Among all the celebrations of VE Day, you might want to look out for “First Days of Peace” scheduled for Monday 11th May at 7.30 pm on BBC! West. Presented by Bonnie Greer, the half-hour documentary focuses on the American presence in Bristol during World War II and particularly the issue of race brought about by the segregation and discrimination in their armed forces. The introduction of American-style Jim Crow caused much conflict between black and white GIs and there was a riot in the city in 1944. Many British people were appalled by such developments and were angered even more by the discrimination evident in the disproportionate number of court martial cases that resulted in the death penalty being passed on black soldiers.
Our Emeritus Professor Neil Wynn provided a great deal of material for this programme and was filmed discussing these issues at FCH and with Bonnie Greer outside Shepton Mallet prison where executions were carried out. Happily, in one case, a petition and protests from British people saved the life of one of those convicted, but similar protests in Cheltenham were unable to save the lives of two African American soldiers convicted of rape – a capital offense in the USA but not Britain. although Bonnie Greer sees much that is positive in British reactions, the programme does highlight one less than positive aspect of the war experience and does raise interesting questions about both American and British race history.
This blog has on more than one occasion explored various aspects of what we might understand as public history. Just recently, for instance, we posted on Selma, on the role of war memorialisation in the making and maintain of both local and national identity and both ‘black history month’ and ‘native American heritage month’. Then there is also our close relationship with our local branch of the Historical Association. We have had some great talks this season (at our Park campus) and an equally exciting programme lined up for the 15/16 season which starts in September. All this public engagement is absolutely vital to keeping what we do within the University of Gloucestershire both fresh and relevant and, hopefully, matches closely to wider public concerns and interest. I was particularly impressed, for instance, by a recent article in The Guardian by Emma Graham-Harrison on a new exhibition at Auschwitz which raised really important questions as to whether horror and atrocity should ever be a tourist destination/attraction.
Public history needs to raise and discuss important questions such as these. It needs to bring the public into the university and discuss weighty subjects. This June we will be doing precisely that, although our topic is perhaps not quite as contentious as the Holocaust (but see our post on events of the 21st of last month)! On the weekend of June 6/7, and in conjunction with both the Edward Thomas Fellowship and Friends of Dymock Poets, we will be holding an event focussing on the coming together of a number of celebrated poets in this small Gloucestershire village shortly before the outbreak of the Great War and the landscape that inspired them. Papers given at the conference will also make use of the material held in the University’s own archives. This takes place on the Saturday, when there will also be an opportunity to see the premier of an innovative piece of drama presented by Dreamshed Theatre Company, Eleven Places Theatre Company, and emerging playwrights on the MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University. The play will be accompanied by specially-commissioned music. Whilst on the Sunday the conference moves to the village of Dymock and number of guided walks. These will explore the landscapes which inspired the authors, and the places where their families interacted with each other and the local community. All of this will be underpinned by an exhibition of original art.
Public history events such as this one must inform, provoke and stimulate but above all be attractive to a wide audience. We do hope that this is the case and invite people to join us over the weekend. Further information can be found here.
Congratulations to former colleagues Penny Richards and Jonathan Spangler, and to Jessica Munns, on the publication of their new book: Aspiration, Representation and Memory: The Guise in Europe, 1506-1688.
The Guise, cadets of a minor sovereign house, arose from a provincial power base to establish themselves as dominant political players in France and across Europe from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. They spent most of their time and held much of their land in France, but their interests were always ‘trans-national’ and they aspired to thrones from Jerusalem to Hungary and to Naples. They very nearly gained the throne of France; indeed, briefly, a member of the family, Mary Stuart, was Queen of France and of Scotland.
The essays in this collection approach the Guise’s aims, ambitions and representations from this ‘trans-national’ dimension and are drawn from an international group of historians, literary scholars and art historians. Essays consider Guise claims to special consideration by men—by God—their eating habits, dramas about them, their place in history and ‘heritage’ history, and their portraiture, with special in-depth studies of Marie de Medici and Anne of Austria by Jonathan Spangler, Henry of Lorraine, fifth Duke of Guise, and his mid-seventeenth-century attempts to rule in Naples, and the long term reputation of the Guise by Penny Richards.
Thirty-seven students and three staff visited the prehistoric sites of Avebury and Stonehenge, both in Wiltshire. The aims of this Activity Week event were to explore the past use of these ‘ritual’ monuments in their landscapes and how they have been appropriated in the present by the ‘New Age’ and ‘Heritage’ cults. At Avebury it was possible to wander among the stones in the area contained by the massive earthworks, and indeed walk the full circle around the bank, which provided the necessary contrast with the situation at Stonehenge. There were also fine examples of folk culture to be seen in the tying of ribbons and the deposition of flowers in the trunks and roots of several fine beech trees, whose prominent root systems could have come straight out of an illustration from The Lord of the Rings. Finally, it is an ancient tradition to imbibe from Avebury Well – which in its modern guise has hops, malt and barley added.
The new interpretive centre at Stonehenge demonstrated the use of Neolithic and Bronze Age landscapes in a very accessible form, but without the mention of the modern ‘Druid’ cult or the political issues surrounding lack of access to the stone circle itself. With the closure of roads it is now possible to walk to the monument through the ancient landscape and this was experienced by most of the group, returning on the new shuttle bus. Another interesting area for study was the gift shop with its wide range of ‘Stonehenge Merchandise’ ranging from the academic to the gimmicky, with fridge magnets and chocolate megaliths being favoured by some of the members of staff. Altogether it was a successful and satisfying day giving varied and new experiences to all involved in a pleasant social context.
The 21st April is an exciting day for Historians at the University of Gloucestershire. On that day, Showcasing History, our series that expands our exploration of the past outside the classroom, is hosting a fascinating public talk by Holocaust survivor John Dobai. We are also lucky to have a guest lecture that same evening by Tim Stanley, a leader writer for the Daily Telegraph and an Associate Fellow of the UCL Institute of the Americas, who will be talking about part of his new book Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between LA and DC Revolutionized American Politics.
These two events are open to the general public, as well as current students. Those interested in attending can book free tickets by email at email@example.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @HistoryUoG, and join our Facebook group, History @ University of Gloucestershire.
Showcasing History: John Dobai – Holocaust survivor Tuesday 21st April 1pm
In conjunction with the Holocaust Education Trust
John Dobai was born in 1934, in Budapest, Hungary, into a Jewish family. The Holocaust came to Hungary in March 1944, when deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau began. Shortly before John’s family were due to be deported they managed to move into one of the safe houses in Budapest run by Raoul Wallenberg. This is not the end of the story, however.
Tim Stanley: “Cowboys, cops and the Terminator: how Hollywood reinvented the Republican Party” Tuesday 21st April, 7pm
When Richard Nixon tried to recast the Republican Party as a populist movement in the early 1970s, he turned to Hollywood. Stars like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood helped invent the myth of the cowboy conservative – an image of rugged individualism that has sustained the Republicans from Watergate to the Iraq War. But while it gave the Right a cultural edge over the Democrats under Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, it has also locked them into a style of politics that increasingly fails to match the complexities of modern, divided government. Just ask the Californians who lived under Arnold Schwarzenegger: aka, the Governator…
Last weekend, I attended the annual British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES) conference at Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge. The BASEES conference now serves as the major European platform for researchers in Russian and East European area studies and the number of delegates is growing steadily. The conference again exceeded the available capacity at Fitzwilliam leading to some delegates and panels being located at nearby Churchill College.
I presented my paper on ‘Women’s Narratives of 1937’ as part of a panel on Women’s Narratives of Soviet and Post-Soviet Repression. My paper analyses Soviet women’s memoirs and autobiographies, published interview accounts and some of the documents available in the multi-volume Leningradskii martirolog to examine how the arrest of family members impacted on the lives of their female relatives. These secondary victims of the purges have so far received very little attention in the academic literature. Dalia Leinarte presented on Lithuanian and Polish women’s experience of deportation in 1941. Kelly Hignett’s paper focused on women’s experience of repression in Czechoslovakia, and Judy Pallot presented some of the findings of her interviews with prisoners’ wives in contemporary Russia. The panel was chaired by Elena Katz. This proved to be a popular session with standing room only available by the end of the presentations.
The 2015 conference also saw the launch of a new BASEES Women’s Forum, which aims to promote research on women and gender in our region and to support the careers of women working in the broad range of our area studies disciplines through a mentoring and monitoring scheme. The launch itself was extremely well attended by participants eager to hear of the experiences of some of the women who pioneered work in Russian Studies through their visits to the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
Many 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″.