AOH members Kilkenny, Minnesota 1910-1915
Despite being, at the turn of the twentieth century, the largest Irish nationalist organisation in the world, and to this day counting tens of thousands of members in the US, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) have not received any book-length academic treatment to date. A recent spell spent on a Fulbright Scholarship in the US spurred me to going some way towards rectifying this.
Using nineteenth-century American newspapers, held mainly in the digital repositories of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, I was able to piece together the history of US Hibernianism from its emergence in the 1850s until its first major public rift in 1884. The resulting article, published in the current instalment of Social History, focusses on the class tensions within this ‘broad church’ nationalist movement. Continue reading
The conventional image of an entrepreneur in Victorian Britain is a captain of industry, heading an engineering or steel factory employing hundreds of workers, and generally pictured with an impressive moustache. But men like that were only the tip of a very large, and much more diverse entrepreneurial iceberg. My research shows that close to 30% of businesses in Victorian Britain were run by women, a proportion that was much larger than hitherto estimated. This work is based on the new British Business Census of Entrepreneurs, created at the University of Cambridge as part of the project ‘Drivers of Entrepreneurship’ under Professor Robert Bennett. Continue reading
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Liverpool Borough Prison  had a rather unwelcome claim to fame, reputedly having the largest population of female prisoners in the country and possibly Europe. Many of these women, largely Irish migrants to the city, mostly Catholic, and often young, became involved in prostitution on reaching Liverpool, and were committed on charges of soliciting, vagrancy, or of being drunk and disorderly. Continue reading
Civil Defence is an unexpectedly complex topic to write a social history of. At one level, it is relatively straightforward to ask people who were involved in Civil Defence about their lives in the Cold War. Having previously written a history of Civil Defence policy, I wanted to know more about the people involved. Why did they join the organisation? What did they think about Civil Defence’s role in a possible nuclear war? Continue reading
Karthika devi srgm ‘Great Indian Scientist’ 21 April 2016 (Wikicommons)
It’s relatively unusual for a historian to be able to meet their research subject, so you can imagine my excitement in 2014 when Dr APJ Abdul Kalam (1931-2015) visited the University of Edinburgh where I was studying to receive an honorary doctorate and provide the inaugural lecture of the Edinburgh India Institute. Not only was Dr Kalam a key source for my research as being educated in South India during the 1930s, but the lecture hall was packed, it seemed that everyone else was interested in him too! Dr Kalam was an aerospace engineer who went on to lead Indian’s space programme as well as being intimately connected with the development of India’s ballistic missiles and was central to organisation and advocacy of India’s nuclear tests in 1998. As well as being a distinguished scientist, he went on to become the President of India from 2002-2007, a compromise candidate accepted by the major parties. Uniquely popular with the Indian public, during his tenure he became known as the ‘People’s President’ attempting as a Muslim to reach out across communal divisions, and focusing his efforts primarily on the young as future of the nation. After his time in office he continued to write and speak until his sudden death in July 2015, often on the theme of Indian self-reliance, the establishment of India as a global superpower and the role of the young in dreaming big and working hard to fulfil their personal and national dreams.
While we all hope to motivate our students to dream big and work hard, Kalam’s professional life was of tangential interest to me. However, what was interesting was the extent to which he claimed the authority to inspire students not only on the basis of his formidable teaching capacity but on the basis of his personal experience of childhood. This was unusual as many south Indians who have written autobiographies, particularly from the earlier part of the twentieth century, deliberately choose to draw a veil over their private lives as unexceptional or too personal, not for the public gaze. But even when childhood is included, autobiographical writing is an inherently complex source material. Continue reading
Bologna in 1640 in Italy. Illustration by Johannes Blaeu
My forthcoming article in Social History 44, 2, ‘Police forces in medieval Italy: Bologna 1340-1480,’ came about from the happy conjunction of my interests in policing and migration with the unexpected discovery of a new set of documents in the state archive in Bologna. I’ve been working on crime and criminal justice in medieval Bologna for decades, this journal having published one of my earlier articles, and you might think that I must have seen all the relevant documents by now. But one of the things I’ve learned rather late in the day is to explore the outer reaches of the archive catalogues: that means the pages at the back containing files titled ‘Miscellanies’ or ‘Undated fragments’.
It is remarkable just how many of our social events and ceremonies – from children’s parties to funerals – include music, either pre-recorded or played live. So ubiquitous is this practice that very often we, as historians, either ignore it or just refer to it in the passing; ‘this was followed by some music’, ‘a few tunes were then played.’ Yet this ‘failure’ to recognise the role played by music exists alongside a general understanding of music as a ‘universal language’ and a language that is perhaps unique in its ability to affect and stimulate emotion. There is, I would argue, a historical blind spot in how we appreciate the role played by music. Somehow it does not lend itself to in-depth or sustained analysis in the way that physical objects or written texts do. For me this became clear when I began to research the memorialisation of World War One in Scotland. Continue reading
Social History 43:1 published a roundtable on tendencies and potential future directions on the social history of Greece. The roundtable featured Efi Avdela, Thomas Gallant, Leda Papastefanaki, Polymeris Voglis and I. In my contribution, I argued that, increasingly, social historians of Greece have been taking a transnational approach. Nevertheless, I believe that the combination of a transnational and social history of Greece has far from exhausted its potential. I would like to discuss its further possible contribution to both academic and public history in this post. I would also like to show, however, that the perspective of social history is equally important for transnational historians of Greece to consider. Continue reading
On 1 March 1981 a hunger strike organised by paramilitary republican prisoners got underway at the Maze (Long Kesh) H-blocks prison in Northern Ireland as part of the prisoners’ ongoing campaign to obtain political prisoner status and its accompanying privileges. The strike was initiated by Gerard (‘Bobby’) Sands and ten strikers died before the strike was called off on 3 October. The recently established Islamic Republic of Iran (founded on 1 April 1979) engaged in extensive propaganda campaign in support of the Irish republican hunger strikers under the banner of solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles and the downtrodden peoples around the world. This was an additional opportunity for the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) to condemn what it cast as British imperialism and its brutality, by appropriating and reframing the Irish republican struggle. Continue reading
‘Girls’ school at Tothill Fields Prison’, in Henry Mayhew and John Binny, The Criminal Prisons of London and Scenes of Prison Life (London, 1862), facing p. 356.
Historians have long been aware of the existence of 19th -century data on prisoner literacy, even if they have been shy about making use of it. The expansion of prison education in the early 19th century meant that the practice of assessing prisoners’ literacy skills became widespread, and from 1835 keepers of prisons were asked to return numbers of prisoners who could read, read and write, and do neither to the Home Office for inclusion in national criminal and penal statistics. However, much less is known about a related activity, the collection of evidence on prisoners’ schooling at a number of penal institutions across England. Continue reading