Our own Professor @HelenLParish takes a historical view of this question and how this debate has raged for centuries!
In the words of Perry Como’s classic, “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”. The pandemic has got many yearning for a little festive joy earlier than usual and, for some, it started looking like Christmas in early November. Trees, lights, tinsel and baubles were already appearing in streets and houses, and Christmas shopping was well underway.
But such early holiday spirit is not always well received by those who argue that Christmas is for, well, Christmas. It wouldn’t be Christmas though without such disagreements – they’ve been going on since early Christians started celebrating the birth of Christ. You can find the piece that she wrote for The Conversation in full here.
You can also find her blog on the origins of the twelve days of Christmas here
Helen Parish is a historian with interests in religion and belief in early modern Europe. She has written on the history of clerical celibacy and marriage in the western Church, as well as debates over superstition, miracles, magic, witchcraft, and early modern natural history. She is the author of Clerical Marriage and the English Reformation (Ashgate, 2000) and Clerical Celibacy in the West (Ashgate, 2010), and a range of books and articles on the history of the Reformation, religious belief, and the supernatural in early modern Europe.
You can find our more about Professor Helen Parish and her research at the University of Reading here
Nobody really knows how many statues of women there are in the UK. It is even more difficult to know what type of women they represent; invariably they are divided between royals, religious icons and, well, everyone else. Frustratingly, we can also say with certainty that a large proportion are naked and un-named. The centenary of the women’s partial vote in 2018 and of female MPs in 2019 went part way to highlighting and addressing the issue of the lack of female statues, most notably with the installation of Millicent Fawcett in Westminster, Emmeline Pankhurst in Manchester and Nancy Astor MP in Plymouth. But it is a painful process to generate funds for public art and any campaign to raise public money for a statue is managed with an expectation that the resultant artwork will be a reflection of the community that funded it. Unfortunately, the Mary Wollstonecraft statue is not. While huge credit is due to the tireless work that it took to see this project through a decade, as the overwhelming comment on social media reflects, it is a missed opportunity.
The Wollstonecraft statue is not unique in courting controversy. I lay no claims to being an expert on art but in 2019 I was historical consultant and part of the committee to commission a publicly funded statue of Nancy Astor which was not been without its political controversies to say the very least! Similarly, in February 2019, London rejected a statue of Margaret Thatcher for fear it would be vandalised and only after some debate was it agreed that the statue would instead be erected in her home town of Grantham. What is it about women? Statues of controversial men, misogynists, racists and homophobes become part of the landscape with little comment. And all named. And all fully clothed. Focusing the onlookers attention on their achievements rather than their bodies.
However, the issue here is not Wollstonecraft but the representation; a tiny, naked, sliver figure with pert breasts and copious pubic hair atop a mass of female parts. I understand the intended message; this is a representation of ‘everywoman’ and not another figurative statue atop a plinth but couldn’t she at least have kept her clothes on? Hambling’s alleged comment that this tiny silver nude was a representation of the figure that we all [women] crave, really didn’t help.
Mary Wollstonecraft was an C18th tour de force, a philosopher and educationalist, the ‘Mother of Feminism’. Her work was overlooked for a century as her reputation suffered in life and after her death. She had an illegitimate child, suffered mental health issues resulting in a suicide attempt before her death in childbirth age 38. It was Wollstonecraft’s disreputable lifestyle and the fumbling but well intentioned biography written by her husband William Godwin that resulted in her work being overlooked. So how would she feel about the nude? The plinth clearly states ‘for Mary Wollstonecraft’ but does that matter? It is still another naked woman. Women are more than the sum of their bodily parts and whether or not we perceive that this to be a figurative image, it still misses the point. Why couldn’t she have kept her clothes on?
Wollstonecraft never wrote an autobiography or asked for a statue. However, this statue should represent an important milestone in the development of a language of equality and feminism. Mary Wollstonecraft was not ‘everywoman’, she was exceptional. The statue might well be outdoors but is it really accessible to all? That said, if this statue has done one thing it has brought together feminists of all persuasions in condemnation leaving us asking the question – does this commemoration send the right messages or even ask any useful questions?
Dr Jacqui Turner is Associate Professor of Modern British Political History at the University of Reading. She is also the national programme manager for the Astor100 project and historical consultant for the Nancy Astor statue.
Hours ago, Ethiopia’s government carried out a military attack on Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern state. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed alleges this is in response to an earlier strike by the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), although this has yet to be substantiated. A state of emergency has been declared in the region for six months. The government has shut down electricity, phone lines and internet in Tigray, and flights to the region by national carrier Ethiopian Airlines have been stopped. Reports suggest forces have been deployed on both sides to the Tigray-Amhara border. Wondimu Asamnew, a senior TPLF official, said on Tuesday night: ‘[Military mobilisation is] not child’s play. It can trigger all-out war… I can assure you we are capable of defending ourselves’.
Is all out civil war approaching?
Quite possibly. Tigray has a remarkable history of popular mobilisation (see below) and has its own well-trained and supported militia. Ethnic division has been escalating in Ethiopia over the past months and there is real potential that any direct conflict in Tigray could spill out into the rest of the country.
What is the tension all about?
To answer this, we need to look back nearly thirty years. Following decades of armed struggle and populist revolution, in 1991 the Tigray People’s Liberation Front united regional liberation groups in Ethiopia and led the way to victory over the oppressive Derg regime. The newly established and progressive federation centralised the governance of Ethiopia in an extraordinary transethnic coalition, promising regional groups the right to self-determination and secession.
The future looked bright, but the reality disappointed. Today, Ethiopia is still plagued by ethnic political division, with the appointment of Abiy Ahmed failing to deliver hopes of a more balanced and representative government. Tigrayans have protested against their marginalisation and alienation by Ahmed’s ruling party, claiming the Prime Minister has reversed the political reforms he initially introduced. Ahmed, facing criticism from a number of sides including his own Oromo ethnic group, indefinitely postponed the August 2020 elections on account of the pandemic. In response, Tigray recalled their federal representatives from Addis Ababa and held their own elections in September, with the TPLF securing 189 of 190 seats.
Rhetoric has been intensifying ever since, with both sides mobilising in anticipation. The military offensive against Tigray earlier today, however, is the first indication that direct conflict is imminent.
Why this matters:
As the world turns its gaze to the U.S. to await the election results, an overly Western-centric lens can only obscure the crisis emerging in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia has been fighting to combat the legacy left by the Western media of its 1983 famine, proving itself to be a remarkable country of progressivism and ingenuity. Its multi-ethnic Federation had the potential to be a ground-breaking example of unity and popular representation of ethnically diverse peoples, sadly clouded by those who misused their position for individual political gain. Further descent into conflict risks unravelling this political legacy of an extraordinary liberation war led by the people, who took a deeply divided country and built a nation.
As both sides continue their preparations for what is to come over the next few days and weeks, we can but watch and wait.
Francesca Baldwin is PhD research student at the University of Reading. Her doctoral project researches the complex narratives of female combatants in the TPLF during the Civil War, and their post-conflict experiences.
It is very hard to miss the fact that Saturday 31st October is Halloween, and that this year the date coincides with a full Moon. Still more unusually this full Moon will be acclaimed as a ‘Blue Moon’ since it is the second to fall in the same month (the previous one being Thursday 1 October). This is a very rare combination since Halloween falls at full Moons only roughly every twenty years (the last occasion was 2001 and the next will be 2039). Blue Moons are also scarce, with the most recent one being March 21st 2018. However, Blue Moons can also be the third of four full moons to occur in a single season. Here a season is the period between a solar solstice and equinox. The next ‘seasonal’ Blue Moon will be August 22, 2021. All this may suggest that Halloween has a special relationship to both the solar and the lunar calendars – but in fact that is very hard to prove.
The name Halloween itself has nothing to do with the Sun or the Moon, since it is simply a contraction of All Hallows Eve. This derives from the fact that Halloween is the evening and night before the Christian festival of All Hallows, or All Saints. That festival was placed on 1st November from the eighth century onwards and therefore Halloween fell on 31st October. What is much less clear is why this pair of dates was chosen. In the early middle ages a feast day celebrating all martyrs was held soon after Easter, and from the seventh century was replaced by a date in May, originating in Rome. This fell close to, though not at, the pagan Irish feast of Beltane, whilst the new date for All Saints coincided with the date of Samhain, the feast marking the onset of Winter. Since the new timing was first recorded in Anglo Saxon England, where the Venerable Bede was working hard to reduce the influence of Celtic Christianity on matters such as the date of Easter, it is worth looking at the information Bede offers.
Bede noted that the pagan Anglo Saxons called October ‘Winter fills’ and November ‘Blood Month’. He regarded the first as self-explanatory but explained that the blood spilt in November was that of cattle, slaughtered before the onset of winter and dedicated to pagan gods in unspecified rituals. Therefore, if Bede’s evidence about Anglo-Saxon paganism is put together with surviving information about Samhain then the night between October and November emerges as one in need of purging of pagan significance. Like Beltane, it also falls at a point midway between two key points in the solar calendar. While Beltane falls between the Spring equinox and the Summer solstice, Samhain – and thus Halloween – falls midway between the Autumn equinox and the Winter solstice. This makes Halloween, like Mayday, a seasonal festival as well as one located at a transitional point of the solar year.
However, none of this links Halloween to the full Moon – or even the lunar calendar. The astronomical event which falls at Halloween is (or more accurately used to be) the midnight culmination (or highest point in the sky) of the star cluster of the Pleiades. In the medieval period this took place at the start of November; and Roman writers had emphasised the importance of the Pleiades in marking the transition of the seasons.
What links Halloween most strongly to the Moon is their shared association with beliefs about the supernatural and about foretelling the future. Traditions about using the lunar calendar to make predictions about coming events were passed from the classical world to medieval Europe and were accepted by the Christian Church. Prognostic texts known as Lunaries gave the necessary information and were copied into manuscripts containing both medical and liturgical information. The day and night of the full Moon were propitious times for starting new phases of life, such as getting married or going to school or university. But these predictions worked for any lunar month, not only the one containing Halloween!
This takes the enquiry back to the shared theme of the supernatural, and to ghosts and witches in particular. From the early middle ages there were fears that ghosts and spirits were able to return to earth and do harm to people, animals and crops, at liminal times – and at Halloween in particular. This made the lighting of fires and candles, and the protective ringing of church bells, important on this night. Gifts of food were also offered, either directly to the souls of the dead or as alms in exchange for prayers. By the sixteenth century an additional supernatural threat had been added to the perils of the night, as growing fears about witches led to beliefs that witches were especially powerful and likely to cause harm on that night. The medieval idea that witches were both in league with the devil and worshippers of the pagan deity, Diana, goddess of the Moon, perhaps provides the final link in this long chain of associations.
The memorably named Burchard of Worms compiled his Corrector in the early eleventh century and it included a text which was to be very influential. This banned pagan traditions relating to the worship of the Moon and to rituals at new Moon and lunar eclipses. It went on to condemn those who believed that ‘the witch, Hulda’ rode on the backs of animals on special nights (which are not named) together with a throng of demons disguised as women. Equally outlawed were the women who believed that they flew at night on the backs of animals, riding with Diana, swooping around the world and obeying the demonic commands of the goddess. The text does not state whether Halloween was one of these special nights, nor whether a full Moon made the goddess and her followers especially powerful, although it is open to that interpretation. But its terrifying details played a major part in the development of medieval and early modern ideas about witches. When combined with the Christian idea that the period from Halloween to All Souls (also known as Hallowmass) was crucial for maintaining a positive relationship between the living and the dead it helps to explain the power of the night between 31st October and 1st November, and why a full Moon might be significant.
You can find out more about Professor Anne Lawrence-Mathers and her work at the university of Reading here
Anne was a guest on BBC Radio Berkshire on Friday 30th October discussing Halloween!
Her book Medieval Meteorology argues that there was significant ongoing study of meteorology and weather in the early middle ages.
CONTENT WARNING: This post may contain voices, images or names of people who have died.
*Note, throughout this article we use the terms Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. This term was chosen specifically due to the naming conventions of the tribes focused on within this article. It is not meant to be disparaging or hurtful in anyway.
As a child growing up in the eighties in rural Florida, I had an unusual collection of stuffed animals consisting of kangaroos, koalas, and even an echidna thanks to an Australian family friend. I also had very little access to television. I can still remember the channels, all four of them, with most of my ‘tv time’ spent watching educational shows on PBS (the Public Broadcasting Station). One of my families’ favourites being Wild America with host Marty Stouffer as he explored the lands and animals found in North America. Our family friend had a son my age. While I was watching Marty, he was watching The Bush Tucker Man hosted by Les Hiddin’s, an ex-Army soldier and war veteran.
In The Bush Tucker Man, Les’ travels around Australia’s Northern Territories showing edible wild foods and often discusses Aboriginal peoples and their extensive knowledge of, what is arguably, their backyard. As a white man, Les’ respect and admiration for the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples comes through loud and clear, both then and now. Perhaps even more so since most white Aussies had little to nothing to do with their aboriginal neighbours and when they did, it often ended in disaster for the aboriginals. At the time of The Bush Tucker Man, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had only been allowed to vote in Australia for less than twenty years (1965) and had not been included in the census counts (or subject to Commonwealth laws) until 1967. The population was also small, only around 175,000, barely 0.012 per cent (out of 14.69 million). Considering these points, it’s no wonder than many Australians either didn’t have a good opinion of or more accurately, didn’t even consider, the Aboriginals in their daily life.
Understanding why means taking a look back on a tumultuous history of forced resettlements, mass murder, and racism, but we’ll start small, with one young man named Galmarra (aka Galmahra). Born around 1833, in New South Wales to the Wonnarua Aboriginal Tribe, Galmarra was a guide under the employee of the Surveyor-General’s Department of the State of New South Wales during Edmond Kennedy’s fatal expedition to the Cape York Peninsula in 1848. Just fifteen-years old, Galmarra, led the thirteen-man team into the unexplored region of Queensland even though he had never left his home in NSW before and was unfamiliar with the area. The team travelled over 1,000 kilometers up and down steep mountains, through dense tropical jungles, and hostile Aboriginal territories. By the end of the expedition, only Kennedy and Galmarra himself were able to continue on, but thirty-kilometers from their destination, the pair were attacked. Kennedy took a spear to the gut and Galmarra carried him until he died. Galmarra finished the trek alone arriving ten-days later at the supply ship. He’d had no supplies. He led an expedition looking for the members of the team he and Kennedy had left behind at various points, but only two were alive. The three men were returned to Sydney several months later. He had survived, but at what price?
Galmarra, however, was not what Kennedy and the other members of team called this brave young man. They called him Jackey Jackey, a dismissive slang term often used by white Australians to deny the Aboriginals their personal identity. When called this by another Aboriginal, the term denoted a collaborator to the colonial powers and meant that the person had been complicit in their own people’s dispossession. Yet it was this very name that was etched into a silver breast plate the Governor of New South Wales, Charles Augustus FitzRoy commissioned in honour of Galmarra’s bravery in early 1851. In addition to the plate, £50 was placed into trust at the local bank under his name (close to £80,000 today). Neither were actually received by Galmarra. Instead, Galmarra faded into obscurity and three years later (1854), at the tender age of twenty-one, he fell into a fire on an overland journey near Albury and died. He’d supposedly been drinking, something Captain T. Beckford Simpson (captain of the Ariel) noted he was fond of during the retrieval of Kennedy’s body. He’d gone from hero to heartbreak in just three years.
Unfortunately, Galmarra’s story is not unusual in its tragic ending. Last year The Guardian did a piece on “The Killing Times”, a period of 140 years (1794 – 1928) where British soldiers, Australian police, and white settlers performed over 270 state-sanctioned frontier massacres resulting in the deaths of thousands. Gippsland squatter, Henry Meyrick, wrote to his family in England in 1846 saying:
The blacks are very quiet here now, poor wretches. No wild beast of the forest was ever hunted down with such unsparing perseverance as they are. Men, women and children are shot whenever they can be met with … I have protested against it at every station I have been in Gippsland, in the strongest language, but these things are kept very secret as the penalty would certainly be hanging.
The primary reasons for the killings? Retaliation for the deaths of settlers (up until the early 1900s), their cattle (at least 51 of the attacks), or for land. I think this strikes close to home for me, a white woman from Florida, because the area I grew up in the early 1980s still had a very active Klu Klux Klan. Hangings were something you read about in the history books for most people, but in my area, it was something to be, if not actively feared, then definitely conscious of. Twenty-years earlier the Civil Rights Movement made such acts illegal in the U.S. and likewise in Australia, where, in 1967 (after a ten-year campaign), the Australian government finally added a referendum to the Australian Constitution to include the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. The Indigenous Land Rights Movement also gained momentum during this period with legal battles for Aboriginal people to maintain possession of land they had lived on since the beginning of their history. Most of the battles were due to mineral rights such as the Yirrkala mission in Arnhem Land, Lake Tyers in south western Victoria, and the Gurindij strikers in the Northern Territory.
Today, closer to 3.3% of the population is listed as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (just under 800,000). One would think the changing times would have brought progression and understanding, but the history of the Aboriginal people, their interactions with the white colonists, and the current political climate hasn’t changed as much as one would hope. While the 1980s and 90s saw verbal promises by the Australian government to recognize the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (the “Barunga Statement” and the Mabo Agreement), those same promises never seemed to bear fruit and though the 2007 creation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) could have been a catalyst for change around the world, initially the United States, Australia, and New Zealand all voted against it. A large part of the problem is semantics. UNDRIP states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired,” but Australian law says land ownership must be proven, something almost impossible due to Australia’s own history of forced relocation and resettlement. Other concerns revolve around perceived unacceptable cultural practices with governmental policies making “welfare payments conditional on school attendance, compulsory health checks on children, abolition of Community Development Employment Projects, alcohol bans and new restrictions regarding Indigenous culture, custom and law. Many children were also removed from their families, bringing back memories of Stolen Generations,” those children who were forcibly removed from their families and adopted into white communities in the 1960s and 1970s, some 20,000 of which were alive in 2018 when the government formally apologized. A 1997 report estimated that one in three children were forcefully removed to institutions and foster care, many suffering abuse and neglect.
For a community that is still not formally recognized by the Australian constitution, there are little legal options. Their voices are not heard or acknowledged by the Australian government and this makes any form of relationship difficult at best.
Sol Bellear, a former rugby league player for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Aboriginal rights activist told The Guardian in 2017 that “things should be so much better for Aboriginal people. I think the country saw 1967 as the end of the fight…before 1967, we weren’t counted in the census or anything as people. Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people.”
Some terrifying social justice numbers have come to light in the past few years, including the one that equates Indigenous incarceration rates in Australia today to matching those in apartheid South Africa with Indigenous rates being 15 times the age-standardised non-Indigenous rates or the federal government cutting $534-million to Commonwealth-funded Indigenous programs. These are the not-so-subtle points, the more insidious aspects are found in the fields of medicine where institutionalised racism can be found with health care workers making assumptions on a person’s living style based on them being Aboriginal. Even in the world of museums we find issues, such as the 2013 Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act which was passed mostly due to pressure from the British Museum. The law prevents claims from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owners of items on loan to Australia from the British Museum’s Indigenous collection, some 6,000 pieces just like the silver breast plate given, not to Galmarra, but to a museum and eventually to the State Library of New South Wales where it has been in residence since 1966.
In Aboriginal mythology, the world and everything around and on it was created during a period called The Dreaming. The goal of this living system is to reproduce itself through a balanced relationship with all of its parts by being aware of each other and acting morally towards one another. As the Wonnarua Aboriginal Nation, of which Galmarra was a member, states “the land held the key to life’s secrets. Man was given the knowledge to read the land and for every rock, tree and creek he found an explanation for existence. He did not own the land, the land owned him.” We should all try and remember such a fundamental concept.
For Galmarra, perhaps if he had been shown the connection between all of us his fifteen-minutes of fame might not have broken him. Having someone to talk to about what was most likely PTSD from surviving the massacre of the Kennedy expedition might not have sent him to the bottle and his untimely death. Galmarra’s story is a sad tale but one that highlights and brings to focus so many different issues we prefer to ignore. However, to hide our heads in the sand is an inexcusable practice. Like the 2018 apology we must sit up, steel ourselves for some unpleasantness and acknowledge that we messed up. Galmarra is just one of thousands of forgotten voices and it’s time that their stories came to light; time he stepped back into the national spotlight and reclaimed the right of his name and his heritage, so let’s give it to them. Let us remember what he and dozens of others did, their service for both their country and their people and the world. Let us give all the Galmarra’s not just a voice, but a hand. Let us give them back their culture and identity and make reparations beyond ‘I’m sorry’, because words can only take you so far.
It is up to each and every one of us to be aware of and act morally towards each other. To be good neighbours. Only then can change truly take place.
Allam, L., & Evershed, N. (2019, March 3). The killing times: the massacres of Aboriginal people Australia must confront. Retrieved from The Guardian: ttps://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/mar/04/the-killing-times-the-massacres-of-aboriginal-people-australia-must-confront
Nugent, M. (2015). Jacky Jacky and the politics of Aboriginal Testimony. In S. Konishi, M. Nigent, & T. Shellam (Eds.), Indigenous Intermediaries: New Perspectives on Exploration Archives (pp. 67-84). Canberra, Austalia: ANU Press.
Tamisan Latherow is a PhD student at the University of Reading’s School of Agriculture, Policy and Development researching Women’s Participation in the British Agricultural Community in the Second World War. Members of the WLA and Women’s Institute who wish to participate in her research should contact her at: email@example.com.