Win My Book!

I’ve got five advance copies of the paperback edition of A Radical History of Britain to give away. To win one, just reply to this post saying, in twenty words or fewer, why you think it should win the Orwell Prize.

Competition also running via the facebook group, so hurry, hurry, hurry before they are all gone!


From Space to Place: The Spatial Dimension in the History of Western Europe

A reminder about this upcoming conference, organised by colleagues at Roehampton, which takes places 16/17 April at the German Historical Institute, Bloomsbury, London. Further details here. A full programme is now available.

Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rate my SCR!

Photo Nicholas Laughlin via Flickr

I *really* hope this will turn into a popular strand on the blog.

While ‘enjoying’ a vegetable moussaka the other day in Roehampton’s near-empty senior common room, I was struck by the great variation in staff facilities across the universities I have worked at in my career so far.

When I worked at the University of Sheffield, scarcely a week went by without at least one visit to ‘Sticky House’ (Staff House) for a meat and potato pie followed by one of the unctuous steamed puddings -with custard, of course,- that gave it its nickname. But the writing was already on the specials board. Staff House soon closed. By the time I moved to the University of Manchester in 2002, it was clear that the rot had already set in. What currently purports to be Manchester’s Senior Common Room is ‘a deli style operation’ (staff canteen) where you can, at most, get a bowl of thin, lukewarm soup. Not the kind of sustenance to support serious thinking or high level research.

No. 5 Abercromby Square, University of Liverpool seemed a welcome return to proper staff dining – a downstairs bar and coffee shop and an upstairs staff dining room serving reasonable fish, chips and mushy peas. Soon, of course, words like  ‘pannini’ and ‘bistro’ were being bandied about. The downstairs bar now only serves coffee, tea and soft drinks. Upstairs at no. 5 Liverpool academics are now threatened with something called ‘beef tagine’. The rumour mill suggests that the whole establishment soon might be threatened with a fate worse than death, conversion into another one of Liverpool’s empty ’boutique’ hotels.

The SCR is an institution under siege but pockets of resistance remain, even outside the oak-panelled rooms of Oxbridge colleges.

The University of Reading’s SCR website leads the way. Not only does it have a ‘Wine Shop’ and a ‘Wine Cellar’ but also offers ‘tutored staff wine tastings’. Top of the pile, though, must be the Royal College of Arts’ Senior Common Room Billing itself as ‘one of the best kept secrets in London’, the RCA SCR offers staff ‘a delicious three-course meal at lunchtime’ and a ‘lounge area’ to loosen your waistband in afterwards.

These are just a few examples. There must be other academic food heroes out there, even if in the UK most HEIs can’t match the University of Hong Kong’s three staff restaurants offering spectacular views of Victoria harbour.

Let’s hear those nominations!

Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 6:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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CFP -‘Cultures of Correspondence in Early Modern Britain, 1550-1640’

‘Cultures of Correspondence in Early Modern Britain, 1550-1640’

A Joint Conference organised by the Centre for Humanities, Music and Performing Arts at the University of Plymouth and the Centre for Early Modern Studies at the University of Aberdeen

To be held at the University of Plymouth, 14-16 April 2011


This conference investigates the cultural uses of the letter, and the related practises of correspondence in early modern culture. Concentrating on the years 1550-1640, it examines a crucial period in the development of the English vernacular letter that saw a significant extension of letter-writing skills throughout society and an expansion in the uses to which letters were put. The conference aims to enhance our understanding of epistolary culture and to challenge accepted models of epistolarity through the study of letter-writing practices in all their nuanced complexity, ranging from the textual production of letters, their subsequent delivery and circulation, to the various ways in which letters were read and preserved for posterity. The transmission and reception of correspondence is a major theme for exploration, from the various processes by which letters were delivered in an age before the post office, to their copying and dissemination in manuscript form, and publication in print, as well as the oral divulgation of letters through group and public reading. Study of the early modern letter in its material and cultural forms can reveal the complex interplay of material practices of letter-writing with rhetorical strategies of the letter text. Contemporary literary appropriations of the letter on page and stage demonstrate the cultural significance of the letter and its potential resonances.

Proposals are invited for papers that treat the following key areas:

· The materiality of the letter: the physicality of correspondence (paper, ink, seals, folding) as well as the social context of epistolarity (composition, delivery, reading, archiving)

· Correspondence networks; the circulation of letters; postal systems and modes of delivery

· Letters, news and intelligence

· Authenticity, deception and surveillance: forgeries, secrecy, ciphers and codes

· Women’s letters and the gendered nature of letter-writing

· Epistolary literacies, social hierarchies and the acquisition and diffusion of letter-writing skills

· Manuscript letters and letters in print

· The letter as a cultural genre and the rhetorics of letter-writing

· Humanistic letter-writing practices and the familiar letter; letter-writing manuals and models; education, pedagogy and learning to write letters

· Categories or types of letters: suitors’ letters, letters of petition, love letters, letters of condolence

· Genres of printed letters: prefatory letters, dedicatory letters, address to the readers

· Staging the letter: letters and letter-writing in drama

· Editing and the digitization of correspondence

Proposals for papers, including titles and abstracts (of no more than 300 words) should be sent to James Daybell ( and Andrew Gordon ( before  1st July 2010.

Confirmed Speakers Include

Alan Stewart (Columbia University)

Lynne Magnusson (University of Toronto)

Gary Schneider (University of Texas, Pan American)

The Organisers

James Daybell is Reader in Early Modern British History at the University of Plymouth. His publications include Women Letter-Writers in Tudor England (Oxford, 2006), three collections of essays, Women and Politics in Early Modern England, 1450-1700 (Ashgate, 2004), Early Modern Women’s Letter Writing, 1450-1700 (Palgrave, 2001) and Material Readings of Early Modern Culture: Texts and Social Practices, 1580-1730 (Palgrave, 2010) and more than twenty articles and essays in journals and edited collections. Dr Daybell is currently completing a monograph entitled, The Material Letter: The Practices and Culture of Letters and Letter-Writing in Early Modern England (Palgrave 2011)

Andrew Gordon is Co-Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at the University of Aberdeen, and Programme Co-ordinator of the Department of English. He has published articles on various aspects of urban culture in the renaissance from city mapping to the urban signboard, and co-edited (with Bernhard Klein) Literature, Mapping and the Politics of Space in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge, 2001) and (with Trevor Stack) a special issue of Citizenship Studies (2007) devoted to early modern concepts of citizenship. A monograph entitled Writing the City is forthcoming. His work on manuscript culture has focused principally on letter-writing and included articles on Francis Bacon, the earl of Essex, John Donne, and early modern libels.

For further details please email:, or

Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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George Orwell Book Prize 2010

My A Radical History of Britain has been entered into this year’s competition…along with another 211 books.

Chances of winning? To quote from The Naked Gun,

“Doctors say that Nordberg has a 50/50 chance of living, though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that.”

In other self-obsessed news, my The Glorious Revolution has now been released as an e-book by its US publisher, Pegasus. Download here. Price: a cent under a ten-spot.