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Negotiating Networks: Thoughts and Reflections.

By Josh Allen - August 8, 2018 (0 comments)

by Esther Lewis (University of Nottingham)

At the end of June, a one day conference was held at the Institute of Historical Research which aimed to bring together researchers using the relatively new methodology of Social Network Analysis (SNA) in historical studies. SNA allows the researcher to investigate social structures through the use of networks and graphs and is proving to be a useful tool for social and economic historians. Its use for history is relatively new, but it has been widely used in other humanities and social sciences. The day was organised by two PhD students, Charlie Berry and Esther Lewis, who both felt there was a need for a discussion space regarding SNA within History. Therefore, the day aimed to provide a platform for discussion of the challenges posed by the methodology for historians.

There were three panels. The first discussed women and marginal groups. Claire Richardson discussed nineteenth-century prostitutes’ networks in Stamford and Peterborough. Jonathan Blaney and Philip Carter presented preliminary findings on friendship networks between female undergraduates at Royal Holloway in the early twentieth century. Agata Bloch demonstrated that groups who have been traditionally seen as ‘marginal’ within the Portuguese empire had a voice within the wider network of the empire. Martin van Dijck considered local networks in port towns and women’s place within these. The questions raised methodological queries for each speaker, as well as interest in their sources and their adaptation to the software. Particularly, Bloch raised the important point that it is difficult for the network software to understand the Portuguese language.

The second panel focused on the use of pre-modern sources in SNA. Leanna Brinkley discussed the maritime community of coastal traders in Hull, Bristol and Southampton using court books. Rachael Harkes discussed the relationship between the membership of the Ludlow Palmer’s Guild and the town of Ludlow. Joe Chick offered a reflection on the methodology through the lens of his research into the monastic town of Reading. The three papers complimented each other well and raised two interesting points of discussion. First, the networks that come out of pre-modern sources are often set within a vertical hierarchy created by the type of source, but SNA and source relation allows us to analysis some of the horizontal networks between different groups. Second, the panel was comprised of PhD students and it emerged that they are teaching themselves, and their supervisors, how to use this methodology and technology.

The third panel considered innovative methodologies using SNA. Joonas Kinnunen demonstrated how the methodology could make use of sources that have recently been made available online: notably, the Danish Sound Toll Register Online. Rui Esteves discussed logrolling for votes by MPs in the British parliament during the 1845 railway mania. Neil Rollings and Mark Trammer considered the appointment diaries of Margaret Thatcher to question how relationships develop overtime. Each speaker was using Social Network Analysis in a different way which showcased the potential of the approach to those who were new to the methodology.

The day ended with a keynote from Dr Sheryllyne Haggerty from the University of Nottingham. She offered a reflective piece of the methodology which was accessible to new comers, of which there were several in the room, and tied together a lot of the discussion of the challenges of the approach nicely. Overall, Charlie and I were pleased with the running of the conference and the lively conversations that the delegates appeared to have had. Each speaker discussed the programme they were using, and there was time for troubleshooting software in questions and over coffee. We were very grateful for the funding and support we received from the IHR, Past and Present, The Economic History Society and The Social History Society. Their generosity enabled us to hold an event that could be inclusive of a range of people at different stages in their academic careers, from Masters students to professors. It is clear that Social Network Analysis is a popular and productive methodology which should continue to grow in historical studies.

Past & Present logo, 2017 all rights reserved

Past & Present was pleased to support this event and others like it. Applications are welcomed from scholars of at all career stages working on all time periods.

Introducing Global Yugoslavia

By Josh Allen - August 6, 2018 (0 comments)

Received from Prof. Dejan Djokić (Goldsmiths, London)

New research on Yugoslavia in transnational, comparative and global perspectives, 1918-2018

Taking place at Goldsmiths, University of London on the afternoon of 28th November (programme available here), this conference brings together nine academics at different career stages working on the history of Yugoslavia and the post-Yugoslav region. All the papers have been written specially for the event and will benefit from, and contribute to, a range of methodological and disciplinary approaches: transnational, global, social, intellectual, political and oral history, as well as related disciplines such as memory studies and transitional justice.

More specifically, the conference aims to contribute to the scholarship in four main ways: first, each paper is based on latest, original and methodologically innovative research which goes beyond national narratives and frameworks; second, the conference situates the Yugoslav region in a wider context, sensitive to transnational, comparative and global dynamics; third, and following on from this, the papers point out some directions in which scholars of Yugoslavia can contribute to broader discussions within the fields of modern and contemporary history and related disciplines; and fourth, the event should facilitate a dialogue and closer collaboration between early career researchers and established scholars.

Key research questions underpinning the conference include: can we understand the history of Yugoslavia and the post-Yugoslav region without situating it in a wider, transnational and perhaps even global context? Yugoslavia is usually perceived as unique (or perhaps uniquely unstable) case, an exception that confirms the rule, but does the latest research confirm or challenge such assumptions? What are the current main trends in the historiography of former-Yugoslavia and how do they relate to broader historiographical debates? In other words, how effectively do historians of Yugoslavia speak to scholars working in fields such as global history, transnational history, modern European history, history of the empire, the Holocaust, Cold War, communist and post-communist studies, race and ethnicity, and transitional justice?

The conference is free to attend and those interested in doing so are asked to register via Eventbrite. It is being convened by Prof. Dejan Djokić and queries can be directed to Daniel Fraser in the History Department Office.

Past & Present is pleased to support this event and others like it. Applications are welcomed from scholars of at all career stages working on all time periods. 

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The Grain of History: Photography and Post-War Time c.1945-55

By Josh Allen - July 25, 2018 (0 comments)

by Josh Allen (Past & Present)

On the evening of the 30th May-which was then the warmest day of the year-over fifty people, split roughly evenly between academics, students and interested members of the general public; gathered at the University of Birmingham to hear Prof. Lynda Nead (Birkbeck) present her research on “The Grain of History: Photography and Post-War Time c.1945-55”.

The lecture represented the high point of a Past & Present funded workshop on the uses of photographs in history organised by Prof. Elizabeth Edwards (DeMontfort) and Dr. Lucie Ryzova (Birmingham) which ran between the 30th and 31st May 2018 at the University of Birmingham. It is envisaged that the proceedings will be published in future as a supplement of Past & Present offering a bold intervention in the field.

After an introduction from the University of Birmingham’s Professor Leslie Brubaker, “in the best tradition of art history lectures… the lights [were then] switched off” and Nead’s keynote lecture commenced. Nead began by contending that through “taking a small number of Picture Post photo-stories on post-war reconstruction as a case study [it is possible to] discuss how time is registered in the taking and printing of photographs in this period”.

In doing this, throughout the forty five minute lecture; Nead neatly wove together several different thematic considerations for historians to consider when approaching photographs as historical sources showing how they interlink. These-chiefly-were the material processes through which the photographs were commissioned, taken, presented, printed and circulated, the ideological and political landscape within which they were created, consumed and which allowed a publication such as Picture Post to resonate and flourish, and- of course-and perhaps most evocatively, the aesthetic quality of the photographs and magazines in of themselves.

New St 1941

Birmingham New Street following bombing in 1941. Image via WikiCommons, and is in the public domain

Nead took the example of the changing connotations of bomb sites and ruined buildings as examples. Initially during and immediately after the war they were aestheticised, both in the pages of picture post and in the wider discourse. They were sometimes viewed as akin to war memorials, or more prosaically as akin to dramatic natural formations such as icebergs, or else as sentinels heralding a new brighter post-war age. The pages of the magazine contained debate over how best to preserve the greatest and most poignant examples of these ruins once the post-war reconstruction began apace.

By contrast, come the 1950s when the pace of post-war rebuilding failed to match expectations and plenty of examples of bombed at areas remained; so the general discourse as channelled through and represented in Picture Post, turned. Now, as post-war society’s concern turned to a perceived breakdown in law and order they were seen as unsafe. Unsafe not just physically-for the hordes of baby boomer children clambering over them-but for adults as well, as they formed potential lairs for muggers, rapists and murders, as well as being sites of gang violence, and places where spivs and prostitutes sold their wares.

In this way she illustrated how Picture Post’s illustrated stories simultaneously created and refracted how post war society thought about itself. The material and social processes related to the creation and consumption of the photographs and the magazine were also key to this. The black and white photographic and reproductive technology of the day enabled the cheap mass reproduction of colourless-yet highly textured images with a crisp, distinctive patina. These were in turn presented in a publication with clean bold graphics and relatively few words letting the pictures “do the work” of conveying the magazine’s editorial line. Which in spite of a Conservative Party supporting proprietor, was consistently progressive and broadly welcoming of the Attlee government’s post-1945 reforms throughout the period.

Bomb Damage in Birmingham, England, C 1940 D4146

By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As long ago as 1971, Stuart Hall contended in his Cambridge Review article “Media and Message: a Review of Picture Post 1938-1950” that the Picture Post style was essential to understanding a historical moment and set of social conditions by then long past. He suggested that Picture Post had played a crucial ideological role in paving the way for British social democracy in the late 1940s.

Yet as Nead-moving beyond Hall’s standpoint-shows; through bringing together all of the different concerns that can be brought to bear upon our reading of the photographs their aesthetic qualities render them ambiguous. Whilst the qualities of the magazine itself-its style at once: simple and bold, easily accessible, and respectful of its reader’s intellect, modernist, yet highly driven by narrative, was perfect for “the new Jerusalem”-the qualities of the photographs themselves are deeply ambiguous.

When approaching the magazine’s depiction of bombed out Britain and the wider discourse that they were a part of this enabled Picture Post’s trademark photographic style possessing depth, shimmer and deep contrasts between light and shade, to be the harbinger of progress in 1945 and chime the bell for moral panic a decade later. In this way-Nead charges-the light and dark contrasts of Picture Post’s changing photographs of bomb damage in Britain between 1945 and 1955 vividly depict a change in the public mood from optimism and desire for change in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, to an all together darker cast of mind mid way through the 1950s.

Introducing "Beyond Truth: Fiction and (Dis)information in the Early Modern World

By Josh Allen - July 16, 2018 (0 comments)

by the Past & Present editorial team

Past & Present is pleased to be supporting “Beyond Truth: Fiction and (Dis)information in the Early Modern World” at the New College, the University of Oxford between the 17th and 18th September 2018.

Organised by Dr. Emma Claussen, Thomas Goodwin and Luca Zenobi (all at the University of Oxford) this “two-day interdisciplinary conference, seek[s] to explore the boundaries between truth and falsehood in the early modern period, thinking about disinformation, fiction, and power in tandem.”

Featuring twenty papers and two keynote lectures, the programme has now been published; and registration has opened. Full details and further information can be found on the conference website.

In addition to sponsorship from Past & Present this event is also supported by the Royal Historical Society, the Centre for Early Modern Studies at the University of Oxford and the Ludwig Research Fund for the Humanities at New College, Oxford.

Past & Present logo, 2017 all rights reserved

Past & Present is pleased to support this event and others like it. Applications are welcomed from scholars of at all career stages working on all time periods.