Musings on the Menopause: Comparative analysis between the 16th century and modern-day perceptions of the female body and ageing

By Eleanor Richardson

As we enter a new decade, women’s bodies continue to be a cultural reference and topic for discussion. They are politicised, used in illustrative comments, yet still remain a taboo. Ben Broadbent, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, caused controversy in late 2018 when he described a faltering, stagnant economy as ‘menopausal’. Despite later issuing an apology, his words illustrate a deep-rooted trend in modern society: we continually present women’s aging bodies in a negative light. We can see this trend as far back as the 16th Century. In the spirit of Women’s History Month I felt that I could draw some parallels between our modern day sentiments of the female body and the heightened atmosphere of the 16th century. It was a century characterised by a demographic crisis in the aftermath of the Black Death, so fertility and reproduction were a priority. The 16th century was the peak of the politicisation of women’s bodies. Women who were perceived to be undesirable, such as prostitutes and older women became the victims of a witch-hunt in which over 25,000 women in Germany were executed from 1580-1590. We no longer persecute women in such a cruel manner, yet we perpetrate a discourse in which we perceive women as symbols of fecundity and strip them of their agency once this fertility diminishes, a trend that this article will explore.

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How Psychiatry Promoted the Patriarchy

By Hannah Ahmed

Throughout the twentieth century we see the emergence of psychiatry as a branch of medicine and care. While a huge amount of progress has been made within the discipline with confronting biases within psychological theory and the implications this has on treatment, its foundations remain problematic. Linked to early ideas about biology and influenced by social gender norms, psychiatry developed as an inherently misogynistic practice. Whilst in recent years these biases have been confronted and attempts have been made to prevent any discrimination, we cannot ignore the harmful implications of these biases in the past.

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Greta Thunberg: A New Milestone for the Feminist Movement

By Steph Ritson

Women’s History Month calls for the celebration and reassertion of the role of women in history, society and culture. This ultimately leads to the celebration of women through their contribution to influential milestones. The work of Greta Thunberg is undoubtedly one of these vital milestones in the feminist movement.

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The US Women in World War Two and Beyond: Rights, Struggles and Contradictions

By Rachel Yu Cheng Chan

The United States of America has a very long and complex relationship with the Feminism movements from the 1940s to the current period. It is contradictory that the nation promotes freedom and equal opportunities for all and yet there are situations where females are given less power and rights than their male counterparts. According to Business Insider official website, the United States was placed 6th in the poll of the “Top Ten Countries with Gender Pay Gap 2018” with differences of 18.2% when comes to earning wages. However, in the US Equal Pay Act of 1963, it is implemented that men and women are required to be paid equally in the same job. Additionally, according to the National Geographic/Ipsos, which has surveyed 1000 women and more, only 29% of respondents identified as feminists, while another 69% did not. But, many women (40%) believe they have been suffered from discrimination and mistreatment. For a country that has been vocal on human rights, it is contradictory to note that they are still facing discrimination on female through many factors. In the United States history, was there a period when women were treated equally to men?

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New Histories Foreword

For this edition of New Histories, we wanted to encourage students to engage with the topic of ‘decolonising the curriculum’. By no means is this an attempt to provide an all-encompassing account: some of the articles here are the authors’ first time engaging with topics outside of those prescribed by our current curriculum. But, by providing the space to talk about the histories, cultures, and individuals that are overlooked by our current syllabus, we hope to continue those much needed conversations on race, privilege, and inequalities in current society that filters on into academia. With this edition, we want to invite students into this conversation to encourage self-reflection: firstly, on the state of our current syllabus, and secondly, on our own prejudices. 

The inspiration behind this edition came from the Race, Ethnicity and Equality report, published by the Royal Historical Society in November last year. The report regards the current History curricula as a central cause of the under – representation of BME students (and staff), in history departments across the U.K. Undoubtedly, the fear of being unable to identify with the curriculum serves as a major deterrent for potential history students, and is clearly a major concern for many current students.

We understand that the task of decolonising the curriculum is a mammoth one — but, by working with students, the history department has begun to take steps in the right direction. Facilitated by Dr. Emily Baughan, both student and staff members of the Race, Equalities and Decolonisation(RED) Working Party have begun to curate a curriculum that welcomes and engages with all students. We hope that New Histories can be utilised for both the aims of RED and History in the City to give a platform for this discussion. 

For us, to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ is to actively recognise our positionality and subjectivities in relation to the histories we encounter. We need to question the current historical canon; question the ‘default’ eurocentric narrative; question white-washed reading lists; and question the absence of BME scholars. For us, to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ is to challenge the framework of our syllabus, and to challenge the prescribed narratives which elevate some voices, whilst silencing others. 

The purpose of this edition is to shed light on histories sidelined by our syllabus, not to provide a single solution to this problem: simply, there is not one solution. We hope that these articles will further encourage the vital conversations about the lack of representation in the current curriculum.

We appreciate that this task transcends what can be achieved through a student-led e-zine. However, we believe that the articles in this edition afford an excellent starting point — we hope you feel so too. 

Amanda Boateng and Hannah Casey

Indian Removal in Antebellum America – A Destiny Fulfilled?

In discussing the antebellum period of American history, you will be hard-pressed to find a historian who does not emphasise the narrative of slavery, and its ultimate abolition in the mid-1860s. The historiography surrounding slavery in America – particularly in the context of the Civil War – continues to be expanded upon and enriched with lively debate. However, within this narrative, the role of Native Americans within antebellum history has been marginalised, both in terms of historiographical focus and in university lecture halls.

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Resistance and Negotiation: Reclaiming the Voices of Colonised Women

In the middle of the nineteenth century, single women missionaries began travelling to India in increasingly large numbers to evangelise Indian women, contributing to the imperial ‘civilising mission’. Over the decades, these women missionaries produced a vast amount of colonial knowledge and discourse about Indian women concerning their overall ‘condition’ and their characteristics. Their writings were exported back to Britain in the form of letters, magazines and books, making Indian women ‘accessible’ to the public at home. They were read by people of all ages, with certain texts aimed at adults, and simpler books written for children and young supporters of the missions. However, these texts are far more representative of the colonial relationship between British missionary women and indigenous women than of the people they claimed to represent. By deconstructing these texts, we can unpick some of the dynamics of this relationship, as well as begin to piece together the voices of the Indian women that these missionaries encountered.

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History in Film – to what extent do filmmakers have a responsibility to be historically accurate and inclusive?

The portrayal of historical events in film is by no means a novelty, for not only does it serve as a foundation for imaginative storytelling but also enables the public to access history in a recreational way. However, as the line between creative license and historical accuracy becomes blurred it does draw into question…how far filmmakers have a responsibility to be historically accurate?

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Decolonising the British Museum: where do we start?

If you say yes to one, you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. It is going to have to stay put.

(David Cameron, asked to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond to India in 2010)

It’s been a year of reckoning with power. #MeToo, of course, but also an interesting (if small) exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. ‘#The PastIsNow’ brutally re-evaluated Birmingham’s relationship with its slave-trading history, exploring new interactive ways of displaying Britain’s difficult colonial past. Sumaya Kassim’s article, ‘The museum will not be decolonised’ is a great introduction to the issues it tackles.

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Betsy Ross and Rosie the Riveter: Mothers of America

The legend of Betsy Ross is a well-documented one, known by every American. The story goes that George Washington, William Morris and George Ross – representatives of the Continental Congress – arrived at Betsy’s house requesting her skills to make a new standard for the British colonies. While the stars and stripes design had already been agreed upon, it was Betsy who advised the use of a five-pointed star rather than six, as it would be easier to construct. And so, the American flag was born. Although there is no existing evidence to suggest any truth to this account, Betsy Ross still became a national icon and adopted the title ‘Founding Mother’ to stand alongside the Founding Fathers of America.

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