Throughout 2020 and 2021, bells have rung in a variety of COVID-related rituals in the West, ranging from large-scale religious and civic rites, to ad hoc neighborhood and hospital initiatives, to anti-racist memorials that simultaneously spoke to the health crisis at hand. Taking stock of how these COVID bell-ringing rituals were formalized, their structures and actions, and the historical precedents from which they drew their meanings, this article investigates what the sounds of bells and the rituals of bell-ringing communicated about COVID, how they shaped our personal and collective experiences of the crisis, and what functions they were expected to serve during this liminal period. It reveals how, owing to the historical polysemy of bells on the one hand and the social uncertainties of living with COVID on the other, those rituals generated vivid symbolisms and mobilized powerful emotions that sometimes brought about unintended consequences.
Campanology under COVID-19
The Meanings and Uses of a Legal Concept in Premodern Europe
The place and function of custom as a species of law—distinguished from custom as simply polite manners or cherished cultural traditions—has long been a source of research and debate among legal theorists and historians. One school of thought, reflecting the authority of written statute in modern jurisprudence, has relegated custom in a juridical sense to “primitive” societies, whereas proper law belongs to a world of state sovereignty. Other scholars have revisited the continuing validity of custom, including a trenchant body of work on the use (and manipulation) of custom in modern colonial regimes. At the same time, some have seen benefits in the acknowledgment of custom as a source of norms. A 2006 collection of articles, for instance, explored ways in which customary law might serve as a better foundation for the sustainable development of natural resources. As David Bederman has written, “Custom can be a signal strength for any legal system—preliterate or literate, primitive or modern.”
When Was Brexit? Reading Backward to the Present
This introductory article lays out the stakes of thinking through the temporalities of Brexit history across multiple fields of vision. It makes the case for books as one archive of Brexit subjects and feelings, and it glosses all the articles in the special issue.
Cultural Heritages and Their Transmission
Elizabeth C. Macknight
This Spring 2021 issue of Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques is about cultural heritages and their transmission, focusing on the period from the middle of the eighteenth century to the present. An important stimulus for the creation of the issue was the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) in 2018. There were four main themes for the EYCH: protection, engagement, sustainability, and innovation. National coordinators and local organizers of events and initiatives across the continent adopted the unifying slogan “Our Heritage. Where the past meets the future.” The articles brought together here serve as an invitation to readers to continue reflecting on subjects and questions that were at the heart of planning for and supporting public participation in EYCH 2018. The European Year of Cultural Heritage provided myriad opportunities to discover the roles played by individuals and groups in the preservation and valorization of natural sites and landscapes, public monuments, cultural institutions, artifacts, digital resources, and intangible cultural heritage. It highlighted educational initiatives to raise awareness of multiple, diverse cultural heritages within communities and to promote intercultural dialogue. It pushed governments and nongovernmental organizations to address matters of financial investment, legal accountability, partnership management, and the shaping of policies on conservation and ownership rights. It challenged professional historians as well as archivists, librarians, archeologists, conservators, and curators to think hard about widening access and about ways of integrating local, national, and international perspectives when communicating with audiences about surviving traces of the past.
Methods for Historians Attending to the Voices of the Past
How do we thoroughly historicize the voice, or integrate it into our historical research, and how do we account for the mundane daily practices of voice … the constant talking, humming, murmuring, whispering, and mumbling that went on offstage, in living rooms, debating clubs, business meetings, and on the streets? Work across the humanities has provided us with approaches to deal with aspects of voices, vocality, and their sounds. This article considers how we can mobilize and adapt such interdisciplinary methods for the study of history. It charts out a practical approach to attend to the history of voices—including unmusical ones—before recording, drawing on insights from the fields of sound studies, musicology, and performativity. It suggests ways to “listen anew” to familiar sources as well as less conventional source material. And it insists on a combination of analytical approaches focusing on vocabulary, bodily practice, and the questionable particularity of sound.
France’s Great War from the Edge
Susan B. Whitney
World War I has been studied extensively by historians of France and for good reason. Waging the first industrial war required mobilizing all of France's resources, whether military, political, economic, cultural, or imperial. Politicians from the left and the right joined forces to govern the country, priests and seminarians were drafted into the army, factories were retooled to produce armaments and other war material, and women and children were enlisted to do their part. So too were colonial subjects. More than 500,000 men from France's empire fought in Europe for the French Army, while another 200,000 colonial subjects labored in France's wartime workplaces. The human losses were staggering and the political, economic, and cultural reverberations long-lasting, both in the metropole and in the colonies. More than 1.3 million French soldiers and an estimated 71,000 colonial soldiers lost their lives, leaving behind approximately 1.1 million war orphans and 600,000 war widows.
Colonial Law Enforcement and the Search for Racial-Territorial Hegemony
Commenting on the colonial setting in its twilight during the Algerian War of Independence, Frantz Fanon famously observed: “Le travail du colon est de rendre impossible jusqu'aux rêves de liberté du colonisé. Le travail du colonisé est d'imaginer toutes les combinaisons éventuelles pour anéantir le colon (the task of the colonizer is to make impossible even the dreams of liberty of the colonized. The task of the colonized is to conceive of every possible strategy to wipe out the colonizer).”
Nicholas L. Syrett
The introduction situates the historiography on queer intergenerational sex in the realm of scholarship on queer history, the history of childhood, and the literature on the significance of chronological age. It lays out three broad schemas that have organized queer intergenerational sex—looking at it as a phallic economy where boys submitted to older men in ways that were akin to women; as a function of pederastic or pedophilic desires; and as abuse—and also explores the overlap and permutations among these categories. It then introduces the six articles in this forum, elucidating their central arguments and the contributions that they make to this dynamic field.
Uncovering the Politics of Playtime
Since the publication in 1960 of Philippe Ariès’s foundational, if problematic, Centuries of Childhood, the history of childhood has developed into a rich and varied field. At the annual conference of the Western Society for French History in 2018, a call for panelists for a roundtable on the history of childhood expanded into two separate panels ranging from the medieval era through the thirty glorious postwar years. The panelists and the audience grappled with questions about the social construction of age, the ages of childhood, and the challenges of finding sources for a group that left few “ego documents.” Although children per se never exercised political or global power, attention to children clarifies how critical children were to political and international systems. Material generated by children themselves can be difficult to locate, but adults generated plenty of material about children. The intersectionality of the history of childhood with fields like labor history, urban history, the history of the welfare state, and the history of psychology parallels the intersectionality of children themselves, who come from every race, social class, and gender. All humans, it turns out, start out as children.
Elizabeth C. Macknight
Historical Reflections/Réflexions historiques is dedicated to publishing work across all fields of intellectual-cultural history and the history of religion and mentalities. The five articles brought together in this issue are by historians who specialize in the modern era; their contributions featured here extend in chronological range from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first century. These writings all demonstrate the journal’s longstanding interest in the historical processes by which new ideas are generated, transmitted and received in societies.