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Dane_Kennedy.jpgAn interview with Dane Kennedy by Stephen Jackson [1]  

Dane Kennedy is Elmer Louis Keyser Professor of History at The George Washington University. He has published extensively on the history and historiography of the British Empire, and recently served as President of the NACBS. He agreed to an interview with the British and Irish Studies Intelligencer to discuss recent trends in the field of British Imperial History. 

 

1) You recently suggested that contemporary events have dramatically shaped both scholarly and public conversations on the history of the British Empire.[2] What responsibility do professional historians have to utilize our specialized forms of knowledge to inform the public understanding of empire?

The questions we ask about the past invariably echo our current concerns.  In this respect professional historians are engaged for better or for worse in public conversations that involve moral and political issues.  For worse if that engagement leads to categorical pronouncements about the ‘lessons of history’.  But for better when we challenge unexamined assumptions about the past’s relationship to the present and provide a deeper, richer understanding of that relationship.  What I tried to suggest in my JBS essay is (1) that the renewed interest in British imperial history since the 1980s has been spurred by contemporaneous forces and events that have preoccupied the public at large; (2) that these preoccupations have both been informed by Britain’s imperial past and have themselves informed how that past is viewed and its meaning interpreted; and (3) that those of us who are professional historians of the British empire need to be sensitive to this dialogue between the past and the present, contribute to it responsibly, and challenge deceptive claims about the past.  How do we do this?  By doing what historians do best: analyze evidence, contextualize it, expose its complexities and nuances, and, at the same time, seek out the distinguishing patterns and processes that help to explain change over time.  Let me stress that I’m not suggesting we can provide objective ‘truth’ about the past.  But we do possess a shared set of disciplinary tools and critical skills that allow us to distinguish legitimate claims about the past from those that are deliberately distorted to advance current agendas.

 

2) Elsewhere in the article, you called on professional historians to be more aware of how their own subjectivities shape their work.  In what ways has this awareness affected your own understanding of the British Empire? How would the field look differently if historians approached their research in this way?

It so happens these are questions that Antoinette Burton and I have asked ourselves, along with fifteen other historians who work on various aspects of British imperial history, for a forthcoming volume we’ve co-edited, How Empire Shaped Us (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2016).  We invited the contributors to reflect on the ways their personal, professional, and public lives intersected with and were informed by empire — and, in turn, the ways their experiences shaped their historical preoccupations.  I’ve found it fascinating to learn how historians whose work I admire were drawn to their subjects and what made those subjects meaningful to them.

As for myself, I came of age during the Vietnam War, and I realize in retrospect that I turned to British imperial history at least in part to make sense of that war, to frame and clarify my moral and political objections to it.  The time I spent conducting research in Rhodesia, which was then in its death throes as a colonial society, also had an important impact on my development as a historian.  The British imperial past has continued to intrude on the world I inhabit in various ways, most recently and urgently when the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

Will greater awareness by historians of their own subjectivity make any difference in how they write history?  Honestly, I don’t know, but it sure can’t hurt. 

 

3) Over the past two decades you have written extensively on the inclusion of new historical perspectives that challenged more traditional understandings of imperial history.[3] Do you believe that imperial historians have effectively incorporated these new perspectives into a more holistic understanding of the British Empire, or do we now simply have even more contending understandings of the meaning, substance, importance, and perhaps even the definition of imperialism?

I don’t think it’s possible to achieve a ‘holist’ understanding of the British empire—or any other historical subject, for that matter.  I do think our understanding of the empire has been immensely enriched by the new approaches that have been introduced over the past few decades under the banners of postcolonial studies, the new imperial history, Subaltern Studies, the ‘British World’ project, settler colonial studies, and more.  But each of these approaches has its own agenda, and I don’t see much chance of pulling them together into a grand meta-narrative.  Just read the essays by John MacKenzie and Bill Schwarz in the latest issue of The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History and you’ll see that the relationship between different schools of imperial historians remains as testy and polarized as ever.  These debates are signs of the continued vitality of the field, so I’d hate to see some bland consensus take their place.  What’s changed, however, is that the new approaches to imperial history have become far more pervasive and institutionally entrenched than they were, say, a decade ago, and their influence is felt even among historians who work on ostensibly ‘traditional’ subjects.


4) What new directions do you see emerging in the historiography of the British Empire? What are the major topics or research questions that you think will drive the scholarly conversation over the next decade? 

The nice thing about being a historian is that you get to interpret the past rather than predict the future.  At this point in my career I’m probably the last person to recognize the next big thing in British imperial historiography.  I will simply say that we’ve begun to see some innovative work in those aspects of imperial history that got left behind by the cultural turn, such as economic, political, legal/constitutional, and military history.  There’s also some great history being written about other empires, as evidenced by Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper’s brilliant synthesis.  The most exciting book I’ve read recently happens to be about the Russian empire — --Willard Sunderland’s The Baron’s Cloak: A History of the Russian Empire in War and Revolution (Cornell UP, 2014).  Finally, we should acknowledge the growing influence of transnational and global histories.  They raise the possibility that British imperial history will lose its identity as a distinct field and become submerged in these larger projects.


5) Would you reflect on your time as President of the NACBS, and how it has influenced your understanding of the wider field of British Studies?

What I learned from being president of the NACBS is how much the organization depends on the generosity of its members, who devote a great deal of time and effort to its operations.  It’s pretty remarkable that a scholarly society as large and active as the NACBS relies entirely on volunteers.  This includes its administrative officers, its governing council, its various prize and fellowship committees, its program committee, its webmaster, the local arrangements team that organizes the annual conference, and many others.  This speaks, I think, to the intellectual and professional value these volunteers attach to the NACBS.

We can be proud of what the NACBS manages to do with our limited resources. We host an annual conference that has a well-deserved reputation for its quality, congeniality, and reach, attracting large numbers of British and other overseas participants.  We also have remarkably vibrant regional organizations, each with its own annual conference.  Our JBS is quite simply the best journal in the field, its reputation the result of the hard work done by a long line of superb editors — again, each of them volunteers.  We have taken care to honor British studies scholarship with our book and article prizes.  And we work to nurture the next generation of scholars with graduate fellowships and other forms of financial aid, including stipends to attend our conference, as well as the essay prizes we give to undergraduates.  We have an increasingly active web presence, as this Intelligencer blog demonstrates.

The challenges we face come from the broader forces at work in higher education.  The corporatization of colleges and universities is causing the erosion of history and other humanities disciplines.  Fewer students, fewer faculty, and fewer financial resources for those faculty who remain, especially those who struggle as adjuncts, don’t bode well for the NACBS.  Our membership is shrinking, and it’s hard to see this trend reversing so long as the marginalization of the humanities within higher education continues.  At least in the near term, however, the NACBS has the financial resources and the allegiance of members to weather the storm.     

 


 

[1] In the interests of acknowledging my own subjectivity, I was a graduate student of Dane’s at The George Washington University from 2007-2013.

[2] Dane Kennedy, “The Imperial History Wars,” Journal of British Studies Vol. 54, Issue 1, Jan. 2015, 5-22.

[3] Dane Kennedy, “Imperial History and Post-Colonial Theory,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 24, No. 3 (1996): 345-63; Dane Kennedy, “Postcolonialism and History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies, ed. Graham Huggins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 467-88.  


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In his 1690 treatise, A Letter Concerning Toleration, John Locke wrote, “The business of true religion is quite another thing. It is instituted in order to the erecting of an external pomp, nor to the obtaining of ecclesiastical dominion, nor the exercising of compulsive force, but to the regulating of men’s lives, according to the rules of virtue and piety.”[1]  Locke, who was an ardent supporter of toleration, was attempting to elucidate the differences in what he saw as the role of government versus the role of the church in the life of Britons.  “Everyone is orthodox to himself,” he proclaimed.[2

In many ways, revivalism fostered this notion of individual orthodoxy, while also testing the boundaries of British toleration. The religious toleration with which Whitefield was concerned stemmed from seventeenth-century English notions that individuals ought to be able to choose their own church and religious practice without interference by the government.[3]

Like others associated with the early Methodist movement, Whitefield saw schism with the Anglican Church as undesirable, seeing themselves as reformers. In 1733, an article appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine in London, as part of a regular series titled “Civil Power in Matters of Religion.”[4]  The author insisted that individuals should be permitted to embrace doctrinal differences from the Church of England.  The writer was primarily concerned with legislative efforts that were favorable to the Church of England, but Whitefieldian revivalism took that point a step further.

When English missionary George Whitefield’s career began in the late 1730s, he advocated regeneration, itinerancy, and other doctrinal and worship practices that were inconsistent with those of the Church of England into which he was ordained.  Relatively early in his career, Whitefield also advocated arguments made by Pennsylvania New Light Presbyterian Gilbert Tennent that the conversion experience mattered more for the dissemination of religious truth than a minister’s credentials.[5] He interpreted toleration to mean more than just the ability to choose one’s own church and minister, but also to accommodate the doctrinal differences of revivalism while maintaining respectability within the Church of England.  Given revivalism’s emphasis on the conversion experience, it also implied that individuals could function as their own orthodoxies.

Unsurprisingly, Whitefield’s preaching was not well received by the hierarchy of the Church of England.  Even New England Congregationalists like Charles Chauncey challenged Whitefield to explain how he could reconcile views and practices that were inconsistent with the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, particularly the 26th article, which required clergy to be properly educated and sanctioned by the Church.[6]

By the time Whitefield died in September 1770, few of his contemporaries associated him with the Church of England.  He had largely ignored denominationalism in his preaching.  His career had angered influential Anglicans like South Carolina Commissary Alexander Garden, who devoted 10 years to a letter writing campaign to discredit Whitefield, including pleading with the Bishop of London to try Whitefield in ecclesiastical court.[7] British toleration did not come to recognize everyone as his own orthodoxy, but Whitefield’s career and the evangelicalism he helped to popularize tested its limits.

 

About the Author

Jessica M. Parr is a historian who specializes in race and religion in the Early Modern British Atlantic.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire at Durham in 2012 and currently teaches at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester and Emmanuel College (Boston).  Her first book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon was published in March 2015 by the University Press of Mississippi.

  


 

[1] John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (1690).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jessica M. Parr, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon (Mississippi, 2015): 18.

[4] “Civil Power in Matters of Religion,” Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 6 (January, 1733): 14.

[5] Gilbert Tennent, On the Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry (1739); Parr: 157.

[6] Parr: 98.

[7] Ibid: 55-56.


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April
10
2015

Finding Margaret Morice

Posted by jaskelly under BISI, Blog | Tags: early modern, eighteenth century, Gender, Scotland, women | 0 Comments

By Dr Deborah Simonton, University of Southern Denmark


I ‘met’ Margaret Morice in 1998. I had just finished writing A History of European Women’s Work.[1] Needing to get into some real primary research and since I was working at Aberdeen University, I asked myself the fairly simple question, ‘What kind of work were women doing in eighteenth-century Aberdeen?’ It was provoked by a number of factors, curiosity not being the least of them.

One of the first steps was a visit to Aberdeen City Archives, one of the best in Scotland. The initial visit was a bit demoralising, because the staff could only suggest the usual finding aids. Undeterred, I trundled through these and found the Register of Apprentices. This produced the first surprise, and was where I first found Margaret. With the exception of one entry for another female baker, she was the only one on record — but in regular entries, between 1776 and 1797, she traded as ‘Margaret Morice and Co., baker in Aberdeen’.[2] This is notable on a number of levels. The bakers, along with the weavers, were seen as the most prestigious of the seven Incorporated Trades in Aberdeen. As their historian insisted:

Notably in Aberdeen, the baking of loaf and biscuit bread has been preserved as a strict monopoly for the men bakers. According to the acts and ordinances of the Baker craft in Aberdeen, women were not allowed to bake any bread, pastry, or pies to be sold in the streets or chops, a restriction that was maintained until the abolition of trading privileges in 1846.[3]

Margaret also traded using her married name, when most Scots women kept their family name. She did so, I believe, because it furthered her commercial position as a widow.

Her husband had not been recorded in the Aberdeen Register of Apprentices, which misled me until I discovered that his apprentices were recorded in the Inland Revenue Apprenticeship Registers. Margaret’s, in contrast, appeared only once at Inland Revenue; all of her apprentices followed his death.[4] As a relatively prominent member of the Incorporated Trades, and their Council representative from time to time, her husband would have paid the stamp duty and ensured that his apprentices were properly recorded. On the one occasion when she did, she had just ended a partnership with a previous apprentice. (She twice entered into such a partnership.) Thus a ‘properly’ registered apprentice may have been essential to retaining the prestige of the business. Over the 30 years that she ran the business herself, Margaret Morice apprenticed 16 boys from the tradesman classes (compared with John’s 12 over 25 years). The apprentice fee paid and the boys’ terms of service compared well with those for male bakers, including John’s, in Aberdeen, Essex, Birmingham and Staffordshire.[5]

The discovery of Margaret Morice sent me on a trail, which I followed alongside other research on Gender in European Towns.[6] In fact, I became addicted to finding Margaret Morice. Since there was little business information available in the archives, I turned to the parish records of births, deaths and marriages, available on microfilm in the Local Studies section of the Public Library. Here I found her birth on 25 August 1718 and the birth of her seven children, including twins, beginning in 1739 and ending in 1750. Through serendipity, tucked in the back of the Council records, I found a notice of John’s burial in January of 1770, when she was 52. These also noted the death of a ‘child of John Morice’ on a couple of occasions. Thinking laterally, I tried Ancestry.com, and found the death of four of the children at very young ages. The eldest, David, and the female twin, Barbara, have a bigger part to play in her story. The seventh is still AWOL.

Trying a different line of enquiry, I went to the National Archives of Scotland (now National Records of Scotland), hoping for a will or inventory — no luck. I did however find window- and inhabited house-tax lists, showing her to have paid these through much of the same period that she was taking apprentices. Council Enactment Books added snippets here and there, mostly about John, but clarified that the bakery was well-established, that they owned the property from 1752 and that he was gradually building up a business and political persona. I felt I was coming closer to ‘seeing’ Margaret Morice, but frustratingly still with a great deal of speculation on my side. Gradually her story was becoming more and more visible — but still with gaps and a sense of incompleteness.

A return visit to the Archives, assisted greatly by a Strathmartine Trust grant, turned out to be an epiphanic experience.[7] On arrival, Fiona Musk, the archivist, simply asked what I was trying to do. Not very optimistically, I told her, and then said flippantly, ‘What I would really like to do is find Margaret Morice’, that is, literally locate her in the town. I knew roughly where the business was, but Fiona’s response, ‘I am sure I have seen her name on a map,’ was astonishing after sixteen years of research. A few hours later, she returned with a bundle — and there was Margaret, on the plans for the ‘New Street ‘(now Union Street) — in one of the houses to be demolished.[8] I confess I did a dance in the record office to the amusement of the other four people in the room.

Furthermore, Fiona pulled up the records of saisine, which I had previously been told would be useless. They unfolded the story of the property, from John’s purchase to its sale to the Council in 1800. At first I was perplexed as to who the sellers were: the two boys were named Abercrombie. Through antiquarian books in the Record Office, we identified that they were her grandsons, the sons of her daughter Barbara, who had become the second wife of an esteemed clergyman. This bundle corroborated and clarified the narrative of her son David’s bankruptcy and Margaret’s right to the property.[9] I had simultaneously been reading the Aberdeen Journal for the period, and there, in a notice Margaret Morice placed in 1789, I found her ‘voice’ for the first and only time. Her statement ensured that none of David’s debts were charged to her and asserted her role as baker in Aberdeen.[10] Up to then, all other mentions of her in the press had been oblique: a partner announced the end of a partnership with her; her son asked for a lease for his mother; and lawyers asserted her claim to the property.

There are still other small trails to follow up, but from piecing together an array of disparate records, I have been able to create a picture of her business, which was clearly long-standing and central to the commercial area of Aberdeen. It was also tolerated by the guild and held its own until near her death. Stories of women such as Margaret Morice are the bread and butter of our research; they whet our curiosity and through them we see the lives of towns come alive. This tale is not yet finished. Margaret Morice’s story, taken together with that of other businesswomen, about whom there may be yet less detail, will help us to explore how women’s businesses inflected the character of eighteenth-century towns.

This tale of discovery probably replicates many other searches and journeys made by other historians. Our curiosity leads us on; we get ‘addicted’ to finding answers, not all of which are terribly important. Perseverance and asking the same question, or similar ones, of the records, over and over, or of tangential material and of librarians and archivists is our stock in trade. In an age that prioritises publication — and publication of a particularly designated sort — we must not lose the curiosity and love of the past that drives us; we need to hang on to the wonder and joy of discovery — even with a little dance or two. And we need to keep using our skills, training and insight to solve these little mysteries; they can help solve the big ones.

 



[1] Deborah Simonton, A History of European Women’s Work, 1700 to the present (London: Routledge, 1998).

[2] Aberdeen City Archives (ACA), Enactment Books, 5. Register of Indentures, 1622-1878, see also Simonton, ‘Margaret Morice’, in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, eds, Elizabeth L. Ewan, Sue Innes, Sian Reynolds and Rose Pipes (Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 272; Simonton, ’Negotiating the Economy of the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Town’ in Katie Barclay and Deborah Simonton, eds, Women in Eighteenth-century Scotland (Ashgate, 2013), 225.

[3] Ebenezer Bain, Merchant and Craft Guilds, A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades (Aberdeen: 1887), 212.

[4] Great Britain, Public Record Office, Board of Inland Revenue. Apprenticeship Regis­ters, 1710-1808, IR1. For John, volumes for 1743-68; for Margaret, 1788.

[5] Simonton, ‘Education and Training’, 341, 352; see also Joan Lane, Apprenticeship in England, 1600-1914 (London, 1996), 117.

[6] Gender in the European Town, www.sdu.dk/geneton

[7] See the Strathmartine Trust website on support for Scottish research, http://www.strathmartinetrust.org/

[8] ACA, New Street Trustees, CA/10/1/30 South Entry Plan - Castle Street & Narrow Wynd, 1799

[9] Ibid, CA/13/NStT/5-16 Act ordaining David Morrice jnr to dispone his real & personal estate, 1789.

[10] Aberdeen Journal, 20 July 1789.

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Why do you ask me about my relations. Don’t you know that I have non, when I become your whore I lost all and every thing that was previous to me, an outcast from society, sad and solitary, has the best time of life past and every year gains me a few more enemies but not one friend – what else can a Homeless Vagabond expect
Mary Hutton to Gilbert Innes, 7 January 1822 (underline in original)


In 1814 at age twenty-seven, Mary Hutton met sixty-three-year-old Gilbert Innes of Stowe in the grounds of St Andrew’s Church, Edinburgh, as she ran an errand. Innes was a central figure in Edinburgh society: the Deputy Governor of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a Director of the Assembly Rooms and the Society of Antiquaries, a major patron of the arts and extremely wealthy. Hutton was one of several sisters from a middling Edinburgh family, supplementing her income from her father with work as a governess when she met Gilbert. They formed an intimacy that lasted over a decade, maintained in part by a regular correspondence from Hutton that survives in the Innes of Stowe archive.  Innes financially supported Hutton as one of several mistresses; Hutton in return provided sexual services, but also affection and emotional support.


In many respects, this relationship was devastating for Hutton, although the consequences were not immediately obvious. On the one hand, her correspondence indicates that she loved Innes and was sustained by both his finances and his, not always unwaivering, affection. Yet, on the other, when their relationship was exposed around 1819, she was shunned by her family and forced to move from her lodgings in Edinburgh. In losing “her character,” she also lost the ability to earn in her profession as governess, a role that required particular moral probity. Over the next decade, she lived on the margins of Edinburgh society. Her relationship with her family was, at best, strained and eventually broke down entirely; she was disinherited; she was forced to leave the part of Edinburgh where she was known and had an established community, and she subsequently moved several times each year for the next decade as her relentlessly nosey landladies and neighbours became aware that she was a “kept mistress.” As the years passed and her hopes of marrying Innes faded, Hutton became increasingly upset at the consequences of her choices and the “sad and solitary” life she lived, a distress heightened by the hardships of living on the social margins and in transitory accommodation. In this, she was not alone. Some of Gilbert’s other mistresses similarly struggled with the social isolation and poverty that their lack of “respectability” entailed. The desire for a stable “home” was a central motif within their writings, signifying not just somewhere to live but emotional security, respectability and a place in society.


As is well recognised, social marginality often had real consequences for wealth, physical health, life expectancy and political power, but it also had an impact on people’s emotional well-being. Living on the margins of society wore away at a person’s sense of self, perhaps exasperated in a context where “friends” and community were still vital to how people understood their sense of identity and for their affective connotations of place and embedded sociability. Hutton felt marginality as a hardening of her sensibility, an inability to mourn her circumstances fully, but also as a heightening of her nerves and levels of anxiety. It was accompanied by a strong sense of isolation and shame. Despite this, Hutton clearly worked very hard to present herself as respectable, demonstrating a tenacity and desire to remain part of society despite the toll a marginal life placed upon her physically and emotionally. In this, “the home”, an imaginary and emotive construct, became the location of women like Hutton’s hopes and dreams, a place that would take them from the edges of society to full members of the community that determined sense of self, and, with it, bring healing to both body and mind. While she enacted a “home” imaginatively with Innes, using their correspondence as an affective space to create love and a sense of family, letters were unable to provide the level of sociability of the physical home, which tied a person into an “attached” community, one that was “watchful”, but in watching reinforced a person’s respectability and membership of a “caring” community. For these women, respectability not only marked a person’s relationship to society, but was also deeply connected to emotional health and sense of self.

For more information on Mary Hutton, her relationship with Gilbert Innes and her emotional life, see Katie Barclay, ‘Marginal Households and their Emotions: the ‘Kept Mistress’ in Enlightenment Edinburgh’, in Sue Broomhall (ed.), Spaces for Feeling: Emotions and Sociabilities in Britain, 1650–1850 (Routledge, 2015), pp. 95–11.

Katie Barclay is a DECRA Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Adelaide. She is the author of the award-winning Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650-1850 (Manchester 2011) and numerous articles on family life.

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February
27
2015

Muslims in Britain: Aren’t We Forgetting Something? by Sarah Hackett

Posted by jaskelly | 0 Comments

Muslim communities and Islam receive a great deal of attention in twenty-first century-Britain. As is the case across Western Europe, and indeed much of the Western world, Muslims have regrettably been placed centre stage in debates regarding national identity, social cohesion, and the professed failure of multiculturalism, and they remain the key protagonists amidst fears and anxieties concerning cultural tensions and a breach of Western values. Indeed Muslim and non-Muslim academics, media pundits, policymakers and members of the general public are showing an ever-increasing interest in various aspects of Muslim minorities’ integration and accommodation in what is a progressively diverse British society.

More often than not, these deliberations are reactions to, and are both informed by and framed within, recent and on-going high-profile events and developments. These have included the Rushdie Affair, the headscarf and single-faith school debates, and allegations of “parallel societies”, as well as Islamic extremism abroad and home-grown terrorism as witnessed during 9/11 and 7/7 and, more recently, the ISIS hostage killings and the Charlie Hebdo attack. Partially as a result of today’s media landscape, it has been incidents and controversies like these that have shaped, and indeed transformed, the dominant view of Muslims in Britain. The 1980s enthusiastic pursuit of multiculturalism and the embracing of diversity during Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” often seem but distant memories.

Too frequently absent from contemporary discussions is the deep-rooted multi-layered and historical interchange between Britain and Muslims. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that some progress has been made of late. For example, recent years have witnessed a greater recognition amongst both academic and public circles of the Yemeni Muslim lascars who settled in British port cities and towns like Cardiff, Liverpool and South Shields during the nineteenth century.[1] The commemoration of the centenary of the First World War has gone some way towards honouring the otherwise largely forgotten 400,000 Muslim soldiers from pre-partition India who fought for Britain.[2] Furthermore, there is a small and sporadic, yet immensely valuable, number of scholarly works that explore post-1945 Muslim migration to Britain against the backdrop of what is a far more historically entrenched series of encounters between Britain and Muslims, which include the Crusades, the British Empire, and centuries of Muslim migration to and settlement in Britain.[3]

Despite these developments, there remains much work to be done. While Muslims have long had a presence in Britain, and indeed constitute an inherent part of British history, there still exists an all too prevalent perception that they are “outsiders” who “do not belong”. Fear and suspicion of the “the Muslim other”, Islamophobic attacks, and an almost continuous sense that Britain is on the brink of a full-scale anti-Muslim backlash all unfortunately seem to be here to stay for the time being. Far-right political parties and the Western media will ensure that this is the case.

History has a clear role to play as these frenzied deliberations continue to unfold. More needs to be done to expose not only the historical relationship that exists between Britain and Muslims, but also how Muslims have been present in Britain from as early as the sixteenth century and how Islam, the fastest growing religion in Britain today, has long been practised on these isles. An awareness of this history cannot continue to be confined to narrow, and largely academic, circles. Its wider recognition has the potential to promote an acceptance of Muslims as British and contest the regrettable notion that they pose a danger to British society. There is a clear need for additional historical inquiry that is better reflected in educational agendas and the public consciousness, as well as for additional cross-sector public-facing initiatives such as those being carried out by the Everyday Muslim project.[4] As Britain continues to find its way as a twenty-first century multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, it is clear that History has much to teach us.

 

Sarah Hackett is Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Bath Spa University, UK. She is author of Foreigners, Minorities and Integration: The Muslim Immigrant Experience in Britain and Germany (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013) and co-editor (with Geoffrey Nash and Kathleen Kerr-Koch) of Postcolonialism and Islam: Theory, Literature, Culture, Society and Film (London: Routledge, 2013). 


 


 

[1] See Mohammad Siddique Seddon, The Last of the Lascars: Yemeni Muslims in Britain, 1836-2012 (Markfield: Kube Publishing, 2014). Public-facing initiatives have included the 2008 Last of the Dictionary Men: Stories from the South Shields Yemeni Sailors exhibition at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and Peter Fryer’s photographic project entitled The Arab Boarding House.

[2] For example, see Ben Quinn. “The Muslims who Fought for Britain in the First World War.” The Guardian, August 2, 2014.http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/02/muslim-soldiers-first-world-war; and Radhika Sanghani. “Why British Muslims Need a ‘Poppy Hijab’ to Remember World War One.” The Telegraph, October 31, 2014.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11198378/Why-British-Muslims-need-a-poppy-hijab-to-remember-World-War-One.html.

[3] See Humayun Ansari, ‘The Infidel Within’: Muslims in Britain since 1800 (London: C. Hurst, 2004); and Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Muslims in Britain: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

[4] Seehttp://www.everydaymuslim.org



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Edited by Stephen Jackson

Stephanie Barczewski, John Eglin, Stephen Heathorn, Michael Silvestri, and Michelle Tusan discuss the hard work involved in crafting an undergraduate level history textbook on Modern Britain.

1)   What was it that initially drew each of you to this project? How is the process of publishing a textbook collaboratively different than the typical experience of publishing a scholarly monograph?

Stephanie Barczewski: This all started because Eve Setch from Routledge was on a tour of southern American universities and came to visit Clemson.  She asked me what I thought British history was lacking, and I replied (not for the first time to a publisher) that I did not think that there was a British history textbook that covered the period from 1688 to the present, which is the standard modern survey at most American colleges and universities, in a relatively compact single volume and in the way that most British historians today conceive of and teach the subject.  She asked if I was interested in writing one.  After thinking “yike!,” I said I would consider it, and I ultimately decided that it was hypocritical to complain about the lack of a good textbook if I wasn’t willing to take a stab at it.  Plus, the idea of trying to define and shape what British history is all about these days was appealing, if also daunting.  At that point, I already had two other book projects under contract, so I really couldn’t take on the entire thing single-handedly, plus I thought it would be better to recruit specialists in the relevant periods.  So I rounded up a few colleagues and off we went.  I had no experience of writing a textbook and no idea how different it is from writing a monograph.  It is a much more systematic process.  Instead of writing the entire manuscript before anyone sees it, textbooks are written in sections that go out to a massive panel of readers as you go along.  We sometimes got more words back in criticism and comments than we had written!

Michelle Tusan: When Stephanie approached me about doing the textbook as a team project I thought it sounded really appealing. We historians are not used to working collaboratively and this seemed to me a perfect opportunity to engage a different writing and research muscle. I, too, was dissatisfied with the textbook I was using and thought that this was the perfect opportunity to have a hand in creating a book that better spoke to my own research interests and those of my students. For example, it was important to me to have sections on informal empire in the Middle East which is relevant both to current scholarly concerns and how I teach British history in the classroom. 

John Eglin: The opportunity to write a British history textbook aimed specifically at American undergraduates was particularly appealing to me. There are actually lots of textbooks out there, but they tend to be written for UK and Commonwealth students, and thus assume a great deal of prior knowledge about culture and institutions and so forth. It is significant that most of us teach at large public institutions in the US, and are correspondingly aware of the need to explain thoroughly but without condescension aspects of a history and culture that is terra incognita for so many of our students. That sense of shared responsibility also drew me in. As for collaborating with four other co-authors, to be honest, I initially feared that it was a disaster in the making. In the end, however, largely due to the heroic efforts of Stephanie and Michael, it wasn't. 

Stephen Heathorn: The challenge of having so many peer reviewers was particularly daunting.  It explains why textbooks are rarely radically revisionist.  One of the consequences for us, however, was actually a harmonization of the content/viewpoint in a positive way.


2)   From the earliest point in the process there must have been tough organizational choices to be made. How did you determine the narrative structure of the book and strike the right balance between the types of history to be included (political, cultural, social, economic, etc…)? 

Stephanie: We knew from the beginning that we wanted the textbook to be up-to-date but not too radical a departure so as not to confuse undergraduate students.  So we knew that we would need to retain a fair bit of traditional political history but also incorporate newer approaches.  For us, the latter meant two things primarily.  First, a global focus that looked closely at both the British Empire and Britain’s place in the world more broadly, and secondly, the inclusion of all four parts of the United Kingdom and the avoidance of Anglocentrism.  It was interesting, though, that we really resisted a “core narrative” until we offered a round table at the NACBS in Portland in November 2013.  We were pleasantly surprised by how many eminent historians from both sides of the Atlantic attended, and by the liveliness of the discussion.  The attendees really pushed us to develop our themes into a stronger central narrative, and I’m very glad they did, because it made the book, I think, much better.  I’m pleased that every scholar who has taken a look at it so far has concurred that, as Sir David Cannadine put it, “It’s very clear what it’s about.”

Michelle: There were some concerns at the beginning about structure. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel yet we also wanted the narrative to be both familiar and clear. In the end, history is more than facts and dates but those facts and dates really do matter. This meant situating recent theoretical debates in the field into the larger narrative in a way that was both sophisticated and straightforward.

John: I will admit to pursuing an agenda here, as the lone early modernist among the co-authors. The eighteenth century often doesn't fare well in textbooks, sandwiched as it is between the tumults of the seventeenth century "crisis" and the industry- and empire-building of the nineteenth, making it seem like an insubstantial intermission during which nothing of any real significance occurred. Fortunately, the very serious pains everyone took to take an archepelagic and global perspective, and to go beyond political narrative, made it impossible to slight the earlier periods. It turns out that you can only ignore the eighteenth century if you look only at England, and only from the top down.

Stephen: Getting a good balance among the types of history was always a goal but was very difficult to achieve.  The session we had at the Portland NACBS certainly helped in this regard, as did having Stephanie edit the entire manuscript.  Not only did she smooth out the narrative voice, she ensured that we were indeed balancing the types of material.  Still, personally, I’d have liked at least another 50,000 words to do justice to all that we covered too quickly – but that was not feasible with the publisher, nor likely what our intended audience wanted!

 

3) What distinguishes your narrative from previous textbooks, and how do you think the work will benefit instructors teaching a Modern Britain survey course?

Stephanie: The global and imperial focus and the inclusion of more material on Scotland, Wales and Ireland are, I think, real strengths.  We have also incorporated more historiography, not always by referring to specific historians by name, though there is some of that, but by ensuring that students are aware that many things in history are the subjects of scholarly debate and contention, and that history is not just about memorizing facts.  Also, there is a very nifty website with documents, detailed descriptions of the events on our timeline and all kinds of links to excellent websites and documentaries.  The website is not just an add-on – we put lots of time into preparing something that we will find useful in our own teaching, and I think others will too.

Michelle: This book is very much of the moment. By that I mean that it was written from the perspective of a cohort of scholars who came of age in a period when British history was no longer a core course in the curriculum. Many of us have had to make the case why British history matters to their students and sometimes their universities. Our book reminds readers why in an era of devolution the story of the British Isles and the Empire maintains its relevance. The four nations and imperial themes are real strengths of the book as they demonstrate how contemporary debates about the nation and democracy remain embedded in the British story.

Michael Silvestri: We set out to write—and I believe we have been successful in writing—a textbook which presented British history rather than simply English history writ large.  And by that I mean a history which pays attention not only to the histories of Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as England, but to the “British world” beyond the United Kingdom.  Equally important, I believe that we’ve achieved a good balance between coverage of the different centuries.  One of the fastest-expanding fields of British history is the post-1945 era, and we believed that it was important to give in-depth coverage not only to Britain’s experience in the world wars, but Britain’s history in the subsequent decades.  To give an example from my own field, the history of decolonization is being reinterpreted and rewritten as new sources such as the “Migrated Archives” become available, and it is important not to glide quickly over Britain’s disengagement from empire, thus giving the impression that this was somehow an effortless process and also that empire had come to a definitive “end,” rather than having multiple legacies in Britain today.  The goal instead is to encourage students to reflect on the nature of the decolonization process, and the ways in which Britain sought to preserve its empire as well as divest itself of territories.

Stephen: The narrative does try to be more geographically inclusive than previous texts.  We’ve attempted to think about Britain in a global context.  Hopefully it will be more accessible for a North American audience with little or no prior knowledge of British history (or indeed of British institutions).  There is a concerted effort to make relevant connections to American (and Canadian) events, people and themes.  Personally, I think a real strength of this text is that cultural and gender historiography is woven into the political and social narrative and is not just an ‘add on’ or in separate sections.  Our text could not cover everything we wanted it to – but I think it is a good starting point for students; it provides adequate context and preparation and hopefully will stimulate them to investigate British history more thoroughly.

 

4)   How did you balance the individual histories of the four nations of Britain (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) with the need to provide a straightforward and accessible narrative for a mostly undergraduate and non-specialist audience?  How did the British Empire fit in with the larger narrative?

Stephanie:  The United Kingdom is a unique country in that even the terminology that you use to describe it and its constituent nations is fraught with all kinds of political and cultural meaning.  There are times when you can describe all four nations as a whole, but many, many others when you have to recognize their distinctiveness.  Though I was obviously aware of that before, writing this book made me realize it so much more.  For example, you don’t realize just how Anglocentric the standard way of teaching the Great Reform Act is.  It has a completely different effect in Scotland, and in particular in Ireland, than it does in England and Wales.  (Wales presents its own challenges as a subject because unlike Scotland and Ireland it didn’t have separate laws.)  The Empire is obviously essential.  It’s been the dominant paradigm in British history for over a decade now, and that shows little sign of abating.  But with it, too, you have to make sure you’re being sufficiently comprehensive: historians tend to focus on India, and to forget about the settlement colonies, which were crucial to how British people thought about the Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Michelle: There is a lot of empire in this book. It is both integrated into the text and has its own separate treatment in distinct chapters. The story of Ireland, too, gets extensive treatment. I think this integrative approach mirrors what is happening in both the scholarly and teaching worlds in our discipline. 

Michael: I don’t believe that the two things -- presenting the histories of Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as England and providing a straightforward and accessible narrative -- are incompatible.  In order to achieve both of those things, we decided that the stories as much as possible needed to be integrated; chapters which simply narrated a discrete story of the “Celtic Fringe” had the effect not of highlighting but of isolating and marginalizing these histories.  An emphasis on telling the histories of Wales, Scotland and Ireland with those of England is important for students in terms of their understanding of Britain and the United Kingdom historically but of Britain and Ireland today, such as the prominence of the Welsh language or the division among Scots about whether or not to advocate independence or remain within the Union.  I believe that such an approach can give students a richer picture of shared experiences such as industrialization or war.  Britain was and is, however, a diverse place and the histories of Scotland, Wales and Ireland also highlight the contrasts in the historical experience of different parts of the United Kingdom.  For example, in discussing the Great Famine, Ireland was not the only place within the Union where the potato blight took place, and exploring the issue of crop failures in the Highland and islands of Scotland helped illustrate why Famine took place in Ireland but not within Britain.

The British Empire was a natural subject to approach in this fashion.  In addition to the British World of the settlement colonies, as many historians have recently explored, British Empire very much a product of not only of English, but as many historians have emphasized, Scottish, Irish and Welsh efforts as well.  While we decided that the Empire was such a historically important subject that it needed to be dealt with mainly within separate chapters, although in some cases empire appears in conjunction with domestic events in Britain.  Empire is undoubtedly a complicated subject and we strove not simply to make it a catalogue of dates and places (either those being added to the empire or those breaking free of its control) but of the dynamics of imperial expansion, rule and decolonization.  In doing so, we put an emphasis not merely on the experiences of the colonized as well as the colonizers, but of the impact of empire on Britain: economic, cultural and social.

John: It is easier, I think, in the early part of the period to write from a "four nations" perspective, because of the much clearer political separations among three of the four. Nevertheless, one has to fight the tendency to treat the history of the other nations of the British Isles only to the extent that developments in Scotland, Ireland, or Wales impact the English. Many textbook writers just throw up their hands; I know of one case where authors tell their readers that "Scotland and Ireland and Wales were just less important, and we just have to accept that." The empire, of course, necessitates taking an archipelagic perspective, given that diasporan communities from the "Celtic Fringe" were important components particularly of the Atlantic and Antipodean empires. Nationality and empire are thorny and complex issues that have to be tackled in a text like this one, as are religion, gender, sexuality, class, and so forth.

 

5)   All five of you have different historical specialties, stylistic tendencies, and, I’m sure, strong opinions on what the finished product should look like. Throughout the process of writing this textbook, how did you ensure consistency in the overall narrative, in tone, and in style?

Stephanie: Actually, we were all remarkably in tune with what we wanted the book to emphasize and include – there was very little disagreement or argument about thematic issues or subject matter.  But consistency of tone and style was a real challenge.  The main theme of the responses to the first batches of chapters that went out to the readers’ panel was “the book needs more of a single voice and not five different ones.”  Though I am not listed as the editor, I eventually realized that as the person who had instigated the project I was going to have to deal with that issue, and so I took on the job of smoothing everything out to make it sound consistent.  I’m pleased that the group of eminent scholars from whom we solicited blurbs felt that the book was now in a single “voice” and that there was no longer a problem with multiple ones.

Michelle: This project made me see how broad the training in British studies is in the academy.  As a team, we had to find a center and stick to it in order to offer a coherent story that was useful to North American students.

Michael: I would certainly second Stephanie’s comment about the need for a single editor, and that was something which was important in terms of finding a common voice.  In my own experience, I found that as my writing progressed, my writing shifting away from what you might term a more “academic” style of writing (or perhaps more precisely one most suited to academic monographs) to a style more appropriate to presenting broader developments in history to a wider audience.  As historians, we tend to be cautious –and rightly so-- about the statements we make about the past as it relates to our specializations, and wary --as we should be-- of crude and sweeping generalizations.  We did not try to “dumb down” material, or present a simplistic or uncomplicated vision of the past, but rather one that challenges students and provokes thought and reflection.  In doing so, one has to be aware of things that might be of interest to specialists in the field as opposed to undergraduates, or things that might confuse or clutter the narrative rather than illuminate.  For example, while our text gives great attention to Irish history within the context of British past, I was conscious that we were not writing an Irish history textbook and even less so a book for specialists in Irish history.  Thus while we sought to portray ways in which Ireland variously upheld and opposed the Empire, as was pointed out in the editing process, I did not have to point about every single figure in British history who was Anglo-Irish!

John: I, for one, cheerfully submitted to Stephanie's blue pencil.

Stephen:  A lot of the credit for smoothing out the stylistic and tone issues must go to Stephanie for her editing prowess and to Michael for his judicious insertion of imperial perspectives.  There are still some subtle variations in prose style in different parts of the book, but I don’t think most readers will notice them.

 

6)   How has creating this book impacted your development as scholars, teachers, and informed intellectuals? What advice would you give to other scholars thinking about writing a textbook in their area of expertise? 

Stephanie:  For me, because I not only wrote my own chapters but edited the entire text, it very much increased both the breadth and depth of my knowledge.  Most scholars probably think about writing a textbook as being a somewhat superficial approach to history relative to their monographs, but in fact you have to read very deeply about the individual subjects in order to distill them into 500- or 1000-word explanations.  By the time the book was finished, I was really excited about teaching the survey again, which I’m doing this fall, so I’ll get to put all that I’ve learned into action.  I had just finished a very heavily archival project on country houses and the British Empire, and this was obviously very different in terms of the writing process.  It was fun to have them juxtaposed against each other.  I’m not sure that you write a textbook in your “area of expertise.” Mostly you find out what you don’t know, which is the most valuable part of the experience!

Michelle: Stephanie worked very hard to bring us together as a group. It was challenging at times but the process went relatively smoothly. I enjoyed engaging fellow historians in the audience and my co-authors at the NACBS and realized that writing a textbook is necessarily a group project broadly defined. After all, these books are only given life when they are read by students and taught by our peers.

Michael: In terms of advice, I would advise scholars to prepare for a lot of hard, but rewarding, work.   Be prepared to go beyond your field of scholarly expertise, and if you don’t like that idea, don’t write a textbook!  The reward is not simply in the finished product, but in how the experience of writing history for a broader audience broadens one’s own understanding your field of specialty.

John: I confess I have always disliked teaching nineteenth century Britain, and detested teaching the twentieth century. Now, however, armed with a first-rate, spanking new textbook, I feel equal to the challenge for the first time. As for the experience of writing a textbook, it is a marvelous way for scholars to take inventory of themselves: what do I really know and understand? What do I need to re-examine? And what are the best ways to convey this?

Stephen: I learned much about topics and issues that I thought I already knew quite a bit.   Michael inserted material on the Empire and Ireland that was particularly instructive to me.  I have already revised my own British survey in lieu of my own research for my sections of the book, and will now revise other parts of my survey due to the work of my co-authors.  As to advice: well don’t go into this as naïvely as I did!  I suspect most scholars think they could write a better text than the one they currently use.  After this experience I have much more respect for the accomplishments of the authors of existing textbooks, and a better sense of why texts don’t do everything you think they should.  You can’t do everything or please everybody all of the time.  But I do think our book is a very good alternative to the texts already out there.

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February
27
2015

Open Access, Learned Societies and the Public Good by Martin Eve

Posted by jaskelly under BISI, Blog | Tags: open access, publishing | 0 Comments

Open access (OA) – the idea that research work should be free to read and reuse – has gained international traction in recent years. Many governments around the world have mandates to ensure the broadest societal return from research that they fund, and a growing number of institutions in the US and beyond have their own internal policyrequirements for open access. This can work, for the most part, because (surprisingly) the vast majority of existing subscription journals willallow authors to deposit their manuscripts in institutional repositories, where the material can be freely read. This is called green open access and it is already a reality today.

An alternative to green open access is “gold” open access. This refers to situations where publishers themselves make work openly available. It does not refer to any particular business model to achieve this, but it does imply that publishers, in this mode, will derive revenues from sources other than subscriptions. In other words, publishing becomes a service that might be remunerated from the supply side (academic institutions or funders). 

The most well-known, although not the most common, business model that existing publishers are using to adapt to open access is called an “Article Processing Charge” (APC) or “Book Processing Charge” (BPC). In this mode, authors, institutions or funders must pay a fee to publishers once work is accepted so that the piece can be made freely available to all. This is less philosophically problematic than some might assume. It does not lower standards, and there are ways in which those who can't pay can be given a waiver through cross-subsidy. It is, however, economically challenging in several ways. This is not because there isn't enough money in the system if we could instantly switch everything tomorrow. It is rather the result of disciplinary and institutional differences, a reconfiguration of the cost/risk pool, and, to some degree, the role of learned societies.

In order to understand this environment, a little economic unpacking is necessary. As I wrote in myrecent book on open access in the humanities disciplines, the APC demanded by the subset of publishers who have fees varies. For PLOS, fees range from $1,350 to $2,900 per article. For SAGE Open, the publisher currently charges $195 (discounted from the “regular” price of $695). More traditional subscription publishers such a Taylor & Francis offer the ability to make an article open access in one of their journals at $2,950. "As a result, there is a wide variance in APC levels from £100 up to £5,000, according to Stuart Lawson in the UK’s Finch Report. This

incorrect and outdated information has now created a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby a more narrow range of £1,600–£2,000 has become the norm."

This is fine in some scientific disciplines. If you have an enormous grant for expensive lab work, such dissemination costs are tiny compared to the overall award. In the humanities and social sciences, however, far less work is funded and it is unclear where this money might be found. Furthermore, as it currently stands, the subscription environmentserves as a cost/risk pool. Under such a system, costs for publication are shared by institutions who all subscribe, rather than being borne by a single author/institution. Gold open access concentrates costs, which may be problematic in some disciplines and institutions.

Which brings me, finally, to the role that learned societies might play here. As the “Societies and Open Access Research” project shows, many societies have embraced open access for their publications. Indeed, what could sit more firmly in line with the mission of societies to promote their scholars' work than making it freely available to all online? Some societies, though, are strongly resisting. The reasons for this are clear: they derive extensive revenues from the sale of subscriptions. Indeed, my initial non-systematic trawl of the charity commission website in the UK reveals that some humanities societies profit by up to £283,811 per year (sciences go even higher). New not-for-profit publishers, with lower costs and open-access missions, cannot hope to match this revenue return from corporate giants. This means that we are unlikely to see price cuts in the open-access offerings of such societies. Furthermore, their publications are also typically high-prestige, valued venues. In other words, they carry great cultural weight, and set norms and expectations for disciplines.

Views on this structure vary. Some claim that the value of scholarly societies’ activities are more important than open access. I disagree. In fact, our university library budgets are being used to subsidise scholarly societies, which publish these journals. In other words, this means that the good work that your society does comes at a price: walling off knowledge from other researchers and students. This goes against the public good and transforms learned societies into agents of private benefit.

The solution is not easy. Societies need to get their revenue from alternative sources – not library budgets – so that we are not tied into one particular model for the economics of publication. This could, for instance, involve allocating savings from a library budget (from cheaper OA) at each institution to a “society fund”, which would then be proportionately paid forward to societies. However, such a reconfiguration would be difficult, and would involve a great deal of inter-institutional cooperation. Only when this is achieved, however, will the tension between learned societies' missions to spread the word and an economic model based on exclusion be eradicated.

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The Northeast Conference on British Studies (NECBS) will hold its annual meeting in 2015 at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, on Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17. The 2015 conference will be hosted by the University of Ottawa, with Richard Connors acting as local arrangements coordinator.

We solicit the participation of scholars in all areas of British Studies, broadly defined. In particular, we welcome proposals for interdisciplinary panels that draw on the work of historians, literary critics, and scholars in other disciplines whose focus is on Britain and its empire, from the Middle Ages to the present. Proposals for entire panels on a common theme will be given priority, although individual paper proposals will also be considered if several of them can be assembled to create a viable panel. Proposals for roundtable discussions of a topical work, on current issues in the field, or pedagogical practices with respect to the teaching of particular aspects of British Studies are also encouraged. The typical ninety-minute panel will include three papers (each lasting for fifteen to twenty minutes), a chair, and a commentator. Roundtables may have a looser format.

Proposals should include a general description of the panel or roundtable (including an overall title), a 200-300 word abstract for each paper to be read and a one-page curriculum vitae for each participant. Please include the address, phone number, and e-mail address of all participants (including the chair and commentator) in the proposal. For panel or roundtable proposals, please note the name of the main contact person. Electronic submissions (as e-mail attachments in Word) are preferred, with all the various materials presented in a single document.

All submissions must be received by March 15, 2015 (final decisions will be announced in June 2015).

Please send your proposals to:

Paul Deslandes, NECBS Program Chair
Paul.Deslandes@uvm.edu


January
27
2015

Considering Community Archives: Migration and Family in Postwar Britain

Posted by StephenJackson under Blog | Tags: archives, Diaspora | 0 Comments

Who were the Punjabi migrants who traveled to postwar Britain? When and why did they leave the fertile foothills of the Himalayas for the frosty damp British Isles? In what political, social, and cultural circumstances did they live? How did these Punjabis experience, negotiate, and articulate belonging (and non-belonging) in the former metropole? And how did these politics of belonging change over time? These questions, of what it means to be Punjabi in diaspora, have been for me questions of the heart and family, for I was raised in the suburbs of London (what will always be my home) by two parents born in Punjab. While my journey for the answers to these questions is ongoing, my research thus far has steered me to the wonderfully rich and yet largely marginalized archives of local community newspapers.

The lives of my extended family are intimately bound up in the imperial history of Britain. For the historian, the westward journey of my maternal family from the green fields of Punjab to the black foundries of the Midlands, represents just some of the ways in which imperial webs continued to shape mobility after the formal ends of empire. In attempting to explore what it meant for migrants like my family and others, whose lives were shaped by the great currents of empire and decolonization, to forge a new home in a foreign place, my research met a rather abrupt end in the national archives. The lives I was interested in were invisible, or marginal and scattered at best, within the files and folders at Kew. My own history and this research project, both of which I saw as part of what Bill Schwarz has called "the many inchoate histories of post-colonial Britain," had stalled on an unusually bright day in west London.

A week later, through a family friend and a favor called, I found myself within the office of the editor of the Des Pardes Weekly (home and away) newspaper, a Punjabi language paper published from offices in Southall, west London. The Des Pardes was established in 1965 in Kent by a Punjabi Sikh immigrant, Tarsem Singh Purewal. It is currently the most widely circulated Punjabi language newspaper printed outside India. As such it provides a broad window on to the everyday conversations through which Punjabi speaking migrants have articulated community and belonging on British shores since the mid-60s. When I arrived at the offices in 2011, no researcher had ever requested to explore their archives in full before. The treasure trove of materials, including the back catalogue of the newspaper and unpublished photos and readers' letters, were housed in an unused room on the top floor of the newspaper's offices. A messy combination of folders and piles, the archive had been ignored and abandoned (figures 1 and 2). At the top of the first box I opened lay a picture of my grandfather's older brother sprightly marching in the street (figure 3).

Along with oral histories collected and preserved by numerous heritage projects across London, the Des Pardes archive illuminates in my project diverse social histories of postwar Britain, from the inscribing of communities through the circulation of Punjabi folk songs, to the migrants guide to Christmas television specials. The newspaper includes sections devoted to topics ranging from politics and reader's letters, to poetry and travel. Outside of the pages of the paper, numerous boxes house the traces of family histories like my own. The difficulties of language have concealed such archives to a generation of historians. It may be time for departments to think deeply about the languages in which historians of postwar Britain train. For now, preserving the value of archives like the Des Pardes is a huge task, particularly within an increasingly bleak funding landscape. I hope that posts such as these will help make the archive more visible, and request that other historians working with foreign-language newspapers and other community archives in the UK may reach out to me (in the comments or via email) to share the common trials and triumphs of researching outside of mainstream archival spaces.

Rajbir Purewal Hazelwood is Assistant Professor of History at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She is currently working on her first book which examines Punjabi migrants in postwar London. She can be reached at rajbir.purewal@gmail.com.

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Western Conference of British Studies Annual Conference 2015
Austin, Texas, 15-17 October 2015
This year’s conference theme: “The Body Politic”

The Western Conference on British Studies announces the forty-second annual conference that will convene in Austin, Texas on 15-17 October 2015 at the Doubletree by Hilton Austin. Concurrent sessions will be held on Friday and Saturday.

As always, we invite panels of 3-4 presenters with chair and commentator or individual papers on any aspect of British Studies.  Advanced graduate students and early career scholars are particularly encouraged to propose papers or panels.  For the 2015 meeting we would especially like to invite any papers that focus on or situate research within the theme “The Body Politic” broadly conceived (the political body, the gendered body, the subjective body, the objectified body, the body as site of politics, regulated bodies, segregated bodies, etc.) 

The conference will feature a plenary address by Dr. Marjorie Levine-Clark (Associate Dean, Associate Professor, University of Colorado Denver), author of Unemployment, Welfare and Masculine Citizenship:  “So Much Honest Poverty” in Britain 1870-1930 (Palgrave, 2015).

Please submit proposals, including 250 word abstracts for each paper and a 1-2 page C.V. for each presenter, chair and commentator by 30 April 2015 to Dr. Lynn MacKay (MacKay@Brandonu.ca) and Dr. Jessica Sheetz-Nguyen (jsheetznguyen@uco.edu).

 
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