Author Archives

Atrocity on Film: Movie-making and Genocide

by Michelle Tusan (University of Nevada at Las Vegas) Filmmaking always has had a politics. Nowhere have the stakes been higher than in representing acts of atrocity, terror and genocide. It started with the dawn of film in the early twentieth century when the first atrocity film ever made and was released to transatlantic audiences in 1918. Ravished Armenia or Auction of Souls as it was known outside of the US told the story of the massacre of 1.5 million Armenian civilians during World War I (1914- 1918) by the Ottoman imperial government. It was followed by a host of other attempts to represent the massacres on film. This included MGM’s failure to turn Franz Werfel’s book The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933) into a movie because of lobbying and interference from Turkey. More recently, director Atom Egoyan’s critically acclaimed film Ararat (2002) depicted the genocide through stories of remembrance and denial. The Promise (2017), the $100 million dollar MGM epic gave the movie studio another chance to tell the story. Intent to Destroy (2017), a documentary about the making of The Promise and its historical context, is the latest in a series of attempts to get the popular […]

Past & Present Article Wins Syrian Studies Association Prize

by the Past & Present editorial team Dr. Benjamin Thomas White has won the 2017 Syrian Studies Association “Prize for the Most Outstanding Article or Book Chapter” for “Refugees and the Definition of Syria, 1920-1939” which appeared in Past & Present No. 235 (May 2017). Deeming the piece “remarkable”, the prize committee summarised the article’s contribution to scholarship in the most glowing terms: “Examining the influx of refugees into the Syrian Mandate during the interwar period, Benjamin Thomas White convincingly argues that modern state formation in Syria was largely shaped by its response to the presence of these refugees and the attendant controversies over their place in the nascent Syria.  Combining Arabic newspapers with French colonial archival documents, White demonstrates that the flow of refugees brought state authority into many rural areas for the first time, while intensifying it in the cities.  Refugee flows also brought geographical borders into sharper definition and profoundly influenced the crafting of nationality laws.  White’s innovative and informative article sheds light on the complex interactions among various Syrian and foreign actors in shaping a national and territorial Syria.  This article greatly contributes not only to our knowledge of Syrian history but also to the present crisis in Syria and its repercussions in Europe and the Mediterranean.” In addition to the prize itself White has been invited, as is the Syrian Studies […]

Benjamin Thomas White Wins the Khayrallah Prize

by the Past & Present editorial team We were recently pleased to hear that the University of Glasgow’s Dr. Benjamin Thomas White has been awarded this year’s Khayrallah Prize in Migration Studies. He received the prize-which recognises outstanding work in the field of Middle Eastern migration and diasporas regardless of discipline-for his article “Refugees and the definition of Syria, 1920-1939” which appeared in the May 2017 issue of Past & Present  (No. 235). Our congratulations to Benjamin. To enable even more people to read this award winning piece of work, our publishers Oxford University Press Academic have made it free to read online until 14th December 2017.

Chris Bischof Wins the Walter Love Prize

by the Past & Present editorial team We were delighted to hear yesterday that Chris Bischof was awarded the annual Walter D. Love Prize at this year’s North American Conference on British Studies Conference. He received the award for his Past & Present article “Chinese Labourers, Free Blacks, and Social Engineering in the Post-Emancipation British West Indies” which appeared in our May 2016 issue (No. 231, pp. 129-168). Our congratulations to him that the calibre of his work has been recognised in this way. The North American Conference on British Studies describes the award in the following terms: “the Walter D. Love Prize in History, is a $150 award given annually by the North American Conference on British Studies for the best article or paper of similar length or scope by a North American scholar in the field of British history.  The prize journal article or paper, which may be published anywhere in the world, should exhibit a humane and compassionate understanding of the subject, imagination, literary grace, and scrupulous scholarship.  It should also make a significant contribution to its field of study.”

A “Timeless” Depiction of the Craft?

by Dr. Sam Wetherell (University of York) Every historian, regardless of field or rank, should stop what they are doing and watch a mediocre NBC Sci-Fi drama released last year called Timeless. The hero of this show is Lucy, a young assistant professor of history at Stanford who has just been denied tenure. The same day she gets the news, government officials turn up at her house and whisk her away to a secret compound where she is told that a hubristic Elon Musk style billionaire has invented a time machine which has been stolen by “terrorists”. As an expert in the past, she is recruited to use a reserve time machine to chase them through history, catching them before they alter the past. Accompanying her is a wide-chinned military strongman (Wyatt) and a pilot-cum-scientific prodigy (Rufus). Each episode they go back to a different canonical moment in American (or occasionally European) history from the Alamo to the Moon Landing to (bizarrely) Houdini’s first performance. The show is sometimes forced into performing feats of counterfactual gymnastics to justify the historical significance of some of these heavily mythologised events (the moon landing must be completed, for example, so the Russians don’t […]

Hard Working Bankers Helped Create the Tyranny of the Clock

by Dr. Anne L. Murphy (University of Hertfordshire)  Are you working against the clock? Struggling to make that next deadline? Operating in an environment of presenteeism where time at your desk counts for more than your actual productivity? In a recent Radio 4 programme, Emma Griffin blamed industrialisation for the tyranny of the clock in our working lives. Eighteenth-century factory owners like Samuel Greg of Quarry Bank Mill made their fortunes by regulating the working day and extracting long hours from their workers. In doing so they transformed the lives of their employees and created a seemingly unbreakable link between time spent at work and perceived productivity. Yet we can’t blame industrialists for this change. By 1783, the year Samuel Greg founded his mill, the City was already working to a rhythm that depended on strict adherence to clock time. In that year, the Bank of England appointed a Committee of Inspection to report on the way the institution worked. In the report we find constant references to the clock and to the timely delivery of the services the Bank provided. The report tells us that the official working day started at 9 and, when the more than 300 clerks employed by the Bank arrived, they […]

Introducing: Cultures of Lutheranism

by the Past & Present editorial team Five hundred years ago today Martin Luther nailed a handwritten pamphlet to a church door in small university town in central Germany and kick started a chain of events that led inexorably to major cultural, social and arguably economic change. To mark this major anniversary, Past & Present is delighted to present the full details of its 2017 thematic supplementary issue Cultures of Lutheranism: Reformation Repertories in Early Modern Germany. Edited by Birkbeck’s Kat Hill, Past & Present’s latest Supplement offers a new cultural interpretation of the Lutheran Reformation in early modern Germany. It offers a collaborative account of the Reformation as a cultural event, and interrogates what Lutheran culture meant and how Lutherans were made. It goes beyond an account of theological arguments, confessional controversies, and ecclesiastical institutions, to consider how Lutheran culture remoulded men and women’s experiences and forged new identities, and how the Lutheran Reformation transformed individual subjectivity. All the contributors explore the cultural repertoires offer by Lutheranism and available to individuals as they sought to negotiate the world of theology, sex and family, the past and future, or everyday experiences. Focusing on these repertoires in a variety of German contexts, […]

Surveying Dunwich Britain’s Atlantis

by Dr. Tom Johnson (University of York) I first visited Dunwich in about 2004 on a school trip for Geography. We were, of course, excited to get out of school. It was an usually long journey for a school trip, taking well over an hour from Ipswich. This afforded rich opportunities for messing around on the coach, and the promise, at the end, of a walk on the beach and a lunch of fish and chips. Yet when we arrived, on a windswept, overcast day, I remember feeling grimly cheated. We had been told we were going to “Dunwich”. I had imagined a small town, like its more famous neighbours of Aldeburgh or Southwold, or at least a village, a settlement; a place in which one could arrive. Instead, there was nothing. Just a single row of buildings, a short terrace of Victorian coastguard cottages, serving now as a visitor centre and tea shop (and a holiday rental from the National Trust). And thence, for several miles in either direction, nothing but bare sandy heaths, a typically desolate stretch of Suffolk coast. I would like to be able to say that I recognized, then, the peculiar kind of loss which […]

Bordering Empire, Crossing Frontiers: Exile, Extraction and Expediters

by Manjeet Baruah (Jawaharlal Nehru University) , Jasmin Daam (Universität Kassel) & James McDougall (Oxford) “Bordering Empire, Crossing Frontiers”, our panel, addressed the issue of empire’s spatialities. Empires have often been conceived of as primarily spatial configurations due to their obvious geographical extent. These three talks, however, questioned the assumption of imperial spaces’ unity. Their overall argument might be subsumed under James McDougall’s observation that “unity in diversity” is not necessarily the most defining feature of empire. His talk on deportation and migration in the French colonial empire demonstrated that in the French case, empire did not simply mean the unification of a huge landmass, although imperial propaganda routinely highlighted this image. To understand the French empire’s spatial structure, McDougall instead focused on citizens’ and subjects’ actual movements, concluding that such mobilities constituted an imperial space which differed significantly from geographical mappings of empire. The patterns of movement and circulation – both voluntary and coerced – of imperial subjects suggested a maritime rather than a land empire. Moreover, the space of empire itself was produced less by the extent of an idealised sovereignty, which was often more theoretical than effective, than by these patterns of movement and of embodied experience. […]

‘Not Soul but Stomach (and Stench)’

by Dr. Sarah Frank, University of the Free State Our panel on ‘Plumbing in the Metropole: Time, Memory and the Senses’ drew the Everyday Empires conference towards its close. The panel delved into the visceral, often unpleasant lived experiences of colonial subjects across two different time-periods and empires. The papers, “A Colony in the Metropole? Daily Experiences of French Colonial Soldiers Interned in Vichy France” by Dr. Sarah Frank (University of the Free State) and “The Filth of the Abode of Felicity: Sewers, Stinks, and the Late Ottoman Empire” by Dr. Michael Talbot (University of Greenwich) drew methodologically on labour history, among other approaches, to explore the textures and odours of imperial subjects’ varied quotidian experiences in locations close to the centre of imperial authority. Labour history in both cases proved generative of deep, strong and nuanced case studies, connecting the local scale to the national to the international. In the Ottoman case, local officials in Istanbul petitioned municipal and central government to build sewers to overcome the threat posed by sewage and stinks, while workers in the area around the naval arsenal went on strike against the risk of cholera. Michael Talbot showed how workers’ everyday experience of foul […]