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Posts tagged ‘social history’

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

Crying Wolf in the early middle ages?

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

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

The Case of Betty John – gender ambiguity in a late eighteenth century small-claims court

By Alex Wakelam – @A_Wakelam

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

“In their reckless lust they forget their sex” – LGBT history in the Middle Ages

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.

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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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Heritage in Austerity Britain

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.

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The Black Cantabs Project – Uncovering Cambridge University’s diverse past

By Louise Moschetta @LouiseMoschetta

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.

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‘I got drunk – fie upon it’ – A look back at early modern alcohol consumption and guilt

By Alex Wakelam @A_Wakelam

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.

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Significant anniversaries in 2016: the Contagious Diseases Act of 1866?

By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

2016 is to be a year of historical anniversaries: 950 years since the Battle of Hastings; 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare; 350 years since the Great Fire of London; 100 years since the Battle of the Somme. The list could go on. Marking anniversaries is a long established tradition in the UK that has been shaped our culture for better or worse. We need only look to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ vehemently anti-Catholic rhetoric in the yearly commemorations of the Gunpowder Plot to understand how anniversaries can serve to reinforce the ideologies of history’s victors. Read more

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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Making ‘Big Data’ Human: Doing History in a Digital Age – Conference Programme

We are pleased to announce the final programme for the “Making ‘Big Data’ Human: Doing History in a Digital Age” conference, as set out below (updated 29/08/15). Registration for the conference is free but please sign up here if you would like to attend.

Graduate Student Travel Bursaries – A number of travel bursaries are available for graduate students who wish to attend this conference from outside Cambridge. If you would like to apply for a bursary towards the cost of your travel please email doinghistoryinpublic@gmail.com. All applications should include your name, stage of research (e.g. MA, PhD), amount requested and a short summary of why you would like to attend the conference (max. 200 words). Receipts for travel expenses will need to be brought with you on the day of the conference and bursaries will be refunded after this date.  Read more

Wealth, status, and power: is the franchise the same as the vote?

By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

Wealth and status were at the heart of eighteenth century politics, so much so that those with enough of both could have significant political influence even without enfranchisement. Such was the rather peculiar position of British Catholic gentlemen, who could not vote or hold political office until 1829 because of their religion. Although a great impediment to political power, this did not stop wealthy Catholics from involvement in politics, and for some this stretched to influence in elections themselves. Elections in the first half of the eighteenth century, when they were contested, would often involve economic incentive and social pressure, with ‘treats’ of ale and food bought for the electorate by the candidates’ supporters on the day (many of the electorate were extremely drunk when they finally voted), and favours for political ‘friends’ being bestowed on individuals throughout the year.[1] 

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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

Homosexuality in the ‘Enlightenment’?

By Nailya Shamgunova

Nailya is working on European conceptualisations of sexual diversity in South East Asia and Japan in the 17th century.

France was the first European state to repeal its sodomy laws as far back as 1791. The event, which is now hailed by LGBTQ+ groups as a landmark, at first glance seems like a culmination of a century of Enlightenment and reason in the midst of a Revolution proclaiming liberty. Read more

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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World Factory: fabricating a digital quilt

by Katy BondJess Hope and Anne Alexander

Cambridge historians were recently invited to contribute research to World Factory, an interdisciplinary performance project exploring the global textile industry through the lenses of nineteenth-century Manchester and present-day China. A collaboration between Zoë Svendsen and Simon Daw of performing arts company Metis and Shanghai-based theatre director Zhao Chuan, it works by ‘stitching’ together research in a ‘Digital Quilt‘, placing nineteenth century sanitation reports and photographs of old Manchester cotton mills alongside twenty-first century labour laws and strike reports from industrial China. Read more

History and United States prison policy: An interview with Dr Heather Ann Thompson (Part II)

by Jess Hope

Last week we published the first of a two-part interview with Dr Heather Ann Thompson, whose research on the history of mass incarceration has frequently contributed to debates about prison policy in the United States. Addressing post-war urban crisis, the decline of the labour movement and the rightward shift in political power over the last few decades, her work illustrates the damaging impact of a punitive prison policy on a purportedly democratic political system. Its appearance in publications such as The Atlantic also demonstrates how popular media can give voice to historical research in a way that broadens its purposes beyond the academic.

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History and United States prison policy: an interview with Dr Heather Ann Thompson (Part I)

By Jess Hope

As a glance at the profiles of this blog team will show, ‘doing history in public’ reflects a goal of making our practices as historians more transparent, collaborative and accessible. Many historians I’ve spoken with also hope to demonstrate that their research matters to the public, and that it has important political, economic or social implications for the way the world works today. Still others—and I would count myself in this category—feel that there has occasionally been a breakdown in communication between historians and those whose work might be informed by historical knowledge, including journalists, activists and policy-makers.

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