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October 11, 2010

History Division News
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» Slaves, Speed Demons, Snake Stones: New Welsh History?

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/10/8/snapshot.jpg" alt="Welsh History Logo" />

Why a 'New History of Wales'?

The Western Mail claims to be 'ripping up the stereotypes' for Welsh History Month. Three members of Glamorgan's history division have contributed to the newpaper's 'New History of Wales' series. Drawing on their recent research, they've tackled questions with contemporary resonance.

Did Wales nurture its own brand of science, independent of its neighbours? Alun Withey looks at the case of early modern medicine).

Have the Welsh always been politically engaged, fighting for the downtrodden? Chris Evans examines the Welsh contribution to anti-slavery.

Did Wales ever experience a golden age of morality - and have we now slipped from former high standards to become a 'loutish generation'? (<http: />Andy Croll on manners and morals in South Wales)

This initiative by the Western Mail reflects the huge public appetite for history - but is new academic research, challenging existing impressions, really what's wanted? Is this 'new history' knee-jerk iconoclasm? Is the emphasis on shattering stereotypes just media-friendly rhetoric?

As well as meeting popular demand, the 'New History of Wales' is one of the first public endeavours of History Research Wales, a collaboration between researchers at Welsh universities aiming to maximise results in the sector. These articles show the researcher at work - building on results from earlier historians but also finding ways to probe under-valued sources, to capture new voices from the past. It's this broader and more representative account of historic Wales which makes it possible to speak of a 'New Welsh History'.

March 23, 2010

History Division News
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» Science, Race and Slavery

What we're reading: Chris Evans on Darwin's Sacred Cause

<image title="A table from Types of Mankind, by Josiah Clark Nott and George Robert Gliddon, 1854" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/3/23/one_race.jpg" alt="image for c19 racial theory">

Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins (Penguin, 2010).

The popular image of Charles Darwin is of a reclusive sage, wholly driven by his scientific interests. A rather different picture emerges in a new book by professors Desmond and Moore, whose 1991 biography of the great naturalist was highly acclaimed. In Darwin’s Sacred Cause they give us Charles Darwin as the enemy of slavery. Anti-slavery, they claim, was an abiding passion and one that influenced Darwin’s science.

His grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood, were both active opponents of the slave trade, and the young Charles grew up in a militantly abolitionist household. His epic voyage on HMS Beagle not only took him to places that influenced his evolutionary theory – like the Galapagos Islands – it took him to Brazil, where slavery was flourishing as never before in the 1830s. Darwin was haunted by the experience.

Desmond and Moore interpret Darwin’s views on evolution in this light. His insistence on the common ancestry of all human beings was a challenge to the new schools of anthropology, which were predictably popular in the slave states of the American South, that saw different races as having entirely separate ancestries.

Some of the scientific debates get a little involved but Desmond and Moore write in a lively fashion. Recommended to anyone interested in racism and anti-racism in the history of science. Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins (Penguin, 2010) is available from via this link.

Chris Evans researches slavery and its abolition and teaches a second-year module on The Ending of Atlantic Slavery: 1776-1888

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