Tag Archives: Opinion

A little post on e-books vs books

I’m not going to tackle the rather daunting debate on book vs e-books in any detail here, but I thought I’d just share a couple of recent posts I’ve seen that set out some stats on the issue quite nicely. This infographic presents a nicely balanced view on the merits of both. I particularly like what it says in regard to children’s books, if there is a point where I myself would put my foot down on the use of e-books it would be there. I’m sure picture books are available in e-book form, but there is nothing in this wide world to compare with cuddling up and reading a physical book with my son.

via the CILIP Multimedia Information Technology Group Blog

And from a nearby academic library, a couple of informative posts on their own internal survey of student opinion on e-book usage. It presents more evidence of a balanced view of e-book usage amongst those who use books (of both kinds) intensively. Though in the context of this academic library, it is clear that print is still winning out:

Education Faculty Library, Cambridge

Education Faculty Library, Cambridge


Photo by grandgrrl @ Flickr

Photo by grandgrrl @ Flickr



Yeah I’ll put Collaboration Before Christ Thanks.

Boris Johnson: Save the Denarii!


I try not to bring politics into this blog. Of course this isn’t always possible, the teaching of history in schools and university, the funding of museums and heritage, are all as vulnerable to the whims of politicians as mush as everything else in this world. Yet, I wake up to a minor newspaper storm, about an apparent edict from the BBC management to its staff requesting that they prefer the use of Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE) to the traditional Anno Domini (AD) and Before Christ  (BC), and I struggle to bite my tongue. I say ‘newspaper storm’, it is in fact confined to the right-wing leaning papers, the Daily Mail and Telegraph. To begin with it turns out that the BBC management has made no such overarching pronouncement on the subject, the guidance being issued within the BBC, but not BBC-wide (the media blog). Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London, has waded into the debate, ever keen on preserving little Britain against the tide of Political Correctness gone mad. Cue much talk of thin-end-of-the-wedge and erosion of the Christian Foundations of our once great nation nonsense. Continue reading

Who’s for a ‘warm, fuzzy embrace of the past’

At risk of becoming a little bit obsessed with what politicians have to say about history I feel the need to jot down a quick response to last Sunday’s Observer article by the Hon. Dr. Tristram Hunt M.P.. In the article the historian and M.P. comments on the decline in the numbers of historical biographies being optioned by publishers. Hunt spends most of the article giving us a potted history of Britain’s embrace of the grand biography and briefly charts a move toward the history of the masses. The 20th Century saw an eventual balance between history from above and from below; the biography of great men beside the left wing story of the people. Continue reading

Schama, Narrative History and the Conservatives

I was not greatly surprised when the new Conservative/Liberal coalition government looked to Professor Simon Schama and announced him as their ‘special government advisor’ for the teaching of history in British schools. Simon Schama probably needs no introduction to most people interested in this blog. Alongside the likes of David Starkey, he is a heavyweight of public history writing and broadcasting. Popular, accessible and prolific, he is most famous for the popular series ‘History of Britain’ which spearheaded something of a revival in history programming on British television in the last decade. Continue reading

A HISTORY graduate Hague! What were you thinking?

I couldn't possibly put a picture of Hague on my blog, so here is a representation of politics. Nice.


My History graduate hackles have been raised by the recent furore surrounding William Hague. In the last couple of days William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, felt compelled to tackle a nasty swirl of innuendo that had blown up around his employment of a young male aide, Christopher Myers. Some ‘right wing’ political bloggers and certain elements of the British press leapt on the fact that Hague had appointed an inexperienced, gay man to be his Special Advisor. The whispering campaign essentially implied that Hague was having a sexual affair with this man and that his marriage was on the rocks. The key elements of  this seem to centre around the aide’s inexperience, the fact that they had shared a twin hotel room during the election and this rather camp picture. Hague issued a statement denying the allegations and reiterated the strength of his marriage, going to highly unusual personal detail whilst doing so. The bulk of this debate is covered much better elsewhere, but to me the initial rumours are a demonstration of the kind of insidious, casual homophobia that still exists in portions of our society, particularly it seems in the right wing political media.


The most troubling point aside, I want to pick up on one detail that struck me when I first read the story and which has continued to bother me. Call me paranoid but there seems to be a general assumption that one of the things that makes this guy unsuitable is that he ‘only’ has a History degree from Durham. And even worse, it’s a 2:1! Now as a History graduate with a 2:1 from a UK university I’m just a teensie bit sensitive to this. For a start what exactly does qualify someone to be a ‘Special Advisor’? It seems to me to have a particularly fluid job description. The BBC have a go at summarising what these roles generally entail (here). I’ve always felt that one of the career avenues that history really does open for graduates is politics. A history degree equips you with pretty much all the desirable transferable skills: analytical, debating, research and verbal and written skills. As well as that any History graduate worth his or her salt will be able to demonstrate empathy and the ability to put current events into perspective. We very rarely learn from our past mistakes, perhaps more historians in the mix would help? Indeed a number of recent politicians do have History degrees, including Gordon Brown, Alan Milburn, John Prescott, David Blunkett, Douglas Hurd, and Sir Chris Patten. Actually, I’m not sure that list helps my point. But, it does demonstrate the point that History does churn out politicians. That’s also just the politicians, a fair portion of  the Civil Service is made up of History graduates as well.


So what am I suggesting? Well, having thought about it, nothing short a Historian led coup will do. We should unite and take the reigns of government from the lunatics in charge and we’ll do away with Special Advisors to boot. Just a casual browse of History blogs of note should give us some ideas of how we could cover policy areas:

Prime Minister: Nick Poyntz (@mercpol)

Social Policy: Lucy Inglis (@lucyinglis)

Buildings and Infrastructure: Patrick Baty (@patrickbaty)

Arts & Literature: Dainty Ballerina (@DaintyBallerina)

Health: Caroline Rance (@QuackDoctor)

Foreign Policy (well Pirates at least): Ade Tinniswood (@AdeTinniswood)

Urban renewal: Katrina Gulliver (@KatrinaGulliver)


Of course I would be happy to fill one special and particular role in this revolution, that’s right subjects bow to your royal majesty: King Gentleman Administrator.


Bow before your King!

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad designe – Part I

A Mad Designe

A Mad Designe or, A Defciption of the King of Scots marching in his difguife, after the Rout at Worcefter, With the Particulers where He was, and what He and his Company did, every day and night after He fled from WORCESTER.

Here we find ourselves back with the printer/publisher Robert Ibbitson and another pamphlet that he produced  in the aftermath of the battle of Worcester in 1651. The hand written note at the bottom right of the pamphlet tells us that the the pamphlet was bought (by Thomason) two months after the battle itself on November 6th.


Having read the royalist account of Charles’ escape back to France, with all its derring do, I’ve been looking out for the contemporary Commonwealth accounts, and this pamphlet is such an example. As with the pamphlet I showed last week (A list of the Scots Kings Party Slaine), this is a piece designed to mock and undermine the so-called ‘King of Scots’, though in this case it is written close to the events it professes to recount. The later Royalist accounts of the escape (which I will cover in a future post), in particular the Boscobel Oak story,  are firmly enshrined in the national cultural consciousness, thanks partly to the later revival of interest in the Stuarts in the 19th Century. However, what ‘A Mad Designe’ shows is that the King’s escape was clearly of immediate interest to the country at large and it seems that Ibbitson cannily tapped into the commercial potential of producing the ‘official’ version of events. That they had failed to capture the king was undeniable and no doubt a cause of immense frustration (see the massive reward here) so it is unsurprising that this tract was licensed given its aim to ridicule.

The tract itself consists of central woodcut with accompanying text. Elements of the image are numbered and the text provides a commentary on each of these, and by doing so tells the story of  how the King of Scots skulked his way out of the country. The woodcut itself raises a couple of questions:


Close up of the woodcut

EEBO: Wing (2nd ed.) / M236. Thomason / 669.f.16 (32).

The image seems to show a parade or pilgrimage of people and unearthly figures making their way to  a globe depicting Rome (in the very far left), on top of the globe sits King Charles. Nick Poyntz (www.mercuriuspoliticus.wordpress.com) points out, in his comments on my King Death post, that it is uncertain whether the woodcuts used in pamphlets like this were actually created for this purpose or if they were reused from something else. It could be that the pamphlets themselves were a way to recoup as much money as possible from what was an expensive object. I would say that my suspicions about this image would back that up. I’ll look further at the text in part 2, but the first instinct is that image in itself does not really fit the subject matter and that the points that the author is trying to get across are rather inelegantly twisted to fit around the elements of the image, somewhat akin to an old episode of the Magic Roundabout*.

It also looks like a stock image has been used and made to fit the desired content of the pamphlet, a kind of early modern photoshopping. I haven’t been able to trace this image elsewhere to prove this but I suspect that the numbering and the image of Charles’ head on the far left are out of sync with the rest of the picture and that possibly it was a larger image (carrying on further to the left). My guess is that this is an anti-catholic woodcut from elsewhere (perhaps specifically mocking pilgrimages?) that has been altered and reused in this context. Given the haste in which this must have been produced to catch the potential zeitgeist this would not be surprising. Without even looking at the text the catholic imagery in the woodcut in itself is making a clear statement about Charles’ loyalties and the threat that he brought to the country.

More on the text in Part 2

*though as I understand it the Magic Roundabout contained less Republican propaganda and was largely ambivalent on the issue of a catholic succession. But contained more drugs.

Bad History

Just a quick post to draw attention to an interesting article in the Times Higher Education magazine about the use and misuse of history in the pursuit of ‘Lessons’ and in particular the manipulation of ‘bad history’ at the hand of public officials (here).

The article draws attention to this admirable project at the History and Policy group, which is aiming to provide a platform to show up bad history (here)

In a week when a lot of us have been wondering how the repellent ideas of Nick Griffin and the BNP and people like Jan Moir of the Daily Mail can gain support in modern Britain, it’s worth thinking about this part of the article:

“Such behaviour is invoked in our own times as ‘medieval’ and people who do such things – in the Balkans in the 1990s, for example – are deemed to be ‘throwbacks’ to another time. In this manner, they are classed as ‘aberrant’, and so can be bracketed and put aside.

“The truth is that, then as now, violence in the streets is inspired by key actors, who act knowingly, and who are informed and often linked up with privileged access to media. There are agents provocateurs – preachers, journalists, politicians – who endorse behaviour by those who respect their authority. So, rather than the product of ‘ignorance’ or ‘age-old hatred’, responsibility for violence ought to be identified along lines of communication and excitation.”

‘Past Mistakes’ Times Higher Education, no 1,918, 2009

The ‘mob’ that vote for the BNP, or the ‘mob’ that support homophobic comment in papers like the Daily Mail are not blameless in their hatred, but they are often manipulated by those espousing false history and downright lies – see this article rebuffing some of Nick Griffins claims (here).

It’s important that people like Nick Griffin are challenged head on in the media, they are the agents provocateurs that need to be exposed as the hypocrites and opportunists that they are. Focusing on the leaders and the commentators won’t solve the problems that allow hateful opinions to flourish, but by doing so some of their ability to exploit and claim legitimacy will be dimmed.