Studying Nazi Germany

By Adam Wolinsky, history undergraduate student (2012-2015).

I chose to write a Free Standing Long Essay in order to take advantage of the unique opportunity to select a topic of interest to me and explore it in great depth. Nazi Germany is a period of history that has always been of interest to me; unsurprisingly it is also one of the periods of modern history most hotly debated amongst academics. I chose specifically to focus on the pre-war period, which allowed me to explore the creation of the racial Volksgemeinschaft (‘national community). Through gathering source material I was able to analyse the impact that the anti-Semitic policies of the Third Reich had on the everyday life of ‘ordinary Germans’ (the use of this phrase was a nod to Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, a favourite book on the topic).

My approach to the project was to collect as many personal testimonies as possible, and attempt to identify patterns of how attitudes amongst Germans varied with location, age, gender and class. Many of my primary sources were gathered from the extensive archives of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. However, I was also afforded the incredible opportunity to create my own oral history; through the Holocaust Survivors Centre in Hendon, London, I was introduced to several German-born Jews who had fled Germany before the war and emigrated to the UK. These remarkable individuals kindly allowed me to interview them, and shared fascinating tales of their experiences as Jewish children in pre-war Nazi Germany.

Although this was a topic that I had studied for several years prior to the project, many of the testimonies and much of the source material I encountered surprised me, adding several layers of nuance to my understanding of the period. It led me to form the overarching argument that many ordinary Germans displayed an official hostility towards ‘the Jew’, whilst reserving a personal tolerance for individual Jews they knew and interacted with. One of the biggest challenges of the dealing with the topic matter was attempting to grapple with this seemingly contradictory dichotomous behaviour.

The Enlightenment bull market and its decolonial future

Richard Drayton (Rhodes Professor of Imperial History)

I arrived in Oxford at the end of the 1980s. I told John Prest, my moral tutor at Balliol, that I wanted to work, via the history of science, on the impact of the Enlightenment on the British Empire and how the British Empire shaped the Enlightenment. He was a kind man, and did not mock my small-island boy grandiosity. He looked puzzled, and replied, evading interestingly the empire issue, “But we didn’t have an Enlightenment. The French and Scots and Germans did. To speak of an English Enlightenment forces us to squeeze Newton, Locke, Addison, Steele, Johnson into a European cultural movement with a very different chronology, identity, and goals”.

It may be difficult for twenty-first century scholars to believe it but his view represented the orthodoxy at the time. The Enlightenment would not have been a term of trade in any English department in Britain. The key object of study and teaching which intersected with what we refer to as the Enlightenment was the Augustan age, and the key transition was, as per Walter Jackson Bate’s study From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-century England (1961), or Meyer Abrams‘s The Mirror and the Lamp (1951) towards romanticism. Examine, for example, Foucault’s Histoire de la Folie à l’âge classique (1961) and Les Mots et Les Choses (1966), and one can see that even in France there was an idea of a historical period with a seventeenth century ‘L’age de Raison’ and a sprawling ‘L’age classique’ which did not fit the German Enlightenment’s chronology.

At the time I dismissed Prest’s resistance to thinking of the long eighteenth century in terms of the Enlightenment as just old fashioned, or even as an ignorant ‘little England’ position. After all, hadn’t Ernst Cassirer in Die Philosophie der Aufklärung, fifty years earlier, woven Newton, Shaftesbury and Locke into a fabric that ran through Montesquieu, Voltaire and Diderot to Kant? Hadn’t Peter Gay, at whose feet I had (literally) sat at Yale as a grad student, not mapped the Enlightenment as a pan-European and transatlantic social movement in two magisterial volumes in the 1960s? Hadn’t Roy Porter in a famous essay in 1981, ‘The Enlightenment in England’, in one of the history in national costume volumes he edited with Mikulas Teich, shown, exactly as I wished to do, how Britain participated in these European currents?

I am more sceptical now. Let me be clear: I am not sceptical about the existence of a great web of European intellectual reconfigurations and interconnections over the long Eighteenth century in which England and Britain were involved. I am more wary however about how we conjure with the category of the Enlightenment and organise study and teaching around it, and about the late twentieth-century and twenty-first century uses of the idea of “The Enlightenment”.

* * * * *

Examine these two Ngram graphs which show us, respectively, the incidence of the word “Enlightenment” published between 1940 and 2000 in American and British English books. On close examination, one sees that ‘The Enlightenment’, far from being some objective historical referent, as it is repeatedly used in popular culture, was a late Twentieth-century social fiction.

Enlightenment American English

‘Enlightenment’ – American English

'Enlightenment' - British English

‘Enlightenment’ – British English

Ngrams are, of course, not very accurate instruments, but they do help us to see trends. What these seem to show is that the retail of the Enlightenment as a category has two big booms: one in the long 1960s, during which it doubles in the United States, and the other from the mid 1980s, and especially after 1990, during which there is another doubling stateside, while in Britain there is a sudden takeoff and convergence with the American pattern. The idea that something called “The Enlightenment” is an effective metonym for the intellectual life of the long Eighteenth-Century century is thus a more recent idol than we often assume. We need to explain in it terms of the history of the period after 1945, and after 1990, and to ask who were the stakeholders in the Enlightenment franchise?

The first and most important stakeholders were the refugees from the Nazis who came to the United States, in particular German Jews, who sought to bridge their own intellectual heritage in Europe to the culture and politics of their new home. Peter Gay’s The Enlightenment (1966 and 1969) which begin with the philosophes in France and ended with Jefferson and the American Revolution, was perhaps the most influential single intervention of these. It is rarely noticed that he punctuated its two volumes with his book on Weimar Culture. Its coda was the virtual manifesto for thinking of the Enlightenment as, Peter Gay suggested, ‘responsible for [almost] everything that was good in the Twentieth century’: The Bridge of Criticism: Dialogues among Lucien, Erasmus and Voltaire about the Enlightenment (1970). It was in the wake of the success of Gay’s first tome that Cassirer’s The Philosophy of the Enlightenment was at last published in English in 1968. Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialektik der Aufklärung, written in exile in the United States in the 1940s, was only translated in 1972, which while even taking a darker view of the Enlightenment as part of the foundation for the Holocaust added to the legend of its coherence and importance.

Many other constituencies of stakeholders embedded themselves in this way of seeing early modern European intellectual history and its relationship to the present. For (white) Americans, the discovery of European precedents for themselves was always attractive, and even better if, as per the Transcendentalists, the anxiety of influence by its former colonial metropolis Britain could be overcome by a reach to continental Europe. But Cold War liberalism also had its uses for the Enlightenment. The idea of the Enlightenment was backcrossed with modernization theory, with secularisation elevated, quite anachronistically, given all we now know about the religious enthusiasms which were central to the period, as the sign of Enlightenment. Anti-communists sought to find anti-romantic allies, and, as per the Liberty Fund in the United States, to conjure with the ‘rational’ Eighteenth century against the dangerous nineteenth-century ideologies of revolution. And yet at the same time, Marxists who were dismayed by the Soviet Union also claimed the Enlightenment, in the vein of Adorno and Horkheimer, as the anchor tradition of the Left. In continental Europe from the 1970s, and in Britain from the 1990s, those touched by the European project were also attracted by the idea of a historic pan-European intellectual community for which the Enlightenment appeared to be a good sign.

But the great boom in the retail of the Enlightenment comes after 1990. One important contributing current was its critics, who took up Adorno and Horkheimer’s exploration of the dark side of the Enlightenment, in particular post-colonial theorists among them, connecting the violence of the West with ‘Enlightenment rationality’. But for far more people in the post-colonial and post-communist moment– conservatives, liberals, and some socialists – the Enlightenment became central to the imagined collective identity of the West and of ‘modernity’, the two things normally assumed to be one. a flattering mirror of the past in which the present might find its face. Even the odd Marxist contributed their praisesong of ‘the enduring value of Enlightenment universalism’. Few asked about the reality of that imagined ‘universal’, or how its narcissistic gaze towards affinities excluded the experience and agency of Africa, Asia, and the darker-skinned Americas. The apotheosis of this turn came in the early Twenty-First Century, when Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis identified “Enlightenment values” with the prosecution of the “Global War on Terror”. And so, it appeared, we came to bomb and torture in defence of the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment industry, of course, now has its own independent momentum. A generation of scholars have made their careers on the historical myth, while others make good money from books earnestly defending the Enlightenment. Of course, you might say that this is just a form of unconscious homage to the entrepreneurial skills of eighteenth-century intellectuals who themselves made a business of the Enlightenment. This is all good clean fun, at least when it is not part of the road which leads humanitarian intervention via cruise missile, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. And yet, as we approach ‘peak oil’ we must surely be reaching peak Enlightenment when, at the same time as the category is said to explain the values of the present, it also, as in one 2015 exhibition, appears to reach greedily backward to the Sixteenth century to engulf and consume the ‘Renaissance‘, which is threatened from the other direction by a resurgent late ‘mediaeval’ period. It begins to become simply another name for the idea of a Western liberal subjectivity, the precise temporal or spatial limits of which are never terribly clear.

* * * * *

It may be that if we do wish to rescue what is living and vital about ‘the Enlightenment’ we need to shatter the idol.

To begin with we need to destroy the latter day Whig’s idea of the Enlightenment, if we agree to accept ‘Enlightenment’ as a loose name for the problem of European thought c. 1660-1830. The problem is not, pace Adorno and Horkheimer, its legacies, but its origins. It is not that the Enlightenment led to Auschwitz, but that its origins, like the origins of everything in modern Europe, lie partly in that continent’s centuries-long offshore history of racial slavery, colonial domination, and genocide in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth century. It should not be acceptable in the Twenty-First century, to speak or write or teach about the Enlightenment as having to do with the histories of rights, ideas and museums, friendship, humanitarianism, without at the same time mapping its direct involvement in the expansion of regimes of slavery, the destruction of other cultures and their values, and dehumanization.

Whiggery, or to put it more simply the present’s recruitment of a flattering myth of its past, is central to what we might call the unbearable whiteness of the Enlightenment. By ‘whiteness’ I do not mean the skins of those who are assumed to be its principal participants, or even today’s Enlightenment mongerers, some of whom are brown. I am focusing instead on how the idea of the Enlightenment is based on cognitive compartmentalizations and repressions which have a generic relationship to racially-based past and present regimes of exclusion, subordination, and exploitation.

For example, were we to ask what was the most emblematic product of the Enlightenment, we would usually reach towards a text like Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie. A good case, however, might instead be made however for the Slave Ship of the 1780s as the crowning achievement of Enlightenment civilization: they carried hundreds of captives, packed with mathematical efficiency, across thousands of miles with relatively small normal loss of life, and depending on the collaboration of engineers, shipbuilders, Europe-wide sharing in the capital and insurance risks, and state-of-the-art food preservation and tropical medicine. Other candidates might be the attempts at the psychological manipulation of human subjectivity with mesmerism in St Domingue, in the ‘rational’ prisons of Pennsylvania and Tasmania, or in the methodical experiments with using torture to force two-handed cotton picking in the American south. Or we might consider the Malthusian experiments of Sir Richard Temple, the lieutenant governor of Bengal, with how little food might be given to starving men forced to perform hard labour, which led in 1877 to the ‘Temple ration’ of 1627 calories (almost 100 less than was dispensed at Buchenwald).

We ourselves need to think with both hands, and to put together both sides of the story. The involvement of John Locke in the Royal African Company, and as a key member of the Board of Trade and Plantations, or the investments held by philosophes in the Compagnie des Indes, are widely known by scholars but not by the public. It is almost never used to make sense of how Locke or Voltaire thought of rights and freedom.  But the constitution of forms of rights which have as their premise categories of rights-bearers who, as Charles Mills has noted, are limited to people of a particular race and gender has some interpretative importance. Rather like those who glibly ascribe the origins of modern liberties to Magna Carta, so those who trade in the Enlightenment prefer us to focus on the potential future interpretations of texts than on what they meant in their context. But context matters, not least because it alerts us to ask what social and political and intellectual struggles led to their later renegotiation? How did the excluded, whose total exclusion from kinds of rights had a foundational role in the constitution of a set of rights-bearers, become the included? As an example, we might look at how Nick Nesbitt has shown how Haitian revolutionaries fought and died on behalf of rethinking of the idea of the Rights of Man as universal emancipation. If the Enlightenment has anything to do with contemporary human rights, that is due to how people around the world, usually innocent of any knowledge of Rousseau, demanded rights.

If ‘the Enlightenment’ can do any work for us now, it is in directing our attention to how contradictions unfolded in ideas as they were put to work by different interests in struggles, conflicts, and crises across the space of the globe. Even the most eurocentric vendors of the category accept that ‘the Enlightenment’ was profoundly engaged with the forms of global knowledge made possible by European imperial systems. But it is usual to consider this in diffusionist terms, with centres of calculation and peripheries towards which knowledge diffused. We need now to follow the lead set by work such as Simon Schaffer’s on the global history of physics to recognize how extra-European people and places acted on the development of modern thought. Unexpected gifts of knowledge and sensibility came from the periphery in the eighteenth century, bundled with tobacco and calicoes. It is in a focus on the global history of the ‘Enlightenment’ as a cross-cultural and transnational phenomenon that the category may perhaps become meaningful again. At the least we might begin to decolonize the Enlightenment, of which, perhaps, Diderot and Raynal would have approved.

1 Roy Porter, ‘The Enlightenment in England’, in Roy S. Porter and Mikuláš Teich, The Enlightenment in National Context (Cambridge, 1981).


Discovering Visigothic Script Manuscripts

Dr Ainoa Correa Castro, Marie Curie Fellow, Department of History, September 2015-August 2017

Regardless of our field of expertise, we are all historians and as such we cannot help but admire medieval manuscripts. We find ourselves bemused by medieval manuscript handwriting, handmade books, wondering about the scribe who wrote them, the person or institution who commissioned the work, when it was made and where. As a former web developer and now enthusiast palaeographer, I have devoted my academic career to find an answer to all these uncertainties by engaging in the study of early medieval Spanish manuscript production and the best ways to combine it with digital tools.

I am fond of Visigothic script, the primary carrier of Latin writing in the Iberian Peninsula from the 8th to the 12th century. I am amazed by the exceptional quality and quantity of information its study provides to understand medieval Spain. When the Muslims arrived in 711 causing political disorganization once the Visigothic kingdom fell, Visigothic script was already being practised. Its formation phase, studied through the only 5 extant documents from the Visigothic chancery and the large and interesting collection of slate tablets produced under Visigothic rule, speaks of Roman heritage and still graphic links with Merovingian soil that firmly survived the upheaval. Only a decade later, around the 720s, the first codices (manuscript books) preserved written in an already distinguishable Visigothic script reveal to us not only the graphic process of evolution it went through but how its cultural context changed.  In the early 8th century scholars fled from southern Iberian Peninsula seeking asylum in southern France, taking their books with them and spreading Visigothic script and style abroad. Others stayed in the south under Muslim control, grouped in Mozarabic communities that developed their own culture and variant of Visigothic script, whereas others went to the north, to the incipient Christian realms that will become the kingdom of León-Castile. There, in northern Iberian Peninsula, Visigothic script continued to develop and come to maturity, keeper of Roman and early medieval peninsular knowledge through the centuries to come, treasured by medieval peninsular scholars as a symbol of its own character and culture. I find that the combination of palaeography, history, and digital applied techniques, offers the best way to explore all these different cultural contexts in where to find Visigothic script manuscripts.

After obtaining my PhD from the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona in 2012, in Historiographical Sciences and Techniques for the Study and Conservation of Bibliographic and Documentary Heritage, I have continued my research and training in North America and Canada. I have been Astrik L. Gabriel fellow at the Medieval Institute – University of Notre Dame, Indiana, working on early medieval monastic education, an Andrew W. Mellon fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, where I gained the License in Mediaeval Studies, and a Virginia Brown fellow in Latin Palaeography at the Center for Epigraphical and Palaeographical Studies at the Ohio State University, studying the regional variants of Visigothic script. All these awards, and the support of the academic community of each of these institutions, allowed me not only to move forward in my research and also to refine my profile as a digital medievalist.

Right after concluding my PhD, I began to build a network for the study of Visigothic script and its manuscripts centralised in my professional site While in Toronto, I developed the only existing Online Catalogue of Visigothic script Manuscripts, listing almost 400 of the surviving examples of codices written in this script, and continued expanding the network by adding to my site resources for teaching and research purposes; my own and others. By opening the study of Visigothic script to the world through digital platforms, I soon realised the need – and benefits – to continue merging palaeography and digital tools, and not just for cataloguing purposes but for analysing the script. The research I am going to be carrying out here at King’s College for the next two years focuses exactly on that, tackling the current problems in the field. It opens an exciting new step in my professional career and constitutes a breakthrough to the study of Visigothic script manuscript production.

The European Commission has recognised the urgent need to move forward in conducting palaeographical research by taking advantage of specific software developed for analysing medieval script. In that sense, it has granted me with a Marie Curie research fellowship to develop the project ‘ViGOTHIC Towards a typology of Visigothic script: the Beatus British Library Add. 11695 and its potential for dating and localising Visigothic script manuscripts’ (H2020 Grant Agreement No. 656298). The project, about which I will write at length in, is based at the Department of History, with Professor Julia Crick as mentor, and aided by the assistance of the research team that created the DigiPal software. It is aimed at establishing a point of reference for the analysis of Visigothic script through the systematic study of the collection of late eleventh-century Visigothic script codices kept at the British Library. For that purpose, I will create a computerised database of quantitative data, applying an especially designed palaeographical methodology, as a starting point to allow codices written in Visigothic script to be described, compared and placed in their socio-cultural context, establishing criteria upon which advanced studies can build.

During the development of ViGOTHIC a new website will be launched, openly sharing with all the scientific community, as well as with the general public, the palaeographical, textual, historical, and, to sum up, cultural significance of the Visigothic script codices preserved. It will be a pilot project that aims to continue growing in the forthcoming years as a meeting point for anyone interested in conducting research upon Visigothic script material or, in general, in knowing more about medieval manuscripts.


British Library Add. 11695, f.8r © The British Library (online)


Site (online)


Why campaigners need history

By Lucy Delap.

Why does change happen? It’s one of the most basic of questions for our discipline. Historians tend to discount the reasons most people assume underpin social change – we relentlessly remind our students that change doesn’t happen simply because new generations are born, or because time moves forward. Historians are enormously sceptical concerning easy assumptions of the direction of change, refusing teleological accounts that assume a certain destination, or whiggish optimism about progress. Instead, we seek fine-grained accounts of what motivates change, always willing to argue for continuities or reversals. Assessing change over time is our bread and butter as a profession, and we expend much energy arguing over cycles, waves, homeostasis and stability.  We sometimes break our analysis down into change or stasis at different levels of temporality, or assess short, medium and long term degrees of change. We try to hold within our view contingency and serendipity, recognising that many outcomes are possible, and very little is inevitable. These are the analytic skills that co-called futurists have turned into mini empires of consultancy, offering tools such as ‘scenario development’, strategic planning, trend analysis and so on, in order to shed light on what might happen in five, ten or twenty years’ time. Historians are rightly reluctant to offer predictions – nonetheless, we perhaps sell ourselves short in failing to recognise that our discipline has a huge amount to offer those who want to influence the future.

Histories of Change, a conference co-hosted by KCL’s History & Policy and Friends of the Earth, sets out a series of compelling case studies that focus on the factors that underlie or prevent change. Ranging across social, political, environmental and economic history, campaigners from civil society organisations will be thinking through the impact of events as catalysts for social change; the formation of unlikely or temporary coalitions; the means by which empathy or anger can be elicited amongst publics; and the varying contributions experts, campaigners, marginalised groups or bystanders can make to moments of change. Amongst our speakers, Abigail Woods, for example, traces the history of the intensification of British livestock farming, and notes the lack of any linear change in the period since World War One.  Her case study underlines the grassroots diversity of British farming, and lack of any single path to ‘agricultural modernity’. Understanding this history can allow campaigners to move away from destructive binaries, such as those that set organic or welfare-oriented farming in headlong opposition to modern or intensive methods.  Simon Sleight, in a contrasting field, examines the involvement of young people in city environments, and suggests the potential for campaigners for change to involve young people in planning and citizenship roles.

The case studies of Histories of Change do not offer the sometimes simplistic models that are predominant in disciplines such as economics, which have tended to gain the attention of the policy world.  History does not embrace simple accounts of cause and effect – but the conference does showcase the value of thinking about the complex dynamics and coalition building that underlies change – and, as David Edgerton’s case study of change in Britain during World War Two suggests, may lead to unexpected effects. Julia Urwin of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation notes that ‘successful social change will have several parents, all of whom are likely to be slightly disappointed in their progeny.’  Histories of Change helps campaigners and policy makers understand better the complex dynamics of how change happens, and invites historians to reflect explicitly on the theories of causation that underlie their work.

For an update on the conference, see here. To see it how it happened on Storify, please click here.

Magna Carta: conference on 17-19 June

This year sees the 800th anniversary of King John’s Magna Carta. Across the UK there are exhibitions, parties and pageants celebrating this iconic document, including the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, which opened in March to great acclaim. King’s History Department has played a major part in the commemorations, with Professor David Carpenter a co-investigator on the AHRC-funded Magna Carta Project, advisor to the British Library’s exhibition and author of a magisterial new book on the Charter, published by Penguin Classics. Along the way David and other members of the Magna Carta Project have made some momentous discoveries, which have hit the headlines across the world and put this 800 year old document in a new light. These revelations – and much other new research – will be showcased in a major conference, held at King’s and the British Library 17-19 June.

BL Cotton Claudius D II f.116

BL Cotton Claudius D II f.116

Historians from King’s (David Carpenter, Anne Duggan, Jinty Nelson, Alice Taylor) will be joined by scholars from across the UK, France and the USA to reveal the world of Magna Carta in unparalleled breadth and depth (you can view the whole conference programme on the Magna Carta Project website); from the Charter’s background and later use to its place in medieval law; from propaganda and political ideas in King John’s reign to kingship in medieval literature; from John’s military campaigns to the scribes of his court; and from the Charter’s continental and British context to its impact on society.

There will also be a reception at the Maughan Library (spaces are limited, so book now to avoid disappointment!), where the J. C. Holt Undergraduate Essay Prize will be awarded by Melvyn Bragg, and a rare opportunity to enjoy a private viewing of the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition, introduced by lead curator Claire Breay. Those attending day three of the conference are also being offered free entry to the British Library’s Early European Parallels to Magna Carta evening event (again, spaces are limited so book now to be sure of a place).

You can read more about The Magna Carta Conference, and book your ticket, on the Magna Carta Project website.

Sophie Ambler, Research Associate, The Magna Carta Project, University of East Anglia

Launch of The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire

Special Event

Launch of a new book by Professor Susan Pedersen (Columbia), The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford University Press)
5.00 pm, 22 May, King’s College London, History Open Space, History Department, 8th Floor Strand Building, King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS

In this masterful history of the mandates system, Susan Pedersen illuminates the role the League of Nations played in creating the modern world. Tracing the system from its creation in 1920 until its demise in 1939, Pedersen examines its workings from the realm of international diplomacy; the viewpoints of the League’s experts and officials; and the arena of local struggles within the territories themselves. A riveting work of global history, The Guardians enables us to look back at the League with new eyes, and in doing so, appreciate how complex, multivalent, and consequential this first great experiment in internationalism really was.

Professor Pedersen will introduce her book and there will be comments from Professor Richard Vinen and Dr Jon Wilson (both of King’s College), and drinks to follow. All welcome!

David Edgerton

Leading the Exploration of the West African Past

The History department is currently without question the best equipped department in the country – and one of the best in the whole Anglo-American academic world – for the teaching and study of the history of West Africa. The department currently has 5 historians specialising in the history of different aspects of the West African past, a situation that is almost unique in British academic history.

Current staff members include Bronwen Everill (Abolition and Humanitarianism in Liberia and Sierra Leone; Consumer cultures in West Africa and the Atlantic World); Toby Green (Precolonial West Africa; Atlantic slavery; oral history; economic history); Vincent Hiribarren (space and borders in Africa; the history of Borno in northern Nigeria; archives); Tim Livsey (Universities in West Africa and their role in creation of colonial and postcolonial subjects); and Sarah Stockwell (British colonialism in twentieth-century Africa, especially in relation to the history of colonial development and welfare, end of empire). Dr Hiribarren has just been appointed as Lecturer in Modern African History (from July 1st 2015), alongside Dr Green (Lecturer in Lusophone African History and Culture) and Dr Stockwell (Senior Lecturer in Imperial & Commonwealth History) as a permanent staff member, and so the department offers a real research strength in West African history from the distant past to the present day.

Toby Green said: “The current strength in West African history is a great feature of the current History department, and a unique opportunity for students to learn more about a region of the world which is becoming of increasing geopolitical significance, but remains very poorly studied and understood. It’s a real privilege to teach in a department where students can learn about everything from the Historical Origins of Economic Underdevelopment in Africa, through abolition and imperialism and their impacts in West Africa, to the history of colonial and postcolonial Nigeria. I find that students are very keen to learn about something about which they often know very little beforehand, and the chance to learn from specialists and with the latest research is something that they seize with both hands. This is also filtering through to a thriving research culture and the development of new areas of wider impact in the public sphere.”

One of these is the new OCR A Level option in Precolonial African Kingdoms, currently being developed by the OCR in collaboration with Dr Green. This is the first time that precolonial African history has been offered at A Level in British schools, and will also see for the first time an OCR-KCL prize in Precolonial African history being offered for the best A level student essay in the area.

OCR Interview with Dr Toby Green

More information can be found in this OCR opinion piece and this sample exam script.

Dr Hiribarren added:

“Quite strikingly, our students know that Africa has a very long history but they have never studied it before. Archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, geographers and historians have now gathered so much material that it has become difficult to choose which aspect of African History to study! The continent is often depicted in rather pessimist terms but there is so much more to say about one billion of Africans. Our modules at King’s College London clearly show the wealth of Africa but also link Africa to the rest of the planet. We believe this is the strength of our teaching at Kings as we can relate the history of specific countries such as Nigeria to wider themes relevant in other parts of the world.”

Becoming a Historical Researcher

Hello Students, Prospective Students and Faculty of King’s College London. My name is
Patrick Wingrove and in January 2014 I graduated with an MA in Modern History from KCL. I am writing this article primarily for those prospective students thinking of undertaking an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in history but also for those who are just coming to the end of their studies.

Undertaking a history degree is no easy task. You will spend most of your time reading,
either through books or manuscripts long forgotten about, and sometimes be expected to
find new and interesting points of view on subjects that have already been analysed a
thousand different ways. If you’re anything like me, though, you will love every moment if it.

The real question is how do you apply all that hard work to the real world? If you’re
planning to pursue a life in academia and/or historical research, then the answer is obvious. However, for those who love history but aren’t quite sure what career avenue they want to take, do not fear. Some of the most successful people working in television broadcasting, law, publishing, teaching and many other fields are history graduates. The skills a history degree will give you in analysis, writing and organisation are highly sought after in graduates, not to mention the appreciation you obtain for hard work and sheer bloody mindedness.

To give you an idea of a career path you could go down, I thought I would give you an
insight into mine since graduating. A few months ago, I was hired by Illustrated London
News Ltd as a Historical Researcher. Once a great media empire, which published
periodicals such as The Illustrated London News, ILN Ltd is now a creative content agency encompassing digital and print with an archive that goes back to 1842. My job is essentially to utilise the archive for the company’s benefit. I’m often tasked with finding material that helps with approaches to prospective customers with a rich past, e.g. Aston Martin, whose magazine ILN produces.


The main project I’ve been working on is ILN’s First World War centenary website With Heritage Lottery Fund backing, this project has made the 1914-1919 editions of The Illustrated London News freely available to the public, soon followed by The Graphic, The Sphere, The Bystander, The Tatler, The Sketch, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News and The Illustrated War News. 


My colleague Hannah, a fellow historian, and I wrote content for most sections of the
website, curated images, ensured the site was historically accurate and we continue to write weekly blog pieces. We’re now working on the second phase of the site, which will see improved search functionality, more content and a much-improved teaching resources section. Although I am a “Historical Researcher”, my role is not entirely research based. A lot of my time is spent learning new digital skills to help improve the website, including design and basic programming skills. I’ve also been charged with office and events management, including organising a “Road Show” designed to showcase the new website and a preview event for an auction at Christie’s South Kensington of original artwork published in the ILN’s magazines. I also write weekly content for The Times, English Heritage and the Imperial War Museum as part of my responsibilities.

Jobs such as this (though often under different titles) are constantly becoming available.
Companies are now becoming aware that their archives are one of the best resources
imaginable for brand knowledge, differentiation and innovation. One good example is the
Savile Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes, who recently hired historians to help dig up old designs to be used in their “capsule collection”. Archival material helped with their campaigns based around their long-standing reputation as a royal tailor, as well as content written about their history as a designer for the Royal Navy going as far back as the Napoleonic wars.

Indeed, the future is bright for anyone interested in, or just coming to the end of, a history
degree. Mine is only one example of the doors that were opened because of my degree
from King’s College London. If you’re interested in history, I highly recommend it.

Historical Film as a Learning Tool: Pirates of the Caribbean

Rebecca Simon, PhD Student

The inevitable question that comes up in every PhD student’s conversation is, ‘What is the topic you’re researching?’  Or some variant of that inquiry.  In response, we have all developed our ‘elevator answer’ – a quick, one-sentence summary of three or four years of painstakingly detailed original research.  Mine is, ‘Pirate executions and the transference of British law to the American colonies during the early modern period.’  I don’t want to sound immodest, but I have to admit that this is a great way to introduce myself at parties.  My elevator answer is always greeted with a look of excited interest followed by an enthusiastic, ‘You research pirates?  You must love those Pirates of the Caribbean films!’

I have been researching public responses to piracy in print during the early modern period since I started my Master’s degree in 2008.  If I had been given a pound every time I heard that quip, I would never need to apply for any form of funding again.  As someone with a passion for historical film, I have come to embrace the association my research topic has with the Disney franchise.  In fact, I would like to argue that one could use Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in a university module of Atlantic or maritime history.

As a seminar tutor for the first-year module, The Worlds of the British Empire, I recommend films that tie into every lecture topic and I welcome students to suggest others that I have missed.  I am a firm believer that popular film can and should be used as a resource to study history to put the information in context.  I did this with success when I taught history at the secondary level and if I taught a module on early modern Atlantic history, the first Pirates of the Caribbean film would be an essential introduction.  Although the film is fantasy-genre and based on the popular ride at the Disney parks in the United States (which is in turn loosely based on the novel, Treasure Island), there are numerous thematic elements one can glean from this film: English colonisation in the Caribbean, the rise of the Royal Navy’s authority in the Caribbean and, of course, the history of early modern Atlantic piracy.  These are all important themes in the film, but one I’d like to focus on is the element of maritime culture that sets the tone for the entire story.  To be specific, the Pirate’s Code.

To recap the film, Elizabeth Swann, daughter of the governor of Port Royal, Jamaica (Navy stronghold of the Caribbean and former pirate-haven) finds herself about to be taken by pirates in her own home, because unbeknownst to her she is wearing a necklace of a piece of cursed Aztec gold that she’s mistaken as a pirate medallion. Before they capture her, she invokes the code of parley:  ‘I invoke the right of parley.  According to the Code of the Brethren set down by the pirates Morgan and Bartholomew, you have to take me to your captain…If an adversary demands parley, you can do them no harm until the parley is complete.’  The pirates’ honour dictate that they cannot break the code so they take her to their captain, Barbarossa, and thus the adventure of the film commences.

I’m sure you know the rest of the film’s plot, so forgive me if I choose now to break into a bit of actual history.  The mention of and adherence to the Code is a solid piece of maritime and pirate history from the early modern period.  All merchants and sailors had laws of behaviour to follow in order to maintain order and decorum on a ship.  It may surprise you to find out that pirates had a similar code.  The pirates Elizabeth refers to are likely Henry Morgan and Bartholomew Portugues, men who were actually privateers (legally-sanctioned to rob enemy ships) and active in the late 1660s Caribbean.  There are very few surviving pieces of their own documents, but Alexander Exquemelin, author of The History of the Buccaneers of America (1684 English translation) claimed that Henry Morgan had a code of conduct and honour for his men to adhere.  It has been claimed that pirates were men bound together by a common struggle for survival as seamen and then as outlaws.  As such, they attempted to construct a world where people were justly dealt with. To maintain an egalitarian order, they had to establish sets of rules for all men to obey.

Throughout the film, the pirates are told to ‘keep to the code’ if something goes wrong.  In this case, the particular code they refer to is to leave any man who falls behind.  This is an example of a pirate code that comes from legend; I have never been able to find a specific mention of this in my primary or secondary research.  But the pirate codes that existed were there to maintain order and civility on all pirate ships.  In A General History of the Pyrates, one of the key primary sources historians consult when researching piracy, the pirates’ Code of Honour is listed for the readers’ benefit.  The code was a list of ten articles that promised men equal food and drink provisions and forbid stealing, gambling, whoring, desertion and fighting.  The code established a curfew, allowed rest on the Sabbath and promised monetary compensation for all illness and injuries incurred while on the ships.  The pirate Edward Low, active in the early 1720s, had a similar code of conducts for his pirates, which forbid fighting amongst crew members, thievery and drunkenness, which was printed in the 1 August 1723 edition of the Boston News-Letter for all to read.

Egalitarian order and inspirations from the Pirate Code are present throughout Pirates of the Caribbean.  Former Captain Jack Sparrow was marooned from The Black Pearl by his first mate, Barbarossa who then took over the ship as captain.  Although mutinies were of the worst crimes and betrayals to commit at sea, Barbarossa had been unanimously supported in his mutiny and thus continued to rule the ship even under the curse of living death.  Pirates on The Black Pearl had their specific role and station.  When Jack Sparrow commandeers his own ship, he assembles a crew with the agreement that he is captain, but the men have a choice to serve under him – including Will Turner, who harbours a hatred for pirates.  Another theme present throughout the film is the maritime superstition that women on ships were bad luck.  I could go on for ages as to why women were seen as bad luck, but this superstition comes from the Code: ‘No boy or woman to be allowed among [the pirates]. If any man were found seducing any of the latter sex, and carried her to the sea to be disguised, he was to suffer Death.’ Elizabeth is sequestered away on The Black Pearl and Jack Sparrow’s first mate, Gibbs, warns him against bringing a female pirate, Anamaria, on board their ship (who is disguised as a man) numerous times.  Of course, women in the film did not cause shipboard bad luck and by the nineteenth century women were no longer seen as maritime curses.

Although Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is largely a fantasy/adventure film, it is one of the most memorable and recognizable movies about pirates in film history; it contains historical relevance that should not be discounted by teachers and professors.  Past the swashbuckling and ‘savvying’ there are numerous themes concerning Atlantic history context about the history of piracy, the Navy and maritime culture and superstition that make the movie a valid resource for students.  Case in point: when people ask me to clarify which pirates I research, I respond, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean pirates’ and they immediately know what I’m talking about.