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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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Why do you ask me about my relations. Don’t you know that I have non, when I become your whore I lost all and every thing that was previous to me, an outcast from society, sad and solitary, has the best time of life past and every year gains me a few more enemies but not one friend – what else can a Homeless Vagabond expect
Mary Hutton to Gilbert Innes, 7 January 1822 (underline in original)

In 1814 at age twenty-seven, Mary Hutton met sixty-three-year-old Gilbert Innes of Stowe in the grounds of St Andrew’s Church, Edinburgh, as she ran an errand. Innes was a central figure in Edinburgh society: the Deputy Governor of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a Director of the Assembly Rooms and the Society of Antiquaries, a major patron of the arts and extremely wealthy. Hutton was one of several sisters from a middling Edinburgh family, supplementing her income from her father with work as a governess when she met Gilbert. They formed an intimacy that lasted over a decade, maintained in part by a regular correspondence from Hutton that survives in the Innes of Stowe archive.  Innes financially supported Hutton as one of several mistresses; Hutton in return provided sexual services, but also affection and emotional support.

In many respects, this relationship was devastating for Hutton, although the consequences were not immediately obvious. On the one hand, her correspondence indicates that she loved Innes and was sustained by both his finances and his, not always unwaivering, affection. Yet, on the other, when their relationship was exposed around 1819, she was shunned by her family and forced to move from her lodgings in Edinburgh. In losing “her character,” she also lost the ability to earn in her profession as governess, a role that required particular moral probity. Over the next decade, she lived on the margins of Edinburgh society. Her relationship with her family was, at best, strained and eventually broke down entirely; she was disinherited; she was forced to leave the part of Edinburgh where she was known and had an established community, and she subsequently moved several times each year for the next decade as her relentlessly nosey landladies and neighbours became aware that she was a “kept mistress.” As the years passed and her hopes of marrying Innes faded, Hutton became increasingly upset at the consequences of her choices and the “sad and solitary” life she lived, a distress heightened by the hardships of living on the social margins and in transitory accommodation. In this, she was not alone. Some of Gilbert’s other mistresses similarly struggled with the social isolation and poverty that their lack of “respectability” entailed. The desire for a stable “home” was a central motif within their writings, signifying not just somewhere to live but emotional security, respectability and a place in society.

As is well recognised, social marginality often had real consequences for wealth, physical health, life expectancy and political power, but it also had an impact on people’s emotional well-being. Living on the margins of society wore away at a person’s sense of self, perhaps exasperated in a context where “friends” and community were still vital to how people understood their sense of identity and for their affective connotations of place and embedded sociability. Hutton felt marginality as a hardening of her sensibility, an inability to mourn her circumstances fully, but also as a heightening of her nerves and levels of anxiety. It was accompanied by a strong sense of isolation and shame. Despite this, Hutton clearly worked very hard to present herself as respectable, demonstrating a tenacity and desire to remain part of society despite the toll a marginal life placed upon her physically and emotionally. In this, “the home”, an imaginary and emotive construct, became the location of women like Hutton’s hopes and dreams, a place that would take them from the edges of society to full members of the community that determined sense of self, and, with it, bring healing to both body and mind. While she enacted a “home” imaginatively with Innes, using their correspondence as an affective space to create love and a sense of family, letters were unable to provide the level of sociability of the physical home, which tied a person into an “attached” community, one that was “watchful”, but in watching reinforced a person’s respectability and membership of a “caring” community. For these women, respectability not only marked a person’s relationship to society, but was also deeply connected to emotional health and sense of self.

For more information on Mary Hutton, her relationship with Gilbert Innes and her emotional life, see Katie Barclay, ‘Marginal Households and their Emotions: the ‘Kept Mistress’ in Enlightenment Edinburgh’, in Sue Broomhall (ed.), Spaces for Feeling: Emotions and Sociabilities in Britain, 1650–1850 (Routledge, 2015), pp. 95–11.

Katie Barclay is a DECRA Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Adelaide. She is the author of the award-winning Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650-1850 (Manchester 2011) and numerous articles on family life.

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Muslims in Britain: Aren’t We Forgetting Something? by Sarah Hackett

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Muslim communities and Islam receive a great deal of attention in twenty-first century-Britain. As is the case across Western Europe, and indeed much of the Western world, Muslims have regrettably been placed centre stage in debates regarding national identity, social cohesion, and the professed failure of multiculturalism, and they remain the key protagonists amidst fears and anxieties concerning cultural tensions and a breach of Western values. Indeed Muslim and non-Muslim academics, media pundits, policymakers and members of the general public are showing an ever-increasing interest in various aspects of Muslim minorities’ integration and accommodation in what is a progressively diverse British society.

More often than not, these deliberations are reactions to, and are both informed by and framed within, recent and on-going high-profile events and developments. These have included the Rushdie Affair, the headscarf and single-faith school debates, and allegations of “parallel societies”, as well as Islamic extremism abroad and home-grown terrorism as witnessed during 9/11 and 7/7 and, more recently, the ISIS hostage killings and the Charlie Hebdo attack. Partially as a result of today’s media landscape, it has been incidents and controversies like these that have shaped, and indeed transformed, the dominant view of Muslims in Britain. The 1980s enthusiastic pursuit of multiculturalism and the embracing of diversity during Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” often seem but distant memories.

Too frequently absent from contemporary discussions is the deep-rooted multi-layered and historical interchange between Britain and Muslims. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that some progress has been made of late. For example, recent years have witnessed a greater recognition amongst both academic and public circles of the Yemeni Muslim lascars who settled in British port cities and towns like Cardiff, Liverpool and South Shields during the nineteenth century.[1] The commemoration of the centenary of the First World War has gone some way towards honouring the otherwise largely forgotten 400,000 Muslim soldiers from pre-partition India who fought for Britain.[2] Furthermore, there is a small and sporadic, yet immensely valuable, number of scholarly works that explore post-1945 Muslim migration to Britain against the backdrop of what is a far more historically entrenched series of encounters between Britain and Muslims, which include the Crusades, the British Empire, and centuries of Muslim migration to and settlement in Britain.[3]

Despite these developments, there remains much work to be done. While Muslims have long had a presence in Britain, and indeed constitute an inherent part of British history, there still exists an all too prevalent perception that they are “outsiders” who “do not belong”. Fear and suspicion of the “the Muslim other”, Islamophobic attacks, and an almost continuous sense that Britain is on the brink of a full-scale anti-Muslim backlash all unfortunately seem to be here to stay for the time being. Far-right political parties and the Western media will ensure that this is the case.

History has a clear role to play as these frenzied deliberations continue to unfold. More needs to be done to expose not only the historical relationship that exists between Britain and Muslims, but also how Muslims have been present in Britain from as early as the sixteenth century and how Islam, the fastest growing religion in Britain today, has long been practised on these isles. An awareness of this history cannot continue to be confined to narrow, and largely academic, circles. Its wider recognition has the potential to promote an acceptance of Muslims as British and contest the regrettable notion that they pose a danger to British society. There is a clear need for additional historical inquiry that is better reflected in educational agendas and the public consciousness, as well as for additional cross-sector public-facing initiatives such as those being carried out by the Everyday Muslim project.[4] As Britain continues to find its way as a twenty-first century multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, it is clear that History has much to teach us.


Sarah Hackett is Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Bath Spa University, UK. She is author of Foreigners, Minorities and Integration: The Muslim Immigrant Experience in Britain and Germany (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013) and co-editor (with Geoffrey Nash and Kathleen Kerr-Koch) of Postcolonialism and Islam: Theory, Literature, Culture, Society and Film (London: Routledge, 2013). 



[1] See Mohammad Siddique Seddon, The Last of the Lascars: Yemeni Muslims in Britain, 1836-2012 (Markfield: Kube Publishing, 2014). Public-facing initiatives have included the 2008 Last of the Dictionary Men: Stories from the South Shields Yemeni Sailors exhibition at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and Peter Fryer’s photographic project entitled The Arab Boarding House.

[2] For example, see Ben Quinn. “The Muslims who Fought for Britain in the First World War.” The Guardian, August 2, 2014.; and Radhika Sanghani. “Why British Muslims Need a ‘Poppy Hijab’ to Remember World War One.” The Telegraph, October 31, 2014.

[3] See Humayun Ansari, ‘The Infidel Within’: Muslims in Britain since 1800 (London: C. Hurst, 2004); and Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Muslims in Britain: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

[4] See

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Edited by Stephen Jackson

Stephanie Barczewski, John Eglin, Stephen Heathorn, Michael Silvestri, and Michelle Tusan discuss the hard work involved in crafting an undergraduate level history textbook on Modern Britain.

1)   What was it that initially drew each of you to this project? How is the process of publishing a textbook collaboratively different than the typical experience of publishing a scholarly monograph?

Stephanie Barczewski: This all started because Eve Setch from Routledge was on a tour of southern American universities and came to visit Clemson.  She asked me what I thought British history was lacking, and I replied (not for the first time to a publisher) that I did not think that there was a British history textbook that covered the period from 1688 to the present, which is the standard modern survey at most American colleges and universities, in a relatively compact single volume and in the way that most British historians today conceive of and teach the subject.  She asked if I was interested in writing one.  After thinking “yike!,” I said I would consider it, and I ultimately decided that it was hypocritical to complain about the lack of a good textbook if I wasn’t willing to take a stab at it.  Plus, the idea of trying to define and shape what British history is all about these days was appealing, if also daunting.  At that point, I already had two other book projects under contract, so I really couldn’t take on the entire thing single-handedly, plus I thought it would be better to recruit specialists in the relevant periods.  So I rounded up a few colleagues and off we went.  I had no experience of writing a textbook and no idea how different it is from writing a monograph.  It is a much more systematic process.  Instead of writing the entire manuscript before anyone sees it, textbooks are written in sections that go out to a massive panel of readers as you go along.  We sometimes got more words back in criticism and comments than we had written!

Michelle Tusan: When Stephanie approached me about doing the textbook as a team project I thought it sounded really appealing. We historians are not used to working collaboratively and this seemed to me a perfect opportunity to engage a different writing and research muscle. I, too, was dissatisfied with the textbook I was using and thought that this was the perfect opportunity to have a hand in creating a book that better spoke to my own research interests and those of my students. For example, it was important to me to have sections on informal empire in the Middle East which is relevant both to current scholarly concerns and how I teach British history in the classroom. 

John Eglin: The opportunity to write a British history textbook aimed specifically at American undergraduates was particularly appealing to me. There are actually lots of textbooks out there, but they tend to be written for UK and Commonwealth students, and thus assume a great deal of prior knowledge about culture and institutions and so forth. It is significant that most of us teach at large public institutions in the US, and are correspondingly aware of the need to explain thoroughly but without condescension aspects of a history and culture that is terra incognita for so many of our students. That sense of shared responsibility also drew me in. As for collaborating with four other co-authors, to be honest, I initially feared that it was a disaster in the making. In the end, however, largely due to the heroic efforts of Stephanie and Michael, it wasn't. 

Stephen Heathorn: The challenge of having so many peer reviewers was particularly daunting.  It explains why textbooks are rarely radically revisionist.  One of the consequences for us, however, was actually a harmonization of the content/viewpoint in a positive way.

2)   From the earliest point in the process there must have been tough organizational choices to be made. How did you determine the narrative structure of the book and strike the right balance between the types of history to be included (political, cultural, social, economic, etc…)? 

Stephanie: We knew from the beginning that we wanted the textbook to be up-to-date but not too radical a departure so as not to confuse undergraduate students.  So we knew that we would need to retain a fair bit of traditional political history but also incorporate newer approaches.  For us, the latter meant two things primarily.  First, a global focus that looked closely at both the British Empire and Britain’s place in the world more broadly, and secondly, the inclusion of all four parts of the United Kingdom and the avoidance of Anglocentrism.  It was interesting, though, that we really resisted a “core narrative” until we offered a round table at the NACBS in Portland in November 2013.  We were pleasantly surprised by how many eminent historians from both sides of the Atlantic attended, and by the liveliness of the discussion.  The attendees really pushed us to develop our themes into a stronger central narrative, and I’m very glad they did, because it made the book, I think, much better.  I’m pleased that every scholar who has taken a look at it so far has concurred that, as Sir David Cannadine put it, “It’s very clear what it’s about.”

Michelle: There were some concerns at the beginning about structure. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel yet we also wanted the narrative to be both familiar and clear. In the end, history is more than facts and dates but those facts and dates really do matter. This meant situating recent theoretical debates in the field into the larger narrative in a way that was both sophisticated and straightforward.

John: I will admit to pursuing an agenda here, as the lone early modernist among the co-authors. The eighteenth century often doesn't fare well in textbooks, sandwiched as it is between the tumults of the seventeenth century "crisis" and the industry- and empire-building of the nineteenth, making it seem like an insubstantial intermission during which nothing of any real significance occurred. Fortunately, the very serious pains everyone took to take an archepelagic and global perspective, and to go beyond political narrative, made it impossible to slight the earlier periods. It turns out that you can only ignore the eighteenth century if you look only at England, and only from the top down.

Stephen: Getting a good balance among the types of history was always a goal but was very difficult to achieve.  The session we had at the Portland NACBS certainly helped in this regard, as did having Stephanie edit the entire manuscript.  Not only did she smooth out the narrative voice, she ensured that we were indeed balancing the types of material.  Still, personally, I’d have liked at least another 50,000 words to do justice to all that we covered too quickly – but that was not feasible with the publisher, nor likely what our intended audience wanted!


3) What distinguishes your narrative from previous textbooks, and how do you think the work will benefit instructors teaching a Modern Britain survey course?

Stephanie: The global and imperial focus and the inclusion of more material on Scotland, Wales and Ireland are, I think, real strengths.  We have also incorporated more historiography, not always by referring to specific historians by name, though there is some of that, but by ensuring that students are aware that many things in history are the subjects of scholarly debate and contention, and that history is not just about memorizing facts.  Also, there is a very nifty website with documents, detailed descriptions of the events on our timeline and all kinds of links to excellent websites and documentaries.  The website is not just an add-on – we put lots of time into preparing something that we will find useful in our own teaching, and I think others will too.

Michelle: This book is very much of the moment. By that I mean that it was written from the perspective of a cohort of scholars who came of age in a period when British history was no longer a core course in the curriculum. Many of us have had to make the case why British history matters to their students and sometimes their universities. Our book reminds readers why in an era of devolution the story of the British Isles and the Empire maintains its relevance. The four nations and imperial themes are real strengths of the book as they demonstrate how contemporary debates about the nation and democracy remain embedded in the British story.

Michael Silvestri: We set out to write—and I believe we have been successful in writing—a textbook which presented British history rather than simply English history writ large.  And by that I mean a history which pays attention not only to the histories of Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as England, but to the “British world” beyond the United Kingdom.  Equally important, I believe that we’ve achieved a good balance between coverage of the different centuries.  One of the fastest-expanding fields of British history is the post-1945 era, and we believed that it was important to give in-depth coverage not only to Britain’s experience in the world wars, but Britain’s history in the subsequent decades.  To give an example from my own field, the history of decolonization is being reinterpreted and rewritten as new sources such as the “Migrated Archives” become available, and it is important not to glide quickly over Britain’s disengagement from empire, thus giving the impression that this was somehow an effortless process and also that empire had come to a definitive “end,” rather than having multiple legacies in Britain today.  The goal instead is to encourage students to reflect on the nature of the decolonization process, and the ways in which Britain sought to preserve its empire as well as divest itself of territories.

Stephen: The narrative does try to be more geographically inclusive than previous texts.  We’ve attempted to think about Britain in a global context.  Hopefully it will be more accessible for a North American audience with little or no prior knowledge of British history (or indeed of British institutions).  There is a concerted effort to make relevant connections to American (and Canadian) events, people and themes.  Personally, I think a real strength of this text is that cultural and gender historiography is woven into the political and social narrative and is not just an ‘add on’ or in separate sections.  Our text could not cover everything we wanted it to – but I think it is a good starting point for students; it provides adequate context and preparation and hopefully will stimulate them to investigate British history more thoroughly.


4)   How did you balance the individual histories of the four nations of Britain (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) with the need to provide a straightforward and accessible narrative for a mostly undergraduate and non-specialist audience?  How did the British Empire fit in with the larger narrative?

Stephanie:  The United Kingdom is a unique country in that even the terminology that you use to describe it and its constituent nations is fraught with all kinds of political and cultural meaning.  There are times when you can describe all four nations as a whole, but many, many others when you have to recognize their distinctiveness.  Though I was obviously aware of that before, writing this book made me realize it so much more.  For example, you don’t realize just how Anglocentric the standard way of teaching the Great Reform Act is.  It has a completely different effect in Scotland, and in particular in Ireland, than it does in England and Wales.  (Wales presents its own challenges as a subject because unlike Scotland and Ireland it didn’t have separate laws.)  The Empire is obviously essential.  It’s been the dominant paradigm in British history for over a decade now, and that shows little sign of abating.  But with it, too, you have to make sure you’re being sufficiently comprehensive: historians tend to focus on India, and to forget about the settlement colonies, which were crucial to how British people thought about the Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Michelle: There is a lot of empire in this book. It is both integrated into the text and has its own separate treatment in distinct chapters. The story of Ireland, too, gets extensive treatment. I think this integrative approach mirrors what is happening in both the scholarly and teaching worlds in our discipline. 

Michael: I don’t believe that the two things -- presenting the histories of Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as England and providing a straightforward and accessible narrative -- are incompatible.  In order to achieve both of those things, we decided that the stories as much as possible needed to be integrated; chapters which simply narrated a discrete story of the “Celtic Fringe” had the effect not of highlighting but of isolating and marginalizing these histories.  An emphasis on telling the histories of Wales, Scotland and Ireland with those of England is important for students in terms of their understanding of Britain and the United Kingdom historically but of Britain and Ireland today, such as the prominence of the Welsh language or the division among Scots about whether or not to advocate independence or remain within the Union.  I believe that such an approach can give students a richer picture of shared experiences such as industrialization or war.  Britain was and is, however, a diverse place and the histories of Scotland, Wales and Ireland also highlight the contrasts in the historical experience of different parts of the United Kingdom.  For example, in discussing the Great Famine, Ireland was not the only place within the Union where the potato blight took place, and exploring the issue of crop failures in the Highland and islands of Scotland helped illustrate why Famine took place in Ireland but not within Britain.

The British Empire was a natural subject to approach in this fashion.  In addition to the British World of the settlement colonies, as many historians have recently explored, British Empire very much a product of not only of English, but as many historians have emphasized, Scottish, Irish and Welsh efforts as well.  While we decided that the Empire was such a historically important subject that it needed to be dealt with mainly within separate chapters, although in some cases empire appears in conjunction with domestic events in Britain.  Empire is undoubtedly a complicated subject and we strove not simply to make it a catalogue of dates and places (either those being added to the empire or those breaking free of its control) but of the dynamics of imperial expansion, rule and decolonization.  In doing so, we put an emphasis not merely on the experiences of the colonized as well as the colonizers, but of the impact of empire on Britain: economic, cultural and social.

John: It is easier, I think, in the early part of the period to write from a "four nations" perspective, because of the much clearer political separations among three of the four. Nevertheless, one has to fight the tendency to treat the history of the other nations of the British Isles only to the extent that developments in Scotland, Ireland, or Wales impact the English. Many textbook writers just throw up their hands; I know of one case where authors tell their readers that "Scotland and Ireland and Wales were just less important, and we just have to accept that." The empire, of course, necessitates taking an archipelagic perspective, given that diasporan communities from the "Celtic Fringe" were important components particularly of the Atlantic and Antipodean empires. Nationality and empire are thorny and complex issues that have to be tackled in a text like this one, as are religion, gender, sexuality, class, and so forth.


5)   All five of you have different historical specialties, stylistic tendencies, and, I’m sure, strong opinions on what the finished product should look like. Throughout the process of writing this textbook, how did you ensure consistency in the overall narrative, in tone, and in style?

Stephanie: Actually, we were all remarkably in tune with what we wanted the book to emphasize and include – there was very little disagreement or argument about thematic issues or subject matter.  But consistency of tone and style was a real challenge.  The main theme of the responses to the first batches of chapters that went out to the readers’ panel was “the book needs more of a single voice and not five different ones.”  Though I am not listed as the editor, I eventually realized that as the person who had instigated the project I was going to have to deal with that issue, and so I took on the job of smoothing everything out to make it sound consistent.  I’m pleased that the group of eminent scholars from whom we solicited blurbs felt that the book was now in a single “voice” and that there was no longer a problem with multiple ones.

Michelle: This project made me see how broad the training in British studies is in the academy.  As a team, we had to find a center and stick to it in order to offer a coherent story that was useful to North American students.

Michael: I would certainly second Stephanie’s comment about the need for a single editor, and that was something which was important in terms of finding a common voice.  In my own experience, I found that as my writing progressed, my writing shifting away from what you might term a more “academic” style of writing (or perhaps more precisely one most suited to academic monographs) to a style more appropriate to presenting broader developments in history to a wider audience.  As historians, we tend to be cautious –and rightly so-- about the statements we make about the past as it relates to our specializations, and wary --as we should be-- of crude and sweeping generalizations.  We did not try to “dumb down” material, or present a simplistic or uncomplicated vision of the past, but rather one that challenges students and provokes thought and reflection.  In doing so, one has to be aware of things that might be of interest to specialists in the field as opposed to undergraduates, or things that might confuse or clutter the narrative rather than illuminate.  For example, while our text gives great attention to Irish history within the context of British past, I was conscious that we were not writing an Irish history textbook and even less so a book for specialists in Irish history.  Thus while we sought to portray ways in which Ireland variously upheld and opposed the Empire, as was pointed out in the editing process, I did not have to point about every single figure in British history who was Anglo-Irish!

John: I, for one, cheerfully submitted to Stephanie's blue pencil.

Stephen:  A lot of the credit for smoothing out the stylistic and tone issues must go to Stephanie for her editing prowess and to Michael for his judicious insertion of imperial perspectives.  There are still some subtle variations in prose style in different parts of the book, but I don’t think most readers will notice them.


6)   How has creating this book impacted your development as scholars, teachers, and informed intellectuals? What advice would you give to other scholars thinking about writing a textbook in their area of expertise? 

Stephanie:  For me, because I not only wrote my own chapters but edited the entire text, it very much increased both the breadth and depth of my knowledge.  Most scholars probably think about writing a textbook as being a somewhat superficial approach to history relative to their monographs, but in fact you have to read very deeply about the individual subjects in order to distill them into 500- or 1000-word explanations.  By the time the book was finished, I was really excited about teaching the survey again, which I’m doing this fall, so I’ll get to put all that I’ve learned into action.  I had just finished a very heavily archival project on country houses and the British Empire, and this was obviously very different in terms of the writing process.  It was fun to have them juxtaposed against each other.  I’m not sure that you write a textbook in your “area of expertise.” Mostly you find out what you don’t know, which is the most valuable part of the experience!

Michelle: Stephanie worked very hard to bring us together as a group. It was challenging at times but the process went relatively smoothly. I enjoyed engaging fellow historians in the audience and my co-authors at the NACBS and realized that writing a textbook is necessarily a group project broadly defined. After all, these books are only given life when they are read by students and taught by our peers.

Michael: In terms of advice, I would advise scholars to prepare for a lot of hard, but rewarding, work.   Be prepared to go beyond your field of scholarly expertise, and if you don’t like that idea, don’t write a textbook!  The reward is not simply in the finished product, but in how the experience of writing history for a broader audience broadens one’s own understanding your field of specialty.

John: I confess I have always disliked teaching nineteenth century Britain, and detested teaching the twentieth century. Now, however, armed with a first-rate, spanking new textbook, I feel equal to the challenge for the first time. As for the experience of writing a textbook, it is a marvelous way for scholars to take inventory of themselves: what do I really know and understand? What do I need to re-examine? And what are the best ways to convey this?

Stephen: I learned much about topics and issues that I thought I already knew quite a bit.   Michael inserted material on the Empire and Ireland that was particularly instructive to me.  I have already revised my own British survey in lieu of my own research for my sections of the book, and will now revise other parts of my survey due to the work of my co-authors.  As to advice: well don’t go into this as naïvely as I did!  I suspect most scholars think they could write a better text than the one they currently use.  After this experience I have much more respect for the accomplishments of the authors of existing textbooks, and a better sense of why texts don’t do everything you think they should.  You can’t do everything or please everybody all of the time.  But I do think our book is a very good alternative to the texts already out there.

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Open Access, Learned Societies and the Public Good by Martin Eve

Posted by jaskelly under BISI, Blog | Tags: open access, publishing | 0 Comments

Open access (OA) – the idea that research work should be free to read and reuse – has gained international traction in recent years. Many governments around the world have mandates to ensure the broadest societal return from research that they fund, and a growing number of institutions in the US and beyond have their own internal policyrequirements for open access. This can work, for the most part, because (surprisingly) the vast majority of existing subscription journals willallow authors to deposit their manuscripts in institutional repositories, where the material can be freely read. This is called green open access and it is already a reality today.

An alternative to green open access is “gold” open access. This refers to situations where publishers themselves make work openly available. It does not refer to any particular business model to achieve this, but it does imply that publishers, in this mode, will derive revenues from sources other than subscriptions. In other words, publishing becomes a service that might be remunerated from the supply side (academic institutions or funders). 

The most well-known, although not the most common, business model that existing publishers are using to adapt to open access is called an “Article Processing Charge” (APC) or “Book Processing Charge” (BPC). In this mode, authors, institutions or funders must pay a fee to publishers once work is accepted so that the piece can be made freely available to all. This is less philosophically problematic than some might assume. It does not lower standards, and there are ways in which those who can't pay can be given a waiver through cross-subsidy. It is, however, economically challenging in several ways. This is not because there isn't enough money in the system if we could instantly switch everything tomorrow. It is rather the result of disciplinary and institutional differences, a reconfiguration of the cost/risk pool, and, to some degree, the role of learned societies.

In order to understand this environment, a little economic unpacking is necessary. As I wrote in myrecent book on open access in the humanities disciplines, the APC demanded by the subset of publishers who have fees varies. For PLOS, fees range from $1,350 to $2,900 per article. For SAGE Open, the publisher currently charges $195 (discounted from the “regular” price of $695). More traditional subscription publishers such a Taylor & Francis offer the ability to make an article open access in one of their journals at $2,950. "As a result, there is a wide variance in APC levels from £100 up to £5,000, according to Stuart Lawson in the UK’s Finch Report. This

incorrect and outdated information has now created a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby a more narrow range of £1,600–£2,000 has become the norm."

This is fine in some scientific disciplines. If you have an enormous grant for expensive lab work, such dissemination costs are tiny compared to the overall award. In the humanities and social sciences, however, far less work is funded and it is unclear where this money might be found. Furthermore, as it currently stands, the subscription environmentserves as a cost/risk pool. Under such a system, costs for publication are shared by institutions who all subscribe, rather than being borne by a single author/institution. Gold open access concentrates costs, which may be problematic in some disciplines and institutions.

Which brings me, finally, to the role that learned societies might play here. As the “Societies and Open Access Research” project shows, many societies have embraced open access for their publications. Indeed, what could sit more firmly in line with the mission of societies to promote their scholars' work than making it freely available to all online? Some societies, though, are strongly resisting. The reasons for this are clear: they derive extensive revenues from the sale of subscriptions. Indeed, my initial non-systematic trawl of the charity commission website in the UK reveals that some humanities societies profit by up to £283,811 per year (sciences go even higher). New not-for-profit publishers, with lower costs and open-access missions, cannot hope to match this revenue return from corporate giants. This means that we are unlikely to see price cuts in the open-access offerings of such societies. Furthermore, their publications are also typically high-prestige, valued venues. In other words, they carry great cultural weight, and set norms and expectations for disciplines.

Views on this structure vary. Some claim that the value of scholarly societies’ activities are more important than open access. I disagree. In fact, our university library budgets are being used to subsidise scholarly societies, which publish these journals. In other words, this means that the good work that your society does comes at a price: walling off knowledge from other researchers and students. This goes against the public good and transforms learned societies into agents of private benefit.

The solution is not easy. Societies need to get their revenue from alternative sources – not library budgets – so that we are not tied into one particular model for the economics of publication. This could, for instance, involve allocating savings from a library budget (from cheaper OA) at each institution to a “society fund”, which would then be proportionately paid forward to societies. However, such a reconfiguration would be difficult, and would involve a great deal of inter-institutional cooperation. Only when this is achieved, however, will the tension between learned societies' missions to spread the word and an economic model based on exclusion be eradicated.

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The Northeast Conference on British Studies (NECBS) will hold its annual meeting in 2015 at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, on Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17. The 2015 conference will be hosted by the University of Ottawa, with Richard Connors 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 March 15, 2015 (final decisions will be announced in June 2015).

Please send your proposals to:

Paul Deslandes, NECBS Program Chair
[email protected]


Considering Community Archives: Migration and Family in Postwar Britain

Posted by StephenJackson under Blog | Tags: archives, Diaspora | 0 Comments

Who were the Punjabi migrants who traveled to postwar Britain? When and why did they leave the fertile foothills of the Himalayas for the frosty damp British Isles? In what political, social, and cultural circumstances did they live? How did these Punjabis experience, negotiate, and articulate belonging (and non-belonging) in the former metropole? And how did these politics of belonging change over time? These questions, of what it means to be Punjabi in diaspora, have been for me questions of the heart and family, for I was raised in the suburbs of London (what will always be my home) by two parents born in Punjab. While my journey for the answers to these questions is ongoing, my research thus far has steered me to the wonderfully rich and yet largely marginalized archives of local community newspapers.

The lives of my extended family are intimately bound up in the imperial history of Britain. For the historian, the westward journey of my maternal family from the green fields of Punjab to the black foundries of the Midlands, represents just some of the ways in which imperial webs continued to shape mobility after the formal ends of empire. In attempting to explore what it meant for migrants like my family and others, whose lives were shaped by the great currents of empire and decolonization, to forge a new home in a foreign place, my research met a rather abrupt end in the national archives. The lives I was interested in were invisible, or marginal and scattered at best, within the files and folders at Kew. My own history and this research project, both of which I saw as part of what Bill Schwarz has called "the many inchoate histories of post-colonial Britain," had stalled on an unusually bright day in west London.

A week later, through a family friend and a favor called, I found myself within the office of the editor of the Des Pardes Weekly (home and away) newspaper, a Punjabi language paper published from offices in Southall, west London. The Des Pardes was established in 1965 in Kent by a Punjabi Sikh immigrant, Tarsem Singh Purewal. It is currently the most widely circulated Punjabi language newspaper printed outside India. As such it provides a broad window on to the everyday conversations through which Punjabi speaking migrants have articulated community and belonging on British shores since the mid-60s. When I arrived at the offices in 2011, no researcher had ever requested to explore their archives in full before. The treasure trove of materials, including the back catalogue of the newspaper and unpublished photos and readers' letters, were housed in an unused room on the top floor of the newspaper's offices. A messy combination of folders and piles, the archive had been ignored and abandoned (figures 1 and 2). At the top of the first box I opened lay a picture of my grandfather's older brother sprightly marching in the street (figure 3).

Along with oral histories collected and preserved by numerous heritage projects across London, the Des Pardes archive illuminates in my project diverse social histories of postwar Britain, from the inscribing of communities through the circulation of Punjabi folk songs, to the migrants guide to Christmas television specials. The newspaper includes sections devoted to topics ranging from politics and reader's letters, to poetry and travel. Outside of the pages of the paper, numerous boxes house the traces of family histories like my own. The difficulties of language have concealed such archives to a generation of historians. It may be time for departments to think deeply about the languages in which historians of postwar Britain train. For now, preserving the value of archives like the Des Pardes is a huge task, particularly within an increasingly bleak funding landscape. I hope that posts such as these will help make the archive more visible, and request that other historians working with foreign-language newspapers and other community archives in the UK may reach out to me (in the comments or via email) to share the common trials and triumphs of researching outside of mainstream archival spaces.

Rajbir Purewal Hazelwood is Assistant Professor of History at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She is currently working on her first book which examines Punjabi migrants in postwar London. She can be reached at [email protected]

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Western Conference of British Studies Annual Conference 2015
Austin, Texas, 15-17 October 2015
This year’s conference theme: “The Body Politic”

The Western Conference on British Studies announces the forty-second annual conference that will convene in Austin, Texas on 15-17 October 2015 at the Doubletree by Hilton Austin. Concurrent sessions will be held on Friday and Saturday.

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 2015 meeting we would especially like to invite any papers that focus on or situate research within the theme “The Body Politic” broadly conceived (the political body, the gendered body, the subjective body, the objectified body, the body as site of politics, regulated bodies, segregated bodies, etc.) 

The conference will feature a plenary address by Dr. Marjorie Levine-Clark (Associate Dean, Associate Professor, University of Colorado Denver), author of Unemployment, Welfare and Masculine Citizenship:  “So Much Honest Poverty” in Britain 1870-1930 (Palgrave, 2015).

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 April 2015 to Dr. Lynn MacKay ([email protected]) and Dr. Jessica Sheetz-Nguyen ([email protected]).

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Author’s Note

The Dominion of Newfoundland, which included mainland Labrador, was independent of Canada; it did not join the confederation until 1949. During the First World War, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment/Royal Newfoundland Regiment was raised, and distinctly maintained, from Canadian divisions and the Canadian Corps. The unit fought at Gallipoli and on the Western Front independent of Canadian formations and government. Although Newfoundland–Labrador’s indigenous history, including that of the First World War, is now generally allied to that of Canada, it will be excluded from this analysis. Given its small and remote population (an estimated 1,700 in 1914), Newfoundland did not formulate any specific military policies towards indigenous peoples. Through Canadian and Newfoundland–Labrador archival records, I have confirmed only twenty-one men of indigenous heritage who served in Newfoundland forces during the war.

Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the scattered Yupik, Iñupiat and Inuit populations of Canada, totaling roughly 3,450 in 1914, were given any consideration by either the Ministry of Militia or Indian Affairs as a source of military manpower. In fact, they were wholly ignored in both policy and practice. Accordingly, these peoples are generally excluded from this synopsis, as are the Métis. The Métis were not legally bound to or defined by the tenets of the Indian Act, and they were able to enlist in the same manner as Euro-Canadians. The experience of First Nations peoples is, therefore, the focus.


From a population numbering 7.88 million, over 620,000 Canadians served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) between 1914 and 1919. This number included over 4,000 First Nations individuals from a total 1914 population of 103,774 (excluding non-status individuals). This enlistment figure represents 35 percent of First Nations men of military age, roughly equal to the percentage of Euro-Canadians who enlisted. According to a 1919 Indian Affairs report of the Great War, “it must be remembered, moreover, that there were undoubtedly cases of Indian enlistment which were not reported to the department.”[1] The exact number of Canda’s indigenous population to serve in the First World War cannot be decisively tabulated. Most Status Indians were not recorded as such upon enlistment, as attestation papers did not record race. Likewise, Indian Affairs lists compiled through the “Return of Indian Enlistments” form by agents for individual reserves in 1917, and again in 1919, rarely included those from the Territories, and, most conspicuously, Non-status Indians.[2]  Nevertheless, through these lists it is certain that at minimum 4,000 status Indians were enrolled in the CEF.

Although embarrassingly under-prepared at the outbreak of war, Canada was able to deploy an expeditionary force much larger than could have been imagined.  With Britain’s declaration of war on 4 August 1914, most First Nations communities and leaders openly declared their loyalty and sought avenues to exemplify their allegiance and worth to both Canada and the Crown. The majority of treaties and military alliances were fostered with Britain, not with Canada. Many communities offered support of men and money directly to the king, or the “Great White Father.” The majority believed that by entering and engaging in Canadian society as Indians, they could participate on equal terms and win the respect of the dominant non-Indian society in order to gain rights for their own peoples. Accordingly, many viewed the First World War as an extension of this approach.

Canada had a long history of British-First Nations alliance throughout the settler-state experience. First Nations groups had been British (and French) allies during the colonial wars, as Britain and France vied for North American hegemony. Following the 1817 Rush–Bagot Treaty and the American Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which nullified future American and external European threats, they lost their importance as military allies. However, while First Nations peoples lost their military importance as a collective, individuals continued to support British military campaigns after the War of 1812 when mustered by imperial/Canadian authorities. Given this pattern of allegiance to the British Crown, enthusiasm towards the First World War was not historically unfounded.

The 1904 Militia Act also identified those Canadians eligible for military service. Section X stated, “All the male inhabitants of Canada of the age of eighteen years and upwards, and under sixty, not exempt or disqualified by law and being British subjects, shall be liable to service in the militia; provided that the Governor-General may require all the male inhabitants of Canada capable of bearing arms.”32[3] The act, however, made no specific mention of indigenous peoples even though they had consistently been called upon to assist in Canadian or imperial ventures.

Unofficial Exclusion

With the initiation of hostilities, the majority of British and Canadian politicians and senior commanders, believed that the “war would be over by Christmas.” Within this general atmosphere, Canada initially promulgated an unofficial exclusionist policy regarding enlistment of indigenous peoples. The war, however, was not short-lived, and contributions by First Nations individuals, overseas and on the home front in support of Britain, increased dramatically over the course of four-and-a-half years of horrific warfare.  Although the majority of people offered their immediate support to the war effort, their active participation remained dependent on the existing 1904 Militia Act or, in the absence of any clear policy, on the whims of the federal government. Throughout 1914 the general policy towards service remained one of exclusion or limited involvement.

On 8 August 1914, four days after the British declaration of war, the minister of militia, Sir Sam Hughes, received a query from Colonel W.E. Hodgins asking, “Is it intended that Indians who are anxious to enlist for service Overseas are to be taken on the Contingent?”  Hughes replied on the same day: “While British troops would be proud to be associated with their fellow subjects [First Nations peoples], yet Germans might refuse to extend to them the privileges of civilized warfare, therefore it is considered … that they had better remain in Canada to share in the protection of the Dominion.”[4] Many historians have incorrectly applied Hughes’s statement to represent an official policy of exclusion, while others inaccurately argue that this passage was not widely disseminated. First, although the Ministry of Militia tried to dissuade indigenous enlistment in 1914 and 1915, no official policy of exclusion was ever promulgated. Secondly, this passage was identically reproduced, and extensively circulated, in correspondence concerning Indian service, from its first usage in August 1914 until December 1915, when official authority was finally given to enlist Indians.  Hodgins, who received the initial reply from Hughes, became the adjutant general of militia shortly thereafter. When replying to enquiries concerning his ministry’s Indian enlistment policy, Hodgins simply quoted the passage relayed to him earlier by his superior. Eventually, this passage was frequently used by officials in the Ministry of Militia and the Departments of Indian Affairs and Justice. It became the unofficial policy surrounding Indian service until December 1915.

There was also apprehension that including Indians in an expeditionary force could violate treaties.  During the negotiations of Treaties 1 through 6 (1871–86) — covering roughly the southern half of the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and western Ontario — Indian chiefs specifically asked about military service. In October 1873, during the discussions of Treaty 3, governmental representative Alexander Morris was asked by an Ojibwa chief from Fort Frances, Ontario: “If you should get into trouble with the nations, I do not wish to walk out and expose my young men to aid you in any of your wars.” To this Morris replied: “The English never call Indians out of their country to fight their battles.”  Morris echoed this sentiment to Cree chiefs at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan, in August 1876 during consultations over Treaty 6A: “I assured them, you will never be asked to fight against your will; and I trust the time will never come of war between the Queen and the great country near us…. My words, where they are accepted are written down, and they last; as I have said to others, as long as the sun shines and river runs.” [5] Treaties were signed collectively, not by Canada, but in the name of Queen Victoria; thus, Indian nations saw treaties as an alliance with the Crown through Canada, not with Canada itself. Indians often related more to the British Crown than to Canada, because treaties signed on behalf of Queen Victoria signified sovereignty in partnership with Britain.

Throughout 1914 Indian men rushed to recruiting depots for reasons other than loyalty to the British Crown. Although the warrior ethic had stagnated as a result of residential schooling, religious education, and isolation on reserves, it had not been completely repressed. While many joined for money, adventure, and employment, as did their white comrades, scores of others enlisted to revive the warrior tradition and gain social status within their communities.[6]  War in Europe seemed a feasible means to circumvent governmental policies and the Indian Act, and it offered freedom and escape from reserve life. In summary, unofficial policies of exclusion and inclusion were operating conjointly until December 1915, although exclusion remained the dominant premise. This dichotomy led to great confusion within departments and among Indians and their agents as to the regulations pertaining to Indian service. Correspondence from agents, chiefs, and individual Indians asking for clarification of policy flooded into both the Department of Indian Affairs and the Ministry of Militia throughout 1914 and 1915. Most, but not all, replies were consistent with an exclusionist policy. However, under the frantic “call to arms” units recruited directly from their regions, without interference from the Ministry of Militia or the DIA.  Local recruiting officers, therefore, had absolute discretion over whom they enrolled, provided recruits met the medical standards. Although race was not recorded on enlistment documents, some recruiting officers listed “Indian” under the section entitled “Description of [Name] on Enlistment — Complexion” on the attestation form.

The war was generally met with a jingoistic outpouring in the British segments of Canada in 1914, and support for the imperial government was given in the form of men, material, and money. The outward support for the war given by most Indian leaders did not in all cases reflect the opinions of those whom they purportedly represented. Many Indians did not endorse the recruitment of their men for a European war. This was no different from the divisions within the Euro-Canadian populations and should be viewed as such. Most French-Canadians, and some Irish-Canadians, did not back the war effort either. For many Indian leaders seeking full and equal sovereignty, support offered directly to the Crown was viewed as a means to lobby the imperial government to pressure Canada to alter oppressive laws.  As the war progressed and Canadian forces expanded and accrued the horrific casualty rates of modern trench warfare on the Western Front, Canadian policies regarding Indian service were substantially altered to provide for greater inclusion to meet the pragmatic requirements for manpower. Britain increasingly looked to her dominions as a source of men and materials.

Indian Service

Within this general atmosphere, in October 1915 the British War Office issued the most important imperial documents of the war pertaining to indigenes of all dominions. Official inclusion of Indians in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the clarification of policy in December 1915 were directly linked to the requests of the imperial government.  On 8 October 1915 all governors general and administrators of British dominions and colonies received a confidential memorandum from the Canadian-born colonial secretary, Andrew Bonar Law:

The [War] Cabinet have asked for a report as to the possibilities of raising native troops in large numbers in our Colonies + Protectorates for Imperial service. What is wanted is an estimate of the numbers that could be raised; the length of time needed for training; an opinion as to their fighting value; and any pertinent remarks on such points as climatic restrictions on their employment, the influence of religion…[and] the difficulty of officering.

A second request was sent on 18 October. War exigencies now required the military inclusion of indigenous men.  In the British interpretation, the loyal service of Indians during the colonial period still resonated and was again requested in aid of the empire. A third, albeit not as direct, call was written by Bonar Law, on behalf of the king on 25 October. [7]  

A November 1917 report from the Ministry of Militia replied to the question of “whether there was any General Order of the Department by which Indians were not allowed to enlist. No Such General Order was issued. Towards the latter part of 1915, the number of Indians who volunteered to enlist was continuously increasing, and representations were made from the Crown … that they should be allowed to do so, and the following circular letter was issued on December 10, 1915. This regulation has never been altered since that time.”[8]  The aforementioned circular from the Ministry of Militia promulgated “that owing to the large number of applications for enlistment of Indians, authority is hereby granted to enlist Indians in the various Units for Overseas Service.” The response to the change in Indian enlistment policy was overwhelming. A number of battalions formed after December 1915 had a high percentage of Indians, although none rivalled the 107th and the 114th which 50% to 75% Indian in composition. Most were dispatched overseas in 1916, although all, save for the 107th were broken up as reinforcements, many boosting the Indian complexion of the enduring 107th.  In November 1916, roughly one year after the official sanction, the distribution of known Indian enlistments (1,187) was released by the DIA and was widely published in newspapers across the country.  The same report stated that Indians had donated $24,679.30 to various war funds.[9]

Canadian recruitment policies at the outbreak of war and into 1915 could not sustain national formations in the face of mounting casualties, a decline in voluntary enlistment and an expanding expeditionary force. Pragmatism required policies be altered to allow for the inclusion of Indians, and eventually for their conscription. Canada introduced conscription with the controversial Military Service Bill on 11 June 1917, to the indignation of most French-Canadians. Confusion and capricious policy concerning the position of Indians was immediate and pronounced. On 29 August the Military Service Act (MSA) legally sanctioned conscription.

The act applied to all male British subjects in Canada, including Indians, Asians, and blacks, between the ages of twenty and forty.  Driven by the necessities of the war, Canada’s policy towards Indian military service had reversed since 1914. Ottawa was now demanding, under law, Indian participation.  Before the closing registration date of 1 February 1918 arrived, however, Ottawa passed legislation exempting Indians (and Japanese) from the terms of the MSA based on the tenets of prior treaties.

The need for manpower, however, drastically influenced the military position of Indians during 1917 and 1918, and voluntary recruitment drives were undertaken on reserves across the country.  In addition to serving as snipers and scouts, Canadian Indians were employed in every other branch of the combat arms and auxiliary formations except for the Royal Tank Corps.  They served in both the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve, and the Royal Navy. Three members of the defunct 114th Battalion served as pilots in the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force.[10]  One, Lieutenant Oliver Milton Martin, went on to serve in the Second World War, attaining the rank of brigadier general, the highest position ever attained in the Canadian Forces by an Indian.  In total, at least seventeen Indians were commissioned officers in the CEF during the First World War.  For the majority of men who served in the Great War, the camaraderie created by the horrors of trench warfare transcended race. From the historical record available, it appears that the age-old adage of relying on the man beside you in combat, and in turn fighting for him, held true for most men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, regardless of race, colour, or creed.


For all nations, the sacrifice of the First World War was measured in blood and the staggering number of dead. This was no different for the Indian nations of Canada. They shared equally in the burdens of war, and they still remind the government of their sacrifices for king and country. Indian casualty rates, however, cannot be precisely calculated, since race was generally not recorded on military records.  Based on nominal roles and soldier-specific details submitted by individual Indian agents (or reserves), it is known for certain that at least 4,000 status Indians served in the CEF and that they suffered roughly 1,200 casualties. These numbers exclude non-status Indians, Inuit-Yupik, and Métis, and are based on the 1914 status-Indian population of 103,774, which increased only slightly during the war years. (The 1917 population was 105,998.)  While the number of Canadian Indians awarded honours is not officially known, Veterans Affairs states that “at least 50 medals were awarded to aboriginal people in Canada for bravery and heroism.”[11]  Indian women also formed patriotic and Red Cross societies on their reserves. They made bandages, knitted various items of clothing, and raised funds by selling traditional crafts. The Canadian Red Cross Society stated that the articles made by Indian women were the finest quality of knitting and sewing they received.  By the end of the war, Indians had donated almost $45,000 to war funds.[12]

Nevertheless, significant Indian participation in the war effort both on and off the battlefield did little to alter governmental policy. Indian veteran Private Daniel Pelletier remarked: “The army treated us all right … there was no discrimination ‘over there’ and we were treated good.”[13] This relative equality, however, was not manifest in government veteran programs and benefits, and Indians remained wards of the state under the paternalistic Indian Act.  Indian veterans also did not receive equal consideration for pensions, disability or War Veterans’ Allowance, despite the promises.  Following the war, with their service no longer required, Indian soldiers returned to the position of unwanted peoples and did not receive equitable treatment as veterans.

The inclusion of Indians in the Canadian Expeditionary Force was a pragmatic decision on the part of the Canadian government, one based on the necessity for manpower to meet national war aims and in response to requests from British authorities. This inclusion was not intended to transcend contemporary social, political, or cultural norms within Canadian society. The elevated and unprecedented participation of Indians during the First World War, however, was a potential catalyst to accelerate their attainment of equal rights. This did not happen. Paternalistic and authoritative policies prevailed, and the recognition of Indian military contributions was fast forgotten. War service, both on and off the battlefield, did not alter their socioeconomic or political realities within Canada, nor did it hasten the attainment of equal rights or enfranchisement. Following the war, veterans were also denied access to most veteran programs.


In late 1917 Arthur Meighen, minister of the interior and superintendent-general of Indian Affairs, summarized the relationship between Indians and Canada during the Great War: “It is an inspiring fact that these descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of a continent so recently appropriated by our own ancestors should voluntarily sacrifice their lives on European battlefields, side by side with men of our own race, for the preservation of the ideals of our civilization, and their staunch devotion forms an eloquent tribute to the beneficent character of British rule over a native people.”[14] No better statement represents the negligible impact Indian participation in the war had on the broader social and political realities of Indians within Canada. Indians were willing, through the bonding experience of a common war, to enter into Canadian society as equals. Canada, as evidenced by Meighen’s declaration, rejected this offer, refusing to acknowledge the shared experience of the First World War and, more importantly, the benefits that could have been derived from it. The sacrifices of Indian soldiers and communities shaped the eras that followed. These experiences challenged notions of Indian identity, as well as their appropriate place in national orders. Although the Great War began 100 years ago, for the indigenous peoples of Canada the war for cultural, territorial, and socio-economic equality and recognition is still being fought today.



[1] Duncan Campbell Scott, 1919 Report of the Deputy Superintendent General for Indian Affairs: The Indians and the Great War—House of Commons Sessional Paper No. 27 (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1920), 13.

[2] LAC, RG 10, Vol. 6767, File 452-17. Return of Indian Enlistments, 1917; LAC, RG 10, Vol. 6771, File 452-29. Return of Indian Enlistments, 1919; Duncan Campbell Scott, 1919Report of the Deputy Superintendent General for Indian Affairs: The Indians and the Great War—House of Commons Sessional Paper No. 27 (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1920), 13.

[3] LAC, RG 24, C-1-a, Vol. 6564-Part I. Revision of the Militia Act, 1904.

[4] LAC, RG 24-c-1-a, Vol. 1221, Part 1 HQ-593-1-7. Hodgins to Hughes, with Reply, 8 August 1914.

[5] James Dempsey, Warriors of the King: Prairie Indians in World War I (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1999), 38–39.

[6] Tim Cook, At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914–1916, Vol. 1 (Toronto: Penguin Group Canada, 2007), 28–30.

[7] House of Lords Records Office/Parliamentary Archives (London, UK), Andrew Bonar Law Papers, BL/55/16. Memorandum Colonial Office to Governors General and Administrators of British Dominions, Colonies and Protectorates, 8 October 1915; Cabinet Memorandum to the Dominions: The Question of Raising Native Troops for Imperial Service, 18 October 1915 (also contained in Harcourt Papers-445).

[8] LAC, RG 24-c-1-a, Vol. 1221, File HQ-593-1-7. Letter from Ministry of Militia to A.G. Chisholm (Lawyer, London, Ontario), 26 November 1917.

[9] For example, these numbers appear in the Ottawa Citizen, “Red Men on the Firing Line,” 19 November 1916, and the Regina Leader, “Indians are doing their bit in the Great War,” 18 November 1916.

[10] Duncan Campbell Scott, 1919 Report of the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Sessional Paper No. 27: The Indians and the Great War (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1920), 15, 27.

[11] Veterans Affairs Canada, at pdf.

[12] LAC, RG 10, Vol. 6762, File 452-3. Native Contributions to War Funds; Department of Indian Affairs, Annual Report of the DIA, 1917 (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1918), 18.

[13] LAC, RG 10, Vol. 3211, File 527, 787. Various Correspondence on Loft and the League of Indians of Canada, 1919–1935.

[14] Department of Indian Affairs, Annual Report of the DIA, 1917 (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1918), 17.

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NACBS Reception at the AHA on 4 January from 5:30-7:00

Posted by jaskelly under Conferences, NACBS | Tags: , AHA 2015, reception | 0 Comments

NACBS members are warmly invited to our annual reception at the AHA, on Sunday, January 4, at 5:30-7:00 in the Bryant Suite of the Hilton. Hope you can join us!

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