David Vincent’s book A History of Solitude

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.

Karl Hack and Singapore’s bicentennial celebrations

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’s article on ‘Unfinished Decolonisation and Globalisation’

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.

Paul Lawrence’s article “Policing, ‘science’, and the curious case of foto-fit”

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’.

 

Rosemary O’Day’s An Elite Family in Early Modern England

Emeritus Professor Rosemary O’Day has published An Elite Family in Early Modern England, a full, detailed picture of the life of an aristocratic family in early modern England.

The Temples of Stowe were a leading Midland landed family, owning land in, and with strong connections to, Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. In the seventeenth century they were one of the wealthiest and most prominent local families, building in the eighteenth century a large and beautiful country house, now Stowe School. The family also left voluminous records, housed mainly in the Huntington and the Folger Shakespeare libraries. Based on very extensive research in these records, this book provides a detailed picture of the family life of the early Temples. It examines household, financial and estate management, discusses social networking and the promotion of family interests, and considers the legal disputes the family were engaged in. It focuses in particular on the happy and effective marriage of Sir Thomas and Lady Hester Temple, exploring their relationship with each other, with their children, and with their siblings. Lady Hester, who outlived her husband by twenty years, is a good example of a formidable matriarch, who took a strong lead in managing the family and its resources. Overall, the book provides a full and detailed picture of the family life of an aristocratic family in early modern England.

The Tropenmuseum Amsterdam – An Honest Reflection of the Dutch Colonial Past

PhD student Samuel Aylett has written a piece for the Mainly Museums websites on the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.

The Tropenmuseum began life as the Koloniaal Museum (Colonial Museum) in Haarlem founded in 1864. Like many nineteenth-century European museums, its collections grew out of Dutch colonial expansion and scientific research. The majority of its collections were brought back from the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. In 1910, the Vereniging Koloniaal Institut was founded, which was incorporated into the museums in Haarlem, and began to exhibit much of the museum’s collections to the Dutch people. However, it was not until 1926, when the collections were re-housed in the new Colonial Institute and Museum in Amsterdam, that the Colonial Museum proper opened its doors to visitors. It was officially opened on 9 October 1926 by Queen Wilhelmina. Like many European museums, it was closed during the Second World War. In 1945 the Museum changed its name to the Indisch Museum (Indian Museum), and subsequently the Tropenmuseum (Tropical Museum), not least because of the political implications of decolonisation. In the 1970s the Museum was extensively renovated. An extension as wadded to house the Tropenmuseum Junior (children’s museum), a theatre and additional exhibition space (other structural changes were made).

The Tropenmuseum, even today, is a stark reminder, with its impressive neo-classical architecture, of the Dutch colonial enterprise. Like its other European counterparts, the Tropenmuseum would have served to remind and inculcate within the Dutch people a sense of the grandeur and moral obligation of the Dutch ‘civilising mission’. Like the Natural History Museum in London, its façade is decorated with colonial imagery, and images of formerly colonised peoples working in the rubber industry can be seen inside. However, today, the Tropenmuseum is one of but a few museums in Europe that engages seriously in challenging and questioning its colonial past and institutional legacies.

In 2003, the museum staged a new exhibition ‘Oostwarts’, which historian Professor Robert Aldrich felt was the ‘most thorough and thoughtful display on colonialism’. The exhibition, which has now been integrated into the Museum’s permanent galleries, combined both material items and mannequins to interrogate thoughtfully the lives and experiences of peoples living in the Dutch East-Indies. This exhibition marked a post-colonial shift at the Museum, and the beginning of a new period of serious self-reflection about the Dutch colonial past and the Museums own institutional complicity in it.

The Museum’s own colonial legacies are made explicit throughout the Museum’s permanent galleries. During my visit in December, I was struck by a text panel that called into question how the Museum came into possession of its collections from New Guinea.

Where contemporary debates around former colonial museums and acquisitions of their collections tend to be polarised, the Tropenmuseum is nuanced; injecting honesty and self-reflection into an otherwise febrile debate. Other text panels scattered throughout the permanent galleries provide, for example, explanations of Dutch and European colonialism; ‘Colonialism refers to the practice whereby one country conquers and occupies another using force, deception and betrayal.’ Perhaps a little provocative and emotive, but which represents a willingness to take stock of the darker elements of Dutch colonialism.

The cardinal reason for my visit in December last year was to see their new permanent exhibition, Afterlives of Slavery. The exhibition focuses on the enslaved and their descendant, using personal stories both past and present to interrogate the history of slavery and its current-day legacies. Personal accounts and memory have become hallmarks of the post-colonial exhibition. The exhibition was designed and created by curators, artists and activities, providing a more democratic and multi-vectored interpretation. Often, public discourse around European colonialism fails to recognize the historical continuity of its legacies and their effect on contemporary society. It was therefore refreshing to see that the exhibition tackled subjects such as ‘Power and Race’, and ‘Protest Against Racism’, explaining the ways in which European colonialism played a significant role in creating racial power structures based on white supremacy which continue to disadvantage and oppress minority groups today.

The Tropenmuseum is a refreshing example of how a country can, with pride, tackle its difficult past at a time when other European Museums are entrenchment in their refusal to engage seriously with their institutional legacies. The Museum is unashamedly self-critical in its reassessment of Dutch colonialism. At a time when the British Museum refuses to entertain repatriation of artefacts taken from former colonies, the Tropenmuseum stands-out in their sincere approach.

Visit

19 years and older: € 16,00
4 – 18 years * and students: € 8,00
Children up to 3 years: Free
CJP card holder: € 9,00
Groups of 10 (full paying) persons or more: 10% discount (per person)

Address

Tropenmuseum, Linnaeusstraat 2, 1092 CK, Amsterdam
Website: https://www.tropenmuseum.nl/en

Bio

Samuel Aylett is a PhD researcher at the Open University. His PhD analyses shifting representations of empire and British colonialism at the Museum of London from 1976-2007. Broadly speaking, his research interests are concerned with the Museum as a locus for examining the cultural impact of empire and decolonisation in Britain throughout the twentieth century, and how the legacies of empire continue to shape Britain’s past, present and future

Terence McBride’s article on Scottishness and ‘Foreigners’

Associate Lecturer in History Dr. Terence McBride has published ‘Scottishness and “Foreigners”: the role of a developing Scottish  “machinery of government”  before 1939‘ , in the journal Historical Research. Before 1939 continental Europeans were settling in Scotland, in a part of the United Kingdom  that had been shaped by distinct religious and legal traditions.  Government bodies in Scotland that had emerged in the nineteenth century  also gained significant powers over welfare, public health and local government before that date. This article, as the foundation for a wider study on migrants in Scotland, uses government records to examine attempts by these bodies to engage with migrants and also to develop ideas on managing  ‘foreignness’. It concludes that although officials largely engaged on the basis of increasingly restrictive UK-wide immigration legislation from 1905, this was also a period in which migrants could benefit from the efforts of both ministers and mandarins to act in line with what they saw as the particular traditions, practices  and priorities of Scotland.

Catherine Lee’s article on the war babies panic of 1914-1915

Associate Lecturer in History Dr. Catherine Lee has published ‘Giddy Girls’, ‘Scandalous Statements’ and a ‘Burst Bubble’: the war babies panic of 1914–1915 in the Women’s History Review journal. During a few short months following the outbreak of war in 1914, Britain’s press was rife with reports of what was heralded as a new ‘social problem’. The alleged impending birth of thousands of ‘war babies’ to unmarried young women and girls, said to have been fathered by men recently departed for the Western Front, was widely discussed but ultimately proved to be largely fallacious. This article examines the extraordinary ‘war babies’ episode through the lens of the moral panic, focusing on the impact of exceptional wartime circumstances upon the shifting and conflicting sets of gendered, moral values and attitudes of the period.