Don’t Mention the Empire!

 

The British Empire holds a strange place in the UK’s national memory; many young people have little knowledge of it while many older people remember it fondly, with 65% of over 65s in a YouGov poll saying the Empire was something to be proud of in 2014.[1] Considering that the British Empire lasted for 500 years, it is rarely talked about, usually only brought up when talking about immigration or invoked as a nostalgic tool to invoke ‘Britannia’ in relation to issues such as Brexit.[2] Actual detail is rarely mentioned, it’s rarely covered in film or TV despite the UK’s love of period drama and the teaching of it in schools is minor, if existent at all.

I was never taught about the British Empire in school. I was never even taught about the slave trade, except for brief mentions during Black History Month – and then only the USA’s role was mentioned. I know some people a little younger than me at least were taught about the slave trade and going back to my parents’ school days of the 1960s and 1970s, the slave trade was mentioned. The British Empire overall though was barely touched upon. While teaching of the British Empire has reportedly been improved upon in recent years, it is still patchy due to a focus on certain aspects or periods of the Empire.

The problem with teaching about the British Empire is that it isn’t easy and it doesn’t make Britain look good. Take the teaching of World War Two in Britain – the Nazis were clearly evil and we fought against them, so we’re the good guys! Great detail is gone into on the Nazi atrocities, quite rightly. However any evil done by the British is glossed over to preserve the dichotomy. No talk of handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler prior to the war; or the bombing of German civilians; or the British government doing nothing to help victims of Nazi persecution (the famous Kindertransport children were only allowed to enter the country if a non-governmental organisation found them a place to stay and a £50 bond per child was paid); the internment of those who came from countries who were part of the Axis Powers; and the blind eye turned to the rape of women and children, committed by Allied troops, by the Allied leadership to name a few. Acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Allies does not make the Nazis look at any better, nor does it mean disrespecting those who died – they were not the government. Acknowledging these atrocities does however damage the myth of a heroic Britain, of a past we should be proud of. That is exactly why the British Empire is such a touchy subject.

Exact numbers of those who died at the hands of the British Empire will never be known, and no estimation will ever be agreed on but let’s take a look at a couple of generally accepted figures. 3.1 million Africans were transported by the British to its colonies and other countries.[3] 1 million (at least) died in the Irish Potato Famine, while the British government exported food from Ireland and British landlords evicted families.[4] 4.3 million died in the Southern India famine of 1876–78, while the British government exported food from India and refused to provide any charity, instead forcing the starving to work for rations that were not enough to sustain them.[5] At least 28,000 Boer women and children and 20,000 Black people died in one of the earliest examples of concentration camps, created by the British Army during the Second Boer War.[6] These uncomplicated figures are enough to cause horror for any person with something resembling a moral compass. These are indefensible. These were civilians; the excuse of ‘they were attacking us’ just simply doesn’t count for these examples.

Now there are people who claim that the British Empire was a force for good, a highly controversial claim among many historians, but the major problem with the lack of education or thorough discussion of the Empire outside academic circles means that these claims are fed uncritically to the public almost always via newspapers and politicians who are using this argument for their own political means. For example, if we refer back to the atrocities above, the Daily Mail in one article claimed that during the British Empire ‘the occasional massacre was undoubtedly carried out’ but we played a role in ending the slave trade and ‘successfully exported’ democracy to countries that were colonies.[7] This of course shows a rather dismissive attitude to the deaths of millions and conveniently leaves out the British role in beginning the slave trade. This is not exactly unsurprising when you consider even Wikipedia refuses to use the Daily Mail as a source; that such an article makes no attempt to even vaguely consider history properly. It is also understandable in some respects why newspapers like the Daily Mail aggressively pursue such a position; they do not exist to teach history – or even tell the truth – they are there to push a particular opinion onto readers in the hope that readers will support their political aims at the ballot box to financially support their owners. This, of course, is not confined to just right-wing newspapers but to newspapers in general.

The problem is that when many peoples’ knowledge comes from journalists set on achieving political goals the actual debate and evidence of the Empire is not present. While historians cannot escape ideology completely, at least there is some kind of attempt at being critical of their perspectives and examining evidence. If an argument is to be made that the British Empire was ‘good’ then it should be put forward properly evidenced with historical rigour, with an actual chance of experts being able to debate the argument for its historical accuracy rather than political value. This is why it is so important that the British Empire is actually taught in schools so students have a chance to critically engage with the history rather than be fed carefully condensed politicised propaganda. An evidenced debate in schools has been favoured by school leaders and historians over a curriculum based on fostering patriotism.[8] This approach has also been favoured by students themselves.[9]

The lack of knowledge about the British Empire is particularly problematic because of how much of an impact it is having today. The British Empire created Apartheid in South Africa, and continued to resist imposing sanctions on the government till the end. Claims of violence between black and white South Africans has recently been the subject of interest amongst Trump supporters. The British Empire played a large part in the beginnings of the Israel-Palestine conflict, perhaps the most controversial conflict in modern history. After pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other for the British Empire’s own gain, the rushed partition of India helped cause the bloody legacy of the events of the partition that still plagues the relationship between India and Pakistan today. Intervention in Afghanistan began with the British Empire and the volatile state of the country can be linked back to British installed puppet governments. Proper understanding of these current events cannot be achieved without the knowledge of what past events caused them, and in so many cases the British Empire played some part.

It is even still having an impact on government policy as seen with the recent Windrush scandal with those who came to Britain and their descendants from former colonies in the Caribbean being threatened with deportation. The disregard for these people who spent their early lives under colonial control and then came to rebuild the UK due to lack of work available in their own countries because of colonial policy, all while having to cope with racism and poverty when they came to Britain. The recent scandal led to many of these people facing racism and poverty all over again; with many arguing that such behaviour would have never happened to white immigrants and that the decision to destroy records was racially charged. Whether such assertions are true or not, there is certainly an issue that being former colonial subjects that their history was not considered as important as white Britons.

Despite such claims that the British Empire was a good thing, even from politicians in government, there is a strong suggestion that perhaps the British government aren’t quite as proud about it as they claim. In 2011 a group of elderly Kenyans won the right to sue the British government for the torture they allege they suffered in the Mau Mau rebellion against the Empire. As a result of this an official review of colonial government papers, which unlike most government papers had not been passed onto the National Archives, was undertaken. The review found that they had been purposefully hidden, and that also thousands had been disposed of with the expressed intention by the secretary of state for the colonies so that any records that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” should be destroyed.[10]

 

[1] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/07/26/britain-proud-its-empire/

[2] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/dont-mistake-nostalgia-about-british-empire-scholarship

[3] http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/slavery/pdf/britain-and-the-trade.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

[5] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=S2EXN8JTwAEC&pg=PA132&dq=famine+british+empire+india&as_brr=3&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=famine%20british%20empire%20india&f=false

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml

[7] https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20180412/281861529084026

[8] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/british-empire-students-should-be-taught-colonialism-not-all-good-say-historians-a6828266.html

[9] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413714/History_for_all.pdf

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyed-records-colonial-crimes?newsfeed=true

 

Burial Practices in Early Medieval Northern Europe

Today we are going to talk about something that my archaeology friends find fascinating, and most other humanist consider as particularly gross – the dead. Death is a key moment in anyones existence – dare I say The Most Crucial? But it can be quite a nasty and blunt topic to discuss. Nevertheless, in the medieval period, the dead were still important for their societies, in a way or another. And burials could create a great deal of tension in certain communities. After all, we have to consider these people were far more influenced by religion and belief than perhaps our modern society – or so we think…Anyway, strap on your seatbelts and jump on the cart…(trying really hard not to make a Monty Python joke here…too late!).

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The world of the early middle ages was one of religious diversity. Both pagans and Christians coexisted for some centuries, each of them with different practices related to the veneration of their deities and the rituals this implicated. Like in many other cultures, just like nowadays, death was another step in life. However, death involved the reunion of the deceased with his ancestors and even with the Gods, therefore it is understandable that burials and other practices related with death represent religious connotations of these individuals.

Starting with a classic the account of Ibn Fadlan on Viking burials on the other hand provides details of the actual Scandinavian rites of death; from the moment in which the corpse was temporarily buried to the burning of the funerary ship. If you have seen The 13th Warrior , you probably get the idea: human sacrifice, chanting, party, the Angel of Death and her spooky predicaments…Nonetheless, there is a major problem in relying on this type of sources – Fadlan I mean, not the movie – religious bias, judgement and exaggeration.

The situation is slightly different once the archaeological records are approached. Think of the Ogam stones from Ireland or the Pictish Class I stones. Even though they provide us with key information about the practice of burials (the disposal of the bodies, the grave-goods they used, etc.) there are still problems in understanding the religious convictions of the different individuals interred. It is usually assumed that if the orientation of the grave is east-west and has no grave-goods then the burial is Christian, while if it is flexed and presents irregularities it is most likely to be pagan, but it does not always work like that. In addition, it has to be considered that throughout time graves have been re-used or even robbed, leaving both archaeologists and historians without their original context – and as you know I am a fan of context, because contact is crucial.

One could easily assume that interments within a churchyard with no grave-goods are most likely Christian burials, as the members of the Church would not let a non-Christian disturb their eternal place of rest. Moreover, we have the reassurance that certain type of graves and markers are most certainly Christian, due to a prolonged and consistent use of these. For example, head box graves at least from the 7th century onwards seem to have a clear Christian connotation. These and similar types of graves would be decorated or marked by the sign of the cross, or the chi-rho symbol which is the most explicit  form of identifying Christian iconography. In addition, it seems likely that the Ogam stones of Cork and Kerry with the ANM inscription are related to Christian individuals as well, as the language used in them is Latin, or Latin influenced, and usually contain the depiction of the cross. The same could be said about the stones marked in their wider face with Maltese crosses, which have been dated from sometime between the 6th and the 8th century from Ireland to the Hebrides and that have clear parallels in the continent.

In the same way, certain practices could be considered, and have been considered pagan per se. Cremations have been regarded as pure pagan practice and have not been questioned by historians for a long time. Primary Frankish sources refer to this burning of dead men´s bodies as pagan rites and such practice was retaliated by capital punishment. In addition, the burials with grave-goods, especially horses, or horse related artefact, are usually considered a pagan practice which was particularly prominent in the Germanic speaking areas. In Frisia unlike anywhere else both cremation and horse burial practice carried on as late as the 9th century. There are other odd burials that are commonly regarded as non-Christian: human sacrifices. This seems quite prominent in Scandinavian and Germanic lands – remember Ibn Fadlan and the 13th Warrior? We even references to human sacrifice in the Carolingian capillary regarding Saxony. It states that “if anyone shall have sacrificed a man to a devil, and after the manner of the pagans shall have presented him as a victim to the demons, let him be punished by death” (in P.E.Dutton, Carolingian Civilization: A Reader, p. 67). These sort of practices would be unacceptable for the Christian Church as only God has rights on someone else’s life and therefore they should be regarded as purely pagan, with certainly no room to even consider malpractice.

But what seems non sensical, is the fact that we seem to want to establish this very clear-cut between what was pagan and was not. The idea that both religious beliefs shared time and ground with no interaction or exchange of any kind might seem reasonable to some, but highly unlikely. Approaches by imitation might have taken place before the conversion of these people, and for sure once Christianity installed itself in these new lands, lending and borrowing would have happened in order to provide the lay population with an easier transition. In Ireland, for example, there was an old pre-Christian custom to make lamentations or ‘keening’ for the deceased. There are reference to such practice in both the Bigotian and the Old Irish penitential. The first one seems sympathetic towards the subject as long as the lament is made for a good person, imitating therefore practices of Jacob from the Old Testament.The other, on the other hand, condemns such a practice by fifty nights of penance. Possibly the reason why this source is more strict, without totally prohibiting such a ritual, is to promote proper praying for the soul in religious mannerism rather than folk practice. These weird ideas and performances regarding the dead and religious ritual, reach their peak with generally considered to deviant burials: those in which the ritual has been altered as due to the unorthodoxy of the burial itself.  S.L.Fry suggests that usually this deviation is caused in order to dishonour the dead. However there seems to be a pattern: murderers, suicides, unbaptised children, women who died during or shortly after childbirth, as well as strangers. In any of these cases Christian burial was denied, and so it is possible that many deviant burials might have been identified as pagans when they were not such a thing. A similar case can be appreciated especially in the Cillin burials in Carrowkeel from the 9th to the 11th century, which present even more issues as the orientation of the graves was east-west, but the corpses were flexed and in odd positions. Nonetheless, this coincides with a well-spread tradition performed by Anglo-Saxons – to have a separated area for the disposal of child burials, like in Rands Furnells, Northamptonshire, and even other place in Northern Europe such as Norway during the 9th and 11th century like in the cathedrals of Trondheim and Hamar.

So what can be said about these practices? Where they Christian or pagan, or none? If one looks at Scandinavian rune-stones it could be argued that these memorials were mainly used for Christian purposes, in the same way a grave-slab would be, however they were developed from a pre-Christian practice and contained pagan elements. Even when their use was purely Christian, especially in Denmark, odd inscriptions can be found in these stones in the shape of curses, spells, and even invocations of Thor. The same sort of thing could be said about both Ogam and Pictish stones; all of them most likely started being a pagan symbol, changed slightly, but carried out with pejoratively the same purpose throughout the Christian era. It is true that certain aspects of burial practices and their associated rituals can be identified as being from Christian faith or pagan belief but unfortunately the matter cannot be answered in too a simplistic manner. There are issues like the nature of certain deviant burials that religion cannot explain. The fact that more than one person was interred in the same grave does not necessarily mean pagan. Maybe the grave was simply re-used, as it commonly happened, or it was rather a cultural marker for multiple deaths that would have seem exceptional for such small populations and therefore was reflected in the odd features of their death rituals. However, and leaving on the side all the scepticism this subject might cause, one could definitely argue that there was a level of religious consciousness that affected people’s choices when proceeding to death rites. And perhaps it was selfishness, and the reassurance that life after death was obtainable. It is quite possible that the desire for saving the soul of the deceased – as well as that of those performing the ritual –  made them incorporate elements from both Christian and pre-Christian traditions so they could have all the guidance needed in death in the same way it would have been when they were alive.

 

The Welsh Prime Minister: David Lloyd George

As part of our First World War series, today I’ll be looking briefly at David Lloyd George, the second British Prime Minister of the First World War. David Lloyd George is considered one of Britain’s finest Prime Ministers by academics, his role as Prime Minister during the First World War is easily one of the most important tenures in British history. His decisive policies and actions as Prime Minster during the war found him widespread popularity and support across party lines and amongst the public. However he was not without his critics, he particularly clashed with Generals Robertson and Haig who were in charge of the British forces in France.

David Lloyd George was born in Manchester on the 17th January 1863, to Welsh parents. His father William George was a schoolmaster, who moved the family to Pembrokeshire where he died when Lloyd George was only a year old. After the death of his father, the family moved to Llanystumdwy, where his mother’s brother Richard Lloyd lived. It was from his uncle that Lloyd George would gain his Liberal politics and early work as a lawyer. Unlike many British Prime Ministers, Lloyd George did not attend university, instead attaching himself to a law firm before passing the Law Society final examinations. He ran his own law practice until he was elected in a fierce by-election in 1890 for the marginal seat of Caernarfon Boroughs. He was seen a rebel and was a fierce critic of the Boer War.  By 1906 he achieved his first ministerial position, as president of the Board of Trade. Two years later he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lloyd George’s social reforms as Chancellor are considered the forefather of the welfare system in the UK, bringing in Old Age Pensions and National Insurance.

When war broke out in 1914, Lloyd George was still Chancellor. He quickly showed his usefulness to the war effort. He worked closely with trade unions to benefit both workers and the country as it threw itself into the war effort. There was also the ‘King’s Pledge’, his attempt to encourage temperance by getting King George V to commit to abstaining from alcohol alongside a number of measures to stop alcohol consumption from affecting the war effort.

The Shell Crisis of 1915 ushered in a new role for Lloyd George, one that would make him popular in government and with the public. There was an outcry when it was revealed that the British Army were running low on artillery shells, a new department for Munitions was created with Lloyd George as minister. Lloyd George in this position began to change Britain into a war economy via steps such as making the railway companies major munitions producers as they had the necessary means of production to begin producing munition immediately. Continuing on from his work with the trade unions, he dealt deftly with labour issues including the hiring of large numbers of women to compensate for lost male workers. Despite this success, many historians believe the success of the department was mostly due to reform put in place before he became minister.

Outside of his role as Minister for Munitions, Lloyd George heavily pushed for conscription. Along with his fellow supporters he was finally successful in 1916. Some historians have seen this as his first bid for the role of Prime Minister; however Asquith would continue to hold on for some time. Even before he became Secretary of State for War, he was highly critical of Kitchener and the Generals Haig and Robertson.

Kitchener’s sudden death in June 1916, led to Asquith being forced to give the role of Secretary of State for War to Lloyd George, although in reality much of the power was in the hands of Haig and Robertson on the Western Front. This did have its advantages for Lloyd George as it allowed him to escape blame for colossal Allied failures such as the Somme. However Lloyd George was not to remain in this position for more than six months. By December 1916 Asquith had lost the support of the Unionists and Labour who he relied on to keep power. Lloyd George was able to gain their support along with a hundred liberals and became Prime Minister.

One of Lloyd George’s first decisions was the creation of the war cabinet, made up of 5 men. Lloyd George headed the cabinet with his chancellor, the Unionist leader, Bonar Law. Another Unionist, Curzon, and the leader of Labour, Arthur Henderson, and the Conservative Lord Milner rounded out the cabinet. The use of the war cabinet was effective allowing Lloyd George control over all aspects of government for the war effort. Perhaps Lloyd George’s greatest success as Prime Minister was the introduction of the convoy system. The convoy system was met with opposition but upon its implementation it stopped the German submarine campaign by preventing the losses that British shipping had sustained from U-Boats.

However Lloyd George continued to struggle with Haig and Robertson. This resulted in one of Lloyd George’s lows, the Nivelle Affair. Lloyd George attempted to put the French General Nivelle in charge of the offensive at Arras which was deeply unpopular with Haig and Robertson.  While Haig was given overall operational control of the British forces, he was forced to be under Nivelle’s orders. The Battle of Arras was partly successful but high casualties on the Allied side compared to the Germans damaged Lloyd George’s credibility. However when Passchendaele, under the responsibility of Haig and Robertson, ended badly Lloyd George was able to regain some credibility and allowed him to be able to set up the supreme war council.

The supreme war council was made up of Allied representatives. The council gave command to the French General Ferdinand Foch. This along with an increase of American troops saw a rise in Allied victories. By the summer of 1918 the Germans were losing numbers and those that remained were exhausted.

Perhaps Lloyd George’s biggest failure of the war was the attempted conscription of Ireland. Originally plans had been to limit conscription to Ulster, however the trade unions demanded conscription be extended as they could no longer provide soldiers from their unions without hurting the war effort.  While enacted, conscription was never actually put into effect because of such widespread backlash. This decision exacerbated anti-union feeling and could be seen as a major change in opinion about an independent Ireland, leading to the domination of Sinn Féin.

The Allied success cemented Lloyd George’s popularity, allowing him to easily win the 1918 election with a coalition government. He represented Britain at the Treaty of Versailles, although claiming he did not wish to ruin Germany he supported measures that would lead to the Second World War. He continued to push through social reforms and also extended suffrage to more of the British population including some women for the first time. He also oversaw the secession of the Irish Free State. However in 1922 Lloyd George lost power after a series of fractures in his coalition. Disagreements on policy and scandal surrounding cash for titles meant by October 1922, Lloyd George resigned.

While Lloyd George remained visible, the fall of the Liberal Party, something he had arguably helped cause, he never regained power. He continued to support social reform, with his last vote in the Commons being a vote to condemn the government for failing to implement the recommendations of the Beveridge report. On New Year’s Day of 1945 he was raised to the peerage but he was too ill to ever take his positon in the House of Lords. He died of cancer on March 24th 1945, months before the end of the Second World War.

 

When Politics Come to Sport: A History of Protest and Boycott at the Olympic and Paralympic Games

Politics and professional sport have forever been intertwined. Recently this has become more apparent with a number of news stories demonstrating this relationship. The American footballer Colin Kaepernick has made headlines and received a great deal of harassment for kneeling during the American national anthem at matches in protest of police violence against African Americans. There has been a great deal of political fallout over the choice to ban Russian para-athletes in the Paralympic Games, leading to the hacking of WADA. There was also the recent death of Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska, famous for her protests against the Soviet Union during her career. My fellow W.U History contributor Matt wrote about Mandela’s use of the 1995 Rugby World Cup back in 2014, so I have decided to focus on the use of political protests in the modern  Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Despite the repeated attempts (and harsh punishments against those do) of theIOC and IPC, the Olympics and Paralympics have rarely been politically free.

Irish athletes protested their inclusion in the Great Britain team. In 1906, the Irish high jumper Peter O’Connor had the British flag raised for his silver medal position; he scaled the pole with an Irish flag and waved that instead while his teammate Con Leahy remained at the foot of the pole to guard him. This led in 1908 to the team name being changed to Great Britain/Ireland and even allowing in several events Ireland to compete separately despite Irish independence not being achieved until 1911.

The 1956 Olympics faced a number of boycotts from countries due to a range of political tensions. The Suez crisis led to Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq boycotting. The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland also boycotted in protest of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Finally China decided to boycott upon Taiwan being allowed to compete. Supporters of countries such as Australia vocally supported the Hungarian athletes in protest of the Soviet invasion. For the most part tensions never reached a boiling point except during the water polo, which became known as the Blood in the Water match. The match was between the Hungarians and the USSR, with the match turning violent very quickly. The match earned the name after the Hungarian Ervin Zádor was punched by one of the Russian team leading to him bleeding from his forehead. The spectators of the match were mostly Hungarian, Australian and American leading to an almost riot, only avoided by the police moving the crowd out. The Hungarians won the match and eventually the gold medal.

South Africa’s participation in the Olympic and Paralympic Games caused a huge deal of controversy between 1960 and 1992. Not only did many of the African nations protest against the policy of Apartheid itself, but South Africa’s attempts to send only white athletes caused controversy. Many Western countries however continued to try and include South Africa in the competitions; South Africa was only officially banned from the Olympics in 1970. They had been disinvited from the Olympics in 1964 and 1968, due to the protests from African countries.  However, until the Dutch hosted the Paralympics in 1980, the South Africans continued to participate in the Paralympics. They were only expelled by IPC in 1985. With the exception of the a few countries from the Eastern Bloc and Finland, white majority countries did not boycott but a number of countries with non-white majorities did. The 1976 Games also had a boycott because of the continued inclusion of New Zealand, after the protests of a number of African countries. New Zealand’s rugby team had toured South Africa despite the majority of countries boycotting Apartheid South Africa;  twenty nine countries in all, mostly countries from Africa and the Middle East. Upon the end of apartheid, South Africa was allowed to compete with a multi-racial team.

Perhaps the most famous of all Olympic protests was Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Games. The American pair had placed first and third in the 200m respectively but drew outrage on the podium during the American national anthem. The pair both raised their fists, the well-known symbol of the Black Power movement, in protest of the treatment of Black Americans. Martin Luther King Jnr had been assassinated earlier in the year and despite the passing of the Civil Rights Act, unsurprisingly racial tensions were still high. The pair were booed as they left and were quickly punished by the IOC, leading to their expulsion from the games and Olympic Village. The implications of their protest continued to affect the pair after the 1968 Games. Both were subject to deaths threats and criticism in the US. Neither pair competed again in the Olympics, although both men continued in sport.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos were not the only athletes to protest during the 1968 Olympic Games. Czech gymnast Věra Čáslavská had already upset Soviet authorities earlier in 1968 having signed the protest manifesto ‘The Two Thousand Words’ during the Prague Spring, a period of political liberalisation that threatened the Soviet Union’s control over Czechoslovakia. Upon the Soviet invasion in August 1968, Čáslavská was forced into hiding in the Moravian mountains. Having lost her training facilities she trained for the games outside in the forests of Moravia, using logs as beams and potato sacks as weights to defend her titles from the previous Games. She only received permission at the last minute to participate in the 1968 games. While Čáslavská managed to defend two of her medals and gained a further two medals, controversy arose when two judging decisions favoured Soviet gymnasts over her. As a protest Čáslavská bowed her head and turned away during the playing of the Soviet anthem. While she received no punishment from the IOC, Čáslavská was banned from sport events in Czechoslovakia and abroad. This forced her into early retirement. It was not until the threat of ceasing oil exports to Czechslovakia by Mexico was she allowed to leave the country in 1978. In 1985 under the pressure of the IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch she was finally allowed to return to the sport as a coach and judge. After the fall of communism Čáslavská held a number of positions within the IOC.

The 1980 Olympics in Moscow caused one of the largest boycotts in Olympic history. Due to the decision not to hold the Paralympics by the Soviet Union, instead it was hosted by the Netherlands with no boycott. Upon the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US gave the ultimatum for the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan or there would be a boycott of the games. Despite the efforts of the IOC, no compromise was made; in all, mostly because of the boycott (although a few were for other reasons) sixty six countries who were invited to be part of the games did not attend. These were mostly African and Asian countries. Several Western countries did not fully boycott, but did protest by refusing to attend the Opening Ceremony, or athletes competed under the Olympic flag rather than their own.

The following games in 1984 were held in Los Angeles, where this time the Soviet Union and a number of their allies boycotted. However this boycott was on a much smaller scale, only 14 countries. The boycott was called because of claims of security concerns and an anti-Soviet climate. The Paralympics were mostly boycotted again by Soviet countries; however East Germany, Poland and Hungary participated when they had boycotted the Olympics.

Since 1992, despite political concerns, there have been no large scale boycotts or major political gestures at either the Olympics or Paralympics. Despite concerns about the 2008 Beijing Games and possible boycotts being discussed, the Games were largely successful.

The reluctance to boycott more recently has no exact reasoning, but is probably down to several reasons. Primarily I believe this is mostly down to the large cost, in both money and time that athletes – and their supporters – must dedicate to helping their training. Athletes had previously been outspoken about missing their chances to compete due to political interference but were more likely to toe the line. Today they would be less likely to accept their countries’ decisions to boycott, they are less likely to risk their position at the Games by protesting at all. The end of the Cold War has also removed one of the biggest political obstacles, but while there are still tensions between Russia and the USA, the Olympics almost seem to now be seen as an opportunity to compete, in a non-violent way.

The Scouse Way of Speaking: How Liverpool’s Accent Developed

Feature Image: Liverpool’s Skyline from New Brighton Beach

The Liverpool accent, most famously dubbed the ‘Scouse’ accent, is one of the most noticeable and varied speech patterns in England – and in the British Isles. But have Liverpudlians always talked like they have a blocked nose? Have they always spoken in a higher pitch towards the end of a sentence? Have they always finished sentences with the word ‘like’? This post looks at how the famous twang of Liverpudlians has developed over the years.

Is it an accent or a dialect?

First of all, it’s important to look at the distinction between accent and dialect, and which one the Liverpool way of speaking falls into. Andrew Hamer is a lecturer of English Language at the University of Liverpool and defines the two as such:

Dialect: “this includes the vocabulary you use, the grammar that you use and lots of local expressions as well. Dialects are defined socially – depending on your social background, and regionally – in terms of the area that you come from.”

Accent: ‘The sounds that people produce – it can involve the tunes that people use when they are speaking, and also the individual sounds of speech. So ‘accent’ is a more narrow term than dialect.’

Hamer defines the Liverpool speech as an accent, stating that although there are a number of deviations on slang and local expression., i’s the way it is spoken and sounds in how it really deviates, which is why it can be defined as an accent.

 Where does it come from?

It’s generally agreed the Liverpudlian accent was much the same or similar as other Lancashire accents up until the mid-nineteenth century and only really began to develop into its famous twang from then. In correlation with other events it’s easy to see why. In the 1840s and early 50s, the Irish Potato Famine had caused mass starvation across the country, and many emigrated to Liverpool to escape and start new lives. As many as 1.3 million Irish moved to Liverpool during the famine, and as early as 1851 one in five people in Liverpool were born in Ireland.

Irish migration, of course, has a long history in Liverpool. Its proximity to Ireland had led to this, but its development as a port really accelerated the movement towards the city. This huge shift, and through becoming a huge proportion of the population, had an impact on Liverpool, not only in making Liverpool the great port city it became, with their work on the docks, but also on the way the Lancastrian scousers spoke.

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Liverpool’s Proximity to Wales

Welsh migration also had an impact on the city and its accent. Liverpool is very close to the border of North Wales and its connections made movement very easy. This movement came a little later than the Irish, towards the end of the nineteenth century. Around 80,000 Welsh-born people lived in North West England in 1892, with many concentrated in Liverpool. Historian Merfyn Jones notes that many Welsh migrants were forced to move due to economic collapse, mainly from the northern counties. A main driver, he underlines, was the collapse of large-scale copper mining in Anglesey, an island off North Wales. But Welsh influence had been there from much earlier, with a migration influx starting in 1760. By 1900, there were 90 Welsh-speaking chapels, churches and mission halls. Therefore, it was not just the Welsh accent influencing the city, but the language itself.

Has it changed?

Accents and dialects are continuously changing, whether due outside influences or personal choices. The influx of American influences in Britain has caused an Americanized way of speaking in younger generations, and also a heavy focus on the capital of the country and its own cockney slang has influenced speech patterns across the country. The Liverpool Museums website has underlined how the accent has been under constant development, and this can be seen with the shift in speech patterns since the mid-nineteenth century.

Overall, Liverpool’s distinctive accent can be compared in comparison with its neighbouring city and also a giant of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester. Only thirty miles away, Manchester’s immigration also included Irish and Welsh, but mostly relied on that on surrounding Lancashire areas, forming its own way of speaking into a Lancastrain dialect, whereas Liverpool’s can really only be described as Scouse.

Further Reading

Liverpool Museums, Accent and Expression

Merfyn Jones, Welsh Immigrants in the Cities of the North West of England. 1890-1930: Some Oral Testimony 

BBC, Local Dialects: Ask the Experts 

Exodus, Irish Migration into Liverpool in the Nineteenth Century 

Liverpool Welsh, A Brief History of the Liverpool Welsh 

“Dress suitably in short skirts … and buy a revolver”: The role of women in The Easter Rising of 1916

As we mark the centenary of The Easter Rising, a recent article by Olivia O’Leary for The Guardian lead me to consider the involvement of women in the conflict and on the involvement of the aristocrat-turned-rebel, Countess Markievicz, in particular.

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Three young rebels of Easter, 1916

          Easter fell early this year, on March the 27th, but a century ago Easter Sunday was celebrated on the 23rd of April, with Easter Monday falling on the 24th.  However, the religious festivities of 1916 were to be greatly overshadowed by the outbreak of an armed conflict in Ireland, one which came to be known as The Easter Rising. The Rising, a rebellion against British rule, largely took place in Dublin, with smaller skirmishes breaking out across the country. It began on Easter Monday, 1916, when a group of around 1,800 men and women took over key buildings in Dublin, transforming The General Post Office into their headquarters. It was on the steps of the Post Office that Patrick Pearse read aloud a statement, known as the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in which he declared that Irish men and women would fight for their independence from the crown.

The British army, caught unawares by the development and with forces focussed on World War One, was initially slow to react but it soon took measures to halt the rebellion. Within a few days, extra troops had arrived in Ireland. Fighting broke out on the streets of Dublin, and it is thought that almost five hundred people were killed in the conflict. Of them around two hundred and sixty– three for every rebel death – were civilians, with many killed as a result of crossfire in the busy city, or of the British use of artillery and heavy machine guns.  The Rising began on April the 24th and lasted for just five days, though its legacy is still celebrated by Irish Republicans, and the conflict is a common theme in many of the famous Belfast murals. Many others, however, such as the former Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, criticise the ‘celebratory’ tone surrounding memorials. He believes that ‘It is important that in remembering and commemorating what happened that we don’t glorify or justify it.’

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The destruction of Dublin, 1916

The centenary of the conflict lead many to discuss the way it is commemorated, and indeed whether the legacy is worth remembering at all. In a recent article for The Guardian, for example, published shortly before Easter this year, journalist Olivia O’Leary voiced her admiration at her grandfather’s involvement in the Rising, yet her disappointment in the outcome. She wonders, ‘What happened to the promise of equality in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic read out on Easter Monday 1916, … addressed to “Irishmen and Irishwomen”?’ O’Leary goes on to note that while the proclamation declared an end to British rule, it also guaranteed religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens. What’s more, writes O’Leary, it made a commitment to universal suffrage, something which was extraordinary at the time, and two years before women in Britain won the vote. O’Leary writes of her disappointment therefore that the progressive message ‘became stifled by a conservative culture obsessed with female chastity and purity.’

‘Historians,’ writes O’Leary, ‘now tell us that there was a tussle to have women included so pointedly in the proclamation.’ It was a struggle won by James Connolly and Constance Markievicz, the prominent feminist and socialist. Yet only two years later in the general election of 1918, ‘when Sinn Féin swept the boards,’ it was clear that the socialists and feminists had been pushed aside. ‘Most of the dreamers and visionaries had been shot in 1916’, writes O’Leary, ‘and a more pragmatic and conservative leadership concentrated totally on the nationalist goal of separation from the UK.’ Thus, when the Irish Labour movement decided to stand aside in 1918 so as not to split the nationalist vote, the only woman elected was Markievicz.

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Constance Markievicz, the rebel countess of 1916

After reading O’Leary’s article, I was curious to read more about the involvement of women in The Easter Rising. In particular, I was keen to learn more about the role of Constance Markievicz, knowing very little about her beside her reputation as the ‘rebel countess.’ One post, by BBC History, notes that her exploits dominated contemporary press accounts of The Easter Rising. An instance of this being ‘the scene at the College of Surgeons when she kissed her revolver before handing it over to the British officer at the moment of surrender,’ a tale which passed instantly into Irish nationalist mythology. Quite something for a woman who had been born into the aristocratic Gore-Booths family in London, 1868, and presented at court to Queen Victoria in 1887.

The author writes that she married a Polish count, Casimir Markievicz, however they had little in common and separated amicably at the outbreak of World War One. Then, in 1909, Markievicz first became known to British intelligence for her role in helping the nationalist scouting organisation Na Fianna Éireann in their mission to train boys for participation in a war of liberation. She was also deeply involved with the Irish suffragette movement and focussed considerable energy into Inghinidhe na hEireann, a militant women’s organisation founded by Maude Gonne. Markievicz demonstrated further compassion in her work with the poor. In 1913, for example, during the Dublin Lockout, she worked tirelessly so as to provide food for the worker’s families.

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Countess Markievicz

Just two years later, she was involved in helping to organise and train the Irish Citizen Army. Indeed, during the Easter Rising, Markievicz was second-in command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen’s Green/College of Surgeons, and she actively fought throughout the week. After the conflict, she was the only woman to be court-martialled, on May the 4th, 1916. While it has been suggested that Markievicz ‘crumpled up’ during her trial, there is little evidence to support this. Official records instead suggest that ‘she acted with courage, dignity and defiance’ at the trial, and declared “I did what I thought was right, and I stand by it.” The verdict reached by the court was unique; she was found ‘Guilty. Death by being shot,’ yet with a recommendation to mercy based ‘solely and only on account of her sex.’ The sentence was therefore commuted to a life sentence.

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Countess Markievicz during her time in prison

Markievicz ultimately served thirteen months in Irish and English gaols, and later claimed that her inspiration during the period of her imprisonment had been Thomas Clarke, a signatory of the Proclamation who had been executed alongside Pearse and MacDonagh on the 3rd of May, 1916.  Afterwards she also was known for being unforgiving in her attitude towards the Irish Volunteer Chief of Staff, Eoin MacNeill, who had opposed and tried to prevent the Rising. In the General Election of December, 1918, Markievicz became the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons. However, as a member for Sinn Féin, she never took her seat in Westminster. Rather, she served as Minister of Labour (1919- 1921) in the first Dáil, the lower house of the Irish Parliament. She is known to have bitterly opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December, 1921, and supported the anti-Treaty forces during the civil war. In 1921, aged 59, Markievicz died in hospital in Dublin. At her funeral, the working class of the city lined the streets.

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Crowds line the streets for the funeral of Countess Markievicz, 1921

Markievicz is perhaps the best known woman to have been active in the Easter Rising, but she was by no means the only one. In her article entitled Women of the Rising: Activists, Fighters & Widows, Sinéad McCoole writes of the many who fought alongside her, and are only now receiving recognition. Approximately three hundred women took part in the events of Easter week, 1916. This figure is one which McCoole draws from recently released material held by the Military Archives, and is much higher than previously thought. Beyond the statistics, McCoole also examines contemporary newspapers for ‘a more immediate insight into the roles played by women in 1916.’ One press report, for instance, stated that the women ‘were serving in the dining room of the Post Office dressed in their finest clothes, and wore knifes and pistols in their belts… wearing green and white and orange sashes.’ While another report, based on an account by a Red Cross nurse and published under the headline ‘Fearless Under Fire,’ expresses a great amount of admiration for ‘…these Irishwomen, who did their work with a cool and reckless courage, unsurpassed by any man from the first to the last day of the Rebellion.’

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Some of the approximately 300 women involved in the Easter Rising

Indeed, the contribution of women attracted a great deal of international attention, and in the aftermath of the Rising many representatives of the American press came to interview the women who had been imprisoned. Kathleen Lynn, for example, who had served as Chief Medical Officer in the Irish Citizen Army later reflected that they were not what the media had expected; ‘We were not up to the mark and as snappy as they would have liked us to be. They got the impression that we were a poor lot.’ Yet, whatever the opinion of the American press, and whether or not the Easter Rising should be commemorated or simply remembered, the role of women in the conflict should not be overlooked. In a recent article entitled The Forgotten Role of Women Insurgents in The 1916 Rising, Tom Clonan effectively summarises by stating that while women continue to be ‘effectively airbrushed from historical accounts of the Rising and their sacrifices for the state routinely omitted in discussions about Irish identity and citizenship,’ the role they played in the struggle of 1916 and in the subsequent War of Independence was nonetheless vital.

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Further reading:

The Irish Potato Famine: Genocide?

The Irish potato famine of 1845-1849 is often seen as a turning point in Irish history with many Irish historians referring to Irish history as pre-famine and post-famine. The famine killed almost 1 million and a further 2 million emigrated to escape the lack of food and lack of work. Not only did it led to a significant decrease of the population (estimated around 25%) but it has also been seen as a prominent factor in the desire for Irish independence. While it was a strain of Phytophthora infestans that caused the potato blight, destroying the crops that much of the Irish population relied on, the British government has often been held responsible for the horrific consequences that followed. Without a doubt, the British government was responsible for worsening the conditions of the famine, with their refusal to stop food exports and the slow move to repeal the Corn Laws which kept the price of bread artificially high. This left many Irish people to starve despite the fact there was food being produced in the country and surplus food was leaving the country. With the fall of Peel’s Conservative government, the new Whig Government’s laissez-faire policies worsened the situation; limiting food relief and scrapping work programs in favour for far more limited work programs and placing strict and often unworkable rules on food relief. But can these actions actually be labelled as a case of genocide against the Irish people?

The major issue with labelling the Irish potato famine genocide is dependent on the definition of the term genocide. Definitions of genocide are another debate entirely. The UN definition is as follows:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The British government did not directly kill Irish citizens nor were there direct attempts at preventing births or forcing Irish children away from their families. However types of acts b and c are more complicated. The British government did not cause the famine; therefore it is arguable that they did not cause either harm or inflict conditions of life to destroy the population. However the lack of aid and the commandeering of Irish resources (the lack of land in Irish hands which caused many to lose their homes when they became unable to pay their rent and also resources produced by the Irish such as corn which continued to be exported) could be seen as acts of both b and c.

The other issue with this definition, and many other definitions, is that of intent. Did the British government actually intend to destroy the Irish? There certainly is no clear evidence, such as with the Holocaust, that there was an actual intention to fully wipe out the Irish population. Cormac Ó Gráda has argued that because of this it was not genocide but neglect. However the British government must have known such actions could, if not would (as they did), cause starvation, poverty, disease and death. Therefore it could be argued that the British government’s actions can be seen as intent.

The genocide question will always be hard to determine unless clearer parameters are set over the definition of genocide, as currently the focus is heavily on that of intent. Regardless of whether the Irish Potato famine was genocide or not, the role of the British government in the outcome of the famine did cost far more lives than the famine would have alone.