Role Theory and Protestant Spirituality in Early Modern Scotland

Ciaran Jones

I recently submitted my PhD thesis on Protestant spirituality in early modern Scotland. Focussing on witchcraft trials, my thesis was mainly concerned with how your average seventeenth-century peasant articulated certain spiritual ideas. Using mostly manuscript records of witchcraft trial confessions as my source base, I compared how these ideas were expressed in different but related contexts, such as ministers’ sermons and educated laypeople’s diaries. Overall, I demonstrated that ordinary parishioners were not excluded from engaging in a particular, evangelical Reformed Protestant culture of piety; a culture, which, until recently, most historians had only discussed in relation to educated and erudite laypeople and clerical figures.

On a broader methodological level, the thesis also implicitly asked whether inner spiritual experiences – such as conversions or communications with God or the Devil in the mind – could be interpreted as forms of spiritual behaviour, with predictable patterns in how specific thoughts, feelings, as well as outer gestures were culturally understood and expressed. To tackle this question, I drew on modern sociological and social psychological ideas of role theory.

Role theory

Sociologists and social psychologists define roles as a set of expectations or scripts tied to a particular position or status that guides people’s attitudes and behaviour. These are not subjective or personal expectations or scripts that a person attaches or associates with a status or position, but rather expectations or scripts governed by wider societies and cultures. An example that is widely cited to explain roles is that of a university student. Tied to the role of a university student are a set of expectations of how an individual who occupies this position should behave. Expectations include, ‘learning new knowledge and skills, establishing an area of study, passing courses, acquiring a degree, and so forth’.[1] We might also say that there are scripts which centre on how one achieves these expectations. For instance, to acquire a degree, a student must attend lectures, write essays and take exams. If a student does not adhere to these scripts and fulfil the expectations attached to this position, then they cannot be considered as genuinely occupying that position; if an individual occupying the role of a student does not submit essays or sit exams, mitigating circumstances notwithstanding, then they are not usually a student for much longer. 

Portrait of John Knox. He wears a cap, modest clothing, and has a long white beard.
Figure 1. John Knox, Scottish Protestant reformer (19th century)

Early on in my research I came across a major methodological challenge when thinking about applying this type of theory to early modern Protestant spirituality. Considering sociologists and social psychologists generally define roles as sets of expectations or scripts of behaviour, how, then, do such theorists define and measure behaviour? What follows is a debate about the nature of internal states – the mind, thoughts and feelings – and actions – physical gestures, language, words – and the relationship between the two.

Roles, behaviour, the internal and the external

Modern sociologists and social psychologists generally define behaviour as actions, such as physical gestures and words, which can be observed during social interaction. A general, heuristic definition might read as follows: behaviour is how we conduct ourselves in the presence of others. Now, sociologists and social psychologists argue that our behaviour is influenced by our thoughts and feelings, but because our thoughts and feelings cannot be measured outright – they are hidden and private – then they cannot be categorised as forms of behaviour. How, then, can we apply modern theoretical understandings of role theory and behaviour to an intensely internal topic as Protestant spirituality?

In the context of early modern Protestant spirituality, actions do not matter – everything takes place internally and concerns people’s internal states, their thoughts and feelings in relation to God. In my thesis I make the case, drawing on role theory and the philosopher Charles Taylor’s idea of the ‘porous self’, that the separation between self (mind) and body that we hold today in the Western world was not fully formed in the early modern period.[2] Early modern people were porous, in the sense that both their self (mind) and body could be influenced by supernatural forces to a much greater extent than even nominal Christians would argue today. 

An important part of this theory of the porous self is the idea that early modern people’s thoughts and feelings were not private. I argue that much like how our actions during social interaction are used as evidence of behaviour today, early modern people conceptualised their internal states in much the same way: their thoughts and feelings could be seen, observed and even influenced by God and the Devil as historical actors. So, I try to make the case, taking this line of thought, that nowadays what we think of as simply thoughts of the Devil or God, were early modern people’s perceived spiritual experiences of interactingwith the Devil or God in the mind. Therefore, in the context of such internal interactions, early modern people’s thoughts and feelings can be considered as forms of behaviour.

Mistress Rutherford

An example to illustrate this argument: ‘Mistress Rutherford’, a godly woman in early seventeenth-century Edinburgh whose further identity remains unknown. Many conversion narratives, by pious but socially ordinary Scots, explicitly addressed God, the Devil and the Holy Spirit observing or influencing their thoughts and feelings. Rutherford recorded a spiritual experience she had aged fourteen when, whilst she was at prayer, the Devil ‘cast it into my mind, Quhat is that thou is doing? Thou is praying to God; there is no God’.[3] According to Rutherford, the Devil had planted sinful thoughts of unbelief inside her mind. 

Woodcut image. Devils with horns, wings and hooves gather around a table and share drinks with men and women.
Figure 2. Early modern woodcut of feasting devils and men.

A question arises here: was Rutherford implying that the Devil made her believe that there was no God, or that she, herself, thoughtthat that there was no God, and that she attributed this to the work of the Devil when writing this narrative in her diary? Admittedly, most historians and literary scholars would refer to the latter to explain such narratives, since most scholars do not usually refer to God and the Devil as historical actors. But this type of explanation devalues the idea that for people living in societies where God and the Devil and other supernatural entities were not simply held to be real, but were understood to be and described as tangible historical actors, the recording of supernatural encounters should be seen, in part, as conforming to a dominant spiritual culture and not just the product of translating personal experience onto the page, or reducing such narratives as creative use of metaphorical language. Though she wrote that she had a thought of unbelief, Mistress Rutherford attributed them to the work of the Devil influencing her. In making this type of statement in which a supernatural entity was held responsible for influencing her thoughts and feelings, Mistress Rutherford described the Devil as an historical actor who interacted with her internally, and hence she described her mind as an environment for spiritual confrontation. And Mistress Rutherford’s experience was not unique. Many other pious but socially ordinary Scots described similar experiences of interacting with the Devil and other supernatural entities in these ways. These types of sources are incredibly intimate – they are about personal faith and one’s perceived lived experiences translated onto the page. The historian is quite rightly tempted to view these as subjective, but when taken together and compared with each other, these personal sources demonstrate an adherence to a widespread spiritual culture which expected all Scots, of all social ranks, to categorise their spiritual identities according to predefined and culturally accepted behaviours and expectations. Through using these personal sources and modern role theory, the historian can see what types of behaviours and identities mattered to early modern Scottish society.

Ciaran Jones recently submitted his PhD in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh. His thesis was on the topic of Reformed Protestant spirituality in early modern Scotland, with a particular focus on the witch trials. Ciaran recently produced a scholarly edition of a newly discovered witchcraft source, published in the latest volume of the Miscellany of the Scottish History Society. You can find Ciaran on Twitter as @Ciaran_Jonesy, and as a regular guest on BBC Radio Scotland’s Time Travels and  Witch Hunt.


[1] Peter J. Burke and Jan E. Stets, Identity Theory (New York, NY, 2009), 114.

[2] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA, 2007), 27-42, at 38.

[3] ‘Mistress Rutherford’s Conversion Narrative’, ed. David George Mullan, in Miscellany of the Scottish History SocietyXIII (Scottish History Society, 2004), 146-189, at 152-3


Figure 1. William Holl, ‘John Knox’ (c.1860). Held by the National Library of Wales and available in the public domain.

Figure 2. Detail from A History of Witches (c.1720). Available via the Wellcome Collection and available in the public domain.

Header image. Franz Hogenberg, ‘Birds Eye View of Edinburgh’ (1582). Available via the National Library of Scotland and believed to be in the public domain.


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Heritage or Highway: York’s city walls as tourist and civil infrastructure

Louisa Hood

This blog explores two very particular histories of York’s city walls. Although known generally as Roman or medieval defences, the social, material, economic, and other histories of the walls are layered, obscured, or unknown. York’s extant walls are a key aspect of its historic environment and identity as a tourist destination, but they are also part of the city’s transport infrastructure. Here, I consider both of these facets, tracing the walls’ interrupted yet conflicting existence as heritage site and bustling superstructure from 1800 until the present day, in order to reflect on how their duality impacts current and future management practices.

A divisive and decisive period for York’s city walls?

In 1800 the Corporation of York applied for an Act of Parliament to improve the city by demolishing the city walls. The Corporation argued:

“That all the Bars, Posterns, Gateways or public entrances into the said City are narrow and inconvenient and the arches of some of them are so low that public loaded Stage Waggons and other carriages having occasion to pass through the same cannot conveniently do so with Goods, Wares, Merchandize, Hay or Straw which they are authorised and accustomed to carry but are frequently obliged either to unload part thereof for the purpose of passing into or though the said City and afterwards to reload the same or to adapt the loading of such carriages to the said Entrances and Arches and by reason of the narrowness of the said Entrances many persons have been hurt or injured and foot passengers cannot safely pass through the same.” – ‘Introduction’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 2, the Defences (London, 1972), pp. 1-5. British History Online

Though the Corporation of York spent around twenty years pursuing their application by various means, those in support of retaining and restoring the city walls for their historic value and visual appeal (organised as the York Footpath Association) were ultimately successful. This interlude in the walls’ history demonstrates how changing and different civil infrastructure needs are not always compatible with historic significance, but – crucially – how these differences can be accommodated.

Figure 1. Women walking on the city walls, York (c.1880)

Heritage tourism and recreation on the city walls today

If you are able-bodied, York’s city walls are free to access on foot throughout the year. The wall walkway is a permissive footpath, unlocked by attendants for the City of York Council at 8am, and locked again at the indeterminate time of dusk. The wall walkway is used for recreation and has been since it was constructed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In many places the walkway is awkward; at its narrowest it is wide enough only for one person and there are many unguarded edges and uneven steps. However, the walkway – as well as allowing people the opportunity to understand some of the built history of York – also affords some of the most famous views of the city and the chance to ‘do’ York in just a few hours. The ramparts that abut the city walls along most of their length are a green space encircling the centre of York and are also used for recreation, mainly by local residents.

Despite their clear role as a heritage tourist attraction and public space in York, visitor infrastructure on the walls is limited to a small amount of third-party provision. York’s city walls do not conform to heritage visitor attraction standards: they remain unbranded, have no coherent web presence, ticketing, or membership system, and they have no interpretation beyond orientation panels. That York’s city walls are managed as little more than a pavement is surprising, but it is also refreshing that the lack of visitor facilities fails to detract from their popularity (though it arguably detracts from their bottom line). It also reflects the fact that many people in York do use the wall walkway as they would any other footpath, as a way to get from one place to another.

York’s city walls as transport infrastructure

Just as they did in 1800, York city walls provide vehicle and pedestrian access routes into the city centre. Around this time, as part of the strategy to establish York as a railway centre, the walls were also adapted to allow trains. Today, three of the five arches created in the walls to facilitate the railways carry motor traffic. Three out of the four largest city gates exclusively carry bicycles and have subsidiary arches to carry cars and pedestrians. Bootham Bar, the only gate that permits motor traffic, remains inconvenient to vehicles carrying goods to be sold in city centre shops. The city – already with a largely pedestrianised centre during the day – has serious plans to become car-free and it is perhaps the city walls that will provide the boundary. Whether this ambition is realised or not, the walls remain a determining feature of the city’s transport infrastructure with significant implications for presentation and conservation routines.

Figure 2. Archway at the old railway station, York (1920s). 

Today and in the future

Conserving and making accessible important historic structures and buildings is often complex and can be made more so if the structure of building must meet multiple needs. Though it is possible to set the transport function of the city walls in direct opposition with its heritage credentials, these versions of the walls overlap in the sense that their continued and authentic civil use encourages their position as a heritage asset embedded in the fabric of people’s everyday lives. Others places demonstrate this duality too. Tower Bridge, for example, is a critical part of London’s highway infrastructure and river navigation system, but its heritage significance is protected by law and it is operated as a visitor attraction. Moreover, it is a globally recognised symbol of London. The UK’s National Parks may also fall into this category of infrastructure and visitor attraction: they are places of recreation for their many visitors, but are simultaneously agricultural and environmental resources. Overall, integrating the needs of civil, agricultural, and environmental infrastructure with those of the historic cultural environment and its visitors is perhaps a way to protect the interests of both.

Figure 3. Sheep being driven through Walmgate Bar, York (1910s).

You can find more information about the whys and wherefores of city walls in this vlog by Dr Eleanor Janega (in the context of another of England’s great cities). For detailed, open access information about the history of York’s city walls see: An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, volume 2, on British History Online.

Louisa Hood works for City of York Council managing care of, and access to, York’s city walls. Prior to taking up this post, Louisa was assistant curator at the National Trust. Louisa completed her PhD as a collaborative doctoral student at the University of Exeter and the Tate, and was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Her research focuses on the social use of cultural spaces.

Figure 1. Unknown photographer, ‘Women walking on the city walls, York’ (c.1880). This image was recommended by the author and is in the public domain. It can be accessed online here.

Figure 2. Unknown photographer, ‘Archway at the old railway station, York’ (1920s). This image was recommended by the author and is in the public domain. It can be accessed online here.

Figure 3. Unknown photographer, ‘Sheep being driven through Walmgate Bar, York’ (c.1910s). This image was recommended by the author and is in the public domain. It can be accessed online here.

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Reading Russian Sources

George Gilbert

Reading Russian Sources: creating a new edited collection

When I was tasked with editing the collection Reading Russian Sources for Routledge, one of the first questions that came to mind – and the spirit I will be approaching this blog post with – is, in our current research environment that privileges beefy articles and monographs, why should one even do an edited collection in the first place? After all, given the need for established scholars to secure a strong hand in the Research Excellence Framework (REF), or for those in the earliest stages of their careers to exhibit deep research skills in order to land a post in the hugely competitive and precarious job market, it might be supposed that doing or contributing to collections isn’t high on the priority list for many scholars right now. In fact, putting together a collection for the first time proved a rewarding experience: time-consuming, certainly, but what isn’t in the academy?

I would suggest there are several good motivations for editing or contributing to a collection: the opportunity for reflection and commentary on the field that they (perhaps uniquely) provide; the intellectual ballast surrounding the development of selected research questions; and, finally, a collegiate motivation that carries genuine value in both the current and future environment. For this particular collection, the primary motivation was to create a single volume that would help students think about primary material in itself as a gateway to wider study of Russian history, rather than taking an event, theme or person as the starting point. It’s interesting to consider that whilst primary materials are the mainstay of much of the serious research work in the field of Russian history, there’s surprisingly little comment on thinking about source material as a theme in itself. This was the point of origin for the collection, stimulated by my own thoughts as well as astute editorial support.   

Portrait of Sergei Witte. Only his shoulders and face are pictured. He is neatly groomed and wears late nineteenth-century attire.
Figure 1. Sergei Witte (1849-1915)

Putting together a collection or writing a chapter provides an opportunity to step back and reflect on the current state of the field. As editor you have a degree of control over both the contributions and the general make up of your collection, though this will vary according to the publisher and the prerogatives they might set. The level of editorial control varies, though your engagement with the project will always be high. Certainly, you can ask yourself useful questions about debates and controversies shaping your discipline. For my own collection, I was keen to reflect on some of the current discussions concerning the decolonisation of the curriculum taking place in higher education that have sought to recover previously wholly or partially marginalized voices in all manner of ways. This should be reflected in your choice of contributors – do they reflect a variety of ages and stages and are they sufficiently diverse – but also the choice of material and research questions that you are collectively engaging with. I was keen to reflect upon recent research pathways, including contributions from researchers who have done exciting work on marginalized voices in Russian studies: this included chapters on the experience of deafness in the USSR, and homosexuality as it appears through private sources. Other chapters considered the perspective of the researcher and their background, and issues concerning national and ethnic identity in early twentieth century Russian art. 

These certainly weren’t the only innovative readings provided; conversely, as editor I felt it important to include more ‘traditional’ (for want of a better term) readings too, or at least a clear steer on how they have influenced current debates. Whilst curating a variety of reading lists for a new special subject at my current university, both myself and my colleague working on the Habsburg Empire have been struck by the fact that sometimes, when it comes to assigning student readings, the oldies can be goodies: there are strong reasons why some work stands the test of time, usually because it is readable and engaging whilst identifying questions of enduring importance. So, established research pathways in Russian history such as debates concerning the political ramifications of the Russian Revolution of 1917 itself or why the Romanovs were executed one year later – some of which are almost as old as the events themselves! – should not be excluded from a volume aiming for broad coverage. 

Demonstration from 1917. Women and  men hold banners with Cyrillic writing. The street is crowded. There are children in the foreground.
Figure 2. Demonstration, Petrograd, February 1917

These reflections aren’t particularly field-specific: any editor or contributor can usefully ponder them, irrespective of what sort of collected volume they are aiming to create or contribute towards. On the other hand, the research questions you wish to tackle will be field-specific, though doubtless should find other engaged audiences. But there will be other issues at play too: many readers or collections could have a student audience in mind. Our collection was geared towards helping out students and early-career researchers, and I was much encouraged by early editorial correspondence that pointed out the genuine lacunae here. Routledge’s series included a number of excellent volumes – the collection on primary sources in modern history I’ve used in my own teaching – but nothing specifically on Russian history. This is a curious oversight considering its popularity with audiences at both A-level and undergraduate level, as well as the wider interest the field continues to generate.  

Figure 3. Russian bank note (1917)

So, it was clear to me from the outset that a reader pointing out how we might think through questions concerning the sources might have genuine, wide use. There was ample space to reflect upon methodological problems, various issues surrounding the availability of source material – a perennial theme in Russian studies – and to scrutinize interesting examples of sources that students and other readers would likely have not encountered before. To include a range of sources was obviously important, thinking here about texts like diaries and newspapers frequently used in our field as the backbone of many articles and monographs, as well as different types of archival sources, like police reports or perlustrated letters. A few chapters on visual materials – here, film and TV as well as art – were also crucial to include, as these provide in my own experience very ‘teachable’ sources, very dynamic in form and useful for those with little or no Russian language provided adequate captions and translations are included. In all of these chapters one can think about technology: how this changes the sources we use, how we experience them, and how diverse voices from the past find their way into a source record itself subject to change. 

Photograph of handwritten eighteenth-century letters
Figure 3. Eighteenth-century letters.

A final reason is collegiality, which should not in my view be underestimated. Whether editing or contributing you will get to work with other scholars. You can see what makes them tick to an extent, as well as potentially experience a little industrial espionage, just in terms of finding out what works (or doesn’t!) for other people. With many collections you will of course be linked by a key theme, so you can see development in the field, but you can also be guiding by similar research questions even if the contributions are quite disparate: e.g., what source scrutiny tells us about development in the field of Russian history. Therefore, working on a collection might identify some useful issues concerning your scholarly identity or indeed about where the field is headed. 

There are, therefore, all sorts of exciting reasons why one might undertake a project similar to this one and I hope this post has been encouraging as to the sorts of issues one might usefully consider if embarking on such a venture. Of course, it should be registered it will take time and any such projects need to be guided by a clear identity, as well as the research questions contributors will identify, both individually and collectively. 

George Gilbert is lecturer in modern Russian history at the University of Southampton, UK. His publications include The Radical Right in late Imperial Russia (2016), and, as editor, Reading Russian Sources (2020). He has written on right-wing movements in the late imperial period and is currently thinking about cases of political and religious martyrdom in early twentieth-century Russia.

Figure 1. Unknown photographer, Sergei Witte (c.1880s). This image is understood to be in the public domain, and can be found here.

Figure 2. Unknown photographer. Demonstrators in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), c.February or early March 1917. This image is located in the State Museum of Political History of Russia. It is understood to be in the public domain, and can be found here.

Figure 3. Russian banknote from 1917. This image is understood to be in the public domain and can be found here.

Figure 4. Liz West, Letters. This image was suggested by the author and is understood to be in the public domain. It can be found here.

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Material Culture and Identities: The Case of Eighteenth Century Toby Jugs

Kerry Love

A main principle of material culture theory (the study of objects and their relationships to people) is that they can reflect or shape the people who lived alongside them in any given time. I have always enjoyed studying objects more than any other kind of source because the process gave me a direct and tangible link to the past. Historical persons lived in a material and visual world, as much as the written one recorded in archives and print. In attempting to reconstruct a part of this eighteenth-century material world, whilst think about social and political history, I’ve interacted with objects that can seem niche – or even comical! – but, with some research, Toby Jugs can be helpful in illustrating a number of themes around gender, the body, and changing local or national identities.

Image of a Toby Jug. The jug is shaped like a man in black, three-corner hat. He holds a beer jug and looks a bit drunk!
Figure 1. Toby jug ‘Ralph Wood the Younger’ (c.1780)

It is fair to suggest that the Toby Jug has a place in the British national psyche, albeit fairly small, with remnants of it in popular culture today. In the 1990s, restaurant group Mitchell and Butler created the ‘Toby Carvery’ brand, with a Toby figure as their logo and Toby Jugs atop pub mantelpieces to replicate a homely dining atmosphere. They reference Toby Jugs on their site as the origin of their logo, using the symbol to foster a sense of heritage, despite being a modern brand. A number of pubs have used the name ‘Toby Jug,’ with one in Tolworth, Surrey famous for hosting David Bowie and Led Zeppelin performances at early stages of their careers. Lord Toby Jug, member of the Monster Raving Loony Party was nicknamed as such after his fellow bandmate and party member Screaming Lord Sutch noticed his round shape. The party, to the dismay of ‘serious’ politicians, have run on their motto ‘Vote For insanity’ since the 1983 Bermondsey by-election, with some interesting and quirky manifesto promises. Nonetheless, the use of the name suggests that even today, the Toby Jug is a recognisable image in British popular and political culture.

Toby Jugs were first produced in the 1780s, largely by the Staffordshire potteries and represented a much more diverse set of characters than the most recognisable Toby discussed above. The people they represent are both real and imagined. The original ‘Toby’ came from folklore- ‘Toby Fillpot’ was said to be a drunkard whose body became the clay in the ground and was then re-formed, by a potter into the stout man represented in this jug. He holds a large plain jug, as he is in the prints held at the British Museum which feature the ballad of the story of his creation, but other forms hold pipes and can be both seated and standing. He wears a tricorne hat that forms the spout of the jug and generally a waistcoat, often unbuttoned, with breeches in a variety of colours. Toby is visually very similar to how the fictional character John Bull, essentially the ‘British everyman’ was shown in print. His large body nicely suits the jug form, whilst also representing abundance and excessive alcohol consumption. John Bull and beer are frequently drawn upon as parts of the masculine national identity, so the popularity and continuous production of the Toby Jug makes sense in this context.

Drawing of Martha Gunn. A lady in a black bonnet holds a naked, cherub-like child.
Figure 2. Martha Gunn (1797)

Other Toby Jug figures represented public figures. Martha Gunn became well known in Brighton for working as a bather, someone who assisted upper class people perform the health trend of bathing the open sea. This earnt her the nickname the ‘Brighton Bather’, and she became somewhat of a celebrity in the local area. A pub is named after her today and she is represented in paintings and engravings incredibly well, given that she was a working-class woman. Gunn gained significant fame and was also represented in satire, defending Brighton from French invasion whilst cowardly men hide on the beach in ‘French Invasion or Brighton in a Bustle,’ a copy of which is held in the British Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings today. Some engravings of her holding a child were wrongly said to be of the infant George IV, but we know that he did not visit Brighton until he was 21. Regardless, to be given such a connection highlights how well-known she was locally, and perhaps to some degree nationally. Jugs begun to be produced in her image from the 1790s and continued to be produced well into the twentieth century, suggesting an enduring popularity well beyond the eighteenth century. 

Naval figures were also commemorated in the form of ‘Tobies.’ Last month, a jug of from the ‘midshipman’ family (a word used to describe a man working on a ship) based on Admiral Rodney sold at auction for £81,500. These jugs look very different from the one pictured above; slimmer in the body, much more delicate in decoration, with a small dog sat at his feet. The high price that these jugs fetch today is connected to the excellent condition that some are in given their delicate details, and not necessarily to them having a more refined appearance. Traditional ‘Tobies’ with ugly, wart-covered and blotchy complexions are actually often very popular at auction – just as when they were originally made. When we think of eighteenth century ceramics, delicate porcelain in chinoiserie designs might be the first images that come to mind, but I think that Toby Jugs demonstrate an additional taste for ugly, even grotesque visuals.

Colourful cartoon of the inside of a club or tavern. A group of men smoke and drink. A Toby Jug can be seen on the table. John Bull images can be seen on the wall in the background.
Figure 3. ‘A Smoking Club’ (c.1784)

Conducting research outside of museum collections has been enlightening and very interesting, as restrictions on the resources I can access has led me to online antiques forums and the modern-day collecting community. Like many other researchers, the pandemic means I now rely on material that has been digitised. We tend to see this as material put online by an archive, but catalogues and collector’s guides are easily found online and very useful for tracking down a maker or producer. Sometimes, images have been posted in forums with little information, but using these websites to gather information and reverse image search to quickly see how images and designs were repeated has allowed me to continue researching outside of the traditional areas considered by academic historians! Studying these jugs has also highlighted the extent to which niche and quirky objects can actually be loaded with rich and diverse histories well beyond what we might expect and proven that material culture is an incredibly useful research method for understanding how eighteenth-century popular culture continues to linger in our lives today.

Kerry Love is a PhD student at the University of Northampton, studying political material culture and memorabilia, 1780-1850. Kerry tweets about her research under @kerrymlove and she is also a Publicity Officer for the IHR’s History Lab network

Figure 1. Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Available in the public domain.

Figure 2. William Nutter, after J. Russell, ‘Martha Gunn the Brighton Bather’ (1797). The British Museum. Available in the public domain.

Figure 3 (and banner image). [After?] G. M. Woodward, ‘A Smoking Club’ (c.1784). The Wellcome Collection. Available in the public domain.

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HMT Dunera 80 years on: How rough justice changed the life of a child refugee to Britain

Rachel Pistol and Melissa Strauss

2020 marks the 80th anniversary of when 2,546 men were deported from Britain to Australia on the HMT Dunera. The convict ships of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries may have ceased their travels some 70 years before but that did not stop the British government from again calling on Australia to take so-called undesirables once more. This time, however, the Dunera transported mostly Jewish refugees, their crime being born into the wrong nation.

Melissa Strauss’ grandfather, Steven Strauss had arrived in London only a year earlier, in July 1939. A former teacher had arranged a place for him on a Kindertransport, and a £50 deposit had been made to ensure he was not a burden on the public. Siegfried, as he was then called, had only a suitcase of clothing and ten German marks when he arrived in Harwich, before travelling on to London. He left behind his mother and a younger sister who went on to perish at the hands of the Nazis.

Figure 1. Steven Strauss as a young man

War was declared on Steven’s 18th birthday, just months after he arrived in the UK. All enemy aliens over the age of 16 had to appear before a tribunal to be classified into one of three categories (A – immediate threat and immediately interned; B – subject to certain restrictions but remaining at liberty; C – refugee from Nazi oppression). Not all genuine refugees were categorised as C and, despite coming to Britain as a Kinder, Steven was given a B classification at his tribunal. Initially this enabled him to stay in London although he could not own a bicycle or a radio or travel more than a few miles from his home. This freedom was not to last.

When the German invasion of the British mainland seemed imminent, the order was given to arrest and intern all male enemy aliens aged between 16 and 60 regardless of classification, along with B category women. As a B category, Steven was rounded up in mid-May and sent to Onchan on the Isle of Man. It was not long before 2546 men were selected to be deported to Australia on the Dunera and Steven was one of them. Winston Churchill would later describe this deportation of mostly Jewish men as a regrettable mistake. 

Figure 2. HMT Dunera in 1940

The long and hazardous journey on the Dunera involved massive overcrowding, and mistreatment at the hands of the military guards. The ship came under torpedo attack, sweltered through the tropics and after 7 weeks Steven disembarked in Sydney, Australia. The majority of the ‘Dunera Boys’, as they became known, were taken into the outback to Hay, New South Waleswhere the Australian guards quickly realised these internees were not the dangerous Nazi sympathisers they had been led to believe. Steven remained in various camps in Australia until March 1942 when he was released to serve in the Australian Labour Battalion.

Being a Dunera Boy was clearly an important part of Steven’s life. He attended yearly reunions, kept life-long friendships, and had images drawn in the internment camps on the walls of his study. Steven decided to stay in Australia after the war and studied law at Melbourne University. He was the first non-Briton admitted to the Australian Bar and went on to become a respected judge. 

When Melissa moved to London she learnt more about her grandfather’s life there. On visits home he would tell her about his eventful year from July 1939 to July 1940. He had worked as an assistant master (without pay) in a school in Bayswater and then as a trainee in a clothing factory near Oxford Circus. He took drama classes at Toynbee Hall and had a walk-on part in a production of King Lear at the Old Vic starring John Gielgud and Jessica Tandy. He lived in Stamford Hill and Dalston. These were all places familiar to Melissa, and she suddenly felt a connection to them too. It was only a short time, but London clearly made a strong impression on her grandfather. 

The journey to Australia was terrible and some of the soldiers were later disciplined but Steven was quick to say that Britain had saved his life. He acknowledged it was one of very few places in the world to offer shelter to a large number of children and young people in time of crisis. None of his immediate family survived, and he was sure that he was only alive because he had come to England.

Steven’s story is a reminder to us all that there is a human life behind every person seeking refuge. This humanity is important to remember. Steven said that he’d had a good life. He had been given the opportunity to create a new path and contribute to the place that gave him sanctuary. Stories like his show us what is at stake for children needing refuge now, and the enormous value in welcoming them into our communities. 

Rachel Pistol is a Researcher in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London and is on the Project Management Board of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI). She has published widely on immigration history and Second World War internment in the UK and USA including Internment during the Second World War: A Comparative Study of Great Britain and the USA published by Bloomsbury in 2017.

Melissa Strauss works in policy at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with a focus on intangible heritage, memories, and youth engagement. She is a Clore fellow and is currently researching public participation in museum decision-making. Melissa is a co-founder of the Space Invaders campaign and sits on the steering group for the East End Women’s Museum

Figure 1. ‘Steven Strauss as a young man’. Shared by, and with the permission of, the Strauss family.

Figure 2 (and Banner Image). ‘HMT Dunera in 1940’. Available in the public domain and recommended by the authors.

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Everyday Decolonisation: the local museum in 2020

Pippa Le Grand

A few Monday mornings ago, I stood outside Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, enjoying my job and welcoming visitors. There were few enough around that I was able to gaze at the frieze over the door and even discuss it at length with a colleague. The frieze, according to Sheffield Hallam’s Public Art Research Archive, features the Shrine of Knowledge, with four evolutionary layers topped by an oil lamp, and surrounded by visitors with gifts. There is a great deal more to this frieze, deserving of its own research. My point is that for someone – like myself – keen to interpret this imagery both academically, and in a visitor-facing role, it presents an interesting challenge. How are these two, often very different, points of view compatible? Are they, in light of discussions about the pervasive legacy of colonialism in our museums, even possible to reconcile? And after a turbulent and stressful year, especially for the UK’s black community, what is the responsibility of the museum to address that legacy? 

Carved frieze discussed in text. Above the door of the Weston Park Museum. Light stone, flanked by two columns and above a dark, heavy wooden door.
Figure 1. Frieze depicting the Shrine of Knowledge, Weston Park Museum

My MA dissertation examined the ways in which Sheffield’s collections and exhibitions in the late Victorian period (1850-1910), and its engagement as a city with international exhibitions at this time, shaped and were shaped by imperial identity. I found a complex network of people with a close relationship to empire: William Bragge, well-known Master Cutler, who donated his Egyptian collection to the Museum and who advocated for a specialist cutlery museum for Sheffield throughout his career, sticks in my mind. Bragge also collected objects from India, much of it metalwork, and created what might be the first exhibition toured between municipal museums (Sheffield and Birmingham) in Britain. He appears to be the archetypal Victorian man – elite, yet hyper-involved in the industry that had created his wealth; loyal to his industry and thus locally significant figure; but also deeply connected with Britain’s empire, extracting from it resources, inspiration, competitive drive, and wealth. His life and work formed just one part of my research, but they represent my conclusions perfectly: Bragge was rooted in Sheffield but defined, in identity and cultural behaviour, by empire. He was the centre of a local network, and part of a national and international one. Bragge’s story shows that we must regard municipal museums, in these crucial decades of their establishment and development, as just as imperial as the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert, and the Natural History Museum. They are thus just as important to scrutinise when we seek ways to decolonise our museums. 

Portrait. A white man with a greying beard and hair wears a dark suit. He sits a desk, looking pensively at the viewer.
Figure 2. Portrait of William Bragge

The task of decolonising presents an interesting challenge to me, as I straddle the academic and the practical elements of museums. I spent most of my MA year alternating between the library, where I wrote about the ways in which national and local museums had intimate, longstanding connections to empire, and Weston Park Museum, where I mostly directed people to the toilets and reunited lost children with parents. But visitor experience is also about explanation, clarification, interpretation. I now find this somehow harder, armed with my new knowledge about the museum. Do our visitors, Sheffielders looking for relaxation outside of work, entertainment for their kids, or a break from the stress of the neighbouring hospital, want to know about the dark history of empire? Many people think this is unlikely – and yet I believe they deserve to know, and that many would like to – if it were offered. If I can access this history, why shouldn’t they? 

Weston Park Museum isn’t packed with human remains, nor is it a secret repository of Benin Bronzes. The back-of-house team are keen to open up this ‘hidden’ history, it seems, and yet it is a slow and difficult process. When I consider how much time I spend front-of-house not explaining this past, not discussing how many of local archaeologist Thomas Bateman’s skulls were sold to phrenologists for their racist ‘scientific’ investigations, I understand more why the process is arduous. Instinctively, I don’t want to disrupt anyone, or spoil their day. Whilst at work, I silently absorb how people respond to our collections, what they love, what they walk by with a rare glance, and what they recoil from – knowledge that any curator would, and should, value highly. Their job is to reconcile that information with what must be said. The frieze that welcomes visitors to Sheffield’s family museum is a product of empire; many objects on display and in storage came here because of empire. With curatorial support, front-of-house teams can begin to facilitate conversations with visitors, making the museum once again a laboratory of ideas, this time for a new kind of British identity, less soaked in imperial prowess. As places where communities are made and reinforced, and shared histories are talked about proudly and fondly, museums owe their visitors the truth, even if it is uncomfortable. 

Shieffled's Weston Park Museum. A large stone building, fronted by column and accessed via raised steps. The scene is autumnal.
Figure 3. Weston Park Museum, Sheffield

Pippa Le Grand is an Arts and Heritage Professional and Digital Marketer. In 2020, Pippa completed an MA at the University of Sheffield with a dissertation titled: ‘National Narratives on Local Display: Representations of Empire in British Museums after 1845’. You can find them on Twitter as @pippalegrand.

Banner image and image 1. Photograph of the frieze above Weston Park museum front door. Taken and supplied by the author.

Image 2. Unknown artist, ‘William Bragge (1823-1884)‘. Photograph supplied by the author.

Image 3. Weston Park Museum, Sheffield. Photograph taken and supplied by the author.

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Feeling Sickness: Emotional responses to pandemic diseases

Monica O’Brien

It’s a wintery afternoon and, once again, I’m scrolling through news articles about Covid-19. Since countries entered their first lockdowns, much has been written on the pandemic’s emotional and psychological impacts. 

Loss, loneliness, fear, stress, anger; these emotions figure prominently in many narratives of the pandemic. It seems that emotional consequences will endure, even after Covid-19 comes under control. I very much hope that the kindnesses and compassion that this global pandemic has elicited will last even longer. I hope that we will continue to value and respect the work of medical and frontline workers and care for our communities, especially those among us who are vulnerable or struggling.

Pandemics of Hatred?

Observing and experiencing this time, I am struck by some parallels with early modern emotional responses to pandemic diseases. For the past five years, I have been researching medical, social and emotional responses to syphilis in Germany between 1495 and 1700. When I set out on this path, I expected to unearth records of aggression and hatred because, until recently, it had been widely assumed that the emotional response to pandemics was always negative; that waves of disease brought waves of hatred and blaming.

Figure 1. Nuremberg cityscape (1493)

However, this hatred hypothesis is drawing increasing criticism. One important critic is Professor Samuel K. Cohn, author of Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS (2018). This book examines outbreaks from the fifth century BCE to the Ebola crisis of 2014 and demonstrates that hate is not the default response to a pandemic. He shows that there are numerous historical examples of communities responding with aid and compassion. 

Cohn’s research encouraged me to abandon my negative expectations. Approaching my sources with an open mind, I discovered that, as we see now with Covid-19, the early modern syphilis pandemic provoked a broad and complex range of emotional reactions. While people were often afraid, many responded by providing support and compassion to the sick and their communities.

The Syphilis Pandemic

In the winter of 1494-1495, Charles VIII of France laid siege to the city of Naples, Italy. The conflict involved soldiers and mercenaries from Italy, France, Spain, the German-speaking lands, and Scotland. With the French victory, the combatants began to return to their homelands. As they travelled, a terrifying sickness seemed to follow in their wake. 

Syphilis spread incredibly rapidly for the period, reaching Germany by 1495-1496, Scotland by 1497, India by 1498, and Guangzhou by 1505. While syphilis is today understood as a principally sexually transmitted disease, during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, many believed that it also spread through infected objects and non-sexual touch. Victims suffered with an array of horrifying symptoms: their bodies were covered in ulcerations and pustules and their limbs were riddled with agonising pains. In its most terrible form, the disease would rot the bones of its living victims.

Figure 2. Theodoriucs Ulsenius‘ poem In Epidimica[m] scabiem with illustration (1496)
Syphilis in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Germany: Fear

In Germany, the earliest years of the pandemic were uncertain times. Medical practitioners struggled to find reliable cures; some even worried that it was an incurable illness. This is reflected in the poem pictured above In Epidemica[m] scabiem (1496) by Theodericus Ulsenius, a Dutch physician working in Nuremberg. In this poem Ulsenius wrote that nobody knew how to cure syphilis, and while the population suffered horribly, the doctors argued amongst themselves. 

While Ulsenius and other medical practitioners searched for cures, many other worried Germans turned to God. Research by myself and others has identified seven Christian prayers written into manuscripts or published on single sheets of paper between 1495 and 1529. These prayers implored God and various saints, including the patron saint of syphilitics – Saint Fiacre, to protect the reader. 

Following the old narrative of pandemics, we might expect this fear of a mysterious pandemic would be closely accompanied by hatred and blaming.

Care and Compassion

I have found no evidence of any mass scapegoating or blaming prompted by the arrival of syphilis in Germany. It was previously assumed that the names given to the disease, like ‘French pox’ and ‘sickness of Naples’, indicated blaming. However, Cohn demonstrated that, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there was no malice behind these names.

For instance in 1519, Ulrich von Hutten, a German knight and humanist wrote although he used the term ‘French pox’ he had nothing but respect for the ‘noble’ French. He simply used the name so everyone would know which disease he was writing about. Joseph Grünpeck, a secretary to the Holy Roman Emperor, believed that the disease had first arisen in France due to specific climatic conditions and the peoples’ particular bodily constitutions. For him, the French were simply victims of uncontrollable circumstances.

Many fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Germans, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, believed that God had sent syphilis as punishment for sinfulness. However, they did not identify a particular group as the perpetrators of this wrath-invoking immorality. Moreover, many contemporaries believed that, while some syphilis victims were sinners, many were ‘innocent’; they were not sinners suffering the consequences of immorality. 

Figure 3. Patients being treated for syphilis from Paracelsus, Erster [-der dritter] theil der grossen wundartzney (1536)

Many families and friends did all they could to support and care for the sick. For example, Ulrich von Hutten recorded how his friends kept him company and cheered him up, despite the awful smell of the treatments he was undergoing and his sometimes disgusting symptoms. In Nuremberg, a local man made a special bequest to his wife as thanks for “all her good and kindly will and work” in caring for him during his long struggle with syphilis. Even though syphilis was a frightening new pandemic, love and care played a central role in many individuals’ responses.

Governments and hospitals also sought to care for their citizens. In Frankfurt am Main and Nuremberg, the city councils issued various orders to slow the spread of the disease. For example, in 1495, the Frankfurt council ordered all syphilitics to be quarantined. These measures aimed to protect the healthy population.These councils also went to considerable lengths to provide medical care to the sick. Nuremberg spent thousands of Gulden on building, staffing and supplying a dedicated hospital for syphilitics. This helped to manage the disease effectively, providing vital long-term structure because although the pandemic subsided, syphilis continued (and continues) to affect the global population. The council also covered the treatment costs of those who could not otherwise afford it. They even cared for individuals who were seen as immoral, paying for the treatment of at least one prostitute and several non-local beggars (beggars were often perceived as immoral during this period of history).

Conclusions: Creating a caring future

During the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, there was much fear and anxiety surrounding syphilis, a horrifying disease sometimes linked with immorality. Nevertheless, compassion and help featured prominently in the responses of Germanic society. They comforted and cured the sick and protected the healthy. 

When we come to write the histories of Covid-19, I hope that we will see a similar pattern. Furthermore, as we plan for inevitable future pandemics, it is vital that we look at history to understand how we can overcome fear, prevent blame, and foster compassion, care and community.

Monica O’Brien

Monica O’Brien‘s research focuses on the histories of pandemic and epidemic disease in late medieval and early modern Germany. Her PhD (2019) explored medical, governmental and social responses to syphilis in the cities of Frankfurt am Main and Nuremberg. The Herzog August Bibliothek has awarded Monica a 2021 postdoctoral scholarship for her research project investigating the role of religious emotions in German responses to syphilis from 1495 to the present. In 2019, she won the McCarthy award for History of Medicine Research, run by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, for her work on Franzosenärzte (French pox/syphilis doctors) in early modern Nuremberg.

Banner Image and Figure 1. Cityscape of Nuremberg, in Hartmann Schedel, Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg, circa 1493).Source: Wellcome Collection. Licence: CC BY 4.0

Figure 2. Theodoricus Ulsenius’s poem In Epidimica[m] scabiem with an illustration of a syphilitic man (1496). Source: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0

Figure 3. Patients being treated for syphilis, from Paracelsus, Erster [-der dritte] theil der grossen wundartzney [1536]. Source: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0.

Author Photo. Monica O’Brien. Supplied by the author.

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Remembering English Saints in 2020: A Pilgrimage in Print

Stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral depicting the cure of woman through prayer to St Thomas a Becket

Paul Webster

2020 will be a year that lives long in the memory. 

For historians of the medieval saints, and at cathedrals and great churches across England, and for historians of the medieval saints, it began as a major anniversary year. The Association of English Cathedrals had declared 2020 to be a national ‘Year of Cathedrals, Year of Pilgrimage’. At Lincoln, this year marked 800 years since Hugh of Avalon, Bishop of Lincoln, was declared to be a saint, and at Hereford, 750 years since the canonisation of Thomas de Cantilupe. For Salisbury cathedral, this year is the 800th since the laying of the foundation stone, whilst at Bury St Edmunds, the abbey marks 1,000 years since its establishment by King Cnut. Meanwhile, Durham cathedral’s year of pilgrimage coincided with the launch of walking trails inspired by the lives of Saints Aidan, Cuthbert, Oswald, Wilfrid, Hild and Bede.

Bright roundel from a stained glass window.
Figure 1. Detail from St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds

At Canterbury in particular, 2020 marks the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the city’s cathedral, and the 800th anniversary of the Translation of St Thomas, when Becket’s remains were installed in their magnificent new shrine in the cathedral’s Trinity Chapel. Becket’s had been a cult with national and Europe-wide appeal, and – as Thomas was a Londoner by birth – his anniversaries were also set to be marked with exhibitions at the British Museum and Museum of London. In February, a celebratory event at the Mercer’s Hall in the City of London marked the beginning of what looked set to be a memorable year of commemorative activity.

And then there was Covid-19.

The national lockdown, restrictions on public gatherings, furlough, and all that came with Covid-19, postponed planned celebrations, exhibitions, conferences, and any other event designed to bring large groups of people together to commemorate the saints, to emphasise the values they are seen to have stood for, to focus on aspects of their lives that continue to resonate today, and to celebrate the major churches that grew up around their cults.

Not everything, however, has fallen into limbo. In this special issue of History, scholars present new research on the lives and cults of saints associated with major churches marking anniversaries in 2020. Spanning the medieval period, publication of this collection would originally have fallen towards the end of the celebratory year. It now begins the process of commemoration as we look ahead to the post-Covid world.

Our pilgrimage in print begins in northern England, with Fiona and Richard Gameson’s discussion of the composition of the written life of the Northumbrian saint, Bede, and examination of the way in which an elaborate medieval account could be constructed despite the lack of abundant historical evidence. Northumbria is also the focus of attention for Joyce Hill, who examines St Wilfrid, and his role in establishing a ‘Roman-style cathedral’ at Ripon, both in terms of the architectural setting Wilfrid created, and the religious activity that took place.

Moving to the Midlands, our journey then takes us to Lichfield, where 2019 marked the 1,350th anniversary of the consecration of St Chad as bishop of Mercia. Ranging from the seventh century to the English Reformation, Ian Styler’s consideration of Chad’s cult explores its reach and appeal for pilgrims within the Midlands and northern England.

Interior of Lichfield Cathedral. Stone arches flank an elaborately tiled floor.
Figure 2. Lichfield Cathedral, interior

Where these articles focus on a series of northern powerhouses – religious communities that developed as influential religious centres – based around the cults of their saints and the pilgrims they could attract, similar trends can be seen elsewhere. In the later thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, on the border of England and Wales, Hereford cathedral promoted and established a successful saint’s cult around Thomas de Cantilupe, for whom the surviving miracle collection is explored by Ian Bass.

In East Anglia, St Edmund, king and martyr, attracted the attention of English rulers during the central and later Middle Ages. This phenomenon is explored by Paul Webster, and could be seen in pilgrimages and gifts to the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, but also in taking the saint to war. King Edward I – who appears to have had a lively sense of how to make a community of monks feel important – on one occasion announced that the long-dead saint would join his Scottish campaign ‘to protect me and mine, and to conquer the enemy’. In a perhaps withering comment to one of his justices, he added that St Edmund ‘will come wearing flashing armour, much better prepared than you’!

Moving south, Tim Tatton-Brown takes us to Salisbury, exploring the dual development of the cult of St Osmund and the remodelling of the fabric of the city’s cathedral, in the era when the cathedral moved from Old Sarum to the new town of Salisbury. Here, an ‘unofficial’ shrine stood in the Trinity Chapel from the 1230s, a few years after efforts to canonise Osmund began, until the fifteenth century, when he was finally declared a saint and moved to another new shrine.

Last, but by no means least, John Jenkins and Louise Wilkinson explore the cult of perhaps the foremost northern European saint: Thomas Becket. In focusing on London, Jenkins takes us to the city of Becket’s birth, and the efforts of Londoners to claim the saint as one of their own. Association with Becket found a place in the very fabric of the city from an early stage in the development of his cult, for instance in the reconstruction of London Bridge, with its central chapel of St Thomas, from the late 1170s. From London, like Chaucer’s pilgrims, the Special Issue wends to Canterbury, considering Becket’s cult at its spiritual home. Louise Wilkinson explores evidence for the endurance of devotion to St Thomas in the thirteenth century among churchmen and royalty. If Becket had been King Henry II’s nemesis in the twelfth century, and whilst his cult had an enduring appeal to opponents of the crown, it was nonetheless a religious phenomenon that rulers knew they could not ignore. England’s premier saint therefore, ‘remained harnessed to the medieval English monarchy’.

Interior of Canterbury Cathedral. A candle burns on the tiled floor to commemorate Becket's death.
Figure 3. Thomas Becket’s shrine, Canterbury Cathedral

What Henry II would have made of continued celebration of Becket on the 850th anniversary of the murder in Canterbury Cathedral, is unknowable. Likewise Henry VIII, the Tudor monarch who swept away the cult of the saints in England. Perhaps both rulers might have taken a grim satisfaction in the way in which the events of 2020 have thwarted the best laid commemorative plans. But Henry VIII proved unable completely to sweep away the old religious practices. So too, Covid-19 will not keep us at home forever. The papers in this Special Issue, which once were scheduled to help bring 2020’s year of the saints to a close, now stand among starting points for revival of activity as events, exhibitions and conferences begin to become a possibility in the post-pandemic world.

Paul Webster is a lecturer at Cardiff University, where he coordinates the Exploring the Past adult learners progression pathway, a partnership between the university’s Division of Continuing and Professional Education and the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, where he teaches medieval history. His research focuses on kingship, piety, and the cult of the saints in medieval England. His principal publications include the monograph King John and Religion(Woodbridge: 2015) and a collection, co-edited with Dr Marie-Pierre Gelin (UCL) on The Cult of St Thomas Becket in the Plantagenet World (Woodbridge, 2016).

Banner image. Mattana. Detail from stained glass window, Canterbury Cathedral. A miracle performed by prayer. Available online with Creative Commons license.

Figure 1. John Salmon. Detail from stained glass window in St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmond’s, Canterbury. Image available online with Creative Commons license.

Figure 2. Unknown photographer. Interior of Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire. Image available online with creative commons license.

Figure 3. Unknown photographer. Thomas Becket’s shrine, Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury. Available online in the public domain.

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Deep Mapping Migrant Settlerhood: Unfolding histories of Finns in Canada

Samira Saramo

At the turn of the twentieth century, Finnish migrants, drawn by the familiar landscape of lakes, forests, and rocky outcrop, settled in the rugged wilderness of Northern Ontario in Canada and overcame the harsh conditions of the early years through their inherent Finnish characteristic of “sisu” (determination, perseverance, guts)… or so the story is most often told. Through the stories we tell, we build our connections to communities, places, and pasts. But what might happen if we shift and reframe the ways we tell and view foundational narratives?

I’ve been researching Finnish migrant histories in Canada and the United States for about fifteen years and I am particularly drawn to personal narratives and life writing (especially letters and autobiographies) that offer us glimpses of everyday life and the fluid workings of people making sense of themselves, their relationships, and their worlds. Over recent years, I have turned more frequently to analyzing how Finnish migrants have narrated encountering and feeling natural landscapes.  

In part, I have been compelled by a curiosity to understand the often repeated and mostly taken for granted notion that Finns have a unique relationship and affinity with nature. I am further driven to explore how and why places are made and re-made emotionally, socially, and physically. As I delve more deeply into Finnish migrant narratives of place and belonging, I have become increasingly aware of the ways that, through their telling, other histories and presences are obscured.

The Canadian nation state has been built and legitimized through ongoing violences against First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people. Differing in form and practice from extractive colonial endeavours, settler colonial projects, such as those established in Canada, the United States, Australia, and Aotearoa (New Zealand), aim to erase and replace to build a new state in the image of the colonizer.[1] The making of Canada depended on Indigenous dispossession so that the ‘empty’ ‘wilderness’ could be ‘tamed’ by re/creating spaces, populations, institutions, and practices. As a structure made “by people rather than by empires,” migrants have been the key to settler colonialism.[2]

The histories of Finnish migrant communities, families, and individuals are conspicuously silent on Finns as settlers and on encounters with Indigenous peoples or places. Instead, Finnish migrant life writing and community narratives most often follow what Lorenzo Veracini has noted as the “typically settler narrative of adaptation, struggle against a harsh environment, economic development, and integration.”[3] Finns are not alone in practicing such silences. 

The experiences of, in the Canadian case, non-Anglo and non-Francophone migrant groups have long been cast as outsider histories. The struggles of carving a place in the dominant culture have left little room for considering “migrant settlerhood.”[4] Historians have also perpetuated this erasure. Laura Madokoro has thoughtfully called out the ongoing disconnect between migration history and settler colonial studies and emphasized the urgency of bridging this gap.[5]

Black and white photograph of a woman loading wood into a sauna. She wears a simple dress. There are pine trees in the background.
Figure 1. Heating up the sauna at a lumber camp in Salt Sainte Marie, Ontario (c.1930)

It is difficult to shake the stories we have told ourselves and about ourselves for generations. Yet, if we continue to leave our ‘settlerhood’ unexamined, we risk continuing to harm the Indigenous people on whose land and at whose expense we have built our lives and histories. The challenge before us, then, is how to begin to reframe our histories in ways that make space for all that has been made invisible through omission. 

What might such a history of Finnish settlement look, sound, and feel like? How can I, as a scholar and as a member of the community whose histories I write, help facilitate such a re-envisioning? 

As of September 2020, I now have the opportunity to jump into these questions. With thanks to the Kone Foundation, over the next four years I will develop a multilayered and multisensory digital map of Ontario to push entrenched assumptions about Finnish history in North America. This deep map will allow cartography, narratives, photographs, soundscapes, demographic statistics, ecological description, and archival documents to be layered in different ways in the hope of offering new ways of seeing complicated and overlapping claims on place, belonging, and history. 

Through this approach and tool, Finnish migrant histories will not only be situated in the community’s own significant sociocultural and everyday places, but also spanning over time in the changing contexts of the physical environment, Indigenous place-views, state-imposed colonial frameworks, and overviews of historical population and economic data. While there is a lot of work ahead to see the map to full realization, this is also an exploration of process.  

Black and white photograph of a Finnish settlers' homestead. A small wooden structure surrounded by farmed land.
Image 2. Finnish homestead (1908)

I am excited to contribute to the humanist aspiration of deep mapping to reflexively provide multifaceted, multisensory, and transdisciplinary spatial narratives that can enrich traditional (and arguably limiting) academic written narratives.[6]This project is pushing me as a scholar to think and communicate in ways I have not before and to utilize (Historical) GIS tools and methodologies that are new to me. It also allows me to respectfully engage the communities my research studies and serves in new dialogue that makes space for discomfort. 

This process is also important to me personally, as a continuation of confronting my place, complicity, and privilege in Canadian settler colonialism. As historians, we are rarely convinced of the uniqueness of particular events or – as we have heard repeatedly in 2020 – of “unprecedented times” because we understand historical paths and continuities. By making historical Finnish migrant participation in the processes of settler colonialism and Indigenous displacement visible, I hope it becomes easier to see how Finnish migrant communities have a role to play now, too, in identifying, making visible, and dismantling the structures that uphold colonial power in Canada today.   

Dr. Samira Saramo, Senior Researcher at the Migration Institute of Finland, is a transdisciplinary historian of migration, place-making, and the everyday, whose work centers on Finnish migrant communities. You can connect with Samira on Twitter: @samira_saramo.


[1] For settler colonialism as a concept, see Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

[2] Adam J. Barker, “Locating Settler Colonialism,” Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History 13, 3, (Winter 2012), 4.

[3] Lorenzo Veracini, “The Imagined Geographies of Settler Colonialism,” in Making Settler Colonial Space: Perspectives on race, place and identity, Tracey Banivanua Mar and Penelope Edmonds, eds. (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), 187. 

[4] Laura Madokoro, “On future directions: Temporalities and permanency in the study of migration and settler colonialism in Canada,” History Compass 17 (2019), 2. https://doi.org/10.1111/hic3.12515

[5] Laura Madokoro, “Peril and Possibility: A contemplation of the current state of migration history and settler colonial studies in Canada,” History Compass 17 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1111/hic3.1251

[6] See for example David J. Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris eds., Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives(Indiana University Press, 2015).

Image 1: Heating up the sauna at a lumber camp in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, circa 1930.  Varpu Lindström Collection/Migration Institute of Finland Archives, KAN 0100. Image provided by the author with gracious permission from the Migration Institute of Finland Archives. Public re-use is not permitted.

Image 2 (and banner image): Finnish Homestead, 1908. Varpu Lindström Collection/Migration Institute of Finland Archives, KAN 0202. Image provided by the author with gracious permission from the Migration Institute of Finland Archives. Public re-use is not permitted.

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A Global History of Sex and Gender

Hannah Telling

What is gender history and why does it matter? For me, it is a discipline that provides a fascinating insight into the often-overlooked aspects of history. I was first introduced to gender history as an undergraduate and the University of Edinburgh, when I enrolled on a course called ‘Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern Europe’. The set reading for the first week was Katherine Park’s 1997 article, ‘The Rediscovery of the Clitoris: French Medicine and the Tribade, 1570-1620’. I was introduced not only to early modern ideas of medicine and sexual difference, but also notions of male privilege and authority, female sexuality and the ‘deviant’, transgressive female body. This was the type of history that I wanted to read, to research – and to contribute to.

My research interests have shifted temporally since that seminar in 2011. I am now a historian of violence, law and crime during the nineteenth century. Yet, I am still very much a gender historian and so I was excited to help build an innovative and ambitious new course entitled ‘A Global History of Sex and Gender: Bodies and Power in the Modern World’. This four-week, open-access MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) launches on FutureLearn on 26 October and aims to introduce learners to gender history as an approach that has the potential to sharpen and transform our understanding of the past.

Black and white photograph. Women pose in men's clothes and hats. Men pose in women's hats and coats. They stand in a line with cheerful expressions.
Figure 1. ‘Men and women cross-dressing at a party’ (unknown date).

As a discipline, gender history has its roots in second-wave feminism. Prior to the 1970s, historical scholarship was predominantly white, male and Western – though often without the introspection required to recognise that. Feminist historians began to investigate the lives of women in the past, yet quickly recognised that it was not enough to simply ‘add women and stir’. A focus on women in the past disrupted the familiar categories upon which the historical discipline was organised and structured, thereby challenging established historical narratives.

Gender history was not simply an exercise in reclaiming the voices of the marginalised and silenced, though this remains a vital strand within the discipline. As Merry Wiesner-Hanks argues in Gender in History (2001), ‘viewing the male experience as universal had not only hidden women’s history, but it had also prevented analysis of men’s experience as those of men’. Gender history is best understood, therefore, as an analytical approach that applies categories of gender sexuality to the past. Gender culture, the operation of power and how gendered power intersects with other social identifiers, such as race, class sexuality, disability and age, and the symbolic use of gender to signify relations of power. The result is that almost any aspect of history can be transformed and enriched by the adoption of gender as a category of analysis.

Yet, gender history still struggles to be granted the same degree of legitimacy and recognition afforded to other historical sub-disciplines. I vividly remember a research seminar where world-leading gender historians discussed whether leaving the word ‘gender’ out of undergraduate course titles may be the only effective way to address the gender imbalance of courses that remain overwhelmingly female-dominated. Gender history is still all too readily dismissed simply as the history of those on the margins, rather than what it really is: an analytical approach that seeks to uncover more inclusive, representative and relevant historical accounts. To refashion the Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce’s famous statement: all history is gender history.

Women walk before a large banner that reads 'Women's Liberation'. Another visible, smaller sign reads: 'Free Our Sisters, Free Our Selves'
Figure 2. Linda Napikoski, ‘Women’s liberation movement’ (1960s)

It is within this context that ‘A Global History of Sex and Gender: Bodies and Power in the Modern World’ is – to me – so valuable and necessary. By adopting a feminist pedagogy, the content within this course is not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but instead provides learners with the skills and tools to think critically about how gender shapes society, both in the past and today. The course is the brainchild of Dr Tanya Cheadle, Lecturer in Gender History. Tanya, myself and Dr Maud Bracke, Reader in Modern History, embarked upon creating a course that drew upon the wide-ranging expertise of staff at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History, home to the largest concentration of gender historians in Britain. The interdisciplinary teaching team includes over thirty contributors from universities across the world, the Smithsonian Institution and Glasgow Women’s Library.

The course is structured in a way that provides learners with an understanding of key theoretical concepts used in gendered analyses of the past, opportunities to gain knowledge and of historical events and the chance to engage with primary sources that have been analysed through a gendered lens – as well as the means to identify and describe the historical contexts that underpin our modern societies. Introducing learners to theoretical concepts, such as patriarchal and heteronormative power structures and cultural constructions of masculinities and sexualities provides the means to reinterpret and reassess historical events. Understanding, for example, constructions of masculinities and patriarchal power in the early modern period adds necessary nuance and contextualisation to flag used the English Civil War. The term ‘cuckold’ refers to the husband of an adulterous wife; thereby providing the insight into the intersections between ideas of gender with warfare and politics.

Simple red flag. A dog hides sheepishly in a barrel. The text reads 'Come out you Cuckold'
Figure 3. ‘A flag used in the English Civil War
referring to the Earl of Essex’s notorious martial problems’ (1640s)

The case-studies provided by course contributors show gender in action throughout the past, from the historical provision of care and women’s paid and unpaid work, to the regulation of our bodies and desires throughout history, and the struggles and successes of the feminist challenge. Learners are presented, therefore, with a broad insight into gender history as an applied analytical approach that will provide people of all academic backgrounds with the means to reflect introspectively on their own understanding of the past.

One aim of the course is to facilitate the identification of the patterns of the past that echo in our current societies. Reference to modern societal issues – such as #MeToo, campaigns for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and equal pay – serve both as a method for engagement and also as an introduction to gender issues within historical contexts. The course is not just designed for those interested in gender and sexual history. Rather, it is intended for a much broader audience (at any level of study, interest, or expertise) who wish to learn the skills to explore how past events and societies have been shaped by ideas of gender in ways that are still undoubtedly relevant today. Recognising the intrinsic relevance of gender to modern social movements and contemporary issues further underscores the imperative need for historians – and those interested in history more broadly – to engage with and understand the centrality of gender embedded within similar issues in the past. This innovative, ambitious, and truly exciting course aims to introduce participants to new perspectives one the past and show exactly why gender history matters.

Dr Hannah Telling is the Economic History Society Power Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. Hannah’s research explores gender, violence, society and law during the long nineteenth century. Her current research project is entitled ‘Criminal types: Violence, law and society in Scotland, 1850-1914’ and explores how constructions of criminality intersected with ideas about gender, class, ethnicity and status in nineteenth-century Scotland. The project also explores how this influenced the judicial treatment of violent male and female offenders brought before the courts.

Header Image. Warren K. Leffler, ‘Women’s Liberation March’ (1970). Held by the United States’ Library of Congress and available online under Creative Commons license.

Figure 1. Unknown photographer, ‘Men and women cross-dressing at a party’ (n.d.). Available online under Creative Commons license.

Figure 2. Linda Napikoski, ‘Women’s liberation movement’ (1960s). Available online under Creative Commons license.

Figure 3. Unknown creator, ”A flag used in the English Civil War referring to the Earl of Essex’s notorious martial problems’ (1640s). Available online within the public domain.

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John Stearne’s Confirmation and discovery of witchcraft

New Book Interview: Scott Eaton, John Stearne’s Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft: Text, Context and Afterlife (Routledge, 2020).

History: How did this project develop? Where did your interest in the subject originate?

Scott: My interest in the history of witchcraft started during my BA at Ulster University when I took a module on European witchcraft and completed a dissertation on witchcraft and magic in nineteenth-century Ireland. I then went to Queen’s University Belfast where I researched early modern English witchcraft pamphlets for my MA dissertation. At this point I think I became hooked on investigating witchcraft beliefs – it’s a bizarre and intriguing world to step into! I encountered the witchcraft pamphlets of the 1640s and found the East Anglian witch-hunt strange yet fascinating. Gradually, I came to focus on John Stearne’s A confirmation and discovery of witchcraft (1648) because of its detail and inclusion of witches’ confessions. My supervisors Crawford Gribben and Stephen Kelly encouraged me to do my doctoral thesis on Stearne and his work since it was a unique text that had not yet received sustained study. Stearne was an important but relatively unknown witch-finder who had been greatly overshadowed by his colleague Matthew Hopkins – my research sought to try and redress this imbalance. Post-PhD, I continued the project, made some revisions and turned the thesis into a monograph. 

Figure 1. Woodcut from A History of Witches (c.1739), The Wellcome Collection

History: What are the major themes covered by your book, and what intervention does it make? How could these interventions be used in teaching?

Scott: Because the book focuses on Stearne and the history of his text, it is quite broad thematically and chronologically: it attempts to situate A confirmation within wider seventeenth-century cultures and traces its ‘afterlife’ in the succeeding centuries.

Figure 2. John Stearne,
A Confirmation and
Discovery of Witchcraft (1648)

The book begins with an overview of the East Anglian witch-hunt and provides a brief introduction into relevant historiography for students or non-specialists. It explores the topics of witchcraft, puritanism, print cultures, gender, human-animal relations, science, antiquarianism, book history, and the transmission of texts. As for its intervention, the book provides a new angle on Stearne and the East Anglian witch-hunt, stressing his crucial role. Its key findings highlight Stearne’s ideas on salvation and eschatology, the link between witch-finding and early modern science, the complicated history of A confirmation as a piece of material history and its place in witchcraft historiography. By highlighting that Stearne was supported by local communities and was acting out of a sense of religious duty – rather than for more personal reasons – the monograph sheds a new light on his motives for witch-finding, and indeed why the witch-hunt spread so rapidly in the eastern counties. In this regard, the mechanics of the witch-hunt in East Anglia could be relevant to understanding, and perhaps preventing, modern witch-hunts that occur in the likes of Sub-Saharan Africa, India and Papua New Guinea. 

I think the book could be used in a variety of modules centring around early modern print cultures, puritanism, gender, science or book history as it has chapters that function as case-studies of each topic. Most obviously, it would benefit modules that directly deal with the history of witchcraft or witch-hunting in Europe and America, or, more narrowly, the East Anglian witch-hunt. For the former the book could be recommended reading, offering contextual information, while for the latter it could operate as key reading on undergraduate or postgraduate courses. 

Could you explain why you decided to approach the project with the text itself as a focal point?

Scott: There are few extant documents on Stearne but we can piece together a rough biography of his life. While archival materials are useful, they provide only very basic information on Stearne or his actions as a witch-finder in the 1640s. Critically analysing his only publication, A confirmation, and contextualising his work, offered a means to examine Stearne’s various beliefs and motives in-depth. After Stearne published his work in 1648, both he and A confirmation seemed to fade into historical obscurity. Focusing on the text and tracing the history of A confirmation to modern day also presented a way to explain why the witch-hunter was (and still is) unknown to most people. 

Figure 3. Matthew Hopkins, The Discovery of Witches (1647)

Was there anything particularly surprising that you learnt, in the course of researching and writing?

Scott: Yes, definitely. Initially I was surprised that there was a paucity of primary and secondary source material on Stearne. Aside from that, A confirmation was full of surprises, offering detailed confessions or, rather frustratingly, only hinting at important elements of Stearne’s religious beliefs. His discussions on how to discern witch-marks were comprehensive and were quite innovative, availing of seventeenth-century empiricism and legal practices. I didn’t anticipate that Stearne’s witch-finding utilised up-to-date science and Law to search men for witch-marks, so this probably goes against commonly held views of an atavistic witch-finder. 

Did the course of researching and writing the book take you in any unexpected directions?

Scott: When tracing the ‘afterlife’ of Stearne’s Confirmation I didn’t foresee that some of the few remaining copies would be in American repositories. I really enjoyed researching the libraries’ curators and founders, and then consulting each version of Stearne’s work and tracing its provenance. It was unexpected but welcome. 

Has writing this monograph suggested any new directions for your research? Are there any questions left over, or fresh questions presented by your findings?

Figure 4. Scott Eaton, John Stearne’s Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft (1648)

Scott: There are a few left over questions about early modern science and book history. I think we need more work on the relationship between English witchcraft beliefs/theories and early modern science. While Stearne’s witch-hunting did use seventeenth-century science, the latter helped undermine witchcraft beliefs and expunge these ideas from elite culture. It would be interesting to examine these changes in more detail. Additionally, tracing the history of popular demonological and witchcraft publications in a wider context would be revealing; showing how these publications were being read, circulated, and transmitted – and by whom. 

Generally, research for my book has made me want to explore the different strands of early modern British witchcraft belief. I’m interested in witchcraft and its depiction, and the history of demonological texts, but I have no plans to research these themes at the moment. Gender and religious studies formed a large part of my monograph, so I have started to deviate from witchcraft studies slightly to research seventeenth-century women writers and their responses to affliction, and early modern beliefs of salvation and damnation.  

Scott Eaton teaches history at Queen’s University Belfast. He is a religious and cultural historian with interest in early modern witchcraft, art, puritanism and print cultures.

Banner image. Woodcut detail from A History of Witches (1739). The Wellcome Collection. Public Domain. This image can be found online here.

Figure 1. Woodcut detail from A History of Witches (1739). The Wellcome Collection. Public Domain. This image was suggested by the author and can be found online here.

Figure 2. Frontispiece. John Stearne, A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft (1648). This image is believed to be in the public domain and was provided by the author.

Figure 3. Frontispiece detail. Matthew Hopkins, The Discovery of Witches (1647). Public Domain. This image was suggested by the author and can be found online here.

Figure 4. Front cover to Scott Eaton, John Stearne’s Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft: Text, Context, and Afterlife (London: Routledge, 2020).

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