American tennis, coconut shies and Millicent Fawcett – a garden party I’d like to have attended.

90 years ago this week, Nancy Astor, the first female British MP to take her seat, held a garden party at Cliveden House to celebrate the passing of the Act of Parliament that granted equal voting rights for men and women. Rachel Newton has been delving into the University’s Astor archive and tells us what she’s discovered.

This summer, I have a research internship working with Dr Jacqui Turner on the undergraduate research opportunities programme (UROP) within the Department of History and in collaboration with Special Collections here at the University of Reading.

We are preparing a digital exhibition curating archive material to tell the story of the political career and legacy of Nancy Astor, the first sitting female MP in Britain. While I was researching, I came across some fascinating documents relating to a garden party that Astor held at her riverside country home, Cliveden House, almost exactly 90 years ago.

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Sick of Sickness! Recovering a Happier History

The NHS turns 70 this year, giving us the chance to appreciate the fact it is there to turn to whenever we get ill. But what did people do before the NHS and the luxury of modern medicine? University of Reading historian Dr Hannah Newton reveals her findings from studying diaries and letters written by Early Modern families who faced serious diseases armed with little more than their faith.

Cancer survival has doubled over the last 40 years, and death rates from stroke have halved since 1990. These positive trends are reflected in the upsurge of survivor stories in social media, where individuals broadcast their experiences of illness and recovery, and describe how the close shave with death has changed their outlook on life. ‘I don’t let little things get on top of me as much anymore’, reflects Keith Hubbard, a musician from Merseyside, 14 years after treatment for prostate cancer.

Misery to Mirth, by Dr Hannah Newton, was published in June 2018

We might assume that this is a recent phenomenon. In more distant times, when epidemics were rife and medicines ineffective, it would seem likely that death was the only possible disease outcome. However, a foray into the diaries and letters of seventeenth-century patients and their families reveals a happier history. My new book, Misery to Mirth, shows that getting better was a widely reported occurrence at this time, and one which gave rise to emotionally-charged outpourings comparable to those produced today.

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Workshop: (Post)Colonial images

(Post)Colonial images: An Intermedial Approach

Sponsored by the AHRC-FAPESP funded IntermIdia Project and CFAC, the Centre for Film Aesthetics and Cultures, University of Reading

21st June 2018

Keynote speech by Vicente Sánchez-Biosca (University of Valencia), and a stellar line-up of speakers and artists

Screening of The Song of Ossobó (Silas Tiny, 2017)

Organised by Maria do Carmo Piçarra (University of Reading/University of Minho)

Admission is free, but booking is highly recommended-  email


11h-13h00 Cinema, Minghella Building G4 Opening by Lúcia Nagib. Screening The Song of Ossobó (Silas Tiny, 2017, 99’)

13h00-14h00 Lunch break

14h00-14h40 Studio Space, Minghella Building room 102 Maria do Carmo Piçarra (Minho/Reading) – Intermedial approaches to Portugal, France and England representations of the empire in the cinema

14h40-15h40 Studio Space, Minghella Building room 102 Katy Stewart (Sheffield) – Singing for Timbuktu and Kinshasa: Intermedial voices in African cinema’s digital revolution Sérgio Dias Branco (Coimbra/ Durham) – Spectres of today: Fractured history and digital modulation in Horse money (2014) Chair: Maria do Carmo Piçarra (Minho/Reading)

15h40-16h00 Coffee break 16h-16h30 Studio Space, Minghella Building room 102 Artistic take Quarries of wandering form by Judy Rabinowitz Price (Kingston)

16h30-18h00 Studio Space, Minghella Building room 102 Keynote speaker Vicente Sanchéz-Biosca (Valencia) – When the images are missing. Rithy Panh and the visual strategies to address the Cambodian Genocide


Digital Epitaphs Workshop

Digital Epitaphs

A workshop at the University of Reading

Friday 18th May, 11am-12.30pm

Edith Morley 175

‘To afford a subject for heroic poems is the privilege of very few, but every man may expect to be recorded in an epitaph’ — Samuel Johnson, ‘An Essay on Epitaphs’ (1740)

Confirmed participants:

  • Professor Harold Mytum (Archaeology, University of Liverpool)
  • Dr Gabriel Bodard (Digital Classics, University of London)
  • Dr Charlotte Tupman (Digital Humanities and Ancient History, University of Exeter)
  • Dr Giles Bergel (Digital Humanities and History of the Book, University of Oxford).

Epitaphs, or memorial inscriptions, are a rich resource for researchers in a wide range of academic disciplines, including social, intellectual and cultural history, art and architecture, and archaeology. Produced across the British Isles and beyond, by and for non-elite as well as elite social groups, they offer an opportunity to analyse commemorative practices and community values from the middle ages to the present.

One of the barriers to research on memorial inscriptions is that these texts are scattered across thousands of places of worship and graveyards. Local and family history societies have published some transcriptions of monuments in print and online, but the requirements of this user group are different from those of academic researchers. Their data are often geared towards searches on particular names and places, rather than the analysis of broader social and cultural formations.

Digital tools have the potential to transform the data generated by family history societies in ways that could help both community groups and academic researchers. ‘Digital Epitaphs’ is a workshop that brings together researchers from the Universities of Reading, Exeter, Liverpool, and London and collaborators from the Oxfordshire Family History Society and Historic Graves. The aim of the workshop is to explore the ways in which EpiDoc – a set of guidelines and tools developed to encode ancient inscriptions – might be adapted for use with vernacular monuments.


Colleagues from across Reading and beyond are very welcome to join us in Edith Morley 175 for a roundtable discussion from 11am-12.30pm. A more focused discussion on funding possibilities will take place in EM 175 from 1.30-3pm. All colleagues interested in the project are welcome to attend this open meeting.


To register interest in this meeting, or for more information, please contact Rebecca Bullard (Department of English Literature):


This workshop is supported by the Early Modern Research Centre and the Archives and Materialities research cluster of the Department of English Literature.

Lost and Found: Excavating the world’s first farmers

By Professor Roger Matthews and Dr Wendy Matthews

Bestansur site in Iraq

The transition of humankind from mobile hunters to settled farmers after the Ice Age is a period in history still shrouded in mystery. Very little evidence exists to shed light on what life was like in the world’s first villages in the Middle East 12,000 to 9,000 years ago.

But our archaeological research, carried out in collaboration with local communities in Iraq and Iran, is uncovering clues that will help us understand how ancient civilisations developed. We will be presenting our findings at a public lecture on Wednesday 22 November, as part of the national Being Human Festival.

Earlier this year, we conducted excavations and interdisciplinary research at the Neolithic site of Bestansur, in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is in the eastern Fertile Crescent – one of the areas of the Middle East where farming originated. Our aim is to learn more about how humans first started farming in this region, taking steps towards a more domesticated lifestyle.

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Whetting the appetite for edible archives

A multi-media installation created by Dr Teresa Murjas, Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Theatre & Television has inspired the work of The National Archives, Kew and its national Explore Your Archive campaign (18-28 November 2017).

The film, sound and object-based installation – The First World War in Biscuits – is an interpretation of one of the archives held at Reading Museum and the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). In August 2017 Teresa welcomed colleagues from The National Archives (TNA), together with The Great British Bake-off finalist, Miranda Gore-Brown, to Reading. She gave them a tour of Reading Museum and the MERL, where she had selected archival materials and artefacts from the Huntley & Palmers collection for them to view.

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