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Professor Wynn’s Change of Status – and Lecture in Bedford

IMG_0926Many congratulations to our colleague Neil Wynn, who after twelve years of service has been made Emeritus Professor by the University, we are more than thrilled to know that his expertise will remain in the University.

On February 27th Prof. Wynn spoke at the Bedford Girl’s and Historical Association Conference on “Germany and the United States in the 20th Century” in Bedford. Neil’s subject was “McCarthyism” and he gave an overview of the life, career and impact of Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy’s career continues to fascinate and is still the subject of historical debate. Neil provocatively offered some comparisons with the present day suggesting parallels between the politician who adopted the role of spokesman for the “outsider” from the ruling, political elites in a time of anxiety and insecurity with individuals in the USA – and Britain! – today.

Other speakers at this well-attended conference were: Prof. John Breuilly (LSE) on “Nationalism pre-1914 in Germany”, Dr. Vivien Miller (Nottingham), “The Lindbergh kidnapping 1932 and the war on crime, 1933-38″, and Prof. Clive Emsley (Open University), “Hot War to Cold War: Germany and the Allies, 1945-55″.

Kiwis, Rugby and Gloucester

Here’s a review from one of our students, Ben Sanders-Crook, of Professor Tony Collins’s recent talk at Park Campus, ‘The All Golds and the path not taken’.

Old ballAs part of the Showcasing History events that are organised here at the University of Gloucestershire, The History Association were able to organise a lecture that had relevance both to Cheltenham and the university.

The topic was the evolution of Rugby League in England and, in particular, how Gloucester and Cheltenham played a part in this. Professor Collins was very insightful talking about the evolution of the game and highlighted the deep-rooted prejudices between the two codes of rugby: Union and League.

The discussion was very centred upon the late nineteenth century, as this was a time when many changes in the game were being introduced – such as prohibiting clubs from paying players, as the sport was considered an amateur’s game. This, however, did not stop teams breaking this rule, causing many problems. The Northern Union was founded as a result of the widespread miscommunication that seemed apparent.

The Northern Union did not adhere to the laws laid down by the RFU, as they viewed themselves as a separate entity and therefore capable of making their own decisions and handing out their own sanctions.

Professor Collins also explained the history behind the All Golds and where they originated. Coming across from New Zealand in the early 20th century, they needed to distinguish themselves from the Rugby Union team colloquially referred to as the All Blacks – and therefore adopted the name the All Golds. Many of the team who came over settled in the UK as they were banned from playing rugby in their own country. This is where the link to Gloucester and our university was established.

Three of the All Golds team played for Gloucester and introduced young men at the university to the laws of League. The university team established at our university remains the only university team to play in non-university leagues and competitions. This is one of the reasons why the university team is so unique – and it happens to be the only student team outside of New Zealand to be endorsed and supported by the New Zealand Union of Rugby League.

The opportunity to ask questions after the talk led to a bountiful Q&A session, and an interesting discussion about the evolution of League and the decline of Union. The consensus was that Rugby League and Rugby Union will eventually merge once more – under the laws of League.

Selma on My Mind: Film and Civil Rights

selmaposterAt last, a feature film that looks at Martin Luther King and Civil Rights – and very good it is too. But is Selma a great film? Does it compare to 12 Years a Slave? In my view no. I thought the film was well-intentioned but flawed both in terms of its structure/narrative, and in terms of the content and emphasis.

a) The film is not always clear: there are scenes that make little sense – why have King listen to Mahalia Jackson singing over the phone? point? and the next day another Mrs Jackson hosts the march organisers for food – who was she? and what does this scene show us (that they eat???)? The start of the film is quite clever but the character played by Oprah (Annie Lee Cooper) could have been developed more fully – she might indeed have been the focus of the film. The point about Malcolm X going to Selma and his conversation with Coretta King (which did happen), Malcolm’s role in civil rights and growing influence on SNCC, is just too short … blink and you miss it as one reviewer said.

b) Why Selma I wonder? Why not Birmingham? Or Albany? Or St. Augustine? Or even better, the period 1965-69? The story did not end in 1965 any more than it did in 1963 or 1964. Indeed some reference to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City might have provided useful frames of reference. After all, another march, from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, took place in 1966 – and began with one individual, James Meredith, who was shot and wounded. Which brings me to the main concern.

c) As the poster suggests, the film’s focus on King is a little problematic: “The movement made Martin, Martin didn’t make the movement” said Ella Baker. After all, the Selma Voting Rights Project originated with James Bevel and Diane Nash – and it was Bevel who thought of the idea of a march to Montgomery. And see the earlier campaign to register to vote led by SNCC – this could have been where the film began or could link with Mrs Cooper.

I also wonder why British actors were thought best for key roles like Wallace and LBJ – the southern drawl needed more emphasis, even though both Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson were good. Their famous exchange in the White House was not quite accurate – LBJ used his height and his rocking chair to good effect, and the film missed one important line – LBJ asked Wallace if he wanted a monument that said “George Wallace – He Built” or one that said “He Hated”!

But Johnson’s equivocation is well-captured, and the film (and brilliant acting by David Oyelowo) really give some sense of King, his doubts and frailties as well as his strengths. But does it really offer an explanation for his remarkable decision to turn the second march back? I didn’t think so. In a way this is as anti-climactic in the film as it must have been at the time. Maybe another film is needed on King – King and Black Power? King and the war in Vietnam? King in Chicago (where he failed)? – or perhaps a life like this is difficult to capture and do justice to in a a short commercial film? But well done to the director Ava DuVernay for trying.

Roy Jones’ Letter from Perth (the other one)

Visiting Professor Roy Jones keeps us up to date on his recent work …

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Those of you who read the recent ‘Iain Robertson Down Under’ blog will know that  my appointment as Visiting Professor at UOG has been extended for three more years. As an historical geographer, I am really pleased that, simultaneously, I am an Emeritus Professor of Geography at Curtin University in Perth and a Visiting Professor of History at UOG. I agree with John Smith (yes, the John Smith in the Disney Pocahontas film) who, in 1624, summed up the link between the two disciplines very well in “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles” (the full title is so long it would take up the whole blog) when he argued “for as Geography without History seemeth a carkasse without motion so History without Geography wandreth as a Vagrant without a certaine habitation.”

Iain and I put the two disciplines together during his time in Australia at the Critical Heritage Studies Conference in Canberra and on his visiting fellowship at Curtin and we will continue to do so in 2015. Together with Carl Griffin from the University of Sussex, we are convening two sessions on “Environments of Heritage” at the International Conference of Historical Geographers at the Royal Geographical Society in London. I will also give a paper in a session on “Historical Geographies of Pollution, Toxicity and Waste”  on the changing uses and reputation of the laneways in my suburb of Perth. These were put in along the back of the houses a century ago to allow the ‘dunny men’ and their horses and carts  to access and empty the ‘dunnies’ (outside toilets). Their already bad reputation worsened as they became somewhere to dump rubbish and a place where children and other undesirable elements could get up to no good.  With the coming of mains sewerage and mass car ownership, however,  these back lanes have become an asset and multi car garages, guest houses and even new dwellings are being built fronting the old laneways.

Attendance at the conference should also give me an opportunity to take my vagrant carkasse to my other habitation and catch up with colleagues in Cheltenham.

Iain Robertson brings the outcomes of his own research to this week’s Applicant Day

As you may or may not know much of my research work is undertaken in the Outer Hebrides – miles away from Cheltenham! One small sideline I have become interested in over the last few years has been the ways in which various communities memorialise their war dead. And one of the pictures shown here is of me pointing out where my interest lies! I’m not going to say what I think this shows as that is what our applicants will be talking about on Thursday.

Memorialisation is a bit of a theme here at UoG. In recent years we have had one PhD and one MA by research on the topic.

Dates That Changed The Western World: 1991 and the Fall of Communism

2_244_45On 31 December 1991, the Soviet Union was officially declared dissolved. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was officially created on 30 December 1922, following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The USSR was not immediately recognised by many countries around the world, but the Soviet Union emerged from the Second World War as a global superpower. Much of world politics after 1945 was dominated by the emerging Cold War between East and West.

The appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader in March 1985 offered great promise in bringing about reform of the Soviet system and in re-writing Soviet international relations. The social, economic and political reforms introduced by Gorbachev allowed for sweeping changes within the Soviet Union and Gorbachev’s willingness to engage in talks with the Western powers had an important impact on global disarmament.

The reform process, however, soon appeared to move beyond Gorbachev’s control. In August 1991, anti-reform hardliners staged a coup in an unsuccessful attempt to remove Gorbachev from office. Ardent supporters of reform, however, were pushing for further changes to the Soviet system. A number of the Soviet republics had already begun the push for independence from the Union and their wishes were met. An accord of 8 December 1991 formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Increasingly under pressure, Gorbachev resigned as President of the USSR on 25 December, and the USSR itself was declared dissolved on 31 December. Power fell into the hands of Boris Yeltsin.

Historians have long debated the origins of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Commentators have more recently come to ask if there was any real need to dissolve the USSR and if a reformed Soviet Union could have been preserved.

Dates That Changed the Western World: 1941 and Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor RecordsThe surprise pre-emptive air attack by the Japanese on the American Pacific Fleet in their base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii, on December 7th 1941 had momentous consequences. In a day which President Franklin Roosevelt said would “live in infamy”, the Japanese aircraft sank 18 warships, damaged several more, and killed over 2,400 U.S. personnel. The following day, America declared war on Japan and Germany and Italy quickly responded by declaring war on America. There is some argument about how much of a surprise Pearl Harbor was – tensions between the USA and Japan had been increasing since 1937 and various different intelligence sources knew an attack was imminent by 1941, even if they did not know precisely where or when. However, it is doubtful that Roosevelt deliberately left the fleet open to attack to ensure U.S. entry into the war – as some historians have argued!

American entry into World War II was to have an enormous effect as the U.S. economy moved into gear to provide the Allies with munitions and eventually the manpower that helped secure victory in both Europe and the Pacific, but the war also signaled an end to American isolationism and the rise of the U.S. as a super-power. It could be argued that another consequence of Pearl Harbor was the start of the atomic age – something only the Japanese were to suffer in 1945. But while the long-term international consequences were enormous, the war also effectively ended the depression in America and initiated enormous economic growth leading ultimately to the affluent society at home.

Welcome!

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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