Who Do You Think You Are? magazine on Rosalind Crone’s Prison History project

Senior Lecturer in History Dr Rosalind Crone’s Prison History project, which is based on the research undertaken during her AHRC Fellowship on Educating Criminals in Nineteenth Century England, is the subject of an article in Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. You can read the article here:


Karl Hack’s article in War in History

Professor Karl Hack has published ‘Devils that suck the blood of the Malayan People’: The Case for Post-Revisionist Analysis of Counter-insurgency Violence’ in War in History. The article addresses the ‘revisionist’ case that post-war Western counter-insurgency deployed widespread, exemplary violence in order to discipline and intimidate populations. It does this by using the Malayan Emergency of 1948–60 as a case study in extreme counter-insurgency ‘violence’, defined as high to lethal levels of physical force against non-combatants’ (civilians, detainees, prisoners, and corpses). It confirms high levels of such violence, from sporadic shooting of civilians to the killing of 24 unarmed workers at Batang Kali. Yet it also demonstrates that there were more varieties of and nuances in extreme force than is sometimes realized, for instance with multiple and very different forms of mass population displacement. It also concentrates more effort on explaining how such violence came about, and shows a marked trend over time towards greatly improved targeting, and towards methods that did not cause direct bodily harm. This case study therefore suggests the need for a ‘post-revisionist’ form of counter-insurgency analysis: one that can take into account the lifecycles of multiple types of violence, and of violence-limitation, and emphasize explanation for extreme violence over its mere description. Such a post-revisionist analysis need not necessarily imply that there was more, or less, violence than suggested by previous accounts. Instead, it requires a more nuanced and contextualized account, clearly differentiated by technique, place, and period.

Humour in the First World War workshop

On 20 June we held a highly successful workshop, sponsored by the Open University’s War and Conflict in the Twentieth Century research group, that brought together over 20 scholars working on humour during the First World War. Whilst humour was an important feature of everyday life during the conflict, its significance has often been overlooked. Despite this, studies of trench newspapers, cartoons, and popular entertainment, for example, have begun to reveal how humour was used, both on the home and fighting fronts, for a variety of purposes. Through examining humorous responses to the war in a range of forms and contexts, this workshop promoted further discussion within this burgeoning area of research.


14.00 – 14.15      Registration and Opening Remarks

14.15 – 14.45      Emily Anderson (Newcastle): Humour and the Written Representation of the Great War, 1914 – 1918.

14.45 – 15.15      Vincent Trott (Open): American Humour and the Road to War: A Case Study of Life Magazine, 1914 – 1917.

15.15 – 15.45      Coffee Break

15.45 – 16.15      Emma Hanna (Kent): Fighting Fear with Humour: Songs and Singing in the RFC/RAF, 1914 1918

16.15 – 16.45      Julian Walker (UCL): Populist Satirical Magazines During the First World War

16.45 – 17.15      Closing Discussion

Emily Anderson (Newcastle): Humour and the Written Representation of the Great War, 1914 – 1918.

Abstract: An abundance of humorous Great War literature was written and published in the 1914-18 period. Humour appears in a multitude of different genres and texts about the conflict; there are even flashes of humour in writing that is otherwise solemn. On the relatively rare occasions on which such humorous texts are discussed, they tend to be seen as material for emotional relief, emphasis being placed on their potential for improving morale. This is in contrast to the war’s most famous, solemn literature, which has been extensively explored for its representational force. I give a number of examples from a variety of genres of how humour contributed to the depiction of life during the war, including a discussion of how different kinds of humour were especially well-suited to the portrayal of certain aspects of the conflict. I argue that forms of humorous literature that were well-established before the outbreak of the fighting were sufficiently robust to capture a range of war experiences. In doing so, I draw attention to the nuanced tones, complex pictures, and moving impressions of the war that humour often created.

Biography: Emily is a third year PhD student at Newcastle University, funded by the AHRC Northern Bridge partnership. Her research examines humour’s role in depicting the Great War in poetry, trench newspapers, short stories, and plays published in the 1914-18 period. She previously completed an MSc at The University of Edinburgh and a BA at the University of Cambridge.

Vincent Trott (Open): American Humour and the Road to War: A Case Study of Life Magazine, 1914 – 1917.

 Abstract: During the First World War, humorous magazines played an important role in galvanising popular support for the war effort across the combatant countries. They also shaped public opinion regarding the war in the United States, which remained neutral until 1917. One of the largest and most influential of these periodicals was Life magazine, which adopted a staunchly pro-Allied stance upon the war’s outbreak and soon began to argue the case for US intervention. Despite the significance of magazines like Life, the importance of humour and laughter during the First World War, and especially in the United States during this period, has often been overlooked by historians. This talk will discuss how Life used jokes, cartoons and satirical articles to influence public opinion during the First World War. It will also situate the magazine within the wider context of American publishing during the conflict, demonstrating how the industry helped to pave the way for US intervention.

Biography: Vincent Trott is Lecturer in History at the Open University, where his research focuses on the history and memory of the First World War, and on the history of publishing and reading in the twentieth century. His first book, Publishers, Readers and the Great War (Bloomsbury, 2017), explores the role of the publishing industry in shaping the memory of the First World War in Britain. He is currently researching humour during the First World War, with a particular focus on satirical periodicals.

Emma Hanna (Kent): Fighting Fear with Humour: Songs and Singing in the RFC/RAF, 1914 1918

 Abstract: Using song books, published memoirs and officers’ personal papers from a range of archives, the development and dissemination of the songs will be discussed in the context of RFC/RAF squadron culture. This analysis will show that music and songs – many of them humorous – had several key functions for men serving with the RFC/RAF to dissipate fear and anxiety, to maintain airmen’s morale and enhance the squadron’s esprit de corps.

Biography: Dr Emma Hanna is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of History at the University of Kent. Emma has published widely on First World War history including contemporary memory, memorialisation, the media and wartime culture. She is a Co-Investigator on two major research projects: Gateways to the First World War (AHRC, 2014-2019) and Reflections on the Centenary of the First World War: Learning & Legacies for the Future (AHRC, 2017-2020). Her second monograph – on music and morale in the British Forces 1914-18 – will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2019

 Julian Walker (UCL): Populist Satirical Magazines During the First World War

 Abstract: Though Punch is the most well-known satirical magazine of nineteenth and twentieth century Britain, other magazines, aimed at the lower-middle classes, had a much bigger circulation in the period leading up to the First World War. In 1914 there were a group of cheap magazines which, though they joined in the general patriotism, soon began to exploit the war for humour and social comment. Clear targets for satire can be specified: women in uniform; women’s roles in wartime; the family and marriage; and female sexuality. Less obviously, also being satirised are the citizen armies’ identification with khaki, wealthy men’s fascination with chorus-girls, the suffragist movement, flappers and knuts, competition between women within performance culture, and male sexuality. The fact that humour is directed at what might be expected to be seen as totally off limits – atrocities against civilians – questions the sense of the wartime inviolability of national and allied unity. The magazines sometimes appear to be operating with only loose editorial control, with contradictory messages; and regular sections on transgressive sexuality and sexual violence make analysis even more difficult, so that what initially appears to be robust humour reads more as a record of social comment on sexuality, power, and gender and class tension. Though the context of wartime is ever present, there is little topical reference to war events, other than as they affect the Home Front; thus the magazines show a side of the war in which the soldiers are seen through civilian eyes. But they throw up contradictions that confound easy explanations: despite circulation figures possibly three times as high as Punch, the magazines are hardly ever mentioned outside their own circle; the mastheads show soldier readers but the magazines barely mention events or life at the Front, though one soldier slang reference shows there can be no doubt of soldiers’ familiarity with the magazines; aimed at the supposedly respectable lower-middle classes fascinated with performance celebrities, their unrestrained joking about sex looks surprisingly modern; and though openly misogynistic they employed women writers and openly advertised contraceptive products for women. Close examination of these satirical magazines may reveal aspects of the Home Front that look more like post-war Berlin than Lyons teashop London.

Biography: Julian Walker has spent several years researching the language of the First World War, work which has produced Trench Talk (2012), written with Peter Doyle, and the Languages and the First World War project, currently based at UCL. This project stemmed from the international conference of that name in 2014, with two volumes of essays, and a second conference in London and Brussels in September 2018. His Words and the First World War, a contextual study of English during the conflict, was published in 2017. He is a workshop leader at the British Library, and lectures at a range of institutions on the history of printing.

Luc-Andre Brunet’s article in International History Review

Dr. Luc-Andre Brunet, Lecturer in 20th European History, has published ‘Unhelpful Fixer? Canada, the Euromissile Crisis, and Pierre Trudeau’s Peace Initiative, 1983-1984‘ in the International History Review. This article provides the most rigorous international history to date of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1983 peace initiative, one of Canada’s major foreign policy ventures of the Cold War, examining both Trudeau’s motives and the reception of his initiative among Canada’s allies. Drawing on newly declassified sources in Canada, it uncovers the two-track strategy behind this initiative, aiming to mobilise Western European leaders to exert pressure on the Reagan Administration on the one hand, while quietly urging European allies to call for a review of NATO strategy on the other. Based on previously unavailable archival materials from seven different countries, this article also reveals how the Canadian initiative was received by the world leaders Trudeau sought to win over. It reassesses the Canadian initiative, revealing that it borrowed heavily from existing proposals from other countries, and that NATO leaders viewed the initiative as a mere electoral ploy to help Trudeau win re-election rather than a serious project to ease East–West tensions. This article concludes that with this initiative Canada was not in fact playing the role of a ‘helpful fixer’ and that the initiative constituted part of a wider and understudied trend in government responses to the ‘Second Cold War’.


PhD Research Day 8 June 2018

Department of History

PhD Research Day

8 June 2018


The Open University, Library Seminar rooms 1-2

Contact: Marie-Claire Le Roux FASS-HRSSC-History@open.ac.uk


10.15 Coffee and registration

10.30 Welcome

10.40 Joan Hornsby: The problem of pauperism in Axminster Union

11.10 Luc-Andre Brunet: Developing a publication record as a PhD student

11.40 Break

11.50 Elizabeth Wells: Westminster School’s Town Boy Ledgers: pupil voices from the early 19th century

12.20 Jack Taylor: Difficulties of evidence: sexual violence against men, c.1700-1900

13.00 Lunch

14.10 Angela Sutton-Vane: From private information to public history: the life-cycles and influences of police files       

14.40 Sam Aylett: The Museum of London’s permanent galleries, 1976: prosperity, trade

and empire

15.10 Coffee Break

15.30 Chris Williams How to broadcast history

16.00 End

Ole Peter Grell’s book It All Depends on the Dose: poisons and medicines in European history

Ole Peter Grell, Professor of Early Modern History, has published It All Depends on the Dose: poisons and medicines in European history, edited with Andrew Cunningham and Jon Arrizabalaga. This is the first volume to take a broad historical sweep of the close relation between medicines and poisons in the Western tradition, and their interconnectedness. They are like two ends of a spectrum, for the same natural material can be medicine or poison, depending on the dose, and poisons can be transformed into medicines, while medicines can turn out to be poisons. The book looks at important moments in the history of the relationship between poisons and medicines in European history, from Roman times, with the Greek physician Galen, through the Renaissance and the maverick physician Paracelsus, to the present, when poisons are actively being turned into beneficial medicines.

Recovering the 19th Century Penal Landscape launch event

Recovering the 19th Century Penal Landscape, 6 July 2018
National Justice Museum, Nottingham, Smith Cooper Room

Join us on 6 July 2018 at the National Justice Museum in Nottingham for the launch of a new resource developed by the Centre – www.prisonhistory.org – a database of nineteenth-century prisons which contains critical information on the locations, size and archives of nearly 850 penal institutions.

We are delighted to host a number of eminent speakers with expertise on prisons past and present, including: Prof Sean McConville (Queen Mary University of London), Dr Paul Carter (The National Archives), Prof Barry Godfrey (University of Liverpool) Dr Maryse Tennant (Canterbury Christ Church University), Aiofe O’Connor (Find My Past), Nina Champion (Prisoners’ Education Trust) and Anita Dockley (Howard League for Penal Reform).

To download a programme, follow this link.

The event is free to attend, but places are limited. To register attendance, of for further information, please contact: Rosalind.Crone@open.ac.uk, and/or FASS-Collaborations@open.ac.uk. Registration closes 22 June 2018. When registering, please provide full name, affiliation, any special dietary requirements and any other special requirements.

Richard Marsden’s article in History Compass

Dr. Richard Marsden, Lecturer in History and Staff Tutor, has published “Medievalism: new discipline or scholarly no-man’s land?” in History Compass. The term “medievalism” refers to how people have, since the 15th century, conceptualised the thousand years of history preceding that date. The study of medievalism is therefore not about the Middle Ages per se, but rather the ways in which the medieval period has been imagined in the centuries since it ended. Yet the field’s origins date from as recently as the 1970s. Medievalism Studies is thus still finding its feet and must consequently deal with some existential questions about its scope and remit, its methodological underpinnings, its implications for how history is periodised, and its relationship with more established disciplines. It also faces criticisms of Anglo‐centricism as well as hostility from some historians thanks to the doubts its practitioners raise over established delineations between scholarly and creative depictions of the medieval period. Nonetheless, this new field offers a much‐needed challenge to the calcified disciplinary boundaries that shape academia today.

Silvia de Renzi’s book Pathology in Practice Diseases and Dissections in Early Modern Europe

Dr. Silvia de Renzi, Lecturer in the History of Medicine, has published Pathology in Practice: Diseases and Dissections in Early Modern Europe, edited with Marco Bresadola, and Maria Conforti.Post-mortems may have become a staple of our TV viewing, but the long history of this practice is still little known. This book provides a fresh account of the dissections that took place across early modern Europe on those who had died of a disease or in unclear circumstances. Drawing on different approaches and on sources as varied as notes taken at the dissection table, legal records and learned publications, the chapters explore how autopsies informed the understanding of pathology of all those involved. With a broad geography, including Rome, Amsterdam and Geneva, the book recaptures the lost worlds of physicians, surgeons, patients, families and civic authorities as they used corpses to understand diseases and make sense of suffering. The evidence from post-mortems was not straightforward, but between 1500 and 1750 medical practitioners rose to the challenge, proposing various solutions to the difficulties they encountered and creating a remarkable body of knowledge. The book shows the scope and diversity of this tradition and how laypeople contributed their knowledge and expectations to the wide-ranging exchanges stimulated by the opening of bodies.



Luc-Andre Brunet wins Michael J. Hellyer Prize

Dr. Luc-André Brunet, Lecturer in Twentieth-Century European History, has been awarded the Michael J. Hellyer Prize by the British Association of Canadian Studies (BACS). The award is presented for the best paper given at the BACS annual conference. This year’s conference, held at Senate House, University of London, featured 61 papers delivered over three days. Luc’s paper, entitled ‘Pierre Trudeau’s 1983 Peace Initiative: An International History’ uses recently declassified archival sources from seven different countries to re-evaluate Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s peace initiative, a major Canadian foreign policy venture that aimed at reducing Cold War tensions in the context of the so-called Euromissile Crisis. The paper is part of a book Luc is currently writing for McGill-Queen’s University Press provisionally entitled Canada, Nuclear Weapons, and the End of the Cold War.