The past in today’s politics

Editors Note: This is an archived blog post from 17/1/2012.

The past in today’s politics: a debate on the state of history-writing as a political act

A panel debate hosted by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and the British Library

Eliot Room, British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB, 5 March 2012, 6pm to 8pm

Professor Virginia Berridge (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and co-founder of ‘History & Policy’)

Maurice Glasman, Dr Maurice Glasman (Reader in Political Theory at London Metropolitan University and Labour Peer)

Dr Mark Levene (University of Southampton)

Professor Lynne Segal (Birkbeck College, University of London).

Chaired by Gareth Stedman Jones (Director of the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge, Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge University and Professor of the History of Ideas at Queen Mary, University of London)

Booking essential as seating is limited: to book please email Katy Pettit –

Is there a place for politics in academic historical research?

A generation ago historians were at the forefront of political debates on hot topics such as gender, class, sexuality, race, health and peace campaigning. Radical historians such as Raphael Samuel and the History Workshop movement not only informed public discussion through historical research, but questioned current norms and structures and contributed to the reshaping of behaviours, ways of life and beliefs through their grass-roots activism. Moving away from top-down historical subject matter, they excavated hidden histories, driven by observation or experience of inequality to reveal and question power relations in the past and present,

and to suggest how things could be in the future.

Are historians politically-minded nowadays? How many activist-academics are there today highlighting urgent contemporary political concerns through the focus of an historical lens? Is it that historians are engaging differently in political lobbying? What are the dangers and implications of historical research being applied wrongly for political campaigning? Is there a

generational divide in which younger scholars are no longer radicalised or motivated by contemporary politics to incorporate it into polemical history-writing? Have all the social and political ‘battles’ been fought and won? Does the way historians are funded today constrict the type of history that is written? Are today’s historians interrogating their own investment in the histories they are telling? And if so, what questions are being asked and what methods are being used?

This panel debate will focus on these questions and more as we ask what sort of role the historian can play in contemporary political debate.

For further information: contact or


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