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Press release

  • 11 February 2008

A passion for history inspires exhibition on courtship

Courting interest: Exhibition looks at love

A joint labour of love involving University of Sussex historians and Brighton Museum provided the inspiration for On The Pull, which opens at the museum on Valentine's Day (February 14).

Brighton's special place in the world of wooing - from George IV's 'pleasure palace' Pavilion to the city's 21st-century appeal as a romantic destination - was explored in a workshop last year by University historians and museum experts as part of a special collaboration.

University experts involved in the project included Senior Lecturer Claire Langhamer (meanings and significance of courtship, with particular reference to 20th-century England); Dorothy Sheridan (Head of Special Collections and Research Services, who presented Mass Observation Archive materials, including diaries and observations and questionnaires on the subjects of romance and sexual attitudes); Professor Alun Howkins (courtship in English traditional song, vows and tokens); Filippo Osella, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology (flirting in India) and Professor Carol Dyhouse (the body and glamour).

Their work helped to identify six research themes for future research.

  • Display: What is it humans and animals do to attract a mate?
  • Veiled courtship: Illicit romance examined through love letters and codes;
  • Venues and Space: the role of dance halls and secret meeting places;
  • Rules and Freedom: dancing, dirty weekends and moral attitudes;
  • Science: Pheromones, hormones, body language - what is the science behind attraction?
  • Scandal, intrigue and obsession: what happens when romance goes wrong
  • Cashing in on courtship: Love tokens, Valentine's Day, romantic fiction and plastic surgery - how romance became an industry

Six Brighton-based researchers were then commissioned by the museum to explore the themes further, drawing on the museum's varied collections. Their research, funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council's Designation Challenge Fund, inform the final displays for On The Pull. Highlights include: a display of so-called "vinegar Valentines" (insulting Valentine cards, once all the rage); a series of original songs by Brighton singer Al Start (inspired by local history and available on listening posts throughout the museum), and a lion's head from the natural history collection, demonstrating evolutionary developments in display and dominance in the animal world.

Notes for editors

On The Pull runs from 14 February 2008 - 31 August 2008 at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton BN1 1EE

For further information about the exhibition and related events, see

Opening times: Tuesday 10am-7pm, Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 2-5pm. Closed Monday (except Bank Holidays. Entrance free.)

For details of History at University of Sussex see: history

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