Tuesday, 3 April 2018

'Clothes for the people': dressing slaves in eighteenth-century Virginia (Thursday 26 April)

Time is the relentless linear dimension through which we move. Everything has a historical context. We discover the past constantly, sometimes in unanticipated ways.

The final lecture of the current season is about cloth and clothing, particularly in the experience of slaves in eighteenth-century Virginia.

Most of what we know about the lives of slaves comes from the perspective of observers such as plantation owners and abolitionists rather than the slaves themselves. The history of dress, however, is a useful way of understanding the lives and cultures of people who have left little direct historical record. Knowledge of slave clothing can offer direct insight into the daily lives of slaves in eighteenth-century Virginia.

Our speaker this month, Dr Sally Tuckett of the University of Glasgow, will examine how slaves got their clothing, what the clothes actually were, and how clothing was used to acquiesce in or to resist the control of their owners.

Sally's lecture will be followed by the Annual General Meeting of the Bath Branch, which should be brief. A printed report of the branch's activities will be circulated and the lecture programme for the 2018-19 season will be published.

I look forward to our members' visits to Bowood House and Gardens (16 May) and Gatcombe Court (14 June) and to writing about next season's programme, soon, in this diary.

Mike Short   

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Secret Diaries of William Wilberforce (Thursday 22 March)

The name of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is one of the best-known in English history. And what people with only a little knowledge of history tend to know about William Wilberforce is that he had something to do with the abolition of slavery.

A Yorkshire man by birth, Wilberforce entered Parliament in his twenties and soon afterwards became an evangelical Christian. His active Christianity was a key element in driving his participation in many campaigns for reform. He supported the Society for the Suppression of Vice, missionary work in India, the creation of Sierra Leone as a free colony, the Church Mission Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. What Wilberforce is most remembered for is his involvement in and parliamentary leadership of the campaign to abolish the British slave trade. After the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 he worked with others in the subsequent campaign that led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which completed its passage through Parliament just three days before he died.

William Wilberforce's burial in Westminster Abbey was an indication of the respect in which he was held by many.

The public man was also a private man. I don't know what Professor John Coffey is going to reveal in his lecture on The Secret Diaries of William Wilberforce, but perhaps it will give us an insight into the mind and conscience of a man who challenged powerful interests and sought to do good. I hope there might also be a glimpse into his happy marriage to Barbara Spooner, whom he met in Bath and married at St Swithun's Church, Walcot, on 30 May 1797.

Two summer visits now confirmed

As well as the members' visit to Bowood House and Gardens on Wednesday 16 May, which I referred to last month, I am now able to confirm that there will be a second visit, to Gatcombe Court, on Thursday 14 June. Details of both visits, including how to book, will be emailed or posted to members before the end of March.

Mike Short

Friday, 2 February 2018

The Long Weekend: Life in the Country House Between the Wars (Thursday 22 February)

The final complete season of the Historical Association Bath Branch's long residence at Green Park Station began on 22 September 2011 not in the branch's usual meeting room in the station but in the elegant surroundings of the Francis Hotel. Our landlord had double-booked and offered us the hotel meeting room instead. Our speaker's subject on that occasion was Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean. And the speaker was Adrian Tinniswood. That year's November lecture was given by Professor Marilyn Palmer of the University of Leicester. Its title was Comfort and Convenience in the English Country House.

Now, in  February 2018, distinguished architectural and social historian, writer and broadcaster Adrian Tinniswood returns to the HA in Bath, and with him the country house also. Using memoirs, letters, diaries and eyewitness testimony Adrian will focus on the life of English country houses between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second.

In living conditions ranging from the splendid and luxurious to the decaying and decrepit the landed rich and the nouvelle riche, the famous and the infamous, the conservative and the eccentric shared the experience of getting away to the country for a few days at a time and for longer periods. Attempts were made to create new country houses in contemporary or avant-garde styles. Some owners sought an antidote to the urban, industrial and modern by reviving handcrafted buildings and interiors using local materials: some members will recall visiting Rodmarton Manor, built between 1909 and 1929 in the Cotswolds Arts and Crafts style.

Whether the architecture was Classic Georgian or New Georgian, Gothic or Gothic Revival, High Medieval or Arts and Crafts, the activities, attitudes, ideas and interactions of the people who came together in country houses tell an intriguing part of the story of a society living through a period a rapid change.

A visit in  May and Christmas at the American Museum

If you are one of the Bath Branch's many members who have very busy diaries you may well want to make a note now that the first of this year's two visits during the summer break in lectures will be to Bowood House and Gardens on Wednesday 16 May in the afternoon. I hope to be able to report next month on a visit to another venue, to take place, if possible, on Thursday 14 June. The details of both visits, with booking forms, will be emailed or posted to members during March.

This year's members' Christmas visit and buffet will take place at the American Museum on Thursday 13 December, beginning at 19.30.

Mike Short

Thursday, 28 December 2017

In the Shadow of Franco: The ongoing battle in Spain over its dark past (Thursday 25 January)

Spain is a large country with a long, rich and eventful history. For the people of Spain the dominant event of the twentieth century was the Civil War, 1936 to 1939. The Republicans, who were loyal to the democratic, left-leaning and relatively urban Second Spanish Republic, formed an alliance of convenience with the Anarchists to fight against the Nationalists, a Falangist, Carlist, Catholic and largely aristocratic conservative group led by General Francisco Franco. After two years and eight months of bitter conflict the Nationalists emerged as the victors and Franco became ruler of Spain for 36 years until his death in 1975. Few would deny that the war itself and the 36 years of Nationalist rule that followed it have left deep scars and that even 42 years after his death Franco's legacy casts a long shadow over the Spanish people.

Our first guest speaker of 2018 is Dr Peter Anderson, Associate Professor in Twentieth Century European History at the University of Leeds. Peter's lecture, entitled In the Shadow of Franco: The ongoing battle in Spain over its dark past, will examine how and why the Spanish Civil War continues to divide society. It will explore the long-silenced history of the Francoist repression and examine more recent efforts to come to terms with this violent past. These efforts include demands for the dignified reburial of the remains of those murdered, justice for the families of thousands of children removed from opponents, the return of property and the renaming of streets.

It is often the case that the most recent history is the most uncomfortable, that the closer we are to events the more difficult it is to achieve an accurate understanding of them. Eighty years on from the Spanish Civil War Spain has come very far, but Franco's shadow is a long one and few of the people of Spain are untouched by it.

Mike Short

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Long Shadows: The Memory and the Legacy of the Crusades in the Modern World (Thursday 23 November)

Speaking after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 US President George W Bush promised a war against the terrorists. He said 'This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.' Bush's ill-considered use of the word 'crusade' evoked little comment in the United States. In Europe and the Middle East many recognised the resonance of the 'holy war' conducted by the Christian powers of Europe between 1095 and 1291 to seek to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Jonathan Phillips, our speaker this month, is Professor of History of the Crusades at Royal Holloway University of London. He is a leading expert on the Crusades and their legacy. As well as publishing the results of his research in numerous books and papers Professor Phillips has appeared in, presented and acted as consultant for television and radio programmes and a play, Holy Warriors, performed at Shakespeare's Globe.

Professor Phillips's talk will explore the contrasting memories and legacies of the Crusades in the modern age. It will examine nineteenth-century Europe's revived interest in crusading through literature and art, coupled with a growing Western presence in the Near or Middle East. Alongside this, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (1798) sparked powerful memories of the Crusades in the Muslim world. The apparent continuation of earlier holy wars emerged as an important theme in resisting the West, finding clearer form in the twentieth century through Arab Nationalism (with Nasser and Assad) and also Islamism, moving down to the present-day rhetoric of Islamic State or Daesh.

Members' Christmas Visit and Buffet at the Victoria Art Gallery

As usual there will not be a lecture during the month of December. Instead members will be able to enjoy a visit to the Victoria Art Gallery on Thursday 14 December. As I write 35 members have already reserved places at this event, paying £20 each. More information is available from me (mikeshort20@btinternet.com).

Mike Short

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The 'Golden Age' of Women in Medieval London (Thursday 26 October)

What would constitute a 'golden age' for economic prosperity, science, the arts, manufacturing, transport or for one group of people or another? Surely a 'golden age' would be a time when conditions were significantly better than normal.

In her lecture at the Friends Meeting House on 26 October Professor Caroline Barron will discuss why she considers the period from about the time of the Black Death (1348) until the reign of King Henry VII (1485-1509) a time of exceptional freedom and opportunity for single women, married women and widows in London. At that time the range of options and prospects for women differed only slightly from those of men whose level of prosperity they shared.

In the fourteenth century women in England had few rights and freedoms. They were somebody's daughter or somebody's wife and subject to the control of men. Widows were often better placed than married women to exercise rights over land, goods and chattels, but their position too was subject to laws instituted by men for men.

In London conditions for women were significantly better. Freemen or citizens of London enjoyed privileges not normally allowed by the common law of England. Their widows could claim a similar status, and city custom secured for a freeman's widow a home, income from property and a considerable share of her husband's movable wealth. A woman trading as a femme sole could run a business, rent a shop, accumulate money, pay taxes and train apprentices and servants. In fact single women and widows had more freedom to dispose of assets as they saw fit than did men.

A 'golden age' implies not only a beginning but also an end. Just as a diminished population following the Black Death created opportunities for women so the subsequent recovery - coupled, perhaps, with the increasing gentrification of many merchants and their wives - reduced them.

Although many women exercised economic power during the 'golden age' there is no evidence that they gained either a public or a political role.

Caroline Barron's lecture will illuminate both a time and a place experiencing economic and social change.

Mike Short

Monday, 4 September 2017

Forgotten Ally: Why China's World War II Matters (Thursday 28 September)

As we look back to events that occurred more than 70 years ago it is too easy to recall the famous photographs of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill and to overlook a fourth major ally, the Republic of China led by Chiang Kai-shek. China was at war with Japan from July 1937. What is sometimes called the Second Sino-Japanese War was the largest Asian war of the twentieth century. It accounted for the majority of civilian and military casualties in the Pacific War with between 10 and 25 million Chinese civilians and more than 4 million Chinese and Japanese military personnel dying from war-related violence, famine and other causes.

What impact did China's war have on the Second World War as a whole? How do we evaluate the contribution of China to the Allied campaign against the Axis powers? How did the battered China of 1937-1945 become today's superpower in the making, and why? There are few, if any, better qualified to guide us through these questions than this month's speaker, Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, Deutsche Bank Director of the Dickson Poon China Centre, and a Fellow and Vice-Master of St Cross College. Professor Mitter's book China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival was published in 2013. Professor Mitter is also a regular presenter of Night Waves on BBC Radio 3.

Mike Short