Posted by on November 4, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Whitechapel Road (circa 1890)

Firstly a brief introduction: My name is Charlotte Mallinson. I am a first year PhD student. I’m one of the ‘new kids’ as I only started my PhD 3 weeks ago. I didn’t take the most orthodox route into academia, in fact I didn’t even step into a university until I was 34 years old. Nevertheless, in 2011 I graduated with 1st class Hons in Heritage Studies and English Literature here at Huddersfield.  Inspired by both  my final dissertation, ‘Exploited Female Corporeal Communications  and Suicidal Tendencies in Selected Works of  Djuna Barnes’ and  a second year heritage  project I undertook, entitled, ‘ The  Present of  Past  People: A Case Study into the  Representations of Death with London’s Heritage  Industry’, my research interests became  quite narrowly focused  on to the ascribed  social, cultural and historic values and connotations applied to the cadaver, specifically the  female cadaver.  An amalgamation, which resulted in the completion of my History MA (also undertaken at the University of Huddersfield) and the production of its component dissertation, ‘Ripped Whores and Heritage Tours: Dehumanisation of the Whitechapel Murder Victims’. In this I essentially argue how since their murders in 1888, representations of the victims of the Whitechapel murderer has undergone a continuation of various processes of dehumanisation. Consequently, mentions of their lives, deaths and cadaveric state are only ever tenuously included in the narrative to permit the idolatry of their killer. Further still when the women are mentioned they and their deceased bodies are frequently subjected to scorn and overt ridicule. Arguably, it is these processes of depersonalisation which permit the lucrative industry that has emerged from their murders.    It is at this point I begin my PhD, which is still focusing on the history of the ‘Whitechapel Murders’.
For me one of the starkest elements revealed in my MA research was the high level o fheritage  tourism this internationally renown, period of late Victorian history, attracts to the tiny London suburb of Whitechapel. There are approximately 1000 tourists per night partaking in the various tours, which visit the sites where  the  most  famous (aka, the  canonical) victims,  namely  Mary Ann ( commonly  known as) Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine  Eddowes and  Mary  Kelly  were killed and mutilated.Yet, these sites are only minutes away from where today’s Whitechapel street sex workersnow offer their trade.  Furthermore,   the participants  on these tours  receive a very mixed welcome  from those  in the locality; local residents are often verbally  abusive towards the  them, whereas local  business owners (particularly the restaurateurs) welcome  them all  with  open arms.  Consequently, I am aiming to compile  a thesis  which is a product of ‘shared authority’,   as  I  have proposed  that I will  to be  working  with   a  number  of   Whitechapel based  resident associations and  sex worker support groups  to compile an array of  oral histories.
These will  be takenfrom local residents and those associated with the area and are  to include histories which will be taken from contemporary street, sex workers.  In the interviews I will want to learn (amongst other things) about ‘Whitechapel life’ 125 years after the murders, what the individuals  feel  about the  tourist legacy, which  the murders have left  and  how interviewees  feel ‘ their’  local history  has shaped  their  identities from  both ‘insider’  and ‘outsider’ perspectives.   Hopefully  from these interviews I  will then  be able  to examine  how living  under the  ‘umbrella’  of a negative  internationally  renownmetahistory  impacts on local identities, which is  essentially  the  crux  of my  research.
If any of you would like to know about my research, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Mary Ann Nichols, the first Whitechapel victim

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  1. Nina Kane says:

    This is absolutely fascinating research Charlotte. Looking forward to hearing more as it progresses.

  2. Emma Levitt says:

    This project sounds unique, bold and is certainly pushing the boundaries of historical research. I think more projects should be interdisciplinary in there approach. It is evident that you cross over into sociology, psychology, criminology and feminist studies. Historians I think should use all forms of evidence to examine, interpret, revisit, and reinterpret the past. Even as a medievalist myself I think projects should include not just written documents but oral communication, photographs, artefacts and even dress. I would love to hear some of these interviews that you conduct!

  3. Liz Pente says:

    I think it is interesting that a heritage industry that attracts thousands of tourists a year does so with a narrative that excludes a history of the victims. It is appalling that dehumanizing the women involved allows the killer to maintain his idol status. I think your research highlights a need to tell the stories of the victims lives, not just their deaths. It is also great you are going to use oral histories of current sex workers to connect the past with present – I love interdisciplinary approaches! I look forward to hearing more about this.

  4. Maggie Bullett says:

    Sounds like you have embarked on what will be, in many different ways, a fascinating and important project, Charlotte.

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