Tag Archives: public history

CFP- Placeless memories: digital constructions of memory and identity

The Institute of the Public Understanding of Past, based at the University of York, has issued a call for papers for a fascinating event looking at the nature of memory and identity construction online and in digital formats, and explore issues concerning the use of these digital memories as a resource for scholars.

The call for papers can be downloaded here: Placeless memories_call for papers

But there is also a website that can be found here: https://placelessmemories.wordpress.com/

“Our history teachers readied us for this dumb sh*t”: public history and the political present

This blog has been reposted with the permission of the author, Dr Alix Green. The original post can be found here.

If ever we need historians, it’s now.

Niall Ferguson has recently urged the President to convene a Council of Historians for the ‘United States of Amnesia’. It seems unlikely that Trump would be interested in understanding the past – ever the assertive businessman, he insisted on Twitter he calls his own shots – or that any historical perspective would survive the ‘alternative facts’ treatment.

Historians may find the current political climate frankly pretty scary. In November, three judges ruled that the British Prime Minister needed Parliament’s support to begin the process of leaving the EU – and were duly accused of being ‘enemies of the people’ on the Daily Mail front page. The historical alarm bells were deafening.

On the other hand, the ignorance of and hostility to history around at the moment can be a galvanising force. The social historian George Gosling (@gcgosling) posted the photo below of a protest placard in Birmingham. As someone interested in the potential of public history as activism, this was an encouraging moment in the midst of widely felt distress and anger.

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‘Our history teachers readied us for this dumb sh*t’. @J_C_Graney_Art‘s placard at protest against US travel ban, Birmingham. Via @gcgosling

So, for me, finding the ‘public’ in public history is no longer just intellectually interesting but politically pressing. What I mean is that public history can’t just be popular history. It has to also be about giving people – the public – historical resources to think with. History with public purpose if you like.

The idea that history was key to sound political judgement – that history and politics belong to one another – is as old as the discipline itself. But historians in the UK have only really been engaging seriously with policymakers in the last ten years or so, led by the efforts of History and Policy. Public history, however, has never really claimed this territory as its own, wary perhaps of ceding the more politically conducive ground of history-from-below informed collaborative projects with local institutions and community heritage groups.

We don’t have the luxury of that choice any more. My latest post for the international blog-journal Public History Weekly  makes the case:

In a world in which the “voice of the people” is being celebrated by populist politicians in defence of often xenophobic nativist agendas, we need to revisit what the “public” in “public history” means. While popular engagement with the past may always provide orientation for the field, a truly public history must also be concerned with the political present. If we don’t give people access to intellectual resources of our discipline, we cannot then lament the use and abuse of history in public debate. Let’s unpick our terms.

Read on here: Keywording the Field: From Popular to Public History? – Public History Weekly

 

Author: Alix Green, IHR Public History Seminar Convenor & Lecturer at University of Essex

Public History and the British Extreme Right Seminar Report

How much do you know about or understand the politics, history and the beliefs of the extreme right in Britain? Is it important to know more and what social responsibilities would go hand in hand with this type of knowledge?

These were questions I asked myself as we welcome Dr Paul Jackson, the most recent speaker at the IHR Public History Seminar. Dr Jackson works on post-war neo-Nazi and other extreme right ideologies and cultures in Britain and his most recent book, Colin Jordan and Britain’s Neo-Nazi Movement, examines the life, work and networks of a notorious British post-war fascist. For the seminar Jackson was exploring what it meant to be a historian of the extreme right, asking if it was possible to be objective and how historians could engage with the nature of these ideologies.

Jackson has written for and worked with the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, but he did not feel this meant his work was overtly ‘anti-fascist’ in its objective. The magazine holds an extensive archive of fascist and far-right material and has been a fruitful source for research and collaboration without bringing a political agenda to Jackson’s work. (Our next seminar looks at this archive). In addition, his work has even received some favourable reviews in far-right circles, though not always kind about Jackson himself, they agreed with large parts of his research. Though this in itself presents different challenges, something that became even more apparent as the range of groups, divisions and networks amongst current supporters of the extreme right became clear.

There is no standard ideology, set of beliefs or culture and the work of historians like Dr Jackson is important to provide an informed understanding of the complexities of these groups. There is even a word, ‘groupuscule’, which is used to define the way factions and groups emerge and interact. Furthermore the size of the group did not necessarily reflect success, there could be a small collection of members which saw itself as an elite or select grouping though with, perhaps, some connections to larger groups. Jackson’s work on Colin Jordan and other areas has shown how small groups and individuals can have national and international ties to many groups, weaving a web of varying ring-wing elements and making it hard to pin down any tight definition of a group and its believes.

In terms of engaging with the public, Jackson’s work has featured in the press, notably his work on the myth of the lone wolf in far-right political violence and he has also done some consulting work related to the Prevent Agenda. When there is a threat of violence the need for greater understanding far-right politics and beliefs is clear, and those working with the Prevent Agenda would obviously benefit from learning about the historical context to the current far-right groups as well as demonstrate the cultural differences. Though, again, Jackson warned of the dangerous of the politics of others trying to creep into how his research is presented. His awareness of other agendas was important for keeping his presentation of the facts and historical contexts as objective as possible.

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Dr Paul Jackson and is closing questions. Image rights: Dr Alix Green

The evening came to an end with the closing questions posed in the above image. All history is political but there is a delicate balance that needs to be struck when handling a research area of such potency. Through Paul Jackson’s work we gained a fascinating insight into researching a controversial topic which brings with it the weight of political importance and contemporary relevance.

Our next seminar will be with Daniel Jones, the archivist of the Searchlight Archive, an anti-fascist magazine that also holds an extensive archive of fascist literature on 22 February at 5:30pm.

Public History and the British Extreme Right Seminar

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Join us on 8th February for our first seminar in the ‘Difficult Pasts and Objects’ series:

Dr Paul Jackson (University of Northampton)

‘Public History and the British Extreme Right’

This presentation will unpack some of the challenges found in both researching histories of the British extreme right, and communicating these findings to relevant audiences outside academia. It will start by reflecting on the benefits that can come from working with partners, such as watchdog and monitoring organisations, who have a vast knowledge base and datasets that many academics can use for their own research. As an example, will highlight the relationship between the University of Northampton and Searchlight magazine, which has resulted in a major new archive for researchers in this field. It will then explain what types of new research can be developed by historians from such resources, especially allowing for fresh commentaries on issues such as the groupuscular dynamics of the extreme right and its transnational activity – both themes that are becoming increasingly important for those analysing the recent history and current dynamics of the extreme right. Finally, it will discuss some of the challenges encountered with using these new histories to engage wider organisations, especially those linked to the Prevent Agenda such as the police and local authorities. With these issues in mind, it will close by exploring the role that historians of the extreme right can play by engaging with contemporary debates over tackling ‘radicalisation’ and promoting ‘British values’.

5.30pm, 8 February 2017
Olga Crisp Room Seminar Room N102, Senate House

 

IHR Seminar: Spring Term

We are delighted to announce our seminars for the spring term on the theme of ‘Difficult Pasts and Objects’

 

  • 8th February: Paul Jackson (University of Northampton): Public History and the British Extreme Far Right
  • 8th March – Jessica Moody (University of Portsmouth): “Racism on Display: The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

 

Locations: TBC

The Role of Public History in the History of Refugees and Migrants

A home for Belgian refugee children in England. © IWM (Q 108266)

Over the summer the media was full of images and news stories on what was being called the ‘worst refugee crisis’ in Europe since the Second World War. Such a label inevitably brings historical comparisons and many reports attempted to underline the scale of the migration into Europe from the Middle East and Africa with statistics and historic case studies.

Other reports aimed to establish a historic tradition of accepting refugees as a way of criticising the current political attitudes towards refugees from Syria and other migrants, either in Europe or in Westminster. The Kindertransport in 1938 and Hungarian crisis of 1956 were popular comparisons, and my own Facebook feed started to fill with references to the Irish diaspora of the 1840s, (the result of numerous Irish and Irish-American relatives). This photo gallery is a perfect example of how images from ‘Britain’s history of welcoming refugees’ is purposely contrasted with David Cameron’s use of the word ‘swarm’ to describe the movement of people across the Mediterranean aiming to make a new life in Britain.

However, these often flippant comparisons can be problematic. Is emphasising the history of acceptance and assimilation of refugees ignoring the history of refusing migrants and refugees or the history of racial conflicts within countries and cities in Europe? Furthermore, context is always important and many of the media reports do not go into much detail about how their historic scenarios shed light on solutions for today. Jessica Reinsch has recently addressed some of these issues in a blog co-published with History and Policy for the ‘Europe In Crisis’ series. Reinsch looks at the two examples of Kindertransport and the Hungarian refugee crisis and demonstrates how the different political, diplomatic and economic conditions created the individual responses to these situations. making them distinct from today’s situation.

So if direct comparisons cannot be drawn, what role does history play in discussions of the refugee crisis? Does history or should history offer any lessons? Is there a responsibility of historians within these discussions? If so what it is? And what role does history play in the formation of policy for humanitarian or migration organisations and charities?

As part of a new strand of the IHR Public History seminar, asking ‘What is Public History?’, we hope to interrogate some of these issues, amongst others, with a roundtable of historians and professionals who work with the history of migration. Following short presentations from the speakers, we will open discussion to the floor and to Twitter to encourage a wide-ranging and constructive discussion.

Our speakers will be:

Prof David Feldman
Director of Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck, University of London

Prof Peter Gatrell
Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester

Susie Symes
Chair of Trustees for 19 Princelet Street, Museum of Immigration and Diversity

Juliano Fiori
Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Save the Children.

So please join us on Wednesday 21 October at 5:30pm for a roundtable on ‘What is Public History in the light of the recent refugee crisis?
Venue: Wolfson Room NB02, Basement, IHR, North block, Senate House
Twitter: If you can’t make the event, please join us on Twitter using #IHRPubHist

Author: Kathleen McIlvenna, PhD student with IHR and British Postal Museum and archive and convener of the Public History Seminar. She blogs at ‘The History Student’