Looking for panels or panellists? MBS 2017

Modern British Studies Birmingham

As the Call for Papers for the British Studies in a Broken World set out, we asked for  proposals offering ninety-minute panels or roundtables related to the conference’s themes or showcasing emerging new research across the field.

Despite some difficulties with this format and some arguments amongst us about what would be best, we felt, based on our experience of the 2015 conference, that it encouraged coherence within panels and helped conversations take place across individual papers and projects.

We are keen, however, to encourage those who are interested in giving papers or organizing panels a forum to discuss this and find possible collaborators. Last time round our forums did not prove particularly popular, so this year we just want those interested to use the comment section on this page to find people.

For those who wish to present a paper – briefly  explain your interests (max 50 words) and…

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Letter to Birmingham City Council on Birmingham Museums

Letter to Birmingham City Council by The History Department of the University of Birmingham

We are aware that the Council, along with other councils around the country, is being forced to make unprecedented cuts to expenditure as a result of central government decisions. We wish to register our condemnation of the austerity policies that have led to these cuts, and to urge the city council to do all you can to minimise their impact upon our vital cultural services.

As part of Birmingham City Council’s budget consultation, it has been proposed that Birmingham Museums Trust will receive a reduction of £500K in funding from April 2017. This is in addition to a cut of £250k that had been previously agreed by Birmingham City Council. As members of the Department of History at the University of Birmingham (and ourselves citizens of Birmingham), we are writing to urge that the cuts imposed on Birmingham Museums Trust should be reduced.

Birmingham has the largest civic museum service in England, with a collection of international significance and a growing reputation for combining academic and artistic excellence with learning, outreach and community engagement. It makes a significant difference to the lives of people in the region and, through its international loans, across the world. It would be extremely unfortunate if the long-term health of this important institution were to be permanently damaged by the need to make budget reductions.

The History Department at the University of Birmingham has an excellent record for Research Excellence: we would wish for our city’s museums to maintain their current strength and position and also reflect Birmingham’s engagement with and investment in the past. We should like to expand on these points in support of this case in the rest of this letter.

Birmingham Museums Trust is an important representative of the region’s support for the arts, alongside the sciences and technology, and plays a huge role in encouraging local, national, and international visitors to the city.

Specifically, Birmingham Museums Trust is routinely referenced by students, and potential students visiting the university, as a key selling point in their decision to attend the university, as it points to the vibrancy and dynamic culture of the city and the area. This is bolstered by the trust’s commitment to running a series of inspirational and evocative events to encourage visitors, most recently shown through their innovative ‘Night in the Museum’ events.

Another key point is the importance of this institute in facilitating the educational experiences of our students: in the seminar room, during independent research projects, and through group visits to the archive and galleries. A popular cultural internship scheme has enabled our students to work with Birmingham Museums Trust on six months placements, allowing them to undertake meaningful projects in the West Midlands region. MA students on the Modern British Studies MA in the History Department at the University of Birmingham visit the museum and art gallery as part of their studies—it is a popular, inspirational part of the course.

Similarly, the riches of the trust are of immeasurable importance for students and scholars alike in the Art History Department. In return, the trust has shown great commitment to digitalising key items from its archive, and curators and staff are always amenable to impromptu group visits and specific requests about archival resources. For students embarking on undergraduate, MA, and PhD dissertations the archives at Birmingham Museums Trust is often one of the first points of call, and the curators, archivists, and museum staff there have done much to assist students with wide ranging interdisciplinary interests.

The breadth of material in these institutions, from the finest Pre-Raphaelite art collection in the world, a staggering away of objects pertaining to world cultures, alongside key archives and objects about Birmingham’s more local culture, provides the perfect place for students to begin their exploratory projects. It is this wealth of materials, which mesh local and global interests, which we feel to be a particularly important feature of this collection. For instance, in this one building visitors can go from the ‘Birmingham: its people, its history’ gallery, before next exploring the ‘Connected Histories: Muslims in the First World War’ exhibition.

We have focused on two main points here, but there are many others, such as the potential such venues provide in educating and empowering people living and working in the area, and in providing a meeting point in the city, much enhanced by Birmingham Museums Trusts’ commitment to a whole roster of exciting and innovative events.

We feel that this venue is a gateway to knowledge, which can be enjoyed by all ages of people from all works of life. These cuts will mean inevitable cuts to staff (and low pay and insecure contrasts for existing staff); the inability to compete nationally or internationally or to curate new, enticing exhibitions; and very likely, a failure to be able to continue to build the collections, or to resource the research and cataloguing of little-known sources pertaining to Birmingham’s history but also the history of the wider world.

Birmingham has a hugely significant role in looking after many of the country’s most important cultural treasures, and we think they should be shown the attention and commitment they deserve. Such cuts would also lead to an inevitable decline in diversity; something past exhibitions have been highly commended for. Surely at a time such as this financial support for Birmingham Museums Trust should be a top priority at the Council?

MBS 2017: Call for Papers Reminder

A quick post to remind you that our call for papers deadline is approaching (28 February) for the Modern British Studies in a Broken World conference.  Our last event was tremendously exciting and we expect this year’s to be equally fascinating, so make sure you don’t miss the deadline!

Please use this blog to submit your panels proposals.

It seems a lot of you have some fantastic ideas for panels, but to those who are looking for panel members or working to create a panel we also have a blog page for that. This is getting a lot of traffic, but we need some browsers to become participants! We know this has been successful for some of the people who have put their details there already.

We are offering 100 free registrations to postgraduate students, ECRs on short-term contracts, and the unwaged, so we encourage panels showcasing the work of new researchers. We are unable to accept individual papers, so please take a look at these pages when putting together your panels.

If you have any questions about panel submission, posting on the blog or the conference in general, please get in touch via the blog, twitter or to the MBS Director.

The diary of Joseph Ludlow Delarue


Stephen Wyeth

Last week we set students on our MA in Modern British Studies the following task: Using some of the fantastic diaries in the Cadbury Research Library, write 500 words about a nineteenth or twentieth century diary. Before this we encouraged students to immerse themselves in the work of Carolyn Steedman to reflect on the relationship between lives and stories, on subjectivity and self-fashioning, and how to read material not just for its content – as a source of knowledge about the past – but as a way of understanding the relationship between lives and stories, and the ways in which individuals made sense of the world and the place in it.

Over the next few days we have decided to share their findings. Kicking us yesterday was  Jacob Fredrickson on the Diary of William Prince Telfer and then Olivia Perry wrote on the diary of an unidentified woman from 1853. Our final post comes from Stephen Wyeth who writes on the diary of Joseph Ludlow Delarue.  Click on our ‘Study with Us’ page for more information on the MA.

It is easy to read the diary of Joseph Ludlow Delarue, and forget the private nature of such a book. The book reads as a conversation, and that is in part what it is.

The diary is perhaps not as private as one would suppose a diary to be, and Delarue himself seems aware that he may one day share these words with someone, so too, does Delarue name the diary as his friend, and it is for these reasons that the diary of Delarue in places reads as a conversation, rather than a record of time.

The structure of the diary at its start flows more like a conversation than a diary, divided primarily into different topics that flow and change, just like a conversation. Yet this does not remain throughout the whole diary, as it progresses, the red ink denoting the topic of the section disappears, and all that remains in the margins, are the dates, written in black ink.

The writings in the diary change little, Delarue is still writing to someone, evident in his explanation of a day dream, he says that “before I proceed, let me bestow two maledictions.” Delarue is evidently talking to someone, whether this is himself, the diary, or a future reader, Delarue’s writings are not as private as a diary might suggest. But the conversation becomes more relaxed, less guided, and more improvised as if the two friends are getting to know each other better.

It is important to note that Delarue is around fifteen to sixteen years old in these writings in his diary, despite Delarue living a century before the advent of the teenager, Delarue can reveal to us this transitional period of life as it was in Victorian Britain. Perhaps the clearest indication of what this stage of life was like can be seen in his writings during the time when he is leaving home.

Delarue laments that he shall never be as happy anywhere as he has been at home,

“no one will attend to me like my mother, no one will love me, or care about me, I shall be my own counsellor, no one care whether I succeed or not.”

Delarue’s lamentation of leaving home reveals to us the sentimentality towards childhood, encapsulated here as a nostalgia for his childhood home and comforts.

Another way that Delarue reveals to us this transitional period in life, is through his daydreams, in one entry he records a number of daydreams, in which he daydreams of fights at school, of playing marbles with childhood friends, but also of the future, and of “his perfect wife”.

Day dreams are an important part of Delarue’s life and identity, as he writes in his miscellany, in a letter on the subject of day dreaming, Delarue extols the virtues of day dreaming, but also reveals to us another part of his identity, his identity as a writer. Delarue states that “every author is a species of daydreamer”, and Delarue’s identity as a writer comes through clearly, not just here, but in his own poetic writings, and his sometimes obsession over certain poets, reveals to us the importance of poetry to Delarue as part of his identity.

Diary of an Unidentified Woman 1853


Olivia Perry

Last week we set students on our MA in Modern British Studies the following task: Using some of the fantastic diaries in the Cadbury Research Library, write 500 words about a nineteenth or twentieth century diary. Before this we encouraged students to immerse themselves in the work of Carolyn Steedman to reflect on the relationship between lives and stories, on subjectivity and self-fashioning, and how to read material not just for its content – as a source of knowledge about the past – but as a way of understanding the relationship between lives and stories, and the ways in which individuals made sense of the world and the place in it.

Over the next few days we have decided to share their findings. Kicking us yesterday was  Jacob Fredrickson on the Diary of William Prince Telfer. This blog comes from Olivia Perry. who writes on the diary of an unidentified woman from 1853. You can follow Olivia on Twitter if you like @livvyanarchy.  Click on our ‘Study with Us’ page for more information on the MA.

1853. A ‘Henry Penny’s’ improved patent metallic pocket-book diary is sold to an unknown person for 3s, 6d. A celebration, a new year is brought in with a bottle of champagne. The identity of this person is not known, but their activities in 1853 are documented daily. The description of the diary indicates that it was written by a woman, however, their name and gender are never told. They are believed to be a woman due to the types of activity they are involved with on a day to day basis.

The weather is a common feature varying on a scale of ‘very wet day’ to ‘beautiful day’. This could indicate the weather patterns throughout 1853 in an area of Kent near Margate. This scale may, however, not just document the particularities of the British weather, but instead is a pathetic fallacy, illustrating feelings felt towards ‘HPC’.

‘HPC’ is documented most days, including details of when he eats, where he is going and what times he comes and goes. HPC’s temperament is also highlighted throughout, his unpredictable and sometimes violent behaviour is unnerving. This behaviour may only be indicated in my interpretation of the diary, however, the writer refers to HPC as ‘shaking and moving to and fro’ and having an ‘off day’. The writer also describes HPC to ‘scold the children’ on multiple occasions. Two phrases struck me when reading the dairy entries; ‘he is a vile human’ and ‘harsh hands’. These phrases were not used in the same sentence; however, I think the diary does build up a certain picture of the way the writer understands HPC and the relationship between them.

Perhaps this diary was written by a woman who was scared of her husband and his violence towards her. The use of the word vile truly indicates the writer’s hatred for HPC, whilst harsh hands can be open to interpretation. Harsh hands could be used to describe the aesthetic nature of HPC’s hands, however, this is unlikely to be the case due to my perception of these individuals being reasonably wealthy. Harsh hands, therefore, could simply indicate the writer’s feelings towards HPC’s hands and perhaps indicates that he was, in fact hitting them. Certain domestic violence was culturally acceptable in 1853, as long as ‘the stick was thinner than a thumb’ is a common phrase that was used.

In 1853, however, legislation was brought in to punish people who beat their wives with sentencing up to 6 months. This does not, however, mean that wife beating was not a common occurrence and that this punishment actually deterred men from beating their wives. Perhaps this diary illustrates a woman documenting every move her husband makes in the hope that she can avoid this violence as much as possible?

This diary could even indicate a woman attempting to resist against the unfair treatment she has had to face, by documenting how unhappy and sometimes angry she is towards HPC. Even the fact that the diary is written in short hand, and in a small diary may be so that it would not be read, or at least not understood if it was found by HPC. This could also indicate that the whole family were able to read. The exact relationship between HPC and the writer of the diary is also uncertain, but their feelings towards HPC are not. HPC may well have been another relation to her, perhaps a sibling, and the writer may not have been a woman. HPC may in fact not be violent at all to the writer, and the relationship may be misunderstood. The writer could, in fact, be concerned about the behaviour of HPC and is, therefore, documenting his ‘symptoms’ within this diary.

At one point the writer mentions that HPC has gone ‘bathing’ and they are displeased with this. As HPC often travelled to Margate he could have bathed in the Royal Sea-Bathing Infirmary which was originally used to treat ‘scrofula’ (which was probably a form of tuberculosis). The writer was not happy about HPC’s trip to the baths and, therefore, this may point to them believing that medicine was not going to help, or that HPC was not suffering from an illness.

Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary  Sept 10 1853

I have written ‘writer’ to refer to this unknown person, however, the diary includes different hand writings. This could indicate that the diary was put together by different people, offering confusion as to whose identity is being constructed through the analysis of the writing.Children or ‘chicks’ are mentioned throughout the diary, which may have been the individual’s siblings and they may well have written parts of the diary.

Perhaps even the children wrote in the diary on the days that the individual was not able to due to HPC inflicted wounds. If one person did write this diary, maybe they wrote with their other hand for parts. This may also be due to injuries, or the person could have been left handed in a period of time when this was seen as savage and criminal and so they may have been forced to write with their right hand.

Something that is clear, is that this individual was religious and much of the diary revolves around trips to the Church with the family. This is probably quite common for individuals in 1853, but only attending Church was documented and not the content of the services, or prayers. This could indicate what the diary was used for, simply to track where the person had been on that day and what the weather was like.

Times are documented rather meticulously throughout, perhaps illustrating the organised nature of the person. The diary still does, however, have a personal feel as it documents the feelings towards HPC which is a main theme of the diary. This could indicate that Church was seen more as a necessary place to attend, rather than there being a personal connection to religion.

Despite this individual being wealthy, which is likely due to the drinking of champagne, turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day, and the expensive nature of the diary, they clearly had a very volatile life style which is represented in the need to document the times in which things happen and the broken relationship with HPC.

Despite this diary being of someone who is unidentified we are therefore able to construct some interpretations of how this person experienced 1853, from the short hand notes scribbled away in their diary. A diary is often a very personal item which can show how an individual thinks, in this case in a very organised and meticulous way. This diary was probably not written to be read by others as it is written in abbreviations and, therefore, the audience was probably themself. Despite not knowing this person’s gender or name, we still have some insight into their life which in fact may not have been influenced by this knowledge and associated stereotypes or by other sources.

BRIHC Public Lectures: Spring Series

The Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures (BIRHC) is hosting a series of public lectures throughout the Spring Term. They look fantastic and open to everyone.

BRIHC is excellent and does all sorts of exciting things. You can find more about its work here, and social media folk can follow it on Twitter @theBRIHC.