• Date and time: Thursday 6 June 2019, 6.30pm to 8.50pm
  • Location: Piazza Building, Campus East, University of York (Map)
  • Audience: Open to the public
  • Admission: Free admission, booking required

Event details

What can history tell us about ideas of masculinity? From 18th-century personal grooming, the rise of military memoirs and the history of the three piece suit, to soldiers on the Berlin Wall and gangsters in Glasgow, hear the ideas of five New Generation Thinkers.

The five historians are part of the BBC Radio 3/AHRC New Generation Thinkers scheme – a project which works with academics at the start of their career to share their research with a wider audience.  

Come along and join in the discussion with our five dynamic speakers, Emma Butcher, Alistair Fraser, Sarah Goldsmith, Tom Smith and Alun Withey. 

The evening is hosted by Sophie Coulombeau and will be broadcast as The Essay on BBC Radio 3 the week commencing 17 June, as well as being available as a BBC Arts & Ideas podcast.

This event is supported by Dr Richard Shephard.


Emma Butcher

Sword to Pen, Redcoat and Writer, the Rise of the Military Memoir

The Napoleonic Wars like all wars had their celebrities; chief among them, Wellington and Napoleon, whose petty rivalry and military bravado ensured their status as household names long after Waterloo. 

But these wars also saw the rise of a new genre of personal and sentimental war literature which took the public by storm. The writers were foot soldiers rather than officers, infantrymen like the Reverend George Gleig and John Malcolm. Both fought in some of the most decisive battles on the Continent but it is their written accounts of their daily lives, of the true nature of war, its personal costs and the terrors endured, which ensured their best-selling status.

This is the story of the rise and rise of the military memoir, with foot soldier as hero, and the way his war stories were lapped up with horrified glee by the armchair readers back home, transforming the image of soldiering.   

About the speaker

Dr Emma Butcher is a Leverhulme Early Career Researcher at the University of Leicester. She is currently writing her second book, Children in the Age of Modern War, has written for the BBC History Magazine and has made Radio 3 programmes on the Brontës, child soldiers, and children in art.  

Alistair Fraser

The Hard Man in the Call-Centre

The image of the hard man runs like an electric current through Glasgow's history.  Unafraid, unabashed, with outlaw swagger, he stalks the pages of countless crime novels and TV dramas. The unpredictable tough guy, schooled in both fist and knife, a symbol of the city's industrial past. 

But what does being a hard man mean in the Glasgow of today, now call-centre capital of Europe? And what lessons can be drawn from his changing fates and fortunes to understand masculinity and violence elsewhere?

About the speaker

Alistair Fraser is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow. He has spent the last 15 years studying youth gangs and street culture around the world, and is author of two academic books, Urban Legends: Gang Identity in the Post-Industrial City  (2015, Oxford University Press), and Gangs & Crime: Critical Alternatives (2017, Sage). He makes regular contributions to public debate on gangs and youth violence, and has appeared on BBC Radio 3 and 4 on Thinking Allowed, More or Less, and Free Thinking.

Sarah Goldsmith

‘Bedford, do you call this thing a coat?' The History of the Three-piece Suit

Riddle me this: does the tailor make the man, or the man his tailor? Dr Who's bow ties, England football coach Gareth Southgate's pitch-side waistcoats and 007's exquisite collection of Tom Ford suits all make one thing clear: sweatpants are out and the formal man's suit, along with its tailor, has triumphantly returned.

From the colourful flamboyances of the 18th century to the dandy dictates of Beau Brummell and into the inky black 'Great Renunciation' of the 19th century, join Sarah Goldsmith for a whirlwind tour of the origins of the most ubiquitous, enduring item of male sartorial fashion and the 'second skin' of the male body, the three-piece suit.

About the speaker

Dr Sarah Goldsmith is a historian of masculinity, the body and travel. She is a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Leicester, an AHRC/BBC 2018 New Generation Thinker and a life-long rugby fan. Her first book, Masculinity and Danger on the Eighteenth-Century Grand Tour, is being published in 2019.

Tom Smith

Comrades in Arms

Brutality along the Berlin Wall, monumental Soviet-style parades, rows of saluting soldiers: these are the familiar images of the East German military. Army training promoted toughness, endurance and self-control and forced its soldiers into itchy, shapeless uniforms.

Delve deeper, though, and you find countless examples of the army’s fascination with homosexuality. Even more unexpectedly, gay and bisexual soldiers found ways of expressing desires and intimacy. LGBT people have long faced discrimination and violence in arenas aimed at the promotion of traditional masculinity, but look closely and we discover that queerness has not always been as marginalised as we’d think. Today, cross-dressing and even homosexual acts are still used to bolster sports and military training, so what can East Germany teach us about masculinity in the 21st century?

About the speaker

Dr Tom Smith is Lecturer in German at the University of St Andrews researching gender and sexuality in German culture. He has published on sexuality and masculinity in literature, film and television since the 1960s. His book on masculinity in the East German army is out in 2020. His current project explores the emotional worlds of Berlin’s music scene today. Although you’ll mostly find him north of the border these days, Tom is a North Yorkshire native and looking forward to returning to York for the Festival.

Alun Withey

The Well-groomed Georgian 

In the 18th century to be clean shaven was the mark of a gentleman, beard-wearing marked out the rough rustic. For the first time, men were beginning to shave themselves instead of visiting the barber, and a whole new market emerged to cater for rising demand in all sorts of shaving products, soaps, pastes and powders .

But the way these were promoted suggests there was confusion over exactly what the ideal man should be. On the one hand, razor makers appealed to masculine characteristics like hardness, control and temper in their advertisements, while perfumers and other manufacturers of shaving soaps, stressed softness, ease and luxury. 

Join Alun Withey and enter the world of Georgian personal grooming to discover the 18th century's inner man. 

About the speaker

Dr Alun Withey lectures in the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter and is a Wellcome Research Fellow.  He has edited an essay collection on the history of facial hair (published by Palgrave), curated a photographic exhibition of Victorian beards in the Florence Nightingale Museum in London and has written for BBC History Magazine and History Today.  He blogs at dralun.wordpress.com

About the host

The event is hosted by Dr Sophie Coulombeau,an academic, novelist and New Generation Thinker. She did a PhD in English Literature at the University of York, and is currently a lecturer at Cardiff University.   Her first novel was called Rites and she is now working on another set in 1790s London.  She has written for the Guardian, The Independent and appeared in the Hidden Histories podcast series from the New Statesman discussing women writers before Jane Austen.

New Generation Thinkers

New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)  to select ten academics each year who can turn their research into radio programmes.  The scheme has been running since 2011 and has led to many documentaries, Essays, Free Thinking discussions and broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, 4 and the World Service.


Venue details

  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Hearing loop