Showing posts from 2013

What does a history lecturer actually do all week?

Our second year students have an assignment that involves finding out what their lecturers do. It is a surprise perhaps to many that we do a lot more than just stand behind a podium lecturing. I think we should set this assignment in their first term of their first year, so they all realise that we do a lot more than teach.

Here's the response I briefly gave via email:

Student's question: 1. What is involved in the historical profession?

My job involves about 6 different aspects, which I balance with varying levels of competency:

a) historical research - working in the archives and libraries to write books and articles - we have to produce at least 4 articles/books every 5 years for the Research Excellence Framework, which decides how much funding universities get according to the quality of their research. During semester time, I try to spend about one day a week in the archives/library, and evenings and weekends writing and doing online research. During the "holidays&qu…

More then and now: Hulme, 1848

Just a quick post showing the first edition OS map of Hulme warped onto modern Manchester.

The back to backs have long gone, replaced by the Mancunian Way and carparks, and the University.

This 1831 building at 8 Lower Ormond Street, with its original garden, is one of the few original buildings left in the area, alongside Grosvenor Gardens.The 'Scotch Church [Presbyterian]' drawn in detail next to it no longer survives, but near its place is the modern St. Augustine's RC church.

Loyalism and Radicalism in Lancashire, 1798-1815 (Oxford Univ. press, 2009) now online

I've put the copy-edited draft of my first book, Loyalism and Radicalism in Lancashire, 1798-1815 (Oxford UP, 2009) on my page -

I'm not doing this out of any position on open access, rather that after over 4 years after publication, most academic libraries have copies and I doubt many people will be prepared to shell out the £79 cover price set by OUP. As it's the draft, it's not as easy to read as the e-book or hard copy, and it doesn't include the illustrations etc.

Binge drinking in Bolton

One of the lessons from history is 'twas ever thus.

Here are a few extracts from the constables' minute book from Bolton (now in Bolton Archives, FP2/2).

The parish constables were employed essentially to make sure that the pubs kicked out their customers after last orders, but this usually led to rowdy behaviour in the streets. Butchers made a good living selling meat on the streets at kicking out time - perhaps the equivalent of a late night kebab?

--> July 29 1815 – past 2 o’clock public houses in general clear from company a few country people in Mr Wilson’s, who were very peaceable and immediately went, on the constables going in a few of P Elton’s who did the same – streets rather rough, the principal disturbers of the peace were a part who call’d themselves fire men were rather drunk and said they had been duty that night, and considered themselves priviledg’d to do as they pleased. August 19 1815 – past 12 o’clock = public houses – clear of company except Dog…

Parkouring into geography: 'spatial cultures'

Last time I blogged about going to the RGS-IBG conference at the end of August; I've just attended 'Spatial Cultures', a workshop-symposium at UCL.

In some ways the day was a similar experience to that of the RGS-IBG conference - a buzz of interdisciplinarity, shared ideas and new concepts, and an excitement about contemporary research relating to space. 

This is what I learned as an outsider-historian:
Interdisciplinarity: again, like the RGS-IBG conference, interdisciplinarity, of the genuine and productive kind, again was the order of the day, and although everyone started off their presentations with a disclaimer of 'I'm a sociologist/designer/architect/computer scientist/archaeologist etc', everyone seemed to be speaking the same language, from their own disciplinary perspective. the centrality of GIS and technology in geography research: almost everyone used GIS, there were computer scientists interested in space and geography (including a very interesti…

E. P. Thompson and a sense of place

I've just come back from a morning at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers. I was an interloping guest, as a historian, on a panel commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Making of the English Working Class. Chaired by Neil Gray, and speaking alongside Carl Griffin who spoke about Thompson's interpretation of Gramsci and its influence (or not) on historical geographers, and David Featherstone and Paul Griffin, who considered agency and the international influences of Thompson's work.

I append the long version of my paper below, but first I must remark on some of the things that struck me as a relative 'outsider' and newbie to a geography conference.
how vibrant and exciting many aspects of new geography seem;that many of the papers are essentially history or sociology, but are informed by a much greater knowledge and framework of theory and/or practical applications than equivalent history papers how more conscio…

London Corresponding Society pubs mapped

Ian Newman of UCLA runs a great blog on the pubs used by the London Corresponding Society in the 1790s.

He's mapped the pubs on a google map, and so I took the kml file and mapped it on an 18th century map of London (unfortunately only from 1736 - I would love this to be mapped on or on a more contemporary map of London, but none were available on

Here's what it looks like.
John Barrell, in his book The Spirit of Despotism,  has also mapped the spaces of the LCS. But I think the best description of the LCS's reach is still by E. P. Thompson, in the opening section of The Making of the English Working Class:

At one end, the London Corresponding Society reached out to the coffee-houses, taverns and dissenting churches off Piccadilly, Fleet Street and the Strand where the self-educated journeyman might rub shoulders with the printer, the shopkeeper and the engraver or the young attorne…

admission to the British Library

I've had trouble getting a seat in the British Library this week, and the old canard about who should have access to the library has recently been raised again in the Guardian. The comments below the article remind the reader of the old days when it was much more difficult to get a reader's ticket, and indeed I remember when I first joined I had to provide a list of the manuscripts which I wished to consult there, which could not be accessed elsewhere.

So instead I went to the National Archives, and by coincidence came across this letter in a bundle of HO 44 papers marked 'miscellaneous'.
G. Duncombe Cox, M.D., of Bedford Square, London, wrote a letter of complaint regarding his application for a reader's ticket for the British Library in September 1840.

His application had been refused, because the regulations stated that he had to be recommended by 'a Member of Parliament, a Rector of a Parish, or by an Alderman of London', which presumably he had not be…

This is what Mancunians thought the world looked like in 1839...

Mancs have a tendency to put themselves at the centre of the world. This poor law commission map from c.1839 is a case in point!

what's next for Chartist studies?

Here are some quick thoughts that I gave to the annual Chartism day, which this year took place on 29 June in St. Mary's Church, Bramall Lane, Sheffield, the site of an alleged (but not proven) Chartist insurrectionary 'bomb'.

What's next for Chartist studies? 
Matt Roberts asked me to speak on this topic, in part because I wrote a historiographical review of the current state of labour and protest history in Social History. In the article, I discussed how labour history has moved away from class as a sole identity and framework and now looks more towards gender and international identities.  There is much more to be researched about the gendered aspects of Chartism, and also its international links.

The article also examined what Steve Poole and myself and others have been working on recently: the efflorescence of early modern and rural studies of popular protest. Again, there are possibilities that could be applied to Chartist studies, not least in terms of explorin…

Chartist 'march on the churches' locations July-September 1839

I'll discuss the march on the churches tactic and also the occupation of squares by Chartists in a forthcoming post, but in the meantime here's some basic mapping. 

Locations taken from Eileen Yeo's brilliant article, 'Christianity in the Chartist Struggle, 1838-42', Past and Present, 91 (1981)

View Chartist march on the churches July-September 1839 in a larger map

View Chartist march on the Churches in a full screen map

History job applications: dos and don'ts

This is my personal advice on how to help your chances of getting an interview for a history job post in the UK.

There's also some excellent advice on Nadine Muller's blog by Fiona de Londras.

Obvious point first, but academic jobs are usually advertised on, and in the Guardian higher education supplement (Tuesdays) and Times Higher Education Supplement (Thursdays).

Do: research the department and your future colleagues thoroughly. Make sure you get the terminology right (e.g. is it a history or humanities department, school or group? Who is the head of history, and are they the same or another person from the head of department and/or school?). Think how your research and teaching can complement but also differ from existing staff. Read the application specifications carefully. If the specs say they need a historian 'from 1400 to 1700' in any country apart from Britain, don't apply if you are a 19thC British historian. Often the stipulations relate …

Mapping worksheet: how to warp a historic map, and how to add data to it

Do you want to know the very basics on how to geo-reference and warp a historic map? Do you want to add data (such as from a historic trade directory, your own database of historic events and places, etc) to it?

Download my worksheet that I use as part of the postgraduate history research training here:

Nineteenth Century Collections Online - a brief review

I've been having a go at the trial of Gale Cengage's Nineteenth Century Collections Online. It's subscription only otherwise.

Bob Nicholson, the Digital Victorianist, has already previewed the site in his excellent blog - - so I won't repeat his points here.

Rather I'll focus on what is most relevant to my research: the 'British Politics and Society' section of the collection, and in particular the Home Office disturbance papers.

What's useful? In a nutshell, NCCO contains loads of material, much of which appears to have been newly scanned from items in the National Archives and the British Library. So if you can't make it to London, then you can access most of the major 'Home Office disturbance papers' (including the widely-used HO 40 and HO 42, and the wonderful HO 33 Post Office correspondence). Also included are the records of the Association fo…

Effigies in protest

Last week I was writing up my research on the use of effigies in popular protest.

This proved serendipitous timing given the events of the past week. Here is the Yorkshire Post's report on the burning of effigies of Margaret Thatcher in the former mining town of Goldthorpe.

According to Charles Tilly's typology of the development of protest, effigy burning was an 18th century form of local customary and rural protest that should have died out by the 19th century, with its more 'modern', bureaucratic, less violent collective action directed at parliament.  Yet effigy burning was very much a part of 19th century urban popular protest, and as we have seen this week, continues today.

Effigy burning was of course part of the regular customary calendar on 5 November, but it also featured regularly during elections and increasingly in the early nineteenth century, in a wide range of protests and campaigns.

Why do people make and burn effigies in protest?
There are, I think,…

The Making of the English Working Class commemoration, People's History Museum, 13 April 2013

A beautiful spring morning at the People's History Museum in Manchester, 13 April. This was the first of many events this year commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Making of the English Working Class by E. P. Thompson. Organised by the PHM, the Working-Class Movement Library, and put together by Craig Horner, the conference was a good mix of scholars who had personal anecdotes about meeting or being taught by Thompson, trade unionists, younger academics and students who never met him but are still influenced by his work, and representatives from radical history groups.

Highlights of the day included readings from The Making by surprise guests Christopher Eccleston and Maxine Peake, who brought the text to life in a much more compelling way than did the overacting of Thompson's diary extracts on the Luke Fowler film last year. Someone has recorded a few of Eccleston and Peake's readings here.

Alex Hutton from Darwin College Cambridge started off…

mapping over 300 political meetings on moors & fields, 1763-1848

I've finally got round to mapping the data I used for my article 'Moors, Fields, and Popular Protest in South Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1800–1848' (Northern History, 46:1. March 2009).

Here's over 300 political, religious and military meetings, mapped automatically with BatchGeo.

View Moors meetings 1763-1848 in a full screen map

NB: I can't guarantee the accuracy of the locations as yet because Batchgeo did it automatically and doesn't always get the right location. Sorting these errors and finding the exact co-ordinates of the meetings is the next stage of the mapping. Also I don't have all the exact dates - where I was unsure, I put the date as the first day of the month. The categories are necessarily broad too, and all the data is meant to be inconclusive, unsystematic and representational rather than total.

What I need to do next is work on a site for crowdsourcing more data. Suggestions welcome.

In which I sit through a conference session (British version)

I've just come back from the Social History Society's annual conference, which this year took place at the University of Leeds. You can see the twitter feed here: storify.

It reminded me again of the wonderfully amusing rant written by Larry Cebula, originally on the Chronicle of Higher Education's 'conferences and academic travel' forum, and then reworked into a proper article in that paper.
Original forum post link 
Reworked article link

Larry's main point was about the tendency for historians to read their papers out loud, word for word, in conference sessions. When social scientists, and indeed scientists, hear that this is standard practice at history conferences, they usually throw their arms up in horror and confusion: 'what? you read out your paper word for word? you don't just extemporise from the powerpoint slides?' Larry also comments on the usual death by powerpoint, or other crummy presentation flaws.

However, I don't think he is sayi…

What are history seminars for? Employability, #badacademia, or just history?

Two stories have hit the headlines in the Times Higher this week:

1. Steve Starson's complaint about having to give up a seminar in his history course to teach first years how to write a CV;
2. academics' response to Michael Gove's categorisation of 'good academia' and 'bad academia'. The debate among #twitterstorians in particular hinting that Gove regards such skills as critical thinking, enquiry-based learning and student presentations as #badacademia.

 This has struck a chord with me today, as this week's teaching has been a bit of a trial (it's week 9, the students are getting stressed about their assessment and the upcoming exams and their lack of careers etc etc), and I've been doing some self-reflection about whether the changes I have made to my teaching style are working.

Last year, I converted my 3rd year special subject module, 'Popular Protest, Riot and Reform in Britain, 1760-1848', into a blended learning module, with an e…