Archive for the ‘History SPOT’ Category

Metropolitan History
7 December 2011
Applying new spatial techniques in the study of late medieval London
Justin Colson (CMH/IHR)

Mapping London's PastAs part of the postmodern turn in the study of history, the focus on space (alongside the usual questions of who, when, why) has become a mainstream topic of study.  Justin Coulson summarises some of the latest studies to involve spatial data and in particular looks at how the digital is helping to transform what can be achieved and discovered through such studies.  Coulson notes current projects such as Locating London’s Past and Mapping London – both of which use geo-referencing to create accurate maps of pre-modern London.  Then there are postgraduate and postdoctoral studies such as Tim Bishop’s use of the Antwerp Alderman register to enable him to create an accurate map of the property boundaries in the fifteenth century city.  At the University of York, Gareth Dean is using tenement records to spatially understand nearby Swinegate, whilst Nick Holder is locating London friaries and their development through time.  Carley Dearing (Liverpool) is creating 3D maps of medieval Winchester and Marlas Craine is employing ‘space syntax’ to understand public spaces in the nineteenth century.

Coulson’s own research is focused on neighbourhood in medieval London.  Early modernists claim that the rise of the self (amongst other things) led to the decline in neighbourly activity that had previously existed.  However, this previous existence of a neighbourhood community is generally taken for granted and has yet to take on any properly understood shape.  Coulson therefore has sought to use spatial technologies to find out to what degree there actually existed a neighbourhood in late medieval London.  To achieve this Coulson needed to find out who lived where and map this onto an accurate medieval layout of the city.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Harrington, petitioning and the construction of public opinion
Edward Vallance (University of Roehampton)
Franco-British History seminar
8 November 2012

Abstract: Historians have noted that the republic depicted in Harrington’s ‘Oceana’ (1656) allowed little room for political debate beyond the confines of the senate. However, ‘Oceana’ did permit the localities to petition Parliament, allowing some channel for the expression of the popular voice, albeit in a form framed by the phylarchs, ‘the princes of the Tribes’. The Harringtonian circle itself engaged in petitioning activity in 1659, as the restoration of the Rump Parliament in May 1659 revived hopes of a new republican constitution. These political interventions were part of a wider petitioning campaign by the ‘well-affected’ in support of a republican settlement. Ruth Mayers, in her work on the revived English Commonwealth, has argued that these petitions provide   evidence of popular support for the republic. However, Harrington’s own view of the value of this petitioning activity, as expressed in Valerius and Publicola (1659) was much more pessimistic, seeing the exercise as essentially fruitless.


Harrington’s disappointment was understandable: the petitioning activity of 1659 bore little resemblance to the orderly scheme of political communication from periphery to centre mapped in ‘Oceana’. The cliques of the   ‘well-affected’ who submitted supportive petitions represented both a far more exclusive political constituency than the Harringtonians had hoped would be involved in settling a new Commonwealth, and a far more varied cross-section of the political nation than the ‘natural aristocracy’ that Harrington believed alone had the right to ‘debate’. Moreover, this petitioning activity was arguably orchestrated by the Rump and its propagandists rather than representing grassroots support for the Commonwealth. Nonetheless, this paper will suggest that the use of petitioning in 1659 to legitimate both the government and its programme set an important precedent that was followed by the Crown into the Restoration era.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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The East India Company at Home: Domestic Interiors, Public Histories and Material Cultures
Margot Finn (University College London)
Franco-British History seminar
28 February 2013


Georgian_House_-_geograph.org.uk_-_704233Abstract: The East India Company at Home, Domestic Interiors, Public Histories & Material Cultures’ discusses the context and preliminary findings of a 3-year collaborative research project based in the History Department at University College London.  In recent decades, the Georgian country house has featured in films, television, tourism and history as an icon of ‘Englishness’ (and, to a lesser extent, of Scottish, Welsh and British identities).  This project contrasts this narrowly national representation of the Georgian country house to the increasingly ‘global’ forces that shaped country house construction, purchasing and furnishing in the Georgian era.  Its focus is on both ‘Oriental’ luxury objects and the significance of the country home and its furnishings for the families of the English East India Company.  How did the aspiration for an ‘English’ home sustain Company men’s participation in colonialism in India?  How (and why) were Indian fortunes domesticated through the purchase of country houses in Britain? What role did Chinese, Indian and Japanese luxuries play in building effective country houses?  Addressing these issues has involved the East India Company at Home team in new forms of collaboration, new forms of public history, aimed at illuminating the global underpinnings of British national identities.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Digital History seminar
9 October 2012
Camille Desenclos (ENC, Sorbonne)
Rethinking Historical Research in the Digital Age: A TEI Approach


Abstract: Historical research cannot be conceived without a close relation to physical text:  paper is still the main source. However the emergence and subsequent multiplication of digital technologies within the historical field have tended to modify the examination of sources. This change is particularly apparent for text editions: how is one to manage the transfer from the manuscript age to a digital one? Can sources be understood and analysed without physical support?

This paper will be based on experiences of using electronic editions of early modern texts, specifically diplomatic correspondences such as L’ambassade extraordinaire du duc d’Angoulême, comte de Béthune et abbé de Préaux vers les princes et potentats de l’Empire. TEI, a XML-based language, has been chosen for those editions. Using such a structured language – a far cry from the plain text created by classical text editors – implies changing the conception of what an edition is. We need not just think about texts anymore but only about the historical information contained within the text and which has to be highlighted in terms of the research. This requires researchers to think more about what they want and what they want to show in their studies. Above all, it allows researchers to track specific features such as diplomatic formulas and then to facilitate their analysis.

The aim of this talk is to ask if and how digital technologies have changed how historians view sources and even if they have changed the historical studies themselves; how TEI can be used to create new kind of editions. This paper will try to show how, if well used, TEI and digital technologies highlight and add to the results of historical studies.


Biography:  Camille Desenclos is currently completing her PhD at the École nationale des Chartes where she is also engaged in leading several projects to create electronic editions of medieval and early modern texts including an edition of the correspondance of Antoine du Bourg. Her PhD is entitled ‘The Communication Policy of France in the Holy Roman Empire at the beginning of the Thirty Years War (1617-1624)’. A fundamental part of her PhD research includes creating electronic editions and the encoding and ciphering of diplomatic correspondence and structures in related medieval charters. Camille has given numerous conference papers largely concentrating on the Text Encoding Initiative and its application to her research. She was also a Visiting Researcher at the Department of Digital Humanities (DDH) at King’s last year. An electronic edition of the ‘Ambassade extraordinaire des duc d’Angoulême, comte de Béthune et abbé de Préaux’ which she has written will be available online shortly.

To listen or watch this podcast go here.

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Voluntary Action History
30 January 2012  
Gareth Millward (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)
Disability and Voluntarism in Britain, 1965-1995: an effective force in policy making?


Ted Heath (wikipedia)

Ted Heath (wikipedia)

Go back to the 1970s and you might see Ted Heath ridding around on a ‘Noddy’ car.  Depending on which generation you come from you will either know what this is or not.

What has this got to do with a History SPOT podcast I hear you ask?  Well, the voluntary action history seminar held a session back in January 2012 in which Gareth Millward mentioned Ted Heath’s ride in a Noddy car as part of a talk on the role of voluntary organisations in the adaptation of disability legislation between the 1960s and 1990s.  It seems, on this occasion at least; only through practical experience did politicians listen to those arguing that the Noddy car was unsafe.  The car was withdrawn soon afterwards.

In this paper Millward investigates the political climate leading up to the disability acts and in particular the role of various types of voluntary organisations and individual networks that played a role either through lobbying or via provision of expert evidence.  Millward looks at the topic through the lens of the polar-opposite models of the medical (i.e. that disability is a medical issue) and social (that disability is a construct of society and that the main issue is that a person cannot perform a specific social function and thus is discriminated against).  These models formed the bank-bane to discussions, debates and lobbying around the issue of disability.

A 'Noddy car' or invalid Carriage c. 1976 (wikipedia)

A ‘Noddy car’ or invalid Carriage c. 1976 (wikipedia)

Several organisations are singled out as particularly important to the discussion.  First are those organisations who actively lobbed government through the use of academic research.  First are the Disability Income Group (DIG) who were founded in 1965, then the Disability Alliance and Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR) both founded and active in the 1970s.  Then there are the groups formed by those actually with disabilities some of which were not prone to lobbying or playing politics but to actively helping those who needed their help on the local or national level.  This second group included the Union of Physically impaired against Segregation who would later become part of the British Council of Organisations of disabled people.  The third group were societies such as the Spastics Society (now renamed SCOPE).

Millward’s podcast is well worth listening to if you have even a passing interest in the subject.  Taken in context of other podcasts by the Voluntary Action History seminar it acts as a reminder that history is not just an academic subject to be studied but a subject that should enable debate on current day affairs.  Great strides have occurred in enabling people with disabilities to overcome those difficulties and reach an equal level of activity in society.  However, there is more work to be done and podcasts such as these can be taken to help formulate new debates and discussions based upon older ones.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Going Underground: Travel Beneath the Metropolis 1863-2013
Tim White
“Crossing Oceans to Cross Rivers: Trans-Atlantic Knowledge & Capital in Tunnelling History”
18 January 2013
Pennsylvania Railroad tunnel, Hudson River (Wikipedia)

Pennsylvania Railroad tunnel, Hudson River (Wikipedia)

Abstract: Not long after the London Underground opened, American railroad companies sought to tunnel under the Hudson River, so they could connect their lines from New York City to all points west.  Although the earliest, failed tunnelling effort in 1874 was strictly American, the second attempt was decidedly British.  The 1888 Hudson River Tunnel Company was not only backed by British capital, but also relied upon the “greathead shield”, important for London’s Tower Subway.  It also failed to complete the tunnel under the mile-wide Hudson, but the half-finished sections it left behind facilitated the completion of a railroad tunnel in 1908.  The Chief Engineer for this final push was none other than Charles M. Jacobs, a brit.

This paper is about trans-Atlantic transfers of knowledge and capital in late 19th and early 20th century tunnel projects, with a focus on the efforts to tunnel under the Hudson River.  Charles M. Jacobs, the British mastermind behind New York’s first subaqueous gas tunnels in 1894, the 1908Hudson & Manhattan tunnels, and the 1910 tunnels of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was certainly a key player in these transfers, but the paper is not just about him.  In addition to Jacobs, Norwegian-born Ole Singstad was crucial to both the 1908 project and the Holland Tunnel, while the subterranean tracks of the original Pennsylvania Station were inspired by the Gare de Orsay in Paris.  For too long, American transportation historians have written about tunnelling without a proper trans-Atlantic lens. This paper will redress this imbalance.


Biography: Tim White completed his Ph.D. in History at Columbia University with Kenneth Jackson in 2007, and is now an Assistant Professor of History at New Jersey City University.  As a scholar, he has published a review essay in the Journal of Urban History, a full-length, peer-reviewed essay in Performing Arts Resources, and has a manuscript under contract and forthcoming from The University of Pennsylvania Press.  This manuscript chronicles the theatre-related craftwork (costumes, scenery, lights, shoes, etc.) of the American stage from 1880-1980.  By highlighting these activities as they dominated and then abandoned Times Square over the course of many decades, White argues that planning policy and structural economic shift transformed Times Square, if only briefly, into the Flint, Michigan, of American popular culture.  It presents the departure of theatre-related craft from Times Square in the 1960s and 1970s as a major cause of the larger theatre district’s struggles with crime, prostitution, and drugs.  His new research focuses on New York Harbor, its regional economy, and the late 19th and early 20th century tunnelling projects that were crucial to its continued growth.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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1820: disorder and stability in the United Kingdom
Malcolm Chase (Leeds)
Franco-British History seminar
30 May 2013


Abstract: 1820 was a year of European revolutions. The events of these twelve months were probably the greatest test any British peacetime government confronted during the nineteenth-century. However, historical understanding of this pivotal year has long been fractured by over-emphasis on the constitutional crisis caused by the attempt of King George IV to divorce his Queen (Caroline). The continuing problems of post-war economic and social dislocation are less clearly understood. The attempted mass assassination of the British Cabinet (‘Cato Street’) is typically dismissed as the work of isolated psychopaths, when it was an ill-judged consequence of a much wider conspiracy. Other episodes are largely neglected, for example the general election caused by the death of George III, uprisings in northern England and Scotland, and the dramatic acceleration of violent unrest (“Ribbonism”) in western Ireland. The Government was constantly alert to the possibility of concerted links between British and Irish – and even French – unrest.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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