Dr Andrew Arsan
Arab political thought and the problem of empire, c.1856-1919
7 February 2020
Royal Historical Society Lecture, delivered 9 February 2018
“I was a few years back a slave on your property of Houton Tower, and as a Brown woman was fancied by a Mr Tumoning unto who Mr Thomas James sold me.”
Thus begins Mary Williamson’s letter, which for decades sat unexamined in an attic in Scotland until a history student became interested in her family’s papers, and showed it to Diana Paton. In this lecture, Paton will use the letter to reflect on the history and historiography of ‘Brown’ women like Mary Williamson in Jamaica and other Atlantic slave societies.
Mary Williamson’s letter offers a rare perspective on the sexual encounters between white men and Brown women that were pervasive in Atlantic slave societies. Yet its primary focus is on the greater importance of ties of place and family—particularly of relations between sisters—in a context in which the ‘severity’ of slavery was increasing. Mary Williamson’s letter is a single and thus-far not formally archived trace in a broader archive of Atlantic slavery dominated by material left by slaveholders and government officials. Paton asks what the possibilities and limits of such a document may be for generating knowledge about the lives and experiences of those who were born into slavery.
Professor Diana Paton is William Robertson Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh
A video of Dr Hunt’s lecture is available here via Gresham College.
More than a hundred years after the death of Cleopatra VII, the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote one of the most damning of all portraits of the queen. According to Josephus, almost all the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt showed great favour to their Jewish subjects and valued their loyalty; he highlights in particular the role of Egyptian Jews in fighting for Cleopatra’s powerful predecessors, Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III. By contrast, the last Cleopatra is a monstrous aberration: hostile to the Jews of Alexandria; a dangerous predator with designs on the land of Judea and its king, Herod the Great; a traitor to all. Should we trust Josephus? This lecture examines the wider context of Josephus’s claims, his apologetic interests, the influence of Herod’s memoirs on the reputation of Cleopatra, and the value of other evidence that suggests a positive account of relationships between Cleopatra VII and her Jewish subjects.
Prof. Sarah Pearce is Ian J. Karten Professor of History at the University of Southampton.
‘The Making of Chronicles and the Making of England: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles after Alfred’
In the early 1950s the English Historical Documents series was launched, its aim to ‘make generally accessible…fundamental sources of English history’. The first two volumes opened with the same text – the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This text merited ‘pride of place’. It is with this text – or rather with the series of chronicles which go under this heading – that this lecture is concerned. These chronicles have long been accorded fundamental status in the English national story. No others have shaped our view of the origins of England between the fifth and eleventh centuries to the same extent. They provide between them the only continuous narrative of this period. They are the story that has made England.
My subject is the relationship between that story, these texts, and England: how they have been read and edited – made – in the context of the English national story since the sixteenth century; but also their relationship to, the part they may have played in, the original making of the English kingdom. The focus is on developments during the tenth and eleventh centuries, when a political unit more or less equivalent to the England we now know emerged. Special attention will be given to their possible role in the incorporation of Northumbria into that kingdom.
These chronicles were made by scribes a millennium ago, and to some extent have been reworked by modern editors from the sixteenth century on. They are daunting in their complexity. The differences between them are as important as the common ground they share. But understanding the making of these foundational texts has its own light to shed on the making of England.
Pauline Stafford is Professor Emerita of Early Medieval History at the University of Liverpool, and former Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society.
Historians justly celebrate 1258 as the year when baronial opposition to Henry III culminated in parliament’s imposition upon the King of the Provisions of Oxford. Less well remembered is the fact that this constitutional conflict unfolded against a background of bad weather, failed harvests, scarce and increasingly dear food, and mounting hunger. Recent discovery of mass burials in the excavated cemetery of the London hospital of St Mary Spital has refocused attention on the plight of the poor at this time of political turmoil, when the superior institutional and economic resources of the capital rendered it a magnet to those in need. Scientific identification in 2013 of the Samalas Volcano, Indonesia, as the source of perhaps the most explosive eruption of the last 10,000 years, re-dated from 1258 to spring/summer 1257, has endowed the food crisis with further interest, for, analogously, it was global fallout from the mega-eruption of the neighbouring volcano of Tambora in April 1815 that was responsible for the northern hemisphere’s notorious ‘year without a summer’ in 1816. Evaluating the seriousness of the English food crisis of 1258 thus assumes considerable comparative significance, always provided that volcanic forcing of global climates and not some other less conspicuous but equally powerful perturbation was responsible for the run of bad weather that led harvests repeatedly to fail. One thing alone is clear, the 1258 food crisis is the earliest of the long sequence of English subsistence crises upon which documentary evidence of harvests, prices and the comments of contemporaries can shed systematic light, alongside that provided by tree rings and other palaeo-climatic proxies. Although less momentous in its consequences than the concurrent political drama, it demonstrates that the weather, food supplies, charitable relief and the poor all have histories as worthy and rewarding of investigation as affairs of state.
Bruce Campbell is Professor Emeritus of Medieval Economic History at The Queen’s University of Belfast, Fellow of the British Academy, co-author (with Steve Broadberry, Alex Klein, Mark Overton and Bas van Leeuwen) of British Economic Growth 1270-1870, CUP, 2015, and author of The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the Late-Medieval World, CUP, May 2016.