C19 Matters: Public Engagement at Chawton House Library

This time last week I was merrily sat on the train home, head full of knowledge from the C19 Matters Public Engagement Training day at the beautiful Chawton House Library, Hampshire.

Designed for PhDs and ECRs and generously sponsored by BAVS and BARS, the event aimed to give an introduction to the practical points of public engagement for researchers of C19 studies.

After a very welcome cup of coffee, AHRC Director of Research Mark Llewllyn kicked off the day with a talk on ‘Living (in) the Library,’ recounting the highs and lows of his post-doc days living in and working on William Gladstone’s personal library. Public engagement can mean many things, Llewellyn said, not in the least justifying publicly funded research as academics as being of public interest. He noted that historical myths can be a fantastic bridge on which to meet the public as a point of interest, to retell a historical narrative together according to both parties’ interests. Above all, he said, public engagement is a two-way dialogue, not merely lecturing the public but listening to them. Both must meet halfway – a point best illustrated by his demonstration of William Gladstone’s bookplates for a television crew only after they had extensively filmed him donning the white gloves in traditional ‘let’s look at a manuscript’ fashion, although they were unnecessary.


Gladstone’s Library – white gloves not pictured. [Image credit http://www.gladstonelibary.org]

Following a short break, the next panel of the morning looked at case studies of public engagement projects.

Claire Wood of the National Co-Ordinating Centre for Public Engagement opened with a talk on ‘The 3 Ps of Public Engagement,’ outlining the practical points of organising events. The audience is absolutely key in any public engagement event, so every attempt must be made to create an accessible and enjoyable format for all, being mindful of the purpose of the event. She also pointed us to some great resources available from the National Co-Ordinating Centre for Public Engagement for event planning, as well as their ‘Research For All’ journal in which to share experiences and results of collaborative research.

Next up was Gillian Dow of Southampton University and Chawton House Library on ‘The Dangers of Public Engagement.’ Dow recounted her experiences of designing the ‘Emma 200‘ exhibition at the Library, noting first of all how brilliantly centenaries can become a selling point for making research relevant to the modern day. ‘Emma 200’ had various intersections with Jane Austen’s companions in the literary canon, including Shakespeare and Charlotte Brontë, who  last year celebrated their 400th and 200th anniversaries, respectively. A great opportunity to use literary studies in public engagement, Dow used intertextuality between the three writers to show them off to their existing fans, as well as to widen access to the community and the media. That said, media coverage has its pitfalls: Dow emphasised the importance of clarity in communicating research to the public, as her own research interests in the international book trade meant that journalists confused the preface to the French edition of Emma with another artefact. Beware also, she said, that not everyone will be thrilled with looking at manuscripts, as ITV coverage of clips from film and television adaptations received more airtime than the texts themselves. She concluded, “you can lead the public to your research, but you can’t make them read it.”

Mary Guyatt of the Jane Austen House museum followed, exploring the benefits of collaboration between universities and museums. In short, neither have much funding: why not collaborate? There is a joint need between both HE and heritage sectors for public engagement, and collaboration allows staff to bring all their skills to the table. Using a dual exhibition and conference as an example, Guyatt showed  how museums could offer accessible box offices and wider marketing audiences, while universities can attract fantastic speakers from across academic networks. Academics could enjoy lectures at an exhibition/conference, while film screenings could be made available at a cheaper rate to the public. Even the seemingly smallest tasks can benefit from inter-sector collaboration, Guyatt noted, with label-writing as a great example of where detailed research needs to be made accessible. Her top tip for organisers of future events was to keep the audience firmly in mind: not everyone will think like you.


Grayson Perry’s ‘Museum Qualities’ – or how Mary Guyatt imagines her museum.

In the final talk of the panel, Holly Furneaux, of Cardiff University and the National Army Museum, shared her experience of the ‘Military Men of Feeling’ in the Crimean War project, delivered in local primary schools. Not quite sure what to expect from allowing the children to handle objects from the museum and discuss the feelings they evoked, she found the responses generated by the children extremely nuanced and fruitful. From a handling session in which the children discussed the feelings (emotional, physical, sensory) associated with each object, a trip to the record office to enthusiastically transcribe letters from the collections, these ‘fact finding’ trips evoked complex discussions by the children, who used them to compose their own military ballads which were performed at a church concert and recorded. The final audience for the project included not just Furneaux, the primary school teachers, and the classes, but parents, local press, and future visitors to the record office.

Contentedly full of both food and food for thought after lunch, we broke into small groups for a brainstorming workshop. After we each attempted to summarise our current research onto a postcard (no easy feat!) We were given cards to shuffle to create a table of different settings and audiences with whom to engage our research and pleasingly enough, found an idea for everything! Building upon each others’ experiences of different events we constructed some great ideas, happy to find that there was seemingly nothing that wouldn’t work – even with unexpected combinations, such as research on mental health stigma engaging with families with young children. I’ve since had the wheels turning in my own mind for an event on print culture – watch this space.


Our challenge cards for generating event ideas.

Overall, it was a fantastic day with lots to think about, one I would heartily recommend to any other PhDs thinking ahead to public engagement. Massive congratulations are due to organiser Catherine Han for a fantastic day of lively discussion.


Scenery on my way home.

I was able to attend this event thanks to small award funding from WRoCAH.






Update: This has been edited to correct some small details – the NCCPE is part of the University of the West of England, not separate as previously stated, and the director research at the AHRC is Mark Llewllyn.


January Almanac

February is here and spring is on its way (I hope). While January has been an absolute dumpster fire for politics, we have been blessed with some absolutely cracking telly. Enjoy some recommendations for occupying oneself through this horrible cold weather below:


  • Progress (2016) – Johan Norberg. Starting 2017 off with an attempt at cheering myself up, economist Norberg’s book encourages readers to take stock of the positive changes in human history up to and including our lifetimes. I can’t deny that it’s a well-researched book, although it does, at times, read like a love letter to Capitalism. Nonetheless, it works both as an uplifting read, as well as a cautionary tale about romanticising the past. Life was short and shit, Norberg concludes.
  • Warleggan (1953) – Winston Graham. I’m an unashamed lover of the Poldark series, and the fourth book does not disappoint. The female characters in particular are fantastically complex and sympathetic, and often much wiser than their male counterparts – in many respects, Demelza Carne is a woman well ahead of her time.
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1934) – George Orwell. Preceding many English Literature graduates, protagonist Gordon Comstock doesn’t want to waste his poetic talents selling out in marketing – but all he shows is promise. Orwell examines the possibilities of rebellion against lower middle class success with his characteristic dark humour.
  • Rad Women Worldwide (2016) – Kate Schatz. Schatz and illustrator Mirium Klein Stahl team up to showcase a variety of Rad Women who have undeniably contributed to global history, including pirates, punks, polar explorers, and winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. A great book for all ages.

Got myself a little present from the British Library shop #radwomen #currentlyreading

A photo posted by Vic C (@victory_jc) on Jan 23, 2017 at 9:48am PST



  • Call The Midwife: The Casebook (2017), BBC. Actor Stephen McGann (Dr. Patrick Turner to CTM fans) explores the real life cases that inspire Call the Midwife, from Jennifer Worth’s original memoirs to interviews with former midwives from the 1950s and ’60s. The programme also stops to consider what is arguably the biggest benefactor to the baby boom generation: the NHS, which saved thousands of mothers.
  • The West Was Built on Racism (2017), The Guardian. Professor Kehinde Andrews explains in two minutes that “the dead white men we are trained to revere created the knowledge that justified” the atrocities committed by Anglo-European intellectuals against people of colour, on which our current global economic and social inequalities are still based.
  • T2: Trainspotting (2017). “But this isn’t Victorian!” I hear you cry. It isn’t, and it’s bloody good. While parts differ substantially from its novel incarnation Porno (Irvine Welsh, 2002), its exploration of Renton, Simon, Spud, and Begbie’s nostalgia for their lifelong friendship marred by addiction and revenge ensures that it remains a fantastic sequel to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. Rest assured, Renton’s famous ‘Choose Life’ speech has been updated for 2017 too.
  • Taboo (2017), BBC. It’s 1812 and the mysterious James Delaney returns from Africa to London to organise his late father’s legacy: he’s in battle over land ownership with the villainous East India Company, his confusing feelings for his half-sister, and the unexpected arrival of his unknown stepmother. Tom Hardy is fantastic as the anti-hero in this original, slow-burning drama – think Ripper Street, but darker and earlier in the 19th Century.

See you next month!

British Library Doctoral Open Day

After a few weeks of gently easing myself out of the Christmas slump, I was sprung back into action by waking up at silly o’clock in the morning to head to British Library.

Every year the British Library hold a range of Doctoral Open Days, targeted at early stage PhD candidates looking for sources of data. Different days are based on different collections, from Nineteenth Century to Early Modern to Asian and African. If in doubt, get in touch with organiser Robin Saklatvala, who was incredibly helpful in deciding which would be most relevant to my research. 🙂 I ended up attending the News & Media day, which upon reflection, was definitely a wise choice. I’ll be discussing the News & Media specifics here, but some of the material is used across the open days.

After a slightly difficult start (not being a morning person) and a large mug of tea, the first talk began. Maja Mericevic, head of HE, started things off by outlining the history of the library – bringing together the resources of the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales, and the British Museum reading rooms as late as 1976! Given the immense quantity of holdings I had always assumed the BL to be a much older institution, but here we are. She made a quick point about EThOS (E-Theses Online), which currently has 80% of UK PhD Theses freely available to read. Whether you’re looking for the work of a particular researcher or simply want to see what a completed PhD thesis looks like, it’s a great resource to know.


British Library newspaper vault in Boston Spa. [Image Kippa Matthews/British Library]

The rest of the day was devoted to exploring the specific News & Media collections, and specifically, the issues of access that pertain to these materials. Newspapers, being designed to be disposable, are tricky to preserve due to the paper, and consequently all of the Library’s paper copies are kept in a dark, low-oxygen, temperature and humidity controlled vault in Boston Spa, Yorkshire. Because of this, paper copies are extremely hard to access, although most of the collection has been backed up onto microfilm, and approximately 3% is digitised on the British Newspaper Archive (although that 3% is still about 18 million issues!). These include complete runs of The Times, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, and the Guardian, with Scottish editions having recently been aded. They also collect one of every regional newspaper published in the UK.


The Sound archives are another of the Library’s strengths, with a greater focus over the last few years on collecting oral histories, separated by subjects including food, early spoken word recordings, conversations between people and folk music. There’s also a very interesting section for accents & dialects, including dialect maps of the UK, and wildlife recordings from all over the world.

Since 2013 the Library has begun to archive all public UK web content – anything that ends in a .uk web address, or is uploaded from UK-based servers, with different frequencies according to subject matters. They’re now backing up approximately 60TB worth of data every year, and compiled it all into a searchable database on the webarchive.org. Periods including general elections and the run-up to the EU referendum last year were archived more regularly, in order to give the most potential data to sociologists, media researchers, and historians.

bl screenshot.png

Finally, the day concluded with a note from the Digital Research Support group, whose job it is to support researchers in using computational methods to get the most out of the Library’s holdings. Digital Curator Nora McGregor shared a couple of examples of their annual British Library Labs projects, including fellow Chartist (Historian) Katrina Navickas, on the potential uses for the library’s data to get us thinking.

The day was an informative, but by no means exhaustive guide to what the Library has to offer doctoral candidates. What it offered was a bouncy springboard from which to jump off and explore according to our own research, offering contacts and guides for different sections to seek specific support as and when I need it while working on the Library’s collections. I’ve already been in touch with the Digital Research team to help with my own Digital Humanities work. All in all, a useful day for beginners.


I was able to attend this event thanks to small award funding from WRoCAH.










To Walk Invisible: the Branwell Brontë myth

Fifteen years after the publication of Lucasta Miller’s acclaimed biography The Brontë Myth, Sally Wainright’s To Walk Invisible is a welcome sight to Brontë fans and scholars alike.

Wainright’s biopic explores some of the most turbulent years of the Brontë sisters’ lives at home in Haworth parsonage during their brother Branwell’s descent into depression, alcoholism, and laudanum addiction in his last years of life. If Miller’s biography was an attempt to uncover the realities of the Brontë sisters’ upbringing and home lives masked by Elizabeth Gaskell in an attempt to save her friend’s respectable reputation in The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), Wainright’s aim was to bring it to life. Indeed, Branwell Brontë until recently has remained something of a myth in Brontë scholarship. Although he appears in literal shadows in the portrait of his sisters on display at Haworth Parsonage (he painted himself out) and figuratively in the form of abusive alcoholic Arthur Huntingdon in Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), he is largely absent from the historiography of the parsonage. Thanks to Wainright’s beautiful script, a strong performance by Adam Nagaitis puts this to right.


John Brown (Mark Knight) and Branwell Brontë (Adam Nagitis) walk through central Haworth. (BBC, 2016)

I’d studied the Brontës as part of my MA degree (it was, in fact, the reason I came to Leeds), but Wainright’s drama illustrated the struggle the sisters faced trying to publish their writing, alongside a very disruptive home life. The sisters, as Wainright shows, were most concerned about their art being real, and deflected accusations of ‘coarseness’ and ‘vulgarity’ in their writing because of this: life is coarse and vulgar. Reading Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or Agnes Gray remains a powerful experience because of their liminality between fantasy and reality, their varied narration devices maintaining some secrets for the plot, while remaining unapologetically frank about the unpleasant realities of Victorian society. Apparently the 21st Century public has yet to learn anything, amid complaints of “quite inappropriate obscenities” in the script. It is this realness that Wainright represents best in To Walk Invisible. From the loud screaming matches between Branwell and his ailing father Patrick, to the filthy streets of 1840s Haworth (where the average life expectancy was just 25 years), the film put struggle at its centre, the daughters’ strive for financial self-sufficiency and creative autonomy at a time when they were advised that “literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.”  Where Elizabeth Gaskell represented Haworth as a small country town with a “lawless, but not unkindly population” (p. 8), and the Brontë sisters as wallflowers with overactive imaginations; Lucasta Miller moves some way to correcting this through use of population statistics, and Wainright by literally reconstructing Haworth as it was: a small industrial town, whose population were well known to the sisters through their father’s work as parish curate.What makes To Walk Invisible a welcome part of Brontë historiography and outreach is that it is actually biographical, refusing to sex it up or shy away from the dirt (physical, linguistic, and moral) that plagued Victorian industrial life, as other period dramas often do. In dramatising the unseemly, Wainright’s tale of three skilled women reaching unprecedented literary success in secrecy, silencing their ambitions so as to further upset and upstage their brother demonstrates their personal sacrifices and strengths. Like the sisters’ work, To Walk Invisible‘s devotion to realism ensures that it will endure.


Emily (Chloe Pirrie), Anne (Charlie Murphy), and Charlotte Brontë (Finn Atkins) in the parsonage living room. (BBC, 2016)


  1. Lucasta Miller, The Brontë Myth (London: Vintage, 2001).
  2. Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (Leipzig: Bernaud Tauchnitz, 1857) [Google Books].
  3. ‘[Letters] To Walk Invisible: Withering Heights of Gloom and Mizak,’ The Guardian, Monday 2nd Jan 2017.
  4. Benjamin Hershel Babbage, ‘Public Health Act, (11 & 12 Vict., cap. 63.) Report to the General Board of Health on a preliminary inquiry into the sewerage, drainage, and supply of water, and the sanitary condition of the inhabitants of the hamlet of Haworth,’ (London: Clowes & Sons, 1850) British Library [C.T.159.(6.)].
  5. Letter from Robert Southey to Charlotte Brontë (12 March 1837), Letter, Brontë Parsonage Museum [BSIXSou.1837-03-12].


December Almanac

Happy New Year, lovely readers! The last month of 2016 has been an absolute whirlwind: I graduated from my Master’s with Merit, ate three Christmas dinners in a week, drank an astonishing amount of beer, and set myself a rather ambitious amount of homework over the Christmas holidays which is slowly but surely being finished. December was rather exhausting but as I make a slightly bigger dent in my reading I’m feeling a little more positive about my PhD.


Papa Clarke, Victoria Clarke MA!

Of course, it wasn’t all Chartism and mince pies! Here are some of the other delights I’ve been feasting my eyes, ears, and eyes and ears on of late:


  • Rohan McWilliam, ‘On Reviewing,’ Taylor & Francis (2016). As someone who has yet to write a book review, it made sense to get the lowdown from the grandaddy of reviews at the Journal of Victorian Culture, and it’s an excellent checklist for how to critically evaluate a colleague’s work for publication – least of all, ‘read the book.’
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Americanah (2014). It took me a couple of attempts to finish this before, but Adiche’s writing is so rich and welcoming that once I’d finished volume 1, I felt sad when I wasn’t reading it. Adiche’s third novel explores two high school sweethearts as they individually leave Nigeria and experience, for the first time, racial tensions in their respective journeys through the United States and England, before returning home.


  • To Walk Invisible,‘ BBC (2016). Sally Wainright’s much-anticipated biopic of the Brontë sisters aired on the 29th December and my little nerd heart wept. Incredible casting and a well-researched script made for wonderful viewing as the sisters began to prepare their writing for publication, living in secrecy while caring for their alcoholic brother Branwell during the last years of his life. I’ll share a review soon, but the tl;dr version is ‘stop reading this and watch the thing.’
  • Victorian Bakers at Christmas,‘ BBC (2016). My two favourite things are Victorian studies and food, so I was enthralled by the initial run of Victorian Bakers. The Christmas Special brought to light how strongly the Victorians changed Christmas into the commercial event we are familiar with now, including the different incarnations of Santa Claus (from an American pronunciation of St. Nicholas) and the disparity between aristocratic Christmas feasts and the scanty fare that would have been eaten by Bob Cratchit and his contemporaries. Most importantly of all, it showed that life as a baker and citizen of Victorian Britain was hard for most people, a rather unsubtle nod to present ‘austerity Britain.’

The Victorian Bakers gather around the pie of my dreams. (BBC)


  • Stuff Mom Never Told You, ‘The Cost of Fast Fashion‘ (2016). I’ve been a huge fan of SMNTY for a couple of years now and was heartbroken to hear that Cristen and Caroline have now left the series, and this episode was one of their best. ‘Fast Fashion’ dates back to the Industrial Revolution and although finding new + cheap clothes is a recipe for a great dopamine high, it’s one tainted by the industry’s continued exploitation of women of colour in manufacturing, as well as the negative environmental impact of disposable fashion. It’s made me confront my own shopping behaviours and encouraged me to attempt to not buy new clothes in 2017.
  • In Our Time, ‘The Gin Craze’ (2016). Melvyn Bragg is joined by historians Angela McShane, Judith Hawley, and Emma Major to examine the origin of the ‘gin craze’ that swept eighteenth century Britain, from its origins in protestant loyalism (as opposed to supporting Catholic French Brandy) to attempts to control the problem, and the satire behind Hogarth’s famous illustration.

William Hogarth’s famous Gin Lane (1751) satirises the various moral panics surrounding gin, from riots to neglectful mothers.

 Happy January!

Autumn Almanac: November

Today it’s the first day of December, and I’m now officially two months into my PhD. Here are some things that have happened in November:

Onwards and upwards! Here’s what my eyes, and ears have feasted upon this month:


  • Jennifer Worth, Call The Midwife (2002). Jennifer Worth’s memoirs of her time as a young midwife in London’s East End is beautifully written and wonderfully inviting, offering snapshots of cases she worked on and the families and lives she was, for professional purposes, sharing. Fans of the BBC adaptation will enjoy the book – my only complaint is that it was too short.
  • Dr. Susannah Lipscomb, ‘On and Off Script,’ History Today. Having seen Lipscomb speak briefly on public history at Senate House’s History Day workshop this year, I very much enjoyed her article about the day to day realities of television consultancy work. Given that historical dramas and documentaries are the main point of entry for non-specialists in history, it pays to be sure that they are as accurate as possible while remaining engaging and entertaining. I spent my first PhD supervision discussing the historical inaccuracies of ITV’s Victoria – what Lipscomb asks is how do we balance these facts while ensuring good telly? At the end of the day, it’s a dialogue between historians and the public, which, Lipscomb argues, is worth the work.
  • Alan Mays, ‘The Best Way To Get Laid in the 19th Century’: A celebration of cheeky calling cards. If anyone has success with this in the 21st century, please get in contact.

Illustration by Charles Dana Gibson (1900).



  • Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016), BBC. I’d never heard of David Olusoga before, and what a wonderful presenter he is! This series is a timely (i.e.extremely delayed) consideration of Black British identities, stretching right back to the Roman empire. Each episode is comprised of many case studies of both remarkable individuals and group adversities faced by Black people in Britain, each ending with celebrations and memorialisations in the local communities today. Watching this made me angry that I’d never heard of most of these figures before, and exposes the sheer extent of whitewashing in the British school history curriculum.
  • ‘San Junipero,’ Black Mirror (2016), Netflix. Part of the latest of Charlie Brooker’s technological dystopias, San Junipero was wonderfully optimistic for a change, enabling two queer women to meet in a cloud-based shared memory and live the lives denied to them by ‘real life’ circumstances. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful story about two femme women which both explores and rejects the ‘dead lesbian’ trope of contemporary television. TL;DR: I cried with joy.
  • The Victorian Slum (2016), BBC. A recent example of the ‘living history’ trend of recent years, the Slum shows several 21st century families tracing their family histories and taking stock of how times have changed. My boyfriend described it as a ‘historical privilege check,’ and what better way to draw our attention to the importance and necessity of the welfare state than to experience life without it? Still, one wonders at the participants’ shock and awe that a recreated slum was filthy – they didn’t even live that accurately. None of them were prostitutes…
  • Virago: Changing the World One Page At A Time (2016), BBC. Interviews with current and former Virago staff and authors trace the history of this revolutionary publisher, and explores its future. I particularly enjoyed the discussion on Virago Modern Classics, a project to re-release works by women ‘lost’ throughout history, making a case for their popularity today.
  • Back in Time for Brixton (2016), BBC. The most recent of the BBC’s living histories, this time the Irwin family are invited to live through forty years of Black migration to Britain, experiencing first hand some of the hardships of their ancestors who arrived on the Windrush in 1954. It’s an engaging and accessible part of the #BlackandBritish series, and a welcome change from the previously very white, middle class ‘Back in time for…’ series.
  • Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (2016), Netflix. As an avid Gilmorean (last week I got a respectable 65/78 on a GG pub quiz), this has been the television event of the year. Though parts of it felt gimmicky and several favourite characters were absent (looking at you, Sookie), it felt like being welcomed home. I laughed, I cried. The whole series really did feel like a tribute to the cast and writers who worked so hard during the original run, not least the sadly missed Edward Herrman, following his death in 2014.

Pugin & Rollinson, ‘The Royal Circus,’ The Microcosm of London Vol. 3 (London: Meuthen, 1904) p.13.

See you next month for another round up of things I’ve been doing that aren’t my PhD!


A week ago I went along to Senate House’s annual History Day extravaganza: a workshop with talks about doing history, with representatives from archives offering advice on how they can help do history.

As a fresh-faced PGR and new historian, this was the first event of its kind I’d ever attended. I very much enjoyed the day, chatting to representatives from archives all over the country about their particular holdings and what could be beneficial for my own research. Consequently, I hope to make some trips to Kew in the new year to examine the Home Office material held in the National Archives, as well as the upcoming Radicals exhibition at Senate House.

The main focus of the event, however, were the three panels. Led by historians, archivists, and librarians, the talks on the practicalities of doing history were both engaging and accessible. Coming from a background of Linguistics and English Literature, I feel as though I’m going undercover when attending history events – although the material I use is centuries old and thus, by necessity, ‘historical’, when it comes to some history methodology I feel like a child trying on her mum’s shoes and finding that they’re far too big.

Public History

In this light, the first panel on ‘Public History’ with Dr. Alix Green (University of Essex) and Dr. Susannah Lipscomb (New College of the Humanities) was a wonderful discussion on what it means to be a historian of the public and to give historical work public meaning. Green borrowed John Tosh’s definition of the term as “history with a public purpose” and as a “public resource,” and drew upon her background in policy to call for closer collaboration between politicians and historians. Signing a petition, writing for the Guardian or the Conversation is all well and good, she noted, but called for a more direct impact of historical training to contribute to teams of experienced people to help solve policy issues with public concerns in mind, a ‘collective policy’ being the end goal.

Lipscomb continued in a similar vein, turning to the cultural impact of historians’ work. She contrasted the increasing fragmentation and specialisation of ‘professional history’ with the widening output of popular history including books, radio programmes, and television dramas and documentaries that indicate an upsurge of public interest. Lipscomb, who has previously presented several successful history documentaries for the BBC, noted that “a 45 minute television programme has only 30 pages of script” and that these stories are often limited to ‘big name’ figures such as royals and wars, heavily condensing historical debate in order to create a linear narrative perceived to be more engaging to audiences.

While historians have anxieties about ‘dumbing down’ complex analysis, she concluded with Dr. Green that historical research is of no use if it is not shared, both arguing for the historian to accept their place as negotiator between archives and the public.



Period dramas, such as the BBC’s Versailles, are a great way to engage the public with the past. For many, these adapted fictions are their only source of information on the topic. Image copyright BBC.

Libraries Vs. Archives

Panel two engaged more closely with the remainder of the day, pitting archivists Victoria Northwood (Hon. Sec. British Records Association) and Isobel Hunter (The National Archives) against librarians Dr Richard Espley (Senate House Library) and Lesley Ruthven (Goldsmiths) to defend the merits of their relative institutions – and how they can be used together in future research.

Tugging on the heartstrings, archivists Northwood and Hunter argued that archives are totally unique in both their combination of holdings and the materiality of each object, “waiting to be discovered” due to the notorious backlogs of cataloguing plaguing the industry. Hunter noted the emotional power of the archive too – that of bringing researchers to tears when stumbling upon an important artefact. Noting the real-wordliness of archives, Hunter cited the fall of the Berlin Wall as a striking example of the importance of documentation: newly freed East Berliners began to destroy the GDR’s offices in glee, before realising the necessity of the documents as evidence for bringing their injustices to account.

Comparatively, librarian Espley fought this by noting that libraries are also unique, as each collection is ‘curated’ by the librarian, and that these collections are the eventual the homes of work based on discoveries made in archives, or “promiscuously democratic” repositories of learning. Ruthven followed this by noting the range of libraries and their respective workloads, from helping young children to learn to read and share to special collections libraries that enable access to local history and “straddle the exclusivity between archives and libraries” through establishing a theme, citing the example of the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths. This unity, Ruthven argues, brings people together differently to an archive. Although an archive can unite people from across time and space via an object, libraries enable reading groups and discussion, and shared experiences – including the discussions of BME women artists at the Women’s Art Library through a student-organised reading group.


Graffiti on the east side of the Berlin Wall, taken on holiday last July. An archive in itself!

All panellists agreed upon the importance of libraries and archives used in conjunction, and the importance of widening access to all of these collections, following on from the previous panel’s conclusion that historical work must be an open and collective effort. Hunter noted the role of commercial partners in bringing this access to the forefront, through funding digitization projects that enable worldwide access to texts and objects, and Northwood noting the continual work of historians, as each publication of findings represents one individual’s take: “archives are open to interpretation and reinterpretation.” She noted some of the more individual findings and uses from archives, having discovered an extremely dead rat in a desk drawer on her first private archival job, and Hunger shared one output of the extremely varied M&S archive, most recently used to inspire a new design collection by fashionista Alexa Chung.

Closing Thoughts

While I have no regrets in going, and very much enjoyed the day, it still left me with some doubts and questions. Still feeling somewhat of a pretend historian, I would have enjoyed a little about employability: if historical training is so richly varied and transferable, what can I apply it to? How does one apply to work on a BBC programme or offer findings to improve public policy? If we are to eliminate the perception that there are no jobs for arts and humanities graduates, can we not start leading by example and bringing historians to the public eye? (For the record, I have been told four times in two months that there are no jobs in academia. I am aware of this.) Talking about the various ins and outs and defences of libraries and archives is all well and good to a public audience, but for current postgraduate students who have opted to attend an event to find resources for research, it felt a little wasted. While I enjoyed the day, it has made me wonder where it’s all leading to.


I was able to attend this event thanks to small award funding from WRoCAH.


Before the Otley Run: A Chartist Pub Crawl of Leeds

Ever since the year 1810 the Yorkshire and Lancashire people have been peacefully struggling for Universal Suffrage. […] You have no idea of the intensity of radical opinions here – you have an index from the numerous public house signs – full length portraits of [Henry] Hunt – holding in his hand scrawls containing the words Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliament, and the ballot. Paine and Cobbett also figure occasionally.[1]
-Henry Vincent in a letter to his brother, 1838.

Pub politics is by no means a recent phenomena. While over the last year Leeds has seen various demos ending in pubs, their band rooms frequent haunts for student societies, the act of politicising the public house has a long and rich history. Previous scholars, including Brian Harrison in his seminal Drink and the Victorians, explored how the public house was indeed the heart of the community long before the nineteenth century and a source of safe water and drink in urban areas, while AnneMarie McAllister is currently producing some very interesting and relevant work on the peaks and troughs of temperance movements in Britain. That said, when I came to research representations of the pub in the literature of the Chartist movement, I was grasping for (ahem) straws.

Katrina Navickas’ recent book (and accompanying web project) explores the tradition and contestation of Radical politics in the public house: noting that the public house was both the centre of local communities and often the only public space available for large meetings, as “public’ buildings in the inclusive sense of the term had hardly existed in northern English towns before the 1840s,” with many civil, commercial, and residential buildings and areas effectively ‘privatised’ by the ruling elite.[2] Indeed, she notes that Bradford magistrates would deliberate over trials in the pub until the Bradford courthouse was completed in 1834. [2]

Much in the same way that the pub is the home of casual chatter and student activism today, at the turn of the eighteenth century, “radical meetings in pubs drew from the same culture of self-help and autodidact activities that were common in such venues,” including circulating libraries for books and local newspapers.[3]  Further to this, the pub occupies a liminal space between public and private; open to all, but its physically small size meant that meetings could be prioritised to only interested parties, away from eavesdroppers. While pubs were, and continue to be, very much community-defined, and not all pubs would be open to all, within working class communities during the early Victorian period it provided a space to express anti-establishment views without fear of persecution.

NPG D20838; Henry Hunt by Unknown artist

Engraving of Henry Hunt c.1830  (c) National Portrait Gallery

Today I will discuss the practicality of the pub with regards to the Chartist movement, and in particular what this meant within Leeds. Chartist leader and teetotaller Henry Vincent, in his letter above, notes that the north of England is unashamedly progressive in its politics, having campaigned for equal suffrage since the early 19th century, but also that the public house was central to this campaign. Emblematic figures of suffrage such as Chartist leader Henry Hunt (above), as well as progressive philosophers Thomas Paine and radical MP William Cobbett, literally take on the status of icons to represent the ‘house[s] of the public’ within Yorkshire.[4] These icons furthermore emphasise the power of literacy, noting the scrolls inscribed with the demands of the Charter, giving some indication of the intellectual activities taking place within the pub. During the early part of the Chartist movement, the pub was seen as a most practical place, and the ‘numerous’ pubs Vincent speaks of are no accident. In 1830 a peculiar piece of legislation entitled the Beer Act passed, which “allowed anyone to sell beer (but not wines or spirits) on the mere payment of an excise fee of two guineas,” in an attempt to curb the infamous ‘gin problem’ characterising poor industrial areas at the time.[5] While the Beer Act was unsuccessful in solving the gin problem, it did almost double the number of pubs opening before 1838. Warmer and drier than many Yorkshire residents’ cramped and damp residences, the pub was also a more statistically viable meeting place: with just under 200 heads per pub by 1838.

Figure 1

Estimate population of Britain (rounded) [6] Estimate no. of pubs and beer-shops (rounded)[7] Estimate ratio of heads per pub in Britain.
1830 16,150,000 45,000 358
1838 17,800,000 90,500 196

While teetotallers couldn’t argue with the prevalence of pubs, price did prove to be a contentious issue. Many meeting rooms were hired free of charge for Chartist meetings, with the levy of a ‘wet rent,’ at the cost of a drink per person, fronted by the individual attendees.[8] At only a few pence for a mug of ale, this was considerably cheaper than hiring a civic hall but did lead to some debates about the proper use of disposable income, especially as wages fell and food prices rose during the 1840s. That said, it was a small price to pay for the physical and emotional warmth that this public space offered to its inhabitants at the time.

Many organised societies took advantage of these practical advantages too, whether explicitly political or not. Friendly societies provided benefits to their subscription paying members as a working class solution to middle class life insurance policies, including sick pay for members, and funeral expenses and pensions for the dependents of deceased members. Meetings of these organisations would be reported in newspapers like the Northern Star, emphasising the closeness and fraternity of the group in their invitation notices. In June 1838 the Leeds United Order of Oddfellows report the opening of a new lodge at the Woodman Inn, Leylands, which “promises fair to be a strong and powerful society,” and “beg distinctly to state that the order recognises no difference between Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile. […] They take good men of all denominations, and so far as they can judge refuse bad ones.”[11] For the LUOO, the pub represents a secular centre for cultivating friendships without prejudice, where men can be united by their shared oath and find further welcome in aligning themselves with the pro-suffrage standpoint of the newspaper in which their reports appear to the world.

The use of the public house as a meeting space declined during the 1840s for a myriad of reasons, a link between the idea of ‘responsible economy’ of saving one’s precious wages for food, in addition to the necessity of performing respectability to the middle class legislators by shaking off the reputation of being dirty and drunk. This pattern holds true for Leeds, and we can see the expansion of the Chartists  into commercial spaces including the ‘Chartist Room’ in the newly built Kirkgate Market. Katrina Navickas’ Protest Histories project contains a well-curated database of all radical meeting spaces in Leeds at this time, and I have taken her data and adapted it to show central Leeds during the period 1830-1850.


For a historical night out in Leeds, look no further! Spaces such as the Angel Inn remain functioning pubs, and remarkably much of Leeds City Centre has retained its original Victorian architecture. ‘Ginnels’ in the town centre including Angel Inn Yard and the narrow street of Central Road have merely been improved rather than redeveloped, and provide a great sense of spacial awareness and city planning experienced by the Chartists. The lasting legacy of pubs such as Whitelock’s and the Angel is cause for further historical speculation: how did these pubs remain, and in what ways did they retain their radical allegiances since the Chartists? Their steadfastness is especially interesting considering the drop off in usage of pubs over the 1840s, coinciding with the formation of one of the longest-running Temperance organisations, the Band of Hope, founded in 1847.[12]

Figure 2


Data adapted from above, obtained from Navickas (2015).

Whatever political issue ails you, take a leaf from the Chartists – get out and talk about it.


For more information about suggested routes, accessibility, or more detail about specific Chartist meetings, get in touch.

This post is a reworked version of part of my completed MA Dissertation (2016) and variations have been presented at conferences at Edinburgh University (2015) and Chartism Day (2016).
[1] Henry Vincent, “Dear Brother….” (Manchester, 26th August 1838), VIN, Labour History Archive.
[2] Katrina Navickas, Protest And The Politics Of Space And Place 1789-1848.(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016).
[3] Ibid. p. 35.
[4] If you are interested in getting an idea of these pub signs, busts of these figures exist in the Leeds University Special Collections.
[5] John Greenaway, Drink and British Politics Since 1830: A Study In Policy Making (Palgrave: Macmillan, 1994) p. 19.
[6]Adapted from B. R. Mitchell, British Historical Statistics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) p. 11.
[7] Adapted from James Neale, ‘British Drinking From 19th Century To The Present’ (2009).
[8] Lillian Lewis-Shiman, Crusade Against Drink in Victorian England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988) p.32.
[9]Greenaway (1994) p. 8.(2009).
[10] Northern Star, “[Leeds] Leeds United Order of Odd Fellows”, 9th June 1838, p. 4. British Library 19th Century Newspapers Online. Web. [Accessed 14th March 2016]
[11] “Protest And The Politics Of Space And Place | Northern England, 1789-1848. A Book & More By Katrina Navickas”, Protesthistory.org.uk, 2015 <http://protesthistory.org.uk/places-maps/leeds>
In her database, Navickas also cites the source of each meeting point she has obtained – many of these are contemporary newspapers such as the Northern Star and Leeds Mercury.
[12] Margaret Barrow, “Band Of Hope”, Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003), p. 86.

Post-Grad-Grad Employability: Learning from Experience (part two)

Earlier in the week I wrote a post about an Employability Event I ran last week, targeted at supporting arts postgrads navigate the job hunt following graduation. The excellent Careers Centre at the University of Leeds sent a representative to talk to us about deciding on your dream job, drafting your application, and competing in interviews and applications. While it’s all very good to hear from a careers advisor, I was also able to recruit not one, but two real life postgrad grads to talk all about their experiences of their current graduate jobs, and how they got to them.

Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW

Isobel Davies graduated with her MA in Gender and Culture in 2014, and following a progression from Sales to PR with Betty’s Tea Rooms is now Arts Faculty Engagement & Development Coordinator at Leeds University Union.

Isobel’s role in LUU is to work with School Reps from the Faculty of Arts (like me!) to ensure they and their constituents have the necessary support from the student union to get the most from their university experience, based in LUU’s Academic Advice & Representation team. She’ll split her time between answering queries from School Rep, negotiating resources for student feedback events, and co-coordinating training sessions for school reps on chairing talks, public speaking, delivering workshops and events organisation so they can do the best in their role.

After completing her BA in Fine Art, Isobel worked as a sales assistant and then supervisor at Betty’s Tea Rooms, and was fortunate to land herself a PR internship with the company while completing her MA. The management experience she gained through working at Betty’s developed her timekeeping, communication, and project management skills, while the critical discourse she examined as part of her MA research means she as a thorough understanding in equality and diversity, which allows her to identify potential problems and best support her School Reps.


Callum Holt completed his MA in Critical and Cultural Theory (English Studies) in 2015 and is now Artistic Programmes Assistant at Yorkshire Dance, in addition to his freelance dance and choreography work.

Callum chose to do his MA for sheer love of English and obtained a scholarship to do so, allowing him to use his free time to get involved with the Musical Theatre society at University. Callum has trained as a dancer for over ten years and during his MA was offered the chance to choreograph and produce a friend’s musical, for which they chose to found a production company and eventually took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. After graduating, Callum was able to secure his job with Yorkshire Dance, for which he consults and advises young performers on how to integrate cultural theory and research for their performances to effectively deliver their chosen message, making use of the critical and artistic analysis skills gained during his degree.

Having focused his MA dissertation on Queer Theory, he is able to advise performers on critical discourses and frameworks on gender and sexuality to use while researching and developing their work. His research background has also proved to be extremely helpful in improving his own creative work as a freelance dancer and choreographer.


Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW


Isobel: “Doing my MA was the best thing I’ve ever done. You learn a lot about what you’re capable of – it’s really hard!”

Both Callum and Isobel were extremely proud of what they’d achieved with their postgraduate studies. Callum heavily relies on his research experience and ability to focus to advise and consult freelance dancers in his work, and he notes that when applying for his job it gave him an edge over the other applicants and opened up a new area of dialogue between himself and his future employer. Isobel agreed that she uses the skills gained during her MA all the time in her work, but acknowledged that it was also incredibly fulfilling on a personal level due to the continuous nature of research. Juggling full-time work with her full time MA meant she really had to user her time well and, and both noted the sheer intensity of an MA being unlike anything else in terms of reading and intellectual demand. However, neither would have changed it for the world, and now that they’re in their 9-5 jobs feel extremely appreciative of having leisure time again.

Callum: “In musical theatre, extra-curricular experience was essential but the MA was the icing on the cake.”

We talked a little about going the extra mile with regards to co-curricular activities and voluntary experiences. In an industry like Callum’s, the fact that he had already produced a show and taken it to the Edinburgh Fringe was a hugely important step in landing his job, demonstrating his drive and enthusiasm. The same goes for industries like charity and heritage – having the experience of the industry and being able to tailor your skills to the specific demands of the sector is hugely important, and it’s easy to gain experience on a volunteer basis. Isobel likewise noted that little extras can be hugely important, that her experience in events organisation gained during her BA Fine Art Graduate Show set her aside from other applicants, and gave her the experience of running and event and the nuances of organisation it requires. Additionally, having the experience of being both an organiser and consumer of a performance or event allows you to effectively relate to your client base.

Callum: “You never know where your next opportunity will come from. Put yourself out there.”

Both Callum and Isobel talked about the importance of social media in job hunting and getting to know industry professionals, especially in the creative industries. Social media, both Twitter and Facebook, are fantastic for seeking out industry pros and keeping up with news, headhunting events, and job vacancies – but be sure to curate your image. Callum advised creative types to consider creating a professional profile that can double as a portfolio, while Isobel reminded caution before posting to maintain a positive image, and to tighten your privacy settings on personal profiles. At the same time, don’t be afraid to use social media to interact with potential employers and attend performances and events – being a friendly face often pays off. Finally, if you’re offered an interesting opportunity, don’t be afraid to say yes – it’s all great experience.


Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW

For more quotes, check out the Storify round-up here.



Post-grad-grad Employability: What Next? (part 1)

As a keen bean doing duty as PGT School Rep for my cohort of MA English Studies students, I recently held an employability event. I’ve been to various careers talks targeted at English Literature and Language students throughout my academic career and come away with the following messages:

  1. Getting a job within the publishing, art, library, or heritage sectors is really hard.
  2. Getting a job in academia is really hard.
  3. Be a Teacher.

There’s a perception that arts degrees are useless, and with continual cuts to funding for libraries, galleries and museums, and performing arts programmes, graduates increasingly find themselves in a world that seems to confirm it. This feeling of dread is emphasised when you are told “you’ll never get a job” by a drunk uncle at somebody else’s wedding.

Obviously there are huge obstacles to Arts graduate employment. That said, there is still hope.

Image: Mad Men, ©AMC TV

Steve Bone from the Careers Service kicked off the afternoon with his ‘Decide, Plan, Compete’ workshop, a guide on choosing and securing your dream grad job from start to finish.

Decide: what do you value in a career?

“Ask yourself why did you choose to do your particular degree? What have you learned from it? What did you enjoy about it?”

The first step to applying for graduate jobs is deciding what to apply for – English, especially, is a great degree to have because it is so versatile – but it can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. Thinking about what you most enjoy (or don’t enjoy) about your degree is a brilliant starting point: you might find that working with books or making a positive difference is really important to you, or that you love the research aspect of your course. You may well hate public speaking and want something quiet, or alternately find that you vastly prefer the group environment of seminars to sitting alone in the library.

If you’re really stuck, or you enjoy taking quizzes, the Prospects Career Planner is a helpful tool for matching your preferences and skills to potential job roles. Remember that over half of graduate jobs are not subject specific, so don’t feel held back.

Plan: how do you find it?

“Approximately 60% of jobs are advertised on social media or through personal connections before they go live.”

Get out there and look for the job you want. Many graduate employers will attend university job fairs and put on events to attract fresh talent, so attend whatever you can. Do your research to find out the industry names and subscribe to mailing lists, and follow them on social media to get the first look at careers events and job vacancies. This works in conjunction with Googling, job centre vacancies etc. If you are already working in a company, most new vacancies are advertised internally first, so keep your eyes peeled for any opportunities to move departments or be promoted.

Browse some vacancies and identify the key words used and the skills required of applicants – you can then tailor your CV and LinkedIn to match.

Compete: how do you stand out?

“The drive and vigour of a postgraduate degree can be a real selling point to employers, showing dedication and ambition.”

Sadly, “I’ve got two degrees” is not enough. However, using your excellent writing skills to make a cracking CV is a good start. For finding your first job, Steve advises drafting a skills-based CV to highlight your achievements and capabilities from your educational and co-curricular experiences that can be transferred into a professional environment.

An employer will read your CV for about 30 seconds before making a snap judgement – so make it easy for them. It should:
1. Be well structured – it should be in reverse chronological order, use headings to separate sections, and make your contact details clearly visible.
2. Include references – obviously ask them first and give a heads up, but including referees’ details demonstrates confidence in yourself and your abilities.
3. Cite real-life examples of your achievements – overcoming obstacles, being trusted with leadership, events you’ve organised. Bonus points if you can include a hyperlink to digital evidence (e.g. conference website, volunteer blog)!

You can find more CV tips on the Leeds University Careers Website.

Finally, Steve said to use your social media presence to further your good impression – Google yourself and remove any ~undesirable~ results away by upping your privacy settings or deleting content. Most employers will Google you during your application, so be sure they’ll find something good. Twitter is a great way to engage with industry contacts, and blogging is especially useful for those entering creative industries to create an online portfolio and advertise your work.

That’s all from the Careers Service workshops – stay tuned for part two of this series later in the week!


Image: Mad Men, ©AMC TV