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
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
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
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
We often think of comfort in terms of physical ease or well-being – epitomised in the comfy armchair; but it also has emotional aspects, both in terms of feeling comfortable (or uncomfortable) in a particular situation and seeking comfort in bereavement or at other times of stress. This complexity was perhaps even more evident in the early nineteenth century, a growing desire for physical comfort was apparent in sofas and easy chairs, hearths that threw heat out into the room, and lamps that improved the lighting of rooms that were increasingly laid out in a manner that was convenient for modern, informal ways of living. Yet all of these were layered onto a persistent and very human need for emotional support. Continue reading
Since its foundation in 1976 Social History has published over 200 articles on the history of the European continent from antiquity to the contemporary period. This Virtual Special Issue aims to showcase our best writing on European social history, highlight the range and diversity of material in the journal, and show how Social History has encouraged critical reflection on the methodologies, historiographies and approaches that shape these fields.
As an international academic journal, Social History explores how lives are lived, understood and made sense of over time, without restriction of place. The topics covered over the last four decades have been eclectic and broad. Whilst reflecting the opening up of new areas of enquiry, many remain perennially relevant. This Virtual Special Issue includes work from the early days of the journal on violence, capitalism and the modern state (by Alf Lüdtke) and on the politics of language and national identity (by Patrice L. R. Higonnet) which are pertinent to debates today in Europe and beyond.
Early modern responses to child poverty and street begging are the focus of Joel Harrington’s article, which also deals with the history of children and young people and the production of popular culture. Over the years Social History has published a number of important interventions on witchcraft, magic and popular belief, reflected here in the article by Marijke Gijswijt‐Hofstra, which offers insights from the Dutch perspective. Court records – providing a crucial lens on social conflict and its resolution as well as the construction of social identify, honour and reputation – are explored here by Trevor Dean in his study of gender and insult in late-medieval Bologna.
In recent years contributors to the journal have offered important re-assessments of the experiences of the twentieth century – armed conflict, fascism, socialism, the Cold War and its aftermath – across Europe and the Soviet bloc. Two pieces have been selected here as exemplary of these new approaches. Anna Krylova’s article argues for a more nuanced understanding of Soviet subjectivity – ‘of imagining and living socialism’ – which does not simply reduce it to an unswerving Bolshevik origin. The social history of the environment – and in particular of garbage and waste management – provides the impetus for Anne Berg’s examination of the politics of recycling in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe, which she compelling shows ‘were intimately connected’ to the Third Reich’s ‘destructive fantasies of purification’ (453).
Social History has experimented with a range of formats to promote discussion of the differing political and economic conditions shaping the discipline in different parts of Europe. Special issues – more recently on Spain (2004), Hungary (2009), and the Czech and Slovak republics (2011) – have identified specificities as well as shared intellectual trajectories. Our 2018 ‘Round Table’ on ‘The Social History of Modern Greece’ (43.1) highlights the implications of political change and financial crisis for the ways in which modern Greece is studied. This has included a growth in approaches that are ‘more systematically transnational, entangled and comparative’, shaped at least in part by the need to move outside of Greece for those seeking academic employment and publication. To reflect the importance of these kinds of discussion in the journal over the last decade, this Virtual Special Issue includes an interview with Michael Pullman, Director of the Institute of Economic and Social History at Charles University, Prague. Pullman discusses the complex effects of the Stalinist period and of the changes of 1989 on the production of history in the Czech and Slovak Republics. Whilst work on Germany, France and the Iberian peninsula has long been a mainstay of the journal, Social History is committed to supporting the development of excellent historical scholarship in central and eastern Europe as well as other areas conventionally constructed as a hinterland between east and west.
Finally, in showcasing the diversity of European history coverage in the journal, it is essential to highlight international, transnational and global approaches that move beyond borders and place the movement of people, goods and ideas under the microscope. Laurent Dubois’s 2006 article is a very significant intervention that proposes the writing of a history of the Enlightenment in relation to the French Atlantic, which not merely seeks to integrate ‘the thought and actions of a range of communities in France and the Caribbean’ (3) but, in so doing, shifts and de-centres our understanding of European history itself. Xosé M. Núñez Seixas provides us with an illuminating synthesis and overview of work on the experience of migrants in the Spanish Transatlantic, highlighting the importance of associations in building social and economic networks, in shaping migratory patterns, and in forging cultures and identities.
We very much hope that this collection of articles is of interest to you – there is much more to explore in our archives. We hope, too, that you will be interested in submitting your own work to Social History. Please send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are in Belfast in April for the European Social Science History Conference and would like to discuss your work, or come and meet us at the Taylor & Francis stall.
Louise Jackson and Gordon Johnston
Editors, Social History