Last year in Newcastle I was lucky enough to present a paper at my first Social History Society conference. It was such a rewarding experience that I could not wait to go again. This year it took place over three days in the suitably historic location of Portsmouth, hosted by the University.
But why is it so good? It is the quality of research on offer: the originality of thinking, the clarity of evidence and the sheer breadth of fascinating topics tackled. The conference was organised into several broad themes. My particular interests probably lay for the most part in the strand entitled Narratives, Emotions and the Self, but many papers in other strands were linked to health and the collections of the Wellcome Library. For example, topics included:
- the interspecies politics of dog-fouling
- the mind-and-body-changing qualities of chess
- the medico-legal status of still born babies in the twentieth century
- sleeping habits in the Nineteenth Century working class home and
- cross-dressing veteran soldiers on the stage.
Having displayed items for the James Gardiner Collection (photographic albums of soldiers impersonating women) I was able to point to related material that helped inform further research on the last of these. And after witnessing a memorable talk regarding the sensationalising of the Whitechapel murders, I suggested a visit to the Wellcome Collection’s forensics exhibition to the scholar and we are meeting shortly.
It was also nice to spot a familiar image from our collections on the conference website: Social History Conference: Narratives
The artist, G. Cattermole was a friend of Charles Dickens and collaborated on illustrations for The old curiosity shop and Barnaby Rudge. Dickens of course is a famous son of Portsmouth, born at 1 Mile End Terrace on 7 February 1812. There are some interesting Dickens related items for anyone keen to look further into our holdings.