Book Review: A Radical History of Britain by Edward Vallance

A Radical History of Britain front cover

A Radical History of Britain by Edward Vallance.

Edward Vallance. A Radical History of Britain. London: Abacus, 2010. RRP £13.99 paperback.

The British have a reputation for being a bit passive when it comes to protest, rebellion, and revolution. The Glorious Revolution in 1688 is celebrated for being ‘bloodless,’ and when the rest of Europe was wracked with revolutions in the mid-nineteenth century we had the largely peaceful Chartist movement. Books such as A Radical History of Britain, however, demonstrate that us Brits can rebel with the best of them.

A Radical History of Britain pretty much does what it says on the tin, although Vallance does admit in the introduction that it is largely about England rather then Britain. The book is split into seven parts, each with several chapters, that focus on particularly contentious periods in English history, including: the English Civil Wars; British radicalism around the time of the French Revolution; Chartism; and the Women’s Suffrage movement. In each case, Vallance focuses on two elements that make A Radical History of Britain more than just a straightforward narrative. The first is a concern with ideas as well as events; Vallances devotes significant attention to the theories and writings that inspired and drove radicalism, from those of the Levellers, to Thomas Paine, Feargus O’Connor, and the Pankhursts. The second element that makes the book stand out is discussion of how protests and periods of radicalism were used by later activists and campaigners as sources of inspiration, justification, and legitimisation. Social movements often draw on the history of radicalism in lots of ways, and A Radical History of Britain traces that process.

Our freedom lies in our power. Pessimists may point to demonstrations against the war in Iraq as evidence of modern government’s capacity to ignore the will of the people. However, the millions who marched against that illegal war also remind us of the readiness of the British people once again, in the words of Shelley, to rise ‘like lions after slumber.’ This is the lesson of Britain’s radical history: the struggle for our freedom goes on.

Vallance, 2010; p 552.

Last year, I reviewed The English Rebel by David Horspool. It too tells the story of English radicalism, although Horspool is more explicit about the English focus. On the surface, the two books are quite similar; they are telling the same story, and feature many of the same events. They also both indulge in my  pet hate of collecting images together rather than dispersing them throughout the text. However, there are differences. The English Rebel is more of a straightforward narrative, whilst A Radical History of Britain explores radical ideas and legacies, as I have mentioned. David Horspool’s overall message is that the English have always been more radical than our reputation implies. Edward Vallance’s key message is that rights are something that the English fought long and hard for, and they can be lost if they are not defended. The narrative in The English Rebel is more complete than in A Radical History of Britain; Vallance sacrifices breadth for depth in some places, so skips over some time periods, and finishes in the mid-twentieth century, whilst Horspool goes right through to the nineteen-nineties. I personally found The English Rebel easier to read, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a better book, it depends what the reader is looking for. I understand that not everyone enjoys reading about the history of protest as much as I do, so if you only want to read one, I can offer some advice. If you’re after a more general overview of protest in England throughout history, I would recommend The English Rebel. If you would prefer something with more analysis, then I would suggest A Radical History of Britain.

A Radical History of Britain presents some interesting arguments about how legacies of protests and radicalism are shaped and used by radicals that come after, and it also provides a thorough introduction to the history of radical ideas in Britain. It is not the easiest book to read, but I think it is worth the effort.

 

Turbulent Londoners: Lady Constance Lytton, 1869-1923

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. To celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, all of the Turbulent Londoners featured in 2018 will have been involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage. This post is about Lady Constance Lytton, an aristocrat who was imprisoned four times for the suffrage movement.


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Lady Constance Lytton, 1869-1923 (Photo: Museum of London).

Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton was a woman of privilege, although she was never really comfortable with the aristocratic life. Suffering from poor health for most of her life, she struggled to find a purpose to life until she decided to join the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1910. Her dedication to the suffrage movement dovetailed with her interest in prison reform, and she relished being imprisoned four times for the cause. On the third occasion she was force fed.

Constance Lytton was born on the 12th of January 1869 in Vienna. The third of seven children of Edith Villiers and Robert Bulwer-Lytton, the first Earl of Lytton, to say that Constance was privileged is a bit of an understatement. Her father was the Viceroy of India, and she lived there until she was 11. She was private and shy, and never really took to the aristocratic way of life. When her father died in 1891 she retired from public life to look after her mother. The following year, her mother refused to allow her to marry someone from a ‘lower social order.’ Constance spent several years hoping her mother would change her mind, but it was not to be, and Constance never married.

In 1905, Constance was left £1000 by her great-aunt. She wanted to donate the money to the revival of morris dancing, and her brother suggested she give it to the Esperance Club, founded by Emmeline Pethwick-Lawrence and Mary Neal. Both suffrage campaigners themselves, Emmeline and Mary established the Esperance Club, a dance and drama club for working class girls. Over the next few years, Constance met other suffragettes, including Annie Kenney. Constance had an interest in prison reform and was initially sympathetic to suffragette prisoners, although she disapproved of their militant methods. Her objections were eventually overcome, however, and she joined the WSPU in January 1909.

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Constance (left) with several other prominent suffragettes (Photo: Her Blueprint).

Constance became a paid WSPU organiser in June 1910; she travelled the country making pro-Suffrage speeches and used her family connections to lobby Parliament. She wasted no time getting involved in the direct action side of the suffrage campaign though, on the 24th of February 1909 she took part in a demonstration at the House of Commons which earnt her her first prison sentence. Constance had a weak heart, and spent most of her sentence in the infirmary, being treated well. Whilst in prison, she attempted to carve ‘Votes for Women’ into her own skin, from her chest to her cheek, so her allegiance would always be visible. She carved the V above her heart, but was prevented from completing this unorthodox protest when she asked for a sterile dressing.

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Constance Lytton in disguise as Jane Warton (Photo: Museum of London).

The second time Constance was imprisoned, she was released as soon as she began a hunger strike and a doctor discovered her weak heart. The government were reluctant to make a martyr of such a prominent, well-connected suffragette. Convinced that her social status was earning her special treatment, Constance adopted the persona of Jane Warton, a working-class London seamstress. Jane Warton travelled to Liverpool in October 1909 and was sentenced to fourteen days hard labour after throwing rocks at an MP’s car. She went on hunger strike, and was force fed eight times before her true identity was discovered and she was released.

Severely weakened by her ordeal, Constance wrote accounts of her experiences for The Times and Votes for Women, the WSPU’s newspaper. She also gave lectures about Jane Warton’s time in prison, and her accounts are credited with helping to end the practice of force feeding suffragettes. It came at a high price; Constance had a heart attack in August 1910, followed by several strokes that left her right side paralysed. In November 1911, Constance was imprisoned again, and found conditions for suffragettes much improved. Her health forced her to step back from direct action campaigning, but she continued to write pamphlets and other materials in support of women’s suffrage. In 1914 Prisons and Prisoners, her account of her experiences in prison, was published.

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the WSPU suspended their pro-suffrage campaigning. Constance turned her attention to Marie Stopes’ campaign to establish birth control clinics. Her health never recovered, and she was looked after by her mother for the rest of her life. She died on the 2nd May 1923.

Constance Lytton was never comfortable with her privilege, but she used it to campaign for women’s right to vote, and to expose the cruelty of the treatment of suffrage campaigners in prison. She sacrificed her already poor health to draw attention to the disparity between the treatment of working- and upper-class prisoners, and I admire her determination.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Birkby, Michelle. “Lady Constance Lytton: The Suffering Suffragette.” Historia. Last modified 5th February 2018, accessed 17th May 2018. Available at http://www.historiamag.com/lady-constance-lytton-suffragette/

Jenkins, Lyndsey. Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr. London: Biteback, 2015.

Simkin, John. “Constance Lytton.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified February 2015, accessed 17th May 2018. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/Wlytton.htm 

Wikipedia, “Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton.” Last modified 1st January 2018, accessed 17th May 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Constance_Bulwer-Lytton

Fairbnb? Ethical Conference Accommodation

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‘Shotgun’ houses in New Orlean’s French District, which I visited for the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. International conferences can be an opportunity to visit some wonderful places, but do we need to be more critical of our contribution to problems with tourism in those places? (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In April I attended the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in New Orleans. In July I will be going to the International Conference of Historical Geographers in Warsaw. I am lucky that my career gives me so many opportunities to travel, but it does come with downsides. As an early career researcher, I have to fund many of the conferences I attend myself (whether I should or not is perhaps a conversation for another day). As such, I need affordable accommodation, which can be very difficult to find. Increasingly, people are turning to Airbnb and other short stay accommodation platforms in order to help manage the costs of conference attendance. However, opposition to websites such as Airbnb is growing, supported by arguments that it drives gentrification and negatively affects local communities. Geographers have frequent discussions about the environmental implications of flying to international conferences. Perhaps we should also be discussing the ethical implications of what we do once our flights land?

I have always wanted to visit New Orleans, and I loved getting the chance to explore the city whilst I was there. However, a huge number of tourists visit the city every year, and there were several occasions where I felt uncomfortable about the impact of this vast influx that I was part of. In 2016, the number of tourists visiting New Orleans reached 10.45 million, the highest they had been since before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005 (FQBA, 2017). This is compared to a permanent population of about 400,000 (Nola.com, 2018). Whilst this undoubtedly has benefits, not least the $7.41 billion spent by tourists in the city in 2016, it also brings challenges.

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An anti-AirBnB sign outside a house in the Treme district of New Orleans, a historically black neighbourhood made popular by an HBO television series. 6% of the houses in Treme have a short-term rental licence (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

One of the most hotly debated issues of tourism recently has been the rise of short stay accommodation websites such as AirBnB. They have been blamed for rapid increases in rents and house prices in popular tourist destinations; a recent article for the Independent blamed AirBnB for 23% rent increases over three years in some parts of Barcelona, a city which has seen an increasing backlash against mass tourism in recent years (Bryant, 2018). Short stay accommodations have also been criticised for damaging local communities, in a number of ways: it is difficult to get to know your neighbours if they are changing once a week; businesses cater to the needs of tourists rather than residents (souvenir shops replace supermarkets); and tourists on their holidays tend to be louder and more raucous than locals that have to get up for work the next day. AirBnB argue that short term rentals have a negligible effect on the housing market and provide a valuable opportunity for people to make money from their spare rooms. The fact remains, however, that many short term rentals are for the whole property, and some ‘hosts’ own and rent out multiple properties.

This new kind of Airbnb-powered gentrification comes with all the downsides of traditional gentrification — home prices and rents are going up, lower-income residents and people of color are moving out — but with fewer upsides. Tourism and gentrification typically bring cleaner streets and less crime, but tourists don’t stick around to clean up the neighborhood, vote in local elections or lobby for better schools.

The Lens, 2017

There have been various attempts to fight back against the damaging impact of short term rentals around the world. Some resistance is legislative. For example, in October 2016 it was made illegal in New York City to rent out flats for less than 30 days (Ashley Carmen, 2017). AirBnB often opposes such measures, however; they attempted to sue New York City for passing the law, eventually backing down on the condition that only hosts would be held liable, not AirBnB itself (Benner, 2016). Different cities have different levels of restrictions on short stay accommodation, and enforcement also varies, so it is not necessarily an effective response.

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The Inside Airbnb map for New Orleans. Red dots represent entire properties, green ones represent single rooms (Source: Inside Airbnb).

Inside Airbnb is a not-for-profit organisation that provides tools and data for analysing the impact of Airbnb on housing markets. The data is publicly available from Airbnb, and you can either use the tools provided by the website or download the data and analyse it yourself. Data isn’t available for every city in the world, but quite a few are covered, particularly in Europe and North America. Inside Airbnb is a kind of ‘knowledge is power’ form of resistance to short stay accommodation; such data can make arguments about the negative impacts of Airbnb and other similar platforms more persuasive.

Others are taking an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach. Fairbnb is a group attempting to build an ethical short stay accommodation platform based on four main principles: collective ownership, democratic governance, social sustainability, and transparency and accountability (Fairbnb, n.d.). Part of the profits will be reinvested into local projects that counter the negative impacts of tourism and gentrification. There is no launch date for the platform at the moment however, so it might be a while before it gets off the ground, if it ever does.

So where do we as academics fit into all this? Geographers in particular are supposed to have an awareness of our own impact on the world around us, and take ethical considerations into account as a result. Some universities (including Royal Holloway, where I did my PhD) do not allow staff and students travelling on university business to use Airbnb. This is not out of a sense of social responsibility, but because Airbnb do not enforce sufficient health and safety requirements (Royal Holloway, 2017). For those of us who are self-funded, or who’s funding allows the use of Airbnb, it can be an enticingly cheap option. Perhaps we should think twice about this in future.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Benner, Katie. “Airbnb Ends Fight with New York City Over Fines.” The New York Times. Last modified 3rd December 2016, accessed 16th May 2018. Available at  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/03/technology/airbnb-ends-fight-with-new-york-city-over-fines.html 

Bryant, Jackie. “What Not to do in Barcelona as a Tourist.” Independent. Last modified 30th April 2018, accessed 16th May 2018. Available at https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/barcelona-travel-what-not-to-do-rules-laws-tourists-protests-overtourism-visitors-a8329086.html

Carmen, Ashley. “New York City Issues First Illegal Airbnb Fines.” The Verge. Last modified 7th February 2017, accessed 16th May 2018. Available at  https://www.theverge.com/2017/2/7/14532388/nyc-airbnb-first-illegal-renting-fines-issued

The Lens. “How AirBnB is Pushing Locals Out of New Orleans’ Coolest Neighbourhoods.” Huffington Post. Last modified 30th October 2017, accessed 16th May 2018. Available at https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/airbnb-new-orleans-housing_us_59f33054e4b03cd20b811699

van der Zee, Renate. “The ‘Airbnb Effect’: Is it Real, and What is it Doing to a City Like Amsterdam?” The Guardian. Last modified 6th October 2016, accessed 16 May 2018. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/06/the-airbnb-effect-amsterdam-fairbnb-property-prices-communities

How to Design a Research Poster: Collected Resources

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My poster and I at the 2018 AAG in New Orleans (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Academic research posters are something most people have to produce at least once or twice during your PhD. They can be a good way to present your research at conferences, particularly if you are nervous about giving a paper. However, they are a quite particular medium, that requires an approach unlike anything else. If you get it right, they can look great, and communicate your research in an effective and concise manner. If you get it wrong, then they look a mess. I recently designed a poster about protest stickers for the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in New Orleans. Below are some of the resources I found helpful when putting my poster together. I would also like to acknowledge the input of my Dad, Dr. Graeme Awcock, who is a bit of an expert on academic posters, and taught me how to design them when I was an undergraduate.

I have collected some resources together that I found useful below, but my own key tips would be:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to design the poster. Unlike other academic outputs, it is not the writing, but the design that takes the most time when designing a poster.
  • Detail matters. It can feel petty, and be very frustrating, trying to make sure that all your columns are the same length and the same distance from each other and the poster margins, but it does make a big difference.
  • Produce several versions, experimenting with different layouts and colour schemes. You can then ask family, friends, or colleagues for input about which works best.
  • Proofread your poster carefully. Twice. I have noticed typos in posters before, and it must be an awful feeling to display your poster and notice a mistake.
  • Build time for printing into your schedule. Some printers need several days to print a poster. Make sure you have accounted for that, so that your poster will be ready on time.

Helpful resources:

Buket Gundogan, Kiron Koshy, Langhit Kurar, and Katharine Whitehurst, “How to Make an Academic Poster,” Annals of Medicine and Surgery 11 (2016); p 69-71. This contains some good advice, particularly relating to what to do when you’re actually presenting your poster–the work doesn’t finish when you pin it up.

NYU Libraries: How to Create a Research Paper: Poster Basics does what it says on the tin really, including providing examples of good and bad posters.

The University of Manchester School-University Partnership Initiative: Academic Posters covers most of the basics, and provides a couple of templates.

University of Liverpool Computing Services: Making an Impact with your Poster is a detailed guide on a number of elements, including balance, images, font, and colour.

London’s Protest Stickers: Vegetarianism and Veganism

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There were quite a few stickers relating to veganism and animal rights stuck on these phone boxes in Charing Cross Road (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 23/03/17).

I have written about protest stickers related to animal welfare before, but I have since collected enough stickers to put together a post solely about vegetarianism and veganism. According to The Vegan Society, there are more than half a million vegans in the UK. Whilst this isn’t many, it’s more than three and a half times the number there was in 2006. There are also around 1.2 million vegetarians in the UK and the variety of vegan alternatives in shops and restaurants is increasing all the time. Whether it’s a fad or a lasting trend remains to be seen, but there are certainly plenty of protest stickers on the issue.

To see whereabouts in London I found these stickers, check out the Turbulent London Map.

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This sticker makes a connection between veganism and the environment, arguing that meat production contributes to global warming and pollution, amongst other things (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 14/02/17, Tate Modern).

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This sticker implies support of veganism rather than actually spelling it out. Rain has caused the ink to bleed, making quite a pretty pattern (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 23/03/17).

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This sticker is disputing the argument that animals for the meat industry can be killed humanely (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 23/03/17).

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This sticker targets the stereotypically British drink, tea, as a way of protesting the mass consumption of milk (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 23/03/17).

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This sticker goes into more detail about the milk industry, portraying it as vicious and cruel (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 23/03/17).

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This stickers builds on the arguments above by suggesting milks derived from alternative sources. The web address belongs to an organisation called Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow (ADAPTT–I suspect the name was chosen for the acronym rather than anything else), which promotes veganism and animal rights (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 23/03/17).

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This sticker focuses on fish, listing characteristics seemingly intended to invoke sympathy. I suspect that most people would not normally associate these attributes with fish, and many vegetarians do eat fish (pescatarians) (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 23/03/17).

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This sticker aims to persuade the viewer that veganism is healthy, suggesting that eating meat leads to higher rates of cancer. It also promotes a YouTube video, a particularly common tactic on animal rights stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 23/03/17).

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The key slogan of this sticker has been obscured, but it’s message is clear, condemning the attitude that human appetites are more important than the suffering of animals. It utilises another common tactic of animal rights stickers, photos of cute animals (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Pentonville Road, 23/03/17).