Games in history, history in games

Malcolm Craig

Liverpool John Moores University

How have games been part of history and how can we better understand that history through the study of games? This talk takes as its focus a new research project looking at the intersections between tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs), the Cold War and the threat of nuclear confrontation. How did TTRPGs represent this existential threat and how did players make use of games to manage the anxieties of the age? More broadly, this talk will consider both the role that games have played in history and how we can look at games as valuable historical documents, and not simply as disposable pop-cultural artefacts. And, given the continuing popularity of games of all kinds – TTRPGs, computer and console games, board games and so on – there will also be a consideration of how games can be used to enrich and enliven the study of history.

Friday: 10.45–11.45

Walking tour of Harrogate Spa

Paul Jennings

Independent historian

Edwardian Harrogate was a nationally and internationally renowned spa resort. This walk takes in some of the key buildings of that spa heyday, including the Royal Pump Room, the Victoria Baths, the Royal Baths, the Kursaal (Royal Hall) and some of the major hotels, like the Crown, White Hart, St George’s, Grand and Majestic. This is a short walk of about an hour on level surfaces.

Friday: 10.45–12.00

Climate change and the new normal

Venus Bivar

University of York

What can history tell us about climate change? When heads of state get briefed on rising ocean levels or new plans for carbon sequestration, there are no historians in the room. To date, the natural sciences have dominated the climate change conversation. But climate change is not just about rising carbon dioxide levels and the acidification of the oceans. Climate change is also a social problem. It is the end-result of a series of political and economic choices that were first made several hundred years ago, and it is now the cause of a multitude of political and economic challenges. By taking a long view and thinking about the historical dimensions of climate change, we can arrive at a better understanding of what precisely is hindering those in power from addressing the crisis.

Friday: 12.00–13.00

Enmity and violence in early modern Europe

Stuart Carroll

University of York

In this talk, Stuart Carroll will introduce research from his new book Enmity and Violence in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2023). This original study transforms our understanding of Europe between 1500 and 1800 by exploring how ordinary people felt about their enemies and the violence that it engendered. Enmity, a state or feeling of mutual opposition or hostility, became a major social problem during the transition to modernity. Stuart examines how people used the law, and how they characterised their enmities and expressed their sense of justice or injustice. Through the examples of early modern Italy, Germany, France and England, we see when and why everyday animosities escalated and the attempts of the state to control and even exploit the violence that ensued. This book also examines the communal and religious pressures for peace, and how notions of good neighbourliness and civil order finally worked to underpin trust in the state. Ultimately, enmity is not a relic of the past; it remains one of the greatest challenges to contemporary liberal democracy.

Friday: 14.00–15.00

The tweets of the nation: the story of modern Britain told through remarkable coins

Diana Laffin

Independent historian

Through the study of remarkable coins, from the Industrial Revolution to the modern age, this session will highlight some lesser-known aspects of our national story. Was Queen Caroline more popular than her husband? How did Matthew Boulton rescue Britain’s reputation? What did Britain stand for when much of Europe succumbed to fascism? Explanation of the coins’ designs, features and contexts will provide some answers. Participants will have the chance to handle coins and discuss their role in Britain’s modern evolution. As our familiar Elizabethan coinage is now changing, it seems an apt time to consider how they represent our country. Ideas about how to buy and collect coins and useful reading for numismatists will be shared.

Friday: 14.00–15.00

Residential nurseries in Britain during the Second World War

David Clampin

Liverpool John Moores University

‘Regular’ family life was at the centre of British society in September 1939, and when war began it was considered a facet worth protecting and fighting for. In the face of aerial warfare, the government planned to place vulnerable babies, infants and children out of harm’s way but this very action challenged the maintenance of the family unit, giving rise to questions around how best to administer this. This talk examines the foundation of residential war nurseries, revealing tensions within government between the ideal and the practical. It considers not only the dispersal of the very young (those aged between two and five) but also later actions to mobilise the female workforce, including mothers with young children. What is revealed is a degree of pragmatism where, as the war went on, the government was prepared to sacrifice certain principles, which had previously been immovable, in the interests of the war.

Friday: 15.15–16.00

The workers of Edwardian Harrogate

Paul Jennings

Independent historian

Edwardian Harrogate was a nationally and internationally renowned spa resort. It was also an important regional shopping centre and permanent home to an affluent middle-class population. But both townspeople and visitors could not have enjoyed their pleasures and comforts without the labours of its working class. It is those people, hitherto neglected in studies of resort towns, who form the subject of this talk: the servants, laundry workers, hotel staff, shop assistants, builders, cabmen, railway workers and the rest who kept the town going. It explores particularly their work and how they made ends meet, but also looks at the homes and neighbourhoods in which they lived, their family lives, schooldays, pastimes and religion.

Friday: 15.15–16.00

Fear and fake news: Britain and the first ‘Age of Terror’, 1881–1900

James Crossland

Liverpool John Moores University

From the 1880s through to the dawn of the twentieth century, Britain experienced its first taste of modern terrorism, in the form of bombings and shootings carried out by Fenians and anarchists. While the police scrambled for solutions to the problem of combatting this new form of political violence, the media – from broadsheet dailies to penny presses – peddled in panic, conspiracy theories and fake news, all of which inflated the scale of the threat and led to a heightened state of anxiety across Britain. This session examines this Victorian-era interplay between the press and the promotion of political violence, offering a glimpse into a past ‘age of terror’ that is soberingly reminiscent of our own.

Friday: 16.30–17.30

Can we bring effigies to life? The story of Sir Richard Redmayn, c.1355–1426

Ian Dawson

Independent historian

Six years ago, I led an HA visit to Harewood to introduce members to the beautiful effigies of the Redmayn family. Since then, off and on, I’ve been writing the story of the Redmayns in the fifteenth century, a story dominated by Sir Richard – soldier, jouster, diplomat and survivor of the 1399 revolution. I’d love to tell you his story, exploring the boundaries of certainty and conjecture and discussing whether his effigy tells us anything about what he really looked like.

Friday: 16.30–17.30

The burden of obsolescence: race, work and memory on Liverpool’s docks since 1945
Sam Wetherell

University of York

In the 1980s, Liverpool was facing multiple crises. Its docks, once at the heart of Britain’s empire, had lost 15,000 jobs. One in five were unemployed. The city was punctuated by decaying and empty industrial buildings. Its substantial Black population was in frequent violent confrontation with an almost entirely white police force. The engines of industry, empire and trade that had conjured Liverpool as a wealthy city of hundreds of thousands had sputtered and died, leaving an uncertain future. This talk will look at how Liverpool’s crisis of obsolescence was understood and negotiated by politicians, economists, thinkers and Black activists in the post-war era. While Liverpool’s history was once seen as an outlier to the rest of Britain, I will argue that it holds the key to understanding the country’s present crisis – one characterised by environmental catastrophe, racial inequality and the management of populations deemed to be superfluous.

Saturday: 10.45–11.45

Visit to Ripon Cathedral

Ripon Cathedral is one of the hidden gems of the ecclesiastical world, tucked away in a North Yorkshire and often overshadowed by its Ministerial neighbour of York. Built between the 13th and 16th centuries, it is home to beautiful architecture, displaying some of the finest craftmanship of Church buildings in the region. North Yorkshire was once the home of a number of renowned and significant monasteries and abbeys that were pulled apart through the events of the Reformation and societal change. The building of Ripon Cathedral, which was founded as a monastery in the 7th century, is one of the survivors of these tumultuous changes, that continues as a place of worship but also as a guardian of the history of those changes and events.

Join us for an expertly guided tour that wil bring this history and building to life, revealing its secrets and treasures in a fascinating trip through history in a still-working building.

Saturday: 11.00–13.00

Castles, knights and samurai: global medievalism and modern Japan

Oleg Benesch

University of York

In the nineteenth century, Europeans rediscovered and reinterpreted the Middle Ages on a grand scale. Medievalist symbols and ideals were widely invoked as a response to industrialisation and the Enlightenment, feeding into art, architecture, literature and culture, from the knightly tales of Sir Walter Scott to the proliferation of Gothic architecture. Medievalism also had a powerful influence beyond Europe, as many colonial officials, soldiers and settlers saw themselves as modern heirs of medieval knighthood, spreading Christianity and ‘civilisation’ as part of their perceived imperial mission. In this talk, I examine the development of medievalism in Japan, which confronted Western imperialism – and built its own empire – during what I call the ‘global medievalist moment’ from the 1840s to the 1960s. This was an age of imperialism, colonialism and nationalism, and societies around the world looked to discover and mine their own medieval pasts for national symbols and legitimacy. In this context, I examine the reinvention of the samurai warriors and other symbols of medieval Japan, and the important role that these play in Japan’s modern history.

Saturday: 12.00-13.00

Epidemics and experiments in early modern Asia

Tara Alberts

University of York

The sixteenth to eighteenth centuries saw many virulent epidemics ravage communities throughout Eurasia. Epidemics are fascinating for historians. They can bring about significant social and cultural changes and can spur the development of new ideas about the nature of disease, about how to govern and about how to live. Focusing on a series of deadly smallpox outbreaks in seventeenth-century Siam (modern-day Thailand), in this session I examine how communities and rulers experimented with various approaches to explain, manage and limit epidemic disease. I explore the processes of experimentation, translation and intercultural exchange that influenced local responses to global outbreaks. I show how the changing ‘social meaning’ of diseases could affect the success of experimental cures and novel approaches to epidemic management.

Saturday: 14.00–15.00

Britain’s wilderness frontier: managing imperial boundaries in the eighteenth century

John Oliphant

Independent historian

From 1748, the British government and the North American colonies faced a complex frontier problem. Native Americans were anxious to defend their lands against White settlement, sometimes by turning to the French. Settlers, colonial assemblies and even royal governors exerted unrelenting expansionist pressure on those same lands. British governments and their men on the ground responded by centralising frontier and military policy, and finally by imposing a fixed boundary to White settlement.

This session looks at the issues from all these perspectives to provide both a nuanced interpretation of how the British Empire worked on this and other frontiers, as well as the significance of the frontier in the coming of the American Revolution. It will also examine the importance of the frontier in causing the American Revolution.

Saturday: 14.00–15.00

‘Doing a roaring trade’: female lion tamers in Victorian Britain
Helen Cowie

University of York

In January 1850, tragedy struck at Wombwell’s Menagerie, when the female lion tamer, Ellen Bright, was killed by a tiger at Chatham in Kent. Popularly known as ‘Lion Queens’, female performers had become fashionable in Victorian animal shows, titillating the public with daring feats and risqué costumes. They attracted large audiences, but also drew sharp criticism from certain sectors of the press. Focusing on the tragic case of Ellen Bright, this talk explores the phenomenon of female lion tamers in nineteenth-century Britain and assesses their wider social significance. Why did people go to watch lion taming performances? What techniques were used to train big cats and other performing animals? Did female lion tamers challenge or perpetuate prevailing stereotypes of women?

Saturday: 15.15–16.15

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