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February
23
2018

Writing and teaching the history of modern Britain

Posted by rdaily under Blog | Tags: teaching, textbook | 0 Comments

James_Vernon_Textbook.png These are interesting times to be teaching and writing the history of modern Britain.  Britons remain often unable to acknowledge, and yet haunted by, their imperial and European histories.  The debates around Brexit and the legacies of slavery and colonialism frequently occasion an effort to restage a national past where Britons were always great, white and well-intentioned (most recently with Historians for Britain and the Ethics and Empire Project at Oxford).  That national past is endlessly recuperated in the nasty nativism on display in British television and film from Downton Abbey, The Crown, Dunkirk to whatever the latest movie is about Queen Victoria or Winston Churchill.  Not surprisingly, it is this screen history of Britain that is most familiar to students in the United States, but more worryingly it largely remains the one taught in British schools even at A-levels.  The conceit of this nationalist history is always that Britons - usually privileged, white, male ones - went out in to the world and made it in their image (and the world really should be pretty grateful).   

Now, of course, most of us who teach and write British history know how absurd this nativist history is. Wherever we work we have all had to grapple with postcolonial theory, women’s and gender history, new imperial history, indigenous history, transnational and global history.  We understand that British history, the histories of its four nations, and this very staging of white, male supremacy were products of slavery and imperialism. As universities in Australia, the United States and England increasingly advertise posts for historians of the ‘Britain and the World’, we are beginning to acknowledge that the world may have made Britain, that its history was partly shaped by transnational or global processes over which it had no control (see the forthcoming forum of ‘Britain and the World’ in Journal of British Studies, 57, 4 (2018)). Some even suggest that national histories themselves are in crisis

We should be deeply troubled by this disconnect between the work of professional historians and the resurgence of nativist histories (and not just those in post-Brexit Britain). Whatever else we may need to do to reconnect with the public the work we do as teachers seems critical to me.  Our classrooms are our first public: they are the ground zero of ‘impact’, ‘outreach’ and ‘public history’.  And while fewer students are majoring in History within the United States, Peter Mandler has suggested that the number of History degrees in Britain have been holding more or less firm.   

I have not done the math(s) but I imagine fewer people have read my work than those I have taught over the last thirty years.  And in the classroom and lecture hall we are forced outside of our academic bubble where we sometimes too comfortably assume that everyone possesses similar terms of reference and modes of thought.  Nothing was more exciting to me to move to California from Britain and discover that my students had never heard of Coventry let alone Gladstone.  They compelled me to reframe the way I taught British history by returning to classic questions about change over time – of the state, economies, environment, understandings of gender and race - that they could connect to other national and imperial histories.  I often find the critical feedback I receive from students no less helpful in making me think harder and more clearly than processes of peer review.  

It is a shame then that so much of our professional life systematically devalues teaching (except, of course, when we go on strike).  At many institutions, it is research and publishing, not teaching, that propels careers.   Even at the public university where I work writing a textbook is not considered as a publication when it comes to promotions.   And yet I have no doubt that Modern Britain 1750 to the Present, the fourth and last volume in the new Cambridge History of Britain textbook series, will be the most important book I ever publish.  It was an amazing opportunity to help inform how the next generation of undergraduates are taught the history of modern Britain.  And given that those undergraduates - in Britain as across much of the former British world – occupy a world shaped by the nativist histories endlessly repeated by politicians and dramatized on screens, it seemed a particularly timely task. 

The experience of writing this textbook was certainly humbling for it quickly exposed how little I knew about so much!  The challenge was to write a global history of Britain that reflected how the world made Britain rather more than Britain made the modern world.  I wanted to show how global processes shaped what I call the rise, fall and reinvention of liberal ideas of how markets and governments should work in the British world, as well how central violence and dispossession, at home and abroad, was to that story.  Above all it was my aim not just to castigate the past but to remake the present by reminding students that the world does change and it has been changed by those who have had the courage to challenge inequity and subjugation.

I am not sure how successful I was in worlding the history of Britain but I am a little more confident that the book should be good to teach with.   Each chapter is set up to answer a particular question about change over time and whatever you think of the explanations and arguments that follow they are designed to be accessible to students – with timelines, lots of maps and images, textboxes that zoom in on particular people, places or types of sources, guides to further secondary reading, and a glossary of key-terms.    There is also a supporting website that provides links to primary source readings, chapter summaries and study questions to help guide reading and thinking.  If any of you have used the book in a classroom I would l love to hear what works and what does not, there is lots to improve for the next edition! Please do get in touch.

I am not naïve enough to believe that we can only teach our way out of our neoliberal, nativist, present but I do think in these despairing times it is not a bad place to start.  Right, now back to the lesson plan for tomorrow.  Unless you are on strike. 

James Vernon
University of California, Berkeley
@James11Vernon

 

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February
21
2018

Deadline Extension: Workshop Calls for Proposals: Populations and Altruism

Posted by StephenJackson | 0 Comments

Workshop Calls for Proposals: Populations and Altruism

NACBS Annual Meeting

Providence, RI, October 25-28, 2018

 Early Modern Workshop Theme:

“Populations: counting, classifying, moving and managing groups of people in the early modern period”

 DEADLINE EXTENDED: MARCH 5, 2018

Materials: CV and 1-page abstract

This workshop will explore the topic of “populations” in the early modern period. How, by whom, and to what ends were groups of people defined or treated as populations? What were the intellectual and practical consequences of such classifications? What historical or historiographical legacies have they had? How do historians’ definitions of “population” replicate or resist early modern categories and practices? How do current social-scientific, political, or legal understandings of population help or hinder historical analysis? Papers may address these questions from perspectives including but not limited to migration and colonization; slavery, race and ethnicity; reproduction; medicine and health; religious and national difference; political economy and governance; political arithmetic and information.

The session will include 6-8 pre-circulated papers of 15-25 pages each. Participants will be chosen with a view to the complementarity of their research topics and strong preference will be given to graduate students and early career scholars. Participants must be prepared to submit their papers by September 30, 2018. Each participant will be required to read all papers for the session, and to share written comments on two of the papers, prior to the conference. The session itself will include brief presentations and discussions of each paper, followed by a more extensive conversation between participants and the audience around common questions and themes.

Those interested must submit a CV and a one-page abstract to Rachel Weil ([email protected]) and Ted McCormick ([email protected]) by MARCH 5.

 Note: Those not accepted for the early modern workshop may still submit proposals for NACBS poster sessions, or paper or panel proposals for regular NACBS sessions, by the general deadline of March 30, 2018. Some financial assistance will be available for graduate students (up to US$500) and for a limited number of under/unemployed members within ten years of their terminal degree (US$300). Details of these travel grants will be posted to www.nacbs.org and emailed to members once the 2018 meeting program is prepared.

 

Modern Workshop Theme:

 “Altruism and Its Discontents: Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development”

DEADLINE EXTENDED: MARCH 5, 2018

Materials: CV and 1-page abstract

This workshop will explore human rights, humanitarianism, and development in the modern period, c. 1800-2000, through the prism of “altruism.” While usually treated separately, each of these areas of endeavor grapples with often competing interests in projects aimed at improving the lives of others, some altruistic, others less so. We seek papers that engage critically in human rights, humanitarianism, or development, with special consideration for those positioned at their intersections. What has been the relationship between humanitarianism and discourses on human rights and how has it changed over time? How do we explain the dynamics of imperialism, internationalism, and foreign intervention? Humanitarian intervention and development? Or, empire, decolonization, and “development” projects? Where were projects made and unmade and how? What were their costs and who bore them? Where did these discourses or projects fit within anti-colonial resistance or in the civic life of post-colonial societies? While our emphasis is on British engagement in the world, we welcome equally papers that examine the reception of these projects among local populations and/or that put British actors in comparative or international context.

The session will include 6-8 pre-circulated papers of 15-25 pages each. Participants will be chosen with a view to the complementarity of their research topics and strong preference will be given to graduate students and early career scholars. Participants must be prepared to submit their papers by September 30, 2018. Each participant will be required to read all papers for the session, and to share written comments on two of the papers, prior to the conference. The session itself will include brief presentations and discussions of each paper, followed by a more extensive conversation between participants and the audience around common questions and themes.

Those interested must submit a CV and a one-page abstract to Caroline Shaw ([email protected]) and Matthew Hilton ([email protected]) by MARCH 5, 2018.

Note: Those not accepted for the workshop may still submit proposals for the NACBS poster session, or paper or panel proposals for regular NACBS sessions, by the general deadline of March 30, 2018. Some financial assistance will be available for graduate students (up to US$500) and for a limited number of under/unemployed NACBS members within ten years of their terminal degree (US$300). Details of these travel grants will be posted to www.nacbs.org and emailed to members once the 2018 meeting program is prepared.

 

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NACBS endorses the following statement issued by the AHA.

AHA Condemns Polish Law Criminalizing Public Discussion of Polish Complicity in Nazi War Crimes

The American Historical Association strongly condemns the bill drafted by the Polish legislature and signed into law by Polish President Andrzej Duda on February 6, 2018, that states, in part: "Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes — shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years."

In practice, this legislation pertains specifically to histories that document and explore Polish participation in violence against Jews during World War II. It therefore threatens free pursuit of historical inquiry.

The AHA's stance is consistent with its efforts by the Polish government or by any party to stifle speech and to restrict the content of scholarship concerned with Poland's role in the Holocaust and related war crimes. On November 14, 2016, the AHA sent a letter to President Duda expressing concern over the Polish government's treatment and potential prosecution of Jan T. Gross, professor of history at Princeton University, who was facing a libel investigation from Polish authorities for publishing historical accounts of Poles killing Jews during World War II. That letter already made clear the very real dangers, beyond the specific case of Professor Gross, of criminalizing scholars and scholarship that explored Polish involvement in the Holocaust. As we stated then: "More generally, we are concerned with the law currently being discussed in the Polish parliament that would subject to strong penalties anyone convicted of ascribing to the Polish nation or the Polish state the responsibility for crimes against humanity that prosecutors themselves attribute to other perpetrators—in the first instance, the German Third Reich. We feel strongly that this law will allow police and judicial authorities to overrule the judgments of trained historians, and that it will threaten the ability of historians to conduct impartial research that might reveal facts that these authorities find uncomfortable. No nation's past is free of blemishes, and Poland will do itself no favors in the eye of world opinion by passing such a restrictive and prejudicial piece of legislation."

The American Historical Association stands by that statement now, seeing in the new law signed on February 6 a threat both to historians' freedom of speech and to the future of historical scholarship, which depends upon open inquiry and the pursuit of impartial truth. We urge the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland to reconsider this law. longstanding objection to any and all previous

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February
9
2018

NACBS 2018 Annual Book and Article Prize Competitions

Posted by rdaily under Prize | Tags: john ben snow, stansky, walter d. love | 0 Comments

The 2018 NACBS book and article prize competitions are now open. Submissions are due April 1st, 2018. For more details, please see the links below.

John Ben Snow Prize details here.

Walter D. Love Prize details here.

Stansky Prize details here.

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January
15
2018

Crime Scene Photography in England: 1895-1960

Posted by rdaily under Blog | Tags: Bell, crime, cross-post, photography | 0 Comments

This article traces how crime scene photographs in England evolved over time, like other forensic technologies, in response to the needs of police forces and the courts. 

 Please see Dr. Bell's blog post here.

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Call for Proposals: History of Emotions Workshop

NACBS Annual Meeting

Providence, RI, October 25-28, 2018

Theme: History of Emotions

Proposal deadline: February 15, 2018

Materials: CV and 1-page abstract

This workshop will explore the history of emotions in Britain and its empire.  We seek papers from the medieval to the modern period that engage fundamental methodological questions in how we approach emotions in the past.  What is the connection between emotion, bodily sensation and cognition; or between reason, emotion and morality?  How do we analyze the relationship between emotional practices and experiences and emotional standards?  How do we examine emotions as inward sensations and as social and cultural practices?  What were the political meanings of emotions, and how have specific emotions or emotional registers been used to silence and/or give voice to political groups or movements; as well as aiding and legitimating specific forms of rule?  What role did emotions play in navigating moments of colonial or postcolonial contact?  How have the meanings and expressions of specific emotions—empathy, grief, anger, love, etc.—changed according to time, place, and population?  How might historians continue to draw upon work in other disciplines, for example, literary studies, queer studies, psychology, philosophy and anthropology?  By calling for papers from medieval to modern periods, we hope to interrogate the assumptions and perspectives that pertain to the study of different eras and by bringing these into a conversation with one another, examine the value and limitation of applying shared methodologies and framing questions to different chronological fields and contexts. 

The session will include 6-8 pre-circulated papers of 15-25 pages each. Participants will be chosen with a view to the complementarity of their research topics and strong preference will be given to graduate students and early career scholars. Participants must be prepared to submit their papers by September 30, 2018. Each participant will be required to read all papers for the session, and to share written comments on two of the papers, prior to the conference. The session itself will include brief presentations and discussions of each paper, followed by a more extensive conversation between participants and the audience around common questions and themes. 

Those interested must submit a CV and a one-page abstract to Lydia Murdoch ([email protected]) and Linda Pollock ([email protected]) by February 15, 2018. Results will be announced by March 1.

Note: Those not accepted for the workshop may still submit proposals for the NACBS poster session, or paper or panel proposals for regular NACBS sessions, by the general deadline of March 30, 2018. Some financial assistance will be available for graduate students (up to US$500) and for a limited number of under/unemployed NACBS members within ten years of their terminal degree (US$300). Details of these travel grants will be posted to www.nacbs.org and emailed to members once the 2018 meeting program is prepared.

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December
29
2017

CFP: Western Conference on British Studies

Posted by rdaily under CFP | Tags: annual meeting, wcbs | 0 Comments

The next WCBS annual conference will be held in San Antonio, Texas, on September 28-29, 2018.

The WCBS Program Committee, co-chaired by Susan Grayzel and Joseph Ward of Utah State University, seeks to design a meeting that is both interdisciplinary and wide-ranging in its temporal span. Scholars of Britain, the British Atlantic World, and the British Empire broadly defined are invited to participate. The committee welcomes proposals for both individual papers and full panels, and it encourages graduate student submissions.  

Proposals should include a 250-word abstract of each paper and a short curriculum vitae for each participant. Full panel proposals should also include a brief description of the panel's overall aim and indicate clearly the panel’s organizer and primary contact.

Please submit proposals to [email protected] by the end of the day on Friday, March 2, 2018. 

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The NACBS cordially invites you to its reception at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, on Saturday, January 6, 2018. It will be held from 6:00 to 7:30 pm in the Coolidge Room of the Marriott Wardman Park. Hope to see you for drinks and conversation!
 
Wishing you all the best for 2018,
The Executive Committee
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This is the first in a series of posts on "Teaching Britain and the World." The NACBS would like to thank the British Scholar Society for permission to cross-post these blogs. To learn more about the British Scholar Society, see: http://britishscholar.org/

In 1883, J. R. Seeley famously called students to the history of the British Empire in a neat set of lectures, framed around a smooth, aspirational, titular narrative: The Expansion of England.[1] In the generations that followed, many who engaged with British imperial history did so only to produce understandings of that past (and present) that are richer and more complex than Seely sought to imagine. Histories of the empire as a uniform structure have been superseded by analyses that instead reveal a global set of shifting, frequently renegotiated, and rarely stable relationships. These welcome developments, though, have brought new challenges to the classroom. The perennial question of undergraduate surveys has grown ever more daunting: how can a single semester be stretched to cover the dynamism and heterogeneity found in contemporary studies of the British Empire?

The richness of today’s imperial history—the necessity of pushing beyond a metropolitan center and of engaging with marginalized voices—is easy to suggest, but difficult to demonstrate through lecture without resorting to an endless series of examples that would lose the attention of all but the most careful note-takers. Fortunately, just as British imperial history has changed since Seeley’s day, so too has modern pedagogy developed more dynamic approaches to the classroom. Drawing on recent trends in collaborative learning, my survey of the British Empire works to make the diversity of the British Empire a pedagogical advantage, one that provides unique opportunities for student engagement. The class is built around a multi-step independent research project, in which students work as a class to piece together a “patchwork” understanding of an empire—decentered both from the metropole and from the lectern.

Early in the semester, after a brief overview of the British Empire in the mid-eighteenth century (our starting point), each student selects a colony on which to become an “expert.” Over the course of the semester, students complete a series of assignments examining these colonies, producing short essays, formal presentations, and even videos or online activities (e.g., quizzes or lessons on an LMS such as Moodle). (The latter possibility can be particularly helpful in large classes, where individual presentations might eat up too much class time.) The exact parameters of these assignments can be framed to emphasize particular themes in imperial history. For instance, to develop skills in primary source analysis, I have students find newspaper articles, which in turn foster discussion about how print journalism sparked new connections and tensions across the empire. Later in the semester, students are tasked with finding propaganda posters from the Second World War, using analyses of visual objects to produce an imperial understanding of Sonya Rose’s useful question—“which people’s war?”[2]

These assignments ultimately pave the way for a research paper exploring how the British Empire was experienced and understood in the students’ respective colonies. Yet, for me, this final product is less important than the scaffolding along the way, in which students’ research is used to enrich day-to-day class activities. As students engage with each other’s work, their findings help to create conversations that reveal the diverse experiences that constituted the British Empire. Both classroom debates and written responses provide students the opportunity to explore their own connections, allowing a more active style of learning than a traditionally designed class might allow. Equally importantly, as students tackle each new question from far-flung regions of the empire, they must work to put together a variety of perspectives, giving voice to historical agencies that can be obscured when explored from the metropole.

At its core, the “patchwork empire” project should encourage students to reconsider what scholars mean by the British Empire—and whether that meaning has remained stable over time. For some students, these questions appear immediately as they wonder which colony to select. A student interested in researching Kenya or Australia might wonder how to study a colony that did not yet exist in the mid-eighteenth century. Here, I push students to reframe the question: rather than exploring the history of a colony, they should explore the relationships between their region, Britain, and the rest of the world. This allows the class to discuss interactions, exchange, and even informal empire in a way that goes beyond the “pink” areas on the map.

Of course, turning over class time and energy to students’ independent inquiry has potential pitfalls. An emphasis on student-led discussion means that the learning objectives for the class necessarily shift away from mastery of specific content to an emphasis on overarching themes, tracing moments of agency, negotiation, and constraint as they existed across the empire. Nevertheless, there is always the risk that students’ understanding of the “patchwork empire” might be too patchy. For many students, the task of research itself can be intimidating, and they may struggle to articulate key ideas about their findings. I try to foster a sense of collaboration in the classroom, working to treat misconceptions as areas for further discussion, rather than errors to be critiqued. If students are working with a wide range of colonies and regions, the possibilities for comparison and contrast across regions can push students to work through their own mistakes. Fortunately, the increasingly global nature of the student body at many institutions ensures that students come to the course with diverse geographic interests, such that their own curiosities expand the perspectives with which the class can engage.

The research required of each student to produce a “patchwork empire” is considerable, but I have found that strong scaffolding allows even freshmen students to rise to the challenge. The result is a classroom in which each student knows that their voice is valuable part of a conversation, bringing a unique perspective not only based on their own experiences, but also on their own research. That dynamic possibility is both a pedagogical ideal and a reflection of British imperial history at its most innovative. Where Seeley at his lectern spoke of the expansion of England, today’s imperial scholars have built up a more vibrant understanding of imperial history. Surveys of the British Empire must mirror that conversation, and students’ active, decentered inquiry can play a significant role in achieving that goal.

Christina Welsch is an Assistant Professor of History at the College of Wooster. Visit her website at: https://www.wooster.edu/bios/cwelsch/


[1] J. R. Seeley, The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures, (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1883).

[2] Sonya O. Rose, Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Britain, 1939-1945, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

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December
16
2017

CFP: Modern Workshop, NACBS Annual Meeting, Providence, RI, October 25-28, 2018.

Posted by StephenJackson under Blog | Tags: cfp, NACBS 2018 | 0 Comments

Theme: “Altruism and Its Discontents: Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development”

Deadline Extension: March 5, 2018

Materials: CV and 1-page abstract

This workshop will explore human rights, humanitarianism, and development in the modern period, c. 1800-2000, through the prism of “altruism.” While usually treated separately, each of these areas of endeavor grapples with often competing interests in projects aimed at improving the lives of others, some altruistic, others less so. We seek papers that engage critically in human rights, humanitarianism, or development, with special consideration for those positioned at their intersections. What has been the relationship between humanitarianism and discourses on human rights and how has it changed over time? How do we explain the dynamics of imperialism, internationalism, and foreign intervention? Humanitarian intervention and development? Or, empire, decolonization, and “development” projects? Where were projects made and unmade and how? What were their costs and who bore them? Where did these discourses or projects fit within anti-colonial resistance or in the civic life of post-colonial societies? While our emphasis is on British engagement in the world, we welcome equally papers that examine the reception of these projects among local populations and/or that put British actors in comparative or international context.

The session will include 6-8 pre-circulated papers of 15-25 pages each. Participants will be chosen with a view to the complementarity of their research topics and strong preference will be given to graduate students and early career scholars. Participants must be prepared to submit their papers by September 30, 2018. Each participant will be required to read all papers for the session, and to share written comments on two of the papers, prior to the conference. The session itself will include brief presentations and discussions of each paper, followed by a more extensive conversation between participants and the audience around common questions and themes.

Those interested must submit a CV and a one-page abstract to Caroline Shaw ([email protected]) and Matthew Hilton ([email protected]) by March 5, 2018. Results will be announced by March 1.

Note: Those not accepted for the workshop may still submit proposals for the NACBS poster session, or paper or panel proposals for regular NACBS sessions, by the general deadline of March 30, 2018. Some financial assistance will be available for graduate students (up to US$500) and for a limited number of under/unemployed NACBS members within ten years of their terminal degree (US$300). Details of these travel grants will be posted to www.nacbs.org and emailed to members once the 2018 meeting program is prepared.

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