My Year Abroad: Studying History in France

My Year Abroad

Written by Martin Greenacre.

In Britain, we have an absurd fixation with university league tables. In the absence of a similar system in France, I knew little of what to expect when I arrived in Dijon for my year abroad studying history at the Université de Bourgogne. The titles of the courses were not even released until the first week of classes, and the course choice was so limited that I, with a preference for modern social history, found myself writing an essay about the history of bears in the middle ages.

This is because students at Dijon are required to take courses from Antiquity, medieval, modern and contemporary periods. It was interesting to note the differences in terminology. L’histoire moderne is what we refer to as the early modern period, ending at the French Revolution, followed by histoire contemporaine, which is the period we call modern history. I also took a course entitled Temps présent, which was essentially post-war French history stretching all the way up until the 2005 French riots, and which brought in sociological concepts and demographic trends.

In their final year, history students at Dijon choose between continuing this broad historical degree, or studying ‘approaches to the contemporary world’, which focused on contemporary history, but which brought in courses on international relations, sociology, and the media. There is a significant stress on the interdisciplinary nature of history.

Similarly, a common complaint of non-British history professors at the University of Edinburgh is the monolingualism of students, which is a product of our culture. In Dijon, every history student is made to take a language throughout all three years of their degree. Interestingly, language courses are delivered in classes uniquely composed of history students, the courses being tailor-made to fit with the discipline. Other disciplines such as geography and sociology are also seen as essential to the historian, and are made requisites of the course.

Partly as a result of this rigid course structure, a French university often feels like a factory, where everybody arrives knowing their future career path and chooses a degree in service of this. One professor, while giving feedback on a student’s presentation, said, ‘If you want to become a teacher, you cannot write on the board in abbreviations’, without first asking whether said student wished to become a teacher. Skills such as critical thinking did not seem to be such a priority, and there were no tutorial-style discussions as I was used to in the UK. That being said, professors were nonetheless passionate about their subjects, and had the freedom to tailor courses to their interests.

My favourite course was entitled ‘La table des Européens’, and gave a history of food in Europe, including the development of restaurants, the arrival of colonial ingredients, and the link between food and cultural identity. It is a course only a French professor could come up with. And he duly began the first lecture with a game of finish-the-sentence, which went like this: “Italians eat… Pasta. The British eat… badly. The French eat… well.’

The events in Paris on 13 November 2015 were a sombre reminder of the importance of what we have chosen to study, prompting some difficult speeches from professors. One professor of Temps présent had a particularly important reminder for us. Terrorism, she said, is “not the radicalisation of Islam, but the Islamisation of radicalism”.

While I was not necessarily impressed by the educational system during my year at a French university, the academic experience was more valuable than I had anticipated. It is always interesting to see how another country approaches history. This is not even to mention the extraordinary opportunities outside of the classroom that a year abroad offers. It would be a great tragedy were future students to miss out on similar opportunities to study abroad.

I promised myself I would not mention Brexit. That’s it, I need to go and hide under my desk.

The Great War Column: Edinburgh’s Fallen Alumni

Written by Ashleigh Jackson.

James Crozier was a former medical student at the University of Edinburgh and was tragically killed within the first few weeks of World War I.

The University’s Roll of Honour from 1915 lists the first of those to be killed during the opening months of the conflict. The document, which can be found at the National Library of Scotland, records 16 Edinburgh alumni killed between August 1914 and January 1915. The Roll of Honour further lists those that were wounded, as well as details of the various roles of alumni in the conflict.

James Crozier is the second name on the Roll of Honour, which is organised alphabetically rather than chronologically. Crozier is reported as having been killed in action on 27 August 1914. Further records tragically reveal that he had only arrived in France a mere 13 days earlier and that his death occurred on his first day of active combat. James served in the B Company of the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, after having joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1912 before enlisting in 1914.

Crozier was originally from Cheshire but had moved to Scotland where he attended Loretto School in Musselburgh between 1906-1909. From 1910, he read Medicine at Edinburgh for two years while living with relatives in Longyester. We can only assume that his medical ambitions were put on hold in 1912 when he joined the RSF. Tragically, they would never be resumed.

The chronology of events surrounding Crozier’s premature death remains fragmented. However, from the limited information available, it is possible to put together a timeline of his experiences. Having enlisted in 1914, he was taken to Flanders, landing at Le Havre on 14 August 1914. Within two weeks, he would be dead.

On 27 August 1914, his unit prepared for their first day of active service. They were based near Etreux, in northern France, and had been given the task of halting a German advance. However, they were outnumbered six to one by the German troops. Crozier is alleged to have shouted, ‘There they are, come on men!’ as he exposed himself to the onslaught of the enemy’s rifles. From Crozier’s unit, a mere four officers survived their first day of battle.

The first British casualty of the war is reported to have been on 21 August 1914, less than a week before the death of James Crozier. John Parr is widely believed to have been the first British Commonwealth soldier to be killed in action during the conflict.  Both deaths marked the start of a long and bloody war.

News of Crozier’s death did not reach home until October 1914. An obituary was printed in the Haddington Courier, which provides biographical information and highlights the importance of newspapers as an archival resource in historical research. Memorials across Midlothian pay further tribute to Crozier, including those at Loretto School and the Holy Trinity Church in Haddington. He was repatriated, unlike so many of those killed during the First World War. His gravestone is located at St Mary’s Church in Haddington, along with other members of his family.

James Crozier may have been the first Edinburgh University alumnus to be killed, but he would not be the last.  In the first year of the war, 18 alumni were counted among the war dead, however this would increase to over 160 in 1916 alone. The University suffered the deaths of hundreds of alumni, as well as many wounded, as a result of the conflict.

The Great War Column: The University of Edinburgh, Rudyard Kipling, and the Great War

Written by Ashleigh Jackson.

The University of Edinburgh, like many other institutions across the country, did not escape the Great War unscathed. A Roll of Honour was published in 1921, after the cessation of hostilities, to commemorate the fallen alumni of the university. This record provides a wealth of information for those hoping to research the war and its impact on society.

The introduction of the document is written by J.A. Ewing, the principal and vice-chancellor of the university from 1916 until his retirement in 1929. The duration of his appointment meant he presided over the university during part of the conflict, witnessing the effects of the war on further education first hand. 944 members of the university were killed in action during the war.  The record comprises a ‘Roll of the Fallen’, as well as a record of those who survived the conflict, detailing alumni who served during the war, chiefly concerning those at the front. Where possible, the record includes photographs of alumni [as can be seen above]. The editor has also sought to include personal details such as education, occupation, military service details and where they died.

Upon the outbreak of war, 600 students and graduates received commissions in the army. A significant proportion of university alumni became medical officers, owing to Edinburgh’s large and prestigious medical school. It is clear then, that the war significantly disrupted university life. Notably, Lord Kitchener, who was Secretary of State for War in 1914-1916 was also the rector of the University during this period. As such, his portrait is included in the Roll of Honour, highlighting a significant connection between the university and the First World War.

Interestingly, Rudyard Kipling visited the university in July 1920, delivering a speech which is included at the beginning of the Roll of Honour: “That they turned without fear or question from the Gates of Learning to those of the Grave in order that free men might still continue to learn freedom, is their glory but not their glory alone.”

Kipling captures the great sacrifice made by these men, who fought not only for their freedom but for the freedom of others. Throughout the war, Kipling was a prolific orator, supporting the war effort by calling for recruits.  He is famous for his poetry and short stories but during the First World War, he also became a key propagandist. His articles sought to uphold morale. He stressed the bravery of the soldiers at the front and wrote in an upbeat tone, becoming something of a spin-doctor. When reporting on the Battle of Jutland in 1916 he gave a positive interpretation of the conflict despite huge losses to the British army.

Kipling’s poignant speech at Edinburgh in 1920 connected the fallen alumni through their mutual commitment to academia. He sought to highlight how their sacrifice enabled future generations to ‘continue to learn’. Kipling’s attitude was perhaps at odds with the general feeling of grief that captured the nation after the war, despite victory. This speech, like many of his other speeches, is undoubtedly a piece of propaganda, an attempt to revive a nation paralysed by loss.

This column will endeavour to bring this document to life throughout the coming academic year. Forthcoming articles will focus on individuals from the Roll of Honour, in an attempt to understand the university’s connections to the Great War and the experiences of alumni during the conflict.  The size of the record alone indicates the scale of the sacrifice and the university’s contribution to the war effort.

Creating Legacies In Gothic House Design, 1750–1850

An individual’s home is often central to the manifestation of personal identity. Among the English elite of eighteenth-century England, this was especially true. During this period country houses were not private spaces, and house visiting meant that the home became an important medium for display of the family, open to the judgement of observers. However, this could be utilised to create personal legacies. Common themes during this period were the emphasis on family genealogy, the expression of the self, and a return to a ‘golden age’ of English history. In doing so, house and garden designs simultaneously appealed to established legacies and created new ones, securing the owner’s position within society: socially, politically and culturally.

Central to designs was the theme of nostalgia for a ‘golden age’ in England’s history. Looking back to a time of castles and knights, when religion and social structure held an important place in society, medieval England became an iconic period for certain individuals. The use of castle features created a historical narrative which linked contemporary elites with a past ruling class, more acceptable to the middling classes of the period. Some historians have identified the rise of the English middle classes in the eighteenth century, who threatened the position of the upper classes; threat became a reality during the French Revolution when elite individuals realised that they had to appeal to the wider population to maintain their position in society. Sculptures and deities which accompanied Classicism were mocked for being too luxurious and criticised as foreign symbols of authority. In contrast, gothic style was associated with the hospitable ‘old-English gentleman’, an acceptable ruling class in keeping with the principles of the Georgian middle classes. Gothic designs inspired by castles and cathedrals were incorporated into the homes of Englishmen in a modern way; Horace Walpole used cathedral motifs in furniture and over internal doorways of his, rather fantastical, Strawberry Hill.

Image: Rictor Norton & David Allen

The country house was the seat of the elite family and centre of their power. In the houses situated on these estates it was important to reinforce the family’s place as leaders of society. At Castle Howard the grounds, surrounded by medieval style battlements, situated the family legacy in the English ‘golden age’ and justifying their present position. This was even more important for families who were newly risen through mercantile wealth, and for individuals such as Walpole who wanted to salvage a reputation – as a younger son who would not inherit the family legacy. Walpole never had children, so leaving a monument such as Strawberry Hill was intended to be, successfully so, a reminder to posterity of himself and his achievements. Walpole founded Strawberry Hill on a long genealogy, returning to a more desirable ancestry in the medieval past. He continuously referred to it as ‘the castle of my ancestors’. The architecture of Strawberry Hill features heraldry of three aspects of his heritage; the Walpole, Shorter and Robsart crests feature in prominent locations throughout the house, such as above the entrance doorway. The library is an important room for the creation of Walpole’s legacy. Here he ties together the different elements of the past he has invented for his family and self though gothic architecture and interior design, heraldry and display of collections of antiques. These designs also supported Walpole’s image as a gothic novelist.

The narrative of the Gothic age was especially evocative of a liberal past. Remembered for the Magna Carta and the establishment of English parliament, the medieval period was identified as an age of liberty. Walpole displayed a copy of the Magna Carta in his house alongside the death warrant for Charles I. Both were seen as significant events in English history which led to the creation of the much revered English Constitution and parliamentary system. By representing this history in their homes, Whig politicians emphasised their standing as protectors of ‘the people’, the Constitution, and liberty. The Temple of the Four Winds at Castle Howard also represents Whig political ideas of progress and prosperity; the temple looks over to the surrounding countryside where the viewer can enjoy aesthetics of the view but also contemplate the agricultural progress going on around them. On the other hand, Tory supporters emphasised their affinity with the old Stewart line. Lord Scarsdale created the narrative of the Curzon Family as eminent Tories by displaying family portraits alongside prominent Stewart figure, linking the two histories. Thus we see how elite individuals could create narratives steeped in history but linked to their current beliefs.

Crucially, all themes of gothic design were rooted in a certain view of England. It is significant that during this period we see a move away from foreign classical designs and more emphasis on England’s place in history and culture. It could be argued that in doing so, England was given a position among and equal to the great empires of Rome and Greece, legitimising its cultural and political standing in the world, and in turn, those individuals who connected themselves with it. William Stuckley, a leading figure in this period, promoted England’s ancient history; in his garden, he re-created miniature versions of Stonehenge and Avebury. These scenes were meant to evoke contemplation of spirituality and English history. Stuckley made connections between the tree lined ‘Groves’ in which Druids worshipped, and the arching design of gothic cathedrals which resembled tree branches crossing overhead. By creating Druidic site in their gardens, individuals were aligning their own legacy with an ancient and more spiritual English past. Grottos, woods and hermitages became standard features of gardens.

Therefore, we have seen how important it was for elite individuals to refer to certain English legacies in order to create their own. In doing so, they defended their social and political status during a period of tension.

War Stories: Inspired by my Grandma

We got to stay up later in the summer. Long days chasing each other round the fields and evenings in a quiet corner of the pub playing rummy; shared half pints of shandy; treasures of speckled eggs from the chickens. Falling in long grass and ricocheting off the rope swing over the river.

The summer of 1940 was different though, and one I’ll never forget. Every mention of it, all those awful documentaries and interjections on the wireless that brandished the men’s ‘constant cheer and unbreakable spirit’ do no service to the mess of that night. The most broken things I ever saw, I saw on 31 May 1940.

We all went to bed early that night. The late summer sunshine was peeping through the slits in the blackout curtain, and I was uncomfortably awake, staring at the ceiling and angry at the game of rummy I had just lost.

Pa came in to say goodnight, but his face was traced with fright. There was a ghost of something fearful behind his unsmiling eyes.

‘Don’t come out of your room tonight, Susan.’ What a silly thing to say! I didn’t sleep walk; I never crept out of my window for midnight play dates. I nodded, and returned to calculating my next rummy victory.

But when I awoke to an uncomfortable darkness and the sound of thumping outside my door, Pa’s words came back to me. Grunts from outside. Mainly curious and vaguely terrified, I slinked out of the covers and tiptoed across the room, careful not to trip on my schoolbooks, hair clips and lace-ups dotted around the room. Inching open the bedroom door, I caught the gaze of a dark, exhausted eye. And another. The landing became a mass of dark eyes – of exhausted, empty, soulless eyes. Their corresponding mouths, and faces, and bodies were there too, limp limbs lying across each step on the stairs. The landing and the stairs – and the box room, I saw as I peered through the open doorway – were one mass of human beings: tired, bloodied, and battle-stained. They were a carpet of soldiers leading down to the hall, groaning, snoring.

They were the rescued BEF of Dunkirk, and they were broken. On the wireless the next day came the reports of the tiny fishing boats that had gone out to save them. When I came down for breakfast the next morning, they were already gone.

Historical Note

My Grandma had many tales from ‘the war’ (World War Two), and one of them was of how she awoke in the night to find the BEF, rescued from Dunkirk, sleeping on the landing of her father’s pub in Midsomer Norton, Somerset. Why or how they had arrived there, a large distance away from Dover, I do not know. As she got older, my Grandma’s memory faded, but her recollection of Dunkirk seemed to grow ever stronger.  The impression of the exhausted soldiers returned again and again to our dinner table, even when my Grandma struggled to recollect what she had done the previous day.

Silence and Screams: The Interpretation of Punishment Devices In Museums

Wandering through the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I headed towards one of my favourite sections: crime and punishment in early modern Scotland. As I walked through the tranquil halls of the museum, observing the artefacts and reading the accompanying descriptions, it occurred to me how easy it is to forget that these items were once tools of torture and terror.

How should such artefacts – thumb screws, a scold’s bridle and The Maiden guillotine – be interpreted in museums? These are artefacts which symbolise the dark side to our society’s history and also remind the viewer of similar, still-existent practices today. How should such objects make the visitor feel, what thoughts should they provoke and how should museums handle the display of such artefacts?

Our society has a fascination with pain and terror in history. Many tourist attractions thrive on this interest: establishments like the Edinburgh Dungeons, the Amsterdam Torture Museum and the Prague Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments are major attractions. Yet these museums, and displays like those in the NMS, do not directly engage with the reality of historical torture devices.

The displays fail to express how horrific these machines really were. They remain disconnected from historic reality and the human capacity for terror is overlooked. Certainly the darkened rooms and eerie lighting of the Amsterdam and Prague torture museums help create a morbid, intimidating atmosphere, but visitors still view torture devices outside of their true context. Screams of terror, blood and damp of a dungeon are absent. Inside a glass cabinet, the devices become clean and distanced from their past use.

It is true that the imagination can work wonders: the imposing Maiden, dominating the NMS crime and punishment exhibit, cannot fail to invoke dread. Nevertheless, the official descriptions concentrate on the guillotine’s invention and the mechanics behind the machine, not its real use. Similarly, whilst the Edinburgh Dungeons dramatically re-enact gruesome history, the theatrical nature of the experience arguably detaches the visitor from any sense of historical reality. The Dungeons provide an exaggerated, entertaining view of history which induces thrills and fear, but inspires no serious meditation on historical experience.

The sanitised display of torture weapons does not give a real representation of the history. One could even argue that viewing these artefacts in such a casual and detached viewing is disrespectful towards those who suffered violent punishment. TripAdvisor reviews of the Prague Museum of Medieval Torture emphasise the museum’s ‘excellent displays’, ‘mind blowing’ effects and usefulness as an attraction to ‘dip into’ when the rain comes on. Rarely do these reviewers consider what the artefacts really tell us about the human capacity for terror and torture and the effect on the victims.

The solution to this conundrum is difficult. Should museum visitors be forced to directly consider objects of terror? Arguably this would be equally problematic; museums have to follow ethical codes and many visitors would find it too disturbing to consider these issues too deeply. Museums need to consider how to induce a greater understanding of the historical reality of torture devices, whilst still avoiding both theatrical exaggeration and dehumanisation of the experience. A visit to a museum should be equal parts a learning curve and enjoyable, and museums should ultimately seek to strike a balance between these two sides of the experience.

Image: Son of Groucho

Saudi Arabia and the Destruction of Islamic Cultural Heritage

Whilst the West despairs over the destruction of the Arch of Palmyra, the walls of Nineveh, and the lamassus of Nimrud by Islamic State, a second wave of cultural heritage destruction is sweeping across the Middle East almost unnoticed. The international media has devoted extensive coverage to the obliteration of museums and archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria by Islamic State fighters, but for the most part has failed to report on the countless monuments and artefacts destroyed every day by Saudi Arabia, both in its own country and, lately, in the Yemen.

In January 2002 Saudi Arabia demolished a 200-year-old Ottoman castle in Mecca in order to build a five-star hotel, residential complex and parking lot. The original fortress was built in 1780 by Ottoman Turks in order to protect the Ka’aba and other Islamic shrines in Mecca from bandits, including invading Wahhabi radicals – ironically the ultra-orthodox branch of Sunni Islam that now makes up the dominant minority in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis defended their actions by citing the understandable need to provide accommodation for the almost three million Muslim pilgrims who journey to Mecca every year, but Turkey, who viewed the destruction of the Ottoman Ajyad Fortress as ‘cultural genocide’ demanded a UNESCO intervention. This was unsuccessful and the castle was bulldozed.

The Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who saw the castle in 1814, described it as
‘a very large and massy structure, surrounded by thick walls and solid towers… It contains a large cistern and a small mosque; and might accommodate a garrison of about one thousand men. To Arabs it is an impregnable fortress… even against Europeans, it might offer some resistance.’
‘Large and massy’ the Ajyad Fortress may have been, but the new Abraj al Bait Royal Makkah Clock Tower complex towers over the Ka’aba like Godzilla considering a peanut.

The Ajyad Fortress is far from the only architectural casualty in Saudi Arabia. Experts at the Washington-based Gulf Institute have estimated that over 90 per cent of the archaeological treasures of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina have been demolished in the last two decades alone. This is all the more remarkable when you take into account that the vast majority of these sites are neither secular, pagan, Christian, nor Ottoman – they are early Islamic holy sites. For example, the house of Khadijah, the Prophet’s first wife, has been bulldozed and replaced with public lavatories whilst the Prophet’s own birthplace is now a library, soon to be further damaged with the addition of underground parking. The human dangers of the extensive modernisation of Mecca were also made clear earlier this year when a construction crane collapsed into the Masjid al-Haram, killing an estimated 111 and injuring 394.

The destruction of early Islamic heritage by Saudi authorities is not even unique to sites popular with tourists and pilgrims, where the need for modern facilities could be argued to outweigh the preservation of historic buildings. For example, the Tomb of Eve, a debatable archaeological site in Jeddah, was sealed with concrete by religious authorities in 1975. Meanwhile, abject disregard for cultural heritage has spilled over intoYemen. Although Yemen was once part of the wealthy caravan kingdom of Sheba (home of the legendary queen), knowledge of Yemeni culture and history is sadly lacking around the world. Now it is in danger of being lost forever, as a coalition of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia – and with logistical support from the USA – has been waging war against a Shia rebel group who now controls the country’s capital, Sana’a. A UNESCO list of Yemeni protected areas has done little to minimise the destruction, particularly in the World Heritage Site of Sana’a old town. Elsewhere, the Great Dam of Marib, a 2,800-year-old marvel of engineering almost twice as long as the Hoover Dam, has been struck four times by missiles, whilst some of the oldest surviving fragments of the Koran are constantly in danger of being bombed. Forces fighting along Yemen’s southern coast have reputedly destroyed the 700-year-old Sheikh Omar Ali al-Saqaff mosque in Lahf, whilst earlier this year a Saudi airstrike destroyed the Dhamar Regional Museum. The museum held more than 150 ancient South Arabian inscriptions, including the oldest-known texts from the Yemeni highlands, plus an important fourth-century wooden minbar.

The Saudi destruction of historic sites is closely linked to Wahhabism, the Sunni branch of Islam, which rejects the ideas of bid’ah (innovation/reformation) and shirk (idolatry). Wahhabism advocates a pure Islam, dedicated only to Allah, and also denounces the veneration of saints, the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday, the use of ornamentation in mosques, prayer at tombs (including the tomb of the Prophet), and taking non-Muslims as friends. Wahhabism is part of the impetus behind Islamic State’s desire to erase all monuments, whether sacred or secular, from the map.

The West’s failure to raise any serious issue about the Saudi destruction of Islamic cultural heritage raises some serious questions. Do we only care about the ‘star’ attractions, big name archaeological sites that were popularised by western archaeologists from the time of the Enlightenment? Palmyra, Nimrud and Nineveh are known to most people with a smattering of classical education – or at least to those who have visited the British Museum. This attitude would explain why the western media has failed to headline the destruction of any of the Islamic historic sites and monuments mentioned above. Surely all these sites and their cultures are worthy of our recognition and safekeeping, or at least our outrage when they are wilfully destroyed or desecrated?  We are witnessing the obliteration of centuries of Islamic culture – a culture as deserving of our protection as any classical site endangered by Islamic State.

Image: Eric Vernier

A History of British Immigration Policy: Constructing the ‘Enemy Within’

‘I tried to get into a lifeboat, but, when it was launched, it was nearly empty, and soon the stream and waves pushed it far. The other lifeboats were already far away.  Many people had jumped into the sea and a good deal of them had already died. When I realised… that there was not much time left, I got down calmly into the sea, and swam away from the ship, which was quickly sinking.  She had turned on the right side, her bow was submerged, people were on the decks poured into the sea, and all of a sudden she sank with a terrible noise.  The sea was covered with oil… with wrecks, and pieces of wood.’

One would be forgiven for mistaking this as a contemporary news account of a tragic event in the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, these are the words of a passenger on the SS Arandora Star, sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast of Ireland in July 1940. There are strong parallels between this event and the growing list of contemporary disasters in the Mediterranean. One particularly interesting parallel is that the sinking of the Arandora Star resulted in a sudden about-face of British public opinion on government policy, comparable to the recent shift in public perception of refugees following the multiple disasters in the Mediterranean Sea. In the context of what seemed to be an imminent German invasion from the spring of 1940, widespread paranoia began to frame the approximately 20,000 German nationals residing in Britain as an infiltrating ‘fifth column’ undermining the British state. The government began a policy of interning the bulk of this population, sometimes resulting in deportation. However, pressured by the outcry following the Arandora Star’s sinking, the British government was forced to retract this policy and within a year most interned foreign nationals had been released. This could be partly attributed to the fact that the sense of crisis had diminished by 1941, due to Britain’s air superiority over the German Luftwaffe, but it is unlikely the government would have acted as swiftly without popular pressure forcing its hand.

This is an example of compassionate public opinion influencing government policy, but it remains a notable exception in a history of British immigration policy marked by extreme treatment of those labelled ‘outsiders’. Anti-outsider sentiment has been fuelled by political and media rhetoric characterising a specific group as ‘un-British’ or representing foreign values, which in turn has fuelled waves of ever-harsher policies towards them.

The targets have changed over time: whereas Irish and Lithuanian immigrants suffered most from this characterisation in the early nineteenth century, Britain’s Jews were turned on in the 1930s. Today it is Muslims who bear the brunt of most anti-migrant rhetoric. The government views immigration legislation as an effective scapegoat for the country’s problems, particularly during a period of economic crisis; it is no coincidence that anti-migrant sentiment flared up throughout the Long Depression of the 1870s, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the recent global financial crisis.

Only a skim over British legislation on immigration is needed to appreciate the relationship between public paranoia and government policy. The 1905 Aliens Act empowered immigration officers to exclude ‘undesirables’, such as the poor or the mentally ill; the 1914 Aliens Restriction Act allowed for the deportation of people fleeing religious persecution; the 1920 Aliens Order granted the Home Secretary power to deport anyone ‘not conducive to the public good’, and there was authorisation for widespread internment and deportation during both world wars. The post-war years of growth and prosperity are marked by their lack of mainstream anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy, but this lasted exactly as long as the feeling of economic security. With the economic shocks of the late twentieth century came renewed anti-immigration sentiment: the 1971 British Nationality Act, restricting the right of Commonwealth citizens to reside in the UK; the 1988 Immigration Act ensuring fast-track deportations; the UK Borders Act 2007, giving immigration officers police-like powers; and so on. There is not space in this article to give a full list. Worth noting is the increasing rate of such legislation, with six major Acts during the last Labour government alone.

Detaining non-British nationals became accepted policy during the world wars. Similar detention during peacetime had been codified in law since 1920, but it was only following the 1971 Immigration Act that it became commonplace to temporarily detain immigrants and asylum seekers until their status was confirmed. By the 1990s this had become a key feature of the UK’s border policy, now including purpose-built internment facilities. Anti-terror legislation passed in the aftermath of 9/11 has furthered this trend, removing any detention time limit. Jean-Claude Paye has argued that this constitutes the end of habeas corpus, the right of a detained individual for their detention to be examined by a court of law. That such a long-established tradition has gradually been overturned over the last century with virtually no public outcry indicates the popular enthusiasm for controlling ‘the enemy within’ at any cost.

The history of British immigration policy is not uplifting reading, but exceptional instances of compassion, such as in the aftermath of Arandora Star or the recent shift in public perception of refugees, are positive signs that we can build on. This compassionate energy needs to create long-term change in immigration and asylum policy, but we cannot forget that there are people affected by our system right now, who need support. Take a look at the ‘Refugees Welcome in the UK’ Facebook page to see all the different ways you can help right now, whether by donating your time, money or old clothes, or by pressuring your MPs to do better.

Zimbabwe: An English-Indian Summer in the Southern African Winter

Zimbabwe, May 2015. Winter in Southern Africa. You might think it an odd subject for a magazine that focuses on the past, but this very much suggests the present. Does it not? Let me come directly to my point: Zimbabwe is a relic. Zimbabwe is history. This sounds blunt, brutalist even. A condemnation. I don’t see it like that. Zimbabwe is a country imbued by the weight of its colossal history and the result is a country that is a misnomer. African, yet European. The result can best be described as being like England on acid.

Zimbabwe has a tranquillity and faded charm that is akin to a sleepy English Sunday afternoon at the very end of an exceptionally sublime Indian summer. Afternoon tea is a relic that, in the archaic Harare and Bulawayo Clubs’ members’ lounges, is still taken as an institution. Walking down Leopold Takawira Avenue in Bulawayo, one cannot but fail to notice that the Christmas lights are still most definitely ‘up’. Whether this is from the previous year’s festivities or those of 1981 never became clear. Their unbroken, optimistic message of good cheer felt like a collective shrug of the shoulders.

People carry on. The crash of 2008 that saw the perhaps ironic use of the US dollar as local currency has fostered a resilient resignation amongst Zimbabweans. An informal economy of market stall traders flourishes. At the dead of night in the desolate mining town Thomson Junction, I met a shunter from the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) who had not been paid in ten months. He is not unique.

The NRZ is certainly going through a rough patch. If the government newspapers are to be believed, the NRZ crumbles. Most of the rolling stock is so old and historically uncared for that in the windows and the mirrors and the light fittings the old ‘RR’ monogram of Rhodesia Railways languishes. This is the colonial entity that created the famous Victoria Falls hotel, whose golden summer is still the much-celebrated Royal Tour of 1947.

But what does the government think of the RR? It could be that no one has ever paid any attention. In Britain, trains still go about with ‘BR’ (British Railways) stamped on them conspicuously – but Britain did not fight a bitter war of liberation from a white minority government. Suddenly the nostalgia group ‘Bring Back British Railways’ and all its Corbynite leanings looks much more innocuous. ‘RR,’ unlocked a time capsule of half remembered jingoistic colonial adventure. Half remembered, because the restaurant cars don’t seem to get the concept of food on the move. Beer, biscuits and fags are what the NRZ restaurant cars sell, and cigarettes, despite the no smoking signs – although I expect them to be another leftover from the RR. Just one example of the topsy-turvy, Alice in Wonderlandworld.

Zimbabwe is a country that walks shackled by its history. I am inclined less to blame than to appreciate this. A window into a bygone colonial world is offered. The pomp of the Royal Tour of 1947 does this deliberately. The NRZ achieves this accidentally. The people struggle, but they do not fall down. The country continues to pirouette through the Indian Summer.

Image: Jason Wharam

Holland: The Glorious Days of ‘Tulip Mania’

Earlier this year, on a warm April morning, I boarded a bus heading out of Amsterdam to the small town of Lisse, south east of the city. Like thousands of tourists and locals alike, I had been drawn in by the promise of a true spectaclem – the annual flowering of the Tulip bulbs in the Keukenhof. This ornamental garden boasts 32 hectares of tulip displays, with a whopping seven million individual plants, having been opened in 1949 by the Mayor of Lisse, in order to both celebrate the beautiful bloom and assist the Dutch flower market. It was not hard to understand how the tulip has become almost synonymous with the country, and held a special place in its economy for hundreds of years. Holland is currently the world’s largest exporter of flowers and, indeed, flower markets can be seen dotted alongside the canals in every major Dutch city.

However, the idyllic image of these Dutch flower markets hides a fascinating history. The tulip, despite its associations with the Dutch capital, is not in fact native to the country or to Western Europe at all. It was first introduced to the region in the late sixteenth century. Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius is credited with the first flowerings in the Netherlands in the city of Leiden in 1594. The flowers were greeted with such enthusiasm that prices soared, in an event that became known as ‘Tulip Mania’. Nineteenth century British journalist Charles Mackay, in the seminal book on the event, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds claimed that at one point, twelve hectares of land, or the value of a year’s wages for a Dutch merchant, were offered for a single bulb.

In Golden Age Holland, newly independent from the rule of Spain in 1581 and buoyed by success in East Indies trade, the tulips became a symbol of status and identity; ornamental gardens became a display of the affluence for Dutch merchants. Demand existed in particular for rare tulips that showed streaked and multi-coloured petals, the result of a mosaic virus affecting the plant.  The tulip plant tends to take around a decade to flower from seed, and those affected by virus can take even longer. When the bubble crashed, almost overnight, in February 1637, most bulbs had not reached maturity, and traders lost fortunes never having laid eyes on the beautiful petals.

Thanks to Mackay’s account, ‘Tulip Mania’ has entered the lexicon to refer to any speculative boom based on market irrationality. However, modern economic historians have called Mackay’s account into question. In a 2007 study, Anne Goldgar examined contracts that had been drawn up in the tulip trade and suggested that the bubble had not in fact affected the entire Dutch economy, but was limited to a small number of already wealthy individuals, for whom the dip in prices did not result in complete ruination. The Dutch government was also about to introduce a law that stated that those who had bought the rights to buy investments, such as tulip bulbs, were not legally required to follow through with this purchase if the market did not remain favourable, meaning tulip investments were actually low risk.

Regardless of the reality of the event, or the debate that continues amongst historians, the story of ‘Tulip Mania’ survives. Even today, walking through the flower beds at the Keukenhof, catching a glimpse of the tulips in their sudden yet brief season, you can still feel the pull of these beautiful flowers, and feel yourself catching a little ‘Tulip Mania’.

Image: Luke Price

Photography: A Victorian Sensation at the National Museum of Scotland

‘Meet the pioneers of photography and discover how the Victorian craze for the photograph transformed the way we capture images today and mirrors our own modern-day fascination for recording the world around us.’

This summary attached to Photography: A Victorian Sensation’s website says it all. The exhibition tackles several aspects of the photography’s development in the nineteenth century, from the scientific to the social, whilst holding true to this main theme. Its organisers have sought to penetrate what it sees as the falsely tranquil demeanour of the subjects of Victorian photography, to reveal what lies beneath: a near equivalent of today’s ‘selfie’ culture, and a Victorian public enthralled by this new way of looking at themselves. In the humble opinion of one who cavorted through its halls in a top hat, they have done it successfully.

The exhibition winds its way through the second floor of the National Museum of Scotland, following the careers of British photography’s founding fathers, whilst also highlighting the commercial side of the sensational invention. As the daughter of impoverished inventor Frederick Scott Archer tells the visitor via video, it was not uncommon to fall victim to the so-called ‘Victorian Craze’. The walls are lined with case upon case of photographs, thousands of small insights into the personal worlds of their subjects. My favourite was one deliberately stained with colour: two small girls with striking blue dresses sitting on their mother’s lap. A particularly evocative comment on it all is a colour lithograph depicting the mania that ensued in Paris when a do-it-yourself camera first became available to buy, the aptly named ‘La Daguerréotypomanie’, created by Theodore Maurrisset in 1839. These were more than just pictures: they were art, cherished by those whom they were made for because the images were simply so miraculous. Tell that to those arguing today that selfie culture is vapid and inconsequential.

True to form, we are of course made aware of the Scottish context of photography’s development. Many early photographers went to Scotland to practice and refine their craft, and the city was a hub of photography studios, one of which appears in an engraving of a view across Edinburgh by artist Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth. Small figures can be seen shivering in front of a camera on the rooftop of photographer James Howie’s studio. Pale early photographs of well-known city sights are also shown across the exhibition, making sure to remind us exactly where we are and what delights Scotland has to offer.

The exhibit also has plenty of interactive opportunities, which are equally as fascinating to adults as they must be for children. There is a chance to snap a photo in the crowds of the 1851 Great Exhibition, become Victorians in a photo studio, and experience the wonder of stereographic 3D images. Indeed, reaching the end of the exhibit, the selfie parallels are made explicit. After ending in 1889 with the Kodak slogan ‘you push the button, we do the rest’, you are met with interactive screens set up for you to snap your final moments in the exhibition.

Photography: A Victorian Sensation ran at the National Museum of Scotland from 19th June 2015 to 22nd November 2015.

Image: Paul Townsend