Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival Line Up

Breaking HistoriesI’m really excited to announce the line up for Breaking Histories at this year’s Shuffle Festival.

As you’ll see we have a great mix of periods and topics for an event that will be a fantastic showcase of some of the exciting research and projects.

Breaking Histories joins a vibrant and varied festival and for more information and to book tickets please see the Shuffle Festival website:Shuffle Festival 2015 Programme Breaking Histories will be free and you can just turn up, but you should be able to book free tickets soon as well.

Saturday 25 July 2015
History in its Place
Looking at the theme of place these talks will explore the history of human interaction through a London estate at the turn of the century to ancient Roman farms, through the prism of disability and across generations in a socialist feminist choir.
4pm-5:30pm
Breaking Histories 25 July 2015

Love Thy Neighbour: inter-neighbour relations and the syntax of complaint in early 20th century London

Anna Robinson (University of East London)

Asylums and their Communities: Mental Health Patients and their Families during the First World War

Caroline Nielsen (IHR, University of London)

Contested Knowledge in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.
Bob Taylor (Birkbeck, University of London)
Velvet Fist: Uncovering the History of the London Socialist Feminist Choir
Rosa Kurowska Kyffin (Beyond Past)

 

Saturday 1 August 2015
History Going Places
History is always moving and these talks will explore how, whether it is presented by experimental history trails or focused on the history of migration through the lens of community projects or works of fiction and biography.
4pm-5:30pm
Breaking Histories 1 August 2015

Moving Stories Judith Garfield MBE & Claire Days (Eastside Community Heritage)
Forced Walks: Honouring Esther….an instant case study Richard White (Bath Spa University/Forced Walks)
“but I am Price from Glynmawr” Stephen Woodhams
Stepney: Profile of a London Borough

Samantha Patterson

Shuffle Festival takes place in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. The nearest tube is Mile End and the entrance is on Southern Grove. We hope to see you there!

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For more details on the papers please see below.

Saturday 25 July 2015
History in its Place
Looking at the theme of place these talks will explore the history of human interaction through a London estate at the turn of the century to ancient Roman farms, through the prism of disability and across generations in a socialist feminist choir.
4pm-5:30pm

  • Love Thy Neighbour: inter-neighbour relations and the syntax of complaint in early 20th century London
    Anna Robinson (University of East London)

Anna has been researching the history of her flat – a one bedroom former tenement designed by Octavia Hill in 1903. Through this research she stumbled upon some letters of complaint in an archive. Through these letters Anna will reveal the main concerns and antagonisms between neighbours in the early 20th century.

  • Asylums and their Communities: Mental Health Patients and their Families during the First World War
    Caroline Nielsen (IHR, University of London)

In 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War, over 100,000 men, women and children lived in psychiatric asylums. Caroline’s research explores how the First World War fundamentally affected the lives of these vulnerable people and their families.

  • Contested Knowledge in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.
    Bob Taylor (Birkbeck, University of London)

Bob’s research is focused on a 1st century Roman scientific work called The Natural History. His interests include Roman knowledge and its construction by those who have left no written evidence. He asks how knowledge was generated and contested in a Roman farm, or before a battle in Macedonia, or in a herb-garden.

  • Velvet Fist: Uncovering the History of the London Socialist Feminist Choir
    Rosa Kurowska Kyffin (Beyond Past)

In 2014, Beyond Past, a social enterprise for youth oral history projects, facilitated interviews with the London based socialist feminist choir, Velvet Fist, by a group of year 10 Tower Hamlets pupils. Rosa will explore the history of the choir and reflect upon the potential of young people as community researchers and oral history interviewers.

Saturday 1 August 2015
History Going Places
History is always moving and these talks will explore how, whether it is presented by experimental history trails or focused on the history of migration through the lens of community projects or works of fiction and biography.
4pm-5:30pm

  • Moving Stories
    Judith Garfield MBE & Claire Days (Eastside Community Heritage)

Eastside Community Heritage has accumulated a fascinating collection of oral histories. As part of Shuffle they want to share some of the Jewish, Hungarian and Ugandan stories of migration they have collected. ECH will highlight the importance of oral history in gaining new insights into history and education.

  • Forced Walks: Honouring Esther….an instant case study
    Richard White (Bath Spa University/Forced Walks)

Richard will be discussing a project that used an artist-led performative and socially engaged public walk to transpose a Nazi death march on to the English countryside. This project sought to connect history with place to reveal obscured stories and generate contemporary responses. Richard will discuss the project, how they used social media and subsequent responses.

  • “but I am Price from Glynmawr”
    Stephen Woodhams

South Wales almost uniquely in Europe witnessed net in-migration in the decades around 1900. While the subject of continuous study, in South Wales that history is lived too through biography, the novel and poetry. The talk explores this interweaving of written forms through Raymond Williams’ acclaimed novel Border Country.

  • Stepney: Profile of a London Borough
    Samantha Patterson

Samantha’s focus is on a specifically defined area, Stepney, rather than the vague area of the ‘East End’ which is open to interpretation. Stepney, an iconic London borough situated in the heart of the East End, has many well-known associations and images, but would you knowingly associate them with Stepney?

A Tale of Three Conferences

The winning photo from the Social History Society Conference photo competition

I do love a conference.

What I particularly love is that they are a type of event that is not restricted by topic or audience. They could easily just be elitist events for historians to get together and show off how amazing their research is, and this can happen, but even the big conferences are not just for or about the history elite. Most give time and space for students and new researchers to present their work, others are dedicated solely to the work of students and my favourite type of conference are the ones open to everyone, the type that actively welcome those outside academia.

Over the space of four weeks in March/April 2014 I managed to attend three conferences. Two were hosted by esteemed academic history journals and the third was a small one day event specifically aimed at graduates. All aimed at an academic audience, (the ‘public history’ style of conference I mentioned above occur less often but I hope to attend Unofficial Histories again this year, my blog about last year is here And if you know of any others do let me know).

After attending these conferences I wanted to use this blog to think about and share my experiences of the different events, particularly in the context of being a PhD student, in the hope that they might be useful to others.

I’ve learnt many new things and met many interesting people at conferences but they can also be exhausting and expensive occasions, so sending in a paper proposal or attending can be a big decision. As a PhD student I’m normally lucky enough to get a reduced rate to attend and some societies offer funding. Though I do worry about how much this cost will go up once I’m no longer a student, but the financial burdens for early career researchers and historians (or ECRs) is for another time.

The three conferences were the Economic History Society Conference (EHSC) held at Warwick University, the Social History Society Conference (SHSC) held at Northumbria University and the London Nineteenth Century Studies Seminar Graduate Conference held at Senate House, London. I was presenting a paper at the latter two, and had decided to attend the EHSC with the idea that I might submit a paper to it next year.

Paper Proposals

Now, submitting papers is an interesting process and can vary between each conference. For the EHSC you need to submit something by the September before the conference, which is normally in March. Being organised is key, especially as they also tend to want the full paper by December. There was no way that was going to happen at the end of 2013 for me, (but I’m hoping to submit something this year). Having said that I did submit my paper proposal to the SHSC in October. I knew I would have more time to write the paper in the new year, but I also felt that the topic was much better suited to the SHSC than EHSC.

The themes and aims of the conference are important, there is definitely not a one size fits all approach to paper proposals and considering both of these conferences are quite large annual events I wanted to feel confident in my research. In contrast the London 19th Century Studies Graduate conference was advertised as a friendly student focused event, so my paper proposal for this leaned towards ‘work in progress’. I wanted to use the pressure of the event to make me focus back on the areas of current work for my PhD but also try out a few ideas and see if the other students had any thoughts on this.

Presenting Papers

Regarding presenting papers the EHSC and SHSC take different approaches. For EHSC the new researchers start the conference which  is useful as it (hopefully) produces a friendly (and sympathetic?) environment for new researchers together, and also gives the judges a chance to see and assess the new researchers prize at an allotted time. The SHSC integrate established and new researchers together which is slightly scary but also gives you a great opportunity to meet established historian in a similar field if you’re presenting together. I also think it gives a bit more credence to the student’s work and potentially gets you a bigger audience. Saying that the new researcher sessions I went to at EHSC did appear to be attended by established historians who had decided to go to sessions to see what the new blood was doing. The EHSC also print your paper in the huge conference booklet so even if people don’t manage to attend the new researchers papers they can still read them.

Both EHSC and SHSC wanted twenty minute papers, but the 19th Century Studies Graduate conference was just ten minutes. I’m still quite new to writing and giving papers, and fitting what you want to say in 20 minutes is hard, so I found the 10 minutes a real challenge. I also didn’t put together a PowerPoint presentation as discussing slides in my 20 minute paper had pushed me over the time limit. Though the advantage of the 10 minutes is that it really makes you focus and simplify. It’s always important to think about your audience and assuming they know nothing about your topic I found helped me filter what was important.

I was impressed how many people talked to their PowerPoint and didn’t read from a script at the EHSC conference, that is something I’d like to eventually do. Some presenters also did this at the SHSC conference, but I think most of us read from a script, which also happened at the graduate conference. Seeing so many great presentations also brought home how much I need to work on my style and nerves, I had a tension headache after my 10 minute paper, but hopefully confidence will come with the more papers I give.

The Social Side

A part from the scholarship one of the most important aspects to these events is the socialising. Meeting people and chatting, discussing research as well as academic life and any other topics is not only useful for ‘networking’ but also for learning more about life as a historian.It can often feel that everyone knows everyone else at these events, but the only way you get to know others is by talking to them. I’m still awful at going up to strangers and talking to them, but constantly amazed at how receptive most people are.

The graduate conference was just for the day and due to the headache I wasn’t able to stay for the wine, but thankfully the day had been well designed with lots of breaks for sorely needed coffee and biscuits. The other two were over the course of a few days and there were evening events organised with, of course, a conference dinner. At both I just went to the conference dinner, but I think attending all the events would be useful for meeting people and was often a bit jealous when people discussed the other social events. Cost is obviously an implication but you could tell both conferences made a point of trying to put on cheap or free events and twitter is a fabulous tool for organising a #tweetup and the like. I’ve found twitter increasingly useful at these types of events, there is normally a hashtag to follow and increasingly I’ve started conversations with complete strangers with ‘Do I follow you on twitter?’. (Thankfully I have been right and not just sounded weird.) Twitter is also a useful way to keep in contact with other conference delegates you’ve met but don’t really have a reason to email.

What have I learnt

So what do I take from this? With so many types of conferences going on there is bound to be something that will fit your topic, but consideration is needed concerning the audience and demands of the conference. Breaks and social occasions are just as important and the schedule for papers. If students and new researchers are going to be kept separate ensure the students’ papers are well advertised and at a good time. Finally social media is a great tool to meet those at the conference as well as those who couldn’t attend.

I’ve tried to summarise some thoughts here and hope other students, historians & non-historians find it useful, but please share any other thoughts or comments you have about attending conferences and history related events.

Museomix Diary 4: Sunday

So here it was, Day 3: D-Day aka Delivery Day.

We had some stuff to finish off, animation, attaching the speaker to the pot and bits and pieces. (I got to help Emma with the animation for the interlude section – bubbling blubber – great fun!) We also tried to update the website, and Mark, our tech team-member, worked really hard to finish the programming for the sensor. It was finished, and worked, but unfortunately too late to use the sensor on gallery.

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Programming at work – the sensor would trigger these arms to start the main poem & animation or the holding animation.

We did manage to get the animation and audio on gallery and I had the pleasure of being there to hear the feedback. It was generally very positive. It was great seeing wide-eyed children peer into the pot and adults lean forward into the object to get closer to the audio and animation. Through the guided tours we were also able to give people some background information on the concept and how we could see it being used in reality.

Usefully, not all of it was glowing praise and we did get some constructive feedback. We knew the sound quality wasn’t great and if rolled out there should be back-up speakers to transmit the audio more clearly (in fact one of the coaches tried to get us an extension to plug two speakers in at the same time, but, alas, it did not work). I think the coaches did understand that we saw the value in using the pot as a speaker, especially as you could feel the vibration through the object. (It really did come to life!)

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As well as the visitors and those part of MuseomixUK, I was so grateful for the enthusiasm of the guys that worked on the front desk of the Museum of Iron. Alongside Dominic they also felt like extra members of the team, and we really appreciated their enthusiasm for what we were trying to do.

Thankfully I was able to run round and check out some of the other groups’ creations as well, and what can I say – they were spectacular! The group with the furnace created wonderful audio and visual that put fire back in the furnace. Magic hands brought new dimensions to the large 3D model map in the Museum of Iron, it was the first time I’d used this technology and was amazed my finger could project light! The ‘It’s In the Bag’ group’s family trail looked like so much fun, and who wouldn’t want to do some interpretive dance in a museum?! Unfortunately I didn’t get  a chance to check out the groups in Enginuity, but from their presentations they had big plans for water power display, and the other group was introducing super powers to the gallery! Finally you should check out the wonderful app, Iron Insight – it’s astounding how much content they got into the app so quickly and it really brought the sites together.

All too soon it was over and on the train home I was pretty tired but so happy I was part of the #MuseomixUK weekend and become a Museomixer! I took so much from it. So thanks to Mar and all the teams of organisers, coaches, techy support and web support. We could not have asked for more friendly and imaginative guidance – you guys were the bedrock of all of our amazing creations.

Our team by our talented team member, Emma Metcalf

Our team by our talented team member, Emma Metcalf

But most importantly thanks to my team for your inspiration, challenging conversions and eager participation. I think we achieved something great (this includes Dominic and the front of house guy at Ironbridge).

Finally for more information about what we and the other groups created and what we got up do whilst creating it check out some of these links:

http://www.museomix.org/en/localisation/shropshire-2013/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/museomixuk/with/10780517864/

http://www.youtube.com/user/museomixUK

Mar Dixon’s blog looking back over the weekend: http://www.mardixon.com/wordpress/tag/museomix/

Frankie Roberto‘s blog looking at how they made the Iron Insight App: http://www.frankieroberto.com/museomix-2013

Matthew Whittaker‘s honest account of the weekend working on the Iron Insight App: https://plus.google.com/112567883397519086111/posts/fAPeJu22WiX

There are also Storify compilations of the #museomixUK see: http://storify.com/museomixUK & http://storify.com/mattdawhit/museomix-uk

For a lovely summary of the final day and all the prototypes see Virtual Shropshire‘s video below:

For previous diary entries see Thursday’s here, Friday’s here and Saturday’s here.

Museomix Diary 3: Saturday

Day Two: Dreams to Production

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Strangely I found the second day a lot less stressful. I say strangely as one of our group threatened to walk out a few hours into the day. The important point though, is that they didn’t, they came back and as a team we got on with the project.

Why did they consider walking out? I’m not entirely sure if I’m honest, but on reflection I think it might have been related to a lack of knowledge and understanding of what certain jobs would entail. For many of us making what we thought was a simple suggestion to the exhibit could result in a lot of work for others, I’m specifically thinking of programming here, but this could apply across job roles. From personal experience when people suggest an exhibition’s period should increase (say covering 1800-1900 instead of 1800-1850) they don’t often appreciate the amount of extra research that will need to be done.

An important lesson was learnt.

But a member walking out wasn’t our only problem. Others felt we weren’t being innovative enough, and again they probably had a point. This would not be the first time an animation with a voice over would be used in a museum. However, thanks to Mar and coaches, I think we were able to come to a consensus that innovation is relative and an exhibit like this had not been seen at the Museum of Iron before. Moreover, I strongly felt that giving the pot a voice and using it as a conduit to tell the story was innovative. Someone the previous evening had mentioned ‘Take One’ as an example of museums and galleries using an object as a gateway to other stories and collections. We were certainly using that premise, but we had developed it so that the pot would be telling it story, gathering people around it to hopefully think and reflect on purpose it was designed for and how that placed Coalbrookdale in global history and economy – you can tell I was loving our idea and our pot.

In any case, I really enjoyed the day. We got on with the exhibit, and I really this felt like the most creative day.

Projection in the pot

Projection in the pot

A part from the management of roles and expectations our first hurdle in regards to the exhibition was the question of projection. Could we project an animation into a black cast iron pot? To our complete surprise you could! No only that, but it looked really good!

For me the next question was content. It was quickly apparent that as we were looking at audio the content could not be much longer than 30 seconds to hold visitors’ attention. I was working with Laura and after reading aloud the text I was putting together, we thought it all sounded a bit dry and boring. The realisation that Coalbrookdale rhymed with whale resulted in the decision to write a poem rather than straight narrative. This was one of our eureka moments, as this would work a lot better with an animation, not that we knew what the animation looked like yet, and it could convey ideas and messages quickly and succinctly.

By the end of the day we had most of an animation and two poems. Two, because as well as writing our very simple poem we enlisted the talents of Matthew Ward, aka @HistoryNeedsYou. He leant us his voice and took our poem at a starting point to write a far more sophisticated version. It really is beautiful, and you can find it here. However, subsequent discussions within the team led to the decision that we would use our simple poem, partly because we hoped the simple language might make it more accessible to children but principally because it was shorter.

Consequently Emma and Caroline used our lyrics to create the storyboard for the animation. We were very fortunate to have the talented Emma on our team and her artistic vision really brought the project together. You’d never guess that none of us had done animation before, but Caroline and Emma set to its creation with fantastic results.

After a day of stress and worry we had a day of productivity. We also started to reach outside the group for help, and we have to say thank you to Dominic from Mixed Reality – whose technical and practical knowledge was indispensable. Dominic also provided something that began key to our display – the speaker! It was something we hadn’t even considered, but this clever device used the surface it sits on to amplify sound, if we attached this to the pot, the pot would become a speaker! Genius!!

Below is the video that Ralph put together for the evening presentations. I should also mention that Mark was working hard on the programming for the sensor throughout the day. Unfortunately this was a lonely job and I (unhelpfully) kept telling him how useless I felt that I couldn’t help (doubly unhelpful).

Well I hope the video gives an idea of what were were trying to achieve, and here is a link to all the other prototype videos here.

For previous diary entries see Thursday’s entry here and Friday’s here.

Museomix Diary 2: Friday

Day One: Ideas & Emotion

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The Iron fountain made for the Great Exhibition in 1851, the furnace is in the background

We were up early and raring to go. After the delight of receiving badges, colour coded medals (mine was pink for content), coffee and a muffin, we were off on tours of the site.

After these brilliant tours by the Ironbridge staff I had the conflict of whether to pitch an idea or not. I soon had a couple of ideas, but nothing fully formed. However, cometh the hour, either a similar idea was pitched or an idea was pitched that I wanted to be involved in. Either way I talked myself out of pitching. Rubbish me, but lots of respect to those who did pitch.

There were at least three projects I wanted to work on, and was fortunate that two of those merged (workers and objects). Bingo!

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The team!
From top left: Mark, Emma, Me, Ralph. Bottom left: Caroline & Laura
From @MuseomixUK

I was in a team (#MMUK3) and we were going to focus on objects and try to tell personal stories from them – bloody awesome!

After this excitement the rest of the day was hard work, in fact, at times, it felt like a full on struggle, and, to be honest, I was a little amazed we had something to present on by the end of the day.

Reflecting on the day from my cosy bed that evening, I think I can appreciate how much creativity there was around the table. But there were times it felt like we’d hit a wall, awkward silences and steely looks, it seemed nothing could get a team consensus. We’d all (including myself) be picking problems with almost every idea. It felt like the tech guy didn’t like tech, others were becoming obsessed with the Great Exhibition and we couldn’t see the people in the stories. The coaches called on the librarian and curators to help us and at times I was convinced we were the problem group – the one’s who needed ‘special’ help.

However, it did all help, and something I’ve learnt from that day was that it does help to talk ideas through. Even if the ideas are picked apart, deemed in practicable or without the ability to translate a narrative, it was wonderful to hear new ideas and see people get excited about an exhibit. I also realised that I’m not very visual, I think I rely a lot of text, audio and perhaps physical. I was always going back to the content and the physical presence of the object – these are clearly the areas important to me, but it was great seeing others conjure images and concepts from physical & visual. I suppose this is the benefit of having people with different backgrounds working together.

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The Whaling Pot!

In any case we did it, we had an idea. Inevitably it was something we had started with – the Coalbrookdale pot. Finally, I think it was returning to the low-lit gallery that helped. It felt like we were discovering these objects for the first time. The large whaling pot at the entrance of the museum had a presence for us and gave us something to work with.

On top of that all the talking (and silences) had helped us determine some principles. We didn’t want tech to get in the way of interpreting the object – holding a device to look at an object would take away from being close and looking at the object yourself. Also, we wanted something tactile, we were talking about mechanical levers to get the animation in the pot going, but ultimately we wanted people up code and personal with the pot. If we could get people to reach in or put they’re head in the pot we were winning.

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The initial idea on paper.

So, we were able to present an idea at the end of the day to everyone else, and even got some positive feedback from the coaches. Things were looking up.

Now, was the development the hard part or the easy part? I’d find out on Saturday!

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The evening presentation from @DianaPitchers

See previous diary entries here.

The Issue of Ageing

The Life and Age of Man

‘What Is Old Age’? Conference, Warwick University

On the 23 February 2013 I went to a multi-discipline conference organised by Emily Andrews at Warwick University, looking at the question of ‘What is Old Age?’ The conference saw speakers from a variety of background, including literary studies, anthropology and history, discussing their work and contributing their research towards an attempt to answer the central question of ‘what is old age?’

In addition to this being a very topical area of discussion, my interest in the subject comes from my PhD research into civil service and occupational pensions in the nineteenth century and found the variety of approaches and subject matters inspiring. Just two examples of these varied sessions were the anthropological research into the ageing workforce in the Trinidad garment industry and the challenges of writing fiction focused on a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Rebecca Prentice’s work in Trinidad was fascinating, a contemporary examination of the older workers’ relationships with their body, these women accepted that their eyesight would be damaged by their work but also saw this damage as having a wider influence is gaining support from family or the state. With the increasing neo-liberal leaning of the state it was also interesting that the workers were reconsidering their relationship with the state and deciding they should rely on their own resources to support themselves.

The written word is central to how our social science and humanities subjects communicate so it was refreshing to listen to a paper focused on the art of writing. Though it was focused on writing fiction the amount of consideration and planning was a reminder of the importance of how we communicate our meaning and that there are different ways to do this. This was exemplified in Naomi Kruger’s paper by looking at how you write in first person with the voice of someone with developing Alzheimer’s disease. This paper and other sessions such as Hannah Zeilig, who highlighted the range of techniques available for storytelling, has really made me consider taking a creative writing course to see if it would bring any benefits to writing for my PhD or in my museum day job.

In addition to methodology and theory some of these sessions pointed me towards sources I wouldn’t have looked at before, Helen Small’s opening key note discussed the importance of Susan Sontag’s The Double Standard of Aging written in 1972 to the social sciences, and Dr Zeilig emphasised the work of Samuel Beckett’s plays in portraying perceptions of age, important for not portraying age as the other. Benoît Majerus focused on the Leroque report published in 1962, though it was never implemented it has inserted old age into the political dialogue in France, but also set the pessimistic tone continued today.

In almost all sessions, regardless of discipline, the importance of the use of language was clear and this was underlined by Andrea Charise when looking at recent perceptions of the old age and the use of wet language. Journalist reports and even public health documents have been using phrases such as the ‘Grey Tsunami’ or the ‘rising tide’ when discussing the global issue of greater numbers of people living longer. Continually using this apocalyptic language it is inevitable that a pessimistic perception of this situation develops, exemplified in popular culture through work such as Never Let Me Go, which Charise used as an example of the negative sublime.

I found the historical sessions were very good at providing some context to challenge this contemporary pessimistic view that was being demonstrated by speakers in policy and culture. Pat Thane’s excellent key note clearly demonstrated that there was never a golden age to be old, and that many of the fears and worries we have today were felt by generations before us. People have been living to into their 60s, 80s and even 100s since ancient times and though the average life expectancy was 40 in the 18th century this would have been affected by the high child mortality rates. Lyn Botelho’s paper looking at aging in the 17th century had demonstrated that the idea of a ‘good’ old age had become to mean financial independence at this time, and Prof Thane showed through folk tales and patterns of migrationary work that the relationship between parents and their adult children could be a complicated on. Folk tales warned of manipulative and ungrateful children mistreating ageing parents and during times of limited communication networks, if someone left to find work they could easily never be seen or heard from again.

It was also important to see older people as givers, not just receivers within our society. Prof Thane pointed to the economic benefits provided through the intergenerational relationships of lending money and providing free child care. Emily Andrew’s paper looked at how nineteenth psychiatrists and psychologists saw old age, and the general perception is that of ‘second childhood’ seeing old age as degenerative, however people such as James Critchton-Browne argued that intellectual prime was only reached in years 55 to 65 and proved this himself by continuing to write into his 90s, dying at the age of 97.

Finally society’s conflicting relationship with age was also demonstrated in Susanne Stoddart’s paper looking at the representation of the new pensioners under the 1911 pensions Act. The papers often depicted sympathetic images of poor widows or disabled old men in queues to receive their first pensions. They also reported the crowds that gathered to show their support. However, as Soddart demonstrated these celebratory images cannot be taken as face value, many newspaper had political sympathises and wanted to help champion this new policy and persuade the general public this was worth supporting. Furthermore the suspicions of the poor still remained as some comments were passed regarding pensioners visiting public houses. So, it is not surprising that though the shame and stigma of the poor law was seen to have gone, some pensioners chose to collect their pension not from their local post office, but from a larger more anonymous central office.

The conflicting relationship with how we view older people and what relationship we expect them to have with society and society with them continues today. A report published on 14th March 2013 does thankfully acknowledge the large benefits of older people to society, but also warns that the country is unprepared for the increased numbers of people living longer. Through asking ‘What is Old Age?’ on 23 February I think we started a discussion that policy-makers could probably find a lot of value, and if I could share anything with them would be the removal of the sense of other and projection of a problem area. Communication and discussion is key and yes, financial aspects are central to this, but policy is more than just sums.

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Links:

Ready for Ageing? – Select Committee report on Public Service and Demographic Change: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/public-services-committee/report-ready-for-ageing/

NewStatesman article ‘The Grey Tsunami’: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/economics/2012/04/grey-tsunami

‘An Age Old Age Debate’, blog by Emily Andrews: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/knowledge/culture/oldage/

The History and Policy website have a few articles and policy engagement articles on pensions & social care: http://www.historyandpolicy.org/

The Importance of the History of Portobello Road Market Today

Jesse Smith's Greengrocers and Florists, now where Admiral Vernon Antiques Arcade on Portobello Road. HistoryTalk

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve attended two of the free history events held by North Kensington’s community history group, HistoryTalk. Both of these events have looked at Portobello Market, the first consisted of a community discussion on the history of the market. Discussion was prompted by a slide show of photographs of Portobello through the years and led by two local historians, Eddie Adams and Tom Vague. The lack of a structured talk didn’t diminish the obvious knowledge and expertise of Adams and Vague, but allowed the group to discuss memories, ask questions and generally express their love of the area. I learnt a lot, including that the Antiques arcade ‘Admiral Vernon’, used to be a large greengrocers and florists called Jesse Smith’s, and also where Tesco’s is now used to be a dairy, run by recent Welsh arrivals to the area. Immigrant communities have been central to Portobello’s history, to its development and character, and though I knew about the Spanish community escaping Franco’s regime and Civil War, and of course the West Indian community, but I didn’t know there has also been a Welsh community of settlers who ran the local dairies.

The second event was a screening of the film ‘Stall Stories: A History of Portobello Road Market‘. This was billed as a documentary made by the children at the local Colville Primary School, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Needless to say I was very impressed. We learnt afterwards that the film was a result of a HLF funded project led by an arts and educational charity, Digital:Works, which worked with four primary schools to make a film about their local market. The children did the research in the archives, spoke to local historians and then made the film, which meant they conducted the interviews and filmed them, their involvment didn’t reach into the cutting room, though they were shown a rough edit to give them a chance to make any changes. Some of the children who were involved came to the screening and also answered questions on the making of the film afterwards, and it was really inspirational to see the joy and pride they got out of the process, not only were they proud of their finished product but they also clearly enjoyed the historical research and practice of oral history. I was overjoyed when one of the girls said if she had to make another similar film her topic would be local black history, mentioning Claudia Jones and Kelso Cochrane.

What was also notable about the film, was that it wasn’t just a straight narrative history, it demonstrated the significance of history to the present day and the strong sense of heritage today’s stall holders felt. Stall holders past and present where the celebrated feature of the film and were presented as being responsible for creating and sustaining the character of the area. It made a strong case for why Portobello should continue to be a place for local independent traders, with a regret for the continued increase in rents and establishment of corporate chains along the road.

The film tells an emotive story and records a snapshot of life on the market today. It was good to hear that after it was made it was not only shown to the filmakers’ fellow students at Colville, but also to the market holders working on the market day by setting up a screening on it’s own stall one weekend. Some of the audience felt it needed to be shown to local Councillors, and I’m sure it does have some political strength, though I think it can also act as an inspiration to other children. History on TV, in a variety of forms, is at an all time high, from ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ to ‘Downton Abbey’, and work like this can encourage students to engage with history in an alternative way, as well as giving them training and ideas of how historical research and knowledge could be useful in a future career.

As you can see I liked the film, so it would be wrong of me not to share it, so please find it below. It would also be wrong of me not to mention that there is a campaign to ‘Save Portobello’ from the torrent of commercial chains and retain its historic character, more information can be found on the campaign’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-the-Portobello-Road-Market/300902793992

The project has also looked at Brixton, Leather Lane and Petticoat Lane, you can find more information at their website: http://www.stallstories.org.uk/

Also for more information on HistoryTalk and their events go here: http://www.historytalk.org/

Finally some articles on the Save Portobello campaign:
http://kensington.londoninformer.co.uk/2011/10/antiques-traders-fear-for-futu.html (18 Oct 2011)
http://www.frockery.co.uk/talk/environment/portobello-road-market-help-save-a-national-treasure (12 Nov 2010)
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23824413-campaigners-claim-victory-in-battle-to-save-portobello-market.do (14 April 2010)
http://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/7482.aspx  (22 March 2010)