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 Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell)
In recent rhetoric, the ‘rise’ of consumerism has been challenged. Our throw-away culture has led to a multitude of problems for the environment, as well as issues surrounding body-image, debt and over-corporatisation. In a recent article, George Monbiot, for example, argued that ‘regardless of what we consume, the sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems’. Whilst the scale of this problem and its issues are in many ways unique to our age, questions surrounding the ethics of consumerism are certainly not new and our passion for acquisition is one which has its roots deep in the past.
By Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell)
As part of my research fieldwork this year, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the city of Bolzano in Northern Italy. This South-Tyrolean city provides a perfect example of how small, provincial cities often have rich and diverse histories which make them prime points of study for enquiries into historical change throughout Europe.
By Tom Smith (@TomEtesonSmith)
For any football fan, and even for many who don’t usually indulge in the ‘beautiful game’, the arrival of the World Cup every four years provides pure escapism. Even in England, the disappointment of a predictable penalty shoot-out defeat is assuaged by the tournament’s association with long hot summer days, the colours and sounds of packed stadia, and the creation of iconic images on the pitch below. Simply put, the World Cup seems to exist in a vacuum which transcends any given moment in world history. This year’s tournament perhaps exemplifies this fact – at a time when tensions between Russia and ‘the West’ are at their highest since the Cold War, representatives from all over the world can gather on Russian soil to play football. Murmurings about corruption, boycotts, and hooliganism bubble under the surface, but in the build-up to kick-off excitement about the sport itself takes over, along with a shared sense that the show must go on. Read more
By Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell)
One of the many advantages of being a historian who studies other countries is the ample opportunities for travel. My work focuses on artisans and material culture in sixteenth-century Verona, and I have therefore spent a lot of time in Veronese archives. However, I am also interested in how Renaissance culture travelled, especially through the Alps and into Germany. As part of a major fieldwork trip this year, I decided to follow the route of my research to Germany, visiting archives of interest along the way. In total, I visited thirteen archives in three different countries. During this time, I went from eating lunch outside in the piazzas of Italy, to walking through the snow in -14 degrees Celsius in Germany. No two archives were the same and I learnt a vast amount about research, travel, and independence. Here, I will share some of the most important things I learned. Read more
In the third of our series on research abroad, Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell) scopes out Verona.
One of the most exciting yet intimidating elements of PhD research is the archival visit. This is perhaps particularly daunting for those of us venturing to foreign pastures and putting into practice hard-earned language skills. However, the rewards of navigating the maze of the foreign archive are substantial and the experience can be enriching in more ways than one. Read more
In the first of our posts on doing research abroad, Fred 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.  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
by Konstantin Wertelecki
Konstantin Wertelecki is an MPhil student in Modern European History at the University of Cambridge.
In June 1940, British citizens Mr. and Mrs. Waterfield drove to the Florence railway station, just in time to catch the last train to France before Italy declared war on Britain. Bizarrely, this was their second escape from Italy; they previously fled Tuscany in 1939. But after concluding that the Italians posed no threat, they decided to return. As their daughter Kinta Beevor recalled, this was a common attitude among British expatriates: ‘Although Florence was plastered with virulently anti-British posters, few [Anglo]Florentines seemed to take them seriously.’ So in the face of danger, why did British citizens stay in Fascist Italy? While there are several reasons to this, among the most prominent was British expatriates’ tenacious grip on their British identity.
by Florence Largillière
Archives seem to feature prominently in our blog, but this is not without reason. Talking about archives and how historians deal with them is useful on two main levels. We hope to give some guidelines to new research students – as obvious as some of them may be. And we want to show that the work of a historian is more diverse and complicated than what is sometimes imagined. Before we sit at a desk and immerse ourselves for days in old papers, notes, letters, microfilms, photographs or videos, we spend hours looking for them. Read more
by Marta Musso
When I think of classicists spending hours trying to analyse what is left of a civilisation from a few words on a stone that survived centuries of rain, I pat myself on the back for deciding to specialise in contemporary history. It actually feels like cheating: not only are sources everywhere and the consequences of what happened forty years ago still weigh heavily today (however, being able to discern them is another story). Sometimes you can even talk to the people who made the events you are studying. Not much to dig up then, right?