The English country parsonage

By Jon Stobart

Anyone with a passing familiarity with English villages has probably been struck by the frequent presence of a large, even grandiose, parsonage—now often styled the Old Rectory and seldom occupied by the local clergyman. Many of these houses were built in the first half of the nineteenth century during a remarkable phase of renovation and rebuilding and renovation, funded in large part by a body called Queen Anne’s Bounty (QAB).

QAB was originally set up in the early eighteenth century to create a fund which could augment the often woefully inadequate stipends received by curates and some incumbents. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, new legislation empowered the governors of QAB to lend money for building as well as repairing clergy houses. Coupled with a new requirement for incumbents to be resident in their parishes, this led to a building boom, not least because many existing parsonages were small or in poor condition.

The extended or newly built parsonages funded by QAB mortgages varied hugely in size and appearance. From the mid 1830s, there was a growing taste for a style which might be called Tudor-gothic (see Figure 1), but most parsonages before then were of neoclassical design (as at Woodford) or in a broad vernacular style (Maidwell) —see Figures 2 and 3.

Figure 1. Design for a parsonage from Peter Robinson, Rural Architecture (1836)
Figure 2. Rectory at Woodford, Northamptonshire (1818)
Figure 3. Rectory at Maidwell, Northamptonshire (1813)

A growing proportion of clergymen were the sons of gentlemen or even aristocrats (think of Jane Austen’s Edward Ferrar, Henry Tilney and Edmund Bertram—all from wealthy and landed families), so parsonages needed to reflect their social standing. At the same time, however, there was a sentiment repeated in many architectural treatises that parsonages should not be too showy. Peter Robinson, then vice-president of the Institute of British Architects, thus presented plans for a Gentleman’s residence upon a scale sufficiently large to acquire the ordinary conveniences, without allowing the building to assume too much importance’ (Rural Architecture, 1836)—see Figure 4.

Figure 4. Floor plan of a parsonage from Peter Robinson, Rural Architecture (1836), with dining room, drawing room and library.

The combination of these various factors created a plethora of substantial, and sometimes very large, villa-style parsonages in villages across the country. Due to the bureaucratic process of acquiring a mortgage from QAB, there is also a wealth of documentary evidence available. This often includes beautifully drawn plans that detail the layout and appearance of the houses (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Floor plan and elevation for the new rectory at Seaton, Rutlandshire (1822) – Northamptonshire Record Office, Box x4353.

From these designs, we can see the importance of a large drawing room and dining room for polite entertaining; but also a study or, in grander parsonages, a library in which the clergyman could work and house their collections of books. These were a characteristic feature of the clergy, and often ran to thousands of volumes, as was the case with the Reverend Thomas Speidell of Crick in Northamptonshire, who had over 3000 books and enjoyed a [size] library as well as a private study.

The social standing of men such as Speidell is apparent from the substantial provision made for servants. Housekeeper’s rooms, butler’s pantries and bedrooms for housemaids were found in many of these new parsonages; some also had servants’ halls in which the domestic staff ate communally, as in country houses (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Part of the floor plan for the new rectory at Crick, Northamptonshire (1829) – Northamptonshire Record Office, Box x4353. Note the servants’ hall, housekeeper’s room and separate wc for the servants

In many ways, the parsonages built with QAB mortgages were houses for the gentry, but gentry of a particular type. They were social yet learned; conscious of their status, but also their religious duties.

A few clergymen struggled with the practicalities of such large houses, not least the cost of mortgage payments and maintenance. The latter, of course, became unsustainable in many parishes in the later 20th century, a problem compounded by the incongruity of modern clergymen living in such grand surroundings. As a result, many were sold off. Yet many survive as private houses—a legacy of a particular episode in church and social history.

Towns and cities, when countries go to war

By Dr Catherine Danks

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised difficult questions for how the international community should respond. To maintain the usual links and interactions might appear to condone Russia’s actions while the escalation of tensions runs the danger of precipitating a more widespread conflict in Europe and perhaps even superpower confrontation. Discussions about possible human corridors, ceasefires, and ultimately peace, take place at the state level. We tend to focus on relations between states, and alliances of states but the C20th and especially the post-WWII period saw the rapid burgeoning of links between town and cities. These civic links are variously known as twinning, partnership, sister city, or friendship arrangements and typically involve a formal agreement. The purpose of these agreements is generally to develop mutual friendship and understanding, typically they have encouraged the exchange of information and visits, the development of educational and cultural ties. Overall, the hope has been that more interactions would make conflict less likely. It has to be said, that some twinning agreements have proved more dynamic and enduring than others and some have become dormant without being formally ended. Town and cities have generally seen twinning and friendship agreements as ‘good things’, but don’t necessarily have the resources or the will to maintain and develop them.

Britain’s first twinning agreement with a soviet city was between Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and Coventry in 1944 before the war ended. The two cities recognised the suffering they had endured and the mutual support they had given. Manchester and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) signed a friendship agreement in 1962 and were due to mark its 60th anniversary in September 2022. However, Manchester has now suspended its friendship agreement with St. Petersburg in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The Coventry-Volgograd link, which is not just the first but one of the most active links has also been suspended. The Bishop of Coventry cautioned against ending the twinning relationship and argued that it should be used “to bring to the attention of our Russian friends the seriousness of the current situation and our horror at what is happening.”

Plymouth while initially condemning the invasion of Ukraine announced that they did not intend to end their twinning relationship with the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk arguing that this, ”would send the wrong message”. A Plymouth City Council spokesperson said: “Following the Novichok poisoning on UK soil in March 2018, Plymouth City Council agreed to revoke any invitations to Russian officials. And that they did not want to punish the people of Novorossiysk “for the barbaric actions of their government.” However, by early March Plymouth had moved to suspend  but not cut its ties with Novorossiysk.

Doncaster, Nottingham, Wakefield, and County Durham have gone one step further and ended rather than just suspended their agreements. Doncaster  has ended its agreement with Ozyorsk. Nottingham has ended its links with Krasnodar and the Belarussian city of Minsk. Similarly, Wakefield has ended its agreement with Belgorod and County Durham has ended its agreement with Kostroma. However, in these last two cases the links were already inactive. The Wakefield council leader noted that it had been “dormant” for many years and for County Durham and Kostroma, there have “been no active projects . . .for some time.”

If civic links are still seen to be an important means to develop international understanding, that they have a role to play in establishing and re-establishing contacts between peoples, what conditions will be needed in order to “unsuspend” relations?

Manchester Streets and the Victorian Pioneers Who Made Their Mark

By Ellie Andrews

Victorian Manchester was known to be a gruelling yet booming age. Whilst it was an era of technological innovation, social dynamism and cultural revolution, it was also a period where the average life expectancy was 26 and poor living conditions were at an all time high. Despite this, there were a host of pioneering individuals who navigated these circumstances to defy societal principals and expectations in subtle but long-lasting ways.

These are just a few of the historical figures and streets to be featured in an upcoming digital storytelling project called ‘The Strong Women of Victorian Manchester’ which is currently fundraising on Kickstarter. This initiative will explore the lives of each figure and as their lives cross over and intersect, users will have the ability to choose their destiny in this immersive experience.

Peter Street – Annie Horniman

Image source: Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives. Ref. GB127.m73494

Annie Horniman was a local celebrity, occultist and pioneer of the British repertory theatre movement in Britain. She leased the Midlands hotel as a 1000-seat theatre company for a trial season, before using £25,000 of her family’s packet tea fortune to purchase the Gaiety Theatre on 65 Peter Street in 1905.

Horniman was noted for her celebrity status, extrovert behaviour, eccentric style of dressing, heavy smoking and interest in the astrology. She was a member of an occult group called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and was noted for her daily use of tarot card readings. She embraced her love for the theatre, despite the disapproval of her wealthy family, and actively shunned restrictive Victorian values.

Quay Street – Harry Stokes

A master bricklayer, respected beerhouse manager and special constable, Harry Stokes was assigned female at birth but lived his life as a man. His gender variance became subject of both local and national news between 1838 and 1859, when his wife of 22 years told her lawyer about his sex in order to obtain a divorce.

After separating from his first wife, he set up home with a barmaid called Francis Collins. Together they set up an established beerhouse on 3-5 Quay Street. In 1859, Stokes body was found in the River Irwell. Despite the frenzy of local press headlines, Stokes’ gender variance was generally known and somewhat accepted by the working-class community after his death.

Bridge Street – Martha Partington

Image source: Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives

A passionate pro-democracy and anti-poverty protestor, Martha Partington was one of approximately eighteen victims of the Peterloo Massacre. On the 16th of August 1819, the mother-of-two marched from her home in Eccles to St Peter’s Field to support the Anti-Corn Laws movement. However, she sadly died whilst fleeing the scenes, having either been thrown or fallen into a cellar on Bridge Street. Her husband and children were reportedly awarded just £5 in relief.

The Peterloo Massacre resulted in over 700 serious injuries and remains a dark day in the city’s history. Whilst there were less women than men present at Peterloo, a disproportionate number of women were either attacked or injured, serving as a reminder of the brutality women faced for a cause they believed in.

Princess Street – Sarah Parker Remond

African American lecturer and abolitionist Sarah Parker Remond was born free in Massachusetts, 1826. As an international activist for human rights and women’s suffrage, she came to Lancashire in 1859 to appeal to mill owners and cotton workers to support the US anti-slavery movement.

She made her mark on Princess Street when she spoke at a meeting presided over by the Mayor in the Manchester Athenaeum. In her speech she declared, “When I walk through the streets of Manchester and meet load after load of cotton, I think of those 80,000 cotton plantations on which was grown the $125m worth of cotton which supply your market, and I remember that not one cent of that money ever reached the hands of the labourers.”

Great Ducie Street – Mary Burns

Portrait of Mary’s niece Mary Ellen Georgina “Pumps” Burns
Image source: Familie Marx privat. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2005, p. 65

Perhaps best known as the lifelong partner of German philosopher, Friedrich Engels, Mary was a working-class Irish woman who is thought to have grown up in the Deansgate area. Whilst few details remain about her life, her impact on some of Engel’s major works are clear. She met Engels during his first stay in Manchester and is thought to have guided him through the worst districts in the region for his research on ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’.

After the German revolution, Engels returned to England where they set up a formal home arrangement together on Great Ducie Street, where they remained for 20 years. Burns died suddenly in 1863 at the age of 41, but her impact lives on vicariously through Engels’ seminar work.

The Strong Women of Victorian Manchester Kickstarter will be running through Women’s History Month 2022. You can help bring the project to life by using this link:

Taking Academic Research Public: Summer Course

Join experts from MCPHH and beyond on a practical course to develop your academic historical work into formats suitable for wider publics.

Led by Professor Catherine Fletcher this free five-session course features a range of experts including Emma Nagouse from the production team of hit podcast You’re Dead to Me, Dr Mai Musié, independent public engagement specialist formerly of the Bodleian Libraries, Kate Wiles, interim editor of History Today and Dr Owen Rees, founder of #BadAncient and a regular contributor to podcasts and magazines.

Running online over five Tuesdays from 14 June to 12 July (10-3 each day), it will introduce you to essential techniques in communicating history to wider audiences.

The course will cover a range of different formats:

– short-form writing (for magazines and online)

– long-form writing (trade books)

– podcasts and radio

– engagement with the GLAM sector (Galleries, Libraries and Museums).

The final day will be your opportunity to present your own work.

By the end of the five sessions, you should have a good understanding of what is expected in these different contexts, and some practical ideas of where to take your own work next.

This course is free, and aimed at academic researchers (from the final year of PhD onwards), with little or no experience of this type of writing. It is essential that you have an existing piece of academic research (e.g., a close-to-final thesis chapter, article, or book chapter) that you would like to translate to other contexts.

While the course will operate primarily online, we will also offer collaborative workspace in Manchester for those who wish to take it up.

To express interest in participating, please complete the form here by Thursday 14 April. Successful applicants will be notified early in May.

Victorian Schools League Tables: The Public School Record 1886-1900

By Andy Carter, PhD Researcher, Manchester Metropolitan University

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the Covid epidemic of the last two years has been the sporadic closure of archives during local and national lockdowns. I have been exceptionally fortunate in that a high percentage of the source material I have needed has been digitised and made available online. The British Newspaper Archive has proved an invaluable resource during the pandemic. In particular, it allowed me to undertake the research which underpins my recent History of Education article, ‘‘No true or just test of merit’: ‘The Public School Record’ 1886-1900.

The Public School Record (PSR) was a series of annual reports which, at the end of the 19th century, presented a range of statistics which might be used to assess the relative performance of various public, proprietary and grammar schools. As such, it was a forerunner of the school ‘league tables’ that have been a familiar feature of English education since the 1992 Education (Schools) Act and, like the modern tables, was a source of much controversy and debate, as teachers, journalists, politicians and parents discussed which methods and measures could, or should, be included. Much of this debate took place in the letters pages of the newspapers in the weeks leading up to and following the publication of the PSR each year, providing an easily accessible insight into how this way of looking at school performance was seen at the time.

The origins of the PSR were in January 1886, when Orlando Martyn wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette, reporting the results of 28 recent scholarships awarded at Oxford colleges. The point Martyn was trying to make was that the most prestigious public schools were not necessarily the most effective at winning open scholarships to universities. Defenders of these schools, including the headmaster of Rossall, Herbert Jones, wrote dismissing Martyn’s claims as simplistic and inaccurate, but one correspondent, Oxford undergraduate Harold Spender, took the time to compile a table of every scholarship won to Oxford over an entire academic year. This became the basis for the first edition of the PSR and Spender embarked on a successful journalistic career as a result.

The Pall Mall Gazette at that time was a Liberal leaning newspaper under the editorship of the crusading journalist W.T. Stead. The PSR seems to have been taken under the wing of his assistant editor, Edward Tyas Cook, along with the newly recruited Spender. Cook and Spender were to produce the PSR as a feature of the Pall Mall Gazette until 1893 when they moved to the Westminster Gazette. In 1896, Cook and his team moved again, this time to The Daily News, and once again the PSR went with them, remaining a feature until Cook was fired for his support of the Boer War.

During its fifteen-year lifespan, the PSR underwent multiple changes, with elements dropping in and out. The table of Oxbridge scholarships remained the main feature, but this was not necessarily a good measure of effectiveness given that only a tiny proportion of boys were capable of competing for such scholarships and that figures for some public schools were skewed by the large numbers of closed scholarships they had at their disposal. To counter this, other tables were produced which measured the numbers of boys achieving School Certificate passes or passing the entrance examinations for the Army and Navy. Reflecting the importance of sport in public schools, the reports eventually included extensive reports of the athletic records of each school as well.

Each change to the PSR was accompanied by voluminous correspondence as the pros and cons of different measures of success were debated by the interested parties. The result of this an incredibly rich vein of material, which not only gives us fifteen years of statistical data charting the performance of two hundred or so of the country’s leading schools, but also provides us with the responses and reactions to this data from headmasters and universities. My article gives a brief overview of the history of the PSR and its social and political impact, but such is the depth of material available that ample opportunity for further research remains.

Winchester College Scholars, 1896

What did the Georgians do in their gardens?

By Helen Brown, PhD Researcher

The Georgian period produced some of the most famous and well-loved gardens in England and the design style was exported to properties across the world. Detailed analysis of garden design, style development, and the lives of famous designers has been the focus of garden historians for decades. However, most narratives end when the designer, his foremen and labourers finished their initial building projects and little direct attention has been paid to how people used and experienced the gardens. Many design histories might briefly mention walking or sports, but it is rare for a whole study to focus on these activities and the relationship between the space and its visitors. Kate Feluś’ Secret Life of the Georgian Garden (2016) is a great example of a work that explores the wide range of uses of gardens and the conditions required to perform them.

What did Georgians actually do with the gardens that they spent a significant amount of money and labour on? This question forms the basis of the third chapter of my thesis about the production and consumption of country house gardens beyond their designs. So far, I have looked at expenditure on building and maintaining gardens as well as the people that worked there and the wider professional networks of designers and suppliers.

The gardens at Audley End were laid out by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the 1760s after decades of decline. This was a large improvement project that ran both over budget and beyond the original deadline. Other areas of the garden were remodelled over the next 50 years or so, but the overall structure of the garden remains recognisable as Brown’s landscape design. The layout includes vast swathes of lawn, a ha-ha, a widened river to imitate a lake, and a number of garden buildings.

Audley End from the west, photo taken by Helen Brown

The most common activity done by Georgian visitors and residents of Audley End was simply to move around the space and take in the various views. This could be done on foot, on horseback or in a carriage. All three were popular garden activities for the leisured class in England, either in their own gardens or the gardens of others. Carriages offered a faster and raised experience of the garden and wider parkland and required much less effort for the individual. However not all areas of the gardens were accessible by carriage. At Audley End, the Elysian Garden has narrower winding paths that takes the walker over features such as the Tea Bridge and Cascade.

William Tomkins, Audley End, The Tea House Bridge and Audley End, View from the Tea House Bridge, c. 1780-1790, courtesy of English Heritage

Garden buildings such as the Tea Bridge and Turkish Tent depicted in Tomkins’ paintings were ideal places to take refreshment, rest and socialise in small groups. Other areas of the garden facilitated grand celebrations and large gatherings of people. Cricket at Audley End was often a great spectacle in the 1840s, played on the lawn between the house and the river. Large crowds came together to watch the Audley End XI play Cambridge University, Marylebone C.C. and other local sides. Luncheons for 80-90 guests were laid out for invited guests and many more spectators from the neighbourhood came out in support of their team.

The nature of being out of doors means any activity was weather dependent. In August 1845, the cricket was played on a “fine day without a single shower”, but three years later “violent showers of rain” drove the players into their tents and the spectators into the house. But the gardens were not only explored and used in the summer months. One snowy day in February 1844, Lord Braybrooke walked out with his friend and diarist Joseph Romilly and two sisters to visit two sheltered sites, the aviary and the conservatories. The gardens at Audley End were enjoyed all year round.

Watercolour of a cricket match at Audley End, likely by Louisa Ann Neville, c. 1840, courtesy of English Heritage

History, historians, and the French presidential elections

by Chris Millington

French wartime propaganda poster for the Vichy regime. Wikimedia Commons.

As France heads toward its presidential election in April, the country’s history is once again a stake in the political culture wars.  Eric Zemmour, a far-right journalist and author, is standing as a candidate.  Zemmour has gained notoriety for condemning an ‘anti-French’ reading of the nation’s history and challenging the supposed anti-national political correctness of historians.  In return, historians have attacked Zemmour’s selective and highly tendentious, not to say dishonest, reading of the past.

Notably, Zemmour has claimed that France’s wartime government – popularly known as the Vichy regime – protected French Jews while it sacrificed foreign Jews to the Nazi occupier.  This claim has a long history.  Vichy’s apologists sought to rehabilitate the regime in the immediate post-war years through the idea that Marshal Philippe Pétain had shielded the French from the worst of German excesses.  Historians have comprehensively disproved this claim.  Nonetheless, during an interview with radio station Europe 1 in September 2021, Zemmour contended that, ‘Vichy protected French Jews and handed over foreign Jews’.

In February 2022, a group of historians made a public intervention in the controversy.  The fifty-eight page pamphlet, Zemmour contre l’histoire (Zemmour against history), published by Gallimard, brought together specialists of twentieth century France to combat the far-right polemicist’s ‘falsifications and political manipulations of the past’.  They took aim at nineteen of Zemmour’s claims about the French past, from the time of Clovis to the trials of former collaborators during the 1990s.  Each section begins with a quotation from Zemmour, followed by a counterargument from the historians demonstrating the inaccuracies or downright falseness of the presidential candidate’s contention. 

Priced under four Euros and published in black-and-white with none of the frills of an academic or popular title, in content and form this is a historical corrective to Zemmour’s ultranationalist ignorance and a non-partisan political intervention.  The historians accept that interpretations of the past can change.  They reject, however, the wilful distortion of historical facts to suit political agendas.

It is difficult to imagine historians in Britain taking such a public stand against a political candidate.  It is true that at the time of the Brexit referendum in 2016, a number of historians divided into the Remainer ‘Historians for Britain in Europe’ and the Leaver ‘Historians for Britain’.  Their interventions, however, were limited to online fora, opinion pieces, and letters to national newspapers. 

Zemmour contre l’histoire reflects a public standing enjoyed by French academics in contrast to the more limited public roles of their British counterparts.  It speaks, too, to the extent to which France has confronted the difficult episodes of its past, however incomplete this process remains.  Meanwhile, recent controversies in Britain over the so-called culture wars attest to the lamentable reluctance of a nation to come to terms with the darker aspects of its history.  Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from the French.  

The Appropriation and Weaponisation of the Crusades in the Modern Era

By Dr Jason T. Roche

International Journal of Military History and Historiography: Special Issue, Appropriation and Weaponisation of the Crusades in the Modern Era, guest editor, Jason T. Roche, Volume 41, Issue 2 (2021)

The special issue brings together the work of the Northern Network for the Study of the Crusades and the interests of the History Research Centre’s War, Conflict and Society research group. It seeks a better understanding of the processes of appropriation and weaponisation of the medieval holy wars known as crusades by state actors and would-be state actors in the modern era.

The notion that the act of crusading is a live and potent issue is hard to ignore.  The introductory article proposes the hypothesis, which informed my decision making and editorial work during the compilation of the special issue, that appropriations and weaponisations of the crusades in the modern era rely on culturally embedded master narratives of the past that are often thought to encompass public or cultural memories. Crucially, medievalism (the re-workings and reinventions of the European Middle Ages in post-medieval contexts and constructs), communicated through metonyms, metaphors, symbols and motifs frequently acts as a placeholder instead of the master narratives themselves. That people – from militant Islamist fundamentalists to white, far-right extremists and from George W. Bush through to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – can appeal to master narratives of the crusades via mutable medievalism, which embodies zero-sum, Manichaean-type “clash of civilisations” scenarios, helps explain the continued appeal of the crusades to those who seek to weaponise them.

The crusading present is therefore complex and multifaceted, but it has precedents. In this special issue, Graham Cross first explores the meaning of the “crusading imagery” attached to American soldiers in 1917 and their “righteous crusade” against German tyranny for the cause of world democracy during the First World War. He spotlights the “protean nature” of a “crusading metaphor” shaped in a dialogue between the state and vernacular culture during the following decades that evoked memories of the American Civil War, the European scramble for empire during the colonial era and the language of righteous progressive reformers in the early twentieth century. Importantly, he then traces the alterable nature of the crusading metaphor in American political discourse during the eras of the Great Depression, the New Deal and the Second World War.

Sam Edwards picks up the discussion and likewise notes the shifting nature of “crusading” metaphors. He examines how General Dwight D. Eisenhower and others framed “D-Day” in 1944 as a “Great Crusade” against “the darkness and evil of Nazi rule.” Sam traces the subsequent employment of Eisenhower’s narrative framing, in commemorations and other expressions of cultural memory of D-Day, through to George W. Bush’s press conference outside the White House on 16 September 2001 and his infamous “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is gonna [sic] take a while” quip.

Mercedes Penalba-Sotorrio examines the adoption of a “crusading rhetoric” by the leaders and supporters of the Nationalist rebel army during the Spanish Civil War. She explains how and why the rebels projected their roles as the defenders of Catholicism in Spain, against what was considered to be an international Bolshevik threat to western civilisation in the 1930s. By building on an existing “mythologised national past”, the Francoist regime had forged a master narrative of a new “Spanish Crusade” against the “anti-Spain” other by 1939.

I examine the mutable nature of a “crusader master narrative” in the fourth contribution. Here we see how proponents of “crusading” narratives and medievalism, both captured, stored and presented in the form of emotive metonyms, can employ cultural memories of the crusades against, rather than in support of supposed crusaders. I establish that between 2014 and 2017, the Islamic State militant Islamist group manipulated and combined a culturally embedded awareness of the crusading past with a heady, potent mixture of classical and radical apocalyptic in a brand-new attempt to portray modern so-called “crusaders” and their “crusade” against the group as integral to Islamic sacred history. The group foresaw Armageddon, the ultimate zero-sum conflict between good and evil.

Characters who imagine themselves as players in an invented, perpetual “clash of civilisations” are currently shaping crusader master narratives and moulding cultural memories of the crusades. One hopes this special issue contributes to a better understanding of the ways this has happened in the modern era.

Professor Thomas Cauvin – Rethinking Authority in Public History: Citizens as Historians?

3 March 2022, 5-6.30pm, Lecture Theatre 7, Geoffrey Manton Building, Manchester Metropolitan University

Based on the Public History as new Citizen Science of the Past project, this presentation explores the concept of (shared) authority in public history. Driven by participation, public history invites us to reconsider how authority and expertise are defined and constructed. Through examples of projects currently undertaken in Luxembourg, the presentation will discuss to what extent citizen science can offer models of participation that can be applied to the whole field of public history.

Thomas Cauvin is Associate Professor of Public History at the University of Luxembourg (Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History – C2DH). He is a FNR-ATTRACT Fellow and leads the Public History as the New Citizen Science of the Past (PHACS) project.

Cauvin has been the President of the International Federation for Public History since 2018. He received his PhD at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy, 2012) and worked for several years in the United States at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (2013-2017) and Colorado State University (2017-2020). He is the author of Public History. A Textbook of Practice (Routledge, May 2016) and several articles and book chapters on public history.

For further information please contact Professor Catherine Fletcher – or Haseeb Khan –

Becoming a popular history writer: Post PhD (Part 2)

By Owen Rees

By 2020 I had my PhD, two pop history books and an academic book under review. I had produced research articles, edited chapters, organised conferences, and had begun preparation for an edited volume. I wanted to create a public history project, one that was mine, but that I could share with others. So, with the support of Ancient World Magazine, I established the fact-checking website Bad Ancient, which is steadily growing an amazing network of contributors from undergraduate students up to full Professors. Most contributors are approached by me, looking for relevant experts to answer queries, but some have also offered unsolicited help. In that case, their name goes on a spreadsheet and they get sent relevant queries to answer if they wish.

That project is going from strength to strength, but there were questions about my own writing career: should I return to the publishers and magazines that had always supported me, or should I try and take the next step. The next step for this meant bigger publishers, but bigger publishers do not accept unsolicited proposals. I needed a literary agent.

For over a year, I sent dozens and dozens of submissions to a host of agents who specialised in, or were explicitly asking for, history writers. One replied in the negative, none of the others replied at all. At a loss of what to do, I reached out to someone who had successfully made this transition, MCPHH’s own Prof. Catherine Fletcher. We spoke about the book market, the publishing market, indeed the history market. What seems to be selling, what is not selling. What makes for an interesting topic vs what makes for an interesting read. I drafted a full book proposal, roughly 10,000 words long, and Prof. Fletcher put me in touch with the agency that represents her. A foot in the door, no question, but there alone I stood waiting for judgement. After a year of back and forth, edits, re-edits, and at one point a complete change of topic and focus, the agency was happy with the pitch. Now they agreed to sign me, and to submit the proposal to a variety of publishing houses. If you are simply looking to do some popular history writing on the side as a hobby, I do not recommend going through this final process!

So, the book idea sold, and The Far Edges of the Known World will be out in autumn 2024. This moment was a long time in the making, with little guidance available for someone wanting to begin writing popular history. I made mistakes, learned the hard way, and established some guidelines I follow to this day:

  • I do not write for free. If I do write for free, it must be for the development of my portfolio/personal brand/career.
  • Due to point number one, I learned to chase invoices with gusto. The trick is to be assertive in what is rightfully yours – I cannot leave a plumber unpaid, so why should a writer be treated differently?
  • Build your network. The network I crafted is what got me my first book contract and to this day allows the Bad Ancient website to function.
  • To create a network: be nice, follow up by email, be reliable, ask for what you want/need, and offer help whenever you can.
  • I work in 5-year plans (yes, yes, I know, I hate me too!). What do you actually want to achieve, and what does that look like? Break that up into steps, what do you need to do first – what next – then what? Say no to work that do not help achieve this plan (if you need to, of course).
  • A PhD in history does not make you a writer – writing for the public is a very different style to academic prose.
  • Historical credibility is paramount. Poetic license exists for scene setting and filling in gaps, but the evidence must be at the heart of it all.
  • It is better to be a good writer that can be trusted, than an excellent one who cannot.
  • Spot an opportunity and grasp it without hesitation or apology.