June 2017

Mary_Stuart_QueenAround Easter, I was contacted by Zach Warren, a student at the University of South Carolina.  He had read my post on the ballads about Mary Queen of Scots, and asked for advice on images of the queen in popular music.  It’s always nice to discover that people have actually read what I’m writing, so I was happy to help him track down some useful primary and secondary sources for his research.  It was lovely to hear from him again a few weeks later to tell me that he had received an A for his paper, so congratulations Zach!


At the beginning of May, I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Historical Association Conference in Manchester.  It was an excellent weekend with a wide range of lectures and continuing professional development opportunities. This is the fourth and final entry in a series of blog posts about the various lectures and workshops I attended.

After Professor Michael Wood’s outstanding keynote on Saturday morning, it was back to the real world of teaching for me.  The next session I attended was

Arthur Chapman – ‘Therefore’, ‘so’, ‘because’ and ‘so what’ – Strategies  for mastery of historical argument and analytical thinking at A-level.

Inference is the most important word for historians, according to Dr Arthur Chapman.  We work from one thing to another.  We should teach it explicitly, because it is one of the most difficult aspects of history learning for students.  Often historians make informal arguments by writing a narrative and don’t explicitly state their argument, so it can be difficult for students to identify those arguments.

Dr Chapman suggested that we should explicitly foreground logic in our teaching.  The strategy he suggested was to start with what you can see and then decide what you can work out; then to repeat the process until you reach the conclusion.  He called this ‘layers of inference’:

  1. Read the description and identify a claim
  2. What does this suggest?
  3. What don’t we know/what else do we need to find out?

We need to give students a framework – the tools to decode the text:

  • We need to explain what an argument is ie giving a conclusion (something to believe, feel or do) based on reasons – in other words, “do this and here is why”.  Argument = conclusion + at least one reason
  • Use + and therefore symbols to help students identify and articulate the arguments that lead to the conclusion

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The next step is to identify the assumptions made in the argument. An assumption is a claim that we take for granted and/or that we do not justify.  It is reasonable to assume things when making arguments, but it is also necessary for historians to question these assumptions.  Are the assumptions reasonable?

Then students can carry out the alternative conclusions test.  They ask what other conclusions you could reasonably come to based on the evidence in the text.  Are they equally plausible?  If so, the original argument is weak.

Finally, we can move on to getting them to use conflicting texts to construct their own argument not related to the argument in the text. This is when they use the facts in the text, separate from the historians use, to identify a different sort of argument.  The example he gave was to use two texts on Peterloo (one arguing it was a massacre and the other arguing that it was not) to decide what it was that the leaders of the socialist movement trying to achieve.  This has nothing, in itself, to do with what happened to the demonstrators and why, but the facts need to be extracted from the conflicting texts in order to use them elsewhere.

Obviously, this session was aimed at A-level, but it could be adapted for GCSE by giving the students the arguments and inferences rather than asking them to identify them, or by using much shorter texts.  I also think it could be adapted for undergraduate use, given that we assume that our students are able to do this when they arrive with us.  Many of the undergraduates I have taught have been reticent about criticising established scholars, and I think this might give them the tools to do so.

The final session of the morning was

Stephen Pierce – Two Women of Bauchi: flogging, scandal and judicial violence in colonial Nigeria

In May 1914, two women were seen leaving house of Fitzpatrick, the British assistant resident of Bauchi province in northern Nigeria. The women were spotted and caught by Fitzpatrick.  When they appeard in court, Fitzpatrick’s servants swore they didn’t know the women; they went to prison and were flogged.  In 1918, a Lagos newspaper claimed Fitzpatrick himself had insisted on the floggings, which were carried out naked.  This was bad publicity for the colonial office, and questions were raised in British parliament.  Fitzpatrick launched a libel action against the editor and publisher of the Lagos Telegraph and won.  Fitzpatrick was later drummed out of the colonial service in the wake of the flogging scandal and spent the rest of his life writing about other scandals in the colonial administration, such as homosexuality and drunkenness. There is no record of what happened to the women.

IMG_20170513_123534992Dr Pierce provided a lively if unsettling account of life, discipline and punishment in colonial Nigeria and how it influenced the independence movements that followed the Second World War.  Flogging was usually only done on women for adultery, so it was unusual that it had been applied to the two women of Bauchi.  Furthermore, there were different ways of carrying out flogging on men and women; adults and children; Christians and pagans.  These distinctions were considered important but problematic.

There is, after all, still outrage over the judicial violence against women over the past 100 years in Nigeria. The specific scandals of 100 years ago set up this genre but they were transformed through the 20th century and particularly by independence.  The Bauchi scandal had institutional and international consequences, but scandals such as these also triggered a set of political debates about northern Nigerian culture.

Colonial interest in Nigeria had concentrated on the the southern part of the country. IMG_20170513_123545608

The north was dominated by two pre-colonial empires; theocratic Muslim states, which were wealthy in local terms but useless to Britain.  In context of scramble for Africa these northern bits were deeded to Britain, but they had never taken advantage of them. At the turn of the 20th century , however, the British realised that if they didn’t occupy these areas they would be encroached on by the French and Germans.  Lugard  was the first high commissioner and he conquered these areas even though there was no economic incentive to do so and the colonial office didn’t want to pay for maintaining them.  Lugard was married to Flora Shaw, who wrote for The Times and she was an excellent publicist for him.  Lugard rule the country in a pragmatic way using a skeletal colonial administration while the retaining indigenous administration.  The Lugards wrote reams about how it was a brilliant, effective and humanitarian mode of government.  Most governance in northern Nigeria was therefore being handled by the indigenous population who were nevertheless answerable to British colonial government.  They saw themselves as protecting indigenous culture while bringing it forward into the modern age.

Rule basically continued among indigenous lines, which meant that it was different in different places.  There were native courts applying customary law.  The other system of courts was the provincial courts staffed by the British political officer called the residents.  They were helped by assistant residents, responsible for smaller districts.  These men often had no legal training whatsoever.  Flogging in provincial courts was restricted in theory, but more offences were punishable by flogging in the native courts.   Although they claimed not to like it much, they still overused it and misused it.  Many of the scandals came about because courts inflicted the penalty on people who had the skills to get the word out – most did not. The administration attempted to limit carefully who could be flogged in order to avoid scandal: they must not be Christian, fluent in English, or educated.

So although the outside world could no longer see them, floggings  still went on.  They were no longer carried out by British officials.  It was not, however, enough to blame floggings on Islamic law being less developed than British law, because Islamic penalties could no longer exceed the levels allowed by the British law.  There were anomalies where things weren’t a crime under British law but were under Islamic law, for example, drinking alcohol.

This reworking of the judicial system in 1933 also helped to explain away any floggings that people did hear about. The emphasis was on the primitive nature of Nigerian government and people.  The reforms nevertheless had far reaching consequences, especially after World War II.  The fact that British law limited Islamic law created tension, especially when capital offences under Islamic law were overturned by British law.  Independence movements were able to present themselves as protecting Islamic traditions against colonial encroachment.  The compromise had been arrived at on the basis of the flogging scandals but broke down after the Second World War as independence movements gained strength.


After a lovely lunch of salmon, rice and noodles, I was delighted to chair the session given by

Dr Sasha Handley and Dr Rachel Winchcombe – Sleep in Early Modern England

Sasha was one of my PhD supervisors and her latest book was nominated for the prestigious Wolfson History Prize.  She began the workshop by telling us that sleep is as much about culture as biology.  It provides us with a window on the lives of early modern people and intimate details of their lives.  There was a transformation in the practice of sleep over the 17th and 18th centuries.  Our need for sleep was seen to be the result of sin and human frailty.  Early modern minds beleived that during sleep we are at our most fragile and are most in need of God’s protection.  Likewise, the withdrawal of sleep was seen as a punishment by God.  Sleep was also conceptually associated with death and the bed was then the grave.


Sasha describe the medical understanding of sleep, based on the four humours. It was also one of the Six Non-Natural Things that were a preventative healthcare system. This list also included, for example, exercise, rest and keeping the emotions in order.  Sleep was the time during which Aristotle believed that food was digested.  He suggested that we should sleep on the right side first, then the left for the second part of the night, in order to aid digestion.  This was easy to achieve if one practiced segmented sleeping which she suggested was widespread. Medical advice also suggested a gentle downward slope from head to stomach to prevent regurgitation of food.  These same texts suggested that one must never sleep flat on the back as it flooded the brain with toxins and invited a visit from the incubus.

Medical advances in understanding of brain and nerves meant that there was an increased understanding of sleep, even though much was still based on theories on digestion.  It was the doctor Thomas Willis who suggested that the brain was more important than the stomach in sleep

Sasha pointed out that one of the most common pre-bedtime practices was prayer. It helped people to leave cares of day behind as well as to beg protection of the Lord. People kept prophylactic objects around the beds for defence, such as coral amulets.

For the second part of the workshop, Rachel talked about Sasha’s project with the National Trust at Little Moreton Hall.  The Sleep in Early Modern England project aims to disseminate Sahsa’s research to the wider public, relating the past to the present. The early modern period has been dubbed the golden age of sleep quality, so we can learn from them. The project also links to an educational programme and school resources.


The final session of the weekend gave me the priveledge of introducing the very lovely

Anindita Ghosh – Modernising Calcutta – technology, the spectacular and the unexpected.

Anindita was really supportive of my PhD research and was a helpful sounding board for some of my theoretical work.  I’d never heard her speak before the HA conference, but she was a really engaging speaker whose passion for her work shines through.  She recently presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the history of printing in India, and in 2016 she was interviewed by the Royal Historical Society for International Women’s Day.

She opened her talk for the HA by pointing out that Calcutta’s ability to show itself to the world was a result of the technology, which bombarded the people and changed their lives.  Her research explores how those people responded to change and what were frameworks they used to refract their experience?

Calcutta began as three villages, fortified by East India company. It was known as the city of palaces. Even in 1850, however, much of it was a city of huts. These were juxtaposed with great colonial buildings.  By early decades of the 20th century, Calcutta’s population was close to 1 million – it had exploded.  This sharpened the crisis of residences.

The earliest plans for improvement were set in motion by Lord Wellesley.  A lottery committee ran alongside the town improvement committee to help improve conditions along strictly European lines. They improved drainage and prohibited the open slaughter of cattle or public death rituals.  There were many spectacular improvements, such as mettled roads. Streets were planned on grids, oil lamps were put in and trams were provided.  Although these trams were great for workers, the roads were very narrow so they were bad for pedestrians.  Motor cars arrived 1896; electric trams  in 1902; motorised buses in 1922.  This gives us a sense of how rapidly the urban landscape was changing.

There was a sharp contrast between the Indian north of the city, which was slum like without roads, and the British south, where there were good streets and grand buildings mainly in the European style. Planners wanted to open up roads in the north for the flow of commercial traffic because not having proper streets was costing them money.


Songs provide rich insights into the way technology was perceived to be changing the city. It is in these texts that the sense of wonder comes across.  Images of steam trains and ferry steamers appeared on woodcuts and even sari borders. But the writings also illustrate some concerns and provide a critique of the developments.  One contemporary poet questioned how useful roads were if you don’t get two decent meals. He made a direct appeal to the benevolent mother figure – Queen Victoria – which was very common in  texts of the period.

The changes also disrupted Hindu codes.  The mighty Ganges river was shackled by irons with the construction of the pontoon bridge.  Futhermore, everyone has access to the same utilities in a city, whatever their caste.  A mechanised incinerator for death rituals didn’t go down well with Hindus and the government ultimately backed down.

Songs highlight the concerns of the lower orders of society.  Natural disasters and fevers, for example in the ‘cyclone songs’, were put down to the way technology had changed things.  They were seen as religious payback for the developments in the city. There was no limit to what was possible but it came at a cost, in the shape of women of easy virtue. There were few women in the city because the men travelled in during the week and went home at the weekend.  There were a series of sexual scandals and much discussion about them in the pulp press.  Serial killings of prostitutes happened in the early 20C, partly because these women turned their money into gold jewellery which they wore.  They were murdered to steal their jewellery.


All in all, it was a really stimulating, thought-provoking and friendly weekend. I went home thoroughly exhausted but full of ideas that I want to develop over the summer.

I think I can now safely make the announcement that I’ve signed a contract with Routledge to publish my book Singing the News: Ballads in Mid-Tudor England as part of their Material Readings in Early Modern Culture series.  It’s going to be a while yet before it appears, but it’s nice to have some really good news to report for a change!

At the beginning of May, I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Historical Association Conference in Manchester.  It was an excellent weekend with a wide range of lectures and continuing professional development opportunities. This is the third in a series of blog posts about the various lectures and workshops I attended.

It has to be said that the stand-out lecture of an excellent weekend was given by Professor Michael Wood.  Prof. Wood had us all enthralled by the sheer enthusiasm for his subject.  And that subject was not one of his many documentaries, it was HIS subject – the Anglo-Saxons.  His Saturday morning keynote was entitled

Alfred and the Anglo Saxons – the Making of Britain

Prof. Wood opened his lecture by pointing out that history helps us to understand the present, to spot fake news.  It’s important.

He described how he was gripped by Ladybird Books on the Anglo Saxons as a child and he still harbours an ambition to write Alfred’s biography.  The sources are his inspiration.


He argued that the 3 generations of Alfred’s family are important.  Their history is fragmentary and have to be put together from bits and pieces in the sources.  The challenge is to establish not just the events but the personalities.  Although historians start counting kings from William I, no one doubts that the basis of the state appeared under Alfred. Nevertheless, much as he was inspired by the Ladybird Books of his youth, he used illustrations from the books to point out some of the misunderstandings that they promulgated while acknowledging that this was done for the best of reasons. Much of our general knowledge of the period is based on the myth of the making of the English state – the Vikings are the catalyst for the creation of this kingdom.  The received view is that the  old world of Bede and the great monasteries was devastated by Viking attacks.  The famous story of Alfred burning the cakes (which were really bread) is a tale about food supplies in guerilla warfare.

War was Alfred’s life.  Treaties were based on rituals of kingship not signing parchment.  Alfred called himself the King of the Anglo-Saxons. His kingdom of the English was one of many different languages, cultures and costumes –  an extraordinary compromise accommodating different and opposed views.  Immediately after becoming king, he began constructing a series of fortresses.  This represented a far-reaching and far seeing response for a society geared to war.

The second major aspect of Alfred’s rule is learning.  He brought in a team of scholars who started to translate into the vernacular Latin texts that were, in Alfred’s words, “most needful to know”.  They discussed how to turn the classical ideas into vernacular text.  His scholars made copies of texts and sent them to the bishops across the country. Alfred claimed to believe that Latin learning had declined was not grounded in fact, but there was also a real emphasis on making the scholarship available in the vernacular. This was based on the Carolingian idea that wisdom was what the king must rule by.  Athelstan, however, wasn’t intended to be his father’s successor. He became the first king of the English, the first to wear a crown.  But his sisters married continental princes and from the word go Athelstan’s was an internationally-looking court.



Frankly, the lecture was an object lesson in how to engage every single person in the room and have them hanging on your every word!  It was funny and thought-provoking by turns.

The view from the hotel’s windows was really quite spectacular, by the way. I’ve walked across Piccadilly Gardens many, many times, but I’d never set foot in the tower before.  I’ve walked the centre of Manchester many, many times, often with my Fiend, but I’ve never had a view quite like this one before!

At the beginning of May, I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Historical Association Conference in Manchester.  It was an excellent weekend with a wide range of lectures and continuing professional development opportunities. This is the second in a series of blog posts about the various lectures and workshops I attended.

After the opening Presidential lecture on the Friday morning, mine was the first session on the General Pathway.  I really enjoyed giving my paper on Singing the News in Tudor England, which went down very well.  I did lots of singing myself and, as usual, persuaded the audience to sing too.  I got some excellent feedback from the audience and it certainly seemed to provide a talking point over the rest of the conference.

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As I do quite a bit of teaching at all sorts of different levels, I decided to take advantage of some of the continuing professional development sessions on offer.  The first one that I attended was

Making History Stick – Robert Peal

Peal opened his session by commenting on why students should study history: not jsut because they need it for exams but it because it is important for citizenship and simply for making the world a more interesting place.  In the debate over knowledge and skills, he emphasises knowledge-based teaching.

He pointed out that novices and experts think about a subject in different ways because experts have much more long term memory on which to draw.

Peal identified three different types of knowledge:

  1. Declarative knowledge (pub quiz facts)
  2. Conceptual knowledge (ideas)
  3. Tacit knowledge (the leaps and inferences you need which are difficult to explicitly teach.  They are difficult to write down or verbalise)


He suggested 4 different techniques that help teachers to help students remember and understand what we tell them:


  1. Think about what pupils are thinking (not doing): Memory is the residue of thought, so you think about what they are thinking about through the activities that we give them to do. If passive learning is thinking, then it works.  Whether the thinking is from hearing, seeing or doing is of secondary importance to thinking itself, which helps us to remember and understand.  At West London Free School, reading lessons (comprehension, speaking and asking questions) and writing lessons (talking and extended writing) alternate.  The interest is in the content not the activity.  Teachers therefore should think carefully about how they explain and unpack the facts and ideas.
  2. Use direct instruction: Make the ideas clear.  Tell the students what should they be finding in sources or by comparing different historians views. ALthough this sounds like classic ‘chalk and talk’, he emphasised that he did not just mean teacher instruction.  His lessons use discussion, questioning, modelling, pupil tasks, quizzing, feedback, not just lecturing, BUT this is never led by the pupils deciding what to do next, it is always done with the teacher directing the activities.
  3. Use concrete examples: Teachers should almost always avoid asking a question where they haven’t already taught pupils the knowledge they need to be able to answer. He suggested doing so only with something that is really clear in their existing conceptual knowledge.  Kingship is one of the few examples of existing conceptual knowledge that most students have.  His lessons build abstract knowledge by revisiting several concrete examples.  Peal argues that this is why pupils love stories – they illustrate abstract concepts. Analogies are also great, especially when the concrete example itself (eg political infiltration; monopoly) is really difficult to understand.
  4. Quizzing: – Retrieval practice helps pupils to remember because every time we retrieve a fact it becomes more active in our memory.  Testing should for the most part, however, be divorced from assessment so that it does not become feared.  The West London Free School uses quizzing every other lesson. It can be used as a starter activity, homework, or for revision sessions.  His pupils have picked up the key facts needed by the end of the year. It automates the important information that they need for writing extended answers.  Peal recommends basing quizzes on the core knowledge and that the questions are repeated.  You can change the orders.  Later the teacher can ask the students to use the answers to work out the ‘question’ – ie the important information in the stem is what they are forced to think about. For example, after asking ‘In what year was the Battle of Hastings?’, you can ask ‘What happened in 1066?’  The pupilss are given the questions/answers at the start of the unit and stick them in the back of book. The method is also useful for a glossary of important subject specific vocabulary.



The first session after lunch was

Marios Costambeys – Charlemagne and Europe…and Britain.


Dr Costambeys argued that we need to have an understanding of the full sweep of history in order to understand the present. Charlemagne is used as the name for an international prize for service to European unification because it symbolically looks back to the Carolingian empire for unity in Europe and provides a way of looking forward to the future.

Anglo-Saxon England was beyond the frontier of Charlemagne’s realms but still absorbed several characteristics of Carolingian politics culture.  Charlemagne conquered his empire at the same time Offa was exploiting divisions to take control of large parts of England.  They worked on different scales but were similar in that smaller kingdoms were being overtaken by larger hegemonies.

Europe’s past was the Roman Empire and the future of Europe was Charlemagne – the location of the signing of the Treaty of Rome was significant. Charlemagne’s empire was prescient of the EU not just territorially but in the conception of Europe as a whole: multiethnic and multilingual, with a willingness to co-exist with those kingdoms it absorbed; it was a combination of public face and private interests.  The king or emperor sat at the top of a system of law courts which recognised that government and citizens were to recognise each other’s rights.  Dr Costambeys suggested that although Charlemagne was not the father of the qualities in modern government, but his empire was a ‘hazy blueprint’ both for his contemporaries and his successors.

His was the first dynasty to use ‘deo gratias’  (by the grace of God) on coinage. Likewise,   Christianity infuses the Carolingian dynasty, for example, biblical quotations litter Carolingian legislation.  It  was revolutionary for kings to have a programme of government.  Dr Costambeys pointed out that at the time, a plan of government was unheard of but it’s clear from Charlemagne’s documents that they restate the same principles, with each performing a function as part of a whole.  Even the script used during the period takes the name Carolingian print – it was more legible to the masses.

This programme, however, was not all his own work; he was a great ruler and therefore delegated much of the work to his advisors.  Those advisors came from other places and then wrote home, spreading Carolingian ideas. Alcuin, Charlemagne’s advisor, was the connection between Carolingian empire and England.

Charlemagne matters now because he’s a source of knowledge and developments that were rolled out over the following centuries. He’s an archetype with applicability across the generations. But he also has 21st century relevance, for example, in graduated levels of assembly politics and his interest in education.

The Association AGM took place before a new departure for the HA conference:

Round Table: Parliament, people or privilege: Do we need a better understanding of constitutional history?

The round table was chaired by Association Deputy President, Michael Madison; there were four panelists, who were each asked to give a short opening statement setting out their view.

2017-05-12 17.55.54Dr Alix Harvey suggested that it was more important to ask how historians add to the resources available to everyone. She called this ‘historical capital’ – a term for the ways in which history helps us understand our present.  She pointed out that there are respected scholars who are capable of talking to a wide audience about complex ideas.  She cited Mary Beard as an example of someone who assumes that her audience has the intellectual capacity to understand her arguments.  So we need more constitutional history as part of a wider historical capacity.

Retiring HA President, Prof. Justin Champion, pointed out that we need to think more carefully about how and when we teach constitutional ideas, such as what is sovereignty or consent, and claimed that ideas are easier to teach than the details of what actually happened.  He reminded the audience that the HA has close links to constitutional history through the presidents.  Even Geoffrey Elton pointed out that understanding the past allowed citizens to think better about past present and future.  Although Elton concentrated on government, for him it was about how people governed themselves.

Nick Hillman heads a higher education think tank and claimed that the short answer is yes.  His, however, is a policy-making world, so he suggested that there were other forms of history that were even more important to improving the way the country is governed.  People, and ministers in particular, need far more knowledge of the history in the areas that those ministers actually deal in.  The problem is symptomatic of a much wider lack of history – excessive churn and excessive wideness rather than specialisation.  He revealed that ministers and civil servants have no direct access to academic output.  Therefore, he argued that each government department needed a chief historical advisor (like the scientific ones) who could put the latest relevant research in front of the ministers.


The incoming HA President, Prof. Tony Badger, was the final panellist to give his views. He said that it had taken him a long time to realise the importance of the American constitution at the root of his work on US history.  The US has one of the lowest participation rates in elections in the world.  The battles of civil rights, however, are won in the courts and the legislature not on the street so the ballot really matters in people’s day to day lives.   Lack of the vote had very real consequences for individuals.  It meant, for the blacks, being subject to violence.  We have little concept of how the vote really matters and people should have more understanding of its importance.

Following their opening statements, the panellists responded to questions from the audience, then they were opened up to the floor for audience debate.

One such question was whether we need a better understanding of EU history rather than constitutional history, to which Justin Champion pointed out that we as a nation are not insular – our traditions of citizenship are Italian and French.

2017-05-12 18.35.48Another member of the audience asked if the problem was based on a failure of democracy rather than our lack of knowledge of the past? Tony Badger suggested that the current difficulties of democracy in the US are based on the feeling that the democratic system was not responding to their needs.  Such problems usually happen just before extraordinarily fruitful periods of government with novelty in the progress of legislation.  Nick Hillman pointed out that it was his belief that current political situation in Britain cannot be described as a crisis. It would have been if the government had ignored the referendum result but they didn’t.

Justin Champion closed the round table by claiming that the referendum on Brexit was a downward movement of democracy.  He challenged the assembled audience to spread the word that people need to get involved in their own self-government for the good of all.

The round table was followed by a wine reception and then dinner in the opulent surroundings of the International Suite.

The dinner saw a presentation to the outgoing HA president, Prof. Justin Champion.  This led to a short discussion over what was the collective noun for a group of HA presidents.


A gossip of presidents: Justin Champion, Anne Curry, Chris Wrigley and Tony Badger

The view from the hotel window was impressive too!


Today marks the launch of the University of Oxford’s ‘Lest We Forget’ project aimed at saving and preserving material owned by the public related to WW1. WEW are seeking to donations to fund the pr…

Source: Launch of the University of Oxford’s ‘Lest We Forget’ – and how YOU can help