Author: menysnoweballes

Feminist medievalist, teacher of history, consumer of pop culture. Lecturer at the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford. Blogging in a personal capacity.

Lockdown Recipes: Cornbread

I have noticed that during lockdown here in the UK, a lot of people finding it difficult to get hold of bread, or even the ingredients for making bread – yeast seems to be in particularly short supply. There are some wonderful ways of harvesting wild yeast, but if you aren’t confident enough to try that, how about a cornbread recipe? Cornbread is a little bit different from Hovis, I concede, but it’s delicious (especially warm from the oven, though it also freezes well) and best of all, you don’t need yeast (in fact, you can’t use yeast with corn!).

The history of cornbread reflects the deep cultural divide within black and white communities of the American Deep South. This Brit is making no claims about wading into that complex cultural heritage! But you might want to experiment with this recipe a bit to see which kind of cornbread you want to come out with – something sweet and soft, or something more savoury with a crunchy crust.

Now, you might look at the recipe below and say: “Rachel, how is this lockdown cooking? It’s got lots more ingredients than a basic loaf!” This is true. But in my grocery shops in recent weeks I’ve found it’s definitely not impossible to find food – it’s just that many of what British people consider to be staples are off the shelves. This recipe does not need strong bread flour or yeast, and instead uses cornmeal – if you can’t get that it is absolutely fine (even if it’s inauthentic!) to use polenta. Using polenta instead of fine-milled cornmeal (note: cornmeal, not cornflour – cornflour will not give you a bread at all! Leave it for your gravy!) will give you an interesting crunchy crumb that I have enjoyed in the past.

This recipe is adapted from one I found on Ocado years ago but which is no longer online. You can jazz it up by throwing in grated cheese, jalapenos, spring onions, bacon, ham, sweetcorn – really anything you like. But it is also delicious plain. And my four year old ate some today with a dollop of jam on top, so why not try it for breakfast too.


Cornbread muffins, with a lovely erratic crust provided by an enthusiastic four-year-old dolloping the mix into cases


125g cornmeal/polenta

125g flour – if you have self-raising, omit baking powder; if plain, use baking powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150ml buttermilk – if you can’t get this (though it’s not flying off the shelves!) try plain yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon juice and let it sit for five minutes

150ml milk – any kind is fine, in my experience

2 medium eggs

1 tablespoon of honey or brown sugar – optional

A generous pinch of salt

25g butter – optional – this makes it a little richer but I don’t usually bother

Heat your oven to 220C. Grease either a 1lb loaf tin, or a 9″ square tin, or a deep muffin tray – today this made 9 good-sized muffins. If you don’t have muffin cases, really do grease the heck out of the tray. This mix would probably make a dozen cupcake portions but I wonder if making them that small would dry them out. No harm in trying, though!

Mix all your dry ingredients together. Make a well in the centre and gradually add all the wet ingredients until just mixed together (no need to vigorously beat – it’s fine if it’s lumpy). Pour immediately into the loaf tin or muffin tins – the bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk start reacting so you want to get them in the oven straight away.

A loaf will take approximately 30 min to bake; a square tin 20 minutes; and muffins under 15 – I would check at the 12 minute mark.

Cool on a wire rack and enjoy! You can eat these straightaway. They do not keep very well for more than a day or two, so I suggest putting them in the freezer and popping a couple out when you need them.


Learning in Lambeth


Jim Beach reports on the second-year field trip to the Imperial War Museum.

IWM ART1257 (Convoy North Sea 1918) (002)

John Lavery, “A Convoy, North Sea, 1918.” Imperial War Museum

February’s weather has been fickle these past few years.  The First World War module’s visit to the Imperial War Museum has often coincided with snow flurries or clear, bright winter’s days.  But this year’s story was, on the way in at least, one of very heavy rain.

Because it was wet and the school half-term, the museum seemed more crowded than usual.  But this did not hinder the second years in reaching the entrance to First World War galleries at the appointed hour.  Then, primed by a short briefing and the promise of a debrief in the pub afterwards, they sallied forth into the melee of mums, dads, grandparents, and kids.

Although constrained by the relatively small footprint of its building in in Lambeth, South London, the museum has managed to pack a great deal of material into these galleries.  There is always something new to discover, and the displays reflect the quality and quantity of the IWM’s collections.

Our module’s field trip is deliberately timed.  By mid-February the students have covered three-quarters of the syllabus.  This means they know enough so not to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information.  And pennies often drop as sections of the galleries reinforce material covered earlier in class.




University of Northampton, 10-11 September 2020

Across history people have used letters to communicate. Letters were used in the exchange of news, emotions and opinions; they constructed networks, formed and destroyed friendships and relationships. Personal correspondence has been intrinsic to human society, bonding and breaking links between individuals, family and social groups.

Historians have been alert to the value of the contents of letters for a wide range of historical perspectives. Similarly we have fixed our gaze on the letters as objects and as processes. Much of this work, however, has concentrated on specific and often quite short periods. The eighteenth century has dominated the field, although women’s letters in the early modern period have also focused minds.

In this conference and in the planned resulting edited collection we will for the first time chart the development of the English language letter and other personal correspondence, which we define loosely as correspondence sent from a named individual to other named individual/s. Papers are invited on any social, cultural, economic or political theme, and we welcome contributions that interpret the medium of “correspondence” creatively. From the gentry letters of the late medieval period through to the rise of the postcard in the mid-nineteenth century to the prison pen pal services in the present day, personal correspondence takes many forms in material, cultural and generic terms.

While we have chosen to focus on English language correspondence for this collection, we welcome contributions that represent history beyond the United Kingdom and North America, and would particularly welcome contributions that centre BAME, LGBT and women’s voices.  We warmly welcome contributions from postgraduate and early career researchers. We are applying for funding to support travel and registration costs for ECR/postgraduate attendees, though we won’t be able to confirm the details of that for a little while.

We invite abstracts of a maximum 200 words to be submitted by Friday 15 May. 

All contributions and enquiries should be addressed to and



Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

It’s Snow Joke: History and the Media

Senior lecturer Mark Rothery writes about his recent interactions with the media, and what that means for historical research. Mark also discussed some of these themes on TALKRadio –select the 4:30-5:00 clip and go to three minutes in. 

On 4th February this year the new Times Online history correspondent published an article called ‘Snowflakes are not only a Modern Phenomenon’ (I won’t give this copy by including a link). This article, and the several others that followed, were based on my research with Professor Henry French, at the University of Exeter, into the male anxieties of younger sons of the landed gentry in eighteenth and nineteenth century England published in The Historical Journal last year.

It is flattering when people outside the academy are interested in your research. This particular topic of anxiety is, of course, the focus of public attention at the moment. Lots more people are talking about it and, perhaps, suffering from it than previously. I’ve commented elsewhere on this blogspace about the subject.

The trouble with this kind of dissemination, though, is the politicisation of interpretation. If you read our article (which I hope you will) you’ll see that we never used the term ‘Snowflakes’ and we certainly do not support the use of this term in reference to our research.


Finding Love: Researching LGBTQ+ Histories in the Archives

Senior lecturer Caroline Nielsen writes: 

What sources are available for historians interested in historic LGBTQ+ experiences?

The answer is that there is a surprisingly large amount of materials now available to us. We just need to know where to look and how to access it. So, please allow me to introduce some excellent introductory resources, and some tips on using them. Most of these collections focus on late 19th and early 20th centuries collections. I’ve tried to provide links for all.


“Love” by Shaira Dela Peña

Primary Sources and Key Movements               

Key national collections and research guides about LGBTQ+ activism in the UK include:







Diamonds are Forever


Last night the University of Northampton hosted the 2020 Diamond Research Awards. These awards celebrate the research that is undertaken at the University of Northampton, the staff that make it happen, and the staff who supervise, develop and encourage our new up and coming researchers.

We were absolutely delighted that our Senior Lecturer in History, Dr Paul Jackson, won the prestigious Research Impact award. Paul gives us this insight into his research and why it matters:

My research into the history of the far right has been underpinned by the Searchlight Archive, which is based at the University of Northampton. The archive itself is a trove of material related to the far right, past and present, and a number of students have used it for dissertations and PhD projects. My research over the past few years has been to use this unique collection to create peer reviewed articles, chapters and books, and also to develop ‘impact’. Research outputs have included a biography of a leading British neo-Nazi, Colin Jordan, and an article examining the World Union of National Socialists, a 1960s era transnational network active in Britain and Europe, the USA and Australia. Some of my impact activities have included running CPD workshops for people who tackle the far right in professional contexts, such as police officers, hate crime workers and teachers. It has also included working with government agencies and think tanks to help develop a better understanding of the nature of the far right today. I also talk to the media on a regular basis. As a historian working in this area, I often can bring a sense of historical context that analysts from other areas find helpful.

Paul contributes regularly to the mainstream media, for instance in this piece on Donald Trump for The Guardian, and his most recent academic publication is this article on the World Union of National Socialists. He is the author of Colin Jordan and Britain’s Neo-Nazi Movement (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).

Congratulations, Paul!








My Right Well-beloved Valentine

Lecturer in History Dr Rachel Moss gives us a peek at the first known Valentine’s letter written in English. This post first appeared in a slightly adapted format on her blog.


Love Letter by John Jennings for Unsplash


The Paston Valentine: Margery Brews’ letter to John Paston, 1477

Every few years an enterprising reporter does a bit of googling and stumbles across the letter from Margery Brews to her suitor John Paston, which is regularly described as the oldest English-language Valentine greeting. Of course, well before the fifteenth century people were celebrating St Valentine’s Day, and the feast is referred to in English by fourteenth century authors (‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make’ in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules providing the most obvious example), but it does seem that it was not until the mid-fifteenth century that people were referring in written English to their sweethearts as Valentine. The English poetry of Charles d’Orleans gives us a sweet example:

Als wele is him this day that hath him kaught
A valentyne that louyth him.

With this in mind, we can imagine the young Margery Brews, probably in her late teens, sitting down to write a letter to John Paston, addressing him in a newly-fashionable term. But who were the couple, and how did their relationship come about?


Love is Love: Welcome to UK LBGTQ+ History Month!

Senior lecturer Caroline Nielsen writes:

love Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

Photo of rainbow hearts by Jiroe on Unsplash

Love is Love: Welcome to UK LBGTQ+ History Month!

February is UK LGBT+ History Month, an inclusive celebration of history.

Across the country, public events will be taking place to celebrate the long history and global diversity of LGBTQ+ experience. It aims to promote equality and diversity in communities, with a special emphasis on providing resources and support for LGBTQ+ people, young and old. It raises awareness of the diversity and complexity of human identity and relationships over time, highlighting the damaging effects of prejudice and discrimination. The theme for this year is poetry, prose and plays.

2019 marks the 14th anniversary of this public history event. It has certainly come a long way since 2005. The first LGBT+ History Month was faced with a number of tabloid news stories with barely disguised homophobia running through them (see the work of Robert Mills on this).  LGBTQ+ history sometimes still suffers from a vague public misconception that it is an inappropriate form of biographic history which likes to ‘out’ historic individual’s intimate relationships and/or sexual preferences for either salacious entertainment or for political reasons. Discussing a historic person’s sexuality can still be controversial, especially if they were believed to have possibly been in a same-sex or ‘queer’ sexual or romantic relationship at some point in their lives. There has been debate about how appropriate it is to, in the words of one author, ‘open history’s closets’.[1] This view helped fuel another early misconception about the history of sexualities and LGBTQ+ experience; that it was just about what people historically liked to do with other people in bed.


Study Tips for Successful Researchers

University of Northampton PhD student Kerry Love shares her top tips for successful studying. 


Calendar icon by, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

It might not feel like it, but I’ve been studying for 6 years now and in the process have developed some fairly useful habits. As a former serial procrastinator who would turn her nose up at the idea of planning a piece before writing, I have faith that with some practice and encouragement even the most disorganized person can become a little more efficient. We live in a world obsessed hyper-productivity and competing over who works the most on the least sleep. Talking about efficiency and productivity stirs up the same kind of discussion, therefore I think it’s really important to schedule in time for all aspects of your life. I’ve worked and studied at the same time for most of my academic career so have certainly fell victim to working too much, but when I learnt to manage my time properly I found that I was more than capable of doing both and staying sane. Whether you’re an undergraduate, postgraduate, or anyone else balancing life- I hope you find these useful!


Radical Conservatism, Edwardian Tariff Reform and Brexit

Senior lecturer Mark Rothery reflects on patterns in history.


Pattern repeating Union Jack by Dawn Hudson

There are moments as a historian when you notice patterns repeating – they never repeat in exactly the same way but the repetition is always noticeable. Recent changes in British Conservatism and the wider Brexit process have reminded me of a moment in the history of the Conservative Party during the Edwardian period.

In the wake of Benjamin Disraeli’s death, in 1881, the Conservative Party faced a series of challenges. The Party seemed unsuited to the new, more democratic world that Disraeli had helped to create. Trades Unions (newly legalised by Gladstone’s Liberals), the decline of Britain’s pre-eminent global economic supremacy, of landed society and the decline of the empire all seemed problematic for a party that rested on these pillars of ‘traditional England’. How to attract the votes of the middle and working classes, this was the challenge.

Conservatism was lent a helping hand in the final two decades of the nineteenth century thanks to problems for the Liberal Party. This included a major split over Home Rule for Ireland that saw the Liberal Unionists under Lord Hartington and Joseph Chamberlain leave the Liberals and join the Conservatives, eventually permanently fusing the two parties as the Conservative and Unionist Party in 1912 (the Conservative Party bears this name to this day). For the moment the Conservatives were saved but trouble was stored up for the future.


Joseph Chamberlain at his desk in the Colonial Office: Image from Wikicommons

As a way of appealing to a wider electorate the Conservatives settled on Tariff Reform. Perhaps the most unpopular and dull political policy ever devised Tariff Reform went like this. Free trade would come to an end, tariffs would be imposed on all products coming from outside the empire. This would bind the empire more closely as a trading bloc and incrementally improve Britain’s declining position in the world. It would also provide income for social reform thereby attracting working close voters but not alienating ‘traditional support’ by taxing the rich.

All these prerogatives are reminiscent of Brexit and the thinking around this issue. These debates are about Britain’s position in the world, about trade and empire and about attracting a wider electorate.

Tariff Reform was an absolute disaster in the period it was official policy from 1903-14 under the guidance of Joseph Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour, the Conservative leader. The Tories were annihilated in the 1906 election (their biggest defeat until the 1997 election) and showed no signs of recovering in the two elections of 1910 (January and December). New Liberalism, meanwhile, cut swathes through traditional fiscal policy introducing pensions, national insurance, unemployment benefit, the emasculation of the House of Lords and a host of other radical policies, which furnished with Lloyd George’s radical oratory was all the more shocking to ‘the establishment’.


Only war proved to be the saviour of the Conservatives. They eventually went into wartime coalition with the Liberals in 1916, repeated this in 1918 under Lloyd George and, when their confidence had eventually returned removed themselves from the coalition in 1922 (hence the ‘1922 Committee’). Labour won their first election in 1923 but this, and the 1929-31 Labour Government, were to prove brief eclipses of Tory dominance in the interwar period as the Liberal Party went into terminal decline.