Absent Voices #3: Words from the Soul: Private Letters between John Locke and Damaris Masham

Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Oil on canvas. 76×64 cm. Britain, 1697. Source of Entry: Collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779. Attribution: Sir Godfrey Kneller [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
It’s not often, as a Gender Studies researcher studying the history of philosophy, that I find myself wanting to hear more from one of the famous-dead-white-men that make up the bulk of the field. You might be especially surprised to hear that, after working my way through An Essay Concerning Human Understanding from start to finish, I wanted to hear more from John Locke. When my PhD project is on early modern women philosophers, women whose philosophical voices are still too often absent from the classroom, why would I want to read missing texts from one of the great canonical English philosophers, a man whose writings we possess in abundance?

It’s like this. One of the women I’m studying is Damaris Masham (1658/9-1708), a philosopher whose thought is largely known to us through her two published treatises. But they weren’t all she wrote. Masham was an extremely close friend of Locke’s – they met when she was twenty-two, twenty-three, when he was already an established philosopher of nearly fifty. They quickly struck up an exchange of letters which lasted for several years. The only reason the epistolary flow between them stopped was that he actually moved into the house Masham shared with her husband and lived there until his death. They were close enough that snide comments were made at the time about the “seraglio” at the Masham household, and speculation has been made since about the extent to which their intense friendship bordered on a romantic connection. Continue reading

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Absent Voices #2: Chasing Echoes: The Perpetrator’s Voice in the History of Violence

Double-deck burning in 2011 England Riots. Attribution: By VOA Persian Interview (VOA TV) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
In the summer of 2011 several English cities witnessed explosions of very public violence. Rioters, for the most part young men, smashed windows, looted shops, set fires and threw stones at the ranks of armoured police who descended on them. Afterwards, most people responded in one of two ways. Right-wing politicians and commentators lined up behind David Cameron to condemn ‘mindless violence and thuggery’. On the left, the story was about inequality, unemployment and bad policing. With a few honourable exceptions, nobody asked the rioters.

People who do violent things usually have some sense of why they do them. We might not like their reasoning, but we can’t properly understand violence without it. Sticking with the riots as an example, the left-wing narrative clearly has a lot to be said for it, with interpretations backed up by solid data on urban deprivation. But it lacks the voice of the Londoner in his mid-20s who said, ‘When no one cares about you you’re gonna eventually make them care, you’re gonna cause a disturbance.’ For him rioting wasn’t an instinctive reaction to big structural forces – it was strategic, a sensible thing to do under the circumstances.

Continue reading

Archives of Lost Voices: Patient Publications in Hospitals

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where this PhD project began, but it certainly grew out my involvement with the Graylingwell Heritage Project. This was a Heritage Lottery Funded community, heritage and arts programme which charted the history of Chichester’s Graylingwell Hospital. I worked as an administrator, voluntary researcher and oral history interviewer for the project while studying English and Fine Art at undergraduate level. I’ve had a life-long love for the historical, particularly the nineteenth century, and I found Graylingwell Hospital’s heritage absolutely fascinating. I didn’t anticipate the huge impact that this project would have on my work (and life), but now, as a PhD student, I can fully appreciate how it has shaped my career.

Built in 1896 as a mental health facility, the hospital was formerly known as the West Sussex County Asylum, and has had a significant impact upon Chichester’s local community as a place of employment throughout the last century. As a medical institution, Graylingwell Hospital has played an important role in the history of mental health treatment in the UK and the development of psychiatry in the 20th century. It is also noted for the important role it played in national history as a war hospital during the First World War, providing care for injured servicemen from 1915 to 1919. The hospital closed in 2001.

The Wishing Well, the magazine produced by the patients of Graylingwell Hospital, various dates.
The Wishing Well, the magazine produced by the patients of Graylingwell Hospital, various dates.

A student of art, English and history, I naturally became very interested in The Wishing Well, which was a magazine printed and distributed by Graylingwell’s Occupational Therapy department between 1946 until at least 1960. These magazines, which are currently held at the West Sussex Record Office, were a creative showcase for the patients of Graylingwell, and include prose, poetry, and written reports on every facet of Hospital life. Visual art features heavily in these magazines, including paintings, woodcut prints, and cartoons. Continue reading

[Command-Shift-4] McLuhan

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 18.07.38
How to Take a Screenshot of Part of Your Screen on a Mac

I began researching Marshall McLuhan on the internet to explore Marshall McLuhan’s ideas about how the internet effects research. The symmetry was pleasing.

1. medium is message google

One thing the internet tells you pretty quickly is that McLuhan did not say or think anything about the internet because he died in 1980. But Amazon customer Mark B. Cohen assured me we could still learn something.

6. Amazon comment

You can be a scholar on the internet, but why be a scholar when customers get better treatment? Sometimes it’s easier to treat the object of your research as a commodity. Continue reading

In Paris, 1913

Micro film

I’m sitting at my desk, time-travelling.

Outside, 21st century Paris is heavy with the first infestation of springtime tourists, snapping up the Opéra on selfie-sticks as they emerge, blinking, from the Métro.

Inside, in a stuffy room in the Bibliothèque national de France, unbeknown to those around me, I’m not there. I’m in 1913. Continue reading

Poetry of Place: an interview with ourselves

Poetry of Place took place on 17th May at Enitharmon Press in Bloomsbury. The event brought three poets into conversation about how place and poetry intersects in their work. Fran and I had met for the first time in March, after answering a call put out by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership for two PhD students to run a poetry event. We had a couple of months to get to know each other, plan, meet the poets, and figure out how to bring our own research interests into dialogue, and with the poetry. A real challenge, not least because we’re from very different disciplines  – or so we thought!

Right! I’m studying for a PhD based in the English department at KCL, situated between Old English and Performance studies. My research looks at Sutton Hoo, a seventh century medieval burial ground, and Old English poetry. I’m interested in how poetry and place come together at this site to (re)create history. I’m very much picking up on medievalists Gillian Overing and Marijane Osborn’s ‘conviction – or fiction – of the past as being located through or as place’ (Overing and Osborn, 1989).

Whilst I’m at UCL working across the fields of Architectural History & Theory, and Music, looking at the work of  the architect and composer Iannis Xenakis.    Continue reading

The Pub That Wouldn’t Die: A Case of Architectural Resilience

When I was a teenage drinker in mid-90s Manchester, we used to go to a certain pub – the Old Wellington Inn, a.k.a. the Old Shambles, or just the Welly – that had, and would continue to have, a very peculiar history. Twenty years on, having devoted much of the intervening period to studying philosophy, conserving historic buildings, and/or (as in my present research) applying the former activity to the latter, the place is often in my mind. If anything got me started down my current path, perhaps it was this.

Old Welly 1

Old Welly 2

Built around the year 1550 in what was then a nondescript south-Lancashire market town, the Old Wellington was the very last of Manchester’s half-timbered vernacular buildings to survive the city’s stupendous nineteenth-century growth. Modified, extended, re-fenestrated, it clung to its little patch of ground among the tottering brick piles of the Victorian Cottonopolis, accommodating a wine merchant, an oculist, a fishing tackle shop and a series of squalid tenements. It narrowly escaped annihilation in the 1940 Christmas Blitz, but post-war rebuilding left it stranded on a traffic island, and comprehensive redevelopment in the 1970s saw it placed on a concrete raft and jacked several feet up into the air, ultimately to grace a rather bleak little plaza round the back of Marks & Spencer’s. Continue reading