Archive for November, 2012

Creighton Lecture
13 November 2012
Professor Quentin Skinner (Queen Mary, University of London)
John Milton as a theorist of liberty

This is a guest post from Jonathan Blaney (IHR).  Jonathan is the project editor for British History Online.

Had Keats lived, there would have been a rival. But as it is, there is no one to touch Milton as a master of English poetry and of prose. It was one of the pleasures of Quentin Skinner’s Creighton lecture that he used it, as he himself remarked, as an excuse to quote some of the finest passages of seventeenth century prose.

One of Skinner’s main points was that Milton’s conception of liberty was not, as is dominant in modern thought, freedom of action; rather it is freedom from the arbitrary power of another. In Milton’s time this arbitrary power was expressed above all by the royal veto, or “negative voice”, and is one of the principal planks of Milton’s argument against the institution of monarchy. Here Skinner quoted a splendid passage from The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates

     “Surely they that shall boast, as we do, to be a free nation, and not have in themselves the power to remove or to abolish any governor supreme, or subordinate, with the government itself upon urgent causes, may please their fancy with a ridiculous and painted freedom, fit to cozen babies.”

As Skinner made clear, trenchantly, in the Q&A session after the lecture, the Royal prerogative still stands in the UK.

Skinner began by saying that he would concentrate on the two decades when Milton published his political writings, 1640 to 1660, after which censorship prevented further publication. Nevertheless I was hoping that he would talk about Paradise Lost. Happily Skinner said that for the last 10 minutes he would rashly venture into the territory of the great poem and the question of Satan, the parliament of fallen angels, and the question of freedom – questions which have preoccupied literary critics since at least Empson.

Quoting parts of books II and V, Skinner argued that the poem does indeed refract Milton’s feelings for the Restoration – that a servile people can come to prefer servility, in contrast to the courageous fallen angels:

Free, and to none accountable, preferring
    Hard liberty before the easie yoke
    Of servile Pomp”

If I understood correctly, Skinner was saying that God does not enter into this notion of liberty, from Milton’s perspective. Nevertheless, this remains one of the hard questions of Paradise Lost – the reader feels that God does enter into the question. For example, when Skinner was talking of the servility of being dependent upon the arbitrary will of another, I immediately thought of the War in Heaven passage of Paradise Lost. At the end of Book VI it is related that God’s army stands aside and allows Christ alone to drive the rebels:

to the bounds
    And crystal wall of heav’n, which op’ning wide
    Rolled inward, and a spacious gap disclosed
    Into the wasteful deep”

By the arbitrary will of God, a gap appears in heaven and the rebels are pushed through it. Is this not the epitome of being at the mercy of the arbitrary will of another? Could the most Christian reader take this as anything other than, militarily, a rather shabby trick?

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Studies of Home
3 October 2012
Anthony Buxton (University of Oxford)
The discourse of practice: continuity and change in early modern domestic cultures


The town of Thame in Oxfordshire can be found about 7 miles southwest from Aylesbury.  It was originally founded in the Anglo-Saxon era as part of Wessex and has since seen the rise and dissolution of a monastic Abbey (once belonging to the Cistercian order) and more recently was home to the Bee Gee Robin Gibb.  For the most part, though, Thame is an ordinary market town, close enough to London to benefit from trade but in the past also very much reliant on its local agriculture.  It also has a very good set of probate inventories which Anthony Buxton from the University of Oxford has used as his primary source for investigating Thames’ early modern domestic culture.

Buxton notes that the domestic domain is a complex area of research for historians.  There are many conflicting layers and elements and often it is by far easier and more practical to focus on just one or two elements.  However, Buxton believes he has a way to study it as a whole – not just from its material aspect, or social context, but from its conceptual aspect as well.  That is, the ideas which govern relationships which are then ordered and enacted in a domestic space.

Practice theory is the method Buxton has chosen to achieve this aim and he explains it through the example of Thame and the probate inventory.  In general the talk is broken up into three main sections.

  1. Discussion of the nature of effective theoretical and interpretative framework for domestic life, with an emphasis on practice theory.
  2. Description of the English early modern household (using the example of Thame)
  3. Variations in practice as discourse and debate in relation to the domestic domain.

Using probate inventories as the basis of his study, Buxton also noted the essential importance of relational databases to his research.  Indeed, such a study would have been much more difficult if he hadn’t learnt the proper way to structure his database to make sure that it could return the results he wished to discover.  As a side note, then, our Designing Databases for Historical Research handbook is also available on History SPOT and contains the same reasoning and discussion of the theoretical underpinnings necessary to consider when building a database for this purpose.

 To listen to this podcast click here.


To directly view our Designing Databases for Historical Research handbook click here (you will need to login to History SPOT to view the actual course).

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Just a quick reminder that tonight at 5.15pm (GMT) Ian Gregory from Lancaster University will be talking about Using GIS to Explore Historical Texts.  The session will be streamed live over the internet and you can join in with questions for the speaker.

To watch this live stream click here around 5.15pm.

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Socialist History seminar
15 October 2012
George Paizis (UCL)
Retranslating Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary


http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victor_serge.jpgVictor Serge (1890-1947) born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich, was a Russian revolutionary and writer.  He wrote essays, books, novels and many other things, much of which, according to George Paizis are highly enjoyable.  They are also interesting and important for historians studying the revolution.

His work would be near forgotten in the western world at least, if it were not for Peter Sedgwick, who translated and published his work in the 1980s.  This paper, by George Paizis looks into his changing ideology, difficulties in a life of exile, and his writings both fictional and non-fictional.  The writings of Serge reflect his interest and observation of anarchy, and his allegiance to the Bolsheviks.  It also discusses the revolution and the need to take political power on various levels.  Later in life Serge changed to writing novels.  He saw this form as much better to discuss and explain the human side of the story.  Serge was interested to bring out his views on society in this way and to note the collective element to society under the revolution as well as the contradictions within it.  Paizis discusses Serges’ life and writings, and notes their importance to understanding the revolution and socialist history in general.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Latin American History
2 October 2012
John Coatsworth (Columbia)
From Marx to Metrics in Latin America’s Economic History


Since World War Two many conflicting, opposing, or parallel approaches toward understanding economic history in Latin America have received weight and currency.  Some, like the Marxist approach have since faded out of popularity, whilst others have evolved or changed over the decades.

John Coatsworth sums up these various approaches and attempts to show that all of them have importance to understanding economic history today.  The paper is called ‘Marx to Metrics’ not as a means to suggest that one replaced the other, but to show that there are a multitude of approaches to this subject.

After World War Two modernisation theory and anti-imperialism were the primary competing paradigm’s used by scholars to understand Latin American economies.  These were eventually replaced by dependency theory (structuralism) and the new economic theory, both of which ran parallel with one another, without much in the way of overlap.

In the 1990s and early twenty-first century various scholars attempt synthesising tasks to better understand where we are now on the subject.  Coatsworth argues that there are three main areas worth studying to place these theories into context and to come to a conclusion about today’s approaches to economics.

1)      Measurements of past economic performance

2)      Micro-economies and institutional changes

3)      Political economy

In all Coatsworth’s talk is a useful introduction to the topic of Latin American economic history and argues that even outdated approaches have their continued relevance and importance to study of the subject.

To listen to this podcast click here.


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Digital History seminar
Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to Explore Historical Texts:  Examples from the Lake District and Census Reports
Ian Gregory (Lancaster)
20 November 2012, 5.15pm GMT
Room G37, Senate House or online on History SPOT

On Tuesday the Digital History seminar will be streaming live on the internet again.  Here is the abstract:


Traditionally there has been a simple split in scholarship between social science approaches based on quantitative sources on the one hand, and humanities based approaches based on textual sources on the other. If you were interested in the former then IT had much to offer to help with your analysis, if however, you were interested the latter then IT offered little and you would instead stress the close reading of your texts. This cosy dichotomy is falling under threat because increasingly large volumes of texts are available in digital form and close reading is no longer a suitable approach for understanding all of the huge volumes of material that are now available. Unfortunately we know little about how to analyse texts in an IT environment in ways that are able to cope with both the large volumes of material – potentially stretching to billions of words – together with the traditional need within the humanities to stress detail and nuance. This paper presents some initial results from a European Research Council funded project Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places that explores how Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology can be exploited to help us to understand the geographies within texts. It is based on two examples: one drawing on early literature from the Lake District, the other from a much larger collection of census and vital registration material drawn from the Histpop collection (www.histpop.org).

To listen to this live stream on Tuesday click here.

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Lancaster University
Friday 30th November, 2012
Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are becoming increasingly used by historians, archaeologists, literary scholars, classicists and others with an interest in humanities geographies. Take-up has been hampered by a lack of understanding of what GIS is and what it has to offer to these disciplines. This free workshop, sponsored by the European Research Council’s Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Placesproject and hosted by Lancaster University, will provide a basic introduction to GIS both as an approach to academic study and as a technology. Its key aims are: To establish why the use of GIS is important to the humanities; to stress the key abilities offered by GIS, particularly the capacity to integrate, analyse and visualise a wide range of data from many different types of sources; to show the pitfalls associated with GIS and thus encourage a more informed and subtle understanding of the technology; and, to provide a basic overview of GIS software and data.

9:30   Registration
10:00 Welcome and Introductions
10:15 Session 1: Fundamentals of GIS from a humanities perspective.
11:45 Session 2: Case studies of the use of GIS in the humanities.
13:00 Lunch
14:00 Session 3: Getting to grips with GIS software and data.
15:30 Roundtable discussion – going further with GIS.
16:30 Close

Who should come?
The workshop is aimed at a broad audience including post-graduate or masters students,members of academic staffcurriculum and research managers, and holders of major grants and those intending to apply for major grants.  Professionals in other relevant sectors interested in finding out about GIS applications are also welcome.  This workshop is only intended as an introduction to GIS, so will suit novices or those who want to brush up previous experience. It does not include any hands-on use of software – this will be covered in later events to be held 11-12th April and 15-18th July 2013.

How much will it cost?
The workshop is free of charge.  Lunch and refreshments are included. We do not provide accommodation but can recommend convenient hotels and B&Bs if required.

How do I apply?
Places are limited and priority will be given to those who apply early. As part of registering please include a brief description of your research interests and what you think you will gain from the workshop. This should not exceed 200 words.
For more details of this and subsequent events see:http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/spatialhum/training.html. To register please email a booking form (attached or available from the website) to: I.Gregory@lancaster.ac.uk who may also be contacted with informal enquiries.

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Imperial and World History seminar
15 October 2012
Tom Bentley (University of Sussex)
Reshaping the past: the lingering colonial present

This podcast is about 20 minutes long.

Gravestones after Herero Genocide

Violence is a driving force of colonialism, but it is not the only narrative available.  There is another that glosses Empire still in its contemporary terms: adventure, chivalry, civilising, and the saving of heathen souls.  That narrative, whilst more subdued than in the past, still exists.  You only need to look as far as the London Olympics Opening Ceremony to see a glimpse of that.

Tom Bentley’s paper looks at the present day view of the colonial past through four examples of apologies made by western leaders.

1)      Germany to the Herero (Namibia) for genocide – 2004

2)      Belgium for their complicity in the assassination of the then Republic of Congo’s leader – 2002

3)      Italy to Libya regarding colonisation – 2008

4)      Britain to Northern Ireland for Bloody Sunday – 2010

Bentley examines the language used in these apologies and asks why they are being made and for whom.  For example leaders often use apologies for their own agenda; cultivating an image of themselves as distant from previous governments and from those who had caused the act in the first place.  They talk to their own people, more than those whom they are making the apology.  The apology also seems to attempt a circumvention of plans to seek reparations by distancing their government from those who had caused the atrocity in the first place.

Secondly, Bentley looks at the familiar narratives in the apology.  The words sanitise the past and offer only an apology for one particular event.  These apologises are not, for example, for the entire colonisation programme, but for one blip where things went wrong.  The apology also serves the present, asking something of those they are apologising to and often seeking a gain for themselves.

Finally, the apology seeks to stamp on the event a conclusive official account of the event.  The apologiser is authorising a particular history of an event and making it official.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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The Ruin is Irreversible: Female Voices in the Anti-Feminist Backlash, 1970-Present
Gender and History in the Americas
Nadja Janssen (London Centre of Arcadia University)
5 November 2012, 17:30 GMT

On Monday we will be streaming live Nadja Janssen, who will be talking about the anti-feminist backlash for the Gender and History in the Americas seminar.  As usual the stream will include the option to take part in the discussion through out chat pop out.

Please do join us for what promises to be an interesting paper.

To join us click here on Monday

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Archives and Society seminar
9 October 2012
Barbara Pezzini
From classification to network analysis: the Burlington Magazine Online Index

**Unfortunately the audio quality for this podcast is below our usual standards but has been uploaded to History SPOT nevertheless for historians to use if they wish**

The Burlington magazine is a leading monthly publication devoted to the fine and decorative arts and first published in March 1903.  Its website states that it is ‘both an enduring work of reference and a running commentary on the art world of today’.  Barbara Pezzini agrees, and sees the extensive and wide ranging index to the magazine as a prime target for network analysis.  Pezzini wishes to understand more about past and present relationships between artists, curators, academics and others connected to the art world.   Network analysis allows her to do this via the index that is now available online via JSTOR and made freely available through a simple registration on the Burlington magazine website.

In this talk Pezzini also discusses the history of art magazines in general and their relationship to academic research as well as archives and museums.  The paper is broken down into three sections: the history of the Burlington magazine; its index being placed online; and managing data through network analysis.

To listen to this podcast click here. 


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