How to run a country: Early modern style.

C. Annemieke Romein

Let us assume you are governing an early modern ’country’: how should you provide order? How do you keep its inhabitants safe? And how might you organise governance and policy-making? Most researchers who deal with these questions tend to focus on principalities or kingdoms. With this blog post I would like to point out the importance of precision when we talk about power, by addressing two basic concepts that are often misused in research on early modern governance and political-institutional research: ‘absolutism’ and ‘the state’. Finally, I want to focus on precisely how governance on the European mainland was organised (approx. the 16th to 18th century) through ordinances in both principalities and (federation-) republics, to demonstrate the imbalance in historical knowledge resulting from this conceptual misuse.

No absolutism?

Although you – as a prince ruling a principality – will have several advisors at hand (to whom you might or might not listen), you are likely to take a lot of decisions on matters of order and security yourself. But, do not think of your decisive power as ‘absolutism’! That term was invented after the French Revolution, like the most –isms.)[1] Despite that power, there are laws you are subjected to: divine law and the law of nature. Moreover, traditons need to be minded too.

Of course, an early modern prince could become a so-called Absolutus Dominatus.[2] However, that meant that tyrannical rule was looming, which was an illegal form of government and power abuse which would threaten the population as well as the fatherland. The term tyrant should not be confused with the term despot. Mario Turchetti distinguishes between the two:

‘Despotism is a form of government which, while being authoritarian and arbitrary, is legitimate if not legal, in some countries, whereas tyranny, in the most rigorous sense, is a form of  government which is authoritarian and arbitrary and which is illegitimate and illegal, because exercised not only without, but against the will of the citizens, and also scorns fundamental human rights.’[3]

The arbitrary rule (not ‘absolutism’) that would result from tyranny meant that a prince could rule without respecting the law – except for the laws of nature and the God-given laws.

Absence of the s-word?

You may notice that I am talking about princes and their principalities (e.g. kingdoms). However, before I can turn to that other governmental system, I need to address the elephant in the room: The “s-word” I am avoiding: State. My dissertational research explained why there was no such thing as a state in the seventeenth century. The era of dynastic warfare within Western Europe, it has often been assumed that the seventeenth-century coincided with and even accelerated the development of the planned bureaucratic state. Sociologist, political scientist, and historian Charles Tilly became famous for posing his thesis: ‘War made the state, and the state made war,’ which suggested that warfare demanded a new development within the state-building process to cope with significant fiscal demands.[4] This development did meet with opposition, but, according to Tilly, the objections came from outsiders to these activities.

Detail from The Paalhuis and the New Bridge (Amsterdam) during the winter, by Jan
Abrahamsz. Beerstraten, 1640 – 1666. Oil Painting, 84cm × 100cm.

However I argue that there was no deliberate – or accidental – state-building going on at the time.  The first argument against state-building lies in the use of the term state. Applying that modern-day term in the early modern context flaws our understanding of a state as it is loaded with connotations and presumptions. Both constitutional and legal historians suggest that the term state in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not have the modern meaning of a public institution. Hence, applying the term gives rise to needless confusion.

In our current usage, the concept of state refers to both a government as a legal person, controlling a country, and to the country itself.[5] The term state in the seventeenth-century vocabulary should be understood as what we would now see as the state of the union, or the state of an argument, not even close to the current meaning of a nation-state. In other words, state referred to a condition of something or someone.[6] Applying a modern-day term is anachronistic and superfluous. We can simply call the political entities for what they were: kingdoms, principalities, duchies, counties, imperial cities, or federations. A precise word-choice allows us to keep a sharp focus, without – unconscious – contemporary connotations that have crept into the historical understanding we have of a state.

The second argument against state-building in this period, is that in the historical reality of the seventeenth century, there were no states.[7] Though there were also imperial cities and (federation-) republics, what existed were dominions: lands in the hands of dynasties, without clearly marked borders, but which were not legal entities. Within feudal structures, these lands had become hereditary, intimately tying the princes and their nobility together. The absence of states, or rather, the presence of dynastically ruled lands is of crucial importance to understanding early modern societies.

Influential sociological interpretations of history – such as Tilly’s and Max Weber’s – have shifted the focus to the institutions (organisation of power), ignoring the legitimacy of power (nature of power).[8] By ignoring the nature of power, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to explain their critique on warfare, bureaucracy, and taxations. Search for glory, religious conversions, or wars of succession: all could personally trigger disputes amongst families. In short, Tilly’s thesis does not apply to the early modern period, due to the absence of states; dynasties waged war to protect and expand their dominion(s).

Governance and ordinances

Let us return to the question: in the absence of statehood, how does an early-modern prince implement governance on order and security? That – automatically – brings us to regulations and how these were implemented. In the 1990’s a significant project regarding police-ordinances started at the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History in Frankfurt am Main, led by prof. Karl Härter and prof. Michael Stolleis. It has resulted in a repertory of ordinances on 68 areas (principalities and imperial cities), ranging from Sweden, Denmark to Switzerland and Austria. However, most of them are part of the Holy Roman Empire.[9]

What are police-ordinances? ‘Police’ is the English translation of Policey; which has a much broader meaning in the police-ordinances of the early modern era. Policey concerned the whole of – that is, both communication of and debate on – normative rules. Its creation, implementation, enforcement and the maintaining of ordinances all aimed at coercing society towards the common good, and subsequently allowing it to achieve welfare. These measures were responses to immediate threats, but they were not just reactive. They also aimed at a lasting result by communicating the government’s view on how such situations could be avoided in the future.[10] They also contained information as to whom had to correct those who did not obey and what the penalty would be. After their announcement, the new rules were affixed to known places (e.g. church doors, market places, city hall). Such an announcement made them official, for if a rule remained unknown to the public, it could (and would) not be obeyed.

Thus, a prince would discuss a perceived problem with his advisors, and then they would draw up a rule to prevent an undesired situation from (further) happening again. Requests from subjects could also lead to a juridification of norms. Hence, we talk about normative rules rather than laws or legislation, as they were not necessarily top-down implemented.

Figure 2. MPIeR Repertorium and other initiatives (dark green), period 1500-1800.

The above map shows – in light green – the areas that were studied within the MPIeR ordinances-project; dark-green are other initiatives. Do notice that most of the research focuses on small/rural principalities or imperial cities.[11] The latter ruled only a small dominion. Hence, the exerted power was done by a relatively small group of people, and there was little hierarchy.

Now for that other governmental system, the republic: how did the Dutch Republic, or the Swiss Confederation organise their policy?[12] Or indeed, Venice and other Italian City-States that did have an extensive dominion? The Habsburg Netherlands – current-day Belgium – has a long tradition of republishing rules. Since 1846 the Royal Commission for the Publication of Ancient Laws and Ordinances has published volumes which would be interesting to involve in an international comparison. Even though the Habsburg Netherlands were part of the dynastic agglomerate with the Habsburg-Spanish king, this ruler was far away which gave a different dynamic then were he in Brussels. The Dutch Republic and Switzerland each decided to go their own way, which could possibly have led to their own approach of problems.

However, an initial comparison between Flanders and Holland suggest that the differences may not have been as massive as has assumed.[13] The nature of republics is a neglected topic of research. We are aware of huge differences between e.g. the Kingdom of France and the Kingdom of Sicily. Nevertheless, we can hardly tell the difference between how the Grisons[14] and Holland differed from one another. The question ‘what is a republic’ leads to the awkward, superflous reaction that both federation-republics lacked a prince.

***

To conclude: we know a lot about principalities and small city-state governments and how they organised their policy. However, we have very little systematic knowledge of federation-states/ republics. Several projects in the Low Countries have started the past few years, such as REPUBLIC and A Game of Thrones?. Much more could and should be done, especially regarding the interconnectedness of governments, norms and ideas.

Christel Annemieke Romein is an NWO-VENI Postdoctoral Researcher at Huygens ING, Amsterdam. Here she works on the early modern political-institutional/ legal history of federation-republics during the period 1576-1702. In particular, she focusses on Holland, Gelderland and Berne (CH) in a comparative perspective. In her research, she fuses the fields mentioned above with Digital History.


[1] Glenn Burgess, Absolute Monarchy and the Stuart Constitution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 17–62; Richard Bonney, ‘Absolutism: What’s in a Name?’, French History, 1, no. 1, (1987): 93–117.

[2] The legal phrase absolutus Dominatus should not be confused with the French monarchie absolue. This French phrase merely indicated the French king’s independence from other earthly authorities (for example the Pope).  See for instance: J.B. Collins, The State in Early Modern France, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

[3] Mario Turchetti, ‘“Despotism” and “Tyranny” Unmasking a Tenacious Confusion’, European Journal of Political Theory 7, no. 2, (1 April 2008): 160, https://doi.org/10.1177/1474885107086446.

[4] Charles Tilly, ‘Reflections on the History of European State-Making’, in The Formation of National States in Western Europe, ed. Charles Tilly, vol. 38, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1975), 42.

[5]  Robert C. F. von Friedeburg, ‘How “New” Is the “New Monarchy”? Clashes between Princes and Nobility in Europe’s Iron Century’.’, Leidschrift, 27, (2012), 22.

[6] Robert C. F. von Friedeburg, Self-Defence and Religious Strife in Early Modern Europe: England and Germany, 1530–1680, St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History, (Burlington Vt.: Ashgate, 2002), 16.

[7] Robert C. F. von Friedeburg, ‘State Forms and State Systems in Modern Europe’, European History Online (EGO) Published by the Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz (blog), 3 December 2010, http://www.ieg-ego.eu/friedeburgr2010-en.

[8] Robert C. F. von Friedeburg, ‘State Forms and State Systems in Modern Europe’, European History Online (EGO) Published by the Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz (blog), 3 December 2010, http://www.ieg-ego.eu/friedeburgr2010-en.

[9] The repertory will soon be online, after a significant update of the database-system by dr. Andreas Wagner.

[10] Karl Härter, ‘Security and “Gute Policey” in Early Modern Europe: Concepts: Laws, and Instruments’, in: The Official Journal of Quantum and Interquantum. Special Issue: Human Security, 35:4, (2010), pp. 41-65, here p. 42.

[11] See for instance, Thomas Simon, ‘Gute Policey’. Ordnungsleitbilder und Zielvorstellungen politischen Handelns in der Frühen Neuzeit, (Frankfurt a/Main: Klostermann 2004).

[12] André Holenstein, Thomas Maissen, Maarten Roy Prak, The Republican Alternative: The Netherlands and Switzerland Compared, (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2008) OA: https://oapen.org/search?identifier=340047

[13] See output: https://www.nwo.nl/onderzoek-en-resultaten/onderzoeksprojecten/i/45/28645.html

[14] Randolph C. Head, Early Modern Democracy in the Grisons: Social Order and Political Language in a Swiss Mountain Canton, 1470-1620, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002).


Figure 1. Detail from The Paalhuis and the New Bridge (Amsterdam) during the winter, by Jan Abrahamsz. Beerstraten, 1640 – 1666. Oil Painting, 84cm × 100cm. Understood to be in the public domain. Source: http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.5966  

Figure 2. Provided by the author. Blank map of the Holy Roman Empire in 1648, with data from: https://www.rg.mpg.de/publikationen/repertorium_der_policeyordnungen

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Emotions and Work: an interview with Agnes Arnold-Forster and Alison moulds

In November 2019, Agnes Arnold-Forster and Alison Moulds held ‘Emotions and Work’, a day-long conference funded by the Royal Historical Society and the Wellcome Trust via the Living with Feeling Project at QMUL, exploring the troubled relationship between emotions and labour, and considering how frameworks and methodologies of the history of emotions can be critically applied to the study of work and labour. Hannah Parker, who attended the conference, caught up with Alison and Agnes to reflect on the day.

History: First of all, thanks for having me at the conference in November! I thought it was a great day: a really warm environment and some really thought-provoking papers. To start with the basics: how did the idea for the conference develop?

A&A: Both of us had been working on the historical relationship between work and feelings, albeit in quite different ways.

As part of her postdoctoral research with the European Research Council-funded ‘Diseases of Modern Life’ project at the University of Oxford, Alison had been examining debates around ‘living in’ – whereby retail workers received board and lodging from their employers (in lieu of part of their salaries) – in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Drawing on a range of texts, she explored the extent to which these debates broached questions concerning the emotional health of shop assistants.

Figure 1. ‘So you think your job is monotonous!’, c.1942,
artist unknown.
US Office for Emergency Management, War Production
Board.

Agnes is currently a postdoctoral research and engagement fellow on the Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, Surgery & Emotion, based at the University of Roehampton. She has been researching the emotions associated with surgical labour in contemporary Britain, and prior to the workshop was developing a new project on the ideals, experiences, and emotions of work in the National Health Service.

Both of us had read the scholarship of Professor Claire Langhamer (University of Sussex) and felt that her work on the intersections between work and feeling in England in the last 100 years encapsulated an emerging theme within the history of emotions – that emotion provides a particularly illuminating frame of analysis for the history of labour. We thought an interdisciplinary workshop that brought together scholars working on different aspects of the subject would be both timely and theoretically useful.

History: Generally speaking conference programming is a pretty tense mixture of timetabling and curating whatever topics arrive in your inbox – but how far did the abstracts you received shape the day overall? Were there any surprising themes in the papers, or directions you didn’t expect to take?

A&A: We received an overwhelming number of abstracts! Both of us had organised conferences before, but neither had ever had to reject so many incredibly strong abstracts. While it was a real delight to issue a call for papers that received such an enthusiastic response – and it was a real testament to the vibrancy of the field – it was also quite stressful. Decisions about who to accept and reject had to be based on how we thought the different papers would fit together. We tried to get a good balance of time periods, places, and occupational settings.

As we anticipated, we got a lot of (excellent) abstracts that dealt with emotional labour, gender, and particularly motherhood. We were more surprised by the diversity of workplaces covered in the abstracts – scientific laboratories, for example – and by the rich theoretical contributions to questions of emotional labour from theatre studies (a field that neither of us was familiar with). We also got some great papers on unusual subjects – dogs and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to name but a few!

History: What kinds of insights were you hoping to get from the conference? What kinds of insights did you get on the day?

A&A: We were hoping for some theoretical insights from a range of disciplines and we think we were pretty successful! We managed to curate a programme with contributions from economists, theatre studies scholars, historians, literary scholars, and legal academics. We were both pleased and surprised to find that despite these disciplinary differences, conversation flowed really well. We think we managed to reach a shared understanding of the different practical and theoretical issues at play, including the relationship between research and activism, and how the field is both indebted to but moving beyond and re-evaluating definitions of ‘emotional labour’.

History: Why do you think that was? Is a heavily interdisciplinary approach needed to tackle the subject adequately, or was this a reflection of the personal priorities of those involved?

A&A: The interdisciplinarity was both invited and surprising; the subject clearly appeals to those working in different areas, perhaps because it yokes together two concepts which to many seem so interrelated but which have not always been paired in public, political, or academic discourse. We wanted the theme to be broad – the call for papers was theoretically driven but also very open-ended.

House Painter, from Trebnik Troikh, V. Tatlin, 1913

History: I was particularly struck by how encouraging and thought-provoking the discussions following the panels were. Did you find there were any particularly interesting lines of dialogue in the discussions following the panels?

A&A: Thank you! I think one of the things we were not really anticipating was the politically-engaged nature of the discussions. As we mentioned, it was a pretty multi-disciplinary group and I think we managed to bridge some of the differences in terminology, source material, and approach partly because we all shared similar perspectives on the conditions of labour in twenty-first-century Britain (where we all lived and worked), and particularly on the nature of work in academia today. This shared understanding was partly cultivated by Professor Claire Langhamer’s excellent, inspiring, and timely keynote which opened the workshop: ‘Mass Observing feelings at work from 1947 to 2010’.

This also reflects the concerns of the organisers. Alison’s research on living-in partly stemmed from her own experiences as a doctoral and postdoctoral researcher, where there was often scant office space and an expectation to work from home. She was very attuned to how such labour practices blurred the temporal and spatial boundaries between work and leisure.

Agnes has written elsewhere about how her attention to emotions and work is in part a product of precarious employment and that she sees healthcare (the subject of her research) as having much in common with higher education (the place she works). They are both beset by entrenched hierarchies, by increasingly vexed discussions about the emotional health of their workers, and by the fervent belief that their working cultures and demands are unique and unparalleled. While we can’t speak for all of our delegates, we would not be surprised if the same might be true for at least some of them. The personal is political after all – or at least historical!

History: Since the present pandemic crisis has unfolded, so many of us are working from home, perhaps more than ever before, and the occupation and emotional health of our healthcare professionals in all positions is at the forefront of public concern. It seems that – while their continued relevance has been unquestionable – both of your research focuses are more pressing than ever.

Though I wonder if the nature of things at the moment might not allow much pause for personal reflection, has it been helpful for you both to have an academic awareness of what is happening in this respect?

Alison: What drew me to the subject originally has become very pertinent again. When I devised my project on ‘living-in’ and retail workers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I was working from home in academia and very alert to the issue of work-life balance and how the boundaries between home and work could be blurred. Around the time of the conference I’d moved to a new policy job and was working in an office. Since the pandemic however, I’ve resumed working from home and am once again alert (both personally and politically) to how that reshapes one’s work and leisure practices.

In public discourse, the attention to ‘key workers’ has also ignited lots of (very critical) debates about how we value, or more often fail to value, retail workers who are so fundamental to our daily life. The physical and emotional dangers of working in a shop are on the agenda again. The Victorian medical press was very interested in the sanitary risks of shop life, and I think those discussions really resonate today, when so many retail workers are on the frontline and exposed to possible contamination.  

Angstliche (Anxious Ones), El Lissitsky, 1923

Agnes: While of course, there is now so much to say about emotions and healthcare work. But the pandemic has also prompted me to reflect on what it is I value about my own work and what it is I enjoy about the job that I have. I don’t think I quite realised how much I value in-person interactions, even as an academic on a research-only contract. Working from home day-in-day-out has also made it very clear that I thrive off variety – one of the things I love about my job is the ability ordinarily to determine my place of work, and that that place can be different every day. I don’t have an office even in non-pandemic times, so move between my flat, cafes, and public libraries. These aren’t particularly profound observations, but they do emphasise that ‘wellbeing’ at work is going to be different for different people – for everyone who needs firm and physical boundaries between work and leisure, there’s going to be others who enjoy the flexibility of home-working.

However, COVID-19 has also reinforced the idea that debates around care, labour, and flexible work are political and bound up with questions about gender, race, and socio-economic status. So while for me, homeworking offers the luxury of choice and flexibility – for others, it’s a restrictive and emotionally deleterious system.

History: What has come out of the conference, for you? Have the day’s discussions influenced your academic (or personal) approaches to ‘work’? What are your plans for the collection of papers (and are there any particular directions you’d like to take)?

A&A: If nothing else, the conference has galvanised us. We are both continuing to work on emotions and work, albeit in more similar ways than before! While Agnes is still researching the emotions of healthcare work (the critical nature of which has only been highlighted by the current COVID-19 pandemic and the UK government’s response), Alison is now working outside academia in healthcare policy with a particular focus on clinical workforce issues. The emotional wellbeing of the workforce is very pertinent in policy debates today.

Drawing together some of the papers from the conference, we have proposed an edited volume to Bloomsbury’s History of Emotions series. We issued a further call for papers to expand the geographical scope of the chapters (most of the abstracts we initially received dealt with Britain – and we had nothing on the Global South), received a great response, and hope to submit the full manuscript to the publishers at the end of this year.

Dr Agnes Arnold-Forster is a Postdoctoral Research and Engagement Fellow on the Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, Surgery & Emotion, based at the University of Roehampton. She is a medical and cultural historian of modern Britain with expertise in the history of healthcare, labour, and the emotions. Her first book, The Cancer Problem, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.

Dr Alison Moulds is Workforce Policy Manager at a healthcare organisation and is a medical and cultural historian. She was Engagement Fellow on the Surgery & Emotion project (University of Roehampton) and Postdoctoral Researcher on the Diseases of Modern Life project (University of Oxford). Her first book, Medical Identities and Print Culture, c.1830s-1910s, is under contract with Palgrave.

Figure 1. ‘So you think your job is monotonous!’ Poster by the US Office for Emergency Management, War Production Board, c. 1942, author unknown. The poster is held at the National Archives and Records Administration, and understood to be in the public domain.

Figure 2. House Painter, from Trebnik Troikh, V. Tatlin, 1913. The image is understood to be in the public domain.

Figure 3. and cover image. Angstliche (Anxious Ones), El Lissitsky, 1923. The image is understood to be in the public domain, with permission to modify.


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Gender, Nation and Decolonisation in Indian Cinema, 1947-1975

Lucy Inskip

Cinema can help us to trace the process of decolonisation after 1947 in India. The direction of Indian cinema changed not only with independence but also in the decades that followed, while India’s post-independence modernity project wavered, especially during the cynicism and extra-parliamentary challenge of the 1970s. Whilst political commentary by cultural producers was not absent during this period of flux, the medium of film did not reflect a linear trajectory of growing disillusionment with the new Indian state. Cinema’s creative capabilities could ultimately liberate consumption of the so-called modernity project from its colonial roots to form a broader postcolonial narrative.

The cinematic production of the post-1947 film industry conveyed diverse artistic output and often presented a commentary on the optimistically reforming state from a variety of perspectives; the new Indian state inevitably meant different things to different people. Indian cinema was also culturally, politically and regionally diverse. Despite the unitary state’s involvement in the film industry, the output of filmmakers demonstrated the richness of cultural production. The three iconic and important films that follow – Mother India (1957), Sholay (1975), and Parasakthi (1952) – all capture intervals in the first 25 years or so of independence; an era not only bound up with the complex manifestations of postcolonial modernity, but also how this tangibly intersected with the lived experience of the state, gendered anxieties, and regional patriotism on and off the big screen.

Gender, Authority and Statehood

Mother India (1957), a cult classic Bollywood melodrama, focuses on the sacrifices of the protagonist, Radha (played by Nargis), as an embodiment of the Indian nation. After losing his arms in an accident, Radha’s husband leaves the family and in his place, Radha is subsequently forced to defend her village’s honour at various junctures. At the beginning of this film, Radha is seen to cradle the earth, an act of inherently gendered ‘mothering’ which is shown in symbolic contrast with a backdrop of tractors and ‘masculine’ machinery that are constructing an irrigation canal nearby.[1]

Figure 1. Promotional poster for Mother India (1957)

This ambiguous association of the state with modernisation was indicative of Jawaharlal Nehru’s (the first Prime Minister of India) overarching ideals for post-independence India: democracy, science and socialism. Mother India could be seen as an ode to Nehru’s planned nation-building, with the intention of being widely disseminated at home and abroad as a permanent symbol of India; this was more symptomatic of an elite-driven myth-making exercise than depicting social realities. The socialist director, Mehboob Khan, was a key player in this propagandistic film, which suggests a degree of industry deference towards the state leadership, in exchange for their approval.[2]

In Mother India, Radha is painted as a goddess-like, moral and chaste woman.[3] However, the empowerment perhaps synonymous with a female protagonist did not sit easily with the perpetuation of more limiting stereotypes (such as the pre-destined occupations of mother and wife). Indeed, the Towards Equality Report from 1974 suggested that the state had made limited attempts at achieving equal rights in action (contrary to the gender equality outlined in the new Constitution). However, this foundational report aimed to reconceptualise gender and challenge the state’s mobilisation of women, to paradoxically satisfy their goal of a unified nation by promoting the women it had failed.[4]

Post-independence Indian masculinities were also re-negotiated in celluloid, with ‘Angry Young Man’ films (synonymous with Amitabh Bachchan), such as Sholay (1975) illustrating the establishment’s growing concerns about criminality in the 1970s.[5] Sholay represents the state through the literal disarming of Thakur Baldev Singh, a retired police chief (and symbol of responsibility), and the film centres on the two criminals Singh enlists to bring down the bandit who disarmed him. This alludes to both the state’s inability to act and the decision of turning away from the state to deliver some kind of justice.[6] Anxieties about increasing unemployment, poverty, and political violence were negotiated on the big screen whilst they played out on India’s streets.

Figure 2. Promotional Poster for Sholay (1975)

This proclamation of contested state authority echoed widely with audiences, with Sholay becoming ‘the first Indian film to gross more than Rs. 10 million’.[7] It has been estimated that the film reached an audience of 250 million, and given that ‘young men in all-male groups’ were a large audience from the 1940s to 1980s, this air of discontent would have resonated with both big-city workers and the urban unemployed.[8] This demographic was intersected by more intense passion in the south, such as the town of Madurai in Tamil Nadu where 500 fan clubs ‘whose members were mostly in their late teens or early twenties’ celebrated male stars such as Bachchan.[9] Sholay made visible ‘the gap between the language of the state and the realities of everyday life’.[10] This was especially prevalent in the 1970s where Indira Gandhi’s Emergency stifled dissent (by imprisoning opponents such as Gayatri Devi) and fanned the flames of anti-establishment feeling through accusations of nepotism.

Regional Resistance

The range of relationships different regions maintained with the centre is most visible in the example of Tamil cinema in the south of India. In Tamil Nadu, cinema was seen by many as an accessible utopian fantasy, produced mainly for poor, urban viewers to break from socio-economic insecurity.[11] Parasakthi (1952), for example, explores the misfortunes of a Tamil family in a new Madras. Inspired by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a political party which advocated for social equality and justice within a deeply entrenched caste system that elevated the position of Brahmins (teachers), the film articulated their politics of ‘anti-Congressism, anti-Brahminism, attack on the religious order and north Indian imperialism’.[12] Both the screenwriter and Parasakthi’s hero were DMK activists, and it was criticised by Indian National Congress supporters for its harmful potential as a propaganda tool for linguistic (Tamil) nationalism and therefore a threat to the country’s perceived unity.[13]

Figure 3. Cast of Parasakthi (1952)

Parasakthi was a veiled challenge to the predominance of the Hindi language and Northern chauvinism, and rather than just attacking the state as a monolithic national entity, it critiqued Congress rule in the Madras State more specifically.[14] In the film, the Madras Corporation is portrayed as sleepy, the mayor as useless, the district collector as foolish, and the drinking tap as empty. In cinemas, the film was frequently met with applause from audiences.[15] Indeed, Parasakthi signalled the coming of an electorally stronger and ambitious DMK, whereby they managed to capture power in Madras in 1967; 15 years after the DMK’s filmic statement.[16]

Whilst cinema could be controlled by the Film Censor Board and influenced by political leaders, filmmakers found ways to think creatively about Indian society, their own prerogatives, and the views of their audiences, be it Indian or international viewers.[17] It is also worth stating that not everything was an explicit political commentary, and films did not always have to carry an overtly obedient or subversive message. Nonetheless, though no particular ‘tone’, such as that of disillusionment, can be traced in the period, Indian cinema could become an instrument of collective expression for a country whose journey out of British rule was not as smooth as many would have hoped.

Lucy Inskip is a History graduate from the University of Oxford. She is currently a Communications Assistant at The Heritage Alliance in London, was formerly a Curatorial Intern at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and has also volunteered at a variety of heritage sites. Connect with her on LinkedIn and view previously published work here and here.


[1] Mother India, dir. Mehboob Khan (Film, 1957), 0:47-1:26, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6LzF-GMovU&t=300s (19 December 2018).

[2] M. Madhava Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction, (Delhi, 2000), p. 122.

[3] R. Thomas, ‘Melodrama and the Negotiation of Morality in Mainstream Hindi Film’, in C. A. Breckenridge (ed), Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asian World, (Minneapolis, 1995), p. 157.

[4] Government of India, Department of Social Welfare, Towards Equality: Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, (New Delhi, 1974), p. 7.

[5] N. M. Kabir, Bollywood: The Indian Cinema Story, (London, 2001), p. 18.

[6] M. Misra, Vishnu’s Crowded Temple: India since the Great Rebellion, (London, 2007), p. 313.

[7] Ibid., p. 311.

[8] R. Guha, India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, (London, 2008), p. 725.

[9] Ibid., p. 726.

[10] Prasad, Ideology, p. 192.

[11] S. Dickey, ‘Consuming Utopia: Film Watching in Tamil Nadu’, in C. A. Breckenridge (ed), Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asian World, (Minneapolis, 1995), p. 132.

[12] M. S. S. Pandian, ‘Parasakthi: Life and Times of a DMK Film’, in R. Vasudevan (ed), Making Meaning in India Cinema, (New Delhi; Oxford, 2002), p. 65.

[13] Ibid., p. 76.

[14] Ibid., p. 72.

[15] Ibid., p. 73.

[16] Ibid., pp. 89 & 91.

[17] The Cinematograph Act, 1952 meant that a Central Board of Film Censors could be constituted. Read more in S. S. Chakravarty, National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema, 1947-1987, 1st edn, (Austin, 1993), p. 72.


Figure 1. Promotional poster for Mother India, 1957. Understood to be in the public domain according to UK and Indian copyright terms.

Figure 2. Promotional poster for Sholay, 1975. Usage as critical commentary on the film is understood to qualify as fair use.

Figure 3. Image of the cast of Parasakthi, 1952. Understood to be in the public domain according to UK and Indian copyright terms.

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Hospitals for All?


Barry Doyle

As the nation struggles with the most pervasive health crisis for one hundred years, the central role of hospitals as community resources for all, irrespective of residence, nationality or ethnic background, is obvious. Today we would expect patients to be treated solely on medical need. Yet in the interwar period, an era of significant expansion in hospital infrastructures, such issues of belonging and exclusion dominated the discourse and policy that framed institutional development.

The 1930s saw extensive plans for hospital building across Europe, North America and Australasia as institutional care expanded and patient numbers grew. In Britain, rationalised developments that brought together a number of providers on one site, often in a suburban area, were mooted for places like Middlesbrough, Aberdeen and Bristol. In Birmingham, the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital, funded entirely by philanthropic donations, opened in 1939 on a green field site next to the University.

Figure 2. Dépêche ‘Petite Chronique Local de la Semaine’ 7 Jan 1933.

In Paris, on the other hand, Hôpital Beaujon in the northern suburb of Clichy was developed by Assistance Publique as a municipal resource. And in Hungary a rash of new builds sprang up along the country’s much reduced borders. Designed to compensate for hospitals lost to neighbouring nations, they were nationalist symbols, often named after political heroes. These creations highlight important themes about space, place and belonging which played out across the 1930s in major developments in Lille, Sheffield and Prague.

In 1932, the mayor of Lille, Roger Salengro, announced that he had commissioned the French American architect, Paul Nelson, to design a massive new hospital complex on a 60 acre site on the edge of the city (figure 1, banner image). The new Cité Hospitalière would merge three existing institutions and enhance them with a medical school, maternity unit, tuberculosis sanatorium and anti-cancer unit. But it was also going to be path-breaking in its design, with two 25 storey sky-scraper blocks – one in the shape of a cross, the other an open book. The venture would service the whole region, and the council applied to central government for loans to help meet the project’s 400 million franc price tag.

The plan provoked an outraged response from local politicians, the right-wing press and the architectural profession, who condemned the cost, the lack of transparency in the commissioning of the architect, and the ‘un-French’ design. This controversy revealed that new modernist projects like this were sites for a battle over national identity and culture in an increasingly insular and xenophobic world. Use of the Skyscraper was attacked as foreign, while Depeche complained that ‘for a construction of such importance, it would seem to us that there should have been a competition and with a preference given to a French architect’. The press got their way and Nelson’s plan was abandoned. In the subsequent competition the commission was won by Jean Walter, one of the architects of Beaujon who adapted a number of the themes of the Nelson design but on a smaller, more ‘European’ scale.

Figure 3. Front cover for the Sheffield Hospital Council’s
Million Pound Appeal launch brochure.

Issues of belonging, boundaries and entitlement were also raised by the proposal to unify voluntary hospital services for the northern English city of Sheffield in the second half of the 1930s. Soon after the First World War the philanthropically funded, voluntary hospitals in the city joined together to form the Sheffield Hospital Council and to launch a mutual insurance initiative – the Penny in the Pound scheme. Initially the Council was a loose collaboration but from the early 1930s a combination of financial pressure and inadequate hospital infrastructure pushed plans to merge the management of the institutions and to build a joint hospital.

In 1938 a scheme was launched under the title The Shape of Things to Come to build a new single site hospital for acute general and specialist services; an extension to the city’s poor maternity provision; and a regional radium centre. Within a year a competition was held for a design for the new hospital won by Adams, Holden, Pearson. The new site was to be funded by the Sheffield Million Pound Appeal with responsibility for the target allocated to three groups – private subscribers, local businesses and workers. The Private subscribers would carry on the work of the traditional philanthropists. Firms would pledge £50k a year while 250,000 workers enrolled in a League of Hospital Builders would add a penny a week to their contributory insurance subscription. But the role of the local state was limited, with municipal authorities targeted as potential donors but not as part of the hospital’s planning.

Tension between the voluntary and municipal sectors grew as a result, especially after the new hospital plan was unveiled without consultation with the council. This snub, and the plan to relegate the municipal providers to an ancillary role, infuriated the Labour council. They felt the voluntary hospital plans would not meet the needs of the people of Sheffield. The new hospital would be regional and specialist rather than Sheffield focused, with the effect that the local authority would be supporting a project that did not benefit its own citizens. Council services were handicapped by legal requirements that limited the geographical area from which they could take patients. It was therefore difficult for them to develop their own specialist services while the voluntary sector continued to expand. Furthermore, the development relied on much of the routine hospital work  – such as road and work place accidents and caring for long stay and ‘chronic’ cases – being picked up by the municipal provision.

Figure 4. Architect’s impression of new hospital Sheffield.
The Royal Infirmary, Sheffield, Annual Report 1940

In the end the Labour Party led council refused to give their blessing – or any money – to the new developments and instead launched a raft of competing projects, including a 600 bed general hospital for medical and surgical cases and a modern sanatorium of 420 pulmonary TB beds. Both schemes, however, were held up by the war, and then ultimately abandoned by the newly formed NHS in 1948.

Our third example explores nation and belonging in the tense Czech-German politics of late 1930s Prague. German speakers accounted for over twenty percent of the Czechoslovak population, the vast majority living in the province of Bohemia. In interwar Czechoslovakia, they maintained a prominent role in health provision and as a result both Czech and German speaking doctors were trained and practised in Prague’s main hospital, alternating clinics on a weekly basis. As the Czechs gradually came to dominate Charles University, the Germans formed their own German University and Medical School. They guarded these medical facilities jealously, leading to significant duplication of services, and some tension. For example, in the late 1930s a Rockefeller Foundation nurse training centre in Prague collapsed in disarray when the German student refused to be taught with their Czech compatriots.

Figure 5. Plan for new Hospital and Medical School, Prague, 1937

By the late 1930s it was agreed that a new hospital and medical school were needed in Prague city centre. The scheme was approved by Parliament, and in 1938 plans were drawn up by a group of leading Czech medics. In their scheme two separate buildings were envisaged with a 2,800 bed Czech institution and a 1,200 bed German facility on the same site. Although it was recognised that they should share key services like catering, laundry and laboratories, all medical facilities were to be duplicated across the two institutions, including separate admissions and outpatient departments.

The present Coronavirus crisis has seen the health services of England, Scotland and Wales commission vast temporary hospitals in exhibition centres in our major cities. These centrally located facilities will undoubtedly seek to serve the whole community irrespective of locality, ethnicity or nationality. In the interwar world of scarce resources and extreme political views, however, hospitals had become sites of conflict over national interest versus municipal socialism; the citizens versus outsiders; and ethnic group versus ethnic group. In the process the boundaries defining who was and was not a suitable case for treatment solidified, excluding as well as including members of the hospital community.

Barry Doyle is Professor of Health History at the University of Huddersfield. He has worked extensively on the history of urban healthcare, with a particular focus on pre-NHS provision, detailed in his monograph The Politics of Hospital Provision in Early Twentieth-Century Britain (Routledge, 2014). He is currently working with Dr Rosemary Cresswell on the AHRC-funded project ‘Crossing Boundaries: The History of First Aid in Britain and France, 1909-1989’ and completing a University of Huddersfield funded examination of hospital provision in Central Europe between the wars.


Figure 1. (Banner Image). Model of Paul Nelson’s planned hospital complex for Lille, 1932. Archives Municipales de Lille, Suite des travaux et inauguration : coupures de presse. 3M/1/19

Figure 2. Dépêche: ‘Petite Chronique Local de la Semaine’ 7 Jan 1933. Archives Municipales de Lille, Suite des travaux et inauguration : coupures de presse. 3M/1/19

Figure 3. Front cover for the Sheffield Hospital Council’s Million Pound Appeal launch brochure. TNA MH58/319

Figure 4. Architect’s impression of new hospital Sheffield. The Royal Infirmary, Sheffield, Annual Report 1940

Figure 5. Plan for new Hospital and Medical School, Prague, 1937. Source: Havlicek, Uklein, Albert, ‘Study of A Health Centre and University Medical School at Prague’, Nosokomeion, (1938), 210.

Due to their age, all images are understood to be free of copyright restrictions.

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Realising Socialism Abroad? What Communist History Has To Offer In International History Education

Ilana Hartikainen

Even in an age of increasing globalization and close connections between different countries and regions, most history in schools is still taught from a national perspective. American students, for example, learn of the American Revolutionary War with a clear set of good guys and bad guys, never giving a thought to the soldiers who fought on the other side and the reasons they might have had for doing this. When they turn to English history — or the history of anywhere else in Europe or even the world, like Ancient Rome or the Spanish Inquisition — this is relegated to the ‘World History’ section. Immediately, divisions like this contribute to a nationalist view of the world by implicitly building an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, or more specifically an ‘our history’ and a ‘their history’.

While the factors that drive the success of nationalist political parties, for example, lie far beyond the bounds of school history classes, this should not prevent education systems from taking every possible opportunity offer views of history that go beyond the borders of a national master narrative. At the Department of Education at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR) in Prague, the group of historians and educators who developed the educational website Socialism Realised: Life in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1948 – 89 has some experience in promoting this idea. For this purpose, we’ve found that it helps if you liberate history from the bounds of, well, history.

Street photo from the “Velvet revolution” in Prague 1989, by Josef Šrámek ml.

Our journey along the path of international education began in 2015, when we decided to make an online portal that would allow international (English speaking) audiences to use the wealth of material that USTR) had built up to help Czech teachers teach 20th century history to their students. What quickly became apparent, however, was that the vast majority of the materials were practically unusable with students who came from outside of the Czech context. We had intended to base the activities in the theories of constructivist pedagogy, in which the teachers act as guides for their students, who learn through guiding questions in a process called inquiry based learning. However, most materials would have required the teachers to turn to more traditional methods of instruction, in which they one-sidedly transmitted information about the Czechoslovak state socialist past, for which the students would have no use once they left the classroom.

What we ended up with in response to this problem was Socialism Realised: Life in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1948-89, an online educational environment in which users can build their critical thinking skills while discussing moments from Czechoslovakia’s state socialist past through the lens of four internationally understandable perspectives: official ideology, personal stories, oppression, and memory. The website contains a catalogue of primary sources and audiovisual material that allows users to view each moment through each perspective and challenges them to analyse the catalogue’s objects with the help of guiding questions. Its development included a thorough process of cultural translation, geared to make each item accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

In promoting our resource, though, we often run up against a very fair question: why should anyone care about this? Why should anyone teach Czechoslovak history abroad? Although we based our resource on the Czechoslovak past, it wasn’t because we consider it to be somehow exceptional, but rather because it’s where our expertise lies. However, the reasoning comes back to the problem of nationally-based history teaching as well. Introducing far flung students to the history of a country that they may not have previously heard of, particularly when the material is multi-perspective and urges them to think about how people there actually lived, combats the process of othering that nationally-based history education contributes to.

Figure 2. Vaclav Havel and protesters commemorate the struggle for Freedom and Democracy at Prague memorial during 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Our primary concern, then, isn’t that students walk away remembering what happened in 1968 or 1989 in Czechoslovakia. Rather, the aim is that they walk away having engaged with material that pushed them to think critically about the media sources in front of them, and to consider the broad themes that had emerged from the sources, like idea of civil disobedience or what it’s like to live under an occupation. Still, we felt that a platform like Socialism Realised would be even stronger if it included material relating to other countries’ pasts — and so we embarked on our Experience of State Socialism Reimagined Erasmus+ project along with partners from Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. As the project teams began gathering material that could be put into the form of a ready-made lesson plan and shared internationally, it soon became clear that the lesson plans’ overarching themes had civic angles in addition to historical ones.

The team from USTR, for example, landed on a lesson plan that explored elections in Czechoslovakia. Elections are, of course, something that students are almost universally familiar with, so that made the topic accessible to begin with. Their existing knowledge of what democratic elections tend to look like is then able to intertwine with the sources that the team chose, guiding them to see the ways in which elections in state socialist countries function differently and, indeed, serve different purposes than elections in democratic countries do. And while this is never the primary pedagogical aim, the sources can also call to mind contemporary situations with which the students can draw parallels.   

In this project, Czechoslovak history was once again a lens through which students could delve into a broader civic theme. Our partner organisations took similar routes, be it ideology in the public space from the Slovak group or forced migration from the Bulgarian team. While we were happy to introduce the specifics in each of these cases, our primary aim wasn’t to have students remember all of these names and dates, but rather to allow the case to open up discussions that could both introduce students to new parts of the world and combine history and civics in a fun, engaging way. And, judging by the responses from the teachers who took part in our piloting process, we were quite successful.

Figure 3. Prague Cityscape Silhouette.

Beyond the fact that this region constitutes our area of expertise, though, we see certain other pedagogical advantages of using state socialist history outside of the countries that actually experienced it. The situations from state socialist history that students explore through our material is both distant and proximate enough that it offers a safe space in which they can critically reflect on their own present. Introducing more people to this history will also, we hope, help break down whatever remain of the stereotypes left over from that period. The process of developing both our approach and this material hasn’t been entirely straightforward, of course; while we are always happy to see when sources we’ve chosen work well in the classroom, our mistakes also serve important guiding roles. At the moment, we’re only one team doing this work, though, and larger-scale changes will require lots of additional work. By advocating for the benefits of teaching socialist history abroad in a constructivist, multi-perspective way, that breaks the bounds of traditional history teaching, we hope that we will also encourage others who study different regions and different periods to do the same, and look across their own national borders.

Ilana Hartikainen is a member of the Department of Education at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in Prague and a co-creator of the educational website Socialism Realised: Life in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1948 – 89. She is also a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Helsinki, where she researches celebrity populist success in hybrid media systems through the case study of the Czech Republic. She is also part of the Kone Foundation-funded Now Time, Us Space project, where her work will look at populism through the lens of history, memory, and the public space.


Figure 1. Street photo from the “Velvet revolution” in Prague 1989, by Josef Šrámek ml. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

Figure 2. Vaclav Havel and protesters commemorate the struggle for Freedom and Democracy at Prague memorial during 1989 Velvet Revolution. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Figure 3. Prague Cityscape Silhouette. Black and white image of the silhouette of houses and Prague television tower. Reproduced under a public domain license.

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The British Army’s Chinese Auxiliaries in Arctic Russia

Yuexin Rachel Lin

While conducting research in the Academia Sinica digital archives in 2017, I stumbled across a remarkable document: A list of Chinese workers, part of a labour company recruited by the Slavo-British Legion in the northern Russian cities of Murmansk and Archangel. The list includes every man’s name, age, hometown, and even the names of his parents, wife and the number of siblings. Each terse entry records a life transplanted across the Eurasian continent from China to the Arctic Circle. The story of how they got there is one that takes in China’s struggle for national revival, the First World War, and the international response to the world’s first successful communist revolution.

Figure 1. Name List of Chinese Workers Returning from Russia, March 1920

Strangers on the Eastern Front

China’s role in the First World War has become better known since the centenary in 2014-2018. As Europe was set ablaze by the conflict, to many Chinese it seemed that a new world order – one led by Wilsonian ideas of freedom and national self-determination – would emerge from the ashes. Since the mid-19th Century, imperial powers such as Britain, France, Russia, Japan, and Germany had made inroads into China. They established concessions exempt from Chinese government and law, imposed heavy indemnities following colonial wars, and took charge of tax and customs administration. The post-war world seemed to offer the chance for China to regain some of its lost sovereignty, if it played its diplomatic cards right.

Nevertheless, the Beijing government was torn by its own political infighting. Until August 1917, when China finally joined the Allies, conflict between pro- and anti-war factions paralysed foreign policy. China therefore remained neutral through most of the War and could not commit troops to either side. What it could do, however, was meet the Allies’ desperate need for labour as the fighting dragged on.

Xu Guoqi’s groundbreaking research into the Chinese Labour Corps has shown how, beginning in 1915, 140,000 Chinese were recruited by Britain and France as auxiliary labour for the Western Front. Yet an equal, if not greater, number was employed by Russia on the Eastern Front. Russia’s extensive land border with China and its longstanding colonial presence in Manchuria facilitated the hiring of Chinese wartime workers, often illegally or informally.[1] The exact number of Chinese auxiliaries in the tsarist army is therefore unknown: The Beijing Foreign Ministry then estimated it at at least 100,000,[2] while other sources cite a figure as high as 500,000.

Chinese migrants in Russia had traditionally resided in the far eastern border regions, or in Moscow and St Petersburg. Wartime workers, however, were scattered across European Russia. They found themselves digging trenches near the front, mining coal in the Urals, and logging in regions close to today’s Belarus. And, in 1916, 10,000 went to construct the strategic St Petersburg-Murmansk railway,[3] a vital link between the Russian capital and an ice-free port.

Figure 2. Chinese workers drafted to construct the Murmansk railway. National Museums of the Republic of Karelia, (КГМ-2095). Original source: http://kgkm.karelia.ru/site/exhibit/27

The Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917 was followed by the disintegration of the tsarist army. Lenin’s government, an international pariah after its exit from the First World War, was unrecognised by the Great Powers, including China. In February 1918, the Chinese ambassador was evacuated along with other Allied diplomats, and communications between European Russia and Beijing were severely disrupted. Russia’s Chinese auxiliaries therefore lacked any institutional or diplomatic support for relief and repatriation. Unlike their compatriots on the Western Front, many were simply abandoned. Between them and China lay thousands of miles of Russian landscape, now in the fratricidal throes of a civil war.

Some of the Murmansk workers made their way to St Petersburg, where remaining members of the embassy and Chinese students tried to support and repatriate them.[4] Others swelled the ranks of the Red Army, which began actively recruiting Chinese workers.[5] An unknown number perished in the surrounding taiga. A final group stayed put, where they encountered British soldiers landing in North Russia.

The Slavo-British Legion

In March 1918, shortly after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Royal Marines arrived at Murmansk to prevent the port and its stockpiles from falling into German hands. The conflict and its goals soon expanded. By May, Britain had dispatched a North Russian Expeditionary Force to Murmansk, which captured Archangel three months later. This was part of the international military intervention against the Soviet regime, ostensibly to support anti-Bolshevik governments that would bring Russia back into the First World War.

The British fielded a unit of local recruits, the Slavo-British Legion, in battles against the Bolsheviks. Its labour auxiliaries included the Chinese left behind in North Russia; between 116 and 236 were employed at its Archangel headquarters from September 1918 to January 1919.[6] In May, the British government informed charge d’affaires Luo Zhongyi that the Legion had a transport brigade of 222 Chinese workers, tasked with guarding bridges and unloading goods. They “seemed very satisfied (si shen manyi)”; could Beijing send an officer to oversee them?[7] The State Council in Beijing agreed, but the difficulty of sending a Chinese officer to North Russia scuppered the plan.[8]

Figure 3. Ministry of Information First World War Official Collection (Q 16451)
Group of officers and men, Slavo-British Legion. Archangel. Copyright: © IWM.
Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205251248

Whatever relief these workers had was short-lived. The Armistice of November 1918 undermined the justification for further British military involvement in Russia and public opinion turned against the intervention. In March 1919, British troops began planning their withdrawal from North Russia by the end of October.[9] London duly informed Ambassador Alfred Sze in August that it wished to repatriate the Legion’s 250 Chinese workers, and asked if Beijing would pay for their transport to China via Britain.[10] Embassy secretary Zheng Yanxi, one of the staff remaining in Russia, also called on Beijing to either foot the bill or send a ship to Britain to take the workers home.[11]

Beijing agreed to pay for the repatriation, but could not communicate with Zheng in time. Instead, he and fellow embassy staff Li Baotang took charge of the evacuation. Their negotiations with the British command secured the passage not only of 219 Chinese workers with the Legion, who left for London on 2 September 1919, but also of other Chinese civilians in Murmansk and Archangel – more than 600 evacuees in total. Most of the auxiliaries were sent home to Qingdao via Canada in October, and it was Zheng and Li who recorded their names as they left Russia.[12]

China’s hopes for a favourable peace settlement took these workers far from home to Russia, where the rise of Bolshevik ideology and the demands of a European war buffeted them from the tsarist to the British army. Yet they were the lucky ones, being situated within reach of Allied forces and capable Chinese representatives. Thousands of their compatriots perished in the wilderness or the battlefields of the Russian Civil War. Their names have unfortunately been lost, swept away by vast national and international currents that they may have understood only dimly.

Yuexin Rachel Lin is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Exeter, where she works on the Chinese diaspora community in Russia during the 1917 Revolutions and Civil War. In particular, she focuses on emerging Chinese discourses of nationalism, humanitarianism and international law in response to revolutionary violence. She also blogs at Shots Across the Amur, a digital resource of Chinese documents on the Russian Revolution.


[1] Zhixue Li and Qingming Xie, “Shiyue geming qianhou Beiyang zhengfu dui lü E qiaomin de shiling baohu”, Nanjing zhengzhi xueyuan xuebao, no. 4 (2012), 82.

[2] “Draft from the Foreign Ministry to the President, 8 Jun 1917”, in Yujun Wang, Tingyi Guo and Qiuyuan Hu (eds.) Zhong-E guanxi shiliao: E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), Minguo liunian zhi banian (Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan jindaishi yanjiusuo, 1960), 111-112 (hereafter YBJS1).

[3] Igor Saveliev, “Chinese Migration to Russia in Space and Time”, in Pal Nyiri and Igor Saveliev (eds.), Globalizing Chinese Migration: Trends in Europe and Asia (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019), 41.

[4] “Telegram from embassy secretary Li Shizhong, 6 Mar 1918 (sent 2 Mar)”, YBJS1, 282.

[5] John Erickson, “Red Internationalists on the March: The Military Dimension, 1918-1922”, in Cathryn Brennan and Murray Frame (eds.), Russia and the Wider World: Essays for Paul Dukes (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 132.

[6] See, for example, WO 106/1153/797; WO 106/1155/604.

[7] “Telegram from charge d’affaires Luo Zhongyi in Britain, 4 Jun 1919 (sent 27 May)”, in Yujun Wang, Tingyi Guo and Qiuyuan Hu (eds.) Zhong-E guanxi shiliao: E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (2), Minguo liunian zhi banian (Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan jindaishi yanjiusuo, 1960), 301 (hereafter YBJS2).

[8] “Letter from the State Council, 14 Jun 1919”, “Letter from the Army Ministry, 26 Jun 1919”, YBJS2, 324, 354-355.

[9] WO 106/1177 passim; WO 106/1158/112.

[10] “Telegram from Ambassador to Britain Shi Zhaoji, 23 Aug 1919 (sent 20 Aug)”, YBJS2, 463-464.

[11] “Telegram from secretary Zheng Yanxi in Russia, 20 Aug 1919 (sent 11 Aug)”, YBJS2, 454.

[12] “Telegram from the ambassador in Britain, 26 Nov 1919”, “Telegram from the ambassador in Britain, 9 Dec 1919”, “Letter from Zheng Yanxi in Russia, 20 Dec 1919 (sent 30 Sept)”, YBJS2, 607, 632, 646-648.


Figure 1. Name List of Chinese Workers Returning from Russia, March 1920, Institute of Modern History Archives, Academia Sinica. 03-32-327-02-013-092.

Figure 2. Chinese workers drafted to construct the Murmansk railway, National Museum of the Republic of Karelia, (КГМ-2095).

Figure 3 (and banner image). Group of officers and men, Slavo-British Legion, Archangel. Ministry of Information First World War Official Collection, © IWM (Q 16451), and reproduced under a non-commercial licence.

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Becoming a Virtual Historical Tour Guide: Where to Start

Eleanor Janega

Historical tours have long been a mainstay of popular history. In central London, for example, on any given day one can witness flocks of tourists following their intrepid guides – umbrellas aloft – down footpaths too narrow to accommodate them all. In almost every city, fleets of buses compete for customers, promising interested parties both a lift and an audio tour of local historical sites of interest, no walking required. With the expansion of a technologically literate general population, and a proliferation of smart tech, a new opportunity has arisen for those interested in historical tourism – virtual tours.

Virtual tours have a number of advantages for audiences. Their physical presence in an area isn’t required, and in some cases their attendance at a particular time is not either. They need only access an app, or a group chat, and they are able to learn about a particular place while having a look at it digitally.

Virtual tours also have some distinct advantages for those interested in giving tours. Historians who are enthusiastic to share their knowledge with others can do so without the inconveniences of blocking thoroughfares and holding umbrellas. Similarly, much like their audiences, they need not be in the location at a given time. Instead they can pre-record tours, or lead them from the comfort of their own homes or offices.

There are currently two larger subsets of virtual tours which historians can take part in: pre-recorded, and ‘live’. Within these, there are two further distinct subsets: live streams and recordings in situ at a historical site, or recordings or ‘live’ tours conducted remotely.

Pre-recorded Tours

Pre-recorded tours have the benefit of being relatively free of administration or timing requirements. Guides can approach them as a ‘one and done’ piece of work. They are recorded and uploaded to whichever platform the guide uses to share their work, and they need not necessarily think of them again. Meanwhile, interested audiences can access the tours into perpetuity at a any suitable time.

Figure 1. ‘Place of Execution, Smithfield’ from John Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, vol. 2, (1865), p. 384.

A key advantage to pre-recorded tours is that they also allow for guides to curate tours in cities where the sites in question are far from each other physically, but linked thematically. If one wished, for example, to discuss the execution ground in London at the Smithfields, followed by the Tyburn tree, their audiences can follow smoothly from point to point using videos, rather than having to make what could otherwise be a 40 minute trip.

The pre-recorded remote tour allows for the easiest possible experience for guides who cannot (or do not wish to) access the location that they are discussing. It also has the distinct advantage for those who would prefer to work from a script, as opposed to off the cuff. Guides can put together a short discussion (generally two to five minutes is sufficient for most audiences) of the place that they are describing. This can then be layered over still images of the place in question to create a video. This approach requires slightly more technical buy-in from the tour guide, in that they need to produce a video. However, this is easily done in most editing software, or even on, for example, YouTube.

Slightly easier in terms of technical know-how, but requiring an actual presence (if only once) from tour guides are pre-recorded videos. In these instances, tour guides need really only a good enough quality microphone, which most smartphones possess or which can be easily purchased, and a device with video functions. This method allows for slightly more human interaction on the part of the guide: guides can choose to have their faces appear if they wish, in order to foster a personal connection with viewers.

One potential downside of this approach, however, is that the notes for a script or speech can be more difficult to juggle with recording equipment. The approach, therefore, slightly favours those who can work off the cuff, from bullet points, or from memory. It similarly allows guides to record on sites which are distant from each other, although the travelling still needs to be done off-camera by the guide themselves.

“Live” tours

Live tours have essentially the same possibilities and considerations as pre-recorded tours, but require in both cases, a mutually-convenient way to share streams with audiences. In general, live tours pose an administrative problem, because audiences and guides need to agree to a particular time for the tour to take place. In general, it is best for guides to set this time, but it would theoretically be possible to offer audiences a range of possibilities using polling software.

Figure 2. Commemorative plaque at the site of Tyburn Tree. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Remote tours conducted live require slightly more technological buy-in from both parties. Guides should in most cases, pre-circulate links to images of the sites that the group will be visiting. A useful tool for this is Google Street view. Otherwise, guides may wish to use a screen-sharing service, where they can bring up their own images (indeed even a PowerPoint presentation may work in such cases) as they speak.

The benefits to this method are that guides can pre-prepare their talks if they so wish, and audience members can ask questions directly of the guides. This gives a more personalised feel to an almost totally hypothetical tour. As with pre-recorded tours, remote tours also allow guides to present geographically distant, but thematically linked, tours without the hassle of travel. 

It would also be possible to arrange remote tours for use within classrooms. Lessons can be centred around a tour of various sites and then presented via projection. In this case, it benefits guides to use Street View rather than a PowerPoint presentation in order to make the distinction between the experience as a tour, rather than as a standard lecture. This approach has the benefit of providing students with more of a connection to the physical and geographical realities of a location.

The alternative for live tours is to conduct them in person from the locations in question. For this, tour guides need only to agree on a time with audiences, and have a form of software that allows them to connect at the same time together. This can be accomplished via several platforms including Google Hangouts, or Skype, to name just two. Guides wishing to undertake a live tour must be comfortable speaking off the cuff, and indeed into a phone in public for long lengths of time. They also need to be able to move physically between spaces, and so the lengths of travel time must be taken into account.

The benefits of virual live tours in situ include the ability to show a tangible physical connection between the areas shown, and an ability to respond to audience questions about various details live. If someone wishes to see a particular feature of a building, for example, it is possible to simply walk up to it. Travel time between areas can also be used to answer audience questions as the guides walk.

Overall, there are massive benefits to virtual tours for historians, and particularly those historians interested in topics such as space, the built environment, or psychogeography. They also provide a clear opportunity to connect with audiences interested in history, but less so in reading, and who may be unable to attend a historical tour in person. Virtual tours provide historians with an exciting new option for sharing their work beyond traditional academic audiences, and as software becomes more accessible and proliferates, these opportunities should continue to grow as well.

Dr Eleanor Janega is a medieval historian, specialising in sexuality, apocalypticism, propaganda, and the urban experience. She focuses on public history with non-expert audiences, and teaches at the London School of Economics. Her upcoming The Middle Ages: A Graphic History will be out next year with Icon Publishing. Eleanor’s tours of Medieval London can be accessed here.


Figure 1 is understood to be in the public domain.

Figure 2 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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What Does ‘Inclusion’ Include?: Making Space for Students

Erin Katherine Krafft

Figure 1. Portrait of WEB Du Bois by Carl Van Vechten

One of the courses that I teach most frequently is a social theory course for students in their second year of college. I teach no first-year courses, so the students are new to me, and I am new to them. On the first day, facing these twenty-five strangers (or fifty – I often teach two sections), my first and most important task, my most urgent objective, is to move beyond strangers, to become familiar.

So on that first day, I tell them – and it’ll be a few weeks until I know if they’ve taken me at my word – that despite everything they’ve been taught about writing academic papers in the past, in this course, they should rely heavily on I-statements. This means that the students will tell me if and why Karl Marx’s theories have resonated with them, or how they see the theories of W.E.B. Du Bois reaching forward to the twenty-first century and threading through their lives. This means that when they write about the concept of the double consciousness developed by Du Bois, they reflect not only on what he described, but on how they understand or experience this double consciousness in their daily lives as they navigate both their own perceptions and others’ perceptions of them. They come away from this understanding both Du Bois and their own days more deeply.

Yes, when we talk about inclusion in education, we do often think in terms of the curriculum. And yes, in classrooms full of first-generation college students, students of colour, and students whose families come from formerly or presently colonised nations, it is certainly important that Du Bois and Paulo Freire [1] and Aimé Césaire [2] figure prominently in the syllabus. These writers and our discussions around them bring the students and their histories more fully into the classroom.

The writings that matter the most, however, are those crafted by the students themselves. I hesitate to say that these are the writings that lead to the most ‘inclusion’, because the implication there is that they most effectively fold the students into a pre-existing space of my design. Instead, their writings and their thoughts create the space. They invite Marx in, and not vice versa.

And I want to add to this: they invite me in, and not vice versa. I want to say that in sharing their thoughts on Du Bois and Césaire, and in sharing the snapshots of their lives that the writings of Du Bois and Césaire allow them to illustrate more fully, the students are inviting me in, and not vice versa. It is not so simple an inversion, though: I issue an invitation, too. I open the door, turn on the lights, set Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in front of them, and ask them if they can make use of it. (NB: they always can).

Figure 2. Vladimir Mayakovsky

So whose space is it, if we are all simultaneously welcoming each other into our own worlds and thoughts, all constructing the curriculum together? The syllabus may be complete before the students walk in the door, but as I tell them in the first weeks of the semester: I can know and discuss these writers and their theories, but only to a certain extent. I can know their origins, I can guide a close reading, but I cannot know where they go from here. We are reading these texts, after all, because they still matter, and it is there, in the mattering, in where they go from here, that the students are the most central figures in the course. In their ‘I’, there is more of Du Bois, posthumously and vicariously living on. I cannot add this to the syllabus; I must rely on the students to co-create the curriculum. To frame this dynamic as ‘inclusion’ hardly makes sense, as they are as necessary in the space as I am.

For this reason, I would argue that an entire course on the philosophies and practices of the Black Panther Party could be more oppressive in the hands of one instructor than a course on the philosophies and practices of early Russian Bolshevism could be in another’s; even to a roomful of students with personal interest in Black Power movements, a dry lecture on the former may be ultimately less inclusive than open, reflective, and interactive engagement with the latter. This is not to say that we needn’t worry about highlighting histories, movements, art, literature, and theory that have been pushed to the margins or, often, ignored altogether; it is only to say that we cannot make the mistake of believing that changing the curriculum alone is enough, and must instead put Freire’s collaborative problem-posing model of education into practice, leaving the ‘banking’ model (in which facts and knowledge are simply deposited into the brains of students) behind us.

This has another implication for instructors beyond the shift in curriculum and open discussion: it requires a comfort with (or an acceptance of) chaos, with unpredictability, and with the potential vulnerability that comes from foregoing the hierarchical banking model in favour of the greater challenge of facilitating learning through every unpredictable moment. In this sense, ‘inclusion’ is not simply about demographic considerations, but about recognising that if we understand ‘inclusion’ as a practice of making education accessible for students with diverse experiences, we also need to recognise that those diverse experiences manifest in ways beyond the structural and historical, and as a result, they cannot be addressed with simple structural changes.

As Parker Palmer writes: ‘In this culture, objective facts are regarded as pure while subjective feelings are suspect and sullied. In this culture, the self is not a source to be tapped but a danger to be suppressed, not a potential to be fulfilled but an obstacle to be overcome. In this culture, the pathology of speech disconnected from self is regarded, and rewarded, as a virtue.

Relegating inclusion to structural changes risks simply replicating the structures that exclude in the first place. Resisting those structures by welcoming what Palmer positions as the three parts of the self – the intellect, the emotion, and the spirit – is what allows students to co-create the space, and to be not just included, but integral. Inclusion, then, is not just about including the histories that we imagine produced and can speak to students, but is also about including the whole selves of students, and thus the selves of instructors as well.

As bell hooks writes of witnessing oppressive and exclusive pedagogical approaches: ‘The self was presumably emptied out the moment the thresh­old was crossed, leaving in place only an objective mind—free of experiences and biases. There was fear that the conditions of that self would interfere with the teaching process.’[3]

Figure 3. Graffiti in Santurtzi (Biscay)

Inclusion, in short, means not asking our students to check themselves at the door. When we can all bring in our I’s and be fully present, seemingly disparate histories draw nearer to each other, and content ceases to be exclusive. In practice, this means that, though my students may have no initial knowledge of or prior interest in the writings of Aleksandra Kollontai,[4] and though her historical circumstances were very different to their own, they are able to use her writings on sexual politics to understand more not only about Bolshevik critiques of bourgeois morality, but about contemporary formulations of gender norms and the domestic space, and about how they as individuals navigate these norms. In practice, it means that, though my students are initially confused about why we are reading a poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky, they end up understanding more not only about agit-prop and Stalinism, but about why outsider and underground art – sometimes their own – may be both a threat to mainstream norms and a radical and necessary life-saving endeavour.

This form of engagement and this approach to integrating the lives of our students – the lives that they are currently living – creates new entrances into history and theory. These surprising new paths to familiar locales can deepen our scholarship and our ability to integrate – and not simply include – ourselves and our students in a continually-evolving practice of teaching and learning.

Dr. Erin Katherine Krafft is an Assistant Professor of Crime and Justice Studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her book Gender and Justice: Learning Through Cases (co-written with Susan Krumholz and Jo-Ann Della Giustina), as well as two book chapters on gender and feminism in contemporary Russia, are forthcoming in 2020. In addition to her work on gender, feminism, and theory, she is engaged in collaborative and community-engaged research on nonviolent abolitionary education.


[1] Freire, Paolo. (1968) 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Thirtieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Continuum.

[2] Césaire, Aimé. (1955) 2001. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press.

[3] hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, New York: Routledge. 16-17.

[4] Kollontai, Alexandra. 1980. Selected Writings. Translated by Alix Holt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Figure 1. is from the Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of Congress, where it is believed to be in the public domain.

Figure 2. is in the public domain.

Figure 3. (also cropped for use as the banner image) is licensed under the Creative Commons Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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Innovating Digital History in the Classroom: an interview with Drs James Baker and Sharon Webb

Back in July, the Royal Historical Association awarded its 2019 Innovation in Teaching Award to Dr James Baker and Dr Sharon Webb at the University of Sussex. This week Stephanie Wright from History caught up with both prize winners to learn more about how they incorporate digital history into their undergraduate teaching.

History: Can you briefly introduce yourselves and your innovative series of digital history workshops/lectures to our readers?

Baker: We are lecturers in the Department of History at the University of Sussex. We are both historians with expertise in the ‘digital humanities’, and one of the things we were tasked with doing when we joined Sussex in 2015 was to integrate ‘digital skills’ into our undergraduate degree programme. We were timetabled one hour each week with our first year cohort, and were more or less given freedom to fill it as we saw fit.

Dr Sharon Webb and Dr James Baker with Prof. Margot Finn,
President of the Royal Historical Society
(John Deehan for the Royal Historical Society, all rights reserved 2019)

Our department has a strong focus on reflexive practice and contemporary history, and so one of the motivations for creating this space in the programme was to compliment those agendas, to help our undergrads be better able to understand what it is to do history now, and what it will mean to do history on their own world. From this we gradually developed a narrative for our sessions, moving the students across the year from thinking critically about “Doing History in the Digital Age” to “Doing Digital History”.

Webb: We made this difference explicit since we wanted students to see “history”, and indeed other humanities-based subjects, as inherently linked to and influenced by prevailing technology. We didn’t launch straight into lectures on digital history and digital humanities because we want to acknowledge and highlight the fact that history, as a discipline, has fundamentally changed because of our contemporary digital environments.

“Doing History in the Digital Age” includes a session on using bibliographical management tools, like Zotero, as well as a session on search engines, which focused less on search strategies like Boolean search, and more on the mechanics and implications of using subjective tools like Google search. In both of these sessions we prompt students to think about the function and implication of each tool. When we move to “Doing Digital History” our sessions become more practical and hands-on: think workshop style lectures with 100+ students (not always easy).

Crucially, however, we ensure that we front load sessions with theory and, as appropriate, historical background and contexts. So, for example, our sessions on data visualisation start with a history of data visualisations. In this way students see that the “technology” is not driving these methods, instead they are rooted in the history of science and medical science, the history of statistics and economics, and indeed nation and state building.

History: What, for you, has been the most exciting aspect of this kind of approach to teaching? What do you see as the main benefits of this approach?

Baker: Anyone who teaches ‘skills’ sessions to undergraduates will know that they are a hard sell. History students don’t come to uni to learn skills, they come to uni to learn about the past. So there have been some tough moments, some knock-backs, and moments of doubt. Sometimes it is difficult to get across the advantages of digital methods since students still view themselves as students of history rather than practitioners or indeed researchers.

What has been exciting, however, is working with finalists who’ve gone through our first year lectures, seeing them willing and able to experiment – rigorously and critically – with computational approaches to their assessed work. It seems then that whilst our lectures might not click with everyone, or at least, everyone straight away, many of the students are taking away a healthy scepticism of the digital, and an appreciation of how much it has changed the work of the historian – so much so that we’re starting to see students want to go into areas like digital cultural heritage after their degree.

Webb: Another “exciting” element is the fact that we have to keep on top of technological changes, while this presents a challenge, it also means that students get to see how our ever changing digital environment impacts on history and research. Examples we use change year to year – and Google products (and their inevitable demise) are always a good example of this.

The experimental nature of the sessions can also be “exciting”, if not slightly stressful because technology is not always on your side. We often have to troubleshoot on the fly but this exposes the mechanics, vulnerabilities and realities of working with digital tools and methods – it’s a messy process and often a series of trials and errors. We want students to experiment in the practical sessions, and experimentation of this nature is not usually a documented part of the historical method.

History: Can you give us an example of the kinds of activities students might typically undertake over the course of the semester?

Dr Sharon Webb and Dr James Baker with Prof. Tim Hitchcock,
Professor of Digital History and Director of the Sussex Humanities Lab
(John Deehan for the Royal Historical Society, all rights reserved 2019)

Webb: Across the semester students are tasked with various activities that are typically completed within the one-hour slot. One of these is the “digitisation history” session where we ask students to write metadata and create a scan of a primary source (we are very lucky to have Prof. Tim Hitchcock at Sussex, who seems to have an endless supply of microfilm and copies of The Illustrated London News for us to use in these sessions). This session isn’t a how-to of digitisation necessarily, instead it demonstrates to students the work involved in creating digital surrogates of primary material.

We hope students come away with an appreciation that not everything is digitised and the reasons for this. Additionally, asking them to write metadata highlights the fact that object descriptions are not always objective and not always correct (e.g. archival descriptions and interpretations of objects change over time).

On a side note, it’s always surprising to see how differently students treat the physical material – some ask to keep the pages of the London Illustrated News they have been given to work with and treat it like an historic artefact, some leave it behind on the desk, while others fold and crumple their pages – I suppose this demonstrates how far removed primary sources and artefacts can become when we only see or rely on digital surrogates.

History: What have been the main challenges of introducing digital methods of research to students?

Baker: Relevance. Our sessions are timetabling as part of two core first year modules: “The Early Modern World” in the Autumn, and “Making of the Modern World” in the Spring. Even within a given week, the content of these modules are broad in both chronological and geographical scope, and our task is to ensure that our ‘skills’ lectures aren’t too abstract, too separate from the historical topics the students came to Sussex to learn about.

So whilst some sessions are easy to tie to the topic at hand – for example, an introduction to using Zotero to organise research and create citations is easy to sell two or three weeks before their first essay deadline! – in other cases, such as the digitisation session, it is much harder, because for obvious reasons we can’t have the most relevant primary sources to hand. So we spend a lot of time explaining the joins – having digitised primary source X, what does it change about how you’ll use a digital representation of primary source Y – which doesn’t always make for the most elegant pedagogy.

Webb: The challenge of relevance also extends to the way in which students view themselves and their role in a university. At this stage in their career, students do not often describe themselves as historians or researchers – they are studying history rather than contributing to it. This shift in perspective often occurs in year two or three, so our first-year students sometimes do not see the relevance or usefulness of the research methods and techniques we share with them. But when this shift occurs, there is a eureka moment for some – I can use a data visualisation to demonstrate a finding?!

History: Do you see any new digital approaches to “doing history” on the horizon which you might eventually incorporate into your teaching?

Webb: We would eventually like to expand our lecture series and the modules we teach but there are some structural restrictions we need to address first. For example, incorporating lab time into our curriculum is not currently possible, but we are working on it. However, all our teaching incorporates some element of digital history or digital humanities, so whether James is teaching on a module on the history of the printed image, or I’m teaching my ‘Social Networks and History’ module, students will find a thread or link with the digital skills lectures.

We are also running a special topic next year on Digital Archiving. We started this last year as a thematic module and students responded brilliantly. This module was a mix of theory and practice, and it was this structure that students responded positively to. Digitising an archive, writing metadata, building a catalogue, working with oral histories, helped our students to think critically about how the archives they use as historians are constructed but also how those archives are evolving in the contemporary moment.

So, at the moment we would not describe what we do as “teaching tech.” But that doesn’t mean we won’t. Both of us are involved in various coding and software initiatives – James with the Programming Historian, and I with Feminists Approaches to Computation Technology – and since we always try to incorporate our research into our teaching, you never know what’s on the horizon.

Sharon Webb is a Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Sussex, History Department and a member of the Sussex Humanities Lab. Sharon is a historian of Irish associational culture and nationalism (eighteenth and nineteenth century) and a digital humanities practitioner, with a background in requirements/user analysis, digital preservation, digital archiving, text encoding, and data modelling. Sharon also has programming and coding experience and has contributed to the successful development of major national digital infrastructures.

Sharon’s current research interests include community archives and digital preservation (with a special interest in LGBTQI+, feminist and BAME archives), social network analysis (method and theory), feminism and technology, among others. She was PI for a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award (2018) on the topic of community archives and digital preservation and works with community groups such as Queer in Brighton. Sharon is also Co-I for the ESRC funded Reanimating Data Project. Sharon is a co-founder member of the FACT///. network (Feminism Approaches to Computational Technology), and is also the Equalities and Diversity Officer for the School of History, Art History and Philosophy.  Find Sharon on Twitter, or find out more about her work in community archives at: www.preservingcommunityarchives.co.uk

James Baker is a Senior Lecturer in Digital History and Archives at the University of Sussex and at the Sussex Humanities Lab. He is a Software Sustainability Institute Fellow, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and holds degrees from the University of Southampton and latterly the University of Kent, where in 2010 he completed his doctoral research on the late-Georgian artist-engraver Isaac Cruikshank. He is an expert in the authority of the digital record, the history of knowledge organisation, historical interactions with information technologies, and the history of the printed image. His research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), British Academy, British Council, and the European Commission.

Prior to joining Sussex in 2015, James held positions of Digital Curator at the British Library and Postdoctoral Fellow with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. He is a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College, a convenor of the Institute of Historical Research Digital History seminar, a member of The Programming Historian Editorial Board and a Director of ProgHist Ltd (Company Number 12192946), a committee member of the Archives and Records Association (UK) Section for Archives and Technology, and an International Advisory Board Member of British Art Studies. Find James on Twitter, or visit https://cradledincaricature.com/ for more about his work.


Both images attributable to John Deehan for the Royal Historical Society, all rights reserved 2019, used here with permission.

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Using Scrapbooks as Historical Sources

Cherish Watton.

Think of any topic, and someone, somewhere, has probably made a scrapbook on it. People scrapbooked on things which were important to them; family, friendships, professional activity, popular culture, political, and associational activity. Scrapbooks didn’t just document family life. Politicians and diplomats turned to scrapbooks to record their careers and were often acknowledged within their circles of work. They could be joint endeavours too; made in partnership with family members, friends, or colleagues.

Anyone could make a scrapbook, providing they had scissors, glue, and paper. Victorian Britain witnessed the explosion of scrapbook making as a popular past time. Capitalising on the development of chromolithic technology, companies produced a range of scraps and templates which people could paste within their new scrapbooks. In twentieth century Britain, scrapbookers were able to draw on an abundance of visual material, heralded by the growth in home photography.[1] In the interwar period, stationers such as Woolworths sold loose leaf ring-books, folders and inserts for six pence or less – making them affordable to larger proportions of the population.

Figure 1. The 1930s Whopper scrapbook, used by
Florence Horsbrugh to document her political activity in 1937.
From The Papers of Florence Horsbrugh, HSBR 2/8, 1937.

When the archivist places a scrapbook on your desk, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to find preserved inside. You carefully lift the page, weighed down by the material held on top of it. In what other historical source could you find a newspaper clipping next to a cigarette butt; photographs next to leaves; and letters next to leaflets? Despite the material richness of scrapbooks, few historians appreciate the cultural richness and diversity of these electic, untamed mediums.

This is perhaps because scrapbooks can be difficult to analyse. They were often meant as a conversation piece; showed to family and friends in the home.[2] When they are placed on the desk, we often sorely lack the oral commentary which would bring these volumes to life. However, we shouldn’t use this as an excuse for not engaging with the scrapbooks. For some historical actors, their scrapbook is the only surviving archive material which remains for historians to use to unlock their lives.

We can approach a scrapbook from many angles. First, they are in and of their own right an object, which simultaneously bring together other objects. As Clare Pettitt acknowledges, scrapbooks can become so full of material that they are ‘more “object” than “text”’, presenting a tactile representation of the scrapbooker’s world.[3] Pursuing a material culture approach, we can look at what type of volume the scrapbooker selected: was it a hard-volume bought from a high-end stationers such as John Walker & Co aimed at ‘authors, clergymen, students, lawyers, and All Literary men’ or a paperback Whopper scrapbook readily available at a cheap price?[4] The scrapbooker’s material choices can tell us about the value they gave to their collection. Was it nothing more than a simple past-time or did they have a more deliberate eye to legacy making, in a similar vein to a photograph album or memoir?

Once we’ve taken in these initial material choices, we need to delve deeper and consider the items which have been preserved inside a scrapbook. The blank pages of the scrapbook mean that material can be juxtaposed in unusual ways. How has the scrapbooker decided to arrange material: chronologically, thematically, or does there appear to be no order at all? Is there a connection between different items on a page? Are their certain moments which they’ve chosen to conceal or highlight?

Figure 2. The signature of boxer George Carpentier collected by Maurice Hankey
and sent to Adeline to include in her second scrapbook, 1920.
From the Papers of Maurice Hankey, 1st Baron Hankey, HNKY 2/2 November 1917–July 1920.

For example, in Adeline Hankey’s scrapbook on her husband Maurice’s diplomatic career, she pasted a postcard from Maurice to their daughter on the same page as a family photograph published in the society periodical The Tatler in 1921. Notably, this photograph showed the family without Maurice, who was absent on government business. On the surface, this juxtaposition of a postcard and periodical page might seem random. However, Adeline used these items to reunite her family, at least on the pages of her scrapbook.[5]

If you’re lucky enough to have other archival material available, then compare the scrapbooks with other items within the collection. If someone has created multiple scrapbooks (and they often do), are they consistent in their scrapbooking methods? Do they collect more or less material as time goes on and what does this reflect about the time and care they’ve invested in the volumes?

Take Florence Horsbrugh’s scrapbooks for instance. Horsbrugh was one of fifteen female MPs to sit in the House of Commons up until the Second World War. She appeared to keep most, if not every, cutting on her political career for the first few years of her time as Conservative MP for Dundee. However, towards the end of her time in politics she stopped collecting these articles, maybe overwhelmed by their abundance and the time-consuming nature of gluing and labelling each cutting.

These questions should be used as a starting point for engaging with scrapbooks –  and will no doubt lead you to ask many more. Scrapbooks are, as Robert DeCandido has described ‘the children of our minds, our hearts, and our egos – frustrating, intriguing and fascinating’.[6] Produced in response to many aspects of private, public, and political life, they quite rightly they deserve more of our historical attention.

If you’d like to find out more about scrapbooks, then check out the following books:

Cherish Watton first started at looking at scrapbooks when she was an MPhil student in Modern British History at the University of Cambridge. At Churchill College, she wrote her dissertation on women’s scrapbooks on political and diplomatic activity, from c.1890-1939. When Cherish is not working as Communications Officer for the loneliness and technology charity WaveLength, she runs an award-winning website on the work of the Women’s Land Army. Find her on Twitter at @CherishWatton


[1] Clare Pettitt, ‘Topos, taxonomy and travel in nineteenth-century women’s scrapbooks’, in Travel writing, visual culture and form, 1760-1900, ed. Mary Henes and Brian H. Murray, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture (Basingstoke, 2015), p. 28. See also Liz Wells, Photography: A Critical Introduction, 2nd Ed (London, 1997).

[2] Patrizia Di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England: Ladies, Mothers and Flirts (London, 2007), pp. 16, 47; Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with scissors: American scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance (Oxford, 2012), p. 118.

[3] Pettitt, ‘Topos, taxonomy and travel in nineteenth-century women’s scrapbooks’, 36.

[4] For example of this John Walker & Co. scrapbook, see Adeline Hankey, Scrapbook relating to Maurice Hankey’s career, Cambridge, Churchill Archives Centre, The Papers of Adeline, Lady Hankey, AHKY 3/1/3, 1903-1920, p. 1.

[5] Churchill Archives Centre, Archives of Lord Hankey of the Chart (Maurice Hankey) (1877-1963), HNKY 2/3, p. 23.

[6] Robert DeCandido, ‘Scrapbooks, the smiling villains’, Conservation Administration News, no. 53 (April 1993): 18–19.


Figures 1. and 2. were provided by the author with permission from the Churchill Archives Centre. For more on the scrapbooks of Adeline Hankey, visit the online exhibition on the Churchill Archives Centre website.

The cover image is in the public domain.

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