The New Historians’ Network met at Queen Mary on the 10th June. The original plan was to have an education policy advisor for the Labour Party come to speak and continue the debate from our previous meeting around history in schools. Unfortunately the speaker had to cancel so we were left to our own devices, which somehow led to us discussing the question: what is radical history?
The conversation was interesting and widespread, and despite the wine I remember some of it. There was debate around whether radical history was a matter of the object of study: for some people, there was clearly an emphasis on recovering the voices of the marginalised, but also work that provides inspiration by looking to radical movements in the past that have sought to challenge the powerful. At the same time, or possibly an alternative, there was an idea that ‘radical history’ was more about a radical approach to the past – about the kind of questions being asked – which could be applied to much broader areas of history. It was suggested that elements of earlier forms of ‘radical history’ had become quite mainstream in universities at least. My own feeling was that radical history shouldn’t be simply a matter of the academically novel, which is not to say that it should ignore innovative thinking. It was also interesting to hear people considering their own political standpoint in relation to radicalism, and reflecting on their research in the light of this discussion to consider whether we were doing ‘radical history’ ourselves.
Suitably for a network linked to the Raphael Samuel History Centre, there were also thoughts about how history in general, and we specifically, might engage broader audiences and participants. The discussion also involved thinking about what kind of events the New Historian’s Network might organise in the future. We considered, for example, organising an event around the theme of ‘what is radical history?’ We talked about possibly hosting a series of evening events, rather than (or as well as) a day-long conference. There was quite a lot of enthusiastic discussion around what made for engaging conferences/events: for example a more conversational approach, greater time for discussion, showing films and so on. There were some very interesting ideas in the room, but as there were plenty of people involved in the network who hadn’t made this meeting, we also wanted to ask: what would people be enthusiastic about getting involved to organise?
We welcome your thoughts by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. If you would be interested in helping with organising any events in 2014/15, or if you have ideas for events, please let us know!