The Stenton Lecture and Symposium 2016


Thursday 17th November marks the date of this year’s Stenton Lecture which is preceded by the Stenton Symposium.

What is the Stenton Lecture?

The Stenton lecture is an annual lecture by an eminent historian, hosted by the Department and held in honour of its founders, Sir Frank and Lady Stenton, both of whom were responsible for building the reputation of the University of Reading as a centre for historical excellence.

The Stenton Lecture: ‘Britain’s Wars with France, 1793-1815 and their Contribution to the Consolidation of its Industrial Revolution’, Patrick K. O’ Brien (LSE and Saint-Antony’s College Oxford)

6.30-8.00pm, Henley Business School G11.

In 2015, Britain has been celebrating the 200th anniversary of its decisive victory over Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. When they consider the costs incurred to wage 22 years of warfare historians find little to celebrate and much to deplore about the burdens these wars placed upon society. My lecture will argue that their post hoc, liberal and negative appraisal of these final wars against the “old enemy” is entirely misplaced. Economic if not social progress was if anything strengthened and consolidated by the engagement in warfare. Britain’s famous and precocious transition to become the world’s First Industrial Nation was promoted by the French Revolution.


The Stenton Symposium: ‘War and economy, 1688-1815’

2.00-5.00pm, Henley Business School G03.

Preceding Patrick O’Brien’s lecture on Thursday is the Stenton Symposium which considers the theme of war and ecomomy between the late-seventeenth and early-nineteeth centuries.  The speakers are:

  • Dr Richard Blakemore (University of Reading), Warfare and labour at sea, 1580-1730
  • Dr Helen Paul (University of Southampton), tbc
  • Dr Aaron Graham (UCL), War and economy in the West Indies during the 18th century
  • Prof. Sylvia Marzagalli (Institut Universitaire de France), Coping with maritime warfare: merchants’ strategies and United States neutrality (1793-1812)
  • Dr Patrik Winton (University of Uppsala), The consequences of the Swedish default in 1812 and the Danish monetary reforms in 1813



Further details of both the Stenton Lecture and the Stenton Symposium can be found via the History department’s pages.

Attendance to the Stenton Lecture is free but registration is required.  Bookings can be made at, or you can contact (or 0118 378 6718).

Attendance to the Stenton Symposium is also free, but please confirm by email to Prof Joel Felix (or 0118 378 7336).

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A Recipe for Tudor Jumbals à la GBBO

by Dr Ruth Salter

As you may be aware that this year the University’s team responsible for MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] and the history department, headed by Prof Kate Williams, have been working closely on an exciting venture.  Along with colleagues in Food and Nutritional Science and Historic Royal Palaces, we have been involved in the creation of a new MOOC called A History of Royal Food and Feasting.

Phillip II of Spain and his court enjoying 16th century royal hospitality in Alonso Sanches Coelho, The Royal Feast, 1579.

As the first two weeks of this five-week course on royal feasting focus on food in the royal courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, we were understandably excited to see the Great British Bake Off hosting a ‘Tudor Week’.  With the first outing for Royal Food and Feasting in Summer 2016 being a huge success, and the second run beginning on 31st October (there’s still time to join), the Bake Off’s Tudor Week couldn’t have come at a better moment – clearly everyone loves a bit of historical baking! So we were particularly excited to hear that the bakers would be tackling the making of jumbals in their technical challenge.


But what are jumbals? Well, jumbals, or jumbles, are sweet, spiced biscuits, popular because they could keep for long periods of time. They were often twisted into knots or pretzel shapes to make them easier to bite into: it is thought that the word ‘jumble’ derives from the Arabic word for twin.

So, do you fancy your chances at making jumbals worthy of the Bake Off tent?

Would Mary and Paul approve of your jumbals?!

If you are interested in making your own jumbals, and trying your hand at some Tudor baking, then you might be interested in the following recipe card, created for week 2 (Elizabethan week) of the Royal Food and Feasting MOOC.

Please feel free to share images of your creations with us, and the MOOC team, on Twitter!  You can find us @UniRdg_History, and the MOOC Team @UniRdg_OOCs.



To show that it can be done, here are some pictures of the MOOC teams jumbals which they made yesterday in time for Bake Off.  Do share your attmept with us on Twitter, we’d love to see them!
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Call For Papers: ‘Complaints and Grievances, 1500-1750’, 10th-11th July 2017

We are delighted to issue a call for papers for Reading University’s biennial Early Modern Studies Conference, ‘Complaints and Grievances, 1500-1750’ (10th-11th July 2017).

There will be three strands running through the conference:

  • medical grievances
  • literary complaints
  • political/religious grievances


The keynote speaker is Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen (Leiden), talking about affliction and consolation in early modern England.

See below for further information on submitting paper proposals for the conference, and particularly the strand for medical grievances:






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My ‘Changing Roles of Women in India’ placement: Panjab University, Chandigarh

By Sapheena Garcha

So you would think when you arrive in India, in the height of Summer, that you would be greeted with intense heat and glaring sun, right? Wrong! Well partially wrong at least, I touched down in Chandigarh Airport (following a 3hr layover at Indira Gandhi International, New Delhi) and ran to seek cover in arrivals during a monsoon downpour (at 32 degrees to be precise.) I  then made my way to Panjab University, Chandigarh, where I met the rest of the students I would be studying with on the ‘Changing Roles of Women in India’ course; and surprise, surprise not a single boy in sight on a women’s studies course!

Our first full day was spent with an inaugural session alongside mini-lectures from the Vice-Chancellor, departmental professors, as well as the Deputy British High Commissioner. We were given a background of the University, as well as a more general overview of Chandigarh (which is the capital of both Panjab and Haryana).

Saph 1.4

I was most taken aback by the popularity surrounding our arrival, we had the pleasure of meeting some of the most esteemed professors of the University, as well as countless photographers for both local and national media outlets, including the Times of India!

Saph 1.6

Following a full day of lectures, we were treated to an evening trip to the famous Rock Garden, created using scrap materials by former Indian official Nek Chand. I have to say this was one of my favourite trips we did in Chandigarh!

The next day we were thrown into another day of lectures, and there was one in particular that I enjoyed. Pam Rajput was the founder of the department which we were studying in, and her lecture was based on the general gender Issues in India, a topic I found especially useful to incorporate into my Masters dissertation! We also spent the afternoon in our first Hindi and Punjabi Class – this was an experience to say the least. I am quite lucky since I have an understanding of Punjabi, but it was interesting to see the similarities as well as the differences with Hindi.


Saph 1.9

The evening was spent at Sukhna Lake and its Peace Garden, which were both breath-taking sights, and despite the heat we still managed to walk along the side of the lake and take some ‘Facebook worthy’ photographs!

Saph 1.10

As you can probably see, the first few days were certainly the ‘settling in period’. My next post will include details of the field visits, research and the overall educational experience that I encountered during my first few days at Panjab University!

Saph 1.11


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My Heritage/Museum Placement with the Humbolt University in Berlin: Juchowo Farm, Radacz and Szczecinek

By Lisa Berry-Waite

By now we were over halfway through the excursion and travelled to Poland where we spent the remaining half of the trip. This was the part I was most excited about having never visited the country before. After a short cycle and three trains later, we reached Poland and set out on our two hour cycle to Juchowo farm where we were staying that night. It had rained heavily and, as we were camping that night, it was fair to say nobody was looking forward to it. Luckily when we arrived at Juchowo there were still some rooms available to stay in, saving us from having to camp out in the rain!

The farm was very picturesque with a great lake next to it, and even an old vodka factory. This part of Poland is famous for its vodka, with the locals claiming it tastes far better than the Russian spirit. On arrival we had a presentation about the different projects happening at the farm. For instance, it offers apprenticeships for disabled people to improve their skills and employability, in addition to hosting school visits. Next to where we stayed were the ruins of a German castle which were destroyed in the Second World War.  I learnt that the Polish community have left the ruins untouched due to superstitions; the site is filled with German history and therefore it has been agreed that it should be left as it is.

The following day we cycled to the next village called Radacz which had the most beautiful church. The village also had a large number of houses where workings during the time of the Soviet Union would live. Cycling through the countryside I noticed that, unlike Germany, which is known for its vast number of windmills, Poland has relatively few.  I didn’t see one during my time in Poland. This is because the country does not have the capital to build them and foreign investors, by law, cannot buy land in Poland to build them on.

Lisa 5.3

In the afternoon we had a tour around Juchowo farm and saw a calf that had only been born ten minutes before we arrived, learning that within thirty minutes she would be walking. The farm was primarily a dairy farm, with milking beginning at 4am every day! However, it also grew a variety a grains. The farm is paramount for the local population as it employs around 80% of the community. Without the farm providing employment for so many people, most of the inhabitants would be forced to move to the cities to find work.

Lisa 5.4

After this we went on another cycle to take in the views and came across wild blueberries next to a lake in Silno. This part of Poland is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Here we found a local shop that sold Russian ice cream which was interesting to try, I’d diffidently recommend it! The evening was spent discussing our interpretations of Juchowo over dinner, with everyone agreeing on its importance to the local community.

On our last day of the excursion we were greeted with blues skies and set off to Szczecinek (around a two hour cycle away) to start our journey back to Berlin. The train station at Szczecinek hasn’t been altered since the time of the Soviet Union, therefore wondering through it did feel like going back in time. I was told by Leonore that there isn’t the funds to modernise the train station. After four very crowded trains, we made it back to Berlin. Here I said my goodbyes to both Leonore and the Humbolt students, thanking them for a lovely time and especially for their constant translations during the excursion!

Lisa 5.7

It’s safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time during the excursion. It was incredibly interesting witnessing both Germany’s and Poland’s history and culture first hand, instead of simply reading about it in books. Visiting the different museums, heritage sites and rural areas has given me a better understanding of how different countries portray their history and heritage to the public and how World War Two in particular still effects society today in these countries. As it was my first time abroad by myself, this experience has diffidently made me a more confident person and I’m looking forward to meeting Leonore again when she visits MERL for her research in November.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to MERL for this opportunity, in particular Ollie Douglas and Mathew Binks for organising this placement and of course Leonore and her students for welcoming me into their group and making my time abroad so enjoyable.

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My Heritage/Museum Placement with the Humbolt University in Berlin: Gartz and Prenzlau

by Lisa Berry-Waite

The first day of my work excursion was spent mostly travelling from Berlin to our guesthouse in a hamlet near the German town of Prenzlau.  I met Leonore at the train station along with four students, and a few other lecturers, from the Humbolt University.

After two trains, we set out on our three hour cycle to our guesthouse that evening. The countryside was beautiful and poppies lined the roads. At one point we even came across a farm selling fresh cherries; they were delicious! However, it decided to rain for most of the journey which I must admit wasn’t the best start to the excursion!

Lisa 4.1

Thankfully the following day we were greeted with blue skies and cycled to Gartz in Brandenburg, close to the Polish border. We visited the church in the town’s centre; half of which had been destroyed by a fire during the Second World War. The church has been restored since the war and, with its red and black bricks, is typical of north German architecture.

After we left the church we visited the Ackerburg museum which detailed the history of the local area, particularly the effects of World War II. A third of the town died during the war; visiting an area where you can witness first-hand the effects of the war is certainly very moving. The population today is still considerably small compared to what it once was, with locals attributing this to the Second World War. Sadly I learnt that Ackerburg museum may have to close soon due to lack of funding from the council. This is a problem that many local museums in England also face, and to see the similarity here demonstrates the extent of this issue on a wider level.

Interestingly, this area is well known for its tobacco growing in the period after the thirty years war, and tobacco sheds can still be seen there today.

Lisa 4.4

The river Oder, which separates Germany and Poland, also runs through Ganz. The area surrounding the river was heavily developed by Prussian kings between the 17th and 19th centuries, however today the area faces many problems. I learnt that it is difficult for Poland and Germany to work together in this region despite a lot of the Ganz population commuting over the river Oder to Poland for work. Funding issues for joint projects is the main reason behind this, with Ganz being relatively poor in comparison to the east side of the Oder, which is far more prosperous. My favourite part of the day by far was climbing up the viewing tower which overlooks the Oder; the view was wonderful and you could see for miles.

Lisa 4.5

The following day we went to the German town of Prenzlau. Filled with medieval history, we started the day by visiting the Kulturhistorisches museum which was previously a Dominican Monastery.  Built in the In use until 1544, it is considered one of the most exceptional medieval monasteries in northern Germany. Having a museum in an old monastery was incredibly interesting; it was great getting to see the interior of it. Although the majority of the exhibitions were in German with a few translated into Polish as well (seeing as we were so close to the Polish boarder), I still enjoyed wondering around it.

Lisa 4.6

One item I saw on display that caught my eyes was a pair of severed human hands. Asking one of the German students to translate the label underneath for me, he explained that the hands belonged to a previous mayor of Prenzlau who betrayed the city in 1425.

A medieval wall, which previously protected its population from attack, also surrounded the city.  Built in 1287, there were originally around 60 fortified houses within the wall, 4 town gates, 2 wall gates, and 2 wall towers with the wall stretching 2,600 metres. The remains of the wall, and some of the fortified houses, have been restored.

Lisa 4.7

In addition to this, we visited St Mary’s Protestant Church which was built in 1235 and was the first hall church in north eastern Germany. From the 20th – 22nd of December 1632, the body of King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, who had fallen in battle near the city of Lutzen during the Thirty Years War, was laid out in church before being accompanied by his wife, Marie Elonore, to Stockholm for burial. The church was huge and visitors could climb right to the top to see the view from the lookout viewpoint, in addition to the church bells.

It’s safe to say that Prenzlau was the perfect town to visit for any medievalist, the architecture was beautiful and not something I’ve really seen before with the style being so different to England. The emphasis that the town placed on restoration work was evident; visiting Prenzlau was certainly one of my favourite days of the excursion.

Look out for my next blog post where we travel to Juchowo farm and explore the Polish countryside, along with picturesque views and a lot more cycling!

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Could Foreign Policy be Trump’s Winning Card? History Seems to Suggest So.

By Dr Mara Oliva

Now that the conventions are over, it is time to look at the issues! In the next two thought provoking posts, Dr Mara Oliva looks at the role foreign policy has historically played in presidential elections and what it can tell us about the current race.

In December 2015, a Pew Research Center’s survey found that for the first time in years, national security rather than domestic economy was the leading concern of the American electorate. The poll had been taken a few weeks after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and specifically, terrorism was the issue that people were most concerned about. But just a month later, a new Gallup survey revealed that the economy was back up as a number one problem. 86% of Americans said the economy will be extremely or very important to their vote, a significantly higher percentage than any other issue. Concern about terrorism ranked high at 74% with foreign affairs further down the list at 61%.[1]

The truth is Americans rarely vote on foreign policy issues. And this election seems to be no exception, unless something dramatic happens leading up to November. As we heard from both Conventions in July, income equality, middle-class and upward mobility stagnation are America’s priorities. Yet, foreign policy could still play an important role and deliver some (upsetting) surprises.

Historically, foreign policy has often proved to be a winning card for the Republican party. In a threatening environment, Americans tend to elect the person that looks stronger and holds hawkish positions. They also tend to even more severely punish candidates perceived to be dovish. The GOP has been very successful in producing nominees who skilfully use a bold and sometimes aggressive rhetoric and project an image of competent leader. Democrats are often perceived as more inclined to support diplomacy, something not all Americans consider effective.

we like ike

In 1952, (similarly to today), a public weary of the burdens of shaping the international order, frustrated by a Democratic President (Truman) who did not seem to have a strategy for winning the Korean war (the death toll had reached 25,000 Americans), and anxious about the spread of a foreign ideology threatening the American way life, elected in a landslide GOP candidate and World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Combining his personal charm with his military experience, Ike presented himself as the perfect antidote to the corrupt and soft on Communist Truman Administration. Voters saw him as a strong leader who could get the US out of Korea and finally stand up to the Soviet Union.

The 1968 Presidential election was one of the most chaotic in American history. Though economy and civil rights played a key role for both parties, the renewed opposition to the Vietnam war, in light of the North Vietnamese Tet offensive, prompted Democratic President Johnson to announce that he was not running for re-election and left Democratic nominee Vice-President Hubert Humphrey with a problematic foreign policy legacy to defend, thus clearing the way for GOP candidate Richard M. Nixon. By promising a “honourable end to the war in Vietnam”, Nixon told the American people just what they wanted to hear.


Foreign policy proved to be the defeating issue for President Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid in 1980. Tensions between the US and the Soviet Union were high in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. By preaching for a more humble approach to foreign policy, Carter looked weak and hesitant. The Iran hostage crisis debacle made the American people question whether he was competent and strong enough. Republican candidate Ronald Reagan instead was bellicose and showed he was ready to be the next Commander-in-Chief.

time iran hostage crisis

Unlike Carter. President George W. Bush won his re-election in 2004 thanks to his successful foreign policy record. Americans saw him as a leader, someone who had led them in a war against terrorism and who had the respect of the military. The capture of Saddam Hussein reinforced this image and reassured people’s concerns over the situation in Iraq.

Can Donald Trump exploit the current international situation to his advantage like previous GOP candidates? This election might not be about foreign policy, but it is a referendum of Obama’s foreign affairs decisions. And Trump has been very good at capitalising on this so far. His proposals for foreign policy are, to say the least, controversial. From the nukes for Tokyo and Seoul to withdrawing support for NATO in favour of Putin’s Russia, he has even managed to alienate his own party moderate wing. In March 2016, 121 self-described members of the Republican National Security Community signed a public letter pledging to work against Trump’s election and blasting him as utterly unfit for the White House. As one of them put it, “He swings from isolationism to military adventurism in the space of one sentence.”[1]

trump chatting breeze

Yet, he has managed to grab the attention of a considerable number of Americans. Perhaps not so much because of what he says, but how he says it. His acceptance speech at the GOP National Convention in July took the rhetoric of fear to a whole new level. The speech (like his campaign strategy) revolves around three staples: 1) Fear, 2) Anger & 3) Hatred. Accuracy of facts is irrelevant. What counts is to make the electorate scared enough so that it sees no other choice but to vote for the more bellicose candidate. The breakdown is easy. FEAR: appeal to the American people’s emotions by telling them that the American way of life is in danger. ANGER: offer the public a culprit to blame, in this case President Obama and his corrupted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. HATRED: put America first by hating everything and everyone that does not embrace it and present yourself as the only candidate who will be strong enough, who will not indulge in academic-level diplomacy but would be ready to do whatever it takes to protect American lives. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton is stuck with Obama’s legacy and her four years as Secretary of State to defend.[1]

Will history repeat itself? Will fear prevail and push Americans to vote for the candidate that “seems” to be stronger? Hopefully not!


[1] CFR. org

[1] CNN, August 9, 2016

[1] Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy platform will be discussed in the next blog

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My Heritage/Museum Placement with the Humbolt University in Berlin: Sachsenhausen, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and The Typography of Terror

by Lisa Berry-Waite

On my third day in Berlin I decided to visit Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp which is a short train journey from Berlin. As I’m not the best at using public transport in foreign countries, I decided to book onto a tour, meeting again in Paris Square similar to the walking tour.

On the journey our tour guide (who had a very strong Liverpudlian accent) discussed the events that led to the rise of the Nazi Party and what the camp in Sachsenhausen was used for. Opening in 1936, it was used mainly for political prisoners, though there were also Jewish and homosexual prisoners that were kept there. Our tour guide explained that among the prisoners, there was a “hierarchy” with each type of prisoner distinguishable by the colour triangle they wore on their clothes. At the top were criminals (murderers), then Communists (red triangles), homosexuals (pink triangles), and Jews (yellow triangles). This was intended to stop the different groups coming together and rebelling against the camp commanders and guards.

Walking through the gate, emblazoned with ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’  (‘work sets you free’), into the camp was a surreal moment, especially as it was such a beautiful day; it was hard to believe thousands of prisoners were beaten and murdered on these grounds.

On 27 April 1945 the camp was liberated by advance troops of the Soviet army, and at the far end of the camp stands the Soviet Liberation Memorial to mark this.  Of the 30,000 prisoners who died at Sachsenhausen, the vast majority were Russian prisoners of war; and to mark this the Memorial contains eighteen red triangles as a symbol for those political (mainly communist) prisoners of the camp.

Lisa 3.3

Following this liberation, the camp was used by the Soviets (until 1950) and then the East German ‘Kasernierte Volkspolizei’, who were disbanded six years later.  In 1956 planning began to make the camp into a national memorial site; this was inaugurated in 1961.  Today the camp is open to the public as both a memorial and a museum.  Many of the buildings have survived or have been reconstructed including the guard towers, the camp entrance, crematory ovens, and the camp barracks. The museum contains artwork created by inmates, models of the camp, and documents and pictures that detail what camp life was like.  Artefacts belonging to the inmates are also on display for the public to view which of course was incredibly moving to see, as were the bunk-beds and toilets inside the barracks.

The most moving part of the visit was seeing the crematory ovens and execution trench. Seeing it in real life is, as you would imagine, completely different from reading about it in a text book. Nothing can quite prepare you for seeing something as terrible as this. Although I’m glad I visited Sachsenhausen, it was certainly quite an overwhelming day. However, I think it’s important that camps such as this one are open to the public to ensure that the horrific mistakes of the past do not repeat themselves.

After I got back to Berlin that day, I decided to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum situated under the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which I had visited the previous day. The personal stories of the Jews who were sent to concentration camps were told through the use of archive material which made their stories feel even more moving. In one part of the museum there was even a dark room where people’s personal experiences and letters were lit up on panels on the floor which I thought was a good way of engaging the public.

Lisa 3.8

The following day I visited The Typography of Terror. This museum was very different as it focused on archive material relating to Hitler and the Nazi. For instance, on display was the 1933 bill that prohibited the formation of any political party apart from the Nazi Party.

Lisa 3.9

It was incredibly busy in the museum and although there was a lot of information to read, the displays were very interesting to read. One part of the exhibition included a panel of different mug shots of those who had been arrested by the Gastarpo. Underneath were the details their ‘crime’ and the concentration camp they were sent to. One particular man I came across called Arthur L was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp for being a homosexual. Having visited this camp the previous day, this definitely made it feel more more real for me

The Berlin Wall was directly outside this museum, therefore on one side of the wall the exhibition continued with information panels consisting of photos and archival material relating to the rise of the Nazis. As it was so busy and I was running late to pick up my bike for the placement excursion, I didn’t get a chance to read a lot of this. However, I would definitely pay the Typography of Terror a visit if you’re ever in Berlin as it was my favourite museum.

Lisa 3.12

After this I made my way to a local bike shop where Leonore had made a bike rental reservation for me. As the excursion included a lot of cycling from place to place, it was paramount that I picked it up before the shop closed up at four! … However, one thing I’ve learnt during my time in Berlin is that I should never be trusted with a map. After getting incredible lost and panicking as it was almost four, a lovely German lady gave me directions and I made it on time. Though she didn’t speak a word of English, I managed to make out roughly what she was saying. Thank goodness I paid attention in German class when we were learning directions!

Having picked up my bike, I wanted to make the most out of my last evening in Berlin before I started my placement the next day. And what better way than by going on a river cruise! Here I passed Museum Island, the Reichstag, Martin Luther Bridge and many other buildings of significance. It was certainly a nice way to end my long weekend in Berlin. The rest of the night I spent packing ensuring I had everything ready for my placement the following day (and trying to brush up on my German.) Though my time in Berlin was quite hectic trying to fit everything in, the city has so much to offer and I will definitely be going back.

Look out for my next blog post where I begin my placement excursion and get to explore the beautiful medieval town of Prenzlau and cross over the river Oder to Poland.


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My Heritage/Museum Placement with the Humbolt University in Berlin: Exploring Berlin

by Lisa Berry-Waite


No matter what city you’re in, free walking tours are always a great way to explore. Therefore, on my first full day in Berlin, I began with one of these. Meeting the tour guide at Paris Square, next to the Brandenburg gate along with I found myself with around one hundred other eager tourists. Luckily we were split into far smaller groups, and began the tour looking at the history of Paris Square. Named after the French capital to honour the anti-Napoleon Allies’ occupation of Paris in 1814, it is one of the main tourist spots of the city.


With my tour group consisting of many solo twenty-something travellers, I got chatting to a few people and soon realised we were all staying in the same hostel; it was obviously the place to stay! With two Americans, one Canadian, one Australian and another fellow English traveller, we made an interesting bunch.


The tour carried on past the Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag which is situated behind it. This building with its iconic glass dome has a particularly interesting story. The dome has a 360 view of Berlin and construction work finished on it in 1999. It is open to the public to visit and looks down on the debating chamber of Parliament. This represents the transparency of the modern Parliament unlike during Nazi Germany. The government now answers to the people and can be looked on upon to ensure they are doing what’s best for the country.


Just down the road from the Reichstag is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by the New York architect Peter Eisenman and costing around $25 million (which the German government payed for), at first sight it seems like a rather odd memorial. It consists of around 2,700 concrete slabs, arranged in a grid like pattern. The tour guide explained that it’s supposed to be interpreted differently by each individual. However, the common interpretation is that is aims to create a confusing atmosphere, one where the supposedly ordered system has lost touch with human reason. Wondering through the memorial, I felt an odd type of sensation with it representing millions of Jews who were killed during WW2. The number is so huge, walking through it is quite overwhelming. Underneath the memorial there’s an information centre that tells the story of the Jews who were murdered. I visited the museum the following day (more on this in my next blog post.) This place was certainly a very surreal one, but one I would definitely recommend it. Each group who were murdered by the Nazi’s have their own memorial, however sadly I didn’t get a chance to see any others but I plan to on my next visit.

The next sight we saw was an odd one. We eagerly followed everyone to what appeared to be a rundown car park, only to find that Hitler’s bunker used to be directly underneath our feet. This is the where he took his own life at the end of the war. After the war the bunker was blown up by the Soviets to prevent Nazi extremists visiting it. The only way a passer-by would know the awful history of this car park was by a small panel that was erected in 2006 at the end of the car park. The panel shows the layout of the bunker, along with archive photos and a chronology in German and English. Standing on the very ground where Hitler committed suicide brought again a weird type of feeling which is hard to describe. Germany’s history is certainly monumental, but also devastating. You go through so many emotions from disbelief about what has taken place, to a quiet sort of sadness for terror that this beautiful city and its people have faced.



The Berlin Wall was something I was adamant on seeing before I visited Berlin, so when we came across it walking up the street from the carpark the first thing that came to mind was how out-of-place it looked. It is horrible to think that around 1,000 people died trying to escape to the West after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961 and stayed there until 1989. From here we walked to our final destination, Checkpoint Charlie which was one of the crossing points between West Berlin and East Berlin during the Cold War.

After this I made my way to the Humbolt University where I met Dr Leonore Scholz-Irrlitz for coffee, thankfully the tour guide gave me directions and I didn’t end up lost! Here we discussed the logistics of the placement which made me very excited about the upcoming excursion.

It’s safe to say that my second day in Berlin was a busy one! And what better way to end the day by having dinner at a Mexican with the friends I’d made on the walking tour. We’re all still in contact now which is really nice and plan on meeting again if we’re ever in the same city.


Look out for my next blog post where I discuss visiting Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and begin my placement excursion!

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The Democratic Convention

by Dafydd Townley

At this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Hillary Clinton will be officially declared as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. Despite the challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, it’s been a relatively easy affair. Clinton had the support of the majority of the superdelegates – the elected holders of office, the party leaders, and the Democratic members of the Senate and Congress. She appears to have the backing of the entire party and can plan ahead with confidence. Such confidence is usually reserved for incumbent presidents searching for re-election. Not so in the case of Lyndon Johnson in 1964.1964

Johnson had been John F Kennedy’s Vice President, and had assumed the office of the presidency under the 20th Amendment of the Constitution when Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. Bobby Kennedy, John’s brother, had been the Attorney General during his brother’s presidency and was extremely popular among the various officials of the Kennedy administration. As a result Johnson was severely worried about the possibility of Kennedy and his supporters performing a coup at the 1964 Convention. Such a coup would lead to Kennedy usurping Johnson as the Democratic candidate and ending Johnson’s long political career. Johnson, fearful of the additional concerns of radical elements within the Democratic Party who wanted a more militant and politically dangerous Civil Rights Bill, asked J Edgar Hoover for help.


Hoover and Johnson had been neighbours for a number of years in Washington, and both men shared a perverse interest in potentially harmful gossip. Johnson knew that Hoover was a potentially important weapon in maintaining his own political survival. He ingratiated himself with Hoover, telling him shortly after taking office ‘as far as I’m concerned, you’re my brother and personal friend. You have been for twenty-five to thirty years.’[1] Hoover obliged Johnson’s request not least because he disliked the Kennedy brothers, but because he was insecure in his position as Director of the FBI. Hoover was fast approaching mandatory retirement age for federal employees and knew that by agreeing to help Johnson he could avoid being forced into retirement.

Johnson was particularly worried about Martin Luther King’s influence on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The MFDP were claiming to be the legal delegates for Mississippi as the regular Mississippi Democratic only allowed whites to vote. Instead a deal was brokered by civil rights leaders and party members to nullify the Mississippi delegation’s vote. The MFDP were unhappy because it appeared as though the party was condoning segregated voting in Mississippi. The official Mississippi delegates refused to agree to any deal and almost all of them left the Convention.


Under the guise of being protection for the Johnson, the FBI sent agent Cartha DeLoach and a team of thirty agents to the Democratic Party’s National Convention in Atlantic City in August 1964 ‘at the direction of the president.’ Through a combination of informant coverage, infiltration of various groups, and by agents acting as reporters, the Bureau’s Special Squad gained information on the various rival groups to Johnson’s nomination. DeLoach reported back to Johnson by telephone with minute by minute update on the activities of Johnson’s potential opponents, while the agents also remained ‘alert to exploit opportunities for penetration of key dissident groups in Atlantic City and to suggest counter measures.’[2] As a result Johnson’s special advisers such as Walter Jenkins would be able to keep Johnson one step in front of the MFDP and other potential opponents.


DeLoach later told Special Assistant William Moyers that it was ‘a pleasure and privilege to be able to be of assistance to the President’ and that he had ‘only to call on us when a similar situation arises.’[3] When questioned about these activities by the 1975 Senate review of US intelligence agencies, the Church Committee, DeLoach maintained that such surveillance was essential to unearthing intelligence on possible violence and necessary to protect the president. Nonetheless, the warrantless surveillance and use of the FBI to undertake such a mission was unlawful and beyond its statutory remit, and a precursor of the Watergate affair. Johnson would later go on to again use the FBI to illegally investigate political opponents and dissident groups such as the anti-Vietnam war movement and the Ku Klux Klan. It’s unlikely that Hillary Clinton will need to any time soon.


[1] Lyndon Johnson to J Edgar Hoover, November 29, 1963, found in Michael R Bescholss (ed), Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-4, (New York, 1997), P58
[2] Cartha DeLoach to Mr Mohr, FBI Memorandum, August 29, 1964, found in United States Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Final Report together with additional, supplemental, and separate views, (S.Rpt. 94-755) [Hereafter referred to as Church Report] ‘Volume 6: The FBI’, (Washington: Government Printing Office, April 26, 1976) P623
[3] Cartha DeLoach to William Moyers, Letter, September 10, 1964, found in Church Report, ‘Volume 6: The FBI’, P510
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My Heritage/Museum Placement with the Humbolt University in Berlin: Starting Out

Lisa 1

by Lisa Berry-Waite

Back in May when exams were looming, like many third years I was beginning to think how I could utilise my summer to increase my chances of getting a job after university. As I would be graduating with a degree in History and Politics, and will be starting my MA in History this September, the summer seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain some more experience in heritage and museums, the area I want to go into. When I saw MERL were taking applications for a heritage/museum style placement with the Humbolt University in Berlin, I thought I would apply. I was successful and was very much looking forward to flying out to Berlin.

The placement was split into two different sections. The first was an excursion with students and lecturers from the Humbolt University and would involve travelling around a number of heritage sites in Germany and Poland; with the focus quite often being on agriculture, which I really enjoyed coming from a rural background.

The second half was a work placement in the Agrarmuseum Wandlitz (an agriculture museum) just outside of Berlin. Unfortunately, as I had a summer job lined up for the end of June, I was unable to fit this part of the placement into my trip. However, I will be flying out again to Berlin in November fingers crossed to finish the second half of it.

I decided to fly out early to Berlin to do some sightseeing before my placement and was amazed by the history of the city. I was able to visit a number of sites relating to WW2 including Sachsenhausen concentration camp and was completely moved by it, along with the Reichstag and Museum Island. Throughout my subsequent blog posts, you’ll be able to follow my trip and discover the adventures I experienced, from studying medieval architecture to cycling around the Polish countryside.

So look out for my upcoming blog series to discover what I got up to on my travels and the amazing places I was fortunate enough to visit.

Sightseeing in Berlin Day 1

I decided to fly out early to Berlin before my placement started to do some sightseeing having never visited Berlin before. Luckily my flight all went smoothly and, as soon as I reached my hostel, I headed out to explore the surrounding area having found out that Museum Island and the Berlin Cathedral were situated nearby.

Although it may sound like Berlin has a whole island dedicated to museums, it’s not actually an island much to my disappointment (though you do have to cross a bridge to get there). It first began being known as Museum Island in the late 1870s and has continued to be known as this ever since. It consists of five different museums which are absolutely huge and the architecture for each one is breath-taking. The Neues Museum caught my eye in particular with its ancient Egyptian exhibitions. Sadly I didn’t have time to go inside them but you can buy a ticket that gives you entry into all five of them, though you would diffidently need a whole day for that. I discovered that there have been discussions to connect the five museums through underground passages so visitors can spend more time looking at the exhibitions and less time walking from one museum to another which I thought was a good idea.

Lisa 4

Berlin Cathedral is also located on Museum Island this was one of my favourite buildings in Berlin, with it being a main work of Historicist architecture. The inside is just as incredible as the outside so I decided to take a pew for a while to soak it all in (sadly you weren’t allowed to take photos inside). I’d read before I came to Berlin that the dome of the cathedral has some of the best views of the city. The only downside to this was the 270 steps you had to climb. However, once I’d reached the top, the climb up was so worth it. The views were spectacular; you could see for miles. This was defiantly one of the highlights of my visit to Berlin.

Lisa 7

Underneath the cathedral is The Hohenzollern Crypt which is the most important dynastic sepulchre in Germany. What surprised me the most was the vast number of tiny crypts that were there, showing that even royalty had high infant mortality rates. Although this was certainly very interesting to see, it was slightly creepy as well.

After this I had to dash to a presentation at the Humbolt University where I met Dr Leonore Scholz-Irrlitz who was running the placement excursion along with a few other members of staff. This also gave me the chance to meet the German students who would be participating in the excursion.

Although I must admit I didn’t understand a lot of the presentation as it was, of course, in German and my German isn’t the best, it was good to get a better picture of what I would be doing over the next two weeks. Unfortunately I got a bit lost trying to get back to my hostel after the presentation, but Berlin at night was stunning. Walking through Museum Island just as the sun was setting diffidently made getting lost for 45 minutes slightly easier!

Lisa 8

On my way home just over the bridge from Museum Island I came across a bar that had an outside dance floor area. It turns out each evening in the summer there is a different type of dance on, from salsa to jive, you name it, and it’s there. It was such a good way to enjoy the summer evenings I thought with family and friends.

Overall, my first day in Berlin was a success. I managed to a fair bit in the short space of time I had after flying in that morning.

Look out for my next post where I got the chance to visit Checkpoint Charlie, The Holocaust Memorial, and the Berlin Wall, along with a number of other sites. See you soon!

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The Republican Convention

by Dafydd Townley

It’s Convention season! This is the time of year when national delegates get together at their respective party’s convention to officially nominate their candidate for the US Presidential election. First up is the Republican Party National Convention in Cleveland where Donald Trump will be nominated as a contentious candidate. The Ohio city has spent $50 million according to sources on security, mindful of the violence that has followed rallies supporting Donald Trump. The preparations have increased significantly following the deaths caused by policeman in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the sniper attack on policemen in Dallas. Usually the Conventions are incidents that are full of energy and celebration as delegates pledge their support for the Party’s candidate. But concerns have increased significantly that the Republican Convention could turn violent. It would have to go a long way to rival the aggression and protests that took place at the most violent convention in living memory – the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.



Illinois National Guardsmen outside the Conrad Hotel.


The 1968 Democratic Convention is famous for the battle of Michigan Avenue, when Chicago city police and Illinois National Guardsmen clashed with protestors. The scenes at the Convention were yet another indication of the violent nationwide schism that had manifested itself during the 1960s over the US involvement in the Vietnam War. The anti-war groups had lost their apparent leaders in Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Both men were assassinated in the months leading up to the Convention, and the peace movement had lost its rudder. By the time of the Convention the New Left and the political Left favoured peace candidate Eugene McCarthy. The incumbent President, Lyndon Johnson, had decided not to stand for re-election as the support of his party and the public turned against him. Instead, the establishment looked to Vice President Hubert Humphrey to be their candidate. By the time of the Convention neither candidate had a majority of delegates, which led to frantic behind the scenes dealing by Lyndon Johnson the Mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley.

When the Convention opened on August 26, 1968, the protestors had been in the city for several days and had already clashed with the heavy-handed city police. Daley had bragged that Chicago was ‘The City That Works’ and was adamant that no protests were going to ruin the Convention. However the fragmentation of the Democratic Party was unravelling before the nation. Over the four days of the Convention the supporters of Humphrey, McCarthy and Senator George McGovern of Dakota worked against each other to secure the nomination. In truth, there was little to challenge Humphrey who was Johnson’s preferred candidate, but the party was split on the issue of the future role of the US in the Vietnam War. But if it was organised chaos inside the Convention hall at the International Amphitheatre, it was pandemonium outside on the streets of municipal Chicago.

Chicago Democratic National Convention Protests
Chicago city policemen block the marching protestors on Michigan Avenue.

The protestors consisted mostly of the Yippies, the Youth International Party, and MOBE, National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. The Yippies, radical left wing students, had already held their own convention and voted a real pig, Pigasus, as their candidate. When he was paraded in the city centre, Pigasus and several Yippies were arrested by the police. This had set the tone for the relationship between the police and the protestors throughout the convention. The police, aided by helicopters with searchlights and loudspeakers, drove out approximately 3000 protestors from Lincoln Park on the night of August 27, injuring about 60 and arresting 140. Meanwhile close to the Conrad Hotel in Grant Park, protestors displeased with prospect of a continuance of the war shouted ‘Dump the Hump!’ As they marched towards the Convention they found that the hotel had been surrounded by National Guardsmen, armed with bayonets. Urged by Democrats to not engage the troops, the students dispersed peacefully.



Chicago policemen engaging the protestors.


The following day was a different matter. 15000 protestors convened for a MOBE event in Grant Park and were charged by police when a protestor lowered the American flag.  The rally continued after police left and the protestors marched again towards the Conrad Hotel and the Convention. This time the Chicago police were there to meet them. As the marchers chanted ‘The whole world is watching!’ the police fired tear gas into the crowd and charged, swinging their billy-clubs with alarming precision. The brutal and horrific police violence was broadcast all over the world indicating a total breakdown in law and order. Over 175 were arrested and more than 100 were injured. The tear gas was so dense that it wafted inside the hotel reaching the thirteenth floor apartment of Humphrey. Near midnight, amid the delegates’ condemnation of the police brutality outside, Humphrey was elected as the Democratic candidate. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party in the forthcoming election it was associated with the violence and chaos of the Chicago convention. In a decade where there had been social upheaval, assassinations and street protests, the Democrats failed to portray itself as a party of law and order. As a consequence Republican candidate and former Vice President Richard Nixon, who had promised to end the war in Vietnam, won the law and order debate that surrounded the 1968 presidential election.


Yippies with their presidential Pigasus.



Chicago police arrest Pigasus.



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Marriage, Motherhood and being an MP: the Long View

by Dr Jacqui Turner

The famous Harold Wilson misquote that a week is a long time in politics was an understatement last week, half an hour was a long time in politics. On Wednesday afternoon I had a coffee with a friend and returned to a new prime minister and the frenzy that surrounded Theresa May first as a woman and second as a politician about to take up the highest office in the land.  Sadly, the political debate on the short campaign for leader of the Conservative Party and PM remained thoroughly gendered with Andrea Leadsom falling on her sword after a torrid weekend of questions about motherhood. According to Leadsom, press questioning on the matter was persistent until she gave them the sound bite that they ran with.  We know that a male politician would never have been pressed so consistently over parenting and it is unlikely that his response would necessitate his resignation from any political contest. Leadsom’s forced resignation after an alleged ‘back ops’ smear campaign highlights yet again the media obsession with gender issues when women are involved. So is this anything new?  Ask Theresa May, Andrea Leadsom, Angela Eagle or other female MPs if they have faced discrimination in the House and the answer is invariably no.  Is this then just a media issue, feeding a society still often riven with different expectations of women in power?  Is it ever enough to be a good MP or are women consistently required to be a good female MP too and therefore more liable to be tripped up over questions of marriage, motherhood and kitten heels?  Is it enough to represent your constituency and your party or are you invariably seen as a representative for all women? It is interesting how little the questions have changed or how the media have reacted since the first women took their seats in parliament almost a century ago when Nancy Astor entered Parliament as the MP for all women.

The first woman took her seat in Parliament against a maelstrom of press comment that more than equalled the media attention given to Theresa May.  Press comment was intrusive, invariably hostile and focused on her marital status and dress.  Nancy Astor was elected to parliament for Plymouth Sutton at a by-election in November 1919 replacing her husband who had previously been MP (Waldorf Astor had been parliamentary private secretary to Lloyd George and was a progressive Conservative).  She stood as a Unionist candidate though many in the party had reservations, including the Unionist Party Chairman, Sir George Younger, who felt that ‘the worst of it is, the woman is sure to get in’. She did get in and on 1 December 1919 when she stood at the bar in the House of Commons, Astor’s words as she took the oath was the first time a female voice had been heard in the Chamber. The Chamber was not full but the Manchester Guardian reported that the proceedings generated a ‘flutter of altogether pleasant excitement’ though the Times reported a ‘tremendous breach in Parliamentary tradition.’

Marriage & Motherhood 1

Astor found her position lonely with many men openly hostile and refusing to acknowledge her presence.  She avoided arousing press comment on her clothing by adopting a uniform of a dark coat and skirt, white blouse and tudor or tricorn hat. Her obituary in the Times listed one of her achievements as she ‘set the style for her feminine colleagues in years to come’.  Astor faced a culture of insidious sexism and outright resentment as she spent almost 2 years as the only woman in the House of Commons.

Women trickled into the House despite a predominantly male press and political environment. But the earliest female MP’s faced questions about their marital status, political experience and suitability to sit in the House of Commons.  Nancy Astor replaced her husband when he was elevated to the House of Lords following his father’s death.  Astor’s tenure in parliament was only ever intended to be temporary while Waldorf Astor found a means of returning to the Commons.  The second MP, elected almost 2 years later, Margaret Wintringham, was a Liberal, a widow and had also been elected to her husband’s seat. A great deal was made of Wintringham’s arrival as a ‘mother’, much to Astor’s chagrin as she announced that she was the mother of five! Did Wintringham look more motherly?  It was certainly considered a virtue.

Marriage & Motherhood 2

The women developed a strong, supportive bond. Both had been active in public life, Astor as a society hostesses and both as supporters of their husband’s political careers and as a constant presence in their husband’s campaigns. Many of the women that followed had a similar experience and came from similar family backgrounds, often representing their spouse. For much of her early career Nancy did find herself directed by Waldorf. Archival evidence shows that Waldorf drafted and heavily edited her early speeches, annotating them with speaking notes on where and when to moderate her voice.  Brian Harrison has argued that these women candidates who came from families active in public life adjusted more easily to public life as it was assumed that they were representing a man.

For early female politicians the Astor partnership appeared successful and accessible, although Astor’s entrance did not facilitate a tidal wave of Conservative female MPs.  The third female MP, Conservative Mabel Philipson (Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1923), had no experience of the political sphere. She also took her husband’s seat while he faced fraud charges; she was a music hall and comedy actress but Philipson appealed to a Conservative electorate and directly campaigned on her marital status:

“If you vote for me you will get tuppence for a penny, because you will be getting me and my husband as your representative. No other candidate can offer you as much. I belong to the tried old firm of Astor and Company.”

Her reassurances were to a wider society that did not consider women in public life the norm and she used circumstantial similarities to Astor. Sykes argued that her agenda was to epitomise, by association, the immense popularity Nancy had generated, implying that her popularity was derived from a political husband and a wealthy background. However, early female MP’s despite their conservatism (with a small c) challenged the notion of public women and signified seed change in British democracy.

By comparison Socialist and Labour women who entered Parliament in the later 1920s were married to their cause. Most were from working class backgrounds, unmarried and ideologically motivated.  At first glance, there is a vast gap between the classes, backgrounds and motivations of the MPs as all battled with society’s expectation that women should not be present in public life.

Wealthy, married women could afford staff to manage a family during their political careers; working class women had no such affordable luxury. Labour female MPs tended to be unmarried at the time of their election; the role of wife and mother would have proved a hindrance to their political careers and the cause.

Marriage & Motherhood 3

 Jennie Lee stated that ‘marriage would never be allowed to get in the way of her ambition’ as she understood that ‘careers and marriage… could not run in tandem without some change in the understanding of what being a wife meant.’  Lee was elected in 1929 and served for 41 years until 1970 when she moved up to the Lords in her own right. Despite her anti-marriage assertions and determination to not become a wife, her initial reservations were overcome when she married Aneurin Bevan, her Labour Party colleague in 1934. They agreed to remain childless in the knowledge that her career would not be compromised. Later, she allowed her career to take a back seat to that of Nye’s later in their marriage as she believed firmly that Nye’s furtherance of his career and his work was of greater importance to the cause of socialism than her own.

Of other early female MP’s Margaret Bondfield remained unmarried; Ellen Wilkinson claimed to be ‘more interested in politics that in love affairs’ as ‘mere boys’ seemed very uninteresting creatures to the solemn priestess of politics. Eleanor Rathbone focused on bringing a feminist equality to mothers and working women.  Bondfield, Wilkinson and Rathbone’s single, childless status may have been necessary in maintaining a political career but they encountered a barrage of anti-feminist public opinion due to their indecorous single status. They lacked the respectability that a husband’s presence would bring, a popular opinion upheld by some in the House and by a majority of the public who conformed to images played out in increasingly popular women’s magazines.

The debate over married women and the vote had been rife in the suffrage movement for decades before Astor took her seat in parliament.  The depiction of public female figures from early suffrage onwards was masculine When I googled Theresa May this morning the first option presented to me, sadly, was ‘Theresa May husband’.  I was also sad at the outrageous representation of Theresa May as Cruella Deville by the Scottish nationalist newspaper, The National, freely shared on social media by male and female political figures alike.

Marriage & Motherhood 4.jpg

What is The National really trying to say here? The media continues to question women’s ‘special’ feminine qualities as wives and mothers, women who do not openly exhibit these are questioned and pilloried; women who do utilise them often meet Leadsom’s fate: damned if you, damned if you don’t.

With special thanks to Shira Kilgallon


** Jacqui Turner can be heard on The Long View, BBC Radio 4 which will be broadcast on Monday discussing the Astors and the Clintons with Professor Gary Gerslte. **

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Before we were the University of Reading

by Dr Ruth Salter

As many of you are probably aware, this year marks the 90th anniversary of Reading receiving its University Charter.  Reading, which was given the charter by George V in 1926, was the only institution to be awarded university status between the two world wars.  However, before there was a University of Reading there was another higher education institution, a predecessor, Reading College.

Female students make notes and sketches in the Cole Museum, 1945

Two students make notes and sketches in the Faculty of Science Museum, London Road campus, 1945

Reading College began life in the 1860s as Schools of Arts and Sciences which was based in one of the surviving buildings of Reading Abbey, the hospitium on Valpy Street.  These schools were incorporated into an extension college of Christ Church college, Oxford, in 1892.  The college remained a satellite college of Oxford University until it was granted its charter.

Victorian woman at Early Gate in 1899, Whiteknights became university property in 1947


A Victorian woman at Early Gate in 1899, Whiteknights only became university property in 1947 (courtesy of Dr Jacqui Turner’s Twitter feed!)


Even before the charter, the college had begun a process of development.  In 1904 the Palmer family, of the famous Reading-based Huntley & Palmers biscuits, had given the college and extension site on London Road.  In 1908 the Palmers also supported opened Wantage Hall, Upper Redlands Road, the oldest hall of residence in use at the University today, and a Grade II listed building.  In 1947 the University purchased Whiteknights Park, which then became the primary campus, and remains so today.

Wantage Hall, built 1908


Wantage Hall, Upper Redlands Road, opened 1908


This might sound interesting, after all, as historians, it peaks our collective interests to learn more about long-established institutions such as the University of Reading, nee Reading College. But you might be wondering what the purpose of this post is, especially as its being written by a medievalist…

Well, a few years ago while clearing through some old papers in Whiteknights House a member of the administrative staff happened to come across a very interesting item – the Reading College Student Handbook for 1907-08.  This member of staff just so happens to be my mum and so I now have in my possession some lovely photographs of selected pages of this handbook.  Not only do these images give a fascinating insight into the College that was to become our University, but also there are some wonderful adverts for local businesses from this first decade of the twentieth century.  As we come to the end of this momentous, ninetieth year as a university and prepare to celebrate this year’s graduation it seems timely to me to look back on our past.  Enjoy!

1. cover



L:  The old college, Valpy Street, was once part of Reading Abbey
R: A hand-drawn map shows the location of (the then new) London Road campus


L:  The Buttery, London Road campus
R: The Long Cloister, London Road campus


9. plan of London Road campus


The plan of Reading College’s London Road campus in 1907-08


L: One of the glasshouses, London Road campus
R: One of the college’s farms (the institution has always had strong links with agriculture and in 1912 the Research Institute of Dairying was established, it still owns a number of farms including one at Sonning)


16. first page of the college song - the song of the shield


The first page of Reading College’s ‘The Song of the Shield’



A number of advertisements for Reading-based buisnesses were also printed in the pages of the 1907-08 Student Handbook:

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The Language of the Migration ‘Crisis’ – Past and Present

by Dr Daniel Renshaw

On mainland Europe a status quo that has preserved peace on the continent for the last half century is beginning to fall apart.  Meanwhile, back in the United Kingdom, attitudes and policy towards long-established relationships with the outside world are undergoing a seismic shift, with demands for legislation to prevent free entry of economic migrants and political refugees into the country, fuelled by the rhetoric of a right-wing press and pressure groups.  Sound familiar?  Welcome to the Britain of 1905, where, for the first time in modern British history, legislation – the Aliens Act – is about to be passed, restricting free entry into the United Kingdom during peacetime.

Britannia refuses immigrants, 1905


Britannia refuses entrance to immigrants, 1905


Now, as then, the ways in which language is used and the loaded (and coded) terms employed are crucial in determining how the parameters for the debate surrounding the migrant ‘crisis’ are set.  A correspondent in a popular daily tabloid newspaper recently described migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean as ‘cockroaches’.[1]  In some headlines, migrants are simply referred to as ‘illegals’; the complex motivations for migration and displacement reduced to a single word. ‘Migrant’ itself is a loaded term. The language of dehumanisation has durable roots.  In the 1990s, the term ‘asylum seeker’ – a term of great antiquity and originally referring to the protection of fugitives or the oppressed by the Church – was re-fashioned by the press into one loaded with overwhelmingly negative connotations.[2] Nor is the coded racism in the speeches of politicians a new phenomenon  – see for example Margaret Thatcher’s infamous January 1978 television interview which the term ‘swamp’ was used to describe the changing ethnic makeup of Britain.[3]

To return to the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods, the parallels between the depiction of ‘illegals’ in the early twenty-first century and those of Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Italian and other minorities are often striking.  Both Irish Catholic migrants and Jewish refugees were depicted in the popular press as not only an economic threat to the well-being of British society, but also a political one. Jewish and Irish immigrants were linked in reports with political violence and subversive tendencies: the Irish were associated with Fenianism on both sides of the Irish Sea, and Jewish migrants with Marxism, anarchism and syndicalism.[4]  In the build-up to the Aliens Act of 1905, the pro-restriction press stressed the need to keep out the ‘refuse of Europe’, invariably presented as dirty, syphilitic, criminal and also as budding revolutionaries.[5]  In this narrative, migrants were men and women who had ‘failed’ in Europe, and were detritus now making its way to British shores.  As ‘illegals’ are compared in the contemporary press to ‘cockroaches’, so in 1902 did Cosmo Gordon Lang, Bishop of Stepney, label the Jewish incomers from Eastern Europe as ‘locusts’.[6]

Living above the (sweat) shop in London's Covent Garden, 1871


Living above the (sweat)shop,in London’s Covent Garden, 1871


Both Irish and Jewish groups were perceived as being prepared to live in worse conditions and work longer hours for less pay then ‘native’ competitors.  In the popular literature of the mid-Victorian era, ‘Irish’ and ‘slum’ were used almost interchangeably.[7]  Italian migrants were in particular associated with organised crime, secret societies and ‘vendettas’.  Meanwhile, the small Edwardian Chinese community had a whole plethora of contemporary social ills laid at their door; this was collectively brought together in the inflammatory designation ‘the Yellow Peril’, and promoted in the sensationalist literature of Sax Rohmer and others.[8]

Over the course of the great wave of Irish migration to Britain during the nineteenth century, and then with the arrival of the Jewish diaspora following renewed pogroms from 1881 onwards, it was frequently asserted that neither group was capable of contributing to British society, that they would remain permanent outsiders excluded by virtue of ethnicity and religion from the British body politic.  Sometimes the language used to attack these new arrivals was explicitly racist or sectarian, but coded terms also had their place in the discourse.  The British Brothers’ League, for example, a far-right pressure group established in the early twentieth century to demand immigration restrictions, rarely referred to ‘Jews’ in its official literature, but always to ‘aliens’.  No-one, however, was in any doubt which section of the population was being focused on in their polemic.[9]

Retrospective nostalgia on the part of the press, and politicians, also plays a role in the way anti-migrant discourse is framed, comparing the current migrant group(s) unfavourably with previous waves of settlement.  Early nineteenth-century immigration into Britain from Catholic Ireland was positioned against the successful integration of Protestant refugees from France and Flanders in the seventeenth century. In turn, Jewish arrivals in the 1880s and 1890s were unfavourably compared with the Irish of a generation before, and by the 1960s the Jewish experience was held up as a model of successful integration when contrasted with the new arrivals from the Caribbean and South Asia.[10]

Previous waves of migration are celebrated as part of a halcyon former age, the problems accompanying them forgotten or downplayed, and the minority groups in question co-opted retrospectively into a national narrative.  At the same time the contemporary situation is framed as unprecedented, condemned as exceptional, and positioned as a ‘new’ phenomenon, shorn of its historical context.  This is not to underplay the very real problems surrounding the present ‘crisis’ and how Britain responds to the greatest movement of peoples across the world since the Second World War.  However, it is worth recognising, as we have seen, that the ways in which the British press and the government have shaped the language in which the debate is being held are not new and are not exclusive to the present situation, but that they have been recycled and repeated on numerous occasions since the 1840s if not before.


[1]  The Sun, 17 April 2016
[2] See Edward Mortimer, Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)
[3] Television interview with Granada World In Action, January 27th 1978.
[4] John Newsinger, Fenianism in Mid-Victorian Britain (London: Pluto Press, 1994) and  W.J Fishman, East End Jewish Radicals, 1875-1914 (London: Gerald Duckworth and Co., 1975)
[5] William Evans Gordon, The Alien Immigrant (London, William Heinemann, 1903)
[6] Evans Gordon, The Alien Immigrant, p.12
[7] See Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (London: Penguin Books, 1862 (republished 1985) pp.56-57
[8] See Christopher Frayling, The Yellow Peril: Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia (London: Thames and Hudson, 2014)
[9] Bernard Gainer, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of 1905 (London: Heniemann Educational Books, 1972)
[10] See Tony Kushner, Remembering Refugees: Then and Now (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006) for popular memories of different periods of migration, and retrospective ‘-re-writing’ of migrant narratives.
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A Bluffers Guide to the Medieval Papacy

30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

By Dr Rebecca Rist, Associate Professor in Medieval History

For some reason my students often find it difficult to remember their medieval popes. I can’t think why. So in the spirit of 1066 and All That here, in chronological order, is an aide-mémoire to my top ten medieval popes – a sort of papal Premier League.  Somehow by hook – or should I say by crook? – these luminaries managed to steer the barque of St Peter through the stormy political and religious issues of their day. All you need to do is memorise the following facts about your favourite pontiff and then be sure to drop his name into the conversation at your next dinner party. No-one else will know who he was or what he did so your erudition will be assured. Just make sure the wine you serve is Châteauneuf-du-Pape (what else?) and remember the old adage, ‘God writes straight with crooked pens’ (eventually…).

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(1) Leo IX (1049-1054) (Bruno of Egisheim-Dagsburg)

Highlights: led a papal army against the Normans

Lowlights: defeated by the Normans

Likes: morality; purity in the Church

Dislikes: corruption; the Normans

Hobbies: touring Europe and ranting about Reform

Be sure to mention:  Simony; Nicolaism

Take a position on (it doesn’t matter what position):  the East-West Schism

Famous for: reforming synods

30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(2) Gregory VII (1073-1085) (Hildebrand of Sovana)

Highlights: Canossa

Lowlights: died in exile at Salerno hated by just about everyone

Likes: Mathilda of Tuscany; political theatre

Dislikes:  Henry IV of Germany

Hobbies: excommunicating Henry IV; promoting papal power

Be sure to mention: the Dictatus papae; the Investiture Contest

Take a position on: papal election by acclamation; the pope as ‘Vicarius Sancti Petri’

Famous for: ‘I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile’ (epitaph on sarcophagus)

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(3) Alexander III (1159-1181) (Roland of Siena)

Highlights: length of pontificate

Lowlights:  getting chased out of Rome (continually)

Likes: bureaucracy; law

Dislikes: Frederick I Barbarossa; the Roman Republic

Hobbies: canonising saints: Edward the Confessor; Thomas Becket

Be sure to mention: anti-popes: Victor IV (Ottaviano of Monticelli); Paschal III (Guido of Crema); Calixtus III (Giovanni of Struma); Innocent III (Lando of Sezze)

Take a position on:  the authorship of the Summa Rolandi

Famous for: legal brain

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(4) Innocent III (1198-1216) (Lotario dei Conti di Segni)

Highlights: Lateran IV – the medieval equivalent of Vatican II

Lowlights: the Fourth Crusade; the Albigensian Crusade

Likes: asceticism; St Francis (eventually)

Dislikes: Cathars

Hobbies: interfering in royal elections; crusades

Be sure to mention: De miseria humanae conditionis

Take a position on: the pope as ‘Vicarius Christi’; the Sun and Moon allegory; the papal states

Famous for: telling St Francis to go and wallow with the pigs; declaring Magna Carta ‘null and void’;   ‘Lesser than God, Higher than Man’ (attributed quote about the pope’s position)

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(5) John XXI (1276-1277) (Peter Juliani)

Highlights: the Summulae Logicales  

Lowlights: killed when his papal apartment (where he studied science) collapsed

Likes: Aristotle; logic

Dislikes: Cardinal Orsini (later Pope Nicholas III)

Hobbies: science; medicine; pharmacology

Be sure to mention: the rumour he was a necromancer

Take a position on: the Holy Land

Famous for: bagging a place in Dante’s Paradiso

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(6) Boniface VIII (1294-1303) (Benedetto Caetani)

Highlights: the Jubilee Year (1300); founding La Sapienza University (Rome)

Lowlights: the ‘Agnani Slap’

Likes: papal monarchy; Giotto

Dislikes: Philip IV of France; the Colonna

Hobbies: promoting cardinals; climbing the career ladder

Be sure to mention: the Liber Sextus; ‘Unam Sanctam’

Take a position on: his predecessor the hermit-pope Celestine V

Famous for: being confined to the Eighth Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(7) Clement V (1305-1314) (Raymond Bertrand de Got)

Highlights: moved the papacy to Avignon for some peace and quiet

Lowlights: bullied by Philip IV of France to shut down the Templars

Likes: Mongols

Dislikes: Venetians; Dulcinians

Hobbies: keeping in with Philip IV

Be sure to mention: the Clementine Constitutions

Take a position on: the Avignon Exile; the Templars

Famous for: the ‘Babylonian Captivity’ (Petrarch)

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(8) John XXII (1316-1334) (Jacques Duèze)

Highlights: bureaucratic genius

Lowlights: the Beatific Vision controversy

Likes: Thomas Aquinas

Dislikes: Spirituals

Hobbies: attacking the Franciscan understanding of the poverty of Christ

Be sure to mention: his pontificate forms the backdrop to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose

Take a position on: William of Ockham; Master Eckhart; Marsilius of Padua

Famous for:  the prayer ‘Anima Christi’ (modern hymn ‘Soul of my Saviour’)

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(9) Gregory XI (1370-1378) (Pierre Roger de Beaufort)

Highlights: moved the papacy back to Rome for more bread and circuses

Lowlights: the Great Schism

Likes: St Catherine of Siena

Dislikes: corrupt monastic orders; false relics; Lollards; Florence

Hobbies: condemning John Wycliffe

Be sure to mention:  the ‘War of the Eight Saints’

Take a position on: the papal succession crisis

Famous for: being the most recent French pope

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(10) Martin V (1417-1431) (Otto Colonna)

Highlights: elected by the Council of Constance; ended the Great Schism

Lowlights: died of apoplexy

Likes: Florence

Dislikes: Hussites; Ottomans

Hobbies: reconstructing Rome

Be sure to mention: the ‘Roman Renaissance’

Take a position on:  slavery and the New World

Famous for: ending the Conciliar Movement

 30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

(*Dinner Party Bonus Point) Alexander VI (1492-1503) (Roderigo Borgias)  

Highlights: the Jubilee (1500); founding the Universities of Aberdeen and Valencia

Lowlights: mysterious death of son Giovanni (duke of Gandia)

Likes: mistresses: Vanozza (Giovanna dei Cattanei); Julia Farnese; daughter: Lucretia Borgia

Dislikes: the Orsini; the Colonna

Hobbies: producing ‘nephews’; bullfighting

Be sure to mention: Girolamo Savonarola; Jeremy Irons in The Borgias (2011-2013)

Take a position on: nepotism; poison; the Banquet of Chestnuts

Famous for: ‘Who are we to trust if not our family?’ (attributed quote)

30.05.16 Bluffers Guide to the Papacy - Emblem_of_the_Papacy

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The Sex Pistols at Reading, 30 May 1976

by Prof Matthew Worley

As Sex Pistols gigs go, it was not one of the more notorious. By the late spring of 1976, the band’s reputation was just beginning to grow. Having made their debut in November 1975 at St Martin’s School of Art, performances in and around London had begun to serve notice that something was happening. ‘Punk’, at this time, remained more adjective than noun, used in Neil Spencer’s NME review of February 1976 to describe the Pistols’ stripped down rock ‘n’ roll and to make tentative alignments with the New York bands that had already made claim to the term. The Clash had yet to perform live; the infamous ‘Grundy incident’ –  when Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones swore live on Thames Television’s Today programme hosted by Bill Grundy – was months away. The only stirrings of a future ‘moral panic’ came with a fracas at the Nashville on 23 April, in which band and audience fought as the music press cameras snapped. A day later, the Sex Pistols received their first major feature (in Sounds).

Nevertheless, threads were coming together. The Sex Pistols’ appearance, mixing Johnny Rotten’s urchin attire with the provocations designed by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren for their shop – Sex – on the King’s Road, ensured they stood out from the denim-clad long-hairs or be-suited pub rockers doing the rounds. Their sound was rough and raw, rubbing against the prevailing musical grain. More importantly, their attitude – antagonistic, irreverent – gave signal of generational change. Here was a band not playing to please the audience but to incite them.

By May 1976, therefore, what would soon become universally recognised as ‘punk rock’ was in the process of becoming. At each gig the Sex Pistols played, one or two new recruits were made, inspired to form their own bands or adopt their own style. The so-called ‘Bromley Contingent’ that later spawned Siouxsie and the Banshees was in place by early 1976, codifying what became punk’s ‘look’ and forming the core of the Pistols’ early audience. Also in February, two friends excited by Spencer’s NME review resolved to travel down from Manchester to London to see what all the fuss was about. Their names were Howard Trafford and Peter McNeish, later rechristened as Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks, organisers of the Sex Pistols’ seminal gigs in Manchester (June and July 1976) and producers of one of punk’s most significant DIY moments, the Spiral Scratch EP (1977).

So where does Reading come in? On deciding to come to London, Trafford and McNeish called a friend who had previously moved down south. Richard Boon, soon-to-be Buzzcocks’ manager and custodian of the New Hormones label that released Spiral Scratch, was studying Fine Art at the University of Reading. It was he who put Trafford and McNeish up on their foray to see the Sex Pistols play in High Wycombe and Welwyn Garden City on 20 and 21 February 1976. He joined them, too, on their venture down the King’s Road to Sex. It was in Boon’s Reading digs that excited post-Pistols conversations led to Buzzcocks becoming a reality rather than a vague idea of making music for fun. It was Boon, moreover, who a week before the Sex Pistols played Manchester to stimulate punk’s spread to the North West, booked the band to play in the Reading fine art department.

27.05.16, Worley, The Sex Pistols at Reading (Richard Boon)

A ticket stub from the Sex Pistols performance at Reading, 30th May 1976

‘Back in the day’, Boon recalled, ‘the Art Department had a thing – Art Exchange – as one of the many Students Union groups that had a bit of funding. I persuaded the then AE chair, that putting on the Pistols for £50 (I think) in a painting studio as part of that year’s AE events would be memorable. It may well have been, for the 20 or so who attended. Support was one of The Kipper Kids, a performance art duo who used to work their way through a bottle of whiskey while bantering, cracking jokes, occasionally punching one another (or themselves) in the face.’

At the time, Boon was writing a dissertation on the function of art. As a result, he was aware of the Situ-references that peppered McLaren’s and Westwood’s designs (and later Jamie Reid’s graphics). The ideas that fed through the Pistols were as important – if not more important – than the music. ‘[I] first encountered the Situs’ work at Dylan’s Isle of Wight gig – a book/pamphlet stall run by a wild-eyed hippy (as tabloids may have had it). [I] bought a badly roneo’d bootleg copy of Dylan’s (then unpublished) Tarantula. Him: “Hey kid, if you dig that you might dig this” … reaches under the counter to proffer an equally badly repro’d copy of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Which I dug. Back in Leeds, producing a proto-fanzine (I guess), Bullsheet, out of the back of the Leeds Anarchist Bookshop, meant free access to another bad roneo (or Gestetner), where I found Leaving the 20th Century. I was more Vaneigemist than Debordian; my Art History dissertation was titled after his ‘The Transformation of Everyday Life’ (French title: ‘Treatise on Living in the Manner of Young People,’ I believe) and was liberally sprinkled with Situ shit, a bit of Mao, Ivan Illich, Ernst Fischer and other nonsense I was informed by at the time. My Art History tutor, Caroline Tisdall, was heavily promoting Beuys at the time and called me later: “Joseph was very taken with Vaneigem’s statement: ‘When people realise they are imprisoned, it’s not enough to change the wallpaper’.”

Not much has been revealed about the gig itself. Boon recalls cajoling the Pistols from the bar to take the stage, only for Rotten to offer a suitably acerbic greeting: ‘Art students? We’ve seen your “paintings” – is this what we pay our taxes for?’. The band’s set was yet to feature such soon-to-be-standards as ‘Anarchy in the UK’ or ‘No Future’ (‘God Save the Queen’). But those in attendance would have heard ‘Pretty Vacant’, ‘No Feelings’, ‘Submission’ and ‘No Fun’. What mattered to Boon was that he had contributed – he had helped spread the virus. Less than a week later, in Manchester, the Sex Pistols played the Lesser Free Trade Hall and the wheel turned. More bands formed, the virus moved beyond London’s surround. As for his Finals exhibition, Boon’s tutor, Tom Barrett, mentioned the gig to his external examiners and the job was done: Pass: 2.1.

27.05.16, Worley, The Sex Pistols at Reading (Richard Boon) - Sex Pistols playing Pretty Vacant, June 7th 1977

A year later: the Sex Pistols performing ‘Pretty Vacant’ on the  June 7th 1977

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Mothering Slaves

By Dr Emily West


In 2013 I was looking for a new research project and found myself increasingly interested in exploring the lives of enslaved women beyond the geographical confines of the United States. Moreover, I also wanted to bring together some of the amazing historians interested in gender and slavery more broadly. After many long discussions, a group of us ended up making a successful bid for a network grant from the AHRC-FAPESP scheme (designed to bring together researchers in the UK and Brazil) led by Professor Diana Paton (Newcastle University, and University of Edinburgh from July 2016), Professor Maria Helena Machado (University of São Paulo), and me.

We titled our network ‘Mothering Slaves’ in order to encapsulate the multiple forms of mothering by enslaved women in Atlantic slave regimes. Women acted as mothers to their own children, but also – with varying frequency – undertook mothering work of their owners’ children. These issues are important because slavery was transmitted by inheritance from the mother.  Motherhood was hence central to the institution’s development and was both a place of joy and a site of trauma for enslaved women.


The network brought together researchers working on the United States, Brazil, and the Caribbean to address to issues related to motherhood under slavery, a system where women held value as both workers and reproducers. We explored themes around the intersecting forms of oppression for enslaved women, including the care of children and childlessness, attempts to control fertility, how enslaved motherhood worked similarly and differently across Atlantic slave societies which had a variety of different systems of power and authority. We also compared representations of enslaved motherhood in the arts and the best methodologies for investigating all of these issues. Our network aimed to encourage new ways of thinking about the lives of enslaved women in the Atlantic world and their central role in slavery’s development through the benefit of comparative perspectives. Importantly, too, we all wanted to bring together PhD students with more experienced researchers, so the network built in funding to allow a number of PhD students to attend all events and to pay them for organising the conferences.

Mothering Slaves 3

Mothering Slaves 4

We held three conferences as a part of our network, the first (April 2015) at Newcastle University, the second at the University of University of São Paulo in September 2015, and the final event, organised by me and R. J. Knight, at the University of Reading in April 2016.

Mothering Slaves 5

We were particularly pleased to engage at this event with the work of literary and visual artists who focused on motherhood in order to convey the horrors of slavery, in large part thanks to Professor Alison Donnell, Head of the School literature and Languages. So our conference poster used the striking artwork of Joscelyn Gardner which depicts the tropical plants enslaved women used as abortifacients  while we also heard from Andrea Stuart, author of Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire (2012)  in conversation with Alison Donnell. Andrea’s best-belling and poignant book traces her family’s history from slavery in Barbados through to modern times. This important outreach event was attended by many members of local community groups in Reading, many of whom are part of the Barbadian diaspora. We were especially grateful to Staff at MERL and the University’s archives and collections for hosting this event and for hosting a display of slavery –related items we hold at the University.

Mothering Slaves 6
Dr Nicole King, English Literature, University of Reading introduces a panel on the images and representation of enslaved mothers
Mothering Slaves 7
Kimberley Wallace-Sanders on portraits of ‘mammy’ in US
Mothering Slaves 8
Emily West opens the concluding roundtable to April 2016’s Mothering Slaves conference

Our future plans for mothering slaves are twofold. First, we will to publish the best papers from the three conferences in two journal special editions   (Slavery and Abolition, and the Women’s History Review) in 2017-18. Thereafter we are all keeping our fingers crossed that a new, larger grant bid we submitted is successful and that we can continue to develop the important conversations that mothering slaves enabled us to begin and to put the lives of these women at the heart of the history of Atlantic slavery.

More information about our network can be accessed on the Mothering Slaves pages.

The conference was also live-tweeted with ‘#motheringslaves’, here are few of the top tweets:

Mothering Slaves 11

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Prof. Matthew Worely in ‘Kurt’s Lighter by Paul Kelly ft. Scott King’

Prof. Matthew Worley features in a new film with Scott King.

With regards to the film, Prof. Worely comments:

The film came about because I have long worked with the artist Scott King. Back in 1997, we began working under the banner Crash!, issuing magazines and putting on events in London. The idea was to rub against all that dreadful Cool Britannia stuff and say everything that is being celebrated is actually a load of rubbish. We were Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 21.59.24probably best-known for the Prada Meinhof  issue that critiqued how radical language and imagery was appropriated. I then busied myself with History work and Scott has become a great and well-known artist. But we still do things together when we can. This film was directed by Paul Kelly and based on an idea of Scott’s. It obviously sends up our own fascination with pop culture – but also the way in which pop, art and culture gets reduced to the level of a thing and the commercial value that is inevitably applied to it.

The film (below) can also be found on our YouTube pages, along with other videos by members of the department.

‘Kurt’s Lighter by Paul Kelly ft. Scott King’ was first published by Pop-Kultur and is also available through their website and YouTube accounts.

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Hillary’s campaign? Cranking up, but so far it’s… ‘meh’

by Mark Shanahan, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading.

“The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight!”

With those words, Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the adoring loyalists gathered to hear her victory speech at the end of a bruising New York primary. On the other side of the political fence, Donald Trump was winning all but one New York county. In a normal election year, the two front runners would be switching focus by now, putting the primaries behind them and getting set for November’s presidential election. But heck, this year has been about as far from the ‘norms’ of campaign politics as you can possibly imagine. The cleavage between the traditional Kingmakers of the GOP and the disaffected grassroots has let through the ideologue Cruz and the demagogue Trump to do battle for the hearts of conservatives, while in the liberal corner Hillary’s expected stroll to Philadelphia in July to be placed at the head of the Democrat ticket with all due pomp and ceremony has become a jagged, ragged marathon, with a grizzled Brooklynite at her heels, and sinking favourability ratings stacking up around her.

The Clinton who launched Hard Choices, a policy manifesto dressed up as a reflection on her time as Secretary of State, released in 2014, could never have thought her path to Philadelphia could ever be quite so rocky[1].  In 2014, as well as providing a masterclass in International Relations, her memoir hit all the electoral sweet spots necessary for her to connect with the Democratic voting audiences she needed to secure the nomination. Women, youth, LGBT+, economic equality, climate change. In her non-manifesto, Hillary addressed them all and sounded, well, presidential.

But with Democrats feeling the Bern all along the Primary trail from Iowa right through to this week’s bun fight in his birth city and her adopted state, Hillary hasn’t sounded quite so poised – or quite as energised as the Vermont Senator who sat in Congress as an independent. On my personal scale of one to 10, Hillary’s campaign has so far been… ‘meh’.

Bernie has exposed her Wall Street leanings, Gen Y (and even Gen X) don’t see her as sufficiently liberal. There’s the problem of Bill, and the GOP has been relentless, though so far unsuccessful, in its pursuit of her over role when US consular staff were killed in Benghazi and the ongoing issues over her use of a private email server. She’s a more than a little tainted as a candidate, and it’s showing in her polling. According to Gallup last week, Clinton’s net favourability among Democrats is +36. The poll was taken as she ramped up in New York, and shows a slip from +63 early last November[2].

Here’s a candidate who needs women to vote for her if she’s to win. She needs minorities and she needs the purple middle-grounders who will vote based on personal preference rather than party allegiance. So far, she hasn’t done as well as expected.

Hilary Clinton

Will Clinton ‘step it up’ in the comng weeks?

But maybe the tide’s turning. Looking forward to the Maryland Primary on April 26, Hillary’s polling well. Overall, she’s ahead of Bernie 58-33%. She’s polling 75% of the African American vote, leads with both male and female voters and, crucially for her, is ahead 48-43 with voters under 45 alongside her 66-27 advantage with older voters[3].

If Maryland was projected nationally, Clinton would trounce any of the GOP candidates who could be ranged against her. But of course Maryland isn’t quite the national touchstone, despite sending Democrat senators to Congress, while electing a Republican Governor at home.  But next week’s Primaries should be good for Hillary and the Bern may finally burn out. As well as a substantial lead in Maryland, Clinton leads in Pennsylvania – the week’s big prize – and Connecticut. There has been no public polling in Delaware or Rhode Island, but she’s expected to prevail there[4].

After that, it’s time for Hillary to really start looking Presidential again, to start tackling the issues rather than negative campaigning against a party rival. Getting dragged into a negative, dirty campaign plays straight into the hands of her opponent. From July to November she’ll have to look, sound and think like a President. She hasn’t quite cracked that yet.


[1] H R Clinton, Hard Choices: A Memoir, Simon & Schuster (London, 2014)
[2] F Newport, ‘Clinton’s Image among Democrats at New Low‘, Gallup, April 14, 2016, accessed April 22, 2016
[3] Public Policy Polling, April 19, 2016, accessed April 22, 2016
[4]State of the Race’, ABC News, accessed April 22, 2016
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The Elephant in the Room: the Republican Party in 2016

by Dafydd Townley

The race to be the party candidates for the 2016 election has been fascinating. It has confused poll analysts, political scientists, and broken from historical trends. All of this and it is only April. As onlookers we are still in doubt as to who will finally represent the Republican and Democrat parties in the general election after the national conventions in July. The prospective election leaves many questions unanswered, not least of which is ‘What is the future of the Republican Party?’

Meltdown. Civil War. Chaos. All have applied to the Republican Party over the last three months in particular, and continue to do so. The current state of the Grand Old Party (GOP) is of a party fighting to find its identity. The leadership of the GOP is currently swallowing its pride and pledging its support to Ted Cruz, a senator who has called members of his own party liars on the senate floor. This is in opposition to a man who has managed to attract more voters to the Republican caucuses and primaries than before, and is causing panic attacks among the leadership as his possible victory in the race for the party candidacy looks likely.

What will happen if Donald Trump wins the candidacy? Will there be a realignment of the GOP similar to that after the 1976 election? After the defeat of Gerald Ford in that year’s presidential election the Republicans turned right under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, leaving the political centre ground to the Democrats. Trump has managed to garner support across the ideological spectrum despite being accused of not being conservative. While his proposed policies seem to vary from extremism to centre ground he is in opposition to the conservative, evangelical-backed Cruz. Does this suggest a move to the middle for the Republicans, a move that will reject the Barry Goldwater conservatism that the party has adopted for the last forty years?

In fairness such a reformation of the Republican Party has been on the cards since the 20110 midterm elections. The rise – and success – of the Tea Party has threatened to challenge the establishment-led Republican Party. The Tea Party’s regionalised grassroots activism worked extremely well against small-majority Democrats who supported the Affordable care Act. It worked again in the 2014 midterms as Republicans adopted the methods that Democrats had until recently made so successful. The Republican Party holds an advantage in the House, in Congress, and at state level legislatures that it has not enjoyed since 1928. Why did it fail to get Mitt Romney elected in 2012? Why does it look as though Hillary Clinton will win the 2016 election? How will it go about changing things?

Elephant broken

As ever with American politics there is no simple answer. One significant factor is the gerrymandering of district boundaries by the Republicans at state level so that they win more seats than the Democrats even with fewer votes. It’s an entirely legal move that the Democrats have been oblivious to. Just as important is that Goldwater conservatism is out of date. It seems ironic that conservatism is anachronistic but there is no real desire for the welfare state in the United States to be rolled back, even by Republicans. And that is the problem with the Republican Party – it fails to identify what it is for. It is perfectly fine to target individual politicians on policies it stands against such as the Tea Party locally did in 2010 and 2014, but it has continuously wasted opportunities to showcase what policies it supports on a national level. Compare that with the programs such as Obamacare that the Democrat presidential candidates have been able to promote.

The multiple strands of conservative need uniting behind one ideology to be truly effective in winning the race for the White House, and effective while in office. And that is where Trump stands out. Yes his idea of a wall along the Mexican border is ridiculous as is his assertion that he will make the Mexican government pay for it. Yes – again – his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States is not only unconstitutional but also impossible to administer. His appeal to the conservative electorate (and beyond) is that he is proposing something. A recognisable policy that has is almost tangible and measurable. Cruz? Low taxes. Free trade. It offers nothing that the electorate don’t already enjoy under the current administration.

While Trump’s politics may not be that of the traditional GOP it is something considerably more positive than that of Cruz, and that should be revelatory to the Republican elite. The party leadership has the opportunity to implement a top-down reformation that would give the party an identity that is both positive and unifying. A national message that is both negative in tone and ethereal in nature would end with further party fragmentation and the prospect of a bottom-up reformation led by Tea Party members. Will the Party be brave enough to attempt to regain the centre from the Democrats? Only Trump and time will tell.

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The emergence of Trump and Sanders: not just a phenomenon confined to the United States?

by Darius Wainwright

President Dwight D Eisenhower once threatened to leave the Republican Party unless it reflected the progressive, centrist principles that he advocated.[i] Were he alive today, it is fair to say that current developments within the GOP would have forced the former president to act on his threat. The race to secure the Republican candidacy for the 2016 US Presidential Election has seen the populist, radical Donald Trump appear as the frontrunner. The multimillionaire New York property mogul has courted controversy throughout his campaign, notably pledging to build a wall across the US-Mexico border to stem the flow of immigrants from Central and Southern America.[ii] Despite the incendiary nature of these comments – Pope Francis used a tour of the Americas to chastise Trump for his remarks – support for the star of the US version of The Apprentice has burgeoned.[iii]

Donald Trump

Trump, now a forerunner for the Republicans

Equally, the race to secure the Democrat Party candidacy has been just as contentious. Hilary Clinton, regarded by the media as the frontrunner since announcing that she would like to run for the presidency, is facing considerable opposition to her bid to be the Democrat nominee from the leftist Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old Senator for Vermont. Tapping in to the American public’s anger over particular issues, the tactics of both politicians appear to be moderately successful. As of the 29th of March, Sanders is polling at 42.3 points compared with Clinton’s 51.3. Trump, on the other hand, is now the frontrunner to secure the GOP presidential candidacy, amassing an 11-point lead over his nearest rival, the Texan Ted Cruz.

Bernie Sanders
Sanders, considerable opposition to Clinton for the Democrats

It is important however to not look at political proceedings in the United States in isolation. Exploration of current developments in European politics suggests that progressive, centrist and mainstream parties on both sides of the Atlantic are facing similar challenges. As illustrated by a recent report from The Guardian, electoral support for parties occupying the centre of European politics has fragmented, with growing backing for movements on the left and the right of the political spectrum. In the December 2015 Spanish General Election, the populist leftist Podemos (‘We Can’) Party gain 21% of the vote, with the liberal Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’) Party polling at 14%.[iv] The electoral gains made by these two newcomers deprived the mainstream parties of the Spanish centre, the PSOE and the People’s Party, of an electoral majority.[v] The recent Slovakian parliamentary elections, similarly, saw no one party achieve an overall majority. Instead eight parties from across the political spectrum were returned to the National Council, each with more than 10 seats.[vi]

Seemingly, the reasons behind the electoral success of these radical movements are similar to the factors being attributed to Sanders and Trump’s victories in the US state primaries. Recent years have seen an exponential increase in the number of immigrants arriving in Europe, combined with a steady influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa seeking asylum.[vii] Far right parties, such as the German AfD, have exploited the significant anger amongst sections of the public towards these developments, adopting an anti-foreigner rhetoric. Such an approach saw the AfD make significant gains in the German regional elections in March this year.[viii] Left leaning parties, simultaneously, have sought to question the significant welfare and spending cuts advocated by many mainstream, centrist politicians across Europe. Utilising the Greek public’s resentment towards these austerity policies, the leftist Syriza Party won a landslide election in Greece in September 2015.[ix]

Mainstream politicians on both sides of the Atlantic must therefore find an effective means by which to either tackle or circumnavigate these radical, populist challenges to their electoral dominance. To ward off the threat of Sanders and Trump – for only divine intervention would now prevent the latter from securing the Republican nomination – it is imperative for Clinton to soothe popular resentment towards issues such as immigration and unemployment. Already she has sought to heighten her social media presence in a bid to win back youth voters and has pledged to reform the immigration system should she be elected.[x] Failure to secure the presidency – or even failing to persuade the Democrat Party to support her bid – may compel Clinton to do what President Eisenhower threatened to do all those years ago and leave politics.

Hilary Clinton
Clinton, stepping up her campaign in the face of Trump and Sanders’ success



[i] ‘Five liberal quotes from Republican politicians that will freak you out’ <; 23 February 2015.
[ii] All poll data from RealClear Politics.
[iii] ‘Pope Francis questions Donald Trump’s Christianity’ <; 18 February 2016.
[iv] ‘Why is support for Europe’s mainstream political parties on the wane?’ < d/2016/mar/29/support-europes-mainstream-political-parties-parliaments> 29 March 2016.
[v] d/2016/mar/29/support-europes-mainstream-political-parties-parliaments
[vi] d/2016/mar/29/support-europes-mainstream-political-parties-parliaments
[vii] ‘The march of Europe’s little Trumps’ <; 12 December 2015.
[viii] ‘German elections: setbacks for Merkel’s CDU as anti-refugee AfD makes big gains’ <http://ww> 14 March 2016.
[ix] ‘Greece election: Tsipras triumphant as Syriza returns to power’ < /sep/20/syriza-set-to-return-to-power-in-greek-general-election> 14 March 2016.
[x] ‘Clinton tries to get the millennials on board’ <; 18 December 2015; ‘America needs comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship’ <https://www.hillarycli> 30 March 2016.

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Happy Easter from the Department of History!

We hope everyone has a good Easter break whether your relaxing, revising or researching, and remember:

  • the University of Reading will be closed from Good Friday until Thursday 31st March
  • Summer term begins Monday 18th April
Paul Kauffman, 1902. La quete des oeufs de Paques - collecting the Easter eggs. Bibliotheque national et universitaire de Straboug NIM22686

‘La quête des œufs de Pâques’ (‘Collecting the Easter Eggs’), Paul Kauffman, 1902, postcard. Bibliotheque national et universitaire de Strasbourg NIM 22686. (with a little editing, in the form of the seasonal wishes, from us!)

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Popes & Jews, and Otherworlds: Two new Medieval Monographs

Yesterday, Thursday 17th March 2016, the Department of History and the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies (GCMS) held a book launch for two new medieval monographs from Oxford University Press (OUP).  Thanks to their authors, Dr Rebecca Rist and Dr Aisling Byrne, there is a chance to buy these new publications with a 30% discount.


Rebecca Rist, Popes & Jews, 1095-1291

Popes and Jews, 1095-1291, explores the nature and scope of the relationship between the medieval papacy and the Jewish communities of western Europe in a pivotal period of Jewish history.  In her book Dr Rist engages with recent scholarship in the field of Christian-Jewish relations and, using a wide range of Latin and Hebrew material, examines not only the papacy’s perspective but also that of European Jewish communities.  Further information about Popes and Jews can be found at OUP.
Dr Rebecca Rist is an Associate Professor in Medieval History, and a member of the GCMS.  Her research interests include the papacy, the medieval Church, the history of crusading, Jewish-Christian relations and heresy.



Aisling Byrne, Otherworlds: Fantasy and History in Medieval Literature

Dr Byrne offers a new perspective on the otherworlds of medieval literature. These fantastical realms are among the most memorable places in medieval writing, by turns beautiful and monstrous, alluring and terrifying.  Otherworlds focuses on texts from England but places this material in the broader context of literary production in medieval Britain and Ireland, and takes a fresh look at how medieval writers understood these places, and why they found them so compelling.  Further information can be found at OUP.
Dr Aisling Byrne is a Lecturer in Medieval English Literature in the Department of English Literature, and a member of the GCMS.  She has published on the transmission and translation of romance, on writers such as Gerald of Wales and Thomas Malory, and on themes such as marvels, feasting, chivalry, and territorial politics.


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Why My Research Matters – A GCMS Workshop

getting together is always good

Friday 22nd April 2016, University of Reading

The Graduate Centre of Medieval Studies (GCMS) is an interdisciplinary centre that is predominantly based in the History department.  ‘Why My Research Matters’, or to give it its full title Why My Research Matters: New Methods. New Audience. New Questions. The Importance of Medieval and Early Modern Studies in the Twenty-First Century‘, is a one-day workshop organised by postgraduate and early career researchers from the GCMS.

The conference encourages postgraduates and early career researchers working across medieval and early modern history to present their research and highlight its relevance in the 21st century.  Historic studies, but particularly those focused on pre-modern history, often have their relevance, and thus the reason for their study, challenged and this workshop offers a chance to open discussion about the importance of these studies. The day will conclude with a round-table discussion open to all speakers and attendees, and it will cover issues encountered when researching pre-modern history, and explore ways in which we can engage others outside of our research areas.  The organisers welcome any who are interested in this conference and would like to encourage wide postgraduate attendance.  Interested undergraduates are also welcome to attend.

Further details, and the initial programme for ‘Why My Research Matters’ can be found below.

GCMS representatives will also be live-tweeting via @UniRdg_GCMS and live-blogging via the GCMS Facebook page throughout the event.

Why My Research Matters Poster.jpg


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Rome 1600

Robertson, Rome 1600, 3

Professor Clare Robertson’s new book, Rome 1600. The City and the visual Arts under Clement VIII (Yale University Press 2015) produces a snapshot of the city at one of the most significant moments in its post-classical history. Rome was at this time the centre of the artistic world. The book examines the beginnings of the great Baroque city at a moment of major artistic innovation, especially in painting. This was largely due to the presence of two artists, Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Caravaggio (1571-1610). In their different ways, both were hugely influential on the development of seventeenth-century painting throughout Europe: Annibale founded a school of artists whose work combined a fascination with the study of nature, with intense interest in the art of classical antiquity, and the work of High Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo and Raphael. Caravaggio, who was notorious for his propensity for violence, offered a different vision, distinguished above all by his tenebrism. But Rome was a very cosmopolitan society, and attracted large numbers of artists from all over Italy, and from northern Europe, including Rubens (1577-1640). In 1593, Rome’s first artistic academy was founded, the Accademia di San Luca, under the initial direction of Federico Zuccaro (1539/40-1609), which was intended to provide an artistic education for young artists who were drawn to Rome by the opportunities for patronage that the city could offer. Zuccaro was a highly successful artist, who had worked all over Europe (He even painted a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I), and built himself a palace, which he frescoed with several erudite, allegorical subjects.

Madonna and Child with a Serpent, 1605 (oil on canvas)
Madonna and Child with a Serpent, 1605 (oil on canvas) by Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da (1571-1610), Galleria Borghese, Rome

1600 was a Jubilee Year, which meant that thousands of pilgrims came to Rome, in the hope of indulgences (Indeed, according to some reports, Rome’s population doubled during that year). This led to immense numbers of new artistic commissions, led by Pope Clement VIII, who completed major projects at Rome’s cathedral, San Giovanni in Laterano, and also at the Basilica of St Peter’s. Clement encouraged his cardinals to restore their titular churches, and to commission new works of art. The Roman church was in 1600 at a turning point in the Counter-Reformation, the movement to restore the institution after its serious losses to Protestantism in northern Europe during the sixteenth century, and art was a powerful weapon. New religious orders, including the Jesuits and the Oratorians, were well aware of the ways in which art could be used to restore faith. At the same time, there was a new archaeological interest in the palaeo-Christian church, since that was believed to be purer in its practices.

There were also a significant number of patrons of secular art, and this period saw the beginnings of galleries lined wall to ceiling with paintings. These included the Giustiniani and Mattei families, who had huge appetites for paintings by a variety of artists. The book draws upon all these issues, based closely on contemporary written and visual sources. It is extensively illustrated.

Robertson, Rome 1600, 1
Annibale Carracci, River Landscape, c. 1593, Berlin Gemäldegalerie
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Dr Mara Oliva – a member of the newly established TEL Practitioners Forum

Dr Mara Oliva, Lecturer in Modern American History (20th century), Department of History

Congratulations to Dr Mara Oliva who has been appointed as a member of the newly established TEL Practitioners Forum (TELPF).  The Forum has been created to represent the wider community of staff within the University of Reading who are actively engaged with or leading in technology enhanced learning (TEL).  The TEL Practitioners Forum is a closed group and membership is by invite only so we are very pleased that Dr Oliva has been requested to join.

This is an important step forward in the further development of the Department of History’s Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy. In the past year, under Dr Oliva’s leadership, the Department has already pioneered e-assessment and e-marking for its Part 1 modules. Dr Oliva looks forward to working with TELPF in developing and expanding the role of technology in the Humanities.

“Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) is learning which is supported, mediated or assessed by the use of electronic media and it has a fundamental role to play in the delivery of the University’s strategic objectives. TEL concerns the use of new or established technology and/or the creation of new learning materials; it can be utilised both locally and at a distance and it can cover a wide range of activities, from the use of technology to support learning as part of a blended approach, to learning that is delivered wholly online.”
(University’s Vision for Technology Enhanced Learning, 2013)
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An Audience with Lucy Worsley

Sunday 22 May, 7.30pm

One of the UK’s most respected historians, Lucy Worsley is best known for a series of programmes for BBC2 and BBC4 covering everything from the Georgians and British homes to the history of dance and the WI. Most recently she was seen on BBC4 in January looking at Romanov Russia.

Lucy, who is also the Chief Curator at the Historic Royal Palaces, was born in Reading’s Royal Berkshire Hospital, grew up in Northcourt Avenue and attended the Abbey Junior School.

The chance to watch Lucy Worsley in action in front of a live audience in Reading would be a great opportunity for all those keen to make a career in the public history / heritage sector.

 Lucy Worsley

She comes to the Town Hall to mark Reading 2016’s history month in May to talk about the history of murder, in real life, including a look at Reading’s notorious murderess Amelia Dyer, and in fiction, from Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie. Ever since the Ratcliffe Highway Murders caused a nation-wide panic in Regency England, the British have taken an almost ghoulish pleasure in ‘a good murder’. This fascination helped create a whole new world of entertainment, inspiring novels, plays and films, puppet shows, paintings and true-crime journalism – as well as an army of fictional detectives who still enthral us today. Her BBC4 series A Very British Murder inspired a best-selling book, which she will be signing after the talk.

Tickets £10, Concessions £8 (all tickets are inclusive of booking fee)

Tickets can be booked via Reading Arts.

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Nancy Astor: Art in Parliament

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Jacqui Turner’s work for Parliament on the installation of the Nancy Astor bust, in association with Vote100, is completed.

Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, was elected to Parliament on 15 November 1919. She took her seat following her introduction to the House of Commons by Prime Minister David Lloyd George and former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour on 1 December 1919.  Jacqui is responsible for a new leaflet which has been produced in partnership with Vote100, and can be accessed via Parliament’s webpages.  Additionally, Jacqui has appeared in a newly released short film, made at the Universtiy of Reading’s Special Collections, about Astor.  This film has also been published on Parliament’s webpages (should it not play below).

Look out for a full blog from Jacqui about the Nancy Astor project in the coming weeks!

In our ‘British History‘ section you can catch up with previous blog posts on women’s suffarage, and particularly Nancy Astor, which have been written by Jacqui, and her students.


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Romance the Medieval Way: St Valentine’s Day Special

by Dr Ruth Salter

St Valentine at Terni

Saint Valentine of Terni oversees the construction of the basilica at Terni. This image comes from a fourteenth-century French manuscript, now Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. 185, f.210r

St Valentine and the (possible) origins of Valentine’s Day

Two St Valentines are listed in the Roman Martyrology for February 14th: one was a martyred Roman priest who had supposedly been killed on the Flaminian Way during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54); the other was the Bishop of Terni, who had been martyred in Rome but whose relics had been translated (returned) to Terni. It is possible, however, that these two Valentines were the same person.

What is strange though is that, when we look at the little known about Valentine, there is nothing to connect this early Christian priest to lovers and romance. This is because the connection is made not through people but through animals. February 14th came to be thought of as the day that birds paired for the Spring. The first documentation of this being Geoffrey Chaucer’s (d.1400) Parlement of Foules, which was written to celebrate the first anniversary of Richard II of England’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia (1382):

For this was on seynt Volentynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
For this was on St. Valentine’s Day
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

Elements of Valentine’s Day might also indicate the survival of older, pagan customs of the Roman Lupercalia festivals which took place in the middle of February. Lupercalia was one of the oldest Roman festivals; in fact its roots are possibly pre-Roman. The festival was one of purification – evil spirits were cleansed from the city, and this released health and fertility. Plutarch (d. c. AD 127) commented that:

many write that it [Lupercalia] was anciently celebrated by shepherds… At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome, drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer (c.1578–1610). Here the luperci (the men involved in the procession) are dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility

That Valentine’s Day, and mid-February, should have become symbolic of romance, and more specifically fertility and mating, is not surprising. This is, after all, traditionally the period when the signs of the winter are starting to be replaced by those of spring – this year being a bit of an exception to that. Changes in flora and fauna, and the noticeable lengthening of day-light hours, are all indicative of this shift.

However, romance – and attempts to encourage romantic behaviour – was not solely the preserve of St Valentine’s Day alone. In fact during the Middle Ages there were a number of unusual methods to encourage both love and lust.


To encourage romance:

Blood: As early as the eight-century women were seen to be interested in encouraging and increasing love. In fact Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury’s (d.690) Penitential assigns penance to those women who drink men’s blood as a way to improve their relationships.

Abarquid: Abarquid is the name of a stone in the ‘lapidario’ produced in thirteenth-century Castille for the future King Alfonso X of Seville and Leon. This lapidarial text offers a potentially useful tip for any desperate men:

On the stone called Abarquid… It is found in Africa, in the sulphur mines. It is light and hard to break. And on the outside its colour is green with some yellow. It is flat in shape, and when men observe it carefully, it appears to have the form of a scorpion. If it is broken, the same scorpion shape is found inside… If a woman carries it, its power will make her so lust for a man that she will restrain herself only by a great effort of will, and it has the same effect on any female animal.

Wolves: A number of bestiaries, including the Aberdeen Bestiary (image below), provide a useful hint when it comes to romance that: ‘on the tail of this animal [the wolf] there is a tiny patch of hair which is a love-charm’. Wolves were said to be aware of this and so, when faced with capture, they would tear out this piece of fur (which would then lose its potency).

Wolf, Aberdeen Bestiary

Miniature to accompany ‘The Wolf’ in the Aberdeen Bestiary, Aberdeen University Library ms.24 f.16v

Mandrake: The most powerful of all ‘love charms’ were those made from the mandrake owing to the fact that the roots were shaped like the human body. The power of the mandrake was noted as early as the Book of Genesis and the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament, and in medical works that form the Ancient Greek Hippocratic Corpus. This was enforced in Dioscorides’ Herbal in which he noted the relationship between these plants and love and sexual activity. Theophratus was the first, however, to suggest that using the root in a special ritual would lead to acquiring its power. This ritual involved using a sword of ‘virgin iron’ to draw circles around the plant, then using an ivory rod to loosen it, before finally using the sword to cut the mandrake whilst reciting special incantations about love. In later versions of this charm it was stated that all of this was to be practised at night – but the mandrake would be visible owing to the fact it would glow with an eerie light.

Mandrake, Apuleius Herbarium

Mandrakes being picked in an edition of Apuleius’ Herbarium, Lombardy c.1400, now Yale Medical Library ms.18, f.49v

To cure lust:

But what if the problem is actually too much lust? Well Hildegard of Bingen, the German abbess and mystic, suggests a number of ‘cures’ in her Physica including:

Dill… in order for a man to extinguish the pleasure and lust of the flesh which is in him, he should, in summer, take dill, and twice as much water mint, and a little more tithymal, and the root of Illyrian iris. He should put these in vinegar, and make a condiment from them, and frequently eat it with all his foods. In winter he should pulverise these and chew the powder with his foods, since at that time he cannot obtain the fresh herbs with their vital energy.


Sparrow hawk… A man or a woman who burns with lust should take a sparrow hawk and, when it is dead, remove the feathers and throw away the head and viscera. He should place the rest of its body, without water, in a new clay pot perforated with a small hole, and heat it over the fire. Under this pot he should place another new clay pot, and catch the fat that flows off. He should then crush calandria and less camphor and mix them with the fat. He should heat this again, moderately, on the fire, and make an unguent. The man should anoint his privy member and loins with it for five days. In a month the ardour of his lust will cease, with no danger to his body. The woman should anoint herself around the umbilicus, and in the opening of the belly button. Her ardour will cease within a month. When the month is finished, the person, man or woman, should oil himself – or herself, and thus have relief from lust.

 Of course, it goes without says *don’t try any of these at home* but I think it’s safe to say that either of Hildegard’s above cures would certainly dampen romance and lust!



Cited in order of appearance:
Farmer, D. H., ‘Valentine’ in The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford University Press, 2011), via <;.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parlement of Foulys, ed. Brewer, D. S. (Manchester University Press, 1972), at ll.309-10
Plutarch, The Life of Julius Caesar in Fall of the Roman Republic. Six lives: Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, Cicero, trans. Warner, R. (Penguin. 1972), at The Life of Julius Caesar chp.16.
Theodore of Tarsus, Pœnitentiale Theodori in eds. Haddan, A. and Stubbs, W., Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vol.3. (Clarendon Press, 1869) pp.173-213, at p.188
Lawrence-Mathers, A. and Escobar-Vargas, C., Magic and Medieval Society (Routledge, 2014) at p.114
Aberdeen University Library ms.24 []
Hildegard of Bingen, Physica in trans. Throop, P., Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica: The Complete English Translation of Her Classic Work on Health and Healing (Healing Arts Press, 1998), at pp.41-2, pp.187-8
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US Election Special: There may be trouble ahead… (3/3)

US Election main

By Dafydd Townley

When Hillary Clinton officially announced her intention to run for the White House on April 12th last year, she was immediately proclaimed as the favourite to be the 45th President of the United States. Through a YouTube video she stated ‘Everyday Americans need a champion. And I want to be that champion.’ The New York Times stated that her announcement ‘began what could be one of the least contested races, without an incumbent, for the Democratic presidential nomination in recent history.’[1] Such was the confidence in Clinton winning not only the candidacy but also the presidency. Such confidence though is being undermined by the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Clinton 2

In July of last year Clinton stood at 58% in the polls for the Democratic candidacy with a lead of 42% over her rivals. In the race for the White House she polled an average of 49% compared to Mark Rubio’s 37.5%. The latest data suggests that despite still polling at 51.2% her lead has been whittled down to a mere 13% over Bernie Sanders. In addition her lead over Rubio has flip-flopped and he now leads by 2.2%. Furthermore her lead over Donald Trump – who was not amongst the polls at the time of announcement – has diminished from 19.6% in July last year to just 2.5%.[2] Where has it all gone wrong for Hillary? There are a number of factors that affected public opinion.

Both Sanders and Trump are seen as being something different to the status quo. Despite Biden’s recent swipe on Twitter at Sanders by declaring that the United States does not need socialism, public opinion is low when concerned with both the Executive and Legislative branches of government. In a recent Gallup poll 47% of US citizens disapprove of Obama’s performance as president, and 80% feel that Congress is not effective.[3] Clinton’s declaration in the latest Democratic debate that she wanted to protect and build on Obama’s Affordable Healthcare legacy should be seen as an attempt to win over the coalition that Obama built to gain office. However, in doing so Clinton has aligned herself with an administration that is believed to be underperforming. Sanders, further left in the political spectrum than Clinton, is seen by non-Democrats as independent of Obama. Furthermore, to left wing Democrats Sanders’ egalitarian policies are seen as closer to Obama’s promises on the 2008 election trail than those of Clinton’s.

Clinton 3

The same consequences are caused by the ascension of Trump. His firebrand tactics have alienated candidacy rivals and depicted himself as an outsider to Washington circles. His criticism of Obama and Clinton, Congress, and the inability of a Republican Congress to get things done with a Democratic president, has been favourably met with the US electorate. He has managed to portray Clinton’s policies as a continuation of Obama’s, and therefore firmly associated Clinton with the Obama administration. Crucially then, Clinton’s support has deteriorated because she has failed to identify with the public as being unconnected to Obama.

It also appears that where there’s a Clinton there’s some form of political controversy. Bill Clinton’s second term was dogged by the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment proceedings. The combination of scandal and a Republican dominated Congress led to his final term being ultimately a confrontational lame-duck presidency. Hillary is threatening to be no different. Since before her announcement she has been plagued by issues regarding security breaches through personal emails while Secretary of State. At her time of her announcement to run for the White House campaign manager John D Podesta assured potential donors that the issue would fade away.[4] Such optimism has been misplaced. At the time of writing – nine months after Podesta’s reassurance – the issue has still yet to be settled causing Clinton embarrassment. This, combined with the House investigation into the Benghazi attack, has meant that Clinton has unwittingly provided ammunition for her rivals.

Clinton 1

What next for Hillary? In all likelihood she will claim the first victory in the race for the Democratic candidacy at the Iowa Caucus on February 1st. However the winning margin will not be in the region of the 30% lead that she had in November. In stark contrast to that advantage the latest poll by CNN suggests that Sanders has an 8% lead among Iowan Democrats.[5] A small victory for Clinton will not be enough to give her campaign momentum, but may be enough to burst the Sanders bubble. She is unlikely to win the New Hampshire primary eight days later where Sanders has a strong advantage. By then the additional emails from the State Department should also have been released for scrutiny which could further harm her campaign; until the legality of her actions is finalised it is impossible to tell.

What the Clinton campaign can take some comfort from is that her endorsements by Democrats in office are at a record high compared to other non-incumbent Democrat candidates from the last thirty years. Studies have shown that endorsements have been the greatest influence on state primaries and caucuses.[6] Hillary’s lead is extremely large and Sanders will not be able to convince the part elites to change their support. Consequentially the next month ahead may be rocky for Clinton, but by the road to the White House will be considerably smoother by Super Tuesday on March 1st.

[1] Amy Chozick, ‘Hillary Clinton Announces 2016 Presidential Bid’, The New York Times, April 12, 2015

[2] All poll data from RealClear Politics

[3] Poll data from (Obama rating is from Jan 11-17 2016, Congress data is dated as Jan 610 2016)

[4] Amy Chozick, ‘Hillary Clinton Announces 2016 Presidential Bid’,

[5] CNN/ORC Poll, January 15-20th, 2016

[6] Aaron Bycoffe, ‘The Endorsement Primary’, FiveThirtyEight


This was originally published on Dafydd’s own blog and has been republished here with his permission .
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Reminder: Seminar in Global History, 10th February 2016

This is a reminder of the up-coming Seminar in Global History which will take place on Wednesday, 10th February 2016.

Dr Miles Larmer (University of Oxford) will be speaking on ‘Localising Africa’s Cold War: The Katangese Gendarmes and Conflict in Central Africa, 1960-1978’.

Miles’ research focuses on political and social change in southern-central Africa in the second half of the twentieth century, and the interaction between local social movements, nationalist parties and global forces in shaping post-colonial Africa.  His current research project is a study of the Katangese gendarmes as a way of understanding the social and political history of Central-Southern Africa’s ‘forty-years war’ from 1961 to 1999. This encompasses research on a series of intertwined local, national and transnational conflicts in Zambia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Full event detials can be found on the poster below:

Seminar in Global History 10.02.16 Flyer

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Sensing Sickness in Early Modern England, 1580-1720: About the Research Project

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Hannah Newton has been awarded Wellcome Trust funding for her new research project ‘Sensing Sickness in Early Modern England, 1580-1720’.  Below Hannah tells us more about this exciting project and what it entails:



Sensing Sickness in Early Modern England, 1580-1720

by Hannah Newton

The Wellcome project is an investigation of what it was like to be ill, or to witness the illness of others, in early modern England. To do this, I’m taking a new, sensory approach, asking how were the five were senses affected by disease and treatment, and what were the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations of the sick chamber?

The importance of the senses during illness began to emerge in my first book, The Sick Child in Early Modern England: I noticed that for parents, the greatest source of grief was not so much the death of the child, but rather, seeing and hearing the child suffer. The example that sticks in my mind is the clergyman Isaac Archer, who wrote during the illness of his baby daughter Mary, ‘Oh what griefe was it to mee to heare it groane, to see it’s sprightly eyes turne to mee for helpe in vain!’ It gradually dawned on me that for family members, the five senses were the only way that they can experience the illness of another person – they couldn’t share with it physically, but they can witness it with their eyes, ears, and other sensory organs.

Intro pic 1


‘The Sense of Smell’, 1651; by P. Boone; Wellcome Library, London. A man vomits, while those around him hold their noses.


The senses were also a major part of the patient’s experience of illness, as I started to notice in my second project, Misery to Mirth: Recovery from Illness in Early Modern England. One of the major signs of recovery was the joyful restoration of the patient’s sensory powers. The Yorkshire gentlewoman Alice Thornton recorded in her diary that on the 17 January 1667 her five-year-old son Robin, sick of smallpox, ‘began to see againe’, and by the next day ‘his sight clearly recovered’. Illness affected the patient’s senses in numerous ways – it could dull them, heighten them, or produce what early modern doctors called ‘depraved’ sensations, such as tinnitus, flashing lights, and itching. Besides these individual sensory symptoms, I think it’s possible that the more general, indefinable feeling of illness – which today might be called ‘malaise’ – may have been a combination of all the slightly peculiar sensations that occur during illness.


Intro pic 2


‘The Bitter Potion’, 1640; by Adriaen Brouwer; Städel Museum, Germany. The man’s face is contorted in an expression of deep revulsion after tasting the bitter medicine.


By exploring these various sensory experiences, the overall aim of the project is to reach a closer understanding and empathy for the sick and their families, both in the past and present.

** Hannah’s book  The Sick Child in Early Modern England (OUP, 2012) is out now and can be purchased via OUP or Amazon.**


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US Election Special: The Trump Phenomenon (2/3)

US Election main

By Dafydd Townley

The founders of the US Constitution at the end of the 19th century instilled a checks and balances system to ensure that each branch was subject to the approval of the other two. The separation of powers was designed to limit each branch’s power. The president, as part of the executive branch can veto the legislative branch’s bills. However, with a two-thirds majority the legislative branch can override that veto. The Supreme Court can in turn declare laws unconstitutional. And to round the circle, the Supreme Court members are appointed by the president but have to be approved by Congress. There are other checks and balances in place. The US intelligence community for example has the oversight committees of both the House and the Senate to ensure that they work within the confines of the law. And it’s just as well: according to former CIA director Robert M Gates, ‘some awfully crazy schemes might well have been approved’ had that oversight not been in place.[1] The presidential elections are no different. It is usual that two major requirements restrain those running for the presidential candidacies: the appeasement of the candidate’s financial backers, and the support of a targeted subsection of the electorate to reach the White House.

The increase in the cost of running for office in the United States has meant that there is a greater need for financial backing, which in turn makes the financiers more influential on the proposed policies of their supported candidates. Indeed such is the need for finance to gain office that many politicians are complaining that holding office is less about politics and more about fund-raising for the next term. Candidates who have an immense personal fortune, such as Trump and previously Ross Perot, can afford to buck the trend. They are almost solely committed to their own policies because they do not have the normal financial restrictions that candidates face. This allows Trump to announce policies and make public observations and accusations that have been previously regarded as extreme.

Trump 1

Trump’s ability to say what he likes gives the appearance of a shotgun approach to policy, but actually this is just an illustration of the second freedom he enjoys. Most party-led candidates are targeting a specific audience with their policy declarations. Not only the financiers determine the nature of their policies but also the policy’s target demographic. Republican supporters are generally pro-life, pro-business, small government, and candidates’ political statements are usually framed to keep within these boundaries. Furthermore, candidates tend to avoid making statements or suggesting policies that are not within the confines of their part’s political spectrum. Trump has moved away from modus operandi in an attempt to appeal to every voter that stands right of centre. His business acumen is attractive to the working class, his stance on immigration attractive to the far right, and he has some appeal to libertarians and Tea Party members with his opposition to big government.

Political analyst Nate Silver of fame suggests that Trump’s support in the polls may not last, and nobody analyses the poll data better than Silver. Trump’s rise, according to Silver is based on one of three theories – his attraction to the populist vote, the lack of Republican leadership, or that there is a media bubble around Trump. All of these theories suggest that Trump’s popularity is not particularly strong and could dissipate in a short space of time. The reasons that Silver suggests are relatively simple ones: that the populist vote is incorrect, that the Republican elite will manage to successfully campaign against him, and that an early loss in Iowa or New Hampshire primaries will affect his standing.[2]

There is a danger though in underestimating the momentum of the Trump campaign. That Trump would be even considered a leading contender at this stage twelve months ago was unthinkable. The Trump campaign is becoming expert at picking up popular discontent with the federal government. The latest Gallup poll into satisfaction with the federal government showed a drop of 14% to just 18%, the lowest figure since Gallup first conducted the poll in 1971.[3] Trump has constantly criticised Obama’s use of executive actions, especially those allowing undocumented mothers and children to remain in the United States.While Trump is seen by many of his supporters as the anti-government candidate the results of that poll should give the Trump campaign further hope. What may damage Trump’s standing as the libertarian candidate is his suggestion that he will also use executive orders to repeal those of Obama. Despite Trump’s assertion that he is ‘going to use them much better and they’re going to serve a much better purpose than he’s done.’[4] It may cost him supporters who wish to see a move away from the imperial presidency of this century.

The issue for the Republican elites however is the lack of a clear alternative to Trump. His ability to manage the press has not given his rivals an opportunity to regain the ground that they have lost. Trump while still not a certainty of winning the Republican candidacy could most certainly do so with a couple of early victories in the primaries. Trump’s rival for the Iowa caucus on 1st February is Canadian-born Texan Senator Ted Cruz, currently polling 27.3% to Trump’s 26.8%.[5] However if Trump has few friends among the Republican leadership, then Cruz has even fewer, and would be a disastrous choice for the GOP. If the other candidates, principally Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, fail to act swiftly, then the unfettered Trump could have an unassailable lead long before Super Tuesday on March 1st.

[1] Robert M Gates, From the Shadows, (New York: 1996) p559

[2] Nate Silver, Three Theories of Donald Trump’s Rise [accessed 11th January 2016]

[3] Joy Wilke, Americans’ Satisfaction With US Gov’t Drops To New Low  [accessed 11th January 2016])

[4] Quote from Bradford Richardson, Trump: Obama ‘led the way’ on executive orders, The Hill, January 10th 2016 [accessed 11th January 2016]

[5] Data from Real Clear Politics [accessed 12th January 2016]


This was originally published on Dafydd’s own blog and has been republished here with his permission .
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History’s Student Newsletter: vol.4, January 2016

History’s student newsletter is now online!

We will be putting up our back issues shortly, but for now here is our current issue.

4th Jan 2016 p.1

4th Jan 2016 p.2

4th Jan 2016 p.3




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US Election Special: Known Knowns and Known Unknowns of the 2016 Race to the White House (1/3)

US Election main

By Dafydd Townley

In just ten months time the United States electorate will vote on who will be the 45th President of the United States. The first primaries start next month in New Hampshire with the party debates between the potential candidates scheduled to continue until March. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have their conventions in mid to late July where their final candidate will be decided upon. While the predicted winner of this year’s election is still very much in the balance, there are some conclusions that can be made from the debates that have already taken place.

As unpredictable as the final result of the election, is the identity of the final candidate for the Republican Party. The party that did so well in the mid-term elections of 2014 appears to be spontaneously combusting and as a consequence destroying their chances of a victory in November. The large number of candidates throwing their hat into the ring has damaged the eventual winner’s opportunity to steal a march on their Democrat opponent. The large number of debates has given the candidates greater opportunities to shoot themselves in the foot. The ridiculously large debates have led to shouting matches where the candidates’ own advantages are being sidelined for swipes at their rivals’ weaknesses. It has become a competition of who shouts the longest and loudest will in all likelihood be the eventual candidate.

Which brings up the subject of Donald Trump. Trump is a phenomenon that neither the Republican Party nor the Democrats can ignore. Initially ridiculed for his outrageous views and ridiculous comb-over, his support has increased over the debating period. Trump currently has a lead with 39% support of Republican voters, ahead of 18% for Ted Cruz and 13% for Marco Rubio.[1] Part of the reason for Trump’s lead has been his ability to dominate the media at the expense of his rivals. Trump’s statements and policies have appeared to some as extreme but the subsequent press coverage has meant his candidacy opponents have been kept out of the headlines. In order to harvest any publicity the remaining candidates have been forced to attempt to score points off each other during the debates. In the ensuing morass the candidates’ policies have been lost. While some criticism of Trump’s performances in the debates is justified, he has no need to go on the attack; instead, his rivals give the appearance of a party in chaos with Trump offering to be the steady hand on the tiller.

Known Knowns and Known Unknowns 1

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have no such worries. Clinton currently polls at 53.3%, a 21% lead on closest rival Bernie Sanders.[2] While the Republican candidates bicker and fight for attention, Clinton and her rivals have targeted potential candidate Trump. If Trump manages to gain the Republican candidacy, then his extreme views on immigration will likely lead to moderate swing voters supporting Clinton. Clinton’s chance of election is more likely to be damaged by the actions of the incumbent president. Obama’s apparent discarding of the Bush Doctrine and its unilateral initiatives have already led to criticisms of a weakened American global image. Obama’s foreign policy has led to accusations by Republican candidate Senator Marco Rubio of having ‘deliberately weakened America’ and of putting America ‘is in far greater danger today than it was eight years ago.’[3]

It is the possible connection to the Obama administration that will damage any of the Democrat candidates in succeeding to the White House. Clinton’s connection to Benghazi and her time as Secretary of State under Obama could cause her more difficulties than any issues over classified emails on a personal laptop. However, Obama’s attempts to change the gun ownership laws have already been met with Republican broadsides. Concerns of the current Democrat president’s apparent attempt to deny citizens their Second Amendment rights will only further the Republican cause.

Whatever consequences Obama’s actions – and the developing situation in the Middle East – have for the Democrats, they cannot afford to take Trump lightly. and neither should the Republicans. If the GOP decides to sidestep Trump as a candidate he could decide to stand as independent candidate. Although he has stated this is unlikely, Trump has also indicated he will not give up his candidacy. His attraction to both the conservative and white evangelical powerbase of the Republicans could wreck any GOP candidate. Just as in 1992 with Ross Perot, the independent candidate could do irreparable damage to the Republican Party and allow a Clinton into the White House.

[1] NBC News/Survey Monkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll for the week of December 28, 2015 through January 3, 2016

[2] From collated data

[3] Senator Marco Rubio address to American Legion, Hooksett, New Hampshire, 4th January 2016


This was originally published on Dafydd’s own blog and has been republished here with his permission .
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Medieval Christmas Celebrations

by Dr Ruth Salter

Medieval Christmas 1
Feasting at King Arthur’s court, British Library MS Royal 20 D. iv. f.1r.
It was Christmas at Camelot, and there was the king with his leading lords and all his best soldiers, the famous company of the whole Round Table – celebrating in style: not a care in the world. Again and again strong men tussled, and the noble knights jousted with vigour till they rode to the court to start dancing. Celebrations continued the whole fortnight with all the feasting and pleasure that people could think of. It was fine to hear such a glorious commotion: lively uproar all day and dancing at night… With the change of the calendar on New Year’s Day the courses were doubled for the top table. When the king and the knights arrived in the hall and Mass was over in the echoing chapel, the singing continued from priests and the rest, and ‘Noel!’ was called out over and over. Then out they ran to bring in the presents, and, shouting greetings, the handed them round, excitedly arguing which were the best… Delicacies were brought of the rarest foods in endless abundance, on plates of such number it was hard to find room in front of the diners to set down the silver that held all these dishes there on the cloth. No one stinted them as they all helped themselves. Twelve dishes to each couple, good beer and gleaming wine. I’ll give you no more details about this rich feast; you’ll have got the idea, there was no shortage.

As the Green Knight makes his first appearance to the assembled court so ends the description of Camelot’s Christmas celebrations in the late fourteenth-century romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A fictional depiction it may be, but it must be imagined that elements of these luxuriant celebrations would have rung true with the contemporary noble audience. In fact, certain elements of this celebration, particularly the food and feasting, still resonate today.

Preparation for Christmas in the Middle Ages, as now, started long before the 25th December. But throughout the medieval period advent was a time for fasting. Advent also marked a period in the medieval calendar for the slaughtering of animals, and preparing foods to last the winter months, an activity which features heavily in manuscript images for the month of December.

Medieval Christmas 2
Depiction of December from a c.1276 Psalter, Bodleian Library MS Auct. D.4. 2. f.9v.

Christmas celebrations were also spread out for much longer periods of time, with even peasants celebrating the full twelve days of Christmas, up to the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January. For royalty and aristocrats, these celebrations might go on longer still, potentially extending for around forty days and the celebration of Candlemas on 2nd February.

But, after the advent fast, what types of food and drink were placed on the medieval table? The household accounts of Sir Hamon le Strange of Hunstanton, Norfolk include the expenses for Christmas Week 1347. These expenses cover the costs for Sir Hamon and his wife, Sir John de Camoys, Lady de Camoys and her maids, and Hamon’s ‘free servants’: ‘Richard the chaplain, the butler, the cook, with the groom, two boys, and one lad’:

Tuesday. Christmas Day. For bread bought for the kitchen by John the cook, 1/2d. For 2 gallons of wine bought at Heacham by the lord, 12d. In store, 1 porker for the larder, price 4s; 1 small pig, price 6d; 1 swan from the lord John Camoys, price… 2 hens of rent. And received from Gressenhall 6 rabbits, and 2 rabbits from John of Somerton as a gift. Whereof consumed 5 rabbits and one ham.
[d = pence, s = shillings]

Turkey for Christmas was, of course, out of the question as the bird had not yet been discovered in the Americas. Thus various other birds (such as swan, goose or chicken) were consumed, as were pork and rabbit. Interestingly, Sir Hamon’s expenses also include fish: from plaice at ‘1/2d’; to sprats ‘1/2d’; and ‘one kymp of herrings’.

The expenses, unsurprisingly, do not include any information on how these foods were prepared but the Curye on Inglysch, a collection of fourteenth-century English culinary recipes, includes a recipe for ‘cormarye’ (pork roast with spiced wine):

Cormarye. Take colyaundre, caraway small grounden, powdour of peper and garlic ygrounde, in red wyne; medle alle thise togyder and salt it. Take loynes of pork rawe and fle of the skyn, and pryk it wel with a knfy, and lay it in the sawse. Roost it whan thou wilt, & kepe that that fallith terfro in the rostyng and seeth it in a possynet with faire broth, & serue it forth with the roost anoon.
Cormarye. Take coriander, ground caraway seeds, powdered pepper, and ground garlic, in red wine; mix all this together and salt it. Take the raw pork loins and flay off the skin, and prick it well with a knife, and lay it in the sauce. Roast it when you will, and keep the pork that fall in the roast and boil it in a posset with light broth, and serve it with the roast. (own translation)

At different levels of the social spectrum the abundance of food would naturally have varied. Christmas was a time when manorial tenants would pay their rents to their lord, and partake in a customary communal feast.  The copious and continued feasting of nobles would hardly be matched by those of lower social standing, however this was one of the few times a year that peasants would have eaten meat and even had a break from labouring so as to enjoy seasonal entertainments.

Medieval Christmas 3
A group of mummers (performers, sometimes in masks), Bodleian Library MS Bodley 264, f.21v.

Medieval communities enjoyed an array of festive entertainment from games to music and plays. Again, the types of entertainment on offer would have altered depending on social standing but the twelve days of Christmas were a period of frivolity for all. To get an idea of the type of entertainment on offer in the late fifteenth century it is worth considering an extract the letter written by Margery Paston to her husband, John, on Christmas Eve. In it she relates that Lady Morley cancelled a number of festive activities the Christmas after the passing of her husband, William Lovel, Lord Morley, (d. 26th July 1476). It can be assumed that had she not been in mourning, these entertainments would have been part of the Morely’s annual celebrations:

24th December, 1484
To my right worschipful husbond, John Paston.
… I sent your eldest sunne to my Lady Morlee to have knolage wat sports were in her hows in Kyrstemesse next folloyng aftyr the decysse of my lord, her husbond; and sche seyd that ther wer non dysgysyngs, ner harpyng,, ner lutyng, ner syngyn, ner non lowed dysports, but pleyng at the tabyllys, and schesse, and cards. Sweche dysports sche gave her folkys leve to play and non odyr.
To my right worshipful husband, John Paston.
… I sent your eldest son to my Lady Morley to have knowledge of what sports were in her house in Christmas after the decease of my lord, her husband; and she said that there were no disguisings [mask-wearing], nor harping, not luting, nor singing, nor any loud sports, but playing at the tables [board games], and chess, and cards. Such sports she gave her folk leave to play and none other. (own translation)

Additionally, by the later medieval centuries, there was a tradition of ceremonially bringing a whole, cooked boar’s head into the feasting hall – thus combining feasting and entertainment. It is unclear whether the boar’s head was seen as a delicacy or merely as ritual but by the early modern period some feasts replaced the real head with a wooden version. The boar’s head would be brought in to the hall with a procession of costumed dancers who would sing a special song. One version of this song was so popular that it was put into print in Wynkyn de Worde’s Christmasse Carolles of 1521:

A Carol Bringing In The Boar’s Head
Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.
The boar’s head in hand bring I ,
With garlands gay and rosemary,
I pray you all sing merrily,
    Qui estis in conuiuio.
The boar’s head, I understand,
Is the chief service in this land.
Look wherever it be found,
    Seruite cum cantico.
Be glad, lords, both more and less,
For this hath ordained our steward,
To cheer you all this Christmas,
The boar’s head with mustard.

While today’s Christmas entertainment, and foods, may differ from our medieval forebears it is clear that there are similarities in our festive celebrations too. Then, like now, it was a time of celebration and communal gatherings. Of course, the religious festival – the celebration of the birth of Christ – was of the upmost importance but then, as now, there was always time for a party as well!

Medieval Christmas 4
The arrival of the magi, University of Reading Special Collections MS. 2087, f.62r.


CITED (in order of appearance)
trans. O’Donoghue, B. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (London, Penguin. 2006) ll.37-130.
eds. Fisher, H. E. S. and Juřica A. R. J. Documents in English Economic History: England from 1000 to 1760. (London, G. Bell & Sons Ltd. 1977) pp.407-9.
ed. & trans. Black, M. The Medieval Cookbook: 50 authentic recipes, translated and adapted for the modern cook. (London, The British Museum Press. 2012) pp.116-17.
Gairnder, J. The Paston Letters 1422-1509 A.D. Volume III: Edward IV – Henry VII, 1471-1509 A.D. (London, Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd. 1900) pp.314-15
de Montbaston, J. ‘Memorializing Loss: A Christmas Carol for Medieval Women’ blog post.
Mortimer, I. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. (London, Vintage Books. 2009).
Peverley, S. ‘Christmas at the Medieval Court’ blog post.
Peverley, S. ‘Medieval Christmas’ blog post. []
Townsend, L. ‘Rites of Winter – Medieval Christmas Revels’ blog post.

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Inventing the English Christmas

by Dr Anne Lawrence-Mathers

Did the Anglo-Saxons have a midwinter festival before the coming of Christianity and Christmas? Most of what is documented comes from the work of the Venerable Bede (c672-735). His references to pagan practices suggest distaste for what he perceived as ‘primitive’ behaviour. Bede records that there was a month called Blodmonath (Bloodmonth) which equated to November. The name came from the fact that this was the time of year at which the pagans slaughtered their cattle, first dedicating them to the gods and making sacrifices. Bede says that the Old English word for month, monath, came from the word for Moon, since the pagan calendar was a lunar one (unlike the Roman and Christian solar calendar). He also says that the Winter season, according to the Anglo-Saxons, began after the Autumn Equinox, at the first Full Moon in what is now October. Winter’s first festival was thus the sacrificial feasting celebrated in Blodmonath.

Rather contradictorily, Bede goes on to say that the pagan year began on a date fixed by the solar calendar. This was the Winter Solstice, on 25 December, which gives him the opportunity to point out that this same day is now when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. Bede calls the festival which marked this pagan New Year Modranecht or Mothers’ Night. He emphasises that it involved ‘heathen ceremonies’ which went on all through the night, and drops hints about the name.

A-S Christmas 1

Christian Motherhood, depicted by an Anglo-Saxon artist for the bishop of Winchester, British Library Ms Add. 49598 f.15v.

The month in which the festival fell was a very long one, spanning both December and January in the Roman/Christian calendar. Strikingly, this month was called Giuli, a name linked to Yule. The familiar ideas of bringing a Yule log into the home, to burn throughout this time, and of having branches of evergreen foliage at key points in the house, now associated with Christmas, were linked to Yule. The medieval descriptions of Christmas feasts involving the whole, cooked heads of animals – especially boars- and of dancers dressing up in animal-head costumes, correspond with images linked both to the animal slaughter of Blodmonath and to the feasting of Yule. All this suggests a considerable input from pagan practices into Christmas, since the early Christian Church had not treated Christmas as a major feast like Easter, but more cautiously as a commemoration of Christ’s incarnation.

However, an early pilgrim account describes a midnight mass held in Bethlehem at the feast of Epiphany, to celebrate the coming of the Magi, which was followed by a procession, beginning at dawn, to Jerusalem. This combination was incorporated into Christmas celebrations in Rome during the 5th century, and a special ‘crib chapel’ in a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was created for the purpose. Readings and prayers emphasised Christ as the ‘rising sun’, a theme closely related to the night of the solstice. These nocturnal and early-morning services were followed by a full Mass, whose texts and music focused on the significance of Christ as a newborn baby. The earliest descriptions of church services for the season from Anglo-Saxon England continue the emphasis on Christ as bringer of light and hope into human and winter darkness. The timing was enforced by royal instructions in the 10th century, and major churches had to take care that the morning Mass was said at dawn.

A-S Christmas 2

A service in the Anglo-Saxon cathedral at Winchester, British Library Ms Add. 49598 f.118v.

However, just as the ‘Yule’ month of the pagan Anglo-Saxons was an extra-long one, so the Christian rituals of the re-styled midwinter and New Year period constituted a long set of celebrations. They reached a second peak at Epiphany, in early January, and came to their conclusion only in early February, with Candlemas. This also was a transformation of a ritual which was originally pagan, according to Bede; but this one had begun in ancient Rome, not in Anglo-Saxon England. Its emphasis was on a time of cleansing, before the communal return to ordinary life; and this centred, as in the pagan custom, on a communal procession through the darkness, with each person carrying a lit candle through the dark streets and into the church.

A-S Christmas 3

The Magi and their Gifts, depicted for the bishop of Winchester, British Library Ms Add. 49598 f.24v.

Descriptions of the secular side of the Christmas feast are almost non-existent. In Anglo-Saxon literature generally, food is of much less significance than drink, and descriptions of feasts emphasise the shared conviviality, the warmth (literal and emotional) and the large quantity of alcoholic drinks consumed. The emphasis is also on the importance of the feast in rituals of male bonding, with women providing a decorative and supportive presence – before retiring early. This makes Bede’s description of Mothers’ Night something very different from a standard feast.

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Christmas under Cromwell

by Dr Rachel Foxley

In modern Britain – in spite of what some of the papers sometimes say – you would have to look quite hard to find anyone who made no concessions at all to Christmas. Many people without christian heritage celebrate it pretty enthusiastically. Christmas has not been replaced by ‘Winterval’, and it doesn’t look likely that it will be. Perhaps Christmas has become secular enough not to be divisive, or perhaps people are just happy to celebrate an extra festival – especially as it now feels like a national holiday as much as a religious ‘holy day’.

But during and after the English Civil Wars – when the nation’s christian identity was not in doubt – Christmas did become divisive, and it really was under attack, by the government itself. Godly protestants – puritans, as they were nicknamed – were an essential part of the parliamentarian war effort which defeated Charles I and eventually led to his execution. Working on the principle that if it wasn’t in the Bible, it wasn’t truly christian, they condemned the practice of celebrating the traditional feasts of the christian calendar, rather than just the sabbath. The feasts were idolatrous and popish – and all too popular – whereas keeping the sabbath was a godly obligation that was all too often neglected. Rather than feasts, the godly preferred to focus on fasts, and parliament sponsored a monthly fast day. In 1647, parliament banned Christmas, Easter, and all other former holy days, which had been ‘superstitiously used and observed’. Recognizing that these days had provided an opportunity for much needed rest and recreation for apprentices and servants – and reminding us that puritans were not always complete killjoys, even if they were deadly serious about religious observances – they put in place a monthly day of recreation on the second Tuesday of the month.

 Cromwellian Christmas 1

But right from the start the ban on Christmas ran up against the whole weight of popular tradition. People were not going to do without their holiday and the various foodstuffs and festivities which went with it. On 24 December 1647 the House of Commons ordered that the militia committees of the capital city should go into action to make sure that those who obeyed the ban on Christmas were not met with ‘Affronts, Abuses, and Prejudices’ when they tried to open their shops as if it were a normal working day. Who might launch such attacks? ‘Malignants’ – those opposed to the parliamentarian cause – ‘or others’. It was not just royalists who wanted to defend Christmas – which was why the ban tended to fail so dismally – but Christmas did become a test of allegiances, and celebrating it could be an act of defiance.

Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that after Charles I was executed and replaced first by a republic and then by the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, Christmas retained its popularity and the authorities tended to be even more suspicious of those celebrating it. In 1650, the Council of State ‘received several Informations, that there was a very wilful and strict Observation of the Day commonly called Christmas Day, throughout the Cities of London and Westminster, by a general Keeping of their Shops shut up: and that there were contemptuous Speeches used by some in favour thereof’. Interpreting this as a sign of ‘Contempt of the present Laws and Government’ they asked that parliament also make sure that images of Charles I were removed from churches and other public places round the capital. Ten days before Christmas in 1654, one Policarpus Rock was writing to the authorities asking for help to seize some suspected Catholic priests: ‘Christmas will bee the best time to looke for them; for then they will be imployed at gentlemen’s houses’. But it wasn’t just Catholics, royalists or enemies of the regime who celebrated Christmas: some MPs did too. In 1656, the ‘third-generation puritan’ MP William Strickland proposed that the House should sit on Christmas day specifically so ‘that it might be known who are absent’. When the sitting commenced on 25 December, it was lamented that ‘the House is thin; much, I believe, occasioned by observation of this day’ and one member proposed to bring in a bill about it – although, as others pointed out, it might have been more constructive to introduce the topic ten days earlier. The hard core of MPs who sat that day – one complaining that he hadn’t been able to sleep for the noise of people preparing ‘this foolish day’s solemnity’ – had serious business to do. They hoped, while more moderate members were absent, to secure support for the decimation tax, which royalists were forced to pay to support the government of the localities by the hated Major Generals. Lambert, speaking in the debate, could hardly conceal his contempt for the (supposedly forgiven) former royalists: ‘They are, haply, now merry over their Christmas pies, drinking the King of Scots’ health, or your confusion.’ (The future Charles II had been declared king by the Scots). It was only right to tax these Christmas-pie-eating traitors.

It was in 1657, though, that the regime came down most heavily on Christmas. The diarist John Evelyn went to London to an Anglican service on Christmas day: ‘Sermon Ended, as he was giving us the holy Sacrament, The Chapell was surrounded with Souldiers: All the Communicants and Assembly surpriz’d & kept Prisoners by them, some in the house, others carried away’. Evelyn and the others found themselves questioned by Cromwellian soldiers, who took names and addresses, and wanted to know ‘why contrarie to an Ordinance made that none should any longer observe the superstitious time of the Nativity (so esteem’d by them) I durst offend, & particularly be at Common prayers, which they told me was but the Masse in English, & particularly pray for Charles stuard, for which we had no Scripture’. A few days later, a regime loyalist reporting to John Thurloe, Cromwell’s Secretary of State and spymaster, began his letter, with some irony, ‘You will give me leave so farre to observe Christmas, as to send you this letter for a new-yeare’s gift; and I shall therein give you some account of the Christmas spirit, that I perceive stirring in this and other places.’ Thurloe’s informant had deliberately set out to hear an illegal Christmas sermon, in order to inform himself of what the enemy were up to. What he discovered was that Christmas was just as politically loaded for the regime’s opponents as it was for its most zealous supporters. The preacher told his audience that ‘he doubted not to declare him a schismatick, who did not observe Christmas-day; and further, that he that denyed to keepe that day, deserved not to live another day.’ For this preacher – who went on to make royalist comments – it was those who didn’t celebrate Christmas who were the traitors.

Cromwellian Christmas 2

The supporters of Christmas must surely have been a majority. Plenty of those who were prepared to sit in parliament in the 1650s were also, as we’ve seen, keen to be at home with their families on 25 December, celebrating in ways which they presumably didn’t think were ‘popish’ or ‘superstitious’, but which may still have been traditional. Even those who did link Christmas with popery had difficulty in making it sound anything less than enormous fun. In 1646 a pamphlet depicted royalist ‘malignants’ as flocking round Old Father Christmas seeking holy relics in the form of clippings from the old man’s beard or nails. But this tale of the imprisoning of Christmas was said to be ‘Printed by Simon Minc’d Pye, for Cissely Plum-porridge‘, and emphasized the warm welcome Christmas received in every home. The ‘old, old, old, very old, gray bearded Gentleman, called Christmas… was wont to be a verie familiar ghest, and visite all sorts of people both poor and rich… and in every house roast Beefe and Mutton, Pies and Plumporrige, and all manner of delicates round about him, and every one saluting merry Christmas’. Perhaps the pamphlet was even a double-bluff, satirizing the puritans’ horror at the popery of Christmas? Either way, the pamphleteer gave Old Christmas the last laugh: thrown in prison by the authorities, the old man ‘got out at so narrow a passage, between two Iron Bars of a Window, that nothing but onely his old gray beard and hoarie hair of his head stuck there, but nothing else to be seen of him’. Father Christmas could not be imprisoned, and Christmas could not be suppressed.

Christmas 2015: A Pre-Modern Christmas

This year the Department of History’s seasonal theme is ‘A Pre-Modern Christmas’.

The halls have been deced in the department and we have a caption competition for our students running at the moment.  The competiton is based on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ‘Hunters in the Snow’ (1565) which is on show in the history corridor.  Students are being asked to suggest what they think the figures could be saying by adding their comments to the speech bubble.

Prof. Matthew Worley, Student Rep. Sean Atkinson, and Dr Jacqui Turner busy decorating last Friday.

Here on the blog we will also be celebrating our festive theme with a series of blog posts from our medievalists and early-modernists.  Our posts will begin this Friday (11th) and will run up to Christmas, so be sure to follow us here or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to make sure you don’t miss out!

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow. 1565


Our caption competition painting, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ‘Hunters in the Snow’ – to join in the fun add your suggested comments to the reproduction in the department (and remember ot add your student number to be in with a chance to win a prize!)


Martin Luther King and the FBI


Written by: Dafydd Townley

On or about the 6th November 1964, this letter was posted to Martin Luther King. The civil rights leader had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for work in campaigning for racial equality in the United States. The letter, written as though it was from a black civil rights worker, urged him to commit suicide. He was, according to the anonymous author, ‘a complete fraud and a great liability.’

Accompanying the letter was a tape recording of selected excerpts from the taps of King’s telephones and the bugs from his hotel rooms. The author threatened to reveal King’s adulterous affairs that were clearly evident on the audio recording. In order to stop his ‘filthy, abnormal fraudulent self’ from being bared to the nation, King was urged to commit suicide within 34 days. The letter stated that the timing had been ‘selected for a specific reason’ but did not reveal the practical significance. There was indeed a logical reasoning to the timing – it was the day that King was due to receive his Nobel Prize. While the nature of such a letter is disturbing, what is more alarming is that members of J Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) authored the letter. The agent in charge of the operation was Assistant Director Cartha D ‘Deke’ DeLoach although it is unlikely he personally wrote the letter. When King took no action DeLoach tried to coerce Washington Post chief Benjamin Bradlee into publishing the details, but Bradlee refused.


The letter was part of a wider undertaking by the FBI to discredit King and the campaign for civil rights. The operation consisted of a number of elements from a series of Counter Intelligence Programs (COINTELPRO) that targeted King and his acquaintances between 1958 and his death in April 1968. King had originally been brought to the attention of the FBI when the Bureau investigated the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. Concerned that members of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) had infiltrated the SCLC, Hoover had organised a covert investigation under the title COINTELPRO-CPUSA. The operation – like all of those that targeted King – failed to find any concrete evidence that affiliated King with communism.

King was also targeted under the COINTELPRO-Black Nationalist campaign. This COINTELPRO encompassed every black nationalist or black power group active in the United States. According to a FBI memo of August 25, 1967, the objective of the campaign was to ‘expose, disrupt, miscredit, discredit, or otherwise neutralise’ the various groups. Targets included the SCLC, the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Bureau attempted to discredit the groups by suggesting infiltration by communists and therefore deny the groups respectability. Other methods of propaganda used by the Bureau to hinder the effectiveness of the groups included disinformation and slander. King was not alone in being targeted for personal campaigns – Stokely Carmichael, Elijah Mohammed and Malcolm X were just a few of the many leaders, national and local, that the Bureau focused on.


King however was not just targeted because of his political views. It is true that Hoover had initially drawn the Bureau’s attention to King because he saw him as a threat to the socio-political status quo. However, continued efforts by the Bureau were due to Hoover’s own jealousy of the public adoration that King was receiving from the public. He had convinced Attorney General Robert F Kennedy in November 1963 to authorise the electronic surveillance of King. Kennedy, concerned about the harm that possible revelation of King’s communist associates could do to his brother’s presidency, made a Faustian pact with Hoover. The information that the Bureau acquired was used by Hoover to wage a campaign that was both political and personal in nature. This was totally outside the remit of the Bureau.

The letter was initially made public in 1975 as part of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. The Church Committee, as it was popularly called after its chairman Senator Frank Church, investigated the post-war activities of the US intelligence community in the wake of the Watergate scandal. The letter to King and the COINTELPRO operations were just two of a number of nefarious activities undertaken by the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA). The investigation lasted for twelve months and produced a final report that totalled 7 volumes of hearings and exhibits and 6 books of reports that both shocked and dismayed Americans.


The letter to King was originally redacted by the Church Committee so that the majority of it was unseen by the American public. But in the summer of 2014 an uncensored version was found by Yale historian Beverley Gage when she was researching for her book on J Edgar Hoover at the National Archives in Washington. Gage told the New York Times that she found the letter ‘tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files.’ If the redacted version had caused so much alarm to the American public in 1975, the uncensored version confirms the despair at one of the Bureau’s most desperate and immoral periods of its existence.

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The Stenton Lecture and Symposium 2015


Thursday 19th November marks the date of this year’s Stenton Lecture which is preceded by the Stenton Symposium.

What is the Stenton Lecture?

The Stenton lecture is an annual lecture by an eminent historian, hosted by the Department and held in honour of its founders, Sir Frank and Lady Stenton, both of whom were responsible for building the reputation of the University of Reading as a centre for historical excellence.

This year has marked a number of momentous medieval anniversaries, including the 800th year since Magna Carta and the reburial of Richard III (this time in Leicester Cathedral).  The Battle of Agincourt, likewise, celebrated a milestone anniversary this year, with October 25th marking 600 years since a battle which is almost as much legend as history.

The Stenton Lecture: ‘Why does Agincourt matter?’, Prof. Anne Curry (Southampton)

6.30-8.00pm, Henley Business School G11.

The Battle of Agincourt entered almost immediately into both history and legend. For the English it was, and still is, one of the greatest military successes ever; and for the French it remains ‘the accursed day’. The unlikeliness of the victory, and the personal role of King Henry V, have been significant elements of the legend, due in no small part to their depiction by Shakespeare. Henry’s exhortation to his exhausted and outnumbered troops, as imagined by Shakespeare, is one of the great pieces of military rhetoric. Its insistence that the army constituted a ‘band of brothers’ may not represent the ideas of 1415; but it resonated for Shakespeare’s audience, and has been effectively deployed by British military and media ever since. The battle itself played a key role in the struggle for dominance in France which had begun nearly a century earlier, and which speeded the development of national (and nationalistic) ideologies on both sides of the conflict. The French army fought bitterly and to the death against the invaders, and the death toll was horrific, both in the battle itself and in Henry’s alleged decision to have prisoners of war killed. Commemorating the 600th anniversary of this epoch-making battle, this year’s Stenton lecture addresses the question: ‘Why Does Agincourt Matter?’

Anne Curry (Professor of Medieval History at the University of Southampton) is uniquely qualified to ask and to answer this question. 2015 has seen the publication of her latest books, Great Battles; Agincourt (OUP), and Henry V (Penguin). New editions of her ground-breaking Agincourt; A New History and The Battle of Agincourt; Sources and Interpretations are also forthcoming. She is historical adviser to the Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London and joint editor of the catalogue-book: The Battle of Agincourt (Yale). Professor Curry is Academic co-chair of the Agincourt 600 committee and chair of the trustees of the Agincourt 600 charity, and has appeared frequently on Radio and TV. She has also played a leading role in extensive research into the records detailing the soldiers who made up the English armies of the Hundred Years War. This research underpins new understandings of both Agincourt and the campaigns of which it was part. Moreover, it is an important contribution to the new military history, which is having an influence even in such unexpected places as the United States Central Command. Identification of the men who served on the English side in the Hundred Years war has shown that many actually did fight in numerous campaigns together, giving credence to the idea of mutual trust as an important factor for those fighting in hostile territory. However, even the crushing victory of Agincourt could not ensure the acceptance by the local population which is needed if military occupation and regime change are to become lasting peace and security. For all these reasons, it is important not only to commemorate Agincourt but also to learn from it.

The Stenton Symposium: ‘The “Great Battle” in Medieval History’

2.00-5.00pm, Humanities and Social Sciences Building G25.

Preceding Anne Curry’s lecture on Thursday is the Stenton Symposium which considers the theme of medieval battles more broadly asking if a battle change history, even in a society which valued military success as highly as did that of Medieval Europe? Or are ‘great’ battles merely the products of the imaginations of those who write at desks far removed from battlefields?

This Symposium will develop an analysis of the role of individual battles in both medieval warfare and medieval history more broadly. The term ‘battle’ itself is notoriously difficult to define, and has changed in meaning as the technology and strategy of warfare have evolved. Exact records are not always available, and the accounts of witnesses and survivors are notoriously variable and open to pressures of various sorts.

This Symposium will focus on medieval Europe, from c.1000 to c.1450, and will bring an inter-disciplinary approach to bear on these questions. The opening paper will be given by Prof. Beatrice Heuser (Reading), who will explore key areas for discussion and debate. Other speakers include: Matthew Bennett (Sandhurst); Marianne Ailes (Exeter); Adrian Bell (Reading); and Tony Moore (Reading).


Further details of both the Stenton Lecture and the Stenton Symposium can be found via the History department’s pages.

For those who have yet to register but would like to you will need to book online.

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Career Events in the Coming Week

The University’s Careers service offers numerous different events throughout term to help you gain the skills and confidence required in the future.

We have hand-picked a few events taking place next week which we think might be of particular interest to students undertaking a histroy degree:

  • Getting into journalism and media, 24th October, 1pm

  • Introduction to the RED Award, 25th October, 1pm

  • Working in museums and heritage, 25th October, 5pm

  • Introduction to the Civil Service Fast Stream, 26th October, 3pm

To book a place on one of these courses, or for more informations, please visits the My Jobs Online pages.

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Career Events in the Coming Week

The University’s Careers service offers numerous different events throughout term to help you gain the skills and confidence required in the future.

We have hand-picked a few events taking place next week which we think might be of particular interest to students undertaking a histroy degree:

  • RED Award completion session, 17th October, 5pm

  • LinkedIn for beginners, 18th October, 1pm

  • Careers that make a difference to others, 18th October, 1pm

  • Assessment Centres with the Civil Service Fast Stream, 18th October, 1pm

  • Introduction to the RED Award, 19th October, 5pm

  • Explore careers in law, 20th October, 1pm

To book a place on one of these courses, or for more informations, please visits the My Jobs Online pages.

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Thoughts From the Second Debate

by Dafydd Townley

The second presidential election debate this year in St Louis provided one of the most acrimonious encounters between the two contenders. While many expected Hillary Clinton to provide the coup de grace that would end her opponent’s campaign, it was Donald Trump that provided all of the fireworks. Trump managed to answer questions about his ‘locker-room’ video and sexual impropriety clearly and turn the focus onto Clinton and her husband. The Republican Party candidate charged that there had been ‘nobody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women’ as former president Bill Clinton, and that Hillary Clinton would be in prison over her national security failure surrounding emails on her private server. Trump, while not taking an advantage in the race to the White House, certainly managed to assure supporters that the race was not over.


The Presidential debates have been influential throughout their history. The debates were first held in the 1960 election that saw Senator John F Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon spar over the issues of the day. Kennedy had argued throughout his campaign that the Eisenhower Administration had been negligent and allowed the Soviet Union to create a ‘missile gap’ between itself and the US. American influence throughout the world during the Cold War was at risk said Kennedy. In the first debate, the then relatively unknown Kennedy showed an air of charm and sophistication that won over the minds of the American public. Nixon, recently recovered from a stay in hospital, dabbed the sweat from his brow and upper lip under the hot studio lights, and the image lasted long in the public’s mind. Those that had listened to the debate on the radio however believed that Nixon had won, but style won over substance. Despite Nixon rallying well in the subsequent debates Kennedy’s tanned good looks, in comparison to those of a fatigued and underweight Nixon proved to be a decisive factor. Kennedy and his advisors later attributed winning the election by a majority of just 0.17% of the popular vote down to his mastery of the television.


Despite the success of the debates in taking television to a new forum, the event has never been a required one – Lyndon Johnson never enjoyed the medium of television and therefore refused to take part during the 1964 election. Nixon never trusted the media after what he felt was an unfair portrayal in the 1960 debates and avoided any televised debate in both the 1968 and 1972 elections. The next election that had a televised debate was in 1976 contested between incumbent President Gerald R Ford and Democrat candidate Jimmy Carter, former governor of Georgia. Ford had been advised by his staff not to take part in the events. Despite being intelligent and experienced in politics, Ford was an uninspiring speaker. Ford had become Vice President because of the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and then President through the resignation of Richard Nixon because of the Watergate affair. Ford felt that the debates would show the American public that he deserved to be there on merit, not just by chance.

The debates initially proved less of a turning point than those of the Kennedy-Nixon era. That is until the second debate. When asked a question about American-Soviet relations Ford produced an answer that would irrevocably damage his chances of staying in the White House. In the height of the Cold War, with the Eastern half of Europe firmly under the yoke of Soviet-directed communism Ford said ‘there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.’[1] Despite being given the chance to correct himself Ford remained committed to his answer. Such a basic error was to be costly to the Ford campaign. Despite a late Ford rally Carter, with an unassailable lead in the polls thanks to Ford’s mistake, was duly elected the 39th President of the United States.

thumbnail_Ford Carter debate.jpg

The current debates seem to be less about policy and more about mudslinging, and judging on the second debate’s explosive encounter it suits Trump more. Trump is comfortable with the television cameras thanks to his work on the Apprentice, and slicker with his adlibs. Despite Clinton’s attempt to move the debate onto policies and audience-led questions she failed to lead him into making a Ford-like basic error. Clinton will need to make sure that in an election that is proving to be unlike any other, she avoids similar errors. Whether the debates prove to be anything other than car-crash television remains to be seen.

[1] Second Debate Transcript, October 6, 1976, found at Commission on Presidential Debates ( Accessed October 10, 2016