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July 19, 2011

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» Shifting Perspectives: Berlin’s Jewish Museum

History Student Fieldtrip to Germany, July 2011 Axes of Jewish Experience. Photo: Pete Driscoll. The axes of experience at the beginning of Daniel Libeskind’s controversial annex to the Jewish Museum in Berlin disorientate the visitor. They are below ground and … Continue reading

April 3, 2011

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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

October 11, 2010

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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'.

September 21, 2010

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» Papal Aggression in postsecular Britain?

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/9/21/ArchbishopandPoperesized.jpg " />

Dr Timothy Jones reflects on Benedict XIV's visit to Britain

In the lead up to Pope Benedict’s recent state visit to Britain, Vatican ecumenical expert, Cardinal Walter Kasper compared arriving in Heathrow to landing in a third world country and talked of Britain’s ‘aggressive new atheism’. His comments were regarded as bizarre diplomatic faux pas. They were reported with barely suppressed glee by the liberal press alongside protests against the child abuse scandal and Vatican policy on HIV-AIDS prevention, remarriage and homosexuality. Cardinal Kasper’s comments, rightly condemned as racist, nonetheless identify a real shift in the religious landscape of Britain.

Opposition to the Pope’s visit was principally from secularists rather than Protestants. While this secular anti-Catholicism had clear parallels with Britain’s historic sectarian anti-Catholicism it is different in key ways. The most interesting difference is the failure of the new atheists to tap into nationalist sentiment. As ticket sales to the Pope’s public appearances attest, most Britons were apathetic rather antagonistic to the Pope’s visit. Britain might not be especially Christian anymore, but neither is it especially secular. Secularists appeared as ideologically motivated in their irreligion as the religionists they opposed.

In their public interactions, the Pope and the leaders of the Church of England were presented on remarkably equal footing. The Roman Church claims to be the one true Church with universal jurisdiction, yet Benedict had tea with the Queen, the head of the Church of England. Perhaps more dramatically, on Friday the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury jointly lead evensong at Westminster Abbey. They processed down the aisle side by side and pronounced the benediction in unison. This ritual display of equality belies recent sectarian conflict.

Scholars are now suggesting that rather than entering a secular age contemporary Britain is better described as postsecular. Society is increasingly organised around secular principles and the country is rarely described as ‘Christian’ anymore. While Christian churches continue to play a social role (one that may be about to be dramatically expanded in David Cameron’s ‘big society’), they are more and more seen as players in a more level ideological landscape that also includes Muslim, Hindu and secular ideologies.

As the Pope's visit has illustrated, the central religious problematic in modern Britain is no longer secularisation, but multiculturalism. And perhaps the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury walking arm in arm down the aisle of Westminster Abbey on the eve of the beatification of John Henry Newman can be read as a good omen for multicultural Britain. After all, Cardinal Newman was contiguously the greatest Anglican and the greatest Catholic in nineteenth-century Britain.

Dr Timothy Jones teaches and researches modern British history and the histories of religion, fundamentalism, gender and sexuality.

July 29, 2010

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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