June 2019

This is the final entry in a short series of posts about the Historical Association conference, held in Chester in May 2019.

After the break, it was time for me to reprise my lecture from the Historical Association’s ‘Teaching the Tudors’ CPD day in York, ‘A History of the Reformation in 5 Ballads’. It was great fun giving the paper again, not least because it has so much singing that it’s almost like a performance rather than a lecture.

After lunch, the first lecture was given by Claire Hickman on ‘The Doctor’s Garden’.  She described how the 1760s saw a real interest in natural history and importing exotic plants.  The plants had economic value as well as being beautiful.  People spent a lot of money creating immense collections

Dr Claire Hickman

Dr John Lettsom was a well-trained doctor, with many important roles in natural history and medicine. His patients were sometimes recruited through his plant collecting networks, and he was very well connected – his admission to the Royal Society was signed by Benjamin Franklin and James Ferguson, among others.  He had a city practice but bought himself a rural estate, where opened his garden to visitors, even writing a guide book.   Everything in the garden was labelled with the correct scientific name, so you could teach yourself botany from walking round the garden through practical experience.  The garden was used to trial agricultural techniques. Lettsom thought the mangel wurzle could be useful as a cheap food to feed the poor, because they grow very large; it was known as ‘the root of scarcity’. He was one of the first people to grow the mangel wurzel in England.  But Dr Hickman argued that Lettsom also saw it as a beautiful plant, as it was planted among larches in the garden borders.  Lettsom published his findings as a pamphlet on how to grow and use them. 

William Curtis, another Quaker, opened a botanic garden for training medics but it was also open to the public. Doctors were already trained in botany and students needed to see the plants, but the gardens also attracted visitors who wanted to see the new exotic plants from the rest of the world, so Curtis included agricultural plants and grasses as well as medicinal plants.  Botany was seen as a public interest as well as an academic interest.

By 1777, the Leith Walk Garden was laid out not on a straight path like a botanic training garden, but on picturesque walk.  The public had to start applying to see the gardens through ticketing policies, and announcements were made when interesting plants flowered.

The final session of the conference was given by Tara Morton on ‘Suffrage Lives 1866-1914: Researching the Database’.  Tara had worked on building the Suffrage Lives database for the HA, which was based on two key sources: the 1866 petition for female suffrage, and the Home Office Index of Suffragettes Arrested, 1906-1914.

The 1832 Great Reform Act extended the franchise slightly through the enfranchisement of male persons, but women were excluded.  Debates prior to this had been about ‘persons’, which meant the principal of women’s enfranchisement was included before the reform act because person does not specify man or woman. But the Great Reform Act replaced this phrase with ‘male persons’ meaning it removed the ‘women’ argument.  Tara suggested that the shared struggles against this oppression brought women together.

Tara Morton

The original petitions from 1866 no longer exist, but one of the founders was Emily Davies and she got printed copies printed, published and circulated. These include names, occupations and locations where the signatories signed the petition.  Some gave their full names, others didn’t.  Addresses are likewise vague at times.  This makes it difficult to trace them all, but it does show that support for women’s suffrage was socially more widespread than we might expect – echoing the keynotes by Yasmin Khan and Fern Riddell, she pointed out that the signatories were not just the stereotype of staid, white middle class women.  There were blacks and working-class women too.

Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy

Even when we look at the supposedly staid white middle class women, they turnout to be unseemly.  Tara gave two examples:

  • Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy founded her own school; later, the Manchester Schoolmistresses Association; and the Women’s Franchise League with Emmeline Pankhurst. She gave evidence to the first royal commission set up to look at secondary education.  She described marriage as ‘a lifelong sentence of pauperism and dependence’.  Nevertheless, the fact that she lived as man and wife with a man who wasn’t her husband made other suffrage campaigners unhappy, as they thought that she brought the campaign into disrepute. She was on the committee on the WSPU but left in 1912, possibly because of the increased violence.  She led some of the suffrage pilgrimage through Congleton even though by this stage she was in her 80s.  Her photograph appears to show a staid white middle class woman – but only because that’s what we expect to see.
  • Viscountess Katherine Louisa Amberley was member of the Stanley family.  An outspoken member of the suffrage community, she was a public speaker in favour of women’s rights, and one of her lectures was published.  However, she was not acceptable among her class and particularly offended Queen Victoria. 

The 1867 and 1884 Franchise Reforms enfranchised more men, but not women, so lots of women’s suffrage societies were set up afterwards.  They had to decide on tactics and ideologies: should they campaign to promote wider social reforms to benefit women, or concentrate on the franchise?

In 1897, the umbrella group National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was set up, promoting the women’s franchise through peaceful means.  But there were more radical women in the industrial north who thought traditional means wouldn’t work so they set up the WSPU.  Their tactics escalated from heckling to arson and bombings.  This is where the Index of Persons Arrested comes in, although even at the National Archives they don’t know quite why it was created.  It includes names, dates and places of arrest.   There are anomalies, such as the random placement of names in the index out of alphabetical order, and also suffragette aliases.  

The document shows that there was more diversity in suffragettes than the stereotypical images, for example, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who lived at Hampton Court Palace and was an Indian princess, and  Verla ‘Jack’ Holmes, a cross-dressing lesbian.  The database also shows how many working-class suffrage campaigners there were.  Again, Tara gave two examples:

  • Adelaide Knight was born in Bethnal Green. Her father was an alcoholic and committed suicide.  She was crippled and used walking sticks, but also loved poetry and music. She married the son of a naval officer in a mixed race marriage in which her husband took her surname, and they shared the household chores.  She was arrested in 1906 for disturbing the peace.  She was sent to prison for 6 weeks unless she agreed not to take part in any further suffrage activities, but she chose prison.  Her husband looked after the children during her imprisonment and fully supported her decision.  Tara argued that she was representative of many working class women who were concerned about the motivations of the WSPU, who seemed happy to use working class women but only when it suited them.  As a result she left the WSPU and eventually joined the Communist party.
  • William Ball was twice arrested for the suffrage cause.  We know little with certainty but his ordinariness makes him interesting.  He was probably from the Midlands, and he was married with 5 children.  He believed in adult suffrage – that women should be enfranchised in line with men before more men were enfranchised – and said that he wanted as much protection for his girls as his boys.  He was a member of the men’s wing of the WSPU, the Men’s Political Union.  He was arrested and sent to prison for breaking two Home Office windows.  He declined prison food, but he wasn’t given the option to order his own food because he was not classified as a political prisoner.  Ball was also subject to force feeding.  The prison officers quickly discharged him to a lunatic asylum. He was eventually moved to a private nursing home through the intervention of well wishers.  An inquiry into his case was heavily biased in favour of the prison authorities, belittling Ball by saying the mental ill-health was not down to his prison ordeal but his own defective character and the excitement of indulging in suffrage activities.

These are only a few snapshots of the evidence recorded on the HA’s Suffrage Lives database.

This is the third in a short series of posts about the Historical Association conference, held in Chester in May 2019.

The opening session on Friday morning was a keynote talk from Dr Fern Riddell called ‘Uncomfortable Histories:  From sex to the suffragettes’.  Considering that the audience was mainly made up of teachers, Dr Riddell’s lecture hit just the right note, celebrating the teachers (both at school and university) who had helped her make a career in history by believing in her when others didn’t.  She commented that this is an incredibly exciting time to be a historian.

She opened by commenting that sex and violence, especially female violence, is difficult to deal with.  Our belief in the naïve and prudish Victorians has dominated our understanding of the 19th century. But she argued that throughout the Victorian era, sex was universally acknowledged and celebrated, with, for example, condom advertisements on the front page of newspapers specifically marketed towards women.  Dr Riddell commented that we are fixated on the cold, drab view of Queen Victoria, but the fact that she had many children and wrote movingly in her diary of seeing Albert naked for the first time on her wedding night shows how much she enjoyed sex.  Dr Riddell further argued that we should talk about these sorts of facts with students, especially at secondary school, to show that it has always been normal to desire and want to talk about sex.  The Victorians also advocated birth control, and lived openly queer lives.  When cases of immorality are tried in court, they tend to result in a view that people should be allowed to live as they wish.  What the dominant power said about sex, and what the culture actually shows (from newspapers, letters, diaries et cetera), are two different things. 

Dr Fern Riddell opening her Friday morning keynote lecture

1860 is the year when ‘pornography’ enters the English language.  The Art of Begetting Handsome Children was published that year, albeit reprinted from many earlier versions of book that had been published over the centuries.  The book promoted foreplay and argued that women should not be coerced into sex.  One of the most important messages is that under no circumstances should children come from a marriage in which there is no love.  Furthermore, sales of a guide to contraception skyrocketed after a trial at which Annie Besant spoke, and the birth rate plummeted over the following few years.

Moving on to look at the suffragettes, Dr Riddell commented that our traditional view is based on Emmeline Pankhurst: strong women, marching, speeches and the WSPU.  We have forgotten their real actions.  She reminded the audience that the term ‘suffragette’ applies only to members of the WSPU. Their motto was “deeds not words” – they had done talking.  One of their tactics was violence, especially arson and bomb attacks.  She argued that the WSPU was the most violent and dangerous domestic terror organisation we have ever had and that not even the IRA come close if you look at the size of the bombs and where they were left. This claim, however, was the subject of some debate amongst conference delegates over the morning tea break!  Nevertheless, the WSPU wanted to create a sense of fear and terror.  Christabel Pankhurst asked in a 1913 newspaper interview that when men throw bombs it’s called war, so why shouldn’t women make use of them too? 

Dr Fern Riddell

Dr Riddell suggested that despite our discomfort with the facts, there is no evidence at all that the suffragettes didn’t want to hurt anyone: it is just not true.  Their bombs were full of nails and they gave no warnings.  They were referred to at the time as terrorists.  They are idolised because of the result, but we need to tell all sides of the story and give the rounded view.  We sanitise the story and can’t believe that women would really do that. The histories are uncomfortable to the present as well as the past.  We need to show what radicalises people and how: the suffragettes, for example, were deeply harmed by the state through marginalisation, suffering violence themselves, and force feeding.  But it doesn’t matter what we feel about the need for women to have the vote, we need to show that no one is perfect and that in every civil rights movement there has been an extremist element.  Men and women fought for the economic, political and social freedoms of women. Dr Riddell finished by concluding that we make change together.

The first Friday general pathway session was given by Professor Peter Gaunt on Chester in the Civil War.  He commented that the Civil War had a dramatic effect on Chester.  In summer 1639, it was a prosperous city.  Seven years later, its population had halved, it had suffered plague, and the bombardment of the civil wars had caused destroyed parts of the city.  Two of the suburbs had been completely removed by the Royalists holding the city.  It was Royalist almost throughout the war, although in Feb 1646, shortly before the end of the war, it surrendered on terms to the Parliamentarians. Prof Gaunt’s lecture addressed what the Royalists and Parliamentarians hoped Chester would be, what role it played in reality, and why.

Prof Gaunt described how the Civil Wars used to be seen as a single national war, with major battles between national commanders.  He argued that this national picture has relevance no here, because Chester’s role is as part of a local war between garrisons which supplied a longer term civil war.  The aim was to tie down key places and territory such as roads, ports, and resources  such as men, horses, fodder, food drink and above all, cash!

Chester is often referred to as a regional capital. Even though it was never a really big regional town, it was the largest in the north west, bigger than Lancaster, Liverpool or Manchester.  It had a population of between 5 and 10 thousand.  It was a centre of trade and manufacture, partly because it was the centre of road network and also a port.  The city was often the departure point for going to Ireland, as it was more accessible than Holyhead. 

He argued that the king certainly accorded Chester a high priority, as he visited early in the war shortly after raising his standard at Nottingham. He arrived in Chester in September 1642, in an attempt to capitalise on the swell of support for the king in the west.  Although some people didn’t want the king there because they didn’t want to get involved in the war, they let him in.  The king apparently gave the same speech in each location he visited, flattering the residents by saying he could think of nowhere better to make his residence, then asking them to open their magazines and taking men and armaments.

The king’s two nephews were given southern armies and were ordered to come up and secure Chester, but the king himself didn’t return until nearly the end of the war, by which time the city was under great threat.  Although he ordered one of his few remaining field armies to come up and protect the city, his reinforcements were torn to pieces at the Battle of Rowton Moor.  The king left, leaving the city leaders permission to surrender.

Prof Peter Gaunt

But Prof Gaunt pointed out that we are not sure why he thinks the city is so important as it is barely mentioned in his letters.  There are a number of possible reasons:

  • A buffer to help protect the royalist heartland of north wales.
  • The prestige of holding established county towns.
  • After Marston moor and the loss of north of England, Chester is one of the few key towns he still held so might serve as launching point to link up with Montrose and recapture the north.
  • Above all it allowed access to Ireland where the king had links with the Irish Catholic rebels. He had made a truce with the Catholics, which meant that his Protestant army could be brought home as they didn’t have to fight the rebels any more.  Chester was his best bet for bringing in reinforcements from Ireland

The Cestrians themselves just hunkered down and hoped to avoid as much of the problem as possible.  The locals provided a garrison of horse and foot, which was one of a string of garrisons across the area.  Most of the garrison commanders tried to take the fight to the parliamentarians, trying to disrupt the parliamentarian hold, but even though Chester was on the edge of parliamentarian territory, it didn’t do much.  Prof Gaunt asked why? He outlined several factors which encouraged the local commanders to sit back as they knew they could hold out.

  • Successive governors were pretty incompetent.  Even the most active didn’t take much part in the fighting.
  • Governors had to liaise with king’s northern commanders, and they weren’t competent either.
  • The situation was made worse when Capell from Hertfordshire was moved in as northern commander – as he was not local he was not trusted.
  • The city had strong stone walls and these were supplemented by mud walls round the suburbs, so there was no incentive to leave them.
  • The city sits on a corner of the river Dee, so again, it was relatively easy to defend.
  • Royalist north wales was on their doorstep

From the Parliamentarian perspective, one local commander, Brereton, tried unsuccessfully to raise forces in Chester. He thought Chester was a priority.  He couldn’t sleep easy holding half to two thirds of the county while the county town was in the king’s hands.  But he knew how difficult it was to capture Chester with only his own forces, so he tried to induce other regional parliamentarians to join him in attacking Chester.  In 1644 Fairfax intervened at Nantwich, and Brereton suggested that he came further west and helped to capture Chester, but Fairfax wasn’t interested and, moreover, it did not form part of his orders from Parliament.  Brereton also tried to persuade the Earl of Manchester and others, but none of them would help.

Parliament and the Committee of Both Kingdoms were worried about Chester’s strategic importance in 1642, especially when Byron’s forces were reinforced by Irish troops.   But they didn’t respond with land forces.  Instead they sent in the navy to patrol the Irish Sea in order to stop the king’s reinforcements getting across in the first place.  When some did try to land at Milford Haven, the Parliamentarians threw them, bound, into the sea.  Brereton attempted to play the Irish card, suggesting that bloodthirsty murderers might still get through, but parliament took no notice.  Because Chester is on a road to nowhere, as long as the king couldn’t use it to get men in from Ireland, it was of no strategic importance to the Parliamentarians – it’s just a road to Royalist Wales.  They knew that the king’s army would be defeated in the Midlands, not near Chester.

Only in the closing weeks of the war did Parliamentary high command finally turn its attentions to Chester and order other regional commanders to support Brereton.

This is the second in a short series of posts about the Historical Association Conference 2019, held in Chester in May.

The first general pathway session that I attended was given by Dr Tim Grady on ‘German Jews, the First World War and its Devastating Aftermath’. 

Gorlitz War Memorial is illustrative of German Jewish history in the aftermath of World War I.  It was erected in 1921 but it was later destroyed in the run up to World War II; the destroyed memorial was left in place but they recently replaced it with a new once.  The memorial shows the scale of Jewish participation in the First World War, and also tells us about the scale of loss from Jewish communities – 25 Jews from Gorlitz alone died in the war. But it also shows that German Jews were also heavily involved in the memorialisation of the war and finally it tells us about the rise of persecution between the wars as the memorial was destroyed.

Dr Tim Grady

Dr Grady asked why German Jews wanted to be involved in the First World War?  Many Jews and many other Germans didn’t support the conflict and opposed the war.  Once the war did start in early August, the picture changes to an image of total support.  German Jews rushed to volunteer.  They had good reason to be supportive – the war was against Russia which was at the time renowned for its anti-Semitic attacks.

The Kaiser declared that he only recognised ‘Germans’; not parties, not divisions.  This was a boost for German Jews who felt they had never been seen as proper Germans up to that point.  Moreover, no matter how they were seen by others, they saw themselves as Germans, so they wanted to defend their country.

Dr Grady argued that we can see the foundations of total war in the conflict.  Everyone in Germany would have been effected, and Jews were no exception.  They had little choice over this.  Nonetheless, they did their best to assist in the militarisation of the home front: they turned over buildings for hospitals; the Cologne Jewish community took in Belgian refugees; and it was Walter Rathenau, a Jew, who took steps to ensure that raw materials and food supplies were available, with his work central to the organisation of wartime supplies.  Jews also produced a lot of German propaganda. One example was Ernst Lissauer, who wrote the ‘hymn of hate’ against England, which was satirised in Punch.

There was, however, more to the war than just Germany defending its borders.  German Jews were fairly opposed to expansion for the sake of it, but they could see some sort of logic to an expansionist war because the more the military moved eastwards so the more Jews came under German control.  These were large areas with an east European Jewish population within them.  So a logic started to form that it would be an opportunity to rescue them from the Russians. 

Nevertheless, anti-Semitism was a defining aspect of the conflict.  This was a form of continuity from before to after the war, so maybe the Jews were naïve in thinking that the war would get rid of anti-Semitism.  The other question is whether the war exacerbated the problem, because the suffering and length of the conflict had a big impact.  Once food shortages began in 1915, Germans began to look for someone to blame.  People start pointing the finger at different regions, the establishment, women, and the Jewish communities.  Jews were targeted because they are seen to be shirking, not doing their duty, or profiteering.  From 1916 the archives contain anonymous letters to the war ministry ‘making them aware’ of Jews who weren’t fighting.  That summer the war ministry counted the numbers of Jews who were fighting so they could prove the nay sayers wrong.  But they weren’t counting Protestants or Catholics so it was in itself an anti-Semitic act.  It is sometimes seen as an indication of the change in attitudes, towards the Jews. But as Grady pointed out, this didn’t change their actual involvement in the conflict.

The fact that Germany lost the war left difficult legacies.  Dr Grady suggested that we need to examine the mismatch between the end of the war and people’s expectations.  There was no excitement or joy – it was more resignation.  This was a contrast to the way the war had been fought and the belief that a unified Germany would achieve great things.  There had been so much sacrificed for the war effort but attempts to grow Germany had failed.   There is no doubt that Jews made a complete contribution to the war effort, yet they start to be blamed very quickly for the problems at the war’s end.  There are soon claims that they shirked, profiteered, or were disloyal.  The finger of blame for the war’s failure points to the Jews – they stabbed the country in the back.

The horror of this is that German Jews had sacrificed themselves, they had shaped the war experience, they had set up the possibility of total war, and created propaganda which shaped people’s expectations.  In the end it was they who were reshaped as outsiders. 

Over lunch, the branches and members committee (of which I am vice chair) held a ‘meet and greet’ for HA branch members.  It was good to meet up with several old friends and make some new ones, and we had some interesting conversation about how branches work in different places.

The first lecture after lunch was from Prof Elaine Chalus on ‘Gender, Place and Power in Controverted 18th Century Elections’.    This was really interesting, as I know less than I should about the 18th century at the best of times, and even less about how elections worked in practice. Controverted elections are those which were fought all the way up to parliament.

Prof Chalus pointed out that the depiction of the election processions in the 18th century describe lots of participation. They were like celebrations, with processions and banner carrying which included the involvement of women and children. Women were not, as has been suggested, just part of the window dressing – they were part of the organisation, and in some places women could make their husbands into voters.  They sewed banners, provided food and benefitted financially from the increased business in towns at the time.  But they were also canvassed by candidates and were presumed to have influence over their husbands votes.  They were believed to be open to flattery and persuasion, or cowed into acquiescence (although they sometimes stood up against it). 

Although they themselves didn’t or vote, women could shape the outcome of elections.  The more hotly contested the election, the more likely it was that women would be involved.  For women of the political elite there were two aspects:

  • socio-political – going to court, hosting dinners, visiting, and marrying for political ends;
  • directly political – serving as their husbands agents, running election committees, canvassing, standing in for men who were away.

What I had never realised was that where the vote was attached to property, if a women owned the property technically she could vote, but she didn’t and appointed a proxy.  This meant that women might be canvassed for their proxy vote. Prof Chalus then gave examples of cases where women’s influence really mattered because the elections went all the way through the contest. 

Prof Elaine Chalus

Canvassing was the crucial point of contact.  There were public or personal canvases.  Public canvasses took place early in the campaign, to introduce the candidates and see if there were enough support for different candidates to contest the election all the way to the polls.

After a processional entry, there would be introductions, speeches, and a procession round town.  They mopped up the easy votes – those who ‘plumped for’ or promised their 2 votes to one candidate were given a sweetener.  But the more difficult votes were pushed for by agents, through private canvassing, often in people’s homes.  They were the most intense and intimidating experiences, not least because sometimes the canvassers visited when they knew the men were out. 

Prof Chalus used the 1830 Taunton election as a case study.  Taunton was a potwalloper borough where everyone who wasn’t on the poor relief had a vote. The franchise went right down the social scale to include artisans and traders.  The borough had 2 MPs. In 1830, we can recapture some female voices and we can tell that they knew how the system worked. They thought of some votes as theirs, in that their husband had one, they ‘had’ the other.  They also know they might be intimidated if they don’t vote the way the canvasser wants.  She argued that we can use the records of controverted political campaigns to help restore the personal dimension of 18th century elections.  They bring voices back from those who are otherwise voiceless.

Friday evening’s keynote was given by Dr Yasmin Khan on ‘The Raj at War’.  This session had resonances with Tim Grady’s lecture on the German Jews in the First World War, as it was based on commemorative work which wants to restore black and Asian voices to the narrative. Dr Khan pointed out that the publishers’ first version of her book had a man in a spitfire on the cover.  She challenged the design, saying that she wanted to emphasise minority voices, and the published version now has an Imperial War Museum poster of two Indian women in the Home Guard.  

Dr Yasmin Khan

Although the Japanese swept across Asia into Burma, India itself was not invaded.  Many soldiers from all over the world mobilised in India ready for the fight in Burma.  George Orwell, like many, feared that India might fall, and for 10 weeks in 1942 it became the centre of the war.  At the same time, however, the Quit India campaign was working to force independence before they aided the war effort.  So during this time, many of the Congress Party including Gandhi and Nehru were imprisoned, to be released at the end of the war.

Dr Khan described how 2.5 million men volunteered for the Indian army, making it the largest ever volunteer army.  Like Tim Grady, she asked why they joined up? 

  • In some areas there was a family tradition of joining the British army and these areas were nurtured by the British by ensuring the fields were irrigated and education was provided.  But in the 1940s they needed more men so the recruiters had to go to other areas too.
  • A way of securing independence from their background.
  • For many, it was the salary which was sent straight back to the family.  An army job came with meals too.

Meanwhile, women served on the home front, even down mines and building roads with picks and shovels.

The Indian famine was caused by inflation as prices rose and wages didn’t keep up. Then a major cyclone in Calcutta wiped out the rice harvest. Although there had been shortages before, this one was different because, due to the war, they couldn’t import rice from Burma.  People started to hoard, and because there was no rationing until 1944 there was no way of equalising supply. Churchill was not keen on sending supplies to relieve the problem, and Dr Khan described the attitudes behind preventing the relief of the famine as ‘a horrible cocktail’.


Dr Khan then turned to the experiences of individuals, noting that for British officers and soldiers we have many documents, but its difficult to find rank and file soldiers for whom you can trace a lot of documents across their life, or even across the war.  She presented 4 case studies:

  1. Aruna Asaf Ali joined the Congress, but was not rounded up in 1942 with the other congress leaders because she was not seen as troublesome even though her husband was arrested.  This radicalised her and she turned to violence with the Quit India campaign, conducting acts of sabotage.  Her husband was horrified because he followed Gandhi, but she became a popular hero, working against the war effort.
  2. Clive Branson was a communist,  and a very vocal anti-fascist, from an elite family.  He was conscripted and sent to India.  He is interesting because, like of lots of men from Britain, he saw things that he wouldn’t ordinarily have seen.   He wrote home, and his letters were collected and published by his friends when he was killed on the Japanese front in 1944.  He saw the problems with colonialism, and wrote about the maltreatment of servants, men visiting brothels, and the effects of the famine, but he was also a soldier fighting for that colonial power.
  3. Bhajan Singh was court-martialled and sent to the Andaman Islands penal colony.
  4. Walchand Hirachand seized opportunity to make money. He had a lot of ships so turned them over to the army to ship troops and materials. He managed to gain a $4million dollar investment into an aircraft factory, yet he constantly complained that he was overlooked in favour of British suppliers.  He was a supporter of independence and siphoned off some of the money to support the independence campaign.

Dr Khan concluded by remarking that although we think we know everything on the Second World War, there are whole areas that are untapped which can take us beyond celebrating the soldiers – there are contradictions and complicated relationships with empire which need exploring. 

Following a short break in posts, caused by a problem with internet access, this is the first in a short series of posts about the Historical Association Conference 2019, held in Chester in May.

Becky Sullivan welcoming people to the conference

On Friday morning, the proceedings opened with a welcome from Rebecca Sullivan, the HA chief executive, who was very pleased to note that this was the biggest HA conference since 2015 in Bristol.  She then introduced the first keynote speaker, Professor Tony Badger, the HA President, who was once described by the Wall Street journal as a man with an instinctive understanding of American politics.  Prof Badger’s talk was on ‘The Kennedys and the Gores’.  He described how families became good friends, lasting 50 years through 2 generations of politics, to the point where Ted Kennedy’s support was vital to Al Gore’s nomination in 2000.  He pointed out that you can use the Kennedys and the Gores to chart the changing fortunes of American liberalism. 

Albert Gore grew up in a rural small town – a very different wold to that of the global superpower, space race and nuclear arms.  In 1938 he had to make his mark not just through speaking on hustings, but by playing fiddle in a country band to draw a crowd at political meetings. John Kennedy, on the other hand, came from a very wealthy background and was a genuine war hero.  He was of Irish Catholic while Gore was a southern Baptist, but at the time public religiosity was not the order of the day. Both had strong wives: Pauline Gore was one of the first women to graduate in law; Jackie Kennedy a style icon.

Professor Tony Badger, HA President

Both Kennedy and Gore were interested in foreign policy, but by the 50s had already differed on South East Asia. Neither was an intellectual, but Kennedy drew academics into his advisors.  Both made the effort to learn, though different ways.  Neither was a member of the Senate Club, which critics thought stymied reform, but members respected its hardworking ministers. Likewise, both found themselves at odds with Lyndon Johnson.  Gore tried very hard to get on with him, but they hated each other. He admired Johnson’s legislative skills but thought he was a cruel bully, and resented his exclusion from administration.  Meanwhile, Johnson didn’t take Kennedy seriously as a senator.  But Kennedy understood Johnson’s power as majority leader, which is why he made him vice president. 

Another similarity between Gore and Kennedy was that both were targets of Hoover. Kennedy was put under watch because of his sexual liaisons, while Gore was put on a list ‘not to be contacted’ as long as Hoover in charge of FBI.  Both also supported civil rights, at least to an extent; they were not hugely active but made the right noises.  Gore felt that the race issue divided his poor white and black constituents and wanted to concentrate on economic issues. Kennedy established good relations with southern leaders and thought he could work with them, though his faith was tested during his presidency.  Gore hoped that LBJ’s civil rights legislation would be softened enough to enable him to give it support, and had Kennedy lived, it might well have been.  But LBJ had different imperatives and in the end it wasn’t so Gore didn’t support it, making him almost irrelevant.

Gore, however, still supported Kennedy’s presidential campaign of 1960 and during Kennedy’s presidency, the Gores were regularly entertained at the White House.  Kennedy used Gore as sounding board, for example over the Bay of Pigs crisis.

Nevertheless, there were tensions between Kennedy and Gore.  The interstate highways policy caused problems because Gore supported them as essential for the economic development of the south, whereas Kennedy thought the policy would cause problems for the north.  There were also problems when the vice presidency was opened up to the floor, and over tax cuts.  Finally, Gore watched with alarm as Kennedy administration was sucked into Vietnam.  He read reports about what was going wrong, and he wanted Kennedy to pull troops out.  Then Kennedy was assassinated. Albert Gore worked closely with Ted Kennedy after Bobby’s assassination, but couldn’t persuade Ted to stand for president.

Gore had allowed himself to support the Tonkin Gulf resolution in August 1964, but he was one of the the first senators to call for a negotiated settlement.  The Kennedys couldn’t come out against in cased they were seen as going against their brother’s legacy.   During the 1970s, the anti-war stance became mainstream and younger senators respected Gore’s expertise in the Nixon years. He became Nixon’s number one target in the 1970 campaign, which focussed on race and evangelical religion and made the south the bastion of republicanism. White southern voters saw the civil rights movement help African Americans, women, gays etc, but not themselves. 

Al Gore didn’t go straight to politics, but when he got into Washington he travelled home each weekend to hold meetings in his constituency, keeping in touch with the voters.  He steered clear of presidential politics.  The Gores didn’t back the Kennedy family in the 80s, as ‘Kennedy liberal’ was a term of abuse.  When Al Gore ran for the senate in 1984, he wouldn’t have his photo taken with Ted Kennedy.  But by 2000 they were on the platform together, with Gore having got to know Kennedy from sitting next to him in the senate.  When Ted Kennedy died in 2009, Al Gore described him as a champion of Americans who had no voice. 

Prof Badger concluded his lecture by noting that the problems faced by these politicians were no less significant than those faced now, but unlike now, the two families didn’t foster anti-intellectualism and think that a soundbite was a substitute for effective legislation.

The HA conference combines several Continuing Professional Development strands for teachers with general interest lectures for ‘armchair historians’.  The first session that I attended was given by Hugh Richards,  from the Huntington School in York, on helping GCSE students who are swamped by the new GCSE.  In fact, he concentrated on the challenges facing students who need to write essays in an exam, such as self-regulation, recall of information, deploying information and even getting started.  He pointed out that teachers are being asked to beat a system that is designed to differentiate the students, and advised deliberate practice, breaking down the big tasks. He also suggested that  students shouldn’t be attempting the big tasks, such as long essay questions, straight away because they are designed to asses a GCSE student who has done the whole course.  They need to be able to do all the component parts of the task and we need to break that down for them. 

Hugh Richards

Hugh took a sample ‘how far do you agree’ question and broke it down in to its constituent bits:

  • Knowledge
  • Structured response
  • Vocabulary
  • Multiple viewpoints
  • Understanding the question
  • Judgement

His school, like many others, had giving students essay frameworks, but this can make them too used to the ‘life rings’, meaning that they can’t manage without them when they are in the exam and faced just with a blank page.  Instead, he recommended basing teaching on the 3 elements to self-regulated learning:

  • Cognition
  • Metacognition
  • Motivation

He then outlined a couple of teaching techniques which helped to raise achievement for all pupils. 

The first technique was the use of spiderplans – a spider diagram that plans an essay and one of several different visual plans for different types of question.  He argued that spiderplans worked because they are based on a blank sheet of paper rather than a grid or scaffold, so they can easily be reproduced in the exam.  Students draw a circle in middle of the page and focus on putting question in their own words. Then they add points around it, giving them a well-structured response.

The next technique was to get the students to ask themselves ‘What mistakes might I make?’ These mistakes might be different for each student, so it helps them to reflect on the feedback they have received for completed assignments and use it to improve their essay plan.

Once this has been done, the students submit their structures to the teacher, who puts them on the board in a table so that the students can compare different possible structures, for example, answering by decade, by theme, groups of people.  You can ask them which structure they like best and why, because exposing the thought processes makes them reflect on the effectiveness of the different approaches.  It exposes the historical thinking and helps them to see why there might be problems. You can vote on the most effective, which makes the learning point clear but it hasn’t been done by giving model answers.

The next step is to consider as a group the evidence for one structure.  You can then ask again what mistakes they might make. They often remember the mistakes better than their successes, so we need to turn this to their advantage.  Another advantage of this technique is that it avoids wasting their time writing a whole essay that is then wrong, which is demoralising.  He advised asking students cross out their work when it was wrong, to avoid them revising from incorrect material.