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Katie Barclay, Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self (2021)

Katie Barclay, Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self (2021)

Abstract

In this article, Lucy Morgan reviews Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self by Katie Barclay, published in hardback and e-book in January 2021. This book explores the Christian concept of caritas as an expression of neighbourly love and how it was experienced by lower-order Scottish people from 1660 to 1830. Barclay uses legal depositions and correspondence to examine the emotional and bodily aspects of caritas, positing that in a loving community, marital relationships were the ideal upon which all other social relationships were based. The author goes on to discuss how children were raised into the beliefs of caritas, what happened to those who rejected caritas’s principles, and how itinerant individuals who lived outside of the normal boundaries of society still had a role within the loving community.

 Keywords: Emotion, early modern, history, community, Christianity

Biography: Lucy Morgan is a first-year PhD student at the University of Sheffield. She is interested in the relationship between manhood and paternity in early modern England.

Katie Barclay’s book, Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self, is the most recent instalment in Oxford University Press’s ‘Emotions in History’ series. Barclay describes caritas as an aspirational form of Christian neighbourly love, practiced by Catholics and Protestants across early modern Europe, with the purpose of creating loving communities of neighbours who supported and relied on each other. This book focuses on the lives of ‘lower-order’ Scots from 1660 to 1830, examining 2,000 cases from the Scottish Justiciary Court as well as sampling some surviving correspondence, providing a wide temporal and geographic overview of caritas throughout this period.[1] Barclay aims to understand ‘how individuals enculturated [caritas], how they performed it, negotiated it, and occasionally rejected it’ within their everyday lives, through a study of ‘behaviour, gesture, material culture practices, and ritual’.[2] Caritas, literally translating into English as ‘charity’, was a force which went beyond the Ten Commandments’ dictates to not covet your neighbour’s house or wife. Barclay positions caritas as the opposite of lust; instead of selfish, individualistic, sinful love, caritas was a selfless, ethical, moral love which encouraged individuals to connect with others.[3]

Scotland provides an excellent setting for a study of this type; during this period, it was still dominated by the village and small-town structure where close-knit communities determined the social life and economic success of an area. Barclay also notes, however, that geographic mobility of Scottish people was rapidly increasing at this time, resulting in an itinerant population who do not necessarily fit into historians’ perceptions of community living. The legal sources, mostly depositions, used by Barclay are invaluable to a study of emotions—they provide a great deal of first-person information about how lower-order people felt about the behaviour of their neighbours. The lives of lower-order people at this time blurred the boundaries between household and community—they were far more likely to live in single rooms or as multiple families to a house in comparison to their higher-order counterparts—and as a result of that forced closeness, their experience of caritas was physical as well as emotional. Caritas was expressed through virtue and grace, and therefore encompassed neighbourly love through non-action—for example, not starting a fight or not reporting bad behaviour—as well as expressions of the traditionally Catholic concept of “good works” like feeding the poor. Where cynical Protestants might interpret expressions of “good works” as selfish ploys only done to get to heaven, the emphasis on charity within caritas made “good works” acceptable within the Kirk and therefore central to the loving community.[4]

Barclay draws on a rich historiography of neighbourliness and familial love, as well as being influenced by more recent feminist philosophical works on the place of love in modern society, such as Adam Philips and Barbara Taylor’s On Kindness. Her approach rejects family nuclearisation models, instead suggesting that lower order-Scots retained extended horizontal and vertical familial-neighbourly networks throughout her study. This book broaches a gap in the field of emotional history, providing a link between individual and communal emotional experiences in the past. She employs William Reddy’s concept of the ‘emotional regime’, where certain emotions can be studied as “dominant norms” within a society, alongside Monique Scheer’s concept of ‘emotional embodiment’, where emotions are “practiced” through expression and reciprocation between individuals.[5] This reinforces the idea that loving communities were sustained through nature and culture. Barclay’s work uses what she describes as the ‘new history of emotions’ to prove that there was a “self” in the early modern period, arguing that caritas existed to relate “the self” to “the other” through individual and shared expressions of neighbourly love.[6]

The first two chapters of Barclay’s book deal with the induction into caritas and the education of children, both at home and through theological teaching. This provides an excellent entry point for readers who are also unfamiliar with the concept caritas, although these chapters could have benefitted from a further explanation of the etymology of the word. Barclay explains the meaning and translation of caritas in the introduction, but how that specific word was chosen remains uncertain throughout the text. It is most noticeable in these chapters, where Kirk and legal books are quoted extensively but none explicitly mention caritas (although charity and neighbours are mentioned often). It may be that this is due to a translation of these books from Latin into English, but a clarification of whether this term was ever used in an early modern Scottish context would have been interesting, if not beneficial, to the rest of the work. The neighbourly love advocated for by caritas was bodily and intimate, reinforced through spoken language as well as physical closeness in eating, working, and living together. As such, Barclay centres marriage and its ideals of reciprocal love and support as the foundation of caritas. This is firstly evidenced through a study of the communal celebration of marriage post-ceremony, with Barclay noting that wedding rituals retained complexity even after the introduction of banns-reading simplified the marriage sermon. Barclay then moves into an analysis of depositions relating to marriage breakdown, showing how members of the wider community were invited to provide testimony on the state of their neighbour’s marriages, indicating that all members of a loving community had a strong understanding of the role of marriage, including the ‘increase of mankind’ and the prevention of ‘uncleanness’ (sexual immorality).[7] This in turn influenced all other relationships, such as parent-child, employer-employee, and neighbour-neighbour, encouraging both moral policing but also forgiveness of moral infringements to maintain a peaceful equilibrium within the loving community. Childhood is used to examine how the uneven distribution of caritas was accepted within society. Privileging certain groups over others was acceptable, as long as any disparities reflected the ordered social hierarchy, such as the prioritisation of the education of sons over daughters. While Barclay notes that Enlightenment ideals about an ‘expectation of love’ for all children, including affectionate treatment, was present in Scotland by the eighteenth century, this is only examined in the case of parents caring for versus neglecting their own children.[8] It would be interesting if further study reversed this perspective and expanded upon the child’s place within the loving community during marriage breakdown or parental death. Similarly, future work could explore whether or not caritas played a role when adults cared for children other than their own.

The third and fourth chapters examine the reception of immoral actions under caritas; their practice, discovery, and reformation. Barclay navigates the existing historiography on the top-down or bottom-up nature of early modern discipline, drawing on Lyndal Roper’s Holy Household and Martin Ingram’s Carnal Knowledge, pointing out that while the Calvinsitic Kirk believed that all people were born with the Original Sin, for many lower order Scots, irregular marriage (marriage without an official Kirk ceremony, legal throughout the period) and premarital sex were ‘disorderly but not immoral’.[9] By pointing out that for many lower-order Scots, their home would just be a single room likely with one or more shared walls, Barclay suggests that neighbours were probably constantly aware of each other’s actions. These homes were shared and porous, and Barclay implies that there was no conception of public and private space for the people in her study. Tolerance of others therefore became a crucial part of caritas. Intermittent bad behaviour was permissible, but not prolonged threats to the social order. As such, while the keeping and telling of secrets was technically immoral, it also became a ‘central mechanism’ of caritas ‘through which peace and harmony’ was enabled.[10] Evoking Amanda Vickery’s Behind Closed Doors, Barclay describes the social rituals of making or revealing secrets as seen in legal contexts. In cases of violent altercations or elopements, the identification of overheard voices was critically important. Wordless sounds of fighting or crying were equally legally pertinent—the victim and the aggressor could be determined by who was louder or seemed more upset. Similarly, materiality as obstructing sight or sound was crucial—the act of closing doors became almost always suggestive of wrongdoing. This approach is innovative and could be adopted into other studies of the early modern home and the family, where scholars are often hampered by a lack of evidence around certain practices or behaviours. At many parts of this book, having no evidence is crucial; for example, Barclay shows that irregular marriages were often not disclosed to the community until it became necessary for a woman to prove that she was married, usually because she was visibly pregnant.[11] The “husband” might then come forward and claim such a marriage had never happened, resulting in the situation ballooning into a legal case where the caritas and the reputation of many members of the loving community would be affected.

The strongest chapter of Barclay’s book is the last, titled ‘Living Outside of Love’. Even by the end of the eighteenth century, Scotland remained mostly rural and non-industrial, meaning that vagrancy and itinerant work were still highly visible facets of communal living. Although these people did not live within the established boundaries of a local community, Barclay locates them within caritas, which gave them a place in the loving community, evidencing not only a ‘pragmatic’ approach to community but also a ‘comradery’ between those who lived on the road.[12] This chapter deftly unites the historian’s usually disparate understandings of work, vagrancy and communal living, showing how caritas encouraged communities to permit begging as a form of Christian charity, but also showing its limits and how it was possible to take advantage of the selflessness of caritas by accepting hospitality without giving back to the community. Barclay also discusses the ramifications of banishment as a punishment for extreme infringements of caritas, usually in cases murder or infanticide, indicating that deliberate exclusion from a community had significant local and personal impact. Although banishments were not usually permanent, it nevertheless indicates that loneliness and social exclusion were seen as the obvious repercussions for communal non-conformity, leading Barclay to conclude that ‘attachment to land and place was critical to the imagining of the social order’.[13]

By giving caritas a position of centrality within early modern understandings of community, Barclay is able to show how it informed a wide range of individual, often contradictory, choices. Barclay’s approach to emotional ethics allows for a more nuanced approach to bodily and emotional experiences which are lost in more prescriptive studies of law or social hierarchy. The methodology of this book could be applied to any Christian sect across Europe in the early modern period as a comparative study, and if Barclay wishes to expand on her own work, an investigation of old age’s place in caritas would be much appreciated. As much of the book deals with education and sexual immorality, children and the unmarried necessarily take the forefront for much of the work. However, Barclay intriguingly mentions that in some parts of Scotland, community elders presided over formal Kirk disciplines alongside the minister. Although Barclay states that these courts became increasingly marginal and ineffective throughout the period, age as an indicator of wisdom and community leadership could enrich further studies of caritas.

Overall, this is a strong work which breathes life into its subject matter, allowing for an examination of complex social and personal issues including domestic abuse and violence, premarital and extramarital sexuality, and the material and immaterial boundaries of society and community. Crucially, Barclay’s finding that almost all immoral and even some criminal actions could be redeemed through caritas provides a new perspective for researchers interested in society, religion, and acceptable behaviour in the early modern period.

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Bibliography

Barclay, K., Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self (Oxford, 2021).

Ingram, M., Carnal Knowledge: Regulating Sex in England, 1470–1600 (Cambridge, 2017).

Philips, A., and Taylor, B., On Kindness (London, 2009).

Reddy, W., The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge, 2001).

Roper, L., The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg (Oxford, 1989).

Scheer, M., ‘Are emotions a kind of practice (and is that what makes them have a History)? A Bourdieuian approach to understanding emotion’, History and Theory 51/2 (2012), pp. 193–220.

 

Notes

[1] K. Barclay, Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self (Oxford, 2021), 4 and 19–21.

[2] Barclay, Caritas, p. 14, 24.

[3] Barclay, Caritas, p. 3.

[4] Barclay, Caritas, p. 3.

[5] See William Reddy The Navigation of Feeling 2001; and Monique Scheer, ‘Are Emotions a Kind of Practice?’

[6] Barclay, Caritas, p. 3.

[7] Barclay, Caritas, p. 39.

[8] Barclay, Caritas, p. 64.

[9] Barclay, Caritas, p. 95.

[10] Barclay, Caritas, p. 118.

[11] Barclay, Caritas, pp. 95–97.

[12] Barclay, Caritas, p. 150.

[13] Barclay, Caritas, p. 166.

Milanovic, B. Global Inequality: a New Approach for the Age of Globalisation (London, 2016)

Global Inequality: a New Approach for the Age of Globalisation (London, 2016). Milanovic, B.

Abstract

Milanovic’s Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalisation seeks to create a new model for explaining the patterns in the growth and decline on inequality in the world, remodelling Kuznet’s hypothesis to take account of the rise of a “global plutocracy” and wage stagnation in the Western middle classes. In doing so, he has some pessimistic forecasts for the immediate future of the middle classes in the West and makes timely warnings against neglecting income and wealth inequality in favour of ‘existential inequality’.

Biography: Sam Tarran is an MA student in History at the University of Birmingham, focusing on political institutions in medieval Europe. His undergraduate degree is from Mansfield College, University of Oxford.

Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalisation is not a new book. Despite the fact that it was published relatively recently, it still feels necessary to recount the context in which Milanovic wrote and released it. So much has happened since that it can feel like another world, already part of ‘history’. At the time, inequality both within and between countries felt important. The Occupy movement had ended but was still in the mind’s eye. The world was just beginning to creep out of the Great Recession. The public of many countries, after nearly seven years of economic decline, wage pressure and austerity policies, were feeling restless. Many, after Occupy, public sector cuts and the (initial) electoral success of Syriza in Greece, thought it would be the political left that would make hay. It is only with hindsight that many now claim that it was historically predictable that the populist right would capitalise.

Milanovic published his book in 2016. Since then, we have had Trump, Brexit, the ‘cultural wars’ and Covid-19. The arguments over economic inequality now feel traditional and unfashionable. The book is still, therefore, underread, but despite it falling foul of current Twitter trends, it somehow feels timely. Overall, Milanovic’s analysis and argument – well-written and engaging as it is – would benefit from a deeper survey of pre-modern historical periods and the world outside the West. He also discusses potential solutions that are politically and socially impossible.  Where Milanovic is most interesting is his warning against overly focusing on ‘existential inequality’, defined as the unequal “legal treatment of different groups” based on factors such as race, disability, sexual preference and gender (p. 226). This, he argues, is unhelpful as it feeds identity politics, splitting the public into communitarian interest groups who, once their own campaigns and needs are sated, will not aid others. This inhibits the collective action needed to create real change and blocks the discussion of the “harder” questions of how to solve wealth and income inequality both domestically and globally. Reducing income inequality, he points out, also helps with gender and race equality, although he does not offer any substantive examples. If Milanovic’s point was relevant then, his pleas are urgent now. We have, somehow, forgotten about income and wealth inequality.

Milanovic seeks to analyse inequality on a global level and ‘not as a national phenomenon only, as had been done for the past century’ (p. 2). In this, he alludes to the works of Karl Marx and Adam Smith, a previous generation of political economists who sought explanatory power on a planetary scale. There were, however, other works published post-2010 on this topic. Milanovic himself cites Thomas Pikkety’s Capitalism in the Twenty First Century, published in English in 2013. There was also Jason Hickel’s The Divide: a Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions, published in 2017. The Great Recession had also spurred new academic interest in the subject from a historical perspective. Histories of Global Inequality: New Perspectives, is a collection of works (edited by Steven Jensen and Christian Christiansen) which seeks to ‘historicise Piketty’. Piketty’s work is reformist, seeking to save capitalism from within by recommending measures such as a global redistribution of wealth, effectively scaling up the tax-and-spend policies of the West. These suggestions were enthusiastically met by some at the time, but their chance of success appears difficult to envision. Witness, for example, the new ‘progressive’ President of the United States threatening sanctions on Britain and the EU for daring to implement new taxes on America’s digital giants. Milanovic is similarly bold in his recommendations, but understandably less optimistic about their success. Despite the many graphs, statistics and discussion of the Gini co-efficient, the work remains very accessible. The language is largely in plain English and the analysis, even for a layman such as this reader, is relatively easy to follow.

From the outset, he sets out themes that, post-Brexit and post-Trump, we recognise instantly: the rise of a global middle class based primarily in Asia, the income stagnation of the middle to lower-middle classes in the West, falling social mobility, and the ‘emergence of a global plutocracy’ (p. 3). Milanovic re-posits the Kuznets hypothesis – that industrialisation leads to higher and later reduced income inequality – as “waves” to take account of our secular stagnation, where periods of intense technological innovation increase inequality before political pressure and educational attainment reduces it again. The technological changes post-1980 have facilitated the rise of finance and tech billionaires who, through the newfound portability of their skills and capital, have become disconnected from their national polities. Milanovic is cold in his analysis of this group until the final chapter, when he just holds back from condemning the hypocrisy of a global top 10% that produces 50% of world carbon emissions flying in private jets to preach about climate change.

Like many economists and economic historians, Milanovic is most comfortable when discussing his model in the context of periods and countries from which we have plenty of data. His analysis therefore skews modern and towards the US and UK. He is on less firm footing when he moves into the early modern, medieval and non-Western worlds. At one point, he freely uses the term ‘capitalist’ in relation to cities in the late Middle Ages. He would have been better discussing income inequality and ‘surpluses’ in the High Middle Ages, when monasteries thrived, guilds were formed, trade increased, fens were drained, and a Latin aristocracy expanded its influence into the former European periphery.[1] Ironically, it was in the following period, in the aftermath of the Black Death, that political agitation among the middling sort began, just as the polities of Europe were starting to expand their bureaucratic reach and depth.[2] A discussion of these periods and a reconciliation of this apparent contradiction – one may expect agitation to come during the period of greater growth and inequality – to his model would have been illuminating. Instead, Milanovic largely skips straight from the fall of Rome to the ‘commercial revolution’ of sixteenth century Italy. The skipping of the medieval period and eurocentrism is a common problem in attempts at global histories, particularly those focused on inequality. The sources, unfortunately, are inconvenient. Medieval records can be patchy and incomplete. Records from outside the West present problems of language and cultural interpretation. A collaborative approach is necessary to bridge these gaps, but pressures of time and resources can make this difficult.

Milanovic, from focusing on inequality within countries, moves to inequality between countries. Here, he does not seek to explain why the West is richer than the East, which has been done elsewhere. Instead, he predicts that the fast-growing economies of the Global South, namely in Asia, will soon begin to move through the Kuznets waves in much the same way as the West. In doing so, they will face similar challenges to the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the middle classes seek enfranchisement. Further, the Citizenship Premium that we in the West currently enjoy for being born in wealthier countries is slowly being eroded as location becomes a less significant factor in one’s income potential.

So, what are Milanovic’s predictions for the future? He wisely cautions against specific forecasts in Chapter 4, pointing out that economists often extrapolate existing trends in the future without taking account of the unexpected, referencing Taleb’s Black Swans, large-scale, often unpredicted events with far-reaching consequences, such as tsunamis or political assassinations. Few writers of the 1970s, for example, predicted the Reagan-Thatcher boom and the collapse of communism. Indeed, some even predicted a convergence between the two, with the Soviet bloc liberalising slightly and the West becoming more statist. He therefore resists specific predictions but does venture some ideas. His belief that the Great Convergence will continue, no matter what happens to China’s economic growth, is hardly controversial. He shows, however, that the Convergence is largely an Asian phenomenon, which means global inequality is likely to continue to grow unless Africa also begins to converge.

He is also pessimistic about the future of Western middle classes, who he argues will continue to be squeezed by globalisation, automation, and the more debateable assertion that education has, more or less, hit its quantitative and qualitative limit. As capital and, increasingly, labour become more difficult to tax, his solution is more punitive inheritance taxes to reduce the power of “endowments” and tax policies that encourage share ownership and financial asset ownership among the lower and middle classes. He compares the systems of Taiwan and Canada to illustrate how this approach can be as effective as a traditional tax-and-spend system. In the next breath, however, he says this is pointless without increased accessibility to quality education, contradicting his own comments on education earlier on.

This, unfortunately, is the pattern of the book: some good economic analysis, followed by political assertions that are often less reinforced by evidence, then proposed solutions that are politically unpalatable. Another example is his proposal to resolve the conflict between the high numbers of migrants and the typical internal resistance to immigrations: implement discriminatory policies against migrants which make clear they do not share the privileges of ‘native’ citizens. As Milanovic himself intimates, this is unlikely to be accepted by anyone, except, ironically, the migrants themselves. In that sense, Milanovic falls into the classic economist (perhaps, even, academic) trap of proposing ‘evidence-based policy’ that ignores specific social and political contexts. His predictions for Asian societies may also be helped by a consideration of the local and non-economic forces impacting on politics and demographics in the region. To some extent, we have the benefit of hindsight here. China has continued to grow apace, but its burgeoning middle class seems as compliant and pacified as ever thanks to its continued prosperity and Xi’s increasingly aggressive nationalism. This may prevent China moving up its own Kuznets wave any time soon.

His model and his analysis would have greater power and more nuance if it were more greatly supplemented by extended historical discussion of the non-Western and non-modern worlds and the powerful forces that exist outside of economics. Nevertheless, Milanovic’s work is comprehendible, sweeping, and at times gripping. Its structure is logical and helpful. He manages to explain complex economic phenomena for a general audience without being patronising. Further, its message – that inequality will continue to exist despite globalisation, and that we ignore it at our peril – feels incredibly relevant as it struggles to cut through the noise of contemporary political fashions.

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Bibliography

Bartlett, R., The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonisation and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (London, 1994)

Christiansen, C.O., & Jensen, S., Histories of Global Inequality: New Perspectives (London, 2019)

Hickel, J., The Divide: a Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions (London, 2017)

Piketty, T., Capital in the Twenty First Century (Paris, 2013)

Watts, J., The Making of Polities: Europe, 1300-1500 (Cambridge, 2009)

 

Notes

[1] See, for example, R. Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonisation and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (London, 1994)

[2] J. Watts, The Making of Polities: Europe, 1300-1500 (Cambridge, 2009)

The Northern Question: A History of a Divided Country by Tom Hazeldine

The Northern Question: A History of a Divided Country by Tom Hazeldine

Abstract

In this review of Tom Hazeldine’s The Northern Question, David Civil explores how Britain’s geographic cultural constructions and regional inequalities have impacted on the nation’s politics from the Industrial Revolution to Brexit. The Northern Question: A History of a Divided Country, Tom Hazeldine, London, Verso Books, 2020, ISBN: 9781786634061; 290pp.; Price: £20.00.

Biography: David Civil is the MHR’s Spotlight Editor and completed his PhD in History on the concept of meritocracy in 2020. 

A Northern parliamentary seat flipping in a by-election from Labour to Conservative for the first time in its history may immediately bring to mind recent, post-Brexit political developments. We might instinctively reach for the language of ‘left-behind’ voters or highlight the significance of ‘Red Wall’ constituencies to explain this unprecedented electoral shift. And yet this by-election in Workington took place in 1976. It saw the return of 35-year-old Richard Page for a Conservative Party under the new leadership of Margaret Thatcher. In 1979 the seat would return to Labour, until the 2019 General Election when it flipped to the Conservatives as part of their assault on the so-called ‘Red Wall’. The notion of ‘Workington Man’ appeared to capture the impact of Brexit in ripping apart old loyalties and traditional voting patterns. Yet as Page’s triumph in 1976 demonstrates, these developments have a long history. The Editor of the New Left Review, Tom Hazeldine sets out to explore this history in his recent book, The Northern Question: A History of a Divided Country. Post-Brexit Northern England, Hazeldine claims, has propelled itself to the ‘foreground of national attention for the first time since the socio-economic crisis of the Thatcher years’ (p. xii). By exploring the interaction between nation-state, social class and geographical region, The Northern Question hopes to ‘let some light in through several windows’ to illuminate a debate whose importance is only going to grow in the next decade and beyond (p. xiv).

Hazeldine’s historical survey begins in Chapter 2, framing the North as the ‘Badlands’ which for the most part refused to adopt the ‘intense feudalism of the Midlands and the South’ (p. 31). If the burdens of serfdom were ‘generally lighter’ in the North ‘rural benightedness – the absence of towns and literacy – was correspondingly deeper’ (p. 31). For Hazeldine, it is clear that evidence of Northern disadvantage vis-à-vis their Southern neighbour is visible even during the early modern period. Even under pre-modern conditions ‘not even a member of the royal line could scrabble together quite enough strength in the North to reign in defiance of Establishment opinion’ (p. 33). In a theme that runs throughout The Northern Question, ‘the sine qua non of governing England was to have its southern heartland on side’ (p. 33). This whistle-stop tour ends with the historical event or process which gave the North its defining characteristics in the national imagination: the Industrial Revolution. Chapter 3 traces how the forces of industrialism and revolt intersected throughout the nineteenth century as the exponential growth of the factory system was accompanied by Luddites, Chartists, and democratic reformers. Despite these upheavals, ‘the pre-industrial mould of British politics remained unbroken, with fateful consequences for the North once its commercial fortunes began to slide’ (p. 70). Drawing on Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1854 novel North and South, Hazeldine claims that ‘even in the land of long chimneys’, business survival still hinged on the ‘attitude taken by the traditional landowning and monied interests of the South’ (p. 70). Chapter 4, focusing on the ‘capital-goods phase of the manufacturing revolution’, expands on these themes to demonstrate how despite the mirage of Northern prosperity, ‘Liverpool and Manchester wealth holders were second only to Londoners in their readiness to put money into foreign undertakings’. It is at this point, at the start of the twentieth-century, that Hazeldine’s ‘declinist’ thesis begins to emerge in full force: ‘For the North it was a case of so far and no further: from now on, it would have to sink or swim with its nineteenth-century coal mines, textile mills, steelworks and shipyards’ (pp. 72–73).

The repercussions of The First World War loosened Lancashire’s grip on British India, the biggest outlet for its cotton goods. In Hazeldine’s words, ‘outpaced by late-start competitors in Europe, America and the Far East, dependent on imperial privileges approaching expiry, the world’s first industrial region was about to experience the ground giving way beneath it’ (pp. 89–90). Chapter 5, entitled ‘Dereliction’, gives an indication of Hazeldine’s assessment of the British state’s response. Despite the parliamentary breakthrough of the Labour Party, the two wings of the labour movement took turns to court disaster through the timidity of its leaders in the face of the General Strike and the Great Depression. By 1934 unemployment fell back to single digits in London and the South East but in the North and Scotland remained stuck above twenty percent (p. 93, pp. 105–06). It would take the full mobilisation of national resources over the course of The Second World War to reduce the concentration of economic activity in the South East and to achieve ‘the rationalisation of Outer Britain that peacetime politics at Westminster had singularly failed to deliver’ (p. 113). Chapter 6 analyses how this rationalisation was squandered by both Labour and Conservative governments determined to keep the pound strong and British imperialism intact. Regional policy, as proclaimed by post-war governments of both stripes, came to involve ‘merely a modest stimulus to private-sector investment and job creation, aimed at indemnifying the ruling parties against accusations of neglect, should slump conditions return to the industrial towns of northern England, Scotland and Wales’ (p. 116). Instead of overhauling the Northern manufacturing base ‘before the resumption of commercial competition from continental Europe and Japan’, Hazeldine claims, Attlee was ploughing ‘limitless amounts of money’ into a ‘clandestine nuclear-weapons programme’ (p. 120, 115). This neglect, he argues, continued into the 1960s. Harold Wilson’s modernisation programme, which helped the Labour Party win the 1964 General Election, was sacrificed, Hazeldine claims, on the altar of ‘slavish monetary orthodoxy’ (p. 134). Wilson’s ‘prolonged exposure to the official mind acculturated him to the innermost impulses of the British state, instilling a reverence for the monarchy, for centralisation and for the pound sterling’ (p. 132). In Hazeldine’s terms, throughout the twentieth century the representatives of labour were just as ‘complacent as those of capital’ (p. 122).

In relative terms then the North did not ‘tread water’ during the ‘golden age of capitalism’ and during the 1970s and 1980s, Hazeldine claims, ‘it would be forced below the waterline, never to re-emerge’ (p. 136). This intensification of Northern decline is explored in Chapters 7 and 8. As growth slowed and the seemingly existential crisis of stagflation began to grip the British economy in the 1970s, mass redundancies developed on top of existing regional disparities. Unemployment provoked a profound response from the industrial working-class and the 1974 ‘Who Governs Britain?’ General Election which brought down the conservative government of Ted Heath represented a ‘remarkable victory for the industrial ranks of Outer Britain’ (p. 144). This working-class momentum was undone in Hazeldine’s account, however, by conservative Labour governments led consecutively by Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. An alternative political economy advanced by Tony Benn, the Secretary of State for Industry between 1974 and 1975, and embodied in the Kirkby Manufacturing and Engineering cooperative, was ostracised in favour of ‘sound money and an open market economy’ (pp. 145–46). For Hazeldine, the Labour government’s cowardice in the face of the forces of capital reached its apogee with the IMF crisis of 1976. This represented the moment that the financial crisis of the post-war state was ‘resolved on City terms at the cost of a lingering recession in Outer Britain’ (p. 150). In these chapters Hazeldine deploys his central argument with the greatest persuasiveness. By highlighting how social democrats like Callaghan and Dennis Healey laid the groundwork for neoliberalism, The Northern Question argues there was something inherent in the British state which meant that at regular historical intervals its default was to side with the forces of capital at the expense of the interests of labour. In this sense, by using the North as a lens, Hazeldine portrays Thatcherism more as an intensification or consolidation of pre-existing patterns of political economy rather than as a revolutionary ideology. In Hazeldine’s account Thatcherism governed from the south and ‘tightened the austerity introduced by Callaghan’s Labour’ (p. 159). Rather than portraying the period as a ‘marketplace of ideas’ where alternative visions of Britain’s political economy competed for ascendancy, Hazeldine characterises the 1970s as one long march to free-market neoliberalism.[1]

While this is a contestable interpretation of the ideological shifts of the 1970s and 1980s, the fact that neoliberalism consolidated its grip over British politics in the 1990s and 2000s is less open to question. The final two chapters of The Northern Question tells the story of this consolidation and brings the narrative up to the contemporary moment where neoliberal ascendancy appears to be assailed on all sides. Hazeldine’s lens becomes a little blurred when exploring New Labour: on the one hand, he repeats familiar tropes that the Blairite Labour Party represented Thatcher’s ‘greatest achievement’ (p. 177); on the other, he highlights how deindustrialisation in the North was ‘buffered by the stimulants’ of higher public spending, which increased by over six percent a year in real terms between 1999 and 2006 (p. 180). These stimulants would quickly be withdrawn, however, following the 2008 financial crisis. The North East lost fourteen percent of its public sector workforce under the coalition while the South East shed less than three percent. Under David Cameron’s prime ministership median household wealth in London increased by fourteen percent while it fell eight percent in Yorkshire and the Humber. For Hazeldine, Brexit and the 2017 General Election were consequences of these regional disparities. Three parallel voter insurgencies left their mark on the post-2008 distemper:

 

a Brexit revolt that originated in opposition to Maastricht among City mavericks and Tory voters in the market-town South, but then pivoted to attract northern working-class communities left behind by the New Labour boom and reeling from Conservative-Lib Dem austerity; the left-inclined 2014 Yes campaign for Scottish independence [. . .] and a Corbynist upsurge pitting a millennial precariat against a still largely Blairite Parliamentary Labour Party (p. 197).

 

While Corbyn managed to hold together an electoral coalition from amongst these various insurgencies in 2017—making the Labour Party’s first Commons gains in a General Election in twenty years—this was achieved by capturing major Northern cities and obfuscation on Brexit. In the aftermath of the election the Brexit movement and the Corbynite Labour Party increasingly faced in opposite directions. The final chapter of The Northern Question entitled ‘Taking a Stand’ explores the consequences of this divergence. Considering his damning indictment of Harold Wilson’s leadership of the Labour Party, it is surprising to see Hazeldine claim that Corbyn should have stuck to the ‘Wilson model’ of ‘personal neutrality’ over Brexit. In the end Corbyn and John McDonnell, ‘pinned their economic programme to a Brexit stance indistinguishable from that of the London establishment against which a large part of the Leave vote had been directed’ (pp. 212–13). In terms of seats, the General Election of 2019 turned on a Labour collapse in the deindustrialised small towns and former pit villages of the Midlands and the North. In these ‘red wall’ regions, 750,000 Leave voters switched to the Conservatives while hundreds of thousands more stayed at home (p. 207). If it is straightforward to demonstrate that Brexit cut across traditional political loyalties and divisions, explaining why remains one of the most contested issues in contemporary Britain. Too many commentators rush to proclaim a loosely conceptualised cultural politics as the key dividing line, yet it is clearly more complicated than this. For Hazeldine, ‘Brexit handed a political weapon to a class and region that had been denied one by Labourist hegemony for so long’ (p. 220). Yet as Will Davies has recently argued, much of what is labelled ‘populism’ is ‘really a longing for some version of the state that predated neoliberal reforms’. The slogan ‘take back control’ appealed to older Brexit voters precisely because they could remember a time when the state was ‘in command of its own economy and able to deliver social security to its own citizens’, a product of the very ‘labourist hegemony’ that Hazeldine deplores.[2] Throughout The Northern Question post-war social democracy is attacked for its repeated capitulations to the forces of capital and characterised as an ideological formation that includes everyone from Dennis Healey to, staggeringly, Dominic Cummings who, Hazeldine claims, ‘wrapped the official Vote Leave campaign in social-democratic colours’ (p. 203).

While it is clearly possible to attack post-war social democracy for its failure to adequately subdue the forces of capital, the reduction of this changing, nuanced and electorally successful ideological formation to a handmaiden of capitalist power speaks to a broader problem with The Northern Question. Namely, that Hazeldine lacks a compelling explanation for why the North has been so neglected by successive governments or rulers over at least two centuries beyond the fact that the British state inherently sided with the forces of capital (a byword for ‘the South’) over those of labour (a byword for ‘the North’). Now there is of course a large amount of truth in this reasoning. British institutions proved uniquely adept at preserving the interests of landed and financial interests and co-opting dissenters to stifle unrest. While the interests of the North might have been consistently marginalised, however, they were marginalised for different reasons over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At its worst Hazeldine’s approach simply lumps social democrats and neoliberals together into a large amalgam called ‘the establishment’. By adopting Hazeldine’s perspective we learn nothing about the consequences of the profound ideological and conceptual shifts of modern British history; about the impact of the welfare state or the rise of the free market. This largely stems from Hazeldine’s ‘declinism’.[3] The Northern Question is heavily indebted to the work of the political theorist Tom Nairn. Alongside fellow New Left intellectual Perry Anderson, Nairn advanced the thesis that the British polity was uniquely conditioned by the absence of a truly bourgeois revolutionary moment.[4] Instead the aristocracy absorbed the emergent bourgeoisie from the early-nineteenth century, preserving the ancien régime and dooming any attempt at modernisation to failure.[5] There is no acknowledgement in The Northern Question, however, to the fact that this thesis has been powerfully challenged in the intervening decades.[6] Declinist critiques are bound-up with a variety of cultural assumptions about the nature of work, Britain’s place in the world and its transition to a welfare state. The latter, which played an important role in the development of Britain’s service economy, is barely mentioned by Hazeldine. In many ways, as the likes of Jim Tomlinson have argued, New Left critiques like The Northern Question end up mirroring a Thatcherite narrative of modern British history if for largely different reasons.[7]

At the start of his account, Hazeldine informs the reader that to understand the North we must ‘delve into the politics of Westminster and Whitehall, observing these proceedings from a northern perspective, to see what English history looks like when stood upon its head’ (p. 23). Later on, he is critical of recent ‘party-political musings’ which, while treating the North as a significant electoral player, tend to project southern assumptions onto the region. These musings, he claims, ‘are not the same as asking what the region itself wants’ (p. 214). Yet voices from the region are exactly what The Northern Question lacks.

The most engaging sections of the book are those where Hazeldine explores the cultural products of the region, from the ‘Angry Young Men’ of the late 1950s to the ‘feel-good musicals of the New Labour boom’ embodied in The Full Monty (p. 220, 18). By the end of The Northern Question, it is difficult to know what the North is beyond a byword for industrialism and manufacturing or to identify what makes it distinct. This partly stems from Hazeldine’s materialist approach and partly from the reductionism of the North-South binary itself as a lens. A much more fruitful approach would be to explore how this division of Britain became ingrained in the national imagination, compressing other regional or local identities. The Midlands, for example, is rarely the subject of such historical scrutiny. Where the Midlands is cited, it is usually grafted onto the North or South and rarely treated as a region in its own right. Hazeldine falls prey to a similar trap. ‘On a statistical basis’, he argues, ‘much more of the Midlands belongs on the northern side of the regional divide’ (p. 13). Hazeldine acknowledges that cities like Birmingham followed their own ‘distinct trajectory’ and has a ‘different story to tell’ than that explored in The Northern Question (p. 14). Yet he is forced to acknowledge where significant movements and processes spill over from ill-defined, contested and largely imagined regional boundaries. While it is undoubtedly true to say that the North-South divide continues to dominate discussions of regional inequality in modern Britain, there is a pressing need to explore the Midlands as a space of identity formation and political upheaval. The recently launched ‘Midlands Identities Project‘, a one-day interdisciplinary conference supported by both The MHR and the Institute of Historical Research, could therefore not be timelier.

While the North-South divide might be an unrepresentative cultural construction, it undoubtedly retains a considerable grip over the national political, economic and cultural imagination. Hazeldine concludes The Northern Question with a powerful fact: the contemporary North accounts for one-quarter of the UK’s population and parliamentary constituencies as well as one-fifth of its GDP. While these economic indicators may be trending downwards, they do so from a great height. In this sense, Hazeldine argues, ‘the problem of the North isn’t going away anytime soon’ (p. 222). The North may benefit ‘from open bidding between the major parties for support’ but it is far from clear that it will settle for what Hazeldine identifies as the ‘post-war norm’: the ‘dispending of palliatives to take the edge of structural economic change’ (p. 214). If his book fails to grapple with the contradictions and contestations inherent in Britain’s image of the North today, as well as amongst those who live there and lay claim to a Northern identity, Hazeldine’s historical survey is a timely reminder that the contours and constraints of contemporary politics are always liable to change, often in unexpected and surprising ways.

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Bibliography

Anderson, P., ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’, New Left Review, 23 (1963), pp. 26–53.

Blackburn, D., ‘Penguin Books and the Marketplace for Ideas’, in L. Black, H. Pemberton & P. Thane (Eds.), Reassessing 1970s Britain (Manchester, 2013), pp. 224–51.

Davies, W., This is Not Normal: The Collapse of Liberal Britain (London, 2020). 

Edgerton, D., Warfare State: Britain, 1920–1970 (Cambridge, 2006). 

English, R., & Kenny, M., ‘Public Intellectuals and the Question of British Decline’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 3/3 (2001), pp. 259–83.

Hall, P.A., ‘Social Learning and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain’, Comparative Politics, 5/3, (1993), pp. 275–96. 

Nairn, T., ‘The British Political Elite’, New Left Review, 23 (1963), pp. 19–25.

Tomlinson, J., ‘Thrice Denied: “Declinism” as a Recurrent Theme in British History in the Long Twentieth Century’, Twentieth Century British History, 20/2 (2009), pp. 227–51.

Notes

[1] For the 1970s as a ‘marketplace of ideas’, see: P.A. Hall, ‘Social Learning and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain’, Comparative Politics, 5/3, (1993), pp. 275–96; D. Blackburn, ‘Penguin Books and the Marketplace for Ideas’, in L. Black, H. Pemberton & P. Thane (Eds.), Reassessing 1970s Britain (Manchester, 2013), pp. 224–51.

[2] W. Davies, This is Not Normal: The Collapse of Liberal Britain (London, 2020), p. 16.

[3] For the notion of ‘declinism’ see:  J. Tomlinson, ‘Thrice Denied: “Declinism” as a Recurrent Theme in British History in the Long Twentieth Century’, Twentieth Century British History, 20/2 (2009), pp. 227–51.

[4] See for example: T. Nairn, ‘The British Political Elite’, New Left Review, 23 (1963), pp. 19–25; P. Anderson, ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’, New Left Review, 23 (1963), pp. 26–53.

[5] For a good overview of this account, see: R. English & M. Kenny, ‘Public Intellectuals and the Question of British Decline’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 3/3 (2001), pp. 259–83.

[6] See for example: D. Edgerton, Warfare State: Britain, 1920–1970 (Cambridge, 2006).

[7] Tomlinson, ‘Thrice Denied’, p. 235.

 

Early English Books Online: Mass Digitization and the Archive

Early English Books Online: Mass Digitization and the Archive

Abstract

This review examines the originations and contemporary usage of the online archive Early English Books Online (EEBO). Highlighting the recent advancements in digital historiography, alongside considerations of inherent archival bias, this article demonstrates a variety of circumstances in which the scholar is encouraged to look beyond the digital archive itself. EEBO here is proposed as a resource capable of profound innovation, one of preservationist historical necessity, and a logical further extension of scholarship dating all the way back to the early twentieth century and the Short-Title Catalogue. Yet also EEBO is a resource of human construction, and therefore must be approached with the same considerations one would the physical archive, giving careful thought to the intersection of material and print culture, and the ways in which they correlate. 

Biography: Conner Wilson is a postgraduate student at the University of Birmingham studying Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and Early Modern theatre culture.

Over the course of the past two decades, the mass digitization of the archive has radically transformed the breadth of primary source material readily available to the modern scholar. Online archives such as Early English Books Online (EEBO), Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), Manuscript Pamphleteering in Early Stuart England (MPESE), and the Old Bailey Proceedings Online, along with numerous others, have become inundated with modern methodological approaches to historiography, with most, if not all, Masters and PhD programs requiring some compulsory module towards navigating these resources. On one hand, this “revolution”[1] of digitization as Tim Hitchcock describes it, represents a turning point for historians, as researchers embrace the advantages of immediacy and accessibility in the information age; yet, in a field where visual, material, and print culture so often coincide, how do we determine the accuracy in which these online archival substitutions can produce the unique phenomenological experience associated with resource tangibility? Or, for instance, how do researchers overcome the implicit bias of search bar algorithms in tandem with imperfect and outdated Optical Character Recognition (OCR)? While much of what has been written about EEBO tends to exist in a binary dialectic of good vs. bad, helpful vs. unhelpful, accurate vs. inaccurate, this article will aim to circumnavigate such finite categorizations, and acknowledge both the trepidations of scholars who fear misuse, and embrace the growing computational literacy of historical fields. This reciprocal analysis, alongside a detailed historical account of the creation of the database, presents EEBO as not too dissimilar to the physical archive: proposing that, with both the digital and the material, it is ultimately the historian’s job to determine relevancy and overcome inherent bias.

 

EEBO’s Beginnings

The origins of EEBO can be traced all the way back to the early twentieth century. In 1918 on commission from The Bibliographical Society, scholars A. W. Pollard and G. R. Redgrave began the monumental task of creating a unified catalogue covering all extant books, printed between 1475 and 1640, across Great Britain and North America. It was a project which would take nearly 8 years of research and require an immense amount of interlibrary cooperation, however, by 1926 Pollard and Redgrave’s work: A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475–1640, was finally ready for publication.[2]2 This Short-Title Catalogue or STC, as it is frequently abbreviated, immediately proved to be an invaluable road map for scholars in the sourcing of rare and out-of-print books. The STC covered the holdings of a myriad of libraries, provided bibliographic information on nearly 26,000 extant texts, and managed a scope of information which was unprecedented. The scholars had successfully proved that the cross unification of resources and information was possible on a massive scale, so far as researchers were willing to acknowledge that it was “dangerous work for any one to handle lazily.”[3] This cautionary caveat would come to permeate historical research well into the information age. Considering now the contemporary trepidations around EEBO, is it fitting here to include Pollard and Redgrave’s initial caution of the STC that “in so large a work based on such varied sources, probably every kind of error will be found represented.”[4] Perhaps, historians have always been cautiously self-aware of the dangers of mass bibliographic consolidation and the seductive illusion of an entirely comprehensive historical archive. Yet, despite this, the pairs’ work has unequivocally become one of the most influential and enduring enterprises towards the sourcing of Early Modern texts. Fourteen years later, with the danger of WWII fast approaching, and the advent of a new technological system, Microfilm, the American Council of Learned Societies felt the processing and photographing of Early English vulnerable texts was a project which could not be delayed, and the Short-Title Catalogue should become the bedrock from which the selection committee would work. Six million pages were prioritized for this microfilmic reproduction process with an ultimate objective of storing the facsimiles securely in America, farther from the increasingly volatile Western Front.[5] This decision to integrate the microphotographic imaging process with the STC would serve as the basis for what is now EEBO, with many of the original images captured by this commission populating the contemporary database today. It is imperative to understand that while much work has been done since the original publication of the STC (notably Donald Wing’s subsequent, yet separate, catalogue expanding the breadth of titles from 1641 to 1700)[6] and on microfilm reproductions themselves (with STC titles continuing to be photographed well into the 1990s) the digital visual make-up of EEBO began nearly 40 years before the advent of the internet; suffice it to say, the microphotographic process was not designed with considerations towards its ultimate digital transference. EEBO, as we know it now, would finally come into existence with the birth of the Text Creation Partnership (TCP) in 1999. This interlibrary effort to “create texts to a common standard suitable for search, display, navigation, and reuse” is the process on which the second half of this article will focus more specifically, as it has come to define the contemporary successes and pitfalls of the database.[7]

 

OCR, Comprehensive Digital Archives, and Material Culture

Perhaps the most extraordinary feat the EEBO-TCP partnership has undertaken, is its avoidance of common OCR problems, by abandoning the technology altogether. The implementation of a “double-keyed”[8] transcription system, with human editors coding from the original microfilm images, boasts a “99.995%”[9] accuracy rating per-text-entered, thereby enabling the current sophistication level offered in the simple and advanced search bar functions. While immensely expensive and labor intensive, this effort ensures a consistent accuracy which has previously proven difficult in Early Modern typeface transcriptions, yet it does, however, simultaneously shatter the illusion of an entirely comprehensive archive. As Ian Gadd notes, “EEBO does not include every copy of every edition published prior to 1701… nor even does it include a copy of every surviving edition published prior to 1701.”[10] This is an important distinction in that the textual variances between subsequent editions of Early Modern books can prove to be drastic. One need look no further than Quarto 1 and Quarto 2 of Hamlet (both available on EEBO), to detect a noticeably alternate print of the infamous, “To be, or not to be, that is the question” (Tragedy of Hamlet 23)[11] which instead reads, “To be, or not to be, I there’s the point.” (Tragicall Historie of Hamlet 15)[12] Fortunately for Shakespeare, the infamy of his work secures an archival placeholder for the various editions of his plays, however, it is near impossible to discern a similar degree of canonical entirety for the multitudes of lesser-known authors present on EEBO. If a scholar either unknowingly or willfully ignores this fact, the dangers of misrepresentation, false negatives, and false positives are relatively high. Additionally, given that EEBO is computationally manual, the quick inclusion of a subsequent textual edition is seemingly non-existent, and the notion that EEBO could be entirely comprehensive rapidly falls away simply considering the sheer labor intensity of the archive, which is tremendous. This is not to suggest either that EEBO advertises itself as a comprehensive archive (as neither did Redgrave and Pollard consider their work entirely comprehensive), but instead give caution to the scholars who may be first using the resource. One would not assume a physical library could possibly contain every text on a single subject and the same principle must be applied to the digital.

Regarding the physical tangibility of primary source material, EEBO presents both clear advantages and disadvantages. Considering the preservationist origins of the online archive, the sheer volume of scholars who now have access to the texts without having to physically handle the pages is an immense victory for the longevity of Early Modern books. The reality that pages are turned less frequently, less exposed to light, able to maintain a consistent temperature, and are simply less prone to accidental human contamination, will keep these resources accessible to those who need them for many years to come.[13] Healthy shelf life in correlation with the Early Modern book was already a precarious relationship, and the digital archive aids in keeping these texts in the hands of those most qualified to handle their longevity. On the other hand, EEBO all but abandons the material culture of the printed book, as the researcher is, of course, not actually manipulating the original artifact. Books on EEBO all appear to be roughly the same size and dimensions, which is simply not the case.[14] Furthermore, microfilm does little to aid in the capturing of handwritten notes of previous owners, thereby potentially overlooking additional valuable historiographical evidence. For example, many of the digital reproductions of seminal works now existent on the internet today, do little to account for things such as transportability or mobility of the original object. An Early Modern book capable of fitting in its owner’s pocket carries significantly different cultural weight than one which sits on the lectern of a library or lecture hall. Expanding on this work, the researcher may begin to unlock information such as the author’s contemporary popularity or their cordiality with publishing companies. A book existent in multiple different contemporaneous languages may reveal an author’s audience reach, their financial stability, or the sociological circle of which they were a member, all of which in turn can affect literary analysis.

While some of this information may be discerned from EEBO, the researcher must continue to be diligent and thorough with historiographical information beyond the text itself. This ultimately asks the important question at the intersection of material and print culture: can we consider the text of primary source material in a vacuum, or does removing the physical life of the object detract vital information which in turn can affect textual analysis? The answer to this, of course, depends on the author, the text, the book itself, the contemporary and historical associations of the material, the previous owner(s), the type of research being conducted, and a litany of other potential factors, yet still, the contemporary historian must not be swayed into ignoring the material world which exists behind the digital reproduction, as there is certainly valuable information existent there.

 

Conclusions

In 2001 John Jowett and Gabriel Egan authored one of the earliest reviews of EEBO, writing that “the potential for generating new research in early modern studies is considerable indeed… and electronic products such as EEBO… enable new forms of scholarly study which were not possible using paper and film technologies.” 16 Two decades later, this observation still holds true. EEBO has provided massive amounts of information to scholars over the years, ushering in exciting and new historical discoveries, which otherwise may have gone unrealized, overlooked, or been significantly delayed. Moreover, the access which current students now have to primary source material is unprecedented and evolving the very fabric of how academic arguments are conducted. In the midst of this exciting growth, it is vital for the researcher to remember that they must not rely solely on what is convenient. All archives, whether digital or physical, are ultimately human constructions and therefore contain certain limitations and biases both consciously and unconsciously. The above examples outlined are merely a few of the considerations scholars should take into account when conducting online research. As always, the historian shoulders the burden of accuracy, thoroughness, and overcoming bias, but when used diligently, the potentialities of EEBO are immense.

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Bibliography

De But, R., ‘Managing Risks: what are the agents of deterioration’, <https://artsandculture. google.com/exhibit/managing-riskswhat-are-the-agents-of-deterioration-trinity-college-dublin library/PQKyBVnbqWmqLw?hl=en https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/managing-riskswhat are-the-agents-of-deterioration-trinity-college-dublin-library/PQKyBVnbqWmqLw?hl=en>, accessed 8.4.2021.

Gadd, I., ‘The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online’, Literature Compass, 6/3 (2009), p. 680- 692.

Gavin, M. ‘How to Think about EEBO’, Textual Cultures, 11 / ½ (2017), pp. 70-102.

Heil, J. and Samuelson, T., ‘Book History in the Early Modern OCR Project or, Bringing Balance to the Force’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 13 / 4 (2013), pp. 93-94.

Hitchcock, T., ‘Confronting the Digital’, Cultural and Social History, 10/ 1 (2013), p. 9-23.

Jowett, J. and Egan, G., ‘Review of the Early English Books Online (EEBO)’, Interactive Early Modern Literary Studies (2001), pp. 1-13.

Nagle, B. ‘Introduction’, in Wing, D. (ed.), Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America and of English books printed in other countries, 1641-1700 (New York, 1945) p. 10.

Shakespeare, W., The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, Printed by George Eld for Iohn Smethwicke, and are to be sold at his shoppe in Saint Dunstons Church yeard in Fleetstreet. Vnder the Diall, (London, 1611).

Shakespeare, W., The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, Printed [by Valentine Simmes] for N[icholas] L[ing] and Iohn Trundell, (London, 1603).

‘Text Creation Partnership’, <https://textcreationpartnership.org/>, accessed 31.3. 2021.

‘The results of keying instead of OCR’, <https://textcreationpartnership.org/using-tcp content/results-of-keying/>, accessed 31.3.2021.

Notes

[1] T. Hitchcock, ‘Confronting the Digital’, Cultural and Social History, 10/ 1 (2013), p. 9.

[2] M. Gavin, ‘How to Think about EEBO’, Textual Cultures, 11 / ½ (2017), pp. 70-102.

[3] B. Nagle, ‘Introduction’, in D. Wing (ed.), Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America and of English books printed in other countries, 1641-1700 (New York, 1945) p. 10.

[4] Nagle, ‘Introduction’, 10.

[5] Gavin, ‘How to Think about EEBO’, pp. 70-102.

[6] I. Gadd, “The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online”, Literature Compass, 6/3 (2009): p. 683.

[7] ‘Text Creation Partnership’, < https://textcreationpartnership.org/>, accessed 31.3. 2021.

[8] J. Heil and T. Samuelson, ‘Book History in the Early Modern OCR Project or, Bringing Balance to the Force’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 13 / 4 (2013), pp. 93-94.

[9] ‘The results of keying instead of OCR’, <https://textcreationpartnership.org/using-tcp-content/results-of-keying/>, accessed 31.3.2021.

[10] I. Gadd, ‘The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online’, Literature Compass, 6/3 (2009), p. 686. (Italics mine).

[11] W. Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, Printed by George Eld for Iohn Smethwicke, and are to be sold at his shoppe in Saint Dunstons Church yeard in Fleetstreet. Vnder the Diall, (London, 1611), p. 23.

[12] W. Shakespeare, The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, Printed [by Valentine Simmes] for N[icholas] L[ing] and Iohn Trundell, (London, 1603), p. 15.

[13]  R. de But, ‘Managing Risks: what are the agents of deterioration’, <https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/managing-risks what-are-the-agents-of-deterioration-trinity-college-dublin-library/PQKyBVnbqWmqLw?hl=en>, accessed 8.4.2021.

[14] I. Gadd, ‘The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online’, Literature Compass, 6/3 (2009), p. 682.

Steven Fielding, Bill Schwarz and Richard Toye, The Churchill Myths (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Steven Fielding, Bill Schwarz and Richard Toye, The Churchill Myths (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Abstract

This article reviews The Churchill Myths, co-authored by Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham, Bill Schwarz, Professor of English at Queen Mary University of London, and Richard Toye, Professor of History at the University of Exeter. The book follows the trajectory of Winston Churchill’s uses in the popular memory of the post-war period, suggesting that the legends of 1940 have remained a central element throughout, but also tracking the changing nature of elements around these stories, such as a greater attention to his personal character. Although the authors make a convincing case in many respects, it leaves some significant aspects of competing ‘Churchill myths’ and change over time underexplored. 

Key words: American politics, Brexit, British politics, Conservative Party, Cold War, film, India, memory, Second World War, Wales, Winston Churchill.

Biography: Alex Riggs is a University of Nottingham PhD History student, funded by Midlands4Cities. His research focuses on the 1970s and 1980s American left, especially their efforts to forge coalitions through electoral and grassroots politics.

A spectre is haunting Britain. The spectre of Winston Churchill. That’s the argument of Steven Fielding, Bill Schwarz and Richard Toye in The Churchill Myths. Certainly, any follower of British politics will need little convincing of Churchill’s continued relevance. As the authors point out in the book’s key rationale, Churchill has been deployed constantly in the debates around Brexit. Most prominently, Brexiteers have deployed an advocate for a ‘global Britain’ that confronted a German-dominated Europe, but Remainers too have cast him as a pro-European concerned with the implications of Britain cutting adrift from the continent.[1] Indeed, the period since the book’s finalisation propelled Churchill even further into the centre of political discourse, with the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, the COVID-19 pandemic and global Black Lives Matter protests all prompting further discussion of his legacy.[2] Therefore, Fielding, Schwarz and Toye bring the subject necessary scholarly attention.

As they stress, the book’s subject is not Winston Churchill. It is about memory of him,

‘the many, contrary manifestations of the various Churchill legends and the common, invariant properties which make the range of individual stories recognisably instalments in a common process of codification, resulting in Churchill as myth’ (Emphasis original).[3]

This history is uncovered across three chapters. The first, ‘Brexit May 1940’, tackles Churchill’s political uses, highlighting his utility for a range of political actors in various conflicts and crises, from the Cold War to Brexit. The next, ‘The Churchill Syndrome’, goes over similar ground, again exploring the evolution of his British and American political deployments. It also introduces interesting theoretical concepts, particularly ‘reputational entrepreneurship’, whereby self-interested custodians use particular memories to build a sense of solidarity within communities by defining what they are for and against. This is linked with the concept of a ‘resonant core’ to memories that is always present, whose surroundings are constantly changing over time.[4] This represents important overlap with the ideas of the political theorist Michael Freeden, whose morphological approach to ideology similarly uncovers core concepts, but suggests significant fluctuations in the peripheral concepts that surround its centre over time.[5] Finally, ‘Persistence and Change in Churchill’s Mythic Memory’ is largely focused on dramatic depictions, highlighting the battles that Hollywood producers had with Churchill and his aides to get a biographical treatment to the big screen and his numerous depictions ever since.[6]

The authors convincingly show how the Churchill myths’ adaptability has kept them relevant through the post-war era. They highlight how the myth of an unshakable Churchill arose from early Cold War fears about Soviet expansionism. This was embraced by a diverse range of figures including liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who praised his rhetorical ability ‘to give shape and character, colour and direction and coherence to the stream of events’, something essential for democracy to survive in this context.[7] Then as fears of national decline grew in the 1960s, Churchill became a symbol of Britain’s lost might. In the context of fears around the decline of Britain’s Empire, economy and culture, conservative commentators like the historian John Lukacs portrayed his death in 1965 as the simultaneous passing of the hierarchical, traditional society that sustained its great power status.[8] Most recently, The Churchill Factor, written by perhaps Churchill’s most enthusiastic ‘reputational entrepreneur’ Boris Johnson, depicted him as an anti-establishment figure, taking a meek, out-of-touch political elite to task for their belief in the limits of national power and using his rhetorical might to restore national esteem.[9] The authors suggest that in the age of Brexit’s political deadlocks, Johnson’s narrative of a ‘man of destiny’ smashing through national malaise has become dominant over popular views of Britain’s wartime leader.[10]

In making these arguments, the authors deploy an impressive range of material. Given the abundance of Churchill films, this medium is particularly prominent, especially 2018’s The Darkest Hour. These dramatic depictions are effective in evidencing the centrality of 1940 to Churchillian memory, with this a consistent element throughout- even 1972’s Young Winston, based on Churchill’s first autobiography, My Early Life, treats events decades before the war as foreshadowing his future greatness.[11] This medium also functions effectively in showing the changes that have occurred around this myth. Richard Burton’s 1974 portrayal presented a stoic individual, but his more recent biopics  celebrate his eccentricities, presenting his tempestuousness and bouts of depression as representative of his humanity, in contrast to the distant, stuffy Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax.[12] Political opinion is also drawn upon, including interventions from figures as diverse as John F. Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Farage, providing a good range of popular and elite discourses and showing his constant utility in the post-war period.[13]

The Churchill Myths also reveals some of the key silences in these depictions. In pinpointing the 1940 fixation of these sources, the authors highlight a contradiction in conventional attitudes- on the one hand, Churchill is the man of destiny, singlehandedly steering Britain away from defeat in 1940. Yet on the other, he appears to have been incapable of deploying these talents at any other moment, with his decades of ministerial office before and after the war rarely invoked, and practically irrelevant to the war once the United States and Soviet Union joined the conflict in 1941.[14] This means that a series of events that challenge his status as a unifying national hero, including but not limited to, his sending of troops to quell striking miners in South Wales as Home Secretary, his staunch support for imperialism, and his 1945 election defeat, are either glossed over or unexplained.[15] Even when they are mentioned, such as his pro-Empire intervention in the debate on Indian home rule in the 2002 film The Gathering Storm, they represent his honesty compared to the devious Conservative leadership, not his unrelenting imperialism.[16]

However, this point also reveals one of the book’s flaws. Although the authors are correct in highlighting 1940 as the central Churchillian myth, these silences are by no means universal. Directors may not be rushing to dramatize Churchill’s role in the Tonypandy riots, but his actions still have an important impact on memory of him in South Wales.[17] On a global scale too, the 1943 Bengal Famine has shaped Indian memory of Churchill, with the exacerbation of mass starvation by his wartime policies also fuelling a more critical history, and crucially one not centring on 1940.[18] These critiques make passing visits to the narrative, mentioned in criticisms from John McDonnell and Richard Burton, but a more detailed sense of how they fit within an analysis of the Churchill myths or why they have sprung up in particular contexts is not included.[19] Had they been, The Churchill Myths would have produced a more comprehensive analysis, one that highlights the plurality of memories implied by its title.

A closer analysis of these silences could have also brought further insights into the moments when Churchill is more obscure in political discourse. For instance, it is mentioned that John Major made little use of Churchill during his premiership and that no Churchill films were made between 1982 and 2002 and again between 2004 and 2017, yet no explanations are offered for why this was the case.[20] A more nuanced analysis of Churchill’s American deployments would have also been possible through this approach. Though the authors correctly highlight his use by all post-war American presidents, a search of Presidential public papers reveals that this has been far from equal over time. For instance, Jimmy Carter invoked Churchill thirteen times, but his successor Ronald Reagan found 125 occasions to quote the former Prime Minister.[21] Through closer examination of these deployments, a clearer understanding of why Churchill was especially useful for certain actors and less so for others could be achieved, with Reagan’s confrontational policy towards the Soviet Union making Churchill’s warnings over appeasement and post-war Soviet ambitions convenient.[22] Similarly, the defection of many Southern Democrats to the Republican Party also meant Churchillian wisdom about the merits of switching parties was applicable.[23]

 Patrick Finney’s Remembering the Road to World War Two provides a useful example of this approach. Focusing on the historiography of appeasement, Finney situates historians’ work within the various contexts they were writing in, contrasting the critical outlook of the immediate post-war years of high confidence in Britain’s great power status with the more sympathetic view of the declinist 1960s and ‘70s, where the limits on policymakers’ freedom of action were stressed.[24] Such an analysis brings important insight, and a similar approach more grounded in particular contexts would have given the book a more detailed sense of changes in this mythology over time. Moreover, given that the appeasers are ever present in stories told about Churchill, narratives that rehabilitate them by implication challenge the significance and necessity of Churchill’s intervention, addressing the content of Finney’s study would have added considerable important context.

On occasion in The Churchill Myths, such a structure is used to good effect. For instance, it takes Andrew Roberts’ biography of Churchill as an illustration of the context of internal struggles in the 1990s Conservative Party. The authors underline how Roberts highlighted Churchill’s racism not as a criticism of these attitudes, but as a critique of their inconsistency with the overly welcoming immigration policy of his 1950s premiership, a symptom of the Tory ‘wetness’ that was a concern of the party’s right in the context of John Major’s acceptance of European integration.[25] This is a perceptive analysis, and more frequent application would have added much to The Churchill Myths. This could serve as a means to ask some of the overarching questions about modern Britain, to assess whether the persistence of 1940 suggests a stagnant period, or its constant reinterpretation implies a more dynamic era. This would have also provided an opportunity to include the historiographical discussion that the book lacks, and thus put it into dialogue with this scholarship, as well as providing an opportunity to historicise these works, especially their 2000s proliferation.[26]

In summary then, The Churchill Myths provides a timely and readable intervention in contemporary debates about Churchill. In a relatively short book, the authors reveal important historical insights, showing the adaptability of Churchill over time to suit a variety of political purposes, but also the staying power of his heroic leadership in 1940 as the defining Churchill myth. Yet that brevity also leaves the reader wanting more, with issues over competing Churchill myths and its significance for broader questions in both British history and particular contexts underexplored. Fielding, Schwarz and Toye demonstrate the variety of issues that can be viewed through the lens of Churchill’s memory but leave historians with plenty of angles still to discover.

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Bibliography

 

Primary Bibliography 

Carter, N., ‘This is the moment to learn the wartime generation’s lesson’, The Times, May 8, 2020, p.5.

Limaye, Y., ‘Churchill’s legacy leaves Indians questioning his hero status’, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-53405121, accessed 01/04/2021.

Walker, P., ‘Boris Johnson says removing statues is to ‘lie about our history’’, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jun/12/boris-johnson-says-removing-statues-is-to-lie-about-our-history-george-floyd, accessed 30/03/2021.

‘Advanced Search’, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/advanced-search?field-keywords=Churchill&field-keywords2=&field-keywords3=&from%5Bdate%5D=01-01-1961&to%5Bdate%5D=04-05-2021&person2=200295&items_per_page=25, accessed 06/04/2021. 

‘Advanced Search’, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/advanced-search?field-keywords=Churchill&field-keywords2=&field-keywords3=&from%5Bdate%5D=01-01-1961&to%5Bdate%5D=04-05-2021&person2=200296&items_per_page=25, accessed 06/04/2021.

‘Has the town of Tonypandy forgiven Winston Churchill? | ITV News’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhYQ13z4dYc, accessed 01/04/2021. 

‘Remarks at a Campaign Rally for Senator Don Nickles in Norman, Oklahoma’, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/remarks-campaign-rally-for-senator-don-nickles-norman-oklahoma, accessed 06/04/2021.

‘Statement on United States Defence Policy’, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/statement-united-states-defense-policy, accessed 06/04/2021.

 

Secondary Bibliography

Connelly, M., We Can Take It! Britain and the Memory of the Second World War (Abingdon, 2004). 

Fielding, S., Schwarz, B., Toye, R., The Churchill Myths (Oxford, 2020).

Finney, P., Remembering the Road to World War Two: International History, National, Identity, Collective Memory (Oxford, 2011). 

Freeden, M., ‘The Morphological Analysis of Ideology’, in M. Freeden, L. Tower Sargent and M. Stears (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford, 2013), pp.115-137. 

Noakes, L. and Pattinson, J. (eds.), British Cultural Memory and the Second World War (London, 2013). 

Smith, M., Britain and 1940: History, Myth and Popular Memory (London, 2000). 

Notes

[1] S. Fielding, B. Schwarz and R. Toye, The Churchill Myths (Oxford, 2020), pp.8-9.

[2] N. Carter, ‘This is the moment to learn the wartime generation’s lesson’, The Times, May 8, 2020, p.5; P. Walker, ‘Boris Johnson says removing statues is to ‘lie about our history’’, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jun/12/boris-johnson-says-removing-statues-is-to-lie-about-our-history-george-floyd, accessed 30/03/2021.

[3] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, p.11.

[4] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.72-73.

[5] M. Freeden, ‘The Morphological Analysis of Ideology’, in M. Freeden, L. Tower Sargent and M. Stears (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford, 2013), pp.124-25.

[6] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.143-44.

[7] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.40-41.

[8] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.35-36.

[9] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, p.23.

[10] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.27-28.

[11] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.125,138

[12] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.139-40.

[13] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.9-10,79-80,84-85

[14] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.111-12.

[15] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.122-24.

[16] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.133-34.

[17] ‘Has the town of Tonypandy forgiven Winston Churchill? | ITV News’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhYQ13z4dYc, accessed 01/04/2021.

[18] Y. Limaye, ‘Churchill’s legacy leaves Indians questioning his hero status’, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-53405121, accessed 01/04/2021.

[19] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.69-70,108-09.

[20] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.86,138.

[21] ‘Advanced Search’, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/advanced-search?field-keywords=Churchill&field-keywords2=&field-keywords3=&from%5Bdate%5D=01-01-1961&to%5Bdate%5D=04-05-2021&person2=200295&items_per_page=25 accessed 06/04/2021; ‘Advanced Search’, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/advanced-search?field-keywords=Churchill&field-keywords2=&field-keywords3=&from%5Bdate%5D=01-01-1961&to%5Bdate%5D=04-05-2021&person2=200296&items_per_page=25, accessed 06/04/2021.

[22] ‘Statement on United States Defence Policy’, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/statement-united-states-defense-policy, accessed 06/04/2021.

[23] ‘Remarks at a Campaign Rally for Senator Don Nickles in Norman, Oklahoma’, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/remarks-campaign-rally-for-senator-don-nickles-norman-oklahoma, accessed 06/04/2021.

[24] P. Finney, Remembering the Road to World War Two: International History, National Identity, Collective Memory (London, 2011), pp.192-94,200-02.

[25] Fielding, Schwarz and Toye, The Churchill Myths, pp.88-89.

[26] M. Connelly, We Can Take It! Britain and the Memory of the Second World War (Abingdon, 2004); M. Smith, Britain and 1940: History, Myth and Popular Memory (London, 2000); L. Noakes and J. Pattinson (eds.), British Cultural Memory and the Second World War (London, 2013).

F. Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale: British Military Memoirs of the Second World War (Cambridge, 2018).

F. Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale: British Military Memoirs of the Second World War (Cambridge, 2018).

Biography: William Noble is a PhD student at the University of Nottingham, funded by Midlands4Cities. His research examines the relationships between popular discourses of ‘race’ and immigration, and the concept of ‘decline’ in the post-war Midlands.

What can veterans’ memoirs of the Second World War tell us about combatants’ experiences both of conflict and post-war life? This is the question that Frances Houghton seeks to answer in The Veterans’ Tale: British Military Memoirs of the Second World War. In response, Houghton convincingly demonstrates that veterans’ memoirs are valuable to historians because of their capacity to reveal  the ex-combatants’ retrospective memory and understanding of battle; despite which they have been previously unheard on a collective level within the scholarship on war, memory, and personal narratives.[1] Houghton argues the attention they have received has been in the discipline of literary criticism, for example in Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory and Samuel Hynes’ The Soldiers’ Tale.[2] Given the voluminous literature on the war’s impact on British society, politics and culture – which has taken account of war films, public memorials and commemorations, and many other types of sources besides – in writing the first book-length historical study of Second World War veterans’ memoirs Houghton is beginning to correct this surprising omission.[3]

Drawing influence from various disciplines, including memory studies, auto/biographical studies, and histories of the emotions, Houghton investigates how veterans reinterpreted their wartime experiences in the post-war years, by examining their relationships to four main themes: landscape; weaponry; the enemy; and comradeship. Houghton’s detailed introduction establishes the book’s theoretical and methodological underpinnings.[4] In Alessandro Portelli’s famous defence of oral history, he wrote that the value of oral testimony lies not in its ‘adherence to fact’, but in ‘its departure from it, as imagination, symbolism, and desire emerge’.[5] Houghton views veterans’ memoirs similarly, arguing that the embellishments, discrepancies, and conflicts in an individual’s memories are what make them such a rich source of evidence both about how war was experienced at the time, and how it is remembered over the subsequent years and decades.[6] In the following eight chapters, which can be roughly divided into three sections, Houghton surveys a wide range of veteran memoirs from the Army, Navy, and RAF, and from the European, North African and Atlantic theatres – comparing and contrasting the experiences of combatants in each.

Chapters 1 and 2 (the first section) survey the provenance of Second World War veteran memoirs, employing the archives of major publishing houses to examine veterans’ motives for, and the process of writing, publishing and publicly producing their war experiences in book form in post-war Britain. In Chapter 1, ‘Motive and the Veteran-Memoirist’, Houghton demonstrates how, for some veterans, factors such as post-traumatic stress disorders, post-war disillusionment, and an inability to build lasting relationships saw the war elevated to an ‘apex of memory’. Constructing memoirs could enable veterans to process their combat experiences to be able to better cope with the present. These discussions of veterans’ post-war struggles are rather brief, however, and could form the basis for a fascinating study in its own right, though Houghton’s introduction makes it clear that her focus is specifically on combat experiences.[7] However, memoirs were not only constructed for an ‘Audience of the Self’.[8] Memoirists also wrote for ‘Audiences of the Future’ – for their children, for future generations of servicemen, and/or as a general warning to the public to ‘not let it happen again’.[9] Finally, they wrote for ‘Audiences of Comrades’, both living and dead.[10]

Chapter 2 examines the process of ‘Penning and Publishing the Veterans’ Tale’, with prominent themes including: memoirists’ insistence on the reliability of their memories, despite which many went to great efforts to establish the veracity of their accounts with support from a variety of additional sources (letters, diaries, regimental records, etc.); disputes between authors and publishers, as veterans’ desires for the most authentic representation of their war experiences could clash with the publishers’ commercial incentives; and the trend for memoirists to become more candid in their accounts as censorship was eased (both of information with the 1967 amendment of the Public Records Act, and of language with the reforms of the Obscene Publications Act), and as a more ‘liberal climate’ developed from the 1960s.[11]

Chapters 3-6 (the second section analyse the ‘narrative content’ of the memoirs, and particularly their literary representations of the front line, focusing respectively on the themes of landscape, weaponry, the enemy, and comradeship.[12] Chapter 3, ‘Landscape, Nature, and Battlefields’, investigates the landscape’s role in shaping experiences of combat, and the meanings veterans projected onto these landscapes, through comparison and contrast of their experiences with the Army in North Africa, in aerial combat, and at sea.[13] In all cases, Houghton finds that landscapes were invested with distinct symbolism which allowed veterans to make sense of their battle spaces.[14] Chapter 4 similar examines veterans’ relationships with weaponry, examining the Royal Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic, Battle of Britain fighter pilots, and tank crews in the 1944 Normandy Campaign, again comparing and contrasting these varied experiences.[15] For example, while the differences between the latter two are particularly striking, these accounts all reinforced the centrality of the human experience of war, rather than the story that has sometimes been told of the Second World War of machines ‘dominating’ to the ‘exclusion of the human combatant’.[16]

Chapter 5, ‘“Distance”, Killing, and the Enemy’, similarly complicates accounts of warfare which suggest that technology depersonalised killing. Houghton finds that technology could not make the dead completely anonymous, though Navy and RAF veteran-memoirists were perhaps better able to employ the ‘grey machinery of murder’ as a psychological barrier to avoid confronting any moral qualms over their actions than those who served in the Army.[17] Some of the most poignant sections of the book are those in this chapter which deal with veterans’ contacts with the enemy; their memoirs suggest that preconceived ideas of German troops as the inhuman ‘Hun’ could not be sustained after their first personal contact with them.[18] It would be interesting to contrast these veterans’ experiences with those who fought against Japan, but Houghton chooses not to consult memoirs by those who fought in Asia, as the deeply racialised conceptions of the Japanese held by the British render veterans’ depictions of combat on that front very different to those who fought in Europe.[19] Chapter 6, ‘Comradeship, Leadership, and Martial Fraternity’, investigates the claim by psychiatrists and others that the ‘small group in combat’ was the main motivation for fighting and was key to preventing psychological breakdown during combat.[20] Houghton finds that for memoirists, the personal relationships within their small group were indeed the ‘ultimate spur’ in battle, whether this small group was a platoon, the company of a ‘little ship’ or submarine, or a seven-man Lancaster bomber crew, though again there were also important differences between the various branches.[21]

Chapters 7 and 8 (the third section) explore how memoirists used their historical records for both private and public reasons, using their memoirs both for self-fashioning and for claiming agency over their wartime experiences.[22] Chapter 7, ‘Selfhood and Coming of Age’, charts how memoirists wrote of their wartime experience as a journey from ‘Youthful Innocence’ to ‘Manhood’. Houghton compares these memoirs to Bildungsroman, interrogating how veteran-memoirists understood and reconstructed their ideas of masculinity, maturity, and selfhood in relation to their war experiences.[23] The chapter investigates memoirists’ motivations for joining the conflict, finding that despite being aware of the horrors of the First World War many memoirists, influenced by the popular culture of the period, saw warfare as an enticing ‘adventure’ situation, and the soldier as a ‘quintessential figure of heroic masculinity’.[24] However, the chapter also shows that memoirists were quickly disabused of these naïve beliefs.[25] Memoirists still saw the war as crucial to their ‘growing up’, but the model of adult masculinity they ascribed to was less the ‘soldier-hero’ model identified by Graham Dawson, but instead the ‘understated, good-humoured, kindly, and self-deprecating courage of the “little man”’ identified by Sonya Rose.[26] Crucially, this latter model of masculinity, unlike the ‘soldier-hero’ model, could include civilians on the home front, offering reassurance that veterans would be able to readapt to a civilian masculinity.[27] Whilst Houghton in her introduction acknowledges the impossibility of ignoring women’s impact on masculine identities and experiences—even in such seemingly closed-off, all-male institutions as the British military—she nonetheless does not investigate how women were represented in veterans’ memoirs, as The Veterans’ Tale is essentially concerned with memoirists’ representations of frontline combat, from which women were excluded.[28]

While all eight chapters are fascinating, it in Chapter 8, ‘History, Cultural Memory, and the Veteran-Memoirist’, that the wider importance of military memoirs to the historical and cultural memory of the war becomes clear. Here, Houghton examines how three memoirists – Alex Bowlby, Miles Tripp, and Jack Broome – used their memoirs to challenge what were in their opinion unsatisfactory official, academic, and cultural representations of the war. For example, Miles Tripp’s 1969 memoir of his service as a bomb-aimer, The Eighth Passenger, was intended to rehabilitate RAF Bomber Command’s post-war reputation, which many former aircrew felt presented them as war criminals.[29] However, it was also used by historians in debates on the morality of Bomber Command’s actions, particularly the February 1945 Dresden raid, with Tripp’s claim that he attempted to drop his bombs outside the city interpreted by many as an implicit attack on Bomber Command. The chapter examines Tripp’s vehement denials of such claims, and his opposition to his memoir being used by disgraced historian David Irving (most notorious as a Holocaust denier) to support his account of the raid, which was later discredited as he vastly inflated the number of deaths by over 100,000 as part of his attempt to castigate the RAF and establish a moral equivalence between the Nazi regime’s crimes, and the killing of German civilians.[30]

Finally, the short conclusion summarises the book’s main themes, namely memoirists’ desires to depict their personal reactions to war, and the human factors comprising the experience of battle, in contrast to military historians’ more grand and dehumanised narratives. As Houghton puts it, war memoirs ‘capture the man inside the uniform, his own understanding of his physical and psychological performance in the field, and his emotional responses’ to combat. Significantly, they offer a window into the ‘experience of battle as it endures in a veteran’s mind throughout his lifetime’. Memoirists wrote for public audiences, to educate, entertain, and warn them of the folly of war, and in an attempt to claim ownership of scholarly, official, and cultural remembrance of the conflict, but they also wrote for themselves, to ‘reconstruct shattered notions of masculine self into a coherent and meaningful image’ in the post-war years.[31]

This is an impressive and important book, but there are some small points of criticism that can be made in addition to those already raised. Houghton chooses to follow a thematic structure in her chapters, in turn dividing each chapter into an examination of the distinct experiences of combatants in each branch of the armed forces. This can make it somewhat difficult to trace the experiences of any particular memoirist, or of any branch of the armed forces, though the index is helpful in this regard. Moreover, while Houghton is up-front about why some memoirs were excluded from the scope of her study, the exclusion of accounts written during the war itself is perhaps unfortunate, as to contrast accounts written then with those written in the post-war years and decades might have helped elucidate her arguments about memoirists’ changing perspectives over time.[32]

No one study cannot be expected to cover all aspects of this vast and fascinating subject, however, and it is clear that an enormous amount of research went into this book. Houghton’s bibliography lists over ninety individual memoirists, some with multiple titles and/or editions to their name, such that the total number of memoirs consulted is over a hundred.[33] This is in addition to a huge range of other primary and secondary sources, and every point made is well substantiated with multiple examples from veterans’ memoirs. The Veterans’ Tale is successful in substantiating its central claim for the importance of veterans’ memoirs as historical sources, and in providing fresh insights into veterans’ experiences of combat as they were lived and remembered throughout veterans’ lifetimes.[34] It is now left for other historians to build on Houghton’s work in furthering our understanding of British cultural memories of the Second World War. More thorough examination of the post-war lives of ‘veteran-memoirists’, and studies of those types of memoirs Houghton excludes from her account, would be particularly fascinating.

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Bibliography

Bourke, J., An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare (London, 1999).

Connelly, M., We Can Take It! Britain and the Memory of the Second World War (Harlow, 2004).

Dawson, G., Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire, and the Imagining of Masculinities (London, 1994).

Fussell, P., The Great War and Modern Memory (London, 1975).

Houghton, F., The Veterans’ Tale: British Military Memoirs of the Second World War (Cambridge, 2018).

Hynes, S., The Soldiers’ Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War (London, 1998).

Portelli, A., ‘What Makes Oral History Different’, in R. Perks and A. Thomson (eds.), The Oral History Reader (London, 1998), pp. 63-74.

Rose, S. O., ‘Temperate Heroes: Concepts of Masculinity in Second World War Britain’, in S. Dudink, K. Hagemann and J. Tosh (eds.), Masculinities in Politics and War: Gendering Modern History (Manchester, 2004), pp. 177-95.

Wessely, S., ‘Twentieth-Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown’, Journal of Contemporary History, 41/2 (2006), pp. 269-86.

 

Notes

[1] F. Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale: British Military Memoirs of the Second World War (Cambridge, 2018), pp. 4-5.

[2] P. Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (London, 1975); S. Hynes, The Soldiers’ Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War (London, 1998).

[3] See, for one example among many, M. Connelly, We Can Take It! Britain and the Memory of the Second World War (Harlow, 2004).

[4] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 4-6.

[5] A. Portelli, ‘What Makes Oral History Different’, in R. Perks and A. Thomson (eds.), The Oral History Reader (London, 1998), pp. 68-9.

[6] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, p. 2.

[7] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 22-6.

[8] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 29-39.

[9] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 40-45.

[10] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 46-52.

[11] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 59-65.

[12] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 25-6.

[13] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 72-82, 83-92, and 93-101 respectively.

[14] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 101-2.

[15] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 105-12, 112-21, and 121-35 respectively.

[16] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 135-6.

[17] J. Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare (London, 1999), p. 6.

[18] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 161, 166-7.

[19] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, p. 22.

[20] Simon Wessely, ‘Twentieth-Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown’, Journal of Contemporary History, 41/2 (2006), p. 269.

[21] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, p. 170.

[22] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 25-6.

[23] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, p. 207.

[24] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 208-21.

[25] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 221-42.

[26] G. Dawson, Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire, and the Imagining of Masculinities (London, 1994); S. O. Rose, ‘Temperate Heroes: Concepts of Masculinity in Second World War Britain’, in Stefan Dudink, Karen Hagemann and John Tosh (eds.), Masculinities in Politics and War: Gendering Modern History (Manchester, 2004), pp. 177-95.

[27] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 242-3.

[28] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 22-3.

[29] The Lancaster bombers which Tripp served in had a seven-man crew; the ‘eighth passenger’ is an allusion to fear, specifically the way Tripp saw it as invariably accompanying the bomber crews on every mission.

[30] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 254-62.

[31] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 272-8.

[32] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 22-5.

[33] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, pp. 279-90.

[34] Houghton, The Veterans’ Tale, p. 2.

Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World, Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir (London, 2020)

Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World, Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir (London, 2020)

Biography: Sian Webb recently submitted her PhD thesis, ‘A Land of Five Languages: Material Culture, Communities and Identity in Northumbria, 600-867’, that was joint supervised by Chris Loveluck in Archaeology and Peter Darby in History.  She focuses on early medieval cultural history, material culture and medieval studies.

The year is 1014 and The Battle of Clontarf rages in Dublin. It is a setting which in many cases immediately sparks images of men fighting and dying for their male lords, kings, plunder and the glory of battle.  As this is happening, a man in Caithness far away on the north-eastern coast of Scotland spied twelve figures entering a weaving shed. These women were the Valkyries.  As the Irish and Norse fought in Dublin, they wove a tapestry with a thread of human entrails and loom-weights of skulls. This is how Friðriksdóttir opens her exploration of women living in the Viking world. Whilst warfare, and medieval battle in particular, is often envisioned as a strictly masculine affair in modern popular consciousness, this vignette from the thirteenth-century Njáls saga reintroduces a feminine aspect.

Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World is a rich cultural history of the lives of Viking Age women, constituting a worthy addition to the existing scholarship on this topic.  In this endeavour, the setting is apt. Women from goddesses such as Freyja and Valkyries like Sigrún, to extraordinary, albeit human, women accounted for in Icelandic sagas, such as the Viking Guðriðr Þorbjarnardóttir, are shown to be deeply complex individuals.  They all are shown to have a rich mixture of virtues and vices with the capacity to display the full range of emotions.[1] They could be honourable, brave and wise whilst also able to make mistakes and be ruthless in their anger. These women did not appear as static images nor as moral lessons set in black and white. As Friðriksdóttir brings together the threads of her study it is evident, as she states in her introduction, that these are reflections of real people and emerge from a society wherein women were essential for their work and the wisdom they possessed.

Friðriksdóttir’s monograph emerges from a shift in the scholarly appreciation of the complexity of the culture and identities of the people, both men and women, of the Viking Age (ca. 790-1066 CE). Her study is largely confined to Viking settlements in Northern Europe and the British Isles, though she does at times bring in evidence from the Baltic region.  In this monograph, she provides an overview of the evidence at hand bringing together shared attributes shaping the lives and identities of women throughout the regions of Viking settlement.  This widening appreciation of Viking culture and society began in the 1970s with the seminal work The Viking Achievement: The Society and Culture of Early Medieval Scandinavia by Peter Foote and David Wilson, in which the authors devoted very little space to the discussion of raiding and violence, delving instead into the rich culture and artistically constructive activities of the period.[2] Two decades later, Judith Jesch opened the discussion of the place of women in Viking society.[3] This monograph brought together a wide variety of  material sources and toponymy to bring gender studies into a scholarly tradition that had long ignored the presence and involvement of women in all aspects of life.  The study of Viking women and their potential for active involvement in raiding and warfare culture was reinvigorated in 2017 by Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, et al. with their paper ‘A Female Viking Warrior Confirmed by Genomics’.  The team used genome-wide sequence data to confirm the biological sex of a Viking individual in a well-furnished grave and disprove previous assumptions that the individual must have been male based on the weaponry and material culture with which it was buried. The team concluded by cautioning against basing our understanding of the past and potential of the people who lived then on generalised assumptions of cultural norms and stereotypes.

As Friðriksdóttir states, the term ‘Viking’ does not only refer to those who were chiefly interested in violence, pillaging and raiding, though these encounters did occur particularly in the earlier period of their activity. ‘Viking identities’, according to her, also encompass the mobility of the people in question. Those were groups of people actively involved in trade routes that stretched from Asia to the western fringes of Europe, in travel and in the settlement of short- and long-term colonies.[4] In these endeavours, women were more than able to take an important role, whether or not they were actively involved in raiding and warfare. As seen in the opening vignette, women were inextricably linked with spinning and weaving. Textile production opened a considerable path to social mobility, as Viking mobility relied on ships and their sails. These objects, along with the production of clothing suitable for long sea voyages in arctic seas, required years of effort that would largely be the work of professional women.[5] This mobility and the opportunity for women to engage in high-level political activity is reflected both in sagas and in presence of high-status female graves at the sites of important Viking Age power centres.[6]

In order to provide an accurate and fully developed image of Viking women, Friðriksdóttir brings together a wide variety of sources both material and textual, including runic inscriptions, the text and imagery carved on runestones, toponymy, picture stones, Viking Age art and archaeological sources alongside textual evidence provided by the sagas and from annals and other historical texts produced in Ireland and other European areas.  This approach requires a synthesis of materials from a wide variety of academic fields spanning Viking and Medieval studies and the growing appreciation of material culture in history that began in the 1990s with scholars such as Judith Jesch, and continued to gain strength through the early 2000s, with works such as the collected volumes Land, Sea and Home: Proceedings of a Conference on Viking Period Settlement, (Cardiff, July 2001) and Cædmons Hymn and Material Culture in the World of Bede: Six Essays.[7]  This approach continues to prove fruitful, attracting a growing number of scholars focusing on a range of topics on which textual sources are less forthcoming.[8]

Each individual type of source, from material culture and archaeology to textual vignettes, offers its own window into the study of the cultures and communities of the past. Without a wide source base, information from different fields of knowledge loses some key contextual elements, skewing our understanding of past societies and the identities that grew within them. By bringing a wider base of sources together to form an integrated approach, it is possible to work towards an understanding of how all pieces fit together. Insights gleaned from different sources can provide context and balance out the weaknesses and biases present in each individual type of source. This balance of sources is adeptly managed by Friðriksdóttir, leading to the wonderfully complex and richly layered depiction of the lives and opportunities of Viking women shown in Valkryie.

Friðriksdóttir draws the reader in by the textual vignettes provided by the sagas.  These texts draw readers into a portrayal of the world as seen by the saga authors and their audience, bringing a vibrancy of colour and life to the discussion of the past.  It is balanced by the evidence provided by the wide variety of complementary sources discussed above.  A wide range of women from the sagas help to provide evidence for the shape of life for women from varied backgrounds, from wealthy and influential women who controlled the lives of their families to young women who become trapped in awful cycles of poverty and abuse.  The depiction of Valkyries and deities from the sagas provide further insights into cultural understandings of the nature of women and their ability to be brave and strong or cowardly and deceitful.  Whilst Friðriksdóttir shows a careful and studied handling of the sagas, the book could benefit from a deeper discussion of the difficulties presented by these sources for the benefit of the reader.  These difficulties include the mixing of Christian and traditional belief systems for the saga authors and how this may tinge the text.  Another difficulty that could have been discussed is the chronological diversity of the sources.  The saga authors often wrote about things that happened centuries before their own time.  Ideology and cultures evolved and adapted to the new problems and opportunities presented by different times.  This introduced further potential for incidental misrepresentation of what would now have been a different culture from the saga author’s own contemporary reality.

The book is structured around a life cycle, delicately following the trails of women’s lives in the lands touched by Viking culture from birth through to death. Along the way, Friðriksdóttir examines how age, marital status and social rank affected their identities through material culture, burial and osteological archaeology, and sagas. She considers infancy and childhood for female offspring, discussing infanticide and the argument that female infants may have been more likely to be left to die from exposure in times of hardship, offering a balanced view on all sides of this argument. In this, she sets runic evidence that suggests a population balance skewed in favour of men alongside burial evidence and law codes that indicate the depth of love that Viking families could show for their daughters and the protections granted to children and pregnant women regardless of the infant’s sex.[9]

Chapter 2 focuses on the social world of teenage girls, discussing the cultural beliefs and family honour that shaped their lives and potentially restrained their opportunities. Yet, this period of youth and young adulthood also brought with it the potential for women to take a role in craft and trade work, to act as poets (skáldmær) or a more physically active role in violence and warfare.[10] The following chapter turns to adulthood, the lives and status of married women, and female agency and divorce. In it, the author discusses personal adornment, women’s involvement in craft-working and trade, and opportunities for travel and leadership roles.  Women were valued for their intelligence and abilities, personal attributes that could prove to be attractive qualities in a partner. Even after marriage, however, women were able to initiate a divorce if marital relations broke down.

Much of the adult life of fertile women would be spent in a cycle of pregnancy and the nursing of young children, along with miscarriages, healing from childbirth and the potential of death associated with childbirth. These concerns and the importance of motherhood form the core of Chapter 4. The chapter brings these topics to life through evidence from sagas showing the bravery of pregnant women, as well as mothers who could be wise leaders of their communities, loving supporters of their families and ruthless in their attempts to secure the future wealth and social rank of their sons and daughters.[11]

If women survived their childbearing years, they were statistically more likely to outlive their partners. Chapter 5 focuses on this shift in the life cycle with an examination of widowhood in Viking culture. In this endeavour, Friðriksdóttir looks at the actions of widows in sagas alongside the evidence of influential women available from runic inscriptions and grave goods.  Widows were able to consolidate considerable wealth as businesswomen and remain active in their communities as commissioners for the construction and upkeep of bridges and roads.[12] The transition between older belief systems and the new Christian religion brought additional opportunities for widows who displayed their new faith by commissioning stone crosses blending Christian and traditional imagery with runic inscriptions.[13]

The monograph concludes with the experience of elderly Viking Age women and their treatment in death. Viking Age burials indicate that communities held older women in positions of considerable influence and dignity.[14]  Evidence found in sagas, graves containing staffs, amulets and medicinal plants, and the iconography of women holding staffs and branches found on the Kirk Michael cross slab (123) on the Isle of Man suggest that older women could be valued as professional seeresses (völva or seiðkona) and for their role in traditional magic (seiðr).[15]

Overall, Friðriksdóttir builds a vivid image of the complex realities of life for women in Viking settlements. Women could be constrained by societal expectations, yet Viking Age culture allowed opportunities for both physical and social mobility.  Women took positions of importance in their families and communities from their youth to the end of their lives. They could be ruthless and vengeful or wise and honourable, characterised by a mixture of virtues and vices. The balance of sources provides a detailed consideration of the realities of life for Viking Age women, and the textual vignettes drawn from sagas make the work endlessly engaging for both academic readers and non-specialists interested in Viking history.

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Bibliography

Brink, S. and Price, N. S. (eds). The Viking World. (New York, 2008).

Cambridge, E. and Hawkes, J. (eds), Crossing Boundaries: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Art, Material Culture, Language and Literature of the Early Medieval World (Philadelphia, 2017).

Frantzen, A. J. and Hines, J. (eds), Cædmon’s Hymn and Material Culture in the World of Bede: Six Essays (Morgantown, 2007).

Fleming, R., Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400-1070 (London, 2011).

Foote, P. and Wilson, D., The Viking Achievement: The Society and Culture of Early Medieval Scandinavia. (London, 1970).

Friðriksdóttir, J. K., Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World. (London, 2020).

Gilchrist, R., Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (New York, 1994).

Gilchrist, R., Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Woodbridge, 2012).

Hayeur Smith, M., The Valkyries’ Loom: The Archaeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the North Atlantic (Florida, 2020)

Hedenstierna-Jonson, C., Kjellström, A.,  Zachrisson, T., Krzewińska, M., Sobrado, V., Price, N., Günther, T., Jakobsson, M., Götherström, A. and Storå, J., ‘A Female Viking Warrior Confirmed by Genomics’, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 164/ 4 (2017), pp. 853-860.

Hines, J., Lane, A. and Redknap, M. (eds). Land, Sea and Home: Proceedings of a Conference on Viking Period Settlement, at Cardiff, July 2001 (Abingdon, 2004).

Hyer, M. C., and Owen-Crocker, G. R., The Material Culture of Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World (Exeter, 2011).

Jesch, J., The Viking Diaspora (Abingdon, 2015).

Jesch, J., Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge, 1991).

Jones, S., The Archaeology of Ethnicity: Constructing Identities in the Past and Present. (London, 1997).

Sørensen, M. L. S., ‘Gender, Material Culture, and Identity in the Viking Diaspora’, Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, 5 (2009), pp. 253-269.

Wicker, N. L., ‘Christianization, Female Infanticide, and the Abundance of Female Burials at Viking Age Birka in Sweden’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 21 (2) (May 2012), pp. 245-262.

Notes

[1] J. K. Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World. (London, 2020). Pp. 10-11.

[2] P. Foote and D. Wilson. The Viking Achievement: The Society and Culture of Early Medieval Scandinavia. (London, 1970).

[3] J. Jesch, Women in the Viking Age. (Woodbridge, 1991).

[4] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 12.

[5] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 85.

[6] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 107-108.

[7] J. Hines, A. Lane and M. Redknap (eds). Land, Sea and Home: Proceedings of a Conference on Viking Period Settlement, Cardiff, July 2001 (Abingdon, 2004); A. J. Frantzen and J. Hines (eds). Cædmon’s Hymn and Material Culture in the World of Bede: Six Essays. (Morgantown, 2007);

[8] For Viking studies, material culture is invaluable.  See: N. L. Wicker, ‘Christianization, Female Infanticide, and the Abundance of Female Burials at Viking Age Birka in Sweden’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 21 (2) (May 2012), pp. 245-262; M. Hayeur Smith, The Valkyries’ Loom: The Archaeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the North Atlantic. (Florida, 2020); M. L. S. Sørensen, ‘Gender, Material Culture, and Identity in the Viking Diaspora’, Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, 5 (2009), pp. 253-269. This process can be seen throughout medieval studies. See: E. Cambridge and J. Hawkes (eds), Crossing Boundaries: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Art, Material Culture, Language and Literature of the Early Medieval World, (Philadelphia, 2017); S. Jones. The Archaeology of Ethnicity: Constructing Identities in the Past and Present (London, 1997); M. C. Hyer and G. R. Owen-Crocker. The Material Culture of Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World (Exeter, 2011); R. Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women. (New York, 1994); R. Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Woodbridge, 2012).

[9] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 24-25, 35.

[10] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 52, 54-55, 58-59.

[11] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 118, 128-129, 142.

[12] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 162.

[13] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 162-163.

[14] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 173.

[15] Friðriksdóttir. Valkyrie. Pp. 179-180, 183.

Elaine Farrell, Women, Crime and Punishment in Ireland: Life in the Nineteenth-Century Convict Prison, (Cambridge, 2020).

Elaine Farrell, Women, Crime and Punishment in Ireland: Life in the Nineteenth-Century Convict Prison, (Cambridge, 2020) Review

Women, Crime and Punishment in Ireland is a detailed resource which expands upon the existing scholarship of prison life and brings the administration of punishment in an Irish female convict prison into particular focus. Scholars have recently begun to reflect on how the implementation of nineteenth-century laws (such as the English Poor Laws) affected the wider lives of those inside an institution and this has been conducted through an analysis of the agency that imprisoned women showed in the face of increasingly punitive legislation.

Biography: Megan Yates is an ESRC PhD Student in the school of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. Her project is collaborative, working closely with the University of Nottingham and the National Archives. In her doctoral research, she focuses on the daily experiences of vagrants within the workhouses of the nineteenth century and across the Midlands.

In this heavily researched book, Elaine Farrell effectively synthesises studies around life in nineteenth-century institutions with new understandings of the selfhood, agency and life cycles that her female convicts displayed.[1] Through the lives of Irish female convicts, the author conducts a thorough examination of Irish prison life, families, friendships, relationships, and wider network acquisition. It is in these places, Grangegorman, Mountjoy Female Penitentiary, and the Cork Female Convict Depot, that Farrell explores the experiences of incarcerated women and their interwoven identities inside and outside of the prison walls.

Farrell’s case studies detailing the convictions, treatment and opinions of these women will be a great resource for multiple branches of history, both in the institutional sense of how life in an Irish convict prison worked for these females, as well as for those studying the detailed experiences and lifecycles of people in nineteenth-century institutions.

Farrell’s focus also contributes more broadly to discourse surrounding crime and punishment, particularly the evolution of western punitive practices as she explores in her introduction the administrative pathway from Grangegorman prison to Cork Female Convict Depot. Her exploration of these prison institutions to some extent accords with Foucault’s examination of prison in Discipline and Punish and his suggestion that imprisonment was part of a much bigger carceral system that, Farrell thus goes on to argue, infiltrated every aspect of the lives researched in her case studies.[2]

The incorporation of Irish women is a novel and impressive approach to the study of lived experiences and the positionality of her complicated case studies within the context of Ireland, politically, socially and culturally. The source base for this work combines both traditional and non-traditional resources as it utilises the official record of court transcripts, prison ledgers, annual reports and legislation, alongside personal testimony and inmate letters. Farrell uses a close reading analysis to unpick the rhetoric of these sources and interprets them through her vast knowledge of the Irish penal system in the mid-late Victorian era. She combines her analyses with other historical works for both Irish and British institutions and this marries her work with historiography on the Poor Laws including broad ideas about imprisonment, settlement and resistance.[3]

Farrell employs a case-study approach to her sources through sub-chapters at the beginning of each main chapter which brings the human element to the front of her discussion. This structure takes the reader on a journey, an effective approach which envelopes the somewhat disjointed and difficult excerpts of narrative with the social circumstances of these women’s lives. It makes sense, due to the volume of material in each of her themes, to break this down here. This book is structured into five chapters to correspond with its five case studies. Farrell has themed her case studies based on wider societal issues that she interleaves with the stories of multiple women. This is important because otherwise, there is the danger of losing the human aspect of these cases and reducing them to broad-brush arguments. As proven in Farrell’s previous works, she demonstrates that these women were not exceptions and in doing so, she gives voices to ordinary women who might otherwise have been forgotten.

In the first half of Women, Crime and Punishment Farrell tells us about the everyday lived experiences of women in the convict prisons of Ireland. Farrell discusses sanitation, rebellion, work, schooling, length of incarceration and uniform. The female uniforms here stand out, because as Farrell notes, there were four different types, varying in style and colour to reflect the different status of the convicts. Farrell explores the ways in which women expressed individuality by altering their uniform through removing collars, tearing hems and wearing neckerchiefs. Although the convict uniform was implemented in English prisons by the mid-Victorian era, the differentiation of uniform based on a points system was not a practice that was replicated in the British convict system.[4] Uniform was intended to de-individualize convicts and control their appearance. Farrell suggests that in the women’s prisons she studied, the uniform was a bargaining chip for good behaviour, although as she argues, this was hardly a successful penal model.[5] Farrell’s exploration of the attitudes to the uniform from the perspective of the convicts wearing it is one small example of the many new aspects of convict life she shares throughout her chapters.

In the second sub-chapter, Farrell introduces us to the Carroll family. This complicated family of petty criminals frame the rest of her chapter which explores familial bonds maintained or dissolved during their detention. This chapter has disheartening elements whereby we learn of women who were abandoned by their families once they became institutionalised. Farrell goes through a particularly poignant case of a mother who, after five years of imprisonment, was unsuccessful in regaining custody of her child. Farrell’s dip into this story is particularly captivating as she expands upon the feelings these women would have experienced, not simply being incarcerated and imprisoned, but for some, recognising a lost relationship and maternal bond.

Farrell uses thousands of prison files including letters sent back to the prison after a convict’s release. These sources are comprehensive. The high number of exemplary cases in these chapters often encourages the narrative style to switch from one convict to another very quickly. However, this is representative of the short snippets of stories she finds in the archives. Although women such as Catherine Lavelle (depicted on the cover image) were well known and had exceptionally thorough sources, others had no more than one or two mentions in the archive. Intermingling these stories shows that Farrell is not trying to follow any one convict’s prison journey; instead, she brings to life the thorny and intricate lives of many women. Thus, Farrell’s methodology and data collection are made glaringly clear. She repeats the sample size often in this chapter and it is clear that she is confident in stating how representative this evidence is of Irish female convicts’ nineteenth century prison experience.

Women were also involved in the prison system as employees and Farrell discusses in later chapters, the bonds and relationships that could be formed between prison matrons and female convicts. In contrast, Farrell also describes the stigma and criticism female prison employees faced from their male counterparts for their ‘weakness’ in trusting and perhaps liking certain inmates. In further chapters Farrell pulls at the strings of convicts’ relationships, friendship, marital or extra-marital relations as well as their enemies and fights or conflict that occurred amongst inmates. She argues that her female convicts and convicts in general, are a lens through which to recover the voices and relationships of lower-class people who were not in a workhouse, an asylum or an industrial school but often shared traits such as poverty or mental illness. It is the first time, through this book, that the voices of such people have been centre stage. Farrell uses sources from the prison staff to form a picture of what happened to these women but also writes their stories from their perspectives in order to emphasise that they were real people with real lives and real stories to tell.

Farrell’s convict testimony and multi-dimensional sources demonstrate that the prison system was a pseudo society/community. It had its own set of rules visible through work and dietary regulations, correspondence regulation, and a points-based reward system. The females in this prison were deprived of many things but were likewise able to create friendships and maintain kinship bonds, even across institutions. This, Farrell argues, is a very personal experience and depends completely upon individual circumstances. Farrell herself is therefore right to argue in her conclusion that this book is heavily ‘saturated with further evidence of women’s agency’ in penal institutions and that her study has been possible because such significant identity documents exist in the form of letters, petitions, diaries.[6] Farrell argues that convicted women are valuable to examine because their personalities came through in the documents. Sophisticated record linkage work in archives has allowed historians, such as Farrell, to recover multiple perspectives on prison life. As Farrell says, ‘these were ordinary lives captured on paper because of an extraordinary sentence’ and this concept will contribute greatly to a number of further studies into the identities of people long forgotten.[7]

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Notes

[1] For example, Rebellious Writing: Contesting Marginalisation in Edwardian Britain, ed. by Lauren Alex O’Hagan, Writing and Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century, 10 (New York: Peter Lang, 2020).

[2] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Peregrine Books, Repr (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982).

[3] K.D.M Snell, Parish and Belonging: Community, Identity, and Welfare in England and Wales, 1700-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp.1-245; David Moon, The Russian Peasantry 1600-1930: The World the Peasants Made. (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2014), pp.38-39.

[4] David Englander, Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Britain: From Chadwick to Booth, 1834-1914, Seminar Studies in History (London ; New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998), pp. 38–39.

[5] Paul Carter, Jeff James, and Steve King, ‘Punishing Paupers? Control, Discipline and Mental Health in the Southwell Workhouse (1836–71)’, Rural History, 30.2 (2019), p.164.

[6] Elaine Farrell, Women, Crime and Punishment in Ireland: Life in the Nineteenth-Century Convict Prison (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020), p. 257.

[7] Farrell, p.260.

Digital Archive Review: The Internet Archive

Digital Archive Review: The Internet Archive

This review is the first of a new series, intended as a learning resource, and aimed primarily at undergraduates about to embark on individual research projects and dissertations, but will also be relevant to anyone interested in the rich potential of digital archives for accessing primary sources. Here, Robert Frost discusses using the Internet Archive to access out-of-copyright books from the early nineteenth century. The Internet Archive is an indispensable resource for all those interested in modern British history, cultural history, and beyond, and one now more important than ever due to lockdown restrictions this past year

 

Biography: Robert Frost is an AHRC-funded doctoral student with joint Geography and History department supervision. He is interested in Georgian and early Victorian travel, exploration and field studies in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Throughout my PhD on the work of the Egyptologist and antiquary Sir Gardner Wilkinson (1797–1875), I have found the Internet Archive (IA) invaluable.[1] In this piece, I give a short introduction to the IA, recount how I have used it in my research, and cover a few of the problems that using such a digital resource inadvertently brings.

The IA started off in the mid-1990s, and is now an organisation with a number of branches: most famously, it runs the ‘Wayback machine’—an online archive of billions of website pages, as well as an ‘Open library’ which ‘loans’ new books for a limited time period. The IA also holds film and audio media. My focus here though is on a more specific part: its massive collection of out-of-copyright books, from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries (and a few from even further back), sourced in large part from major public and university libraries in the United States.

Being open-access, the IA is simple to access: no passwords are required, although there is an option to create an account to access additional features, including the lending library of more recent books (Fig. 1). The interface is also easy to use: if you know what book you want, then you only need to type the title into the search bar at the top right-hand corner of the page. If the IA holds it, then it will come up (Fig. 2). Also worthy of note is the ‘Advanced Search’ functionality: it is possible to narrow the results down to individual years, or keywords. Unlike some other online archives (including at least one subscription one which I know of), the IA allows users to export entire out-of-copyright books as PDFs, rather than simply view them, or just download a limited page range. The option is available in a panel when scrolling down the page. I have used this feature to download copies of all of Gardner Wilkinson’s books—including multi-volume works such as his Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (1837), Modern Egypt and Thebes (1843), Dalmatia and Montenegro (1848)—amongst much else (Fig. 3).[2]

Had this resource not existed—excluding other online archives from consideration for a moment—then I would have had to buy reprinted copies of Wilkinson’s books from Cambridge University Press (at a price of £30 per volume) where available, and take photographs of books in archives for his more obscure printed works. As Wilkinson’s published books run to over 6,000 pages—by no means all of which are available as reprints—that that would be a sizeable number of photographs, which I would then have had to spend even more time organising. While noting that a lot of extremely good research was conducted in the pre-digital age, it is interesting to note what else becomes easier when you have digital copies of books immediately to hand (which you can annotate, and which are not at risk of being recalled by other library users). More cross-referencing is one possibility. So is spending more time on looking at the corresponding Wilkinson manuscript collection.

Not consulting the original copies comes at a cost, however. The most significant drawbacks to using the IA to read nineteenth and early twentieth-century books are those associated with materiality. At one level, reading a book published in the Victorian era on a screen is quite different to how it was originally read—an argument forwarded by John Berger in relation to paintings.[3] Whether this makes a significant difference or not is debatable. The closest that I would come to making any sort of complaint about a book being abstracted by the IA is that you can all too easily lose any conception of its size: was a book ‘Octavo’ size and therefore read by a large audience? Or was it an ‘elephant folio’ which would hardly ever have escaped a scholarly library? These questions need to be asked (and answered) if any attempt to put a book in its context is attempted—yet it is only one I started to think about seriously after seeing several enormous volumes of antiquarian books—which I had previously only been familiar with through the IA—in ‘hard’ copy, in a research library.

What is of far more practical significance—at any rate to my own research—is that the paratextual material—maps and images—frequently fairs less well in the copying process than the text. This issue has affected my own research on several occasions, in relation to one of Gardner Wilkinson’s books, Dalmatia and Montenegro (1848)—a travel and regional history book on the southernmost regions of the Habsburg Empire, with forays into the contested borderland with the Ottoman Empire. It was only after studying this text for a year that I realised that the original edition included a fold-out map of the eastern Adriatic and Balkan coast. This feature had not been reproduced in the copy that I had downloaded from the IA—I had to rely on another website to see this. Finding out that the original book had a map was not a surprise—the publisher, John Murray often included them in regional and travel books—but at the same time my thoughts at various points during the past year were more along the lines of ‘It’s so frustrating having to use google earth—why doesn’t this book have a map?’. The question that I should have been asking was, of course, ‘I wonder if the original had a map?’.

The story with images is better, but has some of the same problems. One problem is that some images are landscape and it takes more effort to rotate them (they need to be downloaded first) than it would do for a book—a case where John Berger’s critique really does matter: it is all too easy to simply skip over them, or be lazy or simply glance at them and move on. This is a problem that can be easily solved, given a few moments. But there are also more serious issues: some images in scans are blurred or otherwise distorted (and on a few occasions, I have even found that whole pages are missing). Usually this has not been too much of a problem, but there have been times when it has been an issue: I still recall one supervision in which myself and my supervisors disagreed as to whether a particular image of a track on the hills above the plain of Tzetinie and Lake Scutari (in Montenegro) showed a man on a donkey or not. It was hardly a major issue, but was one which would not have occurred had I been using a hard copy rather than an inadequately-copied image.

Whilst I have dwelt on some of the drawbacks involving the IA—in part because these are not often discussed—they definitely should not suggest that the IA is a resource with major problems. Even when it comes to research on materiality, there are advantages. Unlike the digitisation produced by some scanning technology—such as ECCO—the images of book pages are usually of a high standard: annotations and marginalia—now an area of major interest amongst scholars—come out well, allowing signs of reader engagement and contemporary responses to be studied.[4] On several occasions I have even come across a reader noting the full name of an author, where only initials were printed—a potentially invaluable piece of help—although one of course which depends on the copy being scanned: if copiers choose the books in best condition, with clean pages, then historians interested in this angle may not even be aware of a lost opportunity.  Especially during the last year, the choice has been, far more often than not, either to use a digital copy of a book (especially a nineteenth-century one), or make do without it altogether. Other options exist: the Hathi Trust, covers a similar time period. Early English Books Online features books from the late medieval and early modern periods. For me though, the IA has quite literally been the most important website on the internet.

Figure 1: The Internet Archive homepage.

Figure 2: Results for Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (several volumes and editions).

Figure 3: Wilkinson’s Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians—a navigable book, which is also available to download.

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Bibliography

Berger, J., Ways of Seeing (London, 1972)

Jackson, H. J., Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (New Haven CT, 2001)

Jackson, H. J., Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia (New Haven CT, 2005)

Internet Archive. < https://archive.org/ >, accessed 21.3.2021.

Wilkinson, J. G., Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (London, 1837)

Wilkinson, J. G., Modern Egypt and Thebes (London, 1843)

Wilkinson, J. G., Dalmatia and Montenegro (London, 1848)

 

Notes

[1] Internet Archive. < https://archive.org/ >, accessed 21.3.2021.

[2] J. G. Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (London, 1837); J. G. Wilkinson, Modern Egypt and Thebes. (London, 1843); J. G. Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro (London, 1848).

[3] J. Berger, Ways of Seeing (London, 1972).

[4] H. J. Jackson, Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (New Haven CT, 2001); H. J. Jackson, Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia (New Haven CT, 2005).

The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party

Author Biography

Alex Riggs is an MA History student at the University of Nottingham. He will be starting a Midlands4Cities funded PhD there in September, studying Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson’s presidential primary campaigns.

Book Review: ‘The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party’ by John Nichols

In recent years, the American left has experienced significant growth in its prominence on the national political stage. Bernie Sanders has twice finished second in Democratic Party presidential primaries, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become highly influential and the Democratic Socialists of America have expanded from around 6,000 members in 2015 to 66,000 in 2020.[1] In The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party, journalist and author John Nichols draws upon original archival research and oral history gathered throughout his journalistic career to argue that rather than an unprecedented phenomenon, the contemporary American left can call upon a significant historical tradition.

Alongside other recent historical works by journalists showcasing aspects of the Democratic Party’s left, including Ryan Grim’s exploration of the movement’s evolution from Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Presidential campaign to the present, and Jon Ward’s account of the 1980 Presidential Primaries between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy, Nichols pinpoints the pivotal place of Henry Wallace in this history.[2] A Republican farmer turned ardent New Dealer and ally of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wallace served as FDR’s Vice President in his third term.[3] With the President’s health ailing as he sought a fourth term in 1944, Southern segregationists and industrialists organised to replace Wallace as the Vice-Presidential nominee, winning a tightly contested vote to install Harry Truman, who would take office upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945.[4] For Nichols, this is the decisive moment in altering the Democrats’ ideological trajectory, bringing about an intellectual shift away from the politics of the New Deal and towards one which embraced a form of managerialism that precluded transformational change.[5]

The opening chapters focus on Wallace’s time as Vice-President, and Nichols effectively situates his politics within the Second World War context. Just as social democrats in Britain, India and Scandinavia looked to build an egalitarian society out of the destruction of the conflict, in an American context Henry Wallace championed similar causes, looking to build on the foundations laid by the Atlantic Charter, ‘Four Freedoms’, and Economic Bill of Rights to create a peaceful and just international settlement.[6] This context also meant a focus on the reasons for Fascism’s ascent in the 1930s, emphasising the need for economic security while simultaneously rooting out racism and xenophobia. Fighting ‘American fascism’ became a key part of Wallace’s speeches in the latter part of his Vice Presidency.[7] Nichols also demonstrates the resistance of the status quo to this agenda, including Winston Churchill’s anger at Wallace’s denunciations of imperialism and segregationists’ fury over his steadfast support for civil rights.[8] This leads Nichols to the conclusion that rather than failing on its own merits, it took a deliberate effort of groups whose power would have been diminished by Wallace’s agenda to undermine the ascendency of the New Deal.

Wallace faded into obscurity after his disastrous presidential run in 1948, so the remaining chapters of the book chronicle the Democratic left’s trajectory to the present. This begins in the 1950s, highlighting how the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower outflanked the Democrats in its progressivism on civil rights, economics, and foreign policy, most famously with its denunciation of the ‘Military-Industrial Complex’.[9] The analysis of the era’s presidents poses questions of Nichols’ key thesis, namely that Wallace’s removal from the Vice-Presidency constituted the end of the New Deal. If Eisenhower kept a Keynesian economic settlement, gradualist Civil Rights agenda and challenged confrontational foreign policy stances, can the New Deal really have ended in 1944? The book then skips over John F. Kennedy’s presidency, before briefly discussing the Johnson administration and its advances in Civil Rights legislation before being bogged down by the Vietnam War.[10] Given the complicated legacies of these Democratic presidents, having enacted important advancements in Civil Rights, the welfare state, and healthcare, but also overseeing the brutality of Vietnam, a discussion of how these figures related to the left and how they should feature in its history remains a significant omission.

The significance of grassroots groups is then highlighted, including Students for a Democratic Society, a key organisation in representing emerging student radicalism, whose alliance with civil rights, anti-war, and feminist groups would give birth to the ‘New Politics’ that increasingly defined the Democratic left from the late 1960s onwards.[11] Both Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy made use of these sentiments in the 1968 primaries, before George McGovern harnessed their support to gain the 1972 Presidential nomination.[12] One of the most effective parts of the book comes in its reading of the 1970s, showing how this decade, often pinpointed by historians as a battleground for the future of the nation, also affected the Democratic Party.[13] For Nichols, the 1970s represented another missed opportunity for the Party, as they rejected the chance to use this new base to counter increasingly organised right-wing interest groups and instead doubled down on the managerial politics that saw Democrats lose their position as the dominant party in the 1970s.[14] This is also shown through the role of Michael Harrington, a socialist activist who saw in the emergence of the ‘New Politics’ an opportunity to make the Democrats a vehicle for policies such as full employment and national health insurance. These policies became part of the 1976 Party platform, before significantly influencing Ted Kennedy’s 1980 bid for the presidential nomination.[15]

These battles over Party direction would continue into the 1980s as the Reagan presidency encouraged centrist Democrats further away from liberalism, whilst organisations like the Democratic Leadership Council emerged to ensure the Party remained orientated to the political centre. In this decade, Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activist and confidant of Martin Luther King, would become the standard bearer of this cause, running for the presidency in 1984 and 1988 on a platform that sought to represent the working-class constituencies most affected by the changes of Reaganism.[16] Though his supposed general election shortcomings were a key reason for his defeats in the primaries, Nichols interestingly highlights the significance of low turnout in urban areas and amongst young voters for the Democratic defeat of 1988, suggesting Jackson’s ability to galvanise these groups had potential as an alternative to centrism.[17] Despite this promise, however, the Democrats continued to compromise with right-wing policies on areas including criminal justice and financial deregulation during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Despite the initial liberal promise of the Obama campaign, a shift towards a transformational politics was not forthcoming, forcing the party to rely on Presidential charisma for electoral success, a tactic that obliterated its strength at the local level.[18] The book ends, however, on a hopeful note by highlighting the contemporary success of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a sign of the left’s strength, with these youth-powered campaigns providing optimism for future fulfilment of Wallace’s ideals.[19]

Nichols’ work is an important one, highlighting the possibility of alternative directions in post-war American politics and providing a welcome antidote to the histories of the Democrats that portray its left as an inconvenience, contributing nothing other than defeat.[20] However, Nichols’ role as an activist as well as an author means there are limits to its uses. As Ilhan Omar writes on the blurb, this is, ‘more than a history book- this is an examination of what progressives must do to retake our democracy’, showing how Nichols seeks to give today’s left a sense of purpose and historical grounding in its common cause with past political actors. Therefore, Nichols places greater emphasis on continuity in charting the history of this movement, highlighting the consistencies in political aims across time, to give a sense of tradition and legitimacy to the cause described. For instance, he describes Tom Hayden’s 1978 Senate manifesto as having, ‘anticipated the progressive politics of Ro Khanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the generation of leaders that would come to the fore in the late 2010s’.[21] Whilst it is correct to point out the continuities across these different contexts, Nichols’ approach obscures the variations that also exist across time. In particular, this overestimates the degree of separation between the Democratic left and the wider political environment.

Therefore, the ‘neo-consensus’ school of contemporary American political History, which minimises the divides of party, ideology and region in favour of highlighting areas of agreement across the spectrum, including convergence in criminal justice and neoliberalism, has use for building on Nichols’ work.[22] Although this school has mostly focused on areas of consensus across partisan lines, its theories could be applied by historians to the study of the Democratic left. This is applicable to the New Deal itself, which faced criticism for being insufficiently bold in its economic reforms from the likes of Huey Long and incorporated ideas that challenge its status as the height of progressivism. This included the facilitation of the conservative goal of repressing ‘subversives’ through the development of the FBI.[23] With regard to later periods, Geismer highlights how George McGovern played an instrumental role in popularising a political economy based around the high-tech sector, a cause commonly identified as instrumental to the agenda of ‘neoliberal’ politics in the 1980s.[24] Moreover, the Kennedy and Jackson campaigns were not inoculated from these developments. Kennedy was keen to highlight his role as a deregulator of the airline and trucking industries during his campaign, whilst Jackson’s campaign included a strong anti-drug message similar to the ‘Just Say No’ message of the Reagan administration.[25]

The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party, therefore, represents an important historiographical development by providing a more balanced history of the Democratic left, highlighting the left’s important intellectual contribution and exploring alternative directions in post-war American politics. Given that all historical works are influenced by the perspectives of their authors, this book should not be dismissed as that of an ideologue. Its limits, however, should be recognised. More work needs to be done to layout the ideological nuances of this important movement in American political history, to show how it adapted to the myriad of contexts that the post-war United States brought about, but Nichols provides a good starting point.

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Notes

[1]             D. Henwood, ‘The Socialist Network’, The New Republic, 250/6 (June 2019), p.15; E. Godfrey, ‘Thousands of Americans Have Become Socialists Since March’, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/05/dsa-growing-during-coronavirus/611599/accessed 04/08/2020.

[2]             R. Grim, We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to AOC, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement (Washington D.C., 2019); J. Ward, Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party (New York, 2019).

[3]             J. Nichols, The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party (London, 2020), pp. xi-xii.

[4]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 83-84

[5]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. xiv-xv.

[6]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 4, 21-22.

[7]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 60-61.

[8]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 68-69.

[9]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 146, 152-53.

[10]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 155-56.

[11]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 170-71.

[12]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 160-61, 167, 171-73.

[13]           E. Berkowitz, Something Happened: A Political Cultural Overview of the Seventies (New York, 2006), p.1; T. Borstelmann, The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (Princeton, 2011), p.3.

[14]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 169-71.

[15]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp.183, 186-87.

[16]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp.198-99.

[17]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, p.200.

[18]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp.203,2 07-08, 215-16.

[19]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp.236-38.

[20]           R. Radosh, Divided they Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996 (New York, 1996), pp. x-xi, xiii.

[21]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, p.193.

[22]           B. Schulman, ‘Post-1968 U.S. History: Neo-Consensus History for the Age of Polarisation’, Reviews in American History, 47/3 (2019), pp.482-83.

[23]           ‘Huey Long’s Senate Speeches’,https://www.ssa.gov/history/longsen.html, accessed 09/09/20; K. O’Reilly, ‘A New Deal for the FBI: The Roosevelt Administration, Crime Control and National Security’, Journal of American History, 69/3 (1982), pp.638-39.

[24]           L. Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party (Princeton, 2015), pp.164-65.

[25]           N. Birnbaum, ‘How Much of the Way with E.M.K.?’, The Nation, December 22, 1979, p.649; ‘Jackson Announcement’, https://www.c-span.org/video/?3311-1/jackson-announcement, accessed 10/07/20

Bibliography

Primary Sources

 

Birnbaum, N., ‘How Much of the Way with E.M.K.?’, The Nation, (December 22, 1979), pp.648-51.

 

Godfrey, E., ‘Thousands of Americans Have Become Socialists since March’, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/05/dsa-growing-during-coronavirus/611599/accessed 04/08/2020.

 

Geismer, L., ‘Jesse Jackson’s Political Revolution’, Jacobin, (Winter 2020), pp.103-06.

 

Henwood, D., ‘The Socialist Network’, The New Republic, (June 2019), pp.12-19.

‘Huey Long’s Senate Speeches’, https://www.ssa.gov/history/longsen.html, accessed 09/09/20.

 

‘Jackson Announcement’, https://www.c-span.org/video/?3311-1/jackson-announcement, accessed 10/07/20.

 

Secondary Sources

 

Berkowitz, E., Something Happened: A Cultural and Political Overview of the Seventies (New York, 2006).

 

Borstelmann, T., The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (Princeton, 2011).

 

Geismer, L., Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party (Princeton, 2015).

 

Grim, R., We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to AOC, The End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement (Washington D.C., 2019).

 

Nichols, J., The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party (London, 2020).

 

O’Reilly, K., ‘A New Deal for the FBI: The Roosevelt Administration, Crime Control and National Security’, Journal of American History, 69/3 (1982), pp.638-658.

 

Radosh, R., Divided they Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996 (New York, 1996).

 

Rodgers, D., Age of Fracture (Cambridge, 2011).

 

Schiller, R., ‘The Curious Origins of Airline Deregulation: Economic Deregulation and the American Left’, Business History Review, 93/4 (2019), pp.729-53.

 

Schulman, B., ‘Post-1968 U.S. History: Neo-Consensus History for the Age of Polarisation’, Reviews in American History, 47/3 (2019), pp.479-99.

 

Ward, J., Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party (New York, 2019).

Book Review: ‘Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East, 401-330 BCE’ by Jeffrey Rop

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Author Biography

Gillian Owen is a Masters Student studying Classics at the University of Nottingham. Gillian‘s interests cover a range periods and cultures centred around the Mediterranean. Her current dissertation focuses on the image of the sea in Etruscan burials.

LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/gillian-owen

Twitter: @Gillianowen97

Book Review: ‘Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East, 401-330 BCE’ by Jeffrey Rop

Gillian Owen

 

Jeffery Rop’s, ‘Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East,’ questions several of the core theories around the use of Greek mercenaries in the 4th century, providing a critical analysis of ancient sources and modern scholarship. His book serves as a reply to several comprehensive accounts of Persian and Egyptian military history, such as Stephen Ruzicka’s, ‘Trouble in the West,’ and John Hyland’s, ‘Persian Interventions’, both of which serve as the inspiration for this book.  Rop’s core argument is a reconsideration of the ‘Greek thesis’ – a term coined by Pierre Briant, referring to the trend in modern scholarship to accept accounts of Greek military superiority.  Through a series of case studies, Rop challenges the ideas of Greek military superiority presented by the Greek thesis; offering alternative reasons for the presence of Greek mercenaries in the Persian and Egyptian armies that go beyond the theory that they were selected as superior, hoplite troops. He uses this to contest the notion that the appearance of these troops was a sign of the decline in the Achaemenid Empire in the 4th century. Rop’s overarching argument addresses two core theories. First, the Greek thesis is a misconception created by the ancient sources, and perpetuated in modern scholarship. Second, Greek soldiers in foreign armies were not mercenaries, but were recruited through political alliances. Rop utilises a strong military history approach, uncommon in current scholarship, to reconsider the evidence through a break-down of battle narratives. This method provides new insights and alternative versions of events that may explain the appearance of Greek mercenaries in foreign armies.

 

The book is aimed at scholars, drawing heavily from modern debate.  However, Rop also intends it to be accessible to a more general audience.  Its intrinsic relation to modern debate and reconceptualization of certain events and ideas, requires at least, a basic understanding of the period, if not the modern scholarship. Therefore, the book is perhaps more suited to specialist Greek, Persian and Egyptian military and/or political historians; especially as the book is inciting a new take on this field. This should not deter undergraduates from approaching the book, as Rop’s clear presentation of his arguments and modern debate makes it accessible to those willing to fully engage with Rop’s arguments and analysis. Throughout the book, Rop supports his arguments with basic contexts and diagrams where necessary, enabling it to be read by a range of audiences and providing an inroad into modern discussions. The opening of the book provides general geographical maps and campaign routes, many of which would be familiar to those with a background in Greek military studies. The more poignant diagrams appear in the battle narratives, as Rop provides basic visual reconstructions of the battle formations. These provide essential context and understanding for the argument, particularly for readers unfamiliar with military history and battle sequences. Rop’s analysis of the ancient sources and the literary techniques that influenced their accounts are, overall, worth consideration for future works addressing Greco-Persian political and military relations as they provide new insights and methodology. Discussion of the existing academic literature at the beginning of each section clearly situates the book within modern scholarship and challenges the reader to reconsider existing interpretations of Greek military history. As such, it is perhaps best read alongside other relevant works – although Rop provides enough scholarly context for all his arguments to be understood as a standalone piece.

 

The introductory chapter provides the foundations to the rest of the book. Rop presents an account of contemporary historiography highlighting specific elements of scholarship that are addressed through the rest of the work. He also provides a background to his primary sources; outlines his key arguments and key terms; and explains his methodology in the chapter. The chapter is titled, ‘The Greek Thesis’, borrowing Briant’s term to describe the tendency of ancient and modern authors to attribute the presence of Greek soldiers in foreign armies as indicators of Greek military superiority.  This chapter explains the Greek Thesis, from its conception by the primary sources, through to modern scholarship. Rop establishes the existing arguments and justifies the need for his book.  Rop’s secondary argument, exploring political motivations for the hire of Greek mercenaries, is also established here.  This argument challenges the idea that the Achaemenid Empire was in decline, and is developed much more in chapters three and six. He argues that Persia had political influence in Greece and was not reliant on Greek military power. The two literary tropes that Rop draws on throughout his critique of the ancient sources – the dynamic subordinate and the tragic advisor – are defined in this chapter, as a reference for the later discussions.  Overall, the first chapter provides a solid basis for Rop to develop his own analyses in the subsequent chapters.

The second chapter, ‘The Battle of Cunaxa’, addresses the revolt of Cyrus the Younger, with the aid of the Greek contingent known as the Ten Thousand, against his brother King Artaxerxes II in 401BC.  It is the first of two chapters in the book that deeply analyse one source through one event.  In this chapter, Rop considers Xenophon’s account of the battle of Cunaxa, discussing the literary techniques and biases of Xenophon. Xenophon is the generally preferred account for Cunaxa, as sources for battle narratives can vary dramatically.  An example of this would be Xenophon’s and Diodorus’ account of the battle of Aegospotami, as they display remarkable differences; such as the way in which the Spartans attack the Athenian ships.  Rop presents a critical analysis of the source and battle tactics to argue that Xenophon created a false perception of the Greeks’ role in the battle. His analysis aims to combat two assumptions about the battle: one, that the Greeks were the best on the battlefield; secondly, that Cyrus ordered his Greeks to advance against the King in the centre. Rop develops a battle reconstruction to suggest that these ideas came about due to Xenophon’s narrative techniques, for example, his use of focalisation highlighted the achievement of the Greeks, creating the impression that the Greek contingent was more important than it was.

 

The third chapter, ‘Greece and the Rebellion of Cyrus the Younger’, continues the discussion of chapter two and addresses a potential hole in the argument. The previous chapter argued against Greek superiority as the motive for their inclusion in Cyrus’ army. Rop uses this chapter to suggest an alternative reason for their inclusion. He argues that Greek troops were more loyal than the Persians troops, contesting the argument that mercenaries were unreliable, as they were motivated by money. Rop develops the argument that Greek mercenaries were contracted through patron-client relationships, similar to the Greek idea of xenia. Similar ideas have been presented by Trundle as he discusses how ritualised friendship was common in mercenary relationships.  Rop, however, expands this beyond what has been considered previously. He regards the concept of xenia in a Greco-Persian context, exploring how the power difference created a form of patron-client relationship that differed from the Greek concept of xenia – which was between equals. He argues that Greek mercenaries were contracted through personal relations to powerful Persian figures, who could support their personal ambitions in return for military service. He uses this idea to explain the Greeks’ loyalty to Cyrus over the wealthier Artaxerxes, as their personal relations to Cyrus allowed him to offer different incentives.  His presentation of Cyrus’ army as a chain of patron relationships, and the political implications of the chapter, present a particularly interesting argument within the book and for the definition of a mercenary. It is something to be considered in future scholarship.

Chapter four takes a different approach than the rest of the chapters, as Rop discusses pairs of figures; exploring the use of the dynamic subordinate and tragic advisor trope. The dynamic subordinate relates to accounts where a subordinate, in these cases a Greek, out performs their superior – here a Persian or Egyptian commander. The Tragic advisor trope refers to a case when the commander ignores the advice of another and subsequently fails. The lack of event focus creates a slight disjoint between the sections, as discussions of the specific individuals rely on a solid understanding of events between 400-360 BC. This can be aided slightly by use of the timeline provided at the start of the book. Each subsection within the chapter works as a separate unit, highlighting a case where the dynamic subordinate, and/or the tragic advisor is present. As such, the chapter requires Rop’s preliminary conclusion, found at the end of the chapter, to draw all the arguments together.  The chapter considers five pairs: Conon and Pharnabazus, Chabrias and Acoris, Agesilaus and Tachos, Agesilaus and Nectanebos, and Iphicrates and Pharnabazus, the latter being the longest and most comprehensive. The discussions surrounding these pairings presents a convincing case for the use of the dynamic subordinate and tragic advisor as a cause for misconceptions over the superiority of Greek generals, but, suffers from a slight sense of repetition, as the same tropes are discussed across all five case studies. Rop’s analysis provides interesting breakdowns of individuals’ contributions, strategies, and the two tropes, but could have been supplemented by a slightly broader range of arguments, such as the value these individuals had in controlling their forces.  Rop suggests three conclusions for the chapter, with the argument against the superiority of the Greek generals being predominant. Rop’s other two conclusions; that Greek mercenaries were valued due to alliances, and that they were selected as specialist marines, are slightly overshadowed. It would have been interesting if Rop had made more of these conclusions in his individual pairs’ analysis, as it is not until the preliminary conclusion that their significance is strongly highlighted, although they are discussed throughout the chapter. Despite this slight criticism, the arguments covered in the chapter are presented well. Each pair is discussed thoroughly, and the preliminary conclusion highlights the key ideas while citing previous discussion in the chapter to support them.

 

Both chapter five and six consider single events. Chapter five discusses the revolt of Artabazus, while the sixth chapter considers the Persian conquest of Egypt through a critique of Diodorus. Rop uses these chapters to reinforce ideas that have been previously presented, displaying how Rop uses this book to effectively argue a couple of key theories, by exploring them in different situations. The revolt of Artabazus, a relatively minor part of Persian history, is discussed in chapter five as it strongly pertains to Rop’s critique of the Greek thesis, as it presents the only case of the threat of Greek mercenaries being officially recognised by a Persian king.  Through this chapter, Rop challenges the Greek thesis by questioning the validity of the mercenaries’ decree and the accuracy of the sources’ accounts.  The chapter highlights a key agenda of Rop’s book, as he uses the revolt of Artabazus to illustrate how easily modern scholarship accepts accounts that support the Greek thesis. Rop’s methodology in addressing this event, displays how an in-depth critique of the sources can produce different interpretations of events; something he wants contemporary scholars to do in regards to the Greek thesis. In contrast, chapter six uses one source to analyse one event. In his analysis of the event, Rop re-engages several of his previous arguments, such as the dynamic subordinate and tragic advisor trope, in a new context. His argument that the Greek mercenaries were valued as sailors and marines is discussed at length in this chapter. The chapter displays how Rop’s book is building an in-depth case for the reconsideration of a few key ideas, rather than an extensive exploration of a wide variety of events and theories.

 

The final two chapters discuss the appearance of Greek mercenaries in the Persian armies, opposing Macedonian conquest. Rop discusses the appearance of Greeks in the three main battles against Alexander the Great: Granicus River, Issus, and Gaugamela. Chapter Seven focuses in particular on the contributions of Memnon of Rhodes to the Persian army, arguing that he has a more modest role than the sources convey. The highlight of these two chapters is Rop’s battle narratives, as he presents a lucid summary of the strategies used in these three key battles. He supplements this with simple, yet effective, diagrams displaying the battle lines, providing key visual tools to outline the battles’ progress. Chapter eight’s primary value is Rop’s military analysis, as he uses it to counteract the idea that the Persians depended on Greek mercenaries. Rop suggests that the Greeks appear in the Persian armies as a way for them to unofficially oppose Alexander. He suggests that they required Persian aid, rather than the Persian generals being reliant on superior Greek forces. The arguments of these latter chapters, while still relevant and convincing, are perhaps less impactful on Rop’s overall discussion on the Greek thesis and political motivations for the hiring of Greek mercenaries. Unlike some of the previous chapters, the conclusions here do not pose vastly significant changes to the dynamic of Greco-Persian relations.

 

Rop’s work presents an in-depth analysis of the ancient sources and offers a new take on conventional theories in Greek and Near Eastern military history. Rop’s work deviates from the often-Greek centric narrative and manages to presents a concise and well-rounded picture of Greco-Persian and Egyptian military history, that does an impressive job of considering sub-context and dynamics obscured by the primarily Greek source base. Rop’s book manages to address a hole in contemporary scholarship highlighted by Gómez-Castro, who acknowledges historian’s strong reliance on their sources and their fear of speculative analysis.   Rop’s method of combining military history with several literary approaches is innovative and highlights how this type of speculative analysis can provide interesting and new interpretations. Throughout the book, Rop successfully highlights the need for a reconsideration of the Greek thesis and reinterpretations of Greek mercenary actions. Rop’s suggestion for the political implications of Greek mercenaries, particularly the idea of a patron-client relationship, presented an interesting take on Greco-Persian relationships that appears worth considering by future works on 4th century history.  Rop’s book has opened up a challenge to some of the more conventional ideas and it will be interesting to observe future academic dialogue raised in response to his critiques.

 

 

Bibliography

Bigwood, J. M., ‘The Ancient Accounts of the Battle of Cunaxa’, The American Journal of Philology 104(4) (1983), pp. 340-357.

Briant, P., From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Daniels, P. T. (trans.)(Indiana, 2002).

Gómez-Castro. D. ‘Ancient Greek Mercenaries: Facts, Theories and New Perspectives’, War & Society, 38(1) (2019), pp. 2-18.

Hyland, J., Persian Interventions: The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, and Sparta, 450-386 BCE (Baltimore, 2018).

Rop, J., Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East, 401-330 BCE (New York, 2019).

Ruzicka, S., Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire 525-332 (Oxford, 2012).

Strauss, B. ‘Aegospotami Reexamined’, The American Journal of Philology, 104 (1) (1983), pp. 24-35.

Trundle, M., Greek Mercenaries: From the Late Archaic Period to Alexander (London and New York, 2004).

 

 

Book Review: Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (London, 2020)

Book Review: Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (London, 2020)

Link to PDF

Nicholas Thompson

Unlike this year’s Wolfson History Prize Winner The Boundless Sea: A Human History of Oceans, The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (hereafter, Boundless) focuses on methods of approaching the Mediterranean.[1] Boundless is a reflection on The Corrupting Sea (hereafter, Corrupting) and the developments of Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell’s approach over the last two decades.[2] In Corrupting, Horden and Purcell presented the Mediterranean holistically, discussing prehistory, antiquity, and the Middle Ages through ecological, anthropological, and geographical analyses. In 2001, Brent Shaw admired Corrupting’s vision of replacing Fernand Braudel’s 1949 definitive text on Mediterranean history ‘with something better’ and Corrupting’s second volume – discussing climate, disease, demography, and interactions with other regions – remains eagerly awaited.[3] In Boundless, Horden and Purcell summarise Corrupting as providing a focus on ‘common ecological denominators’ to develop study of the Mediterranean region.[4]

Boundless comprises eleven previously published articles and one new chapter which are loosely grouped in central themes: rebuttal to Corrupting’s critics (1-3); economy and power (4-7); and water (9-12).  Chapter eight, the only previously unpublished article, bridges discussions of economy and water, presenting water mills as economic development markers. The lack of definition of these themes hampers formation of an overarching argument. Thus, despite edits removing some overlaps and replacing the authorial ‘I’ with ‘we’ in cases of solo authorship, the volume feels disjointed.[5]

As most of the chapters have been published previously, their initial purpose does not always align with their intended function in Boundless. This may be seen most clearly in chapter one which began The American Historical Review’s 2006 forum entitled ‘Ocean History’.[6] Kären Wigen introduced its study of maritime regions as one of ‘modern cultural constructs’ with Horden and Purcell attributing maritime regions’ instability to their being ‘essentially contested’.[7] Horden and Purcell use ‘seaborne connectivity’ to mend this instability, quoting Socrates’ observation that Greeks lived ‘around the sea like…frogs around a pool’ and others lived ‘elsewhere in many such places’.[8] The omission of Wigen’s introduction alters the dynamic of the article. With Wigen’s introduction, the article presented a chronological starting point for discussing similar cultural constructs in the Atlantic and Pacific. Without it, Horden and Purcell’s hopes of refining ‘the ways in which we frame a global history’ lack the outlook they initially held, now beginning a volume focused on Mediterranean history.[9]

In chapter eight, Horden and Purcell consider 500 to 1000 AD the best period for assessing interactions between Northwest Europe and the Mediterranean as it charts the realignment of Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire.[10] They present the Mediterranean during this period as a ‘crucible of institutions and techniques that will…come to seem simply European’.[11] Horden and Purcell begin by quoting Dr Johnson’s remarks about touring sites from antiquity, ‘almost all that sets us [Europeans] above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean’.[12] Horden and Purcell temper this with Michael Herzfeld’s 2003 concept that Mediterraneanism was equivalent to European orientalism, with Mediterraneans as ‘other’.[13] They consider the Mediterranean a characteristic set of special relationships, unhampered by geographical confines.

The debate between understanding the Mediterranean as innovative, ultimately shaping European developments, and understanding the Mediterranean as ‘backward’, is summarised as developments being Mediterranean imports or ‘endogenous to northern Europe’.[14] This controversy takes up the majority of the chapter, discussed through a literature review of Corrupting (2000), Michael McCormick’s Origins of the European Economy (2001), and Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages (2005) and The Inheritance of Rome (2009).[15] The works are grouped into two viewpoints, firstly that the Mediterranean maintained ‘a continued “connectivity”’ despite declining trade (Corrupting and McCormick).[16] Secondly, there was a ‘systemic break’ in the seventh century separating ancient and medieval economic models (Wickham).[17]

Wickham’s Marxist approach directs his focus to ‘modes of production’ from slave to feudal to peasant; the latter, Horden and Purcell suggest, is Wickham’s creation.[18] Wickham uses bulk good trade over moderate distances as his economic marker regarding McCormick’s marker, long-distance luxury trade, as ‘surface gloss’.[19] Horden and Purcell temper Wickham’s endogenous understanding of Northwest European economics with Mediterranean agricultural developments.[20] They cite Roman bipartite estate management amongst Carolingians and the spread of water mills throughout Europe by Roman soldiers.[21] Irish and Italian monastic records demonstrate widespread European usage of water mills by the seventh century AD.[22] Thus modified, Horden and Purcell repurpose Wickham’s arguments as evidence for Mediterranean farming technology causing agrarian intensification in northern Europe which generated wealth and demand for luxuries.[23]

The final chapters return to water with Horden’s 2002 Linacre Lecture concerning Water Management, originally delivered to an interdisciplinary audience of scientists and arts scholars.[24] Chapter eleven hints at Horden and Purcell’s ideas for Corrupting’s sequel. It originally began the ‘Framing Saharan Africa’ section of McDougall and Scheele’s Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa.[25] Horden argues to replace Braudel’s argument that the Sahara was ‘the second face of the Mediterranean’.[26]  Instead, Horden contrasts the ‘introversion’ of the Mediterranean compared with the Sahara’s interconnectivity.[27] He concludes that better comparisons for Saharan connectivity are interconnected regions like the Great Lakes or Philippine archipelago. Despite noting that Benedetta Rossi (2015) argues for Braudel’s model to be reinstated, Horden offers no further defence, hopefully this will come in Corrupting’s sequel.[28] Thus, although suited to a volume discussing Northwest Africa, this chapter clashes with Boundless’ focus on approaches to Mediterranean history and seems more suited to the frontier-exploring second volume of Corrupting. This disconnect highlights Boundless’ identity crisis between being a collection of essays discussing study of the Mediterranean or Corrupting’s sequel.

In summary, Boundless presents the key points of Horden and Purcell’s works of the last two decades in an easily accessible manner. These articles come from a wide range of fields, demonstrating the scope and influence of Horden and Purcell’s ideas, and the impact of Corrupting. Chapters range from ancient to early modern history, studies of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, archaeology, and social anthropology. It is therefore improbable that readers will be familiar with all topics covered, but this breadth is the book’s success. An ancient historian may be interested in chapter six’s discussion of ancient maritime taxation but find useful material concerning the development of Mediterranean economics in chapter five’s discussion of ‘meshwork’ in Mediterranean cities and chapter eight’s discourse of agrarian technologies. Many readers would benefit from reading the original publications of the chapters to understand the initial role the articles fulfilled. For example, chapter one focuses on developing a style for approaching maritime ecologies generally because it precedes articles concerning the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ultimately, Boundless whets the reader’s appetite for the forthcoming sequel to Corrupting, now two decades in the making, which will provide more room for Horden and Purcell’s ideas to be explored.

 

 

Bibliography

Abulafia, D., The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (London, 2019).

Braudel, F., La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (Paris,     1949).

Coswell, J., Hill, G. B. (ed.), and Powell, L. F. (rev.), Boswell’s Life of Johnson (Oxford, 1936).

Games, A., ‘Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities’, American Historical   Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 741-757.

Herzfeld, M., ‘Practical Mediterraneanism: Excuses for Everything, from Epistemology to Eating’, in Harris, W. V. (ed.), Rethinking the Mediterranean (Oxford, 2003), 45-63.

Horden, P., ‘Water in Mediterranean History’ in Trottier, J. and Slack, P. (eds), Managing      Water Resources Past and Present: The Linacre Lectures 2002 (Oxford, 2004), 35-49.

Horden, P., ‘Mediterranean Excuses: Historical Writing on the Mediterranean since Braudel’,             History and Anthropology, 16 (2005), 25-30.

Horden, P., ‘Situations Both Alike?: Connectivity, the Mediterranean, the Sahara’, in J.           McDougall and J. Scheele (eds), Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest    Africa (Bloomington, IN., 2012), 25-38.

Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford,           2000).

Horden, P. and Purcell, N., ‘The Mediterranean and ‘The New Thalassology’’, American         Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 722-40.

Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (London,           2020), vii.

Matsuda, M. K., ‘The Pacific’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3       (2006), 758-780.

McCormick, M., Origins of the European Economy (Cambridge, 2001).

McDougall, J. and Scheele, J. (eds), Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest               Africa (Bloomington, IN., 2012).

Plato, Phaedo 109b in Emlyn-Jones, C. and Preddy, W. (eds and trans), Plato: Euthyphro;          Apology; Crito; Phaedo (Cambridge, MA., 2017).

Rossi, B. From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Mobility in the Nigerian Sahel, 1800-2000      (Cambridge, 2015).

Shaw, B. D., ‘Challenging Braudel: a new vision of the Mediterranean’, Journal of Roman     Archaeology 14 (2001), 419-453.

Wickham, C., Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800          (Oxford, 2005).

Wickham, C., The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (London,          2009).

Wigen, K., ‘Introduction’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3       (2006), 717-721.

[1] D. Abulafia, The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (London, 2019).

[2] P. Horden and N. Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford, 2000).

[3] B. D. Shaw, ‘Challenging Braudel: a new vision of the Mediterranean’, JRA 14 (2001), 419-453, 419. Referencing F. Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (Paris, 1949).

[4] P. Horden and N. Purcell, The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (London, 2020), vii.

[5] Chapters 5, 8, 9, 11, and 12 are by Horden; 3, 4, 6, 7, and 10 are by Purcell.

[6] P. Horden and N. Purcell, ‘The Mediterranean and ‘The New Thalassology’’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 722-40.

[7] K. Wigen, ‘Introduction’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 717-721.

[8] P. Horden and N. Purcell, ‘The Mediterranean and ‘The New Thalassology’’, Boundless, 1-21, 13; Socrates in Plato, Phaedo 109b.

[9] The article preceded A. Games, ‘Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities’, and M. K. Matsuda, ‘The Pacific’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 751-757 and 758-780.

[10] Boundless, 137.

[11] Ibidem.

[12] Dr Johnson, J. Coswell, G. B. Hill (ed.), and L. F. Powell (rev.), Boswell’s Life of Johnson, (Oxford, 1936), vol. 3, 36, Boundless, 136.

[13] M. Herzfeld, ‘Practical Mediterraneanism: Excuses for Everything, from Epistemology to Eating’, W. V. Harris (ed.), Rethinking the Mediterranean (Oxford, 2003), 45-63, P. Horden, ‘Mediterranean Excuses: Historical Writing on the Mediterranean since Braudel’, History and Anthropology, 16 (2005), 25-30; Boundless, 136.

[14] Boundless, 137, 136.

[15] Corrupting, Boundless, 137-144; McCormick, 144-147; Wickham, 147-149.

[16] Boundless, 152.

[17] Boundless, 150.

[18] Boundless, 147-148.

[19] Boundless, 148, 149.

[20] Boundless, 149-152.

[21] Boundless, 150-152.

[22] Boundless, 152.

[23] Boundless, 152.

[24] P. Horden, ‘Water in Mediterranean History’, J. Trottier and P. Slack (eds), Managing Water Resources Past and Present: The Linacre Lectures 2002 (Oxford, 2004), 35-49.

[25] P. Horden, ‘Situations Both Alike?: Connectivity, the Mediterranean, the Sahara’, J. McDougall and J. Scheele (eds), Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa (Bloomington, IN., 2012), 25-38.

[26] J. McDougall and J. Scheele (eds), Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa (Bloomington, IN., 2012), 5-6.

[27] Boundless, 201.

[28] B. Rossi, From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Mobility in the Nigerian Sahel, 1800-2000 (Cambridge, 2015); Boundless, 205n.52.

Book Review: Sally Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture (New York: Oxford, 2019)

In this article Samantha Armstrong reviews The Game of Love in Georgian England by Sally Holloway, recently published in January 2019. This book is a welcome exploration of the emotions of romance within the conceptualization of love in material and popular culture. The Game of Love in Georgian England investigates facets of the material culture of love through various objects including love letters, and gifts like love spoons. Sally Holloway studies courtship, and its breakdown as testified through the interconnection of these tangible objects and ideologies in popular culture.

 

Samantha Armstrong

Author biography

Samantha Armstrong is a second-year doctoral student in the history department at the University of Birmingham. Samantha’s research focuses on eighteenth-century women’s usages of kindness in their everyday lives.

 

Book Review: Sally Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture (New York: Oxford, 2019)

Sally Holloway’s The Game of Love in Georgian England provides an important addition to the scholarship of emotions as expressed through material culture. She reveals Georgian love as an emotional practice observed through tangible objects.[1] Holloway considers Georgian courtship and the emotional range of love through two overarching questions: ‘How did couples contextualize and convey their emotions in words and objects?’ and, ‘How did they negotiate this potentially fraught period in their life cycle?’[2] Through exploring these questions, Holloway argues that from c. 1714 to 1840 courtship and breakdown were navigated through words and objects which constituted performative and ritualised acts.

 

Holloway’s work is a macro-study. She develops an argument about a cultural phenomenon that can be found amongst numerous people and objects. Holloway analysed men and women from a wide spectrum of society through their love letters: Anglicans, Unitarians, Quakers, genteel, elite, and middle class. For Holloway’s material component, she investigated objects from twenty-three different sources varying from museums to private collections. She studied a large spectrum of objects including common items like hair to the more esoteric exotic goods from the colonies or Far East. As a macro-history, Holloway builds a wider understanding of romantic love and objects which can serve as a starting point for the work of future scholars. However, Holloway’s macro-study does not account for the aberrations or smaller trends in romantic objects.  Thus, future scholars have an opportunity for micro-studies allowing development in the interconnection of emotions and objects. Holloway’s methodological process is well explained allowing for its use in follow-up macro-studies of other emotional objects, for example, affection and objects.

 

In order to analyze the love letters and objects, Holloway uses a number of approaches including anthropology and literary theory. These approaches are united by Clifford Geertz’s concept of ‘thick description.’ Geertz’s theory allows her to contextualize, situate, and unpick, to consider symbols, rituals, and meanings of romantic love held by individual couples.[3] These analytical tools allow Holloway to demonstrate that romantic love objects are situated in the marketplace and wider context of popular culture; the romantic objects are considered in various ways for their symbols, rituals and meanings. In sum, Holloway by using Geertz’s and other approaches presents the objects and words’ symbols, rituals, and, meanings in the performative and ritualised acts of love in Georgian England.

 

Holloway’s accessible writing style makes the potentially complex subject matter approachable to a non-academic audience. The book is organized into six chapters: ‘Language of Love’, ‘Love Letters’, ‘Love Tokens’, ‘The Marketplace of Love’, ‘Romantic Suffering’ and ‘Breach of Promise.’ Holloway starts by contextualizing the language of love for both genders to examine men and women’s love letters and tokens, and their marketplace of love. Once she examines the situation and contextualises romantic life, Holloway moves onto the breakdown of love by examining men and women’s romantic suffering and collapse of engagements. Holloway regularly considers gender and differences in presentation, understanding, and, completion of love. For example, Holloway argues that women were more reticent in their letters in expressing romantic sentiments because of their fear of repercussions should the relationship fail.[4] By doing this, Holloway is able to conceptualize her argument of ritualization of courtship and breakups expressed by words and objects; by first examining the objects and words for courtship and then for breakups.

 

In the chapter entitled ‘Language of Love’, Holloway pays attention to how couples experienced, conceived, and navigated love by asking ‘how did eighteenth century couples compose their love stories?’[5] Holloway argues that these various romantic lexicons provided the overarching frame for couples to navigate their courtship within the shared and gendered language of idioms of love.[6] This chapter is an important development in the field of romantic love because of Holloway’s three-prong analysis (religious, physical, and literary tropes). Other historians like Ingrid Tague argue about the dual nature of elite women’s romantic love. By convention women were supposed to be submissive, obedient, and dutiful, but through their practical navigation of expectations on them during their everyday lives women gained agency and power.[7] Unlike Tague, Holloway focusses on how the understanding of romantic love from popular culture was enacted by various men and women in their everyday lives in letters. The limitation of this chapter, however, is that popular culture does not mean a culture adhered to by everybody. Holloway does not address outliers or counter-culture movements. Consequently, in addressing popular culture, Holloway engages only with a broad and commonly held understanding of romantic love.

 

Considering the importance that Holloway gives to material objects, the following paragraphs will examine her material object methodology, usage, and findings.  Few historians have studied the material culture of courtship in the eighteenth century unlike in the scholarship of the sixteenth century. Amanda Vickery has examined the importance of objects in intimate everyday practices; however, Vickery’s work is based in the home and family.[8] Maxine Berg surveyed commercialization and consumption of objects by people but did not focus on romantic objects and instead focused on household items, clothing, and luxury.[9]  Holloway, unlike Berg and Vickery, studies objects in the practice of men and women’s love and courtship. The chapters entitled ‘Love Tokens’ and ‘Marketplace of Love’ are a solid addition to the field of romantic love because Holloway expands and underscores the importance of objects in the conceptualization and ritualization of romantic love for couples. First in ‘Love Tokens’, Holloway examines the highly ritualized ways couples engaged with gifted items that created or expedited experiences of love. All these objects are united with Holloway arguing that romantic gifts provided a key means for courting couples to negotiate the path to matrimony because these gifts gave a way to conceptualize and process their emotions. These emotions played a vital role in preserving the identity of the giver in memory, but also of creating symbolic objects of the couple’s emotional intimacy.[10] Second in ‘Marketplace of Love’ explores the newly commercialized range of romantic gifts and celebration of Valentine’s Day. Holloway argues that observance of romanticism coincided with the explosion in luxury goods and rise of leisure shopping activities resulting in love being packaged and sold to men and women through a new range of objects.[11] Thus, adding a new dimension to the study of material objects and ritualization of gift giving.

 

Previous work on courtrooms have focused on language, representation, and, social class without considering material objects. Holloway rectifies this oversight to a degree by examining what happened during a romantic breakdown, particularly those that played out in the courtroom.  For example, a court case where one defendant sued the other for breaking a promise of intention to marry. Holloway argues that by the 1790s romantic hurt characterized by fragility, beauty, nervous disposition, and, mental instability was presented uniquely as a female grievance. Conversely, men were presented as amorous, impetuous, and passionate. These discourses surrounding the genders were reflections of the changing discourse on love, and, breakups that occurred since the 1750s in popular culture.[12] Holloway discusses in depth the popular discourse about gendered romantic suffering in an earlier chapter. Further these discourses surrounding the genders was purposefully done in order to achieve the aim of compensating women for trauma and excusing men’s behaviour. Therefore, objects were of vital importance as proof of a relationship before the courts and society.[13] Holloway demonstrates that everyday objects had emotional and cultural significance to the judges and participants in understanding the relationships brought into the courtroom, thus, a solid addition to the field of material culture. Further work can be done on objects in other courtroom cases outside of breach of promise—not fulfilling the promise of marriage.

 

By interlinking each chapter, Holloway is emphasizing the ritualized nature of understanding, creating, and performing love. For example, after explicitly describing the language of love in the first chapter, Holloway repeats and strengthens those idioms by mentioning them in context of love letters, inscriptions on love tokens, crafting of Valentine’s cards, the gendered notions of romantic suffering, and, the gendered discourses of love in court cases. Several questions and omissions need to be addressed. While Holloway frames her work through ritualization, is ritualization of objects necessary to understand emotions and material culture? Can historians understand love through objects without ritualization? Furthermore, there is one glaring omission: LGBTQ love. Holloway writes that ‘romantic relationships between same-sex couples are beyond the scope of this book,’ with no further explanation or consideration.[14] Holloway does not explore same-sex couples, and, even overlooked alternative forms of love, because it was not topical to the question.[15] However, can historians understand the complex nature of ritualization of love in eighteenth century England without understanding all forms of love? LGBTQ considerations fall outside of what could be termed as popular culture in this period, therefore do heterosexual rituals of love reflect on queer rituals or does adding LGBTQ love destroy the understanding Holloway argued about heterosexual ritualized love? A future study on LGBTQ love and ritualization of love would greatly further the understanding of eighteenth century love.

 

The Game of Love is an impressive tome of scholarly accomplishment that brings together an impressive variety of sources, and, methodologies. Her scholarship adds significantly to the work on material culture by placing objects within the emotional practices of romantic love. In sum, Holloway’s work on Georgian love is a valuable source for historians of eighteenth century material culture, and of emotion

Bibliography

Berg, M. Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005).

Holloway, S. The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture. (New York, 2019).

Milka, A., and Lemmings, D. ‘Narratives of Feeling and Majesty: Mediated Emotions in the Eighteenth-Century Criminal Courtroom.’The Journal of Legal History, 38 (2017), 155–78.

Shepard, A. ‘Poverty, Labour and the Language of Social Description in Early Modern England.’ Past and Present, 201 (2008), 51–95.

Tague, I.H. ‘Love, Honor, and Obedience: Fashionable Women and the Discourse of Marriage in the Early Eighteenth Century.’ Journal of British Studies, 40 (2001), 76–106.

Vickery, A. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. (New Haven, 2009).

———. The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. (New Haven, 1999).

Walker, G. Crime, Gender and Social Order in Early Modern England. (Cambridge, 2003).

[1] S. Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Materia Culture (New York, 2019), p. 15–16.

[2] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 14.

[3] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 5.

[4] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 67–68.

[5] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 22.

[6] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 7.

[7] I. H. Tague, ‘Love, Honor, and Obedience: Fashionable Women and the Discourse of Marriage in the Early Eighteenth Century,’ Journal of British Studies, 40 (2001), p. 76–106.

[8] A. Vickery, The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (New Haven, 1999); A. Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (New Haven, 2009).

[9] M. Berg, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005).

[10] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p, 69–70.

[11] Holloway,The Game of Love in Georgian England,  p.93.

[12] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 164–65.

[13] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 164–65.

[14] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 12.

[15] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 12.

Book Review: B. Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation (London, 2016)

In this article, Robert reviews Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation by Brendan Simms, published immediately prior to the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union in 2016. The book challenges the existing historical tradition that places Britain as exceptional due to its insular geography and instead gives an account of the centrality of European relations to British home and foreign policy, in the form of a narrative from the medieval period to the present, concluding with a section on modern relations with the European Union. The result is a stimulating read, though is not without shortcomings, most notably in relation to the brisk treatment given to the British Empire.

 

 

Robert Frost

Author Biography

Robert Frost (@RobertF32691246) is a first-year AHRC-funded doctoral student with joint Geography and History department supervision for his research on Georgian and early Victorian travel and exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.

B. Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation (London, 2016)

By suggesting that the history of England, and later that of the United Kingdom, has been one predominantly determined by its relationship with neighbouring Europe, as opposed to its geographical separation as an island, Brendan Simms propounds a subtle not entirely original, but stimulating paradigm shift in how British history should be viewed,  though by no means one without problems. Britain’s Europe offers a longue durée of over one-thousand years of political history, which covers both Britain’s international relations and its own constitutional development. Simms has two central arguments. First, British foreign policy has consistently been based on a grand strategy of preventing continental Europe from being dominated by a single power, especially in the Low Countries, though later moving east to an obsession with Halford Mackinder’s heartland theory. This was achieved time and again by the country building coalitions to oppose an expansionist power, whether King Phillip II’s Spain or Napoleon’s France. Second, the form of the United Kingdom’s own political geography has been primarily forged in response to its engagement with Europe. Simms traces the emergence of the English nation-state to Alfred the Great’s opposition to the Danes and interprets the Union of the Crowns and the Acts of Union as efforts to expand the resources of England and prevent encirclement by France. By contrast, the British Empire is portrayed solely as a means to increase Britain’s standing in Europe rather than as a legitimate enterprise in its own right. Simms also challenges other quasi-isolationist approaches, in particular the ‘Our island story’ narrative, as particularly grotesque distortions of a reality in which Britain has far more often than not been part of a cross-channel state in some form.[1] Though these ideas do not totally convince, they parallel other authors’ attempts at provincialisation. Simms’ lineage includes Hugh Kearney’s call for a four-nation ‘Britannic’ alternative to ‘self-contained’ histories of England, an approach widened again by Norman Davies’ efforts to set the whole of the British Isles in its European context, which is ultimately Simms’ starting-point.[2] Perhaps the ultimate provincialisation was Brotton’s consideration of Elizabethan England/ Britain in its relation with the geographically-proximate Islamic world, though like Simms, he summarises his approach as being to enrich British history rather than diminish it.[3]

Britain’s Europe consists of ten chapters, which are evenly-spaced chronologically after a brief account of the medieval period. Four-fifths of these offer a chronological narrative of Britain’s history, with interactions with Europe given the centre stage. ‘The Bonds of Christendom’ recounts English/ British-European relations up to the fifteenth century, starting in quite a traditional manner with Alfred’s response to Viking raiders leading to the formation of the English nation-state.[4] Simms reinterprets the Cinque Ports as a ‘cross-channel ferry service’ to link the Anglo-Norman/ French and later Angevin, domains.[5] Simms notes John of Gaunt (Ghent), whose speech is held highly by insular-focused historians such as Christopher Lee, had French origins, as many nobles did, while a common Christian culture provided the basis for crusader alliances.[6] ‘A piece of the continent’ outlines the origins of the (aforementioned) grand strategy that Simms forwards as taking place during national soul-searching after England’s defeat in the Hundred Years’ War.[7] The critical importance of the Low Countries, described as the ‘counter-scarp’ by William Cecil and ‘outworks’ by others, takes shape in an age of England’s navy having neither the technology nor ability to intercept a cross-channel force; the channel could only be a second line of defence.[8] Hence England made common cause with the Dutch early on.[9]

‘The bulwarks of Great Britain’ introduces the importance of Germany and its various incarnations, starting with the Holy Roman Empire, as a key counterbalancing power. Simms also argues that the overlooked union of ‘Hanover-Britain’ was a truly European state.[10] He includes the interesting vignette that before the late eighteenth century, those referring simply to ‘The Empire’ meant the Holy Roman Empire, but even when the expanding British Empire was in mind it was regarded as valuable only in terms of the increased strength it could bring on Europe, especially in territorial swaps such as after the Seven Years’ War.[11] ‘The Age of revolution’ on the French and American revolutionary wars serves as a warning as to what could happen when Britain sidelined continental engagement in favour of an imperial ‘blue water’ approach: the ‘first’ British Empire was partitioned.[12]

‘The age of Napoleon’ recounts what may be the best-known pre-twentieth century example of an isolated Britain bringing together a grand coalition and leading it to eventual victory.[13] Simms introduces the ‘fiscal-military’ state as a key advantage that Britain had over rival states, especially France. By way of an ‘implicit contract’ that had grown up between political elites and private finance over the preceding century, the country was able to tap into private wealth generated during the Industrial Revolution by way of credit. In turn, parliamentary democracy gave the British state greater legitimacy than others.[14] Simms also finds the threat from revolutionary France to be decisive in leading to the Act of Union with Ireland in 1800.[15] ‘Britain and Europe in the age of nationalism’ surveys the long nineteenth century, during which Britain was forced to contend with an acquiescent German confederation morphing into a rival German Empire under Bismarck, a transformation which made the self-centred British guarantee of Belgian independent-neutrality from France dangerously anachronistic in 1914.[16]

‘Britain and Europe in the age of total war’ covers Britain’s handling of the ‘German Question’; mobilising a global coalition to prevent domination of Europe by Germany in two world wars.[17] As in 1792-1815, Simms holds Britain’s parliamentary and ‘fiscal-military’ state as key, a conclusion also recently reached by Adam Tooze.[18] Irish independence is ignored however. The final chronological chapter is devoted to events since 1945 in which Britain faced a ‘negotiated merger’ with the European Economic Community and European Union rather than a ‘hostile takeover’, which, unlike earlier Acts of Union, diluted power in Westminster.[19] Simms is critical of the chances Britain might have had in the nascent European Coal and Steel Community, maintaining that such a move would have been catastrophic for domestic industry and still-strong Commonwealth links.[20]

The final two chapters break the chronological structure to bring in an analysis of present and future trends. The first, referring to Britain as ‘the last European great power’ provides a welcome critique of the post-war ‘declinist’ discourse which has dominated so much of recent historiography, often closer to ideology than reality.[21] The final chapter differs from previous ones by offering what  comes across as an attempt to opt out of expressing a concrete position on the referendum campaign then in its final stages, by offering a quixotic call for a radically-reformed English-speaking federal EU. Simms emphasises the need for this to be created in a sudden ‘event’ in the manner of Bismarck, as opposed to the ever-closer-union ‘process’.[22] In fact, it is an argument that Simms has forwarded on several occasions, both before and after the publication of Britain’s Europe, most recently presenting Emmanuel Macron as the new Bismarck.[23] It is also a watered-down summary of the manifesto of the Project for Democratic Union think tank, though Simms omits any mention of the group and his control of its presidency.[24] Despite this, the call seems cavalier and in conflict with the rest of Britain’s Europe. Recognising that Britain would not likely join a fully-federal “superstate”, even an English-speaking one, he brushes aside concerns of his millennial-length British grand strategy thesis by insisting that relations would be friendly due to mutual self-interest.[25] This has not however stopped grandstanding during current Brexit negotiations. The idea that a majority of Europeans would vote to relinquish any remaining national sovereignty appears unlikely, especially given the massive opposition to issues such as the proposal to overcome the shortcomings of the Dublin regulations by way of EU-directed settlement of migrants to Hungary and other central/ Eastern European countries. The reader is left puzzled as to why Simms seemingly disowns his own arguments of thousand-year precedent for the future. A comparison with the strong federal nature of Germany also makes the reader wonder whether the apparently hyperdynamic British model is the best option.

The principal consistent weak point in Simms’ argument however, is surely the secondary role he gives to the British Empire. Though Simms mentions kinship links between members of the Medieval English elite and Europe, his primarily political perspective leaves little room for considering that most kinship links in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were imperial due to emigration.[26] There are also more strictly political shortcomings. The argument that expansion of the British Empire was due to a desire to strengthen Britain’s place in Europe overlooks eagerness for colonial plunder. The Scramble for Africa culminating at Fashoda, the acquisition of Cyprus, and the exchange of Helgoland for faraway Zanzibar brought along tense Anglo-French relations, Turkish alignment with the Central Powers and a strengthened Germany.[27] Likewise, Britain’s first twentieth-century alliance was with Japan, in part to bolster its interests in China against Germany and Russia. By writing British possessions in the Mediterranean off as imperial, Simms marginalises them in favour of Northern Europe, especially the ‘German Question’, thus missing the extent to which that sea became a ‘British lake’ up to the mid-twentieth century, causing Italian hesitation in entering both world wars.[28] The idea that British decolonisation was swift, clean and driven by a desire to keep up appearances in Europe also ignores the renewed enthusiasm for empire after 1945, the drawn-out nature of decolonisation in Kenya and the impact of US pressure.[29]

Though the abovementioned omissions are serious and provide a somewhat ironic warning over the dangers of excessive Eurocentrism, they should at the same time not mask the common ground between Simms and historians of empire such as Niall Ferguson and John Darwin. Both give Europe a central role, the former in the twentieth century in particular, while the latter goes as far as describing the American War of Independence as ‘almost a side-show’ next to the Anglophobic League of Armed Neutrality.[30] Also like Darwin, Simms’ methodology combines extensive secondary literature with plentiful primary sources (in his case mainly quotations from diplomats and politicians), and reaches a good compromise between breadth and depth, crucial to such a grand survey. One of the key strengths of the book is its treatment of the English Channel being as much a highway as a barrier. That Britain’s frontiers lie in the Low Countries is a fascinating concept. Though some of the quotations appear metaphorical, the events that Simms recounts from the Hundred Years’ war and Anglo-Dutch wars through to Napoleon and the twentieth century provide a strong argument against the idea that Britain was regarded as detached from Europe by contemporaries. [31] In many cases of critique, the reader is left wanting more, rather than change. Though Simms includes an incredible twenty pages of maps at the beginning showing Britain’s long-standing territorial links with Europe, he leaves many details out. Why certain features, such as the ‘British postal intercept station’ at Celle, were important is not fully explored.[32] More crucially though, an expanded section on what the union of the crowns with Hanover looked like on the ground would have helped overcome the book’s social-cultural shortcomings: the reader is left assuming that since Westminster did not include Hanoverian MPs as Dunkirk once did, the trans-channel state was analogous to Anglo-Scottish relations prior to the Act of Union (1707). Similarly, the ability of the reader to think of several examples that could have been included in Britain’s Europe, such as the Hanseatic League and Anglo-Portuguese alliance surely strengthens the thesis.

To conclude, Simms’ thesis is convincing, with the exception of his marginalisation of the British Empire. Even here however, the reviewer would place this factor as of equal importance to Europe as opposed to greater importance. Although Simms’ manifesto seems impractical, it is at least as interesting as it is unorthodox. Overall, Britain’s Europe provides a welcome revision of Britain’s place in relation to the continent, highlighting an obsession with cooperation to win conflict on the continent at a time when many apparently believe that Britain can leave Europe altogether.

Notes

[1] B. Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation (London, 2016), p. xiii; Simms is particularly critical of Arthur Bryant for giving this narrative credibility, in his work such as Set in a Silver Sea.

[2] H. Kearney, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge, 1989), p. 1; N. Davies, The Isles: A History (London, 1999).

[3] J. Brotton, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (London, 2017), p. 305.

[4] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 1-3.

[5] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 4.

[6] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 7-9.

[7] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 20-22.

[8] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 30.

[9] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 31-32.

[10] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 55.

[11] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 52-69.

[12] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 71-92.

[13] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 114.

[14] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 98-110.

[15] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 112.

[16] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 116-142.

[17] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 143-144.

[18] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 145-164; A. Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order (London, 2014), pp. 173-217.

[19] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 170.

[20] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 177-178.

[21] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 206-218; J. Tomlinson, The Politics of Decline: Understanding Post-war Britain (Harlow, 2000).

[22] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 219-227.

[23] B. Simms, ‘Towards a mighty union: how to create a democratic European superpower’, International Affairs, 88/ 1 (2012), pp. 49-62; B. Simms, ‘The ghosts of Europe’s past’, New York Times, 10 June 2013, p. 23; B. Simms, ‘The storm on fortress Europe: the continent’s old crises have not been resolved’, New Statesman, 24-30 November 2017, p. 29.

[24] Project for Democratic Union < http://www.democraticunion.eu/>, accessed 19.4.2018.

[25] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 235-236.

[26] W. S. Churchill, History of the English-Speaking Peoples: The Birth of Britain, Volume 1 (London, 1956), pp. vii-viii.

[27] T. Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa (London, 1991).

[28] C. Duggan, A Concise History of Italy (Cambridge, 1994); R. Holland, Blue-water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean Since 1800 (London, 2012).

[29] J. Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (London, 2012).

[30] N. Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (London, 2004); Darwin, Unfinished Empire, p. 317.

[31] For instance, Stanley Baldwin’s assertion that Britain’s frontiers lay on the Rhine or Elbe, in Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 157, cannot be taken anywhere near literally, or as something that must be defended, rather they imply that Britain had an interest in Germany. Harold Macmillan took a similar approach to show solidarity with India against communist China by declaring that ‘Britain’s frontiers are on the Himalayas’ in 1965, Darwin, Unfinished Empire, p. 378. However Simms does point out that due to NATO commitments, ‘the United Kingdom’s eastern defence perimeter now effectively ran and runs along the eastern flank of the European Union’, Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 197.

[32] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. xxvii.

Bibliography

Brotton, J., This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (London, 2017).

Churchill, W. S., History of the English-Speaking Peoples: The Birth of Britain (London, 1956).

Darwin, J., Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (London, 2012).

Davies, N., The Isles: A History (London, 1999).

Duggan, C., A Concise History of Italy (Cambridge, 1994).

Ferguson, N., Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (London, 2004).

Holland, R., Blue-water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean Since 1800 (London, 2012).

Kearney, H., The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge, 1989).

Lee, C., This Sceptred Isle (London, 1998).

Simms, B., ‘Towards a mighty union: how to create a democratic European superpower’, International Affairs, 88/ 1 (2012), pp. 49-62.

Simms, B., ‘The ghosts of Europe’s past’, New York Times, 10 June 2013, p. 23.

Simms, B., Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation (London, 2016).

Simms, B., ‘The storm on fortress Europe: the continent’s old crises have not been resolved’, New Statesman, 24-30 November 2017, pp. 24-29.

Tomlinson, J., The Politics of Decline: Understanding Post-war Britain (Harlow, 2000).

Tooze, A., The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order (London, 2014).

Pakenham, T., The Scramble for Africa (London, 1991).

Project for Democratic Union < http://www.democraticunion.eu/>, accessed 19.4.2018.

Book Review: Hughes, D. J. Environmental Problems of the Greeks and Romans (Baltimore: MD., 2014)

As the effects of global warming become more apparent, and large scale political and industrial action towards protecting the environment remains sluggish, tensions between the material demands of humanity and the earth’s ability to provide are reaching a dangerous high. Inspired by these pressures, academics of ancient Greece and Rome have been turning their attention […]

Book Review: M. Costambeys, M. Innes, S. MacLean, The Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2011)

In this article Marco Panato reviews The Carolingian World by Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes, and Simon MacLean. At the height of its power, the Carolingian Empire dominated western Europe as its largest single polity. The Carolingian World, published in 2011, offers a comprehensive survey of the empire from its 8th century origins, to its struggle to maintain unity in the 9th century.

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Marco Panato

Author Biography

Marco Panato is a second-year PhD student and teaching affiliate in Medieval History at the University of Nottingham. Currently he is working under the supervision of Dr Ross Balzaretti and Professor Mark Pearce on a topic concerning river exploitation and fluvial traffic of people and foods in the Po valley (Northern Italy) during the Carolingian period (8th-9th c.)

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