New Books Display – November/December 2022

Currently on our New Books Display, you can find a varied selection of our newest additions to the library.
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Some items of note include ‘Horizons: A Global History of Science,’ in which author James Poskett traces the development of modern science from 1450 onwards, with particular focus on non-European contexts and contributions. The book has been praised for presenting a wide-ranging and comprehensive demonstration of the global exchange that led to the development and breakthroughs of science as we continue to understand it today.
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We also have ‘Ireland and the Crusades,’ by Edward Coleman, Paul Duffy and Tadhg O’Keefe. This book takes a comprehensive look, based on new research, that demonstrates a more nuanced picture of Ireland’s often overlooked role in the crusading period.
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Finally, we have ‘Peasants Making History’ by Christopher Dyer, which offers a new look at the lives and contributions of people of lower socio-economic status (for example, in the development of urbanised areas, trading, and religion) in the medieval English midlands.
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These items and more can be found on the display located in the Upper Gladstone Link and can be checked out at the Lower Camera Circulation Desk.
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New eBooks are also available, several of which are featured below. These can be accessed online once you are logged onto your SOLO account. Please click to go to the SOLO record.
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Bloomsbury Cultural History series: more available

 

 

 

We have recently purchased the following titles in the Bloomsbury Cultural History series which are all available online via SOLO.

  • Cultural History of Childhood and Family (Bloomsbury, 2010, 6 vols) via SOLO
  • Cultural History of Disability (Bloomsbury, 2020, 6 vols) via SOLO
  • Cultural History of the Emotions (Bloomsbury, 2019, 6 vols) via SOLO
  • Cultural History of Marriage (Bloomsbury, 2019, 6 vols) via SOLO
  • Cultural History of the Senses (Bloomsbury, 2018, 6 vols) via SOLO
  • Cultural History of Women (Bloomsbury, 2013, 6 vols) via SOLO
  • Cultural History of Sexuality (Bloomsbury, 2014, 6 vols) via SOLO

The Cultural Histories are comprehensive surveys of the social and cultural construction of specific subjects across six historical periods:

  • Antiquity
  • The Medieval Age
  • The Renaissance
  • The Enlightenment
  • The Age of Empire
  • The Modern Age

Each volume discusses the same themes in its chapters so that readers may gain a broad understanding of a period by reading an entire volume, or follow a theme through history by reading the relevant chapter in each volume. Generously illustrated, each six-volume set combines to present an authoritative overview of its subject throughout history.

Book cover: Women in Antiquity Book cover: Sexuality in the Middle Ages

 

Book cover: Disability in the Middle Ages Book cover: Women in the Renaissance Book cover: Emotions in the Late Medieval, Reformation and Renaissance Book cover: Marriage in the Age of Enlightenment Book cover: Senses in the Age of Empire Book cover: Childhood and Family in the Modern Age

 

Bodleian New History eBooks – August 2020: Personal History

Bodleian New History eBooks – August 2020: Personal History

The cult of the personality is central to all recorded history, and the names of individuals figure prominently in history from its earliest records, such as in regnal eras from Ptolemaic Egypt to Augustan Rome, the Meiji era of Japan, Victorian Britain, or Napoleonic France; but also in ideological movements, whether scientific, political or religious – from the Copernican model of the universe or Darwinism to Marxism and Leninism or Thatcherism, and to Confucianism, Buddhism, Calvinism and Christianity.

The importance of the individual in history is a much debated issue, especially among Victorian historians and political theorists – in his famous 1841 On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History Thomas Carlyle proposes his Great Men theory which assigns credit (or responsibility, or even blame, as the case may be) for major developments of history to remarkable individuals of their times (Lecture 1, “The Hero as Divinity”, p. 21):

Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these.

One of the most influential publications which takes a completely opposite view is Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov’s 1898 The Role of the Individual in History, representative of a view of history proposed by a movement which is somewhat ironically named after what Carlyle would certainly have termed one of the Great Men of History – “Marxism”. Plekhanov claims (p.55):

Individual causes cannot bring about fundamental changes in the operation of general and particular causes which, moreover, determine the trend and limits of the influence of individual causes.

He argues that history should be seen neither as the consequence of the actions of individuals “from above” (nor of movements “from below”), but concedes that “there is no doubt that history would have had different features had the individual causes which had influenced it been replaced by other causes of the same order” since “the personal qualities of leading people determine the individual features of historical events” (pp. 55-56).

And similarly, Lenin (Collected Works vol. 1, p. 159) declares in his comments on “What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are”:

“…the idea of historical necessity does not in the least undermine the role of the individual in history: all history is made up of the actions of individuals, who are undoubtedly active figures.”

The eBooks I would like to highlight in this blog are concerned with individuals in history, though not necessarily in the sense of Carlyle’s  “Great Men” (and presumably “Great Women”?) of history, or even Plekhanov’s “individual causes”, but more with Lenin’s understanding that all history is made up of the actions of individuals, This does not mean that these books are therefore necessarily biographies of individuals or microhistories of a group of individuals (though some of them are), but simply that they are very personal to the individual in some way or other, encompassing personal narratives or experiences as well as the study of particular individuals in history – or even works with a very personal focus that the writer intended for or addressed to very specific individuals, such as the first two books presented here.

Personal Writings

The poems of Venantius Fortunatus (c. 535-600) have long been mined as a historical source for Merovingian society, but are remarkable not only for their literary quality, but for the very personal dimension of a number of the surviving examples which chart emotions and relationships – from poems accompanying personal gifts to an aristocratic lady, clever banter addressed to a bishop, expressions of longing for and wishes of safety to travelling friends, poems as thanks for gifts received, apologies for being unable to visit and wishes for reunions, pleas for protection to powerful figures like Gregory of Tours, consolations for widowed queens, and many which are simply an affectionate “hello” from the poet to his distant friends. Under the title of Poems to Friends a number of these personal writings are now newly available as an eBook in the 2010 translation into free verse by Joseph Pucci, with introductory material on late antique Gaul, Fortunatus’ biography, interpretations of the poems, prosopographical introductions, maps, and a bibliography which offer a wider context for these often very touching poems. A piece of historiography which is very much written for one particular person, as well as deeply connected to the author’s personal history, are Machiavelli’s Florentine Histories, commissioned in 1520 by Giulio Cardinal de Medici, and used by Machiavelli as a way to work his way back into his good graces. Presented to Giulio (now Pope Clement VII) in May 1526, it was first printed in 1532, 5 years after Machiavelli’s death. Clearly not a work born of personal inspiration, this is received history, reworked from earlier chronicles, covering, as the author phrases it, “the things done at home and abroad by the Florentine people” from the decline of the Roman Empire up to the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1492, with four of their eight books dedicated to the fight for power and the Medicean lordship. Nevertheless, the work bears ample witness to the author’s literary style, and contains numerous entertaining episodes of high drama and glimpses of humour, resulting in a at times gripping and at times tedious work which is redeemed by the insights of one of the greatest political thinkers of all time.

Biographies and Autobiographies

Three remarkable individuals from the Middle Ages and the are the subject of this next batch of personal histories now available as eBooks, one clearly classifiable as a hagiography, one an obvious autobiography, and the third rather indistinctly wavering between hagiography, biography, and autobiography. Thomas of Monmouth’s hagiographical Life and Passion of William of Norwich, available now as an eBook in Miri Rubin’s 2014 translation, holds a unique and terrible place in the history of Anti-Semitism, while also giving a remarkable insight into daily life in a medieval cathedral city: it documents the martyrdom and posthumous miracles at the shrine of William, a young boy believed to have been murdered by the Jews of Norwich. The Book of Margery Kempe, in Anthony Bale’s 2015 translation, also contains touches of hagiography – it is the extraordinary account of a medieval wife, mother, and mystic, dictated by the illiterate Margery to an amanuensis as the earliest autobiography written in the English language. Confusingly, however, it presents more as a biography than an autobiography, since it is written in the third rather than the first person, with the amanuensis referring to Margery as “the creature” throughout. Ranging from her home in King’s Lynn to Rome and Jerusalem, her book describes her transformation from businesswoman, wife and mother to chaste visionary and pilgrim, with vivid accounts of her prayers and visions, the temptations of her daily life, and her ponderings on God and the world. The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave is another extraordinary autobiographical account by an illiterate woman dictated to a scribe, and has the distinction of being the first ever account by a black woman to be published in Britain (in 1831). The book describes Prince’s sufferings as a slave in Bermuda, Turks Island and Antigua, and her eventual arrival in London in 1828, where she escaped from her owner and sought assistance from the Anti-Slavery Society. Drawing attention to the continuation of slavery in the Caribbean despite an 1807 Act of Parliament officially ending the slave trade, the publication inspired two libel actions and ran into three editions in the year of its publication alone. As a powerful rallying cry for emancipation it remains an extraordinary testament to Prince’s ill-treatment, suffering and survival.

Personal Histories

The final four books I would like to highlight in this blog, while not outright biographies, still flirt with the genre in that they are dedicated to the study of particular individuals or groups of individuals in history, presenting close-up views and insights into some very personal experiences and thoughts. The lives of several more remarkable women are the subject of the eleven chapters of Forgotten Queens in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, which examine issues of political agency, myth-making, and patronage by queens dowager and queens consort who have disappeared from history or have been misunderstood in modern historical treatment. Covering queenship from 1016 to 1800, and with a broad coverage in geography and disciplines from religious history, art history, and literature, the contributions demonstrate the influence of queens in different aspects of monarchy over eight centuries, and further our knowledge of the roles and challenges that they faced. A group of women who have a number of things in common are also the subject of Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting, though here the geographical and chronological scope is rather more narrow: Mecklenburgh Square, on the radical fringes of interwar Bloomsbury, and home at various times to the modernist poet H. D., detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, and the writer and publisher Virginia Woolf. From H.D.’s residence there during the First World War via Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote in the same room in 1921, to Virginia Woolf’s move into the square in 1939, Wade draws an engaging picture of five in some ways very different but in others quite similar women in search of a space where they could live, love and, above all, work independently.

Susan L. Tananbaum’s book on Jewish Immigrants in London covers a similar time and space, but works on a rather wider scope with respect to the individuals it focuses on in its discussion: the quarter of a million European Jews who settled in England between 1880 and 1939. Despite this vast number, Tananbaum still manages to look at personal histories and the fates of individuals, exploring the differing ways in which the existing Anglo-Jewish communities, local government and education and welfare organizations sought to socialize these new arrivals, focusing on the experiences of working-class women and children. Beginning in the year where she leaves off, War Through Children’s Eyes then offers a collection of 120 short personal accounts written by Polish children who were among the one million people deported to various provinces of the Soviet Union after the Soviet occupation of Poland in the winter of 1939-40. It is the perception of these witnesses that makes these documents unique, offering a child’s eye view of events no adult would consider worth mentioning. In simple language, filled with misspellings and grammatical errors, the children recorded their experiences, and sometimes their surprisingly mature understanding, of the invasion and the Soviet occupation, the deportations eastward, life in the work camps and kolkhozes, and vivid memories of privation, hunger, disease, and death.

You can browse all our new eBooks on LibraryThing here.

Bodleian New History eBooks – June 2020: Revolution in History

Bodleian New History eBooks – June 2020: Revolution in History

What is “revolution”?

In Book V of his Politics, Aristotle speaks at length of the major vehicle for constitutional change, the phenomenon of στάσις (stasis), a term variously translated as “civil war”, “sedition”, “faction” – or “revolution”. Aristotle uses it to denote a number of variations of political conflict from sedition and civil war to smaller instances of feuding and struggle for prestige, and applies it both to the conflict people engage in, and also to the group of people who engage in the conflict. Hatzistavrou in his chapter on “Factions” in The  Cambridge Companion to Aristotle’s Politics divides these states of conflict (or groups engaging in conflict) into two distinct categories according to their causes – injustice-induced, and greed-induced, and it is of course the first that is usually acknowledged as the main cause of social revolutions throughout world history. Aristotle himself also mentions inequality as one in a longer list of possible causes of stasis that include avarice, superiority, honour, fear, difference of race and disproportionate growth, but is keen to stress that the importance (or non-importance) of the impetus that initiates any particular conflict is not necessarily the same as the importance of the cause for which this conflict is then in the end conducted (Book V, Chapter 4, p. 7):

Factions arise … not concerning small things, but from small things; men form factions concerning great things.

In English, the umbrella term “revolution” covers a great variety of different types of political conflicts – some are peaceful, nonviolent protests, but others produce bloody civil wars; some have produced democracies and greater liberty, but others have produced brutal dictatorships. Taking all this into consideration, Jack A. Goldstone in Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction (p. 4) offers a minimalist yet comprehensive definition which includes the physical, ideological and political aspects of the phenomenon:

Revolution is the forcible overthrow of a government through mass mobilization (whether military or civilian or both) in the name of social justice, to create new political institutions.

Some famous factions (or revolutions) in the course of global history include the Set rebellion of c. 2730 BC which divided Egypt into Upper and Lower Egypt; the establishment of the Roman Republic in 510–509 BC; the 3rd Servile War in 73–71 BC (better known as the Gladiator War or the War of Spartacus); the Germanic Revolt of Arminius in the Teutoburg Forest in 9-13 AD; the Peasants’ Revolt, or Great Rising in England in 1381; or the 1525 German Peasants’ War. The 1688 “Glorious Revolution” in England establishes the term “revolution” for a number of the more significant and influential staseis of the modern era, such as the Haitian and the French Revolutions at the turn of the 19th century. Still, other terms persist – the mid-19th century modernization revolution in Japan is known as the Meiji Restoration, and the anti-imperialist, anti-foreign, and anti-Christian uprising in China at the turn of the 20th century as the Boxer Rebellion. In Europe we find the Irish 1916 Easter Rising and the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, and for the widespread anti-government movements in the Arab world in the 2010s an entirely new phrase was coined: the Arab Spring.

What Aristotle calls stasis thus has many names in English historiography, which uses a number of both native terms and loanwords to distinguish nuances of a wide variety of political conflicts, from “putsch”, “coup d’état”, “Machtergreifung” and “résistance” to “restoration”, “insurrection”, “mutiny”, “riot”, “rising”, “rebellion”, “revolt”, and, finally, “revolution”. What term historiographers assign to any particular stasis does seem to depend not only on the success of any given faction to changing constitutions, or political or social situations, but also in great part on which faction (the winning or the losing side of the conflict) is in the end responsible for, or influences, the historiography after the fact. Similarly, any judgement passed on, or assessment given of such conflict as to its righteousness, virtue, moral rightness (or lack of it)  found in contemporary or later historiography depends much on whether it is penned by the new establishment, as in, the former rebels of a successful revolt, or the old establishment after the successful suppression of an uprising, or an independent party. Depending on the side the historiographer finds themselves on, revolutions can be presented as a case of downtrodden masses raised up by leaders who guide them in overthrowing unjust rulers (later given modern form as a theory of the inevitable triumph of the poor over the rich by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, and their followers), or judged as eruptions of popular anger that produce only chaos (as per the critics of Marx, Lenin, Mao et al.).

In this blog I would like to highlight some of the ebooks newly arrived at the Bodleian which focus on such ideology-driven, political conflicts arising from inequality, under any of their many names, from the Middle Ages though to the 20th century, presented here in roughly chronological order.

1066-1284

The first book concerns stasis not in the modern sense of “revolution”, but in the second Aristotelian sense of a smaller-scale struggle for supremacy or domination by different members of an oligarchy. David Carpenter’s 2004 The Struggle for Mastery examines the momentous two-and-a-half centuries after 1066, when the Anglo-Saxon ruling class was destroyed and Anglo-Saxons became a subject race, dominated by a Norman-French dynasty and aristocracy. Arguing that the English domination of the kingdom was by no means a foregone conclusion, Carpenter looks at a drawn-out competition for domination between England, Scotland and Wales which shaped the history of the British Middle Ages.

1660-1680

The aftermath of the English Civil War is one of those cases where the label attached by historiographers clearly reflects the spin put on the conflict by the prevailing party – in his 2006 Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms Tim Harris examines the late 17th century as a period of extraordinary turbulence and political violence in Britain, tracing the fate of the monarchy from Charles II’s triumphant accession in 1660 to the growing discontent of the 1680s. Looking beyond the popular image of Restoration England revelling in its freedom from the austerity of Puritan rule under a merry monarch, Harris surveys some of the shadier sides of a desperately insecure regime after two decades of civil war.

1660-1680

Looking at the same aftermath of the English Civil War through the eyes of the Puritans is Fear, Exclusion and Revolution, a collection of essays on the ‘Entring Book’ of Puritan minister Roger Morrice, his detailed record of public affairs in Britain between 1677 and 1691 which charts the rise of British party politics, and the transformation of Puritanism into ‘Whiggery’ and Dissent. The essays collected in this volume address some of Morrice’s key concerns in his book, including the atmosphere of fear and foreboding, the profound effect of events on the continent on the English, or the anxieties and opportunities caused by a socially diffuse culture of news and information, and sheds light on a social, political and religious situation which ultimately led to the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

1788-1887

Moving into the 18th and 19th centuries, Blackburn’s The American Crucible is a vivid and authoritative history of the rise and, more importantly, the fall of slavery in the Americas. It looks at Europe’s conquest and colonisation of the Americas with its system of slavery, and the promotion of the rise of capitalism in the Atlantic world through the slave labour which helped establish empires, fostered new cultures of consumption and financed the breakthrough to an industrial order. Blackburn interprets the New World as a “crucible” for a succession of experiments in colonization, silver mining, plantation agriculture, racial enslavement, colonial rebellion, and slave resistance, and charts the great movements of emancipation in Haiti in 1804, Britain in 1833-8, the United States in the 1860s, and Cuba and Brazil in the 1880s, with a view to how they influenced many of the ideals we live by today.

1800-1815

The turn of the 19th century saw what is usually regarded as the revolution par excellence, but in his Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution Martin Lyons looks not at the French Revolution itself, nor at Napoleon in one of his many other roles from Jacobin to Republican to Emperor, but focuses on developments in French society and economy as a background to a view of Napoleon specifically as an heir and executor of the French Revolution, preserving its social gains, and consolidating the triumph of the bourgeoisie.

1916

In a century that offers plenty of examples of violent revolts, the 1916 Easter Rising still stands out, and still invites new interpretations and insights over a century later. In his Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion Charles Townshend looks at both the rising itself and the violent British response to it, which made an entire nation turn away in revulsion. Townshend’s account of the stasis which launched Ireland into a new era asks and answers questions on what the rebels actually hoped to achieve, what the thinking behind the British response might have been, and how the events were regarded by ordinary people across Ireland.

1936

Bloodless and peaceful but nevertheless superbly effective socialist, pacifist, and feminist protests, campaigns and movements characterise the life of Ellen Wilkinson, whose 2016 biography Red Ellen by Laura Beers is now available online. Best remembered as the leader of the 1936 “Jarrow Crusade”, the 300-mile march of two hundred unemployed shipwrights and steelworkers to petition the British government for assistance, Wilkinson’s fight for social justice extended to involvement in a range of campaigns, from the quest for official recognition of the Spanish Republican government to the fight for Indian independence or  the effort to smuggle Jewish refugees out of Germany. Beers paints a portrait of a remarkable woman whose achievements include the founding of Britain’s Communist Party, a seat in Parliament, a post as one of the first female delegates to the United Nations, a central role in Britain’s post-war Labour government as Minister of Education, and in general successful activism as an advocate for the poor and dispossessed.

1940-45

The memoirs of another remarkable women whose life was defined by the involvement in opposition against the established powers are edited and translated in Résistance: Memoirs of Occupied France, the diaries of Agnès Humbert, founder of one of the first organised groups of the French Resistance in 1940s Paris. Betrayed to the Gestapo in 1941, Humbert was imprisoned but escaped execution, spending the years until the end of the war in a German forced labour camp. First published immediately after her liberation in 1946, and now available as an ebook in its first English translation of 2008, the memoirs, written with a deft touch and sardonic wit, offer a very personal and candid perspective of this dark period.

1968

With the understanding of the year 1968 as a marker of an emerging will for social change around the turn of that decade, rather than as a particular calendar year, the essay collection Women, Global Protest Movements, and Political Agency explores women’s historical involvement in “1968” in different parts of the world and the different ways in which women’s experience as victims and perpetrators of violence are remembered and understood.  The topics touched on in the various contributions include for example transnational memories of Northern Ireland’s ’68, West German documentary drama, female terrorists and women in the jihad, women fighters during the Lebanese civil war, and violence against women in Yugoslavia.

You can find more books on the topic on our LibraryThing shelf tagged with “revolutions”  and “political violence”, and browse all our new ebooks on LibraryThing here.

Bodleian New History eBooks – May 2020: The History of the British Isles

Bodleian New History eBooks – May 2020: The History of the British Isles

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise…

(William Shakespeare, Richard II, II.1, 40-43)

The “British Isles” are defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica simply as the “group of islands off the northwestern coast of Europe” consisting of the two main islands, Great Britain and Ireland, and numerous smaller islands and island groups, including the Hebrides, the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, the Isles of Scilly, the Isle of Man, and possibly also the Channel Islands. The accompanying illustration of the “Terminology of the British Isles”, however, already contradicts the seeming simplicity of the definition.

In addition the expression itself is of course politically controversial, particularly for many people in Ireland – prompting General Editor Paul Langford in his Preface to the Short Oxford History of the British Isles to make the disclaimer that in the series they “use the words British Isles solely and simply as a geographical expression” and to reassure the readers that “[n]o set agenda is implied”. Considering the number of different peoples who at one point or another colonised, invaded, annexed, left or were driven out of various parts of the island group, and the various kingdoms, colonies or republics they founded (as illustrated beautifully in this video), the difficulty in establishing a sense of unity among these changing sovereignties and shifting boundaries is readily understandable.

Such difficulty also extends to the subject of the History of the British Isles and its scope: scholars and students of English History are often accused of ignoring the History of Britain as a whole, while those who study the History of Britain are often accused to take the inclusion of Ireland for granted, and those who want to write on or study specifically the History of Scotland, Wales or Ireland quickly find that such exclusivity can be difficult to achieve. To quote Paul Langford again, “What constitutes a concept such as British history or four nations history, remains the subject of acute disagreement, and varies much depending on the period under discussion.”

The plethora of such periods that can potentially be discussed, stemming from a recorded history of over two millennia, is not helping either – the “short” Oxford History of the British Isles spans 11 volumes from The Roman Era and Vikings and Normans to The British Isles since 1945, with individual volumes covering the 12th/13th, 14th/15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and two full volumes dedicated to the 20th century. The subject of the History of the British Isles in the Further Honours School here at Oxford on the other hand is subdivided into seven eras from “The Early Medieval British Isles, 300-1100” via “The Late Medieval British Isles, 1330-1550” and “Liberty, Commerce and Power, 1685-1830” to finally “Changing Identities, 1900 to the present”. In short, the options for subdividing the 2000 years of history into thematically coherent segments of widely varying length are legion, from Pre-Historic Britain to The Anglo-Saxon Era, The Elizabethan Age, The Tudors, The Victorians, The Long 19th Century, The Edwardian Era, The World Wars, The Inter-War Period, Britain Post-1945, The Cold War, The Sixties, The Thatcher Era, or The 21st Century, to name only a few possibilities.

In the face of this, this blog on the new eBooks arrived at the Bodleian on the subject of the History of the British Isles cannot hope to be anywhere near comprehensive, or touch on every important, let alone every interesting era or aspect of these 2000 years. This edition, then, features a somewhat eclectic (but hopefully interesting) rather than representative sample of the various books on the wider topic which are newly available for online access. You can find all our new eBooks on our LibraryThing shelf here, and all our books tagged “Great Britain” here.

The envy of less happier lands

The 2000 years of British History have seen a lot of armed conflict, some of it occasioned by, some of it causing the changes or shifts of borders. I have chosen just three studies on the topic, two from the early modern and one from the modern era, to highlight here.

Paul E. J. Hammer’s Elizabeth’s Wars charts several of the politically and materially costly but ultimately successful military conflicts England engaged in between 1544 and 1604 under Elizabeth I. Starting with the gradual rebuilding of England’s military power on both land and sea against the double threat of France and Spain at the beginning of her reign, the study covers England’s great war with Spain in the 1580s and 1590s with its campaigns spanning the Low Countries, northern France, Spain and the Atlantic, as well as the famous Armada campaign of 1588; and also touches on the last Irish resistance to English domination which was crushed towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign. Ann Hughes’ 1991 The Causes of the English Civil War, one of the standard textbooks on the subject, is also now available online through SOLO in its second, revised edition. Hughes offers an accessible and  comprehensive guide to the historiographical debates surrounding the middle of the 17th century, with discussion not only of the political leaders and their parliaments, but of the wider European context, the general political and religious background of the era, and relevant social and cultural issues and aspects. For the 20th century, Angus Calder examines The Myth of the Blitz as a piece of World War II propaganda in a detailed discussion of the events of 1940 and 1941. While acknowledging its sustaining powers in Britain’s “finest hour”, his close scrutiny inevitably dispels a good part of a myth which rested upon the assumed invincibility of an island race distinguished by good humour, understatement, and the ability to pluck victory from the jaws of defeat by team work, improvisation and muddling through.

Dear for her reputation through the world

There is inevitable overlap with the topic of warfare in the studies of England’s and later Great Britain’s international relations, which am turning to next.

A collection of new studies on Tudor international relations, Tudor England and its Neighbours analyses important changes and continuities in England’s foreign policy between 1485 and 1603. Taking into account recent developments in cultural, gender and institutional history, the contributors discuss Tudor England’s relations with Germany, France, Spain or Scotland, examining such wide-ranging subjects as Henry VII’s pursuit of peace with France, the impact of the break with Rome and the introduction of Protestantism on England’s relations with other countries, and, yes, the inevitability or otherwise of war between Elizabethan England and Spain. The British dimension of the whole span of the American Revolution, from its origins to the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and its aftermath, is the topic of another collection of essays newly available online, Britain and the American Revolution. The nine contributions discuss Britain’s response to the blow the Revolution represented both to her Atlantic empire and to her position as a great colonial and commercial power, as well as the importance of the Revolution in the dynamics of British politics in the later 18th century. The chapters cover the problems governing the American colonies, Britain’s diplomatic isolation in Europe over the war, the impact of the American crisis on Ireland, ideological dimensions and public opinion, and the consequences of the loss of America for Britain. Imperial Britain is also the subject of Andrew S. Thompson’s beautifully titled The Empire Strikes Back?, which looks at the influence of the global superpower Britain on its colonies in Africa, Asia and America not only in terms of politics and government, but in aspects of life as varied and wide-ranging as culture, religion, law and order, health and sexuality. More than that, however, the study shows how the dependent states hit back, affecting and changing British social life and class, economics and domestic politics, and British identity itself.

Bound in with the triumphant sea

Or, as Flanders and Swann phrase it in their 1963 parodistic “Song of Patriotic Prejudice”, a work “calculated to offend practically everybody”,

The rottenest bits of these islands of ours
We’ve left in the hands of three unfriendly powers:
Examine the Irishman, Welshman or Scot,
You’ll find he’s a stinker, as likely as not!

True to this prompt to examine these nations (but obviously with rather different outcomes!), several of the new eBooks focus specifically on the history of Wales, Ireland, or Scotland.

Kathryn Hurlock’s Medieval Welsh Pilgrimage examines the Welshmen with respect to this most popular expressions of religious belief in medieval Europe, looking both at the historical and religious significance of the Welsh holy pilgrimage sites to explore what motivated pilgrims to visit these particular sites, and at Welsh pilgrims to both local and overseas pilgrimage destinations – their expectations, their engagement with pilgrimage both practically and ideologically, and their experiences and emotions on the journey and in the achievements of their ultimate goals. A very close examination of a fascinating group of Irishmen and Irishwomen is offered by R. F. Foster in Vivid Faces, which deal with the “revolutionary generation” of 1890-1923, surveying the lives and beliefs of the people who made the 1916 Irish Revolution, and their shared youth, radicalism, subversive activities, enthusiasm and love. Working from contemporary diaries, letters and reflections, Foster brings to life the members of the student societies, theatre groups, feminist collectives, volunteer militias, Irish-language summer schools, and radical newspaper offices who made the revolution, as well as the disillusionment in which it ended. Finally, Tom Devine’s 2017 Independence or Union turns to the Scots, and looks closely at the vexed and uneasy relationship between Scotland and England which has shaped the island since the Middle Ages though a continuous exchange of inhabitants, monarchs, money and ideas, both in peacetimes based on consent and mutual advantage, and in wartime characterised by force and antagonism. Devine’s study explores the relationship between the two countries from the 17th century to the present, weighing up benefits, and raising the question which has become possibly more pressing than ever since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

This happy breed of men

British Society, and the Brits themselves, are the object of a number of widely varied nwly available studies in the fields of social and cultural history.

Authority, Gender and Emotions in Late Medieval and Early Modern England collects essays on situations of authority, governance, and influence related to gender before 1600. Investigating how gender and emotions shaped the ways different individuals could assert or maintain authority, or indeed disrupt or provide alternatives to conventional practices of authority, the contributions explore case studies of women and men’s letter-writing, political and ecclesiastical governance, household rule, exercise of law and order, or creative agency.

Ideology is at the heart of two further new eBooks on British culture, both focusing on the 20th century: The Culture of Fascism explores the cultural history of fascism and the Far Right with a view to British fascism from the early 1900s not just as a political movement, but one that established a wide-reaching fascist culture reaching into film, theatre, music, literature, the visual arts and mass media. The contributions offer discussions of fascist marching songs and “Aryan” music, fascism in science, the cult of the New Fascist Man, and fascist masculinity and femininity. Peter Clarke’s Hope and Glory also looks at British society in the 20th century, considering a number of diverse aspects of three generations who lived through a century of unparalleled change. He offers a wider examination of the political, social, cultural and economic changes throughout, and how issues such as jobs and prices, food and shelter, and education and welfare have shaped the society we live in.

Finally, fundamental questions of Britishness and British identity in the 21st century are raised in Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, a provocative exploration of the personal experiences of a mixed-race British woman living in a nation in denial about its imperial past, and about the racism that plagues its present. Described as a memoir with social analysis and a political and social challenge of unconscious biases, or as part historical exploration, part journalistic exposé of racism and class disadvantage in modern Britain, Hirsch’s book looks at the real world impact of concepts such as ‘racism’,  ‘prejudice’, and ‘disadvantage’ on the lives of real people, placing her own lifelong search for identity against the backdrop of a national identity crisis, and offering insights on the issues of race, identity and the multiple meanings of Britishness.

Bodleian New History eBooks: May 2020 – Masculinities

Bodleian New History eBooks: May 2020 – Masculinities

The question of what makes a man a man, or what exactly is meant by “masculinity”, is one which has been asked innumerable times in recorded history in sources as different as ancient theatre and medieval chronicles, early modern letters and nineteenth-century pedagogic tracts, or 20th-century movies and self-help books. Humans, both men and women, have tried to answer it in a similarly wide range of media, not only explicitly in academic papers and studies, but both explicitly and implicitly in self-help manuals, popular culture, feminist ideas, psychoanalytic theory, or simply in the daily interactions between boys and their fathers, husbands and wives, or children and their teachers.

Ideas of masculinity are inextricably intertwined with history – in their volume on What Is Masculinity? Arnold and Brady explain that the habit of masculine domination is bound so closely both to social power and to the idea of “how things are” that it is a prime example of “history turned into nature” (p. 1). There is, then, a question of whether there is a need for a “men’s history”, or a “history of masculinity” at all – as highlighted in the March edition of this New Books blog, the aim of the feminist movement and women’s history often is to re-balance history and redress the exclusion of women from it. But since men, their lives, and their activities in the public sphere are already the substance of traditional historiography, is there really a need to re-examine historic masculinities today?

Sussman in his Masculine Identities argues that it is specifically the conflict between the historical (or even pre-historical) male image with the realities of male life today that accounts for much of the questions about and discontent with their identity in contemporary men. There is no doubt that the question is very much part of our contemporary culture – while originating in the 1990s, the term “toxic masculinity” came to prominence in media use only in the 2010s; the coinage, only half a decade ago, of such emotionally and culturally charged portmanteaus as “mansplaining” and “manspreading” points to a very current discussion of masculinity and male stereotypes; and the #MeToo movement just over two years ago highlighted a widespread hegemonic masculinity even in countries which are considered frontrunners of gender parity.

One argument for a history of masculinities is that the flip side of privilege is disadvantage, and while undoubtedly men as a group are privileged, there is much insight to be gained from considering the costs of such privileges and the ways in which not all men are granted equal access to them, whether on account of their race, class, or sexuality – similar to women’s history, gay history is a historiography which charts repression, resistance and self-discovery. The main argument for a history of masculinities, however, is that masculinity really only has meaning in relation to other identities, whether of gender, sexuality, class, age, religion, or culture – contextualisation and interconnectedness are the crucial factors. Any historical approaches to masculinity thus never stands alone – rather than a free-standing strand, the history of masculinities today can be understood as an enrichment of a large variety of other emphases, from the history of the family to women’s history, post-colonial history, workers’ history, political or cultural history. As John Tosh explains it in his chapter on “The History of Masculinity: An Outdated concept?“, a historical perspective and experience within our lifetimes shows manliness as constructed by culture and also changed by it, so that masculinity “takes its place as one lens, among several, through which the texture of society and culture may be more fully understood” (p.20). This is also the reason that we speak of masculinities in the plural, rather than masculinity in the singular – to account for the many variations of the concept in different historic era and cultures, but also in the self-perception of the individual. The new eBooks on the topic of masculinities which have been added to the Bodleian over the past weeks, and which I would like to highlight in this blog, take full advantage of the potential widths and depths of this field, and study masculinities in historic eras from Antiquity to the present, in connection with issues from class to politics, religion and magic, and in relationships from homosocial to homosexual.

Macrohistorical Masculinities

In a fascinating piece of macrohistory spanning historical eras from Antiquity until late Modernity, Aleardo Zanghellini’s The Sexual Constitution of Political Authority looks at the issues of sex and power, specifically related to homosexuality. He examines the relationship between ideas of political authority and male same-sex desire in a series of case studies of statesmen whose (sometimes only alleged) homosexuality was seen to problematize the good exercise of public powers. Studying the sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical “trials” of same-sex desire, the book begins with the Roman emperor Hadrian and moves on to the Middle Ages and early modern period with chapters on the English kings Edward II and James I, through the Victorian Age with the Dublin Castle and the Cleveland Street scandals of the 1880s, and finally to the 20th century with the McCarthy-era and the 1950s Montagu-trials which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain.

Greek and Roman Masculinities

Situated at the early end of these historic eras, in ancient Rome, Maud W. Gleason’s Making Men on the other hand is a fascinating piece of microhistory which compares the careers of two popular 2nd-century public speakers. Celebrities in their day, the differences of self-presentation in features such as gait, gesture, facial expression, and voice between the orator Favorinus, a eunuch, and Polemo, a man who met conventional gender expectations, offers many insights into the ways ancient Romans constructed masculinity during a time marked by anxiety over manly deportment. Halperin’s One Hundred Years of Homosexuality is another study which focuses on the question of masculinity and more broadly sexuality in Antiquity, with a look at the original “Greek love” and the erotics of male culture in ancient Greece. Contrary to his title, however, Halperin argues that the modern concept of “homosexuality” is actually inadequate for understanding this facet of sexual life in this period, and instead urges us to look at the native Greek terms which contenporaries used to construct sexuality and sexual experiences in the ancient Mediterranean world.

Early Modern Masculinities

For the early modern era, Frances Timbers singles out one particular facet of cultural history to examine gender in her Magic and Masculinity, with a study of how in early modern England, the practice of ritual or ceremonial magic both reinforced and subverted existing concepts of gender. Drawing on  records of well-known magicians such as John Dee as well as unpublished diaries and journals, contemporary literature and legal records, her examples include a wide range of practitioners from male magicians in their customary patriarchal positions of control to those who used the notion of magic to subvert gender roles, and to females who employed magic to undermine the patriarchal culture. A wider view of early modern English gender is taken by the contributors to English Masculinities, 1660-1800, a collection of specially commissioned essays which draws on diaries, court records and prescriptive literature to provide a social view of the masculine identities of late Stuart and Georgian men – from fops to gentlemen, blackguards to men of religion, and heterosexuals to homosexuals. In their efforts to explore the complex and disparate masculinities enacted by the men of this period, the different contributions touch on such a variety of topics as the correlations between masculinity and Protestantism, the connection of masculinity with taciturnity, the impact of changing representations of homosexual desire, misogyny, the literary and metaphorical representation of the body, and the roles of gossip and violence in men’s lives.

Modern Masculinities

Starting in the Victorian era, but moving into the later 20th century, Masculinities and the Nation in the Modern World provides some fresh perspectives on the role of masculinities in various processes of nation-building in the modern world between the early nineteenth century and the 1960s. The contributions concern the production and perpetuation of nationalized hegemonic masculinities in Western societies, highlighting their ambiguities in transnational contexts created by colonialism and imperialism, where transnational processes of exchange, translation, and adaptation allowed Western nations to subdue and marginalize non-Western and non-white masculinities. The individual papers collected in this volume discuss these issues with respect to the Confederate States in the 1860s, Mormon polygamy, the American family of the early 20th century, the masculine ideal in fascist Italy, competing notions of masculinity in the United States and Nicaragua, the emasculation of the Mexican community in the second half of the 19th century, or martial masculinities in late Meiji Japan. Taking up the thread at the turn of the 20th century is Helen Smith’s Masculinity, Class and Same-Sex Desire in Industrial England, 1895-1957, which explicitly focuses on the experiences of working-class men in areas outside of London, and in this offers not only a new chapter in the history of homosexuality, but also widens our more general understanding of masculinity, working-class culture, regionality and work in the period. Drawing on a wide range of primary sources on the lives of men who have been forgotten, Smith shows how, contrary to perceived ideas, same-sex desire could be a part of everyday life in the industrial towns of early 20th century England.

Finally, Anthony W. Clare’s On Men: Masculinity in Crisis offers an exploration of the challenged state of masculinity in a post-feminist society of gender equality at the turn of the 21st century. With shifting gender roles many men have lost their traditional position of  provider for their families, and modern law, family constellations and medical advances mean that men are also getting pushed out of similarly traditional roles as protectors, parents, and even procreators. Male violence is no more a source of honour and pride, but a threat to our culture and civilisation, and the dying-out of the assertive, authoritative, dominant man is mirrored by a rise in male suicides. Practising psychiatrist Clare brings his knowledge of science and medicine as well as his understanding of the human mind to this readable, fair-handed and sympathetic examination of the male in today’s society.

You can find all new eBooks on our LibraryThing shelf here, and more books on this topic tagged with “masculinity” here.

Ebooks from Cambridge University Press

We are delighted to announce that over 21,000 ebooks in Humanities published by Cambridge University Press are available to members of the University from 12 May 2020 to 31 May 2021 via their EBA (evidence-based acquisitions) programme. It joins our growing collection of ebooks in Oxford.

This will be particularly be welcomed by students revising for their exams, studying for their essays or doing research while the libraries are closed due to COVID-19.

Access requires SSO or VPN.

What is included?

All CUP books on the list are available online to University members via SOLO during this period. Any new titles newly published during this time will also be added. They can also be found directly on Cambridge Core though remember to sign in with SSO or switch on VPN first.

For History, the programme includes over 7,500 CUP ebooks, with a large number of important monographs relevant for all periods and covering global history.

How can I find a title list?

To

To see a title list of the history books available, sign into SOLO with SSO (or use VPN), go to Cambridge Core > History > Explore History Books. Pick a section and select “Only show content I have access to”.

The books are DRM-free (digital-rights-management-free), which means there are no restrictions on use such as downloading, printing or copying.

What happens in May 2021?

At the end of the period, Humanities subject librarians will make a selection of about 500 books based on appearance on reading lists and heavy use during the period. These selections will be added permanently to the ebook collection of the Bodleian Libraries.

While you are here:

Bodleian New History eBooks: April 2020 – Science and the Occult

Bodleian New History eBooks: April 2020 – Science and the Occult

Iam patet horrificis quae sit via flexa Cometis;

Iam non miramur barbati Phaenomena Astri.

Now we know what curved path the frightful comets have;

No longer do we marvel at the appearances of a bearded star.

Edmund Halley, “Ode on This Splendid Ornament of Our Time and Our Nation, the Mathematico-Physical Treatise by the Eminent Isaac Newton.”

The “Scientific Revolution” is understood to consist of a series of events during the early modern period that marked the emergence of modern sciences through revolutionary developments in such areas as mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, human anatomy and chemistry. Its starting point is usually taken to coincide with the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543, while its end point is the publication of another revolutionary study, Isaac Newton’s 1687 Principia, the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. It would be quite easy to imagine the Scientific Revolution as the great divide between the occult and the scientific – with magic, alchemy, astrology, and  any other “practical arts held to involve agencies of a secret or mysterious nature” (as the OED defines the term “occult sciences”) on the one side, and modern sciences like chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, and astronomy on the other. But the divide, if it even exists, is nowhere near as neat.

For one, esotericism, occultism and mysticism are very much alive and flourishing, and making headlines even in the 21st century: last year US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ birth horoscope, drawn up by self-described psychic and astrologer Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, made “Astrology Twitter” go wild, while a coven of Brooklyn witches publicly hexed then-Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh. Alternative medicines from acupuncture to homeopathy, and from Ayurveda and therapeutic magnets to faith healing are also experiencing a considerable revival – “healing crystals”, for example, endorsed and commercialised by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Adele and Kim Kardashian, have  become a (often shady) billion-dollar industry.

For another, evidence keeps mounting that the so-called occult sciences, especially alchemy, lie at the heart of much of the emerging modern science, and that even canonical figures of the Scientific Revolution pursued chrysopoeia seriously. Newton is a case in point – the Indiana University website Chymistry of Isaac Newton provides online access of his impressive collection of alchemical manuscripts, and even the The Cambridge Companion to Newton concedes that “[a]lthough his long engagement with alchemy did not lead Newton to his fundamental discovery of universal gravitation, it had highly significant impacts on other aspects of his science, particularly in the realms of optics and in the study of the Earth’s internal processes.” (p. 455) The “Father of Modern Chemistry”, Robert Boyle, is a similar case – surviving papers show clearly that his work on transmutational processes was integrated into his chemical research, and “document unambiguously Boyle’s lifelong chrysopoetic activities, his search for the philosophers’ stone, and his attempts to contact adepti.” (Principe, 2011, p. 308). This relationship of science with the occult does not even start and end with the Scientific Revolution – some of the outstanding figures of the very early history of medicine in Islam in the 9th and 10th century have an equal importance as alchemists, and the New Cambridge History of Islam, in its chapter on “Occult Sciences and Medicine”, labels the Islamic tradition of alchemy as “most important for the history of science”. On the other side, Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory argues convincingly that as modern nuclear physics was born, the trajectories of science and occultism briefly converged: in their joint 1902 papers on “The Radioactivity of Thorium Compounds”, Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy demonstrated how radioactive elements disintegrate, releasing radioactivity and transforming into other elements in the process, a process now known widely under the same name as the supposed change of base metals into gold in alchemy – “transmutation”.

In the spirit of such relationships, this selection of History eBooks newly purchased by the Bodleian on the wider topic of “Science and the Occult” includes studies from classic occult subjects such as demononolgy and witchcraft, discussions of the occult sciences and their relationship with modern science, and books on the Scientific Revolution itself.

The Occult

We are starting off with one of the “classics” of the history of witchcraft, Demonolatry: An Account of the Historical Practice of Witchcraft, a new 2008 edition of Ashwin’s English translation of Nicolas Remy’s 1595 Daemonolatreiae, an amplification and update of the 1486 Malleus Maleficarum, and the leading witchcraft handbook of its day. In addition to defining the black arts and their practitioners, making it possible to “recognize” witches, it offers civil and religious authorities directives for persecution of the accused and punishment of the condemned – and if you need any more incentive to read, Remy’s collection of notes, opinions, and court records features lurid details of satanic pacts and sexual perversity as well as the particulars of numerous trials. Lynda Roper’s Witch Craze (2004) then illustrates how handbooks like these were put into practice, offering a gripping account of the pursuit, interrogation, torture, and burning of witches during the 16th and 17th centuries in Southern Germany. Drawing on hundreds of original trial transcripts, Roper examines the lives, families, and tribulations of the condemned witches, analysing the psychology of witch-hunting, and discussing how the depiction of witches in art and literature has influenced the characterization of elderly women in our own culture.

Religion, the Occult, and Science

Another classic study of the subject, this one concentrating on the 16th and 17th centuries in England, is Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic, now also available as an eBook through SOLO. Thomas analyses the connections between magic and popular religion at a time the Protestant Reformation worked to take the magic out of religion, and science and rationalism also began to challenge the older systems of beliefs held by people on every level of English society. Staying with the topic of religion, but moving a bit further into the realm of science as well as into the 18th century is Rob Iliffe’s Priest of Nature, which focuses on an often-neglected side of Isaac Newton, his private religious convictions that set him at odds with established law and Anglican doctrine. Iliffe’s discussion of Newton’s long-suppressed writings on his theological positions sheds light on the relationship between faith and science at a formative moment in history and thought, and the theological discussions that dominated Newton’s age, giving an insightful picture of the spiritual views of a man who fundamentally changed how we look at the universe.

The Occult Sciences

Two of the books newly available as eBooks discuss some of the classic occult sciences – Secrets of Nature (2001) offers eight essays on various aspects of the disciplines of alchemy and astrology in early modern Europe, from the work of Renaissance astrologer Girolamo Cardano to the astrological thinking of Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, the history of the Rosicrucians and the influence of John Dee, the work of medical alchemist Simon Forman, and the existing historiography of alchemy. Connecting the occult science of alchemy with the modern scientific area of chemistry, Bruce T. Moran’s 2005 Distilling Knowledge looks past contemporary assumptions and prejudices to determine what alchemists were actually doing in the context of early modern science between 1400 and 1700. His examination of the ways alchemy and chemistry were studied and practiced show a shared territory between their two disciplines in the way the respective practitioners thought about the natural world, and even exchanged ideas and methods – to a point where he argues for accepting alchemy, on its own terms, as a demonstrative science.

The Scientific Revolution

Finally there are two books which focus on the Scientific Revolution itself. John Henry’s 1997 seminal study The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science is a concise but wide-ranging account of all aspects of the Scientific Revolution from astronomy to zoology, and offers a guide to the most important aspects of the Scientific Revolution. Its 3rd revised and extended 2008 edition, which takes into account the latest scholarship and research and new developments in historiography, is now available as an eBook on SOLO. The 2000 volume Rethinking the Scientific Revolution, however, challenges some of the traditional historiography of the Scientific Revolution – the papers collected here reconsider canonical figures from Copernicus to Robert Boyle and especially Newton, moving from their ideas on alchemy and astrology to the influences, ideas and attitudes towards religion, theology and philosophy during this seminal period of European intellectual history.

You can find all books newly available as eBooks on our LibraryThing shelf, or check out the tag pages for “witchcraft“, “Scientific Revolution” or “alchemy” for more books on this topic!

Bodleian New History Books: March 2020 – Women’s History

Bodleian New History Books: March 2020 – Women’s History

March is Women’s History Month in the UK, an event intended to highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

While much of “feminist history” is more specifically concerned with the re-reading of history from a female perspective, and re-interpreting history in a more balanced manner, “women’s history” tends to be more generally focused on the study of women in history, their roles, contributions, and situations in life. History was of course written mainly by men and about men’s activities in the public sphere, from war to politics and diplomacy, to science and literature and intellectual history – for a large part women are either excluded, or included only as the wives, mistresses, mothers and daughters of men, or portrayed in stereotypical ways. In his answer to the question “What is Women’s History?”, James F. McMillan thus defines women’s history as being “about putting women back into the historical picture from which, through the predilections of generations of male historians for writing about masculine-oriented activities such as war, diplomacy and affairs of state, they had largely been excluded.” The intent is thus to clearly acknowledge that women have a history of their own, and that gender is as powerful a determining factor as race or class or colour.

In her answer to the same question in the above article, Olwen Hufton mentions three distinct aspects of women’s history as an area of study: to discern women’s past roles and situations, locating them in the social, economic, political, religious and psychological world of traditional society; to give any historical period a “gender dimension” by acknowledging how the attitudes or positions of women influenced the course of events; and re-examining historical accounts collected or compiled by men and based on male assumptions and a masculine conception of both women and themselves.

Contributions to women’s history thus can range from studies of personal achievements of individual or groups of women throughout recorded history, the effect of historical events specifically on women, or the changes in women’s status, social situation or rights in different countries or historic eras. In this month’s blog on the new history books arrived at the Bodleian in the course of March we’ll be looking at a number of studies that focus on interesting women from a wide range of times and cultures (from the Middle Ages to the 21st century), from a wide range of social circumstances (from queens to nuns and suffragettes to musicians), and involving a wide range of literary genres (from memoirs to correspondence to hagiographies).

Calogera Jacqueline Alio’s volume on Sicilian Queenship supplements her Queens of Sicily 1061-1266 (2018), which contains the biographies of eighteen of the countesses and queens of the Kingdom of Sicily during the Hauteville and Hohenstaufen reigns. This follow-up publication  further explores the queens’ use of power and the Sicilian cultural identity forged by these women, from political issues such as their strategies for the suppression of adversaries, to social issues such as  patronage and heraldry, and to cultural aspects such as sexuality, poetry, and even cuisine.

An aristocratic woman is also at the centre of Carolyn James’ A Renaissance Marriage, which offers a fascinating account of a political marriage in Italy in the late 15th and early 16th century. Drawing on unpublished correspondence between and by Isabella d’Este and her husband Francesco Gonzaga, rulers of Mantua, the correspondence illustrates the couple’s marriage throughout political challenges such as the Italian Wars of the early 16th century and the public health crisis of the spread of syphilis in Renaissance Europe, painting a vivid picture of a woman in a Renaissance marital relationship as well as contributing to the history of emotions, of politics and military conflict, of childbirth, childhood and family life, and of disease and medicine.

Rather than merely the biography or correspondence, it is the autobiographical writings of a fascinating woman from the early modern era which are newly translated from the Yiddish in Glikl: Memoirs 1691-1719. Glikl bas Leib, also known as Glückel of Hameln, was a Jewish businesswoman in Germany, and her memoirs, begun after the death of her beloved husband, record the varying fortunes of her family and community over the course of 30 years. With its undeniable literary qualities, recounting of traditional tales and beliefs, indebtedness to contemporary Yiddish moral literature and especially in the significance she assigns to her own life experience, Glikl’s memoirs serve admirably for putting herself firmly into the historical picture of early modern Germany.

Two studies of religious women are next in the roughly chronological order of this blog. The first of these is Sue E. Houchins’ and Baltasar Fra-Molinero’s Black Bride of Christ, the first English translation of the Compendio de la vida ejemplar de la Venerable Madre Sor Teresa Juliana de Santo Domingo by Juan Carlos Pan y Agua (1752) , the hagiography of Teresa de Santo Domingo. Born as a tribal princess in West Africa with the name of Chicaba, enslaved by the Spanish and later freed to enter a convent, her acts of charity, her mystical experiences, and her fame as a healer or miracle worker led to her beatification after her death. The hagiographical biography translated here is not only the basis of the continuing efforts to have her canonized, but a vivid account of the life and times, struggles and successes of a black slave woman in 18th-century Spain.

Michael E. O’Sullivan’s Disruptive Power then focuses on a similarly fascinating and influential religious woman in the context of a surprising revival of faith in Catholic miracles in Germany from the 1920s to the 1960s, originating from the case of this particular mystic and stigmatic, Therese Neumann of Konnersreuth. O’Sullivan explores the political and social agenda of the “rebellious traditionalists” which were her followers, from theologians, politicians and journalists to Cardinals and everyday pilgrims, and their route from the Weimar Republic through the Third Reich, and into the Federal Republic of Germany. Drawing on archival material from Germany and the US, the focus also widens to visionaries and mystics in a number of rural towns after World War II, providing micro-histories that illuminate the impact of mystical faith on religiosity, politics, and gender norms.

The final three studies I would like to highlight in this month’s blog are studies of modern history, and two of them show the truth of the well-known aphorism that well-behaved women never make history – they are accounts of some of the female troublemakers, dissidents, agitators and campaigners who challenged the male dominance of democracy, religion and society, and in doing so changed the world. Hedwig Richter’s Frauenwahlrecht documents the fight of women for their right to vote from the middle of the 19th to their successes in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, and beyond these to the struggle for equal rights for women still ongoing today. The women’s movements to claim their space in the public and political sphere undeniably caused one of the great changes of society mentality, and the various contributions to this volume show the eventful history of women’s suffrage from a number of different perspectives with a distinct focus on the international character of this struggle. Helen Lewis with Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights then really takes the aphorism to heart, showing how much of feminism’s success can be attributed to complicated, contradictory, or imperfect women. However, because they were fighting each other as well as fighting for equal rights many of these difficult women have, Lewis argues, been whitewashed or forgotten in the modern search for feel-good, inspirational heroines. Drawing on archival research and interviews Lewis presents the histories of these troublemakers, from working-class suffragettes to the twenty-first-century campaigners for abortion services, in an attempt to show the history of women’s rights in an unvarnished light.

Sandra Soler Campo’s Mujeres músicas takes the history of women composers, performers or conductors right up to the present time in a re-discovery of professional females who were, she argues, silenced and often ignored until the 70s and 80s of the last century, when at last a considerable number of female musicians began to be sufficiently acknowledged in the English-speaking world as both prominent and influential. Soler Campo traces the challenges faced by female musicians from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic and into the twentieth century; looks at contributions made to the history of women musicians in musicology, history and gender studies; and examines female professional musicians as orchestra members, conductors, composers, and performers in the 20th and 21st century, discussing the difficulties they face, advances they have made, and the goals to be achieved for them in the 21st century.

You can find more studies that contribute to Women’s History on our LibraryThing profile tagged with “women” or “feminism“.

Please note: as the Bodleian Libraries are closed during the current COVID-19 outbreak, this new history books blog will unfortunately be on hiatus for the duration of the global health crisis. You can explore our LibraryThing shelf here, either by simply browsing or by exploring tags for subjects you are interested in, and access past themed blog posts on the Bodleian new books here.

Bodleian New History Books: February 2020 – Cultural History

Bodleian New History Books: February 2020 – Cultural History

Under the name of Kulturgeschichte cultural history as a widely inclusive discipline has been practiced for more than two centuries, when the historical studies of previously separate areas such as philosophy, music, literature, art, and language were subsumed under the umbrella term of ”human culture” (Burke, 2019, p.7), and attention turned to studying these combined issues for the whole of an individual country or defined era of time instead. A classic of the genre, Huizinga’s 1919 The Waning of the Middle Ages deals not only with masterpieces of art, music, philosophy, but also with the connections between various pieces of art their historical and societal context (the “spirit of the age” or “Zeitgeist”), reading pieces of art, paintings, or poems as evidence of the culture of the society in which they were produced. But the definition of “culture” as comprising of such masterpieces of art or literature has of course long vanished  – already Thompson’s 1963 The Making of the English Working Class looked at culture as a sphere which included everything from economic and political changes to food and dialect poetry (Burke, 2019). Around the same time cultural historians then also discovered “popular culture” or “Volkskultur”, such as expressed folk tales, songs, dances, rituals and traditions, arts and crafts, again in their wider context – Hobsbawm’s 1959 The Jazz Scene considers this style of music alongside its audience and societal implications.

In the 1980s the term ‘cultural history’ itself also changed meaning, so that it covered quite traditional histories of artistic and intellectual production as well as something different, called the “new cultural history”. Since then the boundaries of the subject have continuously stretched – by now the elite “high” culture of art and objects d’art, architecture, music, literature, philosophy and sciences has expanded both “downwards” to include “low” or popular culture, and also widthways to include, say, not only paintings but images of any kind, not only plastic art but the tools used to make it, not only art but artisan crafts, not just architecture but simply the houses people live in, not just ballet and theatre but folk dances and games, and not only literature but also people’s everyday reading habits (Burke, 2019).

Modern cultural history studies beliefs and ideas of intellectual elites as well as the often unwritten notions of the less privileged and less educated. It looks at artistic cultural expressions as well as the objects and experiences of everyday life, and at everyday attitudes, values, assumptions, and prejudices, and the behaviours that express them (Rubin, 2008). In short, today cultural history by no means restricts itself to the study of what used to be understood as “culture”, as in, activities within the sphere of ‘high culture’; nor is it exclusively “history”, as in, the interpretation of symbolic acts and rituals of people in the past. “Cultural studies” encompass anything from political economy to geography, sociology, social theory, literary theory, film/video studies, cultural anthropology, philosophy, and art history and criticism. Studies published over the last two decades that call themselves “a cultural history” have covered, for example (in a sense that goes back somewhat to the old idea of Kulturgeschichte) whole countries or regions such as Australia, Andalucia, or Provence, but also such rather diverse human ideas, organisations, issues and institutions the American Dream, the Mafia, idiocy, impotence, and Japanese love hotels.

It seems true, then, that in this day and age cultural history has become the ”history of everything” – maybe T.S. Eliot in his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture just said it best:

Taking now the point of view of identification, the reader must remind himself as the author has constantly to do, of how much is there embraced in the term culture. It includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people: Derby Day, the Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth-century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar. The reader can make his own list.

In the spirit of Eliot, the new Bodleian books I would like to highlight in this month’s blog are still very much historical studies, but of a rather wide range of eras and locations, and well as of widely diverse subjects – all of which, however, can still be classed under the great umbrella term of “cultural history”.

Two new studies ambitiously aim at a comprehensive view of “culture” throughout a specific era, namely the Middle Ages – Albrecht Classen’s Handbook of Medieval Culture, a follow-up publication to the  3-volume Handbook of Medieval Studies, offers compact articles on essential topics, ideals, specific knowledge, and concepts defining the medieval world from issues such as love and marriage, belief in God, hell and the devil, education, lordship and servitude, Christianity versus Judaism and Islam, health, medicine, the rural world, the rise of the urban class, travel, roads and bridges, entertainment, games and sport activities, numbers, measuring, the education system, the papacy, saints, the senses, death, and money – and is thus a history of medieval “culture” very much in T.S. Eliot’s sense of the term. A slightly different approach is taken by Rafael García Sánchez in Trazas medievales: una aproximación cultural: arguing against the still persisting image of the Middle Ages as an era of illiterate rural communities, he presents them as a time of cultured urbanity, touching on a wide variety of social, religious, economic, literary and artistic cultural spheres and influences from Christianity and the role of the Church, monasteries, and cathedrals to universities, boroughs and castles; and from scribes to guilds, bankers, and artists.

More specialised in the subjects (or rather objects) of its study, but with a rather wider view of both time and location, Peter N. Miller’s Cultural Histories of the Material World looks at the study of material culture from a historical perspective, and explores how studying material and materiality can enable new and different cultural historical perspectives. The topics touched on range from prehistoric to indigenous and postcolonial art, from antiquarian collectors to Chinese landscape inscriptions, and from music and recipes to the history of Facebook. Material culture is also at the centre of Tracy Chapman Hamilton’s intriguing Moving Women Moving Objects (400-1500), which discusses medieval aristocratic and royal women, their relationships with their objects, and medieval geography. It follows the movement of their belongings to trace their widespread familial and geographic spaces, from early medieval Scandinavia to Byzantium and Rus’, and various European countries, looking not only at manuscripts, sculpture or liturgical and secular ceremonial instruments, but at everyday personal items such as textiles, jewellery, and even shoes.

Two other new books look at the rather more traditional sphere of “high culture”, here in the areas of music and language – though, in the spirit of a more modern definition of culture, connected to wider issues of politics, economics and society. La réglementation de l’Opéra de Paris, 1669-2019 actually eschews the much-studied issues of performers and performances, and instead brings together editions of principal administrative documents of the Parisian Opera, which regulated artistic, economic and social aspects of its performances, and allow researchers to explore the links between the Opera and political power over the space of three and a half centuries. Less wide in time, but ranging wider geographically is The Whole World in a Book, which offers studies of dictionaries in the 19th century, from British and American English to French, German, Russian, and further afield to Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Persian, Greek, and Latin. The different contributions explore the position of dictionaries as tools of national identity and social inclusiveness in a period of globalization, industrialization, social mobility, new technologies and ways of communication which were dramatically changing languages, and in which rising literacy rates, book consumption, and advertising led to a unprecedented popularization of the dictionary.

The remaining four new books I would highlight in this blog are probably best classed as belonging to a wider area of the “history of culture and ideas”, with a focus on the way human ideas, opinions, and emotions shape human culture. Two of these deal mainly with the medieval world: a Festschrift for William Ian Miller, Emotion, Violence, Vengeance and Law in the Middle Ages, keeps what its title promises, and offers a truly wide-ranging selection of studies connected with these four aspects of human culture and society. A section on emotions, violence, vengeance and law in Medieval historical sources contains studies of early modern German homicide trials, trials by ordeal in Medieval England and the issues of gender and genitalia in 14th century Swiss courts, while studies of literary sources range from contributions on Njáls saga and the feuds of Norwegian kings to sexual revenge, vengeance in movies set in the Middle Ages, decapitation in Iron-Age Mesopotamia, and silence as a weapon in Sense and Sensibility. A rather more pleasant aspect of medieval culture is the topic of Lars Kjaer’s The Medieval Gift and the Classical Tradition, which explores how classical ideals of generosity influenced the writing and practice of gift giving in medieval England from 1100 to 1300. Instead of reading medieval gift giving as deriving from oral ‘folk models’ as proposed by social anthropologists and sociologists, the study looks at the impact of classical literature and philosophy on this particular aspect of medieval culture and ritual, and at how ideas from, for example, Seneca the Younger’s De beneficiis and Cicero’s De officiis were received, adapted and utilised by medieval writers across a range of genres, and influenced the practice of generosity.

The final two studies deal with aspects of culture in early modern Europe. Tony Claydon’s The Revolution in Time explores how people in Western Europe changed the way they thought about the concept of time over the early modern period, specifically focussing on reactions to the 1688-1689 revolution in England. Claydon presents a complex model of changes in chronological conception at the time, looking at how contemporaries fit the rapid changes of the revolution into their concept of history, and how new ideas about chronology and time allowed the revolution to be seen as the start of a new era, rather than as a reiteration of timeless principles of politics, or as a stage in an eternal and pre-determined struggle for true religion. Finally, the contributions in a new collection on Cultures of Calvinism in Early Modern Europe emphasize that Reformed Protestantism did not present as a uniform tradition but varied across space and time, with multiple iterations of Calvinism developing and impacting upon differing European communities. In this they cover a wide field, discussing the association of Calvinism with print and literary cultures, with republican, liberal, and participatory political cultures, with cultures of violence and vandalism, enlightened cultures, cultures of social discipline, secular cultures, and with the emergence of capitalism.

You can find more books on the topic on our LibraryThing virtual shelf, tagged as “cultural history“.