Category Archives: Uncategorised

Invisible workers: 9/11 and American Labour by Timothy J. Minchin

Although they are usually seen purely as a terrorist event, the attacks of September 11, 2001, had clear social dimensions.  As we mark the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, my Social History article (46:3) opens a conversation about these little-known dimensions.  I emphasize that the attack targets were workplaces, and most of those killed – close to 3,000 people – were at work.  On the day of the attacks, Manhattan’s World Trade Center was home to 430 companies with more than 35,000 employees.  My article seeks to explore the workers who were killed or survived the attacks, as well as the 90,000 more who toiled at Ground Zero in a lengthy – and dangerous – clean up process that left many scarred, physically and mentally.[1]

On the tenth anniversary of the attacks, the Washington Post first identified these ‘invisible workers.’[2] As the twentieth anniversary approached, I wanted to try and detail their experiences more closely, and to draw some parallels with the Coronavirus crisis, another generation-defining event. Continue reading

The Power of Sound in the Colonial Mid-Atlantic by Daniel Johnson

The growing importance of ‘politeness’ in English culture between the 1660s and 1740s coincided with Britain’s emergence as a major imperial power. Alongside a new elite emphasis on refined speech and manners were criticisms of the ‘vulgar’ and the disorders allegedly engendered by traditional festive practices. Non-genteel sounds – or ‘noise’ – were important elements in these criticisms, though they possessed a unique relevance in new colonial environments. I argue in Social History 46.3 that novel colonial soundscapes in the Americas were important sites of early modern sociocultural contestation. Continue reading

An ‘epidemic of shoplifting’? Working-class women, shop theft and Manchester’s new retail culture, 1918–1939 by Charlotte Wildman

Lewis’s, Manchester 1940. With thanks to Manchester Local Image Collection – https://images.manchester.gov.uk/

Shopping and shoplifting were fundamental to urban culture in the regional city. The history of shoplifting has largely focussed on middle-class women’s experiences of kleptomania in the grand magasins of large metropoles. However, by shifting the focus to popular department stores in a regional city, we can see that police and emerging forms of social work focussed on the crime to express concerns about working-class women’s increased autonomy and visibility in the interwar urban landscape. For example, in 1923, when Manchester’s branch of the popular Lewis’s department store announced its plans to extend the store to reach 6000 square yards of retail space, the Manchester Guardian celebrated the ‘million pounds scheme.’[1] Its expansion made it the largest store in Manchester and one of the largest in the country. In Urban Redevelopment and Modernity in Interwar Liverpool and Manchester (2016), I showed how the expansion of Lewis’s and its deliberate marketing aimed at working-class consumers facilitated a thriving culture of retailing and was integral to these cities’ programmes of regeneration in the face of economic turbulence and urban decline. Further exploration into the press coverage of Lewis’s expansion revealed that its success in cities like Manchester was mirrored by reportage that noted its location of shop theft. Continue reading

Pauper Responses to the Central Poor Law Authorities by Natalie Carter and Steven King

Our Social History 46.2 article ‘“I think we ought not to acknowledge them [paupers] as that encourages them to write”: the administrative state, power and the Victorian pauper’ focuses on the responses from the central poor law authorities (the “Centre”) to initial complaints from poor people and paupers both inside and outside of the workhouse. For the outdoor poor these complaints centred on dissatisfaction with the amount or nature of out-relief they had been allowed or the fact that relief had been denied altogether.  For the indoor poor the majority of the complaints tended to be around issues of ill-treatment, neglect or poor conditions in the workhouse.  We highlighted that the Centre quickly developed routine standardised ways of responding to these complaints. Continue reading

Class, Consumption, and Clerical Workers by Paul Michel Taillon

Are white collar workers part of the working class? The middle class? Or somewhere in between? In my article for Social History I consider this question, drawing upon letters written by railroad clerical workers in April 1920 in the United States.

Generations of historians and sociologists have debated just where clerical workers fit in the class structure. Much of their effort has focused on the workplace and the experiences and struggles of workers—female and male—engaged in office work and retail sales. However, these studies have generated little consensus beyond the takeaway that the collar line is as permeable as it is ambiguous.[1] Continue reading

Sailors Ashore: The Exploration of Class, Culture and Ethnicity in Victorian London by Brad Beaven

 ‘Sailortown’ was a seaport’s urban quarter where sailors would stay, eat, drink and be entertained.  It was a transient and liminal space and a unique site of cultural contact and exchange. Despite the rich array of research areas in class, race and gender relations that these districts have to offer, sailortowns have tended to be overlooked. Why is this? Well, it may come down to how historians have worked in particular subject silos.  Sailortown sits at the cross-roads between the urban and maritime realm and, because of this, it has traditionally fallen between these two schools of history. Thus, historians became blinkered into examining either the land or sea and, consequently, the waterfront, which was a crucible for this fusion of urban and maritime cultures, was forgotten. Continue reading

Reckoning with Refugeedom by Peter Gatrell and Katarzyna Nowak

History has not been kind to refugees. By this we mean that refugees are shadowy figures, making only a fleeting appearance in the pages of history books, where they are usually either portrayed as miserable flotsam and jetsam, the inescapable but transient, anonymous and speechless ‘victims’ of war or revolution, or characterised as a threat to political stability and public health. Their absence from the historiography also reflects the view that refugees have left behind few traces in the historical record. Continue reading

Rethinking the bachelor playboy: masculinity and single fatherhood in late-20th-century Britain by Emily Priscott

This blog post focuses on the changing status of lone fatherhood from the 1960s through to the 1980s. The extraordinary example of Peter Jeffcock, a bachelor who had adopted 12 children through the London County Council in 1959, was at odds with the bachelor playboy evident in popular culture through films such as Alfie, which  reinforced the impression in the 1960s that single men and children did not mix. During the 1970s the relationship between lone fatherhood and masculinity became a subject of increasing interest to sociologists and NGOs such as Families Need Fathers, while also filling many column inches in the British press. It took the 1974 Finer Report into One Parent Families and sociological research such as Dulan Barber’s Unmarried Fathers in 1975 to significantly change the conversation around lone fatherhood and masculinity, and the 1989 Family Law Reform Act (which granted unmarried fathers automatic access to their children) was a testament to how much had changed over the previous three decades. Continue reading

Fashion and women in the Irish diaspora by Sophie Cooper

My article for the latest issue of Social History focuses on Limerick lace to explore how women religious (or nuns) used the lace to bond women together, across the Irish diaspora, as designers, manufacturers, and consumers. It uses the wearing of lace veils to consider how women used fashion to present different assets of their identity to the world, particularly on special days like their wedding. In 2014 I wandered around the farmers’ market at the Abbotsford estate on the outskirts of Melbourne. While I knew that Abbotsford had been a convent, I didn’t realise that it had been home to Irish members of the Good Shepherd order, a Magdalen Laundry, schools, and a workshop which made Limerick lace, a prized textile worn by the aristocracy. The religious estate brought together workshops, schools, ‘reform’ institutions, and religious housing in order to both fund and minister to the women and children of Melbourne. It is these links, between reform, finance, and ministry, that are focused upon in ‘Something borrowed: women, Limerick lace, and community heirlooms in the Australian Irish diaspora’. Continue reading

Negotiating spaces under German occupation by Maria Fritsche

With the surrender of the Wehrmacht on 7 May 1945, the last European countries were liberated from Nazi rule. One of the countries Nazi Germany managed to cling to until its end was Norway. Invaded on 9 April 1940, Norway would remain under German rule for more than five years, causing a deep rift in Norwegian society.

German occupation policies in Norway diverged greatly from those in Eastern and Southern Europe. The Nazis considered the Scandinavians as “racially valuable Aryans” and sought to win their support by presenting themselves not as occupiers, but as brothers who defended the Norwegians against Bolshevist terror and an imminent British attack. The curbing of liberties, increasing material restrictions and the brutal persecution of the small Jewish community as well as those openly opposed to Nazi rule were accompanied by an apparent economic upswing; the Germans’ insatiable demand for labour and supplies brought an end to long-term unemployment and allowed fishermen and farmers to pay off their debt. Continue reading