Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Postmodern History

I am currently on holiday in Ireland and as we have driven up and down the country I have begun to read 'In Defence of History' by Richard Evans (a book review will follow when I have finished it). I read a very interesting chapter on postmodern history and this led me to do some research; I found this fascinating article online which I would thoroughly recommend.


The article debates whether or not history is fiction and what the purpose of writing history might be. In my opinion history could be considered a science; we can try and make falsifiable claims and do research to prove this right or wrong. For example "Henry VIII had a mental illness in the later part of his life". Historians also build on each other's writings (and argue against them), making writing history a cumulative process, much like science.

But as my previous blogs on whether or not we can learn lessons from history have shown, historians often interpret sources to suit their needs, just like different ethnic groups might interpret history differently to try and justify their actions or show how they have been victimised in the past. That doesn't mean that history is fiction, or that studying it is meaningless, but instead that a historian has an even harder job than a scientist (in some ways), as they not only need to do the same research as a scientist, but also then try and work from an objective standpoint, looking at how subjective sources might be and whether or not they themselves might be biased. This self-evaluation is critical, and very hard. But I think that when every historian visits an archive or writes a paper, they should look at why they are writing that paper and what they might be trying to teach others, in order to reduce the chances of history becoming more fiction than fact.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

1215: The Year Of Magna Carta

1215: The Year of Magna Carta by John Gillingham
One of the books I read this summer was 1215: The Year Of Magna Carta, by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. 1215 is not so much about the Magna Carta or even the year 1215 itself, but more about the beliefs, lifestyles and traditions of the early 13th century. The book is a sequel to Danziger's book on the year 1000, and in those two centuries England, and the world as a whole, had seen influential social and economic change, similar to the change the Magna Charter itself brought about. Britain was no long insular, a lonely island, with Europe a distant and alien continent. The England King John ruled over in 1215 was a substantially different place; the Norman invasion had strengthened England's ties to Europe and England was beginning to immerse itself in Europe's politics and commerce. 
Danziger and Gillingham detail England under the rule of the early Plantagenet kings — John, Richard I, Henry II and Henry III in an engaging and enlightening manner. They examine the broad 13th-century English landscape—domestic, rural and village life, the state of schools and the church and criminal and ecclesiastical justice. They have managed to show how the 13th-century mind, it seems, was less superstitious and more rational than it is often claimed, and that our medieval ancestors seemed to have had many of the same weaknesses and struggles that we still wrestle with today. Maybe we haven't really progressed quite as much as we like to think.
The Magna Carta itself brought unprecedented change both to government and the rights of the governed. The Magna Carta sets forth rights and privileges enjoyed today by people in the United Kingdom, North America, and other parts of the world. The book explains what led up to it, as well as the repercussions. Descriptions of historical politics, life in castles, country and town, family life, hunting in the forests, who could go to school, and the responsibilities of a king’s man enrich this book. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Just How Likely Is Another World War?

I recently read a very interesting article, entitled 'Just How Likely Is Another World War?', that assesses the differences between 1914 and 2014. Whilst it seemed that the conclusion was reached without recourse to analogy and there was no reference to the UN, it was a very interesting article and I really liked the authors approach. Here is a link to the article; enjoy!


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Picture of the Month

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This is a photo of anti-cheating hats children used to wear at school in the 20th century, and it made me wonder what taking my AS Level exams would have been like had I had to wear one!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Death Penalty In Britain

Several days ago marked fifty years since the last execution in Britain. A recent survey suggested that 45% of Brits would want the death penalty brought back, and whilst I'm not sure I agree I decided to do a bit of research on capital punishment.

On 4 April 1829 shoemaker William Calcraft, aged 29, was sworn in as Executioner for the City of London and Middlesex following the death of John Foxton. He had previously been employed by Foxton to whip young offenders. He was paid a guinea a week, plus an extra guinea for each execution he carried out. His first execution was prior to his swearing in – he hanged Thomas Lister and George Wingfield on 27 March 1829. Calcraft carried out his last hanging on 25 May 1874; James Godwin (27), who had been convicted of killing his wife Louisa after an argument.He retired in 1874, and died five years later.

On 13 November 1849 Frederick and Marie Manning became the first married couple since 1700 to be hanged together. Convicted of killing Marie’s lover, Patrick O’Connor, in Bermondsey, south London, they were hanged at Horsemonger Lane Gaol.

On 2 April 1868: Frances Kidder, aged 25, was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Britain. She was executed at Maidstone Prison, and a crowd of 2,000, including her husband, watched her die. Frances was convicted of drowning 11-year-old Louisa Kidder Staples – her husband’s illegitimate daughter – in a dyke near New Romney. There was some sympathy, though, towards her – her husband was said to be a cruel man who, while Frances was in custody, started a relationship with her 17-year-old sister.

On 26 May of that year Fenian Michael Barrett became the last man to be executed in a public hanging. He caused an “atrocious” explosion in Clerkenwell that killed seven people, and was hanged outside Newgate Prison. The Daily News reported that he was hanged, “in the presence of one of the smallest crowds that has for a long time assembled in front of the Old Bailey to witness a public execution”.

Just three days later the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act scrapped public executions, and on the 13th August the first private hanging in the UK took place. 18-year-old Thomas Wells was hanged at Maidstone Prison for the murder by shooting of Mr Walsh, the master of Dover’s Priory Station, where Wells had been porter. It was the first private hanging within prison walls, with a black flag raised outside the wall to signify that the hanging had been carried out.

26 September 1932: Yorkshire-born Albert Pierrepoint was appointed, aged twenty seven as Assistant Executioner at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, although due to the relatively low number of hangings in Britain, the first execution he attended was in Dublin. Within ten years, he had been made the Official Executioner of Britain – a job he had wanted since he was 11 years old. Both his father and uncle had worked as executioners. Pierrepoint combined his executioner role with being a grocer and then pub landlord. He also became a macabre celebrity, telling his story to the press, despite the Home Office’s disapproval. He retired in 1956 to Southport, where he died in 1992.

13 July 1955: Ruth Ellis (29) became the last woman to be hanged in Britain, after her conviction for the murder of her lover, David Blakely. She was arrested at the scene of the crime, after shooting him dead.

However on the 13th August 1964, the last two executions in Britian took place. Gwynne Owen Evans (24) and Peter Allen (21), were executed – at the same time, but in different prisons – making them the last people to be executed in the UK. They had been convicted of the murder of van driver John Alan West, known as Jack, who had been killed in Cumbria on 7 April. Evans and Allen, both of whom had previous criminal records, had intended to rob him. Although they blamed each other for West’s death, they were both found guilty of murder.

On the 9th November 1965 the death penalty for murder was suspended for five years, as a result of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, and on the 16th December 1969 the death penalty for murder was formally abolished, following a House of Commons vote.

source: http://criminalhistorian.com/2014/08/13/a-bloody-anniversary-50-years-since-the-last-uk-execution/

Friday, 15 August 2014

History A Level

Yesterday, I and hundreds of thousands of other students collected our A and AS Level results. In honour of this momentous occasion here is a blog about the most popular history AS Level topics.

Joseph Stalin
1. The most popular history AS Level topic is The Russian Dictatorship (1855 to 1992), which includes the rule of Joseph Stalin.
Martin Luther King
2. The Civil Rights in the USA (1865-1992) is a close second, which covers the women suffragettes and the Black Civil Rights Movement.
Adolf Hitler
3. Dictatorship & Democracy in Germany (1933-1963) was chosen by 19% of A-level history departments. I learnt about Nazi Germany at GCSE so opted not to do this course at school, but it is estimated that 80% of students take Nazi Germany for A Level.
4. Fourth on the list is the Mid-Tudor Crises (1536-1569), taught by 14% of those surveyed. This is the period of English history between the death of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor when English government and society were in imminent danger of collapse. Next year part of my history course will cover this period of history, so I am very excited to be able to blog in fuller detail on it in the near future!
Winston Churchill
5. Next up is Winston Churchill, the seminal British prime minister during the second world war. 13% of schools opted to teach about the Pol Roger-supping Blenheim Palace visitor. 
Henry VIII
6. I studied Rebellion and Disorder Under the Tudors (1485-1603), including topics such as factions, succession, religion and famine. I absolutely loved learning about the Tudors and would highly recommend it to anyone struggling to pick their A Level topic!
A woman looks at portraits of Britain's King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, displayed together for the first time in nearly 500 years, at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Discovered in Lambeth Palace, the portrait of Catherine of Aragon had been painted over with a picture of the King's last wife Catherine Parr but experts suspected that there may be more to the picture due to similarities with other known paintings of Catherine of Aragon.  After work by the National Portrait Gallery's restoration team, the painting is being displayed in the Henry and Catherine Reunited exhibition from today.
7. Henry VIII and Mary I (1509–58) hit the list at number seven. Mary, or “Bloody Mary” as she was known thanks to her murderous rule, was the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.
1918 end of the first world war
8. Democracy & Dictatorship in Germany (1919-1963) was taught in 11% of schools. Unlike number three on the top 10, this option also covers the period after the first world war. 
Marie Antoinette
9. In at ninth place is the Origins and Course of the French Revolution (1774-1795). This focuses on the accession of Louis XVI, husband of Queen Marie Antoinette, to the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy in 1792. 
William Pitt
10. From Pitt to Peel (1783-1846). This unit, taught in 10% of schools, looks at William Pitt’s dominance of British politics.
source: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/gallery/2014/aug/13/top-10-most-popular-history-topics-alevel-students?CMP=twt_gu