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Last summer, I was fortunate to receive a dissertation travel grant from the NACBS. This grant funded a seven-week archival research trip to the United Kingdom, during which I combed through sermon manuscripts and psalters in fourteen different archives in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, and York. In these archives, I looked at manuscripts dating from the late thirteenth century to the early seventeenth century. I poured over tiny psalters that fit in the palm of my hand and paged through other manuscripts that were so large that opening them required multiple desks. Some manuscripts had light brown ink, tiny cramped script, and no illumination or decoration—the vellum often dark and spotted, with multiple defects that scribes carefully wrote around in order to not waste a single bit of writing surface. Clearly, these were made with economy in mind. Other manuscripts contrasted starkly: covered in illumination and gilt, written in jet-black ink on pale and flawless vellum. These manuscripts had well-spaced words and carefully drawn margins, filled with flowers, vines, biblical characters, and fantastical creatures. Yet, all of these manuscripts presented the same texts, the same sermons and sermon tales, the same messages about what it meant to live as a medieval Christian, often verbatim

Both the diversity and consistency of these manuscripts act as a tangible representation of my findings in my dissertation. My project looks at discussions of dance in vernacular religious texts from 1280 to 1640. Tracing presentations of the psalms, of specific Scripture verses that mention dance, of David and Salome, and of medieval sermon tales across this several-hundred year span means considering texts aimed at dramatically different audiences, texts placed in very different political, social, and economic contexts. Heading into the archives this past summer, having only worked with edited and printed editions of these medieval sermon cycles and psalters, I expected that the discussions of dance in these manuscripts would reflect this variation. I anticipated that the big shifts in ideas about worship, about sacred space, about profane bodies, about gender, and about dance that my project engages would show up in these individual manuscripts in gradual modifications in wording, in small changes to each narrative over time, or in additional comments added to later versions of each sermon tale. And in my first few days in the archives, confronted with such dramatic discrepancies in the physical manuscripts themselves, this expectation seemed to be proven correct.

What I found instead, as I dug deeper into the manuscripts and archives, was consistency, across multiple regions, years, and audiences. Changes in the message presented about dance occurred as entirely new sermon cycles or glosses of the psalms were created, not in small shifts within individual versions of sermon cycles.  This approach to dance speaks to a broader insight into medieval religion and the late medieval church. In the years leading up to the Reformation in England, priests and clerics of all stations presented their congregations with a consistent message about what it meant to live out an orthodox version of one's faith, for all members of the church and community. However, orthodoxy was not static or rigid, for, as the changes that occurred during my project show, the medieval church was also a vital and evolving institution. Changes in theology drove changes in sermon texts and in the messages presented to lay audiences about what it meant to live out their faith. Consistency in message was met with diversity in parish practice, as shown in much of the scholarship on the late medieval parish and on ritual in late medieval England. Yet, the significance of consistency in teaching should not be overlooked, as the ideas about dance, gender, and sacred bodies preached Sunday after Sunday from the late medieval pulpit exerted a noticeable influence on the treatment of women in early modern congregations and on definitions of the proper performance of gender for men and women alike.

These manuscripts, with their consistency and diversity, embody the key findings of my research. However, they also provide glimpses of the individuality and humanity of the medieval bodies my research studies. One manuscript in the Bodleian stands out to me as a reminder of the humanity of my subjects. In this manuscript, one with imperfect vellum and pale ink, the scribe starts to add tiny fish into the margins at intervals. As the manuscript continues, so do the fish– and as the scribe's apparent boredom increases, so do the number of teeth on each fish. By the end of the manuscript, the margins contain fish with rows of teeth that bring to mind sharks rather than fish, and each fish clutches elaborate flowers or vines in its rather toothy mouth. In reading that collection of sermons, I suddenly had a vision of a medieval scribe much like the students I know: a young man who doodles to stay awake in the long hours spent copying sermons and moral texts, and who probably counted down the hours until his day ended. The NACBS dissertation travel grant provided me with a chance to not only deepen and strengthen my research and argument, but also to experience the history I study in a new way. My time in the archives made my medieval subjects tangible in a way I found personally meaningful. The chance to work with these physical manuscripts gave me new ways to teach and talk about the people of the medieval past in ways that I have seen resonate with my students. And on the best of days, these tales from the archives even draw my students' attention away from their own doodles to ideas, people, and events far removed from their present reality.

Lynneth J. Miller is a PhD candidate at Baylor University

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For more information on Empire of Guns visit the publisher’s website here.


I did not set out to write a history of the industrial revolution, though the sources of global inequality have long intrigued me. Indeed, my graduate student career began with a master’s degree in development economics at the London School of Economics. When I became frustrated with the way economics as a discipline took context—existing global disparities—for granted, I decided to pursue a PhD in history instead. As a history student at UC Berkeley, I took Brad de Long and Barry Eichengreen’s course in economic history alongside first-year PhD economics students. I did an exam field in economic history.

After my first book, Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Origins of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East (OUP, 2008), I resolved to study the history of arms trading to integrate economic questions into my understanding of imperial state power. While searching for the beginnings of that story, I stumbled on the Farmer-Galton family, owners of the largest gun-making firm in eighteenth-century Britain. They were the forefathers of the eugenicist Francis Galton, whose traits he cherished as the sources of his own, hereditary genius. Curiously, apart from one article in Business History,historians had not shared Francis’s curiosity about his ancestors.

This was especially curious given that the Farmer-Galtons were Quakers and gun-makers. Indeed, the endogamous Quaker marriage networks that produced Francis Galton helped persuade him of the virtue of carefully selected reproduction. Even more curious was the fact that the gun business the family started in 1702 attracted no negative comment within Quaker networks until the 1790s, when, suddenly, it became a scandal.  

I made for the Galton papers in the Birmingham City Archives to make sense of these mysteries, and, to my surprise, discovered a new possible narrative of the industrial revolution. For, in defending his gun-making business to concerned fellow Quakers in 1796, Samuel Galton Junior argued that there was no way to participate in the economy around him in the Midlands without contributing to war. As he saw it, complicity in war was general and inescapable. Galton printed his defense for posterity; even if he was rationalizing, he was in earnest. 

I wondered, what if he was right? What if, in fact, Britain’s continuous wars from 1689 to 1815, which made it the preeminent global imperial power, had some bearing on the fact that the industrial revolution happened there, then? Was this a clue to that old mystery—the origins of global inequality, that hinge moment known as the “great divergence” between East and West? 

So, I wound up writing about the industrial revolution by accident. Samuel Galton Junior may have been a white rabbit; but the stakes of the question made it worth my while to go down the rabbithole and retrain as a historian of the eighteenth century. 

I had never been quite satisfied by the idea that some unique British cultural trait could explain why the industrial revolution happened there; the contextual factors that produced such traits existed across a wider space than Britain. I found more compelling explanations that reckoned with the specificities of the British context: for instance, Maxine Berg’s argument that the industrial revolution was the outcome of a British effort at “import-substitution” to produce imitations of Asian luxury goods. 

But as I explored Galton’s perspective, I became increasingly convinced that explanations of industrial revolution based on commercial demand were insufficient; there were too many government officials involved in knowledge networks, too much overlap between commercial and government demand, and too many instances in which large government contracts triggered innovation in either technology or industrial organization. The state was a consumer, too, and many commercial consumers, like the East India Company, were tied to the state.

The gun industry provided the focus of my assessment of Galton’s view of the world. I examined the records of gun-makers in London and Birmingham, records of the London and Birmingham Quaker communities, government and parliamentary records relating to contracting and the gun trade abroad, East India Company records, and a wide array of sources on gun use in eighteenth-century Britain and in British colonies abroad. 

All this persuaded me that the gun industry’s dramatic transformation in the long eighteenth century—from an annual production capacity of tens of thousands in the 1690s to millions by 1815—was driven by state demand and intervention. Moreover, the gun industry had important ripple effects in allied fields. In short, the guns that enabled the rule of property in Britain, the trade in slaves in West Africa, the rise of the plantation system in North America, and the conquest of North America, South Asia, and the South Pacific alsoenabled industrial revolution in Britain.

As I immersed myself in the literature on the industrial revolution, I found scattered within it evidence that the gun trade was no anomaly, that many trades and sectors benefited from government contracts in the long eighteenth century—including the financial world. The Galtons themselves became bankers in 1804, as their fortune from gun making skyrocketed during the Napoleonic Wars. Their bank later merged with what became Midland Bank, now folded into HSBC. When Galton defended himself as a Quaker gun-maker in 1796, he was painfully aware that his prominent Quaker relations, the Lloyds and the Barclays, owned banks intimately involved with war finance; indeed, the Lloyds had also supplied iron to his gun business. The ties between banks and war-related industry suggest that we may have drawn too fine a line between industrial and “gentlemanly” capitalism. After all, like many metal objects in the period, guns were a currency, too.

Their prominence in the abolition movement made Quakers especially concerned with members’ adherence to Quaker principle in the 1790s. They were not persuaded by Galton Junior’s pragmatic arguments. He was formally disowned—although he continued to attend the worship in Birmingham, and his donations to Quaker charitable causes were accepted. Later Quakers looked more favorably upon his defense, and he was certainly not alone in his own time in perceiving a connection between arms-making and industrialism. Indeed, British officials in India were so alive to such a connection that they actively suppressed Indian arms-making to prevent industrial take-off in the subcontinent. The story of Britain’s industrial revolution was global in its sources and impact; the Galtons showed me the hinge.

We have missed it for as long as we have—despite our awareness that war has stimulated economic growth in other periods—because of the weight of eighteenth-century political economic theory. For, as military contracting drove economic transformation in Britain, political economists like Adam Smith criticized it as corruption, urging clearer distinction between state and economy. Theory displaced reality, and the period’s military history and economic history evolved along parallel lines. The story of military purchasing shows us that these histories were not parallel or even merely intersecting, but deeply entangled. The state’s bulk demand was critical to industry in the long eighteenth century. 

The industrial revolution is an epic topic of British history—one of the reasons for the field’s depth and strength. But the common-sense view of it remains one of heroic entrepreneurship embodied by the likes of Matthew Boulton and James Watt—a view with deep imaginative influence on conversations about what drives innovation today and what role governments should have in economies. Certainly, Boulton and Watt were heroic, but they were also government contractors mixed up with gun-makers. That is the crucial backdrop that Empire of Guns inserts into the story, with the hope of changing our common-sense view of this world-historical event. 

Doing so can help us make better sense of our present discontents. After all, Galton Junior printed his defense for posterity—for us. As Americans struggle to tame the gun industry’s influence on politics and culture, we must do so well aware of the central place of military- (or “defense-”) industries in our economy. By focusing on Galton Junior’s particular villainy, the British Quaker community absolved Friends who profited more elliptically from war. But Galton was right: war was central to the first industrial revolution, and it remains central to our industrial way of life today.

Priya Satia is a Professor of Modern British History at Stanford University.


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Interview with Christopher Bishof

Posted by rdaily under walter d love prize | Tags: Interview | 0 Comments

Christopher Bishof is an Assistant Professor of History  at the University of Richmond. He is the 2017 recipient of the Walter D. Love Prize for his article, “Chinese Labourers, Free Blacks and Social Engineering in the Post-Emancipation British West Indies,” Past & Present 231 (May, 2016): 129-168.

How did you become interested in this topic?

I became interested in this topic while I was reading through Victorian elementary teachers’ accounts of their summer trips to the West Indies as part of the research for my dissertation/first book.  I was surprised to encounter some incredibly enthusiastic accounts of Chinese indentured laborers, which led me to discover that planters, missionaries, and colonial policymakers also wrote about them in similar ways.  These enthusiastic claims about how Chinese indentured laborers would usher in a new era in the West Indies were a mystery that needed to be explained.

What was your most surprising revelation or important conclusion?

I was really surprised to find that planters, colonial policymakers, and missionaries – three groups who almost never agreed – all seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing several thousand Chinese indentured laborers to the West Indies.  I was also surprised to find that their enthusiasm wasn’t really about the work that Chinese laborers would perform or even the competition which they would create in the labor market.  Rather, it was about how Chinese laborers would create a capitalist culture by inspiring free blacks to emulate the supposed Chinese love of earning and spending money, thus pushing free blacks back to waged work on plantations.  At the same time, missionaries and colonial policymakers believed that Chinese laborers would stand up for their legal rights in ways that other indentured laborers – especially Indians – would not.  Missionaries hoped that this would inspire free blacks to stand up for their rights in cases in the face of planters who tried to withhold wages, use violence, or otherwise abuse and exploit them.  Though this would change within a few decades, much of the initial interest in indentured labor after emancipation seems to have been on account of how it would supposedly reshape free black culture. 

Do you have any advice for graduate students and early career professionals as they begin research projects or embark upon the writing process?

Like my other articles and my dissertation/book project, this article developed slowly and with great frustration.  I tested its arguments at several conferences, went back to the archives several times to fill in gaps (as it dawned on me what those gaps were), and revised, revised, and then revised some more before ever submitting it.  Then, after I submitted it and received the reader reports, I had to revise it a further two times.  My advice to graduate students and my fellow early career scholars would be to keep working at it, and not to expect it to be a quick or easy process.  However, having this second line of research (which is quite distinct from my dissertation/first book project) offered a nice change of pace when I got bored or frustrated with my first project. 

What did you find to be the most challenging part of the project?

The most challenging part of this project was mastering a new historiography.  My first book is about the history of elementary teachers in Britain.  It does engage with imperial history, but not too extensively.  Working on this article required immersing myself in both imperial history writ large and specific debates within the history of the West Indies – especially about the “flight from the estates” in the wake of emancipation, the turn to indentured labor, and the nature of political authority.  

Does your project have any particular relevance to the contemporary—political, social, cultural, etc.?

I’d like to think so.  One of the things that this article – and the larger book project – tries to map out is the belief in the power of relatively small interventions to solve major economic, political, social, and ethical problems in a way that benefits everyone.  It’s easy to understand the allure of such interventions, but figuring out why they seemed feasible even to policymakers and social reformers who had a lot of experience requires examining the particular constellation of ideas about the market, the role of the state, and race that existed at this historical moment.  I think we’re living through another moment in which we’re fixating on easy fixes.  The downside, then and now, is that this fixation can make it seem unnecessary, even counterproductive to undertake the long, expensive, and difficult work of addressing underlying structural and cultural problems.  From the NHS to Britain’s relationship to the EU to urban violence to education, I think the obsession with finding an easy fix has drawn attention away from working towards real, sustainable solutions.     

What are you working on next? Will you be pursuing related research questions or turning to something completely different?

This article will serve as the seed for my next book project, Easy Fixes: Race, Capitalism, and Social Engineering Schemes in the British West Indies, 1838-1880.  This new project should keep me busy for quite a while. 


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Constructing a Menu of the British Empire

Posted by rdaily under pedagogy | 0 Comments

Bridget Keown is a PhD candidate at Northeastern University, USA

In the summer of 2016, I taught an undergraduate summer history class on the history of the British Empire.  Summer courses at my institution are concentrated, 8-week semesters that attract students from a large number of personal and academic backgrounds.  As a result the potential for class discussions, personal experiences, and diversity of learning experiences rises exponentially.  This was especially true in this class.  What became apparent to me quickly was that most of my students were entering the class with a very broad idea of empire.  Their comments and questions focused on global economics, on international trade, world wars and treaties.  And while these elements were all important to our study, my goal was to get students to see these broad concepts from the inside out, and to understand the lived experience of empire.  Thus, my challenge was to make empire real by engaging their imaginations, their emotions, and their senses.

I began by emphasizing personal details and sensory descriptions into my lectures, focusing on small details even in discussions of large-scale issues.  Our talks about  trade and immigration included discussions about the taste of spices and coffee, and what the realities of living in crowded, poorly ventilated conditions meant for those trying to survive in poverty.  We talked about structures of power by analyzing familial and community relationships--for example, the way colonial schools and forced inoculations altered the relationship between the native people and the colonial government, as well as between parents and children.  The empathy that these discussions promoted helped students engage with the history they were studying in a personal, emotional, and sensory way.

It was in this context that the idea for a Menu of the British Empire was formed.  At the time I was developing this course, the firestorm of criticism over the “British Colonial Co” restaurant in Brisbane, Australia, was filling my social media pages.  The restaurant, which opened in 2016 and closed in 2017, initially stated on its website that it was “Inspired by the stylish days of the empirical push into the developing cultures of the world, with the promise of adventure and modern refinement in a safari setting.”[1]  Though this wording would later be changed, critics rightly pointed out how such a restaurant went beyond white-washing history to glorifying genocide.  Not long before this, the “Saffron Colonial Restaurant” in Portland, Oregon made headlines for willfully ignoring the dark realities of empire.[2]  But, as I argued to the class, in addition to the extremely dangerous amnesia that such eateries display regarding the violence, cruelty, and exploitative policies of empire, they also show a colossal lack of appreciation for the rich and detailed history that could be found in a study of food of the British Empire.

Students were offered a chance to prove this with “The Food Assignment,” a 2-3 page paper that focused on any one dish or drink that was or is native to a location once part of the British Empire. The assignment was to include:

1)    Name and origin of the dish

2)    How it is prepared, generally (a recipe wasn’t required, but a description of the ingredients used, and how they were assembled was)

3)    Its history in relation to the British Empire

4)    An argument for why it should be included in a historically representative menu of the British Empire.

When these papers were all turned in, I compiled them into a single “menu” that was then handed out to the class for consideration and discussion.

The assignment turned out to be an enormous success, both in terms of student’s engagement and the resultant work they produced--and, surprisingly, there were no overlapping dishes.  Though curry was discussed several times, the historical context provided was unique in each paper, which further emphasized the potential of accessing imperial history through a study of food.  In their papers, students used individual dishes to consider large-scale issues, such as diet, consumption, economics, and structural systems of power; however, they also used these dishes to access lived experiences of empire, considering issues of hunger and taste, as well as how food had the potential to unite communities, or drive them apart.  For example, one student used his paper on Ugali, a Kenyan/East African porridge made of maize, to consider how the British institution of cash-cropping fundamentally changed the diet of the tribespeople in these areas, and how the artificial borders imposed on the land altered inter-tribal relationships.  Another student wrote their paper on how ‘pap’, a  corn-based porridge consumed in South Africa,  exemplified class and racial prejudices in the area: maize that was not used for livestock was sold to Black South Africans, an action that was justified by claiming the grain was a “traditional” food, rather than another example of systemic power imbalances.  Another student wrote about the problematic ways in which the British Empire has been remembered through a consideration of chutney. This paper traced the popularity of chutney in the British Army, specifically, and considered how it returned to the metropole, first as a delicacy before becoming “refined” to a point where it is unrecognizable compared to its origin.  It was this condiment that was claimed by the British as “traditional” chutney, erasing the native history of the food entirely.  One student shared his own experience of the legacy of imperialism through the rice and beans he enjoyed in his hometown in Belize.   From his evocative memories of the dish, he explained that as British economic and commercial influence grew in the area over the course of the 19th century, imported British crops and products, like rice and beans, became staples in the diets around Belize, fostering the development of a unique cultural identity that remains even after the end of empire in the area.

Ultimately, it was truly gratifying to see how excited students were to discuss their menu.  The document served as a marker for their progress over the semester, charting how broad and how deep their understanding of the history of the British Empire had become.  This project allowed them to utilize their knowledge and developing research skills, as well as their imaginations and empathy, to consider the British Empire from multiple perspectives, from the grand scale to the individual, human experiences of hunger and satiation. 

[1] For more information on this incident, see Rebecca Sullivan, “Queensland restaurant British Colonial Co accused of ‘gross racism’”:, Accessed April 15, 2018

[2] For more information, see Mattie John Bamman, “Controversial Colonial-Themed Restaurant Sparks Multiple Protests”:, Accessed April 18, 2018

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Durham Residential Research Library Visiting Fellowship

Posted by StephenJackson | Tags: fellowship, Research | 0 Comments

The new Durham Residential Research Library is delighted to invite applications from researchers for Visiting Fellowships, from one to three months in duration.

The Durham Residential Research Library aims to enable and foster research across the three historic collections of Durham – those held by Durham Cathedral, Ushaw College and Durham University, including Palace Green Library and the Oriental Museum. They include not only libraries, but also archives, collections of visual and material culture, and architectural assets. The purpose of the Visiting Fellowships is to support research into these globally significant collections.

Fellows will be encouraged to work collaboratively with academic subject specialists, librarians, archivists and curators to realise the collections’ research potential, and to develop innovative research agendas. They will also be encouraged to participate in the life of the University, particularly its broad range of seminar series.

In addition to the Residential Research Library Visiting Fellowships, in 2018–19 (and again in 2019–20) a number of Lendrum Priory Library Fellowships will be available specifically to support work on the surviving contents of Durham Cathedral’s medieval priory library. This collection is currently the focus of a large-scale digitisation project, Durham Priory Library Recreated (

Applicants should submit a short CV together with a summary of the project and materials they propose to work on, and the expected publications or other outcomes (maximum two sides of A4). Applications should demonstrate a serious research interest that focuses on primary source material within the collections held at Durham. Applicants who plan to collaborate with Durham academic staff are especially welcome and should mention this in their application.

We aim to be flexible with fellowship dates – applicants should indicate their preferred dates in 2018–19, and their preferred fellowship duration (i.e. one, two or three months). Applications should be submitted by noon on Friday 18 May 2018. We shall aim to notify successful candidates by beginning of June.

Fellows will be granted an honorarium of £1,800 per month towards their transport and subsistence costs. Self-catered ensuite study bedrooms at Ushaw College (3.5 miles from Durham city centre) will be available at a competitive rate. Please note that fellows will be expected to arrange their own travel. Fellowships will generally last for one month but can last up to a maximum of three months. Those applying are advised to consult with the relevant collections staff to ensure that the materials they wish to work with are available at the times of their visit.

Information about the collections can be found here:

Academic enquiries: Dr James Kelly, [email protected]

Please send applications to: [email protected]

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CFP: Western Conference on British Studies

Posted by rdaily under conference | Tags: cfp, deadline, wcbs | 0 Comments

Western Conference on British Studies
Call for Proposals (Deadline Extended)
2018 Annual Meeting
San Antonio, Texas
September 28-29, 2018

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, June 1, 2018. 

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The British Empire in Eight Objects

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This is the second in a series of posts on "Teaching Britain and the World." The NACBS would like to thank Britain and the World for permission to cross-post these blogs. To learn more about the group, see: 

Last semester I taught an upper-level undergraduate course called Britain and Empire, c. 1500-present.  The thematic or narrative arc of the course is the making and breaking of Britain.  Having such a broad chronology is both daunting and liberating – for me and for my students. I recognize that adequately covering the material for such a broad chronology is impossible, but having chosen a coherent theme I felt less pressure to spew information like a firehose and more at liberty to judiciously choose specific examples, readings, and sources that illustrate my larger narrative.  My students were provided assigned readings focusing on topics that I found especially significant or important (primarily identity and nationalism).  Yet, I was acutely aware of how many subjects I was unable to discuss or bring to their attention.  It was therefore imperative to create assignments that enabled students to actively pursue topics of interest to them.

This posed some interesting pedagogical problems.  In my experience, many students struggle when given too much freedom choosing their own research topics.  An open-ended research question petrifies them, and overwhelmed, they have trouble starting a project.  Yet recent studies suggest that students will better engage with a project and retain more information when their curiosity is sufficiently engaged.[1]  So how do we both motivate by engaging curiosity while also providing necessary direction?  This semester I sought to design my course so as to more effectively strike the balance between these objectives.  Moreover, I did so by progressively introducing more freedom with each assignment.

In many respects, I designed a fairly traditional course.  Each student had to write two brief papers (1700 words) responding to questions provided in advance early in the semester.  Although the more intrepid or experienced students were allowed to develop research questions of their own, this was not required.  However, the questions I provided were quite broad, thus providing students the comfort of direction with just enough freedom to pursue topics from a variety of angles as they saw fit.  This is, of course, not a novel idea. 

The final project, on the other hand, was different than anything I’ve ever seen or assigned. Having been inspired by the variety of papers and sources I encountered at the Britain and the World conference in April, 2017, I was determined to create an assignment that would give students a small glimpse of this variety.  Moreover, I wanted to provide them with the freedom to pursue subjects that best represented their interests and encourage them to actively create and communicate a narrative which might be at odds with that which I had been presenting throughout the semester. 

I assigned a final project with three primary goals in mind: spark student interest, generate interesting debate, and introduce students to a broader understanding of primary sources. In order to accomplish this each student had to do four things:

1) Choose a theme (empire, gender, militarism, domesticity, industry, politics, etc.)

2) Develop a narrative

3) Choose 5-8 objects (very loosely defined), one from at least four separate centuries, that illustrate the theme and narrative. 

4) Present to the class a brief (10-15) narrative of British history using their objects as sources. 

I provided students links to numerous museums where they could browse the holdings, and from which they were meant to select their objects (though they could use other museum holdings if they let me know in advance).  I also provided them with some background readings on material culture. 

The variety of themes and sources students selected was encouraging.  These included “textiles and empire”, “medicine and progress”, “power”, “food and empire”, and “fashion and gender”.  Objects ranged from the obvious (spinning jenny) to the more obscure (ostrich feather hats and a pulse clock). 

I envisioned this to be an engaging and fun summative assignment that would motivate student learning, and overall I think this assignment worked.  Students enjoyed working on the project and, partly because it was a presentation, felt less pressure in the final weeks of the semester

than they might have felt with a more traditional term paper.  I hoped that the benefits of the assignment would be both individual and corporate.  As each student presented they would reinforce the chronology of the period for themselves and for their peers even if their emphasis on events and ideas differed.  Moreover, I was hoping they would bring to light some themes that I had not sufficiently addressed such as gender and domesticity.  The presentation of different objects by different students provided a stimulating way of introducing the whole class to a variety of themes, sources, objects, and topics they would not have encountered otherwise. Finally, I hoped the presentations would provoke some interesting discussion about how we as historians construct narratives and assign meaning to objects.

While the assignment worked in some respects, there were some notable weaknesses. First, while certain objects piqued the interest of the class and prompted some good questions, I’m not sure students were equipped to confidently critique competing narratives and I need to do more in the future to prepare them for such a task – although I’m not sure how. Second, some of the presentations relied on very obvious objects, and I need to find a way to force students to think more creatively while continuing to allow a sufficient measure of freedom. 

I plan to assign the project again because the successes far outweighed the weaknesses.  But before I do, I need to rethink how best to modify it in order to make it more successful and this, dear readers, is where you come in.  What would make this assignment more effective?  What readings, objects, or examples might I provided to better help students succeed?  If you have suggestions, please send them to me via email at [email protected] or on twitter @dparrish.

David Parrish

Assistant Professor of Humanities

College of the Ozarks

[1] See especially Sarah Rose Cavanagh, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion, (2016)



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NACBS Call for Part-Time Executive Director

Posted by rdaily under executive director | Tags: NACBS | 0 Comments

The North American Conference on British Studies invites proposals for a part-time Executive Director. NACBS is particularly interested in supporting a position that can be housed at (and employed through) a candidate’s home institution, to help give NACBS more of an institutional home.

Compensation: Equivalent of up to $20,000, inclusive.

Qualifications: Ph.D required, preferably tenured faculty member or equivalent job status, NACBS member, desirable to have experience running conferences, experience with budgets, experience in NACBS.

Term: Three years, renewable. A performance review will be conducted at the end of the first year and then biannually by a committee comprised of the President, Past President, and an elected member of Council.

Process: Please send application letter, CV, and institutional endorsement to Elizabeth Prevost, Executive Secretary, [email protected].  A committee made up of elected and appointed representatives will evaluate proposals and make a recommendation to the NACBS Executive Committee and Council. We encourage informal expressions of interest in advance of proposals and are happy to work with candidates in thinking through possible models of compensation. Review of proposals will begin on July 1, 2018, and continue until the position is filled; appointment may begin as early as Sept. 1, 2018.

The North American Conference on British Studies is a scholarly society dedicated to all aspects of the study of British civilization. The NACBS sponsors a scholarly journal, the Journal of British Studies, online publications, an annual conference, as well as several academic prizes, graduate fellowships, and undergraduate essay contests. While the largest single group of its members teach British history in colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, the NACBS has significant representation among specialists in literature, art history, politics, law, sociology, and economics. Its membership also includes many teachers at universities in countries outside North America, secondary school teachers, and independent scholars. NACBS does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, veteran status, religion, disability, creed, or any other protected class.


Duties include:

NACBS annual meeting:

  • Help local arrangements committee select hotel
  • Review hotel contract for budget, room numbers, etc.
  • Liaise with hotel and local arrangements and program committee to set up rooms, receptions, dinners, computer facilities.
  • Liaise with hosting Regional.
  • Keep track of finances
  • Liaise with CUP about registration and membership
  • Liaise with Program Chair and CUP to administer submission process
  • Email members to remind them to register, hotel etc.
  • Track down presenters who have not registered.
  • Troubleshoot during conference.
  • Settle accounts after conference with Treasurer.

Executive committee and Council support:

    • Work with Executive Secretary to keep track of calendar of tasks and remind officers to do them.
    • Distribute or post all relevant documents.
    • Keep lists of officers and prize committees


  • Work with treasurer and finance committee to review and execute programming initiatives.
  • Inform treasurer of checks that need to be issued.
  • Apply for Stern Grant.

Website and social media:

  • Maintain private website with documents for NACBS and private discussion forums.
  • Work with webmaster to maintain website, share announcements, and issue advocacy statements.
  • Maintain archives.


  • Work with Media Director on blogs and newsletters.
  • Produce and send out newsletter to members every month or quarterly.
  • Maintain membership lists with CUP
  • Communicate with former members


  • Publicize conference
  • Recruit new membership
  • Publicize NACBS members as experts on British studies for the press

Liaise with other associations:

  • Attend ALCS annual Conference of Executive Officers and Annual Meeting, and maintain communication with CEO listserv
  • Organize AHA reception
  • Help secretaries administer other affiliate business


Governance role: Non-voting, ex-officio seats on the Executive Committee and the Council.


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My NACBS: David Clemis

Posted by StephenJackson under my NACBS | Tags: David Clemis, early modern, spotlight | 0 Comments


This is the second post in our new series designed to introduce and connect NACBS members. Taking our lead from the American Historical Association’s member spotlight posts, we hope to deepen our sense of community through short posts that delve into who we are and what we value. For more information on this new series, contact Blog editor Stephen Jackson at [email protected].

Name and title: David Clemis, Associate Professor of History, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

What are your fields of interest?

British intellectual and cultural history, 1600-1800. More particularly, the history of understandings of moral agency, cognition and identity in “the British enlightenment.” My current work is on the social and cultural history of alcohol use in England, 1600-1830.

What are you currently working on?

I am writing an article on “Galenic medicine” and conceptions of intoxication and addiction in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  This work fits into a larger study of legal and medical understandings of intoxication and addiction in early modern Britain.

Do you have a favorite archive, digital or physical? What about it draws you in? 

Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online are indispensable.  Given that where I live, I can manage only a few weeks per year in relevant physical archives.  Although the Rare Books Room of the present British Library is serviceable and pleasant, one longs for the very different atmospheres of the old round Smirke and north library reading rooms.

What is the most fascinating text, artifact or object you’ve encountered in your work?

I have recently been fascinated by Humphrey Brooke’s Ugieine or a Conservatory of Health (London, 1650). I am intrigued by the striking parallels between Brooke’s conception of the causes and nature of chronic drinking and very recent researchers’ notions of addiction, not as a disease, but rather as more of a matter of habit. Despite the obvious differences in this seventeenth-century “Galenic” physician’s views and modern neuro-scientific models, it is interesting how they both thread together the physiological effects of alcohol, the social context of its consumption, and a degree of moral agency on the part of the chronic drinker. 

What attracted you to this work? Why British Studies?

When I was undergraduate and master’s student there was much excited talk of “postmodernism.” I was rather interested in finding out what “the modern” was and where it had come from before it vanished. That led me to studies of the period 1450 to 1800. Of course, Britain and its history figured conspicuously in most accounts of the development of modernity. Further, as graduate student at the University of Toronto, I found the most interesting and challenging historians generally happened to study Britain: J. M. Beattie; Michael Finlayson; and Trevor Lloyd.

Who most influenced your academic work?

As an undergraduate studying philosophy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Norman Brown and Carlos Prado kindled the conceptual, analytic, and epistemological character of my academic interests. While at Queen’s, the philosopher Michael Tanner, a visiting professor from Cambridge, inspired my passion for the historical study of culture. Those teachers at Queen’s lit a passion for intellectual life that thwarted my family’s intention that I should practice law.  John Beattie at the University of Toronto was an excellent teacher of social history methods, a great model of scholarly rigor and integrity, as well as an indispensable supporter of my career, however, bogged-down it has occasionally been. As a co-supervisor of my doctoral thesis and the indomitable, ebullient leader of the IHR’s “Long Eighteenth-Century Seminar,” Penelope Corfield has been wonderful inspiration for both my teaching and research. 

Less personal but important early influences on the kind of history I try to practice have been the work of E.P. Thompson, Natalie Zemon Davis, Keith Thomas, and Roy Porter. The endeavor to understand values, attitudes, and beliefs within their social contexts is a matter of great interest to me. More recently, in the field of drug and alcohol history, the work of Phil Withington, Mark Hailwood, and James Nicholls has also shaped the direction of my research interests.

Have your academic interests transformed over time?

As a graduate student, I was privileged to have John Beattie and Peter King as supervisors. Under their influence I was much engaged by the social history that developed in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the study of crime and local authority in the eighteenth century. Over time, however, my deep-seated interests in cultural history and the history of ideas have become more pronounced in my teaching and research activity. In 2001, I left England for a job in Western Canada, which meant I was able to spend only a few weeks a year in local archives, the British Library, and the National Archives. Digital versions of printed sources necessarily became by the greatest objects of my study. This has reinforced the intellectual and cultural historical turn in my work. 

Does your project have any particular relevance to the contemporary—political, social, cultural, etc.? 

Addiction is, of course, a matter of much public concern, particularly since the emergence of the opioid crisis in recent years. One hopes that historical studies of the changing conception of chronic drinking and compulsive behavior might enrich contemporary, much vexed, debates over the nature of addiction. More broadly, I hope that this kind of study of historical medical and legal texts, and the understandings they convey of human behavior, moral agency, and personal identity, will constitute some kind of contribution to wider debates within the humanities.

Do you have a favorite text to teach?

Voltaire’s Candide, which I teach in an Enlightenment survey course, is always a lot of fun for students and it nicely engages a variety of course themes. That experience tempts me to try to teach Tristram Shandy as a cultural history text in an eighteenth-century Britain course, but that seems too big a challenge and is best left to colleagues in the English Department.  The Old Bailey Online - The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 is a fabulous resource to use with students because it affords explorations of so many interesting themes. 

When you’re not working, what do you like to do?

Worry about how much work I need to get done?? But, I also enjoy cycling and travel. I love reading and seeing Shakespeare performed.


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NACBS Pre-Dissertation and Dissertation Fellowship Prizes

Posted by rdaily under prizes | Tags: dissertation, pre-dissertation | 0 Comments

The deadline for both fellowships is April 1st.


For more information on the NACBS Pre-Dissertation fellowship click here.

For more information on the NACBS Dissertation Fellowship click here.

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