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.