Posts Tagged ‘England’

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.

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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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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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Anglo-American conference 2009
What is a City? The English experience
John Beckett (Centre for Local History, IHR)
2 July 2009

Abstract: This paper will present an overview, concluding that England has two leagues of cities: a largely medieval league of what are now small cathedral towns; and a post-Victorian league which now includes more or less all the great ‘towns’. The paper explains how this came about, and asks what it means for our understanding of the English city.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Digital History
17 May 2011
Professor Adrian Bell (Reading) and Dr Andy King (Southampton)
The Soldier in Later Medieval England Project – did it do what we wanted it to do?

Re-enactor in armour at the Tewkesbury Medieval FestivalThe research project: The Soldier in Later Medieval England was supported by the universities of Reading and Southampton between 2006 and 2009 and was run by Professor Adrian Bell, Dr Andy King.  It was never intended as a digital project which is somewhat ironic considering that this project has been selected as the opening discussion for a new IHR seminar group focused on analysing digital projects.  However, the impact of the online resource has been staggering.  Between 27 July 2009 and 15 October 2009 the website received 3.4 million hits with at least ¼ million unique visitors.  That’s somewhere around 3,000 visitors per day.  This was not just a brief ‘fad’ either.  For example in May 2011 the site received 15,000 visits.  In this session Adrian Bell and Andy King discuss the success of the project and particularly the online database.  They explain what their original brief was, what they planned to achieve (and what they feel they did, in the end, achieve), the methodology behind the project, and where they plan to take the research in the future.  The online database allows visitors to search the service records of soldiers in later medieval England using the Muster Rolls as its source.  The success of the online database comes not just from providing a useful resource but, as Adrian Bell explains, from various high profile promotions.  In July 2009 they appeared on the BBC website receiving a staggering 1.5 million hits on that day alone.  Since, the project has been advertised in a double page spread in the Daily Mail, in several magazine articles, and on various radio appearances.

To listen/watch this podcast please click here.

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Sport and Leisure History
20 June 2011
Football and National Identity in Post-War England
Christoph Wagner (De Montfort University)
Huns vs Inselaffen: Anglo-German Football Rivalry, 1954-2000

In the 1950s and 1960s how was the rivalry between England and Germany in football described by the national press?  With the Second World War still fresh in English minds a lingering enmity between the countries cannot have failed to have an impact.  Today football fans focus on England’ victory in 1966 as a symbol of victory over the Germans but before that World Cup the rivalry was equally poignant.  Christoph Wagner uses various newspaper reports to show how games against Germany drew out the military metaphors and imagery with much more clarity than was generally the case in other matches.  The words chosen in the reports too presented a comedic representation of Nazi Germany as symbolism for English rivalry (and the necessity for victory) against their German foes.

Dr DIlwyn Porter (De Montfort University)
English Football and the State of the (British) Nation, c. 1980-2000

Continuing from Wagner’s discussion of English rivalry with Germany in the game of football, Dilwyn Porter emphasises how it was necessary for English victory to be seen to have occurred on the pitch even after a loss.  A requirement for victory over the German ‘threat’ may well be a hangover from the Second World War but it is one that has remained in the English consciousness (perhaps to its detriment) ever since.  However, Porter goes further in his analysis of this rivalry.  The 1966 victory over the Germans at the World Cup Final is seen as a golden moment in recent English history because it represents a blip in an otherwise story of decline.  After the Second World War Britain’s Empire collapsed and the rise of Europe as an entity revealed more noticeably how England was declining in economy and political power in opposite to its European cousins.    The financial success story of post-war Germany highlights an inferiority complex in England.  The English desire to see victory in football against the Germans represents a much wider cultural identity that focuses on a decline in state and culture.  The war metaphor discussed by Christoph Wagner  is, Porter believes, a continuing symptom of that cultural identity crisis. 


The latter part of Porter’s paper refocuses on to the source material itself – namely how the historian can use the tabloid press as evidence (this discussion begins 28 minutes into Porter’s paper).  Porter notes the need to address fabrication of detail in the reporting and (especially in journalism from the mid-twentieth century) the stylistic preference to insert the reporter into the report itself.  Porter also emphasises the need to be careful of the sensationalism that overwhelms journalistic reporting in the tabloid press.  Secondly, Porter notes a warning to historians of Sport history.  Often research on this subject over-emphasise the importance of Sport on national culture.  Not everyone enjoys football, for instance, and not everyone reads the back pages of tabloid papers.  Even those that do will see different things in what they read depending on various factors related to their standing in society and their daily lives. 

 Visit History SPOT for further thoughts about this topic:

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