British Icons and Catholic perfidy - Anglo-Saxon historiography and the battle for Crimean war nursing

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Taking as its starting point Carr's view that historical narrative reflects the preoccupations of the time in which it is written and Foucault's concept of consensual historical discourse as the outcome of a social struggle in which the victor suppresses or at least diminishes contrary versions of historical events in favour of their own, this paper traces and discusses the historical narrative of British nursing in the Crimean war and, in particular, three competing narratives that have arisen in the latter half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st. These are the established narrative surrounding Florence Nightingale, the new narrative surrounding Mary Seacole and an Irish narrative surrounding the role of the Sisters of Mercy. It is argued that the increased vehemence of the debate surrounding these narratives is representative of the changes that have taken place in British society. However, we also argue that the Irish narrative and its critique are reflective of deep-rooted Anglo-Protestant attitudes articulated by Nightingale and uncritically accepted by subsequent historians even in modern British historiography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-51
Number of pages10
JournalNursing Inquiry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2016


  • Historical research
  • Nightingale


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