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Heroes of Peace:The Royal Humane Society and the Award of Medals in Britain,1774-1914

Barclay, Craig P (2009) Heroes of Peace:The Royal Humane Society and the Award of Medals in Britain,1774-1914. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

The Royal Humane Society was founded in 1774 as Britain’s first primary aid organisation. In addition to researching and disseminating information on the treatment of the apparently dead, it took practical steps both to prevent accidents and to reward individuals who saved others from drowning or asphyxiation. The Society and its work were widely admired and imitated both within the United Kingdom and overseas, whilst the medal which it established in 1775 to reward such deeds became the first British bravery medal to be widely distributed to both men and women of all social classes and also served as a model both for other societies and the Crown. Unlike continental countries such as France, Britain had been slow to adopt the medal as a means of rewarding and encouraging bravery. Official interest in the use of medals to encourage loyalty to the Crown and to reward valour was prompted by the army’s experiences in the Crimea, whilst the extension of such rewards to cover deeds of civil bravery was in part driven by public demand, although control of the distribution of these rewards remained firmly in the hands of middle and upper-class men, who imposed their own value systems on the deeds which they reviewed. An analysis of both official and unofficial rewards shows that working class, female and non-white rescuers were under-represented. The tales of working class medallists were however of particular interest to the writers of improving tracts, who fashioned ‘exemplary lives’ around the bones of the stories of honoured workers. This in turn led to the creation of a new breed of working-class heroes, whose stories were widely distributed with the intention of providing acceptable role models for the labouring classes. This represented a radical departure from previous models of heroism, which had been sharply focussed on leaders and warriors drawn from the echelons of the ruling elite. Until the outbreak of the Great War, the majority of bravery medals awarded each year were given by private societies in recognition of civilian bravery. This dominance ended in 1914, when conscription and wholesale slaughter altered forever the popular perception of courage.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Courage Heroism Exemplarity Race Gender Class Medal Empire
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Depositing User: Mr Craig P Barclay
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2011 15:48
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:46
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/1493

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