History and Heritage

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.

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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.

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“Love” by Shaira Dela Peña

Primary Sources and Key Movements               

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Diamonds are Forever

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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.

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Love Letter by John Jennings for Unsplash

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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?

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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.

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Study Tips for Successful Researchers

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

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Calendar icon by Videoplasty.com, 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!

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Radical Conservatism, Edwardian Tariff Reform and Brexit

Senior lecturer Mark Rothery reflects on patterns in history.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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From Facebook to Fatherhood: Emotional Economies Then and Now

Senior Lecturer in History Mark Rothery writes on emotional economies: 

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Emojis – tiny pictures representing emotions. Picture via British Library

As we leave Christmas and a very divisive general election behind ‘Emotional Economies’ seems an appropriate choice for this blog – it’s the subject of a paper I’ll be giving on the subject at the bi-annual European Social Science History Conference this year in Leiden, Netherlands.

‘Emotional economies’ is a term used by both economists and historians. Let’s start with the economists.

Classical economics assumes that consumers and, indeed, all agents in the market, behave rationally. Under certain conditions, in terms of price and levels of supply, their behaviour (particularly in relation to demand) should be predictable. Repeated historic collapses of financial markets (most recently in 2007-8) have illustrated the folly of this idea as investors and consumers continually fail to behave ‘rationally’ when faced with choice.

Emotional economics is a new frontier in marketing and economics. It attempts to engage with some of these problems and achieve better access to and persuasion of consumers. Rather than assuming that consumers behave ‘rationally’ emotional economics recognises that people often make choices based on how they ‘feel’ about a product, the company that produces the product, the state of the world, Brexit and a host of other contexts for feeling. So consumers need to ‘feel’ positive about a product, need to feel emotionally uplifted by it in some way or feel that it is aligned to their emotional as well as cognitive well being, rather than be persuaded that it is in their best interests as rational agents to purchase it.

This all sounds quite acceptable – people sell things in a market economy so why not find out how we feel about their products? But what if our feelings about things were being measured and recorded on a grand scale? What is our feelings were being manipulated?

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Taking teaching outside the classroom: crime and punishment in situ

 

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On Monday this week I removed my second-year class on crime and punishment from the confines of a Waterside campus classroom (lovely as they are) and transported it to a real life courthouse in the centre of Northampton.

Northampton’s Sessions House was built after the fire that destroyed much of the town in 1675. This gave the local authorities the opportunity to create a purpose-built space to hold the biannual county assizes and the quarterly sessions of the peace.  There are two courts in the complex – one for criminal and one for civil cases – both have had some significant modernization since the late 1700s but plenty of the original courtrooms have survived.

Below the courts are holding cells, and it is still possible to access the ‘walk of shame’ that would have conveyed commended prisoners to the gallows that was situated towards the rear of the complex.  Still possible, that is, so long as you have a friendly and well-informed guide like Dr Alan Clarke, our friendly expert in local English history.

About 30 history undergraduates take my level 5 module (HIS2010) at the University of Northampton and in last week’s class we had looked at the nature of the court trial in the eighteenth century, at the role of the judge and juries, and considered the importance of architecture in the process of the administration of ‘justice’.

This is quite limited in a modern classroom when your key resources are contemporary written accounts and images like this one (of the Old Bailey in the early 1800s).

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My students have just embarked on a project that will see them reenact a real trial using the published records of London’s Central Criminal Court in the past and so I was keen to let them get a sense of what a trial might have been like. I rather enjoy the idea of ‘experiencing’ history where possible, even if (thanks goodness) I can’t begin to experience the fear of being tried for an offence for which I might pay with my life if convicted.

Alan took us on a tour of the court complex – the cells (where evidence of their recently past can be seen in the surviving graffiti from the 1970s and 1980s), the judge’s chambers, and the nineteenth-century gaol block.

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He also described the interior of both courts, pointing out and explaining the symbolism woven into the intricate plaster work (the work of Edward Goodge). Over the judge’s chair in the criminal court are emblems representing truth, justice, material wealth (and its opposite), as well as the image of the devil complete with a tongue which supposedly wags when someone tells a lie in court.

Having settled the class back down after our tour I now gave individuals roles to play as we reconstructed two short cases from the Old Bailey Proceedings in the 1700s. The first was the trial of a domestic servant who had given birth in secret and was accused of ‘destroying’ her illegitimate child. The trial took hardly any time at all to find her guilty and to condemn her death and anatomization. The evidence was limited, the few witnesses that spoke up for her were ineffectual, and this made a deep impression on the class as we unpacked it afterwards.

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The second case was no less brutal; another young woman, this time accused of killing man because he called her ‘a whore’. Despite the evidence of intent being almost nonexistent and contentious (the knife she used had a rounded blade, hardly likely to have inflicted the wounds described by the witnesses that spoke against her) she too was convicted and sentenced to hang.

Both cases revealed that respectability and class played a more important role in the eighteenth-century courtroom than evidence did. But more than this the very act of voicing the words spoken in a real court space helped us understand how the various actors were perceived. There is a very different perspective sitting (as the student playing the judge did) at the apex of the court looking down on everyone else, than there is looking up from the dock, knowing that behind you is a staircase (merely ladder when the court was built) to the dark cells below.

In January these students will be back in court so that they can put on their own assessed trials. They have 15-20 minutes to reenact a case of their choosing before myself and a colleague will discuss what they have learnt from the process and how it has shaped their understanding the criminal justice system of the past.

Of course, we can’t possibly experience history in the way that people did in the past: there were plenty of giggles as students placed in the dock or ‘locked’ into a cell but engaging with history in this way does bring it alive. Taking students out of the comfort of a classroom changes perspectives, mine as well as theirs, and I think we ought to do it more often.

Drew Gray (Subject lead, Humanities)

 

 

 

 

 

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

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A photomontage of fireworks from a Guy Fawkes Night display at Roundwood Park in Harlesden, London. Credit: Billy Hicks, under Creative Commons licence

Senior lecturer Caroline Nielsen investigates the history of Bonfire Night:

Most people in England are probably familiar with this rhyme:

‘Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I see no reason why the Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot’

The rhyme refers to the 1605 Gunpowder Treason plot; a failed assassination attempt on King James I of England and Scotland. Rhymes like this one have been around more or less since the plot itself. They were designed to give children a mnemonic history lesson. Earlier rhymes could be detailed, like this nineteenth-century one:

‘Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Gunpowder treason and plot

I hope that night will never be forgot.

The king and his train

Had like to be slain:

36 barrels of gunpowder

Set below London to blow, London up!.

Holla boys! Holla boys!

Let the bells ring!

Holla boys! Holla boys!

God save the King

A stick or a stake

For [Queen] Victoria’s sake,

And pray ye remember the bonfire night.’

(quoted in M. E. S. Wright, Rhymes Old and New (1900), p. 14)

But behind these simple rhymes lies a complex history of religious intolerance, persecution and violence.

The Gunpowder Plot was a religious sectarian plot against the Protestant monarch James I and his court. Early seventeenth-century England was fraught with religious divisions. Catholics were actively discriminated against in law and in wider society. Catholics were not allowed to practice their faith publicly. There were fines for not going to Protestant churches or for not educating one’s children to be Protestant or for hiding a priest. Catholics priests risked imprisonment or execution for saying Mass. Many English Catholics had initially hoped that James (who was married to a Catholic) would curb some of these laws, but that didn’t happen. Frustrated by James’ perceived unwillingness to help his loyal Catholic subjects, a small group of conspirators decided to act. The plotters would be deemed to be terrorists now: they were willing to kill potentially large numbers of people indiscriminately for their cause. The plot was stopped at the last minute. One of the conspirators, Guido (or Guy) Fawkes was caught red-handed in Parliament, not far from the pile of gunpowder barrels intended to kill James. Fawkes was arrested and taken away for interrogation and torture. This is why Fawkes is the most well-known of all the conspirators, even though he was not heavily involved in the early planning (Fraser, 97-100). Most of the other conspirators were caught over the next fortnight, and the main trials began in January 1606. (Fraser, 211-226.)

In recognition of his brush with death, James passed a law in 1606 that there should be an annual national ‘thanksgiving’ event on the 5th November. Contemporaries believed that God had acted to save James, and by extension the Protestant monarchy. The 5th of November was to be a day of state religious observance. It wasn’t until 1859 that James’ act for this national ‘remembrance’ day was repealed.

Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century people commemorated in a set way. People were encouraged at church services and civic events to ‘remember, remember’. Souvenir sermons were printed throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on the 5th November. All shared the same prejudicial theme: that Protestantism was inherently better than Catholicism.

People gradually began to add other rituals to the religious services such as processions, bonfires and fireworks. These rituals also tapped into the earlier religious traditions of having parties with bonfires for Halloween (31st Oct), All Saints (1st Nov) and All Souls (2nd Nov). Now synonymous with Bonfire Night, the ‘Guy’ ritual was actually one of these later additions to the event. It is thought to date from the 1620s. Effigies of the Pope would be paraded around the crowd and then ceremoniously dumped on top of the bonfire. One can’t imagine the fear and horror felt by seventeenth-century Catholics, watching as their neighbours and friends publicly burnt symbols of their faith. Sometimes the Devil would be burnt in effigy. According to historian David Cressy, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the effigy was identified as ‘Guy Fawkes’ (Cressy, 147).

The legacy of the Plot was heightened religious discrimination at a state level. The plotters were a tiny minority: they didn’t represent other English Catholics, the vast majority of whom just wished to practice their faith and live quietly. It was this silent majority which proved to be the victims. The plot hardened the English state’s already-prejudicial attitudes towards the Catholic minority. The plot was used to justify the passing of a series of acts which limited Catholics’ rights. Catholics could not practice law, nor serve in the military. They couldn’t officially act as legal guardians or executors in wills. They were barred from studying in English universities (although some did study in Scotland). They were banned from voting in elections until 1829.  People became openly more anti-Catholic. Wild rumours spread about Catholics, and there were even periodic riots against Catholic people throughout the eighteenth centuries and into the nineteenth. (Fraser, 283).

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Lewes Bonfire Night, procession of the Martyr’s Crosses. Unknown author, under Creative Commons licence

Festivals and celebrations change meaning over successive generations. Our contemporary understanding and enjoyment of Bonfire Night is very different than that of the inhabitants of seventeenth-century England. To them, the 5th of November was a public religious event centred on Protestantism and a Protestant monarchy and driven by anti-Catholic sentiment. To us in the 21st century, Bonfire Night is now all about food, drink and watching beautiful fireworks displays with friends, family and our wider communities. ‘Firework Night’ is often used in schools as a way to teach fire and firework safety. The emphasis of the event now is very much on keeping everyone safe so we can come together as communities, rather than on encouraging religious division. Political effigies are still burnt in some places: the Lewes festival in Sussex featured in national headlines yesterday for its fire procession and its political effigies. But this event is now largely an exception. Effigies are not usually the central feature of contemporary Fireworks Night events, and are often omitted totally. But this omission doesn’t mean that we should forget the hidden histories of the 5th of November. We should be open about the history of this commemoration, and willing to highlight the historic legacy of the Plot.

If you would like to know more about the history of festivals, and of Bonfire Night, try:

  • David Cressy, Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (London: Sutton, 2004), chapter 9.
  • Antonia Fraser, The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1996).
  • Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History (Pelican: 1998).