Breaking Histories @ Shuffle: A Round Up

Caroline Nielson talking at Breaking Histories

Caroline Nielson talking at Breaking Histories

Well, what an event! The week long Shuffle festival is now over and with it the two Breaking Histories events. These events saw eight historians talk about a particular aspect of their research that they felt should be more widely known and discussed – you can see the call for participation here.

Historians spend a lot of time talking to each other, the holiday seasons, particularly summer and Easter, are chock-a-block with conferences, symposium and workshops. These are fantastic and important for us to share, challenge and discuss ideas. However, opportunities to talk directly to the public are few and far between and I was hoping that Breaking Histories would give historians, particularly new historians such as PhD students and early careers, a chance to talk about history in an unusual setting.

The Homestead Pavilion for the first Breaking Histories event

The Homestead Pavilion for the first Breaking Histories event

And Shuffle certainly provided an unusual setting! Located in the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, which is also 31 acres of woodland, these historians were part of festival celebrating film, art, food and nature. The theme of this year’s festival was Migration, Movement and Place and gave us plenty of scope to explore the modern relevance of our work.

The first event was on Saturday 25 July in the Homestead Pavilion. We had a great mix of talks with Anna Robinson talking about neighbour complaints in the early 20th century, Caroline Nielson on asylums and mental health patients during the First World War, Bob Taylor on concepts of knowledge in Ancient Rome through the lens of the work of Pliny the Elder, and concluded with Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past on a schools oral history project looking at Velvet Fist, a socialist, feminist choir.

We were all delighted with how engaged and interested the audience was and questions varied from questions about family history to relating the control of knowledge in current debates around intellectual property!

Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past, another speaker, Bob Taylor can be seen in the audience.

Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past, other speakers, Bob Taylor and Anna Robinson can be seen in the audience.

The second event was on Saturday 1 August in the Ecotherapy Grounded Den. There was a fair bit of confusion on our location as we’d been moved from the billed Migration Pavilion and I think some of the Shuffle team thought we were in the Homestead Pavilion again. Unfortunately I think the confusion led to a smaller audience, but it didn’t dampen the discussion and we had a great mix of talks. We had Judith Garfield from Eastside Community Heritage talking about the fantastic collection of 2600 oral histories from the East London community, Richard White discussing the project ‘Honouring Ester’ as part of Forced Walks which transposed a Nazi death march into the English countryside, Stephen Woodhams looked at the work of Raymond Williams and the use of different written forms to tell history and finally Sam Patterson discussed the work of the Stepney Tenants Defence League and notably their role in ensure tube stations were opened as air raid shelters during the Second World War.

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I think one of the surprising outcomes from this series of talks was how well they connected with each other. From hidden stories of migration and movements, quickly forgotten or ignored, to looking at different ways to communicate and discuss history either through artist-led performative act of walking or the use of creative writing. I think the discussions could have continued for a long time, but we had to move out of the way for a talk on genes!

Sam Patterson taking questions

Sam Patterson taking questions

Communities came out as a strong theme across both weekends, communities as a subject of research within asylums or council estates, to a source base for oral histories having migrated from a particular place, to a particular place or emerging through political movement or choir, to communities created through the creative practice of history in the act of walking or collaborative work.

Overall, I think we had an audience of 45 people over the course of the two events, which I think is fantastic! I hope the talks have encouraged people to think about history differently and possibly inspired some future collaborations. I certainly learnt a lot, (did you know the borough of Redbridge has the largest Jewish community in Europe?). I hope we can repeat the experience at next year’s Shuffle festival and would be interested in hearing ideas of other ways of using the Breaking Histories model for other events!

Finally, a huge thank you to all the speakers and everyone who attended an event. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Some useful links:

Shuffle Festival

Raphael Samuel History Centre call for participation for Radical Histories Public History Festival

Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Beyond Past – oral history project on Velvet Fist

Eastside Community History

Forced Walks

History Today review of Samantha Patterson’s book on the history of Stepney

Here are some more photos from the two events:

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Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival 2015 CFP

Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival 2015

Call for Papers

24 July – 1 August 2015

Would you like to share your research with the public and be part of a unique community arts festival?

This is an invitation for papers as part of a new history event during the 2015 Shuffle Festival in East London. Panels would include three 10-15 minute papers and time for general discussion. Panels aim to demonstrate the wide variety of research amongst history PhD students and early career researchers happening now.

The themes for this year’s Shuffle Festival are Migration, Movement and Place. Though a connection to these themes would be useful, what is more important is that the papers reveal a range of historical debates and discussions. Let’s show that historical research is breaking boundaries, breaking conventions and should be breaking news!

The Shuffle Festival is a week-long annual event in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. It involves film, science education, storytelling, performance art, architectural installations, walks, food, comedy and music. This year we’re adding history to the list!

Breaking Histories is organised with support from the Raphael Samuel History Centre (RSHC). The RSHC is a research and educational centre devoted to encouraging the widest possible participation in historical research and debate.

 

How to be part of the festival

Please send 100-200 words on your research and why you think it’s important (essentially what you’d like to talk about). It would be great if you could link your research to the festival themes, but it is not essential.

Please send this by Tuesday 26th May to Kathleen.mcilvenna@postgrad.sas.ac.uk

Please include your availability for the festival. We don’t have a set date but we will have an hour slot on a weekday evening or weekend daytime between Friday 24 July and Saturday 1 August 2015.

Links

Raphael Samuel History Centre http://www.raphael-samuel.org.uk/

RSHC New Historians Network https://rshcnewhistorians.wordpress.com/

Shuffle Festival http://www.shufflefestival.com/

RSHC logo 

Marking 100 years since the Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street

H.S Harris Jewellers where the attempted robbery and the Houndsditch murders took place

At 3pm on 16 December 2010 a plaque was unveiled in memory of three policemen murdered on 16 December 1910; this tragedy is generally known as the Houndsditch Murders and 2010 marks its centenary.

The gunmen were Latvian revolutionaries who had come to London after the failed Russian revolution of 1905. They were attempting to fund further revolutionary movements at home through crime on London streets, this included the attempted robbery of the H.S Harris jewellery shop in Houndsditch on 16 December 1910 which led to the murder of three policemen.

This was a very well planned operation. The group had rented three of the properties on the Exchange to ensure secure access to the back of the building, and they had rubber piping and asbestos pads to assist in blowing the shop safe. It almost seems odd that they didn’t consider the noise they would make knocking through walls, which is what aroused suspicion and brought the police to their door.

Though a significant event in itself, it remains the highest loss of police life on a single day, the Houndsditch Murders is normally overshadowed by the Siege of Sidney Street.

Winston Churchill at the Siege of Sidney Street, Museum of London

The siege was between two of the suspected members of the group involved in the Houndsditch Murders and over 200 armed policemen. These Latvian revolutionaries held their own for so long that it was requested that the Scots Guards were called in.

Sounding like something out of a Hollywood 1920s American gangster film, the situation became even more surreal when Winston Churchill, the then Home Secretary, arrived on the scene. He was needed to give permission for the Scots Guards to be put into action, but no one expected him to turn up.

The Museum of London Docklands’ new exhibition London Under Siege: Churchill and the Anarchists, 1911 focuses on the unprecedented events of the Houndsditch murders and the Siege of Sidney Street. Taking their centenary as an opportunity to look at the historic and social context of these events in London’s history, the exhibition highlights early twentieth century debates on topics that are not unfamiliar today, including the levels of immigration and if police should be armed.

The exhibition opened in December 2010 and is well worth a look, here is my review in Culture24.

If the exhibition isn’t enough and you want to know more I would recommend the wonderful Old Bailey records online, which has the records of the trial of the suspected members of the Houndsditch group. BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme have also looked at the Siege of Sidney Street with extracts of oral histories and some archive BBC film looking at the Siege.

I have also discovered the wonderful world of the Songs from the Howling Sea, and they have produced a video and song in commemoration.

Hide and Seek, Songs from the Howling Sea

You can find out more about the Songs From the Howling Sea on their blog.

Enjoy!