Author Archives: Grainne Goodwin

It’s all Greek to me? Combining transnational and social histories of modern Greece by Nikolaos Papadogiannis

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

Iranian coverage of the 1981 paramilitary republican prisoners’ hunger strike in Northern Ireland by Mansour Bonakdarian

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

Educating Criminals; or, where did the 19th-century prisoner go to school? By Rosalind Crone

‘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

Words of comfort – Elizabeth Dryden’s correspondence by Jon Stobart

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

Virtual Special Issue on European History – Editors’ introduction

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 ( 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


Policing dangerous anticolonial revolutionaries: The strange case of Dang Van Thu by Kate Marsh

On 4 July 1927, the French Minister of the Interior, Albert Sarraut, wrote confidentially to the prefect of the Normandy département of Seine-Inférieure requesting immediate action to prevent the section of the ‘Indochinese Mutual Association’ based in Le Havre from distributing the newspaper Viet Nam Hon. Sarraut warned the prefect that ‘revolutionary propaganda generated in Paris could have regrettable repercussions in Indochina’ and that it was suspected that the most important departure point for copies of the newspaper was Le Havre. The letter identified one Dang Van Thu, a colonial migrant and protégé from the French protectorate of Annam, owner of the Restaurant Intercolonial in the rue Saint Nicolas, as leader of the ‘Indochinese Mutual Association’ and an instrumental figure in the distribution of the newspaper that was provoking anxiety in Paris.[1] Continue reading

Studying shoes and material culture by Matthew McCormack

The study of material culture has grown hugely in recent years. For the historian, focusing on objects instead of (or, rather, alongside) more familiar source types such as texts, images or numerical data involves a very different way of working, both practically and intellectually. As someone who is relatively new to this field, I am acutely aware of this at the moment.

My article in the current issue of Social History entitled ‘Boots, material culture and Georgian masculinities’ is the culmination of a project that I have been working on for a few years now. Although I had written about material culture before, in my book Embodying the Militia in Georgian England, this was  the first time that objects had been at the forefront of my approach and had really driven my conclusions.[1] Continue reading

‘Radicalism and Popular Protest in Britain, 1790-1820’, Conference Report, Derby Museum and Art Gallery, 9 June 2017 by Matthew Roberts

To commemorate the bicentenary of the Pentrich rising, the University of Derby organised a one-day conference which brought together academics and interested members of the public. This included representatives from the Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution group who have co-ordinated a series of events marking two hundred years since the rising. A number of the papers touched on Pentrich to varying degrees, but the brief of speakers was to situate the rising in the context of the febrile underworld of radicalism and protest in the run-up to the tragic events of the night of 9-10 June 1817. Continue reading

Museum review – The National Army Museum, London by Michael Reeve

A national museum dedicated to the British Army has existed in some form since 1960. The current site of the museum, in London’s resplendent Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, has been standing since the early 1970s. After closing in May 2014 for a revamp, on 30 March 2017 the National Army Museum opened its doors again to the visiting public. A visitor, like myself, who may not have visited the museum before its renovation might feel both hampered and liberated by a lack of comparison with its pre-2014 incarnation: hampered by possessing less points of comparison in light of its £23.75m renovation, and benefited in that visitors can view the newly opened site unprejudiced by past experiences. Indeed, this seems to be the intention of the museum’s designers and directors, with a potted history of the museum’s development conspicuously missing from its website. But from what can be gleaned from a cursory online search, it is apparent that the revamp is a great improvement. This review will focus on the permanent exhibitions in particular, taking into account their particular renderings of historical narrative in relation to a national history of the British Army. Continue reading

Venereal diseases and societal responsibility in the early Soviet Union by Siobhan Hearne

After the October revolution of 1917, venereal diseases formed part of a long list of social phenomena that Soviet leaders deemed completely incompatible with socialist society. Not only were these diseases remnants of the decadence and corruption of the bourgeois capitalist past, their debilitating effects endangered the construction of the new state and way of life (byt’). Venereal diseases were diagnosed and treated as part of the field of ‘social hygiene’, driven by the idea that they were both biological and social phenomena, best understood within their social context.[1] In light of this, Soviet officials emphasised the need for an urgent ‘struggle’ (bor’ba) against what they perceived to be the main causes of infection: prostitution, promiscuity, and poor hygiene. Official responses to the problem of venereal diseases swung between repression and welfare, advocating patient confidentiality on the one hand, and justifying interventions into the private sphere on the other. Continue reading