Monthly Archives: November 2020

Our trusty friends? The place of technology in global histories

by Dr. Eoin Phillips (Ramon Llull University) In July 1772, Captain James Cook took command of a state-sponsored voyage of exploration to circumnavigate the globe. Of the thousands of objects taken on board and brought back on that ship, few have received the attention of the timekeeper he came to refer to as his ‘trusty friend’, his ‘never failing guide’. The reason Cook took a timekeeper was because of the ambition of the British naval and natural philosophical establishment to establish a means of accurately finding longitude at sea. Finding the longitude of a ship at sea in the eighteenth century was regarded as a problem for several European states including the British. One result was that in 1714 in England, an Act of Parliament was passed to establish a Board of Longitude to facilitate attempts to devise a solution for finding longitude at sea through a series of public awards. The dominant image of the relationship between those European voyages of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century and techno-scientific hardware has tended to make the claim that timekeepers for use at sea – those instruments that came to be called ‘chronometers’ – were, from the beginning, ‘trusty friends’ and […]

Past & Present Author Samuel Dolbee Wins the 2020 Alixa Naff Prize

by the Past & Present editorial team Past & Present was delighted to hear that Dr. Samuel Dolbee (Harvard University) has been awarded the 2020 Alixa Naff Prize in Migration Studies for his article “The Desert at the End of Empire: An Environmental History of the Armenian Genocide” which appeared in Past & Present No. 247. In their citation explaining their decision to recognise Dr. Dolbee’s work for Past & Present with the prize the committee stated that they considered the article: “A powerful, poignant, empirically rich piece. the evidence is well mustered and the prose restrained and moving. Dolbee’s work blends borderlands and environmental hist approaches and it’s excellent. This article is a good demonstration of how to think about desert spaces/borderlands in multiple registers. It’s at the very cutting edge of its subfield.” To recognise this acehivement and enable more people to read, enagage with and appreciate Dr. Dolbee’s scholarship our publisher Oxford University Press will be making his article free to read for a three month period. Our congradulations to Dr. Dolbee. This year the prize’s awarding committee based at the Moise A. Khayrallah Centre for Lebanese Dispora Studies judged that three scholars should receive the aeticle […]

Making Sense of Ideas in the Non-West: An Institutional Lens

by Farida Makar (St. Anthony’s College, Oxford) In November 2017, Guardian columnist and art critic Johnathan Jones wrote a strident critique of the “Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberté” exhibition which had just opened at the Tate Liverpool. “There are lots of mildly diverting paintings of nudes, skeletons and strange desert plants” Jones writes, “yet there is no great artist in this show and no evidence the Egyptian wing of surrealism added anything essential to an international movement that was already waning by the 40s.” Jones’ main contention with the exhibition was the ‘inauthenticity’ of the Egyptian ‘wing’ of surrealism coupled with a reproach for having adopted surrealism ‘after the fact’ or when it was already out of fashion in Paris: “Why should we look at second-rate imitations of a modern French style when we could be contemplating a majestically beautiful minbar carved in Cairo in the 15th century?” The piece was met with contestation – most notably by Cairo-based artist and art historian Mehri Khalil, whose response in Jadaliyya, “Can the Subaltern Finally Speak?” brought forward some of the biases, generalizations and inaccuracies in Jones’ review: “Gazing at a minbar fits in the exoticism of Egypt—bringing to mind examples […]

Time and the Economic

by Dr. Andrew Edwards (Brasenose College, Oxford) Historians share a set of assumptions about time. Introducing Logics of History, William Sewell wrote that historians, “assume that time is heterogeneous. We assume that what entities exist in the social world, how they operate, and what they mean change fundamentally over time.” Our “working assumption,” Sewell continued, “is that every important form of social relations is potentially subject to change: not only ideas, institutions, and identities, but tools, forms of shelter, sex, gods, climate, diseases, cultivated plants, and languages.” This belief in change, Sewell argued, is what distinguishes historians from other social scientists, “whose entire mode of operation is to discover and apply general causal laws, laws implicitly or explicitly assumed to be independent of time and place.”1 Economic history has long been an exception to this rule. As Patrick O’Brien and Kent Deng have observed in a series of recent articles, from the 1950s on economic history – particularly the global comparative mode O’Brien pioneered – has been dominated by what Deng and O’Brien call the “Kuznetsian” paradigm. Inspired, and sometimes trained, by the pioneer of national statistics, Simon Kuznets, these historians engaged in vast, painstaking statistical projects. They aimed to […]

Introducing “The Human, the Animal and the Prehistory of COVID-19”

by the Past & Present editorial team Responding to the Covid-19 crisis, Prof. Sujit Sivasundaram (Gonville and Caius, Cambridge) has written the aticle “The Human, the Animal and the Prehistory of COVID-19” for us. Thanks to our publishers Oxford University Press Academic it is un-paywalled and freely accessible to read. Alongside reading Prof. Sivasundaram’s scholarship you might also be interested in reading this media rich, interactive summary of the key points, accessible via the University of Cambridge website.

Rethinking Britain in the Nineties: Postgraduate Blogger Awards

Received from the organisers Dr. David Geiringer (Queen Mary, London) and Dr. Helen McCarthy (St. John’s, Cambridge) Between January and March 2021 Dr. David Geiringer (QMUL) and Dr. Helen McCarthy (Cambridge) are hosting a series of worhshops to discuss and explore how historians can approach writing histories of Britain in the 1990s. The workshops consist of an initial “provocation” by an invited speaker, followed by further reflections from a selected panel, and then wider discussion. They are especially keen to involve postgraduate student and other early career historians in the events.   PGR Blogger Awards They are keen to document and reflect upon the events in the series as they happen, so as to encourage ongoing wider discussion. As such they are looking to commission 6 postgraduate students (anyone currently registered on a PGR degree, MA or PhD, in the UK or elsewhere) to produce a blog post on one of the virtual workshops in the series. They will be paid £100 for their contribution, using funds made avalible by the Past & Present Society. For further details and to apply for this commission please download the advert here. Workshop Series Overview Historians of Britain have only recently started doing serious, […]

Two Past & Present Articles Featured on OUP Journal’s “Best of History 2020” Collection

by the Past & Present editorial team Our publisher Oxford University Press (OUP) have compiled a list of some of the most popular and salient history journal articles they have published this year. We are delighted that two articles-both open access-one from our February 2020 issue (No. 246), and the other from our May 2020 issue (No. 247) have been selected to form part of their “Best of History 2020” collection. They are: “Slave Hounds and Abolition in the Americas”, by Dr.  Tyler D Parry (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and Dr. Charlton W Yingling (University of Louisville) and “Irish Cursing and the Art of Magic, 1750–2018”, by Dr. Thomas Waters (Imperial College London) Congradulations to all three authors on their work being recognised and celebrated in this way.      

How Decolonisation Helped Create Tax Havens

by Dr. Vanessa Ogle (University of California, Berkeley) Tax avoidance, illegal tax evasion, and the system of offshore tax havens that often enables such practices make the news almost weekly. Recently, the British Virgin Islands, one of several tax havens that is simultaneously a British Dependent Territory, announced it would finally give in to pressure and established a public registry of companies. Tax and money laundering authorities will thus be able to pry open the secretive ownership arrangements behind anonymous shell companies. While the recent revelations about Donald Trump’s decade-long tax avoidance appear to suggest that he did not use offshore tax havens, his extremely aggressive tactics are an example of using domestic loopholes in the law to artificially reduce his tax burden. In the past, Trump has openly bragged about being “smart” for paying little taxes and gaming the system. Paired with the shameless practices detailed in the NYTimes investigation, such behavior and demonstrative rejection of the social contract of taxation resonates with what I described as “low white tax morale” in an article in the current issue (“‘Funk Money’: The End of Empires, The Expansion of Tax Havens, and Decolonization as an Economic and Financial Event” in Past […]