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Black Cultural Archive Opens

ReimagineIt was great to read today of the opening of the Black Cultural Archive in Brixton, London. After 30 years of campaigning and planning, this wonderful facility celebrating the British black cultural heritage is now providing exhibition and research facilities. The heritage centre is located on Windrush Square, in the heart of Brixton in Raleigh Hall, a Grade II listed Georgian building in central Brixton.

The £7-million project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the London Borough of Lambeth, the Mayor of London and the Biffa Award, retains aspects of the building’s original historic features, in addition to a newly designed annexe to create a purpose-built archive and centre accessible to the public. The first exhibition, “Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain”, traces the lives of black women in Britain from Roman times on. I was delighted to see that it includes a photograph of Adelaide Hall, one of the “forgotten black divas” I am researching at the moment!

Do go and see this new facility and exhibit. The exhibition runs from 24 July – 30 November 2014 and it is FREE admission! Visit the BCA site by clicking here.

Early Modern Women, Religion, and the Body

Image courtesy of @ciaokate331

Image courtesy of @ciaokate331

Last week, I participated in a wonderful conference hosted by Loughborough University. Entitled Early Modern Women, Religion, and the Body, the conference explored a very wide range of early modern lives and experiences from right across Europe and across confessional divides. The interdisciplinarity of the conference was particularly interesting to me – as well as historians such as myself, the speakers and audience featured scholars from many different disciplines, and this added a richness and breadth of reference that was extremely enlightening and refreshing.

In this blog post, Kristen Clements talks a little about the conference, which was supported by the Wellcome Trust (again, the intersection between religion and science is a fascinating and inherently interdisciplinary historical fault-line): “The conference provided a space where scholars from various academic disciplines could meet to explore the complex interrelationship between psychological, corporeal, spiritual, and emotional aspects of early modern women’s lives.  As well as questioning the relationship between body, mind, soul, and gender, exploring the history of medicine and health helps us examine our own cultural assumptions about what constitutes ‘good’ healthcare, and to think critically about what we mean when talking about issues such as medicine, health, and wellbeing in relation to individual subjective experience.”

My own contribution was a paper about the starving maidens, a group of young women I discovered in the course of research into prophetesses and demoniacs who refused food in favour of spiritual nourishment. The way in which they were depicted – as both sites of religious interest and physical bodies undergoing intense stress – seemed to play very well to the interests of the audience, and we had several useful discussions which I hope will contribute to further development of this material. Similarly, I was intrigued by the copies of Aristotle’s Masterpiece discussed in Professor Mary Fissell’s keynote lecture, in which women had written marginalia recounting their own fears, hopes and questions. Work like this really excavates women’s lives, and helps return them to us here in the present.

In a sign of how important and useful social media can be in recording and sharing conversations of this sort, there’s an in-depth Storify of tweets made at the conference here – I make my appearance in tweets like these, but there’s a lot to read and chew over across the two days’ worth of updates. Available, too, is a volume based around the conference’s themes – and the publication of which we were celebrating last week – entitled Flesh and Spirit: An Anthology of Seventeenth-century Women’s Writing … so keep your eyes peeled, on Twitter and elsewhere!

Lessons from Former Students: Clare Hall, History Teacher

Clare Hall graduationIt’s always good to hear from former students, both from the very recent past and a little further back! Clare Hall studied History with us more than a decade ago, and has since gone on to become a successful teacher in the subject. She got back in touch recently and it was super to hear from her.

“When I visited the prospective universities I fell in love with Cheltenham,” she said. “It was big enough to have everything a student desires from a university town but small enough that the sense of community was still there. I put it down as my first choice that weekend. It was a choice I didn’t regret as I had three of the best years of my life in Cheltenham.”

Those three years of study set Clare up for a career that many of our current students are considering embarking upon right now: “I started my PGCE in Secondary History in 2006 and loved it. Within 2 years I was Head of History in a small school. I have since moved on to Head of History in a large ‘outstanding’ school on the Wirral which was voted TES Secondary School of the Year in 2010.

“I spend two thirds of the week teaching pupils aged between 11 to 18. I teach about a variety of eras across 2000 years from the Romans to modern day terrorism. A typical day may see me solve the murder of Thomas Becket with Year 7, analyse paintings of Henry VIII with Year 8, simulate the trenches with Year 9, deliver a lesson about the Cuban Missile Crisis with GCSE pupils and mark 2000 word A level essays about US Civil Rights. No two days are the same and I am still constantly learning more History so that I can deliver the best lessons I can to pupils. As a Head of Department I also have responsibilities in addition to teaching; I analyse data and create reports, manage staff, set targets, devise strategies to raise attainment and plan for the future. “

For those of our present-day undergraduates – and prospective students! – considering a History degree as a route through to teaching, Clare’s path offers a lot of helpful hints. She particularly mentions her independent study, transferable skills, and dissertation modules here at Gloucestershire as key to what she does now: researching effectively and summarising information in order to teach it efficiently. “I have been able to incorporate the key historical content I learnt at University of Gloucestershire into my lessons,” she adds: “I still have all my old notes and refer to them from time to time!”

We’d love to hear from more ex-students, and discover what else their present-day counterparts might learn from them! Please do get in touch.

Pankhurst Google Doodle

Pankhurst Google Doodle

Today Google – and the Guardian – celebrate the birthday of the great suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, and reminds us of the the amazing lengths women at the beginning of the twentieth century went to to win the vote.

Of all the Pankhursts my own favourite was Sylvia – her mother and sister were in many respects conservatives and Sylvia was the more radical, particularly during and after World War I. And we should remember not just the leaders, but the un-named women who fought for the vote. However, no one can doubt Emmeline Pankhurst’s courage and commitment, and if you want an indication of both, and an example of a powerful speech, read her “Freedom or Death” speech given at Hartford, Connecticut on November 13 1913.

At the same time, you might consider the barriers still faced by women when reading about debates in the Church of England concerning female bishops or the news about David Cameron’s appointment of women to the Cabinet. Suffrage, it seems, was just the beginning of a long struggle for equality.

VIDEO: 50 Years Since the Civil Rights Act

Following on from their attendance at the British Library and Eccles Centre event commemorating 50 years since the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which you can read about here, Prof. Neil Wynn and Dr Christian O’Connell discuss the significance, impact and legacy of the Act.

They also discuss PBS America’s new documentary, ‘1964’, the issue of state’s rights and the role of the federal government, as well as other events such as the Freedom Summer of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Independence Day & The Civil Rights Act of 1964

On 7th July Dr. Christian O’Connell and Professor Neil Wynn took part in a symposium at the Eccles Centre at the British Museum on “The Civil Rights Act 50 Years On” followed by a lecture by Professor William P. Jones(Madison-Wisconsin) on “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Its Historical Legacy.” The initial discussion focussed on the new PBS documentary 1964.

Lyndon Johnson at the signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2nd 1964 with Martin Luther King Jr present.

Lyndon Johnson at the signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2nd 1964 with Martin Luther King Jr present.

Focussing on a single year as a year that “changed America” is highly problematic, but the symposium did make us think about the significance of the Civil Rights Act. The anniversary of the act coincides almost exactly with the celebration of America’s Independence Day. The fact that one hundred and eighty-eight years after the famous declaration that “all men are created equal” and have “certain inalienable rights,” legislation was still required to bring those rights to the black (and in some respects, female) population demonstrates that 1776 marked only the beginning of the pursuit of freedom in the USA. Equally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, often seen (wrongly) by many people as the direct consequence of the March on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, represented not the culmination of the civil rights struggle, but just another milestone in the campaign to make America live up to its promise of equality for all.

It was passed only after a great of political manoeuvring in Congress and further demonstrations by black activists, most notably in St. Augustine, Florida. It still took years for the act to be fully implemented and it required the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to extend equal rights into the political sphere. Further legislation in 1968 addressed inequalities in housing. Economic discrimination and widespread poverty still persisted and was the focus of Martin Luther King’s campaign when he was murdered in 1968. It is worth remembering that the act was followed by the events in Selma, Alabama, and the Meredith March in 1966 that witnessed the “birth” of Black Power.

At least six civil rights activists were murdered in 1965-66, and race violence so widespread in the South, was soon to erupt in the different form of race riots in northern and western cities – they almost became an annual event through to the 1970s. Clearly, the struggle for equality was to continue, and the fact that segregation continues in America today and some of the measures of the Civil Rights Act are now being challenged or undone, is a reminder that what we celebrate on Independence Day is still not the final realisation of the American promise, but the beginning of the what remains the American Dream – a set of aspirations perhaps we can all share regardless of nationality.

Holiday Histories


I’m just back from two weeks away and, as I’ve written before, historians tend to go on their holidays merely to find new histories. The past is, after all, everywhere when you look for it.

Indeed, some of my weeks away were spent in the small harbour town of Watchet, Somerset. It’s a charmingly unpreposessing place, with vernacular cottages peppered along harbour walls which still hold a working area for small fishing boats and pleasure craft. With its mix of old-fashioned public houses and contemporary arts spaces, it’s an interesting town in and of itself, with a real community feel … but for so relatively small a settlement it also has history in abundance.

This history is long: there is an Iron Age fort just outside of town. The old market house and manorial court building now holds the town museum, however, and in one of its large windows, facing the narrow main street, there is an artist’s impression of an unusual event to which Watchet played host during the English Civil Wars: the moment at which a stranded Royalist naval vessel, bound for the siege of Dunster Castle a little way up the cost, was attacked in shallow water by Parliamentarian cavalry. With nowhere to run, the Royalist ship surrendered – representing the only time during the war that a naval unit was captured by men on horseback!

The uncertain allegiances of the area played out in Watchet’s principle family, too: the local worthy and patriarch, Sir John Wyndham, served the Crown tirelessly during his life (for instance by arranging the defence of Somerset against the Spanish), but in 1640 seemed to side with Parliament; in 1660, however, his son, Sir Wadham Wyndham, would as a serjeant-at-law take part in the trial of the Parliamentarians whom signed the death warrant of Charles I. For anyone who might think that the divisive partisanship of the Civil War didn’t stretch beyond Westminster, little Watchet is a great case study.

I was fascinated, too, by the tale of Sir Wadham Wyndham’s grandmother, Florence Wadham – a woman whom, local tales told, rose from the dead! In reality, it seems she was in some sort of coma when buried in St Decuman’s, the church just outside Watchet that also served the local village of Williton. Some versions of the story hold that, surprised by a grave robber, she regained consciousness and was next seen at the door of her shocked family. Apparently, members of the Wyndham family are to this day never buried until three days after their death.

War, high politics and popular belief, all on the same short stretch of seafront at Watchet: a town also home, incidentally, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, of the famed seaman and repository of folksong ‘Yankee’ Jack Hatchett … and some excellent ice cream.


This blog provides a forum for the students and staff of History at the University of Gloucestershire. Here, we’ll post news on our teaching, student experiences, research, publications, resources, events, and anything else even remotely connected to studying history at Gloucestershire.

There are also short bios of our teaching staff, along with some contact details, and a whole bunch of useful links. Enjoy, and please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!


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