Copyright takes the Cake

Copyright is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma to me – and yet I know I should try to understand it, because for any historian, access to sources – documents, pictures, other media generally – forms the basis of what we do.

I struggle constantly with the issue of copyright in my blog, since there is a question over any picture I pull from the web to put in a post. My personal compromise is to link the picture back to its original source on the web. That means – where I can – finding the library or art gallery it comes from, rather than just somebody else’s blog post. I’m not sure if this is an adequate safeguard, but since my blog only reaches a few hundred people, and makes no money, there’s probably no harm done. In a book, though, it’s not possible to salve a guilty conscience with a hyperlink.

Any author knows the nightmare of tracking down copyright owners to get their permission to publish images, or permission to use documents which are not in the public domain.

Many years ago, a friend of mine wrote a thesis on the history of a union. Both the friend and the union had better remain unnamed. He had the full cooperation of the union executive throughout his research – until shortly before he was due to submit his PhD, the executive of the union changed, and withdrew its permission. He spent a thoroughly miserable few months removing great chunks of quotations from his work. It was still a good thesis, but a shadow of its former self – as, indeed, was he for a while there.

The problem is worst with manuscripts, where copyright lasts forever. Now that digitization of printed sources has transformed so much research – Trove, I love you – libraries want to move on to digitize manuscript materials as well. There are already some wonderful digitized collections, often cooperative efforts such as the Darwin Correspondence Project and the Papers of Sir Joseph Banks, others more modest such as the University of Otago’s Samuel Marsden Online Archive. The Mitchell Library has just embarked on a project to digitize the Macarthur Papers.

googled images of handwritten recipes

I Googled ‘handwritten recipes’, planning to pull something suitable from the web – but then decided the whole page looks so pretty, I took a screenshot instead. This, I think, makes ME the copyright owner. The system’s crazy.

But the basic issue of manuscript copyright is holding others back. Under current legislation, even old recipe books are copyright. FAIR (Freedom of Access to Information and Resources) has come up with a unique way to lobby for a change to copyright law. Next Friday, 31 July, is Copyright Day. Anyone concerned about copyright laws is encouraged to find a recipe, cook it, and post a photo of the dish and the manuscript recipe it is based on with the hashtag #cookingforcopyright on Twitter or on FaceBook here

Unfortunately most of my grandmother’s recipes are for cakes and puddings. This may be an unhealthy weekend coming up.

Christmas in July?

Colonists in 19th century Australia always found it difficult celebrating Christmas at midsummer. The strangeness of coping with the Christmas festivities in hot weather is a common theme in their letters home.

Today, most Australians have adjusted. Christmas food is usually cold and relies on such seasonal specialties as prawns and mangos. But that leaves a gap that gets filled, often enough, with ‘Christmas in July’ celebrations – an excuse to turn on the oven, cook a turkey, and binge on mince pies and Christmas puddings. It is now a binge that has totally broken its links with either the Christian religious festival or the winter solstice festivals of pre-Christian Europe.

advert for Christmas in July

For the colonists, though, Christmas still had important religious significance, but it was also a way of keeping in touch with the rituals they had left behind, so they grimly celebrated the feast day, cooking and eating the heavy roasts and puddings they remembered from their British childhoods.

James Macarthur, watercolour on ivory, c.1820

James Macarthur, watercolour on ivory, c.1820

I was intrigued, then, to discover an early colonist thinking about moving Christmas to mid-winter as far back as 1827. James Macarthur, son of the more famous John, visited the Australian Agricultural Company’s headquarters at Port Stephens in December 1827. The place was still very primitive, with most people living in bark huts or tents, but understandably the new settlers made a big deal of Christmas Day. In his journal of the visit, James recorded:

We dined today on the Verandah where we kept up the good old customs of our ancestors, by being very merry & by eating plentifully of roast Beef & plum pudding – notwithstanding the difference in temperature between mid winter in England & mid summer in Australia a trifling variation of some sixty degrees of Fahrenheit….

A Corroboree of the Natives close to the Verandah finished the amusements of the day.

James had lived in England as a boy, but he was Australian born, so perhaps that is why he considered the possibility of moving Christmas to mid-winter:

I have always thought it would be a publick benefit (if practicable without heterodoxy) to change the eating and drinking part of this festival to a more temperate season of the year – At present too the Xmas holidays happen just at the Farmers’ busiest moment in the midst of harvest wool packing &c – Nothing can be more ill timed – In the month of June there is no operation of importance going forward & besides John Bull might then indulge as freely as at home without endangering his health.

I suspect that James was more concerned with getting greater profit from the workers than with endangering their health, but it is true that in the northern hemisphere, Christmas came at the slowest point of the agricultural year. In the southern hemisphere, there was more to do in December.

James was only musing to himself about the possibility of making the change – but farmers did once petition the South Australian government to change the Christmas holiday to April, so that their children could help bring in the harvest.

Reference: Journal kept by James Macarthur of a visit to Port Stephens, December 1827, in Australian Agricultural Company (London Office), General Despatches, 78/1/6, in Noel Butlin Archives, ANU.

Intimate Nuggets

In December 1829 Sir Edward Parry arrived in Sydney to become the new manager of the Australian Agricultural Company, formed 5 years earlier. Sir Edward was a distinguished Arctic explorer, recently knighted for his efforts. His wife Isabella was the daughter of John Stanley, first Baron Stanley of Alderley. Naturally, when they arrived in Sydney, they stayed at Government House with Governor Darling and his wife, Eliza.

Parry soon left for the AAC headquarters at Port Stephens, but Isabella was heavily pregnant and stayed on with Sir Ralph and Eliza Darling. Eight days later, on 14 January 1830, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Estimating the time of arrival of babies was not – is not – an exact science, but these babies were probably very premature.

Eliza Darling had had a baby – her fifth – in July 1829, so now she came to the rescue, as Isabella reported to Edward:

The boy is smallest and has required great care…and indeed we owe its life, under Providence, to Mrs Darling suckling him herself for two days and nights, tho’ herself in bad health. I cannot express to you the affectionate attention we had received from these dear people.

I love discovering intimate nuggets like this! They raise such interesting questions.

How common were wet nurses in New South Wales? The colony was still disproportionately male, so the needs of women and their babies were not to the forefront. No doubt Isabella could have found a suitable convict woman in the Female Factory, but not necessarily at a moment’s notice, and the situation sounds urgent.

Eliza Darling

Eliza Darling and two of her children (1825) National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2256803

How unusual was it for a lady – the Governor’s wife, no less – to suckle a friend’s or a stranger’s baby? Eliza Darling has the reputation of being deeply religious, which may be a factor. If so, perhaps she would have been pleased to know that the boy she suckled survived to eventually become Suffragan Bishop of Dover.

Reference: This anecdote appears, virtually without comment, in Brian H. Fletcher, Ralph Darling: A Governor Maligned (Melbourne, 1984), p. 161.

Note: Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been silent for a couple of months. Apologies, it’s a long story.

In May I went overseas on holiday. Groggy with jetlag, on Day 2 I lost my iPad, together with my password. Note to WordPress: that clever security idea of sending a reference number to a mobile phone doesn’t work when the recipient is in Portugal with a different SIM card.

I came back in June to a series of domestic crises, followed by whatever this season’s viral illness is called. This has put a lot of deadlines in doubt. Normal transmission will be resumed shortly.

Fund managers aren’t really my kind of people

Five years ago, I was invited to Newcastle, north of Sydney, to give a presentation on the history of coal mining in Australia to a group of fund managers. This is not my normal type of gig, but I once wrote a chapter on the topic as part of an interdisciplinary study of the coal industry in Australia. Australia’s coal industry first began in Newcastle, and it still depends on mining.

Early Newcastle coal mine

Robert Westmacott, Newcastle, the coal mines of N.S.W. (1832), from National Library of Australia

It was a brief insight into how the other half (or, more likely, the top 10 percent) live. These fund managers were mainly American, and they had just come through the global financial crisis.

These men had been badly burnt – but only metaphorically. Thumbs permanently attached to their Blackberries and groggy with jet lag, they were there to be schmoozed within an inch of their lives. Over the course of a long weekend, they moved from business breakfasts to a visit to port facilities to more presentations and a visit to a mine, interspersed with dinners at the ritziest restaurants Newcastle has to offer. It was all washed down with the best Hunter wines.

At a waterfront seafood restaurant, I ordered salt and pepper squid from the 3 entrees on our special custom menu. This dish can often taste like greasy rubber bands, but here I expected it to be absolutely delicious, and it was. This was some compensation for a boring night, since none of the men (they were virtually all men) around me felt the least need to talk to me. In their normal lives, they probably outsourced small talk to their wives anyway.

Through either luck or good management (your call will depend on your political allegiance) Australia came through the global financial crisis of 2007-9 relatively unscathed, which is why, not doubt, we cheerfully abbreviate it to the GFC. We did much better than America, so these fund managers were surprised by the strength of the Australian economy, the low unemployment, and the fact that Newcastle’s coal industry was touting for their business, promising profits well above what they could make at home. Two countries, on different phases of the investment cycle.

I flew home next day, so I don’t know what happened to these optimistic plans. Five years later, the American economy is recovering but in Australia, coal and iron ore prices are cactus. Green shoots are very thin on the ground – especially in Newcastle, where the boom turned out to have a rotten core of political corruption too, and the uncontrolled growth of coalmines has killed much of the greenery anyway.

Business cycles, by their nature, go up and down, and money managers have a poor reputation for dodgy predictions and self-serving boosterism, if not necessarily for corruption. Sitting opposite me that night in Newcastle was a fund manager from Goldman Sachs. Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone had only recently, memorably, described Goldman Sachs thus:

The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

The image of the vampire squid went viral, and I confess that it was a comfort to me to think of this as I sat there ignored, out of place surrounded by young men in suits twiddling under the table with their Blackberries.

I was ignored until my meal arrived. I had been surprised by how few people ordered the salt and pepper squid. Clearly, when they saw my dish, some of my neighbours regretted not doing so – but it was ‘Mr Goldman Sachs’ who said, with amazement: ‘But it’s calamari!’ It turns out he didn’t even know what squid was. Two nations, divided by a single language.

The Invisible History of the Human Race

I picked up Christine Kenneally’s book because it was on the short list for the Stella Prize – and because my sister recommended it. Once I’d picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. The book is The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures (2014). As the over-long title perhaps hints, this is a hard book to categorise. It is part history, part science, with large and important chunks dealing with the contemporary issues thrown up by the new technologies of DNA analysis.

KenneallyChristine-584x893

Some of the issues are controversial. Kenneally deals cautiously and well with the inevitable issues of race and eugenics, but other controversies hadn’t occurred to me before: What are the implications of so much data (either genetic or genealogical) being held by private companies like Ancestry.com or 23andMe? What happens to that data when a company is sold? This happened to Kenneally, who had her genes tested by 23andMe, in the interests of research, in 2010. The company gave certain commitments about the privacy of her record – but it has since changed hands, and the status of that information is now unclear.

One of the issues the book covers is the history and meaning of family history. Genealogists are often dismissed as cranks by academic historians – and I know how infuriating it can be to sit in front of a microfilm reader, next to someone who keeps tapping me on the shoulder to tell me she (it’s mostly she) has just found Uncle Freddy – but Kenneally endorses both the validity of this research for the individual and the wider value of such projects, when they converge into large-scale studies, such as the Founders and Survivors project.

Kenneally is good at finding just the right anecdote to illustrate her wider arguments. The story of Thomas Jefferson and Sarah Hemings is widely known: for 2 centuries, Jefferson was a famous Founding Father with an unblemished private life. He and his wife Martha Wayles had 6 children. But an oral tradition also passed down that suggested that after Martha’s death, Jefferson subsequently had another family with one of the house slaves at Monticello, Sarah (Sally) Hemings.

The historical record can only go so far, but DNA testing eventually shows what historians could not prove: that Sarah Hemings’ male descendants carried the Jefferson Y-chromosome. Despite some rearguard action trying to finger another Jefferson – uncle or nephew – the dates of conception make it pretty clear that Thomas fathered Sally’s children. This story is not just of prurient interest. It also tells us a lot about the lived experience of men and women in 18th century Virginia, and how it diverges from the written record.

So far, so well known. But Kenneally looks at another angle: as well as 6 children raised at Monticello, there was another, older boy, Thomas Woodson, who was sent to live at another estate at the age of 12, where he took the name of his new master, a common practice. The Woodson descendents also believed they were descended from Thomas Jefferson – but repeated DNA analysis has failed to make the link. Sometimes knowledge is power – but sometimes it is a shattering disappointment too.

For me, it was yet another angle on this story that intrigued me. Sally Hemings and Martha Wayles were half-sisters. They shared the same father, for clearly droit de seigneur operated in the generation before Jefferson too. While the Hemings-Jefferson inter-racial liaison has shocked some Americans, and delighted many more, I’ve never seen any concern expressed that Jefferson was sleeping with his deceased wife’s sister, a relationship that was legally equivalent to incest at this time in English law.

Kenneally ranges widely across time and place. One study illuminates the Dark Ages: a map of the modern genetics of the British population shows that people still reproduce within old cultural boundaries, so that the kingdoms of Dalriada, Rheged, Elmet and Dumnonia emerge from the genetic data.

In Ireland the same Y-chromosome appears widely – in the northwest an extraordinary 17 percent of men carry it – and this is attributed to the influence of Niall of the Nine Hostages and the men of the Niall clan, who clearly practiced droit de seigneur on an industrial scale. Polygamy and easy divorce, even into the Christian period, must have helped. More generally, when a new population displaces the old, the marks of the invasion are more frequently present on the Y chromosome – as it true for Aboriginal Australians.

Kenneally looks at Tasmania, where the late 19th century saw a great forgetting, when the population chose to keep silent about its convict origins. Now of course everyone wants a convict ancestor, and Kenneally shows how her own research on her family origins led to a convict – and made her, for a moment, ‘a convict princess’.

This is a rich and rewarding book, clearly written and entertaining, but with a good deal of meat on its bones. To my unqualified eyes, it seems about as up-to-date as one can expect in such a fast-moving field. I can’t recommend it too highly.

NB: This review was written as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Anzac Memories

There has just been a brief flurry in the Twittersphere about an advertising campaign by Woolworths, featuring a photo of an Australian soldier, overlaid with the words ‘Fresh in our Memories’ and the Woolworths logo. Woolworths promote themselves as ‘the Fresh Food people’, so this was seen as more than usually blatant commercialism.

I confess that when I first saw the posters, in my local supermarket, my reaction was less: ‘How dare this grocery giant take in vain the sacred Anzac name for commercial purposes?’ and more ‘Oh God, not another haunting sepia image, just like all the others we’ve been seeing everywhere lately!’

Woolworths Anzac advertisement

Within hours of the advertisements appearing (or so they say, although at my store they were up days earlier) the Minister for Veterans Affairs had released a press statement and Woolworths pulled the campaign.

Since the media that ran with the story is the same media that has featured haunting sepia images for months, it all seemed a little hypocritical. The truth of it is, I think, that I’ve reached Peak Gallipoli. I’m not the only one. A major TV series on Gallipoli scored disappointingly low ratings, even though it was excellent – or so they say. I didn’t watch it either.

This year is the Centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, and of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915 at the beginning of a long and disastrous campaign that killed a great many men on both sides. Turkey’s involvement with the Axis Powers was minimal, but there was a long history of commercial rivalry between Britain and Germany, both of whom bribed the Sultan’s court shamelessly for concessions to build railways. (Some of the more decorative bribes are now on display at the Topkapi Palace.)

topkapi palace jewel

Behind the veneer of patriotism, oil was important too. In the 19th century, steamships burned coal, but loading lumps of coal was messy and labour-intensive. Pumping liquid oil was cleaner and quicker, and the British Navy completed its conversion to oil at the beginning of 1914. Coal is very widely available, but oil is found in fewer locations. The main supplies in 1914, like today, lay in the Middle East, so the role of companies like Anglo-Persian Oil were important.

The landing at Gallipoli opened a new front in the Great War, but it achieved very little for the invaders. Its main impact was to further destabilise the Ottoman Empire, triggering various nationalisms within a multinational empire that had previously been reasonably stable. Ethnic cleansing followed, starting with the Armenians, but later spreading to the Pontic Greeks as well.

The Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 confirmed the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, which was carved up and parcelled out amongst the victorious allies. One book about Versailles has the memorable title A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922 (by David Fromkin, 1989).

While the media and the Twittersphere were busy baying for Woolworths’ blood, elsewhere a contingent of 330 soldiers quietly left Brisbane for a ‘training mission’ in Iraq. The ironies abound. A joint Australian-New Zealand force [check], is being sent to the crumbling carcass of the Ottoman Empire [check] at the request of a great and powerful friend [check]. And nobody talks about oil [check].

What do I do with the Egyptian mummy?

I’ve been going gangbusters writing my book lately. This is why my blog posts have tapered off recently – sorry – but there are some important advantages in staying in the Zone, without any interruptions.

When I have a concentrated spell of writing, rather than fitting it in around other obligations, which is the natural condition of most university teachers (and most women, for that matter), I find that I make connections that I might have missed if I was working my way more slowly from chapter to chapter.

As usual, I’m wrestling with the agony of what to leave out. I’ve always felt that the clearest difference between an antiquarian and a good historian lies in their ability to stick to the wider perspective without getting sidetracked by fascinating trivia.

Biography gives the writer a little more leeway: odd facts can illuminate a personality, and they add colour and movement to a life. But odd facts can be a distraction, a sequence of one-damn-thing-after-another anecdotes, and they have the potential to distort the narrative if it relies entirely on the accident of what documentary evidence remains. Trivial facts need to be odd, as in occasional, not just odd.

So what do I do about the Egyptian mummy? Sadly, I think it belongs in the Kill Your Darlings file – but I would love to be persuaded otherwise.

In 1820, Walter Stevenson Davidson (the subject of my biography, if you are coming late to the party) went home to Britain on leave from his business selling opium in China. He took the ‘overland route’, the fast route favoured by travellers without the patience to sail from India right around the Cape of Good Hope. They took one ship to the Red Sea, then travelled overland, usually to Alexandria, where they took a second ship for the rest of the journey.

The overland route was a well-organized and well-beaten track, and groups of travellers usually went overland in convoy, with plenty of local servants to deal with their voluminous luggage. This route brought a lot of English and Scots into contact with Egypt for the first time – generating a demand for souvenirs on a grand scale.

Picture of an Egyptian Mummy

In A.B.Granville, An Essay on Egyptian Mummies (1825)

Walter Davidson travelled with a friend, Thomas Coats, and in February 1820 they visited Thebes, where they each bought a mummy – as you do.

He purchased a mummy from the excavations near Thebes, at Gournon, in February, 1820, selected out of a dozen which he opened, as the best preserved. It proved to be that of a male. It was quite dry; the hair and teeth were most perfect, the former being very long, in great profusion, and smoothly combed down. The body contained only a large quantity of gum, and there was no flesh, or very little of it, on the bones. Every part was brittle. It was enveloped in cotton bandages to a great extent, and was contained within two cases. [Granville, pp.24-5]

Now, what on earth do I do with this story? It is in no way central to Walter’s life, and would interrupt my account of the events that brought him back to Scotland just then to deal with the aftermath of his father’s death. It would probably give a modern reader the wrong idea anyway: what is he doing wasting time sightseeing in Thebes when he should be hurrying back to look after the family?

Time is a relative concept, of course, but it would take a long exegesis to explain that in 1820, even travellers in a hurry had lots of time on their hands, hanging around waiting for porters or resting their animals – camels? mules? Both human and animal beasts of burden were important, because these travellers did not travel light. I understand why they couldn’t fit everything into a 20kg. suitcase, but how on earth do you get a couple of mummies home?

Thomas Coats later married Walter’s sister – I’ve mentioned this here – and gave his mummy to the Literary Society of his home town of Newcastle-on-Tyne. I’ve no idea what happened to Walter’s mummy. It is hard to imagine it gracing his living room, but who knows?

I’d love to include the story of Walter’s Egyptian mummy in my book, but I’ve no idea where to slot it in. It has no wider significance – unless I can, perhaps, use it to illustrate the commodification of human beings that was part of the 19th century imperial project. That’s a bit tortuous really – but it is a great story.

Note: Thanks to Simon Peers for first alerting me to the story of WSD’s mummy.
A.B. Granville, An Essay on Egyptian Mummies; with Observations on the Art of Embalming among the Ancient Egyptians (London, 1825), is available on Google Books here.
Granville is another of my Dead Darlings – I’ve written about him here.