This month we thought it would be nice to hear some of the more uplifting stories from history to brighten up our days! Reading through these articles its hard not to be just a little happier by the end. From the Miracle on Ice and the joy of sport to Sir Seretse Khama and the amazing story of Botswana’s independence there is something here to lighten up the lockdown for just about everyone. Thanks to everyone who contributed this month, and thanks to everyone taking the time to read these stories.
On 1st May 1851, nestled between the elm trees of Hyde Park, a 564 m long and 33 m high glass structure was about to open to the public. This creation (later known as the Crystal Palace) housed something even more astounding than the building itself. Inside the glasshouse was the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Six million people would visit the exhibition in the coming months – one-third of the population of Britain.
Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, had created an exhibition of inventions, art and precious stones to encourage international cooperation and trade. As a German and an outsider in Victoria’s court, he saw that Britain was deeply divided by class and was wary of foreign visitors. As a result, he wanted to host an event that would bring Britain and the world closer together.
In 1966, when Botswana asked to be granted independence by the British government they were labelled as “either brave or very foolish”. The British protectorate, known at the time as Bechuanaland, had 12km of paved road, a literacy rate of 25% and was one of the twenty poorest countries in the world. Bordered by apartheid South Africa, who was in its ‘golden age’ of white minority rule and political domination, there was little hope of Botswana’s success as an independent state. And yet, over the next twenty years, it would go on to create a state based on political freedom and multiracialism, have the fastest growing economy in the world and create one of the most successful multi-party democracies on the continent. Unlike many African countries emerging from colonial domination, Botswana has never experienced war, dictatorships or political violence.
‘Revolutions’ are events that never fail to evoke images of uncertainty, upheaval and most of all violence. The legacy of the French Revolution on the popular memory has always been defined by the horror and scale of this revolutionary violence. This imagery has only been compounded by the other ‘great’ revolution, the Russian Revolution, which solidified our perceptions of revolutions as events that inherently involve mass violence. Indeed, Arno Mayer argued in The Furies, his history of the French and Russian Revolutions, that ‘there is no revolution without violence and terror’ and insisted that ‘revolution’ can only apply to the most violent and dramatic examples, namely France 1789 and Russia 1917. However, during a six month period of 1989, on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, no less than seven European states underwent sweeping political transitions that were, with the exception of Romania, largely bloodless affairs and demonstrated that European revolutions could not only be peaceful events, they could even be celebrated.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 saw a victory for freedom and the end of the division between West and East Berlin. The fall of the wall ushered in the reunification of Germany ending decades of separation and captivity for the East.
Following the Second World War Germany was split between European world zones. This left East Berlin under Soviet control. The Soviets consequently build the Berlin wall in 1961. The wall was labelled as an ‘anti-fascist protection barrier’ that stretch from the Baltic to Czechoslovakia. However, this barrier furthered the repression and control of the people rather than guaranteeing security and freedom.The Berlin wall was a constant reminder of cold war anxieties, and prevented those in the East escaping to the more prosperous West. Many came to view the wall as the ultimate symbol of the tyrannical regime that denied them of fundamental rights.
‘Do you believe in miracles?’ asked Al Michael in the dying seconds of what would come to be remembered as one of the most famous international ice hockey matchups in history. It was the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid and, contrary to all expectations, the US team were moments away from beating the Soviets. They had assumed underdog status throughout the tournament as the seventh-seed and youngest team, with an average age of twenty-one, as well as having lost 10-3 in an exhibition match to the USSR less than two weeks before. Against a Soviet side made up of seasoned veterans, their loss seemed inevitable. But the inevitable did not happen. Victory was made even more incredible for the American people by occurring against the backdrop of recession, the Iranian hostage crisis, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ongoing Cold War. In a period of intense American anxiety, the ‘Miracle on Ice’ proved to be much more than a sports success. It typifies the vitality of sport to society and how its universal appeal and sense of belonging can prove invaluable at lifting the spirit of the people.
The ‘swinging sixties’ was characterised by rising living standards, increased sexual freedoms and the emphatic influence of the youth on British culture. Rock and roll had erupted in Britain, with bands such as The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones characterizing the new shift in pop music. London was at the centre of these changes, with immigration into the capital resulting in a melting pot of new musical styles such as jazz and soul. Despite this, the BBC largely ignored these new musical influences, having dominated radio since the 1920s they played music that fell in line with a moral and traditional Britain.
The flexibility of the ‘separate spheres’ ideology has been thoroughly demonstrated by historians due to evidence signifying women’s inherent role in public life. Whilst there was still a domesticated role seldom expected of women in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, particularly after the French Revolution, women in public life further increases. Due to the Lockean ideology of citizenship presented in The Declaration for the Rights of Man and Citizen in France, Mary Wollstonecraft drew up a similar abstract of her own, titled a Vindication of the Rights of Woman, of which she argued for more political responsibilities and representation of women. This, coupled with expanding the female workforce, demonstrates a subtle shift to a more ‘equally’ gendered world.
For this edition of New Histories, we wanted to provide a space for students to discuss Women’s History in Women’s History Month. While there has no doubt been much disruption due to the impact of COVID-19, it is hoped that this magazine will provide an outlet for students who are now locked down to engage with their passions in a way that provides information for others too.
On 15 January 1962, nearly 2000 American women and their children picketed the White House in the pouring rain, posting soggy letters to incumbent President John F. Kennedy while juggling umbrellas, placards and strollers. With signs that read ‘Never Say Die’ and ‘When it rains, it pours- Strontium 90’, the women were members of Women Strike for Peace (WSP), a protest ‘unorganization’ created to put pressure on the US and USSR to end atmospheric nuclear testing. Motivated by studies that found the radioactive isotope, Strontium-90, in breast and cow’s milk, WSP dominated press coverage of the anti-nuclear movement, a feat primarily achieved by framing their activism around middle-class motherhood.