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July 28, 2011

History Division News
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» Sachsenhausen 1: the ‘Geometry of Total Terror’

History Student Fieldtrip to Germany, July 2011 The gateway to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Photo: Pete Driscoll As we walked through the gates of the former concentation camp Sachsenhausen on the outskirts of Berlin, under the obscene slogan `Through Work, Freedom’ … Continue reading

July 27, 2011

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» Berlin Notes: Weimar Cinema comes home

History Student Fieldtrip to Germany, July 2011 Sony Center, Potsdamer Platz, Home to the German Cinematheque. Photograph: Caitlin Freitag. Twenty years ago, the Potsdamer Platz was Europe’s biggest building site. While the Berlin Wall was in place, the square was … Continue reading

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

July 13, 2011

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» Aufarbeitung – a new word for history

History Student Fieldtrip to Germany, July 2011 Visiting the Foundation for the ‘Aufarbeitung’ of the SED Dictatorship With Dr Ulrich Maehlert (far right): Gary Brady, Pete Driscoll, Huw Edwards, Ceri Carter, Linda Graham, Dave Pennell, Jonathan Durrant, Kirsty Pullin, Norry … Continue reading

July 9, 2011

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» Making History in Berlin

Dave, Kirsty and Katie follow the traces of the Berlin Wall How do we remember and discuss the past? It’s a complicated question for any society, and nowhere more than in Germany. Germans are already preparing for the extraordinary ‘constellation … Continue reading

March 9, 2010

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» Recipes, Remedies, Receipts: seventeenth-century medicine revealed!

<image title="remedy manuscript" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/3/9/remedies.jpg" alt="remedy image">

New Website: Early Modern Remedies

Three hundred years ago, ‘snail water’ and ‘oil of swallows’ were just two out of thousands of everyday remedies that people routinely used to cure their variety of ailments. But where did this knowledge come from?

In the early modern period, every household was a potential storehouse of medical knowledge, with its own tried and trusted remedies. Medical remedies were shared freely from person to person and, in literate households, were often compiled into single volumes. These were valuable and enduring documents, often being handed down, and added to, over generations. For historians, they can provide a unique glimpse into the types of remedies and ingredients used, early modern illnesses and disease names, as well as a wealth of other information about compilers and the world they inhabited.

To coincide with the Wellcome Trust’s digitization of its important collection of these sources, a new website has been developed in conjunction with Warwick University to act as both an introduction to those wishing to find out more about these fascinating documents, and to forge links between groups of historians working on similar themes. The site includes a number of short contextual articles about the seventeenth-century medical world, links to online resources, including digitized collections, and also news and upcoming events. Much is already available, with more to come soon, and you may even spot an entry or two by a familiar Glamorgan historian!

Alun Withey

November 10, 2009

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» From First Remembrance Day to Remembrance Today

<image title="The first remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph, as pictured in the Manchester Guardian" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/28/Guardian.jpg" alt="photograph of 1919 memorial service">

Fiona Reid talks to BBC History

Listen to Fiona Reid on BBC History Podcast

The armistice which ended the Great War came into effect at 11am on 11 November 1918, and ninety years ago Britain came to a standstill to honour the dead of the Great War. The first remembrance ceremonies were commemorative rather than triumphant: ‘Today is Peace Day’ announced the Manchester Guardian and a reporter for the Times described the ‘great awful Silence’ that descended on London at 11 o’clock on November 11 1919. During the war approximately 750,000 British servicemen had been killed and about 500,000 had been wounded. About 10% of the population had lost someone very close to them, for example a son, a brother or a husband, and many more had lost friends, acquaintances and more distant relatives.

King George V had suggested that people observe two minutes of respectful silence to mark the first anniversary of the armistice: people were asked to remain silent at 11 o’clock, to cease activity, to stand with bowed heads and to think of the fallen. Yet to unite the whole country in a moment of contemplation required some organisation, especially given that times were not fully standardized throughout the UK. The silence was announced by maroons or church bells and it was universally observed. Everything and everyone stopped: buses, trains, trams and factories halted; workers, students and pupils stood still. Court cases stopped, even the ships of the Royal Navy were stopped.

<image class="left" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/28/poppies.jpg" alt="photo of poppies" />Other Remembrance Day traditions developed throughout the 1920s. In November 1920 the Unknown Warrior was buried in Westminster Abbey and over a million people visited it in its first week. There had long been a practice of wearing flowers to indicate a donation to charity and from 1921 artificial poppies were sold to raise money for wounded ex-servicemen. Now the Flanders poppy has become a uniform, universal symbol of memory but in the 1920s there were different types: expensive silk ones and cheaper cotton ones. The 1920s was also the period in which local war memorials were constructed. Over 5,000 of them had been built by 1920 and these were especially important given that so many men had died overseas. The French government gave permission for bodies to be exhumed from the Western Front and re-buried in family graveyards but British families were not allowed to do so and British war dead remained abroad.

Armistice Day was not always unifying. Often it provoked controversy. Wounded ex-servicemen sometimes protested at remembrance ceremonies – they were tired of the attention being paid to the dead when they were trying to live on inadequate pensions. During the mid to late 1920s bright young things held big parties on 11 November: after all that fighting it was just good to be alive. Later, in the 1930s, the Peace Pledge Union began to sell white poppies (symbols of pacifism) in contrast to what some saw as the more militaristic Flanders poppy.

During the Second World War, Armistice Day became less important and in the post-war years the 11 November commemorations were replaced by services held on Remembrance Sunday. As the First World War receded rapidly in popular memory it was widely assumed that it would be increasingly insignificant. Yet in the mid-1990s the British Legion effectively lobbied for a return of the two-minute silence and Armistice Day ceremonies became increasingly well-attended towards the end of the twentieth century. On 11 November 2009 there will be another significant turning point in the history of Armistice Day. Last year there were three Great War veterans at the Cenotaph but this year there will be none because the last veteran, Harry Patch, died in August.

Armistice Day is often presented as an unbroken tradition of patriotic remembrance. This is not the case. Over the years Armistice Day has provoked sorrow, anger, political protest, celebration and reverence. The ceremonies at the Cenotaph can be seen as overtly-militaristic yet Armistice Day also allows for the expression of pacifist sentiments. Do these official commemorations simply provide the space for a safe - and thus disempowered - pacifism? Or do they provide an opportunity for a broader discussion of war and its meaning?

<image class="right" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/28/WhitePoppy_copy.jpg" alt="photo of white poppy" />

Dr Fiona Reid discusses the history of Armistice Day in November’s BBC History Magazine

October 28, 2009

History Division News
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» Story of Wales and Slavery

<image title="J.H. Stobwasser, Gracebay Plantation, Antigua, British West Indies, c. 1830" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/28/crop.jpg" alt="plantation illustration" />

Bittersweet: Sugar, Tea and Slavery at the National Assembly

<image title="Sugar Curing House, from Diderot, Encyclopedie, i. 1762" class="left" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/28/crop2_1.jpg" alt="illustration" />

How are our lives connected to the world of Atlantic slavery? One clue may lie in the things we eat and drink. For example, the well-sugared cup of tea first become part of the British way of life in the eighteenth century and the ‘cuppa’ has never gone away. Therein lies a story...

Find out more by visiting a new exhibition at the National Assembly of Wales in Cardiff that traces the connections between Wales and slavery. Bittersweet: Sugar, Tea and Slavery – A Story of Wales & Slavery looks at the problem through the history of food and gardens, by tracing the connections between Caribbean slavery and our diet, especially the institution of afternoon tea.

The exhibition, which marks Black History Month, is the work of the charity Gateway Gardens Trust, which has organised a Heritage Lottery Funded series of visits to gardens in Wales established by slave traders, plantation owners or abolitionists. The exhibition at the Senedd marks the culmination of the project.

I should declare an interest. I was the historical consultant to the Bittersweet project and a book I’ve written that explores some of the issues raised by the project – and much else besides – will be published next year by the University of Wales Press: Slave Wales: the Welsh and Atlantic slavery.

Chris Evans

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

October 5, 2009

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» Historian visits Cursed Earth

Brian Ireland writes for 2000AD

<image class="left" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/5/map_of_cursed_earth.jpg" height="343px" width="400px">

Dr. Brian Ireland has written a short article for 2000AD about the epic Judge Dredd story 'The Cursed Earth'. Brian is writing a book about movement and mobility in the United States, and is particularly interested in the road genre in cinema, literature and music. In this short article, Brian discusses the Cursed Earth story in the context of road genre films and novels, and focuses on the recurring plot theme contrasting urban and rural America -- the city versus the frontier motif. The article is scheduled to appear in 2000AD Prog 1659 (on sale 28 October).

A longer academic article by Brian, entitled 'Errand into the Wilderness: The Cursed Earth as Apocalyptic Road Narrative', has been accepted for publication by the Journal of American Studies (Cambridge).