History seminars at the IHR


This seminar will address issues relating to the life-cycle such as age, intergenerational relationships, parenthood, ageing, childhood and youth, from long-chronological and interdisciplinary perspectives.

Convenors: Dr Mary Clare Martin (University of Greenwich); m.c.h.martin@greenwich.ac.uk,  Dr Ofra Koffman (King's College London); ofra.koffman@kcl.ac.uk, Dr Tim Reinke-Williams (Northampton), Dr Simon Sleight (King’s College, London)

Venue:  John S Cohen Room 203, IHR, 2nd floor

Time: Tuesdays, 17.15

We usually go for a drink and a meal afterwards.  ALL WELCOME.

Autumn Term 2014
DateSeminar details
14 October How illness shaped childhood in Britain, 1800 to 2000

Dr Mary Clare Martin, (University of Greenwich)

Despite expanding interest in the historical sub-disciplines of medicine and childhood, there has been little examination of the impact of illness on the experience of childhood, and how this changed over time. Drawing on a wide range of sources, from a recent Mass-Observation directive, to memoirs and oral history, this paper examines how childhood was shaped by specific illnesses from 1800 to 2000, in Britain. Thus, whereas, in the mid-nineteenth century, whole families might be wiped out in a week by scarlet fever, in the early twentieth  tuberculosis and polio were the most serious threats. Changes in experiences of illness were shaped by medical advance, notably the marketing and availability of antibiotics from the 1940s. From children's perspectives, the material culture or emotional experiences which accompanied illness were often the most likely to be recalled. Children born shortly before or during the 1950s recalled being in glass cubicles in isolation hospitals, and the trauma of family separation due to hospitalisation. The generation born a decade or so later often recalled measles as a particularly serious illness, treated in darkened rooms or accompanied by special food or ice cream. Whereas childhood leukaemia currently affects a far smaller proportion of children, than such infectious diseases, the material culture of this life-threatening condition, including central venous lines and drips, can nevertheless have an impact on siblings and peers, as well as on the sick child.

28 October History of Childhood and Youth in Ireland: the state of the art and the field

Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley (National University of Ireland, Galway)

The history of childhood and youth in Ireland is a burgeoning field. Driven in part by revelations of abuse perpetrated in Ireland’s industrial schools and reformatories, memoirs of survivors have filled a gulf in the historiography and captured the public imagination. Prior to this, a great deal of work was completed by sociologists, journalists and those studying childhood across a range of disciplines.  In 2009, a special edition of Éire-Ireland focused specifically on childhood and aimed to bridge what it recognised as an historiographical void. Since then, studies on child welfare, infanticide, adoption and parental rights have emerged and are very welcome, as are interdisciplinary links across institutions and disciplines. 2014 will see the first conference on the history of childhood in Ireland, and previous to this, workshops on youth culture and adolescence have offered new avenues for research. This paper will present an overview of the state of the art in the field – assessing previous work and the current state of history of childhood studies, while also offering new insights into potential avenues and sources for future investigations.

18 November Attitudes to ejaculation in early modern England

Dr Tim Reinke-Williams (University of Northampton)

Existing scholarship on ejaculation has focused on the analysis of particular types of primary evidence in the form of medical treatises; pornography and erotica (broadly defined); and literature (poetry and drama).  This paper, part of a larger project on vernacular attitudes to the male body in early modern England, instead draws upon the evidence from cases related to sexual offences, in particular those heard at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1740.  Whilst printed trial reports do not offer direct access to popular mentalities or everyday attitudes, these sources do offer a different set of perspectives on early modern attitudes to male bodies and sexualities, both reinforcing and undermining arguments within the existing historiography.

Please note: this seminar will begin 18:00 and will be co-hosted with the History of Sexuality Seminar series

Venue: Holden Room 103, 1st floor, South block, Senate House

25 November Family Men: Fatherhood and masculinity in Britain, c.1914-60

Dr Laura King (University of Leeds)

Between the First World War and the 1950s, the identity of the ‘family man’ became seen as desirable for men, and was by the end of this period more comfortably situated within normative conceptions of masculinity. This paper will explore change and continuity over these decades, examining how cultural constructions of fatherhood and men’s experiences shifted or otherwise in the context of world wars, mass unemployment and substantial social change. It argues that whilst the duties expected of and performed by fathers remained remarkably constant from 1914 to 1960, a new significance on the emotional bond between fathers and children came to prominence in this period. It will also explore how historians can best explore fatherhood, considering the roles, relationships, authority, and identity involved in this experience. Finally, the paper will also focus on the relationship between cultural representations and lived experience, and how and whether we as historians can fully interrogate this relationship. The paper is based on research into fathers and fatherhood, through use of newspapers, advice literature, films, novels, archived interviews, social research, autobiographies and other testimony.

9 December After birth experiences in seventeenth-century England

Leah Astbury (University of Cambridge)

In 1674, Francis Thornbaugh of the aristocratic Bedfordshire St John family wrote to his brother-in-law Oliver St John congratulating him on the birth of a daughter:I coul not signify unto you, my very great joy I received at the news of my sister’s safe delivery, and that God will still continue good unto her in the restoring of her to her former strength is my earnest praise.’This paper will investigate what constituted a ‘safe delivery’ for seventeenth century English women? How did early modern women understand the process of recovery, and at what point and under which conditions did they consider themselves ‘recovered’. Which conditions provoked women to pursue external medical help and consult a practitioner and when and why? At which point did women accept post-partum ailments as permanent and stop seeking active cures? Employing printed medical literature, doctors' case books, alongside correspondence and diaries of seventeenth-century English families, this paper will argue that there were two intrinsic stages of recovery from childbirth. First, a woman had to rid herself of the vestiges of pregnancy through postpartum bleeding. After this had been achieved, care focused on healing, soothing and strengthening the new mother.

Spring Term 2015
DateSeminar details
20 January Old Age and Disability in Medieval Europe

Dr Irina Metzler (Wellcome Trust/MEMO Centre, University of Swansea)

The third chapter of my book, A Social History of Disability in Medieval Europe: Cultural Considerations of Physical Impairment (Routledge, London, 2013) entitled 'Ageing' describes how previously able bodies become disabled, through pathological physical and mental changes in old age. Contextualised case-studies of disabled old people across a range of social groups (peasants, urban populations, men and women of the church, with a few nobles and rulers) are used in conjunction with normative texts (medical, philosophical, scientific, religious) to investigate notions of disability in old age and to provide a picture of medieval mentalities and attitudes concerning what it meant socially to be old and disabled. The particular abhorrence of the old female body is highlighted, while less gendered themes include the practical aspects of care provisions for the elderly in the form of pensions and corrodies, concluding with an overview of the hitherto neglected topic of senile dementia and depression.

3 February Infancy Rites of Passage in Mamluk Society (Egypt & Syria, 1250-1517)

Catherine Rose (Queen Mary, University of London)

17 February After the Accident: Disability and Work in British Coalmines, 1880-1948

Dr Mike Mantin (University of Swansea)

When a worker in one of Britain’s notoriously dangerous coalmines met with an accident causing permanent injury, a common sympathetic trope stated that they would never work again. However, many continued with their working lives. This paper explores the situations facing those disabled miners who chose to continue in the places which defined their lives and communities, or were forced to out of economic necessity. Although some returned underground, most disabled workers took part in ‘light work’ on the surface such as picking coal or staffing equipment rooms. These jobs were often lower in pay and status, and subject to uncertainty in times of economic difficulty for the industry. By looking at examples of the post-accident lives of disabled people and the social attitudes and economic boundaries they faced, this paper aims to ask new questions about the history of disability and work.

3 March Faith, family and healing in post-war England: The career and marriage of Trevor Dearing, 'the exorcist vicar'

Dr Neil Armstrong (University of Teeside)

17 March 'We were very sociable together': Sociability and Meaning in the Life of Elizabeth Wynne Fremantle (1778-1857)

Professor Elaine Chalus (Bath Spa University)