Condemned to Become: the Future of the Past in Berlin

colla prizeMarcus Colla is a final year PhD student at the University of Cambridge. His research looks at the legacy of the Prussian state in communist East Germany. Marcus was awarded the Alexander Prize for 2018 for his article ‘Prussian Palimpsests: Architecture and Urban Spaces in East Germany, 1945-1961,’ Central European History, Vol. 50, (2017), 184-217. Here, he considers how Berlin has dealt with its contested past in its urban landscape.

In 1910, the critic Karl Scheffler memorably described Berlin as a city ‘condemned forever to become and never to be’: a site in perpetual and restless flux, ever-transfiguring itself into something new. Today, massive projects such as the expansion of the government quarter and the ill-starred international airport bear testament to the city’s latest transformation, this time into a truly national capital and a cosmopolitan centre of culture.

But Berlin’s new urban identity is not geared to the future alone. At the city’s historic core, the €600 million ‘reconstruction’ of the eighteenth-century City Palace is now nearing completion. As a historian concerned with the fate of historic architecture in post-war Germany, this project raises a number of fascinating questions about the way that the capital of the reunified state has dealt with its contested past in its urban landscape. My research explores the demolition of a number of buildings after 1945 that have in recent years reappeared on the streetscapes of Berlin and Potsdam – the City Palace included. But can an understanding of these buildings’ histories help explain why they are now being resurrected?

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The Fernsehturm. Credit: Polaroidville on Unsplash

There are many layers to the history of the site of the City Palace: once the seat of the Prussian Kings and German Emperors, the original structure was demolished by the communist government of East Germany (the GDR) in 1950. On its foundations they ultimately built the Palast der Republik (‘Palace of the Republic’) – a distinctively 1970s construction that served as both the seat of the GDR’s rubber-stamp parliament and a social and entertainment complex. But with the demise of their regime in 1990, the Palast itself was rendered aesthetically and functionally obsolete. Packed with asbestos, it finally met the wrecker’s ball in 2008. The Palast’s departure left unheeded the protests of many Ossis (‘Easties’) and their supporters, who perceived in this round of demolition a concerted attempt by imperious Westerners to erase East Germany’s history from the narrative of the new, unified state.

Now, the City Palace is re-emerging as the ‘Humboldt Forum’: a museum and research space whose dedication to world cultures and ethnology is designed to capture modern Germany’s forward-looking, cosmopolitan identity. In the temporal kaleidoscope of twenty-first century Germany, past, present and future are densely entangled. .

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West facade of the new Berlin City Palace (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The physical resurrection of the Palace has not been able to silence criticism entirely. For a site so pregnant with cultural potential, many Berliners are astonished by the lack of imagination the project betrays. Future generations, some muse, may be mystified by what they see. Will they falsely perceive the building as an authentic emblem of a baroque Berlin, a quaint antique of the city’s Prussian past? Or will they see it as a distinctly twenty-first century phenomenon; a curious postmodern composite born of nostalgia and cultural apathy?

Or is there perhaps something more radical and even ‘anti-historical’ at play? The reconstruction of the Palace, after all, has not just entailed the obliteration of the Palast der Republik: by symbolically reversing the original destruction of 1950, it also seeks to right a perceived historical wrong. Back in 1991, the historian and journalist Joachim Fest expressed a common sentiment when he argued that ‘if the destruction of the Palace was supposed to symbolise the victory’ of communism, then ‘reconstruction would symbolise its failure’. This represented a longing for ‘authenticity’, motivated by a desire for permanence and finality after a century of war and division. Berlin, such critics pleaded, must finally be allowed to ‘be’.

Sadly for these critics, the conflict over the past is not one that can be won or lost. As future visitors to Berlin will doubtless appreciate, history has a tenacious capacity to reassert itself. If one stands today at the western edge of the new City Palace, one is met by a striking vista. Before you, the palace’s cupola ascends elegantly from a mire of cranes and scaffolds, while the colossal dome of the Berlin Cathedral sparkles just a few metres to the north. The historic confluence of royal and spiritual power could not be more boldly expressed. But there, rising in the background between both structures, is the distinctive silhouette of the Fernsehturm: a 368m space-age needle that bespeaks communism’s lost dreams of technological and creative supremacy. Like laughter secreting from the coffin of history, it will haunt the backdrop of every photograph hence. Over one hundred years of trauma may separate Scheffler’s observation from the Berlin of today, but it continues to bear a sobering truth: Berlin is not a city that can simply be.

Mobile Emotions

Dr Katie Barclay won the Royal Historical Society’s 2018 David Berry Prize for her essay on love and friendship amongst lower order men in eighteenth-century Scotland. Here she reflects on the larger project that the essay emerged from and its insights for contemporary academic emotional economies.

barclay.jpgThis week, as well as writing this blogpost for the RHS, I am working on a book chapter on the emotional economies of migrant workers – the vagrants, chapbook wo/men, and door to door salespeople that were a feature of the early modern European landscape. Of interest to me is how an economy and ‘lifestyle’ that relied on the hospitality and charity of the wider community shaped the personal lives and relationships of this key group, and the ways that such mobility informed a particular understanding of the early modern self. It is a history that reflects on the capacity of individuals to find a ‘place’ on their journeys through time and space, but also of the emotional and practical labour involved in such placements. My work particularly focuses on Scotland, my homeland, but a home left behind in my own itinerant travels as a worker in the modern academic landscape.

The inspiration for this post was a request from the RHS blog editors to reflect on the research challenges of being a Scottish historian, currently based in Australia, and with a career that has required significant mobility as I – like much of the modern academy – has sought to find an institutional home. I suspect this may have been a request to reflect on the importance of a decent camera to enabling research to move swiftly on short trips back to archives located thousands of miles from your residence (very important – an iPhone won’t cut it), but, as a historian of emotion and mobility, I interpreted it as a moment to reflect on the themes that drive my research – of emotion, mobility, place, community.

I submitted my PhD in 2007, graduated in 2008. I was offered a permanent – continuing as Australian’s style it – contract in 2017, after ten years of post-qualification scholarly life. In many ways, it has been a remarkable career – ten years of full-time, well paid, research ‘only’ work, before finally moving into a standard teaching/research contract. Most of it has been supported by research fellowships that not only paid my wages but provided funds to enable travel between the place where I worked and that which held the source material for my research. I am very privileged. Yet, as I have noted elsewhere, even for those of us who find ourselves at the ‘top’ of the ladder, a decade of insecure work – work that relies on a process of constant achievement of the next paper, the next book, the next grant – has its own particular tolls on mental and bodily health. As part of a broader system of ‘precarity’ – economic insecurity – living on research fellowships acts as a slow wearing of the self, an erosion of the ability to find comfort and particularly to find place.

The converse of this, of course, is that humans are pretty good at finding place. Histories of mobility and migration have highlighted the ways that movement can be destabilising and that the labour involved in placing roots, finding familiarity, producing ‘home’ is real and significant. But it also highlights the success of migrant communities, their ability to adapt to new landscapes, environments and economies, to make connections with other migrants and local communities, not least ties of love and family. Mobile migrant workers are perhaps particularly interesting in this respect as a group who often tramp the same routes, stay with the same people, build relationships and friendships built on an openness to newcomers but bounded by strict rules of hospitality that encourage onward movement. Thus, even for the very mobile, some sort of ‘place’ was often enabled within these communities, if not for everyone.

For the modern academic – and in many other industries too – mobility is hailed as a social and economic good. The conservative impulses that tighten borders, limit visas, and restrict movement are regarded unfavourably, for lacking business sense as well as their racism. New scholars are not only warned that mobility will likely be vital if they wish to remain with the academy but are sold it as a research good – it will broaden their experiences, produce new research networks, deepen knowledge and understanding. (That the ability to move is a privilege that those bound to place and people cannot achieve is often ignored). And the benefits of moving are all true. One of the wonderful things about having worked in Scotland, England, Ireland, Australia and Denmark and experienced seven institutions is the relationships I have built, the insight I have gained into academic practices and cultures, and benefits these have brought to my research findings.

Yet, one of the challenges of mobility is also that building relationships takes significant labour and it produces real emotional connections – we might call them friendships – that are severed, if not entirely, with every move. Finding a place in a new institution also involves by necessity a period of unsettling and settling – those moments of trying to find your new routine, learn new faces, figure out your role in a new set of group dynamics, and ultimately build the bonds that enable communities to function. It is a process that is underpinned by an experience of being out of place and its attendant anxieties and over-thinking, a mental experience that can be likened to the muscle pains of trying a new set of exercises at the gym. Over time, you even learn to identify that experience – to know that this process of settling is what is involved in finding ‘place’ – but it doesn’t seem to make it any easier.

Like any bodily labour, it also has larger impacts on the self. With every move, the labour of finding place seems harder, the desire to do it again reduces. The longer you stay in one place the more comfortable you become and the more the idea of leaving impacts on your general wellbeing, on the sense of precarity produced by insecure labour. I am sure some may say that such a comfort produces complacency. And maybe it does. But bodies need time to rest and recover. They also need the security that being in ‘place’ and having community enables – a community that is generally not formed by long cultural beliefs about family obligation to its members – but through the emotional labour we do with those around us when we arrive. Thus mobility becomes a remarkable privilege, not accessible to all and with real benefits and pleasures, but also a form of work that contributes to the challenges of negotiating the precarious economy.

For highly mobile workforces, and many of the institutions I have been part of contain as many or more migrants as locals, the mobility of the academy also has implications for institutional cultures. The people you meet at work are not just colleagues but become your family, your support network, your safety net. If we currently complain that the expectations of the current academy are unsustainable for a life beyond it, mobility further dislocates you from the world outside – making bonds beyond are not impossible but the labour far harder, requiring more effort. At its best, it is a system where you find family at work, but at its worst, it reinforces the abuses of the dysfunctional home. Such emotional bonds complicate lines of power, heighten disagreements between colleagues, and lead to romantic connections in places where the ethically-minded might suggest they should not be. This too is what it means to find ‘place’ in the academy.

I return then to my eighteenth-century mobile workers and I wonder whether the rules of hospitality and charity that enabled such movement were any less fraught, less challenging, than they are today. I reflect on the ways that their emotional economies might have also produced precarious selves, exhausted not just by the journey but the emotional labour that it required en route. Yet, as I reflect on the relationships I have made in the institutions I call home, I also remember the rewards of such expansive networks, of ties and connections that cross borders, and of the charity and hospitality that are as vital to the functioning of university cultures, as the research.

Dr Katie Barclay is a Senior Lecturer in the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions and Department of History, University of Adelaide. You can follow her on Twitter @KatieEBarclay.


Top image: from R. R. McIan, Gaelic Gatherings; or The Highlanders at Home (1848).

Propose a Camden Volume

RHS Literary Director Andrew Spicer explains the process of proposing a volume to our Camden Series of edited primary sources.


The Royal Historical Society publishes two volumes in the Camden Series each year, more than 325 have appeared to date. But the Society is always on the look-out for new proposals! The aim of the series is to make available to historians, researchers and students, editions of historical sources or unpublished manuscript material on an aspect of British history. Each volume is peer-reviewed and is accompanied by a scholarly introduction to the subject and the material.

The Camden Series predates the RHS: some 160 volumes were published by the Camden Society, established in 1838 ‘for the publication of early historical and literary remains’. The societies amalgamated in the late nineteenth century with the first two jointly published volumes – the papers of Sir Edmund Nicholas, and on the Archpriest Controversy – appearing in 1897. The chronological range of the series has broadened out from the initial focus on the medieval and early modern periods to embrace the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and since the 1980s, the twentieth century as well, up to the observations of the archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. As part of the RHS’ 150th anniversary last year, we worked with Cambridge University Press to make a collection of volumes from the series freely available.

The term ‘British’ history is rather broadly defined. It encompasses not only sources relating to individuals and institutions within the islands of Britain and Ireland but has also come to include British interests – whether diplomatic, legal, military, political, religious, etc. – outside the archipelago as well as the affairs and activities of Britons and Irish people overseas. The series is also becoming more inclusive – although there is always plenty of scope for improvement – with volumes, for example, on the diaries and writings of early modern women. In 2011, the society published the minutes and papers relating to the building of the East London mosque in the early twentieth century reflecting on the aspirations of the Muslim community in London to have a mosque that befitted the capital city of a world empire. The most recent volume is Jo Ann Moran Cruz’s An Account of an Elizabethan Family: the Willoughbys of Wollaton by Cassandra Willoughby, 1670–1735. An indication of the range of subjects covered by the recent volumes can found on the RHS and Cambridge University Press websites.

What is it like to work on a Camden volume? My fellow RHS Literary Director Richard Toye recently co-edited the diaries of the Liberal politician Cecil Bisshopp Harmsworth (1869–1948), the younger brother of the influential newspaper proprietors Lords Northcliffe and Rothermere. Besides the insights it provides on Westminster politics, the volume also details the constituency life and electioneering of an MP in the early twentieth century. In the RHS Newsletter, Toye describes what it is like to turn a manuscript into a Camden volume, reflecting on both the challenging and satisfying aspects of the process. The volume has increased awareness of Harmsworth’s career, such that he is now to be included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Typically, volumes for the Camden Series are between 80,000 and 120,000 words in length, including the introduction and all the normal scholarly apparatus. Shorter texts will be considered but those under 60,000 words are more appropriate for a Camden Miscellany. Each volume requires an introduction providing details about the edited source, including where appropriate how and why it was generated, as well as contextualising and assessing the significance of the material. The volumes are published by Cambridge University Press both in hard copy and are available electronically through their Cambridge Core platform.

The RHS considers proposals throughout the year, although the main forum for discussion are the Publications Committee meetings in late February and September. Proposal forms can be found on the RHS website; these need to be submitted with a sample of the edited source material for peer review. Responsibility for the Camden Series is divided between the literary directors with me (Andrew Spicer) overseeing the medieval and early modern volumes, and Richard Toye those relating to the period after 1750. If you have an idea for a volume, please get in touch (literary.directors[AT]royalhistsoc.org); we are happy to discuss potential Camden publications in advance of a formal proposal.

Prof. Andrew Spicer
RHS Literary Director
Oxford Brookes University

New Camden Volume on Elizabethan Family

Jo Ann Hoeppner Moran Cruz describes the extraordinary insights into an Elizabethan family provided in her new volume in our Camden Series of edited primary sources, and how she has used its material in undergraduate teaching and for training graduate students.

morancruzMy new Camden volume, An Account of an Elizabethan Family: The Willoughbys of Wollaton by Cassandra Willoughby (1670–1735), opens a window on Elizabethan marriage, gender and patriarchal expectations. Through an edition of surviving sixteenth-century copies and original letters and accounts from the Middleton family archives, we view intimate details of the marriage of Elizabeth and Francis Willoughby. The marriage was, not to put too fine a point on it, difficult, tempestuous and, in the end, destructive. Among the indignities that Elizabeth Littleton Willoughby suffered were imprisonment in her own home (to be guarded by the servants), an impecunious banishment from her family, ongoing demands for obedience from her husband, and enduring undermining by her sister-in-law. With her reputation at stake, Elizabeth sought support from Queen Elizabeth and stood on the strength of her Littleton family heritage, arguing with her husband that her first allegiance was to the Crown rather than to him. As the introduction concludes, however independent-minded Elizabeth Willoughby tried to be, she could not afford to forego the support of her father, brothers, husband, sons-in-law, or male friends of the family. Her struggles through twelve pregnancies, resulting in six surviving daughters, left her sick in body and ill in spirit. While this edition also continues with details of Francis Willoughby’s hurried and financially disastrous second marriage, as well as with details from the lives of their six daughters, it is Elizabeth Willoughby who steals the show.

The edition tells the Willoughby family story through the pen of a descendant, Cassandra Willoughby, who, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, copied down, synthesized and described letters and accounts of the family from the 1540s forward. The cache of materials from which Cassandra drew her Account was mostly located at Wollaton Hall outside Nottingham, one of the principal residences of the family. The text provides an intimate portrait of a family that was, at times, and perhaps particularly for the women, an unhappy one. Within a patriarchal society, Elizabeth Willoughby, married at age eighteen, essentially failed to flourish, and her six daughters, who often seem to have been as strong-willed as their mother, were left, together with their husbands, to pick up the pieces.

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Wollaton Hall (Wikicommons)

Years back I chanced upon a 1911 Historical Manuscripts Commission volume containing a description of the privately-owned Middleton family archives, which are now kept in the University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections. My initial interest in the Middleton material focused on what the surviving documents could tell us about education in the Tudor period; the surviving materials offer details with regard to books, music, schooling and literacy. Beginning with accounts for primers and other elementary books, Cassandra’s manuscript, together with surviving account books and other materials in the Middleton archives, provide evidence for schooling, the reading interests of the family, the library that they built up, and a culture in which correspondence played a pivotal role. But further exploration of this archive of letters, deeds, marriage settlements, wills, inventories, and other personal and administrative documents, suggested that it would be worthwhile to go beyond these interests to a larger exploration of the family.

The letters in particular, whether written by household staff, corrected by staff, written in the hands of family members or received by them, are fascinating to read and certainly captured the attention of Cassandra Willoughby when, at age 17, she moved into the imposing but neglected family residence of Wollaton Hall. Cassandra’s compilation or Account is written in a clear late seventeenth-century/early eighteenth-century hand, unlike the original letters from the sixteenth century, which she clearly had some difficulty reading. As a consequence, the manuscript itself (or a good copy of it) is an excellent place for scholars to start with the archives and for students to start with a paleographical project. It gives students an initial experience reading a handwritten primary text. Various of the graduate students I have worked with have tried their hand at editing aspects of the material, and this has been valuable training for their own research careers.

I have used the text both at the undergraduate and graduate level where it has been much discussed by undergraduates and has been a mine of information for graduate students who are interested in the experience of women in Elizabethan culture. Undergraduates have read the Account in a course on Women in Medieval and Early Modern England, and also in an undergraduate course on Women and Power in Europe, 800-1600. They read it within a larger contextual understanding of the role of women in late medieval and early modern culture. They may also read it from the perspective of the life of members of the upper-gentry in Elizabethan England. It is a perfect vehicle for teaching undergraduate students about the richness of archival work, the inherent human interest of history, the values of an upper-class Elizabethan family, and specifics with regard to the material life of the time – clothing, travel, food, entertainment, and houses.

Both undergraduate and graduate students are intrigued by the personalities of the writers, the varieties of marriages described in the text, the way wives and daughters were treated and sometimes abused, the agency of the women, the role of Queen Elizabeth and much more. Not only does the text provide insight into the Willoughbys, but it also includes remarks on other family members and neighbours and their marriages. The text is rich in information on the role of servants within the household, including orders for the household staff, wages, personal correspondence, rivalries, gossip, intrigue, and social status. Most recently a graduate student has become interested in the culture of correspondence and has been engaged with the correspondence surrounding the 1587 marriage of Dorothy Willoughby and Henry Hastings. The manuscript tells us something about the religious leanings of particular families and individuals and how they negotiated the boundaries between Catholics and Protestants of various persuasions. It provides extensive examples of land sales, loans and indebtedness (particularly as a consequence of the construction of the new Wollaton Hall) to the point that some members of the family spent time in debtors’ prison. Correspondence with the royal court, particularly with Lord Burghley, and issues rising to a national level, as well as the politics of local authorities and rivalries are embedded in the text.

For those who might want to examine an expanded chronological perspective, the introduction to this volume provides information and sources to explore. For family letters prior to the 1540s, Mary A. Welsh has published Willoughby letters from the first half of the sixteenth century in the Transactions for the Thoroton Society, vol. 24 (1967): 1-98, while A.C. Wood published, in 1958, The Continuation of the History of the Willoughby Family by Cassandra Duchess of Chandos which is the second volume of Cassandra’s Account and takes her family story into the 1690s. Perhaps the best secondary source, that provides an entrée into the family dynamics as well as an in-depth study of the renovation of Wollaton Hall, is Alice Friedman, House and Household in Elizabethan England: Wollaton Hall and the Willoughby Family (Chicago, 1989).

Published with the permission of the present Lord Middleton, this volume makes accessible to a wider audience Casandra Willoughby’s account of her ancestors. It provides not only invaluable insights into the day to day life and tribulations of a prominent Elizabethan family, it also reveals the exceptional character, spirit and misfortunes of Elizabeth Willoughby.


Dr Jo Ann Hoeppner Moran Cruz is Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University.

Gladstone Rings a Bell

Dr Matthew Champion reflects on time and bells after hearing that he had won this year’s Gladstone Prize for his recent first book.


When I first heard that my book, The Fullness of Time: Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries, had won the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone Prize, the first thing that came to mind was Gladstone St, Moonee Ponds, a street tucked behind the main shopping drag of my home suburb in Melbourne. I know I should have been thinking about the PM, but on actually receiving the prize, my mind kept turning even more stubbornly to this street, doubtless named after the Grand Old Man, but a million miles away from London.

Gladstone St isn’t really a beautiful place – if it ever was, that was destroyed when a massive new branch of the Australian Tax Office was built there in the 1990s (Gladstone PM might have been interested in that). From my family home a few blocks away, the new building changed the horizon to the west – you didn’t notice it much except at certain times – its hulk hunched over the sun in the west.

Buildings_in_Moonee_Ponds.JPGAustralian Taxation Office (1991). 6–20 Gladstone St, Moonee Ponds

At our house, every Sunday morning, the sound of the bells of the Greek Orthodox Church of St Dimitrios, opposite the Tax Office on Gladstone St, would reach us as we played in the garden. I’d take a rake, or old cricket bat, and hit the pole of the washing line to copy the changing patterns. It probably annoyed the hell out of our neighbours. When I go back to visit my parents, sometimes I hear those bells, and am taken to the feeling of a bright Sunday morning in a crisp Melbourne March.

I’m pretty sure that I didn’t end up writing a section of my book on the marking of time through bell-ringing in the fifteenth century as a direct result of hitting a washing line as a six-year-old. But there are few direct results of anything if we pay attention to time: our experiences loop back over each other; at particular times, moments from the past seem closer or more distant. Perhaps without those Gladstone St bells, I wouldn’t have been as interested in sounds when it came to writing my PhD at Queen Mary in London. Certainly, much of The Fullness of Time could be read as me whacking the rusty washing-line of the sources with a dented old cricket bat in an attempt to summon into being the times and sounds of the past.

Take, for example, the bells of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Park. This is a large monastery just outside the university city of Louvain, modern Belgium. It is the place where Erasmus would ‘discover’ a copy of Lorenzo Valla’s Annotationes on the New Testament, with radical results for the history of scholarship. There, in 1479, the reform-minded Abbot, Thierry van Thulden, installed a new clock. We know the clock played a melody – the Marian chant Inviolata et casta es Maria (You are inviolate and chaste, Mary). The melody can be found in Premonstratensian liturgical manuscripts from the region, and is particularly fit for ringing on bells, with repeated notes and a small range.

These bells were the perfect emblem of the kinds of time I was repeatedly finding in sources from across the region. They used the most up-to-date technology, often seen by earlier scholars as introducing a rupture in the fabric of sacred time, to sacralize time more precisely – to deploy precise measurement of time to tie time more precisely to eternity. By marking each hour with a chant which made present the past moment of Christ’s incarnation in Mary’s womb, the present moment of the bells’ sounds (and the evocation of the prayer-chant), and the future protection of the Virgin Mary over the monastery, time was filled out with sacred resonance. This was one of the kinds of fullnesses that I sought to think about in my book.

The other kind of fullness was a kind of historical practice which did not shut down conversations across different media, different disciplines, and different fields of historical analyses: a full history. Understanding the clock at Park, for example, requires the history of an object, an institution, of rituals and liturgy, of individuals like the Abbot, and of a melody. The melody ended up being connected to the political history of the Dukes of Burgundy and their particular deployment of Marian piety to forge their new territorial unit – the Burgundian Low Countries, a mishmash of territories with competing social and political structures, where symbol and ritual played a central role in communication between lords, cities and subjects.

The clock’s history is also a history of images and built environments. Its bells were installed in a new tower in the monastery church. A couple images of the old monastery survive in the works of seventeenth-century antiquarians.

M Champion Abbey of Park.JPGThe Abbey of Park, from J.B. Gramaye, ‘Antiquitates illustratissimi ducatus Brabantiae’ (Brussels, 1610). Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

The monastery itself, which you see in this image, was largely rebuilt or destroyed in later centuries, though its setting beside its medieval fishponds is a reminder of the ways in which the marking of time through feast and fast radically reshaped Europe’s environments.

CHAMPION RHS Image 3.JPGThe Premonstratensian Abbey of Park. Photographed by author (2013)

The tower which is the most likely candidate for the bells is the little one beside the m of Dominorum in the 1610 image. Joanne Anderson at the Warburg kindly pointed out to me it is also a visual structure similar to the kinds of elaborate architectural ‘houses’ for the Eucharist which were being installed in churches across the Low Countries in the period. So here, again, we might see a resonant body of sources pointing towards the co-habitation of the eternal in the precisely temporal.

This is a long way from Gladstone St – but the possibilities of this kind of history help me understand it in new ways: I don’t have to see St Dimitrios’ church as a dying remnant of a kind of sacred time antithetical to the measurement of the modern secular hours. Instead, the time of that little church might be seen as part of a world full of varieties of sacred and secular time: a time for prayer, a time for play; a season for tax returns, a season for cricket, and a season for hanging clothes on the line outside (less of that in Britain, but even that climatic distinction is, of course, subject to change). And I can see a history of the architectures of time, and architecture in time, as another complement to a fuller transdisciplinary practice of history.


Dr Matthew Champion is Lecturer in Medieval History at Birkbeck, University of London.


Top Image: Dr Matthew Champion with RHS President Prof. Margot Finn.

RHS Race Report

Royal Historical Society report highlights need for greater diversity in UK History

A new report published today (18 October 2018) by the Royal Historical Society (RHS) highlights racial and ethnic inequalities in the teaching and practice of History in the UK. It draws attention to the underrepresentation of ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ (BME) students and staff in university History programmes, the substantial levels of race-based bias and discrimination experienced by BME historians in UK universities, and the negative impact of narrow school and university curriculumson diversity and inclusion. The report, a key component of the Society’s 150th anniversary programme, draws on a year of research and a survey of over 700 university-based historians. It offers advice and guidance for academic historians on taking positive action to address and diminish barriers to equality in the discipline.

History is a popular subject in UK schools, but evidence suggests BME pupils are less likely than their peers to choose History in examinations and university applications. History student cohorts are less diverse than most other university subjects, with only 11% of History students coming from BME backgrounds, compared to nearly a quarter of all university students. Research and focus groups conducted by the RHS highlight the need for more diverse content of curriculums in schools and universities to engage a wider pool of students, and the need for historians to articulate more clearly the benefits of studying for a History degree to prospective and current BME students.

Academic staffing in UK university departments is even less diverse.  Among UK-national staff, 96.1% of university historians are White, a figure again higher than in most other subjects. Underrepresentation is particularly stark for Black historians, who make up less than 1% of UK university-based History staff. One third of BME respondents to the RHS survey reported witnessing discrimination or abuse of colleagues and/or students based on race or ethnicity during their academic employment, and 29.5% reported having experienced such discrimination themselves.

Urgent attention by universities and History departments to BME students’ and colleagues’ experiences of exclusion, bias and discrimination is clearly needed.  If History in the UK is to attract and train the best intellects—thereby enriching both academic and public understanding of the past—significant improvements on our discipline’s existing record is imperative.

The report concludes with tailored advice and guidance for Heads of department, teaching staff, research supervisors, journal editors and conference organisers.  Building on the significant achievements of BME historians in the past decade, the RHS seeks to broaden recognition within and beyond university departments of the extent to which racial and ethnic inequalities detract from the quality, practice and experience of History in the UK.  Addressing this unacceptable situation will require substantial structural and cultural change within the discipline.  This report provides essential data and guidance intended to expand and accelerate these reforms.

The full report is available for download here.

The full results of our survey are available here.


Image: Imperial War Museum AP 14372D, 1943.