Friday 22 July 2016

Historic Pub Crawl - extra info

It's that time of year again - we're really excited about our annual historic pub crawl around Leicester led by Colin Hyde, researcher and outreach officer at the East Midlands Oral History Archive.

If you'd like to find out a bit more about some of the places we'll be visiting, check out these bits and pieces:

Tuesday 4 August 2015

The Oldest Qur'an

Today's post comes from Dan Porter, an MRes student in the School of History. He's studying Islamic ideas about Western Christians during the Crusades.

You might have noticed a news item in the last few weeks about a unique discovery in the archives of the University of Birmingham library. The incredible discovery of the oldest existing, written fragment of the Qur'an anywhere in the world, has potentially huge ramifications.  As an artefact it is both significant in academic and spiritual terms.  In this post I wanted to explore why it is so significant from both of these perspectives.

There is a quote by Bernard Lewis, Prof. of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, in which he describes the origins of Islam.
"... Islam was born in the full light of history. Its roots are at surface level, the life of its founder is as well known to us as those of the Reformers of the sixteenth century."
This position has been challenged consistently for the last 40 years, most famously by academics such as Patricia Crone (who tragically died less than two weeks before this announcement; she would have had a lot to say on this discovery!).  The main argument against Lewis' statement was that there was no documentary evidence of written Qur'ans for some 80 years after the death of Muhammad with the implication being that the version we have today may have been modified or changed in some way from that originally recited by Muhammad.  Tom Holland goes further in his book In the Shadow of the Sword to suggest that Islam as a religion was only codified after the Arab conquests in the 7th and 8th centuries and that it originates not in Mecca and Medina but somewhere near the Dead Sea.  What is clear is that the Qur'an extant today was codified by Uthman, the third Caliph, some twenty years after the death of the Prophet (632 CE/ 11 AH).  This event is recorded by the 9th century Islamic scholar Al-Bukhari in his seminal work on Islamic hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari;
'So Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Quran so that we may compile the Quranic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to Uthman. Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit (Muhammad's personal scribe), Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies.' Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, [6:61:510].
What these fragments prove is that not only did the Qur'an exist in written form earlier than believed but also that it would appear to have been written down during, or in very close proximity too, the lifetime of Muhammad himself.  This opens up potential to prove that the Qur'an today is directly transmitted, without breaks, to its current form from the original.

The academic potential herein is of secondary concern to the majority of the Islamic community, however.  The direct transmission of the Qur'an from the Prophet to the present day is a matter of faith, not one of concrete evidence.  On a spiritual level we're looking at a physical item that was produced during the lifetime of the Prophet, Muhammad.  It is tempting to believe that the scribe met him in person or indeed may have had a personal relationship with the Prophet.  It certainly wouldn't have been unusual within the 'umma, or community, at the time.  The Qur'an, in Islamic terms, is the literal word of God; it is the last revelation to humanity from the divine and is the basis for the ordering of the world according to God's law.  As such, any Qur'an is holy.  These fragments however, because of their provenance, have a special significance, especially for Sunni Muslims for whom the traditions of Muhammad and the Qu'ran are the bedrock of their faith.  The term Sunni roughly means "people of the [Islamic] tradition".  This refers to their adherence to the traditions of the life of the Prophet.  Islam doesn't have the same reverence for relics that Catholicism had or indeed to some degree, still has, but these fragments of the Qur'an are still enormously important spiritual objects.  To put the significance of these fragments into a Christian spiritual context, it would be the equivalent of finding a copy of a gospel that could be dated to within the historical life of Christ.  I think there is likely to be an intense debate about where these fragments should finally reside.  The fact that the University of Birmingham was explicit about the fragments remaining in Birmingham from the initial press release indicates they are fully aware of these implications.

On a final note I'll leave you with this thought.  From what I can read, with the published photos and my limited Arabic, the fragment seems to come from the Surat Taha in which Allah tells the story of how he called upon Moses to challenge Pharaoh. The theme of this sura is the existence of God and the signs of such given to the faithful ...

The Mingana collection is viewable online in their virtual manuscript room.  You can access it here.

Monday 1 June 2015

Listen Up! Moments in the History of Sound

This Friday, our very own Sam Grinsell will be presenting on the history of sound. Currently an MA student with the Centre for Urban History, Sam has been responsible for designing almost all of the lab's posters over the past few years (including the above). Please join us at 4:30 for tea, cake, and history!

Tuesday 26 May 2015

The Liberal Party and the Great War

On 22nd May, the lab played host to Dr. Gavin Freeman, a former committee member and chairman. He took as his subject 'The Liberal Party and the Great War', giving us a detailed narrative of the power dynamics at work within the British governement during the First World War. I was particularly interested to hear about the extent to which the Liberals were divided over how to conduct the war, with conscription being a particular area of contention. As Prime Minister of a coalition government, Lloyd George chiefly relied on Conservative support in order to maintain power and prosecute the war effort. This raises uncomfortable questions of whether ideology must necessarily be compromised in order to face a national crisis.

With histories of the First World War often focussing on the 'mud and blood' of the trenches, it is important to remember that events on the front had considerable ramifications for those in Westminster and a lasting effect on the political landscape of this country.

Many thanks to Gavin for his time. At our next event, Sam Grinsell will be presenting 'Listen Up! Moments in the History of Sound.'

Thursday 21 May 2015

'The Liberal Party & the Great War'

Tomorrow, the lab welcomes back Dr. Gavin Freeman - a former committee member and chairman!

Tuesday 12 May 2015

How I learned to stop worrying and got a job

On 8th May, in the first of our Spring/Summer series of events, New History Lab hosted three Leicester alumni who spoke of their experiences in the job market after finishing their Masters degrees.
First up, Mark Small told us how he came to work at the Bristol Record Office, a path which began with a trip to Bath during his Masters which led to a job with the Churches Conservation Trust. The Masters then, was not simply a qualification to put on the CV but the inspiration for a potential career path. The overarching message from Mark was not to plan your career, or at least, don’t stick to a plan if other opportunities arise. And so, Mark told us how he moved from old buildings to old documents via the Red Lodge, Bristol’s smallest museum.

Secondly, Tim Savage recounted the ups and downs of postgraduate careers, or as he put it ‘the good, the bad & the ugly’, in a funny and engaging manner. Tim’s postgraduate career has involved many jobs, from call centres to the heritage sector. In his most recent job at the Carnegie Museum in Melton, Tim has been working on a very exciting project with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps; with postgraduate careers, it’s always great to know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

Last but not least, Mike Fox told us of his work with the campaigning organisation SAVE Britain’s Heritage. Having completed a Masters in Urban Conservation, Mike set about putting theory into practice, participating in campaigns to try and preserve many historic buildings. While I can’t speak for anyone else in the audience, a particular favourite of mine was Wentworth Woodhouse, a large country house in danger of losing its ‘wings’, the house having been undermined for coal after the Second World War.

It was great to hear about career opportunities for postgraduates and what three former students have got up to since they left. All of the speakers were Centre for Urban History alumni and we thank Roey Sweet, Director of CUH, for helping to organise the event. Our next event comes this Friday (15th May) with a Ghost Tour of Leicester.

Aaron Andrews

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Summer Labs!

Yes that's right! We have a jam-packed summer planned with a pub crawl, advice on funding applications and even a film lab. Check out this poster and more to follow throughout the following months. Don't forget our first lab of the summer this Friday in Attenborough 111 for tea, cake and non-academic job advice!

Monday 9 March 2015

The Wellcome's Institute of Sexology Exhibit

On Saturday I decided to visit the Wellcome Trust's Institute of Sexology Exhibit after many, many, suggestions to do so by friends and colleagues. As a self-proclaimed 'sexologist-in-training' I was quite curious to see what this exhibit had to offer, particularly because of its association with the Kinsey Institute of America.

There was a bit of a wait since only so many people can be in the exhibit at once and also because it's FREE. I was handed a booklet with vague summary and history of some of the collection which also had a blank page at the back reserved for notes. I wish I had brought a pen with me but staff are also happy to lend a pen if you look excited and deranged enough.

On entering the exhibit, the first thing I saw was a chastity belt. I knew I had struck gold with this exhibit. I will admit that my research interests are a little out of the ordinary but this exhibit made me feel quite ordinary. There were illustrated scenes from the kama sutra, films of animals mating and even equipment from the famous experiments by Dr. Masters and Virginia Johnson. The exhibit was slightly out of my time period with the major case studies carried out on Freud, Stopes and Kinsey but it was interesting nonetheless and I would definitely go again. I would also encourage others to visit the exhibit to understand the discipline of sexology.

On Friday we have a Wellcome Trust Fellow from the University of Leicester coming to talk about her experience of life after the PhD. We encourage people to come along to ask Eureka questions about the process of applying for funding and fellowships after postgraduate study as well as about her current research project!

The link for details on the exhibit can be found here:

Friday 27 February 2015

Discover Special Collections, meet in Library Seminar Room

For tonight's lab please join us in the Library Seminar Room, not Attenborough 206. If you do not have access to the library please email you details to Jennie and we will give your name to the library staff :)