13th Jun 2018 9:00am-5:30pm

G4, Grand Parade

Rationale and themes

History making comes out of a social context and then feeds back into it. The Critical Histories symposium invites History practitioners to reflect on this often overlooked two-way relationship, on the link between History and our world. The event will focus on three key themes: a) contemporariness, b) methodological awareness, c) dissemination.

Contemporariness is about connecting our research with today’s needs and struggles. This is an urgent issue. There is a widespread sense that we are living in shifting times. Can we rise to the occasion? How can Histories of the past be used most productively today? What new themes are there to be explored and what new perspectives to be adopted? How can historians make critical interventions in the politics of the present?

Methodological Awareness necessitates that we reflect about what sources we use and how we use them. All sorts of ‘histories from below’ have been proliferating for decades. But have certain themes or methods lost their social dynamism and relevance? What brand-new tools do contemporary technology and culture offer us? And how best can our methods serve the radical political agendas of today?

Dissemination is often shunned as a Media and Impact matter. But it should be about the wider everyday production and re-production of historical narratives: from schools, to video games, and museums. What are the best practice ideas on reaching out to the people that historians would need to talk to – is it a question of language, forms and narratives or does it also have to do with the questions we ask? How can we affect the school curriculum and what would make a ‘public intellectual’ today?

The symposium grows out of the development of a new BA in Critical History at the University of Brighton. The new degree is offered by the Humanities Programme and it is thoroughly interdisciplinary – something that possibly explains the symposium’s thematic concerns.

We ask speakers to offer position papers (ie not research papers) that offer a critical overview of their area(s) of specialisation, through the lenses of the theme of their panel, while keeping in mind the two other panel themes (Contemporariness – Methodological Awareness – Dissemination), focusing less on talking about the ‘exciting new work’ in the field, and talking instead more on how/whether this new work is aware of its radical capacity (ie the fact that we have multiple ‘crises’ boiling around us and we, historians, need to intervene). Speakers will not be asked to pre-circulate notes, but for panels 2 and 3 they are asked to pre-send short readings (scholar or not) that are relevant to the points they are trying to make. Each panel has 3 speakers. We have only one keynote, professor Lucy Robinson


9:30 – 10:30 


Eugene Michail (Brighton)

Lucy Robinson (Sussex),With, Not On: DIY cultures as Feminist Historical Practice – on feminist history and fan zine culture

11:00 – 12:30 


Charlotte Riley (Southampton) on (Post)Colonial Britain – on how historians of Britain and the British Empire can intervene in current debates about British identity, and on how the contested histories of British imperialism, colonialism, race and nation are reflected in contemporary British politics?

Jenny Crane (Warwick) on Community Projects and the Fight for the NHS – on how, through community partnership or ‘public engagement’, historical work can potentially play a role in amplifying critical and protective reflections about the NHS, particularly during the distracting celebrations of its 70th Anniversary year.

Melissa Milewski (Sussex) on Resistance to Racial Inequality – on how historical scholarship on policing and injustice in the US criminal justice system and past challenges to this injustice links to problems and resistance movements of the present.

13:30 – 15:00


Sharon Webb (Sussex) on Digital Sources and Social Media – on the digital revolution and its impact on historical method and enquiry: the fragility of contemporary “public” records; digital historiography and the methods and skills required to interact with new historical sources; and on researchers’ reliance on third-party tools, like Google. 

Paper/Text for discussion: Roy Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era”, in The American Historical Review, 108/3 (2003), 735–62, in http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/links/pdf/introduction/0.6b.pdf

Louise Purbrick (Brighton) on Activist History and Art – on the use of history for political ends – considering the imperatives to think, document and write about a site of imprisonment (in this case the Long Kesh/Maze prison), and the relationships between place, people and historians that can, possibly, create a critical history.

Paper/Text for discussion: “The Maze and Long Kesh Prison”, in Prisons Memory Archive, in http://prisonsmemoryarchive.com/archive-maze/

Fiona Courage (Mass Observation) on Mass Observation Today – on the ways that researchers’ interaction with the Mass Observation Archive has shifted over the decades and how the data has both inspired and been subjected to new methodologies to maintain its relevance.

Paper/Text for discussion: Anabella Pollen, “Research methodology in Mass Observation past and present: ‘scientifically, about as valuable as a chimpanzee’s tea party at the zoo”, in History Workshop Journal, 75/1 (2013), 213-35, in https://academic.oup.com/hwj/article/75/1/213/601996?searchresult=1

15:30 – 16:30


Jon Watson (Brighton) on Higher Education Outreach – using a Widening Participation activity to critically engage with the past: Exploring War & Empire in Brighton

Paper/Text for discussion: David Olusoga, “Foreign fighters tell us a different story from the trenches”, The Guardian (23 Aug 2014), https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/23/neglected-figures-of-past-deserve-memorial-too

Kasia Tomasiewicz (Brighton) on History in the Museum 

Paper/Text for discussion: “On PhDs and museum jobs”, The Ministry of Curiosity(14 May 2018), http://theministryofcuriosity.blogspot.co.uk/2018/05/on-phds-and-museum-jobs.html

17:00 – 17:30 CONCLUSION