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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Remembering a war after ‘The War’

Jim Beach of the University of Northampton reflects on a visit to the Czech Republic.

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Speaking neither Czech nor Polish, it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation to speak at a workshop on the Seven Days’ War between the Czechs and Poles in 1919.  

The initial invite came from Tomáš Rusek, a Czech historian I had met at the Voices of the Home Fronts event organised by the National Archives and Everyday Lives in War in 2016.  Along with Ondřej Kolář, who had presented alongside Tomáš, a coincidence of historical interest emerged during that conference and the three of us have remained in contact since.

The workshop took place in Ostrava in the Czech Republic on Friday 25 January and was organised by Martin Lokaj of the city’s university in collaboration with the Association of Czechoslovak Legionnaires. My paper discussed the British military officers sent in early 1919 to the Duchy of Teschen; now the borderlands of Poland and the Czech Republic.  

Like my fellow Britons a hundred years ago, I was unsure what to expect but found the experience fascinating.  Particularly as my only personal point of comparison was First World War centenary events in Britain.

The visit was made all the more interesting because I travelled with Ian Dalziel, the great-nephew of one of the British officers sent to Teschen. Like me, Ian had never visited the Czech Republic and we were made to feel most welcome by our hosts.

Another aspect that impressed us was the format and content of the workshop.  It took place in Centrum Pant, a coffee and bookshop which is used as a cultural venue in Ostrava.  This made the occasion less formal than a standard academic conference and seems to have helped the interchange of perspectives.

The audience was a mix of scholars and the wider public, with representation from both sides of the modern border. It is also worth noting that the programme did not shy away from confronting difficult subject areas.  For example, one talk addressed the highly controversial issue of war crimes committed during the fighting.

Although handicapped by our linguistic ignorance, Ian and I witnessed vigorous debates in the Q&A sessions. Catching up on the gist, which was kindly translated retrospectively for us during the breaks, I was struck by a similarity with British First World War-related events between 2014 and 2018.

As in Britain, there was an obvious collision between recent scholarship and ingrained perceptions of the conflict.  And although there was no obvious emergence of consensus, it struck me that it was important for old and new views to be expressed, challenged, and argued in a public historical forum like this one.

In this regard, it must be understood that a broader significance hangs over the Seven Days’ War.  It tainted the early relationship between a re-established Poland and the new state of Czechoslovakia.  As the interwar period played forward this had consequences when the Second World War loomed in Central Europe.

On the Saturday Ian and I joined the Legionnaires association on their visit to the battlefields of the Seven Days’ War in Poland. With temperatures well below zero and an accompanying snow fall, we certainly got a feel for the meteorological challenges facing the two sides a hundred years ago.

The key events of the day’s tour were the laying of wreaths at graves of the fallen.  In simple ceremonies very similar to their British equivalents, a guard was formed by personnel from today’s Czech military and younger legion members wearing reproduction uniforms of 1919.

These uniforms were in themselves an intriguing insight into the conflict. Czech forces of the time wore a variety of dress depending on which army they had served with in 1918.  Czech legion units formerly with the French and Italian armies wore uniforms of those countries, while locally-recruited troops had Austro-Hungarian outfits. The addition of insignia in the then Czech national colours of red and white did not really help with battlefield recognition because Polish colours were the same!

Ian and I were also impressed by the Czechs concluding their day with a double wreath laying at the graves of Polish soldiers in Skoczów.  Reflecting the human complexity of Teschen in 1919, these men had been laid to rest in adjacent Catholic and Protestant cemeteries.  And in the early evening darkness the lighting of candles next to their memorial stones added poignancy to the ceremony.

Reflecting upon the two days, I am struck by the willingness of my Czech colleagues to engage with what might termed the ‘difficult history’ of the Seven Days’ War. It would have been all too easy to let the centenary pass by without historical engagement. 

It was a privilege to witness events over the two days.  I am therefore most grateful to have been able to participate as a representative of the Everyday Lives in War First World War engagement centre.

 

This blog first appeared on the Everyday Lives in War First World War Engagement Centre website

Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 at the University of Northampton

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) was remembered at the University of Northampton on Wednesday 23 January. Traditionally it is on 27 January, which was a Sunday this year. The afternoon began with the ceremonial laying of the stones outside of the Bird of Transformation monument in front of the Senate Building at the new Waterside Campus. The congregation then moved to the Morley Room, to listen to the guest speakers, and this year I was included among them.

The theme for this year was ‘Torn from Home’, and the presentations reflected this aspect. John Josephs from the Northampton Hebrew Congregation spoke about the importance of keeping the Holocaust, and other genocides, in the memory of the current and future generations.

Julie Gottlieb (Professor of Modern History at the University of Sheffield) presented the keynote speech on ‘Gender and the ‘Jews’ War: Women, Anti-Semitism and Anti-War Campaigns in Britain, 1938-1940’. The talk was very informative as the focus around women’s involvement in the far-right is a relatively unexplored topic. Through the lens of gender, it provided an alternative perspective. Dan Jones stepped in at the last minute and gave a speech about the far right with a geographical zoning in on the local area. All presentations were expertly delivered, insightful and were received with gratuitous applause.

The presentation that I gave was on the ‘Kindertransport’. The reason why this topic was chosen was to bring awareness to other aspects of the Holocaust that people don’t immediately think of. Most think about concentration or death camps, or single events such as Kristallnacht that targeted Jewry and left mass destruction over a very short period of time. As children and adolescents were taken away from their family, they too were torn from home.

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It was a British driven operation that began in 1938 and lasted until 1939, and saw ten thousand children rescued from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia and transported to Britain using the train and boat system. Upon arrival in Britain, the system that the earlier kinders experienced was very different to those who arrived in 1939.

The children were picked by their host families. This was then altered to children being assigned. New identities were assimilated, which included having to adapt to a new religion. The Telegraph wrote an article about this on 26 May 2013, which included stories such as that of Mrs Jacobs, who tells of trips to the cinema that was specifically put on for the refugees. This reminds us of how much the small acts made a difference to these refugees, and the positive impact that taking up permanent residence in Britain had on these children. In a contemporary context, it would be hard for those to comprehend what the Kindertransport went through, as society and politics in 2019 are to an extent, very different.

More research is needed about the operation, especially the impact that it had upon the families and children, but it is apparent that the effects are individualistic. Historians such as Rebekka Gopfret commented that the individuals do not assimilate themselves with the victims of the Holocaust because society, and by extension their own consciousness, have deemed that only those liberated from the extermination camps, are the ‘real survivors’.

However, the children were separated from their parents immediately and although some maintained contact through letters, by 1939 any hope of reunion was quashed by the onset of the Second World War. By 1942, the cessation of letters left many questions unanswered for the senders. This was bound to have a substantial effect on the children and many had to come to terms after the war had ended, that they may not see their parents or their native homes again. They had to adapt to a new way of life that for most, became permanent. This feeds into the emotional factor.

As Edith Milton wrote in her biography, she does not remember the journey, only that it was full of children and weeping adults; she does not remember her mother being there, but she presumes she was. This highlights that possibly, due to the traumatic events and separation from their parents, the children have blocked out parts of the event.

Various manifestations arose out the children’s experiences. Poetry was an outlet, which forms a larger collection of literature from Holocaust survivors and makes their story more accessible to the general public. They can express their emotions and try to understand the psychological trauma they experienced.

Samuels Kindertransport

There have also been plays written, such as Kindertransport. Diane Samuels in the prelude to this play includes five personal accounts from Kindertransport children. This reiterated that the play was based on true accounts, but that the format of the play means that once again, the topic becomes accessible to the wider public. It makes a difficult subject easier to digest. It can promote discussion and it can also be in a less emotionally charged environment, unlike a face-to-face interview.

Oral testimonies are useful ways for both the interviewee to tell their story and validate their feelings, and the interviewer to gain insight and knowledge into the experiences. Some caution is needed when using these as historical sources, as there can be periods of no memory and every person’s experience is unique, but they can be useful tools nevertheless.

In essence, Holocaust Memorial Day serves to ensure that atrocities that have happened in the past do not get repeated. Survivors of that generation are declining in numbers, and by discussing these events it puts the issue in the forefront of later generation’s minds.

By creating awareness, the signs can be recognized and action taken to stop genocides or persecution from being widespread to a national level. Never again.

 

By Kay Montero, a second year History student

I’m not sure I want THIS country back…

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In seems appropriate to be writing about racism and xenophobia this winter, appropriate but quite disturbing. I was prompted to write this blog post by one of my third year History students who had read my book London’s Shadows over the summer in preparation for his studies.

In Chapter three I look at the mixed communities of the East End of London in the 1880s, and at the tensions arising from the considerable influx of poorer immigrants from the Russian Empire. Those migrants were mostly Ashkenazi Jews fleeing from persecution and seeking a better life in the West. It is very easy to draw comparisons between their plight and those of modern migrants who risk their lives to cross continents by road, rail and sea.

I may have been prompted by my student’s comments but today I feel this has been reinforced by current events. As Parliament continues to debate the Prime Minister’s forlorn attempts to secure a Brexit deal that does not plunge the country into yet more chaos and uncertainty, the newspapers this morning were full of the coverage of the racist abuse suffered by one of our leading international footballers.

In the 1880s there was a rise in anti-Semitism and anti Alien feelings, much of it stirred up by right wing agitators like Arnold White. White twisted facts and misled parliament in his attempts to blame the Jews for the problems of a British society facing its worst economic period in a generation. Unemployment (a new term in 1888) affected thousands of people and since immigrants were seemingly prepared to work for less pay it was an easy accusation to level at them that were taking English jobs.

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White and his ilk cried out that England was being swamped by foreigners who ‘were working the English right out’. It is the same rhetoric we have been hearing from Nigel Farage for years now, and the same rhetoric that impelled very many otherwise decent people to vote Leave in the 2016 Referendum. Many people will tell you that immigration was not at the heart of Brexit vote but it was at the heart of the campaign and UKIP never missed an opportunity to mention it.

When times are hard communities close ranks and ‘look after their own’ and, collectively, that is what some chose to do in 2016. Shutting the door to immigrants seemed to some to be the solution to completion for jobs and falling pay. To others of course – the likes of Farage and Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon (better know as Tommy Robinson – because it sounds more working class and British) – xenophobia was justification enough. The extreme right wishes to end all immigration and, if possible, deport large numbers of those that have already settled here.

In 1888 the Whitechapel murders and the belief that ‘no Englishman could do such a thing’ fueled xenophobia on the streets and led to Jewish men (and other ‘furriners’) being chased through the courts and alleys by lynch mobs. The short-term suspect John Piser (the man the papers called ‘Leather Apron’) was arrested by Sergeant Thicke, as much for his own protection as because the police thought he had anything to do with the killings.

Racism runs through our society and is rarely very far from the surface. Brexit, the rise of UKIP, Donald Trump, and the legitimacy afforded to extreme right wing voices (like Robinson and Arron Banks) by mainstream media has undoubtedly emboldened some nasty elements in British society.

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Just over a week ago a banana skin was tossed at the feet of the Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was born in France to Gabonsese parents. Football has taken big strides to kick out racism but this incident was followed by clear racial verbal abuse directed at England and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea FC.

Sterling made an important statement about the role of the press in fueling racism and he was supported by many voices including the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) who accused the papers of contributing to the rise in racism on the terraces.

What my study of the immigrant communities in Whitechapel in the 1880s showed me was that the city where I was born has a very long history of integrating new arrivals. That we as a country have benefitted from immigration is a verifiable fact and yet we still have fight against the bigoted views of people like Arnold White who would tell us otherwise. It is easy to hate, easy to find fault, easy to view foreigners as ‘different’, ‘strange’ and ‘threatening’.

It is tempting also to believe that when times are hard and uncertain (as they are today) that the answer is an easy one: kick out those that don’t belong here. But the real answer lies in addressing the fundamental inequality that blights our society. Austerity impacts the poorest and those without the chances to change their lives, it leaves virtually untouched the wealthy and powerful. This was true in the 1880s as well, the homeless sheltering in Trafalgar Square were the victims of a capitalist class that exploited them not their working-class brothers and sisters who fled the Tsar’s pogroms.

If you imagine for one moment that Brexit will benefit the poor communities that largely voted for it then I respectfully suggest you are at best naive, if not deluded. The men that will profit from Britain leaving the EU will be the speculators (like Farage and his City chums), the populist politicians  (like Boris Johnson and Rees-Mogg), and the bankers and very rich who are protected by their huge reserves of wealth. Immigration always was and still remains the political tool of the far right. Less extreme politicians on the right are also culpable in using immigration for populist political purposes when they could and should be dialing down the rhetoric of difference.

We saw this in the late 1800s, in the 1930s and it is again a dominant theme today. I was shocked when I attended a football match at Elland Road, Leeds in 1980 or 81.  I went with my dad as we were staying with friends. We normally went to see Arsenal but thought we’d take in a local match. The abuse of a black footballer, with monkey chants and showers of bananas, was disgusting to us both. We never saw that in London. The abuse was directed at a Leeds player and was coming from his own supporters. They simply didn’t want a black person playing for their club; such was the level of racism in South Yorkshire in the late 1970s and early 80s.

I thought we’d left all that behind but we clearly haven’t. I suspect and fear that things will have to get worse before they get better and I am not sure that leaving a progressive community of ‘foreigners’ which was established in part to prevent xenophobic wars from ever threatening the European continent again, to go it alone, is really a very wise idea.

If ‘getting our country back’ means returning to the race riots and anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1970s then I think we should all stay put and calm down.

Drew Gray, Subject lead, History

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UK premature baby care 1947-1965. The Doctor Isaac ‘Harry’ Gosset Collection

This blog is based on the presentation given on 8 November 2018, as part of the History at Northampton Research Seminars series at the University of Northampton. It explores the origins of perinatal (premature baby) care in the UK from 1947 to 1965, using recently available archival material for Northampton, made possible through the generosity of the family of Dr Isaac Henry Gosset (1907-1965).

 

Isaac Gosset (known as Harry) was the son of the noted statistician William Sealy Gosset who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Student’ who developed the ‘t-Test’. Isaac received his education at the Dragon School in Oxford and Rugby School, then on to Magdalen College at Oxford before gaining his medical degree at St Thomas’s Hospital in London.

He held various medical posts in London and around the Home Counties including a period in the RAF during the Second World War. By the time of his demobilisation he was working as Senior Medical Specialist at RAF Cosford, one of the largest RAF general hospitals, and had attained the rank of Wing Commander.

Dr Gosset was appointed the first consultant paediatrician for Northampton General Hospital in 1947. He had extensive clinical responsibilities for Northampton and the southern part of the county, together with part of north Oxfordshire, and following the creation of the National Health Service in 1948 also Kettering General Hospital and the northern part of Northamptonshire.

He was a pioneer in the development of exchange transfusions ‘undertaking exchange transfusions for sick neonates with hydrops only one year after the first published description of this technique by Diamond in 1947’. This was a decisive, life-saving intervention by the paediatrician in the delivery room, an area previously felt to be the sole realm of the of the obstetrician and midwife.

The first premature baby unit in the UK was opened at the Sorrento Maternity Hospital in Birmingham by Dr Mary Crosse in 1931, the second unit opened at the Southmead Hospital in Bristol by Dr Beryl Corner in 1946. During the 1950s several hospital teaching centres set up premature baby units. The General Hospital in Northampton was an early adopter of premature baby units as the first one here predated 1950. This unit was deemed to be too small so in 1950 Dr Gosset helped in planning and setting up the new premature baby unit at Northampton by the conversion of the old labour ward in the hospital’s maternity home.

In neonatal practice he designed the ‘Gosset icterometer’.

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It was made of Perspex, and manufactured initially by Modern Fittings, a local Northampton firm, and subsequently by Ingram’s of the Santos Works at Birmingham, it allowed accurate estimation of serum bilirubin without a blood test. The icterometer was trialled in both Northampton and Birmingham and both studies were published in the Lancet in 1960.

These are amongst the very earliest neonatal care research papers in such a prestigious journal and reflect that at the time icterometers were an important advance. Dr Mary Crosse and her team at the Sorrento Maternity Hospital, also in Birmingham, were using Gosset’s Icterometer too, so successfully that they were wearing the paint off their device.

Professor Peter Dunn, Emeritus Professor of Perinatal Medicine and Child Health, at the University of Bristol, and Southmead Hospital, Bristol, said of the icterometer ‘…[he] used the icterometer all the time when he was paediatric registrar at the Birmingham Maternity Hospital 1959-1962 and onwards’. He said further that ‘Not only was the icterometer an effective clinical tool, equally importantly it saved valuable time when paediatric staffing was minimal. I rate this instrument as the most valuable I had at that time and still is useful today especially for those working outside hospital’.

Icterometers were used for many years afterwards, but having been superseded by transcutaneous electronic bilirubin meters and microsampling of blood samples enabling blood tests to be undertaken more quickly and requiring less volume, they are no longer supported by current NICE guidelines for use in the UK. However Icterometers are still in use today in many countries around the world with recently published (2017) studies validating their use in China and Nigeria.

In April 1965 the new premature baby unit which Dr Gosset helped to design was opened. In this he was a generation ahead of his time, which even in the 1970s saw such units as being restricted to teaching centres.

Sadly in March 1965, Dr Gosset died of a coronary thrombosis aged only 57 on his way home from his usual Thursday afternoon clinic at Kettering General Hospital. The Premature Baby Unit was immediately renamed the ‘Gosset Premature Baby Unit’ a name which it still proudly bears to this day.

‘The Gosset Collection’ is unique in the UK in having extensive archival material covering premature baby care in the pre-ventilation era. Using ‘The Gosset Collection’ the full premature baby care pathway of the 1950s and 60s can be reconstructed, the history of the development of the icterometer can be explored and both can be placed in the context of a rapidly evolving area of paediatric medical care.

 

Fred O’Dell and Andrew N Williams, Northampton General Hospital, United Kingdom.

 

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https://www.northamptongeneral.nhs.uk/About/OurHistory/Dr-Gosset/The-Dr-Isaac-Harry-Gosset-Collection.aspx

The photographs are taken from the Dr Isaac ‘Harry’ Gosset Collection and were originally provided by Dr Gosset’s family.