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The Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies invites paper and panel proposals for its 44th Annual Meeting, to be held at the Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria, British Columbia, 3-5 March 2017

The PCCBS invites papers representing all fields of British Studies -- broadly defined to include those who study the United Kingdom, its component parts and nationalities, as well as Britain's imperial cultures.  We welcome proposals from scholars and doctoral candidates in a wide range of disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, including History, Literature, Political Science, Philosophy, Religion, Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, Theater Studies, and Art History. 

Proposals for individual papers, partial panels, or complete panels are all welcome, although complete panel proposals are preferred. We encourage the submission of proposals dealing with interdisciplinary topics, as well as panels on new pedagogies and technologies associated with British Studies. This particular year, we also welcome potential contributions to a proposed roundtable discussion of the Brexit vote that was held on 23 June 2016. 

The deadline for submission of proposals is DECEMBER 1st, 2016.  Proposals should include a 200-word abstract for each paper plus a one-page c.v. for each participant.  Those submitting full or partial panel proposals should include a brief description of the panel plus a 1-page c.v. for the panel chair as well as for its commentator.  Please place the panel proposal, its constituent paper proposals, and all vitae in a single file, making certain that your contact information, especially e-mail addresses, are correct and current.  Proposals should be submitted via e-mail attachment by December 10th, 2016, to: [email protected]   

*Graduate students who have papers accepted by the program committee will be eligible to request reimbursement for some travel expenses from the Stern Trust when registering for the conference.


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Call for New Editor for JBS

Posted by rdaily | Tags: editor, journal, journal of british studies | 0 Comments

The North American Conferences on British Studies is soliciting proposals for a new editor(s) for the Journal of British Studies. The position would begin summer 2017 for a five-year term. The Journal of British Studies is the premier journal in its field in North America; published four times a year by Cambridge University Press, it typically publishes seven articles per issue. While primarily based in history, we would like to broaden out our remit to include articles (and members of editorial boards) from other disciplines such as literature, historical geography, history of science, and so on. We define British studies broadly to encompass not only England, but also Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; we are interested in transatlantic, transnational and postcolonial approaches, and the British Empire and Commonwealth. The membership of the NACBS is drawn from the United States and Canada as well as a variety of other countries. Proposals should reflect a recognition of this national and geographical diversity.

Proposals for a new editorial team should include the following elements:

1-A vision for the future of the Journal of British Studies (2 pages)

2-Names of the editors (one or two editors) plus a short description of editorial experience and scholarly profile; and cvs of the editors.

3-Proposed Associate Editors or Editorial Board. Editors may choose several experts in a variety of fields who would work closely with the editor(s) to review articles before sending to readers, to suggest readers, and to consult more generally on the journal. Potential editors should have the consent of these scholars for this proposal.

4-Proposed Advisory Board. This would be a larger group reflecting diverse interests in British studies who would occasionally offer advice and serve as readers. Potential editors do not need to get permission for these names to go ahead for the purposes of the proposal.

5-Letter from Dean or Department chair as to support offered by your institution, such as course releases. (Cambridge University Press provides money for editorial assistance).

Completed applications should be sent to Anna Clark at [email protected] by December 15th, 2016. 

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Clothing, as Emma Tarlo insists, matters.[1] How we dress, what we have been permitted as dress, for whom we dress have all been hugely important political as well as social and economic questions, as sumptuary laws demonstrate. But if clothing is important historically then so, too, I want to suggest is its absence. Lack of clothing has many meanings and is often freighted with significance.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, unclothedness has special significance rooted in the concept of original sin. In other religions, too, revealing the naked body is highly charged, suggesting the ways in which sexuality and religion bump up against one another across cultures. It is perhaps also why nakedness has often been deployed as resistance. In seventeenth-century England, Ranter and Quaker sects protested their marginalization through nudity -- which they argued was a state of grace. In the early twentieth century, Canadian Doukhobors (an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church, about 7500 of whom migrated to Canada en masse in 1899) paraded nude on a number of occasions protesting what they saw as discrimination by the government.[2]  There are many more such examples across the world and in the British Empire specifically, suggesting that revealing the naked body has long been a powerful gesture.

Yet what exactly is a naked body?  Is it naked only when particular areas or organs are visible?  Is it naked if adorned with body markings such as piercings or tattoos?  Does ornamentation, whether of the neck, the penis, or the hair, mitigate nakedness?  The determination of nakedness is a slippery and contingent business, different (and contested) at particular moments and places. Read modern legal briefs about the regulation of strip clubs and the point becomes obvious. With nipple pasties firmly glued on, the dancers are mostly legal; absent these accessories they are naked. If a detail as minimal as this can pay the salaries of lawyers and tie up busy court time, it seems reasonable to insist on the political and economic as well as cultural importance of nakedness.

In the wake of Kenneth Clark’s massively influential 1956 book The Nude: A Study In Ideal Form, nudity and nakedness have frequently been distinguished. Nudity, as Clark articulated an already-understood convention, was acceptable because it eschewed sensuality and celebrated the pure beauty of the human form. Think breast-feeding Virgin Mary canvases and sculptures. Nakedness, by contrast, was the expression either of loss or absence (the unhinged King Lear railing at his fate) or of corrupt sexuality. Art schools had to exercise care in the use of life models for fear of crossing the line from beauty to wantonness. One way they did so, flawlessly captured in Pat Barker’s 2007 novel Life Class, was by forbidding women students in live modelling classes. The issue was the subject of a parliamentary debate in 1860 when a motion to withdraw monies from state-funded schools of art employing female models was squarely defeated in the House of Commons.

Clark’s distinction has resonances, too, when we consider the naked colonial body. The trope of colonial nakedness is a remarkably tenacious cliché, still used to advertise exotic holiday locations, or to indicate a state of savagery or primitiveness. Until very recently school textbooks, missionary newsletters, and even scientific texts in Britain, and indeed in the former Dominions, routinely depicted ‘the native’ as definitively naked, lacking (and thus naked not nude) manners, morals, and money.  Thus when Thomas Huxley requested the Colonial Secretary to have colonial governors furnish him with photographs of ‘Races of men’ living in the British Empire in a ‘condition of absolute nudity’ for ethnological study, their ‘natural’ state of unclothedness mean that his request could cause no offence.[3] In an era of high colonialism the difference between nudity and nakedness thus had distinct racial as well as sexual resonances, dividing the civilized from the savage, and reminding us that the category of race was ever crucial in British history. Considering nakedness as a historical construct seems to me a great way to do that.


Philippa Levine is the Mary Helen Thompson Centennial Professor in the Humanities and co-director of the Program in British Studies at UT Austin.  She is the author of many articles and several books, including Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (2003) and The British Empire, Sunrise to Sunset (2007, 2nd Revised Edition 2013).

[1] Emma Tarlo, Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996)

[2] John McLaren, 'The Despicable Crime of Nudity,' Journal of the West 38, no. 3 (1999): 27-33.

[3] Thomas Huxley to Lord Granville, 12 August 1869, TNA CO854/10/5.

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The Western Conference on British Studies announces the forty-third annual conference that will convene in Tempe, Arizona on 6-8 October 2016 at The Tempe Mission Palms hotel. Concurrent sessions will be held on Friday, Oct. 7 and Saturday, Oct. 8.

As always, we invite panels of 3-4 presenters with chair and commentator or individual papers on any aspect of British Studies. Advanced graduate students and early career scholars are particularly encouraged to propose papers or panels. For the 2016 meeting we would especially like to invite any papers that focus on or situate research within the theme "Citizens and Subjects" broadly conceived (citizenship, contested identities, race and citizenship, royal subjects, barriers to citizenship, gendered citizens, revoked citizenship, immigration or emigration, civil defence, civic duty, Imperial subjects, the politics of identity, etc.)

The conference will feature a plenary address by Dr. Susan R. Grayzel (Professor of History and Director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, University of Mississippi), author of numerous works, including At Home and Under Fire: Air Raids and Culture in Britain from the Great War to the Blitz (Cambridge University Press, 2012), The First World War: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford St. Martins, 2012) for the Bedford Series in History and Culture, and Women and the First World War (Longman, 2002). She is also the co-editor with Philippa Levine of Gender, Labour, War and Empire: Essays on Modern Britain (Palgrave, 2009).

We will also hear the outgoing presidential address by Dr. Chris Frank (Associate Professor of History, University of Manitoba), author of Master and Servant Law: Chartists, Trade Unions, Radical Lawyers and the Magistracy in England, 1840-1865 (Ashgate, 2010) and a forthcoming book on working class wage regulation by way of 'truck'.

Please submit proposals, including 250 word abstracts for each paper and a 1-2 page C.V. for each presenter, chair and commentator by 30 June 2016 to the conference program chair, Dr. Lynn MacKay at: [email protected]

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The Northeast Conference on British Studies (NECBS) will hold its annual meeting in 2016 at Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, VT on Friday and Saturday, October 14 and 15. The 2016 conference will be hosted by Saint Michael’s College, with Jennifer Purcell acting as local arrangements coordinator.

We solicit the participation of scholars in all areas of British Studies, broadly defined. In particular, we welcome proposals for interdisciplinary panels that draw on the work of historians, literary critics, and scholars in other disciplines whose focus is on Britain and its empire, from the Middle Ages to the present. Proposals for entire panels on a common theme will be given priority, although individual paper proposals will also be considered if several of them can be assembled to create a viable panel. Proposals for roundtable discussions of a topical work, on current issues in the field, or pedagogical practices with respect to the teaching of particular aspects of British Studies are also encouraged. The typical ninety-minute panel will include three papers (each lasting for fifteen to twenty minutes), a chair, and a commentator. Roundtables may have a looser format.

Proposals should include a general description of the panel or roundtable (including an overall title), a 200-300 word abstract for each paper to be read and a one-page curriculum vitae for each participant. Please include the address, phone number, and e-mail address of all participants (including the chair and commentator) in the proposal. For panel or roundtable proposals, please note the name of the main contact person. Electronic submissions (as e-mail attachments in Word) are preferred, with all the various materials presented in a single document.
All submissions must be received by April 1, 2016 (final decisions will be announced in mid-late June 2016).
Please send your proposals to:

Brendan Kane, NECBS Program Chair
[email protected]

NECBS 2016 Annual Conference CFP

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CFP: NECBS Annual Meeting, Burlington, VT (14-15 October 2016)

Posted by jaskelly under Conferences, Regionals | Tags: cfp | 0 Comments

The Northeast Conference on British Studies (NECBS) will hold its annual meeting in 2016 at Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, VT on Friday and Saturday, October 14 and 15. The 2016 conference will be hosted by Saint Michael’s College, with Jennifer Purcell acting as local arrangements coordinator.

We solicit the participation of scholars in all areas of British Studies, broadly defined. In particular, we welcome proposals for interdisciplinary panels that draw on the work of historians, literary critics, and scholars in other disciplines whose focus is on Britain and its empire, from the Middle Ages to the present. Proposals for entire panels on a common theme will be given priority, although individual paper proposals will also be considered if several of them can be assembled to create a viable panel. Proposals for roundtable discussions of a topical work, on current issues in the field, or pedagogical practices with respect to the teaching of particular aspects of British Studies are also encouraged. The typical ninety-minute panel will include three papers (each lasting for fifteen to twenty minutes), a chair, and a commentator. Roundtables may have a looser format.

Proposals should include a general description of the panel or roundtable (including an overall title), a 200-300 word abstract for each paper to be read and a one-page curriculum vitae for each participant. Please include the address, phone number, and e-mail address of all participants (including the chair and commentator) in the proposal. For panel or roundtable proposals, please note the name of the main contact person. Electronic submissions (as e-mail attachments in Word) are preferred, with all the various materials presented in a single document.

All submissions must be received by April 1, 2016 (final decisions will be announced in mid-late June 2016). Please send your proposals to: Brendan Kane, NECBS Program Chair [email protected]

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Celebrating Albion

Posted by jaskelly under conference | Tags: Albion, journal | 0 Comments

Saturday, September 26, 2015, at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.

A one-day conference for historians of Britain and Ireland, marking 10 years since the final issue of ALBION, the prestigious and influential journal of British Studies that was based in the History Department at Appalachian State University from 1973 to 2005.

The event will include an address by the former editor of the journal, Dr. Michael Moore, and an exhibition of ALBION archives in the Rhinehart Room, Special Collections, Belk Library.

For further details please email [email protected] (or call 828 262 8102, or write to Dr. Michael Turner, History Department, Anne Belk Hall, Appalachian State University, ASU Box 32072, Boone, NC 28608).

Conference fee $30.00 (checks made out to ASU please—send to Dr. Turner).

Refreshment breaks, lunch, and dinner to be provided courtesy of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of History, and Belk Library, Appalachian State University; and Mr. Bill Rhinehart.

[Dinner places are limited so please confirm attendance as soon as possible.]

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Dane_Kennedy.jpgAn interview with Dane Kennedy by Stephen Jackson [1]  

Dane Kennedy is Elmer Louis Keyser Professor of History at The George Washington University. He has published extensively on the history and historiography of the British Empire, and recently served as President of the NACBS. He agreed to an interview with the British and Irish Studies Intelligencer to discuss recent trends in the field of British Imperial History. 


1) You recently suggested that contemporary events have dramatically shaped both scholarly and public conversations on the history of the British Empire.[2] What responsibility do professional historians have to utilize our specialized forms of knowledge to inform the public understanding of empire?

The questions we ask about the past invariably echo our current concerns.  In this respect professional historians are engaged for better or for worse in public conversations that involve moral and political issues.  For worse if that engagement leads to categorical pronouncements about the ‘lessons of history’.  But for better when we challenge unexamined assumptions about the past’s relationship to the present and provide a deeper, richer understanding of that relationship.  What I tried to suggest in my JBS essay is (1) that the renewed interest in British imperial history since the 1980s has been spurred by contemporaneous forces and events that have preoccupied the public at large; (2) that these preoccupations have both been informed by Britain’s imperial past and have themselves informed how that past is viewed and its meaning interpreted; and (3) that those of us who are professional historians of the British empire need to be sensitive to this dialogue between the past and the present, contribute to it responsibly, and challenge deceptive claims about the past.  How do we do this?  By doing what historians do best: analyze evidence, contextualize it, expose its complexities and nuances, and, at the same time, seek out the distinguishing patterns and processes that help to explain change over time.  Let me stress that I’m not suggesting we can provide objective ‘truth’ about the past.  But we do possess a shared set of disciplinary tools and critical skills that allow us to distinguish legitimate claims about the past from those that are deliberately distorted to advance current agendas.


2) Elsewhere in the article, you called on professional historians to be more aware of how their own subjectivities shape their work.  In what ways has this awareness affected your own understanding of the British Empire? How would the field look differently if historians approached their research in this way?

It so happens these are questions that Antoinette Burton and I have asked ourselves, along with fifteen other historians who work on various aspects of British imperial history, for a forthcoming volume we’ve co-edited, How Empire Shaped Us (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2016).  We invited the contributors to reflect on the ways their personal, professional, and public lives intersected with and were informed by empire — and, in turn, the ways their experiences shaped their historical preoccupations.  I’ve found it fascinating to learn how historians whose work I admire were drawn to their subjects and what made those subjects meaningful to them.

As for myself, I came of age during the Vietnam War, and I realize in retrospect that I turned to British imperial history at least in part to make sense of that war, to frame and clarify my moral and political objections to it.  The time I spent conducting research in Rhodesia, which was then in its death throes as a colonial society, also had an important impact on my development as a historian.  The British imperial past has continued to intrude on the world I inhabit in various ways, most recently and urgently when the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

Will greater awareness by historians of their own subjectivity make any difference in how they write history?  Honestly, I don’t know, but it sure can’t hurt. 


3) Over the past two decades you have written extensively on the inclusion of new historical perspectives that challenged more traditional understandings of imperial history.[3] Do you believe that imperial historians have effectively incorporated these new perspectives into a more holistic understanding of the British Empire, or do we now simply have even more contending understandings of the meaning, substance, importance, and perhaps even the definition of imperialism?

I don’t think it’s possible to achieve a ‘holist’ understanding of the British empire—or any other historical subject, for that matter.  I do think our understanding of the empire has been immensely enriched by the new approaches that have been introduced over the past few decades under the banners of postcolonial studies, the new imperial history, Subaltern Studies, the ‘British World’ project, settler colonial studies, and more.  But each of these approaches has its own agenda, and I don’t see much chance of pulling them together into a grand meta-narrative.  Just read the essays by John MacKenzie and Bill Schwarz in the latest issue of The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History and you’ll see that the relationship between different schools of imperial historians remains as testy and polarized as ever.  These debates are signs of the continued vitality of the field, so I’d hate to see some bland consensus take their place.  What’s changed, however, is that the new approaches to imperial history have become far more pervasive and institutionally entrenched than they were, say, a decade ago, and their influence is felt even among historians who work on ostensibly ‘traditional’ subjects.

4) What new directions do you see emerging in the historiography of the British Empire? What are the major topics or research questions that you think will drive the scholarly conversation over the next decade? 

The nice thing about being a historian is that you get to interpret the past rather than predict the future.  At this point in my career I’m probably the last person to recognize the next big thing in British imperial historiography.  I will simply say that we’ve begun to see some innovative work in those aspects of imperial history that got left behind by the cultural turn, such as economic, political, legal/constitutional, and military history.  There’s also some great history being written about other empires, as evidenced by Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper’s brilliant synthesis.  The most exciting book I’ve read recently happens to be about the Russian empire — --Willard Sunderland’s The Baron’s Cloak: A History of the Russian Empire in War and Revolution (Cornell UP, 2014).  Finally, we should acknowledge the growing influence of transnational and global histories.  They raise the possibility that British imperial history will lose its identity as a distinct field and become submerged in these larger projects.

5) Would you reflect on your time as President of the NACBS, and how it has influenced your understanding of the wider field of British Studies?

What I learned from being president of the NACBS is how much the organization depends on the generosity of its members, who devote a great deal of time and effort to its operations.  It’s pretty remarkable that a scholarly society as large and active as the NACBS relies entirely on volunteers.  This includes its administrative officers, its governing council, its various prize and fellowship committees, its program committee, its webmaster, the local arrangements team that organizes the annual conference, and many others.  This speaks, I think, to the intellectual and professional value these volunteers attach to the NACBS.

We can be proud of what the NACBS manages to do with our limited resources. We host an annual conference that has a well-deserved reputation for its quality, congeniality, and reach, attracting large numbers of British and other overseas participants.  We also have remarkably vibrant regional organizations, each with its own annual conference.  Our JBS is quite simply the best journal in the field, its reputation the result of the hard work done by a long line of superb editors — again, each of them volunteers.  We have taken care to honor British studies scholarship with our book and article prizes.  And we work to nurture the next generation of scholars with graduate fellowships and other forms of financial aid, including stipends to attend our conference, as well as the essay prizes we give to undergraduates.  We have an increasingly active web presence, as this Intelligencer blog demonstrates.

The challenges we face come from the broader forces at work in higher education.  The corporatization of colleges and universities is causing the erosion of history and other humanities disciplines.  Fewer students, fewer faculty, and fewer financial resources for those faculty who remain, especially those who struggle as adjuncts, don’t bode well for the NACBS.  Our membership is shrinking, and it’s hard to see this trend reversing so long as the marginalization of the humanities within higher education continues.  At least in the near term, however, the NACBS has the financial resources and the allegiance of members to weather the storm.     



[1] In the interests of acknowledging my own subjectivity, I was a graduate student of Dane’s at The George Washington University from 2007-2013.

[2] Dane Kennedy, “The Imperial History Wars,” Journal of British Studies Vol. 54, Issue 1, Jan. 2015, 5-22.

[3] Dane Kennedy, “Imperial History and Post-Colonial Theory,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 24, No. 3 (1996): 345-63; Dane Kennedy, “Postcolonialism and History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies, ed. Graham Huggins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 467-88.  

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In his 1690 treatise, A Letter Concerning Toleration, John Locke wrote, “The business of true religion is quite another thing. It is instituted in order to the erecting of an external pomp, nor to the obtaining of ecclesiastical dominion, nor the exercising of compulsive force, but to the regulating of men’s lives, according to the rules of virtue and piety.”[1]  Locke, who was an ardent supporter of toleration, was attempting to elucidate the differences in what he saw as the role of government versus the role of the church in the life of Britons.  “Everyone is orthodox to himself,” he proclaimed.[2

In many ways, revivalism fostered this notion of individual orthodoxy, while also testing the boundaries of British toleration. The religious toleration with which Whitefield was concerned stemmed from seventeenth-century English notions that individuals ought to be able to choose their own church and religious practice without interference by the government.[3]

Like others associated with the early Methodist movement, Whitefield saw schism with the Anglican Church as undesirable, seeing themselves as reformers. In 1733, an article appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine in London, as part of a regular series titled “Civil Power in Matters of Religion.”[4]  The author insisted that individuals should be permitted to embrace doctrinal differences from the Church of England.  The writer was primarily concerned with legislative efforts that were favorable to the Church of England, but Whitefieldian revivalism took that point a step further.

When English missionary George Whitefield’s career began in the late 1730s, he advocated regeneration, itinerancy, and other doctrinal and worship practices that were inconsistent with those of the Church of England into which he was ordained.  Relatively early in his career, Whitefield also advocated arguments made by Pennsylvania New Light Presbyterian Gilbert Tennent that the conversion experience mattered more for the dissemination of religious truth than a minister’s credentials.[5] He interpreted toleration to mean more than just the ability to choose one’s own church and minister, but also to accommodate the doctrinal differences of revivalism while maintaining respectability within the Church of England.  Given revivalism’s emphasis on the conversion experience, it also implied that individuals could function as their own orthodoxies.

Unsurprisingly, Whitefield’s preaching was not well received by the hierarchy of the Church of England.  Even New England Congregationalists like Charles Chauncey challenged Whitefield to explain how he could reconcile views and practices that were inconsistent with the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, particularly the 26th article, which required clergy to be properly educated and sanctioned by the Church.[6]

By the time Whitefield died in September 1770, few of his contemporaries associated him with the Church of England.  He had largely ignored denominationalism in his preaching.  His career had angered influential Anglicans like South Carolina Commissary Alexander Garden, who devoted 10 years to a letter writing campaign to discredit Whitefield, including pleading with the Bishop of London to try Whitefield in ecclesiastical court.[7] British toleration did not come to recognize everyone as his own orthodoxy, but Whitefield’s career and the evangelicalism he helped to popularize tested its limits.


About the Author

Jessica M. Parr is a historian who specializes in race and religion in the Early Modern British Atlantic.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire at Durham in 2012 and currently teaches at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester and Emmanuel College (Boston).  Her first book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon was published in March 2015 by the University Press of Mississippi.



[1] John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (1690).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jessica M. Parr, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon (Mississippi, 2015): 18.

[4] “Civil Power in Matters of Religion,” Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 6 (January, 1733): 14.

[5] Gilbert Tennent, On the Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry (1739); Parr: 157.

[6] Parr: 98.

[7] Ibid: 55-56.

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Finding Margaret Morice

Posted by jaskelly under BISI, Blog | Tags: early modern, eighteenth century, Gender, Scotland, women | 0 Comments

By Dr Deborah Simonton, University of Southern Denmark

I ‘met’ Margaret Morice in 1998. I had just finished writing A History of European Women’s Work.[1] Needing to get into some real primary research and since I was working at Aberdeen University, I asked myself the fairly simple question, ‘What kind of work were women doing in eighteenth-century Aberdeen?’ It was provoked by a number of factors, curiosity not being the least of them.

One of the first steps was a visit to Aberdeen City Archives, one of the best in Scotland. The initial visit was a bit demoralising, because the staff could only suggest the usual finding aids. Undeterred, I trundled through these and found the Register of Apprentices. This produced the first surprise, and was where I first found Margaret. With the exception of one entry for another female baker, she was the only one on record — but in regular entries, between 1776 and 1797, she traded as ‘Margaret Morice and Co., baker in Aberdeen’.[2] This is notable on a number of levels. The bakers, along with the weavers, were seen as the most prestigious of the seven Incorporated Trades in Aberdeen. As their historian insisted:

Notably in Aberdeen, the baking of loaf and biscuit bread has been preserved as a strict monopoly for the men bakers. According to the acts and ordinances of the Baker craft in Aberdeen, women were not allowed to bake any bread, pastry, or pies to be sold in the streets or chops, a restriction that was maintained until the abolition of trading privileges in 1846.[3]

Margaret also traded using her married name, when most Scots women kept their family name. She did so, I believe, because it furthered her commercial position as a widow.

Her husband had not been recorded in the Aberdeen Register of Apprentices, which misled me until I discovered that his apprentices were recorded in the Inland Revenue Apprenticeship Registers. Margaret’s, in contrast, appeared only once at Inland Revenue; all of her apprentices followed his death.[4] As a relatively prominent member of the Incorporated Trades, and their Council representative from time to time, her husband would have paid the stamp duty and ensured that his apprentices were properly recorded. On the one occasion when she did, she had just ended a partnership with a previous apprentice. (She twice entered into such a partnership.) Thus a ‘properly’ registered apprentice may have been essential to retaining the prestige of the business. Over the 30 years that she ran the business herself, Margaret Morice apprenticed 16 boys from the tradesman classes (compared with John’s 12 over 25 years). The apprentice fee paid and the boys’ terms of service compared well with those for male bakers, including John’s, in Aberdeen, Essex, Birmingham and Staffordshire.[5]

The discovery of Margaret Morice sent me on a trail, which I followed alongside other research on Gender in European Towns.[6] In fact, I became addicted to finding Margaret Morice. Since there was little business information available in the archives, I turned to the parish records of births, deaths and marriages, available on microfilm in the Local Studies section of the Public Library. Here I found her birth on 25 August 1718 and the birth of her seven children, including twins, beginning in 1739 and ending in 1750. Through serendipity, tucked in the back of the Council records, I found a notice of John’s burial in January of 1770, when she was 52. These also noted the death of a ‘child of John Morice’ on a couple of occasions. Thinking laterally, I tried, and found the death of four of the children at very young ages. The eldest, David, and the female twin, Barbara, have a bigger part to play in her story. The seventh is still AWOL.

Trying a different line of enquiry, I went to the National Archives of Scotland (now National Records of Scotland), hoping for a will or inventory — no luck. I did however find window- and inhabited house-tax lists, showing her to have paid these through much of the same period that she was taking apprentices. Council Enactment Books added snippets here and there, mostly about John, but clarified that the bakery was well-established, that they owned the property from 1752 and that he was gradually building up a business and political persona. I felt I was coming closer to ‘seeing’ Margaret Morice, but frustratingly still with a great deal of speculation on my side. Gradually her story was becoming more and more visible — but still with gaps and a sense of incompleteness.

A return visit to the Archives, assisted greatly by a Strathmartine Trust grant, turned out to be an epiphanic experience.[7] On arrival, Fiona Musk, the archivist, simply asked what I was trying to do. Not very optimistically, I told her, and then said flippantly, ‘What I would really like to do is find Margaret Morice’, that is, literally locate her in the town. I knew roughly where the business was, but Fiona’s response, ‘I am sure I have seen her name on a map,’ was astonishing after sixteen years of research. A few hours later, she returned with a bundle — and there was Margaret, on the plans for the ‘New Street ‘(now Union Street) — in one of the houses to be demolished.[8] I confess I did a dance in the record office to the amusement of the other four people in the room.

Furthermore, Fiona pulled up the records of saisine, which I had previously been told would be useless. They unfolded the story of the property, from John’s purchase to its sale to the Council in 1800. At first I was perplexed as to who the sellers were: the two boys were named Abercrombie. Through antiquarian books in the Record Office, we identified that they were her grandsons, the sons of her daughter Barbara, who had become the second wife of an esteemed clergyman. This bundle corroborated and clarified the narrative of her son David’s bankruptcy and Margaret’s right to the property.[9] I had simultaneously been reading the Aberdeen Journal for the period, and there, in a notice Margaret Morice placed in 1789, I found her ‘voice’ for the first and only time. Her statement ensured that none of David’s debts were charged to her and asserted her role as baker in Aberdeen.[10] Up to then, all other mentions of her in the press had been oblique: a partner announced the end of a partnership with her; her son asked for a lease for his mother; and lawyers asserted her claim to the property.

There are still other small trails to follow up, but from piecing together an array of disparate records, I have been able to create a picture of her business, which was clearly long-standing and central to the commercial area of Aberdeen. It was also tolerated by the guild and held its own until near her death. Stories of women such as Margaret Morice are the bread and butter of our research; they whet our curiosity and through them we see the lives of towns come alive. This tale is not yet finished. Margaret Morice’s story, taken together with that of other businesswomen, about whom there may be yet less detail, will help us to explore how women’s businesses inflected the character of eighteenth-century towns.

This tale of discovery probably replicates many other searches and journeys made by other historians. Our curiosity leads us on; we get ‘addicted’ to finding answers, not all of which are terribly important. Perseverance and asking the same question, or similar ones, of the records, over and over, or of tangential material and of librarians and archivists is our stock in trade. In an age that prioritises publication — and publication of a particularly designated sort — we must not lose the curiosity and love of the past that drives us; we need to hang on to the wonder and joy of discovery — even with a little dance or two. And we need to keep using our skills, training and insight to solve these little mysteries; they can help solve the big ones.


[1] Deborah Simonton, A History of European Women’s Work, 1700 to the present (London: Routledge, 1998).

[2] Aberdeen City Archives (ACA), Enactment Books, 5. Register of Indentures, 1622-1878, see also Simonton, ‘Margaret Morice’, in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, eds, Elizabeth L. Ewan, Sue Innes, Sian Reynolds and Rose Pipes (Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 272; Simonton, ’Negotiating the Economy of the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Town’ in Katie Barclay and Deborah Simonton, eds, Women in Eighteenth-century Scotland (Ashgate, 2013), 225.

[3] Ebenezer Bain, Merchant and Craft Guilds, A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades (Aberdeen: 1887), 212.

[4] Great Britain, Public Record Office, Board of Inland Revenue. Apprenticeship Regis­ters, 1710-1808, IR1. For John, volumes for 1743-68; for Margaret, 1788.

[5] Simonton, ‘Education and Training’, 341, 352; see also Joan Lane, Apprenticeship in England, 1600-1914 (London, 1996), 117.

[6] Gender in the European Town,

[7] See the Strathmartine Trust website on support for Scottish research,

[8] ACA, New Street Trustees, CA/10/1/30 South Entry Plan - Castle Street & Narrow Wynd, 1799

[9] Ibid, CA/13/NStT/5-16 Act ordaining David Morrice jnr to dispone his real & personal estate, 1789.

[10] Aberdeen Journal, 20 July 1789.

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