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Posts tagged ‘20th century history’

Snap elections: a brief historical guide

A week ago UK Prime Minister Theresa May caught almost everyone by surprise by calling an election for the beginning of June. As the dust settles and the party machines grind into action,  Carys Brown (@HistoryCarys) takes a brief look at the key facts. Read more

Editorial: DHP’s top historical novels

Summer may be decidedly over, but reading for pleasure doesn’t have to be confined to the beach. Here are some of the DHP team’s favourite historical novels to keep you going as the evenings draw in. Read more

‘Our story remains unwritten’: the ethics of writing histories across cultures

by Tom Smith

What does it mean to write a history of a culture other than our own, and how do we do this sensitively? This is an issue upon which historians rarely reflect explicitly. My dual passions for American history and Pacific Ocean history have been fuelled not by any particular personal investment or cultural immersion, but by pure fascination. While I’ve visited the United States a handful of times, dipping my toes in the waters of San Francisco Bay is the closest I’ve ever come (geographically speaking) to the Pacific cultures whose histories I claim to represent. Read more

Wanted: A More Complicated History of Belgium’s Congolese ‘Heart of Darkness’

by Eva Schalbroeck

Whenever I say that I study the history of Belgian imperialism in the Congo, most people confess to not knowing that Belgium had a colony. Others describe it as a particularly nasty and violent episode’. My explanations of ‘it’s far less black-and-white’ or ‘it’s complicated’ often confuse more than they illuminate. Popular media often associates Belgian imperialism with the ‘Red Rubber’ regime of the villainous and greedy King Leopold II. An article in New African calls him a ‘mass muderer’, who exploited the Congolese population to near extinction. Chopping off their limbs was ‘part of the “the butcher of the Congo’s” ‘repertoire’. According to an article in History Today ‘the Congo Free State evolved from a vanity possession into a slave plantation’. Leopold’s ‘playground’ and ‘hell’ operated with an insane logic’, allowing him to ‘cash in’ on rubber. It makes the bold claim that Leopold’s reign of terror anticipated twentieth-century totalitarianism. Depicting him as the ‘African Hitler’, Leopold’s legacy is described as a Holocaust. Read more

Pylons and Protest – invoking the Marmite metaphor of Britishness

by Kayt Button

Whatever the period of history, Pylons seem to provoke the marmite response – either love ‘em, like The Pylon Appreciation Society, or hate ‘em like The Friends of The Lake District who are currently protesting against pylons planned for Ravenglass in Cumbria. Curiously enough, Marmite was invented in the late nineteenth century, around the same time Electricity first became available to the public as a commodity. Read more

History from below: fashion, freedom, and the female form

By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

Attempts to shape the female form are nothing new, as current exhibitions at the V&A and York Castle Museum show. Neither is the particular concern with the posterior, demonstrated today by an increased demand for buttock implants. Such permanent “improvements” are beyond the financial reach of most people. The less wealthy (or less confident that the fashion will be a lasting one) can employ rear-enhancing items of clothing such as the Booty Pop to supplement their behinds. Modern fashion and lifestyle magazines give ample guidance to those who want a large behind with a small price tag. But what did women in the past do, and what might paying attention to these fashions suggest about our modern obsessions? Read more

Dying Declarations – Last Words in the hands of Historians

By Alex Wakelam @A_Wakelam

In May 1906 the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen lay in his sick bed. That evening an old friend arrived from town to see the aged tragedian. Entering the room he greeted the nurse with “How is Mr Ibsen today?” “Oh”, she cheerily replied, “he’s doing much better.” At this Ibsen sat up incredulous in bed declaring “Tvert imod!” (tr. On the contrary!) upon which he fell back into his pillow unconscious, dying shortly thereafter.[1] For a writer whose characters rarely even cracked a smile, he managed to exit the world with one of the finest deathbed jokes in history. Read more

Electricity – public or private? Does it Matter? Is it even the right question?

by Kayt Button

ICR Byatt, an economist who went on to advise The Treasury under Margaret Thatcher and held a number of posts related to public utilities and regulation wrote in his The British Electrical Industry 1875 to 1914 “electric lighting and electric tramways became commercially feasible at a time when Parliament was experimenting with methods of public utility regulation, and when the municipal trading movement was gaining ground rapidly. By 1880 the old idea that utilities could be regulated by competition was over; the 1870 Tramways Act had inaugurated the system of granting limited-period franchises; the big towns had begun to buy up gasworks and waterworks”.[1] Read more

Electrical Entrepreneur? – The Life and work of Henry Massingham

by Kayt Button

In the 1880s, long before the concept of Dragons Den, when the electrical supply industry was born it was up to pioneers, experimental entrepreneurs and evangelists who believed that electricity would change the world, to nurture it from a scientific possibility to a desirable and profitable commodity. One such man who believed in electricity “as a pure light for our homes” was Henry Massingham who introduced electricity supply to much of the South West of England.

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Head Shaving during Ireland’s War of Independence

By Conor Heffernan

Troops storm into the house and forcibly evicting those inside. Screams of terror emanate from the house, growing louder and louder with each moment. Soon the house will be set on fire. In the melee that ensues, troops single out a woman known for collaborating with the enemy. Held down at gunpoint, her head is shaved. In the distance, fighters from the other side look on as she wails.

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The ‘Re-making’ of Great British Class

By James Dowsett

Britain is a nation peculiarly obsessed with social class. And not, perhaps, without reason, as Professor Mike Savage’s new book Social Class in the 21st Century argues: “classes are indeed being fundamentally remade.” [1] Really, one might argue that social class never really went away. Those of us wise to the cynicism of the British political elite likely look back with bemusement upon the naïve, millenarian, endorsed fiction of a “classless society” (John Mayor), matched with pre-emptive declarations that “class war is over” (Tony Blair). [2] This delusion of classlessness was born out of a barely-contained triumphalism upswing in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the wrenching down of the Iron Curtain, and the end to half a century of cold-war antagonisms and polarised world-views.

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Why American politics hasn’t gone mad

By Bennett Ostdiek

As an American living in the UK, I often get asked about the presidential election, particularly my views on Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. My British and European friends cannot understand why two polar opposite figures are becoming significant in American politics at the exact same time. To this question, I always respond that Trump and Sanders are two sides of the same coin, and should be understood in relationship to each other. They are both populists’: politicians who appeal to the hopes and fears of the general population by contrasting the interests of “the people” with the interests of political and corporate elites. 

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Karl Marx 2.0

By Niccolò Serri

Niccolò Serri is a PhD student in Economic and Social History at the University of Cambridge

A team based at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam has completed the digitisation of the Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels papers collection. Despite the almost indecipherable hand-writing of the father of modern socialism, this is great news for researchers and the general public alike.

The collection includes the sole remaining handwritten page of the original Communist Manifesto (1848) and Marx’s own copy of the first edition of Das Kapital (1967), as well as a wealth of letters displaying the lively exchange between socialist leaders and intellectuals of the late XIX century.

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Selma through a woman’s eyes

By Amy Schaffman

The film Selma opened on 9 January 2015 to a barrage of criticism about its historical accuracy. Though unable to use any of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words due to copyright issues, the movie attempted to recreate the tense scene in Selma, Alabama on the eve of the passing of the 1965 Voter’s Right Act.[1]  Providing fodder for cinema critics were reenactments of several important touchstones of the American Civil Rights Movement: Bloody Sunday, the struggle between the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Commission (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), as well as Martin Luther King’s relationship with Lyndon Johnson. Read more

How people saw: looking at photographs in history

By Jess Hope

“To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, ‘There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams

How do historians approach photographs as sources? Those of us who study the mid-19th century to the present can access a wealth of moments ‘captured’ on film, ranging from portraits and images of domestic life to war photography and documentary photojournalism. Historical photographs provide fascinating contextual information: who was present at a certain event, what they wore, the kinds of wallpaper designs that were fashionable at the time. But can we rely on what we see? And how should we interpret it? Read more

Cheating for Love. Notes on “Notes on camp”

by Federica Tammarazio
Università degli Studi di Genova, Italy

Pentesilea.org

For LGBT History month, we are happy to host art historian Federica Tammarazio to celebrate the anniversary of “Notes on camp” by Susan Sontag.

Fifty years ago (fifty-one actually) art critic Susan Sontag published “Notes on camp“, a series of reflections on Camp culture. According to her own definition, “Notes on camp” was not meant to be a manifesto, but rather a tool to define and understand ‘camp’ sensitivity, which she thought “more appropriate for getting down something of this particular fugitive sensibility. It’s embarrassing to be solemn and treatise-like about Camp”[1]

What was camp back then? And what is it now?

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Empty Socks: a Tale Full of Surprises

By Amy Schaffman

Recently, an exciting discovery was made in the National Library of Norway. A rare, lost Disney film, Empty Socks (1927), was identified. Empty Socks is one of the few Disney films to employ Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a forerunner of Mickey Mouse. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was lost in deal with Universal Studios. I was privileged to discuss the discovery with Eirik Hanssen, the head of the Library’s Film and Broadcasting Division in the Library’s Department of Research. He specializes in open access to rare materials.

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Web Archives as Big Data: experimenting with the internet as a historical source

by Marta Musso

On the 3rd of December, the Institute for Historical Research hosted a conference on the challenges and opportunities that the digital world offers to researchers in the humanities. As we live in the middle of the digital revolution, we don’t have full perception of the massive changes that the switch to digital is bringing about. However, over the past 30 years, more and more human actions have been conducted through digital tools (from MS-DOS computers all the way to smartlets) and, especially in the past 15 years, the web has created an exponentially crowded place of action and interaction. As ephemeral as web content is (a tweet is published and lost in just a few seconds), the problem of preserving online data for future studies is now an integral part of research in the humanities.

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Beach reading for historians (or why simple writing makes your argument smarter)

by Marta Musso

Summer reading is always tricky for young academics. On the one hand, the summer holidays are the perfect and unique time of the year to relax and read all the pleasant, light novels that you never have time for. On the other hand, summer is also the time to catch up with all the serious reading that is not directly related to your research project but you know you should read sooner or later.

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Period dramas and historical accuracy: “Mad Men”

by Florence Largillière

As the first part of the last season of Mad Men comes to an end, it seemed a good opportunity to reflect on my interest for period dramas and historical fictions. For an historian, watching period TV shows and films can sometimes be irritating. Even though I know that they are not academic works and that they do not necessarily aim to perfectly depict history, I more than once find myself grumbling at my screen (yes, I am looking at you, Downton Abbey!). However, from Boardwalk Empire to Ripper Street via, obviously, Mad Men, there are many quality period dramas which, while taking a few liberties with the stories of existing individuals, give the essence of what life looked like for a certain population at a certain time.

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