Category Archives: History

How did Victorian Scots reconcile an independent history with a unionist present? A guest post from Richard Marsden

richard marsdenThis is a guest post from Richard Marsden, author of Cosmo Innes and the Defence of Scotland’s Past c.1825-1875

With the independence referendum looming, Scotland’s history has become a battleground. Those against separation point to three hundred years of supposed shared culture and values. Those for it point to what they see as a proud independent history stretching back far longer.

Yet the independence movement in Scotland is of relatively recent origin. Up until the 1930s the goal of most Scottish nationalists was home-rule (itself a form of devolution) rather than the abolition of the 1707 union. Indeed in the nineteenth century, union with England went unquestioned by most educated Scots. Such a seemingly uncritical endorsement of union seems puzzling to twenty-first century eyes. It certainly raises questions about how the Scots in this period saw themselves and their place in the United Kingdom.

One of the best ways of answering these questions is to look at how Victorian Scots reconciled an independent history with a unionist present. After all, depictions of the past can often reveal as much about the times in which they were written as they do about the times to which they refer.

Cosmo Innes and the defence of Scotlands pastThis precept is the starting point for my new book: Cosmo Innes and the Defence of Scotland’s Past c.1825-1875. This study uses the work of the influential antiquary Cosmo Innes (1798-1874) to open a window onto Scottish attitudes towards the ‘national past’ in the nineteenth century. What it reveals is not a straight-forward contest between union and independence, but rather a series of debates about Scotland’s relationship with and position within the union.

Interpretations of the past were central to those discussions. Scottish identity in this period rested on legal, educational and religious institutions that were distinct from those of England, as well as less tangible considerations such as landscape, architecture, descent, and national character. As a result, historical scholarship was framed by questions about the extent to which the development of these elements in the past had contributed to Scotland’s happy state in what was, for Innes and his compatriots, the present.

Innes saw much of value in Scotland’s pre-1707 history. In his view, Scottish institutions were singularly suited to Scottish national character because both had been forged through the same shared historical experience. For Innes, like many of his countrymen, past independence and present-day union were not at odds. Instead, it was that very history which enabled the country to stand in equal partnership with England in a way that Wales and Ireland could not.

Such attitudes are particularly telling given that the intellectuals of the Enlightenment had bequeathed to their nineteenth-century successors a profoundly negative view of the Scottish past. To them, it was union with England rather than any internal processes of historical progress that had dragged Scotland into the modern civilised age. A sizable proportion of Innes’s peers shared that view. They were consequently unconvinced by his attempts to reinvigorate Scotland’s sense of its own historically-based identity.

Innes’s views were thus a radical departure from those of the previous generation. Yet he also remained utterly committed to union, believing that Scotland’s well-being rested upon a close association with England as well as on the nation’s own unique history prior to 1707. Indeed like many of his fellows he believed that the lowland Scots were of the same Saxon stock as the English, and had little in common with the Celts of the Highlands. Innes’s work on Scottish history was therefore imbued with a desire to restore the union rather than break it; to return to the alliance of equals which, he believed, it had originally been.

So how does all this relate to the referendum debate today?

On the one hand we might argue that the roots of Scottish nationalism can be traced deep into the nineteenth century, despite the fact that this period was characterised by a near universal commitment to union. On occasion, Innes certainly employed stirring language that would not look out of place in a present-day political pamphlet. Yet on the other, we could point out that Scottish national identity does not always go hand in hand with aspirations to statehood. In a cultural sense it was alive and well at a time when political separatism would have been the perceived as purview of cranks and extremists.

Whichever way we look at it, the fact remains that Scotland’s past continues to be contested territory in arguments about the nation’s future. That is as true in the twenty-first century as it was in the nineteenth.

How the First World War has been symbolized over the past century – a guest post from Stephen Heathorn

StephenHeathornThis is a guest post from Stephen Heathorn, author of Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation

One of the long-lasting images of the British experience of the First World War has been that the British fielded armies were filled with brave soldiers (‘lions’) led by incompetent, reckless and callous generals (‘donkeys’), the latter sitting safe miles behind the murderous frontlines.  This ‘lions led by donkeys’ image became very popular after the Second World War because it implicitly contains a then popular critique of British society: the British high command had been led by aristocrats and gentry who, because of their class position, were largely contemptuous of the middle- and working-class men they sent into battle.

This view of the war was emotionally satisfying for some as it identifies clear villains and victims of the conflict, which was especially important after the interwar years demonstrated that the war had not brought about a necessarily better Britain and the second calamity of the Second World War solidified existing doubts on the motivations for going to war in 1914 in the first place.  But the very idea of ‘lions led by donkeys’ is a myth.  It is a way of understanding the past that contains elements of the actual story, but arranged in a way that overly simplifies what had happened and apportions responsibility for tragedy too neatly and without full context.  It is also not the way in which most people in Britain understood the First World War prior to the 1950s.

A number of historians have tried to debunk the ‘lions led by donkeys’ myth, showing that as a group the British generals (of which there were hundreds who saw service, and some 78 were killed in action) learned the necessary lessons of trench warfare better and quicker than did their opponents, which is why Britain and its allies were able to defeat the Germans.  Others have argued that the generals did not learn very quickly, but that ultimately they were never in complete control of their armies’ efforts anyway, and indeed, because of the limitations of technology at the time, often could not even communicate effectively with their subordinates while battle raged.  Technological, logistical, demographic and geographical factors impinged on what the leaders of the armies could do – regardless of their imaginative frame of mind or tactical abilities.

But the generals at the top – Field Marshals Douglas Haig and Herbert Horatio Kitchener in particular – have since the war continued to be the focus of popular fascination, regardless of whether they have been depicted (as they have at various times) as heroes, villains, unfairly scapegoated, or really quite irrelevant.  Indeed, at different times over the course of the 20th century these two men have become symbols of how the war itself was popularly understood and argued about.  Haig, for instance, was given a hero’s funeral attended by more than a million people in 1928, when the mass of the population still believed (or wanted to believe) that the war had resulted in a meaningful, if costly, victory.  The proposed statue in Whitehall (actually erected in the late 1930s) to commemorate him was controversial from the start not because Haig was reviled, but because numerous constituencies wanted it to reflect their values and sacrifices: the monument to Haig was popularly perceived as standing for more than just the man, Haig stood as a contested symbol of how the British war effort ought to be understood.  Similarly, in the 1990s when a newspaper campaign was launched to have the Haig statue removed, it was because a far more negative view of the war (more in line with the ‘lions led by donkeys’ image) had become popularly entrenched.

Haig’s example points to one of the paradoxes of how the First World War has been remembered and popularly understood.  For while it was a conflict that involved millions and operated according to a depersonalized, alienating logic, subsequent attempts to understand the war have almost invariably tried to do so through the experience and understanding of individual participants.  The experience of a few individuals in the trenches immortalized by the young officer-writers like Owen, Graves and Sassoon, subsequently came to represent for many who did not experience it first hand, what the war was like for the ‘everyman’ in the trenches.  These writers and their perceptions shaped our culture’s understanding of what the war (and indeed for some, all modern war) was like.  The changing representations (and their subsequent use, politically, commercially and academically) of the military leadership, on the other hand, points to the continuing need to have heroes/villains who might be held accountable for the events that occurred – even if such an accounting overly simplifies/amplifies these men’s actual role.  Both representations – of the everyman soldier and of the general – have telescoped a huge variety of experience and context into simple, mutually re-enforcing symbols that have changed considerably over the course of the century since the war began.  Understanding how these symbols have evolved provides us insight into how the war itself has been understood, and why those understandings have changed.

Stephen Heathorn is Professor of British History and Director of Graduate Studies of the Department of History at McMaster University, Canada  He is the author of the research monographs, ‘Earl Kitchener and Earl Haig in Twentieth Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation’ (Ashgate, 2013), and ‘For Home, Country and Race: Constructing Gender, Class and Englishness in the Elementary School Classroom, 1880-1914′ (University of Toronto Press, 2000), and more than two dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

Haig and KitchenerMore about Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation

Call for Papers: Playthings in Early Modernity: Party Games, Word Games, Mind Games (edited collection)

Posted by Erika Gaffney, Publishing Manager

Contributions are sought for an interdisciplinary collection of essays to be edited by Allison Levy and published by Ashgate Publishing in the new book series, Cultures of Play, 1300-1700 (series editor Bret Rothstein). Dedicated to early modern playfulness, this series serves two purposes. First, it recounts the history of wit, humor, and games, from jokes and sermons, for instance, to backgammon and blind man’s buff. Second, in addressing its topic – ludic culture – broadly, Cultures of Play also provides a forum for reconceptualizing the play elements of early modern economic, political, religious, and social life.

Within this framework, PLAYTHINGS IN EARLY MODERNITY: PARTY GAMES, WORD GAMES, MIND GAMES emphasizes the rules of the game(s) as well as the breaking of those rules: playmates and game changers, teammates and tricksters, matchmakers and deal breakers, gamblers and grifters, scripts and ventriloquism, charades and masquerades, game pieces and pawns. Thus, a ‘plaything’ is understood as both an object and a person, and play, in early modern Europe (1300-1700), is treated not merely as a pastime, a leisurely pursuit, but also as a pivotal part of daily life, a strategic psychosocial endeavor: Why do we play games – with and upon each other as well as ourselves? Who are the winners, and who are the losers? Desirable essays will also consider the spaces of play: from the stage to the street, from the pulpit to the piazza, from the bedroom to the brothel: What happens when players go ‘out of bounds,’ or when games go ‘too far’? We seek new and innovative scholarship at the nexus of material culture/the study of objects, performance studies, and game theory. We welcome proposals from a wide range of disciplines, including gender studies, childhood studies, history, languages and literature, theater history, religious studies, the history and philosophy of science, philosophy, psychology, and the history of art and visual culture.

PLAYTHINGS IN EARLY MODERNITY: PARTY GAMES, WORD GAMES, MIND GAMES will be an illustrated volume, with individual contributors responsible for any permission and/or art acquisition fees. Final essays, of approximately 8,000 words (incl. notes), and all accompanying b&w illustrations/permissions will be due no later than January 15, 2015. For consideration, please send an abstract (max. 500 words), a preliminary list of illustrations (if applicable), and a CV to Allison Levy (allisonlevy2@gmail.com or playthingsvolume@gmail.com) by September 15, 2014. Notifications will be emailed by the end of September.

Ireland’s 1916 Rising shortlisted for the Geographical Society of Ireland’s Book of the Year award 2014

Posted by Fiona Dunford, Marketing Executive

Irelands 1916 RisingCongratulations to Mark McCarthy, whose book Ireland’s 1916 Rising, was short-listed for the 2014 book of the year award from the Geographical Society of Ireland.

The Judges’ comments:

‘immaculately researched and a lively engagement with the key critical debates surrounding issues of memory, commemoration and historical legacies surrounding the revolutionary period in modern Irish history ‘  Nessa Cronin, Centre for Irish Studies, NUI Galway

‘In this definitive work on the topic, Mark McCarthy traces the political, ideational, identity and iconographic impacts of the Easter 1916 Rising in Ireland… This is required reading for scholars in the field and beyond’   Pádraig Carmody, Dept of Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Mark McCarthy’s book explores why, how and in what ways the memory of Ireland’s 1916 Rising has persisted over the decades? It breaks new ground by offering a wide-ranging exploration of the making and remembrance of the story of 1916 in modern times, which is not only of historical concern, but of contemporary political and cultural importance.

More about Ireland’s 1916 Rising

What did Australian soldiers read during the Great War?

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

This is a guest blog post in the First World War Centenary series, written by  Amanda Laugesen, author of Boredom is the Enemy: the Intellectual Lives of Australian Soldiers in the Great War and Beyond

While letters from home were the most cherished reading material for Australian soldiers serving far from home during the Great War, soldiers read a wide range of books, newspapers, and periodicals. Such reading served various purposes for soldiers, from connecting them to home, to education, to allowing for a brief escape from the realities of military life and the horrors of war.

Other than letters from home, soldiers eagerly anticipated receiving newspapers and periodicals from friends and family. One Australian soldier, Bob Bice, wrote home to thank his family for sending him newspapers from his home town of Nowra: ‘[a] person far from home finds even the advertisements of his home town very interesting reading.’ Newspapers from home informed soldiers about life back there and helped them endure the time abroad. Australian periodicals like The Bulletin were also very popular, with one soldier warning his cousin who was sending them to him: ‘it would be advisable to take cover off. The Bulletin is the most popular here and is sought after by about every man.’

Books were highly prized by many soldiers. Books were provided to soldiers through charitable organisations like the Camps Library. Books ranged from escapist fare such as the work of writers like Nat Gould, John Buchan, and William LeQueux, to more serious educational works such as Darwin’s Origin of Species and a range of popular political texts. For soldiers, escapist fare served an important psychological function in allowing a respite from the realities of war. Educational and political works connected soldiers to civilian occupations and aspirations as they planned for a life after the war. Reading was not confined to silent reading, either. There are many mentions of soldiers reading aloud to one another.

Reading was important to many Australian soldiers during the Great War, and this reminds us that soldiers continued to seek entertainment and opportunities to educate themselves even in the context of war.

Layout 1For more on soldiers’ reading and other experiences of education and entertainment in wartime, see Amanda Laugesen, Boredom is the Enemy: the Intellectual Lives of Australian Soldiers in the Great War and Beyond (2012).

Claire Jowitt and John McAleer introduce their new book series Maritime Humanities 1400‒1800: Cultures of the Sea

‘… whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world .’ (Sir Walter Ralegh)

So wrote Ralegh, probably from his quarters in the Tower of London during his admittedly luxurious incarceration there after spectacularly falling out of royal favour (he was condemned for treason in 1603, but reprieved from execution and lived, legally dead, in the Bloody Tower for many years). From the Tower, Ralegh would have been able to see just how busy a thoroughfare the arterial river the Thames had become, with ships and boats great and small bringing an enormous and exciting variety of commodities from Africa to China, from the East to the West Indies, and, of course, from all across Europe, as well as exporting men and goods all over the world. Oceans had a lot to offer even to a disgraced courtier and adventurer: finally, in 1617, Ralegh was allowed to return to sea by James I to travel to Guiana to attempt to reestablish his own and English mining interests there after a gap of twenty years or so. Of course for Ralegh this time, unlike in his earlier career, the sea did not provide a route to preferment and riches: the voyage resulted in violent clashes with the Spanish in Guiana. He was accused of piracy by them, and the king had his previously commuted sentence enacted on 16th October 1618 in Old Palace Yard in the Palace of Westminster. But viewing oceans as spaces and places of opportunity, risk, and challenge is as true for scholars today as it was for sailors and merchants, monarchs and governments, and writers and artists, in the days of the sailing ship.

For Ralegh and his European contemporaries, wealth and power were found at sea. Or, more precisely, they were to be found in controlling the world’s oceans and their maritime routes. Overseas trade went hand in hand with the development of global empire in the Age of Sail, a period of history particularly marked by increased exploration, travel, and trade. But the early modern maritime world offered much else besides: it facilitated the movement of people and ideas as well as the violence and exploitation of encounter and, in so doing, it opened up a whole host of new cultural and artistic exchanges as well as material ones. Early modern oceans not only provided temperate climates, resources, and opportunities for commercial transactions, they also played a central role in cultural life. Early modern seascapes were cultural spaces and contact zones, where connections and circulations occurred outside established centres of control and the dictates of individual national histories. Likewise coastlines, rivers, and ports were all key sites for commercial and cultural exchange.

Fresh investigation of these processes, encounters, interactions, and their implications is needed. We are delighted to announce a new book series Maritime Humanities 1400‒1800: Cultures of the Sea, to be published by Ashgate. Our aim is to produce a series of books that explore the cultural meanings of the early modern ocean by scholars working across the full range of humanities subjects.

Maritime Humanities 1400‒1800: Cultures of the Sea welcomes books from historians, archaeologists, literary and language scholars, art historians, philosophers, and music scholars, and invites submissions that conceptually engage with issues of globalization, post-colonialism, eco-criticism, environmentalism, and the histories of science and technology. The series puts maritime humanities at the centre of a transnational historiographical scholarship that seeks to transform traditional land-based histories of states and nations by focusing on the cultural meanings of the early modern ocean.

It is a daunting but exciting task, and we will be helped in it by an international series advisory board that includes scholars at the forefront of interdisciplinary maritime studies: Mary Fuller, Fred Hocker, Steve Mentz, Sebastian Sobecki, David J. Starkey, and Philip Stern. The series will cover events in various oceans, several centuries of history, thousands of vessels, tens of thousands of voyages, and millions of people. But we believe that there are lots of scholars, at every stage of their careers, who are interested in putting the sea into perspective: if you are one of them, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Claire Jowitt & John McAleer, May 2014

For more information on how to submit a book proposal to the series, please contact Emily Yates, Commissioning Editor.

About the series editors:

Claire Jowitt John McAleer

Claire Jowitt is Professor of Renaissance English Literature, and John McAleer is Lecturer in History, both at the University of Southampton.

Clare Rose talks to Claudia Winkleman on “The Great British Sewing Bee”

Posted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

Reality television fans may have recently caught an episode or two of the BBC’s programme, ‘The Great British Sewing Bee,’ in which contestants compete to be named Britain’s best home sewer.

We were delighted to see that Episode 4 featured expert insight from none other than author Clare Rose, who published Making, Selling and Wearing Boys’ Clothes in Late-Victorian England with Ashgate in 2010, as part of the History of Retailing and Consumption series.

In the episode, which focuses on children’s clothing, Clare invites presenter Claudia Winkleman into the heart of her home institution, the Royal School of Needlework, to chat about little boys’ sailor suits. She explains that by the 1870s, tailors were mass-producing the outfits. They were simple to make, robust for daily wear and, importantly, a democratic fashion – every class of child, 9 out of 10 boys, wore sailor suits on a daily basis. Clare also refers to an 1897 Chas Bakers & Co. catalogue, a portion of which was used for the cover of Making, Selling and Wearing Boys’ Clothes. You can watch the episode here for a limited time (Clare appears 13 minutes in).

Making Selling and Wearing Boys Clothes in late Victorian EnglandClare’s book makes use of thousands of unpublished visual documents – including manufacturer’s designs, advertising from shop catalogues, and Dr Barnado’s Homes archives – to link the design and retailing of boys’ clothing with nineteenth-century social, cultural and economic issues. It is a significant piece of research for nineteenth-century historians, but, as this feature on the BBC proves, also ‘has many resonances for twenty-first century debates about children and the consumer market’ (Hugh Cunningham, University of Kent, UK).

Learn more about fashion, textiles and childhood in modern Britain on Clare’s website.