Category Archives: Past

14: Prison Abolition

Tuesday 22 January 6PM-8PM

Birkbeck College, Room:GOR 327,
43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD.


Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee (IWOC) is a prisoner-led section of the Industrial Workers of the World. IWOC struggles to end prison slavery along with allies and supporters on the outside. On September 9, 2016 it was part of a coalition of inside and outside groups that launched the largest prison strike in US history. Resistance to prison slavery continues with work stoppages, hunger strikes and other acts of resistance to business as usual.

The Empty Cages Collective is a project aimed at building a movement in England, Wales and Scotland that resists the prison industrial complex and organises towards a prison-free world.


Oisín Wall is an historian and curator based in University College Dublin at the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland. He is currently working on the Wellcome funded project Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000. His strand of research is focused on the instrumentalization of health by non-political prisoner activists and the prisoner rights movement in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s..

Ben Bethell is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London, researching a thesis titled ‘“Star men”: first-offender classification in English convict prisons, 1863-1914’.  His publications include ‘An exception too far: “gentleman” convicts and the 1878-9 Penal Servitude Acts Commission’, Prison Service Journal 232 (July 2017) and ‘Defining “unnatural crime”: sex and the English convict system, 1850-1900’ in Sean Brady & Mark Seymour (eds.) From Sodomy Laws to Same-Sex Marriage: International Perspectives since 1789 (Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming 2019). 

13 Decriminalising Sex Work

Tuesday 27 November 6PM-8PM

Archaeology Lab, Birkbeck College,
26 Russell Square, London WC1E 7HX


SWARM (Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement) is a collective founded and led by sex workers who believe in self-determination, solidarity and co-operation. They campaign for the rights and safety of everyone who sells sexual services. Together they organise skill-shares and support meet-ups just for sex workers, as well as public events. They are UK-based and part of the global sex worker-led movement advocating the full decriminalisation of sex work.

Decrim Now is a coalition of sex workers, human rights activists, trade unionists, feminists and politicians, which is calling for the full decriminalisation of sex work. Launched at The World Transformed in 2018, they are campaigning for the Labour Party to support decriminalisation.


Julia Laite is a lecturer in Modern History at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research interests are in the area of women’s history, the history of sexuality, and the history of migration in Britain and the British world. Her first book, Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commercial Sex in London, 1885-1930 examined the criminalisation of prostitution in a period that witnessed the codification of laws and development of policies that helped to shape the control of prostitution and the experiences of women who sold sex in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Kate Lister is is a lecturer in the School of Arts and Communication at Leeds Trinity University. Kate primarily researches the literary history of sex work and curates the online research project, Whores of Yore, an interdisciplinary digital archive for the study of historical sexuality. Kate has also published in the medical humanities, material culture, Victorian studies and Neo-Medievalism. She regularly writes about the history of sexuality for inews, Vice, and the Wellcome Trust. Kate won the Sexual Freedom Publicist of the Year Award in 2017.

12 Trans*


Graduate Centre, Room 603
Queen Mary, University of London,
Mile End Road, London E1 4NS


Action for Trans Health London is a grassroots organisation which seeks to democratise and improve trans* healthcare. Their word includes raising funds to facilitate trans* individuals’ access to healthcare, engaging with medical professionals about trans* health, and engaging the trans* community about health issues.

Morgan M. Page is a Canadian artist, writer and activist based in London. She is the author of the widely-distributed BRAZEN: Trans Women’s Safer Sex Guide. She is the recipient of the Youthline’s Community Empowerment Award (2011), along with two 2013 SF MOTHA awards. She is also the host of the trans history podcast, One from the Vaults.


Dr Kit Heyam is a researcher and a transgender awareness trainer, based in Leeds, specialising in public sector, higher education and non-profit organisations (including choirs). His research interests concern transgressive sexual behaviour in medieval and early modern England and France, and his PhD (University of Leeds, 2017) investigated Edward II’s developing historiographical reputation during the period 1305-1700. He has published articles on gender nonconformity and LGBT history.

Dr Clare Tebbutt is a Lecturer in Modern British Social History at the University of York. Her research lies in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British cultural history, especially queer history, histories of the body and of social change. Her research examines how medico-scientific concepts surrounding hormones, sex and gender were incorporated into 1930s popular culture, in particular, the many press accounts of people whose sex was deemed to have changed.

Dr Catherine Baker is Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History at the University of Hull. She is a specialist in post-Cold War history, international relations and cultural studies, including the post-Yugoslav region in a transnational and global context. Catherine’s current projects include relationships between the military and popular culture; the cultural politics of international events (including the Eurovision Song Contest); transnational LGBTQ politics and identities since the late Cold War, including queer representation in media; and ‘race’ in the Yugoslav region.


11 Environment

Tuesday 17 April 2018 18:00 to 20:00
MAL G16, Birkbeck College, Malet St, London

History Acts workshops are led by activists, who give a short talk or presentation about their work. Historians working on a relevant topic will then respond, before opening it up to group discussion.


John Hunter, Divest London
Divest London
is a citizens’ movement, pushing public authorities and other institutions across the capital to show leadership and divest from fossil fuels.


Simon Pirani is Senior Visiting Research Fellow on the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies Natural Gas Programme. He has published widely on the development of natural gas markets, and changing consumption patterns, in the former Soviet Union. He was editor of, and contributor to, the programme’s multi-author volumes The Russian Gas Matrix: How Markets are Driving Change (OUP, 2014) and Russian and CIS Gas Markets and their Impact on Europe (OUP, 2009). He is currently completing a book on the global history of fossil fuel consumption from 1950, to be published by Pluto in 2018.

Barbara Brayshay & Chris Church, Our Places, Our Stories: Mapping and Celebrating 50 years of Local Green Action
Our Places Our Stories is a new project which will record the remarkable places and projects where local people stepped up and took action, places where they said “No” to changes that threatened their environment or their community, or they wanted to create something new – a city farm, a cycle route or an energy project. There have been hundreds of local environmental campaigns and initiatives but there is little that records or celebrates what people did.

International Solidarity

Tuesday 20 March 2018 18:00 to 20:00
Dreyfus Room, Birkbeck26 Russell Square, London

History Acts workshops are led by activists, who give a short talk or presentation about their work. Historians working on a relevant topic will then respond, before opening it up to group discussion.

Our panel


Cuba Solidarity Campaign is a British organisation that campaigns against the US blockade of Cuba, for an end to the US occupation of Cuban land at Guantanamo Bay, and to defend the Cuban people’s right to be free from foreign intervention. The campaign also works to build links and better understanding between Britain and Cuba, and has more than 5000 members, affiliated organisations and local groups.

Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign was formed in spring 2017 and aims to be a broad-based campaign, affiliated with trade unions, civil society groups and the labour movement in order to promote the cause of a free and democratic Kurdistan.

Dr Francisco Dominguez, National Secretary of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, is Head of the Latin American Studies Research Group, Middlesex University. He is former refugee form Pinochet’s Chile and is active on Latin American issues in the UK. He is a specialist on the contemporary political economy of Latin America about which he has written extensively. He is co-author ofRight-Wing Politics in Latin America(Zed Books). He is also a member of the National Executive Committee of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and is co-coordinator of Friends of Ecuador.


Dr Helen Yaffe is Lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow. She is an economic historian specialising primarily in Cuba and Latin America. She is the author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution (2009) and, with Gavin Brown, Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket Against Apartheid (2017).

Pádraig Durnin is a PhD researcher in History at Queen’s University Belfast. His research focuses on solidarity activism with Latin America in Britain and Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the wider history of such activism in a particularly Irish context. His broader interests include the history of the post-war political left, in particular its relationship to the emergence of the human rights paradigm. He is also former Outreach Officer of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

On strike. How to win?

Can history help us win this dispute?  Can we link our struggle over pensions to the struggles against casualisation of teaching and outsourcing of university staff? In an emergency History Acts teach-out, we invite historians of trade unionism to discuss strategies and tactics with union officials and activists.

WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 6pm to 8pm
MAYDAY ROOMS, 88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH

History Acts workshops are led by activists, who give a short talk or presentation about their work. A historian or historians working on a relevant topic will then respond, before opening it up to group discussion.


Mike Berlin is joint-President of Birkbeck UCU, and a historian specialising in the social history of early modern London. UCU members are currently on strike to defend their right to a fair pension.

Henry Chango Lopez is President of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, a small, independent trade union, whose members are predominantly low paid migrant workers in London. The union was founded in 2012. The IWGB is a campaigning union, which has waged a number of high profile campaigns such as for the London Living Wage at the Royal Opera House and at John Lewis, and the 3 Cosas Campaign (sick pay, holidays, and pensions) at the University of London.

Catherine Oakley is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds and co-founder of The Academic Precariat (TAP), a new activist platform for research and teaching academics, and other categories of staff in the Higher Education sector united by the material and psychological conditions of precarity.


Dr Laura Schwartz is Associate Professor in Modern British History at the University of Warwick. Her main research interests are the history of feminism and radical movements in Britain, and she is completing her third monograph on ‘Feminism and the Servant Problem: Class Conflict and Domestic Labour in the British Women’s Suffrage Movement’.

Laura is involved with Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE), a network aiming to bring together casualised academic workers involved in struggles around the country, to organise for better labour conditions.



An opportunity for historians with an interest in disability to engage with activists.

Tuesday 20 February
18:00 to 20:00,

Room 407, 30 Russell Square, Birkbeck, London WC1B 5DT


History Acts workshops are led by activists, who give a short talk or presentation about their work. Historians working on a relevant topic will then respond, before opening it up to group discussion.

Our Panel

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is an organisation for disabled people and allies to campaign against the impact of government spending cuts on the lives of disabled people. DPAC was formed by a group of disabled people after the 3rd October 2010 mass protests against cuts in Birmingham, England. DPAC is for everyone who believes that disabled people should have full human rights and equality.

Eleanor Lisney is a founding member of Sisters of Frida, an experimental collective of disabled women. Taking their name from the disabled artist and activist Frida Kahlo, Sisters of Frida work to find new ways of sharing experiences, mutual support and relationships with different networks. Their vision is a future in which disabled women are empowered, celebrated, informed, connected, valued and at the centre of society.

Mike Oliver is Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Greenwich and a campaigner for disabled people’s rights. His 1983 book, Social Work with Disabled People, is credited with introducing the ‘social model of disability’, and his work has been influential in the development of disability studies over the past three decades. Other publications include The Politics of Disablement (1990) and Understanding Disability: From Theory to Practice (1996).

Dr Esme Cleall is Lecturer in the History of the British Empire at the University of Sheffield. She researches and teaches on the social and cultural history of the British Empire; the politics of difference; and race and disability in nineteenth-century Britain. Her current research project, Colonising Disability: race, impairment and otherness in the British Empire, c. 1800-1914, explores the construction of disability in the nineteenth-century British Empire.

Labour & Momentum: The left in government?

An opportunity for historians with an interest in left wing governments to engage with Momentum and Labour activists.

Tuesday 16 January 2018 18:00 to 20:00
ROOM CHANGE 6pm to 8pm Dreyfus Room, Birkbeck
26 Russell Square, London

History Acts workshops are led by activists, who give a short talk or presentation about their work. Historians working on a relevant topic will then respond, before opening it up to group discussion.

Our Panel

Beth Foster-Ogg is a Labour activist and Momentum Training Organiser. She has had articles published by Labour List and the Independent, and in 2016 she ran for the position of Chair of London Young Labour.

Michael Walker is a contributor to Novara Media and a Labour activist. In 2016, he worked on the Jeremy for Labour leadership campaign in the volunteer mobilisation team and was a panellist at our first History Acts workshop.

John Callaghan is Professor of Politics & Contemporary History at the University of Salford. His research interests include: the politics and history of socialism, international history since 1789 and political ideologies. Amongst other works he is the author of The Far Left in British Politics (1987) Socialism in Britain Since 1884 (1990), and The Labour Party and Foreign Policy: A History (2007).

Charlotte Riley is Lecturer in Twentieth-Century British History at the University of Southampton. She specialises in the history of twentieth-century Britain, especially the Labour Party, aid and development, and decolonization. She is also interested more broadly in the culture of British politics and society, especially issues around gender politics and the British state.  She is currently working on a monograph exploring the Labour Party’s aid and development policies from the 1920s to the 1970s.



History Acts will be back with a new programme of workshops this January in association with Raphael Samuel History Centre.

Founded in 2016 at the University of London, History Acts brings together radical and left-wing historians and contemporary activists. As activist academics, we want to find new ways to engage with contemporary struggles, to learn from those involved in organising on the front line, and to use what expertise and institutional resources we have to provide active solidarity and support.

Over 2016 and 2017, workshops in London and Birmingham focused on the Labour left, gender violence, new unions, migration, housing, the media, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Not only have there been exciting and inspiring conversations, but we have seen networks, connections and collaborations being formed and sustained between academics and activists across these areas.

Continuing this work, our 2018 series of workshops will take place in London on the third Tuesday of every term-time month. Details of topics, speakers and venues will follow in due course. Sessions are free and open to any historian, any history student, or anyone interested in how history can work for social and political change.

If you are interested in getting involved in the organisation of History Acts or participating in a workshop, email Steffan Blayney at

Black Lives Matter

An opportunity for historians to engage with activists.

Thursday 6 July 2017 11am to 12.30pm
Modern British Studies Conference 2017
UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM, Room N225, Gisbert Kapp Building

History Acts workshops are led by activists, who give a short talk or presentation about their work. Historians working on a relevant topic will then respond, before opening it up to group discussion.

Our Panel

Malachi Thomas is one of the organisers of Black Lives Matter protests in Nottingham. In November 2016 he was convicted of unlawfully obstructing a highway having used foam-filled “lock-on devices” to link himself to other activists before lying across tram lines outside Nottingham’s Theatre Royal during a “national day of action” in August.

Tippa Naphtali is the founder of 4WardEver UK and the cousin of custody death victim, Mikey Powell, from Birmingham. Established June 2006, 4WardEver provides a one-stop-resource for case profiles, news and event details, useful resources, statistics, appeals, and more in relation to deaths and abuses whilst in custody; including the death penalty, other injustices and human rights abuses in the UK and internationally.

Dr Christienna Fryar is starting as a lecturer of the history of slavery and unfree labour at the University of Liverpool this July. Previously, she spent four years as an assistant professor of history at SUNY Buffalo State. She is completing her first book, The Measure of Empire: Disaster and British Imperialism in Postemancipation Jamaica, which explores how imperial disaster politics belied contemporary popular narratives of Jamaica’s ruin in the eight decades after emancipation. Her work focuses on the history of emancipation as the history of Britain, the British Empire, and the British Commonwealth since 1800.

Dr Kennetta Perry specializes in Atlantic World history with a particular emphasis on transnational race politics, empire, migration and movements for citizenship among people of African descent in Europe, the Caribbean and the United States. Her book, London Is The Place For Me:Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race (Oxford University Press, 2015). Her book examines how a largely Afro-Caribbean population of Black Britons advocated for citizenship rights and transformed the political landscape in Britain in the decades following World War II.