Illustrating History with Piktochart and Pinterest

Pinterest is a great resource for capturing, organising, and sharing visual information and related links to websites, blogs, and online databases. It contains countless arts and crafts ideas, recipes for making gorgeous food, kids party ideas, beautiful wedding dresses, and images of home decor to aspire to. Online retailers and bloggers embrace Pinterest and incorporate the “Pin” button into their posts, encouraging their visitors to share what they’ve found to Pinterest’s ever-growing collection in the hopes of reaching new audiences and selling more products. And it’s easy to use.

Pinterest has another important (but seriously underused) function: it allows historians and teachers to share visually appealing images — specifically infographics, but also digitised photographs and historical sources — and provide brief text captions to share with countless others via Pinterest’s platform.

My Quick Intro to Pinterest: In Pinterest, everyone has their own page (like a home page) with their own boards (picture virtual bulletin boards, each with a theme you’ve chosen). You can search for specific items using the search bar or scroll through Pinterest’s suggestions that are tailored to every user’s stated interests and recent pins. Pins are images that have a web link attached and usually some accompanying text, either an explanation of the pin, or a comment on the pin. Pinning is the act of adding a pin to one of your boards. Once someone has added a pin to Pinterest, others are then able to click on it to enlarge it, “Like it” by clicking the heart symbol, “Pin it” to one of their own boards, or share it with others in or outside of Pinterest. You are also able to see other people’s boards, including friends from other social media sites, but everyone also has the ability to make some or all of their boards “private.”

Lots of us take photographs in the process of our work, such as of a new source or information, a library, our surroundings, a statue or monument, a plaque, or a historical site or building. We can also scan and share print sources (provided that you have the right to copy or digitise the item), images of books we’re reading, and even document an entire research trip in photographs. Add the ease of taking digital photographs now that so many of us have cameras on our phones and there’s no reason to snap a picture here and there in our work.

Like Instagram, Pinterest makes it easy to upload and share images, but Pinterest connects these images to explanatory text and commentary, allows for and encourages the pinning of infographics, and includes a vital link to a website for more information.

An infographic is a visual representation of information. We see them all the time, such as in charts, graphs, and some posters. They work particularly well for data that includes numbers, such as statistics, dates, and quantities. And that’s where Piktochart comes in. Piktochart is a website that allows users to use and modify various templates (or design their own from scratch) to present information in an interesting and visually-pleasing manner. It’s free to use if you don’t mind there being a watermark at the bottom of the finished product. It’s also fairly user-friendly if you take some time to walk through the tutorials and work from one of their templates.

The big question is, how can we as historians harness Pinterest, Piktochart, and the infographic?

We can use it to share our research, inform others, and grow interest and awareness.

To start, try searching Pinterest using broad search terms such as “history”, “British history”, “slavery”, etc. to see what’s already out there. Not on Pinterest? Google “history infographics” and you’ll be amazed and inspired.

By searching for “slavery” on Pinterest, for example, I found some excellent infographics drawing attention to the shockingly high rates of modern slavery around the world and some interesting timelines of the abolition of new world slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, which I pinned onto one of my boards. Each pin has an accompanying website for more information, some of which I wouldn’t have come across otherwise, and therefore the pin acted as a promotion of someone’s research or site. Then I started thinking about what information I would want to share, and of those ideas which I might be able to represent graphically. I knew that I wanted to share some of the stats from Isles Abroad’s first month, so I chose a template from Piktochart and in the space of about an hour (from signing up to downloading the finishing product), came up with the following infographic:

isles-abroad-feb-2016 (1)

Now that it’s online, anyone can share it to Pinterest and, if any Pinterest users are interested enough to click on the link, it will direct them back here. In the near future I want to develop an infographic showing a timeline of the slavery debates, so over the next while I’ll be jotting down dates and notes with an infographic and corresponding blog post in mind. But the data on an infographic can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Just remember to think about 1) what you want to share, 2) who you want to see it, 3) why you want to use an infographic, and 4) what do you want people to get out of it.

On the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising


Dublin’s GPO – photo credit: L. Flewelling

One hundred years ago on Easter Monday, Irish republicans mainly made up of members of the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, and Cumann na mBan rose up in rebellion, seizing several strategic locations throughout Dublin (as well as rising up in other parts of Ireland).  At their headquarters at the General Post Office, the Irish republican flag was raised and Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of the Republic.

… Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory. …

On this 100th anniversary, so many dimensions of the Easter Rising have been explored.  As we’re a blog focused on global history, it is worth remembering that this was an uprising with global dimensions, supported by the Irish diaspora.  And after the Easter Rising, with the British government swiftly carrying out the executions of the rebellion’s leaders, huge numbers of Irish abroad flocked to join or support revolutionary nationalism in Ireland.  The Easter Rising sparked real vitality in the Irish-American community that hadn’t been seen since the days of Charles Stewart Parnell.  Some 800,000 Irish-Americans joined nationalist organizations and over $10 million was raised in support of Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army.

Postcard from Arbroath Abbey, founded in 1178 and famed for the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath


Arbroath Abbey – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Arbroath Abbey was founded by King William the Lion in 1178, and was home to monks until the Scottish Reformation.  At that point, the abbey fell into a state of disrepair, and there are only a few areas that you can actually go “inside” today.


Arbroath Abbey – photo credit: L. Flewelling

The Declaration of Arbroath, issued in 1320, was a letter to Pope John XXII asserting the independence of Scotland.  It seems apt to quote its most famous passage:

As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

We visited there on a sunny January day as part of a larger postgraduate trip, which was truly wonderful.


Arbroath Abbey – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Historic Scotland: Arbroath Abbey

National Archives of Scotland: Declaration of Arbroath

Britain and Hawaii: An Overview


Kamehameha I in Honolulu – photo credit: L. Flewelling

It is possible that Captain James Cook was not the first European to land in Hawaii, but his voyage in 1778 was the first to spark sustained contact between Hawaii and Europeans.  Cook set sail on his third voyage, leaving from Plymouth, on 12 July 1776 on the Resolution and the Discovery.  He sailed around Africa, to Tasmania, the Cook Islands, and then to Tahiti.  On 18 January 1778 he sighted O’ahu and Kaua’i. Cook named the islands after the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, then the First Lord of the Admiralty.

His first stop was Waimea, Kaua’i, where the British traded nails and iron for pigs, yams, sweet potatoes, bananas and taro.  From there, the ships sailed for nearby Ni’ihau, before continuing on to explore the northwest coast of North America.  Late in the fall, Cook returned to Hawaii, charting the coasts of Maui and the big island of Hawaii.  Resolution and Discovery anchored at Kealakekua Bay on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, where Cook was eventually killed in a skirmish with the Hawaiians on 14 February 1779.

When Europeans first landed, around 300,000 Hawaiians lived under competing political units.  From 1782 to 1810, Kamehameha I rose to power and consolidated his control over each of the islands.  Kamehameha utilized western firearms and the presence of Europeans to help strengthen his position.  Captain George Vancouver, who was a lieutenant under Cook during his third voyage, was sent back to the Pacific in 1791, visiting Hawaii three times between 1792 and 1794.  He made a survey of the Hawaiian Islands and wintered in O’ahu, bringing cattle, sheep, goats, and geese as gifts.  He fitted out Kamehameha’s canoes with sails and gifted him a Union Jack, and he spoke out against the trade in firearms that he observed.  Trade had been quickly initiated, with British, French, and Spanish fur traders and adventurers increasingly adopting Hawaii as a place to winter.  Gradually sandalwood became the primary trade commodity, the economy increasingly relied on trade, and disease killed large numbers of Hawaiians.

With the growing importance of trade, Britain, the United States, and Russia each established strong presence in Hawaii.  The first missionaries arrived from Boston in 1819, which would eventually have an enormous impact on the course of future events.  For the moment, Britain was looked upon as a favorable foreign influence, and Kamehameha II set off from Honolulu on a British whaler in November 1823 to visit London.  He arrived in Britain in May 1824, was introduced to British high society, and was set to meet King George IV in June when he and most of the members of his party were struck with the measles.  Kamehameha II died in London on 14 July 1824.

Due to the importance of trade with Hawaii and the booming business community, both the British and Americans established consulates.  In 1842, the outgoing British consul, Richard Charlton, claimed that British subjects in Hawaii were being denied their legal rights.  Lord George Paulet, captain of the Carysfort, was sent to Honolulu to investigate.  An American, Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, had been appointed as an emissary by Kamehameha III, which apparently enraged Paulet.  After several days of deliberations, Kamehameha yielded to Paulet, the Hawaiian flag was lowered on 25 February 1843, and Paulet declared himself in charge of a new government of Hawaii.  The Union Jack was raised over Honolulu.

Foreshadowing future dealings between Hawaii and the Americans, the British government did not support Paulet’s move.  Rear Admiral Richard Thomas arrived on the Dublin five months later, and reassured Kamehameha III that independence would be restored.  Britain and France formally recognized Hawaiian independence with a joint declaration on 28 November 1843, with the United States officially recognizing Hawaii as a nation later on.

The close relationship between Britain and Hawaii in this period is reflected in the Hawaiian flag, which features the Union Jack in the upper left corner along with red, white, and blue stripes symbolizing Hawaii’s eight main islands.


Maui – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Resource Digitization: The Blogs

We all benefit from the efforts of libraries, archives, museum, and government bodies to organise, catalogue, and digitise documents and collections, but it can be very hard to keep up with what’s online! A collection you searched for which you were disappointed to find as only available on microform through inter-library loan only a few months ago might now be accessible from your living room. In this era of digitisation, what’s the best way to keep on top of what sources are coming online?

Following the blogs of libraries and archives that hold the types of material and specific collections you are typically interested in, especially those with government funding who are more likely to be able to devote people, money, and resources necessary to digitise and host online collections, is a great way to start.

For example, while I was conducting some genealogical research, I found evidence that a land petition of my 6x great-grandfather, a United Empire Loyalist, was in the Haldimand Papers. I prefer working with full-text primary sources rather than printed summaries or indexes, but the original papers were in the British Library and microfilm copies were available in Canada but nowhere near where I was living. I took note of how to find them and stored that away for another day. A few months later Library and Archives Canada blogged about their latest digitisation efforts and amazingly the Haldimand Papers was on the list! And that’s when I realised that these blogs can valuable tools for furthering one’s research.

It seems that most university libraries nowadays have one or more blogs, so why not Google your favourite library + blog and see what’s on offer. To get you started, here’s a list of some great blogs from libraries and archives that reflect upon the digitisation of resources and material of interest to historians of British and Irish global history. Feel free to let us know your favourites in the comments below!


Postcard from the Rest and Be Thankful pass, the A83, Scotland


View from Rest and Be Thankful, Scotland. Photo credit: Paula Dumas

The words ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ were inscribed on a rock placed hereby soldiers along the original military road on this route around 1750. The original rock fell apart and was replaced with a commemorative stone. You’ll come across this pass by following the A83 west from Tarbet, a town on the western edge of Loch Lomond.


View from Rest and Be Thankful as fog rolls into the valley. Photo credit: Paula Dumas


Reflections on Transnational History, Part 1: Irish Unionists and the Role of America

“Despite the role played by the diaspora in shaping Irish nationalism, historians of Irish nationalism – even those who warn against the evils of ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘geographical solipsism’ – generally adopt the nation-state as their primary unit of historical analysis,” writes Fearghal McGarry.  “Similarly, studies of diasporic Irish nationalism usually overlook the impact of the phenomenon on Ireland.”

While there are many studies on the development of Irish-American nationalism, they do remain fairly separate from the general historical narrative of Ireland (with some notable exceptions).  Enda Delaney describes the development of two separate fields of historiography, “one covering the ‘homeland,’ or domestic history, the other concerned with the ‘diaspora,’ or migrant communities, and only rarely do these historiographies collide.”  The diaspora is generally subsumed into migration studies, examining the role of the migrant group in their host society, while there has been less work done on how the diaspora impacted Ireland beyond the sheer volume of emigrants.

How do we as historians examine the connections, exchanges, and circulations of Ireland, migrants, their host societies, and the wider world throughout history, along with the more traditional histories of Ireland?  I’ve recently been thinking a lot more about the ideas behind transnational history.  I do feel that looking at history through a transnational lens is a natural path to follow given the interconnections in our world today.  Transnational history may be without a clear definition, but as Akira Iriye and Pierre-Yves Saunier write in the introduction to The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History, it is about addressing “the entangled condition of the modern world,” a condition that clearly is not wholly new or unique (though still we must guard against reading back present-minded views of globalization onto history).

While we can see links and flows of people, ideas, products, processes, and patterns across the world (as described by Iriye and Saunier) throughout history, we have to find a balance for how much these were important as compared to local, regional, national, or other processes.  How do we get closest to discovering what was most important to people in the past and what their lives actually encompassed?

America has a significant place in the study of transnational history, earning its own entry in the Palgrave Dictionary (interesting in itself because one of the main tenets of transnational history is to undermine exceptionalism).   Martin Klimke writes, “The extraordinary transnational appeal of America is one of its most outstanding historical characteristics.  The attraction of the ideas of self-government, freedom of religion, and the embrace of universal democratic principles as the nation’s foundation transformed the United States of America into a global reference point, both negative and positive, for a plethora of desires, debates and developments.”

Klimke continues, “Since national or local cultures are generally constructed through binaries and created through imagined differences between oneself and the ‘other,’ disputes about American influence often reach to the core of identity debates in various parts of the world.  In them, America often serves as a projection with which to identify or from which to separate and distance.”  Thus the image/products/institutions of America have been used both negatively and positively throughout the world to compare the position of one’s own nation/political movement/culture etc.

And I’ve found that Irish unionists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did both – they depicted Irish nationalists as too closely controlled by their American financiers and as a foreign movement that was unwanted by the Irish people.  But unionists also depicted an America with positive connotations – celebrating their Scotch-Irish heritage and the ideals of the American Revolution.

I would not want to overstate the American role in Ireland – but the unionists themselves clearly attached significance to the American influence.  They certainly did not read the diaspora in America as separate from the Irish nationalists in Ireland.

One key contribution of a transnational approach is in emphasizing the idea of circulation.  Isabel Hofmeyr writes, “The key claim of any transnational approach is its central concern with movements, flows, and circulation, not simply as a theme or motif but as an analytic set of methods which defines the endeavor itself.”

With this idea of circulation in mind, it is clear that it wasn’t just that America imposed its presence on the Irish question.  It was that the unionists took the idea of America and shaped it to their own purposes.  They overstated the American influence in the Irish nationalist movement because it helped them to further their movement.

The Irish diaspora in America was influenced by both Ireland and the host society; in turn the diaspora impacted both Ireland and the United States.  Our challenge is figuring out how to accurately capture these transnational processes in a way that is comprehensible, does not create false generalizations, and keeps local contexts and individual experiences in view.

Suggested Reading:

Bayly, C.A., Sven Beckert, Matthew Connelly, Isabel Hofmeyr, Wendy Kozol, and Patricia Seed. “Conversation: On Transnational History,” American Historical Review 111, no. 5 (2006).

Delaney, Enda. “Our Island Story? Towards a Transnational History of Late Modern Ireland,” Irish Historical Studies xxxvii, no. 148 (2011).

Iriye, Akira, and Pierre-Yves Saunier, eds. The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History: From the Mid-19th Century to the Present Day. Houndmills: Basingstoke, 2009.

McGarry, Fearghal. “‘A Land Beyond the Wave:’ Transnational Perspectives on Easter 1916.” In Transnational Perspectives on Modern Irish History, ed. Niall Whelehan. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Using Twitter for Research

Two weeks ago I wrote about learning to use Twitter as a tool for research from my own Twitter handle, @HistoryByPaula. I began by seeking out a few slavery historians whose work I’ve read to see the types of information they share on Twitter. Then the ‘Who To Follow’ suggestions along the left-hand column of my page began suggesting other slavery historians whom I might want to follow. Slavery historians often included information about their institutions, organisations, and/or blogs in their short bio, leading me to even more Twitter accounts.

Nowadays my homepage is filled with new information and updates relating to British and American slavery, anti-slavery activities, new and forthcoming publications, conferences, and commentary on race and slavery in the news. I’ve also come across links to great resources. Here are a few that stood out me:

Slavery Footprint’s How Many Slaves Work for You?

This website, run by Made In A Free World, combines information on the frequency of slave labour use in various supply chains with your responses to their quiz to estimate how many slaves have worked for you. It then asks you to take action and provides a simple way to contact specific companies. Follow them @madeinafreewrld

Slate’s The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

This beautifully simple map records over 20,000 journeys made by over 12.5 million Africans. It draws on the work and findings of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. The size of the dot used to represent each voyage reflects how many enslaved persons were on the ship. The map also has a handy chart superimposed on top of it showing the numbers of slaves transported and to where they were sent. Follow them @Slate

The Slave Dwelling Project

Founded by Joseph McGill, the Slave Dwelling Project is a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving slave dwellings in the United States. They work with communities, property owners, and government agencies to help preserve buildings and educate communities about the history of these properties. Perhaps their most innovative idea for spreading awareness are their Overnight Stays. Follow them @slavedwelling

The History of Parliament: Research

This database contains over 21,000 fully-cited articles on British MPs. For anyone who has spent hours searching through the many volumes of Thorne and Fisher to find out about the professional (and sometimes personal) history of an MP, this is a fantastic resource AND a huge time saver. The authors are currently developing additional thematic resources that build on this wealth of information. Follow them @HistParl

One of the neatest things about websites and organisations having Twitter accounts is that they then participate in a wider dialogue and encourage greater interaction with their work. As such, these web resources no longer seem to be static, unchanging sources of information, but instead become open to interpretation, collaboration, and change.

Postcard from Dolbadarn Castle, Llanberis, Wales, the 13th century home of Llywelyn the Great

96 Dolbadarn Castle

Dolbadarn Castle – photo credit: L. Flewelling

After a day of climbing Mount Snowdon and touring the castles of Edward I, we broke through the trees and saw the charming remains of Dolbadarn Castle near Llanberis (we approached from the completely wrong side – it shouldn’t actually be that difficult to get to).  The castle was most likely built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (who I am particularly interested in for obvious reasons) in the 13th century and the remains are dominated by a 50 ft tall tower with the outlines of other rooms below.

Cadw: Dolbadarn Castle

Ireland and India: Source Round-Up

One area that I’ve seen come up more and more in the study of Irish history is the linking of Ireland to India.  This is an extremely rich realm of study, encompassing everything from the presence of the Irish in the Indian civil service to links between nationalist groups to literary and intellectual connections.

The Irish played an outsized role as soldiers and civil servants in India, serving the British Empire in the army, as doctors, engineers, lawyers, and administrators.  The Catholic and Presbyterian churches also sent missionaries from Ireland to India.  The Anglo-Irish in particular acted as part of the British elite in India, contributing to the ranks of viceroys and governors general – including Lord Canning, Lord Mayo, Lord Dufferin, and Lord Lansdowne.  Lord Macartney was the Governor of Madras; the Lawrence brothers were known for their prominent roles in the Punjab; Lord Cornwallis, Sir Charles Trevelyan, and Sir Antony MacDonnell each served in both Ireland and India.

India and Ireland engaged with each other through their respective nationalist movements, with Ireland acting as a successful example.  Daniel O’Connell helped to form the British India Society in 1839; Home Rule MP Frank Hugh O’Donnell promoted the cause of India; links were forged between Éamon de Valera, Sean T. O’Kelly, and Frank Aiken on the Irish side with Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Vithalbhai Patel from India.  The desire for cooperation amongst nationalists led to the formation of the Indian-Irish Independence League in 1932.

India and Ireland are linked through literary history (such as the work of Kipling, Yeats, and MacNeice), political activism on nationalism and suffrage (as evidenced by James and Margaret Cousins, and Margaret Noble), and anti-imperial activity.  Comparative history has also been a fruitful realm of research – everything from examining the British role in both countries, law and governance, the role of the press, political movements, communism, gender roles, mythmaking, and construction of national identity.

I’ve listed below some of the sources for this productive area of study – it is by no means exhaustive but definitely gives you an idea of all of the great scholarly work on Ireland and India.

  • Sikata Banerjee, Muscular Nationalism: Gender, Violence, and Empire in India and Ireland, 1914-2004 (New York: New York University Press, 2012).
  • Purnima Bose, Organizing Empire: Individualism, Collective Agency, and India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).
  • B. Cook, Imperial Affinities: Nineteenth Century Analogies and Exchanges between India and Ireland (New Delhi: Sage, 1993).
  • Ganesh Devi, “India and Ireland: Literary Relations,” in The Internationalism of Irish Literature and Drama, ed. Joseph McMinn (Savage, MD: Barnes & Noble, 1992).
  • Tadhg Foley and Maureen O’Connor, eds., Ireland and India: Colonies, Culture and Empire (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2006).
  • G. Fraser, “Ireland and India,” in ‘An Irish Empire’? Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire, ed. Keith Jeffery (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996).
  • Denis Holmes and Michael Holmes, eds., Ireland and India: Connections, Comparisons, Contrasts (Dublin: Folens, 1997).
  • Glenn Hooper and Colin Graham, eds. Irish and Postcolonial Writing: History, Theory, Practice (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).
  • Joseph Lennon, Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004).
  • Mansoor, The Story of Irish Orientalism (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, 1944).
  • Kaori Nagai, Empire of Analogies: Kipling, India and Ireland (Cork: Cork University Press, 2006).
  • Kate O’Malley, Ireland, India and Empire: Indo-Irish Radical Connections, 1919-1964 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008).
  • Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre, Cosmopolitan Nationalism in the Victorian Empire: Ireland, India and the Politics of Alfred Webb (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
  • Michael Silvestri, Ireland and India: Nationalism, Empire and Memory (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
  • Julia M. Wright, Ireland, India, and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).