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

Louisa Hood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage tourism and recreation on the city walls today

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

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

York’s city walls as transport infrastructure

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

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

Today and in the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reading Russian Sources

George Gilbert

Reading Russian Sources: creating a new edited collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 3. Russian bank note (1917)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Global History of Sex and Gender

Hannah Telling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Stearne’s Confirmation and discovery of witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Britain First: The official history of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office – a critical review

Frank Trentmann

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.

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 second 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, 1890-1915, which was published last autumn. In part I, discussed my relationship with my own work, and my thoughts on its value and relevance. Here, I provide a summary of the main interventions made by my book.

II.

Anarchism, as a political movement, originated in the mid-nineteenth century, as something of a combination of the anti-authoritarian, anti-centralisation impulses of radical republicanism, and the mass, revolutionary goals of socialism. Anarchists called for a complete overhaul of society, abolishing capitalism, religion, and the state, without any of the compromises or intermediary phases advocated by democratic socialists and Marxists, such as political parties or a worker’s dictatorship. In later years, the movement would also incorporate anti-racism, anti-imperialism, sexual liberation, and gender equality into its broad remit of revolutionary goals, setting it apart from almost all other contemporary leftist movements in terms of its scope and commitment to end oppression of all forms.

Figure 7. Front cover of Le Petit Journal (Paris), 25/11/1893,
depicting the bombing of the Líceo Theatre in Barcelona
by the anarchist Santiago Salvador Franch.

While anarchist ideas found solid support in the Spanish labour movement from the late 1860s on, by 1890 the movement was in disarray, fractured by doctrinal splits between those who saw unions as the vehicle for revolution, and those who saw them as a platform for reformist shills. As the anarchists lost touch with the wider working class, some turned to terrorism in an attempt to provoke revolution, prompting a brutal response from the Spanish state.[1] Hundreds of women and men were imprisoned, tortured, exiled, and executed simply for holding anarchist ideas, most of whom had nothing to do with the anarchist bomb-throwers and assassins of public imagination [figure 8].

Despite this, the movement in Spain not only survived this period, but also by the end of the First World War had grown into the largest expression of anarchist ideas in world history, with its syndicalist federation (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo: CNT) claiming 800,000 members and on the verge of launching some of the most significant strikes and insurrections ever seen in Spain.

My research focuses on the years between these points: a time of experimentation, success, failure, pessimism, and hope for anarchists in Spain. From 1890 to 1915 the movement had no stable organisation, no recognised leader or unchallenged theorist, no single trajectory or grand strategy for revolution. Rather, befitting a movement that abhorred centralised power, anarchism in Spain reformed itself around a loose network of affinity groups across the country: local activists seeking to advance their ideas in the workplace, educators holding night schools in taverns for women, men and children, and—crucially—comrades coming together to publish books, pamphlets and periodicals, through which anarchist ideas were expressed and shared across villages, cities, regions, countries and continents.

Publishing underwrote every aspect of anarchist practice at this time. Almost 300 titles were launched by anarchist groups in Spain from 1890-1915, who published around 7,300 issues between them. Every sizeable population produced a paper in this period, from Cádiz on the southern coast to Irún on the Basque-French border, and La Coruña on the Atlantic north to Valencia on the Mediterranean [map 1]. Anarchist print was distributed to every corner of Spain, where correspondents would hand out papers or read to their illiterate comrades, and relate the affairs of their locality in letters back to the publishers, many of which would then be published in future issues [map 2].

This two-way exchange between readers and producers gave the pages of the anarchist press a kaleidoscopic quality, filled with philosophy, poetry, union news, fundraisers for prisoners, and notices from estranged families of migrant workers across the Atlantic. The stock cover of my book is an inadvertently apt representation of how I visualise this print culture, with publishing groups forming nodes that linked the movement together through multi-directional exchanges.[2] 

With all of this in mind, I push back on suggestions that the study of print, or culture more broadly, within political groups is irrelevant to ‘what actually happened’ or ‘what a movement does in practice’.[3] On a practical level, print is often the only source of information for the researcher on what actually happened. To dismiss it, or to treat it as solely a repository for information, ignoring its creation and function, is misguided, and overlooks the fact that one of the key things that anarchists in Spain did in practice was produce, distribute, and read printed materials, seeing this as valuable political work. Engaging in print culture was not the only thing that anarchists in Spain did, but it was perhaps the most universal practice within the movement and one which complimented all other activities: ‘We the anarchists’—wrote the anarchist theorist, Ricardo Mella, in 1902—’work for the coming revolution with words, with writings and with deeds…the press, the book, the private and public meeting are today, as ever, abundant terrain for all initiatives’.[4]

A loose, informal structure had its strengths and weaknesses. Publishing groups gave anarchism in Spain a semblance of coherence which was lacking in its porous ideology, making it possible to speak of a movement rather than a collection of disparate groups and individuals. Yet fragilities ran throughout this structure, not least because papers often buckled under financial pressures and state repression. At the same time, a reliance on print culture caused frictions in the wider movement. Access to money, literacy, and the means of producing media gave publishers authority and influence, making them ‘informal elites’. Publishers could hold sway over large sections of the movement, with little sense of democratic process or accountability. This provoked disputes within and between publishing groups, subsequent splits, and the creation of rival papers. Even the most prominent individuals in anarchist publishing could be embroiled in arguments and lose their standing, as happened to the pioneering anarchist-feminist Soledad Gustavo and her husband Federico Urales, who together edited the key publications of the movement until they were ostracised in 1904 [figures 8 and 9].[5]

It would be wrong, therefore, to suggest that a flourishing, dynamic media culture was the goal for revolutionaries who aimed for the immediate destruction of all forms of oppression. Anarchists in Spain were aware that something more was needed for this objective, though their ideas of what this would be differed. A small minority advocated forming a vanguard of revolutionary cells, committed to pushing the revolution forward through direct, violent action. From 1900 onwards, a growing part of the movement placed their hopes on ‘modern’, ‘rational’ education, which would lift the veil of ignorance which hung over the working class and help them to realise their own emancipation. A little later, many within the movement turned back towards the idea of organising the working class through unions, placing their hopes in the idea of a mass syndicalist confederation and the revolutionary power of the general strike.

The CNT which resulted from these efforts did not emerge out of nowhere, but rather explicitly built upon the cultural networks that had sustained the movement over the previous two decades. The founders of the CNT knew the value of print to organising the anarchist movement in Spain and made the publication of a central, national paper their priority. This was achieved with the transformation of the CNT organ Solidaridad Obrera into a daily publication in 1916, which soon dwarfed the output of every other paper in Spain.[6] Anarchist groups now refrained from launching new publications and closed their existing titles, which they viewed as redundant.

Figure 10. Collection of anarchist newspapers published in Spain
during the early twentieth century.

Although it never lost its heterogeneity, its regional differences or its prolific, ephemeral, and diverse print culture, anarchism in Spain was entering a new era as a more organised and coherent mass movement, supported by a single paper with a large readership. In assisting this development, anarchist publishers across Spain oversaw a contraction in the political culture they had created, viewing this as a price worth paying in the pursuit of the revolution.

Scholarship—particularly Anglophone scholarship[7]—on the anarchist movement in Spain has primarily focused on the era of the CNT: on the workings of this organisation, on the strikes and insurrections instigated in its name, on its leading figures and detractors and, above all, on the social revolution launched by the movement in the early stages of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Compared to this post-1915 period, the earlier anarchist movement in Spain has been regarded as confused and confusing, illusory and, by some, unremarkable. With few other sources from this period, with very few memoirs of turn-of-the-century activists, and the impossibility of conducting oral histories with long-dead activists and a complete absence of organisational records, print is the only means to evaluate the movement in its own words, the only meaningful indicator of anarchist identity and practice.[8] For a researcher, exploring this print culture can seem a bewildering collection of thoughts, experiences, emotions, traditions and practices; just as it would to a contemporary reader of the anarchist press.

The task of my book has been to reflect the plurality of this movement and the publishers who helped it coalesce and operate, revealing its convergences and contradictions, its successes, mis-steps and contingencies. Anyone looking for clear lessons on how to form a broad, radical, decentralised movement in this historical example may be disappointed, but the wider account may also give them grounds for optimism. Using very limited means and in the face of extreme hostility, the anarchist movement in Spain not only survived but went on to provoke profound social change, in large part thanks to the efforts of those who created and exchanged books, pamphlets and periodicals over the turn of the twentieth century. What they did was talk to one another across social and geographic boundaries, what actually happened was that they changed the world.

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 out more about his research.


[1] For an excellent overviews of anarchist ‘propaganda by the deed’ see Constance Bantman, ‘The era of propaganda by the deed,’ in Carl Levy and Matthew Adams, The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 371-387.

[2] A brilliant interactive map of anarchist publications in the USA created by Kenyon Zimmerman is available here: https://depts.washington.edu/moves/anarchist_map-newspapers.shtml

[3] Marcel van der Linden, ‘Second Thoughts on Revolutionary Syndicalism,’ Labour History Review 63.2 (1998), 183.

[4] La Protesta (La Linea de la Concepcion), 7 June, 1902, 1.

[5] For Spanish readers, a large collection of Gustavo and Urales’s seminal journal, La Revista Blanca, is available here: http://hemerotecadigital.bne.es/results.vm?q=parent:0002860475&lang=es

[6] A huge collection of Solidaridad Obrera as well as several other papers of the movement are available here: http://cedall.org/Documentacio/Castella/cedall203500000.htm

[7] An excellent bibliography on English-language studies of anarchism in Spain is provided by Chris Ealham in the introduction to José Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol.3 (ChristieBooks, 2006), available here. To this I would add my friend Danny Evans’s Revolution and the State: Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War: 1936-1939 (AK Press, 2020) as essential reading.

[8] Later periods in the history of anarchism in Spain are well-served by these alternative sources. Hundreds of autobiographies were published by anarchists from the 1930s onwards, and from 1975 a huge amount of oral histories were collected with activists, including many women who feature far less in other sources. Official documents of the CNT are also available from the 1930s.


Figure 7. Collection of anarchist newspapers published in Spain during the early twentieth century. Available in the public domain and here.

Figure 8. Front cover of Le Petit Journal (Paris), 25/11/1893, depicting the bombing of the Líceo Theatre in Barcelona by the anarchist Santiago Salvador Franch. Available in the public domain and here.

Figure 9. Teresa Mañé y Miravet (pseud. Soledad Gustavo) (3 December 1929), unknown artist, signed by German anarchist and historian Max Nettlau. Available in the public domain and here.

Figure 10. Joan Montseny i Carret (pseud. Federico Urales) (c.1942), unknown artist. Available in the public domain and here.

Map 1. Areas of Anarchist Publishing in Spain, 1890-1915. Attribution: James Michael Yeoman and James Pearson.

Map 2. Distribution of La Protesta (La Línea de la Concepcion), 1901-1902. Attribution: James Michael Yeoman and James Pearson.

More like this:

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.

More like this:

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 600 historians [as of 10.09.20] in support of a review of the official Home Office handbook for the citizenship and settlement test, please use the this form.

For links to British and international media discussing the historians’ letter, please see;

List of Original Signatories


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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