Cultural Studies

The Sailor and the Stolen Pudding
03 January 2014

Whilst researching for our forthcoming China, America and the Pacific project I came across a book entitled ‘Fore and Aft; Or Leaves from the Life of an Old Sailor’, by a chap called William Dane Phelps. As a teenager I sailed on the gaff-rigged pilot cutter, the Jolie Brise. Whilst my adventure on the high seas was fun, it was also at times testing. I was intrigued what it was like to be an actual sailor in the eighteenth century. And the answer is considerably harder!

Fur Trading on a Frozen Land
03 January 2014

Think of a shopping centre today and the image in the below photograph does not immediately spring to mind. This photograph is of a remote shopping centre in Canada owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early 1900s. The Hudson’s Bay Company is still in existence today but ran as a fur trading business for much of its existence. Developing trading posts and buying land, the Hudson’s Bay Company came to dominate the Canadian fur trade by the eighteenth century.

Barbie: the formative years
03 January 2014

Nowadays, almost everything in the current market for children’s toys seems to require batteries; if it hasn’t got flashing lights, touch screens and loud electronic noises emanating from it, kids aren’t interested. A far cry from my own childhood when Gymnast Barbie (complete with co-ordinated gym bag, sweat-bands and multi-coloured leotard) was enough to keep me entertained for hours!

National Baking Week: Mass Observation and the Rise of Celebrity Chefs
03 January 2014

It’s National Baking Week, and all things foodie are on my mind. With bumper autumn crops allowing me to indulge my old-fashioned passion for making jams and chutney, and The Great British Bake Off gracing our screens, I am in cookery heaven. In these times of financial austerity, we’re all looking to save money on our food bills and filling the store cupboard with foraged tasty treats gives you such a glorious feeling of preparedness. Like a squirrel with a particularly sumptuous hoard of nuts.

Go West, Young Man!
03 January 2014

Martin Prior Boss left home in 1867 aged 22. He left behind a comfortable, established life as a farmer on the east coast of America, to seek his fortune in the mines of Nevada and California. His letters home are part of a collection from the California Historical Society which is being added to our Global Commodities project this year. They’re adorably newsy and affectionate, and my personal favourite is the one he writes with the news that he’s just become engaged and has decided to stay permanently in the West.

Knit One, Purl One… Willing Hands and Willing Hearts
03 January 2014

Recently there has been a change in the office. The gentle clicking of needles can now be heard at lunch time and conversations about the Bake Off or weekend plans are interspersed with advice on increasing and decreasing, or deciphering a pattern. Over the last few years knitting has become fashionable once more, with clubs popping up all over the place and celebrities gushing about the craft.

Spanking, Social Control and Souvenirs
03 January 2014

Whilst delving into an intriguing batch of Chinese artwork for our project China America and the Pacific, I was arrested by the sight of a man’s bare buttocks. Said buttocks were receiving a thorough spanking via the medium of a bamboo paddle administered by a law enforcement officer who looked decidedly happy in his work.

The Sinking of the 'Essex’; or, The Whale
03 January 2014

Last night’s BBC drama ‘The Whale’ told the story of Thomas Nickerson and the crew of the whaling ship Essex. The story of the attack and sinking of the vessel by a sperm whale also inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Reading the original accounts of the crew shows that the true story was more exciting, terrifying and harrowing than any work of fiction.

A Quiet Christmas: Mass Observation and Wartime Festivities
03 January 2014

With shortages in nearly everything considered necessary for a ‘proper’ Christmas, Mass Observers during WW2 needed to balance the traditions of the festive season with the strictures and austerity of wartime. Mass Observation set out in a series of reports to gauge not only the morale of the population, but how war would affect their festivities.

Kung-Fu Monthly and the Felix Dennis Legacy
18 December 2013

On a recent visit to the in-laws’ we passed a verge of trees in Warwickshire just west of Leamington Spa that was pointed out to me as “Felix Dennis’s forest”. Most familiar with Felix Dennis as the creator of the magazine Maxim and the first person to say a certain very bad word on British television, I was surprised. As it turns out, the site belongs to The Heart of England Forest, a charity created to maintain and preserve native...

Who Killed JFK?
18 December 2013

Bowling Green State University At 12.30pm on Friday 22 November 1963, three shots rang out over Dealey Plaza Park in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald had fired three 6.5mm Carcano bullets from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, two of which struck President John F. Kennedy. Thirty minutes later JFK was dead. That’s the official story. The Warren Commission set up to investigate President Kennedy’s death...

Commodities of the China Trade: Bechè de Mer, Shark Fins and Gold
18 December 2013

Below I have shared one of my personal highlights from China, America and the Pacific, which has just been released. This new multi-library collection provides an extensive range of archival material connected to the trading and cultural relationships that emerged between China, America and the Pacific region between the 18th and early 20th centuries. During the eighteenth century American merchants sought to establish trade with China. Their...

Silence is Golden...
18 December 2013

Whilst visiting the big smoke last weekend I witnessed one of cinema’s greatest triumphs – Abel Gance’s thrilling six hour silent epic, Napoleon. Now, I have to admit, I was slightly sceptical. Six hours of silent cinema does not sound like the best use of a frosty Saturday in November, but the 1927 film opened my eyes to the vibrancy and passion of early cinema. Napoleon (played by Albert Dieudonné) tells the story of the first 27 years of...

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