Cantankerous Campania

Whenever I travel I keep an eye out for evidence or histories of contention, protest and dissent, and I frequently come across interesting stories.  I  recently got back from a family holiday in Sorrento, a mid-sized city in the Italian province of Campania. As well as the city of Naples, Campania is home to some of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions, including Vesuvius, Pompei and the Amalfi Coast. During my holiday, I came across several examples of protest and contentious politics, both historic and contemporary.

Some Light-hearted Graffiti in Sorrento.

Some Light-hearted Graffiti in Sorrento.

Pompei is perhaps the most famous tourist attraction in Campania, a Roman city buried during an eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, and remarkably well preserved as a result. The city has 2 amphitheatres that are open to the public, one of which was the site of a riot in 59AD, between the local Pompeians and the residents of a nearby town called Nuceria. What started as an exchange of taunts and insults at a gladiatorial competition escalated to the throwing of stones, and finally the drawing of weapons. Casualties were suffered on both sides, although the Nucerians apparently came off decidedly worse. It seems likely that the riot was the culmination of long-term resentments between the citizens of the two towns. As punishment, the Pompeians were banned from holding events in the amphitheatre for 10 years. This story helped me to repopulate the ghostly archeological site, and imagine what Pompei was like before its tragic and sudden destruction.

The Amphitheatre in Pompei that Played Host to a Bloody Riot in AD 59.

The Amphitheatre in Pompei that Played Host to a Bloody Riot in AD 59.

Of course Campania is not just a tourist destination, it is also a region where millions of people live, and express dissent. Although I don’t pretend to be familiar with Italian politics, or the Italian language, there were quite obvious signs of contemporary contention as we travelled around. I found several stickers for a Naples anti-fascist group (see image below). The first one I noticed was on a train station platform. The local train network seemed to be a focus point of graffiti and stickers, so the anti-facism sticker did not seem out of place. The second time I spotted the sticker was in a much more incongruous location. At the top of Vesuvius there is scientific equipment to monitor the volcano, and provide advance warning for any future eruptions. One such monitoring station was covered in stickers, including the same Naples anti-fascism one I had seen at the station.

A Sticker of a Naples Anti-Fascism Group on a Train Station Platform.

A Sticker of a Naples Anti-Fascism Group on a Train Station Platform.

The Measuring Equipment Covered in Stickers at the Top of Vesuvius.

The Measuring Equipment Covered in Stickers at the Top of Vesuvius.

The other example of contemporary contention I noticed was the acronym A.C.A.B. Standing for All Cops Are Bastards, it is something I have become quite familiar with in England in recent years. I was surprised to find it in Italy though, as I assumed that the phrase would be different in Italian. I noticed it several times however, graffitied on a wall near my hotel, and written in black marker on a train window. I was intrigued by the international quality of this radical sentiment.

Some Graffiti in Sorrento Expressing Anti-Police Sentiment.

Some Graffiti in Sorrento Expressing Anti-Police Sentiment.

The history of protest in London, let alone the rest of the world, is vast, and I will never be able to learn about all of it. However trying to find out the contentious histories of new place that I visit helps me feel like I am getting to know that place slightly better, as well as providing some interesting anecdotes when for when I get home!

Book Review: ‘Voices From History- East London Suffragettes’ by Sarah Jackson and Rosemary Taylor

'Voices from History: East London Suffragettes' by Sarah Jackson and Rosemary Taylor.

‘Voices from History: East London Suffragettes’ by Sarah Jackson and Rosemary Taylor.

Jackson, Sarah and Rosemary Taylor. Voices from History: East London Suffragettes. Stroud: The History Press, 2014.

Voices from History: East London Suffragettes marks 100 years since the formation of the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS), a group led by Sylvia Pankhurst which was asked to leave the Women’s Social and Political Union after they refused to toe the party line. Not content with  campaigning for female suffrage, this inspiring group of women worked to aid and empower the local community. They started a nursery, 3 ‘cost-price’ restaurants and a co-operative toy factory, as well as campaigning for a living wage and better housing. Voices from History is a brilliant account of these achievements and others.

Voices from History is aptly named, telling the story of the ELFS with the aid of numerous first-hand accounts. One of the aims of the book is to celebrate the work of everyone involved in the Federation, even if their names have now been forgotten. The extensive quotes from multiple contemporary sources does this well, highlighting that the achievements of the Federation were down to the efforts of hundreds of individuals, not just well known leaders like Sylvia Pankhurst.

The book is very well contextualised, with female activism in the East End of London both before and after the  ELFS being detailed. I think it is often easy to view groups like the Suffragettes as isolated and unusual incidents, but in fact that is most often not the case, and the structure of the book demonstrates that well. There is a long tradition of radical activism in the East End, and the book situates the ELFS within this history. The final chapter discusses women’s activism in the East End since the suffragettes, right up to the present day. I particularly liked this way of concluding the book, as it shows that the story is not in fact over; there are many more battles to be fought against poverty and inequality in the East End.

Any criticisms that I have are minor really. In the middle of the book there are some wonderful pictures that illustrate the story brilliantly, but I would prefer it if they were interspersed throughout the book, so that you don’t have to keep skipping back and forth to the relevant images. Also, I would have liked more information about the archives and sources used during the research for the book. Even just a few sentences about how and where the research was conducted would have been much appreciated.

Voices from History is a thoroughly enjoyable read about a fascinating period of radicalism in the history of the East End of London. I attended the launch of the book as part of the East London Suffragette Festival in August this year and it was clear that the project was a labour of love for the two authors. Their admiration of the East London Suffragettes, and their determination that the ELFS get the recognition it deserves, shines through the pages of the book. The reader can’t help but feel the same.

#RGSIBG14: Twitter @ an Academic Conference

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A Presentation at the RGS-IBG 2014 Annual Conference (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I recently attended the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG for short) annual conference in London. It was my first major conference, and it was also my first academic event since I began using Twitter in earnest. I tried to engage with Twitter and the conference hashtag (#RGSIBG14) as much as possible during the week-long event. As a result I felt that my experience of the conference was enhanced. In addition, I  gained around 10 new Twitter followers,  and this blog was even mentioned on the Eventifier social media summary of the conference due to my shameless self-promotion.

#RGSIBG14 Twitter Feed

Some of my tweets from the conference (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Tweeting during events is not something that feels natural to me. I mostly tweet using my phone, and it goes against a lifetime of my parents’ scolding to use my phone whilst talking or listening to someone. Particularly when listening to someone present a paper, tweeting just felt a bit rude so I tried to do it as surreptitiously as possible. The boundaries surrounding the live-tweeting of academic events should perhaps be a topic for discussion. Not everyone uses Twitter, and the last thing I want is for people to be put off or upset because I appear bored by their paper, whilst actually they have just said something that I thought was interesting enough to share with others. Is it rude, or is it just extending the debate into another format?

There are obvious benefits to using Twitter at conferences. If I like someone’s paper, I can follow them on Twitter to keep up with them and their work as it progresses. I can get the gist of sessions that I don’t go to as other people tweet about them. Through my use of Twitter, I have also raised my profile as an academic. Several times during the conference, I had the surreal experience of someone that I had never met coming up to introduce themselves, because we had communicated previously through Twitter. It was nice to put faces to Twitter handles, but it also proved to me the merits of Twitter as a networking tool. I am better known amongst the academic community than I otherwise would be because of my participation in the twittersphere.

I know that Twitter is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I think there needs to be more discussion about it’s use amongst the academic community, but I also think it can be an incredibly useful tool. Please comment on this post with your own thoughts and experiences on Twitter, I would love to get a discussion going!

RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2014

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South Kensington Station, which became quite familiar over the week (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Although I have been to conferences before, I have never been to one quite as big as the RGS-IBG annual conference. With around 2000 delegates, and 414 sessions to  choose from, I couldn’t really comprehend the size of it until I saw it for myself. Over the course of 4 days, I went to 13 sessions, and listened to 40 papers. I have had a great week, although I do feel like I need another week to recover (It’s a good thing I’m on holiday as I write this!) I have met some great people, and listened to some fascinating papers on a range of topics from war, conflict, protest and fascism through to music, cold war bunkers and gay bars.

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The Chair’s opening panel discussion on co-production (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The overarching theme of the conference was co-production, the idea of producing knowledge and other outputs in collaboration with others. As a historical geographer, it was not something that I thought really applied to me. However, during a panel discussion at the conference on co-production, it was pointed out that all knowledge is co-produced. No knowledge, or anything else for that matter, is produced in a vacuum, it always involves other people to some extent. When I do archival research, I am working with the people who wrote the sources, the people who chose to preserve them, and the people who look after and organise them. I think it is important to be aware of these other actors that contribute to your research, not only in order to give them the credit they deserve, but also to ensure that your research is as informed and considered as possible.

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My RHUL colleague, Mel Nowicki, presenting her paper (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

One thing that was really brought home to me over the course of the conference was how far I, and the other PhD students who started at Royal Holloway with me, have come. We started almost a few weeks short of a year ago, and we’ve all achieved a lot since then. I was surprised at the number of people I knew at the conference, I didn’t realise how many interesting and engaging people I have met at various events since last September. I did not present, but many of my colleagues did, with a few even presenting two papers. I only saw one of them, but it was lovely to see her (Mel Nowicki, @melnowicki) research taking shape. It can sometimes feel like a PhD will never end, so it was really reassuring to realise that I am making progress.

So I think it’s safe to say that my first major academic research was a resounding success. I have had a lot of fun, a lot of ideas, and some interesting thoughts on the process of PhD. Roll on next year!