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America Meredith, 2012

The road to Indigenous London, strangely enough, began in Seattle. For my doctoral research, I completed a dissertation that would eventually become Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place (2007), a book that examined three kinds of Native history in the city: the experiences of the local Duwamish people, in whose traditional territory the city was built beginning in the 1850s; the histories of Native migration to the city from other places, starting in the later nineteenth century; and the uses of “Indian” imagery such as totem poles and the iconic Chief Seattle in the urban imaginary, something that has always been a part of the city’s history. Instead of treating Indigenous and urban histories as mutually exclusive – a typical way to narrate North American history – I argued that they have in fact been mutually constitutive.

During the same years that I was finishing Native Seattle, I was married to a Londoner. We travelled to the city on the Thames regularly, and each time, I found myself wishing I was not a historian of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century American West, but instead one with expertise in the kinds of history that would allow me to write about London. I was especially captivated by the idea of hidden histories within the urban landscape, from the works of Thomas de Quincey and Henry Mayhew through to P. L. Travers, Arthur Machen, Iain Sinclair, and China Miéville. I also became obsessed with lost rivers like the Effra and the Fleet, many of which still flow under the city. It was this sense of fugitive and occulted landscapes within a palimpsestic and deeply storied civic fabric that I found so compelling. And so, when my husband jokingly suggested I should write a book like Native Seattle about London, I at first scoffed, but quickly realized that this would be something potentially innovative. What would it look like to take the basic premise of Native Seattle – refracting a city’s history through Indigenous experience – and apply it to the centre of empire?

The result is Indigenous London. It is a five-hundred-years-and-then-some history of London framed through the experiences of Indigenous women, children, and men to traveled to the city, willingly or otherwise, from territories that became Canada, the US, New Zealand, and Australia, beginning in 1502 and continuing into the early twenty-first century. Built around what I call “domains of entanglement” – knowledge, disorder, reason, ritual, discipline, and memory – and including six poetic interludes built out of archival fragments, the book, parallel in many ways to Native Seattle, makes the claim that London’s urban history is bound up with the histories of Indigenous peoples throughout these four settler societies.

To get at this history, I not only had to become conversant in the histories of, for example, the Māori peoples of Aotearoa/New Zealand, but to work my way into the massive literature on the social and cultural history of London itself. The research not only took me to archives with strong Indigenous holdings – most notably the Newberry and Huntington libraries – but deep into the stacks of the British Library and the Institute for Historical Research.

For example, one of the stories in Indigenous London that readers tend to have strong responses to is that of Nutaaq, an Inuit baby who was put on display in a City tavern in 1577 but who died soon after. He was buried at St. Olave’s Church, Hart Street. To understand Nutaaq’s context, I not only had to survey the history of Inuit-English encounters in the early modern period; I also needed to create a “deep map” of St. Olave’s, a church whose most famous congregant was Samuel Pepys. (Indeed, the fragmentary archive related to Nutaaq, contrasted with Pepys’s encyclopedic, self-referential corpus, symbolizes for me the very nature of colonialism.) I also needed to include the story of Peter Morin, a Tahltan scholar and performance artist from Canada, whose “cultural graffiti” in London included a 2013 ceremony to honour the spirit of the lost boy. This interleaving of the urban and the Indigenous, of the past and the present, is emblematic of the work I was trying to do with Indigenous London.

Another interleaving of this sort can be found on the cover of the book. In 1762, three Cherokee diplomats traveled to London to cement peace after the close of the Anglo-Cherokee War. Like Indigenous travelers before and since, Utsidihi, Kunagadoga, and Atawayi were massive celebrities during their time in the city, with references to their stay appearing in London newspapers and even in the work of William Hogarth, and their political work resonated in Cherokee territory as well. Two hundred and fifty years later, in fact, the Cherokee Nations sent a delegation to Britain to walk in the footsteps of the three diplomats. Among this group was an artist named America Meredith, who commemorated the 2012 trip by creating a work that imagined the three original travelers walking across the iconic Abbey Road zebra crossing. Simultaneously iconically London and immediately recognizable as Indigenous, the image does work that parallels the story I was trying to tell, of the intersections between urban and Indigenous histories on a global and imperial scale, and of the power of Indigenous memory despite the traumas of settler colonialism.

There are so many other stories to share: not just of captives and diplomats, but of athletes and poets, medicine people and missionaries, and many others. And these are just the stories of London; there are other projects currently in the works on Indigenous histories in other imperial cities: Rome, Madrid, and beyond. To tell these kinds of urban Indigenous histories is to reframe not only the cities in question, but the place of Indigenous history in world history. Instead of relegating Indigenous peoples to the past as foils to global modernity, this work illustrates the ways in which Indigenous people and peoples were co-creators of that modernity. To do so, I hope, speaks back to empire in solidarity with today’s Indigenous communities and nations.

 Coll Thrush is professor and graduate chair at the history department of the University of British Columbia.

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October
27
2017

Final Program, NACBS Annual Conference

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The final program for the Annual North American Conference on British Studies, to be held in Denver, CO from November 3 through 5, can be downloaded here: NACBS Annual Conference Final Program - 2017

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September
19
2017

Final Program, Annual Midwest Conference on British Studies

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The final program for the 64th Annual Midwest conference on British studies, to be held in St. Louis from September 28 through October 1, can be downloaded here: MWCBS Final Program-2017.

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September
4
2017

CFP: British Literature and Sociology, 1838-1910

Posted by rdaily under CFP | Tags: sociology | 0 Comments

Though Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel are generally regarded as the “founders” of sociology as a discipline, sociological theory was actually rooted in nineteenth-century culture as intellectuals and scientists attempted to make sense of the political, economic, and social dislocations brought about by the Industrial and French Revolutions. Auguste Comte (who coined the term “la sociologie” in 1838), John Stuart Mill, Harriet Martineau, George Henry Lewes, Karl Marx, Henry Mayhew, Herbert Spencer, and Charles Booth were among the primary exponents of “the scientific study of society” during the Victorian era; significantly, their work often responded to or was informed by myriad literary authors and forms.

This volume represents the first collection of essays to illuminate the historically and intellectually complex relationship between literary studies and sociology in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain. As Samuel Kerkham Ratcliffe noted in a December 1909 paper read before London’s Sociological Society, “Sociology and the English Novel,” the “difficulty is not to discover sociology in fiction, but to find anything therein that is without sociological value and meaning.” This point has been more recently amplified by Wolf Lepenies, in Between Literature and Science: The Rise of Sociology, and Krishna Kumar, in “Sociology and the Englishness of English Social Theory,” who both have sought to account for Britain’s relatively slow professionalization of sociology before 1950 by citing the fact that “for the English their poets, novelists, and literary critics seemed to be doing a more than adequate job of analysis and criticism of the novel problems of nineteenth-century industrial society” (Kumar 55). With these observations in mind, we invite essays that will help to address some key questions.  How, precisely, did Victorian and Edwardian literary texts did help to develop and formalize the discipline of sociology? How did emergent sociological discourses and practices shape the literature of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth century?  To what degree were literature and sociology offering competing systems for analyzing the society they purported to represent?

We welcome papers that consider the sociological provenance of specific Victorian and Edwardian cultural objects and practices or papers that explore how various social theories and theorists were inherently tethered to or inspired by the literary. We especially encourage submissions that explore problems in and of the social through the “contact zones”  of literary studies and sociology. Essays might examine one or more specific examples of “the scientific study of society” and consider the degree to which these proto-sociological texts are themselves amenable to rhetorical, ideological, formal, historical or other permutations of “literary” analysis.  Contributors might discuss how specific literary works represent persons, institutions, or methods of thought associated with sociological theory and practice, and/or whether such literary works contributed to an emergent sociological discourse (or discourses). We also invite papers that explore how nineteenth- and early-twentieth century literary texts contributed to the expansion of sociology as a discipline and/or anticipated the later theoretical interventions of Erving Goffman, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, etc.  In addition, sociological accounts of the role of literature in the formation of national identities, classes, or class fractions in Victorian or Edwardian England would be welcome.  This list is meant to be suggestive rather than exhaustive.

We are currently soliciting proposals (300-500 words, plus one-page CV) for essays of roughly 6000-8000 words. Proposals should be sent to apionke@ua.edu by or before December 15, 2017.

Maria K. Bachman, Professor and Chair                                    
Department of English
Middle Tennessee State University                                             
 
Albert D. Pionke, Professor
Department of English
University of Alabama

 
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September
4
2017

Call for Contributors: New Blog on Teaching Britain and the World

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The British Scholar Society is pleased to announce a new venture, a blog on Teaching Britain and the World. This serves as a call for authors who would like to contribute to this blog with a post that is no longer than 1000 words. As historians, most of us are not only researchers, but also academic teachers, and we are keen to foster the dialogue about your different experiences, plans and projects in the university classroom. The (by no means exclusive) list of possible subjects includes teaching methods, the challenge of balancing research and teaching obligations, the construction of syllabi, the use of primary sources, the impact of current affairs and public debates on classroom discussions, language barriers, and much more. In order to make this as broad a discussion as possible, we are keen to include colleagues at every level of their career, who study any period from the seventeenth century to the present, teach at a variety of academic institutions, and come from both Anglophone and non-Anglophone backgrounds. We are also keen to include student perspectives. The only requirement is that the blog entry has to focus on the specific challenges of teaching the history of Britain and the World. The North American Conference on British Studies will be collaborating and cross-posting these entries on their blog, the British and Irish Studies Intelligencer. If you have an idea for a blog entry, please get in touch with Dr. Helene von Bismarck at helene.von.bismarck@britishscholar.org

 

 

 

 

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August
15
2017

Q&A with Thomas W. Laqueur

Posted by rdaily under Interview | Tags: cultural history, death, Laqueur , stansky | 0 Comments

Q&A with Thomas W. Laqueur

Helen Fawcett Professor of History, University of California Berkeley

Winner of the 2016 Stansky Book Prize for

The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton University Press, 2015)

 

How did you become interested in this topic?

 I have always been interested in death but my academic engagement began when I was a graduate student almost fifty years ago and read about the deaths and funerals of students in the Stockport Sunday School Memorial Book from the early nineteenth century. I used evidence from this source in the book in 2016.

Did any specific elements of your training as an historian prove to be useful to this project?

The Princeton of my graduate student days encouraged thinking big and eclectically.  My teachers—Lawrence Stone and Tom Kuhn in particular—had big theoretical and empirical  stakes in their work. At Oxford I had the privilege of working different sorts with historians who had a deep and intimate knowledge of local particularities. I think I had the best two worlds. 

Which archives and/or collections did you find most helpful?

When I began to work on what became my book I wrote to every local history archive and local record office in England. I must have picked up magpie like something from scores of them. As the project progressed new libraries and archives suggested themselves; archaeological reports at the Museum of London and the archives of the Imperial War Graves Commission and the Imperial War Museum for example.  I must in the end of visited nearly a hundred archives and libraries and picked up something useful in most of them.

Did you make any particularly important archival findings? Was there a moment when you felt like you had achieved a breakthrough in your research?

The breakthrough in this project as in all of work came when I was able to recognize and articulate clearly the historical problem that had been motivating me without my being able to say precisely how and why. There were of course moments when an archive opened up a new avenue of thought and research but the really important moment came when I recognized that the question I had been pursuing was at once foundational—why do we care for the dead—and locally specific—why do we care for the dead in particular places and ways at particular moments.

Does your project engage other disciplines? If so, which ones, and how?

My work has always engaged other disciplines. Historical anthropology dominates my most recent book; my college major in philosophy and continued engagement with certain figures—Hume most importantly but also others—informs all my work; medicine and biology were essential to the two before my latest. (I spent eighteen months in medical school to gear up for them.)  And two of my closest intellectual soul mates—Catherine Gallagher and Steve Greenblatt—are  English.

Do you have any advice for graduate students and early career professionals as they begin research projects or embark upon the writing process?

Three things:

 1. Think concretely. What do you really want to know and how might you find out? Begin there and not with some claim you want to “prove.”

2) Also think broadly. A great German historian who had been a student in Meinecke’s famous Berlin seminar before the Great War and had retired from Berkeley took me aside my first week here as a twenty seven year old assistant professor and told me that “the task of the historian is to connect the particular with the cosmic.’ I tell that to my students.

3) Heed the pleasure principle. Your work should be fun.

What did you find to be the most challenging part of the project?

 Figuring out what it was about.

 What was your most surprising revelation or important conclusion?

That while there are all sorts of religious and metaphysical reasons to care for the dead and that people in many instances act on these they are neither sufficient or necessary to explain the role of the dead in human affairs. The dead matter whatever one actually believes about them.

 Does your project have any particular relevance to the contemporary—political, social, cultural, etc.?

 Not a week seems to go by when there is not some news story about the destruction of graves, the naming of the dead, the building of memorials or some related topic.

What are you working on next? Will you be pursuing related research questions or turning to something completely different?

I am working on a book about why dogs matter to humans. I begin with art.  This is a wholly new project. I am also starting to work with Seth Koven on a book about the history of humanitarianism that builds on some earlier articles. 

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MVSA Seminars: Call for Papers

MIDWEST VICTORIAN STUDIES ASSOCIATION
VICTORIAN HEALTH & WELLNESS

Participants in MVSA seminars will write 5-7 page papers that will be pre-circulated to the other participants prior to the conference. During the seminars, the seminar leader and participants will identify important points of intersection and divergence among the papers and identify future areas of inquiry and collaboration. The seminar format allows a larger number of scholars to participate in MVSA and to seek financial support from their respective institutions to attend the conference and discuss a shared area of scholarly interest. Seminars are limited to 12 participants. All seminar proposals should be submitted via e-mail by October 31, 2017. (See descriptions below for details.)

Alternative Approaches to Health and Wellness Seminar Leader: Anne Stiles, Department of English, Saint Louis University
The Victorian era witnessed watershed medical discoveries such as the advent of surgical anesthesia in the 1840s, the gradual acceptance of the germ theory of disease from the 1850s-1880s, and the widespread use of experimental research in medicine during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Despite these medical advances, however, nineteenth-century Britons and Americans turned in great numbers to alternative health care and faith-healing practices such as mesmerism, spiritualism, homeopathy, Christian Science, and New Thought. This seminar will explore alternative, occult, and faith-healing practices such as these in Victorian literature and life. We will discuss why these alternative health-care practices appealed to large numbers of people and how they catered to followers who felt dissatisfied with mainstream medicine. We will also interrogate these alternative healing movements' fraught relationships with the science of their day. Movements such as Christian Science and spiritualism, for instance, frequently co-opted the language of science while undermining the materialist orientation of mainstream medical research. They also provided faith-based treatment alternatives for those who felt that medicine, particularly experimental physiology, challenged the role of God, the soul, or the individual will in modern life. Finally, we will discuss intersections between gender and alternative health care – for instance, why so many of the movements mentioned above appealed largely to women. We welcome papers on any aspect of alternative health care in the Victorian era, and on literary works or genres that explore such alternative treatments. Send a 300-word abstract and 1-page CV (both as MWord documents) by October 31, 2017, to Anne Stiles at anne.stiles@slu.edu.

Health and Environment in the Nineteenth-Century British World Seminar Leader: Christopher Ferguson, Department of History, Auburn University
The nineteenth century represented a pioneering moment in the history of environmental regulation, and the British occupied a central place in this history. Industrialization and imperial expansion subjected Britons to a range of new types of physical milieus while simultaneously generating an unprecedented assault upon the natural world. This context of environmental upheaval produced some of the earliest public health, anti-pollution, and conservationist policies, and concerns about "health" – whether that of the individual, society, the nation, or the empire – were foundational both to the conceptualization and the implementation of these local, national, and imperial government programs. This seminar seeks to explore the relationship between the Victorians' ideas about health and the environment, and the types of environmental policies and practices these ideas generated. Questions to be examined might include: How did nineteenth-century Britons conceptualize the relationship between health and environment? How were these ideas shaped by contemporary doctrines of religion, medicine, science, or political economy? What was the place of ethics in Victorian thinking about health and environment? Whose health was worthy of protection and preservation? Was the environment something to be conquered or to be lived with harmoniously? Did the Victorians postulate universal laws about the relationship between humans and the environment, or were these responsive to movements between built milieus or climates? Finally, did the Victorians' ideas about these questions remain static for most of the century or did they evolve over time (and if so, what facilitated this evolution)? Send a 300-word abstract and 1-page vita (both as MWord documents) by October 31, 2017, to Christopher Ferguson at cjf0006@auburn.edu.

In Sickness and in Health: Representing Victorian Illness Seminar Leader: Carolyn Day, Department of History, Furman University
In 1844, Friedrich Engels provided the following description of consumption in the working class, calling its victims "pale, lank, narrow-chested, hollow-eyed ghosts" with "languid, flabby faces, incapable of the slightest energetic expression." Yet just a few years later, in 1849, Charlotte Brontë provided a very different portrayal stating, "Consumption, I am aware, is a flattering malady." How is it possible for beautiful consumptives and hollow-eyed ghosts co-exist? This seminar seeks participants for an interdisciplinary discussion of the various representations of health and disease in the Victorian period. This seminar welcomes scholars interested in examining topics such as the role of gender, class, morality, and the environment in the understandings and representations of health and illness during the nineteenth century. Send a 300-word abstract and 1-page vita (both as MWord documents) by October 31, 2017, to Carolyn Day at carolyn.day@furman.edu .

The Midwest Victorian Studies Association is an interdisciplinary organization welcoming scholars from all disciplines who share an interest in nineteenth-century British history, literature, and culture.
For more information, please visit www.midwestvictorian.org.

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Finding a Dissertation Topic with Edward Perry Warren

When I applied for the NACBS Pre-Dissertation Grant last year, I wrote that I hoped the research I would undertake would help me to settle on a coherent topic for my dissertation. Indeed it did—though it wasn't until I returned home, stepped back, and took stock of my research, that a clear line of inquiry emerged. I realized I'd been working on this project all along, though I hadn't known it at the time.

Five years ago, I started a master's thesis about a classics teacher at Oxford in the late nineteenth century, and since then I've been grubbing about in the personal papers of British academics, trying to figure out what story might tie together these people and the world they inhabited. I tried intellectual developments, politics, professionalization. But as I extended my network of actors, pushed my chronology into the first couple decades of the twentieth century, turned my master's thesis into an article, and read new sources, a clearer way to make sense of these people's lives emerged.

My dissertation is a new history of coeducation in British universities between 1860 and 1930. It seeks to understand how coeducation happened and what logics spurred it at different institutions, and how individuals within universities negotiated, impelled, or resisted the professional and personal shifts it demanded. As I investigate further, I hope to find out more about the ideas and the professional and personal lives of the students, teachers, administrators, donors, and politicians who were invested both in maintaining and in challenging the norm of gender segregation, how they did this, and what happened to homosocial cultures as this change was taking place.

Through the research I did last year, I became interested in both men and women who maintained an investment in single-sex higher education even after the First World War (relatively late in the game), and the extent to which homoeroticism was a part of how they conceived of their commitment to single-sex educational communities. Take, for example, E.P. Warren, a wealthy American art collector respected for his knowledge of sexually explicit ancient art, some of which depicted sex between men. His collecting, and the efforts (spurred partly by his own sexuality) that he made to understand the objects he was collecting, gave visual evidence a role alongside the literary evidence scholars used to understand sex between men in antiquity.

When Warren's relationship with his long-term romantic and business partner John Marshall ended in 1907, he folded up his collecting business and sought another outlet for his expenditure. He lighted upon Oxford: a place where he had been happy as an undergraduate, and whose colleges offered a ready-made intimate all-male community. He got in touch with an old friend—Thomas Case, the president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford—to offer Case's college a major bequest. Negotiations about this went on for some time, but in a draft will codicil of 1927, one year before his death, Warren left £30,000 (about a quarter of a million US dollars today) to endow a "praelectorship" at Corpus, "[b]ecause the Founder of Corpus Christi College desired that Greek should be studied therein and the College has distinguished itself in the study of Greek and in the defense thereof…." The Praelector was to teach Greek and Latin, with a preference for Greek; he was only to teach students from Corpus, and never to do so "in the presence of any woman"; he was only to teach within the physical walls of the college, and must live within them as well, "it being my special desire that the Praelector… and the members of the college receiving his instruction shall as far as possible be in close contact and associate together." Needless to say, "No woman shall at any time be eligible for the Praelectorship" (Corpus Christi College Archives, B/12/4/1).

The college were thrilled by Warren's generosity, and no one seems to have been concerned about women's exclusion from the bequest. But Case's successor as president, P.S. Allen, was concerned about another aspect. Warren had proposed an additional fund for the construction of an underground passage, linking the original sixteenth-century quad to buildings that the college had recently built on the opposite side of the street. This would have been costly and complicated, and Allen struggled to understand why it was important to Warren that students should be able to access the Praelector even in the middle of the night when the college gates were shut. But Warren made clear that his goodwill—and perhaps the future of the entire bequest—rested on the college beginning construction of the passage.

Knowing that Warren believed sex between older and younger men to be a key part of the high culture of the classical world, it is difficult not to impute insalubrious motives to his efforts to see the passage built—and indeed to his bequest altogether, and its insistence on the exclusion of women from the increasingly outmoded form of classical learning it attempted to enshrine. Allen accepted the fund, assuring Warren that he would pursue the building project. But Warren was the ultimate loser in this story. The tunnel was never built—a river runs under the road in question, and the council refused planning permission. When it decided to admit women in the 1970s, Corpus went to court to have the gender-exclusionary terms of the bequest invalidated, and today the Praelectorship is held by its first woman occupant.

I'm still working out what I think of Warren's story, and how it will fit into my dissertation. But it's partly what led me to my dissertation topic: Corpus's records about the donation are rich with detail about why and how someone might have been a reactionary against the tide of coeducation, the ways that a discourse about classical antiquity shaped the terms of the coeducation debate, and the ways that conflicts over gender relations occurred in physical space (within buildings and on campuses) and were shaped by the vagaries of institutional politics. These are the sorts of issues which my project will continue to explore. They tell us a great deal about gender and universities at the turn of the twentieth century, and continue to resonate today. 

Emily Rutherford is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Columbia University

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July
15
2017

Interview with Susan Kingsley Kent

Posted by rdaily under Interview | Tags: Susan Kingsley Kent, textbook | 0 Comments


An Interview with Susan Kingsley Kent, author of A New History of Britain Since 1688: Four Nations and an Empire. 

1) What prompted you to write this textbook? How does the process of writing a textbook differ from other forms of scholarly work?

There is nothing like writing a textbook for learning things. The process of building an outline alone compels one to think anew about familiar material and that can be exhilarating. Textbook writing is not like other scholarly writing.  Rather than presenting an overarching argument based on primary sources and original research, as one would in a monograph for example, the textbook writer offers an overarching perspective that enables her or him to organize vast amounts of information that other people have already produced.  Certainly the textbook writer is creating new knowledge, but is doing so by recasting material rather than discovering it anew.

2) The subject matter in a book like this, especially a text that incorporates both a “four nations” approach and the empire, is huge! What was your strategy for boiling down such a massive amount of history into one discrete volume?

As a wise friend once told me, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  The key is to focus on one chapter at a time. It’s not always possible, however, and when it isn’t things get gnarly. Then it’s time to go back to your outline, to recover your sense of the book as a whole in order to figure out how a particular chapter fits.

3) How did you decide on the basic organization and themes of the book?   

It didn’t start out this way, but very early on in the process the campaign for Scottish independence kicked into high gear, and that set the stage for how I saw the book.  I wanted to complicate the story of “Britishness” as set out by such scholars as Linda Colley, to present the relationship of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England as contested and challenging and then to bring in empire to complicate the narratives even further. 

4) What role do you envision your textbook serving in a Modern British History survey course? How can instructors best utilize a text like this in the classroom?

I hope Four Nations and an Empire will become a standard text for British survey and British empire courses. In order to include the empire and nations beyond England I had to leave out detailed coverage of many conventional topics. That leaves room for teachers to focus more tightly on topics, if they wish to do so. But those omissions, I think, also speak pointedly to the English-centric nature of most “British” history texts, and that is well worth exploring in classes.

5) How does this textbook set itself apart from other histories of Britain? 

The most obvious difference is the integration of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and empire into what has conventionally been English history masquerading as British history.  By taking those other nations and colonial territories seriously as important players, the history we thought we knew changes considerably.  I find it far more interesting, frankly.

6) This book was published relatively recently (February of 2016), but it feels like so much has happened since then! Do you intend to make a second edition and, if so, will Brexit affect your narrative in any way? On a more general level: how responsive should our textbooks be to recent events?

 I think it vital to produce a second edition that will take Brexit into account.  Everything will be different for Britons now, and all kinds of questions will arise—will Scotland become independent in the aftermath of Brexit?  What will happen to the Northern Ireland peace accord?  Is there any possibility that a united Ireland might emerge from the debacle of Brexit?  How will young people in all the four nations respond to what looks to me to be a shrinking of opportunities for them and for Britain in the world at large. 

On the more general question, I believe textbooks have to be attuned to recent events.  On the most practical level, they are what students know; they provide the backdrop to the way they view the world.  More philosophically, I don’t think it’s possible for any of us to produce scholarship that doesn’t reflect in some manner—perhaps in some deep dark recess of our minds—the world in which we walk around. 

7) What advice would you give to other scholars who are thinking about writing a textbook in their area of expertise?

Do it: you will learn a ton. Get a good editor: I had one of the best in Charles Cavaliere at OUP.  Be kind to yourself:  there will be moments when you tear your hair out.

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“The firm” is the source base par excellence in the new history of capitalism. Prolific recordkeeping and influence in the political economy of cities, regions, nations, and empires mean that these bodies cast a long shadow in the historical archive. My research enters this conversation from a different angle. I see the local retail market—a collection of firms working under the very watchful eye of the state—as a nexus of informal, sometimes desperate, economy. The flexible structure and low-overhead costs of market trading attracted fledgling entrepreneurs, either women who straddled the divide between family and business, or recent immigrants seeking non-manual work. While working at the West Yorkshire Archive Service in Bradford this February, I came across an entry in the local market committee records that sheds some light on this particular socio-economic configuration: 

Application for stalls, 25 Oct 1951. H. Sharp. Trading as Sharp & Aldred.

Stall 69. Mrs. Aldred was looking after the stall but owing to domestic issues she had to finish with the business. Mr. Sharp has now arranged a partnership with an Indian, Sohal Singh. The Indian supplies the goods (or as he says acts as buyer) and Mr. Sharp’s mother looks after the stall. All profits are shared 50/50. 

Subsequent meeting: Sohal Singh gets 25% for buying and supplying the goods for the stall. This is not an actual partnership. I informed Mr. Sharp that if he gave up the stall at any time, Sohal Singh must not expect the stall to pass to him. Mr. Sharp accepted this.[1]

However brief and elliptical this entry may seem, it actually gives us a rich picture of a market firm in Bradford in the early 1950s. First off, we’re introduced to the various people involved with the stall. Behind the official façade of Sharp & Aldred are Sohal Singh and Mrs. Sharp; however, they are hardly equal partners in the firm. Despite doing the legwork of securing supplies during post-war rationing and price regulation conditions, Singh gets neither the full share of the stall’s profits, nor the benefits of stallholder rights (which usually meant the ability to inherit the business). Singh is literally spoken for in this exchange, as Sharp “accepts” that his Indian partner cannot expect the stall to pass on to him.

Just as Singh’s participation is circumscribed by race, Mrs. Aldred and Mr. Sharp’s mother are affected by traditional gender roles. It seems that Mrs. Aldred was the face of the business, currying customer favor during a period of shortage. However, an unknown upheaval in Mrs. Aldred’s personal life forces her to choose, presumably, between family and business. Her retirement clears the way for another woman to enter the stall, Mr. Sharp’s mother. While Mr. Sharp is the official side of the business, the one side we hear in dealings with the markets committee and Bradford local government, more informal economic relationships form the foundation of the Sharp & Aldred stall. The raced and gendered inequities of this system are inscribed in this source document.

While this brief record affords us a fairly complex picture of one market stall’s power dynamics, the source ultimately raises more questions than it provides answers. We don’t know how Singh became involved with Sharp & Aldred in the first place, or how long their relationship lasted. I have found evidence of other Anglo-Indian market trader partnerships in the archives, some of which arose from marriages or other domestic relationships that spilled over into business. It appears, however, that there was no domestic connection between Singh and the Sharp or Aldred families.

The goods on sale at this stall are also left unspecified. From my related research, I know that the specific goods on offer at open-air markets like John Street in Bradford could change quite quickly. This was especially true in the 1940s and early 1950s, when rationing meant that itinerant traders moved quickly between goods depending on supply and demand.

That said, Singh’s identity as “an Indian” provides some useful information on this front. In the mid-1940s, Indians trading in combs garnered interest from the Board of Trade. In periodicals and Board of Trade documents, demobilized South Asian workers or deserters were caricatured as mobile “spivs” who supplied such goods to gullible provincial women.[2] In 1950-51—the period when Sharp, Aldred, and Singh were active—the nylon trade caught the nation’s attention. In late 1950, there was a high profile case at the Old Bailey in which Framrose Patel, an Indian trader who came to London via East Africa, was found guilty of supplying nylons to itinerant Indian traders working the markets in Birmingham and Bradford.[3] While we can speculate that Sharp & Aldred was a women’s clothing and accessories stall based on the Indian supplier profile, it is impossible to be certain.

Finally, we can’t speculate about the duration of this business. Most of the archival information surrounding market trading in the immediate post-war period is found in the records of local Price Regulation Committees. Open-air market stalls like Sharp & Aldred did not appear in trade directories and only entered the public record when they broke the law or made changes to their ownership or goods structure. In this case, a firm personnel change brought Singh into the archive, but we can only imagine how many other “unofficial” suppliers were left unrecorded. In the ladder of informal trading, suppliers like Singh occupied a very low rung, more often than not below the level of official documentation.

My project, in many respects, suffers from an embarrassment of archival richness. Local government bureaucracy—compounded by the particular attention that retailers attracted in the 1940s and 1950s—provides multiple entry points into the retail market. This stall application entry, however, underscores the tenuous nature of this coverage. Archival records largely replicate the power structure of businesses themselves, privileging the identity of the white, male entrepreneur. To meet this challenge in my research, therefore, I integrate the methodologies of cultural history, namely reading against the grain for hidden subjectivities, to bear on who “counts” as an economic agent. 

-Sarah Mass, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan and winner of the 2016 NACBS Dissertation Travel Grant.


[1] West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Bradford, Bradford Borough District Council, Market and Fairs Department, John Street Market, application for stalls, 1950-1952, BBD12/1/3. Thanks to the WYAS for permission to quote this archival material.

[2] “‘Black Market’ in Combs” Birmingham Post, 13 July 1944.

[3] “Nylons Diverted for Export,” Drapers’ Record, 23 December 1950. 

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