Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The People's History Museum

by Sheila Corr

Manchester flourished through textiles, progressing from cottage industry to manufacture on a grand scale, in dark satanic mills where workers eked out a pretty miserable existence. As the first industrial city, it was at the forefront of radical thought and reform - a centre for Trades Unionism, the Labour and Suffragette movements, and the Co-operative Society (in nearby Rochdale), so it is a fitting location for charting the dramatic struggle for British democracy and workers’ rights. The People’s History Museum has just re-opened after an extensive re-development made possible with grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and others, boasting a four-storey extension to the original Pump House which once supplied power to some of the mills and wound the clock on that civic centrepiece of all Victorian cities, the Town Hall.

The collections of the Trades Union Congress, Labour Party and the Co-op have been augmented by a number of others, including the Communist Party of Great Britain. Material from these sources and some personal political papers can be studied in the Labour History Archive, stored in a controlled environment in the basement of the new building, where on the second floor there is an impressive conservation studio to look after the museum’s textiles - 440 banners for a start.

We were shown around by the Director, Dr Nick Mansfield, who, together with a small but committed staff brings excitement, enthusiasm and a huge amount of knowledge to the museum. The first floor, which begins with Manchester’s own tragedy of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, feels hopeful , sometimes even celebratory, as full enfranchisement is fought for and won; Revolution, Reformers, Workers and Voters are the central themes. Here is the desk on which Thomas Paine wrote Rights of Man, a carved chair leg used as a truncheon at a Chartist demonstration, a ballot box.

The second half (from 1945) feels different, perhaps because I remember much of this period, and is on a completely different scale as small prints and artefacts give way to huge banners and posters (interestingly the slogans on these demonstrate how political parties shifted from the idealism of ‘Labour leads the way’ to the Tory attack of ‘Labour isn’t working’) while large screens show moving footage of protests. The fight for democracy becomes a fight for equality, justice and even peace: but rights painfully won are lost again as unions are crushed, and jobs, then whole industries, disappear. Under the vivid colours of the TUC banners, I was rather poignantly reminded of The Full Monty where the brass band plays on after the steelworks has closed.

As a disengaged population face a general election in which a large portion of the electorate is unlikely to bother voting at all, it is salutary to remember how hard others have fought, and even died, for our right to do so.

For more information:

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Imagined Lives

Probably Sir Robert Dudley (1574-1649), formerly known as Sir Thomas Overbury (1581-1613). Oil on panel c.1590 by unknown artist. Copyright National Portrait Gallery

by Sheila Corr

What does a gallery devoted to portraits of famous British people do with those whose identities have been disputed since their acquisition last century, now being classed ‘unknown sitter’? The National Portrait Gallery have dealt with this dilemma in a particularly creative way by asking seven well-known writers to imagine the lives of these 16th and 17th century men and women based simply on what they look like and how they’re shown.

Alongside but separate, a completely different process was going on as Curator Tarnya Cooper worked with Dr Tatiana String and her MA students of History of Art at Bristol University to research each painting, comparing similar portraits of the period, costumes and iconography and dating the unknowns as accurately as possible. They made practical use of their skills in the National Portrait Gallery’s own remarkable Heinz Archive – a resource I have used for many decades but which is really not well enough known. The result is a fascinating exhibition of all 13 portraits (with comprehensive detailed labels) at Montecute, near Yeovil in Somerset and a book of the imagined lives by John Banville, Tracey Chevalier, Julian Fellowes, Terry Pratchett, Sarah Singleton, Joanna Trollope and Minette Walters. Since 1975 the National Trust have been collaborating successfully with the NPG to display Tudor paintings, which would otherwise languish in store, in the glorious setting of this Tudor mansion.

One especially interesting example is the portrait formerly though to be of Sir Thomas Overbury. Extensive student research now shows that both facial likeness and provenance of the painting make it more likely to represent Sir Robert Dudley, the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, the Earl of Leicester. The panel painting, which has been cut down on 3 sides, came to the NPG in 1933 from Ditchley, Oxfordshire which was part of the estate of Robert Dudley’s godfather. This portrait is the subject of Tracey Chevalier’s Rosy in which she imagines the love life of the handsome flushed young man.

The imagined lives process mirrors that of researching paintings for book covers to find a portrait from a particular historical period, preferably of an unknown sitter, which reflects and illustrates as closely as possible the description of a fictional character. Every picture tells a story one way or another.

Gertrude Prescott Nuding argues that the inspiration behind and debates over the founding of Britain's National Portrait Gallery reveal the Victorian establishment at its most earnest about who was worth celebrating, in: Portraits for the Nation

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sharpeville Shockwaves

David Rosario was an 18-year-old student at the time of the South African Sharpeville Massacre. He participated in the London protests on Trafalgar Square. He remembers the London reaction and his feelings in March 1960.

‘I wake up late, following a long evening’s study and dash for the bus. The news on the transistor is shocking. Dozens of black people are shot by police in South Africa. At college everyone is numbed by the newspaper photos of bodies strewn across the streets. Many victims were shot in their backs as they fled the police – “Sixty-nine people dead – hundreds wounded and injured”. This is the worst incident in South Africa since apartheid was instituted in the aftermath of the Second World War. Some of us, very very angry, want to take immediate action. Our lecturer turns a blind eye. Those most determined decide to go and protest outside the South African High Commission building. Nobody has any experience of demonstrating. We think a placard is needed and agree to meet later at the venue.

We arrive mid-morning at Trafalgar Square. Other demonstrators are already gathering in front of South Africa House, which is bounded by Trafalgar Square, the Strand and Duncannon Street. The building looks empty with locked gates. We join the others, obliged by the police to walk up and down along the narrow, sloping pavement, squeezing past a bus queue. We are not allowed to stop at all. Placards arrive. We take turns in carrying them. There are a few hundred demonstrators present. It is difficult to gauge what effect we’re having on the public and the situation is surreal. Police ensure we keep moving, threatening arrest. We feel dazed as the enormity of the disaster finally sinks in. I think of the horrific newspaper images. We vent anger in bursts of periodic chanting, frustrated that the site is so constricting, that there is only an ‘empty’ building on which to focus and that we can’t stand still. “Verwoerd OUT – Verwoerd OUT”, we bellow. We get through the long day knowing that at least we won’t be shot at.

As it darkens some protesters drift away. Later in the evening, there are even fewer people about. Only Max, a friend, and I remain from college. Eventually the police stop the demonstration at the corner of Duncannon Street and prevent us from turning back down into the loop. We’re aggrieved since we’re not doing any harm and have kept moving all day to comply with the police’s instructions. “O.K. folks”, says a constable, “You’ve done enough demonstrating today - time to go home”. We protest loudly. The police are insistent and edge us away along Duncannon Street.

Max and I decide to go for a coffee. We talk about the day’s activities and what will happen next in South Africa. We’re extremely despondent. We leave. Max thinks he can catch a bus home from the stop in front of South Africa House. We can’t see any other demonstrators. We walk towards the Square, curious also to see if ‘anything’ is still happening. Before the two of us turn at the south east corner of Trafalgar Square a line of six police approach. They recognise us and question our destination and intentions. Max says he is going to the bus stop and that I am accompanying him. Suddenly, an inspector appears from around the corner behind them: “Having trouble lads? Arrest ‘em”, he shouts.

Immediately, they grab us. We go limp as we are pushed into a side doorway of the High Commission building. We are then frog-marched along the Strand to a waiting ‘Black Maria’ police van where we join others whom we recognise. Eventually we’re all taken to Bow Street police station and queue to be ‘processed’. We’re all charged with “Using Insulting Words and Behaviour”. We’re put in cells for a while and then released on police bail sporadically, until our morning appearances at court. I catch the night bus home and creep in to the flat.

I say nothing to my parents in the morning as I leave for ‘college’. At Bow Street court I’m very surprised to see my stepfather. “How did you know about this?” I ask him. “How do you think you got bail? A policeman called last night to check your address”, he retorts. There were about 20 arrests in total. Everyone is remanded on bail, Max and I for two weeks. We decide to contact the National Council for Civil Liberties. They offer to provide us with a solicitor whom we meet before the court case. His name is Clinton Davis. We follow the earlier cases avidly in the press. The police are not having much success.

We decide go to Court to see a similar case the afternoon before our hearing. The defendants are Cheddi Jagan, Chief Minister of British Guiana and another minister, on official visit to Britain. Sir Lawrence Dunne, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate is hearing their case. They are charged with the same offence as us. In summing up Sir Lawrence says to them: “Had you been charged with Obstruction you would have been technically guilty on the evidence. As you weren’t the case is dismissed.” Max and I look at each other. What are our chances now? We daren’t hope.

We appear in court the following afternoon, April 6th, and arrive in plenty of time to meet up with our solicitor. Before he arrives a police officer takes us into a room and tells us how “There is a second charge against you – Obstruction”. We are dumbstruck and extremely worried. After a hurried chat to Davis we are summoned, faced by a stern looking Sir Lawrence. About 15 of our college friends are in the packed public gallery, wearing college scarves. I am wearing a black tie in sympathy. Clinton Davis asks why the second charge has only just been made. A perfunctory reply is given. Davis decides to still proceed when asked. Charges are read out and we both plead not guilty. The prosecution opens. A young policeman who we don’t recognise takes the stand. He reads from his notebook ‘quoting’ us and claiming that we had sworn violently at the arresting officers. When Max and I hear the evidence we look at each other, jaws literally dropping. I am called into the witness box first and cross-examined. I am so incensed with disbelief that I practically spit out my denials – “No, no, no”! Max too is furious, although calmer than me. I decide that if I am found guilty I will most definitely appeal whatever happens!

In his summary our solicitor points out the irregularity of the very late second charge, which he describes as an act of police desperation. We wait and are then asked to stand. Sir Lawrence speaks slowly and deliberately as he peers over his glasses towards us. “You probably did what the police said you did”… I bridle at this… “But I can’t convict you on a probability”… He then quickly adds, “so the case is dismissed”. There is a cheer in the public gallery. Everybody is so relieved – first that we have no conviction, but principally that justice has prevailed, albeit with a face-saving gesture to the authorities. The Metropolitan Police get very few, if any, convictions in this affair, even though the ‘court’ appears to be ‘on their side’.

Our view of the police takes a bad knock. Hearing lies spoken against us on oath in court is a violent shock. However, it does not stop me from opposing apartheid, nor prevent me from eventually joining another part of the criminal justice system as a probation officer.

A few days after our court appearance, South African President Vervoerd is shot in the face. He survives the attempt on his life but is assassinated five years later, in 1966. Apartheid continues until the 1980s and 1990s. I continue to boycott South African produce until the mid-90s. Fifty years on, it still feels disloyal to drink a glass of South African wine or to consume anything with ’Outspan’ on it.

After the killing of 69 black South Africans, the world judged apartheid to be morally bankrupt. The political agitation that ensued would eventually overturn white supremacy, writes Gary Baines, in: Remembering Sharpeville

Friday, 19 March 2010

Should Apollo 11 landing site be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Should the Apollo 11 landing site be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Philip Bethge reports in Der Spiegel on how California has recently named the remains of the Apollo 11 mission, which include four urine containers, airsickness bags, a Hasselblad camera and lunar overshoes, a state ‘Historical Resource’. Moon archaeologists hope that the Apollo 11 landing site will in the future be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For further information on the Apollo space programme, read André Balogh’s article Above and Beyond: The Apollo Space Race to the Moon published in History Today in June 2009.

Publication of Bloody Sunday report delayed
We reported on Wednesday on the expected upcoming publication of Lord Saville’s report of the Bloody Sunday enquiry. According to The Times, however, the publication may be delayed until after the general election. Ministers have requested a security check on the document in order to ensure that no human rights are breached, that individuals such as informants cannot be identified and that national security is safeguarded.
In Coming to Terms with the Past: Northern Ireland Richard English argues that historians have a practical and constructive role to play in today’s Ulster.

Historic march in Red Square
Tony Halpin reports in The Times on the recent announcement that British soldiers will march in the Red Square with Russian troops, for the first time, in a Victory Day parade on May 9th to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. French and American troops are also due to join the parade.

J.D. Salinger letters rediscovered
Jerome D. Salinger died in January, aged 91. A series of letters written from 1945 to 1969 to his friend Werner Kleeman, who he met in Devonshire in March 1944 when the Allies were preparing for the D-Day landings, have recently been rediscovered. They provide fascinating insights into the life and character of the enigmatic author who went into seclusion shortly after he published The Catcher in the Rye, in 1951.
Spiegel Online has analysed the letters in depth and interviewed Kleeman. Marc Pitzke reports.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

‘Wembley Way’ built by German POWs

‘Wembley Way’ built by German POWs
A recent investigation by BBC Radio 4's Document programme has revealed that German POWs were employed to work on the redevelopment of the area around Wembley stadium prior to the London Olympics in 1948. Many German POWs were still held captive three years after the end of the Second World War. The last German POWs finally went home in July 1948.
Read the report on the website of the BBC.

Re-opening of Jewish Museum London
The newly redeveloped Jewish Museum London in Camden opened to the public yesterday, March 17th, following its official launch by writer and broadcaster Nigella Lawson and Alan Yentob, Creative Director of the BBC and one of the museum’s patrons, the previous day. Following a £10 million redevelopment programme, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum has tripled its exhibition space. The museum tells the story of Jewish history, culture and religion through audio visual displays, hands on exhibits and personal stories brought to life through objects and photographs.
Jewish Museum London
Raymond Burton House
129-131 Albert Street
Camden Town, London NW1 7NB

Uganda blaze update
We reported, yesterday, on the fire at the Kasubi tombs in Uganda, the burial site for the kings of Uganda’s Baganda tribe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Relations between the Baganda tribe and the central government have recently become increasingly strained and protesters from the tribe have accused the government of involvement in the fire. At least three people have been killed in clashes between protesters from the Baganda ethnic group and government security forces.
The Guardian reports.

New light on concentration camps in Franco’s Spain
During and after the Spanish Civil War, there existed 132 concentration camps and 541 forced labour battalions in Spain. At the beginning of the week, hundreds of files from the camps went on display for the first time at the Historical Memory Document Centre in Salamanca. The files had been hidden in Spanish government archives until the promulgation of the Law of Historical Memory in 2007. They provide a terrifying insight into the fates of as many as 500,000 prisoners, which included Britons, French, Germans, Polish and some Jews. According to the records, when the Huelva concentration camp opened in Andalusia in February 1938 it held 3,202 prisoners; when it closed in July, there were 662 surviving prisoners.
Graham Keeley reports in The Times.

For further information on Franco's Spain, visit our Spanish History focus page.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Last surviving French guillotine on display

Guillotine on display
One of the last guillotines to exist in mainland France went on display yesterday in a new exhibition entitled ‘Crime et châtiment’ at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The model was designed by Léon Alphonse Berger in 1872. The curator of the exhibition is former justice minister, Robert Badinter, who successfully abolished the death penalty in the first year of Mitterrand’s presidency in 1981. The last person to be guillotined in France was Hamida Djandoubi at Baumettes prison in Marseille in 1977. The guillotine is displayed alongside over 450 works of art, including sculptures by Rodin and paintings by Degas and Munch, in this exhibition which explores attitudes to crime, rehabilitation and punishment from the French revolution onwards.

British plans to assassinate Mussolini
Documents recently released by the National Archives in Kew reveal British plans to assassinate Mussolini in July 1943. In a memorandum dated July 13th, 1943, Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden wrote to Churchill asking him to approve Air Marshal Arthur Harris’ plans to use the Dambusters squadron to bomb the dictator’s headquarters in central Rome.
Nick Pisa reports in The Scotsman. Nick Squires reports in The Telegraph.

The coin that celebrated Caesar’s assassination
A coin struck by Brutus in celebration of the assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15th 44BC went on display at the British Museum on Monday to mark the 2,054th anniversary of his death.
Maev Kennedy reports in The Guardian.

Results of the Saville Enquiry
Lord Saville’s enquiry into the events of January 30th, 1972, when 14 people were killed in Londonderry's Bogside, began 12 years ago. With a total cost of almost £200 million, it has been the longest and most expensive enquiry in British legal history. Lord Saville’s report is due to be handed over to Shaun Woodward, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, next week and is expected to be made public shortly after.
David McKittrick reports in The Independent.

Kasubi royal tombs in Uganda destroyed by fire
Both Reuters and the BBC report on the fire which started yesterday evening at the Kasubi Tombs in Uganda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to the 19th century. The site is a burial for the kings of the Baganda tribe, Uganda’s largest tribe. The tribe influenced President Yoweri Museveni’s coming to power 24 years ago; however, relations between the kingdom and the central government have recently become increasingly strained. There are rumours that the fire may have been caused by arson.

Friday, 12 March 2010

This week's top news: oldest maritime dog and decapitated Vikings

by Kathryn Hadley
465-year old skeleton of the oldest maritime dog on display
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard announced yesterday, March 11th, that the skeleton of a two-year old mongrel who sailed abroad the Mary Rose will return to the dockyard and Mary Rose Museum at the end of the month. The dog’s skeleton went on display yesterday at Crufts in Birmingham, where it is due to be analysed in an attempt to identify its breed. It will thereafter be displayed, on March 26th, in the Mary Rose Museum.
The dog was discovered trapped in the sliding door of the carpenter’s cabin of the Mary Rose, where she had lain since the ship sank in the Battle of the Solent on July 19th, 1545. It is believed that the dog was a ratter on board the Mary Rose and studies of her skeleton suggest that she was not very active and spent most of her life on board the ship.
Read the press release on the website of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Jack Malvern also reports in The Times.

Decapitated Viking skeletons
In June, 51 decapitated skeletons were discovered in a burial pit in Ridgeway Hill, near Weymouth. They were originally thought to be Romans, but the latest studies by scientists from NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, part of the British Geological Survey, suggest that they were instead Scandinavian Vikings.
The team, led by David Score from Oxford Archaeology, unearthed at least 51 skulls and analysed the isotope signatures in the tooth enamel of ten of the men. They concluded that the men came from countries with a colder climate than Britain’s, typical of Norway or Sweden, and believe they were executed by local Anglo Saxons in front of an audience sometime between AD 910 and AD 1030.
Further information is available on the website of the British Geological Survey.

La Rafle
La Rafle was released in cinemas in France on Wednesday, March 10th. The film tells the story of the round-up of 13,000 Jews in the Vélodrome d’Hiver on July 16th, 1942, who were then transported to extermination camps in Poland. Although there had been previous round-ups in 1941, the scale of the rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver was unprecedented with women and children also rounded-up for the first time. The film is viewed as a major step in France’s recognition of some of the shameful episodes of its past notably during the German occupation.
For further information, visit the film’s official website.
Lizzy Davies also reports on the release in The Guardian.

Earliest examples of the use of symbolism
According to the latest research, a series of inscribed ostrich shell fragments believed to date back 60,000 years and discovered in the Diepkloof Rock Shelter in South Africa may be evidence of some of the earliest uses of symbolism by modern humans. The fragments have been investigated for the past ten years. The results of the research are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Jonathan Amos also reports on the website of the BBC.

University of Manchester historian receives ‘Antiquités de la France’ award
The University of Manchester announced, yesterday, that Professor Joseph Bergin had been awarded one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious history prizes by the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres for his book Church, society and religious change in France, 1580-1730.
The Académie was founded, in 1665, by Louis XIV’s minister, Colbert, in an effort to embellish the French monarchy and its achievements by drawing on the members’ classical learning to devise inscriptions and other suitable emblems. Every year, it honours three publications with the ‘Antiquités de la France’ award in recognition of the most important books published on the history of France. The prize has, however, rarely been rarely given to non-French language publications.
Image (Mary Rose Trust)

Thursday, 11 March 2010

First Impressions: The Indian Portrait 1560-1860

by Kathryn Hadley

‘The Indian Portrait’ opens today, March 11th, at the National Portrait Gallery. Bringing together 60 works from international private and public collections, including the V&A, the British Library, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, and the Institut Néerlandais in Paris, the exhibition charts the history of the Indian portrait over three centuries. The diversity of the portraits on display and the insights which they provide into the history of the Mughal Empire are fascinating.

The portraits are, first of all, hugely diverse, varying in subject matter, size, style and technique. They range from scenes of court life to individual portraits which depict Mughal emperors, courtiers and holy men, as well as women and Europeans living in India. The first Indian portraits date to the reign of the third Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605), who commissioned a series of portraits both of himself and of his courtiers. Abu’l Fazl, the historian of Akbar’s reign, recorded this innovation in Mughal court painting in his chronicle the Akbarnama: ‘portraits [surat] have been painted of all His Majesty’s servants, and a huge book [ketab] has been made’. Shah Jahan commissioned a similar ‘official manuscript’ of his reign, the Padshahnama (‘The Book of the Emperor’), which features 44 illustrations depicting events from his life. Another grandiose official portrait is the six-foot life-size image dating to 1617 of the fourth Emperor Jahangir holding a globe, which is believed to be the largest painting to come from the Mughal Empire.

However, the display also provides more intimate glimpses of the Mughal emperors, as well as moving insights into the lives of their courtiers. Alongside the stylised images of Akbar presented in the Akbarnama, for example, there is also a simple black and white ink drawing of the emperor which captures his mood and personality. Particularly sombre and moving are the drawing and accompanying finished painting of ‘Inayat Khan, one of Jahangir’s attendants, in his last days. The portrait was commissioned by Jahangir who recorded in his memoirs on October 10th, 1618, that ‘Inayat Khan ‘was addicted to opium, and when he had the chance, to drinking as well […] He appeared so low and weak that I was astonished… As it was a very extraordinary case I directed painters to take his portrait’.

The exhibition also reveals the evolution of Indian portraiture over three centuries, its richness and its complexity; it both influenced art in regions which gradually fell under Mughal control and was, in turn, influenced by European and British traditions. Art in the Deccan sultanates, which included the five Islamic kingdoms of Ahmadnagar, Berar, Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda on the Deccan Plateau in south-central India, became increasingly influenced by Mughal traditions as the region was conquered by the Mughal emperors from 1596 to 1686. The sultans increasingly commissioned portraits of themselves similar to those of the Mughal emperors. By 1614, the independent Hindu Rajput kingdoms of Rajasthan and the Hill (Pahari) region north of Delhi had also been incorporated into Mughal territory. The conquered kingdoms similarly absorbed aspects of Mughal culture, which is reflected in portraits of time such as that of Kunwar (‘prince’) Anop Singh of the principality of Devgarh in the powerful Mewar kingdom riding with a falcon.

But Indian portraiture was also influenced by British and European traditions and increasingly so in the 18th and 19th centuries as India came under British control. A portrait of Jahangir triumphing over poverty believed to date to 1625 reveals, for example, how Indian portraiture increasingly came to incorporate elements of western art: two European cherubs are placing a crown on the emperor’s head, whilst a third is handing him the arrows which he is using to kill poverty. During the British period, Indian artists were employed to produce paintings of local scenes and people and some also received patronage from employees in the East India Company. Portraits from this period include a curious and amusing depiction of William Fullerton (c.1725-1805), a surgeon with the East India Company, who is portrayed in a totally Indian way reclining against a bolster on a terrace and smoking a huqqa.

A colourful, detailed, beautiful, and at times grandiose, insight into the history of the Mughal Empire from 1560 to 1860.

The Indian Portrait 1560-1860
March 11th – June 20th

National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London WC2h 0HE
Telephone: 0207 306 0055

- Page from the Padshahnama: Jahangir receives Prince Khurram at Ajmer, Mughal, attributed to ‘Abid c.1635, Royal Collection
- Drawing of Akbar, c. 1595, The British Library
- Kunwar Anop Singh of Devgarh riding with a falcon, Devgarh, Mewar, Rajasthan, attributed to Bakhta, c.1776, Museum Rietberg Zurich. Gift of Dr. Carlo Fleischmann Foundation and acquisition
- William Fullerton seated on a terrace, Patna, Bihar, by Dip Chand, Victoria and Albert Museum

For further information on the Mughal Empire, read our article The Mughal Dynasties

To read more about the history of India, visit our India focus page.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

First Impressions: Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain

by Paul Lay

Paul Sandby, a contemporary of William Hogarth and Joseph Wright of Derby, is a neglected figure of 18th-century art. 'Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain', which opens this Saturday at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly having already been shown in Nottingham and Edinburgh, aims to restore his reputation. It succeeds brilliantly. The curators, Prof Stephen Daniels of the University of Nottingham and Dr John Bonehill of the University of Glasgow, place Sandby within the context of his very vital time, during which the modern concept of Britain was born.

Raised in Nottingham, the 16-year-old Sandby became chief Draughtsman for the Board of Ordnance in 1747 in the wake of the defeat of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion at Culloden Moor. Sandby’s skills as a cartographer were employed on the Military Survey of North Britain, whose aim was ‘a compleat [sic] and accurate Survey of Scotland’, a means of pacifying and integrating Scotland into the newly United Kingdom. One section of the enormous map produced by Sandby is on display at the exhibition, centred on Culloden itself. Those of us whose impressions of the brutally one-sided battle between the forces of ‘Butcher’ Cumberland and those of Bonnie Prince Charlie were moulded by the BBC drama-documentary of Peter Watkins will be surprised to note that the engagement took place within site of Culloden House. This was not wild moorland but relatively tame land. At the same time as he was mapping the region, Sandby produced exquisite pen and wash drawings including the delicate Surveying Party by Kinloch Rannoch of 1749.

Sandby documented a period of rapid change, at its most intense in London to where Sandby moved in 1751, becoming a key member of the St Martin’s Lane Academy. As a pioneer of the printed image, he became the great rival of William Hogarth, then regarded as the ‘leader’ of the English school. His series of splenetic satires, The Analysis of Deformity of 1753-54, an attack on Hogarth’s The Analysis of Beauty (1753), strike the modern viewer as deranged, distanced as we are from the petty politics of the 18th-century art world. More affecting are his Twelve London Cries done from the Life of the 1760s which preach none of the moral lessons we must endure from Hogarth. Instead, we see cold eyed observations, richly detailed, of London low life, desperate to make a meagre living, menacing in their manner: witness the young woman attempting to sell mackerel to a homeowner fearful behind his bolted door. This is 18th-century London.

But not the only one for, in collaboration with his elder brother Thomas, architect of buildings and landscapes, Sandby produced Canaletto-like panoramas of the social life along the Thames, produced with the aid of the camera obscura, as well as a terrific painting of a turnpike gate at Bayswater: Morning: View on the Road Near Bayswater Turnpike (1790). The turnpikes were the railway stations of their day, where an array of people converged before entering the burgeoning, now unwalled metropolis. The pub that features in this illustration is still standing: The Swan at Lancaster Gate. Interestingly, these works owe much to the techniques of map making. Thomas would construct the panorama, while Paul (and what an unusual name that is for the 18th century) would paint in the details, the whole made up of rectangular strips.

Thomas, unlike his younger brother, held a prestigious position – deputy warden of Windsor Great Park – that provided a secure income. Paul, the commercial artist in a precarious market, documented the changes his brother made at the behest of the Duke of Cumberland and celebrated the social harmony, productivity and prosperity the great estates were supposed to embody. But the satirist is never far away: an amply built fellow sleeps off a fine lunch in the shadow of the castle; a ludicrously attired couple are contrasted with a building’s classical restraint. These watercolours are beautifully preserved, their colours rich and resonant, beneficiaries of the neglect in which Sandby has been held, hidden away for decades in portfolios.

Sandby’s greatest achievement is the final work of the exhibition: A View of Vintners at Boxley, Kent, with Mr Whatman’s Turkey Paper Mills, 1794. A product of his impoverished old age, it looks at first like a traditional landscape complete with country house. But it is loaded with the symbols of an energised Britain: all is production, from the farmers in the foreground to the hi-tech, high-quality paper mill at the heart. And there is much symbolism, not least the prancing white horse, symbol of Kent, the Garden of England. But there is also a sense of paranoia, that this is what Britain is fighting for as the Napoleonic Wars gain speed. In that, it is reminiscent of the propaganda of the Second World War. Indeed, the image of Britain as a pastoral idyll held aloft in 1940 referred back to an image created in large part by Sandby. A great mythmaker and a very fine artist is on view again.

Paul Sandby RA: Picturing Britain
March 13th - June 13th
Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD
Telephone: 020 7300 8000

- Paul Sandby, Socking Vendor, c.1759 (Nottingham City Museums and Galleries)
- Paul Sandby, The North Terrace, Windsor Castle, Looking West, c.1765 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Paul Mellon Collection)

Monday, 8 March 2010

A War Over History?

by Derry Nairn

A congressional panel in the United States last week recognised the events of 1915 in eastern Anatolia as 'genocide'. This is not the first time that the issue has sparked tensions in the USA, both domestic and diplomatic. As recently as 2007, a similar decision was vetoed by the George W. Bush administration. Similar debates have been going on, virtually since the events themselves occurred.

Here is a selection of viewpoints on the matter, covering all spectrums:

Donald Bloxham on great power involvement.

CBS gives the issue historical context.

Global Voices offers ordinary Armenian opinion.

Hurriyet examines the Obama & Clinton positions.

Norman Stone considers geo-political fallout.

The Guardian's Marcel Berlins questions the whole process

Friday, 5 March 2010

First Impressions: Kingdom of Ife

by Kathryn Hadley

‘Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa’ opened yesterday, March 4th, at the British Museum. Showcasing nearly 100 pieces of Ife sculpture, drawn almost entirely from the collections of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria and most of which have never been seen in the UK before, the exhibition is unique and fascinating. The complexity of the sculptures is astonishing; the insight which they provide into the history of the city-state of Ife and West African culture from the 1200s to 1400s is intriguing.

European fascination with African art began in the late 15th century following the Portuguese discovery of the kingdom of Ife. Travellers to western Africa took works of art back to Europe where they were displayed as ‘curios’. There was a renewed interest in African art in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, notably as artists such as Picasso and Matisse sought new inspiration and studied masks and figures from Africa. One of the first European ethnographers and explorers to travel to Ife was the German Leo Frobenius. He arrived in late November 1910 as part of the third German Inner African Exploration. Frobenius spent three weeks carrying out excavations and unearthed numerous stone and terracotta sculptures. Further research into the nature and origins of African art began after the discovery, in 1938, of a cache of brass and copper sculptures.

The kingdom of Ife is located in southwest Nigeria, south of the river Niger, and is regarded as the spiritual heartland of the local Yoruba-speaking people. It first emerged around 800AD and flourished as a powerful city-state on the crossroads of local and long-distance trade routes from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Legend traces the foundation of the kingdom of Ife back to the supreme god Olodumare, who allegedly asked his son Orishanla to create the world equipped with an iron chain, a snail shell filled with soil, a chicken and a chameleon. When Orishanla drank too much and fell asleep, however, his brother Oduduwa took over. Oduduwa climbed down the chain from the sky onto the watery land and emptied the soil from the snail shell. When the chicken kicked the soil around, dry land appeared and the chameleon tested the firmness of the land. Orishanla then created human beings and Oduduwa founded the kingdom of Ife.

Ife is also considered the birthplace of some of the highest achievements of African art and culture. The stone, terracotta, brass and copper alloy sculptures on display depict human figures from a wide cross-section of Ife society and provide a fascinating insight into local customs and beliefs. Some of the figures have unusually large heads, for example, in accordance with the belief that the head should be emphasised as the source of spiritual power and destiny.

A highlight of the exhibition is a collection of 15 almost life-size copper-alloy uncrowned heads, which date back to 1200-1400 and were made using the highly complex ‘lost-wax’ casting technique. They were discovered in 1938 and the Ooni (ruler) of Ife at the time, Sir Adesoji Aderemi (1930-80), agreed to send them to the British museum for display in 1947-48. They were thereafter returned to Nigeria where they formed the nucleus of the collections of the National Museum of Ife which opened to the public in 1954. One of the sculptures is a copper mask of the third king of Ife Oblafon II, who ruled in the late 1300s and early 1400s, weighing over 5kg. Slits are carved below the eyes of the mask which may be evidence that it was made to be worn.

Despite the insights into the culture and social and economic organisation of the kingdom of Ife which the exhibition provides, the city-state remains largely a legend. Knowledge about the history of the kingdom is primarily based on oral sources - epic tales, prayers, songs and mythical narratives, which were only recently written down. The true significance of the sculptures is unknown and locked in glass cases they seemed removed and somewhat misunderstood. I left the exhibition frustrated and lacking a deep understanding of the culture and history of Ife. The sculptures reminded me, in many ways, of the ‘curios’ which Europeans brought back from Africa from their very first journeys on the 15th century.

Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa
March 4th – June 6th

British Museum
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DG
Telephone: 020 7323 8299

Images: (Copyright Karin L. Willis/Museum for African Art/Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments)

- Head with elaborate crown, Ife, Ita Yemoo. Terracotta, 12th-14th century

- Torso of a king, Ife Wunmonije, brass, early 14th century

- Oblafon mask, Ife, metal, early 14th century

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Our Tribute to Michael Foot

by Kathryn Hadley

Michael Foot died at his home in Hampstead yesterday, March 3rd, aged 96. Born in Plymouth on July 23rd, 1913, he was then educated at Leighton Park School in Reading. He went on to study Classics at Wadham College, Oxford, and in 1933 was elected president of the Oxford union.

Foot first contested a seat for the Labour Party in 1935. He lost, however, and moved to London where he worked as a journalist for the New Statesman, Tribune and the London Evening Standard for the following ten years. He edited the Tribune from 1948 to 1952, and again from 1955 to 1960. As a journalist, he led the denunciation of Nazi appeasement and in 1940 wrote Guilty Men with Peter Howard and Frank Owen, attacking fifteen public figures for their policy towards Nazi Germany. The book was reviewed in History Today by John Charmley in 1999.

Foot was first elected to parliament in 1945 as an MP for the Plymouth Devonport constituency. He remained in parliament until 1992. In the 1950s he was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a cause for which he fought for over 40 years. In March 1974, following Labour’s return to power, he became employment secretary under Harold Wilson and was then deputy prime minister to Jim Callaghan from 1976 to 1979. The following year, he was elected Labour leader. He resigned, however, following the Tory victory in the 1983 elections and was succeeded by Neil Kinnock.

Michael Foot was also a prolific writer and notably the author of a two-volume biography of Aneurin Bevan entitled The Pen and the Sword (1962 and 1973), The Politics of Paradise (1988), a book on Byron, and The History of Mr Wells (1995). His last book was The Uncollected Michael Foot (2003).

Obituaries, tributes and photographs of the ex-Labour leader are all over the newspapers. Michael Foot wrote an article for History Today entitled Thomas Carlyle and the London Library in April 1991 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the London Library. Our picture editor, Sheila Corr, had the privilege of working with Michael Foot on his biography of H.G. Wells. Here is her tribute to Michael Foot:

‘Back in 1995 I was lucky enough to work with Michael Foot on his biography HG: The History of Mr Wells. I explained that I would seek out
photographs which showed Wells, his friends and colleagues at the time he knew
them (as anything else would feel anachronistic) and that I’d also research
cartoons, books and drawings to give the picture sections variety and interest.
He liked this approach - intellectually he was fascinated by how other people
work, and he was enthusiastic and appreciative about the material I found. For
example, as an editor himself, he was highly amused that the editors Wells
worked for were all photographed in identical quizzical poses with their heads
resting lightly on a hand.

Two pictures I found brought an unexpected
response. The KGB around this time claimed he had acted as their agent, and The Sunday Times printed the story. When I showed him a photograph of
Wells with Ivan Maisky, the popular and sociable Soviet Ambassador to London, he
said incredulously ‘this is the man I’m supposed to have passed secrets to’.
Michael Foot’s patriotism was apparent, and his personality seemed disinclined
to any deviousness – he was proud to have been friendly with Maisky and
successfully sued the newspaper.

When HG Wells died in 1946, Vicky drew
a cartoon which shows him as superman going skywards in a T shirt inscribed
‘Mind at the end of its tether’. I didn’t know until he told me then, that Vicky
was a great friend who had committed suicide in 1966, and I was afraid that I’d
inadvertently opened old wounds for him, but he was completely delighted to
include the cartoon as the final picture in the book and a fitting tribute to
his friend.’

Foot's obituary is notably published in The Guardian.
There is a slideshow of images of Foot on the website of The Times as well as a picture gallery charting his career on The Guardian website.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

History lessons on the public debt

by Kathryn Hadley

20 senior economic historians in the History & Policy Network warned against immediate cuts in public spending in a letter published in The Guardian this morning.

They argue that Britain’s current level of public debt is not that high by the standards of the past 200 years and is also relatively low in the context of the developed world - only Germany and Canada’s public debts are lower among the larger industrialised powers. They urge policymakers to take advantage of the fact that Britain is home to four of the world’s top ten universities and to focus on developing the knowledge economy rather than continuing to rely on the financial sector.

The letter was initiated by Dr Glen O'Hara (Oxford Brookes University) and the co-founder of History & Policy Dr Simon Szreter (University of Cambridge). Signatories include Professors Martin Daunton (Trinity Hall, Cambridge), Jane Humphries (All Souls College, Oxford), Jim Tomlinson (University of Dundee), David Edgerton (Imperial College London) and Dr Hugh Pemberton and Dr Richard Sheldon from the University of Bristol.

In their words:
‘Economic growth enabled Britain to escape from crushing debt burdens in the
early 19th century and during the 1950s and 1960s. It could do so again, if the
public spending cuts that would endanger such knowledge-based growth are ruled
out in the short to medium term’.

History & Policy is an independent initiative, which works ‘for better policy through an understanding of history’ and was founded by historians Virginia Berridge, Pat Thane, Alastair Reid and Simon Szreter at the Universities of Cambridge and London.

In The Great Depression in Europe, 1929-39 Patricia Clavin examines the causes and effects of the Great Depression in Europe and in Labour Wasn't Working John Shepherd looks back to the Winter of Discontent which heralded the demise of the Labour government of the time.


Nurses were among the public sector workers who rejected a 5% pay offer (Getty / Popperfoto)

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Multicultural Origins of Roman York

by Kathryn Hadley

According to the latest research by the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology, published in the March issue of the journal Antiquity, 4th-century Roman York was a multicultural town where individuals of North African descent moved in the highest social circles.

Archaeologists used the latest techniques in forensic ancestry assessment and isotope analysis to study Romano-British skeletal remains, in particular those of the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’, discovered in a stone coffin in August 1901 near Sycamore Terrace in York. The research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Strontium and oxygen isotopes are incorporated into the skeletal tissues of humans through the food and drink they ingest. Isotope analyses thus enable scientists to identify where individuals resided at the time of tissue formation in terms of geology (strontium) and climate (oxygen). The ancestry assessment and isotope signature of the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’ suggests that she was of mixed ‘black’ and ‘white’ ancestry and may have come from somewhere slightly warmer than the UK.

Her grave is believed to date to the second half of the 4th century and contains jet and elephant ivory bracelets, earrings, pendants, beads, a blue glass jug and a glass mirror. These grave goods, as well as evidence of an unusual burial technique, further indicate that she was of high social status and not native to York. She may have been of North African descent and migrated to York from the Mediterranean.

In the words of Dr Hella Eckardt, Senior Lecturer at the University of Reading:
‘Multi-cultural Britain is not just a phenomenon of more modern times. Analysis
of the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady' and others like her, contradicts common popular
assumptions about the make up of Roman-British populations as well as the view
that African immigrants in Roman Britain were of low status, male and likely to
have been slaves.
‘To date, we have had to rely on evidence of such foreigners in Roman Britain from inscriptions. However, by analysing the facial features of the Ivory Bangle Lady and measuring her skull compared to reference populations, analysing the chemical signature of the food and drink she consumed, as well as evaluating the evidence from the burial site, we are now able to establish a clear profile of her ancestry and social status.
‘It helps paint a picture of a Roman York that was hugely diverse and which included
among its population, men, women and children of high status from Romanised
North Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.’

The findings will feature in the Yorkshire Museum’s new exhibition ‘Roman York: Meet the People of the Empire’ due to open in August.
Read the press release on the website of the Yorkshire Museum.

- Reconstructed portrait of the Ivory Bangle Lady by Aaron Watson, University of Reading
- Gravegoods (copyright Yorkshire Museum)

Monday, 1 March 2010

The most expensive manuscript sale in history: Casanova's memoirs

The most expensive manuscript sale in history: Casanova’s diaries
At the end of last week, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), the French national library, announced that it had acquired the original manuscripts of Giacomo Casanova's memoirs. The 3,700 pages of memoirs were purchased by an anonymous donor on behalf of the library. The price has not been made public but is believed to exceed £4.4 million. The manuscripts were transferred to the BNF today.
Lizzy Davies reports in The Guardian.

Alberto Korda’s photographs of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro for sale
The Telegraph reports on the upcoming sale this Thursday, March 4th, of a selection of Alberto Korda’s photographs of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara by Dominic Winter Book Auctions. Korda was Castro’s personal photographer. The collection of black and white photographs dates from 1959 to 1960 and includes images of Fidel and Che Guevara playing golf in military uniform and of Castro shaking Ernest Hemingway’s hand.

Ground-breaking account of WW2 rape
At the age of 80, Gabriele Köpp has become the first German woman to write an account under her own name of the sexual violence that she experienced during the final weeks of the Second World War.
Warum war ich bloß ein Mädchen ('Why Did I Have to Be a Girl?’) is published by Herbig.
Susanne Beyer reports in Der Spiegel.
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