Reflections on publishing Memorandoms by James Martin

By Alison Major, on 17 July 2017

Today’s Guest Post is by Tim Causer, editor of Memorandoms by James Martin and Senior Research Associate at the Bentham Project.

Memorandoms_of_James_MartinThose of us researching the history of convict transportation to Australia are extraordinarily fortunate in terms of resources, as some of the most important have, for several years, been available digitally on an open-access basis. For instance, we can search colonial-era newspapers in the National Library of Australia’s Trove, or consult the Tasmanian convict records, a body of material unique in its detail about the tens of thousands of ordinary people transported to Van Diemen’s Land.

As a callow undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen, making a first foray into Australian history fourteen years ago, such resources were the stuff of dreams. The university library’s holdings on Australian history were largely limited to landmark secondary texts such as Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend (1958) and A. G. L. Shaw’s Convicts and the Colonies (1966). The most recent work we had to hand was almost two decades old: Robert Hughes’s blockbuster, The Fatal Shore (1986). Hughes’s brilliant, terrible book is beautifully written, but is ultimately frequently misleading. But a major strength of The Fatal Shore’s was its use of convict narratives, giving it an immediacy rare in many earlier histories which relied heavily upon parliamentary papers and official correspondence.

Convict narratives fall into two main types. The first, and most common, are those published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during or around the period in which convicts were transported to the Antipodes. For instance, two of the most well-known are Martin Cash’s The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land (1870) and Mark Jeffrey’s A Burglar’s Life (1893), both of which were ghost-written by the former convict James Lester Burke.

Of course, published narratives such as these present issues of interpretation. How much of Cash’s autobiography is authentically his voice, and how much is that of Burke? Ghost-writers often sanitised their subject’s life into a redemption parable, walking the fine line between titillation while still seeking to attract a respectable audience. Those narratives written by the few transported for political offences—male, middle-class, well-educated authors—are unrepresentative of the experiences of the majority of convicts. There is also a racial and gender imbalance, with the overwhelming majority of narratives dealing with the lives of white convict men—Reverend James Cameron’s partly-fictionalised biography of the Spanish transportee, Adelaide de Thoreza, is a rare exception.

The second type of narrative exists only in manuscript. They are often more exciting to deal with: they were not written for publication, do not have to meet the conventions of any genre, and are often more revealing, explicit, and subversive. For instance, the Irish convict Laurence Frayne’s narrative is a graphic account of his punishment and contains a sustained character assassination of James Morisset, a commandant of the Norfolk Island penal station during the 1830s, which would never have been fit to print.

Memorandoms by James Martin is one such unpublished manuscript which, thanks to UCL Press, is now available in open-access for the first time. The Memorandoms tells the story of the most famous of all escapes from Australia by transported convicts, that led by William and Mary Bryant. On the night 28 March 1791 the Bryants with their two infant children, James Martin, and six other male convicts stole a fishing boat and sailed out of Sydney Harbour and out into the Pacific. They reached Kupang in Timor on 8 June, though were subsequently identified as escaped convicts and the survivors were shipped back to England to face trial—where James Boswell lobbied the government for their release.

The group’s 69-day, 3,000-mile journey has been the subject of two television series, poetry, novels, and innumerable history books, with a focus on Mary Bryant. Yet the modern historical accounts are frequently unsatisfactory and derivative; what then, the reader might wonder, could be said about this story that has not been said so many times before?

Quite a bit, it turns out. Memorandoms by James Martin is the only extant first-hand account of the escape, and it provides a fresh perspective to this often formulaically-told tale. Despite the Memorandoms being spare and prosaic, it provides a sense of the hardship of the journey, the terror of those in the boat as it is pummelled by storms and churning seas, and of the party’s fascination and fear in their encounters with Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. The Memorandoms also strikingly reveals just how far some modern historians have departed from the historical record when telling the story.

Memorandoms by James Martin is also important in a second sense: it is the only known narrative written by a member of the first cohort of convicts sent to New South Wales with the First Fleet 1788. The Memorandoms was acquired at some point by one of Britain’s great philosophers, Jeremy Bentham, one of the first and most influential critics of transportation to Australia. The vast Bentham archive is, of course, held in UCL’s Special Collections, and the Memorandoms is but one of the many jewels in the College’s collections.

Now, thanks to UCL Press, the Memorandoms manuscripts are available for the first time, and for free; readers can now access the original narrative for themselves, rather than mediated by some rather dubious historical accounts. The colour reproductions bring the document to life in a way which would not otherwise be captured by publishing a transcript, and I am inordinately grateful to UCL Press for bringing the Memorandoms out in this way. My younger self in Aberdeen would have been thrilled to have had a resource like this to hand, and I hope that those who today may not have ready access to unpublished narratives like the Memorandoms will be equally pleased.

Where does the born- and reborn-digital material take the Digital Humanities?

By Chris J Penfold, on 22 May 2017

w-a-hOn 18 May 2017, Niels Brügger, Professor of Internet Studies and Digital Humanities at Aarhus University in Denmark, and co-editor of The Web as History, delivered the third lecture in the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities annual Susan Hockey lecture series. With a focus on archiving, the lecture investigated the different types of digital media and explored how each type can be used for scholarly purposes.

Understanding the web’s function as an archive requires a grasp of its scale, yet the amount of data added to the web on any given day is difficult to fathom. Google processes over 20 petabytes of digitised data, born-digital data and reborn-digital data every 24 hours – that’s over 20 million gigabytes. But how do we archive this volume of information? How can we preserve the contents of news websites that have a shelf life of a day, or even an hour?

The web is where, and how, future researchers will learn about the 21st century, and so the importance of archiving – deciding which parts of the web should be preserved, how often, and by whom – increases with every petabyte of new data. As with any collection of documents, the ways in which they are collected and curated determines how they can be used by future researchers, across the Digital Humanities and beyond. The web is the equivalent of the letters, novels and artworks of the past, yet it offers a place in history for not only the artists and writers of our time but for everyone who uses it.

Anyone interested in the topic should read The Web as History, available to download for free here.

Why the suburbs are important

By Alison Major, on 4 April 2017

Today’s excerpt, by Mark Clapson of the University of Westminster, is the foreword of Suburban Urbanities, a multi-contributor volume edited by Laura Vaughan, UCL Bartlett.

In recent years there has been much debate within urban studies as to which came first in the evolution of human settlements, the countryside or the city. There was always a third context to this discussion, however, and that was the suburb. Life beyond the city walls was a distinctive feature of ancient urban civilisations from Persia to Minoan Crete, and today in the Anglophone world the suburban population is a majority. How surprising, then, that few scholars have attempted to understand the nature and agency of suburban living as a dominant characteristic of human settlements. This was symptomatic of a wider academic indifference and even hostility towards ‘the suburban’ which has only (ridiculously) recently been challenged by a new generation of scholars who take suburbs seriously.

Suburban Urbanities is a hugely important contribution to understanding our suburban world. Drawing upon scholarship within the now rapidly expanding field of suburban studies, synthesising historical geography with space syntax theories and methods, and the sociology of everyday life, it sheds new light on the historic and spatial evolution of the city. It shows that suburbia is not a synchronic caricature of a life-less-lived, but a dynamic context of metropolitan agency and creativity. As an historic process, suburbanisation is not something that evolved beyond the city to suck the life out of it, but was intertwined with trajectories of growth, with the socioeconomic patterning and structuring of cities large and small. It is impossible to grasp the meaning of class relations, of gendered lifestyles, of ethnic segregation and integration, of urban economies and patterns of mobility and communications, without placing suburbia at the forefront of the analysis. The universality of the themes of Suburban Urbanities is obvious: the dynamics of growth are significant historically because suburbs are starting points in change over time, not the end of the line. Old suburbs were once new, and today’s new suburbs, springing up rapidly across the world, will one day be old. As dynamic environments they continue to act as vectors of social, economic and political development, locally, nationally and globally.

The book is timely in another important sphere, and that is the personal subjectivity of suburbanites. To those who live in them, suburban lives have meaning. Back in 2013, I went for a walk in Fort Totten, an AfricanAmerican suburb of Washington, DC. On a sweltering August lunchtime, as I took photographs of the comfortable suburban homes of middle-class black people in roads that were empty except for flowering trees and parked cars, a woman’s voice called out to me with a gentle but audible ‘good afternoon’. Across her neatly trimmed front lawn I began chatting with a woman in her sixties who was taking tea with a friend on her veranda. She had left downtown DC in 1976 and as she stated with some passion, ‘I couldn’t wait to get out’. Fort Totten had its problems, but it was an attractive and spacious place to raise children, and well connected to the city. Her story is an important one because it is one of millions of inconvenient truths being ushered out of view by the current urban policies that demonise suburbia, and by the retro-fitting of suburbs that were, until very recently, doing just fine. Myriad examples of successful suburban living and suburban happiness and of triumph over social exclusion can be found if academics want to look for them. Suburban Urbanities looks for them, and understands that they are part of an ongoing pattern of human settlement that stretches from the ancient past to the present, and will persist long into the future.

Call for submissions: The Radical Americas Journal

By Lara Speicher, on 15 September 2016

The Radical Americas Network is delighted to announce a call for submissions for the brand new Radical Americas Journal.  Submissions from both early career and established scholars worldwide will be welcomed. Work in a number of different formats will be considered; in addition to peer-reviewed articles, the journal will run a variety of regular features,including opinion pieces, photo essays, reviews and archival notes.

In the first instance, please submit abstracts of 250-300 words to radicalamericas@gmail.com– when submitting, please indicate whether the work is to be peer reviewed as an article or whether you would like to submit something in a different format. Articles for peer review should be between 4,000 and 12,000 words; other pieces should be between 2,000 and 5,000 words. Please consiult UCL Press Guidelies for authors in advance of submission: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/publish/docs/Guidelines_for_Authors

About the Radical Americas Journal

The Radical Americas Journal explores the historical, political and social contexts that have underpinned radicalism in the Americas, engaging fully with the cross-currents of activism which connect North, Central and South America along with the Caribbean. The interconnected histories of power and protest are rarely contained within national boundaries. A full understanding of radicalism in the Americas, therefore, requires that we make the widespread rhetoric about the need for hemispheric scholarly approaches a reality. While we also offer articles, reviews and other content which focus on national or sub-national case studies, they are presented in a transnational framework.

Our definition of radicalism is broad. Taking inspiration from the words of José Martí, cited above, we understand radicalism to include any action or interpretation which “goes to the roots”, and we welcome all scholarship which takes a radical approach, even if it is not concerned with the study of radical activism per se. Any work which provides a truly systemic critique of existing structures of power, or challenges conventional interpretations of the past, will find a home at the Radical Americas Journal.

Despite disciplinary divides, scholarship on all regions of the Americas has recently been characterised by a preoccupation with culture and cultural analysis. This domination has come at the expense of interpretations which favour economic or social factors, though there are some signs that the impact of the global financial crisis has begun to reverse that trend. Our position is that the kind of holistic critique we hope to promote can never be achieved by isolating a single variable. For that reason we are particularly interested in work which attempts the difficult and painstaking task of fully integrating different facets of human experience, including economic, social, political and cultural factors.

Why one Early Career Researcher decided to publish in open access

By Nick Piercey, on 15 June 2016

I’m delighted to be working with UCL Press on the publication of Four Histories about Early Dutch Football 1910–1920: Constructing Discourses. This work will use some of the research I conducted for my doctoral studies, combined with new research and approaches, to provide four new histories about football in Dutch life in the early part of the twentieth century. The work interweaves concerns about the role and purpose of history today, with questions about the nature of modern sport and its interaction with culture, politics, and society. A central aim of the book Piercey 800pxis to promote a new form of history that acknowledges that the subjectivity of the author (and reader) is not only inevitable, but also useful in the development of history as a democratic tool for the future.

I was particularly keen to work with UCL Press because of their commitment to Open Access publication, which I see as a revolutionary development in academic publishing. Free online publication means that my work and ideas will be available to as many people as possible, without the barriers often in palace in traditional academic publishing models. I’m pleased to be taking part at an early stage in this change in academic publishing. In addition, Open Access publishing has given me the opportunity to provide additional data and content online which will encourage other individuals to create their own histories about the past – which is a central theme of my work.

As a young academic, and first time author, I have loved the encouragement given by everyone at UCL Press in this project, from the initial proposal to the final stages of publication. At every stage the team has always been ready to listen to suggestions and to guide me through the difficulties and surprises involved in bringing my ideas to a wider audience. While the staff are UCL Press are ambitious in developing an ever increasing number of titles, I have always felt that the team has taken a hands on approach to the process and both understand and value the deeply personal nature of their authors’ contributions. Happy Birthday!

About the author

Nicholas Piercey is Honorary Research Associate in UCL’s Department of Dutch in the UCL School of European Languages, Culture & Society. His first book, Four Histories of Early Dutch Football, 1910-1920: Constructing Discourses (UCL Press) will be published on October 2016. Find out more at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/four-histories-about-early-dutch-football.

Jewish Historical Studies Joins UCL Press: A Letter from the Editor

By Michael Berkowitz, on 12 February 2016

Jewish Historical Studies coverJewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England is now jointly published with UCL Press. Why is this such excellent news and of historical significance in itself?

In 2013 the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) celebrated its 120th anniversary.  It is one of the longest-running historical associations in the world and its journal, commonly referred to as Transactions, began in 1893-94. While its publication has been somewhat irregular (a few world wars happened to intervene), it is famous for featuring some of the most outstanding scholarship in Jewish history – well before Jewish Studies became institutionalised as an academic field. The JHSE is a hybrid: its membership includes full-time academics, part-time scholars and teachers, and those whose livelihoods lie totally outside of education. The JHSE comprises students and retirees, doctors, lawyers, accountants, journalists, musicians, artists, Jews and non-Jews. A rather large share of members are historians whose work engages Jews in the English-speaking world. As an organisation the JHSE has always aspired to promote the best and most current research in Anglo-Jewish history while its remit ranges broadly in Jewish Studies.

Until its most recent issue, Volume 47, Transactions was published privately by the Society. Starting with volume 44, my first as editor, a standardised peer-review process was introduced along with an editorial board. Whereas in the past (almost) all submissions to the journal appeared in print, this is no longer the case. We maintain the central purpose of Transactions – publishing papers that were presented to meetings of the Society – and also provide a venue for the types of scholarship and issues pertaining to research of concern to the Society generally.

In the grand scheme of things, the journal is thriving. Since the presidencies of Ada Rapoport-Albert (UCL) and Piet Van Boxel (Oxford), who initiated a shift to University College London for the Society’s functions, attendance at meetings and conferences has surged. Some fabulous younger scholars, such as David Dee of Leicester’s De Montfort University, Julie Mell of North Carolina State University, and Philip Nothaft of All Souls, Oxford, have published in, and become vital forces in the evolving shape of Transactions. Historians who are at the cutting edge of their respective fields, such as Alex Knapp in ethnomusicology, David Ruderman in intellectual history, Sharman Kadish in material culture, and Susan Tananbaum and David Feldman in social history, have published their latest scholarship in the journal.

Under UCL Press it will appear in print and on-line as an open-access publication, following a path that will make the journal even more attractive for aspiring contributors. (Submissions are piling up in my inbox.)

The next issue, volume 48, which will appear in December 2016, will have a substantial section guest-edited by Theodore Dunkelgrunn of Cambridge, concerning the formidable career of Solomon Schechter. The volume also will comprise ‘regular’ articles, book reviews, and at least one review essay.

    What is it, though, that makes Transactions different? One aspect is apparent in the current issue, which is dedicated to the late Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway (1956-2015) (to which we would add the Hebraized acronym z”l, ‘of blessed memory’). While many academic journals refrain from obituaries or any form of institutional recognition of deceased members, we regard this as part of our mission. Is there a historian anywhere who does not find such material helpful, or of interest? We also include information about the life of the JHSE: its current central group and branches, and those who appear at its meetings. Along with reviews of books, now expertly handled by Lars Fischer, there are ‘research reports’, often containing primary source material, which is not the standard fare of academic journals. We are, in the end, a scholarly and academic publication, but proudly more than that.

 As editor of Transactions and on behalf of the JHSE, I wish to thank Lara Speicher, Alison Major and their colleagues for making possible the relationship between the UCL Press and the journal. The well-being of the JHSE and an increasingly robust Transactions are mutually beneficial. To quote that great sage, Rick of Casablana:  ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

About the author

Michael Berkowitz is General Editor of Jewish Historical Studies and Professor of Modern Jewish History, UCL.

This post was originally posted in UCL Press news in February 2016.

The Museum, The Centenary, The Book

By Alison Major, on 4 June 2015

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology cover

 Today’s guest post is written by Alice Stevenson, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

About a year ago, it dawned on the staff of UCL’s Petrie Museum that the centenary of our opening was not far off. To mark the occasion the team decided that a souvenir publication would be fitting tribute for such an internationally renowned collection. Time to produce such a book, however, was short. Fortunately, UCL Press received the proposal positively and the scramble to pull together the volume began.

With upwards of 80,000 objects in the collection, more than a century of important discoveries and thousands of years of history to engage with, finding suitable content wasn’t hard. Deciding what could fit into 120 pages was. All that we could do was sketch out the contours of the museum’s holdings, from the Stone Age axes to the medieval and Islamic artefacts, and from the smallest trinkets to the largest monuments. We also wanted to challenge assumptions about the nature of the collection because it is far broader than the term ‘Egyptian archaeology’ might popularly suggest: there are objects from Sudan, Korea, China, Greece, Palestine, Syria, India and Iraq for instance. Additionally, we sought to showcase the unusual: artefacts made from extra-terrestrial materials, objects fished out from dark, flooded burial chambers and long-lost things rediscovered in unlikely places.

Image from Petrie book

What really drove the story-telling, however, were the characters whose lives became entangled with the museum’s history. They include the adventurous Flinders Petrie, a man who Lawrence of Arabia once described as ‘enormous fun’ and who Howard Carter credited as turning him into a true excavator; Margaret Murray, an Egyptology lecturer at UCL and a significant influence on the development of Wicca; Gertrude Caton-Thompson, a pioneering archaeologist who went on to prove that Great Zimbabwe was the work of indigenous Africans; and Ali Suefi, Flinders Petrie’s Egyptian right-hand man and discoverer of many of the most prized objects in the museum.

To even attempt to do justice to this eclectic assemblage and history requires many voices and a range of expertise. It is therefore thanks to all of our contributors for swiftly penning their sections, to UCL Press and Media Services for their professionalism and to the Friends of the Petrie Museum for financial support, that this publication has come together in such good shape and on such a tight deadline. And with over 1300 Open Access downloads in the first week, we’re off to a great start!

Alice Stevenson, Curator, The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology