Throughout this historiographical essay,I will be analysing the way that different historians produce accounts ofModern British Political History. I have refined my area of research of this periodto the study of the Suffragette movement, focussing on the treatment of thewomen, personal accounts of the suffragettes themselves and the use of violenceby them, as well as against them.
Using my sources, I will analyse the work ofvarious history scholars and their work from a range of different time periods,in order to compare the strengths and weaknesses of their work along with theaspect that they approach the topic from. By analysing the topic from ahistoriographical point of view, it is possible to determine whether thehistorian has attempted to make their work fit into preconceived ideas and whetherthey approach the topic from a political or non-political approach. By usingsources from a range of time periods, the bias which could be present fromsomebody living at the time have been diminished and for the latter pieces ofwork, more data can be used to come to a more rounded conclusion. The source A History of ForceFeeding1interprets the use of force feeding from a contemporary humanistic approach,the second chapter focuses on the development of public opposition to thepractise of force feeding or ‘artificial feeding’, following the authorisationby the government in 1909. The source tends to focus on the morality of forcefeeding from an ethical point of view, Miller demonstrates how the momentum ofthe public sympathy created a hostile attitude towards the Home Office between1909 and 1914 who insisted that the practise of ‘artificial feeding’ was safe.Miller offers a contemporary counter argument in an attempt to justify theactions of the prison workers through a medical perspective as he argues thaton one hand the doctors were ‘saving the lives’ of suicidal women, according tothe Home Office while causing harm to the women in the process.
The inclusionof personal accounts of prison experiences, for example from ChristabelPankhurst, juxtaposes the idea of force feeding occurring primarily based uponthe safety of the women. Miller describes the idea of the women receiving cutsto the throat and compares the procedure to ‘oral rape’. Miller also interpretsthe procedure from a political outlook, by applying social factors the act offorce feeding comes across as a problem based on gender imbalance.
The forcefeeding of politically motivated women occurred under the will of a male ledgovernment directing the prison’s medical officers to carry out the necessaryprocedure in order to arguably save the womens’ lives. Despite the source focussingon the force feeding of women, it fails to comment upon or make reference tothe use of the Cat and Mouse Act which occurred as a compromise for the unjusttreatment of women in prisons. Culpable Complicity2differs from ‘A History of Force Feeding’ as rather than focusing directly onthe treatment of the women in prison, it focusses on the debates that wereoccurring simultaneously on the outside of prisons due to public outragestemming from media accounts. The source demonstrates that the importance ofthe media coverage was a vital way for the suffragettes to publicise theircampaign and to gain support from the general public. The source outlines the importanceof the use of petitions in order to prevent the force feeding of the women.
By1914, extreme accounts of the women being sedated were being leaked fromprisons and shared by the media, across the medical profession this sparkedhuge controversy and the intentions of the prison’s medical officers began tobe questioned. Rather than focussing on the suffragettes’ accounts from insidethe prison, the source reflects upon the controversies these news storiessparked outside the prison. The source identifies the role of certain doctors,for example Sir Victor Horsley’s role acting as an eminent, yet highlycontroversial figure opposing forcible feeding of the suffragettes. The source arguesthat doctors inside the prisons were being used as ‘political instruments’ inthe struggle between the Home Office and Suffragettes, this concept is notargued overtly in any of my other sources, however the concept is heavily justifyiedin the work of Geddes.
Police, Prisons and Prisoners3provides an alternative perspective from my other chosen sources, the sourcetargets the treatment of the suffragettes from the point of view of the HomeOffice, unlike my other sources which are based upon the experiences of thesuffragettes themselves (A History of Force Feeding) and the perception of thepublic (Culpable Complicity) including witness accounts of the police andprison officials. The source outlines two major issues faced by the Home Officefor the five years that hunger strikes took place; firstly, the policing ofsuffragettes, and secondly the methods of dealing with the suffragettes oncethey had successfully been imprisoned. The source argues that ‘the trouble wasdealt with in a very satisfactory manner’ as proposed by a superior officerafter ten suffragettes were arrested following a protest. Methods of policingsuch as supressing the WSPU’s newspaper in May 1913 are discussed to developthe idea of a number of preventative and precautionary measures taken by theHome Office in order to limit the violent confrontations between the police andWSPU activists. Although some policing efforts, including the suppression ofthe newspaper failed as the paper was still printed as usual. Unlike both’Culpable Complicity’ and ‘A history of force feeding’ this source identifies thecompromise made by the Home Office, known as the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act passed onthe 2 April.
The source continues to justify the use of the Cat and Mouse actin order to prevent the force feeding of the women, noting that at first thepolice made ‘no serious attempts to recapture many of the ‘mice”, (pg 501)however by 1914 inconsistency of its use led to dangerous women such asEmmeline Pankhurst, who had already been repeatedly recaptured, not to bereleased again. Rather than focussing on the usual question proposed byscholars of ‘Did militancy achieve votes for women?’ the source offers anargument from an alternative perspective regarding whether the government couldhave been successful at policing the WSPU, using appropriate policing methods. Thearticle4is written by a feminist historian, she attempts to balance out the gendered’masculinist’ approach of the writings of the suffragette pasts, by offeringalternative perspectives on frequently preconceived ideas by offering aninsightful interpretation of public and private debates of the time. The sourceoffers a critical insight of the historic events of the time from an involved female’sperspective, unlike male suffrage historians who tend to approach the topicfrom an ‘unconscious anti-feminism approach’ as argued by Purvis.
However, dueto the feminist approach to the topic, it is likely that throughout allaspects, the suffragettes are depicted as the victims and their treatment inprisons may be exaggerated somewhat in order to build her argument. However,the use of this source alongside work from other historians would providebeneficial evidence and alternative perspectives regarding the way that womensuffragettes gained the vote, and the experiences they encountered in order toachieve it. My Own Story5includes transcripts of the words of Mrs Pankhurst from her own defence court.The use of her own words enables the reader to interpret the sourceindividually, however it is undeniably clear to all readers, that theenforcement of men’s ‘double standards’ in society led to the suffragettesbeing treated as second class citizens, as they criticised the fighting ofwomen for the democratic rights dominated by men at the time. In this way thesource is similar to that of Miller who also applied social factors in order todevelop his debate. The source outlines the arguments proposed by suffragettesat the time through the words of Emmeline Pankhurst, in order to justify theirviolent actions as no different to their male counterparts as stated ‘Windowbreaking, when Englishmen do it, is regarded as honest expression of politicalopinion.
Window breaking, when Englishwomen do it, is treated as a crime.’ Thesource emphasises the driving motive behind the campaign of the suffragettes tonot only be for the parliamentary vote, but a ‘Women’s revolution’ that wouldtransform gender roles, providing equality for the whole society. In this waythis source promotes the idea of a broader motive behind the campaign, however’Dreamers of a New Day’ offers a narrower perspective which disregards theapplication of social factors. The source offers a vital insight into the studyof women’s suffrage, however being from a suffragette’s point of view, there islikely to be bias against the Home Office, and possible exaggerations of theiractions in order to provoke public support for the suffragettes, and women onthe whole as the victims of a male dominated society.
Despite Dreamers of a New Day6being published in 2010, the book appears to continue to promote outdated stereotypesthat make the suffrage campaign come across as narrower minded than it waspreviously thought to be therefore juxtaposes and disregards the argument putforward by ‘Emmeline Pankhurst My Own Story’. Current and moderninterpretations of the suffrage campaign perceive it as a rounded reformativemovement with gender equality as the main goal, with the vote for women beingthe first step towards the desired equality. However, in this source the idea of gaining the vote alone isoverwhelmingly and disproportionately focused upon, suggesting new modern ideashave been disregarded and the concept of gender equality was not the drivingmotive, as other historians suggest. The source reflects a minimalisticreference to Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, while focussing on Sylvia anexceeding amount, making reference to her socialist-feminist perspectives,reflecting bias and suggesting an unbalanced account, as manipulation and theomission of key aspects limits the reliability of the source. Overall, we can see that the topicof The Suffragettes has been approached from multiple perspectives, withhistorians covering the topic from as early as … until more recently in 2016they all demonstrate different approaches and regard different aspects of thehistory to be the most important factor.
It is for this reason that multiplesources are required when studying historic events through the use of scholarlywork in order to provide a rounded and balanced account of events. The accountsof Geddes, Crawford and Pankhurst provide the most interesting of comparisonsas the different perspectives of the general public, the Home Office and theSuffragettes themselves, can be directly compared to offer a broadunderstanding of the controversies faced at the time.