BRITAIN FIRST: The official history of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office – a critical review
Following this summer’s open letter to the Home Office, this article by Frank Trentmann offers an analysis of the official history chapter in the ‘Life in the UK’ handbook that is required reading for migrants applying for citizenship or settlement in the United Kingdom. Comparing the current (third) edition to previous versions, the article documents a pattern of rewriting the national past, especially over issues of race and Britain’s relation to Europe and the rest of the world. It shows distortion and falsification in the account of slavery, empire, Anglo-Irish relations, and Hitler and the Second World War. The essay places the rewriting of Britain’s past in the context of the Home Office’s hostile environment to migrants after 2013 and the increasingly insular view of Britain’s position in the world, with little regard to the reciprocal ties and collaboration with Europe, the United States and other international partners. The article places the official history’s difficulty of acknowledging race, antisemitism and colonial violence in a comparative context.
Please click here to download Professor Trentmann’s full report as a PDF;
Frank Trentmann is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London. His many publications include Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (London: Allen Lane/Penguin; New York: HarperCollins, 2016) and Free Trade Nation: Consumption, Civil Society and Commerce in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), which was awarded the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize.
Professor Trentmann also recently wrote in the Times Literary Supplement about this issue: “Britain First: the Official History of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office” by Frank Trentmann, Times Literary Supplement, 4 September 2020, pp. 7-9
Figure 1. Selected editions of the ‘Life in the UK’ Test handbook. The image was provided by the author and should not be reproduced without permission.
DR DARREN SCOTT LAYNE
Now nearly three centuries on from Jacobitism’s imminent threat to the British post-revolution state, the movement’s historical record is still a living entity with plenty of room for growth. To wit, the demographic characteristics of both domestic and international participation in the last Jacobite rising, the campaign that perhaps came closest to restoring a Stuart heir upon the throne of the Three Kingdoms, has only cursorily been addressed. This constituency of late-era Jacobitism has long been quantified by a series of published lists, decades ago transcribed from a limited selection of archival sources, and settled upon by many scholars as sufficiently representative. As I argued in my doctoral thesis, due to the technologies that are now available to historians and more robust access to archival collections, we are well overdue for a modern reassessment of Jacobite engagement through a comprehensive review of primary sources and a consequential revision of the way their data is codified.
The Jacobite Database of 1745 project was created to carry out this codification of the Jacobite constituency as it stood during the last rising, as well to offer a set of research tools for the subsequent analysis of its collected data. In addition to providing granular social histories of both the martial and civilian facets of Jacobitism, the housing of numerous manipulable data sets within JDB1745 allows us to check the integrity of the transcribed data in previously published lists and to compare and contrast them for focused analysis. This would be an onerous if not nearly impossible task by hand, and even with modern methods it takes a particular, perhaps misguided, willingness to endure prolonged bouts of tedious data entry. The rewards are well worth the routine, however, as once the information is wrangled into a coherent framework, it is immediately ripe for prosopographical scrutiny.
During the nine months of the last effective Jacobite challenge and for years afterward, British government ministers under George II kept an exceptionally vast amount of detailed records concerning the prosecution of suspected and accused rebels. This by itself is a clear indication that a Jacobite restoration in 1745-6 was a very real and pressing threat to Whig officials. Through the process of tracking down and registering these participants, hundreds of lists were compiled by government justices, military personnel, regional sheriffs, keepers of gaols and tolbooths, Presbyterian clergy, officers of the customs and excise, and individual landholders. All of these contributed to form a piecemeal record of just who was involved in either explosive or subversive treason against the Crown, the nature of their involvement, and their degree of guilt based upon personal depositions, eyewitness testimony, and material evidence. The raft of paperwork is enormous, and different lists contain varying amounts of biographical information, the relevance and accuracy of which was usually based upon who was processing the intelligence at the time. As prisoners and ‘still-lurking’ rebels were identified and further evidence was collected, many lists were revised or sent along the chain of prosecution to be copied and re-copied by solicitors, justices, and high-level ministers. Most of these records are fragmentary and plenty of them bear conflicting information about the selfsame persons between documents. While some prominent collections of archival prosecution papers have been partially incorporated into subsequently published lists of Jacobite prisoners (for instance, sections of the Secretary of State Papers and the Treasury Solicitor Papers at Kew, jail returns at the National Library of Scotland, and various documents at the British Library), many hundreds of resources have neither been consulted nor considered.
For example, Treasury Solicitor John Sharpe received a list of 170 prisoners confined at Carlisle that notes each person’s age, trade, and stated religion. State Solicitor Philip Carteret Webb penned a brief of fifty-four captives in York who pleaded guilty at their trials; each person is described with biographical notes and witnesses named against him. William van Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle, named seventy individuals against whom the government holds evidence of participating in rebellion, but who were not apprehended by November of 1746, and therefore are not included in extant rolls of prisoners. David Bruce, Advocate-General of Scotland, provided four discrete lists of rebel captives held in the tolbooth of Inverness after Culloden that identify a total of ninety-nine persons, their homes of origin, and the engagements at which they fought. David Graham of Orchill, factor to the loyalist William Graham, 2nd Duke of Montrose, furnished his laird with exacting tallies of his individual tenants, including their rent values and known level of involvement in the rising. In Aberdeen, a receipt was given to Captain Lambert of Fleming’s 36th Regiment of Foot for ninety-six prisoners accused of treason before carrying them southward for trial; Keeper of the Gaol of Aberdeen William Murdoch further listed thirty-four of these persons taken by the town guard in the days immediately following Culloden, including their places of origin, military units, and the day upon which they were captured. Briefs of 269 rebels taken at Perth were kept by the sheriff-deputies of that shire. This same bundle of ‘proofs’ was later recorded within the government’s Treasury Solicitor Papers, categorising each witness who testified by number and reference to his or her deposition. Oaths of allegiance, assurance, and abjuration were signed by both exonerated rebels and Hanoverian loyalists seeking positions of public office. Billeting books identify each household in Aberdeen that was charged with the housing and quartering of British army troops after the Jacobites were driven out. Rental books for the estates of Pearsie and Airlie note the names of each tenant residing there in 1745-6 and the payments they owed to their landlords. Collectively these examples form but a small suggestion of the sources available that can provide further biographical data and prosopographical context for the constituency of the last Jacobite rising. None of these were used in creating the few notable published muster rolls or lists of Jacobite prisoners that serve as authoritative references for modern historians.
Another of these ‘missed’ sources is found in the military papers of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, at Windsor Castle: a compiled booklet of Jacobite prisoners apprehended by the government troops under his command. The 986 persons in this list were either captured or had surrendered at various points in the campaign, either before, at, or after the Battle of Culloden. The document itself is an intact snapshot of the British intelligence system’s attempt to enumerate the magnitude of the rising before stamping it out for good through a mixture of litigation and violence. Like many of these amalgamated ‘master’ lists, it is likely a transcribed compilation made up of scores of temporary registers in various stages of completion and legibility. Thankfully, the British army clerk in charge of this particular booklet had a fine hand and nearly all of the names are paired with their stated places of origin, ranks or occupations, and fighting units, if applicable. This raw information by itself provides a useful study of a significant cross-section of the Jacobite army. Dropping the entire data set into a nimble and manipulable database like Airtable, however, lets us take a much closer look at prosopographical trends that define the constituency of these captured Jacobites.
Provisional but satisfactory examinations of this data illustrate a number of demographic points of interest: the international character of what is often considered to have been a categorically Scottish rising, and also granular evidence of the Scottish counties that produced significant Jacobite military support; the distribution and frequencies of ranks and fighting units within that army; and a limited study of the occupational spheres that provided plebeian Jacobite recruits, as well as a number of itemised careers. Of particular interest are the contextual notes written for just under 11% of the entries, which tell us, for instance, that forty of these men were imprisoned on suspicion alone, some of them not having had any material association with the rebel army. Twenty-seven names bear the designation of being pressed into Jacobite service, ten cases of which allegedly occurred just two days before Culloden by George Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Cromarty, during his eleventh-hour recruiting drive north of the Black Isle. Nine men are labeled as beggars, one of them actually having been apprehended in the act of seeking alms. Twenty-six prisoners are marked as volunteers, eight as gentlemen, and four are described as ‘boys’. At least three deserters from the British army also make an appearance.
Though Cumberland’s name book has no specific date attached to it, the data itself tells us much about the time it was drafted. The largest single unit of prisoners represented here includes the 151 soldiers attached to Cromarty’s regiment. Yet Mackenzie and his some 200 men never made it to Culloden, instead being captured nearly intact by government troops at Golspie, just south of Dunrobin Castle, on the day before the battle. The number of Cromarty’s men in Cumberland’s list matches up rather well with a report from 23 April, which describes the arrival in Inverness of Mackenzie and his son, John, along with ten officers and 150 soldiers ‘taken by the Sutherland Militia’. We can therefore surmise that this list was likely made in the waning days of April as tallies of prisoners were written up in the aftermath of Culloden.
Other prisoners noted in the back pages of the document include 365 French officers and private men previously captured and held at various places in Britain, including Edinburgh, York, Tilbury, Stirling, and Perth. Government clerks likewise estimate on these pages that by April 1746 as many as 4500 individuals had surrendered their arms to justices of the peace or parish ministers, according to the terms of indemnities offered to plebeian rebels by Cumberland and Field Marshall George Wade. This remarkable number, which at its most optimistic would represent roughly a third of total projected Jacobite army strength through the entire campaign, is a powerful demonstration of the government’s successes in attempting to disperse martial Jacobitism through promises and policy.
The fact that this particular manuscript booklet is but only one roster of prisoners obviously limits the overall impact of the study. The statistics that are charted here do not necessarily overlay cleanly upon broader assessments of the Jacobite constituency. Though numerous categories of helpful data are present, many others are not. Missing from the list, for example, are the ages, estates, and confessional traditions of the captives. Likewise, it does not reveal in which prisons they were held at the time the list was compiled. There are neither stated accusations of particular rebellious acts nor the names of any witnesses who were willing to speak out against them. To follow the trail of prosecution for each of the 986 names, then, we would need to seek out other sources that can ‘fill in the blanks’ and tell us more about the people the government was so intent on cataloguing.
In this case, perhaps the real test of how valuable this list is to the greater codification of the Jacobite constituency is how it overlaps with later published studies. Are all 986 names accounted, for instance, in Seton and Arnot’s The Prisoners of the ’45 or the 1745 Association’s popular ‘muster roll’ of the Jacobite army? Definitively not. A cursory comparison between the three sources shows that at least 185 persons (18.8%) are absent from the former and 244 (24.8%) do not appear in the latter. Furthermore, 167 (17%) are not included in either of these prominent references, while 669 (67.9%) do appear in one or both but bear erroneous information or discrepancies between records in Cumberland’s name book. This demonstrates that there is still plenty to learn about the people who took part in the Forty-five, as well as what happened to them after their capture and prosecution.
We can, of course, engage with more extensive studies into archival records to both verify and expand upon the data presented in Cumberland’s list. This method allows us to ‘check the work’ in published aggregates and concurrently iron out errors made by the compilers. We can link the names in this list with their self-given depositions, as well as the testimonies of eyewitnesses and any of their trial records that may appear in the archives. Duplicate persons can be identified and the common transposition of names rectified, like the many occurrences of Daniels and Davids, Henrys and Humphries, Patricks and Peters. Recruitment patterns can be established and the stadial post-Culloden diasporas traced; motivations can be more closely examined and loyalties explored, all moving toward charting clearer social and geographical patterns of both ideological and practical Jacobitism, domestically and internationally.
This typology of historical data and its subsequent prosopographical analysis certainly does not appeal to all historians, nor does it have to. It can be stultifying and monotonous work at times, but clearly the results can bear much fruit. The methodology briefly outlined here and built into the JDB1745 project competently demonstrates what is possible with customised data architecture and the refocused initiative to re-examine and recodify the archival records of the Jacobite constituency. If this limited study of one single archival list can add many scores of hitherto uncounted persons to the historical record, the possibilities still waiting in British, European, and New World archives are nearly limitless. What we know for certain is that the usual printed studies are no longer sufficient.
Darren Scott Layne received his PhD from the University of St Andrews and is creator and curator of the Jacobite Database of 1745, a wide-ranging prosopographical study of people who were involved in the last rising. His historical interests are focused on the protean nature of popular Jacobitism and how the movement was expressed through its plebeian adherents. He is a passionate advocate of the digital humanities, data cogency, and accessible, open research for all.
 D. S. Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle: The Popular Constituency of the Jacobite Rising in 1745-6’ (PhD thesis, University of St Andrews, 2016), p.179; Christopher Duffy, Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered (Solihull, 2015), p. 488; Murray Pittock, The Myth of the Jacobite Clans: The Jacobite Army in 1745 (Edinburgh, 2009), p. 73; Bruce Leman, The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 (Aberdeen, 1980), p. 271.
 See Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle’, pp. 20-29 for a detailed assessment of published and unpublished sources containing Jacobite prisoner data.
 TNA SP 36/88/33d; 36/88/116; SP 54/34/29c; 54/32/49d; NRS GD 220/6/1662/11-13; ACA Parcel L/H/1-3; TNA TS 11/760/2361; PKA B59 30/72/2-3, 5-11; B59 33/3; NRS E 379/9-10; ACA Parcel L/P/1; DCA Wedderburn of Pearsie Papers, Box 21, Bundles 1-2.
 ‘List of Rebel Prisoners Taken Before, At, and After the Battle of Culloden’ (1746), RA CP/Main Box 69 Series XI.39.22.
 See Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle’, pp. 200-201, 253 for more on Jacobite prisoners indicted on suspicion.
 These biographical details are likewise provisionally recorded, usually based upon the skills of the clerks and interrogators who were in charge of collecting intelligence, as well as the time they had to make up their rosters. Many of these details shift, change, or disappear in subsequent government records and should not alone be taken as hard evidence.
 Duffy, Fight for a Throne, p. 401.
 ‘An Authentick Account of Culloden’ (23 April 1746), NLS MS 2960 ff. 121-122.
 It appears that these men were eventually placed on parole at Carlisle pending exchange as prisoners of war. By August 1746, as a list of 351 is noted in TNA SP 36/92/2 ff. 63-68, 348 are mentioned in Carlisle on 2 August, Webb to Sharpe (2 August 1746), TNA SP 36/86/1 f. 18. See also Sharpe to Newcastle (27 September 1746), TNA SP 36/88/2 ff. 103-105; TS 11/157/524.
 Wade’s Declaration of Indemnity (30 October 1745), Scots Magazine (VII: 1745), pp. 537-538; Cumberland’s First Proclamation (24 February 1746), TNA SP 54/29 f. 3c; Cumberland’s Second Proclamation (1 May 1746), TNA SP 54/31 f. 31b.
 Jean McCann, ’The Organisation of the Jacobite Army, 1745-1746’ (PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1963) pp. x-xi; Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle’, pp. 177-191, 202-203, 228.
 For a much larger demographic study of the Jacobite constituency, see Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle’, pp. 80-121, 236-246.
 Bruce Gordon Seton, and Jean Gordon Arnot, The Prisoners of the ’45 (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1928-9); Alastair Livingstone, Christian W. H. Aikman, and Betty Stuart Hart, eds., No Quarter Given: The Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46 (Glasgow, 2001).
Banner Image and Figure 2. ‘List of Rebel Prisoners Taken Before, At, and After the Battle of Culloden’ (1746). RA CP/Main Box 69 Series XI.39.22. Image provided by the author.
Figure 1. David Morier, The Battle of Culloden, oil on canvas (1746). Royal Collection Trust. Available in the public domain.
Figures 3-8. Graphics (with own titles) generated by prosopographical analysis. These charts have been generously provided by the author and acknowledgement must be given if used or cited.
DR CYNTHIA E. CHIN
A single object was the subject of my doctoral dissertation: a heavily faded purple silk gown owned and worn by Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802), the wife of ‘His Excellency’, President George Washington. One of three surviving intact dresses belonging to Washington, the garment visibly still retains her embodied presence. The gown’s underarm areas are watermarked by her perspiration, its skirt hem frayed due to the constant friction of her walking — all evidence of her corporeal form activating and inhabiting the gown. However, Washington is not the only individual embedded within the dress. The physical presence of Moll, Caroline Branham, Charlotte, Betty, and Ona Judge, enslaved seamstresses at Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation home of the Washingtons, are likewise inextricably present within this object. Evidence of their bodies, lives, and physical exertion also remain as they cleaned, mended, and remade this gown over several decades.
The Gown: Condition and Findings
During my initial exploration of the gown, I was struck by how much of the silk textile has suffered from decades of wearing, improper storage, and display in indirect and direct sunlight. Once-vivid and almost garish, the textile has faded to a light brown or blue-gray rather than the fuchsia, aubergine, and egg-yolk colours that are found preserved beneath some sections of the gown’s neckline trim, also visible on a well-preserved fragment in the collection of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Clues such as the presence of ‘ghost’ stitch holes within the garment, multiple thicknesses and colours of sewing threads, and a complete reconstruction of the skirt indicate that the gown experienced several moments of mending and refashioning in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Such periods of intense and concerted efforts to resize and restyle the gown indicate that Martha Washington wore the dress several decades after it would have fallen out of fashion, from when it was made in the late 1750s until possibly just before her death in 1802.
Ultimately, my inquiry into this object, in parallel with her biography, other object histories, and archival records reveals that even when it was first constructed, the purple silk gown was a sartorial outlier in what was considered normative for elite women in early Anglo-America. This aids us in understanding Martha Washington’s personal choices and preferences, and likely motivations for her persistent and intentional preservation of this particular gown. Crucially, the intertwined biographies within this object form a material precipitate of slavery itself. Through the enslaved seamstresses’ physical, captive labor embedded within, the gown becomes a powerful example of the constant relinquishment of their agency and selfhood to ensure the safeguarding of another’s.
Re-centering the Discussion: The Enslaved Seamstresses at Mount Vernon
My continued work on this gown and its embodied political and socio-cultural ecosystems attempts to create a composite, though still very incomplete, picture of the enslaved seamstresses at Mount Vernon. Based on what can be known about the enslaved population at Mount Vernon during the Washingtons’ marriage, we are able to identify the likely individuals who would have been tasked with mending and re-fashioning. Unfortunately, their records are scant and can only provide glimpses into their lives, relationships, and skilled labor. In some cases, fragments emerge: their partners and children, the clothes and material possessions they were given, periods of sickness and childbirth, ‘behavioural’ reports from overseers, powerful moments of resistance — and, in the case of Ona Judge, self-liberation.
Records indicate that Moll, Caroline Branham, Charlotte, Betty, and Ona Judge were the enslaved housemaids responsible for caring for the Washingtons’ clothing and completed sewing tasks such as making repairs and attaching trim to finished garments. Chiefly, they were charged with making clothing for the enslaved population across Mount Vernon’s five farms — nearly 577 people during George Washington’s lifetime. They, and their work, were very much a part of the Washingtons’ correspondence. In a 1796 letter, George Washington described Ona Judge as ‘the perfect mistress of her needle’. But the same was not said of Charlotte, whose work was considered ‘tolerable’. On June 5, 1791, Washington wrote to her niece Fanny Bassett Washington: ‘I sent by Hercules some rufles for my little Boys bosom [chest] which I beg you will make Charlot hem. . .’. Apparently, Washington was not pleased with the condition of the ruffles when they were returned to her.
These were the women whose hands and bodies touched, cleaned, folded, and altered the purple silk gown, their stitches and pleating of the garment still just as evident as the shape of Martha Washington’s somatic form.
Next Steps: Reproducing the Gown as a Way of ‘Seeing’
The next stage of my research continues its attempt to recenter how we approach this object and its histories. Taking what we know about these women and the types of documented self-preservation and counteraction they exerted, I will seek to discern how we can read their stitches, still present, in the contexts of their limited personal agency and resistance. One of the methods for ascertaining such knowledge is replicating the gown. Replicating or reproducing the gown as it ‘came off the dressmaker’s needle’ will allow viewers to visually track how these women changed the gown over time, making their skilled work more legible. Based on material evidence, comparing what the gown might have looked like when it was first made in the late 1750s to how it appears after significant and multiple episodes of remaking in the late eighteenth century presents a stark visual contrast. This material way of ‘seeing’ opens multiple discussions on how we have — or have not — previously understood the multiple biographies of this dress. It additionally foregrounds the labor of these captive seamstresses in an effort to move their lives towards perceptibility, acknowledgement, and dignity.
Dr Cynthia E. Chin is a material culture historian specialising in the dress and textiles of early Anglo-America and eighteenth-century Europe. She is currently a research fellow at the Washington Library. You can find her on Twitter @cynthiawriter, at cynthiachin.com, and materializingrace.com.
 Martha Washington’s purple silk gown (1903.009.02) is owned by the New Hampshire Historical Society (NHHS). The gown, acquired by the NHHS in 1919, is one of three known, surviving, intact Martha Washington gowns; the two others are held in the collections of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in Mount Vernon (W-1523) and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. (1987.0080).
 Object W-3248, Gift of Mrs. Osborne O. Ashworth, 1988, The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. This particular fragment was likely excerpted from a now-missing skirt panel, stomacher, or sleeve ruffle, as the rest of the gown survives intact.
 Ona (Oney) Judge served as lady’s maid to Martha Washington. Ona was the daughter of Betty, an enslaved seamstress at the Washingtons’ Mansion House Farm, and Andrew Judge, a white English tailor. During Washington’s presidency in Philadelphia, Ona escaped on 20 May 1796 by leaving the house while the Washingtons were at dinner. See T. H. Adams, “Washington’s Runaway Slave, and How Portsmouth Freed Her,” Granite (NH) Freeman, May 22, 1845, reprinted in Frank W. Miller, Portsmouth New Hampshire Weekly, June 2, 1877. For more on Ona Judge, see Erica Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge. New York: 37Ink/Atria Books, 2017.
 See ‘Slavery at Mount Vernon’, https://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/slavery/
 George Washington to Oliver Wolcott, 1 September 1796
 Charles MacIver to George Washington, 17 June 1786
 Martha Washington to Fanny Bassett Washington, 5 January 1791
Banner image and Figure 2. Object W-3248, Gift of Mrs. Osborne O. Ashworth, 1988, The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Photo by Cynthia Chin. Provided by the author.
Figure 1. Making preparatory sketches during a study session in the collections of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, December 2019. Photo by Cynthia Chin. Provided by the author.
Last semester, one of my professors assigned a chapter of anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past as a jumping off point for considering how silences can work their way into the historical narrative. During our weekly Zoom-based class, conversation homed in on the ‘four crucial moments’ in which Trouillot believed that silences could be generated: the making of sources; the making of archives; the making of narratives; and – in the final instance – the making of history.
As the class discussed the second and third moments, in which Trouillot described how archives and their organisation can – knowingly or unknowingly – generate silences, I began to think about the role of digitisation and if the process of taking archives online could constitute a fifth ‘crucial moment’ to be considered by public historians in the digital age.
Archives and the Production of History
Thinking about digitisation through Trouillot’s lens requires a closer look at his second and third moments in which ‘fact’ is ‘assembled’ and ‘retrieved’ within the confines of the archive. For both professional and amateur historians alike, the organisation and accessibility of the archive constitutes a sort of sieve through which research and the eventual construction of historical narratives must pass. Records that are poorly organised or not easily discovered may be sifted away during these moments. Through these crucial moments, archivists control the flow of information from their collections to the researcher and thus impact the creation of history.
Silencing the Past was published in 1995 – at the beginning of the information age – yet it is doubtful that Trouillot or his contemporaries could have imagined just how the internet would transform our world and the practice of history. Historians have long served as the gatekeepers to historical information, yet the digital world has found ways to de-elevate historians from this role and democratise the creation of historical narratives.
Today, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can summon vast stockpiles of historical information from servers around the world. Historical research, traditionally conducted in archives and libraries, has shifted into the digital world and anyone with a rudimentary understanding of technology can access information quickly and easily.
While this would seem – at first glance – a win for historians, it comes with a kicker: almost anyone can publish almost anything online. At a time in which the public begins to view digital sources more warily, archives have an opportunity to continue to guide the ‘process of historical production’ by ensuring that high volumes of primary source information are made available to the public in an easily accessible format.
Covid-19 and ‘Fake News’: Today’s Ramifications for Digitisation
The world we live in today has brought new urgency to the consideration of a fifth crucial moment. The global pandemic, which is barreling into its second year, has caused many archives, museums, and libraries around the world to close their doors. When the initial shock of the moment had passed, and historians returned to work online, digital records became the only sources available for use. The need for digital archives should be increasingly apparent to historians who could face extended periods of quarantine in the future.
Beyond the need for archival information in the historical community, 2020 also demonstrated just how dangerous digital misinformation can be – and the destruction that can be wrought by a small number of individuals who perpetuate falsehoods online. The fallout from the USA presidential election, for example, included the storming of the Capitol by a mob driven largely by conspiracy theories. While combatting misinformation in real-time is not the duty of historians, this situation does illustrate the problems that could be faced if alternative or revisionist histories become prominent resources from which the public gets their ‘information’ on the past. By putting an emphasis on the digitisation of archival records, historians will be able to place trusted sources at the head of search queues and possibly stem the tide of historical misinformation.
The Fifth Moment: how digitisation of the archive can shape the narrative
In many ways, the fifth moment that I propose does not fit in with the mechanics of Trouillot’s other moments. For Trouillot, his crucial moments generally represented places that historians actively created silences in the narrative through their actions. In the fifth moment, rather, it is the inactivity or passivity of historians that generates a historical silence.
This shift is due to the changing nature of research, which has been spurred by a public that unearths material in an increasingly independent fashion. While historians used to serve as the gatekeepers to nearly all historical knowledge, they now only guard a portion of the information available to the public. Realising this, historians are saddled with the dual responsibility of digitising and promoting the materials that they guard—as the general public will likely not take the time to do more in-depth and technical research. To return this to the theme of silences, a lack of easily available digital sources excludes the information within them from the eye of the public and generates a mighty historical silence that deserves serious consideration.
Aaron Shuman served in the United States Air Force for six years before beginning the MA program in public history at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. He has worked as an intern at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Today, he is a Graduate Assistant at the Clinton Presidential Library.
 Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), p.26.
Banner image and Figure 1. Unknown photographer, Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1949-2012). Believed to be be in the public domain, and available via the University of Chicago.
Figure 2. Tyler Merbler, ‘2021 Storming of the US Capitol’. Creative Commons License.
When asked to describe my work, I tend to say that my research sits at the intersection of gender and sensory histories. Gender as a lens of historical analysis has by now been widely adopted, but the concept of ‘sensory history’ may need further explanation. To my mind, sensory history has an immediate and visceral kind of logic to it. It offers us a way to think ourselves back into the body, to grapple with questions of lived experience and embodied identity. In this post, I want to offer a brief introduction to taking a sensory approach to history, and show that a gendered lens still has plenty to offer an historian of the senses.
Over the last few decades, a growing body of historical scholarship has taken an explicit interest in the senses – as I began my own work in this area, I found the work of Alain Corbin, Mark M. Smith, Aimée Boutin and Laura Gowing particularly influential. Perhaps the most important thing to recognise is that sensory history is not about replicating past experiences, but elaborating the frames of cultural reference within which those sensory encounters became meaningful. Mark Smith usefully distinguishes between ‘producing sense’ and ‘consuming sense’, encouraging historians to critically examine how seemingly straight-forward sensory descriptions were inflected by contemporary value systems.
To paraphrase an argument that Alain Corbin makes in his book, Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the Nineteenth-Century French Countryside, even if we were able to reproduce the sound of an original nineteenth-century church bell – the same dimensions and material, struck with the same force – and we stood exactly where people of the past once stood, our understanding of that sound would still differ wildly from theirs. Villagers of the nineteenth century had never heard anything as loud as a rock concert or a jumbo jet, and these comparisons colour the way we understand the sound of bells. Conversely, religion, politics, and rural community each occupy so different a place in today’s society that, without intimate knowledge of these frameworks, a large part of the original meaning is lost.
When we shift our focus from the sensations themselves to how those sensations were interpreted and made meaningful, the importance of considering gender becomes clear. The kinds of sensory encounters available to us and how we understand them are at once intensely personal and part of collective identities. For example, what we wear, what we eat, and where we go are, of course daily individual choices, but they are also closely linked to factors such as gender, race, class, age, disability, and geography.
In the context of my current work, I’m interested in how gender affected the sensory landscape that women inhabited in the early twentieth century, and the ways expectations of femininity shaped their understanding of their sensory encounters. This was the era of the ‘New Woman’, as women found greater professional and personal freedom amidst wider cultural and technological change. As boundaries between the domestic and public spheres became ever more porous, men and women increasingly moved in shared spaces. Yet even though their sensory receptors (ears, eyes, nose, skin…) worked in the same ways, I argue that a woman’s sensory experience still differed significantly from a man’s: some experiences – such as wearing a corset – were specific to women, and even similar experiences were likely to be understood differently.
To put these ideas into practice, let’s imagine what an evening outing to the theatre might have been like for a young bourgeois woman in Paris in 1908. This period saw such a rapid expansion of new entertainment genres and mass visual culture that looking was cast as a quintessentially ‘modern’ activity, both by contemporaries and subsequent scholars. While there has been significant work examining how women were positioned as passive objects of the male gaze, we know far less about women as observers and spectators in their own right.
In preparation for a night out at the theatre, a woman might have poured over the pages of a photographic magazine – such as Femina, La Vie Heureuse or Comœdia Illustré – reading theatrical reviews and admiring portraits of her favourite actresses. She would have carefully selected her outfit, guided by the eveningwear shown in the fashion plates of those same publications. Once she stepped into the public eye, she knew her sartorial choices would be scrutinised by other fashionable women, and her attractiveness judged by men. Seeing and being seen, for a woman, were inextricably linked.
The question of whether or not to wear a hat to the theatre was controversial. According to the fashion columnist for Femina, 1908 was set to be the year of big hats – decorated with ribbons, feathers, lace, or artificial flowers. Keeping one of these creations stable on the head restricted the wearer’s movement, and sidelong or upwards glances from under the brim would be more frequent. But wearing a hat was also a kind of shield, allowing a woman to conceal her face or the direction she was looking more easily. Paradoxically, a large hat could simultaneously attract and deflect attention, drawing admiring (or hostile) looks while also protecting the wearer from the weight of unwanted stares.
Female audience members were frequently satirised for the size of their hats, and gentlemen complained that when seated behind a fashionable lady one could barely see the stage. Some theatres allegedly barred any woman wearing decorative headgear from being admitted, a strategy that was met with outrage by the fashion magazines. Yet putting on an extremely large hat and positioning oneself to block a gentleman’s view is such an audacious gesture that it deserves closer attention. Beyond being a fashion statement, a large hat was also a strategy to control the gaze of others by deliberately seizing the spotlight, obscuring the spectacle and substituting oneself as the object of that gaze.
Other accessories a woman might take to the theatre included theatre binoculars and a fan. Women’s magazines were full of advertisements for theatre binoculars, which emphasised their quality – strong magnification, sharpness and clarity of image, luminosity – and their portability, so lightweight that even ladies could carry them in a pocket or evening bag. Fans, on the other hand, were becoming scarcer. One commentator suggested that, as theatres transitioned from gas to electric lighting, auditoriums became less hot, and the practical function of fanning oneself became obsolete.
This exercise is valuable on two fronts. Firstly, it helps to reconstruct the physicality of a popular pastime – a stuffy auditorium, a precariously-balanced hat – that reveals theatre-going as an embodied practice. Secondly, it also tells us something about how women engaged with visuality and visual culture in the period more generally. Women’s looking crossed boundaries between a variety of interreferential media, including illustrated magazines, photography, live performances, celebrity culture, and people-watching. The female gaze was often focused on other women and their bodies: friends, relations, acquaintances, actresses, or photographed celebrities, and fashion models. Women valued accuracy and verisimilitude in their visual encounters, whether choosing a brand of binoculars or squinting to make out the embroidered detail in a dress pattern.
But perhaps most striking is the confidence with which women embraced spectatorship in the early twentieth century. Given the weight of nineteenth-century rhetoric about the need to protect women from certain sights, to shield of avert their gaze, and to limit women’s access to certain locations or genres of spectacle, when I first began to delve into this topic, I expected to find women peeking tentatively out from behind heavy curtains. Instead, I found women embraced forms of confident – even ostentatious – looking, taking pleasure in the many forms of visual culture and new optical tools available to them. By combining gendered and sensory approaches to this historical moment, we can better grasp the lived experience of the past.
Sasha Rasmussen is a final-year DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford and a Scouloudi Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. Her doctoral thesis considers the role of gender in shaping women’s sensory experiences in two cultural capitals – Paris and St Petersburg – between 1900 and 1913. You can find her on Twitter as @SashaRasmusse11.
 Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination. Leamington Spa: Berg, 1986; Mark M. Smith, Sensory History. Oxford: Berg, 2007; Aimée Boutin, City of Noise: Sound and Nineteenth-Century Paris. Studies in Sensory History. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2015; Laura Gowing, Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth-Century England. New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2003.
 Mark M. Smith, ‘Producing Sense, Consuming Sense, Making Sense: Perils and Prospects for Sensory History’. Journal of Social History vol. 40, no. 4 (2007), pp. 841-858.
 Alain Corbin, Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the Nineteenth-Century French Countryside. Martin Thom (trans.). London: Papermac, 1999.
 Mary Louise Roberts, Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-Siècle France. Chicago; London: Chicago University Press, 2002.
 Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London. New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2000; Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadul Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. London: Virago, 1992.
 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project. Howard Eiland and Rolf Tiedemann (trans.), Cambridge, Mass.; London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002; Vanessa Schwartz, Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris. Berkeley, London: University of California Press, 1998.
 Marie-Anne l’Heureux, ‘La Mode de « Femina », Du Théâtre à la Ville’, Femina, no. 166, 15 December 1907, p. 567.
 Emile Hinzelin, ‘L’Eventail se meurt-il ? L’Eventail est-il mort ?’, La Vie Heureuse, 15 Mai 1908.
 Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.
 Jan Matlock, ‘Censoring the Realist Gaze’, in Spectres of Realism: Gender, Body, Genre, Margaret Cohen and Christopher Prendergast (eds). University of Minnesota Press, 1995, pp. 28-65.
Banner Image: Unmarried women dance together at a celebration for the feast of Saint Catherine, 25 November 1912. Attribution: Agence Rol (photography de presse), ‘Sainte Catherine, femmes dansant dans une maison’. Bibliotheque nationale de France. Suggested by the author and understood to be in the public domain.
Figure 1. Cartoon by Maurice Lourdey, Scène de théâtre: spectatrices, dated between 1900 and 1913. Attribution: Bibliothèque nationale de France, understood to be in the public domain.
Figure 2. Two actresses model large hats for Comœdia Illustré’s regular fashion column, ‘Current Fashions at the Theatre’. Attribution: Comœdia Illustré no. 10, 19 February 1910, p. 297. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Suggested by the author and understood to be in the public domain.
Figure 3. Advertisement for ‘Lemaire’ theatre bincoluars, “combining power, clarity, and elegance”. Attribution: Comœdia Illustré no. 13, 1 April 1910, p. 388 verso. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Suggested by the author and understood to be in the public domain.
Figure 4. Description: Two women balance on chairs to gain a better view at the races at Auteuil, Paris, 1910. Attribution: Agence Rol (photograhie de presse), ‘Auteuil, toilettes, 13-3-1910, deux élégantes debout sur des chaises’. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Suggested by the author and understood to be in the public domain.
PROFESSOR TIM THORNTON
The fascination evoked by Richard III and the mystery of the ‘princes in the Tower’ continues to grow. The discovery of Richard’s body under a carpark in 2012 and his reburial in Leicester Cathedral in 2015 drew international attention, and a stellar team led by Steve Coogan and Steven Frears will shortly bring that story to the big screen. Yet the heart of this interest surrounding Richard and his reign remains an unresolved question, the fate of Richard’s nephews, King Edward V and his brother Richard, duke of York, who disappeared from public view during 1483 soon after being denounced as bastards and displaced from the succession. It is arguably the greatest missing persons – and perhaps murder – mystery in British history.
The first person to allocate very specific responsibility for the disappearance – and death – of the two princes was the much-celebrated lawyer, philosopher, politician and Roman Catholic saint Sir Thomas More. Writing more than thirty years after 1483, More produced an account in his History of King Richard III that pinned the blame on a servant of Richard’s called Sir James Tyrell. Tyrell had been executed for treason by Henry VII in 1502, and had already been named in connection with the princes by two other sources. But where those other sources had been vague about Tyrell’s involvement, More – writing in the 1510s – added precise circumstantial detail, and in particular indicated that Tyrell had engaged two men to carry out the dreadful deed, Miles Forest and John Dighton, the first of whom was one of those responsible for the care of the princes in their apartments in the Tower.
More’s account of the murder of the ‘princes in the Tower’ has, however, been treated with varying degrees of scepticism over the past century and a half. Richard III’s defenders have denounced it as ‘Tudor propaganda’, contrived years after the event to blacken the reputation of a king whose record was otherwise in many ways good and who, they claim, had little to gain by the boys’ deaths. Others have preferred to focus on the political philosophy in More’s work, as an essentially metaphorical account of tyranny and its dangers. For both camps, the factual errors and omissions in his work reinforce the challenges of using it as precise narrative history. Even those who are more sceptical of Richard’s innocence have had to admit that More’s account stands as their preferred explanation not because it is backed by any clear supporting corroborative evidence, but really for lack of any credible alternative.
More’s History of King Richard III is notable, nonetheless, for the way it provides precise circumstantial detail for the focal point of the succession crisis of 1483. More’s account of the princes’ deaths is particularly striking because central to it were several individuals who were still alive at the time of its writing, survivors of the episode and their immediate families.
My open access article in this January’s History examines those at the heart of the murder story in the context of that story’s writing and re-writing in the 1510s and 1520s, especially the man who may well have been the surviving murderer, John Dighton, and Edward and Miles Forest – the prominent servants of Henry VIII who were the sons of Dighton’s alleged partner in crime, Miles Forest – and More’s contacts with them. In doing so, my article sheds some light, if not on the absolute truth of More’s account, then, at least on the first decades of its development, and the implications for the writing of history and the nature of the contemporary ‘Tudor’ regime.
If I am correct, then two men Thomas More knew well, and with whom he worked, were clearly identifiable as the sons of the leading alleged murderer of the princes. More also knew that, although their father Miles Forest was dead, Miles’ partner-in-crime John Dighton had survived and was living just across the Channel in the English possession of Calais. And in the years during which he shaped his history, More spent many months in Calais and nearby in the Low Countries.
More’s Richard III is therefore not just a great work of political philosophy, but also a narrative constructed by an author who had access to men and women whose witness takes us very close indeed to the dramatic events of 1483, and the death of the princes themselves.
Tim Thornton is Professor of History and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Huddersfield. Tim works on the late medieval and early modern political and social history of the British Isles, spanning the period c. 1400-1650. Tim studied at New College, Oxford, where he was awarded a first in Modern History and later completed his DPhil, under the supervision of Christopher Haigh. In 1997 Tim was awarded the Royal Historical Society’s David Berry Prize for his work on the Isle of Man; in 1999 he was proxime accessit for the Society’s Alexander Prize for an essay on the palatinate of Durham. He was the first scholar based in a new university to win one of the Society’s prizes. In 2001 he won the Yorkshire History Prize for an essay on Henry VIII’s visit to Yorkshire in 1541. His books include Cheshire and the Tudor State, 1480-1560 (2000), Prophecy, Politics and the People in Early Modern England (2006), The Channel Island, 1370 – 1640: Between England and Normandy (2012), and, with Katharine Carlton, The Gentleman’s Mistress: Illegitimate Relationships and Children, 1450–1640 (2019).
Banner Image. Hans Holbein, Sir Thomas More (1527). Available online in the public domain.
Figure 1. John Everett Millais, The Princes in the Tower (1878). Available online in the public domain and recommended by the author.
Figure 2. Unknown artist, Richard III (late sixteenth century). Available online in the public domain and recommended by the author.
During the summer of 2019, I volunteered at the V&A’s Lansbury Micro Museum in Poplar, East London, to help run an exhibition called For the Love of Things. The exhibition put the personal collections of the museum’s visitors on display, its shelves changing throughout the summer as people contributed different groups of objects: antique woodworking tools, glass bottles, toys, zines, and mudlarking finds, to name but a few. Advertised as a ‘storehouse of personal collections’ to celebrate ‘collecting as an innate human endeavour’, the exhibition asked visitors to think about how each of us decide what to treasure, keep and collect.
In part, the exhibition at the Lansbury was designed as a precursor to the sprawling V&A East project in Stratford, where an ‘open storage’ design will give visitors access to some of the objects that the South Kensington museum had previously hidden away at Blythe House. By showcasing the collections of people who came to see the exhibition, For the Love of Things tried to thin the boundary between the V&A’s imposing array of internationally-renowned pieces and the personal treasures of its visitors.
The conversations I had throughout the summer were illuminating. The exhibition asked visitors ‘what do you collect?’ but more often we’d end up talking about why they collected. I heard about ‘collectible’ objects kept for their rumoured monetary value (china tea sets and Beanie Babies), objects kept for study (fossils), travel objects (foreign banknotes, holiday souvenirs), and objects that were just curious (a collection of promotional biros). A lot of visitors collected objects to remember things now lost, or photographs and letters as reminders of family and places they felt connections to.
As I explain in my recent ‘state of the field’ article for History on the history of collecting, the fact that absolutely anything can be (and probably has been) collected makes the phenomenon daunting to study. While volunteering at the Lansbury, I was at an earlier stage of my ongoing PhD and feeling overwhelmed by the breadth of this very topic. My project looks at how private collections started to become public museums in England after the Restoration, so I’ve been dealing with collectors whose seemingly insatiable appetite for things included books, manuscripts, natural history specimens, scientific instruments, fossils, antiquities, art, and other curiosities.
Volunteering at the Lansbury helped me to refocus my research on why people collected, and how they understood the objects they gathered. When Sir Hans Sloane published a catalogue of his collection of Jamaican flora and fauna in 1707, he said he was doing so for ‘the Advancement of Natural Knowledge’. Meanwhile, writers like Joseph Addison were ridiculing natural historians like Sloane in The Tatler for their obsession with collecting, and what Addison called the ‘refuse of nature’. This didn’t stop the Parliament buying Sloane’s collection at his death in 1753, and using it to create the British Museum.
It’s a clear illustration that one man’s (national) treasure is another’s trash, and it reminds me that collecting is all about the contexts we create for objects. During my time at the Lansbury, I discovered that Robin Hood Gardens, a block of council flats near Poplar now in the process of being demolished, is a clear illustration of this collecting process. Held up as an example of mid-century brutalist architecture, the block of flats gained a reputation as a hotspot for crime, though many residents say this was exaggerated, and some claim that the council deliberately ran it down into disrepair so it could be sold for redevelopment.
One Lansbury visitor, a former Robin Hood resident, had saved a scrap of wallpaper from their home there. Another visitor told me they had gained access to the demolition site, to capture on film the eeriness of the abandoned building. Meanwhile, the V&A was in the process of acquiring a three-storey section of the building to add to its architectural collection.
Robin Hood Gardens was being absorbed into three different collections: a box of personal keepsakes, an album of photographs of urban exploration, and a public museum. In new hands, fragments of the building lose some of the meanings it had when it was in use, but they also give it new meanings by putting it in dialogue with other kinds of objects and memories. This is the root of what collections do – creating and manipulating contexts.
Of course, new ownership raises questions about the responsibilities and privileges of creating new contexts for objects. Hans Sloane’s Jamaican collection depended on the expertise and labour of indigenous and enslaved communities, which he often failed to acknowledge, and in his collection the stories and experiences of these people were repackaged as his property.
After acquiring a section of Robin Hood Gardens, the V&A decided to exhibit it at the Venice Biennale in 2018, attracting criticism that in the process of celebrating the building’s aesthetic qualities, the museum was ignoring the social issues surrounding its redevelopment, as well as the broader gentrification of East London, in an act of ‘artwashing’. Stephen Pritchard wrote that artwashing ‘creates a veneer of social responsibility which disguises the oppression of marginal community members’ – it takes the object out of context.
The issue of collection contexts has become a battleground in discussion about how the UK’s public museums should present their collected objects. Responding to public pressure to change how the UK displays its statues, the British Museum and the British Library have recently recontextualised portrait busts of Hans Sloane to reflect a more critical engagement with the objects. New contexts mean they are no longer straightforward celebrations of Sloane but historical artefacts with complex histories.
V&A director Tristram Hunt weighed in on the issue of collection contexts, responding to calls for the restitution of British colonial loot with the provocative statement that ‘to decolonise is to decontextualise’. Sumaya Kassim, a critic of Hunt’s, suggested that in fact the V&A’s implicit claims that it presents its collections neutrally is itself an act of decontextualisation. Sharon Heal also contested that ‘to decolonise is to add context that has been deliberately ignored and stripped away over generations’.
As debates about collection contexts gain more public exposure, the question ‘why do we collect?’ is an increasingly important one. It lets us think critically about our relationships with the material past, about the stories we want to tell about objects, and about the authority with which those stories are currently told. My conversations with Lansbury visitors taught me that seeing our own objects in an exhibition is a potent way to start asking these questions, and to start putting curatorial decisions themselves on display in the museum gallery space.
Will Burgess is a PhD student in the English Department at Queen Mary University of London, where he studies the emergence of the public museum in England, 1683–1753. He recently published an article on the history of collecting in History, and is currently assisting on a research project about James Cuninghame’s Chinese botanical watercolours. He volunteers with the museum development team at the Museum of London, and tweets as @Bill_Wurgess.
 Hans Sloane, A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica (London: for the author, 1707) sig.[Ar]
Figure 1. The Lansbury Micro Museum, London. Photograph taken and supplied by the author.
Figure 2. Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar, London. Photograph taken and supplied by the author.
Figure 3. J. Michael Rysbrack, Terracotta portrait bust of Hans Sloane, The British Museum. Available for non-commercial use under Creative Commons license and suggested by the author.
A main principle of material culture theory (the study of objects and their relationships to people) is that they can reflect or shape the people who lived alongside them in any given time. I have always enjoyed studying objects more than any other kind of source because the process gave me a direct and tangible link to the past. Historical persons lived in a material and visual world, as much as the written one recorded in archives and print. In attempting to reconstruct a part of this eighteenth-century material world, whilst think about social and political history, I’ve interacted with objects that can seem niche – or even comical! – but, with some research, Toby Jugs can be helpful in illustrating a number of themes around gender, the body, and changing local or national identities.
It is fair to suggest that the Toby Jug has a place in the British national psyche, albeit fairly small, with remnants of it in popular culture today. In the 1990s, restaurant group Mitchell and Butler created the ‘Toby Carvery’ brand, with a Toby figure as their logo and Toby Jugs atop pub mantelpieces to replicate a homely dining atmosphere. They reference Toby Jugs on their site as the origin of their logo, using the symbol to foster a sense of heritage, despite being a modern brand. A number of pubs have used the name ‘Toby Jug,’ with one in Tolworth, Surrey famous for hosting David Bowie and Led Zeppelin performances at early stages of their careers. Lord Toby Jug, member of the Monster Raving Loony Party was nicknamed as such after his fellow bandmate and party member Screaming Lord Sutch noticed his round shape. The party, to the dismay of ‘serious’ politicians, have run on their motto ‘Vote For insanity’ since the 1983 Bermondsey by-election, with some interesting and quirky manifesto promises. Nonetheless, the use of the name suggests that even today, the Toby Jug is a recognisable image in British popular and political culture.
Toby Jugs were first produced in the 1780s, largely by the Staffordshire potteries and represented a much more diverse set of characters than the most recognisable Toby discussed above. The people they represent are both real and imagined. The original ‘Toby’ came from folklore- ‘Toby Fillpot’ was said to be a drunkard whose body became the clay in the ground and was then re-formed, by a potter into the stout man represented in this jug. He holds a large plain jug, as he is in the prints held at the British Museum which feature the ballad of the story of his creation, but other forms hold pipes and can be both seated and standing. He wears a tricorne hat that forms the spout of the jug and generally a waistcoat, often unbuttoned, with breeches in a variety of colours. Toby is visually very similar to how the fictional character John Bull, essentially the ‘British everyman’ was shown in print. His large body nicely suits the jug form, whilst also representing abundance and excessive alcohol consumption. John Bull and beer are frequently drawn upon as parts of the masculine national identity, so the popularity and continuous production of the Toby Jug makes sense in this context.
Other Toby Jug figures represented public figures. Martha Gunn became well known in Brighton for working as a bather, someone who assisted upper class people perform the health trend of bathing the open sea. This earnt her the nickname the ‘Brighton Bather’, and she became somewhat of a celebrity in the local area. A pub is named after her today and she is represented in paintings and engravings incredibly well, given that she was a working-class woman. Gunn gained significant fame and was also represented in satire, defending Brighton from French invasion whilst cowardly men hide on the beach in ‘French Invasion or Brighton in a Bustle,’ a copy of which is held in the British Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings today. Some engravings of her holding a child were wrongly said to be of the infant George IV, but we know that he did not visit Brighton until he was 21. Regardless, to be given such a connection highlights how well-known she was locally, and perhaps to some degree nationally. Jugs begun to be produced in her image from the 1790s and continued to be produced well into the twentieth century, suggesting an enduring popularity well beyond the eighteenth century.
Naval figures were also commemorated in the form of ‘Tobies.’ Last month, a jug of from the ‘midshipman’ family (a word used to describe a man working on a ship) based on Admiral Rodney sold at auction for £81,500. These jugs look very different from the one pictured above; slimmer in the body, much more delicate in decoration, with a small dog sat at his feet. The high price that these jugs fetch today is connected to the excellent condition that some are in given their delicate details, and not necessarily to them having a more refined appearance. Traditional ‘Tobies’ with ugly, wart-covered and blotchy complexions are actually often very popular at auction – just as when they were originally made. When we think of eighteenth century ceramics, delicate porcelain in chinoiserie designs might be the first images that come to mind, but I think that Toby Jugs demonstrate an additional taste for ugly, even grotesque visuals.
Conducting research outside of museum collections has been enlightening and very interesting, as restrictions on the resources I can access has led me to online antiques forums and the modern-day collecting community. Like many other researchers, the pandemic means I now rely on material that has been digitised. We tend to see this as material put online by an archive, but catalogues and collector’s guides are easily found online and very useful for tracking down a maker or producer. Sometimes, images have been posted in forums with little information, but using these websites to gather information and reverse image search to quickly see how images and designs were repeated has allowed me to continue researching outside of the traditional areas considered by academic historians! Studying these jugs has also highlighted the extent to which niche and quirky objects can actually be loaded with rich and diverse histories well beyond what we might expect and proven that material culture is an incredibly useful research method for understanding how eighteenth-century popular culture continues to linger in our lives today.
Kerry Love is a PhD student at the University of Northampton, studying political material culture and memorabilia, 1780-1850. Kerry tweets about her research under @kerrymlove and she is also a Publicity Officer for the IHR’s History Lab network.
Figure 1. Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Available in the public domain.
Figure 2. William Nutter, after J. Russell, ‘Martha Gunn the Brighton Bather’ (1797). The British Museum. Available in the public domain.
Figure 3 (and banner image). [After?] G. M. Woodward, ‘A Smoking Club’ (c.1784). The Wellcome Collection. Available in the public domain.
DR RACHEL PISTOL AND DR MELISSA STRAUSS
2020 marks the 80th anniversary of when 2,546 men were deported from Britain to Australia on the HMT Dunera. The convict ships of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries may have ceased their travels some 70 years before but that did not stop the British government from again calling on Australia to take so-called undesirables once more. This time, however, the Dunera transported mostly Jewish refugees, their crime being born into the wrong nation.
Melissa Strauss’ grandfather, Steven Strauss had arrived in London only a year earlier, in July 1939. A former teacher had arranged a place for him on a Kindertransport, and a £50 deposit had been made to ensure he was not a burden on the public. Siegfried, as he was then called, had only a suitcase of clothing and ten German marks when he arrived in Harwich, before travelling on to London. He left behind his mother and a younger sister who went on to perish at the hands of the Nazis.
War was declared on Steven’s 18th birthday, just months after he arrived in the UK. All enemy aliens over the age of 16 had to appear before a tribunal to be classified into one of three categories (A – immediate threat and immediately interned; B – subject to certain restrictions but remaining at liberty; C – refugee from Nazi oppression). Not all genuine refugees were categorised as C and, despite coming to Britain as a Kinder, Steven was given a B classification at his tribunal. Initially this enabled him to stay in London although he could not own a bicycle or a radio or travel more than a few miles from his home. This freedom was not to last.
When the German invasion of the British mainland seemed imminent, the order was given to arrest and intern all male enemy aliens aged between 16 and 60 regardless of classification, along with B category women. As a B category, Steven was rounded up in mid-May and sent to Onchan on the Isle of Man. It was not long before 2546 men were selected to be deported to Australia on the Dunera and Steven was one of them. Winston Churchill would later describe this deportation of mostly Jewish men as a regrettable mistake.
The long and hazardous journey on the Dunera involved massive overcrowding, and mistreatment at the hands of the military guards. The ship came under torpedo attack, sweltered through the tropics and after 7 weeks Steven disembarked in Sydney, Australia. The majority of the ‘Dunera Boys’, as they became known, were taken into the outback to Hay, New South Waleswhere the Australian guards quickly realised these internees were not the dangerous Nazi sympathisers they had been led to believe. Steven remained in various camps in Australia until March 1942 when he was released to serve in the Australian Labour Battalion.
Being a Dunera Boy was clearly an important part of Steven’s life. He attended yearly reunions, kept life-long friendships, and had images drawn in the internment camps on the walls of his study. Steven decided to stay in Australia after the war and studied law at Melbourne University. He was the first non-Briton admitted to the Australian Bar and went on to become a respected judge.
When Melissa moved to London she learnt more about her grandfather’s life there. On visits home he would tell her about his eventful year from July 1939 to July 1940. He had worked as an assistant master (without pay) in a school in Bayswater and then as a trainee in a clothing factory near Oxford Circus. He took drama classes at Toynbee Hall and had a walk-on part in a production of King Lear at the Old Vic starring John Gielgud and Jessica Tandy. He lived in Stamford Hill and Dalston. These were all places familiar to Melissa, and she suddenly felt a connection to them too. It was only a short time, but London clearly made a strong impression on her grandfather.
The journey to Australia was terrible and some of the soldiers were later disciplined but Steven was quick to say that Britain had saved his life. He acknowledged it was one of very few places in the world to offer shelter to a large number of children and young people in time of crisis. None of his immediate family survived, and he was sure that he was only alive because he had come to England.
Steven’s story is a reminder to us all that there is a human life behind every person seeking refuge. This humanity is important to remember. Steven said that he’d had a good life. He had been given the opportunity to create a new path and contribute to the place that gave him sanctuary. Stories like his show us what is at stake for children needing refuge now, and the enormous value in welcoming them into our communities.
Rachel Pistol is a Researcher in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London and is on the Project Management Board of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI). She has published widely on immigration history and Second World War internment in the UK and USA including Internment during the Second World War: A Comparative Study of Great Britain and the USA published by Bloomsbury in 2017.
Melissa Strauss works in policy at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with a focus on intangible heritage, memories, and youth engagement. She is a Clore fellow and is currently researching public participation in museum decision-making. Melissa is a co-founder of the Space Invaders campaign and sits on the steering group for the East End Women’s Museum.
Figure 1. ‘Steven Strauss as a young man’. Shared by, and with the permission of, the Strauss family.
Figure 2 (and Banner Image). ‘HMT Dunera in 1940’. Available in the public domain and recommended by the authors.
PIPPA LE GRAND
A few Monday mornings ago, I stood outside Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, enjoying my job and welcoming visitors. There were few enough around that I was able to gaze at the frieze over the door and even discuss it at length with a colleague. The frieze, according to Sheffield Hallam’s Public Art Research Archive, features the Shrine of Knowledge, with four evolutionary layers topped by an oil lamp, and surrounded by visitors with gifts. There is a great deal more to this frieze, deserving of its own research. My point is that for someone – like myself – keen to interpret this imagery both academically, and in a visitor-facing role, it presents an interesting challenge. How are these two, often very different, points of view compatible? Are they, in light of discussions about the pervasive legacy of colonialism in our museums, even possible to reconcile? And after a turbulent and stressful year, especially for the UK’s black community, what is the responsibility of the museum to address that legacy?
My MA dissertation examined the ways in which Sheffield’s collections and exhibitions in the late Victorian period (1850-1910), and its engagement as a city with international exhibitions at this time, shaped and were shaped by imperial identity. I found a complex network of people with a close relationship to empire: William Bragge, well-known Master Cutler, who donated his Egyptian collection to the Museum and who advocated for a specialist cutlery museum for Sheffield throughout his career, sticks in my mind. Bragge also collected objects from India, much of it metalwork, and created what might be the first exhibition toured between municipal museums (Sheffield and Birmingham) in Britain. He appears to be the archetypal Victorian man – elite, yet hyper-involved in the industry that had created his wealth; loyal to his industry and thus locally significant figure; but also deeply connected with Britain’s empire, extracting from it resources, inspiration, competitive drive, and wealth. His life and work formed just one part of my research, but they represent my conclusions perfectly: Bragge was rooted in Sheffield but defined, in identity and cultural behaviour, by empire. He was the centre of a local network, and part of a national and international one. Bragge’s story shows that we must regard municipal museums, in these crucial decades of their establishment and development, as just as imperial as the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert, and the Natural History Museum. They are thus just as important to scrutinise when we seek ways to decolonise our museums.
The task of decolonising presents an interesting challenge to me, as I straddle the academic and the practical elements of museums. I spent most of my MA year alternating between the library, where I wrote about the ways in which national and local museums had intimate, longstanding connections to empire, and Weston Park Museum, where I mostly directed people to the toilets and reunited lost children with parents. But visitor experience is also about explanation, clarification, interpretation. I now find this somehow harder, armed with my new knowledge about the museum. Do our visitors, Sheffielders looking for relaxation outside of work, entertainment for their kids, or a break from the stress of the neighbouring hospital, want to know about the dark history of empire? Many people think this is unlikely – and yet I believe they deserve to know, and that many would like to – if it were offered. If I can access this history, why shouldn’t they?
Weston Park Museum isn’t packed with human remains, nor is it a secret repository of Benin Bronzes. The back-of-house team are keen to open up this ‘hidden’ history, it seems, and yet it is a slow and difficult process. When I consider how much time I spend front-of-house not explaining this past, not discussing how many of local archaeologist Thomas Bateman’s skulls were sold to phrenologists for their racist ‘scientific’ investigations, I understand more why the process is arduous. Instinctively, I don’t want to disrupt anyone, or spoil their day. Whilst at work, I silently absorb how people respond to our collections, what they love, what they walk by with a rare glance, and what they recoil from – knowledge that any curator would, and should, value highly. Their job is to reconcile that information with what must be said. The frieze that welcomes visitors to Sheffield’s family museum is a product of empire; many objects on display and in storage came here because of empire. With curatorial support, front-of-house teams can begin to facilitate conversations with visitors, making the museum once again a laboratory of ideas, this time for a new kind of British identity, less soaked in imperial prowess. As places where communities are made and reinforced, and shared histories are talked about proudly and fondly, museums owe their visitors the truth, even if it is uncomfortable.
Pippa Le Grand is an Arts and Heritage Professional and Digital Marketer. In 2020, Pippa completed an MA at the University of Sheffield with a dissertation titled: ‘National Narratives on Local Display: Representations of Empire in British Museums after 1845’. You can find them on Twitter as @pippalegrand.
Banner image and image 1. Photograph of the frieze above Weston Park museum front door. Taken and supplied by the author.
Image 2. Unknown artist, ‘William Bragge (1823-1884)‘. Photograph supplied by the author.
Image 3. Weston Park Museum, Sheffield. Photograph taken and supplied by the author.
DR MONICA O’BRIEN
It’s a wintery afternoon and, once again, I’m scrolling through news articles about Covid-19. Since countries entered their first lockdowns, much has been written on the pandemic’s emotional and psychological impacts.
Loss, loneliness, fear, stress, anger; these emotions figure prominently in many narratives of the pandemic. It seems that emotional consequences will endure, even after Covid-19 comes under control. I very much hope that the kindnesses and compassion that this global pandemic has elicited will last even longer. I hope that we will continue to value and respect the work of medical and frontline workers and care for our communities, especially those among us who are vulnerable or struggling.
Observing and experiencing this time, I am struck by some parallels with early modern emotional responses to pandemic diseases. For the past five years, I have been researching medical, social and emotional responses to syphilis in Germany between 1495 and 1700. When I set out on this path, I expected to unearth records of aggression and hatred because, until recently, it had been widely assumed that the emotional response to pandemics was always negative; that waves of disease brought waves of hatred and blaming.
However, this hatred hypothesis is drawing increasing criticism. One important critic is Professor Samuel K. Cohn, author of Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS (2018). This book examines outbreaks from the fifth century BCE to the Ebola crisis of 2014 and demonstrates that hate is not the default response to a pandemic. He shows that there are numerous historical examples of communities responding with aid and compassion.
Cohn’s research encouraged me to abandon my negative expectations. Approaching my sources with an open mind, I discovered that, as we see now with Covid-19, the early modern syphilis pandemic provoked a broad and complex range of emotional reactions. While people were often afraid, many responded by providing support and compassion to the sick and their communities.
In the winter of 1494-1495, Charles VIII of France laid siege to the city of Naples, Italy. The conflict involved soldiers and mercenaries from Italy, France, Spain, the German-speaking lands, and Scotland. With the French victory, the combatants began to return to their homelands. As they travelled, a terrifying sickness seemed to follow in their wake.
Syphilis spread incredibly rapidly for the period, reaching Germany by 1495-1496, Scotland by 1497, India by 1498, and Guangzhou by 1505. While syphilis is today understood as a principally sexually transmitted disease, during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, many believed that it also spread through infected objects and non-sexual touch. Victims suffered with an array of horrifying symptoms: their bodies were covered in ulcerations and pustules and their limbs were riddled with agonising pains. In its most terrible form, the disease would rot the bones of its living victims.
In Germany, the earliest years of the pandemic were uncertain times. Medical practitioners struggled to find reliable cures; some even worried that it was an incurable illness. This is reflected in the poem pictured above In Epidemica[m] scabiem (1496) by Theodericus Ulsenius, a Dutch physician working in Nuremberg. In this poem Ulsenius wrote that nobody knew how to cure syphilis, and while the population suffered horribly, the doctors argued amongst themselves.
While Ulsenius and other medical practitioners searched for cures, many other worried Germans turned to God. Research by myself and others has identified seven Christian prayers written into manuscripts or published on single sheets of paper between 1495 and 1529. These prayers implored God and various saints, including the patron saint of syphilitics – Saint Fiacre, to protect the reader.
Following the old narrative of pandemics, we might expect this fear of a mysterious pandemic would be closely accompanied by hatred and blaming.
I have found no evidence of any mass scapegoating or blaming prompted by the arrival of syphilis in Germany. It was previously assumed that the names given to the disease, like ‘French pox’ and ‘sickness of Naples’, indicated blaming. However, Cohn demonstrated that, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there was no malice behind these names.
For instance in 1519, Ulrich von Hutten, a German knight and humanist wrote although he used the term ‘French pox’ he had nothing but respect for the ‘noble’ French. He simply used the name so everyone would know which disease he was writing about. Joseph Grünpeck, a secretary to the Holy Roman Emperor, believed that the disease had first arisen in France due to specific climatic conditions and the peoples’ particular bodily constitutions. For him, the French were simply victims of uncontrollable circumstances.
Many fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Germans, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, believed that God had sent syphilis as punishment for sinfulness. However, they did not identify a particular group as the perpetrators of this wrath-invoking immorality. Moreover, many contemporaries believed that, while some syphilis victims were sinners, many were ‘innocent’; they were not sinners suffering the consequences of immorality.
Many families and friends did all they could to support and care for the sick. For example, Ulrich von Hutten recorded how his friends kept him company and cheered him up, despite the awful smell of the treatments he was undergoing and his sometimes disgusting symptoms. In Nuremberg, a local man made a special bequest to his wife as thanks for “all her good and kindly will and work” in caring for him during his long struggle with syphilis. Even though syphilis was a frightening new pandemic, love and care played a central role in many individuals’ responses.
Governments and hospitals also sought to care for their citizens. In Frankfurt am Main and Nuremberg, the city councils issued various orders to slow the spread of the disease. For example, in 1495, the Frankfurt council ordered all syphilitics to be quarantined. These measures aimed to protect the healthy population.These councils also went to considerable lengths to provide medical care to the sick. Nuremberg spent thousands of Gulden on building, staffing and supplying a dedicated hospital for syphilitics. This helped to manage the disease effectively, providing vital long-term structure because although the pandemic subsided, syphilis continued (and continues) to affect the global population. The council also covered the treatment costs of those who could not otherwise afford it. They even cared for individuals who were seen as immoral, paying for the treatment of at least one prostitute and several non-local beggars (beggars were often perceived as immoral during this period of history).
During the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, there was much fear and anxiety surrounding syphilis, a horrifying disease sometimes linked with immorality. Nevertheless, compassion and help featured prominently in the responses of Germanic society. They comforted and cured the sick and protected the healthy.
When we come to write the histories of Covid-19, I hope that we will see a similar pattern. Furthermore, as we plan for inevitable future pandemics, it is vital that we look at history to understand how we can overcome fear, prevent blame, and foster compassion, care and community.
Monica O’Brien‘s research focuses on the histories of pandemic and epidemic disease in late medieval and early modern Germany. Her PhD (2019) explored medical, governmental and social responses to syphilis in the cities of Frankfurt am Main and Nuremberg. The Herzog August Bibliothek has awarded Monica a 2021 postdoctoral scholarship for her research project investigating the role of religious emotions in German responses to syphilis from 1495 to the present. In 2019, she won the McCarthy award for History of Medicine Research, run by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, for her work on Franzosenärzte (French pox/syphilis doctors) in early modern Nuremberg.
Banner Image and Figure 1. Cityscape of Nuremberg, in Hartmann Schedel, Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg, circa 1493).Source: Wellcome Collection. Licence: CC BY 4.0.
Figure 2. Theodoricus Ulsenius’s poem In Epidimica[m] scabiem with an illustration of a syphilitic man (1496). Source: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0.
Figure 3. Patients being treated for syphilis, from Paracelsus, Erster [-der dritte] theil der grossen wundartzney . Source: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0.
Author Photo. Monica O’Brien. Supplied by the author.