Summer Lecture 2017- Sheila Fitzpatrick (Sydney): The Tramp’s Tale: A Story of Internal Soviet Travel and Border Crossing After the Second World War

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Abstract: Anastasia Egorova was a one-legged Russian tramp whose wanderings took her all over the Soviet Union in the 1920s-1940s. At the end of the Second World War, she decided to see the world, and successfully crossed the Western border in 1945, claiming to be Polish. Travelling on to Italy, she found refuge in a psychiatric hospital and stayed there for four years, until Soviet officials looking for repatriation prospects came by and offered her free passage home.  She accepted, and was duly repatriated and returned to her native village in 1950. The paper examines this microhistory from the Soviet archives.

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Bio: Sheila Fitzpatrick is primarily a historian of modern Russia, especially the Stalin period, but has recently added a transnational dimension with her research on displaced persons (DPs) after the Second World War. She received a Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002 and the American Historical Association’s Award for Scholarly Distinction in 2012. She is past President of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (formerly AAASS) and a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Having worked for most of her career in the United States, she moved back to Australia in 2012.

As a historian of twentieth-century Russia, her earlier work focused mainly on Soviet social and cultural history in the Stalin period, particularly social mobility, social identity and everyday practice. Using some of the techniques of her “everyday” work, she recently published her first major study in political history: On Stalin’s Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics, which came out with Princeton University Press in 2015. My Father’s Daughter, her memoir of her father, the radical historian Brian Fitzpatrick, and her childhood in Melbourne came out in 2010, and she published a memoir of life as a student in Cold War Moscow in the 1960s, A Spy in the Archives in 2012. She is currently co-CI (with Mark Edele) of an ARC-funded project entitled “War, Displacement and Resettlement” as well as working on a more personal DP study based on the correspondence of her late husband, the physicist Michael Danos, and his mother Olga when they were displaced persons in postwar Germany.

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Careering: Precarity & Solidarity in Higher Education

Many thanks to Dr Tom Cutterham for this report on the forum event we held on Wednesday 8th March 2017.

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It’s always been the case that the most precarious and vulnerable workers face the greatest barriers to organising their labour. In a career like academia that often seems to promote isolation, the challenge of precarity is all the greater—overshadowed as it is by competition for permanent positions. Those are the conditions faced by early career researchers (ECRs), be they graduate students, teaching fellows, research assistants, or newly-employed lecturers.

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How do those circumstances influence the teaching and research environments of the university? How can we—as institutions, individuals, and as a community—take action to overcome these barriers and transform exploitative structures? At the very least, what can ECRs share with each other, and how can we work together, to make things a little easier? Those were the questions under discussion at the first ECR forum held last week under the auspices of the Centre for Modern & Contemporary History Research Seminar series, and co-sponsored with the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures.

Sharing their stories and ideas, early career historians at every level from MA students to new lecturers joined in the conversation. One lecturer recently hired at another Midlands university told us about the three phases that characterised the time between his PhD and first permanent job, emphasising the variety of experiences that can make up ECR life. One moment you’re unemployed and living at home, wondering if you can afford the train fare to take up a part-time job that might not pay you for months; the next you’re on a 95% teaching contract, expected to find time for your own publications while writing and teaching four new courses.

Indeed, the question of fractional contracts and their relationship to career expectations was a substantial part of our conversation. A Teaching Fellowship is supposed to be a stepping-stone to permanent academic jobs, but without paid time allocated for research and publications, such roles are hardly calibrated to develop good job candidates. Fractional contracts allow employers to fill teaching needs at minimal cost in salary—but the real costs are passed onto young academics. In turn, access to housing and transport can become a big issue, which means structural privilege comes into play too. When universities like ours pay out big bucks for some salaries, the situation for Teaching Fellows seems hard to justify.

But even where reliance on fractional teaching teaching staff is being reduced, there’s a question over who will take over their work. It seems likely part of the university’s solution lies in Postgraduate Teaching Assistants on zero-hours contracts. Graduate students who attended the forum agreed that teaching experience is valuable, and the money is useful too—but that comes with a fear that valuable research time can be sacrificed to departmental demands that are hard to turn down. They reported, too, that Birmingham’s “Worklink” system often leaves them unpaid for months at a time, increasing financial precarity and raising barriers to academic life.

These questions of pay and working time are often rendered invisible by the prevailing culture of polite silence. And so are some even more insidious problems, like the fact that non-EU citizens face draconian rules around personal mobility (like being told to report to central office whenever they leave Birmingham!) and prohibitive visa costs borne out of their own pockets. Meanwhile, we heard how the often-hidden emotional labour through which academic work is supported falls disproportionately on the female workers who already suffer structural disadvantages. Such unequal structures of surveillance and support help maintain the existing balance of power and privilege.

Working together, though, there are things we can do to improve the situation—and to fight worsening conditions. With the help of student allies, and a creative approach to publicity, Warwick University’s anti-casualisation group successfully fought off an attempt to outsource teaching to a spin-off company. Here at Birmingham, we can develop an agenda for change that both ECRs and senior colleagues can push for. That includes full-time, year-long contracts for Teaching Fellows, and perhaps representation for ECR workers on Departmental and College committees. On issues like visas and Work Link too, we’ll need the union to help us fight.

There are also ways we can help early career historians move through the phases of their career. By sharing CVs and cover letters, organising mock job interviews, and creating fairer, more transparent structures of support (perhaps including writing groups), we can build a better environment for young careers to flourish. Doing so would deepen our own professional community, too.

Creating spaces for open discussion, like this ECR forum, constitutes one small step towards building solidarity and collective initiative on the problems that face early career academics. In the next steps, we’d like to build that beyond the confines of History and Cultures, and start linking up with the rest of our university and with institutions across the West Midlands region. We have learned how difficult it is to resist the silo-effect of separate departments, colleges, and institutions. But we’ve also learned that inspiration can come from crossing those boundaries.

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Annual Lecture 2017 – Tara Zahra (Chicago): The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

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Abstract:

Between 1846 and 1940, more than 50 million Europeans moved to the Americas, irrevocably changing both their new lands and the ones they left behind. As villages emptied, some blamed traffickers in human labour, targeting Jewish emigration agents.  Others saw opportunity: to expand their empires, gain economic advantage from an inflow of foreign currency, or reshape their populations by encouraging the emigration of minorities.

These debates about and experiences of emigration shaped competing ideals of freedom in Eastern Europe and “the West” over more than one hundred years. After the Second World War, the “captivity” of East Europeans behind the Iron Curtain came to be seen as a quintessential symbol of Communist oppression. The Iron Curtain was not, however, built overnight in 1948 or 1961. Its foundation was arguably laid before the First World War, when Austrian Imperial officials began a century-long campaign to curtail emigration in the name of demographic power and humanitarian values.

Speaker Biography:

Professor Tara Zahra works on transnational and comparative approaches to the history of modern Europe. The focus of her research and teaching is Central and Eastern Europe (including the Habsburg Empire and successor states and Germany), but her work integrates Central Europe into broader histories of Europe and the world. Her most recent book is The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World (Norton, 2016). The book explores how debates about and experiences of emigration shaped competing ideals of freedom in Eastern Europe and “the West” over the course of one hundred years.

Her previous books include The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II (Harvard, 2011), which tells the story of Europe’s displaced and refugee children in Eastern and Western Europe from 1918 to 1951, and won the George Louis Beer Prize from the American Historical Association for European International History. Her first book, Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900–1948 (Cornell, 2008), is a study of Czech and German nationalist mobilization around children from the Habsburg Empire to the Nazi occupation. It was awarded five prizes, including the Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European History, the Hans Rosenberg Prize of the Conference Group for Central European History, and the Barbara Jelavich Prizes of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

She is currently working on a co-authored book with Pieter Judson on the Habsburg Empire during the First World War (to be published by Oxford University Press) and beginning projects on Roma and statelessness in the Habsburg Empire and on the history of gender, sexuality, and migration in twentieth-century Europe. Professor Zahra is Professor of East European History at the University of Chicago and in 2014 was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

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Week 8 Seminar: Dr. Mo Moulton (Birmingham) – Co-operatives & Decolonisation: A Beautiful Friendship?

In week 8, we’re delighted to welcome Dr. Mo Moulton, who will be speaking on an aspect of her current research. All welcome, and there will be drinks afterwards.

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Research Round-table: Reconstructing the Historical Subject

We’re delighted to be hosting a round-table on Wednesday 22 February 2017, in Muirhead Tower Room 112, from 4-6pm. Around the theme ‘Reconstructing the Historical Subject’ Dr. Adam Dighton, Dr. Marta Filipová, Dr. Ben Mechen and Dr. Zoë Thomas will discuss their current research. Prof. Matt Houlbrook will chair.

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All welcome! Contact: Dr. Simon Jackson, S.Jackson.1@bham.ac.uk

Abstracts:

Dr. Adam Dighton: Military History at the British Army’s Staff College, 1885-1914.

The study of military history formed an important part of the syllabus used to train high ranking officers at the army’s Staff College during the latter half of the ‘long nineteenth century’. During the period between 1885 and 1914 the justification for teaching this subject underwent a fundamental transformation. This was caused by a change in the perceived didactic function of history during this time. It is the aim of this paper to examine why this change took place and how it affected the way in which history was taught at this institution.

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Dr. Marta Filipova: The people or the proletariat? Class appropriation in interwar Czechoslovak culture.

The paper examines the attention to the working classes in the visual arts and literature in Czechoslovakia after 1918. I look at the different interpretations of proletarian art on the background of the emergence of the new political entity, negotiations of modernity by artists and art critics, and their attempts for renewal of art. I therefore address the questions of identity, belonging and construction of artistic narratives.

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Dr. Ben Mechen: ‘A positive advance of our standard of civilisation’ – consuming and defending pornography in postwar Britain.

This paper will outline my postdoctoral project exploring the cultural politics of pornography in postwar Britain. In particular, I will seek to locate the pornographic consumer within this history, a problematic figure – like those who laboured to produce explicit imagery – usually absent from existing work. Drawing upon letters sent by buyers of pornography – men and women, straight and gay -to a late 1970s inquiry into obscenity, I will ask: how were sexual subjectivities formed in the age of pornographic reproduction?

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Dr. Zoë Thomas: Historical pageants, citizenship, and the performance of women’s history before second-wave feminism.

This paper argues that the early twentieth-century craze for historical pageants provided an opportunity for women’s groups to bring a nascent, popular form of women’s history into the lives of local communities across Britain. Prior to second-wave feminism, when scholars advanced the study of women within the academy, thousands of people had been invested in re-enacting women’s history since the inter-war years. Emphasizing the bravery and public duties of women in the past, pageants also provided a non-controversial format through which women’s groups could effectively project their beliefs about the role they felt women should play as newly enfranchised citizens.

*Image Credits, from top-left, clockwise: Officers reading military history in the Prince Consort’s Library in the army camp at Aldershot; Pravoslav Kotík, Accordion player, 1923; Women’s Institute outdoor pageant in 1927; Walker’s Court in Soho. All images courtesy the speakers.

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Week 5 Seminar: Dr. Steffen Rimner (Leiden) – Beyond Empire’s Ambit: Narcotic Drugs between Science and State Crime.

rimner-mc-poster-copy-2Please join us for this session with Dr. Rimner – drinks will be held afterwards in the Bratby bar.

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Collecting, Politics and Exile: the Fate of Royal Heritage in Nineteenth-Century France

On Wednesday 1st February we are delighted that Dr Tom Stammers will be giving a paper for the Modern and Contemporary History seminar series.Stammers M&C.jpgThe revolutionary history of France took a particular toll on the palaces and the possessions of the French monarchy. Whilst historians of heritage have analysed the process by which the treasures of the crown became redefined as the property of the nation within France, far less attention has been directed to the fate of objects that circulated outside national borders. Yet France’s royal families- Bourbon, Orléans and Bonaparte- each spent large periods of their lives in exile, and seized on material culture as a way of affirming their patriotism and dynastic identity.

This paper will be focused on the Orléans dynasty, who lived from the 1848 Revolution to the Franco-Prussian War in the suburbs of London. Deprived of the throne, Louis-Philippe and his sons struggled to uphold their dignity and credentials as a ruling house. In this time of limbo, cultural pursuits- whether art collecting, exhibitions, literature- were a crucial means of integration into the elite tiers of British society.  The enormous correspondence of the duc d’Aumale and the comte de Paris with Lady Frances Waldegrave offers an unrivalled glimpse of the family’s evolving cultural and political ambitions, torn between trying to build a home in Britain and harbouring dreams of a restoration. This paper will analyse what collecting can reveal about the family’s affinity for British political culture in the 1850s and 1860s- and also what it discloses about the failure of liberal monarchy in France after 1871.

Tom Stammers is lecturer in Modern Cultural History at the University of Durham. He has researched and published widely on the history of collecting in post-revolutionary France. He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled Collection, Recollection, Revolution: Scavenging the Paris in Nineteenth-Century Paris. Tom has published in leading journals in European cultural history and has been awarded fellowships at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris and the Maison Française in Oxford; in 2015 he organized a major conference with St John’s College, Oxford and the Ashmolean Museum on collecting and cultural history entitled A Revolution in Taste: Francis Haskell’s Nineteenth Century which will become a volume published by Oxford University Press. He is starting new research on the formation, exile and dispersal of French royal collections in Britain and Europe in the nineteenth century, as well as on the evolution of the Louvre. He is a frequent contributor to the arts magazine Apollo.

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