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.
From Lebanese immigrants in Argentina to Iraqi refugees in Sweden, Eastern Christians can be found today scattered across the entire world. Too often, however, this global migration has been seen purely as a modern development, one arising from contemporary political and confessional events in the Middle East. In fact, this phenomenon had its roots in the early modern period. From the sixteenth century onwards, Christians from the Ottoman Empire set out for distant worlds and foreign lands, travelling as far as Europe, India, Russia, and even the Americas and leaving traces of themselves in countless European and Middle Eastern archives, chanceries, and libraries. Some of these individuals created new lives for themselves as copyists, translators, and librarians in Europe, while others struggled to eke out a living for themselves as alms-collectors. Their stories of survival and adaptation have long been overlooked. While historians have tended to study these individuals in a piecemeal fashion, this lecture will assess the extent to which the movement of such individuals to Europe constituted a wider phenomenon of migration and exchange between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. The lecture will focus especially on the experiences of a handful of these newcomers in an attempt to paint a picture of what life was like for Eastern Christians in early modern Europe.
John-Paul Ghobrial is Associate Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Balliol College. He is an historian of the Middle East with a special interest in exchanges between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. His first book, The Whispers of Cities (Oxford, 2013), explored the circulation of information between Istanbul, London, and Paris in the late seventeenth century. Since 2015, he has been the Principal Investigator for an ERC-funded project, ‘Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World’.
RHS Lecture, Friday 25th September, 6pm, Gustave Tuck LT, UCL
Foreign labour was an essential resource for the Nazi war economy: by September 1944, around six million civilian labourers from across Europe were working in the Reich. Any initial readiness on the part of the peoples of Nazi-occupied Europe to volunteer for work in the Reich had quickly dissipated as the harsh and often vicious treatment of foreign workers became known. The abuse and exploitation of foreign forced labourers by the Nazi regime is well documented. Less well understood is why women formed such a substantial proportion of the labour recruited or forcibly deported from occupied Poland and the occupied Soviet territories: in September 1944, over 50% of Soviet civilian forced labourers and more than a third of Polish forced labourers were women. This lecture explores the factors influencing the demand for and the supply of female foreign labour from occupied Eastern Europe, particularly after the appointment of Fritz Sauckel as the head of labour mobilization in March 1942. It will consider the explanations offered hitherto for the large-scale deployment of female foreign workers from Eastern Europe, and examine the contradictions of Nazi policy towards them within two interlocking systems of control: the regime’s regimentation of labour and its racist mechanisms for controlling human reproduction.
Elizabeth Harvey is Professor of History at the University of Nottingham. Her publications includeYouth and the Welfare State in Weimar Germany (1993) and Women and the Nazi East: Agents and Witnesses of Germanization (2003). She is a member of the historians’ commission appointed by the German Federal Ministry of Labour to oversee the research project on the history of the Reich Labour Ministry under National Socialism.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B19880 / photo: Knoedler
License CC-BY-SA 3.0
RHS Prothero Lecture, Wednesday 1st July, 6pm, Gustave Tuck LT
Originalism has been a controversial presence in American constitutional jurisprudence since the 1980s. Reacting against the liberal ‘living constitution’ jurisprudence of the Warren and Burger Courts, conservative jurists urged fidelity to the original principles which had animated the Constitution in the late eighteenth century. However, the quest for original meaning is not as straightforward as conservatives have assumed. Not only is original intent tantalisingly elusive, it raises major issues of historical interpretation. How far do the assumed historical underpinnings of originalism mesh with the findings of academic historians? To what extent has the conservative invocation of the Founding Fathers obscured a lost American Enlightenment? Nor is ‘tradition’ in American constitutional law an unproblematic matter. How far does a desire to restore the original meaning of the Constitution ignore the role of ‘stare decisis’ (precedent) in America’s common law heritage? Colin Kidd explores the tensions between originalist jurisprudence and historical scholarship since the 1980s, and examines the various usable pasts in operation in American constitutional theory. Originalism, it transpires, has many mansions. Moreover, the various schemes of historical interpretation in American constitutional jurisprudence do not map easily onto a simple liberal-conservative divide. The lecture will also interrogate more general issues about the relationship between academic and ‘applied’ history.
Colin Kidd FBA is Wardlaw Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He is the author of Subverting Scotland’s Past (1993), British Identities before Nationalism (1999), The Forging of Races (2006), and Union and Unionisms (2008), all published by Cambridge University Press
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.
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.