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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Communicating Reproduction Conference: brief report

I attended the Communicating Reproduction conference in Cambridge last week: a very good if also very intense and concentrated event. I liked the set-up - precirculated papers, hour-long sessions, speakers given 10 mins to present an overview of their paper, two discussants (at least one specialising in an entirely different period to the paper!) and then general discussion, which was very enthusiastic and animated.

The papers covered a very wide chronological range - from the middle ages to the  C21st edition of the photographs of Lennart Nilsson's famous foetus photographs A Child Is Born - and different modes of communication, including the cinematic (there was a showing of the 1960s German sex education film Helga, though unfortunately a subtitled version had proved impossible to procure). It became clear that reproduction featured in numerous genres and indeed texts on reproduction not only mixed up genres (as was noted in the discussion after Helga) but could shift from genre to genre according to the particular context within which they were read and who was doing the reading, so that a text which might be appropriate and instructive in a single-sex group might be positively pornographic 'forbidden knowledge' in solitary reading by an individual of different gender.

Occasionally one would have liked more sense of how the topics of discussion were formed in a wider circulation of communication (I particularly wondered whether the 1970s 'home birth' movement had any interaction with the British natural childbirth movement that had emerged almost two decades previously, or with e.g. the Dutch system in which home-based, midwife-attended childbirth had never really gone away).

Participants also had an opportunity to see the Books and Babies exhibition in Cambridge University Library at a conference reception, at which conversation and discussion continued to be very lively, and continued over a conference dinner in the well-chosen Riceboat Keralan restaurant.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Archives of voluntary bodies

It's gratifying to see that people are beginning to take seriously the problem of the archives of voluntary bodies of various kinds. There is a good blog post here on the Voluntary Action History Society blog, A New Campaign for Charity Archives and the British Records Association annual conference taking place tomorrow is Beyond the Fringe: the archives of pressure groups. These are the kind of organisations that may not even have a permanent HQ, so that their records get passed around as responsibilities change, and in addition they may be understandably devoting all their funds to the core activity for which they were founded.

Records of local organisations may find a home in the relevant local record office, and organisations which fall into specific areas may find that there is a specialist repository that may take them: in the Wellcome we hold a significant number of collections of Medical Charities and Pressure Groups as well as records of International Organisations. But there are still many organisations which do not fall into existing archival safety nets.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Cambridge Interdisciplinary Workshop on Reproduction

I attended this workshop last Friday, a very full and exciting day covering a remarkable range of historical periods and disciplinary approaches, from medieval fertility charms to the impact of contemporary surrogacy on families. Besides giving me information I did not know (I was not aware that there was a noticeable decrease in infant mortality in the C18th - although it then stuck at that plateau pretty much until the C20th) it provided new perspectives on various matters I thought I did know something about.

Perhaps particularly relevant to my own interests, I was intrigued by Anne Hanley's paper on the differing views of French and English physicians in the late C19th about how long a young man should defer marriage if he was discovered to have syphilis, by the attitudes to unwanted extramarital pregnancy and the prospect of abortion in UK 'Kitchen-Sink' literature and film of the 50s and 60s delineated by Fran Bigman, and the possibility mooted by Jesse Olszynko-Gryn that pills meant to act as a pregnancy test in the 1960s were being deployed as abortifacients. I also liked the suggestion that seemed to underlie the evidence put forward by Sarah Jennings from research on children and young adults with lesbian and gay parents, and Susan Imrie on the impact of surrogacy on the children of surrogate mothers, that perhaps children tend to take their family as the norm and consider it ordinary; even perhaps when aware that it is perceived as different by those around them.

A most stimulating day, productive of thoughts I am still mulling over.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Monday, 7 November 2011


Well, apparently they're broadcasting a programme on Radio 4 on lobotomy that I recorded an interview for some while ago (since we have a pair of Watts-Freeman Lobotomy Tools, with catalogue, among the William Sargant papers in the archives, and these are apparently quite rare items).

Not only did I only just find out about this by indirect means, I discover that they are using a photo of me in Ms Frankenstein mode brandishing one of the tools for their website announcement.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Exciting news from the Wellcome blog

While I have previously expressed my views that almost certainly too much attention has been paid to the eugenic discourse in the early C20th and seldom enough to other less clearly focused and visible movements based on a more environmentalist/improvability of the human product philosophy, I'm still very excited indeed about this project at the Wellcome:
Papers of the Eugenics Society to be Digitised
This is an extremely significant collection which has a lot to offer beyond the mere story of eugenics in the UK. True, it's had a lot of use over the decades since it was acquired and catalogued by what was then the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, but there are still quite a lot of areas that have not been explored as fully as they might be. For an indication of some of the work that's already been done, see the Birth Control/Eugenics bibliography: secondary works (pdf)on the Wellcome Library website.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Another exciting workshop on reproduction in Cambridge

I do find it somewhat amusing that this plethora of fascinating events on reproduction-related matters is taking place at the academic institution from which William Empson was dismissed for the possession of contraceptives in 1929.
Interdisciplinary Workshop on Reproduction 7
Friday, 18 November 2011
09:00 - 18:00
Location: CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge
9.00 -9.20 Registration
9.20 -9.30 Welcome and Introductions
9.30 - 10.00 Session 1
Chair: Susan Golombok (CFR)
Karin Ekholm (HPS)
"Why we begin with the hen's egg": investigations of animal generation, 1600-1650
10.00 - 10.30  Peter Jones (King's College)
Lea Olsan (University of Louisiana at Monroe)
Charms and amulets for conception and childbirth
10.30 - 11.00 
Sarah Jennings (CFR)
Children's voices: the perspectives of children and young adults with lesbian and gay parents
11.00 - 11.30 Tea/Coffee Break
11.30 - 12.00 Session 2
Chair: Richard Smith (Geography)

Romola Davenport (Geography)
Reproduction in the city: the revolution in infant survival in eighteenth century London
12.00 - 12.30
Anne R Hanley (History)
Venereal conundrums: medical and social knowledge of venereal disease in late-Victorian and Edwardian England
12.30 - 13.00
Salim Al-Gailani (HPS)
Maternal nutrition and the medicalization of pregnancy in late twentieth-century Britain

13.00 - 14.00 Lunch Break
14.00 - 14.30 Session 3
Chair: John Forrester (HPS)

Fran Bigman (English)
The shattered mould: abortion and class in 1930s rhetoric and fiction
14.30 - 15.00 
Jesse Olszynko-Gryn (HPS)
Pregnancy test pills as camouflaged abortifacients in the 1960s
15.00 - 15.30 Tea/Coffee Break
15.30 - 16.00 Session 4
Chair: Nick Hopwood (HPS)

Ramona Braun (HPS)
Endoscopic alternatives for female fertilisation and sterilisation in the 1960s
16.00 - 16.30
Susan Imrie (CFR)
An investigation into the impact of surrogacy on the children of surrogate mothers

16.30 Closing remarks

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair, Public Lives: Women, Family and Society in Victorian Britain (2003)

Apart from a slight cavil over the title, which is presumably publisher business rather than the authors's choice - the book is rather specifically about middle class families in Victorian Glasgow - I thought this was an amazing and very useful book. I sometimes think it can never be reiterated too much that that whole public/private boundary was fairly permeable, what with the home/domestic space being a site for sociability, for a significant number of occupations where the male head of the family did all or some of his work, etc, etc, and women being in public in a whole range of capacities from the pursuit of pleasure to the practice of philanthropy, and by the end of the period, the campaign for political rights.

Makes one wonder whether too often 'public' life has been taken to mean involvement in formal political activity on a national or local level and engagement in a remunerative profession.

Though Gordon and Nair show not only that women were heading a significant number of households, they were not infrequently managing their own money (if they were single, widowed, or had money settled on them when married) and even pursuing a range of occupations beyond that of governess. It's also clear that in the class being described, women were often partners in their husbands' endeavours, even if few went as far as Agnes Lister in being Joseph Lister's experimental subject in calculating the dosage for chloroform.

A wonderful range of sources was consulted to make up this book,  from public records such as census returns and property taxes, and wills and testamentary dispositions, to private family papers.

One question that does rise is the extent to which the life-styles they describe were inflected by particular characteristics of Scots law, religion and social practice, or even the specific civil culture of Glasgow. However, they do make a powerful case for not accepting the rhetoric and ideology of 'separate spheres' and simplistic interpretation of the public and the private when thinking about gender roles in Victorian Britain (and indeed other times and places)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A few blocks down the Euston Road

I was reminded about this by a post on the Women's History Network Discussion List. I was involved in the early discussions about this gallery, but I missed the formal opening in June because I was attending the Berks, so it rather slipped off my radar.

Thanks to ‘EGA for Women’, a group that campaigned to preserve the core of the former Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, and to the generosity of UNISON, The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery is now open to the public. It is a permanent installation in the beautifully restored 1890s hospital building, part of the new UNISON Centre. Using a variety of media, the gallery tells the story of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, her hospital, and women’s struggle to achieve equality in the field of medicine, set within the wider framework of 19th and 20th century social history.

The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery
The UNISON Centre
130 Euston Road
London NW1 2AY
Telephone: 0845 355 084

The gallery is very close to the Wellcome Collection, the British Library – and Euston and King’s Cross stations. Numerous bus routes pass the door.

Admission is free and the gallery is open Wednesday to Friday 9.00am to 6.00pm and on the first Saturday of every month 9.00am to 6.00pm. An audio descriptive guide for the blind and partially sighted is available at the Reception Desk.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Another interesting exhibition

Images of the Unborn from the Middle Ages to the Twenty-First Century

An exhibition of the history of the public images of embryos and foetuses will take place in the Holliday Building at Durham University’s Queen’s Campus in Stockton-on-Tees from Friday 7th October until Friday 9th December.

‘The Foetus Goes Public’ looks at how images of embryos and foetuses shape our understanding of life and reproduction.  This exhibition tells the fascinating story of how the foetus moved from obscure Medieval manuscripts to become a public icon in the twentieth century that, today, is available to everyone at anytime through the internet.

Dr Lutz Sauerteig from the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease will officially open the exhibition on 7th October at 1.30 pm.

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of public lectures :
Prof John McLachlan (School of Medicine and Health), ‘Imagining the Embryo’ (21 October, 12.45pm, Holliday Building, Room A011).
Dr Nadja Reissland (Department of Psychology), ‘Fetal Crying: Is the Fetal Cry Face Gestalt Associated with Prenatal Depression and Attachment?’ (11 November, 10.00 am, Wolfson Research Institute, Room F009).
Dr Sebastian Pranghofer (CHMD and Department of Philosophy), ‘Personhood Before Birth? Early Modern Images of the Unborn’ (25 November, 12.45pm, Holliday Building, Room A015/016).

Entry to the exhibition and the lectures is free.

For more information, contact Rachel Simpson on telephone 0191 3340700, email: or visit

Monday, 26 September 2011

Some forthcoming events

Pathology Museum Seminars at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital

A unique series of seminars that promise both fascinating insights into a diverse range of topics,
and also a glimpse into a little known London museum. Housed within the grounds of St. Bartholomew’s 
Hospital at West Smithfield, the museum holds a broad range of pathological 
specimens, some of  which date from the late 1700s, and the papers programmed all speak in 
some way to this collection, as well as to each other. 
October 12th 5.30-7.00 
Documentary filmmaker and producer Phil Stein will show excerpts from and 
speak on the Making of the Elephant Man (2010)

October 19th 6.00-7.30
Professor Tili Tansey (Queen Mary) and Professor Brian Hurwitz (King College 
London) speaking on medical narratives and museum voices

November 9th 5.30-7.00
Philip Ball (University of Cambridge) and a medical artist will speak on the 
history of medical illustration and their current practice 

November 16th 5.30-7.00 
Dr Keir Waddington (Cardiff University) will speak on ‘Dying Scientifically: 
Gothic Romances and London’s Teaching Hospitals’. Dr Sam 
Alberti (The Royal College of Surgeon) and Dr Fay Bound Alberti (Queen Mary) 
will present on ‘Body Parts on Bart’s’

November 23rd 5.30-7.00
Dr Carmen Mangion and Dr Louise Hide from the Birkbeck Pain Project will 
speak on 'Rhetorics of Pain in Nineteenth-Century Convent Necrologies' be 
speaking on 'Pain and Neurosyphilis'

November 30th 5.30-7.00 
Professor Sharon Ruston (University of Salford) will speak on ‘Shelly and Davy 
and the Bart’s Medical Archive’ and Professor Iwan Rhys Morus (University of 
Aberystwyth) will present on ‘Frankenstein and Vitality’ 
December 14th 5.30-7.00
David Ross (The Army Health Unit, Camberley) will present on public health 
and the military and Professor Edgar Jones (Kings College London) will speak 
on shellshock and its representation in film
No need to book, wine and nibbles provided 
Robin Brook Centre at St.  Barts, West Smithfield, EC1M 6BQ. Closest tube stops is St. Paul's. 

Malicious Damage: The crimes of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell

In 1962 the aspiring playwright Joe Orton and his partner and mentor 
Kenneth Halliwell, who live together in Islington, were each sentenced 
to six months imprisonment for malicious damage to Islington Public 
Library books. The offenders were found guilty of stealing and 
‘doctoring’ library book covers with images from other sources or by 
adding new text and narrative. They also removed illustrations from 
library art books to ‘wallpaper’ their bed-sit at 25 Noel Road. During imprisonment Joe Orton embarked 
upon what was to be a successful but all too brief writing career, cut 
short by his murder at the jealous hand of his partner. ‘Malicious 
Damage’ tells the story surrounding the crimes of Orton and Halliwell 
and, for the first time at Islington Museum, offers the opportunity to 
view all of the surviving doctored book covers along with other material
 reflecting the life and work of the pair. ‘Malicious Damage’ coincides 
with the publication of a new book of the same title, produced by 
Islington Library and Heritage Services and Donlon Books. 
 Free event at Islington Museum
 For more information, please call 020 7527 2837
 or email 

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Forthcoming radio appearance

I was interviewed a few weeks ago for this BBC Radio 3 programme forthcoming on Sunday evening:  Out in the World - A Global Gay History (Episode 1). A trailer for it featured on today's Woman's Hour.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Women's History Network Conference 2011

This was an excellent conference and all credit to the organisers. Gratifying to report for a conference celebrating 20 years of the WHN annual conference, along with many of the old guard still going strong (indeed if memory serves I was at the 1991 conference in Nottingham) there were large numbers of newer and younger faces, which in view of the suggested decline in women's studies and women's history was an encouraging sign.

One general observation: this year panel presenters seem to have given more attention to the question, 'Is that PowerPoint really necessary?' - while there are many instances in which PowerPoint is indeed a boon (anyone who recollects the hassles involving slides, projectors, overhead transparencies etc realises that it does serve a purpose), last year I felt there was a certain amount of belief that every paper must have its PowerPoint, whether or not there was valuable visual evidence to be conveyed.

All the panels and papers I attended had something of interest about them. The panel I chaired on Sunday worked particularly well - although a couple of the papers were familiar to me from the Berks (Tim Jones on D Sherwin Bailey's theology of marriage and Jacqueline de Vries on Mary Scharlieb and sex education in the early 20th) with Sue Morgan's work on Maude Royden and Sex and Commonsense as well the conjunction went very well indeed and (like other papers I heard) reinforces the importance of taking another look at the role of religion and spirituality in the development of modern sexual discourses in the C19th and C20th.

The ancillary events were also splendid - the conference dinner at Toynbee Hall (and the catering generally), the evening reception for book launches and award presentation in The Women's Library exhibition space.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Getting my head up from of the arduous and engrossing task of revising Sex, Gender and Social Change (holy cow, but there has been A LOT of relevant historiography happening since 1999) to make my more or less habitual trip to the Women's History Network Annual Conference (this year I'm even able to attend on all 3 days).

Not sure whether I shall be able to make the time to do a conference report, but the programme and abstracts are available here.

Monday, 5 September 2011

On behalf of a colleague who's organising this

Healthcare and housewifery
Wellcome Collection talk
06 October 2011, 19.00 - 20.30
How did edible remedies enable women to challenge male medical orthodoxy in early modern England?
While some people turned to medical practitioners in times of illness, many relied on homemade medicines and remedies.
This event includes time for you to view unique manuscripts from the Wellcome Library’s special collections.
Speaker: Dr Elaine Leong , historian of early modern medicine and science, University of Cambridge.
This event is FREE.
To book a ticket please click
This talk forms part of a wider series of autumn events at Wellcome Collection exploring the connections between food, health and life. To find out more please go to

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Women Health and Healing reprised

I will be presenting a Wellcome Library Insights session on Women Health and Healing at 3 pm on 22nd September. Illustrated talk and a chance to get up close and personal with some archival and manuscript materials.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Forthcoming conference

Women's History Network Annual Conference
Friday 9th to Sunday 11th September 2011
20 Years of the Women's History Network
Looking Back - Looking Forward
At The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University.

I shall be giving a paper in the 'Sexualities' panel, 9.30-11 am on the Saturday.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Monday, 15 August 2011

Feelthy pictures?

Not very, really, but official sensibilities seem to have been very touchy in the 1950s (and maybe it's less the pictures than the words, and the conjunctions of the two):
The Director of Public Prosecutions' campaign against obscene seaside postcards
the cards in question, online at the British Cartoon Archive.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Catching up on journal articles and chapters XIV

Adrian Bingham, 'The British Popular Press And Venereal Disease During The Second World War', Historical Journal, 2005, 48, 1055‑76: very useful on the extent to which the Daily Mirror actually broke through the general taboo in the popular press which watered down the Ministry of Health public awareness campaign on VD in WWII and the wider context for this.

Joanna de Groot, '"Sex" and "race": the construction of language and image in the nineteenth century", in Catherine Hall (ed.), Cultures of Empire: A Reader: Colonizers in Britain and the Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 37‑60, great stuff on the pervasiveness of Orientalist tropes around gender and sexuality in the C19th; and in the same volume ; Sonya O. Rose, 'Sex, citizenship and the nation in World War II Britain', 148-79 about attitudes to women, fear of their enjoying themselves in time of war, and the massive panics about their relationships with American troops, esp, of course, Black GIs.

Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair, ' Middle-Class Family Structure in Nineteenth-Century Glasgow' Journal of Family History, 1999 24: 468 - indicates that there were a lot more female-headed (middle-class) households than the patriarchal family paradigm would have us think, and not all widows or unmarried women were living under the roof of some male relative.

Emma L. Jones, 'Attitudes to Abortion in the Era of Reform: evidence from the Abortion Law Reform Association correspondence', Women's History Review, 2011, 20:2, 283‑98 - how attitudes were changing in the early 60s - changes in language used and sense of this being a question one can ask, about access to proper medical facilities. 

Jane Pilcher, ' Sex in Health Education: Official Guidance for Schools in England, 1928–1977'  Journal of Historical Sociology Vol. 17 No. 2/3 June/September 2004, 185‑208 - that up until 1943 there was no official guidance, and the absence of anything about the reproductive system in the BoE guidelines on health ed had a negative influence. In the 1950s (after the 1943 sex ed guidelines go out of print) a chapter is incorporated into the health ed guidelines but it's very much as one would expect about control and health and even a continuing eugenic agenda rather than anything about pleasure well into the 70s

Tanya Evans, 'The Other Woman and her Child: extra-marital affairs and illegitimacy in twentieth-century Britain', Women's History Review 'Lone Mothers' issue, 2011, 20, 67-86: the hidden prevalence of unmarried couples (because of inability of one partner to divorce etc) and of illeg offspring absorbed into the mother's family - instances where these things didn't come to the attention of authorites (really until those surveys of the post WWII era?) and people were pretty determined to conceal that all was not as it should be (presumption of marriage, etc)

More from that productive team of Gayle Davis and Roger Davidson,  ‘Big White Chief’,‘Pontius Pilate’,and the ‘Plumber’: The Impact of the 1967 Abortion Act on the Scottish Medical Community, c.1967–1980' , 2003, Vol.18 pp.283–306: how the Scottish medical (and nursing) professions reacted to the demand for abortion once it was legal, the massive regional variations, the attempts to negotiate decision-making in a charged area, the temporary use of psychiatrists (which changed as things became more routine), the influence of specific individuals, for or against, in particular areas (also, different local cultures) - Aberdeen vs Glasgow. Suspect that quite a lot of this would have been much the same in England and Wales? 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Recent books

Since I've started actually working on the revisions I've had less time and mental energy to do these posts and have fallen sadly behind in updating. So, a quick round-up of books, and I may get round to a probably rather abbreviate roundup of articles and chapters in the next day or so.

John Tosh, A Man's Place: Masculinity and the Middle-class Home in Victorian England (Yale UP, 1999 - amazon says Mar 1999 but I don't think it was out when I was working on first edition of Sex,Gender and Social Change). This was re-read - or rather, I think I read at least parts in ms, not sure I ever read the whole thing straight through after publication - and is really useful on Victorian middle-class masculinity and the domestic and the centrality of marriage to adult manhood, and the way things shifted over the century. 

Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (Routledge 1995), which I should have read before and didn't. It is really excellent, and has (what somehow I had not got an impression of) a real appreciation of the complexities and the ways in which phenomena were situated. I am usually a bit dubious about people using the Munby/Cullwick relationship (it's one of those things that keeps getting revisited, and with my archivist's hat on, can't help thinking that that is because there is already a huge beaten track to their papers), but I was really excited by how McClintock used it as the basis for thick description of the wider context.

Pamela Cox, Gender, Justice and Welfare in Britain,1900-1950: Bad Girls in Britain, 1900-1950 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). I had to skim over some sections of this because I had it on InterLibrary Loan for a very short period, but it's brilliant stuff on 'delinquent girls' and the ways girls who were seen as 'wayward' and in need of control and who were seen as 'vulnerable' and in need of care got sucked into a twilight zone of public/private provisions. And that whatever the girls were actually doing, the basic problem was seen as being about sex.

Stephen Cretney, Family Law in the Twentieth Century; A History (OUP, 2003), This is wonderful. Okay, I don't think I, or anybody, would want to sit down and read the whole thing straight through, it's a big fat book in which on most pages the footnotes take up more than half the space, but it just so clearly lays out the law and how it got to be that way and how the changes happened and what the unintended consequences were. It even told me something I hadn't known about the 1857 Divorce Law (a by-product of the desire to have a less labyrinthine probate system than was the case under the various ecclesiastical jurisdictions).

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Communicating Reproduction Conference

Another event from the Generation to Reproduction research Group at Cambridge. I greatly enjoyed their Reproduction and the Sciences conference last April

Communicating Reproduction

A conference to be held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, on 5–6 December 2011
Scholars have explored continuities and discontinuities in theories of sex and gender; knowledge of entities such as seeds, germs, embryos, monsters and clones; concerns about creation, evolution, degeneration and regeneration; investments in maternity, paternity and heredity; practices of fertility control, potency and childbirth; and health relations between citizen and state, individual and population. But we have paid much less attention to the huge changes in processes and media of communication. There is important work on specific practices, from education to advertising, conversation to mass entertainment, and on specific media, from ritual objects to printed books, films to the internet. But we lack synthetic and comparative accounts. This conference aims to explore how we might best ground debates about reproduction in changing practices of communication over the long term, though primarily within the Western tradition. Nor is reproduction just a lens through which to view the history of communication. For generation and reproduction are themselves potent metaphors for communication. Richard de Bury wrote in Philobiblon (1345) of the making of books as a form of generation across time and modern authors often frame the distribution of identical copies in terms of mechanical reproduction.
The conference will bring together scholars representing ancient to modern periods and various disciplines. Talks will be 20-minute summaries of pre-circulated papers, followed by commentary and discussion in one-hour slots in such a way as to promote dialogue and critical engagement between fields and approaches.
Speakers and provisional titles:
  • Helen King (Open University)
    Educating Lucina: midwives and the communication of reproductive knowledge, ancient and early modern
  • Montserrat Cabré (Universidad de Cantabria, Spain)
    Iberian recipes and the appropriation of knowledge in relation to human reproduction
  • Catherine Rider (University of Exeter)
    Communicating religious views of infertility in the Middle Ages
  • Jennifer Richards (Newcastle University)
    'Issue dangerous to the Queen': pregnancy and politics in the Elizabethan polity
  • Mary Fissell (The Johns Hopkins University)
    Making a masterpiece from bits and pieces
  • Angelique Richardson (University of Exeter)
    Reproduction and the post-Darwinian novel
  • Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter)
    Reproducing species
  • Wendy Kline (University of Cincinnati)
    Coming home: modern midwifery and the controversy over home birth
  • Solveig Jülich (Stockholm University)
    The Lennart Nilsson-industry: remediating images of life before birth
  • Uta Schwarz (Cologne)
    Introduction to the film Helga (1967)
  • Ludmilla Jordanova (King's College, London)
    Closing comments
Organisers: Nick Hopwood, Peter Jones, Lauren Kassell, Francis Neary, Jim Secord
Funding: Wellcome Trust strategic award in the history of medicine on Generation to Reproduction
The registration fee of £40 (£20 for students/unwaged) includes lunch and tea/coffee on both days, a reception in the Books & Babies exhibition at the University Library and the film screening.
To register, please fill in the registration form and send it with a cheque for the registration fee (made payable to 'University of Cambridge') to:
Francis Neary
Communicating Reproduction Conference
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Cambridge
Free School Lane

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Population Investigation Committee Symposium Podcast

Back in February I participated in this symposium on the Population Investigation Committee. Podcasts of the contributions are now available, though I'm not sure how much sense mine will make without the accompanying copious pictures from other collections in the Wellcome Library that I was talking about.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Forthcoming Sexual Cultures conference


This conference, co-hosted by the Onscenity Research Network and the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences at Brunel University, will take place on April 20-22 2012 at Brunel University, London, UK.

Our keynote speakers are:

Martin Barker, Professor of Film and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University, UK

Violet Blue, blogger, columnist, sex educator, and author, US

Judith Halberstam, Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity and Gender Studies, University of Southern California, US

Katrien Jacobs, Associate Professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong

Fiona Patten, Australian Sex Party

The key themes of the conference are:

Sex and technology

Technologies of all kinds have been central to the ways in which sex is understood and experienced in contemporary societies. We are interested in papers that explore evolving technologies in the presentation of sex through print, photography, film and video to todays online and mobile media; the ways that technologies are increasingly integrated into everyday sex lives; the expansion of sex technologies in toy, doll, machine and robot manufacture, the marketing of drugs such as Viagra and cosmetic technologies such as body modification and genital surgery for enhancing sex; the expansion of sex work and recreation online; sex 2.0 practices, regimes and environments such as porn tubes, sex chat rooms and worlds like Second Life; and the shifting relations between bodies and machines in the present and in predictions of futuresex.

The regulation of sex

Papers in this strand of the conference will examine how sexuality and the ways in which it is represented are the focus of government policy and subject to various forms of regulation. In democratic societies, sexuality is generally thought to be the domain of the private and personal, outside the ambit of the law whose function in this sphere is simply to maintain public decency. Yet vast amounts of institutional effort and resources are invested in what has come to be called moral regulation, in which self-governance and moral discourse are generally preferred to coercive forms of regulation. At the same time, governments continue to make certain forms of sexual practice and representation illegal. What are the limits of the legally possible today, both in terms of sexual behaviour and representation, and what are the various means employed to encourage us to behave properly in the sexual domain?

Working sex

In recent years sex work has become a potent site for the discussion of labour, commerce and sexual ethics, attracting increased academic attention and public concern. Papers in this strand of the conference will seek to develop our understanding of commercial sex, focus on conceptualizing emerging types of sexual labour, and explore the place of sex work of all kinds in contemporary society. They will ask how an investigation of contemporary forms of sex work and sex as work may shed new light on the study of cultural production, industry, commerce, and notions of commodification and labour. We are also seeking papers which are interested in exploring the connections between work and leisure, work and pleasure, sex work as forms of body and affective labour, and the ethics and politics of sexual labour.

Researching everyday sex

Research into sexuality can often be caught in a politics of anxiety where it is constructed as something that needs to be managed, protected and even guarded against. Sexuality is also understood as absolutely intrinsic to our sense of identity, an important indicator of mental and emotional health and a form of intimate communication and individual fulfillment, as well as an important site of pleasure and play. Papers in this strand of the conference will take as their focus the diverse sexual identities, practices, representations, values and experiences that make up the mundane and spectacular elements of everyday sexual life. We seek papers that examine the politics and/or ethics of researching everyday sexualities, as well as the lived realities of sex in the quotidian.

We invite proposals for the following:

Panels and roundtable discussions of up to four speakers

Papers (20 minutes)

Short Ignite papers (5 minutes/20 slides)


Deadline for the submission of proposals is October 31 2011.

For all individual papers please submit a 150 word abstract and 150 word biographical note.

Please indicate which key theme of the conference your paper belongs to.

For panels and roundtable sessions please submit a 600-800 overview and set of abstracts with 150 word biographical notes.

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Onscenity is funded by the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council and draws together international experts in order to respond to the new visibility or onscenity of sex in commerce, culture and everyday life. The network is committed to working towards developing new approaches to the relationships between sex, commerce, media and technology. Drawing on the work of leading scholars from around the world, it aims to map a transformed landscape of sexual practices and co-ordinate a new wave of research.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Exhibition of interest in Cambridge

Organised by the group whose conference I attended and enjoyed back in April:

Books & Babies: Communicating Reproduction 
7 July–23 December 2011
(Closed 29 August and 12–18 September inclusive)
Monday-Friday 09.00-18.00, Saturday 09.00-16.30, Sunday closed
Admission Free

The London underground displays posters for fertility clinics, directed
at both women and men. Picture books teach children the facts of life.
We are always reading about reproduction. Reproduction also describes
what communication media do — multiply images, sounds and text for wider
consumption. This exhibition is about these two senses of reproduction,
about babies and books, and the ways in which they have interacted in
the past and continue to interact today.

Before reproduction there was generation, a broader view of how all
things come into being than the fusion of egg and sperm. Before
electronic media there were clay figurines, papyrus, parchment, printed
books and journals. The interactions between communication media and
ideas about reproduction have transformed the most intimate aspects of
our lives.

/Books and Babies/ traces these interactions from ancient fertility
figures and medieval manuscripts to the birth of Louise Brown following
in vitro fertilization in 1978. The media sensation that surrounded her
arrival illustrates how modern reproductive ‘miracles’ have been
publicised worldwide. The research with Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy
that led Robert Edwards to win the Nobel Prize reveals the varied roles
of communication within and around the laboratory.

The exhibition opens with a chronological story of the books and other
objects that have been central to communicating reproduction from
ancient times to the present day. We move from theories of human
generation to the modern dilemmas of reproductive choice and population
control, and from handwritten documents to digital media. Other elements
pursue particular themes: communication in reproductive research, the
long life of a single advice manual (/Aristotle’s Masterpiece/), the
evolutionary epic of the ‘Ascent of Man’, ‘Extraordinary Births’ as
news, and the rise of ‘Population Arithmetick’. 
Funded by a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award in the History of Medicine on
'Generation to Reproduction'

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Jane Lewis, The End of Marriage: Individualism and Intimate Relations (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2001)

Useful study of marriage (mostly in the UK) at the turn of the millennium, though I do rather wish it had come out just a little later and included the advent of civil partnership and how that is involved in marriage paradigms. Contests the notion that we are now in an age of selfish individualism and career-driven women, suggesting that connections and relationships remain important, and that broad brush characterisations overlook enormous amounts of complexity (e.g. women who do have a commitment to a career, and women who are economically obliged to work but don't make it their first priority).

However, marriage rates are falling, people are marrying at a later age and not necessarily having children: ' In one generation, the numbers marrying have halved, the numbers divorcing have trebled and the proportion of children born outside marriage has quadrupled.' But, (as in earlier periods) a significant number of those children born outside wedlock are actually being parented within stable cohabiting relationships.

Very helpful general background of statistics,  legal changes, changing attitudes etc framing a small qualitative study of stable married and cohabiting couples with children and why they chose that. Marriage usually the outcome of a cohabiting relationship - time to get married, often associated with desire to begin a family, but couples who do not marry and have children tend to wait until the relationship has reached a certain point of stability. Moving in together and investing in property as a sign of commitment. Extent to which couples' families come to accept them as as good as married. A certain amount of generational shift from outside validation of relationships to an inward individual commitment. What people think is important in relationships and how they balance up perceptions about e.g. unpaid labour within them. Negotation and communication rather than wife 'getting round' husband.

While cohabitees would like some recognition of their status, there's also a resistance to creating actual explicit contracts between the couple.

The ever-persisting class/poverty dimension - single mothers are likely to be poorer, if they cohabit it is often more of a drift than a specific choice, context of lives already somewhat chaotic, but there may be rational choice element in the context of what options are available to them.

Lots of useful points. Though in the light of several articles I've been reading about earlier periods and the ways in which people's lives did not match up to hegemonic contemporary paradigms of marriage , how far is this just certain relationship patterns becoming more visible, and perhaps more openly accepted (rather than the convention of e.g. women changing their names to the man's if they couldn't marry).

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Catching up on journal literature and chapters XIII

More from Lucy Delap, Ben Griffin, Abigail Wills, The Politics of Domestic Authority in Britain since 1800 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009),  
Megan Doolittle, 'Fatherhood and Family Shame: Masculinity, Welfare and the Workhouse in late Nineteenth-Century England' pp 84-108, which is really useful on the instability of working-class male identity and authority within the family, possibly increasing with developing state/voluntary  interventions in late C19th. The humiliation of the rituals around entering the workhouse - in fact this was fairly small % of population but may have been effectively deterrent? (wonder if vaccination resistance fits in here)
Deborah Thom, '"Beating children is wrong": Domestic Life, Psychological Thinking and the Permissive Turn' pp 261-283 - mentions that Susan Isaacs and Mary Chadwick refer to potential dangerous sexual arousal of spanking as punishment.

Lesley Hoggart, 'The campaign for birth control in Britain in the 1920s', in Anne Digby and John Stewart, Gender, Health and Welfare (1996), which is largely about the Workers' Birth Control Group and about which I was just a shade iffy - yes, there was a maternalist and socialist slant to their work and it wasn't a feminist campaign by the standards of late C20th ideas of feminist politics of reproduction perhaps, but my own feeling is that there was a certain amount of finding strategic rhetorics, e.g. maternal health, by which to promote b-c (though I think this might also read interestingly side by side with the Brooke article about Dora Russell and the modern female body). I certainly wouldn't concur that the 1930 Ministry of Health circular was what the WBCG wanted, because its provisions were so minimal and restrictive. However, it was an important symbolic victory.

Laura Tabili, '"Women of a Very Low Type": Crossing Racial Boundaries in Imperial Britain', in Laura Frader and Sonya Rose (eds), Gender and Class in Modern Europe (1996, pp. 165-190: a classic and important article about perceptions of the 'Black' (actually extremely diverse groups of Africans, Asians, etc) communities in early C20th Britain and the stigmatisation women who associated with them. They were mostly concentrated around ports and docklands - which brings in a whole lot of existing class and gender prejudices associated with those areas. Notes the invisiblity of Black/mixed race women in the debates which are all about 'Black' men and 'White' women. Indicates that prejudices were not monolithic, and within the actual communities these families were accepted.

Pamela Dale and Kate Fisher. 'Contrasting Municipal Responses to the Provision of Birth Control Services in Halifax and Exeter before 1948', Social History of Medicine, 23, 2010, pp 567-585. More on the important local dimension of the introduction of birth control services and the interests who were behind the clinic - in Exeter it was much more officially sponsored and also had significant support from local philanthropic (eugenically-inclined) ladies, but was not as much of a success as it might have been at pulling in the punters. In Halifax the clinic was very much out of the loop of power and influence and networks but was arguably more successful with its client base, to which it was very responsive (i.e. quite flexible and open to people's needs rather than imposing a model). 
This is probably not entirely connected to this, but I have been wondering (thinking about the extent to which the work on clinics, and the oral history work, indicates relative lack of take-up of the cap) about the other female methods like sponges and soluble pessaries which don't seem to be in this debate at all - it's either male methods like withdrawal or condoms, or it's the complicated and disliked cap.

Roger Davidson & Gayle Davis, 'Sexuality and the State: the Campaign for Scottish Homosexual Law Reform, 1967–80' , Contemporary British History,  2006 20:4, 533-558 - asks whether the final outcome of the campaign was anything more than a rather weak symbolic victory in the face of continuing Scottish homophobia and continuing refusal to consider that it was a problem - i.e. takes the story on from their Wolfenden article

Katherine Holden, 'Imaginary Widows: Spinsters, Marriage, and the ''Lost Generation'' in Britain after the Great War', Journal of Family History 2005 30: 388. Really good piece on the specific way that unmarried women were perceived after the Great War and the way that there was a perception (correct or not) that it was about them having been, as it were, pre-emptively widowed by the losses during the War and how that affected attitudes and policies. Has all the nuance and complexity of The Shadow of Marriage.

Women's History Review Special Issue 'Lone Mothers', Vol 20, 2011:
Pat Thane, 'Unmarried motherhood in twentieth-century England' - draws on her work on the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child and really interesting on a body which took up this very unpopular cause and agitated around it. How relatively few unmarried mothers were bringing up their children alone - might be in stable cohabitation but unable to marry, or child was absorbed into family - changes over time esp after WWII - issues around adoption, etc.
Ginger Frost, '"Revolting to Humanity": oversights, limitations and complications of the English Legitimacy Act of 1926' - a badly devised piece of legislation. Note that the fact that cases for legitimation were heard in open court put a lot of people off (as did the complicated bureaucracy). Easier for parent/s to adopt their own illegitimate children and thus give them legal status.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Leanne McCormick, Regulating Sexuality: women in twentieth-century Northern Ireland (2009)

A splendidly meticulous study of the particular spins on various issues around women and sexuality in the context of Northern Ireland and the particular pressures that pertain there. We observe that not merely was there significant concern not to undertake policies that might disturb the Catholic population, but that the Protestant interest had very similar concerns relating to sexual morality. This led to a culture in which women were supposed to be the carriers of sexual purity (this clearly relates to wider issues of national and cultural identity) and particularly stigmatised and blamed for behaviours considered immoral. In fact the book sits very neatly between e.g. Luddy's work on the discourse of pure Irish womanhood and its implications for transgressors, and Davidson and Davies's work on late C20th Scottish sexual culture.

McCormick covers a great deal of ground with considerable effect: prostitution and the role of refuges and rescue homes (where her work finds similar phenomena to those uncovered by Luddy in her study of prostitution in Ireland), various strategies of preventive work such as organisations aimed at providing healthy and chaste recreation for young women (Belfast, in particular, has a high proportion of women in the workforce for whom these arguably provided a valuable social resource), treatment and prevention of VD (including the reluctance of several local authorities to admit that this was anything like a problem requiring action in their areas), the arrival of US troops in significant numbers during the Second World War and the various clashes of sexual cultures that produced, and attempts to establish birth control clinics. Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, but McCormick suggests that there was a significant degree of illicit abortion taking place (some of it by doctors), while particularly of more recent decades facilities available on the mainland have been resorted to.

As McCormick has focused her study on women there is nothing about the failure to extend the 1967 decriminalisation of male homosexuality and the problem of homosexuality in Northern Ireland. It would have been intriguing to have had something about lesbianism but one imagines that this would be extremely difficult to retrieve, at least much before the end of the C20th. However, we get enough sense of the general moral climate to be able to make some speculations.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Adrian Bingham, Gender, Modernity and the Popular Press in Inter-War Britain (2004)

A very good piece of work, looking specifically at the popular dailies of the period and their extremely polyvocal take on issues of gender. Makes a good point about the papers positioning themselves as about 'modernity', and issues of feminisation of their presentation and the types of things they dealt with, even beyond the actual women's pages. Not just about reinscribing traditional gender roles - some of that but because there are so many people writing in any given paper on any given day with different slants what they were getting across was a good deal more complex.

Even if there was a tendency to be 'yay modern girl - particularly in a bathing suit', with the increasing use of eroticised photographs of attractive women. But did get serious feminist voices out there too, even if there was often an agenda of drumming up sales-gleaning controversy.

Also has good chapter specifically on representations of masculinity and attitudes about men (which also comes up in the war and peace chapter  - the contrasting figures of the decorated hero who says never again, the shell-shocked veteran, and the languid foppish postwar male who hadn't fought).

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Catching up on journal literature and chapters XII

Adrian Ager and Catherine Lee, 'Prostitution in the Medway Towns, 1860-1885', Local Population Studies, 83, 2009, 39-55: a really useful piece on the local factors affecting the extent of prostitution in the Medway towns (the pull factor that there was a major military presence, the push factor that the social make-up of the area was that there was not a huge demand for domestic service and no industries employing women, and also the fact that some of the economic activity of the region, e.g. hopping, was highly seasonal). Show what can be done by looking at an array of source and the possibilities of recreating at least some information about individuals from their encounters with police, prison, poor law institutions, etc . Not sure that this would be possible for London? or would it, if one started focussing in on particular areas - question of whether there was actually a downward eastward shift in the prostitute career (?suggested by Walkowitz I think) over time, or whether they stayed closer to any particular base. There's also the question (this may apply less in an area like the Medway towns) of non-street forms of prostitution in which the women were less publicly visible and disturbing - these are touched on in the 1916 volume Downward Paths as existing but much harder to investigate. Thus, Ager and Lee's confirmation of the poverty/prostitution link may be about one particular form of sex-work. But this is still a really valuable piece of work.

Two papers by Roger Davidson and Gayle Davis, from their detailed and industrious investigation of sexuality and governance in late C20th Scotland: '"A Field for Private Members: The Wolfenden Committee and Scottish Homosexual Law reform, 1950-1967", Twentieth Century British History, 15, 2004, pp 174-201, and '"A Festering Sore on the Body of Society": The Wolfenden Committee and Female Prostitution in mid-C20th Scotland', Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 24, 2004, pp 80-98: full of dense and juicy material, but the take-home impression is that the Scots thought they were already managing both problems a lot better than the English; and that the level of homophobia was if anything even greater (to the extent that the only way to pass the 1967 Act was to exclude Scotland from its provisions to prevent Scottish MPs from voting against it).

James Vernon, '"For Some Queer Reason": The Trials and Tribulations of Colonel Barker's Masquerade in Interwar Britain', Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 26, 2000, 37-61. A very juicy piece about the problematic 'Colonel Barker' (Valerie Arkell Smith) and the questions it raises about gender. sexual, identity, masquerade, etc at the period, as well as the claiming of Barker by various contemporary groups as a precursor. Lots of resonances with other phenomena of the period (e.g. a trial which becomes less about the main charge of perjury than Barker's masquerade and nature of the 'marriage' - cf Lucy's work, and Stopes vs Sutherland).

Lutz D H Sauerteig and Roger Davidson, Shaping Sexual Knowledge: A Cultural History of Sex Education in C20th Europe (2009)
Intriguing piece from a rather different perspective by Ann Blair and Daniel Monk, 'Sex Education and the Law: The Importance of Legal Narratives' pp 17-51: though again, the tension/boundary between health and the child-in-educational-setting does seem to be significant. Problems of having to obey a set of rules and how  they are interpreted.
Roger Davidson (solo), 'Purity and Pedagogy: The Alliance-Scottish Council and School Sex Education in Scotland, 1955-1967' pp 91-107: role of alliances between official bodies and voluntary organisations - also, the place of specific dedicated individuals who try and get things done - the actual messages (within the standard medico -moral policing context - purity and danger.
Barbara Crowther, 'The Partial Picture: Framing the Discourse of Sex in British Educative Films of the early 1930s' pp 176-196: really not much of a genre for the period in question. There is 1936 specifically VD propaganda film A Test for Love in fictional cautionary tale format; 1931 How to Tell, produced by BSHC and is about what parents should tell children about sex - use of nature analogies, reproductive imperative, heteronormativity; The Mystery of Marriage 1931 an info-tainment work drawing parallels, with voice-over narration, with various animal species, plants, and exotic peoples from a long way away - humorous tone.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Catching up on journal literature and chapters XI

Judy Giles, ‘"Playing Hard to Get": working‐class women, sexuality and respectability in Britain, 1918‐40',  Women's History Review, 1:2, 239-255: useful piece using oral history methodology re working class women's sexual attitudes in interwar period. Importance of self-assertion and standing up for oneself - not a submissive passive stereotype.

Lucy Delap, Ben Griffin, Abigail Wills, The Politics of Domestic Authority in Britain since 1800 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) - still working through this, but so far, very useful chapters:
Ginger Frost,. '"I am master here": Illegitimacy, Masculinity and Violence in Victorian England', pp 27-42: issues around male status, control over women and children, authority, etc, resentment against the mothers of their illegitimate offspring and the demands for support. Courts much more punitive towards the men who actually murdered their illeg offspring (contrasting to the relative leniency towards women who did so)
Gail Savage, '"…the instrument of an animal function: Marital Rape and Sexual Cruelty in the Divorce Court, 1858-1908' pp 43-57: ways women could effectively deploy accusations of sexually abusive behaviour within the context of marital disputes in the courtroom. They could bring charges of abusive or non-normative sexual demands by husbands in divorce and separation cases and could also use these as reasons to context cases for restitution of conjugal rights. Divorce Court judges were actually v severe on male sexual conduct perceived  as transgressive (and their limits of normality were v narrow).

Two good pieces by Judith Walkowitz: 'Going Public: Shopping, Street Harassment, and Streetwalking in Late Victorian London', Representations 662, 1998, pp. 1-30 is a valuable extension of the material in City of Dreadful Delight concerning women in public urban spaces and makes lots of useful points; 'The "Vision of Salome": Cosmopolitanism and Erotic Dancing in Central London, 1908-1918', The American Historical Review, Vol. 108, No. 2 (April 2003), pp. 337-376 provides a wider context to Maud Allan and the 'Cult of the Clitoris' case, in particular issues of female performance and display and the rise of a female audience for same but not sure this is quite so relevant to my immediate needs as the previous.

Three articles from the Welsh social history journal Llafur: Gareth Williams, 'Compulsory Sterilisation of Welsh Miners' (no 3:3 1983 pp 67-73) was rather misleading, since this was in fact merely one of courses of action being advocated by one of the more rabid mainline eugenicists of the early 1930s who believed that miners were having too large families and also had issues about the Welsh, but it all remained in the relam of polemic. Margaret Douglas, 'Women. God and Birth Control: The first hospital birth control clinic'(no 6:4 1995, pp 110-122) was an interesting piece about the Marie Stopes sponsored clinic in Abertillery - the moving force was actually a local male Labour activist, and the whole thing appears to have foundered largely as a result of the overwhelming counter-reaction by charismatic local preacher, Rev Ifor Evans. Though it doesn't sound as though, for whatever reason, local women actually used the clinic much.  Russell Davies, 'A Broken Dream: some aspects of sexual behaviour and the dilemma of the unmarried mother in South West Wales' (no 3:4, 1984, pp. 24-33) Starts with the prevalent notion of rural Wales as a land of pure morals - uncorrupted by industry or the incursions of the English. In fact the relevant areas had far higher rates of illegitimacy than more urbanised parts. Attitudes towards the women in question tended to be punitive and the women in question often even failed to carry actions for affiliation and support. Local magistrates were also dismissive of cases of sexual assault.

Also on Wales, Julie Grier, 'Eugenics and Birth Control: Contraceptive Provision in North Wales, 1918-1939', Social History of Medicine vol 11, 1998, pp 443-458: suggests that in the period in question, initiatives in North Wales, when they occurred at all, were largely down to local politicians and medics who were often about a eugenic agenda. The more pressing issues of maternal health were much less in play. Significance, that we find elsewhere, of particular local individuals.

Partly on Wales, but also drawing on her work on Oxfordshire, Kate Fisher's 'Contrasting cultures of contraception: Birth control clinics and the working-classes in Britain between the wars', in M Gijswijt-Hofstra, G M Van Heteren and E M Tansey, Biographies of Remedies: Drugs, medicines and contraceptives in Dutch and Anglo-American Healing Cultures (Clio Medica 66, Rodopi, 2002) is persuasive about the problems that clinics had in actually appealing to the constituency they were aiming for. Fisher argues that there was a huge disjunction between the mindset of the campaigners for contraception and the women who were their intended audience, which meant that the services offered by clinics often met significant resistance from those they aimed to help.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Preserving the record of the Big Society

Voluntary sector archives: A hidden casualty of the cuts

The Voluntary Action History Society blog draws attention to the serious problems relating to the preservation of archives of voluntary organisations. This is a particularly endangered sector: many voluntary bodies do not have a permanent HQ, and even when they do, looking after their records is not usually the most immediate priority, while inappropriate storage, office moves, changes of administrator, etc, are a constant source of threat.

If we're supposed to be aiming for the 'Big Society' (a concept which in itself suggests a fairly radical misunderstanding of or ignorance of history) might one venture that those who ignore history are likely to repeat its errors and that the history of voluntary action is hardly possible to reconstruct without the archives of the innumerable organisations engaged in it.

Forthcoming in person appearance

The Thing Is... Caught in the act: 20 July 2011, 19.00 - 20.00, at the Wellcome Collection, where I shall be conversing about the Contagious Diseases Acts, Victorian prostitution, venereal diseases, etc at an event connected with the current Dirt exhibition

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Catching up on journal literature and chapters X

Actually a book, but only the first section seemed particularly relevant to my purposes: Mary Wilson Carpenter, Imperial Bibles, Domestic Bodies: women. sexualities and religion in the Victorian Market (2003): useful stuff on 'family bibles' - unlike the Family Shakespeare of Bowdler note, the Bible couldn't very well be Bowdlerised, but family versions with the dodgy stuff in Very Small Print &/or marked as 'Not for Family Reading' were a widespread phenomenon. Also causes one to consider the role of the Bible as under-examined source of sexual knowledge.

Pat Thane, 'Family Life and "Normality" in Postwar British Culture', in Richard Bessel and Dirk Schumann (eds), Life after Death: approaches to a cultural and social history of Europe during the 1940s and 1950s (2003). This was a really excellent piece on the distinctiveness of the postwar era and deconstructing the popular vision of the 50s in Britain as some lost era of 'normality'.

Alysa Levene, 'Family breakdown and the ‘Welfare Child’ in 19th and 20th century Britain' History of the Family 11 (2006) 67–79 - possibly a bit peripheral for my purposes, but some possible points to consider about the boundaries of 'the family' and issues around the 'contaminated/ing' child.

Gail Savage, ' They Would if They Could: Class, Gender, and Popular Representation of English Divorce Litigation, 1858-1908', Journal of Family History, 2011 36: 173. Yet another addition to Savage's string of important articles and chapters on divorce and marital law. A very illuminating analysis of who was actually accessing the Divorce Court, the role of class (a far greater percentage of the poor than one might think), the importance of an income to women who wanted divorces (i.e. upper class women with settled incomes, and actresses were in a much better position to bring the action), the distorting effect of what got reported in the press (upper class vice and bohemian decadence), etc,

Andrew Davies, 'Youth, violence, and courtship in late-Victorian Birmingham: The case of James Harper and Emily Pimm', History of the Family 11 (2006) 107–120, The 'othering' of sexual violence and domestic abuse by representing these as typical of the lower classes, plus assumptions that the women in question didn't mind it or even accepted it, even though Pimm had been making strenuous efforts to protect herself from Harper and his assumption that their relationship was not over.

Lucy Bland, 'White Women and Men of Colour: Miscegenation Fears in Britain after the Great War' Gender & History, Vol 17, issue 1, 2005, 29-61. Extremely valuable piece on the various allotropes of racist fears in the interwar period, from the immediately postwar race riots in port towns to the Eugenics Society-sponsored research on mixed-race children.

Julia Ann Laite (2008): The Association for Moral and Social Hygiene: abolitionism and prostitution law in Britain (1915–1959), Women's History Review, 17:2, 207-223. It's more than time that someone paid attention to the work of the AMSH into the C20th, and Laite does this extremely well.

Lucy Bland, ‘The Trials and Tribulations of Edith Thompson: the Capital Crime of Sexual Incitement in 1920s England’ Journal of British Studies, 47, 2008, pp 624-648. This makes an interesting contrast to  Blands' study of the Mme Fahmy case. Thompson did not kill her husband, was shocked when Bywaters attacked him, but nonetheless got depicted as a dangerous siren and hanged.

Stephen Brooke - 'Gender and Working Class Identity in Britain during the 1950s' - Journal of Social History 34:4 2001, 773-795. Good on the issues around changing masculinity (though poss could do with more on male dandyism. Teds, etc?) , also the romanticisation of the old-style (imaginary?) working class 'mum' - denigration of 'modern girls' (but isn't this always the case - they are always being criticised for frivolity and pleasure-seeking and obsession with dress etc, and then they get married - it's a life-cycle thing)