The undeserving poor: ‘rich beggars’

Brodie Waddell

Fear and hatred of the ‘undeserving’ poor pollutes our thinking about poverty. The shadows of scroungers, fraudsters and cheats who falsely claim to need our help loom over every conversation about benefits and over every new welfare policy.

Rich beggar (2013) Evening StandardHeadlines about workshy swindlers march across the front pages of our papers almost every day. A quick online search reveals over 10,000 news stories on ‘benefit fraud’, reported both in the nation’s most popular newspapers and in local papers like the Bromley Times and Coventry Telegraph.

Such stories are part of our deep anxiety about those who get something for nothing. We worry that our taxes, our donations, our hard-earned money is being spent on people who don’t need it. The public believes that fraud accounts for over one in every four pounds in Britain’s welfare budget, when in fact it is well under one in a hundred. Such fear and fury are not confined to any particular class – they are common enough among the wealthy and educated as well as the working class. You have, I’m sure, occasionally heard examples of this from family and friends, just as I have. Sadly, if you pay careful attention, you’ll probably find it sometimes lurks in your own thoughts too. Continue reading

West Country Rebels

Mark Hailwood

A patchwork of conversations, thoughts and observations on the rebellious history of the South West of England, stitched together by a Somerset-born honorary-Devonian….

It’s a small world. On a recent archival trip to the Hampshire Record Office I got chatting to their immensely helpful Principal Archivist Sarah Lewin, and after a bit of biographical back-and-forth it transpired that I had done my undergraduate degree in her hometown of Norwich, where she grew up as good friends with my now MP – as a resident of Exeter – recent Labour Deputy Leadership candidate Ben Bradshaw.

Anyway, our conversation then moved on to the remarkable fact that the said Ben Bradshaw is now the only non-Conservative MP in the South West outside of Bristol (and you can take quite a broad definition of the South West here, encompassing Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire). Whilst the Conservatives have long been the dominant party in the region, this is nonetheless a significant historical departure: few governments have ever been able to consider the West Country quite the stronghold that this one can.[1]

The remarkable Tory dominance of the South West, courtesy of BBC News website

The remarkable Tory dominance of the South West, courtesy of BBC News website

Continue reading

Marooned on an Island Monographs: a History of Femininities Reading List

What 5 history monographs would you take with you to a deserted island? In this monster mini-series, experts offer suggested reading on a particular topic or type of history.

Amanda Herbert is Assistant Professor of History at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, and is the inaugural Molina Fellow in the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California (2015-2016). She is interested in histories of the body and all that it entails: gender and sexuality, the consumption of food and drink, health and healing. She’s the author of Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain, and is currently at work on her second book project, ‘Spa: Faith, Public Health, and Science in the British Atlantic’. She co-edits The Recipes Project, a blog about recent research on historical recipes of all kinds: medical, culinary, magical, and scientific. She’d be delighted if you’d follow her on Twitter @amandaeherbert.

Amanda Herbert

When Joanne Begiato (Bailey) posted her ‘Marooned on an Island’ list on the histories of masculinity at the many-headed monster in June of 2015, I read it right away and with great enthusiasm – there is so much good, important work being done now on manhood and masculinity – but having just written a book on womanhood and femininity, it made me think: what would I put on my own ‘Marooned on an Island’ list? The question is more complicated than you might think. For many years, historians of women have done double-duty. They’ve recovered and reclaimed women’s lives, experiences, voices, and perspectives from the archives. But then many of them have also worked to understand the ways that people in the past defined the characteristics (mental, physical, emotional) of supposedly ideal or ‘normal’ women. Both enterprises share much in common and are of important scholarly value. But their underlying premises are different: women’s history seeks to redress the historic underrepresentation of women; gender history attempts to understand the historic definitions of terms like ‘feminine’ or ‘womanly’, and to determine which authorities decided upon and regulated those terms. Historians of women can choose to pursue one, or both, of these objectives in their work. But I think that it’s important to recognize their distinctions. There’s a certain risk in naturalizing gender difference if we don’t separate women’s experiences from constructions of femininity, but I also hope – especially as gender history continues to develop as a rich, nuanced field – that acknowledging this distinction will encourage more scholars to undertake topics beyond the limiting binary of femininity/women and masculinity/men.

I was therefore delighted when the editors asked me to write a ‘Marooned on an Island’ post on this very topic. In light of my thinking about women’s history and gender history, I set five parameters for myself: 1) the books had to have a significant ‘gender history’ component; e.g., they had to explore the historic definitions of femininity 2) the books had to be substantively (e.g., over half) about femininity; this left out a lot of really smart books comparing masculinity and femininity, but I wanted to give the histories of femininity their due 3) the books had to be histories; literary critics have written excellent books on this topic, but I wanted to foreground my own discipline 4) in keeping with the many-headed monster’s themes, they had to be about early modern Britain and 5) – and this was really the hardest one – the books had to have been written since 2000. I wanted to provide a platform for the newest, most current books out there (fifteen years is actually pretty cutting-edge for historians – check out Karin Wulf’s excellent recent post at The Scholarly Kitchen about the ‘slow digestion rate’ of good history) and I especially wanted to highlight those written by first-time authors. So here we go. Continue reading

What is to be done? Seven practical steps for historians

Brodie Waddell

MI0000444321I’m very grateful to all of you who’ve already offered your thoughts on how we can improve the history profession. I agree with most of the comments on my previous posts on academic employment and practical responses – in fact some of the suggestions below are borrowed from those comments. However, I promised that I would offer my own tuppence so here I’ll try to set out some steps that we can take individually or collectively. Most of these are quite minor, but hopefully they are a good start. They aren’t in order of priority, but the first four are generally about gathering and publishing information and the rest are about more direct action. Continue reading

What is to be done? Mending academic history

Brodie Waddell

The study of history in Britain is not in crisis. The numbers set out in my post last week show that the last few decades have been a period of massive expansion for the field. There are more people ‘doing history’ at all levels of higher education, from new undergraduates to doctoral students and teaching staff. What’s more, I’d argue that public interest in history has been growing as well, a point brought home to me by the extraordinary response to the ‘History from Below’ and ‘Voices of the People’ online workshops that we’ve hosted.

It would, however, be irresponsible for historians like myself – who enjoy secure academic positions – to overlook the very real problems that confront the history profession today. In my recent posts I’ve highlighted two specific issues: the rapid growth in the number of doctoral students who are unlikely to obtain a permanent university post and, relatedly, the substantial number of early career historians trapped in precarious ‘casual’ employment. One might also add the under-representation of women in the academic upper ranks, the collapse in part-time studies, and the rising debt burden imposed on our students, among other things.

My previous posts provoked a flurry of valuable responses including one from Peter Mandler and another from Adam Smith, respectively President and Honorary Secretary of the Royal Historical Society. I’m very grateful to both of them for their feedback, which not only augmented and corrected some of my own conclusions, but also invited me to think about what practical measures the RHS (or other bodies such as the IHR) could take in the future. What sort of data should they be collecting and how? What kind of advice or information should they be providing? Is there anything else they can be doing to help to counter-act these problems?

i3rzjg8ciyls3ruxcheaThis presents an obvious chance for me to pretend to know everything there is to know about the historical profession in Britain and make some sagacious pronouncements about ‘what is to be done’. However, in the interests of continuing the conversation, rather than closing it off, I’m going to restrain myself, at least momentarily. Instead, I’d like you, whatever your position or career stage, to offer your thoughts in the comments below (or on twitter, tagging me, which I’ll post here). I will add my own ideas in the comments in the next day or so, some of which I hinted at in the conclusions of the previous post. But in the meantime, let’s find out what the rest of the historical community thinks.

Students, PhDs, historians, jobs and casualisation: some data, 1960s-2010s

Brodie Waddell

Over the last two decades, the number of new PhDs in history has grown much faster than the number of new undergraduate students or the number of academic staff in the UK. That’s my main finding from far-too-many hours spent rooting through old spreadsheets.

Last week, I published a post with some rough and very rudimentary analysis of the number of PhDs compared to the number of undergrads in ‘historyish’ fields. My conclusion was that the ‘supply’ of PhDs was rising faster than the ‘demand’. Since then, thanks to feedback from a wide range of commenters on the blog and on twitter, and thanks especially to Rachel Stone for alerting me to some additional data from the Institute for Historical Research, I’ve been able to refine and extend my conclusions. Although the depressing headline is roughly the same, I thought it would be helpful to set out what I’ve found.

The picture since 1995

The most solid and consistent figures begin in 1995/96, when we have numbers for first-year full-time undergraduates studying history (6,123), doctorates obtained in history (239), and teachers of history in higher education (2,665). We then have figures right through to 2013/14, when there were 12,615 of the same undergrads, 625 PhDs, and 3,366 teachers. When we index all these numbers to 100 in 1995/96, this suggests the number of undergrads has risen by 106%, PhDs by 162%, and teachers by only 26%.

Students, PhDs and teachers in history, 1994-2013 (uncorrected) Continue reading

The job market for historians: some data, 1995-2014

Brodie Waddell

[UPDATE 08/09/15: Please read the updated and expanded version of this post here.]

On August 24th, Matthew Lyons published a piece in History Today on ‘the plight of early career researchers’. Reading the comments there, on twitter and on other blogs, it is clear that he hit a raw nerve.

As commentators pointed out, some of his assertions were unfounded (e.g. ‘many if not most academics disdain teaching’, ‘[ECRs] are offered no career development or pastoral support’). Nonetheless, his claim that newly-minted historians tend to struggle rings true. Between us, the four heads of the many-headed monster have had plenty of experience with job insecurity, poorly-paid positions, forced transience, bad working conditions and other early career problems.

However, a post from William Whyte – a historian of universities – made a very good point: there is nothing new about claims of a ‘crisis’ in academic employment. We need to be careful not to slip into nostalgia for a lost ‘golden age’ when there were jobs aplenty. As historians, we should be particularly critical of ‘fundamentally presentist, ahistorical – indeed anti-historical – peddling of myths’.

In the interests of bringing a bit more ‘history’ to this discussion, I tried to dig up some ‘historical’ data on PhDs, students, and jobs. Continue reading