Throughout British Political History. I have refined my area


Throughout this historiographical essay,
I will be analysing the way that different historians produce accounts of
Modern British Political History. I have refined my area of research of this period
to the study of the Suffragette movement, focussing on the treatment of the
women, personal accounts of the suffragettes themselves and the use of violence
by them, as well as against them. Using my sources, I will analyse the work of
various 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 the
aspect that they approach the topic from. By analysing the topic from a
historiographical point of view, it is possible to determine whether the
historian has attempted to make their work fit into preconceived ideas and whether
they approach the topic from a political or non-political approach. By using
sources from a range of time periods, the bias which could be present from
somebody living at the time have been diminished and for the latter pieces of
work, more data can be used to come to a more rounded conclusion.

            The source A History of Force
interprets the use of force feeding from a contemporary humanistic approach,
the second chapter focuses on the development of public opposition to the
practise of force feeding or ‘artificial feeding’, following the authorisation
by the government in 1909. The source tends to focus on the morality of force
feeding from an ethical point of view, Miller demonstrates how the momentum of
the public sympathy created a hostile attitude towards the Home Office between
1909 and 1914 who insisted that the practise of ‘artificial feeding’ was safe.
Miller offers a contemporary counter argument in an attempt to justify the
actions of the prison workers through a medical perspective as he argues that
on one hand the doctors were ‘saving the lives’ of suicidal women, according to
the Home Office while causing harm to the women in the process. The inclusion
of personal accounts of prison experiences, for example from Christabel
Pankhurst, juxtaposes the idea of force feeding occurring primarily based upon
the safety of the women. Miller describes the idea of the women receiving cuts
to the throat and compares the procedure to ‘oral rape’. Miller also interprets
the procedure from a political outlook, by applying social factors the act of
force feeding comes across as a problem based on gender imbalance. The force
feeding of politically motivated women occurred under the will of a male led
government directing the prison’s medical officers to carry out the necessary
procedure in order to arguably save the womens’ lives. Despite the source focussing
on the force feeding of women, it fails to comment upon or make reference to
the use of the Cat and Mouse Act which occurred as a compromise for the unjust
treatment of women in prisons.

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            Culpable Complicity2
differs from ‘A History of Force Feeding’ as rather than focusing directly on
the treatment of the women in prison, it focusses on the debates that were
occurring simultaneously on the outside of prisons due to public outrage
stemming from media accounts. The source demonstrates that the importance of
the media coverage was a vital way for the suffragettes to publicise their
campaign and to gain support from the general public. The source outlines the importance
of the use of petitions in order to prevent the force feeding of the women. By
1914, extreme accounts of the women being sedated were being leaked from
prisons and shared by the media, across the medical profession this sparked
huge controversy and the intentions of the prison’s medical officers began to
be questioned. Rather than focussing on the suffragettes’ accounts from inside
the prison, the source reflects upon the controversies these news stories
sparked outside the prison. The source identifies the role of certain doctors,
for example Sir Victor Horsley’s role acting as an eminent, yet highly
controversial figure opposing forcible feeding of the suffragettes. The source argues
that doctors inside the prisons were being used as ‘political instruments’ in
the struggle between the Home Office and Suffragettes, this concept is not
argued overtly in any of my other sources, however the concept is heavily justifyied
in the work of Geddes.

            Police, Prisons and Prisoners3
provides an alternative perspective from my other chosen sources, the source
targets the treatment of the suffragettes from the point of view of the Home
Office, unlike my other sources which are based upon the experiences of the
suffragettes themselves (A History of Force Feeding) and the perception of the
public (Culpable Complicity) including witness accounts of the police and
prison officials. The source outlines two major issues faced by the Home Office
for the five years that hunger strikes took place; firstly, the policing of
suffragettes, and secondly the methods of dealing with the suffragettes once
they had successfully been imprisoned. The source argues that ‘the trouble was
dealt with in a very satisfactory manner’ as proposed by a superior officer
after ten suffragettes were arrested following a protest. Methods of policing
such as supressing the WSPU’s newspaper in May 1913 are discussed to develop
the idea of a number of preventative and precautionary measures taken by the
Home Office in order to limit the violent confrontations between the police and
WSPU activists. Although some policing efforts, including the suppression of
the newspaper failed as the paper was still printed as usual. Unlike both
‘Culpable Complicity’ and ‘A history of force feeding’ this source identifies the
compromise made by the Home Office, known as the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act passed on
the 2 April. The source continues to justify the use of the Cat and Mouse act
in order to prevent the force feeding of the women, noting that at first the
police made ‘no serious attempts to recapture many of the ‘mice”, (pg 501)
however by 1914 inconsistency of its use led to dangerous women such as
Emmeline Pankhurst, who had already been repeatedly recaptured, not to be
released again. Rather than focussing on the usual question proposed by
scholars of ‘Did militancy achieve votes for women?’ the source offers an
argument from an alternative perspective regarding whether the government could
have been successful at policing the WSPU, using appropriate policing methods.

is written by a feminist historian, she attempts to balance out the gendered
‘masculinist’ approach of the writings of the suffragette pasts, by offering
alternative perspectives on frequently preconceived ideas by offering an
insightful interpretation of public and private debates of the time. The source
offers a critical insight of the historic events of the time from an involved female’s
perspective, unlike male suffrage historians who tend to approach the topic
from an ‘unconscious anti-feminism approach’ as argued by Purvis. However, due
to the feminist approach to the topic, it is likely that throughout all
aspects, the suffragettes are depicted as the victims and their treatment in
prisons may be exaggerated somewhat in order to build her argument. However,
the use of this source alongside work from other historians would provide
beneficial evidence and alternative perspectives regarding the way that women
suffragettes gained the vote, and the experiences they encountered in order to
achieve it.

            My Own Story5
includes transcripts of the words of Mrs Pankhurst from her own defence court.
The use of her own words enables the reader to interpret the source
individually, however it is undeniably clear to all readers, that the
enforcement of men’s ‘double standards’ in society led to the suffragettes
being treated as second class citizens, as they criticised the fighting of
women for the democratic rights dominated by men at the time. In this way the
source is similar to that of Miller who also applied social factors in order to
develop his debate. The source outlines the arguments proposed by suffragettes
at the time through the words of Emmeline Pankhurst, in order to justify their
violent actions as no different to their male counterparts as stated ‘Window
breaking, when Englishmen do it, is regarded as honest expression of political
opinion. Window breaking, when Englishwomen do it, is treated as a crime.’ The
source emphasises the driving motive behind the campaign of the suffragettes to
not only be for the parliamentary vote, but a ‘Women’s revolution’ that would
transform gender roles, providing equality for the whole society. In this way
this source promotes the idea of a broader motive behind the campaign, however
‘Dreamers of a New Day’ offers a narrower perspective which disregards the
application of social factors. The source offers a vital insight into the study
of women’s suffrage, however being from a suffragette’s point of view, there is
likely to be bias against the Home Office, and possible exaggerations of their
actions in order to provoke public support for the suffragettes, and women on
the whole as the victims of a male dominated society.

            Despite Dreamers of a New Day6
being published in 2010, the book appears to continue to promote outdated stereotypes
that make the suffrage campaign come across as narrower minded than it was
previously thought to be therefore juxtaposes and disregards the argument put
forward by ‘Emmeline Pankhurst My Own Story’. Current and modern
interpretations of the suffrage campaign perceive it as a rounded reformative
movement with gender equality as the main goal, with the vote for women being
the first step towards the desired equality. 
However, in this source the idea of gaining the vote alone is
overwhelmingly and disproportionately focused upon, suggesting new modern ideas
have been disregarded and the concept of gender equality was not the driving
motive, as other historians suggest. The source reflects a minimalistic
reference to Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, while focussing on Sylvia an
exceeding amount, making reference to her socialist-feminist perspectives,
reflecting bias and suggesting an unbalanced account, as manipulation and the
omission of key aspects limits the reliability of the source.

            Overall, we can see that the topic
of The Suffragettes has been approached from multiple perspectives, with
historians covering the topic from as early as … until more recently in 2016
they all demonstrate different approaches and regard different aspects of the
history to be the most important factor. It is for this reason that multiple
sources are required when studying historic events through the use of scholarly
work in order to provide a rounded and balanced account of events. The accounts
of Geddes, Crawford and Pankhurst provide the most interesting of comparisons
as the different perspectives of the general public, the Home Office and the
Suffragettes themselves, can be directly compared to offer a broad
understanding of the controversies faced at the time.