Monthly Archives: August 2017

Accelerated Mobility: Travel and the Culture of Everyday Empire

by Dr. Stephen Tufnell, University of Oxford The increased mobility of goods, capital, and people was an epochal marker of the nineteenth century. Technological infrastructure sped up all forms of circulation and collapsed time and space dramatically. Accelerated mobility disrupted economic patterns around the globe, brought violent conquest and dispossession to new continents, and environmental cataclysm to those places where the raw materials (coal, copper, gold) that powered it could be found. This dramatic spatial, temporal and imperial transformation of the world — and of social existence for its inhabitants — is perhaps the most expansive version of the analytical category “everyday empire” that emerged in Birmingham this May. These observations, part of the debate at the conference, have continued to resonate for me since I picked up my research tools again this summer. But so has one nagging doubt: does such an expansive version of “everyday empire” risk attenuating, as Nathan Cardon and Simon Jackson wondered in a previous post, our analyses of specific local, regional, transnational, and global processes? In fact, this doubt has been especially productive as I have begun to grapple with the history of the World’s Transportation Commission (WTC), organised in the United States in […]

Everyday Performance/Performing the Everyday: Exhibitions, Leisure and Hospitality

by Shahmima Akhtar (Birmingham), Carmen Gitre (Virginia Tech), Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez (Hawai’i, Mānoa)   The panel “Everyday Performance/Performing the Everyday: Exhibitions, Leisure, and Hospitality” assembled three papers that spoke to different types of performances and meaning-making, primarily from below, that operate within, against and alongside empire.  All three papers addressed “spaces of encounter.” These spaces ranged from the public (coffee houses, street theatres, world’s fair exhibits, vaudeville stages) to the intimate (the home), but they engendered ephemeral, affective moments that constituted the everyday transactions and interactions of empire. Performances, repertoires, and rituals within such spaces both shored up and undermined imperial power. They hosted moments of consent, survival, resistance, and nostalgia. They were highly gendered and classed spaces, crucial sites for identity-formation for self, class, and nation.  They were also fragile, fragmented, and contested. Within those spaces of encounter, people of all stripes forged new grammars and symbolic systems—oblique, humorous, deeply personal, or outright unsettling—that point to the creativity of resistance in particular. The focus on the everydayness of these spaces and the way that they shaped the wider everydayness of empire allowed us to identify and explore encounters that could consolidate and/or unsettle empire, but which are frequently overlooked or treated as transparent in the existing historiography of empire. Subjects of empire engaged in exchanges, negotiations, and other kinds of transactions in these everyday spaces of encounter. These spaces were not necessarily sites of anti-imperial contestation. […]

The Afghan queen, the Sheffield steelworker’s daughter, and a more ‘sanguine’ approach to migration history

by David Holland, University of Sheffield I recently presented the research associated with my Past & Present article at my History department’s weekly seminar. Like the article, the paper outlined my investigation of South Asian immigration and settlement in the Sheffield area between the First World War and 1948. During questions, one of the academic staff asked me that, considering the race riots which struck a number of major British ports in 1919-1920, might I be a little too sanguine in my assessment of race relations during the period? My immediate response was that although those destructive events rightly inform my research and analysis, without a ‘sanguine’ approach which focused on marriage and belonging, a previously un-researched settlement would have been much less likely to have come to light. The violent events referred to – so vividly described by Peter Fryer and given substance by Jacqueline Jenkinson’s research and analysis – are indeed, as my questioner suggested, regarded as key indicators of the working-class population’s outlook toward perceived racial difference. Before undertaking my research I also subscribed somewhat to this generally pessimistic view of early encounters between white working-class natives and non-white newcomers. However, my investigation of smaller-scale, but far more frequent, […]

Ordering the margins of society: Space, authority and control in early modern Britain

by Dr. Richard Bell, Dr. Joseph Harley and Dr. Charmian Mansell (workshop organisers) Past & Present is pleased to be supporting “Ordering the Margins of Society” at the IHR on 5th September 2017, between 9:00 and 18:00. You can read the provisional programme here.  Since the spatial turn, historians have conceptualised space not as a passive backdrop against which social interactions and everyday life took place, but as a social construct that shaped identity, societal development, human behaviour and experience.  Historians of early modern Britain have long been concerned with questions of social order and control. Debates continue about the relationship between the coercive and participatory facets of governance and the capacity for social discipline. Yet while these subjects remain fertile areas of research, relatively little work has examined the interaction between space, authority and social control of the people on the margins of society. This one-day workshop considers the attempts of those in charge to order society within particular places, spaces and locales. It asks how marginal populations (i.e. the economic or socially vulnerable) were organised in spaces such as workhouses, taverns, households, prisons, asylums, hospitals, streets, marketplaces and churches. It seeks to explore how authorities attempted to exert […]

Congratulations to Stephanie Mawson

by the editorial team Past & Present was delighted to hear that Stephanie Mawson (Cambridge) has been awarded the Royal Historical Society’s (RHS) Alexander Prize for her recent article with us “Convicts or Conquistadores?: Spanish Soldiers in the Seventeenth-Century Pacific” (Past & Present, 232 [2016], pp. 87-125). Named for L.C. Alexander, the founding secretary of the RHS who endowed the original award, the Alexander Prize “…is awarded for an essay or article based on original historical research, by a doctoral candidate or those recently awarded their doctorate, published in a journal or an edited collection of essays.” Prize winners receive a silver medal, two hundred and fifty pounds and an invitation to submit a further article for consideration by the editors of the RHS’ in house journal Transactions. In awarding Stephanie the prize the judges remarked: “This ambitious and important article examines the ragtag army which colonized the Spanish East Indies during the seventeenth century. Its deep archival research reveals ordinary soldiers to have been quite unlike their stereotypical depiction as conquistadores. They were a motley collection of criminals, vagrants and fugitives, many conscripted and mostly from New Spain, who seldom shared the spoils of conquest with their commanding officers. […]

A Radical (Feminist) Writing of the First Crusade?

by Dr. Carol Symes, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Like many scholars who have turned their attention to medieval crusading movements in recent years, I am not a “crusade historian.” I’m trying to write a book on medieval texts as artifacts created by the mediation of multiple historical actors – many of them technically illiterate. My goal is to change the way we understand the evidentiary nature of texts, which we (modern, and even postmodern) historians tend to strip-mine for the meaning(s) of their written words. Everything we have learned about medieval documentary processes in the past few decades has revealed that these texts were shaped and conveyed by the specific circumstances of their negotiation and inscription; their fungible physical formats; and the embodied, performative contexts in which they were enacted, witnessed, displayed, declaimed, contested. Reading the writing is not enough. Pace Jacques Derrida, “il y’a toujours d’hors-texte.” Knowing what happened outside a medieval text is materially important because the conditions of its making and reception influenced what it said and how it worked – or didn’t. It was strangely ironic, then, to find myself compelled to advance this argument by tackling the multiple near-contemporaneous histories of the First Crusade […]

The Pig[er] Picture?

by Dr. Jamie Kreiner (University of Georgia) “Who knew,” Lawrence Wright recently reported in The New Yorker, “that it was ever against the law to shoot pigs from balloons?” Well, it isn’t anymore, at least not in the state of Texas. “Texans already could legally shoot pigs from helicopters — even with machine guns” (as Wright pointed out), and now, as of this April, they are also allowed to hunt them from hot-air balloons. Could you ask for a more bewitching pastoral? Millions of wild pigs, bulky and ferocious as they sweep darkly across the state and mow down its grain; a flotilla of bright balloons; the snipers; the slaughter. Pigs can be hazardous, and they have been for a long time: farmers and lawmakers have been devising new ways to manage them since antiquity. In my article for Past & Present, I zoom in on this pig-person dynamic as it played out in early medieval Gaul (what’s now France, western Germany and Switzerland), because I was surprised to find pigs making a dent in that kingdom’s laws, which are now nearly 1500 years old. These Gallic pigs, unlike their Texan kin, were more like invited guests than invaders: they were […]