Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

Archives & Society
Advocacy for the archive sector
Marie Owens (Archives and Records Association)
8 May 2012

Marie Owens has a long standing knowledge of publicity, communications and PR related to libraries and archives.  Owens strongly believes that the archive sector needs to speak out and explain more strongly what it is that it does.  In this talk Owens discusses the changes over the last few decades in communications emphasis and the tools that are now available to do so.  Owens talks about strategy but also advocacy.  Advocacy, Owens argues, sits on top of good communication and is a call to action.  Often made to influential people, advocacy allows institutions and professions to rehabilitate themselves or promote themselves in a particular light through ‘champions’ who will discuss and further their call.  Owens notes the case of the new British Library off Euston road.  In 1992 the work was behind schedule and popular opinion saw the venture as a failure.  However, by its opening some five years later advocacy and a clear communication strategy had turn this opinion around and it is now a successful hub of scholarly work.  Owens makes a case for the use of advocacy in the archives sector; what that might look like; and what they might want to say.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Voluntary Action History
16 January 2012
Berry Mayall (Institute of Education)
English children’s work during the Second World War

Are children citizens in Britain or citizens-in-preparation?  At the heart of Berry Mayall’s paper to the Voluntary Action History seminar is this question.  If children are always subordinate to adults (which they generally are), then can they ever really take on voluntary work on a ‘voluntary’ basis?  It is an interesting set of questions to ask with, perhaps, no easy answer.  In this example, Mayall talks about the ‘voluntary’ contribution of children during the Second World War.  Mayall sees this as a transformative moment when childhood began to be viewed in a different way.  Until the onset of war it was far from uncommon (in fact it was most common) for children to leave school at age 13 or 14 to start work.  Only upper class children generally went on to a secondary school of any form.  During the war itself, children were asked to ‘volunteer’ their time to the war effort.  This might include gardening (i.e. growing food), teaching younger children, working in hospitals or acting as messengers.  Girls might be asked to work in canteens whilst boys in some cases worked on munitions.  Saving schemes and special fund raising events enabled children to volunteer their money as well to the greater war effort.

Mayall notes how important the term ‘voluntary’ was in this process.  In Britain it was vitally important to appear democratic and therefore different than the dictatorships against which they fought.  The realisation, also, that many children did not have time for these voluntary activities because they were already working hard on their actual jobs, brought home the need to change policy towards children, which, after the war, gave way to a rise of importance to secondary education and arguably, to further and higher education.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Hello all.  Just a brief abstract today from the Franco-British history seminar.  For the last few weeks updates to the blog and History SPOT has been a little on and off due to a busy couple of weeks here at the IHR and due to the fact that we had finally caught up (more or less) with our podcast backlog.  However, last week saw the starting up again of our seminars after the Easter break so keep an eye out for brand new podcasts appearing on History SPOT including last week’s live streamed Digital History seminar!  More soon!
Franco-British History seminar
Churchill’s Empire: The world that made him and the world he made
Richard Toye (University of Exeter)
1 December 2011
Abstract: ‘I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.’ These notorious words, spoken by Churchill in 1942, encapsulate his image as an imperial die-hard, implacably opposed to colonial freedom – a reputation that has prevailed, and which Churchill willingly embraced to further his policies. Yet, as a youthful minister at the Colonial Office before World War I, his political opponents had seen him as a Little Englander and a danger to the Empire. Placing Churchill in the context of his times and his contemporaries, this paper evaluates his position on key Imperial questions and examines what was conventional about Churchill’s opinions and what was unique. 

To listen to this podcast click here.

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British History in the Long 18th Century
Rethinking the interests of eighteenth-century Britain
Julian Hoppit (University College London)
5 October 2011

Julian Hoppit looks at the current state of research into eighteenth-century Britain.  His assessment is not entirely positive; seeing, for example, that the continued use of ‘class’ as a concept is harmful to our studies.  In the period, Hoppit believes that personal ‘interests’ of British society were talked about rather than class.  Interest groups have, for instance, been neglected by historians.

In the eighteenth century interest groups proliferated spurred on by significant changes that had occurred in parliamentary government since 1688.  These groups were, however, very rarely permanent or general in nature but rather focused on specific interests.  The weakness of historian’s study of the period then, is to look at the distinctive, the particular, and the unique, whilst ignoring the central question of what was common and what was not!

To listen to this podcast click here. 

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Archives and Society
Freedom of Information
Ben Worthy (University College London)
4 October 2011

Ben Worthy explains the benefits, limitations and difficulty of the Freedom of Information Act brought in by the Blair administration in 2000.  The act would subsequently become known as one of two acts that Tony Blair would later declare as a mistake during his time in office.  At the time Blair believed that the act would make politics more transparent and help the British people trust politicians and the decisions that they make.  Instead the act proved problematic for politicians as the media took it up as an additional means for finding headlines.  The expenses scandal that began in 2009 came to light as the direct result of a freedom of information request. 

In this paper Worthy provides his listeners a whistle stop tour of the Constitution Unit’s various projects and investigations of the effect of the Act.  Through surveys, interviews, official documents and media information (such as newspapers) the Unit have analysed the expected and unexpected ramifications.  

When Blair and his government brought the act through Parliament their aims and objectives were as follows:


  • To make government more transparent
  • To make government  more accountable
  • To improve decision making
  • To enable the public to better understand decision making processes
  • To engage public participation in politics
  • To endear public trust of the workings of government

Worthy believes that whilst the first two items have been achieved successfully the other four still need more work.    Part of the problem, it would seem is that politicians (including Blair) begin their political career keen on freedom of information – it sounds like a good thing and something that they should be in support of – however, as time goes on they begin to find it annoying and come to believe that it is abused by the media.  Interest in supporting the mechanisms of freedom of information therefore decline.

One of the unexpected ramifications is the ‘chilling effect’: attempts to undermine the act through less keeping of records from meetings and discussions occurring more often away from official ‘recorded’ procedures.  The evidence gathered by the Constitution Unit suggests that this does happen (often at the level of local government) but it is not a large problem.  However, Worthy admits that it is actually quite hard to measure such activity.

The paper ends with a whirlwind tour of alternative freedom of information activities in other countries: Ireland, India, Mexico, Italy, Sweden, and China.  The conclusion there is that each country is different in how it uses freedom of information and that these differences are largely cultural.

To listen to the podcast on History SPOT click here.

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Podcasts now available (click here):
The History PhD: Past, Present and Future conference
28 January 2011

Last year marked the 90th anniversary of the PhD in Britain.  I must admit I was initially surprised at the modernity of the PhD.  Having worked my way through the system from undergraduate to Masters to Doctorate it never really felt as if this qualification was a new innovation to a very old system.  I could almost imagine scholars in the sixteenth-century receiving their PhD certificate at a ceremony not all that dissimilar to the one that I took part in over two years ago.  Of course such imaginings were simply that: as an historian I can see quite clearly how wrong that belief is.  Nevertheless, I had never given it that much thought before and so my mind simply imagined that the PhD was unduly ancient. 

Of course the doctorate itself is not such a new idea although it was a lot less common in past centuries.  As a term it was first used in the early Christian church as a qualification to teach (Doctorate deriving from the Latin doceo – i.e. I teach).  Many centuries later (around the early thirteenth to be more precise) the training for a doctorate became entangled with the rise of universities across much of Europe.    

I feel much the same surprise about the modern concept of an historical seminar.  This was a German innovation borrowed from philology by Leopold von Ranke in the nineteenth century.  The spread of historical seminars as a key aspect of the profession was accompanied by a greater emphasis on archival research and of course scientific methodology.  Indeed, much of what we consider to be essential to the History profession today only stems back to the nineteenth-century. 

Coincidentally 2011 also marked the 90th anniversary of the Institute of Historical Research.  The IHR presently works under the umbrella organisation of the School of Advanced Study, which is itself part of the University of London.   The fact that the IHR is over 90 years old is less of a surprise of course.  From the Common room (a space provided for relaxed scholarly discussion) to the layout of the library, it has a feel of early twentieth century ideals to it.  At least it did until last year when we temporarily moved out for a 2 year refit.  The new IHR, I’m sure, will be an agreeable mix of the old ideals and the new.

For those of you who do not know much about the history of the IHR here’s a brief summary: The IHR was founded in 1921 by A. F. Pollard as a meeting place for researchers from across the world.  Initially based in pre-fabricated huts along Malet Street, the IHR was set up to promote the study of history and provide support and leadership to the historical community.  From its early days it was home to both research seminars and research training (for postgraduates and academics) both of which remain core activities of the institute. 

Original IHR huts (click on the image for more details)

I think what interests me most about these ramblings above is how little thought I had previously put into the history of my own education.  In my studies of scholars in sixteenth century England I was of course very aware of the differences in approach and methodology.  This was a period when scholastic training was beginning to decline (although it was still taught in Oxford and Cambridge long after its rejection by various scholars of the period) and it was a time of renewal and re-interpretation of long held beliefs and knowledge systems through the methodology of humanism.    But it was there that my knowledge and interest had stopped.  I had thought very little about the actual education that these scholars had received or the processes and qualifications that formed the basis for their world. 

Last year’s The History PhD: Past, Present, and Future conference provided an opportunity to pause for a moment and recall the heritage of one element of higher education.  The availability of the conference talks now one year on in the form of podcasts certainly provides food for thought!

To view the podcasts please visit History SPOT: The History PhD: Past, Present and Future

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Hello and welcome to this week’s SPOT Newsletter.  Today we’ll be looking at two seminars from our collaboration with seminar groups outside of the IHR taken from the previous academic year.  We have been very fortunate to build ties with the Franco-British History seminar group at the University of Paris IV (Sorbonne) and with the Global History seminar group based at the London site of Notre Dame University.  Each have their specific interests; one obviously focused on international or ‘global’ history whilst the other more narrowly focused (in geographical terms) to Britain (although in today’s example the Franco-British seminar group move their focus to Italy). 

The Franco-British group hear papers both in French and English so I’m only able to reliably review about half of their output but what I have listened to has been diverse and interesting.  The first paper presented about this time last year was by James Thompson.  Thompson gave a detailed glimpse of political life in late nineteenth and early twentieth century London through evidence in newspapers and posters.  The ‘rebranding’ exercise by the Conservatives for the 1907 London County Council election perhaps echoes the need for governments in a media age to consider themselves as a type of consumable ‘brand’.  In February this year Amanda Behm looked at the rise of Imperial history as a sub-discipline.  I could easily see this podcast being useful for teaching historiography and as a starting point for those entering the world of Imperial history.  A paper from the Franco-British history seminar that I particularly enjoyed was presented by Stephen Mosley.  The Industrial Revolution is often hailed as the height of British power, but it came at a price – the pollution of Britain’s capital.  This study of industrial pollution is described by Mosley as a ‘disaster in slow-motion’. 

Click here for our complete list of podcasts from the Franco-British History seminar group

The first podcasts from the Global History seminar group were created before I began the SPOT Newsletter so there are still some which I have not yet listened to.  The first of these was presented by Patrick O’Brien with the title Myths of Eurocentrism and Material Progress.  If anyone would like to write their own reviews please feel free to in the comment section below the podcast page.  I’d be interested to hear what people think. 

The first paper that I reviewed from the Global History seminar came with the wonderful title: What might a global history of the 20th century look like?  Angus Lockyer sees the history of the twentieth century as needing a stronger narrative and structure as far as the writings of historians are concerned.  He sees the century as a period of tensions between multiple actors, separate logics and differentiated systems which can be dated back to the second half of the previous century.  Will anyone take up Lockyer’s gauntlet to write such a history?  I guess only time will tell. 

A paper of particular interest for me was Peter Barber’s discussion of the Image of the Globe in the Renaissance.  Maps are always interesting pieces especially from a time when the Earth was still a largely alien and unknown place.  So Barber’s discussion of globes in the 15th and 16th centuries provides a welcome study not only in past societies attempts to map their world but also in the culture that surrounded those attempts.

Click here for our complete list of podcasts from the Global History seminar group

Franco-British History
3 March 2011
James Shaw (University of Sheffield)
Equity, Law and the Economy of Obligation: A Comparative Analysis of Early Modern England and Italy

Palio Square medieval market, Siena

In a presentation to the Franco-British History seminar held back in March this year, James Shaw compared the role of equity in medieval and early modern financial transactions.  In Tuscany, Italy Princely Equity emerged as an element of absolutist government.  The Prince was given the power to correct the law through equity and kingly justice.  Over time therefore equity in Italy shifted from the realm of legal scholars to that of the king (especially from the fourteenth century).  Equity in Italy was not so much about the form of law but the intention behind market exchanges.  Contracts could, for instance, be invalidated if the intention on either side was seen to be false or made without free will.  Shaw therefore demonstrates that equity fitted between law and conscious, between legal order and moral order.   In England around the same time a different form of equity emerged – one based around what historians call the Economy of Obligation.  In England, Courts of Equity (i.e. the Chancery and Courts of Requests) worked in parallel to common and civil law.  Equity courts were able to bring in a much broader range of evidence to consider but over time its flexibility was lost as the Equity Courts became more structured and controlled. 

For more on this subject see also: James E. Shaw, “Writing to the Prince: Supplications, Equity, and Absolutism in Sixteenth-Century Tuscany” Past & Present, forthcoming May 2012.

Global History seminar
14 March 2011
William Clarence-Smith
The ‘Syrian’ global diaspora: migrants from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan since the 1880s

Syrian Children in New York

Also back in March, William Clarence-Smith presented to the Global History seminar a paper about migrants from ‘Greater’ Syria to the USA, South America and other parts of the world.  The paper is as much about why groups of people migrated to other countries as it is about what is meant for them to be Syrian.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth century Syria was a region that had many interpretations and meanings for its populace and indeed for migrants who left the area.  The Diaspora may have been caused for many reasons, but Clarence-Smith places some doubt on the established theory that it was entirely down to politics and civil unrest and suggests various pull factors as not only important but vital.

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