The Emperor’s New Whig, Or, Some Thoughts on ‘British Values’

Once upon a time, there was a story that every British historian knew. It went something like this: ‘Britain Is The Best’. It was the first to develop Enlightenment, Reason, and Science; it was the first to modernise through the Industrial Revolution; it had the most enduring tradition of democratic representation; and it benevolently shared these glories with the grateful populations of less divinely-favoured regions. This, widely known now as ‘Whig history’ (after the political party who championed it) was popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – not coincidentally the apex of British imperial power. Since the mid-twentieth century, however, much historical scholarship has shown that this narrative is largely, if not entirely, wrong.
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Counting Mariners

I recently discovered Early Modern Print (‘discovered’ is perhaps the wrong word: I noticed Brodie Waddell and David Hitchcock talking about it on facebook). This website provides easy-to-use programmes, including the EEBO Spelling Browser, for analysing text available from Early English Books Online and the related Text Creation Partnership.  The Spelling Browser, as designer Anupam Basu explains in this post, measures the frequency of ‘n-grams’, which are ‘contiguous sequences of tokens’, i.e. words or letters, and can be set to different levels of complexity to search for phrases as well as individual words. Naturally, the first thing I did was drop in a search for the terms ‘seaman’, ‘seamen’, ‘mariner’ and ‘mariners’. The results surprised me.

Mariners graph

EEBO Spelling Browser search for ‘mariner,mariners,seaman,seamen’, 10-year moving average; original here

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Conference report: WHA Barcelona Symposium, 26-28 March 2014

This is a reblogged post from Port Towns & Urban Cultures. The original, posted on 17 April 2014, can be found here.

WHA Logo

Barcelona – not just a beautiful and welcoming city, but with its own rich maritime history and flavour (quite literally, in the excellent seafood) – was an ideal setting for the World History Association‘s latest symposium, on ‘Port Cities in World History’, hosted by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. As is usually the way at large international conferences, with panels running concurrently, it is difficult to catch all the papers. As a result, this is not an attempt to provide a comprehensive report; you can find the full programme, with abstracts for the papers, here. Instead, this is a personal take on the conference, and some of its highlights for me.

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The PhDcasts – Behind the Scenes, Part I


Ruth and John filming with Graham Riach during season two.

Last year, I was involved in making the Cambridge PhDcasts, with co-producer and tech wizard Ruth Rushworth and presenter John Gallagher. We had enormous fun with our first two seasons, and we have had quite a few questions about how we did it. In this series of three posts, each of us will offer some reflections on making the PhDcasts, our own particular role, and what worked (or didn’t). In this first one, I will say a little about how we got started and what I did in the rather vaguely defined role of ‘producer’.
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Navigating Open Access

In 2009, between studying for my Master’s and Ph.D., I was lucky enough to spend July at the National Maritime Museum as a research intern. This is a great programme if you are a postgraduate or just finishing your undergraduate studies, and want to try out some primary research or get to grips with the NMM’s fantastic collections. My project, supervised by Richard Dunn, looked at early modern navigational instruments, of which the Museum has quite a few. My aim was not to understand them in a scientific sense, but to consider them as cultural artefacts: what did they mean for the people who made and used them? This involved looking both at the instruments themselves and at manuscripts and books from the period, many of them held in the NMM’s Caird Library – although this was in the old Caird, before the Sammy Ofer wing was built (the new Caird is great, but I admit a soft spot for the old library, with its glass-fronted bookshelves. It was where I encountered manuscripts for the first time, too).

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