Author Archives: James Pearson

Royal birth expected to boost public interest in unique historical resource

The birth of the Royal baby is expected to spark a surge of interest in Connected Histories, as users explore how royal births and their reception have changed throughout history.

Developed collaboratively with the University of Sheffield’s Humanities Research Institute (HRI), Connected Histories brings together 22 digital resources related to early, modern and 19th century Britain.

The search engine allows researchers to collect and share important sources for British history in one place, showing up unexpected connections and surprising parallels, whether from 19thcentury newspapers, the records of courts and parliaments, or drawings. It also allows sophisticated searching of names, places and dates.

The project, funded by Jisc, an organisation which champions the use of digital technologies in education and research, is a partnership between the University of Sheffield, the University of Hertfordshire, the Institute of Historical Research and the University of London.

The University of Sheffield’s HRI developed and maintains the search engine which drives the Connected Histories website, comprising around 30 billion items of data which have been analysed using language algorithms to facilitate searching by keyword, person name, place and date.

A search for terms related to ‘royal births’ highlights a wealth of information drawn from historical sources across British history, revealing changes in medical practices, celebrations and cultural behaviours.

Highlights include:

Professor Bob Shoemaker, Director of Research at the University of Sheffield’s Department of History, said: “The significance of events like this lies in large part in the long historical tradition in which they are situated. By providing unprecedented access to an extraordinarily rich collection of documents, Connected Histories revolutionizes the possibilities for anyone interested in history to find out more about our fascinating past.”

See the full article on the University news feed.

Image: Proof of an illustration to G.Abbott a Beckett, ‘Comic History of Britain’, 1847

Arts and Humanities talks in student residences

Several of the Faculty’s academic staff have been involved with the Residence Life project this month.

Adam Piette and Fabienne Collignon, School of English, gave a talk entitled, “Car Crash to Robot Trash: Sex, Death, Technology”. The lecture considered J. G. Ballard’s novel Crash about people with Symphorophilia or car crash sexual fetishism, and then talked about the weird 1989 Japanese cyberpunk movie, Testuo: The Iron Man, directed by Shinya Tsukamoto.

Kevin Kuykendall, Department of Archaeology, considered, “Becoming Human: The Fossil Record of Human Evolution”. His lecture surveyed the known fossil record for human evolution and discussed what we currently understand about the timescale and pattern of our species’ evolutionary history. Evidence from the archaeology and primate behaviour was presented along with current interpretations about the key events along the evolutionary pathway to becoming human. Sheffield Debating hosted an “Evolution vs. Creationism” debate after the talk.

Andrew Heath, Department of History, and Pete David (The Payroll Union) gave a talk about, “Faith and Fear in Philadelphia: Exploring History through Music, Film, and Art”. It considered: how can we tell stories about the past? This simple question inspired Pete David of the Americana band, and Dr. Andrew Heath, a lecturer in American History, to join together in a project that explores writing history through words, film, and song. More about the project:

Staff from the School of English and Student Support and Guidance discussed Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English. As part of this year’s Booker Prize Initiative, 4,000 copies of Pigeon English were delivered to students in the University residences. Panelists in the talk discussed their view of the book, as well as its themes and the situations in which its protagonist finds himself. 

The Living-Learning lecture series of talks are delivered by experts from across the University, which offer thought-provoking topics in new and accessible ways. The talks take place in the student village and refreshments are available.

Additional Information

More information about Residence Life:

More information about Booker Prize Foundation’s Universities Initiative:

Witness project: annual meet and greet

“History is much more than just books in a library; it’s also people’s lives and experiences.” Witness is a student-led oral history project that aims to preserve the voices and stories of the people of Sheffield and to create an oral history archive for future historical research.

On Friday 4 October, the Witness Oral History project celebrated its second year, and started its third. Interested members of the public came along to Jessop West foyer to meet the History students who took part last year, and those who are volunteering this year on this student-led scheme. Around 40 interviews are now available online, concentrating on Sheffield in the 1980s and Sheffield during the Second World War, together with some preliminary analysis of particular themes carried out by the students. More interviews will be added in the coming year, creating a valuable resource for future historians.  In 2013-14, the students hope to work alongside a community project in Walkley as well as continuing with their Second World War theme.

Additional Information

For more information, visit

Intoxicants and Early Modernity

A £730,000 award by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will allow researchers to explore the social, economic, political, and cultural significance of intoxicants between 1580 and 1740.

The project, Intoxicants and Early Modernity, aims to enrich and enhance contemporary debates about intoxicants from a fully researched historical perspective.

Led by the Department of History’s Professor Phil Withington the project team involves the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

The HRI will play a key role in the project, developing an ontology-based dataset which records the entire economy of intoxicants during the early modern period using primary source materials located in The National Archives, V&A and regional archives. The team will be able to interrogate the data and visualise the results in ways which reveal new trends and relationships.

For more information visit the project’s website.

Faith and Fear: an experiment in history, music, and film

Pete David, singer-songwriter of the acclaimed Sheffield Americana band The Payroll Union, finds inspiration in an unlikely place: the nineteenth-century United States. The band’s first album, The Mule and the Elephant (2012), explored the seventy years that followed the Declaration of Independence, with songs about democracy, slavery, and empire-building. Now, with the help of an Arts Enterprise grant, Pete has joined up with filmmaker Cathy Soreny from Optical Jukebox and Andrew Heath in the History department to work on an album set in antebellum Philadelphia: decades in which a city founded by Quakers as a haven of religious tolerance became (as one contemporary put it) “the most anarchical metropolis on this side [of] the Atlantic”.  Focusing on the racial, religious, and social strife that brought civil war to the city’s streets, the project combines film, music, and historical scholarship while asking questions about how we tell stories about the past. After previewing some of the songs at the Sensoria Festival in September, The Payroll Union officially launched Faith and Fear at the Harley on 21 October, and over the next few months there will be several events leading up to the recording of the album in April. If you’re interested in finding out more, please get in touch with Andrew Heath.

Additional Information


Mary Vincent elected as Vice President of the RHS

Professor Mary Vincent, lecturer in Modern European History and Head of the Department of History, has been elected as one of the Vice Presidents of the Royal Historical Society (RHS). Mary will take up her post from January 2014.

Based at University College London, the RHS is the foremost body for those engaged in the study of the past. It has over 3000 Fellows and Members from around the world who are all engaged professionally in researching and presenting public history, whether this is in archives, libraries, museums or the heritage industry.

The RHS is governed by a Council consisting of the President, seven Officers, six Vice Presidents and twelve elected Councillors. Vice Presidents are elected by the Society’s Fellows and usually serve for a term of three years.

Under the supervision of the Council, the Society sponsors a wide range of events across the country. It is also an important historical publisher and works to ensure that the interests of history and historians are represented by both the government and funding councils.

The Royal Historical Society Website:

Mary Vincent’s staff profile:

Parliamentary Review on Higher Education

Professor Michael Braddick, Professor of History, who recently completed a term of office as Pro Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, was asked to contribute to the Parliamentary Review‘s edition on Higher Education.

Arts Enterprise: a shining example of the Faculty’s external engagement activities

In his contribution, Mike considers how the new fees regime has challenged universities to demonstrate the value of what they do demonstrate the value of what they do and he outlines our Faculty’s response to this by “redoubling our efforts to show the benefits of our work for the personal development and future prospects of our students, and for society at large”.

He discusses how “arts and humanities disciplines offer insights into all aspects of our individual and collective lives. Our teaching puts students alongside people pushing at the limits of current knowledge and understanding. As a result, students learn about complexity – complex social phenomena, complex texts and complex personal experiences.”

Mike also considers the University’s civic roots and discusses the role the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. The University “was founded partly on the basis of penny donations from the working people of the city, who believed that a university would transform the life, health and prospects of the city and its people. This civic commitment is not in conflict with our commitment to research and teaching excellence. That internationally recognised excellence is something of which our staff are justifiably very proud. Far from being a tension, it is this excellence that makes our research such a powerful force for good, and our teaching such a transformative experience for our students.”

The article also features examples of the Faculty’s external engagement activities, including Arts Enterprise. These activities link researchers with a wide range of external partners to “help local educational, heritage, community and arts organisations fulfil their missions by drawing on the talents of our academic staff”.

Mike’s full article can be read here.

Combining political commentary from leading journalists, with sector specific insight from Secretaries of State, Ministers and MPs, The Parliamentary Review is an indispensable guide to industry best practice and how sector leaders have responded to challenges in the political and economic environment.

Sheffield Americana band team up with historian

An unlikely collaboration between a Sheffield-based Americana band and Dr Andrew Heath from the Department has produced an album with a difference, inspired by 19th century American history.

Photo of Andrew HeathThe Mule and the Elephant by The Payroll Union will be launched on 19 January 2013 at Club 60, recording studio to Sheffield bands Reverend and the Makers and The Crookes.

Lead singer Peter David, who currently works in Student Services at the University of Sheffield, explained how the collaboration with Dr Andrew Heath came about and the inspiration behind the album: “I met academics from the Department of History at one of our Tramlines gigs this year. They were interested to know how and why I came to write songs primarily about 19th Century American characters and events, and more specifically the Jacksonian Era (roughly 1815-1848). I didn’t study history, I’m just interested in this period – the most interesting in American history, I think – it’s full of duels, religious persecution, political corruption and sex scandals!”

“Our shared interest in this era led us to decide to work together on a joint project. I asked Andrew if he would like to write the liner notes for the album to expand on some of the themes and he agreed, which is really exciting. We’re also in the process of submitting a proposal for Arts Enterprise funding to work on a collaborative project about the antebellum period, drawing on a lot of Andrew’s research.”

Dr Heath said: “It’s been a pleasure to work with Pete, who is not only a great songwriter, but also a very talented historian. The album he’s written brings to life people and ideas I’ve been teaching and researching for the last ten years and it’s been exciting for me and my students to find someone who can tell the stories we explore through books and articles in such a novel way.”