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March 2, 2010

History Division News
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» Crucifixion in Cilfynydd


<image class="left" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/2/24/version-1_SMALL_1.jpg" alt="Poster by Kris Carter" />

THE HISTORY SOCIETY PRESENTS ... GARETH WILLIAMS

The image of Wales as ‘the land of song’ is based on the renown and immense popularity of its choral singing, particularly among the coalfield communities of the valleys. This period was also a period of great sporting success, for in this economically buoyant Wales its rugby and boxing champions were as internationally known as its widely-travelled choirs. But they seem to represent two quite different kinds of cultural activity.

The disorder, gambling, throwing missiles and spectator violence that were the order of the day on the rugby grounds of Wales seem a world away from the well mannered and restrained behaviour of respectable eisteddfod and chapel choristers. Or was it?

John Stainer’s ‘Crucifixion’ was a popular choral work of this period and there were crucifixions in Cilfynydd and throughout the valleys in this golden age of collective popular culture, as this musically-illustrated lecture will show.

The Glamorgan University History Society presents Professor Gareth Williams as guest lecturer on Tuesday, 2nd March, 5pm, D112. All welcome / Croeso i bawb.

Please contact 03020002@glam.ac.uk for more details.
Image: Kris Carter

February 4, 2010

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» Desperate Remedies?

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/2/4/wellcome5.jpg" />

The History Society Presents ... Alun Withey

What was it like to experience illness or surgery during the seventeenth century? This was a time when trained doctors were rare, surgery excruciatingly painful, if not fatal, and remedies concocted from a dazzling array of plant and animal products. People saw illness as arising from any number of factors, from an imbalance of bodily ‘humours’, planetary activity or even a punishment from God. From today’s standpoint, it seems miraculous that anyone could survive illness; but survive they often did.

In this paper, we will explore something of the experience of illness and surgery during the early modern period. We will look at how people understood illness and their bodies, the types of remedies used to cure them as well as doctors, surgeons and their techniques. While it is easy to poke fun at the sometimes apparently weird cures, we will also look at the ways in which our seventeenth-century predecessors were actually little different to us; they had the same fears about illness, the same desire to rid themselves of painful symptoms and, in some cases, provided us with remedies which are still used today.

Alun Withey is a research assistant at Glamorgan's History Division. He will speak about medicine in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at an event organised by the Glamorgan University History Society: on Tuesday 9th February 2010, 17.00, G308 (Treforest Campus). Admission is free and open to all, and any Glamorgan staff or students interesting in joining the History Society are warmly invited to attend its meeting on the same evening at Rickards Pub Function Room, 19.10. Please contact 03020002@glam.ac.uk for more details.

January 19, 2010

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» The History Society Presents ...

Fiona Reid

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Glamorgan University's new History Society has been a huge success: membership is growing and the Society has led the first of many expeditions, to the British Museum's Moctezuma Exhibition.

The next enterprise is a series of guest lectures, open to all staff and students of the university. Dr Fiona Reid of the Glamorgan History Division is the first speaker: she is on research sabbatical this year, but returns to Treforest to share her findings on war, medicine and society in the early twentieth century.

Admission is free and all are welcome to attend this lecture in G303 (Glynneath) at 17.00, 20th January 2010.

For more information about the History Society or about this event, please contact Pete Driscoll (08037582@glam.ac.uk), Secretary.

October 7, 2009

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» The History Boys and the Bayonet

Investigating the Butcher Blade

<image class="left" title="Bayonet found in Abercynon" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/7/smallbayonet_copy_1.jpg" height="900" alt="Photo of Bayonet" width="150">

Imagine the scene: students moving into a shared house in Abercynon.

A van full of furniture, an empty house awaiting the house-warming party.

After much puffing and panting we get the furniture in and get ready to dash for the pub (Ian’s forgotten the milk and coffee, so the pub is the only answer).

Peter hands me a rusty piece of metal. “It’ll look good on wall above the fireplace“, he says.

When I get home I am amazed to find the object is a military bayonet.

Although I'm not an expert restorer I begin to clean off the rust and paint (someone had been using what later turned out to be a significant historical artefact to stir paint) to find a series of numbers and symbols etched into the blade and hilt.

The symbol was of a crown surmounted by an arc in which was written the word Wilhelm. Also clearly embossed on edge of the hilt was the letter P with the number 15.

The thing that stood out about this 18 inch Bayonet was the serrated or sawback edge to the weapon. Our research revealed that the symbol of the crown surmounted by the arched word Wilhelm represented Kaiser Wilhelm II. The number 15 related to its year of issue, 1915, and the letter P to Prussia, where a German Pioneer Regiment was raised. That in itself was worth recording.

But the most striking issue was the sawback edge on the blade of bayonet which extended approx 12-14 inches along what would normally be described as the blunt edge of the bayonet. Continued research established that it was in fact a “German Sawback Butcher Blade”. British and allied media spun great political propaganda from these weapons. They gave readers details of injuries allegedly inflicted with this weapon as proof of the levels of atrocity commited by the 'Bestial Hun'. There were unconfirmed reports of German prisoners who were caught in possession of this fearsome-looking weapon being summarily executed. |ndeed the great anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front includes a scene where two German soldiers discuss the risk of being executed on the spot by 'British Tommies' if caught in possession of the dreaded sawback blade.

Our research shows that the sawback blade was issued to only 6% of German troops and indeed, the sawback serration was intended to be used by pioneer corps NCOs for cutting fence poles and barbed wire etc. But such was the power of propaganda that German Command recalled all sawback bayonets and had their edges ground down in 1916. This helped us narrow down the date the blade was captured. Clearly it must have been captured before 1916 when these blades were recalled, but after 1915 when it was made.

Hopefully further research will help us establish in which battle or skirmish this bayonet was actually taken and identify its rightful owners. The bayonet itself has been verified by the National Army Museum as an authentic ‘sawback butcher blade’ used in the bloodiest of conflicts.

As good history boys, we started our research by contacting the leader of foundation history, Dr Andy Croll, who proved to be a mine of valuable information. He put us in contact with Dr Fiona Reid, Glamorgan History Division's expert on Word War One. She has since lent the ‘sawback butcher blade’ to a secondary school as a teaching aid.

For us, most importantly, as history students, it shows that history is all around us and historic puzzles appear in some of the most unlikely situations. Stay tuned to the History boys for sequels. You can find us on the facebook group site of Glamorgan University's History Society.

Gary Brady