General Secretary Putin— the Use of History by Russia’s Regime

Putin’s propaganda machine was laid bare for all to see last month with the return of Russian dissident Alexey Navalny, after recovering from nerve agent poisoning. The Kremlin initially refrained from commenting on the activist, however as his video detailing Putin’s Black Sea palace was released and protests in support of him erupted across Russia, he was quickly depicted as a Western puppet, playing on old fears of Russia’s Cold War rivals. He was later charged with slandering a veteran of the Second World War, more commonly known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia. The defence against Nazi invasion occupies a venerated place in the minds of Russians, dating back to Stalinist propaganda. To slander a veteran would be to slander Russia’s sacrifices in the war as a whole. It is therefore, unsurprising Putin deployed this particular tactic against his adversary.

Vladimir Putin addressing Russian citizens on the State Television channels, Moscow, Russia, March 2020. (Credit: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Throughout Putin’s time in power, he has often deployed a nostalgic form of Russian history to construct a narrative which strengthens his grip on power and maintains his popularity among the Russian public. He attempts to mirror the conditions of Russia in times when it was a global power— mostly through imitating the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. Through this, he stokes a Russian nationalism embarrassed at its nation losing its former ‘glory’ and desperate to regain it. A poll in 2018 showed 66% of Russians regretted the collapse of the Soviet Union and a poll in 2020 showed that 75% of Russians believed the USSR was the greatest time in their country’s history. Rather than facing the bleak reality of decline, Putin’s rule seemingly offers a restoration of former glory and a return to better days. By masquerading Russia as a global power, Putin attempts to distract the public from ongoing economic decline. 

This public nostalgia therefore brings the USSR to the forefront of Putin’s propaganda campaign. Russian history textbooks were remade to display the USSR in a positive and idealised light, the Soviet national anthem was reinstated. The Patriotic War was especially capitalised on, the 2020 constitutional changes went so far as to ban ‘belittling’ of Russia’s feats in the Second World War and to ‘protect the historical truth’ of the war, essentially outlawing any narratives of the war contrary to the state-sanctioned line. 

Russia’s foreign policy also reflects a desire to return to the days of the USSR. Involvement in Syria harks back to Soviet interference in Afghanistan. Annexation of parts of Crimea and Georgia portray Russia as reclaiming former lands lost since the dissolution of the USSR. The poisoning of dissidents in the UK and apparent interference in US elections are reminiscent of the days of espionage against the West.

Perhaps the most important utilisation of the USSR’s legacy is in rhetoric surrounding the West— the Other, the ever-looming threat during the Cold War. Putin plays on old Cold War mentalities by constantly depicting his adversaries as either Western or in league with the West. A dichotomy is therefore created where Putin is the defender of Russian values and stability against his opponents, who are dangerous Western puppets. Navalny, rather than being an anti-corruption activist, is a Western pawn bent on destabilising Russia. Any criticism of Putin’s regime is quickly deemed Western propaganda, calling into the question the good will of the critics.

In all of these instances, Putin is essentially creating an image of himself which capitalises on nationalistic feelings surrounding Russian history and uses this to target his opponents and perpetuate his rule. Putin cannot be criticised, for doing so would be to criticise the Great Patriotic War, the USSR, and stability itself. 

Recently, Putin’s rule has appeared more shaky, especially after his dismal coronavirus response. Moreover, this year will mark 30 years since the USSR fell. A new generation, with no memory of Russia as a global superpower, is less susceptible to Putin’s use of history: the Soviet national anthem brings up no memories, nor does linking Navalny with the West diminish their support of him. A simple look at the make-up of the Navalny campaign shows all that you need to know. Navalny himself is positioned as an opposite to Putin’s authoritarianism, he engages with his audience primarily on social media, where protests and campaigning are also organised. News reports show the protestors as young and eager for change. History is an effective tool for such authoritarians, but insofar as there is any real connection to that history in the present. As the old Soviet generation will soon start to dwindle in number, that connection is lost, and the propaganda of those authoritarians loses appeal.

Jonas Balkus, History in Politics Contributor

Book Review: J. S. Mill’s ‘On Liberty’

John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ is a classic statement of liberal values and an iconic text in the arena of moral and political thought. Published in 1859, it was originally conceived as a short essay upon which Mill and his wife, Harriet Taylor, fleshed out the liberal values and morality that still provide much of the basis for political structures today. In essence, it seeks to address the question of how far the state or society as a whole should go in controlling individual beliefs and actions, and its answer is a resounding defence of individuality.

Title page of the first edition of On Liberty (1859). (Credit: Public Domain)

Mill opens his account with a historical assessment of the ancient struggle between liberty and authority, suggesting an evolving relationship between ruler and ruled whereby people came to believe that rulers no longer needed to be independent powers opposed to their interests, thus giving rise to notions of democracy. But, whilst government tyranny is a concern for Mill, ‘On Liberty’ focuses more on the dangers of democratic and social coercion and its hindrance upon the individual; perhaps an unsurprising view in the context of Victorian social conservatism. On Liberty sees Mill warn against a ‘tyranny of the majority’, and it is with this in mind that Mill sets out the individual freedoms and protections that ground liberal values to this day. 

‘On Liberty’ focuses on four key freedoms: freedom of thought, speech, action, and association, all of which would challenge the Victorian orthodoxy of custom and restraint in the social and political sphere. 

Freedom of thought, by which Mill means ‘absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects’, is a staple in the genre of classical liberalism; a rejection of group-think and the elevation of individual thought over social customs. Mill’s conception of freedom of speech is arguably more profound and more contentious. His defence of free speech extends up until such speech becomes incitement to violence. He sees value in speech no matter how potentially hateful or self-evidently incorrect, for such speech is necessary to reinforce the strength of our convictions and stop our beliefs and values from becoming mere platitudes. One might perceive this opinion as at the crux of today’s disagreements over the limits of free speech.

Mill’s conceptualisation of freedom of act divides action into two categories: self-regarding action and other-regarding action, and sees only limitations on the latter as permissible. In essence, one should be free to act in any way they please, unless in doing so they directly harm somebody else; a classical liberal statement if there ever was one. Finally, freedom of association; the freedom to unite with any person so long as the purpose does not involve harm. 

“Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest”.

J. S. Mill, ‘On Liberty’

‘On Liberty’ is evidently a defence of individualism and individual freedoms, but it represents a major departure from previous liberal thinkers. Mill’s support for liberty is rooted in his utilitarianism. Whereas liberal thinkers such as John Locke see liberty as a valuable end in itself, and man as endowed with natural rights by way of existing, Mill’s individual liberties merely serve a purpose, that purpose being utility. In short, ‘in proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others’. He has come under severe criticism for this, with many doubting his liberal credentials, but as he states in ‘On Liberty’, without firm grounding, ‘there is only too great a tendency in the best beliefs and practices to degenerate into the mechanical’.

Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ is not liberty merely for liberty’s sake, but rather it is liberty with a purpose, and his robust defence of individual freedoms still providing the framework for liberal thought today makes ‘On Liberty’ one of politics’ greatest hits.

Leo Cullis, History in Politics Writer

Diamonds, Best Friend or Mortal Enemy?

Diamonds symbolise love, wealth, and commitment to both the purchaser and the recipient, after all, they are known to be a woman’s best friend. Yet, the process of retrieving such a valuable commodity remains a battleground for those who work in the diamond mines. Alongside diamond production, the construction of worker exploitation, violence, and civil wars is generated proving that beauty is in fact, pain. 

The tale of the present-day diamond market emerged on the African continent, South Africa to be precise. The Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks fourth in the world when it comes to diamond production with 12 million carats being produced in 2020, the African region dominates the top 10 rankings with seven out of 54 countries acting as some of the world’s largest diamond producers.

Congolese workers searching for rough diamonds in mines in the south west region of Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 9, 2015. (Credit: Lynsey Addario, Getty Images Reportage for Time Magazine)

The diamond trade contributes approximately $8.5 billion per year to Africa and Nelson Mandela has previously stated that the industry is “vital to the Southern African economy”. The wages of the diamond miners, however, do not reflect the value of this work and its contributions to the financial expansion of African countries. An estimated one million diamond diggers in Africa earn less than a dollar a day, an unlivable wage stooping below the extreme poverty line. Despite the significant revenues from the diamond industry, both through taxation and profit-sharing arrangements, governments often fail to re-invest these funds in local communities. The government in Angola receives about $150 million per year in diamond revenues yet conditions near major diamond mining projects are appalling. Public schools, water supply systems and health clinics are near non-existent. Many African countries are still healing from the impact of colonisation and are dealing with corruption, incompetence and weak political systems. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that governments fail to invest their diamond revenues productively. 

Adjacent to being excessively underpaid and overworked, miners endure work in exceptionally hazardous conditions often lacking safety equipment and the adequate tools for their role. Injuries are a likely possibility in the everyday life of a miner sometimes leading to fatality. The risk of landslides, mine collapses and a variety of other accidents is a constant fear. Additionally, diamond mining also contributes to public health problems since the sex trade flourishes in many diamond mining towns leading to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Children are considered an easy source of cheap labour and so they tend to be regularly employed in the diamond mining industry. One survey of diamond miners in the Lunda Norte province of Angola found that 46% of miners were between the ages of 5 and 16. Life as a diamond miner is full of hardship, and this appalling way of living is only heightened for younger kids who are more prone to injuries and accidents. Since most of these kids do not attend school, they tend to be pigeonholed into this way of life throughout adulthood, robbing them of their childhood and bright futures. 

African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and Côte d’Ivoire have endured ferocious civil conflicts fuelled by diamonds. Diamonds that instigate such civil wars are often called “blood” diamonds as they intensify civil wars by financing militaries and rebel militias. Control over diamond rich territories causes rival groups to fight, resulting in tragic situations such as bloodshed, loss of life and disturbing human right abuses. 

Whilst purchasing diamonds from a conflict-free country such as Canada can buy you a clean conscience, you must not forget about the miners being violated every day for the benefit of others but never themselves. Just as we have the opportunity to choose fair trade foods benefitting the producers, consumers of one of the most valuable products one may ever own should not be left in the dark regarding the strenuous work of digging miners do behind the stage of glamour and wealth. A true fair trade certification process must be set in place through which miners are adequately awarded for their dedication and commitment to such a relentless industry, especially in countries that are still processing generational trauma that has been caused by dominating nations.

Lydia Benaicha, History in Politics Contributor

The Cost of Casual Scepticism to Human Rights

Modern aversion to human rights protection in the United Kingdom can be seen on the surface of British politics, from Theresa May’s indignation that she was  unable to deport an illegal immigrant because he had a pet cat, to Nigel Farage’s demand that we “scrap the EU Human Rights Act”. The modern rallying cry for human rights sceptics often takes the form that we, the British,  have no need for coffee-drinking, baguette-eating European to tell us how to do human rights. The problem though is that rights protection is not that simple, and never has been, so why do we let human rights be disparaged by these tabloid-level soundbites and mantras?

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. (Credit: Europe’s Human Rights Watchdog)

When bashing human rights, politicians are most commonly referring to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) which was created by the Council of Europe which, for clarity’s sake, has nothing to do with the European Union – incidentally making Farage’s claims about the “EU Human Rights Act” farcical. The ECHR established the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), frequently referred to as ‘Strasbourg’ in lieu of its location. These elements of European influence running through our human rights make it an easy target for politicians wanting to exploit the rife Euroscepticism that exists in modern Britain. This is why, perhaps unsurprisingly, key features of the ECHR’s history are left out by its critics.

The ECHR can find its origins in the ruins of Europe following World War Two, and the Holocaust, in which it was decided action must be taken to prevent future human rights abuses across the continent. Winston Churchill, and the British delegation, played a key role in the drafting of the Convention and were ardent supporters of it. Since then, the Convention has evolved according to the changing nature of Europe and has helped in reducing discrimination and exposing rights abuses. 

Looking then at the face of modern Europe, the significant role of the ECHR may seem unnecessary and can even seem to be an inconvenience to public protection and government policy. However, the Convention should not be perceived as only existing to prevent grave breaches of human rights, but also to remedy all forms of discrimination, such as the right of LGBT couples to adopt or for people of all faiths to have the same job opportunities. These breaches still occur across Europe, with significant examples appearing in Poland and Hungary where radical anti-LGBT policies are being enacted, such as ‘LGBT free zones’.

This is one reason why it is more crucial than ever that other States party to the Convention continue to believe in and abide by it. If disagreements with Strasbourg start to appear over issues, for example prisoner voting rights, it waters down the impact of the ECtHR’s rulings and threatens the possibility that judgments given by the Court to clear breaches(such as those appearing in Eastern Europe), are swept aside, and ignored by the violating State. Arguing and fighting for proper rights protection is not done only for yourself, or your group’s, but is done for the wider community.

This is why the rhetoric used in modern politics about seemingly humorous issues, like the failed deportation of a man because of his cat, and other false remarks which attempt to sabotage the mechanisms for rights protection are dangerous. Dangerous not only for the prevention of relatively benign issues that may appear in nations like the UK, but also for those that rely on the Convention to prevent fundamental breaches of human rights, which appear more likely to occur  on a daily basis, and cause one to consider the events that led to the creation of the ECHR.

Aidan Taylor, History in Politics Contributor

‘Men write history, but women live it.’: Essay Competition Winner

The arrangement and preservation of knowledge about the past is ultimately a question of power. History is a process that both legitimates and reflects gender relations. For most of human history this process has been controlled by men. The notion of ‘men write history, but women live it’ ascribes gender relations at both a literal and metaphorical level. It posits that men not only control and assemble the historical narrative, but they also monopolise historically significant activity – metaphorically ‘writing’ a kind of historical providence that women endure. The Nigerian ‘Women’s War’ offers an insightful lens through which to explore this idea. Between November 1929 and January 1930, 10,000 women protested against both British colonial indirect rule and the rumoured imposition of direct taxation.[1] The women were largely of Igbo descent, but were also joined by five other ethnic groups from south-eastern Nigeria – Andoni, Orgoni, Bonny, Opobo and Umuahia. The event has been chronically misconstrued in conventional historiography.[2] Nigerian women have been written out of a narrative that they created, and reinscribed into an enduring patriarchal framework that sees their actions as a violent assault on femininity and order.[3] However, history is an ongoing process that continually reimagines the past – albeit if not changing the way in which Nigerian women were forced to ‘live it’. Nigeria’s rich lore and dance tradition problematises the notion that women live in the shadow of male decisions and challenges Eurocentric historical methodological approaches surrounding the Women’s War.[4] Furthermore, the Women’s War illustrates how problematic the binary notions of male agency and female passivity are. Not all men have monopolised history – some have been subject to it too. Questions of history, power and gender ultimately need to be intersectional in order to prevent a Manichean division of the world that obscures more than it reveals.

The historical record surrounding the Women’s War embodies the idea that men write history and women live it. Indeed, the fact that until recently the rebellion was labelled the ‘Aba Riots’ makes this clear. Van Allen claims that the ‘control of language means the control of history’.[5] Through labelling the organised and largely peaceful actions of the women as a non-specific and violent outburst, the historiographical record not only justified the militant action male British colonial officials took to quash the rebellion, but is an oppressive assault on Nigerian female identity and history – ‘de-politicising its feminist impetus’.[6] Although Van Allen goes on to claim is the result of the ‘sexist bias of Western scholarship’ that so little is known about the event, in reality, the androcentric  historical record was crystallised much earlier on.[7] As a result of the deaths of over 50 women on the back of the rebellion, two commissions of enquiry were set up by British officials and their reports form the basis of the historical record. Not only did the inquiry describe the rebellion as a conspiratorial ‘mob’ spearheaded my local male vigilantes, but of the 485 witnesses interviewed, only 103 were women.[8] Part of the reason this monopolising of the historical narrative seems so violent and exploitative is because the Women’s War was not a story for men to tell. Almost ironically, a struggle envisaged as an attack on patriarchal forces becomes testament to them.

At a metaphorical level, male colonial officers monopolised both the historical precedent and legacy for gender relations in Nigeria. Before the imposition of colonial rule, women had several roles in Igbo society.[9]  Political power was disparate and decentralised – with women allowed to participate in local assemblies and taking a particularly important role as arbitrators in settling disputes.[10] Allen describes how status was achieved not ascribed and thus women had the opportunity to carve out their own identity.[11] Political institutions like the ogbo – ritual-based arbiter lineage associations – and the mikiri – a kind of precursory trade union – allowed women to assert themselves in the public sphere.[12] Indeed, it has been argued that political power in Nigeria was ‘bisexual’ before the advent of colonialism, with men and women writing and living the historical record together.[13] However, history’s utility as a tool for asserting colonial control under the guise of tradition resulted in a rewriting of the historical narrative that characterised gender relations in Nigeria. In 1900, southern Nigeria was declared a protectorate. The ogbo and mikiri were abolished – thus erasing an historic symbol of female autonomy and forcing women to live in an imported Victorian historical narrative that worshipped the cult of domesticity and submission – effectively constituting cultural imperialism.[14]  Despite the Women’s War of petitioning against these issues, the legacy of this engineered erasure of Nigerian female history and tradition is felt even today. The ogbo and mikiri were never reinstated and the 1933 abolition of ‘self-help’ – a custom that approved force as a means of self-defence – buried Nigeria’s rich tradition of female activism.[15] Women still do not take leadership roles in local government – and although not entirely down to the actions of colonial officials, their historic invisibility strips them of legitimate claims to power.[16]

History is a living process and the historical record can, and is, changing. Nigerian women who took part in the rebellion undoubtedly had to live with the consequences of an engineered androcentric historical narrative, but that does not mean that all women still have to. Since the 1970’s, Aba historiography – riding on the wave of second-wave feminism – has sought to challenge the narrative purported by the colonial commissions of inquiry. [17] Although Scott suggests that revising historical narratives to focus on the ‘impact of events on women’ is unhelpful, and instead we should be looking at areas of sexual difference and experience, the fact is that the historical narrative does not exist.[18] Any exploration of sexual difference cannot take place until a somewhat credible account of events is established.  The revisionist work of historians like Van Allen, and more recently Falola and Paddock does this. Through highlighting the complexity and sophistication of the Women’s War, the authors free the event from ‘living’ within a reductive narrative. Texts such as Nwapa’s 1966 Efuru self-inscribes the invisible female voice into Igbo history and interrogates both imperialist authority and a male-dominated literary tradition – allowing women to both write and live history.[19] As historiography continues to reflect a society that questions and challenges conventional gender distinctions, one can only assume that although the past lives of women were controlled by men, their legacy and the binary gender divisions that the question suggests, will be further dismantled.

And yet, whether men even solely wrote the history of the Women’s War is up for debate. Arguably the western historians aforementioned have a limiting, Eurocentric and textually-based notion of what constitutes history. Van Allen continually stresses the ‘invisibility’ of the women that took part in the Women’s War.[20] Smith claims that if ‘the past is like a foreign land, the history of women is not only foreign but largely unchartered’.[21] Both of these claims unhelpfully start and end with the absence of female voices in textual sources. As Strobel notes, due to the low level of female literacy, Igbo women have conventionally used songs, rituals and stories in order to ‘write’ their history.[22] Albeit a potentially fragile and tenuous means of accurately recording the past it does nevertheless challenge the exclusivity that ‘men write history, but women live it’, suggests. Indeed, relying on written sources alone is risky – as many may have been subject to a masked colonial influence that hides behind the ‘authentic’ voice of the native.[23] In the context of the Women’s War, Igbo women used dance as a means of cultural expression and memorialisation – collectively preserving and performing a memory for future generations of women. Indeed, Hanna claims that ‘women express their…power in dance-plays’.[24] The relationship between history, power and gender is crucial here. Historians have a tendency when revising the historical narrative to simply present women as victims of oppression – confining them to an androcentric conceptual framework under the guise of liberation.[25] Although historians like Van Allen are crucial in interrogating and questioning the established narrative surrounding the Women’s War, they have to also use alternative sources to posit a new history that gives the women agency on their own terms.[26]  Female Igbo practices of writing history seem to offer the perfect challenge to the idea that where men write history, women live it. Through memorialising the Women’s War through dance and activity, women not only write their own history but keep it alive through constantly recreating, sharing and living it.

Particularly when applied in other historical contexts, the nature of the statement, ‘men write history, but women live it’ seems to be more reductive than illuminating. For a start, not all men write history. The use of the word ‘but’ implies a kind of exclusivity whereby only women are subject to the implications of male history writing. Under British rule in Nigeria, all history was distorted and buried. Prior to colonial rule, authority amongst men was based on lineage.[27] Tradition and custom were passed down through rituals and obligations amongst sons, and history celebrated Nigeria’s rich natural environment and landscape.[28] Under colonialism, the construction of a new ‘industrial masculinity’ was accompanied by the erasure of the past.[29] Men, much like the Igbo women, were forced to live in the shadow of a constructed history. As Lerner points out, the binary division of men and women often ends up alienating and splitting two sides that actually share a great deal in common.[30]  Cixous’ belief that every theory of society can be reduced to ‘hierarchical oppositions that come back to the man/woman opposition’ seems outdated and naïve.[31] Men took part in the Women’s War too. Perhaps a more insightful notion would be that it is the patriarchy, as an oppressive ideological framework that oppresses both men and women, that writes history. Indeed, the links between a whitewashing patriarchy and colonialism have been noted before.[32] Carlyle’s maxim, “the history of the world is but the biography of great men” – seems to unintentionally expose this idea, problematising the homogenising implications of a male/female dichotomy. Lastly, the notion of all women ‘living’ history together completely lacks any intersectional awareness. Albeit in the case of the Women’s War, the distinctions between identifiers like class, sexuality and religion are subsumed under the context’s broader gendered and racial framework, in many cases not all women will ‘live’ or suffer the same history. Feminist historians must seek an intersectional approach to recording the past in order to avoid just re-inscribing women into another historical framework that denies them a voice.[33]

Overall, it is clear that neither men nor women exclusively ‘write’ or ‘live’ history.  History, being the assemblage of knowledge about the past to produce an argument, is inherently fluid and the product of its social context. Admitting otherwise risks a tacit acceptance of the presentation of the past and women and men’s roles within it. Although in regard to the 1929 Women’s War, male colonial officials did engineer a policy of historical erasure and monopolised the way in which the event was presented, the effects are neither permanent nor confined only to women. Nothing can be done to change the lives of the Nigerian women who lived under colonial rule, but historians can change how the event is perceived and broaden the sources used to tell it.  If anything, it is a patriarchal ideological framework which has written history. The focus on ‘great men’, state politics and a ‘patriarchal ordering of values’continues to exclude women and other groups who existed outside the realm of political power and warfare.[34] The future of history must be intersectional – empowering and celebrating the diversity of human identity and activity. If not, events like the Nigerian Women’s War will continue to be misrepresented and overlooked for generations to come.

Evie Nicholson


Andrade, Susan Z. “Rewriting History, Motherhood, and Rebellion: Naming an African Women’s Literary Tradition.” Research in African Literatures 21, no. 1 (1990): 91–110.

Brown, Carolyn. “Race and the Construction of Working-Class Masculinity in the Nigerian Coal Industry: The Initial Phase, 1914–1930.” International Labor and Working-Class History 69, no. 1 (March 2006): 35–56.

Declich, Francesca. “‘Gendered Narratives,’ History, and Identity: Two Centuries along the Juba River among the Zigula and Shanbara.” History in Africa 22 (January 1995): 93–122.

Great Britain. Foreign And Commonwealth Office. Library. Report of the Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Inquire into the Disturbances in the Calabar and Owerri Provinces, December, 1929. Lagos: Printed By The Government Printer, 1930. <>.

Hanna, Judith Lynne. “Dance and the ‘Women’s War.’” Dance Research Journal 14, no. 1/2 (1981): 25–28.

Lerner, Gerda. “Placing Women in History: Definitions and Challenges.” Feminist Studies 3, no. 1/2 (1975): 5–14.

Meyerowitz, Joanne. “A History of ‘Gender.’” The American Historical Review 113, no. 5 (December 2008): 1346–56.

Pierre, Elizabeth A. St. “A Historical Perspective on Gender.” The English Journal 88, no. 3 (January 1999): 29-34.

Scott, Joan W. “Women and War: A Focus for Rewriting History.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 12, no. 2 (1984): 2–6.

Smith, Bonnie G. “The Contribution of Women to Modern Historiography in Great Britain, France, and the United States, 1750-1940.” The American Historical Review 89, no. 3 (June 1984): 709-732.

Strobel, Margaret. “African Women’s History.” The History Teacher 15, no. 4 (1982): 509–22.

Toyin Falola, and Adam Paddock. The Women’s War of 1929 : A History of Anti-Colonial Resistance in Eastern Nigeria. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2011.

Van Allen, Judith. “‘Sitting on a Man’: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women.” Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne Des Études Africaines 6, no. 2 (January 1972): 165–81.

———. “Aba Riots or the Igbo Women’s War? – Ideology, Stratification and the Invisibility of Women.” Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies 6, no. 1 (1975): 11–39.

Ware, Susan. “Writing Women’s Lives: One Historian’s Perspective.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 40, no. 3 (January 2010): 413–35.


[1] Judith Van Allen, “‘Sitting on a Man’: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women,” 

     Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne Des Études Africaines 6, no. 2 (January 1972): pp. 

     165–81 ; Judith Van Allen, “Aba Riots or the Igbo Women’s War? – Ideology, Stratification and the Invisibility of 

     Women,” Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies 6, no. 1 (1975): p. 12.

[2] Van Allen, “’Sitting on a Man’”, p. 177

[3] Van Allen, “’Sitting on a Man’”, p. 174-6.

[4] Francesca Declich, “‘Gendered Narratives,’ History, and Identity: Two Centuries along the Juba River among the  

     Zigula and Shanbara,” History in Africa 22 (January 1995): p. 94 ; Margaret Strobel, “African Women’s History,” 

    The History Teacher 15, no. 4 (1982): p. 512.

[5] Van Allen, “Aba Riots”, p. 11.

[6] Susan Z Andrade, “Rewriting History, Motherhood, and Rebellion: Naming an African Women’s Literary 

     Tradition,” Research in African Literatures 21, no. 1 (1990): p. 96.

[7] Van Allen, “Aba Riots, p. 14.

[8] Great Britain. Foreign And Commonwealth Office. Library, Report of the Commission of Inquiry Appointed to 

     Inquire into the Disturbances in the Calabar and Owerri Provinces, December, 1929. (Lagos: Printed By The 

     Government Printer, 1930),

[9] Van Allen, “Aba Riots”, p. 14.

[10] Van Allen, “Aba Riots”, p. 16.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Van Allen, “Aba Riots”, p. 19.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Van Allen, “Aba Riots”, p. 27.

[15]Van Allen, “Aba Riots”, p. 24

[16] Van Allen, “’Sitting on a Man’”, p. 165.

[17] Susan Ware, “Writing Women’s Lives: One Historian’s Perspective,” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 

       40, no. 3 (January 2010): p. 415.

[18] Joan W Scott, “Women and War: A Focus for Rewriting History,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 12, no. 2 (1984): 

       p. 3.

[19] Susan Z Andrade, “Rewriting History, Motherhood, and Rebellion: Naming an African Women’s Literary 

        Tradition,” Research in African Literatures 21, no. 1 (1990): p. 97 ; p. 105.

[20] See for example, Van Allen, “Sitting on a man”, p. 165; p. 181.

[21] Bonnie G. Smith, “The Contribution of Women to Modern Historiography in Great Britain, France, and the 

        United States, 1750-1940,” The American Historical Review 89, no. 3 (June 1984): p. 109.

[22] Margaret Strobel, “African Women’s History,” The History Teacher 15, no. 4 (1982): p. 512.

[23] Francesca Declich, “‘Gendered Narratives,’ History, and Identity: Two Centuries along the Juba River among 

       the Zigula and Shanbara,” History in Africa 22 (January 1995): p. 114.

[24] Judith Lynne Hanna, “Dance and the ‘Women’s War,’” Dance Research Journal 14, no. 1/2 (1981): p. 27.

[25] Gerda Lerner, “Placing Women in History: Definitions and Challenges,” Feminist Studies 3, no. 1/2 (1975): pp. 


[26] Ibid.

[27] Carolyn Brown, “Race and the Construction of Working-Class Masculinity in the Nigerian Coal Industry: The 

        Initial Phase, 1914–1930,” International Labor and Working-Class History 69, no. 1 (March 2006): p. 38.

[28] Brown, “Race”, pp. 35-56.

[29] Brown, “Race”, p. 43 ; p.48.

[30] Lerner, “Placing Women in History”, p. 9.

[31] Cixous, Hélène, and Annette Kuhn. “Castration or Decapitation?” Signs 7, no. 1 (1981): p. 44.

[32] M. A. Jaimes Guerrero. “”Patriarchal Colonialism” and Indigenism: Implications for Native Feminist Spirituality and Native Womanism.” Hypatia 18, no. 2 (2003): pp. 58-69.

[33] Elizabeth A. St. Pierre, “A Historical Perspective on Gender,” The English Journal 88, no. 3 (January 1999): 

        pp. 29-34.

[34] Lerner, “Placing Women in History”, p. 10.

Mary I: The First Queen of England and the Legacy of Female Leadership

Whilst the first Queen of England’s reign is largely overshadowed in favour of the other Tudors, namely her father Henry VIII and half-sister Elizabeth I, the historiographical interpretations of Mary I illuminate interesting notions associated with female leadership. Mary I was the first woman to ascend to the throne of England, as the succession of Empress Matilda in the twelfth century never materialised due to the eruption of civil war. Only four centuries later do we witness the succession of a female monarch in England, and this was not without issues, as there had been earlier attempts to bar her from inheritance. Her gender, as well as her supposed illegitimacy, provided the grounds for such attempts as her younger half-brother was placed above her, when she was eventually restored to the line of succession.

Mary I’s reign is largely interpreted as one of hysteria and irrationality. Such a notion of hysteria is particularly of note as the term has long been associated with the assumption that women are unable to control their emotions and are thus unfit to rule. Shakespeare’s common depictions of a madwoman within his works have fostered this link of femininity with that concept of hysteria, particularly illustrated in Hamlet through Ophelia. Literary representations have certainly exacerbated the historical issues of female rule.

Portrait of Mary I, Antonis Mor, 1554. (Credit: Public Domain)

Historians are critical of both Mary’s personal life, due to her failure to conceive, as well as her broader policies that saw the intense persecution of Protestant sympathisers, which led to her title of ‘Bloody Mary’. The issue of motherhood in politics is still prevalent in our times, as seen by the scrutiny Theresa May faced within the media and from other members of the Conservative Party due to her choice not to have children. With regard to Marian politics, the stabilisation of economic policy her reign is often underplayed and when acknowledged, is widely credited to her male councillors or the reforms laid by the Duke of Northumberland before her advent to the throne. Mary is thus painted as weak, feeble and ineffective. The first Queen of England is largely portrayed as conforming to the gendered anxieties that the elite ruling class had regarding the notion of female monarchy. Women were deemed as far more emotionally charged compared to their male counterparts and would be unable to conduct rational governance as a result.

In the 21st century, women still face significant opposition to reaching the highest positions of political power. Britain’s only popularly elected female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is often represented as contradicting feminist values. The US has never elected a woman to that highest position of President, and notably Hilary Clinton’s gender played a significant role in right-wing opposition to her election. Such ideas regarding female hysteria and heightened emotion have arguably laid a basis for the preference of male leadership and have correlated with deeming women unfit for positions of political power. The qualities associated with leadership are still often presented through characteristics which men are more likely to be socialised to have, therefore perpetuating the idea that women are not suited to power.

What we can draw from the accounts of Mary I’s governance and her later treatment in historical research is that female leadership is not often deemed a suitable option, nor do women find easy pathways into politics. These ideals surrounding female inferiority have

historical precedence in sixteenth-century England as illustrated by the analysis of early modern Queenship. These notions have not been undermined or significantly challenged by the twenty-first century. Mary I’s legacy illustrates how she has been utilised to highlight the perceived barriers to effective female governance. Arguably, this has set a precedent for the limited role that women play in politics within our modern era.

Ellie Brosnan

Seeing like Cassandra: a New Role for Literature in Political Risk Analysis?

Political conflicts and situations of crises in a multitude of forms continue to mark our present. Indeed, early crisis prevention is a question so pertinent to our times that it has prompted researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany to explore an unusual  method of conflict prediction: studying fictional literature of specific regions prone to crises  to examine if it is possible to identify potential future threats through literary texts. The project is entitled “Projekt Cassandra”, alluding to the Greek mythological figure of Cassandra, who was famously able to predict the future, although cursed so that nobody would believe her prophecies. 

The study led by Tübingen  appears to have demonstrated potential  as an alternative method of strategic analysis  and is being partially being funded by the German Ministry of Defence. The “Projekt Cassandra” has so far investigated three centres of conflict for model analyses, notably the Serbo-Kosovan conflict (1998-1999), the Nigerian terror epidemic caused by the group Boko Haram, and the tensions in Algeria preceding the election in 2019. While the study is still underway, it poses an essential question: can literature truly function as a tool for the early detection of crises?

Tens of thousands of Algerians protesting Algeria’s presidential vote, Algiers, December 12, 2019. (Credit: Ramzi Boudina, via Reuters)

Conflict and crisis prediction are an essential part in the field of risk analysis. With regard to the hypothesis of “Projekt Cassandra”, we can draw parallels with the idea that “history repeats itself”. While the extent to which the past really “repeats” itself is debatable, this argument  rests on the assumption that history provides us with patterns which allow for a certain degree of “prediction”. A similar concept could be applied in the case of literature through the ages, where the identification of patterns relating to past crises could help identify future potential conflicts. 

In considering concrete examples, the picture becomes more complex. By association, we might immediately consider literature as actively imagining the future, such as the famous 1984 by George Orwell. This dystopian classic from 1949 is set in a distorted future of censorship and surveillance, which could be interpreted as a prediction of certain elements that we now  find in our present. However, it must be noted that  science fiction and dystopian literature often provides less a prediction of the future,  than a reflection of respective historical circumstances. 1984 for instance stems from the context of the beginning Cold War, in which surveillance and espionage were considered primary threats. This however does not mean that there is a necessary correlation between the content of a novel like 1984 and the  realities of the future. 

The ‘Projekt Cassandra’ logo. (Credit: Project Cassandra, via Twitter)

 So how can early crisis detection through literature function? Predicting crises is a lot about the identification of patterns. This is why it also matters what type of crisis is being investigated. For instance, a health crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic can hardly be said to have been predicted by Camus, merely because his novel The Plague (1947) describes a situation that is eerily similar to current events. 

We do however find a poignant example favouring this hypothesis relating to military conflict in British literature. Starting in the 1870s, literature imagining a new European war, at various instances between Britain and France or Britain and Germany, was increasingly popularized, so much so that “invasion literature” became an entirely new genre in British literature. The most famous example is the novel The Invasion of 1910 (1906), which propagated Germanophobia in Britain, through its imagined German invasion of Britain.  This can in hindsight, be considered a near-prescient account of elements of the First World War. Invasion literature even influenced politics:popularised concerns  of a new European conflict accelerated the arms race of the 1900s,which ultimately played  a role in the eruption of the First World War. 

Literature, it must be reiterated, is not an accurate tool of strategic prediction. It does however frequently capture underlying social currents that can later become problematic, such as ethnic tensions or larger societal unrest. These currents are often subtle, yet can function as inspiration for authors. To the extent that these societal undercurrents can effectively alert us to the potential of future crises and conflict, only Cassandra knows.

Cristina Coellen

The Colosseum: A Political Tool

Arguably the most iconic arena in the world, Il Colosseo still stands at the very centre of modern Rome as a testament to both the glory and the cruelty of the Roman Empire. Constructed almost two thousand years ago, around six million people still flock to Italy’s capital to explore the history and grandeur of what remains of the largest amphitheatre the world has ever seen.

Despite the majestic architecture and its cutting-edge design, the Colosseum is most well-known for the brutal and bloody spectacles it hosted. Gladiatorial contests, animal hunting, war processions, battle reenactments, plays, and executions all provided the people with entertainment during its five centuries of activity.Four hundred thousand people and one million animals are believed to have died throughout the Colosseum’s lifespan, clearly illustrating the sheer bloody-mindedness of Ancient Rome. 

The Colosseum in Rome, April 2007. (Credit: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

While less discussed, the Colosseum’s significance was actually far more than just as a theatre for mass entertainment; from its design and architecture through to the events it played host to, the amphitheatre served as a tool to Roman Emperors for political control. 

Following the suicide of Rome’s fifth emperor Nero in 68 AD, Rome grew deeply fractious, with civil war briefly breaking out and social, military, and political upheaval ensuing. Emerging victorious from this turmoil was Vespasian, founder of the Flavian dynasty, who needed to consolidate his position as emperor with the Empire close to ruin. Seeking inspiration from Rome’s first emperor Augustus who had supposedly planned to build a permanent amphitheatre, Vespasian commissioned the construction of what was to be known as the Flavian amphitheatre:a gift to the Roman people. The goal was panem et circenses(bread and circuses). A means of providing entertainment to the masses to appease public discontent and win over popular support in response to the recent struggle and instability of the Empire. 

Rome was indeed hungry for entertainment and distraction, and the Colosseum’s events reflected the various rulers’ desires to win over political capital and strengthen their rule. Victorious battle reenactments served to foster the spirit of Roman imperial prowess, and the courage of gladiators symbolised the might of the Roman warrior. Executions of criminals were incorporated into the theatrical performances, some were catapulted in from outside the arena in a timely manner so as to re-enact deaths in plays. The one hundred days of games put on for the opening of the Colosseum was an unprecedented spectacle in entertainment, and the people of Rome were enraptured. 

Underlying the political support won from the construction of and events held was the political significance of the architecture and design of the Colosseum itself. It was no coincidence that the amphitheatre was built upon former emperor Nero’s lake, as it represented a handing back of land to public use following the confiscation of property that occurred under his rule. The key element here though is its sheer scale. To build the largest amphitheatre in the world, an amphitheatre that could house over fifty thousand spectators, was a sure way of providing both entertainment to the greatest of masses and a landmark to be in awe of that symbolised the greatness of Rome. 

The Colosseum was an opiate  to the masses and a tool for political support. Although Vespasian never lived to see it open, we can be certain that he would’ve been proud. 

Leo Cullis, History in Politics Writer


Who Won the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, heralding a new era of peace after the decades of violence that characterised the Troubles. But who benefitted the most from the signing of the Agreement, and is the answer different today than it was twenty years ago?

For unionists, represented most prominently by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Good Friday Agreement ultimately symbolised the enshrining of the status quo in law: Northern Ireland remained a part of the UK. In addition, the Republic of Ireland renounced articles two and three of its Constitution, which laid claim to the entire island of Ireland. It may seem, then, that unionism was the victor in 1998, but elements of the Good Friday Agreement have been responsible for tectonic shifts in the period since, arguably exposing it, ultimately, as a victory for nationalism.

While Irish republicans in the form of the Provisional IRA were required to put down their weapons and suspend the violent struggle for a united Ireland, there is a compelling argument that the Good Friday Agreement laid the platform for the growth of the movement and perhaps even the fulfilment of the goal of Irish unity. For one, it mandated power-sharing between the two sides of the Northern Irish divide: both unionists and nationalists must share the leadership of government. Since 1998, this has acted to legitimise the nationalist cause, rooting it as a political movement rather than an armed struggle. Sinn Féin, the leading nationalist party in the North, have moved from the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness to new, younger leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill. Irish unity propaganda now emphasises the economic sense of a united Ireland, the need to counter the worst effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland and a sensible debate about the constitutional nature of a new country, rather than the adversarial anti-unionist simplicity of the Troubles. Here, nationalism did gain significantly from the Good Friday Agreement because it allowed this transition from the Armalite to the ballot box in return for legitimacy as a movement.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (left) and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (right) signing the Good Friday Agreement. (Credit: PA, via BBC)

Most prominently for nationalists, however, is the fact that the Good Friday Agreement spells out the route to a united Ireland, explicitly stating that a ‘majority’ in a referendum would mandate Northern Ireland’s exit from the UK. While unclear on whether majorities would be required both in the Republic and Northern Ireland, as was sought for the Agreement itself in 1998, as well as what criteria would have to be met in order to hold a vote, this gives Irish nationalism a legal and binding route to its ultimate goal of Irish unity, arguably the most prominent victory of the peace process.

Since 1998, Northern Ireland has seen a huge amount of political tension, governmental gridlock and occasional outbreaks of violence, most recently witnessed in the killing of journalist Lyra McKee in 2019. However, the Good Friday Agreement has served crucially to preserve peace on a scale unimaginable in the most intense years of the Troubles. If Irish nationalism achieves its goal of uniting the island, it will come about through a democratic referendum, not through violence. The very existence of the Good Friday Agreement, particularly its survival for over 20 years, is testament to the deep will for peace across the communities of Northern Ireland, forged in decades of conflict; it is this desire being fulfilled, even as the parties squabble in Stormont and the political status of Northern Ireland remains in the balance, that continues to make the biggest difference in the daily lives of both unionists and nationalists.

Joe Rossiter, History in Politics Writer

Lord Byron, Celebrity

The idea of celebrity was conceived within the Romantic period, in part, through the prominent figure of Lord Byron. Following the French Revolution there was an increased focus on the individual and this was epitomized in the emerging figure of the celebrity. With the surge in publishing technology there was, according to historian Tom Mole, a ‘general democratization of media’, which meant far more people could have access to Byron’s work than ever before and he could occupy a bigger part of public consciousness. 

Interestingly, the public responded to this in a way that helped cultivate their own sense of self. In the private sphere, particularly women could write letters to Byron and created common-place books. These were effectively scrap-books, which the owner would fill with their chosen excerpts of poets’ work, making their own personalized collection. It was an expression of the community of readers and consumers which allowed them to mediate their own experience of celebrity. We could compare this today to clubs and fan pages dedicated to specific celebrities. 

Through fan letters, historian Richard Schickel has suggested that there formed an idea of a ‘false intimacy’ within letters to Byron. Fans could imagine they knew him and could position themselves as the romantic subjects of his poetry and respond accordingly. We see this today as people claim the deeply personal effect celebrities have had on their lives despite never actually having met said person. This individualized reception of the celebrity, such as Byron, thus became a space where the fan could form a subjectivity of their own. They could pick and choose which of Byron’s verse was significant in their commonplace books and thus this moved away from the individuality of the celebrity themselves.

This movement away from Byron personally to a more modern embrace of celebrity was evident in the commodification of his celebrity. As today, we attempt to personalize and immortalize an embrace with celebrity culture, such as a concert, through buying a t-shirt or keeping an autograph. With Byron, this was with the new technologies of steel plate engraving, allowing a reproducible element to Byron’s commodified celebrity, but also a condensation of his characteristic visual trademarks, described as ‘a curol of hair, a high forehead, an open collar.’ Technologies like this infused celebrity commodity culture more and more, and reproductions of Byron’s silhouette became less and less like him, according to historian Tom Mole. 

Portrait of Lord Byron, by Thomas Phillips, c. 1813. (Credit: Newstead Abbey, via The Public Catalogue Foundation)

Finally, and perhaps most uniquely, the commodification of the celebrity with Byron can be given a diplomatic quality, with regards to his tangible participation and support of the Greek War for Independence. Byron acted as a commissioner in raising a loan for Greece in February 1824, to help facilitate a defense against the Turks. His individualism acted as a diplomatic rod between nations, particularly as Byron panders not to his original nationality, English. Insightfully, historian Jason Goldsmith relays that, ‘Britain expands under the sign of Byron.’ Byron provided perspective on the Greek situation, particularly through his Turkish Tales and reinforced the English dread of Ottoman barbarism. 

This can clearly be seen in how celebrities are used today in charity and political agendas, given their large following, even if they may not have particular political experience. One recent example may be the use of Marcus Rashford’s celebrity to further political agendas. 

Lord Byron is a hugely interesting figure when looking at celebrity culture. Facilitated by the meteoric rise of printing, people could have access to great writers like never before and personalize their experience with them, making the idea of ‘celebrity’ far bigger than the individual it represents.

Anna Shepherd