Event Archive

Select this category for information about events after they have taken place, such as videos of lectures, reports on the event or a transcript of the lecture.

RHS Symposium: Masculinity and the Body in Britain, 1500-1900

On 18 June the University of Northampton ran a 1-day symposium on the history of masculinity in Britain. Dr Tim Reinke-Williams, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Northampton, reports:

The aim of this symposium, generously sponsored by the RHS, was to reflect on developments in the historiography of the body over the last 25 years, as well as allow a chance for early and mid-career historians to show-case their latest research.  2015 was a particularly significant moment to attempt to do this since it marked the anniversary of three landmark publications on the body and masculinity: Thomas Laqueur’s Making Sex: Gender and the Body from the Greeks to Freud (Harvard University Press, 1990); Anthony Fletcher’s Gender, Sex and Subordination in England, 1500-1800 (Yale University Press, 1995); and a special edition of  the Journal of British Studies, co-edited by Alexandra Shepard and Karen Harvey, in which the contributors responded to the question ‘what have historians done with masculinity?’

JenEvans Wellcome 2The symposium was structured chronologically with the first two papers focusing on the early modern period (c.1580-c.1770). Jennifer Evans (Hertfordshire) offered a detailed analysis, based on her examination of medical treatises and doctors’ casebooks, of the types of medical conditions which men were (and were not) comfortable discussing with their physicians, focusing in particular on urinary and sexual problems. Tawny Paul (Northumbria) approached the topic from the perspective of an economic historian, using evidence drawn from cases of debt litigation brought before Edinburgh courts to outline how the bodies of debtors were used as collateral for goods exchanged on credit through the processes of distraint and imprisonment.

The next panel moved into the Georgian era (1714-1837). Des Newell (Oxford Brookes) drew on evidence from overseas’ diarists visiting England, as well as trial reports, to discuss the significance of disrobement in plebeian honour fights, showing that such actions signalled the intention to fight, but also served practical purposes, such as allowing the combatants greater freedom of movement. Matthew McCormack (Northampton) examined the issue of masculinity and height, using satirical images alongside medical, political and conduct treatises to outline how height carried positive connotations in terms of social class, athleticism and health, but also might signify negative traits such as awkwardness, ambition, militarism and even castration.

Bailey, Richard Humphreys, the Boxer

Richard Humphreys, the Boxer

The second half of the symposium began with a lavishly illustrated keynote lecture by Joanne Bailey (Oxford Brookes) which focused on masculinity, emotions and material culture across the decades from 1756 to 1856, charting the development of an eighteenth-century ideal of the male body as graceful and dexterous, to a nineteenth-century model in which size, hardness and muscularity were valorised. These shifts occurred due to changing practices in war, empire, and labour, but also due to new understandings of science, sports, and aesthetic fashions.

The final panel focused on the late Victorian period and early twentieth century (c.1880-1916). Victoria Bates (Bristol) discussed how Victorian definitions of adolescence differed from those of the 21st century, but also how such understandings were debated during the Victorian era.  Medical discussions of male sexual maturity were linked to ideas about the gendered individual passing through boyhood into ‘early’ and ‘full’ manhood. Michael Brown (Roehampton) drew together the histories of science and warfare, focusing on the anxieties which arose around the impact of the development of new weaponry in the decades prior to the First World War, and how advances in military technology led to the bayonet being fetishized as a gendered weapon.

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion involving all the speakers, which began with some comments by Karen Harvey (Sheffield), who drew attention to how historians of masculinity have been revisiting their topic at regular intervals over the last quarter of a century.  Karen highlighted several themes which offered the basis for a lively subsequent discussion: men’s possession of their own bodies, and the notion of ideal types; the relationship between representations and practices of masculinity; the experience of embodiment; and ideas about continuity and change across time. Speakers commented on how their work had been influenced by recent developments in the histories of emotions and material culture, and the resurgence of the history of class as well as the need to use gender as a point of comparison in order to write women into histories of masculinity were topics which were commented upon too.

Overall, the symposium demonstrated that the historians working on masculinity and the body are able to approach the topic via the histories of medicine, economics, violence, and warfare.  Most practitioners would define themselves as social or cultural historians, and the relationship between the two can sometimes be fraught, but many of the participants also acknowledged the need to consider the topic from a political perspective, and to integrate the findings of scholars working in other disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology and medical humanities. It is to be hoped that there will be opportunities to maintain and continue these discussions in future.

Read:

Joanne Bailey, ‘Manly bodies in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England’

Dr Jennifer Evans, ‘Shameful Secrets? Men’s sexual and genitourinary health in the long seventeenth century’

Go to RHS News

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wellcome Miscellanea Medica XVIII, dating to 14th century

RHS Lecture: Dr Patricia Skinner, ‘Better off dead than disfigured’? The challenges of facial injury in the premodern past’

Gustave Tuck LT, 6pm, Friday 8th May 2015

People with disfigurements remain one of the last, under-represented minority groups in history. Their faces, often telling stories of violence and/or ravaging disease, present an uncomfortable subject for study. Modern surgical practices, capable of creating the most ‘realistic’ facial prostheses and thus ‘saving faces’, cannot repair the psychological damage of a changed face, nor address the prevailing social attitudes that either register and then ignore the person completely in the cause of ‘not staring’, or express horror or even disgust at the mis-arranged features confronting the gaze. This lecture is concerned with the historical continuities visible in such responses, suggesting that – as today – only those with a particular story to tell about their disfiguring injuries were ‘accepted’ for themselves and were able to ‘change face’. Victims of criminal acts and war veterans did – and still do – elicit a sympathetic response. But facial disfigurement in the premodern past – when surgery was not yet an option – was also a sign of punishment and/or dubious morality, meaning that the right story mattered. The lecture traces some examples, and argues for a better understanding not only of the challenges of disfigurement history, but of disfigurement itself.

Patricia Skinner is Reader in Medieval History at the University of Winchester. She is currently completing a project sponsored by the Wellcome Trust on medical and social responses to disfigurement in medieval Europe.

 

 

 

RHS Lecture: Dr John Maddicott ‘Who was Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester?’

RHS Lecture at De Montfort University, Leicester, 6pm, Thursday 12 March 2015

Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, was one of the most famous men of the English middle ages, and one whose historical reputation has been vigorously contested. He began his political career as a French adventurer at the court of King Henry III, the king’s favourite and, soon, his brother-in-law. He ended his life fighting in battle at Evesham in 1265, with the king a captive at his side and the king’s eldest son, the future Edward I, as his killer. Denounced as a traitor and regarded by some as a public nuisance, he was seen by many others as a hero, saint and martyr. This lecture will survey his career as politician, devout Christian and experienced warrior, and will try to discover how he came to be seen in such extraordinarily different ways. In the foreground will be the political reform movement of 1258-65, which Montfort came to lead and which for the first time subjected the country to a quasi-republican constitution going far beyond the restraints imposed on the monarchy in 1215.

John Maddicott is Emeritus Fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was Fellow and Tutor in Medieval History.

 

RHS Lecture: Professor Alec Ryrie ‘ “Protestantism” as a Historical Category’

Gustave Tuck LT, 6pm, Friday 6 February 2015

In the past thirty years, the ‘confessionalization’ thesis has framed our understanding of the Reformation era, and has divided post-Reformation religion into distinct, parallel confessions. On the Protestant side, this has favoured – and produced a false equivalence between – the two confessions legally recognised by the Peace of Westphalia, Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism. In this lecture, Professor Ryrie argues that the broader term ‘Protestant’ remains the indispensable analytical category for examining the non-papal Christianities of the West after 1517. ‘Protestants’ were both more diverse than the confessionalization model’s statist parameters allow, and also united by fundamental common features which many of them tried hard to deny: features visible across Europe in the early modern period and remaining clear even down to more recent times.

Professor Alec Ryrie is Head of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Durham.

 

RHS Presidential Address – Professor Peter Mandler ‘Educating the Nation II: Universities’

Gustave Tuck LT, 6pm, Friday 28 November 2014

In his first lecture, Peter Mandler argued that ‘meritocracy’ was an unstable basis on which to found universal secondary education, as from the early years of compulsory secondary education in the 1950s most people wanted one kind of education for their children – ‘the best’ – much as they only wanted ‘the best’ health service.   The same cannot quite be said about post-compulsory education, the subject of his second lecture.  A wider range of considerations went into the expansion of higher education – technocratic (what kind of higher education did the nation’s society and economy need?), meritocratic (who was capable of benefiting?), and democratic too (shouldn’t everyone have equal access?).   This mixture of motives, as well as a complex set of economic, demographic and fiscal considerations, are brought together to explain the strange go-stop-go pattern of expansion of higher education in Britain from the 1960s to the present.

 

RHS Seminar on Gender Equality, Glasgow University

The second RHS gender equality seminar was hosted by the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow on 17 November.  Speakers included Nicola Miller, Bronach Kane, Jo Fox and Peter Mandler.  The seminar offered an opportunity for further consultation to contribute to the RHS report on Gender Equality and Historians in UK Higher Education, with workshops on work/life balance, effective mentoring, invisible bias and promotion/career opportunities. The findings of our gender equality survey and consultation seminars will be published in the report early in 2015.

Glasgow Gender Equality programme

 

RHS Lecture – Dr Alex Shepard ‘Minding Their Own Business: Crediting Married Women in the Early Modern Economy’.

Dr Alex Shepard is Reader in Early Modern History and Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Glasgow.  Here she reflects on a rare glimpse of a long term friendship between two London women in the early-eighteenth century.  Elizabeth Carter and Elizabeth Hatchett were friends and partners in a pawn-broking business in London in the early eighteenth century.  We know about them because of a property dispute over Elizabeth Hatchett’s claims to Elizabeth Carter’s goods after she died ‘of a fever’ in 1722.

Taking a micro-historical approach, this lecture explores the business activities of Elizabeth Carter, a woman who practised as a midwife and operated as a pawnbroker in London in the early decades of the eighteenth century first while a wife and subsequently as a widow.  Based on a protracted inheritance dispute through which her extensive dealings come to light, the discussion assesses women’s lending activities in a burgeoning metropolitan economy; the networks through which women lenders operated; and the extent to which they could side-step the legal conventions of ‘coverture’ which restricted married women’s ownership of moveable property.  It will be argued that the money-lending and asset management activities of women like Elizabeth Carter were an important part of married women’s work that did not simply consolidate neighbourhood ties but also fuelled early modern economic development.

This lecture was an RHS event held at Heritage Quay, Central Services Building, University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield. HD1 3DH

 

RHS lecture – Professor Mark Cornwall ‘Traitors and the Meaning of Treason in Austria-Hungary’s Great War’

Gustave Tuck LT, 6pm, 26 September 2014

Treason is a ubiquitous historical concept yet one that is singularly under-researched. This lecture explores the “landscape of treason” in the Habsburg Empire in its final years. It places it in a broader historical context, theoretically and legally, then explores how and why the legal weapon of treason as wielded during the Great War in Austria-Hungary.  It especially seeks to understand what we can learn – the meaning of treason – from the notorious large-scale trials that were staged of Serb and Czech traitors. By 1918 most of the traitors had been amnestied and were turning the accusation of treason upon the Habsburg monarchy itself.

Mark Cornwall is Professor of Modern European History at the University of Southampton and a leading authority on the Austro-Hungarian empire.

 

 

RHS seminar: Gender Equality and Historians in UK Higher Education

Gustave Tuck LT, 2-5pm, Thursday 18 September 2014

To accompany the RHS Gender Survey for historians in UK Higher Education, the RHS held a seminar to discuss its findings with a view to making recommendations to improve gender equality in the sector. Most of the afternoon was devoted to workshops discussing the policy recommendations which will inform the final report which is due to be published in early 2015.

CHAIR: Nicola Miller, Chair of the RHS Research Policy Committee and Professor of Latin American history, UCL

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS:

Peter Mandler, President of the RHS and Professor of Modern Cultural History, University of Cambridge
Bronach Kane, Lecturer in History, Cardiff University
Jo Fox, Honorary Director of Communications and Professor of History, University of Durham

RHS Gender Seminar Programme

 

RHS Prothero Lecture – Professor Tim Blanning ‘Richard Wagner and the German Empire’. View lecture.

RHS Lecture, Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, UCL, 2 July 2014

The (partial) unification of Germany as ‘The German Empire’ in 1871 was the great political event of Wagner’s life (1813-83). In August 1876 the new German Emperor William 1 went to Bayreuth to attend the first complete performance of The Ring of the Nibelung in the Festival Theatre Wagner had built for the purpose. The relationship between these two events, however, was much more problematic than the chronology suggests. In this illustrated lecture, Tim Blanning will argue that Wagner’s attitude to the new German state was highly critical, despite an initial burst of enthusiasm for Prussia during the war of 1870-1. He will pay particular attention to the influence of Friedrich Schiller and Constantin Franz, concluding with an examination of the much-misinterpreted final scene of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg.