May 2017

At the beginning of May, I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Historical Association Conference in the luxurious surroundings of the Mercure Piccadilly Hotel in Manchester.  It was an excellent weekend with a wide range of lectures and continuing professional development opportunities.  I came away with lots of great ideas to work on, but for now, I thought I’d write a series of blog posts about the various lectures and workshops I attended.

The weekend opened with the Presidential Lecture, given this year by Association Past President Professor Chris Wrigley:

Inventing Tradition – British and European May Days 1890s-Present

Professor Wrigley commented that May Days had been left out of mainstream text books for many years.  For example, the Thatcher-era poll tax riots were described as the biggest demo in London since 1890 but didn’t say that what actually happened in 1890 was the May Day parade.


There were, though, plenty of contemporary accounts in the press. It took place on 4 May, the closest Sunday to 1 May.  According to these reports, it “seemed as though the whole population of London poured parkwards in a huge mass”.   The parade was so long that it arrived in Hyde park after the speakers had finished – Engels was one of them. Estimates put the crowd at at least quarter of million, but most thought there were half a million people there. In fact, there had been a huge turn out for about 5 years.

Eric Hobsbawm described it as an invented tradition, arguing that it started only in 1890 even though it was portrayed as if it went black hundreds of years.  But Wrigley argues it rested on tradition rather than being newly invented, because it followed routes of the saints days. There had been parades for the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Chartists too.

Walter Crane‘s colourful images of May Days were reused all over the world with different languages.  They were very powerful in France in particular.  Trade unions also began to look internationally in the late 19C.  The biggest unions, such as the Durham miners, had their own parades with union banners.  The most prominent trade unions were the new ones –  the less skilled ones – such as match girls and dockers.  Much of it was therefore to do with the upsurge in trade unionism.  Trade unions like these were always at their strongest when there was an economic upturn because they had more bargaining power.  The parades drew on the traditions of French radicalism, with many bands at the marches playing La Marseillaise, while people wore liberty caps.  The May Day parades were therefore associated with the labour movement.

Prof. Wrigley compared the British experience with that in France, Germany and Austria.  In Austria the workers were told that there would be severe consequences if they came out ‘on strike’ on May Day 1890.  The middle classes were scared.  They fled Vienna on April 30th and didn’t come back for a couple of days.  Factory owners prepared to defend their factories.  Despite the threats, the workers failed to attend work and marched round Vienna anyway.  Troops, including lancers and cannon, were in the park and ready for the demonstrators.  When the families arrived, the troops did not fire; the people sang and walked through the cannon.  Revolution and bloodshed were avoided.

He suggested that in London, the 1890 parade was very effectively organised by Eleanor Marx and her partner Aveling.  So they were partly ‘red’, but not entirely so – the crowds returning from Hyde Park cheered Gladstone as he went past.  They also highlighted divisions between elements in British socialism.

A few weeks ago I was trying to work out how to liven up the teaching session on the Civil War for my first year undergraduates.  I decided to check out Emma Kennedy’s really useful teaching and learning advent calendar for ideas, as it was me that suggested that she could source teaching ideas for it from an appeal on Twitter in the first place.

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Now, several of the teaching strategies are things that I use routinely, like ‘Get Students Talking First’, or at least fairly regularly, like ‘Use Visual Art as a Way Into a Period of History’. Furthermore, as the course is not mine in the first place, the work itself and the questions to be discussed are set by the course leader.  But I wanted to do something a bit different with the week’s material and I did manage to find a couple of ideas.  I have reproduced their work here with their permission.

The session objective was to understand the causes of the civil war and some different interpretations of it, so I started with an art activity.  I asked the students to work individually to draw a picture which represented their understanding of the causes of the civil war.


Next, they were to discuss their drawings in groups of four and come up with a composite drawing, which they were then to transfer to the white board using different coloured markers.

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A spokesperson from each group was then asked to explain their drawing to the rest of the class.

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Next, I used my slideshow of images of Charles I, carrying on the artistic theme of the evening, before we moved over to a discussion of why Barbara Donegan’s interpretation of the civil war in the set reading for the week was different to the other interpretations that they were familiar with.  We looked at the difference between the rules for foreign war and civil war, and talked abotu various civil war atrocities. I gave the groups different examples to work on an asked the other group to identify what specifically was outrageous about each event.  This led us on to discussing breach of contract.

Returning to the theme of imagery, we looked at the images from various civil war pamphlets and talked about how they might have affected their audience.  Finally, I asked each individual to write in big letters on a piece of paper the one or two words which for them summed up the difference between the first and second civil wars. They folded them in half, swapped them randomly among each other and then read them to me. I wrote them up on another whiteboard and we looked at which themes dominated those words.

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All in all, it was a very successful evening, as it stimulated a lot of informed discussion while taking the pressure off individuals to answer questions.  It combined individual, group and whole class work and used a variety of techniques to get the students talking, both to me and to each other.

Historical Association Bolton Branch

Branch secretary Jenni Hydechatted to Kevan Williams of community radio station Bolton FM on Friday 19 May about the work of the Historical Association nationally and in Bolton. She invited everyone to join the branch at our special event on Wednesday 24th May 2017 10.30am-12.30pm at Bolton Museum, Le Mans Crescent:

Dr Henry Miller: ‘Political caricature and satirical prints in Britain, 1700-1840’, followed by hands-on workshop in the museum.

You can listen again to the interview for the next seven days.

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This is a well thought out post on dealing with the dips in the PhD journey, that I think applies whatever the research project. Personally, my advice would be to watch out for “Deep cleaning the bathroom.” I know it’s a piece of advice that works and at the root of it is a need to change the scene and do something physical that takes your mind off it, but with all of these things, you need to watch what’s happening carefully. At the point where that becomes the only thing you feel in control of, there’s a major problem that’s much bigger than the PhD blues. I know. I’ve been there.

The Thesis Whisperer

While many people will suffer ‘the blues’ during the PhD, in some cases the problem is more serious and can lead to or trigger clinical depression. In those cases, all the practical advice in the world won’t help and you need to seek medical attention. If you are worried about how you feel, and nothing seems to help, please visit your GP for advice. The website Beyond Blue has many excellent resources and information if you are worried about another colleague, family member or student and are not sure what to do.

If you are suffering from the blues, here’s some practical advice that might help. I’d like to thank Ümit Kennedy for sending in this post. Umit is a PhD candidate with the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University. You can connect with her via email at or on social media using @umitkennedy. Although the…

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I spent much of Easter in a frantic attempt to edit my book to submit it to another publisher.  Over the years, I have come to realise that my way of writing tends not to suit publication.  I tend to write as I go along, developing my ideas throughout a paragraph until I reach the point I was trying to make. This means that people who like to see ‘signposting’ get a bit frustrated, as my point sometimes gets buried at the bottom of a paragraph.  So I took the text apart.  I split it up into paragraphs, and sometimes even individual sentences, and reordered them so that it was clearer where the text was going. This involved putting all the extra leaves in my dining table, using lots of post it notes and coloured pens and paper, and an awful lot of tea.

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I think it’s better for it, so keep your fingers crossed that the readers approve.

Before I started my PhD (which feels like a century ago even though it’s not), my Fiend memorably said to me “As for an academic career, I’d say forget it”.  The irony was that I hadn’t thought about it in order to be able to forget about it.  This is from Cath Feely on the trials and tribulations of finding an academic job now and a century ago.

Source: Securing an academic career: Past and present

Interesting post on the Research Whisperer about juggling many roles, including motherhood.

The Research Whisperer

Portrait of Dani BarringtonDr Dani Barrington is a Research Fellow in Water Engineering for Developing Countries at Cranfield University, and an Honorary Fellow at The University of Queensland.

Her work focuses on water, s16anitation and hygiene (#WASH); check out a video of the cool “Reinvented Toilet” she’s working on nowadays.

She tweets at @Dani_Barrington.

Photo by Lou Levit | unsplash.comPhoto by Lou Levit |

I play the academic game.

Those of you who’ve read my previous posts know this.

Like many people at my career stage, I juggle contract research with papers with teaching with grant applications with public outreach and university service. As exhausting as it is, I love the fact that I get to do all of these things as part of my job (OK, grant writing is the pits, but getting together with like-minded colleagues to hash out the initial project idea is super exciting!).

But, over the last…

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