Postgraduate Spotlight: Konstantin Wertelecki

Konstantin is a final year PhD student in Modern History. In this post he writes on the research of ‘Others’ and why history is so important.

If I had to summarise in a word why I chose to research history, it would be the word ‘human’. In political science, people are dehumanised to calculations, flow charts and digits of mechanical proportions. In the arts, people are pedestalised and crafted beyond authentic recognition to a fantastical scale. But in history we comb through both the ugly and the elegant, the bewildering and the bewitching. As historians we seek to discover the genuine patterns of ‘human-ness’.

My research looks into the lives of the expatriate British community in Florence between the First and Second World Wars. While upon first glance this seems a rather unextraordinary subject compared to the study of spies, humanitarian heroes and other grand figures, this topic overflows with a hidden complexity that forces us to face our ‘human-ness’, not only as historical observers, but also as historical participants. 

Old-fashioned historians love to ‘tidy’: countries are categorised by print-friendly borders, people are sorted into easily distinguishable labels of ‘ethnicity’, ‘nationality’ and ‘race’ and sweeping generalisations of ‘us’ and ‘others’ allow for a quick-and-easy history that politicians can parade as a ‘national story’. Rarely, however, is history so precise.

When I first began my research, I, too, very much fell into the trap of arranging my historical subjects tidily into ‘British’ and ‘Italian’ camps. I sought to sculpt a narrative of a ‘transplanted’ Little Britain to the idyllic Tuscan hills. My naïve perceptions were soon challenged, however, as I came across ‘unusual’ cases of ‘Britishers’ who were also Italian, ‘Britishers’ who had been born and lived their whole lives in Florence, ‘Britishers’ who took Italian spouses and had Italian children and ‘Britishers’ who unabashedly declared their distaste for all that the United Kingdom represented. It was at this moment that I realised what great responsibility (but also what great privilege) historians, as historical participants, have in highlighting this ‘human’ element for future historical observers.

In addition, my own personal perspective as an expatriate in Scotland aided me in learning more about the British in Florence from the questions that philosophically challenged me, and no doubt challenged them as well: What is it to be ‘x’ nationality? What is to be ‘patriotic’? Is one no longer an ‘x’ national if the ‘purity’ of one’s patriotism has been diluted by experiences abroad?

If there is one message I would deliver of my experiences on the practise of history to the historian and non-historian alike, it is this: our discipline is the most enriching for the very ‘weaknesses’ by which it is criticised. It is not (nor should it try to be) a science that artificially contours people, places and ideas of the past to a painfully corseted fit. Nor is it of the arts that embellishes, romanticises or spectacularises the ordinary to grotesque or wondrous dimensions. It is an honesty-seeking discipline that braves the messily splashed remnants of past fortunes, failures and forged attempts. It is a discipline which is underutilised in its strong potential of pointing to the paradigms of the future from the patterns of the past. It is the discipline that teaches us what it is to be ‘human’.

2019 SAIMS Graduate Conference

By Dana Weaver

The weekend of the 6th-8th June the Saint Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies (SAIMS) held its annual postgraduate conference, welcoming colleagues from around Europe and the United Kingdom. Jointly sponsored by SAIMS, the School of History, the Centre for Anatolian and East Mediterranean Studies, the Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research and CAPOD, the aim of the conference was not only to give postgraduate researchers an opportunity to present their ongoing work, but also to bring together medievalists from a variety of fields with the goal of facilitating interdisciplinary dialogue. The success of this can be seen in the diversity of topics presented and in the wide range of speakers which included students, early career scholars and established academics.  

We began Thursday morning with a paper by Renan Baker (Cambridge) on ‘Latin Imperial Biographies and Miscellanies’ that provoked a welcome debate on the nature of genre. This was followed by a session on Anglo-Saxon saints with papers from Alice Neale (SAS, London) and John Hudson (St Andrews) entitled ‘Turning Æthelthryth’s pages: the development of the cult of an Anglo-Saxon saint during the tenth-century reform movement’ and ‘The cult that didn’t happen: the case of (St) Lanfranc of Canterbury’, respectively. This session generated a fruitful discussion on the factors contributing to the success or failure of the development of saints’ cults. After a short break we heard from Serena Ammirati (Roma Tre) on ‘Authoritative writing, writing as authority: the contribution of paleography to the history of the transmission of Roman legal thought,’ sponsored by the ILCR, and Justyna Kamińska (Jagiellonian) on ‘The role of the founders in the building process of the Dominican church and cloister of St James in Sandomierz’. Both of these papers encouraged us to find meaning through visual forms and processes.

Our own Professor John Hudson (left) and Professor Carole Hillenbrand (right) presenting at this year’s conference. Photo credit: Cameron Houston

After a productive day of papers and discussion, the evening commenced with a garden party at St John’s House where a friendly game of cricket was followed by pizza and a drinks reception. Scholarly debate continued, but was punctuated by the process of getting to know the people behind the research. Those from St Andrews were especially pleased with the blue skies and sunlight late into the evening.

On Friday we started the day with a paper by Franziska Geibinger (Vienna) entitled ‘The functional types of the representation of the elevation of the hairy Mary Magdalene in her development to the determining “cult image”’, which explored a unique representation of a familiar saint. A paper was also given by Roman Tymoshevskyi (CEU) on ‘The discourse of kingship in John Gower’s and Thomas Hoccleve’s Mirrors of Princes’, provoking rumination on the role of power and the moral expectations of kingship.

The keynote speaker was Carole Hillenbrand (Edinburgh and St Andrews), who led us through her ‘Reflections on the caliphate’. This was a riveting survey of the caliphate from its beginning to the end of the Ottoman empire from which sprung a fascinating discussion about the conceptualization of the caliphate in modern-day politics and the centralization of power in the middle east.

After lunch and with prevailing good weather Alex Woolf (St Andrews) led a medieval walking tour of St Andrews. It was enjoyed by all of its participants, especially those of us from St Andrews who were seeing the town through a new lens. Back at St John’s House we began the second half of our day with a paper by Nic Morton (Nottingham) on ‘Confronting and culturally absorbing Mongols and Seljuk Turks’, followed by David Zakarian (Oxford) who spoke on ‘Women and the laws of men in medieval Armenia’, sponsored by CAEMS. Both of these papers took us beyond the borders of western Europe and into the near east where the discussion centered around questions of cultural transmissions and connections.

Dr Alex Woolf led a medieval walking tour of St Andrews
Photo credit: Cameron Houston

Our last panel of the day included topics of philosophy with papers by Mahdi Ranaee (Potsdam) on ‘Al-Ghazâlî on sophistry and doubt’ and Ana Martins on ‘Political yhought in Collectanea Moralis Philosophiae (1571).’ Each of these papers encouraged thought on textual organization and engagement: how do we conceive of the interaction between texts, authors, and time?

Friday evening was spent at Forgan’s enjoying a lively conference dinner followed by a ceilidh—a great way to introduce our guests from beyond St Andrews to some local traditions. The following morning dawned the last day of the conference and began with a paper entitled ‘Imagining the cross, imagining Christ: insular sculpture in the Viking Age’ by Heidi Stoner (Durham), which captured the importance of moving beyond attributions of ethnicity in early insular sculpture. The keynote speaker on Saturday was Charles West (Sheffield) who gave a stimulating paper on ‘Hincmar of Reims and the politics of the ordeal.’ This paper examined the part of the ecclesiast in the politics of trial by ordeal and encouraged a discussion on the role of intercession, both sacred and secular, in the outcome.

After a short break we heard papers given by Blythe Malona (Glasgow) entitled the ‘Percy empire: building a northern lordship’, John Aspinwall (Lancaster) entitled ‘Patronage and politics: literary production as a strategy of power in Rogerian Sicily’ and Oliver Mitchell (Courtauld) entitled ‘Power and Fortune’s Wheel’. These three topics all explored some aspect of the pursuit of power and the ways in which it is recognized and displayed. The day concluded with lunch and goodbyes: the culmination of a rewarding conference spent exploring the medieval world through new and innovative perspectives.   

A special thanks is due to our conference organizers Ingrid Ivarsen, Maria Merino and JJ Gallagher, as well as the St Andrews University catering staff. Many thanks to each of you for your patience and good humor.  

Publication Spotlight: Sixteenth-Century Readers, Fifteenth-Century Books

Blog written by Dr Margaret Connolly

Most of my research has been firmly based in the fifteenth century, and a lot of it has been concerned with Middle English texts and their manuscript contexts. The study of English medieval manuscripts has been dominated in recent years by issues related to book production and by the quest to identify individual scribes, and I have gradually come to realise that considerably less attention has been paid to the readers of manuscripts, and to what happened to books once they passed into general circulation. So, when I came across two fifteenth-century manuscripts that were owned in the sixteenth century by the same family, I was intrigued by the possibility of tracing the story of those readers and their books. The family was the Roberts family of Middlesex, and a total of eight surviving manuscripts can be connected with them. That might not sound like a large number, but to be able to link several medieval manuscripts to the same owners is quite rare, especially if those owners were not royal or noble. It’s the very ordinariness of this English gentry family that makes them interesting, and I’ve enjoyed living with them over the past decade, charting their careers in the public record; working out the details of their family history, marriages, and children; and uncovering their networks of professional and personal associations.

The two men who are at the heart of my study lived through exceptionally turbulent times: Thomas Roberts died in 1542, just a few years after the dissolution of the monasteries, and his son, Edmund, lived through several changes in official religion under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary Tudor, dying in Elizabeth I’s reign in 1585. I was struck by the fact that these sixteenth-century men chose at least some of their reading not from material that was newly produced but from books that were much older than they were. The texts that those books offered were ones that had been written in an age that was wholly and unproblematically Catholic, which prompted the question: Why did my newly reformed readers favour these old medieval books?

A manuscript owned by Edmund Roberts.
Cambridge University Library MS Ii.6.2 f. 109r.
Photo by Dr Margaret Connolly.

One manuscript in particular stood out to me. It’s not the flashiest, because it isn’t one of the illuminated ones. Instead it’s a small and fairly shabby volume that contains a series of devotional prose texts written in English. Edmund Roberts annotated some of these texts by underlining points and phrases, and by repeating key words in the margins; at one point he adds the comment ‘A vere good praier’. The text that prompted that approving remark offers advice on how to pray and then a meditation on Christ’s death on the cross and is drawn from a longer fifteenth-century work, Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God. In his book of hours Edmund signed his name beneath another prayer, adding a comment in which he claimed to use it every day. That prayer is one that promises tangible rewards if the speaker repeats it a certain number of times whilst also performing a particular set of actions. Between them these two short texts cover a spectrum of devotional practice ranging from an unremarkable orthodox engagement with core aspects of the Christian faith to a more superstitious style of worship verging on magical ritual, and this in turn offers some insights into Edmund’s spirituality.

Edmund also wrote the date ‘1553’ in both these manuscripts showing that he was using them in the year that Mary Tudor came to the throne, a point at which the official religion again became Catholicism. Edmund’s splendidly illustrated book of hours was a volume that he had inherited from his father, Thomas, and both men added extra texts to it, including prayers to the Virgin and charms and incantations that offered protection against ill-fortune. Were these men Catholic or Protestant? I spent a good deal of time trying to find an answer to this question, considering not just the evidence of the manuscripts, but also the clues offered by the men’s lives – their occupations, professional networks, and social circles. The Roberts family were not prominent recusants, but they certainly had recusant friends. One of Thomas Roberts’s closest affiliates was John Newdigate, whose son Sebastian was one of the Carthusian martyrs. Edmund did not prosper as much in public life as his father had done and fades out of the public record in Elizabeth’s reign. Amongst the godparents that he chose for his children was Susan Clarence, one of Mary Tudor’s closest attendants, and this and other clues eventually led me to believe that he may have been reformed in name only, preferring the ways of the old religion. But I also realised that in uncertain times discretion was probably the order of the day, and that the reason I couldn’t pin down clear evidence of these Tudor men’s religious affiliations might be because they didn’t want to nail their colours to the mast. This resonated with behaviour that I observed during the modern political events that unfolded whilst I was writing this book (the referendums in 2014 and 2016 on Scottish independence and membership of the European Union), and the way that some people are happy to articulate their voting intentions whilst others prefer to keep their beliefs to themselves.

ISHR Reading Weekend 2019

Blog post written by Sarah Leith

The Burn
Photo Credit: The Burn Scotland

The second weekend in April is always hotly anticipated by members of the University of St Andrews’ Institute of Scottish Historical Research (ISHR). Every year, a group of staff, students and guests descends upon The Burn, which is a country house situated on the outskirts of Edzell, a Georgian planned town straddling the border between Angus and Aberdeenshire. What they have been eagerly awaiting all year is ISHR’s annual reading weekend, the main event in the calendars of every University of St Andrews Scottish historian and historian-in-training. Always full of fascinating papers covering all aspects of Scottish historical studies, this year’s reading weekend was no exception. The ISHR reading weekend provides the perfect opportunity for PhD students to present their research in front of their peers and lecturers in a comfortable and informal setting. It also allows these students to listen to and to engage with the research currently being conducted by members of staff within the School of History. So, what happened this year?

On Friday evening, the attendees having devoured The Burn’s supply of scones alongside very welcome cups of tea and coffee, the proceedings of ISHR’s reading weekend enjoyed a propitious start in the form of Dr Derek Patrick’s introductory lecture. In his paper entitled ‘‘Probably at no time in its history has the popularity of the regiment been so emphatically demonstrated’: The Black Watch and Kitchener’s New Army, 1914-15’, Dr Patrick provided his audience with an extremely interesting account of the Black Watch’s volunteers at the beginning of the First World War. The talk was followed by lively discussion and questions abounded. For the rest of the night, The Burn’s guests settled in front of the roaring coal fire to catch up with each other, as well as to listen to Masters research student Jack Abernethy’s beautiful renditions of traditional fiddle music. Many thanks to Jack for bringing along his fiddle!

Dr Derek Patrick giving the 2019 reading weekend introductory lecture
Photo credit Sarah Leith

The next morning guests were up bright and early for the first panel, ‘Trade and Economics’. Our first speaker was Matt Ylitalo with a paper entitled ‘A walrus, a polar bear, and a humpback whale: Dundee’s nineteenth-century trade in Arctic animals’. Who knew that a polar bear was once loose in the centre of Dundee?! We then welcomed Dr Andrew McDiarmid from the University of Dundee who spoke on ‘Exiled Economics: a model for understanding the Scottish Financial Revolution’. Following a short break for refreshments, the next panel, ‘The Scottish Soldier at Home and Abraod’ began swiftly; two of Professor Steve Murdoch’s first year PhD students, Xiaoping Qi and Callum Woolsey, presented papers respectively upon the subjects of ‘Scottish Regiments in France, 1633-1659’ and ‘The Tartan Army: Home and Away in the 1640s’. For our third panel, we welcomed two guests from the University of Kent. In January we welcomed Dr Amy Blakeway as the newest member of ISHR, and so we invited her two PhD students, Graeme Millen and Anna Turnham, to join us for the Reading Weekend. Graeme and Anna both kindly presented papers on Saturday, too, with Graeme telling us about ‘A real distaste of the country and the service’: Major-General Hugh Mackay’s Memoirs, the Scots-Dutch Brigade and Identity during the Highland War, 1689-1692’ and Anna presenting a paper entitled ‘Between Berwick and Scotland: the correspondence of Ralph Sadler and James Croft with the Lords of the Congregation, 1559’.

After lunch, the group embarked on an outing to the Grassic Gibbon Centre, located near Arbuthnott. The Grassic Gibbon Centre celebrates the life of the twentieth-century Scottish writer James Leslie Mitchell, better known by his penname Lewis Grassic Gibbon. His most famous work, Sunset Song, the first part of his trilogy A Scots Quair, is widely regarded as the finest Scottish novel ever written. Having enjoyed this excursion, the group then returned to The Burn ready to listen to the next panel. Before dinner, we enjoyed the contributions of Daniel Leaver and Carol McKinven, who presented papers entitled ‘Revisiting ‘The New Commanding Height’: The North Sea and the Wilson Governments, 1964-70’ and ‘The master of the house?: Obligations and reciprocity in Scottish working-class marriage’. The day ended with a Quiz Night, which was won by Team Sofa So Good.

The last day began with a panel about Scotland’s twentieth century. James Inglis presented his paper ”Don’t write in the dark’: The commercialisation of the visible typewriter in Scotland’, complete with typewriter prop! This was followed by a paper given by Paul Malgrati entitled ”See yonder poor’: Robert Burns and the Welfare State (1940-1950)’. For the last panel of the weekend, we were given insight into the new ‘After the Enlightenment Project’ being conducted at the University of St Andrews. Dr Bill Jenkins and Dr Felicity Loughlin gave two papers about ‘The identities of David Brewster: The self-fashioning of a Scottish man of science, 1802–1838’ and ‘Scotland’s Infidels: Freethinkers’ Societies, c.1820-c.1850′. This was a great ending to a brilliant reading weekend. Many thanks to everyone who contributed papers, and to those who came along to listen and to enjoy the weekend. See you at The Burn again next year!

Thinking about Recluses: A recap of the second ‘Rethinking voluntary reclusion in Mediterranean Europe’ workshop

On 28th and 29th March 2019 an international band of intrepid medievalists, including four from St Andrews, gathered in Rome and Viterbo for the second of two interdisciplinary workshops dedicated to ‘Rethinking Voluntary Reclusion in Mediterranean Europe’. It was a truly international event, organized by the St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies, the Scuola Superiore di Studi Medievali e Francescani, and the Centro Studi Santa Rosa da Viterbo Onlus.

Figure 1: A possible recluse cell?

Medievalists have long investigated the reasons for choosing to live walled-up in a cell and what it might signify in religious and social terms. Primary texts and material culture can help us to explore such questions in a more meaningful way. For example, most historians of the medieval English church have encountered guides for recluses, such as the widely disseminated early 13th-century Ancrene Wisse, or biographies of well-known recluses and their spirituality. For those wanting to pursue the question of what it might have been like to live as a recluse, there remain a few extant cells attached to English churches. There have also been useful and important studies of France, Germany, and Italy. However, these historiographies remain distinct from one another and have tended to focus either on hagiographical material or on specific cities.  Therefore, one aim of the workshop at the Università Pontificia Antonianum was to update our understanding of what it meant to be a recluse, particularly in Italy, and to do so by comparing the evidence and the historiographies of different areas. This constitutes a continuation of a conversation begun in St Andrews in 2018, when cases from Italy were discussed alongside Croatia and Portugal. This year comparisons were made between Catalonia, England, and Germanic speaking regions of the empire.

The workshop, funded by the European Community through a Marie Curie Action and the Centro Studi Santa Rosa da Viterbo Onlus (thanks to a donation from EFI-Edizioni Francescane Italiane), began with the welcome of Pietro Messa of the Pontificia Università Antonianum. This was followed by the opening keynote delivered by Eddie Jones of the University of Exeter. Asking how much ordinary people knew about English recluses, Jones argued that they were a familiar part of the fabric of many a town (or its liminal spaces) and therefore often went unremarked. This does not make them easy to track down, though careful investigation reveals good evidence for their daily lives and those who supported them. The question of support was also central to the paper given by Joshua Easterling of Murray State University, though with a more spiritual understanding. Easterling focused on the lives of seven saintly recluses to argue for a transition from the early importance of Cistercian salvation networks in sustaining and inspiring recluses, to later more urban Mendicant connections. Michelle M. Sauer of the University of North Dakota then explored the role of widows who, in their role as recluses also became mediators, mediatrices, in the wider community. Other papers unpicked the language of the Catalan sources (Araceli Rosillo, Biblioteca Franciscans de Catalunya), the responses of Central Italian bishops and synodal regulation (Simone Allegria, Università di Siena-Arezzo), the range of evidence for recluses in Rome (Anna Esposito, Sapienza Università di Roma), and the location of recluses in the Patriarchate of Aquileia (Marialuisa Bottazzi, Centro Europeo di Studi Medievali).

The round table, during which Frances Andrews, Attilio Bartoli Langeli, Eddie Jones and Eleonora Rava mulled over some of the findings of the day, underscored the importance of rethinking the whole question of what being a medieval recluse might be taken to mean.  One reason why recluses have often been ignored by historians of medieval religion, or underestimated as merely a ‘transitional’ phase in a pious itinerary towards monastic enclosure, is the difficulty of the source material, which is often fragmentary and lacking precision.  As several speakers at the workshop made clear, new research and new evidence is now allowing us to set aside longstanding commonplaces. By focusing on the documentary evidence of communal Italy it is being revealed that recluses were a specific and autonomous element in the religious world.

Figure 2: A couple of St Andreans snapping a photo of the Bible of St Bonaventure

On day two, we set off on a fascinating walking tour, led by Eleonora Rava, tracking down locations associated with the city of Viterbo’s medieval recluses. The tour began with the archives of the monastery of Sta Rosa (who was arguably a recluse), passed through the crypts and cloisters of several urban churches and ended in the diocesan archive now housed in the papal palace. Here an unexpected opportunity arose to inspect the Bible of St Bonaventure, once stored as a relic in Bagnoregio. With this last surprise the workshop came to a close, but all the participants came away with a keen interest in developing further connections. The first step in that process will be an edited volume to be tentatively published in 2020.

From Dakar to Aix: the struggle with researching imperial histories

Blog post written by Dr Sarah Frank


V-P-HIST-03440-05, Guerre 1939-1945. Châlons-sur-Marne. Dulag Ob West. Camp de prisonniers de guerre. Homme de confiance des détenus coloniaux français.

Reconstructing the stories of colonized peoples presents a certain number of challenges. One struggle for historians of imperialism is how to draw out the voices of marginalized peoples when the archival trace places a euro-centric filter on their experiences. The research for my book, Hostages of Empire: Colonial Prisoners of War and Vichy France, took me on what sometimes felt like a wild goose chase hoping for memoirs and first-person accounts of captivity and finding mostly administrative documents. My first research trip as a young, hopeful PhD student took me to Paris for the French National Archives and the French Military Archives. These are the first ports of call for anyone studying the Second World War in France. I quickly realized that finding prisonnier de guerre in an inventory most likely referred to white, metropolitan prisoners of war, and not the approximately 85,000 men from across the French empire who were also captured in the Battle for France.

Evidence was there, it just needed to be found. Digging through correspondence between the French and German armistice commissions revealed intense negotiations between Georges Scapini, the half-blind veteran of the First World War placed in charge of all POW affairs, and his German counterpart over where the colonial prisoners should be interned. Once prisoners were settled into camps, international inspectors from the Swiss International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), or the American Young Man’s Christian Association (YMCA) started visiting colonial and white prisoners and reporting on their mental and physical conditions. While white prisoners sometimes left memoirs most colonial prisoners did not leave written records of their captivity. Luckily there are a few notable exceptions such as Léopold Sédar Senghor (first president of Senegal, poet, a brilliant intellectual), Ahmed Rafa (who became one of the first Algerian generals in the French army) and Michel Gnimagnon (a teacher from Dahomey). Still, much of the information about the colonial prisoners’ captivity was filtered through a white European lens – even when colonial prisoners were asked about their own experiences.

V-P-HIST-03440-35, Guerre 1939-1945. Melun. Camp de prisonniers de guerre français et sénégalais. Groupe de détenus sénégalais.

For a variety of reasons, the French authorities interviewed most of the colonial prisoners who escaped from captivity. Summaries of these interviews were submitted to the French military authorities interested in German propaganda, morale in the camps, and relations with French civilians. These testimonies constitute the largest records of colonial prisoners’ captivity experience, containing first-person narratives from surrender, capture, through to camp life and escape. So this is a fantastic source where we can finally hear from the prisoners themselves. But it of course remains problematic. One of the challenges is then, how to draw out the voices of those people whose every interactions with the French, who represented the colonial authority, was impacted by hierarchies of race and citizenship. Questions of sex and gender are inherently important for POWs, but do not exist in the source material. No colonial soldier would ever think of reporting sexual relations with a white French woman to a French military officer.


V-P-HIST-03440-36, Guerre 1939-1945. Melun. Camp de prisonniers de guerre français et sénégalais. Groupe de détenus sénégalais.

One method I found useful when working with problematic written sources was to expand my research to include as many different perspectives as possible. To do so, I travelled to the German Military archives in Frieburg, French Overseas Archives in Aix, Kew in London, the Senegalese National Archives and seventeen departmental archives in France hoping to find traces of colonial prisoners who had worked locally. Being an underfunded PhD student, these archival trips were somewhat dire – 5am trains to Vesoul, low-budget hotel rooms, and archival staff confused as to ‘what I wanted’. I quickly learnt that material on the colonial prisoners was rarely in a box labeled ‘colonial prisoners of war’, and that one should never travel without tea bags.  Surprisingly, the presence of a large POW camp, like that in Epinal which held up to 10,000 prisoners, did not guarantee that information about its colonial prisoners would be found in the departmental archives. In many departments school children were encouraged to collect clothes and scrapes of fabric to send to the ‘suffering populations in North Africa’ while ignoring the North African prisoners located in their towns. Other archives had a wealth of material, like in Mayenne, a rural department, where many small towns were forced to hire colonial prisoners to work on public works. As costs increased, so did the number of complaints which were kept in the archive, revealing the multitude of attitudes of French civilians towards the colonial prisoners.

Eventually, the diverse material from different actors allowed me to reconstruct the colonial prisoners’ experiences of life in captivity, relationships they formed, and how they survived until their return home. Reading widely allowed me to identify and challenge the assumptions of the documents’ writers, my own assumptions, and those of previous historians. Most importantly, thinking outside the box (and visiting as many archives as possible!) helped reveal the voices and agency of the people I was researching.

LGBT History Month 2019 – Reading List

LGBT History Month for 2019 comes to a close today. Around the school this month we have posted seven posters to celebrate the occasion and hopefully you had a chance to see them reproduced here online: Same-sex relations in the Vienna Bible moralisée, James VI & I – King of Scotland, England and Ireland, Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, ‘Taste in High Life’, William Hogarth, 1746, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, The Well of Loneliness (1928) by Radclyffe Hall, and The Indian Penal Code (Section 377).

This month we asked our staff members in the School of History to share their top recommendations for reading about LGBT history and the history of sexuality. Altogether we assembled a reading list of over a hundred books and articles covering the wide geographic and chronological range of our historians. You may download our reading list as as PDF or read below the fold to see the list directly online here.

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