Skip to content

The NACBS Blog


Interview with Mark Doyle, Co-Winner of the 2017 Stansky Book Prize

Posted by rdaily under Interview | Tags: prize, stansky | 0 Comments

Mark Doyle is an Associate Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History at Middle Tennessee State University. His book, Communal Violence in the British Empire: Disturbing the Pax (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), was co-awarded the 2017 Stansky Prize.


How did you become interested in this topic? 

When I wrapped up my previous book on sectarian violence in 19th-century Belfast, I was interested in seeing just how far my ideas were transferrable to other divided societies. I was also reading a lot of new work on the connections between Ireland and India under British rule, so it made sense to expand my focus to the empire at large. I was surprised by the lack of comparative work on communal/sectarian violence around the British Empire, considering the obvious similarities between, say, Hindu-Muslim violence in India and Protestant-Catholic violence in Ireland. This is something that comes up quite frequently in conversations about the British Empire and, to a certain extent, in popular understandings of British imperialism, but it was not something that had undergone systematic academic analysis.

Which archives and/or collections did you find most helpful?

Each of the archives I visited in Ireland, the UK, and India were helpful in different ways, but one collection that was particularly useful was the British Newspaper Archive maintained by the British Library. For a small subscription fee you get access to an enormous variety of British and Irish newspapers that are keyword searchable; this enabled me to look for specific words or phrases (e.g., “fanatical”) that appeared in British reports of violent episodes and to engage in some fairly detailed analysis of the discourses that people were tapping into to describe what was happening. A decade ago this sort of analysis would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, but now it’s much easier to identify patterns of language and habits of thought across time and place, which I think is quite exciting.

Did you make any particularly important archival findings? Was there a moment when you felt like you had achieved a breakthrough in your research?

There were no huge breakthroughs, but one thing that kept surprising me was when a person that I had been researching in one sphere of imperial activity popped up in an entirely different sphere. For instance, Philip Wodehouse was governor of British Guiana in 1856 during the anti-Portuguese riots there, and then in 1874 he was governor of Bombay Presidency during anti-Parsi riots in Bombay city. And the preacher responsible for sparking the riots in Guiana, John Sayers Orr, was somebody that I had encountered during my dissertation research engaging in much the same kind of behavior in Greenock, Scotland, several years earlier. These kinds of unexpected convergences demonstrate just how much of a circulatory system the empire was, and just how much events in one part of the world could influence the course of events in others. 

Does your project engage other disciplines? If so, which ones, and how?

I think most good historical work uses insights from other disciplines, whether we explicitly acknowledge it or not. I drew on postcolonial theory to understand the discursive strategies by which British observers made sense of communal violence, social-science research on mass violence (e.g., the work of Charles Tilly) to help me define my terms with precision and to know which questions I could be asking, and theoretical work on liberalism and the state to provide an interpretive framework for my data. One of the great things about being a historian is that it allows you to be methodologically promiscuous in this way.

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

Each project originates in its own way, but once it has begun the key thing is to find ways to build and maintain momentum. It’s relatively easy to pile up undigested data and develop long lists of books and articles to read; it’s much harder to force yourself to transform your ideas and materials into a written product. I was working on this book for about seven years, and for most of that time I left it on the backburner while I dealt with other professional and personal things of more immediate importance. At a certain point I decided that if I didn’t find a way to prioritize this project then it was never going to get done, and so I made a New Year’s resolution to write every single day for a year (including weekends, holidays, etc.). Some days I would do little more than revise a paragraph or fiddle with a footnote, but other days I would be able to devote several hours to untangling a particularly knotty passage or idea. Much of what I wrote on one day might be totally cast aside the next, but that was okay. The point was to have it in front of me for at least a few minutes every day, so that it was no longer this big, insurmountable object that I could always talk myself out of tackling. I just made it part of my everyday existence, like eating breakfast or brushing my teeth. And it worked: I didn’t finish the whole book by the end of that year, but it didn’t take much longer to see it through to the end. This is not something that would work for everybody – I know people who set aside specific hours of each weekday, or specific days of the week, for similar purposes – but the key is to find ways to keep pushing forward, regardless of how you feel on a particular day or if your environmental conditions are just right. Find a rhythm and stick to it, come what may.

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

I have a fairly heavy teaching load and no regular sabbaticals, so finding the time and energy to work on this project was a challenge, particularly given its globe-spanning nature. Thanks to some external and internal funding, I was able to travel to the most important archives and to present at some international conferences, and of course I benefitted enormously from the various digitization projects and other online resources that have been developed in recent years. Scarcity of resources is still a challenge for someone in my position, but it’s not nearly the obstacle that it once was.

What was your most surprising revelation or important conclusion?

I think my most important conclusion – which is in line with other recent work on the topic – concerns the limits of British power in its colonies. What emerges from my research is a picture of an imperial state that was not nearly as competent or confident as it pretended to be. British officials were often working at cross purposes with one another, acting with insufficient information, hesitant when they should have been forceful, forceful when they should have been sensitive, and unclear about the long-term (or even short-term) consequences of their actions. The closer you look at the day-to-day operations of the British Empire, the more you understand the improvisational and error-prone nature of the entire enterprise. I think this is something certain colonized people picked up on, and this enabled them to mount effective challenges to British hegemony in the 20thcentury.

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

Many of the places I’ve studied continue to experience ethnic/religious conflict. I think my work can not only help us understand the origins of those conflicts, but, perhaps more importantly, it throws some light on the role that the state can play in fostering, interpreting, suppressing, or exploiting those conflicts. Despite what its representatives might say, the state is rarely a neutral arbiter in these disputes, and its role needs to be very carefully scrutinized in order to bring about any kind of lasting resolution.

How do you hope your work contributes to the historiography?

I hope scholars take my arguments about the relationship between violence and the imperial state and apply them to other parts of the British Empire. There is only so much one can cover in a single monograph, so I would love to see a similar kind of analysis done for parts of the world that I haven’t explored (East Africa, the Dominions, the Middle East, etc.). While local studies are obviously important, and historians should always be attuned to the particular and the idiosyncratic, I think we could do more to understand some of the common denominators that held the British Empire together and make it a distinct unit of analysis. If this book has any originality, it is to take some things that we already know about individual cases (Ireland, India, Ceylon, the West Indies) and stitch together a larger set of arguments about what made the British Empire tick. It’s at this macro scale that I think its contribution can be greatest. 

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

I’m all over the place at the moment. I’ve just finished editing a two-volume historical encyclopedia of the British Empire for ABC-CLIO, which should be out next month. I’m starting work on an article about the Fisk Jubilee Singers (an African-American choral group from Nashville) and their tours of Ireland in the 1870s – this is part of a larger interest I’ve developed in the history of Africans and Asians in Ireland prior to the 20thcentury. For the last few years I’ve also been gathering material for another empire-wide project on outbreaks of state violence during and after World War One. But the most pressing project (manuscript due in August) is a book I’m writing about the English rock band the Kinks, which has nothing really to do with the British Empire and for that reason has been a most welcome diversion. It’s about the relationship between the band and their north London neighborhood, the postwar changes undergone by the British working classes (suburbanization, slum clearance, etc.), and the way those changes found expression in the Kinks’ music. It’s wonderful to be able to pop a CD into my car on the way to work and tell myself I’m doing research.

0 Comments Read full post »


Interview with 2017 Stansky Prize Co-Winner Laura Beers

Posted by StephenJackson under Interview | 0 Comments

Laura Beers, Stansky Prize 2017 Co-Winner

American University and University of Birmingham
Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson, Socialist, Feminist, Internationalist (Harvard University Press, 2016)

How did you become interested in this topic? 

After I finished my first book on the Labour party and the mass media, I had initially intended to write a history of women and the British party system. I was reaching that book when I came across Ellen Wilkinson’s press clipping collection, which is held at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. I “knew” Ellen Wilkinson from my work onYour Britain, as she had been an active proponent of Labour’s pursuing a modern mass media strategy in the 1920s and 1930s, and had served as party chairman during Labour’s landslide general election campaign in 1945. However, the woman whom I encountered through the pages of her clippings’ books was a revelation. In addition to being a remarkably media savvy politician, she was an inveterate traveler and consummate internationalist, and her career in the international socialist movement was as impressive as her domestic work as a champion of the dispossessed. (Wilkinson is most famous for leading the 1936 Jarrow Crusade of unemployed men from her constituency in Jarrow to the Palace of Westminster to petition, unsuccessfully, for relief for the distressed areas.) I was fascinated by how these two pieces of Wilkinson’s career fit together, and how she understood socialism as both a British and an international project. My passion for the press clippings led me to abandon the broader project and throw my full energy into researching what would become Red Ellen

Did any specific elements of your training as an historian prove to be useful to this project?

Early on in my career as a PhD student, I acted as a research assistant putting together primary source collections for a course on the British empire. The experience meant sitting in the basement of Widener library trawling through hard copies of Hansardand the British Parliamentary Papers, and my resulting facility with those sources has proved invaluable in much of my subsequent archive work.  It also taught me to be a detective 

Which archives and/or collections did you find most helpful?

The Labour and Communist Party collections in the People’s History Museum were unsurprisingly huge resources, as were the TUC collections at the Modern Records Centre, and the Women’s Library, which is now at the LSE (when I started the project, it was still held in Whitechapel). In terms of personal collections which offered a glimpse of the private Ellen, Robin Page Arnot, Winifred Horrabin and Winifred Holtby’s papers at the Hull History Centre were great finds, as were letters from Ellen to Nancy Astor.  

Did you make any particularly important archival findings? Was there a moment when you felt like you had achieved a breakthrough in your research?

The first time that I went to the Hull History Centre to read through Page Arnot’s papers, an archivist asked me what I was researching and then told me that they had boxes of uncatalogued papers from Wilkinson’s first biographer, Betty Vernon. The Vernon boxes ended up containing typescript notes from interviews that she had done with scores of men and women, now dead, who had known Wilkinson personally!

Did you encounter any unexpected problems or difficulties with your sources?

My principal difficulty with my sources was that – other than the press clippings – Wilkinson had no private papers. Her brother had burned all of her papers after her death, which meant that, while Wilkinson had a huge published archive, if I wanted to track down her private voice, I had to hunt for traces of her in the archives of her friends and colleagues. Fortunately, my husband jokes that I am detective manqué,and I became obsessed with tracking down traces of Wilkinson in archives throughout Britain.

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

Find a project that you are really passionate about, even if the topic isn’t super trendy. Red Ellenultimately took over seven years to write and if I hadn’t been totally obsessed with the project, I could not have seen it through.    

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

Your Britainwas published shortly before I was married. In contrast, Red Ellen came out just after my second son was born. Finding the time and mental space to research and write a book as a mother on the tenure track is hard, and I was extremely lucky in the support that I had along the way.    

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

Red Ellen came out at a time when the Labour party was seriously rethinking its future direction, and I like to think that, for some of the people who read it, the picture that it painted of the early twentieth-century socialist left, and particularly of the left’s relationship to Europe, was provocative in inspiring their own thinking about Labour’s present and future. The project also came out near the centenary of women’s enfranchisement and contributed to the renewed attention to women’s contribution in politics. I like to think that Red Ellenhas played a role in the city of Middlesbrough’s decision to erect a statue to the woman who served as MP for Middlesbrough East from 1924-1931. 

How do you hope your work contributes to the historiography?

I hope that the book serves as a reminder of how integrated many early Labour activists were in the international socialist movement, and of the fact that not all female socialists were hostile to the suffrage movement and organized feminism. Ellen Wilkinson was one of the great “Labour worthies” of the Attlee generation, but her understanding of socialism was by no means limited to realizing opportunities for Britain’s male breadwinners.  

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

I’m sticking with politics, but branching out into a new project on the politics of infertility in modern Britain. I’m interested in what debates over funding for research and treatment for infertility can tell us about British society more broadly in the modern period – how the social is constituted, who’s included, who’s excluded, what’s the relationship between the individual and the state? It’s a new departure for me, and has me sitting in medical archives, and reading back issues of the British Medical Journal, and I am really enjoying it!



0 Comments Read full post »


Annual Midwest Conference on British Studies, September 14-16

Posted by rdaily under conference, MWCBS | 0 Comments

The MWCBS will meet in Lexington, KY, hosted by the Department of History at the University of Kentucky, from September 14th to the 16th, 2018.

0 Comments Read full post »

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

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

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

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

Lynneth J. Miller is a PhD candidate at Baylor University

0 Comments Read full post »

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


0 Comments Read full post »


Interview with Christopher Bishof

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

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

How did you become interested in this topic?

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

What was your most surprising revelation or important conclusion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


0 Comments Read full post »


Constructing a Menu of the British Empire

Posted by rdaily under pedagogy | 0 Comments

Bridget Keown is a PhD candidate at Northeastern University, USA

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

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

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

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

1)    Name and origin of the dish

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

3)    Its history in relation to the British Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

0 Comments Read full post »


Durham Residential Research Library Visiting Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information about the collections can be found here:

Academic enquiries: Dr James Kelly, [email protected]

Please send applications to: [email protected]

0 Comments Read full post »


CFP: Western Conference on British Studies

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

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

The next WCBS annual conference will be held in San Antonio, Texas, on September 28-29, 2018. The WCBS Program Committee, co-chaired by Susan Grayzel and Joseph Ward of Utah State University, seeks to design a meeting that is both interdisciplinary and wide-ranging in its temporal span. Scholars of Britain, the British Atlantic World, and the British Empire broadly defined are invited to participate. The committee welcomes proposals for both individual papers and full panels, and it encourages graduate student submissions.  

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

Please submit proposals to [email protected] by the end of the day on Friday, June 1, 2018. 

0 Comments Read full post »


The British Empire in Eight Objects

Posted by rdaily | 0 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Develop a narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Parrish

Assistant Professor of Humanities

College of the Ozarks

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



0 Comments Read full post »


2016 annual meeting
adam matthew
annual conference
annual meeting
blog post
British and Irish Studies Intelligencer
Call for Editors
conference, NACBS 2014
conference, NACBS 2019
conference, NACBS 2020
conference, NACBS 2021
deadline extension
Digital Humanities
Diversity and Inclusion Fellowships
Emergency Funding Grants
emergency grant
executive committee endorsement
executive director
extended deadline
Folger Fellowship
Graduate & Early Career Caucus
Graduate & Early Career Caucus
Graduate and Early Career Caucus
Grants and Awards
international students
Journal of British Studies
MA essay prize
meeting minutes
member news
mentorship program
NACBS 2022
NACBS Graduate & Early Career Caucus
NACBS Graduate & Early Career Caucus
NACBS Graduate & Early Career Caucus
NACBS Graduate & Early Career Caucus
NACBS Membership Offers
new book
new officers
Pre-dissertation award
pre-dissertation grant
Priya Satia
Rights Task Force
speaker series
test category
walter d love prize
Zoom Session
“White House Conference on American History”


Affiliated Organisations