How historians can support campaigners and challenge institutional racism


Watch the recording & download the write-up

HA23 Black History Matters


Jabu-Nala Hartley, Black Lives Matter / Oxford Anti-Racist City
Jabu co-founded Oxford Anti-Racist City, a project which focuses on disrupting and challenging institutional racism. Jabu has been part of the Black Lives Matters protests in Oxford, where thousands gathered in response to the civil unrest in America but also focus on the experience of racist and brutal policing in the UK.

Florence Adeoye, Young Historians Project
Florence Adeoye is a recent International Politcs, Policy and History graduate from the University of Liverpool. She is a member of the Young Historians Project, a group of young people that excavate African and Caribbean people’s history in the UK.


Dr Christienna Fryar is a lecturer in Black British History at Goldsmiths, University of London and a historian of modern Britain, the British Empire, and the Modern Caribbean, focusing on Britain’s centuries-long imperial and especially postemancipation entanglements with the Caribbean. Her work embeds modern British history within the fields of comparative slavery and emancipation studies. 

Dr Ashley Howard is an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa.Her research interests include African Americans in the Midwest; the intersection between race, class, and gender; and the global history of racial violence. Her manuscript Prairie Fires: Class, Gender, and Regional Intersections in the 1960s Urban Rebellions analyzes the 1960s urban rebellions in the Midwest, grounded in the way race, class, gender, and region played critical and overlapping roles in defining resistance to racialized oppression.


Those most affected by COVID-19 are often unable to speak. Who else is not being heard or listened to? Historians and archivists consider what needs to be done.


Watch the recording and download the write-up.

HA22 Recording a crisis


Paul Dudman – Living Refugee Archive
The Living Refugee Archive is based at the University of East London’s Library at Docklands, the home of the Refugee Council Archive for over a decade. It facilitates accessibility to archival resources on the refugee and forced migration experience.

Jen Hoyer & Nora Almeida – Interference Archive
The Interference Archive was founded in Brooklyn in 2011 and explores the relationship between cultural production and social movements. Its archival collection comprises cultural ephemera produced by and for social movements worldwide. It also produces publications and hosts a study centre and public programmes.

Fani Arampatzidou & Chris Jones – MayDay Rooms
The MayDay Rooms collect and preserve historical materials related to social movements, experimental culture and the radical expression of marginalised figures and groups. Their current project Pandemic Notes works to build an archive around the Covid-19 crisis.


Dr Charlotte Clements is Senior Lecturer in History at London South Bank University. She specialises in youth, welfare and charity in Britain since 1945 and has worked on a British Academy project supporting charities and voluntary archives to preserve and use their archives.

Dr Andrew Flinn is Reader in Archival Studies and Oral History at University College London. His academic interests include documenting the activities of political movements and parties, particularly grassroots political activity and the use of history by political parties and activists.


How the pandemic has exacerbated existing appalling conditions in prisons and migrant detention centres, and how abolitionist and anti-prison expansion activists are adapting to socially distant forms of organising.

Tuesday 19 May 6:30PM – 8:30PM

Download the event’s write-up & watch the recording.

HA21 Prisons in lockdown – 19 May 2020


Cambridgeshire Prisoner Detainee Solidarity is an abolitionist activist group standing in solidarity with those incarcerated in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre and the four Cambridgeshire prisons by campaigning for their safety and protection.

The Prisoner Solidarity Network is a group of people committed to dismantling the criminal justice system and building a society based on collective care. Our members include people inside and outside of prisons. Some of us are ex-prisoners and some are children, partners or friends of people inside.


Dr Ben Bethell, University of the Arts, London
Ben is an historian of penal theory, policy and practice. His publications include ‘An exception too far: “gentleman” convicts and the 1878-9 Penal Servitude Acts Commission’, and ‘Defining “unnatural crime”: sex and the English convict system, 1850-1900’.

Dr Katherine Roscoe, University of Liverpool
Katherine is a historical criminologist researching global mobilities, unfree labour and racial inequalities, with a particular focus on mid-nineteenth century crime and punishment in Britain and its former empire. Her current project focuses on the history of the Cockatoo Island convicts.


How activists can use, resist or generate the data that is being deployed in this crisis

Tuesday 5 May 6:30PM – 8:30PM

HA20 Fighting with data – Tuesday 5 May


Radical Statistics Group was formed in 1975 by researchers and statisticians with a common interest about the political implications of their work. Members are committed to helping build a more free, democratic and egalitarian society.

Anti-Eviction Mapping Project is a data-visualization, data analysis, and storytelling collective documenting the dispossession and resistance upon gentrifying landscapes. The collective primarily works in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City.


Professor Oz Frankel is Associate Professor of History at the New School for Social Research, New York. His book States of Inquiry: Social Investigations and Print Culture in Nineteenth Century Britain and the United States explores the early roots of the modern informational states. 

Professor Edward Higgs is Professor of History at the University of Essex, UK. He has written widely on the history of censuses and surveys, civil registration, women’s work, the impact of the digital revolution on archives, the information state, and the history of identification.

Dr Guy Beckett is a historian of ideas. His research looks at the impact of nineeenth-century social statistics on governance and political debates. He recently completed his PhD and is a founder of History Acts.


Professor Zohreh Bayatrizi, University of Alberta, works on the history of sociology, knowledge and power, law and society, sociology of death and dying, sociological research & social policy.

Professor Tim Rowse, Western Sydney University, works on Australia’s colonial history, including the history of its official statistics, which he sees as a form of colonial knowledge.


How can workers organise, resist & protect themselves during this pandemic

Tuesday 28 April 6:30pm – 8:30pm


If you missed this session you can listen to the audio and read the write-up.

History Acts 19 – The Work Crisis

Download the write-up.


SWARM – Sex Worker Advocacy & 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.

Ian Hodson, National President, Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). The BFAWU has recently been organising the McDonalds strikes. During the crisis the union is campaigning for employers to top-up the wages of furloughed fast-food and hospitality workers to 100%. 

Henry Lopez, President, Independent Workers Union of Great Britain Union (IWGB). The IWGB is 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 the 3 Cosas Campaign (sick pay, holidays, and pensions) at the University of London.


Dr Erin Maglaque is an early modern historian at the University of Sheffield. She is currently at work on a new project on care work and the family in early modern Italy.

Dr Jack Saunders is a labour historian. His work looks at the history of work in the NHS and in the motor industry. He currently teaches twentieth-century British history at Kings College London.

18 Locked Down

Organising community support and mutual aid during pandemics

Online Meeting
Part 1 Thursday 2 April: 6:30pm-7:15pm
Part 2 Tuesday 7 April: 6:30pm – 8:00pm


If you missed this session you can listen to the audio, and download the write-up.

History Acts 18, Parts 1 & 2

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Seth WheelerLabour Transformed is a network for anti-capitalist Labour Party members organising for socialism. Recently, they set up the Virtual Social Centre, to bring together the different campaigns and initiatives emerging in response to the triple threat of Covid19, the financial crisis and authoritarian governance into one place.

Aviah Day founded the Hackney Covid-19 Mutual Aid group. She is an activist with Sisters Uncut, and a lecturer in Criminology at Birkbeck, University of London.


Dave Hitchcock is Senior Lecturer in History at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is interested in early modern social and cultural history, particularly of England, in poverty, mobility, and inequalities, and has taught on the Great Plague of London of 1665-1666.

Michael Bresalier is a lecturer in the History of Medicine, with expertise in the social, cultural, economic, and global dimensions of health and disease in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has researched and published on nineteenth and twentieth century British medical science and its institutions, specifically the role of bacteriology and virology in the modern state, military and empire. 

This is our first online History Acts workshop.


Tuesday 21 June

Activist: Jack Jeans (Tate Strike)

Historians: Lucy MacFadzean (Aberystwyth), Gavin Grindon (Essex)

Key questions:

  • What does ‘art funding’ mean – funding for large and established institutions or for grass-roots initiatives? Does museums’ non-profit status still apply now that they rely primarily on private funding? Is a general rethink of how culture is funded necessary to reshape work models within cultural institutions too?
  • Who has ownership within a large cultural institution like Tate? What role can artists whose work is exhibited in these spaces play in disputes about conditions within the institution? What about the workers who are also artists, supporting their art work by working part-time or on a casualised basis within the institution and thereby subsidising the prominent artists the institution promotes? 
  • How can social media and digital and visual communication with members and the public be used to raise the profile of labour disputes in cultural institutions? What about the press? How can these communication strategies use museum’s reputations as open and liberal as leverage?
  • How should unions respond to changing working conditions such as outsourcing, migrant work, and zero-hours contracts? How can we rethink professional divisions between unions that lead to conflicts of interest and sectarianism? What about workers whose contracts place them outside union recognition agreements because they are freelance, self-employed, or casualised? Does the unionisation of casualised workers such as self-employed couriers and sex workers offer a more widely applicable model?
  • What parallels can be drawn with conditions and labour activism in cultural and educational institutions and issues such as outsourcing? 
  • How can these campaigns be archived, and how can archiving be used to generate further solidarity?

The History Acts session on 18 June brought together Jack Jeans, an organiser for Tate Strike, and historians of cultural activism Lucy MacFadzean (Aberystwyth) and Gavin Grindon (Essex) to discuss how historical awareness could be used to support culture workers coordinating industrial action. Here is a brief summary of some of the issues and ideas that were discussed. 

A key point of discussion, and one that strongly informed the approach of Tate Strike, was the question of arts funding. State funding for the culture sector has fallen, leading it to rely increasingly on corporate funding streams. This has led to a greater focus on blockbuster exhibitions to bring in private income, increasing pressure on staff as well as reducing diversity in the exhibitions. At Tate, pay has also fallen by 20% in real terms since the financial crash. A PCS survey from May 2018 showed that half of staff at Tate had suffered from pay cuts and overwork and over half of many workers’ pay was spent on the cost of renting accommodation in London. Jack Jeans also noted that workers within the culture sector are perceived as having other motivations than pay in their choice of work and that this is used to justify low pay. 

Jack Jeans and Gavin Grindon, a member of Liberate Tate, noted that cultural institutions value their outward-facing reputation as liberal, inclusive, and progressive spaces, and are sensitive to high-profile campaigns showing that their workers are subject to low pay, overwork, and discriminatory employment practices. The pressure that Tate Strike could exert using social media forced the institution to capitulate and make an additional pay offer to avert strike action that would damage its image. Liberate Tate drew its strategy from direct action groups, staging protests deliberately presented as performances to justify their presence in cultural institutions. Interest and support from the art press raised their profile. They also sought a dialogue with cleaners and other support staff, establishing solidarity and common ground.

A key question was how unions can and should reform their traditional structures to work across professional divisions and represent casualized labour to prevent different unions and workers from being pitted against one another. For instance, union representatives are often not facilitated to support outsourced workers. Joint union meetings may mean that workers are uncomfortable speaking out in front of their managers. 

Through the example of the Greater London Council, Lucy MacFadzean raised the issue of artistic value, where it is housed, how it is represented, and how it is created. The GLC sought to make culture about community building, seeing cultural industries as a means of creating jobs and generating funds for the city. Rethinking the funding structures that support cultural industries could offer an opportunity also to rethink the centrality of big institutions like Tate, which increase gentrification. The labour that cultural institutions rely on to create artistic value is often made invisible through outsourcing work or employing unpaid interns and freelance workers. It was noted that Tate uses its Learning Department as pressure valve for these concerns, inviting radical speakers and artists without addressing structural inequalities in their own workplaces. 

The discussion considered how history and archiving could support these and future campaigns. The Liberate Tate campaign is archived within Tate, but while this means that the campaign successfully infiltrated the institution it sought to hold to account, it also gave the institution the means to sanitise the record. It was agreed that it is crucial to create networks with other groups engaged in similar protests, for instance the campaign against BP funding at the National Portrait Gallery. Protest groups can take direct action that is not open to unions. 

Establishing cross-generational activist links, for instance with activists working with the GLC in the 1980s, will offer a way of working against institutions’ attempts to reclaim historical protests while divorcing them from similar action in the present day. Connecting with activists, artists, and historians across generations can also offer context to present-day campaigns which can generate new publicity.

17 Culture Strikes

Tuesday 18 JUNE 6PM-8PM

43 Gordon Square, London WC1B 5DT.


The World Transformed – Ben Beach is the arts coordinator for The World Transformed, the political conference organised by the grassroots Momentum group of the British Labour Party. Ben has a background in housing and urban struggles and an interest in constructing situations from the relationship between art, space and politics.

Tate Strike – Jack Jeans, Tate employee and Public & Commercial Services union organiser, was recently involved in organising the Tate Strike ballot.


Lucy McFadzean, Aberystwyth University, is a Phd Researcher looking at the cultural policies of the Greater London Council between 1981-6. She is interested in the ways grassroots, political and community centred cultural forms can be supported by state and other institutions.

Dr Gavin Grindon,University of Essex, recently co-curated The Occupation Museum in Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, Palestine, presenting a Palestinian-led narrative of the history and everyday experience of Israel’s colonial occupation of Palestine. In 2015, he curatedThe Museum of Cruel Designs, at Banksy’s Dismalandin Westom-Super-Mare. His research focuses on twentieth century art, specifically activist-art and institutional critique and its futures. He is currently completing a book on the history of activist-art.


Tuesday 21 May

Activist: Kevin Blowe (NetPol)
Historians: Anja Johansen (Dundee), Jonah Miller (KCL)

Key questions:

  • How is police violence discussed? What does ‘policing by consent’ mean and how is it understood?
  • How and what can be learnt from the history of how different groups in society interact with (or are demonised by) police?
  • How is the language of ‘extremism’ used to label and ‘other’ an ‘enemy’ the police can be aggressive towards? How does this relate to the concept of the ‘mob’ and fear of political insurrection through history?
  • How does Britain’s history of imperialism inform modern-day practices of policing?
  • What alternatives are there (or are possible) for responding to crime that don’t involve police crack-downs?
  • What is the impact of Liberalism on police practice, accountability, and access to complaints systems?
  • How can understanding legal structures around bringing charges against police officers help us understand accountability?
  • How can historical records from different periods help us understand contemporary accountability (bearing in mind records can be retrospectively closed)? How can activists create our own records in helpful ways?
  • What is the role of the press in challenging the police and what impact has this had historically and can it have now?
  • What does success look like in advocating for victims of police violence?
  • Is there scope to press for change on policing within Labour, perhaps by pitching surveillance as a human rights issue? 

The History Acts session on 21 May brought together Kevin Blowe, coordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (NetPol) and historians of policing Anja Johansen (Dundee) and Jonah Miller (KCL) to discuss what value history could have in working against police violence and increasing police accountability. Here is a brief summary of some of the issues and ideas that were discussed. 

A key point of discussion was how to bridge the gap between audiences who do not personally experience police violence and the experience of demonstrators and groups who face police repression regularly or continually. NetPol focuses on issues including stop-and-search, violent arrests, and police harassment, and supports the families of people who have died in police custody. Jonah Miller offered historical examples of similar policing practices from the 18thcentury. It was agreed that history can be used to show those not habitually subject to police violence how these tactics are used and how quickly the contexts in which they are applied can change. The panel discussed how modern recording and dissemination technologies can help to spread awareness and give the police less control over the narratives around incidents of police violence, although this has not led to increased police accountability.

The panel agreed that the language around policing was important. Police violence tends to be discussed as an aberration or tragedy. By comparison the language around ‘extremism’ is used to create a criminalised, enemy ‘other’ that justifies police violence and surveillance against people labelled in this way. NetPol calls for the label ‘extremist’ to be scrapped as it has no legal basis. 

The group discussed the influence of imperial history on modern-day police practices and how this underpins the normalisation of an armed police presence. This is frequently linked to a fear of political insurrection and ‘mob’ uprisings.

The discussion turned to how police might be held accountable. Anja Johansen argued that it is crucial that citizens are able to bring charges against police officers. Jonah Miller added that before the police force was professionalised criminal trials of police constables were common and regularly led to convictions. Some historical examples of mobilisation against police power by the press, politicians, individuals, and legal lobbying groups were discussed; however, these often lacked support or developed in different political directions, dropping their focus on police accountability. This raised the question of the hollowing-out of legal aid and the fact that fewer lawyers are able to dedicate time to Pro Bono work. This means individuals face a growing difficulty in bringing legal cases. The possibility of a National Legal Service was raised.

The group discussed the privatisation of public spaces, ‘public space protection orders’, and the criminalisation of ‘anti-social behaviour’ such as rough sleeping, and how these form part of a narrative around the policing of ‘public order’. This climate is currently heightened by issues such as Brexit and climate change protests, increasing the likelihood of police violence. Increased surveillance in the form of facial recognition technology and ‘information-led’ investigations was also discussed.

Kevin Blowe raised the issue of the recent closure of previously open records relating to cases of police violence. The Undercover Research Group has traced these closures. Activists have also kept their own records, but these have not yet been reviewed, compiled, or curated. NetPol activists are currently writing a handbook on setting up a police monitoring network. This would be a good call for historical research. 

16 Police violence

Tuesday 21 MAY 6PM-8PM

Birkbeck College,  Room 103,
30 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DT.


Kevin Blowe – co-ordinator of Netpol. The Network for Police Monitoring seeks to monitor public order, protest and street policing, and to challenge and resist policing which is excessive, discriminatory or threatens civil rights. Netpol has built an inclusive network of activists, campaigners, lawyers and researchers to create a forum for sharing knowledge, experience and expertise. Through active campaigning, sharing knowledge and building awareness, Netpol aims to effectively challenge policing strategies which are unnecessarily damaging to any sector of our society.

Second group TBC


Jonah Miller is a research student at King’s College London. He recently published ‘The Touch of the State: Stop and Search in England, c.1660-1750’ in History Workshop Journal

Anja Johansen is a Senior Lecturer in History at Dundee University. Her research is focused on the relationship between police and the public in France, Germany and Britain during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her current research project “Quarrelsome Citizens: Emerging Police complaints Cultures in London, Paris and Berlin, 1880-1914” compares the ways in which individual citizens challenged police violence and malpractice. She is also interested in the development of civil liberties activism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and how individual citizens sought to challenge public authorities – including the police and the judiciary.