We are hiring! Assistant Professor in British History (West Midlands focus)

The University of Birmingham is hiring for an assistant professor in British History (closing date 21 June). The post is focused on regional and local history, and the person would be expected to lead the MA and research centre on West Midlands History. As the ad says: We seek a specialist to consolidate and develop our research and teaching strengths in British History, including histories of the British Empire and the British World writ large, and the history of Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region. Within this framework we are seeking a historian with expertise in regional or local history and/or the history of communities. We would welcome applicants with an existing research focus on some aspect of West Midlands history, but this is not required. However, the successful applicant would be expected to develop a research and teaching portfolio focused on this region. We particularly welcome applications from historians whose research directly links with the Department’s established strengths in social and cultural history, including material culture and/or histories of identities, particularly around questions of race, migration and diaspora, gender and sexuality.


Call for Applications! Beyond Binaries: A Study Day on New Frameworks in Gender Studies

Now accepting applications from postdoctoral students within the Midlands4Cities consortium :

Beyond Binaries: A Study Day on New Frameworks in Gender Studies

10 May 2022, University of Birmingham (with online option)

Dr Mo Moulton (Birmingham), Dr Onni Gust (Nottingham) and Dr Jaya Jacobo (Coventry) are pleased to invite postgraduate researchers at any of the eight Midlands4Cities universities to apply to take part in our dialogue day.

This intensive study day will bring together postgraduate researchers and academics in order to facilitate engagement with important new interdisciplinary work in transgender, intersex, and non-binary studies. Emphasizing the co-constitution of gender, race, class and disability as categories of difference that structure the possibilities for human life in the modern world, it will allow researchers working on a range of topics to apply this new work to their own projects.

Doctoral researchers will gain a broad understanding of key concepts, theoretical and methodological frameworks relating to queer, intersex and trans studies. Through in-depth guided discussion sessions, you will gain facility with a field that is often seen as imposingly theoretical. You will be challenged to think across categories of difference, broadening their understandings of how their research might speak to wider concerns within and beyond the academy. You will benefit from the expertise of the three organizers, who have a shared grounding in queer and trans studies and pedagogies as well as interdisciplinary research interests ranging from eighteenth-century imperialism to present-day Brazil and South-east Asia.

Key questions will include

  1. How might thinking beyond a binary (male/female) gender framework complicate and enrich your research?
  2. What challenges do recent interventions in queer, intersex and trans studies pose to your research questions and methodologies?
  3. How do recent understandings of gender intersect with other frameworks and discourses of difference, including race, class and disability? How do these intersections inform your own research?

Small-group facilitated workshops based on a short reflective piece written in advance will allow doctoral researchers to apply these ideas in the context of your own research, asking new questions about their methodologies and modes of interpretation and receiving feedback from a wide range of other researchers. Finally, you will become part of an emerging community of researchers who are working on this new and dynamic field of enquiry within the M4C network.

If you are interested, please send a short (300-500 word) paragraph explaining your current research project and why you would like to be involved in the Dialogue Day by 31 January 2022 to Dr Moulton (m.moulton@bham.ac.uk), Dr Gust (onni.gust@nottingham.ac.uk), and Dr Jacobo (jaya.jacobo@coventry.ac.uk). Please feel free to email any of us with informal enquiries as well. Reasonable travel costs will be covered for students whose home university is not Birmingham. We anticipate that this will be an in-person event, with scope for synchronous online participation for those who cannot travel. We will be in touch to confirm participation and circulate readings in early-mid February.

Guest Blog: “The dearest wish of our hearts is to return and end our days in our green isle…”: Irish Republican women in Britain, the forgotten exiles?’

This is a guest blog based on a paper delivered at the MBS 2021 PGR Research Showcase. 

Niamh Coffey, PhD Candidate at the University of Strathclyde.

Maire McGaleagly (or McGallogly) had lived in Glasgow for over thirty years when she applied for a military service pension from the Irish government in 1938 for her service during the Irish wars of independence. She joined Cumann na mBan, the Irish women’s republican paramilitary organisation, in 1915, and from then on was extensively involved in republican activities in Glasgow such as gun running, carrying despatches, and providing safe houses for those on the run.1 Despite her significant involvement in Republican activities, McGaleagly’s pension application was rejected numerous times. Dejectedly, McGaleagly wrote that if she had the money, she would use it to go home to Ireland, stating that this was “her greatest hunger.”2 The sentiments of exile and suffering are repeated throughout the letters of the collection. For example, Margaret Leonard, who was a member of the Liverpool branch of Cumann na mBan and later moved to Australia, wrote to the pension board that being granted a pension would help her and her husband “realise the greatest wish of [their] hearts” by enabling them to return to their “beloved green isle.”3

It is intriguing that these women invoke the image of the emigrant exile in their pension applications. Indeed, the Irish emigrant is certainly a pervasive figure in both Irish history and popular culture who has continually evolved since the 1840s, however, this figure has generally been imagined as male. While there are countless songs and poems about Irish men leaving their sweethearts behind while they toil in a foreign country, there are fewer ballads about the women who left their homeland to become domestic servants in America, or nurses in post-war Britain. This lacuna is intriguing, because throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, gender ratios for Irish migration were roughly equal.4 Therefore, the military service pension applications of McGaleagly and others offer an interesting glimpse into how these women viewed their experiences through the commonly thought of male lens of exile, and how this intersected with their republican activities. Indeed, the women who made these applications invoke images of hardship and involuntary exile, but also draw on gendered ideas of maternal sacrifice, raising questions about the gendered image of the Irish migrant and republic experience during this period.

The military service pensions are somewhat unique, as they were based on active service, and consequently, the collection offers detailed sources on women’s republican activities and valuable insight into their lives after this period. The applications reveal that women’s and men’s roles in republican organisations in Britain increasingly overlapped during this period, as women became involved in IRA operations such as arms smuggling and carrying despatches. Many of these women had also been involved in other Irish political and cultural organisations such as Gaelic League and the Irish Self-determination League before getting involved in republican paramilitary organisations. They stress the hardships they endured, emphasising the dangers of being part of a paramilitary organisation in the country of the enemy. Although most of these women lived in cities with large Irish communities, the applications reflect that they were viewed with hostility by the city’s wider populations. Consequently, themes such as ostracism and suffering for their beliefs arise in their correspondence. Jean Quinn, who owned a furniture shop in Glasgow, had to shut down her business and move in with her mother after her arrest and heavily publicised trial for possessing Sinn Féin literature and revolver cartridges.5 Kathleen Talty and Margaret Sexton, who were both teachers based in Manchester, stated that their activities saw them passed over for promotions, while Maire Manning was dismissed from her job as a post office clerk for her involvement in Cumann na mBan in London.6

These experiences fit in with the wider narrative of the emigrant exile. As Kerby Miller has argued in his study on Irish trans-Atlantic emigration, the struggles of the Irish abroad fuelled nationalism in diasporic communities from the mid-nineteenth century. Despite some emigrants finding material comfort and happiness in their newfound communities, this image of exile was still a powerful tool in the Irish nationalist imagination.7 Therefore, these women draw on established tropes of emigrant experiences which the assessors of their pensions would surely recognise when granting their pension awards. Some of the applicants even went so far as stating that their experiences were more challenging than their counterparts in Ireland, owing to the hostility they faced in a foreign country. Kate Lee of Glasgow stated cryptically after her pension was rejected that “we were in a foreign country… there was very little stuff in some parts of Ireland depending on what came across the water and it was a very risky thing to do to store up stuff til it was dispatched.”8

These women drew on gendered imagery in addition to the established emigrant exile experience. The correspondence between these women, their references, and the Irish pension board stress their roles as proud Irish mothers and wives, who had watched their loved ones suffer as a result of their commitment to Irish republicanism. This is reflective of how the female relatives of executed republican men in Ireland were perceived during and after the Revolutionary period. Indeed, activist women such as Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Mary MacSwiney and Margaret Pearse used their elevated status as the wives, sisters, and mothers of martyred republicans to further the cause for Irish independence and were often a staple on speaking tours across the diaspora. Even though these women were republican activists in their own right, their relation to martyred male republicans gave them currency and they used this to their advantage, invoking the names of their deceased relatives in their speeches and writing.9

Irish republican women in Britain also stressed their roles as mothers, sisters, and wives, realising the influence these roles could have in gaining recognition for their services. Maire McGaleagly wrote despairingly to the pension board when her application for a widow’s pension was originally rejected as the board stipulated that her husband’s death was unattributable to his service in the IRA, despite the fact that he died from a stomach ulcer as a result of his time in prison after the Easter Rising. In her appeal, McGaleagly emphasised her husband’s role in the Rising, and stated that all the suffering her family endured would be worthwhile if only his service were recognised, stating that “the whole thing is bewildering to me- people who I know never had a scratch getting recognition whilst he was through everything and I haven’t even a paper to show his part in the struggle.”

Referees attesting to Republican women’s services in these applications also drew on the imagery of caregiving and suffering for women who were unmarried and had no children. For example, Fr. John Fahy, who was the O/C of the Dundee IRA, emphasised the role his former IRA member Lena McDonald was currently playing as a caregiver for her elderly mother.10 Fahy stresses that McDonald could no longer live in Dundee due to her previous activities and was living in poverty while trying to provide for her other. Fahy also stressed that pensions should not be awarded depending on the applicant’s position on the waiting list, but rather on their service and their current financial position, echoing McGaleagly’s sceptical thoughts about who this money was being awarded to. Similarly, references attested to the generosity and care given by Mary Egan, who was a member of the North Unit IRA, who was infamous for sharing her home with IRA members who were trying to evade the authorities. Michael O’Brien of Cork No.2 Brigade wrote that she was “outstanding in her care of IRA members… her name is known in every county for this.”11 Bridget Flanagan, who was a member of the IRA in Glasgow, was affectionately nicknamed ‘Mother Flanagan’ by the men who used her home as a safe house. One of her references, Henry Forbes, takes it upon himself as a ‘gentleman’ to write to the pension board as her reference and ask for a form for her to fill out, reflecting a sense of chivalry. Flanagan’s other references attest to her generosity and care and stipulate that the Irish government should return the favour now that she was advanced in her years.12

The applications of republican women in Britain offer a glimpse into how the narrative of emigration, exile, and nationalism could be used be by Irish women, despite the perseverance of emigrant figure as male. They highlight that themes such as sacrifice and ostracism, were experiences of both Irish men and women, and how these intersected with nationalist sentiment. However, the language of maternalism and the emphasis on care giving reflects that these women drew on gendered language and imagery in portraying their experiences of republicanism in a foreign land, in a similar way to prominent republican activist women whose male relatives had been executed for their beliefs.

1 Military Service Pensions Collection, MSPREF3458062, Marie McGaleagly.

2 Ibid.

3 MSPC, MSP34REF45593, Margaret Leonard.

4 Nancy L. Green, ‘Changing paradigms in migration studies: from men to women to gender’ in Donna Gabbacia and Mary Jo Maynes’ Gender History Across Epistemologies (Oxford, 2013), pp.262-278.

5 MSPC, MSP34REF783, Jean Gillespie (nee Quinn).

6 MSPC, MSP34REF50666, Kathleen Talty; MSPC, MSP34REF59330, Margaret Sexton; MSPC, MSP34REF35954,
Maire Keyes (nee Manning).

7 Kerby Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (Oxford, 1985).

8 MSPC, MSP34REF59950, Kate Lee. 

9 Claire McGing, ‘Women’s political representation in Dáil Éireann in revolutionary and post-revolutionary
Ireland’ in Linda Connolly’s Women and the Irish Revolution: Feminism, Activism, Violence (Newbridge, 2020), pp.113-129. 

10 MSPC, MSP34REF56964, Lena McDonald. 

11 MSPC, MSP34REF55889, Mary Egan. 

12 MSPC, MSP34REF55614, Bridget Flanagan.

Guest Blog: Movement Gone Wrong? Shipwreck in the 18th-Century British Empire

This is a guest blog based on a paper delivered at the MBS 2021 PGR Research Showcase. 

Franziska Hermes, Doctoral Fellow at the Graduate School Global Intellectual History

In 1783, Bengal-based Frances Chambers wrote a letter to a friend worrying that “there is no news of the Grosvenor at St. Helena, and the Valentine and three other ships arrived safe in England, I am very unhappy about it”.1 She was interested in the Grosvenor specifically because as a passenger on board was her seven-year-old son Thomas whom she shared with husband Robert Chambers, a judge in service of the British East India Company that ruled India at the time. As it turned out, she was right to worry: The Grosvenor was never to arrive at St. Helena as it had been lost in August 1782. Most of the passengers and crew were able to leave the sinking ship alive, but since they were wrecked on what is now Pondoland in South Africa, what followed was a trek of several months, fuelled by the hopes to find European settlers and made almost unsurvivable by the harsh terrain, hunger, thirst, wild animals, and frequent encounters with natives. In the end, out of 140 men, women, and children only 19 survivors reached the Cape of Good Hope, then governed by the Dutch East India Company. Little Thomas Chambers, sent to England for education, was never seen again.2

The Grosvenor makes for a unique keyhole through which to explore the history of 18th-century mobility. As John-Paul Ghobrial has proposed, ships and people on the move are interesting for such an analysis because their stories are “moving stories [that] can reveal new geographies we do not see otherwise”.3 The same is true for a lost ship, I argue – with one difference: Stories of lost ships are not primarily ‘moving stories’, but rather stories of movement gone wrong. The geographies a wrecked ship reveals were thus as new for contemporaries as they are for historians. By definition, shipwreck is a moment of chance, as the Grosvenor demonstrates like no other: a British vessel having left India in order to return to England, only to then be lost on the South African coast, geographically speaking neither empire nor home but outside the reach of both. This setting forced people affected by the wreck to deal with a situation they had not anticipated, and they often did so very creatively. It is following their stories, therefore, that can lead to truly new geographies.

Shipwreck Geographies

When looking for shipwreck geographies, the place to start is the spot where a ship was lost. The natural conditions of this spot determined the survival rate, but so did the geopolitical conditions. After all, wars between European powers extended also to regions outside Europe, meaning castaways frequently found themselves at the mercy of political enemies. On paper, the situation was similarly daunting for the Grosvenor passengers. In 1780, Britain had declared war on the Dutch Republic, the overall fourth of a series of Anglo-Dutch wars, and it would last until 1784. Although this means that the survivors reaching the Dutch settlements were, in principles, prisoners of war, Dutch Governor Joachim van Plettenberg “did not hesitate a moment” to send out rescue parties to search for more, as he assured British Governor Warren Hastings in a letter written to Bengal in March 1783.4 On receiving the information, Hastings purchased a valuable diamond and set it in a ring that was carried as a gift to the Cape in March 1784. On the ring was engraved the Ovid quotation ‘ab hoste doceri’ – it is right to be taught, even by an enemy. 

Looking at the Cape from a Eurocentric perspective, this episode surprises because both van Plettenberg’s and Hastings’ actions contradicted national policies. Such a conclusion, however, is based on the false assumption that the European East India Companies were strictly ‘national’ spaces. There sure were phases of fierce competition between the British and the Dutch company, but Anglo-Dutch rivalries in Europe did never automatically translate into the East or, in this case, the Cape. Rather, historians have shown that to pursue their own private fortunes servants of both companies regularly worked together no matter national interests.5 The element of disaster in the specific case of the Grosvenor might have yet added another layer. Both the Britons and Dutch of our story knew what it meant to be on a ship for months on end, and they knew how frightening the prospect of being wrecked was, particularly when that included brutal “savage nation[s], to whom the principles of humanity are little known”, as van Plettenberg explained the indigenous population to Hastings.6 These shared (white) imperial experiences at the cost of other excluded groups, I suggest, brought Britons and Dutchmen closer to one another than to their fellow countrymen at home because they allowed for a sense of familiarity between supposed national strangers.

The Grosvenor, then, teaches us that – to again cite John-Paul Ghobrial – “foreignness was ultimately a local affair. Belonging or unbelonging, native or alien, local or stranger: these were conditions that were decided […] by local actors using local processes of identification”.7 It should come as no surprise that we encounter these processes in the Cape of all places. Geographically a meeting point of two oceans, as a connector of the 18th century Atlantic and Indian Ocean shipping systems the Cape was a metaphorical meeting point as well. Although the Dutch had officially occupied the Cape in 1652, as a refreshment post the colony had remained a fixed part of all European trading networks. Taken into consideration also the diversity of shipping crews and the local population, this meant that the Cape was a true contact zone where all kinds of locals and strangers could potentially meet.8 

One local to meet was Robert Jacob Gordon, a Dutch Colonel stationed at the Cape who was widely regarded as an authority on the ethno-geographical knowledge of southern Africa at the time. Relatives of missing Grosvenor passengers based in Britain and India, therefore, often turned to him to ask whether it was possible that individual survivors could still be found among the indigenous people. Gordon did believe that it was possible and became a prominent supporter of sending out more relief missions. He often confided in Britons visiting the Cape who made sure his message travelled throughout the empire. As a result, families like the Chambers frequently received letters by Britons each recounting “the communication I held upon this subject with Colonel Gordon, with as much exactness as my memory will enable me to do.”9 Fuelled also by persistent rumours of whites sighted in the area, Dutch colonists eventually felt obliged to go out on at least two more expeditions, the last one in 1790. These missions, however, were without success. The Chambers family and others, thus, were doomed to spend the rest of their lives wondering.


While contemporaries certainly would have found shipwreck to be movement gone wrong, this glimpse into the shipwreck geographies spanning India, Britain, and South Africa has shown that this is not a conclusion that historians should come to – quite the contrary. As the Grosvenor demonstrates, due to its accidental nature shipwreck not only initiated new lines of movement and contact, but it also threw them into unusually sharp definitions.10 For historians, then, shipwreck might even be a lucky coincidence because starting out from a specific wreck can become a method to come close to something we would not have assumed, looked for, or been able to see otherwise, in this particular case the many instances of Anglo-Dutch cooperation on the one hand and the transnational information channels centred around Colonel Gordon and similar knowledge agents on the other. Shipwreck, thus, promises to reveal the workings of the 18th-century British empire – not on the macro level, but on the micro, the local and intimate.

1 Percival R. Kirby, The True Story of the Grosvenor East Indiaman: Wrecked on the Coast of Pondoland South Africa on 4 August 1782 (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1960), 127.

2 For details on the Grosvenor wreck and aftermath, see Kirby, True Story and Stephen Taylor, The Caliban Shore: The Fate of the Grosvenor Castaways (London: Faber and Faber, 2004). 

3 John-Paul Ghobrial, “Moving Stories and what they tell us: Early Modern Mobility between Microhistory and Global History,” in Past & Present 242, no. 14 (2019): 280.

4 Kirby, Jacob van Reenen and the Grosvenor Expedition of 1790-1791 (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1958), 19.

5 Cf. e.g. Femme S. Gaastra, “War, Competition and Collaboration: Relations between the English and Dutch East India Company in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” in The Worlds of the East India Company, ed. H.V. Bowen, Margarette Lincoln and Nigel Rigby (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2002), 40-68.

6 Kirby, Jacob van Reenen, 19.

7 Ghobrial, “Moving Stories,” 250.

8 Cf. Kerry Ward, “’Tavern of the Seas’? The Cape of Good Hope as an Oceanic Crossroads during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” in Seascapes: Maritime Histories, Littoral Cultures, and Transoceanic Exchanges, ed. Jerry H. Bentley, Renate Bridenthal and Kären Wigen (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007), 137-152.

9 National Maritime Museum AGC/H/23, 1.

10 Cf. Margarette Lincoln, “Shipwreck narratives of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century: Indicators of culture and identity,” in British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 20 (1997): 155.

Guest Blog: The Welsh Press and The Indian Empire

This is a guest blog based on a paper delivered at the MBS 2021 PGR Research Showcase. 

Rhys Owens, PhD Candidate at Swansea University

My research focuses on the relationship between Wales and the British Empire, and specifically examines Welsh people who went out to India as civil servants, missionaries, soldiers, and for other purposes, and how they thought about their place within the empire both practically and philosophically. In light of the recent focus on decolonising history, part of my aim is to actually recolonise aspects of Welsh history, to recapture the fact that the Welsh were culpable for empire as the English and that the attitude that Wales was somehow distant from empire or indeed was a victim of empire in a classic colonial sense is not accurate. Part of that research relates to the domestic perception of empire and how India was perceived and consumed through the English-language press. 

So, what do the press focus on during this period? Firstly, there is a very clear interest in Welsh individuals living and working in India. The high court judge Sir Lawrence Jenkins is of particular interest. He was a bit of a rarity being a first language Welsh speaker from Cardigan who had achieved high office within the empire.1 Sir Griffith Evans and Lewis Pugh-Pugh are other prominent examples.2 But aside from these big names we also find that the press keenly followed more lowly individuals as they travelled out and worked in India, and there was a lot of local pride surrounding these people as they made a life for themselves abroad.3 So straight away we see what is still a fairly constant theme of the press, which is the classic human-interest story. 

There is also an enduring interest in the missionary movement. The Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Mission was the largest missionary movement in the field in the North East and there were also other missionaries all over India. 4 The press would extensively cover their work, which was often dangerous and arduous, and print reports from lecture tours given by returning missionaries, as well as detailed information on new recruits from all parts of Wales.5 And lastly, the press took a great interest in the various Welsh societies that existed, especially in the major cities. The most famous was Cymdeithas Gwladol y Cymru yn yr India (The Welsh Society of India), which was based in Calcutta where by far the largest single Welsh community lived, but there were also fairly active societies elsewhere. 6 These societies would host events for the Welsh community, with the main annual event being the St David’s Day dinner.7

We’ve covered what the press were focusing on, but what does this all mean? The first thing which comes out strongly is a clear national angst which takes the form of concerns over Wales’ place within the empire and its contribution to it, but also an existential angst surrounding Wales’ national identity. Whereas the Scots and Irish had very strong traditions of imperial service, very few Welsh people sought opportunities in the empire.8 Whenever a Welsh person attained to a high position, it was a rarity. When the press covered individuals like Lawrence Jenkins and events like the St David’s Day dinner, they made a huge deal about their Welshness and the special qualities they believed the Welsh brought to the empire, and the language of this seems to be an attempt to claim a place within an endeavour where the Welsh were not well represented. 9 The empire was an enormously important part of the British national psyche and this was no different in Wales. Being a part of that was an important aspect of Welshness itself. The other side to this angst is a bit closer to home and revolves around the perceived degradation of national culture, especially the Welsh language. By the early 20th century only around 50% of the population spoke Welsh and the number was dropping rapidly.10 Coverage of India in the press often focused on the language, with events such as church services and society gatherings being conducted in Welsh, as well as a fairly obsessive interest in how well individuals retained their Welsh.11 This was also a major appeal of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist mission as an organisation that conducted all of its internal activities in the Welsh language and regarded it as an almost sacred tongue.12 This obsession with the perpetuation of the language abroad reflected deep-seated fears about its demise at home, and offers an important insight into turn of the century Welsh society.

The second major theme is one of civilising mission, and this comes through in two ways- the religious in terms of the missionaries, and the secular in terms of everyone else, though the two are interconnected. In my Masters research I looked at Welsh national identity among residents in India and developed the concept of ‘Little Wales’ which was first put forward by Aled Jones and Bill Jones in the early 2000s. Relevant to the cultural angst we discussed earlier, ‘Little Wales’ was the transplantation of Welsh cultural norms to the colonial environment, and this was used as a means of taming what was considered to be an alien and often dangerous environment.13 Now in the Welsh case this would clearly

be related to concerns over the language and English dominance at home, but also to classic contemporary theories of imperialism. The very nature of missionaries is the perpetuation of cultural imperialism- the wholesale or partial replacement of what is considered an inferior culture with what is considered a superior one. The Welsh missionary movement was seeking to not only Christianise but also Europeanise and even Welshify the indigenous population, and the Welsh press got behind this mission.14 The exploits of famous missionaries were a major focus throughout the period, with the main theme being one of bold Christian men and women combatting ‘exotic’ danger in a deeply hostile environment.15 Undoubtedly the scale of the picture painted had a lot to do with raising funds from the Welsh chapel circuit, but alongside the danger we also see a clear appreciation of the value of missionary activity in the reporting of improved literacy, conversion rates, and a general belief that the presence of Christianity had led to an uplift of the people.16 So, from the religious perspective we can trace a distinct othering of the Indian population alongside a strong belief that constructing ‘Little Wales’ in India would civilise and improve their position.

On the secular side we can also see this idea. The events of the urban Welsh societies that we touched upon earlier were grand and imperial occasions, involving toasts to the Queen or King and speeches that sought to justify Wales’ position within the empire.17 So, for example, the press reported the speech of A.E. Goodwin, a temperance campaigner, at the 1902 dinner where he argued that the British Empire was raising the status of Indian women to that of the European, and in 1909 the speeches focused on the need for ‘Celtic imagination’ to solve India’s problems.18 It is unsurprising that those directly working

in the empire should have had a strong attachment to its supposed civilising mission, but the important thing here is how extensively these events and attitudes were covered in the Welsh press and how little overt anti-imperialist sentiment appeared, though there were a few examples.19 The events themselves were a clear attempt to recreate an element of Welsh life, and involved use of the language, traditional Welsh songs, and as close to traditional Welsh meals as it was possible to get under the circumstances.20 The Welsh public, through the press, felt a deep attachment to these occasions and the underlying ideology of them.

I want to finish by touching on one final theme which forms a central part of my overall research, and that’s the idea that the Welsh had a unique theory of imperialism which played upon the idea of a specific national skillset. By this, I mean a belief that the Welsh, due to their minority status within a greater British state, understood the ambitions and concerns of indigenous peoples more than the dominant English. In this conception, Welsh language ability, their greater spirituality and religious commitment, and their understanding of the importance of preserving struggling cultures, made them

compassionate and fair-minded imperialists, and could act as mediators between Indians and the English.21 Now this idea pervades through press coverage, and evidently originates from Welsh communities within the colonial environment. Every major Welsh figure mentioned above subscribed in some form to this view, and it was projected outwards to a domestic audience at home, to the extent that at a St David’s Day dinner in Rhyl in 1907 there were toasts made to non-sectarian and non-political Welshmen working towards the greater good of India.22 This is not to say that we don’t find examples of more aggressive imperialist views- Sir Griffith Evans was one of the leading voices who argued against Indian judges being given powers to try Europeans during the Ilbert controversy of the 1880s, so, we can’t be drawn into the idea that ‘Welsh imperialism’, as far as it even existed, was somehow better than English.23 But in terms of taking a four nations approach to the British Empire and teasing out some of these intra-British differences, it is an important idea and one I’m exploring further.

1 ‘Cardigan’, The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 9 January 1903: p. 6.

2 ’St David’s Day in India’, Towyn-on-Sea and Merioneth County Times, 27 March 1902: p. 7; ’Newport. Pem’, The County Echo, 7 April 1904: p. 2.

3 ‘Young Rhonddaite Leaves for India’, The Rhondda Leader, 3 March 1906: p. 7.

4 Aled Jones and Bill Jones, ‘The Welsh World and the British Empire c. 1851-1939: An Exploration’, in The British World: Diaspora, Culture and Identity, ed. By Carl Bridge and Kent Fedorowich (Abingdon: Routledge, 2003), pp. 62-63.

5 ‘Colwyn Bay in India’, The Weekly News and Visitors’ Chronicle for Colwyn Bay, Colwyn, Llandrillo, Conway, Deganwy, and Neighbourhood, 28 November 1902: p. 7.

6 ’St David’s Day in India’, The Western Mail, 29 March 1899: p. 5; Current Topics: Welsh Choir, The Times of India, 25 Sep 1945: p. 4.

7 ’St David’s Day in India’, The Western Mail.

8 H.V. Bowen, ‘Introduction’, in Wales and the Overseas Empire: Interactions and Influences, 1650-1830, ed. by H.V. Bowen (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011), pp. 1-14.

9 ’St David’s Day in India’, The Cambrian, 6 April 1900: p. 5.

10 John Davies, A History of Wales (Penguin Books: London, 2007), pp. 482-3.

11 ‘By the Way’, The Western Mail, 25 October 1893: p. 4.

12 Aled Jones, ‘Welsh Missionary Journalism in India, 1880-1947’, in Imperial Co-Histories: National Identities and the British Colonial Press, ed. by Julie F. Codell (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003), p. 248.

13 Aled Jones and Bill Jones, ‘The Welsh World and the British Empire’, pp. 63-64.

14 Aled Jones, ‘Sacred Spaces: Cultural Geographies of Mission in Welsh Sylhet, 1849-1940, The Welsh History Review, 26 (2012), pp. 215-6.

15 ‘Missionary Meeting at Cadoxton’, The South Wales Star, 4 December 1891: p. 7.

16 ‘Local Intelligence’, The Cambrian, 24 September 1886: p. 5.

17 ’St David’s Day in Poona’, The Times of India, 6 March 1946: p. 5.

18 ‘St David’s Day in Calcutta’, The Cambrian, 28th March 1902: 6; ’Welshmen in India’, The

Montgomeryshire Express and Radnor Times, 30th March 1909: 3.

19 ‘Remember the Native Indians’, South Wales Daily News, 29th April 1890: 2.

20 ’St David’s Day in India’, The Cambrian.

21 ’Our Calcutta Letter: The Welsh Dinner’, The Times of India, 06 Mar 1914: 10.

22 ‘Dinner at Rhyl’, The Welsh Coast Pioneer and Review for North Cambria, 7 March 1907: p. 3.

23 ’Death and Funeral of Sir Griffiths Pugh Evans’, The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 14 February 1902: p. 3.

CALL FOR PAPERS: We Are Still Here! A PGR Research Showcase.

The Centre for Modern British Studies at the University of Birmingham presents its 2021 Conference We Are Still Here! A PGR Research Showcase, a conference created by Postgraduate Researchers, for Postgraduate Researchers. After a year of limited opportunities but continued research, this conference provides a space to celebrate the perseverance and adaption of academic research across a range of fields. See the CFP below or download pdf below.

Guest Blog: International Students at the University of Birmingham in The Guild News 1958-1962

This is a guest blog by current undergraduate students Rahma Mohamed and Tamanna Rakib. They undertook this research as part of the recent conference on Becoming Birmingham: History, Diversity and Collaboration, organised by MBS MA graduate Ellen Smith. Here, Mohamed and Rakib present their findings from the Guild News in greater detail.

The opportunity to delve into our University’s past through the student newspaper The Guild News was an invaluable way to bring to the fore experiences of international students. 1958 to 1962 was an interesting period of investigation regarding foreign students in the wake of World War II. Analytical signposts we considered to guide our research were student events, student societies, student profiles and student interaction with international politics.

Image from the Guild News showing a Canadian Candle light dance performed by Sita at an International Evening
Pictures from the events that had happened in previous years would often be included as a way to encourage more people to attend. UB/GUILD/F/4/9

In our appraisal of student events we focused on two recurrent ones – the International Evening and Overseas Freshers’ Conference. International Evenings’ popularity reflected a positive cultural exchange – it was said that ‘people had to be turned away’ (October 1958, p.3). By 1958, the International Evening was in its sixth year and was advertised as including dances from Estonia, Poland, and an Israeli choir. The Overseas Freshers’ Conference to help foreign students acclimatise to Birmingham debuted in 1958 with 44 international students attending.  By 1961, The Guild News reported that there were 2500 international students in the West Midlands and the Overseas Freshers Conference was amplified as a result of this growing number. Therefore, whilst interaction with international students was limited, it was burgeoning by the late twentieth century. Significant to historical research, events like the conference provided the only student profile of an international female student from 1958 to 1962, Miss Izzat Alibhai! Beyond these set events were a plethora of additional ones, like the International Brains Trust which, however minor, still provided an essential paper trail.

Furthermore, there were ‘80 societies, plus the Guild societies function in the Guild’ (March 1960, p.3). Within such a framework was evidence of active foreign students’ engagement in UoB life and their home countries. Societies prompting cultural exchanges occurred via the Arab and Israeli societies’ cultural exhibitions (1960), the French and Jewish societies’ plays (1960) and the World University Services which annually held an international week at UoB. An example of international students’ engagement in their home countries affairs was the charity ball held by the South African Society (1959). Many of these societies (like the French and Indian societies) appreciated the cooperation of notable figures, namely cultural delegate for the West Midlands Mr A. Favre and the permanent secretary of the Guild, promising a picture of broadened interactions with foreign students between 1958 to 1962. 

Locating individual profiles throughout the newspaper was also incredibly helpful. Profiles of Medical student Sadrudin Jivani and Chemical Engineering student Ahmed Qidwai demonstrated the way in which international students both excelled academically and with regards to their involvement with student social life. Hamid Noshirvani’s profile was of particular interest as he shared the different adjustments international students would have to make, whilst also stating that international students were hesitant to return back to the Middle East due to instability. Demonstrating the role of the newspaper in facilitating a conversation between the student, international student Tarik Al Irhayim responded by attributing the instability of the Middle East to the meddling of the West and argued international students were actually eager to return.

Not only had Sadrudin Jivani been the first to take his second year exams with a beard, he had also won Fresher of the Year even though he played no sports and was unable to speak proper English. His main motivation was to simply prove he could do it. UB/GUILD/F/4/9

The newspaper as a forum for opposing views to be voiced would also emerge following the publication on the front page in 1961 of a racist letter that had been sent to Mike Thickett, the Chairman of the S.C.A.R.S (Students Committee Against Racial Segregation) society. Set up in the wake of racial segregation in South African universities, S.C.A.R.S were no strangers to racism and the purpose in publicising this letter had been to show that racism did not just exist in South Africa but was present here in the UK. Whilst some chose to believe the letter was doctored, there was evidence that ethnic minority students were upset that this opinion had been plastered on the front page. This could be attributed to the fact that it was well known that they would have been potentially already have been exposed to the racist views present in Birmingham, especially when looking for accommodation.

Although we only spent our time researching four years of The Guild News, we found a wealth of information about international students that was not included in our final presentation or indeed this blog. In that sense, there is still a lot of work to be done to better understand their experiences at University of Birmingham.

MBS2021: An Update

Two years ago, I was eagerly anticipating welcoming a few hundred Modern British Studies scholars to Birmingham for three days of cutting-edge research presentations in overly warm rooms and intense discussions in the sunshine over buffet lunches. For obvious reasons, nothing of that sort will be possible this summer.

So, first, the sad news: there won’t be a full-scale MBS2021 this summer.

The good news: a team of brilliant postgraduates is working on a smaller-scale set of online conversations organized around the theme of Resistance and Recovery. Make a note in your diary for the week of 5 July, and watch this space.

Like most of us, I’m giving a lot of thought these days to what conferences of the future should be like. Even once it’s safe to gather again, we will need to think carefully about the climate impact of our gatherings. I want to think equally carefully about how to foster conversations that work against the systems of borders and global hierarchies that structure and often stifle our work. I hope that the wider MBS community can be a site for those conversations, and I hope that we find ways to nourish the vitality of our shared work despite the overwhelming pressures of the last year.

by Mo Moulton, director of the Modern British Studies Centre.

Call for Participants: The life narratives of women who attended Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp 1981-2000

This Call for Participants is from MBS postgraduate researcher Rose Debenham.

I am interested in collecting oral testimonies from people who had a variety of experiences with Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. If you spent any length of time at the camp, I would like to hear about your experiences.


I am conducting an oral history research project for a PhD at the University of Birmingham exploring the life narratives of women who attended Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp between 1981-2000. I am examining how women’s identities were shaped and presented throughout their lives and through their participation in activism.

I would like to conduct digital interviews with you if you fulfil one or more of the following criteria:

  • You stayed at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp
  • You attended Greenham as a day visitor
  • You visited or stayed at Greenham as a child

In collecting oral testimonies, I want to understand your feelings about what it meant to attended Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp as well as hear your wider life story. I am also interested in finding out more about the following topics:

  • How do you think about your past identities and experiences?
  • What was your life outside of the immediate space of Greenham Common?
  • What do you think about the personal and historical legacy of Greenham Common?

By taking part in this project, you will allow for individual perspectives on these subjects to be recognised and made visible in the historical record. Complete anonymity is guaranteed for all participants, if desired. For more information and if you are interested in taking part in this project, please email Rose Debenham on RXD442@student.bham.ac.uk to arrange an informal conversation prior to interview.