17 October 1961 – We Drown Algerians Here

17 October 1961

In Black History month it is worthwhile underscoring how minority histories have often tended to be overlooked, covered up, or subsumed under majority narratives and ‘official’ memory. At the time of the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, for instance, the press and media all lamented what they claimed was the biggest loss of life on French territory since the Second World War. This was false. What had been overlooked was the murder of hundreds of Algerians in central Paris on the night of 17 October 1961.

It was the height of the war between France and Algeria. The many Algerians living and working in mainland France were increasingly distrusted by the French government, who feared that they were acting as a ‘fifth column, supporting and collecting funds for the FLN (National Liberation Front), the insurgents leading the war for independence from French colonial rule in Algeria. Harsh domestic policing tactics were employed against Algerians living and working legitimately in France, including surveillance, stop and search, and a curfew which saw Algerians homebound between 7pm-6am.

It was a protest against this curfew which sparked the events of 17 October 1961. The Algerian community groups organising the march had emphasised that the protest would be entirely peaceful, and protesters were searched for weapons before they boarded the trains and buses which transported them from the ghettoised peripheries and shantytowns to central Paris.

1961 bus

1961

In 1961, Maurice Papon was the Police Chief in charge of Paris. Papon, who had served as a senior police official for the wartime Vichy regime, and oversaw the deportation of c.1600 French jews to Nazi concentration camps. In 1956 he had also served in Constantine, in Algeria, participating in the repression and torture of Algerian nationalists. Papon’s past clearly did not dispose him to take a lenient approach with colonial subjects protesting on French national territory. However, it is still difficult for historians to establish exactly what precipitated the massacre and on whose orders, for many of the archives related to this incident, and to France’s role and actions in the Algerian war more broadly, are still under wraps.

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Around 30,000 marched. By the end of the week 14,000 had been arrested. This fate was far better than many suffered. Police bludgeoned innumerable participants as they exited metro stations. Others were rounded up and taken to the police HQ at St Michel, where, according to eye-witness accounts, Papon ordered their extermination. The bodies of many Algerians were thrown in the Seine.

Evidence of these atrocities was immediately covered up by the Paris police force. Journalists and photojournalists present during these events attest to the fact that they were silenced; that they were threatened; that their copy/photographs/films were confiscated. On the night itself, televised news showed only reassuring images, and the whole incident disappeared from the media by 24 October.

The exact number of deaths is difficult to establish. Some documents and archives have been destroyed, others remain classified. Historian Jean-Luc Einaudi, who has researched the event extensively, and who also challenged Papon in a court case, has suggested that at least 200 were killed on 17 October. British historians House and MacMaster claim that 550 were reported as missing from the shantytowns. At the time, the French government, headed by de Gaulle, with Roger Frey as Interior Minister, admitted only two of the dead. A government inquiry in 1999 concluded 48 drownings on the one night and 142 similar deaths of Algerians in the weeks before and after, 110 of whom were found in the Seine. It also concluded the real toll was almost certainly higher.

The massacre has often been cited by community activists as an example of ‘confiscated memory’:  an event whose existence was denied, the memory of which has been suppressed, and which had long been eliminated from the ‘official’ history of the Franco-Algerian conflict. Activists have sought to reinsert this history into French national memory – some erecting makeshift banners along the banks of the Seine which read: ‘We drown Algerians here’.  It was in response to this sort of call for the suppressed memory to take it rightful place in the history of France and Algeria that prompted Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë to unveil a plaque on the Saint-Michel bridge of the Seine near to the Police HQ, to those who were ‘victims of the bloody repression of the peaceful demonstration of 17 October 1961’. It was not until 51 years after the massacre, in 2012, that then President, François Hollande, made official comment on the matter, recognising that ‘Algerians legitimately demonstrating for their right to independence were killed during a bloody repression’. The passive voice employed in both the plaque and the statement bear witness to the fact that the French state is still far from being able to acknowledge fully its own part in both the massacre and its subsequent erasure from history.

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Plaque

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Articles

Jim Beach reflects upon taking an intelligence history investigation from initial idea to publication.

 

Dil'Se restaurant Dundee

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Depending on how you voted.  Our project was born in Dundee on the evening of Thursday 23 June 2016.  The Dil’Se restaurant provided some great food, ideas were discussed, questions were half-formed, and possible lines of inquiry scribbled down.

The following morning, we awoke to the EU referendum result.  Although we never consciously entered into a race with the Conservative party, having simultaneously started something that was initially ill-defined and then unexpectedly complicated, we do feel slightly smug in having crossed the finish line before them.

The initial impetus to research and write came from a sense of unfinished business.  Nine months before our meal I had published the diary of a First World War soldier who had been engaged in frontline signals intelligence (SIGINT).

Editing the diary had caused me to do some research on IToc (aye-tok), the British army’s system for intercepting German trench telephones, and to also look for the service records of the SIGINT soldiers whose names popped up in the text.

And it turned out that I’m not very good at rummaging in personnel records.  Enter stage left my old friend, Jock Bruce.  He’s a genealogical ninja and, I think initially out of pity, demonstrated that I was giving up too easily when confronted by hundreds of hits on common names.

Jock’s main historical interest is early Twentieth Century SIGINT and so, while I moved on to other things, he pushed further into the personnel files.  We also batted emails back and forth about another problem; some of the diary evidence just didn’t fit with previously-accepted interpretations.

Jock then had a breakthrough.  From the diary we knew that men who were recruited into this type of work were transferred to the Royal Engineers (Signal Service).  But there were over 200,000 Royal Engineers in the First World War.  How could we identify the couple of hundred who were designated as ‘Interpreter Operators’?

Taking the two dozen names that we had from the diary, Jock tested a hypothesis.  What if these men had been transferred to the engineers in batches?  Administrative logic would suggest they would have been allocated new service numbers in sequential blocks.

Through a process we dubbed ‘numerology’, Jock started searching for engineers with service numbers close to those of men identified in the diary.  This unlocked many fresh targets and we quickly realised that, using their service records, we could build up a useful collective profile of these men.  Or, to give it its proper academic label, engage in some prosopography.

 

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‘The enemy listens too! Careful on the phone!’

© Imperial War Museum, Art.IWM PST 6976.

 

Over the curry in Dundee we had decided to write a short article which synthesised the existing secondary sources with the evidence from the diary, plus a couple of thousand words on the personnel dimension derived from Jock’s genealogical work.  It all sounded so simple.

But then it spiralled out of control.  We found ourselves investigating multiple leads and producing many more questions than answers.  But we persisted.  Mostly from a combination of curiosity and obstinacy.

The next forehead-slap moment came when we both dug back into our old notes on First World War intelligence.  We found numerous examples of both of us having both looked at documents without realising the potential significance of the trench SIGINT references.

While re-tracing our steps in well-known sources, we also began trawling new ones, such as local newspapers, using terminology found in the diary.  We got lucky in finding, for example, one officer who decided to spill the beans about his secret SIGINT work to a community group in Berwick-upon-Tweed.  We were also aided by the kindness of numerous First World War historians who responded very generously to our strange enquiries about obscure aspects of their past and present research.

Then came the hard part.  Writing up.

It quickly became clear that we’d accumulated too much material for one article.  We wrangled with various configurations, but eventually ended up writing two; one focused thematically on the personnel and the other, structured chronologically, on the SIGINT.

Neither of us had co-written academically before, and it’s fair to say that it was quite challenging.  What we learnt was that, having known one another for many years, we found it relatively easy to engage in a critical-but-creative dialogue conducted mostly by email.  That said, we both realised early on that writing this way takes much more time than flying solo.

Eventually, we submitted to the Journal of Intelligence History and found the peer reviewers to be firm yet fair.  A little further digging thereby ensued and, happily, we were waved through at the second time of asking.

Would we do it differently if we had our time again?  Probably not.  Yes, we made mistakes and could have been much more efficient in pursuing leads.  We also discovered just how strangely obsessive each of us could be in pursuing divergent aspects of the investigation.  But, ultimately, by working together, we have researched and written something that neither of us could have done alone.

Please have a look at our work using the links below.  And tell all your military and intelligence history friends to do the same.  There should be something in there for everybody; perhaps the German intelligence advantage during the Battle of the Somme, security concerns about using immigrants for secret intelligence work, or eavesdropping on the conversations of enemy prisoners.

British Signals Intelligence in the Trenches, 1915-1918: Part 1, Listening Sets.

British Signals Intelligence in the Trenches, 1915-1918: Part 2, Interpreter Operators.

Finally, we are most grateful to the University of Northampton for funding open-access.  And we also thank GCHQ for recently publicising the names of the Interpreter Operators.

Horrible Histories: The Movie review

It’s the school holidays and I was looking for a way to entertain the children on a rainy morning, so we went to the local cinema to see Horrible Histories: The Movie. Since they graduated from CBeebies to CBBC, Horrible Histories has been a reliable favourite and, thanks to iPlayer and Netflix, we have watched the back catalogue exhaustively.

Much has been written about Horrible Histories as it has become an important part of the popular history landscape, especially for the young. Terry Deary started to publish books in the series in 1993, with the intention of presenting interesting facts in an entertaining way. The books ballooned in popularity and Horrible Histories became a multimedia franchise.

In 2009 the series was successfully adapted for TV by the BBC. There was a danger that the Reithian instincts of the BBC might have made the content didactic or patronising, but the programmes were more in the spirit of Monty Python than schools’ programming. The regular troupe of performers are drawn from the comedy circuit (including cult shows such as Peep Show and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) rather than children’s TV.

As such, the series has a loyal following of grownups. This grownup is a particuar fan of the Four Georges song, for obvious reasons.

The film largely retains the spirit of the TV series, and some of the cast. The big screen outing necessarily includes some celebrity turns, such as Derek Jacobi reprising his famous role as Claudius, and Kim Cattrall as his murderous wife Agrippina. Most of the cast are drawn from British TV, giving the film a Carry-On feel – along with its bum jokes, wobbly sets and ‘epic’ battle scenes featuring a few dozen people who don’t get hurt.

The modest running time whizzes by and none of the kids in the audience seemed to get bored. This was impressive, as the TV show relies on short skits that are more suited to a primary school attention span, whereas a film needs a longer narrative arc. The story is set in the time of Nero, who is struggling both with his scheming mother and a pesky bit of the Roman Empire called Britain, which is refusing to be subdued. Due to an unfortunate mix-up with some gladiator urine, a young Roman called Atti is sent to this grim outpost, where he is promptly captured by a Celt girl named Orla, who joins Boudicca’s uprising.

There is a nice gag where a Roman soldier scoffs at the idea of a British empire. And whether intentionally or not, the diverse cast is a riposte to the controversy in 2017 over a CBBC cartoon featuring a mixed-race Roman family, where rightwing commentators and internet trolls laid into historians like Mary Beard for suggesting that this was accurate for the time.

In this and other ways, the film is true to the period it is depicting. Horrible Histories has always prided itself on its accuracy, but the relentless ‘facts’ felt a bit more shoehorned-in over the course of a 90-minute narrative than they do in a short TV skit. Long-form storytelling also requires the writers to make more stuff up, and it is unclear whether children will find the factual gladiator urine more memorable than Orla’s fictional kleptomaniac grandma. The extent to which the form of historical writing impacts upon the content is a dilemma that all historians face.

Aside from this one paragraph of academic quibble, Horrible Histories: The Movie is a success on many levels. Most importantly, it is a lot of fun. I enjoyed it as much as the children did and it was great to see some of their favourite songs from the TV series getting a reprise here. Altogether now, ‘Boudicca, superstar…’

Matthew McCormack

Peterloo today

Friday marks the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre. On 16 August 1819, a huge crowd of 60,000 men, women and children gathered in St Peter’s Field in Manchester to listen to radical speakers and demand parliamentary reform. At this time, only around a tenth of adult males had the vote and many new industrial centres like Manchester had no MPs at all. Radicals had for half a century demanded change to the political system, since they argued that a system that represented the minority could never govern in the interests of all.

The authorities were alarmed at the prospect of such a large demonstration of working people and called in the military. It was common practice in the days before the introduction of a professional police force to do this, but the actions of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry that day have gone down in infamy. The yeomanry were mounted volunteers, drawn from local gentlemen, so were hardly disinterested pariticipants. The cavalry charged into the crowd in an attempt to apprehend speakers on the hustings and hacked at the trapped protesters with sharpened sabres. At least fifteen people died and hundreds were wounded. The event was dubbed ‘Peterloo’, in ironic reference to the Battle of Waterloo (of which one of the victims was a veteran).

The bicentenary of Peterloo is being marked in numerous ways. Last year Mike Leigh released his film Peterloo, which movingly depicted the scale of the demonstration and the horror of the attack. BBC radio is broadcasting a series of programmes about the event. There is a new graphic novel and a reenactment, not to mention countless talks, events and conference papers on the subject. Historians of the massacre such as Robert Poole and Katrina Navickas have been very busy.

Peterloo has long been a totemic event among the British left, comparable to the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Battle of Cable Street. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has taken to reading part of Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy at his rallies, a poem written in 1819 in response to the massacre:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!

This flurry of commemorative activity has prompted something of a backlash among the right. The Times has asked whether this was an ‘isolated outrage’ that has been given ‘an unjustified historical importance’, and did not miss the opportunity to bash the BBC for ‘filling its schedules’ with leftwing content. There is an irony here, in that The Times of 1819 was instrumental in spreading news of the massacre: it had a reporter on the spot and advocated the very reforms that the protesters were demanding. In 2019, however, the politics of Peterloo are very different, as it has become a battleground in the culture wars of Brexit and the current polarisation of politics.

Taking a step back from this, there is no doubt in my mind about the importance of Peterloo or the necessity of commemorating it. This summer I published a book entitled Citizenship and Gender in Britain, 1688-1928 and decided to put a picture of Peterloo on the cover. This was partly a nod to the bicentenary, but in many ways Peterloo is a pivotal point in the book. The book charts the debate that took place between the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries regarding who was fit to be a citizen: who should be made a full member of the political nation and, in particular, who should be given the vote?

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Chronologically, Peterloo falls around halfway between the Bill of Rights and the Equal Franchise Act, which begin and end this story. It was a key moment in the struggle for parliamentary reform: the climax of the postwar ‘mass platform’ and the last great reformist protest before the movement revived around 1830 to press for the Reform Bill. It was also a prominent moment in the history of men and women in politics, which is the key focus of the book. Women stood alongside men on the hustings and constituted around an eighth of the crowd, yet were around a third of the victims, suggesting that they were singled out for particularly brutal treatment by the soldiers.

The demonstration at St Peter’s Field was a peaceful protest demanding basic citizenship rights, and it was mown down by an establishment that sought to deny them those rights. The symbolism of the event is therefore unavoidable, however much today’s Times might wish otherwise.

Matthew McCormack

Fellowship Success for Northampton Historian!

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Congratulations to Professor Matthew McCormack, who has been awarded a King’s College London Summer Fellowship on the Georgian Papers Programme! With his fellowship, Matthew will be conducting research at the Royal Archives at Windsor, for a project on ‘shoes and buckles at the Georgian court’.

Shoes were loaded with ideological meaning in the eighteenth century, so footwear choices could make a political statement, especially those worn by people in the public eye. In particular, Matthew is interested in the 1790s, when there was a shift away from the traditional elite ensemble of breeches, stockings and buckled shoes, towards trousers and boots. The former came to be associated with the excesses of the aristocracy, whereas the latter connoted martial masculinity and democracy. The buckle’s fall from fashion was disastrous for manufacturers in areas such as Birmingham, who petitioned the royal family to continue requiring them at court and in the military. This project therefore highlights an episode in the political history of footwear, and forms part of a wider project on the material culture of Georgian shoes.

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Pair of man’s steel and gilt wire shoe buckles, c. 1777–1785. LACMA Image Library. Photograph LACMA., Public Domain

Matthew developed an interest in the history of shoes via his work on masculinity, which he has considered in the contexts of politics and war during the long eighteenth century. His latest book is Citizenship and Gender in Britain, 1688-1928 (Routledge, 2019).

 

URB@N History and Personal Tutoring

This week, I was very pleased to support Emma Tyler present her second URB@N project for the History department at the University of Northampton. For those who have not heard of it, URB@N stands for Undergraduate Research Bursaries at Northampton, and is a scheme the university has been running since 2008. Basically URB@N gives students the chance to carry out research into the ways undergraduate teaching works, to help lectures and other staff improve the teaching experience at the university. Students are expected to put in a significant amount of work for this research, but are rewarded for their time with a £500 bursary.

 

URB@N

Emma Tyler presenting her URB@N project at the annual Teaching and Learning conference at the University of Northampton on 18 June 2019

I have been involved in four URB@N projects so far, and each one has led to some interesting discoveries. In the past these projects have helped me develop teaching materials for my modules on the history of fascism, and enhance the department’s online and social media presence. Our online spaces now include this blog site, which features content from staff and students, and also our Twitter account, @HistoriansUON, among other things.

 

For the most recent project, Emma looked into the department’s personal tutoring system. She was trying to find out both ways it worked well and ways it could be improved, to make sure the History team is being as supportive as it can be. She conducted a questionnaire survey of all the History students, and also ran a focus group of first years. Carrying out this type of research is fairly unusual for History students, as it involves finding out things about people who are very much alive, and involves getting ethical approval for all the data collection. It has also helped develop Emma’s experience in developing practical recommendations from original research, another key skill.

 

Emma’s research was able to show that the vast majority of our students are happy with our personal tutoring system, and they seem to view the History team as helpful and supportive. For example, her data shows that the department makes clear the role of the personal tutor very early on, and uses the system to offer students a wide range of academic and pastoral support. She was also able to highlight some areas for enhancing the way the History department delivers personal tutoring, such as rethinking our choice of meeting spaces for tutorial sessions, and adding in more scheduled personal tutor meetings throughout the year.

 

While Emma is now finalising a report that she will present to the History team over the summer, on 18 June she presented her research project at the university’s annual Teaching and Learning conference. Over lunch, along with other students from across the university who were granted URB@N bursaries, she talked about her research at a poster exhibition. She chatted with a wide range of lectures and others involved in delivering teaching, and was even able to get some further ideas to help refine her recommendations. Emma was a great advocate for the History department, and was able to explain in detail how the History team approached personal tutoring.

 

The URB@N scheme is a very important element of how the University of Northampton empowers the student voice, and is responsive to problems and issues that students face. It empowers students, and helps them engage in research that not only enhances their own skills, but also hopefully improves things for fellow students. I am look forward to being involved in more URB@N projects in the future, and hope that other History students can find it as beneficial as Emma has.

 

Paul Jackson, Senior Lecturer in History

‘Turns’ in eighteenth-century British history

Matthew McCormack gave this paper at the ‘Eighteenth Century Now’ conference at University College London on 26 April 2019. This conference was held to mark the 30th anniversary of the ‘British History in the Long Eighteenth Century’ seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, and was intended to reflect on the state of the field.

Today I am going to talk about methodological turns. In order to do this, I am going to take an autobiographical approach, reflecting on my own work in eighteenth-century studies. This may sound self-indulgent, but the journey that I have been on over the last quarter century is probably similar to many other scholars in this field.

I emerged from a History degree at York with an interest in nineteenth-century political culture. I chose to go to Manchester to do my postgraduate studies, because of the work on elections by Frank O’Gorman and James Vernon. It was Frank who turned me into an eighteenth-century historian, but it was the developments in the department in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British studies that impacted on my method as a historian.

Manchester in the 1990s was one of the few departments in Britain where postmodern ideas really took hold, and was probably the leading promoter of the linguistic turn. It was invigorating for me as a postgrad to be based in a department where history was so politicised and where methodology was taken so seriously. This very directly impacted on my work. Whereas I started out doing a fairly standard history of electoral culture, I soon switched to thinking about how the electoral citizen came to be defined. Working backwards from when this was codified in the 1832 Reform Act, I thought about how citizenship was talked about and lived, particularly in terms of masculinity.

My thesis became my 2005 book, The Independent Man: Citizenship and Gender Politics in Georgian England. This book was an early attempt to link the histories of masculinity and politics – and this is a link that I have tried to develop ever since – but its methodology was linguistic.

After Independent Man, I tried to repeat the trick by historicising other keywords that were significant in the history of masculinity and politics, but with rather less success. In common with a lot of work on the linguistic turn, my contention that historians had used terms anachronistically was a good one, but I was less successful at proposing what they should do with them.

Part of the problem was that, by the mid-00s, I had access to ECCO and online newspapers, which quickly generated thousands of hits that I did not know what to do with. For Independent Man I had spent months poring over Hansard, so had a good sense of context and intention of my source material. Digitisation made the linguistic turn very easy, but for the same reason I wonder if it helped to kill it off. Indeed, around this time there was a reaction against the cultural turn. Many historians expressed anxiety that the focus on representations was losing sight of human experience; some argued for a re-engagement with the ethos of social history.

Instead, I found a way forward from an unexpected source: the history of war. Historians often assume that military history is methodologically conservative, but it is a very practical field, concerned with physical and material questions. Even if you are doing the cultural history of war, you can’t get away with the kind of abstractions that are acceptable in other fields.

During my PhD I had come across the debates about the militia in the eighteenth century, which used highly gendered and nationalistic language to talk about the citizen soldier, and which resulted in the Militia Act of 1757. I wrote two articles about this and moved on to other projects. But I kept coming back to the militia and in particular the question of what it was like for the men who actually served in it. It had been relatively straightforward to reconstruct the role of masculinity in the way the militia had been represented, but in order to think about masculinity in terms of experience I had to ask different questions and use very different source types. This led to a series of studies on questions such as embodiment, space and material culture. Eventually I had enough of these for a book, Embodying the Militia in Georgian England (2015). This was a typical mid-career book, produced on the installment plan.

The structure of the book reflected its gestation, with the first half on representation and the second on practice. I could justify this structure, as debates around the militia (both at the time and among its historians) revolved around ideal and reality. Whereas most historians argued that these were completely at odds, this method allowed me to show that the ideal of the masculine citizen soldier was projected onto the practice of the institution itself. That said, I was conscious at the time that it was a bit of a fudge. Separating representation and practice is artificial, and I did not use it as an opportunity to explore the relationship between them.

I only really engaged fully with the material turn since I have been working on shoes. This was partly a development of my work on military uniforms and the masculine body. It was also a consequence of being at Northampton: I had to work on shoes eventually. The national shoe and leather collections were on my doorstep, so accessing the objects (one of the practical obstacles in the way of doing material culture history) was relatively straightforward. Indeed, building up relationships with museums (which you have to do to carry out this kind of work) has been a rewarding spinoff for me.

Previously, I had struggled with material culture. I had struggled to ask the right questions of the objects, or to get any usable answers from them. But the shoe is a very eloquent object. Shoe styles are often very striking and revealing, and the materiality of the object is key to its purpose and meaning. Shoes are also very personal objects, as they mould to the foot of the wearer and therefore provide a unique source about them. They retain traces of the wearer’s body, and impacted on that body itself, in terms of its posture, movement and health. I have therefore found men’s shoes to be a hugely revealing source about masculinity. It allowed me to think about the embodiment, the national identity and the class distinction of the public man – which takes me back to politics, where I started.

In conclusion, my third book is out this summer. It’s a textbook on Citizenship and Gender in Britain, 1688-1928 (which is very ‘long eighteenth century’). Whereas my previous books had compartmentalised the linguistic and the material turns, this one doesn’t. Perhaps this suggests that the approaches that come under the umbrella of the ‘cultural turn’ need not be opposed to one another.

Matthew McCormack

Saracen Go Home:Modern Islamophobia in Medieval Context

Dr Rachel Moss has recently joined History at Northampton as a Lecturer. A specialist in late medieval history, she blogs and tweets regularly about academia and feminist issues.

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In 2018, the police in England and Wales recorded a 40% increase in religiously-motivated hate crimes. Meanwhile, in the two weeks following the 15 March attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand which left fifty people dead, hate crimes in the UK soared. Many of the perpetrators directly referenced the New Zealand attacks. There is clearly a mood of heightened anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK.

As a medieval historian, I have been struck by how much Islamophobic rhetoric draws on the language and imagery of the medieval Crusades.  The Crusades are popularly remembered as violent clashes between the Christian West and Islamic forces. In fact the Crusades also featured intra-Christian struggle (most notably in the bloody sacking of Constantinople and in the crushing of those perceived to be heretics) and the conquest of pagan states. These complicating elements, or the fact that crusaders were often brutal and destructive, are left out of modern right-wing narratives that depict righteous Christian warriors heroically defending their territory from violent Muslim forces.

Knight and Saracen

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of an armoured knight fighting with a Saracen on horseback. British Library Royal 2 B VII  f. 150

So when I saw this story about anti-Muslim hate crime in Cumbernauld, Scotland, I immediately noticed the accompanying photo of the graffiti, which used the phrases SARACEN GO HOME and DEUS VULT. In 1095, according to the chronicler Robert of Rheims, Pope Urban II’s call for crusade were met with the cry “Deus vult” (God wills it). It may seem rather strange to see the rhetoric of the eleventh century replicated in spray paint in modern Britain. However, as the scholar Jonathan Lyons has noted, anti-Islamic discourses in the modern world, which “operate silently in the background as they shape our statements about Islam and the Muslims”, originate with the Crusades, categorising Muslims as “irretrievably outside the bounds of civilized society, reduced in status to little more than animals,” obliterating the many different cultures, languages and customs of the quarter of the world’s population into one violent, hateful, uncivilised stereotype: the Saracen (a term widely used in the Middle Ages to refer to Muslims and Arabs).

About 230 years after Pope Urban II’s call to crusade, someone composed the English language romance The King of Tars. In this story, the daughter of the Christian King of Tars offers to marry the Muslim Sultan of Damas in order to end war between their kingdoms. She falls pregnant, and the child she bears her new husband is born as a dark lump of flesh. Only after her husband allows her to christen the lump does it turn into a (white!) infant. Impressed by the power of the Christian God, the sultan also converts, and on his baptism his skin changes from black to white. In this romance, the product of a Christian-Muslim marriage is a child that is no child: it is a formless, lumpen thing that cannot really be classed as human. Only Christian people are human, the romance suggests – and Christian people are white.

A horseman impaling a bear

Hunting on horseback, British Library Add.MS.18866, f. 113r

The appropriation of the Middle Ages by conservative and far right commentators is not new. The Nazis loved medieval imagery, and excited discussions about the Crusades and Vikings have featured heavily on fascist message boards for years. Yet the significance of the Crusades as a symbol of Christian-Muslim discord seems particularly pressing in a time when hate crimes against Muslims are at a record high. As Professor Matthew Gabriele has written:

“It stems from an understanding of the past as unchanging, one where Christians have always been at war with Muslims and always will be at war with Muslims. It’s an argument that doesn’t care for historical context and one that relies on a false equivalence — either “they” (Muslims) were worse than “us” (Christians) or “they” (Christians of the past) are not “us” (Christians of the present).”

When historians have studied the Crusades from an Islamic perspective, they have discovered a period characterised not only by warfare but also by alliances between Christians and Muslims involving not only military truces but also economic exchanges and opportunities for knowledge-sharing. The far right’s preoccupation with an imagined white Christian Middle Ages obscures a history of far more complicated and interesting relationships between diverse peoples.

Shoes and conferences

Last Wednesday I travelled up to Liverpool to give a paper at conference on ‘Getting Dressed in the Eighteenth Century’. My paper was on shoes, thinking about the relationship between footwear and the body. I was going to discuss the impact that the body has upon shoes: shoes stretch to the shape of the foot and so present a unique source about their wearer. I also wanted to talk about the impact that shoes have upon the body: in the eighteenth century, inspired by the new science of ‘hygiene’, various writers were exercised about the healthiness, fit and flexibility of footwear.

I have been working on shoes for a few years now, and in preparing for a paper on the topic I particularly had shoes on the mind. Checking twitter that morning I was therefore excited to see the hashtag #asecsshoes: was there a panel on shoes at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conference, which was also happening at that time? No, it turned out that numerous ASECS attendees were working out what shoes to take with them.

I could relate to this as I too put a lot of thought into what shoes I wear to conferences. Academic conferences (especially big ones like ASECS) involve long days, walks between venues and lots of standing around. You therefore want to be comfortable but you may also choose to shod yourself smartly if, say, you are presenting, attending a reception or (in the case of some American conferences) on the job market.

(The issue of what constitutes an ‘academic dress code’ is a political minefield that I do not want to get into here, so I will confine myself to shoes. I am also aware of the irony of a man writing about uncomfortable footwear, but please bear with me.)

Since I have been going to conferences to talk about shoes, I have put a bit more effort into what shoes I wear to them. Talking about shoes will draw attention to what is on my feet, and I don’t want to let the side down. As I live and work in Northampton – the centre of the British shoe industry – and because I am largely talking about examples from the town’s museum and its National Leather Collection, I have taken to wearing shoes made in the area when I talk about them. Shoes made in the UK are normally expensive, but as a good Northamptonian I know how to get them cheap from factory sales.

I usually only take one pair of shoes to conferences, as I can’t be bothered to lug another pair of size 12s around. So I wore a pair of brown brogue boots with thick leather soles. Fetching and practical, I thought.

I travelled up to Liverpool the day before the conference, to be there for an early start the next day. This gave me time to wander round this fantastic city – something I always try to do on conference trips. By the evening, though, I was beginning to wish I’d worn trainers. It was a hot day and Liverpool is very hilly, so the heavy boots gave me blisters. The hard leather soles were unforgiving on the city’s Georgian flagstones and cobbles.

When I gave my paper the next day about unsuitable footwear and sweaty feet, I could therefore empathise with eighteenth-century urban walkers. I should have followed the advice of the Georgian chiropodists cited in the paper, who recommended woollen socks over cotton, for preventing dampness and blistering.

It was a fantastic conference, which concluded at the Walker Gallery with a discussion about their collection of eighteenth-century costume. Many of the garments discussed during the day – including shoes, women’s pockets and men’s wigs – featured in the exhibition. The gallery have also produced a popular series of videos on ‘Getting Dressed’, showing how these garments were worn on actual bodies, rather than displayed statically like they usually are in museums.

Walking back to Lime Street station, I passed the Empire Theatre where the touring production of the hit musical Kinky Boots is currently playing. Northampton’s shoes get everywhere.

Matthew McCormack is Professor of History at the University of Northampton

Exhibition Launch: James Parkes and the Age of Intolerance

Starting on Wednesday 13 March 2019, the University of Northampton will be hosting an exhibition about the life of Reverend Dr James Parkes (1896 – 1981). Parkes was one of the most remarkable figures within twentieth-century Christianity. Yet since his death in 1981, he has largely been forgotten by the church, by Jews, and by British society as a whole.

James PArkes blog

The exhibition on display at Southampton city’s Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Day event in January 2019

James Parkes was a tireless fighter against antisemitism in all forms. He was one of the first Christians to accept both the Christian roots of antisemitism and the integrity and validity of Judaism. Throughout his career, Parkes worked tirelessly to promote religious tolerance and mutual respect among those of all faiths and none.

In the 1930s, he helped to rescue Jewish refugees from Europe, including Alexander Teich – the grandfather of the actress Rachel Weisz. Parkes campaigned for the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust. He was a key figure in the creation of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ). The CCJ was galvanised in 1942 as evidence of the Nazi extermination programme received widespread exposure in Britain. This was the most murderous year yet faced by European Jewry and the year when Polish Jewry was essentially destroyed.

Parkes authored more than 400 texts during his lifetime and was a prolific letter writer. He donated his library and personal papers to the University of Southampton in 1964. These materials formed the foundation for what later became the Parkes Institute, the world’s oldest and most wide-ranging centre for the study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations across the ages. The exhibition draws on documents and photographs from the University’s Special Collections to examine the life of James Parkes and reflect on his legacy for us today.

Since his death, James Parkes has been increasingly forgotten. He has become a ‘nobody’, whilst others are celebrated for the work that he pioneered. He ought to be remembered. Remembering activists such as Parkes is partly about honouring their humanity. But it also helps to illustrate the failure of their contemporaries to act during an age in which intolerance was all too common.

The exhibition has been curated by Chad McDonald, who is an alumnus of the University of Northampton. He is now a researcher based at the universities of Bristol and Southampton, where he is examining British post-war responses to the Holocaust. He is a member of the editorial team for the highly respected academic journal Patterns of Prejudice. The exhibition has been generously funded by the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (Arts and Humanities Research Council).

The exhibition will be opened with a keynote talk by the curator at 4pm on Wednesday 13 March. It will be on show in the Owl’s Nest on the Ground Floor of the Learning Hub on the Waterside Campus until 27 March. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

 

Click here for more details on the launch event on the 13 March