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Book Review: They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/01/2021 - 11:26pm in

In They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American SouthStephanie E. Jones-Rogers challenges the idea that white women were passive bystanders to the slave economy in the US, instead demonstrating their active participation in its structures of brutality and exploitation. Compellingly written and centring the testimonies of formerly enslaved people, this award-winning book is an important contribution to both historiography and contemporary politics as it adds to an ongoing conversation about the scope of women’s agency – and white women’s culpability – in the nineteenth century, writes Ben Margulies.

Please be aware that this review refers to acts of violence, including sexual violence. 

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers. Yale University Press. 2019.

When we talk about white supremacy in the United States, we often perceive a structure of masculine power. Discussing the planter class in The Half Has Never Been Told, Edward Baptist describes it as a macho culture, one that sought both economic and sexual domination. The Confederacy itself did much to promote the idea of martial valour contrasted with ‘pure’ white womanhood (actor Olivia de Havilland, who died in July 2020, essayed the latter as the character of Melanie Hamilton in the film Gone With the Wind).

This idea of white women as innocent and powerless has had baleful consequences. One explicit goal of white supremacy was the ‘protection’ of white women from Black men, and many lynchings and race massacres had their origins in accusations about African-American men and boys assaulting or accosting white women (including the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, the Rosewood massacre of 1923 and the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955). In Bring the War Home, Kathleen Belew relates how white supremacists used the trope of innocent white womanhood to sway juries in the 1980s; similar tropes have populated white-extremist propaganda.

In They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers takes aim at the myth of white women’s innocence. She rejects an established view that women in the antebellum South ‘had little to do with enslaved people beyond the household’ and ‘were not adept at slave or plantation management unless extenuating circumstances […] compelled them to be’ (xv). Instead, Jones-Rogers, Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, places women in a central role in the narrative of white power in the United States. She focuses on the white women in the early Republic who actively held African Americans captive, who dictated their daily lives and who fully participated in the brutality and exploitation of slavery in the United States. In doing so, she challenges women’s presumptions to innocence in the unholy business of racialised power. As she concludes: ‘Southern white women’s roles in upholding and sustaining slavery form part of the much larger history of white supremacy and oppression […] they were not passive bystanders. They were co-conspirators’ (205).

Jones-Rogers explores the life of the Southern woman slaveholder from birth to marriage and, to an extent, into death as well, examining their wills and estates. She describes in aching detail how Southern households reproduced slave society. Southern children of both genders grew up watching their parents exert mastery over Black people, and then mimicked these behaviours. The book’s first chapter begins with Lizzie Anna Burwell, aged three, demanding her father ‘cut Fanny’s ears off’ and acquire a ‘new maid from Clarksville’ (1). Parents gave children enslaved people as gifts; enslaved people had to call their owner’s children ‘master and mistress’ (5-6).

One of the signal accomplishments of They Were Her Property is to explain just how women could actively own property in the antebellum South and thus claim ‘property’ in human beings. Formally, the common law did not recognise the right of married women to property, under the doctrine of coverture; a married couple had a single legal personality, which belonged to the husband. In Stephanie McCurry’s works, Confederate Reckoning and Women’s War (which I also reviewed on LSE Review of Books), coverture mimics the private government slaveholders exerted over African Americans; women had limited legal and political status, and whatever claims they made to such faced considerable resistance.

Jones-Rogers acknowledges that coverture was often a real constraint for married white women (27). However, she argues that Southern families often ignored or circumvented its strictures. Families could transfer property to daughters or other women relatives that would remain separate as a condition of the gift. Southern women could and did draw up what we would now call prenuptial agreements, or ‘deeds of gift, deeds of trust and wills that granted [the wife] control over all property she already owned or would acquire during her marriage’ (31). In Louisiana, women could petition the courts for separate marital estates should their husbands demonstrate imprudent financial management (35-37). One gets the impression that Jones-Rogers and McCurry are describing different structures that coexisted – a real patriarchy alongside a real apparatus of white women’s legal and economic power. The next question is how far each extended, cooperated and conflicted with each other.

Much of They Were Her Property examines the role of white women in the human trafficking of enslaved people. In imagining white women as delicate and sheltered, some historians have claimed that they did not attend slave auctions or markets and had little role in the commerce in human bodies. This was not the case: ‘Travelers, slave traders, city officials and enslaved people all attested to the presence of white women in nineteenth-century slave markets’ (127).  Women also bought and sold human beings from their own homes, often within local social networks or from itinerant traders. Some did business as slave traders, or fronted capital to men who did so, like Mathilda Bushey (144-46).

White women helped create a whole market in enslaved wet nurses, the subject of They Were Her Property’s fifth chapter. ‘White mothers determined whether they could withstand the physical toll breast-feeding imposed upon them […] Consequently, they were the ones who decided whether to borrow, hire, or buy an enslaved wet nurse, even if a man might finalize the transactions in the slave market’ (122). This allowed white mothers the freedom to pursue social lives or compensated for a physical inability to breastfeed their children.

White women were also fully implicated in the physical and sexual brutality of US slavery. The book describes mistresses so violent that their husbands had to restrain them (72-73). White mistresses often ‘invested’ in enslaved women in the hope their captives would bear children; Henrietta Butler told the 1930s Federal Writers’ Project interviewers that her mistress, Emily Haidee, had forced her and her mother to have sex with enslaved men (21). Masters also used rape to ensure a supply of women to serve as wet nurses (106-108). Other times, they hired women who had lost babies through miscarriage or infant mortality, dismissing the nurses’ grief and pain as ‘sulking’ (121). Some white women ran brothels staffed by enslaved people (146-49). One of the most chilling single stories involves Rose Russell, whose mistress asked which parent she loved the most. She said her father, and the mistress promptly sold her mother (135).

In her final chapters, Jones-Rogers looks at how women slave-owners faced the US Civil War and emancipation. She gives an excellent overview of the Union’s complicated and highly legalistic approach to emancipation (152-57), including the Confiscation Acts and the Emancipation Proclamation. In her Civil War chapter, Jones-Rogers shows how women contested emancipation, sometimes by telling Union authorities that they were loyal; she locates women slave-owners seeking compensation when the US ended slavery in the District of Columbia; and she finds evidence of women carrying their enslaved ‘property’ away from war zones, a practice known as ‘refugeeing’.

After the war, she finds white women negotiating labour conditions with freedpeople, and trying to maintain control of African-American children as ‘apprentices’. A few white women petitioned President Andrew Johnson for pardons, citing their losses in human property as a way of gaining sympathy (Johnson was vocally racist). She also briefly discusses how former mistresses attempted to (re)cast slavery as an opportunity to ‘buy, rule over, Christianize and civilize people of African descent’, an enterprise deemed to be so worthy that Letitia Burwell, author of an 1895 memoir on antebellum Southern life, thought African Americans should commemorate ‘the landing of their fathers on the shores of America’ (201). (Ironically, this is exactly what the 1619 Project, launched under the aegis of The New York Times, seeks to do, though for precisely the opposite reasons.)

Jones-Rogers draws on many sources, including Southern newspapers, court records and white women’s diaries. One of the major sources for her work is a series of interviews conducted in the 1930s with living former enslaved people, which were collected by the Federal Writers’ Project as part of the New Deal. These testimonies corroborate Jones-Rogers’s other evidence, but more importantly, they place enslaved people at the centre of Southern history and the history of slavery. She often turns the narration over to the interviewees, incorporating their reminiscences into the text and structuring sentences to identify them first. Jones-Rogers also describes how enslaved people attempted to navigate the world of slavery themselves, learning about market conditions, property laws and demands for skills in a bid to win freedom. Some tried to buy their own freedom, which was difficult since enslaved people could not legally make binding contracts (96-100). One enslaved woman, Winney, sued for her freedom in 1844, informing a Kentucky court that her late mistress’s marriage contract had provided for Winney’s emancipation upon her mistress’s death. She was successful (38).

The book is compellingly written and rich with anecdotes, though sometimes Jones-Rogers neglects to tell readers exactly where or when a particular event occurred. They Were Her Property is a primarily qualitative text; we are not presented with figures on the number of women slave-owners, the proportion of slave-owners who were women or the proportion of married women who had separate title. This data may not exist or may not have been compiled; in its absence, it is sometimes hard to grasp how common women’s participation was in ownership and commercial roles.

Ultimately, They Were Her Property contributes to a broader argument about women’s power that is both important for historiography and for contemporary politics. The book adds to an ongoing conversation about the scope of women’s agency – and white women’s culpability – in the nineteenth century. It also reminds us that even today, the intersection of race and gender can reproduce the oppression of women by women.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Photography titled ‘slave auction on Cheapside, Lexington’. NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11672871. Photograph courtesy of New York Public Library, no known copyright restrictions.


Book Review: This is What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed Ballot by Alicia Yin Cheng

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/01/2021 - 11:09pm in

In This is What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed BallotAlicia Yin Cheng provides a concise yet detailed look at the history of the printed electoral ballot in the United States, locating the printed ballot in the development of voting and enfranchisement and offering dozens of visual examples of past electoral ballots drawn from across US history. This timely and relevant work is a worthwhile read and would make an excellent reference book for the shelves of academic and non-academic readers interested in democracy and politics, writes Chris Stafford

This is What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed Ballot. Alicia Yin Cheng. Princeton Architectural Press. 2020.

The printed ballot is one of the most fundamental yet overlooked aspects of democracies throughout the world. Over the course of their lives, the average voter will probably spend just a matter of minutes in the presence of their ballots and perhaps even less time thinking about their finer details. Yet the things we take as given today – the layout, design, wording and even the act of putting an ‘X’ next to one’s preferred candidate – are all relatively new aspects of the ballot and are the result of many years of development and dispute.

Alicia Yin Cheng’s This is What Democracy Looked Like provides a concise yet detailed look at the history of the printed electoral ballot in the United States. Given the tumultuous aftermath of the 2020 US Presidential election, with outgoing President Trump making unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud, the recent storming of the US Capitol building by his supporters and Trump’s subsequent impeachment, the book is just as relevant now, if not more so, than when it was initially published last summer.

The book comprises two main sections. The first is a succinct write-up of the history of voting and enfranchisement in the US and how the printed ballot fits into this, discussing the history and development of not just how people could cast their vote, but also who could cast a vote. From highly partisan forms given to voters by the candidates themselves to the more standardised, impartial articles we are familiar with today, the development of the printed ballot is invariably linked to the development of democratic processes and enfranchisement within a nation.

Given Trump’s unfounded claims of electoral fraud, the concise history of how genuine electoral fraud was actually committed in the past proves particularly interesting. The book shows how, as the voting processes developed, so too did the methods by which people would try to cheat the system. The book details various methods of electoral fraud, from rather simple methods such as bribery and intimidation to more ingenious and amusing attempts, such as how the same man could cast multiple votes by entering the polling station in the morning with a full beard and then gradually shaving off certain parts in between repeat trips to the ballot box throughout the day.

This initial section is very interesting, well written and easy to read, packing a lot of information into a relatively short discussion. It also provides the reader with the necessary background information and context that they will need to fully appreciate the second section of the book. This second section makes up the vast majority of the work and fulfils the promise made by its title in giving a comprehensive visual history of printed electoral ballots in America. These images are accompanied by short descriptions, repeating the information from the earlier section to remind the reader of the specifics of what they are looking at. There are dozens of examples of past electoral ballots covering the breadth of US history and Cheng deserves particular praise for the significant amount of research and archival time it must have taken to find and collate these many examples.

Examples are drawn from the early 1800s right up until the present day. In the early days, the printed ballot was a highly partisan document printed by the political parties and candidates themselves. They were essentially a campaign pamphlet that voters could use to cast their vote. It is striking just how dynamic some of the earlier ballots are compared to the more sanitised ones we are familiar with today. In the early 1800s the monochromatic ballots used varying text fonts and imagery to entice voters, but as printing processes developed, so too did the extravagance of the ballots. By the end of the nineteenth century many ballots could probably be classed as works of art, featuring colourful, patriotic images, creative layouts and swooping text to grab voters’ attention. However, by the early twentieth century, ballots had become the much more standardised, neutral documents we are familiar with today.  While this is perhaps for the best, one can’t help but feel a little disappointed with the status quo!

Overall, the two sections of the book complement each other well, although one very minor criticism here would be that the initial textual section could provide better links to the second in certain places. The text regularly discusses various ballots which are subsequently presented in the visual section. Although it is not particularly difficult to cross-relate these, some directions in the text telling the reader where they could find a visual example elsewhere in the book would be a good addition. Additionally, for some of the ballots it is difficult to make out finer details of the text or imagery. However, given the size of some past ballots in relation to the size of the pages of the book, this is understandable. One example from New York in 1902 features the names of 600 candidates and runs to around 14 feet in length, so one can forgive Cheng for not including it at actual size!

This is What Democracy Looked Like does exactly what it sets out to do: provide a visual history of printed election ballots in the US. The textual aspect is brief, but full of detail and easy to follow. As such, this book can be read quite quickly, depending on how deeply one wants to examine the various images of historical ballots. Compared to other works of this nature, this book is relatively inexpensive and within most budgets, although cash-strapped students may want to evaluate if a couple of hours of reading is worth the price of the book. However, for anyone with a keen interest in the issues covered, this is certainly a worthwhile read and would make an excellent reference book on any academic’s shelf. The relative simplicity and accessibility of the book means that it would also lend itself well to non-specialist and non-academic readers. Anyone with a casual interest in politics or democracy could quite easily enjoy this book and learn from it. Given the turbulent political climate in the United States at the time of writing, this book is likely to remain relevant for some time to come.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image One Credit: p. 88. South Division ballot for Democratic presidential electors, 1864. This dense yet precise lithographic ballot is an impressive display of hand-drawn type. (Courtesy The Huntington Library, San Marino, California).

Image Two Credit: p. 117. Administration Union Ticket, Sacramento, California, 1851. The inks on this three-color, double-sided ballot retain a vibrant hue. The artist’s signature is on the back. (Images courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California).


How Black Women Fight for Our Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/01/2021 - 8:55am in

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. A legal and cultural historian, Martha Jones has dedicated herself to telling the story of how...

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History is repeating: Dennis Glover on the Capitol Hill riot

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 6:41pm in


Democracy, history

If something can happen once, it can happen again. This is the oft-ignored first lesson of history. The second lesson is that humans usually forget lesson number one. Watching the attempted coup unfold at the Capitol building, those two lessons kept working through my mind. Never have I felt like I was living so intensely in history. Maybe you did too.

In 1923, after almost a decade of economic suffering caused by the First World War, Germany was hit by an intense economic shock – hyperinflation, which destroyed middle class savings and raised the cost of a simple loaf of bread to several billion marks. Into this turmoil stepped a little known agitator named Adolf Hitler – a man considered an embarrassment to his establishment backers but who had a gift for speaking to the people. On the night of 8 November, in a Munich beer hall, Hitler assembled a ramshackle collection of his followers – angry extremists dismissed as uneducated buffoons, and right-wing establishment figures who thought they could easily control him – and convinced them to take over the Bavarian state government and march on to Berlin to seize power. In a confused, pathetic fiasco, four policemen and 14 others were killed and Hitler slinked away to later be arrested.

At the time it was easy to dismiss this Beer Hall Putsch as a mad failure. And it would have been had authorities responded better. Hitler and his supporters were arrested and charged with high treason, but instead of being given life sentences or executed, were let off. A biased judge sentenced Hitler to just five years in gaol and a modest fine. He served only 10 months in luxurious detention, during which he wrote a book setting out his intention to take power, murder the Jews and revenge Germany’s defeat in 1918 – Mein Kampf. Soon after his release, his party, the Nazi Party, was allowed to re-form, and ten years later took power legally – having accepted the lesson of the failed coup that power had to be sought constitutionally. Within weeks of becoming Reich Chancellor, he arrested and murdered his major opponents and abolished democracy – just as he had first planned to do back in 1923.

By now, you’ve probably figured out where this lesson is heading. Donald Trump’s attempted coup of last week has so many obvious similarities: the ranting leader, the ludicrous-looking followers, the hastily planned insurrection that was countered weakly by the state and could have ended up much worse. If history can ever repeat, it did on 6 January. Will the second half of the story repeat also?

To ensure it doesn’t, democracies everywhere now need to heed the lessons. I believe there are at least four. You can probably think of more.

First, there must be no leniency. Had Hitler faced the full force of the law, he would not have been around to take power when the German state was once again shaken by the Great Depression of 1929. He could not have successfully exploited the crisis from gaol or the grave. Or to put this lesson in the positive: democracy must defend itself without reservations. Calls by some to simply ignore Trump in his last two weeks of office are historically illiterate. History backs the calls for Trump and his followers to be removed, impeached and prosecuted.

Second, the conditions in which extremists flourish must be addressed. As happened in Germany between 1914 and 1933, democracy is most at risk when prolonged periods of inequality and economic discontent are followed by sudden and devastating shocks. In an America in which blue-collar living standards have been declining for decades, creating the discontented army that now worships Trump, how well can democracy negotiate yet another Global Financial Crisis? Those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the remorseless amoral direction of the economy cannot continue to be ignored. The redistribution of income is no longer a left-wing cause, it is a democratic imperative. So is finding new ways of connecting emotionally with everyday people’s sense of economic and cultural loss. January 6 was surely is the ultimate wake-up call.

Third, read the signs early, because they are everywhere. During the election campaign and after, armed militias appeared openly on the streets, brought their ‘long guns’ into state legislatures, and even threatened to kidnap a state governor – and yet the threat was underplayed. This happened in pre-Nazi Germany too, and the tendency now as then was to ignore it. This behaviour cannot be allowed to be normalised.

And fourth, rid yourself of the idea that it can’t all happen again. If ten years ago someone had told you that an armed mob would take over the Congress on the day it was due to ratify a presidential election and demand that a right-wing populist demagogue be kept in the White House after losing by seven million votes, you wouldn’t have believed it, would you? Last week told us that such things can and do happen. We have now been warned, twice. What might happen next time? As Donald Trump said to his followers on the day of the failed coup attempt, ‘our incredible journey is only just beginning.’  Hitler couldn’t have put it better himself.

Dennis Glover is a Labor speechwriter and novelist. His latest novel is Factory 19, published by Black Inc.

Beeb Documentary Next Week on American Evangelical Christian Support for Israel

Also on TV next Wednesday, 19th January 2021, at 9.00 pm in the evening, is a programme on BBC 4 on the support for Israel amongst American Evangelical Christians and their influence on Donald Trump’s administration, ‘Til Kingdom Come: Trump, Faith and Money. The blurb for this on page 89 of the Radio Times runs

Documentary exploring the relationship between American evangelicals and Israel’s foremost philanthropic institution, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and its influence on both nations’ foreign policies.

There’s an additional few paragraphs about the programme by Jack Searle on page 87, which states

This seems at first to be telling a small, local story: we’re in woodland in Kentucky, where a man loading an assault rifle in preparation for some target practice explains how Donald Trump, he feels, spoke up for ordinary folk like him. But he isn’t just a regular Republican voter. He’s an evangelical pastor whose calling in life is to raise money for Israel.

Maya Zinshtein’s film explores the global significance of US Christians, who believe Israel is the key to the Second Coming, and ow that partly explains Trump’s highly controversial relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. It forms a spiky fable about what happens when politics and rigid religious dogma interact.

Apocalypticism and the desire to hasten Christ’s return has been a very important strand in Christian Zionism since the 19th century. Historians and activists critical of Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians, like Ilan Pappe and Tony Greenstein, have pointed out that Zionism first emerged amongst Christians in the 19th century. They wished to see the Jews return to Israel in order to fulfil, as they saw it, the prophecies in the Book of Revelation. Support for Israel in America is now strongest amongst Christian evangelicals. The largest Zionist organisation in America by sheer numbers of members is Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Jewish support for Israel is waning, especially among the young. American Jews were like their European coreligionists before the rise of the Nazis. They wished to stay in the countries in which they were born, and this attitude continued at least up to 1969. One of the Jewish magazines ran an article that year lamenting the lack of interest in Israel among Jewish Americans. The Neo-Conservative movement, founded by William Krystol, had its origins as an attempt to raise support for Israel amongst Americans. Young Jewish Americans are increasingly losing interest in Israel or actually becoming opposed to it, because of its treatment of its indigenous Arab population. The numbers of school leavers taking up the heritage tours of the country, sponsored by the Israel state as a way of gaining their support, is falling. Many Jewish young people have joined the BDS movement against goods produced in the occupied territories. As a result, Israel is shifting its efforts to muster support to American Christians.

I do wonder how many of those evangelical Christians would still be vocal in their support for Israel, if they knew that Israel pulls down monasteries and churches as well as mosques and that some of the extreme right-wing rabbis in Netanyahu’s coalition have said that they’d like to see every church in Israel pulled down as a place of idolatry. Or that the European founders of Israel really didn’t want Arabic Jews, the Mizrahim, settling in the country, and only accepted them because they needed their labour while also heavily discriminating against them. Possibly some might find this troublesome, but I’ve no doubt others would find some way to justify it and their continued support for the country.

BBC Documentaries Next Week on the History and Prejudice against the Disabled

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/01/2021 - 10:19pm in

Next week the Beeb is showing two programmes, one on the history of disabled people and the other on the prejudice, discrimination and cruelty they experience. The first of these programmes is Silenced: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain, on BBC 2 on Tuesday, 19th January 2021, at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it on page 88 of the Radio Times runs

Writer, actor and presenter Cerrie Burnell tells the story of how disabled people have had to fight back following more than 100 years of being shut out of society, denied basic human rights and treated with fear and prejudice. The former CBeebies host, who was born without the lower part of her right arm, discovers how modern attitudes to disabled people were formed in Victorian Britain’s workhouses, and hears stories from the brave pioneers who have changed the lives of those affected forever.

There’s a bit more about the programme by Alison Graham on page 86:

Cerrie Burnell, who was born without the lower part of her right arm, reads from a newspaper story about parents’ complaints when she became a CBeebies presenter in 2009. She was, apparently, “scaring children” and will always be remembered as “the woman with one arm”.

Burnell carries that quiet anger throughout this powerful film looking at society’s treatment of disabled people throughout history.

It’s a litany of casual cruelty, misguided “kindness” and downright wickedness, as men, women and children were put, out of sight and often for decades, in institutions.

The following day, Wednesday 20th January 2021, there’s Targeted: the Truth about Disability Hate Crime, on the same channel, BBC 2, also at 9.00 pm. The blurb for this in the Radio Times on page 98. runs

Testimony from a handful of the nation’s 14 million disabled people reveals just how tough it is to live with a disability in 21st century Britain. Among those telling their stories are Hannah, a young mixed-race woman who has cerebral palsy and is clear about the fact that it is her disability, not her skin colour, that provokes discrimination. Andrea, who has dwarfism, says she is routinely treated with contempt and reveals how she was left with a fractured skull and being kicked in the head. Dan, who has autism and just wants to fit in, finds himself a social outcast and now suffers from severe depression having fallen prey to random violent attacks.

Radio 4 has also been running a ten part series on the history of the disabled for several weeks now, Disability: A New History. The 5th instalment, which is on next Sunday, 17th January 2021 at 2.45 pm, is entitled ‘Finding a Voice’. The blurb for it says

‘Peter White highlights the work of William Hay, an 18th-century MP born with spinal curvature.’

I’m mentioning these programmes, especially that on hate crime, because the Tories and New Labour have both been determined to demonise disabled people and find ways to throw them off benefits. The work capability examinations, devised in conjunction with American insurance fraudster Unum, are based on the assumption that a particular percentage of claims for disability are fake and that those making the claim are malingering. This has seen jobcentres falsify the evidence given by claimants in order to fulfil the number of claimants they are required to deny benefits. As for the violence experienced by the disabled, a friend of mine told me he had been abused several times while out with his wife, who had to use a wheelchair. He blamed one of the characters on Little Britain for the rise in prejudice. This was the disabled character, who gets up from his wheelchair to run around when his carer leaves him. I’m no fan of Little Britain, but I think a far greater cause of prejudice and hostility is the Tory. This consistently vilifies the disabled and other benefit claimants as scroungers and malingers, to the extent that the British public think 27 per cent of all claims for benefit are fraudulent, while the true figure is less than one per cent. Mike over at Vox Political has put up very many posts covering this topic, as well as the numerous deaths of people with severe disabilities, who were wrongfully and grotesquely thrown off the benefits they needed to survive. I hope this will also be covered in the documentaries. But as it’s the Beeb, it probably won’t.

Book Review: Markievicz: Prison Letters and Rebel Writings edited by Lindie Naughton

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 11:37pm in

In Markievicz: Prison Letters and Rebel Writings, Lindie Naughton offers a new edition of the collection of letters written by Constance Markievicz, who was a political activist, an Irish revolutionary and the first woman MP. Originally published in the 1930s as The Prison Letters of Countess Markievicz, this new edition presents the letters as they were as well as previously unpublished letters, mostly written to friends and family, including her sister, Eva Gore-Booth, during and in between periods of imprisonment. Alongside offering Markievicz’s perspective on early-twentieth-century Irish politics, the collection provides sometimes surprising insight into the interior life of a figure often overshadowed by her controversial reputation, writes Sharon Crozier-De Rosa. 

Markievicz: Prison Letters and Rebel Writings. Lindie Naughton (ed.). Merrion Press. 2018.

‘Dearest Old Darling’, Constance Markievicz (1868–1927) wrote to her sister, Eva Gore-Booth, ‘It was such a heaven-sent joy, seeing you. It was a new life, a resurrection, though I knew all the time that you’d try and see me, even though I’d been fighting and you hate it all so and think killing so wrong.’ So begins a series of almost 100 letters between the sisters while Constance was incarcerated in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison for her leading role in the failed insurrection against British rule in Ireland in April 1916.

In many ways, this was an unremarkable utterance on the part of a quite remarkable woman to her similarly remarkable sister. Here were two female activists connected by the intimate bonds of sisterhood, as well as by their dedication to intersecting political causes of their time – suffrage and labour being among these. Yet, these were also activists who diverged markedly on the issue of political tactics. Whereas one eschewed violence, the other promoted it.

Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth) was born into the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and grew up at her family’s estate in County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland where, among other things, she learnt to hunt. She was presented at the court of Queen Victoria in 1887. Following that, she pursued life as an artist in Paris where she met and later married the Polish writer and artist, Casimir Dunin-Markievicz. After they moved back to Ireland in the early 1900s, Constance, who had already undertaken feminist activism, embraced Irish nationalism and socialism.

By the second decade of the twentieth century, she was renowned as a soldier, as well as a politician. Markievicz trained boys and young men for armed combat, doubtless drawing on her hunting skills. She fought in the failed nationalist uprising in 1916 and was sentenced to be executed; because she was a woman, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. When Ireland was partitioned into two legislatures in 1922 – Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State – she opposed their legitimacy and continued to agitate for an Irish Republic on the whole island of Ireland. Further revealing the complexities of her values, while she viewed violence as essential in some contexts, she also lamented it in others – as she wrote in a 1922 letter to Eva contained in this volume, the killings in the lead-up to the Irish Civil War (1922-23) were simply ‘awful’.

Violence aside, this was also a woman who was renowned internationally for her pioneering political achievements. She was the first woman ever elected to both the Irish and British parliaments (although she did not take up her seat at Westminster, in alignment with the stance of her party, Sinn Féin), and was the first Minister for Labour in the Irish parliament, the Dáil Éireann. She was also a founding member of Fianna Fáil, successfully standing for parliament in their inaugural campaign.

This series of letters is reprinted in Lindie Naughton’s edited collection, Markievicz: Prison Letters and Rebel Writings, alongside a swathe of others covering numerous periods of Markievicz’s life, some before, but most during and in between, bouts of imprisonment. Indeed, most of the letters were written while Markievicz was in jail – from May 1916 to July 1917 in Mountjoy and Aylesbury, June 1918 to March 1919 in Holloway, June to October 1919 in Cork, September 1920 to July 1921 in Mountjoy and November to December 1923 in the North Dublin Union. What results is a sometimes surprising insight into aspects of the interior life of an iconic figure whose notorious reputation – for example, as a ‘a snob, fraud, show-off, and murderer’– has worked to overshadow the ‘actual’ or ‘real’ woman.

This is not the first time that Markievicz’s letters – most of them to Eva – have been collated and presented to the public. They were first gathered together and published in book form in the 1930s as The Prison Letters of Countess Markievicz by Esther Roper, Eva’s companion. This was re-issued by Virago in the 1980s. In between, the originals were moved about with some being lost. When accessing the letters that had since made their way to the National Library of Ireland, Naughton found that previous published versions of this collection had ‘skirted around some sensitive issues’, as well as left out the names of some people who may still have been alive. This 2018 edition presents the letters as they were (although it does not point out the sections that were previously omitted, which would have presented a fascinating insight into censorship practices and priorities), while also providing updated introductions to each section to contextualise Markievicz’s experiences.

In her introduction to the collection, Naughton asserts that the letters themselves ‘breathe life into the story of one of Irish history’s most fascinating characters, with all her foibles and enthusiasms’. Constance, she writes, was not perfect; rather ‘she could be overbearing and bossy’ (surely accepted, if not lauded, leadership qualities in men). Like many before her, even sympathetic commentators, Naughton almost apologises for Markievicz’s seemingly eccentric nature when there is no need. Indeed, the overwhelming sense that Markievicz’s letters communicate is of a woman who is lonely, self-effacing, practical and stoic, while also indulging in humour and irony – no doubt a mean feat given the deprivations to which she was subject. One passage plucked from a 1924 letter to Eva explaining her feelings about her prison hunger strikes helps exemplify this quiet stoicism and so is worth quoting at length: ‘I always rather dreaded a hunger strike, but when I had to do it I found that, like most things, the worst part of it was looking forward to the possibility of having to do it. I did not suffer at all but just stayed in bed and dozed and tried to prepare myself to leave the world. I was perfectly happy and had no regrets. It is all very odd and I don’t understand it but it was so.’

This collection is an invaluable resource for those keen to explore the emotional and physical experiences of a female revolutionary who, until recent decades of feminist recovery work, was not treated well by history. It offers insight into this activist’s take on early-twentieth-century Irish politics, both enthusiastic and cynical. It allows us to access an imprisoned sisterhood’s concern for each other as harsh conditions took their toll. Perhaps most poignantly, it offers us a rare insight into the intimate relationship between two sisters – both devoted to revolutionising social and political culture – as they navigated the often painful and oppressive consequences of that devotion.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Header image credit: Detail of a bronze statue of Countess Constance Markievicz by Elizabeth McLaughlin (1998) on Townsend Street, Dublin. © O’Dea at Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

In-text image: 1954 bust of Countess Markievicz in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin (William Murphy CC BY SA 2.0).


Book Review: The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform by Stefan Bauer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 10:17pm in

In The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic ReformStefan Bauer provides a new addition to English-language offerings on papal historiography, presenting a clear and detailed introduction to Onofrio Panvinio, an Augustinian monk and one of the most important historians of the late Renaissance and early Catholic Reformation. This study of Panvinio’s complex contribution and intellectual legacy should be praised for its clarity, in-depth research and useful reflection on the complicated past, writes Jennifer Mara DeSilva.

The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform. Stefan Bauer. Oxford University Press. 2020.

This volume is a useful addition to the relatively slim English-language offerings on papal historiography. Stefan Bauer of Royal Holloway, University of London, presents a clear and detailed introduction to Onofrio Panvinio, an Augustinian monk and one of the most important historians of the late Renaissance and early Catholic Reformation. During his short lifetime (1530-68), Panvinio composed a prodigious number of texts, reflecting the growing interest in Catholic Church history between Martin Luther’s death (1547) and the end of the Council of Trent (1545-63). His focus included genealogies of the Roman nobility, a treatise on the office of the papal vice-chancellor, another on papal primacy, the first examination of conclave procedures (the process for choosing the pope), biographies of Popes Sixtus IV through Pius V (1471-1572), a large-scale ecclesiastical history with sources and many other less well-known works. This breadth speaks to Panvinio’s access to archival materials, broad contemporary interest and the patronage opportunities that allowed him time to write.

At its core, The Invention of Papal History is a study of texts produced by a distinct combination of ideas and encouragement that was slipping away even as Panvinio toiled furiously. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of his life is the fact that he was an Augustinian monk, dispensed from living at a monastery, who composed works for noble clients as well as the printing press. Late in his career, he employed three scribes, an illustrator and a cook, and was in constant communication with current and potential patrons. The king of Spain, Phillip II, Ferdinand I and Maximillian II, both Holy Roman Emperors, and the wealthy banker and bibliophile Hans Jakob Fugger were all Panvinio’s patrons at various times. Paradoxically, the quest for Catholic patrons, financial resources to ransom his brother and support his mother and sister and permission to print were constant concerns in a period that envisioned learned seclusion as a monastic ideal.

Bauer begins his study with a detailed biography in Chapter One, exploring Panvinio’s origin in Verona, his admission to the Augustinian Hermits and his education in Naples and Rome. Panvinio benefitted from cultivation and mentoring by the Prior General of his order, Girolamo Seripando, and its cardinal-protector, Marcello Cervini, who became Pope Marcellus II. The latter man had been a tutor to the grandson of Pope Paul III before becoming a cardinal. Not only did Cervini introduce Panvinio to important Roman scholars, but he also facilitated his admission to the household of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Cervini’s former charge. Although he faced political disagreements with certain popes that required him to leave Rome for several years, Farnese would become one of the greatest patrons of sixteenth-century Rome. His name can still be seen on the façade of Il Gesù, the Roman Jesuit church, which he largely funded.

While patronage is one of the constant themes in this book, it is difficult to know the impact of Panvinio’s work, either on his patrons or on early modern readers. Bauer’s study focuses on his life and relationships as seen through his manuscripts, but mostly avoids theorising about their role in the larger intellectual landscape. Censorship of Panvinio’s work is one of Bauer’s central concerns, and in keeping with the close focus on the papal court and influence.

While Chapter One’s biographical narrative introduces many of Panvinio’s works, Chapter Two uses his final decade (1558-68) as a lens for understanding his legacy. At first this was a tumultuous time in Rome, with the war with Spain coming to a disastrous end and the pope banishing his own nephews, while Farnese and Panvinio lived in self-imposed exile. However, after Pope Paul IV’s death in 1559 both men returned to Rome and began a period of great production. Readers learn more about how Panvinio came to his projects, his (and posthumously his brother’s) efforts to bring works to press as well as what remained unfinished at his death. Although Paolo Panvinio’s biography of his brother is used throughout the study to support the narrative, a dedicated discussion of this text would have been beneficial.

Chapter Three explores the development of Panvinio’s interest in papal and imperial elections, which allows discussion of ecclesiastical and secular patronage, and offers a chance to consider his originality. Bauer compares Panvinio’s works with other texts, including some by Angelo Massarelli and Alfonso Chacón. This is quite an extensive and complex chapter that incorporates large-scale analysis of Panvinio’s texts with an effort to situate his identity as a scholar amid changing intellectual practice and ecclesiastical politics. His work on conclave procedure benefitted from four comparatively short pontificates from 1550-72. After his death a series of four conclaves in quick succession (1590-92) would prompt Pope Clement VIII to take an interest in his work with an eye to reforming papal practice.

Chapter Four shifts to considering Panvinio’s larger ecclesiastical history and papal biographies. These texts filled a need, rebuking the Protestant Magdeburg Centuries (1559-74) and continuing Platina’s Lives of the Popes (1471-75). However, as Panvinio’s works articulated visions of the Catholic Church in periods of tension and evaluated papal actions, inevitably they came under consideration by the Roman Inquisition. Panvinio’s even-handed treatment of the eleventh-century Investiture Controversy, which pitted Pope Gregory VII against Emperor Henry IV, endeared him to Protestant scholars but attracted suspicion from Catholic censors. Similarly, the papacy’s continuing endorsement of the Donation of Constantine (the emperor’s supposed transfer of the Western Roman Empire to the pope’s control in 315), which Panvinio criticised, became a test case for scholarly orthodoxy. Finally, the growing expectation that clerical authors would support the evolving work of confessionalisation, by describing a homogenous and virtuous past stretching forward from St. Peter, was at odds with the document-based style that Panvinio and other humanist scholars used. Modern readers might be surprised that historians supported their arguments by inserting extensive portions of earlier authors’ works (as some classical historians did), but censors saw it as endorsing dangerous narratives written in less stringent times.

Notably, during Panvinio’s lifetime, history writing was not as propagandistic as it would become from the 1580s onward. As Bauer reveals, Panvinio was an intermediate figure, whose lifestyle and scholarship – as a monk living in a cardinal-nephew’s household writing both noble and papal biographies and humanist histories – placed him between phases of intense Catholic-Protestant conflict and an increasingly severe confessionalisation campaign. Perhaps because his short life occurred in that transitional period, ultimately Panvinio’s work was overshadowed by his longer-lived contemporary Cesare Baronio. Moreover, as political need pressed the Catholic Church, papal biography and ecclesiastical history became tools used by the polemicist to protect the Catholic vision of immutable doctrine. Panvinio’s freer evaluation of clerical virtue and less dogmatic historiographical style seemed impious to some censors. After his death there were few printed editions of his work, and shortly Baronio’s Ecclesiastical Annals (1588-1607) became the official Catholic response to Protestant conceptions of Christian history and Catholic theological evolution. What began as a promising and productive career was unexpectedly ended and sidelined by more attuned authors.

Stefan Bauer’s study of Onofrio Panvinio’s complex contribution and intellectual legacy should be praised for its clarity, in-depth research and useful reflection on the complicated past.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: St. Peter’s Basilica (Randi Hausken CC BY SA 2.0).


The 1920s’ View of the Future

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 3:44am in

I found this fascinating video on the ‘1920s Channel’ on YouTube. It’s about the decades view of the future, taken from the pulp magazine, Science and Invention, founded and edited by Hugo Gernsbach. Gernsbach is one of the major figures in 20th century SF. An immigrant to America from Luxembourg, he was passionately enthusiastic about science and technology and founded the first the first SF pulp magazines. He also wrote an SF novel, Ralph 124C41 + A Romance of the Year 2660, and coined the term ‘scientifiction’ to describe the new genre. This was shortened and altered by his successors and rivals to become the modern term.

The channel’s main man says he’s interested in 1920s futurism because it falls between the ‘Steam Punk’ predictions of the Victorians and the ‘Atom Punk’ of the 1950s and 1960s, although it also has some elements of the ‘Diesel Punk’ of the 1940s. He states that the 1920s and the 1950s were similar decades, in that both followed major wars but were periods of optimism. Most of the illustrations were by Frank R. Paul, Gernsbach’s artist, who is now justly respected as one of the foremost pioneers of SF art. Among the inventions and developments the magazine predicted are massive, skyscraper cities now a staple of SF in such classic films as Metropolis and Blade Runner. But the magazine also predicted underground cities, as well as improved scientific instruments like astronomical telescopes, devices for signalling Mars, bizarre machines for taking care of one’s health, like the ‘sun shower’ and health meter. There are new entertainment media, like television and a cinema with four screens, as well as new musical instruments like the Theremin. This last creates sound through the alteration of a magnetic field by the player’s hands. It’s one of the many instruments played by the hugely talented Bill Bailey. The magazine also looked at the vehicles of the future. These included moving walkways, cars and railways. Cars wouldn’t be confined to the road, but would fly, and the magazine also showed the new aircraft of the future. Humanity would master anti-gravity and fly beyond Earth into space. At the same time, new ships and flying boats would cross the oceans, while people would venture underneath the seas in diving suits that somewhat resemble the metallic suits created to withstand the crushing pressures of the ocean depths. And the magazine also predicted that SF staple, the robot. One of these was to be a ‘police automaton’, like Robocop.

The illustrations are taken from worldradiohistory.com, where they’re available for free, and the video is accompanied by some of the music of the period, so be warned!

Futurism Of The 1920s – YouTube

It’s interesting watching the video to see how much of modern SF was formed in the decade, and to compare its predictions with reality. Most of these predictions haven’t actually become reality. Flying cars are still waiting to happen, we don’t have zeppelin aircraft carriers and skyscraper cities haven’t quite become the dominant urban form. Nor do we have truly intelligent machines and robots. On the other hand, I think the ideas and devices Gernsbach and Paul discussed and portrayed in the magazine still have the power to inspire, and think that they would make a great source of ideas for future, aspiring SF writers.

History Debunked Calls for More Black Blood and Organ Donors to Show Black Lives Really Matter

This is another, really short video from History Debunked. It’s creator, Simon Webb, is an author, and has published several history books. He’s very definitely a man of the right, and many of his videos tackle and refute some of the myths and false history being promoted as part of the Black history movement. In this video he expresses his incredulity at the rioting and destruction of statues that broke out earlier this year with the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement. He finds it difficult to understand how defacing a statue of Winston Churchill or setting fire to the Union flag shows that Black lives matter. Black deaths at the hands of the cops are widely publicised, but they probably occur at the rate of less than one a year. There hasn’t been one for over a year now, and they may well only happen once every 2 to 3 years.

A far greater killer of Black lives is Sickle Cell Anaemia. This can result in episodes, known as Sickle Cell crises, that can produce blindness, disability and death. They can be treated with transfusions. There are differences in the blood of different races, so that Black people are better treated with blood from other Black people, Whites with White blood. But there is a terrible, pressing shortage of Black blood and organ donors. The NHS in London and Birmingham is currently seeking 5,000 Black blood donors so that they can treat the Black victims of this disease. Whites are twice as likely to donate blood and the organs of dead relatives as Blacks, which means, for example, that Blacks on average wait twice as long as Whites on dialysis for a kidney transplant. He therefore feels that the people, who protest against a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University, instead of demonstrating against injustices that may have occurred centuries ago, should donate blood in order to show that they really believe Black Lives Matter.

Saving black lives; a way forward for the Black Lives Matter Movement – YouTube

This is obviously a controversial view of BLM. The demonstrations and riots against the statues occurred because the historic western slave trade is seen as being inextricably linked to the terrible, underprivileged conditions of many western Blacks. Institutional racism in the police has been a particularly obvious cause of anger and resentment amongst the Black community. It could be said that it doesn’t matter how low the actual numbers of Black people killed by the cops are, it’s still too many. In fact, it’s questionable how disproportionate the number of Blacks killed by the cops compared to Whites actually is. Sargon of Gasbag, the Sage of Swindon, went through the official statistics in one of his videos and concluded that Whites were in far more danger of being killed by the police than Blacks. This certainly runs counter to the allegations made by BLM. Sargon is, however, extremely right-wing. Too right-wing for UKIP, as when he joined, more socially liberal members left. I don’t agree with Sargon’s views about Trump, capitalism or how British political theory begins and ends with John Locke, but he did present a very good case on this issue.

And it is true that Sickle Cell Anaemia is killing Black people. Black people are more prone to it thanks to an adaptation in their blood cells which makes them far less palatable to mosquitoes, and hence vulnerable to the malaria they carry, than Whites. And it is true that there is a terrible shortage of Black blood and organ donors. Various Black ‘slebs have appeared on The One Show to urge Black people to consider donating blood.

Years ago I read in the book Black Pioneers of Science and Invention, that the use of blood plasma to save lives in blood transfusions was the invention of a Black American doctor, who successfully used it on Brit injured in the Blitz. It would undoubtedly be great if more Black people followed in his footsteps by donating their blood to save other Black lives.