Print Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, 1890-1915

…or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the book…

James Michael Yeoman

This is the first of a two-part discussion which explores the creation and contents of my book, Print Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, which was published last autumn. While the second part of the discussion will give a summary of the book itself, in this part I discuss my relationship with my work and my thoughts on its value and relevance.

I.

October 2019 feels like a very long time ago: before the outbreak of Covid-19; before widespread insurrection across the USA in support of Black Lives Matter (which, at time of writing are still ongoing and facing down state repression in Portland); and before the chaos across the global economy, with warnings of a decade of crisis yet to come.

On a personal level it also seems long past: as my 2-year teaching position ended, in August 2019 I married my best friend, and spent the following months travelling in Spain, Patagonia, New Zealand and Australia. At the time I was considering my future in academia, asking myself whether I was prepared to move home, or live apart from my wife, and if I was capable of managing further years of insecurity. These were decisions I struggled with not only due to the ingrained precarity of the academic job market, but also the anxieties that arose when I thought about my own work. Did I want to continue researching a niche aspect of radical history, writing to a small specialist audience, and working with publishers whose exclusivity and high prices operate as a means of controlling access and prestige? Though a break from academia, and travels—which I am extremely privileged to have been able to take—did not answer these questions, the decision is perhaps out of my hands, as the university sector retrenches by shedding temporary workers and asking permanent staff to consider redundancy or imposing pay cuts.

Figure 3. Front Cover: James Michael Yeoman, Print
Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement
in Spain, 1890-1915 (Routledge, 2020).

Despite what has unfolded since, October 2019 will remain one of the high points of my academic life, as it was then that I received the hard copy of my monograph Print Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, published by Routledge [figure 3]. This book analyses the formation of a mass anarchist movement in Spain over the turn of the twentieth century, when the movement was transformed from a dislocated collection of groups and individuals into the largest organised body of anarchists in world history, with its syndicalist federation (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo: CNT) claiming almost a million members in 1919, in a country of 20 million. The book shows that grassroots print culture was central to these developments: driving the development of ideology and strategy – broadly defined as terrorism, education and workplace organisation – and providing an informal structure to a movement which shunned recognised leadership and bureaucracy.

I held in my hands the culmination of a work which began with my PhD in 2011: submitted in 2015, examined in 2016, sent to publishers in 2017, reviewed and revised in 2018, and proofed, formatted and indexed in the final months of my lectureship. Although the last thing I wanted to do was read it—a feeling I’m sure is familiar to many—I did include it in my pack as I set off for Buenos Aires, perhaps secretly harbouring hopes that I would find myself in a conversation that would warrant me pulling out my own book and turning to a particularly insightful passage. Unsurprisingly—and thankfully for all hypothetically involved—this did not happen.

However, I do think that carrying the book around with me helped to shift my feelings towards it. As I packed and repacked it in hostels and airports across three continents, the additional weight on my back began to feel less like an abstract expression of my time in academia and more like a physical object, existing beyond my person and available to anyone with access to the British Library. It was the kind of thing that I would have sat down with in the early stages of my PhD, perhaps loaned from another university library or picked up second-hand online. I often knew nothing about the authors of these highly specialised works or the process they went through to create them, whether they too had taken their freshly-minted hardbacks up a mountain in Chile or sent a copy to their mum, in full knowledge that she would never read it but would want it to display to her friends and herself. All I had was their books, their research and their analysis, detached from the author by academic writing conventions.

This too is how my book would exist: as something in and of itself, not as a reflection on my contingent value as an academic, or even as a person, not as a pointless frivolity or a stepping stone to a potential permanent job, an item that could be submitted to REF as an example of paradigm-shifting research.[1] I could now look at the book and not see a ‘research output’ or an esoteric hobby, but rather as a reminder of the best times of my PhD, finding and engaging with fascinating sources, thinking through my ideas with my supervisor and spending happy(ish) hours drawing maps on Microsoft Paint (artfully recreated by my colleague James Pearson for publication).

Frontispiece of Digger pamphlet ‘a declaration from
the poor oppressed people of England’ (1649).

Stepping away from academia also helped me to see the wider relevance of my work. Where once I had seen hackneyed appeals to relevance, I began to believe in the validity of the comparisons I make between the print culture of anarchists in Spain and the media of other grassroots movements, such as the use of Twitter during the Arab Spring, abolitionist newspapers of Antebellum USA, and the radical pamphleteers of the Diggers during the English Civil War.[2] In all of these grassroots movements, including in the one that I research, media was used in a collaborative manner which helped to form linkages across time and space.

While the ‘horizontalist connectivity’ of contemporary social movements is sometimes presented as a new phenomenon produced by globalisation and facilitated by digital platforms, it is clear that much older—yet equally ‘social’—forms of media, such as pamphlets and periodicals, performed a comparable function, often with more significant and lasting results. I am not surprised that indigenous activists against neo-liberal reforms in Chile find solidarity and support from Palestinian rights organisations, building upon networks of migration and social media links. I am not amazed that bail funds for Black Lives Matter activists in the USA received a flood of contributions from across the world, prompted by campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Placing these contemporary examples of grassroots solidarity in a historical lineage which stretches back centuries does not downplay their significance, only their seeming novelty. Historical precedent can be empowering, revealing that people have consistently sought to find common cause with others, overcoming their limited resources and the barriers imposed by hostile authorities. To paraphrase Marx’s discussion of the Paris Commune, the greatest achievement of such activities is not their ideological programme or their sketching out of a plan for the future, but rather ‘their own working existence,’ their historical reality which stands as proof that people have imagined a different world and sought to bring it about.[3]

‘Egyptian protests,’ a man during the 2011 Egyptian protests
carrying a card saying “Facebook, #jan25, The Egyptian Social
Network” (1 February 2011).

The scale and longevity of the global anarchist movement over the turn of the twentieth century, particularly in Spain, was remarkable, and serves as a clear example of an internationalist, bottom-up, anti-capitalist mode of activism. Examining how this came about and how it functioned, its successes and failures, is thus of direct relevance to how we think about radical politics and organising ‘from below’, both in the historical past and the present day. My book is one attempt to account for and explain this phenomenon through the words of those involved, incorporating ideological and organisational concerns alongside political economies and personal relationships, while maintaining a focus on how such developments were manifest. Irrespective of ‘academic futures’, this research and this book will remain for anyone interested in these areas, and that is something I should be proud of and should share.

History does not operate as direct parallel to the present, or as a source of explicit lessons for how we should think and act in the world. I prefer to think of my work on radical organising as having resonances, or echoes, with contemporary and historical examples of similar phenomena. Rather than a lineage, I see the anarchist movement in Spain as one part of a constellation of grassroots mobilisations that have demanded a just, equal, even utopian, reordering of the world and developed a political culture which reflected these aims, through direct engagement with one another.[4] I hope that there are some aspects of my research which may chime with people interested in the intersection of political activism and the media, and grassroots organising in general: if anyone interested would like to discuss any aspect of my research further, please do get in touch.

James Michael Yeoman is an independent researcher who completed his PhD at the University of Sheffield in 2016. His publications include Print Culture and The Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, 1890-1915 (Routledge, 2020), ‘The Spanish Civil War,’ in C. Levy and M. Adams (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism (Palgrave MacMillan 2018) and ‘Salud y Anarquía desde Dowlais: The translocal experience of Spanish anarchists in South Wales, 1900-1915’, in International Journal of Iberian Studies 29:3 (2016). James co-hosts the radical history podcast ‘ABC with Danny and Jim’ with Danny Evans (Liverpool Hope University), which you can find here: https://anchor.fm/abcwithdannyandjim. Follow James on Twitter, contact him at jamesmyeoman@gmail.com, or find our more about his research.


[1] For potential future employers I can guarantee that my work has shifted the paradigm, if the paradigm being considered is an extremely small one, concerning English-language research on the extreme left of the Spanish labour movement.

[2] For an overview of the significance of print in social movements see Chapter 3: Print and Association of Sidney Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics (Cambridge University Press, 1994). 3rd edition (2011) available here.

[3] Cited in Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (Verso, 2015), 79.

[4] These thoughts are inspired by a recent conversation with Danny Evans and Liz Stainforth on Ross’s Communal Luxury, which will be available as a podcast at anchor.fm/abcwithdannyandjim from 16/08/2020.


Banner. Collection of anarchist newspapers published in Spain during the early twentieth century (cropped). Available in the public domain and here.

Figure 1. Front cover of James Michael Yeoman, Print Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, 1890-1915 (Routledge, 2020). Rights held by Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis, reproduced with the publisher’s permission.

Figure 2. Burning bin in Santiago, Chile during an anti-police demonstration (31 January 2020). Attribution: James Yeoman, reproduced with permission.

Figure 3. ‘George Floyd protesters: Minneapolis’ (28 May 2020). Photograph by Dan Aasland, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Figure 4. Frontispiece of Digger pamphlet ‘A declaration from the poor oppressed people of England’ (1649). Available in the public domain and here.

Figure 5. ‘Egyptian protests,’ a man during the 2011 Egyptian protests carrying a card saying “Facebook, #jan25, The Egyptian Social Network” (1 February 2011). Photograph by Essam Sharaf, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Lucy Jane Santos’ ‘Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium’

Lucy Jane Santos

Figure 1. Cover of Half Lives: The Unlikely
History of Radium, published by Icon Books

In the late 19th century that Wilhelm Röntgen discovered a previously unknown form of powerful radiation that was invisible to the human eye. This type of ray, which no one (including Röntgen) fully understood at the time, was so mysterious that he simply named it ‘X’. In 1896, working from Röntgen’s findings, Henri Becquerel identified the phenomenon of radioactivity – both as a concept and as a force – and Marie Skłodowska Curie would later give it a name. In 1898, with her husband Pierre, Marie Skłodowska Curie identified two new materials, which they named polonium and radium, whose changeable properties challenged traditional scientific models of what an element should be.

The discovery of radium prompted a flurry of experiments to scope the limits of its potential applications, and by the early 1900s the curious and still mostly unfathomable properties of radium would find expression in a wide range of products and services that were aimed at the general consumer, such as the Pistany Mud Compress and Caria Radium Soap. Radium was also part of popular culture in other ways: a present for a queen (in the form of a spinthariscope – a desirable scientific instrument akin to a kaleidoscope), and glow in the dark costumes.

In Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium, Lucy Jane Santos traces this fascinating, curious, sometimes macabre story of radium’s ascendance, its role as a cure-all in everyday 20th century life and eventual downfall as people came to understand the dark side of this toxic love affair. In this interview with History, Lucy, reflects on the process of writing the book, the history of commercial radium products, and the light the radium industry can shed on popular anxieties today.

History: What are the major themes covered by Half Lives and why are they important?

Half Lives tells the history of radioactivity through the eyes of the people who made, bought and sold radium products in the 20th century. While stories of the scientists and medical professionals who pushed the boundaries of scientific knowledge through their experiments with radium are well known, the entrepreneurs and consumers in radium’s history are usually associated with accusations of fraudulent practices and naivety, the products they made (and sold in their hundreds of thousands) mentioned only in passing: Half Lives illuminates their stories and places them in their historical contexts, in order to rectify this imbalance. Half Lives is also about our relationship to radioactivity in the 21st century and, in particular, to nuclear power: how did we get from the enthusiastic use of radium just over a century ago, to the popular revulsion felt at the prospect of nuclear industry today?

Figure 2. Photograph of a pot of Tho Radia powder,
c. 1933

History: How did the idea for a book on the commercial history of radium develop?

This book came from an accidental discovery – that in the 1930s there was a range of toiletries called Tho Radia, which contained radium and thorium. I found out about it because I actually bought a pot of Tho Radia face powder in a big batch of products at an auction house several years ago. It got me thinking: what did it promise? Why would you buy this? I was hooked, but frustrated to find that, aside from a couple of exceptions, such as the website Cosmetics and Skin, there were very few avenues through which to find out more about such products, apart from perhaps a quotation from an advert on a ’10 foolish things our grandparents put on their face’ clickbait article, and some comment about the silliness of all those involved. I was sure that the story was far more engaging than simply one of the foolishness of the past. I needed to explore and share these elusive stories – so I decided to write the book myself!

History: Can you describe your research process for the book?

I had no idea when I started what secret and surprising histories these products would reveal. I say secret histories because they really did take some uncovering – there is a fairly unsurprising reluctance, especially amongst the companies that still exist, to talk about our radioactive past. To get at these histories I scoured antique shops, car boot sales and flea markets. There have also been plenty of archive trips. I visited local archives in Bath and Buxton to view the minute books of council meetings, which contained fascinating detailed expenditure reports on the maintenance of their radium baths. Trips to the National Archives led me to government files on the use of radium paint in the First World War, and subsequent plans for its disposal. The British Library and the Wellcome have also been a brilliant resource, both for secondary sources on the history of radium, and original medical handbooks.

I have travelled around Britain, New York and Paris to speak to historians of theatre, music, fashion, cosmetics and medicine.  During the research process, I have found myself drinking radium water up the top of a mountain in Austria, had a very embarrassing mix up about the etiquette of nude bathing at a radon bath in the Czech Republic, and have met all sorts of fascinating people along the way.

History: How did you make the decisions of which topics, stories, sources to keep or drop? Were these decisions self-evident or very difficult?

There are really three massive stories in radium history: Marie Curie’s discovery of radium, the case of the Radium Girls, and the tragic death of Eben McBurney Byers. All these stories have been told in depth before and I found it hard to work out how much of them to retell. In the end I decided it was the framing of the stories that would bring out what hadn’t yet been told, especially in the two latter cases, which formed part of wider history of the products themselves. The experience of the Radium Girls, who produced glow-in-the-dark watches for military use, was an important part of the history of the First World War. The significance of Eben Byers’ case was not just due to the cause of his death (the consumption of huge quantities of Radithor radium water), but the response to his death by other companies who sold similar products, as they sought to maintain or alter their sales models in the face of overwhelming evidence that radium products could be lethal.

I had hoped to include a lot more user experiences of radium, but whilst I could find a little bit about the beliefs and the dreams of people such as Ellis Miller (director of Radior radium toiletries) and William J Bailey (manufacturer of the aforementioned Radithor radium water) it was quite difficult to hear from the people who used the products, as few oral testimonies were recorded while they were alive and there is a scarcity of textual sources. This was disappointing, but not altogether surprising given my findings that the use of radium was so mundane, so every day, that it was nothing really to remark upon even in diaries and letters. There were also some products that I really wanted to talk about, but I couldn’t find anything other than advertisements which related to them, as there were so few remaining traces of their financial records or correspondences with Companies House (the UK registrar of companies).

Figure 3. Frederick Godfrey Renair Radioactive Hair
Advertisement

History: Was there anything particularly surprising that you learnt, in the course of researching and writing about radium products?

I am still constantly surprised about the historical scope of the commercial uses of radium. The sheer number of products that were available is mind blowing: from the deadly (Radithor radioactive water) to the bizarre (the O-Radium Hat-Pad, which subjected the hair to ‘beneficent rays’) to the simply fraudulent (Radol, which claimed to be a radium-impregnated cancer cure).  And, almost ten years into researching this topic, I am still finding new products regularly – most recently the ‘Ray Sol’ Radioactive shampoo which I am now desperate to find out more about.

Perhaps the most surprising part is how widely they were available. You could pop into Boots the Chemist in the early 1920s and buy Sparklets Radon Bulbs, which promised to turn ordinary water into carbonated radioactive water. It was sold as a health drink, though a splash of it could also be used to dilute your whisky too. Boots also stocked the Radior range of toiletries (guaranteed to ‘contain Actual Radium’) which included shampoos, eyelash growers and face creams and Dols Flannel, which was a wool, somehow treated with radioactivity, intended to be worn continuously underneath clothes. It was said to cure rheumatism, amongst other things. Elsewhere on the typical British high street, you could also find the Nu Ray Radium Light at Currys electrical stores. The Nu Ray was a lamp containing some radioactive material, which was said to give off ‘indoor sunshine’ and intended to restore lost energy.

History: Having spent so much time researching the history of radium, what are your feelings about it as a commercial industry, and how did this influence the direction in which you took the book?

The research was a real roller-coaster of emotions. On the one hand, it is a fascinating ‘buckle up Twitter’ history full of odd sounding products – the ‘O-Radium Hat-Pad’ and ‘Frederick Godfrey’s Renair Radioactive Hair Tonic’ for example – but then you also have some real tragedies.

I found one of the hardest moments was reading the records of the surgeon Sir Stanford Cade, who in 1957 examined 34 cases of people with radiation-induced skin cancers. There were three cases which were reported on in full, with graphic photographs, of women who, thirty years earlier, had visited beauty salons for X-ray hair removal on their faces. X-ray was to be a hugely popular form of treatment, and while the numbers of people seeking treatment weren’t routinely kept, countless others are likely to have suffered from similar after-effects as a result. One chain of salons – the Tricho Institute – had 75 branches in the US by 1925, and boasted of similar numbers in other countries. Reading Cade’s records bought the scope of these after-effects home, and shows the human toll of this type of largely unregulated experimentation, in the name of conventional beauty.

The radium craze is part of a longer story of desperation and hope. These are powerful motivators when we are scared and underneath the amazing products are people worried about ageing and dying. Recent headlines and proclamations that suggest that COVID-19 could be stopped in its tracks by disinfectant for instance made me think of the story of Dr William J Morton, a respected doctor from New York who in 1904 devised ‘Liquid Sunshine’ – a treatment for cancer that involved the patient drinking quinine, and then being bombarded with radium rays. Morton believed that the quinine would enter the blood stream and the radioactive rays would make it fluoresce, as quinine glows in the dark under UV light, lighting up the body from inside, and destroying germs and disease. When Trump publicly speculated that somehow bringing sunlight inside the body was a potential means to treat COVID-19, it wasn’t a million miles away from the idea that radium as ‘Liquid Sunshine’, was a powerful all conquering bactericide, highlighting the longstanding relationship between patent medicines and popular anxieties.

One of the things I was really keen to do was to avoid either vindicating, or demonising people in the past who made radioactive products (or indeed those that used them). In light of the tragedies that unfolded from the commercial use of radium, it can be tempting to think of these people as quacks and fools, but their stories are far more nuanced than that narrative allows.

Lucy Jane Santos is an expert in the history of 20th century leisure, health and beauty, with a particular interest in (some might say obsession with) the cultural history of radioactivity. Lucy writes & talks (a lot) about cocktails and radium. Her debut book Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium was published by Icon Books in July 2020.


Figure 1. Front cover of Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium. Image provided with permission of the publisher, Icon Books Ltd.

Figure 2. A pot of Tho Radia, circa 1933, from the collection of Lucy Jane Santos.

Figure 3. Frederick Godfrey Renair Radioactive Hair Tonic advertisement, from the collection of Lucy Jane Santos

Figure 4. Black and white photograph of Lucy Jane Santos.

All images were kindly provided by the author, should not be reproduced without permission.

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James Forbes’ Mango and the Art of British Indian Empire

Apurba Chatterjee

In  1765, James Forbes, a mere Scottish lad of less than sixteen years of age, set sail to India following his appointment as a Writer for the English East India Company (EIC) in Bombay. Forbes was to stay in India for eighteen years, and he gradually rose to prominence as the Collector of the district of Dhuboy, in present-day Gujrat. As he contemplated his journey, he quoted the following from Adam Fitz-Adam’s The World (1754),

O say, what yet untasted bounties flow

What purer joys await Hindostan’s plains?

Do lilies fairer, violets sweeter blow?

Or warbles Philomel in softer strain?

Do morning suns in ruddier glory rise?

Does evening fan her with serener gales?

Do clouds drop fatness from her wealthier skies?

Or wantons plenty in her happier vales?[1]

Although the growth of the EIC’s political power during the eighteenth century had resulted in a steady rise in the number of British men going to India, it cannot be denied that, as a young man, Forbes would have been overwhelmed by his Indian sojourn. His longing for home was perhaps laced with an anticipation of what he was to expect in a new and distant land. For Forbes, Britain constituted the only possible measure of what India could be. Settling into his official responsibilities, Forbes adjusted to his ‘new normal’ by seeking a sense of familiarity through drawing and painting.

Figure 1. James Forbes. Frontispiece of Oriental Memoirs (1813).

Whilst his training for the Company’s service must have included draughtsmanship, it would not be out of place to think of arts as an important part of his upbringing in a family claiming descent from the Earl of Granard.[2] Visual arts not only helped Forbes cope with the absence of his loved ones, but also provided a much-needed respite from the boredom caused by the complicated administrative business of British Indian rule.[3] The familiar letters (compiled in thirteen volumes) that he had written home abounded in images. In addition to these, Forbes’ artistic practice enabled him to understand and mentally re-organize his life and surroundings in India. This, in turn, privileged his position as an expert, and earned him recognition in London’s intellectual society upon his return,[4] and Forbes ultimately published an account of his Indian experiences in four volumes as Oriental Memoirs (1813).

India did not disappoint Forbes, and he found himself amidst the bounties of nature that permeated his imagination. What excited him the most was the mango which, to him, was the best fruit India had to offer. Forbes’ fascination with this fruit was not out of place, given that the importance of mango was deeply embedded within Indian culture and society. Mango symbolized fertility and prosperity, and the mango tree had long-standing ritualistic significance in the practices of Hinduism and Buddhism. Whilst Siddhartha Gautama is known for resting in the mango grove of the celebrated courtesan of Magadha, Amrapali (who herself was found beneath a mango tree by her foster father and hence named after the fruit, amra), mango leaves adorn kalasha (sacred pitcher) as an invocation of nature interwoven with human existence in India. Such a harmonious union of humanity and natural environment was not simply confined to religious life; in Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Dui Bigha Jomi, a dispossessed peasant, on return to the land of his ancestors in the Bengal countryside, is overcome with nostalgia when greeted by fruits falling from a mango tree that he had known since his childhood.

Forbes’ interest in mango echoed those of foreign visitors and conquerors in India before him. Whilst Buddhist pilgrims like Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang had immediately recognised the fruit’s importance in Indian life, when Babur founded the Mughal empire following his victory at the First Battle of Panipat (1526), mango was one of rarest sources of comfort in Hindustan, which to him, was otherwise ‘a country of few charms’ with ‘its heat, its violent winds, its dust’.[5] For the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, none of the fruits in Afghanistan or Central Asia could parallel the sweetness of mangoes.[6] The Mughals embraced the tradition of sending fruits in India, thereby giving diplomatic acts of the state a personal touch. Practices as these, when continued under the British, were to assume new meanings in light of the political economy of their Indian administration. Whilst occasional gifting of seasonal fruits continued between the British officials and Indian royalty, the emotive reciprocity of such interactions faded away due to the limitations of hunting and land rights as they were imposed on the latter.

Although delightful to his heart, mango thoroughly eluded Forbes’ mind. In his letters, Forbes fell short of reference points as he attempted to describe this amazing fruit to his acquaintances back home. According to Forbes, in their appearance, mangoes, to some extent, could be compared to European fruits like apple and peach. The taste was, at the very least, mysterious, as Forbes has written, ‘if you can conceive a fine nectarine, improved by the flavour of the pineapple, and still heightened by the orange, you may form some idea of a choice mango’.[7] Mangoes, in all their forms and varieties, were ideal for pickles, preserves, and tarts, and Forbes was strongly in favour of them being imported to Britain.

Whilst the verbal description of the fruit posed difficulties for him, the visual medium allowed Forbes to prevail. Presented here is an image of mangoes of Mazagaon in Bombay from the Oriental Memoirs, based on his original illustrations. There are two ripe mangoes, almost apple-like, golden and yellow in colour, on a branch surrounded by leaves. The degree of textural details on the leaves can be easily noted, and the presence of spots on the leaves is suggestive of natural wear and tear. On the top can be seen a beautiful butterfly which, according to Forbes, is found on the mango tree itself, approaching the blossom that shows steady signs of their bloom. The gnarled leaves are a reminder of the Dutch convention of still life paintings, which itself was the medium for the representation of exotics, thereby bolstering the ideas of colonial expansion.[8]  

Figure 2. Forbes’ depiction of mangoes, from Oriental Memoirs (1913).

Dutch still life paintings have also been associated with the celebration of prosperity and affluence, which often was understood as an outcome of human expertise in agriculture.[9] Forbes’ inference, however, is different. Although Forbes acknowledges that local Brahmins brought him fruits and flowers for the purposes of drawing, he did not praise cultivators who in his opinion, got away with not working hard because of the fertility of Indian soil.[10] This idea was taken a step further in his published work, where he explicitly referred to the peasantry in India as lazy. Where he did praise their labour, Forbes did so in order to criticize Indian governments as despotic and oppressive.[11] Central to the colonial appropriation of natural resources was the denial of expertise and labour of the colonized populace.[12] Such an attitude, however, was also an expression of deep-seated anxieties of misinformation, and an unwillingness on the part of Indians to share their knowledge of nature with Britons.[13] Indeed, although Forbes had been able to bring back to Britain and grow many an Indian plant in Stanmore Hall, his own efforts to cultivate mangoes were unsuccessful.[14]

This brings me to another aspect concerning the still life tradition: Vanitas or Memento-Mori which signified the ephemerality of existence.[15] Whilst the ideas of Vanitas stood as check and balance against the Dutch pride in their growing power and luxury, the adaptation of this trope by Forbes in India is a reflection of the prosperity of, and the problems associated with, upholding British rule. Forbes, nevertheless, remains full of hope for the British prospect and their everlasting dominion in India, as understood from the presence of the butterfly on the blossom.

James Forbes’ depiction of the mango reveals the entanglement of visual arts and natural history within an imperial context, thereby raising questions regarding power and agency in early British India. The domestication of exotica came not only at the cost of alienating natural productions from their original contexts, but was also based on the amplification of such acts of displacement through their aestheticization. Our aspiration towards a decolonial future thus must empower us all to stride past the lure of  familiarity and received wisdom, and to demystify such cultural representations in search of voices that have remained, and yet remain, unheard.

Dr Apurba Chatterjee is a research fellow at Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum, Bremerhaven. She completed her PhD on visual arts and the early British Indian empire at The University of Sheffield. Her research interests include imperial history, visual and material cultures, and Postcolonialism.


[1] James Forbes Manuscript, Vol. 2, p. 3 (Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, USA)

[2] Ketaki Kushari Dyson, A Various Universe. A Study of the Journals and Memoirs of British Men and Women in the Indian Subcontinent, 1765-1856 (Delhi, 1980), p. 180.

[3] Jeffrey A. Auerbach, ‘Imperial Boredom’ Common Knowledge, 11.2, 2005, pp. 283-305.

[4] Forbes became a member of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries .

[5] Thomas Watters,  On Yuan Chwang’s travels in India, 629-645 A.D. (London, 1904), p. 66; Fa-Hien, Travels of Fa-Hien, trans. James Legge (Delhi, 1971); and Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, Baburnama, trans. Annette Susannah Beveridge, Vols. 1 and 2 (New Delhi, 1922), pp. 503-4, 518, and 532.

[6] Nur-ud-din Muhammad Salim ‘Jahangir’, The Jahangirnama: memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India, trans. and ed. W. M. Thackston (Oxford, 1999), pp. 24 and 81.

[7] Forbes Manuscript, Vol. 2 (YCBA), p. 12.

[8] Norman Bryson, Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting (London, 1990), p. 108.

[9] Bryson, Looking at the Overlooked, p. 105 and Miya Tokumitsu, ‘The Currencies of Naturalism in Dutch “Pronk” Still-Life Painting: Luxury, Craft, Envisioned Affluence’ RACAR: revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review, 41.2 (2016), pp. 30-43.

[10] Forbes Manuscript (YCBA), Vol. 2, p. 21.

[11] James Forbes, Oriental Memoirs, Vol. 1 (London, 1813), p. 19; and Forbes, Oriental Memoirs, Vol. 4, p. 248.

[12] Beth Fowkes Tobin, Colonizing Nature. The Tropics in British Arts and Letters, 1760-1820 (Philadelphia, 2005), pp. 22 and 32.

[13] Mss. Eur. 95 (Robert Kyd papers), p. 54b (British Library).

[14] https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/still-life [Accessed on 21 July 2020].

[15] Dyson, A Various Universe, p. 186.


Figure 1. Portrait of James Forbes.

Figure 2 and banner. James Forbes’ depiction of mangoes.

Both images were provided by the author from Oriental Memoirs(1813), and are understood to be in the public domain.

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Historians Call for a Review of Home Office Citizenship and Settlement Test

21 July 2020

Historians Call for a Review of Home Office Citizenship and Settlement Test

We are historians of Britain and the British Empire and writing in protest at the on-going misrepresentation of slavery and Empire in the “Life in the UK Test”, which is a requirement for applicants for citizenship or settlement (“indefinite leave to remain”) in the United Kingdom. The official handbook published by the Home Office is fundamentally misleading and in places demonstrably false. For example, it states that ‘While slavery was illegal within Britain itself, by the 18th century it was a fully established overseas industry’ (p.42). In fact, whether slavery was legal or illegal within Britain was a matter of debate in the eighteenth century, and many people were held as slaves. The handbook is full of dates and numbers but does not give the number of people transported as slaves on British ships (over 3 million); nor does it mention that any of them died. It also states that ‘by the second part of the 20th century, there was, for the most part, an orderly transition from Empire to Commonwealth, with countries being granted their independence’ (p.51). In fact, decolonisation was not an ‘orderly’ but an often violent process, not only in India but also in the many so-called “emergencies” such as the Mau-Mau Uprising in Kenya (1952-1960). We call for an immediate official review of the history chapter.

People in the colonies and people of colour in the UK are nowhere actors in this official history. The handbook promotes the misleading view that the Empire came to an end simply because the British decided it was the right thing to do. Similarly, the abolition of slavery is treated as a British achievement, in which enslaved people themselves played no part. The book is equally silent about colonial protests, uprisings and independence movements. Applicants are expected to learn about more than two hundred individuals. The only individual of colonial origin named in the book is Sake Dean Mohamet who co-founded England’s first curry house in 1810. The pages on the British Empire end with a celebration of Rudyard Kipling.

The “Life in the UK Test” is neither a trivial quiz nor an optional discussion point. It is an official requirement in the application for settlement or citizenship and provides essential information about the United Kingdom. The handbook ‘has been approved by ministers and has official status.’ It requires applicants to remember and repeat the information it contains, which is, then, tested in an official multiple choice test. The examination is ‘based on ALL parts of the handbook’, which includes the parts mentioned above.

This publication and its official view of British history is not a left over from the distant past. It is a recent innovation, and some of its most misleading passages date only from the third edition published by the Home Office in 2013 which, with minor updates, remains the official text to this day.

This official, mandatory version of history is a step backwards in historical knowledge and understanding. Historical knowledge is and should be an essential part of citizenship. Historical falsehood and misrepresentation, however, should not.

In 2019, 125,346 individuals applied for naturalisation; almost all will have had to pass the test before applying. Many thousands more took the test in order to settle here. For many, it will have been their introduction to British history. For applicants from former colonies with knowledge of imperial violence, this account is offensive. For those from outside the former Empire without prior education in history, the official handbook creates a distorted view of the British past. For those with a basic knowledge of history, whatever their background, it puts them in the invidious position of being obliged to read, remember and repeat a version of the past which is false. For British citizens in general, the official history perpetuates a misleading view of how we came to be who we are.

The aim of the official handbook is to promote tolerance and fairness and facilitate integration. In its current version, the historical pages do the opposite

As historians we believe in debate, but interpretations of the past have to be based on facts. The distortion of the past is a challenge to democratic culture and liberal values. Historical misrepresentation should not be officially sponsored by the state. We, therefore, urge the Home Office to review the “Life in the UK Test” as a matter of urgency. Until the history chapter has been corrected and rewritten, it should be formally withdrawn from the test.

We welcome support from all members of the historical profession at any stage of their career. If you are a historian and would like to add your name to a list of over 385 historians [as of 05.08.20] in support of a review of the official Home Office handbook for the citizenship and settlement test, please use the this form.

Signatories: 181


Lynn
AbramsProfessor of Modern History, University of Glasgow
WaleAdebanwiProfessor, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford
ShahmimaAkhtarPast and Present Fellow working on Race, Ethnicity and Equality in UK History, Royal Historical Society
SallyAlexanderEmerita Professor of Modern History, Goldsmiths University of London
JocelynAlexanderProfessor of Commonwealth Studies, University of Oxford
RichardAndersonLecturer in Colonial and Post-Colonial History, University of Exeter
EdwardAndersonLecturer in History, Northumbria University
DavidAndersonProfessor of African History, University of Warwick
ClareAndersonProfessor of History, University of Leicester, and Editor of Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History 
NirArielliAssociate Professor of International History, University of Leeds
DavidArmitageLloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History, Harvard University
DavidArnoldFBA, Emeritus Professor of Asian and Global History, University of Warwick
AlisonAtkinson-PhillipsLecturer in Public History, Newcastle University
GarethAustinProfessor of Economic History, University of Cambridge
ManuelBarciaProfessor of Global History, University of Leeds
HannahBarkerProfessor of British History, Director of the John Rylands Research Institute, SALC, University of Manchester
AngelaBartieSenior Lecturer in Scottish History, University of Edinburgh
Huw BennettReader in International Relations, Cardiff University
MaxineBergFBA, Professor of History, University of Warwick
HelenBerryProfessor of British History, Newcastle University
MarkBevirProfessor of Political Science and Director of the Center for British Studies, University of California at Berkeley
EugenioBiaginiProfessor of Modern and Contemporary History, University of Cambridge 
SomakBiswasEarly Career Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies/History, University of Warwick
JoannaBourkeFBA, Professor of History, Birkbeck, University of London
SeanBradyLecturer in Modern British and Irish History, Birkbeck, University of London
John BrewerEli and Edythe Broad Emeritus Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Faculty Associate Harvard University History Department
EmilyBridgerSenior Lecturer in Global and Imperial History, University of Exeter
PeterBrookeDepartmental Lecturer in African History, University of Oxford
AnnaBruzzoneCollege Lecturer in European and World History 1800-present, Oriel College, University of Oxford
TrevorBurnardWilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull
ElizabethChatterjeeLecturer, Queen Mary University of London
JoyaChatterjiFBA, Trinity College, Cambridge
SimukaiChiguduAssociate Professor of African Politics, University of Oxford
GemmaClarkSenior Lecturer in British/Irish History, University of Exeter
PatriciaClavinFBA, Professor of International History, University of Oxford
MichaelCollinsAssociate Professor of Modern British History, UCL
MattCookProfessor of Modern History, Birkbeck, University of London
MatthewCragoeVisiting Professor, University of Lincoln
TomCrookSenior Lecturer in Modern British History, Oxford Brookes University
Tom CunninghamResearch Fellow, History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
GarethCurlessSenior Lecturer in History, University of Exeter
WilliamDalrympleAuthor
MartinDauntonFBA, Emeritus Professor of Economic History, University of Cambridge
LucyDelapReader in Modern British and Gender History and Deputy Chair History Faculty, University of Cambridge
KatieDoningtonSenior Lecturer in History, London South Bank University
WayneDoolingSenior Lecturer in the History of Southern Africa, SOAS, University of London
ShaneDoyleProfessor of African History, University of Leeds
NicholasDraperFormer Director, Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, UCL
FelixDriverProfessor of Historical Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
SaulDubowSmuts Professor of Commonwealth History, Cambridge University
HannahEliasLecturer in Black British History, Goldsmiths, University of London
MartinFarrSenior Lecturer, School of History, Newcastle University
DanFeatherLecturer in Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University+C61
DavidFeldmanDirector of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antsemitism, Professor of History, Birkbeck, University of London
MargotFinnProfessor of Modern British History, UCL
RobertFletcherReader in the History of Britain and Empire, University of Warwick
Professor Sir Roderick FloudFBA
RoyFosterFBA, Emeritus Professor of Irish History, University of Oxford, and Professor of Irish History and Literature, Queen Mary University of London
JoFoxDirector and Professor of Modern History, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London
ChristiennaFryarLecturer in Black British History, Goldsmiths, University of London
LeighGardnerAssociate Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics 
AninditaGhoshProfessor of Modern Indian History, University of Manchester
TimGibbsLecturer, African History, UCL
PaulGilroyProfessor of the Humanities and Founding Director, Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism & Racialisation
EmmaGriffinProfessor, School of History, University of East Anglia
SimonGunnProfessor of Urban History, University of Leicester
NicholasGuyattReader in North American History, University of Cambridge
CatherineHallEmerita Professor of History, UCL, Chair of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership
RyanHanleyLecturer in Modern British History, University of Exeter
DeanaHeathReader in Indian and Colonial History, Department of History, University of Liverpool
SachaHepburnTeaching Fellow in African History, University of Warwick
RachelHerrmannLecturer in Modern American History, Cardiff University
GadHeumanEmeritus professor, University of Warwick
MatthewHiltonProfessor of Social History, Vice Principal (Humanities and Social Sciences), Queen Mary University of London, Co-editor, Past and Present
JulianHoppitFBA, Astor Professor of British History, UCL
AnthonyHoweProfessor of Modern History, University of East Anglia
Jane HumphriesFBA, Centennial Professor, London School of Economics, Emeritus Professor, Oxford University
EmmaHunterProfessor of Global and African History, University of Edinburgh
RichardHuzzeyReader in Modern British History, Durham University
StaceyHyndSenior Lecturer in African History, Co-Director of the Centre for Imperial and Global History, University of Exeter
WillJacksonAssociate Professor of Imperial History, School of History, University of Leeds
Louise A.JacksonProfessor of Modern Social History, University of Edinburgh
Max JonesSenior Lecturer in Modern History, University of Manchester
YasminKhanAssociate Professor of History, Oxford
NickiKindersleyLecturer in Black History, Cardiff University
TonyKushnerProfessor, Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, University of Southampton
JuliaLaiteReader in Modern History, Birkbeck, University of London, Director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre
DavidLambertProfessor of Caribbean History, University of Warwick
PaulLaneJennifer Ward Oppenheimer Professor of the Deep History & Archaeology of Africa, University of Cambridge
MilesLarmerProfessor of African History, University of Oxford
JonLawrenceProfessor of Modern British History, University of Exeter
ElisabethLeakeAssociate Professor of International History, University of Leeds
RachelLeowSenior Lecturer in Modern East Asian History, University of Cambridge
AlanLesterProfessor of Historical Geography, University of Sussex
PhilippaLevine Walter Prescott Webb Chair of History and Ideas and Director, Programme in British Studies, University of Texas at Austin
JamesLiveseyProfessor of Global History, University of Dundee
Tim LivseyVice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in History, Northumbria University
JohnLonsdaleEmeritus Professor of Modern African History, University of Cambridge
PeterMandlerFBA, Professor of Modern Cultural History, University of Cambridge
GerardMcCannSenior Lecturer in Global and African History, University of York
HelenMcCarthyReader in Modern and Contemporary British History, University of Cambridge
KeithMcClellandResearcher, Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, UCL
ClareMidgleyResearch Professor in History, Sheffield Hallam University
MariaMisraAssociate Professor of History, Oxford University
Martin MooreResearch Fellow, Department of History, University of Exeter
RenaudMorieuxReader in British and European History, University of Cambridge
FrankMortProfessor of Cultural Histories, University of Manchester
PhilipMurphyDirector of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies
KalathmikaNatarajanTeaching Fellow in South Asian History, University of Edinburgh
Simon P.NewmanSir Denis Brogan Professor of History, University of Glasgow
PaulNugentProfessor of Comparative African History, University of Edinburgh
PatrickO’BrienFBA, Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and Former Director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London
MilesOgbornProfessor of Geography, Queen Mary University of London
DavidOlusogaProfessor of Public History, The University of Manchester 
MeleisaOno-GeorgeAssociate Professor of Caribbean History, Department of History, University of Warwick
Marc-WilliamPalenSenior Lecturer, University of Exeter
DianaPatonWilliam Robertson Professor of History, University of Edinburgh
HelenPaulLecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton, Honorary Secretary of the Economic History Society
SarahPearsallSenior Lecturer in American and Atlantic History, Cambridge University
Kennetta HammondPerryDirector, Stephen Lawrence Research Centre and Reader in History, De Montfort University
StevenPierceSenior Lecturer in Modern African History, University of Manchester
JessicaReinischReader in Modern European History, Birkbeck, University of London
GiorgioRielloProfessor of Early Modern Global History, European University Institute
MarkRoodhouseReader in Modern British History, University of York
TirthankarRoyProfessor in Economic History, London School of Economics
JanRügerProfessor of History and Head of Department, School of History, Classics & Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London
AnitaRupprechtPrincipal Lecturer, University of Brighton
JonathanSahaAssociate Professor Southeast Asian History, University of Leeds
LauraSanghaSenior Lecturer in British History, University of Exeter
HilarySapireSenior Lecturer, Birkbeck, University of London
AdityaSarkarAssociate Professor of History, University of Warwick
CatherineSchenkProfessor of Economic & Social History, University of Oxford, President of the Economic History Society 
BillSchwarzProfessor of History & Literature, Queen Mary University of London
ChandakSengooptaProfessor of History, Birkbeck, University of London
LeighShaw-TaylorSenior Lecturer Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century British Economic and Social History, University of Cambridge
AlexShepardProfessor of Gender History, University of Glasgow
SujitSivasundaramProfessor of World History, University of Cambridge, Director, Centre of South Asian Studies, 
GrahamSmithProfessor of Oral History, Oral History Unit and Collective, Newcastle University
MatthewSmithProfessor of History, Director, Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, University College London
LjubicaSpaskovskaLecturer in European History, University of Exeter
GarethStedman JonesFBA, Professor of the History of Ideas, Queen Mary University of London, Director, Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge, Fellow King’s College, Cambridge
SarahStockwellProfessor, Department of History, King’s College London
Julie-MarieStrangeProfessor of Modern British History, Durham University
Jean StubbsCo-Director, Commodities of Empire, British Academy Research Project, University of London
JohnStylesProfessor Emeritus in History, University of Hertfordshire
Florence Sutcliffe-BraithwaiteLecturer in twentieth-century British history, University College London
SimonSzreterProfessor of History and Public Policy, University of Cambridge
NaomiTadmorProfessor, Lancaster University and Chair, The Social History Society
BeckyTaylorReader in Modern History, University of East Anglia
NataliaTelepnevaLecturer in International History, University of Strathclyde
DavidThackeryAssociate Professor in History, University of Exeter
PatThane FBA,Visiting Professor of History, Birkbeck, University of London
MartinThomasProfessor of Imperial History, University of Exeter
NatalieThomlinsonAssociate Professor of Modern British Cultural History, University of Reading
JamesThompsonReader in Modern British History, University of Bristol
JimTomlinsonProfessor of Economic and Social History, University of Glasgow
RichardToyeProfessor of Modern History, University of Exeter
RobertTraversAssociate Professor, Cornell University
FrankTrentmannProfessor of History, Birkbeck, University of London (contact person)
Guidovan MeersbergenAssistant Professor in Global History, University of Warwick
MeganVaughanFBA, Professor of African History and Health, Institute of Advanced Studies, UCL
ChrisVaughanSenior Lecturer in African History, Liverpool John Moores University
JamesVernonProfessor of History, University of California, Berkeley
PippaVirdeeReader in Modern South Asian History, De Montfort University
JelmerVosLecturer in Global History, University of Glasgow
BrodieWaddellSenior Lecturer in Early Modern History, Birkbeck, University of London
Kim A.WagnerProfessor of Global and Imperial History, Queen Mary University of London
DavidWashbrookFellow, Trinity College, Cambridge University
RobWatersLecturer in Modern British History, Queen Mary University of London
RuthWatsonLecturer, History Faculty, University of Cambridge
AnthonyWebsterProfessor in History, Northumbria University
Nicholas J.WhiteProfessor of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Liverpool John Moores University
JerryWhiteProfessor of Modern London History, Birkbeck, University of London
ChristineWhyteLecturer in Global History, University of Glasgow
PhilipWilliamsonProfessor of History, Durham University
JustinWillisProfessor in History, Durham University
PhilWithingtonProfessor in Social and Cultural History, University of Sheffield
Waseem YaqoobLecturer in the History of Political Thought, Queen Mary University of London
HannahYoungLecturer in nineteenth-century British history, University of Southampton
NatalieZacekSenior Lecturer in American Studies, University of Manchester
Nuala ZahediehProfessor of Economic and Social History, University of Edinburgh

Banner image (cropped). Entrance at 2 Marsham Street, Westminster, London, taken by Steph Gray. Understood to be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 2.0

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How to Run an Empire: Early Modern Style

L.H. Roper

Dr C. Annemieke Romein recently offered a very helpful discussion here of how the habitual misunderstanding and misuse of nineteenth-century characterisations of ‘-isms’ and ‘the state’ continue to obscure our understanding of the nature and history of European government prior to 1789. 

With Dr Romein’s permission and assistance, this post will extend her insightful analysis, to critically reconsider the nature and history of early modern overseas empires and their offshoots.

Can an overseas empire exist without a state?

It seems counter-intuitive, at the least, to consider the history of European overseas trade and colonisation without privileging the role of the state. After all, we habitually think of ‘empire’ in terms of large swaths of a ‘long nineteenth-century’ globe, colour-coded to mark the colonial boundaries set by European nation-states.

Figure 1. Pownall, Thomas,  and Sayer, Robert.  “A new and correct map
of North America with the West India Islands.”  Map.  1777.  
Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center,

Dr Romein and others, however, have overhauled our understanding of how early modern polities functioned. Lacking the bureaucracy and other trappings of modern nation-states—and with no intention of creating such trappings—these ‘dynastic agglomorates’, as John Morrill has characterised them, policed their domains through ‘normative rules’ that rulers and their advisors devised, sometimes in response to petitions in accordance with the reciprocal ideal that bound these hierarchical societies.

The absence of bureaucracy, combined with the weight of ordinary business and factional distractions, meant that these polities customarily delegated responsibility for the conduct of ‘public business’, such as constructing roads and lighthouses, to what we conceive of today as ‘private interests’. Often, this delegation came in response to a proposition brought to advisors from those interests as in the case of Christopher Columbus, or even ex post facto as in the case of the Conquest of Mexico.

Under these circumstances, how did Europeans engaging in overseas trade and colonisation prior to c. 1750 (and even after) go about it? Those engaged in such ventures were always  merchants or aristocrats, members of, as we would call them today, ‘private’ networks.  These actors would almost always pursue their initiatives in some sort of ‘collective’ sense, given the human and fiscal resources required to conduct such enterprises on any sort of scale.

Seeking to legitimise their endeavours, such networks would contact a connection in the government who arranged for the issuance of a licence—if based in the Iberian Peninsula—or a charter affixed with the seal of the Crown or other ultimate authority if in England, France, the Dutch Republic, Denmark-Norway, Sweden, or Brandenburg. Otherwise, they would go ahead and do what they wanted and worry about ‘legitimacy’ afterwards.

A charter, which was often ‘boiler-plate’, confirmed one’s engagement in the public interest by employing mariners, conducting diplomacy overseas, cultivating and important helpful commodities, and ‘peopling’ new domains. Thus, the group received official imprimatur to conduct trade with ‘Guinea’ or ‘the Indies’, to colonise some part of America, or to engage in ‘privateering’.

This arrangement reflected the circumstances of polities that lacked the resources to conduct overseas activities, even if their leadership had the interest and resources to undertake these schemes. Thus, polities only intervened in overseas affairs if and when the parties concerned solicited their involvement.

Forming early modern overseas colonial societies: Anglo-America

Figure 2. Portrait of Martha Washington (1731-1802)

In addition to operating capital, overseas activities required management on the ground. Intercontinental networks exercised responsibility for these remote interests as other authorities, such as bishops of Durham in the English case, or the governor of the Habsburg Netherlands did, but with the additional tier of the recipient of chartered powers between them and the sovereign.

Colonists achieved pre-eminence in their ‘new world’ pretty much in the same way they would have done in the old one, had the opportunity presented itself: through the acquisition of landed estates that constituted the socio-political measure of socio-political status. They also cultivated patrons, both local and metropolitan-based, who assisted their careers and, in turn, attracted their own clients.

This scenario was encouraged through incentives such as ‘freedom dues’ awarded to servants upon the completion of their indentures, and the creation of local institutions such as the Virginia House of Burgesses, created by the Virginia Company in 1619, whereby planters managed local affairs as their counterparts in England did.

A famous difference between the ‘Old World’ and the ‘New’ was the lack of an American titular aristocracy. Nevertheless, an untitled aristocracy certainly emerged in Anglo-America; these ‘colonial-imperialists’ constituted both an elite ‘horizontal connection’ within and across their colonial bases and a ‘vertical connection’ in an imperial sense that bound them and their localities to the Crown as in the case of the Ohio Company (chartered in 1748).

The trans-Atlantic slave trade and the establishment of Anglo-America

All of this has a particular bearing on conceptions of the history of the United States, which is generally considered in terms of ‘modernity’.

It remains a commonplace, even in aftermath of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ in Massachusetts, to regard English North America as a place created by migrants from Northwest Europe, who overcame an alien environment to establish a society that became distinctively—not to say uniquely—devoted to principles of liberty.

Figure 3. Reproduction of a handbill advertising the
auction of enslaved people, 1769.

At the same time, the seemingly paradoxical centrality of the trade in enslaved Africans to the formation of Anglo-America has gained long-overdue and increasing purchase in both academic and public forums in the U.S. and Britain driven, most recently, by the 400th anniversary of the first recorded arrival of African people in Virginia also in 1619. The attendant emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement has stressed both the centrality of colonialism to European histories, and the importance of people of African descent, both enslaved and free, in the histories of Britain and other European societies who were involved in the enslavement of Africans as well as in colonial societies such as the United States.

Yet, both the ‘the peculiar institution’ in Virginia, and ‘Pilgrims’—and by extension, the United States—emerged from the wider contexts of the conduct of the trans-Atlantic and inter-colonial slave trades, and the migration of early modern Europeans in response to uncertainty. The crucial connection to the formulation of Anglo-America came from the realization that social, political, and economic success was best guaranteed through the control of slave labour.

Slave Voyages, a database that tracks the trafficking in enslaved Africans in the Americas demonstrates this reality and also makes apparent that Barbados (founded in 1627 pursuant to the pattern described above) constituted both the model and transit point for effecting that model by the 1640s. Thus, no ‘slavery-freedom paradox’ existed for the people connected to the enslavement of Africans in the seventeenth century—other than those enslaved.[1]

L.H. Roper is SUNY Distinguished Professor of History at the State University of New York—New Paltz (USA). The author or editor of seven books, he most recently edited The Torrid Zone: Caribbean Colonization and Cultural Interaction in the Long Seventeenth Century (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2018). He tweets @RoperLou.


[1] The idea that America was created in terms of this paradox derives from the vastly influential book, Edmund S Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: WW Norton, 1975)


Figure 1. Pownall, Thomas,  and Sayer, Robert.  “A new and correct map of North America with the West India Islands.”  Map.  1777.  Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center,  (last accessed 20 July 2020). Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library.

Figure 2. Portrait of Martha Custis Washington as a young woman. Image sourced via Wikimedia Commons (last accessed 20 July 2020) and understood to be in the public domain.

Figure 3. Reproduction of a handbill advertising the auction of enslaved people, 1769. Image sourced via Wikimedia Commons (last accessed 20 July 2020) and understood to be in the public domain.

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Edgerton & Empire: Nationalism, Imperialism and Decolonisation

Liam Liburd

One of the indirect and unintended side-effects of the tragic murder of George Floyd by an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department in late May has been a renewed effort to confront Britain’s own history of racism, especially that in the form of colonialism. Activists have taken aim at the symbols of this legacy, dumping the statue of Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour, defacing the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, and succeeding in getting the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oriel College, Oxford. However, this is not just about statues; many worry that the ideological architecture of imperialism remains intact too, fuelling racism in the present.

Last week, in response to these concerns, David Edgerton wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian. Edgerton – author of The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth-Century History (2018) – argued that we should focus on the national dimensions of Britain’s record of elitism, exploitation and discrimination rather than just on the Empire if we really want to understand the nation’s history and its grip on the present. While not wishing to entirely contradict Edgerton’s argument that imperialism alone does not explain everything, I was struck by some of the piece’s inaccuracies and omissions.

Initially, one line in particular caught my eye: ‘The racism of Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell, for all its roots in the past, was a self-consciously post-imperial nationalist one.’ To make this claim about Mosley ignores the noisily imperialist streak that marked not only his ideas on race but also his political thinking in general throughout his political career. To make the same claims regarding Powell is to ignore much of the best writing on the topic (much of which, incidentally, is written by black British academics) from Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy to more recent works by Bill Schwarz and Camilla Schofield.

Oswald Mosley,
Photographs Collection, NPG x18938

Sir Oswald Mosley is perhaps best known as the leader of the inter-war British Union of Fascists (BUF). While the BUF managed to secure the backing of newspaper proprietor Lord Rothermere for a short time in the mid-1930s and gained notoriety for its activists’ street-fighting, their political successes were few. What is less often noted about Mosley is his obsession with imperialism. Mosley described his grand fascist vision as ‘Greater Britain’, a term used since the late Victorian era to describe the racial and geographic union between Britons in the British Isles and Britons throughout the Empire (in particular, the ‘Old’ Dominions).[1] Fascism, for Mosley, meant reviving Britain by suffusing the metropole with the masculine energy of imperial pioneers and returning to ‘the old spirit… the spirit of Drake and Raleigh, the spirit of Clive and Warren Hastings’.[2] Some of his recruits even referred to Mosley’s plans for economic and political transformation of Britain along fascist lines as ‘the re-colonisation of Britain’.[3] In many ways, Mosley’s plans for imperial economic autarky were an authoritarian rehashing of the Edwardian social imperialism of figures like Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Alfred Milner.[4]

Mosley returned to politics following his wartime internment, founding the Union Movement (UM) in 1948. As leader of the UM, Mosley now promoted a European economic and political union, but based on a wholesale re-colonisation of European colonies in Africa and combined with a continental extension of apartheid. Their slogan was: ‘Europe A Nation, Africa: Empire of Europe’. Upon the remains of old colonial regimes, UM activists sought to build a new ‘European Empire’. Even when Mosley and his supporters dealt with domestic affairs, such as Commonwealth immigration in the 1950s and 1960s, they did so in imperial terms. Mosley described to his plans to forcibly repatriate black Britons as a British variant of ‘apartheid’. He was, then, not so much a self-consciously post-imperial nationalist as he was an ultra-imperialist.

Classifying Powell’s views is a little more complex. While he does seem to fit the label of post-imperial nationalist more closely than Mosley, his ideas were closely bound up with the end of the British Empire. As T. E. Utley once noted, ʻThe premise of Powellism is quite simply that the Indian Empire has been lostʼ.[5] During the Second World War, Powell served as a soldier in the colonial Indian Army, and even harboured dreams of one day becoming Viceroy. When he returned from India and took up a position in the Secretariat of the Conservative Party after the war, he audaciously recommended reconquering India. On the night India’s independence was declared, it is rumoured that Powell wandered the streets of London in despair.

Portrait Photograph of Enoch Powell by Allan Warren, 1987.

Moreover, Camilla Schofield has argued that Powell’s later views about ‘New’ Commonwealth migrants were tied up with his own feelings about imperial decline.[6] To Powell, the ‘black immigrant’ symbolised Britain’s loss of imperial power and identity; decline racially personified. He was not only a sign of decline, but supposedly also a mortal danger to white Britons. Powell warned in his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that in a Britain of the future, ‘the black man will have the whip hand over the white man’; a nation, in short, turned upside down by decolonisation. The history of the Empire, but especially of its end, is key to understanding Powell’s racism.

Edgerton’s remarks about Mosley and Powell therefore betray the greater deficiencies in his argument and analysis in general. Throughout the piece, Edgerton assumes that nationalism and imperialism are unrelated. In the first instance, this ignores the fact that many British imperialists (Mosley included) looked to the Empire ‘as the antidote to the collapse of the centre, England itself’; in other words, they passionately believed that, by drawing on the Empire’s spiritual and material resources, they could make Britain or, to be more specific, England great again.[7] In an effort to separate nationalism and imperialism, Edgerton argues that the Windrush Scandal, Brexit, and the popularity of a ‘decidedly nationalist’ historical account of the Second World War demonstrate the overriding influence of nationalism and the diminished relevance of the legacy of empire in modern Britain.

First of all, it is worth asking why it was so indecently easy to strip so many black Britons of their right to live in Britain. Doing so entails looking back further than May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, into the history of debates over imperial citizenship, Britishness, race and immigration in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.[8]

Nor is Brexit unrelated to the legacy of empire. While it is true that voters likely did not vote ‘Leave’ in order to re-establish the Empire, Edgerton claims that they were motivated by nostalgia for ‘a national Britain’. But for ‘a national Britain’ when, exactly? Edgerton suggests that the history of Britain’s involvement in the Second World War matters most to Brexiteers. But the history of the Second World War and the legacy of the Empire are not so easily disentangled. Back in 2004, Paul Gilroy explored Britain’s obsession with its finest hour in After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture? and found ‘something neurotic about Britain’s continued citation of the anti-Nazi war’.[9] Gilroy argued that, on the one hand, it provided an escape to a simpler time, when their enemies were ‘simply, tidily and uncomplicatedly evil’ and Britain was white or, at least, ‘whiter’ than it later became. On the other, it displaced more recent memories Britain’s role in brutal ‘dirty wars’ to maintain colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s.

Figure 3. ‘Colonies Exhibition: Britain’s Partnership With 60 Million
People In 58 Lands’, c. 1939-1945 (Art.IWM PST 15773)

Indeed, Brexit may have more to do with the history of the later years and eventual end of the Empire, rather than with its earlier existence. In the recent edited collection Embers of Empire in Brexit Britain (2019), Bill Schwarz argued that an often violently racist and authoritarian ideal of white racial solidarity – which he terms ‘ethnic populism’ – has exerted a ‘discontinuous’ and disfiguring influence on British history.[10] In political terms, Schwarz noted, ‘ethnic populism’ belongs ‘to the political right outside (or largely outside) the bounds of the Conservative Party’.[11] During the Empire’s heyday, ethnic populism fuelled ideals of trans-imperial racial unity – such as that of ‘Greater Britain’.

With the end of the Empire, however, manifestations of ethnic populism became more inward-looking and aggressively defensive. Schwarz detected ‘ethnic populist’ themes and rhetoric both among British defenders of unilaterally independent Rhodesia in the mid-1960s, and in Powellism. Both imagined white Britons, in the British Isles and in southern Africa, as victims of an imminent onslaught by racial ‘others’ as the result of the actions of ethnic traitors within the state. It is not hard to see the similarities here between earlier ethnic populists and later Brexiteer xenophobia and raging against a ‘metropolitan elite’ or ‘enemies of the people’.

None of this is to say that Brexit or modern British racism can be entirely explained by the legacy of empire and decolonisation. Few historical phenomena can be easily explained by one or two factors. But, it is to argue that just because historical actors (including contemporary voters and politicians, for that matter) do not speak in the precise language of high imperialism, does not mean that the legacy of the Empire has no bearing on current events. Nor is it possible to neatly disentangle the national from the imperial. Edgerton is right in some ways; it is becoming a cliché to uncritically blame the Empire for modern ills. However, rather than simplistically dismissing this legacy as irrelevant, this is cause for a more rigorous critical examination of the Empire’s life and afterlives, as well as a return to the work of the many scholars Edgerton overlooks.

Liam Liburd most recently worked as a Teaching Associate in Modern International History at the University of Sheffield and is currently seeking a subsequent academic appointment. He completed his PhD entitled “The Eternal Imperialists: Empire, Race and Gender on the British Radical Right, 1918-1968” in February 2020. His broader research interests are in British political and cultural history, and the history and afterlives of the British Empire. You can find him on Twitter @LiamJLiburd.


[1] James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[2] ‘“Alien Yiddish Finance Is Ruining British Industry”’, Blackshirt, 76 (5 October 1934), p. 2.

[3] Roger Gould, ‘Re-Colonisation of Britain’, Fascist Week, 11 (19-25 January 1934), p. 1, 7.

[4] Bernard Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social-Imperial Thought 1895-1914 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960).

[5] Enoch Powell: The Man and his Thinking, ed. T. E. Utley (London: William Kimber, 1968), p. 50.

[6] Camilla Schofield, Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 77.

[7] Bill Schwarz, Memories of Empire, Volume 1 – The White Man’s World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 103.

[8] Kennetta Hammond Perry, London Is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship, and the Politics of Race (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[9] Paul Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture? (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004), p. 97.

[10] Bill Schwarz, ‘Forgetfulness: England’s Discontinuous Histories’, in Embers of Empire in Brexit Britain, eds Stuart Ward & Astrid Rasch (London; New York: Bloomsbury, 2019), p. 55.

[11] Schwarz, ‘Forgetfulness’, p. 56.


Figure 1. Oswald Mosley, by Bassano Ltd.Whole-plate glass negative, 28 October 1922. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974. National Portrait Gallery Photographs Collection (NPG x18938). Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.

Figure 2. Portrait photograph of Enoch Powell by Allan Warren. Reproduced unchanged under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike unported licence.

Figure 3. Poster: ‘Colonies Exhibition: Britain’s Partnership With 60 Million People In 58 Lands’, c. 1939-1945, held by the Imperial War Museum (Art.IWM PST 15773). The image is in the public domain and reproduced for fair non-commercial use.

Banner image. Poster: ‘The British Commonwealth And Its Allies Will Destroy The Nazi Tyranny’, held by the Imperial War Museum (Art.IWM PST 8134). The image is in the public domain and reproduced for fair non-commercial use.

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Healing the Whig schism: 300 years on

Robin Eagles

Fractures within political parties are nothing new. In 1717, the apparent unity that the Hanoverian accession had instilled in the Whigs came to an end amid infighting over direction of policy and disagreement over who was to hold what post in the new administration.[1] It was a fissure that was to last almost three years.

Portrait of Queen Anne of England, 1706-1710.

The death of Queen Anne in August 1714 overturned – almost overnight – the ascendancy of the broadly Tory ministry, which had come in in 1710 under the leadership of Robert Harley, even though it included within its ranks courtiers of Whig origin such as the duke of Shrewsbury. By the early months of 1714, Harley (since promoted and hereafter known as earl of Oxford) was under pressure from the young turk members of the October Club,[2] many of whom identified with Viscount Bolingbroke[3] and Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester.[4]  

Just days before her death, Anne dispensed with Oxford’s services. Everybody expected that Bolingbroke would be appointed lord treasurer in Oxford’s place, but as she lay on her death-bed Anne surprised all by handing the staff of office to Shrewsbury. His appointment effectively closed off any possibility of the succession going to anyone other than the elector of Hanover (George I), while Anne’s death a matter of hours later ushered in a new Whig ministry by ensuring the fall of Bolingbroke, Atterbury and their adherents.

While Shrewsbury remained nominally in charge, real authority passed quickly into the hands of those who had courted the Hanoverians for years: Charles, 3rd earl of Sunderland; James Stanhope; Viscount Townshend; and Robert Walpole. By the summer of 1715 Shrewsbury and most of the senior members of Anne’s last administration had been dismissed, Bolingbroke was in exile, and Oxford in the Tower awaiting an impeachment trial.

Portrait of Charles Spencer 3rd Earl of Sunderland.

Historians have often marvelled at the apparent unity of the earlier Junto Whig grouping, which had emerged in the wake of the Glorious Revolution and members of which had held high office under William III and Anne.[5] The appearance of solidarity was, however, misplaced. Each man proved himself ambitious for his own preferment even if that meant abandoning the rest of the brotherhood, and it was only at moments of particular crisis that they were brought back together.

By the accession of George I the group was beginning to fragment once more. Wharton and Halifax both died in 1715, followed by Somers the following year, while Orford had effectively been in retirement for the majority of Anne’s reign and saw no reason to come out of it. That left Sunderland as the surviving leader of the group, who in the immediate aftermath of the Hanoverian succession got off to a decidedly wobbly start (George I had been extremely suspicious of rumours he was a republican, and had tried to send him to Ireland as lord lieutenant: Sunderland had refused to go). Over time, though, he was able to negotiate his way back into power.

At the head of the new ministry, and the target of Sunderland’s early attentions, was a triumvirate, comprising the soldier, politician and diplomat James Stanhope and the brothers-in-law Viscount Townshend and Robert Walpole. Once Sunderland had reclaimed his place, the four of them held the key offices of state: from 1715 Sunderland was lord privy seal; Stanhope and Townshend the two secretaries of state; Walpole, the head of the treasury commission and chancellor of the exchequer. In 1715 they were united in wreaking revenge on the previous Oxford administration and countering the threat to the new dynasty posed by the Jacobite rebellion. However, this apparent single-mindedness began to break down in1716. While the ministry had demonstrated its strength by repealing the triennial act and replacing it with the septennial act (which limited elections to once every seven years) this measure was not universally welcomed by their supporters.

Perhaps more importantly, divisions over foreign policy emerged as George I sought to embroil his new state in the Northern War to which Townshend was particularly opposed.[6] Stanhope, initially a junior partner, gradually moved from dependence upon Walpole and Townshend’s patronage to an alliance with Sunderland. The opportunity for this new alliance to make moves against their partners came when the king departed for Hanover. Stanhope went with him and Sunderland soon found an excuse to join them. There, they persuaded the king to alter the administration, resulting in Townshend’s dismissal early in 1717, followed soon after by Walpole. Townshend viewed Stanhope’s betrayal with undisguised bitterness:

Portrait of James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope (c.1673-1721).

My heart is so full with the thoughts of having received this treatment from you, to whom I have always been so faithful a friend, that you will excuse my not saying more at this time. I pray God forgive you; I do.[7]

Quite as important, though, was the loss to the ministry of a number of members of the Commons, who chose to join Walpole in quitting their posts. In the words of a contemporary commentator, this caused:

such a defection from the Court, especially in the House of Commons, that it was with the utmost difficulty the ministers carried on their affairs in Parliament.[8]

In parallel with the civil war within the Whigs, a similar drama was being played out within the ranks of the royal family. George I had come to Britain with his son and heir, George Augustus, Prince of Wales, Prince George’s wife, Caroline, and their daughters. By 1717 the prince was chafing at the restrictions placed upon him,[9] brought to a head by the birth of a new child. The king insisted that the duke of Newcastle (the lord chamberlain) should be one of the godfathers; the prince objected and there was some talk of an averted duel between them over it. Unwilling to accept such disloyalty from his son, the king ordered the Prince and Princess out of St James’s Palace, commanding that they leave their children to his direction. George and Caroline were forced to establish their own court elsewhere, eventually settling for Leicester House (in what is now Leicester Square). There they became a focus for the opposition, with Walpole and Townshend prominent among those courting the disgraced pair.

As a sign of how far they were prepared to go to baffle the new ministry, when the trial of the earl of Oxford finally came on in the summer of 1717, Walpole, for whom it had been something of a pet project, withdrew from the process. The trial eventually collapsed in the Lords, with Oxford acquitted unanimously once Sunderland and the minority still ranged against him chose to quit the court rather than waste their votes.[10]

Engraving of Sir Robert Walpole, 1730.

For the next two and a half years these key members of George I’s early administration remained firmly at loggerheads. In 1719 Sunderland and Stanhope attempted (twice) to pass a new bill for reforming the House of Lords and were thwarted on both occasions by opposition in the Commons – fronted by Walpole.

In 1720, however, the fissure was gradually closed. Opposition to the ministry throughout 1719 had demonstrated to George I the potential threat of an opposition Whig Tory alliance to his reign, and no doubt encouraged efforts to bring Townshend and Walpole back into the fold. Moreover, in April, a formal reconciliation between king and Prince of Wales removed a significant point of focus for the Whigs, who had parted company with Sunderland and Stanhope and shortly after there was a meeting of senior Whigs at Sunderland’s London residence that brought to a close the split in the party. According to Julian Hoppit, the reason for the healing of the schism remains in its details obscure, and he speculates that perhaps both sides had at last given in to fatigue with the problems of, on the one hand, managing government business in the teeth of spirited opposition, and on the other, being excluded permanently from the fruits of office.[11]

What is more apparent is that, as the developing crisis over the South Sea Bubble came to light, the need to rally round became increasingly important. In June 1720 Walpole was restored to his earlier post of Paymaster General, while Townshend received a fillip with the office of Lord President of the Council. The death of Stanhope in 1721 removed a further barrier. Sunderland, exposed, was forced to accept an ever greater degree of power ceded to Walpole and by the time of Sunderland’s death in 1722, Walpole was the effective Prime Minister.

To find out more, please see:

Robin Eagles is the Editor of the House of Lords (1660-1832) section at the History of Parliament. The project’s progress can be followed via its blog and on twitter (@GeorgianLords). He has recently co-edited a book with Coleman Dennehy re-examining the career of Charles II’s influential minister, Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, which will be published later this summer.


[1] For the circumstances of the succession of the Hanoverian family to the British throne see Ragnhild Hatton, George I (Yale, rev. edn. 2001), pp. 93-110.

[2] For more on the ultra-Tory October Club, see H.T. Dickinson, ‘The October Club’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 33:2 (1970).

[3] Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, secretary of state in Queen Anne’s last ministry and protégé turned fierce rival of Oxford. For more see Robin Eagles, ‘”Void of all faith and honour?” The fall(s) and rise of Viscount Bolingbroke’, History of Parliament Online, https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2017/08/03/void-of-all-faith-and-honour-the-falls-and-rise-of-viscount-bolingbroke [last accessed 15 June 2020]

[4] After the death of Queen Anne, Francis Atterbury assumed effective leadership of the Tories. He was later forced into exile after being found guilty of involvement in a plot to overthrow George I.

[5] The Junto’s core comprised Thomas, Lord Wharton; John, Lord Somers, Charles Montagu, Lord Halifax; and Edward Russell, earl of Orford. They were later joined by Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, son-in-law of the duke of Marlborough.

[6] A conflict fought between Russia and Sweden and their allies: Britain joined the anti-Swedish alliance. See Hatton, George I, pp. 180-92.

[7] Biography of James Stanhope, History of Parliament Online,   https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1715-1754/member/stanhope-james-1673-1721 [last accessed 15 June 2020]

[8] Historical Manuscripts Commission, 14th Report part ix, p. 509.

[9] For more on the tensions between George, Prince of Wales, and his father see Andrew C. Thompson, George II: King and Elector, (Yale, 2011), pp. 48-58.

[10] For more on this see Clyve Jones, ‘The impeachment of the Earl of Oxford and the Whig Schism of 1717: four new lists’, in Clyve Jones and David L. Jones eds. Peers, Politics and Power: the House of Lords 1603-1911, (Hambledon, 1986).

[11] Julian Hoppit, A Land of Liberty? England 1689-1727 (Oxford, 2000), pp. 379-404.


Figure 1. Portrait of Queen Anne of England, in a tinted engraving from an atlas commissioned by Augustus the Strong (Duke of Saxony), 1706-1710. The image is understood to be in the public domain.

Figure 2. Portrait of Charles Spencer 3rd Earl of Sunderland. The image is understood to be in the public domain.

Figure 3. Portrait of James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope, c.1673-1721. The image is understood to be in the public domain.

Figure 4. Engraving of Sir Robert Walpole, 1730. The image is understood to be in the public domain.

Banner Image. Crowds of people gather together, some in rooms, some on the streets. Engraving.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

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The jokes always saved us: humour in the time of Stalin

Jonathan Waterlow

This piece was originally published at Aeon under a creative commons licence, and has been reproduced here with the agreement and encouragement of the author.

Stalinism. The word conjures dozens of associations, and ‘funny’ isn’t usually one of them. The ‘S-word’ is now synonymous with brutal and all-encompassing state control that left no room for laughter or any form of dissent. And yet, countless diaries, memoirs and even the state’s own archives reveal that people continued to crack jokes about the often terrible lives they were forced to live in the shadow of the Gulag.

By the 1980s, Soviet political jokes had become so widely enjoyed that even the US president Ronald Reagan loved to collect and retell them. But, 50 years earlier, under Stalin’s paranoid and brutal reign, why would ordinary Soviet people share jokes ridiculing their leaders and the Soviet system if they ran the risk of the NKVD (state security) breaking down the door to their apartment and tearing them away from their families, perhaps never to return?

We now know that not only huddled around the kitchen table, but even on the tram, surrounded by strangers and, perhaps most daringly, on the factory floor, where people were constantly exhorted to show their absolute devotion to the Soviet cause, people cracked jokes that denigrated the regime and even Stalin himself.

Boris Orman, who worked at a bakery, provides a typical example. In mid-1937, even as the whirlwind of Stalin’s purges surged across the country, Orman shared the following anekdot (joke) with a colleague over tea in the bakery cafeteria:

Stalin was out swimming, but he began to drown. A peasant who was passing by jumped in and pulled him safely to shore. Stalin asked the peasant what he would like as a reward. Realising whom he had saved, the peasant cried out: ‘Nothing! Just please don’t tell anyone I saved you!’

Such a joke could easily – and in Orman’s case did – lead to a 10-year spell in a forced-labour camp, where prisoners were routinely worked to death. Paradoxically, the very repressiveness of the regime only increased the urge to share jokes that helped relieve tension and cope with harsh but unchangeable realities. Even in the most desperate times, as the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev later recalled: ‘The jokes always saved us.’

Figure 1. The cover of the first issue of the Soviet satirical
magazine Krokodil (1922).

And yet, despite these draconian responses, the regime’s relationship with humour was more complicated than we tend to assume from the iconic narratives we’ve long internalised from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s memoir The Gulag Archipelago (1973).

The Bolsheviks were certainly suspicious of political humour, having used it as a sharp weapon in their revolutionary struggle to undermine the tsarist regime prior to their dramatic seizure of power in 1917. After they consolidated their position, the Soviet leadership warily decided that humour should now be used only to legitimise the new regime. Satirical magazines such as Krokodil therefore provided biting satirical attacks on the regime’s enemies at home and abroad. Only if it served the goals of the revolution was humour considered useful and acceptable: as a delegate to the Soviet Writers’ Congress of 1934 summed up: ‘The task of Soviet comedy is to “kill with laughter” enemies and to “correct with laughter”’ those loyal to the regime.

Nevertheless, while many Soviet people no doubt found some comic relief in these state-sanctioned publications, humour can never be entirely directed from above. In the company of friends, and perhaps lubricated with a little vodka, it was frequently nigh-on impossible to resist taking things several steps further and to ridicule the stratospheric production targets, ubiquitous corruption and vast contradictions between the regime’s glittering promises and the grey and often desperate realities ordinary people encountered daily.

Take, for example, the gallows humour of Mikhail Fedotov, a procurement agent from the Voronezh region, who shared a common anekdot that laughed at the true costs of Stalin’s uncompromising industrialisation drive:

A peasant visits the Bolshevik leader Kalinin in Moscow to ask why the pace of modernisation is so relentless. Kalinin takes him to the window and points at a passing tram: ‘You see, if we have a dozen trams at the moment, after five years we’ll have hundreds.’ The peasant returns to his collective farm and, as his comrades gather around him, clamouring to hear what he’s learnt, he looks around for inspiration and points to the nearby cemetery, declaring: ‘You see those dozen graves? After five years, there will be thousands!’

Such a joke could relieve oppressive fears by making them (briefly) laughable, helping people share the enormous burden of a life lived – as another quip ran – ‘by the grace of the NKVD’. But even as it helped people to get on and get by, sharing an anekdot became ever more dangerous as the regime grew increasingly paranoid over the course of the 1930s. With the threat of war looming over Europe, fears of conspiracy and industrial sabotage ran amok in the USSR.

As a result, any jokes that criticised the Soviet political order rapidly became tantamount to treason. From the mid-1930s onwards, the regime came to see political humour as a toxic virus with the potential to spread poison through the arteries of the country. According to a directive issued in March 1935, the telling of political jokes was henceforth to be considered as dangerous as the leaking of state secrets – so dangerous and contagious, in fact, that even court documents shied away from quoting them. Only the most loyal apparatchiks were permitted to know the contents of these thought crimes, and joke-tellers were sometimes prosecuted without their words ever being included in the official trial record.

Ordinary people had little chance of keeping pace with the regime’s paranoia. In 1932, when it was more risqué than dangerous to do so, a railway worker such as Pavel Gadalov could crack a simple joke about Fascism and Communism being two peas in a pod without facing serious repercussions; five years later, the same joke was reinterpreted as the tell-tale sign of a hidden enemy. He was sentenced to seven years in a forced-labour camp.

Figure 2. ‘Komsomol Appeal’: Young girls having arrived to the mine shafts of
Gorlovka, Donetsk Oblast’, eastern Ukraine, 1930.

This style of retroactive ‘justice’ is something we can recognise today, when the uncompromising desire to make the world a better place can turn a thoughtless Tweet from 10 years ago into a professional and social death sentence. This is a far cry from the horrors of the Gulag, but the underlying principle is eerily similar.

However, like many of us today, the Soviet leaders misunderstood what humour is and what it actually does for people. Telling a joke about something is not the same as either condemning or endorsing it. More often, it can simply help people point out and cope with difficult or frightening situations – allowing them not to feel stupid, powerless or isolated. In fact, something the Stalinist regime failed to appreciate was that, because telling jokes could provide temporary relief from the pressures of daily life, in reality it often enabled Soviet citizens to do exactly what the regime expected of them: to keep calm and carry on.

When we tell jokes, we are often simply testing opinions or ideas that we are unsure of. They are playful and exploratory, even as they dance along – and sometimes over – the line of official acceptability. The vast majority of joke-tellers arrested in the 1930s seemed genuinely confused to be branded enemies of the state due to their ‘crimes’ of humour. In many cases, people shared jokes criticising stressful and often incomprehensible circumstances just to remind themselves that they could see past the veil of propaganda and into the harsh realities beyond. In a world of stifling conformity and endless fake news, even simple satirical barbs could serve as a profoundly personal assertion that ‘I joke, therefore I am.’

We laugh in the darkest times, not because it can change our circumstances, but because it can always change how we feel about them. Jokes never mean only one thing, and the hidden story of political humour under Stalin is far more nuanced than a simple struggle between repression and resistance.

Jonathan Waterlow is a writer and podcaster. He is the author of It’s Only a Joke, Comrade! Humour, Trust and Everyday Life under Stalin (2018) and the founder of the Voices in the Dark podcast.


Figure 1. The cover of the first issue of the Soviet satirical magazine Krokodil, 1922. Understood to be in the public domain.

Figure 2. ‘Komsomol Appeal’: Young girls having arrived to the mine shafts of Gorlovka, Donetsk Oblast’, eastern Ukraine. RIA Novosti archive, image #21733. Reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Licence.

Banner Image. Joseph Stalin and Maxim Gorky in Red Square, 1931. Understood to be in the public domain.

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Worrying about the Field of the History of Emotions in Ireland – A report

Sara Honarmand Ebrahimi

Back in November, when the world was still in a relatively ‘normal’ state, I asked Dr Hannah Parker about the possibly of writing a report for the new History website concerning a series of events I was organising under the title, “Worrying about the Field of the History of Emotions in Ireland”. The series took place at University College Dublin (UCD) between October 2019 and January 2020, with the help of an Irish Research Council (IRC) New Foundations Award.

With Coronavirus having engulfed the world by March 2020, I was somehow reluctant to write this report. What eventually compelled me to sit down and write it, however, was the memory I had of an elderly man next to whom I sat one day in Dun Laoghaire, and to whom I told my news of receiving the New Foundations Award, simply because I was so excited! One year later, as the safety of elderly people in our community is at the forefront of our minds, I write this report hoping he is well!

As stated above, my proposal was for the organisation of a series of events concerning the field of the history of emotions. Attempts had already been made to integrate emotion history into humanities teaching and scholarship in Ireland. For example, a two-day conference, Happiness in nineteenth-century Ireland, was organised at Trinity College Dublin in June 2018, and the School of History at Maynooth University runs a module offering an “Introduction to the History of the Emotions”. However, counter to the concentrated efforts that had been made in Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France – through the establishment of research centres resulting in many seminars, workshops, and conferences – the focus in Ireland had not yet been central or comprehensive. To take a step towards fostering a research and teaching environment in Ireland where the multiple layers of emotions and their role in the making of history could be debated, I organised two seminars and a one-day conference. Here, I will summarise the course of discussion during these events, and touch upon the importance of looking ‘beyond Europe’, to provide a brief sense of the proceedings.

The seminars were delivered by Dr. Michael Brown and Prof. Monique Scheer on 10 October and 15 November respectively. Dr. Brown’s seminar was in partnership with the Centre for History of Medicine in Ireland at UCD School of History, and Prof. Scheer’s seminar was in partnership with Architecture and Narrative: The Built Environment in Modern Culture. The focus of Dr. Brown’s seminar was on part of the Wellcome Trust funded project, Surgery & Emotion, titled, “The Patient’s Voice: Emotion and Agency in the Cultures of Romantic Surgery.” Examining an “entirely untapped manuscript archive of patient letters,” the paper explored “the emotional dimensions of patient experience in early nineteenth-century surgery,” showing how emotions shaped the relationships between patient and surgeon and “functioned as a form of agency, both in private and in hospital practice”. Prof. Scheer’s paper was titled, “Emotions as Culture Practices: A Challenging Perspective”. Since her introduction of this ground-breaking theoretical framework for the history of emotions in 2012, researchers have drawn extensively on this theory in their scholarship on religion, conversion, architecture, and war, to name a few.[1] So, after demonstrating how this concept has been received, Prof. Scheer discussed where we might go from here. Her highly stimulating seminar is available as a podcast here.

Figure 1. Poster for the conference, kindly provided by Sara Honarmand Ebrahimi.

Followed the seminars, the conference was held on 18 January and was in partnership with the UCD Humanities Institute, the UCD School of English, Drama and Film, and the UCD School of History. It included two keynotes and 8 panels, featuring 40 speakers all together.

The conference’s keynote speakers included Dr. Rob Boddice and Dr. Tiffaney Watt-Smith. Dr. Boddice’s keynote entitled, “The Cultural Brain as Historical Artifact: Emotions and Interdisciplinary Criticism,” discussed how understanding ‘culture’ as “situated, disrupted, and historicised” should (and can) change the kind of questions asked by those who study the brain. Dr. Watt-Smith’s talk, “Schadenfreude and Drag Queens: Improvising Emotional Styles,” reflected on the history of schadenfreude, seeing it, instead of an ‘ugly’ feeling, as a ‘defiant emotion’ through the case study of the ‘bitchy Drag Queen’ in Britain between 1910-1930. Both keynotes are available as podcasts here.

Panels ranged across time periods from the middle ages to the twentieth century. While some of the speakers historicised and/or discussed the causes and effects of emotions such as happiness and anger, others focused on context, including home, conflict, exile, violence, and digital environment. One of the panels focused particularly on discussing methodology: “Inner Space: the Psychosocial Approach to the History of Emotions”. Going beyond cultural representations of emotions by assuming the existence of historical ‘psychosocial’ domains, each of the papers in this panel provided a different theoretical suggestion for tracing past emotions that did not leave ‘cultural representations’. Perhaps the most well received panel was that entitled “Gendered Emotions”, which highlighted the significance of social relationships and socio-political capital(s) in the history of gendered emotions. I was particularly interested in the topic of the history of the relationship between space and emotions. Four papers addressed this topic explicitly, discussing single domestic feelings in American fiction and the emotional navigation of urban modernity in Post-war Turkey.  

The various topics discussed during these events show that the field of the history of emotions is, to use William Reddy’s words, “a way of doing” history,[ii] illustrating what Piroska Nagy observed in 2008, that emotions “have defended their right to a place.” However, I want to finish this report by asking whether or not the field of the history of emotions has indeed become a way of doing history?

As someone whose research focus is on architectural history in an extra-European context, I have had to defend my approach constantly, explaining emotion history and its promise to my field. In fact, it is worth asking, has the discipline been labouring under a ‘Eurocentric’ bias? There has been scholarship on the history of emotions in China, India, and Iran, but I would argue that, compared with the amount of work on Europe and the ‘West’, these attempts can only be seen as add-ons.[iii] To include the agency of women in transnational history, feminist historians such as Arunima Datta, Claire Midgely, Alison Twells, and Julie Carlier have developed new methodologies, redefining the meaning of ‘agency’ and challenging the tension between the local and the global.[iv] Similarly, to discuss the way in which the world was changed in the twentieth century – socially, politically, and economically – historians have introduced the concept of ‘multiple modernities’. This is all to say, to continue carving out a space for itself, should the field of the history of emotions revise its methodologies (or develop new ones entirely), in order to engage with emotions beyond Europe?

Acknowledgement: I wish to thank the Irish Research Council for funding the event series. Thanks also to the many people who supported me along the way: particularly, Ricki Scheon, Dr. Katherine Fama, Dr. Cartherine Cox, and my friends, James Grannell, Mengzhen Yue, and Jaclyn Allen.

Sara Honarmand Ebrahimi was the receipt of an Irish Research Council New Foundations award for the project, “Worrying about the Field of the History of Emotions in Ireland”, and, until recently, was a Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. Before starting this fellowship, she was an Irish Research Council (IRC) funded doctoral scholar at University College Dublin.


[1] Monique Scheer, “Are Emotions a Kind of Practice (And is that What Makes them Have a History)? A Bourdieuian Approach to Understanding Emotion,” History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012): 193-220; ate Davison, Marja Jalava, Giulia Morosini, Monique Scheer, Kristine Steenbergh, Iris van der Zande, and Lisa Fetheringill Zwicker, “Emotions as a kind of Practice: Six Case Studies Utilizing Monique Scheer’s Practice-Based Approach to Emotions in History” Cultural History 7, no. 2, (2018): 226-38.

[ii] Jan Plamper, “The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns,” History and Theory 49, no. 2, (May 2010): 249.

[iii] For example, see Margrit Pernau, Emotions and Modernity in Colonial India, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020); Imke Rajamani, Margrit Pernau, and Katherine Butler Schofield, “Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain, (New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2018); Norman Kutcher, “The Skein of Chinese Emotions History,” in Doing Emotions History, eds. Susan J. Matt and Peter N. Stearns, (University of Illinois Press, 2014): 57-73; Mana Kia, “Moral Refinement and Manhood in Persian,” in Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in Nineteenth Century Asia and Europe, eds. Margrit Pernau, Helge Jordheim, etc., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015): 146-71.

[iv] Arunima Datta, “’Immorality’, Nationalism and the Colonial State in British Malaya: Indian ‘coolie’ Women’s intimate lives in ideological battleground,” Women’s History Review, 25, no. 4, (2016): 587-8; Clare Midgley, Alison Twells, and Julie Carlier, eds., Women in Transnational History: Connecting the Local and the Global, (London and New York: Routledge, 2016).


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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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