Symposium on Early Modern Mercantile Culture

Further details and full programme.

The subject of mercantile culture has become one of the most fascinating and promising fields where scholars can produce transregional and interdisciplinary research. Early modern merchants in particular were moving, acting and writing in increasingly complex and global networks, where they had to face problems as diverse as distance, foreign status, mercantilist policies, and the constant need to quickly gather reliable information. The symposium organized at King’s College London for the 22nd and 23rd of June aims to bring together specialists in early modern mercantile culture, its broader intellectual and economic underpinnings, and its social and international facets. Among the speakers at the event, there will be three faculty members from King’s College (Prof. Francisco Bethencourt, Dr. Joao Silvestre, and Dr. Matteo Salonia). Topics covered by some of the papers include trade in late imperial China, business strategies in early modern Japan, and the impact of mercantile activities on visual art and literature.

Kaino Naizen (1570-1616), Namban Folding Screen, detail, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

King’s is one of the best environments where a multi-disciplinary discussion on early modern trade and mercantile culture can be developed from a global perspective, as besides its world-leading History Department it can also take advantage of research produced at the Camoes Centre for Portuguese Language and Culture and of the input from the institutes concerning China, India and Brazil. The event, which includes Q&A sessions, is open to colleagues from King’s and other institutions, as well as to students and to the general public.

Hans Holbein the Younger, portrait of the merchant Georg Gisze, 1532, oil on wood, 85.7×97.5 cm, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

These are the abstracts of the papers that will be presented by our two History faculty members:


Paper abstract – Prof. Francisco Bethencourt (KCL), “Visual Expression of Mercantile Culture”

Mercantile culture is generally addressed by the study of practical trade, behaviour of merchants during exchange, legal and institutional framework for transactions. We work on specific types of sources, mainly notarial records, account books, commercial law, treatises on usury, money and contracts, trials triggered by bankruptcies. However, the first half of the sixteenth century does not have a prolific set of sources that can help us in this field. This is why I decided to look at iconography, due to my previous experience with racism.  I will study two lost paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) on the Triumph of Poverty and the Triumph of Riches produced for the residence of the merchants of the Hanseatic League in London in 1532-1534. They are good for thought, since they were commissioned by top merchants in an important commercial environment with international connections. They concentrate a challenging density of symbols and narratives. My argument is that these paintings express the vision of the merchants on the debate on wealth versus poverty and the levelling proprieties of the market. This vision has not been fully taken into account by the historiography of economic thought concerning the period before the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.




Paper abstract – Dr. Matteo Salonia (KCL), “Self-perception and the Production of Knowledge at the Peripheries of Empire: the case of Giovanni da Empoli (1483-1517)”

There are still many questions surrounding the history of the first Portuguese fleets reaching the Indian Ocean immediately after Vasco da Gama’s expedition. Two of the most important issues that we have to explore when looking at the early empire-building process in this region are the identity (agenda; value system) of different actors among “the Portuguese” and the production of knowledge about space and human geography at the peripheries of the empire.

This paper offers a brief introduction to the life of Giovanni da Empoli (1483-1517), one of the first Italians to reach India and China by sea. Giovanni’s Letters offer an invaluable source for our understanding of early European expectations, perceptions and depictions of Asia’s human and economic geography. The paper also outlines possible lines of inquiry and discusses alternative research questions for the future.


Dr. Matteo Salonia and Prof. Francisco Bethencourt

Conference Report | Britain – Palestine – Israel: 70 Years On What happened, and what can we do now?

Seventy years ago, in May 1948, both the state of Israel and the Palestinian nakhba (catastrophe) were created. The anniversary of Israel’s establishment – declared on 14 May, one day before the final withdrawal of British troops – will be marked by some with joyous celebration. For others, though, this month is a time to remember the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes, creating a refugee crisis that has only grown in magnitude since then.

On 1 May a one-day conference was held at King’s, co-sponsored by the History Department and the Balfour Project (a charitable organisation working for justice, peace and reconciliation in the Middle East), to consider the events of 1948, their legacy today, and possible ways forward. Both the morning and the afternoon panels comprised a Palestinian, an Israeli and a British speaker. The day focused particularly on the role of Britain. As the colonial power in Palestine during the thirty-year ‘British Mandate’ period from 1918, Britain bears considerable responsibility for the division and suffering that followed after May 1948. More recently British foreign policy on the Palestine / Israel conflict has tended to follow the lead of the United States. However, if Britain is to play a role as a force for positive change in the future, then a more active and imaginative approach will almost certainly be necessary.

Both Palestinian and Israeli speakers spoke about the personal human consequences of the conflict. Ghada Karmi, a London-based Palestinian doctor, reflected on her experience of exile, which she has recounted in her memoir In Search of Fatima (2002). Her family left their home in Jerusalem during the conflict in 1948, expecting to be able to return when the situation calmed down – but they were never able to do so. Alon Liel, an retired Israeli diplomat, observed that his primary-school-age grandchildren have already been indoctrinated with a hatred of Arabs, and noted that with similar hatred inculcated among Palestinian children the challenges standing in the way of a genuine peace are immense.


In a radical break with long-standing international consensus, the United States will mark this anniversary month by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel is labouring hard to induce other countries to follow suit, in the hope that this will erode the commitment of the international community to a negotiated settlement on the sovereignty of Jerusalem. In Britain, several political parties – including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party – are committed to the recognition of Palestinian statehood. This would follow the 2014 lead of Sweden, which remains the only European country to recognise Palestine, though several other countries might follow if a major player such as Britain took this step. In the afternoon session, Vincent Fean, former British Consul-General in Jerusalem (representing the UK in the Palestinian territories), advocated this step.  Others wondered if any future British government would be committed enough to put this policy into action, given the likely response from Israel, which Alon Liel suggested might include the breaking of diplomatic relations with the UK.


Discussion also focused on the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories. Leila Sansour, a Palestinian film-maker based on Bethlehem, described the increasing demoralisation in her home city, hemmed in by the Israeli ‘separation barrier’ and with access impeded by checkpoints: those with the means to leave Bethlehem have mostly already done so.  In the Gaza Strip conditions are increasingly desperate, and the United Nations has projected that the territory will become effectively uninhabitable by 2020 if current trends continue. There was a broad consensus at the conference that the Gaza Strip is facing a humanitarian crisis, which urgently requires international attention and structural change.


However, the clash between the competing historical narratives of 1948 and its legacy provoked heated disagreement between members of the audience. For most Israelis the conflict of that year is remembered as their ‘War of Independence’, establishing a secure Jewish refuge after centuries of persecution in Europe and initiating their nation’s continuing embattlement against a ring of hostile Arab neighbours. The Palestinian memory of 1948, in stark contrast, is of dispossession and disaster, compounded by further calamity in 1967, when Israel established control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and soon established Jewish settlements in both places, and a deepening sense of frustration and hopelessness since then. Sustaining civil debate on this topic is, because of the depth of this division, perhaps more difficult than on any other international issue. Precisely for this reason, it is vital that universities continue to rise to this challenge, and to host broad-based, challenging and controversial events such as this one.


Adam Sutcliffe

May 2018

Workshop | Uncovering the Animal: Skin, Fur, Feathers 1450-1700

The study of animal skin is a core component of the Renaissance Skin project (funded by the Wellcome Trust), which aims to understand how animal and human skin was conceptualised and used in a globalised world between 1450 and1700.

We have been examining animal skin through various themes, such as the use of animal skin, fur, and feathers in the leather, fur, felt, and featherwork industries; how domestic husbandry animals (mainly horses and cattle) might be bled and cupped to purge their humours like their human counterparts; diseases that might affect the skin of animals and their cures (mange, scabies, murrain); and theoretical discussions on the composition of animal skin and its ‘coverings’, including fur, shells, and the scales of the rhinoceros or the armadillo. So far we have examined a range of primary sources from agrarian manuals, medical treatises, veterinary texts on anatomy and treatment, works on natural history, and furriers’ accounts to iconography and objects made from animal skin and fur themselves, from buff-skin coats to shark-skin sword grips

Feather mosaic triptych, Mexico, 16th century. It was created by indigenous featherworkers who adapted pre-Columbian techniques to Christian use.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 88.3.1. Gift of Coudert Brothers, 1888 (view original

We are organising a half-day workshop on the 29 June 2018 to bring together scholars who study the many facets of animal skin. As the Renaissance Skin project examines the issue from various historiographical approaches, using textual, material, and visual evidence, we hope to gather researchers from many different disciplines with the aim to facilitate lively conversation on animal skin and open the field to a wider audience.

Speakers will be Lianming Wang (Heidelberg) on kingfisher feathers at the Qing court, Stefan Hanß (Cambridge) on Iberian and Peruvian feather-work, Patricia Lurati (Zürich) on fur in Renaissance art, Thomas Rusbridge (Birmingham) on shagreen in early modern England, Cristina Bastante (La Sapienza) on nautilus shells, Sara Ayres (National Portrait Gallery) on fur and the Courtly Hunt, and Natalie Lawrence on early modern pangolins. For further information on the event, visit our website.

Registration for the event is now live – please follow this link.

Follow us on Twitter @RenSkinKCL and to keep up-to-date on the workshop use #uncoveringanimals.

The UNC-KCL Transatlantic Historical Approaches Workshop

Theo Williams (PhD student, KCL) discusses an international collaborative event offering outstanding opportunities to research students at KCL and UNC.

The UNC-KCL Transatlantic Historical Approaches Workshop is an annual event that brings together postgraduate research students at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Students form a two-person panel with a student from the partner institution and deliver papers based on their research interests. This year the workshop’s theme is ‘protest, revolt, and revolution’, which will be interpreted broadly. The first leg of the workshop will be held in London on 10-11 May 2018, and the second leg will be held in Chapel Hill on 10-11 September 2018. Funding will be provided for travel expenses and three nights’ accommodation.


I’m one of the student organisers for this year’s workshop, after attending last year’s workshop as a speaker. The theme last year was ‘performance and performativity’, and featured papers on topics such as blackness in eighteenth-century England, Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, and feminist dystopias of the 1930s, as well as my own paper on C.L.R. James’s play, Toussaint Louverture. Academics from KCL and UNC acted as commentators on each of the panels, providing students with the opportunity for them to have their work read by experienced historians, thereby gaining valuable feedback. On the second day of the London workshop, Professor Paul Readman presented his work on historical pageants in twentieth-century Britain, and Professor Daniel Sherman (UNC) gave a paper on the 1906-07 Fêtes de Carthage.


The workshop’s participants had fruitful discussions with other historians working in the same field, as well as those working on topics with completely different geographical and chronological parameters. But all of the papers brought to the workshop an interpretation of ‘performance and performativity’, challenging historians to think about thematic linkages even to research seemingly far removed from their own. The same is sure to happen this year, with ‘protest, revolt, and revolution’ touching every period and place of history.

The workshop theme in action: a 'Suffrage Hike'. Photo shows the hike lead by "General" Rosalie Jones from New York to Washington, D.C. for the March 3, 1913 National American Woman Suffrage Association parade. Photo taken in Newark, New Jersey on February 12, 1913.

The workshop theme in action: a ‘Suffrage Hike’. Photo shows the hike lead by “General” Rosalie Jones from New York to Washington, D.C. for the March 3, 1913 National American Woman Suffrage Association parade. Photo taken in Newark, New Jersey on February 12, 1913.


The workshop also has a fantastic social element. Dinner and drinks are provided each night, with many participants then continuing to socialise informally later in the evening (and perhaps even the early hours of the morning!). Additionally, the workshop’s programme contains historic and cultural activities. Last year, the group visited the Tate Modern during the London leg. In North Carolina, we visited the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham. Many students also used the workshop as an opportunity to visit other places in the US, including New York and New Orleans.


Both legs of the workshop thus helped to foster stronger links between researchers in London and North Carolina, and between academics and PhD students. Through the contacts I made during the workshop I was introduced to another UNC PhD student who works on a similar topic to me, and recently went for dinner with him when he visited London.


Needless to say, we hope to replicate the elements that made last year’s workshop such a success.


If you’re a History PhD student at KCL and are interested in applying for the workshop, please send the following to by 15 January 2018:

1) An abstract of no more than 300 words describing the work you wish to present at the workshop. Please also indicate where you are in your studies and the date by which you plan to complete your degree.

2) A copy of your CV.


If you have any further questions about the workshop, please contact me at

Two Members of the Department Work with Academics and Historians at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, University of Sierra Leone

Two members of the Department of History recently worked with academics and historians at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, on projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK). Toby Green and Vincent Hiribarren attended as part of a writing workshop funded by the ASAUK and led by Dr Green, which ran from May 3-6.
The workshop was designed to help academics from Sierra Leone to develop journal articles for publication in international journals. Academics from Universities in Ghana, The Gambia, and the USA also attended, and the inaugural lecture was given by Nwando Achebe, the Jack and Margaret Sweet Endowed Professor of History at Michigan State University in the USA. 
The inaugural lecture, given by Professor Nwando Achebe of Michigan State University

The inaugural lecture, given by Professor Nwando Achebe of Michigan State University

16 Sierra Leonean academics attended the writing workshop from Fourah Bay College in Freetown and Ernest Bai Koroma University from the city of Makeni. They worked one on one with journal editors and received training in academic writing and the context of research in West Africa. Dr Green represented the journal African Economic History, while Dr Hiribarren led a workshop on digital resources for researching and writing African studies.
The ASAUK Workshop

The ASAUK Writing Workshop

The meeting was also funded as part of Dr Green’s AHRC Leadership Project “Money, Power and Political Change In Precolonial West Africa”. One of the impacts of this project is to begin the development of an online History textbook for West African senior secondary schoolchildren sitting the WASSCE exam, which is sat in Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. The meeting was a chance for historians based in Ghana, Sierra Leone and The Gambia to meet with two Nigerian historians based in the diaspora, and with Dr Green and Dr Hiribarren, to begin planning the resource.
The resource will be coded and designed by Dr Hiribarren. Writing of the chapters, editing, and coding will take place so that the resource can be launched at the next meeting of the West African Examinations Council, in Banjul in March 2018. Dr Hiribarren is including subsequent teacher training and writing workshops in the relevant countries in an ongoing AHRC funding application, which will see the project roll out across West Africa.


The City in History: Global Connections and Comparisons


Dr Jennifer Altehenger and Dr Sun Qing have organised a groundbreaking collaborative workshop which will be taking place at King’s College London next week. King’s History Department will welcome a delegation from the Department of History, Fudan University (Shanghai) on 22 and 23 May 2017 for the first joint workshop on “The City in History: global connections and comparisons”. With both King’s and Fudan situated at the heart of two of the world’s global metropolises – London and Shanghai – the city is a central theme of research and teaching at both institutions. Our staff and students explore the history of the city and history through the lens of the city from ancient to modern times, linking local and global perspectives. This workshop is a first opportunity for historians of both universities to meet and explore these common themes in our research, from public history to historical geography, political, economic, social, and cultural history, and the history of science, technology and medicine.


The Bund, Shanghai c. 1910


The rooftops of London c. 1870

The rooftops of London c. 1870

The full programme can be accessed below.

This workshop continues KCL History’s strong culture of research into, and teaching of, metropolitan history, some of which has been displayed on this blog in recent months. For example, student Charlotte Taylor wrote a fascinating review of a trip to the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton as part of the module Society and Culture in Twentieth Century London. Dr Tim Livsey also described a collaborative project about a south London estate with a particularly rich history and links to the famous diarist Samuel Pepys. And in April last year, staff and students walked a grand total of 13.8 miles, taking in 26 historic sites throughout London (all for an excellent cause). The event was given a wonderful write-up for our blog by Elle Larsson (PhD candidate).

For more information on the workshop, or if you wish to join, please contact:

Dr Jennifer Altehenger:

Location: S8.08 Level 8 Strand Building

When: 22nd (09:00) – 23rd (18:00) of May 2017


Full Programme:



Organisers: Dr Jennifer ALTEHENGER and Dr SUN Qing


Monday, 22.5.10:00 – 10:30  Welcome and Introductions

Prof Abigail WOODS, Prof HUANG Yang (via Skype), Prof GAO Xi


10:30 – 12:00 Professor WU Jingping 吴景平《英商银行与上海金融变迁》

British banks and the transformation of Shanghai’s finance world


Professor Richard DRAYTON

The cities of north-west Europe and the making of Europe’s empires, c. 1500-1800


Professor Arthur BURNS

Identifying the challenge of the city to religion: Changing views of ‘town’ among religious professionals in Britain, 1700-1900


Chair: Dr Bérénice GUYOT-RECHARD


12:00 – 13:00 Sandwich Lunch
13:00 – 14:30 Professor ZOU Zhenhuang 邹振环《近代上海的石库门与里弄文化》

Modern Shanghai Shikumen Building and Lane Culture


Professor YAO Dali  姚大力


The shift to modern forms in Chinese cities: the disintegration of the „housing compound“


Professor DONG Guoqiang 董国强

The Army in Xuzhou’s Factional Warfare,1967-1969


Chair: Dr Daniel MATLIN


14:30 – 15:00 Coffee & Tea 
15:00 – 16:30 Dr  ZHU Lianbi 朱联璧The London Aerated Bread Company and the Industrialization of Bread-making, 1860-1930s


Professor David EDGERTON

The Port of London in Twentieth-Century British History



The Trader-Stranger and the Modern City: Georg Simmel in Global Context


Chair: Dr Jon WILSON


Tuesday, 23.5.10:30 – 12:00 Dr Rory NAISMITH

Lundenwic to Lundenburh? The Londons of the Ninth Century


Professor ZHANG Haiying  张海英

Towards modernity: Shanghai in the early modern times



Constantinople in the 1400s: Venice on the Bosphorus


Chair: Professor Hugh BOWDEN


12:00 – 13:00  Sandwich lunch 
13:00 – 14:30 Professor GAO Xi 高晞Health Morality and Hygiene in the mid-19th Century Shanghai


Professor Abigail WOODS

Sick cows and the city: London 1865-7 (and Shanghai, 1869-71)


Chair: Dr Jennifer ALTEHENGER


14:30 – 15:00  Coffee & Tea 
15:00 – 16:30  Assoc. Professor SUN Qing 孙青To view the magic images from mirror (jingying镜影)——the early experiences of slides as urban residents



London County Council cultural and educational policy, 1918-1939



Patron Saint of Catholics and Hindus: St Antony and Diasporic devotions in East London


Chair: Dr Vincent HIRIBARREN


16:30 – 18:00  Final discussion & future plans 
18:00 – 19:00 Drinks 



The New Contemporary British History

Exciting new developments are taking place at KCL in the field of Contemporary British History. Read this blog post to find out more and click here to visit the CFP for the upcoming conference.

Historians at King’s are part of an exciting new venture in Contemporary British History, which will help to refashion Britain’s national story. King’s Contemporary British History (KCBH) is a cross-departmental and cross-Faculty research initiative, which brings together existing expertise in twentieth-century British history from across the university. It draws together the extraordinary strengths in the subject found mainly in the departments of History, War Studies, Defence Studies, Political Economy and English. King’s has around fifty scholars contemporary British history.


The centre’s goal is to develop a flexible and dynamic way of analyzing contemporary British society that will have genuine public relevance both at a policy and popular level. In this, historical argument and understanding has been, and will continue to be central. The Brexit vote was a clear example of how very particular historical images of the nation in the world were mobilised. King’s Contemporary British History will help refashion British national history by bringing together historical work of many different kinds.


King’s has a uniquely diverse wealth of existing expertise across various domains in the study of contemporary Britain. Our strengths include military history, science, technology, and medicine, heritage studies, imperial history, politics, religion, and gender studies.  KCBH will make these great strengths visible, and support and develop new research initiatives and postgraduate training in all aspects of modern and contemporary British history. KCBH works with other initiatives that connect to the public and public institutions such as History & Policy, Historians in Residence, and the Strand Group.


The study of Contemporary British History in London goes back to the 1960s, and was consolidated with the establishment of the Institute of Contemporary British History in 1985 by (Sir) Anthony Seldon and (Lord) Peter Hennessy. The Institute moved to King’s College London in 2010. King’s Contemporary British History builds on this distinguished tradition by creating a larger and more diverse enterprise.


The centre has recently been awarded funding from the ‘King’s Together’ scheme allowing us to run workshops (for King’s staff). It will hold a ‘launch’ conference in September 2017, and much else besides. Over the coming weeks we will be launching a new website, so look out for that. For now, you can follow KCBH on Twitter @KingsCBH and Facebook. We are also in the process of creating an internal mailing list to keep people abreast of our work and developments. If you would like to be added to this mailing list, or would like more information on being involved in KCBH, please email:

At Play in the Early Modern Tavern

Gabriella Infante, PhD Candidate in the Department of English at KCL, recounts an evening of education and entertainment in which the early modern tavern was brought to life as part of King’s Arts & Humanities’ Festival ‘Play’


Playing cards, ballads’ sheets, wine and beer on tables in a candlelit room welcomed the audience of ‘At Play in the Early Modern Tavern’ last 12th October at Tutu’s. As part of King’s Arts & Humanities’ Festival ‘Play’, the Centre for Early Modern Studies organised an event celebrating the several meanings of ‘play’ in the world of the early modern tavern.


Photograph taken by Callan Davies, University of Roehampton

Photograph taken by Callan Davies, University of Roehampton

On this occasion, it seemed apt to emphasise the hedonistic features of taverns, such as drinking, courting, and gambling. The three main segments of the event were aimed at celebrating carpe diem over nefarious consequences of extreme drinking, and planned to avoid cautionary tales, by providing a window on the dynamics originating in playful early modern taverns. Drinking and drinking places hold an exceptional place in the cultural identity of England, and it is the early modern age which defined socio-political differences between alehouses, taverns, and inns. Taverns became to assume specific features from the 1550s to the end of the seventeenth century – the period in which the songs, documents, and play performed for this event were produced.

Dr. Emily Butterworth, Lecturer in the French Department and co-director of CEMS, effectively introduced the audience to the diverse world of early modern habits of drinking, by also indicating the timeframe and the social implications linked to each type of drinking place. For her section of the event, students from King’s Music department Matthew O’ Keeffe, William Hester, and Alex Prately performed Jean Richafort’s Trut avant il faut boire, a chanson which describes and enacts the good fellowship of drinking, also reprised in the final section of the event, and insists on the importance of seizing the moment of enjoyment and fun in life car après que serons morts – because we will be dead after anyway.

David Tett Photography ©

David Tett Photography ©

As a song thought for three trained singers, and therefore created for, and more suitable to, a tavern or an inn, this was different from the second section of the event, planned by Professor Laura Gowing, department of History. King’s former MA students Charlotte Fletcher and Emma Harris and current PhD students Michelle Barnette and Molly Corlett re-enacted bits of defamation cases held in the records of the Consistory Court of London spanning the years 1572-1725. Famous and infamous locations across London, such as the Sun Tavern in St. Martin in the Fields or the Greyhounde Tavern in Soho Fields, were the set of rough verbal exchanges between citizens attending these places. The audience could enjoy a realistic peek into the dynamics of a promiscuous early modern alehouse, where excessive drinking and carefree pursuit of sexual pleasure combined to create dangerous, and illegal, situations.

As a break before the longest and final section of the evening, the ballad Good Ale for my Money and the song Martin said to his Man delighted the audience, particularly eager to read the lyrics and sing along, and to follow the three singers in a further invitation to drink and be merry.

David Tett Photography ©

David Tett Photography ©

The event ended with excerpts from the play The Walks of Islington and Hogsdon, with the Humours of Woodstreet Compter, by Thomas Jordan. This section was organised by Dr. Lucy Munro and me, both from the department of English, with the invaluable help of director James Wallace. First performed on the stage of the Red Bull in 1641, and then published in 1657, this comedy was also re-thought for the Restoration audience and King Charles II in the 1660s. The scenes selected presented an appealing cohort of gallants, attempting to juggle unhappy marriages, lovers, pregnant whores in taverns of Islington –background to many of their mischiefs. The play, like Laura Gowing’s section, was carefully chosen to convey topographical familiarity and to elicit participation by stressing the relevance of locations for the early modern drinking space.

The purpose of the event was to offer entertainment to a modern audience through accurate re-enactments of early modern life episodes in relation to drinking customs in England. The event managed to convey the importance of taverns as social, as well as political, places of cultural exchange, but its main aim was to explore the meanings of ‘play’ to the early modern mind. And what better way to do that, than in a place where every type of play, from cards to transvestitism, took place? Nunc est bibendum. Now is the time for drinking.

Sharing Hidden Histories: KCL’s History Department Monuments Marathon and Parks & Palaces Plod

Elle Larsson (PhD Candidate, KCL) walks us through the King’s History Monuments Marathon; a great day out for an even better cause.  The text and images were originally posted by Elle on ISpyHistory.

Monuments Marathon (3)

© Elle Larsson


For the past month or so you may have seen me posting links to the crowdfunding page for an event King’s History Department runs biennially – the Monuments Marathon and Parks & Palaces Plod. The ‘Marathon’ was set up in 2014 by former KCL Professor Ludmilla Jordanova in order to raise funds for the Undergraduate Hardship fund, although this years’ sponsorship was for the equivalent MA fund. The idea as pitched to us was to take to the ‘streets and parks of London to tour sites of historical interest, learning from each other’ along the way.

Hearing that, I should think it will come as no surprise to hear that when we received an email advertising the event back in April, I was immediately on board with the idea – fundraising while learning about history and walking around London – what was not to love! The plan was to walk to 26 historic sites over the distance of around 10 miles, the walk starting at King’s and featuring 4 minute ‘street talks’ from volunteers choosing to speak on sites of their choice along the route.

And that is exactly what we did last Sunday. We walked a grand total of around 13.8 miles, taking in 26 historic sites over the course of around 10 hours. I should say at this point however that 4 members of the department put in an extra tremendous effort, rising early and running an 11.5 mile route taking in the palaces of London – beginning with the Tower of London and ending with Kensington Palace, before heading back to KCL and joining the rest of us on the walk!

It was a really fantastic day – we had good weather, great company and were able to share some of the lesser known stories of London we’ve each come across during the course of our own research. A huge range of topics were covered and what struck me in particular was that even though some of these places are signified by plaques and statues, the stories are much richer than can be conveyed by those markers alone, while others simply had no markers at all.

A few things from the day have stuck out in particular. For example the origin of the legend of the ‘Black Dog’ of Newgate and how beneath Trafalgar Square there was/is a rich source of prehistoric archaeological material, including Mammoths; the fact that beneath Benjamin Franklin’s house a large number of human skeletons had been excavated, owing to the fact that another of its former residents had been a comparative anatomist, who himself died after contracting sepsis from one of his cadavers! But I think my favourite snippet has to be hearing about the mechanized waxwork of Mrs. Salmon which was booby-trapped to kick patrons as they left her establishment. Who new early nineteenth century waxworks could be mechanized?

These stand out for me but each talk was incredibly interesting and below I’ve put the entire list of places we visited and topics covered by our talks to give you an idea of the history that is out there and sites that you may have previously walked passed having never realized their significance. It was truly a case of Ispyhistory at its best and it’s safe to say that in two years’ time, when this event comes round again, my feet better be ready for a repeat performance!

  1. Lady Somerset and the Temperance Child, Victoria Embankment Gardens (Statue).
  2. Benjamin Franklin House, 36 Craven Street, (Plaque).
  3. Mammoths in the Square, Trafalgar Square.
  4. The Strand Menagerie, 372 Strand, (Building).
  5. Mrs Salmon’s Waxworks, 17 Fleet Street, (Building).
  6. Picasso in London, 51 Floral Street (Plaque).
  7. The Slayer of Soho: John Snow’s Pump, 39 Broadwick Street.
  8. Banking Natural History, 32 Soho Square (Plaque).
  9. Penning the Vindication, Store Street.
  10. Fitzrovia Revolutionaries, Fitzroy Square (Statue).
  11. Camden Pan-Africanism, 22 Cranleigh Street (Plaque).
  12. South African Freedom Fighters, 13 Lyme Street (Plaque).
  13. Gandhi’s London, Tavistock Square (Statue).
  14. Emmeline Pankhurst’s House, 8 Russell Square, (Building).
  15. Literary Lights and Colonial Students, Mecklenburgh Square.
  16. Anti-Suffragism and Settlement Houses, 42 Queen Square, (Building).
  17. The Women’s Freedom League, 144 High Holborn, (Building).
  18. Meating One’s Maker, Smithfield Market.
  19. ‘The Black Dog of Newgate’, Warwick Lane.
  20. Indigenous Transnationals at St Paul’s, (Building).
  21. Rude Deeds on Rood Lane, Rood Lane, (Building).
  22. Tower Hill Memorial, Trinity Square Gardens, (Memorial).
  23. The Falklands Memorial, Trinity Square Gardens, (Memorial).
  24. Altab Ali Park, Adler Street, (Memorial).
  25. Responding to the Ripper, 14 Cannon Street Road, (Exhibition).
  26. Execution Dock, 57 Wapping Wall.

Walk part 1

Walk part 2

Walk part 3

It will come as a little surprise that after a grand total of 13.8 miles well-earned celebratory drinks and a sit down were then had at the prospect of Whitby Pub!

Visions of Europe and the Brexit Debate

Historians of King’s College London debated the referendum on Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 4:30-6:00 PM.

EU flag

In the run-up to the referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the European Union, there has been no shortage of public debate about the possible consequences of the vote, including many forums sponsored by London’s universities.  The History Department at King’s wanted to make its own distinctive contribution to these discussions, playing to the strengths of the discipline.  The head of department, Adam Sutcliffe, therefore asked two colleagues, Jim Bjork and Anne Goldgar, to take the lead in organizing a forum that would take a step back from the immediate In/Out question and provide some broader and deeper context.  Under the title ‘Visions of Europe and the Brexit debate’, four historians were asked to discuss how understandings of Europe have evolved over time:  What ostensibly held Europe together?  What have been seen as Europe’s outer limits?  Two of the speakers (Richard Vinen and Jim Bjork) work primarily on the twentieth century, while the other two (Serena Ferente and Toby Green), as well as the chair, Anne Goldgar, specialize in earlier periods (late medieval to early modern).


The panel of historians included (from left to right) Professor Anne Goldgar, Dr Jim Bjork, Professor Richard Vinen, Dr Serena Ferente, and Dr Toby Green.

The panel of historians included (from left to right) Professor Anne Goldgar, Dr Jim Bjork, Professor Richard Vinen, Dr Serena Ferente, and Dr Toby Green.

A common theme of all of the talks was mutability in understandings of Europe and attitudes toward Europe.  The first speaker, Richard Vinen, focused on the evolution of British politicians’ views of European integration since the Second World War.  He noted that enthusiasm for British engagement in this project tended to be stronger on the Right than on the Left at the time of Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community in the 1970s, but then, as now, the attitudes of many individual politicians shifted with changing circumstances.   The next talk, by Serena Ferente, turned to the very different context of continental Europe in the fifteenth century.  She described how one familiar way of defining Europe—as a community united by Christianity—was consciously promoted by Pope Pius II in response to a contemporary challenge from the Ottoman Turks.  Dr. Ferente argued that such programmatic definitions should be seen as attempts to impose order on the continent’s underlying cultural and political pluralism and its frequent demographic disruptions, then, as now, manifested in flows of refugees from conflict zones.   Toby Green’s contribution also highlighted the historical contingency of definitions of Europe, in particular in relation to Africa.   Connections between Iberia and North Africa had been especially strong in the late medieval period, blurring the distinction between the two continents.  And in the twentieth century, attempts to disentangle (European) metropole and (African) colony in the process of de-colonization had also generated much debate and ambivalence.  Many residents of Cape Verde, for example, sought to remain part of Portugal and thus, by extension, part of Europe.  In the final set of remarks, Jim Bjork argued that uncertainty about Europe’s frontiers was paralleled by uncertainty about the continent’s centre.   Early and late modern commentators had noted the paradox of Europe’s geographic centre being marked by a sense of helplessness in the face of bids for hegemony arising on the continent’s margins (Spain, France, Britain, Russia).  This had given rise to rival twentieth-century visions of ‘Central Europe’ as either serving as the core of a robust new imperial power or, alternately, as modelling pluralistic co-existence among small nations, suggesting very different visions for the potential organization of the continent as a whole.


The initial presentations were followed by a half hour of questions and comments from the audience, composed of about 25 members of academic staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students.  In addition to following up on particular points made by individual speakers, several interventions from the audience understandably circled back to the issue of what implications these broader historical perspectives might have for the upcoming referendum.  It seemed fair to say that all speakers were sceptical of the view, advanced by at least some advocates of Britain’s exit from the EU, that the long-term histories of Britain and continental Europe ran on separate or divergent tracks.  The diversity and mutability of historical visions of Europe meant that there was no fundamental incompatibility with various visions of Britain.   But it was noted that the panel’s recurring references to contingency and flux in Europe’s past did also help to explain a widespread sense of uncertainty and anxiety about Europe’s possible futures.