public archives it is part of their mandate.
Emily Redican-Bradford interviews Dr Hanno Balz, who has recently joined the Faculty of History at Cambridge, having previously taught at the universities of Bremen, Lüneburg and John Hopkins. His research focuses on Modern German and European History.
Dr Balz, as part of your research, you examine the protest movements and student revolts of 1968. Does this time period represent a turning point in how protest and political cultures in Western Europe were understood, in your opinion?
Yes, I think we can say that, especially when we look at the protests as, first of all, student protests. This is the first time, after the Second World War, that the majority of the students are more liberal-minded or left-wing than the overall population. This was not the case before the war, when it was so much more elitist. In post-war societies, universities built a lot of new institutes and governments opened up the universities for working-class youth, because a new generation was needed for more demanding jobs. It was mainly training and educating white-collar workers, and that’s a change. It’s an expression of the New Left as well, and it’s also a youth movement that’s an anti-systemic movement, which ventures away from the old party structures, the labour union structures, that had had a grip on left-wing mobilization for the previous hundred years.
The Wagah (or Wagha) border is the Punjab border between India and Pakistan. It is approximately 29 km from the town of Lahore on the Pakistani side and 27 km from Amritsar on the Indian side. Whilst undertaking archival research in Lahore, I was told about the daily lowering of the flags ceremony or parade which takes place at the border. I attended the parade one weekend alongside hundreds of other spectators. These border ceremonies are popular tourist attractions on both sides and are well attended by eager residents and visitors, especially on weekends and national holidays. Other parades, such as the Beating Retreat ceremony on Independence Day, are also held at the border. For me, as an historian of South Asia and a British Pakistani without the patriotic zeal of my fellow spectators, the parade was a bizarre tableau of contradictions.
Can you tell us a bit about your research?
George: My PhD researches the history of HIV/AIDS activism in England from 1982, the year of the first AIDS-related death in the UK, to 1997, the year after the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy which transformed a diagnosis with the virus from a terminal to a chronic one. 1997 also saw the end of 18 years of Conservative government with the election of Tony Blair’s Labour government.
Bethan: My research analyses a particular form of nationalism in North America and Europe between 1965 and 1975. I call this type of nationalism ‘militant separatism’ as it is characterised by a commitment to separation from the governing state through extremely violent methods. I study the role of ‘organic intellectuals’ – influential but not formally trained thinkers – in the activism of ten separatist groups, across five countries.
by Emily Tilby | (email@example.com)
When I found out that I would be taking part in this summer’s season of Excavations at Shanidar Cave I was really excited as the cave is so important in our understanding of Near Eastern Prehistory and Neanderthal behaviour. I was also slightly nervous as this would be my first experience taking part in a full archaeological dig. The site is located in Northern Iraqi Kurdistan, around three hours north of Erbil. The cave itself sits within the valleys and the foothills of the Zagros mountains, specifically on Baradost mountain, after which one of the Upper Palaeolithic technological industries discovered at Shanidar was named.
By Eleanor Russell
Perhaps surprisingly to non-specialists, vast amounts of documentation survive from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, far more than from earlier periods. These surviving documents are not, however, necessarily coherent, and large bodies of sources remain rare. Even merchant correspondence, carefully preserved by traders for their records, has generally not remained intact. One important exception to this is the archive of the Spinelli, a Florentine family who were prominent in trade and silk manufacture in the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries. Their correspondence, tax records, wills, family trees, account books, and numerous other types of documents are kept in the Beinecke Library at the University of Yale, from where I was able to obtain a Visiting Fellowship to study this important collection. Read more
By Georgia Oman
While academic dress has been around for a long time, it is only more recently that the wearing of it in Britain has been permissible for more than a small but powerful elite. Until the 1830s, there were only two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge, and academic dress was a part of their students’ daily lives. Indeed, until 1965, undergraduates at Cambridge had to wear gowns when going to lectures, supervisions, or into town after dusk. As Paul Deslandes notes, academic dress was about more than just wearing a fancy gown – it was a visible symbol of student identity, as well as university privilege, insider status, and masculinity.
On my first visit to the Punjab State Archives in Lahore this summer, I met with the archive’s Director, Mohammed Abbas Chughtai, who explained that the archive and its libraries have received fewer visitors after the events of 9/11 due to concerns about safety in the country. The archive does, however, receive some non-native and international scholars, and the Research Officer and Director were eager to help as well as point visitors in the direction of other useful resources. Coupled with this enthusiasm is the “chai and chat” culture of Pakistan; before delving into your research, you may well spend some time waiting, chatting, and being introduced to people. While researchers, including myself, will be in a rush to get started, these conversations have proved to be fruitful and a great way into the history and archive culture of Lahore. For instance, through conversations with the Director of the State Archives, I found out about materials at the Punjab Public Library and ended up spending a lot of time there. Indeed, the archives and libraries provide a snapshot of the vast archival and scholarly landscape of Lahore and are great, untapped treasure troves.