Archive for October, 2012

Metropolitan History Seminar
10 October 2012
Stuart Minson (Oxford)
A history of urban space: changing concepts of space in the study of the early modern metropolis


Space and place has become a popular study in recent years.  It can be found in many titles of seminar papers, monographs, articles, and museum/library exhibitions.  However, as an analytical category ‘space’ is a recent innovation for the History discipline, falling behind many other social sciences who took the category up much earlier.

In this paper Stuart Minson surveys the changing concepts and variety of thoughts about ‘space’ with particular mention of the early modern urban space.  Even the meaning of the word varies considerably.  China and the West have very different views of what space constitutes.

Minson looks at the meanings given to space, whether these are practical, spiritual or invisible.  He asks what relationships humans have to spaces and how these influence and control actions.  Certain spaces, for example encourage certain actions over others (you would act differently in a work place than a home or a café for example).  These spaces are always open to reinterpretation, although there are always some – either official or unofficial – who attempt to retain the status quo when this happens.  Space therefore can be a place where a variety of social interests are played out.

In the second half of the paper, Minson turns to the question of where this concept of space came from.  This is a look at Max Weber, Carl Friedrich Gauss and others as well as an examination of the term in regards specifically to urban landscape studies which itself is routed in cultural geography.  Most historical work, Minson argues, still continues to follow traditional and in some cases outdated models from geography and anthropology, when it should be increasingly focusing on synthesising the two way relationship between people and space.  Thus, for Minson, the study of space and place in the History discipline still needs much work.

To listen to this podcast click here

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Metropolitan History
The prevention of crime in late eighteenth-century Bristol: policing, the public, and the city
Matthew Neale (IHR)
29 February 2012


This is a guest post by James Wilkinson, one of IHR Digital’s summer interns from the University of Leicester.

The focus of this talk by Mathew Neale is on the prevention of crime, and policing in the late eighteenth century city, using Bristol as an example case study.

He begins by addressing the semantic issues of using such a broad term as policing, when there was no unified, government supported force in this time period. There was at the time a more broad range of officers and lawmen which had varying roles and areas of operation, some example being the night-watchmen, private watchmen and the Major’s marshal.

Neale explains that of these, possibly the most important prevention force was the night watch in Bristol. There scale of operation covered the whole city in different zones of operation, and focussed on the prevention of unlawful activity in the night, when it was most common. There was a varying distribution of watchmen across the city with greater concentrations in the centre of the city as opposed to the outskirts.

Neale points to the significance of the night watch by displaying how the behaviour of thieves changed when they were around. For example thieves were concealing items that were stolen overnight because they saw the night watch as a significant threat and one that should be avoided.

Neale also explains the techniques of law enforcement when attempting to find criminals or prevent crime. He asserts that appearance and timing could be the sole reason for arrest.

 To listen to this podcast click here.


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Luke Blaxill (King’s College, London), Quantifying the language of British Politics 1880-1914  
on 23 October 2012 (Digital History Seminar).

Time: 5.15pm BST

Just a quick reminder of tonight’s live streamed seminar from the Digital History seminar.  Tonight we will be hearing from Luke Blaxill from King’s College London on the topic of ‘Quantifying the Language of British Politics, 1880-1914’.  As usual this talk will focus on the digital side of the research.

If you wish to follow on the live stream you will also have the opportunity to take part in the post-paper discussion to ask questions of the speaker either through Twitter (hashtag #dhist) or through History SPOT’s chat function.

Click here to watch the seminar (starting c. 5.15pm BST)

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Sport and Leisure History
Sport’s Role in 1951’s Festival of Britain
Iain Wilton (Queen Mary, University of London)
19 March 2012


England vs Argentina 1951

The Festival of Britain held in 1951 is generally described as a rather insular affair focused on Britain without much consideration beyond the borders.  Most of the landmarks created for the festival were soon afterwards destroyed (apparently for ideological reasons by Churchill’s government), although the Royal Festival Hall survived, as did the Miss World competition (then properly entitled the Festival Bikini-girl competition).  It is not to these aspects, however, that Iain Wilton looks.  Instead he examines the generally unmentioned role of sport during the festival and how such a study suggests that the festival was not so inward looking as is generally claimed.

Although there is barely any mention of sport in the official festival report (written soon after the end of the festival) there was nevertheless a variety of matches and events played across the country as part of the festival.  Some of these, such as cricket and woman’s netball were indeed insular affairs, focusing only upon England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, perhaps with some input from Australia.  Other games, however, were more international.  Women’s Hockey included several European nations outside of the Empire, while cycling events included seven other nations.  Football included the local derby’s’ but also held English club matches against foreign clubs, as well as truly international matches.  In the late 1940s England had time and again shown to be a lacklustre force in international football, largely because of its focus on playing European teams.  However, the festival offered them an opportunity to put themselves against teams further afield.  For example, 1951 saw the very first encounter between England and Argentina (Wilton doesn’t mention the final score, although I’m sure many football fans will already know that England won 2-1).  Scotland too played various matches and performed well.

The Argentina game might also have been arranged in-part for political relations.  1950s Britain was still a rationed nation whilst the Argentine market promised cheap meat exports.  Iain Wilton suggests that the match was therefore partially organised to build relations.  In all, Wilton argues that sport is the missing piece of the 1951 Festival of Britain that truly makes it a national event and suggests that not all elements of the festival were as inward looking as is often suggested.

To listen to this podcast click here. 

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British History in the Long-eighteenth Century
 ‘Rusty old Queen Anne’s many suitors’: Firearms and inter-communal violence in Armagh, 1783-1790
Stephen Duane Dean Jr (King’s College London)
8 February 2012

This is a guest post by James Wilkinson, one of IHR Digital’s summer interns from the University of Leicester.

The focus of this seminar by Stephen Duane Dean jr is to address the impact of firearms, such as the Queen Anne musket on inter-communal violence in Armagh and the rest of Ireland, and factors which catalysed their growing ownership.

The Queen Anne Musket (1702-1714)

Some of these factors that Stephen explores are:

  • The fear factor of the rival religious community being armed,
  • a lack of respect for the biased courts and law,
  • occupying foreign garrison troops from England who couldn’t pacify the Catholics,
  • a quickly expanding population and little peaceful interaction between the Catholic and Protestant communities.

Firearms were a catalyst for violence in Irish communities, despite laws preventing Catholics from owning them. The law was not being enforced from the top except sporadic ineffective clampdowns, and as a result was attempted to be done locally which fractured communities. Furthermore checks for firearms by locals were mainly used as a cover for looting Catholic houses, which led to Catholics attempting to defend themselves and their property.

Was Armagh special? Stephen uses this case study to analyse the impact of firearms on an area with a pre-existing tradition of faction fighting between religious groups. Industry and employment led to increased expansion of populations of rival religious groups with overlapping religious days. Prosperity added to conflict as when the poor had money leftover they spent more time and money on alcohol and weaponry.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Digital History seminar
Luke Blaxill (King’s College, London)
‘Quantifying the Language of British Politics, 1880-1914’
Tuesday 23 October 2012 
Live from 5.15pm (BST) on History SPOT: https://historyspot.org.uk/podcasts

Please join us on the 23rd October for the second seminar from the Digital History seminar.  As per usual the live stream will include options to Tweet (using the #dhist tag) and chat on the chat feature.  Both options allow you to ask questions of the speaker.  The History SPOT live stream is now only available as pop outs from the podcasts page.  Please let us know what you think of this change and if there are any ways we can improve things for you.


This paper explores the power, potential, and challenges of studying historical political speeches using a specially constructed multi-million word corpus via quantitative computer software. The techniques used – inspired particularly by Corpus Linguists – are almost entirely novel in the field of political history, an area where research into language is conducted nearly exclusively qualitatively. The paper argues that a corpus gives us the crucial ability to investigate matters of historical interest (e.g. the political rhetoric of imperialism, Ireland, and class) in a more empirical and systematic manner, giving us the capacity to measure scope, typicality, and power in a massive text like a national general election campaign which it would be impossible to read in entirety.

The paper also discusses some of the main arguments against this approach which are commonly presented by critics, and reflects on the challenges faced by quantitative language analysis in gaining more widespread acceptance and recognition within the field.

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Histories of Home (now renamed Studies of Home)
Practices of inhabitance in large houses: Comfort, privacy and status in Sydney, Australia
Robyn Dowling (Macquarie University)
12 October 2011

Since the 1980s house size has increased by around 50% in Sydney, Australia.  This is a large increase and brings with it a rapid change of lifestyle.  Robyn Dowling examines what happens in these enlarged spaces and what makes them a home.  She also investigates materiality and the impact on the family unit that greater space provokes.

The study is based around interviews carried out in the early 2000s and focuses on a study of 26 Sydney mass-produced houses.  These mass-produced houses are increasingly popular in Australia and in most cases are designed with the nuclear family in mind.  The interviewees were found to be largely in their thirties with children under the age of twelve.  Most were middle class and natural born Australians.

So what did Dowling discover?  Well the most significant change is in the fracturing of the household.  With increased room to create individual spaces the needs of each family member is given greater focus over that of the whole.  The expectation has shifted from a family-focused unit to individual privacy, with specific areas designated for quality family time.

This transformation of the family unit brings Dowling to look into methods of parenting in these enlarged spaces and the perception surrounding homeliness (such as notions of comfort and relaxation).  A home is made up from a mixture of standard possessions and personal touches including family heirlooms.  Identification of status and class (including demonstrating wealth through material accumulation and display) is also still highly sought in the design of rooms.  As a final point, Dowling notes that despite modern lifestyle, women still remain the centre of the home.

To listen to this podcast click here. 


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