Special Feature: Searching for Stories: Pride in London 2017

Pride has many stories to tell: some celebratory, some tragic, some past, some present, and some that remain incomplete as their narrative continues to unfold. As is typical to any professional task that is part of my Monday work schedule, I began my morning routine reliving the weekend through photos on my mobile. As I aimlessly swiped my thumb across the screen, I justified my idleness as, in fact, being ‘research’ for writing my own submission on the topic of London Pride, something that incidentally turned out to be true.

As a Canadian from a small city, Pride in London seemed overwhelming in comparison. In the weeks leading up to the parade, however, I encountered disillusionment from my queer colleagues towards the event. Where I am from, the parade is confined to fifty floats and another fifty LGBTQ groups; it is the coming together of a queer and queer-allied community that, in truth, already knows one another. For that reason, Pride has always felt like home to me. Sharing these sentiments with friends, and hearing their own in return, reminded me that not all aspects of Pride come from the most altruistic of motivations – for example, Tom Daley in a tight-fitting tee and angel wings on top of the Barclays float – and that perhaps even my own perspectives at home were a bit naive. Fear not: the remainder of this article is not to exemplify why London Pride has become irrelevant; instead, I made it my mission to uncover those moments that continued to demonstrate Pride as spirit over spectacle. Continue reading

Researchers Notebook: Queer Cases: The ‘He-She’ Ladies and Mother Clap’s Molly House

Fanny and Stella, photographed in Chelmsford by Fred Spalding, c.1870 (D/F 269/1/3712)

One of the most notorious yet historically significant scandals of Victorian England was the curious case of two young men in their early twenties: Frederick Park, a law student and Ernest Boulton, or Fanny and Stella (their female names). On the night of 28 April 1870, Park and Boulton were arrested outside the Strand Theatre for outraging public decency. Both were dressed in extravagant women’s clothing: Fanny wore a ‘dark-green satin crinoline trimmed’ gown; Stella, by contrast was dressed in a ‘scarlet silk evening dress’ trimmed in ‘white lace and draped with a white muslin shawl’. Boulton and Park were frequent visitors at theatres and several public events including the Oxford and Cambridge boat race and Burlington Arcade. The police had been closely monitoring the pair’s activities since 1869. They had been known to repeatedly wear make-up while dressed in men’s clothing, and were seen flirting and winking at gentlemen on the streets and at public gatherings.

Several newspapers printed their own version of what they referred to as the ‘he-she’ ladies. The Illustrated Police News recorded that upon searching the pair’s apartments, the police had found an elaborate wardrobe of female attire: ‘thirty to forty silk and other dresses, lace trimmings, half a dozen bodices, bonnets and hats, stockings, gloves, violet powder,’ along with letters and photographs from Bolton’s apartment. Continue reading

Researcher’s Notebook: The Dying Philosopher and Me

Portrait of Richard Rorty (n.d.). Attribution: ‘Richard Rorty from Philosophers, a gallery exhibition by Steve Pyke, 2011. Photo published in The Guardian, ‘Philosophers by Steve Pyke, Friday, September 2, 2011.

Have you ever read something for a specific research purpose, in the routine of study, which suddenly carved you up and reordered your entire being? That happened to me around December 2007. I remember the evening vividly, because my reading was interrupted a few times by my walk to and from the laundry room, as though it were calculated to give me ten minutes of gloomy quiet to absorb it all. I disagreed profoundly, but the way it teased my core beliefs was compelling. And, over time, I came under the spell of the American philosopher Richard Rorty.

I found out much later that he had died from pancreatic cancer, aged 75, only a few months before my first encounter, just over ten years ago today – a trivial coincidence that I’ve dressed in significance. I was unaccountably sad at the thought of that particular brain turning cold. Shortly before his death he wrote an essay about his diagnosis and disease (‘The Fire of Life’), in which he admitted that ‘neither the philosophy I had written nor that which I had read seemed to have any particular bearing on my situation’. These words gave me pause, as I had been deeply affected by his philosophical writings on life and death. This last characteristic shrug of indifference toward his own thought left me unsettled – he had given me some comfort, at least. Continue reading

Disasters #2: Lessons for Modern Day Disaster Planning: The Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima

‘Hiroshima’, by John Hersey (Book Cover), 2002 ed., Penguin Modern Classics. Photo Attribution: Mother and Child in Hiroshima, Japan, December 1945, by Alfred Eisenstaedt – Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

‘Little Boy’, the first atomic bomb to be used against civilians, exploded 1900 feet above Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. Carrying a yield powerful enough to kill almost everyone within a 2.2 miles diameter, over 100,000 people died: approximately 25% from the blast 20% from dissipated radiation, and 50% from explosion-related injuries. Three-quarters of the homes were destroyed. The population believed they had experienced the first use of an atom-splitting bomb and locals nicknamed it the genshi bakudan (Original Child Bomb).

In a series of articles written in 1946 for the New Yorker, the war correspondent John Hersey detailed the experience of the Hibakusha (explosion-affected people), providing insight into the public’s behaviour in the wake of a nuclear emergency. Hersey was both criticised and applauded for documenting the humanity of survivors, who had received little to no attention in media reports. These articles, compiled into one book and titled Hiroshima, retains its power to shock readers for its graphic, but still humanistic, descriptions of an event unimaginable in its scale of disaster and suffering. And yet, the threat of nuclear war (or the use of a nuclear device by terrorists) continue to hang over us today — possibly to an even greater extent than any other time in history. Continue reading

Disasters #1: From Disorderly to Dead: The St Martin’s Roundhouse Massacre of 1742

View of the St. Martin’s Round-House after attack by a mob, enraged by the death of several persons in the dungeon. 1742 Etching. Attribution: The Trustees of the British Museum.

There is no such thing as a natural disaster. This is partly because humans have a huge influence on the global climate, but we also have another, more sinister, kind of agency: what actually happens when a building collapses, a hurricane hits, or the rain stops falling, is entirely up to us. To put it bluntly, the privileged tend to get out alive. Disasters confront us with brutal proof of structural inequality; problems that have been steaming under the surface bubble up and become impossible to ignore. In 2005, Rev. Jesse Jackson summed up what Katrina told us about the modern United States in a succinct and simple statement: ‘we have an amazing tolerance for black pain’.

A few hundred years ago in London, an even less natural disaster crystallised social attitudes to a different marginalised group. England in the eighteenth century was a difficult place to be for a single woman. Since patriarchal ideology dictated that women should always be under supervision by fathers or husbands, those who were not were automatically suspicious. A woman alone in the street after dark was usually assumed to be a prostitute. Drunken men would proposition her, or insist she go for a drink with them. If she refused to have sex, they might turn violent or call in a constable to accuse her of picking their pockets. Those same constables and their teams of watchmen systematically stopped and searched lone women, arrested them, and held them overnight to go before a magistrate the following day. Continue reading

Researcher’s Notebook: On Making Discoveries

The printer’s mark of William Caxton. Late 15th century. Reading University Special Collections JGL 1/2/3. Attribution: By BabelStone (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
When historical humanities research makes the news, it is often because a document or object has been ‘discovered’.  To take one very recent example: fifteenth-century English book publishing made a rare excursion into the headlines of late, thanks to the work of Erika Delbecque, a librarian at the University of Reading.  She has made the remarkable discovery of a rare set of pages believed to have been published in the 1470s by William Caxton, the man who brought book printing to England for the first time.  Part of me was delighted to see this story in the news, not least because it put a spotlight on the brilliant but all-too-often overlooked work of the librarians and archivists on whom we rely so much.  

But part of me was a little uneasy too.  The interest in these stories, it seems to me, lies in two rather old-fashioned preconceptions of what humanities research should look like.  Firstly, there is the fetishization of the dusty archive as somehow essential to ‘real’ research, with the scholar as a pioneer who brings back new objects for our communal collectors’ cabinet of cultural and historical goods (a narrative palpably brimming with potential colonialist subtext).  Secondly, there is the notion that progress in research happens in bite-sized eureka moments of brilliant individuals (Archimedes’ bathtub, Newton’s apple) as opposed to the less romantic, but probably more realistic picture of a slow slog of collective effort over a number of years.

There is certainly an argument to be made that the ‘discovery’ stories can do much to make research accessible to a wider audience, the example of the Caxton print being a case in point.  But is there also a danger that these narratives might hinder more effective communication of what humanities researchers actually do and why it matters?  It is with these anxieties in mind that I want to talk about my own experience of making a small ‘discovery’ of sorts. Continue reading

Diversions #4: Subversive Pastimes: Constructing and Cultivating a Floating Allotment

The outbreak of social protest in 1830 has been recognised by a number of scholars as the spark for the national movement for allotments. Embittered and hungry labourers destroyed agricultural machinery and set fire to haystacks in what is known as the Swing riots and links the organised allotment movement to political protest. The allocation of allotments (strips of land rented to labourers at market rates year-round) was not simply an attempt by elite landowners to buy off labourers and avert further rioting, it was also hoped that the commitment required to develop a flourishing allotment would instil several favourable virtues in the rural poor including self-respect, independence, industriousness, sobriety, thrift, and honesty. Continue reading

Diversions #3: On the Dialectics of a Victoria Sponge

As might be expected from a blog post entitled “Diversions”, written for an online journal aimed primarily at PhD students, this one starts by stirring up images of articles left half-finished and monographs lying shut upon a desk, their unturned pages crying softly through their unbent spines to be read. Pressing as it may be for the contents of these no doubt worthy sources to be imbibed by their, you guessed it, distracted reader, he has far more diverting things with which to occupy his time than concerning himself with reading a Marxist critique of this, a Freudian analysis of that. From a dust jacket, a certain pessimistic German theorist from the last century stares out towards the unoccupied chair in which a diligent young researcher should be sitting, his disapproving gaze threatening to burn a hole in the upholstery. But enough context, it’s time to come to the point of this post. Continue reading

Still Point Blog Theme #4: Disasters – Call for Submissions

Individuals who seem fated with misfortune are sometimes described as “star-crossed.” This idiom comes from the belief that earthly phenomena are governed by the positions of celestial objects. The etymology of disaster – a negative position, “dis”, from a star, “astre” – can be traced to this belief. The notion that disasters are unavoidable plays an interesting role in the world today. No longer does the disaster remain limited to the purview of earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods – those things which we have called ‘acts of God’ – but disasters of our own making – nuclear, economic, and environmental. In this upcoming theme, we at Still Point are seeking contributions from masters, doctoral and early career researchers that tackle the topic of DISASTERS, be it political, personal, or academic. Do you reflect on disaster as part of your work? Have you ever had a ‘research disaster’? How does disaster shape the world we live in today?

Ideally submissions will be:

  • between 500-750 words with original or high quality images (but we may accept longer pieces)
  • for visual and multimedia artists, send us high quality images of your artwork or embed links to sound, video work, or gifs, accompanied by up to 300 words.

We welcome creative responses, and inventiveness and flexibility are encouraged both in response to the theme and in terms of the form which entries take.

The Still Point Journal is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers in London, funded by the LAHP (London Arts & Humanities Partnership) and the AHRC. Our particular focus is on non-fiction writing related to the process and the experience of conducting research, and on creative articulations of and responses to this experience.

Please send submissions to blog@thestillpointjournal.com.

Still Point Blog Theme: ‘Open Mic’ Undergraduate Research – Special Call for Submissions

As a special project in July 2017, the theme for the Still Point blog will be an ‘Open Mic’ dedicated entirely to Undergraduate Research. We are seeking blog posts from Arts and Humanities undergraduate students from London universities that directly engage with research they have conducted – particularly final year students who have undertaken dissertations – in order to actively promote and celebrate the work of undergraduates and aspiring academics. We also welcome submissions from undergraduates based on the experience and process of conducting their research, which can take a variety of forms; including, but not limited to, non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and visual art.

Ideally submissions will be:

  • Between 500-750 words with original or high quality images; but we may accept longer feature pieces.
  • For visual and multimedia artists, send us high quality images of your artwork or embed links to sound, video work, or gifs, accompanied by up to 300 words.

The Still Point Blog encourages creative and innovative responses both to the theme and the presentation of posts. As such, this is both a unique opportunity to proactively promote your research on an academic platform and creatively respond to your research experiences.

Deadline: Please send any questions or submissions to blog@thestillpointjournal.com by the 29 May 2017.