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.

A horseman impaling a bear

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

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

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

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

Shoes and conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew McCormack is Professor of History at the University of Northampton

Exhibition Launch: James Parkes and the Age of Intolerance

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

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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

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.

What is anxiety and does it have a history?

Anxiety is a very common problem, part of a wider range of mental health issues in any given society.

Here are some stats:

According to MIND one in four people in the UK suffer mental health problems each day MIND statistics.

Overall estimates suggest that one in six of us will report an anxiety problem in each previous week. Of course these are just reported cases, much more anxiety goes unreported: Anxiety UK.

These are sobering statistics, although they should be some comfort to those suffering anxiety. You are not alone.

But what is ‘anxiety’?

Simply(ish) put anxiety can be described, as it is by Alan Hunt, as ‘an elevated state…a psychic condition of heightened sensitivity to some perceived threat, risk, peril or danger’: Anxiety and Social Explanation.

Anxiety derives from the ‘fight or flight instinct’ that we’ve possessed since our earliest ancestors, closely connected to fear.

Fight Or Flight

Jan Plamper notes the role of the amygdala in producing fear and anxiety, a section of the brain thought to be an anthropological constant in humans but also other sentient beings: The History of Emotions: An Introduction.

It sends messages to the brain stem/cerebral cortex, which then triggers the nervous system into action for either ‘fight’ or ‘flight.’

So anxiety is actually a normal, necessary part of human life, if kept in check. It has helped humans (and other animals) survive.

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What is the difference between Anxiety and Fear?

It is a type of fear and is a feature of that ‘basic emotion.’ But anxiety is not the same as fear.

Anxieties focus on anticipated threats (to health, well being, life and status) whereas fear focuses on immediate and definite threats.

Anxiety is very hard to define on an experiential level, as most emotions are when we experience them (try to define anger or love…).

Anxiety is all the more problematic because it is quite a nebulous emotion and, as discussed, often doesn’t fix to a definite object or situation – we can often more readily say who we ‘love’ or ‘hate’ but not why we feel anxious.

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Different Types of Anxiety:

There are different types of anxiety and different various levels of severity.

When we experience anxiety most of us experience general (or ‘normal’) anxiety (as opposed to generalized anxiety disorder).

Symptoms of general (‘normal’) anxiety are sometimes physiological: breathing problems, palpitations, stomach aches.

Sometimes the symptoms are psychological: unease, concern, alarm, dread.

Unpleasant though general anxiety may be, it should not be confused with acute, or ‘pathological’ anxieties.

Pathological anxieties can manifest as a range of disorders and phobias, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (the most common form), Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OSD), specific phobias or social phobias.

Pathological anxieties exhibit with more serious and debilitating symptoms.

 

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So does anxiety have a History and can we study the history of emotions?

Anxiety certainly isn’t new, we have lots of evidence for it throughout history. Allan Horwitz notes that anxiety can be detected in the cave paintings of primitive man depicting the threat, as well as the fascination, with predators: Anxiety: A Short History

But are we feeling the same things as people in the past. Is the feeling we experience in today’s world as anxiety or fear the same feeling that, say, the monastic community at Lindisfarne felt in the months leading up to the Viking raid in 793 or when they first saw the Viking ships coming over the horizon?

The physiological process leading to a feeling of anxiety is likely to be the same. But the causes of it, the experience of it and interpretation of it are likely to be very different because it is culturally determined.

Lots of anthropological research illustrates that emotions vary across cultures.

In ‘traditional’ Chinese culture, for instance, love is considered to be a sad and melancholy emotion: very different from the heady and euphoric heights of western ideals of ‘love’.

Going back to Jan Plamper’s observations on the amygdala: yes this is a physiological process that has always been there, but the messages from this part of the brain, before they arrive in the nervous system, pass through our ‘grey matter’, built up through our individual life experiences during our lives as well as broader social and cultural values.

Our reactions to threat, then, change depending on who we are, when we are and the society we are a part of.

If emotions vary in this way according to culture then they must have changed through history because cultures vary in their values across history.

If we saw Viking ships approaching Lindisfarne we’d probably think ‘this is a re-enactment’ – ‘we have institutions and laws to protect us against these attacks’ – ‘it can’t be happening.’

This variation across time is now a prime target for historians in the growing field of the history of emotions.

There are methodological challenges involved in studying the history of emotions. Historians recognize that we are not experiencing or witnessing first hand the emotions people in the past felt. We are not studying ’emotions’ rather we are studying what Peter and Carol Stearns term ’emotionology’: emotions talk and the rhetoric of emotions: Emotionology

The words and images we study as historians of emotions are mediated representations of emotions such as anxiety. But that is their power for historians because the way emotions are mediated tell us all kinds of important things about the period – social, cultural and political – from gender norms to political regimes and so on.

My particular focus is on the masculine anxieties of younger gentry sons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I use family correspondence and analyse ’emotion words’ such as ‘distress’, ‘unease’, ‘dismay’ and ‘wretched’ to trace the sources of their anxieties and what that tells us about masculinity: What kinds of things were young men concerned about in this period, what does this tell us about the meaning of manhood and how does this compare to contemporary anxieties surrounding masculinity?

My recent research has just been published, co-authored with Professor Henry French (University of Exeter) and can be read here, as an open access publication for free, in The Historical Journal Male Anxieties

There’s lots of other fascinating work going on around the history of emotions. If you’re interested try these twitter feeds: @ThinkEmotions@emotionshistory

Seeking help

If you are suffering from anxiety the first step is to speak to someone you trust, find a counselor (universities provide this service for students) or speak to your GP. This website provides more detailed information: MIND

Mark Rothery, Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting Undergraduates on Trial (this time with feelings)

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For several years now I’ve been putting undergraduates on trial. Before you get excited I only mean as an exercise in understanding the criminal trial in the past, I don’t lock them up or send them to Botany Bay!

Each year I set an assessment which involves groups of 2nd year History and Criminology students at the University of Northampton working together to recreate a trial from among the thousands available via the Old Bailey Online website. Students have to think about how the transcript they are provided with by the site should be adapted to work in a 15-20 minute presentation and are then asked to reflect on what they have learned (about the crime, the process and the wider justice system of the 1700s or 1800s). Finally each of them will submit a short written essay which explores the context of their chosen case in more detail.*

The presentation element has always taken place outside of the classroom. At Northampton this usually involved taking the UGs to the university’s Moot Room on Park campus where the police and law students practised in a room set up rather like a modern family court. Since we moved this summer to the new Waterside campus I’ve lost this resource and was wondering whether I might be able to utilise a more appropriate venue instead.

With the help of Jane Bunce and her team at Northampton we secured the use of the Sessions House, one of England’s most authentic surviving courtrooms. Sessions House has two courts, one for civil cases and the other for criminal ones. The courts are situated within the Northamptonshire County Council offices in town and comprise courts, eighteenth and nineteenth century prison buildings and extant cells below.

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On Thursday last I took my current second years into town where we were given a tour of the premises by Alan Clarke, a local historian and expert on Sessions House and his architectural significance. He showed us where the last public hanging took place, explained the layout of the two courts (including the wagging tongue above the criminal court) and the students explored the graffiti in the dingy cells underground.

Then we recreated a trial from the Old Bailey archives.

The case I chose was that of Robert Campbell, Antis Horsford and Henry Stroud  for the murder of Daniel Clarke in April 1771. The case was well known in the late eighteenth century and arise out of the ongoing disputes between the silk weavers of Spitalfields (in London’s East End) and their masters. As weavers took direct action to defend their livelihoods (which involved cutting silk out of looms and intimidating those who worked silk under the price the collective had set for it) the state imposed heavy penalties on offenders.

Weavers were arrested, put on trial, condemned and executed, mostly as a result of informers being pressured or bribed to give evidence. The community closed ranks and one commentator described Spitalfields and Bethnal Green as having been ‘rendered almost ungovernable’. Daniel Clarke had been ‘an evidence’ against William Eastman and William Horsford, two weavers that had been executed in early 1770 for their part in the troubles. Now, in April 1771 Clarke was to face the consequences of his actions.

The Gentleman’s Magazine reported what happened on a wintry day in the East End:

‘Yesterday, between four and five o’clock a mob assembled in a field bear Bethnal Green, consisting of upwards of two thousand, when they sat upon one Clark, a Pattern Drawer, who was the principal evidence against the two Cutters that were executed at BG some time since;  they continued pelting him with their brickbats, & for three hours, which laid his skull entirely open. Never did any poor mortal suffer more than he did; he begged of them several times to shoot him; but they kept stoning him till he died in the greatest agonies’.

It took the authorities several  weeks to take anybody into custody. Once again the magistrates met a wall of silence which was only broken when two men decided to take up the offer of a large reward and give the authorities some names.

As a result Antis Horsford (the widow of the executed William), Robert Campbell (a weaver down on his luck and trying to escape to America), and a gardener named Henry Stroud (who was married to the sister of the man hanged with Horsford, William Eastman) were put on trial in July 1771.

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In our version the students took on the roles of prosecution and defence barristers, witnesses, judge and jury. It took us about two hours to read though the case. In reality the trial lasted ‘from nine in the morning till eight at night, after which the court adjourned to dine’ (as the Gentleman’s Magazine tells us). They found Antis Horsford and Bob Campbell not guilty and recommended Stroud to mercy as they felt the community was responsible for Clarke’s death, no one individual.

In reality Antis was acquitted but the men were convicted and ‘turned off’ in public close to the scene of the crime near Brick Lane a couple of days afterwards.  The weaver’s dispute ground to a halt after that and the government acted to protect the industry from foreign competition. It was too little, to late, silk weaving in Spitalfields was in terminal decline; although it staggered on into the next century, weavers remained poor and got poorer.

The state had needed scapegoats for the wilful destruction of property and the communal murder of its agent of ‘justice’ (Clarke). I suspect all three were innocent to some degree, and Stroud even helped drag Clarke from the pond where the ‘mob’ were stoning him to death. I gave this story to my mother a few years ago, as fodder for her creative writing course. This year she has published her version of events (entitled ‘Rough Justice’) which pictures a happier future for Henry Stroud.

I find that the process of thinking through a case like this by acting it out helps us understand what is going on. Some of the language is strange but speaking it aloud helps it became intelligible. The courtroom is a strange and symbolic place, not easily recreated in our heads or in a sterile classroom. If you stand in the dock or the witness box, or address a court from the judge’s seat you can feel the difference (as Tim Hitchcock so effectively explained last year in Liverpool at the launch of the Digital Panopticon).

This year (or rather next, in early 2019) my students will – for the very first time – perform their own Old Bailey reconstructions in an eighteenth-century courtroom. Sessions House will come alive again as the voices of the Old Bailey Proceedings are given oxygen by the breath of Northampton undergraduates. I will sit in the judges’ chair and ‘judge’ how effective they are.

Drew Gray, Subject Lead in History, University of Northampton

*my 2016 textbook has an online section which details this exercise and others that might be of use to students and tutors. You can find that here

 

Needy knights and rich old ladies: Sir John Sandys and social mobility in late Medieval England

In 1980, Terry Jones, actor, presenter, writer and Monty Python member, published what has become something of a literary event. Chaucer’s Knight: Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary is a book that had medieval historians foaming at the mouth for many a year afterwards. It generated much debate and forever altered the landscape of the knightly class and ‘chivalry’ in academic circles.

Jones proposed that Chaucer’s knight, far from being the chivalric gentleman, was in fact a ruthless careerist in pursuit of titles, land and wealth via the conventional trade of war. Ransom, kidnapping, extortion, profit and abduction was the new stock in trade, rather than saving the honour of the defenceless or fighting evil. Chaucer’s General Prologue and Canterbury Tales (c.1380s) are packed with similitudes and, like the best fiction, tell more of real life than non-fiction can.

One of the chief tasks of the medieval knight in literature was to rescue or at the very least, preserve the honour of the damsel, but in reality it was the often the knight himself who placed the damsel in distress.

One such real person I encountered during my research is Chaucer’s Knight to the life, an exact contemporary with the Canterbury Tales. In November 1375, orders were sent to William Upton to keep safely all the goods of John Sandys, a ‘fugitive’ from Cheshire, which were in his keeping; the king’s sergeant-at-arms were then commissioned to arrest all goods of John Sandys in William Upton’s keeping and bring them to London to the king for disposal.

John Sandys was charged with the abduction of the recently widowed Joan Bridges from Romsey Abbey (Hampshire), where she had been staying. It was found that he had on his person possessions worth over £120 (£100,000 today), which belonged to the lady’s previous husband. One of the Black Prince’s esquires was sent to Chester to bring the lady back to London for examination by the King’s Council. It was then discovered, however, that Sandys had already married her.

On 8th April 1376, Sandys secured a royal pardon for all homicides, rapes and felonies of which he stood indicted. He subsequently acknowledged that he owed the King a fine of £1,000 (around £900,000 today) but this sum was never paid, for it was assigned to the Black Prince, who before his death expressed a wish for it to be pardoned in full. (Sandys was fortunate; the Black Prince died in June 1376.)

It was his service with the Black Prince that was Sandys’ salvation. Sandys is first recorded in the service of the Black Prince, who was earl of Chester (Sandys’ place of origin), as well as Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England. On 27 January 1367, before Prince Edward sailed from Gascony to Spain, he granted him a substantial annuity of £50 (£50,000 today) for life from the issues of the earldom. Sandys probably fought in the battle of Najera, thereafter remaining for some time in the prince’s company in Spain and France.

 

“A knight there was, a worthy man…he loved chivalry, truth and honour….”

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Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (Luttrell Psalter f202v) c.1350

 

The later fourteenth century abounded with ‘proto-professionals’ – free-booters and mercenary leaders such as Sir John Hawkwood in Italy, Sir Robert Knolles in France or Nicholas Sabraham whose campaigning life took him from Brittany to the Black Sea. Included in these groups were opportunists and criminals, deserters, mutineers. It was a diverse, volatile world in a shifting culture and it was from this world that John Sandys emerges, his military career typical of many who served during this time.

However much Sandys military careerism may prove to be part of a developing trend in late 14th century warrior society, his abduction of a wealthy widow is the key to his stake in local society, politics and dynastic security. Without land, he was nothing, and the widow he apparently snatched from Romsey Abbey gave him that anchor.

Joan Bridges was the widow of both Peter Bridges and of Giles Norman and brought to Sandys four Hampshire manors with the marriage. Joan, however, was worth much more. She was the cousin and eventual heir of Sir William Fifhide, on whose death she stood to inherit three manors in Sussex and five in Hampshire, something Sandys would have been aware of in 1375.

John Sandys’ marriage to Joan and his previous military career positioned him well for a busy political career in Hampshire; he was commissioner of array between 1377 and 1392 (with involvement in putting down the rebellions of the summer of 1381); coroner from 1378, sheriff 1382-3 and 1394-5, JP 1384-95 (and JP in neighbouring Wiltshire 1391-4), MP eight times between 1381 and 1393 and deputy constable of Southampton castle in 1386.

During a military campaign in Aquitaine in 1380 Sandys was knighted, and his rise in society sealed. Sandys was now a made man; he dined with Bishop Wykeham’s household. (We have the only surviving household account roll, for six months in 1393 and he is specifically mentioned as a guest on Monday 16 June. He was in good company. On 25 July, King Richard II and his wife, Queen Anne of Bohemia lunched with the bishop and 234 others.) One imagines the fugitive-soldier of fortune turned landowner, MP and sheriff silently toasting his good fortune with the son of a stonemason turned Bishop over the wine and capons supplied to the kitchen that day. Sandys obtained a preacher’s licence from the Bishop for his own chaplain in 1385.

He may not have been born with a silver spoon, but he quickly learnt how to use one. Whatever his background as soldier of fortune from Cheshire, alleged rapist and murderer, by the 1380s, we would surmise that Sandys was very the epitome of Hampshire county society, an upstanding pillar of the community – one might even say, poacher turned gamekeeper.

Would any, or all this political activity have been possible without the widow Joan and her inheritance?

Joan was a prize worth having. Her life was lived out in the unequal patriarchal society, as heiress, wife and widow. If Sandys was Chaucer’s Knight, with all the ambiguities of the ‘chivalric’ career, then Joan was Chaucer’s Wife of Bath (like her, thrice married). Joan was the person with property, not John; Joan had the gentility that Sandys needed to enter into Hampshire society, once Sandys had washed himself of the blood and sweat from his numerous campaigns.

It was the heirs of their union (and her property) who would maintain the social status in the county community. Joan retained her rights over her freehold property from before the Sandys marriage, the land that had come to her during the marriage (from the Fifhide estate) and she would recover them if she became a widow, which indeed she did. Medieval land was ‘held’, not owned; what was at stake was the ‘right’ to their land and it was this that defined their possession. Sandys was seised in of Joan’s lands in right of her. Whilst married to John, she could not dispose of the land herself without his agreement; he couldn’t sell her land without her consent, or else the conveyance could be void at a later date.

As a widow, Joan was vulnerable because she was a woman of property in her own right and heiress. As an independent widow, Joan would have to take her own legal action in court (and women did) rather than her relatives take the action on her behalf.

 

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The Wife of Bath, from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

 Literature includes stories of knights dressed as friars assaulting women. See Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale – “And prively he caughte hire by the queynte”, a phrase which has a modern echo in a notorious comment by Donald Trump!

 

There is no record of Joan taking any such action. Perhaps it was a consensual match. Sandys was clearly a powerful man with a reputation, who would protect her. Perhaps not. When Sandys died, Joan married a fourth time, to the well-known lawyer, Sir Thomas Skelton, who had no connections with Hampshire and made no intention of making any. Does this mean Joan suffered silently with Sandys or just that once again she needed protection as a widow of means whose property was at risk?

Sandys not only wanted Joan’s property, which would be his during her lifetime, but his heirs by her would have the rights over her first two husbands’ property and inherit the Fifhide manors, which they did. Clearly Joan was either childless when Sandys carried her off, or with infant children who died because it was Sir John’s son by her – Walter – who inherited the properties and during the 15th century the family prospered (it was always harder for ‘new’ men to get established – older families often had a male heir, however distant, to take on the estate).

In 1501, at the dawn of the Tudor age, Sir Walter Sandys was 26 when he inherited eleven Hampshire manors, the bulk of them Joan Bridges’ inheritances. His younger brother Sir William went on to become Lord Sandys, 1st Baron of the Vyne in 1523, who built a new house at Sherborne which was visited by Henry VIII in 1510 and 1531.

The Sandys dynasty was firmly established, begun by an advantageous (forced) marriage by a career soldier with powerful backing and continued by good fortunes of fertility and survival (the average survival rate of the male line was 21% amongst peerage and gentry).

But what made Sandys unusual in Hampshire at least, was that he was one of very few, if perhaps the only, man to have married into the local gentry from a background without social parity in the period c1300-c1500, whose family became a leading local family. Widows and heiresses were key to the transmission of landed estates throughout later medieval England, but most marriages were conducted between families of equal status and from the local, or regional area. Sandys was neither.

Sandys was an exception to the rule. He not only broke out of the murky world of career soldiering but managed to build a local dynasty thanks to his marriage to Joan. In a man’s world of derring-do, high politics, and foreign adventures, the most important feature of later medieval landowning – and therefore local power –  was the women – often nameless, mostly unknown – but they were crucial to the family fortunes. Real power lay with them.

 

Dr Toby Purser, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Humanities

Inside Wandsworth Gaol: A historian’s perspective on prison visiting

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As a academic historian who works on the history of crime (and most of that in London) when I was offered the chance to take a peek inside a working English prison I could hardly refuse. I run modules on crime and punishment at the University of Northampton and help students explore the changing nature of penal policy over 200 or more years from the late 1600s to the early 20th century.

So when the nice people at London Historians organised a behind-the-scenes visit to Wandsworth Prison Museum I was quick off the block and bagged one of the 10 places on offer.WPmain gates

Last Sunday I trekked across the capital to the imposing gates of Wandsworth Prison to meet up with the other lucky visitors and our guide, Stewart McLaughlin a serving Prison Officer and curator of the small prison museum.

We started in the museum which is about the size of a scout hut, and packed solid with neatly labelled exhibits. Stewart has gathered together an impressive collection of prison relics which he’s arranged chronologically so that it tells the story of Wandsworth from its early days (as the Surrey House of Correction) through the nationalisation of prisons (in 1878),to  its use as a military prison during the First World War, and on to the present day.

We ‘met’ famous inmates like Oscar Wilde and the man that killed Dr Martin Luther King (James Earl Ray), and some of those that ended their days inside on the end of a rope. Wandsworth was a hanging gaol and this is where George Chapman (aka Severin Klosowski – a ‘Ripper’ suspect), John Haigh and the wartime traitor William Joyce (‘Lord Haw-Haw’) were all executed. We saw Albert Pierrepoint’s execution rope and other memorabilia that reminded us that until 1961 murderers were still being ‘dropped’ at Wandsworth.

 

The exhibition is a fascinating glimpse into the prison’s long history and Stewart has pieced it together with considerable skill (and limited resources!) This is an example of one man’s efforts to preserve and display history and one wonders what will happen when he decides to hang up his keys for good.

It is one thing to be allowed to peer into the past via an exhibition of the artefacts of penal history, it is quite another to be invited to walk through the  gates of a working prison. This is exactly what we all did next though, carefully moving under Stewart’s guidance from the reception area to the large open star that links the five man wings (A to F) together. This central boss used to allow officers (then warders) to see right down each wing and control the prisoners. Not quite a panopticon as Jeremy Bentham envisaged his ‘inspection house’ but effective all the same. We stood while Stewart explained the prison’s history and working structure and patiently answered a stream of questions.

As he did so the prison carried on all around us, with the sounds of cell doors clanging, keys (and more keys!) and male voices. All of this was permeated by the smells of a closed institution: Sunday (‘school’) dinner, laundry, stale air, but (surprisingly given all the media coverage of prisons) not a trace of drugs. This was a calm space as far I could see. Outside in the exercise yard men were chatting in the sunshine, no one paid this small group of visitors any attention, they just seemed to be getting on with life.

As we wandered through Stewart took us to the staff room in one wing. Quite an ordinary space with kettle, cups and tupperware lunch boxes. Well ‘ordinary’ except that this was one one of two condemned cells in Wandsworth and so suddenly we were left to imagine how some people may have struggled to relax while they waited to see if an appeal was successful or the executioner would lead them off to the gallows.

Outside, as we stared up at the razor wire that is intended to prevent modern prisoners emulating the Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs and scaling the high walls, our attention was brought to the concrete paths that cover the ground between the walls and the prison itself. Under here, we were told, lie the remains of those who were executed within the confines of the gaol. Since the abolition of hanging families have been able to exhume their loved ones and rebury them, but many don’t. As our guide pointed out most murderers kill people close to them and so the hanged are often the second deaths in a tragic set of events. Let sleeping dogs lie is often the most obvious reaction.

One young man whose remains were taken away to be cremated outside was John Amery, the son of Leo Amery the Conservative politician and (like Churchill) a noted opponent of appeasement. Unlike his father John Amery was attracted to the Nazi cause and became a fascist and follower of Hitler. He was hanged at Wandsworth in December 1945 for his treasonable activities during the war.

The final place we visited was the set of smaller wings that used to make up the women’s prison until the late 1800s. During the First World War this was utilised by the military as a detainment camp. Here the prison held squaddies that broke the rules or absconded as well as conscientious objectors and (following the Easter Rising in 1916) upwards of 200  Irish Republicans accused of ‘betraying’ their king and country.

And then – and I have to admit this was quite a relief – we were back to the reception house and, once we’d handed over our passes, the doors were opened and we exited into the afternoon sun. The walk across Wandsworth Common took me past couples of all ages, children playing, dogs running free, ice cream vendors and people sitting outside the nearby pub enjoying a pint with their friends. It was a sobering reminder of what everyone in that prison had given up – albeit not all voluntarily.

Wandsworth Prison museum is not open to the public but is open for academic visitors, researchers and local history groups. All you have to do is make an appointment and be curious (and brave) enough to cross the threshold.

Drew Gray (Subject lead, History, University of Northampton).