Regency masculinity? The place of Napoleonic War veterans in the history of masculinities, Maritime Masculinities, 1815-1940, St Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, 19–20 December 2016.
Abstract: Historians often treat the Regency as a transitional period between the Georgian and Victorian eras and it should be treated as such in the historiography of masculinity. The thousands of sailors who returned home following the signing of ‘General Peace’ in April 1814 faced a collapsed economy and rising national debt. They increased the pressure on an already pressured labour market and added pensions and half-pay provisions to the state’s financial burden. Large numbers of men with military experience and a social grievance were present in subsequent agitation among rural and semi-skilled urban workers, but returned service men also formed a large part of Peel’s Irish Constabulary of 1814, his Metropolitan Police of 1829 and the ranks of the growing civil services. This paper argues that the veterans of the Napoleonic wars were complex male figures that illuminate the shift from the vying notions of manliness of the Georgian era – the conspicuous consumerism of the city aristocracy, the benevolent patriarchy of the country gentlemen, the virtuousness of the evangelizing middling sort, the aggressive mercantilism of merchants, the frank fearlessness of the lower orders – to more commonly shared ideals of patriotism, independence, discipline, restraint on physical aggression, and dedication to family pursuits, which were embodied in the middle-class Victorian patriarch of home, business and politics. They also help explain the continuing appeal of more militaristic forms of manliness during a period of peace and domestication.
Weeping politicians: The power and contingency of men’s tears, Political Masculinities as Agents of Change, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (United Kingdom), 9–11 December 2016.
Abstract: Effeminate or brave? Persuasive? Dissuasive? Or divisive? When are men’s tears condemned and when are they praised? Bob Hawke, prime minister of Australia (1983-1991) was a ‘man’s man’, a drinker and womaniser. He was also prone to public displays of weeping which were much debated at the time but appeared to do little harm to his popularity. Recently a historian described Hawke’s teary displays as ‘a notable landmark in the history of Australian masculinity and the evolution of its emotional life’. This paper compares the late-twentieth century weeping of Bob Hawke with the equally plentiful early-twentieth century tears of Winston Churchill and eighteenth century histrionics on the floors of the Houses of Commons and Lords, to interrogate the circumstances in which men’s tears become powerful. It argues that although overt emotion has long been a hallmark of politics, the efficacy of a moist eye or stifled sob to effect change is not only historically contingent but also dependent on the fit between contemporary constructions of masculinities, the type of tears and the circumstances in which they are shed.
Australian Crusoes: Masculinity and national identity, Foundational Histories, Australian Historical Association (AHA) Annual Conference, University of Sydney, 6–10 July 2015.
Abstract: Charles Rowcroft’s Tales of the Colonies, recounting stories of Australian settlers in the 1840s, was applauded by reviewers for its similarity to Robinson Crusoe: by its sixth edition the book had been retitled The Australian Crusoes. The pervasiveness of references to Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel in the published and unpublished material from, and about, the emerging Australian colonies has led historian Alan Atkinson to describe the story as part of the ‘deep basis of imagination’ on which New South Wales was built. This paper will argue further: that in Robinson Crusoe we find the two narratives of white Australian history – the nomadic pastoral worker and the pioneer settler – that sometimes compete as foundational national stories but always combine to undergird a particular masculine national identity. But is the difference between the stereotypical British stiff upper lip and Australian stoic taciturnity as illusory as Crusoe is fictional?
Robinson Crusoe and The Australian Legend, Writers and Readers: Books that Shaped and Subverted the British Empire, University of Melbourne, 8–9 May 2015, a conference in conjunction with the Australian launch of Antoinette Burton and Isabel Hofmeyr, eds, Ten Books that Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons (Duke University Press, 2014).
Abstract: From his death bed in 1814, Matthew Flinders – navigator, scientist and a founding hero for European Australians – wrote an order for the latest edition of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Flinders claimed that the novel had inspired him to go to sea. He was not alone in making that claim and the Crusoe story is pervasive in both the published and private writings dealing with the emerging Australian colonies. For writer James Joyce, Crusoe was the ‘true symbol of British conquest’. For literary theorist Martin Green, Robinson Crusoe and the adventure tales it inspired were the ‘energizing myth’ of British imperialism. For historian Alan Atkinson, it was part of the ‘deep basis of imagination’ on which New South Wales was built. In this paper I give an account of how writers and readers, including historians, perpetuated the Robinson Crusoe story during the nineteenth century to such an extent that it seemed to imbue the national characters of both Britain and its settler colonies. I argue that the incongruence of such a statement is explained by the contradictions in the story itself.
Conflicting responses to drought assistance in the long history of Australian government legislation, Conflict in History, Australian Historical Association (AHA) Annual Conference, University of Queensland, 7-11 July 2014.
Abstract: In February 2014 the Coalition government announced a 320 million dollar package for drought-hit farmers. In describing this initiative as a ‘hand-up’ not a ‘hand out’ and, therefore, ‘rather different’ from previous Commonwealth drought assistance, Prime Minister Tony Abbott encapsulated more than 200 years of conflict over whether government drought response should be unconditional limited relief or conditional longer-term assistance. This paper explores the history of drought assistance in Australia, engaging with current debates about the nature of drought response. It argues that Abbott’s claim that his government’s response was ‘rather different’ from previous Commonwealth assistance is unsupported.
Men’s Tears, Allan Martin Symposium, Australian National University, 7 May 2014 (invited paper).
William Henty stands on his legs in front of Governor Gipps: Men, manners and manliness in the early Australian colonies, Connections, Australian Historical Association (AHA) Annual Conference, University of Adelaide, 9-13 July 2012.
Abstract: ‘Polite’ was a new word used to describe British society at the turn of the nineteenth century. Historian Paul Langford, for example, described the men and women of Britain during this period as ‘a polite and commercial people’. For Langford their politeness was a ‘logical consequence of commerce’, the product of an emerging commercial and ‘vigorous’ middle class, involved in both production and consumption, who ‘required a more sophisticated means of regulating manners’. Recently Penny Russell has shown us that manners mattered in the Australian colonies too, where complex rules governed the minutiae of social interactions. These changing expectations of behaviour had specific implications for men – as Michele Cohen has told us, the most vexing question of the 18th century was whether men could be both polite and manly. This quandary may have seemingly faded from view in Britain during the 19th century but this paper argues that it was still relevant for men in the Australian colonies where uncertainty about a man’s place in the social sphere was actually heightened. This is bought out in exquisite detail in the journal that William Henty kept during a visit to Sydney to appear before Governor Gipps and the Executive Council. The extensive papers left by the Port Phillip pioneering Henty family were the basis of Marnie Bassett’s 1954 narrative history of the family and Lynette Peel’s 1996 edited collection of the papers but this particular journal has not been critically examined. Through William Henty’s journal, I would like to draw out the ways in which expectations of behaviour are perpetuated through texts, and the ways in which historians make new connections when we ask new questions of our sources.
See the published version of this paper: Full text (pdf file).
Veterans of the Napoleonic Wars: moving past the dandy in understanding Regency masculinity, Reworking the Regency, University of Melbourne, 8-10 October 2009.
Abstract: Historians often treat the Regency as a transitional period between the Georgian and Victorian eras and we would expect it to be treated as such in the historiography of masculinity. However, its most familiar male figure is the Regency dandy, the last manifestation of the iconic Georgian aristocratic rake, who does little to help us understand the ascendency of the middle-class patriarch of Victorian family and business. This paper will argue that a consideration of the veterans of the Napoleonic Wars gives the Regency a pivotal place in the histories of changing ideals of manliness. The third of a million discharged soldiers and sailors who returned home following the signing of ‘General Peace’ in April 1814 faced a collapsed economy and rising national debt. They increased the pressure on an already pressured labour market and added pensions and half-pay provisions to the state’s financial burden. Large numbers of men with military experience and a social grievance were present in subsequent agitation among rural and semi-skilled urban workers, but returned service men also formed a large part of Peel’s Irish Constabulary of 1814, his Metropolitan Police of 1829 and the ranks of the growing civil services. The ending of the Napoleonic Wars highlighted both the perennial problem of managing militarised masculinity in times of peace, and new negotiations of traditional expectations of manliness with a commercialising, industrialising and politer society.
‘A happy escape’: The Australian Legend as a specific masculine ideal, Engaging Histories: AHA Regional Conference, UNE, Armidale, 2007 (Commended in Wiley-Blackwell / AHA Prize 2007).