Saturday, July 31, 2004

Farewell, Blogger

Yes, it's time to move on. Early Modern Notes has a new home at
(DON'T use the link given in a previous post. It won't work any more.)

There will be no more new postings here. Please go over and visit, and change your bookmarks etc.

Friday, July 30, 2004

How not to address adult literacy problems...

Now we turn to the government's policies for adults with literacy and numeracy difficulties. Alan Wells, director of the Basic Skills Agency and a man who clearly spent many years trying to get governments to take this issue seriously, is highly critical.

According to the latest government figures, four out of five adults officially need help in improving their basic literacy and numeracy skills. 82 per cent. How have they arrived at a figure that, surely, no one can take seriously? By including "anyone over the age of 16 who has not got what is called a level 2 qualification in literacy and numeracy - in rough terms, this means anyone without the equivalent of an A*-C at GCSE" (the exams taken at 16 in UK schools). As Wells points out, this includes himself, and he's pretty sure that he doesn't have a problem.

Now, as someone with three university degrees, I am not perhaps the best person to complain that we have become obsessed with qualifications. But I would never conflate the absence of a qualification with the absence of education, literacy, numeracy or any other intellectual skills (let alone use such a confusion to formulate government policy). And as Wells says, this conflation could have serious consequences for those who are in real need of help.

Some might say it's a good deal easier to reach national targets if you increase the size of the target audience to include most of the population. It also means that you don't have to try so hard to reach that minority of adults who really have a problem...

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Wordpress is coming to town

This won't excite you half as much right now as it does me, but here you will be able to find the up-coming new WP weblog powered by (drumroll...) Wordpress. Unexciting for you because it's currently just the default page post-installation. Exciting for me because, well, it's post-installation and it works! And unless you do the dumb goofy things that I tend to do, like getting it wrong in the configuration file at the beginning, it's true, WP installation really is a breeze. And if you do get something wrong, the documentation is very clear and helpful anyway. I'm impressed so far.

I'm not moving everything all at once (I want a few days to play with my new toy) so don't change your bookmarks yet. Just felt an irresistible urge to tell you, is all.

Summer at the National Library of Wales

For those of you in Wales, check out the summer programme of events at NLW's spendid new venue, DRWM. They are varied, some in Welsh and some English: films, lectures, family history events, book and poetry readings...

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

What do they mean by 'Mickey Mouse' degrees?

Here we go again. The Guardian reports on the fulminations of the chairman of the Professional Association of Teachers at its annual conference yesterday. As it's reported, Barry Matthews, managed to throw together concerns about a) the government's policy of widening participation to universities, b) vocational degrees and c) so-called 'Mickey Mouse' research in cultural studies. But there are two quite different issues here, which is why I'm doing this in two posts.

I have a good deal of sympathy when it comes to the concerns expressed about widening participation, and some ambivalence. I believe that access to the opportunities of higher education should depend only on ability (and willingness) to learn, not on ability to pay, or where you and your parents come from. But I'm inclined to agree with this view:

He told delegates from a wide range of educational fields that teenagers were being brainwashed into thinking that university was their only option as the government fretted about meeting its aim of getting 50% of young people a university education by 2010.

I'm not convinced that setting numerical targets, and simply expanding the numbers of young people in universities, can in itself resolve disparities of access. In practice, it seems to mean increasing numbers of mediocre middle-class students, rather than significant and stimulating changes in the social composition of the student population. And I fear that if you expand numbers without addressing inequalities in access, then 'grade inflation' will lead to the narrowing of job opportunities for those without degrees, which will simply increase social inequality. (My personal view is that we need, if anything, fewer 18-year-old full-time students and more mature and part-time students and 'lifelong learners'.)

Now, what about his complaints about vocational degrees? "Do you need a degree to prove you have a vocational qualification?... Do we need bricklayers with degrees or with practical ability?" Well, of course the main priority when you employ a bricklayer is the practical ability (although I refer you to the last sentence of the previous paragraph at this point; I'd quite like to see lots of brickies doing degrees for their own education and pleasure...) Conversely, universities should not compromise on their core 'academic' foundations; a degree without academic, intellectual content is not a degree.

But the rhetoric here is silly. There are no bricklaying degrees, nor any likelihood that building contractors will be expecting them on bricklayers' CVs. Vocational degrees are aimed at something quite different. If you take a look at the most comprehensive source in the UK, the UCAS database of courses for 2005 entry, there are courses to do with 'building' and 'construction'; but most of them are in fact one- or two-year vocational diplomas such as HNDs (and from small HE Institutes rather than universities). Where they are full degrees they're either focused on science (ie, engineering) or management. Similar points can be made about other examples mentioned in the article. 'Surfing' and 'golf' degrees turn out to be related to/part of sports studies, again focused either on science or management. There were, by the way, no courses, degree or diploma, in pilates. (I'll come back to pop music in the second part of the post.)

Looking closer at the 'management' degree courses does raise a few questions. It's not that they seem, on closer inspection, insubstantial or lacking in 'academic' content. It's more that you wonder about over-specialisation. How useful, in a job market that's all about flexibility and adaptability, is a degree in 'beach and surf management' or 'sports studies (golf)'? Of course, modularisation means that 'sports studies (golf)' is probably very little different from plain old 'sports studies', anyway. (So what's the point, in that case?)

Do managers need degrees? No, let me put that a different way, taking me back to my earlier point. Do all managers need degrees? And do all these degrees in business management mean that employers end up insisting that candidates for management jobs must have them? What then happens to the alternative, traditional ways of recruiting from the ranks?

I think these are serious issues. But talking about non-existent 'bricklaying' degrees does not help in addressing them.

And if you think I sound annoyed now, wait till you see part II.

Update: In the Guardian today, two economists making the same point about what happens to the degree-less 'bottom half' (as well as raising serious questions about the effects on the economy).

Jobs and Funding Bulletin (UK)

This week's roundup from

Lecturer in History (fixed term), University of Swansea Wales. One year, from £23,643 pa. This is to cover for the absence of two members of staff during the course of the year, and I know that one of them is the early modern cultural historian Stuart Clark (who will be at Princeton for the first semester). Deadline: 13 August 2004.

Lecturer in Early Modern History (maternity leave cover), University of Sheffield. 6 months, £23,600 pa pro rata. Deadline: 19 August 2004.

Research Fellow: 'Colonial Possessions: Personal Property and Social Identity in British India, c. 1750-1850', University of Warwick. 10 months, £22,507 pa pro rata. Deadline: 29 July 2004. (they only advertised it on the 23rd!)

2 Graduate Teaching Assistantships in History, University of Hull. 'The incumbent studies for a PhD degree, while contributing teaching (up to 180 hours p.a.), plus related preparation, assessment, and administration. Training, mentoring and staff development will be provided.' Stipend £3,600 + maintenance grant £5,400. Deadline: 20 August 2004.

Also one for any Welsh readers (well, there might be):

Research post: 'Urban Culture in South Wales: Processions and Public Space, c. 1835-1914', Board of Celtic Studies, University of Wales. (You will need reading ability in Welsh). One year, £19,460 pa. Deadline: 9 August 2004.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Research notes

What follows is an example of why I love working with certain types of court records. Lately, I've been working my way through files largely consisting of indictments, for database-quantification purposes. Not thrilling (well, occasional flashes of interest). But now I'm on a nice meaty box of witness examinations and depositions, and I come across a teaser of a case, with the added bonus of interlinking national politics and local relationships. It's about seditious words again - or is it?

It's October 1680, and George Dutton tells two Cheshire magistrates that he

heard Mr William Winfeild of Tattenhall on the 17th day of June last was twelvemonthe [ie, 1679] say in his house that the queene had sent his matie three peares one wherof hee eate & if hee had eaten another all the doctors in London could not saved his life & that the duke of Yorke when hee went for Holland gave consent to his secretary to poyson the king yt Sr Jeffrey Shakerley was turnd papist his name being in the list & concerned in the plott & yt the then cheife justice of Chester was likewise in the plott & standing in his owne doare declared that the king leaned with the papists & was in the plott & would doe none of his true subjects any good & the countrys money went to maintayne his bastards...

At this point you need some national political context. 'The plott' is the Popish Plot, an anti-Catholic fabrication propagated by Titus Oates and others in 1678 that (playing on Protestant prejudice/paranoia) created a political furore. The allegations were that leading Catholics including the duke of York and the queen, Catherine of Braganza, were conspiring to murder the king and set up a Catholic government. (Sir Jeffrey Shakerley was a leading figure in Cheshire society and politics; I think he may have been MP, but I forgot to check in the library today.) And this was a set of lies with fatal consequences: a number of both leading and obscure Catholics lost their lives before the allegations were ultimately exposed.

You might already be wondering why the king himself would be 'in the plott' (but bear in mind that there was little that was logical about the Popish Plot business). However, the JPs questioned several witnesses, and they cast considerable doubt that Wyngfeild had ever said those words. No one else came forward to say that they had heard him say anything like it to them. A group of witnesses even disputed Dutton's claim that he had on one occasion within a couple of weeks - or, indeed, at any other time - told them what Wyngfeild had said.

Dutton's brother, however, said that about three weeks after midsummer 1679 George had said to him "that Mr Wyngfeild tould him [George] that if there was any plot the king was concernd in it". George's nephew said that George had told him (yes, there's a lot of "X told me that Y said that..." in this) that he had been dissuaded from reporting the words at the time by a neighbour, Charles Hughson, because "it would be a troublesome businesse and yt [Hughson] desired George to live peaceably & quietly as neighbours should doe".

Hughson himself confirmed that at midsummer 1679 "there was a quarrell between Mr Wyngfeild and George Dutton & that blows did passe betwene them", because, according to George again, "Mr Wyngfeild had spoken treason but ye next morneing Mr Wyngfeild threatned to sue George at London for ye scandell & George Dutton then threatned to goe and complaine to ye justices for ye treasonable words". It's ambiguous from this whether the quarrel and blows are supposed to have followed the initial speaking of the words or the subsequent threats and counter-threats. Hughson, too, could not swear that George had ever declared to him the exact words alleged, though "some thing was said yt ye king inclined towards being a papist". And he affirmed that he and his wife had "used their endeavours to make them freinds". So, Hughson's priorities were clear: neighbourliness and local peace were more important than vague allegations of seditious words about the king.

I haven't yet cross-checked other records to see if either man ended up appearing before the courts, or whether there's any record of previous contention (binding over to keep the peace, litigation, etc). It's not even entirely clear from the depositions whether, by that point (and why did it take so long?), the magistrates think that they're dealing with a case of seditious words (by Wyngfield) or of defamation (by Dutton), or whether Dutton went to them or they forced him to.

There was evidently a quarrel between Dutton and Wyngfield in June 1679, but what caused it is obscured. If, as I tend to suspect, Wyngfield never said anything stronger than that "ye king inclined towards being a papist", then it seems unlikely that Dutton would become quite so angry nor that the conflict would have intensified so easily unless there were already some kind of bad blood between them. Dutton complained that Wyngfeild "had don him wrong", which might refer to the threat of litigation (and yet it was only a threat), or to the fight they had. Or did it express already existing grievances? Equally, I do tend to think that Wyngfield probably said something prosecutable by the standards of the day, and that Dutton's claims were not pure invention. Another aspect of the law of seditious words is that it could make a useful weapon against indiscreet enemies and rivals. The disavowals of those witnesses may well indicate their desire, like Charles Hughson, to damp down this dispute in the name of neighbourhood cohesion.

But plenty of people had repeated those claims of Catholic plotting in 1678-9. Why not William Wyngfield? Maybe Dutton was telling the truth, or something very close to it, and the witnesses were closing ranks to protect Wyngfield (a man of higher status, by the way; 'Mr' was in this period still a title reserved to the wealthy gentleman). Why rake up old scandals, anyway? Especially if it might involve offending one's social superiors?

I don't, as you might realise by now, go to these records because they offer any reassurance that we can know what 'really' happened in the past. But I rather enjoy the uncertainties; I like being forced to think about the possibilities created by the gaps and ambiguities in the records. I really like 'maybe' and 'on the other hand'. Yesterday's post was about letting my brain wander around making odd connections. This one is about setting it to focus on one concentrated micro-slice of 'stuff' (good technical term there). Getting those two modes to play together is, basically, how I do history.


I've just learned that I've had a journal article accepted for publication in December. In an important social history journal at that, and the first one coming out of my PhD research to be accepted. (Not entirely sure what's happening with the book submission. I emailed the editor my revised proposal a few weeks ago and haven't heard anything yet. How long should I leave it before checking up? Don't want to look like a nagger at this stage of my career!) What I haven't done yet is to open the attached report and see what they want me to do to it. Hopefully, going by the phrasing of the email, not too much. But I'll leave it till the morning so I have the nice warm glow for the rest of today.

One day, if I succeed in finding a permanent academic job, this will no doubt be quite routine. Oh look, another one in the bag, that's my RAE* quota sorted then, now must go mark some essays. But not yet, thankfully. Right now, I'm one very happy bunny.

Except that it's just reminded me that I promised someone a chapter idea for an edited collection months ago, and I still haven't done anything about it. Oops. See, I am turning into a real academic. (Although so far I've avoided the book review industry, I have to admit. And I still only send paper proposals to conferences that I feel my work actually has some relevance to.)

*Research Assessment Exercise, for anyone outside the UK who doesn't know. Loathsome thing. Don't blame us academics for over-production of research. It's the bloody bureaucrats.

Monday, July 26, 2004

E. P. Thompson Memorial Bursary 2004

Applications are invited for the E. P. Thompson Memorial Bursary 2004.

The Edward Thompson Memorial Bursary was established by the Society for the Study of Labour History in honour of one of its distinguished founders and past Presidents. It is tenable at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, up to the value of £200 per annum, in order to support research in the MRC archive.

Eligible applicants are postgraduate research students on a PhD topic in labour history. We take a broad view of 'labour history' that includes cultural and social aspects as well as political and institutional ones. The application should include a brief statement of the nature of the research topic and some comment on its importance; an explanation of the value of the MRC archive for the research; and a statement of need. ...

Your views on electronic resources

The British Academy is conducting a policy study on research and information e-resources for the humanities and social sciences, and would like to hear from researchers in the UK. You can download their questionnaire here. To quote from the covering letter:

The British Academy is investigating the provision of, and access to, research e-resources, and we expect our Study's findings and recommendations to be significant inputs on this increasingly important matter to such bodies as HEFCE, AHRB and ESRC.

We are particularly concerned that researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences should be able to take full advantage of electronic developments, and should not be placed at a disadvantage because of strategies and practices specifically oriented towards research in science and technology.

The questionnaire should be returned by 27 August 2004.

Problems with domain migration

I was wrong when I thought it was sorted, and I should have kept quiet. The 'new' EMR was definitely available a couple of hours ago (I have the special secret code to tell the difference!), but right now it's broken (all I'm getting is the home page of my old web host or an error message). I do not understand.

Anyway, you will know when - or if - things are up and running again, because you'll be able to see the picture in the sidebar (since the image resides over at EMR). Handy, that.

Fingers crossed.

And, here we go: a few minutes later, it's back. I don't like this. I want stability, please. Is this sort of thing normal in the process of domain migration? Or is it something to worry about?

One thought leads to another... Drugs, drink and devolution

Well, British smokers (of whom I am one) should take note that smoking bans in pubs and restaurants (and other public places) are definitely on the way, although it's likely to take up to ten years. (The selfish addict in me, who can barely imagine a pint of beer without a fag, is dismayed; the responsible citizen knows perfectly well that it's indefensible to subject mostly minimum-wage bar workers and waiters to her noxious habit.) Some American readers will probably be shocked that it's taken us so long. They might also be surprised - unless I'm wrong in my sense that this is another of those things legislated at state level in the US? - that it is firmly agreed that this should be done nationally and not left to piecemeal local authority initiatives. "The one thing that unites all sides on this debate is that if the government is going down the route to a ban, it should not be left to local authorities to decide... You'll end up with strange situations where, say, Leicester allows smoking and Birmingham bans it."

... Reading which reminded me strongly of the situation created by the Welsh Sunday Closing Act of 1881. It used to be a standard complaint of tourists in Wales that you couldn't get a drink on a Sunday. But increasingly during the twentieth century, that was the case only in certain parts of Wales, since the Act allowed for polls every seven years, at district level, for voters to decide: 'wet' or 'dry'?

The movement was not always in the 'wet' direction, however. Even after a district had voted for Sunday opening, only 500 registered voters had to request it at the seven-year mark for a new poll to be held. (In)famously, that was what happened in Dwyfor (in Gwynedd) in 1989, and the district went 'dry' - on a turnout of less than nine per cent. And for the next seven years, there was a weekly exodus of Porthmadog drinkers down the road a couple of miles to Penrhyndeudraeth in neighbouring 'wet' Meirionydd for their Sunday pints. (Fortunately, Coleg Harlech, where I studied in 1994/5, is in Meirionydd...)

The last polls were held in 1996, after which all of Wales was 'wet'; a provision in the Sunday Licensing Act of 2003 pre-empted any further turnabouts that year, and for good. Time called on drink ban rule.

... Now, sometimes, it's stated that the 1881 Act was the first piece of specifically Welsh legislation in Parliament. Which is not quite true, since that leaves out the 'Acts of Union' (1536-43). Still, the Sunday Closing Act was the first of the 'modern' Parliamentary Acts for Wales, stemming from pressure within the country itself and associated with the rise of Welsh national(ist) consciousness (at that time, as the nature of the Act might suggest, very much a Nonconformist, middle-class, Liberal movement. Other landmarks included the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales in 1920.) And so let's leave out lots of complicated history now and fast forward to devolution.

In both the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, there have been plenty of teething problems and successes alike. For many of us, the lefty tendencies of both to stick two fingers up at New Labour is, naturally, a bonus (Labour may have the most seats in both institutions but a) their control is not absolute, and b) Labour here still has a strong Old Labour core. Makes a big difference). It's been a recurring feature of education policy; the latest in Wales is the decision to scrap testing of school kids at 11 and 14. The Scottish Parliament told Labour where to stick its up-front tuition fees; (some) Welsh university students still get (partial) grants (the Welsh Assembly doesn't have the powers to abolish tuition fees). Amongst other things.

But when it came to finding suitable homes for these key new institutions... oh dear. Escalating costs, rows over locations and designs, delays... The Welsh Assembly sacked its architect, couldn't make up its mind what project to go for (the moderately expensive cobbled-together or the much more expensive tailor-made?). Estimated costs started at £26.6 million, and will end up somewhere over £40m. But this is mere childs play compared to the Scottish disasters. Originally, this was going to cost £40m. Today, pretty much complete and ready for the MSPs to move in in a few weeks' time, it has in fact cost ten times that. The recent auditor's report is full of condemnation, quite rightly. the whole saga's been a disgrace. But, well, it's agreed that it's a fantastic piece of architecture. And both Wales and Scotland now have buildings designed for politics in the twenty-first century, which is frankly more than you can say about the Westminster Houses of Parliament.

Guardian special political reports: Scotland; Wales; Northern Ireland

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Early Modern Resources

Hopefully, the move is going to go alright - for you lot anyway. (I'm a nervous wreck. Largely my own fault, misreading instructions, forgetting to do simple things...) I don't think I'll know for sure until tomorrow morning (UK time), however.

(Update: 'tis done. And I think everything is where it should be.
Pissed off update: Spoke too bloody soon. What's going on now?)

And then, which shall it be? WordPress or MT? I'm moving more and more towards WordPress at the moment. Does anyone who's tried both have any thoughts before I make my final decision?

And does anyone know how much memory space/bandwidth a fairly small blog like this actually uses? It's one of those things that you can't get any sense of with Blogger.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Come worship at the feet of Kevin Brownlow

For anyone who can get to London this September, a must-see season showing at the NFT devoted to film historian and director Kevin Brownlow. Early modernists may be familiar with Brownlow's superb film Winstanley (as in Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers), which is one of the films being shown. I've only ever seen it on video; it should be mind-blowing on a cinema screen. But they're also showing the controversial It Happened Here, which I've wanted to see for ages; it imagines a scenario in which the Nazis invaded Britain and won the war. These are Brownlow's only feature films; the others are documentaries, and Brownlow is perhaps best known in film circles as a historian of silent films, writer of an authoritative history on the subject, The Parade's Gone By. The great man will appear himself on 13 September. A friend of mine who's a member of the NFT is being charged with the responsibility of getting us tickets.

Around the 'early modern' world II: African Odysseys

This has been a thought-provoking - and exhausting - exercise. My study of African history as an undergrad was confined to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries (and largely to specific areas of 'British' west and east Africa); stir in a bit of post-grad work on orientalism, missionaries and related topics, and, er, that's about it. This thread on the periodization of African history at H-Africa is well worth reading. Importantly, some contributors argued very strongly for the need to focus on 'indigenous' perceptions and experiences (this one, by an archaeologist, I thought was particularly forceful). Except, perhaps, in terms of 'encounters' with Europeans from the fifteenth century up to imperial conquests, it's doubtful how much relevance the term 'early modern' has to African history. I mean not so much the loadedness of the term 'modern' here as the basic question of whether there is (however roughly) any identifiable, useful 'period', whatever you might choose to call it, that bears any relation whatsoever to these dates. And then, of course, there's the huge diversity of the continent to consider. That's why my brain is spinning today.

I found myself a little concerned at the very, well, 'modern' perspectives expressed by some commenters in the H-Africa thread, such as this otherwise very interesting one: that is to say, the thousands of years in this vast continent before the 'colonial' and 'postcolonial' periods are all to be lumped together as the 'pre-colonial' or 'independent' period? And it has to be said that much of what you can find on the web does just that: a wealth of detailed resources and studies on the last century can be contrasted with surveys that breathlessly cover centuries at a time for earlier periods, or on 'X topic' in some rather timeless 'pre-colonial' setting. I appreciate that the nature of source materials in many areas may not allow the kind of specificity that document-oriented historians are used to, but even so... (And book and article titles that popped up on Google searches indicate that there's interesting research going on out there.)

Anyway, I have tried to find resources that are not in the ultra-superficial league. There is a weighting towards 'political' narratives; more 'social' stuff would have been good, but never mind. I have included very little on Europeans in Africa or slavery and the slave trade - there are already some relevant links at Early Modern Resources. If you bear in mind that it was compiled by someone who was learning as she went along (search strategy? what's one of those then?), you may hopefully find it useful. (If you're reading it and thinking 'I could have done a better job than that' - then get off your arse and do it, OK?)

African Timelines: 15th to early 19th centuries
The Story of Africa: Slavery
The Portuguese in Africa 1415-1600
Exploring Africa: Maps and Travel Narratives
The Eye of the Beholder (maps of Africa)
Antiquarian Maps of Africa
The Black Man's Burden (1920)
Diffusion and other problems in the history of African states
Misunderstanding natives in the seventeenth century

Political African Women of the 16th-18th centuries
Pre-colonial Homosexuality in Africa
Pre-colonial Metalworking Bibliography
Ethnicity in Africa 1700-1850 Bibliography
African Political Entities before the Scramble
Zakat in pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa

Timeline: The Maghrib 1400-1600
Timeline: The Maghrib 1600-1800
Warfare and firearms in fifteenth-century Morocco
Sa'did Architecture
Tunisia's Andalusian Heritage
Libya: Ottoman Regency
Ottoman rule in Algeria
Timeline: Egypt 1400-1600
Timeline: Egypt 1600-1800
Egypt under the Ottoman Empire
History of Ottoman Egypt
Egypt: Ottoman Turk Period
Administration in Egypt from Ottoman Times (book review)
Cairo City Maps

The Story of Africa: West African Kingdoms
Timbuktu Libraries
Kingdoms of the Medieval Sudan
Timeline: Western and Central Sudan 1400-1600
Timeline: Western and Central Sudan 1600-1800
The Forest Kingdoms
Timeline: Guinea Coast 1400-1600
Timeline: Guinea Coast 1600-1800
Art,Innovation and Politics in Eighteenth-century Benin
Women in pre-colonial Nigeria

The Story of Africa: Central African Kingdoms
Timeline: Central Africa 1400-1600
Timeline: Central Africa 1600-1800
Luba and Lunda Empires
Kuba Kingdom
The Kongo Kingdom and the Papacy
History of Angola

Timeline: Eastern and Southern Africa 1400-1600
Timeline: Eastern Africa 1600-1800
Timeline: Southern Africa 1600-1800
Kingdoms of Madagascar
The Dutch in South Africa

Friday, July 23, 2004

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1669

Great title from the BBC. I'm not altogether happy about the stereotypical view of 'Puritans' here: the claim that they "looked down on drinking". They may have looked down on alehouses (the most basic type of establishment, which served only beer, and was the usual haunt of poorer customers), and have been concerned to regulate them, suppress disorderly establishments and act against excessive drinking, but that's not quite the same thing. They were perhaps more exercised than most about drinking on the Sabbath (worst of all, during divine service!), but this view of Puritans as anti-drink in opposition to revelling Royalists is crude. (The notion that coffee, or the coffee house, was in its early days a straightforwardly respectable alternative is also a bit off the mark.)

In fact, Parliamentarians from 1643 - like modern governments - had some reason to want people to be patronising alehouses and the somewhat more up-market taverns and inns, since that was the year that excise duties were introduced. Initially, they were intended as a temporary measure to raise revenue for the war. But the returning Royalists at the Restoration happily adopted this lucrative measure, and spent the next twenty-odd years trying to work out the most effective ways of collecting it. (Try government officials, farm it out, take it back under government control again...) Only after the Revolution of 1688 was the machinery really honed to become part of the tax system that funded British war-making during the eighteenth century. (The classic account of this is John Brewer's The sinews of power; for the period before 1688, C D Chandamon, The English public revenue). It wouldn't be too far out to say that our drinking (in part) funded the Empire... even though the customs and excise generated a massive smuggling industry.

Anyway, however, the article is quite right to point out that drinking could be a political act during the seventeenth century, and into the eighteenth. Especially the drinking of toasts. Now, disaffected Royalist gentlemen drinking toasts to the man they considered to be Charles II certainly was a problem for Interregnum authorities. After the Restoration, of course, the position was reversed and toasting the king was a statement of loyalty. And later, after 1688, there was a choice: between toasting the monarch or the Stuart pretenders. A man who refused to follow the lead of the company he was in could end up being beaten up. One who toasted the Stuarts too publicly could find himself in court on sedition charges (though not in a Tory-run county like Denbighshire where the greatest magnate, Watkyn Williams-Wynn, was strongly suspected of being a Jacobite sympathiser himself, and was rumoured to have had to make a hasty and undignified exit from Shrewsbury to avoid charges of drinking toasts to the Pretender).

Well into the eighteenth century, hard drinking was part of what it meant to be a gentleman; a 'six-bottle man' was a real man. What with all the claret and beef, no wonder so many of them had gout.

Update: The Guardian has also reported on this research. It also tends to emphasise the gruesome and sensational, but it seems a more subtle take than the BBC's version. But I'm just jealous now. Nobody ever came to me when there was a big story about violence in the news asking for rentaquotes about the seventeenth century...

There is a Chronology of English alcohol-related legislation at the lovely website The Pub in Literature: England's Altered State
Eighteenth-century drinking glasses has a wealth of information about the politics of drinking.
Jacobite rebellions gives a quick overview of Jacobitism.
And apparently it wasn't so very different in the American colonies...

Early Modern Resources Newsflash

I've finally made the decision to move EMR to a new host. Of course, once done, this will make no difference to users at all. But it seems safest to assume that at some stage during the move there's like to be some interrupted service. Be patient if you're trying to visit over the next few days and can't get access. I'll post again once it's done and normal service can be expected to have resumed.

This will mean changes over here at EMN too, as the new host offers the techie things required for blog publishing that my old (very basic) hosting account didn't. Watch this space...


I think it's about time I did one of those roundups that are such fun at other sites. Spotted here and there...

Museums gain £20m art in lieu of tax

Tourist attraction carved from ruin. From the ashes...

Napoleon was killed by incompetent doctors. So, no more conspiracy theories. Boo.

Police recruits sent to university

Naked Olympics. Now that's what I call re-enactment.

Conference nightmares

US summer camps coming to Britain?

The real Merlin Arthur, move over.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Crime's up... no, it's down...

Confusion all round, with the parallel publication of some rather contradictory crime statistics for England and Wales* (Scotland's legal system is separate). But handy for the politicians to play games with.

Row over figures as crime drops by 5%
Violent crime figures rise by 12%
Crime has fallen 39 per cent over the past nine years
A slightly different take: Extra police but detection rate still falls

What's happening here is that the British Crime Survey is suddenly being discounted by Tory politicians because it's showing falling crime levels (and, indeed, has been since the mid-1990s), whereas the police statistics record increases in violent crimes (but falls in most other categories). They've latched onto the one category and set of stats that are of use to them. David Davis, the shadow home secretary, will no doubt have criminologists everywhere in stitches - or in shock - with this assertion: "The most reliable measure of crime is that which is reported to the police".

This is absurd. More than half of the victims of crime do not report it. The BCS gets its data by interviewing 40,000 people a year about their experiences of crime (and also, by the way, their perceptions of it) in order to calculate crime rates. We can debate precisely how accurate it is (it doesn't cover all offences, nor does it interview under-16s; the representativeness of the sample will always be an issue). But, importantly, the way in which police statistics are recorded has changed substantially over the last few years, while the BCS methods have remained largely consistent.

Some government statistics are notorious for being continually revised to make the picture look better: unemployment figures, in particular. To their credit perhaps, this Labour government has for several years now been altering the recording of crimes reported to the police in ways that inflate the figures. In 1998, they included the very minor, and common, category of 'common assault' for the first time. Now, let me point out as a historian of crime that minor assaults are historically amongst the most unreliable of offences to attempt to quantify from official records of any kind. Decisions to complain about them are subjective, often related to existing hostile relationships between the parties and at worst downright malicious; decisions not to complain, conversely, may be motivated by fear of the attacker, by a wish not to make trouble, by mistrust of authorities. And those authorities will vary widely in their inclination, or ability, to intervene at all pro-actively in such matters. (This is why most statistical studies of medieval and early modern violence focus on homicide, which is - we hope - more reliably reported, even though we fear that it's hardly representative of violence in general.)

There was another important change in 2002: all reports to the police now had be recorded in the official statistics unless subsequently shown to be false. You might also add in to the mix increased numbers of police officers to take reports (from 125,000 to 140,000 since 1997). I'm not convinced that all of this quite explains why the discrepancy between the BCS and the police figures is quite so acute in the violence category compared to others, by the way. But when it comes to trends there should be little doubt that the BCS will be more reliable than the 'official' police figures. Unless it's inconvenient for you as an opposition politician in the early stages of the run-up to a general election.

And I'm not suggesting that Labour would be any less dishonest if the boot were on the other foot. If they choose to champion the BCS figures, one suspects that it's merely because it's in their own interests. In fact, they've pulled a fast one of their own here. Last week, they announced a target to cut crime by 15 per cent in the next three years. Today's BCS figures gave them a third of that all in one go. Easy-peasy. David Blunkett says he had no idea of the BCS figures when the 15 per cent target was announced. Yeah, right, David.

*I haven't yet read these because, for some reason I'm suddenly having all sorts of trouble with Adobe Acrobat and I'm downloading a new version (I needed to upgrade anyway), but it's going to take a little while. So I'm relying entirely on (shock! horror!) secondary sources here. Cut me some slack for the time being. I'll get back to you if I find anything worth adding.

Meeting the ancestors

Cronaca has a list of recent archaeological finds in England. It's not just because we have a lot of archaeology. It's also because we have a helluva lot of archaeologists. I had an interesting conversation with an archaeologist from Europe (embarrassingly, I've completely forgotten where. Germany 'or thereabouts', maybe, thinking back to his accent) a couple of years ago, and he explained that they are deeply envious of British funding levels for archaeological work.

We Brits love archaeology. We gobble it up on TV. My favourite, rather than Time Team (Channel 4), was the original format of Meet The Ancestors (BBC2). (Actually, my real all-time favourite is probably the insane spoof We Are History (BBC). But let's be serious for now.) I loved Julian Richards' enthusiasm. The programme was a perfect miniature showcase for all the things that archaeologists do, and, more than that, made it human and personally accessible. Choose one burial - one 'ancestor' from a wide range of periods - as your point of departure. Interweave the exploration of the historical context, up-to-the-minute archaeological wizardry, all centred around - perhaps the inspired bit - a reconstruction of that particular individual including what they looked like. Sometimes they used computer imaging to get the face, but it was the painstaking process using clay that won every time for me. There was something compelling about our periodic visits to the artist's workshop, watching the layers build up, until that bizarre lump of clay with its little white sticks became a recognisable human face.

Meet The Ancestors no longer uses this particular format; fair enough, you could probably only do something so simple so many times before everyone - programme makers and viewers alike, even me - would tire of it. It's become more diverse - and remains a role model, I think, for combining entertainment and education. Still, I miss the original.

Another recent TV favourite, by the way: Terry Jones' Medieval Lives (BBC2). Terry's aiming to "rescue the Middle Ages from moth-eaten cliches and well-worn platitudes". And dress up in silly costumes at every possible opportunity. Does anyone else agree that Terry is the only Python who remains consistently funny (or funny at all, in some cases: step forward, Mr Cleese)?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Honorary degrees

The Independent notes that it's honorary-doctorate-for-celebs-time again in our universities. And, indeed, some of the choices they reveal here are eyebrow-raising. Jenny Bond? Sir David Frost? Inviting people to share the initials that I worked so hard for simply because they are famous and it'll make a bit of good publicity stinks, right?


Not all honorary degrees are like that. I'm not even convinced that the majority are like that. In my graduation year at Aberystwyth, the university awarded one of its honorary doctorates to someone (Trefor M Owen) who virtually no one outside folklore/folklife studies will ever have heard of, but whose work over several decades has contributed richly to his field. Another recipient has been Rachel Rowlands, Aber graduate and Welsh organic farming pioneer.

Let's have a random look around this year. Leicester University's honorary doctorates this year include Peter Preston (editor of the Guardian); Adam Hart-Davis (irrepressible, popularising historian of science, national treasure); Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys (discovered genetic fingerprinting). At Lancaster, there was Dr David Starkey; Professor Tim Berners-Lee (made possible what you're reading now); Dr Ahdaf Soueif (writer); Sir Ian McKellen (actor, definitely celeb, but does look amazing in his robes). Liverpool: Lord Renfrew (distinguished archaeologist); Professor Sir John Walker (biologist, Nobel Prize-winner)...

On closer inspection, as the list above suggests, many of those awarded honorary doctorates already hold 'real' ones; these awards are being conferred for outstanding lifetime achievements in their respective fields, academic, scientific, artistic or literary. And there is always an interesting 'local' sub-set, not usually for 'scholarly' achievement, but for people who are recognised as important contributors to community and social life. (If anything, on looking at a few of the lists, what niggles me are not the 'celebrity' awards so much as the civil servants and diplomats, who already have their knighthoods, OBEs, etc out of the honours system. But that's my prejudice.)

And honorary degrees are far from a new idea. Cambridge points out that it's been giving them for half a millennium (here's this year's line-up. Watch out for all those initials).

It's all very well to select and lampoon a few particularly dubious choices, as the newspapers seem to do every year. But it's bloody lazy. (And I don't necessarily agree that all the Independent's examples are unworthy, either.) I think there's a problem here, but it's not with individual recipients so much as the sheer scale of the thing. It's almost as though it's become compulsory to have at least two at every single degree ceremony (as if they aren't interminable enough already), and that adds up to a hell of a lot of honorary degrees. Do universities need to award quite so many? How many must some people have on their walls by now?

But then, of course, you could say that it simply mirrors the expansion of higher education, not least in the numbers of 'real' doctorates being awarded, of recent years and, indeed, why should it be any different?

Early modern bloodsports - sorry, ball games

A post from Cronaca that I simply couldn't resist (and gives me an excuse to quote more obscure legal documents...). It reports on documents bringing into question the legend of the invention of baseball in 1839, including a 1791 prohibition on games including 'baseball' at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, within 80 yards of the town meeting house, in order to protect its glass windows. Now, in my first ever foray into the Welsh eighteenth-century court archives several years ago, I came across something rather similar from Pembroke, south-west Wales, in 1789. The governors of the town had enacted an order

putting a stop to a riotous assembly and meeting and to a nuisance... practiced on every Shrove Tuesday within the town and streets of the said borough of Pembroke in playing of football up and down and across the streets of the said town and borough in the pursuit and kicking of which the windows of the houses within the said town and borough were frequently broken and the inhabitants thereof greatly incommoded disturbed and annoyed by the said riotous and unlawful assembly...

The town crier was sent out to proclaim the new prohibition. However, some 'tumultuous and disorderly' inhabitants of the town were disinclined to leave off their game and went ahead anyway. (I wonder what happened in Pittsfield?)

If only windows were being broken, the Pembroke Shrove Tuesday football might in fact have been a relatively civilised affair compared to the violent and bloody ball games played in various parts of Europe during the early modern period (and earlier). These were frequently played between neighbouring parishes, involving all the local able-bodied men: a form, in fact, of minor warfare. There were few restrictions on kicking and throwing the ball, and cudgelling the opponent in possession until he dropped it was permitted in the best-known version played in south-west Wales, knappan or cnapan (possibly of Viking origin). There were other types of game; in Glamorgan, they played bando (or bandy), with long curved bats (akin to modern hockey sticks). Nor were these games only for the plebs; an eighteenth-century Anglesey gentleman, William Bulkeley, often recorded his prowess at football in his diary, and the blood, broken bones and bruises it produced.

What happened in the nineteenth century - and I strongly suspect that baseball is another example of this - was not so much the invention of games like soccer and rugby (with its own founding myth) as their re-invention: new rules, new discipline, for the new industrial age. Not least in the increasingly crowded streets of towns and cities with their vulnerable windows and polite middle class residents; a trawl through urban archives of the late eighteenth century would very likely reveal many more cases like those of Pittsfield and Pembroke. The new codes and institutions of the nineteenth century were, in one sense, a long-term solution to the problem encountered at Pembroke: it was just not so easy to make people give up their favourite games. And it's still not that easy to take violence out of the equation, on or off the pitch.

Update: I wanted to add some links for you (but I did have to go to work this morning, you know).

The radical history of football
Cnapan and Bandy
Cornish Hurling
Entertainments in early modern Dartford
Florentine football

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Seventeenth-century rebellion, political responsibility, unrest and rumour

I've been in the archives going through Cheshire court files for 1685-87 over the last few days, and realised that I'd just missed an anniversary that's worth commenting on. On 15 July 1685, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth was executed (a thoroughly botched job, apparently; beheading often was) on Tower Hill for leading an unsuccessful rebellion against the not-terribly popular Catholic James II.

Now, living in an age where politicians merely start wars and leave soldiers - and civilians - to pay the price, that really is taking ultimate responsibility for your political actions.

Anyway, the reason that the court files jogged my memory is because of prosecutions for seditious words. The formal record of a criminal trial in the English early modern legal system, the indictment, is usually an arid, formulaic document (written in Latin until 1733). However, indictments for seditious words included details of what the accused had allegedly said. Some say most about the fears of those in government, like the prosecution of a man in 1665 for saying that 'hee had rather fight against the king then drincke a cup of beare'. (I haven't found any in these particular files, although I've seen them elsewhere, of prosecutions for saying that one 'did not give a turd for the king'.)

But the indictments also show that for some in the stronger Protestant areas of Cheshire, the failure of Monmouth's rebellion was a terrible disappointment, one that could barely be faced; there was clearly much grasping at straws. Take this declaration, on 28 July, days after the news of the execution would have reached even the remotest villages: 'The Duke of Monmouth is alive he's alive, he's alive, and the king is dead King James the second, King Charles [II] his brother is dead, and Monmouth has an army within thirty two or thirty foure miles of Oxford God blesse him God blesse and prosper him and his army, I wish myselfe with him'. Eighteen months later, this woman was unbearably bitter: 'There is no king in England nor hath beene since midsumer last was twelve month'. And despite the public execution, the rumours that would not go away. February 1687: 'I have beene with the duke of Monmouth about a fortnight ago at sea where he hath a considerable fleet with him and will be here 'ere long with a more considerable army then he had before'. Anyone interested in the subject of political rumour can do no better than Adam Fox's marvellous book on Oral and literate culture in early modern England, by the way.

Seditious words, unlike treason, was not a capital felony, but that didn't mean that offenders got off lightly. The usual punishment was a spell in the pillory, sometimes a whipping, and a heavy fine. Those who could not pay were likely to find themselves spending months in prison, reduced to writing - or finding friends who would write on their behalf - begging petitions to the judges for mercy.

Not that the Glorious Revolution immediately brought freedom of speech. In the Old Bailey Proceedings (1674-1799), fifty people were tried for seditious words in London after 1688. But nearly all of these were before the mid-1720s (with one or two following the 1745 Rebellion). I haven't done the counting yet, but I suspect that will be outnumbered in the 20 years or so of seventeenth-century Cheshire indictments that I've recorded - in a much smaller population than that of eighteenth-century London. It's a fascinating subject that has yet to be extensively studied.

Anybody wanting references for the primary sources quoted or, indeed, the few secondary works that I've come across is welcome to get in touch with me.

Cliopatriarch of Wales?

Some of you may have already spotted this.

Partly because I'm a sucker for a bit of flattery, I've accepted an invitation to blog at Cliopatria. (The title is not my invention, by the way. And I do fear that if it gets out beyond the blogosphere, it might get me shunned by two different groups of my acquaintance: a) feminists and b) those of the Cymry Cymraeg (the native Welsh-speaking Welsh) for whom y Saeson (the English) in Wales are only to be tolerated at the best of times. Well, I don't think they talk to me much anyway.)

I was surprised to be asked (actually, I was gobsmacked). After all, I don't blog about politics (well, not party politics) very often. I keep writing about obscure bits of the planet. I'm an early modernist. I'm not American. OK, we do share a concern with history and some affinities in political views. Anyway, I'm working on the presumption that they want me for the differences as much as the similarities. Let's hope that it produces some interesting results.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Wannabe Lords and Ladies

I never cease to be amazed at what people will buy, or try to, in this case. This site warns you in no uncertain terms: "You cannot purchase a genuine British title, with one exception, the feudal title of a Scottish baron; and certainly cannot buy a peerage title". The author should know, seeing as he's the seventh earl of Bradford. Browse around for a spendid mixture of upper-class English snobbery (can't have the hoi-polloi calling themselves Lord This and Lady That, can we?) and what ought to be bleedin' obvious advice (but then, most advice against frauds seems blindingly obvious). His lordship does not, sadly, comment on the way in which the Jeffrey Archers of this world give the very strong impression that, in fact, any slimy git can acquire a peerage if they happen to have the right friends and give enough money to the right people.

I can understand why people buy fake degrees, but why, in the twenty-first century, does anyone still want one of these absurd anachronisms?

Jobs Bulletin (also studentship)

More from this week

Post-doctoral Research Assistant, Oxford Brookes University, working on CESAR, an online database of information about the French theatre between 1600 and 1800. You need a PhD on some aspect of early modern France; a high level of competence in French; and experience in using "electronic research-support methods, preferably online databases". Two years, £21,010-22,954. Deadline 13 August 2004.

Research Fellowships, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Four years, stipends starting from £14,455 p.a. living in college. Deadline 29 October 2004, to start October 2005. (These are for any subject; there will be hot competition.)

Research Studentships and Bursaries for MA study in English Literary Studies, Middlesex University. One of the research areas is English Literature and Culture 1500-1700 (there is a more detailed list of topics within that). Twelve months; the studentships pay tuition fees + living grant of £11,000; the bursaries pay tuition fees + £650 towards living expenses. Deadline 7 September 2004 (for October 2004 start).

A sample from H-Net Jobs

Assistant Professor, Mediterranean Europe, 1300-1700, University of Oregon. 'Priority' to applications received by 1 November 2004.

Tenured Scholar, Early Modern Europe, Columbia University. 'Would like all applications by' 15 October 2004.

Assistant Professor, Late Imperial China, University of California, San Diego. Reviewing applications from 1 October 2004 (start July 2005).

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Modern science, meet the Old Masters

Here's an interesting piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education: Art History Can Trade Insights With the Sciences. I saw a TV programme, last year I think, presented by David Hockney on the theory (proposed by Charles M Falco, a physicist) about the use of lenses in 15th/16th paintings. It seemed perfectly sane to me - and a good demonstration that practising artists now could have particularly useful insights into the work of other artists in the past... Not being an art historian, I didn't know that they were quite so upset about the whole idea.

The major arguments mounted by art historians against his theory fall into seven categories: (1) artists did not need to "cheat" because they were highly trained in drawing from observation; (2) artists did not need lenses because they were so talented; (3) such devices would have been too cumbersome; (4) no written proof, from artists or others, exists that lenses were used; (5) artists could have used a grid instead of a lens to get the perspective right; (6) the lens hypothesis has been overstated; and (7) even if true, it is of no interest to art historians.

Now, I do find myself wondering how fair this summary is. Are art historians quite as silly as (1) and (2) make them sound? But let's not quibble too much for the moment.

The problem with numbers 1-4 is that they fail to rule out the use of optical devices. Whether or not artists had the skill and/or training to draw without lenses, whether or not the lenses were cumbersome, and whether or not anyone at the time wrote about them, artists still may have used lenses. The arguments about training and talent are also inconsistent with the general acceptance by art historians that Renaissance artists used geometry to draw in perspective...[and] sometimes used tools such as strings, grids, and planes of glass... to get the perspective right. The problem with the grid argument is that the use of a grid might explain how artists got the perspective right, but not predict the smoking gun, the errors.

For my money, after reading the details of Falco's argument, it seems to me that it's that last point that stands out as the most compelling point in its favour. But I'm no scientist. As a historian, however, I don't think that (4) can be written off that easily. Yes, it's true that silence in written sources does not rule out the use of lenses (and arguing too much from silence is dangerous); but it does seem odd. Is there no documentary evidence at all? (Not even anything nicely ambiguous?) And, importantly, how does that compare with written evidence for other innovatory practices of the time? If important developments - including those listed - were usually recorded by somebody, then the silence really needs some explanation. It might, indeed, be related to (6) and (7), which seems a particularly crude reduction of an important issue: it isn't entirely unreasonable to suggest that a technique by that went unrecorded and was completely forgotten about (suggesting that few artists ever used it, perhaps) may not be that historically significant. Is it?

Still like the theory though.

Why I use the Guardian

I'm not doing any statistics, but the Guardian's website is probably my single most common source of news here. It's the news site I head to first. Now that's partly because it's also the newspaper I read most often. But it's also because the web site is so bloody good. Clearly, I'm far from alone in thinking this. Their readers' editor, Ian Mayes, has this week had some respite from his usual postbag of complaints and corrections (following on from his column last week about the paper's plans for the future). The praise isn't just from us lefty-liberal types in the UK, either. The stats tell the tale, too: 100 million page impressions and 9 million users a month, "far ahead of any other newspaper website in the UK, and in the US second only to the BBC among favoured UK news sites". More people read the Guardian online than in print.

In contrast to so many other newspapers' sites, everything that appears in the print version (and considerably more, though there are a few subscription services) can be accessed free of charge and without any registration requirements. I am getting around to registering with some of the papers that demand it (NY Times, Washington Post, Telegraph, Scotsman), but it's hard to be bothered when all you want is a casual browse to pick up on interesting nuggets. Path of least resistance and all that. As for The Times, which you can't even search past the last seven days without a subscription...

And as a British academic looking for news, especially about higher education and the humanities and social sciences, the education section is hard to beat. BBC education news is better on schools than post-18; the Independent's education section is far less extensive (and a fair bit of it requires a subscription). Neither they nor the Telegraph have anything to match the Guardian's research section (unless you're a scientist). I also think the reporting of these stories tends to be better than its British rivals; remember my story last week about teaching on the Empire in British schools? Of these four news sources, only the Guardian seems to approach a balanced view of the Ofsted report concerned; the rest simply selected one part of it for a dramatic story. (I won't accuse them of outright misrepresentation, since I still can't get a view of the report in order to judge for myself. Ofsted sent me a link, but to something completely different...)

However, for all these reasons, I have a tendency to rely rather too heavily on this one source. Quite apart from the dangers of only reading papers whose politics you (largely) agree with, the Grauniad remains, for all its global reach and international coverage, primarily a British-oriented paper.* I need to get out more. So, a question for readers around the world: if it's serious, easily findable education and academic news - especially on humanities and social sciences - you're looking for, which (apart from HNN, naturally) are the best online sources and newspaper sites?

*And, as Scottish friends of mine would point out, specifically rather English (not to say London and south-eastern) in its outlook. But I think there may be worse offenders...

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Resources around the early modern world

I promised I was going to start looking beyond the Anglo-American and European, and this is the first instalment.

Indian History Sourcebook
The Mughals
The Mughal Empire
Shivshahi on the World Wide Web
British India
East India Company Ships
Trading Places: East India Company
Art of Mughal India
Gardens of Mughal India
Mughal India

The Ottomans
History of Turkish Jews
Turkey: History
Ottoman Empire Chronology
Ottoman Website
Harem in the Ottoman Empire

Early Modern Japan bibliographies
Early Modern Japan: course
Tokugawa Japan
Samurai Archives
Early Modern Japan: Politics
Sex in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan
Mining communities in early modern Japan

Qing China Bibliography
Missionaries and Mandarins: the Jesuits in China
Printing and Publishing in late imperial China
Chinese History: Ming Dynasty
Chinese History:Qing Dynasty
Chinese History: Imperial Period
The Peony Pavilion

It's interesting doing this; the most basic things that I'd take for granted normally (such as names for places, regions, dynasties, people) are often unfamiliar, but they're precisely what you need to do Google searches that get beyond general overviews. As a product of the British university system, it also reminds me of the merits of American broad world history survey courses (even if their downsides are that they can seem a bit superficial and conservative). I think quite a few of these resources are aimed at that market; some are really well done, but I'd really like to find more in-depth materials too. But this is enough for one day.

Update: That mischievous man Ralph Luker ;o) has started a conversation at Cliopatria about the question of the relevance of the term 'early modern' beyond the European world.

The first month

Well, if I hadn't been so busy flouncing and massaging my wounded pride yesterday, I'd have had more time to appreciate the first part of that post by Ralph at Cliopatria. (I mean, all I could manage of a bit of praise like 'one of the best history blogs' was that it was 'nice'? No wonder Americans take the piss out of us Brits.) After all, this blog has only been in existence for a month.

Yep, one month old today. I've posted on average about twice a day so far - I don't know how long I can keep that up (especially as I have to get some work done on thesis-book revisions over the next few months, and I wish I could drum up more enthusiasm about it), but when you're drudging in the archives every day this makes a really refreshing change. I think it's fair to say that it's settled in nicely anyway. (Hell, there's that word again.)

No question that I'm outgrowing Blogger. There are certain things I want that Blogger doesn't do, especially categories and recent comments. I know, I keep talking about moving. But then I read the instructions for MT and the like and I get scared. I can write HTML (actually, I dislike WYSIWYG editors, and Blogger's just introduced one); I can use FTP after a fashion. But when it comes to Perl, cgi-bin, MySQL, and the rest... eek. And I'm fairly sure I'd need to upgrade my current web hosting to publish it on Early Modern Resources. So perhaps I should try TypePad? It seems to work for lots of people. Any comments from those with experience of the 'Basic' and 'Plus' options would be particularly appreciated. (I'm slightly concerned that these don't come with a full HTML-editing facility on templates, so how flexible is the interface?) Or from people who have installed MT or Wordpress or similar packages on their servers, and how easy it is for those who are only semi-literate in Computerese.

Who's reading this stuff? The numbers aren't large - they spiked yesterday, mostly first-timers, no doubt because of Ralph! - but they are growing little by little. There's a small cohort of returning regulars, even. I wouldn't expect a blog on this subject - even given my digressions from early modernity - to attract large numbers anyway. But, phew, the main thing is that I'm not just talking to myself. What pleases me isn't so much the numbers as the variety in where visitors have come from: the UK, US, Canada, Australia and NZ, Germany, Czech Republic, Japan, Philippines... I was worrying a bit about not getting many comments (am I boring you? is the Blogger system a bit off-putting?), but I read a thread about this at (I think) Crooked Timber recently and was reassured by someone who said that only a tiny minority of readers will ever leave comments anyway.

It's been a great experience regardless of who bothers to look. When it comes to writing, my tendency is towards the interminably slow pursuit of perfection. I can use blogging to practise a different kind of discipline: write now, write faster, stop picking over every semicolon and every nuance of phrase. Get it down, then bloody well leave it alone. Not to be recommended for scholarly articles, but a good exercise for a chronic fusspot like me. And it's fun finding things to write about, and to put my experience of tracking down online material and building up web resources to a new use. Actually, it can generate some personal insights: what bothers me enough to comment on it? What do I care about? And I can look back and see the recurring themes; no huge surprises, but sort of interesting anyway. (I'm reminded of this essay on the construction of personal identity in personal web pages - it's about static pages, but definitely relevant to blogging).

When I set up the blog, I didn't know what to expect. But it's been really great. I was worried that it would swallow my life (even worse than my usual surfing), and perhaps I'm still spending too much time on it. But the initial level of addiction is wearing off. It's no longer the new album that you have to listen to six times a day.

Three will do.

Urban myths and folklore in Aberystwyth

My talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time persists. How often does Aberystwyth host a conference that I'd really like to go to? But now I'm away in London... Last month it was the Romanticism, history, historicism conference. Now it's folklorists focusing on urban myths and 'contemporary legends'. Papers include campus myths (I'm beginning to wonder just how many universities have sinking libraries? Ours is sliding down the hill, a nice variant); the blood libel and persecution of Jews; folklore in The X-files; Japanese visual story-telling; the banshee; Swedish witchcraft legends...

How Urban Legends Work, 21-24 July 2004

Friday, July 16, 2004

A controversial seventeenth-century shipwreck

The Guardian reports on a British shipwreck believed to contain untold riches, which is about to be excavated by a commercial American company, with the proceeds to be shared between the company, Odyssey, and the British government.

"The Sussex, an 80-gun British warship sank with 12 vessels from its merchant fleet in tumultuous storms in 1694 while on a secret diplomatic mission for King William III." It - sorry, she - sank in the Straits of Gibraltar. If it is the Sussex (even this seems to be a matter of some controversy), it may contain "10 tonnes of bullion and precious coins worth up to £2.4bn today". Wheesh. No wonder little things like archaeologists' worries that the excavation amounts to little more than "looting" and "asset-stripping" aren't going to be allowed to get in the way. (The money, if it is there, was intended to bribe a French ally in Britain's wars against France. The disaster may have been a factor in the establishment of the Bank of England.)

The project's chief archaeologist is (naturally) stoutly defending the professionalism of the project. English Heritage views it as "a test case of how professionally firms like Odyssey can retrieve coins and artefacts". Well, another good test case might be the excavation that the firm is currently carrying out on a nineteenth-century US paddle steamer in Georgia. An American archaeologist commenting on that one points out that it isn't just about the excavation itself: "Field work and recovery are the fun part... It's the years of analysis and conservation and preparation of a detailed report that usually trip people up. It's hard to get the commitment of time and funds to do all those things." Archaeology is destructive by its very nature; it's the careful recording and analysis (of all the little mundane things in their context, not just the glistening valuable ones) that justifies the disruption and destruction. Is that really going to happen here?

There are a few 'ifs' and some 'maybes' in the way: the deal doesn't quite seem to have been finalised, it might not be the Sussex, it might not be that full of gold. Oh, and the Spanish may not be happy about it. But this could be one hell of a story.

Ouch; or, on exposing yourself to ridicule

Early Modern Notes got (as far as I know) its first mention at Cliopatria yesterday. Starts well...

Over at Early Modern Notes, Sharon Haber maintains one of the best history blogs, which I read often, but...

That bit's nice (apart from the fact that the name's Howard, not Haber... probably partly my fault for forgetting to put in an 'about me' after I disabled the Blogger profile because I didn't like the way it looked on the screen).

But that 'but'... Ouch.

... she's apprenticing, too.

So, I'm reading her recommendation of July's Common-Place and her note that Cronaca still holds Common-Place accountable for giving "the infamous Michael Bellesiles a platform in their early issues." And, then, Sharon's Early Modern Notes says – I kid you not: "Who is Michael Bellesiles and what is wrong with him? What have I missed? (Or forgotten ...)" There, there, dear, no one's stolen your automobile. You've left it in the lot over at school. Now, I understand that Sharon is English and that she is one of those unusual people who become Early Modernists, but still ...

Ouch ouch ouch. Now, since those who know are too busy laughing to tell me the answer, I did what I should have done in the first place and googled it. And no, I hadn't forgotten. I didn't know the fraud story. No bells ringing. Nul points for my knowledge of US academic scandal.

I could excuse myself on the grounds that at the time I was completely wrapped up in writing my PhD thesis. But there's another reason, you know. It was reported over here (as was the book that caused the trouble, which I do faintly remember), but not extensively, I think (the Independent and BBC sites turned up no hits). It just did not cause the furore that it obviously did in the US.

Which is, of course, because it's about guns and gun control. I have my doubts that any eighteenth-century subject could cause quite that much of a stink in Britain. A study of gun ownership in probate inventories certainly wouldn't. If we have any debates on the matter, it's always about how we could tighten up our gun laws even further than they have been already, and why they're not policed effectively enough. We simply do not get the Americans on this one. Bowling for Columbine is like some weird alien universe. (Except for the bits about the export industry. We may not like guns, but hey, we're still going to keep selling them to everyone else.) The Bellesiles story, over here, would be just another example of the strangeness of our American cousins. And we've got plenty of those to keep us entertained/distressed/outraged.

So, I plead guilty to not always keeping up with American culture, politics and history. But I don't have to. There's quite a lot going on over here to keep me exercised, you know. And this is, after all, an explicitly British-orientated blog. (I'm pleased that it can nonetheless appeal to American readers.) I asked the question because I suspected it was an American story that had slipped under my British radar and I was genuinely curious.

British readers who think that these are entirely feeble excuses and that I should have known the story may, of course, throw as many rotten eggs at me as they like. But gently, eh?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Lindsey Davis rules

Via Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, an interview with the divine Lindsey Davis. Useless fact of the day (and an excuse for blogging this here)*: she wrote romantic serials set in the Civil Wars period before turning her hand to Ancient Rome. You may wish to vist her 'official' website. The rants page is fun. And the letters. And the FAQ...

*Not that I need one, seeing as this is my blog.

Fulbright funding

To demonstrate that I do know that stuff happens beyond the UK, the Fulbright Scholar Program has sent out a reminder of the deadline (August 1) for their Traditional Scholar Programs (for US citizens only) for 2005/6. There are, for example, two postdoc awards (up to 12 months) to be taken up at the University of Wales, Cardiff, and history is one of the eligible subject areas. I mention this in particular a) because it's in Wales (!) and b) because I'm good friends with Garthine Walker, who teaches in Cardiff's history department and researches early modern crime and gender (her splendid book came out last year). There are of course many more awards around the world, including opportunities for early modernists.

July Common-place

The July issue of Common-place is out (well, it's been out a little while, but I forgot to get my email newsletter renewed last year when I got a new email address...).

I particularly liked the article by Richard J Bell, on his experiences of researching his dissertation - on suicide in post-revolution America. He describes the way that many a research project develops; from the dawning realisation that what he'd rather naively planned just wasn't going to work, to the excitement of tracing new sources to end up with something very different. He also discusses the ways in which internet (and other electronic) resources have impacted on his research, helping him tremendously in his search for elusive needles in haystacks. He learned that while the numbers of recorded suicides may be small (and we'll never really know how many more there were), suicide's cultural significance went far beyond his early questions ("Who?" "how?" and "why?"); he found himself moving on to rather bigger themes ("so what?"): "How Americans in the early republic responded to suicide or the threat of it and what they understood that threat to be".

Also well worth reading is a historian's eye-view of historical reality TV, Is there a historian in the house?. Emerson W Baker worked on the US TV series Colonial House, and writes about his reasons for taking what he knew was a risk, about the "constant balancing act between the ideal and the practical, between the televisual story, the sound bite, and the historical record"; he's honest about his criticisms, but also why he was glad he did it: "I have spent my career as a historian and archaeologist trying to understand what life was like for the inhabitants of early New England. Last fall I had the opportunity to walk into a version of that past, and to share that experience with a few million students of history. Flaws and all, it was the opportunity of a lifetime".

Even if you're not interested in American history, Common-place is well worth bookmarking. It's always readable, enjoyable and stimulating. But one question. Cronaca has also flagged up the magazine, with the aside: "Yes, they did give the infamous Michael Bellesiles a platform in their early issues..." Who is Michael Bellesiles and what's wrong with him? What have I missed? (Or forgotten...)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

George III, insanity and arsenic

At least two bloggers so far (The Little Professor; Gnostical Turpitude) have spotted what may be the final word on The Madness of King George. Dammit, I didn't notice the programme in the TV listings before I left Aberystwyth so that I could set the video to record it.

Celebrating Bastille Day, 14 July 1789

Well, here's one way to celebrate France's big day. (And here's another.)

And if you can still focus after doing that, some links.

Bastille Day: notes from the Guardian

The French Embassy in the US reminds Americans that they used to be real good friends

Absolutism, Ancien Regime and French Revolution, all from the splendid and unflashy Internet Modern History Sourcebook

The Rise and Fall of Absolute Monarchy

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution (fab site)

The French Revolution in British newspapers; the reaction this side of the Channel

There are a few more links over at Early Modern Resources, politics page

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Get out of that study! It's summer time!

Events, museums, exhibitions and the like of particular interest to early modernists. Some of them are even out-of-doors...

Prisoners of the Tower 1100-1941, Tower of London, London, UK. To 5 September.

City Merchants 1670-1720, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, England. To 22 August.

John Milton's Cottage, Buckinghamshire, England.

Kentwell Hall, Suffolk, England.

Gwydir Castle, Conwy, Wales.

Museum of Welsh Life, Cardiff, Wales.

The Word on the Street: Popular Street Literature 1650-1910, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland. To 31 October.

Master and Commander Museum Trail

Spanish Armada Museum Trail

For a wide range of UK museums, galleries and events, see 24 Hour Museum.

A couple beyond the UK...

Rijksmuseum Masterpieces, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts, USA.