This New Year’s Eve, we look back at 2020, a year many have described as ‘unprecedented’. The coronavirus spread around the world from the start of the year, and the ensuing pandemic and resulting lockdowns have completely altered life as we knew it.Read more
Posts tagged ‘social history’
By Sam Collings-Wells
On the morning of his assassination, John F. Kennedy was in Fort Worth, Texas, giving a speech at a breakfast gathering of the Chamber of Commerce. When the speech was over, Kennedy was handed a Stetson (pictured). Despite cries of “put it on!” emanating from the crowd, the visibly uncomfortable president refused, unconvincingly promising to put it on at the White House the following Monday.Read more
By Nico Bell-Romero (@NicoBellRomero)
Receiving a knotted cord – a strand made from yucca leaves – might seem like a strange gift for Christmas, but in August 1680, during their revolt against the Spanish, the Pueblo peoples of present-day Mexico placed great importance on them.Read more
By Zoë Jackson (@ZoeMJackson1)
The events of the past few months have foregrounded the issue of political legitimacy in global politics, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom. The US presidential election has featured false claims of mass voter fraud from President Trump and his supporters. The House of Lords recently voted against parts of the UK government’s Internal Markets Bill. These sections would allow the government to ignore and act counter to the UK’s withdrawal agreement, an international treaty, with the EU on issues related to Northern Ireland. The Black Lives Matter protests this summer have highlighted how many people feel police forces have abused their power, and where that abuse of power is directly intertwined with racism. Even the coronavirus pandemic has brought out critics of national and local governments – governments that are perceived by some to be overreaching their legitimate powers and by others to not be doing enough. In questioning election results, domestic and international legislation, police power, and pandemic responses, individuals have been asking what their governments should have the power to do, on the basis of their election or appointment, and the limits to that power.Read more
By Max Ashby Holme
The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.
– Excerpt from “The Goose and the Commons” (c. 17th cent.) 
As lockdown measures in the UK are eased, we must consider the kind of world COVID-19 will leave behind. The coronavirus has been called a ‘great leveller’. As Paul Bristow, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, put it: ‘It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or what circumstances you come from – we are all at risk.’  This statement is misleading, however, since coronavirus amplifies existing social inequalities. Not only do life savings help to mitigate the financial impact of the virus on the wealthy, they are also more likely to be able to work from home, and less likely to find themselves in overcrowded accommodation, without access to gardens.  Those most exposed to the virus, including care home workers, bus drivers, and shop keepers – as well as hospital staff – are overwhelmingly the lowest paid members of the workforce.  Furthermore, coronavirus disproportionately affects people from BAME backgrounds.  It is a myth that the virus affects everyone equally, and the political origins of the term ‘leveller’ illustrate even more clearly how poor a label it is for coronavirus.
By Rhiannon Sandy (@RhiannonSandy)
A few weeks ago, in my daily perusal of Twitter, I came across a retweet which made me angry enough to write a blogpost. Questioned as to why interns should be paid if they’re ‘getting experience for their résumé’, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a short video answer – ‘experience doesn’t pay the bills’. This was retweeted by Piers Morgan, who called it ‘nonsense’ because ‘the free teaching is the salary’. This is a very privileged stance. Unpaid internships are exploitative and exclusionary, limiting experience to those whose financial situation allows them to work for free. This limits diversity and prevents institutions from being enriched by new ideas and perspectives, because their interns are almost always going to come from a similar background.
By David Cowan
Britain lacks enough affordable housing. The problem is clear: too few houses are being built to meet the needs of an ageing population. One estimate suggests that about 300,000 new houses are needed each year, whilst about half of that are actually constructed. With the demand for new housing exceeding availability, renting is becoming increasingly unaffordable; buying is now a pipe dream for many, especially the young.
Policy-makers are rightly considering the solutions to this crisis. Theresa May recently proposed, amongst other measures, ‘to make it easier for shops to be turned into housing if that’s appropriate’. It is good that Britain’s shortage of affordable housing is being taken seriously by the government. Read more
In the last two weeks, university students across the UK have been coming out in solidarity with lecturers and staff in the University and College Union’s USS strike. On the other side of the Atlantic, the news has been dominated by the aftermath of the latest US mass school shooting. Survivors from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have spearheaded the national #NeverAgain campaign, renewing debate on the ever-controversial issue of gun control. Pledging his support in a tweet on 22 February, Barack Obama implied the high school students had the weight of history behind them: ‘Young people have helped lead all our great movements.’ Major twentieth-century protest campaigns – from civil rights, to women’s rights, gay liberation and nuclear disarmament – were in large part youth movements. It was university students who started the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and, more recently, the 2014 Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. But children and young people’s strikes have a much longer history. Read more
Warning: my history is suspect. It is fake news. I am not a historian.
But I am fascinated in the way we are all complicit in fashioning stories, in interpreting our own lives and those of others (however distant). The narrative thread is well and truly woven into our being now that Time Team and Who do you think you are? have taught us that anyone can uncover truth with a trowel, a census or a curious mind. In an online world where the loudest, most outrageous opinion echoes and re-echoes over social media and blogs, everyone has become an expert (including me). History has never been so contemporary, nor so contentious (or so goes another myth that strokes our fragile 21st century egos). Read more
Wandering the corridors of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, it’s difficult not to feel a chill down your spine. The paint peeling from the walls, the crumbling brickwork, and the abandoned operating theatre, complete with a giant broken surgical light, all contribute to a disconcerting sense that you are on the set of a horror film. It seems, also, that this emotive environment is deliberate. Having ceased to be operational in 1971, ESP was gradually opened to the public from the mid-1980s under the philosophy that it would be ‘stabilized’, not restored, and it now attracts around 220,000 visitors each year. It takes full advantage of the setting around this time of year, with its annual, after-dark ‘Terror Behind the Walls’ interactive Halloween event, as part of which costumed actors lurk in the shadows, waiting to terrify their patrons. Indeed, the prison has even acted as a mental asylum in Hollywood films. Read more
On 8 February 1750, some time between the hours of 12 and 1 o’clock in the afternoon, Baptist Minister Benjamin Wallin was ‘musing’ at his desk in the upstairs study of his Southwark home when he suddenly
‘felt the Desk move the floor shake and the Front of the house seemed to incline forwards the strut and presently an sensation of some large body falling and sounding as the covered with a Blanket or as could arise from the fall of a Woolpack of a prodigious size’ 
The alarming sensation, also experienced by his daughter, wife, maid, and neighbours, turned out to have been an earthquake, the first of two to hit London within a month of each other. Wallin was among the many who interpreted this as a providential act; he preached on the matter three days later. Of more interest here, however, is that in the course of the detailed description he gave of the event in his diary, Wallin inadvertently left us a rich insight into the domestic space of a moderately wealthy eighteenth-century London household. Read more
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
By Robert Evans @R_AH_Evans
The chronicles and histories of the early middle ages have a reputation for describing somewhat unusual events. In his history of contemporary events, for example, Prudentius, bishop of Troyes (d.861) describes how, in 846
‘Wolves attacked and devoured with complete audacity the inhabitants of the western part of Gaul. Indeed, in some parts of Aquitaine they are said to have gathered together in groups of up to 300, just like army detachments, formed a sort of battle-line and marched along the road, boldly charging en masse all who tried to resist them’ (The Annals of St-Bertin, 846AD, p. 62). Read more
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
Alex is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of History. His thesis is entitled “Imprisonment for Debt and Women’s Financial Failure in the Long Eighteenth Century”.
Before the eighteenth century, it was potentially possible to stand at the window of an English townhouse and gaze out across the milieu of different classes, ages, and ethnicities crowded in the streets below and immediately understand what an individual person was and where they belonged in society. People dressed their status, not simply out of choice, but in accordance with law. Sumptuary laws were regularly enacted from Edward III’s reign into the early modern period though they weren’t always as regularly enforced. These laws listed with varying degrees of specificity the type, cut, colour, and style of dress for various members of society. Read more
by Tim Wingard – @Physiololgus
Tim is a graduate of the University of York’s Centre for Medieval Studies. His research interests include issues of historical sexuality, the latin bestiary, and medieval travel writing.
There is a tendency in popular histories and in the teaching of the subject at school to assume that the Middle Ages were an inherently heterosexual era. The stereotype of medieval life involves hyper-masculine knights fighting each other for the affection of damsels, according to a code of chivalry that set strict boundaries for relations between the sexes. LGBT identities are generally regarded as a ‘modern’ phenomenon, something that simply did not exist in this premodern world. In fact, some of the most exciting research in medieval scholarship since the 1980s has been done on unearthing the ‘secret history’ of diverse medieval sexualities.
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.
By James Dowsett – @jdowsea
James in an MPhil Student in Modern British History at Cambridge. His research focusses on plebeian constitutionalism in the long eighteenth-century.
March will be the final month the Queen Street and Helmshore Mill Museums are open to the public. These beleaguered monuments, the last working examples of the Lancashire cotton spinning and weaving industry upon which Britain’s industrial revolution was built, are faced with an uncertain future. That these sites of unquestionable national significance are to be forced to close their doors is nothing other than a national shame. Local residents have established a change.org petition pleading Lancashire County Council to save both mills from imminent closure. 1st April is the date designated for their termination. However, the Queen Street and Helmshore Mill Museums are only the latest soon-to-be fatalities of an austerity agenda that places the funding position of local authority museums at an astonishingly high risk. Cuts to local government grants outlined in the 2015 spending review will undeniably result in more museum closures. The Museum Association’s 2015 cuts survey recently revealed that in response to government cuts to local authority funding, 18% of museums were forced to close, or partially close, in 2015-16.
As I began jotting down some ideas for this blog post in a background of clinks and clatter of a coffee shop in Cambridge, I overheard a conversation from two individuals talking at the table behind me. They were referring to what I believed to be a white, wealthy, male individual, with the statement that sums up the entire image, ‘he’s very Cambridge’.
The launch of the Black Cantabs Project last October under the auspice of Black History Month complicates what it exactly means to be Cambridge. The aim of the Black Cantabs Projects is to uncover, or recover, the university’s ‘lost students’. At its core, the project is archival – it is an organised opportunity for ‘current and former students of the University of Cambridge to write the black students of this institution back into its history’ and publish these findings online.
With the passing of the first month of the year many people across the country will be able to return to their vendor of choice and dispel their sobriety as Dry January ends. As a modern practice Dry January has its detractors but most agree that it’s a sensible idea to take a little break from drinking now and then. However, historically it seems a bizarre departure from this country’s cultural norm. The first official UK Dry January only dates back to 2013 and seems to remain a peculiarly British phenomenon with the only other similar national event being Finland’s 1942 Sober January launched as part of the war effort against Russia.