Autumn Almanac: November

Today it’s the first day of December, and I’m now officially two months into my PhD. Here are some things that have happened in November:

Onwards and upwards! Here’s what my eyes, and ears have feasted upon this month:


  • Jennifer Worth, Call The Midwife (2002). Jennifer Worth’s memoirs of her time as a young midwife in London’s East End is beautifully written and wonderfully inviting, offering snapshots of cases she worked on and the families and lives she was, for professional purposes, sharing. Fans of the BBC adaptation will enjoy the book – my only complaint is that it was too short.
  • Dr. Susannah Lipscomb, ‘On and Off Script,’ History Today. Having seen Lipscomb speak briefly on public history at Senate House’s History Day workshop this year, I very much enjoyed her article about the day to day realities of television consultancy work. Given that historical dramas and documentaries are the main point of entry for non-specialists in history, it pays to be sure that they are as accurate as possible while remaining engaging and entertaining. I spent my first PhD supervision discussing the historical inaccuracies of ITV’s Victoria – what Lipscomb asks is how do we balance these facts while ensuring good telly? At the end of the day, it’s a dialogue between historians and the public, which, Lipscomb argues, is worth the work.
  • Alan Mays, ‘The Best Way To Get Laid in the 19th Century’: A celebration of cheeky calling cards. If anyone has success with this in the 21st century, please get in contact.
Illustration by Charles Dana Gibson (1900).



  • Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016), BBC. I’d never heard of David Olusoga before, and what a wonderful presenter he is! This series is a timely (i.e.extremely delayed) consideration of Black British identities, stretching right back to the Roman empire. Each episode is comprised of many case studies of both remarkable individuals and group adversities faced by Black people in Britain, each ending with celebrations and memorialisations in the local communities today. Watching this made me angry that I’d never heard of most of these figures before, and exposes the sheer extent of whitewashing in the British school history curriculum.
  • ‘San Junipero,’ Black Mirror (2016), Netflix. Part of the latest of Charlie Brooker’s technological dystopias, San Junipero was wonderfully optimistic for a change, enabling two queer women to meet in a cloud-based shared memory and live the lives denied to them by ‘real life’ circumstances. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful story about two femme women which both explores and rejects the ‘dead lesbian’ trope of contemporary television. TL;DR: I cried with joy.
  • The Victorian Slum (2016), BBC. A recent example of the ‘living history’ trend of recent years, the Slum shows several 21st century families tracing their family histories and taking stock of how times have changed. My boyfriend described it as a ‘historical privilege check,’ and what better way to draw our attention to the importance and necessity of the welfare state than to experience life without it? Still, one wonders at the participants’ shock and awe that a recreated slum was filthy – they didn’t even live that accurately. None of them were prostitutes…
  • Virago: Changing the World One Page At A Time (2016), BBC. Interviews with current and former Virago staff and authors trace the history of this revolutionary publisher, and explores its future. I particularly enjoyed the discussion on Virago Modern Classics, a project to re-release works by women ‘lost’ throughout history, making a case for their popularity today.
  • Back in Time for Brixton (2016), BBC. The most recent of the BBC’s living histories, this time the Irwin family are invited to live through forty years of Black migration to Britain, experiencing first hand some of the hardships of their ancestors who arrived on the Windrush in 1954. It’s an engaging and accessible part of the #BlackandBritish series, and a welcome change from the previously very white, middle class ‘Back in time for…’ series.
  • Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (2016), Netflix. As an avid Gilmorean (last week I got a respectable 65/78 on a GG pub quiz), this has been the television event of the year. Though parts of it felt gimmicky and several favourite characters were absent (looking at you, Sookie), it felt like being welcomed home. I laughed, I cried. The whole series really did feel like a tribute to the cast and writers who worked so hard during the original run, not least the sadly missed Edward Herrman, following his death in 2014.
Pugin & Rollinson, ‘The Royal Circus,’ The Microcosm of London Vol. 3 (London: Meuthen, 1904) p.13.

See you next month for another round up of things I’ve been doing that aren’t my PhD!

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