Money, Belief and Politics in Modern British Studies

Speakers: Julie-Marie Strange, Thomas Scriven, Sarah Roddy, Bertrand Taithe

Chair: Matthew Hilton

The three papers in this panel focus on nineteenth century fundraising in three key areas: religion, politics and philanthropy. Drawing on particular cases studies, each paper will address the expanding culture of donating in a national and transnational context. Together, the papers ask what it meant for individuals to donate to a ‘cause’; how donations helped constitute subjectivities; what funds raised meant; and how money raised was disbursed. It is intended that the papers, running in chronological order, will be relatively short to allow time for the panelists to draw out the common questions in the papers, not least: how social and cultural historians within Modern British Studies can and should enter into dialogue with the ‘new economic history’ and how histories of money are pertinent to fundraisers today.

Paper 1 Abstract: ‘To move in a dignified way and place my own character high above reproach’: Character, Chartism and Electoral Fundraising in the 1840s

Thomas Scriven

Chartism and popular Liberalism have broadly been seen as continuous, with the ideas, principles and political culture of the former transitioning into the latter by the mid-Victorian period. As part of this process, historians have highlighted how mass politics, with a bawdy, tap-room tone, gave way to the rise of respectability, a broad change in manners, and class co-operation. Following historians who have seen this as a more problematic transition than initially proposed, this paper will use the career of the noted Chartist leader, journalist and orator, Henry Vincent, following his release from prison in 1841. Vincent made his name for his acerbic, ribald satire, his convivial populism and his skills as a speaker, but during his imprisonment he fell under the mentorship of Francis Place. This paper will discuss the virtues and characteristics that Place sought to inculcate within Vincent in order to turn him into the model political actor suitable for more refined popular politics, and how Vincent found these characteristics unwieldy in the actual practice of Radical electioneering in the 1840s. Most notably, the high costs of an election campaign for an independent candidate during the mid-Victorian period clashed decisively with the sort of morality that Place hoped Vincent and his generation would develop; it forced him into compromise, accusations of impropriety, and broke him from friends and co-agitators. Fundraising, in Vincent’s case, clearly undermined the dignity and refinement that he had hoped for as part of his transition into popular Liberalism. With that it muddied popular Liberalism’s claim to moralism, and illustrates how a move from Chartism to moralistic Liberalism was problematized by matters of logistics and finance.

Paper 2 Abstract: Paying and praying: the meanings of religious fundraising after 1850

Sarah Roddy

The relationship between religion and economics is a perennial preoccupation within the humanities. Since Max Weber identified the ‘Protestant ethic’ as a key enabling factor in the development of the ‘spirit of capitalism’, and since R.H. Tawney similarly credited religion with the ‘rise of capitalism’, the influence of theology and religious thought on economic activity has been much debated by scholars, including historians working with multiple different religious groups, regions and periods. As many have discovered, however, attempting to match interpretations of scripture with transactions in the market is no easy task.

Yet studies that try to divine religious influence on economic lives tend to ignore one rather salient fact. That is, that the primary economic exchange within a church setting is never, and has never been, an intellectual one; rather, it has always been a material one. Sermons preached in favour of stewardship or railing against base materialism may or may not have hit home with those in the pews; what is certain however, is that pennies (and larger denominations besides) invariably hit the collecting plate, and both they and their effects are at least to some extent measurable. Thus, using records related to the Irish Catholic Church during its post-1850 ‘devotional revolution’ period, and drawing on recent literature in economic sociology and economic anthropology, this paper explores the question: can close examination of the financing of the church itself by the laity tell us anything about how that laity viewed their economic license, obligations, limitations or potential?

Paper 3 Abstract: The Politics of British International Humanitarian Aid: The Turkish relief and its discontents

Julie-Marie Strange & Bertrand Taithe

This paper develops an analysis of the political debates at the heart of the British Response to the ‘humanitarian crisis’ arising from the Russo Turkish war of 1877-8. Building on the archives of Stafford House papers (a major fundraising and distribution organization), this paper investigates the collusion of High British politics and private financial investment in the deployment of relief to Turkish troops and civilians. Stafford House sponsored medical relief represented the largest venture of its kind during the war and the single most significant privately funded humanitarian deployment of relief in recent British history. This case study opens a window in the complex negotiations at the heart of modern humanitarian aid in Victorian Britain and its relevance for NGO fundraising today.

 

 

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