Monthly Archives: July 2013

The smell of fresh paint

Marjah Square, Damascus, Library of Congress digital reproduction The queen, it is said, thinks the whole world smells of fresh paint. She’s not the only member of royalty to face this misconception. According to a marvellous book I’m reviewing at the moment, Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife Augusta experienced the same thing when they travelled to Damascus:

The potential of the town planning committee was clearly seen during the visit by the German imperial couple in 1898, when all the main bazaars and streets were renovated by the city council. Sarkîs wrote in 1898 that more than 5,000 façades and shops had been newly whitewashed or repainted and a total length of 10 to 12 miles of road had been repaired.

A job like this required serious organization (and expenditure)—it demonstrates the rapid development of Damascus city council’s capacity and ambitions in the late nineteenth century, when Damascus was an important provincial capital of the Ottoman empire. It was around the same time that a new city centre took full form, outside the walls of the old city, to the west of the citadel: Marjah Square, pictured above, site of the governor’s residence, a new barracks, and the hub of the tram network. The picture’s from a bit later, though, some time between 1920 and 1933: the book, Stefan Weber’s Damascus: Ottoman modernity and urban transformation, 1808–1908, is packed with gorgeous illustrations, but many of them are from private collections, including a lovely one of soldiers on parade in another square during the imperial couple’s stay (Fig. 92, p. I.138). I got this one from the Library of Congress—click the image for the source.

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History after Hobsbawm

Our colleague Matthew Hilton is one of the organizers of this big conference taking place at Birkbeck next spring.

History after Hobsbawm: A conference on the current trajectories of history

Eric HobsbawmStarts: Apr 29, 2014 05:00 PM
Finishes: May 01, 2014 06:00 PM
Location: Senate House, London
Add to calendar: link
To register, click here

A major international conference, with plenary speakers and large parallel sessions, exploring where the study of history is currently heading. The conference draws inspiration from the capacious legacy of the late Eric Hobsbawm, but is not a memorial event. We aim, rather, to bring together discussion about what we are currently doing as socially-committed historians, where we are headed, and what it means to be an historian in the twenty-first century.

NB—The conference fee includes refreshments, lunches, and a drinks reception, but does NOT include accommodation which you will need to arrange separately.Plenary sessions:

  • Mark Mazower – Europe
  • Gareth Stedman Jones – Marxism
  • Catherine Hall – Empire
  • Chris Wickham, Maxine Berg and Rana Mitter – World histories
  • Geoff Eley – History and politics

Panel sessions include:

  • Modern political conflict (Illaria Favretto, Francois Jarrige, Lucy Riall, Steve Smith)
  • Historical explanation (Peter Burke, Filippo de Vivo, Lynn Hunt, Renaud Morieux)
  • Britain, Empire, and Europe (Antoinette Burton, Maya Jasanoff, Jan Rüger)
  • Global Environmental History (Sunil Amrith, Christof Mauch, Harriet Ritvo, Paul Warde)
  • Nationalisms (Stefan Berger, John Breuilly, Bill Schwarz)
  • Marxist and post-Marxist social history (Andy Wood, Jane Whittle, Lucy Robinson)
  • The 17th-century Crisis (Mike Braddick, Geoffrey Parker, Sanjay Subrahmanyam)
  • Class, gender, ethnicity (Sean Brady, Marjorie Levine-Clark, Sonya Rose, John Tosh)

Click image for source

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Xuapurynyry and Miutymãnety

A short post to introduce our newly-arrived visiting researcher, Rogério Link.

Hello! My name is Rogério Sávio Link. I know, it’s a difficult name to pronounce—you can call me Roger, or something like that. I’m from Brazil, and I will stay here in Birmingham for one year conducting historical research about an Anglican mission among the Apurinã people in the Amazon, in the 1870s and 1880s. This mission was maintained by the South American Missionary Society, based in Oxford. Some articles written by missionaries who worked in the region were published in The South American Missionary Magazine. The archives of the mission, as well as the copies of the magazine, can be found in the Cadbury Research Library – Special Collections at the University of Birmingham, and at the Crowther Centre for Mission Education at the Church Mission Society in Oxford.

Camicuã Village, 10 June 2010, by Rogério Link

The Apurinã people belong to the Arawakan linguistic family and call themselves Pupỹkary. Their population is estimated to be between seven and eight thousand: the National Health Foundation in Brazil gave the number as 7,718 individuals in July 2010. The Apurinã people divide themselves into two exogamous patrilineal clans: Xuapurynyry and Miutymãnety. That is, the lineage is passed from father to son and the correct matching occurs between these two clans. First names in Apurinã indicate to which clan the individual belongs.

Feared as a warrior people, the Apurinã traditionally occupied the margins of the Lower and Middle Purus River and its tributaries, from the Sepatini to the Hyacu (Iaco), and also the margins of the Aquiri (Acre) and Ituxi rivers. Currently, they are dispersed in 36 Indigenous Lands (petitioned by the Indians, identified, demarcated or homologated), along the Purus River and its tributaries, in the Madeira River basin: this is the case of the Apurinã people living in the Torá Indigenous Land, in the municipalities of Manicoré and Humaitá, or also in Solimões, in the municipalities of Manaquiri, Manacapuru, Beruri and Anori. In the Upper Solimões, in Santo Antônio do Içá, they can still be found in the San Francisco Indigenous Land. In addition to these municipalities, the Apurinã people are also located in the municipalities of Tapauá, Lábrea, Pauini and Boca do Acre, in the Purus River basin. Approximately 400 individuals can also be found living in the city of Rio Branco, in Acre. There are still about 60 people in the Mawanat village, in the Roosevelt Indigenous Land in Rondônia, who migrated there in 1983 when an Indian called Munduruku and his Apurinã wife, FUNAI officials, were transferred to Cacoal, Rondônia.

Mipiri Village, 28 Feb 2010, by Rogério Link

Editor’s note: Rogério’s blog, in Portuguese, can be found here.
I wish Samuel Beckett had written a play called
Xuapurynyry and Miutymãnety.

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A boat laden with…

Our colleague Monica Jato, in the department of Hispanic studies, recently made this film about the Basque author Cecilia G. de Guilarte, who was exiled from Spain after the Civil War and didn’t return until the 1960s—when her series of newspaper articles about her exile, Un barco cargado de… [A boat laden with…], was censored by a regime still headed by General Franco.



The articles are now available in a scholarly edition that Monica has also produced, in Spanish, in the Biblioteca del Exilio series.

You can read more about the project on its bilingual blog, which contains details of where the film has been screened.

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Getting hotter

Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister

Click image for source.
Our colleague Matthew Francis provides this guest post:

On Friday 5th July the People’s History Museum, Manchester, is hosting a one-day conference to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’ speech. Though he might not have realised it on that day in Scarborough in 1963, Wilson’s speech would quickly become one of the most famous pieces of political oratory of the twentieth century, and would set the tone for the remainder of the 1960s.

In the run-up to the conference the Nottingham Politics blog has been running a short series of posts exploring the background to and legacy of Wilson’s speech. Steven Fielding begins the series by examining the backdrop to the speech, and in particular the political context of the early 1960s. For some years Labour had been concerned that rising real incomes and the advent of the ‘affluent worker’ had been eroding the Party’s base among the traditional working class. Wilson’s speech was the zenith of a strategy that sought to reconnect Labour with these new affluent workers by recasting the Party as modern and dynamic, abandoning the traditional association with the cloth cap in favour of the white laboratory coat.

Andrew Scott Crines focuses on Wilson as an orator, exploring the rhetorical devices that Wilson deployed and the reasons the speech proved to be so effective and so memorable. He concludes that Wilson did indeed seek to project an image of the Labour Party as a dynamic and modernising force, but also that this message was underpinned with a warning that economic decline and national irrelevance would be the inevitable consequence of a failure to adapt to technological change. There was thus an undercurrent of fear and foreboding in a speech that was otherwise characterised by its hopefulness and optimism.

In the final post I consider the way in which the ‘spectre of technological revolution’ has haunted the post-war Labour Party. Though Wilson might have been one of the first Labour politicians to attempt to ally science with socialism he was far from the last, and many of the themes that characterised his speech would recur in socialist rhetoric, particularly that of Tony Benn and Tony Blair. All three men shared a vision of technology as a distinct force in history, operating independently of other economic or social processes, to which government had little choice but to respond.

Though half a century has passed since Wilson delivered his speech, the themes of technological and social change that he addressed retain many contemporary resonances, as well as posing a number of intriguing historical questions. Friday’s conference hopes to tease out the answers to some of these questions, and to consider the relevance of Wilson’s ideas for today’s Labour Party.

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