Monthly Archives: January 2013

Call for papers: The Making of the English Working Class at Fifty: Space, Agency and History From Below

Convenors: David Featherstone, Neil Gray and Paul Griffin, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow.

Sponsored by the Historical Geography Research Group and the Political Geography Research Group.

For the RGS-IBG Conference 2013.

50 years on from its original publication E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class continues to inspire and to provoke critical debate and reflection. A foundational text of what has come to be known as ‘history from below’, the book has impacted on contexts far beyond the West-Riding of Yorkshire or the back rooms of London pubs that were the key sites of the book. It has been a pivotal text, even if primarily through critical dialogue, within intellectual traditions as diverse as History Workshop in South Africa and Subaltern Studies.

The Making has, of course, been subject to numerous critiques and engagements notably by feminist and post-colonial critics (Clark, 1995, Hall, 1992). The cultural nationalism that informed Thompson’s work have been robustly contested by Paul Gilroy (1987, 1993). Forms of Thompsonian inspired social history have been productively taken in more transnational dimensions by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. In geography its reception was subject to significant debate, especially in relation to Derek Gregory’s critique of Thompson’s account of the relations between class and space. Engagement with Thompson’s work, however, has been oddly absent from recent debates on workers’ agency in labour geography. His commitment to asserting and recovering diverse forms of agency in shaping class formation, however, resonates with many critical geographical projects.

This session seeks to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Making. It seeks to use this as an opportunity for critical reflections on Thompson’s text and to consider the relations between geographical work and ‘history from below’. The session invites both critical commentaries and empirically informed papers. These might consider:

•     The imaginations of space and place in the Making of English Working Class

•     The transnational impact of the Making of the English Working Class

•     The contested geographies of the new left

•     Critical engagements with Thompson’s use of the terms experience and agency.

•     The political contexts that shaped The Making of the English Working Class

•     The relations between Thompson, Subaltern Histories and attempts to think history from below spatially.

Abstracts of up to 250 words should be sent to Dave Featherstone ( by February 8th.


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Dealing with the digital past

Historical Geography Reading Group 13/12/12

Session 4, Semester 1

In a recent radio broadcast, the writer Will Self admitted to a growing preference for the past over the present, suggesting that this may be because:

“the hard drive of my computer is overloaded with digital images of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, all of them timecoded to a tenth of a second…[I]n the past decade or so the half-life or our memories has become artificially extended. Instead of curling photographs and yellowing newspapers, we are possessed of a shiny and permanent now.”

What are the implications for historical geography of this digitisation of everything? Dr. David Beel[]’s] research speaks to this hefty question from a specific empirical example. In collaboration with computer scientists, Dave is helping local history groups in the Outer Hebrides to manage their digital collections. 

Apparently, local history is big in the Hebrides, at least for certain sectors of the population. A means by which Hebrideans come to understand their identities, local history archives are also seen as a source of tourist income, enabling a far-flung diaspora to track down and revisit ancestral roots. This results in what Dave described as a kind of ‘heritage from below’, with people from the Hebrides telling their own stories about themselves. As part of this, community history projects have digitised large quantities of material for access via the web – genealogies, oral histories, songs, folk tales and so forth [].

However, the systems used to date have been based on commercial software that is not easy for community groups to use or adapt, and does not interface well with the wider world of search engines and social media. The computer scientists think that the needs of Hebridean local history would be better served by systems based on open source software, open data and linked data. In vastly oversimplified terms, this means making databases compatible with each other, so that a single search can be run across several archives at the same time. The vision is unashamedly utopian: a future in which data is freely sharable, globally accessible and fully cross-compatible.

For Dave, all of this has raised some critical questions, which were taken up by the group for further discussion:

  •  The consequences of open data for local community ownership and control. How do people in the Hebrides feel about sharing their personal histories with anyone anywhere?
  • If data is free, who does the work of collecting it, who gets paid, and where does the money come from? The projects Dave described rely on volunteers and grant funding.
  •  Differences between physical and digital records. Digital records may be easier to store and access, but they are also easier to lose through accidental deletion. And there is a physicality to digital media that needs to be acknowledged, attending to the material spaces of devices, screens, hard drives, servers, against the notion of a virtual ‘cloud’.
  •   Issues of excess. Do we really want to hang onto everything? Are things becoming over-remembered? In a world of open data, might deletion, degradation and ruination of data offer possibilities for resistance or creativity?

Thanks to Dave for kicking off a really interesting discussion of these issues.

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Call for papers for RGS-IBG Annual Conference: New and Emerging Research in Historical Geography

London, 28th-30th August 2013.

Session Organiser: Kim Ross (University of Glasgow)

Sponsored by the Historical Geography Research Group

This session aims to provide an informal and relaxed forum for postgraduates undertaking research in historical geography to present at a major conference. Building upon past successful HGRG postgraduate sessions, it is hoped that a friendly and supportive atmosphere will produce stimulating debates on the issues raised and provide postgraduates with helpful feedback on their work. There is no chronological or geographical limit to papers and they can be variously theoretical, empirical and/or methodological in orientation. Papers are encouraged from PG students at any stage of their PhD research, or Masters dissertation topics.

If you are interested in submitting a paper, please send an abstract of no more than 250 words to Kim Ross ( by Friday 8th February. If you would like any more information about the session, then please get in touch.

When submitting your paper please include the following information: 1) name 2) institutional affiliation 3) contact email, 4) title of proposed paper, 5) abstract (no more than 250 words) and 6) any additional technical requirements (i.e., video, sound (there will be data projection facilities)).

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