Listening to a History Extra podcast recently (this is what historians do on their days off!), I was struck by the truism reiterated by one of the contributors that all historical writing is to some extent autobiographical. Our beliefs, lives and world view inevitably seep into the work we produce. This led me to reflect on the genesis of my piece (on the early labour movement’s turncoats and traitors) in the latest issue of Social History and on the mainspring of three earlier articles on different aspects of working-class leadership and agitational activity in reform-era Yorkshire. All four studies focus on the lesser-known local leaders of working-class agitations rather than their more famous, often metropolitan or gentlemanly, figureheads, thereby raising questions about why my research interests have tended to skew towards the undercard rather than the main protagonists of historical investigation. Continue reading
I was absolutely delighted to join the journal’s team as Reviews Editor for Social History in September 2022. My own research deals with histories of crime and inequality in Britain and transnationally, with a particular focus on histories of burglary and policing (the subject of my first book, Night Raiders: Burglary and the Making of Modern Urban Life in London, 1860-1968, published with Oxford University Press in 2019). Indeed, in 2015 Social History published my article on the famous interwar Metropolitan Police Detective Frederick Porter Wensley, whose collection of scrapbooks at the Bishopsgate Institute Archives offers a unique insight into the way he sought to fashion his celebrity persona and detective career; especially during a period when the reputation of police, and their relationship with the press, were being called into question by politicians and the reading public. My experience of publishing with the journal was extremely supportive, with helpful feedback and a smooth publication process. Continue reading
More than any other commodity in early modern England, grain was embedded within a web of assumptions about the social order and the ideologies that sustained it. While historians have examined how the politics of grain supply and marketing were informed by paternalism in various ways, my article considers a topic that has received relatively little attention: toll corn and the disputes that it generated.
‘Toll corn’ — like tolls on other goods — could involve monetary payments, but the term typically referred to a portion of grain that was taken from the total amount that sellers brought to market. A wide array of tolling practices operated from one market to the next, and toll corn was put to different uses depending on who had the right to its revenue. But in some markets, it played a role in local economies of poor relief or enabled grain to be distributed to poor consumers via extra-market channels. Continue reading
Our special issue explores the intricate relationship between youth, activism and internationalism in the twentieth century, covering a variety of national, international and global contexts. We focus on youth for several reasons. Firstly, young people were among the pioneers of several international initiatives. Their role in the global protests of 1968 is arguably the most famous example, yet – as the contributions to our journal issue show – there is a rich and diverse history of youth action in the international realm. Continue reading
At the end of January 2020, I began teaching my third-year module on plague in late medieval Europe. As well as making my customary comparisons to outbreaks of modern plague – such as those which continue to afflict Madagascar – I also noted the appearance of a new disease in China, which, as I observed, was also where the pandemic of plague which struck Europe from the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries was believed to have originated. By the third week of teaching, the mother of one of my students had just returned to the UK after having attended a festival in Milan and had been instructed to self-isolate at home. I tried to reassure my student that things would settle down. They didn’t. In mid-March we moved to online teaching and days later Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown. Given the seismic events happening across the globe, the first essay deadline for the module, which came in late March, seemed trivial. Nonetheless, as is the way of universities, the academic calendar rolled on regardless, and, in what is surely a rare example of experiential teaching for medieval history, students had the joy of writing essays about quarantine while themselves being in lockdown.
While plague and COVID-19 are very different diseases (plague was especially deadly and killed perhaps half the population of Europe during the fourteenth-century outbreak known as the Black Death), nonetheless similar measures were used against them, which were largely based around the use of containment. During outbreaks of plague and COVID-19, the impact of these measures, while affecting all to some degree, fell hardest on the poorest socio-economic groups. Continue reading
I first became interested in the issue of banditry in early modern Scotland while writing my PhD thesis on the government of the Highlands during the Restoration (1660-88). Wading through government papers, there seemed to be nothing short of an obsession with the depredations supposedly being committed by brigands and ‘broken men’, and indeed responding to these outlaws was apparently the single biggest issues that both Charles II and James VII & II felt themselves to be facing in the Highlands. Once the thesis was out of the way, I decided to probe the issue a little more deeply, aiming to gauge just how much of an issue banditry actually was in seventeenth-century Scotland, while also hoping to understand what it all meant. Continue reading
What do you do if you lose or damage an important document, a contract or a lease or something like that? These days, you probably just download a fresh copy, but not so long ago that wasn’t an option; you might have had to go back to the relevant office and pay for a new copy to be made and given to you. But go back to the centuries after the breakdown of Roman rule in Western Europe and there were no such offices. My article in Social History 44.3 looked at what people did, in that world, to make something an official record when there were no officials to record them. Continue reading
In my recent article in Social History, vol. 47, issue 3 (2022), I argue that the quiet colonial violence of deportation was lived and procedural for socio-economically precarious migrants. There are multiple methods by which historians can ascertain and understand how this violence becomes embedded in the lives and livelihoods of migrants. One such method is a focus on the corporeal effects of colonialism upon migrants at the levels of the intimate and the personal. But how might social and postcolonial historians best explore the bureaucratic and procedural brutality of forced expulsions when, as Adam Goodman asserts, the practice of deportation in the early and mid-twentieth century deliberately left few documentary traces?  My own research on mobility and border controls during the Palestine Mandate (1920-1948) centres on documents written either by family members (namely, spouses or children) of deportees or by the deportees themselves with reference to family members. Using these sources, I extrapolate the ways that deportability and illegibility (or conversely, a migrant’s legibility to the state) structure the conditions that allow for the conduct of the intimate, personal, and emotional aspects of life.
In early modern England, prisoners relied on charity to survive. With next to no state funding, prisons were run for profit from fees and rents charged to those incarcerated, most of whom were either destitute debtors or awaiting criminal trial. As many of these prisoners were too impoverished to subsist in prison, let alone pay these fees, complex economies of aid developed around these institutions, and with these came ethical judgements about what prisoners deserved and how prisons might be used to punish and reform as well as to detain. My article in Social History 47.1 traces both these practices of prison charity and the developing ideologies of incarceration that they reveal, exploring new ideas about what prisons were for and how they might be used to shape and control social relations. Continue reading
On 20 November 1684, months before Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, the French king ordered 93 Sephardic converso families to leave the southern part of present-day France. Around half of those families, known as the desterrados de Franca, arrived in Amsterdam, either directly or via detours by boat and on foot. One of the desterrados was Sara Gomez del Valle, who described her situation to the mahamad, the Jewish board of the Sephardic community in Amsterdam, as ‘helpless and without brothers.’ Asking for ‘legal powers of matrimony to her orphaned daughter Esther Gomez del Valle,’ del Valle’s request was one of many made by those arriving around 1685 in Amsterdam seeking assistance.
In media, literature, and movies, the city of Amsterdam is depicted as a tolerant shelter and safe haven for persecuted Jews and is praised for its early modern benevolence and fair treatment. But what this treatment entailed and the reason behind the assistance is less known. In Dutch Jewish historiography, historians such as Tirtsah Levie-Bernfeld, Jonathan Israel, and Miriam Bodian, depict the early modern Jewish charity system as a communal endeavor, organized by the board of the Jewish community who asked their members to donate. For example, Tirtsah Levie-Bernfeld wrote in her book Poverty and Welfare that the ‘religious commandment to help and assist persecuted fellow Jews – in Judaism called a mitzvah – created the urge of the Jewish community in Amsterdam ‘to join’ the godly plight.’ By examining the charity initiatives for the incoming Jewish refugees from France, this blog post will demonstrate that the early modern civic authorities in Amsterdam also started to support the needs of arriving Jewish refugees. Continue reading