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April 3, 2011

History Division News
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» History in the Media: Coal Dust and Choral Song

There had been singing in Wales for centuries, formally in monasteries and cathedrals, informally in taverns and ale-houses, but it is with the industrial history of Wales that the popular mind associates the Welsh male voice choir and the popular mind is right.

Find out why from Professor Gareth Williams of Glamorgan’s History Division, writing for the Western Mail

Pendyrus Choir c. 1924 (Photograph)

Pendyrus Choir c. 1924

July 29, 2010

History Division News
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» Symbols of Oppression?

Graduate Prizewinners in History, 2010

Hijabs and headscarves have made headlines all over Europe recently. Is the Islamic veil a security threat, a symbol of oppression, a rejection of modernity? What can a historian add to this debate? In her prize-winning BA dissertation, Kara Hynes describes how French colonists stigmatised the wearing of the veil in Algeria long before twentieth-century feminism or fears of Islamist terrorism introduced new controversy. In revolutionary Iran, women wore the veil as a symbol of rebellion, even gender equality. More recently, it has been described as a "gateway to education"; adopted as a fashion item by young 'Muhajababes'; and used in performance art to challenge stereotypes concerning Muslim women.

Kara argues that veil has become the main symbol of differences between Islam and the rest of the world - and that its symbolic importance may distract us from its complex history. Catrin Isaac, the other recipient of this year's Ursula Masson Memorial Prize, confronted another powerful symbol in her BA dissertation: the nineteenth-century workhouse.

<image class="left" title="Kara Hynes, Helen Molyneux, Catrin Isaac" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/7/29/prize2.jpg" alt="Photograph - award of Ursula Masson Prize" />

Until now, historians had barely touched upon the treatment of pauper children in nineteenth-century Wales. Catrin discovered that records preserved in the archives challenge the Dickensian image of the workshouse as a place where children were subject to unabated cruelty. Wales lagged behind England in funding alternative, family-style accommodation for destitute children, yet there is evidence that trustees were anxious to provide their charges with a 'sense of home'.

A third History BA graduate, Daniel Robinson, received the Alison Waite Memorial Prize (shared with Tiffany Oben, BA graduate in Art Practice). This prize rewards the students who achieve the highest average grade for third-year work in Humanities and Languages. Dissertations by history's three prizewinners will feature in a collection of outstanding undergraduate work to be published by the history division later this year.

July 20, 2010

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» On the Beach

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/7/20/New_Image.JPG" alt="tourist poster" />

Andy Croll recommends some summer reading

It’s that time of year again. Put down your history books for a couple of weeks, slap on the sun cream and head for the beach. Think again! Here’s some good news for you. You can take some history books with you next time you head for Barry Island.

As all good history students know everything has a history. This even goes for a space as apparently ‘natural’ as a beach. The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth (1998) by Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker is a wonderful reminder that the beach is in fact a social and cultural artefact – it has a history that changes over time.

If lying on a beach can seem like a timeless experience (surely people in every age have enjoyed frolicking in the waves on a hot summer’s day?) read about the ‘beach phobia’ that gripped medieval society, ponder the rediscovery of the beach that took place in the eighteenth century and consider the changing ways in which the beach has been experienced in the intervening two centuries – from a place of recuperation for the sick and weakly to a site of pleasure.

The Beach is longue durée history that will make you appreciate afresh an everyday phenomenon. You’ll never be able to don your swimming costume again without thinking about how much beach attire has changed – in just the last one hundred years.

From a formal three-piece suit in the Edwardian period to skimpy Speedos in just half a century – the speed with which we’ve exposed ever larger areas of flesh to the sun and to the gaze of strangers is another remarkable indicator of just how much the way we experience the beach – and our bodies – has been transformed over time.

So, pack your sun cream, swimming costume – and The Beach – and enjoy your summer holiday!

Andy Croll