History

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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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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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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Taking Research to the Secondary School Classroom

Kerry Love is one of our wonderful PhD students! She has written a blog for us about her experiences in a school classroom. 

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Takahata highschool 10; under Creative Commons licence

To me, the desire to teach is a basic extension of having passion for your subject. As an undergraduate, one of the most common career goal assumptions you’ll be faced with is ‘so you want to be a history teacher?’ and the enthusiasm with which you’ll defend your interest in it is definitely one needed to teach. During my MA I started to build up some experience as a GCSE and A-Level history tutor, mainly to get some ‘education’ experience. I was considering applying for a PGCE, so it seemed to be a logical step. A lot of it was in a summer school, so during that summer for the first time in my life I’d switched places and was standing alone in a room full of teenagers needing a rapid-fire revision of the Cold War. Whilst intimidating at first, I enjoyed the experience and it made me realise I wanted a career in education in some form. This way I could convince reluctant students that it was a subject that they could do well in and enjoy exploring further. In a way, I think it might have pushed me towards further study as well, as without realising it this was also the time I started to explore applying to start a PhD on the basis that if I learn more I could teach better!

The one thing I picked up on from my time tutoring was the familiar, but fairly restrictive curriculum. The range and depth of topics taught at university differs so much from those taught at level 1, 2 and 3. I didn’t entirely decide on history until I started to study it at university to be honest – it was more of a ‘why not?’ when choosing my own degree subject at that time. Naturally, when I did some research for my own work experience, and found the university’s UniClub tutor team whereby PhD students develop and run their own module based on their research, I thought it was perfect as I had free reign to teach exactly what I enjoy the most!

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Should we teach ‘difficult’ history in schools?

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One twenty-two-year-old (Instagram ‘influencer’ Freddie Bentley, pictured above) recently caused consternation by suggesting topics such as climate change and Brexit should be taught in schools rather than the history of the Second World War. It followed comments by contestants on the reality show The Apprentice that revealed that they weren’t sure of the dates of the conflict. Not surprisingly Bentley drew down a wave of criticism (much of it from tabloid newspapers and their readers) for suggesting current events were more important than historical ones.

Naturally, as a historian, I would argue that history is important, and should be taught in schools but surely children ought to learn about current affairs as well? Of course, there is a debate to be had about what history (who’s history perhaps) is taught and what lessons are drawn from it, and how it is taught.

Bentley commented that learning about the horrors of the world war and the deaths of millions of people had been traumatising and he worried for children’s mental health.

That shouldn’t mean it isn’t taught.

Future generations need to understand the sacrifices made by previous ones and they need to understand how something like the Holocaust could come about. Teaching should always be age appropriate, but we can’t completely shield our children from the tragedies of the past. Human history is shot through with inhumanity and the next generation is entitled to know about it.

However, I am a little suspicious of the reaction to Bentley’s Good Morning Britain interview. It seems as if those commentators have been quick to say that history is important whilst at the very same time ignoring or misrepresenting history when it suits them.

Surely one of the lessons of the second world war is that we should have a closer relationship between European nations to avoid future wars? Surely the lesson to be learned from the Holocaust is that singling out people on account of their religion, race, sexuality or disability leads to state sponsored murder and is abhorrent?

Surely the lesson we might draw from the war in the Pacific is that nuclear weapons are disproportionally destructive and should be banned?  Indeed, we also might learn that warfare is abhorrent and so all arms manufacture should be tightly restricted at least, and perhaps even prohibited?

None of these suits the agendas of the politicians that most tabloid editors give their support to however. These lessons from history are simply ignored or reinterpreted to suit a narrow world view that allows race hate, unbridled arms dealing, nationalism, and economic inequality, to persist.

Moreover, the real challenge to our children’s future – the climate emergency – is side lined and relegated to a discussion of the rights of people to protest. Climate change is the single most important issue for our society and I think Bentley was probably right to say that it should be taught in schools. Not at the expense of learning about WW2,, however, but as well as.

The reality is that Climate Change is terrifying, and we risk traumatizing our children just as much as learning about Belsen and Auschwitz does. But since the general public doesn’t seem to have woken up to the dangers of the climate emergency, and the tabloids and most politicians don’t seem to be doing a very good job of educating us on it, the only hope we have is for our schools to inculcate a concern for the planet at an early age.

History is vital to a rounded education but if we don’t look – and look urgently – to the future no one will be around to learn the lessons that history teaches us anyway.

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).

 

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

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.

Amyglada

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.

 

Anxiety

 

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