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Summer 2015 Newsletter

I. Save the Date: 2016 Britain and the World Conference in London

We are pleased to announce that the ninth annual Britain and the World Conference will take place at Senate House at the University of London from 23 to 26 June 2016. At this time, we would like to invite our newsletter readers to mark their calendars and make preliminary arrangements for attendance to what promises to be a fantastic event.  More information will be available in the coming weeks on http://britishscholar.org and in the next edition of the newsletter, including a formal Call for Papers.

II. Britain and the World Journal as Premier Outlet for Research

As the new academic year begins, we would like to invite our newsletter readers to consider the British Scholar Society’s journal, Britain and the World, as an outlet for their research. A biannual, peer-reviewed journal published by Edinburgh University Press, Britain and the World is recognized as one of the top resources not only in British history but in the field of history in general, with a 2012 impact factor rating in the Thomson Reuters SSCI index of .231 (giving it a rank of 34th out of 69 indexed history journals worldwide).

Britain and the World is an ideal place for articles whose focus is on Britain and its global interactions, whether carried out in an imperial, extra-imperial, or domestic space, from the early modern period to the present. Articles chosen for publication are sure to reach a wide audience and inspire further conversation on topics and issues important to the field. Those interested in submitting an article to Britain and the World should visit EUP’s website for the journal at http://www.euppublishing.com/journal/brw. Specific instructions for submissions can also be found at http://www.euppublishing.com/page/brw/submissions.

III. New Books in “Britain and the World” Book Series

The British Scholar Society is pleased to announce two new additions to its book series, “Britain and the World,” published by Palgrave Macmillan: Steven L. Keck’s British Burma in the New Century, 1895-1918 and Tancred Bradshaw’s The Glubb Reports: Glubb Pasha and Britain’s Empire Project in the Middle East 1920-1956. More information on these interesting and important volumes can be found at the following link, which also has instructions on how to contact the book series editors with a title to be considered for publication:

http://www.palgrave.com/series/Britain-and-the-World/BAW/

IV. Associate Editor’s Research Draws Praise in American Historical Review

Society Associate Editor Dr. Helene von Bismarck’s book, British Policy in the Persian Gulf, 1961-1968: Conceptions of Informal Empire (published in 2013 in the Society’s “Britain and the World” series from Palgrave Macmillan), has been praised in a recent review in the American Historical Review as “an admirable overview of the operations of informal empire in the Persian Gulf during the 1960s.” An extract from reviewer Spencer Mawby’s piece is available at the following link, which also contains citation information for those who would like to access the full review via organizational or institutional subscriptions to the AHR:

http://ahr.oxfordjournals.org/content/119/3/985.extract

V. Assistant General Editor on How Video Games Help Us Understand History

Society Assistant General Editor Robert Whitaker has published an essay on the UK video game website Rock, Paper, Shotgun, titled “How Thinking Like a Historian Can Help You Understand Games, from The Witcher 3 to Assassin’s Creed.” In it, Dr. Whitaker argues that understanding video games can help you understand history and the development of historical interpretation. Please visit the following link to read his thoughtful and compelling conclusions about the way video games reflect not only historical ideas and debates but also the way history, as a field, is understood on a social and cultural level:

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2015/07/22/the-witcher-3-real-history/

VI. Associate Editor on British Imperialism and the Ionian Islands

Society Associate Editor and Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors, Leslie Rogne Schumacher, has contributed a chapter on Britain’s Ionian protectorate to the book Imperial Expectations and Realities: El Dorados, Utopia and Dystopias (ed. Andrekos Varnava), to be published in September 2015 in Manchester University Press’ well-known “Studies in Imperialism” series edited by John MacKenzie and Andrew Thompson. Dr. Schumacher’s chapter, titled “Greek Expectations: Britain and the Ionian Islands, 1815-1864,” explores the history of one of Britain’s least-discussed imperial projects, noting the distance between the expectations the British government had of the islands and the material, political, and cultural realities the British confronted there. Information on the volume, which should be of broader interest to scholars of imperialism as well, can be found at the following link:

http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9780719097867

VII. British Pathé Releases Over 85,000 Films on YouTube

The famous newsreel and documentary production company (now an archive of historical footage), British Pathé, has released all of its archival footage on YouTube. Over 85,000 film clips of significance to a wide range of historical topics can be found via British Pathé’s YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/britishpathe. A write-up on this rich resource for scholars, educators, and the public can be found at the following link:

http://www.openculture.com/2014/04/free-british-pathe-puts-over-85000-historical-films-on-youtube.html

VIII. Conference: Centre for Port & Maritime History

The Centre for Port & Maritime History (CPMH) will hold its annual conference in Liverpool, UK on 18 September 2015. This year’s theme is “The Environmental History of Ports and Ocean Trade,” and we invite our newsletter readers to consider attending this event, which should see a fascinating conversation on the intersection between maritime studies, economic and sociocultural history, and environmental history. More information can be obtained by emailing Simon Hill (click to email)  (SdotJdotHill1at2011dotljmudotacdotuk)   or by visiting the following link:

http://portcitylives.wordpress.com/

IX. Call for Papers: International Conference of Europeanists

We would like to draw our readers’ attention to the following Call for Papers for the 23rd Annual International Conference of Europeanists:

Call for Papers: “Resilient Europe?”
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. • April 14-16, 2016
Organized by the Council for European Studies

Resilience is the capacity to survive, to bounce back and to innovate in the wake of extraordinary stress or unexpected crises. Psychologists view resilience as a character trait. Today, researchers and scholars of all stripes are beginning to understand resilience as constitutive of societies as well as of individuals.

The Program Committee for the 23rd International Conference of Europeanists invites participants to consider contemporary Europe’s capacity for resilience. Since the financial crisis began in 2008, stresses and shocks of various sorts have posed dilemmas that challenge Europe’s resilience in economic, political, and cultural domains. How will European economies confront slow growth and austerity, as well as the atrophy of “social Europe” and the growth of inequality? How will demographic decline combined with immigration and assimilation affect the ethnic composition of Europe? Will the protracted Eurozone crisis and waning public support for European institutions and policies alter the viability of the European project? How will secular Europe confront the challenges of religious mobilization? How will European democracies confront the rise of nationalist parties and the valorization of “illiberalism” as viable political practice? Can Europe remain a “Normative Power,” a force for liberalism, democracy and the rule of law in the world, in the face of rising powers and resurgent authoritarianism?

The Council for European Studies (CES) seeks proposals that explore these questions and the quality of resilience in Europe. It encourages proposals from the widest range of disciplines and, in particular, proposals that combine disciplines, nationalities, and generations. CES invites proposals for panels, roundtables, book discussions and individual papers on the study of Europe, broadly defined, and strongly encourages participants to submit their proposals as part of an organized panel. Full panel proposals will be given top priority in the selection process. To form panels, participants may find it useful to connect with like-minded scholars through the many CES research networks.

Deadlines:
Proposals may be submitted from August 17 to October 1, 2015. Participants will be notified of the Committee’s decisions by December 10, 2015. Information on how to submit will be posted on the Council’s website and disseminated through its newsletter. To subscribe to the CES newsletter, join the CES mailing list today.

For more information, please visit:

http://councilforeuropeanstudies.org/conferences/2016-ces-conference/call-for-proposals

X. Call for Papers: Urban History Group 2016

The Urban History Group will meet for its annual conference at the University of Cambridge from 31 March to 1 April 2016, with attendees discussing the theme of “Re-Evaluating the Place of the City in History.” The conference organizers have invited proposals for both individual papers and panel topics related to the central theme of the meeting. The deadline for abstract submissions is 2 October 2015. More information on this exciting event, including proposal instructions and opportunities for funding, can be found at the following link:

http://www.ehs.org.uk/events/urban-history-group-2016-re-evaluating-the-place-of-the-city-in-history/

XI. Book of the Month

Summer 2015: The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution

Reviewed by Satu Lidman, University of Turku

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Summer 2015: The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution

Faramerz Dabhoiwala, Oxford University Press, 2012. 483 pp. $US 34.95 (hardback)

Reviewed by: Satu Lidman, University of Turku

This is one of those history books one does not want to put down, as it deals so smoothly with a subject that inevitably touches every human being; sexuality. The author is a gifted storyteller, who has a lively, well-readable way to popularize history without losing the scientific accuracy. The Origins of Sex discusses the limits of accepted, tolerated and criminalized sexual behavior and acts in the context of English culture after the Reformation until the end of the early modern period.

For those who are familiar with the history of discipline and punishment in early modern Europe, the first eighty pages may not offer much entirely new. Although this episode is crucial for understanding perceptions on sexuality in the Western past, it is rather the following entities of the book that offer the most to think about. Especially interesting are the questions concerning the relations of religious and sexual toleration, and the conflicts that they inflicted within the legal sphere.

The main focus of the book lies on the liberalizing and secularizing culture of the Enlightenment, beginning from its early phases in the late seventeenth century. At that time a new understanding concerning the rights of an individual, personal freedom and privacy sprang to life. Voices that had earlier been silenced now became noisier, yet these belonged to the privileged in the society, to educated classes. They also almost entirely represented male attitudes and conceptions towards sexuality. This means, that a historian in many ways has to be content in demonstrating only some sides of the multifaceted past reality.

Dabhoiwala clearly admits that history writing always has the effect of viewing the past through some kind of glasses; a researcher decides to concentrate on something and ignores something else. To my mind this is also the beauty of it, as it guarantees the impossibility of putting history into just one mold. Nevertheless, I still think that some more emphasis on the aspect of gender would have added the value of the book.

The Origins of Sex analyses many dimensions of sexual life such as seduction, polygamy, perceptions of chastity in relation to social standing, prostitution in the perspective of philanthropy, as well as the contemporary philosophical approaches to masculinity and femininity. The argument on “politeness” as a marker for new interpretations of male-female-relations in the eighteenth century is worth highlighting. In the puritan era women had been seen as the weaker sex in the sense of a natural calling for promiscuity. Now men became lustful seducers, who should improve their manners against the opposite sex. However, as Dabhoiwla states, in practice this seems to have merely resulted in strengthening the sexual double standard.

The aspects of sex life that steered contemporary discussions were, of course, not only linked with the illegal dimensions. The heterosexual monogamous marriage of the eighteenth century was seen to be in crises for people seem to often only marry for money. An interesting notion is that upper class men even published guides with information on unmarried wealthy women for their fellow bachelors. At the same time, the idea of marriage as a personal choice, free from demands of the family or even economical facts and more based on romantic attraction, slowly gained strength.

An especially thought giving part in the book that also offers much to ponder over in relation to our own time, is Dabhoiwala’s analyses of the increasing impacts of the mass culture. Prostitution in particular seems to have inspired the eighteenth and nineteenth century’s print both to labeling propaganda on fallen creatures of lewdness and to popular stories about the well-off courtesans, partly also to a more objective discussion on social challenges of poverty. These newspapers, pamphlets, novels and engravings left permanent marks in the cultural understanding, and it seems to me that their traces still color the attitudes among others towards victims of human trafficking.

The Origins of Sex is based on a vast amount of source material, and every body who has been into archives in order to find and use historical sources knows, that there is a lot of work behind any satisfactory end result. However, I would have very much appreciated a list of the literature and sources, at least of the most central ones. Now this information can only be found within the endnotes, which is not a very useful way if one would like to grasp an overview or aims at further research.

A special thanks has to go for the excellent index, which enables the use of the book for more detailed subject questions. There are nearly eighty illustrations to unwrap the world of ideal, desired, feared and disapproved representations of sexuality. Clearly, pornography was not invented during modern times – a fact that might even make teenagers more interested in history through this research.

As the basic theme of the book – controlling and enjoying sexuality – is no English invention but rather an all-European if not global phenomenon, it would have been a possibility to add some more comparative aspects. However, the writer now has succeeded in mastering his voluminous sources and avoided the quite likely danger of a too massive or detailed presentation. Actually, when coming to the end of book, one might wish for a second volume that would focus on the Victorian era and on the more resent developments of the 20th century.

As it seems, and as Dabhoiwala argues, the growing openness towards sexuality and its societal and legal implications in the course of the eighteenth century, could be called “the first sexual revolution”. Unquestionably this was mainly a masculine celebration of increasing heterosexual freedom. That there was need for a second “revolution” in the 1960’s is related to the developments of the nineteenth century and the gender inequality that the Enlightenment had left unsolved.

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May 2015 Newsletter

I. 2015 Britain and the World Conference Summary and Thanks, by Associate Editor Leslie Rogne Schumacher

The eighth annual Britain and the World Conference saw nearly 150 British Studies scholars from around the world gather in Austin, TX, for three beautiful spring days in early April. The conference was organized by The British Scholar Society and held at the Hilton DoubleTree Hotel – University Area. This year’s conference saw a return to the United States after 2014’s conference in Newcastle, UK. The conference in Newcastle was an event whose fantastic success set a high bar for future conferences, and we feel that the 2015 conference added admirably to the Society’s reputation for hosting exceptional conferences that are at once intellectually stimulating, friendly and welcoming, and uniquely entertaining.

Over the course of the three-day event, conference attendees enjoyed 39 panels, two roundtables, and four plenary lectures. The conference opened on Thursday with a welcome from the Society’s Board of Directors, announcing changes in the leadership and structure of the Society as well as new initiatives we have formulated to increase the reach and impact of our organization. Panels on Thursday included topics as wide-ranging as violence, gender, and Unionism in twentieth-century Ireland, British imperialism in the Mediterranean, and sexuality and Britishness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The lunchtime lecture was delivered by The National Archives’ Juliette Desplat, who offered an illumination of the methods, principles, and goals at work at TNA, as well a wealth of information on how to best utilize TNA’s physical, digital, and human resources. The Frank M. Turner Memorial Lecture was given by Patrick Salmon, Chief Historian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whose talk presented the audience with a fascinating illustration of an important and little understood line of work, i.e. the official historian. After the lecture, conference attendees met for an icebreaker at the hotel bar, which featured the British Scholar Cocktail.

Friday saw a host of interesting panels, with morning panels on such topics as travel and identity in the Stuart era, early modern British seafaring and mapping, and Indian and Bengali decolonization. The first of our two lunchtime roundtables followed, with panelists discussing the state of British society and politics in the months following the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum. The afternoon saw panels on subjects like nineteenth-century prison reform and punishment and violence, hunger, and identity in colonial Africa. Following this, conference attendees convened to hear Anna Clark of the University of Minnesota deliver the Britain and the World Lecture. Dr. Clark’s talk, “The British Empire, Biopolitics, and Human Rights,” intriguingly wove together a variety of domestic British sociopolitical and cultural dynamics that contributed to a British vision of global human rights based on the sanctity, protection, and improvement of the human body. The annual conference dinner party was held Friday evening at the Scholz Beer Garten, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Austin. The excellent food, beer, and conversations that occurred over the first two were a true a highlight for many.

The final day of the conference, Saturday, saw panels on topics like early modern piracy, post-1945 British-European relations, and the environment, medicine, and morality during the Victorian era. Our second lunchtime roundtable featured panelists discussing an important issue related to the methods, principles, and heritage that underpins the study of the British world, namely the Atlantic and global models of inquiry. After this, conference attendees enjoyed panels on topics such as Angl0-Chinese relations, imperial exhibitions, and Irish emigrants in the Atlantic world. In the early evening, everyone convened to hear our Keynote Address, delivered by Jane Ohlmeyer of Trinity College Dublin on the topic of “Eastward Enterprises: Colonial Ireland, Colonial India.” In a dynamic and lively talk rich in images and detail, Dr. Ohlmeyer’s lecture was a fantastic way to close a conference marked by a particularly high level of interaction and engagement in plenary events—a result perhaps of a general meeting hall that was happily conducive to audience participation. After the lecture, the conference adjourned, with attendees enjoying food and drinks out on a last night in Austin.

The British Scholar Society would like to thank all who attended the conference for making it such a successful and enjoyable event. Special thanks go to those who were involved in its planning, communication, organization, and logistics, especially Michelle D. Brock, Robert Whitaker, Bryan S. Glass, Martin Farr, Leslie Rogne Schumacher, and Helene von Bismarck. We also would like to thanks the following sponsors of the conference: British Studies, University of Texas at Austin; College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin; Department of History, University of Texas at Austin; Edinburgh University Press; Hilton DoubleTree University Area; Palgrave Macmillan; Piatra Inc.; and the Scholz Beer Garten. Finally, the Society not only welcomes those who attended this year’s conference back for our next conference, but we also welcome those of you reading who have not yet attended our annual event to submit an abstract for the coming one. We hope to hear from you in the coming year and to see you at the 2016 conference, which we are excited to announce will occur in London, at the University of London’s Senate House.

II. New General Editor, with Remarks by Outgoing General Editor Bryan S. Glass

One of the first actions at this year’s Britain and the World Conference was the ceremonial passing of the General Editor baton from our founding General Editor, Bryan S. Glass, to our new General Editor, Martin Farr. We thank Dr. Glass for all his hard work, vision, and expertise over the years, and we are happy to say that he will continue to have a central role in the Society as we look to our very exciting future as an organization under Dr. Farr’s and the rest of the Board’s management. We are also seeing another change on the Board, with Gregory Barton stepping aside as Editor-in Chief of our journal Britain and the World to focus on his many and varied research initiatives. With these changes in mind, below are remarks from Dr. Glass on the past, present, and future of the Society, reproduced from this year’s conference program and which should be of interest to those unable to attend:

“The 2015 Conference also marks the end of my tenure as General Editor of The British Scholar Society. It has been an honor and a pleasure serving the field of British history over the past nine years in this capacity. As Martin Farr takes over I am happy to report that the Society has never been stronger. Our journal, Britain and the World, is ranked 35th in the world by the Thomson Reuters Social Sciences Citation Index. The Britain and the World book series continues to publish groundbreaking monographs and anthologies that are defining the study of Britain in the twenty-first century. As evidenced by this year’s program, our conference continues to go from strength to strength. As we move into our second decade next year I am very excited about what the future holds for our Society.

“The success of the Society, however, would not be possible without the help and support of our band of dedicated scholars. While numerous volunteers have given us great assistance over the years, certain members of our team deserve special mention. Michelle Brock and Robert Whitaker have helped me to shape the Society from a graduate student-run informational website to the multifaceted organization that exists today. Martin Farr came on board in 2009 and he has been a source of unwavering energy and enthusiasm for the past six years. Michelle, Robert, and Martin are always there for the Society and me. Thank you for your unwavering dedication.

“Also, Wm. Roger Louis deserves a great deal of the credit for the intellectual trajectory of the Society. As my supervisor, he encouraged me to start the conference and the journal. It is difficult to believe that it has been almost a decade since I stood in his office as he told me that British historians needed additional outlets to present their research and publish their findings. Then he sent me on my way to see what I might do about this. All along he has supported the Society in countless ways. Thank you for being a constant inspiration and an even better friend, Roger. My tenure is not the only one that is coming to an end. Gregory Barton, who has served as the Editor-in-Chief of our journal since its foundation in 2008, is stepping aside after the September 2015 issue is sent to press on 1 June. Greg’s dedication to developing a world-class journal has been unwavering over the past eight years. Our journal’s high citation index ranking is incontestable proof that Greg achieved his goal with spectacular success. We will all greatly miss working with Greg on the journal as he focuses on his numerous research projects. Thank you, Greg, for all that you’ve given to the Society over the years.”

III. New General Editor on GE2015

Signifying the reach and impact of The British Scholar Society, we are pleased to report that our new General Editor Martin Farr was called on by the media during the lead-up to the 2015 UK General Election for his expertise on contemporary British society and politics. Below is a list of Dr. Farr’s contributions to the national and international discourse on what all will agree was, what with the rise of the SNP in Scotland so close on the heels of last year’s IndyRef, clearly one of the most important elections in the last few generations:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2015/05/05/402774833/londons-dominance-becomes-a-british-election-issue

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2015/0506/UK-economy-is-rebounding.-Why-isn-t-Cameron-benefiting-video

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32554929

http://bbc.in/1AQZ2GB

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pclcc

IV. Assistant General Editor in the Journal of British Studies

We would like to draw attention to Assistant General Editor Michelle D. Brock’s recent article in the Journal of British Studies, “Internalizing the Demonic: Satan and the Self in Early Modern Scottish Piety.” This important article shows that Dr. Brock, an assistant professor at Washington & Lee University, is fast becoming recognized as an international expert on the topic of early modern religion in the British world. Those interested can read the abstract of Dr. Brock’s article at the following link, which also provides citation information for those who would like to view/download her article via their respective institutional subscriptions:

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9518892&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0021937114001646

V. Assistant General Editor at PAX East

Assistant General Editor Robert Whitaker continues to be recognized as a leading figure in the field of history and video games, as illustrated by his participation in a panel, “History in Games: The Big Questions,” at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East convention in Boston recently. Dr. Whitaker’s appearance in Pax East, which is attended by tens of thousands of gaming industry professionals, signifies the range of compelling and relevant areas of interest that characterizes the Society’s leadership and members. Interested parties can read a description of Dr. Whitaker’s panel at the link below:

http://east.paxsite.com/schedule/panel/history-in-games-the-big-questions

VI. Associate Editor’s Call for Contributors to Project on Europeans in the Middle East

Associate Editor Leslie Rogne Schumacher has put out a call for contributors to a volume he is editing on Europeans in the service of the Ottoman sultans, Egyptian khedives, Persian shahs, and other Middle Eastern leaders during the region’s nineteenth-century “age of reform.” Dr. Schumacher’s volume seeks to rectify an oversight in the literature on the East-West relationship in that, although there is vibrant discussion on Europeans who served their own governments in the Middle East and a number of works exist on Europeans in service to early modern Middle Eastern leaders, there are relatively few unified and focused works on the vast numbers of military, political, economic, and educational “experts” who were employed by Middle Eastern leaders for the purpose of modernization and development during the nineteenth century. Those interested in contributing to this project can email Dr. Schumacher at lesliedotschumacheratgmaildotcom  (lesliedotschumacheratgmaildotcom)   for more information, including more details on the scope of the book, instructions on how to submit an abstract, and publisher information.

VII. Sad Passing of Distinguished Colleague

We heard with sadness of the passing of a leading historian of the British world, Sir Christopher Bayly, on 19 April in Chicago, IL, where he was serving as the Indian Ministry of Culture Vivekananda Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. Professor Bayly had a distinguished career at Cambridge University and was known as a leading figure in the study of the history of the British Empire and South Asia. In recognition of his achievements, Professor Bayly was awarded the Wolfson Prize in 2005, was knighted in 2007, and enjoyed membership in a host of scholarly and honorary societies. Professor Bayly’s obituary in the Telegraph can be read at the following link:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11558389/Professor-Sir-Christopher-Bayly-historian-obituary.html

VIII. CFP: Annual MBHN Conference

The Modern British History Network will hold its annual conference 16-17 June 2015 at Strathclyde University. Proposals for papers must be submitted by Friday 15 May to Dr. Emma Newlands (edotnewlandsatstrathdotacdotuk  (edotnewlandsatstrathdotacdotuk)  ). More information on the conference, including details on its keynote speakers, can be found at the following link:

http://www.mbhn.org.uk/events.html

IX. CFP: Political History Network Meeting

We would like to draw our readers’ attention to the following CFP from the Political History Network:

“The next meeting of the Political History Network will take place on Wednesday 24th June at 2.00pm at the University of Winchester. As usual papers, from PhD students and post-doctoral researchers, on any political topic in the nineteenth or twentieth century relating to any part of the world are welcome. The meeting is being facilitated by Richard Aldous of the University of Winchester to whom proposals for papers and indications of intended attendance should be sent (RicharddotAldousatwinchesterdotacdotuk  (RicharddotAldousatwinchesterdotacdotuk)  ). Directions to the meeting will be issued by Richard nearer the time. The venue is within easy walking distance of Winchester station; however should you wish to drive Richard will make parking arrangements for you.”

X. Book of the Month

May 2015: A Merciless Place: The Lost History of the Convicts sent to West Africa and the Settlement of Australia by Emma Christopher

Reviewed by David Andrew Roberts, University of New England

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May 2015: A Merciless Place: The Lost History of the Convicts sent to West Africa and the Settlement of Australia

Reviewed by: David Andrew Roberts, University of New England

Emma Christopher, Allen and Unwin 2010. 440 pp. AUS $35 (paperback)

It has always been well known, if only vaguely understood, that the British government’s 1786 decision to found a convict settlement in New South Wales was prefaced by calamitous colonisation and convict transportation schemes in Africa. All students of Australian history learn that the loss of the American colonies, Britain’s accumulating prison population and the passing of a new transportation Act in 1784 generated colossal and anxious debate on transportation policies in the 1780s. In these, Africa featured prominently, indeed preferentially, until the weight of concerns about the deadly environment, and a failed reconnaissance of Das Voltas Bay in 1786, put paid to African schemes and forced an apparently desperate decision in to fix on ‘Botany Bay’.

Given that Australian historians have so long debated the context and nature of the ‘Botany Bay Decision’, it is surprising that the African background has not received more detailed examination. After E.C.K. Gonner in 1888 famously asked whether ‘other and nobler motives were not present in the minds of the statesmen’ who determined to lay the foundations of a nation on the coast of New Holland, some of Australia’s premier historians, such as A. G. L. Shaw, Manning Clark, Geoffrey Blainey, Ged Martin and especially Alan Frost, have dissected the matter. While they mostly hoped to place the Botany Bay decision within a broader, hopefully coherent imperial policy, they have perhaps failed to dislodge the orthodox view that the African schemes were little more than part of a reductive process that led the Pitt administration towards Botany Bay as a place of last resort – ‘a mediocre second choice’, as Robert Hughes put it.

In A Merciless Place, Emma Christopher ably shows that the story of this neglected prelude to Australian settlement is a not only important, but also extraordinarily compelling. She has a gift for identifying an epic subject, for extracting its social, political and human dimensions, and for communicating the story with great eloquence and power. It is in truth a story ready made for an artful historian – a cast of colourful and mostly iniquitous characters, testing themselves and one another in an oppressive environment and in circumstances conducive to extreme displays of avarice and treachery; a story in which a barbarous governor meets his demise on the end of a rope outside Newgate prison, and another leading protagonist is tied to a cannon and blown to pieces. Ranging across an array of settings and themes – poverty and crime in the shady boroughs of Georgian London; depravity and horror in the forts and dungeons that serviced the transatlantic slave trade; new beginnings on the relatively Arcadian and regenerative shore of Botany Bay – the book makes the most of its fabulous raw material.

Such a style does perhaps (as other, more critical reviewers have noted) occasionally draw the author into old tropes and traditions, and some aspects of Christopher’s argument have been challenged (notably by the erudite and discerning Emeritus Professor Norman Etherington). This calls to mind the recent warnings of the Oxford historian, Sir Keith Thomas, that young academics risk ‘damaging’ the integrity of their discipline by seeking a slice of the popular market. In my view, although I have a far lesser grasp of the subject, Christopher has not sacrificed rigour and originality by appealing to a broader audience. Her archival research (one of Christopher’s trademark strengths) is commendable, and she has dutifully attended to the secondary literature, although the omissions include Patrick Webb’s 1994 work on convicts and slaves on McCarthy Island, and Australian historians Ged Martin and Alan Frost have dealt with this subject in more than ‘a sentence or two’ (p. 19).

But this is one of those works where one feels indebted to the author, not just for crafting such an instructive and rewarding account of a largely neglected topic, but for inspiring a passion for history that will be readily consumed by a broader public. The scholarly merits of A Merciless Place were recognised by the Australian Historical Association, which declared it the joint winner of the 2011 Ernest Scott Prize for ‘the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation’. It was also the worthy winner of the 2012 Kay Daniels Award for early colonial history, in part because of its appeal to scholars and the general public alike. While one hopes that Christopher might be slightly discomfited by the hubris of the publisher’s blurb, which describes her as ‘one of the most brilliant young historians of her generation’, there is no doubting that she is an exceptional talent. Her next work, purportedly a history of a west African slave trading factory, is eagerly anticipated.

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March 2015 Newsletter

I. 2015 Conference Dinner Party Tickets Now Available for Purchase

We are pleased to announce that tickets to our 2015 Conference Dinner Party are now available for purchase. Tickets are only $20, buy they must be purchased by Friday, 20 March so we can put in the food order.

The Dinner Party will take place at the Scholz Beer Garten on Friday evening, 3 April from 6:30 to 9:30 pm. Founded in 1866, the Scholz Beer Garten is the oldest continuously operated business in Austin, Texas. You may find out more about the venue at www.scholzgarten.net or at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholz_Garten. The dinner will feature famous Texas BBQ, sides, and desserts – all for only $20 per person. Non-alcoholic drinks will be provided, with alcoholic drinks available for purchase.

Again, tickets to this exciting event must be purchased by Friday, 20 March so we can put in the food order. Please use the link on the Conference webpage to purchase tickets:

http://britishscholar.org/conference-2015/

II. Reminder: Registration for 2015 Conference

We would like to remind those readers who plan on attending the 2015 Britain and the World Conference that conference registration is now open.  In addition to access to all panels and plenary talks, registration includes breakfast, lunch, and tea/coffee breaks on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Doubletree Hotel. Please go to the Conference webpage to register:

http://britishscholar.org/conference-2015/

III. Final Program for 2015 Conference Now Available

The final program for the 2015 Britain and the World Conference has been completed and is now available to view. In it, details can be found on the many exciting panels, roundtables, and plenary lectures that are planned for our annual meeting in Austin, TX on 2-4 April 2015.

In addition, the program also provides information on our planned events, including the Conference Icebreaker on the first evening of the conference (where the British Scholar Cocktail will be available!), as well as on the Dinner Party and opportunities for outings around Austin. We are looking forward to seeing all of the conference participants in a few weeks!

Britain and the World 2015 Final Conference Program

IV. Information on Allotted Speaking Time for 2015 Conference

The 2015 Conference Organizing Committee would like to respond to queries from our conference participants regarding the allotted time for each panel presenter. Presenters at this year’s conference are each allotted 20 minutes, with each panel’s chair in charge of keeping time.

Presenters are strongly encouraged to make sure their presentations can be concluded in 20 minutes, so their fellow panelists have the same opportunity to speak and so there is ample time for the audience to ask questions after all the panelists have presented.

V. New Issue of Britain and the World Journal Now Available

The new issue of Britain and the World: Historical Journal of The British Scholar Society is now available both in print and online. This edition is particularly rich in breadth and depth, with four articles, fifteen book reviews,  a roundtable on the effect of air campaigns on British and German society during World War II, and a new entry in the Witness to History series. Members can access the issue at the following link:

http://www.euppublishing.com/toc/brw/8/1

VI. 2015 Membership Renewal

We would like to invite our readers to renew their memberships in the Society (or sign up for the first time). Basic-level membership in the Society is renewed annually and includes the following benefits:

  • *Two issues of Britain and the World: Historical Journal of The British Scholar Society
  • *A discounted British Scholar Annual Conference registration rate
  • *Access to Britain and the World on our Edinburgh University Press webpage
  • *20% off all history titles from Palgrave Macmillan
  • *20% off all history titles from Cambridge University Press
  • *20% off all books published by Edinburgh University Press
  • *10% off all Edinburgh University Press journal subscriptions

The Society also offers a Life Membership for one-time donations of $1000 or more.  In addition to the annual membership benefits, Life Membership includes:

  • *A subscription to Britain and the World for life, with no need to renew
  • *Full online access to Britain and the World for life
  • *Your name will be featured in the Register of Life Members, found in each issue of Britain and the World and on The British Scholar Society website

Go to http://britishscholar.org/british-scholar/membership/ for more details on how to sign up for either level of membership in The British Scholar Society.

VII. CFP: “Celebrating Albion” Conference

The British Scholar Society would like to call readers’ attention to the following Call for Papers for what sounds like a fascinating event:

“Celebrating Albion” Conference

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

A one-day conference for historians of Britain and Ireland, marking 10 years since the final issue of ALBION, the prestigious and influential journal of British Studies that was based in the History Department at Appalachian State University from 1973 to 2005. The event will include an address by the former editor of the journal, Dr. Michael Moore.

Proposals are invited for papers (15-20 minutes) that either
•       discuss ALBION’s importance and contribution; or
•       represent new research in the fields covered by the journal—British and Irish History.
It is envisaged that the conference will include sessions in both these areas.

Please email proposals (paper title and brief abstract) to turnermjatappstatedotedu  (turnermjatappstatedotedu)   (or post to Dr. Michael Turner, History Department, Anne Belk Hall, Appalachian State University, ASU Box 32072, Boone, NC 28608). Deadline: Friday, March 27, 2015.
A running order of speakers and sessions will be finalized and circulated in April.
If you would like to attend the conference but not present a paper, please notify Dr. Turner.

Conference fee $30.00 (checks made out to ASU please—send to Dr. Turner).
Refreshment breaks, lunch, and dinner to be provided courtesy of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of History, and Belk Library, Appalachian State University.
Participants should make their own arrangements for travel and accommodation.

VIII. Book of the Month

March 2015: Strong, Beautiful and Modern: National Fitness in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, 1935-1960

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

 

 

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March 2015: Strong, Beautiful and Modern: National Fitness in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, 1935-1960

Reviewed by: Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

Charlotte Macdonald, Wellington, Bridget Williams Books Limited, 2011. 240. pp. NZ$ 49.99 (paperback).

Health and fitness are at the heart of the history of the British world. Strong, Beautiful and Modern ambitiously focuses on the national fitness movement in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, exploring the connections, similarities and differences between these places. While it looks back to the beginning of the twentieth century, and also offers glimpses of what happened at the end of the century, the focus is on a distinct historical mid-century moment, where a focus on the body and national prowess were sharply and deliberately defined.

The unifying history for this book that would be missed by studying each nation in isolation is that between 1937 and 1943 Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada all passed legislation to encourage physical fitness beyond the school years. It was popularly called ‘national fitness’ and ‘physical welfare’.

It is Macdonald’s intention to firmly situate her study within a British world framework. Indeed, she argues that the national fitness movements were ‘part of a connected whole, one that can be fully understood only by reference to its empire-wide frame’ (p. 20).

Macdonald clearly and effectively explores the construction of national fitness, using the group of transnational legislative acts as her scaffolding. This structure allows her to feed in a wide variety of historical material, and to reveal much about the history of sport, leisure and fitness in the 1930s and 1940s.

Chapter five offers the breathing space to broadly analyse ‘Healthy Bodies, States and Modernity’. It is an excellent and substantial chapter where the issues canvassed in the preceeding chapters are brought together and analysed.

The first four substantial chapters of the book focus on the principal characteristics of the national fitness campaigns in each of the nations where they were introduced. With keeping up with Europe as an incentive, England and Scotland were first with the first Physical Training and Recreation Act (1937). Throughout the book, Macdonald balances the ideology with the pragmatic financial side of national fitness, exploring where funding for the programmes came from.

While the first four chapters are split by nation, comparisons between nations are offered throughout. For example, at the end of the New Zealand chapter the presence of a strong masculine culture in the country’s sport is tantalizingly suggested. In the Australian chapter, eugenics and the perceived perils of urbanization loom large. The Canadian chapter views national fitness as defending local culture from American influences. It relies heavily on the ‘Pro-Rec’ (Provincial Recreation) Movement. The work of Jan Eisenhardt features in this chapter. An example of the tentative and controversial associations of national fitness, he suffered persecution in the Cold War climate. Chapters maintain a focus on the prominent men in the movement in each country, such as Gordon Young in Australia.

Indicative of the challenge of writing transnational history, investigation of the development of national fitness in each included nation would have been enough to examine. An immense amount of research has gone into this deep and thoughtful book. Macdonald has visited archives in the three countries. She draws on legislation, films and audio and books and articles from the time. Her secondary sources are likewise extensive and the footnotes are helpfully expansive.

There are useful illustrations throughout the book that serve to emphasise Macdonald’s argument that national fitness as national ideology was largely dropped as a state strategy due to its association with similar methods in Nazi Germany. With hindsight, the posters and images of national fitness are largely staged and come across as haunting propaganda. Images of the Berlin Olympics appear hauntingly throughout the book.

It is Macdonald’s longstanding expertise in feminist history that enables her to make a sophisticated contribution to scholarship. Gender analysis is hardwired into and mainstreamed throughout the book. For example, in England, the Women’s League of Health and Beauty with Mollie Bagot Stack at its head was important. Macdonald argues that a feature of the modern moment was a focus on both boys and girls.

Macdonald is fascinated by how the personal was political, arguing that ‘To be strong, beautiful and modern became a personal as well as a collective endeavour’ (p. 10). That endeavor had much to do with notions of imperial unity that had been fermenting since at least the beginning of the twentieth century. Indeed, there are echoes of muscular Christianity, voluntarism, environmental determinism, the advance of indigenous peoples and eugenics throughout the national fitness programmes. What situates the study in the 1930s and 1940s is the modern moment and the state’s desire and ability for mass exercise as never before. For example, the broadcast of fitness exercises on the radio represent ‘a convergence in the history of states, bodies and modernity’ (p. 10).

Strong, Beautiful and Modern is a fine example of writing the history of the British world. It is thoughtful, complex and resists celebrating the national fitness movement. It also resists dogmatic treatment of a British world in favour of a deep and broad transnational view of the past. Meanwhile, it subtly leaves readers to ponder the importance of personal and national fitness right up to the present day.

 

 

 

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February 2015 Newsletter

I. Registration Now Open for 2015 Britain and the World Conference

The British Scholar Society is pleased to announce that registration is now open for the 2015 Britain and the World Conference, to be held in Austin, TX on 2-4 April 2015. The registration fee includes breakfast, lunch, and tea/coffee breaks on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Doubletree Hotel, as well as participation in a variety of other plenary social events. Conference participants can register at the following link:

http://britishscholar.org/conference-2015/

II. Draft Program for Conference Now Available

We would also like to inform our readers that the draft program for the 2015 Britain and the World Conference is now available. Please go to the following link to peruse the many and varied panels that will be featured at this year’s conference.

http://britishscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Britain-and-the-World-2015-Draft-Conference-Program.pdf

Check the conference website often (http://britishscholar.org/conference-2015/), as we will continue to post updates to the program as they become available.

III. Reminder: Rooms Available at Conference Hotel

We would like to remind our conference participants to book their rooms in the conference hotel before the booking deadline of 6 March 2015. We have a limited number of rooms blocked off for the conference, so please do not wait until the last minute to book.

http://doubletree.hilton.com/en/dt/groups/personalized/A/AUSIMDT-BSS-20150401/index.jhtml

IV. British Scholar Society Associate Editor on the Anglo-German Relationship

British Scholar Society Associate Editor Dr. Helene von Bismarck has published a thoughtful piece on memory and the Anglo-German relationship with regard to the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. Dr. von Bismarck’s insights into this important issue can be read at the following link:

http://britishscholar.org/publications/2015/01/14/moving-forward-looking-back-anniversaries-remembrance-and-the-anglo-german-relationship-in-2014/

V. Call for Contributors to Volume on Early Modern Queenship, Empire, Trade, and Piracy

Early modern era specialists are invited to submit chapter proposals to an excited planned volume titled Queenship, Colonization, Piracy, and Trade during the Early Modern Period (1500-1800). Editors Estelle Paranque and Nate Probasco request that interested parties submit chapter proposals of 400-500 words and a short biography, including research interests and not exceeding 250 words, to queenshipcolonypiracytradeatgmaildotcom  (queenshipcolonespionacyatgmaildotcom)   by 1 July 2015. Accepted authors will be notified by 1 October 2015 and first drafts will be due 1 July 2016. Completed essays will be in the 6000-8000 word range. For more information on the project, please visit the following link:

https://www.academia.edu/10426589/Queenship_Colonization_Piracy_and_Trade

VI. CFP for Conference at University of Liverpool on “Impassioned Britain”

The University of Liverpool will host a conference on the theme of “impassioned Britain,” bringing together scholars whose interests lie in familial and divine feelings in art, history, and literature. Abstracts of 250 words should be submitted by 15 March 2015 to ensure consideration. Check the Embodiments Research Group website (under the heading for “Impassioned Britain: Familial and Divine Depictions of Feeling, 1707 – 1907”) for more information and for updates:

http://melancholyandpain.liv.ac.uk/?page_id=394

VII. Book of the Month

‘Orientalist Jones’: Sir William Jones, Poet, Lawyer, and Linguist, 1746-1794

Reviewed by Filomena Viviana Tagliaferri

 

 

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February 2015: ‘Orientalist Jones’: Sir William Jones, Poet, Lawyer, and Linguist, 1746-1794

Reviewed by: Filomena Viviana Tagliaferri

Michael J. Franklin, Oxford University Press, 2011. 408 pp. £35 (hardback).

‘Orientalist’ Jones is only one of the numerous appellations that are given to Sir William Jones by Michael J. Franklin in his book ‘Orientalist Jones': Sir William Jones, Poet, Lawyer, and Linguist, 1746-1794 (Oxford, 2011). The work develops a deep and complex discourse of one of the most eminent figures of English Enlightenment. These aspects emerge in each chapter by focusing on the principal epithets the author attributes to his character. ‘Persian’, ‘Druid’, ‘Republican’, ‘Indo-Persian’ ‘Joneses’ are emphasised in the chapter titles, but other adjectives, some truly unexpected, are associated with his name in the body of the text. The multifaceted representation of Jones is a particular strong point. For example, the strongest of these attributes, ‘Incendiary’ Jones, gives the reader as sense of the political vein expressed in his pamphlets.

The book follows a circular pattern. It begins with the journey of Jones and his wife Anna to India and it ends with his death, also on the subcontinent. The central chapters investigate the formation of Jones character, the role of this mother his education, the profound influence of his Welsh origins. The argument then dwells on his career as a lawyer and the network of political/patronage relationships woven by him in London. This section gives depth to the resumption of the figure of the author in his role as Orientalist that dominates the final part of the work. In fact, Franklin tends to dispose all the experiences of Jones in a perspective that emphasize how they have contributed to make him, one of the most eminent thinkers of his time, an unrivalled and pioneering cultural mediator.

Franklin manages to make the figure of Jones not only a bridge between the West and the East, but also as a connection between Enlightenment and Romanticism. The value of the experiment in his approach to the ‘Orient’ is followed by a domestication of it that facilitated Romantic revolution (pp. 73-86). As not only translator but also as man, his experience is put in parallel with one of the first and greatest European Orientalists, Antoine Gallaland. Following his example, he also aligned himself with to ‘popular Orientalism’, undertaking a ‘translation of the Asian “Other” [that] involved delicate politico-cultural negotiations with the European “Self’’’ (p. 85).

The barrister training on the Carmarthen circuit a not only highlights the frank impatience of Jones for aristocratic arrogance, but also ‘to come to terms with his own hybridity’ (p. 118). Once he discovered the Welsh ‘Otherness’ of himself, his flexibility with regard to cultural mediation was highly facilitated. In dealing with the patronage system and the poetic of liberty of Jones we find constantly emphasized his inability to stomach aristocratic presumption. He proudly stated ‘I acknowledge no man as my superior, who is not so in virtue or knowledge, and if this be pride, I am not free from it’ (p. 151). Despite his ‘pride’, due to the complexities of his social, professional, and political role, he was forced to be involved in a constant negotiation with a very intricate network of patronage. London’s environment is analysed through the lens of a realistic intellectual who was not provided with an inherited fortune, a dependant position that made him diplomatic but never servile.

The analysis of Jones’s role of cultural mediator is the best executed and the most interesting and relevant of the book. The mediation process passed through Jones’s active commitment in the theoretical field of Indology as founder of the Asiatick Society, in 1784, and his literary work in the translation of Kālidāsa’s Śakuntalā. The most significant aspect of the members of the Society was they were ‘not ivory-towered academics lingering in the remotely textualised India, but eminently practical men for whom the subcontinent was very much a dynamic reality’ (p. 216). The role and pride of the real experience of another world can be traced also in the rendering of Sacontalà’s character. She was India, the India experienced and elaborated by Jones as man, poet and linguist and presented by him to imperial Europe, ready to be fascinated by the allegory of the colonized land as female body (p. 256).

The two final chapters are mainly centred on the ability of Jones to live and understand a plural context, as the Indian one was. His estimate of the traditional medicine system and of the Hindus indigenous system of jurisprudence reveal a high esteem of the culture of the colony where he had been assigned. This appreciation reaches very high levels of admiration in the case of Sanskrit. ‘Linguistic’ and ‘learners’ Joneses here found a real passion for ‘so beautiful sister of Latin and Greek’ (p. 37). In only six months, he found the basis of Indo-European comparative grammar and instituting a modern comparative linguistics radically adjusting Europe’s self-understanding, stating the superiority of Sanskrit to Latin and Greek. His predilection for this language was so strong to make him said ‘I will know it perfectly or die in the attempt’ (p. 238).

The analysis presented in this work is very rich and deep. It allows the reader numerous ways to interpret such a multi-dimensioned character; plural in his profession and in his interests. On the other hand, if we have access to different points of view in approaching Jones, the fragmentation of his figure can be a disturbing element in the final re-composition of his personality. Another element that can weigh down the reading is the profusion of information in the chapters dealing with the British environment. The narrative fluidity with which the author exposes his solid erudition can make the reader lost in a maze of irrelevant information. On the whole, however, one should emphasize the elegance and charm of a style that supports a strong and well-structured analysis, depicting one of the most important figures of the British intellectual scene of the eighteenth century.

 

 

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Britain and the World 2015 Draft Conference Program Available!

The Draft Conference Program for the 2015 Britain and the World Conference is now available.  You may view it here:

Britain and the World 2015 Draft Conference Program

We are looking forward to fantastic panels, plenaries, roundtables, and camaraderie April 2-4 2015 in Austin, Texas.  We hope to see you there!

For Registration and Hotel information please visit the Conference 2015 webpage at http://britishscholar.org/conference-2015/.  

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Moving Forward Looking Back: Anniversaries, Remembrance and the Anglo-German Relationship in 2014

Helene von BismarckDr. Helene von Bismarck, Associate Editor

Both in Britain and in Germany, 2014 was a period when looking back was very much on top of the agenda. The list of historical events that were commemorated – some of them with joy, others with great solemnity – is as long as it is impressive: the 300th jubilee of the accession to the British throne by the House of Hanover, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings in Normandy and the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. What these anniversaries have in common is that they concern both Britons and Germans, because they raise awareness of important landmarks in the histories of both countries and point to the extent these histories have met and influenced one another. Even the last item on the list, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, was – at least indirectly – also a milestone of British history, because it symbolized the end of the Cold War, as well as the unification of a strengthened middle power at the centre of Europe, two issues that have been of great consequence to Britain.

There are two reasons why it is worthwhile to take a closer look at how these important historical events have been celebrated and remembered in Britain and Germany, respectively, during the past year: it helps assess the long-term consequences that these landmarks of Anglo-German history have had, and it tells us a lot about the present rapport between the two countries. What should concern us is not only whether new breakthroughs in academic scholarship have been achieved in 2014, but how the Hanoverian accession, the First and the Second World War and the end of the Cold War have been discussed in the public sphere. As all professional historians know, even though they may not like to think about it, their perception of these events, no matter how accurate it may be, does not automatically resonate within society at large, because the impact of academic publications often remains limited to a very small circle. A year of anniversaries like 2014 is a useful reminder that the impact of past events on the present day manifests itself in more than one way: through the individual experience of memory, through the cultural and political act of public remembrance and through the intellectual endeavour of scholars, who try to make history intelligible with the help of sources and (ideally) a sound methodology. It is through the culture of remembrance and the public debate about the past in Britain and Germany that deep-seated and widespread mutual perceptions are made visible. The cluster of anniversaries in 2014 can thus be regarded as a mirror reflecting the current state of the Anglo-German relationship beyond the arena of high politics.

On the British side, 2014 was a year witnessing sincere and far-reaching efforts to learn more about Germany’s history and culture and to make this knowledge available to the public at large. The tricentenary of the coronation in London of the first Hanoverian king, George I, was not only commemorated with a splendid service at St-Martin-in-the-Fields in the presence of the Duke of Kent and the German ambassador, it also occasioned the organisation of a number of exhibitions, lectures and concerts dealing with the Georgian age.[i] While each of these events had a different focus, two general trends in the presentation of the comparatively little known 123-year Hanoverian period of British history became apparent: the attempt to underline the relevance to Britain’s road to modernity of the Georgian age, with its important innovations in the arts, design, music and science, and the readiness to paint a more positive picture of the Georgian kings, who had for a long time suffered from a largely negative reputation summed up in the rather brutal yet popular description as ‘the sad, the bad, the mad and the fat’. There was also a new emphasis on the importance of the German origins of the royal family. BBC 4 ran a miniseries on the Georgian age and went as far as far as calling this program ‘The German Kings who made Britain’[ii], while Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of The Queen’s pictures at The Queen’s Gallery, where a major exhibition on this subject was held, claimed that their status as German outsiders enabled the Hanoverian monarchs to act as successful modernizers in Britain.[iii]

Another and even more impressive example of British endeavours to use 2014, the year of anniversaries, as an occasion to understand the German point of view better has been the exhibition ‘Germany: Memories of a Nation’ that is still on view in the British Museum and was visited by Angela Merkel and David Cameron in early January 2015. Together with a lecture series broadcasted on Radio BBC 4 by the British Museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, and a book with the same title, this has been a remarkable attempt to make Germany intelligible to the British public. Exhibition, lecture series and book are not satisfied with presenting an overview of German history, they endeavour to explain the perceptions most Germans have of their own identity and culture. Taking the reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as an intellectual starting point, they try to explain the German point of view by focusing on the memories that the inhabitants of this modern Germany share. Without leaving out the horrible chapters of German history, and the guilt and shame that Germans have to deal with until this day, MacGregor still paints an overwhelmingly generous picture of Germany as a nation where design, philosophy, music, the arts and engineering have flourished over centuries. In the end, what has emerged is so positive a portrayal of Germany that quite a few German historians and intellectuals would probably feel uncomfortable with it. MacGregor’s professed aim has been to show that there is much more to Germany than the two world wars, on which school syllabi and public debate have been focused in Britain for decades. That the British Museum, arguably one of the most important and influential museums not only in Britain, but the world, presented such an exhibition in the year of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is nothing short of astonishing. It is an important sign that British perceptions of Germany have significantly shifted since the Berlin Wall came down, a time when Britain’s Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, had still been very much afraid of the German ‘national character’.

On the German side, the anniversaries of 2014 have not occasioned a comparable surge of interest in, and empathy with, Britain. Only the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession has led to an outpouring of new scholarship as well as a number of commemorating events, most importantly the grand exhibition organized by the Land Niedersachsen, ‘The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne’.[iv] A number of British scholars contributed to the organisation of this show, which displayed a substantial number of exhibits on loan from the Royal Collection. The other 2014 anniversaries, while publically and solemnly commemorated, have not led to visible new enquiries into the Anglo-German relationship. This is due to the fact that both world wars are primarily regarded by the majority of Germans as tragic and horrible landmarks in the history of their nation and Europe as a whole, but are not so much analyzed through the Anglo-German lens. Still, what is interesting is that the public debate about the First World War, a debate that reached a whole new level of intensity in 2014, was largely dominated by the controversy about a book by the Cambridge historian Christopher Clark, called ‘The Sleepwalkers’, in which he takes a multilateral approach in his quest for the reasons for the outbreak of war in 1914.[v] His argument, which absolves Germany from the charge of unique or even main responsibility, has not by any means remained undisputed by other scholars, but his views have still had an outstanding effect on the public debate about the First World War. Apart from selling an impressive number of books, Clark filled lecture halls all over the country, was courted by the media and even invited to host a show on the national television channel ZDF (the German version of BBC 2) called ‘Die Deutschland-Saga’, in which he pretty much explained their own country to the German populace. Clark may be of Australian, not of British origin, but he has worked in Britain since he was a graduate student. His success in Germany and the fact that the wider public is so interested in the perception of their country by a historian who is in many ways a product of Britain’s academic system, can be interpreted as a signalling a certain degree of open-mindedness and respect for British scholars on the German side that makes one hopeful for further intellectual and cultural exchange between the two countries in the future.

2015 can be expected to be a year when Britain’s role in the world will be under constant debate and may be shaped in significant ways. The outcome of the upcoming general elections will in all likelihood have a far-reaching effect on Britain’s relationship with the European Union, given David Cameron’s promise that he will renegotiate the terms of British membership and organize an in-or-out-referendum if he is re-elected. It is of course up to the British to decide whether or not their fate lies with the continent. However, in view of Germany’s strong position within the EU, the Anglo-German relationship may have a role to play in the shaping of that fate. Currently, it does not look as if the British and German governments will look eye-to-eye with regard to European integration. However, before we move into 2015 in a state of gloom about the differences between the two countries, it may be worth keeping in mind that the past year of remembrance has shown remarkable attempts, especially on the British side, to promote interest and understanding in one another. It may be the job of governments to decide which role they wish their country to play in international affairs, but this does not alter the fact that there is much more to a country’s place in the world, and its rapport with other nations, than the current state of its foreign policy.

[i] A list of these events can be found at http://www.london.diplo.de/Vertretung/london/en/091-Personalunion/0Personalunion.html

[ii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01wq5xr

[iii] http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/exhibitions/the-first-georgians-art-monarchy-1714-1760/video-warrior-kings-0

[iv] http://www.royals-aus-hannover.de/en/ The exhibition is now closed but there is an excellent catalogue accompanying it that remains available: Katja Lembke (ed.), Als die Royals aus Hannover kamen. Hannovers Herrscher auf Englands Thron 1914-1837 (Sandstein Verlag 2014).

[v] Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Allen Lane, London 2013).

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