Saturday, November 8, 2014

'What is Radical History?': Forthcoming Conference and On-going Debate

Finalised speakers for upcoming conference entitled 'what is radical history?'
 on 24 March 2015 at Birkbeck.   (PDF timetable available on website.)

There are 6 panels split over three sessions, with 2 panels running concurrently in each session. 
The day concludes with a roundtable featuring Dr Becky Taylor (Birkbeck), Dr Robbie Shilliam (QMUL), and Mike Jackson (Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners).

Session 1: a) Radical historiographies, and b) Urban and rural workers.

Session 2: a) Political commitment, and b) The state and authority.

Session 3: a) Social movements and protest, and b) Radical education.

"We are very pleased with the quality and variety of the abstracts submitted and very much look forward to the day. We hope you can join us!"

For more information see:


This Call for Papers led to the email discussion summarised (anonymised) below

'What is Radical History?': A One-Day Post-Graduate Led Interdisciplinary Conference
Tuesday, March 24th 2015. Birkbeck, University of London

'Historical writing always has some effect on us. It may reinforce passivity; it may activate us. In any case, the historian cannot choose to be neutral; [s]he writes on a moving train.' Howard Zinn
We invite post-graduates to submit abstracts for a one-day conference exploring the relationship between rigorous historical research and active political engagement. In 1970 Howard Zinn asked a question still important for politically-engaged academics today: 'what is radical history?' This conference will provide a space to re-engage with this debate, both to ask what we can learn from radical historical practice of the past but also to question what has changed in the intervening decades, and what a radical history might look like now.
We invite contributions from post-graduates from any disciplinary background who have a strong historical component to their research. We have identified three themes on which we especially invite reflections:

1. What identifies 'radical history' as 'radical'? Does its radicalism lie in its subject of study or in the approach of the researcher?
2. How does 'radical history' negotiate the relationship between 'objectivity' and politics?
3. What use is 'radical history'? Does it have a role to play in emancipatory politics?

We welcome theoretical responses to the question 'what is radical history?' as well as contributions rooted in empirical research. We invite submissions of 10-20 minutes in length: these could be collaborative or individual in nature, and encompass interviews, short films, and papers, as well as other appropriate methods. We aim to generate a multidisciplinary analysis of the nature of 'radical history' today and of the challenges that politically active researchers across various departments currently face within academia and wider society.

The conference will end with a round-table between activist-academics including Dr. Becky Taylor (Birkbeck, History, Classics and Archaeology) and Dr. Robbie Shilliam (QMUL, International Relations), and an audience-participatory discussion.
The event will be free to attend.

Prospective speakers are invited to submit abstracts of 250-300 words. Separately, please also include your name, affiliation and contact details, as well as full-details of the presentation method and any audio-visual or mobility requirements.
The deadline for submission of abstracts is 22nd December 2014.
For more information about the conference, or to submit an abstract, please email the organising committee: Luca Lapolla (Birkbeck), DiarmaidKelliher (Glasgow) and Julie Russell (Exeter) at:
Please also see our website for more information
We are very grateful to the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London for funding this conference.

From/to RaHN email list:

5-11-14 Sounds like it could be interesting but it seems from the post that only postgraduates are allowed to submit stuff? Is 'radical history' only for academics or would be academics?
Many of us involved in 'radical history', although some of us have doubts about the meaning of the term, are not academics, graduates or even 'historians'. Our interest in the past is linked powerfully to our interest and experience in the present and our desperate need to change it. To paraphrase some dodgy old geezer - history is too important to be left to historians. Many of us also have serious doubts about academia and its relationship to capital and the reproduction of value. Although useful work can be done by academics, to limit discussion in this way (a mistake too often fallen into these days) would be laughable...

5-11-14 A contribution to the 'What Is Radical History?' conferenceRather than a paper, I sent in the following contribution / definition / appeal based on that used by the Radical History Network of North East London:
To all people wanting to oppose oppression and to support positive alternatives...
Celebrate our history, avoid repeating our mistakes, and get inspiration to help create a better society for the future.

5-11-14 [To conference organiser,] Can we agree that radical history would not exclude contributions from people who do not happen to be academics or post-graduates?

5-11-14 [Reply, copied to list] ... I've had a few responses, so it seemed easier to send one reply this way. We utterly agree that 'radical history' (or history in general) is not only done by academics or people working inside the system. Utterly. And, for obvious reasons, it is in some ways easier to be 'radical' when you are not an academic and not forced to conform to certain rules and norms in respect of how you produce and present your work. However, because, for one reason or another, all three of us have decided to get a PhD, we find ourselves needing to negotiate these rules, boundaries and confines in respect of our work and our politics. I think we three struggle with this in different ways and so we decided to organise this conference to see how other postgrads deal with this relationship. From my perspective at least, the subtext to the conference is: can radical history even be done within academia? The longer I stay in academia, the less positive I feel about that... Also, there were strings attached to the funding which stipulated a PGR conference. Therefore, what we have tried to do is include long Q&A sessions (30 mins for each 'theme') as well as a long audience participatory discussion at the end of the day to open things up a bit. We're also not charging an entrance fee and are providing free food and drink. We really hope that you, and others interested in the question, will come with interesting and provocative questions to ask the panellists and students. Finally, we would also like to continue the discussion outside of an explicitly PGR / academic context and, once this is over, would welcome further discussions with people about how we could put on more events which look at 'radical history' outside of an institutional context. We all share your concerns about the importance and utility of 'radical history' and the need to change the now. Many thanks.

6-11-14 Interesting exchanges, that may connect to a radical history in its own right :
Bulletin for the Study of Labour History
Around 1980 were debates along lines of non academic / academic, non professional / professional.  Where labour history existed and who pursued the work?
The debates focused on at least two matters. One, an editorial in the Bulletin that may inadvertently have suggested that professional meant academic trained, because academic training was necessary to be professional. Two, that the History Workshop and especially Raphael Samuel's pushing for emotionally engaged history was counter to this criteria of professional adequacy.  However, one contributor from Ruskin raised the problem that HW was not in fact the originator of labour history, which had its inspiration elsewhere in the college.  There were also comments that the then HWJ Editorial Board may have been less inclined to labour history than it professed.
For a less exclusive arrangement, we might look across the border to Cymru and Llafur, started in 1970/71.  That greater openness may have been because Cymraeg history is very different to English, not least in terms of culture, class, education and learning.
Hope contributions continue.  Maybe they could find expression in staged exchange at some point?  Call for papers anyone?

8-11-14 Hi all, If anyone is interested - and with the view to continuing a discussion on 'radical history' after the conference - we are asking for people to submit responses to the question 'what is radical history?' which we will then publish on the blog. We* would really love it if you could submit pieces along the lines of the short discussion already had on this list as it's an incredibly important point of view. And anything else that you would like to say!
[* Contact details on call for papers above]

And on the relevance of this debate to a particular type of research:
6-11-14  Interesting indeed.
To introduce myself... my history (into the present) is a fusion of activism, policy work and research ... and - more recently, also part-time academia. My background is in monitoring police and intelligence since the 1980s, the focus on corporate spying on campaigners was added a bit more recently.
I am now working with what we have called The Undercover Research Group: a small set of dedicated activist-investigators who individually and collectively have already been diligently researching the subject of state and corporate spying for a number of years. Many exposures in the mainstream media were initially based on the research of activists – several of them directly linked to our group, eventually supported by investigative reporters at the Guardian.

Trying to get funding for the work of some of us (research and building a website), we pitch charities as well as academia ... only to discover that the work is often considered too political for either.
However, I strongly believe in research that is driven by commitment as long as the result is well-sourced. MIT emeritus professor Gary T. Marx (indeed) is convinced that research on dirty tricks cannot be done by academics alone, he said something like “While secrecy seriously hampers research in the field of surveillance, academics rely on the work of investigative journalists, citizens and on the occasional whistle-blower. Ideally, bringing together research from different fronts would result in projects and publications that draw from the best of those worlds”.
Taking this a little further, the story ‘from below’ has to be told, or change will not happen. In their research on terrorism victims in Italy, Bull and Cooke (2013) describe the process that transforms objects of state interference (as a form of state violence) to what they call ‘agents of truth’. They understand ‘the act of storytelling’as a method that complements investigative research, which is of interest as a social process and valuable as a political strategy.
In a similar way, people targeted by undercover operations and those now involved in the research, become campaigners on this issue ‘attributing a public and social meaning’ to their experiences.
Well, this might be an academic way of Bull and Cooke to say what we already know.
Somehow, the label ‘academic’ still seems to add a certain kind of value to one’s work, which we might want to use if it helps the cause, so to say, but needs to be undermined at the same time... have a look at this:

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