Publication Spotlight: Riches and Reform by Dr Bess Rhodes

Dr Bess Rhodes is a researcher with the Open Virtual Worlds team at the University of St Andrews. Here she writes about her new monograph Riches and Reform: Ecclesiastical Wealth in St Andrews, c. 1520-1580, available from Brill.

Photo Credit: Smart History

In June 1559 St Andrews witnessed a revolution. Inspired by the preaching of John Knox, discontented local residents joined with armed Protestant activists to purge the city of ‘all monuments of idolatry’. Religious images were burnt, altars smashed, and mass books destroyed. The upheavals were so drastic the ‘doctors’ of the university were shocked into silence, becoming ‘as dumb as their idols who were burnt in their presence’.

With astonishing speed St Andrews was transformed from Scotland’s Catholic religious capital (once praised as the second Rome) into a proudly Protestant community. In 1561 local officials boasted that St Andrews was ‘long’ reformed, and noted the prevalence of ‘sincere preaching’ and the abolition of ‘all public idolatry’. Not long after, in 1564, the St Andrews Kirk Session claimed that ‘a perfect reformed kirk’ had been ‘seen within this city by the space of five years’.

For a brief period it seemed as though St Andrews might become an ideal Protestant city and an example to the rest of Scotland. Yet the dream did not last long. As the elders of the kirk session were boasting of the perfection of their church, the Earl of Moray was already remarking on St Andrews’ ‘poverty and decay’. By 1593 the provost and bailies of St Andrews were regretting ‘the miserable estate and poverty whereunto the said burgh is presently reduced’, and complaining that ‘their whole common works, such as their pier and shore, their ports and causeways’ with which the ‘city of old was decorated, are altogether become ruinous and decayed’.

In St Andrews religious change was accompanied by economic crisis. Before the disturbances of 1559, St Andrews was Scotland’s fifth richest urban centre. Yet unlike other major east coast burghs (such as Dundee or Perth) its wealth was only partly built on trade. Instead, St Andrews profited from its role as the administrative heart of Catholicism in Scotland.

Praised as ‘chief and mother city of the realm’, pre-Reformation St Andrews was home to the kingdom’s most important cathedral and the seat of the country’s first archbishop. Its busy church courts brought a stream of litigants to the city, travelling ‘for to seek law’. Meanwhile scholars old and young came to the university to pursue ‘divine and human learning’.

For much of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries St Andrews seemed to be thriving, and the city saw an expansion in religious foundations. In the 150 years before the Reformation three new university colleges and two new friaries were established in St Andrews. Existing religious organisations also underwent development, with the parish church of Holy Trinity being completely rebuilt and major construction work taking place at the Cathedral (including the heightening and remodelling of the wall which still surrounds the Cathedral precinct).

This ecclesiastical building boom was funded by revenues drawn from across eastern Scotland. St Andrews’ religious institutions had estates spreading from Aberdeenshire down to the border with England. Major foundations such as the Cathedral, the Collegiate Church of St Mary on the Rock, and the university colleges of St Salvator, St Leonard, and St Mary profited from teinds (or tithes) diverted from more than fifty parishes in lowland Scotland. The Cathedral alone received more than 600 tonnes of grain a year, much of which was then processed at the abbey mills, including at a new watermill down by St Andrews Harbour (built by the Cathedral around 1518).

The financial arrangements of Scotland’s pre-Reformation Church have often been criticised. Yet they made a place like St Andrews possible, sustaining not merely major religious foundations, but supporting a wider service economy within the city. The system may have been flawed, but it was functioning, until torn apart by the upheavals of 1559.

When the Reformers embarked on their programme of religious transformation, many hoped that the wealth of the Catholic Church would be directed to worthy causes, ‘to hospitals, schools, and other Godly uses’. The reality proved less satisfactory. In the aftermath of 1559 the crown, local nobles, former churchmen, and the burgh council all carved up religious assets. Robert Pont, who briefly served as minister of St Andrews, later claimed that ‘from the year of our Lord 1560… the greatest study of all men of power of this land… has been… to spoil the kirk of Christ of its patrimony.’ Yet it was not just the powerful who contributed to the collapse of St Andrews’s religious economy. The post-Reformation period saw non-payment of rents and teinds on an unprecedented scale. With the archbishop gone, and the administrative structures of the Catholic Church abolished or disintegrating, even organisations which survived 1559 faced huge problems enforcing payment. Some, like St Salvator’s College, became caught up in litigation lasting decades; others resignedly concluded with the masters of St Leonard’s College that there was no point suing for non-payment as the ‘cost would over-gang the profit’.

The factors which undermined St Andrews’ religious economy were varied, but together they brought about one of the largest redistributions of property in St Andrews’ history. While certain individuals managed to ‘reap some earthly commodity’, as a community St Andrews became significantly poorer. Deprived of the wealth and protection of the Catholic hierarchy the city went into decline. By the seventeenth century visitors no longer marvelled at St Andrews’ splendour, but deemed the burgh ‘proud in the ruins of her former magnificence’.

Black Lives Matter and History at St Andrews: A US Historian Reflects on Race

Blog post written by Dr Emma Hart. Dr Hart has been at St Andrews since 2001 and is a historian of early America and the Atlantic world from 1500-1800.

Signs gathered at Holyrood after the Black Lives Matter protest in Edinburgh on June 7th 2020. Photo: Emily Betz

As a historian of the United States and its British colonial antecedents, I am technically among the better qualified members of the St Andrews history department to give readers some background to the protests against George Floyd’s murder by police, which started in the USA and have now spread around the world.

Indeed, from a scholarly perspective I can tell you in great detail how today’s police violence against African-Americans can be traced directly back to the eighteenth century. When White colonists became American citizens in 1783 they quickly got to work establishing an ‘internal police’ that was mostly designed to subjugate enslaved Africans. I can describe to you the many, many ways – visible and intentionally obscured – in which racism has been perpetuated by American institutions across the centuries. From eighteenth century laws making it difficult for African-Americans to own property and to trade, or even to get an education, to twentieth century housing policies that both devalued Black property and made it harder for Black people to get a mortgage.

But let’s not stop at the borders of the USA. I should also point out that it was Britain’s enthusiastic involvement in the slave trade that begun all this in the first place. That a statue memorializing slave trader Edward Colston still stood in the heart of Bristol until June 7th 2020 is a good measure of how unsuccessful our own nation has been at dealing with these uncomfortable truths. After all, we only have to watch David Olusoga’s latest BBC “House Through Time” series, which focuses on a home in Bristol’s Guinea Street, while reflecting on the fate of twentieth century Black British immigrants to join the dots. In 1718 this house was built and lived in by slave traders and was home to Thomas, an enslaved person bought from Africa against his will and forced to work in domestic slavery. In other words, Bristol’s status as a historic port city makes it, like Glasgow, a place where the vast wealth accumulated by slave traders and traders in slave-made commodities is plain to see in the cityscape. Despite the contributions of Black people to the British economy and society from at least the 1500s onwards, the Windrush scandal has witnessed the UK government destroy the lives of many Black Britons by taking away their right to work, to healthcare, and to citizenship. How can we claim that the 300 years between these episodes constitute an end to racism?

Ultimately, such information is an essential part of educating ourselves – especially if we are White – about the deep roots of today’s protests.  It can give us a clue as to why we are still facing these issues in 2020, 401 long years since the first enslaved Africans went ashore in the English colony of Virginia. They are still with us because racism is still everywhere.  It has proven itself extremely tenacious in the face of centuries of heroic abolitionists, civil rights campaigners, America’s first Black President, and numerous talented British politicians of colour such as Diane Abbott and David Lammy. While we should celebrate their achievements, any such celebrations must be placed against the recognition that the struggle still continues, and it does so because White ruling elites are brilliant at holding onto their power.

Essential though this knowledge is, it is no longer enough just to know it.  After all, Black people have known it for centuries already. At the same time, White people mostly chose to deny the validity of the Black experience and even Black history while denying their own privilege. Much like the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that are offered in the wake of another gun massacre in the United States, accumulating an understanding of racism’s tenacious character is ultimately an empty gesture.

The action that we take needs to be far more substantial. With our White students, we need to educate ourselves about the discrimination based on race that is part of pretty much every time and place, and every field of interaction, in the past. But we must also acknowledge that these are merely our first steps on a long and winding road towards a less racist society.

To progress further down this road we have a lot of work to do, both individually and as part of the larger institutions and structures to which we belong. Here I speak as a White person, because we are the ones that need to do the work, not our (not nearly numerous enough) colleagues of colour who have already spent most of their lives dealing with racism on a regular basis. What should we do? This is a substantial list and you may not feel able to act on every point (I have certainly not managed it) but we can make a start:

1. We can educate ourselves. We need to read as much as we can about recent and contemporary Black experience as told by Black writers. The first Black Professor of History in the UK – Olivette Otele of Bristol University – has a good starting list for you here. If you tweet, search under #BlackintheIvory and follow as many BAME people as you can. If you have colleagues of colour, listen to their experiences when they share them but do not ask them to do the work of educating you.

2. We can lobby our institution to offer more than warm words about racism. We need St Andrews to meaningfully follow through on the Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion agenda that has recently been put in motion. This means insisting that course content embodies these values and is delivered by a racially diverse faculty to a racially diverse student body. We are a very long way from achieving this, but we must not throw our hands up or make excuses.

3. We can get comfortable with the fact that becoming an anti-racist is an ongoing journey.

4.  We can support the work of anti-racist organizations with donations or, if you have time, volunteering.

5. If you are a witness to racism, call it out.  But if you can’t, don’t beat yourself up about it, but take the opportunity to work out how you will do better next time. Look for racism too – you will not often notice it as a White person but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I will sign off with the words of Ibram X. Kendri from his recent book How to be an Anti-Racist – ‘To be an antiracist is a radical choice in the face of…history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness’.

Project: Esperanto & Internationalism, c. 1880s-1930

Blog written by Dr Bernhard Struck. Dr Struck is a Reader in Modern European History and founding director of of the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History at St Andrews. His research interests include the history of Germany, Poland and France in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, transnational and comparative history, the history of travel and cartography, and now Esperanto.

Ču vi parolas Esperanton aŭ vi estas muglo? Do you speak Esperanto or are you a muggler? (AKA a non Esperanto-speaker) Esperanto is an easy language to learn. Its grammatical rules are simple and few—in fact, there are only sixteen in total! It can be learned in 30 minutes (seriously, compare that to Czech or Russian). The vocabulary is built on a blend of Romance and Germanic languages (mainly), some Slavic and a logical structure of Latin-based suffices and affixes. Linguists say the effort to learn and converse in Esperanto is about 1/5 compared to French. So why not learn Esperanto?

The Aberdeen Esperanto Society, 1919
Part of University of St Andrews Special Collections

That question may have been on the mind of some 40 Esperantists that we see in a photo taken in Craibstone near Aberdeen in 1919. We do not know much about these 40 individuals, yet the photo is a microscopic lens into the fascinating and multi-faceted Esperanto world in the early twentieth century and into a new interdisciplinary and collaborative project “Esperanto and Internationalism, c.1880-1930”.

The Esperanto society in Aberdeen was founded in October 1904 at a time when clubs mushroomed across Europe: in Dundee, Montrose (and elsewhere in Scotland), in Pardubice, Kutné Hoře, and Prague in Bohemia, in Saxony, in Warsaw and western Tsarist Russia, in Finland, Catalonia, in the English Midlands, and rural Bavaria, as well as in the US, in China and Japan. The movement bridged generations, it brought together women and men, it attracted Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Free Thinkers. It attracted teachers, scientists, engineers, doctors, and later on workers and civil servants.

The language was created by the Polish-Jewish doctor, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (1859-1917). He grew up in Bialystok (today’s Poland) in Tsarist Russia. In the 1870s in Bialystok, with a large Jewish population, he would have heard Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew along with another handful of languages and dialects. As a young medical student in Warsaw the young Zamenhof witnessed the anti-Jewish pogroms in 1882/83 that raged across the region. It was against this backdrop of rising ethno-nationalist tensions, at a time of globalisation, internationalism, and nationalism, that Zamenhof published his first two Esperanto manuals, Unua Libro and Dua Libro in 1887/88, first in Russian, and swiftly translated into other languages. With Esperanto, Zamenhof and his many followers hoped (Esperanto translates as “the one who hopes”) to give the world a neutral, non-national communication ground for a better, peaceful future of mankind.

The photo of the Esperanto group from Aberdeen provides the backdrop to the research questions for our new project hosted in the School of History and at the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History (ITSH): How did the movement spread? Who learned the language? How was Esperanto lived and organised at a local, regional, and transnational level? How did Esperantists live and communicate in Esperantoland a far-reaching, organised, yet non-territorial language community as teachers, engineers, and doctors, as Scots, Bohemians, Germans, Fins, and French? Were they internationalist, affiliated with other international organisation and attending the Universal Esperanto Congresses, or were they rather local-internationalists who did not attend congresses, but preferred to exchange postcards in Esperanto between Dundee, Bohemia, India, and Oslo?

The Esperanto project group. From left to right: Marcel Koschek, Manuela Burghelea, Pilar Requejo De Lamo, and Dr Bernhard Struck

Currently, the projects brings together four researchers with distinct, yet interrelated topics. Marcel Koschek joined us in September 2019 with degrees in History and Political & Social Sciences from the University of Würzburg and Bonn. He is working a PhD project “Local Internationalists. Polish and Central European Esperantist Networks between the local, national and global, 1880-1920s”. The projects aims to showcase how Polish Esperantists interacted in different spheres and examines their personal backgrounds, professions and interest.

Pilar Requejo De Lamo came to St Andrews in 2018 for an MLitt in Intellectual History and with a degree in International Relations from King Juan Carlos University in Madrid. Her PhD is entitled “Early Esperanto Communities in Spain: Tensions between Local, Regional and National Organisations”. The aim of this PhD is to bring into discussion the development of the artificial language in 20th-century Spain, and particularly in Catalonia.

Manuela Burghelea joined the Esperanto-Project at St Andrews as a continuation of her Master research on Esperanto between universal ideals and local cultural practices. She holds a joint MA degree in Intercultural Mediation (Lille) and a Bachelor degree in Philology (Bucureşti). Manuela conducted European volunteer work in Esperanto associations in France and in the Netherlands and is currently administrating the online citizen media translation community Global Voices Esperanto. Her project is entitled “Wandering Language: Senses of Place and Belonging among Esperanto Millenials”. In a socioanthropological and historical perspective, the project analyses motivations, aspirations, and agendas of young Esperanto speakers in current day Rio de Janeiro.

Working on a monograph on Modern Europe. A Transnational History, 1760s-2000s (Bloomsbury) Bernhard Struck started reading around the Esperanto movement and fell in love (academically). Taking an explicit local and regional starting point, his own research focuses on Scotland, the Midlands, Saxony, and Bohemia in the early twentieth century. Beyond the transregional focus around these four Esperanto regions, his current interests revolve around Esperanto experts as ‘epistemic communities’ by looking at doctors, architects, city planners in the Esperanto movement.

QGIS map of all international congress visitors across Europe 1904-1913.
Photo courtesy of the Esperanto project

While research on Esperanto exists, the movement as such has never been studied as what it truly was: a cross-border, translocal, transregional, and, in fact, global community. While all of our projects follow discrete questions and local and national particularities, they follow an explicit transnational perspective: a spatial and scalar perspective that starts from the local and individual and builds outwards to the regional, national, and transnational. The project builds on a complex linguistic and far-spread archival base from local and private archives, to city archives, museums, and national archives. It has a spatial and Digital History component by data mining of sources and visualisation of local memberships, journal publications, and international congress participation.

We would like to thank a number of sponsors of the project: the University of St Andrews, the German Academic Exchange Service, (DAAD) the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the CEDIES (Luxembourg), ESF (Esperantic Studies Foundation).

‘Prisoners or Patients? Criminal Insanity in Victorian Scotland’: an exhibition by Professor Rab Houston

Blog written by Professor Rab Houston. Professor Houston has worked at the University of St Andrews since 1983 and is Professor of Modern History, specialising in British social history.

Professor Rab Houston

‘Prisoners or Patients?’ is the latest part of a major project I began in 2016 to use the lessons of history to stimulate awareness of mental health issues in the modern world.

Using free podcasts, social media, public talks, and photo exhibitions of asylum and prison patients I tried to reach out to sufferers and those close to them, medical professionals, and anyone with an interest in what is the fastest growing diagnostic category in global healthcare. I did this using history because it is, I think, uniquely useful for enabling empathetic engagement.

William Porter, convicted of housebreaking and theft.
Image: National Records of Scotland

People a century or more ago seem very different to us. The rationale behind the photo exhibitions is that the further you get from an event or a person, the harder it is to know what they were actually like. The more you can keep of the physical reality, the more you keep of the mental reality. Seeing someone’s face engages us straight away, and then you begin to question why their image was taken. In this case it was because of a crime. What were their family circumstances? How did those around them see their mental state? Did they get a bad break or make a bad choice? How did the justice system deal with those who were not responsible because they were insane? What therapies were available to treat someone who went mad? All these steps draw us into a material world that is different to our own – but a mental world that is more familiar than we might think, because the combination of genetic predisposition and life-stresses that produce mental disorders was almost certainly the same in the past as in the present.

Britain’s present-day prison system was created by the Victorians. They built not only penitentiaries, some still housing prisoners, but also a national system of administration. What were called ‘criminal lunatics’ became part of an integrated system during Victorian times, rather than anomalies in both justice and health care. Perth Prison’s Criminal Lunatic Department was created to house the most seriously disturbed offenders from across Scotland, and it was the only facility of its kind until what is now The State Hospital, Carstairs, opened in 1948. 

Margaret Hunter or Beaton, convicted of killing her young son
Image: National Records of Scotland

The problems the justice system faced then were similar to today. How to identify whether someone really was mad or feigning insanity in hope of more favourable treatment? Where to put criminal lunatics to prevent them from harming themselves and others? How to balance the needs of society with the rights of individuals? How to help prisoner-patients recover and re-enter the community? Prison communities of all kinds had much higher levels of mental disorder than the general population in Victorian times, something which remains true today.

There are differences too. Victorians thought that institutions were the key to most social problems, whereas their successors today prefer smaller scale solutions. Most of the drugs now used to manage mental problems have only been available since the mid-20th century; Victorians had only sedatives and hypnotics. We have different ideas about the status of women and children, and the acceptability of violence in interpersonal relations. But the difference is not as crude as we might think. The Victorians knew about social issues and mental disorders, dealing with them as best they could by the standards of their times. The past really is another country, where they do things differently. We should respect their efforts, even if, ultimately, we ourselves choose to do things differently.

What does all this mean? The famous British historian G. M. Trevelyan once wrote movingly:

‘The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact, that once, on this earth, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing after another; gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at dawn.’

A body belt used to restrain a prisoner’s arms and hands. Restraints like this were used in all UK prisons in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Image: National Records of Scotland

The exhibition helps us to reach out to them across time and to see ourselves and those around us in a different, more sympathetic light. It allows us to learn more about mental health through the lessons of history. Because we are all migrants through time.

The exhibition showed at the National Records of Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival (August 2019) and was part of the official Fringe program. Between now and the end of 2019 it will be in various Scottish prisons, The State Hospital Carstairs, and on display at a UK forensic psychiatry conference. The project runs until the end of July 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 Poster: The Indian Penal Code (Section 377)

An LGBT activist dances during the celebration after the Supreme Court verdict which decriminalizes consensual gay sex on September 06, 2018 in Calcutta, India. Photo attrib. Saikat Paul, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

On 6th September 2018, the Supreme Court in New Delhi pronounced a landmark verdict decriminalising consensual gay sex in India. The ruling concerned Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, legislation first drafted in the colonial era which still criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature.’  Five Supreme Court judges declared that the law as it applied to consenting adults was unconstitutional, marking the end of a tortuous legal campaign by LGBT activists dating back to the 1990s. 

Supporters of anti-gay legislation in India argue that it protects traditional culture from ‘Western’ influences. However, many historians refute this, drawing attention to the ‘queerness’ of pre-colonial India and viewing Section 377 as an attempt by the British Raj to impose Victorian values on its colonial subjects.  Although Section 377 no longer applies to homosexuality in a legal sense, it may be argued that the attitudes that informed it persist and this question, amongst others, continues to fuel debate amongst historians about the impact of colonial rule. 

Sources: 

Section 377 – Supreme Court of India – WP(C) NO. 76 OF 2016 Judgement 06-Sep-2018, https://www.sci.gov.in, accessed 24thJanuary 2018.

Vanita, Ruth (ed.), Queering India. Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (Abingdon, Oxon; Routledge, 2002).

Further reading:

Arondekar, Anjali, For the record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Durham: Duke University Press).

Ballhatchet, Kenneth, Race, Sex and Class Under the Raj (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980).

Chatterjee, Partha, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Menon, Nivedita, Sexualities (New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2007).

Sinha, Mrinalini, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University, 1995).

Vanita, Ruth and Saleem Kidwai, Same Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New Delhi: Macmillan, 2000).

LGBT History Month Poster: The Well of Loneliness (1928) by Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall, Wikimedia Commons

A novel, The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyff (John) Hall, was first published by Jonathan Cape in an initially short print run in 1928.  Its protagonist is a female lesbian character, Stephen Gordon, and the plot follows her intimate encounters and relationships, which present the lesbian characters’ “inversion” – a contemporary term that Hall appropriated in her writing – as biologically-driven, and depict a complex picture of what life for lesbian women in interwar Britain could be like, setting experiences of personal, intimate happiness alongside wider social ostracism and rejection.

The context in which the novel appeared is important to consider. Published during a period in which the British parliament debated introducing legislation to outlaw sexual relationships between women, the novel was seized upon by the then editor of the Sunday Express, James Douglas, as “an intolerable outrage”.  The controversy manufactured by Douglas led to an obscenity trial in November 1928, in which magistrate Sir Chartres Biron upheld the Hinkley test to rule that the book had the potential to ‘deprave and corrupt’ and ordered the book destroyed. The Well of Loneliness was of course not the only book depicting homosexual love and relationships to be put on trial around this time; what was novel in this case was that the book was judged obscene and suppressed not for any particular explicit content but for “the subject itself” and for the fact, according to magistrate Biron, that it was well written and thus constituted a ”palatable poison”. The Well of Loneliness was not published in Britain again until 1949; in 1974 it was serialised as a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime.

Source: Joseph Bristow, “Homosexual writing on trial: from Fanny Hill to Gay News’ in Hugh Stevens ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing (Cambridge: CUP, 2010) 17-33.

Further reading:

Deborah Cohler, Citizen, Invert, Queer: lesbianism and war in early twentieth-century Britain (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

Laura Doan, Fashioning Sapphism. The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001)

Laura Doan, Disturbing Practices:  history, sexuality and women’s experiences of modern war (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Women since 1600 (Oxford: Greenwood World Publishing, 2007).

Lesley Hall, ‘”Sentimental follies” or ‘Instruments of Tremendous Uplift’? Reconsidering women’s same-sex relationships in interwar Britain’ in Women’s History Review vol. 25.1, 2016.

Alison Oram, Her Husband Was A Woman! Women gender-crossing in modern British popular culture (London: Routledge, 2007)

Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends: women who loved women (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004)

LGBT History Month Poster: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Wikimedia Commons

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, born in Saxony in 1825, was a writer who used his words and actions to publicly defend homosexuality (a term that came into usage in the German lands in the late 1860s, although Ulrichs himself preferred the term he coined, ‘Urning’) and to denounce the criminalisation of individuals accused of having engaged in same-sex sexual activity. Between 1864 and 1879 Ulrichs published twelve volumes of essays discussing Researches on the Riddle of Love between Men [Forschungen über das Rätsel der mann-männlichen Liebe], which elaborated his theory of homosexuality as anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa [a feminine soul confined by a masculine body]. This theory appears problematic to contemporary ears, and was shaped by Ulrichs’ interest in the then developing scientific branch of embryology as well as by contemporary societal-cultural assumptions that “love directed towards a man must be a woman’s love”.

Whilst the concept of ‘coming out’ is a 20th century one, Ulrichs effectively did this, consciously, first to his family and then publicly in 1868 when he stopped publishing under the pseudonym ‘Numa Numantius’ and began publishing his works discussing homosexuality and codifying different sexual orientations under his own name. Ulrich was also a political activist, speaking out against both the legal restrictions placed on homosexual activity and against the Prussian-dominated unification of Germany; the two combined in his (justified) fears that the extension of Prussian rule would lead to the extension of its strict anti-homosexuality laws.

Since his death in the Italian city of L’Aquila in 1895, to where he had fled in exile in 1880, Ulrichs has been claimed as a pioneering hero of the gay emancipation movement in Germany and beyond. Several German cities have named streets in his honour, his tomb in L’Aquila has been the site of an annual commemoration on Ulrich’s birthday since 1988, and the city was the major venue, along with Munich, where Ulrichs also lived for a time, for the ceremonies that in 2000 celebrated the 175th anniversary of Ulrich’s birth.

Source: Hubert Kennedy, Ulrichs: The life and works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, pioneer of the modern gay movement (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1988)

Further reading:

Robert Beachy, Gay Berlin: birthplace of a modern identity (Knopf, 2015)

Hubert Kennedy, ‘Karl Heinrich Ulrichs First Theorist of Homosexuality’, Science and Homosexualities (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 26–45.

LGBT History Month Poster: ‘Taste in High Life’, William Hogarth, 1746

Taste in High Life, Metropolitan Museum, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Eighteenth century Britons did not recognize gay or straight sexualities and identities in the way we do today.  Gay sexual relations were still illegal, though only for men, and could be punished severely. Nevertheless, especially among elites, some men adopted fluid gender identities and maintained romantic relationships with other men.  In art, theatre, and fiction, one could often find such characters depicted, and the era especially saw the emergence of the “macaroni”; a very fashionably-dressed effeminate man who was a trend-setting member of London high society.

 William Hogarth was very famous for his popular portrayals of London life.  This print, like many others, is an engraving of one of his paintings, produced for mass consumption among the middling classes of early modern Britain. Here, Hogarth is satirising the lifestyles of the London elite.  The characters he chooses to do this include an enslaved African servant, a wealthy older woman but also, on the far right, a macaroni-like figure. Known for incorporating rich symbolism into his works, Hogarth here communicates the sexual ambiguity of the macaroni with a number of visual cues.  The man is thin and dressed effeminately.  His cane and pigtail are phallic symbols, and he is wooing a rich older woman who is intended to be viewed as physically unattractive. Finally, he is holding a fur muff in front of his crotch to suggest his gender should be female.  Nevertheless his hand is in the muff, also hinting at heterosexual interest. This man is neither gay nor straight, but he is representative of the fluid gender identities that were highly visible in eighteenth century society.

Source

Further reading:

Jody Greene, ‘Public Secrets: Sodomy and the Pillory in the Eighteenth Century and Beyond’ The Eighteenth Century, vol. 44, 2003, 203-32.

Karen Harvey, ‘The Century of Sex? Gender, Bodies and Sexuality in the Long Eighteenth Century‘ Historical Journal, vol. 45.4, 899-917.

Amelia Rauser, ‘Hair, Authenticity and the Self-Made Macaroni’ Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 38, 2004, 101-17.

Tim Hitchcock, ‘Redefining Sex in Eighteenth-Century England’  History Workshop Journal, vol.  41, 1996, 72-90.

Randolph Trumbach, Sex and the Gender Revolution, vol. 1: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)

The History Society Undergraduate Conference 2019

Blog written by Ruth McKechnie

This year, the History Society’s Annual Undergraduate Conference returned for its fifth year. Once again, talented and inquisitive undergraduate historians showcased their research and presented their own unique take on the theme of ‘History and the People’. This year’s participants considered a wide range of topics and interpretations, from Soviet warfare to the commemoration of anniversaries today. Speakers Jacob Baxter, Fiona Banham and Benjamin Claremont are all currently in their fourth year, while Grant Wong is only in the second year of his studies. These students were joined by Professor Ali Ansari of the Middle Eastern History department and Dr Sarah Frank of Modern History.

Professor Ansari presented a thought-provoking exploration of how history relates to the formation of public policy, and he outlined some of the challenges he himself has faced within the public sphere. Dr Frank gave a paper on the experiences and popular images of prisoners of war, with particular emphasis on colonial German captives during the Second World War. However, the true highlight of the day were the undergraduate speakers. Each student gave an insight into an area of history that resonated with them.

Jacob Baxter, presenting ‘The Anniversary Today; Possibilities, Pitfalls and the People’, provided a striking consideration of the impacts that anniversaries can have upon historical engagement with the public. He skilfully brought St Andrews and the commemoration of the University’s 400th year to the forefront of this paper. Following this, Grant Wong gave a truly educational foray into the lives of re-enactors, and the length to which they will go to prefect their craft in his paper ‘A Search for Purpose: The Power of Performance in Civil War Re-enactment.’ Special attention was devoted to the role of women and minority groups within this practice.  ‘Children of the Holocaust in Popular and Collective Memory’, delivered by Fiona Banham, was a poignant and thoroughly considered insight into how the images and insights of children impact the public perception of the Holocaust. This paper received much praise and prompted more than a few tears from the audience. Benjamin Claremont’s presentation of ‘Losing the Forest for the Trees: Military Myopia in the Western Popular Understanding of Soviet Warfare’  focused on the impact of misinformation surrounding historical phenomena. Using exceptional example, he explored how myths can seep into common consciousness through platforms such as YouTube and popular media.

After the papers were delivered, the Deans Prize was won by  Jacob Baxter and his thoroughly delightful presentation. The conference was closed by a roundtable discussion, in which presenters, committee members and members of the audience participated in a lively debate. This final event marked the end of a day jam-packed with truly excellent work and thought-provoking ideas, which will hopefully facilitate further discussion. The History Society wishes to say a big thank you to all who made such a great day possible, with a special thanks to keynote speakers, student presenters and the School of History. Each of the papers presented will soon be available in History Society Undergraduate Conference Journal, and I would thoroughly recommend reading these spectacular examples of student research.