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1. A publisher before wartime

This year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War. This cataclysmic event in world history has been examined by many scholars with different angles over the intervening years, but the academic community hopes to gain fresh insight into the struggles of war on this anniversary. From newly digitized diaries to never-before-seen artifacts, new stories of the war are taking shape.

Oxford University Press has its own war story. With publishing dating back to the fifteenth century, the Press also felt the effects of the war: the rupture of a strong community and culture in the Jericho neighborhood of Oxford, the broken lives of the men and women of the Press who enlisted, the shadow of the Press still operating on the homefront in Oxford, and the disastrous return home — for those who did. We present the first in a series of videos with Oxford University Press Archivist Martin Maw, examining how life at the Press irrevocably changed between 1914-1919. Here he sets the stage for life in Jericho before the outbreak of war.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Martin Maw is an Archivist at Oxford University Press. The Archive Department also manages the Press Museum at OUP in Oxford. Read his previous blog posts: “Jericho: The community at the heart of Oxford University Press” and “Sir Robert Dudley, midwife of Oxford University Press.”

In the centenary of World War I, Oxford University Press has gathered together resources to offer depth, detail, perspective, and insight. There are specially commissioned contributions from historians and writers, free resources from OUP’s world-class research projects, and exclusive archival materials. Visit the First World War Centenary Hub each month for fresh updates.

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2. When science stopped being literature

By James Secord


We tend to think of ‘science’ and ‘literature’ in radically different ways. The distinction isn’t just about genre – since ancient times writing has had a variety of aims and styles, expressed in different generic forms: epics, textbooks, lyrics, recipes, epigraphs, and so forth. It’s the sharp binary divide that’s striking and relatively new. An article in Nature and a great novel are taken to belong to different worlds of prose. In science, the writing is assumed to be clear and concise, with the author speaking directly to the reader about discoveries in nature. In literature, the discoveries might be said to inhere in the use of language itself. Narrative sophistication and rhetorical subtlety are prized.

This contrast between scientific and literary prose has its roots in the nineteenth century. In 1822 the essayist Thomas De Quincey broached a distinction between the ‘the literature of knowledge’ and ‘the literature of power.’ As De Quincey later explained, ‘the function of the first is to teach; the function of the second is to move.’ The literature of knowledge, he wrote, is left behind by advances in understanding, so that even Isaac Newton’s Principia has no more lasting literary qualities than a cookbook. The literature of power, on the other hand, lasts forever and draws out the deepest feelings that make us human.

The effect of this division (which does justice neither to cookbooks nor the Principia) is pervasive. Although the literary canon has been widely challenged, the university and school curriculum remains overwhelmingly dominated by a handful of key authors and texts. Only the most naive student assumes that the author of a novel speaks directly through the narrator; but that is routinely taken for granted when scientific works are being discussed. The one nineteenth-century science book that is regularly accorded a close reading is Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). A number of distinguished critics have followed Gillian Beer’s Darwin’s Plots in attending to the narrative structures and rhetorical strategies of other non-fiction works – but surprisingly few.

Charles Darwin

It is easy to forget that De Quincey was arguing a case, not stating the obvious. A contrast between ‘the literature of knowledge’ and ‘the literature of power’ was not commonly accepted when he wrote; in the era of revolution and reform, knowledge was power. The early nineteenth century witnessed remarkable experiments in literary form in all fields. Among the most distinguished (and rhetorically sophisticated) was a series of reflective works on the sciences, from the chemist Humphry Davy’s visionary Consolations in Travel (1830) to Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-33). They were satirised to great effect in Thomas Carlyle’s bizarre scientific philosophy of clothes, Sartor Resartus (1833-34).

These works imagined new worlds of knowledge, helping readers to come to terms with unprecedented economic, social, and cultural change. They are anything but straightforward expositions or outdated ‘popularisations’, and deserve to be widely read in our own era of transformation. Like the best science books today, they are works in the literature of power.

James Secord is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, and a fellow of Christ’s College. His research and teaching is on the history of science from the late eighteenth century to the present. He is the author of the recently published Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age.

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Image credit: Charles Darwin. By J. Cameron. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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3. Rab Houston on bride ales and penny weddings

While each couple believes their wedding to be unique, they are in fact building on centuries of social traditions, often reflecting their region and culture. Throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, these celebrations served not only the families but their communities. We sat down with Rab Houston, author of Bride Ales and Penny Weddings: Recreations, Reciprocity, and Regions in Britain from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, to discuss the creation of modern marriage ceremonies.

How did you encounter this subject?

When I first started my career as an historian, I came across Scottish penny weddings in my documents. Lively, open events where guests paid for their own entertainment and gave money to the couple, they evoked a strong sense of community. That provoked my curiosity and they have been in the back of my mind ever since. Then, when researching my last book, I found similar sorts of marriage celebration in both Wales and the north of England. That made me even more curious, because the parts of Britain that shared these ‘contributory weddings’ were so very different in other ways. Then it dawned on me that the north and west of Britain had many social and cultural characteristics in common, like a sense of egalitarianism and trust, which went beyond conventional territorial boundaries and which made them very different from the south and east of England. I wanted to understand regional variations in social values.

So you believe that an understanding of our history and culture is crucial to a sense of identity?

It is absolutely vital. To be alive is to be touched by history. However much we think we live in the present and hope for a better future, we are our memories and our history. Knowing where we come from and why we are the way we are gives us identity. But understanding ourselves in both time and space also makes us better at dealing with the profound changes that are affecting Britain now.

What are the implications for the current debate on regional devolution and even Scottish independence?

National frontiers are important in many ways, but they often draw arbitrary lines, which meant little to people in the past and may be exaggerated for us. I think the people of north and west Britain always have had different social priorities from those in the south and east. To me this is the fundamental division within Britain: not any political dividing line between Scotland and England.

Illustrated Penny Tales.  From the “Strand” Library. no. 1-10" Shelfmark: "British Library HMNTS 12623.k.24."

Illustrated Penny Tales. From the “Strand” Library. no. 1-10″ Shelfmark: “British Library HMNTS 12623.k.24.” via British Library Flickr

How has the view of marriage and the marriage ceremony changed?

The point about a penny wedding is that the marriage ceremony itself was much less important than the social rituals surrounding it. Bridals celebrated the union and welcomed the couple into their new life. The couple’s relationship with each other and with their family and friends is also what matters most to men and women now.

This is all a bit serious: surely weddings are just about having fun?

Of course! Penny weddings and their English and Welsh equivalents were occasions of hospitality, sociability, and reciprocity. Relatives, friends, and neighbours all attended, showing their approval of the couple and helping to establish them in life. Bride ales and penny weddings were about husband and wife, but they also say something very important about the desire to create a sense and a practice of community. They may have much to tell us about some of the best things that we once enjoyed, in a world we have now largely lost.

Could we recreate that in the modern world?

I don’t see why not. Penny weddings are still held in the west of Scotland and other forms of communal sociability that express civic identity and a desire for self-help remain part of life in Cumbria and Wales. People can recreate this type of celebration for themselves, enriching their own lives and those of the communities in which they live and work.

Robert Allan Houston is the author of Bride Ales and Penny Weddings: Recreations, Reciprocity, and Regions in Britain from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries. He has worked at the University of St Andrews since 1983 and is Professor of Early Modern History, specialising in British social history. He is a fellow of both the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (Scotland’s national academy), and a member of the Academia Europaea. He is also the author of Scotland: A Very Short Introduction.

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4. Who signed the death warrant for the British Empire?

By W. David McIntyre


The rapid dissolution of the European colonial empires in the middle decades of the 20th century were key formative events in the background to the contemporary global scene. As the British Empire was the greatest of the imperial structures to go, it is worth considering who signed the death warrant. I suggest there are five candidates.

The first is the Earl of Balfour, Prime Minister 1902-1905, who later penned the exquisite ‘status formula’ of 1926 to describe the relations of Britain and its self-governing white settler colonies, then known as Dominions. They were ‘equal in status’ though ‘freely co-operating’ under a single Crown. The implications were that they were as independent as they wanted to be and this was marked in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster five years later. Some visionaries at this time suggested that places like India or Nigeria might be Dominions, too, suggesting that here was an agreed exist route from empire.

India, indeed, took the route in 1947 when Clement Attlee, the second candidate, announced that the Raj would end. The jewel in the imperial crown was removed when the Raj was partitioned into the Dominions of India and Pakistan. They were followed into independence a year later by Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Burma (Myanmar). With the ending of the Raj it was evident that empire’s days were numbered.

Harold Macmillan

Harold Macmillan, our third candidate, extended independence more widely to Africa. His celebrated ‘Wind of Change’ speech to the South African Parliament in 1960 marked a firm foot on the decolonization accelerator pedal. Macmillan’s conservative governments, 1957-1963, granted independence to fourteen colonies (eleven in Africa).

It looked as if the process would be completed by the fourth candidate, Harold Wilson, whose ‘Withdrawal from East of Suez’ and abolition of the Colonial Office ran in parallel to Britain’s preparations to enter the European Communities. Although the conservative government of Edward Heath, 1970-1974, delayed the withdrawal for a few years, Heath announced to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Singapore in 1971 that the empire was ‘past history’. And, as part of his application of the baleful disciplines of business management to government, he ordered a ‘Programme Analysis and Review’ of all the remaining dependent territories. This process, conducted over 1973-74, concluded that the dependencies were liabilities rather than assets and that a policy of ‘accelerated decolonization; should be adopted in many small island countries in the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Caribbean previously deemed too small and incapable of being sovereign states.

Although the Heath government never managed to approve this policy before it was ejected from office after the miner’s strike in 1974, the second Wilson government went ahead. It was Jim Callaghan, as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who signed the death warrant on 13 June 1975 in the form of a despatch to administrators suggesting that the dependencies had been ‘acquired for historical reasons that were no longer valid’. To avoid the charge of colonialism being made by the anti-imperialist majority in the United Nations, Britain adopted ‘accelerated decolonization’ in the Pacific Islands. During the late 1970s and the 1980s most of the remaining dependent territories moved rapidly to independence. An empire acquired over half-a-millennium was dissolved in less than half-a-century.

W. David McIntyre was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, the University of Washington, Seattle, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. After teaching for the Universities of Maryland, British Columbia, and Nottingham, he became Professor of History at the University of Canterbury New Zealand between 1966 and 1997. As Honorary Special Correspondent of The New Zealand International Review he reported on Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings from 1987 to 2011. His latest book is Winding up the British Empire in the Pacific Islands.

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Image credit: Harold Macmillan. By Vivienne (Florence Mellish Entwistle) [Open Government Licence], via Wikimedia Commons

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5. “A peaceful sun gilded her evening”

On 31 March 1855 – Easter Sunday – Charlotte Brontë died at Haworth Parsonage. She was 38 years old, and the last surviving Brontë child. In this deeply moving letter to her literary advisor W. S. Williams, written on 4 June 1849, she reflects on the deaths of her sisters Anne and Emily.

My dear Sir

I hardly know what I said when I wrote last—I was then feverish and exhausted—I am now better—and—I believe—quite calm.

Anne Brontë - drawing in pencil by Charlotte Brontë, 1845

Anne Brontë by Charlotte Brontë, 1845

You have been informed of my dear Sister Anne’s death—let me now add that she died without severe struggle—resigned—trusting in God—thankful for release from a suffering life—deeply assured that a better existence lay before her—she believed—she hoped, and declared her belief and hope with her last breath.—Her quiet Christian death did not rend my heart as Emily’s stern, simple, undemonstrative end did—I let Anne go to God and felt He had a right to her.

I could hardly let Emily go—I wanted to hold her back then—and I want her back hourly now—Anne, from her childhood seemed preparing for an early death—Emily’s spirit seemed strong enough to bear her to fullness of years—They are both gone—and so is poor Branwell—and Papa has now me only—the weakest—puniest—least promising of his six children—Consumption has taken the whole five.

For the present Anne’s ashes rest apart from the others—I have buried her here at Scarbro’ to save papa the anguish of return and a third funeral.

I am ordered to remain at the sea-side a while—I cannot rest here but neither can I go home—Possibly I may not write again soon—attribute my silence neither to illness nor negligence. No letters will find me at Scarbro’ after the 7th. I do not know what my next address will be—I shall wander a week or two on the east coast and only stop at quiet lonely places—No one need be anxious about me as far as I know—Friends and acquaintance seem to think this the worst time of suffering—they are sorely mistaken—Anne reposes now—what have the long desolate hours of her patient pain and fast decay been?

Why life is so blank, brief and bitter I do not know—Why younger and far better than I are snatched from it with projects unfulfilled I cannot comprehend—but I believe God is wise—perfect—merciful.

I have heard from Papa—he and the servants knew when they parted from Anne they would see her no more—all try to be resigned—I knew it likewise and I wanted her to die where she would be happiest—She loved Scarbro’—a peaceful sun gilded her evening.

Yours sincerely
C. Brontë

The Oxford World’s Classics edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Selected Letters is edited by Margaret Smith, with an introduction by Janet Gezari.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

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Image credit: Anne Brontë – drawing in pencil by Charlotte Brontë, 1845. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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6. Georges Pierre des Clozets: the 17th century conman

By Daniel Parker


Be honest: did you once believe that spaghetti could grow on trees? That cats needed headphones? Or that the moon was made of cheese? Actually, don’t worry about that last one; I’m still sure that’s true. However embarrassingly you may have been hoodwinked on April Fool’s Day in the past, it is incredibly unlikely that you’ll have ever been swindled by French confidence trickster Georges Pierre des Clozets, who represented a completely fictional secret Alchemy society called ‘The Asterism’. That dubious honour fell to Robert Boyle, philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor, who was duped in the latter part of the 17th century.

Between 1677 and 1678 Robert Boyle became the victim of a progressive French confidence trickster from Caen called Pierre, who claimed to be the agent of a secret international society of alchemists known mysteriously as ‘The Asterism’. The leader of The Asterism was described as the ‘Patriarch of Antioch’, resident in Constantinople. Pierre claimed to be able to work as an intermediary between Robert Boyle and the head of this exclusive society, Georges du Mesnillet, who Pierre referred to as the Patriarch of Antioch. The Asterism was, allegedly, a society comprised of the leading alchemists from around the world, a society that held the secrets to the riddles that had notoriously plagued Robert Boyle throughout his career. Pierre promised that Boyle would be made a member of The Asterism and, therefore, be privy to these alchemical secrets if he followed his orders.

There were a few problems with this. Firstly, The Asterism was an entirely fictional society made up by Pierre. Secondly, Georges du Mesnillet was not the Patriarch of Antioch (nor was there ever a French Patriarch of Antioch). Georges du Mesnillet was just an old acquaintance of Pierre’s. And thirdly, many of the alchemical secrets Pierre promised to impart were chemically impossible. Of course, Robert Boyle wasn’t to know any of this. Pierre expertly played on Robert Boyle’s obsessive fascination with alchemy, and toyed with Boyle’s perception of what was plausible and, more importantly, what was implausible. At one point during their correspondence, Pierre even managed to convince Boyle that one of the Chinese members of the society based in France had grown a fully formed homunculus in a jar.

473px-Robert_Boyle_0001

So how did Pierre manage to successfully dupe the otherwise incredibly intelligent Robert Boyle?

As well as making a good personal impression on Boyle when the two met in early 1677 – Pierre is alluded to as the ‘illustrious stranger’ and ‘foreign virtuoso’ in Boyle’s An Historical Account of a Degradation of Gold by an Anti-Elixir – the French conman manipulated leading European periodicals to corroborate his fanciful tale. For instance, the stories Pierre told Boyle, such as the Patriarch of Antioch working towards the “reunification of the Greek and Latin Churches”, were backed up in France’s Mercure Galant and Holland’s Haerlemse Courant. The latter was published by Haarlem printer Abraham Casteleyn and it had an excellent reputation for reliability, and for acquiring sensitive international information ahead of its rivals. We also know that Robert Boyle read this publication during the years that Pierre fed ‘information’ to the publishers, and that Boyle was an irenic Christian, so these stories would have appealed to him and helped him believe the lies Pierre was telling him. The artifice of Pierre was such that he made Boyle trust him implicitly.

In early 1678 Robert Boyle was promised by Pierre that a triple-locked chest containing the alchemical secrets of The Asterism would be delivered to him as his membership had been approved by the (pseudo) Patriarch of Antioch. It was at this point that Pierre’s letters to Boyle started to dry up. Pierre’s silence was only punctuated by his bizarre excuse that the delays were due to a freak canon accident that had resulted in him breaking his lower jaw bone and losing part of his forehead. Needless to say, this triggered Boyle’s long overdue scepticism, and soon he found out the embarrassing nature of his correspondence with Pierre and the fictional society of The Asterism.

This embarrassing episode did not just impact on Robert Boyle’s pride, but his bank balance too. Pierre, and the fictional Patriarch of Antioch, swindled Robert Boyle to the tune of several hundred pounds worth of gifts. Amongst many other things, here are a few items Robert Boyle sent Pierre, on the ‘request’ of the Patriarch of Antioch: a telescope, assay balances, a globe, one hundred glass vials, jackets of fine fabric, eight rods of gold-coloured moiré, and a chiming clock over three feet tall. The only gift that we can be sure Boyle received in return, based on the correspondence between them, was a basket of fruits and cheeses. I think it’s fairly obvious who came out on top of that exchange.

Pierre used the gifts and money he had received from Robert Boyle, and numerous other victims throughout the 1670’s, to purchase an extravagant estate in Bretteville in the spring of 1680. While building and planting on the site, Pierre became ill with inflammation of the lung and died in May 1680. His family inherited the estate and the missive that announced his death summed up his mysterious existence perfectly: “Such was the end of this man, whose character had been so little known, and after his death we know even less than when he was alive”.

This article was written by Daniel Parker, Publicity Assistant at OUP, with the help and guidance of the Electronic Enlightenment team. Electronic Enlightenment currently has 13 letters from Georges Pierre Des Clozets to Robert Boyle written in French, along with their English translations. Electronic Enlightenment is a scholarly research project of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, and is available exclusively from Oxford University Press. It is the most wide-ranging online collection of edited correspondence of the early modern period, linking people across Europe, the Americas, and Asia from the early 17th to the mid-19th century.

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Image credit: Robert Boyle by Johann Kerseboom via Wikimedia Commons.

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7. Declaration of independence

By Stephen Foster


Finishing a book is a burden lifted accompanied by a sense of loss. At least it is for some. Academic authors, stalked by the REF in Britain and assorted performance metrics in the United States, have little time these days for either emotion. For emeriti, however, there is still a moment for reflecting upon the newly completed work in context—what were it origins, what might it contribute, how does it fit in? The answer to this last query for an historian of colonial America with a collateral interest in Britain of the same period is “oddly.” Somehow the renascence of interest in the British Empire has managed to coincide with a decline in commitment in the American academy to the history of Great Britain itself. The paradox is more apparent than real, but dissolving it simply uncovers further paradoxes nested within each other like so many homunculi.

Begin with the obvious. If Britain is no longer the jumping off point for American history, then at least its Empire retains a residual interest thanks to a supra-national framework, (mostly inadvertent) multiculturalism, and numerous instances of (white) men behaving badly. The Imperial tail can wag the metropolitan dog. But why this loss of centrality in the first place? The answer is also supposed to be obvious. Dramatic changes, actual and projected, in the racial composition of late twentieth and early twenty-first century America require that greater attention be paid to the pasts of non-European cultures. Members of such cultures have in fact been in North America all along, particularly the indigenous populations of North America at the time of European colonization and the African populations transported there to do the heavy work of “settlement.” Both are underrepresented in the traditional narratives. There are glaring imbalances to be redressed and old debts to be settled retroactively. More Africa, therefore, more “indigeneity,” less “East Coast history,” less things British or European generally.

The British Colonies in North America 1763 to 1776

The British Colonies in North America 1763 to 1776

The all but official explanation has its merits, but as it now stands it has no good account of how exactly the respective changes in public consciousness and academic specialization are correlated. Mexico and people of Mexican origin, for example, certainly enjoy a heightened salience in the United States, but it rarely gets beyond what in the nineteenth century would have been called The Mexican Question (illegal immigration, drug wars, bilingualism). Far more people in America can identify David Cameron or Tony Blair than Enrique Peña Nieto or even Vincente Fox. As for the heroic period of modern Mexican history, its Revolution, it was far better known in the youth of the author of this blog (born 1942), when it was still within living memory, than it is at present. That conception was partial and romantic, just as the popular notion of the American Revolution was and is, but at least there was then a misconception to correct and an existing interest to build upon.

One could make very similar points about the lack of any great efflorescence in the study of the Indian Subcontinent or the stagnation of interest in Southeast Asia after the end of the Vietnam War despite the increasing visibility of individuals from both regions in contemporary America. Perhaps the greatest incongruity of all, however, is the state of historiography for the period when British and American history come closest to overlapping. In the public mind Gloriana still reigns: the exhibitions, fixed and traveling, on the four hundredth anniversary of the death of Elizabeth I drew large audiences, and Henry VIII (unlike Richard III or Macbeth) is one play of Shakespeare’s that will not be staged with a contemporary America setting. The colonies of early modern Britain are another matter. In recent years whole issues of the leading journal in the field of early American history have appeared without any articles that focus on the British mainland colonies, and one number on a transnational theme carries no article on either the mainland or a British colony other than Canada in the nineteenth century. Although no one cares to admit it, there is a growing cacophony in early American historiography over what is comprehended by early and American and, for that matter, history. The present dispensation (or lack thereof) in such areas as American Indian history and the history of slavery has seen real and on more than one occasion remarkable gains. These have come, however, at a cost. Early Americanists no longer have a coherent sense of what they should be talking about or—a matter of equal or greater significance–whom they should be addressing.

Historians need not be the purveyors of usable pasts to customers preoccupied with very narrow slices of the present. But for reasons of principle and prudence alike they are in no position to entirely ignore the predilections and preconceptions of educated publics who are not quite so educated as they would like them to be. In the world’s most perfect university an increase in interest in, say, Latin America would not have to be accompanied by a decrease in the study of European countries except in so far as they once possessed an India or a Haiti. In the current reality of rationed resources this ideal has to be tempered with a dose of “either/or,” considered compromises in which some portion of the past the general public holds dear gives way to what is not so well explored as it needs to be. Instead, there seems instead to be an implicit, unexamined indifference to an existing public that knows something, is eager to know more, and, therefore, can learn to know better. Should this situation continue, outside an ever more introverted Academy the variegated publics of the future may well have no past at all.

Stephen Foster is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus (History), Northern Illinois University. His most recent publication is the edited volume British North America in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (2013).

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Image credit: The British Colonies 1763 to 1776. By William R. Shepherd, 1923. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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8. Why the lobbying bill is a threat to the meaning of charity

By Matthew Hilton


On 30 January 2014 the UK government’s lobbying bill received the Royal Assent. Know more formally known as the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act, it seeks to curb the excesses in election campaign expenditure, as well as restricting the influence of the trade unions.

However, as various groups pointed out throughout its controversial parliamentary journey, Part 2 of the legislation will also have implications for charities, voluntary societies and non-governmental organisations once it comes into effect. Specifically, in restricting the amount of expenditure that non-party political bodies can spend ahead of a general election, it will severely curtail their lobbying, campaigning and advocacy work that has been a standard feature of their activities for some decades.

Understandably the sector has not welcomed the Act. The problem is that the legislation conflates general political lobbying with campaigning for a specific cause that is central to the charitable mission of an organisation. Sector leaders have critiqued the Bill as ‘awful’, ‘an absolute mess’ and ‘a real threat to democracy’.

It is not difficult to see why. The impact of charities on legislation in Britain has been profound and the examples run into many hundreds of specific Acts of Parliament. To mention but a few, a whole range of environmental groups successfully lobbied for the Climate Change Act 2008. Homelessness charities such as Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group fought a battle for many years that resulted in the Housing Act 1977. The 1969 abolition of the death penalty can be partly attributed to the National Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment and two pieces of legislation in 1967, the Sexual Offences Act and the Abortion Act, were very much influenced by the work of the Homosexual Law Reform Society and the Abortion Law Reform Association.

A group of campaigners from Christian Aid lobbying for Trade Justice. Photo by Kaihsu Tai. CC-BY-SA 3.0

A group of campaigners from Christian Aid lobbying for Trade Justice, Oxford, 2005. By Kaihsu Tai. CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The list could run on and on, but the impact of advocacy by charities on the policy process has become far more extensive than the straightforward lobbying of MPs. Charities have been key witnesses in Royal Commissions, for instance. From the 1944 Commission on Equal Pay Act through to the 1993 Commission on Criminal Justice, voluntary organisations contributed over a 1,000 written submissions. At Whitehall, they have sought a continued presence along the corridors of power in much the same manner as commercial lobbying firms. They have achieved much through the often hidden and usually imprecise, unquantifiable and unknowable interpersonal relationships fostered with key civil servants, both senior and junior.

In more recent years, charities have taken advantage of early day motions in the House of Commons. Once infrequently employed, by the first decade of the 21st century, there were on average 1,875 early day motions in each parliamentary session. The most notable have managed to secure over 300 signatures and it is here that the influence of charities is particularly apparent. The topics that obtain such general — and cross-party — support have tended to be in the fields of disability, drugs, rights, public health, the environment, and road safety; all subjects on which charities have been particularly effective campaigners.

Not all of these lobbying activities have been successful. Leaders of charities have often expressed their frustration at being unable to influence politicians who refuse to listen, else being outgunned and out-voiced by lobbyists with greater financial muscle supporting their work. But the important point is that charities have had to engage in the political arena and it is the norm for them to do so. To restrict these activities now — even if only in the year in the run-up to a general election — actually serves to turn back a dominant trend in democratic participation that has come increasingly to the fore in contemporary Britain.

Having explored the history of charities, voluntary organisations and NGOs, tracing their growing power, influence and support, we found was that rather than there having been a decline in democracy over the last few decades there has actually been substantial shifts in how politics takes place. While trade unions, political parties and traditional forms of association life have witnessed varying rates of decline, support for environmental groups, humanitarian agencies and a whole range of single-issue campaigning groups has actually increased. Whether these groups represent a better or worse form of political engagement is not really the issue. The point is that the public has chosen to support charities — and charitable activity in the political realm — because ordinary citizens have felt these organisations are better placed to articulate their concerns, interests and values. As such, charities, often working at the frontier of social and political reform, but often alongside governments and the public sector, have become a crucial feature of modern liberal democracy.

One might have expected a government supposedly eager to embrace the ‘Big Society’ particular keen to free these organisations from the bureaucracy of the modern state. But it is quite clear that the Coalition has held a highly skewed, and rather old fashioned, view of appropriate charitable activity. The Conservatives imagined a world of geographically-specific, community self-help groups that might pick up litter on the roadside in their spare time at the weekend and who would never imagine that their role might be, for instance, to demand that local government obtains sufficient resources to ensure that the public sector — acting on the behalf of all citizens and not just a select few — would continue to maintain and beautify the world around us. There are clearly very different views on what charity is and what it should do.

Indeed, it is remarkable that when government spokespeople did comment on the nature of the charitable sector, they were quick to condemn the work of the bigger organisations. Lord Wei, the ‘Big Society tsar’, even went so far as to criticise the larger charities for being ‘bureaucratic and unresponsive to citizens’. With such attitudes it is no wonder the Big Society soon lost any pretence of adherence from the many thousands of bodies connected to the National Council of Voluntary Organisation.

It is tempting to see the particular form the Conservatives hoped the Big Society would take as part and parcel of a policy agenda that is connected to the lobbying bill. That is, there has never been an embrace of charities by Cameron and his ministers as the solution to society’s – and the state’s – ills. Rather, in viewing these developments alongside the huge cuts in public sector funding (which often trickled down to national and community-based charities), there has actually been a sustained attack on the very nature of charity, or at least it has developed as a sector in recent decades. It is no wonder that many charity leaders and CEOs, feeling cut off at the knees by the slashes to their budgets and damaged by the sustained abuse in the press for their mistakenly inflated salaries, now feel the Lobbying Act is seeking to gag their voice as well.

Matthew Hilton is Professor of Social History at the University of Birmingham, and the author of The Politics of Expertise: How NGOs Shaped Modern Britain, along with James McKay, Nicholas Crowson and Jean-François Mouhot. Together they also compiled ‘A Historical Guide to NGOs in Britain: Charities, Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector since 1945′ (Palgrave, 2012). All the data contained in these two volumes, as well as that found above, is freely available on their project website.

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9. In memoriam: Tony Benn

By Jad Adams


Tony Benn has left as an enduring monument: one of the great diaries of the twentieth century, lasting from 1940, when he was fifteen, to 2009 when illness forced him to stop.

They are published as nine volumes but these are perhaps ten percent of the 15 million words in the original dairy. I am one of the few people to have had access to the manuscript diary, in the course of writing my biography of Benn. For this I received every assistance from him and his staff in the jumbled, chaotic office in the basement of his Holland Park Avenue home.

The diaries of course are of historic interest because they reveal the work of a cabinet minister and member of parliament for more than fifty years. Over time the Benn charts post-war hope, the rise of the Labour militants, the battle of Orgreave, and the decline of the Left. The books also have descriptions of constituents’ experiences in his weekly surgery, an opportunity to meet the people and sample their woes, which is hated by some MPs but was embraced by Benn.

They also show the development of Benn’s family of four children, twelve grandchildren, and the suffering of the death of parents and partner. One would be hard put to it to find anywhere in literature a more poignant description of death and continuing loss than Benn’s of Caroline, his partner of more than fifty years whose illness and death was described in remorseless detail in manuscript, some of which was published in More Time for Politics (2007).

Benn had always felt he ought to be writing a diary, as a part of the non-conformist urge to account for every moment of life as a gift from God. He explained at one of our last formal conversations: ‘It’s very self obsessed. I must admit it worries me that I should spend so much time on myself, I saw it as an account, accountability to the Almighty, when I die give him 15 million words and say: there, you decide. I think there is a moral element in it, of righteousness.’

Tony_Benn

This need to see time as a precious resource to be accounted for went back to his father, William Wedgwood Benn (Later Lord Stansgate) who expected the boy Benn to fill in a time chart showing how he had made use of his days. Benn senior had read an early self-help book by Arnold Bennett called How to Live 24 Hours a Day on making the best use of time. ‘Father became obsessed with it,’ Benn said.

Tony Benn had been keeping a diary sporadically since childhood. It had always been his ambition to keep one, and early fragments of diary exist, including one during his time in the services, where diary-keeping was forbidden for security reasons so he put key words relating to places or equipment in code. In the 1950s he began keeping a political diary and wrote at least some parts of a diary for every year from 1953. The emotional shock of his father’s death in 1960 and subsequent political upsets stopped his diary writing in 1961 and 1962 but, with a return to the House of Commons in sight, he resumed it in 1963.

He started dictating the diary to a tape recorder in 1966 when he joined the cabinet because he could not dictate accounts of cabinet meetings to a secretary who was not covered by the Official Secrets Act. Benn would store the tapes, not knowing when he would transcribe them, or indeed if they would be transcribed in his lifetime. His daughter, Melissa spoke of arriving at their home late at night when she was a teenager, and hearing her father’s voice dictating the diary, followed by snoring as he fell asleep at the microphone.

Benn stopped writing the diary after he fell ill in 2009 in what was probably the first stroke he was to suffer. He explained to me:

‘You can’t not be a diarist some of the time. One day is much the same as the other and it is a lot of effort. You really do have to be very conscientious and keep it up in detail and keep up the recordings and so on and it took over my life, also I’m not sure now that I’m not in a position on the inside on anything where my reflections would be interesting. I think my reflections might be as interesting as anybody else’s but whether it constitutes a diary when I’m not at the heart of anything…

‘I never thought of it as an achievement, just something I did, it’s been a bit of a burden to have to write it all down every night. It began as a journal where I put down things that interested me during the war, I drew a little bit on that for Years of Hope (1994). You can say you’ve achieved a reasonably accurate daily account of what has happened to you and since people are always shaped by what has happened to them so if you have a diary you get three bites at your own experience: when it happens, when you write it down and when you read it later and realise you were wrong.’

Benn did not think he would publish it in his lifetime, but in about 1983 he decided to type up six months and have a look at it. He invited Ruth Winstone to help with the diary in 1985 and found they worked so well together that she stayed and edited all the diaries.

His final thought on the long labour of the Benn Diaries was: ‘I couldn’t recommend anyone to keep a diary without warning them that it does take over your life.’

Jad Adams’ Tony Benn: A Biography is published by Biteback.  His next book is Women and the Vote: A World History to be published by OUP in the autumn.

Image credit: Portrait of Tony Benn. By I, Isujosh. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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10. America and the politics of identity in Britain

By David Ellwood


“The Americanisation of British politics has been striking this conference season,” declared The Economist last autumn. “British politicians and civil servants love freebies to the US ‘to see how they do things,’” reported Simon Jenkins in The Guardian in November. Among the keenest such travellers is Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. Talking to the Daily Telegraph in February 2014, Gove spoke of the entrepreneurial spirit he found in California, and how his contacts with Microsoft and Google were helping him bring the skills of Silicon Valley to Britain. Perhaps Gove simply didn’t know how many UK governments of recent decades have journeyed along the same road, with the same aims. When Chancellor, Gordon Brown was tireless in his efforts to get British business “to rival America’s entrepreneurial dash,” as he told the same Daily Telegraph in December 2003, with speeches, conferences, educational programmes and other gestures, including visits from stars such as Bill Gates and Alan Greenspan.

One of the resources the British governing class most often turns to in its search for a successful, competitve identity for their country is ‘America’. Not American policy or money of course, not even that ‘Special Relationship’ which London clings on to so forlornly. Instead it’s an inspirational version of the United States: a source of models, examples, energies, ideas, standards; an invoked America whose soft power influence and prestige never fade. It is a form of virtual political capital which governments from Thatcher to Cameron feel they can draw on to compensate them for all their frustrations in Europe, their humiliations in the wider world and the intractability of their problems at home.

Flickr - USCapitol - Supreme Court of the United States (1)

Overlooked by all the commentators without exception, there has long been an American question in Britain’s identity debate. It has not been put there by artists, experts, army officers, sports personalities or even Rupert Murdoch. It has been imported systematically and with great persistence by the governments of the last thirty years, and with it they have brought a series of possible answers. The underlying purpose has been to solve the identity crisis by way of ceaseless efforts to ‘modernise’ the nation, to renew its democracy but also to raise its ranking in those league tables of world competitiveness which the land of Darwin takes so seriously, and — of course — to distinguish it from everything supposedly going on in the European Union. Where better than America to find inspiration and encouragement for this permanent revolution of change the governing class repeatedly insists on?

A visionary image of the United States was central to Margaret Thatcher’s political revolution of the 1980s. As she told a Joint Session of Congress in 1985: “We are having to recover the spirit of enterprise which you never lost. Many of the policies you are following are the ones we are following.” Employment policy was one of the first examples, with reforms explicitly modelled on Reaganite ideology and experience. Even the wording of legislation was directly copied. Under Thatcher, Blair and Brown, certain public sectors, in particular the school and university systems, were reformed again and again in the hope of hooking them up to the motor of economic growth in the way their equivalents were thought to function in the United States. Since the 1980s, the Home Office has been the most zealous of departments in importing American methods and innovations. Simon Jenkins says: “An American friend of mine spent much of his time showing British officials around New York’s police department after its recent success in cutting crime.” Labour’s recent prime ministers were both enthralled by America’s examples. Gordon Brown proposed that school children should swear allegiance to the Union Jack, that there be a British Fourth of July, and a museum celebrating great documents of British democracy. Blair and Brown were the ones who started introducing American private health care firms into the running of the NHS.

David Cameron has followed the American path laid down by Thatcher, Blair, and Brown with zeal and ambition at least equal to theirs. The Tory foreign policy platform for the 2010 election was written by a Brit sitting in the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Just as the outgoing Labour administration created a British Supreme Court, the incoming coalition has set up a new National Security Council, with a National Security Adviser. In November 2012 the country was called upon to elect its first police commissioners, and there was talk of a single school commissioner. Now the Prime Minister talks of life sentences really meaning life in prison. All of this is based on American precedents. But Cameron’s affiliations in America seem to be deepest in parts of California where even Tony Blair did not reach, in particular the Google Corporation. A featured speaker at Google Zeitgeist conferences, Cameron is said to believe that the internet revolution as configured by Google, “meshes with the modern conservative mission – flattening hierarchies and empowering people…” Across Silicon Valley, Cameron and his strategists see a land where “a dynamic economy meets the family-friendly work-place…where hard-headed businessmen drink fruit smoothies and walk around in recycled trainers,” as an admiring journalist put it.

The evidence of the last 40-odd years suggests that in their failure to invent a generally agreed moral theme or narrative of change for their society, the British governing class clings to the America of their imaginations to fill the void. Not because the creed of Americanism as such, far less American politics as currently displayed, can provide the cohesiveness required but simply because US experience over time appears to show how a uniquely powerful machine of national pride and aspiration, embodied in institutions, rituals, stories, and proclaimed values, can keep a multicultural nation glued together and provide ever-lasting hope of renewal. With its exceptional levels of child poverty, social inequality and numbers of people in jail, the governments of the last 30 years may not have got the Americanised Britain they dreamed of. But this has not discouraged them. After all, Ministers know that their enthusiasms can always count on a far warmer reception across the Atlantic than anywhere else in the world, including in Britain itself.

David Ellwood is Senior Adjunct Professor of European Studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Bologna Center. He is the author of The Shock of America: Europe and the Challenge of the Century. His first major book was Italy 1943-1945: The Politics of Liberation (1985) then came Rebuilding Europe: Western Europe, America and Postwar Reconstruction (1992). The fundamental theme of his research — the function of American power in contemporary European history — has shifted over the years to emphasize cultural power, particularly that of the American cinema industry. He was President of the International Association of Media and History 1999-2004 and a Fellow of the Rothermere America Institute, Oxford, in 2006. Read more from David Ellwood on OUPblog.

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Image credit: Supreme Court of the United States. By US Capitol. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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11. Celebrating Women’s History Month

world

This March we celebrate Women’s History Month, commemorating the lives, legacies, and contributions of women around the world. We’ve compiled a brief reading list that demonstrates the diversity of women’s lives and achievements.

Women in Asia

Map of Asia

The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, Edited by Martha Feldman and Bonnie Gordon

Delve into courtesan cultures, including artistic practices and cultural production, often overlooked or diminished in relevancy.

The Power of Gender and the Gender of Power: Explorations in Early Indian History by Kumkum Roy

Discover the distinct strategies through which men and women constituted their identities in India for all their implications, tensions, and inconsistencies.

Cornelia Sorabji: India’s Pioneer Woman Lawyer: A Biography by Suparna Gooptu

Learn about Sorabji’s decisive role in opening up the legal profession to women long before they were allowed to plead before the courts of law, including her writings and personal correspondence.

Women in the Middle East

Map of Middle East

Cleopatra: A Biography by Duane W. Roller

Uncover not the figure in popular culture, arts, and literature of the last five hundred years — but the real last Greek queen of Egypt.

Conceiving Citizens: Women and the Politics of Motherhood in Iran by Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet

Place women in their proper role as mothers of a nation — central to the history of Iran during successive regimes in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire by Leslie P. Peirce

Examine the sources of royal women’s power and assess the reactions of contemporaries, which ranged from loyal devotion to armed opposition.

Women in British History

UK Map

Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by Virginia Nicholson

Try to keep up with a generation of women fated to remain unmarried in the aftermath of the Great War.

The Wealth of Wives: Women, Law, and Economy in Late Medieval London by Barbara A. Hanawalt

Consider an overlooked contribution to London’s economy—the wealth that women accumulated through inheritance, dowry, and dower.

Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts by James A. Winn

Study the life and reign of Queen Anne through literature, art, and music from Dryden, Pope, Purcell, Handel, Lely, Kneller, Wren, Vanbrugh, Addison, Swift, and many other artists.

Women in European History

europe

Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline P. Murphy

Illuminate the brilliant life and tragic death of Isabella de Medici, one of the brightest stars in the dazzling world of Renaissance Italy, the daughter of Duke Cosimo I, ruler of Florence and Tuscany.

Writing the Revolution: A French Women’s History in Letters by Lindsay A. Parker

Investigate nearly 1,000 familiar letters, which convey the intellectual, emotional, and familial life of a revolutionary in all of its complexity.

The Burgher and the Whore: Prostitution in Early Modern Amsterdam by Lotte van de Pol

Delve into the cultural, social, and economic conditions of the lives of poor women in a seafaring society from the perspectives of prostitutes, their bawds, their clients, and the police.

Women in American History

U.S. Map

Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy by Elizabeth R. Varon

Probe the life and work of one of the most remarkable women of the Civil War era–the leader of the North’s key spy ring in the South.

Working Women, Literary Ladies: The Industrial Revolution and Female Aspiration by Sylvia J. Cook

Trace the hopes and tensions generated by expectations of gender and class from the first New England operatives in the early 19th century to immigrant sweatshop workers in the early 20th.

Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement by Sally McMillen

Join the meeting that launched the women’s rights movement and changed American history.

I Died for Beauty: Dorothy Wrinch and the Cultures of Science by Marjorie Senechal

Enter the provocative, scintillating mind of the talented and flawed scientist.

African American Women Chemists by Jeannette Brown

Connect to the lives of African America women chemists, from the earliest pioneers through late 1960′s when the Civil Rights Acts were passed, to today.

Women in Latin American History

Map of Latin America

Power and Women’s Representation in Latin America by Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer

Look at the recent trends in women’s representation in Latin America, and the complex and often incomplete nature of women’s political representation.

Refusing the Favor: The Spanish-Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1820-1880 by Deena J. Gonzalez

Uncover the key role “invisible” Spanish-Mexican women played in the US takeover of Mexico’s northern territory and gain a greater understanding of conquest and colonization.

Weaving the Past: A History of Latin America’s Indigenous Women from the Prehispanic Period to the Present by Susan Kellogg

Reach back through women’s long history of labor, political activism, and contributions to — or even support of — family and community well-being.

Women’s history encompasses the history of humankind, including men, but approaches it from a woman‐centered perspective. It highlights women’s activities and ideas and asserts that their problems, issues, and accomplishments are just as central to the telling of the human story as are those of their brothers, husbands, and sons. It places the sociopolitical relations between the sexes, or gender, at the center of historical inquiry and questions female subordination.

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Image Credits: (1) Physical World Map via CIA World Factbook (public domain). (2) Map of Asia by Bytebear. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Map of Middle East by NuclearVacuum. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (4) Map of Britain by Anonymous101. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (5) Map of Europe via CIA World Factbook (public domain). (6) Blank US Map by Theshibboleth. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (7) Map of Latin America and the Caribbean by Yug. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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12. Britain, France, and their roads from empire

After the Second World War ended in 1945, Britain and France still controlled the world’s two largest colonial empires, even after the destruction of the war. Their imperial territories extended over four continents. And what’s more, both countries seemed to be absolutely determined to hold on their empires; the roll-call of British and French politicians, soldiers, settlers, and writers who promised to defend their colonial possessions at all costs is a long one. But despite that, within just twenty years, both empires had vanished.

In the two videos below Martin Thomas, author of Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire, discusses the disintegration of the British and French empires. He emphasizes the need to examine the process of decolonization from a global perspective, and discusses how the processes of decolonization dominated the 20th century. He also compares and contrasts the case of India and Vietnam as key territories of the British and French Empires.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Martin Thomas is Professor of Imperial History in the Department of History at the University of Exeter, where he has taught since 2003. He founded the University’s Centre for the Study of War, State and Society, which supports research into the impact of armed conflict on societies and communities. He is a past winner of a Philip Leverhulme prize for outstanding research and a holder of a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship. He has published widely on twentieth century French and imperial history, and his new book is Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire.

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13. Gloomy terrors or the most intense pleasure?

By Philip Schofield


In 1814, just two hundred years ago, the radical philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) began to write on the subject of religion and sex, and thereby produced the first systematic defence of sexual liberty in the history of modern European thought. Bentham’s manuscripts have now been published for the first time in authoritative form. He pointed out that ‘regular’ sexual activity consisted in intercourse between one male and one female, within the confines of marriage, for the procreation of children. He identified the source of the view that only ‘regular’ or ‘natural’ sexual activity was morally acceptable in the Mosaic Law and in the teachings of the self-styled Apostle Paul. ‘Irregular’ sexual activity, on the other hand, had many variations: intercourse between one man and one woman, when neither of them were married, or when one of them was married, or when both of them were married, but not to each other; between two women; between two men; between one man and one woman but using parts of the body that did not lead to procreation; between a human being and an animal of another species; between a human being and an inanimate object; and between a living human and a dead one. In addition, there was the ‘solitary mode of sexual gratification’, and innumerable modes that involved more than two people. Bentham’s point was that, given that sexual gratification was for most people the most intense and the purest of all pleasures and that pleasure was a good thing (the only good thing in his view), and assuming that the activity was consensual, a massive amount of human happiness was being suppressed by preventing people, whether from the sanction of the law, religion, or public opinion, from engaging in such ‘irregular’ activities as suited their taste.

Bentham

Bentham was writing at a time when homosexuals, those guilty of ‘the crime against nature’, were subject to the death penalty in England, and were in fact being executed at about the rate of two per year, and were vilified and ridiculed in the press and in literature. If an activity did not cause harm, Bentham had argued as early as the 1770s and 1780s, then it should not be subject to legal punishment, and had called for the decriminalization of homosexuality. By the mid-1810s he was prepared to link the problem not only with law, but with religion. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was taken by ‘religionists’, as Bentham called religious believers, to prove that God had issued a universal condemnation of homosexuality. Bentham pointed out that what the Bible story condemned was gang rape. Paul’s injunctions against homosexuality were also taken to be authoritative by the Church. Bentham pointed out that not only did Jesus never condemn homosexuality, but that the Gospels presented evidence that Jesus engaged in sexual activity, and that he had his male lovers — the disciple whom he loved, traditionally said to be John, and the boy, probably a male prostitute, who remained with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane after all the disciples had fled (for a more detailed account see ‘Not Paul, but Jesus’).

Bentham was writing after Malthus had in 1798 put forward his argument that population growth would always tend to outstrip food supply, resulting in starvation and death until an equilibrium was restored, whereupon the process would recommence. Bentham had been convinced by Malthus, but Malthus’s solution to the problem, that people should abstain from sex, was not acceptable to him. He pointed out that one advantage of non-procreative sex was that it would not add to the increase of population. Bentham also took up the theme of infanticide. He had considerable sympathy for unmarried mothers who, because of social attitudes, were ostracized and had little choice but to become prostitutes, with the inevitable descent into drink, disease, and premature death. It would be far better, argued Bentham, to destroy the child, rather than the woman. Moreover, it was kinder to kill an infant at birth than allow it to live a life of pain and suffering.

Bentham looked to ancient Greece and Rome, where certain forms of homosexual activity were not only permitted but regarded as normal, as more appropriate models for sexual morality than that which existed in modern Christian Europe. Bentham attacked the notion, still propagated by religious apologists, that homosexuality was ‘unnatural’. All that ‘unnatural’ meant, argued Bentham, was ‘not common’. The fact that something was not common was not a ground for condemning it. Neither was the fact that something was not to your taste. It was a form of tyranny to say that, because you did not like to do a particular thing, you were going to punish another person for doing it. Because you thought something was ‘disgusting’ did not mean that everyone else thought it was disgusting. You might not want to have sex with a sow, but the father of her piglets thought differently.

These writings were, for Bentham, a critical part of a much broader attack on religion and the ‘gloomy terrors’ inspired by the religious mentality. By putting forward the case for sexual liberty, he was undermining religion in one of the areas where, in his view, it was most pernicious. Bentham did not dare publish this material. He believed that his reputation would have been ruined had he done so. He died in 1832. He would have been saddened that it still retains massive relevance in today’s world.

Philip Schofield is Professor of the History of Legal and Political Thought in the Faculty of Laws, University College London, Director of the Bentham Project, and General Editor of the new authoritative edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. The latest volume in the edition, Of Sexual Irregularities, and other writings on Sexual Morality, was published on 30 January 2014. The research that led to the preparation of the volume was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The Bentham Project is responsible for Transcribe Bentham, the prize-winning scholarly crowdsourcing initiative, where volunteers transcribe previously unread Bentham manuscripts.

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Image credit: Jeremy Bentham, aged about 80. Frontispiece to Jeremy Bentham, Principles of Legislation, edited by John Neal, Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1830. Public domain

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14. The Normans and empire

By David Bates


The expansion of the peoples calling themselves the Normans throughout northern and southern Europe and the Middle East has long been one of the most popular and written about topics in medieval history. Hence, although devoted mainly to the history of the cross-Channel empire created by William the Conqueror’s conquest of the English kingdom in 1066 and the so-called loss of Normandy in 1204, I wanted to contribute to these discussions and to the ongoing debates about the impact of this expansion on the histories of the nations and cultures of Europe. That peoples from a region of northern France should become conquerors is one of the apparently inexplicable paradoxes of the subject. The other one is how the conquering Normans apparently faded away, absorbed into the societies they had conquered or within the kingdom of France.

In 1916 Charles Homer Haskins’ made the statement that the Normans represented one of the great civilising influences in European – and indeed world – history. If, a century later, hardly anyone would see it thus, the same imperatives remain, namely to locate the Normans within a context in which it remains popular to write national histories, and, for some, in the midst of debates about the balance of the History curriculum, to see them as being of paramount importance. The history of the Normans cuts across all this, but is an inescapable subject in relation to the histories of the English, French, Irish, Italian, Scottish, and Welsh. Those currently fashionable concepts – and rightly so – ‘The First English Empire’ and ‘European change’ are also at the centre of the debates.

As a concept, empire is nowadays both fashionable and much argued about, a universal phenomenon of human history that has been the subject of several major television programmes. It is a subject that requires a multidisciplinary approach. Over the last two millennia, statements by both contemporaries and subsequent commentators have often set a proclaimed imperial civilising mission as a positive feature against the impact of violence and the social and cultural subjugation of the subjects of an empire. Seen thus, the concept of empire has an obvious relevance to the subject of the Normans. And, in relation to the pan-European expansion of the Normans, and, in particular, to the creation of the kingdom of Sicily, the term diaspora, as it is understood in the social sciences, constitutes a persuasive framework of analysis. Taken together, the two terms empire and diaspora create a world in which individuals and communities had to adapt rapidly to new forms of power and cultures and in which identities are multiple, flexible, and often uncertain. For this reason, the telling of life-histories is of central importance rather than simplified notions of social and cultural identity. One consequence must be the abandonment of the currently popular and unhelpful word Normanitas. The core of this book is a history of power, diversity and multiculturalism in the midst of the complexities of a changing Europe.

The use of terms such as hard power, soft power, hegemony, core and periphery, and cultural transfer can be used to frame interpretations of many national histories, including Welsh, Scottish, and Irish, as well as English. The crucial points in all cases are the mixture of engagement with the dominant imperial power and the perpetuation of difference and diversity through the exercise of agency beyond the core. The framework is one that works especially well in relation to the evolving histories of the Welsh kingdoms/principalities and of the kingdom of Scots. It also means that the so-called ‘anarchy’ of 1135 to 1154, the succession dispute between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda becomes a civil war which needs to be set in a cross-Channel context and through which there were many continuities. And Magna Carta (1215), of which the eight-hundredth anniversary is fast approaching, becomes a consequence of imperial collapse. However, a focus on England and the British Isles just does not work. Normandy’s centrality to the history of the cross-Channel empire created in 1066 is of basic importance. Both morally and militarily the creation of the cross-Channel empire brought problems of a new kind that were for some living, or mainly domiciled, in Normandy a source of anguish. The book’s cover has indeed been chosen with this in mind. It shows troubled individuals who have narrowly escaped disaster at sea, courtesy of St Nicholas. But they successfully made the crossing. And so, of course, did the Tournai marble on which they are carved.

Professor David Bates took his PhD at the University of Exeter, and over a professional career of more than forty years, he has held posts in the Universities of Cardiff, Glasgow, London (where he was Director of the Institute of Historical Research from 2003 to 2008), East Anglia, and Caen Basse-Normandie. He has worked extensively in the archives and libraries of Normandy and northern France and has always sought to emphasise the European dimension to the history of the Normans. ‘He currently holds a Leverhulme Trust Emeritus Fellowship to enable him to complete a new biography of William the Conqueror in the Yale University Press English Monarchs series. His latest book is The Normans and Empire.

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15. Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?

Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, Book 10)Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? Louise Rennison

This is the last Georgia Nicolson book! The very last one!

The band is making it big and going off to London to be proper rock stars. Masimo wants Georgia to move with them! Yes, she's only 15, but he's a Luuuuuuuuuuuuurve God. But first she must survive another Shakespearean extravaganza.

Their production of Romeo and Juliet is hysterical. Although this is the LAST AND FINAL book in the series, it doesn't read like one. YES I like how it ended but... this is Georgia, Rennison could totally write another book starting the next day where Georgia pantses is all up. Which has happened on many, many occasions. To the point where I almost don't *trust* this ending. But I guess I must because (a) I like it (b) there will be no more fabnosity.

Oh Georgia, even though you'd have so much less drama in your life if you just chilled out a bit, I will miss you dreadfully. I love you and the mad gang dearly. I love your crazy family and your demented cat and your array of boys in the cakeshop of life. You have changed my vocabulary forever. You have made me snort all manner of liquids out my nose. You made many, many people stare at me oddly as I laughed loudly at this book flying back from London.

Speaking of, even though I had the US edition pre-ordered and everything, a few weeks before it came out I was walking through Heathrow and saw a giant display of this book and couldn't help myself. It not only entertained me wonderfully on the flight home, but I'm happy to say that the British edition still has the glossary in back. HUZZAH!

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16. Custard Creams Illustrated

I think probably the Queen's fave biccy would be custard creams, dipped in gin or tea or possibly both. Earl Gin. Mmm.


My fave biscuit, VEGANISED so I can eat them now! These taste BETTER than store-bought ones, though, because rather than miscellaneous crappy oils & rubbish, they're super simple; flour, vegetable fat, sugar, vanilla essence & custard powder, which is pretty much always vegan from supermarkets.

Despite loving cooking this is my first attempt at merging cooking stuff with my illustrating stuff. Illustrating a recipe is harder than it looks I tell you, so I'd be interested in what people think of it, whether or not it's legible etc. I made it to hand out at a recent vegan food fayre, so it had to be at A5, but didn't get handed out anyway! C'est la vie.

In other news, I have a day-job now, at Lush handmade cosmetics, which is obv lush, & I'll be contributing to Creaturemag's lovely feature Happy Friday every few weeks! SO KEEP YER EYES PEELED.

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17. Jinx

Jinx Grave Cavendish

Huzzah for Lady Grace.

In this most excellent historical mystery, Grace and the other ladies are off to St. Bartholomew’s fair. While there, a tent burns down, killing a gypsy woman and severely burning Lady Sarah. Unfortunately, the apothecary that the Queen has brought in to treat Lady Sarah is a fraud. Grace knows this, but has to prove it.

An excellent look at health care, race relations, superstitions and omens at Court. Plus, a wonderful mystery story. I especially loved the humor of the Spanish delegation visiting court-- Grace’s complaints about the women and the Queen’s reactions to the men were great.

Love this series so much. I’m sad that the last few were never published in the States and even in England, it looks like publication stopped with Loot. :(

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18. A Midsummer Tights Dream

A Midsummer Tights Dream Louise Rennison

After the summer holidays, Tallulah is back at Dother Hall in the Yorkshire Wilds, hoping to become good enough to earn the golden slippers of applause. Of course, Dr. Lightowler still hates her. And Charlie still has a girlfriend. And Alex is off at uni. And Cain licked a snowflake off her nose. But Ruby has the owlets and the mad twins are as mad as ever. Tallulah's friends continue to be a laugh riot, as do her teachers.

Big problems-- Dother Hall has a tax issue and might shut down (and, of course, continues to fall down around everyone's ears.) Also, the local girls are NOT HAPPY with the Dother Hall girls stealing their men.

I still cannot get over the fact that Rennison named her broody, dark Yorkshire men Cain, Ruben, and Seth. And then when Beverly's mum starts hunting Cain across the moors? DYING OF LAUGHTER.

I love Tallulah's outlook on life. I love down-to-earth Ruby and Mr. Barraclough's pie tribute band. I love all the broad Yorkshire dialect that's a bit more fun that what you read in The Secret Garden.

But seriously, I just live for the drama of the town, especially between the Eccles lasses and the Hinchcliff lads. Oh yes.

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19. e2

e Squared Matt Beaumont

I loved loved loved Beaumont's e and The E Before Christmas* so I was super excited to see this title!

The first two were told all in email, but as technology has changed over the years, the book did to! We still have email, but also IM, internet news articles, ebay listings, texts, photo attachements, blog posts and comments,etc.

Beaumont is truly a master of the e-format. Many authors who write email novels are writing standard epistolary novels, but with a to and from field. Beaumont understands that not only are emails different than letters (shorter, for one) but also really gets the form-- you have to really pay attention to the date stamps, because they matter. Also, lots of misunderstandings involving accidentally cc'ing someone, not understanding spam, and those annoying people who send crap company wide or don't know the difference between "reply" and "reply-all."

The favorite characters from e are still there and there are many new ones as they've moved on to a new agency that's one of those super-dysfunctional too-cool-for-work hipster places. Relationships are on the rocks and the products they're supposed to create campaigns for are unbelievable.

I super love the text messages between the kids and their parents, especially how the kids then go turn around and have a completely different text conversation with their friends. It's so true.

British comedies that capture voices and technology perfectly? YES. It's super-smart, snort beer out your nose laugh-out-loud hilarious, and expertly crafted. This is a series you must read.



*Interestingly, this was originally only issued in e-book, back in 2004, before e-readers. Dan and I bought it, printed it out, and took it to Kinko's to have it bound. My how things have changed! I thought about getting e2 on Kindle, but the reviews all said that the email formatting was off so it was hard to read to/from fields and date stamps. So I bought it in paper. Heh.


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20. Valentine’s Day serenades

By Alyssa Bender


Love is in the air at Oxford University Press! As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, we’ve asked staff members from our offices in New York, Oxford, and Cary, NC, to share their favorite love songs. Read on for their selections, and be sure to tell us what your favorites are too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Owen Keiter, Publicity
All-time is impossible, so…“Girlfriend” by Ty Segall is a feat of simplicity. Ty manages to stuff the headlong rush of a new, young, senseless love into about two breathless minutes. Nobody’s getting excited about the caveman-ish lyrics, which are almost incomprehensible anyway, but that’s not the point. The point is: when Ty hollers “I’ve got a girlfriend/She says she loves me,” you can tell it’s got him feeling like nothing can touch him.

Click here to view the embedded video.


For those having less pleasant Valentine’s Days: “Lipstick Vogue” by Elvis Costello. This Year’s Model is the Bible of those who are mistrustful of sex and love; “Lipstick Vogue” contains gems like “Maybe they told you were only one girl in a million/You say I’ve got no feelings; this is a good way to kill them.”


Lana Goldsmith, Publisher Services
My actual favorite love song right now is “Crazy Girl” by Eli Young Band. I love this song because I feel like I live it all the time. It’s easy to feel insecure or unappreciated, but this song shakes you by the shoulders and reminds you that you’re the greatest thing that ever happened to somebody.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Purdy, Director of Publicity
When you are single and in your 40s love has come and gone enough that I find it hard to narrow my choice down to just one favorite love song. I have three that make me wistful for another lover, and maudlin for love and lovers long lost:

Nina Simone’s “Do I Move You” is a bluesy jazz plea for recognition from some indifferent lover that is at times sultry, needful, demanding and lustful.

Another classic by Ms. Simone, “Turn Me On,” is a simile-saturated reminiscence of a lover gone too long and the heightened anticipation of his/her return.

Finally, there is Miss Etta James’s version of “Deep in the Night.” Etta’s mournful moan reminds me how love can come to plagues one’s every thought and action:

Read a book and I think about you
Put it down and I think about you
I make some coffee and I think about you
Wash up the cup and I think about you
Wind the clock I think about you
Turn on the light and I think about you
Then I punch the pillow and think about you



Anwen Greenaway, Promotion Manager, Sheet Music
“True Love” by Cole Porter is one of the most memorable songs in the 1956 film High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. When I was a child my Dad had an old vinyl record of the film soundtrack. I remember being mesmerized by the film stills on the LP cover and listening to the record over and over at Christmas. It’s the soundtrack of all my childhood Christmases, a beautiful song, and unashamedly sentimental — what’s not to love about that?!

Click here to view the embedded video.


Flora Death, Editorial Admin Assistant, Sheet Music
“So In love” by Cole Porter, from Kiss Me Kate, because it’s gloriously melodramatic and haunting, and has wonderful lyrics like all Cole Porter’s music.


Emma Shires, Editorial Assistant, Sheet Music
Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet it is to be Loved by You” is so fun and upbeat. I love putting it on when I’m cooking, really turning up the volume, and dancing round the kitchen like a mad thing.


Ruth Fielder, Sales Administrator, Sheet Music
Biffy Clyro’s “Mountains” is my all-time favorite love song because it represents the ugly and beautiful sides to being in love, and therefore, for me, this song paints a more realistic picture: This being that most of the time love is a selfish act, but on occasion love itself as a thing of togetherness and intimacy; that ultimately nothing can tear you apart.


Jeremy Wang-Iverson, Publicity
“Laid” is a very sly love song by the British band James. The best line is the women’s clothes/gender roles couplet (if not the kitchen knives and skeeeeeewers) rather than the famous opening verse unfit for the OUPBlog. I sang this song, including the falsetto ending, COUNTLESS times with my friend Clara, who is now the history editor at NYU Press, when we were both assistants, as there wasn’t much to do in Princeton except go to the Ivy on Thursdays for karaoke and $1 beers. I hadn’t heard the song in ages until this past December at The Archive, a bar around the corner from our offices on Madison Avenue, and the television jukebox was playing, improbably, “The Best of James.” My friend and colleague Owen, the bassist for the great new band Journalism, said “The Best of James?? What the hell is James?” Probably for the best…


Matt Dorville, Online Editor, Reference
“The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields is a favorite of mine that is very apropos for a publishing house blog and one that I find myself singing all too often. It is from 69 Love Songs, an ambitious, and somewhat cheeky, look at love from The Magnetic Fields. If you haven’t listened to the album, I highly recommend it. It contains songs that are bittersweet, tender, pithy and catchy as hell. They’re not all winners, but the ones that are will make you smile all day.


Alana Podolsky, Publicity
“Tere Bina” composed by A. R. Rahman, lyrics by Gulzar is my favorite. Meaning “Without You”, “Tere Bina” is the great A.R. Rahman’s composition for the Hindi film Guru (2007) starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood’s Brangelina. Rahman’s score derives from Sufi devotional music and is paired with Gulzar’s simple lyrics, creating a song that will resonate with any heartsick romantic no matter your language background. The cherry on top: the film’s dance sequence.


Kimberly Taft, Journals
My favorite love song is “At Last” by Etta James. I think it’s great because of her powerful vocals and the accompanying instruments. It’s truly a classic and I’m sure will be around forever.


Jessica Barbour, Grove Music/Oxford Music Online
I’m Your Moon” was written by Jonathan Coulton in reaction to Pluto’s demotion from planet to dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union. Coulton, stating that Pluto clearly must have found this “very upsetting,” wrote a love song to the slighted celestial body from the point of view of Charon, one of Pluto’s moons. (You can watch another live video in which Coulton tells the whole backstory here.) Pluto is only twice as big as Charon, and they orbit a point between each other instead of Charon circling Pluto the way our moon orbits around the Earth. And they’re always facing each other as they orbit, like two people doing this. Coulton says on his blog that he was just thinking about Pluto when he wrote it. But the way Charon sings about how the rest of the world doesn’t really understand them, encourages Pluto to stay true to itself, and promises that they’ll always have each other no matter what—what else can you ask for in the perfect love song?

Click here to view the embedded video.


Anna-Lise Santella, Grove Music and Oxford Reference
Back when we were dating, my husband and I used to hang out at Cafe Toulouse in Chicago where the great jazz violinist Johnny Frigo used to play with Joe Vito on piano. We loved the way he played “A Fine Romance.” If we had to pick something to be “our song,” that would be it. When it came time to picking a song for the first dance at our wedding, that was the first thing that came to mind. Then we looked at the lyrics — which are the opposite of a love song:

A fine romance, with no kisses
A fine romance, my friend, this is
We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes, But you’re as cold as yesterday’s mashed potatoes….

Not a song with which to celebrate the start of a marriage. The song was written by Jerome Kern for the movie Swing Time, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Fortunately, the movie also includes one of the great love songs of all time, “The Way You Look Tonight.” We picked that instead. And we asked Johnny Frigo to play at our wedding. It was perfect. It’s one of the great romantic songs:

Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you And the way you look tonight….

A month after we got married, I ran into Johnny playing a Columbus Day gig in Daley Plaza in Chicago. I reminded him who I was and told him how much we’d enjoyed his playing at our wedding. “Great night, great night,” he said. “And you weren’t so bad yourself.”

Click here to view the embedded video.


Your Oxford-Approved Playlist:

Alyssa Bender joined Oxford University Press in July 2011 and works as a marketing associate in the Ac/Trade and Bibles divisions. Read her previous blog posts.

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Image Credit: scanned from period card from ca. 1910 with no notice of copyright via Wikimedia Commons

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21. The Press stands firm against the French Revolution and Napoleon

By Simon Eliot


With the French Revolution creating a wave of exiles, the Press responded with a very uncharacteristic publication. This was a ‘Latin Testament of the Vulgate Translation’ for emigrant French clergy living in England after the Revolution. In 1796, the Learned (not the Bible) side of the Press issued Novum Testamentum Vulgatae Editionis: Juxta Exemplum Parisiis Editum apud Fratres Barbou. The title page went on to declare that it had been printed at the University of Oxford for the use of French clerics who were exiled in England. This edition was based, as the title makes clear, on editions published by the Barbou brothers, which had been printed at Paris from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. This particular edition had been overseen by a number of French priests ‘living in Winchester’. The reference is to the King’s House in Winchester which, until the government converted it into barracks in 1796, was home to around 600 exiled French clergy; these were later re-housed in Reading and in Thame in the Thames valley.

A total of some 4,000 copies of this edition were printed: “That 2,000 Copies of the Lat. Vulgate Testament (besides the additional 2,000 printed by order of the Marquis of Buckingham) be forwarded to the Bishop of St . Pol de Leon to be distributed under his direction … and the remainder sold at two shillings each.”

Though partly an exercise in charity, it was clearly anticipated that this New Testament might also be considered a commercial proposition. The published volume appears to be a particular form of duodecimo (strictly 12o in 6s, half-sheet imposition; the paper carried a watermarked date of ‘1794’) of 473 pages with a four-page preface by the Bishop addressed to ‘Meritissime Domine Vice-Cancellarie’, in which he expressed his gratitude to the University of Oxford for its support. At the end of the text there is a brief chronological table of New Testament events, followed by an ‘Index Geographicus’. A final unnumbered leaf carries a list of errata (29 in all) which reflected a rather different approach to that adopted by the Bible Side of the Press when issuing its editions of the King James Version of the New Testament. The latter were subjected to rigorous proof reading and re-reading in order to ensure that the word of God was as free from errors as was humanly possible. This edition of a Latin text, produced in extraordinary circumstances for the consumption of mostly foreign readers, was clearly a very different kettle of fish. Additionally, in printing this edition on the Learned Side rather than the Bible Side of the Press, the Delegates culturally quarantined the production of the Vulgate text and avoided any political or religious problems that might have arisen had the privileged side of the Press undertaken it. That the very peculiar and extreme circumstances which produced this anomaly were not to be repeated was made clear 99 year later when, it having been suggested in 1895 that the Press should produce a Roman Catholic Bible, the Delegates responded that they did not ‘think it desirable that such a work should be issued with the University Press Imprint’.

Later, as the threat from Napoleonic France increased, the Press recorded certain exceptional payments in its annual accounts. These accounts included many forms of overhead costs, some a constant feature of the Press’s outgoings, such as the cost of coals and firewood (£10.17.6 in 1800) or ‘taxes to Magdalen Parish’ (£8.16.0 in the same year). Others were temporary and related to the troubled times in which they were paid. The 1805-6 accounts list the payment of a ‘Militia Tax’ of 8s6d, which went up to 17s4d in the following year. Having missed the subsequent year, the Press paid two militia rates in 1808-9 amounting to £2-7-8. In 1812-3 the rate was £1-6-0, dropping to 13s in 1813-4 before vanishing from the accounts as the threat represented by Napoleon disappeared after the battle of Waterloo.

Simon Eliot is Professor of the History of the Book in the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. He is general editor of The History of Oxford University Press, and editor of its Volume II 1780-1896.

With access to extensive archives, The History of Oxford University Press is the first complete scholarly history of the Press, detailing its organization, publications, trade, and international development. Read previous blog posts about the history of Oxford University Press.

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Image credit: A Vulgate New Testament printed for the use of exiled French clergy, 1796. (Bodleian, N.T.Lat. 1796 f.2, 159 x 96mm). From the History of Oxford University Press. Courtesy of OUP Archives. Do not reproduce without permission.

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22. William Godwin’s birthday

By Mark Philp


Do people at the end of the eighteenth century celebrate their birthdays? More precisely, what did William Godwin (1756-1836) — philosopher, novelist, husband of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) and father of Mary Shelly (1797-1851) — do on his birthday, which falls on 3 March?

Godwin was a man of some exactitude. As a major contributor to the development of utilitarianism, the weighing of competing concerns and interests and the rigorous exercise of private judgment on the basis of rational reflection is a central theme in his philosophy. But his concern with detail is also reflected in the diary that he kept for the last 48 years of his long life. He used the diary to note things very precisely, if often cryptically — such as the entry in 1825: ‘void a large worm’; or in his twice daily recording of the interior temperature of the house for the last ten years of his life.

But he did not note birthdays. He mentions the birthday of Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) in 1788 because there is a party for Gibbon hosted by the bookseller Thomas Cadell. In 1825 he mentions that of Mary Lamb, sister of the essayist Charles Lamb, when she was 61, possibly also because there was some event. The only other appearance of the phrase in the Diary is in relation to a play which he identifies as Birth Day (probably by the German dramatist Kotzebue), which he sees (in whole or part) on five occasions. Moreover, he makes nothing of his own birthday — 3 March — whether it be his 40th, 50th, 60th, or 80th. The diary entries for his birthdays are wholly undifferentiated from other days. Moreover, there is no evidence that he celebrated Mary Wollstonecraft’s birthday, nor those of any of his children.

GodwinJournal

Page from William Godwin’s journal recording Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s (Mary Shelley’s) birth on 30 August 1797

In contrast, he noted over three hundred deaths in the diary — including ‘Execution of Louis’ on 21 January 1793, Edmund Burke on 8 July 1797, the assassination of the Prime Minister Spencer Percival on 11 May 1812, the death (also by assassination) of the German dramatist Kotzebue on 23 March 1819, but also a host of more quotidian occasions involving friends and acquaintances. Interestingly, these dates are all exact – other than Burke, who we now believe to have died the following day! But the exactitude of the others is striking because it means that Godwin was going back to his diary to fill in details as he became aware of them – the news of Louis’ execution took some 36 hours to reach Britain, and Kotzebue’s death would have travelled more slowly. This suggests that he took at least one of life’s major events very seriously, and noted the occasion with retrospective precision.

Is Godwin unusual? That he notes very occasional birthdays of others suggests both that he was, and, because he notes so few, that he was not. Or he was not unusual in the circles in which he moved — the literary and cultural circles of London in the last decades of the eighteenth and first thirty years of the nineteenth century. Moreover, he came from a family of dissenting ministers and was himself a minister in the years following his education, before turning in the 1780s to history and philosophy and an increasing agnosticism, punctuated by periods of atheism. In that tradition — nurtured on such texts as James Janeway’s, A Token for Children being an exact account of the conversion, holy and exemplary lives and joyful deaths of several young children (1671) — the manner of one’s life and death has infinitely more significance than the mere fact of birth.

This contrast is also evident in Godwin main philosophical work – Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) — is clear that there is little sacred in mere life. It is what a person does with his or her life — above all what they do for others and for the general good of the community that counts in our evaluation of them. While Godwin speculated that the lot of humanity would involve increasing subordination of the physical to the intellectual, with a concomitant shift to increasing longevity and eventual immortality, it is also clear that he took the measure of his fellow men and women in terms of how they lived their lives — hence his almost obsessive recording of the deaths of his contemporaries, both famous and obscure. The ending of life marks the point for its final reckoning. In Godwin’s philosophy that evaluation is to be made in terms of the person’s contribution to the good of one’s fellow human beings — above all, one’s contribution to their intellectual development and the expansion of the powers of mind and human knowledge. And, on that account, maybe we should commemorate Godwin’s death day instead — 7 April 1836.

Mark Philp is Professor of History and Politics at the University of Warwick. He has published widely on eighteenth century political thought and social movements and on contemporary political theory, including Reforming Ideas in Britain (2013), Thomas Paine (2007), and Political Conduct (2007). He directed the Leverhulme funded digitization and editing project on the diary of William Godwin. He co-directs the research project ‘Re-Imagining Democracy 1750-1850’ which has published Re-imagining democracy in the Age of Revolutions: America, France, Britain and Ireland (2013).

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

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Image credit: Page from William Godwin’s journal. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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23. How much could 19th century nonfiction authors earn?

By Simon Eliot and John Feather


In the 1860s, the introduction of its first named series of education books, the ‘Clarendon Press Series’ (CPS), encouraged Oxford University Press to standardize its payments to authors. Most of them were offered a very generous deal: 50 or 60% of net profits. These payments were made annually and were recorded in the minutes of the Press’ newly-established Finance Committee. The list of payments lengthened every year, as new titles were published and very few were ever allowed to go out of print. Some authors did very well from their association with the Press, but most earned very modest sums. Many of the books in the Clarendon Press Series yielded almost nothing to publisher or author; once we exclude the handful of exceptional cases, typical payments were in the range of £5 to £15 a year.

W. Aldis Wright.

The outstanding financial successes of the Clarendon Press Series were the editions of separate plays of Shakespeare intended for school pupils and (increasingly) university students. The first to be published was Macbeth in 1869, but it was the next to appear – Hamlet in 1873 – which became something like a bestseller. In its first year, Hamlet sold 3,380 copies; 20 years and five editions later, 73,140 copies had been accounted for to the editor, W. Aldis Wright (a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge), who received over the years some £1,400 for this play alone. The whole CPS Shakespeare venture brought Wright an income of about £1,000 a year throughout much of the 1880s. To put this in context, the total of all royalties paid to authors in the late 1880s and early 1890s was about £5000 a year; in some years Wright was taking about 20% of that for his editions of Shakespeare alone.

A broader view of the Press’s payments to its authors on the Learned side can be gained by looking at three sample years: 1875, 1885, and 1895. In November 1875, the Finance Committee minutes listed 99 titles for which authors were being paid annual incomes, the total sum being paid out was £2,216. In November 1885, near the peak of publishing activity in the Clarendon Press Series, the Finance Committee minutes listed 238 titles generating revenue for their authors; they earned £4,740 between them. In November 1895, there were 240 titles leading to payments of £5,076. For most authors, their individual incomes were modest; in 1875, the median income was £7 16s, in 1885 it was £7 18s. However, in 1875 four authors and editors earned more than £100: Liddell and Scott received £372 each (for their Greek Lexicon), Aldis Wright received £220 (for various editions of Shakespeare’s plays), and Bishop Charles Wordsworth £152 (for his Greek Grammar). In 1885, eleven were earning more than £100, including Aldis Wright earning £934, Liddell and Scott each earning £350, Skeat earning £270 (for philological works), and Benjamin Jowett earning £261 (for editions of Plato’s works). In 1895, there were ten, including Aldis Wright with £578, J. B. Allen with £542 (for works on Latin grammar), and Liddell and Scott with £389 each.

These authorial incomes should be set against average academic incomes in Oxford. In the later nineteenth century, although there was much variation, the average annual income for a college fellow would be in the order of £600, usually made up of the fellowship dividend plus the tutorial stipend. In the wake of the Selborne Commission, in the early 1880s a reader would be paid £500, a sum might well be augmented by a fellowship dividend; professorships attracted £900 per annum. It is clear that, although most authors’ incomes were extremely small, the most successful authors, both inside and outside the Clarendon Press Series, were at their height earning a significant addition to their salaries through payments from the Press.

The incomes of the most successful were far in excess of what they would have earned had they sold their copyrights outright. On the other hand, those around the median probably earned less than a lump sum payment would have brought in or, at least, they had to wait longer for it. As a minor compensation to those who were paid small annual sums during this period – though it is unlikely that they would have known it – the purchasing power of the pound was rising between the mid-1860s and the mid-1890s, so their later small payments would have bought them more than their earlier small payments. The pound in a person’s pocket was actually worth more at the end of the nineteenth century than it had been at the beginning.

Simon Eliot is Professor of the History of the Book in the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. He is general editor of The History of Oxford University Press, and editor of its Volume II 1780-1896. John Feather, a former President of the Oxford Bibliographical Society, is a Professor at Loughborough University and the author of A History of British Publishing and many other works on the history of books and the book trade. He has contributed to both volumes I and II of The History of Oxford University Press.

With access to extensive archives, The History of Oxford University Press is the first complete scholarly history of the Press, detailing its organization, publications, trade, and international development. Read previous blog posts about the history of Oxford University Press.

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Image credit: William Aldis Wright (1831-1914), editor, Shakespeare Plays, the Clarendon Press Series (Walter William Ouless, 1887). (The Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge) OUP Archives. Do not reproduce without permission.

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24. Have you heard? Oxford DNB releases 200th episode in biography podcast

By Philip Carter


Way back in 2007, when Twittering truly was for the birds, a far-sighted editor at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography piped up: maybe people would like to listen as well as read? So was devised the Oxford DNB’s biography podcast which this week released its 200th episode—the waggerly tale of Charles Cruft (1852-1938), founder of the eponymous dog show held annually in early March.

Over the last seven years we’ve offered two episodes of the podcast per month. Each lasts between 10 and 25 minutes and follows a set format: the reading aloud of a single biography of a historical figure, taken from the Oxford DNB and chosen by Dictionary editors. The structure of an ODNB biography is ideal for the podcast format; dictionary entries being concise, rounded accounts of a life (personal as well as public), told chronologically, and written by specialist authors. Notable writers whose work appears in the podcast list include Will Self on J.G Ballard, Bernard Crick on George Orwell, David Lodge on Malcolm Bradbury, and Anthony Thwaite on Philip Larkin.

Since 2007 many episodes have been commissioned to mark noteworthy anniversaries. For example, Captain Edward Smith and the bandleader Wallace Hartley on the centenary, in 2012, of the sinking of the Titanic; or Ludwig Guttmann, creator of the Paralympics, for the London Games later that year. Others mark notable birthdays (the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing in June 2012, for instance); or dates in the British history calendar (the extraordinary story of Guy Fawkes for 5 November and Fred Perry for Wimbledon fortnight); or one-off events such as the enthronement in March 2013 of Justin Welby, the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, with the story of the first incumbent, St Augustine.

A great many of the 200 episodes—all of which are available free in the archive—chart the lives of well-known people: Anita Roddick, Roald Dahl, Scott of the Antarctic, Dr Crippen, Wallis Simpson, and so on. There are many more familiar names we’d love to include. However, the restrictions of the podcast format (a 25-minute recording allows an upper limit of c.3000 words for a script) means that this isn’t, unfortunately, the place for a Dickens or a Darwin whose ODNB entries run to more than 20,000 words. Even so, it’s possible to touch on major historical figures through the lives of those with whom they spent time: the story of Nora Joyce sheds light on James; that of Alice Liddell (of ‘Wonderland’ fame) on Lewis Carroll.

Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographic study "Pomona" (Alice Liddell as a young woman). 1872. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Photographic study “Pomona” (Alice Liddell as a young woman) by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1872. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

A few episodes, among them Orwell and Diana, princess of Wales, have been reduced from the original Oxford DNB article for reading aloud. Likewise, a handful of episodes take the form of dual lives comprising two Dictionary entries fused together: 15 minutes with the motor-car designer Charles Rolls just wouldn’t seem right without the accompanying story of Henry Royce; and so too the combined talents of Fortnum & Mason, Mills & Boon, or Eric & Ernie. Aside from these edits, what’s read aloud is pretty close to what you’ll find in the Oxford DNB for that individual. People with complex lives tend not to receive the podcast treatment: complicated, multi-layered stories are hard to untangle in 15-20 minutes. More suitable are recognizable people who dedicated themselves to a particular purpose (Alexander Fleming and penicillin, for instance) or lesser-known individuals closely associated with a familiar event or artefect, such as Charles Lucas, first recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Over the course a year, we hope to put out a mix of episodes covering a range of time periods, topics, and tones. Our earliest life is Boudicca (d.60/61 AD), the most recent (in terms of date of death) is Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010). In between there’s plenty for the medievalist as well as the modernist—the life of Emperor Hadrian is much more than the story of wall-building, while that of the hermit St Godric is an ear-catching account of the privations of an 11th-century anchorite. Some of the chosen stories make for difficult listening. Try, for instance, Margaret Roper or Annie Darwin, daughters of Thomas More and Charles Darwin respectively. Others, like the scandalous medieval cleric, Bogo de Clare, or the raffish socialite Neil ‘Bunny’ Roger, are pure pleasure.

Entertainment is important, of course. But the podcast also provides an alternative route to historical biography for school teachers and pupils—many of whom, it’s fair to say, would not otherwise turn to a work of academic reference like the Oxford DNB. Episodes on Wilfred Owen, the abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, or the suffragette Emily Davison relate to aspects of the UK’s national curriculum. Hopefully, the series can also spring a few surprises on older listeners, be they the Hanoverian female soldier Hannah Snell; the doyen of pigeon racing, Albert Osman; or Charles Isham, bringer of garden gnomes to England.

About 650,000 episodes are downloaded annually from the ODNB podcast. Three things may account for this. First, there are our readers, Paul and Lynne—professional voice actors who have brought to life the words and worlds of writers, politicians, criminals, inventors, eccentrics, and—with Elizabeth Parsons—a would-be ghost. Then there’s the London studio where each episode is recorded, edited, and polished to a high standard.

Finally, and most importantly, there’s our common love of human stories, and of other people’s business—as testified by popular BBC radio series, such as “Great Lives”, “Last Word”, or the “New Elizabethans”. The Oxford DNB biography podcast makes a modest contribution to our fascination with real lives, albeit one that spans nearly 2000 years of British history and offers more than 50 hours listening time. That you can—while cooking dinner or walking the dog—be in the company of Mrs Beeton or, now, Charles Cruft seems rather wonderful.

Philip Carter is Publication Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a collection of 59,003 life stories of noteworthy Britons, from the Romans to the 21st century. The Oxford DNB online is freely available via public libraries across the UK, and many libraries worldwide. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to gain access free, from home (or any other computer), 24 hours a day. You can also sample the ODNB with its changing selection of free content: in addition to the podcast; a topical Life of the Day, and historical people in the news via Twitter @odnb. A new e-brochure offers more on the Oxford DNB podcast, along with selected content. All 200 episodes are available as free downloads in the Archive. New episodes in the podcast are available on alternate Wednesdays as ‘Oxford Biographies’ via iTunes.

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25. How do British and American attitudes to dictionaries differ?

By Lynne Murphy


For 20 years, 14 of those in England, I’ve been giving lectures about the social power afforded to dictionaries, exhorting my students to discard the belief that dictionaries are infallible authorities. The students laugh at my stories about nuns who told me that ain’t couldn’t be a word because it wasn’t in the (school) dictionary and about people who talk about the Dictionary in the same way that they talk about the Bible. But after a while I realized that nearly all the examples in the lecture were, like me, American. At first, I could use the excuse that I’d not been in the UK long enough to encounter good examples of dictionary jingoism. But British examples did not present themselves over the next decade, while American ones kept streaming in. Rather than laughing with recognition, were my students simply laughing with amusement at my ridiculous teachers? Is the notion of dictionary-as-Bible less compelling in a culture where only about 17% of the population consider religion to be important to their lives? (Compare the United States, where 3 in 10 people believe that the Bible provides literal truth.) I’ve started to wonder: how different are British and American attitudes toward dictionaries, and to what extent can those differences be attributed to the two nations’ relationships with the written word?

Constitution of the United States of America. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Constitution of the United States of America. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Our constitutions are a case in point. The United States Constitution is a written document that is extremely difficult to change; the most recent amendment took 202 years to ratify. We didn’t inherit this from the British, whose constitution is uncodified — it’s an aggregation of acts, treaties, and tradition. If you want to freak an American out, tell them that you live in a country where ‘[n]o Act of Parliament can be unconstitutional, for the law of the land knows not the word or the idea’. Americans are generally satisfied that their constitution — which is just about seven times longer than this blog post — is as relevant today as it was when first drafted and last amended. We like it so much that a holiday to celebrate it was instituted in 2004.

Dictionaries and the law

But with such importance placed on the written word of law comes the problem of how to interpret those words. And for a culture where the best word is the written word, a written authority on how to interpret words is sought. Between 2000 and 2010, 295 dictionary definitions were cited in 225 US Supreme Court opinions. In contrast, I could find only four UK Supreme court decisions between 2009 and now that mention dictionaries. American judicial reliance on dictionaries leaves lexicographers and law scholars uneasy; most dictionaries aim to describe common usage, rather than prescribe the best interpretation for a word. Furthermore, dictionaries differ; something as slight as the presence or absence of a the or a usually might have a great impact on a literalist’s interpretation of a law. And yet US Supreme Court dictionary citation has risen by about ten times since the 1960s.

No particular dictionary is America’s Bible—but that doesn’t stop the worship of dictionaries, just as the existence of many Bible translations hasn’t stopped people citing scripture in English. The name Webster is not trademarked, and so several publishers use it on their dictionary titles because of its traditional authority. When asked last summer how a single man, Noah Webster, could have such a profound effect on American English, I missed the chance to say: it wasn’t the man; it was the books — the written word. His “Blue-Backed Speller”, a textbook used in American schools for over 100 years, has been called ‘a secular catechism to the nation-state’. At a time when much was unsure, Webster provided standards (not all of which, it must be said, were accepted) for the new English of a new nation.

American dictionaries, regardless of publisher, have continued in that vein. British lexicography from Johnson’s dictionary to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has excelled in recording literary language from a historical viewpoint. In more recent decades British lexicography has taken a more international perspective with serious innovations and industry in dictionaries for learners. American lexicographical innovation, in contrast, has largely been in making dictionaries more user-friendly for the average native speaker.

The Oxford English Dictionary. Courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries. Do not use without permission.

The Oxford English Dictionary, courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries. Do not use without permission.

Local attitudes: marketing dictionaries

By and large, lexicographers on either side of the Atlantic are lovely people who want to describe the language in a way that’s useful to their readers. But a look at the way dictionaries are marketed belies their local histories, the local attitudes toward dictionaries, and assumptions about who is using them. One big general-purpose British dictionary’s cover tells us it is ‘The Language Lover’s Dictionary’. Another is ‘The unrivalled dictionary for word lovers’.

Now compare some hefty American dictionaries, whose covers advertise ‘expert guidance on correct usage’ and ‘The Clearest Advice on Avoiding Offensive Language; The Best Guidance on Grammar and Usage’. One has a badge telling us it is ‘The Official Dictionary of the ASSOCIATED PRESS’. Not one of the British dictionaries comes close to such claims of authority. (The closest is the Oxford tagline ‘The world’s most trusted dictionaries’, which doesn’t make claims about what the dictionary does, but about how it is received.) None of the American dictionary marketers talk about loving words. They think you’re unsure about language and want some help. There may be a story to tell here about social class and dictionaries in the two countries, with the American publishers marketing to the aspirational, and the British ones to the arrived. And maybe it’s aspirationalism and the attendant insecurity that goes with it that makes America the land of the codified rule, the codified meaning. By putting rules and meanings onto paper, we make them available to all. As an American, I kind of like that. As a lexicographer, it worries me that dictionary users don’t always recognize that English is just too big and messy for a dictionary to pin down.

A version of this article originally appeared on the OxfordWords blog.

Lynne Murphy, Reader in Linguistics at the University of Sussex, researches word meaning and use, with special emphasis on antonyms. She blogs at Separated by a Common Language and is on Twitter at @lynneguist.

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