Welcome to 2018/19 at the Centre for Modern and Contemporary History! This academic year we have a rich line up of events and seminars in prospect, many organised jointly with other research centres here at Birmingham. Keep an eye on our seminar calendar page and on our Twitter feed to stay updated! All are welcome and we are especially glad to see our MA, BA and PGR students at seminars!
On Thursday 5 July 2018, the Centre is co-sponsoring a one-day symposium, which considers the formation of modern Czech identity in the arts, politics and the media, focusing on key global events of the 20th century. It responds to various celebrations in the Czech Republic and the UK, including the centenary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and fiftieth anniversary of the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
In addressing the relationship between the small nation and its global identity, the programme explores three themes: the mythic portrayal of interwar Czechoslovakia as a Western oriented state and of the Czech people as passive victims of global events; the cyclical gain and loss of state sovereignty, covering the separation of the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993; the construction of Czechs identity in relation to ‘others’, including German, Slovak and Roma diasporas.
Organised by Dr. Marta Filipová and Prof. Matthew Rampley, University of Birmingham, the symposium includes an exhibition tour with Czech artist Vladimír Kokolia, curator Miroslav Ambroz and Ikon Director Jonathan Watkins. Leading historians and theorists participating at the symposium include
Small Nations and Global Identities: Czech Questionsis supported by Ikon, the Birmingham Centre for Modern and Contemporary History, the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures and Public Engagement Office, University of Birmingham, Czech Club Birmingham CIC and the Embassy of the Czech Republic in London.
Thursday 5 July 2018
10-6pm – FREE
Ikon Gallery, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS
|Admin||9.30 – 10.10||Registration|
|Tour||10 – 10.45||Exhibition tour with artist Vladimir Kokolia, curator Miroslav Ambroz and Ikon Director Jonathan Watkins|
|Welcome||10.45 – 11.00||HE Libor Sečka, Embassy of the Czech Republic in London, Linzi Stauvers, Ikon Gallery and Marta Filipová, University of Birmingham|
|11.00 – 12.30
Chair: Matthew Rampley
|Jiří Přibáň, The history of Czech statehood and national identity|
|Mary Heimann, The State that Failed|
|Jakub Beneš, Populist nationalism between 1918 and 1948|
|Lunch||12.30 – 13.30||Own arrangements|
|13.30 – 15.30
Chair: Klaus Richter
|Rajendra Chitnis, The Czech Myth of Resistance: Silence as a Response to the German Occupation|
|Peter Zusi, On the Fringes of History: Richard Weiner Observes the Foundation of the Republic|
|Kelly Hignett, Constructing Czech Identity ‘From the Margins’|
|Tom Dickins, The influence of the past, as reflected in the slogans and counter slogans of the socialist era|
|Tea break||15.30 – 16.00||All welcome|
|16.00 – 17.30
|Mark Cornwall, Mapping a Queer Geography of Interwar Czechoslovakia in Europe|
|Celia Donert, The Rights of the Roma: The Struggle for Citizenship in Postwar Czechoslovakia|
|Monika Metyková, Brno 1918-2018: The City of Czechs, Germans and Jews|
On Wednesday 13 June, we are delighted to welcome Professor Priya Satia from Stanford University for the Centre’s 2018 Annual Lecture.
Pacifists Making Guns: The Galtons of Birmingham and Britain’s Industrial Revolution
Muirhead Tower G15
Wednesday 13 June 2018, 17.00-19.00
All welcome! Please join us for a reception afterwards.
Contact: Simon Jackson S.Jackson.email@example.com
The biggest gun-making firm in 18th-century Britain was owned by a Quaker family, the Galtons of Birmingham. They were major suppliers of guns to the slave trade in West Africa, the East India Company, settlers and trading companies in North America, and the British government, which was at war almost constantly from 1688 to 1815. But a core principle of the Quaker faith is belief in the un-Christian nature of war; Quakers do not participate in war or war training. From the seventeenth century, they were a persecuted minority because they refused to swear loyalty to the king or to arm themselves in the defence of his realm. So how do we explain the Galtons?–and other Quakers’ quiet tolerance of their business for nearly a century? For nearly a century, their livelihood attracted no critical notice in the Quaker community. Then, suddenly, in 1795, the Religious Society of Friends threatened to disown Samuel Galton Junior unless he left the arms trade. What changed? Why did the Galtons’ gun-manufacturing suddenly become a scandal? Had guns changed? Had Quakerism changed? And what was the result? Was Galton disowned? These are the questions Prof. Satia’s talk will pose and answer. And the answers reveal how difficult it was in eighteenth-century British industrial society to extricate oneself entirely from participating in warfare, regardless of principles. War was integral to the Industrial Revolution.
Priya Satia is a professor of British History at Stanford University. She is author of Spies of Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East published by Oxford University Press and her writing appeared in the TLS, Slate, the Financial Times, Washington Post, and Time Magazine, among others. She received an MSc in Development Studies (Economics) at the London School of Economics and a PhD in History at the University of California, Berkeley.
We’re delighted to welcome our own Dr. Michell Chresfield to speak about her research.
Half and Halves and Racially Ambiguous Others: The Prehistory of Multiracial America, 1870-1970
Dr. Michell Chresfield (Birmingham)
Wednesday 21 March 2018, 17.30-19.00
Muirhead Tower, Room 113
University of Birmingham
Contact: Simon Jackson: S.Jackson.firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the next couple of days our MA students in Contemporary History, Global History and Modern British Studies are work-shopping their nascent dissertation projects. Please see the programme below for a flavour of what they are studying.
Tuesday 20 March
Room G 26: Mechanical Engineering Building
2.15: Assemble & Introductions (Simon Jackson)
2.30-3.15: Gender, Masculinity & Clothing
Joe Combs – Masculinity, Femininity and Homosexuality in Small Northern Industrial Towns, 1960-2000’
Katelyn Elder, ‘Boys to men: the role of public schools and the Boy Scouts in shaping masculinity in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period.’
Eleanor Holmes, ‘Dressing for the War: Utility Clothing and Rationing in World War Two Britain’
3.30-4.00: Labour, Nation & Community
Haowen (Sylvie) Liu, ‘The role of Chinese Labor in the Second World War and the subsequent labor movement’
Curt Trudgeon, ‘Immigrant and Ethnic Minority Communities in North- Western Port Cities During Interwar Britain: Racism, Urban Topography and Cultural Impacts’
Sarah Middlemass, How did print media generate and propagate ideas of ‘Britishness’: 1993-2001″.
4.30-5.15: Culture, conformity and contestation
Rachel Littler, ‘The Rational Dress Movement and Women’s Mobility’
Uzmah Mohammed, ‘Material culture, cultural appropriation and colourblindness’ (Only 3-6 Tuesday)
Seb Read, ‘Exploring the social roles and impacts of musical subcultures in 1980s England’.
Wednesday 21 March
10.00 – Assemble and Welcome (Chris Moores)
10.05-11.50 – Bodies and History
Grace France, “The Rigid Right and the Strait-Laced Left? An Exploration of the Response to Page Three from 1970 to 1990”
Beth Parkes, ‘Suntanning in 1960s and 1970s Britain’
Rose Parkinson: Colonial medical care, gender, and urbanism in Bombay, c. 1913-1930
11.10 -11.55: Empires
Ioannis Tzianis, ‘To what extent did the Vietnam war affect the UK-US relations?’ (Wednesday)
Vicky Basra, An Investigation of the Expansionary efforts of Maharajah Ranjit Singh: Accepted hero?
Charlotte McKnight, ‘Our national beverage’: The British School of Malting and Brewing’.
12.00: LUNCH BREAK
1.00-2.30: Activist Selly Oak (Muirhead Tower, 109): This is an optional session with the opportunity to find out about the Activist Selly Oak Event a Heritage Lottery Funded Project being run by Chris Moores with BRIHC – the session will take place in Muirhead Tower, 109 (it is not likely to last until 2.30 for those presenting in the final session)
Emma McMullen, ‘Women’s autonomy and social class in British mass media, 1950-1970’.
Imogen Anderson, ‘The role of news broadcasts and black British cultural production in portraying Handsworth, Birmingham’
The seminar intends to be a discussion on the new lines of historical investigation and new methodologies that are opening with the advent of mass digital technology. Marta Musso from Archives Portal Europe and King’s College London, Jane Stevenson from Archives Hub, and Courtney Campbell from the University of Birmingham will discuss the impact of digitisation and digital-born sources on historical research.
Marta Musso will present Archives Portal Europe, the largest online portal for archival research in European archives, as a tool that introduces new possibilities for historical research on modern and contemporary European history, as well as the challenges for historians to preserve digital-born sources.
Jane Stevenson will present The Archives Hub, an aggregator for descriptions of archives held in over 320 institutions throughout the UK. The talk will introduce attendees to the work of the Archives Hub, summarise some of the benefits that it offers, and discuss the changes brought about by digital content.
Courtney Campbell will present on “Creating a Digital Archive of Brazil’s Most Endangered Historical Documents” on her experience on leading a major digitization projects in the state of Paraíba in Brazil, to ensure that historical study on Afro-Brazilian and indigenous subjects continue in this region by creating digital copies of damaged or neglected documents, and preserving them on multiple servers. In the talk she will present the many challenges we faced along the way and how we either overcame them or adapted to them.
The outcome of the seminar will be a draft of possible guidelines for historical research in the digital era. The seminar is open to graduate students and staff from any field of social sciences and humanities that utilises archival sources.
Marta Musso is a historian and researcher in digital humanities, with a specialisation in energy policies, international trade agreements, and the relations between large companies and governments. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, with a thesis on the development of the Algerian and European oil industry. She is currently working on the history of European energy policies and on the usage of digital-born sources for historical research. In 2016/2017 she was Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute, and she is currently Teaching Fellow at King’s College London, Department of Digital Humanities. She is also Chair of EOGAN, the European Oil and Gas Archives Network.
Jane Stevenson is responsible for leading the maintenance and development of the Archives Hub. A trained archivist with over 20 years experience, Jane has expertise in archival discovery, technical interoperability standards for archival descriptions and the use of EAD. Jane has worked as a tutor in Archives and Information Studies at the University of Dundee, and has delivered many training courses for archivists and Hub contributors who wish to learn more about online archival description as well as broader technical issues such as interoperability and 2.0 technologies.
Courtney Campbell is a historian of Latin America. Her research focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Brazilian cultural and social history. Courtney’s current research interests are regional identity, race and representation, gender and representation, transnational consumer culture, popular culture movements, movement and migration, language-based movements, and spatial understandings of regional culture.
This is a short blog about an opportunity I had this summer (2017) to undertake three days of archival research in Switzerland, for my dissertation project in the MA in Contemporary History at the Centre for Modern & Contemporary History at the University of Birmingham. I travelled there to consult the records of the Monnet Action Committee, which are located in the Jean Monnet Foundation in Lausanne, and was fortunate enough to receive partial assistance towards the costs from a research travel grant from the Centre.
My MA dissertation looked into the wider context of European integration as it developed in the mid 1950s, through the specific case study of the Monnet Action Committee. This is a relatively little-known organisation today that was active at that time in promoting European integration.
Below is a description of and reflection on my trip, which may perhaps encourage other MA students to cast their archival net more widely. Crucially, both my topic and the archives chosen offered the possibility of looking beyond solely British based sources and English language historiography.
It was important to be organised prior to my departure for Switzerland, as it would only be possible to visit once. First, from my previous research I had already gathered together existing work that others had done on the Committee. This was not a large literature, but did include a collection of published official resolutions and declarations. I studied these carefully for the period I was interested in, which was roughly from 1955 to 1958.
Secondly, I checked the archive’s website which provides additional information regarding the Committee, namely an inventory of the records held, together with contact details for the archivist. The next step was to get in touch with them, which I did by e-mail. This was essential as they are a small centre and need advance warning of any visit. I asked questions and provided them with an idea of which records I was particularly interested in. Once this was done I could determine how many days were needed onsite and could then arrange the practical details of booking transport and accommodation.
The archives are located within the grounds of the Lausanne University. I made sure to book accommodation somewhere within walking distance of it, in addition to allowing extra time for a little sightseeing. A note on language: I speak French, which made it easy, and some level of language skills is obviously needed for this type of trip. However, it is not an insurmountable barrier: in terms of the preparation described above for example, the website is in multiple languages and the archivists could speak some English. Being enthusiastic and interested in their archive also helped when communicating with them.
My impression on arrival was positive. The weather was warm and the foundation is housed in an old farmhouse set in woodland within the wider university campus and close to the shores of Lake Geneva. It is a lovely setting and each evening I went down to the lake to review the notes taken during the day and plan what to do for the following one. The archivist was helpful: I was shown where everything was and the procedure for ordering documents was explained. They have a small room reserved for visiting researchers, which I had to myself.
The majority of the Committee’s records are available on microfiche. These were created some time ago and are of variable quality, in particular handwritten notes were often difficult to decipher. However this was easily resolved as on querying it, I was provided with the originals of the unreadable microfiches. Perhaps another advantage of visiting a small archive was that, up to a certain quantity, it was free to request copies of documents. These were collated and sent to me as a PDF file by e-mail, within a few days of my trip.
On language, most of the records were in French with a few in other languages. I would advise anyone working on their research language skills with a view to a future trip to the archives to firstly focus on the specific vocabulary that arises around your particular subject, and secondly to keep in mind that you can reach a level of passive understanding of a written text on a familiar topic much sooner than attaining a more general mastery, such as being able to speak or write.
The three days I had allowed for the research passed quickly. I was aiming to build a general picture of the Committee to set it within its wider context. To do so I consulted the records in a variety of ways, following the general plan I had previously prepared, but not sticking to it so rigidly as to be unable to react to what I was finding. For instance, I studied various draft resolutions and declarations, tracing aspects that had both changed and not changed before the final published versions. This is a good example of how an archival visit can reveal a completely different story to the one that might be interpreted from simply using digital access to the final published text. In the Committee’s reports I was interested not only in what topics were being raised but in the language used to justify and explain specific courses of action, together with how they defined certain concepts.
Of particular use was a large file relating to the set-up of the Monnet Action Committee. In this I was lucky to find additional details of the background experience of several participants that I had struggled to trace previously. There was also some interesting correspondence which gave insights into individuals’ thinking and opinions. Finally, I didn’t ignore what could be termed administrative records, for example the legal statutes of the committee and details on its funding and spending, which all provided additional information on how it worked internally as an organisation.
In summary, I came away with a full notebook for my project. But it was also an interesting experience in itself to visit an archive in Switzerland and wouldn’t have been something I would have had the opportunity of doing outside the context of a History MA course. Based on my experience I would encourage others to consider broadening their research agenda to include non-British sources where appropriate, and to take advantage of the support that is available for such projects.
Gillian, 2016/17 MA Contemporary History student, University of Birmingham.
Our first event of the term at the Centre for Modern & Contemporary History is upon us! All welcome and details are below.
The Confidence Game of the Chicago School
Prof Matt Houlbrook
It is easy to find the confidence trickster anywhere, if you are looking closely enough. The global networks of trade and empire along which people and goods moved from the sixteenth century, the expanding cities of the modern United States, and the turmoil of revolution and civil war in the new Soviet Union: in each of these contexts the trickster was identified as characteristic or archetypal. Mobility and anonymity provided opportunities for personal reinvention and social advancement. They also allowed fakes and frauds to flourish, created intense anxieties about the difficulties of trusting those one met, and ensured social interactions and commercial exchange were haunted by the possibility of deceit. Britain’s bogus honorable and Weimar Germany’s hochstapler; Herman Melville’s Confidence-Man; Al-Hasan al-Wazzan and Martin Guerre; Felix Krull and Ostap Bender; Netley Lucas. The paradox of the trickster was that they seemed both universal and exemplary of their time and place. What, then, should we do with these elusive figures as historians?
Of Spongers, Sharpers, and Cannibal Eunuchs: Swindle Story Collections around the World
Prof. Christopher Rea
(University of British Columbia)
Why do collections of swindle stories appear at certain times and places? In China, for example, the swindle story has experienced bursts of popularity during the late Ming, the early Republican era, the early Mao era, and during the last 20 years. And comparable works exist around the world. What, for example, do Zhang Yingyu’s Book of Swindles (Ming China, 1617), Richard King’s The New Cheats of London Exposed (Georgian England, 1792), and P.T. Barnum’s The Humbugs of the World (Reconstruction-era United States, 1867) have in common—and how do they differ? Swindle stories, clearly, serve a double purpose: they teach techniques for navigating perilous social environments, and they entertain. But their authors tend to frame these narratives within a questionable claim: that ours is an age of unprecedented peril. Focusing on the example of China, this talk will highlight one thread running through literary history: connoisseurship of the swindler’s ingenuity.
‘All That Is Solid Melts into Air’: Modernity and the proliferation of liminality.
Dr. Lucie Ryzova
Tricksters are creatures of liminality. I will first broaden our discussion by looking at the nexus of modernity and liminality. Modernity is a historical condition in which transition becomes permanentized. The acceleration of time, shrinking of space, mass-mediated popular culture and unprecedented social mobility all worked to normalize fluidity and bring about new configurations of personhood. ‘Becoming another’ became a reality for many, and a fantasy for many more. Novel cultural practices and forms emerged that allowed for a ritualised consumption of this permanent flux and where liminality and enchantment could be safely indulged. I will use as example the photographer’s studio, a place of modern magic where anyone could momentarily transform the self into another. Secondly, I will present some thoughts on whether late modernity, specifically the current crisis of capitalism, creates the conditions in which trickster figures proliferate. Here I will propose to understand late capitalism through another archetypal figure of liminality, notably that of a vampire.