The Historical Geographies of Protest Reading List

(Source: Shena Tschofen)

As part of my thesis revisions, I had to read as much academic research on the historical geographies of protest as I could get my hands on. To keep track of it all, I made a database using Zotero, an open-source referencing programme. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Zotero is a wonderful free-to-use (unlike EndNote or RefWorks) referencing software that I have used to keep track of all my academic reading since I started my PhD. It occured to me that I might not be the only person that would find this list useful, so I have made it publicly accessible. You can view the database here. Each book or journal article is tagged with key information such as the time period and location of case studies, as well as key themes, ideas, theories, and thinkers addressed.

Zotero screen grab
A screen shot of the Historical Geographies of Protest reading list.

I will keep adding to the list as I find more. I am sure that I have missed things out too, so please do let me know and I will add them in. For example, the list is quite Anglo-centric so far, it would be great if we could get some more references about non-English speaking places. Or even some literature that is not written in English! I would really like this to be a resource that lots of people both contribute to and benefit from, so please do get in touch if you have something to add.

Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Revolt, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City

Revolting New York cover
Revolting New York will be published early next year.

On my trips to New York City (in 2015 and 2016), I have scoured bookshops looking for a history of protest in the city, assuming that there must be one. After all, there are at least two books about London’s turbulent past. Whilst there is lots of great research about dissent in New York, there has not been an overarching survey–until now. Next year, a book will be published not just about the history of protest in New York, but about the historical geography of protest in the city. Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Revolt, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City began as a project by Neil Smith with some of his post-graduate students at the City University of New York. When he passed away in 2012, Professor Don Mitchell took over the task of editing the collection, and it is finally being published next year. As you can imagine, I’m quite excited about it, whilst also being a bit frustrated that I didn’t get there first!

Last week, Professor Mitchell gave a lecture about the project at Queen Mary, University of London. I went along to find about more about the project. Mitchell used various examples to demonstrate the strength of the relationship between dissent and the material landscape. We tend to view demonstrations, riots, and other expressions of dissent as unusual events, but they are actually very common, particularly in large cities like London and New York. It is actually more uncommon to have a peaceful period.

Mitchell started the lecture with an in-depth look at a decade of bombings in New York, culminating in anarchist Mario Buda’s attack on Wall Street on the 16th of September 1920 (I have written a review of Mike Davis’ excellent book about this bombing’s part in the early history of the car bomb here.) The bombings contributed to the deindustrialization of New York, as the small-scale manufacturing and transport networks that produced and planted the bombs were driven out of the city. Finance, insurance, and real estate came to dominate the city’s economy. In attempting to strike a devastating blow against the bankers of Wall Street, Buda inadvertently helped them tighten their grip on New York.

Mitchell used this narrative, and others, to argue that “landscape is power materialised.” Whilst this is not a new argument, Revolting New York applies it in a new context. Space is produced through social struggle, the result of constant negotiation and conflict between groups with different visions for that space. Protest is just one form that this process takes. As such, protest shapes and reshapes the city you see when you look out the window (apologies to those of you who are not currently in a city!)

The lecture was an introduction to the Revolting New York project, outlining it’s history, structure, and key arguments. It is particularly exciting for me because of its parallels with my own work on London. The book will be affordable too, less than £25 for the paperback, so hopefully it will help bring historical geography to a wider audience. I for one can’t wait to read it!

23rd Practising Historical Geography Conference

The 2017 Practising Historical Geography Conference was held in Manchester (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Last week, I went to Manchester Metropolitan University for the 23rd annual Practising Historical Geography Conference, organised by the Historical Geography Research Group (HGRG).  It was my fifth time attending the conference (I wrote about the last one I attended, in 2015, here), but my first time presenting. As always, I thought it was a great day, well organised, with really interesting speakers.

The day involves: two keynote speakers; two methodological workshops; a Postgraduate Voices presentation by a recently completed PhD student; and a paper by the HGRG undergraduate dissertation prize winner. This year, I gave the Postgraduate Voices talk. It meant a lot to be asked, as the Practising Historical Geography conferences have been a really important part of my PhD. I have valued the time spent with other enthusiastic researchers who have been unfailingly supportive over the last five years. Because of how much I have gotten out of these conferences, I decided to use my Postgraduate Voices presentation to talk about my place in the academic communities that played such an important role in my PhD. Doing a PhD can be a lonely experience, so I think it’s really important to take a bit of time and effort to participate in academic networks when you get the chance.

The Royal Holloway contingent at the 23rd Practising Historical Geography conference. Left to right: Ben Newman, myself, and Ed Armstron-Sheret (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In her introduction to the conference, President of the HGRG Dr. Briony McDonagh said that the field of historical geography was in “rude health.” By the end of the day, I couldn’t help but agree. The keynote lectures, given by Professor Jon Stobbart and Dr. Kimberly Peters, were both fantastic, and they highlighted the diversity of research being conducted in the field. Professor Stobbart discussed the construction of ‘comfortable’ homes in Georgian England using material objects, whilst Dr. Peters talked about the development of maritime ‘motorways,’ shipping lanes designed to minimise the chance of large container ships colliding head-on. I never thought that I would find maritime trade so interesting!

The two workshops were also excellent. The first, organised by Dr. Sarah Mills, was about the ethics of archival research. I must admit I generally fall into the trap of assuming that I don’t need to think too much about ethics because I research the past, but the workshop made me realise it was something I should pay more attention to. The second workshop, run by Dr. James Kneale, was about the merits and challenges of time capsules for historical research. During the recent demolition of the Temperance Hospital in London, two time capsules were found, and Dr. Kneale was asked to consult on their contents. Whilst it seems unlikely that many historical geographers will find themselves in a similar situation during their careers, we had some great discussions about the nature, meaning, purpose, and use of time capsules.

Practising Historical Geography is always a brilliant event, and this year was no different. I drove home feeling energised, with a renewed enthusiasm for my own research. I would like to say thank you to the HGRG committee, particularly Dr. Cheryl McGeachan and Dr. Hannah Neate, for organising such a wonderful event.

Practising Historical Geography

Last Wednesday (the 28th of October), the 21st Practising Historical Geography conference took place at the University of Sussex in Brighton. The conference is organised by the Historical Geography Research Group of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (or HGRH and RGS-IBG for short!), and is aimed at undergraduates and postgraduates. This was my forth year attending the conference (previously held at the University of Bristol (2014), University of Central Lancashire in Preston (2013) and the University of Hull (2012). I first attended as a Masters student (all those studying the MA Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway are encouraged to attend), and even now, in the third year of my PhD, I still found it to be a beneficial and enjoyable experience.

The Royal Holloway contingent at the 21st Practising Historical Geography conference at the University of Sussex (Photo: Innes Keighren).
The Royal Holloway contingent at the 21st Practising Historical Geography conference at the University of Sussex (Photo: Innes Keighren).

The conference combines keynote speakers, workshops, and chances to network. The first keynote was given by Dr. Simon Rycroft (University of Sussex) and was entitled ‘Mid-century Representation: John Latham’s Cosmos.’ Using the work of artist John Latham, Dr. Rycroft argued that it is important to be alert to the changing practices of representation. Representations reflect the ways we think about materials, which changes over time. Academics need to take such things into account when analysing representations.

Dr. Simon Rycroft talking about the work of artist John Latham (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Dr. Simon Rycroft talking about the work of artist John Latham (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

After the first keynote is a section called Postgraduate Voices, where someone who has recently completed their PhD gives advice based on their experiences. This year, Dr. Jake Hodder talked about the 3 major crises he faced during his PhD, which roughly align with the 3(ish) years that a PhD takes:

  1. Imposter syndrome:  The fear that someone will realise you are not good enough to be here, and tell you to go home, in a very public and humiliating way.
  2. Project isn’t coming together: At some points it can feel like you will never be able to make a coherent whole out of all the work you have done.
  3. Uncertainty: Particularly in the third and fourth years, financial insecurity and a sense of ‘what the hell am I going to do next?!’ can take its toll.

I found myself agreeing with everything Jake said. It is always reassuring to know that others are facing the same difficulties as you, and knowing that Jake overcame them to become Dr. Hodder is a welcome confidence boost!

Every year, the Historical Geography Research Group runs a competition for undergraduate dissertations in the field of historical geography. This year, the prize was won by Victoria Bellamy (University of Cambridge), who told us about her research on Victoria Park in East London in the second half of the nineteenth century. Parks are ideologically contested spaces; there is constant debate about their purpose and how they can be used. Victoria’s research explores how some of these debates played out in Victoria Park, surrounded by some of the most deprived areas of Victorian London. She did a fantastic job of presenting her work.

2015-10-28 11.20.29
Victoria Bellamy summarised her prize-winning undergraduate dissertation in just 10 minutes (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The middle section of the day is taken up by 2 workshops, which focus on what it’s like to actually do historical research. Previous workshops have involved all kinds of things, from taxidermy to the Preston bus station, but this year they focused on extreme weather events in Britain (run by Dr. Lucy Veale, University of Nottingham) and the spatial politics of British households in the nineteenth-century, particularly the relationships between domestic servants and employers (run by  Dr. Fae Dussart, University of Sussex). Chances to discuss the practice of researching the past with other researchers are rare, so I always look forward to this part of the day. It is an opportunity to talk about the difficulties of historical research, as well as explore some methodologies that may be unfamiliar.

Lucy Veale running a workshop about researching extreme weather events in the archive (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Lucy Veale running a workshop about researching extreme weather events in the archive (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The day was rounded off by the second keynote speaker, Dr. James Kneale (University College London), who spoke on the subject of ‘Looking for Drink in the Archive.’ Dr. Kneale has been researching alternative approaches to Victorian understandings of alcohol. There is plenty of evidence of the moral debates surrounding alcohol in the archives, but the Victorians didn’t just talk about alcohol, they experienced it in a whole range of other ways. Dr. Kneale has been using the archive to investigate practice, which is no simple task.

2015-10-28 15.46.58
James Kneale discussing looking for evidence of alcohol in the archives (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

If all goes according to plan, I will probably be too busy putting the finishing touches to my thesis to attend the 22nd Practising Historical Geography conference next year. This is a shame, as it is a great event. I would thoroughly recommend it for any Masters or PhD students whose work even remotely relates to historical geography, especially if you are relatively new to academia. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, and it would be an ideal first conference. I have learnt a lot over the past four years, and met people who have become both colleagues and friends. Thank you to the Historical Geography Research Group (particularly Lucy Veale, who has organised the last 3 conferences) for putting on such wonderful events.

The 2012-3 MA Cultural Geography cohort in a pub in Hull the night before the 18th Practising Historical Geography conference (Photo: Innes Keighren).
The 2012-3 MA Cultural Geography cohort in a pub in Hull the night before the 18th Practising Historical Geography conference (Photo: Innes Keighren).
The Royal Holloway contingent in a pub in Preston the night before the 19th Practising Historical Geography conference in 2013 (Photo: Innes Keighren).
The Royal Holloway contingent in a pub in Preston the night before the 19th Practising Historical Geography conference in 2013 (Photo: Innes Keighren).
The Royal Holloway contingent at the 20th Practising Historical Geography conference in Bristol- we don't spend all our time in pubs! (Photo: Innes Keighren).
The Royal Holloway contingent at the 20th Practising Historical Geography conference in Bristol- we don’t spend all our time in pubs! (Photo: Innes Keighren).

Contesting the Capital: Exploring London’s History of Protest at the International Conference of Historical Geographers

The International Conference of Historical Geography 2015 took place at the RGS-IBG in Kensington, London.
The International Conference of Historical Geography 2015 took place at the RGS-IBG in Kensington, London (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Between the 5th and 10th of July, the International Conference of Historical Geographers (ICHG) took place at the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers in South Kensington, London. The conference takes place every 3 years in a different city; in 2012 it was in Prague, in 2018 it will be in Warsaw. This year the conference was 40 years old, and over 700 delegates, 60% of which came from beyond Britain, gathered to talk all things historical geography.

Along with Diarmaid Kelliher, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, I convened a session called Contesting the Capital: Historical Geographies of Protest in London, exploring the relationship between protest and London. As regular readers of this blog are probably aware, London has a long and vibrant history of protest. This is often attributed to Londoners themselves; “Londoners have for many centuries been considered far too ‘bolshie’ to do what they are ordered for long” (Bloom, 2010; p.xxxviii). Whether this is the reason or not, London is a particularly contentious city. For example, on the 30th of May this year (2015), there was a demonstration in Trafalgar Square to support striking workers at the National Gallery; a protest outside the offices of the Daily Mail about the paper’s treatment of Pilipino nurses; and a march organised by UKUncut in Westminster, in which a huge anti-austerity banner was hung from Westminster Bridge. Three major protests, all in one day. London’s rebellious streak makes it fantastic to study, and Contesting the Capital aimed to celebrate and explore this rich history.

Contesting the Capital included 4 papers; by myself, Gavin Brown, Claire Nally and Diarmaid Kelliher. My paper was about the characteristics of urban areas in general, and London specifically, that encourages protest. Gavin Brown discussed the geographies of the 24-hour picket outside the South African embassy between 1986 and 1990. Claire Nally talked about the Crossbones graveyard in Southwark, the ways it has been represented and ways it fits into networks of memorialisation and feminism. Finally, Diarmaid Kelliher presented a paper about solidarity and London support groups for the 1984-5 miner’s strike.

Claire Nally presenting about the Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark (apologies for the poor-quality camera phone!)
Claire Nally presenting about the Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark (apologies for the poor-quality camera phone!) (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

For me, the session highlighted some of the key issues involved in studying protest in London, one of which is networks. Walter Nicholls (2009) has demonstrated that networks are a useful tool for thinking about the processes and activities of social movements. Fran Tonkiss (2005) has argued that cities tend to have good information and mobilisation networks, which allow the easy circulation of ideas and people. She also points out that cities bring together extensive social networks that can support protest. Contesting the Capital demonstrated how some of these theories work in practice, placing London in national and international networks of solidarity, communication, and support.  For example, during the 1984-5 miner’s strike multiple support groups were active in London offering financial, physical and emotional support to the strikers in far flung places like Wales and Yorkshire. The Non-stop picket outside the South African embassy in the 1980s was part of an international anti-apartheid movement that aimed to put pressure on the South African government. Neither of these issues are obviously related to the lives and concerns of Londoners, but nevertheless people felt strongly enough to take action.

Protests in London highlight the city's place in local, nation, and international networks (Source: City of London Anti-Apartheid Group).
Protests in London highlight the city’s place in local, nation, and international networks (Source: City of London Anti-Apartheid Group).

Another key issue which Contesting the Capital highlighted for me is that London is constantly changing. As Roy Porter (2000; p.7) says “change is the essence” of cities. Economically, politically, socially, culturally, demographically, physically; London hasn’t sat still since it was founded two thousand years ago. For example, the Crossbones graveyard in Southwark was rediscovered during the construction of the Jubilee Line; London’s future helped to uncover its forgotten past. In terms of protest, solidarity has to be carefully constructed and maintained. The strong networks of solidarity that were evident during the miner’s strike have arguably been lost; the fierce criticism of workers whenever there is a tube strike is evidence of this. Along with the city’s sheer size, these constant processes of change make it very difficult to make any meaningful generalisations about London as a whole.

Contesting the Capital aimed to explore the relationship between London and the historical geographies of protest, and it was pretty successful, if I do say so myself. The history of protest in London is an almost inexhaustible resource for studying dissent, alternative politics and the urban, and there is lots more work to be done, although I think it’s fair to say we’re making a good start.

Sources and Further Reading

Bloom, Clive. Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Nicholls, Walter. “Place, Networks, Space: Theorising the Geographies of Social Movements.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33 (2009); 78–93.

Porter, Roy. London: A Social History. London, Penguin, 2000.

Tonkiss, Fran. Space, the City, and Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity, 2005.

Highs and Lows of the AAG: Perspective of a Lone Travelling PhD Researcher

Who Am I?

My name is Llinos Brown and I am a final year EPSRC CASE award PhD student at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Preston. My PhD research explores energy cultures in a workplace case study environment. I am particularly interested in exploring how energy cultures differ between manufacturing and office environments within the same workplace. If you are interested in hearing more about my research please get in touch – or follow me on twitter @LlinosBrownGeog

The AAG this year was held in Chicago, the city that invented the skyscraper.
The AAG this year was held in Chicago, the city that invented the skyscraper. The main conference venue was the Hyatt Regency hotel, to the left of this image (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Like the majority of conferences, the AAG is a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues/friends, build up relationships, meet new people and network…..what you would expect from any conference. But the AAG is a bit different to any conference I had attended. It is extremely big – over 9000 geographers attending, with over 1700 sessions submitted – split over two main venues and two smaller venues, with over 90 parallel sessions. It has a conference app and there are lots of very well-known geographers in attendance (someone should create a Geographer Bingo).

Something that I struggled with and something that overwhelmed me was – how do you systematically go through which session to attend? My approach was first look at the speciality groups, the main one for me– energy, and highlight them. Then look for some key words – for me energy, workplace, and behaviour, and highlight them. Finally if there are any gaps (and I had time to look in more detail) look through particular session slots and highlight anything that you think was a bit different. I spent around 20 minutes each evening going through what I had highlighted for the next day and working out what I really wanted to see. Each day I also popped in something a little bit different into my schedule. I would definitely recommend this, some of the most thought provoking sessions that I attended were sessions that had nothing to do with my sub-discipline of energy geographies. The AAG has a bit of everything, embrace the amazing discipline of Geography and the variety of sessions that are on offer.

The printed program for the AAG is the size of a telephone book!
The printed program for the AAG is the size of a telephone book! (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

One of the highs of the conference for me that I did not realise until I was on the plane home, was how embracing geography for a week helped me formulated new ideas. It’s not just about presenting your paper, networking, or handing out business cards. The conference has helped me develop empirical chapters for my thesis and it has made it much clearer to me how all the bits of my future thesis will link together. Maybe this wasn’t the AAG and it was just having time away from my desk and not directly thinking about my PhD but it was very extremely beneficial all the same.

One of the lows of the conference for me was its size. It is extremely big and it can be a lonely experience. Lunch and refreshments are not provided by the organisers so you can easily end up on your own at lunchtime. There are not the opportunities to chat to the person in front of you or sit next to someone while eating dinner and get chatting to them – which I’ve done at the RGS Annual Conference.  One thing I noticed at the AAG is that there are a lot of British geographers in attendance but they often stay in their university groups which mean if you’re the sole representative from your university it can mean you’re on your own for an evening or two. I was lucky enough to gate crash the Royal Holloway ‘crew’ so most evenings I joined them for food and drink – Thanks guys!

Llinos doing a bit of networking.
Llinos doing a bit of networking (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The N word – ‘Networking’ – we all know the benefits of it and how beneficial it can be but sometimes it can make you reflect on your experience as a researcher and make you wish you were in the person you are speaking to shoe’s. Yes, there is the saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ and this might link to me being the only person from UCLan attending the AAG but some evenings when I was back in my hotel room and had time to reflect on the day, I was a bit jealous of the additional support networks, the variety of supervision and the diversity of PhD research communities at other universities. This can be a bit of a low but there are also some positives such as realising you’ve got better resources than other PhD students – such as a permanent desk.

So to round up some top tips from me:

  • Don’t attend every session, there is a lot going on and you need time to digest the information you’ve obtained;
  • Get in contact with people you have met at previous conferences and see if they are attending, buddy up with them, exchange details and go for a drink.
  • Follow the twitter hashtag, if you’re ever not sure what session to attend check out twitter and see if something exciting is happening.
  • Head to a random session not related to your discipline – embrace Geography

Llinos Brown, University of Central Lancashire.

Scrolls, Vikings, and Dragons: Representations of the Archive in Children’s Television

'Riders of Berk' is a television spin off of the popular 2010 fil 'How to Train Your Dragon' (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)
‘Riders of Berk’ is a television spin off of the popular 2010 film ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

As long as you promise not to ask me how I know about this example, I wanted to discuss the portrayal of archives in children’s television. DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk is a spin-off from the 2010 DreamWorks film How to Train Your Dragon. It may sounds surprising, but the show does contain archives, and the ways in which they are represented actually speaks well to the use of real-life archives.

'Bork's Archive' contains all the knowledge that the vikings of Berk have collected about dragons (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).
‘Bork’s Archive’ contains all the knowledge that the Vikings of Berk have collected about dragons (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

Academics have argued that children’s films and TV shows are actually quite powerful cultural products, perhaps because they are dismissed by adults as insignificant and harmless. However they arguably play a significant role in shaping how children understand and interpret the world around them, so they are actually quite influential. Riders of Berk could very easily be a child’s only encounter with an archive, and is therefore worthy of consideration.

Berk is a village on a small island of the same name, populated by Vikings with names like Hiccup, Snotlout and Fishlegs, and dragons. At the beginning of the film, Vikings and dragons are mortal enemies, but with the aid of an injured dragon called Toothless, Hiccup manages to prove that both dragons and Vikings can profit from working together, and by the time the TV show begins, dragons are firmly integrated into the daily life of Berk. In Riders of Berk, a group of teenage Vikings, led by Hiccup, fly around on their dragons, having adventures and learning more about all the different types of dragons. However, all is not well in the land of the Vikings, and there are villains, set on destroying the peace between dragons and Vikings, or stealing the Hiccup’s dragon-training knowledge for their own dastardly aims.

Dragons and Vikings used to be enemies, but now live together in harmony (Source: 'We Are Family Part 1' Dreamwork's Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).
Dragons and Vikings used to be enemies, but now live together in harmony (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamwork’s Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

In the finale of the series, entitled “We Are Family,” Hiccup is entrusted with a chest containing Berk’s collected knowledge on dragons, know as “Bork’s Archive.” As the premier authority on dragons, Hiccup is given this “part of our [Berk’s] history” so that he can continue to develop their knowledge. From the way responsibility is passed on, and Hiccup’s reaction to the task, it is clearly a great honour. The knowledge is obviously valued by the community, and he is told to guard it carefully. Hiccup wastes no time in starting to search through this “amazing” archive, demonstrating how useful archives can be.

Hiccup feels honoured when he is given the job of 'archivist' (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk).
Hiccup feels honoured when he is given the job of ‘archivist’ (Source: ‘We Are Family Part1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk).

Later in the episode, Hiccup learns the valuable lesson that not all sources in the archive can be trusted, simply because they come from the archive. Hiccup’s loyal companion Toothless is a rare type of dragon called a Night Fury. No other Night Furies are known to exist on Berk or the surrounding islands. In the archive, Hiccup finds a map to an island of Night Furies called “The Isle of Night,” and promptly sets off to find more of Toothless’ kind. The map turns out to be a fake however, planted in the archive to lure Hiccup into a trap by the evil Alvin the Treacherous. This highlights the importance of finding out as much as possible about where a source comes from, and why it was produced, in order to assess its reliability and possible biases.

The fake source that leads Hiccup into a trap (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)
The fake source that leads Hiccup into a trap (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

So from this one episode of a children’s television show, a lot can be learnt about the value of archives, as well as the precautions that must be taken with them. Although Bork’s Archive is a lot smaller than most archives I have come across, I would argue that it is quite representative of archives as a whole. The people of Berk value Bork’s archive as a source of collected knowledge, and are aware of the archive’s ability to help contemporary knowledge progress further. However, Hiccup learns that just because something is in an archive, doesn’t mean that it is ‘true’ or authentic; the archive can be deceptive. This may seem like a bit of a silly post, but in all seriousness, I think it is important to talk about archives and the methodology of archival research as much as possible, and why shouldn’t we do that through the medium of children’s television? So, if you need a light-hearted teaching aid for archives, or just something fun for your next tea break, you could do worse than checking out Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk.

Turbulent Londoners: Lord George Gordon, 1751-1793

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s radical and contentious past. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. First up is Lord George Gordon, a charismatic individual who played a big role in the Gordon Riots. 

Lord George Gordon
after R. Bran
line engraving, published 1780
NPG D2793
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Lord George Gordon was an eccentric, irresponsible, but charismatic aristocrat who probably would have faded into obscurity if it wasn’t for the Gordon Riots, to which he gave his name. The Riots, which took place in June 1870, were a week-long series of anti-Catholic disturbances which have been called “the most serious disturbances ever seen in London.” (German and Rees, 2012; 87). Sparked by Parliament’s refusal to consider a petition to repeal the 1778 Catholic Relief Act, the riots took on a distinct anti-establishment flavour in their later days, which terrified those in authority.

Although charged with high treason after the riots, it seems that George Gordon did not intend to spark such dramatic events, which involved the largest number of people killed or executed in an episode of civil disorder either before or since (Archer, 2000). Becoming an MP with a reputation for rambling, boring speeches in 1774, Gordon was elected president of the London Protestant Association in November 1779. The Association was an organisation with the goal of repealing the Catholic Relief Act, which had relaxed some of the restrictions on Catholics in Britain.

Gordon and the Protestant Association organised a petition containing up to 100,000 signatures demanding the act be repealed. Against the advice of the rest of the Association’s leadership, Gordon called for a rally on the 2nd of June, followed by a march to Parliament where he would present the petition. An estimated 60,000 people attended, an unprecedented amount for a political meeting at this time (Bloom, 2010). The same evening that the petition was presented, two Catholic chapels were burnt down by an anti-Catholic ‘mob’. Over the following nights, the houses of many wealthy Catholics were destroyed, as well as the Langdale distillery and most of the capital’s prisons, including the infamous Newgate. Calm was not restored until the 10th of June, a week later.

At first suspected of deliberately engineering the riots, Gordon’s failed attempts to calm the situation proved he had no control over the rioters. He was acquitted of high treason, but continued to loudly voice his controversial and provocative opinions. He converted to Judaism in 1787, and was eventually imprisoned for libel following publications criticising transportation to Botany Bay as a method of punishment, and insulting Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. He died of gaol fever in Newgate on the 1st of November 1793.

Lord George Gordon was admired by some, and considered insane by others. Whilst he was progressive in some of his views, for example his strong opposition to the death penalty, his hatred of Catholics complicates an interpretation of him as a radical reformer. However he is viewed, Gordon was a fascinating individual, who contributed to the history of disturbance in the capital, making London that bit more turbulent.


Archer J (2000) Social Unrest and Popular Protest in England 1780-1840, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bloom C (2010) Violent London- 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

German L and Rees J (2012) A People’s History of London, London: Verso.

Haydon C (2004) ‘Gordon, Lord George (1751-1793)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Accessed on 15.04.13).

Haywood I and Seed J (ed.) (2012) The Gordon Riots- Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late-Eighteenth Century Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

What’s in a Name?

This sculpture of Wat Tyler and other participants in the Peasant’s Revolt stands in the Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea in Essex (Source: Andreas-photography).

Occupy. The French Revolution. The Notting Hill Riots. The Battle of Cable Street. The Gordon Riots. The American War of Independence.

Many episodes of protest and contentious politics have been given a catchy name by which they are remembered. It is one of those things that you ( or I, anyway) don’t tend to think about very much. A name is often the first thing you learn about an event or period of time, and it is frequently the only thing you remember long after you have forgotten any other details. As such, it has a lot of power to shape perceptions of the event or time period they are referring to. But names can be misleading, creating perceptions that are inaccurate, or even flat out wrong. I have recently come across several examples of such misconceptions, which highlight the importance of  an awareness of how these names came about, who came up with them, what their purpose was, and, on occasion, the need for a new name.

The recent BBC2 series Melvyn Bragg’s Radical Lives devotes an entire episode to John Ball, fourteenth century preacher and inspiration behind the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. In it, Bragg briefly argues the the Peasant’s Revolt is a misnomer, because  it was not only peasants that took part. Artisans, shopkeepers and other members of the middle class were also involved in the insurrection. Bragg doesn’t mention where the title Peasant’s Revolt came from, but it clearly may have served to belittle and minimise the movement by attributing it solely to the least powerful group in society. It may even have been a deliberate attempt to reduce the significance of the event in the eyes of history, by hiding the fact that a cross section of society were not supportive of the government, rather than just one group.

A similar example is the Matchgirl’s Strike of 1888. Louise Raw’s excellent book Striking a Light argues for the use of the term ‘matchwomen’ instead of ‘matchgirls’. Although many of the women involved were very young, the use of the word ‘girls’ rather than ‘women’ paints a particular picture of the strikers, portraying them as innocent, inexperienced, vulnerable, and in need of help. This image served the purposes of both supporters and critics of the strike at the time, but it has contributed to a skewing of the way that history views the events. Over time the agency of the women has been removed reducing the popular narrative of what happened  during the strike to an inaccurate caricature.

The effects of these derogatory names are not always negative, however. During the course of the wonderful East London Suffragette’s Festival recently, I learnt that the name ‘Suffragette’ was coined by a reporter for the Daily Mail, aiming to shame and belittle these women conducting themselves in such an outrageous manner. The insult backfired however, as the women of the suffrage movement embraced the title, taking ownership and turning it from an insult to a celebration of the women’s tactics.

Of course it is not possible for a name to encompass every single aspect of a protest or social movement, and I am not arguing that it should be able to. I am merely pointing out that, like most things, names are not neutral, unbiased descriptors. Like almost everything else, they should be viewed with a critical eye, and their purpose and effects should be carefully considered.


‘Now is the Time: John Ball.’ Melvyn Bragg’s Radical Lives. BBC2. Broadcast 2nd August 2014.

Raw, Louise. Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their Place in History. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.

‘Archaeology by Twilight’ at the Museum of London Archaeological Archive

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Archaelogy by Twilight at the Museum of London Archaelogical Archive (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Last Thursday, I went to the ‘Archaeology by Twilight’ open evening at the Museum of London Archaeological Archive in Hackney. Part of a summer series of tours and events at the archive, the evening included tours, displays of items, spoken word performances and a bar. The archive holds information on almost 8,500 archaeological sites that have been investigated in Greater London over the past century, including many of the items found ( With a huge variety of items, from human remains, medieval hairnets, cars and carriages to board games, horns, and Roman pots, it was a fascinating evening.

My favourite part of the evening was an atmospheric tour around the ceramics and glass archive, with the lights switched off and the chanting of medieval monks playing in the background. Armed with torches, we were let loose amongst the rows of cabinets and shelves, to gaze at pottery that was, in some cases, more than 2,000 years old. Once I got over the sensation that this was exactly how an episode of a murder mystery drama would start, I was struck by the sheer volume of material, each item with a story to tell about London’s past. The further we moved away from the door, towards the back of the room, the further back in time we went, to the Romans and beyond. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was very excited to see so much history in one room!

For me, the evening highlighted the process of museum exhibits. Displays and exhibitions in museums have the air of being complete, an accurate record of the past. This glimpse ‘behind the scenes’ suggested how much work goes into curating an exhibit in a museum. Most of the items in the archive will probably never go on display, what a visitor sees in the galleries of the Museum of London is just a fraction of everything that they hold. One of the most fundamental lessons I have learnt since starting my university education as an undergraduate is to question everything, to take nothing at face value. But I still find myself overlooking things, and welcome being reminded of the complexity and intricacy of seemingly simple things as I was on Thursday evening.

Another element that struck me was the particular materiality of this archive. When imagining archives, most people probably think of documents, records, letters, photos, maps, pieces of paper in various shapes and sizes. And whilst the Archaeological Archive no doubt has this kind of thing too, it also has thousands upon thousands of objects. Listening to the curators on Thursday night it was obvious that huge amounts can be learnt from the collections in the archive. For example, because the volume of material is so large, comparisons can be made between similar objects, leading to more general conclusions about life in London than it would be possible to make from one object. After exploring what the archive has to offer, it’s clear that it does not fit into the stereotypical image of ‘the archive’. Materiality has become a popular topic within geography over recent years, and I can think of at least a few historical geographers who use objects in their research. However I’m sure it is not the sort of research that springs to mind when people think of historical geography (when they think about historical geography at all!). ‘Archaeology by Twilight’ reminded me of the huge variety and potential of archives, which is something I wish that more people knew about!

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The Archaeology by Twilight bar (Photo: Hannah Awcock).