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Image taken from IWD website.

This year, International Women’s Day, on Friday 8 March, centres on the theme of ‘momentum’ and offers us a good opportunity to look forward and answer the question ‘How can we keep up our momentum this year in the things that we do?’  This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette best known for her tragic demise following the events of the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913. Emily’s death is a key event in both women’s suffrage and British political history, and the anniversary is an ideal opportunity to look back at both what has been achieved so far throughout women’s history, but also to provide the momentum and impetus for the changes that still need to take place. 

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To many people it is undeniable that the position of women has improved dramatically since 100 years ago, when women were still struggling to get the vote. Women now excel in the arts, academic life and business; they participate in all areas of the political social and economic life in ways that would have been unthinkable to our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Women exert power and influence and shape their own and other women’s lives.

Young girls growing up have unparalleled access to education and a sense that they have a wide range of possibilities and opportunities for their future lives. This is a result of improved health care and access to contraception, legal changes such as the sex discrimination laws and equal pay acts and most importantly changes in culture and attitudes. Significant in giving momentum  to such cultural changes are role models; young girls are influenced by being able to see women as head teachers, professors, doctors, running their own businesses and having successful careers in the media. For example Margaret Thatcher as the first woman prime minister was instrumental in the huge rise of women MPs when Tony Blair swept to victory in 1997. Anita Roddick as the successful head of the Body Shop retail chain no doubt inspired many other women to start their own businesses.

The current situation would therefore not have come about without the struggles of many women in the past. Women such as: Ellen Wilkinson: Labour Party cabinet minister in the 1940; Lady Denman, the first chairwoman of the National Federation of Women’s Institute, leader of the Birth Control Council and the Land Army in the Second World War; or Fanny Craddock one of the most famous television cooks of the 1960s.  Each of these women did not accept the limitations society’s ideas of gender might have been expected to exert over their lives. These women and now many more women in Britain may choose the priorities they give to the workplace, to relationships, families and domestic life.

However the question remains as to whether there is really equality. The choices that women may make still come at a cost in economic or personal terms. Childcare is expensive for working mothers; in building a career many women find they have to sacrifice starting a family or developing relationships and  they may feel torn between their work and their family. While the costs of achieving personal fulfilment in the workplace, in the arts or sports remain much higher for women than men, equality has not yet been achieved.

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Professor Maggie Andrews is a cultural historian whose work covers the social and cultural history of nineteenth and twentieth century Britain and the representation of that history within popular culture.  She is the author of a feminist history of the Women’s Institute movement and co-editor of a collection of essays exploring women’s relationship with consumer culture in the twentieth century.

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Further reading

Have women achieved equality? What do you feel are the biggest challenges for modern women?

The History Press, Who Do You Think You Are?, WDYTYA, BBC WDYTYA, Who Do You Think You Are?, Generalogy, Family History

It is a cold Saturday in February and people of all ages have descended on London’s Olympia to find out who they are. The building boasts an abundance of stalls, experts and societies ready to help them in this quest, and visitors who want to map out their newly discovered lineage on a traditional (or digital!) family tree have certainly come to the right place. But don’t be fooled – there is much more to this event than surveying census records and digging through burial registers.

My interest is piqued by the photograph exhibition in the Gallery. The various contributors have provided a diverse collection of images of their ancestors, and the captions are enormously helpful for putting the pictures in context. Amongst those who feature in these snapshots of the past are a female Salvation Army officer who was forbidden to marry the soldier she loved (but married him in 1911 anyway) and a twelve-year-old boy who might well have been one of the very first trick cyclists. So many of these stories would have been lost if nobody had taken the time to remember them. As a lover of art, I am also impressed by the Drawing on the Past exhibition, where old letters and postcards have been artistically layered over the top of treasured photographs. (After viewing this display, I immediately enter a competition to win a ‘Scanning and Editing Old Photos’ online course!)

The ground floor of the building is where the exhibitors market their services and products, and I am tempted by the wealth of books, magazines and gifts, all begging to be bought. One stand is selling jewellery made out of farthings, while another specialises in beautiful journals where a record of the present can be gifted to future generations. Other exhibitors are there to offer advice and assistance, and some want me to discover who I am more than I do! Without even asking, I am informed that there were just four people with my surname living in the UK in 1881.

But the highlight of my day is Dr Turi King’s Richard III workshop. Her lecture is genuinely fascinating – and surprises me by being funny too. The audience laugh out loud when Dr King debunks the myths and fabrications that were reported in the press. And no, we are told, we cannot have our DNA tested to see if we are direct descendants of Richard III! The images we are shown of the skeleton itself, with its twisted spine and multitude of horrific injuries, are incredible, and I cannot imagine how thrilling it must have been to literally unearth this piece of history.

Of course, I frequently return to The History Press stand throughout the day. Some people want to purchase books, some want to write them, and others are just happy to chat. It is a joy to talk to these visitors, who clearly love history as much as we do.

Written by Jennifer Briancourt, Editor at The History Press

Further reading for Genealogists and Family Historians:

Uncle Sam. Original design for various “I Want You” recruiting posters by James Montgomery Flagg, ca. 1916-17 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Uncle Sam. Original design for various “I Want You” recruiting posters by James Montgomery Flagg, ca. 1916-17 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

It can be all too easy to get used to talking at people, rather than to them and sometimes we can forget just how important getting feedback can be. Without feedback we can’t see what is working, make changes to anything that isn’t and, most importantly, hear what our customers have to say about our business and products

With this in mind, we are asking for your opinions. The History Press will be launching a monthly newsletter in March, and to ensure that we are sharing things that interest you, we need your help.

  • Which topics would you like to see features on? (E.g. is there a specific author, book or time period that you think we should be writing about?)
  • Do you have any burning questions that you have been dying to ask our authors or editors?
  • Which aspects of publishing are you interested in learning more about?
  • Are you interested in reviewing one of our upcoming titles? Get in touch

If you have any ideas about what we should be doing, please comment on this post or send us an email. If your idea is used for an article, you will receive full accreditation and receive a voucher code for use on the website.

A coloured engraving based on the Cassandra portrait. (c. 1873)

A coloured engraving based on the Cassandra portrait. (c. 1873) Image taken from ‘The Jane Austen Miscellany’ by Lauren Nixon.

It has been 200 years since Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, was first published and both the book and its characters remain extremely popular. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy regularly top readers’ lists of the most popular characters in literature but who exactly is Jane Austen and why is she so popular?

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Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 to the Reverend George and Mrs Cassandra Austen during a particularly cold winter and since her first publication (Sense & Sensibility) in 1811 she has gone from an anonymous lady writer to the godmother of modern ‘chick lit’. However, her letters and novels reveal a highly intelligent and witty woman who was gently satirical in her work and someone for whom family were of the utmost importance. She was the youngest girl in a large family with 6 brothers and 1 sister and it is clear that she enjoyed society, often reading excerpts from her novels to friends and family. Jane never married (despite receiving a proposal in December 1802) and died of illness in Winchester  on 18 July 1817, aged 41.

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For many, Jane Austen’s works are seen as the ultimate choice in romantic escapism and Pride & Prejudice’s enduring popularity pays testament to Jane’s literary skill. In 1870, Antony Trollope wrote that

“[Austen] places us in a circle of gentlemen and ladies, and charms us while she tells us with an unconscious accuracy how men should act to women, and women act to men. It is not that her people are all good; – and, certainly, they are not all wise. The faults of some are the anvils on which the virtues of others are hammered till they are bright as steel. In the comedy of folly I know no novelist who has beaten her.”

Although Jane only wrote of the (seemingly) genteel upper-middle classes, her sharp intelligence produced complex characters that explored and challenged societal norms and that were adored and loathed in equal part.

First and foremost let Jane Austen be named, the greatest  artist that has ever written, using the term to signify the most perfect mastery over the means to her end. There  are heights and depths in human nature Miss Austen has never scaled nor fathomed, there are worlds of passionate  existence into which she has never set foot; but although this is obvious to every reader, it is equally obvious that she risked no failures by attempting to delineate that which she had not seen. Her circle may be restricted, but it is complete. Her world is a perfect orb, and vital.

G.H. Lewes, in The Lady Novelists, 1852

Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Mark Twain

Whatever your thoughts on Austen, her influence, especially on other writers, cannot be underestimated. If you are a die-hard ‘Austenite’  why not re-read your favourite Austen book, try the ultimate Austen quiz or find out which Austen heroine you are most like. Still not convinced? Take the anniversary as the perfect excuse to give Jane another shot and  use this brilliant cartoon as a reference for what exactly is going on in the book…

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Today, The Jane Austen Centre in Bath will be hosting an event that will be broadcast around the world- a 12 Hour International Readathon  to mark the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, where the book will be read in its entirety during a twelve-hour period. The half day long event will take place at the Centre in Gay Street and will be streamed to eager fans all around the world. For more information on this event, click here.

Further reading

Are you a Jane Austen fan? Will you be re-reading Pride & Prejudice to celebrate the anniversary?

When a country suffers from the cold, snow and ice as the U.K is right now, it is very easy to believe that the outside world is some sort of hell…despite it ironically being a cold one. We should still count ourselves lucky that we live in an age where hot water, heating and piped gas can be obtained literally by turning on a tap or flicking a switch. In human history, when temperatures plummeted so did life expectancy. Not just for the obvious reasons of people freezing to death, but also due to the knock on effects- disrupted farmland, famine, crime, aggression and often, invasion.

 

1) Blood in the Snow- 1944

 

What could be worse than trying to liberate your country from Nazi occupation? Trying  to liberate your country from Nazi occupation during a harsh winter.

Is there anything worse than this? How about trying  to liberate your country from Nazi occupation during a harsh winter, only to find your allies have abandoned you?

This was the situation in France in 1944. Nearing D-Day, Allied intelligence used RAF airdrops to send Allied liaison officers down with supplies to the thousands of young men hiding in France’s forests and hill country. Here the officers defied the two principles of guerrilla warfare: never concentrate your forces or risk a pitched battle. They assembled small armies of untrained civilians in wild country where it was believed Allied airborne forces would land and help them drive the hated occupiers out of their country. In reality they were being used as bait – to draw German forces away from the invasion beaches. They were hunted down by collaborationist French paramilitaries, Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS troops, dying in the snows of winter.

Those taken prisoner were raped, tortured and shot or deported to death camps in Germany. Many of their killers were themselves murdered after the liberation, when thousands of Frenchwomen were also publicly humiliated as sexual traitors.

In Blood in the Snow, Blood on the Grass, Douglas Boyd tells a deeply sad but poignant story, one that has- for painful reasons- never been told before.

9780752470269

 

2) The Freezing of the Rhine- 406 CE

 

The Rhine, one of Europe’s greatest rivers, was for most of Roman history literally the defining point of civilisation and barbarianism. As a natural defence against opposing armies, it served as an ideal frontier against the rest of Europe, along with the Danube in the east. From the conquest of Gaul by Caesar up to Rome’s decline in the 5th century, the most hardened and resourceful legions were stationed in the Rhineland to wade off any invasive force. This all proved to be quite redundant on December 31st 406 when the Rhine froze and hoards of barbarians (Alans, Vandals and Suebi) invaded the Western Empire, making a mockery of an age-old defence.

‘Invasion’ was at least the view of God-fearing Romans who saw Germanic barbarians as bottom of the barrel, uncouth savages. Modern scholars would argue that the hordes consisted of families, animals and possessions as well as warriors- refugees fleeing the relentless expansion of the Huns to the east.   

Life in Ancient Rome by John Alcock explores the nature of the Roman psyche in daily life. This introduction to classical empire explores the view of Romans towards foreigners and how they treated those harshly who lived beyond the frontiers.

9780752448008

 

3) The Great Famine (1315-17, Western Europe)

 

Scientists identity a period of abnormally cold global temperatures across the northern hemisphere in the late medieval and early modern age, spanning as late as the 1800’s. This time is colloquially referred to as a ‘mini ice-age’.  It goes without saying that, in those pre-industrial times, such a calamity drastically affected the weak and vulnerable. From 1315-1317 famine struck in Western Europe, exacerbating relations between neighbours and inciting the common peasant to make warfare an art. Whether this art was through the pike or the longbow depended on one’s location. In England, for various reasons the peasantry found power and status in the Welsh longbow. Famine also causes displacement, and many young men found themselves out of work. All of a sudden the thought of campaigning war in a foreign land seemed quite practical as it would offer a chance to loot and pillage- the Hundred Years War for example made many poor Englishmen a small fortune in ransoms alone.

In Archery in Medieval England, Richard Wadge identifies the anomaly in military history that was the longbow- a device that came along at the right time and found a place in the social climate to be in huge demand. In the Hundred Years War, archers in the English army were expected to be able to fire an arrow every 6 seconds, or 10 a minute. Laws were passed banning all sports other than archery, and churches were ordered to provide training grounds and equipment every Sunday to this end. At Crecy and Agincourt, comparatively poor English archers were the true superiors, not the heavy-armoured nobility still clinging to the notion of a chivalric cavalry charge. In the colder months as the rural landscape became saturated with moisture, such as at Agincourt, heavy armoured horses became trapped in mud and unable to walk, let alone gallop. Their riders suffered the same fate, becoming little more than target practice for the quick and agile longbow men.

9780752465876

4)  General Snow (1812, Russia)

General Snow is the rather affectionate name given by Russians (and later inhabitants of the USSR) to the events of 1812 where Napoleon’s Grande Armée  (which at its height consisted of half a million men)  was overturned by the Russian winter.

The event maybe has been romanticised in history, creating some sort of quasi-legend where the French invaders were given their comeuppance by divine judgement. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture were at least inspired by the mass culling of Napoleon’s forces by mother nature. The role of the harsh winter resonates so strongly even today partly due to the Soviet identification of it with the German invasion of 1941–45.

Digby Smith in Armies of 1812 explores the logistics of the whole campaign, including the hasty French retreat and the dramatic losses suffered by the Grande Armée .

9781862274143

 

 

large size THP Pinterest collage- Then & Now archive images, heritage publishing

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When it comes to the beginning of a new year, everyone vows to make changes, whether that is losing weight or being more organised. Exciting times lie ahead for The History Press and a Pinterest profile is just the start of some big changes being made in 2013.

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“What is Pinterest?”  you may ask. Luckily, we have the answer; Pinterest is a virtual pinboard on which you can organise and share all the interesting things that you find online. Browsing boards is a fun way to discover new things and be inspired by people who share your interests.

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So far, The History Press has been using it to share stunning archive images of local history in the UK and to celebrate just some inspirational figures and events from history whilst sharing the most interesting books that we have published. So whether you want to find out more about the world’s largest deckchair in Bournemouth or how Fleet Street got its name , the History Press has the answers!

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As the year goes on and other resolutions (may) fall by the wayside, we plan to show you what happens behind the scenes in a modern publishing business and answer some of your frequently asked questions, so get thinking about what you would like to see…

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Do you have a Pinterest account? What was your new year’s resolution?

Check out this exclusive first chapter sampler for the upcoming Mystery Press title, Dead Born. The second book in the Detective Sergeant Best Mystery series, it will be published on the 1st February and is available to pre-order now via The History Press website for £7.19.

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