Archive for February, 2013

Studies of Home
9 January 2013
Abigail Williams (University of Oxford)
Sighs and settees: recovering the lost history of reading aloud in the eighteenth century


Ernst Rudolph's painting Reading A Book (wikipedia)

Ernst Rudolph’s painting Reading A Book (wikipedia)

What did we do before television?  Radio, of course!  But what did we do before Radio?  In the fifteenth century a new-fangled invention became all the rage although it would be several centuries before it truly became part of the domestic home scene.  Thus, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we see the rise of cheap books and new forms of literature such as novels.  Abigail Williams talk focuses on this point of time when reading aloud was not only common, but usual (reading silently was only just starting to be practised).  In the eighteenth century domestic leisure was enacted through book groups, tea table parties, amateur dramatics, male ‘punch parties’, and reading aloud.

Williams states that the literature on this subject shows that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was when silent reading should be seen as becoming more popular, yet Williams points out that many of the popular publications were of books intended for reading out aloud, such as Recitals.  It is, however, difficult to study or recover the lost history of reading aloud because people didn’t tend to talk about it much.  It was just the way reading was done, not that much different than tying up your shoes.  The usual evidence used by book historians also fails to provide much information of use.  Marginalia hand-written on the edges of books were rarely made when reading aloud to other people.  There was no need for it.  Williams paper looks at why reading aloud was common, the ways books were used, and how this reading process reveals a more sociable aspect to domestic life.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Latin American History
Rothschild, Quicksilver and Mining: A Global Monopoly from a Bolivian Perspective
Tristan Platt (St Andrews)
29 November 2011


(Wikipedia attribution: Rob Lavinsky)

(Wikipedia attribution: Rob Lavinsky)

The trade in quicksilver (more commonly called Mercury) was a potentially lucrative business at the turn of the nineteenth century.  The Spanish Rothschild traders are the subject of this paper who, according to Tristan Platt, has not yet received adequate treatment from historians.  The transportation of quicksilver crossed many boundaries (local, national, and international) and involved a varied and dispersed group(s) of people.  Minors, shippers, warehouse guards, merchants, commission houses, and various other types and status of people made their livelihoods from quicksilver trade.

Tristan Platt looks as the issue of mobility across these boundaries through the case study of the Spanish Rothschild traders in the first period of trade (roughly between 1835 and 1850).  Platt uses the concept of ‘connected histories’ to frame these discussions looking at differing cultures as the quicksilver passed between hands.  Check out the abstract below and click through to the podcast either below that or from the sub-title to this post.


Abstract: This paper concerns the uses and movements of quicksilver, necessary for the production of gold and silver in a bullion-based world economy during most of the 19th century. The global distribution of production meant quicksilver had to travel enormous distances before reaching the points where it could be consumed. This is a study of mobility, because quicksilver was transported across many local, regional and national boundaries. Although Almaden dominated supply between 1750 and 1850, there were other important centres of production and consumption, such as China. These could sometimes affect quicksilver flows in the Pacific economy, and create scarcity in America.

Sales of Spanish quicksilver from Almaden were monopolized by Nathan Mayer Rothschild & Sons of London, with few interruptions, between 1835 and 1921. I discuss Rothschild’s worldwide monopoly between 1830 and 1850. On the flow to Bolivia, three “land-bridges”, Almaden to Cadiz, London to Liverpool and Cobija to Potosi, are compared and contrasted. I analyze the interface between Rothschild’s agent on the South Pacific coast, Frederick Huth Gruning of Valparaiso and Lima, the Potosi Mining Bank and private merchants in Potosí and Cerro de Pasco. I end with some preliminary observations on Rothschild’s and his agents’ management of competition from California after 1850, and look ahead to the competing demand from China, which in 1869 raised prices again in America. But did high prices always worry the miners?

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Tim Sherratt (Independent scholar)

Exposing the Archives of White Australia

Digital History Seminar, Institute for Historical Research

http://www.history.ac.uk/events/seminars/321 | #dhist

Bedford Room G37, Senate House, Ground floor, 5:15 pm (GMT)

729px-Australia_satellite_planeWith the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901, the new
Australian nation put in place a framework to protect its racial
purity – what was to become known as the White Australia Policy. While
the outlines of this policy are well known, what is less
well-recognised is the White Australia Policy was a massive
bureaucratic exercise.

The Invisible Australians project (invisibleaustralians.org) is using
a variety of digital technologies to explore and analyse the archives
generated by the administration of the White Australia Policy. Many
thousands of people sought to build lives and families within this
discriminatory regime. Invisible Australians aims to recover their
personal stories, while also documenting the workings of the
bureaucracy itself.

How can we re-use archival data to build new forms of access? How can
we track the flow of power through surviving bureaucratic traces? How
can we construct an online research project without any funding or
institutional support? This presentation will introduce Invisible
Australians and reflect on how the digital realm enlarges our scope
both for understanding and for action.

Dr Tim Sherratt (@wragge) is a freelance digital historian, web
developer and cultural data hacker who has been developing online
resources relating to archives, museums and history since 1993. He has
written on weather, progress and the atomic age, and developed
resources including Bright Sparcs, Mapping our Anzacs and QueryPic. He
was a Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia in 2012
and is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Digital Design
and Media Arts Research Cluster at the University of Canberra. Tim is
one of the organisers of THATCamp Canberra and a member of the interim
committee of the Australasian Association for the Digital Humanities.
He blogs at discontents.com.au.

The live stream will be available from History SPOT Podcasts page where there is a video pop-out available.

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A sample page from the Databases course

A sample page from the Databases course

The Institute of Historical Research now offer a wide selection of digital research training packages designed for historians and made available online on History SPOT.  Most of these have received mention on this blog from time to time and hopefully some of you will have had had a good look at them.  These courses are freely available and we only ask that you register for History SPOT to access them (which is a free and easy process).  Full details of our online and face-to-face courses can also be found on the IHR website. Here is a brief look at one of them.

Designing Databases for Historical Research was one of two modules that we launched alongside History SPOT late in 2011.  Unlike most courses on databases that are generic in scope, this module focuses very much on the historian and his/her needs.  The module is written in a handbook format by Dr Mark Merry.  Mark runs our face to face databases course and is very much the man to go to for advice on building databases to house historical data.

The module looks at the theory behind using databases rather than showing you how to build them.  It is very much a starting point, a place to go to before embarking on the lengthy time that databases require of their creators.  Is your historical data appropriate for database use or should a different piece of software be used?  What things should you consider before starting the database?  Getting it right from the very beginning does save you a lot of time and frustration later on.

If you need more convincing then here is a snippet from the module, where Mark discusses the importance of thinking about the data and database before you even open up the software.


The very first step in the formal process for designing a database is to decide what purpose(s) the database is to serve. This is something that is perhaps not as obvious or as straightforward as one might expect, given that databases in the abstract can indeed serve one or more of a number of different kinds of function. In essence, however, there are three types of function that the historian is likely to be interested in:

  • Data management
  • Record linkage
  • Pattern elucidation/aggregate analysis


Each of these functions is a goal that can be achieved through shaping of the database in the design process, and each will require some elements of the database design to be conducted in specific ways, although they are by no means mutually exclusive. And this latter point is an important one, given that most historians will want to have access to the full range of functionality offered by the database, and will likely engage in research that will require all three of the listed types of activity. Or, to put it another way, many historians are unlikely to know precisely what it is they want to do with their database at the very beginning of the design process, which is when these decisions should be taken. This is why, as we shall see later in this section, many historians are inclined to design databases which maximise flexibility in what they can use them for later on in the project (a goal which will come at the price of design simplicity).

The data management aspect of the database is in many cases almost a by-product of how the database works, and yet it is also one of its most powerful and useful functions. Simply being able to hold vast quantities of information from different sources as data all in one place, in a form that makes it possible to find any given piece of information and see it in relation to other pieces of information, is a very important tool for the historian. Many historians use a database for bibliographical organisation, allowing them to connect notes from secondary reading to information taken from primary sources and being able to trace either back to its source. The simpler tools of database software can be used to find information quickly and easily, making the database a robust mechanism for holding information for retrieval.


Unlike the other courses on History SPOT this particular module also doubles as the unofficial first part of a much more comprehensive training course Building and Using Databases for Historians, which we have made available online.  This larger course is not free but well worth the price and effort.  By the end of that course you should be ready to use databases for analysing almost any kind of historical data that you might wish to use it with.   There is more information on that course on the module pages and also on the IHR website (as listed below)

If you would like to have a look at this module please register for History SPOT for free and follow the instructions (http://historyspot.org.uk).  If you would like further information about this course, and the others that the IHR offer please have a look at our Research Training pages on the IHR website.

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British History in the Long 18th Century
Eighteenth-century histories of Norwich and the political vernacular
Daniel Howse (University of East Anglia)
11 January 2012 
This is a guest post by Paul McMenemy, one of IHR Digital’s winter interns from the University of Leicester.

Norwich Market Place” by Robert Dighton

By the eighteenth century Norwich was one of the main trading and manufacturing centres of England, if slightly past its hey-day. Like most provincial cities it was to some extent ignored by the mainstream of national history, as it was then emerging. Daniel Howse argues that a different kind of history – a local history arising out of antiquarian practices – catered for such places, restoring or even creating a civic identity related to, but not dependent on, national political trends.

18 c masthead1

A newspaper masthead (the Norwich Mercury)

The antiquarians’ process of collecting and representing historical papers left them uniquely well-placed to write local histories; and, with their sources’ inevitable bias towards local nobility and local government, these histories tended to have strong sense of civic particularism. Of course, this did not necessarily lead to a host of identical interpretations of local history, but those disagreements which did ensue were based on representations of the city first, and only secondarily on the city’s relation to the national polity. This led to local histories being part of a “vernacular”, a conception of history and politics not only more provincial, but more popular, than the grand national narratives.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Pacifying the past: British historical culture, 1745-1776
British History in the Long 18th Century Seminar
Paul Davis (Princeton)
25 January 2012
Pacifying the past: British historical culture, 1745-1776

This is a guest post by Paul McMenemy, one of IHR Digital’s winter interns from the University of Leicester.


David Hume (1711-1776)

David Hume (1711-1776)

The eighteenth century is often seen as the era which witnessed the birth of modern history-writing, certainly in Britain. What has not necessarily been made clear is why this should be the case. In the past, the rise of British history-writing has often been seen simply as a by-product of Enlightenment. This attitude has no doubt been encouraged by the fact that its first great practitioner (Clarendon excepted, for reasons we shall see below) was David Hume. However, while a great deal of effort has been expended on trying to understand why Hume came to his conclusions in the field of philosophy – the influence of his environment, of previous thinkers, and so on – there has been comparatively little research into the motivations behind his History of England, and explaining why it differs from previous historical works.

Paul Davies suggests that Hume and those who came after him wrote in an attempt to neutralise the still-strong passions of the recent past. As Davies points out, Hume did not begin writing his History with what eventually became its first volume, dealing with the classical and medieval periods, but with those dealing with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603, continuing until the Glorious Revolution. Why he did so, and why the period fascinated other writers of the time, Davies ascribes to fears of a Stuart return, reignited by the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Hume effectively neutralises the martyrology surrounding Charles I in Tory circles, not by demonising him, as Catherine Macaulay was to do, but by portraying him as a noble but flawed man overtaken by circumstances beyond his control. This is not so very different from how he is portrayed by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, whom many historians would now see as preceding Hume as the first recognisably modern British historian; however, as Davies points out, Clarendon’s reputation as a politician served to obscure his reputation as a historian during the eighteenth century – bearing out Davies’s point concerning the height of feeling surrounding the period – and the political capital made out of his History’s first publication in 1702, coinciding with the Tory revival at the start of the reign of Queen Anne, also tended to blind Whig readers to its merits.

By blaming the Stuarts’ politics more than their characters, Hume (and William Robertson – probably the foremost historian of the era – who follows Hume in his treatment of the Stuarts) removes them from the realm of contemporary politics, and transforms what Davies points out was not yet history in the eighteenth century mind into a thing of the past. What Hume also attempts to do – which Catherine Macaulay, for instance, explicitly does not – is change the reading of history from a pastime valued primarily for its morally edifying effects, to a morally neutral pursuit valuable purely in terms of knowledge gained. Until the mid-twentieth century, most historians and readers of history followed Macaulay rather than Hume in this matter.

The romanticisation of the early Stuart period which enjoyed a vogue during the later eighteenth century, as evidenced by the fashion for “van Dyck dress” on stage and in paintings by Reynolds, Zoffany, West, etc. – a discussion of which concludes Davies’s talk – can also be seen as a rendering harmless of the once-toxic past, and perhaps as a logical extension of the humanising tendency of Enlightenment historians. As Davies says, however, this was not felt to be the case in all quarters, and the backlash led by Catherine Macaulay’s vehemently anti-Stuart writing – and the republican school of American history which Davies argues she inspired – shows that symbols of the Stuart past still retained at least some of their potency. In discussing this Davies lays bare a paradox: the anti-Stuart backlash which led Garrick to de-romanticise his Shakespearean costume, and the fashionable painters to de-romanticise their historical paintings, produced the opposite effect in historians of the republican school, albeit their romanticisation now applied to the Parliamentarians, rather than the Royalists.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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British History in the Long 18th Century
Chancery Lane: politics, space and the built environment, c. 1760-1815
Francis Boorman (IHR)
19 October 2011


Chancery Lane

Chancery Lane (Wikipedia)

Sandwiched between the west and east ends of London, Chancery Lane was a focus point in England’s capital city and therefore an ideal place for lawyers to set up shop.  It is hard to imagine what life would have been like there in the eighteenth century.  The roads were tight and dangerous and represented an old, much smaller sized London than what had grown up around it over the last 100 years or so.  According to Francis Boorman the clash of classes was extremely evident here, with robberies common in its narrow streets as the rich fell foul to the poor, and as a place where women regularly prostituted themselves.  There were also many pubs and coffee houses in the district which can only have intensified matters.  With a distinct lack of street lighting this was a seedy place to hang around, but it was also a centre of law and order.

This paper focuses on the politics of public space in London and particularly its importance to radicals and conservatives in the long eighteenth-century.  Francis Boorman argues that Chancery Lane’s geographical and topographical location in London and its specific importance for the legal profession were crucial to its formation as a built environment.  Geographically Chancery Lane is located right in the middle of the west and east sides of London and fell under various jurisdictions.  Topographically Chancery Lane had narrow but busy streets causing congestion problems and encouraging high levels of accidents.

In addition Chancery Lane was viewed as the physical manifestation for the reputation of the lawyers who worked there.  For example building works by lawyers gave manifest significant criticism of the legal profession from the public.  People felt that lawyers were improving their place of work and getting rich off of other people’s money.  In the long eighteenth-century there was a very real perception that lawyers were dishonest, greedy, and untrustworthy.

Boorman explains all these issues in clear detail to show why the expansion and improvement of the road took so long to be achieved.  Even despite the money and workforce available through the Westminster Paving Committee and numerous complaints that the Lane was dangerous (especially near Fleet Street) nothing happened.  The main reasons for this was arguments between the local residents and the lawyers on who should pay as well as the difficulty of convincing the various jurisdictions under which Chancery Lane fell that they should act in unison.

To listen to this podcast click here.    

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