Cultural Studies

A Very Regal Rejection of Tobacco
12 May 2014

It’s not exactly a common occurrence these days that the mere mention of tobacco is met with an audible gasp of wonder. But this was precisely the reaction I encountered recently whilst delivering a webinar showcasing our resource Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration & Cultural Exchange

The Power of Celebrity
18 March 2014

The Institute for Motivational Research often employed ‘depth interviews’, an approach to consumer surveys that asked quasi-psychiatric questions to expound the sub-conscious motivations behind consumer choice. In the reports for Quality Bakers, Dichter and his team asked their pool of respondents to describe the qualities they associate with famous actors, with the final report ranking the considered endorsers in terms of appropriateness for the wholesome, energy-giving qualities they wanted Sunbeam bread to embody.

The Children's Guide to Harpooning Whales
06 February 2014

Anyone exploring the many maritime logbooks in our resource China, America and the Pacific will know how gruesome and perilous whaling voyages could be in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (I refer you to Paul’s grisly and fascinating post from November). Lots of blood, lots of screaming, lots of death… Definitely post-watershed stuff, I’d have said, wouldn’t you?

Food: Accept No Substitute
16 January 2014

Every January without fail, I am inevitably left feeling the pinch – not just of an empty purse but of my favourite pair of jeans that take a little extra ‘persuading’, shall we say, to fasten (usually holding onto the waistband and jumping a few centimetres into the air whilst breathing in will do it). Therefore, every January without fail, I resolve to do something about it.

Victorian vacations and some unusual city sightseeing
15 January 2014

January is the busiest month of the year for travel agents. Once the glow of Christmas has worn off, and the cold winds of the New Year begin to bite, our thoughts inevitably turn to summer holidays. Accordingly, I thought I’d go in search of travel guides in Adam Matthew’s digital collections…

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.

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