Research Fellow Dr. Sandip Hazareesingh gave a presentation titled ‘Oral history as a method for studying the meanings of foodways in India’ at a virtual international workshop jointly organised by the International Institute for Environment and Development and Kew (13-15 October 2020 at the IIED) on ‘Indigenous food systems, biocultural heritage and the UN sustainable development goals’
Research Fellow Dr. Sandip Hazareesingh has published the Open Access article ‘Our Grandmother Used to Sing Whilst Weeding: Oral histories, millet food culture, and farming rituals among women smallholders in Ramanagara district, Karnataka‘ in Modern Asian Studies.
The cultural and historical dimensions of rural lives matter. However, development practitioners and writings tend to play down these aspects. This article demonstrates the significance of oral history in revealing the meanings of women smallholders’ millet-based foodways in southern India. It argues that women farmers’ cultural practices around food constitute fundamental ‘capabilities’ nurtured over a long historical duration, and are essential to any meaningful articulation of ‘development’. Drawing on age-old spiritual beliefs and practices involving non-human entities, the women demonstrate fine-tuned skills in nurturing seeds and growing crops, in preparing and cooking food, and in discerning food tastes, particularly in relation to the local staple ragi, or finger millet. They also express their creativity in the joys of performing songs and farming rituals linked to the agricultural cycle. In this way, cultural capabilities express significant dimensions of women’s agency exercised in the intimately related spheres of food and farming. Oral history thus emerges as a research method capable of generating insights into concrete manifestations of culture over a significant historical duration, one that is particularly conducive to reclaiming the voices and life experiences of subaltern groups such as women smallholders who are either not heard or are marginalized in written contemporary and historical documentary records.
Dr. Sara Wolfson, Staff Tutor and Lecturer in History, has published a co-edited volume with Dr. Marie-Claude Canova-Green on The Wedding of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, 1625: Celebrations and Controversy .
The union of 1625 between Charles Stuart, the Protestant king of Great Britain, and Henrietta Maria, a Catholic Bourbon princess, was a unique cross-confessional alliance in post-Reformation Europe. The volume brings together literary, art, music, and political-cultural scholars to explore for the first time the variety of celebrations that accompanied the match.
On 11 May 1625 Charles I married Henrietta Maria, the youngest sister of Louis XIII of France. The match signalled Britain’s firm alignment with France against Habsburg Spain and promised well for future relations between the two countries. However, the union between a Protestant king and a Catholic princess was controversial from the start and the marriage celebrations were fraught with tensions. They were further disrupted by the sudden death of James I and an outbreak of the plague, which prevented large-scale public celebrations in London. The British weather also played its part. In fact, unlike other state occasions, the celebrations exposed weaknesses in the display of royal grandeur and national superiority. To a large extent they also failed to hide the tensions in the Stuart-Bourbon alliance. Instead they revealed the conflicting expectations of the two countries, each convinced of its own superiority and intent on furthering its own national interests. Less than two years later Britain was effectively in a state of war against France.
In this volume, leading scholars from a variety of disciplines explore for the first time the marriage celebrations of 1625, with a view to uncovering the differences and misunderstandings beneath the outward celebration of union and concord. By taking into account the ceremonial, political, religious and international dimensions of the event, the collection paints a rounded portrait of a union that would become personally successful, but complicated by the various tensions played out in the marriage celebrations and discussed here.
Professor David Vincent has published A History of Solitude. Solitude has always had an ambivalent status: the capacity to enjoy being alone can make sociability bearable, but those predisposed to solitude are often viewed with suspicion or pity. Drawing on a wide array of literary and historical sources, David Vincent explores how people have conducted themselves in the absence of company over the last three centuries. He argues that the ambivalent nature of solitude became a prominent concern in the modern era. For intellectuals in the romantic age, solitude gave respite to citizens living in ever more complex modern societies. But while the search for solitude was seen as a symptom of modern life, it was also viewed as a dangerous pathology: a perceived renunciation of the world, which could lead to psychological disorder and anti-social behaviour. David Vincent explores the successive attempts of religious authorities and political institutions to manage solitude, taking readers from the monastery to the prisoner’s cell, and explains how western society’s increasing secularism, urbanization and prosperity led to the development of new solitary pastimes at the same time as it made traditional forms of solitary communion, with God and with a pristine nature, impossible. At the dawn of the digital age, solitude has taken on new meanings, as physical isolation and intense sociability have become possible as never before. With the advent of a so-called loneliness epidemic, a proper historical understanding of the natural human desire to disengage from the world is more important than ever. A History of Solitude is the first full-length account of its subject.
David Vincent has also written a blog post On Epidemics and Loneliness for The Social History Society, drawing on his research.
Our PhD student Jack Taylor has just completed an AHRC-funded placement at the British Library. There he was working on finding and publicising elements of their collection which relate to the Second World War and, particularly, the Home Front. As part of this placement, he has written a series of blog posts on the British Library website. The first is here: https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2020/01/internment-during-the-second-world-war-part-one-the-diary-of-a-jewish-refugee-confined-by-britain.html
Karl Hack published a book chapter and gave two papers in Singapore in 2019 as part of its bicentennial celebrations: 200 years form Sir Stamford Raffles landing on Singapore and founding it in its modern guise.
The papers were on ‘Special Branch and identifying communists’ at the National Museum of Singapore in November, and on ‘British Grand Strategies and Southeast Asia’ at the National University of Singapore-Rise of Asia Museum workshop at Haw Par Villa Singapore in December. The chapter on ‘We Shall Meet again: Britain’s return to Singapore 1945-46’ is in 200 Years of Singapore and the United Kingdom edited by Tommy Kohn and British High Commissioner for Singapore Scott Wightman. Karl was born at Changi, Singapore and worked in the city for more than a decade, so this forms part of his ongoing relationship with Singapore as his second home, and Southeast Asia as a region.
Karl Hack, Professor of Asian and Imperial History, has published this article that includes a sweeping view of British imperial history as seen through the eyes of John Darwin’s works, and a survey of the state of the ‘decolonisation’ field. The article locates John Darwin’s work on decolonisation within an Oxbridge tradition which portrays a British world system, of which formal empire was but one part, emerging to increasing global dominance from the early nineteenth century. In this mental universe, decolonisation was the mirror image of that expanding global power. According to this point of view, it was not the sloughing oﬀ of individual territories, but rather the shrinking away of the system and of the international norms that supported it, until only its ghost remained by the end of the 1960s. The article then asks, echoing the title of Darwin’s Unﬁnished Empire, whether the decolonisation project is all but complete, or still ongoing. In addition, what is the responsibility of the imperial historian to engage with, inform, or indeed refrain from, contemporary debates that relate to some of these issues? The answer is twofold. On the one hand, the toolkit that the Oxbridge tradition and Darwin provide remains relevant, and also useful in thinking about contemporary issues such as China’s move towards being a global power, the United States’ declining hegemony, and some states and groups desires to rearticulate their relationship with the global. On the other hand, the decline of world systems of power needs to be recognised as just one of several types of, and approaches to, analysing ‘decolonisation’. One which cannot be allowed to ignore or marginalise the study of others, such as experience, ﬁrst nations issues, the shaping of the postcolonial state, and empire legacies. The article concludes by placing the Oxbridge tradition into a broader typology of types and methodologies of decolonisation, and by asking what a new historiography of decolonisation might look like. It suggests that it would address the Oxbridge concern with the lifecycles of systems of power and their relationship to global changes, but also place them alongside, and in dialogue with, a much broader set of perspectives and analytical approaches.
How historical research can contribute to international development challenges
Dr Sandip Hazareesingh delivered a keynote address titled ‘Food Memories and Stories from Karnataka women farmers’ at a GCRF event on ‘Food and Heritage’ at the University of Leeds on 10 January. The event was organised by Praxis, a recently set up project funded by AHRC-GCRF with the aim of championing the distinctive contribution that Arts and Humanities research can make to tackling urgent development issues. https://changingthestory.leeds.ac.uk/praxis/
Paul Lawrence, Asa Briggs Professor of History at the OU, has published “Policing, ‘science’, and the curious case of foto-fit” in The Historical Journal. The article analyses the curious development and subsequent refinement of the Photo-FIT system for the identification of criminal suspects, used by police forces around the world from the 1970s. Situating Photo-FIT in a succession of other technologies of identification, it demonstrates that, far from representing the onward march of science and technology (and the way in which both were harnessed to the power of the state in the twentieth century), Photo-FIT was the brainchild of an idiosyncratic entrepreneur wedded to increasingly outmoded notions of physiognomy. Its adoption by the Home Office was primarily determined by the particular context of the later 1960s, and its continued use owed more to vested interest and energetic promotion than to scientific underpinnings or proven efficacy. It did, however, in the longer term, provide the impetus for the development of a new sub-field of psychology and pave the way for the development of increasingly sophisticated facial identification technologies still used today. Overall, the article demonstrates the long persistence of physiognomic thinking in twentieth-century Britain, the way in which new technology is socially constructed, and the persuasive power of ‘pseudo-science’.