Palaeography – the art of reading old handwriting – is a very specialized skill that will not be any use to 99.9 percent of the population. However, if you want to explore original sources produced before c.1750 for a dissertation, genealogy or local history, it may be essential.
The problem is that the script below was a perfectly normal way to write in the seventeenth century.
‘For six Minst Pyes of an Indifferent biggnesse’ (The National Archives, SP 14/189, folio 7)
Luckily, for those of you who would like to learn the basics of reading early modern documents, there are a huge number of helpful resources available, including many that are free and online. They are widely scattered, so this post is an attempt to collect them in a single place. Continue reading
**shiver** The nights are drawing in. There is a cold wind blowing from the east. Berries weigh down the hedgerows. Fungus sprouts on your lawn overnight. The traffic in your inbox has increased tenfold in the last week. That’s right. Term is coming!
September finds many of us switching off research mode and turning our attention to teaching once again. As I write, another module handbook will be finished off, another final item will be added to a module bibliography. So to help ease us all through this difficult time, I have put together a list of some of the many-headed monster posts that go particularly well with teaching. I hope they bring you comfort in the wars weeks to come.
While putting together a reading list for a new undergraduate module at Birkbeck on ‘The Early Modern World, c.1500-1750’, I decided to seek advice from the twittersphere. I was particularly annoyed that my initial list for the weeks on slavery and colonialism was overwhelmingly white.
So, with that in mind, I asked twitter for suggestions of work by people of colour and received an outstanding response:
Thank you all for such a great response! I’m not going to be able to include all of suggestions in my final module list due to danger of swamping first-year undergrads with readings, but I thought it might be helpful to share the list that I collated in case other people were putting together their own lists. I’m also very keen to hear of further suggestions.
I should note a few caveats. First, I had to exclude a few excellent suggestions even from my long list as they were focused primarily on the post-1750 period, which is covered by another module. Second, there were a few publications that I don’t have access to, so I put them on a separate list too. Third, there may be errors, so let me know if I’ve miscategorised anyone. Fourth, I know that people of colour write great scholarship about all sorts of history other than colonialism and slavery, but I thought this would be a good topic to start with given the particularly egregious nature of my initial list. Finally, I’m very aware that this list is incomplete. I’d welcome the chance to update it, so please comment below with your own ideas! Continue reading
Laura Sangha and #twitterstorians
Last week I asked historians on twitter what three books they would recommend for prospective students to read over the summer – those students starting a history degree in September. I got a lot of responses (thanks very much, brilliant #twitterstorians), and you can read the full list at the end of this post. Before you do, here are a few thoughts that struck me about summer reading for history students.
Question: exactly what is the best way to prepare for studying history at university? People evidently had widely differing opinions on this. Or rather, the books that they recommended seemed to suggest differing opinions. It all did seem to add up to some key themes though, which I have summarised as:
1) Students need to get to know the discipline, since what they did at school is not representative of it. So they should read ‘what is history’ books which explain why and how academics study the past. These might mainly cover historiography, or might be focused on issues that are fundamental to the discipline, i.e. what footnotes are, or why there is fiction in the archives. (See list section ‘The Historian’s Craft’).
2) Students need to think about the skills and techniques needed by historians. Therefore they should read ‘what is history’ books, but preferably ones with practical, hands on advice about how to read, analyse, write essays and research etc. Continue reading
Presentation ‘season’ has just begun at my University, where group and individual talks are part of the assessment for modules at every undergraduate level. Public speaking is apparently once of the most feared aspects of modern life, yet it is also a skill that students may well need in their future workplace, so it makes sense that all are called upon to regularly research, write and deliver presentations, building experience and confidence.
Many people aren’t fans of public speaking
At Exeter, the marking criteria is focused around preparation, content, structure, creativity and delivery, but students are also assessed on their handling of questions in a Q&A segment after they have presented. And it is this that has inspired this post. Of course, a presenter needs some good questions in order to be able to demonstrate the depth and scope of their knowledge in a Q&A session, but I have found that people can struggle to formulate queries and that they can as a result be a bit hesitant to raise their hand. So I have come up with some suggestions about the sorts of things that it might make sense to ask about, as a teaching resource I can point my students to. Please do add your own below the line. Continue reading
This is the third and final post in a series introducing some key theoretical concepts through the history of food and drink (see here for the first, here for the second). The previous post concluded on Pierre Bourdieu’s point that the cultures of different social groups were relational to one another. But what was the nature of this relationship? It can be interpreted in a number of ways. Elias, for instance, as I mentioned in the previous post, tended to think that the cultural practices and preferences of the elites gradually ‘percolated’ down through the rest of society. Sometimes a similar argument is made with reference to the term ’emulation’ – the idea that lower social groups tend to ape the culture of higher social groups, and that this in turn causes those higher social groups to reinvent themselves to maintain their sense of distinctiveness and superiority.
A rather different way of looking at the relationship between the cultures of different social groups can be seen in our next concept that has proved popular with historians of food and drink – Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of ‘carnival’. Bakhtin was a Russian literary critic, most famous for his book about the French Renaissance humanist Francois Rabelais, published in 1965 (although written under the Stalinist regime during WWII) Rabelais and His World. In the book, Bakhtin argued that Rabelais’ work provided a valuable insight into what he called the ‘folk culture’ of early modern Europe. If Elias’ conduct books could reveal the eating and drinking culture of European elites, what Bakhtin termed ‘official culture’, then Rabelais had written a carefully observed account of the consumption practices and dispositions prevalent amongst ordinary men and women. Continue reading
In this second of three posts introducing some key theoretical concepts through the history of food and drink (see here for the first) I’m going to move on to think about some of those borrowed from sociologists. The last post ended by stating that a concern with change over time plays an important role in the types of theories historians tend to like and dislike: and it helps to explain why they have been taken with our next key concept – the notion of the ‘civilising process’.
This was a theory first posited by the German sociologist Norbert Elias, back in 1939, but its main impact on Anglophone historians only came when it was translated into English in 1969, as: The Civilizing Process, Vol. 1: The History of Manners (1969). Its central claim was that between the middle ages (c.800AD) and the nineteenth century the manners of Europeans had become gradually more ‘civilised’ – by which he didn’t necessarily mean ‘better’ or more ‘progressive’ (he wasn’t passing judgement) but marked by increasing levels of self-restraint and self-control, especially with regards to violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table-manners and forms of speech. By reading conduct manuals – guides to appropriate forms of social etiquette, a very popular genre – from across these centuries, Elias identified a shift away from an aristocratic honour culture in the middle ages which had seen aggression, violence, and the excessive consumption of food and drink as acceptable and laudable, towards an increasing sense of shame and repugnance towards all of these behaviours. Continue reading