news and updates on the Past & Present Blog


Reinventing Stray Dogs?

By Josh Allen - February 13, 2017 (0 comments)

by Dr. Chris Pearson, University of Liverpool

In my recent Past & Present article “Stray Dogs and the Making of Modern Paris” I sought to show how public hygienists, veterinarians, policemen and municipal authorities tried to banish stray dogs from nineteenth-century Paris. Fearing their propensity to spread rabies and linking them to dirt, disorder and degeneration, the city’s authorities deployed police orders, poison and pounds to remove strays from the streets. Their depiction of stray dogs as mobile and unruly beasts on the streets positioned them alongside the city’s human “dangerous classes,” while anti-stray regulations and texts legitimated lethal violence against them. The slaughter of strays relied on the differentiation of dogs into safe/useful and dangerous/worthless. They became the antithesis of the pampered and clean pet dog who received care from their owners and the burgeoning veterinary profession. The varied campaigns against strays were one of the ways in which Parisians debated and asserted the modernity of their city. However, the condemnation of strays was never total as some animal protectionists sought to ameliorate conditions in the municipal pound and introduce more efficient and humane means of slaughter, whilst others established refuges to shelter strays from slaughter.

Certain themes that I explore in my article resonate today. Attempts to kill strays in the name of modernisation and public health continue to meet with protests from animal protectionists and others. Dog lovers in Istanbul regularly intervene to save strays, as do those in India, a country where stray dogs are increasingly blamed for biting humans and spreading rabies and where culls and sterilisation campaigns are struggling to contain the situation. Media attention has also been directed towards strays in Moscow, with numerous reports detailing their ability to traverse the city on the metro. A statute now commemorates Malchik, a stray dog who was stabbed to death in the metro station which she had made her home. But perhaps the most prominent episode was the opposition to Ukrainian authorities’ culling of stray dogs before the 2012 European football championships.

Street Dog Riding the Subway

By Adam Baker from Houston / Moscow / Toulouse (travel a lot) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

But although many commentators and officials continue to condemn strays as dirty and dangerous, a partial scientific reinvention of free-ranging dogs is underway. Alan Beck’s celebrated book on stray dogs in 1970s Baltimore helped legitimate the scientific study of strays, including their eating, breeding and roaming habits.1 Beck’s research helped establish strays as ecologically significant creatures within the urban environment. Following concerns about the over-breeding of pedigree dogs and echoing the transformation of wolves from pests to charismatic animals worthy of protection, certain scientists now position strays as the most authentic kind of dog rather than an aberration from the path of domestication. Studies now explore the links between wolves and free-ranging dogs, and compare and contrast their abilities, behaviour and social structures.2 Moreover, Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that pet and pedigree dogs are a tiny proportion of the global dog population as stray or free-ranging/village dogs are the most common type of dog. They live in proximity to humans, but breed independently of human control. They have established a niche in human environments across the world feeding on food waste scavenged from household bins, abattoirs, markets and municipal rubbish dumps. According to the Coppingers, ‘the 850 million dogs not under human reproductive control are not strays or mongrels but are, in reality, their own unique well-adapted species.’ Rather than being degraded or wayward pet dogs, free-ranging dogs become a resourceful and ecologically successful species in their own right. The pet and pedigree dogs who were standardised and fetishised as distinct breeds in Western countries during the nineteenth century instead become the aberration.3 Such studies reverse the assumption of nineteenth-century Parisian dog lovers, public hygienists and municipal authorities that domestication, as embodied in pet and pedigree dogs, represented living proof of the human control and refinement of nature.

As a historian I don’t feel well-placed to comment on the evolutionary links between dogs and wolves, nor what constitutes, scientifically speaking, the most authentic dog. But the arguments of the Coppingers are significant as they remind us that pets and pedigrees are not the inevitable endpoint of human-canine relations. They also underscore that the forms of human-canine relations that developed in the modern West are not universal, even if they have been exported and adopted around the world through colonial and other networks. Instead, they are particular to forms of urban modernity that emerged in Paris and other cities. The current reinvention of strays, however, partial, might encourage us to think about how Dipesh Chakrabarty’s call to provincialise Europe also applies to “more-than-human” histories.4 One of the advantages of a historical perspective on stray dogs lies in uncovering the historical and contested contours of human-animal relations that have developed at different times and in different places, as well as critiquing how particular ways of living with animals become universalised and normative.

Dog asleep on the Moscow Metro

By Alexander Mishin (provided by email) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons


1Alan Beck, The Ecology of Stray Dogs: A Study of Free-Ranging Animals (Baltimore, 1973)

2Stephen Spotte, Societies of Wolves and Free-Ranging Dogs (New York, 2012)

3Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, What is a Dog? (Chicago, 2016), p. 99

4Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, 2000)

Swapping Viewpoints: Past & Presentism

By Josh Allen - February 8, 2017 (0 comments)

by the Editorial team

Last year Past & Present revived the journal’s “Viewpoint” feature, after it had fallen into abeyance for a few years, with a crackling debate about “human rights history”.

Following on from that burst of intellectual fission, the journal is now pleased to present a new series of Viewpoint’s exploring the concept of “presentism”.

In a series of short articles seven eminent scholars-whose work spans the breadth of human geographical and temporal experience-address the following points introduced by Professor Alexandra Walsham one of our co-editors:

What place does ‘presentism’ have in modern historical scholarship? Can students of the past avoid seeing it through the prism of the present? Should our research be undertaken with an eye to its current relevance and with the aim of transforming the future?”

Collectively, the viewpoints expressed in “Presentism” are best viewed as roundtable contributions. The Introduction and seven pieces together form a cumulative dialogue akin to a conversation.

The full set of articles can be accessed in sequence below and are also grouped together on the website of our publisher Oxford University Press:

*Prof. Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge), “Introduction: Past and… Presentism”

*Prof. Robin Osborne (Cambridge), “Classical Presentism”

*Prof. Peter Coss (Cardiff), “Presentism and the ‘Myth’ of Magna Carta

*Prof. Miri Rubin (Queen Mary, London), “Presentism’s Useful Anachronisms”

*Prof. Evelyn Welch (King’s, London),  “Presentism and the Renaissance and Early Modern Historian”

*Prof. Catherine Hall (UCL, London), “Thinking Reflexively: Opening ‘Blind Eyes’”

*Prof. Rana Mitter (Oxford), “Presentism and China’s Changing Wartime Past”

*Prof. S.A. Smith (Oxford), “China, Revolution and Presentism”

We hope that you find this collection of views thought provoking and intellectually stimulating.

If you would like to share any thoughts that have been provoked please do join in the conversation on Twitter by tweeting us directly or using the hashtag #presentism.

new logo

Past & Present logo, Past & Present all rights reserved

Researching "the Fear of Crime"

By Josh Allen - February 6, 2017 (0 comments)

by Prof. Bob Shoemaker, University of Sheffield

Despite the recent long-term decline in crime levels in most Western countries, crime is still an emotive issue. It seems that fears of crime are disconnected from the threats people actually experience. This disjunction has a long history, but it is a subject that proved challenging to examine in the research which led to my article, ‘Worrying about crime: Experience, moral panics, and public opinion in London, 1660-1800’.

Owing to the explosion of printed literature which followed the expiration of press licensing in England in 1695, the eighteenth century witnessed major changes in the way people learned about crime, with potentially important repercussions. A significant portion of printed literature was about crime, and historians have argued that negative representations of the threats posed by violence and crime shaped public attitudes by promoting fear, which forced the government to adopt significant new measures such as improvements to the night watch, the expansion of capital statutes (the so-called ‘Bloody Code’), and the introduction of new punishments including transportation and a greater use of imprisonment. In particular, it is thought that waves of fear about crime occurred at specific times, such as the conclusions of wars when large numbers of soldiers were demobilised, which caused ‘moral panics’.

But the evidence does not support these arguments. Few changes to judicial and penal practices actually occurred in response to specific ‘panics’. This may not be surprising given the limited impact public opinion had on policymaking at this time, but it is also possible that fears of crime were not as pervasive as historians have assumed. To address this question, it is necessary to study what people actually thought about crime. To do this, the usual sources historians consult (judicial records, trial reports, and other printed representations) were not helpful.

I turned instead to diaries and correspondence, which were becoming increasing popular in the early modern period, owing to increased literacy, the Calvinist practice of spiritual introspection, and the growth of the postal service. By the eighteenth century, diaries were increasingly focused on secular issues; this is the first century when it is possible to use these sources to study everyday lives. Diaries are nonetheless hard to find, as they are scattered across numerous archives, but fortunately a very useful ‘checklist’ of London diaries has been produced. In investigating these, it quickly became clear that not all diaries are equally useful; some are solely concerned with spiritual issues, while others restricted themselves to recording the weather, or financial transactions. I looked for diaries which were sufficiently wide ranging and detailed that if the diarist or a member of his or her immediate circle had experienced a crime, or had read a significant work about crime, they would have recorded it. This required making some difficult judgement calls, and is not ideal given the fact that even the most detailed diaries don’t provide direct access to the experiences and attitudes of their creators, but there is no better evidence available.

For the period between 1690 and 1800 I uncovered eleven diaries, plus one significant collection of correspondence (that of Horace Walpole) which met these criteria, covering a cumulative total of 216.7 person years. I then analysed these diaries to find out how often diarists, or their family and friends, experienced crimes, and locate evidence of what they read about crime and what they thought about it.

The results were surprising. Experiences of crime were relatively rare, amounting on average to only one crime every three years, and most of these crimes were assaults and non-violent property crimes, such as thefts by servants. Of course, experiences varied, but the vast majority of these writers experienced very few crimes indeed. And while the number of reported crimes went up during periods of moral panic, they were still low (for serious crimes, less than one crime per person every five years). In concluding that these Londoners, and by extension Londoners as a whole, experienced low levels of crime, I am of course arguing from silence. This is always problematic, though if diarists experienced crimes which they did not report that is also significant, and there is no counter-evidence to prove otherwise; levels of prosecuted crime per capita in eighteenth-century London were even lower.

This conclusion has important implications. People did not learn about crime from their own experiences, but rather, as the diaries indicate, from what they read about crime (oral information from acquaintances was also important, but often that too was based on print). The diaries indicate that Londoners read works from a wide variety of genres, including newspapers, trial reports, biographies, polemical works, and ballads. If we look at these texts, we can see that while some presented a very negative picture of crime, others (most notably John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera [1728], the most commonly cited work by the diarists) presented criminals in a more sympathetic light.

Through print, Londoners were exposed to a very wide range of ways of thinking about crime. We also need to recognise, as reader reception theory tells us, that they did not always believe what they read: as the diary evidence confirms, readers were often sceptical. The diaries also show that when their authors found themselves in a position where they were inclined to be fearful of crime, they actually critiqued their own fears. Even during the apparent crime wave of the early 1750s, when Henry Fielding published his famous Enquiry into the Late Increase in Robbers (1751), other printed sources, and diarists, adopted a more sceptical approach. This is one of the reasons why Londoners, including Walpole, were so unwilling to prosecute crimes when they experienced or witnessed them.

The fear of crime was not unanimous, even during moral panics. This conclusion demonstrates that historians should be wary of drawing conclusions about public opinion from the most high profile and strident publications available, and that they need to be more imaginative in their use of source materials to understand what people were actually thinking. We should be wary of making assumptions that everyone shared the same point of view, even during ‘moral panics’. There are some lessons here for those attempting to gauge the state of public opinion about crime today.

William Hogarth the beggar's opera

William Hogarth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

"Everyday Empires" a call for papers

By Josh Allen - January 2, 2017 (0 comments)

by Dr. Nathan Cardon and Dr. Simon Jackson, University of Birmingham

The Modern and Contemporary History Centre and the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures at the University of Birmingham invites postgraduate researchers and early-career (PhD awarded in the last eight years) academics to submit papers for a two-day conference sponsored by Past & Present on the theme of “everyday empires.”

“Everyday Empires: Trans-Imperial Circulations in a Multi-Disciplinary Perspective” aims to bring together scholars working across geographical, chronological, and methodological lines to reinterpret the ways in which empire was lived through commonplace things, spaces, and decisions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A key focus of the conference is to develop a greater discussion of inter-imperial and trans-imperial dynamics. Historians of the United States, British, French, Habsburg, Qing, and Ottoman empires are all encouraged to submit papers to foster a dialogue that can all too often be cantonized by the archival legacies of imperial political structures or by the constraints of their respective research languages.

Everyday Empires” shall take place at the University of Birmingham on the 25th and 26th of May 2017.

Our approach will advance understandings of trans-imperial circulations related to race, gender, class, sexuality, commodities, diaspora and mobility. In taking this line we do not abandon the nation-state as an object of analysis, nor do we discount the violent and coercive mechanisms that sustained imperial power. Nor, finally, do we assume imperial rule to have been an all-pervasive mode of political organisation, itself impervious to the counter-forces local and areas-studies methodologies have made visible. Instead, we ask scholars to interrogate empire as a process emergent through the everyday, ontologically negotiated material practices of its citizens and subjects: from bicycles to hotel bars; from medicine cabinets to the daily labour of the rubber plantation; from teakettles to steamship tickets.

Key axes of exchange will be:

How does our view of empire change when we look at the ordinary or mundane?

Does the everyday open a useful space to explore inter-imperial or trans-imperial circuits and connections?

How do mundane objects allow us to examine the intersections of the local with the global?

Fundamental to the conference is our intention to bring together senior and junior colleagues, affording opportunities for mentoring and intellectual cross-fertilisation. Six significant scholars in their fields will “anchor” six long-form panels across two days. We see this two-day conference as an important opportunity to create a conversation that is not limited to advanced career scholars but puts equal value on the voices of a diverse selection of junior academics. As such we especially encourage proposals from doctoral students and early career researchers. The conference will be capped and spurred on by a keynote address from Daniel Bender (Toronto).

Confirmed panellists include: James McDougall (Oxford); Samiksha Sehrawat (Newcastle); Artemy Kalinovsky (Amsterdam); Stephen Tuffnell (Oxford); and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez (Hawai’i).

Please send proposals consisting of an abstract of 300 words and a two-page C.V. to Dr. Nathan Cardon ( by February 1, 2017.

Travel and accommodation for panellists will be funded.

Past & Present Society 2017 all rights reserved

Past & Present Society 2017 all rights reserved

New Year, New Look

By Josh Allen - December 19, 2016 (0 comments)

by Josh Allen, Social Media and Online Engagement Editorial Assistant

When 2017 dawns, Past & Present’s online look will be transformed.

Our publishers, Oxford University Press (OUP), are in the process of rolling out a new platform for all content. This means that the rather dated-looking interface that currently enables access to the digital versions of our publications is about to go offline and be replaced by this:

Past & Present's new Oxford University Press journals homepage (OUPAcademic and Past & Present copyright 2016)

Past & Present’s new Oxford University Press journals homepage (OUPAcademic and Past & Present, copyright 2016)

The new hosting platform is now very much live and you are very welcome (nay encouraged) to browse at your leisure.

In introducing the new platform OUPAcademic are reflecting major ongoing changes in the way that journals are utilised and consumed. Much like the revolutions that have occurred over the last 15-20 years in how people consume music, film and television, academic publications are now primarily accessed electronically, in a digital format, and on the move. It seems likely that for today’s undergraduates, and indeed most graduate students and ECRs, journals are first and foremost repositories of articles that are accessed electronically, not a print publication that can be read like a magazine.

The Google Analytics report for our own website attests to this: most weeks no more than thirty percent of our readers access the site from a desktop computer or a laptop, while seventy percent access it through a tablet or a smartphone, with the figures decidedly skewed towards the latter. As you can see, OUP Academic’s new journal format is brilliantly scaled and designed for accessing on a small screen, making reading an article on a phone or a tablet a convenient, ergonomic and satisfying experience.

None of this, however, means that print’s place is in any way diminished. Conversely, precisely because information can now be so easily accessed with a bit of gentle pawing at an iphone screen, twenty first-century print culture centres upon print’s durability and permanence rather than its ephemerality. Print’s familiarity, warmth and permanence is the reason why, even with our publisher’s wise investment in a website, Past & Present remains proud to publish four quarterly issues and a supplement every year.

Print issues which OUPAcademic’s new website makes it easier than ever to purchase. What, with the 25th December looming ever closer on the horizon, could be a better last minute Christmas present for a fellow connoisseur of expertly crafted, accessible, passionate and committed writing about the past (or indeed yourself)?